Sunday, March 29, 2009

Justice? Truth? Not If The U.S. Can Help It.

The New York Times reported today that Spanish Justice may fill the void left by a morally bankrupt United States. The case has been forwarded to the office of the prosecutor for review by Baltazar Garzon, the judge who ordered the arrest of the notorious Chilean villain, Augusto Pinochet. Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general appointed by Bush who went down in flames as a result of political scandal is named in the investigation, as are 5 other high ranking Bush appointees. It appears that arrest warrants may follow in time. But as stated in the Times article:
"The United States, however, would be expected to ignore an extradition request for former officials, although other investigations within the United States have been proposed. Calls for the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation have so far been resisted by the Obama administration, but for more than four years, the Justice Department ethics office has been conducting its own investigation into the work of Mr. Yoo and some of his colleagues."

Unfortunately, even though Dick Cheney and G. W. Bush have openly admitted to knowledge and authorization of waterboarding of prisoners, the investigation does not name them. Well, one can always hope.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Border Trilogy

I just finished Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. The three books are: The Crossing, All The Pretty Horses and Cities of The Plains. McCarthy is an astonshing writer, poetic, complex and a hell of a story teller. The stories are set in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico between the years 1939(or so) and 1950. The first two involve adolescent boys taking off for parts unknown in Mexico. They involve horses, wolves, cattle and all manner of humans. The boys travel, work, undertake quests, endure grueling hardships and do their best to live up to the standards they have they have chosen. The third book involves two of the boys after they return to the States and work together on a small ranch in Texas. Billy and John Grady have become close friends although they differ in age by some eight years. In fact Billy is now 28 years old. We find out what they have learned, or failed to learn from their earlier oddysies.

McCarthy is known for his grim and graphic violence, and there is violence in these books, to be sure. He does, however, use violence quite judiciously compared to the horrifying Blood Meridian, another novel set in Texas but in the 1840's.
McCarthy uses embedded stories to pursue philisophical speculations and he does a masterful job with these. In The Crossing he has an elderly Mexican give the most intriguing description of blindness I have ever read as he is telling young Billy Parham his story. It is the only thing I have ever read that actually helped me to have some grasp of the experience of blindness. The epilogue in Cities of The Plain is an embedded story told as an extended and fantastically exotic dream.
If you enjoy good stories beautifully told that also stimulate your mind , you would do well to read these books. Start with The Crossing and you will be hard pressed to stop until you have read all three.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The True Gospel

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, died 29 years ago on March 24, 1980. He was shot in the chest as he raised the host for communion during mass at a hospital chapel in El Salvador. Seconds before he was shot he offered this prayer in consecration of the bread which Catholics believe becomes the body and blood of Jesus,

"May this Body immolated and this Blood sacrificed for Mankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and our blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ -- not for Self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our People."

Romero is remembered as a hero and martyr and rightly so. I remember him as someone who preached the true gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, someone who lived the true gospel.

"Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down."

"Live simply and justly in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and be a good neighbor. Make no war on them, rather, be one with them in spirit, truth, and love...Hear the truth when it is spoken to you ...and speak truth to power..."

"The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being . . . a defender of the rights of the poor . . . a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society . . . that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history."

On March 23, 1980, the day before his death, Archbishop Romero appealed directly to the members of the military, calling on them to refuse illegal orders:

"We are your people. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the voice of the man commanding you to kill, remember instead the voice of God. Thou Shall Not Kill….In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you, stop the repression."

And his last words:

"May God have mercy on the assassins."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Way to Go, El Salvador!

El Salvador elected Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party as president last week.
In his acceptance speech, Funes dedicated his presidency to martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero vowing to have, as Romero put it, "A preferential option for the poor".
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front or FMLN, was founded as a revolutionary guerilla organization which fought to overthrow the right-wing government resonsible for the assasination of people who worked to relieve the oppression of the poor, including Archbishop Romero.

