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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.

Convenience

teapotEverything can be seen as a message if I pay attention – not necessarily a profound philosophical or spiritual message, but simply a common hint and teaching from the animate Cosmos in which I live.

Our electric coffee pot that is supposed to have an “off” switch has started to boil over if left unattended. Do we toss it and buy a new and better one? Or perhaps we are learning that we don’t need to push a button and quickly go on to something else for the sake of convenience. Leave the lid open. Pay attention. When it begins to boil, shut it off. “A watched pot never boils over.” (The original of that old saying.)

Humanity’s pursuit of convenience seems to have led to a diminishing of our ability to pay attention. Our ancestors were, by necessity, attentive to the environment and therefore were constantly learning what it had to teach them. Every convenience we have gained in the past 10,000 years has a price tag attached. Some, perhaps, are worth the price. However many are purchased with yet another decrease in the bank account of attention, mindfulness, and awareness. The completely convenient life, I think, would be a life of complete inattention to natural processes and environments.

The original definition of convenient implied, “fitting in well, being useful.” That definition has morphed to become, “time and effort saving,” and from there into, “the ability to accomplish a task with little or no thought or attention.” The question then becomes, “What am I doing instead?” If I have a large family and the large capacity clothes washer allows me to write an assignment, work in the garden, or take my toddler to the playground, then I can make a case for the money spent and the attention refocused. It doesn’t relieve me of the questions like: How long did I have to work to earn the money for the item, which was clearly time spent away from the garden or the playground with my toddler? Did I enjoy the time spent earning the money? And I also have to consider a final question: What do I actually do with the “time saved?” Really?

If we add up all the so-called conveniences, we find that they have somehow become necessities that we are working full time to afford. Surprise, they have now become even more of a necessity. And somehow they keep needing to be replaced, repaired, or kept company by some other new convenience. We are now trapped on the economic treadmill – working full time in order to buy the conveniences that enable us to work full time so we can afford the conveniences so that we can…

I don’t have any real solid answers that would fit everyone’s life. I am only raising the classic questions of, “What? Why? and How?” that I have spent so many decades ignoring. Freedom, simplicity, and Joy also comes with a price tag. As conveniences slip from being necessary, my condition mind shouts, “Inconvenient!” But the deeper awareness and joy of simple moments spent noticing real events is well worth the price.

 

The Grammar of Animacy

braiding sweetgrassRobin Kimmerer’s powerful and beautifully written book, Braiding Sweetgrass, contains a wealth of inspiration in every chapter. It is worth actually spending money to have it available beside your chair or on your bedside table. It is a marvelous combination of modern science, indigenous science, and traditional stories.

In a section titled, Learning the Grammar of Animacy she talks about her native language of Potawatomi and informs us that there are only nine living speakers left. She attends a session where some of these Elders are teaching a bit of the language. It is a very difficult language to learn and she soon understands why:

“English is a noun-based language, somehow appropriate to a culture so obsessed with things. Only 30 percent of English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi that proportion is 70 percent which means that 70 percent of the words have to be conjugated and 70 percent have different tenses and cases to be mastered.”

Though she can master only a little of this difficult language, she understands its tremendous potency. Like most indigenous languages, it perceives and attempts to communicate a living, rather than an inanimate, world. Such a language helps break down the separation from the natural world that has plagued Western Civilization for centuries, even millennia.

“… a world where everything is alive. Water, land, and even a day, the language a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms. This is the language I hear in the woods; this is the language that lets us speak of what wells up all around us.”

She continues this thread with the assertion that this is a grammar of intimacy:

“In English, we would never refer to a member of our family, or indeed to any person, as “it.” That would be a profound act of disrespect. It robs a person of selfhood and kinship, reducing a person to a mere thing. So it is that in Potawatomi and most other indigenous languages, we use the same words to address the living world as we use for our family. Because they are our family.”

Not only are plants and animals considered animate, but so are rocks, mountains, water, fire, and places – all are beings that have spirit and our interactions with them must therefore be seen as relationships, not simply as resources to be exploited and used. She tells of one of her field ecology students who, upon considering this difference in language, realized that speaking and thinking in English could easily allow us to disrespect all of nature. He wondered what things might be like if nothing was considered an “it.” This artificial distinction between persons and things shuts us off, not only from the wisdom of other species, but also from anyone somewhat different than ourselves. It becomes all to easy to subtly consider other cultures as less worthy of our respect, even as less than human.

