Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why Does the Bicameral Mind Theory Still Appeal?

In the spring I read Iain McGilchrist’s exceptional book, The Master and His Emissary, about the right brain/left brain divide and its implications throughout the span of Western history. It has helped me reframe some of my theories about human consciousness and gain a somewhat tweaked perspective. I’ll be writing more about that later.

After finishing the book, I then felt I ought to read Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, just to get a contrary perspective. It sounded pretty hokey to me, his theory that in essentially Old Testament times the right brain and left brain were unable to communicate directly with one another, and so any time the right brain communicated it could only be perceived by the left brain as hallucinated voices, coming from outside of oneself and issuing  forth from the gods. According to Jaynes, in that late Bronze Age period we were unconscious beings, possessing no self-awareness, and were only able to act in the world by mindlessly, zombie-like, following the commands of the gods.

Now I’m an avid reader, at times wolfing down two, three, or four books in a single week, but oh my this book was different. It was sheer torture, in the end taking me five or six months to get through it. Any time any other book came along I set this one aside, so ten or twelve other books were thoroughly digested between reading the first and last sentences of this one. Truly a miserable experience. I thought many times about giving up but I felt it was important for me to be able to say I’ve read it. Why? Because I’ve encountered quite a few otherwise intelligent people who absolutely revere this book (which to me has been quite baffling) and I wanted to be able to debate the merits (or demerits) of the book should the topic ever come up again.

Having finished it I think I have it partly figured out. I can see how in its time it must have been earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting, and quite revolutionary for people. It seems ridiculous to be saying we need to put something that was written less than forty years ago into its proper historical perspective, but we do. Times were different then. We’ve changed and learned. I suspect that many people read this book once, when it first came out, and were changed by it. They no longer remember the specific details of it (and therefore don’t know how absurd it is in light of what we now know) but instead just carry the positive memory of how they were changed by it, how it helped them escape an old paradigm that had become too small to fit them.

My take on Jaynes is that he wrote this book not so much to develop a new theory of consciousness as to debunk Judeao-Christian mythology. His theory of consciousness was just a convenient way to say, Your gods aren’t real; they’re essentially figments of your imagination. And that needed to be said at that particular historical moment. Those of us who were born into and grew up in the 20th century were confronted with a rather schizoid culture. As children, most of us of European and North American heritage were dutifully dragged off to religious services every week.  We were steeped in fabulous stories presented as Truth—six day creations and virgin births and a god who could speak from a burning bush and part an entire sea. At the same time we went to schools and then colleges that taught the scientific method, that were objective and thoroughly rational. We learned about evolution and DNA and the Big Bang theory. Talk about cognitive dissonance! Two truths, each totally at odds with the other. And no one had ever so effectively tried to reconcile those opposing truths (at least not in the popular culture) before Jaynes. Before Jaynes, many people had never questioned the incongruency of the two worlds they inhabited. Those worlds should have been mutually exclusive—you believe one truth or you believe the other. Instead, people compartmentalized their lives in a very schizoid way. They believed the science at work or school, and they believed the religious mythology at church and in their private lives. Jaynes helped many people realize, Hey, this just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter much that his theory was pure nonsense, only that it helped a lot of people bring to awareness and acknowledge the cognitive dissonance they had (mostly unconsciously) been struggling with.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Inner Conflict

I’m struggling with several things in my daily life. One is how much information I allow in. I’ve written about this before, several years ago, when I gave up the newspaper and decided I didn’t need to be informed about every little thing going on in the larger world, but there’s been some serious backsliding since then. I go through periods of addiction to information on the internet.The serious research does me no harm, when I’m on the trail of a new idea and I’m trying to pull the pieces together. It’s the time wasted on newsfeeds (of dubious quality) and yahoo groups and even high quality blogs and forums that causes problems for me. When I look critically at the vast amount of information I regularly hoover up, none of it has added anything of value to my life. It hasn’t changed who I am or how I act in the world. Changes for me come from following leads that come to me based on where I’m at in the world at any moment—my own leads, the intuitive ones that come from being present, from being fully here on this spot on this planet. That’s the only thing that gets me anywhere.

I know this, yet I go through these periods of information addiction, one I cure myself of only to slide back into before I know it. Yesterday I got angry enough to delete all of my bookmarks for news sites and all of my subscriptions to yahoo groups. In the past I’ve deleted feeds to my favorite blogs and quit visiting forums. I haven’t participated in social networks for several years. The addiction always seems to return however. I don’t know why that is—why don’t I want to stay fully in the moment? There’s so much to explore by staying open to this moment and it’s the only way I know of to get to novel insights and solutions. Is it just laziness?

Somewhat related is my need to be a hermit. Perhaps it’s an over-reaction to the superficial connections the internet encourages, but for the past few years I’ve had an intense need to limit my contact with other people. I do fine with real live people in my real live world, but unless someone is right here face-to-face with me they fall off my radar. Much as I care about and love a lot of people who live at a distance to me and much as I’m stimulated by emails with folks I don’t personally know but who share similar ideas and ideals with me, I just can’t carry on conversations at a distance anymore. It seems like I’m way overcompensating for living in a much too connected world. Yet I do believe I should limit how many relationships I have so I can deepen the ones I do have, just like I should limit the information I allow in so I can focus on what’s truly relevant.

I think the reason this causes me conflict is because at heart what I’ve really been drawn to do for the past several years is an experiment with being a total hermit. I mean going off somewhere and having absolutely no contact with the human race for several years, apprenticing with the land. Intuitively I feel there are powerful things for me to learn by doing so. Yet it’s something realistically I’m never going to do. Instead I’ve pulled back as much as possible from human interactions so I can at least get a small taste of what my soul is craving. This has to be the solution for me anyway—living on the fringes of human society, so I’m able to dip into the world of human interaction and relationship while mostly immersing myself in those other powers and relationships residing in the more-than-human world.

My writer’s block fits in somewhere here too, I think. I want to communicate, but taking the time to put my thoughts on paper (or online) takes me out of being right here, which is where I really need to be. When I tried to tell the story of my time in PA on this blog I failed because to me that story was already old news. It was stale. I had already incorporated the lessons learned through that experience and had built on it and was on to a new level of understanding. I bog down trying to tell an old story. I have to speak from my present where the story is still vibrating with energy. I think I still may be able to get the tale of my time in PA told, (and it’s important to me to do so because I learned some really valuable things) but the tale may be told in bits and pieces over many new posts, as each tidbit becomes relevant to a current discussion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Filled the Emptiness

I found the first few weeks at my childhood home in Pennsylvania to be a period of adaptation. Initially I felt quite disoriented and out of sorts. All of my usual routines and habits were either gone or rearranged. I was in a lush, three-dimensional landscape after years on the flat, dry plains of eastern Colorado. I was in a densely populated and built-out state after years surrounded by empty and wide-open spaces. And I was surrounded by people after living a semi-eremitic lifestyle for six years. On top of that, I was again immersed in the sleepy, hypnotic energy of the land that birthed me, after a twenty-four year absence. And I no longer had any grounded, physical work to do, not even a garden or critters to tend to.

It was too much change too fast and it agitated me at first, but I did at least recognize my agitation was only a symptom of the true malaise—being forced to confront that frightening thing called emptiness. And I knew from past experience that into emptiness something will always flow. So I waited to see what would present itself.

The first thing seemed innocent enough. It was just the thought that, hey, here in this lush abundant place I might want to really get to know all of the wild herbs growing here. I’ve been interested in herbalism since my college days (when I grew a few potted herbs and loved to take walks in fields full of yarrow and tansy and goldenrod, and to pick wild strawberries that grew in some of Penn State’s gorgeous pastures). Later, in Colorado I discovered that in order to feel I belonged to my particular spot on earth, I had to get to know the plants that grew there. When most of the plants were foreign to me I felt like I was a stranger in a strange land. To address that, in the last few years in Colorado I had begun to get to know some of the plants that had previously been strangers to me. My part of Colorado was high desert, however, and its biodiversity was paltry compared to that of Pennsylvania, so Pennsylvania presented the perfect opportunity for me to take my plant knowledge to a new level.

