Wednesday, January 27
Yesterday was Australia Day which has been celebrated by Australians as a holiday since 1939. The above photos feature my late father (deceased 1969) in a group portrait of eight RAAF members of a Glee Party performing at a concert at Australia House, London on Australia Day 1943. My father served as a bomber pilot in the Second World War and information below and the photos have been taken directly from the Australian War Museum archives.
Caption below the first picture : Their concert songs were received with great enthusiasm by the audience. Identified from left to right: pianist Pilot Officer (PO) Hamilton Roland Dacre Budd (pilot) from Broken Hill, NSW (died 1 August 1943 on operations over the Atlantic Ocean); Frank Sutton Walker (observer) from Wellington, NSW; Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Harry Clifford Thrush (chaplain) from Adelaide, South Australia; Sqn Ldr Gordon Gladstone Wood (chaplain) from Wellington, NSW who conducted the choir (died 18 June 1944 in UK); Sergeant (Sgt) Charles Keith Byrnes (pilot) from Moree, NSW; George Claud Notman (observer) from Skipton, Victoria; PO Donald Zalva Pile (pilot) from Melbourne, Victoria (died 26 October 1943 in Scotland); and PO Leslie Walter Roper (pilot) from Melbourne (died 4 September 1943 on operations over Germany).
The subsequent fatalities listed above are a salutary reminder of the high death rate attributable to RAAF command in which my father flew Wellington Bombers. Losses of about 5% per operation gave little chance of survival after a stint of 30 operations.
Earlier on the 3rd January 1943 my father made 6 records for the BBC which took 3 hours to record and included light and popular numbers - ‘I'll Walk Beside You’, ‘Old King Cole’, ‘Pass Me By’ and the beautiful anthem ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace’. The BBC were very pleased and called in some reporter to take pictures for the papers. My father’s diary mentions that Air marshal Williams made a special trip to the studios to hear the records and was very pleased.
In later life the war had influenced my father and my mother knew this and made allowances that today would seem inconceivable. If you would like to read a story about that click on the title or the link icon next to the title.
Sunday, January 24
Out of my childhood were mystical memories of dreamy imagined worlds whose characters cast magical spells in the shadows of the giant hypnotic eucalypts which grew in the tranquil peaceful bush land setting behind our family home. At night my bedroom glass window louvers shimmered in the pale light and rattled to the sounds of wind or rain as I listened to the incessant buzz of cicadas or the more strident cry of - “mowpoke! , mowpoke!" of the mowpoke owl before drifting off into sleep.
Although I would consider myself as a more practical and skeptical type person that mystical dreamy imaginative sense has also stayed with me to emerge in later life, prior to any feelings about religiosity, in the form of a recurring day dreaming state from which I imagined nothing whatsoever existed; after a time when the feeling became uncomfortable I would return to my everyday perception.
In Australia over several decades we have seen a minor renaissance in spirituality in contrast to declining church attendances as increased environmental awareness generates more interest in the wisdom streams of ancient societies. Many older cultures although beholden to magic and lacking scientific knowledge nevertheless were more attuned to harmonious co-existence with nature as a consequence of mystic wisdom streams.
But firstly I should define mysticism which is, according to the definition of my Oxford dictionary:
1. Chiefly the Christian church, the beliefs or mental tendencies characteristic of mystics; belief in the possibility of the union with or absorption into GOD by means of contemplation and self surrender; belief in or reliance on the possibility of spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect.
2. Religious belief characterized by self delusion or dreamy confusion of thought; belief based on the assumptions on occult qualities or mysterious agencies.
In our oldest known continuous culture of the Australian aborigines’ the ancestral origins of mysticism reside in the dreamtime creation where all living things were believed to be made co-dependant and reactive to one another in one inseparable land.
So it was in the beginning the dreamtime was to dominate every facet of their rich life; in mythical creation stories, ceremonial art, music, ritualistic practice; initiation rites into adulthood; and in the repository of knowledge of the law handed down from one generation to another. Within the tribal system adolescents were isolated away from the rest of the tribe under the control of elders who provided tutelage on all matters of their law until they were sufficiently aware to make the positive transition to adulthood which carried with it the responsibility towards their tribe and the environment upon which they were dependant - Charles P Mountford – The Dawn of time.
