How the men of Bloom Homie are redefining masculinity in L.A. — and beyond

A man plays with his young son.

By JULIA BARAJAS STAFF WRITER 

APRIL 22, 2021 7 AM PT (LATimes.com)

Before COVID-19 ravaged the globe, Figgy Baby hosted bimonthly conversations among friends on such topics as violence against women, homophobia and mental health.

The local rapper, who uses they/their/them pronouns, dubbed the group “Healing Masculinity” and welcomed “anyone who identifies with manhood” to their apartment in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown.

Eric Eztli, a poet and high-school English teacher, always left the gatherings in a buoyant mood. Eventually, he brought along his friend Rudy Torres, a photographer and indie-rock artist.

Longing to take those conversations beyond Figgy Baby’s apartment, Eztli suggested launching a joint Instagram account. His friends agreed.

They called it Bloom Homie. “This page is meant to inspire other men to be soft, be courageous, be emotional, be truthful, and be bold,” they wrote in the caption to their first post in February 2019. At first, only a few followers trickled in. Then hundreds. Then thousands more.

And then the pandemic hit. Gathering in person at Figgy Baby’s apartment became impossible, so the healing circle migrated to Zoom. They feared a decline in participation. At first, the group did dwindle. View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

But with the help of social media, Bloom Homie’s founders managed to stay afloat. Bolstered by more than 4,500 followers on Instagram, they’re now focused on figuring out how to amplify their reach.

Poetry brought them together. Four years ago, Figgy Baby took the stage at Alivio Open Mic, a monthly showcase of poets and musicians in Bell.

Eztli, who founded Alivio in his parents’ garage in 2013, sat in the audience, listening intently as the rapper shared a poem describing the type of father they’d like to be.

Eztli was transfixed: “Who is this?” he thought.

He approached Figgy Baby after the performance, and they quickly forged a bond. Soon after, Eztli was a regular at the rapper’s home.

Eztli, who has become a talent scout for poets across southeastern Los Angeles, likewise met Torres at an open mike night at Cruzita’s Deli in Huntington Park about four years ago.

Because he’s a musician, Torres assumed he would be performing with his guitar when the shop owner asked him to participate. “But when I get there, I see a poster that says, ‘Rudy Torres: featured poet.’ And I’m, like, what?”

He frantically searched through notes in his phone for something that “seemed poetic” and landed on a journal entry about his father. As Torres read before the crowd, he did his best not to look nervous.

“I saw Eric standing in the back,” he said. “And when I finished, he came up to me, he affirmed me and he invited me to his open mike. That had never happened to me in my life.”View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

Bloom Homie’s founders bring this same energy to their Instagram account, where their camaraderie shows up in their comments to one another.

Some of their posts are silly, featuring memes that take stabs at gender stereotypes. On other occasions, they share articles or videos about what they see in the news. In May 2019, for instance, Eztli posted a video speaking out against stringent anti-abortion legislation in Alabama, which made performing the procedure punishable by up to life in prison — with no exceptions for rape victims.

“That’s just going to set up a whole tortuous life for that person,” Eztli said in the video, holding his then-infant son in his arms.View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

Sci-fi-loving Figgy Baby often posts tender messages to their followers using the alias “Octavia Butler’s Favorite Rapper.” Some of them read like mantras. “I’m here with you,” they wrote in March 2021. “Let’s forgive ourselves daily, learn to hold ourselves accountable, and bask in how far we’ve come.”

Every once in a while, the Bloom Homie founders share deeply personal experiences. A poem that accompanies one of Torres’ photographs, titled “What you taught me,” is especially poignant. In it, the East L.A. native revisits the poem he read the night he met Eztli, examining his relationship with his father and reflecting on what he’s learned.

“It was in the heavy breaths you took and the hands you raised to my mother,” the poem reads. “It was in the manic voice I heard while she took it all in tears. It was in the night I hid behind my dresser, holding my sisters close while the cops came and pulled you to the ground. It was in the silence in the air that followed.”View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

“I still remember hiding behind that dresser with my sisters, crying and hearing my mom scream,” Torres told The Times. “And that moment, when I was, like, 8 years old, it changed my whole outlook on men and violence and love.

“Growing up, I kept telling myself I would never put a person through that, so I always navigated my relationships with caution, with intention and with respect — or so I thought.

“But then I started writing poetry. I started going to therapy. And when I started doing this healing work, I realized I was doing the same s— my dad would do. I was perpetuating those behaviors in my relationships, not physically, but emotionally. I recognized the pattern. I was emotionally abused, but I also did it back. And when I finally saw that, I was like, ‘I’ve got to stop this.’ So more therapy, more poetry. And honestly, poetry’s what saved me. That’s why I posted what I wrote, in case others feel the same.”View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

To protect one another from COVID-19, which has ravaged Black and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Figgy Baby opted to do the “Healing Masculinity” sessions on Zoom. Initially, they mourned the loss of in-person connections. Then they saw the platform’s potential.

Instead of bimonthly gatherings with a handful of folks huddled in their apartment, Figgy Baby now has weekly online meetings with up to 25 participants from across L.A. County — including Cerritos, El Sereno, East L.A., Los Feliz, Santa Clarita, South L.A., Van Nuys and Whittier. In fact, people now regularly tune in from as far north as Oakland, along with a few participants in the Midwest, the South and the East Coast.

They come together every Tuesday at 7 p.m. for two-hour sessions. Sometimes, when there’s a lot to discuss, the healing circle can run long. When that happens, East Coast attendees stay put, even though for them it’s well past midnight.

Figgy Baby cherishes this pandemic-induced outgrowth. They’ve reached out to participants outside California to discuss becoming facilitators. Once it’s safe for people to gather in person, they’d love to see those participants running their own local groups.

Accessibility is central to the Bloom Homie mission. Though the founders are all college graduates — with degrees from Brown, Cal State Long Beach and Hampshire College — they aim to reach people from all walks of life.

“We’re trying to make this palatable for everybody,” said Torres. “Not everyone gets to take women or gender studies classes at a university.”

“‘Calling in’ instead of ‘calling out’” is part of this endeavor, said Figgy Baby. “No one’s born knowing terms like ‘the patriarchy’ or ‘toxic masculinity,’ so when questions about that come up, I’m happy to explain.”

Nadie sale regañado (No one comes out scolded),” added Eztli, who maintains that discord can be an opportunity for learning and mutual understanding.

Of course, social media interactions aren’t always smooth. Bloom Homie’s founders sometimes hear from people who aren’t too pleased with their work, most often men.

For instance, after Eztli posted, “Men, don’t let patriarchal forms fool you. Your character is more valuable than the money you have,” detractors weighed in. Some faulted women for “fetishizing men with money”; others insulted Eztli directly. When interactions like this occur, the trio has to weigh whether it’s worth engaging.

