Ecological Faith

Reading the walls in bathroom stalls has always been a sacred routine for me. But recently I read a quote on a stall that offended me: “If we were made to stand still we would have roots instead of legs”.

This bothers me, because as an aspiring botanist and ecologist, I have enormous respect for all life. To say that a plant stands still is, in my opinion, quite a narrow-minded outlook.

My imagination has led me to a belief system that is beautiful, and that everyone (I think) can take something from. And it stems (no pun intended) from thinking about the life cycle of living things- particularly plants (being a wannabe-botanist and all).

From what I’ve learned in my various biological courses, it seems to me that plants are not altogether unlike people, at least in terms of reproduction. Check this out:

lifecycle of a plant

lifecylce of a man

I don’t really feel like explaining exactly what these diagrams depict, but you can kind of just look and see that there’s quite a bit of similarity between them, right? If you want to understand them a little bit better, you can find explanations here.

Most plant species today reproduce sexually. They have male and female parts, and although their mechanisms for exchanging genetic information are very different than ours (pollination versus copulation), the outcome is still basically the same: creating new, unique life out of two parent organisms.

But the fact that plant reproduction shares some similarity to humans isn’t really the point (even though I did want to stick it to the writer of that message on the bathroom stall). Even if a plant doesn’t reproduce sexually, asexual reproduction in plants still leads to more plants, although with major limitations (travels less distance and there’s no variation – both bad news, evolutionarily speaking).

With plants, it’s very easy to see that seeds/spores/clones are, in a way, simply extensions of the parent plants. Who’s to say that the seed/spore/clone that comes off a mother plant isn’t actually just a continuation of parent plants?

The point is that the way we define individual lives is just that… a definition.

And if that’s true for a plant, then who’s to say that a child isn’t just a continuation of their parents?

And when you start to think like that, your mind thinks back and back and back to the shared common ancestors we all have to the original bacteria that scientists think existed originally. We all started out from stardust. So aren’t we all, in some way, part of the same, original life form?

When I start to think think like this, I start feeling less like an individual life-form, and more like an extension of all life that predates me.

I think about energy, and the recycling of all matter, and it seems that we truly are all just so intrinsically connected in so many basic ways. When we decompose, our molecules feed so many plants and insects, whom in turn end up feeding us (through the circle of life—obligatory Lion King reference goes here*).

It’s easy to think of this plant next to me as a separate entity, because it looks and feels separate. But consider the gases that we, as humans, exchange with plants. I’ve heard that the air we breathe could have been breathed by someone a millennia  ago. Or maybe I’m breathing the air that someone in China breathed 6 years ago.

It all just feels so connected when you think about it this way.

I belief in life, and energy. I believe in feeling compassion and care for all beings who hold life. I believe these are lessons to be taught.

I hope I changed your day. =)

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

Thoughts about Thinking about Thought

(This is an old draft I pulled out of the dusty closet).

With every thought that occurs there are an infinite number of ways to think about the thought. I tried to create a list here of some the different ways we can think about thought, or at least some of the ways I think about thought.

– the psychology/psychiatry of why you thought it

  • the neurological connections your brain made to come up with that thought, based on your own body’s neurological chemistry and physiology. Changes with food input, environment, social interaction, etc.

– the history of people who have thought that before and made use of it

  • essays, novels, poems, journals, etc. Considerations of all previous works must be taken into account when you think about anything. Very slim chance any thought is remotely original.

– the impact on your brain of thinking that thought

  • your connections with what you experience  with what you already know, brain loops where what you see affirms what you know, furthers bonds in brain. Why memory is all actually the remembering memories.

– the impact on other people of thinking that thought

  • your actions might change
  • you see the world differently as a result of that thought (even if only in a minor way), and as such you interact with people differently

– your personality traits that lead you to think that

  • nature (genetics/DNA)
  • nurture- how your parents raised you, every experience you’ve ever had, your environment

–  how to utilize that thought

  • create something from it
  • let it get stored in brain
  • it becomes part of subconscious and gets put into a dream

I am OBSESSED with thought. Is there a class for this??? Is this healthy? When does thinking (about thinking) become an obsession? When does it do more harm than good?

Sometimes I just can’t relax and let the thoughts that occur to me flow. Instead, I often get stuck obsessing over thinking about the why/how/results of thinking those thoughts. It’s like as soon as I think something, I can’t let go of the awareness that I’m thinking of it. Even when I realize I’m thinking, I realize that I realize that I’m thinking about thinking… It’s a ridiculous and unproductive loop that leads me nowhere and makes it hard for me to accomplish anything up there in my brain.

Absolutely ridiculous. But sort of awesome.

… (and Smell the Roses)

Inspired by that Sherlock episode as well this TED Talk about memory hacks, I’ve recently begun to construct my own “mind palace,” which is visual storage you create in your mind for memories (for the record, my mind palace is way more awesome than just a palace. Just sayin’).

Why am I doing this, you ask? (I’m assuming you did ask).

Mostly because I’m just bored enough in the car, giving me time to think about the random tidbits, and also because I’m curious to see if this mind palace idea will really change the way I think and experience the world.

The thing is, the other day I was driving these kids around (it’s supposed to be called “professional” babysitting), and I couldn’t figure out how to get one kid to swim practice and the other to a karate lesson, even though I’d done the drive a couple times before. And it made me feel a little pathetic. I hadn’t realized how reliant I’d become on that damn GPS!

Technology has corrupted us on so many levels. I don’t mean to say that technology is the bane of our existence, or that it is evil in any major way. Actually, I’ve gotten to the point where I do believe that it has the strong potential to help each and every one of us. But in many ways, it has ‘hacked’ our lives [I’ve heard this phrase applied to technology so many times that I kind of hate myself for using it here, but the term really does ‘sync’ up well…].

Think about the introvert who has every excuse not to leave their house, or when they do, at least they can put on headphones. The student who doesn’t need to read the whole chapter of a textbook to find the answer they’re looking for, they can just ask google. The dieter counting ‘points’ on their smartphone app instead of scoffing at their friend’s corny joke made over a corned beef sandwich.

The trick is to figure out a way to make technology work for you. Instead of sitting at home watching TV (obviously I’m guilty of this too, just look at sentence 1), look up how to do a 10-minute workout in your room. Instead of getting absorbed into that smartphone screen, look up and check out those ducks that just flew overhead. Instead of making eyes at your GPS, look up at the STOP sign that has ‘and smell the roses’ scribbled underneath (this didn’t actually happen to me, I had to google ‘funny stop signs’… but maybe it would have if I hadn’t succumbed to my GPS).

For me, the best thing about technology is the information I can access. I watched that TED Talk literally months ago, and I haven’t forgotten it. And in light of my recent realization about how poor my memory has become, I decided to give the mind palace thing a shot.

If it doesn’t work out, I don’t really care. The point is that I learned something new. I got inspired and curious, and I decided to change my life in a minor way.

Do yourself a favor and think about the coolest thing you’ve seen on the internet recently. Was it a video about making oobleck? Make it yourself!

Have some fun, try new things, and take the internet and technology by the (metaphorical) horns. Ride the bull! Whoooooo!

Getting a little bit carried away here… better end this thing now. Karpay dee-um my friends.

On the Rampage for Internships

I blame the dirty chai this time, as well as the Environmental Studies major whom I talked to in between sips.

For some reason, every now and then I feel compelled to spend hours at a time searching every corner of the internet for internships in my generic field of interest. I search databases with a sense of urgency, plugging in the terms ‘ecology,’ ‘forest ecology,’ ‘forestry,’ ‘botany,’ ‘plant ecology,’ ‘plant science,’ ‘biology,’ ‘conservation biology,’ etc. Everything but the multiple windows I’ve opened (each with fifteen different tabs) fades from my mind. In a way this practice is meditative.

On the other hand, it makes me analyze myself on a professional level. I have to evaluate myself and ask, ‘could I really do this’? I consider my experience and my passion. Also, the plethora of options available are a source of inspiration. There are so many careers out there! There are so many different fields that I find fascinating, and would love to jump into.

But there is a dark side to this frenzy. For every internship I find that meets all of my requirements (something I would love to do, that I have the qualifications for, that doesn’t cost money in any capacity, that fits around school), there are about ten times as many internships that I can’t or won’t do for whatever reason. It’s depressing to see all the missed opportunities I’ll never experience. I get stressed out and begin to feel that my time is slipping away from me too fast.

And then there’s the lingering fear that I’m stuck in the mud. I’ve missed so many opportunities, and what do I have to show for it? What have I been doing that’s so exciting, that’s so educational, that gives me something to put on my resume, that I can brag about when I see the extras in my life (acquaintances, people from High School, distant friends of family). And most important of all, what have I been doing that makes me feel accomplished?

Right now I’m in school. I love it, and that’s not something I tell myself to feel like I’m not wasting my time. I truly love it. But in San Francisco, a hustling and bustling city where it feels like everyone is ahead of me in life (and most probably are- I’m only 20, I keep having to remind myself), it’s easy to feel like going to school isn’t enough. SFSU is a commuter college, and the people are busy. It isn’t enough to be a full time student here. A young woman in my chemistry class has an 11-month year old child, works full-time, and is a full-time student. I said, “I bet you get great grades, too.” She does.

I want to tell myself that it’s ok to be where I’m at, that it’s ok to go at my own pace. But in this society, that simply isn’t the case. The mentality seems to be if you’re not moving full speed ahead, you’re left in the dust. You’re the one that gets pity and encouraging words.

My parents always let me set my own track, encouraging me with a hands-off approach. That would be great, except that the Palo Alto school district I grew up in banged the message of success on my head repeatedly from a young age. To Silicon Valley, success means money fame and power. To my parents, success means personal satisfaction. So there’s always been a bit of a disconnect. Accomplishment is the key word here. I have a drive to accomplish many great things. I want to help people, help the planet, and help myself.

My drive for accomplishment I don’t have a problem with. The pressure of success (in the Silicon Valley terms) is the issue I do have a problem with. That pressure and expectation breeds fear, and fear stops me from applying to these internships. I must have seen a thousand internships in the two years I’ve searched, and applied to only one.

One.

I know it’s not just me. The fear of failure is an insidious trap that many fall into. Is this expectation of success a failure of our society? Do we let our need for accomplishment outweigh our happiness? Or does it keep us going, pushing us to higher and higher places, benefitting all?

I know time and help from family and friends will help me reckon with this frazzled mentality. But at the same time I know that my inner tempest will never truly be gone. I’ll never let myself get too comfortable, or too situated. Maybe this is just something that happens to city people- we never settle down, never slow down long enough to truly enjoy where we’re at in life.

In the meantime I think I’ll cut back on the dirty chais, practice computer-closing, and breathe a little deeper.

In Response to All the Sexist Posts I See on Facebook

Facebook is a social media website, so I’m not exactly surprised when I see sexist comics or memes posted on pages I’ve liked. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. Time after time I ‘unlike’ pages that post misogynistic generalizations of women. I don’t want to do that. Those pages often have more to offer than those posts, and I enjoy those other aspects to their pages.

In the past I’ve commented on sexist posts, explaining to the creators of the page why it’s not ok to post those things, so that hopefully they’ll understand their wrongdoing (not something I do often, because it’s so futile). Often times people, even my friends, retaliate, saying that it’s not that big of a deal, or that I should just get over it, or that women do the same thing.

It makes me angry and sad that people laugh at women’s efforts to change the world. It makes me sad when people think of feminists as ‘feminazis’ who should ‘just get over it’ because ‘women have equal rights now’ and ‘sexism isn’t really a big deal anymore’.

I don’t want to have to delete people and pages from my life because they make me sad. I don’t want to put up with a world that tells me to give up. I don’t want to give up. I want to believe that people can change, and that they WANT to change, that they want to be better people.

These facebook pages have a lot of influence on people. They represent the social media scene, and their posts are seen by thousands of people (each individually). It’s too bad the comics exist at all, but facebook pages don’t need to post links to them constantly. They can post funny or interesting things that don’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Society has made many women feel vulnerable, and feminists are those that seek to reclaim their power. There are unreasonable extremists who get carried away with that power, but they are not representative of the majority. Many feminists are angry and have every reason to be. Some people react to misogyny with apathy, some feel sad, some decide to get angry and DO something about it. They don’t want to give up, and if they have to raise their fists in the air to make someone listen, then they will. And they should! Because society tells us to put our fists down and calm down. To lower our eyes and not to raise our voices.

I agree that men have problems too. I agree that there is a masculinity crisis in our country. I don’t understand it as well as I’d like to, and I’m in the process of educating myself to learn more about it. But this is a separate issue, and it does NOT mean that there isn’t also a need for feminism.

To disregard my opinion is to disregard me.

So the next time you think about posting that funny comic that makes fun of ‘women’s logic,’ consider the possibility that you need to do some deep thinking about how YOU’VE been affected by how our society considers women. And then once you’ve considered that possibility, consider the possibility that you could post something that is truly interesting and comedic, and not just a dated sexist joke.

Don’t laugh off your privilege. Be mindful. That’s part of what it takes to be a good person. You want to be a good person, right?

…Right?

Letting Go of the People We Love

Letting go is a difficult task, and one we’ve all had to face. Some of us perform this emotional maneuver better than others, and some of us fall flat on our faces. Sometimes we need closure and consistency, ending the relationship with a solid agreement of sorts, and sometimes we drift away from each other, calling less and less, until the person fades into the abyss.

Is letting go a sign of emotional maturity, or is it giving up and refusing to fight for our social needs? When is letting go of someone in our best interest, and when is it just selfish?

I’ve been grappling with these questions for a while now, and calling up some old memories. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to let someone go from my life. I lost two close friends and a grandparent on the verge of entering a new phase of life, and I never felt more lonely than at that time. But somehow, I pushed through the experience, and I didn’t break. Eventually I figured out how to make a new life for myself, and really enjoyed my experiences, even if there were major flaws.

Now, I’m looking back and seeing how I’ve changed, and I’m learning to let go of some of the people from my past who don’t fit my needs anymore. I’m learning which friends were there for convenience, and who was there for other, more stable reasons.

I’m also being forced to let go of my sister, who is moving abroad for an undetermined amount of time. I’ve lived within 75 miles of her for my entire life, and now I’ll have to live without her near me. Her influence on who I am is something that I’ll never understand the full extent of. Our parents are divorced, and we lived most of our lives moving from home to home to home to home, with the only stable thing being that we lived with each other. I’m realizing more and more how much we’ve shared, and how much she means to me. We were both raised dancing, and memories of seeing her across the circle from me or beside me squeezing my hand and leading me through the dance bring tears to my eyes. We’ve led and leaned on each other for a long time. Letting go of her is going to be difficult, but I know that when we see each other again we’ll both be stronger and more mature people.

I know there are times where letting someone go is cowardly. I’ve learned that there are fights that are worthwhile, and fights that are pointless and a waste of energy. There are times where having a person close to you is painful but necessary, and times where a person may be toxic to you, and you need to remove yourself from them.

Be true to what you know in your gut. Don’t let your fear stop you from letting someone be there for you, but don’t let fear stop you from letting someone hurt you. You know deep down who will help you grow, and whom you’ll let drag you down.

We can lose people from our lives and become stronger for it. That distance can help us see things clearly, and may be enough to start us on a new path.

It’s a cliché for a reason: When one door closes, another door opens!

Forest Poem

The forest is a place of salvation
Biodiversity and whatnot
But come on, just the chlorophyll-induced high of pure green light
Daaaaaaamn
The way the light sprinkles and scatters through the canopy

But then, oh shit, the ground is squishy
Moss covering… everything
It’s like a carpet for the bugs

Every forest has a different feel
Each has its own unique light
It’s own smell
And sounds
In a coniferous forest, the ground crunches beneath your feet
Snapping cracking twigs
In a more temperate forest
There is padding, there is an almost deadly silence
But still welcoming

Or, at least, that’s how I imagine it.
Can someone please take me to the canopy of the Amazon?
Or maybe I can find my way to Costa Rica
To tread with billowing glee (yeah, my glee billows, what of it?)
Lead by some truly down-to-earth guide
Who will tell me things I’ve never imagined