The World We Need Is Just Becoming

The mythology we need is likewise growing with us.

Gaia showed me a plastic cat today. S/he was cute and cuddly, shallow in that candy apple kind of way, a plush toy of an animal.

As a Pagan, I didn’t expect to have Plastic show up in my meditation. Aren’t we supposed to encounter Great Trees thousands of years old, or have deep and meaningful conversations with wise old ancestral beings? Naah. I’m a city kid. A fake fur generic stuffed cat named Plastic makes perfect sense. After all, I have a pretty intimate relationship with it. As a city kid, I encounter it all the time. In addition, I work on a beach in a big-city park. Plastic is washed up on it, thrown on it, blown on it. Thinking on how each bit got there isn’t something you can do all the time, but there have been very interesting stories that came in on garbage.

Garbage? What is garbage? Something we don’t want, right? Something we want to have go away. This was not really a problem in the past so we don’t yet have much experience with it. With most things, we were more concerned with making them last than their eventual demise. Food came packaged in things that rotted, or could be reused. There were fewer humans, and less to dispose of.

Plastic makes life so easy. Everything in our world is fresh and clean, individually separated and made to whatever size we wish. Cheap to manufacture, light and almost unbreakable, we throw a broken possession away and buy another without a care in the world. While we weren’t looking, we filled our world with it and only now that we are completely dependent on it are we beginning to realize we have a problem.

Plastic changed everything. Plastic is revolution on an elemental level, equal to the moment plants learned to create lignins. Both moments changed the world. At first, nothing could eat lignins. Plants grew, fell over–and lay there. They ushered in the Carboniferous Age. Now we humans have found those buried trees in the form of coal, and other fossil fuel sources as well. We make plastic from oil. Inert, strong, dense, it is a one-dimensional portrait of the qualities of the element Earth. It bears about as much resemblance to a living part of this planet as a carousel horse does to a real one. It does not fit anywhere, and we have spread it everywhere.

It’s still the Earth. Gaia so changed that she doesn’t recognize herself. The substance doesn’t fit into the web of life that is her body, it is an energy that she is not able to integrate into her body–or is it? Is it lifeless, or do we not yet recognize the life that’s in it? Earth does not concern itself with that. It is here, no more.  Where does it fit? Gaia picks up the puzzle piece and looks at it, turning it over in her hands as it is buried and turns with the movements of roots or dug up by animals. She holds it up to the light as the sun hits it on bare plains or sandy beaches. She sees how it moves as a plastic bag blows across an empty parking lot or a plastic bottle is tossed on the waves and moved by the currents at sea. She gathers it together on shorelines and in the center of the ocean, feeds it to hungry seabirds who will eat whatever they can get. The experiment is vast, and completely uncontrolled. We who made it could have limited its spread, but we didn’t know, and we didn’t listen. We were in love.

Which are the creatures who can change it back to something that is once more part of the web? How will it become part of the earth in the end? If there are future geologists and archaeologists, will our time be easy to read in the Book of the Earth? Will there be a layer of plastic from the bottom of what was then the sea, in the soils that were the land at that time?

Gaia doesn’t care. Gaia will keep changing until the day the Sun engulfs her. She will find a way to change plastics, as she turned the bodies of sea creatures into oil. There are microbes that eat oil. We use them to bioremediate gas stations. Gaia is already on this, already changing, already singing the opening bars of the next Age. We, if we live, can sing with her. The wise stories that will guide the future are already within us, as are the people who might sing them.

Blood Red Roses

Amazing just how tiring standing in front of a mic laying down tracks can be. No, it’s not an album yet, but it will be soon. Blood Red Roses is the title track, and it kind of encapsulates the album. You know who your mother was, and your grandmother, but how about your great-grandmother? How about female ancestors from farther back? Why is this? Why does the line of blood go through the father alone? These are things we don’t often think about, let alone talk about, and when we do, the conversations usually generate more heat and noise than light.

This song takes the long view. It goes all the way from the Paleolithic to the present. It just struck me one day that the earliest sculptures of humans yet found are of women–and they are faceless. When we finally saw our planet–the organism we are all part of, it, too, is of course faceless. We will never truly know what those first artists were thinking, but for me, living at the time when we first saw our planet as a whole, those two images are linked. Were the carvers thinking of deity? Of all women? Or something else entirely? Those images are all found in Eurasia, another fact the significance of which we don’t know and may never know. The mystery is a gift in and of itself. We are not all-knowing, and right now, I think we can use a reminder of that fact. It might make us think before we act, and see what we can learn in the process. That’s what humans do, after all, when we’re at our best.

This song started life as a sea chantey, also called Blood Red Roses.

The next track on the album is also a pan-European story, that comes to us by way of Wales. It’s the tale of Blodeuedd, and I posted it here.

Next time: Moving forward in time our next stop is the ballad of Tam Lin.

The Chrysalis

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Does the caterpillar know the difference between death and transformation? Whether or not it does, it has no choice but to do one or the other. Humanity is facing a similar evolutionary moment right now. Nothing we do is going to bring back the old ways of living, but nothing we are doing appears to be creating new ones. The old stories are no longer serving us, but the institutions created by them are still holding us fast.

There’s no way for an individual to truly break free, though many of us are trying desperately to do so. The problem we’re facing is a collective one and it will take the cooperation of every one of us to solve it.

We’re luckier than we seem to know right now, however. For the first time in our existence, we can see the extinction event coming. We have discovered and named the ages of geologic time and we know that we are in the Anthropocene. We have the capability to be aware of our predicament, and to know that we have literally changed the world. Since the problem is of our own making, we may still be able to unmake it. Gaia is finally aware of herself. She has seen her own face at last, and all of her parts can communicate in ways that were never before possible. The organs of this awareness in the form of humanity have brought her to this moment of change, and like the caterpillar, we will either transform in ways we can’t imagine, or we’ll die. We can only emerge from the chrysalis as a whole.

Our awareness of this truth is the key to our survival. Nothing less will change the acid balance of the oceans and the carbon concentrations in the air. We stumbled onto a seductive, lethal means of powering our existence that changes the most delicate organ Gaia has; the atmosphere. As our dependency grew, however, the effect we are having on another organ, the hydrosphere, also began to push the biosphere in a direction that will eliminate many other forms of life.

Luckily for us, the fact that the atmosphere changes so quickly is one of the things that we can use to rebalance the systems in a way that will allow us to survive. Our awareness is the best tool we have to do this. Many of us already know this. Some peoples have never forgotten this basic truth, that we are one organism and what we do to that organism we do to ourselves. Others of us are learning, but what we haven’t managed to do is create that awareness as a planet. We are changing, we have seen our face, but the stories each part of us tell about ourselves, and most importantly about others still hold us back from knowing who we are, and acting as one. There is no “them,” there’s only us.

Many solutions are growing, nevertheless. Some think that if every human being meditated regularly, this would save the world. Others think that if we all ate vegetarian food, we’d do it. Others think that we all just need to get right with God. None of these things will work, but at the same time, all of them will. We’re like the people in the darkened cave, trying to figure out what the elephant looks like. Each rigid solution is but a facet in this chrysalis that holds us fast.

We’ll come out in our own time. It’s inevitable. Parts of us will die. I’m sure the caterpillar feels as if it is dying as its very body re-forms. The soft caterpillar legs give way to the exoskeleton-clad limbs of the butterfly. We have lost many species and will lose many more. We may lose the coral reefs, cities may slowly fall apart under ocean waters. The polar bears and the caribou may be only a memory, like the passenger pigeon and the Yangtze river dolphin. Like a large ship that did not notice a small deviation from its course until late in the voyage, the corrections we have to make will be far more extreme than they would have been had we noticed earlier. We’ll still get where we’re going in the end, if we choose to make them.

What could we become?

The Grove of the Old Trees

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I got to spend a little time in the remnants of the temperate rain forest that once covered my homeland. The presence of the trees was immense. We had come as Druids, to pass one of our own between us. My southern group had chosen to make the trek to the northern group and they gave us a place beyond any expectations to do our rite.

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It was a one way journey, as good adventures are. Whether you intend to return to a particular spot or not, chances are you won’t be doing it. On our walk around the place we stopped at an immense old growth redwood, hollowed by time and fire. It was large enough that all eight of us could fit inside. We sang cascading Awens in there, the space a gigantic resonator.

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I know that this huge silence, these gigantic trees, were once the way this coast was, but I’m still surprised by it every time I come within it. There’s something in it that is part of me even though I’ve always lived in the heart of the city. Given a chance, I would build my city within it, or a city that will not be seen for centuries as the big trees grow. There are redwoods in the center of 14th Avenue, and they dot my city in ones and twos. They are always eager to grow, throwing off green shoots from their large burls wherever the sun shines steadily on them.

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They remember what they could be, what they are in places like the one I was in on Sunday. This forest is mainly young trees, but there are venerable elders there, guiding the younger trees into the form they might become, if allowed to.

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Will we be here to see them, if they do?

Why Do We Prophesy Our Doom?

Hillside in Fairfax, CA

The Greenwood Message:
Why do you humans prophesy your doom? Can’t you see how it works here? Look at your cities. What do you see in every crack and crevice? The greenwood says we have always been here and always will be. Join us. Care for us and we will care for you. We are the tenacity of life. Are you? Why do you remove yourself from the green? We remember who you were and who you can be.

I took this down hurriedly in a workshop at Pantheacon. Given by Raven Grimassi , it was an exploration of plant spirits. It was like sunlight through my bones, water trickling across my skin. It echoed something Gaia had asked me to do many years ago.

She asked me to see the good that was in her. She asked me to see the green. It is all around us, always.  What we see is what we give life to. What kind of world do we want to live in? We humans have always created it, thought by thought, action by action. I think we evolved in order to create it. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we wanted to go to the moon. By the end of the 1960’s, we had done it. We began with words on paper, visions that writers like H.G Wells gave us. We went on to images on film, such as Georges Melies A Trip To The Moon. From there we leaped from Goddard to the terrors of the Nazi rockets to NASA and the Cold War space race. War can be a terrible impetus for invention. But the images of Neil Armstrong and our first view of ourselves as a whole came from that, and changed us forever.

What we give our attention to is what we create. We all know this. The more attention we give to anything, the better the final product whether it’s a home cooked meal, a song, or a garden. Then there are things we co create. The life of a child, or the life of our world. If we are truly one organism, we are yet another function that life has cocreated. We are the awareness of past, present, and future. We are the planet, looking at itself at last and knowing who we are.

But what are we doing with this awareness? I love dystopic stories. The excellent Wool kept me up all night. Likewise The Book of Eli and and the old reliables like The Road Warrior and Soylent Green. The problem is, these sorts of stories, or their opposite, the “life will go on forever just like this” tale are so much the norm that anything hopeful and futuristic is like a breath of fresh air. It opens up the mind just as the stories of our destruction used to. Is it any wonder we’re heading towards these kinds of worlds when that’s what we’re feeding our collective psyche on? It’s as if we discovered a taste for excitement, like a drug, and now that’s all we want to consume. I’m no better. My song Kali Is Here is more of the same.

Most of the dystopic stories have a kernel of hope at the end. The problem is, it’s just a kernel and it’s not often fleshed out. The storyteller spends their time lovingly crafting all the various problems we have to go through to get that future, but no real time on the future itself. Even the few hopeful books of this sort, such as Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach and Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing bring our current problems with us in the form of soulless robotic governments for the brave Utopians to fight against with all their anti Establishment courage and conviction. It’s better this time around, the Utopians already live in their paradise, but they must now fight to defend it. Even when the war is won it is rarely over for good.

Is this what we really want? In fiction, after all, we can play out any scenario we choose. I think we can get from here to the future without mass death or war. I think we can use our knowledge and awareness of ourselves and the planet we live on in service of the whole to adapt to the changes we’ve caused. I think that’s just as much of an adventure as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games. While, as in the last century, great leaps may well be created in response to great suffering, we don’t have to envision it that way. I fear we’ve already built in a lot more suffering in change than we might have otherwise, but we can always choose to shift our focus. I think things in reality can shift a lot faster than it seems from this vantage point. For me, this is the point of The Greenwood Message. All we have to do is choose life and the whole planet is behind us.

The Song Of Life Sings Through Us

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Mount Tamalpais was dripping last Sunday. We went up between the rainstorms, through fog so thick the drive was frightening, but the walk through cool silence was something absorbed through the very pores of our bodies. The grass that was gray last time is now disappearing under a growing layer of green. What is left is turning golden brown.

Rock Springs is running. I filled three half gallon jars and together we sang our thanks to the music of the running water.

We know what feels good. We know what we need to do. The song of life sings through us. We turn towards life.  All we need to do is follow that turning in all that we do.

Is changing our ways really so hard? We’ve done it so many times in the last two centuries. All we need to do is what we always have, to grow towards a better life. The only difference this time is that we have to take into account the consequences of our actions on the whole planet, not just ourselves. Now that we know that we’re all connected, we can see that that’s in our best interests, can’t we?

Even in my neighborhood, where people tag any open expanse of clean wall and throw trash around with gay abandon I see the changes beginning. There were three houses with roosters on my morning commute last year. Now I hear crowing from at least five. More bicycles share the road with me than ever before, even if a lot of the drivers still treat stop signs as decorations. They slow down, take a look, and roll on through. There were always some gardens in place of lawns in a lot of the yards, but slowly, slowly more of them are appearing.

Think what it could be like. What if we made clean air, clean water, clean earth a priority? What if we opened our streams and creeks to the sky and kept them clean? What if we expected the water in them to be clean enough to drink, and it was tested regularly to make sure this was so, just as our municipal water supply is now? What if we could plant things in our gardens, knowing that the soil was clean because that is as basic a thing in a house for sale or rent as a good foundation and working plumbing? What if apartments came with garden plots, not parking spots? And public transportation was clean, safe, pleasant, and ran 24/7? If public transit was a real priority, we could all enjoy a quick, direct ride to wherever we were going, and be able to use our digital devices safely and sanely. We could read instead of sit in traffic. What if cars were a public utility? Each neighborhood has a lot, and you rent them by the hour?

Crazy? I don’t think so. I’m living this life as far as is possible without public support, and while it could be better, it isn’t half bad even as it is. My problems are mostly financial, not infrastructural. I’m not saying that everyone has to live the same life, and I’m not trying to pry your hands off your steering wheel or make you shiver in the dark. What I’m trying to do is spread some ideas and blend them with others so we can make changes in the way we live while we still have some quality of life. I’m trying to show how we can have a better life than we do now.

If we all walked more, we’d be healthier. If we drove only when we really needed to instead of all the time, our streets would be safer in so many ways. The streets of Oakland are dangerous mainly because there are so few people using them, and we don’t know our neighbors. What would it be like if there was always someone on the street, if we could put names to faces? Don’t you think that if people doing crappy things were easily identified, and if we all spoke up when we saw bad things happen, that we’d all be safer? Our neighborhoods aren’t really ours, have you noticed that? Do you know what’s around the block and down the street? Do you know who lives there? If you have a neighborhood park, have you been there? Do you feel safe there? Is there a decent grocery store, restaurant, coffeehouse, or other stores close enough to walk to? Do you know the bus routes around you and where they go? Do you feel safe on them?  If only a few of these things are true, do you really feel a part of where you live, or is it just a place to sleep and keep your stuff? Is it truly a place you can call home? Is this really how we want to live?

What do you know about your food? Have you ever looked into the eyes of the animals your food comes from? Does that last sentence sound scary and weird to you? If you’re vegetarian, and more power to you if you are, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m talking to the omnivores now. I invite you to look into those eyes. Our collective health depends on it, and it can be a very powerful and empowering experience. When I had chickens (and when I have them again) it was very comforting to eat an egg breakfast while our hens scratched contentedly in the yard outside our kitchen window. We knew without a doubt that our breakfast came from birds that were having happy lives. The bargain between us was sound–they gave us eggs, we gave them food and shelter and a pleasant place to live. It isn’t necessary to keep the chickens or the cattle yourself. What if it were possible to walk around the corner and buy eggs and milk from a neighbor or a neighborhood farm and see up close how those animals were treated? And if you eat the whole animal, is it really better to see it only as an anonymous bit of flesh in a styrofoam tray? Is it safer to have no idea whatsoever where it came from and what kind of life it led?

Our vegetables and grains are no better. While I’m not expecting anyone to raise all their own food, I think we can get most of it a lot closer to home, and I think we’d be better off for doing it. We’d use a lot less energy and we’d have a much safer and more reliable food supply. It’s the difference between having terminals off a mainframe computer as opposed to a lot of laptops. We’ve chosen the latter for years because of the independence and reliability such a diffused system provides, and because it gives us all so many choices. There are other examples, the quality and variety of craft beer as opposed to big brewing is to many of us a definite improvement. If you buy your vegetables and other foods from local producers, you have a real person to go to in case of trouble and you can go and see how your food is being produced.

This is all very up close and personal, and probably downright scary to some. I’ve avoided getting into specifics on this blog, just as most businesses have. We prefer to talk in generalities like energy independence and food security. The problem is, apart from a few of us who know we are hungry for such things, no one is moved to make any changes. There are no specifics to sink our teeth into, no specific actions to take other than buying a different brand of garbage bag or getting a steel cup. Changing our light bulbs and buying cars that get better mileage are pretty much non actions. We’ve been doing these things for years and what has changed? Only the labels in the grocery stores and the brand names on the cars. Public transportation in my area has actually gotten worse, and we’re still driving to work one to a car.

So here are a few of my ideas. I’m offering them as a starting point, based on the actions I’ve already taken and the ones I’d like to see us take as a city, a state, a nation, and a world. I know yours are different, and only by blending our different ideas and doing our own experiments with change will we come to a place where we’re all served, where all humans have food, shelter and clothing, and all beings have food, shelter, and a decent place in the web of life to live. We all deserve better than we have right now–what do YOU want to see changed?

I took a bottle of Rock Springs water with me when I busked this week. That’s something I haven’t been able to do since December. It was as always, water from the heart of the earth, cool, refreshing–and clean.

The Awareness Shining Out Of Gaia’s Eyes

It took us eons to claw our way up from lifeless matter to consciousness. Our planetary lifestream has been pruned back five times that we know of since we came to life, but never before have we had any awareness of the process or control over it.

This time it’s different. We know ourselves in a way we never have before. We’ve gone into space and seen ourselves, our whole body floating in the darkness of space.

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This picture changed us. In the words of two astronauts:

“Beholding our planet from space has enabled us to see our place in the universe in a new way. For those who have seen the earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.” -American astronaut Donald Williams

“The first day, we pointed to our countries. Then we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.” -Saudi Arabian astronaut Sultan Bin Salmon al-Saud

The history of the life of Earth is one of cooperation. Details and models differ, and this story I am telling right now can and probably will change tomorrow. It is difficult to remember where we came from, after all, and we learn more every day. But what was here in the beginning kept interacting with itself. Compounds combined to become self replicating, then kept combining to form amino acids, proteins, and eventually cells. Those cells kept it up, cooperating, ingesting each other, combining their talents and their functions to become ever more complex. We became one vast web, sharing what is here, nourishing each other, becoming each other, all the while part of a greater whole that is our glowing self, floating in space. We live an endless paradox, separate and one at the same time.

The most dangerous and damaging myth of all is that of our separateness. We cannot live without the rest of life, our very bodies are colonies of beings, the bacteria that break down the other beings that become us as they are consumed being but one example. We are all consumed when each of our individual lives ends because we are all part of everything else. We cannot be separate, every part of us must return to the whole to become something else in an endless dance. If you don’t believe me, just try to hold onto all that you are right now. How long can you hold your breath? Your bodily “wastes?” Your hair, skin, nails? Even enbalming is a temporary, desperate attempt to stave off of the inevitable process of being consumed as all that we are returns to where it came from. Our “separate” lives are a constant taking in and letting go, and we grow more complex as time goes on.

We have to think of all beings. We have grown so complex, so powerful, that we are determining the very shape of the whole. Our actions are determining which creatures live, and which die. Humanity is conscious of ourselves, we are aware of the very shape of our whole, but we have forgotten that we are only a part of it. We don’t yet realize that we are the arrow pointed at our chest. We don’t remember or know that cutting off the lives of entire species is another way of cutting off pieces of our own bodies. We know that an animal that outstrips the resource base that keeps it alive is heading for a population crash, or extinction, but we do not apply that knowledge to ourselves. We are different, separate, somehow exempt. We’re smart enough to find a way to survive.

I believe that we will, but I think that we will accomplish that by remembering who we are. If we can be the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes that we were evolved to be, we will work as part of that whole and survive. If not, we will go the way of the dinosaur and the trilobite, and earth will start that slow majestic climb toward consciousness once again.

We live in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. What a gift it is to live here and now, to hold the world in our hands, to see the shape of it as no other creature ever has. Sit down, be still. Choose carefully, the future depends on it.

We Each Have Two Small Hands

It rained yesterday. Chance of rain again next week. The salmon wait, the trees are not growing green tips this year. The land lies dry beneath the winter sun. I walked to the bus yesterday morning and a neighbor was washing down the sidewalk in front of his house. Drawing from the dry well.

We did this. We can undo it. Park the car, sweep the sidewalk, walk to the store. Plant a lettuce box, look up at the stars. Let the song of creation sing through you. Your every action changes the world. Is it part of the problem, or part of the solution? Your every action matters, especially now.

Yesterday I walked home from the bus and smelled a freshly manured front yard, a newly planted cypress next to the fence. As I passed the corner of East 22nd St., I thanked the sleeping gingko for its gift of fallen leaves. Some fell on the waiting earth, on their journey to become new soil.

We go out in the hills and do magic, then we go back to the trailhead and get into our solitary cars. We rejoice that we “called the rain” if it rains, and then get on with our lives. Magic alone won’t do it. “Wish in one hand and piss in the other,” as my mother used to say, “and see which one gets fuller faster.”

There are, however, plenty of things that can be done, and are in fact being done. I’ll start close to my home in the United States and work out. Your circle will be different, it is important that you find its shape, know your place in the world.

The Arbor Day Foundation has an excellent volunteer page. I used it to find an opportunity near me, as a matter of fact. I had some pretty specific requirements, which they managed to meet. I work supervising volunteers myself, which means that Saturday workdays are out. I also don’t own a car any more, so the opportunity has to be bikeable. They delivered. The ride will be two miles uphill, but the ride down at the end of the day should be magnificent. It will also introduce me to another wild area that’s bikeable from my house. Working in tune with the planet can be both fun and useful. My bicycle has given me great legs, after all. What are your requirements? This site might just be able to meet them.

In Wales, the Anglesey Druid Order is restoring Cae Braint. This former nature attraction is becoming a true nature reserve that will benefit wildlife, the local community, and provide a sacred home for the Order.

In India, one of the most ambitious planting programs of all is happening. Project Green Hands aims to reforest Tamil Nadu. To date, 1.5 million volunteers have planted, and are caring for, over 17 million saplings. MILLIONS. That is the true power of our two small hands.

You can volunteer for these programs and many others. You can donate money to them. And that is only the beginning. We, collectively, have grown to be the power in this world. We are responsible for the state the world is in. Such a blessing that is! Unlike the Ice Ages, and the mass extinctions of the past, we have the power to change what is going on. If we change ourselves, we literally change the world. Our problems are largely problems of awareness.

We each have two small hands, what will you do with yours today?

NEXT:
We are the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes.