Rosy Conversation with Daniel Ari Friedman

About Daniel Ari Friedman

Daniel Ari Friedman received his PhD in Ecology & Evolution in 2019 from Stanford University, where he studied the genetics and neuroscience of collective behavior in ants. He received his Bachelors in Genetics from the University of California, Davis in 2014. Daniel is currently a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis where he works with Professors Brian Johnson (UC Davis) and Tim Linksvayer (Texas Tech) researching the evolution of insect genomes and gene expression. 

Daniel is a Partner in Remotor Consulting, a consultancy focused on education for remote teams, and at FM Analytics, a group exploring predictive models and financial assets. At the end of a tumultuous 2020 he co-authored a book with Richard J. Cordes entitled The Great Preset: Remote Teams and Operational Art. This book is a compilation of research from 2020 related to online communities, maps, narratives, memes, games, high-reliability organizations, and more. Daniel is also a talented artist and draws in his spare time. You can find his Flickr art portfolio here.

Daniel is actively involved in science participation efforts such as the Active Inference Lab and Complexity community of practice. During graduate school he co-organized the Stanford Complexity Group, presenting a range of educational and interactive events related to Complexity Science in academia and beyond. Since 2019 he has been a co-founder and co-organizer of Complexity Weekend which focuses its mission on creating lasting impact by forming diverse global teams that use Complexity as an approach to address the pressing problems of our time.

Our conversation spanned from his research in academia, to broader discussions related to art and science participation. Complexity served as a lens to understand how online communities are like ant colonies and like other kinds of networks. Daniel generously shared his thoughts for this interview. You can find his website here to learn more and find updated information. 

Our Conversation

Daniel, you are currently a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Davis, and you graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in 2019. Congratulations! Can you provide a high level summary of your dissertation and research focus on the collective behavior in ants?

Thank you, Bianca, for all these great questions! It is inspiring to see all the excellent work and interviews you’ve done since we met each other while undergraduate students at UC Davis. 

Working with my PhD advisor Professor Deborah Gordon and many collaborators, my dissertation research from 2014-2019 was about the ecology of foraging behavior in red harvester ant colonies. Ant colonies regulate their foraging activity in a dynamic and adaptive fashion, even though individual nestmate ants do not know how much food the colony has, or how favorable the outside world is for foraging. In long-term observation studies on a population of harvester ants, Professor Gordon had found that colonies of the same ant species at the same field site display persistent behavioral differences in how they respond to environmental changes. To explore how molecular differences were associated with this variation among colonies in the regulation of foraging, we used methods such as gene expression analysis, measurement of brain chemicals, and pharmacology in the field.

We found that variation among ant colonies in collective behavior was associated with physiological differences related to water loss, neurotransmitter metabolism, and hormone signaling. Previous studies had considered the molecular biology of behavioral differences among ants within a colony (for example reproductive vs. non-reproductive nestmates), usually in lab settings. Our research was some of the first that looked at how epigenetic and neurophysiological variation among ant colonies was associated with collective behavioral differences in natural settings. The work was interesting to carry out, because many types of techniques were used inside the lab and outside in the field (literally a field in southeast Arizona). Also ants are awesome; we will return to this point later. 

What is your work as a postdoctoral researcher like now? Especially given the remote nature of everything or can you go into the lab?

As a postdoctoral researcher, I have some more freedom to set my own agenda with respect to research, teaching, and service projects. Heading into 2020, I had proposed research that was mostly computational, involving teams of remote collaborators. So during 2020 and into 2021, we have been able to continue this research safely. I was working from home for much of 2020, and these days work mostly from an office on UC Davis campus. The main things I am researching now are insect genetics and online communities.

Your studies have a fascinating emphasis on the overlapping nature of ant behavior and how they comprise a living network. This reminds me of other kinds of networks, such as social or neural networks, and Complex Systems Theory in general. Did your studies in ant behavior bring you to this passion that you have for Complexity?

This is awesome how you have phrased it, as an overlap between the general properties of nature and the specific cases of ant behavior (the “Minute particulars” as William Blake might have called them). Yes, I would say that studying ants has provided a space for cultivating an enthusiasm for Complexity. Ants themselves are like Complexity, because they are found almost everywhere, transcend mono-disciplinary approaches, and are enticing for curious investigators of all ages!

