Rich on a Poor Wage

Green grass and spring flowers on a trail leading over a mountain
Field of Poppies on Mt. Tamalpais

I went camping on a whim last weekend. Well, a whim and a call from the Universe. I’ve been feeling rather low lately for reasons that are probably familiar to most of us. The forest was calling and I chose to listen.

Dryad made of tree roots sitting on a hillside
Can you see the dryad guy sitting on the hillside?

I packed up my stuff and got on a bus. What we had in the house was what I had with me. I have good, light camping gear but no stove. I stuck a lighter in my pocket. There was some bread and salami in the fridge, and my partner very kindly made me some sandwiches. I threw in a bunch of energy bars and a few herb teabags into my tiny camp kettle because without refrigeration there would be no milk, so no tea or coffee. It would be a weekend with just what I needed, no more.

I felt the layers of insulation come off as I rode bus after bus. It’s a three hour trip up there by transit, and it is a beautiful trip, starting with a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Two changes got me to the Marin Stage and the winding road up the mountain. The pack was a lot heavier than I was used to, and it isn’t built to carry that kind of load. I had enough food, but only just, and there was no variety to it. I had nothing to cook, and nothing but herb tea. My sleeping bag, pad and bivy sack were easily warm enough, even for a cold night on the mountain and unless it got really cold, my extra layers would be enough if I stayed out of the wind. I would have to do as the environment dictated, which was exactly what I wanted. And to be honest, I could always bail and walk down the mountain if it got to be too much.

I’m almost to the end of a course of Druid study, the bardic grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and I wanted to do some of the work in the grove I’ve been visiting since my teens. It is as close to a spiritual home as I have.  I feel very lucky to have such a powerful and magical place not only accessible by public transit, but with a first come, first served campground available nearby. In the morning I walked up the trail, steep but beautiful. I stopped at the spring to fill my water bottle with cool, clear water and paid with a recently written song before walking on to the grove.

Circle of stones on mossy ground in a grove of Douglas firs.
Grove on Mt. Tamalpais

Few people go here, and I’m just as glad that’s the case. I obviously share it with other Pagans and likely wild children as I had once been. I was first brought here by hippies turned rennies who introduced me to paganism, among other things. I reflected a moment on that. So many of them are now no longer with us. As far as I know, no one in our circle comes here any more. My partner and I were married here, as were other couples in our group. We fought with sword and staff in the clearing beyond the grove, watched sunsets and smoked dope, and dreamed of a better world. Now I come here alone, or with my partner. Others hold rituals here, I see the remains of flowers and other offerings. Once there was a set of fairy houses made from twigs and brightly colored embroidery floss. Things that melted away into the earth after a brief, beautiful season. I sat there for a long time, in open-eyed meditation in the place I go to so often in my daily practice.

Sun over Bolinas from the top of Mt. Tamalpais
Sun over Bolinas from the top of Mt. Tamalpais

From there I walked the short distance to the Bridge of Starship Earth, as I call it. You can see all the way to Point Reyes from there. Stinson Beach and Bolinas shine in the sun and on a clear day you can see the drowned mountaintops of the Farallone Islands. Once, when the ice covered so much of the earth, that was the shoreline. I could hear the roar of the waves from my perch. I watched the hawks and turkey vultures dance on the air currents and felt the clean wind flow over me. From there I walked to other favorite places until sunset, when I went back to that sacred summit.

Sunset from the western side of Mt. Tamalpais
Sunset from the western side of Mt. Tamalpais

I walked back in the dark, down the network of trails to the spring. From there I took the road, knowing the gates were locked and thinking it no harm to take my time. I was caught, and scolded gently by the ranger. Since I, too, work in a public park, I knew the dance and played the opposite part properly. I am to be in the campsite by dusk, “for your own safety.” After seeing my campsite receipt she left me to walk the last mile on my own.

Campfire Fairies to heat my water
Campfire Fairies to heat my water

Someone had left a small pile of firewood and kindling behind that morning, and I had bundled it away into my site. Dividing it in half, I made a small fire that night and a cup of orange spicy tea to drink as I watched the flames. I banked the coals before going to bed and had another cup in the morning. It isn’t really camping without a fire.

I packed up my gear and decided to take the bus from Stinson Beach. The trail was one I hadn’t taken before, and I took my time. I had it mostly to myself–well, myself, the many dryads that peeked in turn of root and branch, the streams and seeping springs that laughed and sang along the way, and the flowers that we are so lucky to have in this year of relatively abundant rainfall.

Poppies and spring grass
True Wealth

I saw an oak embracing a fir, and admit I took some liberties with the colors…

The Oak Loved the Fir and Embraced it...
The Oak Loved the Fir and Embraced It…

And with a spiderweb that was clear to my eye, but not to the camera:

Spiderweb
Spiderweb

I eventually got down to the town and found myself a cup of coffee. It was a very long wait for the next bus, so I bought myself a beer and a burger from the snack stand and reflected on how wealthy I truly am in every way that matters. I have the broad Pacific at my feet and one of the most beautiful mountains in the world to roam on. I am healthy enough, past my fiftieth year, to walk with everything I truly need on my back for a few miles of fairly steep trail. I may not have much money, but it is amazing how a cup of coffee and a burger and a beer can completely change one’s outlook after a long, lovely walk and a night spent under the trees. I took off my shoes and walked with my feet in the water before catching the first bus of many.

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight
Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight

Wilderness Is All Around You

meadow1

I’m finding the Rewilding Challenge to be a very druidic exercise. It teaches you to see, not just look, and to learn from what you see. The variety to be found in the exercises and the short time given to each of them makes it all manageable, and leaves you wanting more of the ones you like. It’s sort of a sampler platter for awareness as seen through the wild world around us.

 

microlevel

I don’t get to a truly wild place very often, so I did more than one exercise that day and revisited some as well. Spending thirty minutes looking at a two foot square of ground was very rewarding. Praying mantises are the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the insect world and this one definitely dominated the experience. I watched it catch and consume a ladybug, and when it caught me photographing it it stood up high and proud and threatened me, waving its arms in challenge. Even mantises have something to fear, however, and except for then, it confined itself the the undersides of leaves or within the shelter of the grass stems. Birds probably find them quite tasty.

macrolevel

There’s an old growth redwood in the area I chose, and I’ve been looking for it ever since I’ve known it was there. I didn’t find it today either, but I did get a chance to explore the hillsides. This is the view from the East Bay Hills. I ran across a hillside guardian. Technically no one is supposed to camp there, but this person’s site was clean and well kept, and we were on the same page almost immediately about the trash everywhere (we take what we can out with us and leave none) and the value of having a mental map of the area. It was nice to see someone living with the land like that.

bayentrance

I found the other thing I was looking for, though, the entrance to the trail that runs from the bottom of the stream to the top. I’d gone all the way up it once, but never down, and I knew the upper entrance wasn’t marked. This is a good thing, as the tagging and garbage stop well down from the top of the trail because people don’t know where it is. This place is one of the few truly wild places easily accessible by the city bus system, and it’s frankly easier to take the bus to the top of the hill and walk down than to do it the other way around.

adventurebridge

It was great to see it end to end from the top.

I even got fed, and got a chance to take a pair of pix I’d wanted to blog for a long time. A Druid of my acquaintance taught me the difference between a Himalayan (British species) blackberry and the native California kind.

himalayanblackberry

Only the Himalayans are fruiting up there right now, but they were delicious as always The difference between the two is in the leaves and spines. Himalayans have five rounded leaves and thick sharp thorns.

nativeblackberry

Native berries have three leaves, pointed and more crumpled than the Himalayas and their thorns are hairlike and there are lots more of them.

What are your wild places? How do you get to them? Why do you go to them? What do they teach you?

 

The Chrysalis

Image

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 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.

earthdec71972

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.

Fantasy Leads to Reality

Books are paper ships. They take our minds places where our bodies will never go. I reread My Side of the Mountain as a little mental vacation and found that the path led right back to Druidry. A really good book will reveal something new every time you read it. I wasn’t expecting this, as a child I read this book so many times the cover practically fell off. I really thought I had gotten everything that was there from its pages long ago. Like so many other kids, I wanted more than anything to be Sam Gribley and run off to the woods. I was all about the mechanics back then. How do you make a fire with flint and steel? Will a fishhook made of twigs really catch a fish? I still eat blackberries, miners lettuce and the like out of my local wild places, but killing something for food was way too icky back then and I didn’t find a flint and steel and learn to use them till I was an adult.

Rereading it this time the connection with nature unfolded for me. Sam lets the forest guide him. The animals tell him when the snowstorms are coming, not in words, but by seeking shelter. By watching what they eat, he learns to find food. The trees provide a home for him:

“I looked at that tree. Somehow I knew it was home, but I was not quite sure how it was home. The limbs were high and not right for a tree house… Slowly I circled the great trunk. Halfway around the whole plan became perfectly obvious. To the west, between two of the flanges of the tree that spread out to be roots, was a cavity. The heart of the tree was rotting away. I scraped it out with my hands; old, rotten insect ridden dust came tumbling out. I dug on and on, using my ax from time to time as my excitement grew.”

Sam has that connection with the world that religion is supposed to provide, that some of us seek through Druidry. To him it is as natural as breathing, a part of life rather than a set of specific skills filed in the mind under “spirituality,” “religion,” or “connection.” He has no need to cast a circle or sit in meditation to get guidance from the natural world:

“I was singing and chopping and playing a game with a raccoon I had come to know. He had just crawled into a hollow tree and had gone to bed for the day when I came to the meadow. From time to time I would tap on his tree with my ax. He would hang his sleepy head out, snarl at me, close his eyes, and slide out of sight. The third time I did this, I knew something was happening in the forest. Instead of closing his eyes, he pricked up his ears and his face became drawn and tense. His eyes were focused on something down the mountain. I stood up and looked. I could see nothing.”

The world will indeed talk to us if we listen. Specific exercises are only one person’s attempt to show us how to create an experience like Sam’s with the raccoon, to teach us one way of listening. The story is all around us. The aspens showed me how they would gladly create a forest on the Laney College campus last Saturday night. I stopped to say hi on my way home, and to tell them how glad I was they were there. I fear they won’t be soon, the college seems to be systematically chopping them down, small grove by small grove. I am enjoying them while they’re here and the experience is all the more precious to me knowing how suddenly they may be gone. I had just spent a moment with my hands buried in the leaves, eyes closed, watching them flicker in my mind as the wind blew softly around us. I turned to look at the estuary before us, and saw the tree’s clones, lining up before it, marching slowly down towards the water. The brackish water would stop them when they got there, as would the concrete and steel of the buildings behind me. If left to themselves, though, they would gladly fill the space between, until the wide streets stopped them. In time, though, if left to themselves, they would even crack through the concrete and asphalt.

Was that vision a spiritual experience? I could certainly file it mentally that way, if I chose. But it’s just the way the world is. What the trees told me is the very definition of “invasive species,” and that is undoubtedly why the College, who planted those trees in the first place, is taking them out slowly. Methinks it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black, because if we humans aren’t “invasive” I don’t know what is. I thanked the trees, wished them well, but with a little trepidation. I realized that I’d done the same thing with the trees along the bank next to the road, and now they were stumps. Last December when I discovered them cut, I wrote this poem:

With my eyes I see only sky.
Where branches were lacelike there are only stars.
Chain link lies trailing in the dark water.  

But the tide flows out, necklaces of ripples shine silver.
A night heron glides low, silent, then gone to my eyes.
We stand together in the dark, the peace of the ghostly grove an echo of what was.

Those stumps are now clusters of shoots, many as tall as I am. They say very little to me now, they’re far too busy with the work of growing. It is almost as if they were knocked back to babyhood, rediscovering their fingers and toes and stretching towards the sun. I didn’t realize, until I stood with the mature grove that evening just how much I had missed what amounts to conversation with adults. It’s completely different, but essentially the same. The questions I asked last year are being answered, as if the campus aspens are one being, which leads me back to Gaia, and the fact that we truly are one organism. The conversation is far too big to write down, and stretches backwards in time, and far into the future. Long after I am gone it will still be going on. Off somewhere on the sidelines is the thoughtlessness of the college, planting trees as if they were ornaments, cutting them to stumps when it suits them, leaving those stumps to grow again. The chainsaw and the grounds staff have the armaments to win this battle easily, but the aspens may well win because time and the inexorable energy of life is on their “side.” Battle is only joined on one side because the aspens have more sense than they do.

What really struck me about “My Side of the Mountain” this time was how similar Sam’s conversations with his forest are to mine with my urban forest. The longer he spends on the land, the quieter he gets, the more he hears. In my forest, at first I heard nothing, or so I thought. I have come to realize that our conversations span years. Trees really do live on a totally different timescale. Consciousness is similar, on a deeper level it is one, but its expression is unique to each individual. The trees are gone, but the roots remain. One aspect of Druidry for me is to get at those roots, whether it be the aspens, a story written in a book, or the heart of a song. All any of us have to do is say hello, ask a question, and listen for the answer.

Finding That Sweet Spot

Setbacks happen to everyone. We all have to ask ourselves each time, “is this a crushing blow, or an opportunity for growth and applied brilliance? For me, the latter wins every time. Overwhelming odds call out my Inner Pixie and really, the other alternative leads nowhere.

Busking every day was one of those decisions that seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but turned out to be a big mistake. I took a break and went to the acupuncturist last Tuesday. Monday’s here and there’s no real change.

This is scary, but I have to turn my back on the spilled cups before me and look at the ones that are still full. I still have a voice, all I have lost is the frame around it. I have tools in the form of a yoga routine, various holistic and allopathic medicines, and body awareness to try and heal myself. Then there are the healthcare options to consider. Step one: If it hurts, don’t do it.

I asked Brighid today, as I do every day, what she wanted of me. As I looked up at her picture, quietly giving her space to speak, I heard a fond, slightly exasperated, “Well you could move my picture down so you didn’t have to crane your neck looking up at me.”

Duh.

Set her as low as I could. I still have to look up, but if I stand up straight and pull my head back–in short, if I stand the way my last physical therapist wanted me to, she comes into focus. Hurray for daily practice, and the gifts a simple devotion, repeated regularly, bring.

We all have a choice. We can do our best to dig our way out of our various holes, or we can let our problems consume us. It’s that simple. What is the first helpful action that can be taken? I’ve found that no matter how bad things are, if I just do that, the next move comes to me. When you’re in a trap, don’t struggle.

I’ve put my frame aside for now. I’ve given my partner a bodhran assignment: learn the drumbeat verbatim for one of the new songs I’ve written, and luckily, have a rough recording of. She’s a great dance drummer, and as a belly dancer I have heard her pick apart what the music “told” her body to do. She understands the basic concepts behind what I do and she’s capable of mastering them. More to the point, she wants to. She suggested this.

I’m going to bring in my small backpack and busking sign tomorrow and see if I can find a spot. How will I do in a BART station as a pure singer? My choice of spots will be more limited, but there are plenty of areas I can use, I think.

I’m going to the open mic at the Freight and Salvage tomorrow night. I’ve done a capella on that stage often enough, nothing much will have changed.

I’m going to continue to rest the stuff that hurts, and call either my healthcare provider or my acupuncturist again. I can’t decide which, I can’t afford to see both of them this paycheck. I’ll see the other one in the next few weeks, though. Daily meditation is also a must. I’ve been falling down on that the last couple of months and I need my subtle superpowers more than ever.

I’m going to continue to learn repertoire. Sadly, two of the three songs I’m working with demand a drum. The third one might stand on its own. Time to pick some others. I’m also going to spend some serious time with my tinwhistles. Damn, but they sound fine in a transit system corridor!

This blog entry was originally about balancing the optimum amount of busking time against the demands of my body. I figured that I could surely go back to one or two days a week no problem. As the week progressed though, I realized that the hole I’d dug for myself was far deeper than I’d imagined. I can still see the light, though. All I have to do is follow it.

We Are The Groundbreakers

We all stand on the shoulders of others. We can see farther because we have their revelations to build on. If we listen, and learn, we might just be lucky enough to carry the whole species forward. Today, what I’ve heard and read has made me feel that we can carry the whole planet forward, that we’re going to make the right choices and do the tasks that are set before us.

I heard an amazing broadcast this morning: Re-creating the world with Michael Meade and then I read an amazing post: We Are Still in the Pagan Playground so Let’s Play!

These led me back even farther, to college and some of the ideas I was exposed to there. Years ago, my favorite archaeology teacher gave me a real touchstone. She spoke of the excessive weight given to what she called origin myths. The farther back you can push a bit of knowledge, the truer it is seen to be and the greater its importance. She thought that that obscured, rather than revealed the truth, and that lecture taught me to peel back the layers till I get to the kernel of the matter ever since.

So paradoxically, we need the past to build on, but we can never get too comfortable with what appears to be the truth. The one sure thing about the truth is that it’s ever-shifting. To pin it down and write it in a book and assume that that’s the end of it is to kill it. That leads me to yet another thing I learned in school. At San Francisco State I was lucky enough to have a number of very good instructors, who knew their business and gave me not truths, but ideas. My Celtic literature instructor told us the Druidic idea that the knowledge travels on the breath, that to write it down is to kill it. But she also told us how the Druids had learned from literate cultures the value of writing down knowledge, lest it be lost completely if all the holders were killed. So we have the great books of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where Tales we would likely not know otherwise were written down in the shape they held in the time they were recorded. She was also wise enough to let me write a song rather than a paper for my final project, which allowed me to experience this truth firsthand, and helped me create the musical path I walk today.

A Tale, after all, is always the same, unchanged. Good fortune accrues to the listener and the teller when it is told truly and completely. As my Irish dance teacher told us, the steps are always the same. Then she’d show us how the step was done in the north, in her youth, and how it was done in the south–though it was of course the same step. In the same way, the Cattle Raid of Cooley is the same whether it comes from the Book of Leinster or Morgan Llywelyn’s _Red Branch_. The wonder of our age is that we can see these versions side by side and hold the paradox in our hands. We can see the relationship of truth and idea, and how they are shaped as they pass through time. Is this what the Druids who understood the value and the necessity of recording their knowledge knew, and was this the fruit of their labors that they never saw in the way we can with all the examples we now have but which they were prescient enough to envision?  

Knowledge is carried on the breath, the world is a never ending story. Anyone who’s ever meditated realizes how pervasive that voice in our minds is, how difficult it can be to even become fully aware of it and taste the silence between its stories. Once again, paradox. Thoughts are sources of wisdom, but they should never be allowed to be our masters. In his broadcast, Michael Meade told a wonderful story of an old woman in a cave who wove a beautiful garment. When it was unraveled completely, she took the end of the thread and began to remake it, the wisdom she had gained the last time she wove it only adding to its beauty. He illuminated the great crossroads we stand at for me, as well as the process we are going through in order to create the new world that is in the process of being born. Can any of us doubt that the world is falling apart even as we speak? Things we were once so sure of are threatened, and in some cases literally swept away. We are left to pick up the pieces and build again. Destruction and creation are one and the same and that is a good thing. Life is a journey, a story, a process.

The image of the birch, the first tree in the ogham, the colonizer of new ground came to me as I read the words of Damh the Bard. All the beautiful ideas of the modern Pagan movement are seeds falling on fertile soil. We draw from our past the mythology and wisdom that is there, but at our best we are growing community that is solidly rooted in this time and place. We’re still in the beginning, we are tending the first trees growing in this new time. This is a powerful, wonderful time, and I feel very lucky to be alive now as this next cycle is shaped. This new knowledge is every bit as authentic and valid as the long-established roots of the yew, and only time will test it fully. But the beginning is now. After all, when we reach the last tree of the ogham, it’s time to go back to the beginning and take up the birch again, bringing the learning to the next level.

I follow a Pagan path, by and large, but it is only a shell within the Unitarianism I was raised in. Try as I might, I can’t find the edges of that idea. I can’t really call it a belief system because I can’t think of anything we believe in, except perhaps coffee hour and the exchange of ideas. The sanctuary of the church I was raised in has always been big enough for any idea I care to bring into it, and though I see the inside of it rarely, the idea of it, and its reality are always solidly at my back. I know I will always have a home there. As my father told me once, we don’t have to go to church every Sunday because God trusts us.

If I have any faith at all, it is in humanity, and the web of life. I believe that together we are smart enough to handle anything. If we just take a deep breath and look honestly at ourselves and our world, we can not only live through the great changes that are upon us, we can be the calm awareness shining out of the eyes of Gaia that we were evolved to be. Part of a greater whole, not rulers standing apart from creation. Not all of who we appear to be now serves this whole, but if we accept who we are, we can change. We will change anyway. The only question is, will we do it consciously, or will we let the consequences of our actions do it to us?

That Perfect Crystalline Moment

We’re all chasing it–the perfect expression of our passion. In art it might be the perfect sentence that expresses that thought completely, the perfect piece of sculpture, the tune that recreates the moment when the song was born. These things can’t be created on command, but the fertile ground on which they grow can be prepared.

The ways this is done are completely different for each of us. That is why they can’t be taught, and that is why the one constant piece of advice we are given in all creative endeavours is to put in the time, to practice often and intensely. Only by doing that can we teach ourselves what our methods are, and only in that way can they evolve over time. Consistency comes from this. The muse is balanced on a knife edge, and we can only take fire from her hands if we develop the skill to stand on that edge with her.

What is your craft and how do you practice it? It doesn’t have to be music, or writing or art. It could be cooking, gardening, or anything that ignites that fire of creation within you. We all have something we love, whether we have discovered it or not. We all practice our passion in some way. This question can be asked anywhere–and it leads to one of my most useful tools. All of us spend a lot of time somewhere where our minds are not necessarily fully engaged. A friend of mine calls this his “sanctuary time.” For me, this time is spent walking, bicycling, or on the bus. You won’t see me with headphones jammed in my ears or a phone in my hand. In fact, you won’t be able to tell me from any of the people packed around me on transit, or walking down the street. Sometimes you might see me with a notebook or iPod in hand, but that just means that some of that time has paid off and I’m putting down the fruits of my labors. Where is your sanctuary time?

A bus is the perfect place to ask yourself questions. If you can block out the constant chatter of cell phones and mp3 players, it’s a place where we’re the most alone. Everyone wants to be somewhere else, and they’re concentrating on anything but the people around them. The interaction between strangers is at a minimum, though those few occasions can also be very fertile. It’s a good time to take a deep breath–or several–and see how it changes you. No one will notice, I do it all the time. For me, it slows me down, cools me to operating temperature. It is a perfect complement to my meditation practice. The focus and concentration I am working on in solitude means nothing if it can’t be created anywhere, anytime. If you can’t block out or otherwise smooth out what’s around you, that’s okay. Believe me, it’s an ongoing practice for me too! Put some background on that mp3 player. Space music, classical, or nature sounds might work for you. What allows you to access the silence within in the midst of chaos?

Transit used to be a little slice of hell for me. I ride at rush hour and it’s always crowded, noisy, and unpleasant. But the fact that I rarely if ever sit down means that I can’t fall into a book as I used to. The fact that there’s always someone who wants to have a loud phone conversation or turn their iPod up to maximum volume makes it the perfect laboratory for bringing practice out into the world. Since I don’t have a car, I am essentially trapped on transit, but many of us feel just as trapped in a car. I invite you to find the places you’re trapped in and see if you can reclaim that time in some way and put it to use. Reclaiming my time and putting it in service to my music is an ongoing process. Since I made the choice to pursue it I’ve been a lot happier. The things that used to drive me nuts still do, but it’s easier to shift my focus back to what really matters because I have something beyond the daily grind.  

I often ask a question that I’m going to ask you now: What would the world look like if everyone was doing what they were meant to do? What if our true work was the coin we used to measure success? That’s impossible, I hear you say. Who would clean the toilets? Who would take out the trash? What if we all did so, I say. What if we all took turns doing what needed to be done? What if we stopped trying to avoid those jobs and just got them out of the way? What if we all left a public restroom or a fast food restaurant table cleaner than we found it? What if we all generated little or no trash? San Francisco’s composting program and the new practice of charging for disposable shopping bags are steps towards this. There are people out there whose passion is to make us a trash-free society. There are people who make their living selling composting toilets. My point is, anything can be your fire. It is the way you add value to your existence, and to the world around you. What if more of us asked the questions that would change the shape of the world around us?

So what is your passion? What would you do with your life if you weren’t having to spend so much time making a living? How can you carve out a little time for it right now, and if you’re already doing so, what strategies are working for you? I really want to know. Because I want to live in that world, where we’re all doing what we love. It all starts with me–and you.

Growing myself into a better person. Growing the world into a better place.

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Every month, Meditation For evolutionaries hosts an online meditation gathering. Synchronicity being what it is, this dovetails nicely with a post Sage and Starshine made recently, on meditation and druidry.

I’ve been doing my best to meditate daily for a while now. It’s hard to make time, but the more I manage to do so, the easier it gets. I guess that’s the meaning of practice ;). I find that it’s easy to skip, but harder to climb back on the horse, so to speak, so finding those points where I can go either way has become a practice in itself.

When I was a deckhand, I used to go into work early. Public transit being what it is, it was easier and more pleasant to take the early BART/bus and get there before it was light. I could see the stars, and the slight lightening of the sky to the east. I’d go aboard the loneliest boat in the fleet and do my morning yoga, and then sit on a stool, my back against a bulkhead. There by the waterline I could hear the waves slapping against the hull and the occasional shouts of swimmers in the lagoon. Already quiet from the stretching I’d done, I’d look at the time and set a timer on my iPod. Time depended on how much I had left before the morning muster, but it was usually a solid fifteen minutes at least. I’d drift into the coolness of the steel around me and out across the water, and be a part of everything.

When I got hurt and had to give up the deckhand job, I lost that. By the time I get to work now the Park is open, and the ships are largely closed to me now. I tried getting up early at home, but it just didn’t work. A cup of coffee in bed and the cats lying around me were just too seductive. For a long time I drifted. Even going back to the Nyingma Institute where I’d taken my first meditation course, and taking another, didn’t help.

I could keep up my yoga by switching it to the end of my day rather than the beginning, but yoga is an immediate necessity. If I don’t do it daily, my physical issues get worse and worse, and I will end up unable to work.

Meditation is just as necessary, but the problems caused by skipping it are more subtle and don’t affect my actual ability to work. They just make life grayer and more chaotic. It’s more like losing a subtle superpower than normal functioning. Though really, what is “normal?”

I finally got back on track by doing a meditation challenge given by Deepak Chopra, of all people. For 21 days, I had to meditate every day. Very good mind candy, the meditations were online, free, and had great leaders and beautiful music. Why did this work when nothing else did? Hell, I don’t know. In college, I finally stopped biting my nails by wearing black nail polish. But by the end of the challenge, meditation had indeed become a habit again. I went back to my old practice, and am in the process of working out some Druid twists to it. Kind of like improvising a harmony to the melody below. When I stumble, there’s always the solid Tibetan underpinning to fall back on.

This once a month meditation is a different animal, however. 50 minutes of meditation is a long time for me. But the questions asked benefit from a good long period of reflection. Thinking, for example, on why I am sitting here at all, is very basic. But it cuts to the heart of practice and presence. They ask it every month, and I get to a deeper refinement of my own answer each time. There are many reasons, after all. But underlying them all, for me, is something that ties them all together. If you meditate, what is it for you? Is it self-development, service, a bit of peace in a chaotic world? If you don’t, and want to, why do you want to? What do you hope to get out of it?