We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Posts by Charles

Black Panther

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

Black-Panther-Cast-Marvel-Featured-Image-1024x639Kate took one for the team yesterday. She went to see Black Panther with me. I had two reasons for wanting to see it. One, it’s a Marvel Studio movie and, god help me, I really like them. Most of them. Two, it’s become a cultural sensation and I wanted to see why, if I could. Kate gave me a third reason. To lift my spirits.

Nothing like vibranium theft and lots of gratuitous violence in a movie filled with elegant looking black folk, a few Koreans and a couple of supporting white actors to counter the gray veil. Black Panther, with closing and opening scenes in Oakland, home of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, was ok. Not great. Might have been better if I could have heard all the dialogue. Where are my closed captions at the theater?

black-panther-0The plot was less important, I think, than the stage settings and the actors. From Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan to Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira the young black actors were both beautiful and powerful. Forest Whittaker and Angela Basset added gravitas.

It’s an interesting commentary on our global culture when a single movie, made with high production values, can garner so much attention and be hailed as a “defining moment.” For this white male, certainly born to white privilege though of a lesser amount than, say, Donald Trump, it was not a defining moment. It was a decent action movie. It was not, however, blaxploitation, like those 60’s and 70’s movies with mostly black casts. And, I suspect, that contrast gave it some of its power, too.

Did it lift my spirits? Well, it got me to ignore them for a couple of hours. And, I don’t feel as heavy this morning. Maybe it helped. Time, good ol’ time, will tell.

Staying Open. Paying Attention.

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

Got up late today, around 8:30 am so I’m writing this after noon. Feels a little weird since it’s usually dark outside when I work on Ancientrails.

South-ParkColorado-Fishing-MapKate and I went to Aspen Roots today. Jackie tints and cuts Kate’s hair, cuts mine and trims my beard. She’s a good lady. Learned today that she taught her son fly fishing. Her father worked for Eagle Claw and started taking her fishing when she was five. Can’t be too many sons who’ve been taught fly fishing by their moms. Right now he’s logging and had a nasty accident when the saw cut through his boot and into his foot. She hopes he’ll become a fishing guide.

Coloradans and the snow. There were flurries last night, some periods of heavier snow. So most folks stayed home from mussar vaad practice. MVP. Geez. I find myself saying this every once in a while up here: “If Minnesotans didn’t go out when it was snowy and cold, they’d never leave the house from November through March.” It’s definitely better to have Minnesota conditioning for Colorado winters though than, say, Florida or Texas. Both state contribute their share of new Coloradans.

Melon choly. Still ripening though not as pervasive. I’ve not felt this, as near as I can recall, since Minnesota. A certain heaviness, a certain I don’t really feel like getting out of bed. A gray veil.

Bee-guyMy best guess as to why now is a little odd. First year we were moving in, orienting ourselves. Prostate cancer, too. Second year Jon’s divorce, my knee replacement and then Kate’s first bout we identified with Sjogren’s. Since September though Jon moved into his new house. He’s calmed down, a lot. Sjogren’s and its effects, while not pleasant, are at least known and we have strategies to cope with them. After a year plus with the knee, after p.t. and now several different workouts, the knee has no pain and functions, for the most part, as it did before the bad arthritis set in.

So we’ve had since September to adjust to a Colorado which is no longer introducing us to new medical or familial dysfunction. We have friends and a small community now at Beth Evergreen. Rigel doesn’t have liver cancer. Joe and SeoAh are doing well. The grandkids ask to come up here. Things have calmed down, life has tilted toward the positive side of the scale.

Now what? That, I think, is the cause of the melancholy. What do I do now that I’m finally here in Colorado without serious distractions? Are elements of the Minnesota life germane here? Some are clearly not. The Sierra Club scene was disappointing. Sheepshead, too. The Denver museum scene is dull normal. Gardening and bee keeping seem too daunting here, at least for my current energy level and financial resources. (I’d garden in a decent greenhouse, but $$$$.)

agencyWhat is mountain life? Colorado life? Life in the arid West? For me. Sure there’s reading and writing and thinking. The Great Wheel. There’s family and Beth Evergreen. Good jazz. But how does it fit together? What’s the coherence? Where is the tao of this moment?

Apparently my psyche decided that the way to answer these questions is to slow me down. Push pause on the recent past. Let stuff bounce around a while, let different parts clang into each other. Such slowmo has often preceded life changes for me, sometimes after a period of guided reflection like the Ira Progoff Journal Workshops. Sometimes just after time passes. Staying open. Paying attention. Waiting.

Happenings on Shadow Mountain

Imbolc                                                                         New Life Moon

Single digits. Passes for really, really cold here. Cold enough that I’d forgotten blue jeans are not comfortable at those temps. When I went to kabbalah on Tuesday night, the cold seeped through that cotton as if it wasn’t there. Oh. Yeah. I remember that.

Sjogrens-Syndrome1Kate’s having a Sjogren’s flare. That means symptoms intensify, particularly fatigue and a general feeling of dis-ease. She gets low grade fevers, an annoying sore throat. The good news here is this time we know what it is and she has strategies for coping. It’s not frightening in the way the first flare was back in March or April when she developed thrush and had an ENT guy look at her throat and say, “That looks a little funky.” Doctor speak for, OMG. Fortunately, the funky spot resolved itself. Not throat cancer after all.

Ted, of Ted of All Trades, came by yesterday. Ta dah! Jerry’s paintings, the two big ones you may recall if you ever visited us in Andover, are now hung. 3 years later. One on the wall perpendicular to the fire place and the other in our bedroom. Those damned cabinet hinges? Repaired. We tried to swap out a ceiling fan for a light fixture but when Ted opened the box it had a broken sconce. Grrr. Back to Home Depot.

full disclosure. this is not me.

full disclosure. this is not me.

In the loft Ted repaired my door, a missing bolt to hold one door firmly shut, hung the big map of Hawai’i, the island not the state. Kate got it for me as a consolation prize one year when she went to Maui for continuing medical education and I stayed home. An antique and beautiful. A mirror went up on the wall so I can investigate my form while I work out. Or, just admire my buff body. If it ever comes in the mail! And, a mount for the TRX, a weight suspension workout tool, is now affixed to the ceiling.

Feels good to have those projects finished. Even better to know that Ted is now part of our resource base. He will help us stay here as long as possible by getting small projects done that add up to big improvements in daily living.

abraham_012413_620pxKate and I decided to drop out of Hebrew for this year. We’d not been studying. Doesn’t really reflect lack of interest so much as an unwillingness to dedicate the necessary time we know learning a language needs. May pick it up again in September. My kabbalah class this session though is on the Hebrew letters, so I’m gaining familiarity if not facility.

Still no lifting of the melancholy though I’ve been busy and as I said below it tends to slip away as life pushes itself on me. Last night, for example, I made Grandma’s beef and noodles,  a recipe from the newspaper. Just what it sounds like. Got a 3 pound slab of chuck shoulder roast out of the freezer, unthawed it, cut out the fat and fascia (which took a while), discovered we have a pressure cooker, used it. My first time. Kept hoping it wouldn’t blow up. It didn’t. Whew. Cooking, mindful cooking as I’m trying to remember to do, requires close attention and close attention shuts off the spigot for negative emotions.

 

Waiting on the Christmas Tree

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

alchemyOne of the odd things about melancholy, any mental illness really, is that life goes on while it visits, just like having a cold. The texture of daily life changes, but the need to pay bills, cook, read, communicate with others does not. And in the doing of those daily chores sometimes melancholy slips away, forgotten for a moment. Yes, one way to dig out from the lesser mental aberrations is to stay in the moment until they pass.

But in this case I’m listening. I’m trying to sit at the table with my friend melancholy and see what he has to say. This is not easy. It’s not self analysis either. It’s listening. To the self, yes, but to the self in another guise, or to another aspect of self. In this case some part of me is dissatisfied with things as they are but is uncertain about how things should be. Thus, a sort of mental stasis, a grinding of the gears. A slooowwwwinnng down.

Pay attention to the writing you’ve been doing, Charlie. Is it the work you want to do right now? See Kate and the grandkids and Jon and SeoAh and Joseph. Are your relationships there what both you and they need? All this immersion in Judaism, where’s that going?

Over the last few days I’ve been wandering my library, looking at the books, remembering why I bought them, wondering if I might pause a while to read more, get back into Ovid, or magic, or emergence or Taoism or the Great Wheel. There’s a project of daily readings focused on the Great Wheel, another on Lake Superior. These require concentrated time. Should I shift some time their way?

christmas treePart of me wants to stop everything, just sit. Ponder. Wonder. Imagine. Reenchant. When this feeling hits, I do stop. What if I did that? Would my work fade away? Does it matter if my work fades away? How long do I have to just sit and read? I mean, 71. What if I spend a year reading and studying, learning, then discover I have a fatal illness? Other than that universal terminal disease-life-that is.

A lot of tire spinning, smoke curling up, but little movement. I’m a dragstrip racer gunning my engine at the starting line waiting for the Christmas Tree to turn green.

Current Work

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

One thing I’ve been up to over the last month. This is a brief article for the Shofar, Beth Evergreen’s congregational newsletter.

prayerSetsThe digital world. A blessing and a curse. We’ll go with blessing in the Adult Education Committee’s work to consolidate access to online learning. This work is still nascent and you can see its first fruits on the Beth Evergreen website soon.

We hope you can help us make this resource as vibrant and useful as possible. When the online learning webpage launches, please take a look and give us feedback. Is the webpage user friendly? Are the categories the ones you would like to have? Do the course offerings and other online sites for Jewish learning stimulate you? Make you want to learn? Should there be other types of sites? We believe this webpage will take a while to become as rich a resource as possible and it won’t get there without your help.

In addition to offering easy access to online educational opportunities, we also will sponsor group learning at the synagogue. We’ll pick a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), or you can suggest one. Using the screens and projector in the sanctuary we’ll show the lectures and leave time for discussion, something not usually available when taking a MOOC at home.

center-for-online-judaic-studiesA course at the Center for Online Judaic Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example of how we might use these resources communally.  The Adult Education committee is sponsoring a guided tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls on May 20th. Dr. Russel Arnold will lead us through the exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We could use this course as a way to prep ourselves for the tour.

Here are some other current examples of course offerings: History of Modern Israel, pt. I and II. The Holocaust, an introduction: pt. I and II. Judaism Through Its Scriptures. The Talmud: a Methodological Introduction. Israel State and Society. What would you like to learn?

 

 

Water, water somewhere

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

snowpack 2.19.18Wow. Weather station says the humidity outside is 66%. Inside 2%. Aridity is the norm, humidity a rare phenomenon here. Like most rarities it’s welcome. Most welcome.

4 or 5 inches of snow yesterday. Every flake helps in this dry year. Old timers here are not worried yet because March and April are the big snow months. If the patterns change, we’ve had a big ridge over us for most of the winter pushing cold and snow to the east, north of us, we may recover. In this case recovery means two things, a wetter forest heading into fire season and a snowpack closer to average.

In the land of 10,000 lakes water was abundant and loved, not so much for its quality as water, but for its pleasing manifestation in the landscape. Cabins on the lake. Walleye fishing. Lakes in the cities. The Mississippi rising in Itasca and flowing down toward New Orleans, passing through Minneapolis and St. Paul on its way there. The majesty and wonder of the great lake, Superior.

Here though water is water, aqua vita. Its necessity for human life, for livestock, for healthy more fire-resistant forests is never far from the minds of folks in the West. As I read recently in 365 Tao, the earth breathes out, clouds form and water moves from place to place. This fundamental physiology of our planetary eco-system is, oddly, more apparent in its absence than in its over abundance. The humid east and the arid west.

Since we got just less than 6 inches, it means I blow the driveway. Ted plows six inches and above. Gonna wait another hour or so though since it’s only 6 degrees and I’m more cold sensitive now, both as a Coloradan and a septuagenarian.

Melancholy. Again.

Imbolc                                                                            New Life Moon

hitchikers melancholy robotCame back from a short trip to the post office and the doggy drug store. While driving, I realized I had sunk further into melancholy, the gremlins now over the wall of my subconscious. Perhaps that’s what this feeling of new life trying to break through is, a sadness about the immediate past, or perhaps it’s part of a deeper thread carrying those moments of doubt one accumulates in a life time. The overcast to my inner sky is real, whatever it is.

Negative emotions are closer to the surface, bursting out yesterday in a confrontation with Kate over to how complete a project. Anger is a handmaiden of melancholy, its easiest to access expression. Not proud of it. Kate responded out of our mussar learning, letting the stimulus and her response separate in time. Proud of her.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardIt’s been awhile, I think, since old man melancholy came to visit, set up residence as a guest, in Rumi’s characterization. But he’s moved in for the duration. Still don’t know what to do. Hunker down? Act better to feel better? The mussar way. Doesn’t feel right to me, at least not now. Go down the holy well from which this manifestation arose? If we do meet the gods in our pathologies, then who is this tromping around my psyche?

Spent much of yesterday reading I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, a member of Beth Evergreen. Almost finished in it one long gulp. This is a profound and well-written account of a journey through madness, a psychosis with gods and demons populating another world, the world of Yr. In terms of background to melancholy, it shows the further reaches of hospitality, when the guests become multiple and their stay overshadows all. It also underscores the agony associated with mental illness.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

We know that agony in my family with my Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie and Aunt Roberta all diagnosed as bi-polar. Aunt Barbara and Aunt Marjorie both succumbed to the disease, Aunt Barbara spending the bulk of her life in a mental hospital, Aunt Marjorie starving herself to death. Aunt Roberta managed to get out of the same hospital after a long, severe episode. Psychosis is not faraway, at least not for us.

Not sure how long this journey will take. Not sure what new truth it wants to pull up from my inner world. I am sure though that this is a necessary path for me to walk. Where it heads, I do not know. I do sense that this ancientrail has an important purpose, probably about redefining how life is now, how it can be.

So, here, welcome to the table, old man melancholy. Dine with me for a while.

 

Life opens forward if you let it

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

Jim

Jim

Friend Jim Johnson had an opening of his work in Aberdeen, South Dakota the other night. His new work is lots of colors, strings, leaves, nice bright colors as Simon and Garfunkel sang. Jim, and his long time friend Mark, have both taken their art with them into the third phase. Mark has written one book, an initiation tale, about his time in Vietnam and is at work on another, a hero’s quest tale of his time in Fiji and on the road. He also had a show of new work a couple of years ago, his bridge series. I admire them, keeping Bridgit’s hearthfire lit. Life opens forward if you let it.

Bridgit is the triple goddess in the auld Celtic faith, patroness of poetry, of song, of craft, of the creative spirit. At the double monastery in Kildare, Ireland (men and women), Christians kept her eternal fire burning even after the church absorbed her as a saint. This is Bridgit’s time. She’s the goddess of Imbolc, the cross quarter holiday when the magic of life in the womb brought hope to ancient Celts after the long fallow season.

bridgit's holy well, Killdare, Ireland

Bridgit’s holy well, Kildare, Ireland

This is my creed outworn (see Wordsworth in the post below). Or, part of it. James Hillman, a very interesting Jungian analyst, said we find the gods in our pathologies. I believe that, too. Jung said we find the gods in our diseases. I believe we find them, too, in passions, in new art, in turning over old life like a furrow in which to plant the divine seeds of a new one.

A while back I talked about doing the work that only I can do. Jim and Mark are doing theirs. Over the last few weeks, reading Emerson and Deng Ming-Dao in daily meditations, I’ve found resonance with this idea. Emerson said, for example, in his essay, Success, “Each (person) has an aptitude born with (them). Do your work…It is rare to find a (person) who believes their own thought or who speaks that which (they were) created to say.” Ming-Dao, in his 365 Days of the Tao, says, in his entry #40, subconscious: “Everything to be understood is within us. All that must be transcended…is within us. All the power of transcendence is within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”

Approa39It is axiomatic that each person is unique, a particular example of the human, of life, of the creative process that began at tzimtzum or the big bang, thrown into a particular time and a particular place. It is that particularity that Emerson elevates. It is that particularity which formulates within us, as instantiations of the whole, our own work. When we tap into the sacred, the shard of ohr (divine light) lodged within us, we come to know our work. And, the world needs it because you are the only one with this spark of the divine and the only one in the whole history of the universe who has it. If you don’t express your ancientrail, it will die with you and the world will be poorer.

We need you. As you are. Not as a bearer of tradition. Not as a follower of rules and laws, no matter what their claim to authority. Not as a sycophant to the culture in which you were raised. No, none of these. Instead we need the you that dances among the stars, the you that drinks from the deep holy wells within you. We need the you that only you can be.

Yes, it’s a scary prospect that you might be worthwhile just for what you are. Not for the degrees you’ve earned or the children you’ve had or the job you do, but for the you that carries a singular vision, a once in eternity vantage point on the universe. Tell us what you see. Tell us what you know. Tell us who you are. We need you, all of us need you.

 

 

 

Gospel Aversion

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

GaithersWorlds collided last night and I found it unpleasant. Rabbi Jamie, the Evergreen Chorale, and choir director Val Robinson combined for an evening of Jospel music. That’s gospel music done in a Jewish idiom. Val was a spectacular director. She had the choir energized, crisp in its delivery, and used all of its members as if she were playing an organ. A Beth Evergreen member, Cheri Rubin and her husband Alan, helped make this happen.

Rabbi Jamie seems to blend in with other traditions, yet not lose his distinctively Jewish identity, a feat I admire. Last night he was in gospel mode, adjusting his usual musical style to the more upbeat, quick, punctuated rhythm Val and the music brought.

The worship began with a real memory dredger and heart massager, We Shall Overcome. Appropriate for Black History month and for a setting which commemorated the strong Jewish involvement in the early civil rights movement. So far, I was with the program.

As the music went on, words projected on two screens to either side of the sanctuary, though, I found myself wanting to be elsewhere. Too much God language with too much evangelical style emoting. The woman in front of me sat with her hands palms up, forearms lifted, elbows on her chair rests. Then, the God language got patriarchal with God on his throne and the heavenly father with an excellent name.

BlakeI didn’t realize the distance I’d come from Alexandria and the gospel music style of Bill and Gloria Gaither, my high school teachers who went on to become big stars in the niche genre of popular gospel music. No, that’s not quite right. The style is treacly and sentimental, pop in its overtones while churchy just underneath. That doesn’t push me away though it’s not music I’d turn on voluntarily.

What pushes me away, what I felt physically as a desire to leave the room, was the patriarchal God language, though even that is not the nub of it. The nub of it is the presumption of knowledge, certainty, about a god. That certainty which presents an anthropomorphic deity, gendered and crowned, comes from a text based religion which confuses the words of others with revelation. This confusion, common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, leads to all the poisoned politics which those monotheistic faiths engender. (ha, a pun there.)

No thrones. No gender. No person like god. No. That cannot be read in the wind howling down Mt. Evans. That cannot be known from the blooming of the bloodroot in spring. That cannot be found in the cry of a new born animal whether human baby or puppy or calf or tiny turtle scurrying toward the sea. That cannot be learned from the glitter of the stars at night or the gentle silver light of a full moon.

No. Just no.

Friends

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

photoR

Left to right, starting in the back: Jim, Bill, Paul, Tom, me, Mark, Warren

Excited about the possibility of four good friends visiting for a Colorado mountains road trip. These friends, Tom, Bill, Mark, and Paul, are as good a friends as any guy has a right to have in his life. Fun, bright, compassionate, engaged, still pushing their own limits. (in age appropriate ways) High times with great altitude just over the pass. As Tom said in a recent birthday card, referring to our 30 plus years with the Woolly Mammoths, “…almost half a life time.” Well, when you put it that way…

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