Saturday, November 26, 2016

Woodpeckers, especially the red bellied woodpecker.

Male red bellied woodpecker. Note the red on its head extends from eyebrow
to the nape of the neck in the male. Also note its toes: two toes forward, two
toes back to enable better grasp when it is vertical on a tree trunk.

This is the female near a nest hole. Note the red on its head is interrupted and forms only a small patch near its
beak and then a long patch from the back of the head to the nape of the neck.

     Woodpeckers are fascinating birds. I originally wanted to write about the red bellied woodpecker because I have now had a nesting pair living and breeding on our property. I saw and heard the male for the first time on January 6, 2016. And the pair has remained the entire year. These birds are monogamous and defend a territory throughout the year.  I still hear it around some of our tall cottonwoods, especially those that have some dead branches. I heard the young begging for food right outside our front door most of the summer. These birds can sometimes hammer on your downspout or metal gutter because they have learned that these structures serve as excellent amplifiers for their communicative tapping. Some of their tapping is to excavate a home in dead wood, some is while foraging for grubs and insects beneath the bark of trees, and some is to warn others away from their territory or to attract a mate during the courting season.When such tapping is carried out on your fascia, soffit, and gable boards it is not as noisy but may be a sign of insect infestation in your wooden house. We have had some tapping on the front of our house on the gable and at least once have had to fill some shallow holes with wood filler. In spite of these risks, I am pleased to have the red bellied woodpecker as a guest in our yard. And I have learned that a pair of red bellied woodpeckers can remove as much as 85% of the emerald ash borer larvae in a single tree in a single season. We have 4 still living green ash trees and paid for injections for all 4 this year though there was no sign of definite infection yet. Maybe my red bellied woodpeckers will also help preserve these trees. The link that follows shows a red bellied woodpecker in action on trees and on the gable of a house much like we have experienced.

Red headed woodpecker
Here you can see a small
patch of red in the lower
belly of this female.

    Since you have examined the photos above and perhaps even seen a living and drilling red bellied woodpecker in the wild, you may wonder about its name. Where is the red on its belly? It certainly has a red head or at least a red stripe on its head. But the name, red headed woodpecker has already been used. And it is clear that that common name is very apt for the woodpecker pictured on the left. They are striking birds! We had a pair raising their young in our back yard several years ago, but they have apparently not found a suitable nesting tree lately. It is true that in suburbia, especially in our area, people tend to keep their dead trees and branches trimmed and removed. Thinking they are ugly, folks often remove snags as soon as they are obvious. And of course, with various tree diseases, the authorities and arborist do recommend getting rid of the dead wood. But this practice certainly hurts species like all woodpeckers.

Male pileated woodpecker
     Some of you may be familiar with the large crested pileated woodpecker pictured here. This species is rather secretive and prefers mature hardwood forests in the north in Wisconsin.  But the species ranges throughout the Eastern US, Canada, the northern boreal forests of Canada and in forests along the west coast of the US. I have only see this bird once. We were traveling to the south and at the edge of a woodlot near a motel we stayed at in Tennessee.  From a distance I saw several pileateds fluttering along the trunk of a tall tree. This woodpecker is often given the honor of modeling for the famous cartoon character,
Woody Woodpecker, whose laughing voice we all recall. Certainly the character resembles the
Acorn woodpecker
                pileated woodpecker with his red crest, but the creator of the cartoon maintains that he modeled the anthropomorphic woodpecker after the acorn woodpecker that resides in many park areas of Southern California. Walter Lantz created Woody  in the 1940s along with storyboard artist, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, creator of both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for Warner Brothers. I chased down the acorn woodpecker to add it to my life list in a regional park in Orange County while visiting my son at University of California, Irvine. Certainly the acorn's antics seemed similar to Woody Woodpecker's antics.

     Anyone who pays any attention to the birds at their feeder at all, especially if suet is being fed, will know of the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker. The problem always is telling them apart when only one is present at the feeder. There are a couple of tricks that can help. Certainly the hairy woodpecker is slightly larger but that may be hard to judge when just one bird is seen. It might help to know that the downy is the size of a house sparrow while the hairy is the size of a robin. Also you can identify them by their bill. The downy has a very dainty bill which is about a third of the length of its head, while the hairy has a big stout bill which is almost as long as the length of the hairy's head. A more subtle field marking is the side tail feathers. The hairy has all white side tail feathers whereas the downy has 2 or 3 small black spots interrupting the white of the side tail feathers. Another clue is that the downy woodpecker is much more common, particularly in suburbia, so they will be much more likely to be seen at the feeders. The hairy woodpecker prefers woody areas and tall trees so will be less likely to be seen in the suburbs. Compare the two photos below.

