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  • Entheos

    Beltane and the Mesa View Moon

    Monday gratefuls: Curiosity. The Ancient Brothers. Mark and Dennis. Coming May 23rd. Yet more Rain. Even more swollen Streams. Ancientrails as a life project. Tom and his time with Charlie H. Bill and his time with Bella. Mark and his time at the gym. Anytime Fitness. My treadmill. Marilyn. Ginnie. Josh. Jane. Kat. A banker. Vulcan Centaur.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Rocket Scientists

    One brief shining: A beautiful woman with a long braid dangling over her t-shirt down to her space themed spandex had, on the back of the blue t-shirt an outline of the Vulcan Centaur rocket, on the front ULA and I asked, I’m too ignorant to know but is that a real rocket ship?


    Yes. She answered. And I was working on it until I quit my job a year and a half ago. What was your area of expertise? Vibration and acoustics. Oh. I see. Not sure why I keep running into engineers. But I do.

    CBE is amazing. All these smart people. This was at the Dismantling Racism class yesterday afternoon. Looked up the Vulcan Centaur and it’s been under development since 2014. Supposed to fly for the first time in July. Had a setback a month ago though with a second stage explosion during preparation for a launch.

    The class has gotten better. Taking a mussar approach to the work. I like it for the inner work though I chose an opponent for my practice this week. Four areas of possible practice each week: with HaShem (God), with Self, with a fellow, especially a victim of anti-black racism, or with an opponent.

    My practice involved an e-mail to a person with whom I’ve had long standing differences. Sent it last night and got a reply this morning. A sweet one. Maybe there’s something to this approach. The middah this week is kavod, or honor. Honoring self and other. The theological idea is the all made in God’s image trope. Said another way, we’re all human, all riding this blue spaceship our only home together with all the other critters and plants. Honor it all.


    During the Ancient Brothers session on curiosity I identified curiosity as my defining characteristic. And naming what I call the valedictory lifestyle. As a valedictorian myself I’ve occasionally become curious (see!) about what happens to others who graduate first in their class academically. Turns out usually nothing spectacular. Sure a lot go into academics. Some have successful careers in business or the sciences.

    But usually no stars. No one off achievements. No amazing inventions. Why? Because we’re generalists. We easily get sidetracked by something new and shiny. If purity of heart is to will one thing, we’re not at all pure.

    I call them enthusiasms. My enthusiasms can last a long time. Religion has turned out to be the longest lasting, but inside that broad category I’ve been all over the place. From existentialist atheist to Christian to Unitarian-Universalist to Pagan and wanderer with the tribe. There’s a piece of each of these, often substantial pieces that remain intact within me. All somehow glued together with Taoism.

    There’ve been many others. Art, my twelve years at the MIA. Politics, lasting almost as long as religion, but again all over the place in terms of action. Islam which I studied after 9/11. Horticulture. Cooking. Heating with wood. Beekeeping. Dogs. World travel. F1. Science. Tarot and Astrology. Cinema. Acting. Writing. Getting degrees. Tea. Korean and now Spanish. Oh, and one that actually has been lifelong, reading. Not sure when I learned but I’ve never ever stopped. Buying books, too. To feed the habit. I’ve dabbled in painting and sum-e.

    Enthusiasms in my life are more than dabbling but less than enough to gain full mastery. But I must admit it’s been, is being, a hell of lot of fun.





  • Dogs and Cooking and Reading

    Imbolc and the Waiting to Cross Moon

    Saturday gratefuls: F1 Jeddah. Qualifying. Dr. Doverspike. Kep, pain managed. Walking taller. Cold night. Good sleeping. The light of a new day. A light yellow between the white flocked Lodgepoles. A robin egg’s blue sky above. 5 degrees. Another Shadow Mountain morning. Each day is a new life. A resurrection. A rebirth. Jon’s house on the market next weekend. My son the golfer. His wife, too. Furman. Farleigh Dickinson. No more Arizona. No more Purdue.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: A Mountain morning


    So. No radiation this week. Got a call from Dr. Simpson yesterday. Radiation oncologist. Am I experiencing any difficulty in tasks of daily living as a result of my cancer? No. That’s what they wanted to know. They being the just say no team at United Health Care. Might know next week. I feel good about participating in holding health care costs down. Don’t I?


    Dr. Doverspike came yesterday. We agreed Kep has made steady, but slower than expected progress. Probably because of the long low dose steroids. Stopped those. Now he needs to get outside, wander around. Climb stairs. Rebuild muscles. He’s still 13 of course so he’s not going back to bounding around. He’s calmer. Sleeps through the night. Eats well. A good life.


    Cooked Salmon last night. Still finding the right temps using the induction cooktop. Found it for Fish last night. No more burning. Setting 7 out of 10. Made cacio e pepe in the morning. Cheese and black pepper spaghetti. Put a couple of Eggs on top of a modest serving. Fancy breakfast. Adding the leftover chorizo from the soup I made last week. Tasted good. Had Salmon, cacio e pepe, and mixed vegetables for supper. I enjoy cooking when I feel up for it. I always make breakfast. Usually, these days, overnight oats. Plus something else. Blueberries. Eggs. Yogurt. If I eat a big lunch, I’ll probably skip cooking an evening meal.


    I’ve only got a few more books to go in the Joe Pickett series by CJ Box. Then I’m going to shift my fiction reading to the Arabian Nights. A return journey. Still working my way through Vibrant Matter. It’s a short, but dense book. Nearing the end of How to Change Your Mind. Got James Pogue’s book, Chosen Country, on the Malheur Occupation. Still following that far right thread. The newspapers and magazines help me, too. The Proud Boys and their lawyers antics during their sedition trials. An Atlantic article on political violence talking about Portland as a battleground between far leftists, anarchists, and the far right. The abortion pill debacle. Trump and DeSantis. This is gonna get worse.

    If Rich is right, it may never get better. Who knows. I may own property in the sovereign nation of Colorado if I lived on another hundred years. What fun.


    Gotta get some breakfast. Watch qualifying in Jeddah. Read the articles about Purdue and Farleigh Dickinson.

    Oh. And the day has fully dawned with bright clear light falling on the Snow covered Lodgepoles. Till tomorrow.


  • You’re Joyful

    Beltane and the Beltane Moon


    Friday gratefuls: Tiredness. Long sleep. Denver Mountain Parks. Trail off Brookforest Drive. Mussar. Feelings shared. Luke’s hug. Acting. Felix. Learning lines. Reading. Zweig. Powers. Meisner. Tal. Out of the head, into the heart. Jon. Ruth. Gabe. Diane. These wonderful Mountains. Shadow Mountain. Herme. Kep. Kate, always Kate.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Denver Parks Mountain Trail

    Tarot: Ten of Bows, responsibility

    “To tackle the challenges that come with responsibility here requires resilience, endurance, and assertiveness. The burden may be overwhelming and disordered, but the task given to you is aiming for a good, great goal, not only for yourself but also for your family or tribe.” tarotx.net


    OK. Second time in two days for the Ten of Bows. Psyche telling me. Pay attention dude. Responsibility. Those bows weighing me down. Keep moving. Be assertive. Yes. Endure. Yes. Be resilient, yes. Figure out a way to hold a relationship without giving in to hurt or immorality. Or, figure out a way to let it go altogether.


    More learning of lines. Reading about Meisner. “Renowned American actor and acting teacher Sanford Meisner developed his groundbreaking technique to guide actors in behaving instinctively and getting in touch with their emotions instead of getting trapped in their own thoughts.” NFI  “The Meisner Technique is a brick-by-brick process designed to get you out of your head and into your gut.” Meisner Technique Studio.

    A great way to move myself beyond the last period of my life and into the new one. Didn’t take the class imagining this reward, but there it is. Thanks Alan and Tal.


    Mussar yesterday. A sweet time. These folks have my back. And my front. Getting to know Luke better. Leo, his dog. A sweetheart. Sweet. A word I reuse. Means I often see the world as precious. Most of the time. Life, too.


    Acting class on Monday. Kabbalah and the Stars on Tuesday, zoom. Diane on Wednesday zoom. Mussar on Thursday. A lunch or breakfast with Alan or Luke or Rebecca. The Ancient Brothers on Sunday. An occasional service, a visit from the grandkids and Jon every couple of weeks. MVP once a month. That’s plenty for me. I wouldn’t want much less and certainly not much more. The Hermit in a Crowd. Living alone with a crowd.


    On the way home from mussar I stopped for the lovely Denver Mountain Park Trail near the bottom of Brook Forest Drive. About 30 minutes. A Stream. Valley walls covered with Ponderosa. Green Grass along the Stream bed. Going in and out of Shadow. Lodgepole. Dogwood. At the end of the trail the reward is Water falling over a graduated step of Rock, the Stream not yet finished wearing them down. The sound, soothing. On a small Pond I saw Water Wtriders. Picked up a Pine Cone that had a new Pine growing from its tip, a chartreuse baby Tree. Overstory on my mind the whole hike.


    During an acting exercise aimed at getting us to our feelings Tal said of me in succession: you’re patient. I am patient. You’re kind. I am kind. You’re joyful. I am joyful. That last one. Yes. At last.


  • Oh, the Wonders We’ll See

    Beltane and the Beltane Moon

    Tuesday gratefuls: Deb. Robbie. Tal. Gretchen. Alan. Terrence. Jill. Nights. Lunar red. The full red Moon. Cloudy skies. Skipping Sefer Yetzirah. Learning things in astrology. Not enough. Reading plays. Loving it. Art is not only sculpture, prints, paintings, metal work. Literature. Theater. Music. Oh. Remembering.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Alfieri and Felix

    Tarot: #8, The Stag


    “The Stag shows our connection to the universe and…organic life on this planet. The hatchet is a symbolic image of the human will to alter the environment. In order for the environment to change more positively, we need not only more effective actions but also (to accept) our responsibility to nature. On the shield, the picture of a great Oak tree reminds us that we must preserve and protect natural resources.” tarotx.net


    Wow. Up at 9:22 am this morning. To bed at 10:30 pm. Acting class and pre-bed routine. Woke up and felt great. I went, huh? No time to write Ancientrails before Astrology class. No time to exercise so I skipped Sefer Yetzirah. Skipping class. For me? Hardly ever. I loved doing it this time.

    Had brunch, then exercised. Felt and feel great. Pay attention to accidents. Like the fall, yes, but in this case a late night, late morning. Well. I could do this, I guess. Just because for the last 30 years I’ve gone to bed early and gotten up early does that mean I still have to? No. It doesn’t

    If my acting lessons take me anywhere, which I’m not expecting, but if they do, rehearsal? At night. Performances? At night. Services at CBE? At night. It would open up a different lifestyle for me.

    On that note. I got stuck. My Minneapolis Institute of Arts experience led me to a Johnny-one note approach to the arts. Painted. Sculpted. Printed. Sewn. Splattered. Photographed. Videoed. Yes. If I couldn’t regularly see high quality art of this kind, well…

    Then my buddy Alan suggested I take an acting class. Sure. Why not? At the very least a reminder of a different art form. One I’d engaged in the long ago far away. Whoa. Heart work. Body work. Get the mind out of the way work. Reread some contemporary work like The Odd Couple, View From the Bridge, next American Buffalo. Act scenes from them. Develop the Self in a new way.

    I mean. Like the proverbial 2×4. Oh. Yeah. And music, too. Gotta get somebody, maybe Alan, to help get my audio world turned on here on Shadow Mountain. Will begin again to read classical literature. Metamorphosis first, I imagine.

    As Ode said, routines. The only difference betweeen a rut and a grave are the dimensions. Yeah.

    So I may become a later to bed, later to rise guy. For art’s sake.


    Here’s a realization I had today. When I take something from Taoism, I take it as a Taoist.When I take something from Christianity, I take it as a Christian. When I take something from Judaism, I take it as a Jew.When I take something from Islam, I take it as a Muslim. When I take something from Hinduism, I take it as a Hindu.

    Furthermore. When I take something from Japanese culture, I take it as a Japanese. From Colombia as a Colombian. From the Celts as a Celt.

    Syncretism and appropriation are dirty words in most intellectual circles. I’m not trying to create a new, smashed together religion, nor am I lifting ideas from their living culture to reorient in mine.

    Nope. When I say I’m a follower of Shiva, which I am, I mean I’m aware of and beholden to the cosmic dance of creation and destruction and Shiva is its name. When I say ichi-go ich-e is important for me, I’m saying this moment, this one while I’m typing on the keyboard, throwing these ideas out into the cyberether, will never happen again. And, is precious for that reason. When I say I follow the Great Wheel, I’m an ancient Celtic thinker noticing the stars and the changing of the seasons, tying them together in a long, yet repeating spiral.

    I don’t pick and choose. Nope to that either. Some ideas and concepts that come to me as I read, listen, see change my way. When they change my way, they become part of me, part of my ancientrail.

    Neither striving for nor hoping for a neat package tied up with a bow. Nicely systematized. Not important to me. Insights into life and how to live it? Very important to me.

  • Book-Wrapt

    Yule and the Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Where is Webb? At this moment it is 157000 miles from Earth, 742,000 miles to its orbit, and cruising at a stately 1084 miles per second.

    Sunday gratefuls: The Webb. 17% of the way to L2. Our white Christmas. The Power of the Dog. Whoa. Jane Campion. Microwave. Sink, working. Dishwasher, working. Heart, working. Kate, always Kate. Travel. Jon’s prints. Kep’s bounteous fur. Rigel’s pique. Termination Shock, Neil Stephenson. Finished. Barrow spread. Finished. New life. Begun.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: The Barrow Spread

    Tarot: Winter Solstice spread. The Barrow. My question: How can I replenish my fire? A second post, today or tomorrow.


    Book-wrapt. A new term invented by a neighbor of Toni Morrison’s, a computer scientist who wrote a book on private libraries. Reid Byers: The Private Library. As those of you who’ve seen my loft know, this topic has a personal interest to me. If you clicked through, you’ll know this is a pricey volume. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t buy it. Yet.

    “Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit, or entering a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend,” he writes. “It is a setting forth, and it is a coming back to center.”

    Mr. Byers coined a term — “book-wrapt” — to describe the exhilarating comfort of a well-stocked library.” NYT, Dec. 24, 2021.

    The loft is such a place. It’s not an architect designed space. It doesn’t have the coherence that a purpose built private library might, but it is book-wrapt. Book-full. Book-stacked. A book place. When I come up here, the world shrinks away and I’m in book world, thought world, the Other World of my lived existence. The house is This World where food gets cooked, sleep happens, dogs lounge. A sick wife got cared for.

    I have often commented on the strength of Rigel and Kep’s support during my grieving. And, it’s so true. Something I’ve forgotten, or perhaps not recognized until this article, is the support of my library.

    Libraries are my happy place. While in Seminary, I had a favorite carrel on the third floor of the library. It overlooked the Seminary grounds, Highway 694, and the forested land across the freeway to the north. My heartbeat slows down, my mind concentrates. I find flow in libraries.

    Perhaps that’s the key to my version of a hermitage. In addition to housing the hermit on a mountain top, it also holds books and art, a place to create art, a place to sustain the body. A place to write. A place to read. The library, the loft, is on the grounds, but not of the house. It is its own place, space.

    I sit with my back to this when I write

    When the living room area gets finished, an Arts and Crafts feel should permeate the house.Without knowing why, that era of design gives me a feeling similar to being book-wrapt. Something about its rich colors, floral patterns, sharp-edged furniture, stained glass. Maybe it’s the Victorian evocation? The Bloomsbury group? Not sure, but I am trying for some level of integration between my book-wrapt space and the This World focus of the house.





  • Go, young one, Go

    Imbolc and the Megillah Moon

    Saturday gratefuls: Simple roast chicken. So good. Red Lobster dinner rolls. Likewise. Shadow Mountain Israeli Salad. Cooking. Kate’s feeling better this morning. Rigel prancing in the snow. At 12+. Kep and his serious life. Perseverance. For all those at JPL. Yeah! For all those from Colorado who participated (a lot). Yeah! For the part of our soul that is curious, that wants to see, that wants to know.

    Sparks of Joy: That roasted chicken when it came out of the oven. Vaccines. The love of and by dogs.

    We live in an age of exploration. I know it got started even earlier, but we have good evidence of humanity leaving Africa and spreading out over the Earth. A long period of exploration that once begun, we have not been able to stop.

    Yes, it’s had its bad moments. Many of them. Colonialism its worst, I think. But a lot of glorious ones, too. Rounding Cape Horn. Summiting Everest. Walking the land bridge from Asia to North America. LANDING ON THE MOON. Voyager. Curiosity. Perseverance. Down to the Mariana’s Trench. Into the microscopic, the sub-microscopic.

    And there are the psychonauts who explore the mind on hallucinogens. The mystics, who do their exploration without technology. Scholars who roam libraries, tells, caves for evidence of our long pilgrimage, how we have handled it. Children who go down the block, turn right into the field, and leave this planet by means of their imagination.

    We are explorers. Pilgrims. Wanderers. Always hunting for some new place to live our lives, or to visit to expand our life at home.

    I celebrate each explorer. Each pilgrim. Each wanderer. In you, in us, we grow beyond this species and into the future. May it always be so.















  • A Wandering Soul

    Samain and the Moon of Thanksgiving

    Sunday gratefuls: Paul’s birthday. Mark Ellis. Mary. Diane. Rigel, keeping me warm. Dr. Bachtel. Cod fingers and steak bits. Onion and Cucumber salad. A Colorado blue Sky day. Colorado road builders. Jeffco snowplow drivers. Whoever invented concrete and macadam. Britain. Wales. Scotland. England. Isle of Man. Druids. The Holy Isle. Castle Conwy. Hawarden, Wales. St. Deniol’s residential library. Chester, England. Horse racing there.

    I have my toe in the Christmas Spirit pond. Not fully there, but it’s coming. Feels wonderful. Getting ready to dive into some research on Yule and the Winter Solstice. Where most of the Christmas traditions originate. I love learning about Celtic and Northern European religious traditions. Their pantheons. Their myths and legends. Snorri Sturluson. Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Tolkien’s work. Beowulf. Not sure why but these traditions resonate with my inner life. As does Taoism and the lifeways of the Japanese. Much more so than the New Testament or the Torah. Seems strange that it would be so. But, it is.

    Even Diwali and Holi. I’d like to experience Holi at least once. Throwing colored powder at each other to celebrate the riotous colors of spring and the triumph of good over evil? Yes. Messy, beautiful, ecstatic.

    Buddhism doesn’t do it for me either. Except certain aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. Yamantaka. Bardo. Again, not sure why. Thin soup for me.

    Those traditions that find animacy everywhere like Shinto, many Native American traditions. Yes. Roman and Greek myth, legend. Yes, not in a soul way, but as story, as ancient layers below this civilization in which we live.

    Perhaps my soul never left the time into which it was born. Maybe during the journey out of Africa when all things were miraculous. When all things moved and lived and had their being right alongside those of us on pilgrimage to humanity’s future. Or, maybe some shamanic ancestor moved directly into this body. Wondering what it was like far from his or her time.

    Whatever the explanation. Once I began to see, and then shed, the totalizing myths I’d been steeped in from birth… Well. I can’t unlearn the fragile and human created nature of them. The scent of fear in them, attempting to make certain an uncertain world. Building meaning for lives out of tissue paper and sealing wax. Like the Catholics who built their English churches over Celtic holy wells. Tried to absorb enough of the Faery Faith to draw the Celts away from their pagan practices. It worked. For a while. As Judaism and Islam work for a while, for many. Zoroastrianism.

    Not sure about Hinduism. It seems to want those most early, most primal connections with this place. Great stories like the Ramayana and the Rig Veda. I don’t know it well enough. Maybe never will. The Mahabharata. Many mystical practices. Lots of color and fun. Also, the dark side of caste, of killing Muslims.

    This month though, the time of deepest darkness, has inspired so much wonderful music. Story. Celebration. At least for those of us in the temperate latitudes. And, I revel in it. Going down with the longest night into the well of my soul. Coming out to light an evergreen tree, hang mistletoe, holly and ivy. Santa Claus. Elves. Snow. Cold. Icicles. Sleighs. Horses with halters. Fire up the yule log. Wish I could lift a glass of grog, or ambrosia, or single malt scotch. But, alas no.

    Guess this is my Sunday unsermon. Leaving one way and seeking others.

  • Thanks for the Body Contact

    Samain and the Moon of Thanksgiving

    Tuesday gratefuls: Kate’s good days. Cottage pie. Rigel in the bed. Her licking my hand this morning. Kep peeking over the edge of the bed, “Get up, Get up!” Charlie Haislet, may his treatments succeed. CBE. The blues shabbat this Friday. Chess. Stefan Zweig. His Dark Materials. Phillip Pullman. Vaccines. Covid. Sleep. Electric blanket. Cool nights.


    The other night Kep got up, turned around three times, and laid down with his back snug up against mine. I know this is probably weird to non-dog people and that some dog people say my dog will never be in my bed. Fair enough. For me, however, it was an affirmation of the hug. Of love between species. And, it got me thinking. About hugs and sex and general body contact.

    When I was in Seminary in the early 1970’s, all of us had to go through the University of Minnesota’s sex education seminar. No, it was not pictures of penises and vaginas with pointers and the guy who couldn’t teach anything else in charge. No, this was a week long event, the chairs were bean bags, and there was the “desensitization” morning where they showed multiple pornographic films at the same time. The idea was to produce clergy who were not afraid of either their sexuality or the sexuality of their parishioners. Not sure whether it achieved that lofty goal, but it did make conversations about sex and sexuality easier.

    “Thank you for the body contact.” We learned to say this whenever we bumped into someone or accidentally brushed up against another person. I know. But, it was the 1970’s. The purpose of this phrase was laudable, imo. Normalize body contact, don’t fear the touch of another. Of course, boundaries. Of course. But don’t treat contact with another as if it meant they had cooties. Or, Covid. Yes, in today’s Covid infected world this advice would be anathema, but Covid won’t last. Hugs and touching will.

    Anyhow, I went immediately, as you might imagine, to the concept of dasein. Heidegger’s idea of being there, of being in the world, reminds us that our place in this world extends beyond the limits of our body, beyond our skin, into the worlds of the other. In some ways this is obvious since our sensorium collects information from all around us, even from very far away. In a variation on this idea I’ve seen recent articles suggest mind is not limited to our body either, and for some of the same reasons.

    Existence before essence*. Wherever you may stand on this philosophical chestnut, hugs and sex and hand shaking and accidental bumps into another affirm the existence of an-other. If you think hard about being in your own body, you can come to the conclusion, as the Sophists did, that you and your body is the only thing that matters. In fact, you can stretch it to include the idea that you might be the only thing in existence. That’s solipsism. You’ll just have to trust me that you can get there logically, unless you already knew that. I reject it, as I imagine you might, too.

    Though we might not go that far, it is easy, especially now during the wear a mask, don’t touch, wash your hands moment we’re all having, to not contact another warm body. Spouses and dogs, children being the important exceptions. Feeling Kep’s 102 degree body heat radiating from his body to mine made his presence very real. As did the weight of him. More than that. It was love that prompted him to lie down next to me, close enough that we touched. Kep’s dasein and mine became entangled for that time.

