Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Is it real? It doesn't seem to matter much any more

A friend sent me a link to a video featuring something called the Incredible Music Machine. If you haven't seen it, you absolutely must check it out.

Like a gazillion other viewers, I was mesmerized by a fantastic room full of strings and gears and cogs and drumheads, brass pipes and xylophone pads. Oh, and thousands of bouncing balls, all spewing out of horns and hitting the strings and pads in such a way that it made some of the sweetest music I've heard in a long while.

All so wonderful, except for one thing: it was a fake. But what a fake.

Like so many internet hoaxes, the text accompanying the email and video helped me "fall" for it. The text had such a feeling of authenticity. A university connection fed the reality. Supposedly, the machine had been built in a stunning collaborative effort at the University of Iowa. It was the work of the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering. "Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft , Iowa ..Yes, farm equipment!"

"It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort. It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian."

Lovely idea. And an incredible feat. But it's a feat of cyberspace and computer-generated animation. As it turns out, the video is the work of a fantastic company called Animusic, based in Ithaca, New York, and San Diego, California. Animusic is also something you should be aware of, because honestly, that company's enterprise looks to me like the future. Founder Wayne Lytle -- a musician and computer whiz -- has figured out how to combine sophisticated animation with wonderful music, and CD sales are booming. Why wouldn't they be? The music is incredible, and the animation is completely captivating.

In the end, when it comes to music and entertainment, it seems to make little or no difference whether something is real or not. Generations of television watching and the flourishing of the internet have accustomed us to taking fake for truth. (it gets sticky of course when we get into the political realm but that's another story.)

I am reminded of my students' reaction to reading the infamous "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey. Supposedly a memoir, the book was faked at least in part. Somehow, though, when you ask students whether they care that the book was a "hoax," most will say no. There is authenticity to the story. Frey captured emotional truth, and whether the book is called fiction or literary non-fiction, it makes no difference. It's a great read and a good story. And most importantly, it feels real (read the scene where the narrator is in a dentist chair for hours worth of root canal and no anesthetic. It rips you apart, and it feels all too real.)

I am also reminded of research that shows that our brain waves are the same whether we are experiencing a particular event, OR whether we are just thinking about that same event.

In other words, we are hard-wired to react mentally to "real" experiences in the very same way we react to "faked" experience. Which is why fiction and movies and TV and internet videos hook us so completely. Because they feel so real.

All very cool. And more than a little bit scary. Because we are so vulnerable to being fooled. It would be awfully easy, it seems, to fall prey to politicians -- or despots -- who portray themselves to be one thing, but are, in "reality," something altogether different.

Wait a minute. Isn't that already happening?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Feeling a little blue after New Year's? Here's a mantra for you...

First, though, look out the window. If you are in the Northeast, you are probably staring at all kinds of beautiful new snow. So white and quiet. Just those lovely grey blue shadows as the sun finally appears and throws a blanket of light over the rounded mounds of powder.

The fluffy drifts in the yard here in upstate New York have me thinking about lying down and making angels. And about snow power. Did you ever consider the fact that snowflakes -- millions and millions of them, no two alike -- weigh next to nothing, one by one. But then it takes a two-ton plow to push the white stuff aside once they gather.

Curiously, the Buddhists call the most important energy center in the body the SNOW MOUNTAIN AREA. To locate it, try this. Imagine a line running from your navel to the small of your back. Travel in your mind’s eye a third of the way back along this horizontal line and than drop down a couple of inches. This is the area of the body known as the “life gate.” The four most important pathways of chi in the body converge here. Yogis refer to the energy in this part of the body as kundalini.

Why do the Buddhists envision this spot as a snow-covered mountain? I don’t know.

Taoists I think have a better image: a Golden Urn.

To me it is more of a burning caldron. Or perhaps a pearly blue green bath, bubbling up out of the abdomen.

Anyway, I have a book to recommend. It’s called Power Healing by Dr. Zhi Gang Sha, a doctor who has spent his entire life studying the healing powers of traditional Chinese medicine. In this book, Dr. Sha prescribes dozens and dozens of mantras that are key to self –healing. Dr. Sha believes (and he sure isn’t alone in this way of thinking) that you can improve the health of your mind and body by chanting mantras. I think he’s right. Or at least I look at it this way, it can’t hurt to chant mantras.

You can’t believe how many mantras there are, for good health. For good spirit. For rejuvenating the energy pathways in the body. To stay healthy, or to return to good health.

There are mantras for the Snow Mountain Area, and the other energy centers in the body.

And there many many other mantras.

So as we start a New Year, I offer you a very simple mantra. The one I provide here is, according to Dr. Sha, “one of the most powerful mantras throughout China’s history.”

Here you go: ling gwang pu zhao.

Before you chant, think about totally relaxing your body. Assume the appropriate attitude. As the book suggests, “Be respectful, very sincere, and honored to chant.”

Then as you say the words, think about what you are saying:

Ling: “soul world
Guang: “light”
Pu: “widely”
Zhao: “shining.”

Ling guang pu zhao: “The light of the soul world widely shines and blesses.”

You can say the mantra either out loud or to yourself. You can add specific requests within the mantra.

Ling guang pu zhao. Ling guang pu zhao. Ling guang pu zhao. “Could you help me and bless me (here ask for health and blessings for yourself and other people as well.)

Then end your mantra by saying, “hao, hao, hao.” Thank you thank you thank you.

Repeat the mantra as often as you can, as many times a day as you can. Feel the power of the words as they vibrate in your head.

And no, you don’t have to be at home to do it. At work, instead of taking a coffee break, take a mantra break.

Wherever you are, if you find yourself feeling a post-holiday low, or if you are despairing over some loss or disappointment, or if you just want to feel better, try saying the mantra. Ask for a blessing.

Ask for your life, and your loved ones, to be bathed in light, just like that sunlight sparkling on the snow.

May you have great health and blessings, every day, all year long. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!