Blog

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

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.