Addicted to Western Civilization

Chellis Glendinning, in her marvelous book, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery From Western Civilization, offers a penetrating look at the essential wound of our society, from which we have, like all addicts, sought relief through denial, distraction, and pleasure-seeking. This primary wound occurred thousands of years ago and we have gradually covered it with a compensatory process of twisted thinking that has produced a toxic atmosphere so pervasive and so addictive that we seldom fully realize the pain we are experiencing and the damage we are doing to life around us as we seek to manage this pain.

This wound occurred when we as a species shifted from being hunter-gatherer nomads living is small tribal units, to being a settled agricultural species. This shift toggled an aspect of our brain that for hundreds of thousands of years had been living as part of the Life of Earth, connected to all aspects of the natural world as a guest of Nature. Since that time we have become “owners” instead of guests on the planet. We have created fences and assumed control of, at first simply small plots of land, but over the millennia that control has expanded outward in countless ways. We began to “own” animals, water, land, and every type of possession – all of which we had up until then held in common usage as gifts from Nature or the Gods.

Western Civilization is predicated on the concept of ownership and its corollary, private wealth, which has led to the great disparity between the few rich and the many poor among the people. This idea of ownership is so fundamental to our modern psyche that we do not question its basic assumption. We may disagree on ways and means, but private ownership and wealth itself is unquestioned. Yet it is that very assumption that has created the rift between ourselves and the natural world that has left us a culture of addicts, using every means at our disposal to soothe the pain of this wound we can’t even acknowledge we have.

I believe that hope for humanity remains within the Original Matrix that has been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years and is still fundamental within each person. We can recover, but what will we be when we recover? Who will we be when we reconnect with our Source? How will our relationships unfold? How will our education, business, and social structures support a new Humanity on a renewed Earth? These are the questions that both disturb and inspire me.

We are in a state of massive denial that is supported by every facet of our lives – media, economy, entertainment, government, business – everywhere we turn we are fed misinformation, partial truths, and downright lies. We look no further because it is too difficult and too frightening. We are both addicted and co-dependent. Keeping our own addiction intact by supporting that addiction in all of our relationships. When an alcoholic decides to be in recovery, he or she must find a new environment in which to develop relationships. We can’t, of course, abandon friends and family and go to the mountains… but we must take steps that will seem just that radical to our addicted brain. We must, a step at a time, untangle each knot that keeps us tied to our toxic society. We can’t build a new society by rearranging the pieces of the old. The natural world is teetering on the brink of becoming unable to support our species, but enough of it remains to offer a refuge and a source of renewal. But we must be willing to take the journey from civilization into the wilderness. As Chellis says, it need not be an “Outward Bound” camp first thing. It begins with simply going out the front door, then taking another step along the dirt path into the still waiting arms of Mother Earth. There is not much time left. Don’t wait in the illusory comfort of denial.

So, my name is Bill and I am addicted to Western Civilization. I now in recovery and I take it one day at a time, depending on a Source greater than myself to work within me because, by myself I am powerless to recover. The Web is too tightly wound about my mind and psyche for me to untangle it by myself. I am in recovery from my addictions and I am also recovering to my connection with the Earth. I already glimpse the freedom, simplicity, and joy available to me as the tendrils of my addiction are unwound. The entire Cosmos awaits me. It has been there all along. It is only in the past few thousand years – a tiny fraction of our human history – that we have hidden ourselves from its Wonder and Glory. The Original Matrix is still solidly imprinted within us and will help us in our recovery.

As all addicts know, a day at a time. Ready to take the first step?


Chellis’s wonderful book is twenty-five years in print. It’s reprint in 2007 is fairly expensive. I wish it were cheaper. There seem to be used copies available. I got a used one for only $4.00 that is in good shape.

Another, more recent book that is extremely well-written and inspiring on a similar subject is; “Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Writing On

Our adventure continues to unfold, as all adventures do. We have both been feeling good, finally recovered from several bouts of “pre-school viruses” spread evenly through the family by granddaughter Emma. My writing has been progressing, a bit unevenly, but progressing. I am developing a new rhythm, one that is necessary for fiction writing and quite different from that of poetry and essay. The new rhythm and practice suits me.

We are getting used to motor home living and in a month and a half will be migrating back to the Mount Shasta, California, area. We have been parked for three and a half months by my son’s home in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We have done lots of hiking and explored many trails and lovely areas of the desert, but have not really ventured “out” in the motor home except a weekly trip to dump the holding tanks. Pretty soon now we’ll let the motor home do what motor homes are designed to do – travel, at least enough to get us back to California where we will let our “tiny home” rest for awhile and provide us a cozy place to be.

Below is another sample of the work that is emerging – where it will be in the next novel I do not know. I’m just the writer. Later comes the editing.

Full Moonlight cast the beach in a shimmering white aura. The tiny whitecaps danced in a calm sea and gently broke over the sand. The eternal murmur of the Pacific Ocean was soft in the summer evening, joined this particular night by the rhythmic tum-tum-tum-tum of drumming that echoed out from the bonfire blazing on the sand between the surf and the cliffs.

