Gary Snyder at City Lights Bookstore

Went last night with loved ones to the holy ground of City Lights Book Store to again see poet Gary Snyder. These days a giant of letters like Snyder usually has readings at libraries and University auditoriums. However yesterday as part of the 60th Anniversary of City Lights’ founding, he returned home to San Francisco to read his works in the funky little storefront so many people love. (“I first walked into this place in 1953” he said. “I’m surprised we are both still here.”)

The place was packed to the rafters with publishers, editors, aged members of the beat and hippie generations, college students and professors, poetry aficionados, bag ladies, street hustlers and millennial hipsters. A typical San Franciscan crowd. In the small main room of the store, bookshelves were pushed aside, some folding chairs set up and a barely working microphone was wired to a speaker in the alcove where people stood three deep for over an hour waiting to hear the evenings readings.

Snyder was wonderful. As always. Although he said “I have lived too long to remember much of my life” (he is 83) he spun wonderful tales of his journeys through the American West, India and Japan. He spoke movingly of his commitment to Buddhism. He recalled his early days in San Francisco and marveled at a City that could still sustain a literary community of poets and radicals…and still keep a small independent bookstore like City lights thriving after all the decades. “This place ” he said talking of San Francisco’s North Beach, “has a special cultural and spiritual presence.”

Then Snyder read poems from his collection “Mountains and Rivers Without End”. Afterward he took questions which ranged from his thoughts on Walt Whitman (“It all started with Whitman. He freed us to develop an American language for poetry”) to a wild eyed boy asking if Snyder had any metaphysical experiences in his travels throughout the far east (“Yes, but I won’t tell you about them. They are my secrets.”)

Afterwards he met with people and signed books. I was very happy to have a few moments with Snyder before he was enveloped by fans and well wishers. A magical evening.

~ Tony Head, Dec 5, 2013

One breath

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation – even just a “one-breath” meditation – straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment – is a refreshing island in the stream.

Although the term meditation has mystical and religious connotations for many people, it is a simple and plain activity. Attention, deliberate stillness and silence. As anyone who has practiced sitting knows, the quieted mind has many paths, most of them tedious and ordinary. Then, right in the midst of meditation, totally unexpected images or feelings may sometimes emerge, and suddenly there is a way into a vivid clarity.

…whatever comes up, sitting is almost always instructive. There is ample testimony that a practice of meditation pursued over months and years brings increased self-understanding, serenity, focus, and self-confidence to the person who stays with it. There is also a deep gratitude that one comes to feel for this world of beings, teachers, and teachings.

…Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the quiet pools. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it.”

~ Gary Snyder

The Definition of Commonwealth

In a society in which nearly everybody is dominated by somebody else’s mind or by a disembodied mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the truth about the activities of governments and corporations, about the quality or value of products, or about the health of one’s own place and economy.

In such a society, also, our private economies will depend less and less upon the private ownership of real, usable property, and more and more upon property that is institutional and abstract, beyond individual control, such as money, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, stocks, and shares. And as our private economies become more abstract, the mutual, free helps and pleasures of family and community life will be supplanted by a kind of displaced or placeless citizenship and by commerce with impersonal and self-interested suppliers.

Thus, although we are not slaves in name, and cannot be carried to market and sold as somebody else’s legal chattels, we are free only within narrow limits. For all our talk about liberation and personal autonomy, there are few choices that we are free to make. What would be the point, for example, if a majority of our people decided to be self-employed?

The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth – that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community – and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

EQ

Take our understanding of intelligence. We think it’s the ability to reason in an abstract fashion, something you can measure with an IQ test. So we remain blind to the impotence of reason in areas of vital concern to us. You cannot reason your way into being present. You cannot reason your way into love. You cannot reason your way into fulfillment.

~ Philip Shepherd, philosopher, author, actor

Being aware of your bug body

Three years ago, this summer a good friend shared a profound metaphor with me – the bug body. As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.” And, when we have done one thing for a very long time, our environment necessarily shapes us into a form of specialization, enabling us to navigate and survive the “vagaries and proclivities” of said environment.

And, when we leave that environment or when it dissipates – whether we change jobs, discontinue relationships, move to a new city, deal with new health realities – we are left with a specialization (a bug body), which is often no longer appropriate. Not because that specialization is “bad or good,” but because the same response to our new environment simply no longer fits.

Recently, another dear friend told me she hadn’t seen me on social media as much as in the past and she wanted to make sure I was ok. I told her I am very ok and that social-platform algorithms probably dictate how much we interact with our IRL friends more than we want to admit.

But I was transparent as possible and also told her my online habits have changed, somewhat. Partially, I’ve diversified how I spend my online time to avoid the non-stop, toxic polarization caused by ancient tribalism and decades of cable-news brainwashing, as they’ve combined with modern technology manipulation.

However, my ‘online muting’ also began when I started listening and reading more than espousing and declaring. Essentially, this is one of multiple ways I’ve spent the past three years dismantling an obsolete bug body.

