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.

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.