Tuck and Roll

somersault

The first technique I learned, long ago, in martial arts was the proper way to fall. It took me many sessions of patient instruction by my instructor to finally master the process. One day, after a particularly awkward fall he said, “You too stiff, too afraid. Not be afraid. Not brace – that break your arm. Yield to fall. Minute your hand touch mat, go soft. Tuck and roll.”

The need to control life brings about a reflexive stiffness in the mind and body. A more natural response to the movement of life is to yield, yet still be able to direct one’s movement along the most effective path. I remember that this lesson once saved me broken bones, or worse. I was an avid long-distance runner for many decades and loved to run along the desert trails near my home in Phoenix, Arizona. On this particular day I was running, lost in a sort of meditation, along the trail through a mountain park when my foot caught and I pitched forward onto the rocky ground. I don’t remember being conscious of the sequence, but my arms softened the moment my hands touched the ground, my head tucked down, my body formed into a ball, I rolled and ended up back on my feet. I stood in wonder, “What the heck happened?” I looked back at where I fell – rocks and cactus! I caught my breath and did a body inventory. Nothing broken. No scratches. No bruises. Nothing!

Over the years since then I have stiffened in many ways, yet I remember that magical moment when everything softened and flowed. I am grateful that I have recovered some of that flowing energy as events in our life have been rolling and tumbling Nancy and I along. The terrible fires around us have sent tens of thousands of people into free-fall in so many horrible ways. After the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, we told our landlord that, if he found an evacuee family that would benefit from this house here in Mt. Shasta, we could be ready to move in a matter of weeks. He found just such a family – a woman with a wheel-chair bound daughter and another daughter in her twenties who has a six year old autistic son. This family barely managed to escape the fire and have been homeless, living in a hotel and caring for their multiple health needs. Now they have a new home in the mountains and we will be “on the road” come the 4th of December.

We will leave our furniture here with the house for the family and point our Subaru Outback south, eventually getting to Sierra Vista, Arizona, where my son and his family live. There we will live in a borrowed trailer while we enjoy Christmas with John, Michelle, and granddaughter Emma.  We will look around Arizona for our own “home on wheels” and then be back “on the road” to new adventures, new freedoms, new joys, and new opportunities to be of service.

If we meet the tumbling nature of life with a stiff mind and body, we will break. If we soften and roll, we will flow on to amazing discoveries and experiences without fail. Tuck and roll, baby, tuck and roll.

Travel Light

travellightWe were visiting in Chico, California, when the so-called, “Camp Fire” erupted twenty miles away in the mountain town of Paradise. Nancy had met just the day before with her dear friend, Sue, who lived in Paradise and who shared with Nancy some of the produce of her garden. Twenty-four hours later Paradise, a town of 30,000 people, was ashes and the black toxic smoke blanketed the sky above us. Sue and her husband escaped with their pets and their lives, but their house, their garden, and their two cars were nothing but blackened stone, ashes, and twisted metal.

Sue spoke to Nancy on the phone yesterday. “It’s all gone,” she said, “Today is Day One of our life.” She and David were still in shock, but were aware that the future, not the past, now defined their life. We hold Sue and each of the thousands of evacuees in our heart, knowing that they are beings of Light and capable of integrating their tragedy into that Light.

Travel light, take only what you need. Each day is a new starting point for your journey and you never know where the road might take you. This is the truth of life. Living in denial of this truth has not brought humankind happiness, but instead has separated us from the Earth, from each other, and from the Divine. Perhaps our obsession with permanence  has brought us to the present ecologic crisis. The more we have sought security in permanence, the heavier has become the load of possessions we carry and the greater our impact on the delicate ecosystem that has provided us a home. We have forgotten, or denied, the transient nature of all life and, in our forgetfulness and denial, we have been blind to this impact.

The people of Paradise are not South American, Bangladeshi, or Syrian, but suddenly they have joined these brothers and sisters in suffering the loss of everything. A week ago they were typical American people with homes, jobs, family dramas, debt, and all the other trappings. Now they are refugees and their tent cities fill the vacant lots of Chico and the surrounding area. Jobs and homes are gone. The future is unknown and the present is occupied with securing warmth and food.

“They” are “us”! A slight shift of the wind and each of us becomes aware of the knife-edge on which our experience balances. This is reality! This makes life the intense, real, present-moment adventure it was meant to be. It gives everything its zest, flavored with the knowledge that it all can disappear in an instant.

Nancy and I are choosing the nomadic life as our own way of living in agreement with this Flow of Nature.  For us, it is the appropriate way of finding balance and living with the essentials. There are certainly other ways of doing this, but I think we must all find a way that is authentic for us. The future belongs to a humanity that has re-learned to travel light, taking from the Earth only what is needed, and dancing to the music of life rather than imposing its will upon it.

Devotion

Bhakti-yoga-2I’m starting to understand that dedication to the ideal of a “simple life” is not a sufficient foundation for my journey. All by itself, it won’t bear the weight of the transformation that is necessary. It is a needed step, an important component, but it is not sufficient in and of itself.

I woke this morning to a cold bedroom and a chaos of boxes strewn across the floor. I banged my toe against one of the boxes and uttered an oath, followed by the thought, “What in the hell are you doing? Are you going to spend the rest of your life being cold, uncomfortable, and rootless?” Almost immediately a voice emerged from deep in my belly, “If that is what is called for, then yes, that is exactly what I am going to do.” I stood there in my bare feet with aching toe and felt a sensation that I hadn’t felt for decades, if ever before in my life. It was a sense of, for lack of a better word, “devotion.”

Though I tried mightily, I could never truly devote myself within the Christian tradition. I wanted to, but the God I saw portrayed by Christian culture was not worthy of devotion. I found in Zen/Taoism a spaciousness that helped me empty my conditioned mind of lots of crap and bring me to a point of renewed dedication and love for the Earth. Even in this tradition, however, I did not find a foundation upon which I could plant my feet for complete devotion, In a sense, there was no “There” there.

Gradually, as Nancy and I have put one foot in front of the other on our path, we have both discovered that the Mystery behind it All is real and manifests Itself in a myriad of forms – all, in a sense, metaphorical, but nonetheless very real expressions of the Energy of Life. I find myself sinking into a deep devotion to this Life and to these Forms as they continue to manifest themselves to me and guide me along my path.

I find that I can not practice simplicity merely to separate myself from a society I consider dysfunctional and destructive. I am not just seeking a more satisfying life nor am I just trying to be a “good” person. I am surprised to find myself, after all these decades, waking up to an actual devotional life. Whatever my experience of the day, I am learning to offer that experience as a devotion to (I can’t say “God” anymore) the Living Earth and the Divine Cosmos – words that embody everything that the term, God, might embody, and so much more. This is of great comfort to me as I stumble through the confusing process of finding out where to obtain our next home – trailer, mobile home, whatever. The process of simplifying and moving is shifting from being something I have to do “wisely and responsibly” to something that emerges from my devotion. This devotion persists through all the “mistakes” I am bound to make in the coming months. It puts me in the presence of unseen Energies whose purpose is akin to mine – to serve and heal the Earth and Her Children.

Perhaps devotion is the practice that helps my poor ego, so separate from everything, find its way to peace. I affirm that my true identity, my Soul, has never been separate from Life and has no need for devotion since it is, itself, One. But my ego, my learned sense of identity, longs for Home and will, of necessity, devote itself to something. Culture uses this longing to lure our egos into devotions that sustain economies and uphold power structures. Only the Transcendent, in whatever forms it manifests, can unconditionally accept the ego’s devotion and use it for compassionate transformation.

I suppose I have always been devoted to something, usually unconsciously, that could not authentically carry that devotion without turning it to selfish ends. It may be that my Soul and my ego are finally finding their compassionate relationship along the Path. Support seems to come from invisible and mysterious sources and energies that transcend my conditioned ego and therefore are capable of sustaining a healthy devotion. Whatever the case, my feet feel, aside from an aching toe, solidly planted and ready for the next step.

The Real Vote

EarthThe farther along this path I travel, the more difficult it sometimes becomes. The joy that accompanies simplicity seems to lie on the other side of intense sadness. Tears are becoming familiar companions during my days as I feel more and more completely the disconnect that human culture is experiencing and the tragedy that is ensuing. It is hard. Though Nancy and I have had some wonderful epiphanies of grace as our life continues to move toward the essentials of freedom, joy and service, the road is, for us, rocky and uncharted.

Yesterday we watched yet another wildfire burst into life and destroy a town on the outskirts of Chico, California, a place we lived for eighteen years. We were visiting Chico when the fire started. By the time we headed back to our Mount Shasta home, the flames had burned 7,000 acres. Now, just over twenty-four hours later, the destruction is over 70,000 acres.

As cars and trucks careened by us on the freeway at their usual 80 miles per hour, I began to cry. I thought of the election a few days ago in which half the country continued to state openly that they did not give a damn – about the environment, about the Earth and Her children, or about anything other than life as usual. The tears flowed with greater intensity as I felt the angst of not knowing what to do; of realizing that there was very little I could do.

I am still somewhat off-balance. I know the essence of the vows of simplicity and service that both Nancy and I have taken, but I don’t know how those vows will take form as I watch society disintegrate at a much faster pace than I had hoped. The ray of grace that keeps breaking through is the assurance that how I live is actually important, whether or not it “saves” the Earth. In reality, the Earth does not need saving. I need saving.

Distractions continue to abound as a “Bread and Circuses” culture tries to keep my energy diverted into trivial pursuits or fear-based rage. Even voting has become a distraction in a society where wealth equals speech and elections are decided by memes, tweets, and “alternate facts.” Could the amount of energy poured into an election be used in more effective ways? Whether I vote or not is an individual decision, but here is the Truth: How I vote is not as important as how I live. The crucial question for us is Given the immediacy (and it is immediate!) of our human situation, how shall I live my life today, moment by moment?

The real election was not last Tuesday. The real election ballots continue to be counted with every breath we take. This is a voting right that no amount of repression or gerrymandering can take away from us. How will you vote today? And tomorrow? And the next day?

