About Sarah Kornfeld

Sarah Kornfeld

Sarah E. Kornfeld is a writer and hybrid communications executive for those innovating in art/ social sharing/biosphere/and neuroscience initiatives. Her blog on trends and creative visions is widely read: what sarah sees . Born and raised in the theater, Sarah's worldview is shaped by creation in public spaces. She's deeply passionate about applied neuroscience and it's impact on policy and place, how art and international issues intersect, and her groovy seven year old son.

Sarah works with The George Greenstein Institute, The Institute for the Future, Bluemind/Liveblue and other organizations bridging the mind, planet and health issues. She was an original member of the producing team for Dancing in The Streets, which placed dance in public places around the world: Grand Central Station, The Brooklyn Bridge, Place de Concord/Paris, the Tiber River/Rome. She is finishing her first novel.


Latest Posts by Sarah Kornfeld

Fear, Urgency and Doubt: An American Way, But Not the Dalai Lama Way

January 18, 2013 by  

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 I think I have shared the story about how I met the Dalai Lama at a bar. No? Well, I did, and I’ll tell it again.
He was going to an event in New York in 1997 (I think that was the date, it’s a bit of a haze) and I was sitting at a bar at the then chic W Hotel. I was there for fancy meetings, because I had a fancy job, and I was in a fancy suit. I was going to do fancy thought leadership workshop planning and my meeting in the morning was with Charlie Rose. Fancy, baby. But, HRHDL messed it up.
As we were sitting at the bar, and after many cops and monks and celebrities had stunned us with their weird presence (His Holy One in a Bar?) up walks the man himself. The entourage tried to herd him to the elevator, but he made a B-Line for the bar.
Did he want a drink? No, he wanted to say hi. And, he did. And, the Dalai Lama looked at us at the bar and asked, “Are you enjoying your drinks?” To all of us he asked this, and I was shocked by my internal answer: I could not taste my drink.
Why couldn’t I taste it? Did I have some form of tongue deficiency? Nope, much more simple – I could not feel my life, I was selling ideas I didn’t really understand and I did not know why I was doing it.
What were these ideas? They were the ideas of the mid to late 1990′s when there was a coming together of the Internet and early social community found in the concept of thought leadership. It was also a time where the most dangerously concepts were sold – that of “Messaging” and “F.U.D”. In other words, I was part, quite by surprise, to be part of a generation teaching a new language of connection through commerce, using the techniques of sales to employ easy ideas in short, almost scientifically developed sentences. The ideas I was selling were not ideas, they were processes for commerce connection, or more specifically for “Perception Management” that I believe set the stage for what is NOW driving both the left and right, environmental NGO’s and rightest policy makers into a horrible trap: one laid out carefully like the cable laid down for the Internet – it is the commerce of fear.
“Perception Management” is a process of winning “hearts and Minds” by the Military, and during the cold war were utilized by large PR firms, brought into corporations to train leaders how to 1.) motivate their team 2.) create “culture” in corporations 3.) more effectively sell products.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception_management
But, let’s focus for now on messaging and FUD .
In the late 1990′s as we were flush with cash. Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) and corporations stared to partner on global issues. It was, I deeply believed at the time, an honest endeavor, meant to not only give mutual tax breaks, but to reflect our generation (the X generations) desire to give back – and to offset the glut that even the most successful admitted was around, especially in the Technology world. So, NGO’s and Corporations actually could agree on some things: that one needed money and the other could give it. That one wanted to make change in the world and the other had the funds to help.
Yet, what do you do when you GET a ton of money — and a TON of money not seen in generations? And, what do you do if that money is supposed to change the world (or keep the organization “Growing”)? And, what were these corporations saying to NGO’s and non-profits .things like “How will you communicate this investment by us to your stakeholders?” and “How will you make your Ask for more capital?” and even better, “What’s your message?” The money had grown, and the language had changed. 
Historically, NGO’s were developed to feed funds into a myriad of activities developed and managed by one organization  OR, to distribute funds to projects while also managing their own infrastructure. It’s HUGE work, and particularly important since for eight years the Bush administration had been hardly helpful in the areas of the environment or social justice or you name it – social issues that needed help executing programs. So, Right On! Bring on Bono and the Gap! It was awesome. I remember buying my first RED sweatshirt and thinking I’d really made difference, and it felt “clean”. Bono and Gap bonded together with the aim to move our money to those AIDS victims in Africa with funds immediately. Our consumption was transformed into cash flow…what a time, when some though open markets could sace lives…but, I digress…and that RED story is strife with woe (another post…or, do look it up…)
Though, what went into getting me to buy that sweatshirt? Not, Bono – per say, my thoughts on “Brands of Good” are later – nope this was
Messaging and FUD. Let’s break that down:
**Messaging is a communications tactic to make sure that what you are selling, and who your company is, is clear to your target audience. Ideally, it makes it so easy that they will buy what you are selling, or simply see you as superior to your competitor.
It’s that simple. Now, F.U.D.
** F.U.D = FEAR URGENCY AND DOUBT.  F.U.D is one of the most critical elements of sales we have for it ensures that every interaction a salesperson has employs or reminds the buyer that they should be afraid (to miss out, to drop out of the market, to loose their job, etc) while adding the urgency to buy (Buy now so you don’t fail sooner) and doubt (herein lies the art – how do you imbue or pull out the doubt of your buyer, so much so that you find they will do ANYTHING to make a deal with you?)…F.U.D is the power-tool of modern selling and capital attainment.
Ok, you have these two. But, we’re not stupid are we? We can see that these two tactics are deeply based on an end goal to “close you”.
So, why did the entire environmental movement, and much of the WORLD regardless of profit or non-profit status, buy into these techniques. How did we become Global salesmen?
—–
This is a three part post. I look forward to sharing more with you, about these ideas, what I saw, and what I am seeing and the people I am meeting to fight against Messaging F.U.D or as my buddy J termed it, “mFUD”.

Honoring Women Surfers & Individual Freedoms

November 11, 2012 by  

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Farhana Huq was only twenty-four when she started her first non-profit called C.E.O. Women, dedicated to helping low-income immigrant and refugee women to become entrepreneurs.

Now, ten eleven years later, she in no longer running a non-profit and is on an expedition to find trailblazing female surfers around the world.  At first glance, this may seem like an exercise in sports, but dig deeper and you’ll find that Farhana is diving into one of the critical social justice issues of our time: the rights of women’s – and girls’ - bodies, the rights to be free from cultural and social constraints on women, and a search for healing in the presence of war/violence.

Although this week’s election was a victory for women in our U.S. Political system, the conditions for women remain daunting, globally. It should be noted that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has stated that she will not resume her post in the 2nd Obama administration to put all of her energies towards the realities of women and social justice, globally.

When I first heard that the most powerful woman in the world (Hillary Clinton) was stepping down to leverage her power towards global women’s issues I remember gasping. When Farhana Huq told me of her exploration called Brown Girl Surf, it took my breath away.

Last week the United States was in great debate, often in an uproar, over the suggestion that rape was essentially “God’s Will”.  We voted that idea out. Yet, every day a woman in the world is experiencing the dangerous use of “God’s Will” as it relates to her body; from being cat-called to the paradoxically reversed “Honor Killings”.  It was reported this week that a young woman was killed by both her mother and father for looking at a boy – they apparently beat her and then poured acid on her body (Source: http://huff.to/TGv8ls). This young girl died, yet many are not dying for looking at boys: many, are surfing.

Farhana, a graduate of Tufts University, Ashoka Fellow, champion martial artist, dancer of North Indian Kathak and Tahitian Ori traditions, and all around luminous overachiever, walked away from the fast lane of social entrepreneurship this year to surf - and to pursue a new project.  She’s on a search to find women who are, as she states, “Surfing Possibility”.  She founded a project called Brown Girl Surf (named in honor of the first Polynesian female surfers) and is starting the process of meeting scores of surfing girls and women hidden in the margins.

Farhana has said about her foray into surfing, “I had a strong desire to reconnect with my health and my body. I took my first trip to Hawaii and decided on a whim to take a surf lesson there. Nobody in my family had ever done this. I had always wanted to learn. I sucked. I mean, really sucked. I tried a few more times over the years to learn but was frustrated. But, I was determined and decided to go to Costa Rica for three weeks to learn to surf. I was still horrible at surfing. I paddled out into the ocean, on my second day at Costa Rica, when a huge wave came and broke on me and dragged me halfway to shore.

My board hit me over the head and left me with a huge bump. I became terrified of the power of the ocean for those weeks but when I came home, I yearned for the feeling of being in the water. So I started braving the cold Northern Californian waters and was soon catching waves on my own. Before I knew it, I started traveling around the world in search of waves. Something felt so empowering about being able to maneuver through the ocean, catch a wave and ride it.”

