My Ancient Spiritual Trail

Summer and the Radiation Moon

My friend Rich sees mussar as a metaphysical, not a psychological discipline. It’s soul work, deeper and more consequential than therapy.

Over the last year and a half my skeptical view of soul has begun to break up, fade away. First, from the Cosmos and Psyche (thanks, Tom) insight: Skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. Second, from a spiritual realization that despite its implication in the arguments over, say, original sin, soul nonetheless points to a felt reality for me, a phenomenological knowing. Not a dogmatic or doctrinal one.

Big deal, right? You always knew this? Or, no way, dude. Either way, so what?

And, of course, you’re right if you follow this often used, little understood idea back to its sources in Judaeo-Christian thought. Its use either assumed-you always knew this, or, so mean and inhuman, eternal hell for a few years on earth-no way, dude.

The Judaeo-Christian understanding incorporated the Greek notion of psyche, “…the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking” with a notion of immortality connected to behavior in this life.

I want to push back, back beyond this narrow conception of soul. There was an assumption among the ancient Greeks that soul had to have a logical faculty, and, that it was the most divine attribute of a human soul. ( The current scientific consensus across all fields is that there is no evidence for the existence of any kind of soul in the traditional sense. Wiki.)

First I want to speak for the trees. Let’s call it the Loraxian understanding of the soul. The lodgepoles in our yard, crawling up Black Mountain, growing along Brook Forest Drive as it winds down the mountain. They have souls. They are both alive and animate, creatures with a telos, or end goal. They interact with their environment and grow strong or weak, tall or short, but they remain lodgpole pines, trees with a particular role in a montane ecosystem, a role which they give all they have to fulfill.

The same is true for the mule deer, the mountain lion, the marsh marigold, the elk, the bear, the fox, the squirrel, the dandelion, the cheatgrass, the Indian paintbrush, the mountain trout, the raven and the magpie. Are their souls more or less than ours? Wrong question. Are their souls more like ours or more unlike? Don’t know. I just know that living things on the planet share the wonder of life, an independent spark. That spark gives us organic matter that moves and does so with intention.

Holy Well, Wales, St Dynfog

I’ve felt this way about the world for a long, long time. Taoism, Emerson, the Romantics, gardening, the Celtic Great Wheel. The mystical moment on the quad at Ball State. Oneness. With it all. I’m even willing to entertain faeries, elves, duendes, daiads, Gods and Goddesses. OK, I know I lost a lot of you with that one, but I’m going with my gut, my revelation to me rather than the dry dusty bones of theirs.

But. I want to push one step further. I believe in the spirits of the mountains. They have visited me here on Shadow Mountain, the mule deer on Samain, 2014, and the elk on my first day of radiation. The mule deer and the elk were angels, that is, messengers of the mountain gods, dispatched by the careful, slow, deliberate entities that are the Rocky Mountains.

I believe in the vitality of rushing water in Maxwell Creek, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, the North Fork of the South Platte. I believe in the entity that is Lake Superior, that is the great deposit of ores on the Minnesota Iron Range, the ebb and flow of the Oglalla Aquifer.

I believe in Mother Earth, the great Gaia, a living system of ecosystems, biomes watered by rains and the snows, irrigated by streams and rivers, planted by Boreas and Zephryus, and given power to change by the true god, Sol.

Neither animals nor plants can grow without the sun’s energy or the food locked in minerals and vitamin: “Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our water. They are one of our most cost-effective reservoirs for sequestering carbon. They are our foundation for biodiversity. And they are vibrantly alive, teeming with 10,000 pounds of biological life in every acre. Yet in the last 150 years, we’ve lost half of the basic building block that makes soil productive.” Living Soil film

As it appears, I am an animist, a pagan, a person who has found his spot in the great scheme. I’m a moving instance of matter formed in the great fusion furnaces of stars. I’m a temporary instance, holding together a few atoms for a human lifetime. I’m a significant instance of meaning created by the universe observing itself, throughout my short path, as the dynamic, interlocked, soulful reality that it is.

