Matter Over Mind

Last night I woke up at 3:30am with a feeling pulling me to go sit outside for a little while. I call this a sit-spot, coming from my time as a student at Wilderness Awareness School where this tradition of sitting, quietly, in the natural world is practiced. It is near-constantly rainy in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, but last night the sky was perfectly clear, and I could see every star not obscured by the city lights, and the air was a cool but pleasant temperature.

I sat on our gravel driveway where we never park our cars, the place where, for three years, I have neglected to make a fire though I have lived here with my partner who owns the land and would happily allow me to do so. Why have I not made a fire? This is an important question to me: being near a real fire has been a sacred practice in my life. I still loathe fake gas fires with a deep repulsion unknown to most of my modern peers. Fires must be made by friction, or by a simple lighter with a hand-assembled tinder bundle at most. We all need to have our ritual ways.

When I woke up this morning, the stomach ache from eating three spoon-fulls of delicious bee pollen at 3:30am before going outside was still gnawing at me, but I slept really well. I usually sleep like a rock, regardless of almost anything, and I count this a lucky blessing. But upon waking, I got word that there will be an elder fire tonight, where the older folks of the community come together to share minds with the younger ones at a place we call home, and I should go to this. Tomorrow I will hear stories around a fire with new friends, too. Maybe the fire is coming back to me, but it is a calming fire, now, not the fervent, uncontrollable feeling of my youth.

The stars were beautiful last night. I noticed that the Big Dipper was positioned differently than how I am used to seeing it. That is to be expected, but it matters to notice these things with our own eyes.

What I thinking most about last night was my own ability to logic my way out of depression, which I’ve had a perpetual case of to varying severities since adolescence. While sitting remarkably peacefully under the stars (“remarkably”, because I have often felt self-conscious, monkey-minded and unworthy while sit-spotting) then subsequently breathing myself into a restful sleep back in bed despite my foolish overconsumption of bee pollen causing a tummy ache, I was continuing to consider the wisdom that I truly do have the ability to change my mindset at any moment. I am on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and I do think they work to a possibly life-saving degree. But good scientific medication is only half the effort (don’t talk to me about woo woo “naturopath” medicine, please), where the other half of thriving is the far harder effort of changing one’s own mind.

But is it effort, exactly, with such strenuousness? Or is it simply being, that delivers us into the peace of “no-thought“? I’m thinking back to Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones, where she refers to the power of writing in the right mindset that she learned through her Buddhist study with Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Zen Buddhism is infamously easy and difficult all-in-one, and I’m no practicing expert, but the sense I got from the teachings in these books were what I like to call “matter over mind“. (Isn’t that fun? I thought of that. Probably someone else has, too, just like eyes evolved in the animal kingdom separately in various complex species.)

And here I am, on this clear morning, with a clearer mind, finally writing and thinking fluidly with the lighter breath I was looking for. Here is how I can describe this “matter over mind”.

The human mind, and all it produces, are phantoms. The brain is its own constant enemy, or friend, depending on its untamed impulses. I think that this is the image of the untamed horse and rider that Tibetan Buddhists talk about: the mind is the horse, the person is the rider. The human brain is crazy. Even typically healthy brains with no signs of depression or any worse mental illness are just crazy deep down in there. But what a light-hearted relief, what soothing valve for mental pressure it is to acknowledge this. It’s crazy being human!

Speaking from my own depressed brain in its gravest dips into pain, this human brain produces longings and memories and fear and intense feelings that serve no purpose but to cause anguish, now. This is progress from my former way of valuing these emotional depths as something spiritual I wanted to protect, even if they pained me greatly. Now, I don’t want to pin my spirituality on these emotional weights, even if they do produce some great art and passionate spiritual feeling. I’d now rather be calm and utterly mature, like an unshakable old Sequoia tree, unbothered by and calmly accepting of the insanity of life. Big change in perspective.

The minds of other animals do not appear to be nearly as harried by this human craziness. Animals must be completely grounded in the reality of the physical world around them. Matter over mind. The world of what is profoundly real, this physical world exterior of the brain’s torturous phantoms, is the anchor of sanity, to a very serious point. Those who are clinically insane are diagnosed as such precisely because they have lost contact with blessed physical reality. And physical reality is blessed, because it is the foundation of everything and so is infinitely valuable though sometimes sadly disregarded and overlooked for its goodness. The constant ground of matter –the literal ground of the world holding us securely in gravity, covered by a blanket of sky– shall always exist independent of the brain’s self-cycling drama.

Matter over mind. Constantly looking inward is the source of a lot of suffering. Looking outward, instead, brings relief. The mind will always be crazy inside, but when anchored in the physical matter of the world, it is calm.

The brain does not change its neural pathways by wishing, or by praying, but by doing. The will to change one’s actions doesn’t even come from the inner mind, but instead comes from a grounded awareness in the reality of the real exterior world. Matter over mind.

I focus here not on the “action” of social political agitation, which I am mortally tired of. I mean the action of physical movement and awareness: breathing, walking, focus on the movement of a leaf on a tree, the presence of an animal.

What should be made of the inner sanctum of the mind? It is this place of refuge from the harsher parts of the exterior world that I have cultivated for so long, guarding its impulses even in the anguish it causes. I am not alone in having wanted to retreat from the glaring, unnatural clatter of urban life. Coming to terms with the atonal disharmony of our current times is also an act of kindness to ourselves, forgiveness for the environmental stress we feel, in that we should not expect ourselves to be perfectly at peace all the time. We are fervently trying to adapt to a changing landscape. But this effort at adaptation puts us in good company with all our plant and animal relatives of evolution, who themselves have survived all environments, peaceful and hostile, to get us here. We can feel less alone when we realize that, by our experience of environmental disharmony and subsequent behavioral adaptation to adjust to or even influence our environment, we are participating in the long and beautiful life of evolution itself. This mental inner sanctum of refuge from harsh environmental exteriors should then be a temporary refuge, and not an addictive escape from reality. This is a critical distinction. There is too much attempting to escape reality, now, at the cost of losing that shimmering image of beauty which we seek in our escape, for only The World itself truly offers this relief. The effort of the wise is to find this shining world open its way to us, even among the grit of inquietude. In every city there are the laws of physics, still: the pull of gravity never leaves us, and the air is present, and even animals and plants are to be found slowly and surely repopulating their habitats. Most significantly, should I give in to the temptation to view the creatures of nature as in a war against the structures of human design? I should not, for then I would see myself as an enemy to my anchoring world of matter, when I am no less a native animal here than the nearest little creature who scuttles or flies. Nothing can truly be ever outside of nature. That is, by definition, impossible. Nature is the sum total of all that is real. Ultimately, all our human designs are within this force as much as any other assembly of atoms. Matter over mind. The inner sanctum of the human mind needs constant fortifying by the solidity of the great exterior world of matter, which is the very definition of solidity itself. Then, we carry the world of matter within us, and it is a constant source of peace.

I am convinced now that this is how animal minds endure the hardships of their own lives. They cannot afford to be distracted by fantasies. Their lives and entire mental wellbeing depend on their constantly being centered in the physical world itself, and in the wild they show no trace of boredom. It is possible that the “domestication” of modern humans contributes greatly to the mental suffering of our time. If this is so, and the environment is unlikely to spontaneously change for us, then it is all the more important that we creatively adapt to and influence our environment not by escaping from it, but by going into it in sensory awareness.

This sensory awareness practice is what I was being taught at Anake Outdoor School at Wilderness Awareness School. I was not ready to understand it until now. But, like all great and complicated human communities that impart wisdom, they taught this wisdom alongside what felt like a contradictory practice. In my words, I’d call it too much navel-gazing, too much self-examining of so many emotions. It’s possible it only felt like too much to me, because I had done it already for so long and to a pointless, depressive degree, whereas such self-examination is new and useful to others.

From the beginning, animals accept this Dark Mother that is present in the beauty and violence of natural life. This Dark Mother is an archetypal rendering of the simultaneously nurturing and brutal aspects of Great Nature, as Shinto beautifully and simply names it. Nature is the mother who gives birth in one breath, then impersonally strangles the helpless infant in the next (countless babies in have died in childbirth from umbilical cords wrapped around their necks). Great Nature brings us abundant food and the right amount of sun and rain, then is unrestrained in famine. She allows a creature to escape from certain agony by the fortune of its genes for swiftness or camouflage, while another is crushed by an amoral falling tree. Evil exists, but it is a construct only of human social life, and is natural only insofar as the human brain with its demons is natural, though we have every justification to expect our humanity to behave morally. Evil is not a component of all the rest of Nature. This does not mean it is less of a serious thing: we use the word “evil” to rightly describe extreme and unjustified suffering, such as torture or rape, caused upon one social, sentient being by another. The amorality of scientifically-revealed “Great Nature” is, then, all the more a relief to the human brain which tires in these maturing centuries of distinguishing the phantom agents of evil and good beyond the human sphere, once attributed to gods. A tsunami is devastating, but it can never be called “evil”.

Today is a beautiful, rare sunny day in a Seattle winter. I want to get out and enjoy it, but with humor I am realizing that I won’t enjoy it if I follow my typical pattern of anxious thinking by worry about not enjoying it enough. That’s a non-helpful thought pattern of seeing this bright day as something I need to “measure up” to. Instead, there is no pressure of measuring up to this day by showing it how much I appreciate it by going snowshoeing for fifteen miles and wiping myself out. If I merely go out into it and don’t even think about being “happy” or “sad”, then the calm of a deeper happiness comes.

What this comes back to, in my original point about calming the crazy human brain through sensory awareness, is the value of not extending moral judgments further than they need to be applied. I am prone to feeling unreasonable guilt, even for such ridiculously common reasons as being depressed in itself. You can see how this becomes a depressive cycle. That is an overuse of the human need to name “good” and “evil” actions. It is easy for depressed brains to turn this thinking on themselves, and fall into a cycle of feeling a lack of worth or ability to be “good” again. But when we see that this depression is only the result of a brain being a brain, merely in need of getting outside of itself and into amoral Nature, relief is found. A brain is not committing a wrong just by being depressed, but it is doing a right action by putting matter over mind.

 

 

Above: “Groundwater” © 2017 Amber MV. Watercolor on paper.

Featured image: “High Desert” © 2017 Amber MV. Watercolor on paper.

Tiny Lions

Journal Entry from 7/24/2016

My cats are relatives of lions! –of large and small wildcats, they are relatives to them all. My cats are “guardian spirits” to me, my “familiars”, with their bright yellow-green jewel eyes and same stripedy patterns of their wild cousins. It is a blessing and a delight they have come to settle in with us human domestics, to purr at our feet, begging kibbles and bonking our faces with their adorable ways. A story goes that cats became domesticated so that humankind would have the pleasure of snuggling the tiger. Actually, the truth is probably nearer to the opposite: humans became domesticated so that cats could have the pleasure of sitting on us!

Baby Mawser, at three months old, is Mr. Independent Bug Hunter who pounces and tumbles over the small woolen toy I made for him, practicing for prowling in the wilderness like a big tough kitty. He will not go into the wilderness, but he brings the vitality of his wildness home to us. His brother, Ivra, is my big goofy cuddle-baby-lion who doesn’t lose an opportunity to sit in my lap or on my back as I stretch out on the floor. His way of “hunting” is to be a lazy paw-swatter on his pack, like an over-confident comic male lion. I love these little cats more than I can put into words, so much it makes my heart hurt in that extraordinary way. House cats are hilariously wild and yet merely big kittens for life. 

