Our Spiritual Foundations

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Many a great structure can be built upon, if it has been built upon a strong foundation. Conversely, if the foundation is weak, many a great-looking structure can easily crumble when subject to even a small tremor.  One may posit that the long-term health and viability of families, friendships, communities, societies, countries and planets depends on the quality of their foundations.

From a spiritual perspective, the strength of our foundation can be equated to the sum (or product?) of our values, beliefs and practices.

Our foundational values are often formed by those actions which have ‘risen to the top’ of our attention pyramid over time. These are the actions that attract the best investments of our time and energy. We often look forward to opportunities to sharing time and space with those who strengthen our core values. Conversely, we may find ourselves walking or drifting away from those who negatively affect the health of our foundation. This concept forms the foundation of the idea of  sangha or togetherness. Commonality of values infuses joy in our walk together. We learn to find joy in their joy, and they in ours. 

The second basis of a strong foundation is an awareness of truth. Where does this awareness come from? It comes from (spiritual) practice. If I regularly walk a particular path in the forest and I see the same white flowers bloom in the same culvert at the same time every year, my direct experience would plant a seed of truth in me. My practice will have thus informed my awareness, which would in turn have established a foundational truth for me.

The beauty of the blooming flower of awareness is that it need not be unique to me. When someone else has the same direct experience of the flower blooming in the forest, it plants a seed of truth in them too. When their seed of truth grows, it attracts my truth, it becomes stronger, and begins to matter. When two people share an awareness that the truth matters, it becomes the foundation for friendship.  

Our shared values, beliefs and practices can thus create a basis for joy (ananda), and a shared awareness (chitta) of truth (satya)When we walk in truth, awareness and joy, we can have direct experience of the Oneness that is the foundation of the Universe. 

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering, Sunday January 26th at 9amET / 730pm India. We will share on foundations, friendships and the truths discovered on our walks. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Forest Flowers Blooming...

On Dreams and Reality

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There is a certain energy within the heart of a dreamer which attracts the dreams that can define their purpose at a given stage of their life. When the defining dream does arrive, it often brings it with the resources that can help the dreamer to accomplish it — or at least the energy to magnetize a group of people towards its accomplishment. 

It was this resource-filled, truth-inspired, time-sensitive energy that was perhaps the defining characteristic of Martin Luther King Jr and his dream. The energy of that dream forced reality – whatever it meant in the context of his life purpose in that time and space – had to get out of his way. It stood no chance. 

This is not to say that MLK Jr and his dream have been fulfilled to completion. Far from it. If nothing else, the need for kindness, empathy, justice, and greater understanding of our fellow human beings is only the greater at the inception of this new decade. Isn’t this the reality we currently live in? Isn’t that dream even more relevant? Does that dream not need to stay alive?

When my neighbor sees that my snow blower will not start, and he decides to come over and lend a helping hand, the dream is still alive. When fire-fighters from halfway across the world converge on a continent to help fight wildfires, the dream is still alive. When we decide to speak up with softness yet firmness for those whose nascent vision is buried by purveyors of reality, the dream is still alive. 

We may not have received our own energizing, magnetizing, world-changing dream yet. Perhaps the absence of a huge dream is in itself an opportunity for us to bide our time, even a lifetime, and become instrumental in keeping someone else’s dream alive. To help them accomplish their kindness-elevating, empathy-spreading, truth-promoting dreams — can that not become a worthy life-purpose for us? Is that not the reality dreamed and lived by the sun, moon and stars in every single day of their existence?

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering, Sunday January 20th at 9amET / 730pm India. We will share on dreams, on reality, and everything in between. I look forward to seeing you with tea and some goodies. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Dreams and Reality on a Winter Walk

Day-dream-waking on a beautiful winter day…

On Creating Clarity

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Over the past twenty four hours or so, a warm front sitting over the state has removed all the signs of winter from the landscape. Fierce winds and rain have lashed the west-facing windows and sidings as a reminder of the transition. The “wind tunnel” effect that pulls the wind off of the lake and guides it in the space between the back of the house and the forest, has created a continuous roar for two straight nights.

The unseasonal weather has resulted in seemingly erratic behavior among many birds and animals, if not some humans. Unanticipated transitions tend to remove clarity from our minds and replace it with doubt. When our outer environment is greatly disturbed or disrupted, the antennas that monitor our inner space try to recalibrate and reorient themselves.

Our spiritual practices — those that help us build reservoirs of resilience, patience, calmness, jurisprudence open-minded acceptance, and discernment — are often tested during ‘unseasonal’ weather. It is in these seasons of great disruption that the heart draws on our reservoirs of intuition to restore clarity. When we evoke the heart’s trust, it helps ensure that we remember to operate from a state of calmness in the midst of confusion.

Clarity of the heart helps us see the temporary for what it is, and remember the permanent for what It is.

The forecast is for a bit of snow to return over the next day or so. The heart awaits in the knowing that every season brings its own clarity.

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter gathering Sunday Jan 12 at 9amET in #SpiritChat. Bring your heart’s weather with you – I will bring some tea and we shall chat. Namaste – @AjmaniK

On Spiritual Awakenings

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On some mornings, we awaken and we are full of energy. We may not be able to explain why we are so energized, but we can feel the difference as compared to those days where we wake up all tired and wanting to stay asleep a bit longer. 

Some years are like that too. Twenty twenty is one of those years where I seem to have awakened to a new energy. Or maybe I just feel that way because I have forgotten about how I woke up to twenty nineteen and the years before that. Or maybe it is all the cumulative effect of the “work” that I have been doing in the past year that is now fueling this new awakening. Or maybe all this new energy is a result of the natural optimism that comes with the canvas of a brand new decade and a new set of coloring markers. 

For some, new awakenings comes slowly, in stages, like a slow burning log on a fire which occasionally sends forth a crackling spark.  For others, new awakenings can come suddenly, like flashes of lightning illuminating a dark forest during a thunderstorm. No matter how they come, the integrated energy delivered to us in the time span of the awakenings, is more or less equal. 

How do we know that we are ripe for a new awakening? One way we can feel an awakening is through the arrival of a new sense of clarity. A new clarity inspires newness of vision, hearing, feeling, sensing, intuition, and awareness. A new awareness leads to an elevation of our purpose, of our role in the world, and of our acceptance of accountability for our own awakening.

The result? In being open to it, a new awakening can bring  us face to face with a new commitment to goodness in our words and thoughts, healthiness in our mental and physical diets, and kindness in our actions. It inspires us towards growing our own inner peace, and we take another step towards awakening to all that which awaits us beyond the  circle of time, space and causation. Arise, Awake, my friends! 

Kumud

P.S. Join us Sunday January 5th 2020 at 9amET in our first gathering of twenty twenty as we welcome the new year and a new decade of awakening. I will bring some questions to keep us awake, along with some tea and cookies. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Awakening photo

To new awakenings – an offering of light… (2020)

On Spirituality and Planning

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I had the trip planned out perfectly, or so I thought. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, my brand new wife of two days old, and me, were going to go on a day trip from New Delhi to Agra, to see the famous Taj Mahal. Tickets in hand, we took a taxi in the wee hours of the morning from our hotel to the train station. We had no luggage with us, so all we needed to do was to find the correct “platform” from which the train was departing, and board the train. Being the local, I was “in charge” and so I led them out of the taxi into the “grand central station” like foyer. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey coolie (porter). What platform number does Taj Express leave from?”

He looked at me with a look that I will never forget. He probably didn’t know how to say it, but what he did say still resonates. 

Coolie: “Taj Express? That train doesn’t go from here! It goes from Nizamuddin station!”

I used to live near Nizamuddin station. It was at least thirty minutes away from where we were standing. With the clock showing 525, it meant we had forty minutes to make it there before the train left at 605. I could see my meticulously laid plans vanishing like the early morning fog dissipates with the heat of the rising sun. But there was no going back – this was our only chance to see the Taj, because we were all leaving back for the USA the next day. I “led” the ladies out of the train station, through the throng of touts of taxi drivers offering to drive us all the way to Agra, two and a half hours away. No way I was going to admit “defeat” that easily!