She remembers Elders telling her to, “Go be with the standing people (trees).” or “Spend some time with the Bear people.” Imagine what new possibilities could open to us if we saw the whole world populated with teachers and companions?

“We American people are reluctant to learn a foreign language of our own species, let alone another species. But imagine the possibilities. Imagine the access we would have to different perspectives, the things we might see through other eyes, the wisdom that surrounds us. We don’t have to figure everything out by ourselves: there are intelligences other than our own, teachers all around us. Imagine how much less lonely the world would be.”

Kimmerer speaks the language of poetry, of science (She is Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology at the State University of New York), and of indigenous peoples. She brings these three languages together in a beautiful blend of story, science, and social analysis.

From the Latin, anima, meaning “spirit” or “life”, Animism offers a powerful and necessary perspective for the healing of the Earth. This healing will come to our planet only when we reconnect with the Indigenous (including Taoist and Buddhist) teachings of the “aliveness” of all things. Being a “tree hugger” is not a cynical and crazy appellation. It is a appropriate name for one who sees the world as it truly is. All things are animate. If we treated them as such, I wonder what would happen?

Continuing Transformation

1 (2)
Nancy had a hitchhiker along the trail. He must have sensed that she is a “vehicle for transformation.”

It is another beautiful morning in Northern California. As I sit in the quiet space of the library at the College of the Siskiyous, avoiding work on my novel, I am conscious of the many blessings I experience. Our old motor home, Brego, is sitting in a beautiful location on property that has been in my family for decades. It is property that has been a bit under my radar all these years. My sister now owns it and Nancy and I get the benefit of being next to the old unoccupied cabin that still has electricity to which we can attach, giving us benefits of microwave oven and air conditioning. We’re grateful. We will remain here until the winter snows arrive and then perhaps look for a near-by non-snow environment where we can spend a few months before returning home again.

I am settling into a deeper and deeper sense of freedom, simplicity, and joy than I ever thought possible. Slowly, but patiently and surely, we are untying the threads that have bound us in a life-long addiction to the dysfunctions of our culture. It is not a, “cold turkey,’ process. We will never be completely detached from some aspects of this dysfunction, but we are going in the right direction and we feel the sweet relief of a profound transformation.

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Us on the PCT

The tiny house aspects of our home encourage us to spend most of our time outdoors for meals, reading under the shade, doing our work, and walking in beauty. Yesterday we took a wonderful hike along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail a few miles from the little town of McCloud. We were with members of our hiking group for most of the walk. On the way back to the car we met a young woman who is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. She needed a ride into town to pick up some items at the post office. She ended up having dinner with us and spending the night in the old cabin, grateful for the warm shower and hot food.

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Our new friend, trail name, “Shuffles.”

She is from New Zealand and has trekked in Nepal and Argentina as well as some time last summer here on the Pacific Crest Trail. What a delight to spend this time with her and see her off on her way this morning. As a New Zealander, she has trouble believing the politics of our country and is committed to living her life in Earth-centered simplicity. Meeting a young person like this and hearing her talk of her friends and their commitment to a new and sustainable Earth gives me an injection of hope.

Since we settled back here in Mt. Shasta, our plumbing has been broken and we have had to use a hose from the well to bring water to our door, then fill up containers for washing. We discovered that a small amount of warm water in a washtub can provide a luxurious foot-soaking at the end of the day. Finally, I figured out a way to fix the problem, and after a few trips to the hardware store and only one bout of swearing, we have hot and cold running water again! We feel as if we’ve stepped into a new world of luxury and convenience.

The flow of finances is still an issue in the background, but we are well and happy and have a trust in our ability to not only survive, but thrive, as we find our authentic work. It has been a wild ride but we are where we have always longed to be and are sinking ever deeper into a dedication to the healing of the life of this Earth. I have no doubt that my future writing will reflect this.

I must now return to work on my novel. I know you are eager to find out what the characters from my first novel, The Happy Frog, are up to. So am I.

Blessings,