The Dream of Descent

Last night I dreamed about descent – again. This time I was in a cylindrical elevator, with six other people (three adults and three children, none recognizable from real life), on a high floor of a steel-glass tower. I knew we had enemies within the building, whom we’d had to elude to reach the elevator, who might yet prevent us from reaching ground and getting out. Yes, the doors were closed – we were safe for the moment – but it was a long way down.

In other dreams, I’ve descended – or considered doing so – by way of a staircase, a rope ladder, a flat-bottomed wooden boat dropping from a rock face into a lake. Just yesterday, I realized that the metaphor of descent, which has us tumbling from the cultural peak we’ve supposedly reached to the depths of dearth and violence, is both inapt and coercive. Inapt because a sky-high whiz-bang quotient (yes, we’ve got that!) does not imply (and usually militates against) profound wisdom, witness, humility, and respect. Coercive because who wants to take a great fall, and wind up shattered? Better cling to that height for dear life!

Yet I still dream in this metaphor. I still fear descent.

I need a new story.

Here’s an idea: Replace descent with recovery.

We’re sick. We’re addicted (to whiz-bang). We feed our war machine with one hand while slapping it (squawking, “Stop that!”) with the other. We hack at the web of life (or, more often, have others do the hacking for us, out of sight) in perverse pursuit of what we need, or think we need, to stay alive.

It’s true, recovery can be painful. Jolting. Even scary. But, for the most part, it beats staying sick.

Excerpt from Mating in Captivity – Chapter 1: Interview

[Update: My Kickstarter campaign to fund publication of Mating in Captivity: A Memoir ended April 10, 2017. However, until further notice, I am still willing to honor all reward levels listed on Kickstarter. If you would like to pledge directly, you may do so here, using your PayPal account or a card. Any additional funds raised will be used to promote the book, throw a launch party, expand the initial print run, and/or defray the costs of a book tour.]

I began spinning a fantasy about Zendik mating the night I arrived.

Cross-legged on the living room floor, a metal bowl nestled in my lap, I watched a short, round woman with buoyant ringlets burst in from the kitchen, bowl in hand. Another woman called to her, across the room: “Are you having a date tonight?”

Between them lay a sea of Zendiks; maybe two-thirds of the Farm’s sixty-plus members filled every chair, couch, and patch of rug. The lemon scent of Murphy’s Oil fused with the glow of standing lamps to bathe us in resinous incandescence.

Forks clanged against stainless steel. Chatter rolled past me like delicate thunder. Continue reading

Beyond Bounded Choice

Let’s talk about bounded choice.

Years ago, on my way out of Zendik, I read a book of that title (subtitle: True Believers and Charismatic Cults). The author, Janja Lalich, had become a sociologist, specializing in cultic studies, after ten years in a political cult that dissolved when the followers lost faith in the leader. In the book, she draws on her own experience, as well as her research into other groups (Heaven’s Gate, in particular) to show that cult members are neither stupid nor mindless, that they do think and choose for themselves – it’s just that great swaths have been removed from their field of possibility. So they operate within an extremely narrow range.

This last election, and its aftermath, have confirmed for me that yes, industrial civilization is a cult, and yes, its true believers experience, and act from, a condition of bounded choice.

The range of options was already dismally slim, before the campaigning began; it excluded (for example) a shift to bio-regional governance, an overhaul of a constitution designed to smooth the transmogrification of a continent into cash, and meaningful participation by a party opposing corporate rule. Then Bernie – who threatened to expand the view at least a few degrees – was shoved off the stage, and the pressure (in my world) to fall into lockstep behind Hillary intensified to the point of suffocation. Two choices remained: Back Her, or be responsible for bringing on the apocalypse.

Never mind that She too is a creature of the technosphere, which can’t help but chomp sovereignty, joy, leisure, and other requirements for health and well-being, with every beat of its frigid heart.

Anyone who insists you have only two choices is lying, and/or terrified you’ll peek behind door number three (or door number infinity), and/or hoping to stave off further abuse from a person or entity she or he does not yet recognize as an abuser.

Now, post-election, some are calling for a Love Revolution – sounds good to me! But, for the most part, the range of response seems cramped: Protest. Call or email your corporate stooges – I mean, elected officials. Rage against Chief Tweet-Tweet’s latest appointment. Boycott X department store. Take your money out of Y bank. Maybe that’s because pretty much every suggestion for “action” comes to us by way of the technosphere, which, despite its seeming omnipresence, represents a mere blip in the field holding all the many ways of knowing. What do the trees say? The insects? The fungi? How about the water? The soil? Our ancestors? How about our own souls – have we paused to consult them lately? How about our bodies, our inner teachers, our deep wisdom, revealed to us through sacred mirrors?

Take, for example, Obamacare. In my world, repealing it is heresy – how will X number of people access health insurance, and techno-medical care, without it? The bounded choices are: Fight for Obamacare, or suffer from lack of access to allopathic medicine. Okay, now how about let’s widen the field to include a few more options: Quit subsidizing the production of edible food-like substances (by paying “farmers” to monocrop, by destroying beings of all kinds in the name of “cheap” oil, by building and maintaining highways plied by long-haul trucks). Redesign human communities for local trade, and walking. Restore sovereignty to localities, which won’t necessarily be willing to surrender their “resources” (aka living webs) to the highest bidder. Revive our millennia-old relationship with plants as medicine. Reject wireless internet, with its EMFs and push towards isolation. Close schools and prisons, and replace jobs with mutualistic community-based contribution, so we can relax and move at a pace we choose. Replace house-boxes with commonly held farms, woods, and gathering places, capable of providing all the social nourishment we need. Quit subsidizing, and legitimizing, psychopathic (corporate) polluters. Begin to create the possibility of real, glowing, exuberant health – imagine that!

Can you?

Meet Me in the Meadow of Miracles

Imagination is a muscle. It strengthens with use.

This coming Saturday, my dear friend Deborah and I will be leading a workshop called Building Imaginal Bridges here at Earthaven Ecovillage, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Earthaven is just down the road from the old Zendik Farm, where I first encountered “imagine” as a future-forming verb.

At Zendik, we believed that we could spark change by envisioning our “imajia” world, our “imajia” selves; we called our utopia “Ecolibrium,” short for “ecological equilibrium.” While there, I read descriptions by Wulf (one of Zendik’s co-founders) of Ecolibrium, wrote about it myself, tape-recorded a conversation with a friend in which we tried to render our future visions in sensual detail. From Wulf’s writing, I recall the idea of diverting the military to eco-restoration, and the idea of the “simpleton system” – an approach to tools, machines, and devices dictating that all of them should be understandable, and repairable, at least by a village craftsperson, if not by every user; in my own writing, I tried to re-form myself as the perfect Zendik, and the world as a place where everyone lived as I believed we did – in total honesty and cooperation, with respect for each other’s genius, joyously pursuing work we loved. Sometimes I mentioned specifics – advertising would disappear, attempts to lie would cause skull explosions, there’d be “lots of singing, lots of music—color in sound, as in sight. Many distinct tones and trills and voices. Laughter and weeping. Goats bleating. Birds warbling and cats squawking and babies caterwauling.” In our tape-recorded conversation, my friend and I imagined a web of villages, each with its own cast of growers, gatherers, makers, its own art, music, food, clothing, stories – walk a mile or two down the path and find a different culture.

Despite the etheric electric fence around my mind, at Zendik, I did catch a glimpse of the power and wonder of imagining, with as much precision as I could, how life might be a generation hence, what shape my own life might one day take. After Zendik, as my imaginal field expanded to include any idea or source that appealed to me, as I claimed freedom to write and speak freely, I began to notice that dreams drawn from my inklings and yearnings, then seeded in word and speech, sometimes came true.

