Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Slice of Morning

Aristotle once said, "It would seem that experience of particular things is a sort of courage." I think I know what he's getting at. There was a period in my life when on a daily basis I'd just go sit in the woods behind my house for half-n-hour up to a half a day. I'd take in all the surroundings and activity with my senses. In other words, I payed attention. And it had a revolutionary feel to it when I was out there on a weekday when everyone else was at work. I eventually quit, though. Why? I didn't want to go broke. There is no money in it. And besides how can one pay attention to particular things if one is living in a system that, as Lewis Mumford so eloquently pointed out, is based on "order, power, predictability, and above all, control."

The system has to go. But I'm hoping I find the courage Aristotle is talking about before that happens.


Today, I work with wood. I'm either going to get a load of firewood or work on my son's bunk bed. Working with wood, I've noticed, grounds me.


Conversations with 13yr. old son.

Son: Are we going anywhere today?

Me: We're journeying to the center of the universe.

Son: What!?

Me: Haven't you ever heard of that song from sixties or seventies? (I hope I'm not just imagining this. For some odd reason I'm think the Moody Blues had a song with this lyric)

Son: No.

Me: Yeah, it came out during the sixties. When your grandparents were young. You know, when a lot of them were doing acid to find out the meaning of life. Or, like Robert Bly has said, they were trying to dynamite the water out of the pond.

Son: Oh yeah, instead of bucketing the water out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Not So Poor After All

Over the years I've considered myself living in poverty. I'm simply not a part of the middle class that the politicians are always talking about. I don't know if I've made over $20,000 in a year since I've graduated back in 1992. My grandpa used to say when we were logging together that if you made $300 in a week in northwest Wisconsin you were doing pretty good. That was in the mid-nineties.

But I need to say that I don't feel like I'm living in poverty. There isn't a day that goes by where I'm not thankful for my living situation. I've got three healthy kids, a house and land paid for, and a good job (I carry mail for post office part-time). Plus I have time to sit down and do this.

What's got me thinking about all of this, though, is a quote that Daniel Quinn used in an essay by Wisconsin's very own Thorstein Veblen (Once again, Kurt Vonnegut could be right. Sensible people are born and bred in the Midwest). Veblen's theory is called The Theory of Leisure Class. I'm interested in it here simply because of the name: Leisure Class. Veblen has separated out a class of people from the rest of us--or as my grandpa used to say, "us poor slobs"-- and theorized about them.

Over the years I've considered myself not a part of the Leisure Class. I consider Mitt Romney and Warren Buffet to be a part of that class, but not me. My family and I spent 5 years living in a couple of rooms, without running water, in the old farmhouse on our property for crying out loud, how could I be associated with them? But it occured to me yesterday there is a good chance that I could be a part of the leisure class that Daniel Quinn was talking about in his essay. Given there are 7 billion people in the world, and I'm part of that global community, I'd be willing to bet I'm in the top 1% of the income bracket.

Now what?

There is a lot more I'd like to say here. But right now I'm trying to get out a post a day before the daily chores need to be done. Taking care of kids, animals, firewood, and the rest of it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aurelius on the Gods

A quick quote this morning. For that is only what time allows:

"What I do I do always with the community in mind. What happens to me, what befalls me, comes from the Gods."--Marcus Aurelius

Perhaps a true warrior has both in mind always.

Monday, January 28, 2013

We've All Been Abused

I remember a few years back, on an Ishmael related discussion board that I participated in, someone made the remark that they didn't philosophize from the standpoint of a victim. This was in relation to Derrick Jensen's work. At the time it made sense on the surface. But given the depth and subtlety of Jensen's work I knew it didn't go far enough. That Jensen wasn't just sitting around whining about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.