Thirty five minutes later, after a taxi ride through Delhi’s early morning fog and traffic, we landed outside Nizamuddin station. Of course, the train was not on platform one, which would have meant a simple walk on to the train. We had to walk up a long set of stairs, then take another walk over multiple train tracks, and then descend to platform number nine. By the time we found which compartment we were supposed to board, the train had started to move. Twenty five years later, my mother-in-law still hasn’t forgiven me for literally dragging her, half-running in her high heels, to get on that train. I don’t think that the beauty of the Taj was enough for her to forget my immaculate “trip planning”. 

So, I have learnt that I am not much of a planner. I was never much into planning. In fact, I might be the poster child who contradicts the whole “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” adage. I have accepted the fact that my “lack of planning” isn’t setting myself up for failure. It is simply an acceptance of an alternate path through life for me. I would like to believe that I am not alone in this acceptance of life’s flow. I cannot think of a single significant “life event” in my life that was “planned out” by me. Engineering school, coming to the USA for graduate studies, meeting my spouse, buying my first home, getting a dog, starting #SpiritChat on twitter, and so many other events – all seem to have “just happened” to me. Maybe I am the poster child for “life happens to us when we are busy making plans”. Or the poster child for “delegation of planning” for many of life’s trips – in my case, to my wonderful wife. 

I am not advocating that we ought not to make plans. I am simply sharing with you that good things can happen to us and through us, even if we don’t plan meticulously. The decade of the 2020’s is upon us with great spiritual opportunity, just like the 2010’s and 2000’s were upon us ten and twenty years ago. Yes, as we embrace the new decade, it is a good time to pause and reflect on how far we have traveled this year, and in this past decade. Are we on the correct train station, the correct train? What is the journey we are taking, and does it have a purpose? What are the “constants” and the “variables” on our path? Who are our traveling companions? What are the resources that we have, and who will we ask for help or guidance when we need it? 

Yes. These questions may be worth considering as we step into the spiritual symmetry of 2020 and the decade ahead. The spiritual journey does require some commitment, and even a bit of planning on our part. Perhaps it begins with the simple commitment of buying a train ticket. Then, we can commit to be flexible, to accept change, to be the change. Then we commit to get to the train station on time — the correct train station!

And then, when the conductor blows the whistle, waves the green flag to announce “all aboard”, we can all travel together and see some of the most beautiful places in our hearts. Let’s plan the trip, shall we?

Kumud

P.S. Join us for a planning session for the next decade – Sunday, December 29 at 9amET / 730pm India – in #SpiritChat on twitter. I will bring some tea and cookies for the train ride – we can take a trip together as we ask some questions, share some answers. Namaste – @AjmaniK

From one of my travels…

On Joyous Surrender

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The topic of “surrender” has been in and out of my brain box on several occasions as a possible subject for our weekly conversations. However, it wasn’t until this week, as I recorded and then reflected on the effects of “surrender immersed in joy” during one of my walks in the local reservation, that the subject moved from my brain to my heart. I share part of my “live recordings” in lieu of my weekly blog post… a long-form poetry, a gift wrapped and presented to all who are part of our wonderful community called #SpiritChat…

Where winter descends on water / and ice forms over the layered rocks of millennia / the slightest of warming forms cracks / like Thor’s hammer launched into a mirrored river

the river flows with a new urgency / to a different cadence and rhythm / her banks constricted by sheets of ice / floating floes create new meanderings

eddies near banks lay frozen / a slight shimmering off of their layers translucent / greeting the sun finally cresting low / over the tall trees mostly bereft of leaves

and the longest shadows of the year / draw me closer to the solstice / from whence the northern days shall only grow longer / and the lights shall only grow stronger / and the hearts shall only grow lighter

slowly, gently, softly – glowing warmth rises / rescuing my freezing fingers on the screen / welcoming the parting of the clouds / for relief to seep through them / from the late-morning sun’s emergence …

Silly me – I should have brought gloves / but it was perhaps for the best / for how else would I have felt the floe / in my fingers freezing and thawing

how else would I have written mundane poetry / while ascending the steep hill by the lagoon / as the winter wind blew from the other shore / over the thin layer of ice on waters stilled

how else would I have witnessed live / the last of autumn’s leaves fallen / chasing each other in play over the ice / driven by the very wind / that melted the waters in my sinuses

That shrill cold gave breath to empathy / for those who brave entire winters / huddling on street corners — waiting for grace / for they have no gloves to bring

Who knows where the sky begins / or where their earth ends / where their water begins / or where the thin ice ends / where the forest begins / or when the next call shall come

And yet this much is certain / that when we walk enough trails in faith / with hearts wide open to light / even on the darkest, longest night

we are bound to discover

that it is towards truth, justice and warmth / the radiant arc of the loving universe / shall guide us when we choose / to walk each day in joyous surrender….

and the light shall become stronger…

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter chat. Sunday, Dec 15 at 9amET in #spiritchat ~ And yes, those from the Southern Hemisphere are welcome too 🙂 Namaste – @AjmaniK

On Creating Contentment

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It is perhaps not an accident that one of the newest, if not one of the youngest members of the community shared the change that a shift to abundance mentality can bring into our lives. She first joined our monthly Zoom chat in November. In the December conversation, she wisely shared:

“Every morning when I wake up, I say to myself – there is enough for everyone” – @Quratulain

This simple and straightforward affirmation reflects a profound truth that we often tend to forget. Yes, we all have our daily challenges and conflicts. On some days, it may even seem that some parts of us are living contradictions of what we were just yesterday. And yet, it is when we find the courage to be open to the big abundance that is the nature of the universe, we take a small step toward creating contentment.

How is energy of contentment different from the energies of happiness and joy? In order to create and sustain happiness, we may often invoke an energy of ‘doing’. Our accumulated life experiences inform our heart and mind that certain people, communities, things, events, actions, seasons, holidays and such tend to make us happy or unhappy. Our natural inclination to avoid pain feeds into our ‘pursuit of happiness’, no matter how temporary that energy of happiness may be. “Do that which makes you feel good” – haven’t we all heard that mantra?

Ah. I have now infused ‘feeling good’ into the energy of happiness. If ‘feeling good’ equates to ‘optimal health’, then, yes, it would indeed be a welcome infusion. The good health of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual containers energizes and elevates us towards joy – a more permanent energy beyond happiness. We move from merely ‘feeling good’ towards ‘feeling better’. After moving from ‘good’ to ‘better’, the natural question to ask would be, what’s next? (My gratitude to @GaryGruber for asking that question in our December zoom meeting).  

Perhaps the answer to the “what’s next” question can be found in our attitude towards abundance and  an evaluation of our state of contentment. On self-examination, if we find ourselves in a better state of contentment than we were a month ago, a year ago, or even a decade ago, then we are closer to the answer. If not, then we perhaps need to examine the breadth and depth of our discontent. What is its root? Where did its seed come from? What feeds it? What feeds on it? What role do happiness, joy and abundance play in our state of contentment?

The journey to answer these questions often raises more questions than it answers. And yet, content is the traveler who remembers that joy can be infused in every twist and turn, every spring and autumn, every dawn and dusk, every breath. And that there is enough for everyone. Namaste.

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter gathering – Sunday, December 8 at 9amET / 730pm India. We shall share on the topic of (dis)contentment, and start planning on our “what’s next” for the forthcoming decade. Bring some answers, will you?! – @AjmaniK

A state of contentment flows from a walk along the river (Dec 6 2019)

On Forward Giving

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I had not been to my Aunt’s house for the Thanksgiving holiday in almost twenty years. This past Thursday, a congruence of time, space and causation, and her decision to host, brought me back. I could not help but marvel at how her gatherings had grown from five to seven in the 1990s, to twenty seven this year. The artwork and handprints of all five of her grandchildren, girls ranging from four to fourteen, were all over the holiday’s decor. 

