Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Another interesting source of power, and the recognition of power, is the imagery of the vision itself. Black Elk says, “a man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see (p. 28).” This means that the inner journey is not enough to command the kind of spirit strength it provides. Rather power is only begotten by public display and approval. This is somewhat similar to the American political race, which I find ironic, in that politicians must prove themselves as charismatic leaders with a patriotic and dramatic background, not unlike the vision quests Black Elk must relate to his people.
But what is the substance of this power? Black Elk regarded it as a calling, a tool to be used to help his people. But how far can spiritual confidence and affirmation through hallucinations really get you? I feel like Black Elk overhyped his initial gift of power and used it too frivolously. He was able to rally his people around him for a time, but when the memory of his vision faded, when the new generations looked for substance and action, he could not deliver. I think perhaps this made his defeat even more bitter. A power he built upon his spiritual belief was not sufficient to save his people. I know he says, “It was the nation that was dying, and the vision was for the nation; but I have done nothing with it (21),” but I think what he realizes is that the vision was never sufficient, despite how he used it. The reality was that a leadership based on messages from an alternate, spiritual reality could not guide the native American people through their hardship. But as a true spiritual messenger, Black Elk blames himself for his failure, instead of questioning the belief system that was unable to empower its people to the point of survival.
What I don’t understand is why exactly this power was so easily diluted. Black Elk makes a strong statement when he says, “everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished (26).” I feel like this is a very empowering attitude, and if the Native Americans were truly attuned to it, I don’t understand why he would be so quick to proclaim the “sacred hoop” broken. I realize they faced extreme hardship, but this is generally when a culture reaffirms their faith in the power of their spirituality and rituals.
Native Americans experienced unsurmountable suffering.
The end of this selection brought home the tragedy that occurred among the native American people. When Black Elk says, “And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, - you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer (p. 35),” you can feel his defeat, his shame, and his sorrow. The native American people will never be able to forget this injustice, and that sense of sorrow will continue to define their tradition no matter its positive roots. Their power has shifted to become more morose. The visual tradition remains and the importance of oral story telling and the relating of spiritual quests. But it is scarred by a lost sovereignty, a lost power that can never be regained. I think Black Elk’s words, “You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see (p. 25),” are very poignant considering the fate of his people. It is a stoic power they still posses, that Black Elk’s words posses, that maintains the beauty and majesty of native American culture.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Native Americans have a profound respect for place, akin to that of many eastern religions. I wonder what it is that makes these ancient religions so focused on unity, on worldly power and divine knowledge. I do not get the same feeling from western religion, that divinity exists all around us, that it is a natural power source to be tapped into. What do Native American and eastern cultures have in common? When Black Elk describes himself “standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being (x),” I am reminded of Siddhartha’s enlightened state, and the oft mentioned state of higher awareness of spatial realities in eastern culture.
Another similarity I see with eastern spirituality is the emphasis on compassion for all creatures, and on the maintenance of a balance between man and animal, almost a karmic responsibility to give as much as one takes. When Black Elk says, “I felt sorry that we had killed these animals and thought that we ought to do something in return (xi),” he is showing his appreciation of all life and of the subtleties of human/animal interaction. He believes in atonement. And that is exactly what his father offers him when he says, “To all the wild things that eat flesh, this I have offered that my people may live and the children grow up with plenty (xi).” They understand that existing in the natural world requires a reciprocal relationship with the environment. If you take, you must give back. If you want to survive, you must not over-consume.
Native American tribes created no waste in building teepees.
I believe this to be the greatest lesson we could glean from Native American culture. They are extremely wise in the art of sustainability. Their craft is based on recycling and the creative use of materials, their community structure based on sharing and conservation. This attitude stems from a greater understanding of the unity of all life on earth, an understanding shared by Siddhartha. When we become aware of this interconnectedness, we can see the implications of our actions far into the future and thus structure them to better mitigate destruction.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I'm limited by the shackles of my past.
Now is the time to sift through the silt of these past endeavors and find something golden. I’m sure its no coincidence that this cumulative essay is due right before we determine our next steps in academia. I’m grateful for this timing, as I have been for all of the questions I’ve been made to answer in this class. My answers may no longer be true, but the questions remain, and they help shape much of my decision-making. So I look towards them now to help me make my last decision for this class – what goal will define my leadership vision? With this train of thought I’ll actually be answering two questions, not only what my goal is, but what’s stopping me from reaching that goal. The latter I’ve already introduced – my chronic indecisiveness.
I know I want to be a leader, it feels almost like a biological imperative. I know I assume leadership roles naturally. I know I’ve been generally effective as a leader. But I don’t know what I’m leading towards in my own life. I have the ability to forge any path ahead of me; all I have to do is choose one. But I’m stuck, looking back across past interests, past passions and causes, and seeing how easily they blew through my life plan. And I see future interests, current interests even, blowing through just as easily. It’s a windy plain of indecision – thousands of viable stalks bent out of shape by the currents of life, of distractions, of constant thought – never to flower or come to fruition.
A windy plain of indecision.
The only way to attack my indecisiveness is through constant questioning. That’s an invaluable lesson I’ve learned in college. I’ve never been hesitant to question the world around me, but I’ve been under the illusion for quite some time that there are no questions left to ask myself. But honestly, those are the ones that matter most. Until now I’ve always thought opportunity would come to me, that circumstance would shape my future, and that I would simply adapt to change as it occurred around me naturally. But when faced with questions such as “who are you?”, “wh
at’s your passion?”, and “what is your leadership vision?”, I must be the one to take an active role in my own life, I have to make the decisions, I have to make my own answers. This reminds me of the famous Gandhi quote, “be the change you want to see in the world.” I could talk for days about my solutions to the world’s problems, to my new ideas and intricate visions, but what have I done about any of it? I’ve put very little into action. I am a passive observer of my own life. This is an extremely odd revelation coming from a complete control freak and infamous micromanager.
So what’s the problem? I’m often overwhelmed by the combination of infinite potential and limited time. I truly believe that any accomplishment is possible. What I can’t reconcile myself with is that all accomplishments are not possible, at least not within a human lifetime (as the current human lifetime stands at least, but I won’t get into that). So I’m left with a choice to make. A decision for the indecisive.
It would be very easy for me to outline my future. In fact, I could create infinitely many versions of it, including every detail. Its not the action plan that’s the problem, it’s the action. I would feel dishonest simply describing one of many hypothetical “leadership visions”, knowing it’s unlikely to become reality or even keep my interest for more than a semester. This flightiness is my deepest problem. Until I know for sure what path I want to take, I am extremely hesitant to do anything on that path. But I’ll never know if a path is right unless I start on it. I’m not a fan of retracing my steps, of moving back to the beginning. My stagnancy is caused by fear – a fear of failure, a fear of lost time, wasted potential. I suppose to sum it up, I’m frozen by my fear of death – my fear of the limited time frame I have to accomplish something.
But as we’ve been taught, love is more effective than fear. As much as I fear death, I have come to love life. That love is the first step in discovering how I’m going to affect the world, what my life is going to mean when I’m gone. So the first question in determining my leadership vision is easy – what do I love to do? The answer is slightly more complicated. There are so many things I love doing, love learning, love creating. However, being required to take courses outside of my current interests, and finally getting to take courses in them, has helped me narrow it down somewhat. Subjects I used to be interested in, such as neuroscience and Mayan history, have become less attractive to me as I’ve seen the slow pace at which they are taught at the undergraduate level.
Conversely, my required Plan II courses have given me a lot of positive direction so far. World Literature has made me more aware of my role in helping others and doing things for the benefit of society, along with asking questions that have forced me to define myself in the context of this university and the academic experience of college. Plan II biology re-introduced me to conservation ecology and pointed me towards environmental science, which is my current dual-major with Plan II. Perspectives on the Future gave me just that, a perspective from which to analyze what’s going to be most important to our civilization in the near future and what I can do to help. And finally, my freshman tutorial course, pathways to civic engagement, has introduced me to so many creative and feasible ways to affect change in my community and the world at large, which will always be a goal of my leadership vision, regardless of details. That class also introduced me to a field that I had never considered before this semester but that, when viewing my life from my new perspectives on my past and future, makes more sense than any career path I’ve ever considered. That field is urban planning and sustainability.
The type of future city I want to design.
Urban planning is going to play a huge role in the future of humankind. As populations rise all over the world, more and more people are moving into urban settings. The cities of the past have been built as huge energy consuming scars, concentrating all of the most unsustainable technologies in a high-density area. Also, cities have not been designed to facilitate local resource management, requiring all goods to be imported far distances, generally by truck or freight train. If cities continue to be built this way, we will use up our resources before our unsustainable steel structures collapse. They’ll be the graveyards of human accomplishment.
I am dedicated to making a change in the way people live, in the way they consume, and in the way they view the spaces they occupy. I feel that one of the best ways to do this is to become and urban planner with a background in sustainable design and environmental science. I have already begun taking steps towards this path. I decided to start on the track for the Environmental Science major because I feel like threats to life on earth are the most imminent and serious threat to the life of humans. In my field research class, I realized that I didn’t want to be a pure scientist collecting data, but rather wanted to apply what we already know, and are learning, about how humans interact with their environment. Urban planning combines my passion for the environment with my passion for design and community organizing. Urban planners and designers control the way people move around, how they interact with their environment, and how their environment is sustained. It is a field that is going to require creative, visionary leaders to reach its full potential.
To become one of those leaders I must first commit myself to a career path, something I have always avoided. I must conquer my fear of failure, of dissatisfaction, and simply start. It’s possible I will change my mind in the future, but for now I plant to stay on the track I’ve started on. My first step was adding my environmental science major. Within that major, I will concentrate in geographical studies and take classes that focus on land use and resource management. If that major is not satisfying, I will switch to a major in environmental engineering. I am currently considering adding an additional major or minor in architectural studies to develop the technical skills involved in drafting and designing city plans. This path is going to be truly interdisciplinary, which will go along with the Plan II curriculum well. All of my classes will add insight into the problem of organizing people into places that best serve the environment and thus humanity. A writing component is also necessary, because effective communication will be essential in proposing ideas to city boards and clients. Also, there needs to be community support behind all the changes that are going to be implemented in cities, so communication is again important.
Outside of academia, there are many steps I could take to ensure not only a successful career in urban planning, but also garner support for the way I feel cities need to be built and operated in the future. Most likely, I will start by interning at an architecture firm over a summer, which I would arrange through my father who is a prominent architect in Dallas. He has already connected me with some landscape architects and urban designers in Austin, and I might be working with one on a research project this semester. I also need to start developing my creative vision more seriously. I see the cities of the future functioning like trees – self-sustaining, evolving, efficiently designed closed systems that give back to the environment as they support human life and happiness. This requires an intersection of innovative technology, creative resource management, a deep understanding of sociology, and an artistic aesthetic vision. Because of this, my education is going to last a long time. At some point, however, I will make the shift from institutional education to real-world experience.
There are multiple options I have for getting started in the field of urban planning and sustainable design. I could go into architecture and work for a private firm. I could be a publicly employed city planner. Or, I could go into the non-profit field and promote change from the roots up. I feel like I am best suited for the last option, as it would allow me more freedom in my work and the opportunity to be my own boss. I don’t work well as an employee – I always have to be in charge of anything I work on. Creating my own non-profit committed to socially and ecologically responsible city planning will require lots of experience in many fields that I will gain during my education. It will also require me to build connections with people who could be potential resources for my business. That, I feel, will be the greatest gift this university will give me. Already, so many of the people I’ve met I can tell are destined for great things. I’ve also been able to meet professionals already working in this field. Austin is at the forefront of the types of changes I want to see in the world. Being here will help me be the change.
I know all of this is tentative, but I have already found a lot of support on this path. I know there are other issues out there, other problems I want to solve, but this seems the most attainable, and best suited to the type of education I’ve received thus far. I am still afraid that this might not be the right path, that I’ll have to back track and lose much of my limited time. But I’ve realized - if I never go down a path, I’ll never know what I could’ve found there. I might as well experience things while I am alive, regardless if they fit into an ‘action plan’ or a career path. I know I want to change the world, I know I want to lead myself and others through life strongly and with purpose.
But who knows, I might just end up in business school.
WORD COUNT: 2242
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I don’t blame Alice for getting flustered by this treatment. When she first meets the caterpillar he is very bossy and condescending to her, and she is just lost and confused. He is extremely reactionary and causes Alice to wish “the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended! (53)” Generally, the wonderland creatures are more intolerant of Alice then she is of them, though she may make a few faux-pas simply by way of being ignorant of the strange social conditions of wonderland.
The characters are also intolerant of each other especially in terms of social justice and authority. The monarchs throughout the books definitely have issues with stereotyping based on appearances. An instance of this is the king of heart’s treatment of the cheshire cat, when he responds to his appearance by saying “I don’t like the look of it at all,” said the King: “however, it may kiss my hand, if it likes (86).” Thus the king and other characters do not respond well to diversity at all, as they see most everyone beneath them, including Alice.
I think a primary motivator behind this intolerance of diversity is fear. The king is afraid of the floating cat head and so treats it with disdain. Likewise, when Alice encounters the animals on the train in looking-glass land, she is at first afraid and hesitant to interact with them. She feels uncomfortable because “it was a very queer carriage-full of passengers altogether (171).” When she meets the gnat later in the forest, she admits “I don’t rejoice in insects at all… because I’m rather afraid of them (173).” She may not be entirely understanding of all the creatures she meets, but can we really blame her? She’s a small child in a strange and contradictory world.
Alice is frightened in a strange world.
Although I feel like Alice is judged more than she judges, it is true that she slowly learns to be more comfortable in her new and strange environment and thus more accepting of the creatures there. By the end of Through the Looking Glass, when characters are morphing all around her, “at any other time, Alice would have felt surprised at this, but she was far too much excited to be surprised at anything now (266).” By the end, Alice has become acclimated to the constantly shifting and new world she’s in, and is no longer afraid or in contempt of the things she doesn’t understand. I think this is a lot like the college experience. At first we may be overwhelmed by constantly being exposed to new things and people, and we may never be able to fully grasp and appreciate all that’s going around us, but eventually we become accustomed to that way of life and try to make the most of it.
Monday, March 8, 2010
We may get unruly in our attempts to
shape our own education.
To get the most out of anything we must learn “how to maintain a pro-active, positive attitude.” Siddhartha is a great example of this. Even though he reached his lowest possible point, at the brink of ending everything, he was able to come back out of it with an even more positive outlook than before. This teaches us that we’re only at the beginning of our journey and can’t go forward in constant fear of failure, because such failures are inevitable in life, and are only opportunities to grow. We can help ourselves by remembering the power of love vs. fear, which is a theme of this course. Hopefully we can come to a place where we are “only interested in being able to love the world (137),” for we will never be able to change it unless we first accept it for what it is.
Both of these things play into our leadership essay. A leader must be a self-propelled learner and an optimist. We must learn “by creativity rather than going through the motions, by curiosity rather than compulsion” if we wish to be leaders in any field. I personally feel that leadership comes from having creative solutions to problems and being willing to take risks to let those solutions come into reality. Siddhartha displays this trait of a leader completely. He is never satisfied with pre-existing knowledge; he must solve the problems of his identity and of the universe through his own methods.
Another theme in Siddhartha pertaining to leadership, especially option two of our essay, is the importance of listening, also one of the course goals. Vasudeva represents this trait in the book, and we, just as Siddhartha did, can learn a lot by his example - “without him saying a word, the speaker could sense how Vasudeva let words enter his mind, how he was quiet, open, and waiting, and how he did not lose a single word by impatience (98).” The ability to listen is a key factor in “the composition of self, the construction of character” that we must pursue in order to become better leaders for the benefit of society.
We can learn a lot about leadership by listening.
One of the most intriguing aspects of essay four is the consideration that “the trait, role, or goal you are discussing is but one of many possibilities radiating out from your center, from the core of your being.” This was one of the ideas that resonated most fully for me in Siddhartha and which gives me much optimism as to developing future goals and plans. As someone who changes her path constantly, I like the idea of infinite potential.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Our meditation today: listening to music
By focusing our upper-mind on listening to repetitive, calming sounds, we can better focus our lower thoughts, or our subconscious thoughts, and perhaps reach a state of focused, calm, energy.
AND NOW TO CONTEMPLATE SIDDHARTHA’S JOURNEY TO INNER PEACE:
What is the significance of Siddhartha’s pilgrimage and how does it relate to your life?
His position afforded him luxuries which many people can’t have which undeniably altered his path
If Siddhartha had not acted on his decisions, if he had not lived with the Samanas or merchants, he never would have been able to make his own judgments on life
As how Siddhartha learned an immense amount of wisdom from listening to the river, we can learn from keeping an open mind and listening to the ones we meet on our pilgrimage
He had spent his entire life on a journey seeking spiritual enlightenment, just as I had spent my entire life on a journey to become an Olympic swimmer. I felt so much pressure to please the people around me, to not let them down, that I tortured myself to reach that goal
This idea of unified change throughout life, of one person really transforming into many different people, is not a completely unfamiliar one
I do not think I could achieve enlightenment just following this simple path
What did Siddhartha’s pilgrimage accomplish? Was it a necessary path to take?
I think that the human ability to transform ourselves, to mature, to become (hopefully) better, more caring people as we grow older, to gain wisdom through living life, though "it can't be expressed or taught in words" (Hesse, 132), is special.
We will be continuously seeking. Yet while obsessing over achieving a goal, we will not be open to the answers all around us
Siddhartha spends a majority of the novel over thinking his life, tackling everything with a philosophical and spiritual approach. Eventually, he learns the wisdom of just letting things “be”
Siddhartha and I both realized that this journey we were so desperately trying to make reach a “perfect” climax was not something that can be forced. It is something that - when you let go, relax, and just let it flow like a river - comes naturally.
There is no “right!” We can search all we want for the true path, but we’ll “never stop searching.”
Is suffering necessary to reach a state of inner peace? What constitutes suffering?
Oftentimes we must go through hardships to find what our true beliefs are
I am not entirely dissatisfied with the world—I see room for improvement, but I understand that I am a part of this world and I can work to improve it instead of setting myself apart.
“I’ve had to experience despair […] in order to be able to experience divine grace,” (Hesse, 91) and it has definitely been worth it.
Is suffering a byproduct of love? Is this why the ‘childlike’ people cannot escape from their suffering?
Siddhartha’s struggles with his son mirrors lovesickness in many ways–the devotion, envy of others’ happiness, loss of self
How does unity lend itself to all encompassing love?
I continue to seek to see all things, all beings of the world, with love and appreciation
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Today has been radiant. Today has been reaffirming, beautiful, unified, and complete. The sun is shining on my back, the grass is cool and soft, dandelions are perking up around me, bees going about their labor. I have been joyful all day. This is how the world should always be. Even in inclement weather, witnessing life around me should be the ultimate source of joy, and it often is.
Enjoying the beautiful day outside.
photo credit to author
Why did it take Siddhartha so long to find what he was seeking? This is the main question I have of his pilgrimage. I feel he knew his conclusion all along. But I suppose this is the lesson of misguidance. He knew where truth lie, but he was diverted from it by lessons and words, constructed dichotomies, and the pursuit of quantifiable meaning. Aren’t we all… I find myself retracing my own steps, through philosophies, sciences, teachers – all meaningful, none satisfactory. But these are the paths we are left to take. It is frustrating and circuitous sometimes to seek all within yourself, it is an easy task to give up on. We must find where to take our measurements, when to pin down the constant inner monologue that is the truth as it exists from moment to moment. But what we most often find is that those moments contradict each other. It is living in the contradiction, not trying to reconcile everything.
Because everything is. It’s a simple lesson that Siddhartha learns through a complicated life, and a lesson I often fall back on. I suppose it may seem trivial, naïve even, to be content with such an explanation. But it is so obvious when you sit and listen and observe that being is enough. Being as everything else is. This satisfaction with existence as it is – and whatever that implies – has many applications in our dealings with one another. The “awareness and conscious thought of the unity of all life (p.121)” brings us to realize that we are all of the same material and have the same potential for existence in one form or another, or in no form. By recognizing that potential, we recognize something worth loving and admiring in everything and everyone around us. As siddaharttha tells govinda, “one has to worship within themselves, in you, and in everyone else the buddha which is coming into being, that is possible (p.133).” In this case I take the Buddha to mean our potential for pure love and happiness, for a state of nirvana so-to-speak. By seeing this potential we are “able to look upon it and [ourselves] and upon all beings with love, admiration, and great respect (p.137).”
We are all part of one earth, one universe.
It is difficult to achieve this in a society that is based on competition, or in Siddhartha’s case, a society based on the differing values of individuals according to a caste system. So it is a cycle we must escape from, like samsara, but must still appreciate as a manifestation of the perfect universe we exist in. Although Siddhartha experienced the negative consequences of living in the sin of “the childlike people”, he still “saw people living for themselves, saw them achieve an infinite amount for themselves, saw them travel, wage war, suffer an infinite amount, and endure an infinite amount. He could love them for it, and he saw life and that which is alive - in each of their passions and actions (p.121).” So we must let go of our judgments and classifications, and allow everything to exist in its current form with the knowledge that it has the potential to occupy any form, including our own. I hope that despite our attempts to categorize the world, to explain the minutae of life, we can “learn to leave the world as it is, to love it, and to enjoy being a part of it (p.134).”
Monday, March 1, 2010
But how do we reach this state of being? Even Siddhartha, after going through the rigors of ascetism and the learning of a Brahmin, cannot hold onto the sublime state of moving independently through life. What hope do we have, constantly bombarded with materialism and fed the opinions of others? We are indeed “like a falling leaf that is blown and is turning around through the air, wavering and tumbling to the ground (p.69).”
Siddhartha did not find nirvana.
Hesse’s book has given me a lot to contemplate thus far, and I am curious to see how this problem gets resolved. How does one hold onto a supreme sense of self, capable of overcoming any worldly trial, without becoming completely detached from the actual world of humanity? We must constantly sacrifice parts of ourselves to function within a society; I watch it happen everyday. We must then decide if that loss is outweighed by what we gain from human interaction – whether it is a physical relationship like that between Siddhartha and Kamala or a deep friendship like that between Siddhartha and Govinda. I think that the balance depends on surrounding yourself with the right people. Siddhartha maintained his love for Kamala because he saw in her a similar soul, but had to sacrifice that relationship because he was disillusioned by the other people he had to interact with.
We are all like falling leaves.
I can relate to Siddhartha in many ways. His constant yearning for an ultimate knowledge and his revelation that certain types of knowledge are not to be attained by learning mirrors my own. I have sought much by looking first inside myself rather than looking towards others, and like Siddhartha, “my trust in words that come from teachers is small (p.25),” not out of disrespect, but out of an understanding of the relativity of truth. I face many of the same contradictions in my daily life as Siddhartha, mainly in my attitudes towards other people and the importance of the self in attaining a nirvana-like state of existence. Sometimes I feel like Siddhartha felt when “he saw mankind going through life like a child or an animal that he both loved and despised at the same time (p.67).” I often feel disconnected from the culture I’m entrenched in, despite being a large participator in its daily manifestations. In the end, my goal is happiness, the cessation of suffering, and as Hesse’s book reaffirms, a weighing mind and constant moderation is a way to attain that goal.