A Brief Encounter

Running in Circles

In the Olympic National Forest, I awoke at dawn before my campmates to sneak in a run along the Hoh River. Cool air lay heavy and damp and thick upon the forest. The light was dim, but growing with every passing minute. I was minding my own breath with each stride on the soft trail when I heard a rumble to my right, growing in intensity. I looked up startled, and behold! A herd of Roosevelt Elk – the largest of its kind – were galloping in tangent with me.

I was so engulfed by the immensity of their sudden presence which so starkly matched my own present circumstance of running in the lush forest, that I reacted with a kind of glorious grace and raced to join the herd in a kind of mania that only a lonesome human desiring to be of nature could accentuate with such prominence. I found myself diverging off the human trail and smashing through the forest right alongside the massive elk. No longer focused on my own breathing, I turned and glanced out my peripherals, as much as a hominid can, to see the plumes of breath in the cold morning shoot out from what looked to be over thirty individual snouts. The sounds of the forest birds seized, and the rolling and rushing of the nearby Hoh river were drowned out by their rhythmic stampeding.

I felt pulled along, swept away from my mere human existence, pushed into the profundity of life, freed from the confinements of my ever-encroaching thoughts. I was truly a man among giants. Alas, I could not keep up any longer with the powerful creatures. My heart felt as if it were to leap out through my throat. I couldnʻt tell if from exhaustion or pure passion to join the herd forever. I slowed to a stop and watched the giant elk disappear into the depths of the forest.

Breathing wildly, I turned around and slowly jogged towards the sound of the river, finding my way back to the peaceful and unbeknownst humans, who still lay cocooned in their tents dreaming of fantastical encounters with the magical unknown…

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Breath of the Hill

Hawaiʻi

A Personal Essay on Hawaii

In the winter of 2010, I traveled to Hawai’i with a school program, having never been before. During the time, I had no idea how this experience would impact my life. I now live here and consider it home. This place has shaped me profoundly, and I have discovered much not only about myself but also about us humans struggling to maintain our sense of place and identity in a globally charged world. Below is an essay I wrote upon my return to college in Washington after my short but profound time in Hawai’i. I like to return to it from time to time during transitions in my life as a reminder of where I have come from since then. In short, this is the purpose of telling stories; to remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we are heading.

BREATH OF THE HILL

Hapu'u

Kipuka

          Hapu’u. Tree Fern. This was the name given to me. I liked the idea of being a tree fern, unraveling fronds towering over human heads, growing upwards steadily towards the canopy, towards light, the soft furry pulu shedding off of me, glistening a golden orange-brown through the crack of shade in this dense Ohia Lehua forest, with their bright red flowers shooting out like fireworks frozen in mid-burst. The canopy is full of sounds; a biophony. I am standing in the middle of a kipuka, this particular one is called Puaulu, a small patch of forest that stands isolated in the middle of an old frozen lava flow. It is an island of sorts, somehow untouched during the eruption that covered this side of Hawaii with molten smooth rock, pahoehoe, like syrup over pancakes.

The air is thick with mist. The sounds of birds resonate through the kipuka in a mysterious way. I am focused on a Hapu’u standing tall in front of me, trying to notice its detail. The large fronds radiate out from its thick stump creating an understory of canopy. Some of the fronds have snapped and point downwards making the tree fern into an hourglass shape…

            January 06th, 2010

            The ferns are a rusty color at the base, with a furry texture covering it. The rainforest consists mostly of these tree ferns. The Ohia Lehua trees form and enclose the canopy. Some of the trees release a hanging reddish-brown collection of aerial roots, a defense mechanism that is activated if the tree is somehow damaged. Ohia refers to the tree, lehua to the blossoms; bright red flowers, small buds, maturing into hard woody capsules.

I take out my tiny sketchbook and make an attempt at drawing this giant fern. It is the first time I’ve seen one. They are everywhere, dominating the mid-canopy, shading, protecting.

Today is full of first times. I am marveling at it all. The group is far ahead of me on the trail. I stop every step, noticing a new plant foreign and unfamiliar to me, beautiful to me. Everything is so different here. There are large cavities in the ground where the soil collapsed because of an absence of support beneath the old lava rock. The land here is not very stable. It is not so old as it is periodically covered with lava, as the island swells and grows, and erupts. My skin begins to breathe, sweating, opening up to the humidity. Rain falls softly and shyly.  A pheasant comes bursting out of the brush and over my head, a great flash of blue and black. The size of the canopy and many birds residing in this Kipuka means that this forest is very old. I think about what it must have been like before the latest lava came barreling down out of one of the volcanic shafts that connects to the deep magma chamber. Hawaii is but 0.6 million years old, making it the newest land formation on the earth. In fact, some might say that it is still 0 years old since the land is actually still forming, fed by a hot spot deep in the mantle layer. Inevitably, someday, this kipuka will come crashing down, only to rise up again.

Yesterday I landed by plane 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. I am standing in an island within an island, isolated by lava that is isolated by a great ocean. I take a deep breath in and look up at all the life existing in the canopy. I walk out to the edge of the Kipuka and the frozen lava flow. Standing between these two worlds I begin to contemplate the balances of life. All this life somehow made it to the most isolated place on the planet, all this life finding ways into every corner of the earth.

I look down at my hands and examine the grooves sketched in my palm. I focus my eyes at the cracks in my skin. I wonder who I am. I wonder how life came to together to create me. Was I once just a mere bare rock that emerged from the ocean, born into the turbulent exposure of the world, growing and filling with life?

 

Tuesday, January 9th, 2010

            It was the most pretty and mystical walk yet, with the sound of hundreds of birds chirping, the giant Acacia Koa and Ohia trees, some of which are joined together near the base of the trunk forming wild structures. The most mystical aspect of it all was the Ki plants that sprout up tall, then bloom long glossy leaves that are used in a variety of ceremonial ways. The ki plant was introduced by ancient Polynesians and is part of the lily family. It is considered sacred to the Hawaiian god Lono, and to the goddess of hula and the forest, Laka. It was used by the kahuna priests in their ceremonial rituals as protection to ward off evil spirits and to call in good.

Hapu’u means ‘breath of the hill’. The young hapu’u grows upward until it is too heavy to support itself, at which point it cracks, splits, and falls over. New roots spring from the fallen trunk, and again it grows towards the sun. Again gravity pulls it back to the ground, and so on… this cycle continues, like long slow breathing. I came to Hawaii to reach out towards the sun, to feel alive, to get away from the confusion I faced daily back at home, and school. I arrived at the program silent and shy, raveled up like the new fronds of a fern, hidden from the other members of the program. As Americanized as this Island has become, Hawaii felt foreign to me, and very magical.

Pele

Monday, January 8th, 2012

              I watched the sun rise above the Kilauea caldera. I watched it shine through geological vents, pouring vapor out along the bluffs, dissipating over the rim of the caldera that rises above the desolate crater floor. Within the caldera is the Halemaumau crater, home of the passionate goddess of fire, Pele, she-who-shapes-the-sacred-land, as her name is described in ancient Hawaiian chants. I am sitting perched at the site where Pele’s brother, Kamohoali’i, god of the shark, is meant to live. Pele gave him this cliff, Palikapuokamohoali’i, for helping Pele navigate to the island of Hawaii from Tahiti. It is said that she gifted him with this side of the caldera because no smoke or fumes ever blow in this direction. It was a beautiful sight, and is embedded in my mind.

           

I picture myself as the shark god, looking down below into the crater where my sister Pele lives. I imagine the rain pouring down Mauna Loa, seeping into the ground, down towards the lava, towards Pele where her fiery passion vaporizes and steams through the cracked vents, bellowing out over my head, over the rim of the giant caldera, and fainting with the rising sun. I see myself as part of this story, the story of Hawai’i. I imagine myself as part of the land and wonder how I can feel so at home when I am thousands of miles away from all those I’ve ever known and ever loved. I did not want to return there. I wanted to be a part of this place, here, so active and alive with myth.

I return down the slope from the rim of the caldera to our campsite. Everyone is just getting up, slowly emerging from their tents, standing, stretching – taking in the new day. There is a slight smell of sulfur dioxide in the air. Pele’s wavering temper lingers in my mind. I think about what the volcanologists we visited the other day who told us about the volcano’s continuously erupting activity – how they don’t know exactly what caused the inflating and deflating of the magma through the vents. There are only some possible theories conjured about the swelling and increased pressure in the magma chamber, but no one knows for sure. As the sulfur smell floods my nostrils, I smile with a wild yet comforting thought that it is, of course, Pele who is causing all of the eruptions.

Keauhou trail to Halape

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

            The ground began to even out. We were surrounded by tall grass, an ecosystem we had not yet been to, but beautiful nonetheless. The thick fields of grass made everything look golden, and their pink tops created a colorful scene, dancing through the light as the wind swooped through. Suddenly, I became overwhelmed. My eyes swelled up with tears as I closed their lids, feeling the wind push against my body, against all that surrounds me. At that moment, I felt very close to the land. I felt a part of it. I understand how we are born from the soil, and die into the soil. We all come from the same energy, Earth. It is very overpowering. I have been so calm and relaxed, so peaceful and balanced, so soft and real, comfortable and clean. But I do not understand how I felt at that moment amongst the grass. It felt like a great sadness pressing down on me. How I wish times were different. How I wish I could change the world. Sometimes I think I can feel it dying. I wonder how many of my tears cry for this. How many for happiness and beauty? How many for sadness?

            Just now I saw a whale emerge, startling me, as I looked out at the ocean. It was far away in the distance. I could only see debris shooting out of its blowhole. I focused on the Whale as it slipped beneath the blue, silently disappearing.  The whale reminded me to stay focused on what’s left, and not to dwell in the absence of life, on the surface of how things appear. There is still an abundance, I just have to seek it out, believe in what’s left.

           

            We started out on an old frozen lava flow that stretches down the side of the biggest and newest formed island, the Big Island, comprised of five separate volcanoes, at least one still active and growing. The terrain gradually changes into thicker vegetation as we head laterally off the recent frozen lava and onto an older surface. The rock transforms from a dull charcoal color into a reddish-orange as it has had more time to oxidize in the exposed air. Many plants have made their home here, even without much fertile ground. We continue on across the frozen lava and into fields of long grass that lead us down rocky slopes eventually out to the ocean. The landscape is starting to change with our decent. The climate is fairly dry on the leeward side. Hills rise to the northwest of us, and to the south they fall down to the coast. We arrive at a lookout and can see for miles along the fall line. The beauty and expanse of the blue horizon envelops my peripherals, the water meeting the coast in deep, crashing waves. Things in the distant always look like they are moving in slow motion. To the east I can see the recent lava flow we traversed earlier slope down over a drop-off, then gradually traveling all the way to the coast and into the ocean. I stop to look out. As I graze across this landscape, something begins filling up inside of me, up to the brim of my eyes, ready to burst out. I feel compelled to be in solitude.

The group stops for a break. I unlatch my backpack’s buckles, put it down and head over the next hill, out of sight. I am tense; my breathing is fast, my skin is prickly. The corners of my mouth begin to tremble. I start to cry. I am lost and confused. This is my first backpacking trip. I sit down and hug my knees, allowing the tears to flow. I gaze up and scan the scenery around me, distorted with tears. I sense the calmness flowing around me. My breathing slows. There is a certain silence that exists here. I notice only the noise of wind darting across the sky and blowing through the grass, which rattles and sway together. I cannot even hear the rest of the group back at the trail, but I imagine them sitting there, munching on peanut butter-filled tortillas, laughing and breathing, taking in the warm air. I feel distant from them, disconnected. Why do I sit here away from the rest, alone? Why am I filled with emotions? What has gotten into me? I wipe the tears from my face, gather my wits and walk back to the group. Is it this place I have come to that is bringing about such challenging emotions, or is it where I come from?

 

January 5th, 2010

            I feel like I am in a dream. I don’t know if it is because I went from a dark Seattle winter to a Hawaii warm-weather climate, or just being thrown into a completely different world altogether. Maybe it is because I am with all new faces. In a dream, I often feel unsettled. Nothing is ever quite right in a dream. This is how I feel now.

            But, I also feel good. I have been unusually calm since arriving. I have also been quiet, not too social. I wonder if this is just my shyness. I don’t seem to have anything to say. For now, I will just listen.

            Tonight and for the next two nights we are staying out on the water. We arrived at night and I can only hear the sound of the waves rolling in and out. It is very relaxing and I welcome it. It makes me feel at ease, at home. I can’t wait to wake up and see the ocean…

            Tonight, I see stars, thousands upon thousands. I will spend every last waking minute staring up. I have never seen so many starts. I have never missed something so much…

The next day I wake up early and split from the group, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing most mornings, but this morning is different. It is the first time I have ever meditated. It is the first time I have sat in a single place, by myself for more than a few minutes. I find a mound of A’a, a type of lava flow that rolls, spews and sputters, freezing into large clumps. I look out onto the horizon and concentrate on nothing, but everything at the same time. I feel powerful, meaningful, significant, and humble. It feels as if the island is revealing itself to me. I sense its aliveness, from the tiny critters crawling beneath my feet and buzzing in my ears, to the cloud of gases spewing out of the land. I watch the sunrise, I hear the rhythmic waves, I feel the wind envelop me, and I taste the world. I feel free of the constraints of my body; hovering. I find myself amidst it all- experiencing something I don’t believe I have in a long time…I feel…alive

The fronds of my Hapu’u begin unraveling as the sun climbs higher into the sky. My breath is deep and with each exhale I grow taller. I exhale so tremendously that the weight and height of my branches can no longer stand on their own. I fall, crashing to the ground. The waves breathe in again, and through the soft pulu of my Hapu’u stump, new fronds appear, coiled tight, starting the cycle all over again. This moment of solitude early in the morning is something I’ve never had before. It is a gift, and I cherish it each day. I either get up and run or find a spot to my calling and sit until I grow tired, returning to the group who are always there to greet me with that sort of calm energy that Hawai’i exudes.


Petroglyhps

Petroglyphs

            Our group went to see the ancient petroglyphs left behind by long lineages of Polynesians. We meander around the rocks on raised platforms, finding many ringed shapes carved into the frozen lava. Usually, a column or row of these rings can be found, all in a line, each about the same ratio between the inner and outer circle that make up the ring. The rings represent the belly-button, a symbol of birth, fertility, and family. Each line of belly-buttons is the lineage of a family and are unique in their carving, distinguished from one family to the next. Some stretch many generations back, and others continue to be added to this day, carving new rings for each new generation. The petroglyphs are located a great distance away from any ancient human settlement. It is a sacred place, a recording of existence, a story of humans rooted in the rock.

Staring down at the donut-shaped carvings, I start to miss home, at least, the idea of home. I start to feel lonely. Where are my roots? Where do my people reside? How are we a part of the land, a part of this universe? I count the rings, one, two, three…ten…twenty…fifty…one hundred…they go on and on. I squeeze my eyes shut. I want to so badly carve my own belly-button into the rock. I want to be part of this lineage. I feel the hot sun bearing down on my exposed neck, making me sweat. I grow hot, unnerved. I want to yell out, scream at the world with such fiery passion, like Pele exploding out of the crater, erupting with volatile anger. I want to split into a million parts and float out with the wind and circle the globe until I settle into every corner of the world. All this life, in every corner of the earth. Where do I fit in?

The Inversion Layer

Mauna Kea

Mauna means mountain. Mauna Kea is the sacred mountain of Hawaii, the summit at an impressive 13,796 feet. Mauna Kea translates as White Mountain, also known as the mountain of Wakea. There is an ancient saying, Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha’o I ka maile, ‘the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm’. It comes from how the mountain’s summit rests above the cloud inversion line, and is one of the reasons it is such a  good site for the science of astronomy, the other reason being it is surrounded on all sides by water, so there is virtually no light pollution. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measured from its base down at the ocean floor. It last erupted 4,500 years ago and is long dormant.

We waited until the sun went down to view the awesome array of stars above. Every star seen with the naked eye is part of our galaxy, except for the Pleiades constellation, which consists of a cluster of stars from the Andromeda galaxy. The Hawaiians have their own name for Pleiades, Makali’I.

I watched Jupiter set, and Mars rise. I watched one of the arms of our galaxy, the Milky Way, stretching across the entire sky in a wavy length containing an estimate of 1 trillion stars. There are so many that you cannot see them individually.

January 11th, 2010

   The vegetation on Mauna Kea is extremely sparse, a characteristic of a montane desert climate. Dry air, windy weather, and variable temperatures make if difficult for plants to thrive and are why so few are found here. A now rare, but highly special plant of Mauna Kea, the endemic Silversword, glistens with so much silver it looks as if spray-painted. When cattle and sheep ran free, as they did in the early 1900’s, these plants were particularly tasty to them, and soon the plant became endangered. It was thought to have gone extinct until a few were discovered growing on the edge of a cliff, where no sheep or cattle could reach.

   The summit of Mauna Kea is an Alpine-Tundra climatic region, consisting of only moss, lichen, grass, and ferns. Very little fauna can be found. The only insect found to be living at the summit is the Wakiu, because of an anti-freeze chemical it produces. This highly specialized bug is a perfect example of species adaptation. The bug flies around finding dead frozen insects that were unlucky enough to be caught in winds sweeping them up to the frozen summit. The only native land mammal of the Hawaiian Islands is located up on Mauna Kea: The Hori bat. Other animals of flight in this area are the Nene goose, which has evolved to have shorter wings and lesser-webbed feet in order to better suit their new environment on the Island. Obviously, they do not migrate, but have been hybridizing with introduced species of goose. A full breed Nene is a rare sighting. 

   The mountain itself is a sacred and holy place for the Polynesians, and only high priest have ventured to the peak, too sacred for any other class to be. The lake Wa’le on Mauna Kea is thought to have healing powers as is used often for medicinal purposes. Many believed the lake was bottomless because the water is able to collect instead of drain away through porous volcanic rock, but actually, the floor is made of clay. The lake is colored a solid green from the amount of algae growing in it.

We travel up along the saddle in between the broad active volcano of Mauna Loa, and the steep dormant volcano of Mauna Kea. The van barely makes it up the road to the visitor center on Mauna Kea. We are ascending up towards a sacred place. After reading about all of the social, cultural, and political conflicts that still occur today concerning the volcano, I feel wary about approaching. Not only am I not a priest, but I also am not Hawaiian at all. This volcano is a site where very few people were allowed. Now it is littered with tourists and scientists alike, disturbing this holy peak. It does not seem right for me to hurl myself up the side of this mountain. I feel unwelcomed.

The visitor center is only at 9,000 feet, the peak at nearly 14,000 feet. The van cannot make the rest of the climb, which I am somewhat grateful for. I already feel like a disturbance of some force or deity. The air is thin and cool. We are sitting at just about the inversion line, a layer of clouds suspended just below us. It feels like we are floating on top of them. If I strain my eyes just right, I can see the vast blue of the ocean, thousands of feet below.

While we wait for nightfall, I spend my time meandering on nearby trails, observing the vegetation, what little of it there is. There is a small garden close by dedicated to restoring the Silversword plant populations, āhinahina,, a relative of the pineapple. Their silver color is an adaptation to their cold environment. The silver coloring are tiny shiny hairs covering the leaves, which are parabolic-shaped focusing the warm sun rays on to the plant’s growing point, raising the temperature of that point by 40 degrees. It is the same concept of a reflector or solar oven.  Silverswords live for about 10 to 50 years as a low, round bush. At the end of their life, they send up a flowering stalk that can grow over 6 feet tall within a few weeks and produce up to 600 flower heads. It reminds me of the Great Pacific Octopus, which only lays eggs once, near death, thousands of them at once. She spends the last moments of her life guarding her eggs, keeping them hidden and safe. With a single death, comes a multitude of life.

Looking around, I take in the emptiness of vegetation, the scattered life that exists on this barren mountain. It seems that I am not the only one unwelcomed, for there are few who have actually been able to colonize this harsh environment and make a life of their own. The miraculous ability to adapt; to not only survive in places with little to no nutrients, oxygen and violent exposures of the sun, wind and bitter coldness, but to thrive in this environment. I decide that I am not welcomed so long as I do not belong. Everything begins from somewhere else, and only those who find a way to survive and live in balance with their environment become a part of their environment. I stare back down at the Silversword and ponder what it means to be native. Where am I native to? What specialized adaptations have I evolved to have? If this mountain is thought to be sacred, are the plants and animals that live on it sacred as well? Perhaps there is some place where I will settle and become sacred myself.


Waimanu Valley-1049

Waimanu Valley

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

            If you look down and focus on the ground where your stability lays, you can feel the whole earth shake and tremble, as it does, through age. I have grown for twenty rotations around the sun. My heart has beat in rhythmic cycles all the while. Small, rhythmic trembles, beating through age.

Last night it rained a good amount. I awoke to the sound of the river raging into the sea, crashing against huge waves. A violent battle of fresh and salt-water forces. The river’s width increased dramatically since the night before, and the speed at which the water flowed was menacing. I stood in awe, trapped on the beach, merciful and powerless. This tremendous force blocked our only way back out of the valley. I looked out where the river met the ocean imagining sharks stationed with their mouths wide open, waiting for fish and other critters as they helplessly poured in from the rushing river. I looked back into the valley to see new waterfalls appear that weren’t visible before. The amount of water coming down from the top of this valley, Waimanu, was unbelievable. How could it rain so much? It was a mesmerizing site watching new falls form slowly and subtly in the distance. 

This is the force that carved the valley into what it is now. A valley, which was used by Polynesians to nourish the growth of Taro, a staple food, which many subsisted off of and ensured food of plenty, even during terrible droughts and times of war and famine. It is a valley where people now come to live to get away from the modern human constructs of the world. It is a place of refuge, and serenity. It is a valley of time, ever-changing where all creatures may find food and stability. Yet it floods with tremendous volumes of water, carving, shaping, and changing the landscape. I look down at my feet, where the roots of my Hapu’u are buried deep into the ground, stable and grounded. I feel the whole earth shake and tremble, changing, as it should through age.

In a few days, I will return home, far away from this chain of islands. I will remember how rooted I felt in the stories of Hawaii, like the carved belly-buttons, how stable and healthy I felt waking up each day with slow and purposeful intention. I will always remember how I grew and fell, grew and fell like the waves, and the Hapu’u tree ferns. I will remember how I changed, like the Waimanu valley, carving deeper and deeper into the wholeness of this earth. We all come from somewhere, and I have learned through my passage through Hawaii, that only when I stop and listen to the stories being told around me, may I find home.

 

 

Ecopsychology Project

Life is a Game: The Practice of Non-attachment.

Philosophy and Opinion

There are many attitudes on life we can adapt that will ultimately dictate how we go about living our individual lives. These attitudes are essentially what we choose to focus on in the perception of our experiences. This is where philosophy plays a critical role in the task of bringing peace and balance into a society; that which provides order to a people.

