Problems and Solutions

I’ve often heard the admonition;
“If you’re not part of the solution,
then you’re part of the problem.”
A bit arrogant, I’ve always thought.
As if the origins of the problem
were completely understood,
and the solutions were painfully obvious
to all right-minded people.
Trouble is, the patterns from which the problems
were slowly woven in the heedless dark,
are the same patterns to which we turn
to craft our bright solutions.

We will never find our way out until we step out;
of paradigms long past their expiration dates;
of assumptions that no longer hold;
of a culture war that has no end;
and of the belief that we can fix this.

(With apologies to the immortal Rumi.)
Beyond diversions and distractions;
beyond capitalism and religion;
beyond materialism and fear;
beyond complexity and confusion;
beyond blame and anger;
and beyond all need for self-protection
lies a field of simple living,
where the Unseen becomes the Seen.
Let’s meet each other there.

Perhaps we will become the solution
when we step out of the problem.

Survival or Self-Sacrifice

Apocalyptic times stir survival instincts.
A thick smoke blanket greets me every morning
and my first impulse is often, “Where can I be safe?”
There are survivalists around, up here in Siskiyou County,
but their stockpiled food and automatic weapons
will not slow an instant Nature’s cleansing power.
A mind bent on survival does not see beyond
the compulsion of the moment.
Options narrow into a corridor of self-protection,
and the essence of the human soul is lost.
and the answer to my question becomes, “Nowhere.”

The day unfolds, however;
and my thoughts begin to clear.
I find a calmness settling in.
Apocalyptic times do stir survival thoughts,
but deeper still they stir essential questions.
If all that we have known is falling,
how shall we respond?
Anger, despair, blame and frantic efforts to survive?
Or kindness, sacrifice, a willingness to stop clinging
to what once was, and step into the storm, aware,
of what is coming, and nonetheless keep speaking,
serving, saying what we have to say, loving what is ours to love
and binding up what wounds we can.
Perhaps to lay one small foundation stone
for what may be built in centuries to come.

“These are times that try men’s souls” for sure,
but souls are made of substantial stuff,
designed to come alive in just such times as these.

Along this theme I offer two compelling songs by two powerful women i encountered years ago whose songs I now return to for strength and encouragement.

Emigrate Within

To emigrate is to leave one’s current country
in search of a new land to call one’s home.
It is a painful, but often necessary, action.
It has been taken by peoples throughout history.
Sometimes it is a willing step into adventure.
Other times it is the last and final choice.
It is done, at times, in desperation.
At other times it is arises from a deep conviction.

The country that has been called by me, “my home,”
has reached a point of no return.
Were I younger, I would not hesitate
to join the honorable ranks of emigrants.
I would seek a simpler and less “prosperous” place.
I would learn a language not my native tongue.
I would find community in people bonded
by a love of ordinary life together,
of quiet pleasures and lots of earthy laughter.
It would not be perfect, not at all,
but it would be my way of stepping off
the plank that hovers over the abyss.

I am to old for that, I fear,
but not too old to be an inner emigrant.
There is a place within, a homeland waiting
that is guided by different ways and rules,
by assumptions that are congruent
with the heart’s authentic beats.
It is not an easy journey
and you can’t take much stuff with you.
Most of what you think you need
will have to lay beside the road.
You’ll need empty hands and spacious hearts
to learn to live anew, but it has been done before
by countless thousands of wandering seeking souls.
It can be done again.

Whether you’re young or old, my friend,
make your plans to leave.
Find the place you know your heart desires.
Emigrate within and find it waiting for you.
Don’t hesitate. There’s not much time.
Your life depends upon it.

We Are the Water!

I’ve been told throughout the years
I’ve spent as Bill, to take great care
lest I think too highly of myself,
lest I grow too big an ego.
“Who do you think you are?”
has been the question that reins me in.
But now I know that the ego itself
is the author of that question.
Ego depends on flaws to keep its job
so it creates them where they don’t exist.

Spiritual nabobs insist that we must be “vessels,”
through which the Divine can move.
I believed that once, but no longer.
It is an ego trick supreme.
We are not the vessels,
we are the Water!

I am the Water, not the channel.
I am the Water, not the lake bed.
I am the Water flowing always home.
Obstacles have no meaning.
They are simply terrain through which
my essence leads me.

I do not have a message to share.
I am the message, and each moment
of my life is the telling of that message.
Does that seem grandiose?
Only at first glance,
for you, too, are the message,
as is the robin bobbing around the field,
and the mycelia below the surface
connecting things together –
we’re all the message.

If you ego insists that it’s in charge,
smile as you would to a frightened child,
then give it something to play with.
Let it build a bridge, design a computer,
paint a picture, write a book.
Let it teach a class or cook a meal,
and feed 5,000 people.
Just don’t let it push you.
Be pulled instead by the power out ahead.
You are the Water, always, ever,
and flowing is your nature.
All the rest is just terrain, interesting,
but ultimately nothing worth a sweat.

We will find our way despite whatever seeks to hinder.
We will flow around or over,
tunnel under or patiently wait
until an opening appears.
We will nurture all we touch
by the very nature of who and what we are.
Someday, of course, we will reach a point
where who we thought we were will say,
“Sorry, I can go no further,”
and we will laugh and thank that person for the ride,
then evaporate and rain down on the other side.

We are the Water.

I’m Mad as Hell!

“I’m mad as hell,” shouts the famous line
from Paddy Chayefsky’s famous film, “Network.”
In the film the follow up line states,
“and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

I go through my moods, as do we all.
I try not to be captured by them,
or identified with them,
but instead to notice, accept,
and understand them.

Today, upon visiting Panther Meadows,
the most sacred site upon the sacred mountain, Shasta;
a place of Native People’s rituals for millennia;
a garden of alpine streams and wildflowers;
straight from a mountain-lover’s Eden;
for the first time in my life I stood in shock
before an arid mountainside and the barest trickle
of one small remaining stream.

I am a scientist and I know the difference
between periodic drought
and a catastrophic climate crisis.
I stood in sorrow mixed with despair,
then a touch of futility,
then anger.

My rage at humankind must pale
before the feelings of the Native Peoples
who had these lovely lands despoiled,
desecrated, and stolen from them.
Nonetheless, it is my rage,
my own to understand.

The intensity of this morning has passed
but the truth of what I feel remains.
I’m mad as hell and …
Here I don’t know what to do.
The hero of the film could cry
“I’m not going to take it any more!”
But what am I to shout as I shake my fist
in what seems a helpless wrath?

What are my options before the juggernaut
of a lost and impervious culture?
I return to myself and befriend my feelings.
I do not talk myself out of them
in the name of being nice and good.
Neither do I let them define my life.

I have some hope.
It is a hope that lies with ancient and shamanic peoples,
whose wisdom infiltrates small pockets of people,
scattered here and there around the world,
and causes them to dream a different dream,
beat a different drum, and sing a different song.
This ancient and authentic dream will not save
the world I know, for that world there is no hope.
But it may weave its melody through the ruins
in compassion and a call for resurrection.
For only in a Phoenix-like arising from the ashes
will a transformed humanity emerge.
This is a hope I hold within my deepest Soul.
I will not live to see it in this life,
but perhaps someday, somehow,
in the never-ending Story …?
In the meantime, it is hard, so hard
to have to watch the conflagration.


I sometimes look for things to do
to fill my day and justify
my being here at all.
This is just the age-old task
of holding a “self” in place.
It is a futile and illusory quest.
This search for a solid self
is a useless waste of time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to stop the effort?
Not that I want to die, but I’d like to stop
trying to find, hold, seek, discover, and exist.
It would be nice to relax my grip a bit;
to dissolve rather than solidify.

Don’t be concerned, I am far from suicidal.
Quite the opposite, I want more from life,
and that involves a dissolution.
Only flowing things can be alive.
Only changing things exist.
Purpose is an ever-morphing thing,
and meaning can’t be grasped.

I’m going to let the boundaries dissolve
as if I’d feasted on a magic mushroom.
Why make solid that which has to flow?
Why scrutinize each moment?
These moments pass far to quickly for such futile work.
I’m going to let this moment be,
and go on to the next,
and ride the river all the way.
The ocean’s waiting.
Welcome home.
Rest a bit.
Then back into the clouds to rain
and be the river once again,
and flow and flow,
and ever always flow.


Some mornings are Edenic
with birdsong, cool breezes, and a lovely sliver
of the moon rising above Black Butte.
We sit outside and sip our morning coffee
and watch the swallows dip and dart.

Other mornings have a sinister air,
with wildfire smoke surfing on heat waves,
bringing vistas that hint at apocalyptic times.
We stay inside and check the fire updates,
and make sure our “bug out” kit is packed.

I try to watch the mornings come and go
without attaching meaning to the vista.
But I must confess that watching Siskiyou County
change in seven decades from a land of glaciered mountains,
rushing streams, and crystal lakes,
into a region best described as “high desert,”
brings tears, and makes our climate crisis clear

Nothing I can do about it, though.
I, like all the rest, must live the times I’m given;
and I do, with gratitude for what is gained
and what is lost in the Great Dance.
I’ll nurture land and tend to what is mine to do,
and perhaps one day, a millennia hence,
someone will wake near where I am today
and build a morning fire with wood
from trees I can’t imagine, and see the moon
rise in the dawning sky, and sing a song of gratitude
for all that came together to allow
his own special morning to arise.


I tentatively dip a toe into the Water
of another way of seeing.
I catch a glimpse of Mystery, and of values other
than the ones that fuel my daily life.
“This is real,” I sense inside my soul,
“This is how things truly are.”

I remove my toe and enjoy
the lingering sensation,
then return my attention
to the conditioned habits
that keep the world in chaos:
Self-protection, self-improvement,
pursuit of comfort, avoidance of discomfort,
knee-jerk rants and fearful imaginings
that the world I know is disappearing.

An awareness is slowly dawning that:
Of course it’s disappearing!
It has to disappear!
It is fundamentally flawed
and can’t be fixed!

So much of human spirituality is like this.
We tap into the Greater World and look for something
we can bring back to make this mess a little neater.
“We have to patch things up,” we say,
“we have to save the world.”
But we might just be wrong,
despite the seeming virtue of the words.
Perhaps we’re unconsciously simply trying
to keep our assumptions going one more generation.
I’m starting to believe that the mess
must be swept away completely,
and be replaced by the really Real.
The world we think we want to build,
cannot be built by any effort on our part.
It already exists, but must be found
by new eyes and new perceptions.

Each day I’m wading in a little further
and staying there a little longer –
up to my knees on some occasions!
Visionaries are not those who reach for outer space,
or dream of castle-cities on a hill.
The vision that we need is something else,
not possible to capture in current forms or words.
I can’t describe it.
Knee-deep is not enough.
Some day, I hope – I really, truly, hope
that I will take a deep, deep breath
and dive, and swim, and there remain,
and keep the windows of perception open wide.

Yoo-Hoo World!

Alan Watts, once said,
“You are something the whole world is doing.”

Just as the sea “waves,”so does the Cosmos.
“I” am just the Cosmos waving
a great big “Yoo-hoo!” to everything that is.
If a wave could form an ego, it might say,
“I am different, other, than those waves around me.
I am bigger, smaller, faster, slower, longer lasting.”
This ego-wave would start to worry.
as he sees the shore approaching;
his fellow waves are crashing, pounding,
spending themselves upon the land.
What is he to do?
Resist the tidal pull and hold himself in place?
Turn back to sea?

Here’s the mistake that I have made.
(We all, I think, have made.)
I have separated myself from everything;
and viewed the world as something “other,”
then turned around and built a “me”
entirely from the things this world provides.
So this “me” is held in place
by a process of endless comparison
between the things that have become “me”
and the things (and people) that are not “me.”

A sense of self is, they say, essential to humanity.
They may be right, but what tragedy arises
when we mistake (and we always do)
a sense of self for something real.
This self-identity is useful,
but completely fictional,
and filled with problems.

If who I think I am depends
entirely on things that I believe are something other,
I can never, ever, be content;
for these things are always changing,
morphing, coming, going, fading, ending.
Other people are locked in being “other,”
and my longing for belonging never truly
finds its satisfaction.

A certain wisdom comes
from knowing my relationship with things.
A greater wisdom comes,
from knowing that I AM these things
and that THESE THINGS are me.
I want to hold “my self” so gently in my open palm,
that the boundaries fade and finally disappear,
and I can fly into the open sky
and return to being All of This again.

I am simply the cosmos looking through these eyes,
and calling out a big, “Yoo-hoo!” to everyone.

My Old Friend

The seasons do more than simply change,
here in my mountain home.
Spring is giving way to summer, but each time round
now brings a subtle signal that all is not well
with the world that I have always known.
Each summer is hotter, dryer, and longer.
Each spring and fall are shorter.
Each winter brings less snowfall.

There are micro-cycles and macro-cycles
in the ever flowing Way of life.
The micro-cycles I can flow with.
The macro-cycles are more difficult.
Each, of course, is circling according to its nature.

Just as I wish my body were still forty-five,
so I wish the Earth were still the
gentle, healthy, and dependable self it used to be.
But we are both changing, my old friend Earth and I.
Neither of us can go back to what we were.
We can only go ahead to what we will become.

It won’t be the same will it, my friend?
We are both going somewhere we have never been before.
I can’t save you and keep you as you used to be,
nor can you save me and keep me as I was.
But we can both take comfort
from our long friendship,
When I finally return to be with you
in union once again, we will go on
and find out together what is next.
Thank you, my old friend.