Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Story of “Alligator” Deedee

1. The Dreaded Alligator Juniper

I’d like to warn you about the dreaded alligator juniper, which is undoubtedly the most dangerous tree growing wild in our area. These trees are distinguished not only by their thick scaly bark, but by their sharp teeth. Especially at night you can hear them roaring and bellowing to each other in their feeding frenzy. Woe to any critter that gets too close to one of these vicious trees! I don’t even want to talk about what happens whenever an innocent little bird happens to land on an alligator juniper branch. Alligator junipers especially like mammal meat, so you humans had better watch out whenever you enter an alligator juniper habitat.

Since alligator junipers grow at higher elevations where campers like to camp and tourists like to tour, they pose a considerable threat to the recreation public. Campers with pets or small children are especially advised to give these bloodthirsty trees a wide berth. In fact, in some areas the alligator juniper problem has become so bad that the U.S. Forest Service has been forced to put up signs warning, “DANGER—ALLIGATOR JUNIPER ZONE.” And if you think I’m kidding about this, just look at all the bones and feathers scattered around the trunk of any alligator juniper tree.

Unlike the oneseed juniper which grows in the low hills around Las Cruces and has stringy bark, the alligator juniper prefers higher elevations (such as the Aguirre Spring area) and has checkered bark that looks like—surprise—an alligator’s hide. These trees can grow to an enormous size—trunks six feet in diameter are not uncommon. The berries are blue-gray, about the size of a large pea, and sometimes cover the trees in great numbers. These berries are eaten by wildlife willing to take the risk, and were also consumed by the Indians, who learned to harvest the fruits during the winter, when the trees are dormant.

It is an unfortunate fact that alligator junipers, being cold-blooded (or cold-sapped, actually) are most active, and therefore most dangerous, during the summer months, which is the height of the tourist season. It’s a miracle that so few people get injured or maimed by these trees each summer. I hope that this chapter has served to adequately inform you about this ever-present menace in our southern New Mexico mountains. Remember: it’s a deceptive paradise out there.

2. “Alligator” Deedee Finds His Nickname

Last chapter I warned you about the dangerous alligator junipers that lurk in the mountains of southern New Mexico. I hope that my warning has served to save people from injury, death, or worse. It is gratifying to have the opportunity to help my fellow humans in this way.

However, I downright pulled a total amnesia job when it came to mentioning Gator Aid. And worse, I forgot to mention “Alligator” Deedee. How I could ever forget “Alligator” Deedee, I’ll never know. Let me make amends:

“Alligator” Deedee hunted alligator junipers for a living. At least he did in the old days. These days, you could drive right past his ramshackle little sheet metal shack, you could drive right past his scrawled “firewood for sale” sign, you could walk right up to him and look right into his sparkling blue eyes, and, if you didn’t notice that he was missing a couple of fingers on his left hand, and if you had never heard the stories he loved to tell, you would never suspect that he once hunted alligator junipers for a living. “Alligator” Deedee was one fierce dude in the old days.

It all started out as a matter of compensation, you see. When he was a boy, the other kids made fun of him and called him “Twiddle” [as in “Twiddle” Deedee, get it? (such being the humor of 10-year-old boys)]. He didn’t like this nickname, and vowed that when he was old enough to run his own life, he would earn himself a nickname more suited to his macho aspirations.

But what to do? He could become a race car driver and be called “V-8” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Juice,” and that wouldn’t do. He could become a rock star and be called “Heavy Metal” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Lead Head.” He could become a cowboy and be called “Cow Pie” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Meadow Muffin.” He could become a pool hustler and be called “Fats,” but he was skinny as a rail.

Try as he might, he just couldn’t find the right nickname. Any nickname he could think of just didn’t quite resonate with him. This predicament lasted for several years. It was a downright identity crisis. He even read through the dictionary and thesaurus in search of a nickname that would truly inspire him. But nothing turned him on. Finally, in desperation, he started through the dictionary a second time... and it was there, while still in the “A’s,” that his wandering eye fixated upon the word, “alligator.”

Zapola! (One thing about resonance is it’s impossible to ignore when your entire being is resonating like a struck gong-g-g.) “Alligator!” he cried. “How could I have missed it the first time through the dictionary?” (The reason he missed it the first time, of course, was that he wasn’t ready for it yet, but let’s not get overly philosophical yet. There’s always time for over-philosophizin’ later.)

So now the question became: how could he earn the nickname “Alligator”? He had no desire to leave New Mexico, and there were no alligators in New Mexico that he knew of, except for maybe a few ex-pets wandering the sewers of Las Cruces and Albuquerque. Such a quandary: to know one’s nickname but not have the opportunity to earn it!

He wallowed in this predicament for awhile until his mind finally flashed on the alligator junipers waiting in the hills. Each alligator juniper was surrounded by a ring of bones, feathers, and dried blood. Alligator junipers could, and would, eat you alive. His skin got so many goose bumps, he looked like a plucked chicken. Cold chills ran up and down his back like prickly icicles. “Not alligator junipers!” he whimpered. “Anything but alligator junipers!”

But it was too late. His destiny had already been activated, and there was no way out but forward.

3. “Alligator” Deedee Meets His Destiny

When “Alligator” Deedee first started hunting alligator junipers for a living, he was sailing into dangerous and uncharted territory. With the exception of a few Indians in the old days, nobody had ever had the courage to hunt alligator junipers before. So he was pretty much on his own. He quickly learned that you can’t just walk up to an alligator juniper and exchange pleasantries—these bloodthirsty trees tend to eat you first and ask questions later, if at all. (After they’re through eating you, they might ask a question like, “Got any companions?”) “Alligator” Deedee lost a finger in his very first encounter with an alligator juniper, and vowed never to be so careless again.

After many trials and errors, he finally developed the ideal way to hunt alligator junipers. First, he would fill a balloon full of Gator Aid. Then, he would throw this balloon at a likely-looking alligator juniper tree. The tree would focus all of its attention on the Gator Aid splattered all over its trunk, leaving “Alligator” Deedee free to sneak up behind the tree and quickly cut its limbs off with his chainsaw. This was a grisly business, and I will not get into the disgusting details here. Suffice it to say that before long, “Alligator” Deedee had alligator juniper hides nailed up all over his barn wall, and the future looked dim if not downright grim for the entire alligator juniper species. But then “Alligator” Deedee had his environmental (and dare I say it?) cosmic awakening.

One evening, after a long day of slaughtering alligator junipers, “Alligator” Deedee fell into a deep and profound sleep. While he was sleeping, he had a vivid dream. In this dream, the trees and rocks and stars whispered his name over and over and over again. Bears and coyotes came up to him and lay down next to him and cuddled him with their fur. He had never been cuddled like that in his entire life. The wind played rainbow colors and shimmering patterns of iridescent light all around him. The sky opened above him and indescribable peace descended upon him and penetrated every cell in his body. The dream lasted all night long.

When he awoke the next morning with the first rays of sunrise peeking into his eyes, “Alligator” Deedee was a transformed creature. His spirit was full to overflowing. He was no longer a hunter and killer and destroyer; now he was filled with sacredness and holiness and nurturing love for and from the entire universe. He put his chainsaw away and never used it to kill alligator junipers again. He smiled at people. He smiled at himself. He planted alligator juniper seeds wherever the habitat was suitable. He told lots of stories, and people never got tired of hearing them. He blessed and was blessed, and the blessings never ceased.

(This story first appeared in the Las Cruces Bulletin in 1988, when Steve Klinger was editor.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Monsoons I Have Known

I’ve lived in this spot since October, 1973. For a few years back then, we lived in a rather primitive manner – no clocks, no calendar, no electricity, a hand pump out in the pasture, and an outdoor fire circle behind the house where we cooked our food. Not surprisingly, I don’t have any rainfall records for that era. (Though I did write some stories that capture the flavor of the wild and wonderful time.)

It wasn’t until July, 1982 that I started keeping rainfall records, and I’ve been keeping them ever since. Twenty-eight years of records from one location is starting to become statistically significant. In that time I’ve encountered a lot of unusual weather mixed with the usual dryness.

The monsoon in this part of the Southwest lasts from June through September. On the average, March through May are the driest months of the year. During this time, the dryness and heat steadily increase. Unless the monsoon fails, in which case July can be extremely hot, June is the hottest month of the year. In a poetic turn of phrase that I’ve always appreciated, James Hastings and Raymond Turner, in their book, The Changing Mile, called the pre-monsoon part of June the “arid fore-summer.”

It’s impossible to miss the beginning of the monsoon. Whenever the relentlessly hot afternoons start to give way to afternoon thunderheads, the monsoon season has begun, even if it hasn’t started to rain yet. At least the clouds provide a bit of relief from the relentless hot sun.

Before we proceed any farther, let’s look at our typical monsoon rainfall pattern. Here’s the average summer rainfall for Las Cruces between 1959 and 2005, courtesy of the Western Regional Climate Center:

June 0.75”
July 1.42
Aug 2.12
Sept. 1.28

Total Monsoon 5.57
Total Annual 9.23

The four monsoon months account for 60% of our annual rainfall; the other eight months contribute the remaining 40%. Averages are deceptive, because summer rain is typically brief and intense. Sometimes very intense. Sometimes catastrophically intense. Consider the average August rainfall of 2.12 inches. During an intense storm, we can get this much rain in 15 minutes! Rain like this has to be experienced to be believed, and in such cases one might be inclined to say, “I’m a believer already! Please stop now!” (The Great Flood of ’06 in Radium Springs was caused by 4” of rain in half an hour.)

Since 1983, monsoon rainfall at my home has varied between 2.83 (2003) and 13.25 inches (2008). This is our total rainfall for the months of June through September. 2.83 inches of rain during the four hottest months of the year is barely enough to raise the humidity. During such a summer, it’s no wonder this area is called a desert!