Downy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

Yellow bellied sapsucker
        There are a few other woodpeckers that are on my life list. Of course yellow bellied sapsuckers are fairy common around our location especially during migration. They spend winters in the southeastern US, in the West Indies and in Central America. These woodpeckers also nest in cavities that they excavate. But they also feed on sap and the insects they draw by drilling small holes in a line up and down a tree. If they happen to girdle the tree, the holes can kill the tree. There is also a fungous infection of aspens which causes the heart wood of the tree to soften and attract sapsuckers to nest there. A colony of sapsuckers can take residence and badly damage a stand of aspen. In these cases, the fungoused trees are removed to prevent a sapsucker colony from forming. There are three other species of sapsuckers but they are not nearly as common as the yellow bellied in our area.

Red cockaded woodpecker

     My birdwatching is not usually such that I will drive way out of our way to find a specific bird. But on this occasion in 2003 on a trip to Jackson, MI to meet our future daughter in law, we did make a jaunt east a to find the red cockaded woodpecker. This is one of the most studied birds in our country. It has been very threatened due to loss of habitat in the Southeast of our country. It was estimated to be down to a low of 3,000 family units but through restoration projects its estimated that there are now over 6,000 family units. This bird is a cousin of the red bellied woodpecker but its behaviors are quite different. The birds prefer to nest in tall mature pine forests that have been subject to fire so that the understory is quite thin. They also prefer very mature trees, often 80 year old trees, because these elderly ones are often subject to a fungous disease that softens the heartwood and makes it easier for this woodpecker to excavate a nest hole. Even so it often takes a pair a couple years to form their nest hole. They also have the habit of drilling small holes around the hole which fill with pine sap. It is thought that this oozing sap provides a barrier against a local predator snake that tends to seek out the nestlings. Due to these very specific requirements, there are not many stands of burned out open mature fungous infected pine trees in the Southeast of our country. Efforts have been made to get lumber companies and private land owners to leave about 10 pines to mature per acre specifically for this woodpecker. Also controlled fire burns, artificial nest cavities, and transferring family units from private land to National Forest land have all helped to bring this bird back to some degree. The red cockaded woodpecker has an interesting nesting habit. A pair will form and remain pair bonded but often several younger birds, especially males will stay with this pair and help to raise the young. Therefore a family unit often occupies one nest tree and consists of up to 6 or 8 individuals. The name of the bird refers to an occasionally seen few red feathers located on the side of the head of the male just above and behind the eye at the edge of the black cap. One can sort of imagine that color in this photo. Well, our jaunt to Noxubee Wildlife Refuge in eastern central Mississippi did allow me to put this bird on my life list.

There is another interesting family of birds that are related to the woodpeckers but they do not exist in our hemisphere. There are two species of these birds. They are called the wrynecks. When I went to a birding conference in Ailat, Israel in the 1980s, I participated in some bird banding and we were fortunate enough to band a Eurasian wryneck. They winter in The Sahel or sub Saharan Africa and then migrate north as so many birds do in the Eastern Hemisphere to breed in Eurasia. Israel forms a land bridge for a multitude of different species as they migrate out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. Therefore the Spring migrations in Israel are absolutely phenomenal for bird sightings. There is a yearly Spring Migration Festival in Ailat. Because this city is on the Red Sea and has some artificially created date palm fields and other vegetation as well as some fresh water, it serves as an oasis for these birds who are on such a long journey through desert and inhospitable territory.

     Think about the woodpecker behavior of drilling repeatedly on the hard wood of trees both to excavate a hole for breeding as well as to forage for food and to communicate with other woodpeckers and proclaim territory. Think of our human brains and how susceptible we are to concussion with just a single head bump. How do these woodpeckers do it? Well, interestingly, they are built for concussions. First their bill consists of three layers: the outer layer is strong keratin like our fingernails; the inside layer is mineralized collagen fibers and in the cavity between these two layers is a very porous spongy compressible bone. The bird's brain itself is smooth and fits very tightly inside the skull so that it can't move around a lot during the drilling and drumming action. The subdural space is very narrow and there is very little cerebrospinal fluid. Also the skull especially in the front and in the back has a very spongy compressible bone to help absorb the blows. In addition, the drums are very short and quick. It has been found that 99% of the energy created by the drum is converted to what is called strain energy. It is absorbed in elastic tissues and very quickly distributed to the entire body of the bird. That does create heat, however, and it is thought that that is why the woodpeckers only drill for a short time and then rest to let the brain cool off. Fascinating, isn't it? 