Potlatch

potlatch

 

Wow, how deep, subtle, and unconscious is the attachment to each and every possession we have. We are learning that it’s not just the logistical process of letting go that is the difficulty; it is the quantum threads that literally stretch from the smallest possession to the synapses of our brains. For some things that thread is quite weak and breaks easily; but for most things the attachment is through multiple threads, thin and unseen, but like the web spun by a spider, stronger than steel. Why else is that vase still sitting in the corner of the room when I have already decided I don’t need it anymore.

As we prepared for an “Estate Sale” this past Saturday, we began to feel a growing sense of freedom within us. The day before the sale, however, a neighbor visited us with a conversation of well-meaning advice on how to make the most money from such a sale. By the time the visit was over, our confidence and freedom had faded. We found ourselves caught in the cultural myth of “trying to get all we can” while the customer “is trying to pay as little as possible.” Thus goes the economic dance that fuels our culture. The morning of the sale, however, a wonderful message came to us in the form of thoughts about the “Potlatch” tradition of the Original Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, Canadian, and Alaskan areas.

For centuries the potlatch was the economic foundation of these peoples. It was a deeply spiritual celebration of equality and generosity in which each family presented all of its possessions for neighbors in the community to take. It was a true “redistribution of wealth” built into the spiritual fabric of the people and celebrated with dance and ceremony that lasted for days. To accumulate more than one’s neighbors was seen as disrespectful of the Spirits and the potlatch was developed as a way to commemorate this principle. It was not a “yard sale” in which unneeded items were sold. It was not the dumping of junk at the nearest “Thrift Store.” It was a true giving of prized possessions with no return whatsoever, except for the continued strengthening of the bonds of the community.

The Canadian government, however, saw the potlatch as a threat to its policy of “assimilation” and in 1884 passed an amendment to the Indian Act which made the potlatch illegal. This was done largely at the urging of missionaries and government agents who considered it “a worse than useless custom” that was seen as wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to ‘civilized values’ of accumulation. Missionary William Duncan wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized”. It was not easy to enforce such a ban. Communities were scattered and could usually operate “under the radar” of the Indian Agency. The ban itself was not lifted until 1951 and the celebration has gradually gained a renewed place among the Original Peoples of Canada.

The Spirit of the potlatch came to us the morning of the “sale” and totally transformed our experience. As people came we welcomed them as neighbors and friends. If someone seemed to want an item, we made sure they left with it. We abandoned the “economic value” of everything and, though we did not have a true potlatch because we did take money for some items, we did not ask anything near the “value” of each item. If we sensed a person was mired in the “how little will they take for this,” we simply let the item go to them for a few dollars rather than do the bargaining dance. Often we had the joy of saying, “Please, take it. It’s yours,” and seeing the delight spread over the countenance of a child or older person.

Items that had been weighted with the cultural idea of “possessions,” were transformed, not into money, but into the energy of release. It felt like the threads of attachment fell away and a Spirit filled the atmosphere with freedom and joy. Now we sit in a much emptier house. There are still items that will find their way to transformation, but we trust that process will continue to be in the spirit of the potlatch. I tell you, friends, it is freedom!

 

Archetypes of Freedom – Pete Seeger

peteEd Abbey and Henry Thoreau are, for me,  foundational archetypes of wildness and self-reliance. But there is another archetypal energy that courses in my body and soul during these turbulent times – music!

The vibrations of music first entered my soul when I was at the University in Berkeley. It was 1965 and Pete Seeger sang at what was then called a “Hootenanny”. We were sitting in a basement coffee shop just off Telegraph Avenue, and I listened to him with rapt attention. At the time I played 5-string banjo and guitar and understood more about freedom and joy through folk music than through any University class. Pete’s was the first voice I ever heard sing We Shall Overcome; the first voice I ever heard sing If I Had a Hammer; and the first voice I ever heard sing Where Have All The Flowers Gone? His was the voice of American folk, the American conscience, and an authentic American dream.

Pete sang This Land is Your Land with its composer, Woodie Guthrie. He sang Goodnight Irene as a member of the Weavers. He sang with Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Leadbelly, Doc Watson, and countless other folk legends. He sang at marches on Washington. He sang at sit-ins and at labor meetings. He sang on college campuses. He sang This Land is Your Land at age 90 at the celebration of the election of Barak Obama. He sang his songs from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters.

The only people he didn’t sing for was the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1955 he was called before the committee and asked to name the Communist groups he had sung for. He would not. He said, “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.” He was charged with contempt of congress and sentenced to a year in jail. He successfully appealed the charge in 1959; (One wonders what I would be charged with if asked my opinions of congress. Contempt would be putting it mildly.)

When I get caught up in the little dramas of my daily life, I tend to forget the deep mystery of existence – a mystery that will not yield to philosophy; but will resonate in the human heart through music and poetry. As the chaos of culture deepens, I find myself going back over my collections of Pete Seeger songs and feeling the vibrations of that authentic music touching and enlivening the humanity within myself.

I miss you, Pete. But your songs will last for centuries and I’ll sing them as long as I am able.

Here is one of my favorites for the struggles of our time: