Hermit

 

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?

The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15 – trans. Stephen Mitchell

The governor of California has asked all people over the age of 65 to remain at home for the next month, at least. Whee! I have often longed to sink deeply into my “hermit” persona, but have struggled against long-ingrained habits that keep me pulled out and stirred up. Now I am being ordered, commanded, to be that which I truly am deep inside. Nancy will make the occasional trip out for supplies and will take great care – gloves, soap, and whatever disinfectants might someday reappear on the shelves.

Cabin-BillThe isolation will be harder for many. I am on the far end of the “hermit/extrovert” continuum, but I would cautiously suggest that a bit of the “hermit” might be good for everyone. You might consider using some of this unexpected, admittedly uncomfortable time to explore the introvert shadow side of your life. Physical isolation is only one part of the process. The chaos enters through all sorts of cracks, some of which you might consider closing. Otherwise, just as the mud barely begins to settle, the media stick comes along and gives it a good strong stir and you have to start all over.

These are the cracks I’m caulking up a bit:

1. Heavily censored “news” – Nancy is checking my email each day and passing on to me only personal correspondence and the occasional bill (which I send right back to her quickly!) Nancy has better “media control” than I have, and has agreed to inform me only of news which requires action on my part – like:  they’re coming to take me away…

2. I do not go into town. (Well, the governor commanded…what can I do?)

3. I go “on-line” only to post my writing or do research. (The “research” aspect is fraught with peril and can be a slippery slope. I research only non-current information and take an on-line course in Quantum Living. Nancy helps keep me honest here.)

I have seldom, perhaps to be honest, never, remained quiet long enough for the mud to truly settle. How can I possibly know what a clear view of the magnificent Universe that I believe awaits actually looks like? It sounds insane, but a part of me thinks it would be good if this crisis lasted long enough for us to cease “holding on” and waiting for things to go back to normal, so that we might discover a new “normal” that is less frantic, less distracting, less materialistic, and far more satisfying.

I wonder how we might go about reordering our lives in ways that might actually be deeply beneficial? Smaller communities? Less mass entertainment and more home-grown fun? Less travel and strain on the environment? A new understanding of work and family? A new sense of what’s really important in life?

When the virus crisis passes, where will we be? Who will we be? What will have changed? It will be important to take the time to let the mud settle and to think about these things.

In the meantime, relax, and enjoy this wonderful song by John Vidakovich, our friend and relative once-removed.

“We are living in self-quarantine”

Happy Anniversary to Us!

nancybarefootNancy and I have been married thirty years today. What an adventure we have been on!! 30 years ago Nancy was a Methodist Minister and I was a Pastoral Counselor in private practice in Phoenix, Arizona. We met when we were asked to be leaders at an ecumenical retreat. Yes – love at first sight.

Since then: Clergy, Counselor, Retreat leaders, College instructor, Authors, Hospice worker, Zen teachers, Bookbinders … never settling, always on the move, always deeply in love and cherishing every moment.

I love Nancy with all my heart. If she had said, twenty-five years ago, “Bill, honey, I really want to settle in and spend my life as a Methodist Minister and for you to have a stable counseling career so we can raise IRAs and 401Ks and be secure ever after,” I swear I would have complied.

But she didn’t. Instead we said to each other over the years, “Let’s do what’s next!”

And here we are. On a piece of land we adore and which we are charged to look after. Nancy is still saying, “Let’s do it – whatever is next!” She is a powerful woman, at the leading edge of transformation in the world. She is a delight and a wonder and I am a very fortunate man.

 

How About That?

WHOIn the midst of the Coronavirus fears, something is rising to my consciousness that I hadn’t expected. Amid the understandable confusion, I see a very hopeful sign. We have it in us, as a culture, to take drastic action if we feel a pressing need.

The mass cancellations of events in the face of economic consequences shows a willingness to sacrifice if we sense it is important. The mobilization of resources shows that we have the capacity to respond when we feel the need is crucial. Whether or not we are making all the right responses to a virulent flu is not really the point. We are demonstrating, at least in some ways, the we can respond when we feel the necessity. The virus will run its course despite our efforts, but our actions will undoubtedly save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

Our government, especially at state and local levels, is being more responsive than I thought possible. The CDC and WHO are doing the job they were created to do. Something about this virus has shifted it from a serious health issue to a major crisis that demands a response.

It is likely that part of the response is due to having something tangible and immediate on which to focus our pervasive and nebulous fears. We know something is terribly wrong with the direction and priorities of our culture. We know that grave dangers surround us, but there are so many competing camps, each blaming all the others, that it is difficult to focus our attention and energy. With the onset of this virus we finally have something we can all agree is a threat.

The Coronavirus is a minor threat compared to the devastation and biocide we are inflicting on the Earth’s ecosystems – forests, climate, water, species, and soil. But we can’t bring those threats into focus. Sooner rather than later we will have no choice. But we are beginning to show that we have the capacity to pull together, sacrifice our conveniences, give up our diversions, and recognize that we are all in this together. This gives me hope. Perhaps we will recognize, after the virus threat fades, that we are far more capable of courage and sacrifice than we ever thought possible.

I am somewhat dismayed by some elements of hoarding and price-gouging, but that simply comes from the fearful story of separation and the illusion that, “we’re all alone,” that we’ve been believing for centuries. That will pass. We have been awakened to the awareness that we are not alone; that we really do have each other’s backs; and that what affects one of us, affects us all.

May we mitigate our panic, marshal our best angels, reach deep into our willingness, and take a hopeful step toward the world we want our great-great-grandchildren to experience.

My dear spouse, Nancy Martin, has written eloquently on this subject. She has a wonderful and sacred ability to envision possibilities. She has done so on her post: Turning Weed-thoughts into Flowers

 

Gifts

giftThe “Gift Economy” idea is growing in its appeal to my inner self. I have always struggled with the culturally embedded idea that we must make our living (which means earning money) by certain trade-offs; that we must sell our hours, our skills, and our creativity in the marketplace where we compete with all others for a piece of the monetary pie. At the very best we might be able to find “work” that is enjoyable but nonetheless remains immersed in a scarcity-based economy in which debt and interest on debt drives the engine.

I have been reading and listening to Charles Eisenstein, an appealing figure who writes and speaks about the essential sacred nature of the Earth. I like him, of course, because he articulates ideas that resonate with my own ideas and inner longings. His books and presentations cover a broad range of subjects, but the one I am exploring at the moment is the Gift Economy. This idea is explored in detail in his book, Sacred Economics; Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition.

His book is compelling and well thought-out. But here is the takeaway for me at the moment: Charles uses a website that embodies his vision of one element of a new, spiritual, and sacred economy. Everything, and I mean everything, on his site is available at no cost or, if we choose, by a contribution gift. Even each of his books, which sell for normal prices on Amazon and in bookstores, can be read in an on-line version for a simple donation, OR for no cost at all if we can’t afford or don’t want to donate.

He believes that by offering his creativity with words and insights as gift, he puts in motion the circle of generosity in which we all participate, we all have each other’s backs, and we all belong. When he first started to trust this economy, 90% of people chose to pay nothing and he wondered if he was being terribly naive. But a strange thing happened. As he began to understand his work as gift he started taking it more seriously. He no longer was caught by the constricting idea of, “how little can I do for the maximum gain?” He began to put more and more creative effort into making his words, website, courses, and speeches the best they could possibly be, offering the best intrinsic value he possibly could.

And it worked. His website is one of the best I’ve ever encountered. His work is natural, humble, and authentic. Many still pay nothing, but many become a part of the circle of giving. I am taking one of his courses. I have very little money and could easily justify paying nothing. No one on his end would know or care. Instead I paid $100 – nowhere near what 28-session, top of the line courses would normally charge, but a big reach for me.

That reach feels good. I, in turn,am supported by my own set of patrons who are starting to become a circle of family, people who have my back. I want to have their back as well. I want to pour into my work all of the creative energy, authenticity, and excellence I possibly can. I am thinking of completely redesigning my own on-line approach to more fully sink into this  element of a new and evolving “sacred economics.” I can’t offer my traditionally published books for free because they are “owned” by huge publishing houses. But all of my self-published books I can control and find a way of offering on-line versions for donation/gift/free.

This is a huge shift for a published author. Everything about publishing is framed as a “business” and is immersed in the cultural economic paradigm. Why would a person ever pay $5.95 for an e-book or $17.00 for a print book when they can read it on-line for free? I have come to believe that some will, because they intrinsically know that they want to be part of a new economy. They will choose to buy a print version, they will buy an e-book, they will make a small donation that they can afford and read it on-line, – OR – they will read on-line at no charge and simply receive the gift. It will circle around and around and we will all benefit.

I am starting to redesign this website to more fully reflect my desired participation in this new Spiritual Economy. Nancy and I have been greatly blessed by the gifts of friends, patrons, and strangers from afar. We want to return the gift with the best work we possibly can.  As a start, I have put a PDF copy of one of my earlier e-books on line. You can read it for no cost or donate a bit if you wish. You can read it here: The Wheel Will Turn mss

I will continue to recreate this site to more fully express my desires to both give and receive in the most creative, natural, and sacred a manner as possible – with essays, books, classes, and whatever else my evolving creativity might birth.

Thank you for being part of a redefined community of humanity.

Leap

Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020

leapWhat do you know? Today is “Leap Day.” What an appropriate day for celebrating the needed “Leap” in human consciousness. Evolution progresses slowly and follows a winding path full of dead ends and backtracks. But on rare occasions all the factors come together and a species makes a “leap” in its nature. It becomes something entirely new, seemingly unrelated to its antecedents. Evolutionary biologists agree that such rare leaps are precipitated by a crisis faced by the species. If ever a species faced a crisis that needs a “leap,” it is the human species. If we follow the usual pattern of a slow evolution of our essential nature, the exponential pace of environmental degradation will destroy us. The only species capable of handling our infinitely complex problems is a new species of humanity, as different from us as we are from chimpanzees.

