Resist and Refuse

disobedienceI have been immersed in Thoreau for the past week. I re-read Walden for the umpteenth time and once again found new inspiration and insight. He is one of my Archetypes of Simplicity” but his Walden experiment is perhaps not the most important element of his legacy. The two years at Walden blends with his passionate resistance to slavery and to the unjust war against Mexico to form what I believe is his true legacy: that Simple living is the foundation of all political action. The two are inseparable.

His, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” essay has long been a touchstone for protest and activism. It arose from the heated and divisive time leading up to the Civil War. His home state, Massachusetts, was a “free” state but had passed the Fugitive Slave Act which required escaped slaves to be returned to their masters in the slave states. The United States was also involved in war with Mexico which Thoreau opposed as illegal and imperialistic. He was fed up with both state and federal governments and he wrote a compelling case for the moral necessity of disobedience. I highly recommend using this link to read his timeless essay.

I am always aware of the fact that my attempt to live a simple, authentic life rests upon all of the complexities of the current capitalist economy. There is no escape from this reality for, at the moment, the economy is what it is and I must navigate its territory to the best of my ability. Much of the time, like Thoreau, I adjust my needs to be those that truly satisfy me, live more simply and closer to the elements of the Earth, and hope that the insanity we call economics and government pass by without noticing me. But when the power of that economic/governmental machine grows to the point where it is literally destroying the Earth, I have to, again like Thoreau, make choices of resistance and refusal to cooperate. My deepest commitment is to the Earth which I love and of which I am an inseparable part. Politics and economics now emerge from that first love, that essential connection.

Make no mistake, simple living is more than a satisfying life-style choice. It is an act of political resistance and of civil disobedience. It is the foundational act out of which all other actions emerge. It is also extremely difficult because so many aspects of our psychological comfort and well-being are intertwined with cultural norms and expectations.  Simplicity often equals poverty to our conditioned minds unless it has been prepared for over decades of learning and experience. Nancy and I jumped into the fray much later in life and that adds difficulties. It doesn’t matter. 2020 will be a year in which we will speak and write as clearly and honestly as we possibly can about freedom, simplicity, joy, and Earth-centered living.

Some of the ways I am working on my own “resist and refuse: practice:disobery

Quite a while ago I deleted my FaceBook account (though I assume it is forever lodged somewhere in a data base) for many reasons. I refuse to support the mass gathering of data, the manipulation of opinion, and the tampering with elections that such a platform enables. But I also refuse to participate in any hate-driven social media ironically called, “discussion.” I never click to follow such threads. There are much better ways of communicating and conversing. Question: what might these better ways be?

I refuse to listen to ignorance masquerading as, “news.” I’m trying to make my primary sources be periodicals and books, reading only authors who have taken the time to fully research and digest events.

I refuse to vote unless there is a candidate who is truly committed to radical action. The, “lesser of two evils” is a ruse that keeps us heading for the cliff.

I’m trying not to indulge my own, “confirmation bias.” I don’t need to be constantly affirming the, “ain’t it awful!” mentality in my reading or conversation.

I am attempting to resist the pressure of advertising that creates artificial need.

I am trying to resist friends and family who tell me how to behave.

I regularly disobey the habitual thought patterns of my conditioned mind by practicing meditative awareness rather than impulsive action.

Thoreau disobeyed the law by refusing to pay his poll tax that supported an unjust war and slavery. I have friends who have gone to jail for refusing to pay income tax that supports injustice. I admit that, for the moment, I am not ready to risk imprisonment on this issue. Our approach, for now, is to keep our income below the level at which we would pay federal income tax. Income tax basically supports the military industrial complex, foreign “aid” which is actually a way of controlling other countries, and bailouts to financial institutions. An ever-decreasing tiny percentage goes to social programs. At the moment, flying under the taxation radar seems best. That may change. We are happy to pay state tax, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax that funds roads, and taxes that directly benefit the community.

As the year progresses I will be thinking more deeply about these issues.

Let me know what you are doing to resist, refuse, and disobey.

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!

