Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Haiku of Life

I love haiku.

Ok, there, I said it. But, really, who's surprised? I'm into Zen, I'm into language, and haiku is the Zen of language. Sincere, to the point, and brief, haiku embodies the simple directness of Zen quite well. Brevity is a great thing. I've been struggling with it lately. Every entry I write here ends up way longer than I want it; I want my ideas in a concise, dense form, where each sentence is packed and really carries it's weight... yet I end up going on and on with explanations, since often what I'm writing comes from an unfamiliar or a weird perspective (mine). All the caffeine probably isn't helping. Consider this, though: a picture is worth a thousand words, but one good haiku can paint it. I love the concept of a phrase, a sentence, that in itself speaks volumes. Depth in brevity, yes.

I apply the concept of brevity and simplicity to all parts of my life. It's the ideal I hope to attain to. I'm always editing out words that don't really add anything. The eraser, the backspace, these are my friends. I always seek to reduce my possessions, believing that in all realms of my life only what is necessary should remain. Yet I admit I sometimes really enjoy reading writers like Thoreau, who wrote so beautifully in that old Victorian manner, very flowery, well padded sentences. Sentences that could be cut down severly, as Hemingway did; but I'm no great fan of his.

Goethe said "everything is a metaphor" and I feel that is true, for reasons that would take at least one lengthy post to explain. Though I don't believe in the whole "think positive and all will be well" philosophy, I do agree that one must first dream a thing before he can do it, must concieve in some manner of the opportunities and blessings lest he miss them altogether.

So I wonder if this simplicity thing is percolating into my life and actually limiting the wealth of my experience. If I'm always looking for what to cut, what to get rid of, what's not necessary, am I missing an abundance that could otherwise be mine if I had room for it in my conceptions?

printing haiku
with an empty ink cartridge...
true Zen?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

...Life is but a Dream

Dream Sailor by Alex Grey
 I recently watched Inception, a very well done movie about a new technology that allows people to get inside other people's dreams and steal information; or in this case, to try and plant an idea. Anyone interested in dreams and consciousness and such ideas will find it enjoyable. It is visually very beautiful as well, with great effects.

For myself, as I watched the movie I couldn't help but to keep thinking of the story of Chuang Tzu, the ancient Chinese sage:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. This is called the transformation of all things.

For you see, the movie's real interest stems from the complication of dreams-within-dreams; similar to the animated film Waking Life, also about lucid dreaming. This multi-leveled nature of the dreams leads to confusion among the characters about what is actually reality. And I thought, how much like real life. 

Chuang Tzu's dream
 I mean, the metaphor of life being a dream has long been used by philosophers and sages, and not always as a metaphor. Heaven in many ways resembles awakening to a life clarified by the Truth of God, after the falseness of life on Earth where Satan "walks to and fro" and maintains his kingdom. One could see Hindu and Buddhist reincarnation as endlessly waking from dream after dream, trapped, until one finally realizes the truth of the situation and breaks the chain, either waking up or becoming lucid. Even modern science tells us that the mind knows absolutely no difference between waking and dreaming. The only difference is the source of the input: the senses while awake and the brain while asleep. But to the mind, an experience in a dream is real.

So who's to say whether this whole life is a giant fantasy, and when we die we wake up into the real? This isn't idle wondering, this is a serious, ancient philosophical and spiritual question. Many sages and wise men have used exactly that analogy, saying that enlightenment is like awakening from the dream; like lucid dreaming, you could say.

It comes down to this: how do you tell the real from the dream? And the answer is, we cannot. Dreams are as real to the mind as waking life, it does not consider it fantasy until we wake up. The experiences had in dreams are 100% real, as are the emotions; the brain makes no distinction. This is why a dream that can seem so very deeply real can trouble us for a long time, it can ruin a whole day, or longer, can change our behavior or our life.

Who says gremlins are imaginary?

But, you argue, in dreams people fly, or there are monsters, dead people come back to life, and so on. Yet let's be honest about things-- we cannot say if this our "normal" world is actually normal. Have you actually looked at some of the animals we share the planet with? Or the fantastic technology we now have access to? We can cross the continent in a few hours, moving at crazy speeds as we fly through the very sky, but all we do is bitch about the cramped seating or the ten minute wait to board. Humans can get used to anything.

(That in itself is an old philosophical question, I believe it was Hume who talked about it. Who's more impressed by magic, adults or young children? Who would be amazed if the law of gravity took a break? In both cases, it's adults; kids haven't lived in this world long enough to build expectations on such things. Dreams return us to that same sort of credulity.)

Implications? I'm not sure. It's just fun to think about. And yes, I realize I could have written the same blog post about the Matrix. Same set of questions, generally, and the Matrix consciously drew on spiritual and philosophical questions and motifs. Both movies play with the question of whether a world is the real one or an illusion, and whether it's better to be in the illusion than to face the true reality of things. Things to ponder.

More posts to follow on this theme.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Plaque on Mt. Greylock
Currently I'm writing a book about my Appalachian Trail hike; this is what's gotten me into writing of late; it got the juices flowing. As I proceed, I find I'm really appreciating my journal from the trail. Over the years, I've learned things about journaling, good tips for creating a better record. For me, I mostly only journal when I'm out on the trails or involved in some sort of adventure, otherwise life seems too boring to bother writing about regularly. They say journaling is a lost art these days of email and text messaging and especially facebook, and it may be so, but I still love and advocate it.

First, I recommend doing it the old fashioned way, pen and paper. I like the personal nature of it; sometimes the quality of the penmanship can help show how tired I was or what state of mind I was in. Also, there's the freedom to draw a sketch or diagram in the margins if you want, which can be a good memory booster, and is more personal than using a camera. But even journaling on an electronic device is better than nothing.

Here's an interesting insight: I have learned that I really slighted myself by only journaling in the evening, at the end of the day; many details were omitted thanks to this. Laying in the sleeping bag, tired from the day's exertions, I typically only wrote about what seemed relevant at the moment there in camp. I'd list some details from the day, but would often only write about what was on my mind as I wrote. Any thoughts or insights I'd had during the day were often forgotten by this point, and often I'd write about things that weren't really important or memorable.

It's important to keep that in mind. I berate myself now, wondering if it was really appropriate to fill up the entire day's entry with complaints about my pulled Achilles, day after day. Or it'd be the reverse: sometimes I'd write nothing about the physical day, only elaborating on what I was thinking about, so I don't have a record of those places.

I improved as the miles went by; entries from Georgia were very poor in content and detail compared to those from Maine. In my subsequent travels, especially this last summer in New Jersey and Vermont, I'd bring the journal out during the day and start the entry then; this way things are fresher and I'm less tired so I'm more willing to take the time to be specific. Even so, in many cases it's but a bare skeleton of places and events.

Thank God I have an excellent memory, almost photographic in some ways. When I'm writing, it's almost like a trance, and the memories come alive before me, things I thought I'd forgotten bubble up, and most of it I remember well already. I'm able to piece most days together, even the more mundane moments from the trail, the hours spent walking through random woods. It's all very clear to me, full of detail; using the journal helps me put it in order and remember a few other things, but quite often I just write for pages based on memory alone.

Anyways. Another technique for good journaling I found is to mention the weather, which for the AT I only did at random, but of which I have since learned to keep a daily record. This helps "set the lighting" so to speak, which can go very far towards jogging the memory of a time and place. These are things that are often subconscious, and making a note of them can have a strong effect. Kind of like how when you're taking a test, remembering the room you were studying in can help the information come back to you.

I like to journal chronologically. I start the entry with things about how I slept, what time we left camp, things like that, then proceed through the events of the day. This became a useful tool for me in the evenings at remembering what happened during the day. It sounds untrue, but out there the days seem so packed with occurrences and events that it is hard to remember them all sometimes.

One thing I wish I'd written more about is the people I met and interacted with. I would often give a brief synopsis of the day's hike, for example, the difficulty of this or that mountain and how I felt overall with the hiking, but often didn't go into much detail about the people I was sharing these experiences with, aside from naming the few key characters and any truly notable events. This is still an issue that needs work; I'm great at writing about ideas and landscapes, but with people, it sometimes seems so complicated or tedious that I don't do it enough, even though the people are the best thing about the AT, and probably life in general.

Another great thing about the journal is that it can help you learn about yourself. For example, I was often sick on the AT, including vomiting relatively often. It was due to having zero body fat left and being in a perpetual state of physical exhaustion. That much was obvious. But many days I would feel superb, full of energy and spirit. So, by looking back I can see a pattern of events: poor sleep for a few nights in a row often preceded the sick feelings. So would heavy exertion without eating enough, like pushing ten miles without a break for even a granola bar. I'd have terrible dreams and wake the next morning feeling bad. I often noted the quality of my sleep and the character (good, bad, weird, twisted, etc) of my dreams, which is an indicator. But this "body knowledge" was not obvious at the time, and only by looking back at a record do I see the patterns. I can no benefit from this knowledge.

The most important thing, though, it to pay attention. Obviously, readers of this blog know I'm into Zen, Taoism, meditation and all that. I strive to be present in the moment, awake to what is around me. This, I believe, makes the memories sharper and more conscious. I'm not out there sleepwalking through my days, at least not completely. If you are present in your moments, interactions, and experiences, not only will your journal entries be more full of useful notes, but the memories themselves will be clearer.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Well, no rant today. Sure, I could go on about the commercialization of holidays, or get all philosophical as is my wont, maybe about the Tao of Christmas or the psychological benefits of family time.

But nah. Just a very Merry Christmas to my few readers, and a poem (see previous message) for the day. I hope the day finds you all well, and that you spend it how you want.

Brain Storm

Not exactly a Christmas theme, but hey, I'm not a Christian, so sue me. Still, it's sort of in line with the "time of newness and change" archetype.

Brain Storm

No insurance exists against a world's collapse,
nor for a mind's explosion.

Inspiration strikes from afar like lightning
yet it's her thunder that roars its way up the valley
dropping rocks and shaking foundations,

and always there is a desire
to shudder with it, to feel that release.

Erosion is the way of this universe--
          so long sprung
          from its tiny, broken seed--
that sigh of relief as things crack and crash down:

stars reduce to dusty worlds and life,
the cities to rubble and regrowth.
Left alone, everything hollows itself out
and becomes hallowed.

Yet still, trapped in these ancient
trajectories of accepted limits
and humbled dreams, encircled by the mind
and its passed down patterns,
          there remains an empty clench of ideas,
white-knuckled disbelief and depravity,

while eternities spin behind the sky
and mythic roots dig deep below, swelling in darkness,
crawling unseen among sleeping foundations,
the tendrils of a bygone hope extending
as they always have, and waiting.

It's but a question of being foolish enough
to fall from these sterile crags of deserted life,
to abandon all hope of soaring
with the vultures long awaited,

instead to tremble and fail and find with fresh sight
that the one spark that sets to fire whole worlds
happens here, in the striking together
of hidden thoughts in the darkness of a mind.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Urban Despair and the Need for Nature

Why is it so hard in the city to be content and happy? Why does it seem like no one wakes up in the morning, looks out the window, and says, "Ah, life is good, the world is good!"? Well, I'm gonna tell ya why (you knew that was coming, right?). It's because the city landscape is a soul sucking enemy of life.

Okay, hyperbole alert. There might be happy people in cities, who really knows. But look, the human species lived close to the natural world and its rhythms for 99.999% of our history, over two hundred thousand years. These rhythms are in our blood, our cells, our DNA. If you careto consider that all of life has always lived at one with the natural world, we can say it's been 4 billion years.

Urbanization is new. We've had cities for five or six thousand years, sure, but they were very small, and only in a few regions for much of that time (Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, Mexico, yadda yadda yadda). Rome was pretty urbanized, and look how fucked up they became. Then we returned to normality for the Dark Ages, back to the land. But cities began to grow again in the Middle Ages and into the Rennaisance. Still, it took the industrial revolution to really kick into the urban life, starting less than 200 years ago. Before that, only about 3% of the humans lived in cities. Now we're over 50%

Vista on he Appalachian Trail in Virginia

Okay, history lesson over. The point is, our minds are not able to take in this way of life. It is profoundly unnatural. I know I'm a nature nut so I'm biased, but I when I was on the Appalachian Trail, or doing conservation work in Utah, or stuck on a cold, wet mountain in Vermont last fall, I'd still just have this feeling of well being about me. It's a sort of ocean of peace lifting beneath the boat of your daily life and its specific issues. You get up at dawn, look out at the trees, and you might be cold and your feet might be wet, the work might be hard and your cabin might have mice, but out there things are as they should be: the trees reach for light, the mosses creep, the leaves drop and decay. Deep down, your spirit is relaxed.

In an urban environment, you look out the window and see hard, agressive lines and forms, hordes of people all rather drawn into themselves against the surging masses, the noise, the bad air. Our schedules have nothing to do with daylight. Our work has nothing to do with the land. Artifice rules every interaction and activity.

A lot of people say they don't like nature. I accept that on one level, but in the end believe it's just that they're accustomed to comfort and ease, to climate control and screens to keep the bugs away. That's fine, I don't demand that everyone immediately start working on a farm or go live in some cabin in the woods. But I know that on a biological level, they don't hate nature. They ARE nature. And their nature is deeply missing the greater nature, and resists the artificial world that has been built in its place.

Surveying the Porcupine Mountains
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

This goes on below the level of awareness, of course. I don't think anyone really understands this great discontent and where it comes from; most are hardly even aware of it, though they struggle constantly to placate it with consumerism, drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, and of course, the electronic hallucinations of cell phones, video games, and the TV. The upshot is that this conflict happening in our inner natures bubbles up as the negetivity and complaining that is the constant song of our urban civilization.

I know life will always be complex and tricky, and living in nature isn't a cure-all. But I know that for myself, being in a natural landscape, working with my hands, outside in the sunshine and open air, is something that at least eases a part of my spirit, such that I can tackle life's issues with a positive mindset. I know it is possible to be happy anywhere, but it is easier out there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Rant about Meditation

Another thing on meditation. Know what I hate? Every time you see a magazine or some web article about meditation, the picture is always of some woman in a tanktop and baggy pants sitting on a beach or something. Or else it's some old Tibetan monk in flowing robes sitting in some temple balanced precariously on a Himalayan crag.

News flash-- men meditate too, and not just Central Asian men. Also, you can meditate on the subway, or sitting in the gutter on skid row, or in the bedroom while the TV blares in the front room. It has nothing to do with flowing clothes, sunsets on the beach, or windy mountaintop temples.

We Americans reduce everything to image. If you wear the right clothes, and sit in these postures in peaceful places, and adopt a serene expression, you're doing it. You're wrong.

And no, I'm not really sure why this bothers me. It just does.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

I always wish I could get more into solstices and such. I like the pagan aspect of it all, the nature-religion idea. But when I'm living in a city I just can't feel it; it just has no real bearing on my life, and any ritual or tradition I might follow seems hollow and meaningless. We don't live in nature's cycles anymore, so why bother getting excited about a solstice?

Still, there is something. Goethe said "everything is a metaphor" and as someone who considers himself a poet, I agree. I see everything that way, I'm never content or able to just see things on the surface. So here we had a winter solstice, darkest day of the year, and also a total lunar eclipse (which I was too tired to get up and see). Darkness on darkness.

I'm telling myself that now, things are going to be brighter. I've hit bottom, and now life will be on the upswing. That is what I'm going to let it represent for me; this is my new year. It's not about resolutions, it's about latching on to the growing light and letting it take me along.

I guess this all sounds pretty silly. Maybe I'm just trying to hype myself for better times to come. Any port in a storm, though.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I think a lot of people go about meditation for the wrong reasons. To meditate for a reason at all is misguided: meditating for relaxation or for enlightenment is self-defeating. I mean, isn't it a bit of an oxymoron to relax for a purpose, or to try to be utterly present for the (future) goal of enlightenment?

But as for technique; it seems many people meditate to quiet 'the monkey mind;" that is, to stop the endless stream of thoughts that keeps us wound up. I've been there. When I first got into meditation at age 20, I was battling a mind that was literally wall to wall packed with thoughts; I was desperately looking for an off-switch. Slowly I learned the ropes, and the gaps and silences expanded. I think this was largely by accident, because I wasn't following a good practice by trying to quiet my mind with effort.

See, meditation is like laying on your back watching the clouds. You know, like on those warm summer days where there are endlessly varied cloudforms, and you lay there naming them all. Meditation isn't about cloudbusting, nor about cloudless skies, per se. It's about shifting your gaze away from the fascination of the cloudforms completely and onto the clear blue void. A void that doesn't need any bringing into existence, as it is there all the while. And you can't do a thing about the clouds, they're going to be there. Let them.

Many beginners sit there, trying to have a clear mind. When they start getting caught up in thinking (as we all do), they think, "No! I'm supposed to have a clear mind," and force the thought away. This is, of course, more thinking, and negetive thinking at that. Also it can lead to surpression of thoughts and that is never good, they'll build up down below and finally explode.

It is better to accept the thoughts for what they are while shifting your focus and identification off of them altogether, watching rather the silences and spaces, however small. The thoughts become fewer on their own, without effort, and all along, almost magically, the quiet moments seem to grow. The silence is there all along, you just gotta chill out. You don't sit for a purpose, to turn the mind off. You simply sit, relaxing. Relaxing, the mind begins to cease exuding thought, and peace grows.

May I switch metaphors? Meditating with effort, to force unwanted thoughts away, is like trying to smooth water by flattening the waves with your hand. This makes more waves. Instead, you sit back and let it still itself. Read the phrase again, and see how it contradicts any sense of meditative calm: "meditating with effort, to force unwanted thoughts away..."

Thoughts are commotion, as is effort. How, by commotion, can you stop the commotion? Relax, dammit!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Caught in the Undertow

It sort of feels like I'm caught in an undertow. I've been living very well all summer and fall, working out in the beautiful mountains and forests, in clean air, among people who sympathize with an unorthodox style of life. Now I'm in a major city, unemployed, alone, feeling trapped and bored and completely out of place as I choke on the air and the noise. It is like the great wave finally found its shore, but is rushing back out to sea. And what is an ocean but a giant depression, a hole in the earth filled with water and strange monsters?

Things are made worse by the holidays. The massive shadow of expectation and nostalgia darkens the world, demanding, because of the date on the calander, that we have cheer and joy. The corporate Christmas machine has been blaring since Thanksgiving, no, Halloween, telling us to prove our love with cheap consumer goods. And the airwaves fill with songs that make us long for times and memories that, truth be told, we never really had. Nostalgia's a killer. And I hate having my unhappiness thrown in my face.

Summer fades into winter, happiness into a gentle, quiet despair. I take courage in the fact that one's capacity of joy is the same as one's capacity for sorrow; hard times are the knives that carve the hollow, into which we pour our happiness. I have been gulping at the cup for months, and it is nearly empty. To everything there is a season.

Ebb and flow. This is my third such winter following a summer of mountainous bliss. I get by, bit by bit, clinging to patience. I let the knives do their carving, hoping some new dream will reveal itself from the wood of my soul, some new design into which I can throw myself. Then, when spring comes, I will walk back into the mountains, praying for a way to stay for good.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Lately I've been coming to understand a little what writers mean when they say they must write; that if they couldn't write they would die. I'm realizing that a good deal of my former stress and angst was due to a lack of creative outlets. Now that I've been writing daily, working on a book and writing blog entries besides, I've pulled the cork on the wellspring and must let it flow. It feels great, and whatever problems I have in my life, there's always the satisfaction and release of it, which gives me something to smile about, and relax.

The creative impulse lives in every human alive, no matter how bitter or broken by life. It is the movement of the universe itself, which is constantly recreating itself; we are a part of that always, as we live. Creativity is the true the fountian of youth. The most withered old man can create something, a song or a story, as beautiful as anything he ever knew in his youth; letting his heart flow with this fountain, he is as young as any 20 year old in the prime of his life.

So come, people, open yourselves to this urge you all have hidden within yourselves. Write a story, sketch a picture, do something. Find a mode of expression and use it; doesn't matter if it's writing, painting, dance, music, or even higher math. Open yourself to the movement of the world, let it rise up through you. Let the waters flow.

Don't worry if what you create isn't up to someone else's standards. It's not about creating eternal art as much as it's about simply creating. Technique, form, skill, all these grow with time, but it's important at least to be involved.

It is the highest thing we can do, it is a way to love the world, to take part in its ongoing creation, to say yes to life. It is a way to end the wars of the heart, and thus the wars of the world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


View from my sister's balcony
We are our experience, not the things in our experience. As I gaze upon the sunset, it occurs to me that as the sun dips low and bathes the clouds in a golden light from below, that I am that golden light, I am that cloudscape. It exists in my mind, making me integral to the scene. The scene does not exist anywhere for me but within my mind. I have never known anything outside of my own consciousness-- what would that even mean? The sunset is simply what the inside of my head looks like when I look at a sunset "out there." But no one has ever seen "out there" because whatever they saw, it was "in here," in their mind.

I said that acceptance is important. There are two ways in which acceptance seems to be understood. The first, and most common, is about saying "well, I guess that's just the way it is, nothing you can do about it." It is a form of giving up, the road of despair. We rightly disparage this form; to accept that evil exists, or that a bad thing has happened, seems like quitting.

But that is not all that acceptance can be. The second acceptance is about understanding the truth that we are our experience. The entire world that we know exists within us. We talk about how society is out of harmony with the world, but when looked at from this acceptance, we see that this is false. I look at the sunset, and perhaps mourn all the telephone lines and buildings and the roar of airplanes and traffic that get in the way. But then if I accept, I suddenly see that it all exists as a giant whole. There is no harmony or disharmony, there is only IS. It's all there.

So, okay, now I've accepted (we'll suppose). Now I understand that all is one, including me. It is one experience. This is purely logical. Now I look at the sunset not only feeling part of the happening, but knowing that the telephone lines and traffic are integral too. For now, at least. Change happens when we, still accepting what is, change what is.

Perhaps the whole solution comes down to simple asthetics. We choose sunsets without telephone lines, and find ourselves on a pristine mountainside. Or, maybe in a cleaner, less chaotic city, as she work for change that way. There are many ways to have change, but it is acceptance that first opens the doors, that first illuminates the many paths.

I continually find myself coming back to Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching; it has so much for me. Perhaps one day I'll be able to move on to other chapters, but for now it seems to hold the main lessons for me. I keep reading it more deeply. It ends:
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
Lately I've been focusing so much on looking for a job, thinking about money, getting my truck fixed (that's at least done), bills, friends, goals, ideas. I've been busy on the computer, reading, writing like a maniac (and loving it), but haven't sat back and watched sunsets enough, have hardly looked at the trees, have taken no time to simply breathe. I have been forgetting to pause. I keep feeling so low, being surrounded by this urban shit-scape, but that just means I've become too caught up in the "being," not remembering the "non-being;" that is, I've been wrapped up in the things in my experience, and fighting that reality, rather than being one with the experience itself, accepting it.

The roar of traffic as I try to enjoy the sunset seems a bother, but then I realize sound is only existing because of the silence it vibrates within. So I sit back and accept the traffic, hearing the quiet below it. The telephone poles and buildings block my view, but I can accept them, and for the moment let them help form the beautiful moment by framing it. Things like poverty and evil cannot be changed if we continually deny with even part of our minds that it is there. Accept the reality of it, that's step one, but it needn't end there.

We can work the universe like a master craftsman, who constantly checks in with the reality of his art. If he doesn't look at what is before him, he ruins the sculpture. So he looks at his carving, at one and present with its current reality, shaves a little more wood off just here, then checks in again. A dialogue with the world begins this way, and we move towards the beautiful, the good, as a wise man must if he is wise.

Delicate Arch at dawn
As I read and reflect on One Square Inch of Silence, I keep having this nagging thought, a counterpoint to the whole issue, and it has to do with all I'm saying now. If Gordon Hempton is working towards silence and quiet in the national parks, great! It's a better asthetic choice than listening to air traffic while we ponder the age and beauty of Delicate Arch or the stoic strength of an old growth forest. But let us not forget that as the long road toward his goal is walked, we can be enjoying the peace that is already out there all the while. We need not wait. The stars in the city are few, but it's still good to look at the ones that remain.

So. We work with what is, making it more beautiful (one hopes). But it is always important to be rooted in the non-being, which is where the totality of experience, and all of its peace, is realized.

(EDIT: I revisited this post, to readdress some issues. Find that post here)

Somewhere Down Below

Somewhere down below
the planet is burning like a furnace,
all tangled in ecstasy on the giddy
whirling dance through space,

and here we sit sipping tea,
or water from a bottle,
like babies who haven't yet learned
to walk or even crawl.

We wave our arms and legs around
to say we tried, believing
our motion comes from outside of us.
As if this thing on which we stand
were not in hectic motion,

and as if we had not just yesterday
ourselves risen freshly from that clay,
bodies a deceit of planetary crust
which we’ve allowed to cool

and hide away the burning
phoenix I keep hoping
will rise from those cold ashes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It's easy to get the spiritual pride goin'. You sit there all the time, thinking these lofty thoughts, about not being attached, living simply; you read the esteemed writings, your mind is constantly filled with these virtuous things. It's easy to get caught up in that, because we identify ourselves with our thoughts, they are so fascinating. Pausing in the philosophizing, in between all these holy ruminations, sometimes you get a glimpse of your own behavior. You gotta be paying attention though, because it's easy enough to ignore.

But if you do look, you see that you aren't nearly so wonderful as you thought. You talk about letting go, but you hoard your money. You believe in being present in the moment, but you panic and freak out when you get a little lost on the way to a new coffee shop in an unfamiliar part of town.

Times get a little tough, and no longer can you coast along in a fog of holy thoughts. So often when it's time to test one's mettle, you fail completely. You weren't living the good life at all, you were just thinking about living it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Down and Out

Recently I've been stressing a lot about money. I'd like to say that this isn't like me, but it is, sort of. I've always been a saver, always socking away cash. Even when I have a sizable store of it, I still fear not having enough, am reluctant to spend money even on the necessaries. For some reason I need a good thick cushion to feel at ease. I remember while I was on the AT-- I suddenly realized I was treating food the way I treat money: I would always have extra in the food-bag, sometimes rolling into town with a full day's worth of food left, while not actually eating enough on the trail. I was always afraid to run out. When you consider that food and money are both forms of energy, of getting things done, you start to really wonder.

It also seems to me that being down and out is much the same feeling as lonliness. Without money you are not connected to the civilized world.Surrounded by all the things I'm supposed to buy and people who all seem completely wrapped up in the ambition for more money... it makes me feel isolated, alone, like some working class stiff, the kind who's not just poor but who's also bitter about it. I'm not even of the same mindset, do not desire that life of striving; yet all the messages around here make me feel low. The energy of it pervades the city.

I never feel that way in the woods. Nor do I ever really feel lonely out there; it's only in the cities that the real ache becomes apparent, with all these people who will forever be strangers to me, people I don't relate to and can't fit in with. But it's like I'm seeing a life I've been excluded from; I could never live that way and live with myself, but that means I'm stuck on the fringes of society, which is hard. It's the longing, I suppose, of one who is banished to the island of the misfit toys.

But I don't know how to let go of this clutching at life. My belief is that it's necessary to let things flow; be free in your spending, the it will come back around. It's like closing an electrical circuit: act as if the money doesn't matter, and you'll never run out. But damn if it isn't a hard first step to make. For right now all I see is the cash flowing away, to mechanic bills, rent, food, gas...

I'm coming face to face with the nugget of fear that lives in my heart, but right now I'm having a hard time even looking at it.


I'm in a decent mood. Kinda feeling happy. I think I need more comedy in my life. I think too much, worry too much. Right now I can feel the stress creeping back in, with repetitive thoughts about things I have to do, about money, work, school. But that's foolish. I'm happy now. I was laughing and smiling all evening. There are no worries. I have been spending way too much time thinking about happiness and not actually having any.

Acceptance and action, those two things seem to be the main ideas in religions and philosophies. I think acceptance really just means surrender to reality. You surrender to it, and in doing so, open up doors for action. Surrender and acceptance don't mean accepting bad things, or good things either. It's about accepting what's real, what's actually there. Notions of good or bad is our judgement and comes after.

Once we've surrendered to reality, we stop wasting energy complaining and worrying, stressing and fretting, and generally just being miserable. Once we surrender, we are free to act, because we're no longer busy pushing reality away. Acceptance brings access to action, and the energy to act. Or to not act, as the case may be.

Of course, we have already surrendered to everything, on the basic level; there's no escaping that, it's a condition of existence. No matter what our mind thinks is the case, we are part of the situation whether we accept it or not.

The point here is to make that surrender a conscious thing. All the strain in life comes from the mind fighting its situations, trying to believe things aren't what they are, and deluding itself with fantasy. We are living as a house divided. The body surrenders, but the mind has not. Therefore we suffer

Friday, December 3, 2010

Life of Subtraction

Having been living a semi-nomadic existence of late, I have had to be able to fit all my stuff into my truck, an extened-cab Ranger, not a very big space. This is a source of pride for me. I, unlike most Americans, am always looking through my stuff to figure out what I can get rid of next. Thoreau said, speaking of possessions:

It is the same as if all these traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he could not move over the rough country where our lines are cast without dragging them — dragging his trap. He was a lucky fox that left his tail in the trap. The muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be free. ... If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But perchance it would be wisest never to put one's paw into it.
My sister laughs at me, because while when she's standing in line to buy something, she often finds herself picking up one of the "impulse buy" products lining the checkout as well. Meanwhile, I'm standing there fretting about whether I need the thing I am about to buy, half the time leave the line to go put it back, then leave the store with my wallet intact.

Possessions are a burden. You have to take care of them, think about what to do with them, house them, labor for them. They clutter your dwelling. There are people who will break themselves with a too-big apartment or house, just because they have all this furniture and stuffthat they need to do something with. Myself, I feel a relief every time I lighten my load, drop one more thing on the side of the road of life.

I believe one's outer reality mirrors one's inner reality. Possessions can clutter the mind, too. I try to apply this minimalism, this life of subtraction, to my mind as well as my physical world. Simplifying my surroundings helps me to simplify my inner life, and that then helps me to see things I can further simplify in my outer world. It goes back and forth, ideally at least, though more often in fits and starts, with moments of accumulation, and others of dissipation. Sometimes I live amid clutter, my few things in a chaotic jumble all over the floor, and it is at those times that I cannot be bothered to organize it, that I sometimes stop and notice that I'm currently stressed and unhappy, my life in as much chaos as my room.

I try to pay attention to these things. Like in a previous post, where I talked about the body and its messages, one's surroundings are also always are talking to you, giving you clues about your inner states, and often showing the way forward. And sometimes just tidying up can help clear the mind, since the two are basically one anyways.

I'll end with what the Tao Te Ching says in chapter 48:

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pebbles and Burning Bridges

Reading this excellent post at a favorite blog of mine, as well as recent events in my own life, have me thinking about the future again. Right now I'm adrift. I had a job, moving and cleaning rental cars down by the airport, but ParkWest, the company who was doing this work for Enterprise, had its contract terminated. So we all got laid off, myself only a week and a half into employment. This is alright, the job wasn't great anyways, nor the pay. But it was something, useful especially since my truck needs some somewhat pricey repairs.

Now, I'm wondering, looking at all my options: Should I keep looking for work here in Dallas? I like being around my sister and brother-in-law. Should I WWOOF, and learn about farming? Should I go back to Florida, where I have residency, and try to go back to college? Should I just go piss away the winter in the desert, like a friend of mine is suggesting, then hike the PCT as I still intend to do?

Any choice I make rules out others. Right now I'm thinking work a few months, then PCT, then school. But It's a very hard thing for me though, because school means leaving behind the freedom of this more or less bohemian, hiker-trash lifestyle I've been living-- having adventures and trying to do the things I want to do. To saddle myself with a 3 or 4 year obligation, complete with massive loans (being in debt scares the shit out of me) is an extremely difficult move. I know it's the rational thing for me to do-- I know I'm better than the minimum wage jobs I'm looking at, and the future, though not guaranteed, is as it turns out pretty likely to occur. I'm not going to die next year, probably, even if the future to me still continues to look like a giant Void.

If I continue to forgo education, I may never climb out of this hole I'm in, yet how do I balance the fact that it's only a "hole" if one measures life by money and material success, a ruler I'm not prone to use? That's society's measure, not mine. I'm happy as hell out on the trails, with next to nothing. Mountains, sunshine, simple, down-to-earth people. It's all good. It's just the inbetween time, the winters and time spent saving for the next adventure, living in the slum that is modern life, around selfish, frustrated people that is so depressing for me. I have dreams of being a writer, and of having a little "homestead" and living more or less off the grid, the simple life.

But it's hard to live against the grain, being on the fringes, looked down upon, having your entire lifestyle put down constantly even by those close to you. It's also hard to live with the grain, and be so lonely and unfulfilled. But who knows? Maybe the choice to continue this life of "adventure" would lead somewhere great for me. Or maybe it will crush me. It's all so uncertain. As stated in the first link, he ripples from that pebble (choice) hitting the water will go out, and who knows what it will do out there.

What's both deeply frightening and madly exhilarating is to know that every decision we make, in every moment, is going to make more ripples, have more unforseen consequences. Ripples making ripples of their own. Every moment we live changes our possible futures, by closing some doors forever and opening others. How does one make rational decisions when the information needed is infinite, and the outcomes completely unknown?

I've never been decisive. The future is a wild adventure, enjoyed in the present. This is the cutting edge. And I'm afraid of burning bridges.