Blog

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.

 

Facebook Mind

facebookcanOne of the reasons Lao-Tzu was able to be so clear and powerful in his wisdom poetry was the clarity of his vision – his focus of attention. He looked at the natural world with a mind that was open and reasonably free of the typical ego-centric self-talk. That is what provides his words with their power. Even when they seem ambiguous and mysterious, there is an,”aha!” feeling deep inside when one reads them.

I had a Zen teacher who often said, “The focus of your attention determines the quality of your experience.” I recently had an experience of self-hate that brought this teaching home to me once again. While attempting to replace the lock on the sliding door of the cabin I lost an essential screw. No biggie, happens all the time, right? Go buy another one. But something toggled in my brain and, for ten minutes I was completely lost in a white-hot self-hating rant more powerful than anything I had experienced before.

“You stupid f—!” came out of my mouth, over and over with incredible intensity. “You g– d—- stupid f…!” For ten minutes this rant did not cease. No other awareness was present in my mind. When I finally came to myself, I was exhausted. It was so completely out of proportion that its origin was, of course, something much deeper than a lost screw. It emerged from decade upon decade of much more subtle self-talk focused on doubt and fear.

This locus of doubt and fear within my brain draws energy from the things I choose to think about, to put my attention upon. The genesis of such hateful energy lies with the seemingly ordinary worries, doubts, and subtle under-the-radar whisperings that continue to imply, “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll do it wrong. You’ll make a mistake. You are not really competent.”

This whispering feeds the process and gives it the energy it needs. Then, something will occur that cracks open a mental fissure and, like a subterranean lava flow finding an opening, the eruption blows fire and ash over everything in sight. I  dissipated the fire and ash from this particular intense experience, but the corridors of lava continue to flow in my brain and will cease to draw energy from my life only when I cease fueling their fire. So, as this process becomes more visible I am able to take measures to heal.

Let’s mix another metaphor into the pot. This is a parasitic energy, feeding off my own life force. To get rid of a parasite, one removes the nutrient upon which it feeds. In this case the nutrients are the internal fears and doubts, along with the external forces feeding those fears and doubts. I have learned to withdraw much of my attention from the toxic media of my culture, but the internal patterns are decades old and it is them from which I need to now withdraw my attention. Just as I no longer use Facebook or other social media, I need to as firmly stop scrolling through the posts that my mind wants to feed me. My mind’s algorithm is as biased as Facebook’s, always skewing toward fear, desire, and any other attention-grabbing post.

Indeed,  Facebook has ingeniously and skillfully adopted the algorithm of my conditioned mind and applied it in ways that are invasive, intrusive, and terribly damaging to lives and society. Facebook works almost seamlessly with my conditioned mind to form a system that bypasses my deeper Mind and keeps me continually locked into a cycle that perpetuates the dysfunction of both self and society. Both systems now work in a feedback loop in which both are constantly reinforced.

I have stopped use of  Facebook completely but, as I said, the process is deep within me. Fear and desire are the twin engines of economy and culture, operating everywhere we turn. We will not heal ourselves by totally disconnecting. We can’t totally disconnect. Some of us find that social media plays a necessary part in our lives. What we must do is learn to navigate these dangerous waters with full attention and clarity.

Whether it is on Facebook or lost in the scrolling homepage of our minds, I recommend a few possible ways of caring for ourselves.

  1. Don’t click on anything unless there is a clear, rational, and helpful need to do so.
  2. Pretend your thoughts are being presented by an entity that does not have your interests at heart and stop cooperating with it.
  3. Don’t believe anything you think or read when you are in this millieu.
  4. Practice putting your attention somewhere other than the conditioned patterns. I.E. – don’t open Facebook. It will take a while to learn when you are in the Facebook of your conditioned mind and when you are in a deeper place, but it is worth the effort.

However complicated the processes, one essential element in a life of freedom, simplicity, and joy will be the ability to keep one’s attention on those expressions of Life that are helpful, good, and true. Look around, they’re everywhere. We just have been trained not to see them.

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.