The FMLN was named for Farabundo Marti, who ,in 1932, led a worker and peasant uprising against the brutal general Maximiliano Hernandez. With naval support from the US, Hernandez crushed the revolt and slaughtered 30,000 indigenous people and political opponents. It became a legal political party in 1992 after peace agreements were signed.
Funes and the FMLN defeated ARENA, the right wing party which has been in power in El Salvador since 1989 and has been in bed with the United States since its inception in 1981. ARENA was founded by Roberto D'Auboisson who was named in a United Nations report of 1993 to have ordered the assination of Archbishop Romero. ARENA fielded the infamous death squads during the civil war in El Salvador with the aid of the United States, and they were especially championed by Ronald Reagan.
All this has changed. FMLN and Funes have come to power because the people have grown tired of the hollow promises of ARENA. Under the loving care of the right wing, gangs have become so pervasive and powerful that the murder rate in El Salvador is nine times that of the United States, roughly 3,650 deaths a year in a country of seven million. Over 30% of the people live below the poverty level with 20% living on $1.00 a day. Those are numbers from 2006, when times were relatively good world wide.
Funes, a former journalist, is a bright guy who faces huge challenges(sound like anybody we know?). But the Salvadorans are moving left and moving away from the US which has sponsored oppression in Latin America for well over one hundred years. Way to go, El Salvador!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Way to Go Vermont!

It isn't law yet, but on Friday the Vermont state senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. The full senate will likely debate and vote on it next week. This seems an appropriate action for a state that has as its motto, "Freedom and Unity"

I remember discussing my position on interracial dating and marriage with my art teacher when I attended Crown Point High School in Indiana in 1963. Indiana was once the home of the largest KKK organization in the country and to this day has a lively Klan. Fortunately my teacher was a moderate man who listened respectfully to his students and enjoyed discussing issues with them. He said he disagreed with interracial dating and relationships but told me I had a crusading spirit. My positive support for interracial dating and marriage didn't win me a lot of popularity points with the Hoosier classmates, but I didn't fit in anyway so I didn't much care. I have wondered from time to time what the reaction would have been if I had spoken in support of gay marriage back then. Of course it was an unthought of concept back in that era, or at least I had never heard of it and had never thought about it. I know the idea would have been met with a great deal more resistance and revulsion than interracial marriage. I believe this is because in the mind of your average racial bigot the idea of interracial sex is actually quite titillating. It isn't the sex part, especially since they can imagine a white man with a black woman. It is the marriage part and the black man with the white woman that freaks out racists. After all, one only need consider the amount of rape that was perpetrated by white men against black women throughout the years of slavery to realize that white men shtooping black women has never been a problem for the aforementioned palefaced racists. But same gender sex!! Oy vey! The very act is horrifying to your average manly man homophobe although ninety percent of these same stout buckos will blissfully wank off to a sex scene featuring two comely lasses in a porn flick (statistic is my own fictitious creation). To hear some of the kids I have worked with express themselves, and kids tend to not hold back, there is very little that they find more repulsive than two people of the same gender in an intimate relationship. Men are driven to horrifying acts of violence by their fear of homosexuals. Or their latent attraction. or their fear that they might be attracted and therefore 'queer' themselves. I believe with all my heart that this fear and revulsion of the gay sex act and not some obscure verses sprinkled around in an ancient religious text is the basis for all of this. Once again religious beliefs are the cover, the excuse for hatred. As the Bible was once used(and still is so used) to justify racism, it is used as a bulwark to hide homophobia. Tsk, tsk. WWJD?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Way to Go New Mexico!

On Friday March 13th, the senate of New Mexico voted to abolish the death penalty in that state. The house had voted to banish it previously. If the governor signs the legislation, New Mexico will become the fifteenth state to do away with this barbaric practice.

When I was 18 years old, I asked my priest in our religious ed class about capital punishment. I had read the story of the woman taken in adultery(I had also noticed that they didn't drag out the blighter she was with). I knew that Jesus said forgive seventy times seven, and forgive them for they know not what they do, love your enemies, and it seemed to me that the business about "let the one who is without sin cast the first stone" pretty much put the cork in the state sanctioned killing bottle. Our supposedly Christ-following priest told us that it is too expensive for the state to feed and house convicted murderers for the rest of their lives. I was stunned! I expected him to point out some scriptural argument if he was going to support the death penalty, something from canon law perhaps, but to put human life into terms of dollars and sense?

As it turns out, not only was he a cheap jerk lacking in compassion, but he was wrong. While comparisons are fairly complex, all studies agree that the cost of prosecuting a crime which may result in the death penalty is many times more expensive than non-capital offenses. The cost of housing people on death row is also far more costly than a standard maximum security lock up. One example is Texas where it was found that it costs three times as much to impose the death penalty as it does to imprison a person in a single cell for forty years.

Of course this doesn't address my original question to Father Merciful; how can we support the death penalty in light of the teachings of Jesus? Virtually all Christian theological arguments in favor of the death penalty go back to the Torah or Hebrew Testament, 'eye for an eye' lex talionis and all that. They don't usually mention that the first person executed under Mosaic law was stoned to death for picking up firewood(quite the offense then, it would seem) that you are supposed to have your kids put to death for dissin' you. True believers then zip over to Paul who says, "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. the state has the power of the sword." Romans 13:3-4 Uh, yeah, the Roman authorities cut Paul's head off with the sword. Sort of waters down this passage as a strong argument for the death penalty, I should think. The people I have debated this with, at least the Bible believing bunch, tend to neglect the gospels when it comes to this issue, the very source of Jesus' teaching, nec'st pas?

It would be wrong to neglect the other truths about the death penalty, it is racist, only poor people go to death row, and it is utterly ineffective as a deterrent, but my time and space here are limited, so see for some telling facts and graphs.

So the point of state sponsored killing is?? Revenge, pure and simple. Somehow, I don't think Jesus would approve.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Pioneer By Any Other Name

Here you have it, the classic picture most people would conjure if you say the word,"pioneer". Conestoga wagon, strong, independent folk, colorful guide replete with buckskin and feather. Rugged individualists forging a new future for America.

It certainly took courage, naievete or flat out desparation to strike out for parts relatively unknown. At least unknown to white folks. of course the places they headed for weren't unknown to the people who already lived there, the people we called 'Indians'. The people who typically referred to themselves, 'the people' in their various languages.

I was listening to NPR the other morning and heard an announcement for the South Dakota State Historical Society 2009 History Conference entitled, "Immigration:A New Beginning". The subject is white folks moving onto the plains of what would eventually become South Dakota beginning around 1855. What most Americans would call 'pioneers'. I got to thinking about that term, 'immigration'. An immigrant is defined as " A person who comes to a country where they were not born in order to settle there." While this an apt term for the folks who went into this part of the country before it was even a territory, the concept doesn't address the legality of this action. I suspect the conference won't either. In 1855 there were no treaties ceding any land to the US in what we now call South Dakota. There was the so-called Louisiana Purchase wherein the United States gave France a chunk of dough to buy land that France neither owned nor controlled militarily. In other words, it wasn't France's land to sell. There were tens of thousands of people living in the area 'sold' by France, including the Mandan, Arikira and Oceti Sakowin(Seven Council Fires, commonly called 'Sioux'). The first treaty signed by any of the Oceti Sakowin was in 1855 and it was a Yankton action, one of the Seven Council Fires, not the consensus of leaders of all seven of the Oceti Sakowin, much less that of other nations living there. Actually, it was the action of one leader, Strike-the Ree. And this man's decision was not binding on any of the other people of the Yankton nation. The people were not bound by any one else's decisions except in limited circumstances such as a hunt or war.

Smutty Bear who opposed it; Charles Picotte who was the interpreter and profited from it; and Strike-the-Ree, Yankton chief who was resigned to white settlement saying that, "The white men are coming like maggots. It is useless to resist them....Many of our brave warriors would be killed, our women and children left in sorrow, and still we would not stop them".(SD State Historical Society)

The U.S. understanding was that this one man had the right to give away close to 38,000 square miles of land, even though the leader of similar or equal rank sitting next to him said no. Of course the U.S knew this was not valid, but it served the purpose of providing a legal-seeming pretext. So what it boils down to is that the US bought the area from a country that didn't own it and then got a treaty signed by one leader from one group of the people who lived there who had no authority to give any land.