Well, I ran across this insight by the psychologist James Hillman this morning:

"So we don't want to get rid of the feeling of being abused--maybe that's very important, the feeling of being abused, the feeling of being without power. But maybe we shouldn't imagine that we are abused by the past[For example, by parents, teachers, etc, from the past] as much as we are by the actual situation of 'my job,' 'my finances,''my government'--all the things that we live with. Then the consulting room becomes the cell of revolution, because we would be talking also about, 'What is actually abusing me right now?' That would be a great venture, for therapy to talk that way." Pg.39, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and The Worlds Getting Worse

The system we live in is abusive. I think this is the first time I've ever typed that.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fathers, Uncles, and Older Men

It's been well over a decade now since Iron John was recommended to me to read. Now, looking back, a few people mentioned it at the time. Author Daniel Quinn was one of them. One day on an internet discussion board I asked him some questions about his current marriage that he talked about in his autobiography titled: Providence. I wanted to know how his current wife was able to deal with his infidelity in a previous marriage. Of course, I also wanted to know if it was possible for a woman to love me given that I'd just lived with my grandparents for five years during what was suppose to be the prime of my life (18 to 23 yrs. old). He answered the question in a way that made logical sense (He's good at that). And in his response he mentioned that I might want to check out Iron John. So, I did.

I've read it a couple of times since then. And the excerpt below has always stuck with me since the first reading. Why? I'll try to answer part of if below.

"Throughout the ancient hunter societies, which apparently lasted thousands of years--perhaps hundreds of thousands--and throughout the hunter-gatherer societies that followed them, and the subsequent agricultural and craft societies, fathers and sons worked and lived together. As late as 1900 in the United States about ninety percent of fathers were engaged in agriculture. In all these societies the son characteristically saw his father working at all times of the day and all seasons of the year.

'When the son no longer sees that, what happens? After thirty years of working with young German men, as fatherless in their industrial society as young American men today, Alexander Mitscherlich, whom we spoke of in the first chapther, developed a metaphor: a hole appears in the son's psyche. When the son does not see his father's workplace, or what he produces, does he imagine his father to be a hero, a fighter for good, a saint, or white knight? Mitscherlich's answer is sad: demons move into that empty place--demons of suspicion.

'The demons, invisible but talkative, encourage suspicion of all older men. Such suspicion effects a breaking of the community of old and young men. One could feel this distrust deepen in the sixties: 'Never trust anyone over thirty.'"--Pg.95, Iron John

My dad worked at the same factory for 30 years. I never once stepped into that place. I never once saw, felt, or touched what he produced. And, of course, like Bly said in the excerpt, the demons arrived. They're there today.

This is something, I think, we need to think about as we move ahead with this industrial experiment (I remember Derrick Jensen in his book Welcome to the Machine referring to it as Hell). The quote also reminds me of a conversation I had recently with my uncle. I ran into him at the local gas station. And while we were pumping gas we got to talking about the most recent school shooting. He thought maybe it would have helped if the guy had an uncle to take him out in the woods to atleast "plink away at tin cans." Like he used to do with me. And maybe the guy did, I don't know. But it's a perspective I take into consideration. He's my uncle. He's raised three kids. I've fished, hunted, and logged next to him.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quinn Quote Saturday and Some Reflection

"Everyone in your culture knows this. Man was born to turn the world into a paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness."--Quote from Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

A brief reflection on this quote out of Ishmael. One of the effects that the book had on me was that afterwards it felt alright to be human again. Yes, there was all of the ridiculous stuff I'd done to myself and other people throughout my life up to that point, but for some odd reason Ishmael helped me get above (Or maybe put aside for a moment is a better way to say it) those acts, and take a look at the bigger picture. And surprisingly enough, the personal baggage lost some of its power. It never goes away, but it puts things into perspective. Perhaps, my psyche, or soul, moved out into the world soul. In other words, I started paying attention to it.

To be clear I'm not advocating Ishmael as a self help book. I'm trying to express the effect it had on me. I've often contemplated renaming this blog: Life After Ishmael. It seems like since ever since I've read the book I'm periodically reflecting on it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Weapon of Honesty

I wrote this in my journal this morning:

After reading my local newspaper it seems like some of us are expecting John Wayne to ride into town and protect us from insane criminals with guns. Except this time we're all going to be like Big John. The logic seems to be that if I'm packing a pistol crazy criminals won't harm me or my children.

How about instead of all of us going out and buying guns, and going through the trouble to use them, we try a different weapon: Honesty. Having the willingness to look at the person sitting closest to you at the moment, whether that be man, woman, or child and simply say: You're not crazy, but the culture is crazy. In other words, our way of life is driving us mad.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Writing and Giving Birth

I've been writing more often lately. For the past week or so I sit down on a wooden chair pulled up to a T.V tray as the morning fire is burning. I set the timer for ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind. I keep my hand moving the whole time. I try to get this done before everyone gets out of bed. But there are mornings when the baby and Annie get up before I get started. And during those occasions I'll do my thing and she'll sit there quietly in the recliner, watch the fire, and hold the baby. Quite often, as I'm writing, I wonder if she thinks I'm nuts. But than it occured to me this morning that it could be somewhat similar to what it was like when I watched her give birth. In both occasions the universe is gifting you and you're trying to birth it. Perhaps writing a novel could be at the same level as giving birth. I don't know. I do know that both are hard work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Power Without Resistance

I was thinking about resistance to power this morning. As a result I've got books scattered about looking for quotes and ideas. I stumbled across this idea in James Hillman's Kinds of Power that has got me thinking.

"Power, without the resistance of a counterforce, mimics the intertia it strives against, becoming an unhindered, tensionless expansion, following the lay of the land, flattening out into stagnant accumulations without intention, much like the pictures we make of inert despots on fat pillows in their pleasure domes, all resistance to the plenipotentiaries overcome." Pg.144

In search for clarification I read the sentence to my wife as she was lying on the bed nursing our daughter. I wanted to know what inertia power was mimicing. I read it. She, like usual rolled her eyes and said speak English. So, I read the first part of the sentence. We still couldn't figure it out. Oh well, I thought, just another question gone unanswered. Nothing new. But as I was randomly paging through the beginning of the same book I ran across this:

"The deeper syndrome is inertia of the spirit, a passivity that feels no vocation and shies from imaginitive vision, adventerous thinking and intellectual clarification. That we imagine ourselves today as a nation of victims attests to a vacuum in the spirit of the nation. These are symptoms of the soul in search of clarity. Clarity is the essential.

If I'm understanding Hillman right, he's saying that without resistance power mimics spirit. Without the process of soul-making spirit becomes passive, shallow, expansive and unclear. It reminds me of a poem by Swedish poet Harry Martinson:

When Euclid started to measure Hades,
he found it had neither depth nor height.
Demons flatter than stingrays
swept above the plains of death....

There were only waves, no hills, no chasms or valleys.
Only lines, parallel happenings, angles lying prone.
Demons shot along like elliptical plates;
they covered an endless field in Hades as though with moving

victims of flat evil,
with no comfort from a high place
or support from a low place

That's how I'm starting to see the removal of mountaintops to provide us with coal to light and heat our homes. It's all part of the process of what I've heard poets call flattening. And now I can understand why author/activist Derrick Jensen ended an email to a fellow activist with this phrase: Welcome to Hell.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Frost on The Father

"You don't have to deserve your mother's love. You have to deserve your father's."--Robert Frost

Monday, January 21, 2013

She's Cold This Morning

The thermometer read -10 this morning. It's not suppose to get much above zero here in northwest Wisconsin today.

Pulled Robert Bly's "The Winged Life: The Poetic Voice of Henry David Thoreau" off from the shelf. These two lines will be with me today:

Greater is the depth of sadness
Than is any height of gladness -- Henry David Thoreau

The poet Robert Bly has said that women don't like it when men are always cheery and happy. They're too dry.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Yeats on A Quiet Mind

"We can make our minds so like water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet."--William Butler Yeats

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Saturday Quote by Daniel Quinn

"We have a secret plan that is never discussed openly AT ALL. Someday perhaps we'll know whether it's discussed at the highest political levels and whether it's discussed in code or in plain. We don't teach our children this plan, but they know all about it by the time they reach midschool. Courting couples don't discuss the plan to see if they're in agreement on it. It's THE PLAN. It's there in place, and we're investing everything we have in it. We're investing our future in it, our children's future in it--for generations to come. We may actually be investing the future of the human race itself in this plan.

"The Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews was a shameful plan, and this is why it was kept secret. This is also why our plan is kept secret. It too is shameful and we all know it.

"Our secret plan is this: We're going to go on consuming the world until there's no more to consume. This does not preclude consuming it "wisely" or consuming it as slowly as possibly. It doesn't preclude supporting every conceivable conservation initiative. It doesn't preclude supporting every conceivable means of recycling. We're going to recycle, we're going to conserve-- but we're also going to go on consuming until there's no more to consume.

"We don't know when it will all be gone. We don't WANT to know--just as the people of Germany didn't want to know what happened to their Jewish neighbors when the Gestapo carried them away."--Daniel Quinn quoted out of his essay titled: On Investments

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rumi, Robert Bly, and Manners

We had a homeschooling moment this morning. My 13 year old son and I were talking about manners so I pulled out this poem by Rumi. I read it and played the Robert Bly reading. It's worth taking the 3 minutes to watch him read it. He's an amazing man.

It's also interesting to note that Rumi is President Obama's favorite poet. To me, that says a lot about the man and his faith. And I'm not implying that President Obama is a closet Muslim. My thinking is that he is a devoted Christian that enjoys reading ecstatic poetry because it's not available to him through his faith. Robert Bly claims that Christianity threw out its ecstatic tradition close 1500 years ago. That's also why Rumi is the most popular poet in America. It's just not available to us anywhere else.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kant on Going Crazy

"The only feature common to all mental disorder is the loss of sensus communis [common and communal sense] and the compensatory development of sensus privatis [private sense] of reasoning."--Immanuel Kant

Monday, January 14, 2013

That Gorilla Koan Has Got Me

The koan from Daniel Quinn's Ishmael:

With Man Gone
Will There
Be Hope
For Gorilla?

With Gorilla Gone
Will There
Be Hope
For Man?--

I recently picked this up out of John Daido Loori's Eight Gates of Zen.

"Too see is to be it. To see the koan is to be the koan. The only way you can see the koan is because you are the koan."--Pg. 99

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Quinn Quote Saturday

“The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler's mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.”--Daniel Quinn

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Begnning of Why This War Has Two Sides

I woke up this morning ready to listen to my James Hillman podcast about war. Why? Because for years now I've wanted to understand why Derrick Jensen titled one of his published works Now This War Has Two Sides. Why he decided to call this a war. But I'm not going to have time to this morning. I was sidetracked by a blog post that Thomas Moore recently published. In it there is what I think reveals part of the answer to my question.

"Another archetypal psychologist Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, who taught me with raised voice to honor the dark, says that we therapists have to enter the rhetoric of the archetype. If we are in a mess, or our client or friend or spouse is in one, it is best not to go somewhere else for comfort, to offer sweet promises of better times or moral persuasion to shape up or pseudo-religious pieties about it all having a purpose. No, the thing to do is to enter the mess and speak for it and use its language."

Part of what I think Derrick has done is entered the mess of the phenomenon of industrial civilization and is speaking to us in its languauge.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Slightly Confused

I'm confused. I've got two books going: The Thought of the Heart, by James Hillman and The Eight Gates of Zen by John Daido Loori. Yesterday I ran across this quote in Eight Gates that has stuck with me since.