If a contrarian “is prepared to have a mature conversation, we’re here for that,” Eztli said. “But if someone wants to be rude and degrading, then no. I’m not going to be arguing with all these guys across the U.S.”

For others, the Bloom Homie posts have been transformative.

“I’m from an older, more ‘traditional’ group of people, so this is all new to me and good to learn,” wrote one follower in the comments section to a post on trans-inclusive language.

“This is so real,” another follower commented after Bloom Homie shared a Washington Post article titled “No Game Days. No Bars. The Pandemic Is Forcing Men to Realize They Need Deeper Friendships.”

“As a young man,” he added, “I realized that … the only time I would talk about my feelings with my guy friends was when we were drunk and up late … When I found out my wife was pregnant, the first thing I did was start an email chain with my guy friends. It’s been instrumental to my mental health.” He then asked if he could join Figgy Baby’s healing circle.

To build on what it has created, Bloom Homie has partnered with like-minded organizations, including the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, which offers a 12-week program for fathers who want to cultivate healthy relationships with their loved ones. Because of his experience working with youth, Eztli hosts meetings akin to “Healing Masculinity” for high school students at A Place Called Home, a nonprofit based in South Central Los Angeles.

He’s also teamed up with Latinx Parenting, a platform that promotes nonviolent childcare. Together, they cohosted a book club on “All About Love,” a text by Black feminist activist bell hooks.

“I recommend that book very passionately to all men I run into now,” said Eztli. “I’m, like, ‘Dude, read it. It’ll make you think about your childhood, your parents, who you’re going to be.’”View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

Reflecting on the past matters to the Bloom Homie founders. Looking back on his upbringing, Eztli recalled that all he was taught about interacting with the opposite gender was “respeta a las mujeres.”

“But, like, what does ‘respect for women’ even mean?” he asked. “What does that look like day to day? And what about when we get rejected?”

Figgy Baby, who was inspired to launch the healing circle amid the start of the #MeToo movement, think it’s crucial to unpack the ways in which sexism is harmful to all.

“Part of it was acknowledging my own participation in that toxicity, the ways that I’ve inflicted hurt on other people in my life,” they told The Times. “But the patriarchy is definitely not good for men, either.”

Eztli’s wife, Jennifer Barajas (no relation to the writer), supports Bloom Homie’s mission and especially appreciates that it provides a space to re-imagine parenting.

“When we decided to get pregnant,” she said, “one of the first things we agreed on was that we would not perpetuate gender norms.”

For their toddler, Elías, she said, this means that they are “really conscious about allowing him to be upset and cry and making sure that we don’t say, ‘Boys don’t play with Barbies’ or whatever. We want to completely eliminate that language in our journey through parenthood.”

Meeting Eztli, Barajas added, also compelled her to question her own preconceptions surrounding masculinity.

The couple first crossed paths about eight years ago, as college students protesting the agrochemical company Monsanto. “And at first, I was like, ‘Who’s this guy, and why is he always talking about his feelings?’” she said. View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BloomHomie (@bloomhomie)

Amid the pandemic, Eztli and Figgy Baby also started a podcast, “Get Ya Boi,” an offshoot they’ve found hard to keep up.

The founders are all stretched pretty thin, juggling careers and family obligations. One of their loved ones was hospitalized last winter after being infected with the novel coronavirus, so they continue to play it safe and meet online.

Still, they’re committed to the work.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Eztli, “but it’s a bell hooks type of love, not that cheesy fairy-tale stuff.

“She pretty much says that love is our commitment to the spiritual growth of people in our lives. And I want to be that as much as I can.”

Julia Barajas is a Los Angeles Times reporter and a native Angeleno. Before joining The Times, she covered the impact of changing drug policies in California and Latin America for Cannabis Wire. Her work has also appeared in La Opinión, La Prensa Gráfica and the Columbia Journalism Review. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she earned a master’s in education from Cal State Long Beach, as well as a master’s in journalism from Columbia University.

Copyright © 2021, Los Angeles Times

(Courtesy of Janet Cornwell, H.W, m.)

Céline Dion – All By Myself (Live from Las Vegas 2016)

teamxceline Buy & stream Céline Dion’s album “Courage” now at: https://smarturl.it/CelineDionCourage​​ Subscribe to Céline Dion’s official YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/CelineDionTV​​ Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Request a video: https://bit.ly/teamxcelineRequestForm​ Social Media Links: https://www.facebook.com/teamxceline​https://www.instagram.com/teamxceline​https://www.tiktok.com/@teamxcelinehttps://www.twitter.com/teamxceline​

Adam Neely All By Myself features an incredible key change from G major to Cb major, let’s talk about it! Get CuriosityStream AND Nebula for less than $15 per year (26% off!) https://curiositystream.com/adamneely0:00​ Introduction 1:21​ Part 1 – Song Analysis 7:57​ Part 2 – The Key Change!! 11:33​ (interlude – mom cameo) 15:27​ Part 3 – Narrative and Metaphor Mom! https://www.catefnstudios.com/​ Scott J. Hanenberg Rock Modulation and Narrative https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.16.22.2…​ Andrew Huang’s very excellent Harmonic series video https://youtu.be/Wx_kugSemfY​ Feb 2016 All By Myself Performance https://youtu.be/OuPupCQqNaY​ Some other All By Myself Performances https://youtu.be/5ZHYaFMuIVshttps://youtu.be/tT2gVblzFvY​ (⌐■_■) ⦿ Adam Neely T-shirts! ⦿ https://teespring.com/stores/adam-nee…​ ⦿ SUPPORT ME ON PATREON ⦿ http://www.patreon.com/adamneely​ ⦿ FOLLOW ME ON THE INTERNETS ⦿ http://www.facebook.com/adamneelyhttp://www.instagram.com/its_adamneely​ ⦿ Check out some of my music ⦿ http://sungazermusic.bandcamp.comhttp://insideoutsidemusic.bandcamp.comhttp://adamneelymusic.bandcamp.com​ Peace, Adam

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All by Myself (Live in Quebec City)

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Céline Dion

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Céline… Une seule fois / Live 2013

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Eric Carmen, Sergei Rachmaninoff

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Can our brains help prove the universe is conscious?

By David Crookes All About Space magazine 

April 25, 2021 (spcae.com)

Space Mysteries: If we can find the answer, it may complete our understanding of space and time.

Artist's depiction of a nebula in space.

Is the universe conscious? (Image credit: NASA/Shutterstock)

As humans, we know we are conscious because we experience and feel things. Yet scientists and great thinkers are unable to explain what consciousness is and they are equally baffled about where it comes from.

“Consciousness — or better, conscious experience — is obviously a part of reality,” said Johannes Kleiner, a mathematician and theoretical physicist at the Munich Center For Mathematical Philosophy, Germany. “We’re all having it but without understanding how it relates to the known physics, our understanding of the universe is incomplete.”

With that in mind, Kleiner is hoping math will enable him to precisely define consciousness. Working with colleague Sean Tull, a mathematician at the University of Oxford, U.K., the pair are being driven, to some degree, by a philosophical point of view called panpsychism.

Related: Physicist Stephen Wolfram thinks he’s on to a theory of everything, and wants help simulating the universe

This claims consciousness is inherent in even the tiniest pieces of matter — an idea that suggests the fundamental building blocks of reality have conscious experience. Crucially, it implies consciousness could be found throughout the universe.

Can quantum mechanics also help us to figure out the cosmos?

If the researchers can answer how our brains give rise to subjective experience, there’s a chance their mathematical model could extend to inanimate matter too, they said.

“A mathematical theory can be applied to many different systems, not just brains,” Kleiner told All About Space via email. “If you develop a mathematical model of consciousness based on data obtained from brains, you can apply the model to other systems, for example, computers or thermostats, to see what it says about their conscious experience too.” 

Some prominent minds lend weight to the view of panpsychism, not least renowned Oxford physicist Sir Roger Penrose, who was among the first academics to propose we go beyond neuroscience when looking at consciousness.

He says we should strongly consider the role of quantum mechanics and in his book published in 1989 “The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics” he argued that human consciousness is non-algorithmic and a product of quantum effects.

This idea evolved in collaboration with anesthesiologist and psychologist Stuart Hameroff into a hypothesis called Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR).

It claims consciousness is likely due to quantum vibrations in microtubules deep within brain neurons as opposed to the conventionally held view that it is due to connections between neurons.

Importantly, however, “Orch OR suggests there is a connection between the brain’s biomolecular processes and the basic structure of the universe”, according to a statement published in the March 2014 paper “Consciousness In The Universe: A Review of the “Orch OR” Theory”, written by Penrose and Hameroff in the journalPhysics of Life Reviews.

And it’s on this basis that Kleiner and Tull are working. They are also inspired by neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, distinguished chair in Consciousness Studies at the University of Wisconsin.Advertisement

Tononi’s theory of Integrated Information Theory (IIT), published in the journal BMC Neuroscience, is one of a small class of promising models of consciousness. “IIT is a very mathematical theory,” Kleiner said.

IIT says consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality; that it exists and is structured, specific, unified and definite. A core idea suggests consciousness will emerge when information moves between the subsystems of an overall system: to be conscious, an entity has to be single and integrated and must possess a property called “phi” which is dependent on the interdependence of the subsystems.

In other words, you could have a bunch of coins on your desk, on top of each sits a bunch of neurons. If information which travels along those pathways are crucial for those coins, then you’ve got a high phi and therefore consciousness.

If those coins could operate perfectly well as subsystems without information flowing to and from other coins, then there is no phi and there is no consciousness. The greater the interdependency between subsystems, the more conscious something will be.

“Integrated information is an abstract quantity which you can calculate if you have a good detailed description of the system,” Kleiner said, adding that the system does not have to be biological.

“The result is a number, denoted by phi, so if you have an apple, you can ask how much integrated information is in there, just as you can ask how much energy is in there. You can talk about how much integrated information is in a computer, just like you can talk about entropy.”Advertisement

IIT backs panpsychism to a great extent because even a proton can possess phi, according to the theory. And just as an apple, thermostat and computer can possess it, so can your chair and your desk all manner of other things across the universe.

“When it comes to experimental evidence, there are several independent studies which point at a correlation between integrated information and consciousness,” Kleiner said.

So do the subsystems have conscious experience? No. Are all systems conscious? No. 

“The theory consists of a very complicated algorithm that, when applied to a detailed mathematical description of a physical system provides information about whether the system is conscious or not, and what it is conscious of,” said Kleiner.Advertisement

“The mathematics is such that if something is conscious according to the theory, then the components which make up that system can’t have conscious experiences on their own. Only the whole has conscious experience, not the parts. Applied to your brain, it means that some of your cortex might be conscious but the particles that make up the cortex are not themselves conscious.”

A universe with its own reality 

“If there is an isolated pair of particles floating around somewhere in space, they will have some rudimentary form of consciousness if they interact in the correct way,” said Kleiner.

So according to IIT, the universe is indeed full of consciousness. But does it have implications for the physical part of the universe? The math of the theory says it does not. A physical system will operate independently, whether it has a conscious experience or not.

Kleiner gives a computer as an example, saying that IIT’s math shows it may have consciousness but that won’t change the way in which it operates.

“This is at odds with the metaphysical underpinning of the theory which is strongly idealist in nature,” Kleiner said. “It puts consciousness first and the physical second. We might see some change in the mathematics at some point to take this underpinning more properly into account.”

This is what his and Tull’s study seeks to resolve. Emergentist theories of consciousness tend to claim physics is all there is.

“They would reject the idea that consciousness is separate from or more primary than the physical and they would say consciousness is nothing but a specific physical phenomenon which emerges from the interaction of the fundamental physical quantities in certain conditions,” said Kleiner.

His and Tull’s math version of IIT, on the other hand, is intended to be what could be called a fundamental theory of consciousness. “It tries to weave consciousness into the fundamental fabric of reality, albeit in a very specific way,” said Kleiner. And if it’s shown that the universe is conscious, what then? What are the consequences?

“There might be moral implications. We tend to treat systems that have conscious experiences different from systems that don’t,” said Kleiner.Advertisement

Yet if it is proven that consciousness plays a causal role in the universe, it would have huge consequences for the scientific view of the world, said Kleiner. “It could lead to a scientific revolution on a par with the one initiated by Galileo Galilei,” he said. 

And that really is something to bear in mind.

(Contributed by Suzanne Deakins, H.W., M.)

Book: “Neighborhood of Fear: The Suburban Crisis in American Culture, 1975-2001”

Neighborhood of Fear: The Suburban Crisis in American Culture, 1975-2001

Neighborhood of Fear: The Suburban Crisis in American Culture, 1975-2001

by Kyle Riismandel (Goodreads Author) 

The explosive growth of American suburbs following World War II promised not only a new place to live but a new way of life, one away from the crime and crowds of the city. Yet, by the 1970s, the expected security of suburban life gave way to a sense of endangerment. Perceived, and sometimes material, threats from burglars, kidnappers, mallrats, toxic waste, and even the occult challenged assumptions about safe streets, pristine parks, and the sanctity of the home itself. In Neighborhood of Fear, Kyle Riismandel examines how suburbanites responded to this crisis by attempting to take control of the landscape and reaffirm their cultural authority.

Suburbia is a collective effort to lead a private life.

–Lewis Mumford

An increasing sense of criminal and environmental threats, Riismandel explains, coincided with the rise of cable television, VCRs, Dungeons & Dragons, and video games, rendering the suburban household susceptible to moral corruption and physical danger. Terrified in almost equal measure by heavy metal music, the Love Canal disaster, and the supposed kidnapping epidemic implied by the abduction of Adam Walsh, residents installed alarm systems, patrolled neighborhoods, built gated communities, cried “Not in my backyard!,” and set strict boundaries on behavior within their homes. Riismandel explains how this movement toward self-protection reaffirmed the primacy of suburban family values and expanded their parochial power while further marginalizing cities and communities of color, a process that facilitated and was facilitated by the politics of the Reagan revolution and New Right.

A novel look at how Americans imagined, traversed, and regulated suburban space in the last quarter of the twentieth century, Neighborhood of Fear shows how the preferences of the suburban middle class became central to the cultural values of the nation and fueled the continued growth of suburban political power.

(Goodreads.com)

Authenticity is a sham

From monks to existentialists and hipsters, the search for a true self has been a centuries-long project. Should we give it up?

Miami Beach, 2015. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Magnum

Alexander Stern is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the LA Review of Books, among othersHe is the author of The Fall of Language: Benjamin and Wittgenstein on Meaning (2019).

27 April 2021 (aeon.co)

Edited by Sam Dresser

Aeon for Friends

‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’ This popular quip, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, appears without any apparent irony in self-help books and blog posts celebrating authenticity. Understandably, they take the dictum to ‘be oneself’ as a worthy, nearly unassailable goal. Our culture is saturated with authenticity: we’re forever ‘finding ourselves’, ‘self-actualising’, ‘doing you’, ‘being real’, ‘going off the beaten path’, ‘breaking free of the crowd’. We spend our youth trying to figure out who we are; our later years trying to stay true to ourselves; and the time in-between in crisis about whether we are who we thought we were.

But ‘Wilde’s’ quote, inauthentic though it might be, suggests something foolish at the heart of authenticity. All this introspection can seem gratuitous. Why expend so much effort trying to be something we can’t help but be? ‘In the end,’ as the author David Foster Wallace put it, ‘you end up becoming yourself.’

And there’s a deeper absurdity to authenticity, too. Everyone else might be taken, but the effort to be ourselves is the surest path to being just like everyone else, especially in the context of a highly commodified and surveilled culture where we always seem to be on stage. If some person or organisation claims to be concerned with authenticity, you can be almost certain that they’re conformist posers. As Wilde actually did write: ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ (Or misquotation.)

Where did all these dead-ends and paradoxes of self-creation come from?

Despite its ubiquity, there’s nothing necessary about authenticity. First of all, it’s a luxury: only those comfortable enough to take the necessities of life for granted can turn their attention to authenticity. Secondly, authenticity has a history. Other cultures and times haven’t given the self nearly so much weight, nor have they frowned so much upon conformity. Self-actualisation is often subordinated, if not completely subsumed, by service to the family, to tradition, or to God. Thinking about the history and contingency of authenticity – as with any concept – can help us understand how best to approach it.

Authenticity seems, at least initially, to have had a religious component. Indeed, Western authenticity can’t be understood without reference to that peculiar Christian God who decided to become a man. One way to understand authenticity is as the inheritance we’re left with after God passes away. In personalising God, Christianity foregrounded the inward struggle of the believer. In the form of Jesus Christ, whom Wilde called ‘the first individualist in history’, God wasn’t just a lord to serve, but ‘one of us’, a human being with a personal narrative that holds lessons for his humble servants. Jesus’ struggle with temptation, his rejection of hypocritical dogma, and his willing self-sacrifice parallels every Christian’s own struggle: ‘What would Jesus do?’

To see what’s new here, consider the difference between Moses’ 40 years in the desert and Jesus’ 40 days. Moses’s struggle is external: to subordinate himself to God, follow his (quite demanding) instructions, and lead his chosen people to the Promised Land. By contrast, Jesus’ struggle is internal and psychological: left alone by God, he must resist temptation through an inner strength that becomes an example to his followers. Jesus isn’t just man and God in one. He endows human life in general with a touch of the divine. His story puts in stark relief a whole inner world, dramatises it, and elevates it to a realm of utmost spiritual importance. A long history of tortured self-scrutiny follows.

Perhaps the most important early tortured soul was that of St Augustine, a philosopher and priest in 4th-century Roman North Africa who is often credited with originating the modern sense of inwardness. The hedonist son of a pious mother, Augustine searched for meaning in sex, heretical Manichaeism, and the Classics before his come-to-Jesus moment, a drawn-out period of personal crisis and conversion that serves as the pivot for his autobiographical Confessions. In the Confessions, one finds the searching, longing introspection and even the self-centred and ironic detachment that characterise modern authenticity. ‘O Lord, help me to be chaste,’ Augustine writes in the voice of his younger self – ‘but not yet.’

Augustine’s aim is not so much to celebrate, actualise or find a self as to narrate the process of transcending it. He’s trying to go, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor puts it, ‘inward and upward’ – or, to put it another way, upward by way of inward. Augustine’s conversion involves a great deal of discipline and self-abnegation. Taylor, who chronicles the emergence of the modern self in his book Sources of the Self (1992), writes that Augustine ‘makes the step toward inwardness … because it is a step towards God’.

To be properly anxious in Kierkegaard’s sense is to see clearly the pure possibility of human life

Similarly, centuries later and after the Reformation further foregrounded the Christian’s personal struggle with conscience, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard also identified inwardness as a primary path to God. Kierkegaard shared with Augustine a sense that somewhere in the confusing depths of inner life – the problem we have all become to ourselves, to use Augustine’s language – was the road to God. What’s more, Kierkegaard recognised the enemy of authenticity in the pressures of conformity in a newly ‘massifying’ society. Not unlike some ambivalently Twitter-addicted writers today, he was drawn into controversies on the pages of 19th-century Copenhagen newspapers and deeply aware of the pressure and distortion that the dawning mass media could apply. Kierkegaard saw in the social world – ‘the city of man’ as Augustine called it – a challenge to Christian awakening and his own authorship, both of his books and his life, so much so that he broke off an engagement to a woman he loved.

For Kierkegaard, the characteristic mode of self-exploration, and the alternating forays into the city of man and back into the city of God within, was anxiety. Not merely worry about this or that event, Kierkegaardian anxiety is an awareness of the terrifying groundlessness of all human action. To be properly anxious in Kierkegaard’s sense is to see clearly the pure possibility of human life and face down the ordeal thereby imposed on us. Embracing, rather than evading, this anxiety through a kind of ‘leap of faith’ was for Kierkegaard, as for the existentialist philosophers who followed him, the essence of authenticity.

One such existentialist was the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who, writing at the end of Vichy France, understood very well that the inauthentic evasion of this responsibility to ourselves was the norm. Sartre called this indulgence in the pretence that we’re not free ‘bad faith’. Bad faith is comprised of the stories we tell ourselves in order to live, to co-opt a phrase from Joan Didion. At its worst, it’s Vichy officials telling themselves that they have no choice, but most of us indulge in bad faith to some degree, even if we’re usually able to steer clear of Nazi collaboration. We take the easy way out by turning a blind eye to the minor corruptions of the bureaucracies in which we are enmeshed, letting hypocrisy and vice pass when opposing them could be costly, or pretending to be victims of circumstances beyond our control. Authenticity, for the existentialists, became the essential component of ethics. It’s the opposite of ‘bad faith’. It’s accepting the burden of freedom and circumstance, looking inward to determine how best to act, and then doing so.

But bravely making baseless decisions can’t be all there is to authenticity. Paradoxically, one of the primary vehicles of bad faith in our own time has become the ‘jargon of authenticity’ itself. That phrase is the title of the German philosopher and social critic Theodor Adorno’s mid-20th-century book criticising existentialism. Adorno, whose work has been marshalled to help understand our current crises, saw in existential philosophy a fetishisation and atomisation of the self that could drive consumer culture, on the one hand, and provide perfect subjects for irrational mass movements such as fascism, on the other.

Adorno’s book questioned a central premise of existentialism: that of a completely free subject responsible to no one but itself. To Adorno, existentialism was simply replacing one absent, mystical abstraction – God – with another: the authentic subject. ‘Religion has shifted into the subject,’ he wrote. In this process, ‘the living subject is robbed of all definition, in the same way as it loses its attributes in reality.’ Instead of going ‘inward and upward’, the existentialists reached ever further inward, seeking a self so withdrawn and occluded it hardly had any contours at all. Kierkegaard’s existential ‘leap of faith’ is completely emptied out, according to Adorno, and becomes no more than an attempt to escape all the ways our sphere of action is determined and mediated by our individual conditions, history and other people.

This emptied-out existential subject does, however, make for a good shopper. Today, one of the primary ways we deal with the anxiety of being ourselves is to construct fantasy versions of ourselves through acquisition. This includes not just the acquisition of stuff, but also of personal style, worldviews, sociopolitical identities. The self, as the American social critic Christopher Lasch wrote in his book The Culture of Narcissism (1979), becomes an end in itself whose impulses are to be trusted above all else. A therapeutic ‘cult of authenticity’ (a term that Lasch borrows from Adorno) emerges and leads to the contemporary self-help industry. All external constraints are viewed with suspicion, and everyday life, including politics, becomes a theatre for the individual’s self-creative performance. Bad faith and posturing – the objectification of the self – become a way of life, and a slew of products, treatments and self-defeating political movements rise up to fill the apparently bottomless market for self-creation and self-care.

This vision of ‘authenticity’ is taken advantage of by the corporations that profit off our innermost desires

Social media has become an avenue for and intensifier of this narcissism, the likes of which Lasch could scarcely have imagined. The result is not the philosophical anxiety of Kierkegaard that tries to stand firm before the abyss, but a clinical anxiety constantly measuring the self against virtual avatars and adjusting it to their tacit or explicit feedback by way of the marketplace. Instead of trying to come to terms with our radical freedom, ‘authenticity’ drives us toward a rebel conformity constantly searching for the exercise routine, clothing brand or political posture that’s really ‘me’.

Alone in front of a computer screen, the social-media user, despite pretensions toward self-creation, is fundamentally spectatorial and passive. This is a posture not of authenticity but narcissism. The narcissist, Lasch writes, alternates between fantasies of utter omnipotence and spasms of utter helplessness. This means, as Lasch makes clear, that narcissism is very different from selfishness. It’s a more basic confusion and insecurity about the boundaries between oneself and the world.

We can see this confusion in a political sphere that, irrespective of ideology, prizes personal narrative and expression above solidarity. And we can also see it in the almost complete breakdown of the value of privacy – the very idea that there are aspects of one’s life that one might not want to ‘share’ with the public at large. Meanwhile, this vision of ‘authenticity’ is taken advantage of cynically by the corporations that profit off our innermost desires, while they use the rhetoric of individual freedom, identity and ‘entrepreneurship’ to atomise, surveille and exploit their workers.

How can one avoid the pitfalls of this phoney authenticity? More historical awareness of where our ideals of authenticity and freedom come from can help. As the American political philosopher Matthew B Crawford details in his book The World Beyond Your Head (2015), the narcissist has a mistaken idea of freedom. Crawford follows Adorno and Lasch, agreeing that the groundlessness of human action doesn’t imply that human beings are or should be completely autonomous. We’re born into a particular place and time, with particular psychological and physical attributions, and with particular people and traditions available to us that we can draw on or reject. These constraints are debilitating only if we see them as such, if we consider them as fetters from which the self should ideally be free. In reality, many rules and constraints are enabling: they are the conditions of freedom, not the barriers to it. They are the friction that allow us to move forward.

By contrast, Crawford writes, the ‘frictionless’ world on offer online and in our other overdesigned and overmanaged virtual and physical environments puts us at the centre of our own little ‘me-world’ that caters to our every whim. But somehow, all this evident control makes us feel only more impotent and unhappy, according to Crawford – and also, not accidentally, more likely to consume.

Genuine authenticity under these conditions requires, first of all, resistance to self-absorption and fantasy and, secondly, acknowledgement of our dependency on others and of the historical contingency that inhabits every corner of our lives.

This is difficult since almost everything in the culture encourages us to fall back on to ourselves and promises that we can escape history and eliminate chance and misfortune from our lives. One simple thing Crawford suggests is learning how to do stuff. Learning a craft – like how to play a musical instrument, finetune a motorcycle (Crawford’s pick), hang drywall or write a sonnet – immediately puts us within particular limits and at the feet of those who have already mastered it. It requires humility, but, at the same time, builds genuine competence. It can help remediate narcissism by rebalancing our relationship to ourselves. In the process of submitting to discipline and focusing our attention on a craft, we find ourselves neither omnipotent nor helpless, but somewhere in between. We’re dependent beings with feeble bodies and minds, prone to flailing about and to failure, but also each with unique sets of resources and abilities that can be cultivated with surprising rapidity under the right conditions, and that can help us to regularly overcome quite serious obstacles. We are, in a word, crafty. It’s how we get by, as the archetype of ancient Greek trickster heroes such as Odysseus and Prometheus suggests.

Learning a craft can teach us a lot about what exactly it is to actualise a self. The word ‘authenticity’ comes from the Greek authentes for ‘master’ or ‘one acting on his own authority’ (aut = self and hentes = making or working on/crafting). Importantly, it doesn’t mean ‘self-maker’ in the reflexive sense of one who makes himself, but one who makes or acts according to his own will – making from out of the self. And in crafting of our accord, we do actually actualise ourselves. We transform inner feelings into something real.

Going inward is a good idea only if we have a plan for getting back out

This idea of humankind finding fulfilment in some kind of practical activity goes back to Aristotle, if not earlier. He declared the best life to be ‘autarkic’, or self-governed, and aimed at the fulfilment of activities most characteristic of human beings: namely, the use of the socially oriented rationality that separates us from other beings.

Understood historically, the seemingly irresistible pull of authenticity might lose some of its sheen. As the internalisation and commoditisation of a religious ideal, the search for the self can go awry and get bogged down in acquisitiveness and narcissism. That’s not to say, of course, that the project of authentic self-creation is wholly without merit, but simply that our reflections on our innermost feelings and desires can’t be an end in themselves. Even if we’re not going ‘inward and upward’ as Augustine did, these reflections have value only if they help us, ultimately, leave ourselves behind in creative absorption in the outward world. Going inward, in other words, is a good idea only if we have a plan for getting back out.

If we’re lucky, then, we’ll be able to see ourselves reflected in meaningful work, in what we produce, but what about higher meaning? Should we completely give up on going ‘upward’ like Augustine? To many of us, belief in God is something simply unavailable, even absurd. Kierkegaard, in fact, understood our relationship to God in terms of the absurd. He writes: ‘The absurd is a category, the negative criterion … of the relationship to the divine.’ It’s the state of feeling one’s powers of reason run out before the choices we face as human beings. Here, the religious might take a leap of faith. As Kierkegaard said: ‘When the believer has faith, the absurd is not the absurd.’

Similarly, Sartre’s fellow existentialist author Albert Camus wrote: ‘The absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.’ For existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, it wasn’t faith but simply human decision and action itself that conquered the absurd. As we’ve seen, this focus on atomised action can devolve into solipsism.

So how exactly should we think about our absent God? Kierkegaard’s understanding of the absurd was influenced by the late-18th-century German Romantics. This group of artists, philosophers and critics offer, I think, a better way of understanding the relationship between ourselves and the ‘unreasonable silence of the world’ – or what they called the absolute.

Romantic thinkers were attempting to get a handle on the technological, socioeconomic, political and aesthetic changes coming to Europe, which ‘disenchanted’ the world. They reacted against both what they viewed as an overly rationalistic Enlightenment philosophy and against an overly rationalising society. They feared not just becoming like their bourgeois parents, but what Adorno would later call a ‘totally administered society’. They inaugurated the set of dynamics I’ve been discussing: between the crowd and the individual, the corrupted city and untamed nature, the workaday meaninglessness and the thrill of creative life.

They didn’t take the mismatch between human striving and the evident lack of meaning from on high to be so much absurd as ironic. Today, we often think of the ironic individual as detached and self-protective, dismissive and sarcastic, afraid of taking anything too seriously – a species of narcissist. But for Romantics such as Schlegel, irony was primarily an objective feature of the human relationship to the world, and only secondarily a subjective attitude. Our situation is ironic because the absolute – the basis or reason for our existence – is forever unavailable to us, and yet we can’t help but strive for wholeness, especially in art.

This absolute can’t even be properly represented, much less reached; yet, in our expressive and created acts, we strive to grasp the absolute, to fully understand and articulate our place in the world, our reason for being here. What we end up producing falls short of full understanding, but it’s a fragment that bears some relationship, however limited, to the ungraspable whole.

The Romantic ironist doesn’t regard this situation as absurd, but appropriate. If we’re to be authentic, we should ironically and humbly acknowledge the limitations of our individual perspective and effort, without despairing at our limitations. We should embrace the necessarily fragmentary nature of our endeavours, and we should enrich our efforts by trying to inhabit those of others, including those who came before us. In this way, we do take some steps toward the absolute.

This ironic attitude allows us, like Socrates, to truly know that we don’t know, to be comfortable with our ignorance while pushing against its boundaries, and to temper our desire for wholeness with an authentic understanding of our limitations. From this perspective, the silence of the world doesn’t sound unreasonable at all.

To read more about authenticity and the self, visit Psyche, a digital magazine from Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophical understanding and the arts.

Meaning and the good lifeThinkers and theoriesSelf-improvement

If you think you’ve got a porn addiction, you probably haven’t

Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty

Joshua Grubbsis an assistant professor in the APA Accredited Clinical Psychology PhD programme at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Edited by Lucy Foulkes

28 APRIL 2021 (psyche.co)

In 2003, the musical comedy Avenue Q premiered in New York. Among its many bold themes was an entire song, largely sung by a puppet, called ‘The Internet Is for Porn’. Of course, it’s not true that the internet is exclusively for porn, but the puppet had a point: pornography is certainly popular online. In 2019, users visited Pornhub – one of the world’s most popular websites of any kind – more than 42 billion times, viewing more than 5.8 billion hours of videos and transferring more than 6 billion gigabytes of data. And that’s just one website, among thousands.

When I write about pornography, I am referring to sexually explicit films, video clips or pictures featuring nudity or sexual acts, which intend to sexually arouse the viewer. Academic studies confirm that watching porn is indeed a popular activity, particularly – perhaps unsurprisingly – in developed nations with high-speed internet access. For example, a 2014 study in the United States found that 46 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 39 had viewed pornography in the preceding week.

People watch pornography for a simple reason: it makes them feel good. In the vast majority of cases, people do it to enhance masturbation. There are other motivations – to temporarily escape emotional problems, to enhance sex with a partner by viewing it together, or to explore sexual fetishes, for example – but even in these cases, the goal is still most often pleasure.

Just because watching porn releases pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters doesn’t mean it’s addictive

At the same time, people often feel conflicted about watching porn. Perhaps this is no surprise, considering the messaging from activists, religious leaders, politicians, bloggers and some academics. There are those who claim that pornography is a threat to ‘marriage and family’, devaluing monogamy and child-rearing; others have pointed to pornography use as a cause of sexual violence. By January 2021, there were 17 states in the US that had drafted or passed some sort of legislation describing pornography use as a ‘public health crisis’ (even though it meets none of the criteria for this term). At the heart of this messaging is the notion that pornography use is inherently harmful to individuals, relationships and society at large. There certainly are some concerns about porn – particularly regarding the exploitation of women, children and teenagers, and how it might impact relationships – but the messaging that all porn use is harmful belies a more complicated, less alarming reality.

Part of the confusion stems from the popular notion that porn is addictive. The basic argument is that pornography is an unnatural stimulus that didn’t exist during most of human history, and that our brains are therefore not equipped to handle it. But this argument is flawed. We also didn’t evolve to drive cars, or live in houses, or use electricity, but no one claims that those modern technologies are addictive. And just because watching porn releases pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters or changes the structure of our brain, that also doesn’t mean it’s addictive. People release these chemicals in response to a wide range of activities, from learning new skills to watching an entertaining television show, and our brains are constantly changing, always adapting in response to what we’re doing and the environment we’re in.

To say something is addictive is a bold claim. Addiction is not simply doing a behaviour more than you want to. Addiction means that the pursuit of the behaviour has become so prevalent in a person’s life that it’s causing severe problems in almost all other areas of functioning. People with addictions see their relationships, health and careers fall apart as they relentlessly seek out the substance or behaviour. The vast majority of people who watch porn don’t remotely meet this definition.

Nonetheless, hundreds of studies have shown that some people report being addicted to pornography. They say that they use pornography more than they want to, have problems stopping or reducing their use of pornography, and/or feel as if their use of pornography is a problem. You might think that this sounds reasonable: some people really do use pornography very frequently and the behaviour interferes with other aspects of their life. But here’s the surprising thing: the people who report feeling addicted to porn aren’t always the people who watch a lot of it.

People report feeling addicted because they feel as if their behaviour is out of sync with their values

There is considerable evidence that some people watch a great deal of pornography and yet say that they don’t feel addicted to it. Equally, some people use pornography rarely but do feel addicted to it – they feel that the behaviour is out of their control. This tells us that frequency of use is not the only factor in determining whether someone thinks they have a problem with porn. If frequency alone isn’t sufficient, then what makes so many people feel that they are addicted?

Attitude toward pornography seems to be the key factor here. One study in the US found that, when people who are devoutly religious use pornography, they’re much more likely than their non-religious counterparts to describe themselves as addicted. Similarly, people who think that pornography is morally wrong but continue to use it anyway are more likely to report being addicted, compared with people who don’t think porn is wrong. In short, how someone thinks about pornography in general is incredibly important in deciding whether or not they think they’re addicted to it.

My colleagues and I have written a great deal about this notion of ‘moral incongruence’ in pornography use – the discrepancy between people’s beliefs about pornography and their own pornography use. What we generally find is that, for people who use pornography despite finding it morally objectionable, that incongruence between belief and behaviour seems to be driving self-reports of addiction. People report feeling addicted because they feel as if their behaviour is out of sync with their values.

The question, then, is what should people do if they’re unhappy about their pornography use?

For those whose pornography use really is excessive, out of control, and causing problems in other areas of their life, help is available. There is increasing recognition in the mental health community of problems related to compulsive and excessive sexual behaviours, including watching porn. A number of recent and ongoing studies do suggest that people can learn to reduce their pornography use via established psychotherapy methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy.

For those who aren’t really watching porn too often, they just feel like they are, the above approaches can still be useful. But it might also be helpful to try to frame their pornography use in a different way. Repeated difficulties or even an inability to change a behaviour don’t necessarily imply an addiction, even when we feel quite distressed about the behaviour. What those difficulties do imply is that we’re human, and that struggles to reconcile our desires, drives, values and morals are quintessential parts of the human experience.

When it comes to pornography, these struggles can be difficult – feeling unhappy about pornography use can lead to relationship problems, feelings of anxiety or depression, and difficulties in one’s religious and spiritual life. Yet calling this behaviour an addiction doesn’t help people reconcile these struggles, and it likely blurs the lines between people with genuine out-of-control behaviours and people who simply feel guilty or ashamed that their behaviours don’t match their morals. If someone believes that pornography use is morally wrong and believes that they shouldn’t view it, then attempting to reduce or stop viewing pornography altogether is a reasonable goal. But falling short of that goal doesn’t make it an addiction.

For some people, reducing or stopping pornography use might always be an ideal, but such ideals shouldn’t come at the expense of wellbeing every time the ideal isn’t met. What might be more helpful, and kinder, is for such people to consider the morals and values that are causing them distress, and consider whether or not that distress is actually helping them get closer to those values. If not, they might be better off reducing that distress by learning to accept their own flaws and shortcomings. Then, they can work toward the values that actually matter – this will help someone much more than calling themselves ‘addicted’. Lastly, some individuals might reconsider whether watching pornography is a ‘flaw’ at all, or whether it might be – for many people at least – a source of simple pleasure in a complicated life.

Free Will Astrology: Week of April 29, 2021

APRIL 27, 2021 AT 7:00 AM  (newcity.com)

BY ROB BREZSNY

Mirror statue. Gyor, Hungary.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Poet Allen Ginsberg despairingly noted that many people want MORE MORE MORE LIFE, but they go awry because they allow their desire for MORE MORE MORE LIFE to fixate on material things—machines, possessions, gizmos and status symbols. Ginsberg revered different kinds of longings: for good feelings, meaningful experiences, soulful breakthroughs, deep awareness, and all kinds of love. In accordance with astrological potentials, Aries, I’m giving you the go-ahead in the coming weeks to be extra greedy for the stuff in the second category.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): In her poem “Mirror,” Taurus poet Halina Poswiatowska wrote, “I am dazed by the beauty of my body.” I applaud her brazen admiration and love for her most valuable possession. I wish more of us could genuinely feel that same adoration for our own bodies. And in accordance with current astrological omens, I recommend that you do indeed find a way to do just that right now. It’s time to upgrade your excitement about being in such a magnificent vessel. Even if it’s not in perfect health, it performs amazing marvels every minute of every day. I hope you will boost your appreciation for its miraculous capacities, and increase your commitment to treating it as the treasure that it is.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Gemini poet Buddy Wakefield writes that after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004, “the only structure still standing in the wiped-out village of Malacca [in Malaysia] was a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I wanna be able to stand like that.” I expect you will indeed enjoy that kind of stability and stamina in the coming weeks, my dear. You won’t have to endure a metaphorical tsunami, thank Goddess, but you may have to stand strong through a blustery brouhaha or swirling turbulence. Here’s a tip: The best approach is not to be stiff and unmoving like a statue, but rather flexible and willing to sway.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): No educator had ever offered a class in psychology until trailblazing philosopher William James did so in 1875. He knew a lot about human behavior. “Most people live in a very restricted circle of their potential being,” he wrote. “They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a person who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using only his little finger.” I’m going to make an extravagant prediction here: I expect that in the coming months you will be better primed than ever before to expand your access to your consciousness, your resources,and your potentials. How might you begin such an adventure? The first thing to do is to set a vivid intention to do just that.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “Someone in me is suffering and struggling toward freedom,” wrote Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. To that melodramatic announcement, I reply, good for him! I’m glad he was willing to put himself through misery and despair in order to escape misery and despair. But I also think it’s important to note that there are other viable approaches to the quest for liberation. For example, having lavish fun and enjoying oneself profoundly can be tremendously effective in that holy work. I suspect that in the coming weeks, Leo, the latter approach will accomplish far more for you than the former.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Virgo novelist Agatha Christie sold hundreds of millions of books, and is history’s most-translated author. While growing up, she had few other kids to associate with, so she created a host of imaginary friends to fill the void. They eventually became key players in her work as an author, helping her dream up stories. More than that: She simply loved having those invisible characters around to keep her company. Even in her old age, she still consorted with them. I bring this to your attention, Virgo, because now is a great time to acquire new imaginary friends or resurrect old ones. Guardian angels and ancestral spirits would be good to call on, as well. How might they be of assistance and inspiration to you?

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): “To hurry pain is to leave a classroom still in session,” notes Libran aphorist Yahia Lababidi. On the other hand, he observes, “To prolong pain is to miss the next lesson.” If he’s correct, the goal is to dwell with your pain for just the right amount of time—until you’ve learned its lessons and figured out how not to experience it again in the future—but no longer than that. I suspect that such a turning point will soon be arriving for you.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): In her poem “Every Day,” Scorpio poet Denise Levertov wrote, “Every day, every day I hear enough to fill a year of nights with wondering.” I think that captures the expansive truth of your life in the coming weeks. You’ve entered a phase when the sheer abundance of interesting input may at times be overwhelming, though enriching. You’ll hear—and hopefully be receptive to—lots of provocative stories, dynamic revelations and unexpected truths. Be grateful for this bounty! Use it to transform whatever might be stuck, whatever needs a catalytic nudge.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): I hope you’re not too stressed these days. There has been pressure on you to adjust more than maybe you’d like to adjust, and I hope you’ve managed to find some relaxing slack amidst the heaviness. But even if the inconvenience levels are deeper than you like, I have good news: It’s all in a good cause. Read the wise words of author Dan Millman, who describes the process you’re midway through: “Every positive change, every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness, involves a rite of passage. Each time we ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception.”

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): We can safely say that Anais Nin was a connoisseur of eros and sensuality. The evidence includes her three collections of erotic writing, “Delta of Venus,” “Little Birds,” and “Auletris.” Here’s one of her definitive statements on the subject: “Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, stories, dreams, fantasies, music.” In response to Nin’s litany, I’m inclined to say, “Damn, that’s a lot of ambiance and scaffolding to have in place. Must it always be so complicated?” According to my reading of upcoming cosmic rhythms, you won’t need such a big array of stuff in your quest for soulful orgasms—at least not in the coming weeks. Your instinct for rapture will be finely tuned.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): “One is always at home in one’s past,” wrote author Vladimir Nabokov. I agree. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, though. It may lead us to flee from the challenges of the present moment and go hide and cower and wallow in nostalgia. But on other occasions, the fact that we are always at home in the past might generate brilliant healing strategies. It might rouse in us a wise determination to refresh our spirit by basking in the deep solace of feeling utterly at home. I think the latter case is likely to be true for you in the coming weeks, Aquarius.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): “Not everything is supposed to become something beautiful and long-lasting,” writes author Emery Allen. “Not everyone is going to stay forever.” Her message is a good one for you to keep in mind right now. You’re in a phase when transitory boosts and temporary help may be exactly what you need most. I suspect your main task in the coming weeks is to get maximum benefit from influences that are just passing through your life. The catalysts that work best could be those that work only once and then disappear.

Homework: Write an essay on “What I Swear I’ll Never Do Again As Long As I Live—Unless I Can Get Away with It Next Time.” FreeWillAstrology.com

Stunning super Pink Moon captured by Bay Area photographers

Douglas Zimmerman April 27, 2021 (SFGate.com)

April’s supermoon had to fight with some low-level clouds to be seen as it rose in the sky above the San Francisco Bay Area on Monday evening. But even that slight obstruction of the moon didn’t deter legions of photographers from composing stunning images of the second brightest full moon of 2021.

“There were beautiful clouds in the Eastern sky that turned pink, which made it even more appropriate,” noted photographer Vincent James, who traveled to the Marin Headlands to photograph the moonrise above the Bay Bridge and East Bay hills.

April’s full moon, called the Pink Moon, was considered a supermoon, with Earth’s natural satellite 222,211.7 miles away. A supermoon is defined as when the moon reaches its perigee at less than 224,000 miles away from Earth, making it look up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a normal full moon.

This month’s celestial event will be the appetizer for next month’s supermoon, named the Flower Moon. Not only will the moon’s perigee be about 100 miles closer to Earth on May 26, but there will also be a total lunar eclipse of the orb starting a few hours before sunrise. It will be visible throughout the western United States and the San Francisco Bay Area (fog permitting, of course).

@telephototim used his telephoto lens to photograph the supermoon rising over one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge shortly after sunset on Monday evening.
Instagram / telephototim@telephototim used his telephoto lens to photograph the supermoon rising over one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge shortly after sunset on Monday evening.
@subhajoshiphotography perfectly aligned the supermoon with Salesforce Tower in San Francisco on Monday evening, April 26, 2021. 
Instagram / subhajoshiphotography@subhajoshiphotography perfectly aligned the supermoon with Salesforce Tower in San Francisco on Monday evening, April 26, 2021. 
Frederic Larson, @mysticalphoto, photographed April's supermoon in the night sky over Coit Tower in San Francisco on Monday evening, April 26, 2021.
Instagram / mysticalphotoFrederic Larson, @mysticalphoto, photographed April’s supermoon in the night sky over Coit Tower in San Francisco on Monday evening, April 26, 2021.

Working on yourself

There are things that are infinite. Working on yourself is not one of them.

–Patricia Albere

Patricia Albere is a transformational educator and spiritual visionary focused on the leading edge of consciousness. She is the founder of the EVOLUTIONARY COLLECTIVE INSTITUTE, popular host for EVOLUTIONARY COLLECTIVE CONVERSATIONS and co-founder of a new global initiative – THE GLOBAL COLLECTIVE.

The intergenerational wisdom woven into Indigenous stories

Tai Simpson|TEDxBoise (ted.com)

The way we behave politically, socially, economically and ecologically isn’t working, says community organizer and activist Tai Simpson. Sharing the creation myth of her Nez Perce tribe, she advocates for a return to the “old ways” guided by Indigenous wisdom that emphasize balance, community and the importance of intergenerational storytelling in order to protect what’s sacred.

This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxBoise, an independent event. TED’s editors chose to feature it for you.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Tai Simpson · Community organizer and activistAs a direct descendant of Chief Redheart in the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, Tai Simpson takes great pride in serving her community as an organizer, activist and advocate.