Here’s the thing, fellowbeings: We are called, now, to do far more than proofread, or edit, or even revise our collective story – we are called to reimagine it. We can do this, if we strengthen our imaginal muscles by using them, if we bust through our current story’s etheric electric fence to the meadow, just beyond it, where miracles sprout like wildflowers.

Thirteen years ago, in Chico, California, the man who inscribed the curvy purple “W” on my arm told me that only when he was able to see a plan in action did it wind up being realized. In a culture beyond fixing – but ripe for rebirth – it is our responsibility, and could be our joy, to practice seeing – with all three eyes – the worlds, the lives, the webs that make our hearts sing.

Come to Earthaven – where “village” is a verb – and build imaginal bridges with us. Stone by stone. Pebble by pebble. Grain by grain of sand.


Derrick Jensen and Charles Eisenstein Fistfight in Heaven

I have just read Charles Eisenstein’s freshly published essay, Standing Rock: A Change of Heart. This is fortuitous, since I’d been wanting to write about how it feels to be immersed in Derrick Jensen’s perspective versus how it feels to be immersed in Charles Eisenstein’s.

Reading A Language Older Than Words a few weeks ago (followed by What We Leave Behind), I noticed ghosts rising up, between the lines – whose voice does this voice remind me of? Oh yes, I realized – Jensen’s writing style echoes Eisenstein’s. Both take a measured approach to potentially inflammatory material; both logically, methodically build a fully furnished conceptual structure in which a reader could choose to live. Both marry clarity with eloquence; both work (I am guessing) extremely hard to avoid being misunderstood.

Yet the results – the conceptual houses, and how it feels to inhabit them – could not be more different.

Since early 2012, I have dwelt, on and off, in versions of Eisenstein’s house. Here, miracles happen (miracles meaning phenomena not possible from within my current story); here, the world can be healed by webs of relationships and spirals of gifts. This house is a live-in cathedral; it has high ceilings, and tall windows admitting floods of light. It invites me to gaze up, and out, in wonder.

Before the 2008 election (and its predecessor, the bailout) I paid a visit to Jensen’s house; after the 2016 election, I paid another. Here, miracles as Eisenstein defines them are magical thinking; here, wildness alone can renew us, and to preserve what little is left we must fight. This house is a hovel. A shack with sooty panes and splintered siding, a wood stove warming a tiny radius. It warns me to hunker down and huddle; the wind outside is worse.

Why is there a question, regarding which house I would choose? Because cathedrals are just as likely as hovels to collapse, in earthquakes, and cathedrals have farther to fall.

Meaning, what if the hovel is real, the cathedral a fantasy? Given a choice between prolonging a dream, and letting truth shatter it, I’ll take the latter.

Then again, there must be a third way. There always is. Maybe I don’t choose one house over the other; maybe I wander from one to the next, then elsewhere, then beyond the reach of my map. Maybe I track joy deep into the woods, whether or not I believe I can find my way back.

The First Step Is Admitting Civilization Is the Problem

It’s Wednesday morning – our first in our new apartment. I’ve found the morning sunshine; it’s right where I’d been planning – am still planning – to put my desk. I am grateful for this sunshine. It is simple, it is sweet. It’s a thing I discount, when I stare at my screen and plot how I’ll make it in industrial civilization.

Reading liberal responses to Trump’s election, I keep feeling this visceral no. No, you’re not going deep enough. No, I won’t help you cling to your delusions. No, the carnage did not abate under Obama, and would proceed apace even if millions of petition signers were to get the electoral college to break rank for Hillary.

What, then, do I say yes to? What news, if I heard it, would make my heart thrill?

News of industrial collapse. News of mass defection. News of efforts to replenish the nutrients offered by a limited land base. (Do we really think we can keep sewering our poop forever?)

What is the opposite of extraction? Replenishment. Regeneration.

Pretend our culture is a Rubik’s Cube. You have eight of nine blue squares on one facet; you desperately want to complete the grid with that ninth blue square. Yet you refuse to make any turns, because you’re loathe to disrupt the near perfection of your favored facet. So you peel the blue sticker off that elusive ninth square, and re-affix it where you want it. Look! You’ve forced your picture to please you. But you haven’t solved the puzzle.

The movement to get electors to go rogue, and dump Donald for Hillary, strikes me as similar in spirit to peeling off and re-applying that ninth blue stickeer. It would perfect one facet of the cube (the one the viewer chooses to look at); it would eliminate a disturbing element that surely (in the viewer’s opinion) does not belong. Yet the other five sides of the cube would still be a royal mess, and the fix would have been accomplished without having engaged, or even acknowledged, them.

I appreciate the desire to incrementally gentle industrial civilization; I am heavily invested in aspects of it myself. (How would my book achieve wide distribution without industrial publishing machinery? Maybe wide distribution is not what books are for; maybe it is more beautiful for stories to be passed, in precious volumes, from hand to hand, by those who adore them.) However, I do have access to another story, in which the cracks Trump’s election has exposed widen to engulf our faith in monetization, the military, plutocracy, punishment, captivity, debt, jobs, clocks, hospitals, drugs, paperwork, success, celebrities – all underpinned by the everyday brutality of treating our fellowbeings as “resources.”

In the story that flows beneath the brittle city of life as I know it, I am welcomed, with fire and warmth, back into the wild.

It’s Our Party, We’ll Squawk If We Want To

I’m feeling a lump of opinion rise within me, in relation to the election. Yet I’m not sure if it’s really the election I want to write about. I believe that’s too narrow a frame.

What I want to write about is agency. And looking out, not up.

When I imagine people in relation to president, I see a brood of three hundred million hungry chicks, squawking up at mama-bird on a high branch – mama-bird who builds us shelter, brings us food. Each time we vote, we have the chance to join our squawks in a foghorn roar, too loud for mama-bird to ignore.

What if we quit looking up? What if we looked to each other?

What if mama-bird has long since flown away, leaving an automated birdroid, programmed to pacify but not nourish, in her place?

I have been looking up, in one way or another, for almost forty years. First, from my desk in a grid, I looked up to teachers and principals. Then I moved on to employers and professors. Then I joined Zendik, at the bottom of a pyramid that ascended, through many levels, to Arol. Leaving Zendik taught me to heed the wisdom of the body – and the body knows, it always knows, when the soul is being disparaged. Belittled. Looked down on. Yet I did not receive a visceral experience of a positive alternative until Occupy – which, for all its faults, and, I’m sure, its own subtle hierarchies, made it seem surreal to be in a muted crowd, looking up to a poo-bah (or panel of poo-bahs) commanding a podium. I felt I’d developed a healthy allergy to looking up.

Still, I continue to do it, in other ways (for example, I spent more than ten years looking up to the publishing industry, hoping for someone within it to swoop down and sweep me and my book to the stars). And, always, I feel its toxicity. I feel the impossibility of joining as friends and comrades with those I have to crane my neck to see.

The gift of an election in which both candidates are roundly despised (even by many who voted for them – cf. “Kerry Haters for Kerry”) is, perhaps, release from looking up.

A Clinton win, I suspect, would have perpetuated the story that there’s a benevolent presence above us, at least keeping order and making incremental improvements, if not throwing open the gates to a more beautiful world. This story, in turn, would have kept many of us frogs in the proverbial water pot from realizing it was building towards a boil. With Trump in office, on the other hand, we frogs know the water’s already scorching hot. The blender’s on. Instead of a pledge of a half billion solar panels, veiling an iron commitment to business as usual, we get bald threats to revive Keystone XL and burn more coal.

Mama-birdroid has left the branch. She won’t return (she was feeding us frankenworms anyway). Do we treasure our nest? Our tree? Our fellowbeings? Let’s lower our beaks. Chirp to each other. Squawk if we want to, knowing those we need to reach are all right here.