Little Thoughts 2: Altars

Altars: the physical reminders of that which we often forget but cannot do without.

Brass statuettes, pebbles, pieces of wood. My mother and her mother worshipped at all manner of altar, and now I do too. I know which rock to reach for, which shell, when I’ve lost touch with some essential thing. A consciousness spread—through me—across all that surrounds, more a lake than a cup of water.

Art, tattoos, certain clothes—all imbued with meaning and yet none more than scaffolding for a soul that’s settling into place.

Candles lit, invocations, invitations to a favourite god to come and rest within, and stay. The word “trappings” makes more sense now.

I think about those people who leave behind the things that matter, confident that the quiet within them will remain regardless. To release their altars as a true test of faith. And I wonder if even they sometimes fall prey to the egoic myth that one must find calm all by oneself, without even the help of an altar. Sometimes it’s foolish to refuse the help we need to remember what’s important and true. At other times, the way forward is to let go.

I am starting to let go of my altars. I do not carry a rock in my pocket every day, as I did six months ago. More often than not, I forget to wear my rings. And in this time, the quiet has only grown. Debris have washed to the shore and, at any moment, can be swept back into the sea; for now, the waves roll clear.

Little Thoughts 1: Project Shapes

I think often about finding the shape of a project, the form it needs to inhabit.

In academic science, it is possible to avoid searching for the shape of a project altogether. The system hands us an acceptable, legible form—the scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal with a particular subject-matter scope. Of course, predetermined shapes constrain. If we only had bundt tins, we would only make one shape of cake.

Bundt cake pan by David Benbennick, Wikimedia

These days, most of the ideas that move me are not just wildly cross-disciplinary but are also built from threads of connection between the academic, the personal, and the political. Many luminous writers before me have worked with some of the same ideas as me. Many of them have placed these ideas into the form of scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. I could do the same, but I’ve realized that if I did, I’d largely be replicating their work.

I’d rather work in concert with them—I can see what they wrote, the impact their work had, and then ask myself, “how do I move us further towards our shared goal, from my particular vantage point, at an angle that plays to my strengths, in the direction of the audience that I think I can reach, want to reach, needs reaching?”

Asking myself this question has taken me far from the form of the scientific paper into a land of few, new, and confusing constraints. Exploring this land of possibility has been weird. I’ve learnt that the only way to navigate it, in the absence of a prescribed path, is to tune into the inner voice telling me which ways to go and the outer voices showing me the consequences of choosing those directions. More on listening to these voices another time 🙂

Little Thoughts: A New Series

Hi everyone!

I’ve recently decided that I would like to be someone who has written well about many different things. For better or for worse, the only way to become that person is to write about many different things! So this is a series dedicated to little thoughts on many different things. Knowing me, topics will include nature and science and people and spirituality, but expect to be surprised!

The nuts and bolts: once a week at minimum (because regularity is important) but up to three times a week, 300 words per post at maximum (because brevity is important).

Ethos: in writing about many different things, I’m specifically avoiding the aura of expertise. I’m an expert in maybe one or two things, simply by virtue of having done them a lot. But I want to write about many things! And so I will write not from a position of authority but with the intention of bringing rigorous thought and feeling to a diversity of facets of human experience.

How to follow: Subscribe to my blog by email (look for the box on the right side of this page) and you’ll get an email in your inbox when I post here. You could also follow me devotedly on twitter, where I will link to all these posts, but that sounds like quite a lot more effort. Finally all posts will be under the “Little Thoughts” category, which you can click on when you visit this page.

Thanks as always for your time and attention, your responses are always welcome!



a concrete representation of little thoughts