It’s time for some truth-telling. I’m running straight to this roar.
If you have loved as your home the community of the Unitarian Universalist Church, or numerous other formerly soulful and life-affirming mainline-liberal communities and you are a conservative, you are not alone.
If you are a moderate, a centrist, a classical liberal, a humanist, a Republican, a patriot, a capitalist, a Christian, an atheist, a European Neo-Pagan, a skeptic, a descendant of the European Enlightenment (as are we all) and are not ashamed, you’re not alone. It’s OK to be White. It’s OK to be non-White.
It’s OK to say “NO!” to toxic Neo-Marxist Intersectional Social Justice. I am breaking open this silence.
If you don’t believe that “whiteness” is full of evil for which you must repent, speak up. You’re not alone. Your existence carries no racial stain and you do not need to be absolved of political sin.
Nature and Human Rights don’t belong to one political group. It belongs to all people. WE are ALL creatures of this holy world.
I believe in the work of reindiginization, to develop a sense of powerful belonging wherever we are. We are not “settlers”. I am a living being of a diverse human lineage of many European peoples whose intermarriage and blending of cultures over many generations became known as “white”. I am not only Scottish or French or German or Danish: I am a White American, all of these. I do not lack cultural dignity because of it. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this.
I hold deep respect for listening to the unheard stories of people of other ancestries, sexualities, perspectives, and so forth. And I –we– have unheard stories, too. I am an American, one of the most truly liberal nationalities in the world, by the truest definition of liberal. I am proud to be this liberal. Let us maintain it.
I am tired of being silent.
It is because of this that I am unapologetically proud of and deeply grateful for Western Civilization, despite its human shortcomings and historical tragedies which are intermixed with extraordinary humanitarian progress and liberation. No culture is perfect. We all have room to grow, marvelous new perspectives to learn. We can make Western Civilization even better. We can listen, and we have been listening, and we also shall be listened to. Being an “ally” connotes an alliance of friends, not a submission of servants.
I am speaking up because I know I’m not the only one who has watched a beloved community become increasingly uniform in its ideological output from members. But I will not be afraid: you don’t have to feel silenced. If you’re not ashamed of The West, you’re not alone.
In Absolute Fierceness
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.
Featured image: “High Desert” © 2017 Gentle J. Pine. Watercolor on paper.
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.
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.
When Hiawatha ran into the woods out of grief,
Love haunted him. The Peacemaker came in a stone canoe,
floating above war and death. He told evil to go.
Happiness came back to the land.
When Taderdaho looked into the water,
he saw the face of who he once was.
Taderdaho’s terror was being loved into life.
So the people encircled the hut of the evil one,
they began singing, snakes will come out of his head,
and his mind will be healed. His back will be straightened.
Peacemaker fell from the crown of a great pine
and in the white river waters he came back to life.
He was not lost. We are his people.
Instructions to catch the Peace Tree when it falls.
Now when we cry tears we know
the birds come to the great waters
to lift, on wings, our stone canoe.
There has been a visitation here;
what creature’s tracks of forefoot and rear
are present, signed their name into the sand?
What perfect pressure of heel pad or tiny hand
has loped or softly crawled or slithered,
out of skins of other lifetimes withered?
Into places that I cannot go, they go:
the spirits of the world in fur,
my familiars of the Maker– Her
imprint kissed the quiet ground
for hominids like me to know;
perceiving shapes and hearing sound,
a story of the living world below.
Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.
This is winter in Cascadia.
Oceans gather, lift and drop.
Trailing backward to stand on a rocky beach
with pebbles for eyes, waving cedar
while the pain of love
pounces your throat–
all rise now to the sea-jungle
rowing into the sound, the great waves
going long ways with singing canoes
by the ferns for a memory;
“Wood, stone, feather and bone,
roaring of the ocean, guide us home/
Wolf and raven, Wolf and raven,
in my soul, in my soul…”
Someone I love
has made a fire on the sand,
hand-drill and tinder-bundle
carried close to the heart
in mist-wool on the skin
of our people, our passage.
