Just a 2% Shift!

chimpAs the solstice arrives with a gentle falling of snow, I rejoice at the warmth of our little cabin home and send gratitude to the spirits of the Earth for their eons-long nurture of life. My thoughts turn to intentions for the coming seasons with a mixture of grief and hope. Grief is the reasonable response to a culture which has lost its way, yet hope remains if I take the long-term view that Taoist thought recommends. (I have always said that a Taoist is a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist.)

The chimpanzee differs from the human by a tiny 2% of its DNA, yet what a difference it makes. We marvel at the most intelligent chimps who are able to communicate at a rudimentary level, use tools, solve simple problems, and feel empathy – basically the things a human toddler can do.

When I try to envision what an evolved humanity might be capable of, I am limited by what is essentially a chimp-like perspective compared with that future human. If a human pre-schooler of today were asked to envision his or her ideal future it might be composed of more nap time, more chocolate at lunch, and bigger Lego blocks. To the human of the future, my imaginings might seem as child-like. I have no choice but envision the future using concepts that are familiar to me, but I recognize that these concepts may be quite simplistic in the context of possible transformational evolution.

What if I imagine a DNA shift of 2% in the human species? What if I remind myself that we might be at the very beginning of an evolutionary journey that, if we don’t destroy ourselves, will make our distant progeny as different from us as we are from chimpanzees? Granted, self-destruction is a distinct possibility, but not at all a certainty. The species has adapted to cataclysmic change before and may well adapt again, though not without a period of destruction and chaos. The current period of idiocy, moronic leadership, and insane economic separation between the very rich and the rest of humanity my be seen as a necessary step in the journey – a fever-like symptom of a disease that will eventually be cured.

So, as I envision my own future I want to hold to a sowing the small seeds of my words into the soil of human experience. I want to dream, not of my own desire for the equivalent of bigger Lego blocks and more chocolate, but to envision a symbolic image of a truly transformed future – a 2% transformation that will renew the possibilities of joy and peace on Earth. What might it look like? What might we be like?

Here’s to the 2% Shift!

Which Flow?

salmonMy spouse, Nancy, recently shared an image that came to her in a shamanic meditation – that of conversing with Salmon, who shared wisdom about the “elder” stage of life. In a seeming contrast to popular interpretations of Taoist thinking, the later journey of the salmon is a concentrated, focused imperative to swim upstream in order to get “home.”

This brought to mind that the popular Taoist, “go with the flow” idea has some important caveats. Just which “flow” are we to go with? Is the cultural rush toward oblivion and meaninglessness to be interpreted as the main “flow” of Tao? Or does the Tao actually have a deeper and more powerful current flowing in another direction. Is the current of Tao difficult to discern because it is flowing in this more mysterious place, under the seeming rush of culture?

The stream of culture is shallow and noisy, rushing over rocks and falls and gathering our attention. Where is the deeper stream? And do we have to let some of the imperatives that salmon feel arise to our awareness in order to discover it? There are two paradoxical processes: One – seeming to swim “up stream” against the shallow current of culture. And two – going “with the flow” of the deeper, more powerful and eternal current of Tao.

All the surface streams find their way to the ocean, where the power of water becomes turtlemultiplied a thousandfold. Sea turtles find these immense flows and allow them to facilitate long migrations. These deep currents are so powerful that all surface weather is formed by their action. Does the salmon have an intuitive memory of these depths that allows it to face into the surface current regardless of cost? Has the time spent in the depth of the ocean given it the strength for this journey? Perhaps, in order to find the flow of Tao at this point in my life I must seek out these deeper currents.

The analogy of the salmon isn’t totally applicable to my life, but it has enough resonance to provide me with some wonderful lessons. Culturally speaking, I am swimming upstream on an extremely difficult journey. Like the salmon, I have to touch the deep conviction that I am on a journey home and let nothing interfere with that journey. I cannot stop and let the shallow stream of culture carry me backwards. But, unlike the salmon, perhaps more like the Sea turtle, I have access to a deeper current which I can trust to carry me along this path.

Which flow shall we go with? The conditioned mind says that going with the surface stream of culture is far easier, more entertaining, and full of toys, trinkets, and so-called safety nets. But where will it lead? Home? Hardly. There is an instinct in each of us as powerful as that in the home-bound salmon. But few are willing to heed its imperative. “Futile!” our conditioning says. “Go with the flow,” it insists. But if we want to truly find home, we must swim upstream, all the while gathering our trust, hope, and strength from the Deep Current of Tao that enlivens us, the Earth, and the Cosmos.

Seeing Through the Holidays

This is a guest post from my spouse, Nancy’s blog: Earth Centered Living After 60

 

solsiceOur eyes, minds and nervous systems have been deeply trained to follow the surface patterns of our culture in an exaggerated way as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approach. It is as though a switch is thrown and we go unconscious to our usual self-care, balance and common sense. We are swept into overindulging in food, entertainment, buying, gift giving and family/friend gatherings. We push our energy to the limit to meet some inner standard of what we should be, and lose sight of who we are and what has meaning in our lives. In short, we run head-long into the prison of our economic system and end up carrying debt, extra physical weight, exhaustion, and heavy emotional fallout that keep us overworking and distracted well into the new year.

Instead of falling into this trap, we can set our intention to see through all of this illusion and unhealthy conditioning. I invite you to walk away from the noise and confusion of the cultural norms and into the spaciousness of the unseen spiritual mysteries that fill our lives.

