Rationing

ration2I have written before about the climate crisis that humanity faces. The forces fighting for business as usual are so very powerful that I often despair our fate. Yet hope remains within my psyche and that hope lies with individual spiritual evolution. Climate activists tend to pooh-pooh such an approach as being a type of head-in-the-sand denial, but my deepest intuition is that spiritual evolution is the only possible path. Polarization of political approaches has led only to a mean-spirited shouting stalemate. To believe that “we” can successfully impose on “them” our solutions is to perpetuate the power game that has brought us to this point in the first place.

As a culture we have grown soft and deluded. On the other hand, we are a species that has historically rallied together to make courageous sacrifices when confronted with catastrophic times. During World War II, the population of Britain, the United States, and Canada willingly embraced strict rationing and gave up many conveniences in the face of a common threat. Between 1938 and 1944, the use of public transit increased by 87% in the United States and by 95% in Canada. By 1943 twenty million households in the United States were growing “Victory Gardens” which supplied a whopping 42% of all produce consumed.

I have said it before: the crisis we now face is every bit as real and imminent as was Fascism in WW II. The Earth as a human habitat is threatened as surely as England was threatened by the German military 30 miles across the channel. But we don’t believe it because everything in our economic system is geared to hide the truth from us. I won’t belabor the clear facts. Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, is the clearest presentation of the crisis that I have come across and I recommend it.

What, then, to do? First, we have to accept that governments are not going to act in any meaningful way to protect us or the Earth. They are not going to impose needed rationing or ask for any sacrifices (except the sacrifice of our pensions, health care, education, etc.) Then, we can begin to voluntarily take upon ourselves the rationing and sacrifice of convenience that is necessary, and to do so, not in a spirit of despair or gloom, but in a spirit of dedication and love for the planet and all of the life upon it.

During WW II, many things were just not available anytime we wanted them: sugar, gasoline, meat, butter, etc. These things were expensive and if you didn’t have the ration tickets, you didn’t get it. Self-imposed rationing is very difficult to maintain because we are so habituated to having what we want, when we want it. So, Nancy and I are using some simple techniques to help us ration. One is: “If it isn’t organic, it isn’t available!” What a blow to our conditioned minds this is! “But, but, but…” the mind stammers, “what about this or that? What about the cost? We can’t afford…”

gas_rationOrganic foods are not the panacea to the crisis, but for us they are a symbol of the direction in which culture needs to move. The self-imposition of a rationing approach gives us the necessary sense of sacrifice. We have a very limited food budget and to limit it to organic is a “sacrifice.” It is, however, very helpful. It limits the quantity of food we buy and enhances the quality. We also don’t eat any meat products, which eliminates a wide range of choices. We are also going to self-ration gasoline, but haven’t figured out the best approach to doing that yet. It is easy to dismiss such actions as wrong headed or inadequate, but we have to take some steps to, on a daily basis, remind ourselves of the magnitude of the crisis we face.

It’s another of the paradoxes Lao-Tzu loved so much: the more of these “sacrifices” Nancy and I make, the happier, freer, and more basically healthy and content we become.

Nancy’s blog has lots of insights from her shamanic perspective on all of these issues. Check it out: Earth Centered Living After 60

 

Update From the Land

Again, scXZ0VW9Rn6XQNcn8A0iRQit has been a while since I’ve written. The usual excuse: I’ve been busy. It has been an experience of busyness unlike any previous sense I have had of that word. I am waking each morning into a relationship with my surroundings that is more intimate than ever. The rustic cabin we are renovating has its own spirit and personality. The land we are caring for has myriad voices, spirits, and relationships. Everything is alive. Everything is both giving and receiving; needing care and bestowing care.

We recently transplanted a small fir tree and a small cedar tree from their vulnerable position along the roadside to a place on the land where they will join a group of young pines we call, “The Sisters.” Both tiny trees are vulnerable and we may make mistakes in our attempt to care for them. Our intentions are to help the various sections of this 2.8 acre land become restored, natural, and vital.

Water has become far more than a taken-for granted given. The property is supplied by an ancient well and a semi-ancient pump. It is pristine glacier water that originated on the slopes of Mount Shasta centuries ago, but it needs to be pumped to reach our two little houses. That means that electric power is necessary. During the winter the power lines are at risk of snow and ice build-up as well as falling limbs and trees. In the fire season of summer and fall the power company may have to cut off power during dry windy conditions. Water is available during these times. We have a 45 gallon holding tank and the crystal springs at the headwaters of the Sacramento River are only three miles away. For one who was raised on the idea that water flowed endlessly at the twist of a faucet, this can seem incredibly inconvenient, even primitive. But from the perspective of the world at large, it is a paradisiacal fountain of plenty.

The conundrum of water does not stop once it reaches our pipes. Said pipes are decades old, installed by amateur plumbers whose techniques were not even up to the code of fifty years ago. Thus Brian, the owner of Mount Shasta Plumbing, has become part of our community. Not some faceless job-holder in a large company, but Brian; a man in his forties who is gracious, uncomplaining, and highly skilled. Without Brian we would not have our washer and dryer and the pipes in the walls would have continued to leak and destroy the crumbling wall board. We will see more of Brian as the toilet begins to leak around the wax seal that has been cemented to the floor making it an impossible job for a layman like me to replace. Cold water does not reach the kitchen sink. Fortunately my sister, who owns the property, helps with expenses or we would be unable to do the care taking work the property is calling for.

Did I mention the decaying rotting wall board? Ray, the carpenter and handyman, comes into our community circle. Ray is close to 70 years old and filled with an energy I didn’t have when I was 30. He turned the mold-ridden, rotten-walled, decrepit-floored little laundry room into a clean, solid, and pleasant place. The cabin is about 70 years old itself, so Ray will undoubtedly become even more intimately connected in our web of friends.

There are very few “jobs” in Siskiyou County because it is an inconvenient place to live if one is looking for comfort and convenience, but there is lots of “work” needed; the kind of work that knits a community together and reminds us all of our interdependence. It is not a place to which people flock on their way up the ladder of society, as most of the rungs here are considered to be quite low on that ladder. Actually, these rungs remain close to the Earth and I see that Earthiness in the faces of many of the people I meet. They are honest and open faces that present a willingness to help out and to befriend, knowing that help and friendship are essential qualities that will circle around and around within the community. The people who service cars are not faceless rip-off artists. They are known by name and dependent on the good-will of the community. Even the power company, Pacific Power, is really a collection of marvelously hard-working men and women who face uncomfortable and even life-threatening conditions to respond any time of the day or night to keep the life-giving electricity flowing into our heaters, stoves, and lights.

Nancy and I may not be facing life as directly as did our ancestors who lived on this land 1 (3)millennia ago. We may not be facing it even as Thoreau did in his Walden cabin experiment, but we are experiencing it like we never have before in our lives. Life is seeping into our bodies and spirits as it never could during our comfortable, white-collar, urban and semi-urban decades. My skin is weathering. My weight is evening out and my muscles are tightening up. I drive our Subaru onto the forest service roads on the slopes of the Mountain and lug back small logs from fallen trees that have not yet rotted. Then I use a hand axe and a hand saw to produce pieces small enough to use in our old wood stove. I’ve gathered almost a cord of wood and developed an aerobic practice that echoes Thoreau’s adage that wood so gathered, “warms you twice.”

We have very little money and must “re-use, re-purpose, mend, and make do” in the classic manner of our ancestors. When we can afford it, we will begin using solar power and even wind power. Nancy and I, who have never grown more than a spindly house plant, will begin next spring to plant vegetables, strawberries, blackberries, and who knows what else. We will probably not produce bumper crops but we will be working directly with some of our food and that itself will be transformative.

Food is one of the points where our relationship with the Earth is at its most fundamental. Even on our limited budget, we choose quality over quantity, buying organic foods when the GMOs right down the aisle are much less expensive. Our bodies, the farmers, the land, and even our compost pile benefit from this practice. Spending money on “bargain” factory food is a false economy. It creates the illusion of choice and savings while stealing our health and poisoning the land.

I am now, by general cultural convention, an old man. Yet I am happier and more vitally alive than I have ever been. I have come to an understanding of myself as a child of the Earth; one of millions of species of such children of that same Mother. I am also a spiritual Elder and understand that the remainder of my life must be in service to her.

If you would like to support me in this work, please check out my essay on the PATRONAGE page. It is a heartfelt and honest expression of my life as it is today.

 

Been Awhile

IMG_1755 copy
Our Little “Walden Cabin”

My goodness. It’s been almost two months since my last post. I deliberately took some time off as Nancy and I settled into a new and challenging role as caretakers of 3 acres of family property, including a rustic cabin, here in Mt. Shasta. We still live in our motor home, but are able to stretch our legs a bit within the old cabin as we paint, clean, and help maintain the building. We are also caring for the meadow and trees on the property. It is work that is outside of our comfort zone of familiar routines, but it is enlivening and transforming our lives.

The challenges of the past few months have focused us a bit on day-to-day tasks – not a bad thing in itself. But we have both been reminded recently of the energy that has been driving all of our changes over the past few years. We did not embark on a radical shift of lifestyle simply to have an adventure. We were called in this direction by forces and energies; some material and obvious, some subtle and mysterious. Nancy’s development of shamanic practice and my own immersion in the energies of the earth through Qigong practice have reordered our experience of life. We moved to a “tiny house” because we felt it was the appropriate way of living. We continue to look for creative and authentic ways of living in our work, our environment, and our conversations.

Several years ago I was fascinated by a BBC series called, “Foyle’s War.” It is a dramatic series set in WWII England and, though it follows a story concerning crime in a coastal town, the thematic setting of each episode is an aspect of English life as it was transformed by the War. The threat to England was real and immediate, just 30 miles across a narrow strip of water. The reality of the situation transformed English life. Gas was strictly rationed, as were most commodities. Every piece of scrap was recycled and reused. Tens of thousands of acres of unused land were transformed into food crops by the work of the Women’s Land Army. Every household that had extra room was asked to billet defense workers and refugees from the bombings. Lavish estates were made into hospitals. Bicycles became the mode of transportation. “Dig for Victory” Gardens were planted in every backyard, schoolyard, vacant lot, and golf course – producing twice as much food as had previously been imported. Studies since the war have shown that, despite the horror and destruction, the nutritional and physical health of the English population during the war was better than before or since.

The current threat to human life on Earth is every bit as real and immediate as was the presence of Nazi jackboots across the channel to the English. Yet we continue to live in fear and denial. No civil leadership takes responsibility or steps up to rally us to action. The responsibility has fallen upon us as individuals. Nancy and I are attempting to live with the same sense of purpose and commitment as did the English people. We have heard a call to action, not from the government, but from the Earth Herself and from the Spirits of the mountains, streams and forests.

We’re taking each step that presents itself to us as best we can. If the government won’t ration gas and food, we’ll do it ourselves – limiting our trips and making whole foods the center of our diet. We haven’t planted a garden yet, but we will next spring. We find new ways each week to eliminate wasteful consumption.

It isn’t a walk in the park – more like a journey through the wilderness. But it is an imperative response to a wounded world, and I’m giving every bit of my life to the task. The paradox continues to be the unfolding of freedom, simplicity, and joy in my life beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Waters of Justice

Activist's cover-handI have lived an wonderful life. I have experienced an almost perfect balance of adventure and comfort; risk and safety; and challenge and contentment. I have often been “outside my comfort zone” but not so far outside as to make learning and growing problematic. I have loved deeply and been loved deeply. It has been amazing. The only problem in my life, as it is for each of us, has been the presence of my nattering, negative, and brooding conditioned mind.

At the moment I live with my beloved Nancy in an older 30 foot motor home parked on a beautiful 3 acres of property in Northern California. We hike, rest, read, write, explore our spiritual paths, and offer ourselves in service to the Earth and all of its Life. What does my conditioned mind say about all this: “You should be ashamed of yourself for enjoying your life. Millions of people in the world don’t have what you have so what makes you think you deserve it? I’m going to see to it that I poison your thoughts often enough to spoil any enjoyment you might feel because you, frankly, shouldn’t be so happy!”

The only pathway I have found to circumvent this nasty and vicious voice is to admit that, yes, I am very lucky. I did nothing to deserve the comfort I have experienced. But neither have I done anything not to deserve it. Life, despite the story of the “American Dream,” has little to do with deserving or not. The terrible inequality between human beings at this time in history is based on several terrible myths that have been mistaken for truth. The most damaging of these myths is the myth of permanence.

Since the human species turned the agricultural corner about six to ten thousand years ago, we have given ourselves over to the myth of permanence. Two corollaries of this myth are the illusion of control and the concept of ownership. Put these three illusions/myths together: permanence, control, and ownership; and you have the formula for the inevitable blossoming of injustice and destruction.

