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Elizabeth Gilbert Reads a Poignant Forgotten Poem About the Big Dipper and Our Cosmic Humanity – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

For as long as we have been raising enchanted eyes to the night sky — that is, for as long as we have been the conscious, curious, wonder-stricken animals recognizable as human — we have marveled at seven bright stars outlining the third largest constellation in the Northern hemisphere, and humanity’s most beloved one. Ursa Major — Latin for “the great she-bear” — has enraptured the human imagination since before we had the words to call it the Big Dipper…

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Natascha McElhone Reads Hermann Hesse’s 100-Year-Old Love Letter to Trees in a Virtual Mental Health Walk Through Kew Gardens – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

In the final years of his life, the great neurologist Oliver Sacks reflected on the physiological and psychological healing power of nature, observing that in forty years of medical practice, he had found only two types of non-pharmaceutical therapy helpful to his patients: music and gardens. It was in a garden, too, that Virginia Woolf, bedeviled by lifelong mental illness, found the consciousness-electrifying epiphany that enabled her to make some of humanity’s most transcendent art despite her private suffering. When…

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Astronaut Leland Melvin Reads Pablo Neruda’s Love Letter to Earth’s Forests – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“Today, for some, a universe will vanish,” Jane Hirshfield writes in her stunning poem about the death of a tree a quarter millennium after William Blake observed in his most passionate letter that how we see a tree is how we see the world, and in the act of seeing we reveal what we are: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” he…

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Pioneering Sociologist Elsie Clews Parsons’s Prophetic Century-Old Study of Power, the Rise of Divisiveness, and Why We Classify Ourselves and Others – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

Years before Walter Lippmann explored stereotypes and the psychology of prejudice, rooted in the disquieting fact that “we do not first see, and then define, [but] define first and then see,” and decades before Hannah Arendt observed that “society has discovered discrimination as the great social weapon by which one may kill men without any bloodshed” before she drew on this insight to illuminate the relationship between loneliness and tyranny, the trailblazing anthropologist, sociologist, and folklorist Elsie Clews Parsons (November…

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Gorgeous 19th-Century Engravings of Cacti – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

Among the oddities of my childhood in communist Bulgaria was my mother’s collection of cacti. Against the chipped grey concrete of our apartment building, these improbable emissaries of another climate from another world stood as spiked sentinels of a fantastical optimism at the portal to another life. Each winter, we brought the entire ensemble — dozens of them, all kinds of shapes and sizes and species — indoors; each summer, we carefully arranged them back on the tiny balcony overlooking…

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Poet and Painter Rebecca Hey’s Gorgeous 19th-Century Illustrations for the World’s First Encyclopedia of Trees – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… As a man is, so he sees,” William Blake wrote in his most beautiful letter a quarter millennium before scientists began to see the molecular poetry of what trees feel and how they communicate. Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or,…

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Edmund Burke’s Remarkable Letter to His Children About Generosity and the Importance of Honoring the Dignity of Those in Need – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

The Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (January 12, 1729–July 9, 1797) was a rare centaur of a creature. Although in the centuries since his death his ideas have been somewhat hijacked to conservative ends, in his own day they were embraced by liberals and conservatives alike. A staunch champion of freedom and a vocal critic of British colonialism, he influenced minds as vast and varied as Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, her radical philosopher father William Godwin, Romantic poetry beacons…

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Cecilia Payne, Who Discovered the Chemical Fingerprint of the Universe, on the Science of Stars and the Muse of All Great Scientists – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

In his stirring poem “The More Loving One,” W.H. Auden asked: “How should we like it were stars to burn / With a passion for us we could not return?” It is a perennial question — how to live with our human fragility of feeling in a dispassionate universe. But our passions, along with everything we feel and everything we are, do belong to the stars, in the most elemental sense. “We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for…

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Shelley’s Prescient Case for Animal Rights and the Spiritual Value of Vegetarianism – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals,” the great nature writer Henry Beston wrote in 1928 as he contemplated belonging and the web of life, adding: “In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.” Since the dawn of our species and its consciousness, we have reverenced other animals…

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