The secret: We must remember who we are and that what is true of us is true of all human beings. Before, through and beyond this Earth-walk existence, we are beings of light – expressions of the amazing love and infinite creative energy which has formed our universe and beyond. The playful, powerful, wondrous, imaginative force that births all the living beings of this planet, brought each of us forth as an unique embodiment of life.

Each of us is a creative soul who knew the purpose and path through this lifetime before it ever began. That we have been distracted from that path and lost sight of that purpose is natural given the noise and confusion of our current world. Our loss of focus does not mean that we do not remain beings of light who possess the energy of love, creativity, and the gifts of self we came here to share.

When I look at all the people in my life, near and far, I remember that we are all made of the same elements of earth, air, water, fire and spirit. The spark of life the enlivens us, also animates all living beings – not only flesh creatures, but mountains and streams, trees and shrubs, physical buildings and automobiles. We are all beings of the same stuff, here to honor and support one another.

When I carry this perspective back toward the holiday season, several things emerge:

1  No living being is truly honored and celebrated in vast amounts of food and drink consumed, or in the mountain-high stacks of presents under a tree. The inherent beauty and natural gift of each is lost. One taste overpowers another. Another glass of “holiday cheer,” adds to the depression of body and mind, and separates us from one another. Package after package of new toys, gadgets, trinkets or treasures dulls gratitude for the deeper gifts of life, love, friendship and connection.

2  When I see all of the people in my life as beings of light, I know that there is no “thing” they need from me. Whether they are near of far from me, it is my willingness to hold their inner being in focus throughout the year that seems the greatest gift I can offer. If I can remain open to the creativity, unique perspectives, their individual path through challenges, and their capacity for it all clearly in my heart, every encounter becomes a celebration.

3  Winter is an inward and reflective season. In this hemisphere, the whole outward rush of November and December pushes us straight against the pattern of the natural world around us. It is as though we are so afraid of what the quiet, inner journey will reveal, that we run out into a world of light, color, sound, party, and tradition, to avoid discovering our own light. It is not that we all need to become introverts or go into hibernation mode when the days shorten and the weather grows cold. But this season does invite a different tempo and focus for our creative energy.

May you find your own ways through this holiday season, which honors the light of your being and with wisdom of your soul. May you see through the distractions of the season to discover the deepest and richest gifts of joy, life and light in your life and in the lives of all those you love.

 

Vulnerable Courage

Attempting to control external events will never keep us safe.
Control is an illusion.

Whatever we try to control, we separate from ourselves.
Whatever we try to fix, we ruin.
Life is sacred, and flows exactly as it should.

From The Tao Te Ching – Chapter 29

 

vulnerableTo be alive is to be vulnerable. There is no option. Yet how desperately we work to escape, deny, and hide that essential fact. This effort is a tragic waste of time. Not only is it futile, it diverts energy away from creativity, love and courage.

If outcomes could be assured, there would be no need whatsoever for courage. Since no outcome is ever truly assured, courage therefore becomes one of the fundamental energies of a well-lived life. Paul Tillich, one of the twentieth century’s great theological and philosophical minds, wrote a powerful book titled, The Courage To Be, which I read decades ago and assimilated long enough to regurgitate it on a graduate school exam. I’m going to find it again and let his lucid thinking sink into a deeper place in my mind. As the title asserts: to truly “be” is the great act of courage.

In the meantime, I am indebted to Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher and popular author, for her wonderful presentations in TED talks and in a Netflix special. She has an earthy presentation on the absolute necessity of wading into the vulnerability of life in order to experience any of the joy, creativity, and love we seek.

As I embarked on the adventure of “freedom, simplicity, and joy” I had no real idea of the deep vulnerability such a journey would engender in me. Each of those three qualities are predicated on the willingness to face vulnerability, in the form of physical, emotional, and spiritual risks and uncertainties.

For instance, right now Nancy and I are facing a harsher winter than either of us has ever experienced. We are in a motor home and tiny cabin, surrounded by the drifts of snow from the first of many winter storms. We won’t be able to drive the motor home out to dump its holding tanks so will have to occasionally use a camping toilet. Fortunately, the cabin has working (at the moment) plumbing into which we can dump the camping toilet. We won’t be able to fill the propane tank on the motor home so will have to rely on electric power, which can be iffy in the winter as well as expensive.

I report this, not to bemoan or complain. We are happy and content; actually excited and energized. It is just that our sense of vulnerability has deepened greatly. Of course, the fact of vulnerability hasn’t changed because we are all always vulnerable, but life now presents us with that fact in more face-to-face terms. As Brené Brown reports, when that happens we are led into the realm of joy, courage, gratitude, compassion, and love in ways we could never before have imagined.

As my life is being transformed by my journey into vulnerability and courage, I am saddened by the almost complete lack of vulnerability in our country’s leadership. We are frightened by the appearance of vulnerability in leadership because we are terrified of its reality in our own lives. Leadership capitalizes on this fear by cloaking itself in a mask of invulnerability and convincing us that it is strength. In reality it is just the opposite. It is the weakness of terrified children. Only by accepting and embracing our existential vulnerability can we possibly find the adult courage and creativity necessary for true transformation of our culture. Only thus can we free ourselves from manipulation that draws its power from our fear.

Perhaps, as we as individuals step into our own “courage to be,” we will stop looking to others to hide our fears. Perhaps, as we face the vulnerability of our lives and find that we have courage and strength beyond our expectations, we will no longer tolerate denial and pseudo-strength in leaders. Perhaps facing into a severe winter in simple surroundings is an act of political agitation. Perhaps facing whatever we face in life without denial is a political coup. Perhaps the “courage to be” is the most powerful act of revolution.