Blowing in the Wind

blowingI’m sitting in the early morning darkness, snug and warm in my old Home on Wheels. It is parked beside my son’s house in Southern Arizona. In the two plus weeks we’ve owned it it has taken two trips – both to the dump station at the Circle K. We are getting to know my son’s family, including new granddaughter, Emma, in a deeper way and we are learning how to live in 200 square feet of space. The future is completely unknown, except for the images presented by various voices in my mind, some hopeful, many full of fears. Where to from here? Where is this all going?

Yesterday the wind howled down from the Huachuca Mountains all day, rocking our home and creating a restless energy within me. With 40 mph gusts shaking my room, I had the feeling that my life was anchorless and adrift on an unknown sea. I tried asking the wind what it was saying, but all I could feel was a sense of threat, as if there was a malevolent predator howling around the outside of my walls. I had a vague sense that the winds of Tao were speaking and I was having trouble listening.

As the new morning dawns I have my earphones on and am listening to Bob Dylan singing, “Blowing in the Wind.” How appropriate. Where are the answers? They are, my friend, blowing in the wind. I begin to understand the message of yesterday’s wind from the mountains, grabbing my home and shaking it to get my attention. “How many years will it take, my friend,” it is saying, “to get your full attention. To truly shake you loose from the mooring lines of culture and set the ship of your life free on its journey?”

“Listen,” it says, “You didn’t set out on this path to have a comfortable retirement. That  ship sailed long ago. You’re looking for Something Real before you die. You’re looking for your own personal answers to the questions: “How many roads must you walk down before you can call yourself a man? How many times must the cannonballs fly before you refuse to light the fuses?  How many times can you turn your head, and pretend that you just don’t see? How many times must you look up before you see the sky?”

Bob asked these questions decades ago and the answers remain blowing in the wind. The years since he first sang the questions have seen an urgent increase in the necessity of listening to the answers the wind carries. These answers are not carved on stone tablets or written in little black books, but they exist. The wind carries them across the seas and down the mountainsides, shaking and quaking our little houses, saying, “Listen! Your hearts know the answers but your minds are too loud.”

What do you hear when the wind blows and the questions arise? How many roads must you walk down? How many times must the cannonballs fly? How many times can you turn your head? How many deaths will it take? What answers do you hear as the wind whispers in your ears or rocks your foundations? I can’t articulate the details of the answers, but the wind playing across the strings of our hearts certainly can. Are we listening?

 

Tiny Houses and Small Choices

Cabin-BillI have been presented with some interesting questions about our choice to purchase an old Winnebago Motor Home to be our residence. Most of the questions arise from the assumption that we are embarking on a “Recreational Vehicle” lifestyle. An increasing number of people, especially seniors, are turning to various styles of RV living because they find it an affordable alternative to fixed housing. Some are choosing it as a full-time way of living. Many more are using RVs part-time to enjoy seeing sights while feeling self-contained. These are valid choices, although they involve some trade-offs and considerations.

For us, the choice was not about nomadic living or becoming recreational travelers. It was about seeking what felt, for us, to be an appropriate way of living an Earth-centered life. We wanted a “Tiny House” – one that would help us limit the amount of our possessions, decrease our use of non-renewable resources, keep us more mindful on a daily basis of the essentials of existence, and allow us to be more directly involved in the seasons and moods of the natural world.

We found that the typical “Tiny House” was quite expensive, unless one could build it oneself. We considered doing that, but found it to be impractical for us. Most Tiny Houses run into zoning problems unless they are on a trailer bed. After a couple of years of thought and exploration, we determined that an older motor home best fit our understanding of a “Tiny House.” Their size is usually around 200 or so square feet. The units are self-contained and flexible – able to be off the grid entirely for periods of time yet also able to connect to electricity when appropriate. And an older model motor home costs much less than a classic “tiny house” and fits our limited budget.

We do not really consider it an “RV.” It is our home – with the advantage that we can (carefully) move it to various locations. Its carbon footprint, despite the use of gas when moving it, is to our advantage – much less than a typical house. It drastically limits our accumulation of possessions and keeps us mindful of every purchase of food and clothing. It keeps our attention on every use of water, lights, stoves, heaters, and coolers. It invites us to spend much of our time outdoors. We have to spend more time and care on personal issues like showers, bathroom use, dish washing, house cleaning, and laundry. We are finding that these activities become mindfulness exercises rather than automatic tasks to be hurried through. All of life seems to be settling down to a more basic level.

Living in a small space also brings a new depth to our relationship. Personal quirks that larger homes have allowed us to ignore over the years now become doorways into deeper understandings of each other and of our own psyches. An already intimate and joyful marriage has been offered an invitation to evolution and awakening we would never experience otherwise.

Nancy recently got verbally slapped by a stranger on Facebook for talking about how her cold helped her gain insights into her life. She was told that a simple cold was nothing compared to the suffering of so many in the world and that perhaps she should examine these issues for herself. Nancy let it roll off her shoulders, understanding that this woman was dealing with her own unique situation and emotions. I was a bit defensive on Nancy’s behalf, but soon let it go as well. The incident served to remind me that, in a culture that is on the knife edge between disintegration and transformation, the urge to take some sort of action can actually be immobilizing, especially when we become narrowly focused on a tiny element within the array of possible actions.

We each experience the disintegration/transformation that is occurring from our own unique vantage point, one that is based on our personal history and conditioning. This personal history and conditioning also puts us in a position to make unique contributions that are based on who we are and where we are at the moment. Amid the multiple layers of embedded choices which face us, it is important to see clearly the Taoist ideal of,  “one small step,” which is ours, and only ours, to do in the present moment. Taking that action will lead us to the next vantage point and to the next step.

There are many alternatives to business as usual. Tiny houses are only one of the options for the creation of a new society and a new way of living in harmony with each other and with the Earth. Many of these options will be shaped by family situation, economic circumstances, and health. For instance, the ability of a middle-income family to choose organic food and other Earth-friendly options may be far greater than that of the family living below the poverty line. One person may have the ability to politically organize, while another is better working quietly on personal and family transformation. It does not help to assume what another person can or should be doing. It is enough to mindfully determine what is appropriate for our own small, next step.

Shared housing, urban and suburban gardening, community supported agriculture, tool libraries, and hundreds of other creative ideas are emerging and more are popping up all the time. Each person is responsible for mindfully considering, thinking, meditating, evaluating, and ultimately choosing among a multitude of competing voices. The choices of action will be different for each individual, but they will be equally important. They will be based on the unique circumstances in which each person finds themselves. They often seem small and insignificant to the conditioned mind and a little voice will tempt us to think, “this won’t make any difference.” But it will make a difference! Each little mindfully considered choice will contribute to tipping the balance – one way or another. Our world will take a small step toward transformation, or toward disintegration. It’s always our choice.

Depression

depressionOne difficulty of writing a blog is the way my conditioned mind will lock into a particular image of itself that it needs to present, then hijack my writing so that it conforms itself to that image. To be confused, unsure, afraid, or depressed is unacceptable to this conditioned part of my psyche and such states must never be revealed in the blog. The story seems to say, “People are looking to you for encouragement so you must keep yourself centered and confident. For heaven’s sake, don’t write anything if your can’t be positive and wise.” Yet, why communicate at all if I can’t communicate the full range of my experiences of life? Without that freedom my writings, my books, and my essays over the past 30 years would be a waste of words – mere facades woven with language to cover rather than reveal my soul.

At the moment I am discouraged and depressed. I acknowledge that both Nancy and I have been sick with a severe cold for the past week and we all know how that affects mood and outlook. Yet this current discouragement, though it will pass, is real and should not be dismissed by that part of me which is so terribly concerned with image.

I feel as if I have foolishly stepped off the edge of responsible behavior. I am assailed by the very voices I wrote about in a previous blog, Do You Know What You’re Doing? I reread that particular blog and found encouragement from my own words. Yet the feeling remains that I am somehow a foolish and naive man who, at age 74, is throwing away his life in Quixotic tilting at windmills. We have very little money. Our motor home is “docked” at my son’s home but we can’t remain here indefinitely. I have no idea what my contribution can or should be to the healing of the Earth. I am judging myself by all the standards that I actually don’t affirm to be true, but they feel true right now.

I write these discouraged thoughts because they are real to me at the moment. They are not the only reality. They are merely conditioned thoughts firing through the synapses of my brain. I write because I believe that a full-on acceptance of the transient moods of life is far more healthy than the effort of trying to pretend they do not exist. Acknowledging depression and discouragement is the first step toward moving through and emerging into the daylight. Our conditioned mind uses depression as one of its major weapons to resist transformation. It also hits us with the double-whammy of, “You’re depressed? What’s wrong with you? You shouldn’t be depressed? Buck up?”

“Buck up!” is a common refrain in life, but there are times when we long to hear, “Buck down for a bit.” There is nothing wrong with depressive and discouraged moods. Life is full of challenges and we are not always at our physical and emotional best to face them. That’s OK. We’ll find our way through. Compassion and acceptance, despite the insinuations of the conditioned mind to the contrary, are the strongest forces available to the human soul.

Lao Tzu remains my most compassionate guide, reminding me that, “The only step necessary in the thousand mile journey is the small one right in front of you.” It is raining and the Huachuca Mountains just south of us still have a bit of snow on their peaks. Nancy is napping. Kleenex tissues form their own small mountains by the chair, bed, and couch. I’m going to, “buck down,” and take a nap myself. That’s the next small step. It will be enough.

Bless our hearts, all of us.

This is Difficult

mother-natureThe new year is in its sixth day and I have, finally, come down with the cold/flu which mercifully held off until we completed most of our transition. We are now living in our new (15 years old) Home on Wheels. We are parked at my son’s home in southern Arizona and benefiting from his electric power. Both of us are under the weather and hope to take today as a rest day. A storm arose during the night and our home rocks like a railroad car while I sit at the table drinking my morning coffee. An internal voice tried to tell me fearful stories, but I countered with, “This vehicle is designed to drive 60 mph on the highway. Back off.”

I am very aware of my own naivete. My intentions to live a simple life of freedom and joy, in service to the Earth, so easily recede into the background to be replaced by the complexity of adapting to a completely new environment and way of living.  I look for comfort food, comfort activities, and distractions to soothe that part of mind that insists, “This is too much! Let’s go back to a stable home!” The poor little kid knows that there is no going back and he acts out by demanding my attention.

There is a very good reason that my culture, which includes me, seems to be fiddling while Rome burns. Doing anything else is damned hard! In a Thoreau-inspired moment, I asked to be given a life in which I could live deliberately and, “confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…”

I’ve been given what I said I wanted. There is a fifteen-year-old steel and aluminum frame between me and a desert gully-washer storm. I am not complaining. I only notice how insulated my life has been. I have been trained to see the natural elements as forces that must be somehow held at bay. When these elements reassert themselves, I am conditioned to assume that something is wrong. Not everyone has this kind of conditioning. Those of you who have been raised in a more intimate relationship with nature understand that the dance of life and its seasons is not at all tame, nor can it ever be tamed despite our genocidal efforts to do so.

So here I sit. Dawn is yet to appear to herald the new day and I write my musings and toss them into the wind. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t feel at all heroic. But I am, in my own small way attempting to, “rout out all that is not life.” Unless I do that, I run the risk of finding out that I have not lived.