Here is how I got from ants to Complexity: ants have a long history of being studied by many different disciplines (biology, computer science, philosophy, etc.). At the same time, ants are very approachable; they are found on/under the ground in various ecosystems, on all continents except Antarctica. By pursuing the fascinating characteristics of the ant colony over the years, I got involved with a few dimensions of Complexity. The approach and community of Complexity helped me see patterns across different systems – for example how is the ant colony like a brain, an economy, or the internet? Once I was “learning by doing” by co-organizing events (with the Stanford Complexity Group, and later Complexity Weekend), it was like a positive feedback loop. 

You are a co-founder of Complexity Weekend, a community of practice where people come together to share ideas, form teams, and work towards problem solving together. Complexity is a lesser known term outside of the science world. Since you are deeply involved in this community, what do you think is its best definition? How can people get involved?

Complexity means many things to many people: part of the fun here is that we all have our own unique perspective and lifelong Complexity journey. Complexity for me is about finding patterns across systems and co-designing policies for an uncertain world. It is related to topics like systems thinking, design, innovation, cybernetics, synergetics, and more. Complexity is like a beginning point for a story or group discussion, not an endpoint or synonym for “intractable”. 

Complexity draws on the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) as well as areas such as art, philosophy, history, and intercultural communication. There are theoretical aspects to Complexity, but also active practitioners across sectors such as social work, law, design, facilitation, and performance. In Complexity we are often interested in the developmental, contextual, and dynamic aspects of a system, as opposed to merely the superficial traits. That’s what makes it a deep yet accessible approach and community: in light of all of these big topics, we can always return to “beginner’s mind” and our roles in team projects! 

It is great if people want to get involved. All backgrounds, locations, and levels of expertise are welcome to check out complexityweekend.com to participate in Complexity Weekend. To learn more about Complexity in general, people could check out the excellent #ComplexityExplained resource or the online offerings from the Santa Fe Institute.

In addition to your scientific work, you are a talented artist! Your artworks show an incredible amount of precise detail. Your art feels unprecedented. How long does it usually take you to complete a piece? Do your artistic endeavors help you destress?

I have been practicing drawing since I was in high school. Between high school and graduate school, I only did abstract black & white drawings that took perhaps 10-20 hours each. Since starting graduate school (before/after this drawing), I have been experimenting with rapid production (less than 1 or 2 hours) as well as the use of words, symbols, and colors. Art helps me develop aesthetically, have quality analog time, connect with my values, and engage in nonlinear idea integration. 

If people have requests for a drawing of a specific word/idea, I am usually open to fulfilling those commissions. If I have no suggestions from the outside world, I tend to default back to drawing things like triangles, tetrahedra, eagles, flags, memes, waves, fire, ants, etc.

Also improvisational drawing can be a social activity. Along with my partner, Alexandra, we have published a paper in 2018 exploring how partner and group drawing are related to topics such as relationship health, narrative co-construction, and neural synchrony. 

Your art recently took on a more overtly political nature, with a reverence for the United States and humanism combined. Is the complex system of politics we exist within part of what has made you more reflective on patriotism and art? It’s a combination that has my interest piqued!

This is a great phrasing and a challenging question. In some ways, the drawings are the traces of my working through some of these ideas in your prompt. Art is an experiential process and I’d say that the drawings are their own sole representation – it’s out of my hands now. Elsewhere I have provided commentary on a USA-themed drawing and I hope to write and draw more on this topic in the future. 

The simple answer about the patriotic drawings is that sometimes I want to make a drawing that is templated off of a recognizable image, such as a famous photo, poster, or emblem. This “seed image” helps scaffold the intention for the session. At different times in my life, I have found inspiration from different images that resonate with me as a American citizen and as a human (invoking faith, honor, fidelity, vigilance, inclusion, participation, etc.). In this way drawing is an activity to explore themes that I cherish, while also remixing, evolving, and contrasting different motifs.

The song “Hail to the Chief” is the personal anthem or “theme song” of the President of the United States. I don’t think this song is explicitly or originally about drawing, though there are versions of this song containing these powerful words: “Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!” I strive for the day when humans will come together across perceived dimensions of variation, and flourish within the shelter and grace of lines improvisationally drawn together.

