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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

 

Mixed Memories

memoriesI have been reflecting on my life, something that 75 year olds tend to do. I am delighted to find that self-punishment is no longer playing much part in my memories. Early events previously labeled as embarrassing mistakes or grievous offenses are now seen as simply the best I knew how to do given my conditioning and experience.

One period of my life, spanning from age 28 to around 50, was spent as a Christian clergyman. While studying science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, I one day wandered into the campus Presbyterian Church. I was moved by the philosophy and social concern I encountered there. I spent four years working for the Navy after graduation and then decided to do graduate work at a Seminary. Quite a change!

This led to an attempted career as a clergyman. I tried for 10 years to fit in that mold, but had already, due to my Taoist philosophy, begun to see Jesus through different eyes than those of the church. I remained a clergyman for another decade but went into private practice as a pastoral counselor. I confess much from those years has been pushed aside and that’s too bad. There was much to affirm in the spirit of that young man who was looking for a connection to the Numinous. The Spirit of Jesus was real to him but could not overcome his experience with the spirit and doctrine of a church which had lost its way. Looking for a life of reflection and divine connection, he was offered instead a mid-level management position in an institution whose priorities were building programs and clergy salaries.

I remember that I came to believe that Jesus, at heart, was a Taoist. He surely knew that he was a part of God and thus of the same “stuff” as God. He also knew that you and I were the same as he, also of the same “stuff” as God with no possibility of being anything else, but we couldn’t stand the intimacy of that reality so we made a god out of him and an idol out of the Bible. Placing them both out of reach so we could use them as we saw fit. So sad.

I no longer believe the premises of traditional Christianity, especially the sin/redemption model of human life. As humans, we do indeed “sin” but not because we are in any way truly separate from God, but only because we suffer from the self-imposed delusion that we are, which leads inevitably to fear, isolation, and hate. That is convenient because then we don’t have to take the responsibility of actually being a part of the Whole Thing. We can stand separate and judge this or that, pick and choose, love and hate. Were that delusion to heal we would transform the world because we would be the world. That was Jesus.

To my friends who have experience with the church, positive or negative. That model can still provide a place of home and peace, but only if it is transformed. I offer a link to a new hymn that I just discovered this morning and that led to this post, written in a flurry of memories. Whatever your tradition, you may find this song a helpful connection to the lost spirit of Jesus.

A Hymn for the 81%

 

Council of Elders

elderwisdom2Human life seems to have evolved into a life and death confrontation between the reptilian brain, located at the back of the brain stem, and the empathetic brain, located in the frontal cortex. The reptilian brain is concerned only with personal survival, power, and pleasure. It is the vestigial brain that once served an evolutionary purpose. It still has its place in certain situations, but is not fit to dominate our lives. It is sociopathic in essence.  I can think of no better way to describe the effects of this reptilian brain than to point to Donald Trump. He represents a leadership quality completely devoid of empathy, compassion, and wisdom – qualities of the frontal cortex that is a relatively recent evolutionary development. If we are to continue on our journey towards a renewed humanity and a renewed Earth, we must find a new kind of leadership, the leadership that grows only in the spirit of true elders.

Wise elder leadership does not happen automatically. It requires willingness, commitment, and the courage to step outside of the cultural conditioning that flows deep and hidden within the human mind. It requires the support of the community and of other elders. Simply growing old creates a certain kind of “experience” that is by no means automatically wise. Many older adults solidify their lives around decades-old assumptions and let the energy of culturally approved attitudes carry them to their graves. They become fearful and self-absorbed, isolating themselves in retirement communities where distraction remains the norm. This occurs, not because older people are more selfish than younger people, but because they, like all of us, have been conditioned by powerful messages from family and culture. When those messages go unexamined for decade after decade they become a worldview that is hard to shake.

I long for a recovery of true “Elder Wisdom” and also long to be able to find myself in a circle of Elders whose wisdom is tolerant, thoughtful, deeply spiritual, gentle, and supportive of a long-term view of life on Earth – to the seventh, fourteenth, and twenty-first generations. I long for a circle completely unlike the virtual discussions of social media.

In such a circle ideas would be expressed with thoughtful words and attitudes. Listening would also be thoughtful and founded in respect. Acceptance and tolerance of differences would be evident. Differences, however, would arise from different gifts and talents, not from different fundamental assumptions. The good of the people and of the Earth would always be understood to be the guiding principle.

I can’t begin to count the ways in which this council differs from modern forms of discussion, neither can I imagine how we might eventually return to such a forum, but perhaps my imagination is too conditioned by culture.

I can, however, imagine how I and others might meet in such a forum and share in a manner that is fundamentally different from the kinds of discussions that seem to be the standard today. I wonder if, starting next summer or fall that some of us might gather here in Mt. Shasta to sit by the fire under the stars and converse in this manner? I have the place if you have the time. Consider yourself invited.

 



 

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Resist and Refuse

disobedienceI have been immersed in Thoreau for the past week. I re-read Walden for the umpteenth time and once again found new inspiration and insight. He is one of my Archetypes of Simplicity” but his Walden experiment is perhaps not the most important element of his legacy. The two years at Walden blends with his passionate resistance to slavery and to the unjust war against Mexico to form what I believe is his true legacy: that Simple living is the foundation of all political action. The two are inseparable.

His, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” essay has long been a touchstone for protest and activism. It arose from the heated and divisive time leading up to the Civil War. His home state, Massachusetts, was a “free” state but had passed the Fugitive Slave Act which required escaped slaves to be returned to their masters in the slave states. The United States was also involved in war with Mexico which Thoreau opposed as illegal and imperialistic. He was fed up with both state and federal governments and he wrote a compelling case for the moral necessity of disobedience. I highly recommend using this link to read his timeless essay.

I am always aware of the fact that my attempt to live a simple, authentic life rests upon all of the complexities of the current capitalist economy. There is no escape from this reality for, at the moment, the economy is what it is and I must navigate its territory to the best of my ability. Much of the time, like Thoreau, I adjust my needs to be those that truly satisfy me, live more simply and closer to the elements of the Earth, and hope that the insanity we call economics and government pass by without noticing me. But when the power of that economic/governmental machine grows to the point where it is literally destroying the Earth, I have to, again like Thoreau, make choices of resistance and refusal to cooperate. My deepest commitment is to the Earth which I love and of which I am an inseparable part. Politics and economics now emerge from that first love, that essential connection.

Make no mistake, simple living is more than a satisfying life-style choice. It is an act of political resistance and of civil disobedience. It is the foundational act out of which all other actions emerge. It is also extremely difficult because so many aspects of our psychological comfort and well-being are intertwined with cultural norms and expectations.  Simplicity often equals poverty to our conditioned minds unless it has been prepared for over decades of learning and experience. Nancy and I jumped into the fray much later in life and that adds difficulties. It doesn’t matter. 2020 will be a year in which we will speak and write as clearly and honestly as we possibly can about freedom, simplicity, joy, and Earth-centered living.

Some of the ways I am working on my own “resist and refuse: practice:disobery

Quite a while ago I deleted my FaceBook account (though I assume it is forever lodged somewhere in a data base) for many reasons. I refuse to support the mass gathering of data, the manipulation of opinion, and the tampering with elections that such a platform enables. But I also refuse to participate in any hate-driven social media ironically called, “discussion.” I never click to follow such threads. There are much better ways of communicating and conversing. Question: what might these better ways be?

I refuse to listen to ignorance masquerading as, “news.” I’m trying to make my primary sources be periodicals and books, reading only authors who have taken the time to fully research and digest events.

I refuse to vote unless there is a candidate who is truly committed to radical action. The, “lesser of two evils” is a ruse that keeps us heading for the cliff.

I’m trying not to indulge my own, “confirmation bias.” I don’t need to be constantly affirming the, “ain’t it awful!” mentality in my reading or conversation.

I am attempting to resist the pressure of advertising that creates artificial need.

I am trying to resist friends and family who tell me how to behave.

I regularly disobey the habitual thought patterns of my conditioned mind by practicing meditative awareness rather than impulsive action.

Thoreau disobeyed the law by refusing to pay his poll tax that supported an unjust war and slavery. I have friends who have gone to jail for refusing to pay income tax that supports injustice. I admit that, for the moment, I am not ready to risk imprisonment on this issue. Our approach, for now, is to keep our income below the level at which we would pay federal income tax. Income tax basically supports the military industrial complex, foreign “aid” which is actually a way of controlling other countries, and bailouts to financial institutions. An ever-decreasing tiny percentage goes to social programs. At the moment, flying under the taxation radar seems best. That may change. We are happy to pay state tax, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax that funds roads, and taxes that directly benefit the community.

As the year progresses I will be thinking more deeply about these issues.

Let me know what you are doing to resist, refuse, and disobey.

The Moment Has Arrived!

ravenI woke this New Year’s Day with a strange and curious sensation, something I have not experienced before. I have an uncanny feeling that the preparation is over and that the moment has arisen. It is as if the past seventy-five years of life have been an extended period of education geared for this moment, this time, this place.

No New Year’s resolutions are necessary. It is not a time for vain intentions for self-improvement, intentions that only guarantee that there will continue to be a separate “self” that needs improvement. This illusory self cannot continue to set the course for my life, nor can it continue to be the guiding spirit for our collective lives. Since this self is an illusion and only the Spirit is real; and since the Spirit needs no improvement, let’s be done with futile resolutions. The time for resolutions is over. The time for waiting is over. The time for comfortable self-delusion is over. As the beautiful and compelling lyrics of Paul McCartney’s, Blackbird, tell us, “You were only waiting for this moment to arrive.”

I don’t imply that my journey toward freedom, simplicity, and joy is over. I have not, “arrived.” I still take the Taoist simple “next step,” stumble often, and fall occasionally. But the reason I’m still alive has suddenly become clear. I don’t know how many years I have left – not many in the grand scheme of things in any case. They, however, will be the years for which I have been preparing all my life.

You’ll be hearing from me more often in the coming year/decade. I can no longer measure out my words on the scales of popularity or acceptability. My weekly journal, The Journal of the Wandering Taoist, will contain deeper looks at important books and themes, as well as my poetry, meditations, and chapters from my novel. This blog you are reading will also continue to be the place I put more concise thoughts and suggestions. I am going to read with attention, listen to the wild Earth with care and love, breathe with deep free breaths, live in as radical a simplicity as possible, and say what must be said.

2020 will not be an ordinary new year. Life on Earth is teetering on the brink and, in the most optimistic case, will be undergoing convulsive transformations. I will not be arguing this fact. That would be like arguing that gravity exists. I will be doing my best to inspire, support, offer suggestions, share feelings, and create community in the midst of what will unfold.

Two days ago, I was sitting under “Grandfather Pine” out on the corner of the property, gazing at the snow-covered field and feeling frightened and confused. I looked up and a conspiracy of five or six ravens flew in from the south and began to circle, calling loudly. It was clear they were bearing a message, but it wasn’t until last night that I became suddenly aware of what it was:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of a dark black night
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of a dark black night
Blackbird singing in the dead of night

We have all been waiting for this moment to arise.

It’s here!

Blessings to us all

Wandering Taoist Journal

Six years ago I published a weekly journal titled: The Journal of the Wandering Taoist. It was quite popular and brought me a year of the most creative and consistent writing I have ever done. The Journal was sent to subscribers once a week and contained daily reflections from the Tao Te Ching; essays, book reviews, poetry, resource recommendations, and even a serialized edition, chapter by chapter, of my first novel, Tales of the Happy Frog.

It seems as if an entire lifetime has elapsed in the past six years. My culture has accelerated its headlong plunge into chaos, social media has led to a divisive dumbing-down of our lives, and a sense of either hopeless rage or hopeless inertia has settled onto our psyches. I have personally felt the entire range of these energies. The time has come for me to reemerge into a more consistent and creative involvement with life.

Nancy and I have moved toward a somewhat radical simplicity. We live in a motor home parked by a tiny cabin giving us about 700 square feet of living space – more than enough for two people. We take care of about 3 acres of property – partly forest, partly field. This transition, which took about two years to make, was difficult in many ways, freeing and joyful in many others. Now we are ready to begin 2020 with a deeper commitment to freedom, simplicity, joy, and Earth-centered living. We are elders and must begin giving the gifts that only elders can give.

On my part, I am going to return to the work of a weekly journal. It will be titled, as before, The Journal of the Wandering Taoist and will contain my reflections, poetry, meditations on the Tao Te Ching, and… finally a serialized edition of my newest novel, Carson Beach!

It will be published weekly beginning the first week of January, 2020. The first edition will be available free of charge and is available here: Issue One  Subscriptions will be $10 per month and are available through the Paetron Website, which now manages my patrons and subscribers. (Those of you who are already patrons will receive the Journal automatically with no further action needed on your part.)

To subscribe to the Journal of the Wandering Taoist, go to this Patreon website. (https://www.patreon.com/williammartin)  This site is a wonderful resource for writers, artists, and other creative workers. It enables you to give the $10 or more each month, and also allows you to stop anytime you wish. If you don’t want to use the Patreon site, you can send a check, made out to me, for a 6 month subscription ($60) to 5404 N. Old Stage Road, Mt. Shasta, CA 96067.

Nancy will be doing her work through her own writing and through individual spiritual direction. She is writing a book on the subject of “Earth-centered Living After 60” which will be out in the first part of 2020. Her work with individuals will focus on approaching the “Unseen World” through meditation, drumming, dance, chant, nature, and other practices that enable a deeper understanding of, and experience of, the spiritual world that surrounds us each moment. Nancy’s work can be viewed at: https://earthcenteredlivingafter60.com/   To learn more about her individual work, click the link to “Spiritual Direction”.

I will also continue to publish my blog here on Freedom, Simplicity, and Joy, where I will share updates on my continuing journey.

Nancy and I wish for all of our friends a transformative year in 2020. Amidst the divisive chaos of our culture we believe something entirely new is being formed. It may take decades, even centuries, to come to fruition, but we are each a part of the process. Dive in and enjoy the ride.

Read the first issue here: Issue One