The attitude of life is a game is a philosophical metaphor  we have all heard. It has many ways of being interpreted. One of the most common interpretations of this attitude is don’t take life so seriously. Another well-known interpretation is  you’re dealt a hand in life, how are you going to play it? 

Many of these thoughts on life are an attempt to reduce the suffering one experiences through their own interpretation on life. Essentially, life is a game is yet another way of explaining the practice of the non-attachment relationship with life.

So then why is life just but a game? And what does it have to do with non-attachment?

You’re just joining your friends for an evening of board games. It’s a game you all enjoy, and have played often together. You know it well, and have learned your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a bit of strategic game, but like all games chance is involved. You all sit down to play the game. There are some ups and downs throughout the game for you and everyone else. Some players seem to be doing better than others. You get bummed when all your resources are taken, you celebrate when you gain another point. You feel a pang of disappointment when you don’t win, but it soon fades as the game ends and you all transition your evening into the next thing. Those who did well feel a bit more elated than when they began, and those who played poorly feel a certain sadness, but by the end everyone has completely moved on, focused on whatever is happening in the following moments life has to offer.

It’s a cold morning, the coldest of the year, but you’re excited. This Sunday your home football team is playing their rivals in your hometown. And you have tickets. You’re whole day is dedicated to the game. You get to the stadium hours early, all bundled up in your team’s colors. There are thousands of other slowly trickling in, all feeling charged up. The game does not disappoint. It is an especially good game because the teams go back and forth in taking the lead. You’re team doesn’t win, but they played their hearts out, and you love them for that. The day is ending, and its time to get home to your family for a nice warm dinner. The day’s excitement is still buzzing in your head as you drift to sleep, and perhaps it carries into the next day at work. But over time it fades. Just another game.

To practice non-attachment is not to rid your life of desires, hopes, and dreams. It is in no way to live out a life of isolation from reality. Nor is it freedom from pain or some nirvana state. But it is to recognize that everything will eventually find its end, and much of the suffering we endure in life is the inability to move on from our attachment to something that once was but no longer exists.

There was a time when humans lived closer to nature, and our constant understanding of reality was based solely upon the principles of the nature around us. It was a continual change of conditions, a highly temporal world as people’s very survival was contingent on their understandings of these changes and learning how to adapt. Quite naturally, the practice of non-attachment was an essential part of life. If you stayed attached, got too used to one way of living, you would surely die.

Today within the context of what we know as modern society, human populations live far more separated from nature and thus more embedded in a human cultural environment. These modern cultural environments exist in a state that is of great contrast to that of the natural world. Structurally, they are rigid and engineered with a permanence design. This kind of societal infrastructure consequently bleeds into the minds of those who dwell in such environments, i.e. probably anyone reading this blog today, and ultimately as it stains our perception of reality, we then internalize this and project it outwards, as it shapes our very identity, our behavior, and our actions.

It is ironic how through the modernizing of humanity the vast majority of us have come to believe we are closer than ever to living out practical and realistic lives, which in some cases is true, but this truth is almost entirely contained within a human construct. As in, we primarily receive information about the world through a secondary source – from other humans. We entrust the vast majority of our how we “see” the world to other human beings. This practice is just fine, so long as we are aware of this, that most of the information we know about our worl could very well be untrue.

This is the principle of non-attachment. It begins with not attaching to the information you are being fed day in and day out when you wake up, conscious, absorbing and accessing the world surrounding you. It begins with not attaching to your thoughts and ideas, these highly malleable and brief moments that wisps through your mind. It’s the freedom of being skeptical; something that the philosophy of science has made it’s foundation upon. The ending principle of the non-attachment way of life is to release yourself from the attachment to your own life, and sometimes even more importantly, to the lives of others.

This is no easy task. We have been programmed, as I said earlier, to attach ourselves to the physical and non-physical; to the material and the emotional realms of existence. It is intrinsic in the design of our society: that which governs our behavior. But to break free of the chain of attachment living is to free yourself from the draining burden of being stuck in a single state of being: the underlining product of attachment.

On either ends of this spectrum it can look like two contrasting extremes. On one end it is the perpetuating craving of a kind of manic state of being, in which you are constantly seeking stimulants to feed your addiction to achieve an elated state. The other end is that of depression, isolation, grief, and ultimately pain. Much, if not all sickness and disease come from the energetic being getting lodged into one extreme or the other, or, in another extreme, rapidly oscillate between a depressive state and manic: what we have come to know as Manic-depression or in some special cases, Bipolar.

When we begin to see life as a game, it is not to see life as any less real, it is in fact to see life for what it is. It is to take something that we have ironically labeled as “unreal”, a game, and project it onto our reality. When you can agree within yourself, changing the programming of your inner representation of reality, that life is just a game, then you will begin to sense within yourself a lightness. That feeling is the flowing movement of energy that you allow to move freely, for you have begun to remove the blockades, the “attachments” to one belief or another.

But the difficult task here is not creating that change of existence for yourself. That actually comes quite naturally when put into effect. It is the “believing” part that is the daunting task. You have to believe for yourself that content and freedom are states of being that do exist. So how do you unlearn what you have learned? How do you tell yourself to stop believing the ways of attachment, and start believing in the ways of non-attachment? Because I can tell you that right off the bat, you won’t want to believe what I’m saying.

And that’s a good thing, for you should be skeptical of anything and everything that you are told, that is a practice of non-attachment! But you also need to learn how to listen, so you can discern, and make truly free choices based on your ability to listen and discern the information you are receiving from the seemingly endless sources and resources available to you in this modern human world.

But let’s get back to this idea of life as a game, because I believe it is within this metaphor you may find some assurance, something that deep down inside you relate to, that you agreed with way before human society began to take its toll on the domestication of your being.

To return to truth, we must return to the beginnings of life.

Childhood. Play. Games have always existed inherently within us. We learn about ourselves, our world, and our place in it, through exploration and play. We observe the world around us, and our parents or guardians provide a safe-feeling space for us to play out what we observed, as well as provide a safe environment for us to reach outside of our comfort-zone and grow int0 our full potential – just like a well nurtured plant.

It is all too easy to forget the blissful state of a child raised in a safe, loving, environment. But it is not to say that these children are without emotional ups and downs. A child goes through an entanglement of emotions from screaming and kicking and what looks like absolute terror, to laughter and euphoria, all in a single day, sometimes even in a single moment. These children are not sick with manic-depressive behavior, they are merely not attaching to one form of being or the other, they are dancing through life as their operative selves were natural designed to do. Parent’s of these children often perceive this behavior as a kind of wildness, laughing off jokes about their child being a menace or little beast. And these parents I would argue aren’t too far from the truth, when calling their children such names. They are wild, they are beasts. But the understanding and interpretation behind these labels can go one of two ways – if told directly to the children with a negative connotation, as a form of putting down, it will steer the children away from such behavior, domesticating the child into a series of behavioral patterns which leads to attachment, for a children learns from the parents that their wildness, their playfulness, is not the correct way to act, and thus separates play from life. 

This is a from of growing up all too common in our educational system during middle childhood: the developmental ages of around 6 to 11 year olds. It’s not to say that a structured environment where a child learns discipline is not of value, on the contrary, it is about under-valuing the role of play in the early developmental stages of our younglings.

When we grow older and learn that there is a time to play, and a time not to play, we believe we are learning when certain behavior is acceptable, and when it is not, which is true, we are learning this. But how we are applying it to the greater aspects of life is  where I believe there are dire consequences that lead to a kind of collective dependency on attachment relationships, fear of loss/death, and thus an internal suffering.

When a loved one dies, there will be grief involved. When your partner breaks up with you, you will feel grief, and possibly anger. When you lose your job, or you’ve been unemployed for months and you begin to view yourself as unworthy, you are participating in the very self-destructive practice of attachment.

For all of us, we must go through life feeling the hardships and the loss, as well as the ease and joy and gains. These events in life are a natural process for the living. Death and birth, abundance and scarcity exist continuously throughout. When we accept this as natural, unavoidable, we can then open ourselves to the full process of living, and find bliss within every state of being, for bliss is the experience of life coursing through us.

As Master Qui-Gon Jim once said, “Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts. Your focus determines your reality.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday: I Was Raised an Atheist (but grew up Christian).

Opinion, Running in Circles

We went to church a handful of times. I recall the the usual holiday traditions involving scattered visits to that indoor space where organs blare holy tunes and voices echo in chambered ceilings. I remember talks of Jesus, palms and candles, crackers and grape juice, a book of hymns, and always that man standing in front speaking about god knows what.

But I had no relation with God. Or Jesus. I never read the Bible. My mother never shoved verses down my throat.Sometimes there was chocolate involved usually around the same time as my birthday in April. Church didn’t make sense to me, but then again at the age of 5 there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t make sense yet. It’s all new, and you’re sort of just going along with it.
I was okay with it. I was a polite kid, I knew my manners. I knew how to behave well and  behaving well pleased my Mom, and there was nothing better in the world than pleasing Mom. I guess she was my God. But why did she take us to church 2 or 3 times a year if we weren’t Christian? It was like we were vicarious spectators of christians. Traditions die hard. All of us want a sense of our past, something to anchor us during hard, tumultuous times. Maybe it reminded her of her childhood. Maybe she felt connected to her deceased parents. Maybe she secretly believed in God. Maybe she just liked the peaceful atmosphere. I’d like to think it was because she was deficient in spirit and christian churches were the only spiritual supplements she knew of.

I was raised Atheist, but I’m missing that flab of skin on the tip of my penis. Old traditions die hard. I can remember in the 1st grade at school peeing in one of those elongated sink urinals and my friend was peeing right along side me. I looked over and saw his penis. It looked totally different than mine. I  thought after that penis’s were different on everyone. I had one kind, he had another. I don’t remember when I asked my parents about this, or when I found out about circumcision, but whatever I was told was explained as a hygienic thing; it was a convenience my mom or dad or whoever decided so I didn’t have to worry about infection. It wasn’t until much later I learned about the religious rite behind the practice, and then it wasn’t until maybe a year ago I first heard about psychological trauma instilled by cutting off the foreskin of an infant’s penis. Religious acts often justify violent acts.

Old traditions die hard. The effects of religious doctrine created over a thousand years ago is now inherent in our moral codes and beliefs today, no matter what your affiliation with the church is. These moral codes we live by today aren’t our own free thoughts. It’s programmed, passed down generation after generation. The semitic doctrine has had a hold on western societies for over an era and a half, and in recent history spread like wildfire through colonial missionaries. It’s a human program. And I’ve been trying to free myself from this program, and I’m discovering just how incredibly deep the program runs, and how bloody hard it is to rip it out. We see it in our politics, our government, the way we sacrifice our personality to the appeasement and conformity of education standards or servitude in employment. Our very patriarchal-structured society is none less than the works of religious teachings. Even our science has a somewhat christian agenda; the idea that we are outsiders; objective observers of nature separate from it just as god is somewhere separate from us in his own all-powerful realm looking down on his experimental creations.

Programs aren’t evil. They’re not bad. Without them, there would be no organization in life, and organization is key to the cooperation between life forms so that we may all life. There is a code between the deer and the wolves and beavers and rivers and the mice and the trees and the microbes. Programs are important and vital. It’s what ecology is; that in which life participates with one another.

The people of a culture, as Joseph campbell puts it, “gets their messages from their priests and visionaries and the priest and visionaries may manipulate the myths to their own political advantage.” When our program is manipulated by those in power for their own self-interest, well then we have evil.  And with evil comes pathology. And currently we live under two pathologies instituted by our very own religious predecessors – the first being that we are to direct and control nature instead of placing ourselves in accord with nature and – the second being the political interpretation of myths to the advantage of one group within a society, or one society within a group of nations.

Here I am, 25 years old, feeling that myself and nearly every person around is me living a lonely and unfulfilling life because we might just be living a pathological lie, that is, we are being guided by a deeply engrained program in our behavioral thought patterns of our psyche that says: “worry about yourself and the self-interest of your group and seek to control and manipulate your life by controlling and manipulating all aspects of life around you.”

I’ve got my own issues. We all have our own issues. But it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve even discovered what my issues are, that I’m learning to accept them and invite them to the table of conversation. That I’m learning my issues are in essence what has been called sin, but that sin is not synonymous with evil. That sin is what makes me unique and special and gifted. That my sin is my gateway into the realm that exists outside of the confinements of a society. That I must leave the tiny itty bitty realm of society through the exploration of my sins venturing into the greater realm of the wild and nature, find my connection to it, and return to society fully grown into my self and ready to serve that society in my own way in my own time and in accordance with nature. For so many years I have been trying be a well-behaved human being. I’ve perfected the art of pleasing others so much so that the only way I really know how to receive gratification in life is to please others. And so I get people to like me not because I am being my genuine self, but because I learn what others like and give them that. I was totally out of touch with my own self to serve the pleasure of others, whether they asked for it or not. Good Christian doctrine.

Religion is supposed to be how nature speaks to society; through the shamans or priests or holy ones. Those priests are the members of humanity who sit on the outside edge of society; One foot in the human world, the other foot in the wild natural word. Religion popped up as soon as humans became conscious, as soon as we stepped out of the wild and into our own conscious minds. We have always needed religion to keep us connected as participants to the nature in which we still live inside of and always will. It’s where our morals and values and ethics are derived from.

Nothing has changed since then. The only thing that has changed is that religions popped up that now serve only themselves, and have manipulated whole groups of people to serve them. It’s a pathology. It’s a misinterpretation. It’s a massive psychological brainwashing. It’s slavery. It’s the grandest form of slavery that has ever existed. And many many people saw this, and still see it and then want nothing to do with religion and so they become atheists, and sever themselves from spirituality. But the unintended consequence of this is now we are a nation of people who are still servants to the religious doctrine, but no longer serves the spirit of our planet and our universe.

HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT?