Dec 1, 2012

End of the World - 2012

It seemed like a good time to buy my yearly diary for 2013. But, I did ask the sales clerk if I could receive a refund if the world ended on December 21st, as the Mayan calendar has predicted. He laughed and told me that if he was able he would, indeed, give me a refund.

The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012. That's soon. Is there any sign of a catastrophic, world-ending event about to happen? It's not that I'm making fun of what could be a disaster for all: I just can't see how anyone, let alone the ending of an ancient calendar, can predict a certain day for it to happen. There could be an unusual Earth movement, a major earthquake, a storm, a volcano or a tsunami. But some recent predictions include an asteroid hitting the earth with such great force that destruction would be worldwide. There isn't one in sight.

Perhaps another planet will nudge Earth as the magnetic forces of the universe come into alignment at this time. Then again, it could be the recently predicted earth's magnetic pole shifting. Imagine the earth's magnetic, gravitational pull, sliding to another side of the globe from the North Pole. If the skin of the Earth shifted, it would tilt the planet in another direction and hurtle all of us out into space, which is quite possible. That would be a big one and wipe us all out. But it may not last one day. It could take a week, a month or more. And, if we were involved in a real earth shift, would we really have the time or the interest to consult our calendars?

Another predicted reason for the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, is that the gods are supposed to return to Earth. These are extra terrestrials, men (and women) I presume, in space suits who fly down from another, far-advanced planetary civilization to implant us with new knowledge.

As we know, the Earth is not totally perfect for human life. Ninety-nine percent of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct. Most of the people who have ever lived are now dead and gone. We could be swallowed up by a nasty animal, drown in a rushing river, burn in a raging fire, be poisoned by bad food, succumb to the plague, be crushed by a crumbling mountain, fall off a bicycle or many other strange, and not too happy, accidents. In the long run, we are not safe. There are so many things we must be on guard against. Yet, some of us live to be a hundred years old. However, the Earth, the planet will survive a lot longer than us.

The Mayan calendar is a man-made measurement of time. While most calendars go from year to year in a never ending cycle, this one continued for hundreds or thousands of years only to stop this month. But the Mayan's never predicted a doomsday to follow. So why does it's demise need to be regarded as something sinister?

On mass, we are thinking, feeling, emotive and worry-hungry beings and every scary idea that permeates throughout humanity frightens us silly. We stew over things that may or may not happen in our future or our lifetime. Perhaps we should be more concerned about fixing something really scary that we could fix, i.e. global warming (a REAL pending major disaster), pollution, crime, ignorance, corrupt politics, peace, personal happiness. But these great personal and societal concerns continue to elude us and our societies. We live with our heads in the sand about the obvious problems and worry about everything else.

The bright light of universal energy shines through each of us. We are of this universe. We are made from the same atoms that created everything. So if we explode in a great ball of destruction it would be natural. We will be returning from whence we came, and, as many believe, to perhaps rise again in another moment of time. Life is circular, born - die - born, transcend.

The solution to the end of the Mayan calendar is to welcome the new dawn and to find happiness every day there after. It could be a new beginning, so keep loving, creating, smiling, dancing and singing along with the stream of life and consciousness we all love so dearly. Think yourself lucky you've been given this wonderful moment to participate. You showed up. Now, truly live.

And while you're at it, try to fix the world. Please.

Perhaps I'll hang on to that new diary, at least until 2014 rolls around.

From Monte Python's Eric Idle:

"Whenever life gets you down Mrs. Brown and things seem hard or tough
and people are stupid, obnoxious or daft and you feel that you've had quite enough.

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
a sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
are moving at a million miles a day.
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
of the galaxy we call the milky way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light year's thick
but out by us, it's just three thousand light year's wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point
we go 'round every two hundred million years
and our galaxy is only one of million of billions
in this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
in all of the directions it can whizz
as fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
and pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth."

Nov 25, 2012

Autumn Sky - Poem


Off the tip of the highest oak 
far away from us city folk
the little leaf begins to fly
falling, falling from the sky
that cloud filled Autumn sky

Blown by the restless breeze
over and through the forest trees
around and across the hard woods bare
the soaring leaf travels who-knows-where ...  without a care
falling, falling from the sky
that cloud filled Autumn sky

Fly, fly, where does it dare
across the fields harvested bare
along the meadow’s hedgerow there
and up into the Autumn sky
that cloud filled Autumn sky

Up, fly up, fly up again
around the trees and swooping low
across the pumpkin fields it blows
through the weathered village fair
down the gushing streams with care
falling, falling from the sky
that cloud filled Autumn sky

And up again and down to rest
upon a farmer who laughs in jest
a gust sweeps by and again it blows
along stone fences built so low
until the final journey slows ... and stops

The little leaf rests, no more gusts
until the snow lays deep and crush
and blankets it till spring’s wet slush
to turn it into ground and mush
to help a new oak find it’s lie
and aim up to the fresh spring sky
to grow a leaf and reach so high
with life’s true colours of green then red, oh my

When seasons turn in nature’s wise
Autumn tells the leaf “let go and fly,
begin your  journey before you die.”
So the leaf begins to fly
into the windy, cool, fall sky.
That cloud filled Autumn sky

Copyright © 2000 Brian R. R. Hebb

Photo Credit

Nov 1, 2012

Farewell Bounty

This week, I was devastated to hear of the sinking of HMS Bounty by Hurricane Sandy. The lure of this ship and her story grabbed my imagination when I was a lad, and in some ways, it became a metaphor for the way I learned life.

In 1963, I was living in England, when, following a family separation of many years, I was invited to visit with my grandparents in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Meeting grandparents and other family members, cousins, uncles, aunts, great aunts, great uncles and distant relatives was thrilling, but so to was Lunenburg. I was born and brought up by the sea both in Canada and in England. Sea fishing and tide pools were my muse. In Devon, where I lived, people told tales of smugglers and pirates and their exploits, and Treasure Island was one of the first books I read. I loved adventures of the sea. To have the opportunity to wander the docks of Lunenburg, where the sea was a way of life, was an adventure. I was 14 and that summer became a life changer.

Lunenburg was a bustling community of fisherman and ship building, and most made their living from the sea. The harbour was fascinating and each day I explored the wharfs and shipyards where the overwhelming smell of freshly caught fish, being unloaded from the deep sea trawlers, permeated the lower levels of the hilly Atlantic town. At the end of a string of brightly coloured boathouses and docks was the Smith and Rhuland boat yard. Here, weathered and hardened, boat-building craftsmen were carving and molding the finishing touches to the Bluenose II, a replica of the famous Canadian racing schooner that was sunk off Haiti in 1946.

That July, I watched the long, sleek, black hull of the Bluenose II slip out of the boat shed, down the slipway and into the harbour with a shared splash of excitement for all Canadians. My grandfather had another opinion. He felt the Bluenose had been taken over by commercial interests, namely, a beer commercial for Schooner Beer. So he'd lost interest in the rebuilding and he didn't attend the launch. However, his excitement surfaced when he talked about being at the same boat slip, a year earlier, for the launch of the Bounty.

I had never heard of the Bounty, so my grandfather sat me down and told me the story. In 1788, the British naval vessel HMS Bounty, under the Captaincy of Lieutenant William Bligh, was sent on a botanical mission to Tahiti in the South Pacific. They needed to transplant some small breadfruit trees to feed the population in the West Indies. While in Tahiti, the Bounty's mission needed to wait for a period while the breadfruit plants became safe to transport. It was a long wait. Meanwhile, the sailors made friends with Tahitian women. Some got married, some had families on the way. When it came time to return to their mission, they didn't want to leave. They were forced to leave, then there was a mutiny on board when the ship's master's mate Fletcher Christian had a fierce argument with Captain Bligh about crew discipline. Bligh was set adrift in the ship's launch and Christian and the mutineers set sail back to Tahiti and onward to live on Pitcairn Island. There, they set fire to the Bounty and couldn't leave the island.

                                           (My Grandfather at the Bounty's wheel 1962)

The replica of HMS Bounty was built in the Lunenburg ship yard for the MGM movie 'Mutiny on the Bounty' starring Marlon Brando. In some ways the ship revived the Lunenburg wooden boat building industry that had floundered since the days of the old fishing schooners; and it spurred on the careers of craftsmen, sailmakers, carpenters and shipyards. The Bounty was something special to Lunenburg. It showed the quality and the passion of shipbuilding of which this town was capable, and the town was plastered with proud photographs of the ship under full sail on her trial runs.

This youth's imagination was caught by the lure of adventure: Images of sailing the high seas to exotic places like the South Pacific aboard such a stunningly beautiful vessel. This was a dream. When I returned home to England, I read the three books written by Charles Nordoff and James Norman Hall: Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn Island. And when the movie came out, I think I was first in line on opening night. I was in awe of not only the story and the spectacular location of Tahiti, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the beautiful ship built in Lunenburg. I read books about the filming of the movie and learned that the Bounty was designed slightly larger than the original so they could use her as a sailing film studio. The film makers planned to burn the ship at the end of the film, as the mutineers had done. But, apparently, Marlon Brando stepped in and saved the ship.

