Back in the mountains…

Back in the mountains…
Today was spent in the mountains on cross-country skis, gliding through the deep, new snow. At each stop, an enveloping silence. The snow a support below, an ornament on the trees above, a soft cushion for those inevitable falls.

It’s amazing how at the beginning of a day in nature, I often feel as one having a loud conversation entering a quiet room. My monkey-mind jolts in discord and then tries to play it cool even though it’s still racing inside. By the end of the day, the body is purfied by the air and the exertion, the mind is cleansed by the silence and the beauty. How glad I am that this is still possible.

“After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavouring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what – how – when – where? But there was a dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say Forward! Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. she has long ago taken her resolution. “O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe. The night veils without a doubt a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether.”

– Henry David Thoreau in Walden

Brodie and Mom 4

Dad skiing

posted by Brodie @ 9:32 PM 4 comments
A solider… at 13
A long way gone cover
I vividly remember sitting in my living room about seven years ago, hardly blinking, watching Cry Freetown, a documentary about the conflict in Sierra Leone. It was one of the most disturbing things I had seen at the time, and it violently tugged the boundaries of my sphere of concern outwards, as I saw the experience of young children who had been drawn out of their vulnerability into being soldiers. High on cocaine, fueled by revenge and the drive to survive, they committed acts that were seemingly demonic.

This past autumn while at a retreat in New York State, I met a guy, about my age, by the name of Ishmael Beah. He was a relaxed, smiling guy who seemed always at ease with people. He was obviously quite intelligent and perceptive. And he had been a child soldier. He has, from his own incredible life story, produced a gift for the rest of us called “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”. It is an incredibly moving story that provides a window into the mind of a young child who was drawn from his family, friends, and innocence into one of the most gruesome conflicts in the past decades, and then who, with the help of many, has created a new life.

I’d definitely recommend anyone who is interested in deliving beneath the surface of conflicts to the situations that give rise to them, to read it. You can find it online or (in North America at least) at Starbucks.

posted by Brodie @ 7:00 PM 3 comments
Scratching the world’s itch
Arthur’s comments on an earlier post stimulated me to try and answer the question of ‘How can one tell what is an ‘appropriate’ response to a situation?’ In Buddhism there’s a concept of ‘skillful means’ (Upaya), which indicates a natural, immediate, and fully appropriate response to a situation. It’s an ideal for the bodhisattva (think ‘saint’) – for someone who is in the world and trying to do good for it.

So how can one cultivate this ability for immediate right response?

An analogy I heard from Tenkei Roshi might help…

When I am itchy, I scratch myself. My neck feels a bit of an itch, and without having to analyze the situation, evaluate multiple options, and select the best one, my muscles flex just the right amount and my hand moves just the right speed to land my fingers at exactly the place they need to be – they scratch the itch, and I feel better. Because the hand and the neck are so intimately connected, as part as the same living body, they know exactly what to do. When I become one with the world, the world’s needs are simply itches to which I, the hand, respond perfectly.

I can say, after seeing a number of deep meditators in action, that they do seem to have an uncanny ability to, often, say exactly the right thing at the right time, or do exactly what is necessary in a particular situation.

It makes sense – the efficacy of our action is in proportion to the extent to which we are ‘one’ with a situation. At its most basic level, this might mean just physical proximity. (If we are physically close to the door and have a good grip on the handle we can open it.) At a bit more of a complex level, the extent to which the thoughts in our mind correspond to the reality of a situation, the better we can influence it. (When we know the positions of our pieces relative to that of the opponents, and know the strategic potential of each of these pieces, we can best win the chess game.)

And finally, at a fundamentally spiritual level, if we identify with the world, and our awareness extends deeply into this world, we would best be able to serve it.

How can we then cultivate this awareness and oneness such that we can simply be the world’s hand scratching its own itch?

posted by Brodie @ 5:46 PM 3 comments
When can we move on?
Just wanted to distribute this information a bit more broadly than on a comment, as I think it’s so important that we’re clear on this issue so that we can move on to the next discussion about how to respond to something that is happening, and is caused by factors that are within our control. I don’t think it’s sufficient to say that ‘ahh, who cares if global warming is happening or is caused by humans, let’s be more environmentally friendly nonetheless.’ There are two very important problems with this approach:

1. When it comes to tradeoffs, a scientifically justified stance carries far more weight than a ‘maybe’ one. Say we’re debating taking actions that may have ‘negative’ short-term economic consequences, in order to slow down and mitigate the effects of global warming. Now, imagine two scenarios, one in which we are certain that global warming is happening and, and a ‘maybe it is’ scenario. Which one would allow us to create the political will in order to make the tough choices?

2. Acknowledging that humans have caused global warming puts the solution within our sphere of influence. If we think that global warming is merely caused by some mysterious and as-yet-undetected natural processes, how much influence do we feel we have on the situation? Do we feel like taking corrective policy measures will help, or do we feel adrift in a world beyond our control? The knowledge that human activity has caused global warming is empowering because it accurately points to the real problem, which we can actually influence.

We very seriously need to acknowledge the facts, and re-orient towards a positive solution in a way that is energized and informed by the knowledge of what’s happening (global warming), what’s caused it (humans), what the consequences could be (significant harm to the ecosystem, the economy, and human life), and what we can do about it (emissions trading, carbon taxes, subsidies away from oil and towards energy-efficiency, investments in research, development, and operationalization of new technologies, etc…).

We need to move on from the equivocation and slothful pondering and towards a decisive, positive, informed, and powerful response.

As to the facts, this is my response to a post on the main nomadone blog:


Thanks to ‘anonymous’ for already clarifying the point that the term ‘global warming’ is very scientifically accurate.

The quote “We are not saying that Climate Change phenomenon is not related to human activities, but it is likely to be related” seems to me to be misleading of the actual content of the report. Aly, if you could share where you got the quote from then perhaps we could see it in context?

A direct quote from the report, a summary of which can be read at ( is as follows:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level” (at page 5)


“Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is
unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.” (p 10)

As to the effect of humans, the report is also very clear:

“Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns” (p10)

In addition, the word ‘very likely’ in this context indicates an over 90% degree of confidence, and if my interpretation of the footnote to this statement is correct (bottom of page 10) the less than 10% uncertainty is caused by methodological limitations which are inherent in scientific research of this level of complexity.

The evidence is pretty clear, and all of the above come unfiltered from the source itself, which anyone can view, if you have the time and inclination, without the potentially obstructing lens of the media.

If the media has been distorting this issue in any way, it is by having given too much attention to those who’ve argued against one of the most long-lasting and unanimously agreed to studies done in the history of humanity, and instead paying attention to those whose interests are obvious, and whose science is poor.


posted by Brodie @ 8:53 PM 5 comments
the ethics of ethicists
A little thought diversion:

A recent study trying to show that ethicists steal more ethics books than the average population. Or at least, that those who read books on ethics steal more books.

“So it’s not (supposedly vicious) law students. And it’s not a bunch of (supposedly conscience-impaired) undergraduates stealing Rawls. The effect is large, and statistically significant, just looking at books likely to be borrowed only by professional ethicists and students with a serious scholarly concern with ethics. Based on these data, it seems indeed that ethicists do steal more books!” (Schwitzgebel)

posted by Brodie @ 4:55 PM 4 comments
playing for peace
“PeaceMaker is a video game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a tool that can be used to promote dialog and understanding among Israelis, Palestinians and interested people around the world.”

…interesting idea – has anyone played it?

posted by Brodie @ 10:31 AM 2 comments
precious, rare moments…
Just got back from a wonderful visit to the netherlands… four days of re-entering what is perhaps one of the most unique environments I ever have, and likely ever will, encounter… wonderful human beings, meaningful and important responsibilities, fascinating discussions, and way better bread and cheese than can be found in north America….

Was so grateful and happy to see everyone again, even if the price of returning to the ai office was a bit of my finger (typing is a bit of a challenge –hence the lack of capitalization)…

…cherish every moment…

posted by Brodie @ 7:59 PM 0 comments
A dream of Freud’s
It’s wonderful to see Freud, Jung, and others’ prescience as it relates to the impact of the subconscious mind on human behaviour. Books like Blink by Malcolm Gladwell have only popularized in catchy little anecdotes what has long been known in the field of psychology. It’s funny how Freud is so much more popularly associated with the Pscyh 101, embarassed-giggle-causing Oedipus Complex or penis-envy than for pulling back the curtain on the aspects of ourselves that most influence, whether we like it or not, our behaviour.

A little tour of some intrestesting more recent studies or theories on the impact of the subsconscious mind on human behaviour:

– Implicit Association. This series of tests (cited in “Blink,” so many of you may already have taken it), highlights the fact that even self-declared non-bigots do have racist, sexist, ageist, and other prejudicial tendencies. I’d definitely recommend taking it for a bit of an eye-opener, it’s easy to do online.

– Implicit Egotism. A recent set of studies has demonstrated that people tend to marry others, move to cities, and even choose professions with similar names to their own. Their are a disproportionate number of people named Denise or Dennis who are dentists. Damn…. I guess I’m condemned to live as a roadie after all.

– Automatic Effect. When students were given instructions including the words ‘scholar’ or ‘professor’ in paragraphs they performed better on subsequent tests than those given instructions that included words such as ‘error’ or ‘stupid’. Check out a powerpoint by the researcher leading some of these studies. [if ppt link doesn’t work, google ‘John Bargh automatic effects’ – it’s the fourth link]

All of this evidence can be daunting in the face of the average human being endeavouring to assert at least some degree of control over their own lives and fate. It is, however, just a pointing towards the need for some deeper transformative practices for those who seek to create more lasting change in their lives. A book I’m currently reading suggest three main approaches to addressing the deeply rooted negative bias that human beings have acquired through millions of years of evolutionary history – meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac. There are also other approaches that work at re-wiring both our conscious and subconscious selves through linguistic restructuring (as in neuro-linguistic programming, an approach that is often labelled as manipulative or repressive, but can be highly effective), by working through the body by adjusting the ways in which we deal with our energy rhythyms and hold or move our bodies (as in the somatic approach, with excellent writings by Strozzi-Heckler, Leonard, Murphy, and others…), or even by conventional psychotherapy.

Perhaps in general the main take-away is that if there is a substantial element of our selves that we are not conscious of but has a massive impact on our behaviour, then we know that is will be very difficult to change our behaviour simply by changing our minds. This would be akin to trying to move a large tree by tugging at one of the branches. This explains why there are so many brilliant people who do not live to the principles they espouse. Their conscious minds are convinced, their unconscious selves far less so. And the emphasis is put again on practice – whatever form it may take – and the ongoing, patient yet dedicated effort at changing the fabric of our lives – our experience of and through our own self.