The abandoned pasture next to my parent’s property was the perfect place to start. It was about halfway through the process of succeeding from well-cropped pasture back to forest again. There had always been a fair amount of trees in there, but now the open places were sprinkled with young spruces and some other trees. The bulk of the pasture was a tangled mass of raspberry and blackberry thickets and huge stands of wild roses. I began to take forays in there and to learn to identify the plants. Some I already knew from childhood: poison ivy, black locust, sassafras, queen anne’s lace, daisies, self-heal, goldenrod, clover, buttercups, wood sorrel, black-eyed susans, and so on. But many I had never learned to identify: ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, boneset, St. John’s wort, lobelia, dogbane, crown vetch, pinkweed, virgin’s bower, pokeweed, etc. As summer progressed the list of plants I could identify grew longer and longer. And of course I didn’t confine myself to that one small pasture. I was roaming all over the place and discovering new plants in need of identification everywhere I went.

By acting on this one little inkling to get to know the plants, I immediately began to ground myself. My sense of agitation faded away because I had something important to do, something physical that connected me with my environment.

But not only did I study plants, I also nibbled on plants, rubbed myself with plants (poison ivy—inadvertently--and jewelweed--intentionally), sniffed plants, got stung by plants (nettles), dug roots (burdock), made twine out of plants (dogbane), hung plants in the attic to dry, made tea out of plants, cooked with plants, fermented plants, snoozed on top of plants, climbed trees, swung from vines, and more or less interacted with plants in every way imaginable.

Plants also began visiting me in my dreams and communicating with me. Poison ivy was one such visitor—a very gentle, feminine being who apparently plays some sort of caretaking role in the forest. Poison ivy was everywhere I went, covering the ground at the forest edges and vining up trees.  I noticed that although she twined up many trees, the thickest and most ancient vines seemed to be on the black locust trees. Perhaps it was because locust trees are legumes and fix atmospheric nitrogen—maybe she chose to parasitize the locusts in order to get that “fix” of nitrogen. But staring one day at the gorgeous vines, with their thousands upon thousands of aerial root hairs digging into the warm brown bark of a black locust tree, a flash of insight came to me. She wasn’t a parasite. These two species were linked up intentionally and symbiotically. The thing they were sharing, however, will never be measured by science—they were linking consciousness.

I got the sense of the consciousness of the forest and plants in other ways too. On my walks up the back road I would often pause to look at a huge dying maple tree, its trunk emerging from the forest floor twenty feet below me and its canopy towering high above me. I remember this tree from childhood and loved it then too, but in childhood I had never noticed a peculiar thing that happened when I was in its presence. Here is what I wrote in my journal the first time I noticed it:

The other experience was two nights ago on a walk up the road. It was a gorgeous evening and there was an amazing quality to the sunlight. A doe passed twenty feet from me without noticing me. As I continued up the road I stopped here and there to admire specific trees, particularly the very old specimens (fortunately no one has logged this part of the woods). I stood for awhile admiring one huge tree growing from the forest floor below me and towering high above me.
I stood there just in awe, taking its presence in, then finally started walking up the road again. But I only got a few steps before I realized—my hands were just buzzing with energy! I felt such power coursing through me, but especially through my hands.  What’s this? All of a sudden it hit me—it was the tree. I went back and felt the power moving through me, and something immense, and an emotion like the deepest grief or beauty or love. And the sense of dignity and wisdom and deep, aching memory.
And some inkling I can’t yet put into words—about the earth under the tree, and the sky, and the tree being a tower of water, pulling earth energies up to meet the sky. And where I stood I was in this powerful force-field created by that linking of elements. And the tree was not a mere conduit but a conscious being, and the linking of earth below and sky above was an exchange of information. And the tree was an individual, but not only—it was much more this something bigger, this greater field.

I continued to have this experience every time I passed the tree. At first I tried to find a rational explanation. The road began to steepen significantly shortly before I passed the tree. I thought perhaps the buzzing in my hands was just due to increased circulation because my heart had to pump harder to power up the hill. But I easily disproved that, because my hands would buzz even on the downhill journey and they would buzz when I was just hanging out in that general area and happened too close to the tree, and they would buzz when I moseyed and ambled my way slowly up the hill without getting my heart rate up. In the end I gave up trying to be rational about it and moved into that other, nonlinear way of being and perceiving, letting it become part of the myth and story of the land that was beginning to unfold for me.

I spent considerable time with that tree, sometimes clambering down the road bank to hug and sit with it (and get eaten alive by mosquitoes down there). Besides the feeling I had of being in a powerful force-field when I was near it, my other strong feeling was that this maple tree (and I believe all maple trees) really love human beings and feel protective and parental towards us. This was totally counterintuitive for me. We’re an awful species, we have utterly no respect for any part of the natural world, so how could any tree (or any living thing for that matter), feel love or regard for our species? In my mind, the plant and animal kingdoms should prefer us gone from this planet, and good riddance!

I also thought I sensed a lot of sadness and that we’ve been missed, because we no longer choose to have relationships with the maple trees. It seems they want to link consciousness with us, and like the poison ivy and the black locust tree, the sum of that connection would be greater than the parts.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nature and Human Potential

Each of us is on a different journey through life, taking widely disparate paths and learning wildly different lessons along the way. Some people seem born to live their lives bathed in the spotlight and to be the movers and shakers of the world. Others of us take quieter, more contemplative paths. But every life seems to have its own internal coherence, a just-rightness about the path taken, even though it may have many convoluted turns and unimagined obstacles along the way.

When I look over my own life I can identify a few overarching themes--coherences that have been with me since childhood. One of those has to do with the importance of the natural world, the necessity for me to be rooted to a particular place, the need to be a participant in my local ecosystem. Looking back over my life I can see how, along the way, I have always been seeking this--always trying to mold my life so I can have a deep relationship with the more-than-human world. It has been such a visceral, vital need for me, as if my very life depended on it (and, actually, I believe it does).

The other major theme revolves around human potential, what I’ve called my quest to be “fully human”. At fifteen I knelt at my bedroom window one night, looking out through the dark and the fog at the graceful old maple tree at the end of the driveway, and I prayed that my life be given over to the quest for wisdom. It was the most earnest thing I had ever prayed or wished for, so earnest that I told that maple tree I would willingly surrender everything else in my life, if only I could follow the path of wisdom. By a “quest for wisdom” I meant that I wanted my life to be an ever-deepening exploration of my own human potential. I didn’t want to stagnate or go mindlessly through life, I wanted to stay awake for the entire trip and go deeper and deeper (or expand farther and farther) into this hologram that is our own potential.

Human potential is something that seems to be horribly squandered in our times. It doesn’t even seem to be talked about much anymore. In the consumerist and technology-addled culture we live in, where we fixate on material wants, needs, and comforts, we’ve become so pacified that we no longer seek for anything greater.

The intent of this blog when I started it was to explore this question about human potential: Who might we become when we drop the materialistic trappings of our culture? And as my explorations have continued, I’ve come to an important realization. We can’t become “fully human” unless we become fully embedded in the natural world around us. My two overarching themes in this life are actually the same theme! It’s only through intimate, full participation with our environment--with not merely the human environment, but the complex, ever-so richly nuanced, more-than-human environment--that we can reach our deepest potential. Cut ourselves off from the natural world and we cut ourselves off from the source of all intelligence and wisdom.

My trip back to the terrain of my childhood in 2011 really drove this insight home for me. Spending five months in deep immersion within the natural world turned what had previously been more or less only intuition into a lived reality of a different, deeper way of perceiving and being in this world.

Finally I’ve got a series of posts lined up to tell the story of my trip back home.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hypnotic Land

Last spring my plan was to move to the desert near Big Bend National park, go off grid, build a small adobe shack, and create a demonstration project that would show we can live beautiful lives, sustainably, in even the harshest conditions. At the beginning of May I put my things in storage, moved the cats to my friend John’s farm and then spent five weeks there while I began planning a kickstarter campaign to fund my adventure.  I’d gotten down to where I thought I could pull off the whole shebang with a mere $5000 (although $10-15k would have been ideal). I started laying out a blog about the project, bought a mini-camcorder so I could film my pitch for kickstarter, and really set to work ironing out all of the details.

My son Collin and I then took the train to my parents’ place in PA in early June.  Collin stayed a week, and I planned to stay about eight weeks while I launched my campaign, then head back to Colorado in August and hopefully be on a piece of land in West Texas by the end of September. However, when I got back home I started getting this intuitive message “hold off, don’t launch the campaign, wait and see what presents itself here”. 

What presented itself (first) happened to be cancer, in both of my parents.  And so I was suddenly needed, especially with regard to my mom’s issues/surgeries and ensuing accident. And so I ended up staying five months instead of two and going down a completely different path than the one I initially intended.  I am now NOT in West Texas, but back in Colorado where I’m planning to remain.

Being back in my childhood home and amidst the terrain of my childhood again was fascinating.  I embraced the experience whole-heartedly, becoming like a child again (and it wasn’t a choice, actually--it just happened).  It seemed to be coded into my muscle-memories. I took the stairs two at a time, like I did throughout childhood. Serious concentration was required the few times I tried to walk up the stairs in a more adult-like manner.  I found myself spontaneously doing calisthenic-type exercises, as I did throughout my teen years—pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and yoga-type stretches.  It was as if that activity was coded into the environment.  To be there was to act in a particular way.  I climbed trees again, instantly becoming lithe and catlike like my childhood self—not the often stiff and clumsy 40-something I’ve become. I broke into spontaneous runs, danced with the wind, got down on all fours, caught fireflies, and roamed and roamed throughout the hills and valleys.

One thing I was eager to explore was the hypnotic quality of the land there (as I’ve written about previously). Why did my childhood home make me so sleepy, bring so many vivid dreams, turn me all contemplative, intuitive, and mystical?

One of the first days I was home my sister, my nephew, and my nephew’s  wife came for dinner. My sister had just gone to Gettysburg with her husband and had stayed in a so-called “haunted” bed-and-breakfast. As part of the package they were given all sorts of ghost-detection tools, one of which was a pair of dowsing rods (apparently water isn’t the only thing that can be found by dowsing).

We got to talking about dowsing in general and my sister went and grabbed two metal coat hangers and turned them into dowsing rods.  Then we all traipsed outside and began dowsing.  First we went to our old spring (still there, but no longer in use) and we all dowsed above it.  Most of us got a strong hit (mine was crazy strong).  After that we tried the old well (also no longer in use) and most of us got even stronger results, probably because the metal casing strengthened the “signal”.  Then we walked down the road and dowsed by the creek.  (Obviously my family isn’t too concerned about what the neighbors think.) As you dowsed and got a “hit”, in addition to the rods going crazy, you could feel a strong buzzing sensation in your hands.  My mom dowsed above my head and I could feel the hair on my scalp standing up.  Pretty wild.

As soon as I got back home I began having my old sleep issues—sleeping too much, dreaming too much, even one other bizarre effect: I would wake in the middle of the night unable to ascertain the position of my body in the bed.  It would feel like, for example, I would be lying on my left side with my head pointing to the west but I’d open my eyes and find myself  lying on my right side with my head pointing to the east (or some other odd direction).  If I was lying on my right side how could I not feel the pressure of the mattress on my right shoulder, right thigh, etc.?  How could I not feel the effect of gravity or detect up and down? When I focused on these questions while I was having the experience I was able to figure out that I wasn’t feeling the pressure of my body against the mattress at all—instead it was a disorienting “floaty” sensation.

A few days later I happened to open up my compass while I was in the bedroom.  The dial went crazy when I moved it over the mattress and I realized the metal coils were probably to blame. So maybe my sleep disturbances had to do with an electro-magnetic field created by the steel coils. I decided I would try sleeping on a foam mattress on the floor to see if I noticed any changes in my sleep experiences.  Meanwhile, I also decided to grab the dowsing rods and dowse the room.  Of course, the mattress made the rods go crazy, as did the cast iron radiator (and all things metal), as well as the corners of the room and the closet.

Moving to the foam mattress however didn’t seem to change anything. Later however I began to notice a subtle difference when we had periods of dryness after periods of heavy rains.  The drier it was, the less pronounced were my sleep disturbances. I suspect it wasn’t the rain itself but rather the rising and falling groundwater levels that impacted my sleep. 

Out of curiosity I started querying online and came across the topic of geopathic stress.  Fascinating stuff—previously too New-Agey to have captured my attention--but now it seemed very relevant. Basically, various geological features create altered electro-magnetic fields.  Some of these altered fields appear to be detrimental to human health.  It’s believed such things as underground streams, fault lines, deposits of coal, iron, and oil, the presence of mine tunnels, et cetera, can adversely affect human health.  Underground streams are supposed to be especially bad.

Online I came across a list of symptoms of geopathic stress: sleep disturbances; restlessness; difficulty in getting to sleep; excessive dreaming; excessively heavy sleep; excessively heavy sleep requirements; waking unrefreshed; cold feet and legs in bed; restless leg syndrome in bed; asthma and respiratory difficulties at night; fatigue and lethargy; mood changes; sleepwalking in children; and, in adults, waking at odd angles in the bed.  Also, if your bed happens to be located where two or more lines of geopathic stress cross, cancer is very likely.

Cats are attracted to geopathic hotspots, but birds, dogs, and livestock avoid areas of geopathic stress. (Also attracted are insects, molds and fungi, members of the nightshade family, and certain medicinal herbs, like mistletoe.)

My parents’ property and the surrounding lands have loads of underground streams.  There’s a spring on the property, and lower down a seep, and just below that in the adjacent pasture a small swamp.  There’s an old coal mine with tunnels that run just fifty feet below the house.  In addition to coal deposits the area is riddled with deposits of iron ore, and the area is also where the Marcellus shale boom is happening.  Areas that are rife with underground streams are also supposed to be lightning magnets, and my parents’ property bears that out.  The house has been struck twice in its history and trees on the property have been struck numerous times.

There’s a family story that when my oldest sister was about twelve, she had a fight with my mom and in a bout of anger said she was going to sleep out in one of the trees in the yard that night.  I forget if she started the night in the tree and then came in, or if she changed her mind before ever going out, but it turns out that later that night a storm rolled in and the tree was struck down by a bolt of lightning.

As a young child I was deathly afraid of lightning.  I was sure the house was going to get struck by lightning and burn to the ground and we would all die.  I would cry every night there was a thunderstorm, much to the aggravation of my sisters.  During the summer when I was seven there came a horrible week when it stormed every single night. And I cried every single night and woke the whole family up. My sisters, with whom I shared a room, were about to kill me. Finally there came the worst night of all.  A storm system stalled over us and it was the worst and the loudest and most terrifying thunderstorm of all times. 

My fear had been exhausting me all week and that night I finally reached my breaking point. I couldn’t go on in that crazy state of fear any longer.  I just needed to buck up and deal with it.  So that night for the first time, even though the storm went on and on and on all night, I didn’t cry at all (nor did I ever cry again after that).  The next morning we woke up to the devastation that was the Johnstown flood of ‘77 (not nearly as bad as the 1889 flood but, even so, scores of people lost their lives).  My sisters took to calling me Damien (after the anti-christ kid in the horror movie The Omen)--they found it really creepy that, of all nights, I didn’t cry the night there was so much death and destruction.

Now looking back on it, it seems my intense fears were quite reasonable.  I think I must have intuited that we were living on a lightning magnet.  Heck, I didn’t even need to intuit it—we had plenty of evidence already.

Occult happenings (ghosts, UFO sightings, etc.) are also supposed to be common in areas of geopathic stress.  The theory is that the unusual magnetic fields alter human brain waves so these strange occurrences seem to have an objective reality.  This would explain a lot of strange experiences we had when I was a kid.  As a teenager I had two experiences with entities in the room at night.  I was smart enough to realize they probably weren’t objectively real, but they were still pretty freaky.  The first one, when I was fourteen, might be called an incubus, although there was no sexual violation involved.  I awoke in the middle of the night to feel a man on top of me. Opening my eyes I could see there was no one there, yet I could wrap my arms around his back and feel his body.   I could not pull my arms through him until the sensation of his presence slowly faded.  Some might say it was a dream, but I was most definitely awake and remained awake for hours afterwards.  I wasn’t afraid at all (well, not until the next night when I went to bed).  Another time I awoke to the state of sleep paralysis and could see the shadow of a man standing at the foot of my bed.

My one sister used to sleepwalk a lot and talk in her sleep.  For awhile (I kid you not) she would either start talking in her sleep or go sleepwalking (I can’t remember which now) at exactly 3:33am. THAT used to scare the living daylights out of me.  And then there was the time another member of the family, in the wee hours of the morning, swears she saw a UFO in the field below the house.  Oh, how we gave her grief about that one!  But I think all of the weird things that happened really boil down to electro-magnetic phenomena.  It’s interesting to me that as a little kid I feared boogey men were lurking under the bed, in the dark corners of the room, and in the closet—all areas where the dowsing rods went crazy. Kids, I think, are very good at detecting electro-magnetic fields.

I think the heavy, hypnotic energy I feel at my childhood home is the land speaking, and not only speaking, but shaping consciousness. I don’t think it’s fair to call areas of geopathic stress bad.  They can have detrimental effects on humans, but they can also have positive effects.  I believe the land of my childhood is what caused the intuitive, mystical, and contemplative aspects of my personality to develop. It’s an idea I still need to explore further, but pieces of the puzzle have certainly started falling into place.

Exploring the hypnotic power of the land of my childhood was only one small piece of my total experience during the five months I was there.  It got much more interesting and I’ll be working to share that all with you in upcoming posts.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Some Background Writings About Place

Before I get into my newest reflections on place and human potential I thought I'd re-post this entry from my simplicity journal as background food-for-thought:

September 7, 2008

In one of Paul Shepard’s essays he talks about the research of a woman named Edith Cobb. She believed that the external terrain of childhood forms a model for internal cognitive development.

Perhaps the most remarkable document on childhood in this century is Edith Cobb’s Ecology of Imagination in Childhood. Surveying the lives of geniuses, she noticed a common thread—the return in moments of creative meditation to the place of childhood in imagination or sometimes physically, a trip that helped toward a solution to a problem. The original meaning of the term genius loci referred to a unique sacred power. What was it, Cobb asked, about the original experience that made it useful to the psyche in a recapitulated travel across the juvenile home range; in what sense was it an organizing force?

She concluded that the adult faith and intuition that order permeates the cosmos, that no bit of data or bizarre idea was truly disparate, that searching would be rewarded, extends from the singular imprint of an intensely inhabited space about thirty-five acres at a crucial time of life. Played through, the child’s transit, time and again, locked this literal, objective reality into an unforgettable screen, through which other, novel objects of the mind would be envisioned by the questing adult as though they were details of a landscape. Just as the mnemonist studied for thirty years by A.R. Luria ‘placed’ images for later retrieval along a path in the mind’s eye, at some less conscious level a holding ground is absorbed. The juvenile home range is a tiny universe, whose trees, rabbits, culverts, and fences probably register some kind of metaphorical series whose branching, skittering fleetness, subterranean connecting, and boundary-marking function in relation to a speculative field of half-formed and elusive ideas follows a paradigmatic system of relationships. An anatomical model for this unlikely neural representation of place is seen in the fundus of the eyes of vertebrates, where the colored oil droplets in the cells of the retina, differing according to the frequencies of light in different parts of the visual field, form an eerie landscape that can be seen with an ophthalmoscope. Edith Cobb’s own genius has given us insight into the primordial meaning of coherence as a function of a specific, tangible, ecology, swallowed by the nine-year-old in repeated excursions.

What excites me about this line of thought is the possibility that part of our minds exists outside of us, in the landscape. While it seems that Cobb was saying we build up internal neural networks in childhood that replicate the external environment, to me it almost seems like our neural networks extend out from us into the environment. It is as though the whole earth were brain, or mind. I find it especially interesting that Cobb found geniuses to frequently use landscape as a means of gaining knowledge or insight. They’re tapping into the larger mind we’re all part of. I’ve said before, I believe that tapping into our full human potential means tapping into our larger identities--identities that extend out beyond the boundaries of our skin.

Cobb talked about geniuses who returned to the landscape of their childhood. This implies that they left that land at some point. But what if you stayed put?  What might be possible in a lifetime of building up internal and external neural networks?  Of enlarging the self, extending more and more deeply into the environment?  Until we become rooted in the land once again I don’t think it will be possible to reach our full human potential.

Shepard, in a related essay, mentioned that the classical definition of genius was “the spirit of place”. It’s by tapping into the spirit of place, the larger mind, that we can achieve “personal” genius. All knowledge is out there. None of it is personal. It simply waits to be located. When I’ve said “Place holds potential”, I mean that very literally. There’s a very visceral way I’m sensing that place holds unique knowledge. We become who we are by our unique interactions with the land. We can’t become the same person in a different locale. We don’t gain the same knowledge.

These days the line between nature and nurture have blurred for me. It’s all one seamless experience of responding to nature. I think I can begin to see the next phase of our evolution. Instead of consuming matter in the childish way that we do, we will begin to convert matter into spirit. By knowing the land we will expand Mind and eventually begin to know who we are--Gaia. And once we recognize ourselves to be this entity, Gaia, then maybe we will shed the idea that Gaia is an isolated dot in the universe, and begin to extend our identity and mind out into the cosmos. Eventually we will recognize that we have always been the Mind of God.

But if we can just reach Gaia-Mind, that would be hugely transformative. Our human potential could begin to unfold and it surely wouldn’t be tied to consumption. We would stop trying to make the ego look bigger. Instead we would grow our Mind.

I think we would regain a more fluid way of being and perceiving, as in our primordial days only with deep conscious awareness. The egoic, rational brain which is so clumsy and a hindrance, could recede in importance. Direct experience would again be primary.

I’ve often found the rational brain gets in the way. I hate the fact that I always have maps in my head; always have a name for the place I’m in or the place I’m going. I don’t want a representation of place. It interferes with my ability to know a place. I have enough “past life memories” to remember the older, more fluid and direct way of experiencing. The rational mind, while so important for building consciousness, really dumbs down reality.

Intuitive, fluid, spiritual beings--that’s our destiny if we don’t kill ourselves off first.

I’ve been trying to encourage a more fluid way of being to take hold in me. For one thing, since reading the Temple Grandin book, I’ve been trying not to censor my imagery. I’m becoming aware just how ever-present my imagery is. It is always flashing up, probably in every moment, if I was just aware enough. My “haunting” may just have been me moving into that more fluid way of seeing. There are layers of reality here, always. I want to get a handle on what I’m seeing, why certain imagery wants to be connected with certain thoughts, actions, or places.

One example (I know this sounds bizarre and psychotic but I think there’s legitimate knowledge here): lately when I look in the mirror I see a flash of an image overlaying my reflection. It’s a bird, probably an eagle, but maybe a hawk, with its wings outstretched in flight.

I’ve also had tons of "past life" images arising as I read and write and think. I see the land before all this manic human destructiveness and development took place and it makes me so sad.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Going Home Again

You can go home again, apparently, because I've done it.  I came to my parents house in Pennsylvania in June for an extended visit (extended meaning--to me--about two months) and I'm still here.  Events have been conspiring against me (or with me--I'm still not sure) to keep me here.  Almost as soon as I got here both my mom and my dad were diagnosed with cancer.  My dad's is a slow growing cancer of the prostate which only needs to be watched at this point.  My mom has cancer in both breasts and she has opted for chemo followed by surgery.  All of that has been put off until after my mom and dad go to Ireland for a week next month.  Meanwhile Mom is taking what amounts to mini-chemo in a pill.  My gut sense is that she doesn't have an aggressive form of cancer and will be just fine, but I will be sticking around to see how the chemo goes next month.  And as if all of this weren't enough, in the past two weeks my mom managed to amputate part of her index finger.  *Sigh.*

So I am here in Pennsylvania after a fourteen year absence (aside from a few very short visits) and back in my home town after a twenty-four year absence.  In other words it's the first substantial amount of time I've spent here since I left when I was seventeen.  And wow what a time I'm having!  I've stated previously on this blog that I believe human potential is tied to the land and that place holds potential.  Much as we pretend to be creatures divorced from the land we're really created by the environment that surrounds us.  So it's been a fascinating journey to revisit the landscape that created me.

I'm going to get into all of this in more detail in my next few posts, but for today I just need to ease back into writing.  For some reason I haven't been able to write at all this year.  It's like I can't string two sentences together, can't form coherent paragraphs.  Instead of fighting it I've taken it as a sign that something else is needed, some other way of making sense of the world, something other than words--and so I've written next to nothing all year.  But I think I feel a shift happening now and perhaps I'll be able to string some posts together in the next few days and weeks.  I miss blogging.

Here's a photo of me with all of my siblings and my parents, taken over the 4th of July weekend.  I'm the one on the left.

From Where Simplicity Leads

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Moneyless World?

Moneyless World--Free World--Priceless World is a blog I've had listed in my blogroll since back when I first started this blog. It's one man's account of living without money (since 2000, I think). Suelo is not a very active blogger--partly because he doesn't often have access to a computer--but when he does post, his accounts are always interesting. Mostly his posts stress me out, but that's just me. I'm not a nomad or a gypsy; I like to be rooted to a place. So his accounts of standing by countless roadsides with his thumb to the wind, or sneaking into and out of rail yards (and sometimes getting caught) I find exhausting even to read. It's not my idea of a life!

But I don't say that to be critical. I hugely admire what Suelo is doing and his efforts to document his lifestyle. His philosophy is beautiful and right-on in my opinion. Nature operates as a gift economy and we humans should be able to as well. If you've got some time, check out his website (in addition to his blog)--he's got some great essays there that delve into the philosophy behind his lifestyle.

I admire Suelo for living his convictions, for modelling a different (and healthier) philosophy of life. Many of us have noble convictions, but how many of us get out there and actually live them? Suelo is following the path he was put here on earth to follow. That earns him hero status in my book.

I hope to soon (and finally) be living my convictions as well. And when I do, the new world I'll inhabit will be largely moneyless too. It won't look the same as Suelo's world, but that's because it'll be my unique path and not his. My unique path involves becoming rooted to a place, becoming an inhabitant, part of an ecosystem, a participant.

Money has been a huge obstacle for me all my life. I'm missing what other people seem to have--a link between money and the reward centers in the brain. Money just doesn't do anything for me. The prospect of acquiring money doesn't motivate me. I can't make myself care enough to do whatever it takes to earn wads of cash. Intellectually I understand that to make it in our current society, to be functional here, you have to know how to earn money. And I most decidedly am lacking in that skill. I am most decidedly dysfunctional in this society. But, it was Krishnamurti who said:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
What I am adapted to is the way we lived in earlier times. What I am adapted to is the way we will live in future times, in all likelihood. I am not adapted to living in this sick society.

The economy I participate well in is not the global economy. The economy I participate well in is very tiny--it's a single ecosystem, a single homestead integrated with the surrounding landscape, where a human gives and takes and participates and interacts. There are many, many exchanges, but no money changing hands. There's value created. There's abundance. There's reciprocity. There's balance. There's health. This economy is centered around a single spot, yet it has tendrils that reach out and connect it to other economies and to the larger whole. Most of the exchanges happen on that one spot; fewer and fewer exchanges happen the farther out you go on a tendril. It's a place-centered, intensively local economy.

On that one spot, all exchanges operate on the gift economy. All is freely given and received. A little farther out into the neighboring economies and exchanges are more likely to involve bartering, and farther out still they are likely to require some form of money. I don't believe money is evil or unnecessary. It serves a genuine purpose--facilitating transactions that occur at a distance. At a local level, however, money is unnecessary, perhaps even a hindrance.

I've stated before on this blog that there's a big difference between transactions and interactions. Transactions are distancing and de-humanizing while interactions create bonds, trust, and accountability. Historically, transactions occurred at a distance. They were exchanges with people you didn't know, people you rarely encountered, people with whom you had no opportunity to build trust. Money was the perfect way to exchange goods in those circumstances--it had a very well-defined value so it prevented conflict between strangers. Among your own clan however, transactions were never needed. Your clan was its own ecosystem, with all parts (you and your kinspeople) freely contributing to the healthy functioning of the whole. No one kept tabs--that would be like your heart keeping tabs on how much oxygen your lungs are contributing.

In between these distant transactions and these local interactions was a fuzzy middle ground. Here is where barter took place, or elaborate and often ritualized gift-giving traditions. These were your distant neighbors. You were probably remotely related to them, so there was an accountability to them but it was a bit tenuous. Bartering ensured fair trade practices. Because you might not see these people again for years, an immediate reciprocal exchange made sense. Or, in some cultures there were elaborate and lop-sided gift-giving rituals among distant tribes. If you were the visiting tribe, you flooded your hosts with gifts. That tribe would do the same whenever it visited other neighboring tribes, and whoever visited your tribe would do the same. Thus bonds were maintained, even though it was never immediately reciprocal.

Do you notice something here? The gift economy and to some extent the bartering economy are both based on trust and the building and maintaining of bonds. They build cohesion and harmony. The money economy on the other hand is based on distance and distrust; it's based on remaining at arm's length from potentially dangerous strangers--those mysterious "others". A major part of the sickness of our society today is the fact that we've forgotten how to do anything other than transacting. We've turned everyone into a stranger. No one is worthy of our trust. And so we become these islands, in the process losing community and connection and robbing ourselves of a whole bunch of love, laughter, and joy.

I'm naturally gifted at interacting. I suck at transacting. For me immediacy is what counts, what's right in front of me. That's why I'm so perfectly geared towards living an intensively local existence. I can't handle abstractions, especially that one called money, but I can handle what I can verify with my senses: what's under my nose, what's under my toes, the people, plants, and animals that surround me, the wind and rain, stars and sunshine, rocks and rivers, clouds and sunshine. And those things fill me up in a way that money never will.

Edited to add: My apologies if this post is impossible to read. There's some kind of blogger glitch whenever I use the "blockquote" feature--it screws up the line spacing from that point on. Since it doesn't show up in the html, there's nothing I can do to fix it. :(

Saturday, February 26, 2011

AmeriCorps on the Chopping Block

AmeriCorps and its umbrella agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, might soon be no more, and that would be a very sad way for the program to end. Now more than ever we need this sort of program. Americorps was originally VISTA--Volunteers in Service to America--a program first envisioned by JFK as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. Back in the early 90s I served as a VISTA volunteer for a year at a non-profit in my college town. We ran a mental health hotline and offered short-term walk-in counseling for mental health and drug and alcohol issues. Like most AmeriCorps projects, our clientele were among the neediest and most underserved in our community. In fact, the overarching mission of the VISTA program was to alleviate poverty. Today AmeriCorps volunteers serve in many capacities--helping to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, serving in inner city schools, teaching English and literacy, working on infrastructure improvement projects, cleaning up streams, building low-cost housing, etc.

AmeriCorps is a brilliant program, especially in our current economy. It gives people jobs while costing very little. The pay might sound insulting--it's sub-minimum wage--but there are plenty of people who would jump at the chance to have some income rather than no income at all, and have a chance to do something truly useful, and gain real skills. In fact, there are always more applicants than there are spaces to fill. If anything, this sort of program needs to be expanded.

I'm convinced our economy is not going to recover--not in a time frame that's meaningful, anyway--and inevitably we all will have to adapt to fewer hours of work and less pay. AmeriCorps could be the poster child for this new reality. Earning $5.80 an hour is going to sound more and more appealing to people as time goes on. As I said, some income is better than none at all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winds of Change

I've decided I need to retire this blog and start a new one. The things I want to write about are actually in perfect alignment with the intent of this blog, and yet it just doesn't feel quite right to continue here. This journey of voluntary simplicity has taken me to unexpected places, and though I want to share that journey, if I do so here I fear that some of you may feel it's really not what you signed up for. That shouldn't really matter to me--after all, you're free to move on--but nevertheless it is crimping my style here. I'm finding I'm afraid or reluctant to write about the topics that are really compelling to me now. A new blog, with a revised focus, will give me a fresh start.

The big thing that's happened lately for me is that my path has morphed into the shamanic journey. I've said before I believe the path to being fully human is equivalent to the shamanic journey--now I'm starting to live it.

The new blog is called desert madwoman--since that's what I'm aspiring to become (actually some might argue I'm already there :) ). The title alone gives me so much freedom. There's no reason to feel I have to censor anything, no matter how unusual. My health has been really lousy lately, and frankly I don't know how much longer I'll be here. I want to use what time remains to live absolutely authentically, and that means not suppressing all of the weird stuff--and there's a lot of weird stuff. :)

So, if you're into weird stuff, join me there (I haven't posted anything yet, but probably will get my first post up this weekend). If not, thanks for reading and commenting here and good luck on your own journey, wherever it takes you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Off On Strange Tangents

This is such an interesting time in my life. I haven't been posting much lately and the problem isn't having too little I want to say, but entirely too much. I never know where to start. But today I'm going to start with a few intriguing things.

Several of you may have caught the post I briefly had up in June about an unusual artifact I found. I deleted that post within a day of writing it because I felt I had been hasty in writing about something that perhaps had been quite a powerful and/or sacred object to someone in the past. I'm ready to re-visit the topic now, at least in part.

In June when a robin taught me to dig lawn grubs for him, I happened to dig up a stone spear point in the garden. My curiousity about the spearpoint also led me to wonder about another artifact I've had for about eight years. When I lived in Longmont, Colorado and had been replacing the landscaping cloth under the xeriscaping in my front yard, I found the artifact lying in among the small river rocks. Right away it seemed apparent that the rock had been worked by humans. There was a blackened indentation that seemed like it must have been used for firestarting, and with the bowl facing up the rock fit very ergonomically in my left hand, snugged up nicely against my thumb. When I oriented the rock another way and moved it to my right hand, it ergonomically became a pestle. You could see how the face of the pestle had been worn very smooth with use. About a quarter of the face of the pestle had chipped out at some point, but by the wear-markings it was obvious the pestle had continued to be used long after the break took place. There were also places on the rock that seemed to have clearly been flaked by humans.

In June I studied the rock more intently than before and noticed something else. The most heavily flaked area formed the mouth and snout of a snake, with the blackened bowl becoming an eye. How I had never noticed that before I don't know, because once I saw it it was unmistakable. My curiousity and fascination was growing and one day I sat down with it and decided to meditate on it, just to see what kind of impressions would come, if any. Immediately upon closing my eyes I began to see imagery. Not snake images at all. What I kept seeing were representations of birds--numerous petroglyphs and pictographs of the thunderbird. How odd that a snake-shaped rocked would elicit bird imagery! I delved into research online and found a lot of Native American myths linking the snake and the thunderbird, so it really wasn't that odd after all.

A few days later I tried blowing on the rock and discovered it whistled. Not only did it whistle, but it made the distinct cry of a bird, with interesting modulations and sometimes a bit of a warble to it. The cry was created by blowing into the bowl or eye of the snake. I began to think perhaps what I had was a shaman's power object. It could have been used to grind healing preparations; to start ceremonial fires or to carry an ember from one fire to another or perhaps to place a glowing ember in the eye to ceremonially/symbolically represent aspects of the snake/thunderbird mythology; and by whistling to call the thunderbird in order to bring rain. Perhaps it had even more functions I couldn't yet conceive.

If you'd like to see pictures of the rock I've got some posted here. You can click on the individual pictures to see closeups and zoom in.

Since June I've been researching and trying to learn more about the rock and about Native American myths that might pertain to it. I haven't had luck in finding an anthropologist or archaeologist willing to look at it, and from what I've learned that seems to be the norm for this sort of thing. I suspect it's like any other area of academia--it's all become a bit machine-like. There's no pay-off for straying from the area of expertise that will win you your tenure, and there's certainly no payoff for exploring anything that will challenge the established beliefs (excuse me, that will challenge the irrefutable science which has already been carved in stone for all of eternity, never to be altered). Some of the most interesting things I've come across have been on websites of intelligent amateurs--people like me who have just stumbled upon artifacts and gotten curious. I'm starting to prefer amateurs over professionals. Amateurs aren't wearing blinders so they can come up with wild theories and think outside of the box. They don't have a narrow focus of interest, but can take in the whole gestalt and see patterns that a professional quite likely will miss. It's not just with anthropologists and archaeologists, either--so much of modern culture has become a machine. People have quit being curious and seem to have an aversion to open-endedness and possibilities and novelties. I much prefer the people who entertain wild imaginings, who don't necessarily believe science has gotten everything all figured out. I love crazy theories and prefer to say, Why not?

The first site I came across that intrigued me was from the Spoon River Valley in Illinois. These artifacts are the most similar to mine of anything I've come across. My rock even has a strange balancing point like many of this guy's artifacts. If this is where my artifact originated, it would imply that it once also had a snake body made up of other rocks that stacked together.

Then in Ohio, there's Day's Knob--cruder stones carved to resemble various figures. I spent the afternoon Sunday looking at the artifacts on this site and some of the others he links to. Some of the figures you have to stare at quite awhile before you "get it"--partly because it's tough to photograph the detail well, and partly because the figures can be rather ambiguous. After immersing myself in all of these photos, I picked up my snake rock again. Now instead of just seeing my snake, I was seeing all sorts of figures all over the rock! My mind had gone into "facial recognition" overdrive. I saw the head of a ram, the head of a burro, various human faces, a young buck just getting the first nubs of horns, the backside of a bear, a bear pawprint, a mammoth with its trunk curled into its mouth. Were any of these figures intentionally put there, or was my mind just playing tricks on me because I had over-immersed myself in Day's figure stones? Hard to say. In August I had shared pictures of the artifact with my friend Khrystle and she commented then that she could see a human face in the bottommost picture (in the first link I gave up above). I hadn't noticed it until then, but she was right. It's subtle, but I definitely see it--almost like the profile of an Egyptian sarcophagus--just left of the center line. So, perhaps it's not just me and an overactive imagination. The interesting thing is that the eye of each figure is what I had previously taken to be just a random human-made mark. None of the eyes seem to be natural formations of the rocks--they all were put there--whereas noses and mouths (except for the snake) all seem to be natural formations.

So, in August in my backyard I found two more artifacts. The funny thing is, I found them both on the same day, in different places, and yet they actually belong together! One is a stone drill bit, the other is a rather ordinary rock with a bunch of what seem to be practice drill holes in it (over a dozen). Now, when I first found the spear point in June, my friend John and I both thought it might have been made for a kid. The tip was rather blunt. It actually seems like the original point may have broken off, and then a new tip was knapped on. It would have made a nice practice spear for a young boy who was just learning. So when I found the drill bit and the rock with holes in it, I also thought of a child. The holes seemed random, and what adult is going to waste all that time making random holes? But a kid just learning to drill might spend some winter nights practicing randomly all over a rock. And perhaps he had just learned to make his first drill bit too and was trying it out. The rock with the holes actually seems like quite a poor choice for practice. It's very hard, and by the last hole the drill bit had worn down to near uselessness. Plus the rock has inclusions of what seem to be very hard carbon and several of the holes hit those and came to a grinding halt.

When I found these latest two artifacts, I thought they were interesting, but didn't really spend that much time with them. Yesterday, I picked up the rock and took a closer look. And this time, "facial recognition" still in high gear, I noticed some things. There's a nose! And I mean, a big nose, life-sized. And if you turn the nose upside-down there's a face carved into the rock, and there's a protuberance coming off of the upside-down big nose connecting it to the little nose on the face. Very strange! There's also the remnants of a painted line encircling the face. Actually it kind of looks like someone took a dark crayon and drew a circle, except it's not waxy like a crayon would be. You can see parts of the line in the pictures.

And after all of this, the crazy amateur in me comes up with a crazy theory. Maybe in oral cultures these rocks were like books--places to hold vast amounts of information. In David Abram's book The Spell of the Sensuous, he talked about songlines and other ways that information was held in the landscape by indigenous peoples. Perhaps information was also placed in figure stones that could be carried with you wherever you went. The bear paw I see in my rock could encode a story or myth about the bear, or a healing technique using part of the bear, or some moral teaching, or whatever. Whenever something significant needed to be remembered it would be linked to a feature in the rock, which then became a mnemonic device to aid in recall. And details could be added to the rocks as needed, so that eventually they might hold layers and layers of meaning. And the rocks could be passed on from generation to generation, each generation being taught the meanings and stories behind each figure. So finding a cache of figure stones would be the equivalent of finding a library, only the language has been lost and we can't read them.

Perhaps the rock I have with the drill holes in it isn't the work of a child after all. Maybe the holes aren't random, but instead encode information--distances or travel times or events or stories. The more I look at this rock the more interesting it becomes. I had initially characterized it as rather plain, but the more I look at it, the more I see. It has complex coloration when you look closely, and faint lines that suggest shapes. It's kind of like a scrying glass--you begin to see all sorts of things.

A funny thing happened as I was writing this. I was sitting at the computer eating my lunch, which was a bowl of chicken soup. When I make soup, I always crack some of the bones and add a little vinegar to help extract more of the calcium (and some marrow). I guess I missed one of the bones because as I sat here eating I found one in my bowl. Check out the picture. I wonder where the inspiration for the shape of the drill bit came from? I guess that's pretty obvious--we know bones were used as awls, so it would make sense to make the same shape in a harder material if you needed to make holes in rocks, right? I just thought it was ironic that my soup bone was so nearly identical in shape to the drill bit, and I saw it just as I was writing about these artifacts.

The last picture just shows there are multiple layers of history in my yard. It's a scary clown head made out of an early plastic, probably from the 1940s or '50s. I'm always digging up interesting things.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Perhaps My Reel Mower Isn't "Real" Enough

Yesterday a woman on the next street shouted down the alley to me. Her son-in-law wanted to know if I wanted a mower! Uh, well, uh, that's awfully nice, but I'm good here. Thanks, but no thanks! I wasn't going to launch into a whole long explanation, especially since we were shouting at each other from so far away. But her offer caught me off guard. I'm sure it looks odd having someone in the neighborhood doing all their yard work with handtools and non-motorized contraptions, but until now I had no idea I was the object of pity. How inconceivable that someone might use a reel mower by choice! I bet my response has that woman really scratching her head now. She's probably thinking, Why that ungrateful little thing! We're just trying to help.

Monday, August 30, 2010

New Paradigm Series, Part 1

This is going to be harder than I thought. I tried offline today to get my first post on this topic written, but I ended up bogging down. So instead perhaps what I need to do is write around this issue for awhile and see what eeks out. I won't stop trying to write about it directly, but until that works for me I've got ways I can still explore this indirectly.

One night this summer I had a dream in which I was being shown that the bow and arrow were invented when someone recognized that if bird and snake were conjoined they could be sent together into the future to retrieve bounty for the tribe. It was obvious to me in the dream that the head and shaft of the arrow represented the snake and the feathered fletching represented the bird. The feathers brought flight to the snake and the snake provided the biting ability lacking in the bird. Together they became a powerful object capable of providing sustenance to the tribes.

What a neat way to invent something! So different from how we invent things in the Mental phase--where the natural world has no meaning and invention is a purely rational exercise. In the Mythic phase everything in the natural world had meaning and significance, and we could take on the attributes of those natural objects and beings ourselves, or place them in the objects we created. Our inventions weren't just lifeless mechanistic objects, they were living embodiments of various aspects of the natural world.

With all the converging catastrophes we're facing today, one thing that's clear to me is how grossly inadequate our current way of problem-solving is. We can't solve our problems from within the current Mental paradigm--we will only be using the same inadequate and now dysfunctional set of skills that got us into this mess in the first place. But if we can move along to the next paradigm, we will have a much broader repertoire of problem-solving skills at our disposal. We will have access again to magical and mythical solutions, as well as mental solutions--but actually I believe it will be a mingling of all three approaches and something greater than the sum of the parts. Solutions will arise out of the earth and flow through us. What wants to manifest will manifest. We'll be led to meaningful actions through instinct, synchronicities, mythical symbolism, and the mental 2+2ing we're so good at currently--all rolled into one fluid, fused experience.

Nearly impossible to describe! That's why I'm bogging down in writing my personal account. All of these ways of being are beginning to co-exist and co-express themselves in me. Instinct, magic, myth, and reason all informing one another within me and sending me down a most fascinating path. It sounds crazy, I know!

Here's a Mental exercise for you. Yes, I realize a Mental exercise is kind of at cross-purposes with what I'm trying to get at, but...

Let's take the end of the carbon era--this crisis of what to do to fuel our human endeavors down the road. Imagine you are an Archaic human plunked down here--what would be your solution to the problem, how would you advise the powers that be (ignoring for our purposes the fact that you haven't acquired speech yet)? Now imagine you are a Magical human--how would you solve our energy problems? And what if you were a Mythical human? Now how about if you were Archaic, Magical, Mythical, and Mental all rolled into one?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Human/New Paradigm Preliminaries

Okay, I've got to get this post out of the way before I get into the nitty gritty of describing my personal forays into the new paradigm. Maybe I'm just stalling here since I sense I will be challenged to the limit trying to describe/paint a picture of a way of seeing and being that stands so far outside our normal modes of perception.

So this post is strictly a Mental post (see Envisioning the New Human if I'm losing you). My more Integral posts will follow soon (I hope).

The first preliminary is explaining why I think all of this new paradigm stuff is so important. It's important because we've already extracted all the benefits the current Mental phase of our evolution can provide, and staying here any longer becomes dysfunctional. We've exceeded our stay--we should have moved on long ago--but we've become entrapped by the flashy constructs and technologies this phase has given rise to. According to Gebser, each phase contains all previous phases, but the curious thing about the Mental phase is its vehement denial of the preceding phases. Not that the realities of those other phases don't live on in us, rather here in the Mental phase we've repressed and denigrated them, and in the process distorted their truths. All we acknowledge as "real" is what can rationally be perceived. Myth, magic, and instinct are beneath us, irrelevant in this world of superhighways and cyberspace and resource extraction and stock markets. Our richly nuanced world has been dumbed-down and we find ourselves asking, "Is this all there is?" No, it isn't, and it's time to move on because if we don't we're going to end up self-destructing.

The Mental phase is an extremely dangerous phase because in it we are (or perceive ourselves to be) completely separate from nature. As long as we stay in this phase we will continue to see the earth as a mere resource, something "out there" and "other", something to use and abuse without compunction.

Our only hope is to evolve into the next paradigm. And quickly. In the next phase, one of consciously reintegrating with all that's "out there" and "other", the earth will be recognized as the ground from which we spring, the matrix which births us and of which we are a part. We won't continue to rape and pillage the earth and those others who dwell here because it will be obvious we're not separate. To harm one part of the matrix is to bring harm to all, including ourselves. Obviously I'm stating this in a very Mental way--"the earth will be recognized as the ground from which we spring"--but understand that the lived experience is something else and something more entirely. To describe it in Mental terms is to miss the nuance, the richness, and the sheer beauty the next paradigm promises.

So we need to get there quickly. But is it overly idealistic for me to suggest such a feat might be possible? I'm not sure, but I know we need to try. I already see evidence that others are making forays into the new paradigm--it's something that seems to want to emerge--and I think there are developing conditions in our world that might help precipitate this change.

For me what has precipitated the change has been my deepening experience with voluntary simplicity. I've been giving up things, habits, and technologies--all of which were birthed in this Mental paradigm and all of which enforced a (false) sense of separation from the rest of creation. Freed from these flashy constructs and technologies I begin to live directly. Life is no longer mediated by these things--by machines, by bizarre mental constructs like the idea of perpetual growth, by office cubicles that shut out the natural world. Instead I start to have my own unmediated experiences. I act directly in the world, I interact directly in the world, I allow the world to directly act upon me. I give and receive in an unmediated fashion. And in this way I begin to have a direct perception of what Is. And that direct perception shows me a fluid, nuanced, unified world--one where it becomes difficult to discern where do I start and where do I leave off?

I think there's hope that many other people will have these experiences soon. Some voluntarily, like me, but more will be forced to adopt a simpler lifestyle--because of economic conditions, climate conditions, the end of the carbon era, etc. And whether by choice or by necessity, once people start to live more directly again, I believe they will begin to slip into the new paradigm (and out of, and into again, until it finally takes hold for good).

The other preliminary I want to cover is a distinction I need to make. In my upcoming posts I'll be making a case for a revival of myth and magic in the next paradigm. As Gebser states, each phase contains all previous phases. In the Mental phase, the previous phases were largely obscured. That won't be the case in the Integral phase. Myth and magic will live again. But I want to be clear, I won't be talking about mythical or magical thinking--all of that mythical, magical, religious explaining we did in earlier phases--I will be talking about real magic and real myth, underlying truths in this universe. Yes, myth and magic are real, just as reason is real too. We tend to think of these things as relics of our primitive past, misconceptions we've outgrown--and we're right if we're talking about mythical thinking, magical thinking, scientific thinking--but not if we're talking about myth, magic, and reason themselves. All of that thinking arose in our Conscious But Separate phase--when we were trying to make sense of what was "out there" and "other". But in the next phase we'll lose that sense of discreteness and so all of that theorizing and sense-making will be unnecessary. What we'll be left with is a direct, lived experience of the magical, mythical, mental creatures we are (and instinctual too--I tend to gloss over that).

We're evolving towards something fantastic. I don't believe we have the merest inkling of what powerful and marvelous beings we are--but we need to survive the death of the Mental phase first and that may prove to be an insurmountable challenge. I want to attempt to give voice to my experiences because I think we really need people to begin to paint a picture of what (potentially) lies ahead for us. The world needs my voice and countless other voices sharing our initial forays into this new realm. People need to know this isn't all there is!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Recent "Letting Go" Successes

Before I launch into a series of posts about the New Paradigm, I wanted to get this more practical entry out. In the past few weeks I've given up three more things in my life--each of which at one point or another would have been nearly unthinkable--so I wanted to share my successes.

1. I went through my boxes of personal letters and mementos and tossed/recycled almost everything. Now you have to realize I have kept every single letter anyone has ever sent me my whole life (friends/family/co-workers that is--not, say, the electric company telling me they need my payment NOW). *ahem* I had all the letters my best friend sent me when she moved away, from 1978 up until our last contact in 1992. I had letters from my next best friend, which he sent me mostly in the summers when we didn't see each other (although we lived only 5 miles apart). I had letters/pictures/postcards/currency from a strange Egyptian pen pal who seemed to be stalking me--if that's possible from another continent. I had stacks of the most beautiful love letters from my college sweetheart and one other wonderful boyfriend (both stacks lovingly tied into bundles with ribbon) and a more troublesome stack of letters from my ex-husband. I had funny notes from my college roommate and other college acquaintances. There was a great big pile of letters from my friend Di, with whom I've shared so many major life events--we were co-workers, she was in my wedding (and even came to my divorce!) and I had the extreme privilege of holding her as she gave birth to her daughter. Letters from my lifelong friend Khrystle (since age 3) and from my brother. I had birthday cards from my grandparents from when I turned one and two. You get the picture. It all went, all except the letters from my mom--and those may go someday too. For now they seem like such an important part of my family history, containing all of those trivial little things you tend to forget but which really tell amazing stories collectively.

It was wonderful going through these boxes and being reminded just how loved I have been all my life. I feel so incredibly lucky. All of those letters represent time, energy, and love that others have directed at me throughout my life. I think I've held onto those letters precisely because it's such a tangible reminder of that. But I've also come to a point where I know the place to carry all of that is in my heart. (That's a lot easier than hefting those boxes around every time I move too!)

Another box contained ridiculous things like a Girl Scout uniform, high school sports trophies and ribbons, academic awards, and report cards from kindergarten through grade 12. Those went too. Seriously, why have I been lugging this stuff around for so long?

2. This will sound trivial, but my hairdryer broke. I seem to go through those things with absurd frequency and finally I realized I just don't even need one of those darn contraptions. As you probably know, my plan is to go off-off-grid in a few years, so I won't be using electrical contraptions of any sort then. It just makes sense to start weaning myself off of them now. I always considered the hairdryer necessary because my hair is so thick and takes forever to dry, plus I have this weird thing about going out in public with wet hair (to me it's like going out in a bathrobe and slippers), AND with my body's inability to stay warm in the winter I get too chilled with wet hair. BUT in my a-ha moment I realized I simply have to make sure I only wash my hair right before I go to bed. It has all night to dry and in the winter I can huddle under as many blankets as I need to stay warm while I sleep. How simple is that! It just requires a slight shift in habits--to showering at night instead of first thing in the morning.

3. When I'm off-off-grid I will be doing my laundry by hand. My intention is to get a hand-cranked wringer, some galvanized tubs, a washboard, and a tool to agitate the water. Well, what do you know--a few weeks ago my washer broke. Since I'm renting it's really a simple matter to call the landlord and have it fixed--and I think it's a very simple problem like a bad belt or coupler--but instead for the past few weeks I've been washing my clothes by hand. And it's the oddest thing, but I find it so immensely satisfying. Now I don't enjoy the wringing part (by hand, since I don't have the wringer yet) but I find I actually look forward to doing laundry! It gets to something I've repeatedly tried to articulate (and failed miserably at)--that something vital is lost when we let machines take over. What it is I regain when I do something myself rather than relegating the task to a machine is the thing I can't find words for--but I feel it, and it's good, and I'll have to leave it at that for now.