Potty Musings

outhouseI have ignored the fundamental essences of life for many decades. Oh, I have participated in all of the human functions – eating, drinking, relieving myself, and washing up. Yet these natural and marvelous functions of being alive have been compartmentalized into activities that actually serve to keep me separate from life rather than integrating me into being a vital part of it.

The above thoughts arose as I flushed the toilet after my usual morning ritual. It’s automatic, isn’t it? You flush it away with hardly a second thought. This morning, however, I was struck by one of the many changes that loom as Nancy and I contemplate a lighter, freer, and simpler future. In a tiny house or trailer, flushing away waste becomes more than a mindless motion of the hand and arm. It needs to go somewhere and that somewhere will become my responsibility in a more direct manner than ever before. I will have to deal with my own s–t.

We want to place ourselves in a position where we feel more connected to the fundamentals of life. In a tiny/small house everything will be up close and personal. Water will be conserved out of necessity. Shopping will be unavoidably concise and frugal. Cleaning up will be done by hand rather than by pushing the button on a dishwasher. Clothes will be washed by hand or by an occasional trip to the laundromat. Then, there won’t be all that many clothes in the first place. And, of course, the actual s–t will have to be dealt with. All of these are simple acts that are natural and appropriate. In fact, in a world that has lost its connection to the Earth and its collective mind they may actually be healing and renewing.

For sure, there will be new disciplines ahead, but they will not be onerous disciplines. We will try to make each small change be congruent with our deepest values and beliefs: living an appropriate human experience in harmony with nature, and working for the healing of the Earth and all the life She sustains. My conditioned mind will label the cultivation of each new habit, “inconvenient,” but in fact each step into direct and connected living will be freeing, joyful, and long overdue. It’s a delightful journey. I am so glad to be taking it with my wonderful spouse, whose spiritual practice is setting the tone and leading the way.

 

 

Untamed Nature

fireThe California wildfires have made our summer, “the summer of smoke and flames,” This wildfire time has allowed me to notice the overly romantic views of nature that still sometimes linger in my mind. If I truly want to be, “one with the Earth,” I going to have to allow these complex natural processes to flow around me, and to graciously, even gratefully, adapt myself to them. I would prefer a summer of spectacular vistas, sparkling waters, and pristine air. Then I could wax poetic about the glories of the simple life. Instead I must dance with the untamed qualities of this natural world and find corresponding qualities within myself. Fire and smoke are each primal and natural manifestations of the energy of our planet and have been part of its ecology since the beginning. I’m the newcomer, and it is I who must adapt.

Nancy and I prepared our, “bug out kit,” as  fires moved closer to our area. The major Interstate Highway through California was closed for a few days about 15 miles south of us by a fire that threatened nearby towns. We have not been in immediate danger and merely have been taking the logical precautions. We bought some smoke filter masks  as the air quality has been iffy for the past two months. Amidst all of this, I have been surprisingly calm. A gentle voice has reminded me, “Of course nature is untamed. It couldn’t be otherwise. The centuries that have been spent trying to “tame” her have brought about the present chaos in the world. Don’t be surprised if she begins to show us that, ‘It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.’ Just pay attention and enjoy even this part of the journey.”

I continue to hope that our desire for “freedom, simplicity, and joy” is not answered by the burning away of our house. Preparing our, “bug out kit,” however, helped us see more clearly how few things we actually need to be happy and safe. There is a natural anxiety that comes from the close presence of such untamed forces, however his anxiety is merely a particular vibration of energy within my body which I can choose  to use for creative and helpful actions.

If I cling to romantic and comfortable views of simplicity and freedom, I will fall right back into the cultural trap of thinking the world is my resource to use, rather than my home in which to gratefully and carefully dwell. I will end up frustrated by constantly trying to “fix” any discomfort that arises. Instead I am going to let the energy flow through me while I dance to the music of the Earth, even when it is wild and uncontrolled.

