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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

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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,

Recovery Continues

civaddictI wrote in earlier posts about the addictive nature of humanity’s relationship to Western Culture. (Addicted to Western Civilization and I Can’t Do It Alone) Each day that passes reinforces my belief that this basic addiction to distraction, ownership, and wealth accumulation that began with the agricultural revolution several thousand years ago has become a process that is in imminent danger of destroying us. I have come to consider myself as a recovering addict from this process and am dedicated to deepening this recovery and to encouraging others in their own particular journey of recovery.

It is not a clear-cut sort of recovery such as an alcoholic might experience. Alcohol is a definite presenting issue and the decision to abstain from it is well-defined; one either takes a drink, or doesn’t. Simple sobriety is charted by days, months, and years of abstention. Long-term psychological sobriety is a more difficult thing and requires day by day dedication to clearing up the issues that lurk behind the addiction to alcohol.

We who are addicted to Western Civilization do not have the obvious beginning point of abstention. What in the world do we abstain from? The tentacles of our culture are overwhelming in their number and unbreakable in their tenacious hold on our subconscious minds. We can’t just drop all ten thousand of them cold turkey. We don’t even have conscious awareness of most of them. Yet I have found that my longed-for journey into freedom, simplicity, and joy cannot be truly taken without facing this pervasive addiction.

It is this recovery I would like to share with you. It is a complex and difficult process that I am just beginning to understand. It doesn’t have simple rules like: “You can do this but you can’t do that.” We must discern our guidelines as individuals, but we must also be in community because we can’t do it alone.

I would like to facilitate this recovery for whoever wishes to join me. We can work by email, by phone, in local workshops, or by whatever means present themselves. I am willing to travel a reasonable distance to hold workshops. I am willing to set up workshops here in Northern California this summer. I am pretty much open to whatever it takes to initiate these first steps.

Like the alcoholic, I can’t pull myself out of this by my bootstraps. I depend on a Source greater than myself. And I must be in community with other people in recovery from Western Civilization so we can affirm and support each other.

Please write to me with your interest and your suggestions.  Contact Bill re: Recovery

Blessings,

Bill

Back Home Again

%AVzymv5SpmGZVjmwYzxYwWe have journeyed about 1400 miles from the southern Arizona desert to the beauty of our “home turf” in Mount Shasta, California. The view in the background is of the Eddy Mountain range. We are parked on property owned by my sister and will remain here through the fall.

It was quite an adventure to navigate that big motor home all that way, but I am now a “steely-eyed motor man.” However, being on the road is not our purpose for having the home on wheels. It is too expensive to be traveling that way and we bought the home to be a simple tiny house so we will be in-place most of the time and will not travel long distances using all that gas.

Both of us have undergone many transformations that I will write about in the coming days. Much of it can be illustrated by the T.S. Eliot quote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

We are back in Mt. Shasta and feel like we are seeing it and knowing it for the first time, as well as seeing and knowing ourselves for the first time. Much has changed internally and I look forward to sharing in the future. I am open to speaking and corresponding with friends/readers in whatever venues might open to us.

More later, my friends.

Bill

I Can’t Do It Alone!

12stepI hesitate to write this post because my life has been so filled with changes and transitions that to say anything runs the risk of having the ground swept out from under whatever assertion I make, as the Sacred Source continues to inform, reform, and transform my being. Certain understandings, however, have been emerging that I would like to find words to express.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am addicted to Western Civilization. As I have begun to explore the ramifications of this realization, I have come to more fully understand the motivations behind the classic 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I taught counseling at the college level for many years, including a class on “Addiction Counseling.” As has been true with much of my life, my verbal and expressive abilities usually exceeded my deeper understandings. I was a good teacher and was helpful in many ways, I am sure. But it is only as I come to understand the pervasive and insidious evil of addiction for myself that the principles I taught for so many years shine with a bright light in my mind.

There are many fine programs to help the addict, but I have reexamined the classic first step in the 12-step recovery program and found it profoundly helpful. It has always been an admission that one’s life is out of control and that no amount of will power or good intentions will ever stop the descent into complete self-destruction. At this point, in a second step, the addict understands that only a Source of Energy or Power greater than oneself can possibly heal the addiction and its associated wounds. In the third step the addict becomes willing to turn one’s life over completely to this Source, however one understands it.

This has been my journey the past few months. From being a wise teacher, a respected counselor, and a widely-read author I have found myself hitting a personal bottom as I faced the nature of my addiction – and I believe it is the addiction we all face – to the almost infinite and tenacious power of our civilization. It pervades my conscious and subconscious mind and dictates my every move. I buy, consume, fear, want, strive, feel shame, strive some more, fear some more, consume some more, feel more shame, always trying to live up to the “rules” which brook no objection; rules that are ground into the very economic and social fabric of my being.

Like the classic addict, I have come to see that this addiction will kill me and the Mother Earth from which I emerged. Also like the classic addict, I find that, by myself, I am powerless to change. I can make superficial tweaks to my life and fool myself for awhile, sometimes even years, but I am powerless to create a truly transformed life of my own willpower.

This is about as far as I can go right now, but it is a tremendously energizing realization. When I left traditional Christianity I discarded some essential truths of the Cosmos. I would never return to traditional religion, but I find I must return to a trust in, and total commitment to, a Source greater than my own understanding and will. For the moment, I am understanding this Source as the fundamental Energy of the Earth, the Sky, and the Cosmos. This has been my understanding for several years, but the shift has occurred in my willingness to turn my life over to this Source and ask Its Energy to live through me, to transform me. By myself, I can’t recover from Western Society. But with this fundamental connection to the Source of Earth, Sky, and Sea, I have returned to the one Home from which I can truly live in freedom, simplicity, and joy.

There are so many implications of this trust that I have yet to understand. They will come moment-by-moment to my consciousness, where I will ask that they be healed and transformed. No great plans. No resolutions whatsoever. Just a willingness to take one step at a time and see what comes next. I must confess that I see no hope for humanity without a general awakening to the depth of our addictions and a return to the fundamental Sources of our Being. We are all addicts, deeply mired and without hope of pulling ourselves out by our bootstraps. Nature, the Mother Earth, the Source, whatever we want to call the fundamental Reality, waits for our return home, patiently and without blame or shame. There we will find the hope for which we long.

Addicted to Western Civilization

Chellis Glendinning, in her marvelous book, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery From Western Civilization, offers a penetrating look at the essential wound of our society, from which we have, like all addicts, sought relief through denial, distraction, and pleasure-seeking. This primary wound occurred thousands of years ago and we have gradually covered it with a compensatory process of twisted thinking that has produced a toxic atmosphere so pervasive and so addictive that we seldom fully realize the pain we are experiencing and the damage we are doing to life around us as we seek to manage this pain.

This wound occurred when we as a species shifted from being hunter-gatherer nomads living is small tribal units, to being a settled agricultural species. This shift toggled an aspect of our brain that for hundreds of thousands of years had been living as part of the Life of Earth, connected to all aspects of the natural world as a guest of Nature. Since that time we have become “owners” instead of guests on the planet. We have created fences and assumed control of, at first simply small plots of land, but over the millennia that control has expanded outward in countless ways. We began to “own” animals, water, land, and every type of possession – all of which we had up until then held in common usage as gifts from Nature or the Gods.

Western Civilization is predicated on the concept of ownership and its corollary, private wealth, which has led to the great disparity between the few rich and the many poor among the people. This idea of ownership is so fundamental to our modern psyche that we do not question its basic assumption. We may disagree on ways and means, but private ownership and wealth itself is unquestioned. Yet it is that very assumption that has created the rift between ourselves and the natural world that has left us a culture of addicts, using every means at our disposal to soothe the pain of this wound we can’t even acknowledge we have.

I believe that hope for humanity remains within the Original Matrix that has been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years and is still fundamental within each person. We can recover, but what will we be when we recover? Who will we be when we reconnect with our Source? How will our relationships unfold? How will our education, business, and social structures support a new Humanity on a renewed Earth? These are the questions that both disturb and inspire me.

We are in a state of massive denial that is supported by every facet of our lives – media, economy, entertainment, government, business – everywhere we turn we are fed misinformation, partial truths, and downright lies. We look no further because it is too difficult and too frightening. We are both addicted and co-dependent. Keeping our own addiction intact by supporting that addiction in all of our relationships. When an alcoholic decides to be in recovery, he or she must find a new environment in which to develop relationships. We can’t, of course, abandon friends and family and go to the mountains… but we must take steps that will seem just that radical to our addicted brain. We must, a step at a time, untangle each knot that keeps us tied to our toxic society. We can’t build a new society by rearranging the pieces of the old. The natural world is teetering on the brink of becoming unable to support our species, but enough of it remains to offer a refuge and a source of renewal. But we must be willing to take the journey from civilization into the wilderness. As Chellis says, it need not be an “Outward Bound” camp first thing. It begins with simply going out the front door, then taking another step along the dirt path into the still waiting arms of Mother Earth. There is not much time left. Don’t wait in the illusory comfort of denial.

So, my name is Bill and I am addicted to Western Civilization. I now in recovery and I take it one day at a time, depending on a Source greater than myself to work within me because, by myself I am powerless to recover. The Web is too tightly wound about my mind and psyche for me to untangle it by myself. I am in recovery from my addictions and I am also recovering to my connection with the Earth. I already glimpse the freedom, simplicity, and joy available to me as the tendrils of my addiction are unwound. The entire Cosmos awaits me. It has been there all along. It is only in the past few thousand years – a tiny fraction of our human history – that we have hidden ourselves from its Wonder and Glory. The Original Matrix is still solidly imprinted within us and will help us in our recovery.

As all addicts know, a day at a time. Ready to take the first step?


Chellis’s wonderful book is twenty-five years in print. It’s reprint in 2007 is fairly expensive. I wish it were cheaper. There seem to be used copies available. I got a used one for only $4.00 that is in good shape.

Another, more recent book that is extremely well-written and inspiring on a similar subject is; “Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer