Archive for the ‘earth wisdom’ Category

East Coast Gathering Image Song   Leave a comment

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Don’t worry, spiders —
I keep house
casually.

Issa Kobayashi, trans. Robert Haas.

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Every day a journey waits, if we seek one of the boats waiting at the dock.

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Sometimes the way is closed …

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Sometimes it pays to ask who closed it, and whether you can open it.

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Sometimes what appears a wall …

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is a series of steps.

No rush to the top (or the bottom).
Each step can also be a rest point on the journey.

Autumn Equinox 2016   9 comments

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late afternoon on our 3-mi loop-walk

The seasonal festivals may start to come upon you like the visits of old friends. You don’t need to be anything other than who you are for them, of course. Fat chance, anyway, of sustaining even a polite deception with someone who knows you this well. I can shove the unsorted laundry into a closet, ready the guest room with fresh sheets, maybe offer a vase of goldenrod and queen anne’s lace this time of year. Clear the top of a dresser or nightstand and set out a few found objects to share: quartz or shale or mica from a recent hike, driftwood from a stream or beach walk. Such gestures never go to waste. They welcome the guest and lift the mood of the host, if lifting is needed.

Sometimes it is. We felt a seasonal shift here in southern Vermont about a week ago, a subtle movement of energies and weather and light as they whisper together and ease us toward the equinox, the evocatively named Alban Elfed, “Light on the Water.” The birds knew it, too — maybe something in their song clued us in to pay attention in the first place.

Of course the linguist in me tries to quibble that neither word “actually means” light or water, but instead simply the quotidian equinox (of) autumn, but then rummaging around the OBOD website I’m caught up in wonder by Coifi’s observations in a lovely post:

This is the Feast of the Autumn Equinox. The Light of the Sun in the Wheel of the Year stands in the West, in the Place of balance between the Light and the Darkness. This is a time of the Great Tides. This is the Gateway of the Year.

This Feast is known by many names to many people, for the Truth is reflected from many mirrors. It has been celebrated as Alban Elfed and Harvest. Our ancestors called it by names long forgotten, and our children will call it by names as yet unconceived.

So it is that literal gets overtaken by the figurative, just as speech does by song. Or not overtaken, not exactly. Whether I let them or not, they start dancing, each bowing to the other. Here is one of the Earth’s truths that says listen. The ancestors gave it names, as do we with our Alban Elfed and Mabon and Harvest Home, and as will our descendants. Each will know it, both the waning light, and the promise of Return.

A further quibble that the festivals are “just modern inventions” dissolves when you can point to old stones and other markers: the earth, again, is a witness here. From the plains of Wiltshire with its over-famous Henge to a hilltop in southern Ohio with its Serpent Mound, the inhabitants of many lands have been drawn to find ways to mark off days and seasons with structures whose physical remains simultaneously hush and awaken the mind.

2000px-wheel_of_the_year-svgFor “light on the water,” as it turns out to my now-placated left brain, is indeed apt, a festival that celebrates a brief balance of light and dark in the quarter of the ritual year that belongs to the west and to water. “Light on the water” brings with it a twilit mood, a sunset reminder of the reality of life on earth, both dark and bright.

For the whole planet, northern and southern hemispheres both, experiences a balance of light and dark before the days continue to shorten or lengthen, depending on where you stand. The time, friends, is a whole-planet festival. Come! Join in!

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Images: western light in southern Vermont; Ritual Wheel of the Year.

A Druid’s Compass   Leave a comment

[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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Works Cited:

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 BrookeFrost at JFK Inauguration.

Thirty Days of Druidry — 1   3 comments

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After a complete slug-down from posting, brought on by a harsh bout of flu and subsequently a general lethargy, A Druid Way is back for a 30-day series on each day’s energies and perspectives. (Say awen, somebody. And all the freeze-dried grasses in my lawn say it, in their rustling speech. The tree limbs say it, and the twigs and branch-ends that have reddened and yellowed and greened with rising sap say it wordlessly, all night and all day long.)

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Long-time readers know I largely shy away from big social issues of the day. You’ll see very few comments here about politics, gay rights, abortion, race, the primaries, terrorism, climate change — the stuff of American and world headlines and the churn of the news cycle. I’m more interested in the opportunities each of us has to grow and love more in the small chances and changes right here. You could say that’s a kind of pure selfishness. And it is. We’re all engaged in self-crafting, one way or another. One way doesn’t negate another, I hope.

And I find these moments most easily not in the noise of our sometimes poorly-wrought human world, but in the silences when our human chatter subsides. When we can’t hear ourselves think, we too often think things that aren’t worth hearing. Or saying, though we keep on talking. Consider this blog a partial fast from the noise of the moment. Of course it’s a a fast in words, but paradox should be an old friend by now.

Don’t worry — if you really miss the latest batch of outrage and disaster and doom, they’ll keep till you’re done here. Rest easy, now. A few clicks will bring you right back into the middle of them. Many traditions invite us into silence, not to live our entire lives there. Speech matters. But to live always next door to silence, to befriend it, to let it teach us, to be rest and a refuge for us, as a true friend can.

The noise of the moment is of course one more testing ground. You CAN find many valuable lessons there, and you can hone your sense of rightness and justice and value to a keen edge, burnish them to a high sheen. (How much does my activism activate?) But we live mostly in the spaces between such tension points, and there I find rich terrain that never grows stale or flat. A half hour in the air and light, with birdsong or fog or frost and wind, is enough to restore a balance point that can go badly awry if we neglect the spiritual recalibration nature offers. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, says the poet.* But that’s only because what we mostly expect and work to get and spend a bunch of things that do not serve our highest good. How does a tree spend its powers, and does it have anything to say to me today?

Here for a reason, I say. Others scoff. Well, make your own reason. Then improve it. Better than drifting without one at all. Been-there done-that material. BTDT, as my wife and I say to each other. So try something you haven’t done, go somewhere you haven’t gone, says the awen in me, the awen spread across this blue cool late March sky.

springmoonEquinox energy is real. You can feel it in the stirring of so many things, blood and light and dream, storm and desire and birdsong. Not by accident do many magical and spiritual orders align their rites and festivals to the Equinoxes. Initiate then, in any senses of the word, and you catch a wave that can take you very far indeed. Out to the far isles beyond the horizon, where the Otherworld beckons beyond the ninth wave. In to the inner-verse that is always waiting like a beach after storm, strewn with all manner of oddments and debris, the flotsam and jetsam and occasional treasure you’ll find nowhere else. The one thing you need right now, washed up on your own shore, ready for the receiving into your hands. The spring break of the spirit, drunk with fear and longing and possibility.

Ah, tonight, first full moon of spring, rising in us, mounting the sky, stepping toward mystery.

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*Wordsworth.The Bards still keep trying to reach us, teach us, anything that doesn’t merely preach to us but means what we seek.

IMAGE: moon

Stone Wisdom   2 comments

With camera in coat pocket and a muddy 3-mile walk ahead, I set out to see what a Saturday afternoon in the 40s might have to show. I started to write “teach,” and that may be accurate, but as human instructors discover, to say “I taught them but they didn’t learn it” is problematic at best.

I call this stone wisdom because it is a teaching of the north, of the earth, of winter, of this day which is all these things. It is a day of thaw, which I will take for my divination. Thaw what is frozen, so the lessons may enter, so I can move with what they teach.

One thing I’ve learned in the class of this life is that I really need to pay attention, to bring all I am to the moment. That’s a gift to the teacher, as well as myself, that richly repays any cost.

But “all I am” isn’t always easy. It includes idiosyncrasies, personal associations, weaknesses, quirks and curiosities, a whole range of human flotsam and jetsam. Keep anything away, and I under-represent myself. I come away shortchanged, denied because I have also denied something. Without it the exchange can’t or won’t or just doesn’t resolve into completion. But attend long enough, and the moment begins to sift out all that isn’t needful, until insight is possible. How long I let that go on depends on me.

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“Growing where you’re planted” can be hard work, depending on where you are. Friends who stand with you can help ease it, make it possible.

 

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“a world of made is not a world of born” — e e cummings. They feel and behave and interact differently. It can be a peculiar human study how to bring these closer.

 

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Everything leaves some kind of track. Not all deserve following. Look both forward and backward.

 

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“Private” only begins when someone else notices.

 

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its gravity draw you.

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its energy draw you.

 

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Triads are everywhere, and are never private. Is Cerberus, the 3-headed hound of Hell, lurking about? Not all teachers are easy ones, but all teach.

 

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Lying around waiting for something to happen? “Practice resurrection,” like Wendell Berry says.

Fighting Daily Black Magic   6 comments

With a dramatic title like that, this post really has to deliver! But all I mean by it are the usually small ways we destroy, unmake, sabotage, undermine and discourage … ourselves.

Successful psychic attacks by others are remarkably rare. Those we work against ourselves are all too common. I can’t. I shouldn’t. I don’t. I won’t. And of course, let’s not discount the low-level psychic garbage of much contemporary media, with its insistence that it knows better than we do what the truth is about the world, its prospects, our futures in it, the roots of our safety and happiness, and so on. You can almost feel “know, dare, will, be silent” seeping out of you and spinning down the drain. “If it bleeds, it leads” may sell advertising space and draw viewers and readers, but it’s less than optimal energy to nourish ourselves with, to try to live on.

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One of Best Buy’s holiday logos

The solution isn’t merely to surround ourselves with a silver shield, though that’s often a good starting visualization. Whatever comes at you that you don’t want or need reflects off and away. Such a technique works well in traffic, in public places with a stew of emotions, like airports, bus stations — and any Black Friday shopping you’re daredevil enough to attempt. You can read the mindset already in place with advertising from sources like Best Buy and AARP that proclaim “Win the Holidays.” Can we make this season any more stressful?! Yes, but we don’t have to. This too is a choice we make.

And the desire I’ve witnessed in myself and many others from time to time, to retreat, withdraw, barricade the gates, is all too hobbit-like in its naivete.  “The wide world is all about you,” Gandalf reminds Frodo. “You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” The Survivalist mentality is understandable, but wrong-headed. What to do?

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elemental laundry magic — water, earth, air, fire

Sometimes the best magic there is to practice a simple shift of attention. Instead of someone else controlling what I will think and image and focus on, I can choose, if I wish. We all surrender this power of choice much too often, and daily. Does any advertizer, for instance, really have my best interests at heart?! But love purifies the market of the heart.

One of the most soothing of day-to-day tasks for me is laundry, especially when I can hang it outdoors and it comes in later, dry and sun-spiced — for free.

Laundry?, you say, more than a little outraged, perhaps. Consider the sly admonition of the Tao Te Ching, chap. 8:

The highest good is like water. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. In dwelling, be close to the land. In meditation, go deep in the heart. In dealing with others, be gentle and kind. In speech, be true. In ruling, be just. In business, be competent. In action, watch the timing. No fight: No blame.

We reject what can be most helpful, because it is simple. It doesn’t appeal to our vanity, to our sense that our problems must be large and important, because we are, so we may dismiss it.

Some of these recent sunny November days have seen our backyard with laundry magic at work, bowing in a cool breeze. But even the drying racks near the woodstove work their own charm. Elemental powers, I have summoned you, and you have served me well. I thank you for your gifts of earth, water, air and fire. Both the laundry basket and my heart come away lighter, cleaner. Hail, and farewell.

taozengardenSuch daily magic has more power than we suspect. I smile even as I write about this, and you may too, scoffing at my innocence or simple-mindedness. But in fact simplicity can be another most potent magic. The clear, simple task, with its attainable objective, is one key to using energy well. Breaking down more complex challenges into simpler tasks is good practice, as any successful efficiency expert, organizational consultant, psychologist, trainer, businessperson, housekeeper — and magician — knows.

When we reclaim such small spaces for ourselves, we witness small successes. Of such small successes and satisfactions is a good day built, and then a week, a month, a life. I don’t need to “win” any holiday. The spaces for love and celebration are always open for us, gifts we can then give to ourselves and each other, possibilities to reclaim in the small but cumulative and thereby powerful ways that magic usually works. To end on a final Tolkienian note and paraphrase Gildor Inglorion’s words to Frodo, “Joy (like courage) is found in unlikely places.”

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IMAGES: Best Buy “Win the Holiday“; stones in garden.

North Work   Leave a comment

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In the Pagan calendar the north quarter is the direction of winter and earth. We’re already both in it and going deeper. Darkness falls before it’s even 5:00 pm. I imagine my ancestors in their hut, rushlights burning. Firelight flickers on the walls, and a cauldron — a practical one, nothing magic except the daily magical tranformation of cooking — a cauldron hangs over the flames, full of stew, roots and grains and berries, and whatever meat the hunters may bring in. Despite its hardships, winter can taste umami, rich and dark and all earth-savory. Like no other season, it can return us to awareness of our mortal, imperfect, stubborn bodies.

Though we haven’t yet hit the Solstice and the official start of Winter, you feel it in the temperatures as you shiver each time the door opens. You see it in the look of the mostly barren trees — and see it denied by the green mosses which apparently have no problem with these nightly hard frosts and bright chill days.

We’re here partly to witness everything. And our doings and our not-doings are also part of what we witness.

Witness. Martyr, in Greek, revealing one problem of witnessing dangerous things.

There are many safer witnessings, of course. I like Japanese Buddhist kinhin, “walking meditation,” with the literal meaning, from the Chinese it comes from (I discover, courtesy of my magical familiar, Wikipedia), of “going through like the thread in a loom.” A back-and-forth that produces a fabric, a weaving of disparate threads into a whole.

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My weaver wife’s out of state visiting relatives, and I make a note to share this small discovery with her when she gets back at the end of the week. Practitioners of Zen do kinhin in alternation with periods of sitting meditation, which is what za-zen or Zen means. I encountered kinhin in Japan, and tried it a few times, the slow version, a deliberate, meditative pace. For the typical American, it can of course drive you absolutely mad — and revealing that irritation is very much part of the point.

“It’s all meditation,” I can imagine them saying, though much of the discipline is paying attention, which generally means not talking. A wonderful, terrible commentary on our whole political scene.

There’s another version of kinhin that offers a brisk almost-jog, and that’s the version I prefer, this time of year at least, to get the blood flowing and keep this middle-aged body busy enough that the mind quiets and the world joins me as a companion, rather than standing off at a distance as a mere object for thinking.

So what’s the goal of such mindfulness? Attention, the shutting down of the chatter that too often fills our heads, that gets overfed by the social media we know we’re addicted to. A balance or equilibrium with everything that feels astonishingly wonderful when we slip into it, because we mostly stand outside of it the rest of the time. Yes, to continue an image that meditators sometimes use, prolonged practice endows your awareness with a kind of fragrance you start to carry around with you the rest of the time. You can be more mindful in everything you do.

2moss-stonesAnd for me there’s a key. Mindfulness by itself is another tool,  not an Answer. It can help me act more effectively. Otherwise, the water flows, the sun rises and sets all by itself, good things, surely — and moss covers me, also as surely as it does a stone set in the right balance of light and moisture. Compared with the stone, moss darts across the surfaces of things, greening them and slowly grinding them into dirt. Dirt — the end result of billions of years of animal life. We all come from the Mother, and to Her we all return. Sing it, brothers and sisters!

Except that’s not the whole story. Our human capacity for doing, so fraught with bad decisions, holds immense power for whatever we choose. Mindfulness can too easily become just another addiction, a way of blissed-out watching while the majority of humans slowly murder each other and erase themselves from the planet. The earth doesn’t need saving, but we do, and the plain evidence of millennia is that nobody else is gonna do it for us.

Renunciation of my power leaves the rest with power over me. One ring, old J. R. R. Tolkien, one ring does rightfully belong to me. I”ve worn it since birth, I’ll wear it till I die. The chance to become more fully who and what I am. And what is that? That’s the walking meditation I strive to practice, that’s the trick of time and space, to figure it out for ourselves in all the years we have. Not an Answer, not a Final Solution (we know how well that worked), but a tool for living.

In the meantime, the mosses watch and (g)listen.

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IMAGES: mosses — both shots — me, from yesterday afternoon’s walk; kinhin.

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