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)

No Mind

no mind

(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.

Wu-Wei Mind

clutteredmindLife does not have to be as effortful as I make it. When presented with a “difficulty” – that is, anything slightly different from the anticipated smooth and successful navigation of the river of my life – my mind leaps into action. It worries. It imagines scenarios and plans responses. It holds imaginary conversations with real and imaginary people. It argues with itself. It draws fears around itself like a shroud. It whispers demonically how things are all my fault. It whispers self-righteously that things are all somebody else’s fault. In short, it acts as a perpetual motion machine, burning mental energy at an exhausting pace, leaving itself without the resources to respond naturally and appropriately to an actual situation.

At the heart of Taoist philosophy is the idea of wu-wei – a combination of Chinese characters that literally mean, “not-doing” or “non-action.” This phrase is an expression of the Way the Tao, as it moves in all its Cosmic manifestations and responds to situations without undue strain or conscious effort. It is behind the idea of Flow – of the way water moves with fluid power over, under, around, and through obstacles.

I have always been an advocate of wu-wei but not always a very skillful practitioner of that process. I use Qigong and Taiji to assist my body in remaining relaxed, fluid and flexible. I’m not as attentive to keeping my mind relaxed, fluid, and flexible. I realize now that wu-wei must begin in my mind or it will not truly manifest in my external world. This means that I must return to Lao-Tzu’s advice in The Tao Te Ching of, “Can you wait for the mud to settle and the water to clear and right action emerges by itself?”

My mind is not used to waiting. It is conditioned to be impatient and to see the almost infinite stimuli it receives as, “extremely urgent.” To just sit without imaginary conversations, scenarios, and alternative plans until I see clearly, drives my conditioned mind crazy. This practice, however, is the only way for effective action to occur. Action without clarity is the norm in my culture and is the way I have learned to respond. Clarity is almost unknown because it requires hours, days, even months of calmly waiting for the conditioned mind to quiet and for the Tao Mind to see, know, and act. The conditioned mind wants to act immediately and the tragic results fill our world with violence, pain, and ecocide.

When I enter a situation having rehearsed countless scenarios, conversations, and responses I am unable to see and respond to what is actually happening in the moment. I superimpose my projections on the situation or person and respond to that projection. I miss the reality of the person and of the context. My actions are seldom helpful and lead my conditioned mind right back to the, “I should have said …” or, “I should have done …” process and the cycle begins anew, only now reinforced by yet another layer of self-punishment.

I can’t use the same process to quiet my mind that is used to clutter it. That strategy ends up with imaginary conversations and plans about being still and quiet. The classic advice is to patiently wait and the mind will naturally quiet itself. As frustrating as it might seem, it is the only effective way to a wu-wei mind because quiet mindfulness is the natural state of the mind. It has taken us a lifetime to be trained to forget this truth. It will take great patience to return to it. I find that meditative sounds and mantras can help, but all techniques require a quiet accepting patience. If we learn to let the mind quiet for a few seconds we are on our way. Then we’ll find that we can be still for a minute or two. Eventually we will be able to enjoy wu-wei stillness as a habit Then we will find that our mind is ecstatic with relief at finally being itself again and our actions and words will emerge from a place of quiet competence.

Convenience

teapotEverything can be seen as a message if I pay attention – not necessarily a profound philosophical or spiritual message, but simply a common hint and teaching from the animate Cosmos in which I live.

Our electric coffee pot that is supposed to have an “off” switch has started to boil over if left unattended. Do we toss it and buy a new and better one? Or perhaps we are learning that we don’t need to push a button and quickly go on to something else for the sake of convenience. Leave the lid open. Pay attention. When it begins to boil, shut it off. “A watched pot never boils over.” (The original of that old saying.)

Humanity’s pursuit of convenience seems to have led to a diminishing of our ability to pay attention. Our ancestors were, by necessity, attentive to the environment and therefore were constantly learning what it had to teach them. Every convenience we have gained in the past 10,000 years has a price tag attached. Some, perhaps, are worth the price. However many are purchased with yet another decrease in the bank account of attention, mindfulness, and awareness. The completely convenient life, I think, would be a life of complete inattention to natural processes and environments.

The original definition of convenient implied, “fitting in well, being useful.” That definition has morphed to become, “time and effort saving,” and from there into, “the ability to accomplish a task with little or no thought or attention.” The question then becomes, “What am I doing instead?” If I have a large family and the large capacity clothes washer allows me to write an assignment, work in the garden, or take my toddler to the playground, then I can make a case for the money spent and the attention refocused. It doesn’t relieve me of the questions like: How long did I have to work to earn the money for the item, which was clearly time spent away from the garden or the playground with my toddler? Did I enjoy the time spent earning the money? And I also have to consider a final question: What do I actually do with the “time saved?” Really?

If we add up all the so-called conveniences, we find that they have somehow become necessities that we are working full time to afford. Surprise, they have now become even more of a necessity. And somehow they keep needing to be replaced, repaired, or kept company by some other new convenience. We are now trapped on the economic treadmill – working full time in order to buy the conveniences that enable us to work full time so we can afford the conveniences so that we can…

I don’t have any real solid answers that would fit everyone’s life. I am only raising the classic questions of, “What? Why? and How?” that I have spent so many decades ignoring. Freedom, simplicity, and Joy also comes with a price tag. As conveniences slip from being necessary, my condition mind shouts, “Inconvenient!” But the deeper awareness and joy of simple moments spent noticing real events is well worth the price.

 

I Can’t Do It Alone!

12stepI hesitate to write this post because my life has been so filled with changes and transitions that to say anything runs the risk of having the ground swept out from under whatever assertion I make, as the Sacred Source continues to inform, reform, and transform my being. Certain understandings, however, have been emerging that I would like to find words to express.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am addicted to Western Civilization. As I have begun to explore the ramifications of this realization, I have come to more fully understand the motivations behind the classic 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I taught counseling at the college level for many years, including a class on “Addiction Counseling.” As has been true with much of my life, my verbal and expressive abilities usually exceeded my deeper understandings. I was a good teacher and was helpful in many ways, I am sure. But it is only as I come to understand the pervasive and insidious evil of addiction for myself that the principles I taught for so many years shine with a bright light in my mind.

There are many fine programs to help the addict, but I have reexamined the classic first step in the 12-step recovery program and found it profoundly helpful. It has always been an admission that one’s life is out of control and that no amount of will power or good intentions will ever stop the descent into complete self-destruction. At this point, in a second step, the addict understands that only a Source of Energy or Power greater than oneself can possibly heal the addiction and its associated wounds. In the third step the addict becomes willing to turn one’s life over completely to this Source, however one understands it.

This has been my journey the past few months. From being a wise teacher, a respected counselor, and a widely-read author I have found myself hitting a personal bottom as I faced the nature of my addiction – and I believe it is the addiction we all face – to the almost infinite and tenacious power of our civilization. It pervades my conscious and subconscious mind and dictates my every move. I buy, consume, fear, want, strive, feel shame, strive some more, fear some more, consume some more, feel more shame, always trying to live up to the “rules” which brook no objection; rules that are ground into the very economic and social fabric of my being.

Like the classic addict, I have come to see that this addiction will kill me and the Mother Earth from which I emerged. Also like the classic addict, I find that, by myself, I am powerless to change. I can make superficial tweaks to my life and fool myself for awhile, sometimes even years, but I am powerless to create a truly transformed life of my own willpower.

This is about as far as I can go right now, but it is a tremendously energizing realization. When I left traditional Christianity I discarded some essential truths of the Cosmos. I would never return to traditional religion, but I find I must return to a trust in, and total commitment to, a Source greater than my own understanding and will. For the moment, I am understanding this Source as the fundamental Energy of the Earth, the Sky, and the Cosmos. This has been my understanding for several years, but the shift has occurred in my willingness to turn my life over to this Source and ask Its Energy to live through me, to transform me. By myself, I can’t recover from Western Society. But with this fundamental connection to the Source of Earth, Sky, and Sea, I have returned to the one Home from which I can truly live in freedom, simplicity, and joy.

There are so many implications of this trust that I have yet to understand. They will come moment-by-moment to my consciousness, where I will ask that they be healed and transformed. No great plans. No resolutions whatsoever. Just a willingness to take one step at a time and see what comes next. I must confess that I see no hope for humanity without a general awakening to the depth of our addictions and a return to the fundamental Sources of our Being. We are all addicts, deeply mired and without hope of pulling ourselves out by our bootstraps. Nature, the Mother Earth, the Source, whatever we want to call the fundamental Reality, waits for our return home, patiently and without blame or shame. There we will find the hope for which we long.

Addicted to Western Civilization

Chellis Glendinning, in her marvelous book, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery From Western Civilization, offers a penetrating look at the essential wound of our society, from which we have, like all addicts, sought relief through denial, distraction, and pleasure-seeking. This primary wound occurred thousands of years ago and we have gradually covered it with a compensatory process of twisted thinking that has produced a toxic atmosphere so pervasive and so addictive that we seldom fully realize the pain we are experiencing and the damage we are doing to life around us as we seek to manage this pain.

This wound occurred when we as a species shifted from being hunter-gatherer nomads living is small tribal units, to being a settled agricultural species. This shift toggled an aspect of our brain that for hundreds of thousands of years had been living as part of the Life of Earth, connected to all aspects of the natural world as a guest of Nature. Since that time we have become “owners” instead of guests on the planet. We have created fences and assumed control of, at first simply small plots of land, but over the millennia that control has expanded outward in countless ways. We began to “own” animals, water, land, and every type of possession – all of which we had up until then held in common usage as gifts from Nature or the Gods.

Western Civilization is predicated on the concept of ownership and its corollary, private wealth, which has led to the great disparity between the few rich and the many poor among the people. This idea of ownership is so fundamental to our modern psyche that we do not question its basic assumption. We may disagree on ways and means, but private ownership and wealth itself is unquestioned. Yet it is that very assumption that has created the rift between ourselves and the natural world that has left us a culture of addicts, using every means at our disposal to soothe the pain of this wound we can’t even acknowledge we have.

I believe that hope for humanity remains within the Original Matrix that has been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years and is still fundamental within each person. We can recover, but what will we be when we recover? Who will we be when we reconnect with our Source? How will our relationships unfold? How will our education, business, and social structures support a new Humanity on a renewed Earth? These are the questions that both disturb and inspire me.

We are in a state of massive denial that is supported by every facet of our lives – media, economy, entertainment, government, business – everywhere we turn we are fed misinformation, partial truths, and downright lies. We look no further because it is too difficult and too frightening. We are both addicted and co-dependent. Keeping our own addiction intact by supporting that addiction in all of our relationships. When an alcoholic decides to be in recovery, he or she must find a new environment in which to develop relationships. We can’t, of course, abandon friends and family and go to the mountains… but we must take steps that will seem just that radical to our addicted brain. We must, a step at a time, untangle each knot that keeps us tied to our toxic society. We can’t build a new society by rearranging the pieces of the old. The natural world is teetering on the brink of becoming unable to support our species, but enough of it remains to offer a refuge and a source of renewal. But we must be willing to take the journey from civilization into the wilderness. As Chellis says, it need not be an “Outward Bound” camp first thing. It begins with simply going out the front door, then taking another step along the dirt path into the still waiting arms of Mother Earth. There is not much time left. Don’t wait in the illusory comfort of denial.

So, my name is Bill and I am addicted to Western Civilization. I now in recovery and I take it one day at a time, depending on a Source greater than myself to work within me because, by myself I am powerless to recover. The Web is too tightly wound about my mind and psyche for me to untangle it by myself. I am in recovery from my addictions and I am also recovering to my connection with the Earth. I already glimpse the freedom, simplicity, and joy available to me as the tendrils of my addiction are unwound. The entire Cosmos awaits me. It has been there all along. It is only in the past few thousand years – a tiny fraction of our human history – that we have hidden ourselves from its Wonder and Glory. The Original Matrix is still solidly imprinted within us and will help us in our recovery.

As all addicts know, a day at a time. Ready to take the first step?


Chellis’s wonderful book is twenty-five years in print. It’s reprint in 2007 is fairly expensive. I wish it were cheaper. There seem to be used copies available. I got a used one for only $4.00 that is in good shape.

Another, more recent book that is extremely well-written and inspiring on a similar subject is; “Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Writing On

Our adventure continues to unfold, as all adventures do. We have both been feeling good, finally recovered from several bouts of “pre-school viruses” spread evenly through the family by granddaughter Emma. My writing has been progressing, a bit unevenly, but progressing. I am developing a new rhythm, one that is necessary for fiction writing and quite different from that of poetry and essay. The new rhythm and practice suits me.

We are getting used to motor home living and in a month and a half will be migrating back to the Mount Shasta, California, area. We have been parked for three and a half months by my son’s home in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We have done lots of hiking and explored many trails and lovely areas of the desert, but have not really ventured “out” in the motor home except a weekly trip to dump the holding tanks. Pretty soon now we’ll let the motor home do what motor homes are designed to do – travel, at least enough to get us back to California where we will let our “tiny home” rest for awhile and provide us a cozy place to be.

Below is another sample of the work that is emerging – where it will be in the next novel I do not know. I’m just the writer. Later comes the editing.

Full Moonlight cast the beach in a shimmering white aura. The tiny whitecaps danced in a calm sea and gently broke over the sand. The eternal murmur of the Pacific Ocean was soft in the summer evening, joined this particular night by the rhythmic tum-tum-tum-tum of drumming that echoed out from the bonfire blazing on the sand between the surf and the cliffs.

Dorothy Waters, proprietress of Words and Images bookstore and art gallery, was dressed in a loose and flowing white cotton dress that danced in its own rhythm to the breeze as she swayed rhythmically and tapped her fingers and palm against the face of a large hand-drum she held in her left hand. A circle, comprised of women of all ages, sat around the fire and beat and rapped on drums of all sizes and types, complimenting the rhythm of Dorothy’s lead.

Kathleen O’Hara-Ito, recently retired from the Oregon State Police and now in what she called the, “Alternative Justice” profession, sat with a large African Djembe held between her knees. Her eyes were softly closed and her upper body undulated gently to the beat. She had been part of the “Drumming Up The Moon” circle since its inception. As part of her body/spirit lost itself in the drumming, her mind also played with the memory of that meeting at the Happy Frog cafe a little over six months ago.

The Happy Frog served only breakfast and lunch and therefore closed each day at three. This was seldom the end of the day for the community of people who had gathered around this unusual little cafe since it was purchased by James Cooper eight years ago. An odd, idiosyncratic, and unconventional group had found a home for their spirits in the magic of the Happy Frog. This particular evening found Connie Delaney, Mary O’Hara, Dorothy Waters, Amy Hsu, and Kathleen O’Hara-Ito gathered around a pot of Jasmine Tea and fresh baked blackberry scones. Dorothy, ever the literary, opened the conversation with, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here this evening.”

Connie replied in a stage voice filled with dramatic astonishment, “You can’t be implying that one of us is the murderer? That’s impossible!”

Dorothy laughed, “Nothing’s impossible, dear, but I’m not talking about a murder. I have in mind something far more sinister.”

“Count me in,” Mary O’Hara leaned forward with a grin.

“Me too,” her sister Kathleen and Amy Hsu chimed in together.

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Dorothy protested.

“They do know, dear,” Connie said, “we all know what you have in mind and we think it’s wonderful and exciting. It’s also very important.”

Dorothy sat quietly, a puzzled expression in her hazel eyes, “But I haven’t…” she began. Then she turned her gaze to Connie. “Do you know what…” she began again.

Connie shrugged her shoulders apologetically, “I’m sorry hon, but I know your drumming and dancing is so important to you. I have the feeling that it is that important to all of us; important beyond those here tonight and important beyond what we can imagine. So I might have mentioned that to Mary. And, of course, Mary told her sister and Kathleen confided in Amy. So… the question becomes, do you have enough drums for all of us?”

Dot sighed comfortably, “I have more than enough drums. In fact, I have a collection in the car that I brought along just in case there was interest.”

“Get them!” cried Kathleen and the others echoed their enthusiasm.

Thus was born the practice of “Drumming Up the Moon.”

 

Blessings to everyone from the desert