My understanding of the Wheel of Tao is that there is an eternal circling of Yin and Yang which keeps a dynamic balance that allows the cosmos to exist. Human beings have acted as if this dynamic nature of the cosmos is not for them. Everything else may come and go, but by god, we’re going to stay put! That effort to impose permanence on transience, control the uncontrollable, and own that which belongs to all, has led to the terrible imbalance we see today. However, nothing is more certain than that the Tao will always move to restore justice and balance.

I did not consciously choose to live in a society whose existence is predicated on the injustice of permanence, control, and ownership, but I do. I did not consciously choose to be comfortable while millions suffer, but I am. The important question now is: As the reality of the irresistible power of the Tao becomes more and more clear to me and its implications more and more important, what shall I do and how shall I live? Shall I cling to my inherited myths of permanence, control, and ownership? Or shall I take my place as a small part of the Wave and do what is mine to do as these Waters inevitably restore balance and justice, trusting that they will also carry me Home?

(You may be interested in my recent book, The Activist’s Tao Te Ching)

A Daily Dose of Tao

man-bloggingI have, for decades, taken regular journeys through the chapters of the Tao Te Ching, writing a daily personal journal of my travels. I have occasionally published some of these reflections (Day by Day With the Tao Te Ching, and 30 Days of Tao). Each time I do this I reinforce some some old understandings and discover many new ones.

During our recent months of transitions I neglected this practice, to my detriment. I have resumed my daily journal and feel as if it is yet another way in which I have returned “home.” It has also been my practice to share part of this continuing journey with those who might be interested in how I perceive the Tao working out in my daily life.

So, I have prepared an on-line version of my daily reflections. I call it, A Daily Dose of Tao. Each day contains a chapter from the Tao Te Ching in one of my own renditions, followed by a few paragraphs that reflect how I see that chapter at this particular point in my life.

If you are interested in sharing this walk, just sign up at the link below and I will send you a link to the page which contains these reflections. I will try to post a new one each day. Like everyone I will have days in which all intentions fall prey to my conditioned mind and I may miss a day now and then.

I do not charge for this daily sharing/study/reflection, but I do depend on my writing providing an income resource for our daily living expenses. Please donate whatever you feel is appropriate by using the donate link and filling in the amount when you are taken to PayPal – using your PayPal account or your credit/debit card. If you wish to send a check, send it to me at 5404 N. Old Stage Road, Mt. Shasta, CA 96067. Let your own financial circumstances and your generosity be your guide.

Sign up whenever you wish and jump into the stream with me. I invite you to email me with any comments or questions you may have regarding my ramblings. If you lose the link to the page, just let me know and I will send it again. I would enjoy having your company on my journey.

Blessings,

Bill

 

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No Mind

no mind

(This post is a follow up to my previous post of Wu-Wei Mind and expands on my experience of letting go of conditioned thinking.)

 

This is a path of letting go
so there will be room to live.
If we hold on to our opinions,
our minds will become dull and useless.
Let go of opinions.
If we hold on to possessions,
we will always be at risk.
Let go of possessions.
If we hold on to ego,
we will continue to suffer.
Let go of ego.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9

Nancy and I have been “rearranging” (to say the least) our life style for the past few years in order to feel more congruent with what we believe is an appropriate way of living for human beings on this planet Earth. We now live in an older Winnebago motor home parked on 3 acres of property that has been in my family for almost 70 years, now owned by my sister. Our possessions are now limited to what can fit in said motor home. We live near Mount Shasta, California, in the midst of astounding beauty and hundreds of miles of wilderness trails to be explored. Finances are minimal but life is very, very good.

As more and more cultural baggage falls away, I am left with a stark awareness of the heaviest baggage of all – the ponderous weight of my conditioned mind. Nothing tires a person more than a day spent lugging a load of thought through every single moment. Every thought carries an emotional component, usually unnoticed, which generates physical responses in the body. So without adding any other “work” component to the day, my body is continually responding to mental stimuli with tension, contraction, the release of various chemicals, and other physiologic events.

My conditioned assumption is that this thought-filled mind is what makes me human. Without it wouldn’t I be “no one” – like a Alzheimer’s victim? On the contrary, the conditioned mind that seems so “normal” is actually an inhuman quality that has been added to our psyches through millennia of modern civilization. The truly normal mind is  “mushin” – or “no-mind” – an open, spontaneous, spacious place of creativity without ownership; action without agenda; rest without resistance; and compassion without strings of any sort. It is devoid of the clinging, fearful, avaricious, obsessive, compulsive, and downright crazy thought processes that dominate our minds today.

