© 2020 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

Dear Friends,

What an interesting situation we are in. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well during these trying times.

While we are separated by distance, we are united in circumstance. We share the same concerns. We share the same hopes. It is not often the thoughts of everyone on Earth dwell in this degree of unity.

I recall a book I read some time ago. The author wrote of interviews with survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and of his surprise in hearing survivors describe the event as one of the most magnificent times of their lives. The earthquake killed an estimated 3,000 people, and ignited fires that burned roughly 500 city blocks and left 400,000 residents homeless. Yet, despite the devastation, an air of unity arose. A community of people united in circumstance came together, bonded with one another, and in caring for the well-being of each other, triumphed over despair. For survivors, the memory of this camaraderie was cherished for a lifetime.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual incident in that we cannot physically unite. Many of the traditional ways in which people find solace, such as group exercise, therapy, or congregated prayer, are beyond the boundary of safety. So, it is a time in which introspection and creativity must flourish. We must find ways to soothe our emotional and physical condition and to keep the mind actively engaged. As the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

Luckily, technological solutions for mediated conversation abound. We can unite with family, and friends, and communities virtually. And the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for learning and entertaining. But the virtual world has its limitations. Movies, TV series, and online entertainment eventually become quite numbing.

I often think about the transformation of entertainment over time and how it ties into our concept of “progress.” Today’s entertainment is characterized by immediate and effortless, short-term gratification. I am not sure this is “progress.” Today’s entertainment offers little to personal or social development. We watch movies and TV series, we watch hours of YouTube videos, we play video games, but all too often, we gain nothing from them that lasts in the long-term. In fact, often we are actually just watching others who are doing interesting things with their lives, while we are just sitting, numbly watching. There was a time when entertainment fostered personal and social development. I think of the days of Jane Austen, when entertainment was walking in the woods (physical development), reading a book and conversing about its content (intellectual development), and playing music together (social development). Today, many of us are simply watching the people who are doing these things. We are watching the athletes who wander in the woods. We are watching the intellets presenting their TED talks. We are watching the musicians playing their instruments. We are watching, watching, watching, while they are doing, doing, doing. Yet, all of us possess the capacity to be a doer of any skill. We can all wander in the woods. We can all become an expert on any topic. We can all learn to play and sing and dance.

Well, here we are now, confined to our houses. What a wonderful time to reenvision the entertainment in our lives. What a perfect time to be doing and growing. Better still, we can share this experience with those around us, either physically or virtually, and improve the condition of our relationships and social bonds. We can foster camaraderie by encouraging each other to learn and grow and supporting one another as we do so.

While this is a trying time for most, I believe it can be a time of tremendous growth. As a muscle does not develop without strain, the mind does not develop without toil. Struggle is what makes us strong. And strong we will certainly become as we persevere through these trying times.

As for myself, I’m taking this time to learn more about the condition of our world. I recently read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent climate change synthesis report. And I am currently reading the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Future of Food And Agriculture report and a book on the threat of climate change to national security. For anyone who wants to know what we’re in for in the coming decades (including the increasing threat of infectious diseases), I highly recommend these readings.

Here are the links to these materials:

The IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report
The United Nations FAO Future of Food and Agriculture, Alternative Pathways to 2050 report
Daniel Moran’s Climate Change and national Security, A Country-Level Analysis

It has been said that what humans seek most, is the sense of purpose. And I have read that in times of disaster, people who seek and embrace roles of purpose fare better than those who do not. In studies of people who have been stranded at sea or lost in the woods, a common characteristic in survivors is the tendency to assume a role of value to the individual’s or group’s survival. For example, taking on the role of gathering food or checking a lifeboat for leaks every morning. These roles keep the mind focused on the tasks of survival, reduce the mind’s tendency to panic, and create a sense of purpose. This seems commonsensical, right?

With this in mind, I have taken some time to create a garden with my family. It’s amazing how soothing gardening is. And it has been truly exciting watching these little plants grow! In filling up the day with various roles, I keep my mind engaged and provide value to the family, which in turn, creates a sense of purpose.

CMA_Garden_6_2200

Watching the growth of plants within our garden, and the beauty of the natural world awakening from a winter’s rest, calls to my mind the words of Richard Dawkins, “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”

So, it is that nature has brought the material kingdom to a standstill, while at the same time it provides us with the boundless beauty of Spring. Here in Oregon, the trees are budding and blooming. The flowers are giving their gift to the world; pollen for the birds and bees, and beauty for the passerbys.

Should you find yourself bored, don’t forget there’s a wonderful natural world out there just waiting to be enjoyed.

In sharing the activities my days, I hope to have encouraged you to try something new, to discover new purpose, and to learn and grow, if you are not already do so.

To everyone out there, I wish you the best possible outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you and your family and friends are safe. For those of you who have lost loved ones, I am so sorry for your loss. My heart and thoughts go out to you in this time of sorrow.

I hope in the future, those politicians in the highest levels of leadership will respond more appropriately to such events to prevent such catastrophic consequences. Hopefully lessons will be learned from this pandemic, and measures will be put in place to mitigate the severity of similar events in the decades to come.

Have you read the news lately? It’s a bit discouraging, right?

With all the lies, and all the hate, and all the turmoil in our society today, I suppose it is time for a post on love.

What is love?

