Monday, April 21, 2008

Father Christmas

Two nights ago I had a dream. There was a wide dirt path (or a narrow dirt road for foot traffic) that was going straight through a young forest. A boy of about eight or nine was walking along the path. To one side of the path and parallel to it ran an embankment --it was like the abandoned railroad grades you see around here. A tangle of young trees and bramble grew on it, creating almost a tunnel effect on top. I was walking along the top of it, following the boy secretly from several paces behind, and partly obscured by the brambles. The boy turned in my direction at one point and I instantly froze to the spot so he wouldn't notice me, but as I froze I had also swivelled my body to look behind me. There on the embankment about ten or fifteen paces behind me was a man, who also was instantly freezing to the spot as the boy turned in our direction.

I recognized the man immediately; it was Father Christmas. But he wasn't round and jolly and he didn't wear a red suit. Instead he was tall and lean, with white hair and a white beard. He wore a long robe that was trimmed all around in white fur, but the robe itself was tan, like deerskin (reindeer skin?) or suede. I realized in an instant what should have always been completely obvious (but wasn't) --Father Christmas is a wizard! He gave a subtle nod to me, with maybe the merest hint of a smile. We were both up to the same thing --stalking the boy.

And that was it, the whole dream. What on earth am I to make of it? I was not working with Father Christmas. I had never seen him before (I don't think anyone is supposed to see him) and I had no idea he was following right behind me until I turned. Yet we were up to the same thing and I get the sense that I was up to something rather wizard-ish myself. I was stalking the boy, wishing to evade his detection, but I think there was more to it than just freezing to the spot and blending in. I think I was actively, maybe mentally, practicing some invisibility technique. It wasn't the freezing to the spot alone that prevented the boy from noticing me --there was some technique I was using that made it far less likely he would see me.

Let me add that there was nothing sinister in me stalking the kid. I meant no harm. I never intended to interact with him at all. It seems more like I was practicing on him.

So, where on earth did this dream come from? The only thing reminding me of Christmas in the past few days was a book I read about a family who boycotted Chinese products for a year (A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy, by Sara Bongiorni). Christmas was very trying for them since they had small children and virtually all toys are now made in China. The four-year old boy started making his list for Santa in August and kept adding and adding to it --and everything he added, the mom felt certain, was made in China.

But how did my mind make the leap from this mere mention of our traditional American Santa to a dream about a wizard in animal skins stalking a boy? It seems very unusual. But it sure has a neat mythic feel to it; it feels like for the first time I've gotten a glimpse of the real Santa. And I mean that, too, as ridiculous as it sounds. Over the past few centuries, as we've embraced materialism more and more extensively, Father Christmas --this wise, sacred being who I'm convinced has some mythic reality-- has been transformed (and dumbed-down) into this goofy, jolly, gauche caricature.

Maybe all this dream is demonstrating is my new way of seeing. After all, how can Santa Claus still be Santa Claus (in our twenty-first century American conception of him) once you've transcended the consumer paradigm?

And the wizard aspect of this is very fascinating. I did a brief Internet search to see if there actually have been traditions that believed Father Christmas possessed a sorcerous side to his personality. I didn't really turn up any solid evidence (but how does he get all those toys to all those boys and girls in one night?), except for some kind of dubious link to the germanic god Wotan (Odin, Woden). I will have to look into this further.

Probably, the dream isn't referring to historically accurate conceptions of St. Nick anyway. If this dream is representing my transformation into a new paradigm, then wizardry probably symbolizes my new perceptions and a more nuanced way of interacting with the world.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So many neat things have happened to me since I first began to explore voluntary simplicity in earnest. Things I never could have anticipated. The coolest thing so far is that as I've meandered along, my focus has shifted away from the personal and more and more towards the global. Some kind of global citizen has awakened in me as I continue to be transformed by this process.

As personal as this process is (and surely different for everyone), I can't help but wonder if there aren't certain universal guideposts along the way. Maybe everyone who commits to a deepening experience with simplicity will go through certain unavoidable stages. Maybe everyone will eventually evolve towards the bigger picture; away from the small self, the egoic self, towards something grander and more all-encompassing.

This inkling is a fairly new one for me. Sometime in the past year I crossed a threshold; I reached a point in my explorations where the old consumer paradigm (well, hardly old, since most of the world is still firmly enmeshed in it) totally shattered. To see the world from outside the current paradigm has been utterly transformative for me.

The oddest outcome of all of this is that I begin to have hope. We live in such dire times; we're faced with so many compounding issues (over-population, loss of biodiversity, climate change, issues of food security and declining water tables, topsoil losses and desertification, the exploitation and suffering of billions of people because of the greed of the few, the end of the carbon era,...and the list goes on). Take a close-up look at any one of these issues and you're bound to feel at least a little bleak. Study them all in-depth for several years as I've been doing and it will be amazing that you can still pull your head out from under the covers every morning. It's depressing stuff. There's not a whole lot of reason for hope. At least not on the surface.

But, through this whole process, I've found hope. I'm still alarmed, but I'm excited now too. I've found a way to think about the future that is positive and life-affirming. It involves us, as a species (but person by person) waking up, busting out of the current paradigm and embracing our full human potential.

I believe that the practice of voluntary simplicity is one of the most powerful tools we have for busting through to the next paradigm. Maybe it will turn out to be the crucial one as well. It's not only a tool for personal transformation, but in a very practical way it brings us into right relationship with the earth. More important than anything else is that we survive this transition and to do that, as a species, we have to live lightly on this earth. Our practical, real actions matter more now than at any other point in our long history. Embracing simplicity is a very noble act, given our current circumstances.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you through this blog, and I welcome your wisdom and the tales of your journeys as well.