Blood on the Sidewalk

May 21st, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 16 Responses

“At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.”

A Hope Elder Speaks

It’s okay.

You can call me depressed if you like, though depressed people do not usually run, write, work, and make music like I do.

You can call me morose. Gloomy. Moody. Oversensitive. Forlorn. Dour. Nervous. Fearful. Whatever. Lor’ knows I’ve heard it all before.

I understand. It can be frightening, to see someone bleeding in public. You don’t know how to respond. It looks messy. And it can remind you of your own wounds.

But you don’t need to face your own woundedness. Not on my account.

You don’t have to become conscious of how you project your own inner lives onto the people around you.

You don’t have to understand me. You don’t have to believe what I believe. You don’t have to know what I know.

And you don’t have to remember what I’ve already explained, even though I’ve told you in words so copious they would bury the Twin Towers, had those iconic structures not been so neatly dismantled; even though I’ve told you in metaphors as thick and creamy as melted cheese; even though I’ve told you in images that smell of magic markers and beef stroganoff, that sound like water dripping from a tap, that feel like wax on a coffee table…

 …I’m grieving, and have been for a very long time.

It’s okay that you do not remember this. That’s the way with humans, it seems. In our fear, in our pain, in our own grief, our memories tend to grow dim and hazy, our focus turns inward, our skills with others diminish.

There is blood on the sidewalk. Quickly, we step around and make our way briskly beyond.

It’s probably a big mystery to you, after all; why have I stumbled into town to bleed? Here, where bleeding is done behind closed doors whenever possible? Here, where blood is so unwelcome? Here, where we would deny that we have blood at all, if only we could? Why?

I can tell you why: I have experience that tells me that it’s a way to find real healing. Maybe it’s a way that others can find the same. Maybe even you.

It’s a way I have found with Sally. When I tell her the truth of my woundedness, my losses, my grief, and she truly hears me – in that simple act (nothing else is required on her part… nothing…) the wounds begin to close.

It’s as if healing is naturally inside of me. All I must do is tell the truth of my wounds. The reason I must speak it to Sally is this: I need to see, to know, to feel, that even in my woundedness, I am still loved and accepted.

This is the same reason I tell you.

I know you have good intentions. I really do. But advice simply does not help. Neither does distraction. And neither does any attempt to “cheer me up.”  Grief must run its course, you see. There’s no way through it but through it. My healing is inside of me. You don’t have to provide the bandages.

Which is a good thing to know, since we’ve all been born into a world where there is so much to grieve.

Perhaps we could get better at it.

Listen. The thing that helps the most is listening and hearing.

Which can be the hardest thing to remember to do, when you are caught in the fear and pain of seeing blood on the sidewalk.

But please, I beg you, do not try to take my grief away, or interrupt its progress.

Do you not understand? Grief is precious to me. It’s how I know what love is. It’s the only way I can know and trust that I do love. Grief is praise, as the shaman Martin Prechtel says. Grief is love.

So let’s make it easier for ourselves. Instead of hurrying past, stop and sit on the sidewalk next to me.

“You’re grieving today,” you can say, noticing the blood on the concrete below me.

“Yes,” I will answer.

You’ll nod your head in understanding, because you know grief as well.

I’ll smile, to see that you have not gone away, to know that I am not alone, even with my grief.

Already a bit of healing has begun. Already the bleeding has stopped. I can feel it. Can you? And with that, we can begin to notice the way the sun shines on Campobello Island, and how the crows seem to dance sometimes, and don’t the lilacs smell wonderful?

Grief and woundedness is not all there is, you see. We’ve also been born into a world where there is much to celebrate with gratitude and thanksgiving, where there is power and joy and communion. Grief is just a part of what is.

But it’s a part that, for me, must be tended regularly, like placing flowers against a headstone. If I try to go on with my life without acknowledging that it’s there, I will just bleed internally, and it will kill me.  It almost did kill me.

Say what you will. Do what you must. It’s okay. I’ll do the same.

However it goes, we’ll be okay.

Think of that.

T

Thanks to Cabot O’Callaghan for the inspiration.

 

 

Life Before Death

May 9th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 33 Responses

What happened to me? That’s the question that haunts me in these end of days. What happened, that left me feeling so damaged, so broken, so confused? Why am I so unable to trust? Why are so many of my days filled with anxiety so distracting that my power and effectiveness suffer? Why am I always on alert? Why can’t I find a place to rest? Why do I feel so goddamned fucked up? It doesn’t feel like it should be this way. Is this the design of human being? Is the Earth, the species, the Universe, the Grand Hologram of Reality™ itself, really so indifferent, so hard-edged, so unsafe? Or did something happen to me, way back in the grayness of memory, to knock me out of my birthright as a connected, loving, and belonging human being? What happened to me?

I feel a bit strange, sometimes, pondering these “personal” things in such momentous times. The Doomers™, bless their hearts, are now batting about the acronym NTE – near-term extinction – and not without reason, when one looks at the climate, resource™, and environmental data and analyses. Whether or not we are headed the way of the dodo, we are certainly headed the way of the “Doh!,” the mass deathbed epiphany that what We™ have been doing has not been working, that We™ are not really in control here, and that Our™ chickens, coming home to roost, are now going to have to compete for every last scrap of feed.

But for me, my personal healing journey and the global predicament are intricately connected. It’s not just “What happened to me?” but “What happened to US?,” and the answers and insights can reveal not only cause and explanation for our present predicament, but a possible path forward, ahead, and even through and beyond. We are where we are. It is what it is. “This is water.” So how do we, even in this end of days, even if it’s just a small number of us, even as the present systems twist and writhe and unravel at our feet, learn what there is to learn, do what we came here to do, step into consciousness, clarity, awareness, maturity, and freedom, and find what David Foster Wallace, in this beautiful, moving speech, below, calls “sacred”? Is the greatest affront of death, and extinction, to those of us raised in this crazy world, that it comes to us before we’ve had a chance to fully live? Is it possible, even now, to find our “life before death”? And if we do, what might that mean?

Please go watch this video.

I sometimes joke that I wish my parents had beat me, so that I could at least understand why I feel so fucked up. Not really a joke, of course. A great part of my pain lies in the self-judgment that, having been raised in comfort as a little prince, having been born male, white, smart, well-fed, and American, I should not feel the way I do. But I do feel the way I do, and it has taken me long years, constant unraveling, tears and rants, blaming and forgiveness, truth-telling (mostly to myself), and apprenticing myself to Sally as Teacher in the matter of both anger and conflict, to begin to understand why. Apart from the occasional spankings that were a widely-accepted part of Sixties child-rearing, my parents were not overtly physically, emotionally, or psychologically abusive. They were good people, trying to be good, trying to do good, doing the best they could with the tools, beliefs, and stories they’d been handed by the generations preceding them. But when I feel my way back to my early experience of family, I’m stopped short by the realization that, buried in the center of it all, lodged in this happy family, there was a chunk of unacknowledged dissatisfaction, disappointment, and rage that, like Kryptonite, poisoned us all, including the four young supermen that were my brothers and myself.

I do not know, for sure, what that Kryptonite was, or how it became lodged in our lives. My mother wore her rage as exhaustion, irritation, and dramatic sighs of longing, with occasional explosions of fury. My father cloaked his rage in affable okey-dokeys, but it was there inside of him nonetheless. Surely they lived the “day in, day out” lives David Foster Wallace spoke of, but I think it was more than that. The Kryptonite had deeper roots, I believe, that shaped the previous generations of our rural farming family. It revealed itself in the quiet, stolid, unexpressive lives of my uncles, and put the lost, pained, angry grimace on my grandmother’s face. It was handed down from generation to generation, this Kryptonite. It was our family’s view of life, the universe, and everything. It was the limitations, absurdities, and betrayals of that worldview. It was the culture itself. It was nobody’s fault.

We could all feel the Kryptonite, I think, we sensitive little boys, all in our own ways. It manifested, first and foremost, in my opinion, as a bantering, competitive, teasing family system, where joking, baiting, insulting, one-upping, and put-downing, all under the guise of “going for the laugh” and “just in fun,” provided the only safe and approved avenue for the release of tension, the processing of poison, and the expression of our anger. We were all terrified, you see. Terrified of conflict. Terrified of anger. Terrified of love and deep feeling. Terrified of being hurt, and of hurting others. And rightly so, perhaps. Because we knew, we sensed, we felt, that should we pull the cover from that chunk of Kryptonite, it might burn so brightly that it would kill us all. And we knew, deep in our bones but not in our minds, that we’d lost our healing arts, and did not even believe that healing was possible. The Kryptonite was there, tucked into a duffel bag in the back closet in the basement. We could feel its poisoning, irradiating effects. But we could not approach it. We could not move it. And we could not render it harmless. We did not know how.

“It feels impossible to counter,” I said to Sally this morning, tears welling up in my eyes. “I was raised in an intermittent reinforcement schedule, the most difficult type of conditioning to extinguish.” Sally knew what I meant. Good people living with Kryptonite in their basement were prone to occasional, unpredictable, and surprising outbursts of anger, blame, and judgment which, erupting up out of the constant, underground, tightly-contained magma of dissatisfaction, would knock me completely out of myself. I lost all trust. If good people could be so bad, if the people who said “I love you” could so betray me, if “mother” could also be “terrifying punisher,” then this little alien visitor would never be safe. Not ever. No matter how long they might appear to be my friends, people could turn on me. And sometimes they did. And so many decades later, I’m still suffering. The trigger for Sally’s and my morning’s conversation was that some good friends had stopped by the day before and hung out to eat their lunch in our front yard while I was building some new porch steps. Far from being unsafe, these friends were actually aware of my avowed “introversion,” and gave voice to knowing how their arrival might throw me off, and tried to actually care for me. It didn’t matter. The alerts sounded, the sirens screamed, the panic rose, and I lost myself. And after that loss came shame, feelings of weakness, and upset. “It doesn’t mean anything about you!” I wanted to cry. “I’m just… hurt.” But in such moments of social panic, I am unable to speak the what’s so that might bring me some measure of comfort. All I can feel is the Kryptonite, reaching out from the past and poisoning the present.

I write today because it is my daughter’s birthday. I found out because Facebook told me so, and suggested I buy her a Starbucks gift certificate. I write today because Mother’s Day is coming, which I know because of the spam ads that show up in my in-box. I write because I no longer know how to have a relationship with either my children or my mother, because I have no idea how to make or send or buy or be a gift, because I cannot seem to find a way to be the gift that I am in their lives, because I am so disconnected now that I get my family news from spam email and Facebook. In my faltering attempts to speak the truth of my experience to my family of origin, I have now managed to pretty much alienate them all, save for one brother who keeps hanging on, who seems to understand some portion of my experience simply because he understands some portion of his own, similar experience. I broke the most fundamental rule, you see:  I tried to expose the Kryptonite, even though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I tried to speak of the things inside of me that still poisoned me. I tried to interrupt the basic rules of the family system that hurt me, and which hurt me still when I am inside of that system. I set off to face my own terrors and find my own healing. I set off to face the truth of the world we have created for ourselves. I went off to find the water, to see it, to feel it, to know it. I set out to save my own life, because the pain was killing me. But the only way I could find to do that was to walk away from where I’d been.

I write today mostly because I don’t know what else to do. And I write, in the end, with the faint hope and utter certainty that Wallace is right, that love and connection and the sacred can be snatched out of this cold, hard Universe by a simple human choice, even in the face of the NTE. Can I choose to find my own life now, and then live it before I die?  Is it okay now, to do that, even though I was raised with Kryptonite in the basement? Even though I got so poisoned? Even though I’ve made so many, many mistakes? Even though I’ve had to walk away even from my own children in order to save my own life?  Can I pay the fine for the crime of having been born into this insanity, as Jeff Bridges asked in The Fisher King, and go home?  Can I just choose?

I’m certain that I can.  And I have my doubts.

I wonder: did David Foster Wallace find this for himself before he died? He hanged himself, you know, just as we humans seem bent on hanging ourselves in our quest to rule the world. He found his death. But did he find his own life before death? I hear in his voice that he did.

And if he did, can I?

And if I can, can We™?

The Personal Exemption

April 30th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 12 Responses

Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine

Well it’s all right, were going to the end of the line

-End of the Line, The Traveling Wilburys

 

I was splitting wood and heard a bird cry. Just over the old wire fence, maybe ten feet away, a small hawk had snatched a little black songbird from the air and pinned it to the ground. The songbird flailed and struggled for a moment, then went quiet as the hawk, no larger than a mourning dove, held it to the Earth like a parent might hold an upset child. The hawk simply waited, an implacable force, and I, fascinated, rose from the log upon which I sat to get a better view.

 

Hawk hunting dove (Cooper’s hawks,Accipitercooperii) by Hector Brandan

The hawk, perhaps irritated by my intrusion, took to the air. Immediately the songbird began to flail and cry again, as if sensing an opportunity to break free. The hawk carried the songbird across the road and pinned it to the bare ground of our garden. I followed, stepping out into the street, trying to see. Trying to see. What type of bird? What kind of hawk? I couldn’t tell. It was all happening so quickly, and I could not get a good enough angle. The songbird cried a bit more on the ground, then again fell into silence. The hawk waited. I watched.

I could see Sally inside through our front window and motioned for her to come out. She opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and I motioned toward the birds on the ground. The hawk, as if seeking privacy or respect, took to the air, the songbird crying and flailing in its talons. The hawk lifted the little bird to the neighbor’s yard and went back to ground in the shadows where we could barely see them. “That made me shiver,” said Sally. “Yeah,” I said. We both went back to our work.

“There’s something for me in this,” I wrote later on Facebook. “Do you identify with the hawk or the song bird?” a friend asked in a comment. I didn’t have an answer for him. I’m not sure I do now. But I have thoughts and connections and bits and pieces. Seems I should be able to put them together into something that helps. If not a picture, then at least a sketch, or maybe just an arrow that points in the direction of further exploration.

It has been an extremely taxing time, these past few months, though different in kind and degree for each of us. Sally and I have spent an inordinate amount of time getting her/our new venture, Vejibag, off the ground. Research. Product development. Team building. The construction and launching of our website. Legal, employee, corporate, and business issues. Copywriting. The launching and promotion of a Facebook page. The fulfillment of orders. Finding and fixing up a local workspace. A local Eastport launch party. The design of a CrowdFunding campaign, including shooting and editing a five-minute video. And into all of that we mixed our hopes, our fears, our desires to help, our concerns about the larger global economic and environmental situation, and our entire lifetimes of experience, wounding, expectation, and assumption, and to all of it we brought our ability to step into openness and uncertainty, into courage and vision, and into the vulnerability of needing help. It’s taken long hours and days and weeks at the computer. It’s taken stepping every day into doing things we did not really “know” how to do. It’s taken spending an hour or two every day, drinking coffee and tea, sharing our early morning anxieties, our dreams, our fears, our wants, our hopes, and slowly teasing apart our habituated egoic reactions from who we really are, and the visions that compel us forward into action. And at the end of it all, exhausted, unbalanced, tapped out, in need, we hit the button and took our Indiegogo campaign live and said to the world, “Here we are. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Can you help us? Because we cannot do this alone.”

“It’s a forty-day vision quest,” I said to Sally, early on, and we took that on as a useful lens through which to view things. We would use the campaign as an opportunity to wander off into the wilderness of “asking for help and support” and see where it led us. We would speak our hopes and needs and desires to our fellows, to the gods, to the land, to the Cosmos, and see how it/he/she/they responded. We would go on a fast from “knowing,” from “being in control,” from jumping to hasty conclusions. We would observe, and ponder, and stay open to useful data from unexpected sources, to messages from something greater than our two little human egos. We would put ourselves into the quest, the question, to be led, called, pushed, pulled, thwarted, aided, and gifted, in order that we might find the vision we sought: Who are we now? What should be do next? And would Vejibag find a place in the world that would support us on our journey? Forty days, we’ve given it, with the expectation that by June 1st we will have the useful guidance we need to plan and make our next steps.

But gods, how painful it has been for me. This quest has brought up my oldest and most gut-wrenching shit and laid it on a sunlit table for me to study. How lovely. I’ve been wracked with anxiety and terror. I’ve been smoldering with anger and defensiveness. I’ve pleaded and prayed and cursed and demanded and walked away, only to return the next day to do it again. It has not been a pretty sight, and I’ve retreated as much as possible into my own life, my own house, my own safe spaces, where only Sally could see me suffer. Did you notice that I haven’t written for weeks?

How do I give my gifts in a way that supports me in this physical life? This has been my question for a long time now. What can I do, what can I write, what can I edit, what can I say, what can I create, what can I give, that will be appreciated enough in the “wider village” that others will give support to me in return? How can I be the wizard living at the village’s edge if I am unable to obtain food and firewood in exchange for my spells and potions? How can I act as psychopomp for a dying paradigm if I do not receive a coin at the river’s edge? How can I complete my anthropological study here on Planet Earth when I was sent on this mission without adequate funding from my home planet? I’ve been working on these questions for a very long time.

And so far, my wounded human ego has not much cared for the answers. Isn’t hard work enough? Really? Damn, I’ve been busting my ass for years! The number of hours I put into our documentary, What a Way to Go, have never been adequately compensated. And All of the Above, the sci-fi novel which, in my mind, serves as the movie’s sequel? Over two years writing, editing, editing again, editing again, laying out, designing, researching, doing things I’ve never done before, pinned once again to my chair by the Muse’s talons while I cried and flailed, surrendering, doing it, crying and flailing and surrendering again, over and over, all for a meagre number of sales, a morsel of food and firewood, a single ha’penny at the river’s edge. And then to do it all again with the next book, Rumi’s Field, which is now in a mid-book standstill? And then to do it all again again with Vejibag? Isn’t being good enough? Isn’t wanting to do good enough? Isn’t being smart and dedicated and willing to spend one’s self in service enough? Isn’t doing one’s work to claw through the confusions of ego and culture enough? When the Indiegogo campaign didn’t take off immediately, when that first flurry of website sales slowed to a trickle, when it became clear the amount of work likely still ahead of us as we try to make Vejibag pay us back with support, all with no certainty that it ever will pay off, I was thrust once again into that same “loss of innocence” that crashed down upon me two days after What a Way to Go was released, when someone, a seeming online friend, someone who had been in touch with us in the time before the movie came out, following our news, anticipating our release, put our documentary up on a bit torrent site for anyone to download for free. I sobbed uncontrollably that day. And I sobbed after All of the Above came out, when it became clear that the work we’d done to gain a documentary audience would not easily or automatically translate into creating a novel-reading audience. And I’ve sobbed in the last few days, crying out to the gods, fuming and cursing, feeling alone and unsupported, even betrayed, as my hopes for support have not easily and automatically become reality.

Did I mention that this has not been a pretty sight?

I was told, you see. I was told that I was smart and talented, and that I could do anything I wanted, and that it would all work out for me. It would be “all right,” just as the Wilburys sang. Parents told me. Teachers told me. An entire culture told me that brains and talent and hard work and good intentions would take me where I wanted to go. I was told. Just as were most of you. We were all told. We were told.

But we live in a world where the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology feel as implacable as that hawk’s talons. That, at least, is the collective belief, and that collective belief might actually be a driving force here, and it may be exactly why we came here in the first place. There are so many of us now. Resources™ are tight and getting tighter. Money is disappearing into ravenous maws and gaping pits and hidden vaults as the Natural™ world crumbles underfoot. Jobs are drying up and markets are wavering and competition is increasing and each piece of pie gets smaller and smaller and the ice is melting so quickly now. And there doesn’t seem to be much of anything, in this physical realm, that will interrupt the perfect storm now hitting us. We can cry and flail when it feels like there’s a chance of escape, because that’s what living bodies do, but at some point there’s little else to do but fall into quiet acceptance of what’s so. Fuck.

Human exceptionalism, the cultural notion that we clever monkeys are somehow exempt from the laws of life, has often been named as a fundamental “reason” for why things are as they are. But culture is not something that lies out there, beyond us. It resides inside of us, each and every one of us, in our thoughts and feelings, our hopes and dreams, our expectations and our entitlements. And there is no “coming to grips” with our culture’s exceptionalism, I say, without also, and perhaps first, “coming to grips” with our own sense of personal exemption.  Here’s my coming to grips: no matter how smart I am, no matter how good, no matter how much I wish or try or work to help, the huge forces now at work in the world are going to hit me just as they will hit everyone. They are, in fact, already hitting me. They’ve been hitting me my whole life. And it does not matter, to the hawk, or to the laws of thermodynamics, what anybody told me.

The game we live in now is very different from the game we were told we are playing. The tax forms we now have to complete for living on Planet Earth are not what they used to be. The personal exemption, in particular, seems to be missing from the second page of the new 1040, good buddies. It appears I have little choice but to learn the new rules.

But I find that there is relief in that, as well as pain, as there often is when I finally tell myself (or when Sally tells me) the Truth™. This article, - 10 Reasons To Quit Your Job This Year – and this one - I Have Seven Jobs and I Love It. Here’s Why You Will Too - both look at the whole “making a living” question with new eyes. These articles scare me, as they confront what I’ve been told, but they also excite me, not only with the clarity of their revelations, but with the possibilities that they open up to us, for those of us ready, able, and willing to grab for them. It seems I’m not in control. Damn. But not being in control is not the same thing as being helpless, though it felt like that to the young child I once was. Instead of control, I have to be in conversation with what’s so. I get to say my truth, speak my wants, needs, and desires, and act to bring about what I want. And doing so will no doubt exert an influence in the greater reality. But the whole of the Cosmos is also speaking it’s truth. And that big ol’ goofy world is way bigger than I. But what a relief, to no longer be in charge here. What a burden that has been. I’m glad to just dance for a while, and let the Universe lead.

It may not be “all right” here at the “end of the line,” not in the way we were told it would be. Not inside the confines of the scientific materialist paradigm. But there’s more than one sort of “all right” in this crazy, amazing, uncontrollable Cosmos, I think. My guess is that, in the end, in some way we do not right now expect, the Traveling Wilburys will be proven correct.

More about which later… if I can convince myself that the time and energy I put into blogging is worth it…

Pax-T

 

 

 

Gentle Rain

April 9th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 22 Responses

“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”  -  Ihaleakala Hew Len, Zero Limits

I woke early, thinking of gentleness. I woke early, thinking of our overwhelming life, of to-do lists that seem to grow ever longer, of urgencies and deadlines, of pressures and worries. I woke early, obsessing over taxes and money and marketing and laundry and computer backups, over Sally’s needs and my flaky™ desires, of big rocks and sand and water filling the jar, and how I cannot seem to take my big rocks seriously. I woke early and made the fire and started the coffee, thinking of overwhelm and gentleness. And outside, as if the whole of the Universe could mirror my soul, the western sky grew ever darker.  Soon enough the rain began, warmer than it has been, with little wind. Soft and pattering, a gentle rain. A dark day. A day to stay inside and ponder and clean and reorganize, to listen to great music while I sort through the piles on my desk, and the taller stacks in my heart and mind.

We have to be gentle in these times, I thought, Sally and me. We have to be gentle with ourselves. We have to be gentle with each other. And we have to be gentle with the world. There’s so much urgency in this realm, it seems. So much pain. So much Doom™. So much wounding. So many reactions. So many sharp edges, sharp stories, sharp assumptions, sharp expectations. And our path seems to follow the cliff’s edge, keeping us always at the edge, always near the precipice, always doing things we don’t know how to do, rounding corners around which we cannot see, stepping out onto ledges we cannot know are solid and safe. We have to be gentle.

And perhaps that’s a word to describe what that baby was getting that I did not get. I was raised in a grow up/get tough/learn to cope world, and we could never just sit down in the gentle rain and acknowledge how difficult and scary things could be, and how vulnerable we felt, and how far away our dreams seemed to be in this sharp, waking, rocky world. There was love, but it was almost always the tough kind. Or that’s how it felt to me. I needed more gentleness. More openness. More room for “I’m sad” and “I don’t know” and “I’m afraid.” More time for us, as a family, as a culture, to stop and sort through the piles of our collective life and get clear who we were and what we were here for and what we most deeply wanted and needed.

And so I wake up with worry and fear and pressure, and have to council myself toward gentleness.

I don’t think I’ll write much more than that today. I’ve had so many ideas, so many fascinations, in the weeks since I last wrote, during which we travelled far and wide, and talked of many things. I’ve had so many thoughts to share with you. But this morning, as the rain falls gently on my window, all those things feel sharp and edgy and cold, and I do not wish to handle them.

I will note two things before I end:

-It amazes me, the sensations that arise in my body when I speak of gentleness. It’s “man stuff,” mostly. an inward clench of embarrassment, to be so Weak™, so Vulnerable™, so Needy™, so Soft™. There are so many old wires inside of me, convinced that it is not okay to speak of gentleness. So many wires…

-But the big secret is this: that gruff, curmudgeonly recluse I sometimes profess to be – that’s not the whole of me at all, I think. And of course that’s likely only a secret in my own head.

The gentle rain continues to fall. Part of me loves it, the permission it gives me, to stay inside where it’s warm and slowly face the reality of my life and my work. But part of me is afraid of it. I think, should I step out into it, bare of foot and head, and let the mud caress my toes and the drops spatter my hair and face, I would become part of that rain myself, and fall to the ground as drops of water, forming a small, embracing puddle of exhaustion, gratitude, and grief. There are many days when I long to simply merge back into the Cosmos and leave this fractured human ego behind. I’m so tired of sharp edges. I’m so tired of urgency. I’m so tired of Doom™.

But I am still here. Obviously, my work is not yet finished. So I’ll drip and puddle for a while and then get back to it, stepping around more blind corners and teetering on another unstable rock. The path holds joy and surprise along the way, and there is help to be found.

“And it is done.”

 

The Swiftest Path Back

March 21st, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 20 Responses

Which way to go next? It has taken me forever to get into the lab today, what with so many other things needing my attention. Now that I’m here, what fascinates? I thought I might follow up last week’s post with something called “So Who’s the Alien?”, which would question a basic assumption that underlies what I wrote last week. But I don’t have the heart or mind for that right now. My body is fairly filled with anxiety today, with fog and broken glass and phantom dogs and unpaid psychic bills and rotten leftovers in the emotional fridge. So what calls?

I think it’s time to post this video, which some of you have no doubt already seen. Take a few moments. Watch and listen and soak it up. The rest of this will follow from that experience.

 

What I want to say today is that it has taken me almost fifty-five years to be able to admit to myself what has felt forbidden to say: I did not get that. The care that baby got? The soft, gentle, loving, respectful regard? I did not get that. Not in the way I needed it. Not when I most needed it. Not from those from whom I most needed it. I did not get that. And not getting it has shaped my life more profoundly than I would ever have guessed.

This is not to say that I never got loving care, or that my parents didn’t “love” me, or that I was not supported as a child. I was well-fed and well-clothed, relatively free, and provided with the many toys and creature comforts a modern, American, middle-class lifestyle afforded these past fifty years. I was well-regarded by teachers and classmates. I was guided and advised and trained and encouraged in all the ways the culture expected I should be. It simply wasn’t enough. Or it wasn’t what I most needed. And somehow, a thick wire got soldiered into place, or perhaps a wire was broken and tossed away, and to this day, I must struggle to regard and value myself in the way that baby is being regarded and valued. This tender, nascent, unsolidified sense of self-regard interferes with my work. It creates misunderstandings and tripping points between myself and Sally. And it forms, in large part, the heavy, clumsy armor of anxiety and fear I don whenever I venture out into the world of “other people.” It can knock me to my knees any day of the week, leaving my body filled with clenched guts and tears piled up behind the lids. And as I’ve walked my healing path, it seems to have only intensified.

But it’s not really the pain and wounding I want to speak of right now. What I want to speak of is the process.

My family is all still alive, you see. Any of them, were they interested, could read this. And I imagine that, should they do so, they would likely conclude that my reason for writing the above is to blame my parents or my ex for my life, to extract some vague revenge, and/or to demand apology and restitution, all in the hopes that this would somehow “solve” my “problem,” and set me free. And none of those conclusions, I think, would be correct. I simply need to speak the reality of my life, and not pretend, even to myself, anything other than the truth of “what happened” and “what is so.”

Again, it’s the hiding, the pretense, that kills me.

I understand, you see, that the members of my family of origin were and are good and well-intentioned people doing their best in the world with what they were given. I understand that, in some real and fundamental way, my parents simply did not know what to do with me – their little alien – and that my family members, by and large, still don’t know what to do with me even now. I understand that my healing is my own work. And I understand that it is proceeding quite nicely. It’s just that this is what the “healed” version of me looks like. The wounds – amputations, mostly, rather than cuts and bruises – are simply a part of who I am now. The missing wires may always be missing.  The wounds may always hurt a bit if I scuff them against a hard surface. But even if my wounds can trip me up on a daily basis, I can regain my footing on a daily basis as well. New wires can be soldiered into place. Prosthetic devices can help me function more fully. And there are people that can help me cross the street.

I don’t need my parents to go back in time and “fix the past.” They can no more do that than I can. I simply need to say what’s so for me, and not hide the truth from myself:  something hurt me so deeply in my past that it still resonates throughout my mind, heart, body, and soul, like a gong still sounding fifty-five years after the mallet blow. When I see that baby in the bathwater, I get a feeling glimpse of what that was:  there was some sort of care or regard or respect that I sorely needed as a child, and which I did not get. It has become my work, as an adult, and with Sally’s help, and others’, to find that regard, and to hold it as my own.

But I cannot find it until I first admit my forbidden truths to myself.

Now stop, and spend a moment getting in touch with your own feeling response to what I’ve so far written. Because I do this shit all the time, right? I reveal my hidden truths. My pains. My stumbling blocks. My feelings. And it never seems to get any easier. And part of the reason for that, I think, lies out there. With you.

Now, when I say “you,” I don’t know who I mean. You understand that, right? I don’t know who’s reading this. I don’t know to whom this applies. You’ll have to sort that out for yourselves. All I know is that I have a great many experiences that tell me that “you” are out there, and that while I have some response-ability in the matter of my own reactions and boundaries in our relationship together, so do “you.” I talk about my own part all the time. Today I’m talking about “you.” And “you” know who you are.

I said, in What a Way to Go, that “our feelings are the swiftest path back to our forgotten selves.” I said it because I believe it. I said it because it’s my experience. I said it because it had become clear to Sally and me, as we peered over the cliff of our present predicament, that the cultural train now heading toward that cliff is fueled, in great part, by the fact that we “civilized” humans have largely disconnected ourselves from the truth of our own feelings. We do not feel the death, pain, and misery our culture has wrought on the living world around us. We do not feel our own misery here on this planet, as we are born, live, and die inside of a cultural prison that does not serve us, neither our real needs nor our most precious dreams. We do not feel, we do not allow ourselves to feel, how deeply confused, wounded, and bereft we have been rendered in this culture. And because we do not feel these things, most of us, most of the time, seem unable to respond to our collective situation in a mature, adult, human way. We have forgotten who we are, what we want, why we are here, and where we are headed. And having forgotten ourselves, we are left largely powerless in the face of our unraveling world.

Sally and I are surely not the only ones to have come to this conclusion. But we may be some of the very few who have taken the work of reconnection as deeply as we have. Feeling what one is feeling seems like an obvious and important response to our current crisis. And speaking one’s feelings, as part of a larger community discussion regarding how to meet our predicament, has felt like our work for some time. But I gotta tell ya, I surely do understand why people do not and will not take this step. Venturing into “feeling out loud”  can feel like stepping onto a bloody minefield.  Or a courtroom…

You know how it goes. We all do, don’t we? You put a “bad” feeling out there –  ”I’m afraid.”  ”I’m in pain.”  ”I’m filled with anxiety.”  - and what do you hear in response?  Well, Johnny, tell ‘em what they’ve won…

-”Cheer up, dude. It ain’t that bad.” Not only does this response convey that your feelings are not okay and that you need to stop showing them, they call into question their validity. It’s not so bad. You are mistaken about your own feelings.

-”Yeah, lots of people feel that way.” While an attempt is being made, perhaps, to let you know you’re not alone, there is often a dark undercurrent of “so why do you get to complain about it?”

-”You need to go outside and get some fresh air.” Advice of all kinds can convey, first, that your feelings are easily “solve-able,” and second, that you are simply not smart enough to have thought of the solution yourself, or that you’ve done little or nothing to solve things on your own and return to the right, proper, and culturally approved emotional state, which is Happy™. Advice operates on the assumption that there is something to be done to make your bad feelings go away, which conveys that it’s not okay for you to have these feelings in the first place.

-”Did you see Game of Thrones last night?” There are a million ways to divert and distract you when you “break the rules” and express a feeling. Jokes. Non-sequitors. Stories about somebody else’s situation. The message is that your expression of feeling is so unwelcome that they are just going to go on as if it hadn’t happened.

There are surely other items that belong on this list. I invite you to add them.

Now, many people, upon reading this, might call foul. “Surely people are just trying to help,” they might say. “They only want what’s best for you.” Perhaps those people are correct. I do observe that most people are trying to be and do good in the world, and are doing the best they can with what they have. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that all of these responses to your expression of “bad” feeling arise from the listener’s own discomfort with feeling, and are informed by deep cultural stories that no longer serve us. And I’m going to be so bold as to just say outright that, when somebody shares feelings of pain or grief or fear or anger or anxiety or helplessness or despair with you, maybe the only thing you need do in response, and perhaps the only thing that will ever really help, is to simply listen to them and reflect what they’ve said, so that they have the experience of having been heard. You don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to make it go away. You don’t have to make it better. You don’t have to know what to do. None of that is your job. Your job is simply to hear what they say, because having the truth of our lives seen and heard and known by other human beings lies at the heart of our healing and reconnection.

All that other stuff? Stop it. Just stop it. It does not help. And, in fact, it’s what makes people ever more hesitant to express out loud the truths of their lives. Stop with the deflection, the advice, the jokes, the cheering up. Stop, and learn to just listen and reflect. Let people’s feelings simply be what they are. Let your own feelings simply be what they are. Let the expression of feeling emerge into an ever safer environment. Dig up the mines and toss them away. Clear the courtroom.  Create an open meadow into which feeling can venture out into the light. Join in as the community learns to tell itself the truth. And see where that leads.

I say it will lead to healing and connection. I say it will lead to reclamation and reconciliation, to growth and maturity and evolution. I say it will take us somewhere we want to go, even as the old forms, and the life of this world, unravel around us. Step onto that swiftest path. Re-member yourself. Help others remember themselves. Let us, in this time, tell the felt truth of our lives. We will never learn to reconnect with the Earth, I think, until we learn to reconnect with our own felt truth.

The truth of my life is that I did not get something that that baby got in that bathwater, and that this lack of regard or valuing has shaped my life in painful and surprising ways. I don’t need my family to fix that, or make me feel better. I simply need to say it, and to be listened to by my village as I say it. That pain has made me who I am today, and who I am is a wonderful man. I do not need that pain turned into Happy-ness™. I simply need to stop hiding it, so that I can put the energy it takes me to do so to other uses.

Ironic, perhaps, coming from a non-empath, but there it is.  Please understand that this is learned behavior on my part, gathered painfully over the course of many years.  I’m still learning it, perhaps now more than ever. True empaths probably don’t need to be told any of this. And know that I will have more to say to this.  The opposite of a great truth is usually another great truth, as Neils Bohr said.  I want to remember that.  For now, this will suffice.

Time to turn out the lights.

Pax, T

PS:  I’ll be traveling in the next week or two, so will be unable to hang out in my lab. I invite you to visit your own labs and see what fascinates you. Perhaps you have a guest blog inside of you, just waiting to pop out?

 

 

 

 

 

The Empath and the Alien

March 12th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 16 Responses

Star Trek: “The Empath”

Those few who know me well know that I sometimes use the term “alien” as a self-descriptor.  I refer to my “home planet,” and how we do things there, and how that world is different from this one.  I joke around about having special powers and the ability to wipe people’s memories, and Sally jokes that my strange and unconscious finger- and wrist-flexing movements are a sort of communication with “the mother ship.”  My clumsy, hunched, and shuffling gait, my stunted, blunted senses and interests, my facial tics and my disinterest in many things physical, leave me feeling like I’ve donned a thick, Tim-shaped deep-sea diving suit in order to sink down to the bottom of the Terran gravity well and explore this ocean of humanity.  I notice my fascination with issues, ideas, assumptions, and beliefs that seem to propel me ever further to the far reaches of the “normal curve” of human culture.  I rarely feel as though I belong here, and my deepest and most lonely longings take me to a world that feels sane and whole, to a land “over the rainbow” where it all makes sense to me.  Home is somewhere far away, it seems, amongst the stars.  Home is Asteroid B-612, and I, a “little prince,” am continually searching for my way back.

I take this on as metaphor, as useful fiction, not knowing or really caring whether there is any objective™ truth to it.  Readers of All of the Above probably suspect that I’m a long-time student of that whole UFO/alien thang, and that I’m openly open to the reality of many things that the mainstream dominant culture ridicules and dismisses.  I have no real objection to the notions that there are levels of reality other than the material, that there is sentient life elsewhere in the physical Cosmos and permeating other levels of existence, and that we humans on Earth are not, and have not been, as isolated as most seem to think.  But I have no clear memory, no undeniable experience, no objective™ evidence that I am “really” from somewhere else.  Lots of people feel out of place right now.  We live inside a global culture that feels almost totally unhinged from Reality™.  I do not need the “alien in a human body” story to explain my experience here.

And yet it suits me, this metaphor.  One story you hear over and over in the “alien abduction” literature is how the “aliens,” and more specifically “the grays,” deeply terrified of humans, are nevertheless interacting surreptitiously with humans because they want something from them, something that they’ve lost, something they want to regain.  And that’s exactly how I feel.  It seems I have a missing piece.

I may have never known this about myself, had I not met up with Sally, for the piece I lack is a piece she has in abundance.  It’s one she craves deeply in her interactions with other human beings, and my lack of it has been a source of pain and grief for a very long time now.  That piece is empathy, the ability to put myself into the emotional space of another and feel what they are feeling.  Sally is a deeply feeling soul, and while I can understand her feelings, and greatly value her passionate approach to life, and while I benefit daily from her ability to empathize with my own feelings, I seem to lack the capacity to return that gift to her.

Please understand that, to my mind, empathy is quite distinct from feeling, caring, sympathy, valuing, or understanding.  I am a deeply feeling man.  I value people, and care for their well-being.  I can feel bad for them, and understand how they work.  I just don’t make that face-to-face, vibratory, resonating, emotional connection with them.  Like an alien observer, I note and analyze and catalog and understand, but there is something about me that is so different, so… other… that I don’t feel them.  A useful analogy might be between kingdoms or phyla of Terran life.  I feel humans’ emotional states no better than I feel the emotional states of fish or ants or cacti.  The chasm is so great between us that I cannot seem to cross it.  I can act in deeply feeling ways.  I can look like I have empathy.  But after ten years of “running the experiment,” I have to face the fact that I do not.

Was I born this way, an alien, a psychopath, a mutant, or an Asperger’s “sufferer”?  Or was this missing piece knocked out of me early on as I lived in the sometimes terrifying presence of an openly angry mother and a covertly angry father?  Was it a soul chunk that fell out of me on that warm, summer afternoon when my mother, furious that her young child would not stop singing that slightly bawdy version of the Popeye song, hauled him into the bathroom and washed his mouth out with soap?  Or is this simply the result we should expect when a sensitive human soul is raised in a culture that denies feeling, truth, and reality at every turn?

Am I wounded, damaged, traumatized…  or simply alien?  And is there any way to know™?  Who’s to say that people with Asperger’s aren’t simply aliens™ in human bodies?

All of this smacked like a fat dragonfly onto the windshield of my life this past week, as yet another “failure to empathize” on my part triggered deep feelings of anger, pain, and grief on Sally’s part.  It was a tough and painful couple of days here, with much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, but we stayed with it, slowly processing our way through the pain and to new levels of acceptance of “what’s so,” and doing the work of grieving that which is not so.  Much of “the problem” has resided in my own lack of self- acceptance.  Raised in this culture with a steady diet of unconscious assumptions, I was taught to believe that empathy is good™ and the lack thereof bad™.  (How many times did James T. Kirk make the case to alien cultures and beings for the grand goodness and even superiority of human beings in all their wild, messy, creative emotionality?  They even did a whole episode on human empathy and aliens!)  So I’ve expended much time and energy hiding my bad™ and trying to be good™.  Had I simply allowed myself to know out loud the truth of my own experience, I could have sooner, and with calm but loving self-acceptance, explained to Sally how life is for me, and helped her to do the inevitable grieving work she has had to do.  It’s the hiding, the pretense, that has tripped us up.  And this week I let go of a large piece of that pretense.

Strangely, or perhaps obviously, I have felt a great deal of relief since.  I think maybe Sally has as well.  It’s amazing how much energy can get tied up in the denial of what’s so.  And it’s amazing the relief I feel, when I finally tell the forbidden truths of my own experience.  And when we take this vast and basic difference between us, Sally and I, and simply let it be, then new questions, new possibilities, arise almost automatically.  ”Hmm…. interesting,” says Spock.  The empath chose an alien.  The alien chose an empath.  Why did they come together?  What work lies between them?  What do they have to teach each other?  What’s possible here that might not have been possible otherwise?  How do they reach communion and connection of a different sort, this human and this alien?  And how will their achieving this somehow help™?

Isn’t the lack of human empathy with the non-human life of this planet – not just dragonflies and fish and ants and cacti but rocks and air and water and light – somehow at the bottom of things when we consider the havoc our global industrial culture is right now wreaking?  Aren’t some of us, we who are tuned into this culture and it’s life-threatening ways, trying to re-establish a full, loving, and empathic connection with this planet?  Could this meeting of human and alien have some larger significance in the Global Culture, the Great Hologram, the Morphic Field, the Mind of God, or the Absolute?

Not sure.  But I gotta say, I’d much rather we be about the work of new paradigms and next cultures and communion than the work of husband and wife crabbing at each other because “he never talks” and “she just doesn’t understand.”  These are big times we live in.  Our situation is unprecedented, precarious, and wildly, chaotic, to my way of seeing things.  Why not try to be as big as all of that and see what happens?  What could there possibly be to lose?

So that’s what life looks like in our little corner of the world this week:  the empath and the alien, knockin’ ‘em down and settin’ ‘em back up, sometimes smashing like atoms in a collider, other times simply orbiting each other like binary stars, always entangled and forever on our path.  Watch for strange lights flitting about in the night sky over our home.  Listen for sobs, shouts, and laughter as you walk by.  Note the strange things we say and the crazy ideas we explore.  And know that it’s all simply a meeting of worlds going on here, as ambassadors from two vastly different experiences hash it out at the conference table.

We’ve just signed a new treaty.  Here’s to that.

I come in peace,

T

 

To Serve and Protect

March 6th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 13 Responses

If a great part of my impulse to anger is rooted in childhood wounding, as I’ve been exploring these past weeks, then the other great part arises from my present impulse to protect.  Both forms of anger are largely defensive, as perhaps all anger is, but while my wounded reactivity is a largely unconscious and ultimately doomed attempt to go back in time and fix my own past, in defense of that young child who got so hurt, my present protectivity is much more about drawing clear boundaries, meeting real needs, “containing the psychopath,” warding off the blows, walking away, or standing to fight in defense of those I love.

Or can be.  And that has been the key, for me: learning to tease these two types of anger apart.

While my “ranting and raging” has often been about my own unhealed attempts to be understood and wanted by my family of origin, it has also been, to a very great extent, rooted in my grief, shock, and appalled disbelief over the destruction of the living world around me.  Though I can be somewhat indifferent to plants, and to most people whom I do not know, my attention keys in on the land and sea and sky and animals, and my heart breaks to see them in pain.  I walk daily amongst the crows and gulls and skunks and deer, and look to the sea in the summer for signs of whales and seals.  I soak up the clean salt air and stare up at the sky and the stars.  I lean into the wind and tramp through the snow and walk barefoot whenever I can, relishing the feel of grass and mud and ice and gravel between my toes, grounding and connection for my soles.  Having been one of the “last children in the woods,” I grew to love the land and the forests and the sun and the voices of the many “others” who fly and flit and flash about me as I make my way through the world.  And so “God Made a Farmer” evokes my anger not only because modern agriculture is about the control, domination, exploitation, and imprisonment of those whom I love, but because it is a large factor in their death and destruction.  In some very real ways, modern agriculture is a primary fuel for the fire that is burning us toward that “mid-century extinction” I’ve been pondering.  It needs to be deeply questioned.  That Dodge Trucks commercial is full of lies.

These days, my protective energies focus mostly on my wife, Sally.  Those few who have grown to know Sally well over the years know what I have come to know:  Sally is a force of nature herself.  She has her own wounded, reactive ego, to be sure, but she works daily to set that aside, so that she can fully connect with her best, most good and essential self and channel her gifts for healing in the wider world.  She’s creative in the face of need or resistance and able to step fully into acceptance, or charge determinedly into challenge, as the situation warrants.  She finds few things in the world that she cannot figure out and do for herself, but her greatest love is for conversation, connection, and collaboration.  She cares deeply for her fellow humans, the compliment to my own caring energies, and can step into empathy and resonance with practiced ease.  Whether she’s counseling others, partnering with me on my writing or filmmaking, building a greenhouse, reclaiming her body, or starting a business, she approaches every moment of her life as another step on her spiritual journey, as an opportunity to grow, mature, evolve, and transcend.  She’s without a doubt the most conscious human soul I have ever had the privilege to know.  It feels like much of my role now is to protect her.

In part, Sally needs to be protected from her own wounded ego.  She can easily “give it all away,” to the point of harming or undermining herself.  And when attacked or violated, her great power can get channeled through a quick, hot, fierce anger that can cut right to the heart of those who, like me, were raised in “nice,” conflict-avoidance family systems.  Interrupting such reactions and helping her reconnect with her true adult power has become a significant part of my work here.

But she also needs protection from “the other.”  Power, heart, and clarity such as she displays can be both alluring and threatening to those with whom she comes into contact.  Sally’s X-ray gaze can see right into people’s hearts, and her courageous words can shine through pretense and games and beliefs and stories and bring to clear light the truth of their lives in ways that are undeniable.  Many come to Sally seeking exactly this, but for others, this can feel terrifying.  Forced to confront their own woundedness, many people, compelled by the core of shame of which Brene Brown speaks, lash out, project, or blame.  And Sally, wounded deeply in her own childhood, can sometimes get knocked off center for a moment, disempowered, lost, confused, and disheartened.  Watching over Sally as she interfaces with the outer world, and noticing what she may not, constitutes another significant part of my work here.

As Graham Hancock said in a recent post,

I drifted into thoughts about my relationship with my wife Santha, how I am so blessed to have her in my life, how she is in fact a goddess who manifests in human form and how incredibly privileged I am that she permits me to go through this incarnation with her and learn from her how to be a better human being. And I realized how so much of our life together has been very selfishly about ME, about my work, my creativity, my concerns, and it was brought home to me with the force of a revelation that the next stage of our partnership has to be about HER and that my role now is to be of service to her and help her in every way possible to express and manifest her own wonderful creative gifts and to fulfill herself.

Yes.

We speak often, Sally and I, of anger, ranting, truth-telling, expectations and cruelty, triage and investment and our response-ability in these matters.  Every morning finds us drinking coffee for an hour or two, as we “sit in the nest” and speak what’s in our hearts and minds.  While I could go a hundred different directions at this point, I think for now I’ll simply notice a few things and leave it at that…

-It feels to me like protecting Sally and protecting the life of this world are one and the same.  Another way of saying that might be that, in the matter of learning, or relearning, as a culture, to love, cherish, protect, and commune with the planet and its living beings now being destroyed by our out-of-balance lifestyle, that work can be done as easily in our human relationships as it can be done in “the natural world.”  It may be that, if we cannot learn to love, respect, cherish, protect, and serve both ourselves and other humans, we cannot step fully into the sorts of relationships with the rest of the Cosmos that we long for, and which Sustainability™ might require.

-There’s an underlying assumption here that Sally needs protection, which points to the underlying assumption that “the world” needs protection.  I’m not saying these assumptions are true or false.  I’m simply pointing out that they are assumptions worthy of our notice and examination.  Can Sally’s essential self ever really be hurt?  Is it only her overlay of ego/personality/monkey mind/whatever you want to call it that can get hurt?  Does that need to be protected?  And how about “the world”?  These questions deserve long deliberation, in my opinion.

-Beneath these assumptions are assumptions of vulnerability and separation, the idea that we can be hurt, really, or that we are separate from each other.  These point to more foundational assumptions about materialism, time, space, life, death, and everything.  Again, I put them here only as assumptions, to be held up for examination and worthy of deep dialogue.

-And my interest in examining these assumptions relates back to what I said early on:  I wish to tease apart that aspect of my anger that is unconscious and reactive and that aspect which is clear and conscious and present-based.  My reactive anger feels clouded and childish and dirty, and tends to get me into more trouble.  My clear adult impulses to protect and serve feel clean and whole and mature, and tend to pull me into my most powerful, initiated, adult human self.

In the end, wherever this crazy world is taking me, I intend to meet it as a mature, sane, and empowered adult human soul, rather than a reactive, wounded adolescent hiding out in a grown-up body.  This has been my work since I first awakened to “our present predicament.”  The work continues.  That “work” will likely never be finished.  I hope not.  But that is another story altogether.

I may not make it to the lab next week.  Time will tell.  Tim will tell.  Sally’s Vejibag launch party approaches, and her Kickstarter campaign, and there is so much to do to serve those ends.  I’ll write as that work allows.

Until then, pax,

T

Flummoxed by Elephants

February 27th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 13 Responses

“What are you going to write about this week?” asked my friend Lindy. “Do you go into it knowing your topic, or do you just show up and see what’s there?”

I just go into my lab and see what’s there. And I did, yesterday, my regular blog day. And I actually started writing. But the piece I bit off was way more than I could chew, and trying again this morning to chew it further, I find myself no closer to clarity. I’m wanting to go back to that anger question, that impulse to “rant and rave,” and speak to the other impulses inside of me, beyond the righting of childhood wrongs. But it seems the muse has little interest in what I’m wanting these days. I cannot seem to force it, the clarity I think I want. I can’t make my thinking tidy and whole. I can’t get my words to line up on the page in the correct order. I can only slog through, it feels like, always on the path but never reaching the goal. And I can only chew as quickly as I can chew.

There’s too much. Too many things demanding my time and attention. So it’s hard for me, frightening even, and deeply challenging, to put myself into this uncontrollable, unknowable space of looking and seeing and feeling and writing and sharing. Some days in the lab I feel moments of joy and fascination. But some days I feel only confusion and haziness. I feel lost. Gray and disinterested. Flummoxed. And all I can think to do is flick off the lights and go back home.

None of that would be a problem, save for the fact that I’ve created an expectation. I have my own expectation, that I write every Tuesday. But that I can deal with. I’m actually pretty gentle with my own expectations. But as Lindy’s question makes clear, there’s an expectation “out there” as well. And when the expectation is “out there,” the whole game changes. Expectation brings the possibility of disappointment. And one of my most tender and uninsulated bits of wiring is about disappointing people.

At some point in my young life, it was made very clear to me that somebody important and powerful was unhappy, and that I was the cause. I could recall and recount people and incidents and events as “the cause,” but it’s difficult to really be sure that I’m seeing clearly. The window into my own past has always been pretty fogged and dirty, and the glass wavy and slumped, leaving me to cobble together my story with thick layers of guesswork for mortar. Perhaps none of that really matters. Whomever it was, or what it was that happened, I had disappointed someone greatly, or so I was told. Perhaps many times, with multiple people, over many years. And some part of me vowed never to do that again.

And those childhood moments were so soul-searing, and my resultant vow so powerful, that I can now, and still, spend life energy worrying about the fact that I didn’t blog on Tuesday like I said I would, and that now, even though I’m cranking something out, it’s not the “deep and meaningful” stuff my ego seems to think is somehow the most “real.” It can feel crazy making, and the only way to “dis-spell” it, I find, is to speak it out loud so that it cannot hide, trusting that, once in the open, whatever it is will crumble away in the light of consciousness. It’s like psychological cloud-busting, perhaps. It’s like lighting a fire to warm a cold room. It’s like naming the elephant in the room, with the room being my own body, heart, and mind, and the elephant being some story, belief, or assumption stomping around inside of me, tearing up the green grass of my best self and leaving footprints on my soul.

So today is not the day to write more about ranting and raging, or to sit further with the “mid-century extinction meme.” Today is a day to name elephants and flick off the lights and step out into the sun to honor the muse, rather than my ego. I can no longer live up to that childhood vow. No amount of present-day keeping of agreements and meeting of expectations will ever go back in time and heal those old “failures to be.” And there are too many big things out there in the here and now that call me to service, for me to waste my life energy clinging to such old and bankrupt strategies.

Begone, elephant. Out, fear of disappointing. Away with ye, childhood vow. Come, sun, and burn away the fog.

I’ll be back next time.

T

Bricolage

February 19th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 9 Responses

As stated when I began this blog, this space is my laboratory, the place in which I, as an “otter of the universe,” as a “pure research man,” follow my fascinations, peer into boxes that intrigue me, and step down paths that call to me, following whatever fairy is singing, or whatever distant tower gleams in the morning sun. I am, as I have also said before, both by intention and proclivity, a mosaicist, a bricoleur, a term for which I thank Daniel Quinn. I gather pieces together – found widgets, flotsam and jetsam, radar tracings, unidentified fascinating objects, and hailstones left behind by brainstorms – and weave them together, searching for meaning and guidance as though I were pawing through entrails or casting bones. I do this mostly because it grounds, guides, goads, and delights me, but also because I believe, or trust, or hope, that my doing so will help my tribe.  I do this as a means of transcending and augmenting my analytical, rational, scientific mind.  I do this because it feels like the path I must take to becoming someone I can only now vaguely imagine.  And I do this because, in this time and on this planet, when the world shakes underfoot and all that I thought I knew has fallen into bankruptcy and disrepute, it feels right and useful, to me, to do something else.

One thing I try to intentionally interrupt is my White Guy™ need or training to “sew it all up.”  My days of pretending that I can wrap it all tightly with a bow, that I can present the unassailable case, that I can know and teach and be Right™, have largely ended, crossed off my life’s calendar with a thick permanent marker.  I go slowly here.  I leave loose ends dangling.  I stop before I am finished because I no longer think there is a finished.  I make connections, proffer suggestions, raise questions, and log reactions.  I let things slide and ride and glide, leaving them to sit on my lab tables and gather dust when something else arises to demand my attention.  As an otter, I’m more interested in slipping playfully down the river than in stopping on the shore to build an edifice.  As a pure research man, I allow myself to walk without knowing where I am headed.  My intention, simply, is to notice what I am noticing, feel what I am feeling, think what I am thinking, and speak what is in my mouth to speak, trusting that, as I move through time, my weaving will form a fabric of some sort, that the bits of broken tile will one day form the picture of my being here.

My intention this morning is to continue my exploration of “ranting and raging,” but only by adding more bits for the bricolage, bits only to be gathered together and pondered, with no hope for resolution, whatever that is.

-It has been notable to me, to see how many, in response to my recent explorations, have felt the need to defend the rightfulness or utility of “ranting and raging,” as though I were questioning their right to be angry, or to express their anger.

-It has also been interesting, as I’ve walked the streets of Facebook City and ventured weekly into Blogland, how peoples’ responses fall into predictable categories, and how I react to those responses.  I find myself largely disinterested in anything that feels like a) advice, b) cheering up, or c) sympathy.  Responses that fall into these categories tend to confuse me.  I do find, however, that I’m really digging responses that fall into a fourth category:  empathy and resonance.

-There are a few people I bump into regularly in Facebook City who seem to be always cussing and judging, muttering complaint, displeasure, or anger in short and sometimes indecipherable bursts.  I find myself walking away from these people as quickly as I can.

-This came across my radar this week and has stuck to the glass:

The Holy Longing by Goethe

Tell a wise person or else keep silent
For the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
And what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm waters of the love nights
Where you were begotten,
Where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in this obsession with darkness
And a desire for higher lovemaking sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
And now, arriving in magic, flying
and finally, insane for the light
You are the butterfly.
And you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced this,
To die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest on a dark earth.

-This also came across my radar, and resonates deeply:

There is Nothing Wrong by Jeff Foster

Sadness is not wrong. Fear is not wrong.
Confusion is not wrong.
Our pain is not wrong.
Resisting our pain is what makes everything seem wrong.
And yet here is a deeper truth, for those who are open:
Even our resistance of pain is not wrong.
If that’s what’s happening, it cannot be wrong.
It is a valid expression of life in the moment.
Beyond ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
This love even embraces resistance.
This Now is vast, and forgiving.

Yet even ‘resistance’ is just another concept.
Another judgement.
Another way to make ourselves wrong.
“Resistance bad. Acceptance good.” That’s what we learn.

It’s not that we “resist” our pain.
We just never learned how to be with it.
How to sit with it. Stay with it. Have a cup of tea with it.
See it as a beloved friend, at home in the vastness.
Our ignorance is our innocence.
We just never learned.

Our pain is not wrong.
It is an invitation.
An ancient teaching.
Universal. Free.

Life invites us to come closer…

Falling through imagined layers…
Into great mystery…

-This feels like an important piece, a poster taped to a wall in Facebook City, attributed to Courtney A. Walsh:

“Dear Human:  You’ve got it all wrong.  You didn’t come here to master unconditional love.  That is where you came from and where you’ll return.  You came here to learn personal love.  Universal love.  Messy love.  Sweaty love.  Crazy love.  Broken love.  Whole love.  Infused with divinity.  Lived through the grace of stumbling.  Demonstrated through the beauty of … messing up.  Often.  You didn’t come here to be perfect.  You already are.  You came here to be gorgeously human.  Flawed and fabulous.  And then to rise again into remembering.”

-And this Eckhart Tolle quote feels important to hold:  ”Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.”

-As does this article about Sinead O’Connor and the Magdalene laundry.

-And this graphic:

Enough.  Flotsam and jetsam.  Bric-a-brac and bricolage.  Widgets and tracings and hailstones.  Perhaps one day the picture will emerge.  For now, the sun shines.  The crow calls.  And I’ve a trip to the post office to make.

Pax, all,
T

The Source of Rage

February 13th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 4 Responses

“Timmy did excellent work this year.  It was a pleasure to teach him.  He is very sensitive, and we’ve been working to overcome this, as school will be a happier experience if we solve this problem.”

Vera Hartwig, from my kindergarten report card.

I want to return to my first question from last week:  what the hell is that blood-rising, heart-pounding feeling inside of me all about?  And why am I so strongly compelled to rant and rage?  But before I do, I want to notice three things:

First, that post earned far more likes, more comments, and more shares than any other post I’ve made since returning to a weekly blog, to the point where I joked to Sally “Maybe I need to become a ranting Doomer again!”  For somebody who’s wondering what helps, what makes sense to do, what’s relevant, this is an interesting data point.  One that I shall ponder for a while.

Second, that post’s popularity seems clearly connected to the fact that it did contain a rant, and I note that more than one person expressed concern over the notion that I might stop ranting, or expressed encouragement for me to do even more ranting.

Third, that post’s popularity also seems clearly connected to the fact that that Dodge Ram Commercial stirred up many people, given the number of parodies, alternatives, and articles I saw about it.  It has become a meme.  I think my take on this commercial is different from these other takes, but that feels like a topic for later.  For now, I’ll just link them below for safekeeping.

Back to my question.

First answer:  my feelings of ranting and raging were born and raised in my family of origin.  They are the direct result of being, as far as I can tell, very different from those around me, and of having my different needs and skills and desires not only not seen, nurtured, accepted and cherished, but actively suppressed.   The deep grief, incredulity, disappointment, and anger that rose from my family experience still lingers inside of me, ready to cast it’s shadow across my life when I fail to shine the light of my present being.

I used to joke, when asked about What a Way to Go, that my primary motivation for making the film was to make my family wrong.  Thing is, that wasn’t really a joke.  Or not totally.  I think I was born onto this planet with the knack for, or simply the willingness to, in Daniel Quinn’s words, “take off the obscuring lenses of Mother Culture” and see what is really there.  And I think that a very young version of me could see and feel things about my family, and my world, that others were unable, unwilling, or unready to see and feel.

But this is mostly conjecture, as that sensitive, sensitized, reality-seeing little tow-headed boy would have quickly learned, would have been forced to learn, that there was no real market for what he had to offer.  Not in his family.  Not in his school.  Not amongst his friends.  It was a tough and sharp edged world, a place of hard work and control and denial, a place of too bad and tough shit and go out and blow the stink off and it’ll grow hair on your chest.  Sensitivity to the underlying realities of the world around me would not cut it here.  And as there was seemingly nothing to be done about the way things were in any event, nobody wanted to hear about it.  What there was to do was to try to forget who I was and why I came here, find a way to fit in and go along and pretend to be happy.

This I did.

For decades.

Until I could do it no longer.

My conjecture is grounded primarily in my adult experience of the past fifteen years or so, as I broke from my marriage and my family of origin and made the attempt to say what I saw and speak the truths that I’d kept so long hidden in my heart.  Having been raised in the same conflict-avoidant, psychologically unsophisticated family system I was trying to speak into, my attempts were, to say the very least and especially at first, imperfect.  Conflict arose and feelings were hurt and misunderstandings settled in between us and we have not yet been able to find, or create, the deep dialogue that might bring us back into forgiveness and connection.  It has gotten to the point where, (save for one brother who, having himself been the family’s outlier at times, seems able and willing to see me for who I am) I have little to no interaction with most of my family, including my own children.

This, as you might imagine, has and continues to be a source of great pain and grief.

My adult experience with my family, and my ongoing work with Sally, has allowed me to reconnect with my best, most essential self, the self who slid down the gravity well and donned a flesh-suit with both a vision and a purpose.  And, having reconnected with that beautiful tow-headed being, and armed now with the wisdom derived from my more recent experiences, I have been able to feel my way into and through the processes and predicaments that caused that young soul to don the hard, crusted armor of reactivity and belief and assumption he strapped on as a salve to his deep wounds and a shield to further hurts.

It’s that same armor that I’ve spent my years with Sally learning to take back off.  Parts of it. Some of the time.

Clink.

So the feelings that arose within me as I first watched that Dodge Truck commercial – that ranting of can’t you see? and that’s totally wrong! and you do not understand! – those feelings are deeply rooted in the heart and soul of a sensitive young child struggling to be seen and understood, striving to be allowed to simply be himself.  They are, in the final analysis, feelings of powerlessness, as I certainly felt powerless in the face of my mother’s anger, my father’s denial, my family’s system of rules and assumptions, and the surrounding culture’s overarching paradigm.  I have great facility now in noticing and understanding the source of those feelings, but they remain inside me, deep ruts in my neural pathways, strong pillars in my ego structure, the sharp-fanged alpha males of my monkey mind, and they still arise to shadow my life.

I can say now, I think, that my family experience has colored my entire relationship to the world.  It has shaped every relationship I have ever had with other human beings.  And it has flavored the whole of my journey through the material I call Doom™.

And I find that this is hugely important.  Because if I’m meeting our present predicament using tools invented by a powerless and despairing child, then I may not be using the tools now available to the clear, conscious, and powerful adult I now am.  My fear is that ranting and raging simply creates the very separation that underlies our present predicament.  If that’s the case, then I’m ready to stop.

I won’t go any further today.  It’s enough to make plain the connections and leave it at that.  I can feel that there is more to say.  At some point, I will say it.

Until then, I touch the ground again…

T

God Made a Factory Farmer

God Made a Farmer:  Recognizing Women Farmers 

So God Made a Latino Farmer

God Made a Farmer:  We Fixed It

So God Made a Banker

So God Made a Farmer:  Know Your Meme

So God Made a Farmer:  Wikipedia

God Did What?

February 5th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 10 Responses

Watch this video, a commercial from the recent Super Bowl:

I saw this in FaceBook City a couple of days ago and I thought to myself “what utter bullshit.”  I watched it again, then downloaded it for repeated viewings, my blood rising and my heart pounding.  Bullshit, I thought again.  Lies.  Fairytales. Half-truths.

I couldn’t ask for a more concise encapsulation of the foundational stories of the world-spanning culture we call Empire than is present in this commercial.  It’s about putting humans in charge and ruling the Earth.  It’s about how that role was supposedly given to us by God His-Own-Self.  It’s about the endless hard work and devotion required to extract a living, to extract our very lives, from an inhospitable “natural world.”  It’s about “God and country, about community, loyalty, steadfastness, and resolve.”  It’s about bootstrapping, about order and control, about never giving up and getting ‘er done.

And it’s about selling Dodge Ram Trucks.

Please understand that some of my best friends are farmers.  Sally, my own wife, can now fairly claim that label.   (And maybe even I, as the chief chicken-kisser, should try on that hat to see if it fits.) I was born and raised on farms, surrounded by Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles and Great Aunts and Uncles, most of whom worked the vast stretches of rolling farmland which comprised my haunts and my playgrounds.  I grew up feeding orphaned lambs and making tunnels in the hayloft and growing vegetables in our garden and running through the tall corn.  My memories of this are fond and wistful.  There was beauty in that life.

But when I look at it all through my current habitual lenses, I see the global ecological consequences of our devotion to these stories.  I see species extinction and climate change and depletions of forests and topsoil and water.  I see greed and corruption and denial and debt.  I see toxins and technofixes and terminator seeds.  And I see that, while there are now many farmers trying to find a better way, working hard to bring good, clean food to their local markets without destroying their landbase, and while we are now doing that out of seeming necessity as we seek to transition from what clearly does not work to something else which might, I see little questioning of the foundational stories that undergird our assumptions about life and death and power and collaboration and what it means to be a human being on this planet.

You see, from what I think I know, God did not make a farmer, no matter what Paul Harvey said.   Certainly not the sort of farmer that we’ve become.  I think both science and the Judeo-Christian scriptures are in complete agreement on this point.  Evolution made hunter-gatherers, who lived for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years (depending on your definitions), before some of them began to tell themselves the Planet-Ruling stories that now shape and inform both our “agriculture” and our Dodge Ram commercials.  God made Adam and Eve, who lived in a garden that provided everything they needed, a world of “low hanging fruit” there for the easy plucking.  It was not until Adam and Eve were banished from that garden that the “sons of Adam” got into the whole farming thang, and we all know how that ended.  Whether it was snakes and sin, global catastrophe and trauma, alien influence, the “parable of the tribes,” or simply the scarcity that resulted from overpopulation, whether it was inevitable or avoidable, human beings left the garden and entered into what Daniel Quinn calls the most labor-intensive lifestyle yet invented.  For whatever reason, it seems we humans made the farmer.  And ever since, we’ve been telling ourselves that this hard-working, land-destroying, extra-people-producing work is not only good, but blessed by the Almighty.

Which is why we get to have one of those trucks:  we’re on a mission from God.

Okay.  Stop.  Having made that point, I want to stop and step away from it.  All of the above?  I’ve done that for years.  That sort of analysis comes as easy as cake to me.  Piece of pie.  Been there done that and all that and amen.  It’s my automatic setting.  And I’m good at it.

But what really interests me here is this suite of questions:  what the hell is that blood-rising, heart-pounding feeling inside of me all about?  And why am I so strongly compelled to rant and rage?  Does such ranting help any more?  Did it ever help?  Or have I been spending my own life energy to little avail?  If I stopped spending my energy in this way, what else might I do?  What’s needed now?  What’s wanted?  What will help?  Can I help?  Am I supposed to help?  Is it good to help?  Is the rant above even correct?  Or are there much larger perspectives to take into account, and different lenses through which to look, which might shed some very different light on these issues?

I won’t go any further today than to ask these questions.  I have too many juicy things on my plate right now, and they require my attention.  But this is a beginning, and a way to simply release that ranting energy from my body, knowing that I can come back to it when the time is right.

I want to take off my habitual glasses and see what else is there.  I have not found that ranting and being Right™ has served me in the way I would have hoped.

Brother Can You Spare Some Hope?

January 29th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 8 Responses

Expired Hope by alexiuss

I had a short conversation the other day with an acquaintance who told me that he’d watched the first half of What a Way to Go and found it so overwhelming that he couldn’t finish.  He asked me, “Is there hope in the second half?”

“What would hope be?” I replied.

“Something positive,” he said.  ”Something we can do.”

I paused for a moment, as I always do in such situations, my wounded ego triggered with the need to not disappoint, a major liability for someone whose life’s work seems to include questioning the basic assumptions that form the foundations of our lives.  ”I think we come at these things at more of a meta level,” I finally replied, searching for, and failing to find, short words to describe something that feels so big that I couldn’t describe it in a day’s worth of conversation.

He raised an eyebrow.  ”What does that mean?” he asked.

I shrugged.  ”We’re more interested in the question of who will we be? than what should we do?” I said.  ”There’s tons of resources out there full of information about what people can do in the face of all of this.  Sally and I are more interested in the deeper emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of our present predicament.”

“Hmmm…” he said, not appearing to buy my explanation.  ”I guess I’ll have to finish it.”

“Many people have told us that they love how we end it,” I offered, hoping that he would watch the rest of the film.  Hoping to be done with the conversation.  Hoping to quickly escape into the dark, cold night air and walk back home, where it’s easier to pretend that I know the answers.  Sally stood by the door, in conversation with someone else.  I shook the man’s hand and started out, pulling at her shoulder as I passed, hoping she would follow.  She did.

Sally and I went the first year of our life here in Eastport without mentioning to anyone that we’d made a documentary.  Partly because we just wanted to fit in and be accepted, or not, based on who we are in the present moment.  But partly because we both feel a bit of a need to distance ourselves from the documentary.  Not because we consider the information in the documentary wrong in some way.  The on-the-ground situation today, in fact, can feel far more “overwhelming,” to many, than even What a Way to Go presents.  It’s more the tone of the movie from which we want to create some distance.  We did not stop processing our emotional, psychological, and spiritual responses to the global situation back in August of 2007.  We’ve kept at it.  We are not now who we were then.  And were we to make the movie today, it might feel quite different from What a Way to Go.  The movie represents a step, and a necessary step, I believe, one can take in the journey to full, clear, adult human acceptance of, and response to, the situation.  It’s just not the final step.

There probably is not a final step.

Eventually the bag unraveled and the cat escaped and we did a local screening.  Eventually I published All of the Above, which continued the conversation What a Way to Go began.  Eventually I started soapboxing on street corners in Facebook City.  Eventually I jump-started my blog and began my sequel, Rumi’s Field.  A great deal more processing ensued, pulling me along like an ocean current and depositing me on the shore of NOW.  Eventually I found more peace and grace than I had before.

And still the same old question arises… “do you have some extra hope to share?”

Part of me, my wounded ego, my monkey mind, my reactionary self, felt rather irritated in the moment.  Great.  Another entitled White Guy™ demanding comfort and salvation from an outside source or “higher authority,” looking for a quick answer, an easy fix, a Happy Chapter™ that would allow him to return to his comfortable life.  As if watching a documentary was the equivalent of “doing something.”  As if hope were a product that could be transmitted cinematically.  As if Hope™ would even help.  ”I have no hope to give you!” I wanted to shout.  ”I’m deep in contemplation of the “mid-century extinction meme”!  How can you ask me for hope?  Go find your own!”

But that, of course, would have been wildly unfair.  I could have no real understanding of exactly what it was he was asking for, or what he was meaning by the words he used, without long hours of dialogue.  I could not know who he was and what he knew and how he felt and where he was headed.  I could not know what gifts he had to share with me, what wisdoms and insights, what challenges and proddings.  That he had poked one of my buttons was not his fault.  I’m the one who carries that button around, after all.  And though I’m working to disconnect it, I have not yet succeeded.  That’s on me.

And the button he mashed was this:  I want to help, and I don’t know how.  So I feel helpless, sometimes.  And a little stupid.  (Please refrain from leaving comments telling me that I should not feel this way, or offering advice about how to stop feeling this way.  This is monkey mind.  Part of disconnecting monkey mind is to simply speak it out loud and have it be heard.  I already know the untruth of it.)  What I really want is long hours and days of deep dialogue that would help us both get, not only to the bottom of this man’s question, but to a place to stand in the world that feels, if not steady and firm, at least stable enough, for long enough, for us to catch our breath.

But my shouting would have also been unfair because, ultimately, his question may be a fair one (not to mention being, essentially, my own question), and he may have been right to ask it of me.  The fact remains that, even in the face of the “mid-century extinction meme,” I am not feeling undone with anger, fear, or despair.  I’ve got a strong gut sense that possibility remains.  The doctor has delivered my fatal diagnosis and I’ve just picked up my guitar and played, as if I’ve been doing lines of magic happy fairy dust from a stash I keep in my desk drawer.  Maybe I have been.  I’ve been processing this meme my entire life.  Who better to ask?

I’ve let hope become a bad word these past years, as though hope was simply a refuge for comfort-addled minds looking for an excuse not to do anything real.  And perhaps hoping, as a verb, is and has been used in just this way by many people.  And perhaps it is understandable that I have scorned it.  But hope is also, simply, possibility and vision, longing and dreaming.  It can represent an essential half of Robert Fritz’s dynamic tension, the thing-not-yet-realized which provides a motive force for movement, even in the face of impossible odds.  Sure hope can be misused.  But it can also be used correctly, I think.  And maybe I now have something to say in that matter.

If I do, it’s not something I can easily give away, I think, certainly not in the few moments a chance encounter on the street affords.  And perhaps it’s not something I can give to just anyone.  It may be that the hope and possibility to be seen sitting in the midst of the “mid-century extinction” can only be seen by those who have journeyed far enough along the path that they’ve reached the hilltop from which it can first be glimpsed.  It feels like that’s where I am right now, standing on that hilltop, a bit footsore and out of breath.  I’m just beginning to see it: the possibility that remains, the possibility that has always been there, waiting for me to shed my false hopes, so that I could see the real ones.

Time will tell.  I will trust things to emerge.

I hope my acquaintance finishes our film.  I hope it moves him in some way, further along his path.  I hope we find or make time to sit for as long as it takes to explore our mutual question.  All or none of this may happen.  But just saying this here, just finding my own clarity regarding what I want and what’s in my way, will allow me, the next time we meet, to more fully step into the clear, adult human response I want to give him.  Already the dynamic tension pulls me towards.  And ain’t that as cool as hell?

Time for music.  Pax, all.  T

 

 

 

Jettison the Core

January 22nd, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 4 Responses

Another bit of weaving, today in the lab.  Another piece of bricolage.  I awoke thinking about blog day, and about how Sally and Sarah and I have been busily working on Sally’s new website this past week, and how I’ve got band rehearsal this evening, with a couple of new songs to get ready to present, and so little time to write.  I awoke thinking about how surreal that feels, to be at once processing the “mid-century extinction meme” and, at the same time, going about one’s day and one’s business as if nothing has changed.  I awoke thinking about The X-Files, and how it used to drive me crazy, how they would uncover, in the “mythology” episodes, more and new and ever-more-important information about the global-elite-alien conspiracy and then, in the next episode or three, act as if none of that had even happened.  I awoke thinking about how many times that very thing has played out in my life, how often I’ve uncovered new information, new ideas, and then worked doggedly to incorporate those new ideas into my life, and observe how so many around me could just say, “yeah, cool… new idea… ” and then, seemingly, go on with their lives as if nothing had changed.

Surreal, this life, these times.  Surreal, I say.

Then I got up to find this article - Captain Kirk’s Predecessor: Star Trek Was RAND Corporation Predictive Programming - from my friend Kathie, which was fun, and that reminded me of my own Star Trek post, below, which I wrote for my previous blog.  Reading my old things is always a bit surreal as well, to see what I was struggling with or thinking at the time, to note how I would say things differently now, if I would say them at all.  I observe here my greater and growing facility to balance critique with wide-perspective acceptance of what’s so.  I note here that I’m still processing with my children around matters of family, culture, and story, and that the processing feels both more fever-pitched and more peaceful right now.  I note the judgmentalism in my language, and wonder how and if that serves the Cosmos.  I note how the bit about boredom and connection continues to resonate.  And I note how my own life so often feels like a matter of jettisoning my old engines in a desperate attempt to escape the gravity of my own acculturated ego.

I don’t know what this all means, or if I’m going somewhere, or if I’ve already arrived.  I’m trying to follow my heart, here in the lab, rather than my head.  I’m practicing letting my gut lead in this particular dance.  And bricolage is poetry, I think, rather than science, and sometimes it takes a while for meaning and clarity to arise through the obscurity of metaphor and language.

For now, WordPress and my mandolin call, and life goes on, and on, and will until it does no longer, and then maybe even then… and I need another cup of coffee.  Mulder and Scully never did really get to the bottom of that global-elite-alien conspiracy, and I’ve yet to get to the bottom of that meme, and the dominant mainstream culture has not yet reached the end of “giving it all you’ve got.”  We go on, all of us, and what happens unfolds, a great Cosmic dance of creation in which we are all dancers and singers and mandolin players and website designers.

Pax, all,
T

We’re Givin’ It All We’ve Got, Captain!

Originally published 5/23/09

If I needed confirmation of the claim I’d made in an email to my daughter just yesterday morning that “I’m no longer a member of the culture in which you live,” I could not have asked for a better one than the new Star Trek movie, which Sally and I saw last night.  I’m so many standard deviations from the mean these days that I’m now on the next normal curve over.  That’s how it feels.

“You’ll want to see it again, right away,” I was told.  “It’s hilarious,” I was told.  “It’s the best Star Trek ever,” I was told.  And yet, as I sat there watching, what I noticed inside was this:  I was bored.  I’ll have to remember that.  Because this has happened before.  The next time a movie gets such universal acclaim, the next time a good number of my friends and family tell me how great a movie is, I’m heading the other way.  I am not a member of the dominant culture.  In fact, I regard the dominant culture as twisted, insane and bankrupt.  So I cannot expect to like what that culture likes.

Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity, speaks of boredom as that feeling of discomfort one feels when the distractions and busy-ness end and you slow down enough to feel the wounds of separation that dog our every moment as creatures of this culture.  That resonates.  Sitting in a theater surrounded by people surrounded by Middlebury surrounded by Vermont surrounded by the US surrounded by North America surrounded by a planet of 6.8 billion and counting, surrounded by lilacs and red maples and turkey vultures and moose, surrounded by air and water and soil, surrounded by muons and photons and particles and waves, I felt disconnected from it all, as the splash of color and movement and sound and fury thrashed and weaved before me, desperate to draw me into itself, frantic with the need to re-capture me into its story.  And I wasn’t having it.  My immunity has built up to the point where I can no longer succumb to that particular disease.  I could only sit there, bored and more than a bit sad, watching the story dance and chatter, and wondering what it was that could have possibly so enchanted my friends and relations.

What I saw on the screen was pure Imperial swagger – that macho, never-say-die, bad-boy, break-the-rules, teen-aged invulnerability and exceptionalism that pulses through American veins at warp speed, taking command, getting the girl, making its own rules and nailing the enemy, in the end, with a hot spurt of phaser blasts and photon torpedoes.  An adolescent Jim Kirk steals an uncle’s car, speeds down the highway, resists arrest, destroys the car, and stands to face the police officer chasing him… and the audience is ecstatic. An older Kirk picks a bar fight with half a dozen Starfleet cadets, gets the crap beat out of him, and wins the attention and approval of Captain Pike… and the audience laughs and smiles and nods its head.  Why do they love him so?  Because he’s had a hard life (his father died the day he was born).  Because he’s strong and daring despite that.  Because he’s so self-assured.  And because he is totally unapologetic.  Does this sound like any of our recent political leaders?  Does this sound like an entire civilization?  Just a thought…

This is what the culture has right now, I guess.  Ten months (or many years, depending on which starting point you choose) into our current economic shitstorm, with banks failing and jobs disappearing and shelves dwindling and bailouts piling up, the affront to our collective ego has elicited this first big summer smash, this joint-statement issued to the world.  To wit: nuh uh! It’s as though Uncle Sam is 15 again and you just told him he has to clean his room.  Oh yeah?  Well… you can’t make me!  Cuz I’m… uh… cuz I don’t want to!

Our response to the crumbling world is to simply tell our stories louder, to do more of the same, to stand taller, stomp harder, swing faster and shout louder.  We must maintain our heroic self-image at all costs.  It’s all we’ve got to give, right?  I mean… it’s worked up til now, hasn’t it?

Star Trek has been with me my whole life.  I remember watching original episodes as a kid in the mid-60s.  I’ve seen the original series many times.  The Next Generation.  The movies.  It’s part of who I have been.  Part of my story.  And all of that just made it harder to watch this new iteration.  It’s like… c’mon!  More than forty years have gone by since that first episode.  Have we learned nothing in that time?  In it’s early manifestations, Star Trek actually had some facility for questioning the dominant culture, as much good science fiction does.  It held up a mirror to our society, using strange planets and alien beings to make plain our own assumptions and beliefs, our weak points as well as our strong ones.  But this new movie showed no such inclination, substituting a silly time-travel plot, lots of noise and flash, and a cutesy alien sidekick for anything more substantial.  With the climate heating up, the oceans and forests dying, the oil slowing and the economy unraveling, Star Trek doesn’t once get close to the existential questions the new Battlestar Galactica started with in its first episode.  Should we humans survive?  Damn straight, we should, bro.  Now get outta the way while I pop me some o’ them-there Romulans.  And grab me a beer, bitch!

No doubt some will chide me for this.  It’s just a movie, they might say.  It’s summer fun.  It’s entertainment.  It’s popcorn and laughs and thrills and spills.  Why do I have to take everything so seriously?  While I might answer with any number of explanations, I think they all boil down to this:  I know the power of story to shape the world.  I consider story the most powerful force in the universe.  And so I want to be very careful about the stories that play through my life.  It’s story that has brought us to where we are.  It’s story that will take us to where we are going.  I, for one, would like to be conscious about those stories.

Ultimately, I regain my self, and sigh, and nod my head, and laugh a bit at my own wounded ego, at that part of me that could always see things that others didn’t, that couldn’t figure out how to be heard, that keeps fighting that same old fight.  Star Trek serves simply as a reality check.  The dominant culture really is “giving it all we’ve got.”  Thousands of light-years away from home, this is what the culture has.  And it has to play that out, fully and completely, until it hits bottom.  Until it runs smack into the bankruptcy of the stories that power it.  As an e-friend said years ago, “only when all hope is lost will the necessary actions be taken.”  The necessary action, to my mind, including, at the level of culture itself, a change of story.

And there was a bright spot.  At the movie’s end (spoiler alert!), as the Enterprise is about to be sucked into a black hole, as their engines fail to pull them out of it, as all the power they can apply is not enough to free them from total destruction, the Captain (I’m pretty sure this is what happened… it was difficult for me to make out all the dialogue) ordered Scotty to jettison the cores of their engines into said black hole, in the hopes that the resulting explosion would knock them free.

And it worked.  Their desperate act of giving up that which had up to that point powered their ship… worked.  They tried something truly different.  And that is what saved them from annihilation.  We may wish to remember that one.

Live Well and Discover, yo…

TTG

 

 

Looking Homeward

January 15th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 4 Responses

Come on Pino, We’re going Home.. by Mattjin Franssen

Last week’s laboratory musings seems to have touched something wider than myself, as more than one fellow Doomer™, or Recovering Doomer™, or Post Doomer™, or Ex-Doomer™, or Non-Doomer™ (and maybe this is the week to retire that label entirely?) reported a resonance with my words.  My friend and colleague John Ludi got right to the heart of it when he said “I think it is tied into the recent environmental/climate news building up.”  Yep.  Last week’s post was my first attempt to process and incorporate what I’ve been calling, in FaceBook City, the “extinction by mid-century meme.”  That’s what I was chewing on last week.  That’s what I’m still chewing on.  I’ll get as far as I get today, and save myself the pressure of having to have it “all chewed up” by the end.  We’ll see…

A meme (pron.: /ˈmiːm/; meem)[1] is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”[2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[3]

I’m not really interested today in analyzing or assessing the Truth™ of that meme.  I may not ever be.  I don’t know that that’s my work anymore.  And I sense that our Universe is too chaotic, and that there are too many unrecognized variables, for me, or us, to ever really Know™ how it’ll all turn out in the end.   I just want to observe that this meme is out there, that, in the past year or three, the climate news has brought more and more people to the point where they are considering, and speaking about, the possibility of human extinction, and that this meme has seeped into my consciousness and is changing me.  Part of me wishes to assert that this meme is nothing new to me at all, that I have long, and perhaps always, been open to this possibility.  And there is truth in that.  But of course another part of me knows that it’s one thing to consider the metaphor of the “fatal diagnosis” as a useful lens through which to view our present predicament, and another thing entirely to actually sit in the doctor’s office and hear the news.  And it can take quite some time to let that news really sink in.  Part of me wants to say that the news that “we’re all gonna die,” is hardly news, though it may feel like such to card-carrying members of an adolescent society convinced of their invincibility.  But of course extinction is not the same thing as an individual death, and seems to require an entirely new conversation.

Which is the conversation I’ve been in most of my life, I think.  And which feels risky to enter into now.  Sally has long confronted me on my tendency to explore the “what’s so” at the expense of “what’s possible,” and she is right to do so, I think.  Following Robert Fritz, in his book The Path of Least Resistance, it’s the “dynamic tension” that gets created when we hold a clear understanding of our present situation AND a clear vision of where we wish to go that provides the motive force for movement.  Too much focus on the “present predicament” can keep one stuck or despairing.  Too much focus on the “possible vision” can make one ungrounded.  It’s the both, the paradox, the holding, the balance, that keeps us in tension.  And, in tension, we have motivation to move toward resolution.

But, wow, it’s been so hard for me to find and hold onto vision and possibility in the face of peak oil, climate change, mass extinction, and population overshoot.  Hard.  Wow.  I found the “what’s so” of our situation so overwhelming that I had to find a vision not outside or beyond or apart from my understanding of the reality of our collective situation on the material plane, but inside of that understanding.

Curiously, in this time of the ”extinction by mid-century meme,” I’m feeling more hopeful, more vision-filled, more engaged, more joyful, more powerful, than ever.  I’ve long held that my habit of staring unblinkingly at the worst possible news of the world is a spiritual practice, as it strips away the bullshit and casts me into the NOW more than anything I know.  If that’s the mechanism at work, then my practice has surely worked.  But if I’ve got some new handle on vision and possibility, I’m only now beginning to figure out how to speak about it.  And to tell the truth, speaking vision in the face of extinction feels pretty scary to me.

What is worth doing now?  That’s the question that has bounced around in my head these past few months.  I mean, really.  If there’s truth to this meme, this analysis of climate change, if Charlie has stolen the handle, leaving no way to slow down, then what the fuck?  As John Ludi said, “It’s understandable to be OK with the idea of the end of a largely rapacious global civilization…but the notion that we may be on the verge of creating conditions that could extinguish vast swathes of life on this planet itself is where you just can’t do much more than throw your hands up and make the best of whatever time you have left.”  Right.  And so what does it mean, to “make the best”?  What is possible, even then?  What matters now?

Must human extinction be considered a complete fail?  Or is there another possibility?

Like I said, risky…

And I wonder this because, as an individual human sitting in that storied and metaphoried doctor’s office and hearing the fatal diagnosis, I know, or think I know, that it’s possible, even in that situation, to find a “win” before I die.  It’s possible to decide, even then, to live the best life I can live.  It’s possible to complete my mission here, to gain in maturity and wisdom, to love and be loved, to grow and evolve.  It’s possible, as Khaled Hosseini wrote in The Kite Runner, that “there is a way to be good again.”  It’s possible, I think, somehow, in a way that matters, to come home again.  And if it’s possible for an individual, then I wonder what’s possible for a culture, a people, or a species.

I can’t go any further than this today, except to offer a number of things that have moved me over the years, as places where I intend to look for clarity and understanding and vision in the coming weeks and months.

The first thing that comes to mind is that Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth contains, if memory serves, a wonderful exploration of the meaning of human extinction in our time.  He was exploring nuclear weapons and war, rather than climate change, but I think there’s something in there I need to read again, as I am not who I was when I first read it.

The next thing that comes to mind is Edward Abbey’s novel, The Fool’s Progress.  This is the only Abbey I have ever read, and I remember it moved me deeply as a younger man.  It’s about coming home before one dies.  It’s about finding oneself in the face of the fatal diagnosis.  And I remember it moved me to tears.

The movie Seeking a Friend For the End of the World comes to mind.  It masquerades as a Steve Carell comedy, but I think it’s much more than that.  I watched it twice in as many days, and it brought me to tears each time.  There’s something there, the search for love and meaning even as the comet approaches, that speaks directly to our present time.  Marvelous.

And then there’s this video about coming home, which some find brutal, and others find inspiring, and which brings me to tears of grief…

 

And there’s this video, also about finding one’s way home, which makes me weep not only with grief, but with some strange hope…

Sigur Rós – Ekki múkk from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.

Like Shirin in Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B, and like Sally, I’m a bricoleur.  I weave things together from the pieces I find available around me, whether they be shards of tile, film clips, or ideas.  These are the things I’ve found that move me, that speak to what remains possible even in the face of human extinction, that tell me, in some way only my tears seem to understand, that there is something that still matters.  I don’t know how to put these pieces into some coherent whole.  Or, if I do, I don’t yet know how to speak of it in a way that satisfies.  For now, here are some pieces, sitting on my lab table, waiting to be contemplated and explored.

The day is sunny.  Enough of this.  I wish you all peace.

T

Keep-um

January 8th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 8 Responses

It seems I’ve tapped into something big, here in the dark of the year.  Something that’s tied together with grief and shame and stories of imprisonment and fate and despair.  But also bound with love and hope and joy and new possibility.  It may take me weeks or months to see my way into this, and possibly through it, and all I can do today is “take the first step, the step close in,” as the poet David Whyte would say.

I was reading from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower this morning, the last book in a long, weird series of sci-fi/fantasy novels.  I’m at the point where the heroes, those who remain, those who have not fallen along the way, are beginning their final journey to the Tower.  As they make their way, they find, written on a wall, a message from some others they met along the journey, others with whom they shared both adventures and loss.

     “Roland, Susannah,” the message said, “We are on our way!  Wish us good luck!  Good luck to you!  May God bless you!  We will never forget you!”  And then, under their signatures, was an added note:  “We go to seek a better world.  May you find one, as well.”

     “God love em,” Susannah said hoarsely.  “May God love and keep ‘em all.”

     “Keep-um,” said a small and rather timid voice from Roland’s heel.  They looked down.

     “Decided to talk again, sugarpie?” Susannah asked, but to this Oy made no reply.  It was weeks before he spoke again.

As I read this now, to write it out here, the same tears that clogged my throat earlier rise to clog it again.  And it’s tears I need to talk about, I think, because tears are water, and water is life, and I can know, I can feel, with tears, that I am alive, and that I will make it through, whatever “make it through” ends up meaning.

I find today that I’m exhausted with thinking.  Tired of acquiring information and analysis, uninterested in argument, fed up with anger and judgment and blame.  Sally has helped me, these past two weeks, to get in touch with something important: the Doom business largely bores me these days, and I can barely pay attention.  I’ve got tabs open with purportedly important, wonderful essays by Paul Kingsnorth and Charles Eisenstein and Guy McPherson.  I’ve got tabs open to Facebook threads I want to follow.  I’ve got stacks of books to read and comment on and review.  Yet I can hardly bring myself to turn the pages.    I’ve got voices inside that tell me I should and I must, but the honest truth is that I’ve lost some big portion of my fascination with Doom, and the only thing that keeps me going, I think, is the fear that I’ll be left behind if I don’t keep tagging along.

The thing is, as a Doomer, I’m not sure what else to say anymore, beyond echoing the simple words of a grieving billy bumbler named Oy.   And so maybe that work is done, and it’s time to scrape the sign off my door and paint a new one.  We do seem to be on that final approach, though whether our Dark Tower will be extinction, transformation, evolution, or salvation I do not know.  I’ve had my share of loss along the way, enough to break my heart, enough to get my attention, enough to bring me to humble knees.  And really, now, all I want is to wish others good luck and tell them I’ll never forget them, to wish them godspeed and send them my love and my warm well wishes as I continue my journey.  And if people call me sugarpie now and then, that would be okay too, and God keep-um.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what else to do to help.  There are meals to cook and fires to build and sidewalks to shovel, and I am glad to do these things.  I can see how those actions help.  There are birds to converse with, and the sun and the wind to feel on my face.  There are people, flesh-and-blood human beings, a few, with whom I am beginning to share the deep, life-affirming salvation of music.  There are songs to sing and music to listen to and drums upon which I can pound out my heart.  There’s a story half-finished, with characters hovering in extremis, waiting patiently for me to move them forward.  And there are holes in my heart that need gentle tending if they’re to ever fully heal.  But beyond those things, I’m not really sure how else to be of service.  Perhaps it’s the trying to tag along that prevents me from simply knowing, and accepting, where I am.

There are deep questions for me to face here.  Questions about work and impact and reach and audience and fame.  Questions about “helping people” and “making a difference” and “serving the planet” and “following the muse,” about “marching orders” and “our work in the world” and “what are you called to do?”  And I have deep, defining stories to unravel and rewrite, it seems.  So I’m going to proceed slowly.

For now, enough.  I’ll be back when I figure out what to say next.

I’m on my way!  Wish me luck!  And good luck to you!

 

Greetings From the Gravity Well

December 25th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 2 Responses

Old Marley was as dead as a door nail… This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

First published Christmas 2008, if memory serves.

I did something the other day that I haven’t done for a long time. Something I used to do often. Something unexpected: I went to a mall. It was a small mall. An old mall. A sad little mall that has not kept up with the times. But it was a mall nonetheless. And I went into it. I was not shopping for Christmas presents. (Being neither Christian nor Consumerist, nor, for that matter, Humanist, I don’t really do Christmas.) Nor was I sneaking a Cinnabon™. (This mall doesn’t have a single purveyor of Extreme Carbohydrates…)

What I was doing was looking for a bathroom.

You may, at this point, be expecting some sort of a rant. Based solely on a statistical analysis of my past behavior, that expectation would be reasonable. I have, in deed and in fact, done my share of ranting. So for me to start raving at this point about consumerism, or the holidays, or the global industrial death-machine responsible for everything I saw around me, for me to start fuming about how the destruction of the life of this planet was reflected in every sparkling ornament on the twenty foot Xmas tree at the mall’s center, would be the most normal and natural thing for me to do. I have now become, after all, a very minor public figure on the eco-ranting scene. It’s my job, right? It’s what I do.

But as I walked around the mall, I noticed a most curious thing: I did not feel angry. I was not filled with righteous indignation and steely resolve. I felt neither assaulted nor insulted. My inner conversation was not laced with snide comments and scathing judgments. My blood was not boiling. I was neither irate, mad, annoyed, cross, vexed, irritated, indignant, irked, furious, enraged, infuriated, in a temper, incensed, raging, fuming, seething, beside oneself, choleric, outraged, livid, apoplectic, hot under the collar, up in arms, in high dudgeon, foaming at the mouth, doing a slow burn, steamed up, in a lather, fit to be tied, seeing red, sore, bent out of shape, ticked off, teed off, nor PO’d. I was, in fact, feeling pretty much the last thing one would expect of me in this situation: I was feeling both humbled and… drum roll please… a bit of hope.

Go figure. That’s what happens when I really gotta pee. I go a bit crazy.

Humbled? Whatever for? Aren’t these the people, and the beliefs and behaviors, and the corporations, which are happily engaged in consuming the planet? Well… yeah. But as I looked around at those desperate shops, their tinsel-splattered storefronts smiling maniacally with invitation, as I watched my fellow mallers bumping around in search of, as I listened to the holiday music struggling frantically to convince me – on a day in mid-December that topped out at 78 degrees Frighteninglyhigh, in a drought-stricken corner of the world so dry now that FEMA is starting to erect mobile home cities for the fish, at a time when it looks like the only gift we’re going to get from our Uncle Sam in Bali is a train load of coal in our stockings, as I listened still to that holiday music trying frantically to convince me that it IS beginning to look a lot like Christmas, goddamnit, what became crystal clear was that, not that many years ago, I was one of those people, shopping those shops and singing those songs. Not that many years ago, I, me, Tim Bennett, was just the sort of person I might now harshly judge as clueless or befuddled, or even willfully ignorant. Not that many years ago I was cruising the malls, buying gifts for my kids, living the American Dream, a Chick-Fil-A™ in one hand and an Orange Julius™ in the other, shopping til dropping before donning my nightcap and settling my brain for a long winter’s denial.

I’m cringing. Can you feel me cringing?

Not at who I was. Not at who those mallers still are. I’m cringing at the realization of how easy it has been and still is for me to judge people for being where I was not that long ago. When it comes to myself, I’ve got lots of compassion. I was born into an insane culture. I was shaped and pressured and forced and guided and wounded and altered and thwarted and numbed and hoodwinked and lied to and ripped off. When it comes to everybody else… well, it’s guilty until proven innocent, with me as both judge and jury. With the legendary intensity of a reformed smoker, I’ve stomped through the world, handing out condemnations and sentences like so many business cards: Tim Bennett… Reformed Civilized Person… Call me for all your Anger and Judgment needs! I mean… it’s the end of the world as we know it, people! Wake the fuck up!

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call “nuts” to Scrooge.

I remember, back in college, saying to my now-ex as we sat in the student lounge, “On the whole, I don’t much like human beings.” Those words have stuck with me since. Not just a sentence, but also a sentence, with little chance of parole. While now and again I might find an individual who passes muster, the bewildered herd I met along “the crowded paths of life” was a disappointing and disgusting lot, and I saw little to do but keep my distance. Call me a walk-in, a changeling, or just an arrogant asshole, I was not one of them. I was not from around here. ”I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.”

And there I stood in the mall… and I saw… I saw!… I was one of them, and always had been. Forty nine years previous, on a drunk or a dare, I’d tripped and fallen – or jumped – into the gravity well called Earth and was now stumbling about, stunned and disoriented, a spark of life and energy encased in a bipedal meat-bag, surrounded by hundreds- thousands- millions- billions of fellow sparks-in-meat-bags, all wondering what the hell is going on and who’s in charge and hey has anybody seen the instruction manual?

I’m from around here after all.

Bah! Humbled!

Which brings me to hope.

People who know me well know that I have a bit of a speech impediment: whenever I try to say the word “hope” it comes out sounding slightly off, like a Brit doing an American accent, but not doing it very well. It’s not that I have anything against hope, at least as a noun. I’m as much a fan of possibility as the next guy, and my sense of the universe is that there is always possibility, even in the darkest days. But I’m highly attuned to the dangers and downsides of hope, and so often defend against hope when I see it being abused or misused, and avoid the word when I can, attempting to steer clear of that misuse.

Yes, there is always possibility. But there are also laws of physics and chemistry and biology, and there are limits to science and technology. And there is also cultural inertia and psychosocial wounding. And there are also huge forces at work in the world, with plans and intentions of their own. And so we must balance possibility with inevitability, vision with current reality, and surrender to the unknown, and come to see that many of our hopes are false, and that some of those possibilities we – our sparks, not our meat-bags – do not even want.

And as for hoping as a verb…. well, let’s just say that I am learning to keep my own power for myself, and that that feels really, really good. Read Derrick Jensen’s essay Beyond Hope and you’ll understand what I mean. The language of hoping can rob us of our power.

In the mall, what I saw was a possibility. Think of it. Not that many years ago I was a maller and now I’m working full-time for the planet and jonesing for “the end of Empire” and the collapse of the system that is killing everything. And I’m not alone. My friend Carla has leapt from the decks of the Titanic and into that same Ark of Fools in about the same time frame. I have other friends who’ve made similar leaps. And on our screening tours, we met folks who, by their own report, made the journey from confusion and bewilderment to clarity, acceptance, and action in a couple of years! Old Marley howled and clanked, their clocks struck midnight, and the spirits did it all in one night! Think of it.

Think of it.

How many such folk walk amongst us unseen? How many are primed and ready, just waiting for Marley’s Ghost to rattle their chains and set them on a quick path from cluelessness to awareness? And what becomes possible, if more of these Scrooges get whacked upside the head with reality? I said a while back that there is great power in not knowing. If I’m going to say such things out loud, then I’m going to have to take them seriously myself, and do such work as is necessary to allow me to hold “not knowing” in my being. And so the answer to these questions is simple: I do not know. Read Peter Russell’s wonderful pieced called A Singularity in Time. We do not know.

Nothing takes the judgment out of me quite so quickly as a good dose of humility.

I have been angry. I have been judgmental and cruel and dismissive. And that has not always served me. While anger can work to focus my energy on that which is outside of me, on that which needs to be faced and confronted and contained or stopped, it’s a tool so easily misused, and so sharp-edged and fierce, that I do well to leave it in the toolbox until I’m sure I can use it without hurting some innocent bystander. Or myself.

There are situations, manipulations, rationalizations, obfuscations and corporations that may all deserve and require that form of focused energy, so it would serve the Earth, for me to master my anger. But it does little good if I spend my anger on those who do not deserve it. At some point I have to learn to make the necessary distinctions between the many degrees of perpetration and victimization. I have to train my eye to see the fine gradations of willfulness, the many grays of blame and complicity that lie on the continuum between the blinding white fire of evil and the cool and soothing black of innocence.

As I do this it becomes very clear: this is delicate work. In the face of such distinctions, where the gradations are so fine, and the shades so subtle, the only way to mastery is to step into bold humility and decisive unknowing. There is simply too much that my meat-bag will never get to know. That’s how it works here at the bottom of the gravity well.

Given that, I may do well most days to hold my judgments and anger with compassionate firmness until clarity comes, if it ever does. While there may be obvious evils that both deserve and need my anger, while there are, in fact, people who need to be stopped and world leaders who need to be run out on a rail and corporations which need to be contained and deconstructed, while there is, as far as I can see, an entire planet-spanning culture that needs to be dismantled and recycled into something life-affirming and sane, most of the other meat-bags around me are just as confused and disoriented as I am. My anger toward them has been the easy way out, little more than “horizontal hostility” toward my fellow stumblers, because it’s so damned scary to contemplate expressing my anger directly to those who may actually deserve it, those with the power to express right back at me.

Are there those who deserve my judgment and anger? Is the CEO of a destructive corporation a bad guy, or just another confused meat-bag trapped in the same culture that trapped me? Or both? Or neither? Do I love the sinner and hate the sin? I don’t know. I’ve been trying to feel my way through that for some time and have yet to find an answer that fully suits me. And I can’t quite decide whether it matters or not. On the one hand, my animal body is clear: whether they are evil or confused, I get, to the best of my abilities, to protect my self and my loved ones from the forces of destruction that threaten us all. The mother bear protects her cubs. That speaks to me with an eloquence and simplicity that feels grounded in the deep rightness of the living world. But then I stop and remember: I’m trying to move beyond the paradigm of domination and control. It may matter, how I regard those forces, even while protecting myself from them. It may matter. I don’t know. For now, I will trust my body. And the mother bear. Protection is not domination and control. My body knows that. My head is too easy to fool.

What’s clear right now is that my anger, at the level of my real life, has served more to stand in my way than to help, and that mastery in the realm of anger is one of my growing edges. My fellow sparks-in-meat-bags need simply for me to hear them and understand them and treat them with compassion as they knock their heads up against the walls of the gravity well, as they meet their own Marleys and are forced to confront the delusions and consequences of their own lives, as they stand on those titanic decks and contemplate the jump before them. As a friend of his emailed Daniel Pinchbeck, which he reports in his wonderful book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl:

I greatly admire your willingness to bear witness to your experiences and beliefs in such a radical and generous way. I will also say that I think the role of truth-bearer requires the purest of intentions. “Do it with love,” is good advice.

Do it with love. Love as a verb, as Juan Santos says. Love as an action in the real world. I can do that. And so I will tell you the hope I saw in that mall. The possibility.

It’s possible for a human being to make huge shifts in his or her worldview in a short amount of time. It’s possible that there are more people on the verge of making such shifts than we can now see or imagine. It’s possible that enough human beings will awaken to the world situation, and to their true nature, that they will be able to bring consciousness and intention to the work of this time, to that process which is already underway, which is to bring an end to a culture, a worldview, a paradigm, now expressing itself as the global industrial machine, which has never been and can never be sustainable on this planet, to bring an end to this culture, to dismantle it and contain it and hold it gently while it breathes its last. It’s possible that this can be done before the mass extinction we are living in plays out to its bitter end. It’s possible that some of us will be able to survive through this process, and thrive our way into a new life on a very different, but still living, planet. It’s possible that we will learn what we have long needed to learn, those of us raised in captivity in this system of disconnection and domination. It’s possible that we will find healing. It’s possible that we will remember ourselves. And it’s possible that we will once again take our places as worthy members of the community of life, and that we will find new ways of being that, echoing Juan Santos, align with our original instructions from the Creator.

The curtains may not be completely torn down, rings and all. Life may prevail. It’s possible. And so I will hold it as such. A possibility. A hope. Held not despite my fellow human beings, but BECAUSE I AM ONE.

Our chances feel slim to none, but it remains possible nonetheless. As Joanna Macy imagines our descendents saying, looking back on this time, “Our ancestors back then, bless them, they had no way of knowing if the Great Turning could succeed. No way of telling if a life-sustaining culture could emerge from the death throes of the industrial growth society. It probably looked hopeless at times. Their efforts must have often seemed isolated, paltry, and darkened by confusion. Yet they went ahead, they kept on doing what they could–and, because they persisted, the Great Turning happened.”

I’ve lived my whole life feeling like I’m not from here. Perhaps you have as well. And there may be some truth to that, at some level of reality. But I find that it just doesn’t matter any more. Whether I’m from here or not, I’m here now. Here is where my work is to be done: here in the gravity well we call Earth, with these other poor, crazy souls stumbling about around me. I have lost too much time to my judgments, trying vainly to protect myself, “warning all human sympathy to keep its distance,” even reveling in that. Perhaps it’s time to give that up?

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

And so, says a not-so-tiny Tim, to my fellow bipedal-meat-bags, to our brothers in four legs and six legs and more, to our sisters in wing and fin and leaf and mycelium, to our compatriots in stone and wind and water and fire, to our allies and teachers, our ancestors and descendants, our guides and our shadows, our drop-ins our changelings and our arrogant assholes, to all of you I say this, as poor and crippled as I am:

God bless us, every one.

*****

Tim Bennett is a writer, filmmaker and meat bag currently looking for the instruction manual in the Southeast US. You can read his blog and get in touch with him, maybe, at his website www.whatawaytogomovie.com.

My Prediction for 2012

December 18th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog One Response

 

 

I want to go on record, here and now, and state, publicly and beforehand, that I am certain that on 12/21/12, something is going to happen.  I don’t know what, precisely, but with 7,059,353,061 people on the planet, something’s gotta happen, right?  Well, I’m predicting it.  So there.  You can take that to the bank.  Just don’t expect much of an interest rate.

While I feel a bit playful regarding the whole Mayan Calendar thing, I don’t much feel like scoffing.  The notion that this date in history would see some “event” – due to a galactic alignment, the end of an astrological age, a collision with Nibiru,  the reaching of the singularity, or the crossing of a “galactic synchronization beam” or the “Dark Rift” or “Xibalba be” – and that the Maya, or the Olmecs, with help from either psychedelics, gods, or aliens, could precisely measure and predict this event, has never made much sense at all to my mind, as that mind has been formed and trained inside of the scientific materialistic paradigm.  I see arbitrary definitions and unsupportable claims to precision, disinformation, confusion, and obfuscation, divided opinions about what is known and what is not, and a great deal of picking and choosing.  I see a host of competing and incompatible assumptions, expectations, analyses, and predictions.  I see cravings for collapse and transcendence, deep streams of individual and collective pain and fear and guilt and exhaustion, and swelling tides of hopefulness and longing and need and want.  But I don’t see much that convinces me that, on the physical level, this date means much of anything, beyond it being the date of the annual winter solstice.

But of course I don’t confine myself solely to that-there materialist paradigm.  I regard scientific materialism as an extremely useful facet through which to view reality, but limited and/or incomplete.  And so while I see little “scientific” reason to expect something of galactic significance happening on 12/21, I see no need to dismiss the entire phenomenon out of hand as nothing but silliness.  In the first place, I’ve encountered, over the years, many tantalizing bits of evidence and analysis that seem to point to the notion that ancient cultures developed or acquired the Long Count calendar and went to great lengths to use it for something, to tell us something, to pass down some knowledge which they felt was important.  There may be long-cycle factors of which we are not aware.  There may be message from the past, or from “the other.”  There may be, splashing about in that gray and choppy bathwater known as “the 2012 phenomenon,” a baby worth saving.

Beyond that, there are three other forces I see at work that could result in “something happening.”  First, were I a member of the hidden human elite global control layers popularly referred to as “they,” I would surely be voting for a 12/21 roll-out date for some new initiative, whether that be a false flag operation designed to tighten control or distract the rubes, or another controlled demolition of the current system meant to achieve whatever “double secret” goals “they” have.  Since I tend to think such layers actually exist, I, for one, shall not be at all surprised to see some rather dramatic event unfold on 12/21.  Second, were I a crewman on one of them-there UFOs, helping enact some hidden, enigmatic, long-term “plan,” I’d be looking at 12/21 as a wonderfully theatrical date for yet another act in the Great Cosmic Comedy known by many as “the alien agenda.”  Since I tend to think that there’s some measure of truthiness to such things, I am not inclined to rule out the possibility of “something big” coming down from the skies (or up from the underground lodges) to add to the spectacle.  I expect neither salvation nor invasion, but I also expect to be surprised by whatever unfolds, including the possibility that what unfolds is absolutely nothing at all that we can nail down.  Third, as someone who resonates strongly with the “holographic universe” idea, I see the possibility that the combined attention, intention, focus, wishin’, and hopin’ of millions of people, (including stork people and elm people and mosquito people and squid people and copper people) the chorus of belief sung by many more than a hundred monkeys, can itself “cause” events to unfold in the physical realm.  I think this shit is somehow more Real™ than scientific materialism acknowledges, that the physical realm is more plastic and malleable than our consensus beliefs usually allow.  Perhaps if hundreds of millions of us all go stand on the same side of the collective psychic boat, the dang thing’ll flip over.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Mostly I watch the whole 2012 thing in terms of what it tells us about ourselves, we Civilized™, apocalypse-loving folk, about what we sense in our world with our intuitive, sensitized animal bodies, about what we fear is rushing at us as the oil wells sputter and the climate goes whack and the economy falls to its knees, about the hopelessness and helplessness and out-of-controllness and resignation most people feel in the face of it all, about our wish for freedom and peace and reconnection and justice and a return to human sanity, about our longing for the return of magic and spirit, and our belief in what it will take to knock ourselves from our current system and free our hearts, minds, and souls from the shackles of the madness of assumption, expectation, belief and habit we call “normal.”  It may be that most people don’t really believe that there’s much Scientific™ reality to this 2012 phenomenon.  But we pay attention anyways, and think about it, and wonder, and joke, and maybe even hope a little.  Why the hell not?  We’re like the older kids in the line to see Santa, like non-believers whispering deathbed prayers.  We’ve got our doubts, for sure, but… what harm, eh?  Who knows?  And why not?  Cover the bases, just in case.  And knock on wood.

Our local cafe is hosting an end-of-the-year party on Friday night, and a survivor’s brunch the following morning.  I expect both events to go off without a hitch.  But who knows?  Something is going to happen on 12/21.  Somewhere.  I’ve already predicted it.  Maybe they’ll run out of hollandaise sauce.  Maybe the wind will knock down a pole and the power will go out all over the island.  Or maybe something truly astounding or horrible or transformative will happen somewhere on planet Earth that will thrust us off our current worldline and toward something else we do not now expect.  I’m open to the possibility.  And I don’t feel like I have anything to lose by staying that way.

I’ll see you all on the other side.  Hold onto your hats.  Love the ones you’re with.  And make sure you have a buddy.  Drink plenty of water, and always have a litter bag in your car.  Beyond that, you’re on your own.  You know what to do.

Pax,
T

Warning: Beyond Here Be Scoffing!

From a Church in the East: A 2012 Holiday Family Letter

December 11th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 16 Responses

Sometimes a Man - Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

Hello All,

I hope this letter finds you well and engaged in your lives, as is Sally, and as am I.  It’s that holiday time of the year, of course, and I find myself thinking about home and family, as the culture has taught me to do.  I won’t be seeing any of you this year … again … and it seems right, to reflect on that for a bit, and see what peace such reflection might give me.  I find it ironic in the extreme that I, a confirmed Scrooge-o-phile, has ended up saying to you “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”  But there it is.  And the fact is, these days, ol’ Scrooge’s nephew was quite correct:  from the perspective of most people in our culture, I don’t keep it at all.

What is there to say, really?  I spent the last dozen years and more, as Daniel Quinn advises and Colie Brice sings, “walking away.”  I walked away from the culture into which I was born, the culture that was transmitted to me via my family, my school, my friends, by the various media that comprised the water in which I swam.  I walked away, and continue to walk away, from the stories, the expectations, the beliefs, and the assumptions.  I have walked away, as much as has felt sensible and meaningful, from the outward manifestations of those expectations and assumptions, slowly refashioning my relationships to work, play, food, consumption, body, exercise, time, space, love, partnership, and feeling.  I have walked so far, so many standard deviations from the mean, so close to the edge, that some days I wonder if I might not just reach up and pull myself off this planet entirely, like the Little Prince and his flock of “wild birds,” and begin my journey back “home” to Asteroid B-612.  I have, indeed, gone looking for that church in the East.

I hope you understand that I had to do this, that I was dying “inside the dishes and in the glasses.”   Or, even if it makes no sense to you, I hope you might trust that it makes sense to me.  I tried for so long to find a way to fit in, to find my way inside of the stories that had raised me up.  But I couldn’t.  The news of our quickly-changing world and our bankrupt cultural expectations knocked me down and broke me open and I have never been the same.  What crawled out of that broken shell, that rusted suit of armor, that torn, papery, cocoon, has become, over time, the person I consider the “real me.”

Hello…

Whether moth or wanderer, I’m glad, finally, to have stepped more fully into the human body I now wear and the person I “be.”  I have work to do still, of course.  This fleshsuit fits imperfectly, and there are parts of it I can’t quite make work the way I want to.  But by and large, stepping into who I am has been a prize worth my fighting for.  I have never felt happier.  But what a cost in loss and pain.  I am so sorry that my journey has taken me so far afield from those who first nurtured me.  And I am so sorry that walking away has been so difficult for us all, and that I left you with little to do but say blessings on me as if I were dead.  I could not find another way to get where I am, but to leave where I was.

I have few points of contact with the holidays now.  Though I find truths worth considering in the nativity story, I am not a Christian, and so do not much connect with the holiday in that way.  Though I enjoy the ancient shamanic roots of the modern Santa story, there is little in that whole mythology that calls to me now, David Sedaris notwithstanding.  And even the whole ritual of gift giving and receiving leaves me vaguely embarrassed, as it feels to me such a pale substitute for what it is I really want, which is close, intimate, vulnerable exchanges of life and love and aid and support with people with whom I can “belong,” rather than just “fit in,” to use Brene Brown’s words.  So when I encounter the outer signs of the holiday season, be they decorations, parties, or people asking me whether I’ve “finished my shopping,” I am struck mostly with a sense of the surreal and a pang of nostalgia, as I am reminded that this world in which I once lived and participated is still going on all around me.  I feel like a ghost, who walks a world out of which he has died away.  Or a time traveler, who steps, momentarily, into his own past.  The feeling is awkward, painful, dissonant, disturbing, distressing.  I no longer belong there.  It is time for this ghost to move on.

So it is very hard on me, to “come back,” even for short visits.  The stories and assumptions and expectations in which I was raised are, from what I can see, still largely intact in my family of origin.  Family stories about what we value, and how we interact, and who takes which role, expectations about what is allowable to do, to say, to want, to need, and to have, assumptions about conflict and vulnerability and acceptance and relationship and intimacy, these are the very “dishes” and “glasses” in which I was dying.  I do not now fit into those stories, and am unconvinced that, on my own, I can find a way to find my peace with them.  I know you to be good people doing the best with what you have, as are we all.  It’s the stories you live from that can hurt me.  It’s as if, so close to the edge, so ready to take off into the cosmos with my flock of birds, I now breathe air that would not sustain most of you, or you breathe air that stifles and strangles me.  It feels that elemental to me.  That difficult to overcome.  That painful.  And so, once again, I stay away, not knowing what else to do.  There remain unresolved conflicts, and many painful wounds, and I am unable to heal them myself.

And yet I quite like the cold and snow and the dark of the year.  I love the strands of twinkling lights.  I love some of the old holiday music.  And there are movies that Sally and I watch every year, movies like Love Actually and The Family Stone and Pieces of April, movies that touch, if only briefly, the family bonds we see as possible, the holidays as we might create them, and the sorts of connections we do find amongst that smaller tribe of fellow edge-people and asteroid-dwellers and shrews and mutants we know mostly from a distance.  I’ve got lights strung in my office.  Jethro Tull’s Christmas Song awaits the touch of a button.  And soon we’ll dig out those old movies and watch them and cry and wish and dream and long.  But mostly, this year, I think I shall just be thankful for what I did have then, rather than grieving for what I do not have now.

I want you to know two things.  As painful as walking away has been, I would do it all again, because my life is exactly what I want and need it to be right now.  I am well, out here on the edge.  Well and truly and amen.  I’m doing great, even as tears stream down my face.  And I want you to know that, because I am okay now, I know that I need nothing from you.  I do not need you to follow me.  I do not need you to look at what I look at, think what I think, feel what I feel, believe what I believe, or know what I know.  I do not need you to do anything, to “transition to a sustainable lifestyle,” to “save the world,” to “walk a spiritual path,” to “question your assumptions,” to live your lives in any way but the way you are called to live them, or to “keep Christmas” in any way but which brings you the joy and peace you wish to have for yourselves.  If anything I’ve said or done over the years has communicated otherwise, please understand that I was merely trying to claim my own right to follow my own path.  I have found my “church in the East.”  I trust that you shall all find your own churches, in your own ways, and in your own times.  This seems the design of things, to me.  And that, even if there is pain and loss, makes it feel right and good.

Please, as you all gather this year, wherever and however and with whomever that happens to be, know that, from afar, I remember you all, and wish you the best.  Know that I carry a deep appreciation for what you’ve all given me, from the nurturing I received as a child to the gifts of wisdom that even our separation now has to teach me.  Please know that I know that you are good-hearted people who want the best for each other and for me.  And please know that, even as you say blessings on me as if I were dead, I am not dead, any more than the Little Prince is dead.  The Little Prince laughs still amongst the stars, and I am still here, still walking my path along the edge of the gravity well.  And I’m quite a good fellow, actually, with much to offer, and gifts to give, and love to share.  Should any of your own paths bring you this way, and should you wish to step into a house built on stories and expectations very different from your own, and should you care to taste the strange, brisk air I seem so much to adore, please know that I will welcome you in for tea.  I’ll give you a tour of the church I found.  You can feed the flock of wild birds.  We’ll listen to some Jethro Tull and some David Sedaris.  Probably we’ll cry.

That’s the way we do things here on the edge.

That’s how I walk through this dark of the year.

May the gods bless us, every one.

Pax.
T

 

 

The Great Escape

December 4th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 2 Responses

Today outside your prison I stand

and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;

you have relatives outside. And there are

thousands of ways to escape.

 

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my

cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,

and shouted my plans to jailers;

but always new plans occured to me,

or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,

or some stupid jailer would forget

and leave the keys.

 

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—

those feeding creatures outlined by stars,

their skeletons a darkness between jewels,

heroes that exist only where they are not.

 

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,

just as—often, in light, on the open hills—

you can pass an antelope and not know

and look back, and then—even before you see—

there is something wrong about the grass.

And then you see.

 

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

 

Now—these few more words, and then I’m

gone: Tell everyone just to remember

their names, and remind others, later, when we

find each other. Tell the little ones

to cry and then go to sleep, curled up

where they can. And if any of us get lost,

if any of us cannot come all the way—

remember: there will come a time when

all we have said and all we have hoped

will be all right.

 

There will be that form in the grass.

William Stafford, A  Message From the Wanderer

A recent Facebook thread on slavery, both of the “chattel and chains” variety and the more modern “wage slave” or “cultural captive” kind, has me pondering how the word “captivity” so well describes my own experience of life on this planet, and serves as a good metaphor for my view of reality.

What if “the game” for me here, as a deep-sea diver of the physical realm, is one of finding my “captivity” at every level so that I can then find my “freedom”?  Whether it’s the stories of my family, the confining beliefs of the culture in which I was born and raised, my own ego structures (the family and cultural stories internalized), the seeming “realities” of needing money, jobs, homes, etc, the various dysfunctional, and even insane, systems which purport to “govern our lives” and which comprise this thing we call “civilization,” the current and coming unraveling of these various systems as the larger “realities” of physical laws and limits come back to bite us on the ass, or the even larger and more fundamental “realities” of Reality™ itself, it feels possible to get trapped and held captive in any and all of these levels of “the game.”  And much of what I have been up to these past decades, the game I have been playing, is to learn to see the traps, the chains, the cages, so that I can step out of them into some sort of freedom.

This can feel like hard work.  And though it feels off to say that, (as, to my mind, even the story that “it’s hard work” can be a prison) it feels important nonetheless to recognize that such psychological forces as “learned helplessness,” “cultural indoctrination,” “emotional and psychological wounding,” “golden handcuffs,” and “the Stockholm Syndrome” are in operation here, working inside of us humans to keep us in our cells.  Once I learned that the lock on the cell door is largely one I put there myself (or at least accepted as necessary at the time), finding freedom has come more and more easily.  In many cases, it involves simply re-writing a story that I’ve been telling myself.

It feels, to me, like the most essential part of finding freedom is seeing and coming into full acceptance of “what is.”  When I spend my energy fighting “what is” with such stories as “this should not be” and “this is not fair” and “this is wrong,” when I do not allow myself to simply come to full acceptance of “what is,” I stay stuck.  My energies are distracted.  I might find some distance between my “self” and “the problem.”  I might convert my self-blame to other-blame.  But I never quite find the freedom I am looking for.    Because, I think, I am unclear of my goal.   The notion of “freedom” immediately raises the question “freedom from what?”  I have to know what the “what” is first, before I can “get anywhere.”

All of which explains my life-long quest to see “what is,” whether that be the collapse of civilization, the truth of various “fringe” issues, the effects my family of origin had on my psyche, etc.  The more clarity I’ve gained, the more freedom I’ve found.  As Brother Ryan said in that Facebook thread, “to see the farm is to leave it.”  That’s how it has worked for me.

But the manner of “leaving it” is shaped by the nature of the “farm” itself, I think.  Many folks step in, at this point, and argue that, well, that’s all fine and good, Mr. Smarty Pants Pure Research Man, but you’re a Privileged White American Male™.  You’ve got options for “leaving the farm” that most do not.  And, on top of that, we’re now all standing on the decks of a sinking ship.  We’re all riding together on a big ol’ jet airliner that’s plummeting toward the ground.  We’re all trapped in a cultural gulag.  Climate change is for everybody!  The Collapse of the Global Industrial Economy is for everybody!  Slavery is for everybody, slaves and slaveholders alike.  It’s all “the farm” now.  There is no leaving it.

There are facets through which I can view reality in which these are true™ statements.  There are facets in which these statements, and their opposites, collapse into one.  And yet there are places I can stand, I have found, in which these statements simply describe the nature of whatever captivity, whatever game, I find myself in.  And since, as an Otter of the Universe, I try to honor the “dive fully into physical experience” aspect of existence, I need such a place to stand.  And it’s there that the “full acceptance” piece comes in.  Okay.  I’m on a plane that’s going down.  The ground is rushing up to greet me with its hard embrace.  There is “no way out.”  And yet, even then, I can panic and scream, I can storm the cockpit and try to “take control,” I can lash out in anger at the stewardess, or I can turn to the person next to me and say, simply, “I love you very, very much.”

 

There is always some freedom to be found, I find, even here at “the bottom of the gravity well.”  Freedom inside of whatever situation I find myself.  Freedom from myself.  It’s up to me, I say, “just to remember my name,” as Mr. Stafford says.  The key question here, which I posed early on, is “what if…?”  For myself, when I step into this metaphor/reality of slaves and prisons and farms and escape, I find far more personal power than when I do not.  So I do…

To see the farm is to leave it.”

In my experience, Ryan Johnson is right.

 

Facebook City

November 27th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

 

Seems I’m feeling impatient this morning.  I noticed it as Sally and I sat together for our daily check-in, drinking coffee, watching the sunrise, watching the small black cat prance about on the roof of the mobile home across the road, and speaking whatever is most on our minds and in our hearts.  I kept noticing these feelings of irritation, boredom, impatience, as if there was really something “more important” that I needed to “get to.”

Now I’m up in my lab where, ostensibly, I can follow whatever fascinates me.  And yet that feeling has not dissipated.  There’s a wanting in me.  A dissatisfaction with the now.  An itch for something else.  What a waste that seems.  I’ve got hot coffee, beautiful music, warmth, freedom, sunshine, work to do… what more could I need?

Perhaps it’s this need to write a blog that is poking at me.  As if it’s something to be “gotten to” so that it can be “gotten over.”  As if I hate so much to be told what to do that I even hate being told what to do by myself.  Even when what myself is telling me to do is something the both of us really want to do.  Yar.  The joys of owning a “civilized” human ego.  Now where did I put that instruction manual?

But it need not all be something “egoic” (read “habitual” or “reactive” or “programmed”), something that needs to be patted on its head and sent to bed with a cookie.  That’s the problem with sorting out “ego”:  it wraps itself tightly around the true and free and real and essential, to the point where it can feel almost impossible to tease apart.  And that, perhaps, is a deep motivation for coming to my lab in the first place:  I can do my sorting here.

I’ve been thinking about Facebook this week.  I thought I might write about the “coming end of the Mayan calendar” today, but right now that feels boring and obvious and defensive.  I thought about following up on last week’s piece about “getting free from limiting stories and stepping into what I really want” with a preemptive strike against my many imagined “arguments” to what I said.  That feels boring and obvious and defensive as well.  When I look through my list of possible blog topics, I notice that many of them are defensive in nature, blogs that explain or reply or claim or defend some point of view.  But I just don’t have the heart to get defensive right now.  Even with the coffee, the beautiful music, and the sunshine, mostly what I feel are tears of exhaustion.  I’m so tired of defending.  I grew up in a bantering family system that was face-paced, clever, intelligent, funny, and ultimately, for me, at least, combative.  I’ve already fought in that arena.  I did that.  Now I want something else.

What I notice about Facebook is that it allows me to live both in a tiny village and a huge metropolitan area at the same time.  The tiny village exists all around me in the physical plane, and is peopled with gulls and crows and the world’s most badass bird, the chickadee.  It’s peopled with artists and merchants and thinkers and feelers and workers and players of every sort, good people wanting good for themselves and their community.  It’s peopled with the ever-changing bay, the solid sun, the insistent wind, the steadfast ground, and the talkative, flirty stars.  I quite love this place and its many peoples.  I’m glad to be here now.

And yet my fascinations seem to take me far afield of this place.  Some of my interests fall more than a few standard deviations from the mean, I gather, and might leave me feeling quite alone in the world were it not for Sally, to begin with, and the many souls with whom I can commune online.  Were I living in a huge metropolitan area, there might be enough of even such rare mutants as myself to form a meet-up.  But since I do not, I can find that online, and that is a precious thing to me.  This past week I’ve been involved in threads about destructive White Guy™ language patterns, UFOs, the “horrible” state of the world’s environment, reincarnation, the immense power of the Stockholm Syndrome phenomenon, and the origins of the swastika.

I’m not sure to what extent I might have these conversations in my village.  What I know is that, if these conversations are here, waiting to happen, I’ve not yet found a way to fully access them.  And I know that, online, in Facebook City, there are folks who have studied some of these things deeply, and who can speak to them with insight and knowledge.  I am endlessly informed, challenged, inspired, and motivated by the people I meet on these cyber streets.  I know there is a danger of addiction here.  There are strangers with trench-coats lined with funny pictures of cats.   But I also know that I am also drumming, getting more connected with local musicians, spending time outdoors, running, writing my second novel, stacking firewood and eating lots of salad.  I feel like I’ve got this addiction “under control” right now.  And if not, I live with a fierce and compassionate woman who will tell me otherwise.

Since every wave in the ocean is ‘made of’ the ocean itself, since it has the same ‘substance’ as the ocean, pushing away a wave of yourself – a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound – numbing yourself to it, rejecting it, denying it, trying to escape it – is equivalent to pushing away the entire essence of the ocean. Pushing away a moment of sadness, or pain, or doubt, or fear, or joy, or delight, is the same as pushing away all of life. Even the smallest wave, in essence, is as vast as the ocean – there are no insignificant thoughts or feelings, no ‘ordinary’ experiences, no moments unworthy of kind attention.

Jeff Foster, posted on a wall in Facebook City

So if I do not simply push away my impatience as some Bad™, Egoic™ thing to be dispelled as uncomfortable or unhappy, and embrace it as a teacher, as the ocean in which I swim, I can begin to see it not as a irritant, but a longing.  And my thoughts about Facebook City reveal to me that what I am longing for is connection.  I don’t want to be right.  I want to be known.  I don’t want to defend.  I want to open up to a larger knowing than I already have.  I don’t want to be alone.  I want to be in close, loving communion with other souls who walk the path beside me.  I want dialogue, the deep, rich, challenging, assumption-busting sort of dialogue I’ve already tasted, that can take me far beyond the boundaries of my own limited ego and wash me up on the unknown shores of something far more powerful and mysterious than I.  And my greatest fear is that I am so different from the others around me walking around in human suits that I will never get what I want in the flesh.  We wandering mutants are too spread out, it seems, like seeds scattered by the winds that rush toward the end, toward the bottleneck, the crash, the awakening, the great reset, the transformation, the apocalypse, the singularity, the end of the Mayan calendar, and the end of the world as we know it.  The distances between us make the physical level a difficult inn in which to gather.

I think it’s that desire for connection that makes me impatient checking in with Sally, as it’s just the two of us, and I can envision it being so much larger.  It’s that desire for connection that makes writing these blogs more challenging, as they feel, at least so far, less like dialogue and more just self-expression.  It’s that desire for connection that makes it so hard for me to answer emails and letters.  It’s that desire for connection that has made non-fiction books feel so much less interesting than they used to be.  All of these activities feel smaller, more contained, and more private than I want them to be.  I’ve come to love and even crave the back-and-forthness of Facebook City, the swiftly flowing river of posts and comments, the “is this a private fight or can anybody join in?” public-ness of it all.  It’s as if Facebook City has become, for me, an ongoing dialogue circle, of sorts, with different people showing up at any given moment to state their positions, argue with others, attempt to convert and reform, learn to listen, open up to other points of view, identify and suspend their own assumptions, step into empathy, compassion, and deep understanding, and find, together, in the spaces between us, something new, and even something greater, than that held by any one of us.

And perhaps this online connectedness can begin to function not only as a substitute or “toxic mimic” (to use Derrick Jensen’s term) for the sort of extrasensory connection and holographic access for which I long, but perhaps even as a training ground and a path toward that very thing.  Right now I can pick answers out of the air using an iPad with Google search.  Is that helping or hindering my ability to learn to pick answers out of the air with my mind, heart, and spirit?  To learn to trust my own feelings, knowings, and intuitions?  Is it helping or hindering my ability to listen to the land, or the soft whisperings of the Muse?  I don’t know.  I suspect that, as always, it’s a bit of both.  But I do have a sense that the cyberworld is giving me, in some small, strange way, a feeling experience of the tech-free cosmic connectedness I seek.  This tech-bound connection, built as it is on an unsustainable foundation, will probably not last forever, and maybe even for much longer.  It may be that my long desire to free my consciousness from the purely physical and learn to connect in other realms is based in some deep wisdom, a knowing that we can only do unsustainable things for a limited time, and that we should make sure we get where we’re trying to go before the gas runs out.

But I don’t know.  That could all be more “ego.”  So I explore.  I try things on.  I ponder out loud.  I check in with Sally.  And sometimes I even ask the chickadees.  Always, their answer is the same:  be bold, they say, not caring in the least, it seems, that they are quoting Basil King, or perhaps he them.  Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid, they tweet, bribed with sunflower seeds.  So once again, I open my mouth and take a risk.  Tweet.

I’m done for today.  Time to go post this on the walls of Facebook City.

Pax, ya’ll.  T

I Can Do That

November 20th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog One Response

Foremost in my consciousness this week, as I continue to heat other experiments on the back bunsen burner, is how I’ve ended up doing what I’m now doing. It seems, looking back, that most of the things I’ve accomplished came about after the rather simple realization that  “oh… I can do that!”  And it seems that this realization has served, every time, as a counter to the quiet, hidden, background voices that told me otherwise.

You name it. Whether it’s getting involved in theater or sword-fighting, going to seminary or film school, making a documentary or writing a novel, at some point it dawned on me “oh… I can do that!” and only then was I able to see how, in some way I hadn’t before noticed, I’d been holding that I could NOT do that, and that I’d been settling for something less than what I really wanted.

What has me thinking about this again is music. As I learn to play the drum kit, as I reacquaint myself with my mandolin and figure out how to fit it into rock and roll, as I pick songs and start singing them, and as I ponder with excitement and anxiety the possibility of playing with other musicians, I can see clearly now how Paul’s drum lesson advertisement on the IGA bulletin board sparked the fire of “I can do that!” And now I can look back at my long history with drumming and realize that, when it gets right down to it, I’ve always wanted to play a kit, but never thought I could, and so settled for the hand drums as the only option available to me.

I used to attend a fabulous music festival in North Carolina called Merlefest. I quite love the various forms of music that now get combined under the genre label “Americana,” but what I really loved most was when those banjo-pickin’, high-lonesome croonin’, fiddle-scratchin’ musicians would break out into a rock groove. Sam Bush. Bela Fleck. Chris Thile. John Cowan. The Dirt Band. Yonder Mountain String Band. Leftover Salmon. The Horse Flies. Peter Rowan. These guys could kick out the traditional bluegrass and old-timey and country blues like nobody’s business. But they could also rock out. I remember one afternoon at Merlefest. It was The String Cheese Incident, I believe. In the middle of a bluegrass set they broke out in a Yes tune. Roundabout. The crowd went wild. I remember watching an Emmylou Harris set at the Festival for the Eno in Durham. In the middle of the show, Emmylou took a break and her band, the Nash Ramblers, led by mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush, launched into a Sailin’ Shoes/Crossroads medley that, to this day, brings me to tears just thinking about it.

I used to say of these guys that what they all really wanted to be was rock stars, but their mamas handed them banjos at an early age and they were trapped. Turns out that the person I’ve mostly been speaking about is myself. I’m the one who always wanted to be a rock musician. I remember, as a kid, seeing some local folk doing a skit at a street fair that included Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild at the end.  My heart pounded.  I remember watching Tommy James and the Shondells on television. I must’ve been ten or so. They were singing Crimson and Clover, with the full-on psychedelic lightshow pulsing and blobbing behind them. I was never the same. Truly.

In my own case, I’m the one who handed myself the banjo. I picked it up in college. Took lessons from the great Joel Mabus. Later got an acoustic six-string. Then a lap dulcimer. Then an acoustic 12-string and a mandolin. Added various hand drums along the way. Played folk music. A bit of bluegrass and Celtic. Did lots of drumming in circles. Took various lessons. But I was never inspired enough to get really good at any of these instruments. And the reason, I think now, is that all this time, unbeknownst to my conscious awareness, and even as much as I do love bluegrass and old-timey and Celtic music, what I really wanted to do was play the music that most stirred my heart, the music that came through those tiny television speakers and broke me open, the music that the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous called “gloriously and righteously dumb.” That music was, is, and always shall be that monster called “rock and roll.”

I blame my brother Dave for this, of course. As a high-schooler, he got involved in a rock band with some of his buddies, those cooler, older kids with long hair and cigarettes who both frightened and called to me at the same time. I had to be different from my brother, you see. While I’m at it, I can blame my brother Chris, who took up the drum kit at an early age. And my parents, who never really seemed interested in music. And my extended family of origin: sweet, loving, down-to-Earth farming folk who seemed to have little time for such frivolities as music. And I can blame the entire culture, as well. As Lester Bangs put it: “A hero is a goddam stupid thing to have in the first place and a general block to anything you might want to accomplish on your own.” Yes. Exactly. How could little Timmy even think of playing the same music as these obvious gods and goddesses? He could not.

But, in the end, blame feels inaccurate, unsatisfying, and disempowering. No matter where those limiting stories came from, no matter how reasonable they were, and how necessary their adoption at the time, I am the one still holding onto them.

Until something like an advertisement for drum lessons shows up on the IGA bulletin board and thrusts those limiting stories into consciousness. Until a blurb about the community college film school shows up in the local paper. Until a friend suggests I might like a science and theology course he took at MSU. Until, watching backstage from the wings, I begin to feel the allure of the stage itself. Until something comes along and challenges a story I did not even know I was telling myself. Until something moves, until a foundation shifts, until a brick crumbles, and the entire edifice of my ego structure falls a bit closer to the living ground of my being. Until…

There is much more to say about this. There are connections I want to make with the Great Reset™ and the Limitations™ of the Physical Realm™, I think. Connections I can make with Evolution™, Maturity™, and Redemption™. Connections with the more Spiritual™ layers of Our Present Predicament™. But I shall leave such undefined terms, and the teasing apart of such connections, for another day in the lab.

Right now, I am filled with gratitude. That I get to be here. In this time. On this planet. With Sally. Both of us doing our work. Gratitude that there’s a drum kit from a yard sale sitting mere feet from my desk. Gratitude that, once again, I realized what it is I most deeply wanted, and that I could find a way to get it.

And outside, the sun sparkles on the bay. The air warms. As does the ground underfoot. Gulls and crows ride the thermals, searching for calories, ecstasy, and connection.

Slowly, I become more like them.

Gratitude.

Taking Requests

November 13th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 9 Responses

It feels like I am struggling today.  Suffering.  I have lots of ideas for what to write, but am finding no joy in the writing.  I’ve got a couple of blogs half-begun, and yet cannot seem to make myself finish them.  Part of it is that most of my ideas lead to long, deep analyses “with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was,” and right now I don’t trust long, deep analyses.  I’m tired of my monkey-mind and its constant need to figure out and explain and know and demonstrate.  Today that just all feels like control and domination, like the serving of some vague egoic need I can’t even surface long enough to understand.  There’s an all-alone, listen-to-me, I’ve-got-to-explain-myself quality in my body today that I do not like and do not want.  I want to find my heart and just say something from that.  I want to be in touch with something else besides my mind.  Perhaps it’s because Sally is away this week.  Perhaps I am less grounded with her gone.

The most difficult thing for me here is to simply accept that this is how it is and let it be okay. I promised myself that I would write a blog every week.  You know… the kind of blog a “pure research man” would write, full of insights and notions that chip away at the great puzzles of our time.  I’m a guy who does what he says he’s gonna do, know what I mean?  But this is how it is.  And so I will let it be okay.  Some days, I guess, when a “pure research man” goes to the lab, nothing much fascinates him.  He can’t even seem to get the bunsen burner lit, and he eventually goes home and takes a nap, or reads a book, or walks along the ocean.  Finding no words and ideas that really fascinate me today, I’m going to head back home and “pick up my guitar and play.”  Music has fascinated me of late.  And I’m beginning to find ways to share music face to face with real human beings.  And I have found, when I do so, that I get a huge grin on my face, and a feeling of excitement in my body just as strong as the terror of vulnerability that’s there whenever I step into that level of self-expression.  It’s still pure research, when I think about it.  It’s just not in the realm of words and ideas.  It’s in the realm of ears and eyes and guts and hearts, the realm of tapping feet and vibrating vocal cords, the realm of the “soft animal of my body,” as Mary Oliver would say, the realm of my beautiful but wounded soul sitting knee to knee with another beautiful but wounded soul and somehow, as if by magic, creating something joyous in this big ol’ goofy world.

So I will quit the struggle and relieve myself from suffering.  My lofty ideas about science and spirit and hope and doom and love and life and death and redemption shall have to wait for another day.  The Universe says shut the fuck up and sing me a song.  So I shall.   Who am I to say no to the Universe?

Pax.  T

PS:  That’s my Great Aunt Marj playing the fiddle in the photo.  She was one of the people who loved me and cared for me as a young child.  Aunt Marj… this one’s for you.

Off to Vote

November 6th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

“Vote your values,” I hear.

“Vote your conscience.”

“Vote your future.”

“Vote your faith.”

“Vote your hopes.”

“Vote your head.”

“Vote your interests.”

Okay.  Good idea.  So I’m off for the day, to spend it in barefoot isolation from the news media, with my face to the sun and the wind in my hair.  Looking forward to conversations with crows, gulls, and chickadees, some mud between my toes, salad from the greenhouse and cold water from the well.  I’m voting for the living world.  Time to go hold up my sign.

Pax, Otters…

Surfing With Not-Sees

October 30th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 4 Responses

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

John Heywood

I used this quote above (attributed to Heywood but echoing “Jeremiah 5:21,” which designates some small portion of copy from a book that the religious group “the Christians” refer to as “the Bible.”) in the “front matter” of my first novel, All of the Above.  It’s a quote that shows up later in the book, spoken by one of the characters.  And the phrase “none so blind” has been my working title for the series as a whole, as in: All of the Above, Book One of the None So Blind series, soon to be a major motion picture.  (That last bit is one of those thoughts-create-reality experiments…)

I didn’t use that series title anywhere on the book’s cover, though there is a note in the back, just after the story ends, that explains that All of the Above is the first book in a series of three.  One reason for not using it on the cover, or elsewhere in the marketing copy, is that, with only a first book, there really isn’t a series yet, just an intention, and that it might be misrepresentative to advertise it as such.  I could, after all, simply drop the whole thing and move onto something else.  Such things have happened before.

But another reason to not use that title is that Sally had misgivings about it.  Sally’s a compassionate sort, you see, and shies away from making unbalanced judgments about people whenever possible.  To her, Heywood’s quote judges people’s “not seeing” as a matter of will, and fails to take into account the situation into which they were born and raised that would have them “not see” something.

Okay.  I get that.  Sure.  There’s a great deal of judgment in the world.  And most days, at least when viewing the larger society through the various media, it feels like there’s much less compassion.  Doomers™, perhaps, are especially prone to playing the “you just don’t get it” card, speaking of “the masses” as “sheeple,” battling “denialists,” and thinking we live in the “age of stupid.”  I often find a certain condescending, contemptuous tone amongst those who can more clearly see the present global predicament toward those who don’t.

I’ve indulged in that tone myself from time to time.  But mostly I remember my own long decades spent living right inside the dominant paradigm, even if I had scootched over to the edge as much as was possible.  Unable to forget my own journey, it has always made sense to me to balance my frustration and judgment with understanding and compassion, and I relax when I see other Doomers do that.  Sure.  We’re most of us™ having trouble seeing some seemingly obvious things.  But there are really good emotional-psychological-cultural-spiritual reasons for that.  I know how long it took me to claw my way out of that set of assumptions, beliefs, expectations and values.  It’s not been easy.  I get why most people never seem to get around to it.

But to me, the quote doesn’t really judge all “not seeing” as willful so much as point out that, on the continuum of people’s ability to “see” our current collective predicament, the blindest ones are those who are in some sense choosing not to see.  And I think it’s those who fall closer to the willful end who are actually in that thing we call Denial™.  Not knowing is not the same as denial, I think.  Being mis- or poorly-informed is not denial.  And I know for myself that my journey included a great deal of both “not knowing” and being “misinformed.”

But denial is different.  To my mind, you cannot deny something without first seeing, sensing, or knowing it.  Denial includes a “turning away,” which feels more active and willful than the more passive “not knowing” or “being misinformed.”  And because the “not seeing” is active, it feels much more difficult to “break on through” to clarity and knowing.  It’s the blindest form of “not seeing,” as Heywood says.

Now we can consider that this active “turning away” is completely understandable, and that it may rarely be conscious.  And if it’s not conscious, we can wonder if it’s really willful at all. Sure.  Good thing to wonder about.  But I find that neither the victim story nor the perpetrator story captures the full reality of my experience, and that I must take on and balance both in order to understand my own journey.  While I can lay claim to not knowing and being misinformed, I must also state that, at some point, my victim’s claim of “I didn’t know” became more and more indefensible.  Facts and figures pounded on my wall of “not seeing,” and vague rumblings touched my heart and filled me with fear.  As a highly sensitive soul living in a well-attuned physical body, there were deep parts of me that “knew” long before my rational mind could accept what I knew.  It took active energy, will, to not let fully into my consciousness what my body and soul already knew.  And, as I was not consciously choosing to not know what I knew, it took further energy to hide my own denial from myself.  Which is why I’ve felt so much relief from opening up fully to the world situation.  Denial had sapped me of my strength.

At this point, given the “information society” in which we live, and given the ramping up of the severity of our various Problems™, the vast majority of civilized humans probably now stand, poised like surfers, somewhere on the middle of that continuum of “seeing,” with at least one foot firmly settled on the “willful” end of the board, just as I stood for so long.  Though there’s still a great deal of misinformation out there, there are likely very few who can honestly claim that they have not sensed or heard about the present global predicament, and the tsunami of Earth changes and societal changes now headed in their direction.  To me, it’s perfectly understandable that it should be this way, as the present predicament spells the end of our current way of life, and perhaps the end of most of life itself (making it, therefore, Disturbing™ and Frightening™ for most), and this “turning away” may be rooted primarily in an assessment, perhaps quite reasonable, that there’s really nothing much most people can do about this predicament in any event, a possibility that was movingly illustrated in this scene from Deep Impact in which the young reporter stands on the beach in the arms of her father as the wave approaches:

Heywood’s quote, then, just feels to me like an accurate statement of what’s so, and the “new” thing here might be that one can question one’s acculturated judgement that willful Denial™ is Bad™.  This is the assumption that would make Heywood’s observation “judgmental,” after all, and, as everyone knows, judgmental is a Bad™ thing to be.  Denial may be a perfectly reasonable way for many to surf the coming storms.  It just might be difficult to ponder that possibility inside of the belief that Collapse™ is Bad™ and that there is Something We Can Do to Stop It™. Maybe Collapse is not Bad™,  maybe there isn’t much we can Do™ (apart from aligning with what is already happening), maybe both beliefs to the contrary stand in the way of something important, and maybe Denial™ does have an important role to play right now. I can tout the spiritual benefits of facing fully into the shitstorm, but all I really know is that that’s the path that works for me.  As much as it confronts my reactive ego to say so, others may be operating out of very different, and possibly useful, wisdom.  Denialists™ in every field (including some now asking for your vote) may be “leading the charge” to “hit bottom.”  Active, willful blindness may actually help civilized humans achieve more quickly what it is they most seem to want, which is to unravel the present society in which they feel trapped, lost, and miserable.  And ending that system as quickly as is possible may be Life’s only real hope.

I do not know this to be True™.  I am simply open to considering the possibility.  It certainly feels like a high-risk strategy.  But in this time of seemingly Insoluble Problems™, we may have little choice in the matter, at least if we are entertaining any hope of continuing on in the physical realm.

If denial will help us stop this crazy machine, then here’s to it.

Surf’s up.

Addendum:  When I started this piece, all I really knew was that I wanted to take on that John Heywood quote.  I didn’t know where my musings would take me.  And I didn’t realize, until the next morning, that those musings would help me break through a stuck place in my current writing, which is Rumi’s Field, the sequel to All of the Above.  Wonderful, how everything connects with everything else…

 

The Laboratory Bookshelf

October 23rd, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 6 Responses

Here, in no particular order, are seventeen resources that sit within easy reach on the shelf in my laboratory.  They serve as foundations to my current working, playing, thinking, feeling, and being here on Planet Earth.   These works inspire me, inform me, shape me, calm me, guide me, challenge me, and teach me.  If we’ve largely “lost our elders” in the dominant mainstream culture, these works, and the hearts and minds that created them, serve as elders in my life.  These are all works to which I have returned more than once, and to which I expect to return again in the future.

Ishmael and The Story of B (and other works) by Daniel Quinn:  It should come as little surprise that these come first to my mind.  I’ve certainly spoken about their importance to me many times before.  Quinn’s insights have been essential in my own work of learning to notice and call into question the deep, seemingly invisible cultural stories, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations which shape our lives, both personally and collectively.  With Quinn, I mastered my ability to hear the whispered urgings of “Mother Culture.”  Having heard her voice, I cannot unhear it.  That has changed everything.

What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte:  This audio presentation, done for Tami Simon’s SoundsTrue, moves me deeply.  Whyte, an English poet now living in the Pacific Northwest, with his marvelous voice, his fierce yet gentle tone, his deep wisdom and enchanting words, feels like every elder I’ve ever wanted all rolled into one.  This presentation works for me just as the title says: as a guide for living for those who have Awakened™.  To me, his thoughts and words and images and stories form a method of divination, like an audio Tarot, a spoken I Ching.  Dip into any place in this almost six hours of magic and I find something that fits right into the questions and challenges of my day.

Ultimate Flexibility, an interview with Adyashanti by Tami Simon:  Thinking of David Whyte naturally brings me to this podcast, and for similar reasons.  Though my own spirituality does not fall into any neat containers, any particular tradition, I find that what Adyashanti says here resonates with me very deeply.  And like David Whyte’s work, it serves, for me, as a “how to” for navigating the emotional-psychological-spiritual terrain of this present unraveling/transforming world into which I was born.

Communion (and other works) by Whitley Strieber:  This is the book that brought me back into an adult relationship with one of my childhood loves:  the UFO phenomenon.  Strieber adds a moving and poetic “human face” to the experience while managing to do one of the most important things (in my opinion) we civilized humans need to learn to do:  he holds the questions and does not collapse into firm belief.  While I consider the UFO phenomenon both Real™ and extremely Important™, I lose interest when any particular researcher or analyst tries to explain “what it all means” or “what is really going on,” as if they have the real, correct, true answer.  The phenomenon seems intent on confounding us, and on confounding the overarching materialist paradigm into which most of us were born and raised.  For that reason, I consider this topic directly related to the whole Doom™ thang, to which I give so much focus.

The Culture of Make Believe (and other works) by Derrick Jensen:  If Daniel Quinn has served, for me, as the voice of the “elder” or “wizard,” Derrick Jensen has served as the voice of the “warrior.”  I have found both roles to be very important, and do not consider them mutually exclusive.  One can be both, I think, and the “warrior” and “wizard” archetypes have both always inspired me.  Jensen’s keen mastery of cultural stories, beliefs, and assumptions compliments Quinn’s, rooting out some of the whisperings of the culture that Quinn did not.  And his love for the living world is palpable to me.  His earlier works were essential for my own path toward mastery, and resonate still within me, as though Jensen hit the gong of my soul with a soft, firm mallet and set it ringing forever.

UFOs and the National Security State, Volumes 1 and 2 by Richard Dolan:  Were I to recommend books about the modern UFO phenomenon, I would recommend Dolan’s amazing histories as essential reading.  While my own thinking and speculation about the Reality™ of the phenomenon may sometimes get way “fringier” (I can’t believe spell check is letting that one go by without comment…) than his, Dolan’s approach has been very helpful for me, primarily because he focuses so much on the human (government, military, scientific, etc.) response to the phenomenon and attempts to “peer behind the curtain.”   Trying to think and feel my way into the hearts, minds, goals, and motivations of the hidden control levels is something I love to do.  I also find Dolan to be a clear and entertaining speaker.  I just like the guy.  That’s a nice feeling.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot:  I’ve probably read this book five times now, once out loud to Sally.  That’s saying a great deal for somebody with as extensive a “to be read” list as I have.  For me, it’s a “wow!” book.  It takes pretty much every single topic that interests me and rolls them all together into a big, fun, intriguing ball of everythingness.  Love it… a possible TOE (theory of everything) with clear scientific roots and spiritual branches.  And once I learned to see the Universe in holographic terms, it has opened me to fun and intriguing new realms of thinking.  To me, all that “peak oil, climate change, mass extinction, and population overshoot” stuff is not only about questioning such assumptions as “perpetual growth,” “human exceptionalism,” or “ruling the Earth.”  It’s also about challenging the scientific/materialist paradigm that sits underneath our current collective predicament.  This book does that.

Fingerprints of the Gods, Supernatural (and other works) by Graham Hancock:  As may be obvious by now, I follow other guides besides just the “rational, scientific reasoning” I was taught to use as a member of the dominant culture.  I follow intuition.  I follow my excitement.  I follow signs and portents and synchronicities.  And I read the reviews on Amazon.  In Hancock’s case, I must say, I never smile as much, and my heart never beats quite as excitedly, as when I’m in the middle of one of his analyses of our deep human past and our collective human situation.  So many fear to wade into the “fringe” pool because it looks to them chock full of shouting, giggling nutballs tossing around beach-balls filled with groundless speculation, hopeful salvation fantasies, and unexamined filters and beliefs.  You may find Hancock in that pool, but he’s up to something very different, I think.  Speculative? Sure. Challenging? Yep.  Rejected by mainstream historians and scientists? Largely.  But Hancock does not feel like a giggling nutball.  My discernment meter tells me that he’s a clear thinker who’s onto something important.

The Party’s Over:  Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies (and other works) by Richard Heinberg:  I got the environment piece way earlier than I got the oil piece.  My friend Tom tried to give it to me a couple of years before I was ready for it.  Sally handed me Thom Hartmann’s The Last Hours of Ancient Sunshine, and Matt Savinar surely scared the bejesus out of me, but it was Heinberg’s book that sealed the deal.  That may be largely due to Heinberg’s confident, calm voice.  Sure, he says, this might be frightening.  There are big changes coming.  But let’s just sit together, take a breath, and think about how we might wish to respond. I can still feel astonished that the basic concepts of “peak oil” are still as up for question in the mainstream mind as they are.  But then I have to be astonished at my astonishment.

F#A# by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, American Woman by The Guess Who, Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain, The Power and the Glory by Gentle Giant, Remain in Light by Talking Heads, Ænima by Tool, and Version 2.0 by Garbage:  Where would I be without music?  I would be locked in a padded cell, my arms constrained, with a dab of spittle hanging from my chin.  Music saved my sanity and my soul when I was a kid.  It saves me still today.  Okay, so maybe Sally would be enough to keep me out of the padded cell, but really, without music?  Why would I want to even be here?  As I continue to stare at the world situation, there are just some days when I need a reason to love my fellow humans.  Music always brings me back to that.  Always.  There are thousands of other titles I could insert above.  These are today’s.

The Importance of Human Beings by Terence McKenna:  Though I have a used copy of McKenna’s Archaic Revival in a stack on my desk, I have yet to read it.  I’m sure I will one day, but I find McKenna’s audio so compelling that I fear I may not like him as much in written form.  I’m not sure which planet McKenna comes from, but it must be near my own.  The man makes me laugh.  He makes my eyes grow wide in wonder.  He challenges me and pisses me off and loses me and holds my attention.  And he gives me pieces I get nowhere else.  This particular speech is one to which I’ve returned numerous times.  It challenges what I see as the over-reactionary Doomer™ judgments regarding human exceptionalism, and the Scientific™ judgments regarding directionality in the Universe.  Opening up these topics for dialogue is just the sort of thing I love to do in my lab.

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (and other works) by Stephen Jay Gould:  I pretty much read everything Gould wrote in my teen and early adult years.  His popular books on evolutionary theory, punctuated equilibrium, and the history of science excited and informed me.  One might think that Gould’s general insistence that evolution has no inherent drive toward long-term progress, no particular directionality beyond that of diversity, stands in direct opposition to McKenna’s address above.  One might be right.  I, for one, love paradox, and any chance I can find to hold seeming opposites together at the same time.  To my mind, one must take such crazy steps, if one wishes to stumble into a new paradigm.

12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, Amadeus by Miloš Forman, The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers, Dead Man Walking by Tim Robbins, Fight Club by David Fincher, and Harold and Maude by Hal Ashby:  (Yes, I know it is unfair to single out directors like this.  Deal.)  As with music choices, I could have named a thousand films.  These are just a few that jumped out.    Also as with music, films have helped keep me sane and in touch with something good at the times I’ve really needed those things.  And, since the artists and creators behind both music and films are often struggling with the same questions about life, the universe, and everything with which I tend to wrestle, they’ve given me valuable signposts, images, words, and metaphors to use on my own journey.  My lifelong love of films, books, and music also makes me a competitive player at Trivial Pursuit.

Journeys Out of the Body (and other works) by Robert Monroe:  I’ve read books about this since I was in high school – books on Near Death Experiences, Past Lives, Reincarnation, Remote Viewing, Shamanic Journeys, Psychedelic Trips, and Out of Body Experiences.  (Look at all of the CAPITAL LETTERS!)  There’s something obvious, exciting, and yet mysterious about the notion that our consciousness, whatever that is, is not strictly tied to our bodies, whatever those are.  Though I’ve yet to really experience much of this myself (I’ve “dabbled” enough to get a few, vague “hits.”) I’ve read reports of studies that leave me fairly convinced that there’s something to it, even as I refuse to collapse into firm belief.  Monroe stands out in my mind as a pioneer in the field.  His books are great fun.

Illusions:  The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (and other works) by Richard Bach:  There’s something about Bach’s writing that always stirs my heart and gifts me with tears.  His simple stories are gentle yet firm, intensely grounded yet reaching toward the stars, and portray the very teachers and elders and seekers and visionaries I long to meet in my Real™ life.  Like some of Quinn’s novels, Illusions feels like it was written directly to and for me.  And there are so many pithy quotes to use, so many concise spiritual equations to hold in my heart and mind.  I love quotes and equations.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan:  Along with Stephen Jay Gould I was reading every book by Carl Sagan that I could get my hands on.  While Gould took me into deep-time, Sagan took me into deep-space, from the Cosmos to the inner quantum.  (Yes, I know, both of these gentlemen wandered further afield that I’m indicating here…) I remember watching the PBS series based on this book (or was it the other way around?) and feeling such soaring wonder about, love for, and connection with the physical Universe into which I was born.  Seeing ol’ Carl resurrected by the Symphony of Science folks brought that all back to me.

Slapstick or Lonesome No More! (and other works) by Kurt Vonnegut.  I could have named a slew of other Vonnegut novels – Cat’s Cradle, The Sirens of Titan, Slaughterhouse Five, Galapagos – and I could have named a passel of other writers – Larry Niven, Stephen Donaldson, Frank Herbert, Tom Robbins, Orson Scott Card, Russell Hoban – but for reasons known only to my dentist, Slapstick stands out this morning as the book to highlight.  There’s always been something about this strange, post-apocalyptic tale of freaks and Presidents and variable gravity and creative genius that has resonated with my own life experience.  Vonnegut always moves me with his fierce humanity, his astonishment, his wry assessment of our collective predicament, and his hopeless insistence on the basic goodness of people, even in the face of so much seeming evidence to the contrary.  Like music and films, there are many novels which serve me simply by reminding me that there is good in the world.  That, too, is true.  As true as all the Doom™, all the horror, all the injustice, all the pain, all the destruction, all the insanity.  I need those reminders.

I note, upon looking over my list, that, with the exception of Shirley Manson, Tina Weymouth, and Sophie Trudeau (who play in some of the bands named above) and Tami Simon (as an interviewer) my list seems to be constructed entirely out of white men.  Rather than go back and toss Chellis Glendinning, Vine Deloria, or Malidoma Some into the mix in an attempt to “correct” this, I think I will just leave it as is, noting it with interest as just the sort of thing I like to look at in my lab.

Onward…

What is Sustainable

October 16th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 9 Responses

A review of What is Sustainable by Richard Adrian Reese

Richard Reese is trying to cut away your hope.  But don’t worry: he’s only after your false hope.  Your true hope, your animal sense of the real possibilities before us, cannot be taken away, even by a surgeon as powerful as Reese.  And the nice thing about having one’s false hopes excised, I’ve found, after the pain of loss has subsided, is that the real hope gets more clear, and a new sense of freedom and sanity can arise that more than makes up for the loss.  My primary felt experience while reading Reese’s book was that of relief.

It is important that the younger generations understand that these times of sickness are not normal, and do not resemble our ancient path… For almost all of human history, successful cultures were the norm.

If you have to have surgery, it’s nice to find a good surgeon.  One with a kind manner and gentle touch.  One who seems able to connect with you on a human level.  One who understands not just the mechanics of cutting and sewing, but the mysteries of trauma and pain and fear and healing.  Richard Reese is such a person.  He’s funny, smart, wise, confident, simple, clear, honest, and willing to risk challenging you in the service of truth and healing.  Like the eponymous teacher gorilla in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, Richard Reese is a powerful presence in his book, an emissary from some other time or place or culture, perhaps, or a wizard living in a hut on the village’s edge.  He doesn’t feel like your average acculturated civilized human being.  He feels more animal, more grounded, more real.  He has mastered the ability to see through the cultural surfaces and right to the roots.  And because of that, his skill with the scalpel is sure and swift, and the pain is minimal.

Collapse is already in its early stages, and nothing can stop it… We can’t wish away reality.  The avalanche has started, and it will do what it wants to and stop when it’s done.  So, pay attention, be flexible, and think clearly… We must accept the cards we were dealt, and play them to the best of our ability.

If we can imagine a genuinely healthy destination, and move in that direction, we’ll waste less time wandering aimlessly, or desperately clinging to sinking ships… Maybe the first step is ripping off our blinders and taking a cold, hard look at our poisonous way of life.

And Reese has more than five minutes to give you in his office.  He’ll tell you about his own journey out of the dominant mainstream culture and his years in the relative wilds of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula living more gently on the Earth.  He’ll tell you about his ancestors and their journeys through the vast cultural and planetary changes of the past few centuries.  He’ll regale you with stories of the people he’s met and the gifts they’ve given him, and he’ll include the tree people, the rock people, the animal people, and the Good People, in his stories.   He’ll tell you what he’s learned about our collective predicament on Earth, about how we got here, about what may have happened to set us on our path to seeming catastrophe.  And he’ll invite you, at every point, to consider your own life.  He knows that surgery is only a part of healing.  He knows that love and connection and sharing and listening are essential as well.

When times change and a culture no longer works, people have a tendency to cling to their old culture even harder…. We are furiously using the magic of our failed culture (science and technology) in an attempt to continue growing forever on a finite planet.

But, as the fossil fuel era fades, we can be certain that the unfolding collapse is going to radically alter our worldview… The alternation process is going to be bottom-up, and happening everywhere.  All changes will be born and nurtured in the hearts of ordinary individual people.

Reese is a specialist.  His expertise lies in cutting away the diseased beliefs and unbalanced assumptions of those born and raised in the culture of civilization, the history of which he describes as “essentially a story about controlling and exploiting large herds of submissive humans.”  Following ecologist John Livingston, Reese sees humanity as an unstable, “overspecialized” species, whose reliance on acquired, accumulated knowledge can be both a blessing and a curse.  In civilization’s case, humans made “a radical shift from the past” with the adoption of domestication of plants and animals:

The birth of domestication led to a great rift in human history.  On one side of this rift was Fairyland, where all of the wild ones lived together in a relatively balanced and elegant manner.  On the other side was slave country – civilization – where domesticated plants and animals were controlled and exploited by humans who fancied themselves to be masters and owners.

Farming, herding, fishing, logging, metallurgy, energy, ballistic weapons; Reese examines these basic “mining” and “slaveholding” behaviors of civilized peoples and traces how they served as the engine for both population growth and environmental destruction.  He examines a wide array of food-growing methods and finds only a few that have the potential to be sustainable, and none that can be sustained in any system that insists on growth.  And he challenges us to consider that much of what we now think of as sustainable really isn’t, and that even “old-fashioned low-tech organic agriculture was ecologically devastating”:

The civilizations of the ancient world were typically destroyed by a combination of intensive logging, over-grazing, organic farming, and perpetual growth.  Their organic farming practices would likely fall within the sphere of what is today wishfully referred to as sustainable agriculture – organic manure fertilizers, no machines, no herbicides, no pesticides, no gene-spliced seeds.

It is important to comprehend the notion that, wherever it was attempted, wood-fired industrial civilization promptly created massive environmental destruction – it was absolutely, completely, and ridiculously unsustainable.  European ecosystems were already devastated by 1800, when the industrial revolution officially began.  Thus, when we contemplate creating a healthy and sustainable way of life, far more is needed than simply turning back the clock 200 years.

He suggests that we might learn to live without farming altogether:

Here’s the bottom line – horticulture, agriculture, aquaculture, and animal enslavement are completely unnecessary if the number of mouths is kept low.  If we achieve this, then it’s possible to free ourselves by hunting, fishing, and foraging – a way of life that is much gentler on the ecosystem, much less work, and much healthier.  Farming is spiritually dangerous, because it involves manipulating, confining, and dominating other humans and other species – an unwholesome relationship… It is important to remember that agriculture did not exist for most of human history.

He does not shy away from the issue of population:

What is a sustainable population?  It depends… There were two billion people in 1925, and it was anything but a sustainable utopia.  The experts know this.  But if they gave us realistic numbers, they would immediately be sent to a lunatic asylum, and their professional careers would be over.  This brings to mind an old Yugoslav proverb: “Speak the truth.  Then run.”

The downsizing will be automatic, and impossible for us to prevent… With fewer people, and fewer machines, the destruction of the planet will be reduced.

And he does not shy away from our chances:

Realistically, cleansing our consumer worldview of dysfunctional beliefs, in a planned, orderly, and efficient manner – radically altering the thinking of billions of human minds, instilling a profound sense of reverence and respect for the Earth, eliminating materialism and self-centeredness – is an absolutely ridiculous idea.

But like all good healers, Richard Reese is not content with simply cutting away diseased tissue.  He has poetry and possibility with which to sew you back up, and healing balms of connection and story to soothe the pain.  He sits at your bedside with grand stories to tell, stories that go right to the heart:

“The good news here,” he says in a soft, sure voice, “is that we are not dim-witted and helpless prisoners of our history… In theory, we have the power to break free from the trends of our history.  Overspecialization in learning and thinking provides us with an unusual wild card.  Our mighty brains give us the ability to foresee problems, to analyze our mistakes, to alter our patterns of thinking and behavior.  In theory, we aren’t doomed to continue repeating our mistakes.  Self-destruction is not our only option.  Will we play our wild card?  I remain a dreamer and romantic, despite the huge odds.  I see no harm in trying.  We have nothing to lose.”

“The legends of the fairies,” he says with a tone of awe, “remind us of our old ancestral heritage, when people were wild, free, and happy. … But the newcomers – the farmers, loggers, and miners – drove the Good People away…. We could imagine that the Earth Crisis is the fairies’ revenge.  They have summoned all of their magic, and have cast a spell that laid a powerful curse on us.  A thousand disasters are circling over our heads.  Our silly clever tricks no longer work.  We’ll pay a dear price for the injuries we’ve caused Fairyland.  It is right and fair that justice will be done.  Hopefully we’ll learn and remember and heal.  I think we will.  A sustainable future with humans in it is not impossible.”

“At core, we long for freedom,” he continues, “a life without clocks or jobs, cars or cities, master or slaves – a life of love, hope, and celebration.  And the rivers dream of freedom, the day when the last dam falls apart.  And the forests dream of freedom, the day when the cutting stops.  Everything everywhere wants to be free, and freedom day is coming.  The cruel old master is sick and feeble, and his days are growing short.  In the other world, the spirits of our wild ancestors are filled with joy.  The Earth shall be free once more, and forever.”

“Our cages are not locked,” he whispers.

Look at Reese’s picture on his website, the kindly, gnomish face.  Notice that there is no question mark at the end of his title.  We are hearing the true heart and soul of someone who has found his own freedom apart from the “spectacularly destructive” culture in which he was born, one who can speak for the oaks and the coyotes and the bees because he can speak with them, one who brings us messages from the ancestors in his dreams.  The surgeon’s mask falls away.  He’s a Pequot elder in the woods, beckoning to us to leave our tidy village and join him.  He’s one of the Fairy folk, tempting us with music to join his strange adventures.  He’s a great bear, stopping to look over his shoulder as he heads back into the woods, heading toward a life we ache to know.  We might do well to follow him.  And we might do well to consider his words:

Here’s the bottom line:  it’s too late for a smooth, intelligent, carefully planned, and painless transition to a sustainable future.  But it’s never too late to wake up and get real.  It’s never too late to learn and grow.  It’s never too late to behave more intelligently.  It’s never too late to nurture a sense of reverence and respect for the living Earth, and the generations yet-to-be-born of every species.

The ancestors talk to me in my dreams.  It saddens them to see how we suffer in the modern world.  Their message is simply this:  Come home!  We miss you!  Let the land heal!

Indeed.

The Clear Choice for 2012

October 9th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 16 Responses

More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroadsOne path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

The thing about that Woody Allen quote is this:  because Woody Allen is a comedian, most people read this as “just a joke.”  Lemme tellya how bad things are.  Things are so bad… But comedy and tragedy often arrive in the same limo, and while this is a joke, for me it’s so much more: an accurate and useful poetic description of our collective predicament.  Given the past year’s news about climate chaos, given the ongoing extinction event in which we live, given the culture of civilization’s seeming inability to reduce its population and its jackbootprint, given that culture’s apparent determination to dominate, exploit, control, use, monetize, and rule the world at all costs, we find that human extinction is now, well and truly, on the table as a topic for legitimate discussion.  But even if we™ manage to take a different path, we will surely meet despair and utter hopelessness along the way.  Either way, it seems, we are in for the mother of all resets.

Woody gets right to the heart of it, I think: we may have a choice we can make.  (I add “may” because we do not know whether anything we do at this point will interrupt the great forces already in motion.)  To avoid extinction, says Woody, we can choose despair and utter hopelessness, which I will define here as “shutting down the global industrial-agricultural machine, ending our war against the living planet, and feeling the consequences of our actions.”  It would mean admitting our failure in the matter of ruling the world.  It would mean ceding our imagined “full-spectrum dominance” and entering into some sort of co-creative conversation with that big old goofy world.  It would mean surrender, Dorothy (or rindete, as the case may be).  This, of course, is rather a difficult sell.

And yet I think he’s exactly right.  And since I know that I can survive both despair and utter hopelessness, having already done so, and since I’m less certain that I can survive extinction, I’m voting we choose the path of despair.  It’s not like we™ like this system anyways, I would observe.  We just think we’re stuck with it.

You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for

Billy Joel, You May Be Right

The thing about making that choice is that, from what I can see, the sooner we make it the better.  If we™ shut down the global industrial-agricultural machine, we’re likely going to find out, and rather quickly, just how important the living planet is to us.  Yet every day the machine chugs along we have less and less living planet left.  If we want to shut it down (and the machine is going down regardless, I think… either we shut it down or, as Brother Maynard sings, “Mom’s comin’ round to put it back the way it ought to be”), then we might as well get it over with, reckon?  The longer we wait, the more difficult things will be.

And that’s what makes me a Mitt Romney man.  I mean, really, were I voting, he’d be my guy.  If the single thing that assures our extinction, and the extinction of most of the life on this planet, is the continued functioning of the global, industrial-agricultural, fossil-fuel-burning machine, and if the way to avoid extinction is to shut down that machine as quickly as we can, then isn’t Romney our best last hope?  I kept asking that as I read Matt Taibbi’s piece in Rolling Stone:  like… why is it we’re against this guy?  Really.  Because if we want the American economy dismantled and thrown onto the trash heap of history (hoping that the rest of the global industrial economy will follow suit tout de suite), this Romney dude is the one most qualified for the job, isn’t he?  All these other candidates?  They’re just trying to prop up the machine in one way or another, trying to make it work better, trying to keep it chugging along.  Not Romney.  Given his track record, he’s clearly got very different plans.

If the choice really is despair versus extinction, then I say let’s choose despair.  Let’s put Mr. Romney in office with a clear mandate to burn down the mission.  It sounds insane, perhaps.  The cessation of the machine is going to be rather a pain.  But the continuation of this machine is going to be even more of a pain, I think.  If Woody Allen is right, there’s only one clear choice:

Otters of the Universe, Unite!

October 2nd, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 7 Responses

How do I find my powerful voice without falling into either entitled, arrogant, White Guy™ pronouncements about “how things are” or the opposite, a timid, mushy hesitancy?  This is the question that has kept me from regular blogging.  Without resolving this and finding a powerful but non-dominating voice, I felt I no business writing a blog, and no business inviting you to read it.

I’m ready now.  Ready to step into the true voice that now issues from me.  Ready to blog.  Ready to take this step on the journey and see where it leads me.  And ready to invite you to come along.

What will I being doing here?  Playing.  Playing as this adult human plays.  Playing with mindsets and stories, with dogmas and thoughtforms and paradigms.  For me, play offers access to the whole of the Cosmos.  As Richard Bach said in Illusions:  The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, “we are game-playing, fun-having creatures, we are the otters of the universe.”

Yeah.  Like that.

I’ve long felt like Dr. Felix Hoenikker from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle:  ”a pure-research man” who gets to work on “what fascinates them, not on what fascinates other people,” who tries to approach old puzzles “as though they were brand new.”  Pure-research, for me, is playful and expansive and ottery.  It follows no rules and questions all assumptions.  And because I see our present time as one of both unraveling and transformation, as a time of insoluble predicaments and changing paradigms, I feel excited.  A “pure-research man” like me can find all sorts of things that fascinate in such a time.  I am always and forever interested in something “new.”  That’s what What a Way to Go was, really, a two-hour documentary wrapped around this bit of copy:  ”If what we want is to stop the destruction of the life of this planet, then what we have been doing has not been working.  We will have to do something else.”  On a daily basis, I look for that “something else.”  It’s what I came here to do.  It’s the central conversation of my life.

With what do I wish to play?  Lots of things.  Societal, economic, and environmental collapse.  Limits and growth.  Destruction and redemption.  Climate, population, oil, and extinction.  Spirit, meaning, direction, creation, conversation, love, gratitude, guidance, resistance, shame, guilt, doubt, and submission.  Quantum mechanics and torsion physics and the holographic universe.  UFOs and ancient civilizations and conspiracies and anomalies on the moons of Mars.  The hearts, minds, and souls of the hidden layers of control.  Nothing is forbidden in my pure-research laboratory.  No questions are out of bounds.  No assumptions are sacred.  No orthodoxies get a free pass.  My laboratory is a danger zone for the dominant culture:  abandon all paradigms, ye who enter here.  If you’re not up for that, and you try to knock over my Bunsen burners and break my Erlenmeyer flasks, I’ll have to ask you to wait outside, where the magazines are really old.

Some days I’ll play like a filmmaker, other days a sci-fi writer.  Some days I’ll play like a monk, or a preacher, or one of those spiritual teachers Tami Simon interviews on Sounds True.  Some days I’ll play the sorcerer, the wizard, the shaman living on the edge of the village.  Some days I’ll play like a Cassandra or a scold, a crank or curmudgeon.  Some days I’ll play with gratitude and love so fierce they split my heart open.  Some days I’ll play with grief and rage so sharp I’ll curl up into myself.  Some days I’ll be playing for the life of this planet.  Some days I’ll be playing for Sally.  All days I’ll be playing mostly for myself, playing with a new kind of Self-ish-Ness™ that supports service to the highest good.

I’m trying to burn it all away, you understand?  The dominant global culture that has lodged in my body and mind.  The crazy.  The exile.  The separation.  The illusions.  The blindfolds.  The living world shrinks daily and I can’t even figure out how to have relationships with my grown children?  What is up with that?  I have no idea what to do, most days.   No rational idea, anyway.  So I’m learning to rely on the sputtering, chugging pulls and proddings from a heart that seems, at times, to have been trodden upon without mercy here on this strange, beautiful rock I currently call “home.”  There’s something else besides “thought” that can guide me, I think – call it my joy, my bliss, my what-I-most-deeply-want, my muse, my goad, my work, my calling, my central conversation, my longing.  I trust that it’s there.  It’s my work, my play, to find it.

I want to burn it away, to stoke up the fire to heat my laboratory.  In the slightly-altered words of the great and powerful Mary Oliver in her wonderful poem, “The Journey,” I’m determined to do the only thing I can do, determined to save the only life I can save. That poem resonates deeply.  When I get right down to it, what I am doing in my lab is trying to save my own life.  Not because I’m a tall, white, American male with a big brain who Deserves™ to be Saved™, whatever the hell either “deserve” or “saved” really mean.  But because the thing I’m looking for, the “new,” the “something else,” might be inside of me somewhere, as it might be inside of all of us.  As it might be inside of you.  If it is in me, then I, for one, feel it worth the effort to try to find it.

I think of that bit from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

Unfortunately, before she could tell anyone, the Earth was destroyed by a Vogon Constructor Fleet to make way for an interstellar bypass.

The possibility that one of us might right now be that “girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth” fascinates and excites me.  I wonder if it might be me.  Or you.  Or that woman over there.  I wonder if there’s not something essential and grand to be learned from our millennia-long descent into the cold, dark cave of control, domination, separation, and delusion.  I wonder if there’s some gold hidden deep in that cave.  I wonder if we might grab that gold and get out before the cave collapses on us.  And I wonder if, should we learn what there is to be learned, whether we can consider that, in some way, a job well done, even should we plunge ourselves, and a great deal of the rest of the community of life, into the seeming abyss of extinction.  Even if we don’t make it back out of the cave.  Perhaps our learning would go into the Universe, the Cosmos, the Great Hologram, the Absolute, the All, the One, the Mind of God, even as our bodies, and our civilization, fall into ashes and dust.  Perhaps, even when all is lost, not all will be lost.

These are the questions that fascinate me in my lab.  I’m seeking redemption for all of this pain and destruction.  Redemption for myself.  Redemption for the whole of life.  Redemption for everything and everyone in between.  Somehow.  In some way.  Before the Vogons get here.

We might conspire in that.  That sounds like play to me.

Jump in, otters.  Welcome to my lab.

Thelma, Louise, and Six Degrees

January 26th, 2012 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 3 Responses

When I watch a movie, my thinking always wanders to the same few questions.

How is this a story for our time?

What does this film tell us about ourselves, our deepest feelings, our secret thoughts, our invisible yearnings?

And how conscious are the filmmakers themselves about these processes?

Because we seem to be living in a time of converging crises, and because I am sensitive to that, I view most films through that lens. Being both a filmmaker and a cultural critic, it is an occupational hazard that I quite enjoy.

As Copenhagen unfolds, I notice some patterns in the media conversation: new examinations of confusion and denial; repeated attempts to explain and convince; more proposals of crucial solutions and necessary policies; timely reports on the severity of the situation. One question that seems to wander through these articles and essays and reports is this: why can’t we seem to get our shit together when it comes to climate change? The failure of Copenhagen feels, to many, like a foregone conclusion. So, like, What the What?

Good question. One that seems to apply to much of the present predicament in which we find ourselves. And one, I think, that will benefit from a viewing of Ridley Scott’s 1991 “Zeitgeist-catching” road movie, Thelma & Louise.

Go watch it. I’ll wait.

OK. You back? Good. Let’s move on.

So, if the question is why can’t we seem to get our shit together when it comes to climate change? then most of the answers I hear seem to fall into one of three categories. It’s because we (or our leaders) are:

stuck in distraction and/or denial,
greedy, unprincipled and maybe even psychotic or evil or
just too stupid to go on living.

To me these are all reasonable explanations. Distraction and denial are surely in force, as are those other human possibilities: greed, psychosis, evil, and stupidity. If you view our movies, as I do, as the stories of Imperialism, which reveal how we view both the world and ourselves, then you’ll find overwhelming evidence to support these assessments. But I think I see something more at work here. Something more fundamental, perhaps, or more invisible. And invisible, maybe, because it just breaks too many rules, to speak about it.

Here’s what I see: our collective death wish at work.

Hang with me for a moment. I have no doubt that our egos have been left battered, bruised, and pretty much insane by the experience of being born into captivity in what Derrick Jensen calls “the culture of make-believe“. I’ve experienced that insanity intimately in my own life. And once I identified it, I could see it all around me, at work in the world. But I also have a sense that my true self, my essence, that good and beautiful being I came here as, has not been destroyed. My animal body senses, perceives, and moves through the world at levels above, below and beyond the warped and word-bound ego that thinks it is in charge. My essential self remains in close and constant connection with a reality that far exceeds any mental constructs my thinking might wish to lay on it.

What if, apart from the denial, stupidity, or greed to which our ego-bound thoughts and words are too often constrained, our bodies know exactly what’s coming down? What if the reason we’re not getting our shit together when it comes to climate change is because our essential selves are not buying a bit of what our egos are being told about how to address this “problem”? What if, in fact, at some deep level from which we cannot even speak, those parts of our being that have not been distorted, distracted or destroyed by the absurdities of Empire regard climate change, in some crucial way, not as a “problem” at all, but as a “solution”?

Hard to imagine? Let’s go back to Thelma & Louise.

This movie was a “huge critical success”, clocking in as the 88th best-reviewed movie of all time at metacritic.com. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, and won for Best Original Screenplay. If it’s correct to call this film “Zeitgeist-catching”, then what part of “the defining spirit or mood of our times” does it catch? Pull over there. Let’s check the map.

Thelma and Louise leave their loveless, abused, and unsatisfying lives behind for a weekend fling together. A bit of fun leads to the attempted rape of Thelma, in response to which Louise kills the offender. They run, sure that they’ll never get a fair hearing in a court of law, and their attempts to flee to Mexico spiral out of control. As the charges against them pile up, they find a surprising exhilaration in their unanticipated life of crime. It all comes to a standoff at the edge of a cliff. Trapped in a situation with no acceptable solutions, poised between a line of state troopers and the sympathetic detective who has been trying to bring them in on the one hand, and the vast unknown of that cliff on the other, Thelma and Louise choose the cliff. The film ends with that iconic freeze frame, as they launch themselves in their ’66 Thunderbird into the only freedom they can imagine.

If that’s the map, then the territory is our own world, our own culture, our own lives. If Thelma & Louise shows us the Geist, it’s the Geist of our own Zeit. And if we allow that as our starting point, then the connections come easily enough. Did not the culture of civilization, at some point, take off on a weekend fling of unexpected exhilaration that spiraled out of control, bringing the entire planet face to face with our present predicament? And have not many people’s lives, at least those lived here in the heart of Empire, become so loveless, abused and unsatisfying that we’re poised now to do almost anything to get out of them? Have we not truly managed to do something no other living creature has managed to do, which is to make ourselves, individually and collectively, miserable?

Aye, now I’ve done it. I’ve violated a deep taboo, spoken the unspeakable. Because, well, we’re so happy, we Americans. Aren’t we?

I mean, sure, we’ve got corrupt leadership, economic insanity, and the end of cheap energy to contend with. We’ve got climate change and population overshoot and mass extinction to think about. We’ve got dying oceans, dying forests, dying aquifers, dying krill, dying caribou, dying everything. We’ve got nuclear power and nuclear waste and nuclear weapons and depleted uranium. We’ve got fucked up political systems, health care systems, educational systems, economic systems, agricultural systems, and septic systems. We’ve got racism, sexism, narcissism, workaholism and fascism. We’ve got child abuse and elder abuse and spouse abuse and animal abuse. We’ve got rapes and murders and suicides. We’ve got unwed mothers and single parents and children having children. We’ve got addictions, distractions, obsessions and compulsions. We’ve got unemployment and underemployment and homelessness and debt. We’ve got boring, meaningless work, longer hours, longer drive times and falling real wages. We’ve got unsatisfying relationships, loneliness, divorce and broken homes. We’ve got mental illness, stress, busy-ness, depression, despair, medication and “the deliberate dumbing down of America“. We’ve got obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer and heart disease and all those other “diseases of civilization“. And sure, all of these things seem to be spiraling out of control, as if Conquest, War, Famine and Pestilence just stormed onto our polo field and started to beat the ever-loving crap out of our players.

But, c’mon! We’ve also got 24,909 tunes on our iPods! We’ve got Trundled Duck Confit with a Gorgonzola Reduction! We’ve got shamanic excursions into the heart of the Andes! We’ve got that new James Cameron movie coming out! In 3-fucking-D! Surely it all balances out? Surely, surely, this all counts for something? I mean, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right? And the upholstery in this ’66 Thunderbird is just luscious, isn’t it?

I’ve got to stop and wonder whether comfort and distraction have been confused with joy, fulfillment and meaning. I acknowledge that it’s possible to find moments of comfort and happiness even in prison. That doesn’t mean we’re not in prison. I view this as our deepest denial, the denial of the truth of our own life experience, the denial kept in rigid place by our desperate story of The American Way. As David Edwards says in his interview with Derrick Jensen,

What prison could be more secure than one we’re convinced is “the world,” where the boundaries of action and thought are assumed to be, not the limits of the permissible, but the limits of the possible? Democratic society, as we know it, is the ultimate prison, because who’s going to try to escape from a situation of apparent freedom? It follows, then, that we must be happy, because we can do whatever we want.

Copenhagen unfolds. The cliff approaches…

Go back to those last minutes in the movie. We learn, finally, how deep Louise’s wounds go, how vast is her pain. We see the chase. The attempted escape. The final capture. We see the line of police cruisers. The helicopter hovers menacingly overhead. The sniper rifles aim their way. The “good cop” has failed to bring them in but argues angrily for one last attempt. The “bad cop” uses his PA system to order them to give up. Thelma and Louise are not buying any of it. They’re fed up with living lives in prison.

Thelma looks at Louise. “Let’s keep going,” she says
“What do you mean?”
Thelma looks out over the cliff, nods her head almost imperceptibly.
“Go,” she says.
Smiles and tears flit across their faces.

“You sure?”
“Yeah.”
They kiss, their faces a study in love and grief and terror and power.
Louise hits the gas.
They hold hands.

They speed toward the cliff.
And they’re gone…

Can we just hold silence here for a few seconds?

Thank you.

I think Ridley Scott failed in this moment, as Roger Ebert so gratifyingly pointed out. Having spent two hours building up to this point, Scott could not hold it. Rather then just sit with the tension, the grief, the surprise, the pain, or the exhilaration, his freeze frame dissolved way too quickly into white. And the white dissolved right into rolling end credits, that haunting score, and a snapshot review of their happier times. As Ebert said, “Can one shot make that big of a difference? This one does.”

But now, here in our Zeit, we are given an opportunity to correct that failure. In this time of seeming collapse, as we sit staring over our own collective cliff, perhaps because, 18 years since the movie’s release, we are more desperate now, or perhaps because we have each other, we can hold the shot that Ridley Scott could not. We can sit with that tension, that grief, that surprise, that pain, and that exhilaration. We can hold that freeze frame and feel it to the very depths of the canyon underneath. We can look at this hidden piece of Geist and see what it is that the public, as a whole, seemed to resonate with so deeply. And we can learn, perhaps, in doing that, what there is to be learned in this moment.

I wonder if we’re not getting our shit together when it comes to climate change because, at some level, we’re not buying it, just as Thelma and Louise didn’t buy it, no matter the assurances of the nice white guy in the suit, or the threats of the stern authority figure in the uniform. We’re not buying the notion that this predicament will somehow get “fixed” by any combination of carbon caps, emissions agreements, green shopping, alternative energies and new technologies under the sun.

Some months ago, the specter of 4 degree C temperature rise started bouncing around in the news. Just a few weeks back, there were new reports that we’re on our way to 6 degrees C if we keep going as we are. And another new study reports that global CO2 emissions have risen 29% in the past nine years, indicating our commitment to doing just that. Six degrees moves us into the realm of the End-Permian extinction event, during which roughly nine-tenths of the lifeforms on the planet said their last farewells.

It seems… well… unlikely… that corrupt and insane leaders will have much say in such matters, as energy, environment and economy slip rapidly from our hands, as if they ever really were in our hands to begin with. Conquest, War, Famine and Pestilence seem now to have made their way up to the clubhouse. Hard to believe that that padlocked gate is going to hold.

And I wonder if we’re not buying any attempt to fix this problem that has as its goal the preservation of the culture of Empire. I think, collectively, our bodies are not buying that. Our sane essential selves are not buying that. iPods and duck confit DO NOT outweigh the costs to our souls of lives lived in prison and the destruction of the community of life. And sadly, we do not see that anything less than global catastrophe will free us from our collective insanity.

It is forbidden to say this out loud, of course, even to ourselves. It’s just too painful, to face into just how miserable we have become as a people, how lost, how wounded, how stuck. And how pointless life seems. As we asked in What a Way to Go:

“Are we destroying the planet, as Dmitry Orlov asks, just ‘to be somewhat more comfortable for a little while’?”

It’s too much to bear. And truly, why should we? Maybe Warren Zevon was right. If the planet’s now headed toward six degrees, “as the mystics and statistics say it will,” why not go out like desperadoes, our foot on the pedal, our hair just flying in the wind, taking out Empire as we go?

And “heaven help the one who leaves.”

Ultimately, what I think we are not buying, body and soul, is the notion that this is all there is, this “physical reality” of corrupt leaders, insane systems, working, shopping and fucking and dying. We’re not buying this whole “materialism” thang, this deadened world, this end of magic, this loss of meaning. We’re not buying it. The costs are too high. The benefits too shallow. And the growing edges of our own science seem no longer to support such notions. The anomalies have been piling up in the corner for so long now that we can hardly get through the door. We can still sense, despite the bullshit that has been heaped upon our minds, a Cosmos far more wondrous than either the suit or the uniform can even begin to imagine.

Indeed. Go back to that last scene. Watch closely. Look at Thelma’s face. Watch Louise’s reaction. The excitement mixed with terror. The wonder fused with grief. The pain of wounds so deep they drive us over the cliff. If Thelma and Louise are running away in their final act, they are also running toward. It’s in their eyes. They can see it. Beyond that cliff lies not only the end of this madness, but the beginning of something new. A step into that unknown Cosmos that has never abandoned us, even as we abandoned it. Plunging over a cliff is not an act of control. It’s an act of intention. And surrender. And trust.

Climate change may be a fuck-all mess, but at least it’ll get us out of this nightmare, and take us to some place new.

Hit the gas.

“Go!”

I do not wish to be mistaken here, though I’m fairly certain that I shall be. I merely wish to point out that, from where I sit, these forces are alive in our collective heart. I know they are alive in mine. I have no idea whether Thelma and Louise made the right choice. I do not know that we “should” hit the gas, whatever that means. The full manifestation of current trends is poised to take out a great deal more than human beings. It already has. It would certainly be my wish to kill off just the culture, rather than the vast majority of the community of life. As Derrick Jensen said in What a Way to Go:

So many people are so very, very unhappy. And they want this nightmare to end. And they don’t recognize that the death that they want is a cultural death, and is a spiritual and metaphorical death.

This death wish is here, part of the spirit of the times, and I say that it’s exactly what Thelma & Louise tapped into, exactly what caught its viewers in the throat, exactly what caused the members of the Academy to honor that Best Original Screenplay. Our collective misery, and our wish for the death of the culture that underlies that misery, hover still in that great freeze-frame of our present predicament. If we fade-to-white too quickly, if we insist on our snapshots of happier times, then we will miss a deep truth of this moment, and the opportunity to learn from this moment what there may be to learn.

Our failure to respond may, indeed, spring from denial, greed, and stupidity. Those are all likely suspects. But it may also be grounded in the deep longing of our bodies and the wisdom of our souls. Whatever the reasons, when it comes to our collective reaction so far, we’re not buying what’s being sold. We do not seem eager to “save civilization.” It may behoove us to wonder why that is.

If we face into this death wish, if we stare into our collective misery, both as the conquered and as the conquerors, and allow the truth of our culture, a culture that would drive us to this cliff, to rise into conscious acknowledgment, we may find, in doing so, a choice that now eludes us. It’s a possibility. One that I don’t think we have much explored.

We’re sitting on a cliff in a ’66 Thunderbird, staring into the abyss of the insoluble predicament. None of the choices we can imagine are acceptable.

Now what?

(Originally published 12/9/09)

Robert “Rocco” Anderson – Laughing Out Loud

December 6th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog One Response

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We lost Rocco yesterday.  Those who knew him well know what a loss that really is.  Those who didn’t will likely never understand who it was they missed.

Robert “Rocco” Anderson died sometime Friday night, after another hard seizure, it seems.  I don’t have all the details yet.  Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy is common enough, apparently, to have its own acronym, a fact I can imagine Rocco riffing on in his own inimitable style.  He’d have worked “SUDEP” into a poem, a rant, a status update, or one of his many and often eye-opening comments, and then followed it with a big ol’ “LOL.”  One thing I can say about Rocco… when he wrote LOL, you could be absolutely certain that, wherever he was, he had, in fact, laughed out loud.

I knew Rocco for seven years.  I knew him as my daughter’s partner.  I knew him as a drummer.  I knew him as a writer, as a keen observer of the human condition.  I knew him as one of the primary editors of my novel.  But mostly, I knew him as a friend.  Somehow he managed to weedle his way deep into my heart, and there was no getting rid of him then.  I don’t make friends easily.  There are few to whom I’ve found I can give away all that I have, with whom I can be exactly who I am, no hiding necessary, no holding back ever required.  Rocco was one of the few with whom I could show up just as myself.  He actually WANTED who I was, and never ceased to love me, to hold me up, to call me forth.  He NEEDED me to be who I was.  He NEEDED what I had to give him.  And that’s about the greatest gift anybody has ever given me.

We tried to make a documentary of Rocco, Sally and I.  Shut Up and Drum, we tentatively called it.  We sat with him for long hours and days during the hot North Carolina summer of 2009, listening to his story, coaxing him through it, loving him when he did not love himself, holding him up as he spoke out loud the aching, painful past he still carried inside of him.  Rocco lived a hard life.  Harder than any other person I’ve ever personally known, I think.  That hard life had left him with doubts and confusions, habits and beliefs and patterns that held him back and got in his way as much as the physical manifestations of his epilepsy did.  It was our hope that we could help Rocco still those voices in his head, those doubts, those confusions, so that he could get about the business of living his life, and of doing full-out what he had come here to do.

And while it eventually became apparent that Rocco’s story was not for us to tell, while we gave up on the documentary, we never gave up on Rocco.  And because he had so many who loved him, even as lost and confused and self-defeating as he could appear to be from the outside, Rocco learned not to give up on himself.  He stayed in one place for a good long while, putting an end to the long years of homelessness and wandering, the astounding succession of jobs and cities and rooms and shelters.  He connected with a host of helpful people, groups, and services.  He came to see and know that he was as deserving of help and assistance and support as the dozens of people HE had helped and supported over the years.  He began to DEMAND that he receive some help.  He saw that he was WORTHY of support and nurturing.  And eventually, because he asked for it, because he demanded it, because he allowed it, the help began to fall into place.

In what is either a gross injustice, a tremendous display of Cosmic Irony, or an example of things working out exactly as they must, Rocco’s death came just as he’d managed to begin what he would have considered his “adult life.”  After decades of uncertainty and struggle, Rocco had achieved for himself a measure of stability and security he’d never before been able to find.  With a stable home, a loving roommate, and the Social Security support finally coming through, Rocco was poised to step into a whole new phase of his life.  In our last phone conversation, maybe a month ago, he dreamt of a new drum kit and the opportunity to play it, and spoke with joy and excitement of his plans to visit his daughter at Christmas.  He was finally in a position to offer her the support he’d long wished he could give her.  His long, lost adolescence was coming to an end.  He was stepping into his adulthood.  And then he died.  It all feels so unfair.  But death has rarely felt particularly fair, now, has it?

If it’s true to say that Rocco was beaten up by his epilepsy and his hard life, it also feels true to say that Rocco was never really beaten.  No matter how often he smacked his head on the pavement, no matter how many times he dislocated a shoulder or broke a bone, no matter how his seizures battered his body like a decades-long torture of stunning, bone-cracking electric shocks, no matter how the old memories haunted him, Rocco’s good heart was never stopped from loving, and his great spirit was never dimmed.  That’s the thing about Rocco: underneath the anxiety, the outward appearances, the quirky banter that could put some people off, the man could SHINE, just as Geoffrey Rush did in the movie Shine, one of Rocco’s favorites.  No matter how hard his life was, no matter the pain and confusion he carried inside, the man never stopped loving, never stopped caring, never stopped teaching, never stopped encouraging, never stopped hoping.  And he never stopped laughing.  He said what he thought.  He followed his own advice.  He stood up for excellence, for learning, for the betterment of the human being.  “Love, truth, strength, hope,” he wrote, “Push ‘em. They’re important.”  Informed by thinkers like Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand, Rocco could see that his fellow humans, as lost and damaged and confused as they could often be, could also find and step into their own greatness.  He could see this because he could see himself, I think.  He knew that, even as lost, damaged, and confused as HE was, his heart was good, and his intellect was clear, and his intentions served the greatest good for all. Because HIS spirit had never been beaten, Rocco knew that we could ALL grow and learn and heal and evolve.  That was the vision he served.  And he served it right to his end.

He served that vision with me.  He guided me through the editing of All of the Above, seeing things my other editors missed, demanding that I stick with the process even when it seemed to go on forever, even when I just wanted to scream.  He would not let me stop with “good enough.”  He could see where we were headed even when I could not.  He pushed me, challenged me, goaded me, praised me, and loved me, always he loved me, as we took that lump of unformed clay that was my first draft and carefully molded it into its final form.  He did it all with incredible wit and a piercing humor that left me, at times, literally doubled over with laughter.  And now, on the verge of writing the sequel, I’m left staring off into the distance, or glancing up to the heavens in consternation, and wondering just how the hell I’m ever going to write another book without Rocco here to help me.  Rocco was the inspiration for the character I named Obie, a character who died at the end of All of the Above.  In the world of the book, the possibility exists that Obie will somehow return in the sequels.  In the world of “real life,” I’m going to hold that same possibility for Rocco.  I know he’ll be busy, wherever he is now, drumming and laughing and teaching people to think, people, think!  But maybe he’ll find some time to watch over my shoulder as I write.  It shouldn’t be that hard for him, even now, to reach into my computer, grab the electrons as they race through the wires, and make a few edits here and there.  I surely hope so.  I can always use another muse.  In any event, I expect that there will be some strong sense of aching loss in my next book, with Obie and Rocco both gone.  Rocco was so excited by the idea of editing the sequel, and was full of ideas about how he could help.  It gave him so much joy, to help.  And Rocco deserved every bit of joy he could get his hands on.

Richard Bach, in his book Illusions:  The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, wrote “Here is a test to find whether your mission here on Earth is finished:  If you’re alive, it isn’t.”  If that’s true, then the reverse would be this:  when someone dies, their mission here on Earth may be finished.  As much as it hurts to have lost him, I find some comfort in the notion that Rocco has completed his mission here.  He took the awful hand that had been dealt him and finally… finally… finally… found the trump card hidden amongst the deuces and treys.  With a glint in his eye he pulled that trump card out and played it on the table of his own life with an enthusiastic “Blam!” and a hearty laugh.  He’d done it.  He’d won.  He’d shown that healing is possible.  He’d found his own sense of worthiness.  And having found it, he could go.  Mission accomplished.  What’s next?  If that’s so, then I feel it my obligation to honor Rocco’s life by taking his accomplishment and paying it forward in my own life.  Rocco showed me how, even in the face of such challenges as he faced, a human being can hold onto their true selves, and demand their right to be who they are.  I shall not forget that.

Sally, upon hearing the news of Rocco’s passing, was struck by a vision of him crossing to the other side, of his coming up for air after flailing about for so long under the cold and choppy waters of physical existence, of shedding both his epilepsy-ravaged body and a mind that blinked on and off, betraying and obscuring the great heart and huge intellect contained within.  What relief it must be for him now, to be rid of such limitiations, to be free at last of the pain, even as sad as he must be, to have left us all so suddenly.  “Yay! Yay! Yay!” I can hear him say.  Wherever he is now, I am certain that Rocco is, indeed, laughing out loud.

The writer and teacher Malidoma Somé, speaking of the Dagura tribe, explained how it was the duty of the living, when someone died, to adequately grieve the loss, such that the departed would not get stuck in this earthly plane, but would move on into the world of the ancestors.  I, for one, intend to grieve my friend Rocco as completely as I can, to let the tears flow and the sobs burst forth, to feel the aching loss as deeply as I can.  It’s what I can do to honor him.  It’s what I have to give him now.  And I could sure use another ancestor, especially one as bright and loving as Rocco.  The world could use such ancestors.  I invite you to join me in that process of grieving.

So good-bye, Rocco…

Poet

Teacher

Genius

Wild man

Friend

Comedian

Drummer

Lover

Giver

Dreamer

Cheerleader

Good-bye, you good, good man.  You did it.  You made it.  Go find your peace.  Go do your work.  Go make your magic.  And go knowing that I love you.  To use TS Eliot’s words, you were “worth the trouble of understanding.”  You were a gift to me.  I will never forget you.

As you always said to me, take most precious care,

Tim

The River of Vision – The Vision of River

November 12th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 5 Responses

These are my comments presented at the The 2011 International Conference on Sustainability, Transition & Culture Change: Vision, Action, Leadership at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, MI, 11/11/11, delivered in three parts.

Part 1: The River of Vision

“Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have an earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person.”  So begins the novel Ishmael, published in 1992 by Daniel Quinn, now residing in Houston.  Through the course of more than a dozen books and countless speeches and essays, Daniel Quinn has served as a strong and poetic guide for the human journey.  Whether speaking in the voice of a talking gorilla, an itinerant teacher, or one of our animist forebears, Quinn’s love for the Earth, and his concern for the future of life on this planet, are palpable and clear.

I must admit, the task of figuring out what to say about Daniel Quinn and his work kicked my butt.  My attempts to summarize his ideas, and I made more than one attempt, ended up dense and lifeless.  And rendering Quinn’s work lifeless is the last thing I would want to do.  When I read his Ishmael stories, my heart pounds, and my eyes mist with tears.  It’s as if I’m sitting in the presence of the whole of life on this planet condensed into a single gorilla.  He speaks to me firmly, yet lovingly, of my long and destructive journey into disconnection and domination, of my bad behavior and mistaken ideas, and invites me to come back home.  And I follow him where he leads me.  When I read the words of the teacher in The Story of B, I’m listening to a missionary from the living world, a speaker of such clarity, such wisdom, and such commitment, that my heart and mind break wide open.  The normally unseen stories and assumptions of our culture, and our history, come to life before my eyes like an epic poem, or a grand piece of theater, and I can see what is all around me with new eyes.   Daniel Quinn’s greatest genius, I think, was to put his insights into the mouths of characters that I could love.  Because I loved them, I could open up to what they were saying, even when what they were saying was new and strange and unbelievable.  I have no wish to take such magic and render it dense and lifeless.

And yet Daniel Quinn’s ideas could inform us here this weekend.  And as I cannot read to you out loud a half dozen of his novels in 18 minutes, I shall simply have to do my best to see to the heart of his insights without killing them.  Aaron wished to speak of vision this weekend, and Daniel Quinn certainly has something to offer us in that regard.  Ultimately, I think, all of his work boils down to matters of vision and culture and paradigm, words which I will use rather interchangeably here to speak of the web of assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, and stories upon which our society is founded.

Quinn speaks explicitly of vision in The Story of B and Beyond Civilization where he writes:  “If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs, but by new minds with no programs at all.”  Let me repeat that:  “If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs, but by new minds with no programs at all.”  In order to tease this apart, I shall have to grab and briefly sum up a select few of Quinn’s many ideas and observations, in order to set the foundation.  I will simply have to trust that this will be enough

In Quinn’s view, to “save the world” does not mean to save our current cultural system, a goal that he regards as both impossible and undesirable.  Instead, to “save the world” means “to save the world as a human habitat,” which means “saving the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible.”

To that end, Quinn works to uncover the deep roots of the confluence of crises we now face.  He focuses on matters of vision, and outlines how our present world-spanning cultural system has been enacting a story that tells us that the world was made for us human beings, to conquer and rule as we see fit, using our power to control the world around us to take both our survival and our destiny into our own hands.  He explores the origins of this urge to rule the world, how it rose out of our culture’s invention of a new style of food production that claims the Earth’s productive capacity for human consumption, at the expense of all other species.  He traces how the food surpluses of this style of agriculture led to our increasing power to shape the world around us, and to the exponential rise of human population levels.  These, in turn, fueled the steady rise of a myriad of environmental and social problems, bringing us to the point where many now claim that we are living inside of the planet’s Sixth Great Mass Extinction Event, and foresee the possibility that this event may include the extinction of humanity itself.

As this impulse to conquer and rule spread around the planet, we began to think that our culture was the whole of humanity, rather than just one culture amongst many.  We took our power to control as sure evidence that the world had been given to us to dominate and tame, and that our way of life was the one right way.  Even as the side effects of trying to rule the world became clear, as war, disease, pollution, and a host of social ills, appeared on the stages of history, even as we began to imagine that there was something fundamentally wrong with us, we saw little else to do but continue on this path.  If taking control of the world was not working, it was because we hadn’t yet taken control of EVERYTHING.  The only way forward was to do even more of what we’d been doing.

But Daniel Quinn has good news.  Modern scholarship, he says, allows us to see that WE OF THIS CULTURE ARE NOT HUMANITY, but just one culture out of many on this Earth.  We now know that humans lived on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years without bringing the world to the point of mass extinction, which means that humans are fully capable of living in balance with the rest of the community of life.  We can see that our ancestors, and the few remnants of these ancient cultures still alive today, enacted a very different vision from our own.  If the story of our culture is that the world was made for and belongs to human beings, the other story is this:  human beings were made for and belong to the world.  If the intent of our vision is to rule the world, the intent of the other vision is this:  to live in a dynamic, creative conversation with the rest of reality, trusting that the world has no need for humans to either conquer or rule it.   We can see, then, that it is primarily a culture, a vision, a set of stories and beliefs and assumptions, that is taking us toward catastrophe.  If we are the inherently greedy, destructive, or violent creatures many think we are, there is no hope for us.  If we are, instead, wonderful creatures who are simply trapped inside a greedy, destructive, and violent culture, and if such a story can be changed, then we have a chance.  This is the good news.

With this foundation in place, let me return to Daniel Quinn’s thoughts on vision:  “If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs, but by new minds with no programs at all.”

Quinn likens a culture’s defining vision or story to a river, and observes that our culture’s river of vision, our dream of ruling the world, is carrying us toward catastrophe, and always has been, as our lifestyle has us grow and consume at the expense of all other species, and makes of us the enemies of Life.  Programs, Quinn says, are like sticks planted in the river of vision in an attempt to stop it, as we can now see clearly the catastrophe toward which this river is taking us.  But the sticks succeed only in slowing the flow a little.  Programs are essentially reactive, and focus on making bad things less bad, rather than on creating new things.

Programs, these ineffective sticks, are invented by what Quinn calls “old minds,” minds that are bound by the limits of the current dominant vision.   When you find programs, you find old minds, thinking inside of the current river of vision and trying to impede its flow.  But programs never stop what they are intended to stop.  “Programs,” says Quinn, “make it possible to look busy and purposeful while failing.” We’ve now had centuries of programs.  Millennia of programs.  If programs did what we say we expect them to do, human society would already be a heaven on Earth.  Government, education, economy, law … these systems would already work for the greatest good of all.  If the world is saved, then, it will not be saved by people who remain stuck in the vision of ruling the world, and who, in an attempt to stop the effects of that vision, simply invent new ways to exert even more power and control.  A river taking us a bit more slowly toward catastrophe is still taking us to catastrophe.  We now have centuries of data to show us the truth of this.

If the current river of vision is taking us to catastrophe, and if old minds and their programs will never suffice to stop this river, then what will suffice?  The answer, says Quinn, is this: a new vision, held by new minds.  Rather than try to stop the current river, what we must do is divert the river to a new vision, a new way of being on this planet, a new story of who we are and why we are here.  A new river of vision will need no programs to carry it along.  Programs are about stopping a vision.  A new vision will be self-spreading and self-sustaining.  “Vision is to culture what gravity is to matter,” says Quinn.  It is the force that pulls us now toward catastrophe.  It is the force that can pull us back to a sane and sustainable human life on planet Earth.  If we wish to be free of the river that is dragging us toward catastrophe we will have to find a new vision.

Notice that Quinn’s words echo those of Albert Einstein, when he said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  Einstein was also speaking of new minds and new visions, though even he himself was trapped in the cultural programming, since, in some very real ways, the paradigm of “problem solving” IS the level of thinking that has created our present predicament.  Approaching every situation as a problem to be solved is what conquerors and rulers of the world DO, after all, and many now see that most of the “problems” we now face stem from previous “solutions” to earlier “problems.”  It may be fair to say that “problem solving,” as it is understood in our culture, is largely a matter of placing sticks in the river.

Notice also that the defining cultural visions Quinn outlines – of ruling the world or of belonging to the world – are deeply foundational in nature.  These are not visions about how we might reorganize our urban areas, or how else we might grow our food, or what sort of decision-making process we will use in our meetings, though those may all be worthwhile discussions in which to engage.  The stories Quinn reveals are stories about who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are headed.  These are visions about what it all means, our place in the Universe, and how we relate to the rest of creation, what Thomas Berry would call cosmologies.  These stories are primary and fundamental, and they determine the basic direction of the river of vision which carries us along.  Such defining visions shape all of our other visions.  We can grow food as a ruler of the world, or as a member of the community of life.  We can organize politically to conquer the world, or to live in harmony with the rest of creation.  In the end, it boils down to why we are here, and if we have no clarity on that point, nothing else will be clear.

Know that Quinn made clear that both of these visions arose out of long periods of experience.  The first members of our dominant global culture did not one day decide to conquer and rule the world and then invent a new style of agriculture to achieve that end.  At some point, the practitioners of this new style of agriculture noticed the great power to control that this lifestyle gave them, and began to fancy themselves the rulers of the world.  In a like manner, the vision of being made for the world grew out of long millennia of a lifestyle that kept people in intimate balance with the community of life around them, and which gave those who enacted that vision largely happy and fulfilling lives.  In both cases, the thing to notice is that these visions arose out of long periods of experience.

Contrast that with our situation now, a time of such urgency that it seems we must invent and word-craft a new vision, type it up, post it, forward it, link it, frame it, brand it, explain it and get it out there, with bulleted talking points and a neat, three-color logo, ASAP or WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!   And we have to do this all knowing, in the back of our minds, that it may be too late in any event, that it may never work, and that we may have no future in which that new vision can manifest.  We who live today have a unique and seemingly impossible task, like none who preceded us.  These are truly unprecedented times.

Know, also, that, in Quinn’s view, “no paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one.”  In fact, “it’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one.”  He says that “for all our blather of new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us.  Their gadgets, fashions, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical – because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have.”  Using Richard Dawkins’ concept of the meme, which he calls “the conceptual building plans for our culture” and of which he says “memes are to cultures what genes are to bodies,” Quinn answers the question “How can we achieve a vision we can’t imagine?” this way:  “one meme at a time.”

And know, finally, that, in Quinn’s view, this matter of finding a new vision is not a matter of ease or difficulty.  As Quinn said in The Story of B, “The relevant measures are not ease and difficulty.  The relevant measures are readiness and unreadiness.  If the time isn’t right for a new idea, no power on Earth can make it catch on.  But if the time is right, it will sweep the world like wildfire.”

For myself, the experience of reading Quinn’s work is summed up by one of his own characters, who said of the teacher Charles Atterly in The Story of B, “Everything Atterly was saying was obvious, and all of it was new.”  Quinn made conscious for me the cultural stories that surround us, the stories in which I was raised, the stories that masqueraded as “just the way things are.”  Cultural stories are to humans like water is to fish.  We swim in these stories without even knowing that we’re swimming in anything.  But once somebody points out the water, we realize that we know it intimately, as we’ve been swimming in it our whole lives.  Daniel Quinn points out the water.  And once we see the water, it becomes difficult to not-see it.  And once we see the water – the stories, the culture – we may be gifted instantly with the ability to swim consciously.  And swimming consciously, we can begin to swim away from the default stories that are taking us toward catastrophe, and to imagine new stories, a new vision, that might take us toward life.

Daniel Quinn gives us new tools with which to respond to our collective predicament.  His simple, moving prose touches me deeply each time I read it, and I have read it again and again.  I see the water quite clearly now.  I can’t not see it.  And I shall be forever indebted to Daniel Quinn for that.  The notion that a culture is a set of stories we tell ourselves, that these stories shape our lives in the physical realm, and that we can question and change these stories, has impacted every layer of my life, from my relationship to Sally to my work in the world.  I question everything I can now, every aspect of the culture in which I was born and raised.  And questioning it, I have found a measure of freedom apart from it.  When I speak to you again, I will tell you more of that freedom.  Until then, I will leave you with this question to ponder, if you will, a question that might open up new avenues of thinking for you:

How are you still trying to rule the world?

Thank you.

Part 2: The Vision Quest

I spoke last time of Daniel Quinn, of the old vision of ruling a world that was made for us, of programs that fail and the need for new visions.  What if he is exactly right?  What if it’s our defining stories of meaning, purpose, and destiny that most determine our course from here on out?  What if we humans are not deranged, flawed creatures at all, but instead belong here as much as butterflies and bison and birch trees?  What if it’s mostly just a matter of deleting a suite of stories that has occupied our heads?

I remember how Quinn’s good news filled my heart and mind and soul with some new possibility.  I know I don’t feel flawed and deranged.  And most of the people I encounter feel like good souls doing their best in a mad situation.  We were all just born into a culture that is clearly harmful to the community of life, and to ourselves.  I know in my own life that I’ve slowly learned to enact a very different story from the one in which I was raised.  I know that it’s possible.

But whether possible or not, I’m not sure how this generalizes out to whole populations.  And I’m not sure how it can turn into actual, on the ground change in the physical world.  A few weeks back, in preparation for this conference, I did an informal survey, asking friends and readers what they thought about whatever “movement” they saw happening in the world, and how that movement was succeeding, or failing, or both.  While the responses I received were all over the map in terms of whether there even IS a movement, whether there should be a movement, or what the movement was up to, there was a fair amount of agreement that, while this “movement” has succeeded in raising some awareness, we have yet to see that translate into large-scale preparation for what’s coming, let alone a large-scale effort to stop the destruction of the living planet and “save the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible.”  As Michael Brownlee wrote, “I don’t know if there will ever emerge a coherent and robust and truly viral Transition movement in this nation…  For many, it just seems too difficult, too big a challenge.”

We in this room feel the catastrophe looming and have self-selected as some of those who will attempt to meet it consciously.  We see the limitations and consequences of our old cultural vision of ruling the world.  But it seems we’ve yet to find and speak the new vision that will catch on like wildfire.  And time, it seems, is running short.  Methane is now boiling up from lake bottoms in the far north.  The Great Barrier Reef is dying.  Radiation continues to spew from Fukushima, and oil from the Macondo Reservoir.  Global CO2 emissions increased by 6% in 2010.  And our leaders appear to be largely insane.

Oh my…

What Quinn said about vision and timing and readiness for change resonates inside me.  We need a new defining vision of who we are and why we are here.  And we need it by yesterday at the latest.  But defining visions, Quinn said, grow out of long periods of experience, and shift “one meme at a time.”  If we’re staring at a 9% oil depletion rate and 6% CO2 increases, it doesn’t look to me like we HAVE long periods of time.  When I look at the world through Quinn’s eyes, I see lots of programs, lots of sticks in the river, but very few new minds.  I see bootstrapping and problem solving and yes-we-can-ing and get-‘er-done-ing. But it feels to me that if the world is telling us anything right now, it’s telling us that THAT STRATEGY IS NOT WORKING.  If “no paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one,” and “if the time isn’t right for a new idea, no power on Earth can make it catch on,” then what are we supposed to do?

A new vision?  How ARE we going to get from here to there?  Or are we?  Even though ruling the world appears to have come at the cost of catastrophe, I don’t know how we STOP ruling the world.  How do we free ourselves from ten thousand years of cultural conditioning?  How do we let go of the idea that the world was made for us?  The dominant culture, an operating system that has been installed in our hearts and minds does not wish to be uninstalled.  That urge to control will fight us and fool us at every turn.  Even were we to manage to break free of that programming, what else IS there besides ruling the world?

At this point, it feels like the truest thing I can say to you is this:  I don’t have the answers to these questions.  I don’t know where we’re headed, or how we’ll get there.  I don’t know how to create a new vision that will spread like wildfire, and some days I’m pretty despairing that such a thing is even possible.

I know that my personal attempts to uninstall the dominant culture from my own being are not yet finished.  I still get caught in my own identity as a tall, White, American male who knows the one right way.  It happened yesterday.  It will happen today.  Just because this thing called “saving the world” may require both new minds and a new vision, it does not necessarily follow that my work is to go around trying to change minds and invent a new vision.  I question my own work of “waking people up,” – the blogs I’ve written, the articles and essays I’ve posted, the documentary we made, all the convincing and explaining and persuading and even frightening people into consciousness and action.  While it was all done with the heartfelt intention and desire to contribute something good to the world, it has also carried a strong whiff of covert domination and control and one right way.  My right way.  Despite my good intentions, I wonder if trying to solve the problem of creating a new vision has actually kept me trapped in the old one.  Clearly, confronting one’s own cultural programming is not for the faint of heart.  This can be challenging and subtle work.  But it’s my experience that the work is worth doing.

In the time that Sally and I have worked together to face into our collective predicament, the process or journey known as the Vision Quest has resonated with us both as a helpful lens through which to view our situation.  There’s nothing really mysterious about the basic process, I think.  We use it in our daily lives, every time we meet a challenge that causes us to shed an old story or idea or behavior and open up to something new, some new guidance or information from the world around us.  The vision quest, as practiced around the planet and across the ages, simply adds ritual, intention, and tradition to that process, and focuses on the matter of our core sense of identity, the questions of who we are and why we are here.  There might be a death lodge ritual, for instance, in which we let go of our old sense of self and identity and empty out the feelings, beliefs, and stories that no longer work in our lives.  And there might be a three-day fast in the wilderness, during which we open up to and listen to that which is outside of us, the elemental forces of the “natural world,” perhaps, or the voices of what some call “spirit.”  In all cases, the vision quest is exactly what it says it is, a quest for a vision to guide us.  We push ourselves beyond the limits of who we have been thus far in order to connect with our true selves and to hear the truth of the Universe in which we live.  If we are lucky, we will receive a new vision, a new story, a new direction, something we can bring back into our own lives, and to our communities, to bring healing and connection for all.

I said earlier that I can feel lost and despairing, if our task is to invent or concoct a new vision for ourselves.  But when I step into the notion of the vision quest, I remember that the initiate does not go into the quest with a vision already in hand.  That would just be more control.  I begin to see that I am doing the work exactly as I need to, sitting for long days and months, and sometimes even years, in the death lodge, passing slowly through the messy and sometimes excruciating process of letting go, burning through my impulses to control and dominate, my attachments to knowing the one right way, my fear of feeling helpless and out of control, and my stories of who I am and why I am here.

Then I go out into wilderness of our current culture with no vision at all.  It is humbling, to open up, to listen, to connect with the world around me.  But it is my experience, and the experience of many others, that it is only with empty hands that I can receive the vision that is given to me.  So I slow my breath.  I get still and silent, and simply watch and listen.

All of a sudden, my burdens melt away.  I don’t have to struggle to wake people up.  I can sense that new minds are already forming, walking the streets beside me, ready to shine out once the time is right.  I don’t have to invent some new vision out of whole cloth.  I can trust that new visions are already coming to us as we walk this wilderness, rising right inside and underneath and beside the old vision, hidden in plain sight in the landscapes of our lives, ready to spread like wildfire when the time is right.  Perhaps, the first signposts, the first new memes, are already visible.  Where might we look for such signposts?  What visions are now arising from our long experience of trying to be the rulers of the world, and of failing so gloriously?  How is the next paradigm already peeking around the corners of the present one?

I can tell you where I’m looking.  I’m looking at the wild and woolly Occupy movement, at what Paul Hawken calls our “blessed unrest,” at the Deep Green Resistance movement, the Zeitgeist movement, the Wayseers movement, at the various risings up around the world, at the crowds in the streets, and the more quiet, less noticeable work being done behind the scenes.  I’m looking at people’s attempts to form new cultures, from the co-housing movement to permaculturists to biker clubs and street gangs and religious groups, from the hippies and slackers to the anarchists and anti-civvers.  I’m looking at our use of various mind-altering substances, at the rise of extreme sports, extreme makeovers and extreme self-expression.  I’m looking at the movies people watch, the books they read, the music they listen to, the wild and intriguing dreams and visions that come to them through the media, from Middle Earth to Pandora and beyond.  I’m looking at how these media have put us in touch with cultures, lifestyles, and worldviews from around the world and across time.  I’m looking especially at how these media view our collective future, the dystopian visions, the imagined futures, the approaching singularity.  I’m looking at people’s fascination with the so-called “fringes” of science, spirituality, and consensus reality, from UFOs, crop circles, and the near-death experience to lost civilizations and the quantum/ holographic/chaotic universe, the alternate worlds, the alternate explanations, the anomalous data.  I’m looking at our fascination with conspiracies, with a hidden ruling elite, hidden technologies, hidden plans, hidden agendas.  I’m looking at our television series, these windows into the intimate lives of people real and imagined living lives fully felt and fully expressed, where people try and fail and grow and try again.  I’m looking at the internet, the cell phones, the webs, the connections, the interactions, the constant contacting, messaging, texting, poking, the direct line to information and analysis, the endless hits of love and like, the constant calling out of “here I am.”  I’m looking at our multitude of human addictions, the unceasing attempt not to get what the addictive behavior or substance provides, but SOMETHING MORE than the substance provides.

I’m looking at all of these things and seeing, not the deluded, dumbed-down, comfort-addled sheeple that my own angry, judging ego would want me to see, but good, essential souls trapped in thick crusts of culture and ego, doing their best in a mad situation, and acting out their deep animal longings and knowings in the only ways they know how, trying to challenge the limits of the current dominant global vision at every turn and, in the words of Jim Morrison, “break on through to the other side.”

How might these things I’m looking at, and many others, be signposts to a next paradigm?  I’m not sure what to say here.  I know for myself that, sitting quietly in the wilderness of no-vision with the cultural blinders largely removed, just observing the Universe as it presents itself to me, I’ve grown skeptical of the strict materialism of our culture, and am stepping into a view of reality more in accord with my felt experience of living in a chaotic, quantum world unfolding beyond the limits of my ability to predict and control.  I’ve grown suspicious of the strictly rational, and am adding the non-rational and intuitive to my bag of tools.  I feel sick unto death of ruling the world, of struggling to be in control of life, of having to know the answer and be in charge and pretend that I know what the hell I’m doing. Slowly I am learning to trust the callings and longings and excitements that arise in my own heart, rather than the voices of the culture that speak inside my head.  I’ve lost my trust in Yankee ingenuity and problem solving.  I hunger for intimate connection, shared feelings, and the honest expression of our true selves, for stories of meaning and purpose and belonging in a vast and mysterious Universe that’s as alive as I am.  But I am hesitant to analyze and name what is arising, as to name it may be to limit it, and what I feel in my very flesh is that the new defining river of vision arising amongst us is way more powerful, way more uncontrollable, and will be way more surprising than anything I can wrap my words around.

What I can see is, if this is a vision quest, then we are in the midst of it, passing through the death lodge of this culture and just beginning to open up to what the living world is telling us.  I can sense a new vision coming, and see some signposts, but I cannot speak that vision clearly, in tidy words that will, as Daniel Quinn wrote, “make the earth tremble and the stones weep and the skies open up.”  That’s as far as I can go. What I feel in my heart is that, if we are to avoid complete catastrophe, it will be because the new rivers of vision that will take us somewhere else are already flowing around us. My job is not to invent or concoct, but to simply feel, and begin to see, what is already here.

Part 3: The Vision of River

Let me begin my last piece with something usually attributed to an unnamed Hopi Elder, and called, simply, A Hope Elder Speaks:

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.  And there are things to be considered.

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”

“There is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.   They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

“Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.   And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do,  our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

If, as I suggested last time, the new rivers of vision are already arising amongst us, rising from the nightmare of our long experience of ruling the world, rising to take us, perhaps, away from complete catastrophe, then what I have left is an invitation:  jump into the river that is already flowing, and let this river carry you.  Never mind that you cannot know with your rational mind exactly where this river might take you.  That, indeed, is the whole point.  And this river may be taking us to a million different destinations.  This is something very different from being in control.  “Let go of the shore,” the Hopi Elder counsels.  “Push off into the middle of the river, keep your eyes open, and your heads above water. And … see who is in there with you and celebrate.”

Feel the river as it pulls you along.  Notice the map in your pocket, now soaked and falling to pieces.  Let the river take it away.  Your destination is not on that map.  Feel the cell phone in your pocket, the watch on your wrist, now both dead and useless to you.  Let them go, and find new ways to connect to the world.  Feel your clothing of old assumptions and stories, soaked and cold, dragging you down.  Shed them, and notice your natural buoyancy as a creature who belongs on this planet.  It’s just you now, naked and wet, with others splashing nearby, the cold water rushing, the sky overhead, the calls of birds in the trees and the tickle of fish underfoot.  You feel awake and alive now, in that cold rushing water.  No more distractions.  Nothing left to lose.  Who will you be?

You can feel the river’s great force, the tug, the longing, the great re-balancing of forces.  Your good, true, essential self, as covered with wounds and scars as it might be, knows what to do in this river.  The river may pull us relentlessly, but we are not helpless here.  So long as we don’t fight this river, we can swim.

And I have another invitation: If we’re truly going to step away from domination and control, if we’re truly wanting to find some new, more co-creative relationship with the planet, if we truly desire, in the poet David Whyte’s words, to enter into conversation with the whole of creation, both speaking our truth AND listening to the truth of the rest of reality, then perhaps the perfect crucible for that work is in learning to speak with, and listen to, our fellow human beings, without trying to dominate and control each other.  We can do that work here, now, in this room.

Listen to the Hopi Elder:  Jump into the river.  See who is there with you.  And celebrate.  This person is investing everything she has in growing food for her community.  That one thinks all such attempts at local sustainability are pointless without a more global restructuring.  How will these two souls learn to celebrate each other?  This is the work the Hopi Elder encourages.  This one wants to blow up cell phone towers.  That one meditates on an image of golden light encircling the globe.  How will these two learn to celebrate each other?  One thinks we must power down to the Stone Age.  Another believes that wind power and solar will play a big role in our future. One sees the challenges ahead in largely spiritual terms.  Another operates from a much more on-the-ground materialist perspective.  This one is filled with anger and despair, but does not find the safety she needs to express her feelings when that one insists on keeping things positive.  That one fears that if he lets himself feel how all of this is impacting him he will sink into depression, or unravel in our midst, and cause harm to those around him.  How will we all learn to celebrate each other?

The Hopi Elder does not say to see who is in the river and try to persuade them to your version of the truth, or argue with their vision, or ridicule the path they are on.  As the Dalai Lama says, “just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”  We can spend from here to extinction arguing over the one right way or how it all will play out, but that’s the same story that got us into this mess.  It’s unlikely to get us back out.

A huge opportunity awaits us in this river, I think.  We can learn to set aside our assumptions long enough to truly hear what the other is saying.  That gift of deep listening will give others the room they need in order that they may hear us.  We can learn to hold paradox, holding more than one truth at a time, sitting with the tension without having to resolve it.  We can learn to examine every last thing our culture has told us, and to ask whether it serves who we are and what we want and the highest good for all of life.  We can learn to embrace the outliers, those who seem to live at the far ends of the normal curve, those who see things very differently than us, and who may have pieces of the puzzle we don’t have.  We can learn to overcome our tendency to get stuck in our own orthodoxies, seeing only the information that confirms what we already think we know.  If our acculturated minds are inadequate to the task of facing insoluble problems and unanswerable questions, we can turn to our hearts, our bodies, our animal selves, and also to our best future selves, to lead us forward, following our loves and longings, our excitements, our callings, our wantings.  We can learn to operate above and beyond the programs of culture and ego, not just new minds with a new vision, but new minds with a new vision of operating without story altogether.  We can lay down our armor, and our weapons.  We can become, finally, free of the cultural programs that separate us.

Jump into the river with me.  See who is here.  And celebrate.  Let the vision we can currently only sense and intuit carry us along.  Let it wash away the old, so that we can follow the signposts to the new.  Jump into the river of new vision that is already here.  See the new minds that are already awakening.  And celebrate.

“Everything is waiting for you,” David Whyte says.  The community of life is waiting for us, I think.  We may not find our way in time.  We may not, in the end, realize our worth, our potential, our belonging.  We may not be able to slough off our impulse to dominate and rule.  We may continue to take down huge swaths of the life of this planet in a futile attempt to sit on a throne that is not ours.  We may take ourselves down.   And if so, I believe there will be a great cry of grief in the Cosmos, at the loss of such beauty and potential.

But we MAY find our way.  We may, against all odds, respond in a way that “saves the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible,” as Daniel Quinn wrote.  We may survive this frightening time of initiation.  We may find a new vision of who we are and why we are here and where we are headed, and bring this new vision back to the community of living souls. We may take our right and proper place as mature members of that community, and find the healing, intimacy, and connection we crave.  We may find our cultural maturity and still not survive the catastrophe.  But we might.  And if we do, then I think the stars themselves will shout out in celebration, and the galaxies will dance with joy.  It’s likely to be a near miss, but it’s a possibility worth surrendering to.  As an uncle of mine used to say, “what else ya gonna do?”

I will leave you with the words of Elizabeth Kubler Ross:  “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.”

It we get through this, if somehow we manage to survive this catastrophe, I think we will find that we have become beautiful people indeed.

Taking the Pulse of “the Movement”

October 3rd, 2011 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 8 Responses

Hey All,

As I continue to find clarity about how best to bring my gifts to the 2011 International Conference on Sustainability, Transition & Culture Change: Vision, Action, Leadership (link below) in Michigan in November (see link below), I find that it would be useful for me to do an informal survey. Any responses you feel called to give me in the comments below will be greatly appreciated.

To the extent that we can speak of a “movement” of people who are looking at the current “global situation” in terms of a confluence of environmental, energy, political, economic, cultural, and/or spiritual issues, I have three questions.

1) In broad strokes, what do you see are the goals, or specific measurable results, that this movement is attempting to reach? What is the movement for? What is the movement moving toward?

2) In what ways, if any, do you see that this movement has succeeded? Where has it made headway? How has it reached its goals or created the results it set out to create?

3) In what ways, if any, do you see that this movement has failed? Where has it lost ground? How has it failed to reach its goals?

I’m not looking for quotes to attribute (though I may find some, in which case I will ask your permission before sharing your words). I’m looking to get a general sense of how this “movement” views itself right now. If you have something to say to that end that feels to fall beyond the outlines of my questions, by all means share that as well. These may not be the best questions to ask. And feel free to pass this along to anyone whom you feel would be interested in responding.

Thanks!
Tim Bennett
Writer/Director – What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire
Author – All of the Above

http://www.sustainabilityconference.org/

The Quest for Vision

September 18th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog One Response

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

For the longest time, I found it really difficult to imagine, create, or buy into a vision for the future.  People would hand me thick folders full of their ideas and plans.  Others would send me links and attachments.  Some, often after screenings of our documentary, would tell me face to face what it was they were excited about.  And many other visions and plans came across my radar just by virtue of my being connected into the Doomosphere™.  But by and large, whether it was the relocalization movement, the biochar revolution, or the audacity of hope, whether any of these might be good ideas or not, I just couldn’t manage to really feel the excitement that so many around me appeared to be feeling.

For the longest time, I felt like a failure.  I felt like I was doing something wrong.  And a few people even told me that that was true, that if I wasn’t envisioning a positive future then, by default, I was envisioning a negative one, making me a part of the problem.  They complained that What a Way to Go didn’t have anything at the end that they could latch onto, nothing in terms of a vision for what we could do.  There was no happy chapter.  There was no this and this and that which, if only everybody would do, would allow us to find the solution.  Some people very much wanted such a vision.  They wanted to have something they could get excited about doing.  They wanted to find a way out of the mess I had outlined in the movie.  And I just didn’t have that to give to them.

And then one cold, wintry day, while we were driving through the Vermont mountains, a piece of clarity alighted on Sally and me from above, and that clarity has served me since:  This is not the time for visions. At least not for us.

The sense of failure I’d been laboring under has not returned to haunt me.

Here’s what came to us that day:  it makes sense (and it resonates with us) to view our collective situation – our present predicament, our long emergency, our powerdown, our doomsday, our danger/opportunity, our end of suburbia, our life after the oil crash, our nuclear holocaust, our great turning, our die-off, our financial Armageddon, our eleventh hour, our petrocollapse, our overshoot, our endgame, our final crash, our mass extinction underway, our six degrees, our final empire, our ascent of humanity, our revenge of Gaia, our end of the world as we know it – as an initiation into cultural maturity at a grand and terrible scale, as some sort of a vision quest for the collective heart, mind, and soul.  If that is so, it may help us to remember that the initiate does not go into the vision quest with a vision already in mind.  That’s what makes it a quest.  Initiates go first into the sweat house or death lodge, or embark on some similar process, or simply find themselves in a “dark night of the soul.”  During this time the elders urge them to shed what needs to be shed, to symbolically “die.”   Only then are they released into the wilderness to prove themselves ready and worthy, to be given a vision by the gods.  And only then, upon their return, having faced their trials successfully, can they be reborn as fully adult members of the tribe, vision in hand to offer as service to the greater good of their community, and to give them meaning for their lives.

No wonder I couldn’t seem to hold onto a vision!  Sally and I were sitting in the death lodge, doing everything we could do to help the remnants of our old, Imperialist egos die away, such that we could then open up to the Universe and let the gods lead for a while.  It was not for us to concoct a plan or vision for saving the world.  In fact, we were busily letting go of any inflated notions that “we” could do such a thing at this point.

We were working to get quiet and still, to sit for long days and nights, fasting from the ideas, assumptions, and energies of the dominant culture, and to learn, in the poet David Whyte’s words, to be in conversation with the Universe, rather than in control.  The old visions?  The visions given us by the culture in which we were raised?  The visions of control and domination, of fixing and solving and making things happen, of even “benignly” ruling the world?  Those we were shredding as quickly as we could.  As I said in What a Way to Go, this culture’s arrogance, its adolescent sense of invincibility and entitlement, must be sloughed off to make room for a more mature sense of interdependence with, and responsibility to, the community of life.  This is the work of initiation. This was the work we were doing, and still do to this day.

Over and over we confront, Sally and I, our egoic minds’ desire to know what to do, and then we face, again and again, the stunning realization that we cannot have what those minds want.  Over and over, we take our current worldview gently in our arms and hold it while it breathes its last.  Over and over, we go out into the wilderness and get still.  The voices and visions do come: a whispering of wind, a rumbling of rock, a susurrus of stars, a trembling of trees.  In bits and pieces, the next steps are given to us, a sense of the right actions, the best choices.  Slowly, we make our way down this wilderness path.

There is little to figure out here.  Little to reason through.  Little to analyze, plan, and make happen.  There is mostly the heart pounding with love, the blood rushing with excitement, the mind touched with snippets of poetry and image, the rough scratching of fingers in soil and the tickling of toes in the grass or the scuff of heel on concrete.  It seems as though the whole of our reality, and of our collective predicament, surpasses our minds and egos.  The vision can’t be known right now, it seems.  But it can be felt.  It can be sensed and intuited.  It can be aligned to and resonated with.  We are the children of this planet, after all, as surely as the deer and the dragonfly.  We can belong here, if we choose.  Like the birds and beasts, we can hear the tsunamis coming and make our way to whatever higher ground there is.  We can sense the hunters coming and protect our cubs.  We can find shelter in the storm, and joy in the dance.

Part of what Sally and I sense is that the vision will be found collectively, through a process of which most of us are unaware, and are reluctant to seek:  the process of entering together this death lodge, where we confront as a group the inner and outer conflicts, sift through the machinations of ego, and find the precious grains of truth that all of our positions, assumptions, and desires, hold in their hearts.  This is the work that most calls us.  There’s room in the lodge, should you wish to join us.

Here, let me get that flap, then I’ll scootch around and make some more room.  Sit with us for a while, with this group of open, often tattered souls crowded tightly together under these tarps, a pit of red-hot rocks in the circle’s center, and utter darkness all around.  Sally throws water on the rocks, to sear our faces and fill our lungs with a burst of steam.  Someone laughs.  Another cries.  A third rages and a fourth prays.  One last cup of water on the rocks.  One last cloud of steam.  One last sloughing off.  Then we push open the flap and crawl, together and one-by-one, out into the night, naked, shivering, our bodies steaming in the firelight and starshine.  We don our clothes and make our way out into the wilderness, to find the spots we chose earlier in the day.  We begin our fast, to show the gods our deep longing and sober intent.  We sit and stare into the night, and soon we start to reflect.

We’re at a crossroads now.  Who we’ve been, as a culture, is no longer working.  The visions with which we used to operate can now be seen as unhinged and insane.  The rules have changed, and we don’t know what to do.  Every time we try to control the situation things just get worse.  We’re tired.  Scared.  And so very, very sad.  We’re close to bottom now.  The ground is rising up rapidly beneath us.  It looks as if we’ll smash onto the rocks at any moment.

And yet the galaxies spin overhead as they always have.  The grasses still whisper in the breeze.  The ground underneath holds us up just like it did the day before.  The moon still lights our way.  There is life, still, all around us, holding on in spite of this culture’s blind attempts to kill it all off.  “We’re not dead yet,” the world of life calls out to us.  “You’re not alone.  We’ve missed you.  We’re glad to have you back.”  And beyond our tiny circles of struggling to know and do and think and work and own and have and understand lies a Universe so vast and so mysterious that we cannot hold it in our grasp.  And in that moment, we can see, and even trust, that perhaps this is the only sort of vision we need right now: the vision that lets us see what is there all around us.  Perhaps that is enough, for now.  This is initiation, after all.  The gods are leading this process.  Maybe we can just concentrate on staying open, so that we can hear them when they speak to us.

Thomas Berry told us, back when we interviewed him in 2005, that “young people need to be educated in the context of the 21st century, and with the realization that they can’t depend on anything handed down to them from the 20th century.”  That’s a stunning statement, I think.  We can’t depend on anything handed down to us from the 20th century.  Yet it resonates with my own sense of things.  Linda Travis and Cole Thomas, in my new novel All of the Above, have to come to the same realization, as the reality they thought they were living in gets torn from underfoot.  They, too, must allow their old worldview to die away, in order to see the world anew, arising all around them.  And they, too, must meet the trials before them, before they will be allowed to find some new vision that aligns with the will of the gods.

Who will we be when the old visions die, and the old strategies no longer work?  Whether fictional or flesh and blood, I believe we will all be given the opportunity to find our answers to that question.

Going Further

September 14th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

The following is the first installment in a series of blog posts that will eventually be put together into a written interview.   If you have interview questions of your own, please leave them in the comment section below.  Thanks!

Q:

Tim, you are best known for your documentary, What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire. You’ve switched mediums and are now writing fiction.  The people who loved What A Way To Go were interested in resource depletion, overpopulation, environmental destruction and economic collapse.  This seems like a departure.   Who do you think is the audience for this book, and why should they read it?

A:

First and foremost, I worked to write a great story, with juicy mysteries, intriguing ideas, and interesting characters you can care about.  All of the Above is for anybody looking for a page-turning sci-fi conspiracy thriller.   It’s got psychopathic government agents, enigmatic aliens, indigenous and astral allies, and the first female President of the United States.   It’s got love and death, hope and despair, grief and loss and joy and redemption.  A perfect end-of-summer, or end-of-Empire, read.

And All of the Above is a book that goes further.   I’ve long known, and have recently begun to put into words, that my work in this world is this: to question the assumptions, beliefs, and stories that surround me, whether those assumptions come from the schools and family in which I was raised, from the larger culture of Empire in which my family was embedded, or from the more fundamental paradigm of materialism out of which Empire rises.   I didn’t stop questioning assumptions when I finished my documentary.   I kept going, following the paths that opened before me, striding down avenues that might surprise those who’ve seen my film.   So I would say that All of the Above is also for anyone wishing to go even further than my documentary went, and certainly further than the dominant global culture wants you to go.

I’ve actually come full circle, back to the information and analyses that first pushed me down my own path toward What a Way to Go so many years ago.   Anomalous experiences and evidences, new science and old wisdom – these are the things on which I first cut my critical-thinking teeth.   These are the realms that opened me up and helped me to develop the analytical and emotional tools I needed in order to explore, head on and without blinking, the current global environmental, economic, and energy situations we now face.

I’m in a somewhat unique position, I think; I can view our collective present predicament from an extreme outlier’s perspective.   Sure, we’re facing an unprecedented set of conditions, with oil declining and ecosystems failing and the economy ready to unravel, but we’re facing all of this in a world, and a Universe, that feels, to me, determined to undermine our every assumption about matter, spirit, time, space, and the nature of reality itself.   What happens when you view the unraveling of Empire through the larger disintegration of the paradigm of materialism?  That’s what I explore in this story.   If you’re up for that, come along for the ride.  I’ll be glad to have you along.

Of course, why one might wish to go further is another question entirely…

The First Chronicles of President Linda Travis

September 14th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

In the summer of 2005 a frightening piece of information came to me:  Stephen Donaldson would soon publish Book One of a new series of fantasy novels, The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  Good news, you might have thought.  I mean, if you like dense, challenging prose, vibrant characters and a richly imagined alternate world, then Donaldson’s books are just the ticket, as far as I’m concerned.  And it had been more than twenty years since he’d finished the First and Second Chronicles.  I’d read all six books in the series.  More than once.  How nice it would be, to go back to that world and walk again with those characters.

But I remember, oddly enough, being rather upset at the news.  Why?  Well, at the time, I was knee deep in the writing and editing of our documentary – What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire.  We’d just completed our interview tour.  I was wading through hard-drives full of footage, piles of books, inboxes stuffed with articles and essays, and stacks of documentaries.  I was analyzing, beholding, correlating, deliberating, evaluating, figuring, gauging, and holding every last piece of information, opinion, and conjecture I could get my hands on regarding our collective and precarious situation here on Planet Earth.  I was staring at the end of cheap and easy oil, the extinctions of species, the quickly shifting planetary climate and the growing human footprint that fueled these things.  I was feeling my way through the despotic, dominating, disconnected, and delusional global culture that has not only, as Sherwin-Williams says, “covered the planet,” but has seeped into every cell of my body and every facet of my ego.  I was facing head-on, and with every morsel of my soul, what felt like the final result of all our collective choices.  The end of empire was breathing down my neck.  The runaway train felt ready to jump the tracks.  It was a very intense time.

A new Covenant novel?  You’ve got to be kidding, Mr. Donaldson!  There’s no time for that.  The economy cannot possibly last long enough for you to finish.  You’ll just get me hooked again and then leave me hanging.  You’ll leave Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery trapped in some terrible situation in the Land with no hope of resolution.  Ever.  And I’ll … what?  I’ll have to drag my half-starved, irradiated carcass across the bleak, post-apocalyptic American landscape of my nightmares and force you to finish the story for me face-to-face, sitting around a campfire in your New Mexico back yard.  At a time when I was staring daily, hourly, minutely, into the collapse of Empire and the possible extinction of the human race – the extinction of my family and friends, my children, myself – the notion that you would start a new series that I would not be able to finish filled me with dread.  I think, in the end, that situation was simply something I could wrap my heart and brain around.  The rest of it, the unraveling world I could see ahead, was too big to hold.

But I bought Donaldson’s book.  Read it.  Moved on.  Eighteen-months-worth of twelve-hour days finished the documentary and we did our screening tours.  Book Two came out in October of 2007 and I read that.  We recuperated, moved to Vermont, convened a few dialogue circles, started another documentary, stopped that project, and then moved to Maine.  And in October of 2010, Stephen Donaldson published Book Three.  At last!  He’d done it!  Just under the wire!

I finished Book Three a month or so ago.  Get this:  the further I read, the more it became obvious that, unlike any of Donaldson’s previous series, this one would require a Book Four.  Due out, no doubt, in 2013.  <Insert Big Dramatic Sigh Here.>

It gets even funnier.  I’ve now published All of the Above, Book One of my own three- or four-book series of novels that will follow President Linda Travis and Cole Thomas as they make their way into a new view of reality.

Waiting for the collapse of the global industrial economy has been a tricky business for me.  On the one hand, I know it has to happen sometime.  From what I can see, unending growth and a net-destructive impact on the planet simply cannot be sustained forever in the physical levels of reality.  On the other hand, predicting the how and why and when and where and who feels pretty much like a losing game.  Hovering in the unknown, with one foot in “what’s here now” and the other in “what will come,” it had been extremely difficult, at times, to know what makes sense to do.  I mean… does it make ANY sense at all to spend almost two years writing, editing, and publishing a novel when it looks as though the economy could go belly-up at any moment?  And does it make ANY SENSE AT ALL to write a novel in any case, given what’s going on in the world?

Ya got me.

Maybe the trouble is in that phrase “make sense.”  The dominant culture has taught me that things that “make sense” are rational and logical.  But what if I take this phrase out of the realm of the head, where the dominant culture put it, and place it lovingly back into my heart and body, where my senses actually reside?  What then?

What I notice is that, while I’ve never been able to come to some rational, logical answer to the question “Does this make sense?,” my body and heart have sensed all along what to do.  My body has willingly sat long hours at the keyboard, even as it complains about how hard that has been.  My heart has drawn me back to this story, over and over.  (I wrote the first five chapters over twelve years ago, after all.  I couldn’t let it go until it was finished.)  And when I’ve been able to get very quiet, I’ve been able to touch – briefly, as if touching a fawn – that larger something, that Muse, that Source, from which this story seems to have come, as if the Great Hologram Itself simply gave it to me to put to the page.  While my rational mind was trapped in uncertainty, my heart and body kept following their excitements and promptings and senses, and brought me here, to the end, with the book now out in the world, and just under the wire, perhaps?

Who knows what it’s for, this book?  I don’t.  Not the rational, thinking, brain “me,” at any rate.  I know it changed me, just to write it.  I know it goes out wrapped in the intention to be of service, with a wish to further the conversation about what it means to be alive in this time, and with a hope of aiding in the evolution of our collective hearts, minds and spirits.  And I sense that this is a time that calls for new stories.   But beyond that, like all of our children, this book shall have to go out into the world on its own, to do whatever work it came here to do.  I will nurture it, guide it, and help it along the way, sure.  But it’s mostly out of my hands now.  And I guess that’s a good thing, because Book Two has been slowly downloading into the hopper for some time.  I have a sense that, after a good rest, and some much-needed attention paid to the other domains of my life, the Great Hologram will once again grab me by the scruff of my neck and sit me down at the keyboard, for reasons I may never really understand.  And that, perhaps, is how my life will look from here on out:  doing things that never really “make sense” to my rational mind.

So I find myself facing again what I’ve faced before:  I am not in control, but I am in conversation.  As a recovering White Guy™ I am learning to refrain from saying “how it is,” but as a living facet of the Great Hologram, I do get to say what I see and feel and experience, as long as I then stop, and listen to the Multiverse around me, and enter into real dialogue with Reality.  I get to be a part of the dialogue without having to know the answer.  In fact, the Great Hologram needs that from me.  And what a relief.  Knowing how “it is” has been such a burden.

Right now, what I see to do is to begin my own Book Two.  So I will.  The Multiverse will have its own ideas about how things must unfold.  So it will.  We’ll dance together as the Earth spins and the Universe expands and the hurricanes blow and the markets leap and tumble.  We’ll shout and sing and argue and make up.  I’ll hold up my part in the conversation.  Then I’ll listen.  And when it’s my turn, I’ll speak again.  It feels like that’s what I came here for, so I may as well stop resisting it.

And who knows?  Perhaps the global economy will soon falter, as so many anticipate.  Perhaps life will get really local before I finish my story.  And perhaps, one day, Mr. Donaldson will make his way to me, traveling slowly and sanely across the quieter, more sober, more conscious and compassionate American landscape of my better dreams.  Crazier things have happened.  Maybe we’ll sit around that campfire and swap stories.  “You left Linda Travis and Cole Thomas trapped in a terrible situation with no hope of resolution,” he’ll say.  “Tell me how it ends.”  I’ll pour us another cup of tea, and then I’ll tell him.

Our Secret Plan

June 9th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 5 Responses

(First published 3/17/11)

Just minutes before I left the house for our recent Eastport screening of What a Way to Go, a friend posted a video of the tsunami in Japan. It was the most striking footage I’d yet seen. I sat there, mesmerized by the unfolding flood, struck by how calmly it proceeded, how quietly, how inexorably. The water poured through the street, dragging everything along in its wake, from trashcans to cars and trucks and then whole buildings. From off in the distance came soft warnings over loudspeakers. The videographer, and the others nearby on the walkway from which the footage was taken, watched in silence as their world washed away below them. The video ended and I packed up my belongings and headed over to the Arts Center.

I hadn’t seen What a Way to Go in a while, and I was interested to see how it would strike me this time, especially while viewing it with “the home team.” I did as I had admonished myself to do, and just let it wash over me. And not too far in, I remember thinking, Wow! This is hard!

This was a new experience for me. I mean, sure, it’s not like I didn’t know that. But I’ve been living with this information for so long that I sometimes forget how desperately I used to avoid looking at it. Watching the movie again, I got a reminder of why that was.

As I watched, it occurred to me that, while the movie is hard, it’s not harsh. What a Way to Go simply proceeds like the tsunami did: calmly, quietly, inexorably. The tsunami did not feel angry or vengeful to me; it just felt powerful and unstoppable. That’s the experience I worked to create in the film. Because I knew, for myself, that when I stopped resisting, and just let that information flood over me, it dragged me to some place to which I’d never before been. And I knew that this new emotional and psychological “place” was a piece of “higher ground,” upon which I was very grateful to be standing.

Toward the end of What a Way to Go, Daniel Quinn speaks of the culture of Empire and its “secret plan”:

The secret plan is that we’re going to go on this way, no matter what, for as long as we can. I likened it to the secret plan in Nazi Germany. It was an open secret. Everyone knew that those Jews weren’t going off to resorts, or to have picnics in the woods. But no one talked about it. And no one talks about this either.

As I reflected on those words, I thought of the Japanese nuclear-plant crisis as an obvious example of how the secret plan works. We have to go on like we have been, don’t we? That’s obvious. So we’ll just have to role up our sleeves and grit our teeth and do what we have to do, including digging up the most dangerous substances on the planet and heating them to extreme temperatures in enormously expensive pressure-cookers with a proven history of failing, so that we can keep living the way we do. And, of course, with oil peaking and climate spiraling out of control, we’ll consider building even more nuclear plants, to solve the oil and climate problems. Empire is determined to go on for as long as it can. That’s how the culture is structured. It has no choice. Because if it didn’t act this way, it wouldn’t be Empire anymore, would it?

I realized, that night, that not only do Sally and I not participate in that secret plan, we have a secret plan of our own:

Our secret plan is to learn all there is to learn by facing directly into our present predicament. Our secret plan is to walk the path of personal growth and evolution, to rid our bodies and hearts and minds of the culture of Empire at every opportunity, even as we continue, of necessity, to live within that Empire. Our secret plan is to help others, who are ready, to learn the lessons arising from this time, and to learn those lessons so well, so deeply, so fully, that those humans who make it through this predicament and into the future (if any of us do) will not be inclined to carry the Imperial paradigm of control, domination and exploitation along with them through the bottleneck of environmental catastrophe. Our secret plan is to help redeem Empire’s millennia-long experiment with the paradigm of separation and control, by doing what we can to further the evolution of culture, consciousness and spirit, so that, at the very least, all of this pain and destruction will not have occurred for naught.

What a Way to Go can be a seen, then, as a tactic in service to our plan. It was designed as a tsunami of information and analysis and opinion and feeling that would flood the minds and hearts of those who could open up to it, sweep them out of their resistance, and drag them through the grieving process, hopefully to deposit them on the higher ground of surrender. The movie has nothing to do with waking people up so that they can fix our present situation and keep things going the way they have been. That’s Empire’s secret plan, and we do not serve that plan. What a Way to Go is about facing into that which cannot be fixed. It’s about grieving and surrender. It always has been.

Surrender, of course, is a curse word in the American lexicon. Just ask the French. We’re bootstrappers, we Americans. We get ‘er done. We lock and load. We keep on keepin’ on. We’ve taken it as our holy work, to progress, to succeed, to improve, to strive, to overcome, to manage, to shape, to solve, and to grow. Of course we have. You’ve got to do shit like that, when you’re serving the secret plan of Empire. Now, sure, all of these can be useful strategies in certain situations. Why, just now, I progressed across the kitchen floor and succeeded in improving my eggs by cooking them, overcoming their natural tendency to stay uncooked and managing to shape them into a nice yellow pile, thereby solving my immediate problem of hunger. I certainly used those strategies. Yay, me!

But we have a devil of a time, sometimes, we Imperialists, in noticing where and when those strategies are not appropriate. Take the matter of death, for instance. Ten thousand years ago this guy, call him Ed, no doubt despondent over the loss of a loved one to the jaws of a tiger, shouted to the heavens, cursing the gods. “Damn you,” he cried, shaking his fists. “This shall not be!” And Ed’s two buddies, Ned and Fred, standing nearby, looked at each other with raised eyebrows and said, “Shall not be? Now there’s an idea!” And thus was born the basic impulse of Empire, a millennia-long attempt, using everything from totalitarian agriculture and fossil fuels to nuclear power and Magnetic Resonance Imaging, to stave off loss and grief and death, and even to stave off any hints at those things that might arise when we experience physical or emotional discomfort, as a means of testing out Ed’s new idea. And our cultural war against discomfort and grief and death has, in turn, necessitated our collective war against the natural world. We’ve chewed up and spit out everything we could get our hands on, to keep ourselves as alive and as fat and as comfortable as we could be, and to make our numbers as many as we possibly might. We’ve covered the globe with human bodies, so that no single event, no single loss, could take us all out, like that tiger took out Ed’s loved one. Take that, death! Take that, grief!

Surrender then, would be the antithesis of that. One definition of the word I really love comes from the recovery community: to surrender is to lay down our arms and join the winning side. I submit that our present collective predicament is a direct consequence of our failure to take seriously that which we all know: in the matter of living bodies in this physical realm, discomfort and loss and grief, what the Buddha termed suffering, come to us all, and death IS the winning side. There’s no getting by that. In the end, Mr. Death is going to knock at our door, and he’s not coming to do our taxes. No matter what we believe regarding where he might be taking us next, the fact remains that we don’t get to stay here. Most of us have never truly come to grips with that uncomfortable fact.

Now, this is not a new observation, I admit. But, as we seem to have trapped ourselves in a world-spanning industrial culture based on Ed’s bone-headed notion that we can avoid discomfort, loss, grief and death, I think it bears repeating. We’ve gathered up every bit of food we can, piled it inside our mansions of sticks and drywall, dug out and cut down and burned up everything we could find to keep ourselves warm and dry and comfortable, and surrounded it all with a tiger-proof fence, only to find out, now, that this strategy has been … ahem … inappropriate. Doh! We’ve treated death as a problem to be solved rather than a predicament to be pondered and surrendered to. And our refusal to surrender to grief and death has brought us, ironically, to a time of boundless collective grief, and to the brink of extinction itself.

By failing to surrender to grief and death, we’ve continued to make the mistake that Ned and Fred made: Ed’s anger at death was not a place to stay stuck; it was simply a part of a natural, deeply human process to go through. Had they just taken Ed in their arms and held him as he raged, stayed with him as he ranted and cried, supported him to fully feel what he felt, walked beside him as he tried and failed to deny the loss, listened without judgment as he bargained with the gods to get his loved-one back, and brought him warm soup and firewood as he sank into the depths of loneliness and despondency, they’d have done what truly needed to be done. And they would have seen that, in fact, Ed, like all humans, was fully capable of surviving his grief, of moving through it, and of then reinvesting in life again. They’d have seen that, rather than tear him apart or make him weak, the loss and grief actually strengthened Ed, and gifted him with the power to live his life with more genuine presence than perhaps he ever had before. They’d have learned that that’s one of death’s greatest gifts: it helps we who are living to live more fully.

Alas, Ned and Fred ran off and started this comfort-addicted culture called Empire and here we now are, facing the consequences of their mistake. And it’s rather a mess, ain’t it? But now, seeing this, we can consciously choose where they did not. We can choose to continue to test Ed’s new idea. That would be Empire’s secret plan. Or we can lay down our weapons and join the winning side, finding Death an extraordinary advisor, and using our new-found friend to bring us back to life right in the midst of our own lives. We can take on some of that Japanese wabi-sabi, look for the beauty within the imperfections and discomforts of life, and learn to accept peacefully the natural cycles of growth and decay. In doing that, we may just stand a chance of learning what there is to learn in our present predicament, such that we might actually redeem the mistake of Ned and Fred. That feels worth trying to me.

The tsunamis of oil depletion and climate change and environmental decline and economic meltdown will flood over us, slowly, calmly, and inexorably. The laws of physics and chemistry and biology feel neither angry nor vengeful to me; they are simply powerful and unstoppable. Empire’s secret plan will fail, because it has taken up arms against death itself, and death will not be conquered. Not in the physical realm. Not with the strategies Empire has chosen. But death can be surrendered to, and joined, even befriended. And down that path, I think, lies our best opportunity for the growth and evolution that can bring some measure of redemption to all of this loss. That’s the secret plan we’re following. You’re welcome to join us. You may have already done so. We don’t know. That’s the thing about a secret plan: because we don’t talk about it, we don’t really know who’s on which team.

Our limited viewpoints from these physical bodies make it difficult to see what other secret plans might be afoot. The Cosmos may have a secret plan. And the Absolute or Divine. Gaia herself may have a secret plan. Or the sun. Or the aliens. The powers-that-be may have a secret plan very different from that made inevitable by the framing conditions of the dominant culture. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a great many herds of domestic animals lately, huddled nose-to-nose in their pastures. I think maybe they’re secretly planning something too.

It’s comet time here on Planet Earth. We’re staring smack into the unknowable and unsolvable. The dinosaurs of Empire will thrash and stomp and bellow as they die out. We tiny mammals with our own secret plan try to stay out of their way, and even trip them up as best we can. There’s no telling how this will all play out. I expect many things, but mostly I expect to be surprised.

The View From the Soup

June 8th, 2011 by Tim Categories: Home Page Blog, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

This was first posted in the Summer of 2008…

******

Six months. Six months since I jumped boldly into the Font of Helvetica and let the Roman Times roll. Six months since I last crept from my warm burrow to check for my blast shadow. Six months since I reported on the comings and goings of my own private Wobegon. Six months. Or maybe even seven. Where have I been? And where have you been? And how are you?

It was late in January, wasn’t it, when we went to Boulder and did a three-day circle with those kind souls there? Wasn’t that a couple of weeks after I wrote of my Uncle George? The winter was still with us, I think. I remember long mornings and longer afternoons, spent sitting by the wood stove. Sally made crusty bread, which we slathered with butter, and we played games with Andy and Stacy late into the night.

I was exhausted. The words don’t do that justice and my body cries foul at how shallow they sound, how poorly they express how it felt, and how it often still feels, even now. It wasn’t just the long years and days and hours of writing, shooting and editing. It wasn’t just the travel, the screenings, the tours, the plans, the particulars. It wasn’t just four years spent doing things I didn’t know how to do. The exhaustion went deeper still, wrapping itself around my core like a good ol’ boa, letting me know, kindly but firmly, that my life was no longer what I had thought it was, son, and that if I might could come to grips with that, maybe things’d go a bit easier for me. Having stared down our present predicament for as long as I had, having let grief and rage and disbelief and shame run their course through my body like a hit of bad acid, having actually died at every level save the physical, it was time to lay me down in the grave, oh sweet lord, sweet lord, and let the clouds roll over me, gray and damp and cold. Even as my body sat by the fire, my spirit crawled into bed in the fetal position, heaved a soft sigh of sad contentment, and let go, let go, let go.

Huge pieces of me have died away this past year. But the parts that remain, and the human body that contains them, are left with the work of grieving the loss.

Something happened, or, rather, failed to happen, upon the release of our movie and the screening tours that followed: the world did not suddenly, as my brother Derrick would put it, “undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living.” Had you asked me at any point over the past five years if I thought What a Way to Go would actually have that effect, I would have, of course, said no. My mind has long recognized the futility of that particular wish and has known, all along, that that was never my intent. It was just a movie. A log on the fire. A voice in the great council circle.

But my body, it turns out, failed to get that particular memo, and seems to have been holding out some hope that What a Way to Go would somehow – Somehow – against all odds, explode into the Zeitgeist like the Furby or the Pet Rock, hovering in the cultural firmament like the Virgin at Fatima (but with trendy archival footage), causing blind politicians to see, lame CEOs to throw down their corporations and walk away, and a sick and leprous culture to be healed, hallelujah. My body wanted desperately to find some way to stop what it saw coming, to spare us from the loss, the pain, the horror of what we have created, to take that cup from our lips and dash it to the ground. It wanted, just as Daniel Quinn wanted in The Story of B, to find some way to “make the Earth tremble and the stones weep and the skies open up.”

Didn’t happen. Leastwise so’s I’d notice. And my body, stun-blind and deeply fried, fell to its knees at the grave of that hidden hope and sobbed into the soil. “A loss of innocence,” my friend RC called it, nailing me to the cross I’d been hiding in my pocket with four steel-cut words. It was all Sally could do to keep my spirit connected to my flesh, so strongly was the urge to cut and run. Hot soup worked wonders. And candles. And the sight of empathetic tears and the soft sighs of understanding.

A loss of innocence. Grief. And a sobbing body helped back to its feet with loving hands, to stand again in anticipation of the sun peeking out once more from behind the clouds. This is the time in which we live.

But there was more to grieve. I found, as January slid into February and February melted into March, that I could no longer do what I’d been doing. I tried, but it was gone. I could hardly read my email, let alone respond to it. Couldn’t read blogs and articles and letters. Couldn’t read books. Couldn’t stay on top of the news. Couldn’t care. I couldn’t bear to open up Final Cut Pro and try to edit anything. And I couldn’t write.

I couldn’t write!

I tried. I did try. Ideas would hit me and burn inside with a bright enthusiasm and I would open up a new document. At last! But the excitement would burn away before I could reach the end of the second sentence and I would sit there, flummoxed, mugged, as blank and demanding as the page itself, until it hit me that there was nothing else. Nothing else. I was spent. Checking over my shoulder with embarrassment, as if to make sure I had not been espied in my failure to perform, I saved and closed and quit and stood and walked away.

I couldn’t do it any more.

I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t convince. I couldn’t cajole. I couldn’t push. For some reason never made clear, the great cosmic force who picked me up five years ago and sat me down and said Here! Make this movie! had seemingly left me without so much as a quick hug goodbye. At my keyboard, staring at those blank documents, I found, inexplicably, that I was alone. Alone. As if I’d come home from college to find that my mother had died a few weeks back and they’d forgotten to drop me a line. That thing, that being, that force, that goddess, that muse, that impulse, that goad, that love, that light, that fierce and gentle power who had sat by my side while I stewed in the anxiety of what was I doing, who held me in my fear and confusion and doubt, was gone. She was gone. And I was alone. And no literary device (Todd is going to kill me for saying this!) was ever going to take her place.

Exhausted, grieving, and bereft of that which had made me who I had been, and so, therefore, bereft of identity itself, I lapsed into radio silence, another station gone missing as the fall-out circled the planet. It must have been confusing, to those who had been listening to my transmissions. I know I’ve missed you.

One primary motivation that surfaced for Sally and me as we completed the documentary was that we wanted to find our people and connect with them, those awakened souls, those flipped-switches, those mutants, those sparsely scattered last-children-in-the-woods we knew were out there. Gol dang if it didn’t work. On our screening tours, in our travels, or just through the wires in response to our film, we met and connected and sat in circle or at table and fell in love with people more whole and real and beautiful than we had dared imagine. A few have since fallen fully into our lives but most, separated by distance and time and the demands of lives lived in the machine, had forged connections with us almost wholly through the wires and tubes.

When I lapsed into radio silence, I lost these people from my life. And I missed them.

I tried. I tried to keep email conversations going. But my response times dwindled to never. I tried to re-enter the lively dialogue on Derrick’s forum but found it almost impossible to engage. And even when a good man named Paul created a discussion forum just for What a Way to Go, I couldn’t seem to find myself there. I had nothing really to say. I couldn’t do what I’d been doing. I had died for real, it seemed, and everybody knew it but my still beating heart.

Robert was gone. And my brother Rafael. Ted was gone. And Janaia. Chris and James. John. Jan and Kevin and Carla and Adam and Terry and freeacre and Roxanne and Dave and Carolyn and Bernhard. More even than these. Gone not because they had dearly departed but because I had. Gone simply because that’s what searchers do when the search is finally called off, what mourners do when the funeral has ended. Lying there in my grave, listening to their car-wheels rumble as they drove away, I could only hope that these far-flung friends would understand, and know that I love them, and trust that they would go on without me, doing the good work they do in the world.

I speak of the grave but that doesn’t really catch it. It was not death per se that had gripped me, but metamorphosis. Beneath my skin I was melting away at every level, ego and assumption and story digesting themselves from the inside out, leaving a thick soup of random images and disjointed words, concepts and values and bits of information, the raw materials from which, possibly, something new could be created. While the process is far from complete, enough new fingers have formed to work the keyboard, and enough complete thoughts to make it, maybe, worth doing so. Rather than this being a voice from beyond the grave, it’s a voice from the thickest part of the soup.

Between caterpillar and moth there is something still, something wanting to be said.

Metamorphosis. The Holometabolic Contra Dance. The Great Constitutional Do-Over. My entire self began to break down, to slump like a stick of butter left out on an August afternoon. In the face of the mass extinction into which I was born, staring into the wild eyes of oil depletion and climate chaos, my ego could no longer maintain its form. Something had to give, and it would not be reality.

It would be me.

With fingers new and words drifting into novel (for me) combinations, I can tell you now what I see from the soup, and maybe give a hint as to where I might be headed. The thing you’ll have to remember is that I don’t yet really know. I’m pretty sure it can’t be known. So all I can do is my best.

What do you expect from soup?

The first thing I see is that I could no longer do what I’d been doing for the simple reason that it was no longer accomplishing what I have come here to do. It had the look and smell of accomplishment, I’ll give it that. But that was mostly illusion. The problem is that my purpose has changed. The research, the list, the writing, the documentary, the blogs, they all worked to accomplish the goal of waking myself up, and then those others whom I could touch and impact. But “wake ‘em up” can only ever serve as the opening act of a story. OK. I’m awake. Now what happens in Act II?

If you’re playing the numbers game in an attempt to score that hundredth monkey and trigger a mass consciousness change, it makes sense, maybe, to just keep at it until, like the Lion’s Club, you reach your goal. But at some point on my long walk it finally hit me that I don’t really believe in Mass Consciousness Change ™ as a way out of our collective predicament, that “things” probably don’t really work that way, and that, in any event, it isn’t actually what I’m now called to work towards.

So while continuing to digest articles about oil or climate, or writing blogs that point out both the train and the wreck, or composing emails that attempt to explain, convince, cajole or push, while doing these things still looked and felt, for a long time, like accomplishments, at some point some part of me knew that they had ceased to serve as such. The documentary would keep on chooglin’, doing what work of awakening it would do. It’s good work. Noble work. And I love and honor those who do it still. But me, the real guy living in this moment rather than that short-haired bloke in blue jeans and a brown blazer you see in the movie who keeps going on about cheeseburgers, the me that met this particular morning with wild long hair and crusty eyes wanting a cup of coffee, that me now had something else to do.

And that spirit, that muse, who sat beside me for so long? She left the room for the simple reason that that work, and therefore her work, was done. May the gods bless her for her help. I know I do.

The second thing I see from my spot here in the soup is that I never really belonged in this realm. By “this realm” I mean this public realm, this electronic realm, this machine realm, this world of blogs and comments and listservs and forums and essays and documentaries and tours. I never belonged here. For more than one reason.

It’s funny. Having set the intention to reconnect with myself as a living creature walking the Earth, it happened. The process has been slow and clunky, to be sure, and it’s far from over, I think. I fear. I hope. But I have to report that, more and more, as days spiral around, I experience my connection to my animal, my emotional, and my spiritual self. And I find, as I shift, that my ability and willingness to interface with the rough surfaces and sharp edges of the machine declines.

I don’t belong online. I’ve become too organic, too visceral, too human to interface well in the machine realm. My body needs bodies nearby, it turns out, so close it can feel their hearts and bathe in the humidity of their tears and the glow of their smiles. Online, I start to become Machine myself: the Smartass Contraption; The Anger Apparatus; The Know-It-All Doomsday Device. My own automatics get automated, my triggers triggered, my habits inhabited and possessed and used for purposes not my own. The animal me – the sensitive, response-able, creative, living, spark-in-a-meatbag me – gets lost in that maze of gears and wires and blinking lights. Leggo my ego!

Does any of this resonate?

I find that the one thing I most crave – long and open dialogue with others willing to question their deepest assumptions and come together to find a wisdom more profound than any of us can find on our own – is the one thing I cannot seem to find online. I can find DVD rewinders. I can find a banana splitter. I can even find a fish massage. I can find argument and debate, flame-wars and trolls, opinions and experts and authorities and saviors, but I can’t find, online, the sort of dialogue I am looking for.

Of course I can’t. It ain’t the right tool for the job. Like trying to paint a kitten with a bowling ball!

As clear and conscious as I try to be, I can still quite easily get caught like a stupor-fly in the world-wide-spider-web. I get defensive. I get hurtful. I make pronouncements and pretend that I know when I do not. I toss predictions into a chaotic system and try to coax them to life by sheer force of White Guy Entitlement ™ and unacknowledged attachments. The online/public realm becomes my world-spanning strap-on ego extender, hi-jacking my ready and rigid personality structure and using it, like our misguided friends at Sherwin-Williams, to Cover the Earth ™. And my ego is still too wounded, too confused, too separate, too invested, to be given that much power.

When people first “wake up” to the present predicament they are frequently frightened and befuddled. They’re looking for things like Answers ™ and Solutions ™ and they are overly willing to listen uncritically to people who promise such things. But I’ve been at this long enough to know that I have neither answers nor solutions to give them. Ultimately, all of their answers will be personal, and can be found only in their own hearts. All of their solutions will be local, and can be found only in their own lives. The last thing they need is another White Guy ™ figuring things out and coming up with an answer and a plan and telling them what he thinks they should all do. That’s so last paradigm.

And it’s what got us here in the first place, innit?

And if I continue to put myself in the online and public realm, writing and blogging about the End of Empire™, I run the risk of staying trapped myself in the belief that I can somehow solve it, save it, stop it or supervise it (and stay, therefore, trapped in the twisted mindset that has fueled our problem: the belief that we are in control). Groomed by parents and teachers to expect a life of “big things”, raised as yet another little prince by virtue not only of my talents and abilities but my White ™ skin and my socio-economic class, told repeatedly that I “can do whatever I want to do in this world”, I am particularly prone to falling into this cultural hole. Hey! I know! I’ll make a documentary! That’ll fix it!

Nope. Been there. Done, that. I will not run that risk. I don’t think that’s my Act II, to just repeat my first Act ad nauseum.

And it hurts me, to remain in that prison when the door is wide open and the sun is shining right outside. Just as it hurts to be laughed at, ignored, called names, misunderstood or dismissed. Just as it hurts to see years of hard labor stolen in bits and torrents at the click of a mouse. Just as it hurts to fall for the same old bait and switch over and over and over again. As slight as my foray into the public realm has been, as thankful and appreciative as the response has overwhelmingly come, as gratifying as it has felt to be of some service to those who have resonated with our movie, I’m not sure it has all been good for me. It has chafed “the soft animal” of my body, as Mary Oliver would put it. And chafed, that body has recoiled.

Having been advised more than once to “harden the fuck up”, I find that, in fact and in deed, I have. And knowing that fills me with sadness, because I don’t want to harden up. I want to be the sensitized, conscious, compassionate, open, feeling creature I’ve worked, and am working, so hard to become. I want to live fully and peacefully in the vibrant and connected animal body that I put on when I first got here. And I’m not talking wimpy here. Remember the butterflies that emerge from the soup. Have you seen those suckers fly in the wind? Tough little buggers.

As far as I’m concerned, my great strength lies precisely in my ability to stay open and feel my feelings fully and deeply. “Harden up” is from the dying paradigm. Control yourself. Put up with it. Stuff it down. Quit your whining. Keep it to yourself. Stiff upper lip and all that, old chap. Your reward will be in heaven. It’s a good way to sell stuff, maybe, but not a good way for an animal to live on a planet as alive and beautiful as this one is, if you ask me.

So it may be that it’s time for me to bid “this wider life” good-bye and find my place in this place. Maybe I need to simply stop. And sit down. And be still for a long, long time. Maybe I need to be still for so long that I will be able to actually listen. And maybe, listening, I will find my way. It’s so easy, for White Guys ™ like me, to be about the business of “saving the world”. But being still. Listening. Integrating myself into a place. Being of service to that place. Protecting it. Loving it. Becoming part of it. And finally, giving my body back to it with grace and gratitude. Now that would be something big and new, wouldn’t it?

And isn’t that what this is all about, this facing into the End of Empire: becoming something new?

I spent my years as a caterpillar, digesting whole trees worth of information. I grew as large as a caterpillar can grow, as full as a caterpillar can get. And then I began to fall apart. Because that was only Act I. There was soup to make. And then, after that, who knows? Something with wings?

Somewhere in the past six months we moved across the country, pulling ourselves up the globe from South to North. We spiraled in to a beautiful spot in a magical valley, with green mountains to the East and West and a river running through it, with water in the basement and winter just around the corner. It feels right: a suitable growing zone for a soul that first landed in northern soil. The land feels alive underfoot. My feet feel alive on the land.

And I no longer feel the need to make the Earth tremble. When I stand quietly with bare feet, I find that it already does.

I could fall in love here…

Michael Moore said of What a Way to Go that he had the sense that we knew we would only have one chance to say what we had to say, so we took the time to say it fully, an observation with which I would agree. I’ve had the same sense with this blog, and have let it run as long as I needed it to for that reason. I don’t know if I’ll be back. The kick-ass blog I’ve been working on about Al Gore may never be finished. Those novels lurking in the back of my mind may never see the light of page. I may never be much good at answering email again, or editing video. I just don’t know. I don’t know what kind of creature I am becoming. I don’t know what sort of wings I’ll be wearing.

Do caterpillars, when they spot a beautiful moth overhead, think to themselves: “one day…”?

End of Act I.

Act II. The curtain rises. Onto the stage walks a tall, stooped, middle-aged man with longish, tangled hair and a beard. Dressed in baggy shorts and a ratty t-shirt from the thrift store, he takes a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, smoothes it, clears his throat and begins to read, his voice soft but sure:

Man:
I am the thistle in the field,
I am the bend in the stream,
I am the gaze of the clouds,
I am the fox on the flat,
I am the kingfisher in the sun,
I am the blush of the moon,
I am the fold in the hills,
I am the birch in the dawn,
I am the bear on the road,
I am the snow on the branch,
I am the boulder in the falls,
I am the butterfly in the gale.
Sparks in a pulsing illusion
I am part and whole and neither
And all.
Who but I will walk my path into the next paradigm?
Who else will bear my witness to the destruction of the life of an entire planet?
Who but I will grieve my grief?
Who else will protect my love?
Who will align my heart with the Great Mother and offer her my service if not I?
Who will shed my tears?
No one else.
No one.

The man stuffs the paper back into his pocket and looks out over the audience. He smiles. He waves a wave of love and gratitude and farewell. He bows a deep bow. Then he turns and walks off the stage as the curtain closes and the lights go dim.

The house lights come up and the audience stirs, mumbling about the strong smell of soup that lingers in the theater. Overhead, the soft slurry of wings can be heard and they look up to see a moth sputtering about in the lights.

Eventually it makes its way to a high window and is gone into the night.

Exeunt.

Thelma, Louise et Six Degrés

January 26th, 2010 by sally Categories: Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog No Responses

Well this is a treat. Guy Morant who, along with Kristen Lagadec, translated What a Way to Go into French (which I am busily adding now to the DVD master!), just sent me a translation of my latest blog! So here it is! I didn’t add in all the links, as my French is not that good, and the links would be to English articles anyways. I added a few key links. Hopefully those interested will follow up the others via the links in the English version. And I’ve left the comments closed, as I can’t moderate French comments. If somebody wants to comment in English, they can do so on the English version.

Portuguese subtitles are ready to go. French will follow within the next month, I think. What a Way to Go goes international…

Guy, many thanks!

Tim

This was first published 10/1/2010.

Quand je regarde un film, mon esprit joue toujours avec les mêmes questions :

En quoi est-ce l’histoire de notre époque ?
• Qu’est-ce que ce film nous raconte sur nous-mêmes, sur nos émotions intimes, nos pensées secrètes, nos désirs invisibles ?
• En quoi le réalisateur lui-même est-il conscient de ces questions ?

Parce que nous vivons un temps où les crises s’accumulent et que j’y suis sensible, je regarde la plupart des films avec ce filtre. En tant que réalisateur et analyste des cultures, c’est un risque professionnel qui me satisfait.

Tandis que se déroule le sommet de Copenhague, je remarque certains schémas dans le discours médiatique : de nouvelles analyses de la confusion et du déni, des tentatives renouvelées d’expliquer et de convaincre, des propositions de solutions cruciales et de politiques nécessaires, des rapports récents sur l’urgence de la situation. Une question me paraît traverser ces articles, essais et rapports : pourquoi n’arrivons-nous pas à ranger notre bazar quand il s’agit du changement climatique ? Pour beaucoup, l’échec de Copenhague est couru d’avance. Bon, et alors ?

Bonne question. Qui semble s’appliquer à l’embarras où nous sommes. Et qu’une vision de Thelma & Louise, ce road movie très actuel réalisé en 1991 par Ridley Scott, peut éclairer.

Allez y jeter un coup d’œil. J’attendrai.

D’accord. De retour ? Bien. Continuons.

Si la question est : pourquoi nous n’arrivons pas à ranger notre bazar quand il s’agit du changement climatique ? alors la plupart des réponses que j’entends appartiennent à trois catégories. C’est parce que nous (ou nos dirigeants) sommes :

égarés et/ou dans le déni,
• avides, sans scrupules, psychotiques, mauvais ou
• trop idiots pour continuer à vivre.

Pour moi, ce sont des explications raisonnables. L’égarement et le déni jouent certainement un rôle, comme ces autres traits humains : l’avidité, la psychose, la méchanceté et la bêtise. En regardant les films à ma façon, comme des récits de l’Impérialisme qui révèlent notre façon de voir le monde et nous-mêmes, vous trouverez des arguments décisifs pour défendre ces vues. Mais je crois qu’on peut y voir autre chose. Probablement quelque chose de plus fondamental ou d’invisible. Invisible, peut-être, parce que cela enfreint trop de règles d’en parler.

Voici ce que je vois : l’expression de notre désir de mort collectif.

Restez avec moi un moment. Je ne doute pas que nos égos soient abîmés, blessés, aliénés parce qu’ils sont nés en captivité dans ce que Derrick Jensen appelle « la culture des faux-semblants ». J’ai éprouvé cette aliénation au cœur de ma propre vie. Et après l’avoir identifiée, je l’ai vue partout autour de moi, à l’œuvre dans ce monde. Mais j’ai aussi le sentiment que mon moi véritable, mon essence, cet être bon et beau que j’étais en naissant, n’a pas été détruit. Mes sens animaux perçoivent et se déplacent dans le réel à des niveaux supérieurs et inférieurs à cet égo verbeux qui se croit aux commandes. Mon moi essentiel reste constamment relié à une réalité qui dépasse de loin toute construction mentale dont ma pensée cherche à la recouvrir.

Et si, en dehors du déni, de la bêtise ou de l’avidité où nos mots et pensées égotistes se confinent si souvent, notre corps savait exactement ce qu’il en est ? Et si nous ne pouvions pas ranger notre bazar quand il s’agit du climat parce que notre moi essentiel n’adhère pas le moins du monde à ce ce qu’on présente à nos égos pour régler ce « problème » ? Et si, à un niveau intime qui ne peut même s’exprimer, ces portions de notre être qui ne sont pas tordues, égarées ou détruites par les absurdités de l’Empire considéraient essentiellement le changement climatique, non comme un « problème », mais comme une « solution » ?

Difficile à imaginer ? Revenons à Thelma & Louise.

Ce film a été un « énorme succès critique », que metacritic.com classe comme le 88ème meilleur accueil critique de tous les temps. Il a été sélectionné pour huit Oscars et a remporté celui du meilleur scénario original. Si on a raison d’appeler ce film un « révélateur de l’esprit du temps », quelle partie de l’ « humeur essentielle de notre époque » révèle-t-il ? Approchez. Regardons la carte.

Thelma et Louise abandonnent leurs vies maltraitées, insatisfaisantes et sans amour pour une aventure d’un week-end. Suite à un tas d’amusements, Telma subit une tentative de viol, qui amène Louise à tuer l’agresseur. Certaines qu’aucun tribunal ne leur donnera raison, elle fuient, et leur tentative de gagner le Mexique tourne mal. Accumulant les délits, elles trouvent une joie inattendue dans leur vie de criminelles. Le tout aboutit à une impasse au bord d’un précipice. Prisonnières d’une situation sans solution acceptable, suspendues entre, d’une part, un escadron de policiers et un inspecteur compatissant qui a essayé de les ramener, et d’autre part le vaste inconnu de ce précipice, Thelma et Louise choisissent l’abîme. Le film s’achève ironiquement sur un arrêt sur image, tandis qu’elles s’élancent à bord de leur Thunderbird 1966 vers la seule liberté qu’elle peuvent imaginer.

Si telle est la carte, le territoire est notre monde, notre culture, nos vies. Si Thelma & Louise nous montrent l’esprit, il s’agit de celui de notre temps. Et si nous utilisons ce point de départ, les liens apparaissent facilement. Notre culture civilisée est-elle partie, à un moment donné, pour une aventure d’un week-end de joie inattendue qui a mal tourné, confrontant la planète entière à la triste situation qui est la nôtre ? Et de nombreuses personnes, surtout ici au cœur de l’Empire, ne vivent-elles pas désormais une vie si maltraitée, insatisfaite et sans amour, qu’elles sont prêtes tout pour en sortir ? Avons-nous réussi ce qu’aucune créature vivante n’a pu obtenir : nous rendre, individuellement et collectivement, malheureux ?

Ouais, on l’a fait. J’ai violé là un tabou profond, exprimé l’inexprimable. Parce qu’en réalité, nous sommes heureux, nous autres Américains. Pas vrai ?

Je veux dire, bien sûr, nous devons affronter des dirigeants corrompus, une économie folle et la fin de l’énergie bon marché. Nous devons penser au changement climatique, à la surpopulation et à l’extinction de masse. Les océans meurent, les forêts meurent, les nappes phréatiques meurent, le krill meurt, les caribous meurent, tout meurt. L’énergie nucléaire, les déchets nucléaires, les armes nucléaires et l’uranium appauvri. Les systèmes politiques, de santé, d’éducation, économiques, agricoles, d’évacuation complètement fichus. Le racisme, le sexisme, le narcissisme, le travail frénétique et le fascisme. La maltraitance des enfants, des aînés, des conjoints et des animaux. Les viols, les meurtres et les suicides. Les mères célibataires, les parents isolés et les enfants qui ont des enfants. Les dépendances, les égarements, les obsessions et les compulsions. Le chômage, le sous-emploi, les SDF et les dettes. Le travail ennuyeux et dépourvu de sens, les horaires à rallonges, les temps de transport en hausse et les salaires en baisse. Les relations insatisfaisantes, la solitude, le divorce et les foyers brisés. La maladie mentale, le stress, la suroccupation, la dépression, le désespoir, la surmédication et « l’abêtissement délibéré de l’Amérique ». L’obésité, le diabète, l’asthme, le cancer, les maladies cardiaques et autres « maladies de civilisation ». Et tout cela tourne mal, comme si la Conquête, la Guerre, la Famine et la Pestilence s’étaient répandues sur notre terrain de jeu et avaient fichu une raclée à nos joueurs.

Mais, enfin ! Nous avons aussi 24 909 chansons sur nos iPods! Nous avons des Roulades de Confit de Canard à la Réduction de Gorgonzola ! Nous avons des excursions chamaniques au cœur des Andes ! Nous avons ce nouveau film de James Cameron qui va sortir ! En 3D trop mortelle ! Ça compense, non ? C’est sûr que ça vaut quelque chose ? On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser des œufs, non ? Et le revêtement de cette Thunderbird 1966 est somptueux, pas vrai ?

Je dois m’arrêter et me demander si on n’a pas confondu confort et distraction avec joie, plénitude et sens. J’admets qu’on peut trouver des moments de confort et de bonheur même en prison. Ce qui ne signifie pas que nous ne sommes pas en prison. Je considère cela comme notre déni le plus profond, celui de la vérité de notre expérience de vie, celui que l’histoire désespérée du mode de vie américain maintient en place. Comme le dit David Edward dans son interview de Derrick Jensen,

Dans quelle prison pouvons-nous être plus en sécurité que dans celle que nous croyons être « le monde », où nous considérons que les limites à l’action ne sont pas celles de ce qui est autorisé, mais de ce qui est possible ? La société démocratique, telle que nous la connaissons, est la prison ultime : qui voudrait s’échapper d’une situation de liberté apparente ? Il en résulte que nous devons être heureux, puisque nous pouvons faire ce que nous voulons.

Copenhague se déroule. Le précipice approche…

Revenez aux dernières minutes du film. Nous finissons par découvrir la profondeur des blessures de Louise et l’étendue de sa peine . Nous assistons à la poursuite. À la tentative de fuite. À la capture finale. Nous voyons la ligne des policiers. L’hélicoptère menaçant stationne au-dessus. Les tireurs d’élite se mettent en joue. Le « bon flic » n’a pas réussi à les ramener, mais il les invective une dernière fois. Dans son micro, le « mauvais flic » leur ordonner d’abandonner. Thelma et Louise n’y croient pas. Elles en ont assez de vivre en prison.

Thelma regarde Louise. « Continuons », dit-elle.
« Qu’est-ce que tu veux dire ? »
Thelma regarde vers le précipice, opine presque imperceptiblement.
« Vas-y », dit-elle.
Des sourires et des larmes leur traversent le visage.
« Tu es sûre ? »
« Ouais. »
Elles s’embrassent, leurs visages exprimant l’amour, la peine, la terreur et la puissance.
Louise appuie sur l’accélérateur.
Elles se tiennent les mains.
Elles accélèrent vers l’abîme.
Et elles s’en vont…

Pouvons-nous nous taire un moment ?

Merci.

Je pense que Ridley Scott a raté ce moment, comme l’a si justement souligné Roger Ebert. Après avoir passé deux heures à construire cet instant, Scott n’a pu le prolonger. Plutôt que d’éprouver la tension, le chagrin, la surprise, la douleur ou la joie, l’arrêt sur image se fond trop vite dans le blanc. Et le blanc se dissout dans le générique final, la musique obsédante et des instantanés de leurs moments plus heureux. Comme le dit Ebert, « Un plan peut-il faire la différence ? Celui-ci, oui. »

Mais aujourd’hui, dans notre temps, nous avons la possibilité de corriger cet échec. En ces temps d’effondrement apparent, assis à regarder notre précipice collectif, peut-être parce que, 18 ans après la sortie du film, nous sommes encore plus désespérés, ou peut-être parce que nous ne sommes plus seuls, nous pouvons prolonger le plan que Ridley Scott avait interrompu. Nous pouvons supporter cette tension, cette surprise, cette douleur et cette joie. Nous pouvons tenir cet arrêt sur image et l’explorer jusqu’au fond du canyon en dessous. Nous pouvons contempler ce fragment caché d’esprit du temps et comprendre comment il a pu toucher si profondément le public. Et peut-être pouvons-nous apprendre ainsi ce que nous devons en apprendre aujourd’hui.

Et si nous sommes incapables de ranger notre bazar quand il s’agit du changement climatique, c’est peut-être parce que nous n’y croyons pas, comme Thelma et Louise n’y croyaient pas, malgré les promesses du type sympa en costume ou les menaces de la figure d’autorité en uniforme. Nous ne croyons pas que cette mauvaise situation pourrait être « réparée » par n’importe quelle combinaison de quotas de CO2, d’accords sur les émissions, de shopping vert, d’énergies alternatives et de nouvelles technologies.

Il y a quelques mois, les journaux télévisés se sont mis à agiter le spectre d’une élévation de la température de 4°C. Il y a seulement quelques semaines, des nouveaux rapports annonçaient que nous allions vers les 6°C si rien ne changeait. Une autre étude indiquait que les émissions mondiales de CO2 avaient augmenté de 29% depuis neuf ans, montrant notre détermination à continuer ainsi. Avec six degrés, nous entrons dans le domaine de l’extinction du Permien, au cours de laquelle environ neuf dixièmes des formes de vie de la planète nous ont quittés.

Cela semble…. invraisemblable que des dirigeants corrompus et déments puissent être à la hauteur dans de tels domaines, tandis que l’énergie, l’environnement et l’économie se mettent à nous filer entre les doigts, comme si nous les avions en main auparavant. La Conquête, la Guerre, la Famine et la Pestilence ont fini par arriver au clubhouse. Difficile de croire que la porte cadenassée tiendra le coup.

Et je me demande si nous ne doutons pas collectivement de toute tentative de réparation du problème visant à préserver la culture de l’Empire. Collectivement, je pense que nos corps n’y croient pas. Sain d’esprit, notre moi essentiel n’y croit pas. Les iPods et le confit de canard NE compensent PAS le prix de nos âmes emprisonnées et de la destruction du vivant. Pour nous libérer de notre folie collective, nous ne pouvons, hélas, attendre qu’une catastrophe planétaire.

Nous n’avons pas le droit de le dire tout haut, même à nous-mêmes. Il est bien trop douloureux de voir à quel point nous sommes un peuple malheureux, perdu, blessé, enlisé. Et combien nos vies ont peu de sens. Dans Quelle fin absurde, nous demandions :

« Détruisons-nous la planète, comme se le demande Dmitri Orlov, seulement “pour obtenir un peu plus de confort pendant quelque temps” ? »

C’est insupportable. Et de fait, pourquoi agirions-nous ainsi ? Warren Zevon avait peut-être raison. Si la planète fait voile vers les six degrés, « comme l’affirment les mystiques et les statistiques », pourquoi ne pas s’en aller comme des forcenés, le pied sur le champignon, cheveux au vent, emportant l’Empire dans notre chute ?

Et « que le ciel aide celui qui part. »

En fin de compte, je pense que nous ne croyons pas, en corps et en esprit, que seule existe cette « réalité physique » : dirigeants corrompus, folie du système, du travail, du shopping, du sexe et de la mort. Nous ne croyons pas dans ce « matérialisme », ce monde mort, cette abolition de la magie, cette perte de sens. Nous n’y croyons pas. Les coûts sont trop élevés. Les bénéfices trop maigres. Aux marges de notre science, de telles notions sont de plus en plus remises en question. Tant d’anomalies se sont accumulées dans les coins qu’on ne peut presque plus atteindre la porte. Nous sentons encore, malgré les idioties dont on nous a gavés, un Cosmos bien plus merveilleux que les types en costume ou en uniforme peuvent l’imaginer.

En effet. Retournez à la dernière scène. Regardez de près. Regardez le visage de Thelma. Regardez la réaction de Louise. L’excitation mêlée de terreur. L’émerveillement conjugué avec la peine. La douleur de blessures si profondes qu’elles nous conduisent au précipice. Si Thelma et Louise s’en éloignent dans leur acte final, elles s’y dirigent aussi. C’est dans leurs yeux. Elles s’en aperçoivent. Au-delà de ce précipice, il y a non seulement la fin de cette folie, mais aussi le début de quelque chose de nouveau. Un pas dans ce cosmos inconnu qui ne nous a jamais abandonnés, même alors que nous l’abandonnions. Plonger dans un précipice n’est pas un acte de contrôle. C’est un acte d’intention. D’abandon. De confiance.

Le changement climatique mettra probablement la pagaille, mais il nous tirera au moins de ce cauchemar pour nous emmener dans un lieu nouveau.

Appuyez sur la pédale.

« Allez-y ! »

Comprenez-moi bien, et je crois que vous me comprendrez. Je veux seulement souligner que, vues d’ici, ces forces sont à l’œuvre dans nos cœurs. Je sais qu’elles le sont dans le mien. Je ne sais pas du tout si Thelma et Louise ont fait le bon choix. Je ne sais pas si nous « devrions » appuyer sur la pédale, quel qu’en soit le sens. Si les tendances actuelles se confirment, elles détruiront bien plus que des êtres humains Elles l’ont déjà fait. Certes, je souhaiterais effacer cette culture seulement, plutôt que la plus grande partie du vivant. Comme l’a dit Derrick Jensen dans Quelle fin absurde :

Tant de gens sont si malheureux. Ils veulent que ce cauchemar prenne fin. Ils ne s’aperçoivent pas que la mort qu’ils appellent est une mort culturelle, spirituelle et métaphorique.

Ce désir de mort existe et fait partie de notre époque ; j’affirme que Thelma & Louise a justement mis le doigt dessus, et que c’est ce qui a pris les spectateurs à la gorge et permis au film d’obtenir l’Oscar du meilleur scénario original. Notre misère collective et le désir de mort culturelle qu’elle engendre sont suspendus dans le grand arrêt sur image de notre situation. Si le fondu au blanc est trop rapide, si nous tenons à repasser les instantanés de temps plus heureux, nous manquerons la vérité profonde de ce moment et les enseignements que nous pourrions en tirer.

Nous pouvons échouer à y répondre par déni, par avidité ou par bêtise. Ce sont les suspects les plus probables. Mais cet échec peut aussi tirer son origine du désir profond de nos corps et de la sagesse de nos âmes. Quelle qu’en soit la raison, nous ne croyons pas, dans nos réactions collectives, à ce qu’on nous propose. Nous ne sommes pas pressés de « sauver la civilisation ». Nous devrions peut-être nous demander pourquoi.

Si nous reconnaissons ce désir de mort, si nous admettons notre misère collective, en tant que conquis et en tant que conquérants, et si nous laissons émerger la vérité de cette culture qui nous conduit vers l’abîme pour accéder à une prise de conscience, nous pourrions obtenir un choix qui pour le moment nous échappe. C’est une possibilité. Je ne crois pas que nous l’ayons beaucoup explorée.

Assis dans une Thunderbird 1966 au bord d’un précipice, nous contemplons l’abîme d’une situation sans issue. Aucun des choix que nous pouvons imaginer n’est acceptable.

Et maintenant ?

Traduit par Guy Morant

(First published January of 2010)