Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Too Much Information

In my last post I talked about how I gave up the newspaper and let go of the part of my persona that needed to be an "informed citizen". I want to expand on that a little bit today.

I find that living simply involves so much more than physically simplifying my environment. The mental clutter has to go too. And, man, in our culture, with so much going on all the time and so much information available, it's easy to have a mind full of nonsense. Just crammed full.

I've always been an information junkie, but embracing simple living has forced me to take a good hard look at this "need to know" business. What do I really need to know? What kinds of information should I let in? Is it my job, as one measly individual, to be informed about every thing of significance in the world? And how could one measly individual possibly contain all of that? In our global society, there's just too much going on. Even the most informed citizen would have to be missing huge chunks of information and would never truly be able to see the big picture. We will always be acting from partial information.

When I accepted the impossibility of being truly well-informed, I changed directions. There are a few things I choose to study, and I prefer to be informed through books and longer treatments of these issues, rather than snippets on the Internet or in news reports. The things I want to know, I want to know as fully as I can. All the rest, I leave to others. I know that the knowledge others have gleaned is out there, should I ever need to tap into it. But I don't need to try to hold it all in my puny little head. What's the point of that anyway? To be able to contribute well to this world, I think we each need to focus on our own small part of it. We need to become experts in our own small patches of earth, not generalists. The wisdom we find in our own patch of earth will have practical applications. All that general knowledge is just wind, hot air.

True knowledge is derived from direct experience. The less we focus on the diffuse knowledge of the Internet and other media, and the more we turn to real knowledge birthed in the matrix of earth and sky around us, the more meaningful our actions will be. Our actions will spring from Truth which waits all around us if only we could be present. Truth waits to be apprehended--to be directly perceived. Can we adequately apprehend Truth from the news snippets we watch on t.v. or read on the Internet? Finding Truth (and the practical knowledge that derives from it), requires presence--to be right here, right now, in this moment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Art of Letting Go

Learning to live simply is learning the art of letting go. There's irony here--to live simply, simply let go--it sounds easy until you try it. You quickly realize it's not such a simple thing at all. Not when our culture is prompting us constantly to accumulate and hoard, to fill our lives with stuff, information, and endless activity. And not when so much of our identities are wrapped up in those external things. Letting go, which should be the simplest of all tasks, can seem unbearably difficult.

What got me started on my journey towards simplicity was the inkling four or five years ago that I needed to give up the newspaper. Until then it had been a daily ritual dating back to my elementary years, and something I had never questioned. It's good to be informed, right? So, that's all there was to it. Good citizens are informed citizens. I'll never be sure why the urge to give it up awakened in me. I was wasting a full hour every morning reading the thing so maybe that's where the first hint of dissatisfaction crept in.

I remember when the urge first appeared, I experienced such a strong feeling of resistance to it. Not just resistance--when I took a good hard look I had to admit it was fear. Fear? How could I fear something so ridiculously inconsequential?

But I did. I feared it so much that I actually didn't cancel the paper, not then anyway. Only later, a year or two down the road, was I was finally ready. It had to incubate that long, the idea. I had to learn how to let go. When I was finally ready, it was absolutely painless but it wouldn't have been if I had forced the issue too soon.

I've found this to be true with everything I've subsequently surrendered. Always the fear and resistance initially, followed by a period of not taking action, just letting the idea incubate, followed finally by a very graceful act of letting go--painlessly.

I think what it boils down to gets back to my post about ego and materialism. These things that I give up aren't me, but I've so identified with them that my egoic self believes they are me. To give up these external things is very threatening to a self that believes they define its very essence. To lose the newspaper wasn't just about losing a thing, it was about losing the "informed citizen" part of my persona. And--ouch--that hurts. Or it did until the idea had gestated long enough for me to understand--informed citizen, no I'm not that.