I need no human word to guide me. I need no idea, no rule. I am and I am within all this. The Arapaho National Forest. The Rocky Mountains. Our nuclear family. Our extended family. The community of folks at CBE. The United States. The Mind of God.

My soul and that of Kepler, Rigel, and Gertie dance with each other. In Andover Kate and I danced with bees, fruit trees, perennial flowers, vegetables, raspberry canes. Here we dance with the mountain spirits.

Long ago I set out on a spiritual journey that went down and in rather than up and out. That is, I would not find validation somewhere outside of myself whether Torah, Gospel, Constitution, or political ideology. I would not privilege the idea of transcendence, or a three-story universe. No god is in heaven, and yet all’s right with the world. My ancient spiritual trail has been to turn within for the source of my revelation. And, I have not turned back.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.

The Weekend

Lughnasa                                                                              Waning Summer Moon

religious school kids with Rabbi Jamie

religious school kids with Rabbi Jamie

Up and out the door too early yesterday to write, too tired when I got home around 5:30. A long day. An education training session at Temple Emmanuel in Denver. A huge building, lots of cash there. Flowing cut stone for an outer wall, inside modern metal sculpture, lots of wood, a huge reception area, a Sisterhood Lounge, a more than gymnasium sized hall, divided by foldout doors, and lots of folks milling about.

(just noticed that the full waning summer moon stands about 4 degrees over Black Mountain in the dark early morning sky. Southwest. My cataracts give it four rays, two straight out from sides, two up and down at a slight angle.)

The sessions were ok. The food was great, lots of veggies and fruit and hard boiled eggs. All of us from Beth Evergreen had to leave early because we had an outdoor experience afternoon in Genesee Park, the oldest of the Denver Mountain Parks. Denver owns several parks in the Front Range, especially in and around Evergreen and Morrison. Genesee might mean shining valley.

religious school at Jeffco Action Center, packing Thanksgiving meals

religious school at Jeffco Action Center, packing Thanksgiving meals

This was a ropes course for the purpose of team building. The students who will be in the religious school this fall and their parents came, as did Debra and me. We were the only teachers there. I knew a few of the adults, none of the kids.

No ropes for me. I did put on a harness (reminded me of the harnesses for sled dogs) and a blue helmet. Most of the rope  features were reached by spikes driven into the trees and were high enough to require both a rope attached to the harness and managed by a Genesee Outdoor Adventure employee and the helmet.

Wasn’t the heights or the difficulty of the features that made me not go up. I realized only this morning that it had to do my with introversion and in particular my dislike of having others watch me exercise. That’s why I go to On the Move Fitness for two sessions, then follow the workouts on my own. If somebody watches me, I get self-conscious and screw up. I suppose this is something I could overcome with time and opportunity, but yesterday wasn’t enough of either.

Artemis Hives

Artemis Hives

The day before, Saturday, I went over to Rich’s, also early in the morning to help him harvest honey. We cranked his hives down from the high wire on which they hang, much like a ropes course feature, and checked first his flow hive and then a honey super on another of the four hives he has on his primary line. He has a pulley system with which he lowers and raises the hives. They’re heavy even with the mechanical advantage of a four rope pulley. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t understand, Rich has no honey in his flow hive or in the honey super. The colonies themselves looked healthy.

Afterward, Rich and I went over to the Muddy Buck and had some coffee. His daughter was still asleep at his house.

Kate had a good day yesterday. Unfortunately, I missed it out gallivanting for Jewish education. We’re investigating medical marijuana, specifically strains used by cancer patients for nausea induced by chemo. Kate may have a bong in her future.

 

Bees, Nausea, Beth Evergreen

Lughnasa                                                                     Waning Summer Moon

At 7 I’m off to Evergreen to Rich Levine’s. We’re going to harvest honey from one honey super and try to use the flow hive. The flow hive is an invention by an Australian beekeeper that has the bees put honey in plastic frames instead of a honey super. An ingenious torquing mechanism uncaps the honey and it flows through a tube into jars or a bucket. Mine came just after Kate and I decided to move to Colorado, so I’d hung up my beesuit. I have it Rich. Hope it works. That was five years ago now, and they’ve come up with improvements. Rich has one of the new ones, too.

Kate’s growing more frustrated with her nausea and I don’t blame her. Imagine if, on any day, you could be debilitated, often without warning. Imagine, further, if that debilitation resulted in weight loss and as a direct result, loss in strength and stamina. Her gall bladder ultrasound came back normal. We’re in an odd situation now of hoping that at least some test will show something. Normal is usually a good result in any medical test, but when you have something unexplained. Well. What we want now is something diagnostic, and that something treatable.

I put up 7 lesson plans, or at least what qualify in my very rookie way, as lesson plans. Each lesson plan has to relate to the overall theme for the year, reconstruction and the b’nai mitzvah experience, yet stand alone. Here’s an example. Might be used before Simchat Torah, when the reading of the Torah finishes and then starts over again.

Understanding the centrality of Torah in Jewish life

Intro. What is Torah? Why is the Torah read through, then repeated? Discussion

Lesson content:

a. Write, in Hebrew, the names of the books of the Torah

b. A conversation about the broader and deeper meaning of Torah.

c. What stories shape your life? Family stories? Childhood stories? Books, movies, anime

Finish: Dance with the Torah scrolls. (a common practice on Simchat Torah)

I’m moving further and further into the life of Beth Evergreen. Kabbalah, mussar, Jewish Studies Sampler Sundays (or, as Rabbi Jamie said at the annual meeting on Thursday: Jesuss) teaching bar and bat mitzvah students about this central ritual in Jewish life. Participating in a mussar group focused on spreading mussar in congregational life. Getting to know well at least a few members: Marilyn, Jamie, Tara, Rich, Alan, Anshel, Sally, Ron, Susan, Sheri. Seems both odd and normal. Odd in that I’m a pagan; normal in that I love this community and want to help sustain it.

 

 

 

Beezzy

Beltane                                                                            Sumi-e Moon

Snowtires off and away. Oil changed. A/C an issue that took all day yesterday with no joy on finding a leak. Frustrating. Rear brakes had to be replaced, too. That’s fine. Tires and brakes in good operating order are a must for mountain driving. The A/C is also a must with my Nordic Goddess always eager to have the temperature regime of her genetic homeland. Hopefully all will be finished by noon or so today.

20180522_174843

Ruth and Kate made this. Kate’s from yesterday looks as good.

Kate continues to gain stamina and increase range of motion for her right shoulder. She made challah yesterday, and challah rolls. With some tweaking thanks to a high altitude info sheet from King Arthur Flour she’s really got it going on. This is beautiful challah and rolls. She gave one to Tara yesterday and we’ll give the rolls to Sally today when we visit her in Golden.

Yesterday late afternoon we went over Tara and Arjan’s home for a session with their bees. Like Rabbi Jamie and Dan, they’re first year beekeepers. They’ve got the derigeur, for the Front Range, electric fence. Bear strength. Bears really like honey. And we’ve got bears.It was fun seeing their enthusiasm and a healthy hive.

Tara, Arjan and bees

Tara, Arjan and bees

Their Italians are much more docile than my Minnesota Hygienics. The four built out frames I gave them were filling up with pollen, honey and brood. They’re queen right and the colony is growing. They moved slowly, did a hive check looking at each frame while I stood off to the side and examined them, too.

Their home is on Kilimanjaro Drive. You’ll get the naming convention when you know we passed Jungfrau, Annapurna and Zugspitz drives as well. Kilimanjaro is long and winds way back into the mountains east of Evergreen. The views are wonderful with the continental divide just visible to the northeast. Still snowpacked. It was a clement mountain evening with blue sky, lots of rock and pine trees. And friends.

 

Life in the Big Mountains

Beltane                                                                                     Sumi-e Moon

Yesterday at 8 am Kate went to P.T. and I went to On the Move Fitness. They’re next door to each other. While Kate continued rehabbing her shoulder, I went through my new workout for the second time. The previous session had ouched my lower back some, so Deb modified some of the exercises.

I felt so righteous about having my workout done at 8 am, I relaxed until time for mussar at 1 pm. Anyhow new workout under my belt.

Over to C.J.’s Chicago Dogs to pick up a couple of Italian Beefs for supper. Tasty and nostalgic. Good Chicago memories. I’ve always liked Chicago and spent a good bit of time there earlier in my life.

Then, a little t.v., Midsomer Murders and reading a new book, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, a post-modern feminist riff on the story of Jekyll and Hyde. It includes Dr. Moreau and Sherlock Holmes as characters. Fun. Been doing a lot of heavy lifting with books like the Order of Time, qabbalah and the Dead Sea Scrolls, so something just for entertainment.

Today our first Blizzaks go off and away, three and a half winters of service, time to buy a new set for the upcoming winter. Oil change. Air conditioning rejuvenation. Lot of driving today. Going over to Tara Saltzman for tea and bees. She and Arjan want to talk about their bees, maybe I’ll do a hive inspection.

Memorial day weekend. Feels holidayish already. Camper races have started, 285 will be a parking lot later today. Lots of preliminary complaining by locals. Fortunately we don’t have to drive 285 unless we choose to, so we can work around holiday traffic.

D-Day

Spring                                                                    Mountain Moon

kitchen aidToday is D-Day on Shadow Mountain. Dishwasher Day, that is. Sometime between 8 and 12, the cliched “window”, Best Buy, yes, that old home town favorite, will deliver and install our new Kitchen Aid dishwasher. After five weeks plus of hand washing dishes (the horror!) we’ll go back to the way dishes were meant to be washed, with lots of chugging and rushing and whirring. This has been a sufficiently long and frustrating process that I’ll not believe it’s over until the new appliance is snug in its home and has run its first few cycles.

Rich Levine wrote yesterday to say that our bee equipment is out in the wild now, helping other, new beekeepers. Tara Saltzman, CBE’s director of religious education, felt more comfortable using our half body bee suit. A hive tool, twenty of our built out frames, two hive boxes, bee brush, smoker and pellets went to the bee project. It feels good that they’re in use rather than sitting in our garage and it particularly feels good that they’re encouraging others to learn about bees.

IMAG0784We have more hive boxes, more honey supers, plus all the equipment needed to harvest and bottle honey. We brought the bee stuff with us on the chance that we would want to pick up bee keeping here, but now it’s unlikely. With both gardening and beekeeping the challenges altitude presented might have been overcome, they can be, but that first year enthusiasm after the move, 2015, got absorbed by prostate cancer. In 2016 Jon told me he and Jen were getting divorced. That took our attention for a full year and a half to which I added knee replacement surgery and Kate added Sjogren’s. Unless we decide to purchase a greenhouse, our horticultural life will remain muted.

Kate had her third session of p.t. and I took the time to go to King Soopers and get some groceries. She’s a had a small set back with her appetite, but her progress has given her confidence. This will be only a to be expected dip. Nothing’s linear.

Today's work

Today’s work

Meanwhile I have decluttered the loft. As I work, I pile up books and paper, file folders and magazines, creating temporary archival mounds. When I get to a place where I can poke my head up over the transom and see some light, the mounds lose their archival charm and become just clutter. The act of reshelving books, creating file folders for loose papers, organizing magazines has an energizing effect, both in the satisfaction of a more organized space and in the psychic sense of a new time beginning.

Today is filing, organizing magazines and a task new to me, creating storage for my sumi-e work. Most of it is practice, but there are a few keepers. I don’t understand the value of practice work yet, so I’m going to keep almost all of it even though my instinct is to throw it away. This means finding a way to archive large flat pieces of paper in a way that doesn’t fold or mutilate them. I have some ideas, folded cardboard, removing a few maps from my flat file storage. When I get to working on it, I’ll invent something.

That, plus the dishwasher, is what Tuesday will be about.

 

Hiving

Spring                                                                        Mountain Moon

The Levine hive suspension method

The Levine hive suspension method

Drove over to Rich Levine’s in Evergreen, up on Alpine drive. I took with me two hive boxes, twenty filled out frames, a half bee suit and a veil, smoker, pellets, bee brush, and a hive tool. Rich carried the hive boxes and frames up to his deck cum study where his bees live on a wire.

We hived a three-pound box of bees into one of my old hive boxes. This involves spraying down around 10,000 bees with sugar water, removing the tin can that has fed them on their trip from the bee supplier, in this case all the way from the Western Slope, and easing the queen cage out. Once the queen cage was out, we removed a small cork in the end of the tiny wooden container and replaced it with a marshmallow. This allows the workers and queen to eat away at the marshmallow, releasing her gradually and hopefully encouraging the colony to accept her. They may not and if they don’t they’ll kill her. If they do, your hive is queen right.

Queen cage

Queen cage

After putting the marshmallow in the queen cage, we removed four frames from the middle of the hive box, turned the box over so the space for the can faced down toward the hive floor and whacked the can. Since it was chilly and since we’d sprayed them liberally with sugar water, the workers fell into the bottom of the hive. I took my hive tool and spread them around on the bottom. They’re a squirming, moving mass, whirring. With the workers in the base of the hive, the other four frames return to the hive box and the queen cage is placed between two of the frames, marshmallow end down.

BEES 3 poiund package

Since there are no flowers or other blossoms out right now, the colony must be fed sugar water until they can find something to eat. Rich purchase a feeding system new to me. It involves four holes cut into a hive box cover, just the right size for four mason jars put in them upside down. Punch a few holes in the lid, fill the jar with sugar water, invert.

The fifteen or so people there, many of whom would take a hive box and a three-pound box of bees home and repeat the hiving process there, watched with both fascination and a bit of trepidation. Afterward we had lunch, hotdogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs. Rich is a vegetarian.

I left a little early. I’ve become part of Beth Evergreen’s community at the synagogue, but I’m still nascent as part of the community outside of it. At first I thought it meant something negative, the feeling of being an outsider; but, I realized no, it was only a part of the process of coming to belong there, too. I’m an introvert and cast as the expert so being with so many strangers, I knew only four people, and looked to for answers wore me out. Normal, really.

 

Rivers and Mountains, Bees and Kate

Spring                                                            Mountain Moon

fan kuan, travelers among mountains and streams

Fan Kuan (960-1030, a.c.e.), travelers among mountains and streams, Song Dynasty

So my mind is filling with rocks, pines, mountain streams, magpies and mountain lions; a sign that the mountain theme has begun to take hold. I plan to spend this spring and summer sketching and photographing rock formations, mountains, summits, animals, water, trees and other plants, then interpreting them with sumi-e. I’m continuing to read the shan-shui (mountains and rivers) poets, moving back into the world of Chinese classical painting.

Qabbalah study continues. We’re investigating time and the qabbalists have their own unique approach to it. Here’s an example. To experience what I would call sacred time-they use the phrase eternal time-qabbalists want us to pay closer attention to what I would call ordinary time. This is far different from trying to collapse the hold of ordinary time through meditation or koans or mystical experience. The easiest example is the week. In the qabbalist’s world we count six ordinary days, then we experience shabbat. Shabbat is a time out of time, a moment in the week when the observer exits the world as usually experienced and enters sacred time. But. It’s observable as sacred time because of its contrast to the six days that precede it and the six that follow it. Thus we can find sacred time through attention to measured/ordinary time.

honey supers after the harvest, 2013

honey supers after the harvest, 2013

Getting ready to hive bees for Beth Evergreen on Saturday morning. Had to dig around in all the bee stuff we brought from Andover since Rich Levine, local bee enthusiast, needed a hive box and twenty frames plus accessories. I had enough. Getting out the hive tool, scraping propolis off the frames, moving supers put me right back into beekeeper mode. Still don’t think I’m willing to do it here, too much hassle with the need for a bear proof enclosure which means strong electric fencing. I will enjoy helping others, though.

Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016

Kate’s gained almost five pounds! This after a long period of weight loss. I called her my incredible shrinking wife. Our consult with Betsy, the nutritionist for New West Physicians, was a turning point.

Kate’s building momentum. The Sjogren’s conference left her feeling less alone with this nasty disease since there were hundreds in attendance from all across the U.S. who not only have it, but have similar experiences to hers. She also had her second session of physical therapy this morning and continues to be excited and enthusiastic about it.

Makes me smile.