Archive for December, 2012

Extremely Alive: The Case For Immoderation

Friday, December 14th, 2012

We just got our first storm in many long droughtful months, but what a doozy of a storm it was!  I thought the roof was going to fly off from the intensity of the wind.  Still, the middle ground of life is seldom where the action is.  “All things in moderation”?  Not to hear my partner Wolf tell it.  Consider this our Holiday Greetings, our wishes for all to live meaningfully… and fully! –Kiva


Extremely Alive:
The Case For Immoderation

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
www.AnimaCenter.org

extreme |ikˈstrēm| adj.
1. reaching a high or the highest degree; very great
• not usual; exceptional
• very severe or serious
• far from moderate
• performed at risk
2. furthest from the middle

"Take it to the limit..." –The Eagles

“Extreme” has gotten a bad rap of late.  In media news reports and shopping mall conversations, it’s become a stand-in for “unreasonable.”  Extreme sports, that could get a normal personal killed.  Extreme weather events, that people love to fear.  “Environmental extremists” are lambasted as the ones who would protect nature at the cost of fewer resources extracted, fewer logging and mining jobs or lower incomes.  Rather than calling Jihadi bombers “revolutionaries”, we hear them described as “Islamic extremists.”  “Terrorist” and “extremist” are used interchangeably by right-wing pundits, as if they meant the same thing, but just as lamentable are the liberal correspondents directing their disapproval at what they call the “extreme views” of the opposition.  “Extreme” is a Middle English word, drawn from the Latin extremus meaning “outermost, utmost,” and it’s as if we’re being told that only the middle ground is reasonable, laudable, normal.

On the other hand, the antonyms for “extreme” tell us much.  Would we really rather our lives, our work, our expressions of self be considered “slight”, “mild”, “moderate” or “tame”?  Few people would want to be mildly desired by their mates, and moderate interest can be a sure turn-off.  A moderate effort in sports, or in our work, results in low scores and scant accomplishment.  Middle is often average or even mediocre, without the memorable lessons and inspiring drama of failure, or the results and satisfaction of success.  Everyone is better than average at certain tasks or practices, depending on their inborn gifts and developed skills, and most of us are extremely effective at least one thing.  That thing, is our personal way to shine.

Kiva, proponent of extreme herbalism

Just as as it is said someone is “generous in the extreme,” so too can we be herbalists in the extreme – if plant medicine is our calling – turning our extreme interest into extreme study, connection, foraging, growing, evaluation of conditions… extremely caring and effective healing.  We can all be students in the extreme, learning from everything around us, and never stopping learning.  Lovers in the extreme, giving the most meaningful and sweetest of attentions to the people, places and activities that we love.  Creators in the extreme, creating lives, art, writings and practices that are utmost expressions of who really are, maximal, far reaching, momentous, consequential, radical, impactful.

I’m all for extreme beauty that opens our eyes, awakens our senses, stirs our hearts, or takes our very breath away.  Extremely flavorful food like oranges and pomegranates that demand attention and awaken the palate.  Extremes of loyalty and devotion, affection and love.  Extremely adventurous vacations, extremely deep friendships.  Extremely restful downtime, and extremely productive projects.  The extreme pleasure of loud roots-rock or conjunto or Russian folk music, of resonant drum heads and intricately plucked mandolin or balalaika.  And the often extreme quiet of nature, in which to either think and ponder, or simply to exist for precious extended moments in a rapt state of ultra-presence and wordless fascination.

There are even advantages to extreme negatives.  Being extremely alone, totally without company, can feed the spirit and our exploration of self, while feeling neglected amidst a crowd or lonely in a less than satisfying relationship only feeds our alienation and dissatisfaction.  While we’re likely to leave an extremely unhealthy marriage, we may stick it out it’s only half bad, slowly draining us of hope and joy.  If I’m to be made uncomfortable by something or someone, I prefer it in extreme, because it moves me to respond and initiate changes in ways and to a degree that moderate discomfort never could.  Extreme government oppression makes it clear the ways we are being controlled and harmed, provoking a search for alternatives, rebellion and resistance to injustice, while we suffer even more in the long run from a constant if incremental increase in oppression and the loss of our liberties, under supposedly democratic systems and liberal administrations.

The first storm in many months just came through here, with winds blowing so hard that our cabin shook and snow somehow was blown clean through tiny cracks in the wallboard.  We are moved, literally, to probe for the points of ingress with a caulk gun in hand, and to make sure our structures are still firmly rooted to the ground. The weather has always seemed extreme here in the mountains of New Mexico, contributing the our sensation of extreme vital existence.  Utmost existence.  Utmost purpose.  Utmost focus and results.

No feeling repressed, no hunger ignored, no details or elements unnoticed, no opportunities ignored, no choices denied… just ever more extremely alive, alive, alive.


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Informed Amateurism, Able Adepts, Standards We Share

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Whether To Be a Professional or Not
CHOOSING OUR PATH – Part II

Informed Amateurism, Able Adepts, & Standards We Can Share In Common

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

www.AnimaCenter.org

Reclaiming Amateurism

am•a•teur: noun: 1. a person who engages in a pursuit (esp. a sport) on an unpaid basis; 2. a person considered contemptibly inept at a particular activity. adjective: inept or unskillful.

Hey dictionary, thanks for nothin’!  I personally happen to like thinking of myself as an overqualified amateur, from whom nothing can be expected but anything is possible… though I concede the word is considered nothing but a put down by most people these days.  “Amateurish” is used to mean “unskilled”, though I have never heard the efforts of amateur Olympic athletes – many of who can outperform their professional counterparts – derided as amateurish.  Even the dictionary definitions suck, since 1. many nonprofessionals are well paid for their efforts, and 2. there are many skillful amateurs or nonprofessionals, and plenty of examples of inept professionals in every field I know of.

While I often choose the ambiguous sounding term “non-professional” to avoid misunderstanding or lengthy explanation, I am also happy here to reclaim the label of Amateur, and confidently run alongside or ahead of the pros in my own satisfyingly nonconforming style.

Amateurs arise and be counted!  It’s high time to put an end to anti-amateur legislation and amateur bashing,  time for Amateur Pride hoodies.  An Amateur/Professional Alliance.  A major coming out!

Adepts

a•dept: noun: 1. a person who is highly proficient and accomplished at something.  (period)

While I am fine with the word “amateur,” by my redefinition it still covers the entire range of nonprofessionals from the very least competent to the most able.  A better term for nonprofessionals who are focused and devoted, wise, experienced and consistently excel at what they do, is “Adept.”

As with the adjective, the noun originates from the 17th century Latin “adeptus”: to achieve.  Adepts are achievers, and that achievement is attributable to their knowledge and abilities as much as to their natures and drive.

Just as there are adepts in spiritual traditions who have given decades to the study and practice, so are there martial arts adepts who are the best in their field.  Calling someone a “Master” anything seems absurd, since nobody ever completely masters (controls, knows everything about) any darn thing!  Calling someone (or ourselves) an adept, however, says only that they are profoundly wise and extraordinarily proficient and effective, while allowing that there is always room for further learning and improving.

There can be, of course, no set criteria for when someone is to be considered an adept.  If anything, it is determined by their continuous performance, accomplishment and results, and is spread beyond immediate witnesses and beneficiaries via story and reputation.  An adept may very well be a professional, but not all adepts are professionals by any stretch.

Potential Advantages of Being a Non-Professional, Amateur, Adept

Nonprofessionals are often better as shape-shifters that can transform rather than conform, self-approve rather than wait and apply for approval, and choose to practice regardless of any regulations or laws that may ever be passed against it.  Advantages include:

•Knowledge is attained from wider sources (an infinite reading assignment list, openness to the approaches of other traditions and cultures) and through alternative and often more intimate means (personal experience, family tradition, apprenticeship).

•Nonprofessionals make evaluations based on someone’s inherent nature, wisdom and day to day acts, rather than on their position or accreditation.

•One can act on a need, desire or calling immediately without waiting first for any degree, certificate, invite from an agency, or other formal process that would slow you down or derail you.

•The nonprofessional acts out of her or his own personal code of ethics, rather than needing to agree completely with and act according to an organization’s or agency’s ethical guidelines.

•Freedom (given, imagined, or seized and insisted on).

•Personal empowerment.  No permission is sought, and none required, to do what feels best.

•Succeeding or failing at one’s aims is the only qualifying exam.

•Status is determined by performance (evidenced skill, ethics, results) rather than conferred by title.

•There are infinite natural hierarchical levels for one to fit into, organic, overlapping, shifting and transforming, based on wisdom displayed, skills utilized, and the perceptions and needs of those around us.

•Nonprofessionalism comes with fewer pressures to conform, along with more opportunities to distinguish oneself.

•Informality, beloved informality, making it easier to relate to, communicate with and influence the other nonprofessionals of the world, everyday folks who have grown to distrust the pronouncements of so called “experts”, the intentions of corporate managers and regulations of agencies and authorities.  A nonprofessional speaks the language of the people being served, and is as good at being heard by plain folk as the pros are at getting the ears of business, school and government administrators.

•If regulation or prohibition of our chosen field increases, being a professional may no longer provide any immunity, and a nonprofessional, nonclinical model may be the only choice left for continued practice.

Potential Drawbacks to Being a Non-Professional, Amateur, Adept

•There is usually only one set of tests that someone has to pass before being ever after considered a professional, but the nonprofessional and outlier is daily tested.

•Less credibility with professionals and bureaucrats means less direct influence on groups, business and agencies.

•Unlike being thought of as a professional, being called an adept is no advantage when it comes to access to the institutions and powers-that-be, and in fact causes a lot of red lights to go off in the minds of bureaucrats and administrators.

•Because nonprofessionals have less credibility and access, they have to work even harder to change the system from the outside.

•Without management oversight and professional pressures, it can be dangerously easy to start putting less effort into projects, or to get unfocused, distracted or diffuse.

•The pay for nonprofessional work can be pretty shitty.

•Hypocrisy & The Religion of NonProfessionalism: Noncomformist, anarchic, alternative and low income folks can be hypocritical in unfairly writing-off the professionals in their field.  And it is more of a challenge or more heroic to be nonprofessional or poorly paid, thank it is to deal with university b.s., put on a dress skirt or suit and try to make a difference in the often hectic and unpleasant environs of a county clinic, a public school, a too brightly lit research lab or State Senate building.  Our allies are all those who share our earth-hearted values and healing intent, no matter what the title, label, costume, or means for making a difference.

Non-Professionalism At Its Best

There are ways to make up for any inherent drawbacks in nonprofessional practice.  Inability to access institutions can result in you finding creative new ways of affecting your community and culture.  While a high paying professional career can be difficult and painful to move on from, failure to be hired by a company can prod you to start your own herb related or other business that you have always wanted to.  Not worrying about professional status, can make changing school majors or job focus easier, and not being bound to the accepted norms of professional dress and demeanor means you can more openly voice your real opinions, and more wildly, loudly and colorfully express your true self.

You can set your standards and goals for studying and practicing as high as the most rigorous professional group, or even higher if that is your need or desire… but the inspiration, direction and drive is daily up to you.

Being an effective nonprofessional or adept may require that we:

•Seek continuous education throughout our lives, from unconventional sources, with the intention of being ever more effective at whatever we believe matters most.

•Ensure that we are tested and improved through hands-on effort, experience and experiment.

•Give equal attention and value to both means and results.

•Use our reasoning minds as well as our hearts to evaluate and make choices.

•Study science and consider evolving research, and weigh it against our intuition and experience… even if we have found reason to distrust corporate controlled science or detest its bias against alternative thinking.

•Stop resenting the existence of money and feeling guilty about making any.

•Develop a personal code of honor/ethics, and live by it.

•If we don’t accept direction and discipline from “superiors,” then it is all the more important we be self-directed, and disciplined in the pursuit of our aims.

•Working without imposed form or protocol, means we must ourselves create form for purpose, and avoid the dreadful, nebulous, amorphous “it’s all good” mush.

•Take great care as to what we commit to, and then keep our commitments (“in a professional manner”!)

•Categorize priorities and schedule hours.

•Insist on either not-so-highly paid work that feeds our souls and serves our purpose, or else better paid work that bankrolls our real work, our off hours production or book writing.

•Function in a professional environment sometimes, whether we like it or not.

Standards for Both Professionals & Non

Whether we seek to be professional or not, there are many characteristics and values that all can strive to embody and proliferate.  Only a few examples follow:

•Form, Function & Result
While professions and their members can become rigid and un-adaptive,  nonprofessionals can be transitional and amorphous to a fault.  Function and results are sometimes downplayed as less important than art and expression by the non, while pros may error in stressing functionality but not meaning or beauty.  And while results should never be the only criteria or measure, they certainly do matter.

•Reason & Feeling
Crucial is a balancing of left and right brain, intellect and heart, reason and feeling.  Lean too far in either direction and we err, failing ourselves and those we might wish to help.

•Respect
Essential for all, is basic respect.  Respect for each other, free of the smug superiority and righteous disdain that professionals and non can sometimes display for one another.  Respect for everyone’s personal connection to their field and passion, for new ideas and approaches as well as for established schools of thoughts and traditions.

•Politeness
Since childhood, I have abhorred how phony and fatuous politeness can be, shallow conversations characterized by a rote and impersonal civility rather than the expression or real feelings and honest opinions.  Even the most discomforting of remarks can seem preferable to the practiced superficiality and disingenuousness of the polite corporate spokesman engaged in public relations whitewashing, or the polite sounding politicians working to regulate or even eliminate your practice by the people of this country.
On the other hand, there’s much to be said for the art of courteous discourse.  Exchanges in person or in emails can address issues without projecting our personal issues, and minus unhelpful drama.

•Punctuality & Follow Through
There are few qualities of professionalism more useful than following through on commitments in a timely and punctual way, qualities that are sadly all too rare amongst us proud non-professionals.

•Accountability & Responsibility
Professionals are accountable to their peers, organizations and employers, but accountability is no less important for all of us needing an honest public measure of our accomplishments and mistakes, effects and results.  When not mandated by rule or protocol, it becomes necessary that we volunteer our work for inspection, and take responsibility for both what we do and fail to do.  Professionals or not, we need to learn to accept, assume and deepen responsibility for our choices, actions, and failures to act… defined in the Anima tradition as the practiced “ability to respond.”

•Proficiency
People sometimes use professionalism as a synonym for proficiency, though all can and likely should strive to be as proficient as possible at whatever we do, for the sake of excellency and effect regardless of the level or lack of expectations.

In The End

Knowing whether or not we want to go the professional route can make a big difference in the realization of our most meaningful purpose and ideal role.  And yet, devoted professionals and nonconforming non-professionals alike may be attributing too much import and baggage to what is but a derivative term.

If we look up the roots of the word “profession,” we see that it derives from the Latin “profiteri,” meaning only to “declare publicly,” from the notion of being “an occupation that one professes to be skilled at.”  (Indeed, the expression “the oldest profession” didn’t arise because historic prostitutes formed professional associations that qualified and certified its members, but rather, because the not always unhappy practitioners professed to be sex workers… often loudly, in public spaces, and sometimes in the form of a most lovely song.)

And no matter how many degrees or certificates we might earn, no matter how many accomplishments or awards or how professional our actions or demeanor, most of us will always sense ourselves as something more than simply professionals.  Plants, the natural world and what they teach and give, are seldom experienced as just a profession by any of us.  They are our interest and infatuation, our passion and obsession, our calling and service, our pleasure and delight.

I’d go so far as to say most professionals would be more chill about being referred to as amateurs, if they’d take a look at the roots of this word as well: Amateur, from the late 18th Century Italian amatore, from the Latin amator, from amare… yes, “to love”, it means the most extreme expression of our caring!  Being paid or not isn’t really what distinguishes amateurs or adepts, it’s that they love what they do so much they’d do it regardless of income or lack of income, and whether or not they get permission, approval or acclaim.

Hell, it’s actually true of the best folks in any field, that they do – what we do – is rightly done out of love.

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