Dawn climbs rosy-cheeked and panting
home on wind-feathered faces–
on the shore.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I slept outside at my sitspot last night. Woke up to bird song around me and rays of sunlight through leafy green trees and ferns. And it feels wonderful.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Third night of sleeping outside at The Mosswood Secret Spot. The way the sun pours into the morning to fill up the green woods, rays through the branches above when I first open my eyes is incomparable. We have become accustomed to saying, when we touch magic, “It is like another world” but I know now that this world, host of our lives, is at the foundation of all magic and every great story. If there is a heaven, it must be linked into here, unique but not separate, close by this world and interconnected, present among us.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Last night I watched the beautiful little bats fly over me at the pond near my sitspot. They got so close I could hear their delicate wingbeats flap a yard over my head, as I lay there watching the dusk draw over the land. (Now there is a flock of sparrows all around me as I write this!) I thanked the bats for eating the mosquitoes and thanked the mosquitoes for reminding me of geologic time and human frailty. Then I went to sleep delighting in the softness of the Western Hemlock tree duff, the warm-cool of the starry summer evening, my wool cloak. I lay under the Sword Ferns that drooped above me like prehistoric giants.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
The forest was pullin’ a fast one on me last night. So I go out there, get all cozy with my blankey and pillow and I shove a fern out of the way just as I’m laying down all snuggly, when I hear a THUD THUMP a stone’s throw from my head. My heart stops. My overactive imagination takes over. A jumping bug hops on my face like a frog and hops off, clicking it’s wings. A mouse becomes a dinosaur in the night. Ha ha ha. I shine my flashlight and act brave, but the tangled shadows of the moonless night only feed the growing list of possibilities as to what creature it could be. Probably just a couple o’ racoons, I tell myself, or a deer -THUMP-DA-DUMMP- Or an escaped peacock. I gulp. I begin waving my flashlight around and singing one of our favorite WAS songs like an idiot, “How sweet the sound was in the niiiight, the melodies floowed like wateeerrrrrr, the women sang the mon’s delight and the men all sang of honeeyyyy!” You know, just to inform whatever it is that I am an obnoxious flashlight-wielding human, thank you very much, and I am not on the menu. I dive back into my blanket, thinking I won… THUMP. O God, maybe it’s Stickbreaker aka Bigfoot. I get up huffing indignantly, grab my stuff, and march out back onto the gravel road. Sit and watch the stars in the open clearing a minute. I ain’t gunna let this thing win, I tell meself. I drop my blanket and pillow and forge back int there. “Hello?” THUMP THUMP THUMP. I turn tail and beat it. I learned nothin’ at WAS if not the saving mixture of comedy and humility. Trodding back to my yurt feeling partly spooked, partly humored, partly defeated but full of a wonder, I park my bed under the Hemlock grove next to my yurt, and briefly battle an Oregon Grape root for dominance. Tomorrow, I think to myself, I’ll try again. Sometimes the forest just wants to be without humans, ya know? That is a part of honoring the untamed wildness of a sitspot. We are only visitors there. And I ain’t no ‘fraidy cat… er… ‘cept when I am, but I know how to cry uncle with dignity. I count myself honored that the collective spirits of the forest thought me hearty enough to employ their spooky mischief my way and have a little fun with me.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Sitspotters, friends, what do you think? Last night I found a second pile of fur near my sitspot; I asked myself why I hadn’t seen it before. This pile looks more recent than the first I found, though it appears to have been decaying for some time as the dampness of this forest speeds it up, I know. The fur measures a couple inches in length, is white in color and is the amount of two pillows! I found no bones whatsoever. What is this?
I contemplated whether it is still wise to sleep there. I recall Laura G saying she once found a deer kill at her spot and therefore got a different sitspot. When I laid down I still felt spooked and tried to intentionally breathe my way back into the Quiet Mind, but I got flooded with primal fear and adrenaline! Which was kind of cool to feel that. I got my sleeping bag and went to sit by the open night sky of the pond, though the clouds were covering the almost-full moon, and I thought about how excellently spooky these Cascadian woods are at night, how thick and black and tangled with the watery, dark enchantment of the Underworld, or The Other Side of the Veil. This forest has eyes, and I can always feel them on me. And yet, as much as it spooks me, this darkness comforts me.
Well, I wasn’t about to let no pile o’ fur scare me from MY sitspot, so I romped back into my bed zone, snuggled into my sleeping bag and pulled my cloak over my head, for reassurance. I thought about what Marcus said, that a Cougar wun’t likely come get me if I’m lying still and smell like a human, but a bear might come check me out, give me a shy sniff and a nuzzle, but would turn tail the moment I moved like a human. ‘Sides, Black Bears jus’ don’t hunt people much -human people, I mean.
When I awoke, the sweet and loving golden sun came streaming into my crusty eyes through the blazing yellow-green fern canopy, huge and Paleozoic above me. How much more did I appreciate it, every time I’m out there and I let go into the dark, and I wake up again (accountably) unscathed. A female Swainson’s Thrush came to visit me, hopped on the overhanging branch on which I left offerings of bells and incense holders to thank and bless my sitspot while I am far away. A Douglas Squirrel pew’d at me. And I thought to myself, I love you, Forest. How beautiful to be alive!
Starting out on a wander across a bridge
that sways under feet, between gravity and air
you meet Northern Flicker. You stop,
body posed in mid-step like an animal;
you and the bird look into each other’s eyes.
He stands on the ground, flees from your burning gaze.
You straighten your beautiful back and walk on.
Like the river you now part the meadow,
rose-hips and brambles surround us.
I take note of the names given the flora
by Man in the garden– Thimbleberry and Alder.
Again your hand sweeps the grass to one side,
serpent of rushes, apple light falling over your face.
Is this what wild is? Coming onto
the riverbank, sandy pebbles,
a spiral made with blue stones.
Some come to be warriors.
Some come to love.
You leap up on a log.