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Review: Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor: This is not photography

Photofocus (old site)

Last week a link was making its rounds on social media reminding people of an artist documentary being shown publicly on Direct TV and much to my surprise it was of Jerry Uelsmann & Maggie Taylor. I’m not as familiar with Maggie’s work as I am with Jerry’s, but I was super excited to check out the show nonetheless.

Back in college, one of my professors Fred, was head over heels for Jerry’s work and once I saw it, I realized why. Uelsmann is a magician of the darkroom. Not only is he a visionary with how he even thinks of his compositions, but he manages to somehow dodge and burn his way into creating the most exquisite & surreal moments in time.

I’ve always been in awe of his work and being able to actually watch him create in the darkroom during this documentary had me completely geeked…

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9 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Turned My World Upside-Down

9 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Turned My World Upside-Down

on 6 November, 2013 at 20:58

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Over the years I’ve learned dozens of little tricks and insights for making life more fulfilling. They’ve added up to a significant improvement in the ease and quality of my day-to-day life. But the major breakthroughs have come from a handful of insights that completely rocked my world and redefined reality forever.

The world now seems to be a completely different one than the one I lived in about ten years ago, when I started looking into the mechanics of quality of life. It wasn’t the world (and its people) that changed really, it was how I thought of it.

Maybe you’ve had some of  the same insights. Or maybe you’re about to.

1. You are not your mind.

The first time I heard somebody say that,  I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.

I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.

If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the center of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.

2. Life unfolds only in moments.

Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.

3. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.

I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom:  As life gets longer, awful feels softer.

4. Most of life is imaginary.

Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.

5. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.

Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behavior. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.

6. Emotions exist to make us biased.

This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.

7. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfill their desires and to escape their suffering.

Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behavior other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skillful and helpful to others, others are unskillful and destructive, and almost all destructive behavior is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.

8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.

9. Objectivity is subjective.

Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, unsharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.

How Plants Help Each Other Grow By Near-Telepathic Communication

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Plants have scientifically been show to draw alternative sources of energy from other plants. Plants influence each other in many ways and they communicate through “nanomechanical oscillations” vibrations on the tiniest atomic or molecular scale or as close as you can get to telepathic communication.

Members of Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse’s biological research team have previously shown that green algae not only engages in photosynthesis, but also has an alternative source of energy: it can draw it from other plants. His research findings were released in the online journal Nature Communications.

Other research published last year, showed that young corn roots made clicking sounds, and that when suspended in water they would lean towards sounds made in the same frequency range (about 220 Hz). So it seemed that plants do emit and react to sound, and the researchers wanted to delve into this idea further.

Working with chili plants in their most recent study, specifically Capsicum annuum, they first grew chili seeds on their own and then in the presence of other chili plants, basil and fennel, and recorded their rates of germination and growth. Fennel is considered an aggressive plant that hinders the germination of other plants around it, while basil is generally considered to be a beneficial plant for gardening and an ideal companion for chili plants.

Germination rates were fairly low when the seeds were grown on their own, lower when grown in the presence of fennel (as expected). Germination rates were better with other chili plants around, and even better with basil.

Since plants are already known to ‘talk’ through chemical signals and to react to light, the researchers separated newly planted seeds from the other plants using black plastic, to block any other kind of ‘signaling’ other than through sound. When fennel was on the other side of the plastic, the chemical effects of its presence, which would have inhibited germination of the chili seeds, were blocked. The chili seeds grew much quicker than normal though, possibly because they still ‘knew’ the fennel was there, ‘knew’ it had the potential to have a negative effect on their germination, and so they quickly got past the stage where they were vulnerable.

If even bacteria can signal one another with vibrations, why not plants, said Monica Gagliano, a plant physiologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

Gagliano imagines that root-to-root alerts could transform a forest into an organic switchboard. “Considering that entire forests are all interconnected by networks of fungi, maybe plants are using fungi the way we use the Internet and sending acoustic signals through this Web. From here, who knows,” she said.

As with other life, if plants do send messages with sound, it is one of many communication tools. More work is needed to bear out Gagliano’s claims, but there are many ways that listening to plants already bears fruit.

According to the study: “This demonstrated that plants were able to sense their neighbours even when all known communication channels are blocked (i.e. light, chemicals and touch) and most importantly, recognize the potential for the interfering presence of a ‘bad neighbour’ and modify their growth accordingly.”

Then, to test if they could see similar effects with a ‘good neighbour’, they tried the same experiment with other chili plants and then with basil. When there were fully-grown chili plants in their presence blocked by the plastic, the seeds showed some improved germination (“partial response”). When basil was on the other side of the plastic, they found that the seeds grew just as well as when the plastic wasn’t there.

“Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism,” said Dr. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at UWA and co-author of the study, according to BioMed Central. “Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chili seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants.”

What Can Humans Learn?

Flowers need water and light to grow and people are no different. Our physical bodies are like sponges, soaking up the environment. “This is exactly why there are certain people who feel uncomfortable in specific group settings where there is a mix of energy and emotions,” said psychologist and energy healer Dr. Olivia Bader-Lee.

“When energy studies become more advanced in the coming years, we will eventually see this translated to human beings as well, stated Bader-Lee. “The human organism is very much like a plant, it draws needed energy to feed emotional states and this can essentially energize cells or cause increases in cortisol and catabolize cells depending on the emotional trigger.”

Bader-Lee suggests that the field of bio-energy is now ever evolving and that studies on the plant and animal world will soon translate and demonstrate what energy metaphysicians have known all along — that humans can heal each other simply through energy transfer just as plants do. “Human can absorb and heal through other humans, animals, and any part of nature. That’s why being around nature is often uplifting and energizing for so many people,” she concluded.

Michael Forrester is a spiritual counselor and is a practicing motivational speaker for corporations in Japan, Canada and the United States.