Archetypes of Freedom – Pete Seeger

peteEd Abbey and Henry Thoreau are, for me,  foundational archetypes of wildness and self-reliance. But there is another archetypal energy that courses in my body and soul during these turbulent times – music!

The vibrations of music first entered my soul when I was at the University in Berkeley. It was 1965 and Pete Seeger sang at what was then called a “Hootenanny”. We were sitting in a basement coffee shop just off Telegraph Avenue, and I listened to him with rapt attention. At the time I played 5-string banjo and guitar and understood more about freedom and joy through folk music than through any University class. Pete’s was the first voice I ever heard sing We Shall Overcome; the first voice I ever heard sing If I Had a Hammer; and the first voice I ever heard sing Where Have All The Flowers Gone? His was the voice of American folk, the American conscience, and an authentic American dream.

Pete sang This Land is Your Land with its composer, Woodie Guthrie. He sang Goodnight Irene as a member of the Weavers. He sang with Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Leadbelly, Doc Watson, and countless other folk legends. He sang at marches on Washington. He sang at sit-ins and at labor meetings. He sang on college campuses. He sang This Land is Your Land at age 90 at the celebration of the election of Barak Obama. He sang his songs from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters.

The only people he didn’t sing for was the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1955 he was called before the committee and asked to name the Communist groups he had sung for. He would not. He said, “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.” He was charged with contempt of congress and sentenced to a year in jail. He successfully appealed the charge in 1959; (One wonders what I would be charged with if asked my opinions of congress. Contempt would be putting it mildly.)

When I get caught up in the little dramas of my daily life, I tend to forget the deep mystery of existence – a mystery that will not yield to philosophy; but will resonate in the human heart through music and poetry. As the chaos of culture deepens, I find myself going back over my collections of Pete Seeger songs and feeling the vibrations of that authentic music touching and enlivening the humanity within myself.

I miss you, Pete. But your songs will last for centuries and I’ll sing them as long as I am able.

Here is one of my favorites for the struggles of our time:

Dropping Leaves

leavesWhenever I become overwhelmed and confused by the magnitude of the transitions Nancy and I are experiencing, I find peace and reassurance in the natural world. When I”m hiking or walking, my conditioned mind isn’t able to hijack my attention as easily as it does when I am indoors. When I am closer to Nature, this habitual mind fades away into the spaciousness of Reality Itself and leaves room for the intuitive function of my brain; the arena of deeper and more natural wisdom. This intuitive function speaks in metaphors, sensations, and impressions – not always easy to understand, but nevertheless a language I am learning to appreciate.

The other morning I was walking along one of the historic trails in the Mount Shasta area. I was somewhat preoccupied with the difficulty of sorting through the “stuff” that fills our house – what to keep, what to sell, what to give away, and what sort of criteria to use in making these determinations. I passed a young Oak Tree that was growing right by the trail just as, with a sound like a hail storm, it dropped a rain of acorns and leaves. I stopped and stared at the tree as the sound faded into silence. After a moment, I turned to proceed along my walk. I had taken two steps when the tree let loose another storm of acorns.

I am learning the importance of paying attention to the movements of the environment around me, so I turned back to the tree, which was now once again silent and motionless. “What is it?” I asked.

In my mind the words formed, “You’re trying to sort and decide. Don’t sort – Drop! You’re carrying too much weight. You have to just let it go and it will drop away of its own accord. Just like my acorns and leaves drop of their own accord when they are ready to go on, so all of what you are carrying will drop away. Let it all go.”

“That is frightening,” I thought, “It seems like getting ready for death.”

“I’m not dying,” the Oak responded, “I’m preparing for the wonderful, quiet, renewing time of Winter, a time when I make room for the new strength from the Earth that will gradually fill me with the energy to bring forth something new, green, and nurturing in a few months. It’s the same for you. You can’t carry anything of your old way of living into the new life you’re beginning. Don’t sort, sell, and select! Drop!”

I continued my walk with a lightness of heart and mind that had not been there during the past few weeks. I didn’t have to sort. I just needed to let it all go. I can’t take it with me if I am to find the freedom I know this new time in my life is offering. Since that walk, it is like a logjam has broken loose. A neighbor bought our antique hutch and took it away. A friend may need some furniture. A consignment store may want to take a few things. But mostly, I am understanding that I am not trying to decide what to keep and what to let go of – I am not keeping anything!

Nancy and I are realizing that we are entering upon something entirely new. We are, like the Oak tree, dropping everything and letting the earth, the water, the air, and the fires of nature fill us with the energy to spend the rest of our lives in service for the nurture and healing of the Planet and Her Life. Whatever we need for that will come to us from the future, not from what we drag along from the past.

Stop!

peoplepowerThe widely used phrase, misquoted a bit from Eldredge Cleaver, “If your not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” is intended to be a call to action. I agree with the need for action, but I would like to rephrase the saying a bit – “If you stop being part of the problem, you are already part of the solution.”

It comes down to this: we are in charge of who we are and what we do. We decide where we put our attention and our energy. We choose the focus of our lives. Our dominant culture is in chaos and its turmoil tends to draw and hold our attention. It keeps us wrapped in its grip even when we abhor its values. Our very desire to change it serves as a link in the chain by which it binds us.

Much of the frustration we all feel comes largely from our attempts to fix the problem from within the problem. That approach cannot work. Something entirely new is needed. It must involve a way of living that is far more pervasive than angry protest, outrage, and argument. It must permeate the very neural fabric of our brains, shifting us from fear and reactivity to trust in a new way of living. We must step away from the myriad ways in which we consciously and sub-consciously participate in the fabric of a dysfunctional economic, social, and political structure.

A question cycles through my life each day: Is there some small way today in which I can withdraw my energy from the network that supports the chaos? I’m not trying to destroy the network – at the moment it is too powerful. I’m not trying to force it to bend to my will. I am simply trying, each day and each moment, to remove one small element of my own participation, then another, then another. I really don’t want to make specific suggestions at this point because that usually leads to “yes, but…” mindset. Each of us know the hundreds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which we support our own comforts and self-images, and thus chain ourselves to a destructive and illusory culture.

It is important to understand that I am not advocating a “withdrawal from the world.” On the contrary, I am advocating a deep engagement with the world – an engagement that is not possible without first withdrawing my attention and energy from the fantasy world which has been captivating me for a lifetime. It is an engagement with nature, with face-to-face relationships, with sights, sounds, textures, and feelings that have been too long passed over.

Until enough people stop playing and turn their attention to Something New, no amount of outrage or protest will effect any meaningful change. But if we keep removing, piece by piece, the economic and social assumptions on which injustice, greed, and power are sustained, one day the whole  pyramid will fall. Of course, like Humpty Dumpty, it will be a Great Fall, but a new alternative culture, formed beneath the radar, will be ready to pick up the pieces and heal the wounds.  Unlike “all the King’s men” who couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, we, or our descendants, will put together something entirely new that no longer sits precariously on a wall of injustice and hate, but rests solidly on the Rock of Reality – Love and Compassion.

(My spouse, Nancy, has recently written on this same general theme from her own journey.  The Prison of our Culture)

Twelve by Twelve

What is an appropriate life? What is enough? What do we need for true happiness? These and similar questions have been at the unconscious center of my journey most of my life, but have only come into sharp conscious focus in the past year. The questions of appropriateness, happiness, and sufficiency are no longer mere philosophical talking points, but have become fundamental to my own existence – and, I believe, to the continued existence of human beings on Earth. I can make no greater recommendation for the compassionate, incisive, and transformational exploration of these themes than, Twelve by Twelve – A One-Room Cabin off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, by William Powers.

Using a pseudonym for the actual person, Powers describes his encounter with an incredible woman, “Jackie,” – a physician who has chosen to limit her income to $11,000 a year in order to protest war taxes, and to dedicate herself to living a life of subtle and peaceful activism. She has chosen to live in a twelve foot by twelve foot dwelling because,  where she lives in North Carolina, if you live 12 X 12 you don’t have to “connect” to the grid of modern life.

