November 27, 2011

Beekeeping in New York

Beekeepers in New York city 
Photeo: BBC's Human Planet series















By 2050, 80% of the human population are predicted to live in cities. Looking at this estimate coupled with the predicted population growth, one might wonder about the future of farming. Some scientists envision that we will farm using water instead of soil (hydroponics) and farm in high rise buildings (vertical farming), to mention some interesting ideas.

Already we can see an increasing trend in Western countries to have vegetable gardens in cities. Michelle Obama started a vegetable garden on the White House grounds. I will come back to future farming trends and the White House farming later; but as of now I am still thinking about the bees of my last article and their important, invisible work. So, here is a little taste of how bee farming is done on top of high rise buildings in New York City. It is taken from BBC's series Human Planet.

Enjoy!


November 22, 2011

Visiting bees - a tribute to the bees and those who tend them

Honey Bee busy at work
Looking at the media coverage, one might think that it is politicians like Obama, Putin, Hu Jintao, Merkel or entertainers such as Ronaldo and Rihanna that make this world go around. However, by the importance of their work, the people and animals that make our food deserve the biggest focus. Today I would like to focus on the bees and the people who tend them.

At least a third of global crop output depends on insect pollination, largely by bees. The massive contribution of the bees to our well-being is largely unknown to the public. These humble servants work endlessly and quietly for no recognition or money - they pollinate apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers and most fruits, berries, and spices. For a more complete list of the crops they pollinate, click here.

The numbers of bees have dramatically reduced in Europe and the US since the 1960s. However, in the last decade the losses have increased exponentially, and the problems have also reached China, Japan and certain African countries. In certain areas of China the problem is so severe that farmers are forced to pollinate their crops by hand.

Hand pollination in the Sichuan province of China
Photo: ICIMOD

Up in the trees - human pollinators in China
Photo:  Li Junsheng/ImagineChina






























In the US the average annual losses of bees have been reported to be around 35% since 2007 - an alarming number. There is now talk about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). As it is only recently recognized as a major problem, research is just starting to deal with it and the results are inconclusive. Most likely there is a variety of factors working together - but most of them related to humans - some suggested causes are use of pesticides, malnutrition due to monoculture diet, loss of genetic diversity, genetically modified crops, use of antibiotics, mite attacks and electromagnetic radiation.


 The honey bee is nature's work horse, and we took it for granted. 
 -E.O. Wilson, renowned biologist

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature's services in a world of close to seven billion people.
                   -Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environmental Program


In Norway today we have around 3000 bee-keepers - most of them work on a hobby basis. In July this year, I went to visit the bees who make the honey I eat. The man who owns the bee farm is Per - he graciously invited me to come along to his bee farm in the countryside. Here I will show you some pictures from my visit to the bees.

Please enjoy!


The honey bee farm - in the forest beyond the field



The honey bee farm - house

The honey production unit

Going to work - properly dressed

The hives

Per and I

















Preparing the smoke to smoke out the bees

Ready to use


Preparing to take out the frames




Smoking out bees



Taking out a frame



Bzzzzzzz

Preparing a sheet for honey release


A machine for loosening up the frame and the honey
The Set Up: Honey tumbler machine



The honey frame tumbler machine

Tumbling in progress










Fresh honey pouring out














And finally, a short video from the pouring of fresh honey:



Bon Appetite! 
Here are a couple of articles worth reading:
Decline of honey bees a global phenomenon
- Einstein was right - honey bee collapse threatens global food security

November 10, 2011

How Washing Machines can make Professors

Hans Rosling - crossing the river of myths
photo: www.gapfinder.org


Professor Hans Rosling is a medical doctor, statistician, academic and public speaker. He loves to challenge myths and show new perspectives. I have found an interesting presentation which I share below. He tells us how a washing machine made him a professor.



Visit his website gapfinder.

November 7, 2011

Amazing Art - Humberto Abad

My brilliant reader sent me yet another incredible slideshow. It is unbelievable what a person can do with a knife! Please enjoy this work of a true artist, Humberto Abad.

For full enjoyment you might want to click the lower right hand corner to get the full screen view.



View more presentations from Joke Channel

November 1, 2011

100 year old marathon runner

Fauja Singh  (photo: Chris Young/AP) 







Meet Fauja Singh, born April 1, 1911.

On October 16 this year he completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon at the age of 100.


photo: Jeff J. Mitchell
Fauja started to run in his 80s; after losing his son and his wife he felt he needed to find a new focus in life. It became running. It was only when he was 89 that he began to take running seriously. He got a personal trainer and started to train for marathons. At the age of 92 he ran his best marathon, clocking in at 5 hours and 40 minutes at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2003.

His good health he attributes to the fact that he doesn't drink, smoke, eat meat or fried foods. He also tries to avoid stress and drinks plenty of water and tea with ginger. In addition he goes to bed early and tries to avoid negative thoughts:
Why worry about these small, small things? I don't stress. You never hear of anyone dying of happiness.
Speaking about his marathon running he says:
The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for the last six miles, I run while talking to God.

photo: Jeff J. Mitchell





For more images of Faju Singh see this link.

October 28, 2011

Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011)

In a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs said:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Here is the full commencement speech on Youtube:




Here is a link to the transcript of the speech.

And here is a link to a beautiful eulogy held by his sister, Mona Simpson

October 23, 2011

The Million Dollar Dog

Hong Dong or Big Splash
photo: www.telegraph.co.uk




















This is not about Slumdog Millionaire - but about the Million Dollar Dog. Actually, Hong Dong - or Big Splash as it traslates to English - a Tibetan mastiff dog, was bought by a multi-millionaire Chinese coal baron for 1.5 million dollars. I guess he doesn't know, but he is the most expensive dog in the world.

Some people might scoff at the super rich for spending such money on a dog. However, I think if I were a multi-millionaire and were going to burn off a million and a half dollars - I would rather do it on this dog than on a new house or yet another car. I think the coal baron invested with his heart. By spending time with Hong Dong his heart might grow bigger and softer and gain more perspective. Perhaps, after some Hong Dong Therapy, the coal baron will be transformed to the point where he thinks: I must do something better than this! Life is more than earning money! Come on, Hong Dong - let's go make this world a good place to be!

Or something like that.

October 17, 2011

The Stockholm Metro - The World's Longest Art Museum

Stockholm Metro     
photo from thisarchitecture.com


















I received a beautiful work of art (see powerpoint below) in the mail from one of my brilliant readers and was stunned by what I saw: A very unique subway system. The Stockholm Metro has been called the World's Longest Art Museum. Looking at the images really made me think about how we could make our lives so beautiful with some more imaginary solutions to design in public spaces. Have a look and see what you think. I recommend to blow it up to full screen and then adjust it with the arrows below the screen to get the perfect viewing.

StockholmSubwayArt

October 14, 2011

Gandhi: I am a Muslim, and a Hindu, and a Christian, and a Jew - and so are all of you


Mohandas Gandhi  (1869- 1948)  photo: AP















Let's return to the topic of peace. 


There was one man who never received the Peace Prize; one who was nominated several times, but never won. This man was Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi. He led the non-violent movement that culminated in India's independence from Great Britain in 1947. 


In 2006, the Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committe, Geir Lundestad, said:
The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace Prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question.
I have chosen four snippets available on Youtube from the wonderful movie Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough. 

This first snippet is from Gandhi's time in South-Africa where he worked as a lawyer. He stands up against the South-African apartheid laws:



The second video is from a scene before the partition of India into India and Pakistan. Hindu fundamentalists have gathered outside Gandhi's home and are shouthing Death to Jinnah; Jinnah is the leader of the Muslim population in India. The mob is trying to stop Gandhi from proceeding with talks with Jinnah. In this scene, Gandhi confronts them.



The third video is taken from a scene where Gandhi is fasting in order to stop the fighting between the Hindus and the Muslims:



And here, the final video:

October 7, 2011

Peace Prize

From broken-silence.webs.com
























It happens every year the first Friday in October in Oslo. The presentation of the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. At 10.45 this morning I sat down in front of the TV to watch the announcement. At 11 o'clock sharp the chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Torbjørn Jagland, walked up to the microphone and in his charming Norwegian English:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work. We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society. 
Congratulations to three very worthy candidates!

A Song of Peace

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

                                Lloyd Stone, 1934

September 28, 2011

On having two ears and one mouth



Brenda Ueland, Writer, 1891-1985






















I have a wonderful Tibetan friend. One day he found himself talking too much. He said: As a child my father used to tell me that we have two ears and one mouth, and that there is a reason for this anatomic constellation. I am glad I remembered him now; I will stop talking. 


It seems to be a universal observation. Even Epictetus made a similar comment.

So today I want to share some paragraphs from the best piece I have ever read on the art of listening. The Norwegian-American writer and editor Brenda Ueland wrote a 5-page essay called Tell Me More - On The Fine Art of Listening.  Here I serve you a few pieces of it:

I want to write about the great and powerful thing that listening is. And how we forget it. And how we don't listen to our children, or those we love. And least of all - which is so important too - to those we do not love. But we should. Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.
This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, this is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to.

Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners; that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people that you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself. 
So it is with people who have not been listened to in the right way — with affection and a kind of jolly excitement. Their creative fountain has been blocked. Only superficial talk comes out — what is prissy or gushing or merely nervous. No one has called out of them, by wonderful listening, what is true and alive. 
Now, how to listen? It's harder than you think. I don't believe in critical listening, for that only puts a person in a straitjacket of hesitancy. He begins to choose his words solemnly or primly. His little inner fountain cannot spring. Critical listeners dry you up. But creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad-tempered. They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good. For true listeners know that if you are bad-tempered it does not mean that you are always so. They don't love you just when you are nice; they love all of you. 
We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more believed, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective and learns more and does more good. And so try listening. Listen to your wife, your husband, your father, your mother, your children, your friends, to those who love you and those who don’t, to those who bore you, to your enemies. It will work a small miracle. And perhaps a great one.
I have come to think listening is love, that's what it really is.
Tell Me More, Brenda Ueland

August 20, 2011

The King's Speech - A Beautiful Bromance


















Every now and then there comes along a movie which recalibrates my whole being. This year The King's Speech was such a movie. I saw it for the first time in Renoir Cinema in London in January. Later I have seen it five more times, I think.

The movie has been characterized as a bromance - a compound word of "brother" and "romance". I had not heard the term before. So I did a little reading around the term. A bromance is a close, but non-sexual relationship between two (or more) men, a form of homosocial intimacy.

I remember when I first arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1995. There were many strange smells and scenes, but one of the most startling sights was the widespread physical contact between males. Everywhere I walked I saw men touching, holding hands, piggybacking, and walking together with arms crossed behind the back of his friend, a hand placed in the other's back pocket - if I didn't know better, I might mistake it to be a homosexual metropolis. However, it was just a beautiful expression of the close relationships males can have in Asia.

Fast forward a couple of years, I am studying in the Pirate University of Norway and have several fellow students from Nepal, among them Tiger (whom I have written about before here). One day we had a new arrival from Nepal - Thompson, also known as Snow Leopard (read more about him here). As we were having tea after dinner, Snow Leopard was sitting next to Tiger, his arm wrapping around Tiger in that comforting way males touch in Nepal. "Snow Leopard, you should be careful", Tiger smiled. He then proceeded with acquired wisdom: "If you do this in public here in Norway, people will think we are homosexuals!" Snow Leopard bounced away as if electrocuted. "Homosexual!?! That is horrible!" Snow Leopard  had just been expelled from paradise, and I had witnessed it with a sad heart. How perverted we Westerners are, I thought to myself. I felt ashamed.

One common view is that the fear of homosexuality "broke out" in the West in the late 19th century with the emergence of Freudianism and more visible homosexuality; heterosexual men began to fear expression of intense emotions.

Luckily, it seems that things might be changing. Boys who grew up with "feminist mothers" from the 70s onward are apparently more emotionally expressive and responsive than previous generations who grew up with "traditional views" of masculinity. In fact, research has shown that men who have these traditional views of masculinity have trouble understanding, identifying, and relating to emotions. It is a disturbing thought in itself - that there might be a large part of a generation consisting of men unable to have close relationships with other human beings. Personally I am happy for this emerging more flexible view of masculinity and the "new man" who can relate to feelings. It seems to bode well for better relationships between people, and for the health of men themselves.

