Going Out is Going In

I had forgotten what a usual January in the Bay Area is like: massive rain and wind, and strong, wild storms. Certainly the weather has been more than unsettled this month: it’s been turbulent and somewhat frightening.
When I was working full time and commuting, the weather was a nuisance, a factor that made it difficult to travel, walk and run errands. And it made my interior life a challenge as the grey sky and lack of sun was a depression resonator. Even when I lived out in the country surrounded by greenery and sleeping oak trees I rarely realized that the long rainy season was a blanket of solitude and rest that soaked the dry hills and nurtured the earth for eventual blossoming in Spring. Instead I just felt classically “bummed out” most of the time.
Rain and Leaves on My Street
That seems like a long time ago. So far this year I have been awakening early from long sleep and listening to the falling water and the wind moving through the trees. And even though my home is just a mile or so from a main highway and my neighbors sleep and live within a few yards of my own bedroom I feel as if there is a great distance between me and the world that humans have built in a country that worships money and that seems to now live in a constant state of anxiety.
We humans are always busy with the details of our lives and making sure that we are warm and dry in winter and cool and wet in summer. And yet it seems to me that we spend less time making sure that our minds and inner world are also protected from the metaphorical weather that sometimes comes into our hearts like a winter storm. When the rain is falling it’s easy to stay in the house and crank up the heater or the fireplace, make some dinner in the kitchen and have a hearty meal. (More difficult if the power is out I suppose, but I’m trying not to stretch the allegory to a breaking point.)
But where do you go for protection when the storm is inside your soul? What spiritual tools are there that take the place of raincoats and umbrellas? Contemplation and meditation are important. But it’s difficult to quiet the mind when the inner storms are raging. That takes practice, perhaps even a lifetime to master the craft. But I do think that the obvious answer to this is the same that I have writing about recently: cultivating Joy and Love and rediscovering what made you happy in the first place.
So how do we do that? Especially right now when the news is filled with the crass and cynical lies coming out of Washington that are dominating all of us?
Simple: go out and walk in the rain. Revel in it. Let it soak you. We are made of water. We are made of storms.
Looking for a bush
Today it’s not raining, and the sun is appearing now and then while huge clouds roll over my house. I can see them in motion as I write this. I just got back from a walk with Finn, my greyhound companion, and when I started moving I felt, yes, “bummed out.” But as soon as the sun hit my face and began to be absorbed by the black fabric of my winter jacket my whole attitude changed slowly, like a big ship making a sweeping turn out to sea while leaving port. I did some mindful breathing and the negativity fell away quickly. I looked at Finn and he had a big doggie smile on his face. It was as if he was saying: “Smell all those great smells? There’s nothing to worry about. Let’s go pee on a plant.”
John Muir’s Office
I am certainly not advising that you go outside an urinate on something (though in the current political climate there are those that deserve it). But I am saying that sometimes simply just getting out of the house (where we are comfortable) and looking at the natural world will put a smile on your face and allow you to recapture that joy that is the heart and soul of all things. John Muir said in his unpublished journals, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” He was right.
I have a friend who loves to go out in the rain and has a disabled daughter who requires full time care on the part of her mother. My friend retains an adventurous spirit despite that challenge. When the rain was coming down in buckets a couple of weeks ago she drove to Napa to see the new flood gates. I, however, chose to stay in my home and bounce off the walls. I should have put on the Australian outback duster my wife gave me the Christmas before she passed and let the rain wash my psyche. Up to now I have never been able to bring myself to wear it. My friend is a very brave and cheerful person. She sent me pictures and texts as she moved about through the weather that day. She was valiant. I was a wuss.
There’s probably more heavy rain coming. Next time, I’ll be out there wearing that duster. Finn won’t come out with me then. He hates the rain. But I will tell him about the smells. In detail.
“You walk. I’m sleeping now.”


