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.

 

Been Awhile

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Our Little “Walden Cabin”

My goodness. It’s been almost two months since my last post. I deliberately took some time off as Nancy and I settled into a new and challenging role as caretakers of 3 acres of family property, including a rustic cabin, here in Mt. Shasta. We still live in our motor home, but are able to stretch our legs a bit within the old cabin as we paint, clean, and help maintain the building. We are also caring for the meadow and trees on the property. It is work that is outside of our comfort zone of familiar routines, but it is enlivening and transforming our lives.

The challenges of the past few months have focused us a bit on day-to-day tasks – not a bad thing in itself. But we have both been reminded recently of the energy that has been driving all of our changes over the past few years. We did not embark on a radical shift of lifestyle simply to have an adventure. We were called in this direction by forces and energies; some material and obvious, some subtle and mysterious. Nancy’s development of shamanic practice and my own immersion in the energies of the earth through Qigong practice have reordered our experience of life. We moved to a “tiny house” because we felt it was the appropriate way of living. We continue to look for creative and authentic ways of living in our work, our environment, and our conversations.

Several years ago I was fascinated by a BBC series called, “Foyle’s War.” It is a dramatic series set in WWII England and, though it follows a story concerning crime in a coastal town, the thematic setting of each episode is an aspect of English life as it was transformed by the War. The threat to England was real and immediate, just 30 miles across a narrow strip of water. The reality of the situation transformed English life. Gas was strictly rationed, as were most commodities. Every piece of scrap was recycled and reused. Tens of thousands of acres of unused land were transformed into food crops by the work of the Women’s Land Army. Every household that had extra room was asked to billet defense workers and refugees from the bombings. Lavish estates were made into hospitals. Bicycles became the mode of transportation. “Dig for Victory” Gardens were planted in every backyard, schoolyard, vacant lot, and golf course – producing twice as much food as had previously been imported. Studies since the war have shown that, despite the horror and destruction, the nutritional and physical health of the English population during the war was better than before or since.

The current threat to human life on Earth is every bit as real and immediate as was the presence of Nazi jackboots across the channel to the English. Yet we continue to live in fear and denial. No civil leadership takes responsibility or steps up to rally us to action. The responsibility has fallen upon us as individuals. Nancy and I are attempting to live with the same sense of purpose and commitment as did the English people. We have heard a call to action, not from the government, but from the Earth Herself and from the Spirits of the mountains, streams and forests.

We’re taking each step that presents itself to us as best we can. If the government won’t ration gas and food, we’ll do it ourselves – limiting our trips and making whole foods the center of our diet. We haven’t planted a garden yet, but we will next spring. We find new ways each week to eliminate wasteful consumption.

It isn’t a walk in the park – more like a journey through the wilderness. But it is an imperative response to a wounded world, and I’m giving every bit of my life to the task. The paradox continues to be the unfolding of freedom, simplicity, and joy in my life beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.

No Mind

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(This post is a follow up to my previous post of Wu-Wei Mind and expands on my experience of letting go of conditioned thinking.)

 

This is a path of letting go
so there will be room to live.
If we hold on to our opinions,
our minds will become dull and useless.
Let go of opinions.
If we hold on to possessions,
we will always be at risk.
Let go of possessions.
If we hold on to ego,
we will continue to suffer.
Let go of ego.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9

Nancy and I have been “rearranging” (to say the least) our life style for the past few years in order to feel more congruent with what we believe is an appropriate way of living for human beings on this planet Earth. We now live in an older Winnebago motor home parked on 3 acres of property that has been in my family for almost 70 years, now owned by my sister. Our possessions are now limited to what can fit in said motor home. We live near Mount Shasta, California, in the midst of astounding beauty and hundreds of miles of wilderness trails to be explored. Finances are minimal but life is very, very good.

As more and more cultural baggage falls away, I am left with a stark awareness of the heaviest baggage of all – the ponderous weight of my conditioned mind. Nothing tires a person more than a day spent lugging a load of thought through every single moment. Every thought carries an emotional component, usually unnoticed, which generates physical responses in the body. So without adding any other “work” component to the day, my body is continually responding to mental stimuli with tension, contraction, the release of various chemicals, and other physiologic events.

My conditioned assumption is that this thought-filled mind is what makes me human. Without it wouldn’t I be “no one” – like a Alzheimer’s victim? On the contrary, the conditioned mind that seems so “normal” is actually an inhuman quality that has been added to our psyches through millennia of modern civilization. The truly normal mind is  “mushin” – or “no-mind” – an open, spontaneous, spacious place of creativity without ownership; action without agenda; rest without resistance; and compassion without strings of any sort. It is devoid of the clinging, fearful, avaricious, obsessive, compulsive, and downright crazy thought processes that dominate our minds today.

As I continue along my “Tao” of simplicity, freedom, and joy, I find myself reaching the point where the burden of my conditioned mind needs to be laid aside. I have returned to meditation, formerly an essential part of my practice, and found it to be far more important and effective than I had previously experienced. I use the “Serene Reflection” method of Zen meditation taught by the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. It is simply sitting still and cultivating a relaxed distance from the stream of thinking. I don’t try to stop thinking but whenever I am caught up in thought, I drop it and return to the sensations of the present moment – nothing more complicated than that. As I learn to do this while sitting quietly, I find I can do it anywhere. Anytime I am caught up in the cacophony of craziness my mind has learned to produce, I simply stop. Then I return to the sensations of the moment and go on with my life. My mind gradually relaxes into its preferred state of openness; its natural quality of “mushin.”

All the external shifts of the past few years have been essential and transformative. But it is in “Mushin” or “No Mind” that freedom, simplicity, and joy find their fullest expression. It is from that spaciousness that creativity and compassion truly arise.

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

Archetypes of Simplicity – Thoreau

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  from “Walden” by H.D. Thoreau

Simplicity isn’t simple, of course. If it were we would all be living a life of freedom and joy because we all have a deep longing for such a life, even if it is firmly buried under layers of conditioned beliefs. Out of that deep reservoir of longing occasionally arise exemplars, archetypes if you will, to remind us that we are living lives of unnatural melancholy.

Henry David Thoreau is the first name that springs to the American mind when the subject of simplicity arises. Idolized by some, pooh-poohed by others, he remains the archetype for a simple life, a natural life, a life lived as one with one’s wild surroundings. His oft-quoted words about, “quiet desperation,” should not be taken as a condemnation but as a call to arms. His two year experiment at Walden was undertaken to prove to himself that life need not be desperate at all. Indeed it can be quite free and joyful when lived with simplicity in harmony with nature.

“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil — to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”  From “Walking” by H.D. Thoreau

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”   from “Walden”

Our own “Walden” is beginning to take shape but its material form is still quite a few months away. We are gathering, as did Thoreau, the necessary tools and materials. Unlike Thoreau who was schooled in self-reliance and knew how to build a house, we are completely unschooled in the intricacies of a nomadic trailer life. We have lots of learning ahead and a great deal of personal growth will be necessary in order to so radically change our way of living. The above quote from Thoreau has become a guiding principle for our journey.