Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Real World

Sunday evening. Preparing to get back to the “real world”.

I wonder why we call it that? Why has the human construct of commerce we call civilization been so elevated in human mind and metaphor? Why do we feel something so temporary as the things we build and the tasks at our hand to be ultimate? To be what this living gem of a planet is really all about?

I suppose it’s just that we all must “make a living”. We have to eat, and to eat we must obtain money. To obtain money we must either work or steal. We have to play by the rules of the culture or find away around the rules. Seldom do we seriously question just how real the culture itself is. Whether things actually have to be this way.

A scene from the end of the movie The Mission comes to mind. The Catholic church has just colluded with Spanish and Portuguese  authorities to brutally suppress Jesuit missions in the Amazon that are trying to protect the native tribes from slavery and oppression. To comfort the bishop in charge, a lesser official says “We must work in the world…the world is thus.” The bishop, in a moment of haunting candor responds, “No Senor Hontar. Thus have we made the world.”

I would tweak that slightly. Thus have we made our world. But there is another world out there. A world that sustains ours. The world of life. A world whose rules  ultimately trump even the rules of our culture. Whether we admit it or not, we are made of the same stuff everything else is. The laws of physics and the laws of life apply to us as to every other living thing. Ecosystems can be damaged and other species wiped away, but in the end we cannot “triumph” over nature because we are part of it.

I’ll be spending the next few weeks in the forests of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. Though lush and verdant, these forests are a shadow of their former selves. They were clear-cut a century ago as the trees were turned into products that were turned into money. Those people, products, and the money they created are long gone, as are the timber operations that pillaged the land. No one really knows or likely ever will know what we lost ecologically and aesthetically. We will never know the species gone forever for the sake of a dollar.

It’s a bleak story, but there is hope. Life is a miracle, and the living forest is reclaiming the land. The real world is asserting itself. More than that, the real world is giving us another chance. A chance to see the vaporous nature of all our endeavors. A chance to seek harmony as opposed to exploitation. A chance to again see our connection to all life on the planet. A chance to live in the real world.

Categories: Mind, Nature, Outdoors | 1 Comment

Perception

Whoever first said “Perception is reality” was wrong. Perception is just that. The interpretation of reality through our own intellectual and emotional filters. None of us lives entirely in the real world, but instead, in the world as we see it. No one is utterly objective. We all have vested interests–self very much included.

Perception is not reality but it does create reality in the sense of human events, because our perception is what we act on. A false perception still produces real events. An insecure person tends to take every criticism as a personal attack and acts accordingly with destructive effects on their relationships. Or a nation goes to war over a perceived threat. If it turns out the threat was only imagined the maimed will still be maimed, the scarred will still be scarred, and the dead will still be dead. Maybe we should take this perception thing seriously.

We are going to believe certain things about life and existence. It’s part and parcel of being human. We are going to wrestle questions large and small and live out our answers. The more our answers correspond to the real, the more we are going to experience actual living (as opposed to fantasy or even delusion) and the more peace, love, and joy we are going to see. The less we will be afraid. So we should seek truth–it is our friend.

We should, however, note with caution how elusive truth can be. How our perceptions can get in the way. How notions of what is real shift constantly. It is one thing to believe truth is out there–another to claim to know it completely, to own it entire. We have a way of deifying our understanding of things, of building little gods out of what we think we know.  Even in the realm of science, truth can be like a summer-day mirage. We arrive to find things are not exactly as we saw them to be. Remember, not that long ago, everyone knew the world was flat, the Earth was the center of the universe, and that if humans were meant to fly we would have wings. What will we know tomorrow?

I don’t know–and that is good reason to walk humbly in this world.

Categories: Mind | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Connection

One of my friends asked me on my return from my recent sojourn in the woods how my “seance” went. He was joking, but a bit on the level and quite perceptive. He gets something of what the woods and mountains mean to me (and I think to himself as well, and any person who will let them into their soul). Emerson said “The greatest delight which the woods and fields minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.” He wasn’t using “occult” in its 21st century sense of scary and sinister, but in its original sense of “hidden” or “unseen”. We are connected to all things, and all things to us. What grander theological or existential implications this truth may hold I’ll leave for future Emersons–I wish only to note that it exists and that the noting benefits the soul.

A solo foray into the mountains gives one precisely that–an opportunity to note the connection. Our connected nature can be noted in many environments–even during a normal day–but my own experience is that often the world of making a living in an industrialized society blinds us to the essence of living. We get so caught up in doing that simply being gets lost.  When being gets lost, many other things tend to get lost as well. We can lose sight not just of our connection to the greater world in which we live but even our immediate world of friends and family. We become disjointed, fragmented. We can live in a city of millions yet be haunted by constant indwelling loneliness. Irony indeed then that sometimes to see past the loneliness we need to be alone.

Now, just walking in the woods or standing on a mountain doesn’t necessarily speak to that fragmentation nor help us see past it. If we carry the mindset of town into the woods they will say nothing to us. If we are  mentally somewhere other than where we are the place and the moment we are actually in will always be diluted.  Its unseen joy and beauty will remain unseen.

So we must teach ourselves to slow down and put away the distractions. We must take a few breaths and savor them. Doesn’t that air feel delicious? We must mentally engage our surroundings. We must notice things. See the way the moss has begun to envelope that fallen branch and dissolve it back into the soil that nourishes the tree from which the branch fell. Think about how the tree is breathing–inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. Now take a breath and realize you are inhaling what the tree exhales and by this very act most basic to living are connected to the tree, the fallen branch, the moss, and the soil.

The true beauty of seeing such connection is that it doesn’t have to stay in the woods or whatever other place one tends to find it. If we find it there but leave it then it will have done us little good. Instead, use it to see again how connected you are to your daily world. Not in the usual sense of the way the world is plugged in (yet terribly disconnected), but in the sense of the natural connections that sustain you.

Think about your food and the farmer who grew it or the person that prepared it–or how it grew in the soil of your own garden nourished by the soil you walk on every day. Embrace your loved ones and really feel them physically and spiritually. Notice the smell of your wife’s hair or strength in your growing son’s shoulders. Taste the satisfaction a task well done–even something so mundane as a memo at work or sweeping the floor at home. See again the beauty of a print on the wall.  Feel connected because you are connected. Embrace that connection because it sustains you. You could not be without it. You are not alone, but a unique stroke in the fiercely beautiful canvas of life and being. Savor that.

Categories: Mind, Nature | Leave a comment

The Mountains Are Calling

“The mountains are calling and I must go!”

I wish those words were mine, but John Muir beat me to them. I would guess that while he uttered the words in English in the 19th century, the idea has been wrapped in the words of many languages throughout human history. The mountains call, and we go. We go for beauty. We go for clean air and tumbling streams of pure water. We go in hope of a clear and sublime view. We go to ease the claustrophobia of civilization.  We go for a sense of something bigger.  We go to rise above. We go to remember something lost and forget things we would like to lose.

So today, when a few of the tasks of this civilized life are done, I will grab a pack and some  meager rations. I’ll gather an extra layer or two of clothing and the means to build a friendly little fire to keep me company when the sun sets. I’ll tuck in a copy of Emerson, a journal perhaps, and a flask of a favored Speyside. I’ll make sure to get the beech-wood walking stick  that a Tennessee mountain gifted me years ago on a hike with my father. I’ll take as little as possible because I want my pack light. We carry enough around on ordinary days–it makes far more sense to leave it behind.  I’m a music lover but no media will be going along. There is plenty of music in the wild if we open our ears to it. When I have gathered my gear I’ll point my car toward the heart of the Alleghenies in the hopes of recovering a bit of my own.

When I get to the end of the road the real journey will begin. My feet will hit the ground, I’ll find my stride, and every step towards nowhere in particular will bring me ever closer to the somewhere I seek. Short breaks along the way will allow me to take in a vista or make the acquaintance of a mushroom. Fascinating bits of Life those fungi, and sometimes tasty. Also sometimes deadly. Edible or not, the mushrooms will be safe from me (this time). This particular mountain foray isn’t about consumption. I’ll not even take a fly rod to play with my finny friends. This journey is just about the journey, though I am warning any ripened blueberries or huckleberries in advance that the “no consumption” rule does not apply to them.

At some point, I will come to a place that invites me to stay for the evening. I’ll accept the invitation and set up camp. I’ll gather some wood and eat a bit and then watch the world darken but the sky light up. I’ll sit by the fire and be drawn into the flames. How many of my kind have looked into the flames with their thoughts going everywhere and nowhere? I’ll consider the Mystery of it all and take a comfort in it.  Mystery smacks of something grander. Mystery tells me that the mundane that so often shackles really is but a temporary thing. Mystery whispers of beauties beyond imagining.

Ah, yes. “The mountains are calling and I must go!”  

Categories: Outdoors | Tags: | 1 Comment

Haunted Houses and Holy Shrines

Live your life. Savor each moment. Be present where and when you are.

The idea is so simple. Just do it (with apologies to Nike). Yet most of us struggle  to stay in the moment we actually possess, getting stuck instead in some other time and place. Thus we dilute our presence in the now–robbing others of the best of ourselves and robbing ourselves of the deepest joy of living.

Sometimes we want to live in the future. Because the future is unknown there is a natural fear of what might be out there. We can be consumed by worry about what might be and thus be distracted from what is. Sometimes we want to live in the past. Ancient traumas (or blessings!)  may become set points that exert a gravitational pull over the rest of our lives, constantly pulling us back and hence forcing us to relive the trauma over and over (or long for that past blessing). We’ll save the future worries for the future (pun somewhat intended) and focus today on our tendency to develop set points in the past that we return to over and over again.

Let’s start with the traumas. Almost from the moment we are born, life begins to take its shots. I carry a scar on my forehead from forty-seven years ago. I fell and hit my head on a coffee table. Fortunately, my encounter with a coffee table left only a physical mark and hasn’t become something more, but you get the point. We are wounded physically and mentally. And the greater the wound  the greater the mark. Wounds painful enough will almost certainly take on a life of their own in our subconscious and exert levers of control in our personality.  Thus our lives becomes haunted houses where the ghosts of the past become the dominant presence.  Unfortunately, while haunted houses are interesting places to visit most people have no desire to live in one. We like our people of flesh and blood and substance and present life. Yet time and again we empower these ghosts of our past and live through them in current life. We prefer substance and presence but offer the ghosts  instead. You don’t have to imagine how this impacts your life and relationships because you have almost certainly lived it and so have I.

It’s not just the traumas of the past that can be an issue though. The blessings of the past can also assume an outsize place in our lives. Almost all of us have  certain “Golden Ages” that our heart looks back toward with nostalgia. There is not a thing wrong with that. I remember my kids being small and rough-housing with them all the time. I have a great fondness for those times and genuinely miss them. But even as I type, my youngest is packing for her sophomore year of college and in a couple of hours we will drive her and her massive amount of stuff to her dorm ( Seriously, she has an ENORMOUS amount of stuff!). And I can guarantee you my college-age daughter has no interest in rough-housing with dad right now.

The nature of living is change. To be all we can be we must change with it. We must grow. As much as we are tempted, we cannot build the blessed times of the past into shrines that require our constant attention and care. It’s healthy to remember with fondness, but folly to remember and worship. However wonderful, the glory of the past is just that–past. It is no more helpful to live there than it is to live in some deep trauma of the past.

So what to do? Time demands that we save the bulk of specifics for later, but the most important step is always the first one. No journey begins without it. If you want to escape your haunted house or walk away from your shrine you have to acknowledge it exists. Pretending is something children do at play, but unfortunately many adults carry this ability to pretend far past the games of childhood. They have learned to look in the mirror and not see themselves. But the ghosts cannot be sent on their way without acknowledgement, nor the idols pulled down. The first step to getting rid of the chains is admitting they are there.

Live your life. Live today. Give yourself to the moment at hand.

Categories: Mind | 3 Comments

Hello world!

So! “Just like that” I have a blog!

If you are reading this, you are probably lost. Don’t worry! I am too! This is my first post and I have no idea how to set this thing up.  I will learn, though–just like I learned to tie my shoes and ride a bike and do algebra (well, I kind of learned to do algebra).

I hope you’ll stop by often. I’ll be commenting on many facets of our mutual human life–mind, soul, body, nature–even  money. I hope you will find the posts at least interesting and occasionally helpful. More than anything else I will be encouraging you to live your human life while you have it. To love, explore, be healthy, seek joy, find adventure,  relish friendships, and do whatever else you can to find goodness and share it with your world.

So breathe deep friends, and relish that breath. Cherishing our life in the moment is often the first step to the life we desire…

Blessings!

Categories: Miscellany | Leave a comment

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