As I continue along my “Tao” of simplicity, freedom, and joy, I find myself reaching the point where the burden of my conditioned mind needs to be laid aside. I have returned to meditation, formerly an essential part of my practice, and found it to be far more important and effective than I had previously experienced. I use the “Serene Reflection” method of Zen meditation taught by the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. It is simply sitting still and cultivating a relaxed distance from the stream of thinking. I don’t try to stop thinking but whenever I am caught up in thought, I drop it and return to the sensations of the present moment – nothing more complicated than that. As I learn to do this while sitting quietly, I find I can do it anywhere. Anytime I am caught up in the cacophony of craziness my mind has learned to produce, I simply stop. Then I return to the sensations of the moment and go on with my life. My mind gradually relaxes into its preferred state of openness; its natural quality of “mushin.”

All the external shifts of the past few years have been essential and transformative. But it is in “Mushin” or “No Mind” that freedom, simplicity, and joy find their fullest expression. It is from that spaciousness that creativity and compassion truly arise.

Wu-Wei Mind

clutteredmindLife does not have to be as effortful as I make it. When presented with a “difficulty” – that is, anything slightly different from the anticipated smooth and successful navigation of the river of my life – my mind leaps into action. It worries. It imagines scenarios and plans responses. It holds imaginary conversations with real and imaginary people. It argues with itself. It draws fears around itself like a shroud. It whispers demonically how things are all my fault. It whispers self-righteously that things are all somebody else’s fault. In short, it acts as a perpetual motion machine, burning mental energy at an exhausting pace, leaving itself without the resources to respond naturally and appropriately to an actual situation.

At the heart of Taoist philosophy is the idea of wu-wei – a combination of Chinese characters that literally mean, “not-doing” or “non-action.” This phrase is an expression of the Way the Tao, as it moves in all its Cosmic manifestations and responds to situations without undue strain or conscious effort. It is behind the idea of Flow – of the way water moves with fluid power over, under, around, and through obstacles.

I have always been an advocate of wu-wei but not always a very skillful practitioner of that process. I use Qigong and Taiji to assist my body in remaining relaxed, fluid and flexible. I’m not as attentive to keeping my mind relaxed, fluid, and flexible. I realize now that wu-wei must begin in my mind or it will not truly manifest in my external world. This means that I must return to Lao-Tzu’s advice in The Tao Te Ching of, “Can you wait for the mud to settle and the water to clear and right action emerges by itself?”

My mind is not used to waiting. It is conditioned to be impatient and to see the almost infinite stimuli it receives as, “extremely urgent.” To just sit without imaginary conversations, scenarios, and alternative plans until I see clearly, drives my conditioned mind crazy. This practice, however, is the only way for effective action to occur. Action without clarity is the norm in my culture and is the way I have learned to respond. Clarity is almost unknown because it requires hours, days, even months of calmly waiting for the conditioned mind to quiet and for the Tao Mind to see, know, and act. The conditioned mind wants to act immediately and the tragic results fill our world with violence, pain, and ecocide.

When I enter a situation having rehearsed countless scenarios, conversations, and responses I am unable to see and respond to what is actually happening in the moment. I superimpose my projections on the situation or person and respond to that projection. I miss the reality of the person and of the context. My actions are seldom helpful and lead my conditioned mind right back to the, “I should have said …” or, “I should have done …” process and the cycle begins anew, only now reinforced by yet another layer of self-punishment.

I can’t use the same process to quiet my mind that is used to clutter it. That strategy ends up with imaginary conversations and plans about being still and quiet. The classic advice is to patiently wait and the mind will naturally quiet itself. As frustrating as it might seem, it is the only effective way to a wu-wei mind because quiet mindfulness is the natural state of the mind. It has taken us a lifetime to be trained to forget this truth. It will take great patience to return to it. I find that meditative sounds and mantras can help, but all techniques require a quiet accepting patience. If we learn to let the mind quiet for a few seconds we are on our way. Then we’ll find that we can be still for a minute or two. Eventually we will be able to enjoy wu-wei stillness as a habit Then we will find that our mind is ecstatic with relief at finally being itself again and our actions and words will emerge from a place of quiet competence.