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Woman Cave

     In the 1990s, there deeloped a kind of place the theoretical need for which arose in prehistoric times. This no doubt is where it's almost universal name came from. That place is called The Man Cave. The idea of its necessity dates back to Cave Man times. Men think that since those beginning times, a man has had a need of a place where he can get away from his woman, his female family members, or even from any females of the species all together.  Today in this space, a man can do what he wants, keep whatever he wants, watch or listen to whatever he wants on TV or in music. He can keep his hobby items and the things he loves such as his beer can collection, or his guns, or all his electronic items, or even his car and mechanic tools. And he need not worry about keeping this area neat, or about leaving empty beer cans around or even yesterday's dirty dishes there. He can welcome his friends there or not -- his choice. Other members of the family and especially his wife must respect this space and not interrupt him there unless it is an emergency --  a truly life threatening emergency. The name of this space -- Man Cave -- reflects the view that such an exclusionary space has been necessary since Cave Man times. But the need in recorded history first appeared in the late 20th century. No doubt, its necessity is contributed to by so called Women's Liberation, the feminist movement. Supposedly we women first asked men to become more sensitive. When a lot of men did their best to move in this direction, women asked them to be more manly. Various other demands led men to wonder exactly what women want of them. Out of this frustration, grew the idea of a place in the home where the man could retreat from their woman's demands, and be segregated, and allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.

       The Man Cave certainly is a common occurrence. It can vary from just a corner of a room with a recliner and TV set to a den, or a portion of the garage or an entire basement space. Just Google "Man Cave" images and you will see how elaborate such a space can be. Here are some fancy ones from the Internet. Some were posted on Pinterest and others on various blogs. These photos were intended to serve as idea sources for the Man who really wants his Cave.


     Of course, the theory behind having a Man Cave is that the entire rest of the house is the woman's domain which she rules. Traditionally she takes responsibility for decorating the rest of the house, for maintaining its neatness and orderliness. This remainder of the house regularly includes spaces where she does most of her housework -- the kitchen, the laundry, the mud room, the bedrooms where she makes the beds and cleans; the bathrooms which all family members use and she takes the responsibility for keeping them clean, the living room which she maintains in a presentable order so that guests can be shown an orderly household. She may have a corner of the couple's bedroom, or a space that she can do crafting, or a corner of the living room where she can read. But usually these spaces do not carry the exclusivity that the Man Cave owns. If Mom is needed,  even sitting on the toilet in the bathroom is not off limits. The children and maybe even the husband can approach the door of the bathroom and make whatever demands they feel necessary at that specific time.

      From this description one can discern that these women's spaces in the home are different than the Man Cave. First of all, many of these spaces are where the homemaker does a lot of her work in maintaining the household. Even a woman who works outside the home is still responsible for the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning. If she doesn't do it herself, she is the one who hires, supervises, and pays someone else to do it. And if a woman does indeed have a space that she calls her own, it is usually not exclusive. Young children, adolescents and even the husband/father will approach this woman in her own space and demand a problem solution immediately.

     A woman who maintains the household, raises the children, often works outside the home has just as much need for her own exclusive space as the man. Although the woman may require a slight difference in her space. She usually wants it peaceful, pleasant, perhaps with space and storage to do the things she loves to do with her leisure. It may include the need for quiet, relaxing music, exercise, or crafting.

       So I googled "Woman Cave" and found likewise many images of spaces that have been created in the home for a woman to retreat and do her thing. I especially like some of the names for this space: In addition to Woman Cave, there is girl cave, she shed, diva den, babe cave, or even bitch cave.

     Within the last year, my husband and I have worked to clean out our basement. This is a very large space that stretches under the entire house. It was never finished. And over the 20 years that we have lived here, it had collected a huge amount of detritus. There was a huge amount of left over building supplies from when we built the house -- extra boxes of tiles, carpeting, wooden molding, paint, and various plumbing and electrical fixtures. Also we had moved some "stuff" from the old home and placed it down in the basement. We had torn down a house where we built this house and there were even kitchen cabinets which were new in that house we tore down. We had saved some of those items. We had tax records for our own personal tax accounts as well as rental and income tax records that pertained to the 20 apartment units we owned and managed, dating back almost 20 years. There were also light bulbs, garbage disposals, tools and other items needed to maintain those apartment units. On top of all this stuff a light coating of dust and dirt had settled. What a mess. Slowly, slowly I worked to get through all this stuff, decide what we needed to keep and what needed to be tossed. Slowly we worked our way through all those records and tossed what we no longer needed. Some had to be taken to be professionally shredded for privacy sake. After cleaning a lot of this stuff out, we hired two fellows to paint the cement block basement walls. After some further weeding through things and some degree of organization down there, we then hired the same two fellows to paint the basement floor. They had to do it in two sessions moving around the stuff we wanted to keep, from unpainted end to the painted end. Once that was done, I spent some more time organizing what was left.

       What I created was a space of my own. I haven't decided whether I want to call it my crone cave, or my bitch basement. I need this space because my husband is somewhat autocratic and he basically rules the upper part of the house. He even tries to tell me how to load the dishwasher. And if I do load it, he always moves things around to follow his own rules. He has control of the great room TV and  if he wants to watch sports or something else I am not interested in, I have to watch an old one in my bedroom. I do have a reading chair in my bedroom, but there is no exclusivity. And there is not room to spread out any creative projects that I might have going on now as a retired woman.

       Sooooo...... I created my Bitch Basement. I moved some bookcases that were down there but never utilized. They now effectively divide the basement into two sections. The back section has all those building supplies organized in one place either on shelves, or where appropriate in boxes labeled with what is inside. There are also storage shelves which my husband put up when we first moved here but now there is less stuff on them and they are more organized. In the other section opening immediately as you descend the stairs, I have created my space. I resurrected my two fish tanks which were sitting around empty. I now have a 45 gallon African cichlid tank up and running. And I have a 30 gallon freshwater angel tank. I moved the old kitchen counter with its raised counter over in front of the wine cellar where it can serve as a wine bar. I took all my art books down there and placed them in order onto the shelves facing into the room.. And I hauled my large drawing table and easel down there, set up a table with my art media, and set up lighting to enable me to do my art projects. I mounted some of my previous art works on a wooden wall to the workroom that is adjacent to this section of the basement. Now I can go down there and sip a wine, watch my fish, or work on a watercolor, pastel, or acrylic painting. I can utilize the cleared off counter in the workroom for any more crafty or mechanical project as well. It is exclusive because my poor husband has a bad knee and doesn't go down there anymore unless absolutely necessary for some household needs. Voila Crone Cave, up and running. The basement is not really finished. The rafters, the plumbing and the wiring is all still visible in the ceiling, but it is clean and organized. I love it.

        Here are some photos.
My 45 gallon African cichlid tank.

Various cichlids: from left to right: giraffe cichlid, 3 acei cichlids, red zebra, kenyi cichlid in upper right.

The hungry hordes getting fed at the surface. Left to right: red zebra, acei cichlid, and bumble bee cichlid to the right top.

My little art studio area.

Head on view of my drawing table/easel. Media are placed on side table.

My 30 gallon angelfish tank, which is a community tank with a mated pair of angelfish.

My 30 gallon fish tank: two German blue rams flanking corydoras resting on the bottom.

Petricola catfish on left, a corydora on right, and albino plecostomus in doorway of decorative house.

Big triple spot gourami, head on.
The gourami broad side.
The big male angelfish.
Female angelfish.

One of my three corydoras in the 30 gallon tank.

The albino bristlenose plecostomus.

This big male angel is not allowed in the 30 gallon tank. The mated pair immediately attack him. So he resides in
a 10 gallon aquarium by himself.

The spread of my various attempts at artwork. An overview.

The first of my art pieces.

My first attempt at acrylic painting. This a beach at the Grand Turk, in the Caribbean. Painted it on a cruise.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Kensho. Wow! I Had No Idea!

Sartori  Visionary Art by Martin La Spina
The article below describes my experience of kensho or sartori and provides a little bit of information
about this very powerful Zen spiritual event.

     It was January, 2016. I had been a member of the Spirit Mind Body Group now meeting at the Mindfulness Center on Locust for probably 12 or 15 years. The history of this group is written about in another article. Since shortly after our leader’s death, I had been serving as the moderator/facilitator, pressed into this role by the consensus of the group, being first suggested as the leader by our former leader’s wife. Again you will have to read something about this group in other articles. On Thursday, our regular meeting day, January 28, another member and I were scheduled to cooperate in a presentation considering “Women’s Wisdom.” There is a summary of what we had presented on my Spirit Mind Body blog. This presentation had necessitated me to search as my co=presenter had done for something to document, something to present, something that would sound better than just empty aphorisms about wise women’s sayings. My colleague wanted something deeper than that. This had prompted me to do some searching into the legends of The Goddess, and even some modern Wiccan ideas. I had even sent for several copies of the Sage Woman magazine, especially one with a theme called “WiseWomen”.This magazine, along with two others  --The Crone and Wiccans and Pagans—all delve into the modern Wiccan religion, which features The Goddess as the icon, in many different forms, dating back to pre-recorded history when the Goddess was worshiped. My colleague had brought along a copy of the current National Geographic magazine the cover article of which Is on the Virgin Mary and her current and previous almost cult worship. I get this magazine thanks to my mother who pays for my subscription of this magazine as a gift, but I had not read this particular one.

    Now it was Sunday, January 31, 2016. I had awakened at about 7:22AM, had tried to go back to sleep and failed. I sat up in bed. Recently, I had purchased a floor lamp, a reading lamp to place beside the easy chair in my bedroom. I needed the light due to my worsening cataract I think, and therefore had made this chair a much more attractive place to read, especially on a somewhat dark, cloudy day like this Sunday was starting out to be. I grabbed the “Mary” National Geographic and went over to that chair. As I often do I gazed out over Lake Michigan, thinking that this was a place in my house that I didn’t take advantage of as much as I should. Such a beautiful view, although today it was rather grey and drab. Still that view out over the lake is always, no matter what the weather, beautiful and a source of inspiration. As I sat there, I was thinking about this space, and some other spaces I had recently created in our basement by painting the walls and floor and cleaning it out, resurrecting my 45 gallon fish tank and stocking it, and creating a space for my art table and for all my art books and supplies, almost like a small artist studio, something I had never had beforer. I was planning for further enhancement of those spaces and just day dreaming, looking out over the lake. The sky had brightened slightly and the view was much more pleasant, though still introspective and clouded. I am currently starting a watercolor painting based on a sunrise photo over the lake and was thinking I should try to remember this aspect of the lake views as another possible painting subject.

     Finally I picked up the NG magazine and turned to the Mary story, and began to read. Every now and then I would look up at the lake view. The article opens with the story of Medjugorje, Bosnia Herzegovina. I knew about this sight of Mary apparitions and miracles because our former cleaning lady had actually traveled there in order to experience these visions, healings and sightings of the Virgin Mary. I had always thought very little of them and also had always thought she was too religious and following a blind faith. But I knew about Medjugorje through her. I was reading the following section on page 34, the first written page of the article: “I’m in Medjugorje with a group of Americans, mostly hockey dads from the Boston area, plus two men and two women with stage 4 cancer. We’re led by 59 year old Arthur Boyle, father of 13, who first came here on Labor Day 2000, riddled with cancer and given months to live. He felt broken and dejected and would not have made the trip had not two friends forced him into it. But that first night, after he went to confession at St. James the Apostle church, psychological relief came rapidly.

     “ ‘The anxiety and depression were gone,’ he told me. ‘You know when you’re carrying someone on your shoulder in a swimming pool water flight—they come off, and you feel light and free? I was like, wait a minute, what just happened to me? Why is that?’

     “The next morning with his friends Bob and Kevin, he met another of the “visionaries,” Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, in a jewelry shop and asked for her help. Gripping his head with one hand, she appealed to the Virgin Mary to cure him. Boyle said he experienced an unusual sensation right there in the store. ‘She starts to pray over me. Bob and Kevin put their hands on me, and the heat that went through my body from her praying was causing them to sweat.’

     “ Back in Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that his tumors had shrunk to almost nothing.

     “Since then Boyle has been back to Medjugorje 13 times. ‘I’m a regular guy,’ he said. ‘I like to play hockey and drink beer. I play golf.’ But, he continued, ‘I had to change things in my life.’ Today, Boyle said, he’s become, ‘a sort of mouthpiece for Jesus Christ’s healing power and of course, the Mother, and the power of her intercession.’”

      I don’t recall, but I don’t think I could even complete this whole reading. By the time I read “Back in Boston”, I was being overcome by something. I looked up at the lake and it was even more beautiful, still cloudy and grey but more beautiful. I felt a sense of oneness, of wholeness, of a joining with the whole universe. I felt that everything in life would be fine. And in death, also. I felt a sense of being taken care of and of compassion toward others. It was enormously expansive. Tears were just running down my face. I ignored them and just gazed out at the Lake. This sensation went on for some minutes. I have felt sensations of expansiveness before, sometimes consciously induced by meditation or by Buddhist and mindfulness readings but they were always somewhat intellectual and compared to this overwhelming sensation, somewhat forced as though they were something that I was supposed to feel at that time. And except for one previous experience, these lesser experiences were always quite brief. This sensation completely took over my body. My breathing was rapid, I think my heart was beating fast, I don’t know. I felt my head rise and as though I were uplifted. And again the tears flowed. I have never experienced anything this intense. In all of our world travels, in seeing so many wonderful beautiful places, I have never experienced anything this intense. And here it is occurring right in my chair looking out over our view of Lake Michigan. Even as I write about it now and as I was restating some of the magazine article above, some tears came and a brief less intense repetition of this feeling occurred. Wow! I don’t know how to put it into words

     Later, after I had recovered, I was continuing to read the article, when again I looked up at the lake. A hazy sun had come through the clouds and created a pink path on the lake surface that I love so much. I gazed at it, thinking that I had to preserve this for my art projects and also I decided that I wanted to write about this experience and this view right now would help me portray it. So I got up and went for Amos’ camera and took several photos. I will include these in this write up to perhaps stimulate the reader or just help me to focus on this experience again in the future.

     I don’t know what this was. Perhaps my reading about The Goddess, and presenting about Womens’ Wisdom and my work at creating truly spiritual places in my home, and then the view which certainly has stimulated previous less intense comtemplative moments in my life – then reading about Medjugorje, and the Virgin Mary. Perhaps this was an intercession by her. I don’t know but it was wonderful.

     Unfortunately my memory of this is already fading. That is why I felt I needed to sit down and write about it. I needed to somehow recall this sensation of reassurance, compassion, and oneness – this expansiveness. I want to be able to call upon this in the future. I want to maintain this feeling. After all these years of Spirit Mind Body, after my childhood of being raised within the Congregational Church by fairly religious and practicing Protestants, after all my meditation and mindfulness, all my intellectual readings and seekings for enlightenment, it is ironic that reading about the Catholic Virgin Mary and Medjugorje is what produced what I now regard as a moment of true enlightenment. I think that the very special view of my Lake Michigan and past number of times that it has inspired lesser moments also played a role. Now the important thing is to keep it going. Of course, the NG article proceeds to put a map of all the places where the Virgin Mary has been seen and the degree of documentation of those sightings. There is a slight attempt to bring science into the mix in the article. And of course, my scientific background has me even trying to explain what happened to me this morning  But it is like Arthur Boyle’s doctor said, that perhaps it was the heat created in Arthur’s body by the praying that cured the cancer, but “he added, ‘I also believe there are times in human life when we are way beyond what we ever expect.’”

     “Boyle said that although he continued his tests after his return from Medjugorje, ‘it was faith that enabled me to get into a state of peace where my immune system rebooted itself and killed the cancer – that was all done through God.’ “

     In thinking about this experience and as the hours from it have passed, I still find myself falling back on my scientific background. Did my autonomic nervous system totally create this feeling? Was there nothing else to it? I am not ready yet to say there is a personified God somewhere in heaven and a place where his Holy Mother sits beside Jesus and intercedes for us. But after this experience there is a strong belief is “Something”, some force, some not understood causal complex organization of the universe and of being itself that must give meaning to our existence. I hope to continue to seek and try to bring about this great sense of expansiveness that I have experienced today. It was so ineffable that I have to end my attempts to explain it right here.

     Nov. 18, 2016.

     This past Thursday at Spirit, Mind, Body Group meeting one of our members, himself an author of a book on spirituality and science, presented a piece entitled “Miracle of Faith Healing:. He first told about driving past a deer that had been hit on the road and probably had his leg broken. Gary drove on by, but then began thinking that he should have stopped. He is an MD and thought perhaps he could have helped somehow. The police were there,  but he thought maybe he could have somehow helped the deer. “Maybe I could have healed the deer.” He told us that he has always wanted to heal someone, even to heal an animal, a pet dog, or this deer. Then he went on to talk about healing by faith. He read the introduction of “A Course in Miracles” to us. He doesn’t understand why more people don’t use faith healing. From his lead, our group’s discussion, as it often does, went far afield. But it began to center on moments of enlightenment, or moments of spiritual inspiration, during meditation and at other times. Various words were used such as the Eureka, or theAha! Moment, prayerful feelings, and other such feelings. Of course, Gary has written in his soon to be published book, about non-local reality, and other quantum physics ideas of his. Then someone asked Gary “What is enlightenment, and how do we know we have experienced this?” Some were confusing MIhalyi Czikscentmihalyi’s idea of “flow” with a moment of spiritual expansiveness. As the moderator of the group, I tried to clear up these ideas. Czikscentmihalyi’s “flow” is different than enlightenment or mindfulness practice. It goes on for a long time and is not so much a moving spiritual event. It is joy or happiness while doing a task and losing all sense of time while perfectly accomplishing the task. I explained this process of “flow” as described by Czikscentmihalyi involves combining perfectly or almost perfectly a challenging task with the person’s own ability to accomplish that task thus creating this timeless sense of accomplishment or “flow”. I explained that if you put the degree of challenge of a task on the vertical axis, and you plot your ability to accomplish that specific task on the horizontal axis, then flow would occur on a bisecting line starting at zero and progressing at a 45 degree angle from the zero point. If the task is too easy for your abilities, you will fall down near the horizontal axis and will be bored. If the task is too hard for your abilities, you will fall above the 45 degree line and you will be frustrated. One member of the group said this was the best explanation he had ever heard of “flow.” Of course, then in his 2nd and 3rd books, Mihalyi Czikscentmihalyi tried to explain how to bring flow into the activities of every day life.

     Then others began to talk about brief moments of spiritual insight often experienced during moments of meditation, or at other times. But then some described moments of spiritual insight that come over one at unguarded moments, such as while crossing a street. It was thought that the surest way to chase away a spiritual moment is to try to achieve that moment. The harder you try, the less likely it will occur. You have to just surrender and try to ignore the ego, and then it may occur.

     With this discussion I felt I had to briefly mention the feeling that I experienced which I described above. I had felt it to a much more minor degree some years ago while going for a walk, after having read some of the books by Redfield, (One was The Celestine Prophecy). These books talked about looking at a person and seeing their aura. On this walk in our Circle Road neighborhood, I was walking around looking at the trees and trying to see their aura. While doing this I had a shorter period, feeling an expansional sensation and with a few tears, but it didn’t last as long as the one described above. One  member of our Spirit Mind Body group, asked me to describe the experience I had earlier this year and I did. The group was mesmerized by my description because I felt it so strongly then. Then the President of the Mindfulness Center, a member of our Spirit Mind Body Group who understands Buddhism better than any of the group, mentioned the phenomenon called kensho. After the meeting, Paul said to me: “You experienced kensho. That’s what that was.” I had never heard this word before and so I had to read about it.

     After some research, at this time, the way I understand it, kensho is a spiritual degree of enlightenment which the Buddhists say can occur in at least three levels. Some are more minor. Some are like mine. And others approach what the Buddha experienced as enlightenment.  One monk is cited as having had 18 such episodes during his life as a monk. So guess what? I experienced something really cool. Kensho. I want to read more about this and I will write more about it.
    Later: I read a little information from Wikipedia. Kensho literally means in the Japanese Zen tradition, seeing one’s true nature. Other words in other spitirual traditions are enlightenment, nirvana, in Christianity, a revelation, an epiphany, a theophany, or the moksha of Hinduism. Originally in Buddhism kensho referred specifically to the awakening that occurred after a lengthy training in koan interpretation. But kensho has also occurred during meditation. The word, kensho,  in some traditions has been used for the first awakening or a brief episode of spiritual “knowing”. Sartori has been used again by some traditions to mean a kensho that has a more lasting affect or is more of a process than a sudden single moment of experience

     Quoting from Wikipedia for your information:

Encyclopedic and dictionary definitions[edit]

Some encyclopedia and dictionary definitions are:

  • Soothill (1934): "To behold the Buddha-nature within oneself, a common saying of the Chan (Zen) or Intuitive School."[15]
  • Fischer-Schreiber (1991): Lit. "seeing nature"; Zen expression for the experience of awakening (enlightenment). Since the meaning is "seeing one's own true nature," kenshō is usually translated "self-realization." Like all words that try to reduce the conceptually ungraspable experience of enlightenment to a concept, this one is also not entirely accurate and is even misleading, since the experience contains no duality of "seer" and "seen" because there is no "nature of self' as an object that is seen by a subject separate from it.[10]
  • Baroni (2002): "Seeing one's nature," that is, realizing one's own original Buddha Nature. In the Rinzai school, it most often refers more specifically to one's initial enlightenment attained though kōan practice.[1]
  • Muller (year unknown): To see one's own originally enlightened mind. To behold the Buddha-nature within oneself, a common saying of the Chan school, as seen for example, in the phrase 'seeing one's nature, becoming Buddha' 見性成佛.[14]

Definitions by Buddhist scholars[edit]

Buddhist scholars have defined kenshō as:

  • D.T. Suzuki: "Looking into one's nature or the opening of satori";[16] "This acquiring of a new point of view in our dealings with life and the world is popularly called by Japanese Zen students 'satori' (wu in Chinese). It is really another name for Enlightenment (Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi)".[17][note 4]
  • Dumoulin (1988/2005): "Enlightenment is described here as an insight into the identity of one's own nature with all of reality in an eternal now, as a vision that removes all distinctions. This enlightenment is the center and the goal of the Zen way. Hakuin prefers the term "seeing into one's nature", which for him means ultimate reality. The Buddha nature and the cosmic Buddha body, wisdom (prajna), and emptiness (sunyata), the original countenance one had before one was born, and other expressions from the rich palette of Mahayana terms were all familiair to him from his continued study of the sutras and Zen literature."[19]
  • Peter Harvey (1990): "It is a blissful realization where a person's inner nature, the originally pure mind, is directly known as an illuminating emptiness, a thusness which is dynamic and immanent in the world."[20]
  • G. Victor Sogen Hori (2000): "The term consists of two characters: ken, which means "see" or "seeing", and sho, which means "nature", "character", "quality." To "see one's nature" is the usual translation for kensho".[2]

Definitions by Buddhist teachers and practitioners[edit]

Buddhist teachers and practitioners have defined kenshō as:

  • Jiyu-Kennett: "To see into one's own nature. The experience of enlightenment, satori."[21]
  • Myodo Ni Satomi, a student of Hakuun Yasutani (1993): "Seeing the-self, that is, the true self or Buddha nature."[22]

Further notions[edit]

The term kenshō refers to the realization of nonduality of subject and object in general,[23] but the term kenshō may also be applied in other contexts:[24] "How do you kenshō this?"[23]

Kenshō is not a single experience, but refers to a whole series of realizations from a beginner's shallow glimpse of the nature of mind, up to a vision of emptiness equivalent to the 'Path of Seeing' or to Buddhahood itself. In all of these, the same 'thing' is known, but in different degrees of clarity and profundity.[20][25]

"Kenshō" is commonly translated as enlightenment, a word that is also used to translate bodhi, prajna, satori and buddhahood. Western discourse tends to use these terms interchangeably, but there is a distinction between a first insight, and the further development toward Buddhahood.

Insight versus experience[edit]

Kensho is insight, an understanding of reality as-it-is.[26][20][19][23] Contemporary understanding also describes kensho as an experience, as in "enlightenment experience"; the term "enlightenment experience" is itself a tautology: "Kensho (enlightenment) is an enlightenment (kensho)-experience".

The notion of "experience" fits in a popular set of dichotomies: pure (unmediated) versus mediated, noncognitive versus cognitive, experiential versus intellectual, intuitive versus intellectual, nonrational versus rational, nondiscursive versus discursive, nonpropositional versus propositional.[27]

The notion of pure experience (junsui kuiken) to interpret and understand kensho was introduced by Nishida Kitaro in his An Inquiry into the Good (1911), under influence of "his somewhat idiosyncratic reading of western philosophy",[28] especially William James, who wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience.[note 5] Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion of "religious experience" to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of "religious experience" was used by Schleiermacher to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular critique. It was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential.[30][note 6] D.T. Suzuki, who introduced Nishida Kitaro to western philosophy, took over this notion of pure experience, describing it as the essence of all religions,[28] but best represented in the superior Japanese culture and religion.[35][36]

The influence of western psychology and philosophy on Japanese Buddhism was due to the persecution of Buddhism at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, and the subsequent efforts to construct a New Buddhism (shin bukkyo), adapted to the modern times.[37][38][34] It was this New Buddhism which has shaped the understanding of Zen in the west,[39] especially through the writings of D.T. Suzuki[40][41][34] and the Sanbo Kyodan, an exponent of the Meiji-era opening of Zen-training for lay-followers.[42]
The notion of "experience" has been criticised.[39][43][44] Robert Sharf points out that "experience" is a typical western term, which has found its way into Asian religiosity via western influences.[39][note 7] The notion of "experience" introduces a false notion of duality between "experiencer" and "experienced", where-as the essence of kensho is the realisation of the "non-duality" of observer and observed.[23][26] "Pure experience" does not exist; all experience is mediated by intellectual and cognitive activity.[27][46] The specific teachings and practices of a specific tradition may even determine what "experience" someone has, which means that this "experience" is not the proof of the teaching, but a result of the teaching.[47] A pure consciousness without concepts, reached by "cleaning the doors of perception"[note 8], would be an overwhelming chaos of sensory input without coherence.[49] The notion of "experience" also over-emphasises kensho, as if it were the single goal of Zen-training, where-as the Zen-tradition clearly states that "the stink of Zen"[50] has to be removed and the "experience" of kensho has to be integrated into daily life.[51][4][8] In the Rinzai-school this post-satori training includes the study and mastering of great amounts of classical Chinese poetry, which is far from "universal" and culture-transcending. On the contrary, it demands an education in culture-specific language and behaviour, which is measured by specific and strict cultural norms.[52] Emphasising "experience" "reduces the sophisticated dialectic of Ch'an/Zen doctrine and praxis to a mere "means" or set of techniques intended to inculcate such experiences


               This morning I was flipping through my facebook and came upon someone’s reposting of Jackie Ivanya’s rendition of God Bless America sang at the Capitol July 4th Celebration this last summer or maybe the year before. I have so often heard this song or more commonly the song, Amazing Grace, sung and have had an overwhelming sense of … well, I have always called it nostalgia. Tears do come to my eyes and my overwhelming sense is to try to control this lack of control. But now after thinking about the intense experience of last January and after reading about the definitions of kensho, I am wondering if these experiences, certainly more common in my life now, are really minor episodes of kensho. The definitions talk about more minor episodes and more intense ones, and then longer lasting ones which are sometimes more defined as sartori. I now wonder if rather than trying to control these rather common episodes, I would be better off just embracing the sensation or even trying to encourage the expansiveness and sense of oneness, and non duality that is defined as part of a kensho experience. I am thinking that these common experiences are really a touch of the Absolute, of our own Buddha Nature. Wow. If so then I am much more in touch with that Higher Power than I have ever thought. It may be that this connectiveness, this sense of the True Self is much more easily obtained. It might be true that you just have to open to it and let it happen. I will try this in the future whenever I am moved to tears by commercials, family moments, and things that move me when I am reading