Today we are celebrating a Spring in the Subtropics and a Spring in the Self.
The New Orleans Advocate has a nice story by Andrew Vanacore on the greenway, including a couple quote from yours truly.
Also, Here are a a couple items which I should have noted when I posted last week:
- Yes, they are about to start work on the greenway. At last. As the Advocate article notes, it’s been almost nine years since I took my first hike along the Lafitte Corridor. Over the years the project has encountered many setbacks and challenges. I keep pinching myself, but this seems to be really happening.
- Not too long ago, Friends of Lafitte Corridor had their annual board elections. It was a historic moment, as the last of the founding board members rotated off at last because of term limits. I was deeply impressed by the slate of high-quality candidates. In a nutshell, it seems that FOLC is in good hands and there’s a lot of energy and momentum there.
Even more than winning that Hero award, this development has me feeling that FOLC will be around for a while. It’s stunning to me, not to mention gratifying, that something I helped start has taken on a life of its own. Sure, the physical infrastructure of the greenway will be great, but without a living, breathing friends group, it will never reach its full potential. Plenty to do. Rock on, FOLC.
I’ve got a new essay up at Friends of Lafitte Corridor.
Most if not all of the major spiritual traditions on our planet seem to embrace the path as a metaphor. Maybe that’s why I’ve found the prospect of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor so inspiring over the years. There’s been something very compelling about imagining a trail in what is currently fallow, empty land — and treading that ground with others who share the dream each year.
Today I led a discussion centered around the topic of our passions and desires. “By what star do we navigate our journey on the earth? What we love will shape our days and provide the texture of our inner and outer life. How can we plant what we love in the garden of this life?” (I’m quoting here from Wayne Muller’s How, Then, Shall We Live?) We started with one basic question: “What do you love?” I invited participants contemplate this question, to “sift through a variety of disparate impulses,” and draw up a list.
Earlier this week I was feeling down, disconnected, unloving. I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to write on my list.
I was extremely grateful to discover myself wrong.
- My family
- My job
- My body
- The Earth
- The image of Gaia
- (Neo) Paganism
- The elements
- The Sun
- The Stars
- The Moon
- The Academy
- Green Party
- Contemplative practices
- The people in this room
- My journal
- My fiction
This list is by no means exhaustive. I stopped the clock at five minutes. As Muller promises, “this is a fruitful and nourishing practice.”
When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.
My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?
Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”
Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.
Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.
She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.
My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.
As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.
I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.
She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.
I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.
It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.
The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.
Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.
As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.
See also a far more eloquent tribute from Joie d’Eve. It’s funny how we hit the same themes.
There is no new beginning, only constant renewal. Therefore, let us be always beginning again.
Over the past couple weeks, volunteers (including yours truly) have attempted to call every registered Green in the state of Lousiana, just to let people know that we’re organizing this convention on January 25. Our 2012 presidential candidate Jill Stein will be there.
Don’t let the slick graphics fool you: This is a grassroots, seat-of-the-pants effort. We value each and every person’s participation.
I should perhaps mention what the Green Party is about. A lot of people think it’s an environmental group. It’s not. It’s a political party which holds ecological wisdom as a core value. Social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence are the other pillars of the party. Obviously our efforts are focused on Louisiana, but the Green Party is an international movement.
Frankly the party needs an infusion of fresh blood. If you’re at all interested in these things, you should most certainly come and learn more. Please register at lagreens.org.
Continue reading Green Convention
At year’s end, my thoughts.
It was, for me personally, a very full year. It was full not just with busy-business (though there was some of that to be sure) but full of value and purpose, full of meaningful engagement.
I look back on several accomplishments with some pride. So, with no further humility…
- I wrote my first grant, and it was successful. Actually, I wrote the application in late 2012, but the award wasn’t announced until 2013. It’s enabled a new initiative I call Sustaining the Dialog, which sent three Xavier faculty to Smith College this summer to learn about contemplative pedagogy. Many thanks to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society for funding this work, which continues into the next semester at least.
- I brought two speakers on to campus for workshop sessions in a series which I’m calling “Contemplative Practices in Diverse Traditions.” In January we learned about lectio divina with Rev. William Thiele. In December, we learned about Zen meditation with Rev. Michaela Bono. It has been a great blessing and a privilege to work with spiritual practitioners in the local community, and to help them share their practices with teachers at Xavier.
- Continuing the work-related theme, I went all the way up to Amherst to deliver a presentation on “Contemplative Faculty Development: From Spiritual Emergency to Visions of Wholeness.
- On a more personal note, I stopped drinking. Kinda sorta. I guess it would be more accurate to say I cut way, way back on my drinking. About every couple months or so, I’ll still indulge in a few libations. But it’s so much more dramatic to say “I quit drinking.” And from a New Orleanian perspective, I am practically a teetotaller. This is just what I felt i need to do to maximize my health and happiness.
- After having lost 20 lbs. over two years, this summer I started pumping iron and bulking up. I’ve gained 25 lbs. since then. I wish I could say it was all muscle. It’s not, quite. But I feel like I’m ending 2013 in better shape then I started it, and considering I started the year in fine health, that’s an accomplishment.
- The Mayor of Bloomington proclaimed July 7 as National ROX Day. There’s a tale to tell there, but it will have to wait until I get some choice video edited. Thanks to Councilmember Steve Volan for his advocacy.
- I was nominated for a Cox Conserves Hero award. And I won! The $100,000 prize went to the local nonprofit of which I was a founding member and president for three years. Many thanks to all those who voted for me and promoted my cause.
- I officiated a civic tree blessing ceremony on the banks of Bayou St. John.
But wait, there’s more!
It was recently revealed that Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, loves to sing carols at Christmas time. But the songs he loves the most are not the modern secular ones. Dawkins writes: “I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols.” He prefers the older songs, which tend to have explicitly Christian religious themes.
This makes perfect sense to me. As a child, those old songs were one of my few direct connections to an older time and an older culture. Many of the carols I grew up singing were authored in the 1800s. The lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” go back to at least 1739. The tune to “Adeste Fideles” may well go back to the 13th century.
It’s not only the music. I was enchanted by the old customs. Bringing a tree inside the house seemed unaccountably weird and magical and very much out of character for my sedate middle-class parents in our standard-issue suburban home. I didn’t understand it — but I liked it.
Something about all this archaic stuff resonated deeply with me as a child. It filled an inner yearning which I could not identify, but which I now recognize as a need to connect to a larger whole: to previous generations of humanity, and to Mother Earth.
That yearning need remains with me as an adult. You can read more about how I’ve come to understand the meaning of this holiday season in an essay, “Solstice Connections,” which is the first installment of a regular column called A Pedagogy of Gaia which I’m writing for Humanistic Paganism.
I offer these intimate and highly personal thoughts with love and respect to people of all faiths and no faith, and hope that they will be received in the same spirit.
Wishing you a Blessed Solstice, a Joyful Yule, and a Happy New Year.
Sitting thru my employer’s mandatory benefits workshop reconfirmed my belief that health insurance is institutionalized insanity. There must be a better way.
I’ve never liked the concept of health insurance. It seems wrong to me at the very core. It feels like a perverse form of gambling. You’re putting down all this money against the possibility that you might get sick. If you stay healthy, you lose, and all that money goes to the house. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get sick, and then the house pays out.
If you win, you lose; if you lose, you win. That just seems like a cruel and unusual system.
The chief virtue of group insurance, as far as I can see, is that it helps share the cost amongst the group. That’s great. However, I fail to see how having such insurance administered by a for-profit corporation adds any value to that equation. The profit would seem to derive from either one of two sources: 1) paying employees less than their labor is worth, or 2) taking in more premiums than are actually needed to cover healthcare costs. Both seem blatantly contrary to common sense, which is why I call it institutionalized insanity. It’s better than no coverage at all, better than having to bear the costs alone, but the model seems to have fundamental flaws.
Our current system has many problems. The insurance model is one of those problems.
And that brings me to Obamacare.
I can see that Obamacare might correct some of the most egregious problems with our system. For example, it aims for universal coverage. I was glad to learn via social media that at least one old friend from Bloomington is doing well by the new law, and that makes me happy. For the record, I should note that Obamacare has had no effect whatsoever on me and my family. Thus my musings here are strictly big-picture philosophical.
My chief concern with Obamacare is that it doesn’t seem to move us any closer to sanity. It seems to only invest us deeper in the madness, by mandating insurance for all.
I hasten to add that my impression is based on my admittedly limited understanding of this very complex bundle of legislation. Like with our tax code, that complexity is part of the problem. We’ve got fixes grafted on fixes producing a monster like Frankenstein’s. Few really understand it all.
Of course, simplifying this complex situation would be truly radical, and I’m not sure we have the stomach for it. Nevertheless, let me sketch out my simple idea: I kind of think we should provide a basic level of healthcare for everyone, sharing the cost amongst taxpayers, and then have insurance for whatever is above and beyond that basic level. Insurance should not be a necessity; it should be something extra.
Does Obamacare move us toward that in any way? I don’t see how. If anything, it seems to move us in the opposite direction. We won’t ever move ahead by taking half-steps backward. We won’t replace health insurance as the basic model for healthcare by mandating it for everyone.
Some apologists for Obamacare acknowledge its limitations but say this was the only viable solution. They quote Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible.” True enough, but here’s another way to phrase that same idea: “Politics is the art of creating possibilities.” When people can’t manage to create desirable possibilities, it’s a political failure.
I hope I am wrong about this. Time will tell.
Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading Tree Blessing
The nearest airport is in Connecticut, so when your plane lands you still have a good long drive to get to Amherst. You talk to the shuttle driver. She has an accent you can’t place, but she’s lived in Massachusetts for at least a decade.
She drops you off at Allen House, a little bed and breakfast you found online. It proves to be a lovingly-done Victorian-era restoration, cozy and charming. The place is booked full of people from all over the world who are here for the same purpose as you. An instant and easy camaraderie springs up between you.
You’re here for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE), which is being held at Amherst College.
You make your way up the street to a noodle shop with a couple fellow travelers for a quick dinner. It’s cold, much colder than New Orleans, but only outdoors. You’re surprised to find that it’s warm and toasty indoors wherever you go. Apparently central heating is to New England what air conditioning is to the Deep South.
Then you walk over to Amherst College campus. The conference begins this evening. After registering at Converse Hall you find your way to Stirn Auditorium.
The ACMHE conference is a little different from other conferences, and that’s evident from the start. The opening plenary begins with silent meditation. There are a couple hundred people packed into the auditorium. Though no one says a word, you feel the power of their presence all the more. You are aware of the potentialities that will unfold over the next 40 hours.
If that wasn’t enough to distinguish this conference as unique, what comes next certainly seals the deal. An extra space has been reserved on the keynote panel. An audience member is randomly selected to fill it.
And so the conference begins. The theme this year is “Integrity of Practice.” The panel considers questions that revolve around this theme. Then the audience members discuss the questions amongst themselves, and finally share their thoughts with the larger group.
The next morning you have breakfast at the Amherst Inn, owned by the same people who run Allen House. The breakfast table serves as an extension of the conference, the conversations of the night before continuing over pancakes and coffee.
Very soon, you’re back on campus for the first of the parallel sessions. There are nine sessions running at the same time, and all the topics look fascinating. How to choose? You find yourself drawn to a session by David Forbes of Brooklyn College/CUNY, with the provocative title, “Contemplative Education and Neoliberalism: A Perfect World Still Requires Radical Action.”
Forbes’ presentation is chock-full of ideas, far more than even a fast-talking New Yorker can cover in the allotted time. He is asking all the right questions. “What is the purpose of contemplative practices in education? Is it enlightenment/awakening and the elimination of greed, ill-will, and delusion for everyone and at all societal levels, or is it a relativistic technology used to improve attention, reduce stress, and gain personal success and productivity in a competitive society?” The conversation that follows is galvanizing.
The morning continues. All the sessions look so promising that you decide to take a cue from the previous night’s panel and select your next session randomly. You end up listening to Ed Sarath from the University of Michigan hold forth on “Integrity of Practice in Meditation and Improvisation Pedagogy.”
You’re stunned to realize that improvisation has been perhaps the most central musical practice throughout world history, except for a period of about 200 years in Europe. This seems to throw light on the state of the modern academy, which even in America tends to be both highly traditional and Eurocentric. But that is changing.
You’ve come here from a historically Black university, so it is with special interest that you attend your next session, “Contemplative Race Theory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Racial Discourse.” The presenters, Seth Schoen and Rev. Christopher Carter, seem very young. In fact, they are graduate students, and this is their first such presentation.
They present a “compassion practice” which they have developed together, a fairly advanced guided meditation that is grounded in critical race theory. It would seem to be a good way to prepare classes for difficult, sensitive or contentious discussions. They hope to publish on the practice soon. You make a note for future reference.
In the afternoon, there are open space sessions, organized around topics suggested by participants that very morning. You attend a discussion on race, class and gender.
The conversation is heartfelt, respectful yet challenging. You are taken by one participant’s observation that contemplation disrupts her “default modes of being,” which suggests the subtle potential of such practices for subverting engrained social structures.
The theme for the conference is “Integrity of Practice.” But your own personal theme is beginning to emerge. It might be called, “The Joy of Walking Slowly.” You find yourself walking often in the company of two women who walk slowly for different reasons. Karen is walking with a cane. Eileen simply seems to be the sort of person who is never rushed. You find you must make a conscious effort to slow down and stick with their pace, but this seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of the conference.
Before dinner on Saturday evening Karen reveals she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or a broken foot. She suffered a life-threatening stroke some while ago. You listen in awe to the story of her recovery, and how her 30-year practice of meditation helped her through a very difficult time.
It’s been a full day. You’re tired. You sleep like a rock that night, for about ten hours, disturbed only by a welcome nocturnal visitation from the B&B’s resident housecat.
Sunday morning begins in much the same manner as Saturday, with conversation around the breakfast table as stimulating as any one of the formal sessions. You walk to campus with Robert-Louis Abrahamson. When learning of your fascination with seasonal progress, he bestows upon you a touching gift: a copy of his own CD and accompanying booklet, Journey Through the Seasons, a cycle of meditations on the five Chinese healing energies.
You’re excited to attend a roundtable discussion on “The Role of Teaching Centers in Introducing and Supporting Contemplative Practices,” convened by your new friend Eileen Abrams.
A nascent faculty development network seems to be emerging. You know from previous experience how powerful this can be, and the exchange of ideas is invigorating. For example, one colleague suggests exploring the connection between contemplative pedagogy and retention rates. It seems like a promising line of inquiry.
But the best has, perhaps, been saved for last. The impromptu student panel was one of the most engaging sessions at the ACMHE conference. This was, in part, an opportunity for faculty to ask students, “What do we need to know from you?”
A number of new connections are made for you. For example: Metacognition is enhanced by meditation. We’ve sponsored workshops on both topics but never drawn that connection. You think to yourself: We should sponsor more student panels at CAT. We have much to learn from our students.
On the ride back to the airport, you find yourself once again conversing with the shuttle driver. He hails from Morocco and is a big fan of the Boston Celtics. As you describe the conference you discover what you’ve learned.
Pedagogy must connect course content to a larger whole; otherwise, we are merely conveying disassociated tidbits of information, quickly “crammed” into short-term memory and just as quickly forgotten. Pedagogy must be meaningful, purposeful, and connected to deep values in order to be effective and transformative. You’re struck by the awe-inspiring scope of this charge. You realize that this domain — the domain of meaning, purpose and values — provides a good working definition of spirituality. These issues are the main concern of many religions. Therefore, in order to be effective, teachers must be on a spiritual path or grounded in a spiritual practice. It’s not something extra, some “value added” proposition. It’s absolutely essential. It’s the core, the foundation of what we do. And it follows that a holistic faculty development program must provide support for the spiritual development of faculty members.
The implications are staggering. However will you communicate this to the folks back home?
Cross-posted at CAT Food (for thought)
I’ve been doing it again: writing elsewhere.
I’ve just finished up a series of six essays for College Contemplative on the topic of “Contemplative Faculty Development.”
- My Story
- Stepping into Silence
- The Transformative Banquet
- Sustaining the Dialog
- What’s Next
Read at your own risk; I apologize in advance for the length.
I wrote these in preparation for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education where I presented on this same topic. More to come.
How did this shopping cart full of miscellaneous hardware come to be parked in our yard for three months?
Therein lies a tale.
One day in late May, a guy came walking down our street. He started talking to Xy and somehow convinced her to hire him to cut our grass. Before I knew it she had him in the house and she was showing him a broken window pane. Could he fix it?
I scoffed, but I guess he had a way with words because the next thing I knew we’d agreed to hire him to fix the window pane and the drainage under our kitchen sink to boot.
The guy was a bit of a character. Called himself Preacher because he’s a man of God. A fast-talker, but likeable. Charismatic. Slightly tenuous grasp of what is laughingly referred to as “reality.” Seems like I’ve known a few guys like Preacher over the years. I drove him to his house, just a few blocks away, so he could get his tools.
He did fix our drainage, and he cut our grass once or twice. But he also seemed to keep asking for more money, and between Xy and I being generous and not communicating with each other, we ended up paying him more than we should have. He was still “working” on the the window pane project when he showed up one day with this cart load of stuff he got on discount somewhere. He asked if he could stow it in our yard while he ran some other errand.
Then he disappeared.
After three months we were really getting tired of having this cart around. I took this photo with plans of posting it to Freecycle.
But lo and behold, Preacher showed up the very next day. He had been in the hospital. He took the cart with a promise to come back and trim our grass one more time. No charge. He seemed to have forgotten about the window pane entirely.
But that’s fine by me. I wish him well.
I recently read Toby Tyrrell’s new book, On Gaia, which provoked me to write three short essays. The first is a review of the book, and the subsequent two are further ruminations inspired by this reading.
I feel well out of my depth here and welcome your insights.
The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.
Let me back up.
Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.
This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.
It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.
It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.
Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.
We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”
And then she saw this.
NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.
I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.
On the Friday before the equinox, I caught a ride with Daniel Samuels up to the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. It was built by Huey P. Long in 1930. There was a really cool version of the state seal carved into the fireplace in the library.
But I wasn’t there for the architectural details. I was there for an award luncheon. It was a special honor to meet for the first time the other two finalists in the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes contest, Landry Camardelle and Wilma Subra.
There were a lot of people there. Turned out it was also the culmination of the Keep Louisiana Beautiful conference. So we had a great lunch in a big fancy room and a bunch of people got a bunch of awards for a bunch of good work. Meanwhile, as they led up to the Cox Conserves Heroes Award, I was on pins and needles. Who would win?
Wilma and Landry certainly had inspiring stories of their own, but since the winner was chosen by an online vote, I knew that it would come down to who had waged the most effective internet campaign. I thought I had a good shot because understanding social media is part of my job. I’d been posting on on various networks daily, begging for votes and asking people to share the link in hopes of expanding my reach.
And, in the end, it worked. I won.
But really I should say: We won.
Sure, I got my little moment of glory, and that was sweet and euphoric and extremely gratifying to my always-hungry ego. But the big $10,000 check isn’t for me. It’s for Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Exactly how they’ll use the money, I don’t know. Perhaps it will go toward hiring an Executive Director. That would be a major boost toward FOLC’s mission of building, programming and promoting the Lafitte Greenway. The other finalists got some money for their causes as well, but they both agreed it will make an even bigger difference for FOLC.
So that’s a victory for all of us, especially for folks who live in the New Orleans area, but also for anyone who gives a damn about health, sustainability, and a greener future.
Thanks to Cox Communications and the Trust for Public Land for organizing and funding the contest.
Thank you for voting for me. And thank you for allowing me this opportunity to represent such important values as community, ecology, and good old-fashioned grassroots organizing.
For this, I am grateful.
Long Time No Read
It’s been a year since I wrote anything here. Did you miss me?
Did you even notice I had stopped? I thought I’d made myself clear when I wrote about stepping into the dark, but apparently I was too subtle. I’ve spoken to a few readers who didn’t understand its implications.
I’m curious to know how many people will even see this, since the site has been fallow for a year. If you’re reading this, please leave a comment and let me know. You may be brief; a simple anonymous “Yo!” will suffice. But say something, won’t you? You don’t even have to read the rest of this article, which is too long anyhow.
I have still been writing lo these many months. I just haven’t been writing here. But I have been writing a lot. Some of it is ephemera: status updates, tweets, comments on blogs and the like; no matter how thoughtful, no matter how substantive, these still feel insubstantial, like chaff that is lost in the breeze.
I had some essays published in a series of e-book anthologies called Voices from the Grain, but that seems to be defunct now, or dormant. You can read my articles for Yule, Ostara, and Beltane. See also my article for Candlemas which was published in a different venue because the ebook didn’t “make.”
But mainly I have been attempting to focus on fiction writing. It’s very different, and hard work to boot, but I’m hopeful that eventually I will have something of substance, a story worth reading by my own standards at least. Maybe, someday, I’ll have something to share.
In the meantime, this is surely an auspicious time for an update in the classic confessional style which I’ve always employed here. It’s the autumnal equinox again. It’s a good time for reflection and introspection. Also, the equinox marks the point at which I stopped writing here a year ago.
Since then I’ve continued to celebrate the eight holidays that make the Wheel of the Year, finding them a rich field of inquiry. They open up so many questions. They offer a continuous series of opportunities to reflect on cherished values and the deep mysteries attendant to our place in the cosmos.
There are many ways to interpret the Wheel. For example, the solstices divide the year into halves. From the winter solstice to the summer solstice the days get longer; from the summer solstice to the winter solstice the days get shorter. So in terms of light, the year has a waxing half and a waning half. The holidays in the waxing half celebrate desire, while the harvest festivals in the waning half are a time for gratitude. That’s one way to look at it.
The Wheel recapitulates the life cycle. I’m somewhere past the summer solstice of my life, moving into the cross-quarter: my Lammas, my Lughnasa. Perhaps I’m there now, perhaps I’m still approaching. Perhaps that’s why that holiday has resonated so deeply in my soul and been so precious to me. Of course we may experience gratitude and desire every day, throughout the year and throughout our lives, but I feel an undeniable sense of passage, of tipping forward. Gratitude comes easier to me now. The flames of desire and ambition still burn, but it takes a little more effort to keep them stoked. I remember being young. This feels different.
And now it’s time once again for the equinox, the second of the three harvest celebrations. I associate this holiday with gratitude, balance, and the mysteries of darkness. Without darkness there is no wonder. For this, I am grateful. I have not yet reached the autumnal equinox of my life. At least, I don’t think so. I’m looking forward to it with hope and trepidation. I’m sure not in any rush.
Bring the Crisis
I’ve come to understand my recent spiritual crisis as a transition between life-stages. We hear a lot about the midlife crisis, spoken in ominous tones, as if it’s a singular discrete event unique to the middle years, as if it’s something dreadful. But that’s not quite accurate on either count. What is life but a series of crises? And what is a crisis but a change, an opportunity? Without crisis there is only stasis. If we wish to grow, to develop as human beings, to reach our potential, then we should embrace the crisis.
That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing. My personal crisis has been documented in my writings here over the last several years. I’m happy to report that the crisis is ongoing. I feel that I have undergone, and am still undergoing, a spiritual revolution. It has been a process of transforming the self which seemed to begin almost spontaneously. At some point I recognized it, grabbed it with both hands, and started shaping it myself, to keep it going, and to guide it.
It has been, for the most part, a wonderful and joyous thing, shot through with strains of bittersweet and melancholy. But then my whole life has been that way. It’s just part of my character, part of my way of experiencing the world. But these recent years have been particularly joyous.
Some may wonder what I’m even talking about. It might help to pull this out of the abstract and give some concrete examples of changes that have manifested in my life. These are things that have taken root over the last four years or so:
- I meditate daily. Or almost daily. Certainly on workdays. It’s hard for me to articulate how this affects my life. I’m not sure if meditation is the catalyst for other changes, or the result. Most likely I suppose it’s an iterative process. Meditation is part of my practice that deepens and strengthens and integrates other aspects of my life. You hear people talk about meditation as peaceful and relaxing, and so it can be, but I also think it’s much more than that.
- I stopped drinking. I noticed I was drinking more and more but enjoying it less and less. Maybe years of steady moderate-to-heavy drinking changed my body chemistry. Maybe I’ve come to cherish certain aspects of cognition which drinking does not promote. Maybe it’s a combination of the two or something else entirely. I can only say I felt the need to quit, so I did, as of Mardi Gras this year. I’m not a strict teetotaler, but almost. I’ve gone from drinking every evening to drinking only on special occasions, at intervals of a month or two. And usually after those special occasions I wonder, “Why do I bother?” Alcohol is rapidly losing its appeal.
- I’ve made changes to my diet. A couple years ago I made a conscious effort to start eating less, to cultivate a sense of hunger. I started to place a big emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, not just for me but for my family. More recently, after watching Forks Over Knives, Xy and I decided to stop buying bird and mammal meat. Our three motivating factors might be labelled health, earth, and ethics: that is, a healthier diet, a lighter impact on the planet, and the aspiration to inflict less cruelty on other living beings. (We agreed we might make an exception for animals raised in a more humane fashion, but we haven’t actually acted on that.) We still eat a lot of fish, though, and I find myself eating other meat occasionally when it’s already bought and paid for by someone else.
- I have gotten into a regular exercise program. I started jogging. Then I added yoga. Then calisthenics. I would rotate through these three daily, then rest for a day and start over. I did that for about a year. Combined with the lack of alcohol and dietary changes, I lost about 25 lbs. over the past two years. Now I’m actively trying to build muscle mass through eating a high-calorie, balanced diet and lifting weights four days a week.
I can hear the objection: You’re just on a self-improvement kick. It’s nothing more profound than that. Further, one might note that these changes are all very self-centered. And it’s true that many of my recent efforts have had an intensely inward focus. Yet despite appearances I do actually have a social conscience. It’s not all about me. In fact, my relations with others, my family in particular, have been a prime motivator.
Since I stopped writing here, during my daughter’s first year at her new school, I found myself visiting her classroom repeatedly to celebrate the Wheel with them. Without planning it, I developed a miniature curriculum around these seasonal holidays, one part science, one part cultural awareness, and one part spiritual development. I read them books about the solstices and equinoxes, gave demonstrations with oranges and lamps, baked treats for them, told them stories and did rituals. I had a blast and I think the kids enjoyed it too.
My interests in these matters have also driven changes in my professional life. I’m no longer strictly a technical/creative specialist. In my role as a faculty developer, I now make an effort to recognize the whole person. My repertoire has expanded to include subjects like time management and work-life balance. I regularly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics. I’ve conducted workshops on mindfulness and other types of meditation. I wrote a grant that sent three faculty members to a week-long seminar contemplative pedagogy, and we have formed a learning community here on campus. Last week, we met in the Meditation Room in the newly constructed Katharine Drexel Chapel. A decade ago I would never have imagined this.
So what’s it all about? You could say I got religion, I suppose. Sometimes that’s what I call it. But our society has such strange ideas about religion. My approach, devoid of supernatural notions, might be seen as secular. Sometimes that label seems safer. I can only report that my experience of life over these last years has been suffused with a sense of wonder, awe, humility and love.
If I had to sum it up, I’d say at the root is the simple idea that I am part of a larger whole. And so are you, Dear Reader. We are all children of the Earth.
Does the Earth constitute a coherent whole, a self-sustaining system, an organism of sorts? I’m still sorting through the science and philosophy on that question. But whatever the exact nature of Gaia — mythical, archetypal, empirical, fantastical — my heart is filled with reverence for Her. I recognize that all my efforts and motivations spring from Her. She is the source of my very essence. I try each day to participate in Her more fully. For this, I am grateful.
FOLC nominated me for the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes program. Now I’m a finalist.
While I’m deeply honored to have gotten this far, I really want to see us win this thing. And that’s a tough challenge. Because I’m competing against some pretty awesome people.
So vote. Sure. That’s the first step.
Then share this link with everyone you can. Use your fancy social media networks or send a good old-fashioned email.
If you know anyone who supports the recovery of New Orleans — anyone who like the idea of a multiuse urban greenway — anyone who likes bicycles and walking — anyone who wants a greener future for our children — please share this with them.
Thanks for your support. And check back here next week for a real update on me and my life.
A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.
And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.
So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.
With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.
- The Autumnal Equinox
- The Day of the Dead & Hallowe’en & Samhain, etc.
- The Winter Solstice
- The Vernal Equinox
- May Day
- The Summer Solstice
- And here we are again
I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.
It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.
But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.
While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.
Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.