We humans connect with certain interests. Sometimes we don't quite know where we are going with the odd ideas and thoughts that become planted in our heads. But the dots seem to connect later in life, when we realize something inspired us. Many are led to a career or a profession, others to a hobby or a passion. The story of "Mutiny on the Bounty" showed me the exotic, the beauty, the lush and the hardship of life at sea: The good, the evil that men do. The fate of the mutineers and the adventure opened my eyes to many twists and turns of our world. Bounty was no longer just a ship, it became a key to unlock many doors; doors of philosophy, of leadership and failure, hardship and triumph. I learned to question authority and think about consequences. And it was films like "Mutiny on the Bounty," with it's spectacular photography and scenery, and other epics like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago" that brought the idea of being a photographer and cinematographer to my imagination. I went to photographic art school and later, after returning to live in Canada, I studied and apprenticed as a cinematographer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

One of my many international documentary assignments was to the South Pacific. I was to meet our filming crew in the Solomon Islands for a film about western influence in Melanesia. On route, I stopped off in Tahiti for a few days vacation. Tahiti was the first tropical island I had ever visited. Here, I learned more about the tropical paradise that enticed the mutineers from the Bounty and I visited Matavia Bay where the original HMS Bounty had anchored in 1788. Here, she waited for the breadfruit saplings to ripen before being transported to Jamaica. I also learned that Conrad Hall, the son of James Norman Hall, one of the authors of Mutiny on the Bounty, who lived in Tahiti, became an assistant cameraman on the Brando film, eventually becoming a cinematographer, like myself.

For me, the Bounty story became a metaphor. It sparked possibilities in me. It was a seed of inspiration from which to set sail on an adventurous life journey. It opened my thinking and my imaginings of what could be. What I found was an excitement of the exotic through travel, life styles, dreams, escapes. I began to realize that quality of life was built through experiences, sensuality, art, colour, creativity, knowledge. In turn, I could see life as a clear slate from which to truly live and dream. It was a vessel that set me on a curious, free-spirited navigation of life. For this, I will always be thankful.

This week, HMS Bounty's Captain was trying to sail around the worst Atlantic storm ever recorded. The ships engines were over powered and she took on too much water. The Captain called abandon ship, and they did. Two lives were lost, a great-great-great-great-great grand daughter of Fletcher Christian and the Captain, who was lost at sea. My heartfelt condolences to all.

October 29/ 2012, HMS Bounty sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. 
She was a beautiful piece of Hollywood magic. But, Hollywood and film sets are only illusions. Unfortunately, I never got to sail on the Bounty, and in someways, that is good. Better to leave her as a dream that helped open an awareness.

For all the great timbers and craftsmen of Lunenburg who built and sailed the Bounty, and to a distant relative named Charlie Hebb who made the original sails, I salute you.

My grandfather would be very sad.

Farewell Bounty.

(photo - HMS Bounty website)


"Dreams are like stars... you may never touch them, but if you follow them they will lead you to your destiny."
- Lawrence Block

"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship."
- Aeschylus

"The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival."
- Aristotle

"Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.
- Saint Augustine

"The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness."
- Lao Tzu

Oct 24, 2012


On Monday, I attended a 3500 strong "Defend Our Coast" protest at the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, protesting the Northern Gateway pipeline. This is a planned oil pipeline running from Edmonton and the Alberta oil sands, across the province of British Columbia to the extremely rocky, yet pristine central Pacific Coast. There, massive oil tankers will navigate up a long, narrow, treacherous fjord to load Alberta oil for delivery to China or other buyers.

If the pipeline didn't traverse the high mountains and lush valleys, a multitude of fresh rivers, the sacred native lands of our First Nations, and if the coastlines weren't so pristine and seismic, it might get the go-ahead. But then there is almost a two hundred mile fjord (Douglas Channel) filled with rocky islands where hugh and mighty oil tankers will need to navigate safely. And, if the company that is hoping to build the pipeline didn't have such a bad track record for pipeline bursts, leaks, clean-ups, terrible public relations and negotiating skills, people might not be so concerned. But, the hazards of the situation have multiplied in the minds of anyone who values the country and the environment, and an ever-increasing public awareness of the situation has created a large ground swell of indignation, leading to mass protests.

An oil spill in the rivers and streams that cross British Columbia will be devastating to this environment. An oil spill along the coast will be shockingly tragic. It will ruin one of the world's most treasured places. It will kill the abundant wealth of marine life, salmon and whales along the coast. It will spill an oil slick larger than the tragedy in Alaska when the Exon Valdez hit bottom. A spill along these shores will not be clean for decades.

At this protest, native bands sang and banged their drums, their leaders, environmentalists and Green Party politicians gave rousing speeches. Ordinary folk who wanted to stand for something were roused to the point of answering chants aimed at them. "Save our coast, save our forest," they chanted. At one point a native leader asked the crowd, "Are you willing to lay down in front of the bulldozers?" A resounding, "Yes," went up from the crowd. Just being there was invigorating.

At the end of many hours of speeches and threatening weather, it began to rain, and a long, black panel was rolled out across the green lawn of the legislature, signifying the length of an oil tanker.

I left the gathering early and was glad to have participated, but I wonder if civil protests like this get through to the politicians and corporations to which they are aimed? Unfortunately, our democratic system puts ultimate power into the hands of a majority government and a protest can do nothing but be a buzzing fly in the face of a government with an agenda. Until, that is, it gets so big that it influences major votes and ousts the government. One can only hope that the other political parties, which are waiting in the wings to be elected in the next vote, will be more respectful of the power of the people and empathize with the protest.

I am an environmentalist. I came to this conclusion when I was sent all round the world filming documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Some were for The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. I saw for myself how dirty and polluted the world has become. In comparison, Canada was a clean gem. But not any more. Are we total idiots? What philosophy is this, to totally degrade our oceans, air, land? Everything that keeps us alive on this Earth is getting polluted in one way or another. Everywhere in the world we, as a species, have degraded and destroyed life itself. We hunt wildlife and sea life to extinction. Species are dying out everywhere because of us.

We are the most advanced and richest generation in all of history. We have the means to not only live clean, think clean and be creative with new ways of doing something like a massive pipeline, but to clean up the messes we have created. Unfortunately, we are the ones who will pay the price, because the fragile eco-systems that keep us alive cannot sustain our degradation much longer. The planet will survive. It will rejuvenate itself in a few hundred/thousand years and become like new again. Meanwhile, we have killed ourselves. We have destroyed our history, our future, our children's future. We have foolishly committed mass suicide.

For what?

Controlled and monitored far-thinking progress is good and perhaps a pipeline is needed to get the product to market.  But diminutive and backward thinking that destroys everything along the path to financial success is not good. This is a badly conceived, planned and reckless pipeline that is being shoved down the necks of decent citizens who know that there is a better way. There is also a better way to run a country than to destroy the things it's citizens hold dear.

In my own small way I join the protest.


"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."
- Abraham Lincoln

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
- Elie Wiesel

"Where globalization means, as it often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom."
- Nelson Mandela

Oct 12, 2012

Last Camping of the Season

I awoke with a jump. Loud voices rudely sounded from the next pad as flashlight beams painted frantic patterns on our tent walls. The night before, the surrounding sites were empty. But, sometime in the night, the next door campers stealthily snuck in. Then, just before dawn, they retreated, way before the warden could ask for a park fee. Courtesy would have kept their chatter to a whisper, but their roar moved this sleeper to rise.

Sneaking out of the tent, I greeted the dawn with a yawn or two, and stillness. They were gone. I looked out at the morning star hanging over a glimmer of breaking light on the Gulf Islands. The Salish Sea was like glass. In the distance, to my right, I could see the bright lights of the Swartz Bay ferry dock readying the 6am departure. Soon, the low rumble of maritime life would motor past.

Outdoor life is fresh at this hour. Time to light the old Coleman stove for a brew. We rested in foldable chairs, slowly sipping our coffee, watching the day come alive, bundled for the cool. The photographic-like splendor spread before us like a spectacular wall hanging.

In the brightening twilight before the sunrise, I noticed a movement along the beach. Sea life; perhaps an otter, or maybe something larger? It was another camper, a young woman who had slipped out from her tent and down the embankment. She was sitting in front of a large driftwood log and looking around as if wanting to hide from others. There were no others. She was alone.

Her long black hair partially covered her simple beauty. Like a snake slithering from it's skin, she slowly peeled her sweater and skin tight leggings reveling a beauty of pure white, in stark contrast to her black skimpy panties. Again, she looked around to see if others had seen. We were far enough away and hidden by a large rock that she must not have noticed us. She quickly removed the remaining article of clothing from her most private parts then waded into the cold water, soon immersing her whole being under the surface.

"Skinning dipping." I whispered.
"Must be cold. Go get your binoculars." I was told.

She was out of the water drying herself when I returned. I sat down trying not to be noticed as I raised my spy glasses.

"Isn't this illegal?" I thought, as my conscience tweaked. But that didn't stop me from watching this mermaid, this water babe, so comfortable in her own skin that she probably didn't care if others noticed. Beautiful, sensual as a young fashion model out of makeup. The early morning light softened the glow. Was there really any other vision worth observing at that moment?

The bushes rustled behind her and she turned to see. It was another early riser walking down to the beach. She calmly re-clothed herself and continued to dry her hair. As gracefully as a ballet dancer, she moved into a yoga pose, then another and yet another, until she was truly stretched, and eventually she sat in the crossed-leg Buddha pose with her hands together for Namaste. She was on the shore of nature's realm. Alone in her universe.

We had been voyeurs enjoying this stranger's most private moment. If she knew, would she have minded? Would it have destroyed her revery knowing that she was creating joy in our simple observation? Everywhere life is theatre. Moments are caught in time by our curiosity. We build our own moments through our senses, feelings, meanings, memories. In this, to ultimately find beauty in someone else's special moment, it became ours.

Rising slowly, she took a deep breath, then climbed the embankment and returned to her tent.

The 6am ferry subtly tooted as it observed us waving it on it's journey to the mainland. Later that morning we had packed the tent and such for our ferry home from the last camping of the season.

"Women are most always observed when they seem themselves least to observe, or to lay out for observation."
Samuel Richardson

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Only when your consciousness is totally focused on the moment you are in can you receive whatever gift, lesson, or delight that moment has to offer."
Barbara De Angelis

Jun 1, 2012

Felled by a Stroke

For two weeks I sat at my mother's hospital bed ... waiting.  A severe stroke felled her this time. She is eighty-eight. She's old. Maybe it's time.

She gave birth to me as a young woman of twenty-five. And she was once my best friend; but we drifted when my first streak of independence surfaced. The relationship was forevermore strained.

I sat staring. I could see the beauty she had once smiled on the world. She could have been a beauty queen. Her talents were on display as a semi-professional singer and a dancer, and later as a Musical Hall entertainer and an actor. But she chose to make ends meet as a hairdresser, an assistant librarian, a landlady.

She lived a quiet life by most standards. But, she was anything but quiet. She was a dynamo of energy and anger. Stubborn as a mule. Sensitive as a butterfly. Tough as a bullfighter, or perhaps the bull. Now, bewildered, lost, ill.

I remember, once, as a kid, she took me to an old age home. She would arrange to style the hair of groups of pensioners. One old lady was barely sitting up in a chair, looking very much like my mother looks now, slumped over, barely able to raise her head. She was fully conscious, that I could see.  My mother stood behind her, scissors snapping, combing and styling. She naturally thought the old lady was asleep. Suddenly my mother said to me, "If I ever get like this, shoot me will you, please?"

My face must have gone red with embarrassment as the old lady's eyes looked up at me. Perhaps she felt the same. One can only surmise. Mother would have been devastated had she known. What would she say now, today, if she could have seen the future back then?

When I first saw her after the stroke she was able to mumble a few words,
"How are we going to fix this?"
"Fix what?" I asked. As if I didn't know what she meant.
"This mess," she said, motioning to the feeding tube down her nose and her motionless left hand.
I was devastated. She knew. She was fully conscious of her state.

In her present state, she can hardly mutter. But at our last meeting, I kept asking her why the chicken crossed the road. "To get to the other side," came the words. She smiled. But how many more smiles are left?

This, truly, is a sad time, and probably the first time in my life where a bleak future has flashed before me. I saw my grandmother decline from a smart, vibrant person to a wheelchair-ridden vegetable because of a stroke. My father had died at the age of eighty-eight as the result of a massive stroke. Now, what lies ahead?

I have a very spiritual idea of what death may be. However, living out the rest of my life as an invalid, not able to think, do, be... would be hell on earth for most of us, I would imagine. A mild stroke can be life changing. A severe stroke is overwhelmingly destructive to our brains, our thoughts, our connection to our soul and spirit.

My mother's words ring out, "If I ever get like this, shoot me will you, please?"
For me, it would be time to take me to a cliff top and let me crawl to the edge to fly off to the abyss.
For, what is life without mind, curiosity, adventure and knowledge?

My mother is stable now, but slowly deteriorating physically and mentally. I wish her Godspeed on her journey and next adventure. As, I would hope, someone would wish for me.

Mother, I wish you nothing but love.

Apr 1, 2012

Art of Worldly Wisdom

Are we wise?

I ask this as a world citizen who sees a world filled with clowns, fools, rogues and charlatans; pretenders with very little to show for either intelligence, understanding or wisdom, let alone common sense, social responsibility or humanity. These are people who spout rhetorical nonsense and offer promises, trinkets, fools gold and mistruths to a population to get them to buy their products, believe their message or to vote their hidden ideology. They are empowered because too many of us believe and enable them.

But the world doesn’t have to be so obtuse or apathetic. As individuals we were all born with intelligence. Hence, we are all capable of some sort of worldly thought and wisdom.

So what is wisdom? It certainly isn’t simple knowledge or even academic education; but it does start with knowing beyond the realm of our immediate reality. However, wisdom is so much more. It’s a way of understanding and using judgement; of being aware of certain aspects of human nature, actions and reason; of consequence and discretionary thought; of prudence and attitude; of integrity combined with street smarts, experience, failure, success and a learned and sometimes measured way of doing things.

Webster’s Dictionary defines wisdom as: The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight. Good sense : judgment. A wise attitude, belief, or course of action. The teachings of the ancient wise men.

Wikipedia defines it as: a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions (the "passions") so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one's actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action.

Today, there is more knowledge, ideas and thought available throughout the world, from many sources, than at any other time in human existence. These come from Eastern, Western, Roman, Greek, Chinese, South American, North American, African philosophies, and from great societies, religions, cultures and civilizations. We have mega-worldly wisdom at out finger tips, on our computers, in books and through meaningful conversation. The wisdom that has been sought and fought over for centuries is readily available to all.

But are we wise?

We, as a world society, have all the knowledge available to be wise. Yet, we certainly don’t see it. Take the people we elect as politicians. All too often we put into power mediocre people of lesser character, those who are clamoring for their own self interests and kickbacks. Many are business leaders and many big business leaders give up wisdom for greed.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many courses of study at university, college, private classes and public schools, even boy and girl scouts where leadership is taught. But where are the leaders? Where are the morals? We usually settle for grossly inadequate, ego-maniacal, small-minded, ignorant and ideological political hacks as government leaders. And the business and money culture of somewhere like Wall Street can be summed up as nothing but corruption. Where is the wisdom when those with the most power seem to use it the least? And yet, it is us who have put them in place.

Surely, it is up to us as individuals to gain an understanding of how things work in the world. Real wisdom is the ability to make intelligent and well-informed choices based on thought, experience, discretion and knowing, because we have bothered to research the available knowledge and use a moral compass to make a wise judgement.

There are so many books available, but if there was just one book on personal wisdom that I could recommend to all it would be, “The Art of Worldly Wisdom,” by Balthasar Gracian. It’s a little book, but powerful. Gracian, a 17th-century, outspoken, Spanish priest, lays out in 300 maxims or aphorisms, a truly livable and intelligent guide on how to get along with people, confront others, as well as our own ego’s, plan and wisely go about life in a tough world. It’s a manual for training ourselves, perfecting our own lives and living toward wise thinking.

Gracian’s book begins with perfection, character and intellect, then it jumps to the art of being coy with your thoughts, not declaring yourself immediately. “Inspire people to wonder and watch you.” Maxim #4 is about knowledge and courage. “The elements of greatness.” My favorite, Maxim #22, is his advice for people to arm themselves with “tasteful and elegant erudition”; wise and witty sayings, noble deeds, jest, and knowledgable conversation. He writes that, “Knowledge gained in conversation can be of more help than the seven arts, however liberal.” In Maxim #162, he writes of how to triumph over your rivals and detractors by being a better individual. In turn, this can lead you to triumph many times.

Balthasar Gracian sums up the 300 maxims with, “In one word, be a Saint.” Here un-religiously, he extols the virtue and the qualities that complete a wise person. “Virtue is the sun of the world,” he says. “A person’s capacity and greatness are to be measured by virtue.”

The basic premise of the book is that wisdom is available to us all, if we could only slow down and take notice and find an understanding with the subtleties and nuances that life lays before us. We are constantly being bombarded with small life lessons and experiences. The task is to be aware enough to catch them and understand them, use them as knowledge and build upon their examples, and learn the delicacies of discrimination for what is right. Wonderful things stem from small beginnings, as the seeds of wisdom germinate within us over time.

The journey toward wisdom is everywhere. It is an awareness, a self-discovery, a discipline to be nurtured. It’s a perseverance to be a better person. Wisdom is something for which to strive.  And, when we find it, it is a gift.

It seems to me that to rise above the mass corruption in this world and do good as a wiser person, is a calling to be realized and open to all fair-minded, independent and responsible individuals.

This little book could help your journey.


“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

“Wisdom, compassion and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.”
- Confucius

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”
- Socrates

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
- Marcel Proust

“More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
-  Woody Allen

Mar 4, 2012

The Art of Photography

It was never about the camera or the lens, or the film stock or how many pixels she had. Never about the shutter speed, the aperture, or what part of the world she was in or what time of day it was.

Click ... click ... click.

It’s not about how many pictures she could take per minute or if the background was white or black, a high mountaintop or the sea below. Nor was it about the make-up or the clothes on the subject, or the weather, the sunshine or clouds. And it was never about the composition or the lighting or the half-smile on the model's face. Or how she manipulated photoshop.

It was about all of these, plus ... a sense of what had gone before, of what could be, the creative spirit, a curious mind and a ready disposition to bring individuality, aesthetics, preparation, and an idea whose time had come to the forefront.

Then it was waiting, endlessly ... waiting for the light or the rain to start again while monitoring to capture that unique image of a serious eye twinkle, a hair out of place, a commanding pose, a wind-swept vista, a dramatic sense or a setting sun.

It was a sense that, deep down, this was the moment she had been planning.

Then, it was all forgotten, sent to the back of the memory banks for a spontaneous mingling of feelings and experience.


As the analogy goes: “Play the music, not the instrument.”

Photography is like that. Like all arts, it’s about the imagination and the idea coming together with the technical, philosophical, physiological, emotional and spiritual states to create something that is a combination of everything. Yet, it becomes and entity on its own ... a photograph.

                                    (Photograph of Queen Elizabeth by Annie Leibovitz)

Brian Hebb writing about Annie Leibovitz at
“A photographer is not good just because she knows how to use a camera. She is good because she has trained her brain to search for the meaning, the story, the feeling and the essence of what her art is all about. The tools are, of course, the camera, the shutter speed, the aperture, the lens, the filters, the composition and many other components, but then comes the location, the light, the frame, the colours, the model, the positioning, the inspiration for the moment and good darkroom or photoshop technique. Those are what she learns scientifically and practically. But then comes "being." All the living, and learning, and experiencing and awareness, and perhaps the years of practice and failure and success it takes to get to the moment in time where she is able to make the perfect picture more perfect. Better, perhaps, than the many other professional photographers in the same field. That takes more than work; it takes experience, total love of the medium, the curious mind, all the connections she has learned and from which she has studied and her total being at one in the moment. If she has all these things going for her, she might just call upon the universe to help her be better than she ever thought she could be. In the end, is she brave enough to click that shutter knowing the collaborative elements have conspired with her to create a masterpiece? And, could she really tell us why she is better than most? Probably not.”


"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."
-  Edgar Degas

"The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity."
-  Alberto Giacometti

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."
-  Michelangelo

"Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit."
-  Ansel Adams

Feb 1, 2012

Encountering an Army of Buddha

Seeing Mount Everest. What an intriguing thought.

In 1985 a fellow cameraman and colleague at the CBC asked if I’d like to join him as he was filming the Sherpers and guides of the high mountains in Nepal. It took just two seconds for me to jump at the chance to tag along. Four of us went, but the others weren’t able to leave as early as me. So, I traveled on ahead.

Before I left Canada, I learned of an outbreak of meningitis in the Kathmandu Valley. Meningitis is an extremely deadly disease, so protection is essential. I first phoned the Canadian health travel clinic, but they had no vaccine. They suggested I find a clinic in Kathmandu, or perhaps I could try the British National Health in London en route. I then phoned a London clinic and spoke to a doctor who immediately ridiculed me about, not only the urgency, but the validity of my request. He told me that they didn’t have the vaccine and I probably wouldn’t need it, but if I really wanted to have my arm stuck with a needle, I could probably find a clinic in some backstreet in Kathmandu. I couldn’t imagine that the British Health System hadn’t heard about the deaths involved in this outbreak; or perhaps it was just this rude doctor. To my mind, it’s a serious flaw to be so flippant and cavalier about such a deadly disease and the health risks involved, especially with travelers.

My first afternoon in Kathmandu was spent treading the streets, looking to find a clinic, or at least somewhere I could get medical information. The clerks at the hotel desk weren’t very well informed, so I was out on my own into the excitement and confusion of this bustling Himalayan Capital; the life, the colour, the people, the circus, the posters. Yes, I saw a poster, in English, that told of a mass immunization at 7 am the next morning. Decision made ... show up.

Kathmandu at dawn is mystical. The atmosphere is quietly strange as the morning haze slowly dissipates from the waking city. Then a thin, brown dust permeates the air. Pollution, sand maybe? I was following a city map bought the previous day, exploring the narrow and colourful streets being carefully swept for the bustle ahead. Sweet smells of Indian spice graced the air as shopkeepers uncovered and displayed their aromatic wares. The trinket sellers were spreading blankets to hold depictions of Buddha, Lord Krishna, Shiva and all the other gods, prophets and icons for sale. Here I was in the capital of Nepal, trekking down the street for an injection, on my way to an address I had only read on a poster. This was the last type of adventure I could have envisioned on my first full day in Kathmandu; but exciting it was.

Streets began to populate, and I noticed groups of Buddhist Monks robed in their dark red/burgundy/orange colours passing by, heading my way. Probably on their way to a temple for morning meditation, I presumed. But as I neared the address of the clinic and rounded a corner, my gaze was drawn to what looked like a large unpaved, gravel parking lot teeming with an undulating throng of shaved heads and Buddhist robes. It was like the army of Buddha descending in one place. There were hundreds. I had never seen so many monks before. Perhaps a conference, I thought, as I looked for the address. But this was it, the place for my 7 am meningitis vaccine. It didn’t look like a clinic, more like a cattle call in the movie industry.

Slowly, I snaked my way through and around chatting groupings of gathered monks, over to a section where I could ask if this indeed was the place.

“With the monks,” came the reply. “Line up with the monks.”

I walked to the end of the line, but it wasn’t long before I was surrounded, bathed in a sea of dark red/burgundy/orange, and organized chaos. These were the holy men of the Himalayas, the followers of Buddha and perhaps the Dalai Lama. They were delightful and courteous people with smiling faces, gentle dispositions and early morning yawns. There weren’t any other westerners, so I stood at least four or five inches taller than most of their shiny, bald heads. In the cool morning it was a shiver of excitement, an atmosphere like a scene from an epic movie.

One young monk spoke to me in very broken English. He told me of their week-long trek, down from the high mountains to get vaccinated. They, indeed, knew the wisdom of these injections. After the needle, they were headed back to the mountains. A head monk (Abbot or a High Lama) who was way over at the front of the line, noticed me among his brethren and asked his team to guide me to him. I slid slowly past the obliging men and thanked them as I walked to where he stood.

“You first,” he said.

He was being polite, letting me go ahead of his multitude. But one thought did occur to me. Was I the guinea pig?  I confirmed that this was indeed for the meningitis shot and I asked how much I needed to pay.

“No no,” he said. “It’s free.”

Then it was my turn. A clean swab, a new needle, a sharp jab; the medicine was administered, an adhesive bandage was stuck over my wound, and it was all over. We exchanged pleasantries, I bowed in thanks and I was on my way, passing even more monks who had gathered. I stopped to wave goodbye to all my new found friends, and in a flash I was back in the early morning traffic of Kathmandu.

It was as if I had been touched in a most profound, yet very human way. I strolled back to my hotel and fell into peaceful slumber, as if bathed in a spiritual glow.

A few days later, the others in my party arrived, and I told them of my experience. But they all declined the vaccine. Then, we were off to the high Himalayas, to Mount Everest, for an adventure of a lifetime.

Sometimes we have to go out of our way to find a special moment. Sometimes those moments come to us. But most times it's a combination. Travel really does help bring opportunities and possibilities together to connect the two. Meeting new cultures should always be mind opening, in turn we get to understand that others are just like us.

Life really is filled with wonderful, unforeseen moments. This is one I shall always cherish.

“All the world's a stage.”
- William Shakespeare

“All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.”
- Alfred Lord Tennyson

“There are moments of existence when time and space are more profound, and the awareness of existence is immensely heightened.”
- Charles Baudelaire

“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”
- Albert Camus

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”
- Dalai Lama

“There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu, There's a little marble cross below the town, There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,  And theYellow God forever gazes down.”
- J Milton Hayes - The Green Eye of theYellow God

Jan 12, 2012

Patriotic Song

Remember during the film “Casablanca,” when in the bar, a small detachment of German soldiers were singing their patriotic song and Victor Laszlo, the freedom fighter, went and asked the band to play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem? Everyone stood and sang with gusto and conviction. What a truly poignant moment, yet patriotic, telling the world they disagreed with the Nazis. Subsequently, the loud singing drowned out the German song completely.

As audience members, we all became French for that brief moment because we all knew the Nazis needed to be defeated.

I've been a witness to many moments much like that, but one stands out. It happened while on assignment in Cypress. It wasn’t about the Nazis, but it was about a patriotic song. I was an assistant cameraman working for the CBC, filming “The Canadian Armed Forces Review,” a traveling road show put together to entertain the Canadian peacekeeping troops at Christmas. We went to Germany, Egypt, Israel and Cypress. In each place we filmed entertainers showing their artistic prowess, and the troops loved the show. Germany was the cleanest place I’ve ever seen. In Egypt, we climbed up inside the great pyramid on Christmas day.  And Israel was an inspiration. But filming in the no-mans-land of the Golan Heights had been mentally draining. We all needed some rest.

We had recently arrived in Nicosia, the Capital of Cypress, from Tel Aviv, on a bumpy, Canadian-forces, troop-carrying, Hercules aircraft. The entertainers had just completed their first Cypress show and we had finished a day of filming. About thirty of us, entertainers and film crew, were relaxing in a local restaurant with our Greek Cypriot helpers. We were eating a fabulous, multi-course meal of Cypriot food, drinking the local grog, and chatting and merry-making with our new found friends and colleagues at separate tables spread around the establishment. In the background, I could hear melodies of Greek Cypriot songs playing through the speakers in the ceiling.

At some moment during the evening, the never-ending drone and beat of one of the Cypriot songs became the beat for someone to quietly start singing “O Canada.” Perhaps it was the booze starting to get to the entertainers, but the song quietly gained momentum and took on a life of its own. Then, raucous exuberance spread throughout the restaurant. People were standing on chairs and tables singing from the top of their lungs. I stood up and joined in. It was a stirring moment. You didn’t even have to be Canadian to be caught up. Some weren’t. Others just stared in amazement. Most were smiling and glowing hearts were beating. The crowd mentality was at its zenith. I had never seen Canadians so ... patriotic.

Then it stopped. We sank back into our conversational mode and resumed where we had left off. The flamboyant displays of emotion had gone, but for the drying of the eyes.

One of our Cypriot helpers leaned forward and asked, “What was that song?”
“O Canada.” I said, “Canada’s national anthem.”
“Ah,” he replied politely.

View the Casablanca scene on YouTube.

View O Canada on YouTube.

"Patriotism... is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
-Adlai Stevenson

"You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."
Victor Laszlo (Casablanca)