Leap

Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020

leapWhat do you know? Today is “Leap Day.” What an appropriate day for celebrating the needed “Leap” in human consciousness. Evolution progresses slowly and follows a winding path full of dead ends and backtracks. But on rare occasions all the factors come together and a species makes a “leap” in its nature. It becomes something entirely new, seemingly unrelated to its antecedents. Evolutionary biologists agree that such rare leaps are precipitated by a crisis faced by the species. If ever a species faced a crisis that needs a “leap,” it is the human species. If we follow the usual pattern of a slow evolution of our essential nature, the exponential pace of environmental degradation will destroy us. The only species capable of handling our infinitely complex problems is a new species of humanity, as different from us as we are from chimpanzees.

Of course an individual person cannot make the species take this leap. We don’t even know what such a leap will produce. But we do know that it is necessary, and that it will be a leap of consciousness, not of simple biology. An individual person, however, can be willing to imagine how such a leap might change their life. If I were suddenly on the other side of this Leap, what would I see, feel, think, do? I cannot accurately imagine, of course, because the very nature of this Leap makes it mysterious and unknown. For the individual, it is truly a “leap of faith,” a step into the abyss of unknowing.

Still, the imagination is a powerful tool. We might consider taking today, Leap Day, as a symbol of our own willingness to make a leap. We might, today, step outside and walk through nature for a bit, contemplating what we truly, deep inside, feel life should be like, what human beings might be like the other side of the Leap. Then, when the time seems right, simply bend your legs, tense your muscles, and literally, physically – Leap! What did that feel like? Do it again, and again. Get a feel of what a transformed life might be like.

It can happen that fast. I was in one place, I took a leap, and I am somewhere else. Now begin to imagine what this new place does to your thoughts, actions, reactions, and experience of life. The old world no longer exists for you. You are a new person in a new world. When the feeling fades; Leap again!

Our Children

I have been asked by the publisher to write a new Afterword for an anniversary edition of my book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching. It is strange to consider that that book has been around for twenty years now. They would like the new Afterword to present my evolving understandings of parenting from the perspective of a grandparent.

My understandings of the whole parenting process have certainly evolved. The world I thought existed when I first became a parent almost fifty years ago is no longer the world I experience. All the signs were present back then, but I didn’t see them as clearly as they now appear. We are on the verge, or actually in the midst of, an evolutionary “leap” as a species. Whether that leap will be into oblivion or into a truly new humanity is yet to be seen. But it will be seen within the next few generations and its direction will literally depend on the choices those of us currently alive, regardless of our ages, decide to make.

Parents now have a more momentous responsibility than ever before, as if it weren’t already a heavy enough responsibility. Now, in addition to providing safety, love, shelter, and nurture, parents must envision and live a new and transformed life and communicate that life to their children as clearly as possible.

Our children and grandchildren must witness a new way of being. We may stumble and stagger as we seek to provide that way of being, but they must see us making the attempt. They must hear our apologies for the chaos we have created. They must hear our sincere repentance and observe our attempts to atone. They must experience a new economy, a new understanding of simple joy, and a new relationship with the natural world.

We must find the courage to step into, then attempt to teach this transformed life to childnaturethem. They must learn the names of the trees and flowers. They must experience the swarming of bees and the migration of birds. They must see the caterpillars become butterflies and know the vegetation necessary to that transformation. They must understand the value of sitting quietly in a field and letting life come to them on its own terms rather than remaking life in the form of their own desires.

Technology will not spearhead this transformation. The transformation must first be spiritual and psychological, from the inside out. Only then can technology be effective because only then will our spirits set the agenda for which the technology might be used. Our children and grandchildren must sense and live into this evolutionary leap in order for their phones, screens, and texts to have any true meaning in their lives. They must center their lives on the Earth as a living organism of which they are a part before they are able to stand apart and be able to do their work and give their gift to Life.

Parents have always wanted their children to have the “good life.” Most parents dedicate their lives to providing this good life for their children. But at our current point in evolutionary history that good life is a disastrous paradigm that will render the Earth unable to support human life at all. We parents and grandparents must completely redefine, first for ourselves and then for our children, the concept of a good life.

A transformed family will not be about taking away all of our toys and asking our children to play with wooden sticks. It will be about a deep, gut-level realization, that what we are doing is not working. We will gradually redefine joy and happiness. We will find simplicity to be, not scarcity as we have been led to believe, but a fullness of joy for which we have wordlessly longed all of our lives but were bamboozled by culture into abandoning. It will be difficult, especially for families already neck deep in the current economic and social paradigm. New parents will find creative ways of transforming family life a bit easier to manage, but we all can do it – parents and grandparents alike. It must start with us, not with our children. If it doesn’t start with us, where will it start? If it doesn’t start now, when will it start?

The time for a luxurious and automatic creation of family life is past. Some generation had to be alive at the crisis point, and it turns out to be us. The necessary transformation had to emerge in a time of terrible danger, and it turns out that time is now. We can wish it were not so and that we could raise our children as culture has taught us to for the past century or two. But that wish will not be fulfilled. Some have said that the WWII generation was the greatest generation. Perhaps. But their challenge pales compared to the challenge we now alive must face. We, our children, and our grandchildren stand at the cusp of being the most courageous, creative, and important generations in the history of human kind.

What will we do? How will we be remembered?

Wabi-Sabi

sidingI’ve been enjoying the simple treats of life lately and this has sent me back to the Taoist/Zen concept of wabi-sabi. It is a hard to define term, yet one that permeates Taoist philosophy and art. It is perhaps best described as a celebration of the simple, the transient, the humble, the asymmetric, and the imperfect. In Taoist thought these qualities are seen as the essence of the Tao, which moves in natural, flowing, and ever-changing patterns throughout the Cosmos.

We have inherited from Greek culture a different philosophic perspective and aesthetic, one in which the permanent, the grand, the symmetric, and the perfect are the ideals. Frightened of the seemingly chaotic and transience of nature, western culture has, to a degree, sought to impose order and permanence in its economic, philosophic, and artistic endeavors. We look for perfection and control in our lives, and in doing so, create an inevitable undercurrent of unhappiness.

I notice the old wood siding on the little cabin and wonder if it should be replaced with stovemodern materials. As I pay closer attention I see the beauty inherent in the weather-beaten character of it all. It is still solid, though not at all pretty in the modern sense of things. It blends with its surroundings and suggests that it may have grown here rather than being built. The ancient cast-iron fireplace sitting in the corner was not installed by experts and the pipe slants as it makes its way to the ceiling, but it has been in place for decades and draws easily. Our morning fires are all the more pleasant because of its presence.

Wabi-sabi in design can not be easily defined but you can learn to appreciate it when you see it. It tends to be earthy in its color tones. There is a degree of aging that is evident in the object or setting. A functional simplicity of purpose and sense of spaciousness is present. Wabi-sabi is not wabi-sloppy. Age and weathering is present, but not dirt and clutter. The natural qualities of a garden, room, object, or person are allowed to be seen without extraneous modifications and decoration.

I feel wabi-sabi myself, asymmetric and imperfect. My life has not been the Greek ideal of grand symmetry and perfection. It twisted and turned as it grew and the weather-beaten nature of my being is evident. Healed wounds create knots and hollows on the surface and also within the psyche. The wonder is this: I find myself to be beautiful! I find it all to be beautiful.

How much more joy we might find in life is we let go of the need for the “ideal.” Perfection is a given in the very nature of being and we do not need to “achieve” it. Let’s celebrate the earthy, the weathered, the so-called imperfect, and the beauty that time brings to all beings, a natural loveliness more wonderful than any gleaming soulless machine or model-perfect face.

Just My Hands…

People Hands Together Partnership Teamwork“Back in the day,” I earned coffee and beer money playing in a bluegrass/folk group, singing occasionally at coffee houses in Berkeley. Nancy and I were talking this evening when an old tune from those times popped into my mind from where it has been hiding for decades.  Pete Seeger wrote it and his voice is associated with it in my mind. Odetta did a wonderful version of it as well. You may remember it: One man’s hands… 

On one of the albums Pete recorded with friends he changed the words to a more inclusive version.

Just my hands can’t tear a prison down
Just your hands can’t tear a prison down
But if two and two and fifty make a million
We’ll see that day come round
We’ll see that day come round.

Just my eyes can’t see the future clear…

Just my voice can’t shout to make them hear…

Just my strength can’t ban the atom bomb…

(make up your own lyrics – endless possibilities)

I am convinced that the power of one person’s choices is the fundamental energy of transformation. Nothing can happen without that individual choice – to step away from complicity in injustice, cruelty, mindlessness, avoidance, and biocide in ever deeper ways. Individual choices come together of course. Sharing, witnessing, writing, and acting together naturally arise. First, however, comes a choice, a simple, in-the-moment choice that forever changes the direction of a life.

What are these moments of choice? I won’t define them but we all know the things we’d rather not see and examine – Where what we eat comes from. Where what we buy originates. Whether or not a particular purchase, trip, or other action is in line with our deepest ethics. What, indeed, are those deepest ethics in the first place? What would we rather not have interfere with our conditioned habits and comforts? We examine ourselves as deeply as possible and make a choice. Another choice follows, building upon the first. Then another, and another, and another…  Another person begins the same process, then another person, then another, and another,…

“We’ll see that day come round. We’ll see that day come round”

Simple lyrics. Simple tune. Powerful energy, especially when sung by someone like Odetta