Saturday, December 4, 2010
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
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
Monday, August 30, 2010
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
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
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.
Friday, August 27, 2010
In our earliest days (perhaps even before we could technically be called humans) we were unconscious beings, primally fused with the surrounding environment. There was no sense of self yet, just a fluid merging with all that was. Then as we developed tools and language and began to separate out from the environmental matrix, we began to develop a sense of self, of discreteness. We became conscious. It was a gradual process taking hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of years. Over time the sense of self became more and more defined, more self-reflecting, and more isolated. An internal world developed, something which could symbolically represent what was out there, or even grossly distort it. We began to think we were just these isolated dots of awareness, forgetting our true (huge) Identity. Everything that wasn't the self--this isolated dot--was Other. And we needed to create these false dichotomies in order to become conscious.
If one essay helped shaped my thinking more than any other, it was Jung's "Answer to Job". The gist of the essay was that God needed us in order to become conscious of Himself. When God existed alone he couldn't know Himself, as there were no points of reference. He created a physical universe so there could be Self and Other, so parts of Himself (including us) could look at other parts of Himself and compare and contrast and therefore wake up and become aware. It was a radical new way of thinking for me when I first read it (as a teenager), at a time when I was just starting to break away from traditional Christian thought. It seemed almost sacrilegious to speak of God as needing us. Nowadays couching the creative force or life force in such Christian terms doesn't really speak to me, yet it still helps me to envision the process--the evolution of consciousness. When we were unconscious we were essentially God--we were one with the whole universe, but we just couldn't know it. We lived it--that was all. Then we became conscious and separate--believing God was somewhere else and something Other. One day (hopefully soon) we will consciously fuse back with that fuller identity--becoming God aware of Himself.
The shorthand I like to use for our evolutionary trajectory is: from Unconscious Union to Conscious But Separate to Conscious Union. We can break it down further if we want. For instance, Jean Gebser saw five distinct phases in our evolution: Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, Integral. The first phase, the Archaic, represents what I call our Unconscious Union while the last phase, the Integral, represents the Conscious Union we're evolving towards. The three middle phases represent distinct steps in our Conscious But Separate phase.
In the Magical phase we had only a very rudimentary sense of self. Language was developing, blossoming organically out of our interactions with nature. We had barely started to separate from nature and at this point words were magical and potent. We couldn't know that eventually words would alienate us from nature--at this point words still had the power to fuse us with the natural world. Also in this phase there was no individual ego and no differentiated sense of space or time.
In the Mythical phase we became tool-makers, language became more developed, and we began creating mythologies--stories to explain the natural world which now was something outside of ourselves. As self separated from nature and ego began to crystallize we developed a sense of space. A conception of linear time wouldn't appear until we entered the Mental phase.
In the Mental phase we completed our separation from nature and perfected abstraction. Causality could now exist because of our linear concept of time. The sciences were born and with them the Age of Reason. Ego reached its full development and nature became something entirely Other.
And that is where we now stand, as separate from nature as we possibly could be and facing all the horrible consequences which that entails--but finally, at long last, we are awake. We've achieved full consciousness--and our fullest sense of alienation from the more-than-human world.
And now we stand on the cusp of a new paradigm. What will that look like? How will it feel to be that new human? How will we perceive the world? How will we interact with it? Gebser saw the next phase, the Integral, as one that would include all previous phases but would be non-temporal and non-linear. He believed we were moving towards a global type of awareness that would be relational in nature--more about the connections and relationships between things over time rather than focused on the things themselves. And while the previous three phases have been about trying to create meaning (through magical thinking, religious mythologies, and scientific reason) the next phase won’t involve all of this explaining. Rather it will be about experiencing the living, embodied meaning of things and relationships. As we begin to fuse back with the natural world, there will be less and less need to explain and our lives will become more a form of performance art. Our actions will harmoniously arise as expressions of what wants to manifest—the earth (or the universe or God) expressing itself through us.
All of this becomes difficult to express in words. Words after all are products of our Conscious But Separate phase. They create Subject and Object as tools to help us See. But in the next phase—one of reintegration—they will lose much of their significance. Language will be important, but speech not so much. And it will be the language of being, the language of life as improv.
What I want to do in upcoming posts is try to express how this new paradigm is beginning to birth itself in me—a challenging thing to attempt with words! But I find myself more and more slipping into this new way of seeing and being, and the beauty of it so overwhelms me I feel the need to attempt to share what I’m experiencing. I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I feel like I’m finally getting at what this blog is meant to be about. Who might we become? <--I’m becoming that! Now how do I express it?
Sunday, June 6, 2010
[Warning: Creatures were harmed in the making of this garden.]
I don't like killing things. I don't like it, yet I understand this is the nature of life. It's all about eating or being eaten, killing or being killed. Life springs from death. Death keeps the cycle of life turning. Bodies get cycled through other bodies and we're all continually digesting each other.
I couldn't allow the grubs to live if I wanted to grow food for myself. Lawn grubs act as cutworms on tender new plantings, so getting them out of there was critical if I wanted to meet my own selfish need for food. And besides, I was destroying their habitat so they had little chance of survival anyway.
Last year I dealt with the grubs by gifting them to the red ant colony that lives in the alley next to my garden. My son however pointed out this was a very cruel way for the grubs to die--being bitten by thousands of red ants--and after all, the grubs were just innocent babies. He wasn't against killing the grubs, or giving them to the ants. He just thought it should be done more humanely. So his solution was to first behead the grubs with a shovel before giving them to the ants.
It was definitely more humane than my solution, but yesterday Collin was at his dad's house and I am no cutter-offer-of-heads--so what was I to do? If I just left the grubs exposed on the surface of the soil where they fell, they would slowly dehydrate and fry in the hot sun. Would that be any better than being bitten by a thousand red ants? I hardly think so. So my cowardly solution was to cover them with a thin layer of dirt. Just enough so I couldn't see them suffering. Not enough to save them from the sun. See, I have no problem being an accomplice in death. I'm just too cowardly to do the deed myself--so the end result is that I leave grubs to suffer needlessly.
All of this was adding an element of stress to what should have been a very enjoyable day in the garden.
Then something amazing happened.
A robin showed up. He was hopping around on the ground about ten feet away from me and seemed to be saying, Hey, I see you have a little problem here--I can help you with that! Thus began an afternoon of fun and games.
I started tossing grubs at him. I couldn't keep up. He would scoop up a grub, fly away to feed it to his kids, and be back for more before I could find the next one. Then he'd wait patiently on a branch or the back corner of my house until I found a new one, and the game would start all over again. He told his wife about me and she showed up--a far more reserved creature than he was. She'd sit on the fence and watch me, then flit away when I made a sudden move. By the end of the day however, she got over her fear enough to retrieve a grub I tossed to her. I watched her fly off to a tree in the opposite direction from the tree where her nestlings were tucked away. Then she waited half a minute or so before flying home, taking a path which looped far out beyond my yard.
I got so engrossed with feeding the robins I wasn't focused on getting my own work done. In fact, I think I've created more work for myself. I was randomly digging holes looking for grubs, but I'll still need to go back over it all to double-dig it. I didn't care. It was fun. I was engrossed in the neat new relationship I was building. I even gave the male robin two of my earthworms (which I'd really rather keep) in an effort to show my friendship and to further build trust.
So now I'm thinking about this--this amazing thing that happened in my yard yesterday. This connection which we forged between species. Can we say that I began taming the robins? Are they becoming domesticated?
Or are the robins taming me?
What is this thing that's happening between us?
I think "domestication" may be the wrong way to frame this. If there's one thing I've been learning about lately it's how we need to become participants again in our own ecosystems. When we participate and claim a niche, it's inevitable that we will form relationships with the other members of the ecosystem. We don't exist in isolation from other species. Our niches rub up against each other and we meet and we negotiate relationships. Each ecosystem evolves from countless negotiated relationships. We don't tame or domesticate each other but rather we relate and cooperate. We find what works between us. If there's an opportunity to forge a symbiotic relationship between species, you can bet that we'll do it. It just makes sense.
I love the Gaia hypothesis because it helps me see my local ecosystem as its own sort of organism. Together we members of this ecosystem create a functioning whole--we're like different organs of one body, dependent on one another's services to keep the whole body healthy.
When robins and humans cooperate we get healthier gardens and healthier birds. Both of our species benefit (the grubs...not so much). I'm sure the grubs have entered into symbiotic relationships of their own. We're all working together in one way or another.
A question I have is: when we enter into a relationship with another (be it another human or a member of some other species) do we automatically give up something of our own wildness? When we get tied down into relationships, however beneficial, aren't we giving up something of our own autonomy? Is all relationship a form of domestication? If so, I guess that's not a bad thing, is it? "Domestication" seems like such an evil word, but perhaps all species need a degree of domestication. Through domestication the individual self is subsumed by this larger entity which gets created through cooperation. What do you think? I'm still waffling back and forth on this. Would you call what's happening between me and the birds a form of domestication or would you call it something else?
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Tools of course are important, and when we're first adopting a simpler and more resilient lifestyle it might become very obvious, very quickly that all the tools and gadgets and gizmos we've acquired over the years are precisely all the wrong tools and gadgets and gizmos needed for self-reliance. Riding lawn mowers, microwave ovens, GPS navigation, bread machines, rototillers, dishwashers...not so important. Root cellars, chicken coops, grain mills, spades, shovels, buckets, jars...very important tools.
Part of the reason the article really stuck with me is that I've been guilty of this very thing (yeah, I know, I laughed but the joke was on me). All along I've maintained a long list of things I need to acquire in order to increase my self-reliance. Here's just the top part of my list: more canning jars and lids, grain mill, grain roller, auger juicer, meat grinder, pressure canner, carboys, herbal still, bottles, capper, bushel and peck baskets, sauerkraut and pickle crocks, jugs and gallon jars, food storage buckets, attachments for the food strainer (berry, salsa, pumpkin, and grape screens), more soaker hoses, camping stove and fuel, food dehydrator, yogurt maker, pasta roller...and the list goes on (and on). You may look at the list and think those are pretty reasonable needs. Few of us are interested in going back to a cave man existence and you have to admit many of the tools we've created over the ensuing millenia are legitimately very helpful. So what's the problem with me going out and getting all of this stuff in order to be more self-reliant?
It's not a problem as long as I don't just mindlessly run out and buy it all. Making the list and thinking about what I legitimately need is a great first step. But the next step isn't running out to the store or placing a huge online order. The next step is sitting with that list as I continue to learn and as I continue to evolve out of the consumer paradigm and into this more self-reliant paradigm. Shifting from one paradigm to another is a huge process. Until you really delve into the process you don't realize how absolutely insidious the consumer culture is or how it has subconsciously affected your thoughts and beliefs and perceived "needs". It takes quite a while to be able to one-by-one recognize the ways you've been indoctrinated into that culture and to slowly shed those erroneous beliefs.
I've been serious about this for five years now and it's still catching me by surprise when I realize--oh, I don't need this after all--about one thing or another. My real needs keep dwindling, and my real self-reliance keeps growing.
My self-reliance is growing not because I made a list and bought a bunch of tools. My self-reliance is growing because I've gotten out there and started doing the work. I've started acquiring the skills. It's one thing initially to think about what you might need in order to be self-reliant, but it's another thing entirely to learn-through-doing what you really need. By getting out there and doing all I can, I see what works and what doesn't and I see what tools would be legitimately useful.
For the longest time I've wanted a pressure canner, but now I've struck that off the list. Not necessary. How did I come to that realization? By growing a garden, by learning everything I could about food storage, by trying out different methods, and by figuring out that pressure canning is the most fuel-intensive, nutrient-destructive method of food preservation there is. It should be a technique of last resort, if even used at all. What can I do instead? Use the root cellar and in-ground storage for certain crops; extend the season in the garden using coldframes, hot beds, and rowcovers, so I can have fresh vegetables as long as possible each year; store dry beans and grains and only cook them as needed; use old-world techniques such as preserving with sugar, brines, alcohol, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating, etc. As a last resort I use my waterbath canner. It uses a lot of fuel and destroys nutrients but not to the extent that a pressure canner does. I find it indispensable for preserving the tomato harvest (although I do sun-dry some tomatoes as well).
Another silly idea of mine was a pasta roller. I thought it was a reasonable desire, especially since I didn't want one of those fancy electric gizmos, just a lowly hand-cranked one--and my son loves pasta--so why not? Why not? Because there's an even more elegant solution. It's called a rolling pin, and it works beautifully. The rolling pin is also a wonderful device for making flour and corn tortillas so I don't need one of those tortilla presses either (that made it onto my list at one point too).
And yogurt maker...what a ridiculous idea. Just pop it in a warm place...a preheated oven, a haybox, an insulated cooler. Why complicate life with all of these unnecessary gadgets? A camping stove? I wanted that in case the power goes out. But how about I build a rocket stove and a solar cooker instead? Then I won't be dependent on buying fuel canisters, but instead can rely on twigs and the sun, both of which are locally abundant. In my last post I mentioned that something as seemingly critical as a drilled well isn't even necessary--just catch and store rainwater.
So bit by bit my list is dwindling. It's to the point now where the only electrically-operated wishes on the wish list are tools I would need to eventually build my cabin (plugged into a gas-powered generator--another item on the list). Well, there is the small matter of the heat mat for starting my pepper seedlings--that's electric too. But if I hold off on that until I move to the desert it won't even be necessary.
I love this process. It's gratifying to find myself becoming increasingly skillful and at the same time less dependent on the system to provide for me. The gadgets I need from the system now are elegantly simple ones--a rolling pin, a shovel, a dutch oven, a jar, an ax. I love it.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
What do I mean by extreme? I mean not drilling wells. I mean surviving on rainfall--yes, in the desert, I know! All my calculations tell me this is actually quite reasonable as long as you build adequate water catchment systems. A 3000 square foot metal roof can capture almost 18,000 gallons of rain per year in a place where there's only 10 inches of annual precipitation. Okay, 18,000 gallons is nothing if you're living the standard resource-guzzling lifestyle. I'm sure there are families out there consuming 18,000 gallons of water a month, particularly if they have large lawns that are dependent on irrigation. But 18,000 gallons is a lot of water if you live simply. If you have a sawdust toilet. If you soap up before you turn on the water and (gasp!) if you don't necessarily shower everyday. If you drip irrigate and/or use dryland techniques on your gardens. If you only wash clothes when they're dirty. If you don't have a lawn. If you don't wash your car. If you filter your graywater to reuse on your orchard.
I really like the idea of being so dependent on Mother Nature. Sure, it's incredibly risky. What if you get two or three years of no rainfall whatsoever? Desert precipitation is notoriously unpredictable. My current home is in what's considered high desert. Our region averages about 12 inches of precipitation per year. Yet that's not a consistent 12 inches. Last year we had 17.42 inches of rain. In '02 we had 3.74 inches. In '97 we had 18.18 inches. In '06 we had 6.32 inches. Fortunately here the bad years have tended to be surrounded on both ends by good years, but that won't be the case everywhere or always. To successfully live in the desert you need to be able to store several years' worth of water and still be prepared to move on if the rains never come. I like that! Something about that extreme dependency on nature thrills me. How much respect and reverence we would have for the natural world if we lived so dependently. And the truth is, we are dependent anyway, even those of us totally immersed in resource-guzzling lifestyles. We just cling to our various life-support systems and never acknowledge that the natural world even exists--so we certainly don't acknowledge our dependence on it. To allow ourselves to be utterly dependent on nature to provide our water--think how attuned we would become to the natural world. We would learn to pay attention--to the shifting clouds and winds, to the building thunderheads, to the peculiar smell of water. We would regain a sense of reverence and respect for nature and understand our puny place in the scheme of life. There would be no more hubris, but humility and awe instead. That kind of visceral existence is what I desperately crave.
I'm not sure why I'm feeling so pulled to the desert lately (and by desert I mean true desert--like the Sonoran or Chihuahuan desert). I guess I'm sensing the desert would have a lot to teach me. It would keep me on my toes. But another realization I've had in exploring this is just how much more sustainably we could be living anywhere. Shouldn't we all be harvesting rainwater wherever we are--even where precipitation is abundant--instead of drawing down the aquifers? Shouldn't we all be treating water with reverence? One-third of the land mass worldwide is desert and it continues to spread. Water is increasingly a major concern worldwide, yet we continue to use water extravagantly and wastefully. There aren't many of us who couldn't dramatically reduce our water usage even without adopting the primitive lifestyle I'm envisioning.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
I think we need to take a few steps back. We need to recognize that as a species we're a bunch of out-of-control adolescents. Adolescents love to challenge limits and that's exactly what we've been doing, whole-hilt. We fail to understand that limits represent a form of guidance. They constrain behavior, but constrain it in a constructive way. There is always wisdom and information encoded in the limits our environment presents to us, but as unruly children we love to pretend those limits don't even exist.
The re-localization movement is on the right track. The problem with globalization is that all natural boundaries that should be constraining human affairs have been erased. We evolved in small tribes, in our own distinct ecological niches. We didn't evolve to conduct our affairs on a global scale. In our small niches we acted, and saw the results of our actions. If we over-hunted our favorite game, we had to live with the consequences--either by going hungry or having to move our community. If we located the village latrines above our drinking water, we experienced the dire consequences of disease. If we didn't live peacefully with our tribe members and were forced to leave, we learned a lesson about safety in numbers and the survival advantage that strong community bonds bestow. Our actions had tangible consequences. They gave immediate feedback, so we were able to learn from our mistakes and adjust our course of action.
Living globally we don't see the results of our actions. And because our society is so over-sized and out-of-control we take lots and lots of actions each day, feeling absolutely none of the consequences of any of them.
You're in a rush and stop at the closest grocery store, a Super Walmart, for milk. You don't have time to drive out to a dairy that will sell you raw milk. So you buy antibiotic-laced, pus-filled, dead milk from genetically weakened cows. All you see is a way to quench the thirst of your little ones and something to float your cereal in. You don't see the horrific conditions of the cows, you don't see what happens to their calves, you don't see what happens to the land and the water table.
You check on how your mutual funds are doing, thinking only about the happy retirement you hope to enjoy one day. But you don't see that your investment profits are being formed out of the blood, sweat, and tears of men, women, and children who have hopes and dreams just like you do. You don't see the mountains of earth being ripped apart to create the products that will create the profits that fund your retirement.
You leave your porch light on every night to discourage burglars and present a welcoming face to your community. You don't see the piles of coal, the oil, the refineries, the pollution, which fossil fuel-based energy production requires.
Re-localization is necessary so we can begin to see the results of our actions again. We desperately need that kind of feedback. We need to live at a human-scale again. That means inhabiting a small patch of earth, forming tight communities able to meet the majority of their own needs, and never growing beyond what the land can sustain. It means not forming communities in places inhospitable to human affairs--where it's too hot, too cold, too drought-ridden. If you're dependent on air-conditioning or on water piped in from hundreds of miles away, you're not honoring the limits of the land. The land is saying, This is not a place for human settlement, you don't belong here.
The land provides much guidance if we would only learn to listen again. A poisoned land creates fertility problems for the creatures living there. The message: This is no place for life. But what do we humans do? We stay there and have fertility treatments!
We need to get back into our niches. This will only be possible if our population is drastically reduced. We've already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. We've infringed on the niches of too many Others. In a world so out of balance, I think the inevitable correction is coming. Whoever remains will hopefully be able to comprehend the implications of that huge correction: stay small, stay local, honor the guidance held here in the land.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
A tourist from America paid a visit to a renowned Polish rabbi, Hafetz Chaim. He was astonished to see the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and bench.
"Rabbi," asked the tourist, "Where is your furniture?"
"Where is yours?" replied Hafetz Chaim.
"Mine?" asked the puzzled American. "But I'm only passing through."
"So am I," said the rabbi.
There's not much that we really need when it comes to belongings. We can live perfectly rich and satisfying lives with remarkably few material possessions. I know this because more and more I live it. For the past five years I've been in the process of paring my life down to essentials. I'm still working at it, but one thing is clear to me--the less cluttered my life becomes materially, the richer it becomes in other ways.
On the other hand, the more cluttered it becomes, the more unsettled and unfocused I become. This became painfully obvious to me in recent weeks when a problem with my water heater in the storm cellar beneath the house forced me to move all the contents of the cellar upstairs. The storm cellar is narrow, about three feet wide, and over time I had filled the space with boxes and bins of my belongings, stacked many high. There was nowhere else to put everything but up in the house while the water heater was being repaired.
Now the house itself is very tiny, about 485 square feet, so there was not much space to absorb such a huge influx of stuff. It took over the living room. There was only a path from the front door leading into the other rooms. The sofa and chairs were completely covered--there was nowhere to sit. Every time you had to pass through the room it took effort to navigate the pathways without crashing into things. It's the sort of environment that makes me more than a little crazy. I could feel my nerves jangling and my ability to concentrate and focus seemed to evaporate into thin air.
It was good however because I've been meaning to clean out the storm cellar. I had envisioned doing so on a bright sunny warm spring day, not tackling it in the snowy gloomy damp cold--but oh well. I've worked over the past five years to streamline my living space but this stuff stashed beneath the house was like a skeleton in my closet and the remnants of a former way of life. Laying it all out in the light of day was startling. Still so much work to do, obviously. More letting go. Will this process never end?
Confronting all of this stuff I find find there are still things I'm not quite willing to surrender yet. I've let go of so much already, physically and emotionally...and yet I still cling to things. Why is that? Some of these things are sentimental--like old letters and mementos. Some seem like they could be useful some way, some how if only I could figure that out. None of these things would actually be missed if I lost them in a sudden way, like in a fire or a tornado. So why do I still hold onto them?
My goal is to be completely done with this process by the time my son leaves home in little over four years--when my nest is empty and I prepare to embark on a new adventure. I want to leave here cleanly, streamlined, with next to nothing to carry. I know I have to be patient with myself. It takes time to let go. Things aren't just things after all, they represent aspects of ourselves--who we are or were or would like to have been. They hold memories and hopes. Letting go of stuff is quite a process. I would love to come out of this process knowing how to carry my identity, memories, hopes, etc fully inside of myself, not projected "out there" onto a bunch of lifeless things. Without so much clutter I would be freer, lighter, more fluid. What kind of life could I craft for myself, living so lightly? That's what I want to discover.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
So little is understood about the nature of consciousness. Out of this improbable assortment of cells and genetic information arises thought and awareness...how? What I find tantalizing are various studies indicating that certain microbes inside of us can affect our moods, our health, whether we develop obesity or diabetes, etc. If microbes are so influential, couldn't it be possible that they might collectively be giving rise to this thing we call Mind, or consciousness?
Last month I had a bout of food poisoning after eating some bad sushi. The first night, along with the usual misery, I had a really good fever going (I was not too happy to learn that fevers don't usually accompany food poisoning unless it's an issue of fecal contamination, but let's not dwell on that...). I poured buckets of sweat and had weird dreams all night long--dreams of places and events in my early childhood that I had forgotten, dreams containing bits of insight and advice, and many more that I couldn't remember but that left me feeling very positive and upbeat. For the next two nights, even though the fever had broken, I continued to have night sweats and vivid and very positive dreams. During the days I felt wonderfully renewed, like the world was brand new and anything was possible.
Lynn Margulis, in her book Symbiotic Planet, mentioned that once foreign microbes are incorporated into cells or bodies they behave symbiotically, but initially it's a brutal war for survival and domination. The food poisoning virus or bacteria that I tussled with wasn't entering into a symbiotic relationship with me--it sought to use me to reproduce itself and then move on. If it had become lodged in my body like the microbes I permanently host, it would have traded its mobility for a guarantee of continued existence within me. While it was with me though it seemed to be sharing it's unique personality. I got the distinct feeling that my unusual state of consciousness was not merely the fever talking, but actually the microbe talking. Whatever it was doing chemically inside of me was affecting my consciousness. And the weirdest thing of all was that it seemed to be a good microbe--it was contributing in a positive way to my state of mind. Of course it was also making me very sick, but that was only because our two species hadn't evolved a way to exist symbiotically. My body rejected it. All of the nasty symptoms were ways in which my body was trying to expel it. But that odd subtle shift in my consciousness, the upbeat mood, the access to long forgotten memories--I just have a feeling that was the microbe's contribution. If the human body ever enters into a symbiotic relationship with that particular microbe I bet it would result in an enhancement of human consciousness (regardless of its lowly, possibly fecal, origins).
We have all of these different species of microbes comprising us, each one subtly shifting our body's chemistry. Could the sum total of all of that chemistry be Mind? But of course it's not only microbes that shift chemistry--it's what we eat, what we inhale, what our senses draw in. Ultimately we are our environment.
I've noticed as I've gotten more serious about growing things that each plant has its own unique energy. Herbs seem to have the most pronounced "personalities", but I even had an interesting experience with tomatoes.
Last fall I grew 241 pounds of tomatoes. I had been busy for weeks canning tomato sauces, tomato pastes, tomato juices, etc., but hadn't eaten an exorbitant amount of them raw yet. Then one day, when they were really piling up on the counters and threatening to spoil, I ate like three or four gigantic tomatoes in one evening. That night, for the first 2/3 of the night, literally all I dreamed about were tomatoes. Tomatoes were behind my eyelids. Streams of red-gold tomatoey light were flowing through my veins, like rivers of sunlight. Tomatoes were the only reality. What I find interesting is I had been dealing with tomatoes for weeks, but it wasn't their overwhelming presence in my life "out there" that impacted my consciousness. I had to literally incorporate them into me first, as food. Then they spoke loud and clear.
I'm beginning to believe everything we take into us shapes our consciousness. If true, then it becomes essential that we are mindful of what we allow in, especially if we care at all about our human potential. Having healthy microbes might be critical, so we should avoid all of the antimicrobial products now available. Herbs might have important things to contribute to consciousness, so we should incorporate them into our diets. Chemicals and preservatives might kill and distort microbes and beneficial enzymes, so we should seek only organic foods. And what about animals raised in horrific conditions, never able to reach their full genetic potentials? How might that kind of chemistry affect human consciousness if we ingest it? This is such an interesting line of inquiry. This year I'll be growing over fifty types of fruits, veggies, herbs, and grains, so I'm going to do some experiments. I particularly want to get acquainted with the properties and personalities of the herbs that I'll be growing since, as I've noticed, they seem to speak the loudest.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I think we all tend to believe, automatically, that catastrophe will only strike someone else. We're so geared for survival we think we're invincible, so while we may accept there will be a massive die-off, we just assume we won't be among the dead. That's awfully presumptuous of us, isn't it?
I decided a long time ago, when I first looked at this issue, that my survival just doesn't even matter. I guess I've always been able to see the bigger picture--that we're all part of a process of creation and unfolding, that consciousness is a collective phenomenon. My individual life doesn't matter except for the fact that it's part of an unfolding, evolving pattern. I participate in that process while I'm here in this particular form and then I surrender gracefully. When my life ends the process of creation continues. All of the elements of my body get returned to the larger community and continue to participate in the process of unfolding. Beyond the physical aspects of it, I believe that energetically I go on as well. Not me in this persona, but me nonetheless. Does it matter how long I wear this particular persona, this cloak that is and isn't me? Why is 78 years preferable to 40 years if I'm indestructible anyway? Why cling to this form so desperately when I know it's ephemeral--a blossoming forth from the greater matrix which is here today and gone tomorrow? The question is really, how do we live knowing that we'll die?
This past week I've had to come face to face with the issue of my own mortality. Fourteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with a congenital defect of the aortic valve, what's called a bicuspid valve. A normal aorta has a three-leafed or tricuspid valve and those flaps open and close to let the blood through. A bicuspid valve has only two flaps, creating more of a slit instead. I was told at the time that this wouldn't become an issue until old age, when in all likelihood I'd have to have the valve replaced because of a greater chance of calcification. But lately I've had more and more serious heart-related symptoms, so I figured it was time to do some research. Apparently, since '96 they've learned a lot more about this. It's not just a defect of the aortic valve, but a whole connective tissue disorder that affects many parts of the body. People with the disorder typically have hyper-flexible joints, flat feet, scoliosis, issues with the spinal discs, an increased risk of hernias and a host of other problems. The most serious issue is a weakness of the aorta and the arteries of the head (they form from the same tissue) leading to a high risk of aneurysms and dissections. If you remember a few years back, this is what caused the death of actor John Ritter. And then also, there's an increased likelihood of damage to the heart itself.
I had decided years ago that I would forgo the valve surgery, for a host of reasons. For one I just despise hospitals. I would rather live fully out here and drop dead then spend any amount of time in there. Another thing is that I have no desire to be dependent on medications for the rest of my life. But beyond those reasons, I just frankly don't believe we should be going to crazy measures to extend human life. This isn't a belief I would ever impose on anyone else, but it's something I hold to sincerely. We've gone about eradicating all the ways that Mother Nature can control population growth. I was born with a genetic defect--how more clearly could Mother Nature speak? She was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce, but now she's saying, clear out. I designed your body to wear out early, now move along, transform into something else. And I accept that totally.
Knowing that you will die--and I mean knowing it--is an enormous gift. If you know you will die then you can really live. You've got absolutely nothing to lose, so anything becomes possible. There's nothing to fear and nothing to lose, so you can live radically. Shouldn't we all be living that way? Shouldn't we all step out of our little personae and live largely? When you accept your own mortality, then you open up a world of possibilities for how to live. In these times, if more and more of us could get to that point of acceptance, I think we could transform the world. We'd be setting our egos and personae aside and acting from a higher place. We could reshape human culture and help to return the earth to balance.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
This past week I read Jensen's book, What We Leave Behind (co-authored with Aric McBay). The main premise running through the book is the same as the one in the essay "Forget Shorter Showers"--that our personal actions are inconsequential. We can take shorter showers and switch to compact fluorescent bulbs but we shouldn't deceive ourselves into thinking we've done anything of consequence for the planet. I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe our personal actions represent the single most effective means we have available for bringing about societal change.
In What We Leave Behind, Jensen points out that even if we (in the US) were to reduce our personal waste to zero, we would each only be eliminating 1660 pounds per year. And meanwhile, our per capita share of industrial waste, nearly 26 tons, would be unchanged. So what would our personal actions have accomplished? Virtually nothing. The system would still be churning out literally tons upon tons of waste.
However, there seems to be a naivete on Jensen's part in believing that the individual is not connected to the industrial system that churns out these monumental piles of waste. It's as if for Jensen, the personal is the personal and the industrial is the industrial and never the twain shall meet. But as I've pointed out previously, we are the Machine. There's no separation between us and the Machine.
If Company A manufactures a part for Company B, and Company B uses that part in a machine that it sells to Company C, and Company C uses that machine to make a product that it sells to us "consumers", then what happens when we stop buying that product? There's no demand for the product, therefore no demand for the machine, therefore no need for the parts. The industrial waste generated from that whole stream of manufacturing is eliminated because of the actions of the "consumers".
Now, instead of talking about this in terms of waste, let's talk about it in terms of money. Why does industry exist in the first place? The fundamental reason is obviously the profit motive. Industry exists in order to profit.
How best can we influence the actions of industry? Yes, we can stage protests and sit-ins and chain ourselves to trees, but wouldn't the more logical approach be attacking the very lifeblood of the industry--its profits? If it can't profit from what it does then it can't exist (I'm consciously choosing to ignore, for this post, the whole war machine as well as the current strategy of our government and the Fed to create money out of thin air). If we as "consumers" change our behaviors and stop consuming we destroy profits and an industry's viability. It filters all the way up.
Now maybe shorter showers and compact fluorescents don't represent the best examples of this. How about we take some of the things from my list "Personal Ways to Disengage from the System": sell your car, don't buy processed foods, build passive solar homes, give up gadgets, use a clothesline, don't use airplanes, stay where you are. If you do any of those things you affect a whole stream of manufacturing practices. Granted, "you" the mere individual aren't going to make much of an impact, but collectively we can have an enormous impact.
I find it so ironic that Jensen believes his fight for the neighborhood patch of rainforest is more significant that the "shorter showers" approach, when he makes it very clear that so far their fight has been in vain. The only thing that has stopped the developer is, you guessed it, the economy. Nothing they have done (he and his neighbors) has stopped the guy. The only thing that has stopped him is that the venture has suddenly turned unprofitable. I'm not implying that activism is pointless--of course we have to stand up to these people. We have to try everything in our power to stop them. But perhaps the shorter showers approach is actually the more effective one. The developer stopped because consumers weren't buying.
Maybe even two or three years ago the shorter showers approach didn't seem like a particularly viable one. But now, with the economy teetering on the brink, it should become apparent just how much power we "consumers" have. The power not to buy. The power not to consume. It doesn't sound like much at first blush, but seriously look around at what's happening as the economy continues down this slippery slope. "Not buying" is starting to reshape the world.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Chai involves peeling and chopping some ginger and dumping it in a pot of simmering water along with whole cloves, cardamom seeds, and crushed cinnamon bark. You walk away for 15 minutes, come back and take it off the heat, add the tea, let it steep for five minutes. Add milk, add sugar, gently heat. That's it.
Laundry detergent involves melting a bar of laundry soap in water on the stove, adding it to a five-gallon bucket, adding borax, washing soda, and water and stirring. That's it.
For these people, apparently, it's far less "work" to hop in their cars, drive themselves to a coffee shop, find a spot, go in, stand in line and order their drink, forking over their four dollars in the process. Or to get in their car, drive to the store, find a spot, go in, grab a jug of detergent, pay, leave and drive back home. I don't get it.
So I've been thinking about this. When people say "That sounds like so much work" what's really going on? What's really meant by that? Are people so averse to work that even the tiniest effort is seen as "too much"? Have people just become lazy? Or is something else going on?
I suspect it's less about effort and laziness than it is about perceived time pressures and the fact that for most people for most of each day they don't actually own their own time. They spend their days working for "The Man" and only have a few hours left at the end of the day that they can call their own. Who would want to spend that precious time working to make a pot of tea? Why not just hit the drive-through so you can flop on the couch and enjoy your own time?
When you don't work for "The Man" and you take responsibility for your own time then work becomes not work, but living. None of the things I do to be self-reliant ever feels like work to me. Yet all of the things I do for myself have economic value. They save me money that I don't need to go out and earn in the larger economy. The services I provide for myself represent thousands of hours per year that I don't need to spend working for someone else. And when I do those things for myself they just don't feel like work at all.
It's the "chop wood, carry water" thing. When I do the work myself I am present and involved, actively and reciprocally engaged. That's called "living". When I leave it to someone else (or to a machine) the thing, whatever it is, becomes just a commodity and I not only fail to appreciate it but I become diminished as well. Growing my own food or brewing tea involves me in the material world. I get such pleasure when I make chai, combining roots, seeds, buds, bark, leaves and sometimes twigs to make a delicious drink. I appreciate the amazing gifts of nature and the synergy that results from this particular combination of plants and plant parts. I even get emotional sometimes when I'm making chai. Would that ever happen in the Starbucks drive-through? I don't think so.
When people think that the simple life would be too much work, they're thinking from within a dysfunctional paradigm. I doubt that for much of our long history we even had a concept of "work". We simply lived. It's only in our recent history, once we created these things called "jobs", that life became oddly compartmentalized and we created the idea of "work". Work separated from the rest of life. How messed up is that?
If people were relieved of their time pressures and owned their own time again I don't think I'd be hearing "That's too much work" anymore. And if people quit working and began living again, I have a feeling there would actually be far more innovation, inspiration, and creativity being expressed. So much of our human potential seems to get wasted these days, but I believe human culture can flourish again if we can just, once and for all, break out of this mad consumer paradigm.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I believe our personal actions matter more now than at any other point in history. I've become disillusioned with activism that aims a direct assault on the system. Rather I think it's the million and one little things we each can do that will play a significant role in toppling the system.
I sat down and brainstormed a list of little things we could each do. This was a quick exercise and one that stems from my own limited vantage point. I'd love to see what others would add to the list.
Grow your own fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Grow herbs for medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic purposes.
Raise chickens, rabbits, bees, goats, sheep, etc. for fur, fiber, meat, eggs, dairy and honey.
Cook from scratch.
Don't buy processed foods.
Eat at home.
Buy from local growers what you can't grow yourself.
Join an organic CSA.
Buy grass-fed meats.
Reduce meat consumption.
Shop second-hand stores, flea markets, etc.
Barter, use free-cycle.
Don't invest in the market.
Loan within your community to support positive enterprises.
Don't charge interest except to cover inflation, if any.
Build passive-solar homes.
Heat with locally available fuels.
Swap seeds with neighbors, friends, family.
Use graywater systems.
Collect rainwater. (Illegal where I live!)
Own your own water.
Sell your car.
Build with locally available materials (adobe, strawbales, stone, logs, etc.)
Give up gadgets (tv's, microwave ovens, dishwashers, cellphones, etc.)
Do it by hand (garden, kitchen, house, etc.).
Build a root cellar.
Learn to preserve foods.
Share excess produce.
Learn to build, repair and tinker.
Insist on home funerals and burials where legal.
Exercise and eat right.
Learn how to safely store drinking water.
Learn how to find water.
Go off grid.
Use permaculture principles, esp. create no waste.
Live in the smallest shelter that's practical.
Buy bulk grains, beans, spices, salt, etc. if they can't be grown or found locally.
Figure out what you can do without.
Learn how to make cheese, yogurt, soap, wine, herbal distillations, etc.
Raise your own sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, sorghum).
Plant for genetic diversity.
Learn how to build and maintain healthy soils.
Use a clothesline.
Learn how to identify wild edibles and incorporate into your diet, sustainably.
Forgo air conditioning.
Choose a climate suitable for human endeavors, one that doesn't require much artificial heating or cooling.
Learn to hunt, track, trap, and fish.
Learn to co-exist with the local critters (including the human ones).
Don't use airplanes.
Stay where you are.
Build strong communities.
Re-invent community canning kitchens, community grain mills, etc.
Finance nothing--no mortgages, no car loans, no lines of credit.
Don't use banks.
Help your neighbors.
The list could go on and on. Anything you do to take back responsibility for your own well-being and the well-being of your community is a step in the right direction. Small steps such as these may seem insignificant, but if you poke around the internet a bit, you'll see just how many people are waking up to the importance of these sorts of changes. Soon enough all of these little changes are going to add up and have an enormous impact. Just watch.
Friday, January 1, 2010
In the real world however, there is no clean dividing line between good and evil. There isn't an Us vs. the Machine. We are the Machine. The myth of the hero's quest doesn't apply to us any more. How can we go up against the Machine and seek to destroy it when we are totally enmeshed with it? To destroy it is to destroy ourselves. That's why I think so much of the activism of today has been futile. Real activism, in the form of the hero's quest, would lead to destruction of ourselves along with destruction of the Machine.
The Machine was cleverly built out of our own bodies and souls. Pick a part of the Machine you don't like and try to bring it down. What are the consequences? Suffering for you and me and all of our neighbors and friends and family members. That's because we are totally enmeshed in the Machine. Not happy with Wall Street? Bring down Wall Street and you may not have a job, or food may not be on the shelves at the store, or your dollars may be worthless to buy anything. Don't like oil and our dependence on carbon? Cut off our supplies of carbon fuels and transportation grinds to a halt, farming stops, people start chopping down every tree in sight to heat their homes, trade ceases and we all suffer. How about bringing down the pharmaceutical companies and the health care industry? Don't you know that sickness is big business? It's a truly sad state of affairs when the business of sickness is one of the healthiest parts of the economy. Knock out big pharma and all the companies that profit from sickness and the whole economy gets thrown off kilter, perhaps catastrophically. A hero's quest to bring down the Machine brings it down on our heads. It's not a myth that applies to us anymore. It can't be employed successfully.
But is there a new myth to replace it? The sad truth is we've been without a defining myth for quite some time. There is no deeper layer guiding our actions anymore. We have become automatons, mere cogs in the machine. We are deceived by the illusion of individual autonomy, thinking the million little decisions we make each day make us free. Those decisions are almost all in service to the Machine. We are decision-making cogs, decision-making consumers. But we're not free, and most decidedly not separate from the Machine.
A new myth would require true freedom. We have to become human again, thinking and acting with autonomy. A new myth would also bring back true connection. We've lost our ability to connect with anything beyond our immediate concerns. We need to connect with nature, with the larger rhythms of time, with the cycles of creation, with the cosmos, with other living beings.
A first step in evolving a new mythology has to be disengaging from the Machine. We can't bring it down. We can't toss it into Mount Doom. But we can begin to free ourselves. If we detach from the machine we can reclaim our autonomy, bit by bit. And eventually we won't be muddle-headed robots any more, but deeply aware free beings, full of dreams and visions, inspiration, artistry, love, creativity, hope, sincerity. As authentic beings we will be able to evolve a new myth. We can't do that enslaved as we are.