Which Flow?

salmonMy spouse, Nancy, recently shared an image that came to her in a shamanic meditation – that of conversing with Salmon, who shared wisdom about the “elder” stage of life. In a seeming contrast to popular interpretations of Taoist thinking, the later journey of the salmon is a concentrated, focused imperative to swim upstream in order to get “home.”

This brought to mind that the popular Taoist, “go with the flow” idea has some important caveats. Just which “flow” are we to go with? Is the cultural rush toward oblivion and meaninglessness to be interpreted as the main “flow” of Tao? Or does the Tao actually have a deeper and more powerful current flowing in another direction. Is the current of Tao difficult to discern because it is flowing in this more mysterious place, under the seeming rush of culture?

The stream of culture is shallow and noisy, rushing over rocks and falls and gathering our attention. Where is the deeper stream? And do we have to let some of the imperatives that salmon feel arise to our awareness in order to discover it? There are two paradoxical processes: One – seeming to swim “up stream” against the shallow current of culture. And two – going “with the flow” of the deeper, more powerful and eternal current of Tao.

All the surface streams find their way to the ocean, where the power of water becomes turtlemultiplied a thousandfold. Sea turtles find these immense flows and allow them to facilitate long migrations. These deep currents are so powerful that all surface weather is formed by their action. Does the salmon have an intuitive memory of these depths that allows it to face into the surface current regardless of cost? Has the time spent in the depth of the ocean given it the strength for this journey? Perhaps, in order to find the flow of Tao at this point in my life I must seek out these deeper currents.

The analogy of the salmon isn’t totally applicable to my life, but it has enough resonance to provide me with some wonderful lessons. Culturally speaking, I am swimming upstream on an extremely difficult journey. Like the salmon, I have to touch the deep conviction that I am on a journey home and let nothing interfere with that journey. I cannot stop and let the shallow stream of culture carry me backwards. But, unlike the salmon, perhaps more like the Sea turtle, I have access to a deeper current which I can trust to carry me along this path.

Which flow shall we go with? The conditioned mind says that going with the surface stream of culture is far easier, more entertaining, and full of toys, trinkets, and so-called safety nets. But where will it lead? Home? Hardly. There is an instinct in each of us as powerful as that in the home-bound salmon. But few are willing to heed its imperative. “Futile!” our conditioning says. “Go with the flow,” it insists. But if we want to truly find home, we must swim upstream, all the while gathering our trust, hope, and strength from the Deep Current of Tao that enlivens us, the Earth, and the Cosmos.

Facebook Mind

facebookcanOne of the reasons Lao-Tzu was able to be so clear and powerful in his wisdom poetry was the clarity of his vision – his focus of attention. He looked at the natural world with a mind that was open and reasonably free of the typical ego-centric self-talk. That is what provides his words with their power. Even when they seem ambiguous and mysterious, there is an,”aha!” feeling deep inside when one reads them.

I had a Zen teacher who often said, “The focus of your attention determines the quality of your experience.” I recently had an experience of self-hate that brought this teaching home to me once again. While attempting to replace the lock on the sliding door of the cabin I lost an essential screw. No biggie, happens all the time, right? Go buy another one. But something toggled in my brain and, for ten minutes I was completely lost in a white-hot self-hating rant more powerful than anything I had experienced before.

“You stupid f—!” came out of my mouth, over and over with incredible intensity. “You g– d—- stupid f…!” For ten minutes this rant did not cease. No other awareness was present in my mind. When I finally came to myself, I was exhausted. It was so completely out of proportion that its origin was, of course, something much deeper than a lost screw. It emerged from decade upon decade of much more subtle self-talk focused on doubt and fear.

This locus of doubt and fear within my brain draws energy from the things I choose to think about, to put my attention upon. The genesis of such hateful energy lies with the seemingly ordinary worries, doubts, and subtle under-the-radar whisperings that continue to imply, “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll do it wrong. You’ll make a mistake. You are not really competent.”

This whispering feeds the process and gives it the energy it needs. Then, something will occur that cracks open a mental fissure and, like a subterranean lava flow finding an opening, the eruption blows fire and ash over everything in sight. I  dissipated the fire and ash from this particular intense experience, but the corridors of lava continue to flow in my brain and will cease to draw energy from my life only when I cease fueling their fire. So, as this process becomes more visible I am able to take measures to heal.

Let’s mix another metaphor into the pot. This is a parasitic energy, feeding off my own life force. To get rid of a parasite, one removes the nutrient upon which it feeds. In this case the nutrients are the internal fears and doubts, along with the external forces feeding those fears and doubts. I have learned to withdraw much of my attention from the toxic media of my culture, but the internal patterns are decades old and it is them from which I need to now withdraw my attention. Just as I no longer use Facebook or other social media, I need to as firmly stop scrolling through the posts that my mind wants to feed me. My mind’s algorithm is as biased as Facebook’s, always skewing toward fear, desire, and any other attention-grabbing post.

Indeed,  Facebook has ingeniously and skillfully adopted the algorithm of my conditioned mind and applied it in ways that are invasive, intrusive, and terribly damaging to lives and society. Facebook works almost seamlessly with my conditioned mind to form a system that bypasses my deeper Mind and keeps me continually locked into a cycle that perpetuates the dysfunction of both self and society. Both systems now work in a feedback loop in which both are constantly reinforced.

I have stopped use of  Facebook completely but, as I said, the process is deep within me. Fear and desire are the twin engines of economy and culture, operating everywhere we turn. We will not heal ourselves by totally disconnecting. We can’t totally disconnect. Some of us find that social media plays a necessary part in our lives. What we must do is learn to navigate these dangerous waters with full attention and clarity.

Whether it is on Facebook or lost in the scrolling homepage of our minds, I recommend a few possible ways of caring for ourselves.

  1. Don’t click on anything unless there is a clear, rational, and helpful need to do so.
  2. Pretend your thoughts are being presented by an entity that does not have your interests at heart and stop cooperating with it.
  3. Don’t believe anything you think or read when you are in this millieu.
  4. Practice putting your attention somewhere other than the conditioned patterns. I.E. – don’t open Facebook. It will take a while to learn when you are in the Facebook of your conditioned mind and when you are in a deeper place, but it is worth the effort.

However complicated the processes, one essential element in a life of freedom, simplicity, and joy will be the ability to keep one’s attention on those expressions of Life that are helpful, good, and true. Look around, they’re everywhere. We just have been trained not to see them.

Rationing

ration2I have written before about the climate crisis that humanity faces. The forces fighting for business as usual are so very powerful that I often despair our fate. Yet hope remains within my psyche and that hope lies with individual spiritual evolution. Climate activists tend to pooh-pooh such an approach as being a type of head-in-the-sand denial, but my deepest intuition is that spiritual evolution is the only possible path. Polarization of political approaches has led only to a mean-spirited shouting stalemate. To believe that “we” can successfully impose on “them” our solutions is to perpetuate the power game that has brought us to this point in the first place.

As a culture we have grown soft and deluded. On the other hand, we are a species that has historically rallied together to make courageous sacrifices when confronted with catastrophic times. During World War II, the population of Britain, the United States, and Canada willingly embraced strict rationing and gave up many conveniences in the face of a common threat. Between 1938 and 1944, the use of public transit increased by 87% in the United States and by 95% in Canada. By 1943 twenty million households in the United States were growing “Victory Gardens” which supplied a whopping 42% of all produce consumed.

I have said it before: the crisis we now face is every bit as real and imminent as was Fascism in WW II. The Earth as a human habitat is threatened as surely as England was threatened by the German military 30 miles across the channel. But we don’t believe it because everything in our economic system is geared to hide the truth from us. I won’t belabor the clear facts. Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, is the clearest presentation of the crisis that I have come across and I recommend it.

What, then, to do? First, we have to accept that governments are not going to act in any meaningful way to protect us or the Earth. They are not going to impose needed rationing or ask for any sacrifices (except the sacrifice of our pensions, health care, education, etc.) Then, we can begin to voluntarily take upon ourselves the rationing and sacrifice of convenience that is necessary, and to do so, not in a spirit of despair or gloom, but in a spirit of dedication and love for the planet and all of the life upon it.

During WW II, many things were just not available anytime we wanted them: sugar, gasoline, meat, butter, etc. These things were expensive and if you didn’t have the ration tickets, you didn’t get it. Self-imposed rationing is very difficult to maintain because we are so habituated to having what we want, when we want it. So, Nancy and I are using some simple techniques to help us ration. One is: “If it isn’t organic, it isn’t available!” What a blow to our conditioned minds this is! “But, but, but…” the mind stammers, “what about this or that? What about the cost? We can’t afford…”

gas_rationOrganic foods are not the panacea to the crisis, but for us they are a symbol of the direction in which culture needs to move. The self-imposition of a rationing approach gives us the necessary sense of sacrifice. We have a very limited food budget and to limit it to organic is a “sacrifice.” It is, however, very helpful. It limits the quantity of food we buy and enhances the quality. We also don’t eat any meat products, which eliminates a wide range of choices. We are also going to self-ration gasoline, but haven’t figured out the best approach to doing that yet. It is easy to dismiss such actions as wrong headed or inadequate, but we have to take some steps to, on a daily basis, remind ourselves of the magnitude of the crisis we face.

It’s another of the paradoxes Lao-Tzu loved so much: the more of these “sacrifices” Nancy and I make, the happier, freer, and more basically healthy and content we become.

Nancy’s blog has lots of insights from her shamanic perspective on all of these issues. Check it out: Earth Centered Living After 60

 

Waters of Justice

Activist's cover-handI have lived an wonderful life. I have experienced an almost perfect balance of adventure and comfort; risk and safety; and challenge and contentment. I have often been “outside my comfort zone” but not so far outside as to make learning and growing problematic. I have loved deeply and been loved deeply. It has been amazing. The only problem in my life, as it is for each of us, has been the presence of my nattering, negative, and brooding conditioned mind.

At the moment I live with my beloved Nancy in an older 30 foot motor home parked on a beautiful 3 acres of property in Northern California. We hike, rest, read, write, explore our spiritual paths, and offer ourselves in service to the Earth and all of its Life. What does my conditioned mind say about all this: “You should be ashamed of yourself for enjoying your life. Millions of people in the world don’t have what you have so what makes you think you deserve it? I’m going to see to it that I poison your thoughts often enough to spoil any enjoyment you might feel because you, frankly, shouldn’t be so happy!”

The only pathway I have found to circumvent this nasty and vicious voice is to admit that, yes, I am very lucky. I did nothing to deserve the comfort I have experienced. But neither have I done anything not to deserve it. Life, despite the story of the “American Dream,” has little to do with deserving or not. The terrible inequality between human beings at this time in history is based on several terrible myths that have been mistaken for truth. The most damaging of these myths is the myth of permanence.

Since the human species turned the agricultural corner about six to ten thousand years ago, we have given ourselves over to the myth of permanence. Two corollaries of this myth are the illusion of control and the concept of ownership. Put these three illusions/myths together: permanence, control, and ownership; and you have the formula for the inevitable blossoming of injustice and destruction.

My understanding of the Wheel of Tao is that there is an eternal circling of Yin and Yang which keeps a dynamic balance that allows the cosmos to exist. Human beings have acted as if this dynamic nature of the cosmos is not for them. Everything else may come and go, but by god, we’re going to stay put! That effort to impose permanence on transience, control the uncontrollable, and own that which belongs to all, has led to the terrible imbalance we see today. However, nothing is more certain than that the Tao will always move to restore justice and balance.

I did not consciously choose to live in a society whose existence is predicated on the injustice of permanence, control, and ownership, but I do. I did not consciously choose to be comfortable while millions suffer, but I am. The important question now is: As the reality of the irresistible power of the Tao becomes more and more clear to me and its implications more and more important, what shall I do and how shall I live? Shall I cling to my inherited myths of permanence, control, and ownership? Or shall I take my place as a small part of the Wave and do what is mine to do as these Waters inevitably restore balance and justice, trusting that they will also carry me Home?

(You may be interested in my recent book, The Activist’s Tao Te Ching)

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?