"Arnold Toynbee, the historian, has said that a hundred years from now, when people look back, it is not going to be atomic energy, space travel, computers, or any of the remarkable leaps and achievements we have made as a civilization, but rather an incident that most people are hardly aware of, that will be seen as the most significant advance of the twentieth century. That incident is the transmission of the Buddhadharma from East to West. Each and every Zen practitioner is part of that process."--John Daido Loori, Pg.78, The Eight Gates of Zen

All I can say to that is time will tell. I know that what I'm getting from reading James Hillman is that we need a lot of deep and differentiated thought. That's why we have minds, he says, to think with. He also says it's good for the soul. Than I read a line by Dogen yesterday where he says stop deep thinking:

"Cease from the practice of intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inward to illuminate yourself."--Dogen out of Fukanzazengi

Can't you have both? Perhaps from the spirit's perspective you follow Dogen's advice. And perhaps from the soul's perspective you follow Hillman's advice. Or maybe if you take one them seriously enough the other just happens. The higher you go the deeper you go. You can't have one without the other.

Onward. I'll be carrying mail for the United States Postal Service today. An organization that is slowly falling apart.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Coyote Tree

I've been thinking about the coyote tree that Derrick Jensen talks about in A Language Older Than Words. Anyone that has read it knows the story. Derrick takes off his clothes a couple of times and lays underneath it so the tree can talk to him. To me, it's a profound and subversive act given the way we've been conditioned in this culture. Trees aren't suppose to be able to communicate with us.

This morning I ran across a quote in James Hillman's The Thought of The Heart and The Soul of the World that, I think, explains how this happens.

"Third, 'taking in' means interiorizing the object into itself, into its image so that its imagination is activated (rather than ours), so that it shows its heart and reveals its soul, becoming personified and thereby lovable--lovable not only to us and because of us, but because its loveliness increases as its sense and its imagination unfold. Here begins phenomenology: in a world of ensouled phenomena. Phenomena need not be saved by grace or faith or all-embracing theory, or by scientific objectiveness or transcendental subjectivety. They are saved by the anima mundi, by their own souls and our simple gasping at this imaginal loveliness."

Perhaps what happened is that Derrick opened his heart to the tree and in return the tree opened it's heart to Derrick and communication was possible.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Well over a decade ago now, after spending the day freezing my ass off watching tip-ups on a northern Wisconsin lake in the middle of January, I remember coming home and lying down on my couch and being captivated by these opening lines:

"There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember it exists." (Derrick Jensen, Pg.2, A Language Older Than Words)

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Almost Five Years Ago

I'm feeling aged. I've been going through some of my old journal entries. I wrote this down in April of 2008. It's hard to believe that I wrote this down close to five years ago. I pulled the book of the shelf and he signed it in 2004. Must've wrote the quote down on a second reading. Time flies.

"So far as we know, you have only one life, and there's almost nothing more worth fighting for than to figure out what you want, and then pursuing that if it takes you to the ends of the earth and to the end of your life."(Derrick Jensen, Pg.48, Walking on Water)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Quinn Quote Saturday

"My frame of reference is that of a Martian anthropologist. I'm like someone who has traveled millions of miles to study a species of beings who, while supposedly rational, are destroying the very planet they live on."--Pg. 5, If They Give You Lined Paper Write Sideways

Friday, January 04, 2013

Nature In Extremis

“It is possible that the world is in extremis because we don't know how to go to extremes”.--James Hillman

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Brief Differentiation Between Soul and Spirit

A small attempt at differentiation here, for that is all time allows me. I've been reading about the difference between soul and spirit this morning. I think soul is comfortable with animism and spirit is not. Spirit despises animism and calls it a primitive religion. Spirit tries to rise above it and unify us as one. Hence that's why I'm now beginning to think that Daniel Quinn's statement of: "There is no one right way to live" is more of a soulful statement than a spiritual one.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

One Of My Friends

I consider the books on my bookshelf friends. And there are times I make my way over to my shelf and read some opening lines. Here is one of my favorites:

"It's the worst of times; it's the best of times. That's how we feel as we navigate from a paternal society, now discredited, to a society in which impulse is given its way. People don't bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults. The rule is: Where repression was before, fantasy will now be; we human beings limp along, running after our own fantasy. We can never catch up, and so we defeat ourselves by the simplest possible means: speed. Everywhere we go there's a crowd, and the people all look alike." Robert Bly, Pg. vii, The Sibling Society.