As a child just before the time of the record –breaking floods which were to submerge our family home in raging floodwater I recall the inexplicable death of the Aborigine named Kinjika from bone pointing for tribal transgressions. Speculation was that his extreme fear caused his untimely death just five days after admission to hospital as medical authorities were unable to find any injury, poison, disease or medical condition that could be held responsible.
Eugene Stockton is a priest who has spent many years with the aboriginals and talks about their tribes gathered around the campfires at night experiencing a mystical oneness with the environment. To read the full article entitled 'Mysticism in the Australian environment: Calls to a new consciousness' click here .
Like many religions aboriginals were interested in the meaning of dreams which unlike other cultures were perceived as a mystical return to the past rather than to interpret the future.
Aboriginal people often interpret dreams as being the memory of things that happened during this Creation Period. Dreams were important because they were considered the time when one was transformed back into prior ancestral time. This linking of dreams to the Creation Period has led people to adopt the general term “The Dreamtime” in order to describe the time of creation in their religion. The term “Dreamtime” in Aboriginal mythology is not really about a person having a dream, but rather, a reference to this Creation Period.
To read more about aboriginal culture and religion click here
Ineffable mysticism and reverence for life
In modern day terms the divide between mysticism in religion and philosophy has become blurred for although the experiences of mysticism may be claimed to be ineffable (Incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable), nevertheless for those traditions to take root and be successfully handed down from one generation to the next required a teacher able to coherently convey what is meant to ensure a future survival.
In the Taoist religion “The Tao” was considered with such reverence that any references made could no longer be considered the true Tao-Lao Tzu (Taoist), since such supremacy in spirit is also ineffable.
For more on the philosopher Lao Tzu click here
GOD was also ineffable in early Judaism
In early Judaism coherency in teachings was described by reference to GOD’S ways or actions in the mystical stories of the Old Testament. The Jewish approach to mysticism is complicated but generally it is agreed the mystics are to be interpreted in terms of allegory and imagination, a not dissimilar view held by scholars today in relation to the parables contained in the New Testament.
In the end any inherent complexity must become mundane for its future survival, as the old story goes of the student and his understanding of the various contemplative mysteries of the mountain whose enlightened state reveals it is a mountain.
In more recent times the definition of mysticism has also tended to be expanded to include the ecstatic experience of oneness found in Indian religions such as Hinduism or Sufism in Islam which aims at unity or absorption of the divine.
In turn the idea of a oneness has also influenced other philosophers such as Albert Schweitzer who said the “Brahmins, taught as a great secret the mysticism of the identity of the souls of all beings and all things with the Universal Soul. According to this mysticism all that is of the nature of soul belongs to the Universal Soul. Man carries the Universal Soul within him. And because the Universal Soul dwells in all Being, it finds its own self again in all Being, in the life of plants as in the life of gods. This is the meaning of the famous Tat twam asi (That thou art thyself) of the Upanishads."
Schweitzer whilst in the midst of a calm river setting in Africa gazing at a grazing hippopotamus, experienced his mystical insight into the principle of reverence for life, which proved to be ‘ manna from heaven’ for a war ravaged weary world, striking a chord that subsequently led to his Nobel peace prize in 1952.
A similar theme is evident In Tathagatagarbha Buddhism to proffer the idea of an enlightened indestructible nature for all beings, obscured by moral and mental contamination but whose enlightened essence is the Buddha Nature, present also in Tibetan Buddhist texts and traditions. Nothingness does not mean an absence of anything but rather the enlightened state from which attachments bringing moral and mental contamination are removed.
Turning to Christian mysticism we find an amazing labyrinth of different strands from the medieval Christian mystics included St. Augustine, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Teresa of Avilia and Meister Eckhart and all of the other successors.
But by far the greatest of all of the Christian mystics is the apostle St Paul whose 13 letters make up half of the New Testament, although most scholars contend that only 7 were actually written or under the direction of Paul. Paul was a scholar, sail maker and mystic whose epic journeys established Christendom throughout the Mediterranean and ensured its spread throughout the world. Paul was seen as an apostle for the gentile’s yet in typical Judaist tradition frequently uses allegory by way of Old Testament references in his letters to the recently established infant communities.
