Jun 22, 2009

Weekend in Tucson

Uzi and I spent the last weekend in Tucson at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) annual conference. What an extremely interesting group of people. I first heard of them a few months ago when I went to a symposium in Malibu about honeybees--possible research for my next book--that was sponsored in part by IONS. I guess I got on their mailing list that day, because in late April I received a catalogue for their June conference, "Toward a Global Shift: Seeding the Field of Collective Change." It looked like a potentially useful conference to attend in preparation for the book release, and also just an interesting phenomenon to check out. And we figured, Tucson isn't that far, and our babysitter just got back from Spain and can watch the kids for two nights--it's been years since we've gone away together for a weekend--so why not?

Wow. This was a pretty amazing conference. More than 1,000 people in a ballroom every day listening to everyone from corporate CEOs to Indian gurus to African community organizers talking about how everyone can help transform the planet into a more sustainable, compassionate, abundant place for everyone. The Institute's mission is to nurture the conversation between science and spiritual values, vis a vis funding scientific studies, supporting green initiatives, and creating curriculums of non-violence for schools. They're interested in the role consciousness plays in everyday life and if you believe in the power of intention, as I do, it's fairly incredible to sit in a ballroom with a thousand other people who do, too.

We heard a speech by Edgar Mitchell, the former Apollo astronaut and one of only about a dozen Americans who've been to the moon. On his trip back to earth he looked out of the shuttle window and saw the earth from a vantage point few get to see, and had a profoundly spiritual moment, realizing we're all on this little planet together in the vastness of space. In his own words, "The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes." As a scientist and engineer, he didn't have a framework to fully integrate the awareness that reality might be more subtle and mysterious than he'd bargained for, but he went looking for others with the same belief, and in 1973 they founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. (The name comes from the Greek word "nous," which loosely means "intuitive ways of knowing.")

Mitchell has a book I just ordered called The Way of the Explorer. The Institute is at www.ions.org for anyone who wants to check it out.

Jun 15, 2009

Let the Sun Shine

So, Maya's last day of school was Wednesday, and the school's annual talent show always takes place that morning. This year (like last year) she did a hula hoop routine. She set it to "Let the Sun Shine In" from Hair, and dressed up in green harem pants, a white Indian shirt, a green suede vest, and a headband with a big white flower pinned on it. I wish I had a still photo to post here, but I was filming it on video and didn't have a free hand. Plus, it's a new video camera and I don't really know how to use it very well, so it took all my effort to get that right.

She was the last act in the show, and if you know the song, you probably remember that the first three minutes is a medley of different voices and even pieces of different songs, and the next three minutes is full of very melodic but also unimaginative lyrice--it's just "Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in, the su-un, shine in" over and over again. For the last two minutes she invited the whole show cast on stage with her and all the kids were dancing and singing together. It was a really beautiful ending to both the show and the year. Because I'm such a sucker for kids singing on stage of course I started crying, and trying to keep a videocamera steady when you're reduced to a blubbering mess, especially when you're using the camera for the first time (see above) was a real sight to behold, let me tell you.

The top two contenders for songs to hoop to were "Let the Sun Shine In" and "The Age of Aquarius"--which is an excellent song for hooping, by the way. We've been listening to the soundtrack from "Hair" in the car (minus the R-rated songs, which I nearly always remember to skip over) pretty consistently since returning from New York in April, where we saw the play on Broadway. I'd loved the music from "Hair" as a kid, and have vivid memories of dancing around like a dervish in our wood-paneled basement singing "The air, the air, is everywhere." The movie came out when I was 14, and set me off on a long and torturous path of relationships with every man I met who looked remotely like Treat Williams. No job? Even better!

Seeing the play on Broadway, 40 years after its original appearance there, yielded a couple of large surprises. One was that I realized I still knew all the words to all the songs, even though I hadn't heard some of them in more than 20 years. Another was that bringing two kids, ages 11 and 7, to see "Hair" is a much more questionable parenting decision than I'd initially bargained for. I'd sussed out the nudity part in advance, and had been assured that it was handled tastefully (which it was). Plus, these are Topanga kids. Naked neighbors in backyard hot tubs are part of their landscape; I wasn't terribly worried about that part. I'd completely forgotten how raunchy some of the lyrics were, though. A few lines into "Sodomy" Eden leaned over and loudly whispered, "Mom! What do all these words mean?" I told her, "I'll explain when you're older" and she seemed okay with that. But the F-word was omnipresent, and there was lots of sexual mimicry on stage, oy vey. I hope I haven't inspired years on therapists' couches ("And my mother? My mother took me to see HAIR!"). Nonetheless, the play was a joyous celebration of nonconformity, with dancing up and down the aisles, and audience members invited to dance on stage at the end, a wild, colorful, uplifting party of a play. And the inspiration for a school talent show hula-hoop routine. Who would have thought?