Archive for December, 2008

Guiding & Implementing Change

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Greetings, as we together come up to the New Year.

It has always seemed to me, however, that the new year begins with Solstice and the start of the days getting longer.  The idea of it beginning at the start of a certain month like January has always seemed both artificial and arbitrary.  My objections aside, a new calendar year has arrived.  And as with it as with every single day of our lives, comes a chance to do things wholly differently, to awaken and make choices that spur difficult but satisfying changes.

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Guiding & Implementing Change

A big difference between the practice of Animá and other ways of being, is not only the acceptance of the process of change constantly going on in and around us, but also a conscious commitment to instigate and give form to that process, taking responsibility for radically altering our lives to better serve our spirits and honor our vision and needs… and to better the world we are an inextricable part of.  This is never easy.  Few people enjoy disruptive alterations of our immediate environments, let alone the buffeting winds of transition or the scary falling away of old skin and old habits as we metamorph into new shapes and roles.  In addition, it can be hard on anyone around us who might be clinging to a static form, the friends who prefer us predictable, the elder parents with their expectations, employers who fear originality and independent thinking, the spouses who might rather deny their mate’s complexity and evolution and keep the marriage in a manageable box.

Imagine that this is the start of the first year of your awake life, and you have the power to do anything you want with it so long as you can deal with the consequences.  Imagine also that it might be the last year of your life, with an unforeseen accident or disease in danger of ending it.  Now act accordingly… and begin to notice, reap and savor the adventure, growth and reward.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin  (www.animacenter.org)

 Copy and share as you like.

(photo of magician and artist in Animá studio (c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

In Every Season: the Richness of Winter -by Kiva

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

treehouse-in-snow.jpgIn Every Season: the Richness of Winter

In the Winter, the willows by the river turn red and purple — brilliant wands against the golds and browns of the canyon. Closer up, you can see the soft white and silver of their buds, round and tight as if Spring were coming almost any day now. The closer to the roots you get, the lighter the purple until the bark nearly is nearly lavender where it grows from the cool, wet ground.

There’s the illusion that everything is dead and quiet in the cold season, but in reality the air still tingles with the scent of Alders and Cottonwoods, baby plants peek from under Autumn’s brown leaves and the color and texture of bark and leaf seems to change almost daily. While certainly not a season of proliferation and rapid growth, the Winter remains alive and vibrant under the snow. I gather Nettles and Wild Mustard greens, Elm bark and Yucca roots. In the coldest months of the year, I place my bare fingers on the cold, frozen ground and I can still feel the pulse of life beneath the surface. Under the soft, wet fall of fat snowflakes, the lichen swell and expand, even fruiting in what seems like the most unlikely of weather. In shades ranging from orange to gold, sage to lime green to grey, they cling to rocks and trees with fierce tenacity through rain and ice, sucking in every spare bit of moisture, and glowing with the vibrant life that it brings.

It’s hard to see these things locked away indoors, keeping warm by the wood fire and working through the short days and long evenings. The illusion might hold itself more intact if I’d just stay inside like a proper modern human. But when I wander out of doors, tracing my fingers across frosted tree bark and stroking the long intricate threads of the Usnea lichen, it’s hard to imagine this landscape as anything close to dead, or even truly asleep. Intensity, color, texture, scent and most of all -life- springs from every surface, uncoils and blooms from every rock crevice and hollow stump. Even in the slow decay of leaves mouldering on the forest floor, life is evident and thriving in the bacteria slowly consuming and remaking from discarded plant matter to rich soil. Scraping a thin layer of slush away from the ground underfoot, I find vivid green moss, swollen and soft with moisture, drinking the abundance deep down.

It’s easy to make a habit out of hiding out in the house when the weather outside seems less than ideal, but we miss so much beauty and wonder that way. The breathtaking shift and play of light during storms is surely best observed out in the rain rather than from behind the window glass  and the interaction of plant and water can really only be seen close up, preferably down on your hands and knees, face close to the earth. The scent of fresh fallen snow is most intense standing out in a newly white meadow or lying down in thickly blanketed pine forest. These are experiences that can only be had by active participation with the natural world. No movie, book or second hand description will do. It’s like love or eating, an active experience in which we – our individual selves- are necessary. Too many of us glean our knowledge, our perspective, our memories and often even our physical experience of life through the books we read, the films we watch and the glossy pages of magazines but a life well-lived is not the stuff of books or documentaries no matter how informative, pleasing or complex.  It is woven of personal, physical, very intense experience. A thousand thoroughly read Westerns will not give you even the slightest sense of the real rhythm of riding a running horse or the scent of the prairies after a summer rain. The books may give us an idea of what to expect or even provide us with the details on how to saddle the horse or an in-depth description of the appearance or botany of a wildflower. Stories evoke and inspire, prod and provoke, but they are no replacement for the actual gallop or bloom. Living is a body-wide, self-enveloping sensation that engages every part of us, so rich with subtleties and feelings we are left breathless, savoring even as we immerse ourselves in the next moment as it arrives… in the now.

So brave the cold and wind, bundle up and plunge out into the wintery wildness of outside and go find what pine tree smells like in the rain, or how the leaves of plants turn remarkable, brilliant colors under feet of snow. Press your cheek to the rough tangle of a lichen and listen to the murmur of life as the sun peeks through the clouds and warms your face.

~Kiva

The Last Flower: Honoring Endings as well as Beginnings

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

vervaininwinter-sm.jpgThe Last Flower:
Honoring Endings as well as Beginnings

by Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)

Today cold descends like a curtain on the last act of the Fall play, after yesterday’s warm and raging winds stripped even the most tenacious seeds from the canyon’s stalwart plants.  Not all greenery has left us, of course.  On the north facing side of the river, giant ponderosa pines remain as brilliant as the emerald and jade tones of Summer.  And on this side of the coursing Sweet Medicine, piñon and juniper boughs blaze through even a garnish of snow, cactus use their tricks to avoid freezing and stay as succulent as ever.  Meanwhile, the young elderberries we planted finally rest their leaves and learn to take comfort in their roots, as riverside alders withdraw into themselves and the ever-green bottoms of weedy artemesia dig in with their long toes against the pull of death and the tug of Winter.

We too respond by hunkering down, centering our energies in the glowing core of our tiny warm cabins, postponing most outdoor chores while reviving domestic projects long ignored.  With several sunless days predicted, we also draw back from the busy junctures of cyberspace, putting any letter we write into the “Send Later” folder as we keep the satellite receiver turned off to slow the depletion of our stored electric power.  There is lots of news lately about the vagaries of the national economy, and we too deal with a shifting balance of resources, the ups and downs of rain barrels and the fire wood pile, the periods of saving power up for later and then spending it carefully when the clouds block the sun’s rich amperage.

It occurs to me how quick we are to celebrate the beginnings of things, from the start of relationships to the birth of a child, and yet how seldom we honor the culmination of a marriage or career that no longer serves us, the final hours of a long valued project, a friend’s natural dying or a season’s storm driven end.  There is a miracle worthy of note is the fall of dark as well as dawn’s first light, in the curling fallen leaf as much as the first bud, in not only the eruption of Spring’s new blossoms but also in the humble glory of the year’s concluding flower.

Not far from this scribe’s den, there smiles a tiny purple vervain, verdant and colorful against an increasingly gray and brown background, the surrounding scene dressed in an overcoat of cast-off foliage and bent-over branches.  In a hurry to accomplish some important task, I still had to come to halt, bend over, acknowledge and give thanks for those things past that make possible our present.  How could I not… I – a bard of nature’s forgotten songs – struck breathless by the celebratory emanations from the last of this season’s canyon flowers.

The ReWilding: Part 6 (of 6): The Wild Leap

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

“Rewilding,” a term coined by Animá Center’s Jesse Wolf Hardin in 1976,  first saw print in in 1986 in the following serialized essay.  As a result, Wolf was assigned to write the Rewilding entry on page 1383, Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).  Given the current economic and social conditions, this way of being and living is more crucial and urgent than ever.  I encourage you to forward this 6 part series to others, by clicking on the “Share This Post” button below.  Blessings.      -Kiva Rose

 

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 The Rewilding Part 6:   Wild Leap

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“Even so, the spirit voices are singing,
their thoughts are dancing in the dirty air.
Their feet touch the cement, the asphalt
delighting, still they weave dreams upon our
shadowed skulls, if we could listen.
If we could hear.
Let’s go then, Let’s find them. Let’s
listen for the water, the careful gleaming drops
that glisten on the leaves, the flowers. let’s dance
the dance of feathers, the dance of birds..”

-Paula Gunn Allen

One Fall I spent long hours at the base of the volcanic cliffs near our canyon home.  Rising some 300 feet from the river’s edge, they look like the stilled froth of a once liquid mountain, of igneous flows that so long ago gulped and pulsed in glowing molten delight.  They’re home to a clan of cliff swallows, amazing birds that create plaster nests out of spit and dirt, gluing them sixty feet or more up the sheer face of the rock.  I was bemused by the antics of the baby swallows inside them, chirping away for all they are worth while the mothers soared in aerial displays or charmed them with bits of food from their mouths.  Some of the nests were built flush to the rock, while others hung down like clay baskets in the wind.

The young swallows, wildly flapping their spindly wings, would rush around their nests in preparation for that fateful first flight.  Of course, running in circles can hardly be construed as training in the fine art of flying.  What they were actually doing was developing “a case of attitude,” getting up the necessary “chutzpah” to do the seemingly impossible.  So high up from the ground, the test was “pass or fail,” with no room for incomplete gestures or subsequent regrets.  Time and again I was startled by their mad dashes to the edge.  One by one they would get up the nerve and take off into the unforgiving skies, bobbing around clumsily before catching feel of their wings and soaring away.

Every one, that is, except for the tiniest one of all.

In my life I’ve consistently championed the small kids on the playground and the runts of the litter.  And I’ve been known to take risks in behalf of the littlest of the little guys: the beaten and extirpated members of other species.  So naturally my sympathies went out to this last of the feathered siblings, as I cheered-on with all my heart its numerous attempts at takeoff.  Again and again it would run out to the lip of its nest, but always caving in at the final second as if crippled by some unconquerable sense of self-doubt.  I knew that it couldn’t remain in the warm confines of its abode forever.  Sooner or later the mother swallow would cease to bring food to its hesitant offspring, and the familiar and once safe nest would ultimately serve as the agent of its demise.

Time after time it would bravely scurry forward, only to fall back again.  On its fateful final try it ran all the way up on the edge, before wildly flapping its wings in an eerie attempt to regain its balance.  Only this time, the little bird had come too far to turn back, and my heart seemed to stop as the bird’s momentum carried it over the side.  I watched helplessly for what seemed like an eternity, the bird dropping in slowly expanding circles before finally landing with a pronounced and pitiful “thud” on the flesh-toned rocks at my feet.

A few days later, I left my precious home for yet another series of talks and workshops, doing my best to be worthy of the source and reservoir of my life’s inspiration.  I remained troubled, however.  What lesson could there possibly be in this failure of the “little guy,” the seemingly meaningless death of that precious baby swallow?  What message could there be that might sustain me on my trip away, or help inspire the crowds of people who would be gathered to hear what I had to say?

The answer came at last, flowing clear and purposeful like the sweet-medicine river itself:  Sometimes the only difference between falling – and flying — is hesitation!

I share this tale now because like that nest of cliff swallows, both our society and we personally may be at a crux, a pivotal juncture upon which ours and the greater human future depends.  Certainly those myriad social forms based on denial of the abyss or most resistant to change, are the most likely to fall.  And one by one, we may come to recognize the ways in which we are ourselves increasingly teetering on a precarious edge, where moving boldly forward into the unknown is terrifying, but where denial or hesitation could cost us our lives.  On the other hand, awaiting our fateful leap is a wilder way-of-being as meaningful and deep as the canyon, as expansive as the beckoning sky.

In the Animá tradition, we teach that every moment is a decisive moment, not just those key times in our lives considered major crossroads like choosing a career path, or determining whether or not to stay in an unsupportive marriage.  When we are fully embodied, sentient and conscious, every minute is purposeful, and nearly every act deliberate.  This includes where we choose to be or who we choose to be around, and how we will act in every situation.  Even resting in a hammock is a purposeful act, undertaken for rest and nourishment, for the pleasurable sensation of swaying in the breeze or the nap that will give us strength for the day’s remaining tasks… rather than our unwillingly collapsing onto a couch when we can go no further,  and feeling vaguely guilty for lying down.

That said, there are some decisive moments with far more significance or far greater harmful or beneficial consequences.  Certainly, that would include how we respond in times of pronounced danger, when another driver suddenly swerves into your lane, a boyfriend starts to get abusive, or a fire is spreading through the house.  So too, the healthy decision to leave that boyfriend, to change a university major or face the costs of quitting school in order to pursue a life as a farmer or a father, a musician or person with a mission.  And to get out of a figurative “bad relationship” with those perceptions and systems known to be ultimately abusive to ourselves or the people and planet that we love.

For increasing numbers of our kind these days, the developing global ecological and economic situation is not only amply threatening to provoke reconsideration of every practical aspect of our existence, from the ways we make money to the size and kinds of vehicles we drive… but also can lead us to the question of what matters most in life.  The size of the closets or age of our clothes can seem so important in times of assured income, but as soon as that income stream slackens, keeping usable rubber on the family’s only car and glasses for the children’s eyes quickly become the priority.  And if that income stops altogether, the only thing that may feel truly relevant anymore is the securing of a steady supply of food for the plate.

The progressive malfunctioning of 21st Century economic and social systems is and will continue to be a cause of pain that we would never wish on anybody… and yet like nearly all things it brings with it lessons, benefits and blessings.  So long as there seemed to be a surplus of gas, raw materials, credit and funds, there was scant likelihood of a majority making any substantive changes in the way or the amount they consumed, to take into account the effects of their personal lifestyle and political acquiescence on those in other regions of the country and world, on the diminishing wild salmon that we love to eat, on the air we breathe and the aquifers that we drink from.  Only when necessary or desired items become unavailable or too expensive to afford, does there seem to be sufficient impetus to maintain, mend and adapt what we already have, or to weigh the convenience of disposable products against durability of goods manufactured to last.  And only when the usual means for comfort, placation, avoidance and distraction begin to fail – when all pretense of a safety net disappears – are most of us sufficiently both alerted and disrupted to abandon ill-serving habits and props, to question that rules and laws that bind us, to explore new directions in thinking or ways of doing… or to assess our real needs and plumb our dreams, then seek for once to fulfill them.

And so it would seem to be for society as a whole, generally driven to change only through necessity, the bloodied as well the bloodless revolutions, the overturning of regulations and unleashing of initiative, the thinking outside of the box and consideration of innovation, the creation of intimate alliances as well as the empowering of the individual, the purging reassessment of long vaulted values and beliefs, the trauma of collapse and possibilities that attend every new beginning.  We and the society we have partnered with, now seem perched precariously on the crumbling lip of that young swallow’s daunting abyss, charged with collectively choosing between flying forward bravely and enthusiastically into the unknown, or else continuing to cling to habitual but ever more brittle and undependable structures instead.

“Again you say, why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization!”
-Crazy Horse

It’s important to understand that abusive systems and personal disempowerment are not social aberrations that a benign evolving civilization seeks to rectify, but are in actuality some of the more unpalatable defining characteristics of a civilized paradigm as resistant as concrete to change.  Indeed in the end, adamant liberty and quiet servitude, personal wildness and de-naturing domestication are not a dichotomy to be solved but a decision to be made.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, makes a deliberate if subconscious choice whether or not to desensitize, to live confined by propriety, temerity and schedule, or to subject ourselves to the unreassuring but surprising possibilities of our natural selves.  To fit in rather than be outstanding.  To acquiesce to outside powers in order to avoid the demands of responsibility, or else to act like and insist on the rights of a truly free person.  And all too many of us have traded responsive, sensate and celebratory human wildness for the perceived comforts and distractions of the modernist, global technoindustrial paradigm that is even now defaulting on its inflated promises to us.

Which way we decide on, and whether or not we ever change our minds, depends on our criteria… and criteria is always determined by what we find most valuable.  When all the support systems seem in place and the paychecks are coming in time, we may ask if a thing is “easy, legal, bankable, acceptable or fashionable.”  When times are shaky, we are more likely to ask “Is it edible, practicable, salable or tradable?,” and “Is it safe, predictable, repeatable, comforting, reassuring?”  Under either of these circumstance, a rewilded person or willful child is just as likely to wonder “Does it taste right? Does it sing, laugh, resonate?  Is it free, beautifully and gracefully embodying its own nature?  Is it real, authentic, intensely itself?  Does it feed and fan, or deaden and dilute our spirit? Does it excite our potential, or cramp our personal expression and style?”  And “Can you dance to it?”

Choosing the illusory security of conformity and handing over power to vested authorities can in fact be terribly perilous, making us victims of or subject to events rather than co-creators of our world and our reality.  But committing to wildness, individual expression and personal responsibility can be just as scary.  Discovering one truth about our authentic selves or the conspiratorial workings of political and economic systems, can call into question the credibility and intentions of every other aspect.  Beginning with recognition of our unmet inner needs or the exposure of a banker’s or president’s lie, we may shift our perception enough that all kinds of inconsistencies and injustices can then be seen… and at that point we may find that the entire set of “facts” and assumptions our very lives have been based on are actually crumbling beneath us.

There are more reasons to be concerned than simple disorientation or existential alienation.  The wild man/woman inside you may spook your friends, walk off the job to become an artist or soothsayer or happy-go-lucky vagrant.  He or he may make decisions internally, only in the moment and from the gut, without a thought for future dilemmas or past foibles.  Laugh too loud in a social situation.  Tell it like it is even at the risk of discomforting others, or demonstrate untimely or inappropriate desires.  They are apt to eat with their hands at times, luxuriating in the feel as well as the smell and taste and cha-cha of colors in the bowl, and to innocently expose adult duplicity by telling the truth like a child.  They can be genuine and candid at great cost to career, relationships and social standing.  Such wildness can admittedly result in a misdemeanor ticket for frolicking in the downtown fountain, or cause us to respond to a Summer breeze by running barefoot in the grass.

The rewilded people I know are  inevitably impatient with packaging, and intolerant of closed spaces.  They may get testy if placed in a room without windows, and tend to climb trees at any age.  They love dirt, and yet spend an inordinate amount of time in a bathtub.  They defy stereotypes and demand attention.  They can be the loudest and the quietest, either gregarious or solitude seeking, or both silly and wise.  They have been heard to purr or growl when they make love and bite in bed, to readily rise to defend their loved ones and indulge in every creative medium.  In fact, they are mediums, venturing between the magical realms that exist simultaneously on this plane.  They find it easy to say “no!”, while the rest of the time they may radiate “yes!” to experience, chance and possibility.  I’ve seen them take pleasure in their aging as well as in their persistent childishness, in the passage of the seasons as well as the blooming of every flower.  They’ve learned or are learning to be comfortable with their shape and scent, their most natural weight and bodily processes, and even the most easily aggravated among them seem excited to open their eyes each new day.  They are thoroughly themselves most of the time, resulting in their often becoming either self employed or communal, entertainers or loners, group leaders or expatriates.  They can be fiercely self disciplined, but never respond well to discipline and manipulation from others.  They’re most likely uncertified and unofficial, are both understood less and paid less than other people in their situation, and might be either unreasonably suspect or exceptionally loved.  They may or may not yet describe themselves as wild, yet they have broken the spell of domestication and learned to trust their feelings and instincts, have refused to continue being victims or bystanders and become participants again, have turned to their own values and knowings for authority and chosen to risk pain or censure in order to greater experience life’s adventure, beauty and pleasure.

The rewilded among us may be hard working but they don’t usually have a career.  What they hold is a purpose, with their jobs being either an extension of that purpose or simply a means to fund their larger mission in life.  They are sometimes street people, hunting and gathering in dumpster laden lots, or preaching their atypical sermons to the ranks of nonbelievers marching down the sidewalks to their high-rise offices.  Over-managed kids who managed to run away.  Disgruntled professors who quit their positions to become organic farmers and rock and roll drummers.  Anarchistic primitivists and unrepentant outlaws.  But they are just as likely to be rule-bucking preschool teachers trying to give their students something more than the stock curricula, like a belief in their personal vision and confidence in their power.  Radical scientists escaping harmful preconceptions and overturning entrenched, institutionalized ideas.  Patriots or liberators.  Conservationists and activists, caring counselors and crucial community healers.

For all the difficulties of rewilding in this age of perverse denaturing – of reclaiming freedom and self reliance in an era of control, surviving and thriving through the dissolution of so much that we once counted on – it is nonetheless a choice and transition providing immediate rewards.  For the rewilded, every wonderful or telltale smell is discerned, and not a single shapely cloud passes unnoticed.  Sex becomes more present and wholly expressed, the kiss lingers, the hug can be an end to itself.  Colors appear more alive, meals more flavorful.  Acts become more spontaneous, heartful commitments and relevant relationships more satisfying.  And immediately, the rewilded are better equipped to respond in the moment to shifting conditions.  To make their own right decisions free of supervision, and take pride in themselves without needing anyone else’s recognition, approval or applause.  To grow their innate abilities and maximize their situational effectiveness.  To distinguish official lies and discern hidden realities, protect and defend themselves from expected and unexpected threats, uncover a bounty in times of scarcity, dance even in the absence of music, and yet hear music in everything.

Of course, knowing and even being able to describe the magic of the world is not enough to guarantee that we always engage it.  An ecophilosopher friend of mine talks about being motivated by a sense of loss due to the destruction of the natural world.  But seeing him discoursing here in this powerful canyon where I live, without adequately sensing and interacting with the unique energies of the place, made me believe his sense of loss stems as much from being caught up in his head while the wildness he writes about is calling him outside.  Wisdom is not a matter of how much we know or how well we evoke, but the depth and quality of our conscious interaction.  Just as the richest are not those who own the most things, but those who most learn from, utilize, savor and celebrate what they have.  Not the person with the fullest pantry, but those who most fully taste what they’ve got.  Life presents all its flavors only to the embodied, present and wild… only to those who dare to fully notice, feel, engage, open to and receive the palpable gifts of this world.

So often, what it takes to get us fully in our bodies and conscious beings is a personal life crisis, a combination of failed jobs and marriages, an emotional response such as professionals once called a “nervous breakdown.”  Real engagement and change usually comes with the desperate reappraisal of coveted norms, when an author’s books flop more likely than when they are selling well, or when a revealing of hypocrisy undermines lifelong prescriptive dogma.  So it is with cultural, economic and political paradigms, that seem to go on endlessly until the fundamental underlying principals and promises collapse.  The chance for a new sustainable human society is made possible and more likely due to the widespread bank failures and resulting global recession, heightened insecurity and challenge… the societal equivalent of the traumatic personal breakdown.  We may or may not be entering what the Mayan and Hopi prophecies refer to as a time of “cleansing,” paying the price for our separation and denial as forewarned by the Kogi gate keepers.  But the current disruptive conditions are at the very least an opportunity for our remembering and reclaiming, restoring, re-visioning, reshaping and rewilding of self, society and place unparalleled in modern human history.

The jump we are called to make is frightening, but no more so the ultimately deadening effects of continued recalcitrance and flailing hesitation.  Besides, it is our calling to attempt the impossible!  And it is time to expect a miracle, even as we continue diligently working to influence the direction of change.  If we are to believe in magic, in our fairy tale of a more empowered, natural self and liberatory world, then we must also believe in happy endings.  Ours is the shared wild covenant, together reaping the whirlwind of heightened awakeness and sensation, responsibility and purpose… determining what in our lives and our society to let go of and which to keep, as we each take that wild leap.

——————

(Animá Cliffs photo (c)2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Animá Definitions: Money, Technology & Work

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Money, Technology & Work

 

By Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)

oldbottles1tweaked-sm.jpgNo matter what careers we choose, or what we ever do to make money, we really only have one job: the fullest actualization of our authentic beings – in service to each other, to divine Spirit and the living, feeling Earth.  Technology is a set of tools that increase the efficiency of our work, tools with consequences and ramifications that we can consciously decide when to reject or employ.  Work is what we do to fulfill our assignments and purpose.  It is our song, our dance, our gift to the world beyond our selves.  And money is simply one measure of productivity, perhaps necessary for us to live, but never the reason for our lives.  Like any energy we can gather and hoard it for personal gain, or direct it for the betterment, balance and bliss of the entire world.

The Physics of Money, & What it Means To Be Rich

When my friends and I were teenagers in the 1960’s we could already see how much of what folks called “being rich” came at the expense of old-growth forests and fragile wetlands, underpaid laborers in South Korea and the homeless huddling on America’s streets.  We liked to rant about “crass materialism,” which we defined as “having more belongings and toys than free hours to enjoy them in.”

It  took the Zen sage Alan Watts to set me straight on the term, one day at a party aboard a Sausilito house-boat.  He motioned me over, and asked me to feel the beautiful fabric of a hand woven robe, the raised silk embroidery and deftly braided edges.

“A real materialist,” he explained, “is someone who notices and relishes the actual material of this wondrous world.”  He took a slow sip of hot tea, smelling and savoring it, before beginning the task of filleting the night’s salmon.

In the ensuing years I’ve come to realize there is nothing necessarily noble about being poor, nor is there anything special about having money.  The poor are not always more grateful, nor does having a good income mean one is oblivious or uncaring.  What’s important is how rich we are in the things that matter most, how closely we pay attention to them, and how truly grateful we are!

I remember that even when I was a little boy I couldn’t understand anyone with a big bank account and sad eyes.  It hurt to watch them making up for a lack of self love, or the absence of a personal mission, by buying more things.  And it hurt worse to see them not really taking the time to daily appreciate the crafted wood and expensive fabrics they’d surrounded themselves with, not really taking pleasure in the many objects that they had bought.

So when does one have too many things?  When we can’t remember what all we have.  When we have things we never use, things that have no sentimental meaning to us.  When we can’t take the time to learn its story, and its history.  When we can’t find any way to use them to make our lives or the world a little more beautiful, a little more healed.

So when does one have too much money?  When we have no other purpose for it besides easing our fears and insecurities about the future.  When we seem to live to make money, giving all our time and focus to it, instead of making money in order to better live.

No matter what we may have heard, money isn’t really the “root of all evil.”  It’s just a symbol for the many uses that we put it to— whether it’s spent on screwing things up or making them better, on making our immediate world uglier and lonelier or more wonder-full and caring.  Money is most valuable to the degree that it provides us with a more meaningful and manifest life, useful for some greater purpose than simply our own personal survival and comfort.  There are magical spells and practices to help attract money into our lives, but most importantly, we need to find new ways of making magic happen with the money we have!

Without the strength of our intentions, cash is nothing but cold paper and shivering change.  American dollars are far too stiff to make rags, and don’t burn well enough to start a life-saving fire before the big hundred-year snowstorm hits.  In other words, they have no real value outside of their ability to pay for real nourishment for our bellies and eyes, hearts and and souls–  to secure land, to fund a campaign for justice or wilderness, or to help us make dreams come true!  Being rich, then, is never a matter of how much we have of anything.  It’s how much pleasure we get out of what we’ve got, how much these things deepen the significance of our lives, and how much good we do for others and for this Earth with what we make and own.  Rich is the Seeker who follows his heart, the teacher or child who does her part.

The very richest will always be those who give the most.  And those richest in experience and purpose, in wisdom and understanding.  In magical experiences and wild places.  In compassion and truth.  In family and home.

Technology: Tool & Choice

We live in a decidedly technological age, an era in which almost everything we do makes use of or is influenced by the wonders of industry and science.  Being neutral in character, this powerful force can be used to create everything from important new medicines for AIDS to satellite surveillance and government mind control, from the long lasting solar electric panels to nuclear blasts brighter than the sun.  Brain implants can be used by doctors to help patients control their seizures, or by an intrusive world government that seeks complete control over our behavior.  Because technology is a double-edged sword we must try to be conscious of its effects on we who wield it.  On the human psyche and the diversity of culture.  On other species and greater environment.  On the course of evolution and the manifest will of the inspirited Earth.  It’s relatively easy to call into question the accelerated development of weapons of mass destruction, or even much of the digital distraction that so often passes for home entertainment.  But the implications and results aren’t always so obvious.

A person grows stronger by pulling a load, pushing hard against an obstacle, or having a difficult mountain to climb.  Thus by promising us ease and comfort, technology threatens to take away the very sources of our strength.  It promises the possibility of us living hundreds of years through the use of synthetic bionic parts, and yet it is our awareness of the finite nature of life– of how relatively short our life spans are– that we come to fully appreciate, value, and concentrate on each precious present moment.  It can accelerate our day to day activities and increase our production, but unless we take careful countermeasures we may find ourselves experiencing things on a more superficial level, having no time for the depth of relationship and understanding that lead to wisdom and enlightenment.  Because technology gives us the means to manipulate appearance, we find ourselves increasingly surrounded by the artificial, with a reduced capacity to know the difference.

The most “appropriate” technology, then, is that which uses up the least resources and does the least damage, while accomplishing the most good.  Appropriate means not “efficient” so much as beneficial and beautiful– leading us not away from self, Earth and Spirit, but ever deeper into the experiences we think of as “natural” or “spiritual.”  Likewise, the most “sustainable” technology is not the longest lasting, but that which helps sustain the spirit and dignity of human life, of other life forms, our besieged environment and this sacred planet Earth.

The Apple laptop I write this on was created out of plastics made from oil, which contributes to the pressure for more drilling in sensitive places like the pristine Arctic National Refuge.  There’s environmental damage and pollution associated with the production of its computer chips, and those hours spent on it writing about spirit and the natural world are hours that could have been lived outside, directly engaged in the spiritual quest.  Does this mean that those working to save the Earth and heal human kind should reject the latest tools of technology, leaving them to those who would manage or even destroy our planet home?  Of course not.  Nor should we ignore or deny the personal, social and environmental damage caused by these tools.  Instead, we can both compensate and make amends– by making the most of them, for all the best reasons.  To justify their existence, to qualify their use, we need only dedicate them to purposes that are generous enough, curative enough, beautiful enough.

When we are in touch with our magical selves, with Spirit and the will of the land, we naturally know what technologies to dis or to use– and how.  We are empowered by a sense of connection to the rest of enchanted creation, impelled by a force deep inside us, committed to the real work of sustenance and significance, healing and love.

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Sidebar:

The Meaning of Work

It’s easy to avoid or resent work when we see it as something imposed on us by others.  But through this magic canyon the living Animá teaches something else.  In the following Way Of Animá entries we find work redefined as an opportunity to express our true selves, to positively affect the world…. and fulfill our most meaningful purpose.

The words “work” and “energy” share the same common root.

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Filling a role isn’t work, unless it involves effort.

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Work is an activity that fills a function…. whether meaningful or not.  Our “job” is to cultivate meaning and purpose in everything we do.
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That which “doesn’t work” isn’t “broken,” so much as unemployed: not put to a use.

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Hunger, ambition or a compassionate mission may be what inspires us… but with the exception of forced labor, work remains a conscious choice we should give ourselves credit for.

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For the intentional Seeker, any burdens are intentionally borne…. and not all work is burdensome!

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Drudgery is not toil, but attitude.

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Not all “income producing activity”  involves work, and not all important work results in an income.

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The greatest reward for any work is accomplishment, not payment.

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Work can be productive, constructive, or destructive.

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You needn’t “look for work”— the most vital work can be found searching for you.

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One is never really “out of work” unless they are out of inspiration, direction and purpose.

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Skills and gifts are to be employed for the greatest good.

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One’s life is part their experience, part their works.  Part being, part gift.

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The most important works are righteous deeds.

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The Seeker is not “at work,” but “in” work…. as “in love.”

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All labor should be a “labor of love.”

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Work can be fun.  Thus, the balance to work is not play, but rest— and leisure!

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Disinterest has no place in leisure, as it has no place in work.

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For the Seeker, leisure is as deliberate and intentional a process as work.

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At our best, both work and leisure actively fulfill a specific purpose — intended and directed to benefit self, family, tribe and home.

Shopping Local, Making Gifts, Avoiding The Stampede

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Shopping Local, Making Gifts, Avoiding The Stampede

 

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

treehouseinfall-sm.jpgI confess to being moved by news of the death of a N.Y. Wal-Mart employee, trampled beneath the hurried feet and unfeeling hearts of stampeding customers.  I obviously don’t know the young man, nor have I even seen any pictures of him or heard stories about his girlfriend, spiritual beliefs and hope for the future like we hear about American soldiers who have died in the line of duty fighting for other equally dubious causes.  If he was thinking about anything at all right before the glass doors were smashed open and he was knocked onto the store’s cement floor, he was likely regretting that the only job he was able to find was minimum wage one welcoming riotous customers at 5 in the morning in a little blue vest.

Particularly disturbing to me was the fact that the clueless and ultimately murderous mob were not rushing to get to the food section such as in the bread riots occurring elsewhere, desperate to obtain nutrition for starving families.  Nor were they making a statement of protest, risking arrest to make a point about the ways that “big box” stores are increasingly destroying the small business culture of Main St. America.  What those shoppers got up hours before dawn to obtain, elbowed each other to get to, and then paraded over the helplessly screaming employee to purchase, were primarily plastic, disposable and often useless items produced by underpaid Chinese and imported at unrealistically low prices sure to drive many U.S. manufacturers out of business.  The higher cause that that employee died for was not the protection of his country nor the defense of liberty and other crucial ideals.  He, somebody’s only begotten son, gave his life so that others might obtain the promised reward of beeping and flashing electronic entertainment systems with built in obsolescence, and stocking stuffer toys coated with cheap toxic paint.

Perhaps I’m being just a tad cynical?  After all, it was the soon to be ex-President of our country who asserted that the most patriotic thing we could do in times of economic downturns was to get out the plastic cards and shop.  But even if Bush’s proclamation is proven by future historians to be a piece of administrative genius, it still makes no sense to me that most of the money ends up going to global corporations whose products are with few exceptions produced in the worker-exploiting, resource-depleting factories of Southern Asia.  This morning it was reported that one of the only large retailer in America to show a profit this Fall was Wal-Mart, up 3% while thousands of mom and pop businesses are going under.

Don’t get me wrong, my family heads to Wal-Mart occasionally to get certain food staples at a discount over what we pay for groceries in our little town, and like most other people, our low income means I tend to look for the lowest price when it comes time to purchase a big ticket item like a stereo.  The rest of the time, however, we do our best to mend and maintain what we already own, rather than replacing things with the latest fashion or trend.  Come the holidays, we make many of the gifts we send out, recalling that this is called the “season of giving” rather than the “season of spending,” and our friends are all the more touched sensing how much time and thought we put into each handmade present.  When we do spend money to buy things, we look for products that are durable and lasting rather than disposable and quickly made obsolete.  And we try to make it a point to get regional crafts or American made goods from local businesses, knowing how it contributes to employment in our precious communities.

When it comes to stocking up on goods or gifts, I suggest you look first to what you can make and give, and secondly to the many stores owned and operated by neighbors whose values, ethics and methods you can support.  Forget that the majority will continue to shop at the lowest common denominator, vote your values and beliefs with your hard earned dollars.  You’ll feel better about yourself if you do.  And unlike with that poor, crushed discount store employee, all you have to do is to step out of the herd if you want to avoid the stampede.