Perhaps the poet Rumi said it best, “What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.” Love is beyond description. Love is beyond what we know. We channel it from within us outward to light up the world. And like a flower that shines to share all it has to continue the cycle of life, it is love that drives us to share all we have to nurture the next generation.

We can’t really see love, or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, or taste it, yet we use the senses to express and receive love every day. There are many forms of love, such as love for a romantic partner, love for a friend, love for a parent or child, love for a pet… Our hearts can be deprived of it for years, and then in a moment we can become absolutely drunk with love, and fall clumsy, and goofy, and silly. At the same time, where once love was abundant, we may find that only little remains, or that the type of love has changed.

For so many of us, it is love that gives us meaning in our lives. In caring for others, we strive to assist, nurture, and provide, and in so doing, we find purpose. And perhaps it is love that sparks empathy. Most of us have a capacity for empathy, but who or what we empathize with may vary greatly from individual to individual.

Empathy, among other things, seems lacking these days. From school shootings, to racial conflicts, to political chaos, it seems too many people have lost the ability to understand others, to see their points view, and to share their feelings.

Morality itself is in jeopardy. On both sides of the political arena, people have sacrificed honesty, integrity, and dignity, in their unwavering commitment to blind allegiance.

All this conflict calls to my mind the story of Larry Trapp. In short, it’s a true story about a leader of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska who, when confronted with the unwavering love of a rabbi, ultimately renounced the Klan and converted to Judaism. The story is the ultimate display of how love and tolerance can conquer prejudice and hate. To learn about the story of Larry Trapp, see the New York Times article titled, Lessons on Love, From a Rabbi Who Knows Hate and Forgiveness.

While the current political scene in America is of great concern to me, I find that I am far more disturbed by the overwhelming presence of prejudice and intolerance among the public. As Jack Johnson has sung, “Where have all the good people gone?”

In reality, good people abound, but there is a disturbing trend among some groups in the direction of hate.

What is the point of hate? And how will hate help us to achieve anything?

America is the melting pot of the world. We are the amalgamation of every race, every religion, every culture, and every belief. In nature, diversity is fundamental to the health and vitality of every ecosystem. In America, diversity is fundamental to our health and vitality as a nation. It is diversity that has driven us to dizzying heights of economic success. It is diversity of background and thought that has fueled innovation in health care, manufacturing, computer technology, performing arts, and so many other industries. Diversity has carried this nation to its place as a leader in the world.

Our lives are made better because of diverse minds and ideas. When technology saves a friend from dying in a car accident, we have diversity to thank. When a parent is saved from the grasp of disease or cancer by advances in medicine, we have diversity to thank. All that we enjoy from food, to music, to travel, is sensational because of diversity.

Our progress in the previous decades to embrace equality, to provide equal opportunities, and to give everyone the strength to succeed, has fostered unprecedented growth. Granted, we have not always succeeded in providing opportunities for all. Our systems are not perfect. There is much to be improved. But we have come so far in a positive direction. There is a reason why so many immigrants come here to make their mark in the world.

The American paleontologist Stephan Jay Gould once said, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

In America, we must nurture this “equal talent.” In America, we must fight for opportunities for all, so that all can realize the full extent of their capacities and share with this world the gift of everything they were born to be. In America, we must provide the mechanisms for all people to shine because this is true freedom!

America is teetering. We are, increasingly, the laughing-stock of the world. Our influence as a leader is waning. And it is hate and intolerance and prejudice and indecency that are driving us downward.

We must not forget how we came to be who and what we are! Look upon our own history with open and honest eyes. As we came together, we grew stronger. Love, not hate, is the most powerful force in this world.

We must put down our fists. We must withhold our hateful rhetoric. Differences there may be between you and me, but let us overcome them with love, not hate, and with courage, not fear.

We must look around us and see that this Nation is the sum of a splendid diversity of parts. And we must realize that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and hate is a very weak link!

We are all in this together. No group is forcing any other group out of here. We either win together or lose together. There is no single victor.

So, let us strive to understand one another. Let us appreciate the importance of each other. Let us work together as a team coupled by unbreakable links of love, and support, and understanding.

We may fail at times. We may frown when we should smile, and judge when we should understand, but all the while we must strive to be good, to be kind, and to help those around us to stand and shine. One lonely star in the midnight sky is hardly a spectacle to behold, but a trillion individual stars, radiating with all their might, and sharing their colors with all, create the brilliance of the universe.

We are meant to shine together, and it is love that makes this possible.

Honoring the Victims

When will we collectively come to agree that something is seriously wrong with our society? What does it take for us to come together to stand up against the ills of our ideologies?

I’m tired of seeing and hearing the pathetic displays of grief and morning enacted by politicians to give the illusion of sympathy. Actions always speak louder than words. If we are to protect life and the pursuit of happiness, we must support politicians that defend policies that define liberty in a way that truly values the well-being of each human life.

Prevention vs. Cure

In honor of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st, I want to share a poem by Joseph Malins. The poem, “The ambulance down in the Valley,” eloquently addresses the difference between prevention and cure. I share it with you as food for thought. And if you have already read it, perhaps this can be a moment to reflect upon its meaning, and its application to our society today.

If you’re not keen on reading, or would just simply prefer to hear John Denver recite it, here’s a link to his 1982 performance at the Apollo Theater, where he recites it to the crowd. In the video, the poem begins at 3:25.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.’