This past summer was our all-time wettest monsoon, with 13.25 inches of rain. The summer of 2006, the infamous Monsoon from Hell which caused disastrous flooding in Alamogordo, El Paso, Hatch, and Radium Springs, was our second-wettest, with 11.90 inches. So it’s tempting to ask – are our summers getting wetter?

According to my records, the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” The year 2000 seems like an appropriate place to begin our historical survey. During the nine years 2000-2008, the average monsoon rainfall was 6.65 inches, a little above the average of 5.57 inches. If we ignore the wet years of 2006 and 2008, the average for 2000-2008 becomes 4.95 inches, a little below the long-term average.

But there’s more. Both 2000 and 2004 had unusually wet Junes. June 2000 had an incredible 5.74 inches of rain, compared to the June average of .75 inches. This was followed by an unusually dry July -- .66”, less than one-third of the average July rainfall. The same thing happened in 2004: the June rainfall was 4.03 inches (the second-wettest June on record), followed by a July with zero rainfall. (When we get a July with no rain whatsoever, we are looking at a severe heat wave as well as a severe drought.)

Rainfall is more than a statistic. Desert plants are totally dependent on rainfall for survival, and the timing of the rains is critical. If we have heavy rainfall in June, the desert plants are stimulated into growth, but a dry July will cause them to go dormant again. So a wet June followed by a hot, dry July is far from optimal for sustained plant growth. I’m inclined, for the purposes of this discussion, to ignore both 2000 and 2004, because of their anomalously high June rainfall, and concentrate on the remaining five summers.

What we see is a pattern of severe drought. Bear in mind that these are rainfall totals for the entire summer:

2001 4.40”
2002 3.97
2003 2.83
2005 3.12
2007 4.32

Average 3.73

Some climate scientists speculate that our future climate in the Southwest will be persistent severe drought interspersed by disastrous flooding. My rainfall records seem to support this hypothesis.

Another interesting fact – there seems to be an inverse correlation between Texas and New Mexico rainfall. Texas has heavy rains when we have a dry summer, and Texas has a drought when we have floods. This pattern would bear watching – there’s probably a fairly simple mechanism at work here.

It’s interesting to compare the two unusually wet monsoons, 2006 and 2008, which were completely different. Here in Radium Springs, the 2006 monsoon didn’t start until July 29, which is extremely late. During the 37-day interval between July 29 and Sept. 3, we had 10.05 inches of rain -- greater than the average annual rainfall of 9.23 inches. That 37-day period would rank as our 5th wettest monsoon ever!

The 2008 monsoon was totally different. We had by far the wettest July ever, with 8.04 inches, thanks in part to Hurricane Dolly, which caused disastrous flooding in Ruidoso. (It’s interesting how many times the term “disastrous flooding” has appeared in this discussion.) August was wet as well, with 4.05 inches – our fourth-wettest August.
But 2008 didn’t have the disastrous flooding (there it is again) of 2006, except in isolated locales.

2006 was a classic “wildflower year.” As a beekeeper, I would prefer that the entire monsoon rainfall be spread evenly through the months of August and September. (An inch a week would be just fine, rain gods.) July rains allow the grass and amaranth to get a head start, making it harder for the wildflowers to compete. Since the wildflowers tend to sprout later than the grass and amaranth, it’s better for them if the rains hold off as long as possible. That way, everybody gets an equal chance. If the rains last until at least the middle of September, when temperatures begin to cool off, the wildflowers keep blooming right up until frost. Beekeepers like a long wildflower bloom.

2008, on the other hand, was a classic “amaranth year.” Some people call it pigweed. Since amaranth is wind-pollinated, it doesn’t produce nectar to attract bees... so beekeepers, like farmers, are inclined to call it a weed. The heavy July rains stimulated a heavy growth of this plant. The entire Mesilla Valley – roadsides, ditch banks, vacant lots – was covered with the thickest growth of amaranth I’ve ever seen.

It’s impossible to say what next summer will bring. This winter is shaping up to be a dry one, with a poor snowpack and not enough irrigation water for farmers next summer. But this means nothing as far as predicting next summer’s monsoon. We will recall that the 2006 “Monsoon from Hell” followed the driest winter in 100 years... but I doubt if there’s any correlation between winter and summer precipitation. I suspect, for no good reason except that we’re in a long-term drought, that we’ll be in for a dry summer next year. There’s a strong element of wishful thinking at work here -- after the 2006 monsoon, I’ve become a big fan of dry summers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Do Like Spiders and Snakes

Picture and words by Laura Solberg.

I do like spiders and snakes.
Always have.....Grew up in Southern Michigan (gesture left hand with thumb extended and point with right hand to spot just west of the bottom of the thumb of the left hand which is Belleville Michigan, always felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have an anatomically correct map of the state where they were born). Big old three floor house I grew up in was always loaded with daddy long-legs. (They was the only daddys around ‘cause it was me, my sister, my mother and my grandmother, a family of females except for the spiders). The other females must have been spider-tolerant because I don’t remember ever having any fear or negativity about having them spideys around. So I liked them. Them and the crickets who chirpyratcheted in every closet and the basement. Bug-friendly I was and still is. Snakes never worried me neither, but that’s another yarn because now I have some swell pictures of our house spider I wanna put in the blog so I gotta write sumthin about her.
So our house spider is a beaute! (Actually she is one of many house spiders but she is the one I have the pics of and she’s a real uplifting experience specially if you don’t like spiders......I mean by that she is a pretty big hunk of spider meat, thick and substantial). We’ve had ‘em like her before (I always calls them shes since my son was a tiny guy because I thought it would make him more well-rounded religiously to be surrounded by lots of shes, so every gender unspecified animal in any story I read him automatically became a she and he turned out fine for a nineteen year old!) Anyways she’s not the first. This particular brand of spidey likes to hang around on the kitchen counter by the night light for the obvious reason that she can snag moths who come to the light and she eats them. Or maybe she just zaps them immoveable and hogties them and hauls them into her paper bubble that she spins for herself and maybe grows a baby spiderette in there sucking the living juices out of that helpless moth. Something downright honest about living that way. Authentic no holds barred live or give it all up pansy. So back to Mama spidey as I have always called her. She must be somethin of a silkworm that I read about from Japan who spins a cocoon of pure silk. Mama makes a paper bubble attached to whatever is closest.....many times she has done it in the well created by the electric plugs outlet in the wall behind the kitchen counter. This is very conveniently located by the night-light sort of like living in McDonalds drive up parking lot. This time this new spidey has made a unique choice and built her mobile home in a triangle between the wall, a china cup we keep knives in when they are not in the dish drainer or the sink, and a note card that I keep propped up against the wall to remind me nothing but the Christ can enter mind body or environment. You maybe can even read it in my swell picture (but maybe not I can’t exactly say) which is how all this writing got started anyway. So there, she must be the Christ after all so what is there to be sceered of which I am not but plenty of people are in my experience. When I was focusing on getting a decent snap of her I kept my Nikon Cool-Pix (which aint much of a camera professionally really but it makes me happy snapping all the time at bugs and flowers and sunsets and my favorite dog and maybe someday I will get a “real” camera and look like I know something and make people snap to attention uncomfortably when I point it around in a crowd.....) (By the way I don’t ken how anyone ever learned to take any good pictures before digital because you had to remember you were using real film and wait to see how you did. Give me digital anyday—snap em, download em and let delete sort em out is my motto!) (By another way I love all my pictures like they was my babies the good the bad the ugly, but I got lots so I don’t mind them being assessed and evaluated because there is usually a beaute or two I happened to get by accident, very satisfying). I kep my Nikon Cool-Pix right there on the counter alongside the peppers and the salt shaker and the mess from making tea and salad so I wouldn’t miss her when she came out of her paper arrangement. I am still working on figuring out the settings on my Cool-Pix so I take loads of bad pictures and some good ones which is what I did with Mama. I live with the “Editor of the World” so he looks through all my pics and decides which one he is willing to publish and so there it is at the top of this page. Mama cooperated some and played hard to get some depending on the day and the time of day and maybe her hormones I dunno. Sometimes she climbed right out of her hole and showed her hairy eyebally self to good advantage on the nothing but the christ.....card. More times she played coy and all shylike staying just behind the card but out of her white paper tent. Maybe she was tired of hanging around inside with her son or daughter chewin or sucking on that moth. As I say I dunno. I just like to watch her and share space with a friendly eightlegger like her. One time was my favorite. I came out in the kitchen to wash out my bowl of quinoa sprouts tomatoes and peppers and I was considerin puttin on the tea kettle to make a cup of tea and was thinking about asking G if he hankered a cup of tea this late in the day because it would make up both have to get up in the night.......there was Mama, just her first digit of her front leg I guess, hanging over the edge of the nothing but the christ card. Seemed like she was giving us the finger upside down. Probably is a great compliment in spidyeeese. Anyway that’s how I choose to see it because I like spiders always have.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunrise Down the Rio Grande

This is the view from our front yard this morning.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Toad Mind

One evening, towards the end of Rainy Season, Rimfire Kid borrowed Pointmaster’s steam car and drove the 17 miles up Real Road to Lost Runt Canyon. He knew that there was a pool of water about a mile up the canyon, and that during the summer after heavy rains this pool was lined with spadefoot toads, who puffed out their throats like miniature balloons and chorused out their mating song. Kid wanted to be with the toads awhile.

There was lightning in the east and an occasional spatter of rain on the windshield as Kid fired up the car and headed up the highway, tires hissing on the wet pavement. It was almost like the old song:

My bags are packed at last.
My tank is full of gas.
It’s 4 a.m., I’m gonna drive real fast.
I’ll be long gone by dawn.

Graffiti Cliffs they cut like knives across the Milky Way.
The luminous sky is reflected in the bumper of my Chevrolet.

And I’m the only man alive
On Highway 85.

“What is a shev-ro-lay, anyway?” Kid wondered. He pulled over at the mouth of the canyon and released the pressure. Hiss of escaping steam, and then silence.

Kid started walking up the canyon in the darkness. The wet sand was firm under his feet and made walking easy. Desertwillow flowers perfumed the air. A lightning flash behind his back strobed against the canyon walls. Through the Keyhole, along the Narrows, and as he passed Black Knob he could first hear the toads singing far up the canyon.

Three deeps breaths and silence. Three deep breaths and silence. Yes.

The toad song got louder as he neared the pond. A couple hundred toads ringed the inch-deep water along the edge, singing their high-pitched ri-i-i-i-kkk. Several dozen on one side would cut loose simultaneously, and then a bunch on the other side would answer. Sometimes they’d all sing at once.

Kid circled halfway around the pond, found a comfortable spot and settled down. The toad mind was wet and warm and slow. A gibbous moon rose behind the hills and threw its track across the water.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hammering the Darkness

It’s easy to have hypotheses when you’re not a professional scientist – you just spew them out, and there they are. Sort of like how the Federal Reserve creates money and then loans it to us.

I have this hypothesis that language evolved from alarm cries. Of all life situations, one’s response to an approaching predator can mean the difference between life and death. Premature death means that an enormous investment has been wasted; prolonging life is an evolutionary advantage to any species. Many species of animals have alarm cries; some species even have a “language” that can communicate different kinds of threats – the difference between an eagle and a leopard, say.

The original human alarm cry, way back when, could be summed up by saying, “Threat!” Then it evolved into, “Threat! Leopard!” Then, after our brains got a bit larger, it became, “Threat! Leopard! In the tree!”

I have another hypothesis (I have a lot of hypotheses) that the final mutations to a brain much larger than needed for survival got locked-in to the species (rather than dying out) because our ancestors (who, by definition, had the larger brains) had a competitive advantage which allowed them to eliminate the humans with the smaller brains.

At any rate, here we are today, sitting at keyboards, sitting in front of microphones, sitting in front of cameras, grunting in a way that other humans find meaningful.

Already my mind has spun off into thinking about the post-modern conservative movement, in which words no longer have a consensus meaning; they can mean any damn thing you want them to; “meaning” can be tailored to suit the occasion. “Torture? We don’t torture! The United States of America doesn’t torture people! Next question!”

Doing my final bee work of the season yesterday, I was thinking about how language is such an unsuitable instrument for communicating about spiritual topics. Specifically, I was thinking about how the Christians like to say, “God is Love.” Hmmm, I wondered, thinking about this God business. God is a word I seldom use anymore. (If I post an oldie that has the word “God” in it, you can be sure it’s from my 1987-88 post-Christian phase.) These days, I find “God” a fairly useless concept. There are other, more accurate, ways to point at the Moon.

Hmmm, I continued to wonder, God (or whatever) is supposed to be beyond qualities, beyond duality... so God would be beyond love/hate, good/evil, any pair of opposites you can name. (Saying “God is love” necessitates its opposite: “Satan is hate.” And this is exactly what the fundamentalists do. They view reality as an eternal battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, between Christians and everybody else. Never underestimate the fundamentalist propensity for jihad.)

Technically speaking, you can’t even speak about “God” at all, because giving God a name implies that it is “something,” and God is beyond the duality of something/nothing. In fact, you can’t even say that God exists, because God is beyond the duality of existence/nonexistence.

This gave my mind something to do while I was screwing a mouse guard onto the front of each hive. I attempted, fairly successfully, to give my full attention to my bee work, while the philosophical maunderings about God nattered on in the background.

I came up with the statement, “God is and is not both and neither something and/or nothing, neither somewhere nor nowhere.” Or something like that... it made perfect non-sense to me in the beeyard. It was an attempt to get language to turn around and spank its own ass. Like a koan.

Then I drove to my next hive location and noticed that all the philosophizin’ had stopped. I was thinking about lunch, instead.

Later that day I went to see Jacques Conejo, he of the blog, and we were sitting on his front porch discussing a variety of topics. We started to discuss what I had been thinking about earlier -- about the unsuitability of language for certain applications.

“It’s like using a hammer to hammer the darkness!” I cried, holding an imaginary hammer and swinging it wildly around: take that, darkness! Wham!

“Yeah,” Jacques replied, “I’ve been shining my flashlight on this nail all afternoon but it hasn’t gone in very far.”

We have a lot of fun, Jacques and I, attempting to talk about things that really can’t be talked about. But that minor fact doesn’t slow us down at all! We just keep chattering away for hours. It’s a harmless activity that gives us pleasure. It’s like reading a book about Enlightenment.

I told Jacques I thought he was courageous, sharing his personal experiences in his blog like that. He was breaking a taboo against self-revelation, which in my mind is always a good thing. Taboos are meant to be broken, right? Otherwise, why have them?

I shared my metaphor about the heavy-duty sunglasses we are born wearing. Humans evolved according to the dictates of sheer animal survival; aspects of reality not directly contributing to survival are automatically filtered out. The thick sunglasses are symbolic of our reality filters. But for some of us – in fact, perhaps for many of us – the sunglasses have pinhole leaks. Occasionally the light will shine through a pinhole directly into our eyeball... perhaps for a split-second, perhaps far longer. We experience this as an “oh wow!” experience.

We discussed how limited the conventional view of reality is, because people don’t share their “pinhole leak” experiences with each other. Probably, more people have these experiences than is commonly supposed. But you can’t really “do” anything with these experiences (which is why they’re automatically filtered out most of the time), so they’re not considered worth talking about... and besides, we don’t really want to be talking about our inner lives, do we? But why not? We would live in a much richer culture if we were encouraged to share these experiences with each other. Sharing them would allow us to acknowledge how wonderfully incomprehensible reality really is, and how – if we only knew – ordinary-seeming individuals are capable of having the most remarkable experiences.

Not that Jacques is ordinary-seeming, no way!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Odds & Ends

Our Flood Refuge

My big winter project this year is our “flood refuge” room, a 16x24 structure built on top of an 8-foot-high platform right next to our house. Due to our awkward site (most of our property is floodplain that is unusable for building purposes), we live in a compound – the house and office are separate buildings, all the storage sheds are separate, and the bakery/honey house is separate. So building yet another separate building fits the pre-existing pattern very well. The platform will presumably -- one can only hope – hold the room above the level of any future floods during our lifetime. (Eventually, somewhere down the line, Elephant Butte Dam will fail and Selden Canyon, where I live, will be scoured down to bedrock, but hopefully that’s a story I’ll never have to tell.)

Right now we’re mixing concrete in a wheelbarrow and shoveling it into the forms, and my son Neil is doing the grunt work. It’s all very low tech. Neil is only available one day a week (he’s a college student, living the busy life of all college students), so we pour one 12-foot-long section of form each week. Pouring the foundation is taking us six weeks. Like so much in life, pouring a foundation is a matter of persistence – you set a goal and keep at it until the job is done, no matter how long it takes. It’s hard work, and you don’t have a lot to show for it -- just a piece of concrete on the ground with bolts sticking out of it – but a good foundation is absolutely essential if you expect the rest of the building to be any good. Just like real life.

Next week or the week after, I’ll order the lumber and then we can start building skyward – always the most enjoyable part. I’ve always been a compulsive builder (I find it creative and fun), but had hoped that I could take a permanent break now that I’m older. I’ve driven enough nails in my lifetime; surely I have earned my rest! But tasks keep appearing in front of me, and they need to be done.

I decided to write about The Great Flood of ’06 to set the stage for the necessity of our flood refuge room. But it turned into a full-fledged memoir, which I’m still working on. I’m not used to writing that much detail, and it takes a lot of time to crank out the words. By the time I’m through, it’ll be the longest thing I’ve ever written. It should be a compelling read. But for today, all I have to offer are these odds & ends.

Sylvan Grey

Sylvan Grey plays the kantele, the Finnish folk harp. She put out an album in the 80s, “Ice Flowers Melting,” which is the finest meditational music I have ever heard. She was obviously in a meditational state herself when she recorded the album, and there’s something about the sonic quality of the kantele that transmits a feeling of penetrating peaceful stillness. I find that the music gently picks me up and carries me along... perfect theme music for those times when I just want to enjoy the simple fact of being conscious and alive. She also made another album, “Recurring Dream.” Her CDs and downloads are available on the Internet – just Google “Sylvan Grey.”


One day, the Dalai Lama is in Central Park at lunchtime. He goes up to a hot dog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.”

So the hot dog vendor makes one with everything and hands it to the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama hands the hot dog vendor a $20 bill and waits. And waits.

Finally the Dalai Lama asks, “Where’s my change?”

“Change comes from within, “ the hot dog vendor replies.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama, Hope, and Finding Our Way Out of This Mess

This is my Dec/Jan Grassroots Press column:

What a relief! The election was best-case scenario at every level. This was a pleasant change of pace for us shell-shocked veterans of recent electoral wars. Nationally, Obama won a substantial victory – in other words, too substantial to steal. Statewide, New Mexico has become a delightful shade of blue – both of our Senators and all three Representatives are now Democrats. And in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, Democrats swept every contested race. Now the real work begins – ensuring that the Dems don’t resume their usual spineless capitulator routine. Unfortunately, some would say they’ve already started caving. Yo Dems, we voted for change, not more of the same!

I wonder what the white racists think while they’re standing in line at Wal-Mart, surrounded by the smiling, happy faces of the Obama family on every magazine and tabloid cover. The older racists will never change, but their children and grandchildren are now growing up in a world filled with black role models. The demographic wind is at our backs – this is becoming an increasingly nonwhite country, and young people voted for Obama 2-1. It’s just a matter of time till the balance of power shifts permanently. But I wonder if there’ll be anything left by the time the old white men in suits finally lose their grip on power.

I hope there’s more to Obama’s “hope” routine than mere rhetoric. Obama is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime transformational figure, and as such – to phrase it delicately – won’t be with us forever. We don’t want to depend on the charisma of a single individual. I wonder what we, out here in the cheap seats, can do to create a positive vibe to replace the paralysis that has gripped our country for far too long. I find myself asking a lot of questions these days because the answers aren’t obvious yet. Everything is still preliminary and unformed, although it looks like the Obama administration will be “status quo lite.” At least the President will be able to speak his nuanced policy positions in complete sentences.

Obama probably ran the most intelligent, tightly-managed campaign in American history. After eight years of a corrupt dumbass president, a majority of Americans were eager for change, donating unprecedented amounts of money and countless volunteer hours getting out the vote. Barack, Michele and their two girls are obvious incarnations of higher consciousness – which is to say, they are positive, intelligent people. Obama possessed an astounding equanimity throughout the campaign. He was unflappable, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar, and earned the nickname, “No Drama Obama.”

McCain and Palin, by contrast... my fingers grow numb at the thought, and recoil from typing about them; I’ll have to use my teeth: McCain and Palin ran the lamest, most incompetent, lyingest, nastiest, sleaziest, flip-floppingest campaign of our lifetime. They were the successors to the most unpopular president in American history (who also happened to be a Republican), who got us into a needless travesty of a war, who wrecked the economy, who condoned torture, who trashed the Constitution, who turned his country into an embarrassment for anybody more intelligent than a loaf of bread... and after all was said and done, despite everything, McCain still captured 46% of the popular vote. Which in my mind, is almost half. Nearly half of the electorate quite specifically rejected Obama’s message of conciliation and hope. Obviously, there’s something terribly wrong with this country, but we already knew that. This election merely sharpened the focus to an excruciating level of detail.

Fundamentalist Christians have a series of novels, the “Left Behind” series, in which the True Believers are Raptured into Heaven, while the rest of us – secular humanists, goddess worshippers, atheists, wiccans, Druids, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, animists, shamans, sexaholics, freeform meditators, latte liberals, homosexuals of all flavors, unchurched mountain bikers, Earth pagans, mystical beekeepers, tree huggers, anarchists, zen mamas, rock & rollers, freethinking feminists, agnostic punks, serious spiritual seekers, alternative newspaper editors, and the whole Motley Crue – will be “left behind” to suffer the consequences of our disbelief. (Imagine a world in which the fundies have all disappeared... this seems like an intriguing prospect to me, and gets my vote! Bring it on, God!)

At any rate, here’s the actuality: American Civilization (or at least, what passes for civilization in this country) has been evolving for a good long while. Compared to our ancestors, many of us are better educated, more tolerant, much more self-actualized, and more likely to depend on our own unfiltered experience rather than religious dogma for whatever conclusions we may wish to draw from our sojourn on this plane of existence. But there remains, in this country, a distressingly large percentage of the population that is still effectively living in the Dark Ages, living lives of ignorance, intolerance, superstition, and fear. Their sophisticated leaders very successfully spread their retrograde message by every high-tech channel available. The rank-and-file have truly been left behind... and as such are very dangerous, being easily manipulated by whoever cares to push their buttons -- like Limbaugh, Rove, and the multitude of megachurch preachers. These people will fight us in every way possible, because they feel they have the divine right, the divine commandment, to TAKE OVER. They will never give up, and changing them in any way will be well-nigh impossible. Making progress under these circumstances is like trying to run a 100-yard dash with a cinderblock tied to your foot. Evidently we need to learn to levitate.

A worthwhile research project would be to send a team of outgoing, personable people to interview thousands of conservatives across the country. The team would ask – openly, honestly, and respectfully – what the conservatives believe, and why. After the team accumulates enough information, they might be able to formulate a strategy to effectively influence people who don’t think in the same way we do. I’m not talking about people who merely have different opinions, but people whose thought processes are fundamentally different. This work has doubtless been done to some extent by campaign pollsters, but not in the relentlessly methodical way that is needed.

The bottom line is, we’ve got over 58,000,000 people in this country who not only couldn’t see how stupid and meanspirited McCain/Palin were, but actually thought they were the better choice. You can’t reason with these people, because verbal arguments don’t work. With them, the cerebral cortex doesn’t work in the expected way. We’ve got to work with the lizard brain, or maybe the spinal column itself. Until we figure out a way to get some semblance of unanimity going in this country, we’ll be fighting the same battles over and over while the fundamental problems remain unaddressed. The “long emergency” we are now entering requires that we finally take politics and public opinion seriously rather than leaving them in the none-too-capable hands of media hacks and political consultants.

Ultimately we’re all culpable. We are all contributing to the destruction of the planet. We’re all part of the human condition; we’re all enmeshed in the same human reality, which looks like this: At the individual level, most people identify with – consider themselves to be – the nattering, chattering, sense of self apart from everything else, known as “ego.” The ego is constantly churning out thoughts – thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, thoughts about hypothetical situations – that prevent us from living fully in the present moment. We live trapped within a never-ending web of thought-patterns -- which is a trivial way to live. Such triviality leads to the semi-civilization we now have (there is no true civilization anywhere on the planet): a chaotic mish-mash of truth and lies, science and superstition, with no standard of truth, only competing systems of propaganda.

Einstein said that you can’t solve a problem on the level of the problem. We need to go to a meta-level to solve the problem. The meta-level we need has traditionally been called “spirituality” – which is a misnomer, because it implies that there is some “other,” “better,” “more spiritual” reality or state of consciousness. In truth, the answer has always been right here, right now -- at the center of our very being -- but has been obscured by the multitude of distractions and false beliefs that cloud our clear perception of reality.

I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which is perfectly suited for TV-addled American consumers, frantically going nowhere at half the speed of light. The book is very basic but most importantly, Tolle’s techniques really work. Tolle recommends that people focus on becoming consciously present at all times; “waking up” as it were. This has got to be the ultimate mental discipline. It seems like such a simple thing, almost trivial. But most people will find themselves constantly forgetting to be consciously present. They’ll constantly drift back into uncontrolled thinking. Those who persist will find that ultimately the distractions start to fade more into the background, and life takes on a new and more vibrant quality. And this is only the beginning. As the Good Book says, “For now we see through a glass darkly, but later we will see more clearly.” I can’t think of a better way to achieve the fundamental transformation we so desperately need.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Intentional Neighborhood

Humans are clan creatures. We evolved on the plains of Africa in small, genetically-related groups. Like a bee without its hive, an isolated human was a dead human. Without the support of its fellow clan members, an isolated human would either starve to death, or be eaten by predators. Due to this long, relentless evolutionary process, our need for a group to belong to is literally embedded into our DNA.

Whenever conditions were propitious, clans could grow until they would split off and form new clans. Related groups of clans, who spoke the same language and shared the same customs, were called tribes. Some tribes became very large, but the basic social unit remained the clan – a closely-related group of individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

It was the clan, not the family, that was the primary social unit – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins... all the possible permutations of kinship. There was no undue emphasis on “my” family. Sure, everybody knew who their parents were, who their siblings were, and what their kinship was with every individual in the clan, but their clan identity reigned supreme.

In America, clans are still a powerful component within the overall culture, especially among “ethnics” -- people who still retain some aspects of their pre-immigration cultures. In the Southwest, this group is the Latinos, people of Mexican origin. Within Latino culture, the clan remains a powerful presence. Members of a Latino clan need never be alone unless they want to be. (When I was in high school, I was jealous because the Latino kids were never alone, and I always seemed to be.) Rites of passage – birth, death, marriage, any and all graduations – are shared by the entire clan. Emergencies are shared. Good times are shared, like the men watching football on TV together, or the women going goo-goo over a new baby. When a Latino name is called at a high school or college graduation, the entire clan erupts in a cacophony of cheers and whistles. For such people, “hunger for community” is an alien concept.

Many white people, who very often grew up in the isolated nuclear families so typical of post-WW II America, have unmet social needs that they experience as “hunger for community.” Churches, for those capable of accepting the ideology, can be a powerful and effective community substitute. Or service organizations, such as Rotary or Kiwanis. Or clubs of all sorts. Or the workplace, in some cases. The more intellectually-inclined have magazines and websites devoted to Community with a capital “C”. It’s hard to regain the clan identity we’ve lost, but we can sure scratch the itch real good.

For people who didn’t grow up within an effective clan, the “search for community” became, in many cases, a powerful urge. Particularly in the 60s and 70s, thousands of intentional communities were formed; most of them didn’t last long. People who had grown up in isolated nuclear families, it turned out, lacked the social skills and motivation necessary to successfully live within a group, particularly when we consider that the group members had no kinship or shared history.

A more promising format is the “intentional neighborhood,” in which the participants live in their individual homes, but can interact as the whim of the moment dictates. It offers the right balance between closeness and independence. As Goldilocks says, “Not too close and not too far; I like you just the way you are.” There are no onerous obligations, yet people can conveniently interact whenever they want to. This is already true in every large city, which is divided into “scenes” – the arts scene, the punk scene, the gay scene, the peace and justice scene, the mountain biker scene, on and on and on. Often, these people tend to live in the same part of town, in which case there’s the whole intentional neighborhood concept actualized right there.

The gist of the intentional neighborhood concept is that people who share some commonality – ideology, interests, mindset, worldview, personal chemistry – live close enough together that, ideally, they can easily walk to each others’ homes to interact. It would be greatly preferred if people didn’t have to burn gasoline in order to have a social life. Since “dropping in” would be so convenient, such a neighborhood would be a rich melange of political talk, shared gardening, car repair, DVD-watching, potlucks, music, sex... whatever humans are capable of.

An excellent venue for an intentional neighborhood would be a small town, surrounded by a productive agricultural hinterland, preferably with a lot of Amish and other “simple folk” living in the vicinity. (These people will be valuable neighbors when times get tough.) A small town would presumably have most of the conveniences of civilization, yet would be small enough to retain the human scale. But there’s one major problem to this idyllic scenario – the inhabitants of such a small town are likely to be, for the most part, rather dull company. Sure, it’s always possible to have a good conversation about the weather, or the crops, or how the fishing is, but if you want to talk about ideas, or indulge in nuance like irony or sly humor, you will likely be disappointed. Intelligent people left the countryside for the cities not only in search of jobs, but in search of other bright spirits to shine with. This exodus, which has been going on for more than a century, has left the countryside even more impoverished than it originally was.

Before moving into a new area, it would be advisable to check the voting records. Every state has a website showing how each county voted. A close check of the records would reveal if any counties have an unusually high Democratic vote within a Republican area. Such a county might contain a small town with a college in it, for example. Most people of a liberal persuasion would want to locate in an area that voted mostly Democratic. There are vast parts of the country that voted for McCain with a percentage of 80% or more. Personally, I consider these areas cultural wastelands – unsuitable for anything more than a short visit. In fact, any kind of McCain majority whatsoever is unacceptable by my standard.

An intriguing example of a sustainability-oriented intentional neighborhood is the little town of Dixon, NM, located on the Embudo River (which is actually a large creek) about 20 miles south of Taos. Probably the most famous resident of Dixon is Stanley Crawford, who has written several books, including Mayordormo and A Garlic Testament. The food co-op movement in this country has been slowly dying (which means, globalism has been winning up till now), but Dixonites have actually organized their own food co-op within the past several years. (Just Google “Dixon food co-op” for their website, which includes back issues of their newsletter – a fascinating glimpse into what they’re doing.) They have also organized a very nice little community library, and – get this – a community radio station! Laura and I visited Dixon a couple of years ago and were favorably impressed. Several factors are working in the Dixonites’ favor: They are isolated enough to have their own sense of identity, yet close enough to Taos to partake of whatever scenes Taos has to offer. Further, this is the bluest area of New Mexico, rivaling the San Francisco area in that regard. Dixon is located in Rio Arriba County which voted 75% Obama; Taos County voted 82% Obama. If I was younger, wasn’t tied down, had a lot of money, and wanted to remain in New Mexico, I would definitely give Dixon a serious look.

The little town of Crestone, CO is also intriguing, but it’s very isolated, and has a harsh climate, being located at 8000 feet. In terms of the number of alternative buildings per capita, it ranks right up there. Several spiritual centers are located there – Zen, Tibetan Buddhist, a Hindu temple, a Carmelite monastery, about a dozen in all. It doesn’t have community radio, but has its own weekly newspaper. But it has a major disadvantage: it’s too small and isolated to offer the possibility of making a living there – you either need your own money, or you’ll be commuting an hour each way to either Alamosa or Salida.

Once gasoline shortages start happening, the residents of Crestone will be in for a big surprise, along with all the people who bought cheap land out in the middle of nowhere to build their “dream homestead.” People will find that true self-sufficiency is nearly impossible. Once the dollar loses its value, we will find that we need groups to survive. When that happens, intentional neighborhood will become a necessity, not just a cute concept. The problem is, most people are still locked into the status-quo mindset of the dying economy. NOW is the time to get one’s act together, but people are still hunkered down, waiting for all this to blow over. Prediction: it will get much worse. By the time the new circumstances finally convince people that maybe a new mindset and new behavior patterns would be expedient, it will be much more difficult to create the necessary infrastructure for a decent life. Today, if you need tools, or building materials, or whatever you think might be useful, you just mosey on down to the local Mega Mart, lay your money down, and you’re on your way. In the future, not so much.

Like I say, these blog posts, except for my Grassroots Press articles, are rough drafts. I might very well have more to say about intentional neighborhood at some future date, but for now, my time window has expired.

Before I go, here are two more observations:

To me, it’s utterly fascinating to see how many older Baby Boomers – age 50 and up – are living alone. This phenomenon results from the self-actualization trend that began in the 1950s, jumped to a new quantum level during the 60s, and has continued unabated ever since. Self-actualization is in many cases incompatible with compromise. Since a stable relationship demands compromise, a certain demographic within the Baby Boomer generation found themselves, after they had accumulated enough life experience, with no need for anybody else to compromise with. If you ask these people, most of them will tell you that they prefer living alone. I find this a fascinating example of human adaptability. A person in a loving relationship (which is more the cultural ideal) will typically die within a year of the mate’s death... yet people who got used to being alone as their adulthood progressed can successfully live alone for decades.

Another fascinating phenomenon of contemporary culture is the dysfunctional relationship between mother and child within an isolated nuclear family. In a clan, a baby, once it passes the newborn stage, is taken over by the young girls, who pass it around and play with it, and hand it back to the mother when it needs to be nursed. From toddlerhood on, the child is surrounded by playmates of all ages, and is never bored. Within a truly isolated nuclear family, particularly if there are no other siblings, the child fears being alone, and demands constant attention and stimulation from the mother (“Read to me! Again!”). The mother ends up frazzled to a crisp, which renders the child even more demanding, and so the spiral continues. Ideally, children would be in the center of the action, but wouldn’t be the center of attention, except when appropriate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bits & Pieces

Obama, Hope, and Finding Our Way Out of This Mess

I’m doing the final tweaking on my new Grassroots Press article, which has the above title. I’ll be posting it on the blog Wednesday, and the paper edition will be out the first of December. It starts out as one of my typical political rants, but turns all mystical at the end. I’m hoping it will lure many more readers to this blog, and will take my daily blog readership into the double digits.


James Howard Kunstler

One of my favorite writers has long been James Howard Kunstler (, author of The Long Emergency. I admire anyone who can actually make a living writing about this kind of stuff. He posts a weekly article every Monday morning, which has become part of my Monday morning wake-up routine (if he posts early enough). This week’s article, “In the Reality Lounge,” is especially good. If you’ve ever wondered where I steal my ideas, now you know.


Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle speaks with a German accent, looks like a gnome, has a dweeby personality, and has a delightfully understated sense of humor. He’s become another Millionaire of Mysticism, which I suppose is how the Empire handles these things. My role model has always been Jesus, who owned nothing more than a robe and a pair of sandals, and roamed around the countryside with a motley band of disciples, performing miracles and giving good advice. I’ve raked Tolle over the coals of my bullshit filter, and he’s emerged unsinged – he’s sincere, and his advice is sound. I plan to reread his latest book, A New Earth (after I finish the latest copy of Rolling Stone), and will be passing along choice quotes, of which there are many.


Jacques Conejo

How’s it feel being in such august company, Jacques? I just wanted to express my appreciation for Jacques’ steadfast support, positive energy, and incisive comments. A newly relaunched blog like this one is a fragile thing, especially since I don’t yet have a site meter, and don’t know if my readership has hit the double digits yet. So thanks, Jacques! I’m sure many readers of this blog look forward to your daily comment to my daily post. And to the brave souls who are willing to take the risk, you can get the full wallop of Conejo’s risky thinking on his blog, . And to answer your question, Jacques, you know, the one about “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” the answer is, “it depends.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Parallel Conversations

Laura likes her apples!

A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I were in our orchard picking apples, chattering away like a couple of monkeys. The chattering stimulated me to remember the article I’ve always been meaning to write about “parallel conversations.” So here goes:

People in mainstream America don’t do much physical work anymore, and whatever physical tasks they perform – carrying groceries, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house – are very often performed in isolation. There is very often nobody to talk to while working.

When mainstream Americans have conversations with each other, they are usually face-to-face, and they usually give each other their full attention. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s another way, which is very common in cultures where people do physical work together. I call this “parallel conversations,” because the people are frequently parallel to each other while they’re talking, rather than sitting or standing face-to-face.

The beauty of parallel conversations is twofold: 1) the conversation turns an otherwise-tedious task into a delightful social interchange, and 2) the physical (and relatively mindless) work makes the conversation flow better, often into unexpected channels. The participants enter a timeless space of creative flow, and before they know it, the work is done and their social needs have been satisfied. Shelling peas is a good example. Done alone, shelling peas can be a tedious task; but if you have another person to talk to, the work becomes a pleasant experience and the time passes effortlessly. Or consider a quilting bee. A bunch of women gather around a quilt-in-progress for a couple of hours, talking all the while, and at the end have accomplished a useful task while catching up on all the gossip.

The Amish are always “doing something useful.” The women always have some knitting waiting for another row of stitches during an idle moment. The men always have a list of minor repair jobs waiting whenever there’s a gap between major jobs. What keeps this from being workaholic drudgery is the fact that the work is intrinsically meaningful to them, and they almost always have somebody else to talk to while they share the work.

Parallel conversations are a fundamental component of the basic tribal reality that our species evolved within. By comparison, mainstream American culture is something quite alien and sterile. Our lives are often too isolated to fulfill our basic inner needs; thus the ubiquity of TV, movies, internet, and all the myriad ways of providing a synthetic connection to other people. Up until now, the power of the status-quo mainstream culture has been virtually absolute. But the economy is now starting to crumble. Before long, we can expect that vast numbers of Americans will be underemployed by the status-quo economic system. This will give the underemployed undreamed-of leisure time in which to interact with each other. People who have the right attitude about not having as much money as they thought they deserved will find the new era fulfilling in a way many of us have forgotten, but half-remembered under the surface. It will all be very familiar somehow. It will be like coming home.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Story of the Galactic Saint

Pointmaster liked to tell stories on winter evenings. He’d throw a couple of saltcedar logs into his rusty old wood heater, and then he’d lean back in his chair and start talking. (Rimfire Kid did the listening.)

There used to be a monastery up Buckle Bar Canyon, you know, about the time of the Third Mexican War, about a hundred years after the saltcedars came back. There was a bunch of monks up there in the canyon; they called themselves the Buckle Bar Boys. Actually they had about a 50-50 split between the sexes, but they called themselves the Buckle Bar Boys sort of as a private joke.

They had it fixed up pretty nice back up in there, sort of their own private Garden of Eden—they had weeping willows, adobe courtyards, hanging vines, pecan orchards, flower gardens, vineyards, they even had their irrigation system set up in a series of little waterfalls so they’d have a nice place to meditate during the cool of the evening. They even tuned those waterfalls with rocks so they’d gurgle in harmony with the crying of the mourning doves.

There was this local boy named David who’d always felt a call to be a monk, so when he was about 16 years old he told his father, “I’m going to join the Buckle Bar Boys, Dad.” His old man said, “Ask your mother,” so David asked her and she said, “Sure, son.” They tried to keep life uncomplicated in those days, you see.

So David packed his toothbrush and walked on over there—he only lived a couple of miles away, and had known all the monks for years anyhow. His favorite monk was an old geezer named Jed.

Now Jed was a funny old guy—he didn’t say much, and he spent all his time up on the hilltop watching the stars. He slept during the day and stayed awake all night. Jed had a job, of course. The Buckle Bar Boys had a pragmatic philosophy, since they remembered the Second Mexican War and the Great Chihuahua Famine, so they didn’t hold to no pussyfoot pie-in-the-sky routine.

So every Buckle Bar Boy had a job. Jed’s job was to watch the goats at night—a good job for a stargazer to have. They had a couple hundred goats, and they always locked them in a pen at night, but sometimes they had trouble with coyotes, especially during kidding season—those coyotes would worm their way right through the fence while everybody was asleep and kill them a kid or two. Well, the monks figured out that since Jed was going to stay up all night anyhow, then why not fix him up a spot on the little hill right next to the goat pen so he could scare off the coyotes when they got bothersome?

And that’s what they did—smoothed off a spot on the hilltop, built a little rock shelter to shield him from the wind and rain, they even built him a reclining chair so he could look straight up into the sky without getting a crick in his neck.

Now this boy David had been visiting Jed at night for years, learning the sky, learning the tricks of the trade, so to speak. In fact that’s why David decided to join the Buckle Bar Boys in the first place, because old Jed finally said to him one night, “Well, you’re 16 years old now, Dave, time to start full-time work if you’re serious.” David was serious, of course, so he joined.

Watchers of the Sky, that’s what they were, only these guys were no ordinary stargazers. For one, they spent every clear night out there watching the sky, a full-time job. They got to know the sky even better than the old-time Arabic shepherds—they knew every constellation, every kink in the Milky Way, almost every star by name, they knew it all. They even followed Uranus as it moved through the stars, even though it’s barely visible to the naked eye and takes 165 years to travel around the Sun. They knew it all. They even discovered a meteor shower that sends fireballs into the dawn—it was so close to the Sun that nobody had ever noticed it before. It took David several years of full-time study to learn the sky as well as Jed did.

After David had learned the sky real well, old Jed started in on the complicated stuff. He’d ask questions like, “Where’s Galactic Center now, David?” And even though it was 4 in the afternoon and the Galactic Center was below the horizon, David would point to the exact spot. It was as if the Earth had become transparent to his mind.

And then David started to experience space—he’d go out and feel the space surrounding the Earth, he’d feel the space between here and the Moon, between the Sun and the stars, maybe between the galaxies themselves, hell I don’t know.

There was a lot of stuff to learn, all right, since the Earth is constantly spinning like a marble and falling around the Sun at the same time. Everything’s always changing. You can see Orion rising in August right at dawn, and six months later you can see Orion rising in February after sunset, and you might say, “Yep, there’s Orion rising, all right.” But in fact everything is different. In August when you see Orion rising, the Earth is traveling upward around the Sun, and in February the Earth is falling downward, like an elevator. Orion looks the same, the mountains look the same, but everything else is backwards. And I’ll bet David had a devil of a time making sense of all this and getting his experience-patterns straightened out. But he was working full-time at it, after all, and Jed was helping him, so it probably didn’t take him more than five years or so.

David was starting to break free from his Earth-based reference system. Earth is our natural base, after all—we just naturally grow up that way. Old Jed could never quite break free, but he always figured it was because he hadn’t started young enough. David had started young, and he was making it.

Over the years he gradually learned all Jed had to offer. He experienced the seasons. What do the seasons mean to you? Mesquite blossoms in the spring? Dead leaves in the fall? What about the actual relationship between the Earth and the Sun? Do you have a little diagram of Earth’s orbit in your mind? North Pole points towards the Sun in summer, so it’s warm? What about going out on the hill and directly experiencing that stuff? Don’t look at me that way, Kid! Hell I’ve been trying half my life and feel sort of like old Jed—I just can’t quite seem to do it, except every now and then.

So night after night, David would sit on the hilltop, space would fill his mind, or maybe his mind would fill space, and he’d experience the North Pole gradually swinging into the sunlight as summer approached, stuff like that. Heady stuff. He also had some sort of relationship with the Galactic Center. I don’t know too much about it. All I know is that he ended up with quite some reputation.

He was I think about 28 years old when he caught the Divine Marshmallow. It was midsummer, about the middle of July, and the Buckle Bar Boys were celebrating Rainfire Dance, thanking the Matrix for the cool moistness and all that free irrigation water from the sky. Rainfire Dance was their favorite ceremony—they’d build bonfires and stay up all night, dancing and drumming, singing praises to the Matrix, eating sweet corn and catfish, visiting with the farmers who gathered from miles around, generally having a good old time.

I guess David’s cycles were all peaking out at once that night. Though of course anyone would feel good during Rainfire season.

What was probably most important was that he had just met Barbara the night before. She was in her early twenties, and was down from Santa Fe with her father. I guess it was quite a moosie-mother zap for him, you know, looking over at himself looking back at herself looking back at him looking back at her looking at himself... my tongue gets tangled there after awhile but I bet it reminds you of that night in Tucson you told me about, don’t it, Kid?

So anyway he was feeling pretty good. Walking on air. Radiating ripples. That evening he felt an urge like he was supposed to commune with the Galaxy so he carried his favorite cushion to a niche in a cliff that would swing him past the Milky Way around midnight. The niche was sort of like a focal-plane shutter—it would expose him to the Galaxy for about half an hour, and then carry him past into emptier regions. No sense overdoing it, after all.

He held Barbara’s hand for a couple of hours that evening, and then, about eleven o’clock, he headed up for his crack, settled on his cushion, and started looking at the sky. He was squirting those vibrations just like a 220-volt line.

Finally the edge of the Milky Way peeked around the edge of his niche, and in about 15 minutes the entire Galaxy was centered right over him.

There used to be this old song:

Somebody touched me
In the dark
Last night,

and I guess that’s what happened to David, because the next morning, old Jed went up there and found David sitting on his cushion in the niche, staring silently outward into the clear blue sky.

David never said another word after that. There was no need to. He just tended his grapes during the cool of the evening before going up to his hilltop, where he’d spend the night keeping track of the heavens. And he was one ace of a grape grower, let me tell you! Those vines responded to his touch like you wouldn’t hardly believe—Sultanas as big as plums, seedless Muscats, he even grew a wild grape that was sweet as honey.

Word got around, of course, it always does, and before long the local people started bringing him presents, they even brought him their babies to be blessed, because they thought David brought them good luck. And maybe he did.

Once they brought this little crippled girl up to him. He took her into his niche that night, and the next morning she came skipping down that mountain like she’d been jumping rope all her life.

David died fairly young, when he was about 40, I think, and they buried him on top of the hill there next to the goat pen. There used to be a shrine to him up there for many years, but when I was a young man I went up there once and didn’t find anything unusual... it just looked like an ordinary old hill to me, covered with Mormon Tea and Grama Grass.

So what’re you grinning about now, Kid?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So Much for Hope and Faith!

I’ve been puzzling through this “hope” business ever since the election, since “Hope and Change” were Obama’s main campaign themes. I figured L’il Peanut (explained at the end of my Dechaosification post) would sort it out eventually – L’il Peanut may be slow, but it’s pretty smart in its own way.

Well, the answer came to me quicker than expected. It’s not exactly what I had been anticipating, but it makes sense:

The goal of the individual, as outlined in my “Spirituality” post earlier this week, is to be consciously present at all times, to be grounded in the present moment. Such an individual will ultimately become led by Spirit, and the pre-existing way of living (worry, constant scheming, etc.) will fall away. As Scripture says, “Take no thought for the morrow.”(Matt. 6:34) For such an individual (which we all have the potential of becoming), “hope” is a superfluous concept.

“Hope” is mentalizing and emotionalizing about the future; in other words, “hope” is mental and emotional noise. There’s no need for it. Reality is always right now, not in some imagined “future.”

“Abandon all hope,” Laura’s teacher used to say.

Now it’s time to turn to “faith.”

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the pernicious aspects of “faith” for some time now. Faith is one of the cornerstones of Christian dogma, as stated in Hebrews 11:1 –
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

“Not seen” really means “not experienced.” So “faith,” as the Bible defines it, means that you can believe in something without having any experiential basis for that belief. In practical terms, “faith” means that people will blindly accept whatever their authority figures tell them. “Faith” means there’s no possibility of critical thinking, which is a fancy way of saying, “figuring stuff out for yourself.” “Faith” means that people don’t express their true potential. “Faith” reduces people to blind stupidity.

America is divided into two camps: The reality-based community (“Global warming is a serious problem!”), and the faith-based community (“Jesus is coming soon!”). As events spiral out of control, it’s obvious that faith hasn’t served very well, unless annihilation is our goal.

It’s also obvious that the Enlightenment never took hold as deeply as once supposed. A large number (probably the majority) of Americans live lives of superstition, ignorance, and fear... and call this Faith.

So the obvious conclusion to be drawn from all this is: for the individual led by Spirit, “faith” is also a superfluous concept.

This brings us to the 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, one of the most powerful passages in the entire Bible. I remember reading this with tears pouring down my cheeks, I was so moved. (But not recently.) The chapter concludes with verse 13: “There are three things that remain – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

It’s amazing -- but not surprising -- how that verse had stood unchallenged all these years. Love, how could anybody have any problem with love? But faith and hope? Both are unnecessary. And in the case of faith, downright destructive – not only to the planet, but to the possibility of living an authentic life.


This article keeps right on going, but once again the new day beckons. Before I leave, I just wanted to mention that living in the moment doesn’t mean not taking care of the future. We have the capability to project our imaginations into the future – it’s a critically important survival characteristic. In fact, America’s “la-la land” attitude towards the future will turn out to be a tragic failing of what passes for civilization in this country.

From the individual’s point of view, being grounded in the present moment means that thoughts – good thoughts, not just the trivial random noise -- will inevitably come. Act on them (“Grow food.” “Buy a bicycle.” “Build a solar collector.” On and on ad infinitum) and the future will take care of itself. The point is, there’s no need for hope or faith in this process.


Chaos is what entropy leaves behind. Entropy is always at work (rust never sleeps) on my microfarm. My little farmlet, which in my mind’s eye is always on the verge of achieving the Amish ideal -- with everything spic and span and neat and clean if only I had the time to keep it spic and span and neat and clean -- keeps returning to chaos whenever I turn my back.

Just yesterday my decrepit old globe willow tree, which needs to be trimmed way back anyway, shed a huge branch – almost half the tree, so it seems – onto the path leading to South Arroyo by the dock. Cutting this branch into firewood would take over an hour. First, I would have to string my heavy-duty extension cord from the nearest outlet 150 feet away. Then I would have to take my electric chainsaw and saw the branch up into firewood lengths. Then I would have to load the firewood into my wheelbarrow, and trundle it over to my firewood pile, which would take several trips. Then, I would have to gather the twigs and small branches together, and burn them out on the sandbar. Better make that two hours. And this is just one fairly minor task confronting me.

In the meantime, I need access to South Arroyo so I can get sand to seal the edges of a form into which I will pour concrete for the foundation of my Flood Refuge room. So now I have to park my wheelbarrow next to the globe willow tree, carry buckets around the other side of the tree, fill them with sand, carry the heavy buckets of sand back to the wheelbarrow, dump the sand into the wheelbarrow, and from there on I’m back to Plan A.

Entropy is relentless. It never stops. I want to kick back a little, but no... the stoplight on the Mazda Protege needs to be changed. The chimney flashing needs to be replaced because the corrosive wood smoke condensation has corroded through it. The Russian Olive grove needs to be cut down because it’s become a fire hazard. The jasmine vine on the office roof needs to be cut back because it’s become a fire hazard. The cane next to the river needs to be cut back because it’s become a fire hazard. I’ve got to collect propolis and install mouse guards on all my hives. On and on and on and on, and as I scratch jobs off the top of the list, new ones are added to the bottom.

Sometimes the process of dechaosification seems like firing up a steam engine. I’ve got to do a lot of work before I can even get going. First, I’ve got to collect enough coal to fire the burner, and then I’ve got to fill the boiler with water. Then I need to build a hot roaring fire in the firebox and wait till the water heats up. Once the water starts to boil, I’ve got to develop a nice head of steam. Only then can I ease the throttle forward and start huffing and chuffing along the track. Chaos, here I come! Better watch yo ass cause I’m coming to gitcha!

And for a while, I manage to kick ass on the chaos, until I get tired and need to take a break. The exact moment I stop, the forces of entropy once again take the upper hand. Rust never sleeps, but I do.

We all know who’s going to win in the end, don’t we? Ideally, this knowledge would encourage us humans to be a little bit more humble, to live in a more respectful manner. Maybe we ought to run around naked, live in houses made of leaves and moss, and eat fruit and sprouts. Oops, the hippies tried this already. Is anybody still doing it?


Little-known chaos fact: Once, while giving a speech, former New Mexico Senator Joseph Montoya pronounced “chaos” to rhyme with “Taos.” I do love New Mexico and its little quirks.

The Obama Thing Revisited

When Neil came over yesterday to help me pour concrete, it took him exactly eight seconds to figure out that “The Obama Thing” is actually a refrigerator magnet. Well, duh! Fortunately, we’re talking about subjective reality here, so for us, it will always be “The Obama Thing.”

The Metaphysics of Hope

I don’t know where this stuff comes from. Metaphysics of Hope, indeed. When my peanut brain (henceforth to be called L’il Peanut) heard that the title of an upcoming blog post was going to be “The Metaphysics of Hope,” it rebelled. “The Meta-what of what? I just explained everything there is to know about Reality and you want me to do what? Give me a frickin’ break!” So OK, L’il Peanut, take a break, then. For the next little while we’ll talk about simple things, like hay, dechaosification, and parallel conversations. Maybe next week we’ll get to the Metaphysics of Hope – which admittedly is a fabulous title, but I frankly don’t know if there actually is such a thing as the metaphysics of hope. Or hope, for that matter – at least not in the objective sense.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buying Hay

Last Friday Laura and I bought some hay from Mr. Lucero, a local farmer. A cold front had blown through the day before, so it was a crisp, clear day, invigorating, a good day to be alive. The sky was an archetypal New Mexico dark blue all the way down to the horizon. This is as clear as the sky can ever get. (To test how clear the sky is, hold your thumb over the sun. If the sky is dark blue all the way to your thumb, the sky is absolutely clear. Astronomers use this as literally a “rule of thumb” to judge how clear the sky is.) I remember in the 60s, sometimes my astronomy colleagues would come in all excited and say, “It’s gonna be a photoelectric night tonight!” They were doing photoelectric photometry, measuring how bright different celestial objects were, and a “photoelectric night” was absolutely clear, with no haze in the air to throw their readings off. The day we bought our hay was a photoelectric day. It’s good to know that the atmosphere can still be as clear as it was 45 years ago.

Mr. Lucero lives only three miles away from us, which is nothing by country standards. He’s virtually a next door neighbor. By Las Cruces standards, 3 miles is clear on the other side of town -- so as you can see, country people live by a different distance scale.

I have always felt isolated, living my back-to-nature lifestyle out in the country, because so few people are doing it in this area. My neighbors, with rare exceptions, are mainstream city people who happen to live in the country because they love the peace and quiet. They may have a horse or two, but rarely do I resonate with their lifestyle to any extent. Although I do just fine when focused on the homestead, I usually feel compromised when I want to interact with other people – having to drive into town to have a social life, having to spend my money in town because there’s so little to buy out here. This area, though it’s hardcore country, is strictly a suburban, bedroom community. It’s a rare privilege to have an interaction that feels really authentic to me, lifestyle-wise. Buying hay from a farmer neighbor, who lives only 3 miles away, is about as authentic as it can get around these parts, so I always enjoy “hay day,” even though there’s a lot of heavy lifting involved. (But hey, that’s what beekeepers are good at.)

I have a little 4x6 foot trailer that hooks onto my little 1986 Mazda 323 hatchback, my all-purpose “bee vehicle.” Usually I use it to haul beehives around. But it also perfectly holds 12 bales of hay, so it’s a wonderful hay hauler. We hooked the trailer onto the car and drove down to Mr. Lucero’s farm, enjoying the cool weather and beautiful blue sky.

Mr. Lucero is an old guy, well into his 70s, a Navy vet (he has a sign in his yard telling us so), who had a McCain sign next to the highway before the election. But we have a lot in common – hay, pecans, livestock, the weather. There’s never any lack of things to talk about, because Mr. Lucero likes to talk and does most of the talking. He told us we were lucky this year, because he had several people waiting in line to buy what little hay he had left. I lugged the bales out of his hay barn one at a time and stacked them in the trailer while Mr. Lucero told us how he had to sell his cattle because they “didn’t respect his fence” and kept getting out. If they had crossed the dry irrigation ditch, he said, they would have been gone forever. Even though they didn’t wander far, it took a couple of cowboys from 3 in the afternoon till 9 in the evening to round them up. I just love stories like this – it’s authentic New Mexico at its best, and somebody else is doing the work. Rounding up cattle is a lot of work, and is best left to cowboys. We beekeepers have our own realm, which is work enough.

After paying Mr. Lucero his $81 (proving once again that stuff is more valuable than money) we drove home with our green treasure. Laura and I unloaded the bales into the wheelbarrow one at a time, trundled each one down the steps, across the yard, and into a pile out of the way, where they’ll remain until I rototill them into the garden around March or so. (We learned last year to buy our hay early, because farmers run out as winter wears along.)

Hay makes great fertilizer for my garden. It’s cost-effective, is highly nutritious, and is locally available. Unlike manure, it’s odor-free. It’s a bit of a hassle to apply, though. Wearing gloves, I peel off a hunk of bale and crumble it between my hands, walking as I crumble. Before long, the bale has been turned into an inch-thick layer of hay across an entire section of my garden. I usually crumble three bales of hay for each section, and rototill it under. The leaves, which are very high in nitrogen, break down quickly, while the coarser stems, which are higher in carbon, last a long time. I’ve learned over the years that organic matter oxidizes out of the soil quickly in our hot summer climate, and that for best results, I have to add fresh hay every year. But it’s not a bad job, and eating fresh veggies out of my garden all year (we practice year-round gardening) is worth whatever the garden demands.

The Obama Thing

When we got back from Albuquerque Monday afternoon, there was an envelope from the Obama campaign waiting for us. Inside the envelope, with no explanation, was a 6”-diameter flexible plastic disk. The top of the disc has printed on it the Obama logo, “Obama Biden” in large letters, and the website address. I figure it’s their way of thanking me for my campaign contributions. But what is it? It’s too small and flat to be a frisbee, so I’ve concluded that it must be a coaster. What else could it possibly be? But truth be told, we have no idea what the thing actually is. Then Laura had a flash of insight. “It’s The Obama Thing!” she exclaimed. And she’s right. What a coincidence! Three days after I write a post entitled “The Obama Thing,” an Obama Thing manifests itself in our mailbox! Once again, the Universe shows its sense of humor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Spin on Spirituality

On Sunday Laura and I drove to Albuquerque and attended a Satsang held by John Taylor, a spiritual teacher based in Santa Fe. Laura had heard about him through her grapevine, and I figured it was an opportunity for me to do something totally different, to “stir the pot” as I like to call it.


But before I can go any further, I need to explain why it’s necessary to have spiritual teachers in the first place. This brings us to “the human condition.” Most people identify with – consider themselves to be – the constantly nattering, chattering, sense of self apart from everything else, known as “ego.” The ego is constantly churning out thoughts – thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, thoughts about hypothetical situations – that prevent us from fully living in the present moment. We live enmeshed within a web of thought-patterns -- which is a trivial way to live.

This ego started out as survival circuitry in the brain. When our proto-human ancestors, with chimpanzee-sized brains, were running naked around the plains of Africa, it was advantageous to remember the past (“Leopards attack at night!”) and to predict the future (“Trees on that mountain produce edible fruit after the rainy season.”) This is nothing special – many animal species do this. In fact, most animals have a rudimentary sense of “self.”

The “human condition,” which can also be called the “human problem,” is the result of a series of mutations that led to us having a large brain, a brain much larger than needed for survival. My hypothesis is that the mutations gave the larger-brained proto-humans a competitive advantage over proto-humans with smaller brains. Over time, the larger-brained humanoids wiped out the smaller-brained humanoids. (This might be the evolutionary basis for our instinctual “fear of the other,” which politicians exploit to this day -- humans different from us are to be feared, and destroyed.)

The new larger brain allowed our survival circuitry – the sense of self which can remember the past and predict the future – to run amok. It became a “sense of self on steroids.” It essentially became a virus within the computer (the brain), and we have given this virus a name – “EGO.” We take for granted – and tend to ignore -- the fact that we are conscious, that we are aware, and instead identify with ego – brain circuitry -- because it chatters so insistently.

The actuality is, our true identity is the consciousness itself. (It’s your consciousness that’s absorbing this essay right now.) But we, being human, manage to complicate the situation in our typical way, and manage to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy searching for what we already are. As John Taylor writes, “There is nothing for you to do in order to be you because you are already you.” Thanks for pointing this out, John! (This must be why he’s a spiritual teacher.) We now return to our narrative:


A Satsang is a combination lecture, question-and-answer session, and meditation. This one was held in the home of a couple of Taylor’s students. There were ten students, including Laura and me – three men and seven women – a typical ratio, I suspect.

During the Q-and-A session, a couple of the students mentioned their Dark Night of the Soul experiences. One called it her “spiritual desert,” and the other one called it her “wasteland.” (I have mentioned this phenomenon already in a couple of blog posts: “Drop Your Nets and Follow Me,” and “A True-Enough Fable.”) Joseph Campbell, in Creative Mythology, talks about the quest for the Holy Grail (which turns out to be none other than our own True Nature, consciousness itself), in which the seeker is required to wander through “the unknown pathless forest in his own heroic way.” (Though wandering through life lost and alone seems anything but heroic to the wanderer.) Campbell says, “Today the walls and towers of the culture-world... are dissolving; and whereas heroes then could set forth of their own will from the known to the unknown, we today, willy-nilly, must enter the forest... and like it or not, the pathless way is the only way now before us.” (Laura and I call it the Goat Path, as opposed to the Freeway Path most people seem to be on. With the Goat Path, the individual is often not sure if there is even a path at all.) Hearing the students talk about their experience of spiritual dryness reminded me of my own Years of the Locust, from the mid 70s to the mid 80s, and made me grateful to be stumbling along the Path with Heart once again.

It struck me, during the Q-and-A, that many spiritual seekers are looking for something else, something over and above the life they are now living. That was certainly true in my case. We aren’t satisfied with life-as-it-is; we’re looking for something more -- Oneness With The Godhead, Permanent Bliss, Astral Traveling – whatcha got? Whatever it is, I’ll take it! But the fact of the matter is,

* There is no “ordinary” reality


* there is no “ordinary” state of consciousness. It’s always the same consciousness, whether you’re having a toothache, or experiencing the most exalted state of Oneness.

My apologies to the Greek Mystery Religions if I give it all away so quickly: This particular channel we’re all tuned to, that we call reality, is the Mystery Channel. Our programming on this channel is All Mystery, All The Time. It’s all the Great Mystery, which is to say, it’s all beyond words and thoughts. For example, we can never encompass the is-ness of the simplest rock with mere words and thoughts. We can write an encyclopedia about the rock and it just sits there and grins at us, incomprehensible as always. We can’t understand reality with our intellects, and never will. It’s beyond understanding. And it’s all right here, in our day-to-day existence. It may be incomprehensible, but nothing is hidden away.

As the Zen master Hakuin (1685-1768) said,

This very earth is the Lotus Land of Purity,
And this body is the body of the Buddha.

Since it’s all right here, it’s just a matter of removing the distractions that prevent us from experiencing “The Lotus Land of Purity.” It’s like a bird singing in a tree. If the tree is next to a busy superhighway, it’s hard to hear the bird. Ego is the superhighway, and consciousness is the bird. We need to shift our emphasis.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, made two main points:

* The goal of the spiritual seeker is to be consciously present, ALL THE TIME. (This is probably what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” Eph. 6:18)


* All you need do -- in fact, all you CAN do -- is to be consciously present RIGHT NOW, because right now is all you’ve got. No matter what’s happened to you in the past, and no matter what you want to happen in the future, all you need to do is to be consciously present right now. Stay consciously present, and everything will work out in due time – just trust the process. Evolution is slow, sure, and steady. It’s like planting a peach pit in the ground. At first you have to nurture the little seedling – feed it, water it, and keep weeds from choking it – but within a couple of years it will be a sturdy little tree, and eventually it will bear fruit. Spiritual growth works the same way.

This is literally kindergarten-level stuff (in that the brightest children could be exposed to these concepts at a very early age, and surely almost all children could handle this in their teen years). The fact that children aren’t universally exposed to these concepts is a prime reason we don’t have a true civilization anywhere on the planet. What we have instead is a chaotic mish-mash of truth and lies, science and superstition, with no standard of truth, only competing systems of propaganda. No wonder the Earth is being destroyed!

The key concept in all this is this business of being “consciously present.” It’s the difference between being conscious and being consciously conscious. Between being distracted and being focused. Being consciously present means becoming the Watcher, so to speak. It’s sometimes called “mindfulness.” It’s a shift in perspective, and it can seem like such a little thing. One could easily say, “That’s all there is to it?” The answer seems to be: “Yes, but it’s only the beginning. Just wait till evolution has a chance to work on you for awhile!” Like I said earlier, nothing is hidden away. But that doesn’t mean we can experience it, because ego has rendered us helpless and blind. But eventually our blindness will be lifted. (“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” 1 Cor. 13:12)

The beauty of this is, it’s all experiential. There’s no doctrine, no dogma, nothing to explain, nothing to think about, nothing to understand. As I see it, it’s the ultimate mental discipline: Just KEEP WATCHING.

And it’s not a matter of stopping your thinking, either. (Which is good news for those of us who do creative thinking.) It’s about watching your thinking, (along with everything else) not drifting off into uncontrolled reveries in which you become lost to yourself. If you persist, you will remember to be consciously present more and more as time goes on. Just keep watching, every second, 24/7 (whenever you remember to, that is), and eventually the watching process will become automatic. Keep watching long enough, and ultimately the constantly-chattering “monkey mind” ego will fade more into the background, and consciousness will have a chance to work its evolutionary magic within you. Eventually, life becomes a constant meditation, existence becomes its own reward, and the individual becomes a fully-integrated human, in which the ego has been integrated into its true place within the total body-mind-spirit package. It’s not about “annihilating the ego,” it’s about normalizing the ego – returning it to its proper function.

The integrated ego, rather than being in control (or so it likes to think), once again serves its true survival function. (In its proper place, when it no longer dominates, ego can be a fascinating companion – what marvelous creatures we are!) As evolution unfolds within you, you will automatically know what to do. (Just do it, and see what happens. You might be delighted by the results.) Your destiny will unfold in a natural way. People who’ve achieved this integration are the wealthiest people on the planet. They lack for nothing. This is why this integration is sometimes called “the pearl of great price.”


This seems like a good place to stop for now. My little peanut brain has been milked dry. I realize I’ve left a lot out, and what I’ve written needs a lot of editing work, but I think the article is sound as far as it goes. I’ll probably add to it and refine it later. Eventually I’ll post it again as my “New, Improved Spin on Spirituality.”
Nov. 11, 2008

I revised it slightly and added a few clarifying sentences.
Jan. 28, 2010