I understand from reading your work, that ant colonies behave like a single connected entity, and can serve as unique research systems for network studies and collective behavioral purposes, correct? What do you think the future of applying research from ant behavior and networks can look like? It’s a multi-disciplinary topic indeed, but I think your work speaks volumes for how it has a wide ranging application. 

Cool questions! Starting with the first inquiry about colony-level behavior: Yes it is the case that the ant colony operates as a coherent entity, but this does mean that there is any magic or non-local mind control communication occurring among nestmates. Rather, each nestmate is sensitive to the type and rate of different kinds of local interactions they experience. These interactions are mostly chemosensory; they are like taste or smell (the antennae of the ant can detect many types of chemicals). Depending on the nature of these interactions, the nestmate becomes more or less likely to perform certain behaviors in the short term, and over longer time scales these interactions shape the physiology and gene expression of the nestmate. Also the ants are embedded within feedback loops of environmental modification, this is called stigmergy. 

Over the generations, colonies consisting of nestmates that implement successful decentralized algorithms for survival, architecture, and reproduction, will persist. Colonies that are composed of nestmates with maladaptive behavioral proclivities, will cease to exist. The ant colony is really an organism in the evolutionary sense (e.g. not a “superorganism” made up of smaller organisms). Thus nestmates are tissues within this organism (nestmates are tissues that move, like blood cells in a body). So in a sense, the way the colony operates is a lot like the way a cell, or organism, operates – Complexity!

As for “applied ant research,” I think we can work to make the future bright here (or maybe one should say, make the future smell good?). There are several domains I am excited about here. One area to watch would be in logistics, transportation, and robotics – could ant swarms help us understand how to design resilient supply chains, urban commutes, and emergency protocols? This will be important as aerial and terrestrial autonomous vehicles are increasingly interacting with swarms of humans. 

Another area of application for ant research would be based upon this analogy between ant nest architecture and online systems design (whether small remote teams, or large distributed communities). In this realm of “digital stigmergy” it is interesting to think about how automated or human actions online (like edits to a wiki, or activity on social media) reflect the modification of a socio-technical or informational niche. This modification then changes the probability that some other agent performs a modification, and/or that some kind of action occurs “in the real world”. By studying the evolution and ecology of ants in natural settings around the world, we could understand what kinds of algorithms for communication and resource distribution are effective in different ecological settings. Then perhaps some features of ant colony resilience, decision-making, and information propagation would be transferable to digital ecosystems. The only way to find out is to keep on digging and foraging…

Thank you, Daniel! You are a true addition to the roses on Earth and our global readers!

Marilyn Monroe by Earl Moran

Before Marilyn Monroe was wildly famous, she was paid just $10 an hour to pose for photographer Earl Moran between the years of 1946-1949. Marilyn was first contracted to work with Moran through her first agency, the Blue Book Agency in 1946. Then, Marilyn was still going by her birth name, Norma Jeane. Moran’s photographs were considered “cheesecake” photography and the images he took of Marilyn would serve as inspiration for him to create pin-up paintings from them. However, the pin-up art he created is almost unimportant; it’s the images he took of Marilyn which are important. Marilyn’s vivacious and happy demeanor is abound in these photos. Hugh Hefner purchased some of Moran’s photos for Playboy and he signed them. Those images weren’t published until 1987. A Hefner signed photograph from Earl Moran’s collection sold at auction for $11,000 in 2020 through Nate D. Sanders Auctions. People still love these images of Marilyn for good reason.

I would without a doubt say that these are the best photographs ever taken of her. There are seemingly countless photography sessions of Marilyn Monroe; the most notable are by Tom Kelley, Andres de Dienes, Richard C. Miller, and George Barris. While Marilyn is iconic for many reasons, I would argue that these images taken before she was famous are some of the most remarkable. And perhaps the key is in the fact that these were taken before she was famous. Marilyn was ambitious and excited to become an actress in Hollywood, and it’s her natural and playful demeanor which brings so much life to these photos alongside her raw talent for modeling. You can see the hopes she had in her eyes, too. Marilyn’s natural charm and eagerness to engage with the camera are the most notable aspects of Moran’s photography. He also clearly made her feel very at ease because you can see through the images that she was willing and happy to be playful. It’s wonderful that people are still appreciative of Moran’s photography of Marilyn, these images should be valued for many years to come.

2021: Choosing Joy As A Way of Life

Happy New Year! While 2020 was an incredibly hard year for the world, I am hopeful that 2021 will bring peace to those who seek it and a renewed sense of the value of joy. When the world has suffered so much, the value of joy and light in our lives is tremendous. Society tells us that with the dawn of a new year, we should create resolutions and make the changes we seek change for. However, this year, I have taken a different approach for myself and I hope others consider doing this as well. While I still have all of the goals that I have set out for myself (as I don’t need the passing of year to dictate the sequence of events for my goals… that is really where I think the problem lies for so many. People set out on these ambitious life changes and then fall short of them when the going gets challenging and decide to fall back on their usual habits etc. because January passed by etc.). Nobody’s life is easy. Be gentle to yourself and those around you. In fact, it’s disheartening to think about how much human suffering and death that occurred in 2020. People need serious help more than ever and hopefully that urgency galvanizes many people around the world to give more.

There is an incredible set of challenges the world is facing all at once and it’s often a challenge to maintain optimism in the face of what can look and feel like insurmountable challenge, especially when so many crises are layered on top of one another. However, I have started to believe that without finding hope for the future, holding onto an optimistic outlook, and experiencing a sense of joy for the simple things in life (the rose that you pass by on your daily walk), then you are not honoring the gift that life has offered to us: the beauty of nature and how we are one with it. Simply being alive is a gift. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that. My approach for 2021 includes actively seeking out joy each day, even more consciously than I usually do. I believe in the value that joy brings to our lives and improves the lives of those around us. I choose joy. Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy and peaceful new year.

~Bianca

Quotes about Joy

“When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Buddha

“Find ecstasy in life: the mere sense of living is joy enough.”

Emily Dickinson

“Joy is a decision, a really brave one about how you are going to respond to life.”

Wes Stafford

“When joy is a habit, love is a reflex.”

Bob Goff

The Downfalls of the Eternal Youth Narrative: Reject Ageism for Good

“Live fast and die young” has generated a more toxic narrative in global culture than we consciously realize.  This narrative has placed a stain on the fabric of the collective global consciousness for gender equality – romanticizing a lack of reason and endowing power in the unwise behaviors of the “ever youthful.”  I am mortified by how many adults well into their middle age are pretending to live like they are 20 years old on social media.  It’s a real problem.  Granted, we are all “kids on the inside” and we may have been profoundly impacted by our childhoods, however, that does not give way to solely focus on an eternal youth narrative in society.  I think it’s a detriment to moving towards global gender equality.  We don’t have time anymore to debate if gender equality is a good for the world.  There is more than enough information at our disposal that shows why gender equality is necessary to ensuring we live in a sustainable world and this is a problem which is time bound.  Now, let’s also move past the eternal youth narrative and move towards a more equitable world by letting go of the fantasy that eternal youth supercedes all.

I watched the film adaptation of Madame Bovary recently.  The famous tale written by Gustave Flaubert is coined as “literary realism” and it stands the test of time on a number of fronts: the perils of greed, the perils of consumerism… Ultimately Madame Bovary decides to fill her unsatisfied soul with luxury purchases as a way to fill a psychological void, but this was a symptom of a larger problem she had.  This story is a truly contemporary tale when you think about it.  It’s perhaps a combination of two detriments which prompted her life’s end: Monsieur Boulanger’s reckless and indifferent behavior towards her coupled with the pain she already felt from her depression caused by the banality of provincial life.  I’d like to focus on how her consumerism was a symptom of the pain she felt – similarly in today’s society, we naturally work towards “fitting in” to some degree to ensure our success; you cannot be an outlaw and expect full social acceptance, right?  In the same way, we engage in consumerism on one front to willfully comply with the unspoken expectations of societal normalization – i.e. the paradigm which helps us achieve personal success. This is understandable to the extent that we maintain basic social values, at a minimum, but more importantly, as Robert Reich has spent the better part of his career espousing: you need a robust middle class to have a strong economy.  However, engaging in consumerism to an excess is obviously not healthy.

While Madame Bovary “lived beyond her means” in the 1850s French countryside, she’s a figure who illustrates a contemporary psychological issue: the fear of ageing and what comes with age when you inhabit an ageist society.  What is more existential than mortality? Consumerism can rid us of this concern, if only fleetingly, with the promise of eternal youth in the products we buy! Right? Wrong. Breaking down ageist stigmas is fundamental in ensuring gender equality. Hollywood and the beauty industry excels at elevating the “permanently youthful.”  Take celebrity women for example.  They are constantly in the news for “looking great in a bikini at 55!”  It’s wonderful they loves their bodies and are confident about it.  However, the narrative being shared with the public through these tabloids indirectly tells us, “You should try and look more like that, even well into your 50s or 60’s.  If you don’t, dieting and plastic surgery can be the solution.”  Because frankly, a perfect body well into your 50’s and 60’s is not the norm.  We are being told, indirectly, that this kind of body should be the norm – and that’s where the narrative goes wrong.  The beauty of time on your body is a process which does not need to be altered by plastic surgery, which words like “enhancements” have been used to neutralize the damaging impact of plastic surgery culture.  There is nothing more beautiful than the marks of life. Also, skincare is a regimen which is always a good idea. I believe in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good skincare… but believing in having eternal youth through plastic surgery? No.

It’s always good to see women succeed in whichever avenue they seek success!   I can’t help but wonder, though, are we really existing in a post-feminist world that allows women to succeed however they would like to?  Or do barriers still exist through problems like ageism? Ageism sadly persists.  My mother experienced ageism when she was looking for work well into her 40s.  You know how this would look like?  You just don’t hear back from employers.  That’s part of the ageist narrative.  If we continue to not speak about what is at the core of the problem – when you don’t name the problem (ageism), society will never transcend it properly.  

I firmly believe we are at a precipice in our global society which is awoken to the fact that we can no longer ignore problems like ageism and push false narratives to live in a fantasy world which believes it “maintains order.”  The reality is this: let’s use our voice to say “no” to ageism and that begins with understanding why the idea to “live fast and die young” is so fundamentally flawed.  We will only improve our outcomes if we shed ageist ideology.

My 10 Minute Holiday Glam Look

The Holiday Season of 2020 is certainly like no other… while we may not have the same opportunities to celebrate as we might usually, there is still reason enough to get dolled up (for yourself at least!) and maintain some semblance of the holiday spirit. This makeup look took me less than ten minutes and I only used the products pictured in the image above. I think the ‘less is more’ approach with makeup can sometimes amplify and bring out your best features rather than being too dramatic and piling on all sorts of makeup. There is no need for eyeliner in my water line for example or a really intensely pigmented liquid eyeliner for a cat eye on the upper lash line since I have a dramatic red lip which I wanted to draw the eye to.

I opted for a softer smudged winged liner on my upper lash line, which created some depth and opened my eyes even more. Instead of focusing the apples of my cheeks with blush for this look, I decided to strategically place Benefit’s Watts Up highlighter on my cheekbones for a sparkling effect. The statement red lip was intended to be the focal point to draw the eye in and tie the look together, which I think worked well. The sparkly eyeshadow and highlighter did wonders, too. The following products are all that I used – keeping it simple but glamorous.

Voila, you have your under 10 minute glam holiday look!

xx Bianca

Krampus und Krampusnacht

The legend of Krampus is a fascinating one… On December 5th (tonight) is Krampusnacht. Krampus is a frightening creature who comes out to roam the streets in Austria. He is a centuries old tradition which has roots back to the Norse god Hel. Krampus is believed to be Hel’s son and is depicted as half-goat, half-demon. Krampus is the sinister counterpart to Saint Nicholas (who is celebrated on December 6). On the evening before Saint Nicholas Day, Krampus comes out to spook children and visit them if they have misbehaved. Beyond spooking children, Krampus is a fascinating tradition as he is the counterpart to Saint Nicholas goodness; without evil, there is not goodness, without darkness, there is not light… They are balanced figures.

“Krampus Runs” as they are called have become increasingly popular across Austria. The tradition occurs across Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Men come together and don traditional Krampus costumes of hand carved wooden masks and suits made of sheep or goatskin with cowbells attached. Krampus usually runs through the streets with sticks and a sack. The idea is that Krampus will come to find you if you have been naughty. The more recent emergence of the Krampus tradition has merged together Krampus with the concept of “Perchten,” a Pagan festival.

My mother’s memories of Krampus in Austria as a child are similar to the first images in this blogpost and are less frightening than the current representations of Krampus… Perchten first appeared in the 16th century and the Catholic Church attempted to ban the customs. The meaning of Perchten was to ward off the bad spirits of winter; the Perchten costumes below are more reminiscent of the contemporary images of Krampus, which are more extreme than the classical images of Krampus to say the least. Contemporary Krampus has become a truly fear inducing image. There is, however, charm that comes with the tale of Krampus. For example, it is a common custom to exchange “Krampus Cards” by mail which can be kitschy in style and include images of pinup art of women. In those cards, you can express your approval or disapproval of a person in a poem like way. Krampus is not all about fear! Krampus is a reminder of the goodness in this world and to appreciate it. That is the traditional takeaway. Krampus runs have become social opportunities for men as well. While Krampus may have evolved to appear intensely scary, the Krampus tradition and Krampusnacht remains alive for a reason. Our spirits seek balance and an understanding of that balance is exemplified in the overt naughtiness of Krampus and the sincere goodness of Saint Nicholas.

The Perchtenlauf or Perchten Run is a Pagan tradition which resembles the more contemporary Krampus costumes.

Le Sirenuse: Positano, Italy

Le Sirenuse is an iconic hotel located in Positano and owned by Carla and Antonio Sersale. The views from this property are some of the best of Positano… The five star hotel is absolutely beloved, as mentioned in this Vanity Fair article from this past summer. While we may not be able to travel as freely (namely it’s best to not travel unless absolutely necessary), it’s always great to learn more about which places you can dream of going next, right? The hotel was opened in 1951, by Antonio’s father, Franco and his three siblings. A celebrity frequented venue, what is likely most endearing, beyond the breathtaking views, is the “at home” feel that guests are able to experience while staying there. This at home feeling combined with the luxury of a five star hotel service is what makes coming back to Le Sirenuse is so attractive for so many guests.

Carla Sersale, Antonio’s wife, has a lifestyle brand herself: Emporio Sirenuse, which has home pieces for sale that are all Made in Italy. If you are not able to go to Le Sirenuse soon, we may as well have a piece of it for our home. There is a casual glamour that this hotel has cultivated and it certainly is underscored by how down to earth in attitude its ownership has. The owners, in collaboration with other Italian properties, raised 200,000 Euros in an effort for COVID-19 vaccine research. The adverse impacts of COVID-19 unfortunately forced Le Sirenuse’s sister property, Le Sirenuse at the Surf Club Miami, a restaurant in Miami, to close permanently in August. Unfortunately, the American counterpart of this Italian household name is no longer open here in the US, but hopefully, all of Le Sirenuse’s fans can return to Positano to visit sooner than later! After all, the hotel has a new bar open called “Don’t Worry,” and wouldn’t we all like to be free from worry?

Bianca’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

This year, suffice to say, has been a challenge for the entire world. First and foremost, do what you can to help your family, friends and community. Small acts of kindness have a ripple effect. Kindness matters and no act of kindness is ever wasted, so do your part in helping those around you. Beyond your immediate community, consider how your broader community is doing – on the state level as well. The US, where I reside, has clearly been dealing with a tremendous challenge in navigating COVID-19 and continuing to be considerate of the needs of the broader communities which comprise your state is critical. For example, I live in California. The way in which California is impacted by COVID is shocking and not the only issue that has deeply affected this state in recent months, so being cognizant of your broader community means you are best equipped to be safe (and ensuring the safety of others) this holiday season.

California was devastated by wildfires this past summer and it goes without saying that those who lost their homes are still severely impacted by the crisis. Please contribute what you can to locally based charities which assist those who need it most. For victims of the California wildfires, the Red Cross of the Bay Area is a great place to start in providing much needed relief for those who are grappling with such significant losses. It’s tough to absorb the scale of losses when COVID has already impacted so many people’s livelihoods; it’s even more challenging for those who need this kind of immediate assistance with regard to housing instability. Furthermore, food banks are stretched to the limit as food security is nowhere near the level it should be during this time. Please consider donating to your local food bank as well.

Given what a toll this year has taken on all of us, looking inward, seeking joy in simplicity and focusing on the wellbeing of the spirit are necessary to ensuring that we all stay well. This year’s Holiday Gift Guide is focused on products which contribute some form of simple joy to your loved ones and is centered around the wellness of mind, body, and spirit. It’s as simple as having a nice brush for your hair etc. that can make a difference in your day sometimes. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that simple joys are essential for wellness.

Books

Grooming

The Wet Brush Pro Series is an adult oriented hair brush with Disney Princess art on them. These are certainly cute in design and are high performing brushes at an affordable price tag (think the Mason Pearson brush without the Mason Pearson price tag). You can find this limited edition Disney version of The Wet Brush at Ulta.

Pearl Bath Bombs has a dual pack of bath bomb products named “Poppin’ Bubbles in the Tub” which makes a fun gift for your friend or family member. Each bath bomb has a nice cocktail ring (pick the right ring size!) and a chance at winning a real diamond ring; each ring comes with a code to check on the website if you won.

Besame Cosmetics limited edition Cold Cream is the newest product to wow the Besame brand’s fan base! For the vintage history lover, all of the products created by this fabulous beauty brand based out of Los Angeles are historically accurate. Besame is well known for their lipsticks, rated by Vogue and Real Simple this year as the best red lipstick (all of their lipstick shades are exact matches to the decade you love; for example, the exact shade of red that Marilyn Monroe wore in the 1950s). Now you can take off that red lipstick using Besame’s fantastic cold cream!

Aveda has a BCRF edition of their classic hand relief Cherry Almond Hand Cream which is a cult favorite and it will keep your hands smelling nice and super moisturized. The proceeds also go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation which makes this product a wise choice.

Home

Raw Crystals for decoration and good spirit by KORA Organics in Clear Quartz and Rose Quartz are a wonderful edition to any room. These are great for decoration, but you can also actively integrate these crystals into your meditation practice! You can sit with a particular crystal and think about how that energy is representative of your meditation’s intention (for example, the pink glow to the rose quartz evokes an intention of love and gratitude).

West Elm’s Faux Fur Cascade Throws are exactly what can get you in the holiday mood! “Santa Baby, just slip a sable under the tree for me!” is exactly the vibe these throws give off. Make sure to get this throw before they run out – they are on sale!

CB2 has a pillow that is based off of the famous Herve Leger bandage dress… and it’s called the Leger pillow. If you want to indulge, this pillow has a fun texture to it and it’s also a good reminder that maybe someday we might fit back into our Leger style dresses for those events in the future…

Last but not least… a simple, yet classic complementary gift that might be for your office’s Secret Santa gift exchange (obviously by mail this year!) and you aren’t quite sure what to get to complement another gift to tie it all together, you can’t go wrong with Punch Studio’s Winter Greens Boxed Soap, only $6.50.

The Flower of Life, Ishtar, and Sumerian Origins

The Flower of Life is an ancient symbol which is hailed in ‘sacred geometry’ and has origins in the Sumerian culture. This symbol, which is revered as being the origin symbol which appears in all geometry (the form essence of all life itself) is intended to display the infinite nature of life, and has been studied for centuries. Sumer is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of Southern Mesopotamia (now Southern Iraq), between the sixth and fifth millennium BC. This was about 2,600 years ago. Also noteworthy is the worship of the Sumerian goddess, Ishtar, who is revered as the goddess of love and fertility from Sumerian culture — note, that the pronounciation of the word “Ishtar” sounds very similar to the Christian holiday, “Easter,” which the word is originally derived from. It’s certainly ironic and interesting to consider that Easter has a connection to the worship of a female goddess who represents love and fertility: life itself.

Even more enticing to consider is how the Sumerian worship of the goddess Ishtar enabled the ideals of a matriarchy, which allowed for a much healthier, harmonious, and much less oppressive relationship to women in society versus the oppressive and toxic nature that a patriarchy can have. The world’s earliest culture seemed to have had the ‘right model’ for civilization and perhaps we can learn from Sumerian civilization — treat women fairly and moreover, appreciate and revere women for the life creators that they are. Aphrodite, the world’s most famous Goddess of Love, was based on Ishtar… The story of Aphrodite and Adonis was based on the Mesopotamian myth of “Inanna and Dumuzid.” Inanna is also a name that Ishtar was referred to by.

The Psychoanalyst Nancy Qualls-Corbett writes in her book, The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine regarding how sacred prostitutes (this remains a contested topic amongst academic researchers, but there is enough ancient resources to suggest that this was an ancient practice) is a way to understand worshipping Ishtar: “In her temple, men and women came to find life and all that it had to offer in sensual pleasure and delight. But with the change in cultural values and the institutionalization of monotheism and patriarchy, the individual came to the House of God to prepare for death.” Ultimately, when one ‘flips the script’ of our life stories and our perceived commitments to monotheistic standards, we may consider how worshipping the beauty of life is actually rooted in the matriarchy rather than the patriarchy… Perhaps we’d all do better if we spent more time pondering the good tidings of Ishtar and ruminate on how life is actually best represented in the concept of it being a never ending matriarchal continuum beyond death. Mother Earth… The Flower of Life… Sumerian culture… Ishtar…

A Sumerian carving of the goddess, Ishtar.

Eckhart Tolle, Space Consciousness + Our Life’s Purpose

So often, it seems that we can be so unsure (and also widely philosophize) what the grander “why” is to our lives. What is our life’s purpose? People sometimes dive deep into their religious faiths as a result of trying to answer this question or perhaps they turn to a more nihilistic view that life itself has no purpose, it is ‘just life.’ I think this is obviously a highly complex topic since the life experience we all have weaves together the idea of our personal autonomy (the individual’s choice to decide what their ‘purpose’ may be) with a broader discourse related to the science of space consciousness and how this ties into the realm of the personal, microcosm experience of the universe that we have within ourselves. Our purpose is quite simple to understand once you awaken to space consciousness.

I recently started reading Eckhart Tolle and came to understand this concept of ‘awakening’ that he references for humanity. On an individual level of the spiritual awakening we may have and then on a collective large scale global consciousness (which he speaks of how it’s already happening to humans on our planet). Eckhart references this collective awakening as a consciousness which transcends our personal form in order to understand the space that consciousness allows us to connect with on a collective plane and hence connects us with our personal experience of ‘purpose.’

Our life’s purpose is being one with the collective consciousness of Being. It goes beyond thought, you are aware of your consciousness, you find deep inner peace this way, and thus are capable of spreading joy to others. This is life’s purpose and there is a technique to share your space consciousness awakening with others. You may think the concept of ‘purpose’ is highly individual, but in reality, the concept of purpose is this, for all of us, always:

  • Your life’s purpose is to merge together your awareness of space consciousness which does not include thinking, it is BEING (breathing…. breath… ATMAN… one with God…) by merging your being together with your form and bodily experience, the outer, everyday experiences that you have. Once merged by your awakening, you then generate a deep sense of peace and therefore can spread joy in the lives of others by accepting the reality that our form is not the entirety of our life. We can spiritually dissociate from all of the trappings of ourselves and therefore we can achieve deep inner peace.
  • When this change happens within you, you are spiritually awakened and you will no longer feel confined to the restrictions our immediate experience can hold over us. If you believe in the teachings of Christ, you will understand that Christ lived a life which was not ‘of his own’ because he connected with a community of many souls to be one with it.
  • When we solely connect only to our form and our ego, we are creating spiritual blindness in ourselves – we are not recognizing the deep inner power that space consciousness provides us in connecting with the purpose of BEING.
  • I Am. I Am. I Am.
  • You are. You are. You are.
  • We are. We are. We are.
  • We are one. We are one. We are one.

In this way, when you speak these words, you recognize that the ego is a fabrication of the mind. We are all one spirit. We are all together on this Earth. We are all part of the human race. We are all a connected, living entity. We are conscious. We are consciousness. Now, our purpose: awaken and awaken others to this. Like a rose that is in bloom, open to your life’s purpose and share this beauty with others.