We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

CNS and Social Change

Spring                                                                   New (Rushing Waters) Moon

book-coverToday I’m making chicken noodle soup and Kate’s making Vietnamese pho. We’ll serve this at a Beth Evergreen leadership dinner for Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, a Jewish Approach to Social Change. Along with our friend Marilyn Saltzman, chair of the adult education committee, who is making a vegetarian squash soup, we’ll provide the soups for a soup and salad meal. I really like this low key involvement. It feels manageable.

Although. I am hoping that Rabbi Jaffe’s time here at Beth Evergreen, tomorrow through Saturday as a visiting scholar, will spur the creation of an activist group focused on some form of response to the Trump/oligarch era. In that instance I’m willing to move into a more upfront role, though I would prefer to remain a follower.

Then, there’s the Sierra Club. I wrote here about my excitement with Organizing for Action, Conifer. That was back in January, I think. Lots of people, lots of energy. Good analysis. I thought, wow. Here’s my group. Then, I never heard from them again, my e-mails went unanswered. Weird, but true. Weird and disqualifying for a group that’s organizing political work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I renewed my effort to connect with the Mt. Evans’ local group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. Colorado seems to work more through these regional clusters than as a whole. There are nine of them, covering the entire state. The Mt. Evans’ group includes our part of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and a northern portion of Park County. It’s titular feature, Mt. Evans, is a fourteener (over fourteen thousand feet high) which has the highest paved road in North America leading to its summit. According to locals here it’s also the weathermaker for our part of Conifer.

I finally made it to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. When I came back, Kate said, “You seem energized.” I did. And, I hadn’t noticed. Something about that small group plugged me back into my reigning political passion of the last six or seven years: climate change. Oh, yeah. With OFA I’d tried to head back toward economic justice, my long standing motivation for political work, dating back to the UAW influences I picked up as a teenager in Alexandria. Guess the universe understood me better than I understood myself. Not much of a surprise there.

buy this here

buy this here

My mind began ticking over, running through organizing scenarios, figuring out how we could (note the we) raise the visibility of the Mt. Evans group, gain more members, influence local policy. This is my brain on politics. I might be willing to play a more upfront role here, too, though I want to explore other ways of being helpful first.

Anyhow, between these two, I’m sure I’ll get my political mojo working in some way. And that feels good. Want some soup?

 

 

The Zen of Kate

Spring                                                                        Passover Moon

700 pixels- punta arenasMonday. Physicals back to back. We do things together, like our physicals and our dental cleanings. So sweet. Very romantic. And it is, in its way. Sort of like dates. We go out to lunch afterwards.

This week is the slow drip after as test results and imaging work reveal their information. So far, generally good news. The usual deterioration occasioned by 70 + years on the planet, not a surprise, but not yet deadly.

The zen of Kate. One of the imaging tests could have returned something bad, but even in the weeks after she learned a second test, a cat scan, would be necessary, Kate didn’t flinch. “Can worrying about it make it different?” she said. A wise woman, my Kate. Of course, that didn’t prevent me from worrying about it, but I’m trying to learn from her on this one.

She’s bouncing back from a three/four month bout of low energy and shortness of breath. Nighttime oxygen (we live at 8,800 feet) and more calories each day have given her more pizazz. She’s also just had her second infusion of Remicade, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis. RA can also produce fatigue so the Remicade may be helping her energy level increase, too.

2011 09 04_1258750The zen of dogs. Over the last few weeks I’ve paid special attention to how the dogs in my life live: Gertie, Rigel and Kepler. We share moments often during the day and at night. A dog is always in the now, ready to take a nap, run outside, eat, get a head or neck scratch, some petting. They remind me of the brevity of life and how precious each moment, each interaction is, not only with dogs of course, but with family and friends. With the mountains, too. The clouds and stars. The snow.

 

Wakin’ Up Mornin’

Spring                                                                             Passover Moon

easterEaster morning. Sunrise services somewhere. The celebration of the resurrection and, by implication, the incarnation. As Passover defines Jews, Easter defines Christians. Whether you find the idea of resurrection absurd or inspiring, it heralds, as does Passover, the coming of spring. It’s not difficult, at least for me, to see the power of resurrection in the emergence of spring ephemerals: daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth, early tulips, snowdrops, pasque flowers, bloodroot.

The same flowers could be seen as passover metaphors, too. Their emergence from the long sleep of winter makes good on promises made the year before as the bulbs, corms, rhizomes all stored up energy from the sun, drank in nourishment from the minerals of the soil and sipped up water from the sky, all gathered below ground after the leaves and flowers of last year withered away. The hiddenness of these promises and the darkness in which they flourish is like the life of the Hebrew slaves in the Egypt of the Exodus.

haggadahMoses reminds the slaves, and God, of the covenant made with Abraham long ago. That covenant is the bulb planted in the hiddenness and darkness of bondage. When God finally forces Pharaoh to let the slaves go free, the bulb begins to push its stalk toward the surface. Though it takes forty years of wandering for the stalk to break the surface in the Promised Land, the beauty of freedom’s flower has dazzled those struggling with their own personal or political bondage ever since.

My sister Mary’s friend, Anitha Devi Pillai, who teaches in Singapore with Mary, posted on facebook about the Kerala new year, Vishu, which is also celebrated right now. This was new to me, but it underscores the number of New Year holidays that honor the same rhythm of mother earth. The spring festivals in Korea and China, which come earlier, also mark the resurrection in fields and gardens.

These human holidays honor the emergent freedom from darkness and cold as each new flower and vegetable breaks the surface. VishuSo on this great wakin’ up morn, I’m greeting the sun, the greening lodgepole pines, the daffodils, the pasque flowers and bloodroot with a religious fervor.

During my cancer season two years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the stolid, very long term lifetime of the mountains that create the canyon. Today I’ll make note of the consolation of spring, its power to awaken wonder. We will all die, this we know, but the mountains will continue and so will the daffodils. Blessed be.

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.

 

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

Sacred Time

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

20160330_091630“You need a rest day.” “Not for cardio.” This exchange with Kate has reverberated since we had it a couple of days ago. “You need a rest day.” I’d taken Sundays for many years, but recently began doing a longer cardio workout on that day.

Then again. A rest day. A sabbath. Oh. Since early in my seminary days, I’ve been taken by the idea of sacred time. Christianity adopted the word and a changed practice from Judaism. Christians, except for the 7th Day Adventists, shifted the sabbath to Sunday and started the day in the morning, rather than on the night before. This was to emphasize that the Christian sabbath celebrated the resurrection. With the crucifixion recorded as happening on a Friday, three days later meant Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

Even in my youth Sunday had a special tone. Just why it should was not well understood intellectually, but it was strong in practice. We had church in the morning with Sunday School then communal worship, in our case sitting in the second pew from the back, on the west side of the sanctuary, under the stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mangas Cafeteria

Mangas Cafeteria

Afterward, we would often drive 7 miles to Elwood, Indiana and eat lunch at Mangas Cafeteria. This was a major event in our week since going to restaurants was a rare occurrence. I don’t recall if the later afternoon had much of a pattern, but we did often visit relatives on Sunday, too.

What I do know is that my body remembers Sunday as a day when doing nothing was encouraged. Even now, at 70, Sundays still have a languid feel, a pull away from the usual, whatever the usual is.

When I was in the ministry, Sunday was, ironically, a day of work, with Monday taking the place of Sunday, as it does for many Christian clergy. After I retired from the Presbyterian church in 1991, leaving behind Christianity for good, Sunday lost any sacred aura it had, but retained the languid overlay.

06 20 10_Garden_6705As many of you know, I began, not long after this time, to follow the Celtic sacred calendar, The Great Wheel, a practice now long embedded in my life as you can see each day on this blog in the upper left hand corner.

Now, with shabbat shalom a familiar greeting on Friday night and Saturday, I’m still fascinated with sacred time and wanting some version of the Jewish sabbath as part of my week. Why? Well, at its simplest, it’s a rest day. But, it’s a rest day with a purpose. The Jewish sabbath emphasizes relationships and torah study.

SabbathTable-1Work is discouraged (forbidden, in the stricter applications). The discipline includes not even discussing work on the sabbath, no planning for the next week. It also emphasizes personal spiritual development, torah study, attending services, private meditation. This is a day, once a week, strictly for being. Being in the here and now.

As I’ve written here before, this makes a lot of sense to me, even in retirement. So, I’m going to take my rest day starting on Friday night and continuing through Saturday night. I’m not becoming a Jew, nor do I want to play one on TV, but I believe I am becoming Jewish. That is, a lot of the cultural practices of Judaism resonate with my own spiritual development. Beth Evergreen encourages that growth and I find it nourishing. Trying out the sabbath, the old, original one, is part of that ancientrail and one I plan to walk on for now.

So, yes. A rest day. Kate was right. And today is that day.

Ratzon

Spring                                                                     Passover Moon

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall,  1933

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

On the art regret. (see post below) Realized that to solve this problem I need an intention, a purpose. I have an intention with writing Superior Wolf. I have one with translating Ovid. I’m developing one at Beth Evergreen, what Rabbi David Jaffe calls a ratzon, a deep motivation. I don’t know what my ratzon for art is, not yet, but I’m searching for it.

I’m reading Rabbi Jaffe’s book, Changing the World from the Inside Out. He’s coming to Beth Evergreen at the end of this month. His book is a mussar focused way of considering social change, utilizing this Jewish method of character strengthening to undergird work for social justice. A worthwhile read even for those who are not Jewish. Mussar, like kabbalah, looks at the world from a human perspective but through a Jewish lens.

625448_164319917056179_937468223_nMy ratzon for political work, which I critiqued in a past post, needs sharpening, focus. Part of my problem with Fighting Trump, my previous title for articles I saved in Evernote, was, I realized, that being against something is a weak ratzon for me. I need to be for something and the Trump resistance tends to focus on opposing him. He demands opposition and resistance, no question about that, but I need to be working toward a just society, an equitable society, a sustainable society, a compassionate society, not only, not even primarily, saying NO.

As I do for art, I need a clear ratzon. Don’t have it right now, for either politics or art.

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

1012718_3234944448291_1047543642_n

first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Put it on, Take it off

Spring                                                                 Passover Moon

“It is easy to see the mountain in the distance. It is not so easy to see the mountain on which you stand.”

20170330_064303

Masks. I’ve been using the kabbalistic notion of masks-personas, complexes, yes, but somehow mask makes thems easier to discover. For me. It’s simple, at least in concept. We wear a mask all the time, often perhaps usually unconsciously. The kabbalistic idea taught by Rabbi Jamie Arnold encourages us to recognize our masks and get to know them with the ultimate goal of being able to take off and put on masks at will.

Masks may have a pejorative connotation for you as concealers of the “true” person, but this understanding suggests that our pure soul, that part of us perfectly attentive to the universe, needs no mask. A Christian might call this pure soul the imago dei. Whatever it “really” is, it is the Self that nests within the necessary apparatus for connecting with the world. It cannot touch the world by itself. When it comes into contact with the world, a mask forms. This enables the Self to see partially rather than comprehensively. (I made up this last idea, but it makes sense to me as far as I understand the concept.)

As I said in a previous post, many masks are obvious: devoted husband, father, brother, scholar, timid business person, brash businessperson, prophet, lover, athlete, lawyer, plumber, mother, sister. Part of the discipline is to stop, to take a moment, and ask what mask am I wearing right now?

For instance, at the moment I’m wearing my Ancientrails mask, a writer, blogger, self-revealer, journaler. I’m also wearing my naturalist, photographer mask which gets called up as Black Mountain goes through its morning changes. My Ancientrail’s mask is introspective, yet also expressive. It does conceal much of my Self because it links to specific and partial aspects of who I am. But. It also reveals. It reveals in the quite literal sense of putting these words on the page, but it also reveals that certain part of who I am when I have it on.

20170330_063248

My naturalist, photographer mask came on me several times as I wrote this because Black Mountain’s changes this morning were strikingly beautiful. This mask took me out of Ancientrails, out of the inner world, and into the Front Range, into the world of mountains and light. I found myself gasping several times as the light changed this 10,000 foot peak’s face to the world, its mask.20170330_065707

 

 

Makes Sense

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

We had snow. Will have more snow. So good to see moisture. We don’t get much here, this is the arid West after all, so what we get we need.

Right now dewpoint and temps are the same so we’re in a foggy state. Black Mountain is invisible. That something so massive can disappear, either in the dark or in fog, seems odd to me. Still. If I didn’t know it was there, it would not be, from my perspective.

senses

Yesterday afternoon Kate said the hard snow falling was making a sound on the skylights. She imitated it. I couldn’t hear it. As the hearing in my right ear declines, and with total deafness in the left, there are aural Black Mountains in the fog for me. I don’t hear a lot of things within the range of normal hearing, but I don’t know I don’t hear them. Those sounds don’t exist for me.

Of course, all of our senses have a limited range to begin with. Ultraviolet and infrared are light waves outside the visual ability of human eyes, yet, they, too, exist. We exist in a perceptual bubble, our evolved ways of knowing the world shutting out far more than they let in. Science, of course, is a direct attempt to extend human experience beyond the range of our senses, to discover what we don’t know, in fact, can’t know without sophisticated instrumentation.

dry chrysalis

I find this humbling and inspiring. Our inability to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to smell the comprehensive array of stimuli around us means we exist in a constant perceptual fog. There is not only more than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, there is more all around you. Considering these, our real and dramatic limitations, it’s inspiring to me that we humans have been able to develop our lives and our cultures in the incredibly complex and nuanced way that we have.

I suppose, too, that there may be an important metaphysical point buried here. If we can’t see ultraviolet, smell the 10,000 things that any dog can, hear the very low sounds of whale communication, it’s possible that there are more worlds out there, perhaps places where life goes on. How can we know such things if we can’t even hear the snow on the skylights?

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