In the King's Speech the main character Prince Albert (who becomes King George VI) is a man deeply conflicted largely because of the loveless relations to his father and his brother, and his lack of any close friends to confide in. His main obstacle in his function as a prince is his persistent stuttering - an impediment he has had since he was a little boy. In the movie we see how he is introduced to the speech therapist Lionel Logue and how the relationship unfolds. A most beautiful bromance.

I think the official movie trailer was OK, but I have found a trailer made by a young woman, Lolilie, who makes alternative movie trailers as a hobby. I hope you enjoy, and if you haven't seen The King's Speech, well - do. I am sure to post more regarding this movie in the future, but this is my first take on it.







August 16, 2011

Tuchman's Law and Celebrating what's right with the world

The Scream by Edvard Munch























A couple of days ago I was sitting with my friends Benjamin and Raging Lion. I told them I was feeling down for several reasons, some of them personal - but as we progressed through our conversation it turned out that Benjamin said he was also feeling low these days. It feels as if the whole world is at a low point, he sighed. The hunger threatening Somalia's population; the war in Afghanistan; heads of state killing their own people in Libya and Syria; the global financial crisis; the Norwegian psychopath who gunned down innocent, young people for political reasons; the list goes on. It is easy to feel like one might as well lie down and die.

Then I also remembered in one corner of my mind some perspective of the brilliant historian Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989). I dipped into the internet and fished out the words she wrote in 1978:
Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. This has led me to formulate Tuchman's law, as follows: 
The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply). 
                                              Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

So in order to end this post on a positive note, don't let Edvard Munch and his Scream get you down. Let's look at something better:

Mona Lisa
by Leonardo da Vinci
Barbara Tuchman
with a Mona Lisa smile

And as a final treat and encouragement to you, my dear reader  - I want to share a 22 min video made by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones called Celebrate What's Right With the World.  Here is the link:

http://www.trainingabc.com/celebrate-whats-right-with-the-world/

Enjoy!

August 5, 2011

Personal Illusions, Old Time Religion, and Terror

Harold Camping - End Time Prophet
from okwassup.blogspot.com













Fear is a potent driving force. Some people feel so threatened by the world's complexity. The claims of the ending of the world always follow such fear. The American Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping is one such visionary. He was sure the world would come to an end on May 21 this year. When that didn't happen, he postponed the end of the world till October 21. Then, he himself was suprised by God on June 9th with a stroke. Apparently he is still in hospital. He seemed to have confused the end of the world with his own end.

The man who killed 77 people in the Oslo area on July 22 this year had a similar personal illusion, but instead of merely scaring people, he decided to kill. His own personal struggle with an explosive mix of various scraps of ideology, islamophobia, and high-powered narcissism ended up as an aweful public manifestation. To him, it appears, Europe was about to be crushed in a violent struggle between Muslim and Christian worldviews. Like a Messiah figure in his own eyes, he needed to sacrifice himself to save Europe. He wanted to return to some simpler, purer place. He wanted the Muslims out of Europe; he wanted women to go back to the kitchen and take care of their children and husbands; he wanted men to be more manly and honorable - all in all he wanted to go back to some Old Order and some Old Time Religion. He wanted to go back.

This violent urge to go back to some glorified, "pure" past and old doctrine is nothing new. Changing times are always frightening, and the world today is perhaps changing faster than at any other time in history. That was why I offered the Hindu story of the Churning of the Cosmic Ocean as a profound parable for our times (see that blog post here). After the terrible events of July 22 I again dipped into my Joseph Campbell library of snippets and found a very appropriate response to all kind of fundamentalism. I hope you take time to listen to his thoughtful words, in conversation with Bill Moyers from 1987:




I have found three interesting viewpoints on the incidence in Norway on July 22 by three prominent Norwegian thinkers and writers. The first is by Aslak Sira Myhre - the leader of the House of Literature in Oslo. He writes Time for Norway to face its Islamophobia in the Washington Post.  Author Jo Nesbø writes in the New York Times The Past is a Foreign Country. Finally, a piece in The New Yorker by journalist Knut Olav Åmås: Seven Days in Oslo: Flowers, Flags, Silence.

July 19, 2011

A story about Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion

Snow Leopard
from good-wallpapers.com
Tiger
from good-wallpapers.com











Today I am going to tell you a story about three of my brothers: Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion. I have already introduced Thompson to you (see my blog post about him here). He is also known as Snow Leopard as that is the focus  of his work as a wildlife biologist. I have one more brother who is also a wildlife biologist. His name is Tiger. He has gotten that name mainly because when he snores (which he does almost every night) he really sounds like a roaring tiger.  Incidentally, tigers have been a major focus of his work.

Black Stallion
from good-wallpapers.com
A third brother I like to call Black Stallion. He is tall and handsome and moves with the grace of an Arabian horse. We all used to study at the same pirate university for our pirate degrees. In the evenings we would share food and reports from the day in Pentagon, our dormitory. I will let you peek into my diary and see with your own eyes what enfolded one evening:


Yesterday was interesting, to say the least. Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion returned from the computer room rather shaken. They had a little more excitement than usual on their return to Pentagon. It was twelve o'clock and pitch dark outside as they started their leisurely stroll, chatting about this and that - minding their own business and nothing else. 
At one point they traversed some rope that was stretched across the path they normally take. This should have been a warning sign, but our heroes were apparently determined not to be distracted from their absent-mindedness. They lifted away the rope and proceeded, still chatting about this and that and minding their own business. Snow Leopard who is a little less hell-bent on being absent-minded started to think more about the rope and fell a few steps behind the others who were deeply engaged in their this-and-that-chat. Snow Leopard said: 'Guys...perhaps we should be carefu....'
At the very moment Snow Leopard uttered those words, Black Stallion suddenly found that he was speaking to himself. Tiger had vanished into thin air! He had fallen unknowingly into a gaping hole in the earth. It was dark and impossible to judge the depth of the hole. Only the sound of falling rocks was to be heard. Black Stallion was petrified. He thought it was the end of Tiger. He got down on his knees and cupped his hands around his mouth: "Tiger! Tiiiigeeer!!" But there was no reply. Rocks were still falling. Black Stallion took off the long scarf he was wearing around his neck and hoisted it down as he kept calling for Tiger.
Tiger eventually wakes up to Black Stallion's call. He is lying in the bottom of a hole and small rocks are still falling over him. He has lost consciousness for a moment so he doesn't know where he is or what he is doing in the bottom of a hole. But he can feel a warm liquid running down his face. Blood from a cut above his forehead. He can also feel the tickling of cloth. Slowly he rises first to his knees, then to his feet and looks up at Black Stallion who is waving the scarf in his face. The hole was little more than 2 meters deep. Hardly enough to kill a man. Today Tiger has a fair sized wound on the top of his head which he wears with pride. 
                                                                     -Pirate Diaries, March 15, 1997

Dear friends, today is Tiger's birthday. By now the wound on his head has healed. I am so happy that he survived that brush with death. Happy birthday, dear Tiger brother. Hip hip hooray! I have found a marvelous picture of a tiger and a snow leopard against a star lit sky (see below). It makes me think back to March 14, 1997. Consider this my birthday card to you. Long may you live! And please, don't fall into any more holes.

The Tiger and the Snow Leopard
by Tofu Squirrel

July 17, 2011

Solution Number One

Riding Chaos by Leigh Toldi

Solution Number One

If I were God
I would look down at the world
And think to myself
This is problematic
Let's ignore it

                       -ITF, 2003

July 10, 2011

Churning the Cosmic Ocean of Milk - on the other side of chaos and complexity

I have many friends who have chosen as a strategy of survival to ignore the news. I am not one of these people, although I am sympathetic.

Complexity invoked
Collaboration with Mars by Damon Soule



I have restricted myself to check news online twice per day (two ten minute sessions) - otherwise I feel my brain gets eaten by the flickering of images, headlines, and stories. "Kidnapped victims found decapitated"; "Amputee trown out of roller coaster to his death"; "Sex bomb answers answers claims of botox use"; "Meet Mince (3), the two-headed albino snake"; "Knife robbery at McDonald's," are some of today's headlines in a leading national newspaper. One has to be very strong to navigate through the headlines without being lured into the sweet embrace of the sirens of flash news. I know a few people (no names mentioned) who wake up from the embrace only to see that most of the day has gone, and they swear never to be seduced again, until next morning...

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. He was a scholar of mythology and comparative religion and was highly skeptical of mainstream media and the focus of daily news:

...look at what people are reading in the papers. You get into the subways and people are all reading the same thing - this murder, that murder. This rape, this divorce. What topics to be mentating on! This journalistic accent in our lives is murder. Murder.
                                                                                Campbell interview by Tom Collins, 1986

So, dear reader, I would like to invite you to read a more timeless kind of story with me today. I can neither promise images of naked breasts nor juicy details of a football star's (a family man, dear God!) sordid affair with a Big Brother star. It is much more satisfying than that. This is a story to sustain your being in a time were chaos and complexity seems to be the background music of our lives. 

It is a tale that has been dancing in the back of my mind since the day I fell into it perhaps fifteen years ago while reading one of Campbell's books on mythology. It is the Hindu story Samudra Manthan - about the churning of the universal sea of milk. 


The gods and anti-gods churning the cosmic sea for the butter of immortality
Unknown source

Once upon a time - at the beginning of the history of the universe - the gods (devas) and their arch-enemies the anti-gods (asuras) were engaged in one of their eternal battles. They decided to take a little breather from their fighting and undertake a common task: to churn the Milky Ocean for its butter of immortality (amrita).

To churn the cosmic, milky sea demands sturdy tools. The devas and asuras looked around and decided to use the Cosmic Mountain (mount Mandranchal) as their churning-spindle and the Cosmic Serpent (Vasuki) as a twirling-rope. They wrapped Vasuki around Mandranchal and started their churning - the devas and asuras pulling at each end of Vasuki.

The devas and asuras quickly found that the mountain was too heavy; it threatened to sink into the sea. To their good fortune they were assisted by the god Vishnu who transformed into his turtle incarnation, Kurma, and swam under the mountain, supporting it on its back. The churning could continue. (The picture above gives a wonderful impression of the whole event - notice brave, little Kurma supporting the cosmic mountain on his back.)

Shiva drinking poison
As they had been churning thus for a thousand years or so a great, black cloud of poisonous smoke rose from the sea. The churners stopped - they were in dire need of help as the smoke was absolutely treacherous for all beings. All beings save one. Only Shiva - the supreme God - had the power to contain the situation.

When called upon, Shiva was moved with great compassion. He took the poisonous bluish-black cloud into his begging bowl and drank the poison. His sweetheart Parvati was alarmed: "No, Shiva, no!!" - she hurled herself towards him and clenched her hands around his neck to stop the poison from its further journey into his body. The poison was stopped in his throat, coloring it forever blue. It was thus that Shiva got the name Nilakanta or Blue Throat.

After Shiva had performed his glorious, selfless deed, the devas and asuras could return to their work.  They churned and they churned until one day - lo and behold! - all kinds of gems started to float up from the ocean: the moon, the sun, an elephant with eight trunks, a glorious horse, various medicines, and finally a radiant vessel filled with the ambrosial butter of immortality- the amrita.

I love this story because it is hopeful - it's not a conservative story telling us to return to "old ways", "old religion" or nationalism when we are scared. It is an invitation to see that out of the seeming complexity and chaos comes new life - richer, tastier life.

As Joseph Campbell said of this story:
This old Indian myth I offer as a parable for our world today, as an exhortation to press on with the work, beyond fear.
Whenever I am scared or confused, I think about this story. I even think about it when I am happy.

Bon Apétit!

ps. For those of you addicted to news  - here is an article work reading: Overcoming News Addiction by Steve Pavlina

July 2, 2011

Dreams of Obama - the woes of a national hero in a complex world

Last night as I turned around to my favorite position of sleeping on my stomach, I felt an awkward sensation of toe nails scraping against the stretch sheet. I turned on the light and fished out one foot from under the cover. That was an impressive set of claws, let me tell you. Rather like those on the paw of a cheetah.

Dusternbrook Guest Farm: Cheetah paw
Cheetah paw
by Jonas Tonboe













I must shockingly admit that I hadn't cut my nails for two months. To my defense, there was a reason. If you are very impatient, scroll down to the last paragraph. Those of you who possess a certain degree of refinement, please come with me on a little journey.

It was two months ago that I woke up to what was my birthday, but this fact was overshadowed by the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American special forces in some suburban Pakistani house. Bin Laden showed no signs of wanting to surrender - the killing was an act of national self-defense, claimed the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.