It’s Harder Now

Winter is arriving early here in Shasta,
and I am finding it surprisingly difficult to face.
I know the wisdom of offering no resistance
to whatever comes and goes in life,
but it is harder now.

I am entering the winter of my life
and will not experience the spring of youth again.
Thus the yearly winter season looms a metaphor
for the dimming of the life I’ve known;
and also for the winds that shake society
as we all seek shelter from the storm.

For an old man, I am healthy,
but it is not the health that points its nose
into the storms and shouts to,
“Bring it on!”
I want to find a warm and cozy shelter
from the inner and outer weather.

I am going deeper into the Way of Tao.
It is the only shelter that can actually offer
comfort, peace, and the contentment of acceptance.
Wu-wei – the relaxed and gentle movement
that removes resistance and brings instead the comfort
of flowing with a Greater Power than my own.

I have been lived by Tao through all these years
and Tao will live me still, without my anxious thoughts
that spin a web of fear.
The cabin rocks with wind, and rain
pelts hard on tin roofing overhead.
It is to this power I belong
and as my thoughts wind down
the peace that lives beyond all reason waits,
and welcomes me once again.
No effort to resist.
No problem.

The Barn’s are Burning

“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” –Mizuta Masahide (17th century Japanese poet)

The barns seem to be aflame
everywhere I turn my gaze.
Our storehouses of what we think we need
are perhaps more fragile than we thought.
No one wants to lose the multitude of things
we’ve gathered against the threats we feel.
No one wants to be uncomfortable,
without the toys we play with.

But the price we paid for all the things
we think are bringing safety,
has been dearer than we thought.
We seldom see the moon,
or any of the wonder she reflects.
Our walls, and all they symbolize,
have separated us from life itself
and substituted videos and words.
Roofs have cut Divine light off
and cocooned us in a dark illusion.

Perhaps we should celebrate the burning,
frightening though it is at times.
It might bring hardship and discomfort.
It may require faith and trust and courage.
But we may again, when all is said and done,
see the Moon, stars, and recover wonder.
We may view each other fresh and new,
and find creative ways to see and be
the deeper life the Earth asks of us now.

Something Wrong Mind

When the smoke lays thick around the mountains
and obscures the view and clogs my sinuses,
my default mental setting is that, “something’s wrong.”

Of course a smoke-filled morning is of some concern,
as smoke and fire go together and fires are becoming
quite familiar in my changing world.
Of more concern to me is the way my mind reacts.
It takes the smoke and uses it to tell me stories
that do not relate to either smoke or fire.
The reflex feeling that, “something is wrong,”
contaminates my entire thinking process.

Once my mind is tuned to, “something’s wrong,”
the wrongness crops up everywhere I look.
COVID is raging. The climate is in crisis.
Politics are absurd and society is dumb as rocks.
Health care is in shambles and the rich get always richer.
Billionaires fly their rocket penises into space
and a billion poor walk miles to water.
Wrongness is rampant everywhere I turn
because my mind has been tuned to it.

“Something’s wrong,” controls our lives
and self-fulfills its own perverted views.
It worries and blames and does not change a thing.
It only saps our mental power
and drains our life force dry.

Then I flip a switch within my being
and tune instead to “Something’s right.”
and a new experience of life arises.
I am alive. I am here. I walk. I talk. I write these words.
I see. I hear. I feel the north breeze wafting through the pines.
I taste the spices in the soup. I touch the soft skin of my spouse.
Courageous men and women fight the fires day and night.
Compassionate and brilliant people are doing hidden work
in unseen worlds to sow the seeds of change.
The hare bounds across the field to find the moist grass
where we have taken care to water.
The stag wanders in and drinks from the bird bath.
The birds don’t mind.

Of these minds, which mind draws from the flow of Life?
Which mind will heal and tend the Earth?
Which mind will fuel the joyful dance again?
Which mind will make the crucial difference in these times?
Which mind is Tao?

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.

Dissolve

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.

Sigh

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.