In the end we all do what we’re told. (It’s a backstage conversation.) We just differ on who we listen to, who we decide to heed. The cicadas from central casting announce August outside my window, under this overcast summer sky on a day of rain, and I sit grappling with this post. Somehow they’ll work their way in, because I listen to practically everything. Bards most of all, because they’re such electric company. Each cicada-Bard croons a Lunasa song, turning and tumbling toward the Equinox now, the days shortening at both ends, darkness nibbling at the warm hands of summer.
Do we really do what we’re told, and follow a script handed to us backstage? “No rehearsal. You’re on in 10 seconds.” Then Pow! Birth! And going off-script means following another script, the one titled rebel or train-wreck, fool or genius, or what have you. What do we have? “What is written is written,” runs the Eastern proverb about fate. “What can I say?” quips Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I flunked the written.” So many scripts to choose, rehearse, try out. When we read for “human,” how many other lines do we forget? “I am a stag of seven tines,” sings Amergin, “I am a wide flood on a plain, I am a wind on the deep waters …” Memory and imagination, the same, or inversions of each other.
When poet Mary Oliver gives Bardic advice, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” I want to shout “But attention and astonishment are both luxuries!” And they are: ultimate, essential luxuries. Yes, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Writing teacher Robert McKee turns it around: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Ouch! Take it personally like I do (though quickly I blunt the edge by applying it to characters I’ve written, all those understudies and stand-ins for my life) — take it personally and you may turn another way, determined perhaps this time to swallow life whole. This life is brand-new, never seen before. Old games, true, but new blood.
Backstage I overhear someone whispering, “Worry about living first, and if necessary, leave the examining to somebody else.” Is that meant for me? “You’re on! Break a leg!” Is that meant for me, too?
Broken. Stuckness. Does it happen more to people who overthink their lives, who need to see where each footstep will land before they take a step? Those who strive to word a version of their lives acceptable for a blogpost?
“When I am stuck in the perfection cog,” remarks author Anna Solomon,
–as in, I am rewriting a sentence a million times over even though I’m in a first draft or, I am freaking out and can’t move forward because I am not sure how everything is going to fit together—I find it helpful to tell myself: You will fail.
A soul after my own heart! Failure: our solid stepping stone to success. Because who IS sure how everything is going to fit together?
I have this written on a Post-it note. It might sound discouraging, but I find it very liberating. The idea is that no matter what I do, the draft is going to be flawed, so I might as well just have at it. I also like to look at pictures I’ve taken of all the many drafts that go into my books as they become books, which helps me remember that so much of what I am writing now will later change. When I am aware that my work is not as brave or true as it needs to be, I like to look at a particular photograph of myself as a child. I am about eight, sitting on a daybed in cut-off shorts, with a book next to me. I’m looking at the camera with great confidence, and an utter lack of self-consciousness. This photograph reminds me of who I am at my essence, and frees me up to write more like her. —Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016), in a Poets and Writers article:
No rehearsal — it’s all draft, to mix metaphors. And You will fail. But once you do the draft, paradoxically, it becomes rehearsal, revision. Re-seeing. We will look again in astonishment, memory or return, mirroring the same thing, and marvel differently. Our recognition when another tells the tale, when others speak for us because they can, they live here too, they see and speak our hearts’ truth. We know, partly, because of them. They’re versions of us, dying and being born together.
“When death comes,” Mary Oliver says in the poem of the same name,
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut …
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
Oh, Mark Twain gathers himself to answer. I hold my breath. Maybe it’s both like and unlike anything you imagine. Can we fear only what we dimly remember? “I do not fear death,” Twain says. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Lunasa thoughts. The autumn in the bones and blood, while the young are dancing. Mead around the fire. We’re both grasshopper and ant in the old fable, gathering and spending it all so profligately. Expecting a pattern, a plan, we’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain. Sometimes there’s neither curtain nor man. Other times, both man and curtain, but as we approach, the spaces between each thread and cell, between each corpuscle and moment, each atom, have grown so large we can fly through appearances, into mystery, into daydream. Great Mystery drops us into the blossom before it’s open, we sip nectar, drowsing at the calyx, the Chalice. Mystery listens as the bees hum around us, gathering pollen. Stored up sweetness for the next season. To know itself, Mystery gazes from everything we meet, we see it in each others’ eyes, so it can see itself.
Attention, says Mary Oliver, attention is the beginning of devotion.
/|\ /|\ /|\
The most valuable and life-changing practice of all, though,
says Philip Carr-Gomm in last week’s OBOD “Inspiration for Life,”
evolves gradually and simply as a different way of being in the world.
If you’re like me and many others, whatever practice you have does keep evolving. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts. A practice doesn’t sit still any more than we do — even if we want it to. “Can’t something stay the same in this too-rapidly changing world?” Apparently not. And it’s helpful to come to see that as a good thing.
From rearranging the objects and cloths on your altar(s) to wholesale changes in your beliefs and suspicions (that’s what I call things I suspect are true, the same way I suspect rabbits or deer of perpetrating the damage in our garden. I don’t need to believe it: I suspect it, even if I’d rather not), change will have its way with you. You get born, promoted, pregnant, dead, partnered, relocated to the other side of the country or the planet, chosen for a god’s obscure mission, or dropped off to sit in the intersection as traffic blasts by you on all sides, just a nose-length away.
Or nothing happens for so long you feel the universe drugged you and left you on a sand bar and swam away long before you woke up with the tide lapping at you toes.
But look back on the path you’ve taken, and both it and you are different. Our adolescent longings to blend in and be like everybody else often lost out to our adolescent longings to follow our hearts, unlike all the seemingly worn-out and spiritually comatose people around us. We don’t need to fear change. And I suspect this is true for you, if you’re reading this blog or others like it. Even the longing for transformation counts. It lies that deep in us that years or decades of resisting the call haven’t stamped it out.
Through working with Druid teachings and ceremonies, changes occur in our attitudes, feelings and behavior which enable us to live more and more frequently in alignment with our sense of purpose and meaning, and with an awareness of the inherent spirituality of all life.
I hope whatever your path, Druid or Christian or atheist or animist or Pastafarian, (and yes, those are the only choices the universe has available at the moment — check back later), you’re “more in alignment with your sense of purpose and meaning.” If not, there’s still the rest of today and all of tomorrow and on from there to make a small change. Then another. And another. Make them so small they’re trivially easy, impossible NOT to make. You know, the sort of changes that come about by accident, by whim, by the energies stirring at the moment you make your choice. Paper or plastic. For here or to go. Mild or hot. Black or with cream.
More than anything else, I’ve found that a series of very small changes becomes a powerful road to success. Instead of the daunting prospect of hours of culling my shelf-groaning hoard of books, I pick just one book a day to consider and then either reshelve or drop into the box for the upcoming library book sale. Tomorrow, it’s two, or maybe three. (I don’t want to overdo it!) If I’m feeling sluggish, I can still manage an initial five push-ups today, then six tomorrow, then seven. Back to five, then ten the day after that, just for the hell of it.
Or a single sentence in a new journal. Then another tomorrow. And so on. Don’t worry, you can tell yourself. You’re not really making any changes. You’re just ___ . Status quo. Move along. The Censor whose vested interest is you, same-as-always unchanged, won’t notice. Be a micro-rebel. Break the rules, but in the smallest of ways. You know you want to.
I get writing done this way during what otherwise is a nasty case of writer’s block. It’s still nasty, but it’s become an ally: surprisingly often I find that some of the best material comes when I work with the block. Compost it. Test it for hidden dragons or home-canned jars of now-brandied peaches from 2004. Sell bags of it on Craigslist at bargain prices. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write without stopping — anything that comes. So many times, in fact, that I’ve lost count: gold and gods along with the garbage.
This may sound simple, but the consequences of achieving, or of working towards this state are profound. We enter a beneficent cycle, in which the more we express the core values of Druidry, the more we find those reflected back to us in the events and relationships in our life.
“Entering a beneficent cycle” sounds lovely. And for those among us who flee shrieking at the intimidation of possible, actual success (“that’s for everybody else but me!” we tell ourselves), note that even just working toward the state is transformational. More good news for the professionally self-sabotaging among us. We open to change like a flower beginning to exhale its perfume. Changes that have already happened waft their fragrance over small things that actually work out. (Every life has them!) Then larger ones. Watch for them. A (Druid) study in itself.
Cue the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.” Henslowe, a theatre owner, is talking to Fennyman, his backer, who expects payment. For “the theatre business,” read “our lives”:
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
Or better, Mystery. And if we’re honest, Great Mystery, as many Native American tribes call it. Or if you need grim dark humor, as my mother used to say, “Worrying about specifics is pointless. Something else will happen to you that you couldn’t have imagined anyway, so don’t waste your energies.”
“As this way of being evolves it becomes possible to find those elusive qualities of serenity and happiness, and to be of service to others and the world around us.”
This, more and more I’ve come to see, is the heart of it. As a recipe both for easing the neuroses and stresses of Daily Life, and for accomplishing something for others that “makes us feel good about ourselves,” you can’t beat service.
Or as my teacher said, take the Frank Sinatra song “It had to be you” and change the lyrics: “It’s not about you” the Universe whispers to us constantly. Time to do something with that.
Surprisingly, once I get attention off myself and onto something worth doing, I’m serving.
Or to draw on the words of still another Bard, here’s Marge Piercy‘s poem “To Be of Use” which closes:
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
This “different way” Philip talks about at the top of this post isn’t something to convert to, or at least not suddenly. It “evolves gradually and simply.” But it isn’t a facile or glibly tossed off platitude like “do what you love — the money will follow.” Now that may still be good advice, but it’s not something to begin tomorrow without divine guidance or a fat inheritance. The key part, though, is to forget about monetizing the service at all.
Do something, my guide says. Do something you love right now.
“Growing where you’re not planted”
I’m feeling ornery. Walk with me a little?
Of course people aren’t “equal,” whether “created,” “evolved,” “born lucky,” “favored by the Fae” or anything else. We demonstrate this by almost every action we take, whatever we may say we believe. Whether it’s elections, classrooms, job reviews, dating, playing fields, friendships, family dynamics — the list goes on — one person’s clearly not equal to another. We have criteria, hopes and fears, standards, priorities, memories, expectations, goals, feelings, and values that we almost always take into account.
Even where we might expect equality to matter most, such as in matters of law, where we confuse equality with fairness or justice, we often argue our cases with claims of unique circumstances, histories, medical conditions and so on. We seek exceptions, work-arounds, concessions — because we feel fairness or justice requires it. The particulars and specifics of our lives and experience, talents and quirks and character, all those hallmarks of individual identity, really do matter.
But if we’re not “equal,” as I’m claiming here, what we all are is valuable, unique, and irreplaceable. Most versions of equality, far from helpfully “leveling the playing field,” begin by erasing the individual differences that define our unique value. Equality allows us to be lumped together in easily stereotyped groups. We become interchangeable, a homogenized mass. People start to generalize — “all ___ are ___ ” and when we do, we forget or ignore the value of individual identities. To consider just ethnic or racial terms, whether I’m “just another privileged white male” or “just another poor brown minority,” you can more easily write me off. I have no face, no personality, no distinct identity beyond my equality with everybody else in the category, the label pasted squarely on our foreheads. My unique birth, life and death don’t budge such pre-judgments, which is all that prejudice is, as long as they’re invisible.
[You know the story of the starfish? It’s made the rounds, but it still teaches. The version I’ve heard goes something like this: After a storm, one person encounters another on a beach. Driftwood and debris dot the sand, along with sea life stranded by the storm above the reach of the regular high tide. The second person is gently rescuing starfish and setting them back in the water. “Why bother?” asks the first person. “There are so many others that will die. You can’t save them all. How can it matter?” The other person pauses for a moment, with another wriggling starfish in hand, then sets it in the water. “It matters to this starfish.”]
So what does all this have to do with living on this green earth and loving it? Gardeners, for one, know firsthand: one patch of earth ain’t equal to another. Every location enjoys unique qualities of sun, wind, exposure, soil health, moisture, shade, nearby vegetation, bacteria, earthworms, insects, birds, animals and humans. Likewise for the seedlings, saplings, plantings, harvests, compost heaps, helpful and harmful beasts, bugs and spirits — none are merely “equal.” Or listen to that world just next door; the Morrigan is not Cernunnos. Brighid isn’t Kali. Christianity and Druidry aren’t “equally valid” — a meaningless assertion because of “equal,” not because of “valid.” Each helps catalyze a different life experience of the world. Both are needed. That’s why they’re here. But what good would they do if they were somehow “equal”? And what would that even mean?
The cosmos sweeps along, manifesting both equilibrium, often through relatively stable groups, and change, which appears frequently through the impact of individuals. It’s true that whole swaths of seemingly identical beings get tossed on the scrap heap all the time. A wildfire incinerates a mature forest, a flood washes away topsoil or drowns a lowland habitat. Severe frost or enduring drought destroys a whole ecosystem. Molds, rusts, viruses, spores and plagues decimate or erase innumerable species. Many more seeds and fingerlings, tadpoles and nestlings die than manage to survive. But let a first sapling rise in a meadow, and birds perch there, dropping new seeds that will change everything in a few years. The slightly altered DNA or behavior or adaptation of one or two individuals grants them increased advantages in a changed environment, and over time their line flourishes when others flounder.
Nothing is “equal.” In a cosmos both in love with and wholly indifferent to individuals, that is how we live at all — the ongoing surprise of the individual. Our uniqueness is our glory — and so is everyone and everything else’s. How to serve both these truths — not “equally” but lovingly — that’s a challenge you and I imperfectly explore all our days.
[A version of this post was originally published in Druid Magazine. How do we orient ourselves, and what guides and markers can we use? The things I write about are part of my own “Druid compass” — you probably have a similar set yourself. The article gets a little purple in its prose, but if you’re a regular here, you’re used to reading past that.]
Inwangsan (photo by Gael Chardon)
Sometimes it takes another country to teach you lessons about your own. Five summers ago while I was teaching English for a busy month in Seoul, Korea, I encountered a local land spirit who showed me that this lovely country I was just beginning to discover was decidedly not my home.
It was about a week after I’d finally joined OBOD and requested the Bardic course. It was also my last weekend to explore Seoul and its environs before I flew back to the States to await that first of a series of welcome brown envelopes with the British postmarks of the OBOD course.
So on a foggy Sunday morning I made my way by train toward Inwangsan, a sacred mountain a handful of kilometers from my one-room apartment in Seoul, and then on foot into the mist. Outside Dingninmun Station and under the overcast sky, I managed to miss the tourist signs and markers , but the mountain loomed nearby, unmistakable, so I began my ascent off trail, figuring I’d intersect it higher up, near where a Buddhist and shamanic shrine coexist peacefully. Inwangsan is famous for its commanding views and granite cliffs. As for the view, I had little hope for on this gray day, but exposed granite slabs and outcroppings shone slick in the rain.
Forty-five minutes of climbing later, wet, muddy, and annoyed with myself, I paused to catch my breath. The fog had thickened, but the rising slope was still a reliable guide for the direction I wanted to go. I took a step, and –- how to describe it? –- up rose a wall of resistance in front of me. Something challenged me and barred my way from further ascent. At first I thought, stubborn and oblivious as I can be, that it was merely the tug of my own fatigue, but when I took another step it was clear this issued from something other than me. The hair on my arms stood up. Heart pounding, I apologized out loud, mumbled the few phrases of polite Korean I knew, turned around and slogged back down.
What was it? I rarely see anything inwardly in such situations, but impressions came this time as I made my way off the slopes. Something with multiple arms, big as a pickup truck, banded in stripes of dark and light, and determined to block me from advancing any further. I’ve not written about this till now, and just putting it into words makes the feel of it march again up and down my spine, vivid as if it happened this morning, a heavy ascent of wet earth, a tang of juniper and Asian pine and dead leaves. Yet I’d forgotten the mountain’s name, and the train station’s, too, and had to consult my journal from that summer. That as much as anything reminded me yet again (as if I need any further sign) of my “outlander” status there: I did not know the proper names for things.
/|\ /|\ /|\
Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915
After British poet Rupert Brooke visited the Rocky Mountains some hundred years ago on a North American tour, he wrote: “There walk, as yet, no ghosts of lovers in Canadian lanes … it is possible, at a pinch, to do without gods. But one misses the dead” (Brooke, Letter XIII, “The Rockies”).
Brooke was young – it was just a few years before his untimely death at 27 – and he wrote with a young bard’s flip ignorance to cloak his discomfort with an unfamiliar country. For of course ghosts walk this continent, millennia of them. Brooke simply hadn’t yet listened closely enough. But new landscapes often strike us that way. A Chinese proverb I heard while working in The People’s Republic of China sums it up handily: shui tu bu fu – “earth and water aren’t comfortable.” We don’t yet know them, and neither do they know us. But stay in a place long enough, sweat and sleep there, plant and harvest, raise families and bury your dead, and the land begins to learn you, too, and to recognize you. And as you work out names for the shapes of water and earth you find in the neighborhood, and come to greet the stones and trees as friends, the words get shaped by mouths that eat and drink here, by lungs that take in the local air.
In the way of Bards, another who grappled with the same challenge comes to answer Brooke’s verses with words of his own. At 86, Robert Frost was asked to deliver a poem for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961. The day dawned cold and bright, and with his failing vision and the sun in his eyes, Frost couldn’t read the words in front of him, so the old bard made do with memory instead, and recited another of his poems.
Frost at Kennedy’s inauguration
“The land was ours before we were the land’s,” he begins in “The Gift Outright” (Frost, 1975, p. 348). How often a bard finds a way through error and trial and awen. Frost continues, naming an experience common enough among many American Druids who may strive to honor a rich heritage originating east of the Atlantic, while also heeding new-old voices here on what some First Peoples still call Turtle Island:
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves …
Here in what homesick settlers called New England, older names still linger for things no one truly possesses. Within an hour from where I live you can find Mt. Monadnock, Mt. Ascutney, Wantastiquet Trail, Skatutakee and Nubanusit lakes. Anywhere you go on this continent, similar names and undercurrents whisper, and careful listening will repay any effort to attend to lore and myth and what the land wights may have to say. (The earth’s an old house: many lands have the same overlay of newer names on older ones.) Sometimes it takes long patience to regain their trust, if careless previous inhabitants squandered it. Sometimes it takes longer practice to stop withholding ourselves from our places, and to inhabit them fully.
Here in Vermont the Yankee accent and sensibility rise like springwater from long winters and sap from local trees boiled to syrup, pork from free-range pigs that graze the oak mast on Windmill Hill, which we can see from our living room window, and Okemo State Forest not so very distant. “Eating local” needn’t be mere marketing of another yuppie indulgence. It’s what we all did until just a couple of generations ago, growing it ourselves, letting the land feed our bellies and spirits. And it makes sense if you’re committed to “Druiding” (let’s make it a verb!) –- the taste and smell of home, and of a new place, too, can be powerful guides. The body leads the way by a kind of homing instinct.
Names, listening, tastes and smells. What of ritual and ceremony? Once my wife and I settled in Vermont, walking to learn my neighborhood became a go-to practice for me, with a three-mile loop of dirt roads my almost-daily ceremonial. When I honor the four quarters, I see the fish pond east of our house the former owners stocked with carp, and I remember water-of-air. The cold fronts each winter sweep down from Canada: air-of-earth. And with a hill named for a grove of hemlocks to our east beyond the pond that obscure the horizon, we never get much in the way of sunrises, but dramatic sunsets make up for it: fire-of-water. Online you can still track down Mike Nichols’ Wiccan classic “Re-thinking the Watchtowers: Thirteen Reasons Air Should Be in the North” (Nichols, 1989): it’s now a “sacred text” itself, though it started out as an observed deviation from traditional practice. Rules change with places, but ancient patterns abide.
/|\ /|\ /|\
Brooke, Rupert. (2004). Letters from America. Project Gutenberg EBook #6445. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6445/6445-h/6445-h.htm
Frost, Robert. (1975). The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Nichols, Mike. (1989). “Re-thinking the Watchtowers or 13 Reasons Air Should Be in the North.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos089.htm.
IMAGES: Inwangsan by Gael Chardon; Rupert Brooke; Frost at JFK Inauguration.
The inspirational email from OBOD for this week reads:
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. — Roald Dahl
OK Roald, what are you saying? I’ll walk some of the way with you because of your magic. After all, it’s almost part of the definition that creative people have felt it, and pass along a hint of it, even as it slips between their fingers. But wait — belief comes first, and then magic? Seeing is believing, we’ve been told; believing is seeing. But what’s a glittering eye? Well, it seems it’s a useful technique.
Sometimes the world demands it of us — it’s the only option if we want to see at all.
On our return car trip from a Chicago wedding last weekend, we first drove north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — the UP, home of the “Yoopers” accustomed to delightfully cool summers and long, snowy* winters, nestled among three of the Great Lakes, Superior, Michigan and Huron. (For readers living in other lands, that’s the north central U.S.)
The UP is the area from Gogebic to Chippewa counties.
Here’s the morning sun on the water of Grand Island Harbor, Munising, on the south shore of Superior, where we stayed three nights ago.
The camera manages to capture what a normal human eye can’t look at directly. Only a “glittering eye” can see it — the sun demanded such an eye of anyone who wanted a look. Sometimes the whole world glitters and glimmers — too bright to look at any other way. At such moments it’s easier to admit even if only to oneself that gods must live in fire and shadow.
Or if you want some sort of equivalent in words, that impossible Bardic challenge, try this, courtesy of the 19th century poet Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Oh Emily, we know some days how things do “dazzle us gradually” — the passing of time, each season’s gesture of beauty and change, the grace of a moment as it sashays or lumbers past us. Heartache, bittersweet — we can halfway name what it’s like to be alive. Whether or not we opt to honor these moments and seasons with ceremony or any kind of observance, the world’s ways tell their own truths, very far from headlines or gossip or what passes these days for “news.” The only really worthwhile news is always new, always the same, always old, too, and it begins just beyond our noses. An ancient story.
All it takes, sometimes, is a glittering eye, because the world glitters. Or sometimes an echoing ear, because the world also resounds and reverberates.
/|\ /|\ /|\
Image: Upper Peninsula.
For a recent (2013) low-key native’s and traveler’s reflection on the UP, go here.
*as much as 300 inches/7.5 meters, according to the article above.
Some things glow with it,
flame-keepers, hearths we return to
whenever the world dulls and grays,
whenever bodies earth themselves
too deeply, those mornings each of us
can count all two hundred and six bones
stacked here in our skeleton houses.
Some things touch and smolder,
some kindle, flare once, no more.
Others spark and ignite everything around them.
Fire says: be done with cataloging. I
will renew. In the end, leave everything
for a bright journey. Burn
slow and long.
But what of activism? readers may rightly ask, especially after my last post.
One of the most evil perspectives — I use the word evil intentionally; a great peril of our times is that the force of the word has weakened to something almost laughable, even as the thing it names continues to spread, infect and damage our world in forms both subtle and painfully blatant, a truly demonic state of affairs — one of the most evil perspectives we cherish is that ecological awareness is somehow a luxury, or a liberal fantasy, just one option among other better and more profitable choices, or an idea whose time is past because it hasn’t produced “results.”
R. J. Stewart succinctly sums up the matter: our true selves and the land are one.
Cause and effect really do still operate, however inconvenient we find them. But merely fighting polarized symptoms lines up more adversaries for us to attack, without ending the war.
For corporate greed like Nestle’s is just a symptom our modern world makes possible — other eras had and will have their own symptoms.
Yes, we can spend ourselves in noble battle, whatever our position, and if we push far enough, we can “prove” ourselves “right” — and bleed out in the process, kissing this incarnation goodbye. The particular forms that evil takes in this era conform to the lessons we need to learn at this stage of our consciousness.
In a sense, we create the lessons through our weaknesses and imbalances. How painful that continues to be for me to learn! So I want to uncover how to reduce such weakness, rather than spend a life lining up future adversaries that I create out of my ignorance and resistance to a set of lessons I refuse to learn. If indeed the world is a spiritual vessel that cannot be “improved” then what can be “done” with it? Do we even know yet? And how far are we willing to go to find out?
These questions seem to me far more vital than almost any others I’ve encountered. And I know that stance is luxury itself. I’ll admit right here: if I’m the one of those dying of thirst stemming from drought mixed with corporate greed, you who fight to put water back in my hands are my friends in ways a self-named Druid blogger sitting in hydrated Western comfort simply cannot be. So I readily accuse myself on that front, should you turn the focus that way.
But beyond mere easy outrage and less easy symptom-combat and triage, what can I learn and grow from and share? That seems more and more my dharma, the task I find keeps landing on my doorstep unsought.
I want to stare down the hardest questions, because I learn the most from them. But by this I don’t mean to set up tents and squat there in some new “Occupy Existence” movement. The existential is a starting point, not a garden to grow food in. I look at hard questions out of selfishness: I want the biggest bang for my buck out of this lifetime. No guarantees I get more than one (though available signs are promising). As John Beckett notes in a recent blogpost, who among us will lie on our deathbeds and lament most of all that we didn’t sign up for extended cable?!
/|\ /|\ /|\
Yesterday the second of three cords of firewood arrived. To get from this …
even to this modest beginning
always seems a daunting task. But each year, piece by piece, we eventually get it done. Daily, daily, daily, a practice builds. When I find the right pace, the task itself becomes a kind of pleasure. if I listen, the task itself teaches me. I alternate which arm carries a bundle, and which arm steadies it. I feel each side getting a good workout. I stop when sunburn threatens or aching muscles bring me to the point of diminishing returns. The fatigue of needful effort feels good.
/|\ /|\ /|\
Images: Nestle water; Nestle chair.