Do You Know What You’re Doing?!

freud“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?!” echoes a voice in my head with regularity these days. Its tone is parental, unbelieving, and incredulous. It is designed to stop me in my tracks; to make me hang my head in shameful acknowledgement that no, in fact I have no idea what I’m doing; and then to have me recant of my dreams and return to the safety and security of, “the real world.”

I have been answering to this voice most of my life. Even when I have gone ahead and followed my dreams, it has followed along, standing in the background, frowning, tsking, and waiting for me to come to my senses. I am frankly tired of listening to it.

Engaging this voice is usually an exercise in futility because it demands to be engaged on its own terms. I end up trying to justify my dreams using the same language and paradigm of the voice. But lately, during my long walks, I have been finding the spaciousness and freedom from which I have been able to see more clearly the authentic nudging of my own heart.

I certainly don’t know what the future will hold. I certainly don’t know what exact forms our housing will take in the coming year. I don’t know how our gifts and crafts will be exchanged for supportive income. I don’t know what my health, or Nancy’s, will be in the coming years. I don’t know how a changing climate and disintegrating society will influence our path. So, as far as forms and securities are concerned, no, I don’t know much, if anything. I’m learning as I go along.

But there are things I do know. I know what it feels like to love and be loved by another human being. I know by direct experience the fundamental nurture of Mother Earth and the unity of all Life.  I know that both Nancy and I are committed to finding an, “appropriate way of living a human experience within the context of the natural world.” I know that the culture in which I live does not support this way of living. I know that a radical and comprehensive revolution is necessary for humans to survive. I know that I must make my own contribution to this revolution. I know that the time is short – mine and the culture’s – and that therefore my own contribution must be made with my whole heart, spirit, and life. These things I know, and it is from this knowing that I will guide my life.

 

Literacy

readingI have been reading excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journals. I am fascinated by the depth of education that was considered normal during his lifetime – at least for the small segment of the population who could consider university. I enjoyed the beauty of his prose and the depth of his thoughts for a few pages until I came across an entry that stated, “I am now nineteen years old…”

My god! When I was nineteen years old I was considering things along the lines of, “a ducky and a horsey,” compared to Emerson. I am now in my seventies and am an intelligent person, yet I am still barely literate in regards to the great ideas and themes that have guided humanity’s best minds; the writers, philosophers, statesmen, artists, poets, and spiritual teachers throughout the ages.

Lionel Trilling, in his, “The Liberal Imagination,” states: “In the nineteenth century, in this country as in Europe, literature underlay every activity of mind. The scientist, the philosopher, the historian, the theologian, the economist, the social theorist, and even the politician were required to command literary abilities which now would be thought irrelevant to their respective callings.”

A liberal society, it seems, is of necessity a literate society in the deepest sense of the word. In contrast, a society which communicates, forms opinions, and takes action based on tweets, memes, and emotionally laden sound-bites is not truly a democracy and cannot long endure.

As my culture grows more illiterate with every new technology of “communication,” I find myself wondering if the human species will lose all of the gains that brought us out of the dark ages. The advent of the printing press and the great strides toward universal education that it enabled caused a leap in the use of the Romance languages, including English. As vocabulary and depth of word usage increased, so did depth of human self-understanding and empathy for other humans. The more nuanced words became, the more nuanced our experience of emotions became. Poetry and literary language expressed subtle variations of feelings and senses. Reading increased our awareness of these subtleties and deepened our experience of life, love, and all the infinite varieties of human experience. We were no longer limited to the basic grunts of lust, fear, and hunger.

As emoticons and twitter shortcuts proliferate and dominate the interpersonal communication of so many, I fear we may be returning to a society of basic grunts and gestures. Nuance made possible by sophisticated language is dying out in interpersonal relationships and, more dangerously, in government. Some argue that social media is truly connecting us with each other, but I believe that such connection is by its very nature limiting us to the most basic and primitive experiences of humanity rather than opening us to ever deeper understandings of our relationships and our place in the Cosmos.

The recovery of literacy may be the most crucial ingredient in the transformation of our culture. I don’t know how it might come about, but certainly books will play an essential part; books in whatever form (though, of course, I prefer the tangible tactile experience of a real book). It will be necessary to re-learn how to immerse ourselves in reading, to gain the skill of following an idea or a story into its depths instead of continuing to skim along the surface; and to make our choices from this depth instead of from our instantly hooked fears and prejudices.

Ah well, I’m getting old and will certainly not witness the revolution. But I can’t help continuing to scatter what seeds remain in the knapsack of my spirit. Perhaps one or two might someday sprout and provide some little nurture to those who inhabit a new Earth and a new Society.

This Earth’s Indeed My Home

(Some doggerel verses written one morning – to the tune of the gospel folk song, “This World is Not My Home.”)

 

earth

 

This Earth’s indeed my home, I’m not just passing through.

My treasures aren’t all stored somewhere beyond the blue.

They’re all around me here, they’re everywhere I roam.

And I’m thankful every day for this wonderful home.

 

Though its sure one day I’ll leave, and visit lands unknown,

I want to leave behind a clean and lovely home

for all who follow me and walk this precious land

and give to them a hope and an unseen helping hand.

 

When days seem dark and filled with ignorance and greed

We’re going to be together, planting different seed

that some day will sprout and grow into a world that’s green

and the Earth will be a home for our loveliest dreams.

 

We dream a home for all, every species, every kind,

and everywhere one looks, one will surely  find

a land that’s filled with peace and free from every strife,

where simple joys await for every form of life.

 

This Earth’s indeed my home, I’m not just passing through.

My treasures aren’t all stored somewhere beyond the blue.

They’re all around me here, they’re everywhere I roam.

And I’m thankful every day for this wonderful home.

 

 

Choices

choicesMillions of people are grappling with materialism and cultural overload and longing for a saner life. Two popular terms have emerged that speak to this longing – minimalism and simplicity. These terms are often used interchangeably, but I have noticed that, though similar, the words are not identical. I don’t want to get caught trying to make a clear-cut distinction between the two terms, but each term has a shade of meaning that is helpful for me.

Minimalism can refer to a certain quality of design or a minimal number of personal possessions. In design, minimalism values the use of empty space, whether in a painting or the decoration of a living area. A minimalist kitchen might be spacious but not necessarily simple, in that it may contain a large number of clean-design appliances – large refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers, trash compactors, and a plethora of utensils. On the other hand, a simple kitchen may contain a small stove, refrigerator and few utensils, yet be appear cluttered with photos, knickknacks, pot holders and the like.

My own life is developing as a combination of the two: simple minimalism. That is, I feel freer and happier when I own only a few things and when those things are simple and basic. However, in a technological society there are crossover decisions to be made. For now, a good cell phone feels minimal and simple, though the technological web to which it is attached is complex and fragile. The same for my laptop computer – it’s a small, easy to use, well designed, older Apple. It feels necessary, simple, and minimal. Someone else may see it quite differently. In many other areas Nancy and I are leaning away from complex technology. We wash dishes by hand, use pour-over coffee filters rather than a coffee machine, heat with wood when we can, eat mainly plant-based whole foods, and try to buy and use hand-crafted items such as utensils when possible.

Since our living space will be quite small in the future, we are beginning to look for ways to sell, donate, or recycle most of our furniture, clothing, and possessions. We like a sense of openness and, even though space will be minimal, we hope to keep it clean and let it have an uncluttered feel. Also, the entire world of nature is opening up to us with its magnificent spaciousness and we hope to spend much of our time outdoors. Nancy is even working on developing an outdoor shaded studio for her bookbinding and repair.

In making these choices we can’t rely on rules that say one thing is minimalist and simple and some other thing is not. We are learning to make our choices based on more fundamental qualities. Will this choice support our basic commitment to the healing of the Earth? Will this choice bring us closer to nature or move us a step away? Will this choice give us deep pleasure and communion with each other? We try to take plenty of time in making these choices, avoiding impulse buying and seeking to discern what the energies and motivations beneath the choices might be.

The choices we make today may be reconsidered in the future, but each choice will always be, to the best of our ability, a choice for freedom, simplicity, and joy and for the healing of the Earth we all call home.