Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Way of the Reader

photo-4

©donnaesgro

*

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We live in a distracting world, but we fool ourselves when we think that, by doing more than one thing at a time we are being efficient. To be mindful, fully present in the moments of our lives, sounds deceptively simple, but, especially in this electronic age, is a decided discipline.

Reading, because it slows one down and encourages uses of imagination and focus, can be a gentle bridge to serenity.

As more and more children abandon reading for electronics, neuroimaging research shows that excessive screen time damages the developing brain by creating structural and functional changes in the regions that control emotional processing and cognitive control.

Of particular concern are findings that show damage to areas of the brain that equate physical attributes, such as facial expressions and body language, with emotion. This kind of damage, combined with the rapidly growing trend to spend more time socializing online than face to face, are a cocktail that severely impacts healthy social emotional development.

Conversely, reading develops brain connectivity, particularly in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with language and in the the sensorimotor region, the region of the brain responsible for something called embodied cognition, the ability to empathize.

Studies show that daily reading also increases connections between the brain’s hemispheres.  These neural pathways aide in the growth of a multitude of complex cognitive functions.

Undoubtedly, reading makes you smart. But does it also make you wise?

When we read to our children we encourage them to be still in body and mind, to listen attentively, and to focus intently. We offer a refuge from the jangle of the modern world and give them our full attention in a joyful and quiet way.

Reading develops Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to understand that others have needs, desires, thoughts, and feelings that may be different than one’s own. These early stirrings of compassion are the foundation on which tolerance is built.
Reading, by its very nature, takes us outside ourselves. We become emotionally and intellectually sympathetic to characters who often are quite unlike us. This creates, in the child, an attitude of acceptance in which he or she is not threatened by foreign ideas…the seeds of a peaceful world.

Like a spiritual practice, reading offers a time to reflect, to ask questions and to examine one’s own life. It helps to foster what Albert Einstein called “holy curiosity.”
It makes us receptive, open to new concepts that inspire wonder, creativity and clarity…Deep reading allows us a singular meditation even in the midst of chaos and confusion.

In an often dark world, books illuminate.
Statistics show that, after their schooling is completed, almost half of the population of the United States never reads a book again.

So, if you ever find your children reading under the covers with a flashlight, quietly close the door and let them stay up late, their growing minds and hearts filled with vivid imagery and emotion as they follow their own singular bumpy twisty  roads to enlightenment.

 

IMG_0332

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

 

The Wings of a Wren

©donnaesgro

in memory of my mother on this sacred Mother’s Day

Read my post “In praise of Battered Books” for more on how my mother influenced my love of reading..

The Wings of a Wren

I kneel

she lifts her bare foot to me

the skin like parchment

on which is written

in flourishes of violet

the calligraphy of her eighty eight years

a girl with wind tossed hair

picking blueberries

on the craggy Maine coast

a feather boa of fog

the smell of creosote soaked pilings

and the calliope carousel music on the Santa Monica Pier

the bearing and birth of seven infants

one born still…ashen, silenced

blood, water, wonder

the Nautilus spiraled pain of loving too much

veins run rampant

like rivers gone wild

overflowing their borders

breaking madly into rivulets

She falls for the first time

walking across the suddenly too wide street

to the 7 Eleven

She falls for the second time

unable to rise

her morning coffee growing cold on the kitchen counter

She falls for the third time

calling out in a voice

as clear and fragile as glass

I fit the shoe onto her foot

and help her stand

her arms as light and hallow as the wings of a wren

she clings to me

as if I could keep her earth bound

donna burke esgro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vital Importance of Diversity

IMG_5777©donnaesgro

“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by.”

What a Wonderful World – Thiele & Weiss

*

If we care about mankind and its future, if we care that the most powerful nation on earth has a leader who does not believe in science and who puts immediate gratification above concern for future generations, then it is time that we make a radical shift in how we view education within a global society. The mill of school grinds along, and we are glad that it does, but changes in how we teach at the fundamental level have now become critically important.

“Most of what we teach children today is going to be completely irrelevant to the job market in 2040 or 2050.”

Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

*

 We cannot survive, much less thrive, if we build walls and keep people out. It is through the permeable sharing of ideas and cultural nuances that we build on our own reservoirs of knowledge, compassion, and the ability to live in harmony.

No one would dispute that teaching our children to share is a good thing, one of the basic elements of social-emotional relationships. When we share, we learn. We show others our good intentions, and they show us theirs. Bridges are built and alliances are formed.

The concept of respecting one another begins at the earliest levels of education. Even preschoolers can understand that their blue marble of a world spins in a beautifully complex solar system. They can grasp the idea that there are lands across the seas where people speak differently and go about their day in different ways, yet share the same joys and sorrows that we do.

We cannot coexist in any kind of peace if we fear each other, and we cannot imagine anything better if we don’t begin to encourage critical thinking skills and the uses of imagination in our schools.

Children feel a close affinity with the creatures of air, sea, mountains, and forests that share the world with us. Have you, lately, looked at a picture book of animals as closely as they do? They have an innate curiosity and empathy that, rather than dismissing as ingenuous, we need to recognize for the wisdom that it holds.

The question “Why?” is asked primarily by children less than seven years old and the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time. Think about that.

Yet we proceed, beginning in elementary school, to encourage students not to ask,  but to answer questions- to memorize facts, figures, and formulas. It is no wonder, then, that the trajectory of education becomes a long distance race to get into a good college, secure a high paying job, and then, finally, get down to the business of living.

The way our competitive education system works is that children learn early on that it is better not to think outside of the box. That imaginative thinking, flights of fancy, and creativity, at best lowers their grade point average and at worse, gets them labeled “weird.”

We are, grade by grade, inadvertently teaching our children not to think more deeply than a test requires.

Worldwide-scholars, tech companies, scientists, educators, politicians, medical researchers, and thousands of others share knowledge; effectively creating networks of ideas that often lead to radical breakthroughs in their fields. When we think and feel and work together at the global level, we nurture compassion for the hungry, the suffering, the refugees of war, all those in need, because the faces and the voices of humanity become real to us. We cannot understand others without interacting with them, any more than we can understand what water is just from knowing its chemical formula. When we  foster bonds with different nations we all benefit. Our minds expand in many different ways as we share thoughts and our hearts grow in equal measure as we become more viscerally aware of others.

Without making a definitive change in both our education system and our budding nationalistic and isolationist politics we are in serious danger of losing our ability to engage innovatively and diplomatically. It is unwise, if not foolish, to be unaware that our entire planet is an eco-system, not only from the standpoint of biology, but on deeper levels of cognitive connectivity. We need clean air and water and we need to believe in and take responsibility for climate change, but we must also believe in mutual respect and tolerance despite different skin colors, religions, or ideologies. It is vital that we begin to teach, starting at the earliest levels of education, that we are the caretakers of our world, not its rulers.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/09/epa-scott-pruitt-carbon-dioxide-global-warming-climate-change

Resist

IMG_0431

“A machine that, when you touch the button, it makes the ocean clean for the whales and dolphins and even the sharks.”  Ava – Age 6

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

Dr. Seuss – Zen Master

yin_yang-svg

“So please, when you step, step with care and great tact.

And Remember that Life’s a great balancing act.”

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!  –  Dr. Seuss

*

Read across American month began this week with celebrations all over the world of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Dr. Seuss would be delightful to read even if his books were just pure fun. But, there is more than silliness under that tall striped hat.

In The Uses of Imagination, Bruno Bettelheim states that “The child intuitively comprehends that although fairy tales are unreal, they are not untrue.”

This is the nexus of the genius of Dr. Seuss – His ability to create whimsical characters with wild hair, gangly bodies, and furry feet that touch our heart with their humanity.

Dr. Seuss, born Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904), was an artist, an intellectual and a seeker of knowledge. His very first children’s book  And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (rejected twenty seven times by publishers) encourages using one’s imagination as a way to see the world in many different ways. He poses the question: What is reality?

But Mulberry Street didn’t sell well and his career as a children’s author seemed doomed when Life Magazine published an article in 1954 that exposed America’s children’s poor reading abilities. John Hersey (author of A Separate Peace) was quoted in the article as saying that children were illiterate because the primers in school were so boring and that authors like Dr. Seuss should be writing them.

Shortly after, Theo was approached by a major publishing house and asked to create a primer using 220 vocabulary words. The result , The Cat in the Hat, made him a household name. Fame brought lucrative offers by corporations eager to exploit his popularity. The ever unconventional Geisel turned down every proposal. Even when he was wooed with an unprecedented amount of money just to use a short unpublished verse on a Christmas billboard, Theo, showing unusual moral fortitude, refused, stating that he did not want to be associated with products for sale.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store

What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

 

And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,

That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss

Throughout his career as a children’s author, Dr. Seuss emphasized the importance of integrity, caring, tenderness, courage, and the interconnectivity of all creatures.

He held his head high and he threw out his chest

And he looked at the hunters as much as to say

“Shoot if you must but I won’t run away.”

I meant what I said and I said what I meant…

An elephant’s faithful One Hundred percent!

 Horton Hatches the Egg – Dr. Seuss

 

In The Sneetches he addresses the absurdity of prejudice, and in Oh! The Places You’ll Go! he gives us, in classic Seussesque style, both warning and encouragement:

You’ll come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly there darked.

But Dr. Seuss reaches a lofty zenith in his darkly beautiful and profoundly environmentally aware treatise The Lorax, who “speaks for the trees.” The author’s brilliance lies in his ability to show us a believable glimpse of a tree’s soul – albeit one with a small orange furry body and a ridiculously large yellow moustache.

Teach your children to be on the look out for them.

 *

 

“When I let go of what I am I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” Tao Te Ching

 

“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along

and you’ll start happening, too.” Dr. Seuss

 

th

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

Consider The Source

th-8

©W. Eugene Smith     –     Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath – 1971

*

Birds fell from the sky, fish floated dead in the sea and Tomoko floated in her mother’s womb when she was poisoned by the highly toxic chemical methylmercury released into the Minamata Bay by the Japanese Corporation, Chisso. The attempt at covering up the factory’s fouling of the waters went all the way up to The Ministry of International Trade and Industry and The Japan Chemical Industry Asociation.

The photojournalist Eugene Smith, in covering the story, was beaten so brutally by several factory workers hired by Chisso that he lost some sight in one eye, and never fully recovered. His heart breaking photograph of Tomoko and her mother helped bring worldwide awareness to the plight of victims of industrial waste pollution and helped save thousands of unborn children from short lives wracked with physical and mental deformities.

*

My father was a journalist. He typed his stories on a Remington Typewriter, always making a carbon copy. He would often advise me, “Consider the source.” when I came home from school with fantastical stories. Historically, journalists have stood for the truth. Honor bound to get news that governments, corporations, or individuals do not want revealed, they often risk savage assaults, kidnapping, prison, or death.

As of late they have been at risk of another, more insidious, peril. Being labeled as “the enemy” by the President of the United States of America. Every authoritarian regime has silenced the press and taken over broadcasting, turning it into a vehicle for propaganda. It is a standard fascist maneuver.

Journalists have always worked hard to earn the right to write for an established and reputable news agency. Any falsehoods could jeopardize not only their job, but their reputation and entire career. Now, anyone with access to the internet can spread outlandish rumors with the push of a button. We are all familiar with these at best silly, and at worst grotesquely racist and sexist stories. From the never ending gossip about celebrities, to the deadly serious lies spewed from the alt-right press corps, people can choose what they wish to read from an exhaustive list of sources.

It is now more important than ever to “consider the source”. Journalists, such as those that work for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, NBC, CNN, and the BBC have all been harangued by our current president and his staff, while outlets such as Breitbart, Fox News, and The Gateway Pundit are lauded. http://tinyurl.com/jcvokve

We must ask ourselves why.

The most important move a dictatorship must make is to control the news. This is not easily done. One cannot storm into their offices in Manhattan and throw everyone out. Another tactic needs to be taken which makes force unnecessary, a tactic well understood by those closest to Trump. To stir up havoc and distrust, to demonize and belittle the press at every opportunity, and to create confusion about what is truth and what is not. Using words such as “rigged,” calling press members “the opposition party,” citing the phrase “fake news” frequently to discredit any coverage not agreeable to them. Each time Trump mentions The New York Times, arguably one of the greatest news outlets in the world, he tags them “the failing” New York Times. Why does he do that?

Hitler said, “If you tell a big enough lie often enough, it will be believed.”

The bullying manner toward the press that was bantered about during the Republican campaign for presidency served the current administration well. Emboldened, they do not worry about making snide and demeaning remarks about journalists. Stephen Bannon, White House chief strategist and member of Trump’s National Security Council stated recently that, “The press should keep its mouth shut.”

Our right to hear the truth and speak the truth without fear is fundamental to our freedom, and we cannot and will not accept anything less. We owe our children this noble legacy. Be aware, call and send emails to the White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call  march, sign petitions – do whatever you can do to lift your singular voice. There is an encroaching shadow over our land that we must neither ignore nor fear. Hope is a courageous emotion. It is also one that increases incrementally when shared. So, be hopeful. Speak out. Resist. Fight for the freedom that has been so dearly earned over the generations.

“No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.”

Edward R. Murrow

Acclaimed journalist who faced up to McCarthyism

Over 1,200 journalists were killed in the last 25 years, less than half covering wars, the rest covering politics or corruption.

Not The Enemy

IMG_1648.JPG©donnaesgro

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

Words Matter

img_1197©donnaesgro  –  Women’s March 1/21/17  Los Angeles, California

*

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

George Orwell – 1984

 

On Sunday January 21, 2017, I, along with millions of others around the world, lifted my voice in protest against a new era of strange and dangerous politics.

To lift one’s voice is one of the most patriotic acts a citizen can make. It is practicing freedom of speech-a constitutional right that has been a cornerstone of our democracy since its inception. A right that Donald Trump negates, telling journalists on his first day in office that “they are going to pay a big price” (for “lying” about the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration). Later in the day, he sent Sean Spicer, his press secretary, to further admonish and threaten the media. Spicer advised journalists that “the new administration would hold them to account”

Since then Trump’s rapid fire muffling orders are of major concern for all citizens of the world. In his first few days of office Trump has excised all mention of climate change from the White House website, silenced the National Parks Service, and instituted a complete media blackout of the Environmental Protection Agency. These authoritarian actions, coming from a U.S. President who believes that the despot Vladimir Putin, who controls all news outlets in Russia, is “a smart man”, are chilling. Words matter, as Putin so cunningly knows, and this is precisely why the voices lifted on Sunday can never go silent.

When Kellyanne Conway, Trumps councilor, can announce that the president’s statements are “alternative facts” we are entering a doublethink twilight zone of distorted reality that poses a grave threat to our freedom.

http://tinyurl.com/hmab53j

 

Trump recently compared the CIA to Nazi’s, then a few days later told them that he “loved” them, unless those two things are not mutually exclusive to Donald Trump, one of them is an alternate fact.

Donald Trump, throughout his campaign, has steadily undermined the press in a transparent effort to intimidate and weaken their power, making such statements as, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when (journalists) write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” and more recently, “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

In his first week in office, Trump has wreaked havoc. So it may seem that the focus on freedom of the press is of lesser concern than lack of healthcare, deportations, denial of environmental protections, barring of immigrants, and other humanitarian rights and causes that Trump has slashed his way through. But, I believe strongly that if we loose our voice these other pressing matters cannot be addressed. That if we loose our freedom of speech, our ability to both hear the truth and speak the truth, we loose our ability to mobilize, organize, and resist; our ability to make change.

Remember, this is the man who believes in punishing and criminalizing citizen dissent. Less than two months before taking the solemn oath of office to the presidency, inspired by the act of a anti-Trump college protester, he tweeted that burning a U.S. flag should be punished by “perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail”

Because the White House has been compromised, and the Supreme Court, the historically staunch supporter of the sacrosanct U.S. Constitution, is in peril, all of us have now become personally responsible for upholding our countries principals. Pay attention, speak up, do whatever is in your power. Those of us who believe in liberty and justice for all are many and strong. To be silent is to be oppressed.

170125-greenpeace-resist-banner-ok-1059_8e9531022931864de559c802600b9aa0-nbcnews-fp-1200-800© Saul Loeb/AFP-Getty Images – Greenpeace protesters at work 1/25/17

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond