Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September 5, 2018 - How Washing the Dishes Saved the World

There is a feeling of massive frustration all around us.  Day after day, that feeling grows and grows.  We feel that things should be different than they are, but we don’t know how we got from there to here, or how to get from here to somewhere else.  Somehow along the way while the world was flying by us at breakneck speed and we were staring at our phones, we lost our ability to be “effective.”

There’s the tragedy that happened halfway around the world.  There’s the huge wildfire elsewhere that threatens the population.  There’s a hurricane about to touch land.  There are deadly illnesses and crazy politics and scheming madmen.  There are personal calamities and wars and famine and people we just don’t like.  But most of all, there’s a lot of rage, a lot of frustration, and a lot of sorrow.  If only the world could work the way we say it should.  But it doesn’t and it never will.

The World.
So we find ourselves in a state of perpetual confusion, a fog in which we walk day and night, unable to see more than a few yards beyond our own noses.  A fog so thick that it is utterly impenetrable, yet still we attempt to pierce it now and then because we remember a different world and we know things should be better.  But to no avail.  We are in the fog.  We are lost.

If this has ever happened to you or is happening now, take hope and be of good cheer.  There is a way to brighter days—not perfect days, mind you, but brighter.  The only way to find the sun that burns off that thick fog is through personal responsibility.  Through achievement we find self-esteem, self-reliance, and personal effectiveness.  Armed with this, we might not be able to stop what’s happening on the other side of the Earth, but we can certainly put our own lives in order—and THAT is what brings clarity.

It’s very simple, indeed.  When you are at rock bottom, at your wits’ end, the only thing you can do is to reach for what is directly in front of you.  (The real secret, of course, is that all you can EVER do is reach for what is directly in front of you, but that has to be learned and is not something you grasp simply by being told.)  So we begin at the beginning.

Tonight or tomorrow, grab your dirty dishes that are littering the sink and countertops and wash them by hand and set them in a drying rack.  It doesn’t matter if you have a dishwasher and “could be doing something better,” do them by hand anyway.  Or maybe you have a piece of prefab furniture that needs to be put together.  Do it with a hand screwdriver, the old-fashioned kind.  It doesn’t matter if you have a cordless electric screwdriver and “could do it in one-quarter of the time,” do it by hand anyway.

Set aside a week to do as many things as possible the “old” way.  Maybe you will make a homemade loaf of bread from start to finish.  Maybe you will go fishing and catch your own dinner and fry it yourself.  Maybe you will wash a few pieces of laundry in the sink by hand, even though you have a washing machine.  Maybe you will trim the hedges with hand shears.  Maybe you will wash the dishes every night by hand, etc.

What will this do, you ask?  Surely we have “better” things to occupy our time?  At first this will simply give you something to do, and as much as we all like to lounge around now and then, humans are happier when they are industrious.  Then it will give you a “reconnect” to everyday life around you.  It will put you INTO life instead of watching it from the sidelines and just pressing a button.  Then it will give you a sense of accomplishment and personal achievement.  It doesn’t matter if the tasks you are doing seem small and insignificant.  No job is menial or below any other.  Every job is important.  Everything we do to make our lives run efficiently gives us a sense of personal responsibility and control—but the key is we have to do it ourselves, not press a button or have someone else do it for us.

In essence, we make ourselves more “effective.”  We find our ability to order and fix and beautify our own lives.  And that is a wonderful thing, so simple but so perfect!  Because we’re not just sitting on the sidelines anymore, we’ve got both hands elbow-deep into life.  What happens then?  Eventually, we begin to look around ourselves to find more and more things we can “fix,” more things we can do, more things we can bring under our own personal control and protection.

This is how you build a “home,” regardless of whether you live in a house, an apartment, or a tent.  This is how you begin to structure your life.  This is how you—slowly but surely—build potency and effectiveness.  Bit by tiny bit, you handle what is in front of you—always what is in front of you, not 1,000 miles away.  Bit by tiny bit, you rebuild yourself, your home, and then your community.  And yes, eventually you save the world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August 15, 2018 - Dancing Light


tiny bits of sun
falling from the sky
a transient gift
sparkling atop the waves
the water grasping
for the baptism of light
that dances on the surface
and slips through its fingers
then jumps to the shore
to warm the cliffs
and fly with the birds
back to heaven

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 23, 2018 - You are not Alone

It is a feeling of such intense longing.  The people can see it; they can almost smell it.  They walk around with their faces bent over their phones, paging through.  Paging and paging.  Searching….  They are looking for it.  Maybe it will be in the next post, the next announcement, the next comment.  And they page and page. 

But it is not there.  Maybe it will be there next time.  Yes, there is always a next time to page through again.  Maybe it will be there.

In pursuit . . .
They buy so many products, a good deal of which they do not need.  Maybe it is there.  They treat themselves to rich food and drink.  Or they eat what they know is not good for them.  Maybe they will find it in defiance.  Perhaps an element of self-destruction will jolt them back into . . . something.  They lose themselves in television or movies.  It might be in just the next frame.  Maybe it will be.

And then, quite by accident, they see a photo of the ocean.  Or the forest.  Or a meadow in bloom.  It reminds them of the scent of a rose.  Is that the call of a bird of prey somewhere in the distance?  And the whisper starts in the back of their mind.  “Run!  Run!  Go and get it!”  They stare, mesmerized.  They expand the photo on their screens and melt into it.  Just for a moment….  “Run!  Go and get it!”

Tears flow.  “Please,” they say, “take me in and shelter me.  Hold me until I get over this, until I get out of this evil spell, until I can see the splendor again.  Please keep me safe.”  And the tears flow.  “I just want to rest for a few minutes.  Please.  Help me.  Let me stay in this place for a short while until I find myself again, until my soul begins to heal.  Please….”

Then the moment is gone.  They shake their heads to clear out the cobwebs.  They stare ahead with a blank look . . . and begin to page again.  Surely it is here somewhere . . .  Surely it is just around the corner.

And the grass that you trample under your feet reaches up to pat your ankles, and it whispers, “I dream of you.”  The wind caresses your face and brings cool sweetness, and it whispers, “I have been waiting for you.  The Earth gives a sweet scent that swirls around your head and intoxicates you, and she whispers, “I still love you.”

You are not alone.  You are never alone.  In your heart you know where to find it.  Go and get it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

July 16, 2018 - Secret Prisons

In the very early hours of the morning when the heavy dew is still upon the fields, the hidden secrets from the night before are revealed.  Usually invisible at ordinary times of day or night, these traps are made plain by the dawn.  I look out over the green and I see the webs everywhere.  Everywhere. . . traps, prisons, dungeons.

How often do I walk through them without knowing?  I would imagine constantly.  These secret invisible prisons hide in plain sight, and no one is the wiser.  They are traps set by cunning spiders for unsuspecting insects, and although I, too, am unsuspecting as I traipse through the field, my size protects me.  It is the only thing that protects me in this case as the spiders would be more than happy to accommodate me in one of their dwellings.

A shimmering mesh; a secret prison.
All around me I see the transparent cells, and it occurs to me that a great secret has been revealed.  Spiders are not the only creatures who set traps.  Many predators do, too, mankind in particular.  And I begin to wonder . . . how many traps are set all around me that I do not see?  That which passes for the “news” these days, now that is certainly a trap.  Propaganda?  Definitely.  “Safe” chemicals in foods and other goods?  An invisible prison lying in wait.  A deceitful “friend”?  A transparent dungeon.  Fashion?  Shackles.

It is no different than the spiders.  As the morning dew reveals the spiders’ traps, what is the “dew” that reveals the human traps?  I say it is calm, cool awareness.  I say it is refusing to indulge in emotion and instead relying upon common sense.  I say it is patience—the ability to watch and wait and then act.  I say it is deliberate, chosen thought and the ability to discern right from wrong.

The dew is upon the fields, and awareness awaits.  Ignore it and fall into a well-made trap, and you have no one to blame but yourself.  Remove yourself from the barrage of sound, from the flashing lights, from the empty promises.  Be calm and cool and aware.  Refuse to give in to emotional storms.  Rely upon your common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Be patient.  Watch, wait, and then spring if necessary.  Choose your thoughts deliberately, and the spiders will be revealed.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 8, 2018 - The Wooded Path

Often hidden, you’ll find meandering paths through wooded areas or off main country roads.  They twist and turn and bend, sometimes widening a bit, often narrowing considerably.  But you can always find these paths because other people have walked them.  The area is notably trampled down some, and it’s clear that others have been there before you.  Although oddly enough, you often find yourself alone on one of these paths.  Where the other travelers have gone is a mystery.

But it doesn’t matter, because the path is there.  When it gets tough, some people will form a bit of a bridge over difficult areas.  It might not look like much and it might be missing a few boards, but it’s a sturdy bridge and has carried many people back and forth safely.  Sometimes it’s more primitive, such as a large log being set across a swampy area.  Either way, you’re grateful that someone had the foresight to place these bridges and help others on the path.

A thoughtful bridge.
You’ll never see this on newer city streets and town roads.  Those are different kinds of paths.  Those are hard and straight and wide and paved.  Anything that may have been in the way of a path like that has long since been removed because the path is the only thing that matters to the builders.  Their intention is to take you expediently from one area to another as quickly as possible, usually from one shopping area to another so you can more easily hand your money over.  It’s very thoughtful of them.

Thoughtful, indeed.  And how about the secret path in the woods?  Is that a thoughtful path?  I tell you, there is no path made with more thought than that small meandering path in the woods.  Like the human mind that created it, it wanders this way and that and then focuses more and heads in the proper direction.  Large trees and boulders are gone around, not through, and there are areas of beauty that catch the eye and draw the path to them.  You can almost see the path forming in the mind of the original path makers.  You can feel their thoughts as you walk the path, and know you probably would have chosen the same way.

Like a labyrinth, the path through the woods is soothing.  It gets you to where you’re going but in a gentle and thoughtful way.  There’s no rushing, and you can stop along the way at any point.  There are things that warn you of difficulty, such as a crudely constructed bridge, or an area of beauty where the path magically widens on its own.  There are areas where it is only one foot wide and the brush rubs against your sides as you walk through it, but if you stay on the path, you will get to a better area and ultimately to where you are going.

If you are a city dweller, don’t despair because you can still follow the old paths.  Go to your local library and find an old map of the city.  Look at the old streets and compare them to a modern map.  Some might be gone, but you’ll find that many are still there.  Map out a route and walk the path.  Even though it’s paved and is not through a shady woods, it’s still an old path set down by people who selected landmarks and not shopping areas to help you on your way, and because of that it will be a thought-full path.  You’ll notice the land marks:  An old church steeple, a natural stone wall, the top of a hill.  You’ll see that they all line up.  There’s a secret network of paths in every city because they were all built by someone walking and thinking.

I find that my thoughts settle down and become more intentional when I’m on a path through the woods.  There’s no element of rushing or hurrying.  There’s nothing loud or blaring and no flashing lights.  It’s just a thoughtful, winding, twisting path that gets me to where I’m going in more ways than one.  Like those who came before me, if I find a large tree branch in the middle of the path, I’ll move it.  I’ll be helpful and make things easier for whoever comes after me.  And in this way, it becomes my path because I’ve contributed to it, although it always seems to give more than it is given.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

July 7, 2018 - The Sign of Sirius

The beginning was pure bliss.  There were sun-warmed rocks to sit upon and a lush green carpet had spread everywhere.  There were birds singing and the hypnotic scent of thousands of different flowers in the air.  It was a time of new possibilities.  The mornings showed shimmery mists floating in the brilliant, golden rays.  The growing ember was welcome.  Thus the Sun King announced his arrival, and the people bowed before him.  Not one head was raised.

