We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Remarkable

Spring                                                                               Passover Moon

Synodic-and-Sidereal-3The waning passover moon is behind a faint scrim of clouds giving it a moonlit halo. Each moon cycle repeats the past, yet is unique to itself. The slow orbit (relatively slow) of the moon around the earth produces the same phases each month and in that sense repeats. But the lunar month and the sidereal year do not quite match up*, as all cultures that depend on lunar months for their calendars have long known. Judaism is such a culture.

Each lunar month happens at a slightly different place in earth’s orbit due to this irregularity over the course of sidereal year. In addition, our whole solar system is not static, but moves through the universe at a speed of 12 miles per second toward the constellation Lambda Herculis.** At the same time our solar system is also spinning around the Milky Way and the Milky Way itself is speeding toward a collision with Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years.+

sun-movement-milky-way-101222-02When you consider the irregularities in the lunar position occasioned by the sidereal/synodic difference and the speed of our solar system both moving on its own toward Lambda Herculis and around the Milky Way and then throw in the speed of the Milky Way itself, it becomes clear that no one phase of the moon every occurs in even remotely the same location.

Why belabor this? Becauses it underscores the irreproducibility of much seemingly regular phenomena. Now think about the long span of evolution on this moving planet, within this speeding solar system. This means that no animal or plant species has occupied the same cosmic location for even a short span of its existence. So, in this sense alone, each animal or plant species is unique. But, each animal or plant itself is also unique because it comes into existence and dies, having occupied only one small niche in the larger web of life.

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

Within this context regard human evolution. Australopithecus, considered the first instance of the Homo genus, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. Since that time the genus went through many speciations until, about 200,000 years ago, our own species, Homo sapiens, emerges. So, for over 200,000 years individuals of our own specific branch of evolution have been born, lived and died. Each one of them are unique within just our species.

Each of us, then, from the moment of our birth and for the very brief span of our life (in cosmic terms), travels literally millions and millions of miles, speeding around the sun, the Milky Way, toward Lambda Herculis and as part of our galaxies own rush toward Virgo and Libra. In addition each of us represents a specific instance of an evolutionary branch with its own branch on the tree of life, a branch that split off on its own some 2.8 million years ago.

This means we are each unique in many different ways in addition to the obvious ones of parentage, genetics and personal development.

image of godFinally, the point. We are, each of us, unique and precious instances of over 2 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. We represent a moment in time, yet even our moment is not static. It finds us moving incredible distances.

A key insight of both Judaism and Christianity is the notion that we are all made in the image of God. This insight casts a bright light on both each person’s uniqueness while also revealing our oneness. This truth does not change no matter what content you put into the word God.

treeThink about it. Out of all the billions of years since the Big Bang, moving in all the various ways discussed above and at speeds that make Formula One look slothful in the extreme, you and I exist in this special time together. How remarkable! We are in fact made as the conscious image of this whole universe, with all its reckless momentum and we have been given the chance to know each other and through knowing each other to know the universe that gave birth to us.

Camus talked about the river of life that flows toward death, what I have called in recent posts the Gulf of All Souls. He suggested that it was our common responsibility  to make this journey as pleasant and peaceful for each other as possible. As Ram Dass says, we’re all just walking each other home.

 

 

*watch this short movie to understand the difference between the sidereal month, 27.322 days, and the synodic or lunar month of 29.531 days.

**solar system speed and the other measurements that complicate it

+This webpage shows the difficulties in measuring the speed of objects in the universe and gives a speed for the Milky Way as it moves in the universe–an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour!

The Vernal Equinox, 2017

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade.”  NYT, The Seasons Aren’t What They Used To Be*, March 19, 2017. See an NYT graphic representation here.

650 2011 04 20_0898

 

We’re celebrating the spring equinox with yet another red flag warning. We need precipitation. Spring in the mountains is not yet, though the temperatures felt like it this whole last week.

A while ago I asked an entomologist at the Cedar Creek Nature Center in Anoka County what was the key phenological sign of spring. Bloodroot blossoming was his answer. Up here on Shadow Mountain it seems to be pasque flowers and they are blooming. Yet in many years, most years, there would be no pasque flower blooms now due to snow cover.

On the Great Wheel, the spring equinox is the point when the promise of Imbolc’s freshening of the ewes begins to appear in the plant kingdom. Leaves push out. Spring ephemerals hurry up and bloom, getting out ahead of tree and shrub leaf shade. Buds for later blossoms appear. Green pushes out brown. The sound of tractors are heard in the fields.

This storied season has a vital presence in poetry, song and many of the world’s religions. Mother earth seems to defy the fallow season, the cold season by creating life abundant from little more than sun and soil. No wonder the tales of resurrection in Christianity, in the Egyptian legend of Osiris and Isis, and the Greek’s Orpheus and Euridice, Demeter and Persephone have their analogs in spring.

bulbsYet it is not a true analog. Mother earth only seems to defy winter and the fallow time. It is not, in fact, death and resurrection, but a continuum of growth, slowed in the cold, yes, but not stopped forever, then magically restarted. Corms, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes all store energy from the previous growing season and wait only for the right temperature changes to release it. Seeds sown by wind and animal, by human hand are not dead either. They only await water and the right amount of light to send out roots and stalks.

20170318_163044I prefer the actual analog in which human and other animals’ bodies, plant parts and the detritus of other kingdoms, all life, return their borrowed materials to the inanimate cache, allowing them to be reincarnated in plant and animal alike, ad infinitum. Does this deny some metaphysical change, some butterfly-like imaginal cell possibility for the human soul? No. It claims what can be claimed, while reserving judgment on those things that cannot.

After Beth Evergreen’s mediation shabbat service last week, a member of the congregation and I got on to the topic of death. “I think it will be like before I was born,” he said. “Yes, I’m a nihilist, too,” I said. “But, I admit the possibility of being surprised.” He agreed.

Brand-Storytelling-In-The-Post-Truth-EraIt is spring, I think, that gives us this hope, no matter how faint, that death might be only a phase change, a transition from this way of becoming to another. It’s possible.

A necessary complement to the objectivity of science, then, is the subjectivity of experience. An enthusiastic openness to the lives of other species — the timing of tree blooms on city streets, the calls of frogs in wetlands or the arrival of migratory birds — is an act of resistance to deceptions and manipulations that work most powerfully when we’re ignorant. “Post-truth” does not exist in the opening of tree buds.” ibid

 

Each Person a Holy Well

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

While writing the pendulum piece yesterday, I began to consider my inner life in a way I hadn’t before. It occurred to me, probably obvious to you, but not to me, that the inner world is timeless. It’s not part of the body (I’m not sure what I mean by this.) and does not participate in the changes of aging. That world, one we each carry within us (or about us, or as us), is quiet relative to the constantly moving, pulsing, buzzing blooming nature of reality beyond it. (Thanks to William James.)

tumblr_m3j810XYmu1qcb76fo1_500

chalice well, Glastonbury

Perhaps this is what the New Testament means when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Not only is the within timeless, it’s also boundaryless, extending into an infinite realm, not all known, at most partially. That’s not to say it’s static, not at all, just ask your dream life.

This is exciting to me, considering the world within. The weird part, the somewhat new part for me, lies in the metaphysics of the within. As I consider it, feel its reality, my inner world seems separate from the physical realm altogether. I know, in terms of contemporary neuroscience, that this could be challenged; but, in spite of that, this private place seems untethered from both the outer realm and my body and, oddly, my mind.

The mind, in my use of it here, is a tool, a way of managing the interface between my body and my current concerns in the world. It does have a Janus faced quality in that it can look out to the world as the dasein of Heidegger suggests; but, it can also look inward, into my inner world. Using the mind as a point of reference, it becomes a mediator between inside and outside, but, in a manner similar to the inner world, a part of neither.