Of course an individual person cannot make the species take this leap. We don’t even know what such a leap will produce. But we do know that it is necessary, and that it will be a leap of consciousness, not of simple biology. An individual person, however, can be willing to imagine how such a leap might change their life. If I were suddenly on the other side of this Leap, what would I see, feel, think, do? I cannot accurately imagine, of course, because the very nature of this Leap makes it mysterious and unknown. For the individual, it is truly a “leap of faith,” a step into the abyss of unknowing.

Still, the imagination is a powerful tool. We might consider taking today, Leap Day, as a symbol of our own willingness to make a leap. We might, today, step outside and walk through nature for a bit, contemplating what we truly, deep inside, feel life should be like, what human beings might be like the other side of the Leap. Then, when the time seems right, simply bend your legs, tense your muscles, and literally, physically – Leap! What did that feel like? Do it again, and again. Get a feel of what a transformed life might be like.

It can happen that fast. I was in one place, I took a leap, and I am somewhere else. Now begin to imagine what this new place does to your thoughts, actions, reactions, and experience of life. The old world no longer exists for you. You are a new person in a new world. When the feeling fades; Leap again!

Our Children

I have been asked by the publisher to write a new Afterword for an anniversary edition of my book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching. It is strange to consider that that book has been around for twenty years now. They would like the new Afterword to present my evolving understandings of parenting from the perspective of a grandparent.

My understandings of the whole parenting process have certainly evolved. The world I thought existed when I first became a parent almost fifty years ago is no longer the world I experience. All the signs were present back then, but I didn’t see them as clearly as they now appear. We are on the verge, or actually in the midst of, an evolutionary “leap” as a species. Whether that leap will be into oblivion or into a truly new humanity is yet to be seen. But it will be seen within the next few generations and its direction will literally depend on the choices those of us currently alive, regardless of our ages, decide to make.

Parents now have a more momentous responsibility than ever before, as if it weren’t already a heavy enough responsibility. Now, in addition to providing safety, love, shelter, and nurture, parents must envision and live a new and transformed life and communicate that life to their children as clearly as possible.

Our children and grandchildren must witness a new way of being. We may stumble and stagger as we seek to provide that way of being, but they must see us making the attempt. They must hear our apologies for the chaos we have created. They must hear our sincere repentance and observe our attempts to atone. They must experience a new economy, a new understanding of simple joy, and a new relationship with the natural world.

We must find the courage to step into, then attempt to teach this transformed life to childnaturethem. They must learn the names of the trees and flowers. They must experience the swarming of bees and the migration of birds. They must see the caterpillars become butterflies and know the vegetation necessary to that transformation. They must understand the value of sitting quietly in a field and letting life come to them on its own terms rather than remaking life in the form of their own desires.

Technology will not spearhead this transformation. The transformation must first be spiritual and psychological, from the inside out. Only then can technology be effective because only then will our spirits set the agenda for which the technology might be used. Our children and grandchildren must sense and live into this evolutionary leap in order for their phones, screens, and texts to have any true meaning in their lives. They must center their lives on the Earth as a living organism of which they are a part before they are able to stand apart and be able to do their work and give their gift to Life.

Parents have always wanted their children to have the “good life.” Most parents dedicate their lives to providing this good life for their children. But at our current point in evolutionary history that good life is a disastrous paradigm that will render the Earth unable to support human life at all. We parents and grandparents must completely redefine, first for ourselves and then for our children, the concept of a good life.

A transformed family will not be about taking away all of our toys and asking our children to play with wooden sticks. It will be about a deep, gut-level realization, that what we are doing is not working. We will gradually redefine joy and happiness. We will find simplicity to be, not scarcity as we have been led to believe, but a fullness of joy for which we have wordlessly longed all of our lives but were bamboozled by culture into abandoning. It will be difficult, especially for families already neck deep in the current economic and social paradigm. New parents will find creative ways of transforming family life a bit easier to manage, but we all can do it – parents and grandparents alike. It must start with us, not with our children. If it doesn’t start with us, where will it start? If it doesn’t start now, when will it start?

The time for a luxurious and automatic creation of family life is past. Some generation had to be alive at the crisis point, and it turns out to be us. The necessary transformation had to emerge in a time of terrible danger, and it turns out that time is now. We can wish it were not so and that we could raise our children as culture has taught us to for the past century or two. But that wish will not be fulfilled. Some have said that the WWII generation was the greatest generation. Perhaps. But their challenge pales compared to the challenge we now alive must face. We, our children, and our grandchildren stand at the cusp of being the most courageous, creative, and important generations in the history of human kind.

What will we do? How will we be remembered?

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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