    In my world existence does precede essence. Your presence and how you show up is much more important to me than your “human nature.” As my presence and how I show up is more important to myself than whatever human nature I might be said to have. We need reminding though of the flesh and blood reality of the other. That they are like us in some fundamental manner even if it’s not something we can understand or access. Hugs. Sex. Handshakes. Crowded rooms. Or, the simple act of a dog, a friend, a life partner.

    Thanks, Kep, for the body contact.



    *The proposition that existence precedes essence is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence.Wikipedia






  • Zozobra


    Samain and the Moon of Radical Change

    My post below is an instance of zozobra. Who am I? Where am I? Who am I with? Are there others? Not sure about Portilla’s comments about the natural world, but this is the first time I’ve encountered these ideas. Mexican and Spanish philosophers, Unamuno chief among them, reach deep into souls torn by conflicting loyalties, culture clashes, indigenous versus invader paradoxes. I think this is an important idea. What about you?

    Read this article from the Conversation.

    The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

    Ever had the feeling that you can’t make sense of what’s happening? One moment everything seems normal, then suddenly the frame shifts to reveal a world on fire, struggling with pandemic, recession, climate change and political upheaval.

    That’s “zozobra,” the peculiar form of anxiety that comes from being unable to settle into a single point of view, leaving you with questions like: Is it a lovely autumn day, or an alarming moment of converging historical catastrophes?

    On the eve of a general election in which the outcome – and aftermath – is unknown, it is a condition that many Americans may be experiencing.

    As scholars of this phenomenon, we have noted how zozobra has spread in U.S. society in recent years, and we believe the insight of Mexican philosophers can be helpful to Americans during these tumultuous times.

    Ever since the conquest and colonization of the valley of Mexico by Hernán Cortés, Mexicans have had to cope with wave after wave of profound social and spiritual disruption – wars, rebellions, revolution, corruption, dictatorship and now the threat of becoming a narco-state. Mexican philosophers have had more than 500 years of uncertainty to reflect on, and they have important lessons to share.
    Zozobra and the wobbling of the world

    The word “zozobra” is an ordinary Spanish term for “anxiety” but with connotations that call to mind the wobbling of a ship about to capsize. The term emerged as a key concept among Mexican intellectuals in the early 20th century to describe the sense of having no stable ground and feeling out of place in the world.

    This feeling of zozobra is commonly experienced by people who visit or immigrate to a foreign country: the rhythms of life, the way people interact, everything just seems “off” – unfamiliar, disorienting and vaguely alienating.

    According to the philosopher Emilio Uranga (1921-1988), the telltale sign of zozobra is wobbling and toggling between perspectives, being unable to relax into a single framework to make sense of things. As Uranga describes it in his 1952 book “Analysis of Mexican Being”:

    “Zozobra refers to a mode of being that incessantly oscillates between two possibilities, between two affects, without knowing which one of those to depend on … indiscriminately dismissing one extreme in favor of the other. In this to and fro the soul suffers, it feels torn and wounded.”

    What makes zozobra so difficult to address is that its source is intangible. It is a soul-sickness not caused by any personal failing, nor by any of the particular events that we can point to.

    Instead, it comes from cracks in the frameworks of meaning that we rely on to make sense of our world – the shared understanding of what is real and who is trustworthy, what risks we face and how to meet them, what basic decency requires of us and what ideals our nation aspires to.

    In the past, many people in the U.S. took these frameworks for granted – but no longer.

    The gnawing sense of distress and disorientation many Americans are feeling is a sign that at some level, they now recognize just how necessary and fragile these structures are.
    The need for community

    Another Mexican philosopher, Jorge Portilla (1918-1963), reminds us that these frameworks of meaning that hold our world together cannot be maintained by individuals alone. While each of us may find our own meaning in life, we do so against the backdrop of what Portilla described as a “horizon of understanding” that is maintained by our community. In everything we do, from making small talk to making big life choices, we depend on others to share a basic set of assumptions about the world. It’s a fact that becomes painfully obvious when we suddenly find ourselves among people with very different assumptions.

    In our book on the contemporary relevance of Portilla’s philosophy, we point out that in the U.S., people increasingly have the sense that their neighbors and countrymen inhabit a different world. As social circles become smaller and more restricted, zozobra deepens.

    In his 1949 essay, “Community, Greatness, and Misery in Mexican Life,” Portilla identifies four signs that indicate when the feedback loop between zozobra and social disintegration has reached critical levels.

    First, people in a disintegrating society become prone to self-doubt and reluctance to take action, despite how urgently action may be needed. Second, they become prone to cynicism and even corruption – not because they are immoral but because they genuinely do not experience a common good for which to sacrifice their personal interests. Third, they become prone to nostalgia, fantasizing about returning to a time when things made sense. In the case of America, this applies not only to those given to wearing MAGA caps; everyone can fall into this sense of longing for a previous age.

    And finally, people become prone to a sense of profound vulnerability that gives rise to apocalyptic thinking. Portilla puts it this way:

    “We live always simultaneously entrenched in a human world and in a natural world, and if the human world denies us its accommodations to any extent, the natural world emerges with a force equal to the level of insecurity that textures our human connections.”

    In other words, when a society is disintegrating, fires, floods and tornadoes seem like harbingers of apocalypse.
    Coping with the crisis

    Naming the present crisis is a first step toward dealing with it. But then what is to be done?

    Portilla suggests that national leaders can exacerbate or alleviate zozobra. When there is a coherent horizon of understanding at the national level – that is to say, when there is a shared sense of what is real and what matters – individuals have a stronger feeling of connection to the people around them and a sense that their society is in a better position to deal with the most pressing issues. With this solace, it is easier to return attention to one’s own small circle of influence.

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    Uranga, for his part, suggests that zozobra actually unifies people in a common human condition. Many prefer to hide their suffering behind a happy facade or channel it into anger and blame. But Uranga insists that honest conversation about shared suffering is an opportunity to come together. Talking about zozobra provides something to commune over, something on which to base a love for one another, or at least sympathy.

  • All ye need to know

    Summer and the Moon of Justice

    Friday gratefuls: Getting a start on cleaning up the garage. Buying dope. The continental divide yesterday, hazy with wildfire smoke. Kate. Our sad birthday tomorrow. Grocery pick-up order in. The vasty deeps. The airless heights. The Rub Al Kahli. Longing. Water. Beauty. What does it mean? Simplicity. Joy.

    Is this a beautiful idea? Does this idea bring me joy? My mussar practices right now. And, interesting ones. What makes an idea beautiful? According to one perspective, all things are beautiful, if we bring beauty to them, look for it until we find it. Not all ideas are beautiful. Of this, I am sure. But, some are.

    A recent example for me comes from Braiding Sweetgrass and its chapter title: A Grammar of Animacy. The idea here is the Potawatomi language’s division between animacy and artifice. All things not built or made by humans are animate to the Potawatomi. This is a beautiful idea. It’s surprising. Rocks and mountains. Grass and water. Fire and wind. All part of the spirited world, the ensouled world. It’s novel. It takes me to Shinto, to Western mythology, to the Faery Faith of the Celts. It challenges my received understanding.

    Beauty is a contested idea. Just ask Picasso, DuChamp, Kandinsky, DeKoonig, Rothko. Are only representational paintings beautiful? If so, what makes them so? Space, color, line. At least. No color, no pleasing line, no well-defined space, no beauty.

    But. What if the primary subject of a painting was color? Think the Rothko chapel. Or, the color blooms of Morris Louis. What if it were line? Like Cy Wombly. Or, imagine a sculpture of wire, dangling from a ceiling, defining and redefining the space in which it hangs? Calder. Or, what if the primary subject of a painting deconstructed a face, a table, a tableau? Picasso. Braque.

    Each of these artist’s works would have been shunned as unintelligible for most of the history of Western art. That accusation still gets thrown at them, even in this, the third millennium. Why, my kid could do THAT!

    The next few weeks of mussar will focus on beauty as a middot, a character trait. Perhaps this will be the kick in the ass I’ve needed to get back into the world of art. I hope so.