Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Barefoot Running

Pablo Picasso's Painting of Barefoot Runners
painted for a one-act ballet "Le train bleu"  by the Ballets Russes in 1924.

I am glad to see that is back online. After watching the 'Are we born to run?' video on two years ago I started to run barefoot in the hills around Witzenhausen Germany and it has imporved my life in a significant way. In the TED talk Christopher McDougall explores the mysteries of the human desire to run. He asks us to consider how running helped early humans survive and then urges us to look to that physiological need and instinct and go with it.
McDougall learned some secrets of long distance running from the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. I met the Tarahumara (or Aware) people when I was traveling through there on a hitchhiking journey for my Thesis work at the College of the Atlantic. A runner in the area told us that they run only for life and not for sport. He said it was hard to get them to run in a competition and that he had to do a lot of work to get them to enter in a race, mostly telling big tall tales about Navajo runners who claimed they could run faster.
McDougall's book "Born to Run" has moved a lot of us to start running barefoot. and the Born to Run organization seeks to support the ongoing investigation of the human art of running without shoes. All of it is worth a careful look and could easily change your life as it did mine.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Evolution and Karma

Exploring links between the eastern idea of collective karma for all living beings and the western scientific discovery of evolution. In the San Francisco Zen Center talks on collective karma and Anil Dash's blog about the problems of the western perception of karma it seems we western people understand karma a lot more easily if it is described as being like evolution. Indeed, the understanding of evolution from the western perspective has given rise to much of the modern environmental movement as in David Attenborough's 'Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life'.

At Sterling College in Craftsbury Common Vermont, K. Jeffrey Bickart shared David Quammen's 'The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction' as an introductory ecology course book. At the same time George Gardner introduced us to the work of Thay Thich Nhat Hahn and helped to guide us in mindfulness meditation and shared dharma. We were offered contemplation and compassion as a world view and evolutionary theory for getting closer to the surrounding ecology. The connections that have been arising from these understanding, as well as through the study of Human Ecology, Ethnoecology and the practice of meditation, have been astounding.

As we begin to better understand the mind and nature we become more compassionate toward the rest of life on the planet and we are making our way to a new, more holistic, paradigm.

Refuge of Nocturnal Birds

High on a cliff there's a twisted pine;
intently it listens into the abyss
with its trunk curved down like a crossbow.

A refuge of nocturnal birds,
in the deepest hours of midnight it resounds
with the swift fluttering of wings.

Even my heart has a nest
suspended into the darkness, and a voice;
it, too, lies awake listening at night.

How to Make Kao Fu (kǎo fū, 烤麩)

Here on the lush, banana, bamboo and barge filled banks of the Red River in Hanoi organic and alternative health food is rare. Our friend and local grocer orders bulk, gardens organically, prepares it all in her kitchen and living room and sends out boxes to us. She makes everything there in the house and is always trying to diversify. She acts as our health expert and nutritionist and says that seitan and tofu is not enough for us anymore, we need to go a step further into kǎo fū (烤麩). The best I could do for her was a google search which yielded nothing. The alternative macrobiotic health food movement of Hanoi needed a recipe for Kao Fu and it took many days to get it.

So here is the result of the search. A good simple recipe for Kao Fu. (Translation from this video

Melt dry yeast in water at 37°C for 10 minutes. 
Mix flour and yeast solution together with a small spoon of salt...
No unit is given for the flour, just make a big dough (best to use high protein content wheat flour, so that you can get more gluten)
Allow dough to grow 1.5 times into a large net-kind structure. 
Wash the dough until it looks like long-chewed gum - at a certain point volume will not be lost through washing, at this point you've got wheat gluten.

cut into cubes
steam or fry.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Julian Jaynes

My friend and fellow blogger recently had an interview with the founder of the Julian Jaynes society.

It is all about a theory by Dr. Julian Jaynes, a nerological scientist who wrote the 'bicameral mind theory' about how the human brain has evolved. According to the theory self awareness is a recent evolutionary physiological brain change, a pressing together of the left and right hemispheres, so that the two halves of the brain can communicate.

Our ancestors would all have been schizophrenics, unable to tell what is real and what is a dream.  Because the left and right brain hemispheres would not have not communicated in the same way as ours they would say things like 'the gods said' because they really heard voices and believed in the hallucinations. Schozophrenia, according to the theory, is just primitive brain showing itself.

If Jaynes is right it is really a paradigm changing idea with implications on the modern approach to religion and the evolution of culture and civilization.  - He has many compelling arguments and has yet to be disproved.

Richard Dawkins once said of Jaynes's work: "It is ... either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius."

Thinking about physiological brain development, theology and enlightenment brought me back to this TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroligical doctor who had a stroke and learned about enlightenment.

I also revisited the Mind and Life Institute which has a lot of really interesting research (cutting edge today) on the mind and well-being.