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!

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.

 

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,