We Here Now series

The myth of human superiority and the underrated intelligence of other animal and plant life

Pensive bonobo at San Diego Zoo

Human societies have long been cursed with the pernicious myth of white supremacy. But less frequently challenged is an equally unfounded collective delusion that humans are innately smarter than everyone else in the animal and plant kingdoms. How can we presume to know what goes on inside the multiple intelligences of other creatures? It’s time to abandon our unproven and unprovable assertion of “human supremacy” and instead embrace a more agnostic and egalitarian understanding of the innate intelligence of all living things.

Cleverness is one thing and intelligence another. There is no disputing our remarkable human capacity to make tools…

We Here Now Series

It’s closer than we think, in each blue sky moment between our thoughts, feelings and actions

Salvador Dali, Melting Clocks

These days I wake in the night stricken with grief and dread at the prospect of an unendurable future. Will climate catastrophe, tyranny and war engulf us all in terminal trauma? Or penetrating to a deeper and more rewarding reality, can we regain access to the everyday miracles of life — love and friendship, engagement in the natural world, pursuing our personal gifts, and more — that are available to us even in the most uncertain circumstances?

Recently I’ve become fascinated with exploring those timeless moments when one drops away from the tyranny of timekeeping and the gnawing anxieties of…

We Here Now series

An Intimate Encounter with a Mountain Lion

One day recently I went kayaking on a remote lagoon by the Pacific Ocean north of our home. In the burnished late afternoon light I paddled about ten feet from the north shore admiring the tawny rocks and dried grasses from the previous summer. Only gradually did it dawn on me that some large animal with the same colors and textures as the rocks and grasses was moving slowly along the water’s edge. It took a moment to see its camouflaged outlines emerge from the surrounding grasses. It moved with the feline grace of a cat but was substantially larger…

We Here Now (A Continuing Series)

Learning To See The World Whole

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Sit still and do nothing. Easy, eh? Maybe, or maybe not. Meditation turns out to be one of the most challenging of human activities. Our internal weather — our thoughts and feelings — perpetually obscures our ability to see clearly who and where we are. And we seldom linger long enough to actually see what we’re looking at. The three-step process that follows cultivates panoramic awareness that enables us to notice the broader context and meaning that tunnel vision filters out. It builds on widely practiced mindfulness meditation techniques but is a step beyond…

Gazing Deeply Instead Of Glancing Or Grasping

Tenderloin peacock

Have you ever paused long enough while looking at something — say a street, a tree, a building or a face — to notice all that surrounds it? What do you see?

In our grab-and-go, warp speed world we post-moderns manage to achieve the seemingly impossible — to be obsessed and distracted at the same time. Our eyes fixate on our strobe-light cell phone screens, fastened to one fleeting image then another without ever really absorbing any of it. We swipe through channels of narrowed perception, eliminating the crucial peripheral vision that conveys their essential context and meaning. …

Forgetting my script, I face my audience and become one of them

I seldom remember my dreams. They usually vanish the moment I awake. But late last night, about an hour before dawn, I awoke from the most vivid and astonishing dream I’ve had in years. In it I was an accomplished actor who one day made my way to the theater where I was scheduled to perform, only to realize on my arrival that I had forgotten every word of my role in my solo play. Mortified, I summoned whatever presence of mind remained in me to admit to…

An Elder’s Lifelong Double Vision Finally Finds Its Focus in Learning to Gaze Instead of Grasping for Clarity

From my earliest memories I recall seeing two moons at once. When I was just six years old the optometrist prescribed glasses for me to correct my newly discovered near-sightedness.

“How long will I have to wear these?” I asked my mother, feeling like I’d just been thrown in jail.

“For the rest of your life,” she pronounced with a grimly pleased finality, condemning me to the same life sentence she had served behind glasses. Only many years later did I discover that my myopia may have been due less to genetics than to the blurring effects of panic as…

Learning to Gaze Instead of Glancing or Grasping

Ours is a “grab-and-go” society. When it’s time to eat we catch a bite at the takeout, dash to the nearest bench and rivet our attention on our cellphone while distractedly downing our lunch. We may think we’re efficiently multi-tasking but in truth we’re scarcely half-tasking, wasting our valuable time and dividing the attention we think we’re saving.

I’ve recently come to a different way of looking at the world that has opened me up to new dimensions of perception. A few months ago I began practicing what I’ve come to call “deep gazing.” Instead of glancing at things I…

A Conservative Host And Progressive Guest Cross The Chasm

Following up on my October 26, 2020 column in Newsweek calling for a “new federalism” and pragmatic problem-solving, I recently appeared as a guest on a series of radio and TV interviews on the same themes. The most intriguing of them was hosted by a veteran conservative talk show host by the name of John Loeffler. He can be a fierce debater from the right and has blasted liberals for the past 30+ years on stations and networks from New York to Denver and everywhere in between. As a lifelong progressive, I initially balked at what I feared could become…

Hope is not enough. Cultivate confidence.

“Everything you’ve ever wanted lives just on the other side of fear.”

Eva Cassidy, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”

The past several years have held us captive in a collective nightmare. We’ve been confronted by the darkest dimensions of the human psyche — fear, greed, rage and despair. We’ve been challenged as never before by the feeling of walls closing in, options closing down, dread that all that we value is dying. This is not a hallucination. It’s backed by indisputable scientific evidence. …

Mark Sommer

Mark Sommer is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist based in Northern California.

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