Jackie invited Powers to visit her at her 12 X 12, situated on two acres that she had rented from a sympathetic friend and turned into a permaculture of fruit trees, flowering tea plants, edible plants, vegetables, and honeybees. As he sat talking with her in the confines of her home, he recalls, “… the 12 X 12, tiny as it was, expanded outward. Outward to her neighbors. Outward to the forest.

His turning point came when, a few months later, Jackie invited him to live at the 12 X 12 while she was away visiting friends and participating in a desert vigil for peace at the Nevada Atomic Test Site. He accepted her invitation and stepped into an adventure that transformed his life.

At first terrified, then conflicted, then finding deep peace, and finally reentering his life with new conviction, he tells his story of “living 12 X 12” with grace and power. What is appropriate living? What is happiness? What is enough? What is freedom? The answers implied in Twelve by Twelve are both compelling and disturbing.  William Powers has written a book that must be read, slowly, deeply, and often by anyone desiring to dream a new Dream for America, for themselves, and for the Earth.

 

 

Transformation Built for Two

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This is a guest post taken from my dear Spouse’s website – Earth Centered Living After 60. She is sharing her own perspective on our journey together.

 

 

Throughout our nearly 30-year marriage, my husband and I have been blessed with a deep connection that allows us to make life shifts and changes in unison. Whenever we have made a physical move, or shifted to a new focus on our spiritual journey, there was not a sense of one leading and the other “coming along.” Instead, it is as though we both become aware of a shift at about the same time. Often if feels like we have already turned the corner to a new way of being and then notice the shift.

It is the same with this transition. It a transformation built for two, on every level of our lives. We don’t remember which of us first voiced the desire to live in harmony with the land and to connect with the ancient wisdom of the People of the Land.

I know that Will has spoken often of his desire to live with the simplicity of a mountain hermit. Images from the Taoist tradition lead him to want to follow Lao Tzu and get on an ox and head out of the culture and into the mountains. Another image from him is that of living as a turtle who carries its home on its back.

I have been drawn more and more to images of living in the way indigenous people have lived for centuries – in intimate harmony, balance and honor with the land and all living beings. I long to sink into relationship with the life expressed in nature and learn the wisdom it alone can share.

A couple of factors came together to set us on this course of changing our housing as part of living in a new way. One was that we shared in an on-line course with Sandra Ingerman on Shamanic Journey. I have been involved with this work for a couple of years, but this was the first time Will joined in and found that he too was drawn to drumming and journey. So, we came into step with one another in a new expression of our spiritual journey.

Another factor was that I let go of bookbinding as an essential element of my future. Every time I began to think of living in a tiny house or RV, I just couldn’t imagine the presses, cutters, supplies and tools of my craft work. The moment came when I realized that this is not something at the core of who I am. It is fulfilling, and indeed probably saved my sanity at an earlier point in my life, but it became clear that it does not have to come on the road with us.

Our drumming and journeying is sometime together as ceremony, and sometime separate. Again, much of what we experience is just for the one making the inner journey, but sometimes the wisdom encourages and focuses both of us.

We have been sharing hikes, but usually allow a good bit of distance between us. Will’s longer stride carries him out ahead of me, and we are each left to sing; open to the beauty of nature around us; and to spend time in deep listening to the wisdom of our helping spirits and guides. Afterward we share insights that emerge. Sometimes there is a phrase that will emerge that gives us a touchstone – so we remind one another of it from time to time.

Our current catch phrase dropped in as I was waking up one morning into the usual mental chatter of all of the challenges and details that lie between where we are and where we hope to be next summer. It was a vivid image from “The Two Towers.” Gollum is leading Sam and Frodo through the Dead Marshes and has warned them not to “follow the lights” that shine up from the marsh. If they do, they will be drawn down into the depths and light little candles of their own. It is not long before Frodo becomes mesmerized by a presence in the marsh and falls face first into the marsh. Gollum pulls him out and lays him on solid ground, but while he is still holding him by the lapels, he says, “DON”T FOLLOW THE LIGHTS.”  So, whenever one of us gets caught by the conditioned morass of things that have to be done, the other gently reminds him/her, “Don’t Follow the Lights.”

I am deeply grateful that my primary companion in this transformation is my beloved husband. There are others who help keep our feet on the path, but this is indeed a transformation built for two.

Nancy

What’s The Foundation?

quantum
“In all beginnings dwells a magic force for guarding us and helping us to live” From the wonderful poem, “Stages” by Hermann Hesse

Philosophy, spirituality, and psychology are inexorably intertwined. Each of us has a foundational conditioned paradigm that operates underneath all of our beliefs, intentions, actions, and relationships to each other and to the Earth. Because of how I was educated and guided; because of the assumptions my parents and peers transmitted to me; and because of the operating principles of my culture, I have operated from a “materialist” paradigm most of my life. I had never, until recently, questioned this conditioning. My spiritual path led me through several belief systems, none of which truly challenged the basic template of reality provided by materialism.

Materialism, as a basic principle, is not simply the accumulation of possessions and the consumption of goods. It is not an economic structure, though economic structures are usually built upon its principles. Economic greed is not what makes our society, “materialistic.”  The foundational paradigm of materialism is the assumption that everything – all life and content of the Cosmos – is founded upon matter. We may “believe” that there is a spiritual component of some sort, but matter itself remains the bedrock reality and the manipulation of matter is seen as the most important activity of human life.

If we are ill, we turn to the manipulation of matter on a biological and cellular level for better health. If we are poor, we turn to the manipulation of goods and services for more wealth. We believe, despite our spiritual statements, that any change for the better begins, at the base, with the shifting and rearrangement of matter, by matter. This belief has settled into the bedrock of society because, at a gross level, it has a certain reality that, in many ways, “works.” We are material beings. Our Great Mistake comes from our assumption that we are material at our Core. The marvelous science of biology shows us a “beginning” with the egg and sperm. Molecular biology goes deeper into the atomic structure of the cell’s genes. Unfortunately, this is where our operating assumptions usually stop. Here, we say, we have reached the foundation.

I no longer believe in this material foundation of being, though the conditioned wiring of my brain continues to protest, whine, and reason in an attempt to get me back into its solid structure. The seeds of my current transformation began more than fifty years ago in a Physics classroom on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. I forget the professor’s name, but I remember vividly an aside comment he made as he paused in the midst of strewing complicated formulas and Greek letters across the blackboard. “This,” he said, “is just representational language. Reality itself is not matter, but energy dancing beneath all existence. It is not the atom, but the dance, that is the source of life.” Then he went back to formulae and information about the next quiz. I went back to getting good grades and hoping to have sex someday.

Somehow that vaguely remembered comment set me on a journey. It was a journey guided for many years by materialist assumptions, but its germ; its essence was Mystery. That professor was lucky to be in his field at very beginnings of Quantum Physics.

Instead of digressing into the morass of Quantum Philosophy, let me return to state my transformed understanding of Being: Life does not arise from matter. Matter arises from Life. Spirit is not contained within matter. Matter is contained within Spirit. My existence is not formed by the blueprint of my DNA. My DNA is formed by a blueprint unseen but more “real” than any molecular chain.

When this paradigm shift occurs, everything changes. All action and intention now begins, not from an attempt to manipulate matter and events into a desired form, but from an inner movement of Energy/Spirit that trans-forms all forms. Far from being a denial of physical reality, this Quantum paradigm energizes physical reality. Engineers still build bridges. Doctors still work with the material body. We all still work for peace and justice. We still eat, drink, enjoy, suffer, live, and die but it is now a dance that flows from and occurs within Something Else. I am not a body who may or may not have a Spirit. I am an Dance of Energy, which has for the moment, a body formed by an this Dance.  What freedom! What power!

More Archetypes – Ed Abbey

Archetypes are, for me, historical or occasionally fictional characters who represent a fundamental part of my psyche; who reveal to me my deepest spiritual longings and realities. As the years have passed, I have begun to distinguish Archetypes from heroes and heroines. Heroes and heroines change with culture and mood. They are admirable but not as deeply intertwined with my authentic soul.

I mentioned in a previous post that Henry David Thoreau is one of my Archetypes. He is not really a hero. He is a representation for me of a reality that resides within my True Nature – a person who wants to discover the possibility of a human life lived in harmony with self and with the natural world. As my life enters a period of profound freedom, simplicity and joy, I find immense support and encouragement from Archetypes that are coming alive within me.

EdAnother of the inner Archetypes that is encouraging me is that of Edward Abbey. He is almost an anti-hero in his actual historical life – an opinionated, difficult, unruly anarchist whose passionate nature rubbed many people the wrong way. Yet his book, Desert Solitaire, still vibrates a chord within me that delights in the stark beauty of the desert canyon lands, and enlivens the energy of my own commitment to the preservation of the Wild, in nature and within the human soul.

“This is the most beautiful place on Earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.”  (speaking of Arches National Monument)

My own embarrassment at being what many call a, “curmudgeon,” is wonderfully soothed by Ed’s words. I wouldn’t pretend to be as wild as Ed, but I certainly acknowledge the Archetype within me that is gaining more energy as time goes by:

“I have been called a curmudgeon, which my obsolescent dictionary defines as a ‘surly, ill-mannered, bad-tempered fellow’. Nowadays, curmudgeon is likely to refer to anyone who hates hypocrisy, cant, sham, dogmatic ideologies, and has the nerve to point out unpleasant facts and takes the trouble to impale these sins on the skewer of humor and roast them over the fires of fact, common sense, and native intelligence. In this nation of bleating sheep and braying jackasses, it then becomes an honor to be labeled curmudgeon.”

As the photo above illustrates, Ed had the same relationship to television (which was the dominant media of his day) that I have to both television and all media. I am using my computer with extreme care. I write, post, and communicate as clearly and simply as I possibly can. Nevertheless, sometimes I want to go out and buy a cheap television screen and computer, take them out on the back hillside, and kill them with a blast from my father’s antique Winchester 30-30.

Ah well, thank you for honoring one of my more curmudgeonly Archetypes. Perhaps the day is coming when The Monkey Wrench Gang will inspire a new form of resistance; non-violent, but direct and potent. Who knows?

 

 

Potty Musings

outhouseI have ignored the fundamental essences of life for many decades. Oh, I have participated in all of the human functions – eating, drinking, relieving myself, and washing up. Yet these natural and marvelous functions of being alive have been compartmentalized into activities that actually serve to keep me separate from life rather than integrating me into being a vital part of it.

The above thoughts arose as I flushed the toilet after my usual morning ritual. It’s automatic, isn’t it? You flush it away with hardly a second thought. This morning, however, I was struck by one of the many changes that loom as Nancy and I contemplate a lighter, freer, and simpler future. In a tiny house or trailer, flushing away waste becomes more than a mindless motion of the hand and arm. It needs to go somewhere and that somewhere will become my responsibility in a more direct manner than ever before. I will have to deal with my own s–t.

We want to place ourselves in a position where we feel more connected to the fundamentals of life. In a tiny/small house everything will be up close and personal. Water will be conserved out of necessity. Shopping will be unavoidably concise and frugal. Cleaning up will be done by hand rather than by pushing the button on a dishwasher. Clothes will be washed by hand or by an occasional trip to the laundromat. Then, there won’t be all that many clothes in the first place. And, of course, the actual s–t will have to be dealt with. All of these are simple acts that are natural and appropriate. In fact, in a world that has lost its connection to the Earth and its collective mind they may actually be healing and renewing.

For sure, there will be new disciplines ahead, but they will not be onerous disciplines. We will try to make each small change be congruent with our deepest values and beliefs: living an appropriate human experience in harmony with nature, and working for the healing of the Earth and all the life She sustains. My conditioned mind will label the cultivation of each new habit, “inconvenient,” but in fact each step into direct and connected living will be freeing, joyful, and long overdue. It’s a delightful journey. I am so glad to be taking it with my wonderful spouse, whose spiritual practice is setting the tone and leading the way.

 

 

Untamed Nature

fireThe California wildfires have made our summer, “the summer of smoke and flames,” This wildfire time has allowed me to notice the overly romantic views of nature that still sometimes linger in my mind. If I truly want to be, “one with the Earth,” I going to have to allow these complex natural processes to flow around me, and to graciously, even gratefully, adapt myself to them. I would prefer a summer of spectacular vistas, sparkling waters, and pristine air. Then I could wax poetic about the glories of the simple life. Instead I must dance with the untamed qualities of this natural world and find corresponding qualities within myself. Fire and smoke are each primal and natural manifestations of the energy of our planet and have been part of its ecology since the beginning. I’m the newcomer, and it is I who must adapt.

Nancy and I prepared our, “bug out kit,” as  fires moved closer to our area. The major Interstate Highway through California was closed for a few days about 15 miles south of us by a fire that threatened nearby towns. We have not been in immediate danger and merely have been taking the logical precautions. We bought some smoke filter masks  as the air quality has been iffy for the past two months. Amidst all of this, I have been surprisingly calm. A gentle voice has reminded me, “Of course nature is untamed. It couldn’t be otherwise. The centuries that have been spent trying to “tame” her have brought about the present chaos in the world. Don’t be surprised if she begins to show us that, ‘It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.’ Just pay attention and enjoy even this part of the journey.”

I continue to hope that our desire for “freedom, simplicity, and joy” is not answered by the burning away of our house. Preparing our, “bug out kit,” however, helped us see more clearly how few things we actually need to be happy and safe. There is a natural anxiety that comes from the close presence of such untamed forces, however his anxiety is merely a particular vibration of energy within my body which I can choose  to use for creative and helpful actions.

If I cling to romantic and comfortable views of simplicity and freedom, I will fall right back into the cultural trap of thinking the world is my resource to use, rather than my home in which to gratefully and carefully dwell. I will end up frustrated by constantly trying to “fix” any discomfort that arises. Instead I am going to let the energy flow through me while I dance to the music of the Earth, even when it is wild and uncontrolled.

Do You Know What You’re Doing?!

freud“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?!” echoes a voice in my head with regularity these days. Its tone is parental, unbelieving, and incredulous. It is designed to stop me in my tracks; to make me hang my head in shameful acknowledgement that no, in fact I have no idea what I’m doing; and then to have me recant of my dreams and return to the safety and security of, “the real world.”

I have been answering to this voice most of my life. Even when I have gone ahead and followed my dreams, it has followed along, standing in the background, frowning, tsking, and waiting for me to come to my senses. I am frankly tired of listening to it.

Engaging this voice is usually an exercise in futility because it demands to be engaged on its own terms. I end up trying to justify my dreams using the same language and paradigm of the voice. But lately, during my long walks, I have been finding the spaciousness and freedom from which I have been able to see more clearly the authentic nudging of my own heart.

I certainly don’t know what the future will hold. I certainly don’t know what exact forms our housing will take in the coming year. I don’t know how our gifts and crafts will be exchanged for supportive income. I don’t know what my health, or Nancy’s, will be in the coming years. I don’t know how a changing climate and disintegrating society will influence our path. So, as far as forms and securities are concerned, no, I don’t know much, if anything. I’m learning as I go along.

But there are things I do know. I know what it feels like to love and be loved by another human being. I know by direct experience the fundamental nurture of Mother Earth and the unity of all Life.  I know that both Nancy and I are committed to finding an, “appropriate way of living a human experience within the context of the natural world.” I know that the culture in which I live does not support this way of living. I know that a radical and comprehensive revolution is necessary for humans to survive. I know that I must make my own contribution to this revolution. I know that the time is short – mine and the culture’s – and that therefore my own contribution must be made with my whole heart, spirit, and life. These things I know, and it is from this knowing that I will guide my life.