Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Journey

I'm 54 years old. In that time I've walked a lot of roads and gone off down some interesting-looking side paths. This journey we call life has been an interesting trip so far, and I'm of a mind to tell you about it; a travelogue, if you will.

When I was a teenager I had long hair and was something of a radical. When I got older I calmed down, cut my hair a bit shorter, and watered down my radicalism to liberalism. Now I'm past 50 and the long hair and the radicalism have reappeared and seem to be here for the duration. I'm perfectly happy with that, although in my darker moods I sometimes look at my shorter-haired-liberal period (a good 30-odd years) as a wasted life. But then I drink my morning tea and see that it was an interesting period during which I learned a lot and met some really fine people, and there's certainly no waste in that.

I've always been a spiritually-minded person. I grew up in the Lutheran church and stuck to it even during my later teens when politically I identified myself as a socialist. In my senior year in high school I met people who belonged to the Baha'i Faith, and after looking into it for almost half a year I decided I wanted to join up. I stayed for 32 years, but during that time my thinking matured and I began to discover that Baha'is were as mainstream theologically as any Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. Finally, I left and struck out into new (to me) territory. territory which turns out to be very old, at least in terms of human history.

What I discovered in that 32 years was that I disagreed with much that is the basis for most of Western religion, and even for Eastern religion. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha'i) see physical creation as flawed, incomplete, a distraction. Some Christianity even goes so far as to view the human body and it's functions as a necessary evil. Hinduism and Buddhism see the physical world as illusion. All of them see the physical world and our bodies as something that lures us away from our spiritual self, which they all define as the true self, the essential human reality. Physical reality is always portrayed in these religions as something we humans need to transced, to rise above. I disagree.

There are two passages from the Tao Te Ching that have come to define much of what I believe about Creation:

"Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

"The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things." Chapter 51 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

"The world is sacred,
it can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it...

"The Master sees all things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way
and resides at the center of the circle." Chapter 29 (Mitchell translation)

Creation isn't flawed, it's perfect. The Creator - God, the Divine, the Tao, whatever you want to call it - doesn't create imperfection. This world isn't a distraction, it has things to tell us that we need to pay attention to and learn from. We shouldn't transcend it, rise above it, we should be celebrating it daily, reveling in it, loving it! And while we are spiritual beings, we're also physical beings. One isn't superior to the other, they're equal partners in our essential human reality. It would be a cruel God indeed who would place a spirit in a physical body as some sort of obstacle to make learning hard. One complements the other; they travel hand-in-hand to create a perfect whole.

So I see myself as a follower of an earth-centered, human-centered spirituality. I hang out with all sorts of neo-Pagans, celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and wander in the woods and the salt marshes and the seashores and surround myself with Creation. I read the Tao Te Ching and the writings of Matthew Fox, Rumi, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. In my youth I was a hippie, and now at the other end of a whole lot of years I've come full circle, but with a fuller understanding of what it truly means to be a hippie. I think there's a divine joke in there somewhere, and it's one that'll keep me chuckling to the very end.

That's my journey so far. I'm sure there's a lot more interesting stuff yet to come and I look forward to it. As Frank Herbert has Ship say at the end of The Jesus Incident: "Surprise me, Holy Void!"

Picture of the Day

This is a Mouse-Ear Chickweed flower, taken with my macro lens. I'm getting ready to put together a new slideshow for the Song Pick page on my website; it'll be all macro shots, a lot from last year and new stuff from this year. Haven't decided what music I'll use for the soundtrack, but I'm leaning towards Brian Keane's Western Sky. But this shot will definitely be in the show.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Music Is Subversive!

I own a copy of Alanis Morissette's "Feast on Scraps" concert DVD, and in watching it again the other night I was reminded why it is that the powers-that-be don't like music.

Have you ever noticed that? What was the first thing the Taliban did when they took over Afghanistan? They banned music on the radio. Ditto Khomeini in Iran back in '79. The Puritans forbade music in the old Massachussetts Bay Colony. Whenever conservative, and often strictly religious, regimes come into power the first thing they do is ban or severely limit music in public. Now why do you think that is?

Watching any musical performance is a clue. The musicians become swept up in and moved by the music. In the "Feast on Scraps" DVD this is most evident in the two guitarists, Jason Orm and David Levita, and in Alanis herself - they get caught up in the music and seem to go into a trance, the music taking over their bodies and doing with them whatever it will. Watch a classical orchestra, especially the string players. Watch African drummers, and watch what their druming does not only to them but to their audience as well. Music has such great power!

Music calls down the awen, the Holy Spirit, the loah, whatever you want to call it - a spiritual power outside ourselves that music invites into us and which takes over. Our inhibitions disappear under this assault and we do things we probably wouldn't do under other circumstances. Ever heard a Blues shout? That's the Spirit moving, brothers and sisters! Ever watched a Vodun ceremony? Or the Balinese ketjak ceremony? Or even a fer Pete's sake high school dance? Inhibitions go bye-bye and we move and act in ways that the Spirit moves us.

And that's exactly what the prudes, the fundamentalists, the control freaks don't like about music. As "spiritual" as they present themselves to the world, real spirituality scares the willies out of them. It's beyond their control, and control is what they're all about. I can guarantee you that if Pat Robertson and/or his allies ever came into a position of control in the US, among the first decrees would be the banning of all music except approved hymns. It's what happened in colonial Massachussetts (and after all, the modern Fundies are the direct descendants of the Puritans), it's what happened in Iran and Afghanistan, and it's what has happened in countless imposed theocracies throughout the world.

So I have a proposal. Do you want to foil the plans of the mean-spirited controllers? Put on some music, get carried away, dance, shout, collapse, speak in tongues. It'll scare the living daylights out of them. Even better, do what V did in the movie "V for Vendetta" - play 'em the 1812 Overture from every speaker in the land, and give 'em a fireworks show to go with it.

As we used to say back in the '60s - Fight the power!

Picture of the Day:

This mushroom is one of a whole cluster growing on the floor of the old quarry in Ballard Park. There were several clusters of these around the park, and they were growing only on the wood chip mulch that the Public Works people had put down on the low-lying parts of trails that tend to get particularly muddy. And of those, the mushrooms only seem to grow in the ones in a sunny area. Makes for an intersting hike, you know?