We humans used to know the names of all beasts and plants and called them our friends. Wandering out of Africa into deep green and dark northern forests we met our Neanderthal cousins, sharing their likeness. The world was endless then, when all hominids hunted their food and gathered from the plants. The world itself was sanctuary and home. I get the sense that, finally, I may be lucky to be living at a time when this way of loving The World as our permanent home is returning to us.

Little Kitten, descendant of great beasts, bless us with your wilderness condensed into your small body, the wilderness you carry within your snuggly, tiny self, little stripes and spots of the tiger, heart of the lion. Your energy is boundless and full of vitality in every muscle, paws eager to seek out the path of the jungle. Little Cat, remind us that we too are like you, The World within us, and that we have not “fallen” so far from your happiness. Give us persistence to find our way home in The World.

Little kitties, is this why you came to snuggle us in the Neolithic days? You could not have known the changes coming for our species, that we would come to love you so dearly. It is the Lifeworld we want, and this you greatly bring to us, The World that you live in, that you carry within yourself, pounces and bright eyes alert and at the ready to purrs. It is this vitality we long to be reborn to. We have loved you and called you friend, miniature Tiger, tiny Lion, herald of happiness. May happy landscapes await us where the night is more joyful, the dawn more delighting, and lively animal forms are pouncing unceasing in lovableness along the paths of our lives.

The Names of Friends: Species I Have Known (in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California)

Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.

I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.

Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.

And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.

Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis

Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii

Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi

Western White Pine – Pinus monticola

White Alder – Alnus incana

California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica

(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii

Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii

Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium

Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis

Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus

A Gooseberry Unknown

Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)

also Pinemat, Whiteleaf

Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)

                    Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.

Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,

                                        Athyrium falpestre var. americanum

Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.

Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata

Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.

Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii

Prickly Pear

California Poppy

Gay Penstemon, happy, joyfulPenstemon laetus! –Laudete!

 

Animals, Animalia, Kingdom

the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.

Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance

Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper

Marmot

“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum

and female var. E. boreale

Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!

Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)

Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)

Coyote, always!

Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day

and makes her mourning into singing.

Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.

  – Do not all these deserve the same love?

American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us

Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here

                                                             than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue

                                                             eyes stripes vertical!

Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird

European Starling

California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)

Brown Creeper

Raven – Corvus corax

                                             harbinger unto the end

 

 

 

 

The Greatness of Soul in All Its Varying Forms

In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Tracking Notes

Applodontia rufa/em> has poor eyesight and she’s the size of a gluten-free loaf of bread. Our comparing her to our agricultural inventions is more the comedy of our pleasure in observing her strangeness. Applodontia rufa has a foot-track like Castor, but smaller, and away from a water source.

The difference between Gopher and Mole: gophers make a fan-shaped mound. There are no gophers on Linne Doran. A mole’s track: the ground is lifted up.

In general, Lagomorph scat is more round, whereas Deer’s is more bean-like, mostly. Rabbit poo color changes from fresh to old scat: green, black, brown.

Flying Squirrels dig to feed on Truffle Mushrooms. There are here on Linne Doran.

Rotten stumps, nurse logs littered with Douglas Fir cone flakes: these are signs of Douglas Squirrel. A Midden is a home and base cache of food for squirrels.

Beaver scat is like sawdust on land. They mostly poop in the water and are carriers of giardiasis. Scat sign doesn’t change much over the seasons.

The Words that Matter

I haven’t wanted to call myself a “writer”. It sounds like another big-deal identity label with all sorts of implications. The sound of it brings to mind people way more disciplined than myself, who are way more at peace than I am with sitting in a chair for long hours on end. They’re more organized than I am, and more determined to advertise themselves, and they use desks (I prefer the floor). Writing is just one thing I do as an act of devotion to remembering God.

I can be meditatively content indoors, like a writer, especially on a stormy or smoggy, hot day. It is delightful to be in a beautiful monastic place, like my house or a church or the library. But sitting in a chair? Feet down on the floor, my butt falling asleep? No. I need to sit criss-cross, then lay on my stomach, then my back, then stretch, then squat, then sit back in the chair with my feet up on the table like I don’t have no manners, all while getting up to walk around every 30 minutes or so. There’s a reason most of my pieces are brief. I agree with the sentiment of Thomas Mann: “I would rather live life than write a hundred stories.”

I’ve felt leery about the pantsuit of “writer” as an identity because I sense an attitudinal trend of self-absorption, cynicism and lack of heart-centered joy among the current writing scene, dating back a solid three-quarters of a century or so. People get stuck in their heads, something I’ve certainly been prone to but which I’m getting further away from, and happily.

Back in college, in one of my writing classes, I was engaged in a discussion about the responsibility writers have to real people on whom fictional characters are based. To what extent must we care to disguise their identity and protect their privacy? What gratitude do we owe this great source material that is reality? We covered the moral and legal implications to this, but a number of my classmates insisted they have no obligation to tread carefully with characters who are nearly synonymous with real, identifiable people.

It’s been said that writers don’t participate fully in the magic of imminent life, because they’re too busy writing about it from a distance. I think there’s some disturbing truth in this. The temptation is there for writers to long for the experiential magic of the beautiful world, then find it but not know what to do with it except take notes from the sidelines, where it is lonely. Then they become embittered that they feel shy and self-conscious and depressed and why aren’t they happy being stuck in their head all day? This has become the case of the modern writer.

Again, I say this because I’ve certainly had my own moments like these, but then I figured out it was ridiculous and not good for the human heart. The page is not the world. The vitality of the lifeworld comes first because that is where the sensual life of the world breathes and moves and it is where God is found looking out through the eyes of all creatures. That is the image of God I most love, the Beautiful One who looks out through the eyes of all creatures, feeling as we creatures feel, but larger than our individualism, our stupid notion of segregation from each other. How can life be worth the energy spent on anything else? To be a good writer and a worshipful human is to remember God always and play affectionately with the rambunctious Creator in the off-leash dog park, to look for the mysterious Lord, the Beloved, in all creatures and places, unto the shadows of moments. To worship is to stand in the presence of this deep and powerful Beauty, for you get the privilege to live in the Beloved’s breathing world of natural and ancient enchantment that hasn’t ceased to be in search of us even in modern, cranky cities. (How’s that for a paradigm shift?)

To get into the practice of this state of mind as a writer, it may require not writing for a time, if the result is to come out of self-absorption in your head to live more immediately in the lifeworld. You will finally not think so much about what you are pissed off about, but will revel more in the great Beauty that includes you but is more than you and outlives all our petty problems. Yes, then to write about it, to catch those images with words that strike the heart tenderly –that is to be a good writer. To practice, as devotion, the act of worship in writing. To do anything else with the gift of writing is to waste precious mortal time.

I don’t get the sense that the current “writer” identity has much awareness of any of this. There is not the act of standing in the presence of great Beauty: there is a sour attitude of nihilism. That isn’t to say that the occasional heated bit of written constructive criticism of injustice isn’t good medicine sometimes (the prophets of old knew this well). But now our words are sold for anger, for clicks, for the divisive poisoning of my beloved species.

Back in that classroom discussion, I said we have a responsibility to respect the lives of the real people who inspire fictional characters –and the lands that inspire fictional places–, for this marvelous reality is the world upon which all others are based. We can give praise from our hearts for that gem of inspiration, grateful that we get to live in such an enchanted world as this. We are not to abuse the source of the inspiration itself. This same principle should apply to all who would call themselves “writers” but use words of anger not for healing real and serious injustice, not for shining truth unto evil, but for instigating squalid fights over trivial political pickings that cause not healing for the people. Such poison words you sew are an infestation of resent among your countrypeople, among your own humankind, ye mobbing horseshoe extremists of any and every party.