My point in all of this is that historical accuracy might dictate a somewhat different term than 'immigrants' or 'pioneers'. While I wouldn't suggest the South Dakota State Historical Society use the term apparently preferred by Strike-The-Ree, "maggots", to refer to the white incursion, 'colonizers' would be more appropriate. 'invaders' would work even better, but most accurate of all would be 'thieves' and unfortunately, all of us whose ancestors came from elsewhere(excluding descendants of slaves) are the benefactors of those thefts. I wonder if the SDSHS will address this in the confeence.

Native American Awareness Week is April 13-19

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another Use for Beer Bottles

Yes, the wonderful Buddhist temple in the top picture is made entirely from brown and green recycled beer bottles!
It is the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple, built with more than a million glass bottles, in Thailand's Sisaket province. The Thai Buddhist temple has found an environmentally friendly way to utilize discarded bottles and clean up the environment- using them to build everything in its premises, from a crematorium to shelters and toilets. You can see a gallery of photos of this amzing structure at

It is an inspiring(yes, I know) use of discarded materials. If only I could borrow their talent, creativity and energy!

Another Beautiful Use for Cordwood

I remember reading about cordwood construction in Mother Earth news about a hundred years ago. If you had a ready source of cordwood this would be a reasonably cheap way to build. As with cob(mud and straw) building,(see post of 3/6/09) it would be quite labor intensive,especially since for aesthetics, I should think you would have to cut all the pieces the same length. You would have to cut down a lot more trees than for a cob building. Think how much simpler life would be without a mortgage. How delightful to live in a house you built yourself.

The Color Is From Bottles Set In The Mortar

See a slideshow of the construction at Scot Degraf on Flickr

Monday, March 9, 2009

Haiku; A Tree Restored to Beauty

"People love chopping wood. In this activity, one sees immediate results" Albert Einstein

Felled tree cut to size
Lying in cord of firewood
beauty tree emerges

Scuplture by Alistair Hesseltine


Allie is giving away a very cool recycled rug, check it out

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Contemplative Gardening

I love this picture. It is from a series on Flickr by NativeDesign.

So I was looking through the meditation archive on the site I referred to in yesterday's post and I came across the perfect piece about what Allie suggested, contemplative gardening(and no, this isn't Allie either).

The Zen of Gardening

“Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest.”Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Springtime is an opportunity to feel more alive by getting our hands in the dirt and being part of the growing that is happening outdoors. Garden work can be just a chore we do grudgingly, or it can be a fulfilling opportunity for satisfaction and even spiritual practice.If you visit a formal Japanese or Chinese garden, you find that it draws you into a more contemplative mental state. You see, not so much individual plants, but pleasing arrangement. Like a song puts together notes to form a composition, the gardener puts together plant and earth to create balance and flow, movement in stillness, a natural harmony within the context of confined space. As you move through these gardens, your mind tends to settle down. The garden asks to be seen with fresh eyes. It invites the busy mind we brought through the gate to calm itself. What must it take to create such harmonious natural beauty? What state of mind must one attain to foster such a peaceful environment? The oriental garden may be less a showplace than a place for the gardener’s spiritual practice.We don’t need acres of land to bring gardening into our spiritual practice. We can tend a single plant in a pot with mindfulness and compassion. But if we have a piece of land, why not use it to create something beautiful, to bring another dimension to our mindfulness practice. Working with plants and digging in the dirt can be stress relieving. It brings us back into contact with the natural world. We become aware of being part of the whole process of growth, death, decay and rebirth. Gardening is a lesson in the truth of impermanence. It invites engagement with the cycles of nature. As you tend your garden, practice mindfulness. Create the intention of paying attention. Instead of daydreaming or running your thoughts, focus your mind on the task at hand. If you are digging in the soil, just dig. Feel your body, the shovel, the movement, and the feel of the soil. Not so much thinking. Just doing with awareness.Take time to see. Look at the garden as a whole. Observe the land and the plants. Observe the sky and how your garden interacts with it. Feel the garden. Get a sense of it as a unique place. Feel the energy. If it flowed like water, how would it flow? Where would it go? Look at your individual plants and how they fit into the whole. Look at the space where there are no plants. How can emptiness create form?As you prune plants and pull weeds observe your emotions. To the extent that you take away life, do it mindfully and with clear intention. Don’t just work in your garden. Spend some quiet time there. Enjoy the beauty. Appreciate the life there. Open to the wonder.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Touching the Earth

The Earth Handling You

You handling the earth .

As I wrote earlier, meditating on stones, or soil is a way I can feel the basic contact with simplicity.
Allie of wrote that she has too frenetic a thought process to sit in meditation. She must be gardening(no, this is NOT Allie nor anyone else I know) or performing some other simple task to be able to still her mind and become fully aware. There is much wisdom in this way of 'living awareness. I can't think of a better activity in which to pactice full awareness and still the mind than gardening. I actually find gardening sans coulotte to be a bit buggy, but it does make for a different level of contact and awareness. But Allie is onto the path of awareness, fer shur.
Chop Wood, Carry Water(from, )
"Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success." Swami Sivananda
Work. What does the word mean to you? Is it something to be avoided? Is it a means to an end? Is it the only appropriate focus of your attention and energy? Is it a way to avoid the rest of your life? Is it a joy? Is it a part of your spiritual practice?
There is a Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." What’s the difference? The tasks are the same. The need is the same. What about the frame of mind? Who is chopping? Who is carrying water?
When you labor, stay awake. Notice the frame of mind you bring to your work. Do you approach your work as if it were a nuisance? Do you remove your consciousness from work so that you are filled with resentment or worry? What would you need to do to be more fully present in your work?
Practice mindfulness in work. It does little good to attain clarity of mind on your meditation cushion if you lose it as soon as you become active. Start with simple activities like brushing your teeth, ironing clothes, or washing dishes. Be fully alert as you move. Notice the position of your body in space. Notice the feelings in your body as you move. Pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind when you do the task. See if you can let them go and just focus on the work itself.
If you are cleaning a countertop, feel the sponge in your hand. Feel the wetness. Feel the texture. Observe how the sponge moves in your hand from the sink to the counter. Sense your movements as you scrub. What do your eyes see? What do you hear as you work? Clean that countertop as if it were the most important thing you could do. Move with fluid motions. Waste no energy. Allow yourself the grace of economy of motion. Be grateful for the countertop, the sponge, the water, the soap. Be grateful for the hand, the arm, the whole body that can move a sponge. Be thankful for the floor you stand on and the roof that protects you. Without letting your mind wander too far, be grateful for all the circumstances that put you where you are at that moment with that sponge and that water and that countertop.
We travel to the ocean or to mountains, rivers and canyons, in part to escape the mundane world of work, but also to experience the awe that arises more spontaneously in nature’s magnificence. We give ourselves an incredible gift when we can experience some of the same awe in the mundane world of our daily lives. The weed that grows in the crack of a sidewalk is a phenomenon as miraculous as the redwood tree that towers into the sky. The raindrops that streak the window are no less an occasion for awe than the spray that dampens our face at the waterfall. The fingers that tap a keyboard are as worthy of praise as the feet of a ballet dancer.
When we open awareness to the tasks in our lives they become lighter. When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.

Friday, March 6, 2009

But Why An Earthen Home?

This is a lovely cob house(hand made mud and straw 'cobs' or oblong bricks)). The small picture does not do it justice so I suggest you look at it on Flickr in the large size. And if you want to see how a cob house is built go to

Ok, so you don't HAVE to fondle dirt to simplify your life. That was a meditation suggestion, jeez-don't take everything so seriously!
But I really like the stone meditation and hope you try it. I find it puts me into a place of, not eternity exactly, but a sense of change over eons. One of the things I have always loved is to come across very old marble steps that have been deeply worn by scajillions of footsteps.
But the reasons for a wonderful little cob house like the one in the picture are that it is so very natural, mud and straw; it would be all hand made; I would have touched and squished almost all the mud in my walls; it would be cheap; I could scupt things on the walls; I could make a house that isn't square or rectangular; I could reach out and touch my walls and be touching the earth.
So much for mud hut fantasies.
I believe that the best way to move toward simplifying attitudes is to make time for 'awareness' meditation. Awareness of the breath is a great technique and allows you to examine your thoughts non-judgementally, it is utterly simple and there is no way to do it incorrectly.

Basic Breath Awareness (From: by Kelly McGonigal )
The most basic breathing practice is simple breath awareness. Come into a comfortable seated position - cross-legged, kneeling, or in a chair. It's important to have the spine straight, so that the lungs and torso have room to expand in all directions as you breathe. To lengthen the spine, consider sitting with a folded blanket just under the hips (cross-legged) or between the hips and heels (kneeling).
Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Begin by simply noticing each breath as it happens. As you inhale, notice that you are inhaling. As you exhale, notice that your are exhaling. Continue this noticing until you feel your awareness settling comfortably and reliably on the breath. You can then refine your awareness, by noticing more subtle aspects of the breath. Consider shifting your awareness to the following aspects of the breath:
· Notice the breath entering and exiting the body at the tip of your nose.
· Notice the breath move through the airway, from the nose to the mouth to the throat as you inhale, and from the throat to the mouth to the nose as you exhale.
· Notice the quality of your breath: Does it feel jagged or smooth? Does it feel rushed or slow? Does it feel shallow or deep?
· Notice the sound of your breath: Can you hear it? What does it sound like?
· Notice the length of each inhalation and exhalation. Are they even? Is the breath slowing down or speeding up?
· Notice the belly moving with the breath. Place your hands on your belly and feel the belly expand and contract.
· Notice the rib cage moving with the breath. Place your hands on your rib cage and feel the ribs expand and contract.
· Notice the chest and upper back moving with the breath. Wrap your arms around your upper chest and shoulders, and feel the chest and upper back move with the breath. (see the
hug breath for a more detailed version of this observation).
· Notice the full dimensionality of your breath: radiate out, in all directions, with each breath.
Continue to notice whatever you notice - go deeper with this awareness practice and notice the subtleties of your own breath. With this practice, you are not trying to consciously control the breath. However, as you become more aware of the breath, you may find that the quality of your breath changes. Allow this to happen naturally, without strain or effort.
Suggested Practice Time: 5 minutes or longer. Practice several times a day, if possible. This is a practice that can stand on its own, whenever you have the chance to practice it.

If you have trouble focusing on breath alone without the mind racing at great speed, try counting ten breaths, and then ten more, until you feel somewhat calmer. See for really excellent instruction on awareness meditation.
Some peolpe say, "nothing doing" to doing nothing, but how simple is it to be busy every second of every day? take some time from diversion, from entertainment, and get to know yourself.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

So, how to simplify?

"Progress means simplifying, not complcating." Bruno Munari(1907-1998)

As you can see, I am smitten with balanced stone sculpture. This particular photo with the stones against the blue sky and water with a solo kayaker epitomizes the idea of balanced simplicity for me.

I think that a stone house would be excellent. An earthen house, say cob or adobe with a stone fence and walkway would be ideal.
For the Anishinaabe, rocks are 'ancestors'. For the Lakota as for many, if not all, of the First People, Earth was sacred. For these people mining, tearing holes in Maka ina(mother earth) in order to rip out the resources was horrifying. It was done with no respect for the Maka and her gifts. Look at mountaintop destruction to extract coal in Appalachia and we see it has only gotten worse.
In asking how to simplify we could make lists of things to do or not do, of things to save or to discard. You can find many excellent lists and suggestions at and these are practical and helpful. Eventually this may be a thing to do, especially if your life is extremely cluttered and complicated. I believe that before you actually add another 'thing to do' to an already frenetic environment, you take time to, as Alan Watts put it in the title of his excellent book, "Still The Mind". If your mind and heart are not simple, all the rest will only be busy work getting rid of a few items, dumping a few obligations. But without a prevailing attitude of simplicity, you will only accrue more things, take on more busyness."But I haven't the time" is the typical complaint. We all have the same amount of time, its a matter of how we spend it.

I started with talk about stones, earth and sky and water. In order to cultivate a simple heart, these are basic necessities. Find a stone. It can be lovely or plain. You probably have one you've picked up as a souvenier on a trip. Hold the stone and think of it as an ancestor. Think of its age and how long it took to form. If you have collected it, think of its environment, the hills, the lakeshore and sand from which it came. Consider your own needs and obligations in relation to the stone and its earth home. How long will these needs and obligations matter? Think in terms of all the things you own. Do they please you and fulfill you. Or do they bind you to a life you can't be easy in? When can you do this? Take time from diversions, from television, from music, from the desperate craving for entertainment and take time to be, not do. Be like the stone for a time and connect with the earth.
When weather permits, gather a handful of earth. Hold it, consider its makeup of finely ground minerals, organic matter, perhaps small stones. If possible, sit outside and hold the earth, allowing it to slowly sift through your fingers, consider its potential for providing you with food. Consider that it is very much alive and without this we cannot survive.
This may all sound airy fairy to you. It certainly isn't getting your closets organized or getting rid of clutter in the basement. But, if you cannot take time to connect with that from which we draw life and that to which our bodies will return, if you cannot take time to still the mind, do you really hope for simplicity?

Balance Requires Simplicity

Rockbalance July 13
Originally uploaded by hickoree
It seems to me, as it has to a host of others, Buddhist, Dine, Lakota, and on the list goes, that for one to be content or joyous, life must be in balance. To find balance one must seek simplicity. And although many go it alone, it also seems to me that a prerequisite of a balanced life is community. This may be one's church or sangha or, well, it is like simplicity-it may mean many things. We can all find some sense of community I suppose, but for it to lead to balanced existence and joyous living I would think it has to be more than a weekly gathering where nothing is shared but time and perhaps theological opinions. During the time I spent in rehab I had a vivid sense of community, temporary though I knew it must be. We shared living space(four to a room for most of the men), we shared meals in the common dining room, and most of all we shared our stories and our pain and our dreams of wholeness and healing. We can't all pack up and move to a commune or make other major life changes, but how simple life can be when we have people who really know us, who are there when we need them and who want what is best for us. For most of us, if we are fortunate enough to have a close and loving family, that may suffice. I believe, however, that there must be more. A family that is not related by blood, but by common purpose.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The concept,simplicity,is an interesting one in that it is so open to interpretation, it becomes complex. I have been interested in simplifying my life for some decades now, ever since I started studying Mennonites, Quakers, essential Christianity and communal living. At one point I sold and gave away all I owned except for what I could fit in three suitcases and one small box, which was mostly photos. I can hear some saying, "Sure, when I was 22 I fit all my worldly goods in a backpack" and so on. I was 56 at the time. The only reason I needed three suitcases was because I am 6'3" and my clothes and shoes are so damn big. Now, I will grant that you have to have more stuff than that to live, you have to cook and you have to sleep on something, but how much do we need? posed the question the other day; "if you had to leave your home forever, what ten things would you take?"
I found this a challenging and difficult question. It would require more info to be able to make appropriate decisions. Are you fleeing as a refugee concerned for survival? Or are you a middle-class, employed, fully insured person? Obviously you would make different choices based on the situation.
The December issue of Yes! magazine had a great article about Dee Williams who built an 84 square foot house on wheels. She spent ten thousand dollars, but much of that was for her solar panel set-up. The wee house has a sleeping loft and a hobbit sized porch. She pays five dollars a month in utility bills and keeps her possessions down to three hundred things(or less).
I might be able to live in 84 sq feet with 300 things, but not without land to garden and a workshop and food storage of some sort. Dee lives alone in her friend's back yard and, one assumes, has access to said friend's bathroom. There is a video of Dee and her house at Youtube which for some reason I can't embed here.
Let's consider. If we lived in a commune, where we had a common kitchen and dining room, a separate bathroom and some work and play areas, how much room would we need? How many personal possessions would we need? Smaller than 10' x 10'? Fewer than 300 things?
Maybe this is trying too hard to quantify a complex concept. Simplicity also resides somewhere in our heart or head. Are we content with a few things, simple food and simple pleasures? And then what does that all mean for you? I once read an article about monks who had taken a vow of poverty and one of them said, when you own almost nothing, you may become fiercely possessive of your pen or personal coffee mug. Is that a simple attitude?
Simple living has implications for the environment, the economy but most of all, it seems to me, it has profound implications for our emotional and spiritual well-being.