Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but the US economy is self-destructing. Considering it was a house of cards built on shifting sands, is it any wonder? I’m just waiting for the full-scale panic to hit. Yesterday the market dropped 700 points, which is the largest drop since the depression. It only takes a very few people to start a panicked, snowballing run to pull their money out. Then look out--things are going to get crazy. Life as we know it will be drastically changed.

The best thing I can be doing is what I’ve been doing--becoming more and more self-sufficient. Next year I’ll grow a bigger garden and maybe get some laying chickens if the landlord allows. My worry is surviving this winter if it all goes to pot. I really need to get a pressure canner and a lot more jars. I don’t have a whole lot from the garden I can can, but I could do a lot of jars of beans and soups. I should be able to root cellar the butternut squash and also makes soup from it. I still need to make some pickled beets and pickled zucchini.

I’ve never had any money in the market, and frankly I don’t believe in it. I know I sound like a crusty, out-of-touch old timer. But at least I’m not stuffing wads of cash under my mattress. For one thing, most publicly-traded companies do not operate ethically--so why would I loan money to fund something I find morally objectionable? The fact that I might eventually profit from their actions would make me just as culpable. Even the so-called “socially responsible” companies are problematic because a lot of what they produce just isn’t necessary and their existence inevitably takes a toll on the environment. Patagonia, the yuppie outdoor gear and clothing company, is just one example.

I don’t believe in retirement accounts. The only retirement account I fund is my health and adaptability. If I maintain my health and I have skills in all areas of self-sufficiency, what more would I possibly need in my retirement years? The only things I need to fund between now and then would be a piece of land, a small shelter and whatever tools and supplies would be necessary to be self-sufficient. None of that requires vast savings or bank financing. As much as possible I want to limit my involvement in national and global economies. A homestead economy is the level of magnitude I’m comfortable with, with some excursions into the local economy.

As far as health goes, I intend to maintain it as best as possible through diet, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, herbal remedies and alternative treatment. As much as possible I will stay away from the medical establishment, since it isn’t concerned with healing anymore, rather it’s only concern is profit.

I read recently that the average 18-65 year old takes eleven different prescription drugs per year, and people over 65 take twenty-eight different prescriptions! Doctors have mainly turned into drug pushers. You would think there might somewhere be a spark of the desire to heal, hiding inside of these so-called physicians, but it must be hidden deeply. Shoving chemical after chemical into a body is not healing! Meanwhile the pharmaceutical companies reap obscene profits while making people sicker, and slickly convincing them they need even more drugs! And in a number of cases the parent company of the pharmaceutical companies also owns agrochemical and industrial chemical companies. So they poison the food, the land and the air and then when we sicken from it all they further poison our bodies with their drugs, all the while reaping unimaginable profits.

I read an article the other day that said that organic food will soon be less expensive than conventionally grown food. With fuel prices only going up and the dollar weakening, plus yields going down in the abused conventional fields--yeah, the day is surely coming. In so many ways we’re reaching our day of reckoning. We will have to make things right again, or we’re just not going to survive.

This massive government bailout worries me because it’s all a sham. It will look like something’s been done, but the same debt exists. We’re not choosing a new paradigm. We’re not examining the whole pretense of financing with money you don’t have. An economy that runs on wishes is a farce. They want to push this bailout so that lenders will loosen their guidelines for loans and credit lines for the little guy, so the economy can keep humming along. In other words letting people buy with only a wish. That’s what caused the problem in first place. People wishing their way into gargantuan palaces. Instead of wishing their way into palaces, they should’ve bought their way into humble shacks.

But let’s pass this measure so we can loosen credit again and let the people make more irresponsible decisions. They want to pass it to regain a sense of normalcy, but that old normalcy was totally dysfunctional and untenable in the first place. They want to protect their political careers and this move will allow the fa├žade of normalcy to reappear hopefully long enough to get them reelected. But it will be temporary. We can put off the day of reckoning, but not for long. Our economy is a total farce. We require a new paradigm.

I hear all of these people worrying that they might lose their entire life savings. And I think, this could be a good thing. It’s only money! So you lose something that was never real in the first place. Once you get over that, you might finally see that human capital and environmental capital are the only real kinds of capital anyway--and if we are good stewards of that capital it’s all any of us need. At least the possibility is here for people to break out of this misbegotten paradigm. The surest way would be to let consequences unfold naturally with the inevitable greater depression that would follow. Am I heartless for wishing a depression on us? What would a depression be but a true reckoning of our wealth? A true reckoning is what we need. The GDP is not the measure of our wealth. It’s not what we’re producing. The measure of our wealth has got to be any profits left after all costs of production have been accounted for. Including environmental costs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All at once I’m encountering a slew of writers who address the importance of place. Here is a great quote I read yesterday by Barry Lopez in Crossing Open Ground:

The second landscape I think of is an exterior one, a kind of projection within a person of a part of the exterior landscape. Relationships in the exterior landscape include those that are named and discernible, such as the nitrogen cycle, or a vertical sequence of Ordovician limestone, and others that are uncodified or ineffable, such as winter light falling on a particular kind of granite, or the effect of humidity on the frequency of a blackpoll warbler’s burst of song. That these relationships have purpose and order, however inscrutable they may seem to us, is a tenet of evolution. Similarly, the speculations, intuitions, and formal ideas we refer to as ‘mind’ are a set of relationships in the interior landscape with purpose and order; some of these are obvious, many impenetrability subtle. The shape and character of these relationships in a person’s thinking, I believe, are deeply influenced by where on this earth one goes, what one touches, the patterns one observes in nature-the intricate history of one’s life in the land, even a life in the city, where wind, the chirping of birds, the line of a falling leaf, are known. These thoughts are arranged, further, according to the thread of one’s moral, intellectual, and spiritual development. The interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes.

And aren’t genes just a codified form of our relationship to the land?

Another thing Lopez wrote about was also interesting. He noted that the brightest children are fascinated by metaphor. This ties together with Edith Cobb’s ideas about genius and landscape--we use metaphor to internalize the land--and also with the idea that geniuses are better able to make novel associations. Associations are practically synonymous with metaphor. (What molecule was it that was intuited by the image or dream of a snake eating its tail--benzene?)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

In one of Paul Shepard’s essays he talks about the research of a woman named Edith Cobb. She believed that the external terrain of childhood forms a model for internal cognitive development.

Perhaps the most remarkable document on childhood in this century is Edith Cobb’s Ecology of Imagination in Childhood. Surveying the lives of geniuses, she noticed a common thread—the return in moments of creative meditation to the place of childhood in imagination or sometimes physically, a trip that helped toward a solution to a problem. The original meaning of the term genius loci referred to a unique sacred power. What was it, Cobb asked, about the original experience that made it useful to the psyche in a recapitulated travel across the juvenile home range; in what sense was it an organizing force?

She concluded that the adult faith and intuition that order permeates the cosmos, that no bit of data or bizarre idea was truly disparate, that searching would be rewarded, extends from the singular imprint of an intensely inhabited space about thirty-five acres at a crucial time of life. Played through, the child’s transit, time and again, locked this literal, objective reality into an unforgettable screen, through which other, novel objects of the mind would be envisioned by the questing adult as though they were details of a landscape. Just as the mnemonist studied for thirty years by A.R. Luria ‘placed’ images for later retrieval along a path in the mind’s eye, at some less conscious level a holding ground is absorbed. The juvenile home range is a tiny universe, whose trees, rabbits, culverts, and fences probably register some kind of metaphorical series whose branching, skittering fleetness, subterranean connecting, and boundary-marking function in relation to a speculative field of half-formed and elusive ideas follows a paradigmatic system of relationships. An anatomical model for this unlikely neural representation of place is seen in the fundus of the eyes of vertebrates, where the colored oil droplets in the cells of the retina, differing according to the frequencies of light in different parts of the visual field, form an eerie landscape that can be seen with an ophthalmoscope. Edith Cobb’s own genius has given us insight into the primordial meaning of coherence as a function of a specific, tangible, ecology, swallowed by the nine-year-old in repeated excursions.

What excites me about this line of thought is the possibility that part of our minds exists outside of us, in the landscape. While it seems that Cobb was saying we build up internal neural networks in childhood that replicate the external environment, to me it almost seems like our neural networks extend out from us into the environment. It is as though the whole earth were brain, or mind. I find it especially interesting that Cobb found geniuses to frequently use landscape as a means of gaining knowledge or insight. They’re tapping into the larger mind we’re all part of. I’ve said before, I believe that tapping into our full human potential means tapping into our larger identities--identities that extend out beyond the boundaries of our skin.

Cobb talked about geniuses who returned to the landscape of their childhood. This implies that they left that land at some point. But what if you stayed put? What might be possible in a lifetime of building up internal and external neural networks? Of enlarging the self, extending more and more deeply into the environment? Until we become rooted in the land once again I don’t think it will be possible to reach our full human potential.

Shepard, in a related essay, mentioned that the classical definition of genius was “the spirit of place”. It’s by tapping into the spirit of place, the larger mind, that we can achieve “personal” genius. All knowledge is out there. None of it is personal. It simply waits to be located. When I’ve said “Place holds potential”, I mean that very literally. There’s a very visceral way I’m sensing that place holds unique knowledge. We become who we are by our unique interactions with the land. We can’t become the same person in a different locale. We don’t gain the same knowledge.

These days the line between nature and nurture have blurred for me. It’s all one seamless experience of responding to nature. I think I can begin to see the next phase of our evolution. Instead of consuming matter in the childish way that we do, we will begin to convert matter into spirit. By knowing the land we will expand Mind and eventually begin to know who we are--Gaia. And once we recognize ourselves to be this entity, Gaia, then maybe we will shed the idea that Gaia is an isolated dot in the universe, and begin to extend our identity and mind out into the cosmos. Eventually we will recognize that we have always been the Mind of God.

But if we can just reach Gaia-Mind, that would be hugely transformative. Our human potential could begin to unfold and it surely wouldn’t be tied to consumption. We would stop trying to make the ego look bigger. Instead we would grow our Mind.

I think we would regain a more fluid way of being and perceiving, as in our primordial days only with deep conscious awareness. The egoic, rational brain which is so clumsy and a hindrance, could recede in importance. Direct experience would again be primary.

I’ve often found the rational brain gets in the way. I hate the fact that I always have maps in my head; always have a name for the place I’m in or the place I’m going. I don’t want a representation of place. It interferes with my ability to know a place. I have enough “past life memories” to remember the older, more fluid and direct way of experiencing. The rational mind, while so important for building consciousness, really dumbs down reality.

Intuitive, fluid, spiritual beings--that’s our destiny if we don’t kill ourselves off first.

I’ve been trying to encourage a more fluid way of being to take hold in me. For one thing, since reading the Temple Grandin book, I’ve been trying not to censor my imagery. I’m becoming aware just how ever-present my imagery is. It is always flashing up, probably in every moment, if I was just aware enough. My “haunting” may just have been me moving into that more fluid way of seeing. There are layers of reality here, always. I want to get a handle on what I’m seeing, why certain imagery wants to be connected with certain thoughts, actions, or places.

One example (I know this sounds bizarre and psychotic but I think there’s legitimate knowledge here): lately when I look in the mirror I see a flash of an image overlaying my reflection. It’s a bird, probably an eagle, but maybe a hawk, with its wings outstretched in flight.

I’ve also had tons of past life images arising as I read and write and think. I see the land before all this manic human destructiveness and development took place and it makes me so said.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My computer crashed yesterday. Is always seems to happen when I’m counting on it most--I need to be able to place these kittens on craigslist. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it yet. I could just order a new power supply, but that doesn’t address the underlying cause of why I keep blowing through power supplies. I could get it really fixed, but I’d have to borrow money to do that. Or I could borrow money to get an inexpensive laptop and worry about getting this computer fix when I have more money. It’s such a nuisance.

The book I couldn’t think of the other day is Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of our Ancestors, by Nicholas Wade. I may need to get my own copy of it at some point, because there’s a lot food for thought in it.

I’m reading several books at once now. One is a small book by the Chickasaw writer, Linda Hogan, called Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. It is written very beautifully. In “All My Relations” she described her participation in a sweat lodge ceremony. The healing comes from reconnecting and becoming one again with all of creation. That’s what all healing really is, isn’t it, becoming whole in the deepest, widest way possible. She says:

We speak. We sing. We swallow water and breathe smoke. By the end of the ceremony, it is as if skin contains land and birds. The places within us have become filled. As inside the enclosure of the lodge, the animals and ancestors move into the human body, into skin and blood. The land merges with us. The stones come to dwell inside the person. Gold rolling hills take up residence, their tall grasses blowing. The red light of canyons is there. The black skies of night that wheel above our heads come to live inside the skull. We who easily grow apart from the world are returned to the great store of life all around us, and there is the deepest sense of being at home here in this intimate kinship. There is no real aloneness. There is solitude and the nurturing silence that is relationship with ourselves, but even then we are part of something larger.

In another essay, “A Different Yield” she says, “In American Indian traditions, healers are often called interpreters because they are the ones who are able to hear the world and pass its wisdom along. They are the ones who return to the heart of creation.”

Also in the same essay she writes about myth:

An essential part of myth is that it allows for our return to the creation, to a mythic time. It allows us to hear the world new again. Octavio Paz has written that in older oral traditions an object and its name were not separated. One equaled the other. To speak of corn, for instance, was to place the corn before a person’s very eyes and ears. It was in mythic time that there was no abyss between the word and the thing it named, but he adds that ‘as soon as man acquired consciousness of himself, he broke away from the natural world and made himself another world inside himself.’

I find it interesting that Paz implies that language came first, then came consciousness. My rational brain would think just the opposite: a conscious being would begin naming things, creating more separation, inserting words and symbols between itself and direct experience. But I think I can intuit it his way, especially when I think about the myths that say that the first languages were song. Fused with the natural world, singing an object would fuse you with it momentarily, you would take up its identity and comprehend it in its totality. A completely different concept than what we call “language comprehension” today. It was a way of feeling different energies, attuning to different natures. Perhaps beginning to feel discreteness through song, using language as another sense, we began for the first time to grasp our own discreteness.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Now that Collin’s back in school and I’m able to get the library again, I’m back in the groove of devouring books. I read a fascinating book on human evolution (the title is eluding me at the moment). Since the sequencing of the human genome was completed five years ago they’re gaining all sorts of fascinating corroboration for such things as when we first left Africa, how many of us left (maybe just a single tribe of about 150),where we went from there, who various modern cultures descend from, when various groups split off from one another, and on and on. I loved that the book wasn’t afraid to imply there are racial differences even in such hot button issues as intelligence. Jews, for instance, are statistically more intelligent. The author believes this can likely be attributed to the fact that for 800 years in Europe Jews were forbidden from participating in certain occupations, such as agriculture, and largely worked in finance and trade. This required higher-level mental functioning and so they eventually evolved higher IQ’s. The author’s point was that evolution is ongoing in humans and happens with relative speed and results from our interactions with the unique environment we find ourselves in.

I’m starting another book, Traces of an Omnivore, by Paul Shepard. I read his book The Others not too long ago. I’ve just been skimming through this one a bit and found some interesting parts about the importance of place. I may have to do some deeper digging into his writings. According to the guy who wrote the intro, most of Paul Shepard’s works are out of print. (Why is it that these writers whose ideas feel so pertinent to me are always out of print?) Nobody talks about the importance of place these days.

I’ll write more about this over the weekend. It’s all stirring up a lot of thoughts, but I’ll be better able to write and reflect on it from home (I’m in a parking lot at the moment).