Embracing simplicity is such a zen thing. Bit by bit you discover--no, I'm not this, no I'm not that. Eventually you let go of all the external things you've identified with and all the labels you've given yourself and guess what?--there you still are. You haven't been diminished. You aren't reduced to nothing. There you are. If anything a fuller embodiment of what it is to be human. Not identified with ego anymore. Swept clean of all that clutter. Like an empty vessel, but filled and overflowing with infinite nonstuff--the very finest stuff of all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Awakening to the Power of Place

My awakening to the power of place has taken many years. When I was a child I was held and formed by the power of my home territory
--the woods and fields, the rolling hills, the creek and the tiny streams that fed into it, the pond, the barns and farmyards. But I wasn't aware of it. Totally immersed in it, I had no perspective. I was the youngest of five kids and the only one to be born after my parents moved to Soap Hollow, so I was fortunate to spend my entire childhood blissfully fused with that particular landscape.

It was only once I left home that I began to get some perspective and realize how profoundly that terrain had influenced me. The first hint came when I would bring boyfriends home from college. They'd complain of this extreme sleepiness--it was almost a stupor they'd fall into. And it clicked that home always made me sleepy too. A hypnotic peaceful sleepiness. At first I tried to rationalize it. In the summers the buzzing drone of cicadas in the tulip tree weaved a hypnotic spell. And for years there was an old mine shaft up the back road on the opposing hill, whose huge fan was always humming in the background. I thought maybe its white noise was the culprit. But eventually the mine shut down and the fan was turned off, yet still the hypnotic energy of our place in the hollow remained.

I began noticing other things too when I went home. Not only sleepiness, but vivid dreams. And if I stayed more than a day or two, I'd fall into this deeply contemplative state. Always armed with a stack of books (some things never change) I'd delve into deep philosophical subjects and fill my journals with profound reflections. I'd take long strolls up the back road, into the woods, to all of my old haunts. I felt monk-ish--very spiritual, deeply contemplative, fused with nature. Intuitive too. And always there was a feeling of timelessness.

All of my life I've had what I tentatively label "past life" memories. I don't ultimately know what they are, and it doesn't really matter. But whenever I went home those memories would drift to the surface, fleetingly, but with much greater frequency than when I was anywhere else. They'd come to me, brief images, like a slide show set just a little too fast. I could just grasp the mood, the feeling sense, more than anything. The whole constellation of a different time, a different place, a different persona. A familiar feeling-sense--familiar yet different. Exactly like memory. And always an aching sadness, the feeling of loss and beauty. Blissful, but it hurt too.

As a child, I was a dreamer--in daylight and in sleeping hours. As a teenager, when I was obsessed with the works of Jung, I kept a dream journal for several years. Some mornings I would wake up recalling as many as seventeen dreams. A frequent dream motif was the black bear. Usually these were very pleasant dreams, but occasionally there was an ounce of healthy fear.

It occurred to me that the black bear is a perfect symbol for the energy of the landscape of my childhood. Sleepy, contemplative, dreamy, fused with the natural world. When I moved to Colorado the black bear dreams stopped, but they've been replaced by occasional mountain lion dreams. I can remember the exact night this change occurred.

It was when I had been living in Colorado for a year. I had just weaned my son and decided to go off into the mountains for my first weekend alone since his birth. The first night I was camping I was brought bolt upright in the tent twice with dreams of incredible realism. In the first dream, a black bear and her cub simply walked through my campsite and moved on. In the second dream, a mountain lion silently padded into camp on magnificent huge paws and flopped down. It seemed like something was trying to get my attention with these dreams--I can't remember another time I was brought bolt upright by a dream, let alone two in one night. I think all the dreams were saying was that the mountain lion somehow reflected my new life in the West, whereas the black bear had represented my life (and the energy of the land) back in Pennsylvania.

Today, though, I'm still a dreamy, contemplative person. Would I be who I am had I grown up immersed in a different sort of energy? I think not. The energy of this new place is certainly shaping me, but that specific terrain in Pennsylvania that held me for my first seventeen-and-a-half years really created me and defined me, and defines me still.