At the dinner table, the blank notecards were passed around to each family member and the guests. The “suggestion” was that each of us were to write down “what we were thankful for” over the past year. There was some rolling of eyes, some who hid the notecards under their dinner plates, and even some feigned outrage by the three teenagers. During the break between dinner and dessert, my Aunt, the host, invited those who would like to share to read from their notecards. There was a lot of beautiful sharing, and when it came to the the second youngest of her grandchildren, she was too shy to read. On her Mom’s nudging, she haltingly read out her words in the softest of voices….

I am thankful for the trees, so we can breathe through them together…

There was a hushed silence, and many smiles spread across the room. It had taken one of the youngest in the room to show us the long-term impact of a simple forward-giving act of planting a tree. She had shown us that when we focus  on what we are grateful for, and listen to what others are grateful for, we cannot help but be filled with gratitude. The result of us ‘getting filled’ during Thanksgiving – and I’m not just talking about pecan pie and sweet potatoes – is that it energizes our hearts and hands. It is this renewal of gratitude and giving thanks which gives us new energy  that propels us towards giving forward.

It is perhaps when we give with an attitude of forward giving that we are reminded of our access to the infinite source of energetic wisdom. Sometimes, it speaks to us, it lights up our heart, through the heart of a six year old. Thank you, Layla, for inspiring me to think and work forward in my acts of giving.

It is the lives that we may help today, in any small or big way, we plant the seeds for a healthy society. Our forward giving can create a sustainable forest of trees where we can all breathe love and light. Will you join me? 

Kumud

P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community in a weekly gathering of ‘forward giving’. We will meet on Sunday, December 1 at 9amET / 730pm India on twitter. I will bring some tea and cookies to share, and yes, some questions too. Namaste – @AjmaniK

P.P.S. If you would like to engage in ‘forward giving’, I invite you to join me in supporting two of my favorite organizations who create a daily impact in thousands of lives. The first is Mitzvah Circle, founded by my long-time friend (who I met on twitter), Fran Held. Their motto is: “When a family faces a crisis, we are here”. The second is Akshaya Patra, whose mission is to provide midday meals to school-going children across India. Please donate. Let us, the #SpiritChat community, raise a $1000 each for these two organizations in the month of December. Thank you! 

“I am thankful for trees… – Layla”

The Thanksgiving Table…

Circles of Gratitude

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No matter how long one she been away from the house – whether it be fifteen minutes or five hours – his welcome home greeting is always the same. It is as if his heart flows immense gratitude, and I can tell by his frantic dash to the door that connects the garage to the house, that “Mom’s back!”

Last evening was no different, other than that all of us had been out for a little bit. The sun had set in the interim between when we had left the house and when we returned. After his greetings and hugs, I opened the patio door to let him out on to the deck, so he could go and burn off some energy running around the yard. There was a rush of cold air which took me by surprise, as I had forgotten how quickly the temperature drops on these winter days after the sun goes down. What a beautiful circle of warmth is our Sun, I was reminded.

Stepping out and looking up at the crystal clear night sky which had just a solitary puff of a cloud hanging low under the firmament filled with stars, I caught my breath. Every single star, every visible and yet to be discovered planet and its moons, is another magnificent circle weaving a sphere. I stood there in the cold, clearing my mind of the day’s events, expressing gratitude for the great circle that is our near and far universe.

The owls in the forest may have caught a whiff of my standing reverie, for they decided to provide some impromptu background music . A single owl started the circle of sound, and it didn’t take long for the circle to expand into a full blown forest-jam. More gratitude flowed with a smile, as the louder they sang, the faster he seemed to run around the yard under the glittering dark sky.

From the small to the big, from those close to earth to the extremely distant, the spheres and circles where we may find gratitude are omnipresent. It may be our inclination to be easily distracted by the seemingly perpetual stream of aches and pains, trials and tribulations. In challenge-filled situations, our propensity may be to contract our circle(s), when in fact we may be well served by doing exactly the opposite.

The truth is that we can actually expand and contract our circles at the same time. If we find ourselves contracting our family circle, we may decide to expand our circle of friends. If we need to contract both family and friends, we can expand our circle with nature by simply walking outside. In our spiritual practice, when we make time for yoga or meditation or silence, we may be contracting within, and yet often find ourselves expanding the love and light in our heart.

The key is to remember that all of our circles and spheres, from the microcosm of every electron with every cell of our body, to the macrocosm of distant stars and galaxies, are playgrounds for life. When we accept the invitation of life’s myriad circles with an of attitude playing with a smile, of singing with joy, to observing with the heart’s light, life fills us with her abundances.

And for life’s abundances, the twelve pound havanese puppy named “bubbles”, and I are both grateful. How about you and your circles? Where are you discovering gratitude and expressing thanks today?

Kumud

P.S. Please join our weekly gathering on twitter, where gratitude often streams in abundance – Sunday, November 24th at 9amET in #SpiritChat. Our circle is ever-welcoming of new folks. Namaste – @AjmaniK

P.P.S. This post is dedicated to my maternal aunt, who was instrumental in teaching me so much about life and its circles and spheres, as she raised me from the age of seven to twenty one. It would have been her 90th birthday today, 23 Nov 2019. Thank you, dear Mom!

Spirituality and Big Questions

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One frequent bonus of working at a national aerospace agency is that one gets to meet their fair share of ‘space travelers’. On completion of their missions, they visit the center, share their wonderful stories, photos and anecdotes from their travels. One purpose of their visits to the center is to thank the workforce for contributions to the completion of their successful mission. A related purpose is to provide inspiration to scientists and engineers, young and old, to continue their work in the support of space exploration and related missions.

I have been fortunate to meet my fair share of astronauts over the years. I rarely let an opportunity go by to meet one, get an autographed photo, or even get a photo taken with them if possible. To merely be in the same rarefied air with them and listen to their enthusiasm for humanity, the earth, and for exploration, often fuels me up with enthusiasm for my work.

Needless to say, when the opportunity came to meet lunar explorer and moonwalking astronaut Harrison Schmitt, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. I thought it was going to be similar to my past experiences with meeting astronauts, but I was “oh so wrong”. There was a unique energy about Dr Schmitt of Apollo17, the last Apollo mission flown by NASA in 1972, almost fifty years ago. He literally had the energetic “new baby” like bounce and the “overflowing child-like joy” that both my wife and I clearly felt.

I marveled at the fact that he was so full of enthusiasm, four decades and more after the tremendous feat of Apollo’s final twelve day lunar mission. It made me ask several questions. When I get to his age of 84, what events will I remember from ten or twenty or thirty or forty or even fifty years ago which will fill me with child-like Joy? What am I working on today, which will make a difference for future generations (of life explorers) in future decades? What can I do today, individually and as part of a team and community, which will inspire the future in some big or even small way? How am I making good use of my creative energy on a daily basis to advance humanity’s future?

Yes. Some of these questions may seem “big-picture” like — even grandiose. And yet, they were inspired within me by being in the presence of one of four remaining humans who have walked another celestial body. I share the ‘big questions’ with you in the spirit that some of the inspiration of Dr Schmitt — a geologist turned jet-pilot turned astronaut who just “happened to walk on the moon” — also rubs off on you.  I am not sure of the answers, but my hope is that these questions will cause us to pause in the midst of our daily challenges, some small and some seemingly big.

In our  search of the answers to our own big questions, we can re-frame our vision of the world. With new perspective  and new vision, we can rise above the urgent and focus on the truly important . With new vision, we can then ask some big questions related to spirituality. How do we know that a ‘greater power’, It, exists? If It does exist, what is its nature? Do we have ‘personal experience’ of It, or is it a belief that was given us? How do we allow It to influence or effect our lives, or do we?

Kumud

P.S. What are some ‘big questions’ that you often ask your own self? Share them with us in our weekly gathering in #SpiritChat on twitter, Sunday Nov 17 at 9amET / 7:30pm India. I will bring some questions, along with tea and cookies. We may even ask the big question – tea or coffee? Namaste – @AjmaniK

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt speaks about his adventures, asks some big questions, shares his photos from Apollo 17