Dorothy Waters, proprietress of Words and Images bookstore and art gallery, was dressed in a loose and flowing white cotton dress that danced in its own rhythm to the breeze as she swayed rhythmically and tapped her fingers and palm against the face of a large hand-drum she held in her left hand. A circle, comprised of women of all ages, sat around the fire and beat and rapped on drums of all sizes and types, complimenting the rhythm of Dorothy’s lead.

Kathleen O’Hara-Ito, recently retired from the Oregon State Police and now in what she called the, “Alternative Justice” profession, sat with a large African Djembe held between her knees. Her eyes were softly closed and her upper body undulated gently to the beat. She had been part of the “Drumming Up The Moon” circle since its inception. As part of her body/spirit lost itself in the drumming, her mind also played with the memory of that meeting at the Happy Frog cafe a little over six months ago.

The Happy Frog served only breakfast and lunch and therefore closed each day at three. This was seldom the end of the day for the community of people who had gathered around this unusual little cafe since it was purchased by James Cooper eight years ago. An odd, idiosyncratic, and unconventional group had found a home for their spirits in the magic of the Happy Frog. This particular evening found Connie Delaney, Mary O’Hara, Dorothy Waters, Amy Hsu, and Kathleen O’Hara-Ito gathered around a pot of Jasmine Tea and fresh baked blackberry scones. Dorothy, ever the literary, opened the conversation with, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here this evening.”

Connie replied in a stage voice filled with dramatic astonishment, “You can’t be implying that one of us is the murderer? That’s impossible!”

Dorothy laughed, “Nothing’s impossible, dear, but I’m not talking about a murder. I have in mind something far more sinister.”

“Count me in,” Mary O’Hara leaned forward with a grin.

“Me too,” her sister Kathleen and Amy Hsu chimed in together.

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Dorothy protested.

“They do know, dear,” Connie said, “we all know what you have in mind and we think it’s wonderful and exciting. It’s also very important.”

Dorothy sat quietly, a puzzled expression in her hazel eyes, “But I haven’t…” she began. Then she turned her gaze to Connie. “Do you know what…” she began again.

Connie shrugged her shoulders apologetically, “I’m sorry hon, but I know your drumming and dancing is so important to you. I have the feeling that it is that important to all of us; important beyond those here tonight and important beyond what we can imagine. So I might have mentioned that to Mary. And, of course, Mary told her sister and Kathleen confided in Amy. So… the question becomes, do you have enough drums for all of us?”

Dot sighed comfortably, “I have more than enough drums. In fact, I have a collection in the car that I brought along just in case there was interest.”

“Get them!” cried Kathleen and the others echoed their enthusiasm.

Thus was born the practice of “Drumming Up the Moon.”

 

Blessings to everyone from the desert

The Writing Life

fictionMy time in the desert is continuing to work its exciting, uncomfortable, and transformative wonder. I am beginning to recover from several bouts of illness and depression that are, I think, essential components of a “desert experience.” The existential questions I have been considering have boiled down to: I know I am a writer and will continue to write, but what shall I write? I have written poetry and short essays most of my writing life. My popular Tao books are primarily poetry. My blog work is short essay form. On which should I concentrate? Both?

Or … the answer comes to me, “neither.” I think I may be finished with both of these forms, at least as a primary focus. Several years ago I wrote and self-published a short novel, Tales of the Happy Frog. It has sold in the tens of copies. It was an experiment that grew out of a weekly journal column and there was no real way to market it. Despite the dismal sales it was the most enjoyable writing I’ve ever done. It was difficult, a real stretch for a poet, but it was fun! Since “fun” is written large on the to-do list of my life, I have decided to put all my efforts into a new series of novels that have been languishing for three years, all growing out of the characters of that first one.

I want to keep in touch with everyone so I will be using this blog to let you peek into the fiction writing process; how it flows and doesn’t flow, how ideas come from the stuff of our culture and life and from our common hopes and dreams. I will share descriptions and dialogues from my work – with no particular connection to an emerging story, simply thoughts and words that strike me as interesting. The overarching theme of “Freedom, Simplicity, and Joy” will inform my novels and I will be seeking to give a form and structure to these sometimes overly philosophical ideals.

Below is a short dialogue from my current work. It will appear somewhere in a novel soon, I hope:

