Tuesday, 30 September 2014

how to use plants for good feng shui...

Published: November 24, 2007 on Helium

Plants inside the home and outside in the garden are an easy means of attracting good feng shui. They are also a simple means of improving air quality, enriching it with more oxygen. Indoor plants represent the yin energy and those outside represent yang energy; together they create domestic harmony and balance.

Rounded, arching leafed plants, like palms and ferns, are best for inside yin energies. The Areca Palm is perhaps the easiest to grow, but the Lady Palm is a winner for improving air quality and diluting unsavory aromas. The Boston Fern adds a lush green to the environment, but can be a little temperamental with temperature or light change. For combating negative electrical energies, (especially from TVs), and diffusing stale alcohol aromas, the Peace Lily is the winning choice. And don't forget, there is a bonus of luminous white blooms to add a living accent to the room. For poorly lit areas, Dracaena "Janet Craig" will survive well. It will even tolerate a little neglect. A cactus may be an artist's choice for unusual shape, but is more suited to a "home protector" outdoors.

Indoor plants represent feng shui principles best if they are carefully placed and spaced. You may follow the Bagua quadrant concepts, representing compass directions. The optimum area for plants is the health and family quadrant in the east, the living awakening zone. The only area not recommended for plants is the bedroom. Some feng shui adherents believe the growth element of plants creates chi energy, not conducive for a restful sleep. But I wonder if improved air quality from a plant, in a bedroom that is not regularly aired, may challenge that belief.

A further use for plants indoors is to slow down the rate of chi energy. A long hall from a front door may encourage racing energy. A plant placed halfway down the hall will slow the energy, allowing it to filter more productively through the home.

Outdoors, plants generate a wealth of positive feng shui if the landscaping winds gently through the garden space. There should be no bare, straight, wide concrete driveways or paths. Positive chi energy should move slowly round the home, so none is wasted.

Select plants here with purpose and balance in mind. Take the size of the garden space into account and create visual harmony. Graceful, droopy flowering plants like the white may bush should be contrasted with the vibrant, red of upright tulips. But take care not to create a busy landscape. Well placed single plants are easier, more relaxing on the eye. Or a hedge of one plant creates bushiness without "busy-ness".

It would be worthwhile to check out the traditional meanings of plants before making a final selection. The yew is the traditional symbol of protection and the pine is the symbol of longevity. A eucalyptus minimizes sinuses (great for spring hay fever sufferers!) The gold of the orange tree attracts prosperity and the lemon or lime tree counteracts exhaustion. The magnolia symbolizes honesty and truth. And the lotus enhances creativity.

But the garden is a mini world, reflecting the elements of universal nature. There should be a water element in the form of maybe a round pond, fountain or bird bath balancing the fire element of red or orange colored plants. The wood of plants should be balanced with the metal of a sundial or bronze sculpture. Lacy, delicate plants, capturing the whim of the wind, need to be balanced with strong, tight shrubs.

Minimise clutter, overgrowth and tensions in the garden. Mow the lawn regularly and keep garbage bins hidden in an open ended enclosure. This practice encourages clean, tidy, harmonious lines in the garden, ideal for spiritual serenity. Fragrant flowers (like jasmine) and herbs (like mint) activate a treasure trove of good feng shui; but space them well, so that there is a flow and not a conflict of scents.

The home interior and exterior garden are palettes for the creative mind, wishing to cultivate living energy in the form of plants. The process and the product encourage good feng shui.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Australia's more than kangaroos and great beaches...

Published: February 1, 2008 on Helium

Australia is a lot more than kangaroos with weird names like Big Reds and Greys to wallabies and potoroos or "rat kangaroos". Australia is far more than a string of exciting beaches along her coastlines from the Sapphire Coast in NSW, to Queensland's Gold Coast, to Cable Beach in the far north west of Broome. These are the usual tourist icons. But Australia is also a world of unusual art in unusual places. Try an outdoor art discovery tour!

Broken Hill, in western NSW, is one of Australia's oldest inland cities. It has become a symbol of Australia's outback. A drive here from the capital cities on the east coast is a great way to experience the panorama of changing Australian countrysides. The longest but most scenic route is from Sydney in NSW. Travel from the wonders of Sydney Harbour, across the magic of the Blue Mountains and then drive across the plains to Broken Hill. Melbourne offers the shorter route across the Victoria/NSW border in Murray River country. (Have a ride on a paddlesteamer while you're there!)

Broken Hill is surrounded by desert scrub and red earth. Annual rainfall is about 23cm. It has a strong population centre (about 25,000 in the township) because of the huge silver-lead-zinc deposits discovered there late in the 1800s. The centre of town is dominated by a massive slag heap; what was once the "Broken Hill" has been mined away over time. On top of the slag heap is Broken Earth caf, the Mining Memorial and the Visitors Centre.

Amazingly, here you will find 20 galleries including works by the renowned Australian painter Pro Hart. But just outside Broken Hill is the most incredible gallery of all. Silent, sculptured figures watch the desert and, in the setting sun on burning plains, they look eerily like legendary sphinxes. In 1993, a group of sculptors pooled their skills to create this art in the desert. The artists involved in the 1993 Sculpture Symposium were: 2 from Mexico (one an Aztec Indian); 2 from Syria; 3 from Georgia (in the Caucasus); and 5 Australians. The Australians included 2 Bathurst Islanders and an Aboriginal Broken Hill artist, Badger Bates.

And there is one more piece of quirky art in the desert gallery of Broken Hill. 3 teachers decided to build the Big Bench, right in the desert. It is like a huge park bench, taller than the average human and wide enough to seat at least 10 people. But you have to climb the bench to sit on it!

In Victoria, you can find art in the mountains or on a beach! William Ricketts created a rainforest sanctuary in his mountain home in the Dandenongs. Gracing all the walkways are "indigenous spirits" of the land. Many are carved into and out of the rocks. The atmosphere of peace here can only be described as magical! (More of his work can be found in the Seawinds Gardens atop Arthurs Seat, overlooking Port Phillip Bay!) And, on Rye Beach on the Mornington Peninsula each year, a sand sculpture competition is held. Each year, sand sculptures are created around a theme, attracting sculptors from around the world. Last year's theme was Myths and Legends.

In Western Australia, on a salt lake, north of the goldfields town of Kalgoorlie, stands 51 figures. These figures are the statues of Lake Ballard. They are black abstracted steel figures standing in a 7 square kilometre area of Lake Ballard. The statues were created in 2003 by UK artist Antony Gormley, as a part of the 50th anniversary of the Perth International Festival.

The 51 statues feature the residents of the town of Menzies. A body scan taken of the Menzies residents created a sculpture of the same height, but with only one third of the body volume. According to 'Inside Australia', the entire process of casting one figure took 40 hours of labour. A team of 18 volunteers took four days to install the statues on the lake working in temperatures of 46C.

So, if you'd like to travel Australia, with a particular theme in mind, try an art discovery tour and enjoy the changing landscape of the outdoors at the same time.

(And then there's the "fairy tree" in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens, or the Yengo Sculpture Garden at Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains, or the outdoor art festivals at Caboolture and Mt Tambourine in Queensland)


On my Hub Pages

Australian Desert Art 1 - "Stone Souls and a Big Bench" - Broken Hill, NSW
Artwork in the Enchanted Adventure (aka Maze) Garden at Arthurs Seat
art of Funny, Weird and Wacky "kingdoms" in Australia

On my Panoramio

Montalto vineyard, Red Hill + art work
Egyptian style monument at Point Nepean
art of a natural rocky arch at London Bridge Ocean Beach - Portsea

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Complex Meaning of Namaste...

Published: April 21, 2007 on Helium

As Latin is to Europe and the Mediterranean regions, so Sanskrit is to India and Nepal. Sanskrit is a classical language, an ancient language no longer currently practiced. The word Namaste has Sanskrit origins. The Hindu religion gave birth to the concept of Namaste. And so unveils the first complexity of its meaning. Is it possible to translate the word Namaste into English effectively?

Some of the popular translations include:
* The God in me greets the God in you.
* The Light within me greets the Light within you.
As with Latin, it seems to take a number of English words to represent a single Sanskrit word.
No wonder there is room for variation, and even error?

Namaste is used as a traditional symbol of greeting AND parting in India and Nepal. While the word is spoken, a small bow (the head) is inclined to the receiver. Both hands are closed together in front of the third eye, and then brought down to the chakra or heart. However, there is further complexity. Sometimes, the gesture itself symbolizes the word, so Namaste need not be spoken.

Some hardy etymologists have sought to seek further meaning in the word; that the ma element means spiritual death and, when negated with na-, the concept of immortality is imbued into the word.
Who really knows for certainty whether this could be true.
And what does this all mean exactly?

However, the complex meaning of Namaste does not just focus on the origins of the word and its original meaning. The complexity continues into the 21st century.

Many commercial enterprises have taken a shine to the implied mystery of the word. Yoga businesses are at the forefront. Thousands are called Namaste. There is a Namaste web ring for all Namaste branded products, including natural health and cleaning products. Namaste Cafe is an informative New Age website. In California, there is Namaste Plaza, an Indian supermarket. And the ultimate finding, British Airways staff, in India, say the word Namaste to entice people to travel on their airline!

So how is this range of businesses translating the word Namaste? The interpretation seems to connect to a New Age medley of products, to all things natural, to all things Indian. What is the common denominator?

I wish I could answer succinctly. It seems the 21st century is charmed by the ancient aura of the word, instills it with all manner of rejuvenated life, and doesn't seem to worry too much if the original spirit is a little lost in the mists of time.

And so I say...


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Underground Railroad's Role in Slavery's End...

Published: February 16, 2008 on Helium

The role of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) in terminating slavery in the U.S. is comparable to the impact of a full scale, long running drama production. Imagine a cast of thousands, an orchestra with a rotating musical score, and a stage crew with names that didn't always make the drama programme. Take this drama production on the road; many roads. But then imagine this amazing production is never advertised. It's not on billboards, it's not in bright lights, but you may find a hint of something happening in a church newsletter or from the occasional rebel, drawing a curious crowd round a soap box. Eventually, such a drama, secretive or not, touches the souls of everyone and even can be instrumental in overturning old slave laws.

The Underground Railroad, (or the Liberty Line, or Freedom Line), operated sporadically as early as the 1500s (when the first Africans were brought to the New World Spanish colonies), and gathered momentum about 1800 with Gabriel's Rebellion in Virginia. But it reached a peak of high traffic from 1831, spanning 29 states, when a Virginian enslaved preacher, Nat Turner, and 70 followers went on a rampage, murdering 50 people and destroying property over a 24-hour period. The Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850 added more complications. It was illegal to keep freed slaves in the northern U.S. By 1860, the U.S. was facing a Civil War (with slavery a large cause of tension).

The Railroad was a network of humanitarians and rescuers (Indians, whites, but mainly runaway or free blacks) intent on fighting social injustices. They helped black slaves from the South find freedom in the North, and then further north across the border into Canada. Some slaves took the Underground south to Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. "It is believed that as many as 100,000 enslaved persons may have escaped in the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, using this network of aid and assistance." www.u-s-history.com The operation was illegal, but continued to the advent of the Civil War, and not politically satisfied until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, declaring, "[N]either slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States." www.history.com

Slavery may have been a grim side of U.S. history. But in the midst of that darkness emerged some heroic, memorable moments. It was as if a bad light on some parts of humanity had the role of turning a good light on others.

There are so many stories attached to this Railroad; many have travelled through oral traditions before being recorded. But here are some, representing the many roles the Underground Railway played in bringing slavery to an end in the United States.

1. The Underground Railroad Network gave freedom to those who desperately wanted to escape a life of bondage, but the thousands who used its services highlighted to the world just how poor and even cruel conditions were for black slaves. Without the existence of the Railroad, many would have perished with their stories unknown. The U.S. drama was now being played on a stage for the world to see.

2. The role of individuals associated with the Railroad
So many amazing people gave their life to freeing slaves. They came from all backgrounds, including shopkeepers, farmers, ministers and runaway slaves.

One amazing woman, in the latter category, kept returning to the South to help free more than 300 slaves. Her name was Harriet Tubman. And William Lloyd Garrison daringly published the abolitionist newspaper "Liberator" in 1831. Even though so many blacks were illiterate, to even know that someone supported their cause so publicly must have inspired many to keep fighting for freedom via the Railroad.

And "In 1838, the Underground Railroad became formally organized with black abolitionist Robert Purvis at the helm." www.u-s-history.com His tour of England in 1834 had assured that the slavery situation in the U.S. attracted world attention and world disdain. His tour involved presenting speeches and raising funds for the anti-slavery cause. He was then able to orchestrate the Railroad without too much formal political opposition. Through Robert Purvis' efforts, a short future for slavery in the U.S. was assured.

3. The role of the Seminoles
The Seminoles were a group of native Americans living in Florida who refused to align with the U.S. So, by default, runaway slaves from the South found no hostility with the Seminoles. The Seminoles even helped the runaways build houses and plant crops. Even though these times of the Underground Railroad were fractured with several Seminole Wars with the U.S., slaves were attracted to Florida as preferable to bondage in the South. The Railroad, leading here, became a key voice to the world, highlighting further the deplorable conditions of U.S. slaves to world eyes and ears.

4. The role of religious groups
A number of religious groups supported the freedom of slaves at the peak of the Underground Railroad, but the Quakers in particular had a long history of anti-slavery. As early as 1786, Quakers were using their own homes (with hidden staircases and rooms) to help runaway slaves escape. Runaways were moved along from one Quaker house to the next.

Many believe this was the real beginning of the Underground Railroad. The heart of the Quaker community was in Pennsylvania. And it was here that many slaves running from the Maryland plantations were helped on their journey further north to Philadelphia, Lancaster County or New Jersey.

Interestingly, all Quakers denounced slavery, but not all supported the notion of the Underground Railroad. Directly breaking the law threatened the spirit of the Quaker community, even though most agreed that slavery was immoral. Many wrestled with this anomaly. But it was the sacrifice of so many discordant faiths, banding together in the Underground project, that gave the Underground a spiritual strength in numbers.

5. The role of key cities such as Rochester, New York
Many cities had a role to play in the Underground Railroad. Even cities in the south, such as Baltimore, quietly absorbed black runaways with free. But maintaining anonymity in such a hot spot was quite difficult, especially when the runaways sought work to survive. But Rochester, in the far north, was literally the last city in the U.S. before freedom was tasted for real. It had a leading role to play in the Underground movement.

Communities here openly banded together to raise funds for the Underground. Bazaars and dinners were conducted to raise funds; clothing and furniture were donated. And, of course, some simply made large and small donations of money. Rochester helped keep the dream of freedom alive for runaways. But, in some ways, Rochester (and other cities like her) symbolized far more. They gave hope that white and black people respected each other's identity. There was a hope that equality could be possible. Slavery had to end!

6. The role of music
Many songs are associated with the Underground Railroad. But interestingly, they were not so much about the Railroad as they were the Railroad. Songs became a secret code of communication. For example, many of these slave songs talked about "going home" or "being bound for the land of Canaan."

If you just heard the song, you might think the people were singing about dying and going to heaven. However, the people who sang were very clever. They were actually singing about going north to Canada and freedom." Harriet Tubman used the song "Wade in the Water" to warn runaways that slavecatchers were close and they should get off a main trail. www.pathways.thinkport.org So, the songs were a means of warning and inspiring the spirit to keep going.

In summary, the Underground Railroad's role in bringing slavery in the U.S. to an end was huge. It represented social, cultural and spiritual players in the drama of slavery and anti-slavery. Running from slavery was a dangerous business, best done furtively in the dark of night or in holiday periods. But the Underground Railroad ensured the reasons for running were seen, world-wide, in the light of day.

Unity in the face of adversity!
Humanity at its best when confronted with the worst!
Heroes like Robert Purvis ensured the world watched.
And music bound the runaways together in a bond of hope.
Slavery had to end!


Friday, 26 September 2014

Biblical References in "The Handmaid's Tale"...

Published: May 28, 2007 on Helium

When a book relies on illusions to a sacred text, it becomes itself "sacred". Traditional beliefs may be reinforced or disturbingly questioned. A new sense of religious value may be established. Biblical references in "The Handmaid's Tale" (1985), by popular Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, open the imagination to a dark, dystopian "other world" of the Republic of Gilead. Atwood creates a world where the dogged practice of religion may not be morally tasteful or acceptable.

Once, some remote country called the United States, Gilead is now imprisoned in its own apocalyptic rules. All sense of human life, motivated by unique will and purpose, is "stifled" by religious dogma. Only the men in the narrative seem to have a little bit of leeway. Religious dogma rules political and social values, culture and even personal relationships (because there are none! Any offenders are banished to the outer, nuclear wasteland! )

And the Bible told them so! Yes! A controversial premise for a "future worlds" novel, even if it is all imaginary! When reading "The Handmaid's Tale", expect confronting, Bible based scenarios! Expect black, devastating satire!

The title sounds very Chaucerish! Like "The Wife of Bath's Tale"! After all, Chaucer's storytellers were on a religious pilgrimage. But, in Margaret Atwood's world, the pilgrims have reached journey's end. There is no more journey. There is just the duty of living with a "religious habit" (pardon the pun!)

Offred is the handmaid of the title. She wears a red and white "nun-like" attire (very provocative, a challenge to our religious senses), and functions as handmaid and child bearer. The Commander is her third child bearing assignment. (Her original husband, Luke, was lost in the "old" world). Even Scrabble is a forbidden pleasure, because women are no longer allowed to read or write. But Offred dares to try to play occasionally. Offred's plaintive voice weaves the nightmare of the story.

Already, Biblical references are flying. The wonder of Gilead is sourced in the Old Testament. It is a fertile area of ancient Palestine. But notably, one source, in Hosea, is never mentioned:
"Gilead is a city of wicked men, stained with footprints of blood".

Handmaid names are all Biblical names. In Genesis Chapter 30, verses 1-3, we find the functional handmaid.
"When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, Give me children or I shall die! Then she said, Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees, and even I may have children through her.'"
The Rachel and Leah centre, where handmaids are trained, are two names of women in the Bible; they are the wives of Jacob. Greetings between handmaids is confined to religious ritual e.g. "May the Lord open" or "Blessed be the fruit" followed by weather observations. It is against religious law to say more.

The Beatitudes of the Bible are "twisted" to suit the purposes of the Gilead regime. No female, at least, can check on the slight differences. The regime has locked the Bible away. Just as long as Gilead commandments begin with "Blessed be" (as the Bible does), then they must be right!

The Soul Scrolls of Gilead are only prayer machines. They can be ordered, registered, but not read, by females. Offred risks her life praying the Lord's Prayer, with a few adjustments.
"Now we come to forgiveness. Don't worry about forgiving me right now. There are more important things."

Even apparently "small" images are imbued with Biblical connection. In the climactic mating scene, in Chapter 16, Offred notices the sickly scents of lily of the valley. To Offred, the scents symbolize the innocence of female flesh. But, there is the rather erotic verse, in the Song of Solomon Chapter 2, where Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his beloved. The BRIDE is the lily of the valley. But gospel lyrics perpetuate CHRIST as the lily of the valley, "the bright and morning star". Even small images in "The Handmaid's Tale" are highly electrified with satire.

"The Handmaid's Tale" is a confronting, dark view of where we "may" travel. Here is a sample of a "religious" world with no room for personal freedom of choice. Is this how you thought it would be? It IS strictly based on a wide range of Bible references! Perhaps a few Biblical criteria have been omitted. But is that really important? We can only be thankful that the Biblical references, Margaret Atwood persistently throws at us, all stem from early Old Testament worlds. Hopefully, we have progressed since then.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Assessing the future of Africa in the 21st century

 Published: August 19, 2007 on Helium

The future of Africa in the 21st century is split between two images - the "bad news" and the "good news".
The first image is one of a struggling poor Africa, lagging behind the political and technical advances of the rest of the world.
The other image may be found in the huge changes initiated by some African countries.
Some countries simply do not quite fit the overall image of a "backward" Africa.

If Africa's future is based on an ECA study completed in the early 1990's and other estimations, it looks very grim.
1. Poverty is widespread and severe. 51% of sub-Saharan Africa (including South Africa) lives below the poverty line of $34 per person per month.
2. Population growth in Africa is 2.98% higher than any other continent and food supplies fall well short of population demands.
3. Many "soft" loans from richer countries have encouraged a large number of African governments to depend on international aid (ODA). In some cases, this aid accounts for a large proportion of GNP (gross national product). For example, in Mozambique ODA is 74% of GNP, in Gambia 50.7% and in Somalia it is 47.6%. Of an estimated 25 to 30 million displaced persons world-wide, 50 to 66% live in Africa.
4. Over 50% of sub-Saharan Africa is troubled by civil strife. Victims are pre-dominantly women and children. Many countries are "lost" since gaining independence, mainly in the 1960's, from colonial rule. There are many contenders who fight to rule, but not many who can. There is no unifying, governmental heartland of Africa.
5. Traditional African export products, such as cocoa, copra, cotton, and palm kernels, are no longer in high demand. Sub-Saharan Africa's participation in world trade has fallen from 4% of international trade in the 1960's to 1.5% in the early 1990's.
6. Piracy of fishing territories beleaguers West African countries dependent on fishing for income.
7. Poor planning has resulted in expensive, technological disasters. The Lake Chad irrigation system, built in the 1970's, failed because of poor planning. It failed because it did not account for natural flood and drought cycles. Millions of dollars were spent on kilometers of useless, dry channels.
8. Transportation networks, apart from in Morocco and South Africa, are highly underdeveloped. In many African countries there are no railways. Those that do exist are old, remnants of colonial times. Bicycles are becoming a preferred means of transport (but denied women) in many poorer countries.
9. Sudan, Mauritania and Niger still practise a slave trade.
10. In December 1998, UNAIDS reported that 70 per cent of the people who became infected with HIV in 1998 came from Africa. It is projected by 2010, there will be 18million AIDS orphans in Africa. In South Africa and Zambia around 15-20% of adults are infected with HIV.

From these statistics, Africa appears to be in almost a hopeless condition to meet the demands of integrating effectively into a 21st century world.

But Africa is made up of 56 countries, some with profiles that don't quite fit the overall image of a struggling Africa in the 21st century.

The "superpower" of Africa is South Africa. Diverse racial communities function side by side. South Africa has the continent's largest and most stable economy, based on strong manufacturing sectors and sound mineral exports. Tourism is a key component in the economy. On the negative side, unemployment is high and AIDS afflicts a high percentage of the population.

There are three politically stable countries in Africa. In East Africa, Kenya has tourism, horticulture and tea to support a viable economy. Botswana can claim to have Africa's longest, continuous multi-party democracy. It is a middle income nation courtesy of being the world's largest producer of diamonds. In West Africa, Gabon has had just 2 presidents since independence from France in 1960. 40 ethnic groups are here, and yet civil strife has been avoided.

There are two countries with the most potential. Tanzania has not suffered civil conflict as have other African countries. Tanzania's tourist attractions of Africa's highest mountain Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti could help this country meet 21st century challenges. Egypt may be famous for its ancient past, but in the modern world, its technological management of the Nile, as a viable natural resource could help the poorer, surrounding nations, particularly Sudan.

The big question mark in Africa is Morocco in the north west. In many ways, it barely seems to have any part in Africa. Ties seem to be bonded more with Spain, just across the narrow Straits of Gibralter. It appears more like a European region than an African one. Plus 98% of the country is Muslim. It is also an Arab world.

In the process of identifying progressing countries in Africa, it may be noticed they each represent north, south, east and west points of Africa. The central countries of Africa are noticeably absent. What if there was a bonding of progressive, satellite regions; like a form of national agreement between tourist regions or mineral rich regions? Then there could be a sense of unity in Africa, unlike any country in the world. Coastal solidarity could then help the struggling interior countries. Perhaps those countries involved in gold and diamond mining could establish a co-operative with collective, bulk buying and selling power?

Africa may be poor in unity, for now, but it is rich in desirable resources which attract world markets and tourism. Maybe just one government for Africa is not an option, but satellite governments with special interest areas? Africa, in the 21st century, could quite easily become a unique, progressive country uniting a diverse range of racial groups into one African dream, a better Africa.