Words have consequences; writing is a moral act,” writes Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. “To recognize this pays a triple dividend, for it inoculates us against the three daily literary devices of pandering to popular taste, creative laziness, and didacticism. The last item may surprise those who fear that any talk of moral writing will unleash an army of bluenoses ready to censor at will or of apparatchiks who will demand a political subtext to every sentence. But such worries stem from misunderstanding the obligations placed upon us by the nature of the craft. To write ugly prose, or to cripple one’s language to meet the standards of the day, or to warp one’s creation into a political placard –all this is to write immorally. The task of the spiritual writer is to uphold truth and beauty at whatever cost, in whatever way his art demands.”

To be a good writer is to accept that writing is limited. It is not a living body, it is not the indescribably glimmering image about which a thousand words must be called upon to cumbersomely begin to describe it. It is not eternal, for language changes constantly and may persist in one intelligible form only a few hundred years, then be lost to the winds of change or forgetting. A thousand thousand languages have already gone this way, for as long as our ancestors had the vocal chords and brains to speak. Writing is not sound or light or touch, but a hopeful second-hand account of these. Writing is young in the age of the earth, and it is brash. Writing thinks itself to be authoritative and know a whole lot, like a teenager.

 

 

To be a good writer is to form words with loving joy and reverence, to stand in the presence of great Beauty. The human duty to live with such a heart is more important than getting a book deal or social media followers. Social media shall all someday be ground into dust by the shifting of continents. So, too, may the human heart, but its affect has more serious consequences, and underpins any value our media technologies may lay claim to. This temporality puts our priorities into perspective. Now, when I think about my own self in writing, I worry the most about choosing the right words with the right heart, because life is short, and I have the strange and rare privilege of being born a Homo sapiens with a species-specific power so rare among the eons. That is my identity, Homo sapiens, inheritor of the Phylum Chordata, called to know and love God. The call of the good writer is exuberantly subservient to this.

I don’t want to put anything into the world that I wouldn’t want to eat with my own heart’s hunger in another lifetime to come. I may be a Blue Whale someday, and I may find myself hungry for good krill and the love of my pod and a deep black motherly ocean, so may my words be as good as these. I may be a little worm hungry for comforting good soil to build a little house in the ground; so may my words be as good, as whole and right as these. I may be a cheerful speck of dust or a beam of golden sunlight who rides the space between the sun and sweet Earth; so may my words be as good as these. For God saw fit to make these friends of hers, and to put voices into our hominid throats, but it is we who sculpt our own words. May they remember her, these brief words of humanity. If I am to be remembered myself, I want to be remembered as the one who remembered God amidst my contented, hilarious, peaceful insignificance. Don’t write words that don’t matter, that you wouldn’t want a future intelligent alien civilization to discover five billion years from now and the words you wrote, providing their ability to decrypt your long dead language, are the only account of life on earth they find. There are so many words that don’t matter. Choose the ones that do.

Sources

Zaleski, Philip. “Introduction by Philip Zaleski.” Introduction. The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

 

image sources: here and here

Del Valle

 

 

Looking through old notes I had saved from my time in Anake Outdoor School (September 2012-May 2013), I found a half-finished poem I scribbled at the campfire when our tribe stopped in Del Valle, California, in early February 2013 on our way further south to the Transverse Mountains and the Los Padres forest region of Quail Springs. Here’s the polished poem to better convey that sense of joy.

 

Del Valle

 

Night over the fire, coming down from

the Great North far now

from the land of Sitka and Birch

into Del Valle, hills green and brown

in the early spring evening.

Circle fire somewhere in the latitudes of

big open stars. Song of the clicking insects,

their language. Brother Coyote has arrived

and Sister Crow sets the table,

plates made for the ancestors,

communion of food chains all the way back.

Circle round for stories and songs.

Some are anointed with new names.

Others that were old are new-born.

Skin smells of bow-drill smoke, says

“I will tell you someday”.

Bright color is the work of the sun,

but everything is spilled into

shimmering darkness there

in the Milky Way overhead.

 

 

 

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Kitten Intervention from Motley Crew Animal Rescue

Format Video

Here’s a bit of extraordinary cuteness found at Motley Crew Animal Rescue in Redmond, WA back in 2015 thereabouts. These little boys are all grown up now, out there somewhere in somebody’s warm lap! You can hear my “baby-talk” voice, ha! I revisit this little show when I need emergency kitten intervention. Snozz.

Night in the Kitchen: Poetry Fragments

 

 

Blessed are you,

Lord God of creation,

who does not guard us

from the work of your hands.

It is good that we are supple

It is good that we are fragile

adaptable and strange

among beasts

that we may continue

to be always remade.

For You have forged in white fire

the red of eyelids,

the cave of the earthquake;

You have set hominid-kind

among the vastness,

stoneground in waters

in alluvium loam

 

 

The body capable

like a canyon–

arms open

 

 

Night in the kitchen,

me sitting on a stool by the sink

while you wash up the last dust

of the light

Miles later, end of spring,

remembering the bed we have shared

and the air is warm and damp with rain

a pre-waking flood,

rising steam

 

 

Turn in toward

the path of the arrow

that you, with shields of

protection, will let

open, splitting,

the old wounds

of the warrior’s sting,

the nettle’s good venom

letting medicine in

 

 

the wingbeats of Sophia

whisper to the ground;

Her wisdom in the Aves’ taxa

knows no vertigo,

Her course unbound

 

 

Every small moment in worship

through some willing element of matter,

a word, a stolen kiss, a skirt of gold,

a bird diving or falling

from the vault of the firmament.

You could not have learned

any other way

the road between

here and another.

 

 

the eyes of the telescope

the mirror of the wonderer

the bowl of celestial milk spilling–

whatever comes out of my wondering

is the same as the prophets’ own.

Pristine spilt milk is so light,

let it fall like a flood

every ten thousand years

the great void percolating

into my living room,

to coalesce with a big bang

this second, somewhere

 

 

Holy fire settles

the continents in magma–

shifting nerves of Hades

 

 

Rosehips of the Nootka Rose,

the names of creatures, created order–

stars on the forest floor

 

 

Now it is time

to go from here

to leave and leave behind

the bundle, setting down the weight

of your years, time to put away graves

who are at peace in the ground

and what the long road

behind you

remembers.

 

 

Squall line,

white bark pine,

I go visit in my time,

long time

skipping out

 

 

 

 

poetry by Amber MV compiled 7/31/2017. Written all over the place 2012–2017.

image source: Creative Commons CC0. Please support the Public Domain and related freedoms.

Laughing in Mountains

 

 

Beloved, Beloved,

come out from within things,

as you look out from within things,

from the eyes of your creatures,

from the spark of creation

as from the inside of a tree

there comes fire.

Come down, o love Divine,

and complete my half-written words

for your glory, my love,

for your beauty, my love,

so that all creatures

may seek you and know you.

Most beautiful!

The One who is love incarnate!

Follow my heartbeat, as I follow yours,

tracking your footsteps in the land.

My face, sometimes it is sorrowful.

If you may look upon me in love,

even in these times,

not turning your sun from me

even in these times,

then surely not a sparrow falls

without your swooping down

on mother-bird wings

to comfort and carry

each home.

You lead me

through vine thickets and brambles

to see the great stag leap

from his cavern!

Most beautiful Lord,

friend of plants, laughing in mountains,

draw from my mouth the good words

for hearts sorely in want of you.

 

 

 

image source: Creative Commons CC0