Colin's quarterly update #2: Return to civilization?
This is a web version of the post to FriendsOfColin list. I encourage everyone to share what they've learned three or so times a year, and this is my attempt to do that. If you start doing this, please put me on your list!
Added by colin #442 on 2003-12-09. Last modified 2008-03-05 08:20. Originally created 2003-12-09. F1 License: Attribution
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- The initiate and researching mystics, monks, and Chi
- Playing with reflexive hate, annoyance, and fear
- Dance like passion, Qi movements like connection
- Running from the monastery / returning to civ.
- Misc. happiness
- On writing these updates
- Dialog with the body
- Last notes
I set off on a bicycle last July 7 with the goals of:
- Feeling less disconnected to the natural world.
- Finding ways of continuing to eat that did not involve using a computer.
- Taking the time every day to do yoga/ITP Kata/free weight like exercises.
- Finding a warmer place to live in, in an ecovillage or similar community, if possible.
By bicycle, I visited Earthaven, The Farm, The Bayous of Louisiana, The Desert of Mexico. By bus I returned to San Diego. I later visited a Theosophical monastery near San Diego. Currently I'm staying with my grandparents, I have a month membership at the YMCA, and I am planning to return to Monterey, CA in January.
Writing done since the last update includes:
- HoboSchool (D.C. to Earthaven)
- Travelog (Earthaven to San Diego)
- Philosophy : I'm pretty happy with this attempt at concisely communicating my story / philosophy. I'd love it if you'd try to do this too!
Things I learned during this time period include:
- I wish to practice loving living instead of feeling hate for what I do not like.
- Earthaven Ecovillage is a success. Deedee at nearby Wildroots adds to this. Read Cathy Holt on Earthaven.
- A better way of eating following the guidance of Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions, and the example of herbalist Frank Cook.
- John Drais, the founder of the monastery I visited, once had a nomadic/neoprimitive outlook like mine. He moved on to create a community that is somewhat like the daydream I describe in YoMonastic.
- I now appreciate the value of buildings and other aspects of civilization, while still valuing the instructiveness of the primitive ideal.
- I gathered, cooked, and ate more different wild plants and animals than I ever have before.
- I expect to be staying in the US, in Monterey, CA or NYC, NY, or alternating between the two.
For the future I have these goals:
- To practice loving living instead of feeling hate for what I do not like.
- To build on what I've learned.
- In Monterey, I daydream of: running, swimming, dancing, singing, practicing music, establishing tribal housing, supporting a carfree urban ecovillage and the bioregional movement, working with Suzanne Lennard of livablecities.org. Conceivably the lack of youngsters and progressives in the area and the challenges of paying for rent and food could push me in a different direction: homelessness, volunteering at a Camphill, JWS, SVS, or ??, working on organic farms, becoming part of a monastery.
- I will have to find a way to pay for living in civilization. I may: start a real estate agency focusing on properties that are good for living carfree; or I may need to practice being content doing office work. Maybe I'll be a fitness instructor.
- Visiting George Kao! (and maybe Bob, my aunt Carolynn, and David Robinson)
- To balance time in civilization with time practicing primitive skills and primitive mind.
For my earlier (and perhaps more interesting) attempt at writing this email, visit experienceart.
The only other really important thing I want to mention is The initiate by Cyril Scott.
My attempt at conciseness ends here.
The initiate and researching mystics, monks, and Chi
I've been thinking of The initiate as a sort of New-Age fan fiction (think Ecotopia), notable because it was written in 1920, I believe. It does an awesome job of expressing the concept that the way one thinks is often (or entirely) responsible for one's misery or joy. It introduced me to the idea that the intensity of passion can pale in comparison to connection with the limitless joy of being. It also got me to consider what it would be like to live with myself forever, and how, with the way I'd been going, that could be quite unpleasant.
Partly due to my visit to the monastery, partly due to my grandmother's library of occult and personal growth related books, partly due to the free yoga, Qi Gong, and pilates classes included with my month YMCA membership, and partly due to my being moved to check out work by and about Thomas Merton, who you might recall was an influence in Daniel Quinn's life, I'm becoming more and more interested in how these people--mystics, monks, Tai Chi practitioners--pass their time and find their joy in living (or not).
Playing with reflexive hate, annoyance, and fear
Damian by Herman Hesse, in combination with the above, got me to begin a game of imagining how I might wish to feel in circumstances where I'd developed the reflex of simply feeling hate or annoyance. When an old man in the locker room was making old man noises (grunts) every 15 seconds, I thought about what I might prefer instead, and then imagined him belting out like an opera singer (like Anthony did one time in the locker room of Riverbank State Park!). When three husky and rowdy looking guys were walking along on the sidewalk in the same direction I was walking, I imagined that they were instead cute and friendly Mexican schoolgirls. When my thoughts focused on the anti-pedestrian nature of the wide, car-lined streets of San Diego, I imagined instead I was walking down a narrow street in Venice or on a trail through the woods at Earthaven.
The same day I started this practice, I came across Laura Archera Huxley's book You are not the target, which details many recipes for energy transformation. One of these recipes, "You are not the target," consists of choosing to exercise a body part whenever the bad feelings start to rise. When I was getting annoyed at my grandfather for standing there and staring (as he often does) at me chopping vegetables, I thought, "Oh yes!" and started flexing and releasing my abs. Since he doesn't hear well, I confess to wishing to keep words to a minimum (in case you're wondering why I don't start a conversation about how staring makes me feel).
Skimming Huxley's book I got to thinking how I should add a techniques section to the experienceart site... and a section on recommended reading.
Dance like passion, Qi movements like connection
There was a guy at the Monastery (not a monk), who is really into Tai Chi and gave a few lessons and showed some videos there. From that, my previous experience practicing Tai Chi from a video, and the YMCA Qi Gong class, I'm getting a feeling that this Chi/Qi stuff is very close to where I wish to go with movement. Dance feels like passion. The Qi movements feel like connection with the ground of joy of being.
Running from the monastery / returning to civ.
I'm getting a strong feeling or non-feeling from having visited Madregrande which, rationally, seems perfect, but given time and gut reaction, I seem to be running from. Running from the desert, the solitude, the few people there...
At the monastery, a memory of Earthaven came to me: I could spend all day up on Rod & Kimchi's site alone among the trees, and if I wished for a change, I could go to the hut hamlet kitchen and sit under the awning and be with people, perhaps not saying anything. At the monastery I could not do that? And the desert doesn't draw me as does a forest with a running stream.
Another aspect of my return to civilization is my feeling that plants and animals may never draw me as much as people do. That doesn't mean I won't ever be as fascinated with plants as I am with people, but I find it doesn't come as easy. Rewilding is a process that neoprimitives talk about, and most expect it to take at least a generation. I think of my long walks in wintertime up Park Avenue, by the window displays, and then through the snowy emptiness of Central Park, and then back among the people, along Broadway on the far Upper West Side. I remember the route I loved to run in Monterey: down the hill through Alvarado Street, through the Custom House Plaza, by the wharf, down Cannery Row, and then, fewer people, out along the path to Lover's Point, and then, up and up to no people on Blackberry Hill, in a quiet pine forest overlooking the city and the bay, and back down.
I do still daydream though about long walking or goat-packing trips along trails far from roads (I expect I will walk The Pacific Crest Trail!). Confining myself to the mountain bowl of Madre Grande doesn't allow that escape through engagement in changing scenery. Maybe someday I will face that challenge.
On writing these updates
If there's anything here you're curious to hear more about, let me know and I'll write more (and post it to experienceart, probably).
It was also wonderful that George Kao changed around his LearningOrg list to be like a (private) group "FriendsOf..." list. His old LearningOrg list is now BestBooks.
I do find it difficult to write these things. This time, I was hoping to develop a structure that was meaningful and useful for me and others to follow in the future. At the moment I'm happy just to call myself done. One of the most difficult aspects of writing for me is that it exacerbates my monkeymind. When I'm not here, writing, I think about what I have written, what I might write, and so on. By writing thoughts here, I make them more likely to reverberate through me again and again...
You have told me, "Leave all things and follow me," and then You have tied half of New York to my foot like a ball and chain. You have got me kneeling behind that pillar with my mind making a noise like a bank. Is that contemplation? (Merton, 1948/1990. p. 470)
For a while, I could not begin this writing project because I spent my days pondering whether to return to the monastery, to remain in San Diego, to return to Monterey, or to sell my bicycle and start walking north.
I'm happy to be in San Diego because I have two grandmas, one grandpa, two cousins, and an aunt and uncle here. At end-of-year holidays, my dad and Carolynn will be here too. I also hope to visit Ilona, and if I could find him, Alan Rogers... For Christmas, since I will be around relatives this year, I think I will make split-willow figures from Tom Elpel's book Participating in Nature. Part of being happy here is that I'm basically on vacation, free to spend my time however I want. And I know I'm leaving.
It was good to help grandad finish the fence he was building today. The neighbor's dog, he said, was going to get a bad case of lead poisoning if it didn't shut up. Grandad is a millennium member of the NRA. I'm also happy to be here because I can walk to the YMCA and to People's Coop and to Ocean Beach. The view from this house and the hill of Point Loma of the sunrises over San Diego Bay is phenomenal. There is a drawback to the location of this house that I am not mentioning here in my effort to practice loving living instead of feeling hate for what I do not like.
Dialog with the body
I also feel like doing a health (sickness?) inventory. I realized on thinking about this inventory that it is like part of Ira Progoff's intensive journal process, dialog with the body. Perhaps in the future I might follow his process more exactly, and also study other journaling techniques, like those in Julia Cameron's The artist's way.
Another reason I wish to do this is that it is a sort of taboo, at least if you're younger than 85, to openly consider and talk about how all parts of your body are doing. Taboo topics in conversation are often topics that are given the least conscious attention internally as well as society-wide. If I communicated better with my body would I eat like I often do? Would I still be here trying to write this thing? If society were to encourage listening to one's body, maybe people would be less likely to spend so much time sitting in office buildings and motorized vehicles. And in front of computers.
Other reasons to try this are to practice transparency of self, and to give up concerns.
I had hoped to finish this evening, but I had the thought of adding that last sentence. Transparency is a word used in the Earthaven Village Terraces cohousing covenant.
- What does it mean?
- Is it desirable?
- But when we try to advance the cause of memory we quickly meet resistance.
- Eucharist as meal invites an openness and transparency of self such that we all recognize our common identity and destiny.
- Truth comes from the spontaneous transparency of self with others, whereas warped communication puts all its energy into ''seeming.''
- Other finds:
- Dance meditation journal
- The transparency of self (two people who've lost their selves)
The poisoning of ourselves
In addition, we are living in a world in which to live is to slowly poison ourselves (see EWG reports bodyburden and mother's milk ). You've probably heard of the US cancer industry... Of course, that doesn't stop most trees from growing.
I also know of older couples, like my grandparents, where a reasonably healthy woman is left caring for an increasingly incapacitated man, even though the man is not that much older! It may be that men, in general, care for themselves worse, eat worse, live more recklessly, and work around more toxins than most women. I shall think about if there's something in my maleness that leads to unhealthy, dangerous choices.
Fasting, cleanses, and colon-washing
I'm also curious about other people's experiences with various non-mainstream techniques intended to prevent disease. I have long been interested in fasting, but I'm not sure what it will take to get me to try a longer-term fast (or even a short one), where I'd probably have to slow way down and lay in bed. In my visits to ecovillages and monasteries, I meet people who value dietary cleanses and things like colon washing. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Let me know if you have any ideas.
The will to live
Mixed in with all this is the issue of desire and strength of will to live / joy in living. There are times when I feel that life is a chore, and I stick around because I may as well. But if I'm going to be here, I'd like to be as healthy as I can be while I am here! I find the calorie restriction project interesting. I think it is mostly men who are doing that.
Saving for old age
As for saving up money (like for retirement), I find the thought of doing so amotiviting --- the thought that I'd be doing work I didn't want to do to make money to keep living in a world I don't really want to live in, and paying taxes that go mostly to make things worse! I'd rather spend my time reading about the lives of saints. I need to try to make a world I want to live in before I'd wish save up money to retire in it. I'll have to think about this more in the context of my goal to practice loving living instead of feeling hate for what I do not like. Another approach is to work with social capital, as you might in intentional communities.
Floridation, Chlorination, Plastic, Kitchen-as-Temple
In alternative communities, chlorine and chlorinated water are held to be great evils... especially swimming in it. Fluoridation of water (and chlorination of water) is claimed by some to be a means of toxic waste disposal. WAP Links. Why am I bringing this up? What can I do about it one way or the other? Oh, that reminds me- many people at Earthaven will carry glass bottles or mason jars of water rather than drink out of plastic. I've been eating and drinking out of plastic for a long time. One can't question everything about the world one lives in. In the ideal world, the Kitchen-as-Temple, there'd be no plastic... no chlorinated/fluoridated water... no fossil fuels... no electricity... only locally, organically grown food and tools. Frank on the hill above Earthaven has a kitchen somewhat like the one in my dream. I could do everything correctly at the monastery (maybe) or at Earthaven (for sure)...
First attempt at dialog
So, here's what I wrote:
I'm not as agile and quick as I used to be. My left knee, and ankles are not feeling 100%. This is from the bike trip partly, and partly due to my shoes... I should be barefoot or get new ones. My shoulders still aren't comfortable, as they were long ago, with swimming. My neck doesn't feel 100%, and this may be from no longer sleeping on the ground... I've been sleeping in a bed. Typing and mouse use is still something to be avoided, especially for my right wrist. Internally, no great complaints. Teeth & gums have been neglected, but seem to hold up fine. My only worry is a tenderness at the gumline on the right lower tooth that is behind the canine. For months I've only used a toothbrush and dental floss, partly to see if I could do without a waterpik and electric toothbrush. No toothpaste. Before I left northern Virginia, I still used H202. Body fat: I have more than when I left NYC, but I'm not hating it. I know what I can do to have less (exercise in morning and evening, not just morning), and expect to be doing that soon, or at least when I get to Monterey, once I get new shoes, not for the reason of being skinnier, but because it is such a beautiful place to run. Diet: I still eat more than I need to, and in the long run this will be my downfall, unless I change. However, now that I'm open to eating animal fats (ideally locally, organically grown), and good eggs, I no longer have a sort of "never satiated" feeling. That feeling and related stomach stuffing and the consequences that followed were one of my greatest complaints in the past. I am aware that toxins are concentrated in animal fats... On occasion I've had diarrhea or painful shits, but nothing that continues to be a problem. My forehead skin seems more oily and less smooth than it has been in the past... from eating more animal fat/cholesterol? Toenail fungus continues to grow, now beginning to claim the nail of my left big toe (the right has been gone for years). Fortunately, athletes' foot and jock itch haven't been serious problems since 1998. Pinworms seem to be annoying me.
Good news and the safety prayer
I went for months (April 7 to December 1) without swimming in a pool, and I did not die. I did not get run over by a car or truck while bicycling. I am now swimming most every morning. I have been lifting weights again for over a week and a half, and I am over the initial stage of great soreness and tiredness. I've been taking Pilates, Hatha and Kundilini yoga, and Qi Gong classes. When I swim/play in the water for an hour, do Pilates with Claire for an hour, do my weights, read Thomas Merton for an hour, do Kundilini with Jewells for an hour, like I did today, I feel wonderful (all parts of me)!
Offtopic: The longer I sit in front of a computer, without balancing it with dance, the closer I feel to total immobility and death... Conceivably I will eventually become a yoga/dance/fitness instructor myself. In the past I've shied away from the thought of doing that kind of bodywork all day (my mind wished for a different kind of engagement). The alternatives seem to be farm work or computer work, or grocery store work, or monastic life...
Before I had the YMCA membership, I was doing the ITP Kata exercises regularly. I've gone without health insurance for months now, and am not yet struck by lightning. I may be getting a CalFarm policy soon... My grandpa wants me to get a flu shot, but I haven't yet. Following my safety prayer (trying to keep the goal of being safe always in my mind), I should probably get the shot.
While I sense some potential deterioration in vitality, I'm optimistic that I will be able to do the things that help me to feel wonderful. Eating more than necessary may be an ongoing concern, though I expect it to become less of one. As I feel more connected with the ground of joy of being, it's possible that the joy of eating won't be as important to me. In the past, aside from dance, a girlfriend was a good distraction from food. Yes... (maybe that is only during the passion stage) And I remember that singing and practicing a musical instrument are as well. I look forward to further developing and learning from this dialog with my body in the coming months.
I really don't know if I'm going to be able to pull off being content living in civilization. I agree with Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan... but I hope that Ken Wilber may be more correct, since a way for me to live primitively has not drawn me yet. I'm contemplating living in a building in a town where people drive cars, and possibly making so much money that I will be paying income taxes for things I do not agree with. In addition, I may be trying to find a place in civilization that exists only because of distant oppression, pollution, and many other humans living in ways that I would not wish to live. I may be trying to be content in a system that may more visibly be beginning to die. While I may be able to help make something more beautiful, I may get caught up in simply trying to feed, shelter, and exercise myself in a way that feels pretty good.
Is there a way to create beauty while maintaining awareness of things not beautiful?
I'm seeing this email as full of the challenge and uncertainty of trying to find a way I can love of looking at things. This email still has a lot of the pessimism about civilization that sent me on my neoprimitive experiment. Is there a way to create beauty while maintaining awareness of the not beautiful? I'm curious to see what my next email is like. I'm optimistic that my research into spiritual and religious thought will lead me to others who have addressed this question. Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, Rachel Carson, the people at the Monastery, the people at Earthaven, and on and on... they've all had to deal with the same thing. And back when it wasn't the environment, there were other things to fret about. Some of it is a simple decision not to fret. But I make a point of exploring the negativity. If we're going to create Our Culture and Our Capitol, a way needs to be found of listening to those voices and learning from them. That sounds like Habermas' unfinished project of modernity again. Do any of you know how that is coming?
I hope to hear from some of you about your life journeys and what you may be learning.
That's all until another four months or more from now.
And yet, what a strange admission! To say that men were admirable, worthy of honor, perfect, in proportion as they disappeared into a crowd and made themselves unnoticed, by even ceasing to be aware of their own existence and their own acts. ... The logic of the Cistercian life was, then, the complete opposite to the logic of the world, in which men put themselves forward, so that the most excellent is the one who stands out, the one who is eminent above the rest, who attracts attention. ... The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real! (Merton, 1948/1990. p. 368)
Merton, T. (1990). The seven storey mountain. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co. (Originally work published 1948).
For next time I'll be thinking about:
- How you could help me. (maybe in starting or joining a community with me, or getting me to join yours?) I thought of one way: Don't respond by email to any of my questions or concerns here (write a letter, call, or visit instead). I'll learn best from your own example and presentation of what I've learned throughout my life, what I'm learning now, and where I think I'm going.
- How I can help you. Give me ideas, like George did!