Paul remains an enigmatically unique character – virtually unknown in a historical sense other than to be remembered in Jewish disagreements amongst followers, but one who professes to be willing to understand all things and become ‘as one’ to all men to further the cause of being “in Christ” which arose from his mystical experience on the road to Damascus. I think this factor had led many to interpret his work in a more complicated manner than need be the case.
The phrase ‘In Christ” has prompted many different interpretations and Schweitzer in his work ‘The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle’ on page 380 provides his view
"For him [Paul], believers are redeemed by entering already, through the union with Christ, by means of a mystical dying and rising again with him during the continuance of the natural world-era into a supernatural state of existence, this state being that which they are to possess in the kingdom of God. Through Christ we are removed out of this world and transferred into the state of existence proper to the kingdom of God, notwithstanding the fact that it has not yet appeared. “
Much has been made of the abstract nature of Pauline theology as a bridge from the more individualistic Judaism into Christianity with the idea of justification by faith but I think the primary aim of Paul was one of universal freedom from the law under the Jewish covenant about which he disagreed with Peter. His letters are best read simply as letters, not necessarily to be held as always Paul’s specific views but more to be understood as an encouragement and call to the fledgling communities to co-exist with love and respect for one another without the need for the prior ritualistic imposition of Jewish law.
St Paul is of significant interest to secular philosophers because his ideas carry with them the idea of a universal unencumbered system of unity which presupposes through grace existential philosophical aspects to life; to hold our life existence as sacred, to ascertain and acknowledge ones gifts for the benefit of the whole community, to joyfully exist in a state of grace without fear of death, to be free and remain free from guilt, to share in all things and to place love and affection ahead of all other known things. In the process Paul acknowledges our humanity and the imperfect cradle of existence which will continue to see communities straddle the idealism that is encapsulated in their new understanding and freedom from their law only to fall prey to the usual earthly failings.
In the same way as Schweitzer was to say he knew only Jesus of Nazareth; Paul sends his letters of encouragement and hope in the expectation that the experience of freedom from the law will bring joy to existential living to transcend earthly suffering and sorrow.
From a letter written by Albert Schweitzer to his future wife Helene, dated May 1, 1904, "Sometimes it seems to me as if I had arrived beyond the clouds and the stars, and could see the world in the most wonderful clarity, and therefore have the right to be a heretic. To know only Jesus of Nazareth; to continue his work as the only religion, not to have to bear anymore what Christianity has absorbed over the years in vulgarity. Not to be afraid of hell, not to strive for the joys of heaven, not to live in false fear, and the false submission that has become an essential part of our religion--and yet to understand the one Great One, and to know that one is his disciple."
Mystical experiences have been crucial in providing the creative imagination which helps shape our philosophies and give us that sense of self that gives rise to our humanity.
What is strikingly apparent from many of the mystics is the similarity in ideas about oneness and interdependence for all living things. Another is the wonderful philosophies which are suggested, through grace, as being available to all regardless of belief, to be simply experienced by engagement in mind and spirit. To find your own meaning to life (as opposed to seeking a meaning for life) as I see it in the use of one’s gifts in the way that was intended for a more complete and energised happy life for oneself and community. In that respect secular philosophers’ views often unintentionally reflect religiosity just as the more skeptical views of some religious commentators can be more secular than religious.
In another sense, in a more generalized universal viewpoint my personal philosophy leads me to believe that all life is sacred. We can learn from the mystics but ultimately we all determine what philosophy and life meaning we personally adopt. If you agree with me that all life is sacred then a call to arms must always be viewed with suspicion except in extraordinary circumstances.
Tuesday, January 12
The mushroom has captured our imagination from antiquity when the consumption of ‘magic mushrooms’ containing the chemical hallucinogen (psilocybin) engendered mystical religious type feelings. Some toxic varieties in Australia when consumed can potentially be fatal or cause permanent liver damage. However mushrooms undoubtedly are best known as an attractive nutritional addition to our diet, being high in carbohydrates and providing more protein than green vegetables. Mushrooms belong to the fungi family and although fungi’s cause the majority of plant and crop diseases we can thank the smaller types which are used effectively for the production of bread, beer, wine, cheese, vitamins and penicillin.
