We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

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.

 

 

Gonna Miss Her

Spring                                                                        New Shoulder Moon

In Gwangju, April 2016

In Gwangju, April 2016

SeoAh goes home today. Murdoch misses her and Joe needs her. Her flight is at 11:45, so we’ll leave around 8:30 or so. After I get her checked in, I’ll turn around and drive back past Conifer and on to Littleton to Hearing Aid Associates. My hearing aid no longer takes juice from batteries.

The dishwasher saga is still not over. After substantial research into dishwashers, it’s my conclusion that no one makes one that lasts very long or very well. The combination of swirling water and electronics seems to make them more vulnerable than most appliances. So. If you’ve had a good experience with a particular brand, let me know. Gonna buy one soon. Sigh.

Gwangju, April 2016

Gwangju, April 2016

Joseph’s been running an exercise at Robbins all this week. His wing commander told him on Tuesday, “Brief at 1 p.m.” This was at noon. He usually has much longer to prepare. 500 people. “I knocked it out of the park, Dad.” Baseball metaphors come naturally to this boy who was young when the Twins won the World Series twice. He also told me he still answers the phone, “Capt. Buckman-Ellis,” then has to shift quickly, “No. Major Buckman-Ellis.” 6 years a Captain wears a pretty strong groove in the brain.

Last night was the first night of the new qabbalah series, Time. The first year introductory curriculum covers the three dimensions of the qabbalistic universe: soul, space and time. Time, above all other concepts we think we understand, bends and twists when we try to hold it down, flog some sense out of it. I confess to being more unsettled as to my understanding of time than any other idea except the notion of self.

kabbalah magicThe two have a close relationship. It’s the human observer who brings time into being, I think. We know from Einstein that time and space are inseparable; but, I’m still with Kant, that time and space are actually ways our minds use to make sense of the data we gather from our senses. The implication is that they are constructs of human consciousness and that we cannot know their existence in what Kant calls the ding an siche, things in themselves.

These classes are like one long late night conversation in college. And fun for that reason.

Tarot and Craft Beer

Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Went out last night to an Atlas Obscura/Denver event. Yes, this funky website now has local, meet-up like events in various cities. The one last night was on tarot, a presentation at the only in Denver, Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project. The presenter, Joy Vernon, has been reading tarot cards since 1991 and presently works out of the unfortunately named Isis Book Shop. Isis has since changed its name to Goddess Isis Bookshop to distinguish itself from the new caliphate.

20180409_194615Besides the quirky reputation of Atlas Obscura, which draw me in, I also went because Joy said she would discuss qabbalah and the tarot. Only a couple of mentions but they were there. Here’s a for instance in this blurry photograph of one of her slides. In another spot she mentions the correspondence between qabbalah (translation note: Rabbi Jamie says the q is the correct translation) and the qabbalistic Tree of Life with its ten sephirots. Not a detailed examination of the relationship, but enough to make me want to explore it further.

Joy was knowledgeable about her subject and an entertaining speaker. To pass over the “dry” history portion (her word) she suggested a drinking game. We were in a pub after all. Each time she mentioned a place or a Tarot card with Bacchus on it came up, each person had to say Bacchus and take a drink. The crowd, mostly millennials, was into it. So when she mentioned Milan, for instance, someone in the crowd would yell, “Bacchus!” and people would drink. Pretty modestly, but hey!

20180409_194857Tarot by itself has fascinated me for a long time and I have three decks of my own. I like the iconography and the mythical, archetypal leanings of current Tarot readers. That doesn’t mean I put much stock in the readings themselves, though I do believe any sincere examination of self, whether occasioned by a hallucinogen, meditation, an analyst or a Tarot reader can be of benefit.

The next Atlas Obscura event in Denver is a presentation by a crime scene cleaner. Wish I could go but it’s on April 22nd in the evening. On that night we’ll be dining at Domo, the rural Japanese style restaurant, with Ruth and Gabe and Jon in honor of the kid’s birthdays, Ruth on April 4th and Gabe’s on the 22nd, 12 and 10.

 

Moving Forward, Cloud Dissipating

Imbolc                                                                             New Life Moon

20180315_080213Under the New Life moon a new life has emerged, related to the old one, but different nonetheless. The trajectory and the distance of the change got a marker last night on the final evening of the kabbalah class on the mysticism of the Hebrew letters.

I had my first art exhibit! (well, since elementary school.) I have done over half of the Hebrew letters in my sumi-e calligraphy, adding a quote I felt highlighted some aspect of the letter’s significance. And finishing them off with the chop. Oddly, the thought of displaying my work didn’t daunt me, as it would have in the old life. In the new life my work is my play. Self consciousness doesn’t enter the field.

Some even called my work beautiful. Wow. Don’t get me wrong though. I was proud of these pieces and as a result was able to appreciate how the others responded to them, not deflect it.

20180315_080239Too, under the new life moon I’ve become the regular dinner cook at our house, experimenting at times, at other times (mostly) using recipes, but enjoying myself immensely. Added to my long practice of working out, even that has a new flavor with the workouts every six weeks or so from On the Move Fitness, I’ve got tactile time each day. I’m using my hands and a non-verbal creative impulse.

The day after my birthday was the new moon. That means these changes have all happened in my 71st year, facilitated by the earlier fall into a melancholic state. So today I speak in favor of sadness, of gloom. Without the stasis and the deep reexamination that melancholy brings this new life would likely not have emerged.

20180315_080258It is no accident, though in real time it was, that this period was also the time of the middot of joy. Joy and sadness are not enemies, rather they are a vital source of learning if we don’t suppress them. Steering away from grief, tamping down joy in favor of a false stability, a false calm defuses the opportunity our soul offers to us through these emotions. They signal the soul’s gladness, the soul’s mourning, both key to a depth appreciation of our journey.

How the rest of my life will adjust, shift in light of these changes is not yet clear to me. And that’s ok.

 

 

 

THC, Taxes and Kabbalah

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

green_patriot_poster_v2

Taxes mailed in. Two packages headed back to the land of sky blue waters. One to a soon-to-be 70 year old guy. Got more tramadol for Gertie and Rigel. Both of them are arthritic. We know how that feels.

Spent an hour frustrating myself yesterday trying to use my sumi-e brushes and ink. I wanted to draw a raven. The bill kept coming out like a nutcracker or Angelina Jolie’s lips. Beyond my skill level right now. Back to learning strokes. I have completed 10 Hebrew letters, adding a quote and my chop. I bought the chop in Beijing in 1999. First time I’ve used it. A fun add to this work.

20180308_063942 (2)

Well, I’m no calligrapher for sure, but I still like this. A bit funky. Still working. Not gonna do all the letters, but enough to make my kabbalah presentation interesting.

Odd night at Beth Evergreen. A fellow congregant, Jonathan, who describes himself as a CBD evangelist, gave a presentation on cannabis. He has done some research on both CBD’s and THC, in particular their therapeutic value. “We need,” he said, “to reestablish our relationship with these plants. They’ve been used for healing for thousands of years.” The transition is from getting high to getting well.

medicine cannabis oil and hemp marijuana extract

 cannabis oil and hemp marijuana extract

He made some claims that seemed hyperbolic to me, shrinking brain tumors, for example, but the current state of cannabis research is so abysmal that it could be true and no one can prove it.

His basic message was that THC/CBD mixtures were the most effective due to a synergistic effect between these two molecular structures. CBD’s can be derived from hemp plants, which have essentially no THC, or marijuana plants which do have the psychoactive THC. CBD’s relieve pain and have anti-inflammatory properties while THC alone gets you high. Or, as in my case, to sleep each night. The two together have less psychoactivity, but more therapeutic power.

This was part of our adult education program. I show up before the events and set up chairs, this time in a semi-circle. We were in the sanctuary, the Torah ark behind Jonathan with its eternal light glowing. Not your usual adult ed event.

Imbolc                                                                              New Life Moon

Kate, costumed for Purim

Kate, costumed for Purim

The full new life moon had a cloudy cover as it rose in the east yesterday, a halo. Driving back from the Purim celebration last night it was moving west, though then in a clear sky, Orion visible nearby. This morning as I came up to the loft it sat near the horizon, visible only through under the branches of our lodgepoles. This bout of melancholy began under the waning Imbolc moon, grew stronger under the first days of the new life moon and now seems likely to be gone during its waning. Maybe a month total. As these visits go, not too bad.

Fellow melancholic and friend, Tom, called yesterday and we talked about the gremlin’s energy sink, its dredging up of old emotions, its general sucking out of life’s marrow. We both have long acquaintance with it. And, long experience does yield some perspective, a hint of how it will probably go. For me, the down is matched by an up, a safer version of the bi-polar depression to mania swing. The up has not come yet, but I can feel it on its way.

grandio-elite-greenhouse-featuresA couple of things have come into focus over the last few days. One, I need to work more with my hands, with my body. Now that the turmoil of our first years here has begun to subside I’m missing the garden, the orchard. Not just the growing, the plant care, the flowers and vegetables and fruits fresh out of our soil, but carrying bags of compost or digging or moving bee hives, tending to the raspberry patch. If I don’t do this, I can get stuck in my head. Not the only part of me I want to nurture.

Two, I need to read more, be quiet more. Meditate. I’ve been reading novels, as is my habit, and I read news of all kinds on the web, but I need to shift my reading diet a bit to include more philosophical, theological non-fiction. Example. I began re-reading, as I mentioned, David Miller’s, The New Polytheism. That’s the sort of work I’m talking about. It sends sparks off in so many different directions.

A few possibilities for more tactile activity. Kate and I looked at a greenhouse made by an outfit called Grandio Elite. I’m not interested in the very laborious work it would require to garden in the rocky Shadow Mountain soil. But, in a greenhouse, yes. I miss working with the soil, with plants. And, we could grow plants in the greenhouse and put them outside in containers during our short growing season. Green thumb Kate grew tomatoes here last year. Not easy.

alephs and a mem

alephs and a mem

Finally got to working with my brushes and ink, rice paper. Still a really, really long way to go before I have any true facility with it, and that’s a good thing, lots of practice required. My presentation for the kabbalah class, unveiling the Hebrew letters, will be certain letters drawn with these ancient Chinese tools and a line of poetry congruent with the letters deeper meanings written below it. Here’s a couple of alephs and a mem.

Hiking, of course. And to that end, more new workouts. Though. Got a new workout Tuesday and my left quad and bursa have complained a lot. Gotta figure out what caused that. Still, these workouts give me more strength and balance, continued ability to be in the world with my body.

20180301_064843And the reading. Oddly, the deeper my immersion into Judaism, the more my interest in Taoism increases. So. Diving into those books, some online educational material. Also, Reimagine. Reconstruct. Reenchant. Material on emergence. James Hillman. Magic and reenchantment. Reinvention of the sacred. The auld Celtic faith.

These things seem to have traction and will be a significant departure from the immediate past. A balancing, or rebalancing, of time, of attention. An outcome I expect from melancholy. Underway now.

Uncertainty and Ambiguity Are My Friends

Winter                                                                Imbolc Moon

winter solstice4Kabbalah last night. It’s an odd experience for me in some ways. I’m learning a lot, seeing how to see in a very new way, looking at the bones of the universe. The thought world of the kabbalists is strange and wonderful, allowing for a peak behind the curtain of creation. Yet. There is too a limiting factor.

When the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel did his exhaustive philosophy of history, he finished it by discovering that all of history up to then pointed at, wait for it, 19th century Germany. In the same way kabbalah peels back the layers obfuscating the journey from singularity to this world and discover that it culminates in, wait for it, the Torah. If you’re familiar at all with the history of ideas, you’ll know that this is not an isolated phenomenon.

The odd experience factor, which I’ve encountered many times, is that to learn it well there has to be a suspension of disbelief. That means following the logic and the imaginative leaps as a believer, yet knowing that that stance is a heuristic, not a life choice. This is, of course, much easier in a college classroom where the whole idea is to embrace new ideas, learn them, then move on to the next one. Schopenhauer. Kierkegaard. Logical positivism. Wittgenstein.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryIt’s more difficult to follow this approach in a faith community, even one as open and accepting of diverse thought as Beth Evergreen. The kabbalists influenced the prayer book and worship practices of all Jews, orthodox to reconstructionist. The Jewish civilization which Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wanted to further through his project of reconstruction, though it has universalist instincts, remains firmly rooted in the tribal history.

And, it cannot be otherwise. Studying kabbalah is always going to point toward the Torah, toward a specifically Jewish world, even though its implications push well beyond it. The task for me is to learn it as authentically as possible while maintaining my pagan/pilgrim worldview, seeking within the knowledge of the kabbalists the threads leading outside the civilizational fences which it necessarily erects.

Siyum

Winter                                                                      Imbolc Moon

Siyum_on_kesubosAn interesting mussar session yesterday. We had a siyum, a new favorite thing. In the rabbinic tradition whenever a group of learners would finish a book or a large section of, say, Talmud, they’d throw a party. This picture of a hasidic or orthodox siyum is exactly like our group except we’re almost all women, don’t wear hats and had much better food.

In this instance we finished a year plus study of the “Messilat Yesharim: the path of the upright” by Rabbi Moses Luzzato. As part of the siyum we each offered a verse from the text that we would carry forward, a sort of summary of the work’s significance to us. I chose a verse which contained the English word omniscience. I replaced it with what I then thought was the Hebrew, permeated knowledge. I also replaced the word God each time it appeared. This was a hermeneutical act both of reimagining and reconstructing.

20180111_143011

Our mussar class under Joseph’s dream and the burning bush

As an example of encountering the knowledge, the sacred knowledge, that permeates the universe, I spoke about the three mule deer bucks who visited me in our backyard, October 31st, 2014 when I came up for the closing on the Shadow Mountain house. We watched each other. I moved a little closer to them, they watched with those large round brown eyes. I moved a little closer, then stopped, not wanting to spook them or reinforce any habituation they might have. They were the spirit of the mountains come to say it was all right for me to be here.

This August, our yard

This August, our yard

But here’s the really interesting part. There were also three mule deer bucks in the grass outside the windows where we studied. Jamie pointed them out, we all looked. Then, several, maybe a quarter of the 20 or so people in the class, recounted their own stories, right around the time they moved to or were considering moving to the Evergreen/Conifer area. There had been welcoming deer, elk and even a bear. All of these accounts were reverential. Each recalled incident added a goose bump or two.

I felt so affirmed in my odd pagan journey, my pilgrimage on this ancientrail I chose so long ago; not because of the response to my choice of verse, but because of the obvious pagan sensibility commonly shared. This sort of shamanic seeing is a part of our human tool kit if we’re not summarily dismissive of it.

Beat the drum slowly friend.

Zerizut. Mother letters.

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

mother letters

mother letters

Oh, my. Two nights out again. Bedtime missed by an hour, two last night. Resilience is not what it used to be and hasn’t been for a long time. Even so. Tuesday night was kabbalah, an exciting evening with Allen Rubin and Jamie investigating the mother letters, mem and shin, which appear on the horizontal linkages above and below aleph on the tree of life. (see previous post about aleph)

zerizutLast night Kate and I had adult Hebrew, then, an hour later, tikkun middot havurah. This is the third of three mussar related times during the month, a once a month gathering for those who’d like to study mussar but can’t make the Thursday afternoon class. The topic was zerizut, or the middot (character trait) of enthusiasm.

January has been tough throughout the nation, I believe, with H3N2 devastating many and a general malaise allowing other less severe illnesses to gain a foothold, too. The energy level for our discussion of zerizut was ironically low because of this, I think. A lot of folks seem to have their heads down, shoulders hunched, moving slow and hoping nothing bad happens. Many are waiting for the sun.

Mountain_jewLogoMe, I was just tired. So, the question is, is it worth upsetting my normal rhythms? Yes. Yes, it is. No, not because I’m converting, still not interested. But, I have come to believe that Judaism, at least as practiced in this small mountain synagogue, is about helping humans be better in this life and to use this life to make things better for the other, be the other human or animal or a planet. Synchs up pretty well with my own journey, this ancientrail that has wound from Oklahoma to Indiana, Indiana to Wisconsin, Wisconsin to Minnesota and now, Minnesota to Colorado.

The result of this approach to the religious life is a community where people care about each other, are willing to challenge each other to grow and to support each other in various concrete ways. These long evenings are the energy sources for that work and I’m proud and glad to be part of it. Even if it makes me weary.

 

Life is like an hourglass

Winter                                                                             Imbolc Moon

hourglass

This is a short piece from a book, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations. It’s day 350. It fits so well with kabbalah, as I’m finding Taoism often does.

Life is like an hourglass

Consciousness is the sand

Imagine an hourglass.

Its shape is like the symbol for infinity. Its form recalls the double helix of DNA. Its two sections represent polarity. The material on one side, the immaterial on the other. The male on one side, the female on the other. Hot and cold, positive and negative, or any duality. (dialectic)

The sand runs in a stream, the same stream as the course of energy that runs up your spine, the same stream that is the road of life.

The movement of that sand is what we call Tao. Our consciousness alternates between the various states represented by the hourglass. It is as difficult to grasp as a stream of sand. Therefore, it is foolish to examine things minutely. It is unwise to focus on the material. It is wisdom to understand the movement.

 

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