Snafu Is The Normal State Of Being

Recently I have been reading a profound book: The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck. The author journeys with his brother, Nick, in a covered wagon pulled by a team of mules along the Oregon Trail from Missouri to the West Coast. As the trip unwinds the story moves between the story of the trail in the nineteenth century, the road as it exists today, and the lives of the author and his brother as they travel.
There is a moment (on page 196 of the paperback edition) where Rinker feels some regret over his relationship with his father and talks to Nick about it. He is filled with the guilt that only someone who has lost a loved one can really understand. But Nick, who is a down to earth fellow with a strong sense of natural intelligence tells his brother not to worry so much. Why?
Nick says: “ ‘There’s no fuckin cure for any of us, Rinker. Get into it dickhead. I’m fucked up, you’re fucked up, okay? Fucked up is normal.’ ”
Crude wisdom. But wisdom nonetheless. Real Chuang Tzu stuff
The experiences I have been through these last three years are…normal! Meaning that they happen to us all. Loss is normal. Screwing up is normal. Suffering is normal. All that makes up the majority of our Human Condition. And there can be no guilt associated with it. It is simply There.
No one can be perfect. No one can go through life without making mistakes. No one can manage to get through all our experiences without being profoundly scarred. We are, at heart, imperfect. And that’s because perfection is simply a concept. And ideal that most of us reach out for and fail to achieve. Even if we could attain flawlessness it’s still impermanent and upon examination would reveal a dark side despite any ingenuous idealism on our part.
For months now I have struggled with the “if only I had done something better” voice in my head. It’s agony sometimes because thinking that way is useless. It drains us of the soul energy we need in order to carry on through each day of challenges.
There is no long rest for us, no retirement, no perfect extended time that will make everything better than what it is. There are simply the experiences that come our way out of circumstance. It\’s our reactions to what takes place that are the real challenge, not the circumstances that led to where we are on any given day.

A certain helplessness is inherent in experience. That’s why the conception of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” is complete nonsense. Our entire American ideal of rugged individualism is a fantasy. First of all, we all depend upon one another. Nothing is separate from anything else. It’s all connected. Any good thing that happens to me is not independently sustained. Same thing with bad stuff. Second, our deeply held belief that we are an independent person is simply a way to rationalize the randomness of experience. None of us chose to be here. None of us made ourselves out of thin air and picked out the particulars of our personality and ego. No one made us who we are at our foundations. Whatever talents we have were randomly developed in a mish mash of nature and nurture. James Hillman’s Acorn Theory applies here.

There is not a single Great Man or Woman who survived death. Everything that makes up a life of action is minor when compared to geologic time. All of our accomplishments in life will eventually be forgotten as time passes and we die and our children pass away and their children and all the passing generations that become distant from the events of their ancestors. That’s simply fact. TThere is only the moment and residual memory.

Even Art fades. Paintings have to be restored. Music has to be continually performed to be remembered. Books go out of print. And our technological cloud world of retained information contains such a huge mass of litter and debris that anything worthwhile is subsumed in a heap of noise that hides everything of value. We have to search for the gold and be wise enough to recognize it when we uncover it. And in our current culture where the trivial is trumpeted as important and then forgotten within hours, we may be losing sight of all these facts and spend so much time consuming that we forget we are alive in the first place.
But there is liberation in all this. If we realize that we can’t be perfect and that our normal state of experience is a fumbling mess of screw ups and occasional bad decisions then we can accept that state of being and stop feeling bad and guilty about it. Then we just do the best we can, love someone, perform acts of kindness and move on. There’s really no other choice other than to have courage in our hearts and continue limping down a road of mystery and pick each other up as we fall down.
Snafu is normal. Sentiment and assumption are the real problem. One of my favorite Jethro Tull songs from my youth says it all:
Nothing is easy,
Though time gets you worrying,
My friend, it’s OK
Just take your life easy
And stop all that hurrying,
Be happy my way
When tension starts mounting
And you’ve lost count of the pennies you\’ve missed,
Just try hard
And see why they’re not worrying me,
They’re last on my list.
So have at it, friends. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If you’re fucking up you might be doing things right.


The Loudest Sound

Finn and I live in our own quiet world that is far removed from the insanity of a republic that is slowly and painfully disassembling all around us. At those times I imagine my home as a hut in a far off wood that I occupy like an elderly Zen monk. That monk is much calmer than I could ever be. And yet though he is just an imagined image he seems like something to emulate. Ryokan comes to mind:
My pal Finnegan
Keep your heart clear
And transparent,
And you will
Never be bound.
A single disturbed thought
Creates ten thousand distractions.
Perhaps that’s why the concept of returning to work in the sense of what it used to be is so daunting to me. The events that transpired in my life in 2014 and 2015 changed me so much that I am not sure I can fit in with that world. So much of what people get paid to do in my old line of work is unimportant to me now.
The Doctor\’s Angel, Evergreen Cemetery, Manchester CA.
I was thinking about that world as I was watching The Godfather last night. That film is all about power. But it is what the film doesn’t say about power that is the greatest lesson. All things have an illusory quality, but power is the greatest illusion of all. Even vaster than love in its most romantic attire. People strive for power as a tangible thing, and while its most obvious benefits are the things that all of us desire, (food, shelter, clothing, family) the corruption that is inherent in unrestrained power removes all the advantages and leaves nothing but emptiness in the soul of the power holder. Absolute power is impotent in the circumstance of the mortality of the person who pursues supremacy. Shelley wrote of it. That is the story of History.
I have been alive long enough now to see that so many fools rise and fall and leave destruction and litter in their wake that the work that the rest of us do to clean up after them is not only the most important labor but the only labor that matters—other than loving others and feeling compassion for them. There are far more fools than wise men and even a wise man has his foolish moments. I know that is true of me. Perhaps the greatest benefit of wisdom is knowing when you are a fool and picking up your own rubbish.
10 years old
For a long time I’ve been in denial of my own ageing. Whenever my old amigo John talked about “watching the falling leaves” as a metaphor I would say to myself that his comparison was an indulgence and in itself a defeat. I would say “not me, I’m not old yet”. But I can’t deny that anymore. I am old, or at least an elder. My own memories of childhood, as vital and clear as they are, seem like a well-thumbed book. The world that surrounded me when I was five or six does not exist anymore. Like the world that H.L. Mencken describes in Happy Days it exists in black and white, not color, like a TV show from a past that is mine in memory only. The places in which I dwelled still exist in reality: the homes in which I lived, the streets I walked or drove on, the schools I attended, all of those structures are still there (I can see them on Google Street View) but there are other people occupying them. My own memories of those places, while bright and clear in my mind\’s eye, are my own ghosts.
Yet I am still alive making new memories even though the world in which I live today no longer is my old world, and seems brittle and ready to collapse. Yet while it does my own hopes and passion compel me to stand in wonder at the great gift of my own life and the truth that no matter what has happened to me personally and no matter what happens to the commonwealth in which I live that I still have my own power, as simple as it is, to make my own existence a noble and fulfilling one.  Like Ryokan in the forest, and like my friend John, I watch the leaves falling all around me and yet can also see the fresh green buds of new life quietly appearing as an expression of impermanence. For it is the cycle, the yin to yang, birth to death, sadness to joy, ignorance to wisdom, health to sickness, success to failure, that is the core of all things. That is the Tao, though in speaking of it, it whispers, and in not speaking of it, it is the loudest sound of all.
Split Tree Trunk, Volunteer Park, Seattle WA,


Look at Where You Want to Go, Not Where You’ve Been.

There are times when the mind wants to return to a past that no longer exists because we are not spending enough time  journeying to the destination that does not yet have our attention, but that wants us as a tourist.
What happens on journeys? We travel and move and see things and get thrilled by the freedom and then suddenly…tired, exhausted, and weary, the hard stop on the side of the road arrives. And when we pull over, the road that was so exciting becomes deserted and lonely. The elation provided by movement evaporates and we are left with just the sound of the wind and the hiss of cars that are anonymous and devoid of companionship. Then it seems that no one will pull over to see if we need roadside assistance.
Where I have been traveling for almost three years is a  wide plateau like the Mojave Desert. Beautiful but stark. Colorful but prone to changes in weather that strip all the colors away and turn everything to low contrast black and white. Lifeless appearances that are actually vital but that require attention and clear vision to be truly observed. Long distances between places of refreshment in a vehicle that is perfectly capable of sustaining a happy life whether I know it or not.
Each day of this voyage the sun rises and falls, the horizon lights up and fades, the wind blows softly, and then severe rain falls without advance notice. And the whole time the landscape glows with a divinity that is easy to miss because the process of travel is so filled with mental processing, some of which is vital and some of which is mere distraction that takes us off course to highways that lead nowhere. Yet we can manage to get back to the main highway if we keep searching and wandering.
Eventually there is an end to the travels. We don’t know where and when. The doing is in itself the traveling. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the “not-doing” is the traveling. Lao-tzu would put it that way.
If we are traveling with a companion there is always the possibility that they may not be with us for the entire trip. And perhaps we bury them by the side of the trail and leave their bones to the sun and wind. And move on because there is nothing else we can do.
All of us on this planet are journeying whether we know it or not. Is it better to know? Perhaps. It gives us a chance to appreciate our authentic freedom when we take a moment to consider the journey objectively.
So consider these ideas:
There are those who travel without knowing it and who become disturbed with the discomfort of moving. So they stop, build little homes and slowly fade away, leaving their dreams to be picked apart by the vultures that keep the desert clean.
There are those who don’t travel at all. We meet them when we pull into the tiny towns where they live so we can gas up and take a break. Maybe they offer bad advice. If we listen credulously we receive inaccurate directions and end up in cul-de-sacs. Then we have to backtrack and find our way once more on our own. That takes up time that we may not have. Or we get stuck and die in a place that is not where we are supposed to finish.
But there are those who travel without moving. They are rare and far between but can give us directions and offer tips on the sights to see along the way. They are the helpers and the bodhisattvas, but they are not always obvious. In paying attention to the journey we will find them.
So keep your windshields clean and polished, friends. Never give up the path.