Janus_as

So, when I say the inner world is not part of my mind, I say that because the mind is the tool I use to know that world, as it is the tool I use to know and interact with the outer world.

Therefore, we can ask, what is the ontological character of the inner world? Does it have being in the way of, say, a rock, a tree, a dog, another person? I don’t know the answer to this question. It is, in the sense of isness, real since it can be perceived as Bishop Berkeley put it, but its isness seems different qualitatively from my body or the world in which it moves and lives and has its being.

This inner world is the homeworld of the imagination, of the interplay between ideas and intuition. It is the realm of memory and the alteration of memory, of the creation of memory. It is the place of fairy tales, of myth, of legend, of gods and goddesses. It can be explored with some difficulty. It often manifests after it has done its own work, throwing up a new way of seeing. In fact, my understanding of it as timeless and spatially infinite is just such a new of way of seeing for me.

Canto 3

Canto 3

I’m not saying this well. What is amazing to me, what is pushing me to explore this idea is the vastness of the inner world and its unique nature for each human being. Maybe for each dog and cat, wombat and shark for all we know. In other words in a room full of people we see them in this familiar world as distinct entities, yes, but still in this world. Yet, each person is a holy well that, like the holy wells of Ireland and Wales, provides entrance to another world, a world sui generis.

So, in fact, that room full of people is not only what it appears to be, but is also a collection of unique worlds, worlds unseen by any eye but each person’s inner eye.

Still exploring this idea, trying to suss it out.

 

 

Magnum opus

Imbolc                                                                            Valentine Moon

great workDon’t know why it took me so long, but I know how to make America great again. It will not require red baseball hats or xenophobic bluster. No, it only requires listening to the ideas of a Passionate priest, Thomas Berry. Berry wrote a small book, The Great Work. It influenced a turn in my political activity from economic justice to environmental concerns.

This 258 page book is a quick read and it introduces The Great Work. Civilizations, according to Berry, have a quintessential role that only they can perform. The one he identifies for our civilization is this: Creating a sustainable existence for humans on this earth. That is our Great Work. It is the way to make America Great again.

guestsThe phrase, the Great Work, comes from medieval alchemy. The primary, original material of the universe, the prima materia, in the alchemist’s lab can create the philosopher’s stone. The philosopher’s stone could turn base metals into gold or silver and extend the alchemist’s life.

We can take the prima materia of the U.S., its citizens and its land, put them in the alembic created by our need for survival and our need for economic  justice, and turn up the heat until we have our philosopher’s stone. When we have it, we can use it to heal the earth and create good-paying jobs for all.

Then, then America will be great. Not only again, but still and not only still but into the future as well. May it be so.

 

Multitudes

Winter                                                                      Cold Moon

walt-whitman-i-contain-multitudes

In the Nix (see post below) the author Nathan Hill takes a side excursion into the difficult, thorny problem of the self. The idea he presents helped me, gave me a middle ground beyond the no-self notions of the Buddha and several contemporary psychologists and philosophers and the Western view of one true self.

The dialectic between no-self and one true self has always found me much closer to the one true self pole. It’s the one that I accept intuitively. In fact, it was the unquestioned truth until mid-college, so unquestioned that any other idea seemed literally absurd.

“Oh, that’s her true self.” We might say this when we see someone angry, apparently peeling back the onion, layers of false selves, to reveal the enduring self located, well, somewhere; or, when some other extreme behavior allows us, or so we think, to peer into the interior of another. This is the radical western reductionist view of the self, perhaps linked to the notion of soul, the essence of a person.

The Buddhist notion, which I don’t pretend to understand well, posits no I, no we, only a consciousness that responds to whatever shows up in the present moment, our self a narrative, a story we tell ourselves, but having no “real” existence.

In Hill’s notion there is a third, perhaps a middle way, between these two poles. A character says, oh, her true self has been hidden by false selves. No, Hill’s other character says, not by a false self but by another of her true selves. Ah. Not split personality or multiple personality, not that idea, rather the idea that we each have more than one “true” self.

This makes so much sense to me. The self that writes this blog is the writing me, the self that wants somehow to turn my inside out so others can see in. I have a husband self who acts in relation to Kate and to the history of relationships I’ve had. There is a grandparent self brought into existence by Ruth and Gabe. A Woolly self. A friend self, perhaps as many friend selves as I have friends. There is an art lover self, a physical self focused on the body, a reading self, too, who willingly opens all these selves to influence by another. Each of these true selves, and many others, have their own history, their own agenda. You might call these selves the specific wanderer on each of my several ancientrails.

Given the quote above from Whitman, I’ll call this the Whitman theory of self. It is, for now, the one to which I adhere.

 

Yamantaka for the New Year

Winter                                                              Cold Moon

Existentialism is a philosophy for the third phase. No matter what other metaphysical overlays you may have the tick-tocking grows louder as you pass 65. When this clock finally strikes, it will take you out of the day to day. Forever. Strangely, I find this invigorating.

In case you don’t get it the occasional medical bomb will go off to make sure you pay attention. Last year, prostate cancer. This year, that arthritic left knee. Kate goes in for an endoscopy on January 3rd. She’s waiting approval for a biologic drug to help her rheumatoid arthritis. All these are true signs of the pending end times, but they are not the end itself. These medical footnotes to our lives press us to consider that last medical event.

I’ve followed, off and on, the Buddhist suggestion about contemplating your own corpse. I imagine myself in a coffin, or on a table somewhere prior to cremation. This is the work of Yamantaka, the destroyer of death, in Tibetan Buddhism. I’m not a Buddhist, nor do I play one on TV, but I became enamored of Yamantaka while learning about the art of Tibet and Nepal at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

yamantaka-mandala

yamantaka-mandala

This mandala is a profound work of art on view in the South Asia gallery (G212). Adepts of Tibetan Buddhism use this mandala as a meditation aid to make the journey from samsara, the outer ring representing the snares that keep us bound to this world, and the innermost blue and orange rectangle where the meditator meets the god himself. The impact this work and the portrait of Yamantaka that hangs near it have had on me is as intimate and important as works of art can evoke.

Death is more usual, more understandable, more definitive than life. Life is an anomaly, a gathering of stardust into a moving, recreating entity. Death returns us to stardust. Yamantaka encourages us to embrace our death, to view it  not as something to fear but as a friend, a punctuation point in what may be a longer journey, perhaps the most ancientrail of all. Whatever death is, aside from the removal of us from the daily pulse, is a mystery. A mystery that has served as muse to artists, musicians, religions and poets.

Yamantaka has helped me accept the vibration between this life and its end. That vibration can be either a strong motivating force for meaningful living (existentialism) or a depressive chord that drains life of its joy. I choose joy, meaningful living. Perhaps you do, too.

 

Westerners

Fall                                                                              Hunter Moon

sukkot-greetingAte lunch in the sukkah yesterday. This is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest celebration and a commemoration of the Exodus experience. The occasion was a potluck for our mussar group.

This Colorado life has distinct differences from our Minnesota life. We see the grandkids and Jon a lot, especially during this divorce process. Our life on Shadow Mountain, as we planned, has a significant family component, one that had gone missing after Joseph and Jon moved away, leaving Annie as our only remaining relative in the state.

Judaism, and more specifically Beth Evergreen, is now a regular part of our lives. I attend the mussar group with Kate. Kate’s taking Hebrew and we both attended services during the High Holidays. There is spiritual growth, yes, and community.

We’ve become more and more Evergreen-centric. The Evergreen Writer’s Group has become a part of my life as Kate’s needlework and quilting groups have become part of hers. We eat breakfast there often for our business meetings, lunch and dinner, too, on occasion.

1-evergreen-welcome-sign

The mountains enfold it all. When we leave home, we drive through the mountains. Unless we go into Denver or Boulder, we don’t leave the mountains. Black Mountain is a constant visual companion and we live on Shadow Mountain. Mt. Evan’s is a fourteener several miles west of us, but present here as determiner of our micro-climate. Yesterday there were two large, stacked lenticular clouds hovering like UFO’s over it.

Awe is a constant. In addition to the mountains, their streams and forests, there are the many wild cousins with whom we live. Last Saturday we ate in Evergreen at the Lariat Lodge with Jon and the grandkids. A man from a nearby table got up and said, “Look! A fox.” Sure enough, not twenty feet from our table a red fox with a bushy, white-tipped black tail was on some crepuscular mission. Many people gathered around to look.

bull-with-water-lily

The wild cousins live in these mountains without grocery stores or automobiles or electric lights. They sleep among the rocks and lodgepole pine, drink from the streams, and eat from the food available in mountain meadows and forests. When we see them, it’s an affirmation that the human way is not the only way. And that affirmation is, at least for me, awe-some.

There is, of course, the house and yard. The snow that comes and melts. Fire mitigation. The various projects. This loft, Kate’s sewing room. The grandkid’s room and their projects in the yard, ranging from Gabe’s rabbit house to Ruthie’s lean-to to a frame that Jon built. The dogs. The house is the core of our Colorado life and it’s as wonderful now as it was when Kate first found it.

20161014_120426

Gabe’s Rabbit House

Springtime of the Soul (& the Equinox)

Fall                                                                                       Harvest Moon

“Just as we can experience the Death and Resurrection of the God in the Easter season in spring, so can we experience in the autumn the death and resurrection of the human soul, i.e. we experience resurrection during our life on earth…”  Festivals and Their Meaning, Rudolf Steiner

The Archangel Michael (left), Gabriel (right) and Raphael accompany Tobias. Francesco Botticini, 1470; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Source: Joachim Schäfer

The Archangel Michael (left), Gabriel (right) and Raphael accompany Tobias.
Francesco Botticini, 1470; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Today is Michaelmas, the feastday of Michael the Archangel. British universities start their terms today, the Michaelmas term. Following Steiner, I have, for some years, seen Michaelmas as the beginning of a long period for soul cultivation. It is not, I think, an accident that the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, falls in the same period.

These are, too, harvest festivals, falling near the autumnal equinox. It makes sense to me to begin the New Year as the growing season ends.  Samain, Summer’s End, in the Celtic calendar, marks the finish of the harvest festivals and the beginning of the fallow time. It is also the Celtic New Year.

Last night at Congregation Beth Evergreen I waited for Kate while she took Hebrew. Where I chose to sit filled up with religious school kids, bouncing with tweeny energy. Rabbi Jamie Arnold came down to talk to them about the shofar and the upcoming New Year. He talked about Rosh Hashanah and described it as a moment when the creation can begin anew. It is possible, he said, for each of us to start life anew on Rosh Hashanah. I like this idea and the question it poses: Who do you want to be in the New Year?

Marc Chagall, Shofar

Marc Chagall, Shofar

I’m going to consider this question over the next few days before Kate, Jon and I attend the Rosh Hashanah service on October 2nd at Beth Evergreen.

Another way to pose this question is, how do I want to nourish my soul in this, its springtime? What practices can I use? Kate and I have begun to seriously wrestle with the Jewish spiritual practice of Mussar, as I’ve mentioned here before. It will be one lens through which I approach the possibility of a new being, a new me.

Yet. That new me will have a strong relation to the man who harvested years of friendships over the last week in Minnesota. He will have a strong relation to the man who hears, Grandpop!, from Ruth and Gabe. He will have a strong relation to the man who loves Lynne Olson, and Kate, too. He will have a strong relation to the man who is several dogs’ companion. He will have a strong relationship to the man who writes novels. He may be a new man, yet still the old one, too.

Summer Solstice 2016

Summer                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

redagainstwhite cropped

Fairplay, South Park

Light to dark. A continuum and a dialectic. Our inner lives fall, always, somewhere along this line. Our life might be bright, cheery, goals and actions easy to see, our days bouncy and their weight upon us like a feather. Or, our lives might be dark, intense, solemn, our next moves difficult to imagine, our days heavy, weighing upon us like a great rock.

But the Great Wheel shows us a yet deeper truth. Light to dark and dark back to light is the way of life on this earth. In the temperate latitudes this truth is at its most nuanced and its most fruitful. Quite literally. In temperate latitudes, as the Solstices mark out, we go from the Summer victory of light to the Winter victory of darkness.

Though darkness seems to be the dialectical opposite of light-winter the antithesis of summer-in fact darkness gives plant life a time to rest, rejuvenate, prepare for the rigors of another growing season. The light, when it begins to bear down upon the fields and forests, encourages and feeds them, preparing them for the harvest. In the places where the seasons are more extreme, like the tropics where daylight remains equal to night all year round and at the poles where night and day extend for months exuberant plant life can overtake whole regions. Or, at the poles ice can become so thick and vast that it covers hundreds, thousands, of square miles.

The Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice then are not opposed to each other. The transitions from light to dark and dark to light for which they are the zenith are necessary engines for the well-being of all of us who call this planet home.

Thus we might consider the transitions from light to dark in our psyche, in our soul, as variations necessary for a full and rich life. Of course we need the sunshine of children, of love, of hope, of success. The times in our lives when those can dominate are like the summer, the growing season. Yet, grief and failure are part of our soul’s turning, part of our reaction to and integration of life’s darkness. Also, those practices which can take us deep into our inner life are like the fallow times of fall and winter providing rest and rejuvenation to us.

Today we celebrate the solar equivalent of our live’s growing season. Mark out those matters in your life that flourish, that bring joy and love, that encourage your fulfillment. But, know as well that even events like divorce, like the death of a loved one, like the failure of a dream can enrich the soil of your life, must enrich the soil of your life or else we pretend that the Great Wheel does not turn, but rather stops and becomes one season, to the eventual death of all we know.

The Summer Solstice begins the gradual victory of dark over light, the one we celebrate at the Winter Solstice. Light and dark are not opposite, but parts of a whole, parts of your soul and its ancientrail toward death.

 

Becoming Native

Beltane                                                                               Running Creeks Moon

“…I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”  Joan Didion, California Notes, NYRB, 5/26/2016

Front, May 6th

Front, May 6th

Becoming native to a place implies the opposite of what Joan Didion recalls in this fine article taken from notes she made in 1976 while attending the Patty Hearst trial for Rolling Stone. The becoming process implies not being easy where you are, not knowing the place names as real, not knowing the common trees and snakes.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not a real place to me. Neither is Four Corners nor Durango nor the summit of Mt. Evans, only 14 miles away. The owls that hoot at night, the small mammals that live here on Shadow Mountain. No. The oak savannah and the Great Anoka Sand Plain. Familiar. Easy. The Big Woods. Yes. Lake Superior. Yes. The sycamores of the Wabash. Yes. Fields defined by mile square gravel roads. Pork tenderloin sandwiches. Long, flat stretches of land. Lots of small towns and the memories of speed traps. Yes.

A local photographed yesterday near here

A local photographed yesterday near here. from pinecam.com by serendipity888

With the fire mitigation this property here on Shadow Mountain is becoming known. It has three, maybe four very fine lodgepole pines, tall and thick. A slight downward slope toward the north. Snow, lots of snow.*  Rocky ground, ground cover and scrubby grass.

Denver. Slowly coming into focus. The front range, at least its portion pierced by Highway 285, too. The west is still blurry, its aridity, mountains, deep scars in the earth, sparse population. The midwest clear, will always be clear.

Becoming native to a place is the ur spiritual work of a reimagined faith. First, we must be here. Where we are.

*”Snowfall for the season on Conifer Mountain now stands at 224 inches (132% of average).” weathergeek, pinecam.com

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