Farhana’s experience of overcoming fear was a powerful part of her process to becoming a good surfer. Though, her identity as an American of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage started to rise up as well: she was surfing with very sweet, cool white dudes in San Francisco, California – yet when in other parts of the world  she was told by surfers (as they paddled in Indonesia) that by surfing in the bright sun they were making their skins darker and that they had only a finite time to be in the ocean before they had to get out, permanently.

Yet again, the women Farhana was meeting were not getting out of the water. Undaunted by the cognitive dissonance of her experiences, Farhana chose to listen a bit more closely: in doing so she learned that there were more female Surf communities popping up Bangladesh, China and even on the front lines of the war zone of the Gaza strip.

Farhana went from Intrigued to determined.  Utilizing her experience in social entrepreneurism, she is taking to the road to meet as many, diverse women and girls who surf — or, any woman who surfs with the aims towards individual freedom – as she can.

As she states, “Aside from the fact that surfing is really cool, why do I care about these stories? . . . To me, these stories matter because they represent living in possibility, and I think this is a message we all need to see more of in the world. We need to know about Argentina’s first female big wave surfer who picked up a surfboard at the age of twenty and then surfed every major big wave by the time she was thirty. This represents possibility.   

We need to know how Ishita, a journalism student at a college in India, picked up a surfboard and ended up moving to the coast to teach surfing to her community where women just don’t do that . . . We need to know how the fifteen-year-old girl in Gaza manages to break tradition and surf past the age of fifteen into her adulthood. It’s her way of saying, ‘nobody will have control of what I do with my body.’  That is possibility . . . It’s like a domino affect to social change.”

This month, although her Visa to India has suddenly been systematically rejected,  and despite her being able to produce all necessary paperwork asked of her from the Indian government, Farhana still hopes to leave on a trip that takes her to India and Bangladesh to meet these young women. She also wants to visit the Gaza Strip, China, Sri Lanka and all global hot-spots places with waves.

She is desperate is to bring back the stories of these trailblazers and share with the world what they teach us about “living in possibility”: that the ocean is healing to these young women she meets, that young women on boards are becoming eco-advocates, and that a movement of defying arranged life choices is on the rise.

I love to imagine Farhana sitting on a board with these women around the world.  What horizon line do they see? What talk of the reality of the moment, and the braving of the waves do they share?

Most critically, when the moment is right, how wide are their smiles as they shred a killer wave?

Surfing has just become, truly, radical.

Top Photo Credit: Bangladeshi Surf Club 

Feeling Sandy “The Storm”

November 1, 2012 by  

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This year I watched this video of Lena Horne over and over and over again. I watched because it’s an amazingly raw, honest and brilliant reminder of love, grief and hope.

After this week, it means a bit more to me.

This is the only post/expression I can feel as a New Yorker about “Sandy” the storm.

Perhaps, these are brilliant songs  (She sings Stormy Weather AND If You Believe) for our awakening that we are living with more Storms, AND how we need to Believe and keep going, keep learning, deal with the reality of climate change/new normal – while stepping up to help the planet.

This goddess of the Boroughs exemplifies the grit of the great strength of my beloved city. Long live Lena. Long live songs about getting through our storms…and the Storm of the planet, and its need for our passionate, undying, juicy love: and action.

Capacitor: Okeanos, A Dance of the Sea That Floats My Heart

April 13, 2012 by  

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It’s been a long, long time since I felt this way. A really long time. I’ve not looked upon dance and been stimulated to remember not only what it means to me, but what the possibility art has on society.

I don’t say that lightly – mainly because it sounds really schmaltzy, but in this case Jodi Lomask’s company, Capacitor (so aptly described by Ariel Schwartz in her article for Fast Company, as the “The Cirque Du Soleil Of Environmental Science“) has me floating. What touches me so deeply about this mash-up of dancers, acrobats, musicians and scientists is that they have been what I have been waiting for! While I have spent years working with installation artists (with great joy) my training as a dancer has been yearning for science and movement to coalesce. In this case it has. Jodi, and her team, have created a piece that is a living ocean. Using only a few devices to support the weightless of ocean, the group has found a way to explore what we cannot see – and it is exactly this daring, to bring to us the depth of life below the sea that I find so promising for the arts.

Staring April 12-15, Okeanos, a dance two years in the making, will premier at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I am going to quote Ariel of Fast Company here, because she nailed it:

Dr. Sylvia Earle, famed oceanographer and TED Prize winner, is known for her ocean advocacy work. Advocacy takes many forms, but even Earle probably never predicted that her explanations of the intricacies of ocean life would be used as part of a multimedia dance performance, complete with acrobats, giant video screens, and on-stage interpretations of overfishing.

It’s safe to say that Capacitor is unique in the dance world. Founded in 1997 by choreographer Jodi Lomask, the dance company does its best to interpret scientific phenomena without sacrificing artistic integrity. Every show explores a different aspect of the natural world. “The truth is, I begin with a vague feeling of where I want to go. This isn’t a physical destination, but a metaphysical one. In the past I have wanted to go into outer space or the deep Earth, to the top of the trees and, in this case, the bottom of the ocean,” says Lomask, who doesn’t have a formal science background but grew up around scientists (her father was a physicist).

Each dance performance is workshopped beforehand in Capacitor Labs–a think tank-style collaboration that brings together scientists, engineers, and dancers. The Capacitor Lab for Okeanos was held over a six month period at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS).

“In these monthly meetings, the creative team would be given a 20 minute lecture by one or two marine biologists or oceanographers and then present for 20 minutes on their craft and how he or she was approaching this particular project. We also show the dance as we develop it there, receiving feedback from the rest of the creative team and the scientists,” explains Lomask.”

- Ariel Schwartz, Fast Company

When Jodi asked me two do two things, 1. sit on her board 2. put together a BLUEMiND event, I seriously swooned. I am, by all accounts, a huge romantic – but mix dance and oceans and I become really gushy, inspired and then a compulsive megaphone. I’ve become undone by the power of the company’s desire to share the two years of study, ocean swimming, surfing, sitting under water looking at plankton, and then find a way to make this all into movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critically speaking, this dance could not come at a more important time. We have been inundated with mainly horrific images and news about the ocean. Okeanos offers us a respite from the tragic, and a view into the sublime.

Yet, for those who are not ocean people (and that is the case for many – they are drawn to mountains and trees, lakes or cities) why should a dance replicating the ocean in all of it’s mystery, sass, darkness, and predatory moments, be relevant? Perhaps it is because our ancestors come from the ocean. That alone is pretty cool. Additionally, no matter how you shake it, some of our most critical memories are shaped at the ocean/seaside – and our global need to have a nostalgic relationship to the ocean is undeniable.

In the past two years our community within BLUEMiND (shaped of cognitive neuroscientists, futurists, media artists, marine biologists, and passionate graduate students compelled by the BLUEMiND idea/movement of NeuroConservation) has been exploring our brain’s critical interrelationship with the ocean. This in not just your brain on chocolate (though I can’t get my mind off that ever!) – it is an exploration of the brain’s (and mind’s) need for the ocean not only relaxation (so put down by western culture), but the possible public health, conservation, and treatments for everything from PTSD to addiction. From Stanford, Duke to MIT, this exploration is being taken very seriously, and we are devoted to this very fluid, yet very serious study (and emerging cultural Meme).

So, BLUEMiND is thrilled to share a small segment of the stage on closing night at the Okeanos premier, April 15th and 6:30pm.

The theme is “Our Mind on Ocean, our Brain on Memory” and the following remarkable people will be speaking (and I will be a very happy M.C.). It’s delightful that our panel is coming from up and down California (leaving surgery early, lectures, training to surf, and producing) to support the work of Capacitor.

Ultimately, we’ll explore the science of memory and the unique experiences that create nostalgia. Can ocean nostalgia be a driving force for better protection, restoration and more empathy. BLUEMiND is also embarking this year on a more expanded commercial version of it’s work for organizations, while not loosing it’s roots in open source sharing. The 2nd BLUMiND summit will be held June 5, 2012, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

 

Connecting to Human Blue Mind To The Ocean’s Blue Mind

November 17, 2011 by  

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Our brains have an amazing ability to do something: hide a world of truth from us. We’re able to tune out the blinking lights and honking horns, the stress of work, the underwater mortgage, and those inappropriate clothes and music our kids prefer. Meanwhile, people around the world survive war, abuse, hunger, chronic disease and floods. Our brains excel at rationalization and self-deception helping us handle the grit of living.

Billions of feelings, tactile senses, memories, sounds, smells and a barrage of voices are all around us. Most of the time our brain insulates and protects us from the rest of the abundant information in the universe that isn’t in our direct focus. But that thick padding comes with a cost. It means we really have no idea — most of the time — why and how we do what we do.

This concept might deeply challenge the idea of our lives happening because things are “meant to be”, or that we have a “higher calling” or we can “will things happen”. We certainly have brilliant insights, accurate intuitions and strokes of genius. It’s seems that our subconscious leads us to make decisions that feel like they come from someplace else, yet really happening inside us.

It’s tough because we’ve been working hard for a long time to understand why we do what we do. We have therapy, religion, hallucinagens and many other practices that we use to try to understand who we are. Yet new information about the brain need not rule out all the tools we’ve been using. Instead it could be a “power tool”. The way the brain processes (and hides) information is one of the great scientific insights of our era. And though seemingly heretical when looked at through more traditional lenses, it’s an amazing, mysterious and transcendent ecosystem of new ideas.

These ideas have led the cognitive scientist David Eagleman to coin the term “Possibillian” to describe the confident state of unknowningness. A Possibilian takes into account that we may have a deep connection both to the unknown, what some may call mysticism, as well as the great scientific discoveries of neuroscience and astrophysics. A Possibilian encourages us to stay open to all the far out possibilities unfolding with regard to our mind and the universe.

But, let’s back up. Way, way, way up.

Who are we?

We are people who live on a very small, apparently unique, blue planet. Our planet came about within the context of an unfathomably ancient universe in constant change filled mostly with invisible dark matter. Our planet is apparently surrounded by an infinitely shifting cosmos, gasses and suns in every direction, which we know something about, but really almost nothing. Our lives are a minuscule, temporary flash by comparison to the vastness of the universe. Yet we often feel invincible. We see ourselves as masters of the whole shooting match.

Our small planet is blue because of water. From a million-or even a billion-miles away, Earth appears blue.

Our ancestors came out of the water, evolved from swimming to crawling to walking. They developed remarkably complex brains, as well, necessary to move successfully through nature encountering constant unexpected challenges.

We started small on this blue planet-and we are descendants from, relatives of and subsidiary to the ocean.

This is not a biology or an astronomy lesson, rather it might be an amazing clue to how we can alter how we treat the planet. We literally have “blue minds”.

And we’re literally seated here now, virtually connected, pondering our evolutionary state with our future on the line.

Over the past year an open source community called BLUEMiND has taken up the task of exploring the human mind-ocean connection. Some of the finest thinkers in cognitive neuroscience, ocean exploration, media and art have gathered at the California Academy of Sciences, the Bioneers conference, and with leaders at the Environmental Defense Fund. Now the idea of exploring the intersection of conservation with how our brains process empathy, gratitude, fear and protection is starting to travel the world. It’s the beginning of a new field, and it all points to our brains’ critical need for the ocean: our planet’s largest, most-dominant system.

After a screening of his film “Transcendent Man”, famed futurist and author Ray Kurzweil was asked why he loves the ocean. The most poignant scene in the movie depicts Kurzweil quietly contemplating the sea and himself. He replied that: “It’s a metaphor for the way the brain is organized.”

The grand duchess of the environmental movement, Frances Moore Lappé (author of “Diet for a Small Planet” and the new book “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want”) stated,”The first step is getting people to realize that the current metaphors aren’t working … we have to think about these issues differently.” She continues, “There’s nothing inexorable” about the environmental problems at hand. “It’s a matter of how we perceive them …” (Santa Cruz Weekly, 9/11/11)

It’s said that those who control the frame, control the contest. We must reclaim the framework with which we see the world: we must engage with our minds to help us achieve this goal.

Here’s what we’ve learned about our blue minds:

- Our brains sit in saline and craves a connection to the planet’s ocean on a deeply primal level tied to our evolution.

- Doing “one small thing” for the planet does not mean you will stick to doing good -our brains heal and change with our complex relationships to people and nature experienced outdoors.

- The ocean isn’t just pretty, it stimulates our health-both psychologically and physically. We might be staring at a new approach to public health based on the ocean, one now being taken seriously by doctors and scientists.

So, this huge body of water, our one world ocean, impacts our remarkably powerful brains in ways we’ve always felt but are only beginning to know. Together, we occupy this planet, and together our minds and the sea have an interdependency beyond the fish, whales and sea turtles, ecosystems and biodiversity, or economic benefits. The water and our neurons need each other to live.

How can your blue mind help change the world?

To get healthy, get near, in, on or under the ocean more often. The ocean can literally suck the stress from you.
Demand that polluters don’t destroy the very thing our brains need to evolve.

Learn all you can about your brain, and teach it to the kids. Especially as it intersects with nature.

Or, as we like to say, LIVEBLUE and swim in the possibilities of your blue mind.

By Wallace J. Nichols and Sarah Kornfeld

Brian Eno’s Paris Interview at the La Gaite Lyrique Conference

September 8, 2011 by  

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I typed in “New Forms” + “World Music” and suddenly Google provided me Jon Hassel on a plate. Turns out he’s a great trumpet player who’s defined: “Fourth Wall“.  Plus, he likes to talk about masturbation.  I dug the guy immediately.

Then, the lovely machine of the Internet provided the most curious thing: an interview from Paris between he and Brian Eno at a conference called La Gaîté Lyrique, called (well, “their names here) – an illustrated talk”. Thinking it was going to be about their music collaboration that began in the 1980′s, I was transfixed that the conversation was really about, “North and South” as Hassel and Eno are defining it: The North and the South of us – the brain and the body of us all (the dominance of hemispheres, and need to feel the south of us — inside of us). And, out of six installments – I’ve decided to post this one below:

 

Brian Eno & Jon Hassel @ La Gaîté Lyrique - 4th part from en reportage permanent on Vimeo.

 

I’d suggest you check out the entire talk because it’s a wonderful discussion about pleasure, time and connection. And, it has small, funny moments including M. Eno expressing his hatred for couches (his reason turned me around, and I now distrust them — seriously), and Hassel’s deeply insightful, and wonderfully loopy tangent about spirituality (Hassel’s laid back explanations are like Jazz riffs themselves – I suggest you just sit back into them). Yup, they are full of lovely and quirky moments that can only happen when you are made to sit in two “comfortable” chairs on a stage that is a faux living room, conducting an “informal” talk in front of a large number of strangers. And, actually, it’s the stilted environment they sit in that makes the conversation ironic, and more interesting: they are talking about the need for a new (non freudian) pleasure principle – a space in our lives where we spend time in personal pleasure, not just in work (where we reward ourselves, much much later, and for a few days, with just a bit of pleasure).

(On a side note, I had the pleasure of hearing Greg Sarris, writer and Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, speak in Sonoma this weekend. He told a story how an medicine woman had described to him that for hundreds of years their indian work hours had been 45 minutes – a day. When he asked her what they did with the rest of their day, he said she took a drag from her cigarette and responded, “Make baskets and talk about god” – as Greg sagely said, “Art and Philosophy – sounds like a good use of time to me…”)

But, back to the video – here these two guys are – kind of forced as it were to look and seem relaxed, in France, speaking english, about a book they’ve been working on for ten years. Ten years. It’s remarkable to think of how that collaboration has unfolded – not “heads down” in cubes, but over years of exploration and probably wine. Collaboration, time, pleasure and connection to our body (not just our minds) are on people’s tongue’s these days – yet seems so elusive. How can we truly LIVE in a world that is so rigidly defined by a time density (of short, meaningless spurts of tweets), when we do not provide ourselves time AS pleasure? More critically, how is this impacting our global culture?

This clip speaks to what artists bring to the equation of finding pleasure, and making it an example, or framework, for our life. It’s also a wonderful portrait of what creative collaboration looks like: even though it’s Brian Eno and Jon Hassel, it’s simply two people talking, someone taking notes and asking for more thoughts, and then a final conclusion – one that is almost always still in process. Eno keeps notes (finds the key moment, grabs it and finds a way to place the idea into our own experience). Hassel is dreamy as he describes our need to “let go” – or how he has divided his work into “pre-orgasmic” and “post-Orgasmic” sections for years.

I found this conversation as charming as the song that inspired it. I’ve passed the talk on to some good friends, and they all seem to enjoy it. I hope you do as well.

(And, and here’s Miles Davis for some sound afterwards – “All of you” by Cole Porter, who’s lines Inspired the conversation and book to come, from above:
I love the look of you, the lure of you
The sweet of you, the pure of you
The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you
The east, west, north and the south of you
- Cole Porter)

BLUEMiND and the Earth of Sarah Sze

July 11, 2011 by  

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What I learned from BLUEMiND: our brains/hearts are in the details, and the artist, Sarah Sze had already proved it to me years ago. Her work below fires with sensors, light, and the making of the bluemind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, let’s start with this past June.

BLUEMiND (http://mindandocean.org) was a summit that we produced, spearheaded by J Nichols, myself and a ton of passionate people, at the California Academy of Science. Neuroscientists, oceans people, writers and surfers, dancers and neurosurgeons spent the day uncovering:

- the relationship between the brains necessary connection to saline
- our brains prossessing of compassion to danger
- how our brains are our hearts – and this electromagnetic function is born of salt water: and that further study into this relationship will yield a new form of neuroconservation. It was thrilling.

So, in a nutshell, what I learned:

- A surfers’ brain function can tell us how much we need the excitement of the ocean to help us experience risk – something, when safe, supports our species ability to trust and be brave.
- Our addiction (neural, not theoretical) to food in general (yes, the big fast food, but also our own compulsive “foodiness”) is not only born of corporate marketing, but a growing, dangerous need to temper our free floating obsessive anxiety: this is driving the demand of deep sea “trolling” huge nets that catch fish and all things alive on the sea bottom.
- Children, when given something as simple and clear as a marble can imagine and create art and programs that are innovative and change patterns of interaction with the planet. It’s called brain plasticity, they are better at it than adults, and we should take them very seriously if we want innovative ideas: they should be partners, and quick.
- That our brain and heart connection is critical to public health – and from Vice-Mayors to futurists, we learned that if we don’t move away from scaring people into “awareness” and provide alternative futures that tap into love, we will not be creating a solution based culture – but an extended culture of fear.
- And, in the end, saying we love the complexity, the dance of the biosphere, the layers of it all, is GOOD for us … and the ocean gives both a simple blue vista, and a vast complex, and vibrant collaborator.

Or, all that, all those bullet points above, kind of looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Sze is an American artist whom I met in the early 1990’s who impacted me deeply as a person. She had just been “discovered” though she showed grace and a sense of awareness that she would be an artist for her whole life, yet her notoriety may be fleeting (and irrelevant to her vision for her work). She accepted that acclaim with elegance, said thanks, and just kept working (her career has been astounding, and her accomplishments are provided here) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Sze

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah’s work is filled with the story of us: pieces of the stuff we make to help us through the day — miniatures of the products we create to get around, the candy we love to eat, the symbols we cleave to that help make meaning of our place in culture, and she fills it all with bits and pieces of found things. Mainly, plastic. Actually, I’m surprised that people are not talking more about her work as a pioneer working with plastic as a medium for art. Yet, it sort of makes sense, her art transcends her medium – she takes us into a biosphere of her own, and we are elevated above to see the world anew: not just at a “message”, but of something deeper: our fragility as well as our clogged-ness: a clogged-ness now exposing itself as a polluted planet.

Her work makes me feel like looking at ourselves from a million miles above. We are elevated and see the world anew. And, generally, when our brains see the world a new way, the neural pathways make room for these new visions. They actually change, reshape, and become a new brain. Well, that’s what the doctors confirmed at BLUEMiND and what every artist I’ve ever known has done to my head: moved my heart by changing my brain. And, again, that’s what the doctors confirmed.

So often, Sarah’s pieces are ascending. They feel filled with what seem like firing neurons – and those neurons are the things of our time, ladders and little do-dads, and the ever sweeping climb for awareness – for awakeness.

And, that’s what the Dr’s also told us at BLUEMiND: that our brains are always searching for a new way to process the billions of pieces of us, our feelings, our place on the planet: that we are hanging sculptures ourselves in search of vistas that make us feel safe, we are filled with the need for the color blue to harness a critical sense of calm, that we are a limbic system in search of meaning – and we have just barely begun to understand our brain, and it’s needs: for our care of it, and our care of the planet for the brain’s sake.

So, There is a lot of new information on how our brains change on time, art, sex, chocolate, lust, kissing, law, time, and logos. Yet, what do these findings imply for our brain on planet? And, why is it that when I look at the intricacy of Sarah’s work – which is playful, and luminous and generally lifting up up up so that you can look down down down into life – do I feel, well, calm? And, why do I search for calm? And, why does the ocean (and nature and art) give me this: and why do I need it to keep going.

From the cognitive neurosurgeons to our visiting brain surgeon, we had it confirmed: our brains constantly search for where we are, and when they find these images, smells, colors, tastes, sounds our brains not only heal, but they improve their ability to make choices and then they want to SURVIVE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, if our goal of BLUEMiND was to test the theory that our brain on ocean meant our brains crave the ocean in order to evolve as a species, we had some compelling ideas that came out of it.

If our aim for BLUEMiND was to see if bringing writers and musicians and dancers into the conversations (through performance, readings and presentations) to see if the daring, risk and power of various forms of storytelling could support our brains – I think we had that confirmed as well.

And, finally, BLUEMiND was a happening. It was a gathering of brave people who were willing to talk about the brain and feelings – their interconnection, and the need to bring these two generally desperate discussions together.

We need to bring them together because we need a new neural pathway into ecological empathy and bravery.

We need to change the way we look at the world, not just that we are being “encroached by ourselves”, but that we have the power to fence in our mind’s mistakes: we must do what Sarah has pictured below – we must use our hearts and minds to claim the earth back: creatively, fiercely and with love:

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Rapture with Prince in Oakland

June 28, 2011 by  

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I’ve been doing a ton of writing about Blue. This time, it’s purple. ‘Cause, I’m just itching to write about the Prince show.

A few weeks ago, Prince decided to call upon Oakland and we all had a chance to pray before the Great One. I mean it, he told us to pray because here was the best there is, was or ever will be.

It also happened to be a few days before Judgement Day. May 21st was coming, and the world was captivated by a radio  preacher predicting the Rapture, that were going to die. So, best to see Prince before that happens.

Also, he seemed to agree. The entire show was some kind of metaphorical recap, in rapid motion, of all of his his greatest (half way through a back-to-back set of songs, he pushed back his chair from the piano and stated, “I have too many fucking hits”). Ya, he was going to play each and every one of them before we died, and to say the experience was surreal doesn’t hit it.

But, who cares, because he’s simply one of the best live performers ever, stole his name back from a record label and lived as an arcane hieroglyph, wrote some of the most longingly sexy and achy songs ever – and in his own words, simply kicks some rock and funk ass.

But, here’s the odd part – Purple Rain. In the past when I’ve had the honor to see him, his ripping up of “Purple Rain” has been an explosion of vocals, and insane instrumental abilities, and a crowd that usually goes wild when we cries out in the end that the rain is love. Not this time. This time, a few days before Judgement Day, he was reframing the song and told us that the rain was God, and that we were all going to meet there.

Really?

I can accept that as a passing metaphor, that’s cool, he’s Prince, he has passing fancies, he woke up one night and asked for a camel and they actually brought him one – it’s cool. But, really? The purple rain, all these years has been God?

For me, personally I thought the lyrics had always been about love:

I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time see you laughing
I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain

Purple rain Purple rain

I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple rain

Perhaps I had not been listening with clear ears, or heard only what I remembered as a kid (agog with the idea of having such deep feelings) to Prince. Much has happened since that song. When Purple Rain came out he was the androgynous outsider, who sang about love in the side corners of club culture, and seemed to be reaching for greater meaning (beyond our big hair, and Bush-era politics, and the uneven economic times) in search of his own poetry of sorts. And, we loved him. And, the song Purple Rain became a cult hit – and people would cry because it meant connection, and friendship and some faith that being different can make you have a rockin’ life.

Now, I’ve recently learned that the B-side was called “God”. I never heard that side, and didn’t know it when I saw the show(s) that he had always been talking about Genesis. For me, Purple Rain was simply an idea, or hope, that speaks of my generation:

Honey I know, I know, I know times are changing
It’s time we all reach out for something new
That means you too
You say you want a leader
But you can’t seem to make up your mind
I think you better close it
And let me guide you to the purple rain

I have been enjoying my interpretation that he meant stand up and be different. And, I guess I was clueless even then, when he lifted his finger to the sky, pointed at the heavens and winked and nodded that being a leader, making up your mind, waking up and getting to the purple rain meant redemption. I thought it meant it’s cool to be being different, and full of feeling and lust, and have just a huge lump of angst and wisdom on your side.

Oh, but who cares. Really, like any great artist (messing with heads and hearts) he leaves the last lines open – and we can make the decision for ourselves.

Purple rain Purple rain
If you know what I’m singing about up here
C’mon raise your hand
Purple rain Purple rain
I only want to see you, only want to see you
In the purple rain

I’m keeping it my anthem:

- That people should not try to harm another

- That times are changing

- That we need to be a leader

- That we need to make up our minds

- That we’ve gotta to meet, again, and again, and again in our Purple Rain

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