     “So, you’re having a nervous breakdown,” Ken Woods intoned, “Figures. You’re about due for one.”
     Carole Evans slapped Ken’s shoulder with exasperation, “Be serious, idiot!” she warned, “Robert is worried.”
     “I am serious,” Ken rejoined, “anyone who’s not coming apart right now simply doesn’t understand the situation. I think intelligent people are going to suffer more and more disorientation and decompensation. It’s the only healthy response to an insane world.”
     Ken was a well-liked professor of psychology, affectionately known as the Campus Curmudgeon. He was a vocal social critic and activist whose energy had lately been spread thin in an attempt to understand and respond to the multitudinous outbreaks of outrage among students, faculty, and community. His remarks did not disconcert Robert. He felt Ken was taking his fears thoughtfully and replying from that thoughtfulness.
     He continued, “Robert, don’t be afraid of such experiences. The human mind is capable of a much deeper and broader perception of reality than the one we’ve been conditioned to accept as the only perception.”
     “Watch out,” Carole interjected, “he’s about to suggest his Magic Mushroom therapy.”
     Ken turned to Carole with a flash of anger, “Carole, do you really think I am a druggie, a tuned-in burned-out hippie? Do you think I would suggest anything harmful to anyone?”
     Carole was the Head of the English Department and had the reputation of being no-nonsense. She flashed back at Kenny, “I don’t think that, Ken. I just think Robert is vulnerable right now and doesn’t need any radical suggestions.”
     “Have I made any radical suggestions?” Ken raised his voice, “Well, have I?”
     “Ken, Carole,” Robert cut in, “Let’s not argue over my pathology or treatment plan. I don’t need fixing. I just need my friends to be my friends.”
     Carole leaned back and smiled, “I’m sorry, Robert. Of course that’s all you need.” She turned to Ken reaching over to pat his arm affectionately, “I know you are not suggesting anything. I just sometimes get caught up in your Old Hippie persona and forget that you really are a dear, intelligent, and compassionate man.”
    “Humph!” Ken snorted, but with a smile at the corner of his mouth. Then he turned to the young waiter who was passing by and waved his glass, “Dave, another round for my friends and me. Robert is paying.”
     Did I really need another pint of the sumptuous Amber Ale? ” Robert thought. “Sure I do!”
     “I’m not an aging hippie like Ken,” Robert said, “so I can’t rely on the flashback theory to explain what’s been happening. I’m honestly worried that something physical is misfiring in my brain.”
     “You thinking of seeing a neurologist?” Carole asked.
     Robert sighed, “I’ve considered it, but I also have the feeling that all these episodes are portending something important. Maybe a brain tumor, but … I have the strangest sensation of calm during the actual episode itself, as if the altered perceptions and hallucinations are benign, even important.”
     Ken looked at him with an intent expression, examining his face as if he were making a diagnosis. He leaned back and continued to study him. Robert began to feel a bit awkward. Then Ken leaned forward and said, “These experiences are real, Robert. Take them seriously and find out what they are telling you.”
     Carole started to protest, then sat back in silence. The corner of her mouth turned up in a wry half-smile and she shrugged her shoulders in a, “Why not?” gesture.
     “I do take them seriously,” Robert said, then reflected for a moment and asked, “What do you mean by ‘take them seriously?’”
     “I know you take them seriously in that you are worried about them,” Ken said, holding Robert’s eyes with his hawk-like gaze, “But there is a deeper level of seriousness you need to explore. What if there is nothing at all ‘wrong’ with your mind? What if you are experiencing a long-neglected function of your brain that is wired into the most fundamental essence of who you are as a human being?”
     Something in Robert’s chest constricted at hearing Ken’s words. An undefined emotion tried to emerge but couldn’t work its way past his mind, which quickly responded with, “What if I’m just losing my mind? What if I’m actually teetering on the brink of insanity?”
     Carole started to say something, but Ken kept pressing his point, “What you are describing is not insanity. Your ‘visions’ – to use the correct word …”
     Carole again tried to interrupt.
     “… Yes, Carole, I use the word ‘vision’ deliberately,” Ken continued. “In a society that is sorely lacking in ‘visionaries,’ older definitions of the word will become increasingly important. Robert is having ‘visions,’ not hallucinations.”
     Carole finally interjected in a skeptical argumentative tone, “How do you know they’re visions, Ken?”
     “I do know!” Ken answered in a gruff tone, “I do know the difference, Carole. Believe me on this. This is my field. I’ve spent my life exploring the boundaries between so-called ’sanity’ and so-called ‘insanity.’ I’ve studied and experienced both visions and hallucinations and I know the fundamental differences. Human beings have come to dismiss any experience that dares to venture outside of a culturally defined normality and are thus in danger of destroying the very essence of their humanity.”
     He took a deep breath and turned back to Robert, “Robert here is a fundamentally healthy and sane man. His experiences are visions, the product of a creative mind reaching for something deeper and more human than it has been allowed heretofore.”
     The constriction in Robert’s chest once again appeared. This time he could not interrupt it before it made its way up through his throat to his eyes. Tears began to form and a small sob formed in his chest. He swallowed and turned his eyes toward the flat screen on the wall that was flashing continuous images of athletes in action or some sort. He swallowed again, then felt Carole’s hand on his arm. He turned back to his friends and let the sobs begin to escape, quietly and somewhat under control, but escaping nonetheless.
     “Are you frightened?” Carole asked.
     “I suppose… a bit,” he said, “but Ken’s words about a deeper…” He choked up again and had to turn his eyes away. This welling up of emotion in the midst of conversation was unfamiliar to him. “… About a deeper experience of life somehow made me feel as if a long buried longing started to emerge. It is…” He waited until the small sobs subsided, “… as if his words touched the heart of my recent experiences.”
     Ken and Carole were silent, creating a space in which Robert found some comfortable breathing room, an open place in his mind where there had before been only mixed and fearful thoughts.

I hope you will follow along as I live out the answers to my desert questions. I hope you like the novels when they appear. But mostly, I hope for us all, freedom, simplicity, and joy.