I ran into another good friend at the sporting goods store Saturday and talked to him about personality assessments and workshop facilitation. As we caught up I told him about some things I had worked on and he was surprised. Three years ago, he wouldn’t have believed what I was telling him. But, it’s true and I’m doing those things because I’ve been in a new environment and it was appropriate for me to make fundamental changes.

What I realized this morning and wanted to share with you while it’s fresh on my mind, is that you are not your bug body. LOL You are not your environment! None of us are. Sure, our environment shapes us all and it will mash us into a form of and for specialization. It doesn’t matter who you are.

But your response to your environment is merely your temporary container. Like an oddly shaped vase holds water in an oddly shaped form, the people you know, the work you do and where you live can give you a unique shape – but you are the air and water within, not the temporary vase. You are ultimately malleable. You don’t have to be ‘set’ in your ways.

When we change environments, we must have the courage to disassemble our inappropriate bug body. (I like that metaphor better than breaking a vase). But, we must do it with patience and compassion…compassion for ourselves, just like we would show any loved one who needs to make adjustments to their own responses to change.

And, most importantly — when we think back and reminisce about the events that shaped our previous environmental responses (our persona) — we should not convince ourselves our old persona or bug body, dictates how we’ll perform, behave or where we’ll go in the present or in the future.

Those environmental pressures were merely a set of circumstances, which shaped our specialization to deal with that environment at that time. It was and is not who we are, and it certainly doesn’t dictate our future.

Every single person reading this post is dealing with some sort of struggle right now. If my recounting of my experiences does anything, may it remind you that you’re not isolated. You’re not alone. We are all in the same boat.

And, we can indeed be a new creation, we can modify our responses to a new environment. Responses which are more appropriate and bring compassion to us and others and more contentment in the face of continuous change.

bug body

transience and impermanence

I’ve known for quite some time, but have been hesitant to state publicly until now, that I believe most everyone’s anxiety and frustration originates from the fear that where they are and what they’re doing might very well be temporary. And, this has always been very interesting to me since all of us know that ‘all of this’ is ultimately temporary!

Yet, each of us have held on to something too long while deluding ourselves that it should be permanent. We’ve held on to our childhood too long or our children too long. We’ve held on to the farm too long or the house or the car. We’ve held on to jobs too long. We’ve held on to relationships too long. We’ve held on to beliefs and regrets too long. Even though each of those things are ultimately contextual and temporary, we so often wish and behave as if it weren’t so.

The point of all of this is that admitting these things and stating these things to ourselves and others can be liberating. Acknowledging these truths could be the first step to reducing the anxiety and fear of the transience and impermanence of life.

Perhaps just agreeing that literally everything is temporary can provide a bit of relief. And, I believe the first step is practicing and learning how to surf on top of change as we move though the chaos of life, while strengthening our tolerance for ambiguity, rather than clinging on to the underpinnings of that which we hope lasts forever — all the while, knowing deep down, no such object exists.

I choose to believe the only thing that lasts forever is Love. And, you can each define that word as you wish. But, the way I define Love causes me to believe it only makes sense that we direct the bulk of our time, attention and resources to those we love and those who love us. While spreading a form of that same Love by helping others at every opportunity.

~ Scott Kinnaird

It’s all horizontal (and books went first)

With enough top-down energy, it feels like the creator of an idea can broadcast it, anytime and anywhere. That enough hype/promo/media/leverage ought to allow a major publisher or network or candidate to bend the culture simply by yelling.

If you follow this road, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

For 500 years, this hasn’t been true for books. And now it’s not true for anything.

Ideas spread from person to person. Horizontally. Because someone who encountered an idea cared enough to spread the word, to talk about it, to insist that friends and colleagues pay attention, if just for a moment.

If you can figure out how to embrace the true fans, they’ll go ahead and spread an idea–not because you want them to, but because they want to.

Your ability to reach a tiny group of committed fans is essential. But the work spreads because of the fans, not because you figured out how to spend money to interrupt more and more strangers.

~ Seth Godin

Disquietude for disquietude’s sake

Agitation over happenings which we are powerless to modify, either because they have not yet occurred, or else are occurring at an inaccessible distance from us, achieves nothing beyond the inoculation of here and now with the remote or anticipated evil that is the object of our distress. Listening four or five times a day to newscasters and commentators, reading the morning papers and all the weeklies and monthlies–nowadays, this is described as ‘taking an intelligent interest in politics.’ St. John of the Cross would have called it indulgence in idle curiosity and the cultivation of disquietude for disquietude’s sake.

– Aldous Huxley, Perennial Philosophy, 103-104

Real interests of real people

I tend to be an individualist in politics, and in America, I find it hard to decide whether the right wing or the left constitutes the greater threat to liberty. Thus in one sense of the word I am apolitical: I cannot find enthusiasm for any particular ideology, party, state, or nation, and I believe furthermore, that these are obsolete types of organizations, which increasingly work against the real interests of real people.

On the other hand, I am intensely interested in specific political and economic problems: in developing an ecologically sound technology, in getting it understood that the dollar is something like an inch (not wealth, but a measure of wealth), in showing that people must be paid for work done on their behalf by machinery, and in the drastic reform of prisons and mental hospitals.

~ Alan Watts, In My Own Way; An Autobiography, 1972