Reading Books With My Son

My son has always loved books. They were among his first objects his eyes fascinated and focused on. He’s learning to read right now and his love of books remains as strong as it was in his infancy.

It’s clear that books – the traditional kind: made of paper and ink and labor – are being replaced by digital media. The Kindle and the iPad and other tablets are making it easier to acquire and consume material once only available on books.

For children today, the iPad is very intuitive. In fact, some parents have reported that their children have become so used to the iPad screen, that they “pinch” pages in books – expecting them to zoom-out.

Perhaps some parents believe we can let books go and just let our kids skip them in favor of digital media without any cost. They *may* be right. Or they may not.

As for me, books are still a critical foundation for civilization.

Neurons are amazing things: the more they’re used, the better they get (generally). So as a child grows, the more exposure they get to different kinds of learning and feeling and experiences, the healthier their brains grow.

We still don’t have enough longitudinal research to know for sure that it’s OK to just skip books and let our kids do everything electronically.

In my opinion: let them explore; let them have fun; let them watch TV or play games. BUT: *be there* with them. Explain to them what’s going on. Step back an observe their behavior before, during and after their interactions with different media.

I know too many people who are letting the infiltration of technology into our lives go on without enough critical awareness and thought and discipline.

When my son and I read books with each other, we enter a world created by our ancestors for the pleasure and wisdom and civility of our minds.

I can’t tell other parent what to do.

But I do hope they keep reading books with their kids for as long as they can.

I’ve many regrets in my life. I’ll never regret reading books with my son.

@PhilBaumann

484-362-0451

Failure’s ROI

I follow all kinds of people (and some bots) on Twitter. I read all sorts of blogs and books. I rarely watch TV anymore but I know what happens there. I’m an information omnivore, so I keep a pulse on our culture. I hear the drone of one theme in our modern world: Success. I witness  it when parents talk to their children, when self-help authors pimp their latest books, when social media gurus give their readers variations of the same pep posts. Success! Success! Success!

Here’s a fundamental problem: we all, one way or another, fail to live beyond a few years. That’s a big failure when you think about it, at least from a certain angle.

And living forever in this world isn’t the only thing we fail at. We fail at a great many things. We fail at the things we’ve never experienced. We fail to see truths set in front of our noses. We fail everyday and fail to see those failures.

Our culture’s obsession with success perhaps speaks more about our fears than it does about our ambitions. Why is there such a fear of failure in our culture? Why is it shamed so much in our schools (where it’s sometimes used as a weapon), in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our media? I think we are paying heavy prices for our failure to experience failure.

You see, if you spend your life without any intimacy with moments of failure, with death, with loss, then you set your life upon a course of disappointment. Our culture’s obsession with success is really an obsession with only one part of our passion-complex: our desire for pleasure, be it the pleasure of pride or accomplishment. But we have other emotions, other spaces we all are born to inhabit: like grief.

It’s important to grieve. We don’t like to talk about death because we don’t know how to grieve. We don’t like to talk about failure because, ultimately, we don’t know how to grieve. A culture, or a person, who spends every moment focused on success never gets to practice grief. As you get older, that grief (which is a garden) dries up unless tended to once in a while.

A healthy culture welcomes grief, clutivates it, and in the process grows successfully. It doesn’t talk about success: it just does what it loves to do, which is to ensure that its members live fully. The ancients, for all of their insane or brutal rituals and habits, cherished things we seem hell-bent to banish. They appreciated the beauty that surrounded them, respected the mystery of existence and were keenly aware of the dangers inherent in life’s turbulent flows. For them grief itself was a gift.

Fast-forward to our evolving world of social media.

We’re all still trying to sort out what it means to live in a streaming, “real-time” state of affairs. One thing we know is that things are getting faster and faster and the rate of acceleration is accelerating. Which is to say, things are more likely to fail than succeed. This is an important thing to know in the 21st Century.

The more you’re willing to face your fear of failure, the better your chances of succeeding at the important things in life. Take a close inventory of your failures and thank them.

Don’t be so brainwashed by our culture’s insistence on success. Our general culture is itself a failure. Which is why it’s so obsessed with success. Be wary of calls to “climb to the top” or “fly high”.

Angels fall fast from the sky. But roots grow deep in darkness.

Tend to your garden of grief. One day, or one long night, you will find yourself alone in that garden and nothing that you accomplished will accompany you in your dark time.

The question you should be asking yourself right now: Will the flowers deep down in my bed of grief be dead when I need them or will they be fresh enough for me to have things to care for?

It’s OK to fail. The universe gives you that permission. Don’t let the Success Fools fool you into being only a half-human.

Being a fully-grown human being takes a lot of failure and grief. Invest in being human. The returns are priceless. Literally.

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Thanksgiving 1951: Delayed Pilgrims

I was born in the short Summer of Love to parents who endured long Winters of Hate in madness-torn Hungary. My parents came to this country in 1951 after spending about seven years in a Dispaced Persons (DP) camp in Austria: a place with little hope, food, shelter, clothing, heat. Hungarians each, they lived through the European Depression (which dwarfed what happened in the U.S.) and then the horrors of World War II. My parents met in that camp, eventually got married and had two children, a girl and then a boy.

My parents could have gone anywhere in the world. Through all the hell they experienced, they worked hard to come to only one place on earth, the last refuge of freedom in the world: America. Here they are, on November 22, 1951. The Wilmington New Journal’s caption: City DPs (Delayed Pilgrims) to Give Thanks:

From Last Import

From left to right: two of my maternal aunts who journeyed here with my parents; my brother Julius; my father Julius Sr; my mother Laura; and my sister Laura (yes, my parents named their first born children after themselves).

In the DP camp, my parents had practically nothing. I never understood why they would have children amid such ruin and despair: the trauma alone of war and persecution and starvation must have been overwhelming. Now that I have a child of my own I understand why: a child is a gem from the future, a kindling of hope.

When you give thanks today, think of the people who endure, every day, terror, starvation, evil government, wrath, disease and despair.

After thinking of all the pain there is in the world, look at the picture of my family. It’s not something we see everyday. But there it is: the beautiful result of laboring your hope into a dream and your dream into a moment of pure gold. If there’s gold on your Turkey today it’s the color of someone’s difficult dream.

Think good thoughts, as hard as that may be.

Happy Thanksgiving, my brothers and sisters.

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Zen and the Art of Thinking

It’s not as bad as you think. It’s better. It’s worse. What you think is a part of a larger picture. And the picture always changes. If you get stuck thinking about the same thing, you’ll miss the rest of the show.

Right now, a lot of people think things are bad. There’s a lot of (justifiable) anxiety about the future of our global economy. There’s (justifiable) manic anxiety about this year’s Presidential election. There’s a lot of bad news from all parts of the universe to madden anybody.

Japanese Zen master Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965) in full lotus posture.

If you believe that what you think is who you are, then you are limiting what you can become. Thinking is merely a tool. You can use it to enhance your life and the lives of others, or you can use it like a hammer to bash your own head or bludgeon others to death.

Life can’t be all thought out. Life has to be felt. You have to feel around its bends and turns and turbulence.

So the art of thinking is a simple one: use it the way you use a raft down a river.

The Zen of the art of thinking is this: the raft can get smashed in a moment of chaos. Thinking about the violence of the river won’t save you from drowning. Feeling your way to land becomes your only option.

Don’t confuse what you think with who you are. Build a sturdy raft. But don’t nail yourself to it.

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A Bad and Meaningful Day

Optimist or Pessimist? You Decide

Image by waɪ.tiː via Flickr

On a bad day, when one moment hits you hard, it’s easy for you to stretch the moment over the rest of the day. Our brains are probably wired that way.

I wonder how much we lose from bad days. The self-help crowd tells us to turn our dangers into opportunities. And I buy into that philosophy myself, usually.

Sometimes, however, a good day gone bad is just how things are. Happenings. You can read all sorts of meaning into anything that happens. If you’re optimistic, the meanings are bright. If you’re pessimistic, the meanings are dark.

But: if you pay close enough attention to that edge between optimism and pessimism, between bright and dark, you have a chance at experiencing something beyond optimism and pessimism: sight. Seeing things as they are, no matter how painful or pleasant, is really the only way to get to the truth of your life.

I don’t know what the mutual truth of our lives is. I don’t know your truth; maybe you don’t either. If I had to bet on that shared value, I’d say something good would come out of our mutual understanding. This universe permits synergy, which might be how good prevails over bad. Just a thought.

Today, I had a bad day. A bad thing happened and it hurt. That’s now a truth of my life. I don’t need to share the details with you, but I think you understand.

If I had to start today over again, I’m not so sure I would change things. There’s something about a bad day that has meaning. I suppose it’s up to us to choose the meaning and hope it matches the truth.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. What’s more, I hope you find meaning in whatever kind of day you’ve had. Because if you had a good day, then it means the world isn’t all bad. I’m cool with that. Are you?

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Seven Years: A Whole New Body Grown, A Resurrection

To You Who Died Seven Years Ago:

It’s gotten darker since you left us.

When the Towers fell in on themselves, into those two black holes, a part of us went with you down into the graves. I can’t say exactly what it was: a little light perhaps.

When the five-sided star of power burned among impossible flames, something in us went up in those flames: a little light perhaps.

When that empty field swallowed your brave hearts, something in your brilliant fearlessness entered us: a little light perhaps.

I never met you. I wish I did. I’d offer you bread and wine. Sit down with you, palm-to-palm, and share communion.

After seven years our bodies changed entirely. All those molecules in the bodies of those of us who remain are gone, gone with the dust that you became. The turning of our world replaced them with entirely new particles. We are resurrected, bit by tiny bit. Bits of you are now in us.

Our world has gotten darker since you left us. Little by little, day by day, the tiny circulating bits of ourselves are gathering together to fill the darkness around us: a little light perhaps.

Work-Life Balance Is a Hoax

Photo taken in 2004 at the famous Image via Wikipedia

You are probably one of millions of Americans in search of balance between work and life. I too have searched for that elusive condition in the past. But it’s a hoax my friends. It’s a trick the mind plays when we’re trying to escape from the inevitable stresses of life. Trying to find balance in your life is like trying to balance a bag of water on your head while hopping on one leg. It’s theoretically possible but you’ll look like a damn fool.

Sometimes when the stresses of life wear on us we seek an escape. Doing work that you don’t have any passion for is one definition of hell. Here’s my theory about getting out of hell: the way out of hell is through. That’s not the path that most of us take. Why not? My answer: because that way is laden with fear and danger. We avert both because we attach to familiarity and comfort.

A mind that neither averts nor attaches is the only one beyond the surface-tension we call suffering. That kind of mind doesn’t look for balance because it knows there’s nothing but imbalance. That kind of mind delights in the chaos embedded into every facet of our world. Look into the night-sky. Do you see balance? Or do you see a beauty in the imperfect swirling of it all? Could you look upon your life that same way? If you could, what would you see?

If you continue to go to a cog job because you have to pay your bills, then do what you have to do. But before you beat yourself up with constant ruminations of how you need to find balance between work and home-life, why not try to do some soul-digging first? Why not find out what’s really bugging you? These are important actions to take, because if you leave one way of life for another, you still have the same brain to suffer from the stresses of life. There is no way out your mind. If you find a way out, email me: info /*at*/ philbaumann.com. Better yet: twitter me.

I’m telling you this because I encounter so many people who are fed up with their jobs and stressed between their paycheck-generators and their family life. I see a lot of depression, anxiety, mania and all sorts of painful conditions in the eyes of friends, relatives, and strangers. It’s a stressful world we’re creating, no doubt about that. I wish I could change things, but I can’t. Our world has always been stressful. It always will be.

So what’s the answer to the problem of being overly stressed between work and life? I could give you a list written for Digg. Instead I’ll just say that the answer is already within you. You know what it is. It’s your secret. You hid it away a long time ago. Our culture aided and abetted that little deception. You were told to be successful and you followed the advice. The lie was planted right from the start. You were already successful. You were already happy. You were OK.

The ancients called the balance you now seek The Pearl. That’s what they meant when they talked about the world as your oyster. What starts as a gritty irritation grows into a fascination. Throw away the grit and you’ll never find the pearl.

If you want me to help you out with a hint, all I can tell you is to follow your bliss. It’s a hard path to follow. It is a path of sacrifice, risk, danger. I ask you to consider: would life be worth anything without these three keys to truth?

We have within in us dark sparks burning to get out. Why put out the fire within you when you can set the word ablaze with your light? Bend into the work you do. The oyster does. Why can’t you?

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