The Simple Life. Bah, Humbug

Samain                               Moon of the Winter Solstice

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I say let your affairs be as one, two, three and to a hundred or a thousand. We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.” – Henry David Thoreau

(Walden Pond, 2010)

When I bought my farm up near Nevis, Minnesota, Thoreau and I would have been on the same page.  The Peaceable Kingdom had its own well, a septic system and heat provided by the forest I owned.  Of course, that year the simple life saw a divorce, the temperature hit -50 and a heavier yet reliance on beer and scotch.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think simplicity is a beautiful thing.  Then again, so is complexity.  If my body simplified itself, there wouldn’t be much me left.  If my consciousness simplified itself, the rest would slip away.

There will always be, of course, the few who take the Taoist monk approach, a life lived close to nature.  There will be, too, those folks who just find wilderness better company than the rest of us and who’s to say they’re wrong?

Me, though, I love samsara, this whole roiling, boiling mess we have for a place to live.  I love computers and television and movies and books, philosophical and political thought and action.  I love relationships, messy and unwieldy and complicated as they can be.  I love art, often complex and difficult.

I suppose this means I’ll never have a Walden experience or the insight of wandering through the Tao.  I’m ok with that.  If you need simplicity, then seek it, make it so.

As for me, give me complexity or give me, well, what?  Greater complexity.

 

Reimagine

Samain                          Moon of the Winter Solstice

Jon sent these two links.  Wish I’d had’em when I owned that farm up near Nevis, Minnesota.  I might still be up there, motoring around on some of these very clever inventions.  They show what an ingenious mind can do when rethinking what appear to be over and done with ideas.

http://opensourceecology.org/
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/marcin_jakubowski.html

Makes me wonder what other ideas need a complete rethink.  Computers have followed a pretty standard architecture up to now, one based on a central processing unit.  I read an article in Scientific American last week about a neural computer which, in essence, gives each unit of a computer a cpu, allowing for massively parallel processing as an integral part of the design. It’s modeled on, but not attempting to replicate, the human brain.

How about housing?  Cars?  Or, my personal quest and long time obsession, religion?  The family?  Electrical generation?  I’m interested in distributed generation where a cul de sac or an apartment building or a couple of blocks city residential units might get their electricity from, say, a combination of wind, solar and geo-thermal units sited in their immediate vicinity.

Here’s another one that could use a complete overhaul, reimagining:  nations.  The nation state is a relatively new phenomenon, most experts date its rise somewhere around 1800, perhaps a hundred years earlier in the instance of Portugal and the Netherlands.  In the wake of the globalization of economic life national boundaries have much different meanings that they did, say, 50 years ago.

Let’s go back to religion for a second.  Over the last several years, 23 to be exact, I’ve wrestled with the hole left by Christianity in my life and sought to fill it through what I call a tactile spirituality, one wedded to the rhythms of the seasons, of flowers and vegetables, of bees.  This direction took its initial impetus from an immersion in Celtic lore while I sifted for writing topics.

Then, I began to follow the Great Wheel of the seasons, a Celtic sacred calendar focused on 8 seasons, rather than four.  That led me to integrate gardening with my sacred calendar.  In the wake of these two changes in my life, I began to see the vegetative and wild natural world as more than tools for food or leisure, rather I began to see that they were my home, that I lived with them and in them, rather than having them as adjuncts to my anthropocentric life.

This whole change, this rethink of what sacred and holy mean, what the locus of my spirituality is and where it is, has had a long maturation, much thought and experimentation.  My hope is that my reimagining might provide a common religious base, a sort of ur-religion, which all humans everywhere can embrace.

As in times past this base religion could certainly have others layered on top of it, its essence after all is to be non-exclusive.  What I hope further is that reasserting, inviting, even luring others to see the sacred and the holy in our planet and its other living beings, they will be more likely to join in to see it healthy and vital.

Samhain: 2010

Samhain                                                    Waning Harvest Moon

In the ancient Celtic faith Samhain (October 31) and Beltane (May 1) were the only holidays.  W. Y. Evans-Wentz gave a folklorist’s account of that faith in his first book, . Evans-Wentz wrote this amazing work, little known in spite of his later and famous first translation of the Tibetan  Book of the Dead, after wandering several months through the Celtic countryside, staying in the villages and modest homes and listening to these stories as they were told around fires of peat, voices passing on a tradition and whiling away the dreary winter months in a time before electricity.

Think of such a time as the cold begins to bear down on us and the leaves have fallen, the vegetables brought in from the garden now lying in their dark storage.  Imagine if those vegetables and what grain might be stored as well, imagine if they were your food, your only food, for the next five to seven months.  Though the Celtic winters were not as severe as the ones here in Minnesota, they were just as fallow, the earth no longer yielding fruits, all hope of new produce gone until late spring.

It’s easy for me to imagine this because I harvested the last of our vegetables yesterday.  I would be in a panic r if we had to survive on the few carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and garlic we have stored dry.  Yes, we have honey, canned tomatoes and some pickles, but even for the two of us, we would have to be almost magicians to live off this amount of food.  At best we would enter spring mere shadows of our October well-fed selves.  As supplements to our diet, our stored food is wonderful, a blessing; as sustenance alone, it would be meager.  At best.

Among the Celts this was, too, a time when the veil between the worlds thinned and passage eased from the Other World to this one and from this one to the Other World.  Like the Mexican Day of the Dead, celebrated on the same date, it was a time when ancestors might visit.  To keep them happy their favorite foods and music and dress would be available.  The Celts also believed that, in addition to the dead, the inhabitants of faery could come and walk among human kind.  They might steal children or lure unwary persons back across the veil, back to the world of faery where time passes so differently than it does here.

We have the faint memory of this holiday today.  The costumed remind us of the strange and often scary entities of the Other World that flit, often unseen, among the living on this night.   The jack o’lanterns have descended from the Samhain carved turnip (a rutabaga to us in the U.S.) which, when lit with a candle, glows yellow, much like a skull.  The carved turnip and the parshall were put on or near the lintel (sound familiar?) to keep those roamers from the Other World at bay.

On a personal and spiritual level this can be a time to consider the past growing season, Beltane as the Celts called it.  What came to maturation in the last six months?  Have you taken time to harvest and store up the fruits of those efforts?  It can also be  a time to consider the fallow and bleak time ahead, Samhain.  While Beltane might be the Baroque or Rococo time of year, heavily decorated with lots of shadows and light, winter is the minimalist season, a time when the canvas might even be bare.  Then we might confront our world as a Mark Rothko painting, an inward time, of seeing the other as it resides in our Self, or going down to the well of the collective soul and replenishing ourselves for the year ahead.

A paradox rears itself here.  A paradox most neatly stated in the observation by certain Western thinkers that September 29th, Michaelmas, the celebration of the archangel Michael, is the springtime of the soul.  Thus, as the growing season wanes and finally extinguishes, we follow Persephone under ground, down into the cathedrals of our own souls.  There we can recharge oursSelves in the deep waters.

In and Down

Fall                                          Waxing Harvest Moon

60 pink daffodils have a new home in the soil surrounding two cherry trees and a pear tree.  These trees are the first ones visible out our kitchen window, so the blooms will cheer us up as spring begins to break winter’s hold next year.  Bulb planting relies on, requires darkness.  Beauty, like Snow White, goes to sleep beneath the autumn sun and lies as dead all winter long.  With the kiss of the sun prince flowers emerge.  Perhaps the years I’ve spent planting bulbs in great numbers, as many as 800 in some years,  triggered my affection for darkness.  In the first few years of daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, snowdrops and croci I often thought of those bulbs, covered in snow and cold, waiting out the winter in their castle of food and nascent stalks, leaves and flowers, a feeling similar to the one I get now when I’m at work in the garden and a bee, a bee from Artemis Hives, alights on a flower near me.  Both of us, insect and human, have valuable work to perform in the garden and we labor there as colleagues in every sense.  The patience and persistence of the bulbs beneath the snows and cold of December and January has always touched me, a sweet feeling, a well-wishing for them in their lonely underground redoubts.

That’s part of the darkness focus.  Another, earlier part, came when I began to feel uneasy with spiritual metaphors that took me up and out of my body.  Heaven.  Prayers that go up.  God being out there.  The minister lifted up above the congregation.  A sense that the better part of existence lies beyond the body and this moment, somewhere high and far away.   I began a search for spiritual metaphors that took me down and in.  Jungian psychology helped me in this search, but the clincher came after I had decided to study Celtic history in preparation for writing my first novels.  A trip to north Wales and two weeks in a residential library there tipped me to the existence of holy wells, springs that had sacred meaning to early Celtic religious life, long before the arrival of Christianity.  Here was a metaphor that went down and if used in meditation, could stimulate a spiritual journey in the same direction, no longer trying to get out of  the body or up and far away.

The spiritual pilgrimage that began from that point has led me on an inner journey, into the deep caverns and cathedrals of my own Self, traveling them and finding the links between my Self and the larger spiritual universe, the connection not coming on an upward path, but on the ancientrail of Self-exploration.  I do not seek to go into the light, but into the caves.

Still Reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Summer                                              Waning Strawberry Moon

“if your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.”- Chinese Proverb

Ever have days that just happen, disappear with little trace?  The last couple have been like that for me.  The ear, the fuzz from the infection and a slow take on things.  That’s the extent of it.

I’m now in the last quarter of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  I’ve been at it since sometime early June, late May.  Now, I’ve been a little slow, I admit, but it is 2,340 pages long in print.  I’m reading it on the Kindle.  It carries a slow, but steady course in Chinese logic, especially as related to war and politics, Confucian and Taoist influences on Chinese culture in general and the courts and military in particular and a careful rendering of the demise of one of Empire, the Han.  The Han Empire, the Tang, the Song and the Ming have pride of place as golden ages of the Chinese people.

(this is the entry way to the tomb of Cao Cao, the arch villain of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  Chinese archaeologists discovered it last year and opened it on Chinese television last month.  this stuff is still very relevant.)

It’s interesting to consider that the Chinese have not one golden age, but four when culture flourished and the nation was at peace.  I don’t know the whole well enough to say for sure, but one of the long lasting appeals of this 14th century (Song dynasty) novel may be the dissolution of the first of those.

My interest in China will never be more than that of a journeyman’s, perhaps no more than an  apprentice, but it fascinates me.  Part of that fascination is imagining what it would be like to live in a culture with that much depth, where a person in Shanghai today could read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and recognize not only names, but the culture of this ancient past.

In one view those of in the United States can look only as far back as 1776, in another 1602.  If we stretch our gaze back further, we can cross into European history and follow it back into the world of ancient Rome and further back yet, ancient Greece, but there, for the most part, it stops.  Yes, you can argue the history of the Jews and the Egyptians are also our history and they are in terms of influences intellectual and artistic, but I don’t have a personal bond even with the ancient Greeks.

The closest I can get in experience to that of the contemporary Chinese is to follow my Celtic line back into the mists of Celtic myth and legend.

Anyhow, it’s been an interesting read and I’ll be sorry when I’m finished.  Not sorry enough, however, to pick up another Chinese classic for a few months.

Ordinary Time

Winter                              Full Cold Moon

In just two days those of us who follow the Celtic calendar will celebrate the coming of Imbolc.  I’ll write more about it on Monday, but I wanted to note here the difference in timber and resonance between post-Epiphany January and the holiseason just ended.  We move now into the ordinary days, days when the sense of expectation and sacred presence relies more on our private rituals, our own holydays.

In my own case, for example, Valentine’s Day lends this time period a certain magic as its pre-birthday spirit invades the present.  Also, for me and my fellow Woolly Mammoths, this next week marks our annual retreat, so we get ready for it, this time again at Blue Cloud Monastery in South Dakota.  It is, too, for those with any presence in the Chinese world, just a couple of weeks before the beginning of the spring festival, or, as we know it here, Chinese New Years.  This year it begins on my birthday.

Imbolc, too, has sacred resonance and its six week period marks the beginning of the growing season here as seeds for certain long growing season vegetables like leeks must get started.

A Taoist Druid with a Spading Fork in Hand

25  86%  28%  ompn SSE bar29.95 rises  windchill25  Imbolc

                Waning Crescent of the Winter Moon

The struggle I talked about yesterday is a symptom of a shift in attention in my inner life.  When I pursued meditative and contemplative practices related to Christianity, the experience enriched and deepened me.  When I moved away from Christianity, the only comparable practice left in my life involved Jungian analysis and the Ira Progroff journals.  Those took me further and, I believe, have calmed my mind’s chatter and prepared the soil for a new way, but in themselves they are not a way.

Now I can feel a shift in the inner cathedral, as Progroff called it.  The shift, under way for sometime in various manifestations, involves attunement, even atonement (at-one-ment).  Here are the disparate pieces that float in my inner life: my move away from metaphors of transcendence to ones of deepening, the  Great Wheel, the Celtic Faery Faith, Jungian thought, gardening, keener appreciation of the natural world, climate change, Taoism, Asian art and culture and transcendentalism.  Each one of these has a particular and peculiar role in deepening my inner life.  My hope is that the stirrings I feel mean that this complex has begun to move toward integration.

In a sense I believe all this began, or began to begin, when, in a session with a spiritual director, after discussing my then new admiration for Celtic spirituality, he said, “Well, maybe you are becoming a Druid.”  Maybe so.  Or, more likely, something akin to a Druid, but one with a Taoist bent perhaps.  A taoist Druid with a spading fork. 

We’ll see.