The biology of fungi is interesting on a number of counts in terms of composition and evolution. Fungi represent the first life form to colonise the earth, well before the emergence of land based plants. Unlike plants which have leaves representative of a vascular system and which can reproduce via flowers and seeds, fungi reproduce through spores. They vary enormously in size and rely mainly on dead and dying organisms for their food supply. Their DNA is more closely aligned to animals than to plants.
Mushrooms researchers are increasingly becoming excited over the many exciting possibilities in their applications such as treating cancer or in cleaning up toxic wastes.
You can read more about just a brief smattering of some more recent discoveries on Science Daily by clicking here or by simply reading my extracted summaries below.
Dr Cornelia de Moor of The University of Nottingham and her team have investigated a drug called cordycepin, which was originally extracted from a rare kind of wild mushroom called cordyceps and is now prepared from a cultivated form. Dr de Moor said: “Our discovery will open up the possibility of investigating the range of different cancers that could be treated with cordycepin.
More discoveries of Mushrooms that glow in the dark
San Francisco State University Biology Professor Dennis Desjardin and colleagues discovered the fungi in Belize, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia and Puerto Rico. The discoveries include four species new to science and three new reports of luminescence in known species. Three quarters of glowing mushrooms, including the species described in the study, belong to the Mycena genus, a group of mushrooms that feed off and decompose organic matter as a source of nutrients to sustain their growth.
"What interests us is that within Mycena, the luminescent species come from 16 different lineages, which suggests that luminescence evolved at a single point and some species later lost the ability to glow," said Desjardin, lead author of the study. He believes that some fungi glow in order to attract nocturnal animals that aid in the dispersal of the mushroom's spores which are similar to seeds and are capable of growing into new organisms.
Mushrooms may also prove effective to cleaning up toxic contaminations in land areas.
This type of mushroom carries out an indiscriminate acid attack on the mineral particles of the soil and absorbs elements in quantities relative to the mineralogical composition of the soil. "In some contaminated soils, or those with particular mineralogical characteristics, the mushrooms collected can reach such high concentrations of toxic elements that their consumption would be unadvisable," reveals the researcher
Chernobyl tragedy teaches us that Fungus Feeds on Radiation
Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AEC) have found evidence that the fungi possess another talent beyond their ability to decompose matter, the capacity to use radioactivity as an energy source for making food and spurring their growth.
Detailing the research in Public Library of Science ONE, AEC's Arturo Casadevall said his interest was piqued five years ago when he read about how a robot sent into the still-highly-radioactive Chernobyl reactor had returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi that were growing on the ruined reactor's walls. "I found that very interesting and began discussing with colleagues whether these fungi might be using the radiation emissions as an energy source," explained Casadevall.
Casadevall and his co-researchers then set about performing a variety of tests using several different fungi. Two types - one that was induced to make melanin (Crytococcus neoformans) and another that naturally contains it (Wangiella dermatitidis) - were exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Both of these melanin-containing species grew significantly faster than when exposed to standard background radiation.
"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum - ionizing radiation - to benefit the fungi containing it," said co-researcher Ekaterina Dadachova.
Investigating further, the researchers measured the electron spin resonance signal after melanin was exposed to ionizing radiation and found that radiation interacts with melanin to alter its electron structure. This, they believe, is an essential step for capturing radiation and converting it into a different form of energy to make food. Until now, melanin's biological role in fungi - if any - had been a mystery. Interestingly, the melanin in fungi is no different chemically from the melanin in our skin, leading Casadevall to speculate that melanin could be providing energy to skin cells.
And radiation-munching fungi could be on the menu for future space missions. "Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," noted Dadachova.
Click here for this reference.
Monday, January 4
The film is a moving feast for the eyes, heart and mind set in idyllic eastern England, but laced with humour and pathos for the penniless young Keats whose agonizing life compromises are in deference to the reality he relies on the generosity of others but particularly that of his close friend Brown whose antipathy toward Fanny adds yet another dimension of unanswered questions.
BRIGHT STAR leaves you aware that the words of one of the greatest romanticised poets were only recognised for their eloquence, exquisite beauty and romanticism after his tragic early death. His words continue to be spoken today just as they were spoken out aloud in the woods for many years afterwards by a grieving but no less inspired Fanny Brawne.
Click here for NY Times review