Then it became sultry.  Waves of warmth washed over everything, and the Earth exploded in response.  Everywhere growth was lush and heavy and brimming with almost sinful abundance.  The mornings were warm and welcome.  The comforting warm breezes released the fear of cold, and the people relaxed into the bounty of the summer.  Every voice was raised in praise, singing songs of peace and prosperity.  The inner growth kept pace with the outer growth, and the people relaxed into the land of plenty.

At battle.
But all things must change; that is the nature of existence.  When the people were distracted, bright Sirius began to climb daily into the early morning sky before the Sun King arrived to hold his court.  And he was brilliant!  Yes, beautiful!  The people saw him and wondered at this shining star in the morning heavens, and this news found its way to the palace of the Sun King, who became jealous of Sirius.  With a heavy hand, he fanned the flames in an attempt to bring more to his people, and the land began to wilt and weep.

Sirius whispered in the ear of the Sun King and reminded him of the Lord of Winter, that ancient foe the King had destroyed so long ago. 

“I have seen his sentries in the deep woods,” he whispered, “keeping watch over the Gate.  You have not vanquished him.  He lives still.”

The King thought about his old enemy.  He must be destroyed completely.  Enraged, the Sun King sent every battalion he had to secure the land, and he, himself, set out to mark the Earth once and for all.  So the fire began in earnest.  Everywhere he went, he blazed with heat and brilliance.  Beautiful, to be sure, but harsh and unforgiving as well.  The land continued to wilt, and dry tear tracks stained her face.  But still he came, with vengeance and jealousy and fury.  He marked his possessions heavily, and the people were burdened exceedingly, sighing in the undying heat.

Yet still Sirius whispered in the early morning sky, laughing at the Sun King and coveting his people.  For forty days he ruled the morning heavens, and the winds began to listen to him and swirl about angrily.  They sought out the vast reserves of their brother, the Ocean, and a secret counsel was held.  The decision was made, and it was time for the storms.

They came as light rains at first but soon picked up pace in the Ocean along the edges of the land.  Sometimes they would come inland, and the scorched Earth would gratefully accept their bounty.  The old battle had begun again, and the Sun King’s soldiers were everywhere.  The people averted their gaze, but at night they hoarded the water from the storms and danced in the moonlight.  Wanted signs were posted:  Dead or Alive, the enemy.  The King combed the land up and down, peering into every crevice, searching for the joy that was slipping through his own fingers.

And deep in the Underworld the Lord of Winter smiled on his icy throne, his map of the battlefield before him.  He pulled sparkling diamonds out of the Earth around him and placed them in different configurations upon the field.  The shape of a dog appeared among the diamonds, and he knew this would keep Demeter very, very busy for quite some time, while the Maiden of the Springtime, Persephone, searched in vain for her King. 

The pendulum swings, always.  At its farthest point it turns and looks back, and seeing its own reflection in the mirror, it falls in love.  How could I have left you?  The descent begins again.  The tides turn sharply and howl like a dog in the night, baying at the moon.

Monday, July 2, 2018

July 2, 2018 - An Agreement

This little chipmunk will never know about the world in which mankind lives.  For him, the entire world is a small section of the woods where he lives and gathers food and sleeps.  He will live in this wooded area and he will die in this wooded area, and he will never know that anything else ever existed.

Part of the Promise.

He will never know about money or employment.  He will work to gather his food—yes, but he will never know about “employment” as we know it.  He is employed by the life force to simply be, and he spends his time in practicality maintaining that life.  He will never know about wars or propaganda.  He will suffer no tension or worry or anxiety.  He knows nothing about impressing others or about one’s station in life.  He will never get an education beyond what his mother taught him and what he was born with naturally.  For him, the world is a set of trees and greenery and birds and food.

When about three summers and winters have passed, he will die.  There will be no funeral and no mourning, no grave to mark his prior existence.  There will be nothing but the woods and more chipmunks and birds and trees and food.  If he could speak for a moment, he might say that a short life lived in tune with nature at the expense of no one else, and with abundance and peace and quiet intention, was worth every moment and preferable to anything else.

If he could speak for a moment, he might say that, but it is doubtful he would waste his words on what he has already clearly displayed from birth to death.  It is a tradeoff that animals have made, an agreement forged in antiquity, from which they have never deviated.  Keeping the ancient pact without regret or remorse or fear in a tiny section of the woods in Maine.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

June 23, 2018 - Strawberry Lessons

It is a busy time of year.  I am working very hard trying to capture the Spirit and put it in a jar.  I am making medicinal tinctures and oils and salves.  I am dehydrating many different herbs for cooking and tea.  The strawberry jam season has begun, and after picking for hours in the hot sun, I find myself back in a hot kitchen making strawberry jam.  Then it will be raspberry jam, blueberry jam, blackberry jam, and a mixture of all of those later on.  And of course, I’ll be fermenting food soon as well.

But right now, it is strawberry jam.  I love strawberries so much.  They have such a unique and wonderful flavor, and they are only here for a few weeks.  Then they are gone for another year.  So quickly and crazily, I gather the strawberries and make jams and syrups and dehydrated fruit rolls.  It is hard work, but it is worth it in the many months to come.  In January when the ice is encroaching and the snow is deep and cold, I will open what I call “sunshine in a jar”—strawberry jam.

Ruby red life.
I got to thinking about all of this while I was in the hot sun yesterday picking and picking strawberries.  The sun was hot.  The insects were buzzing and threatening.  I was sweating, and my hands were all sticky and red.  But I kept on picking.  Faster and faster I picked.  My back was hurting, and when I could not lean over anymore, I got on my knees and crawled through the patch.  Then my knees started to hurt.  But I kept on picking.

Because I have a secret.  It is a lesson I learned long ago, and it has never failed me.  You gather what you can, while you can.  You work hard and you save for a rainy day.  You seize abundance as soon as it is offered, and you never delay.  And when you do this, you will always have plenty—and not just “a lot,” but the best there is to have.  Courtesy of yourself (and Mother Nature, of course).

There is hidden wealth in a jar of strawberry jam, in a quart of strawberry syrup.  There is stored sunshine, captured energy waiting to change form yet again as it endlessly winds itself throughout the Universe.  The deep red color strikes a primitive cord in us.  It whispers, “I am alive.”  I consume the jam.  The Spirit is found.

Some will say it is too much work.  There are other things to do, better things.  Why bother?  The modern age brings us strawberries all year long in the supermarket.  I am not sure what those hard reddish/yellowish things in the supermarket are, but they are not strawberries.  And there is no Spirit in them either.  The life force has long since left, if it was ever there in the first place.

You see, I make the strawberry jam not only because the flavor and sustenance is outstanding, but because I want to work for it, because then I am connected to it from start to finish.  It is not a substance that just magically appeared before me.  It started as a seed, then a small plant, then flowers, and finally berries.  Then there was hot work in the sun and hot work in the kitchen.  (Note that a circuit has been completed.  Ears, hear.)

And all of this fills me with so much appreciation and gratitude for what the Earth offers us, if we are smart enough to take it, strong enough to capture it, and brave enough to believe in it.  There are so many lessons out in the fields and in our own kitchens.  Every day we are given the opportunity to participate in the real journey.  Every day brings us a chance to come home again.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

June 16, 2018 - Simply Live

The biggest thing we have to do in life—our responsibility, actually—is to simply live.  So often that gets overlooked because where is the fun in that?  So many people are looking for the “next big thing” to do or experience.  It is an addiction.  It is a dream, like chasing a rainbow.  People are always after it, but they rarely ever really find it, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And even if they do happen to find it, the question then becomes, what now?

The problem has always been what to do with one’s time.  Mankind has invented many things to fill up the hours.  First and foremost, there are our “jobs,” those things we do to make money to buy the things we would have done for ourselves had we not spent our time working our jobs.  I do not mean to say that we ought to quit our employment.  Most of us cannot at this point anyway because of the way our society is set up, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because most people end up in trouble when they have too much time on their hands.  But it is undeniable that our jobs do intentionally use up a lot of time each day.

Water lily simplicity.
What to do with one’s time?  If we sleep for eight hours and work for eight hours, that leaves us with eight hours for everything else in our day.  This causes a bit of a panic inside for many people because they have been told they must do something exciting and worthwhile with their time.  Something fun.  Something “over the top.”  Something big.  And very often it has to be bigger and better than what the neighbors are doing.  It just has to.

And so you will see people chasing the “good times,” the definition of which continually changes thanks to our corporate advertisers and propaganda.  Like the rainbow, the good times shimmer beautifully in the sky, promising us the pot of gold . . . if we just go a little further, if we just venture one more mile, if we just give up a little more time and a little more money (which is another word for time).

We have got to buy that luxury car or that large expensive home we cannot afford.  We have got to go on that trip to Europe and put it on credit.  We have got to buy a better bottle of wine, a better cut of steak, a silk jacket, a fur coat, a crystal vase . . .  Because we deserve it, right?  Have we not worked hard for it?  Spent a lot of time to get the money for it?  Should we not have the “good things” in life?

Of course, there truly are good things in life, certain events that really are bigger than ordinary everyday living, and of course, we do anticipate them longingly and look back on them with rapture.  There is nothing wrong with that at all.  That is a good thing.  An old black and white polaroid photo of a wedding couple.  The deed for our first little home.  A diamond ring and a promise.  A new baby.  Yes, these are all good things.

The problem is that many people want more and more “good” things, big things, exciting things, unusual things.  They chase them down hungrily, but as soon as they get them, they want the next big thing.  Now what do I do?  Now where should I go?  Now what should I buy?  So often, people finally achieve a goal (usually just an expensive purchase) and find themselves feeling hollow and empty.  Somehow the pot of gold was moved while they were busy chasing it. 

People have been told to think there always has to be something “big” happening because there are only eight hours in each day after our sleep and employment obligation, and many of those hours must be spent on mundane things.  Preparing food, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry . . . this is why you find so many people living in squalor who know better because they do not want to “waste” those precious few hours they have cooking and cleaning.  They tell themselves the chores will always be there waiting for them later.  Indeed, they will.

You will notice in the truly good things I mentioned above—the wedding, the deed, the promise, the baby, etc.—none of them involve anything too commercial, anything too outrageous, anything too glamorous.  Yes, everything costs time and money, but there is nothing in that list that requires you to keep up with the Joneses.  In fact, all of those things are just part of simple living, which is really all we have to do with the time given us.

Actually, it is the only thing we have to do with the time given us:  Simply live.  Realize that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there are dishes in the sink that must be washed.  Realize that there is no true status to be obtained by getting a luxury automobile, but there is a lawn that must be mowed so the backyard can be enjoyed.  Realize that there is no lasting happiness in constant jet-setting, but there is a child who wants you to read a book to him before he goes to bed.

Because really that is all there is, just plain living, and plain living involves work and chores and whining children and barking dogs and endless laundry and dirty dishes.  What to do with one’s time?  Simply live.  Put your house and your life in order by handling your responsibilities and doing your simple chores, and magically you find that your mind slips into order as well.  A hidden reward for your hard work.

Yes, our lives are dotted with little golden gems we tuck away into our memories.  The old photo of everyone together at Thanksgiving dinner.  The first day of school.  The first bike.  The best dog.  The new house.  The prolific garden.  These are the true pots of gold, and they are scattered sparsely throughout our lives.  But in between all of these golden gems is dishes and scrubbing, washing and cooking, mowing and digging, and kissing a bumped head.

This is what you do with the time allotted you, the time that is so precious and so short, and heaven help you if you cannot see that.  Heaven help you if you hand away your precious time chasing deliberately-placed, lack-luster rainbows, which evaporate into nothing.