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March 18, 2010

Letters from Yurtville

Hello dear readers (those who haven't given up entirely on my continuing this blog),


I'm not dead, as you can see. Far from it! I'm alive and well, and excited by the coming of spring.

It's quite a bit longer than I'd expected to be away from the blog, though the time has done me well. But you know, it's remarkable: when I posted the last post, I thought I'd be leaving the next day. But what do the gods do for fun? Watch us try to plan! Low and behold, the weather changed suddenly. The roads froze over and travel was basically impossible. There were accidents all over the country, the counties had run out of salt/sand to put on the roads, and run out of money to get more. Crops died left and right. Water pipes froze, and cracked open. It was the coldest winter in recorded Irish history. And it lasted like that for a month. When the pipes thawed, water leaked out of the cracks and there were water shortages all over the country. And huge floods to accompany them. Irony!

What had happened? The gulf stream left Ireland and headed for Greenland. I believe it's called a 'negative arctic draw' or something like that. Is it a result of human-caused Climate Change? Maybe, maybe not. But it showed one thing for certain: we live in transition times. And we are hugely unequipped to deal with unforeseen challenges. Supermarkets almost completely ran out of food. Most houses nowadays have very little food and water stored. And many (including the one I was living in) are very poorly designed and difficult to heat without excessive quantities of fuel. After a month I did finally move out to the yurt, and I was kept very busy gathering wood and insulating the yurt with whatever old blankets and curtains and rugs I could gather. There were some frosty mornings, let me tell you. But I kept moving, and that kept me warm. And the nights were long and allowed me to get reacquainted with the old guitar.

Well spring has finally arrived (actually, if one follows the Celtic lunar calendar it came right on time, on the first quarter of the month of Willow; it only seems late because last year was a Blackthorn year. But then, only lunatics would believe in anything other than the Gregorian system...). Well we've got our gulf stream back now and most people are probably beginning to forget all about the winter as they enjoy the warming weather. But it taught us something very important. Whether that particular incident of the gulf stream shifting was indicative of patterns to come or not, Climate Change is real, and even seemingly small shifts in the geo-system can cause huge upheavals for us humans. We are a very fragile species, no matter what we tell ourselves. Islands are being swallowed, rivers and lakes are drying up, glaciers are melting; other areas are being flooded and hurricaned and typhooned.

It also taught me something else very important. Community, community, community. I mean, I already was kind of onto the notion, but really. We can't get through these times on our own, and even if we could, it would not be so worthwhile without community. And I know in the age of the internet there's lots of talk about global community and the like, and that's important too, but we really need to refocus on our local communities. If there was suddenly an oil shortage, what would you do? If you couldn't drive your car out of the suburbs, or if all the food that's flown half-way round the world suddenly wasn't available, or if all the fertilizers and plastics and other petroleum products we now take for granted could no longer be made, what would you do? Where would you find yourself, and how would you provide for your needs and those of your family? And the question is not really IF the oil runs out, but WHEN and how quickly it does. There's a limited quantity of the stuff, and we're doing our best to burn through it like there's no tomorrow. And no one knows just how much is left, because countries are allowed to lie about how much they have. And the less there is, the harder it's going to be to get out of the ground. Do yourself a favor and educate yourself about Peak Oil. And then watch the film "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" to see that yes, the world as you know it can change overnight, and yes, you can live a happier, healthier, freer life without a dependency on oil, but it takes time to make the shift and it can only happen with a strong community.

So those two things: Climate Change and Peak Oil, plus the fact that the economy is falling down around us - all of them show us that we are living in transition times, and the system we have come to know and rely upon is in fact a very fragile one. But really, it's for the better that we change. The old fragile system is deprecated, unsustainable, smelly, and based on exploitation (of people, animals, plants, ecosystems). We can respond to the challenges by creating a new, more healthy and vital and fun way of living, more people-friendly, planet-friendly, and balanced. For one idea on how our response could look more like a party than a protest march, take a look at TransitionCulture.

But I also mentioned the notion that our culture is ailing spiritually. Let me explain. All spiritual traditions are based upon the notion of harmony. Now, just what they want you to be in harmony with varies from tradition to tradition. Most of the old traditions, the 'native' ones all over the world were rooted in harmony with nature. They had to be in order to survive. Other traditions are based upon harmony with the self or soul, or with community, or with some chap called God somewhere up in the sky. These traditions all served a very specific purpose in the cultures that birthed them. They kept the order, they prevented misconduct, and gave people a sense of meaning and rhythm in their lives. But in our modern culture we've mostly thrown all that out of the window. And in a sense it was right to throw it out of the window, because so much of it no longer is relevant to the times we're living in. But we kinda threw the baby out with the bathwater, and in our effort to establish the Scientific Model of reality as the only valid one, we've ignored and repressed a huge amount of valuable knowledge and perspectives that could help us. And so now, where do people turn to for a sense of meaning and rhythm in their lives? Well television, magazines, really media of all sorts are all more than happy to fill the void. We no longer worship a god in the sky or the gods of nature, we now worship wealth and fame and sex and the cult of personality. The fashion and advertising industries are built upon selling a hollow image to people who are searching for something that they will never find outside themselves. Trade has become the single most important facet of society, the central point around which everything else revolves. Don't believe me? Just look at our temples. What are the tallest, most expensive and spectacular buildings in our society devoted to? Trade. Everything else comes second.

But some people are still filling the void by turning to music and art, which have traditionally stood as bastions for the soul, holding a repository of truth that can't be philosophized or idealized or rationalized. In fact people need art and music and poetry as much or more now than they ever did. And the reason for this is simple. We have mostly convinced ourselves that the conscious, rational mind is the only mind that exists, and repressed all the rest (including the unconscious mind, emotions, soul, and the wisdom of the body). And because good art, like the old myths, bypasses the rational mind and speaks directly to the other aspects of one's being, it feeds a very malnourished creature. And because of this, there is great importance in the arts, and great potential. Because if a people are to change, they have to change on the unconscious level too; otherwise they'll just be fighting themselves and nothing will be accomplished.


And a change IS needed, because the story we've been telling ourselves for the last 5000 years isn't working anymore. Or rather, it worked too well and if we continue the way we've been going, we will exterminate ourselves. I'm not kidding. We're now presiding over the 3rd great extinction of species in the planet's history. And a few of those species, like the honeybees that are disappearing, are absolutely vital to our survival. And the oxygen in the atmosphere is being depleted quicker than it is replenished. Water is becoming scarce in many places, toxic in others. Even if all the humans disappeared from the planet tomorrow, Climate Change would still be happening, because we've cut down too many trees for the balance to be kept.

So I'm not talking about the sort of change where you buy new lightbulbs or resolve to recycle more. I mean change on a massive scale and at a fundamental level. 10 billion trees should be planted (this is the number that have been cut down since the dawn of the Colonial era in 1495). Pant them on every spare corner of land - in cities, lawns, roadsides, farms, mountains, swamps, wasteland - there's a tree suited to every environmental condition. In addition to providing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, trees stabilize the land and local climate, preventing many natural disasters. They filter pollution and noise, making cities healthier and more pleasant. They are a sustainable, renewable, low-maintenance source of food and medicine. Woodlands are among the most awesome, vital, inspirational places one could go, making them valuable community resources as well. In fact, when one considers all the gifts of trees, then tree-planting begins to seem less like charity and more like a sound economic investment - much more so than investing in one of these banks which collapse overnight. In fact, when considering effects on climate, every $1 invested in tree-planting is the equivalent of $7 invested in renewable energies. Forests precede civilizations. They are the ecosystem which gave birth to humanity, and they continue to sustain us. It's time we wake up and realize that we need to sustain them too. And they're so friendly! Spend some time with a tree. Get to know it. You'll see!

We as a people have enormous potential. The world we have created is a testament to our ingenuity, vision, power, and beauty. If we can refocus ourselves, if we can shed the skin of the story that is laying waste to our world and dream a new dream, we can achieve untold success. If we can bring the world of science and the world of the subtle, experiential, subjective world together; if we can unite the local community and global community; if we can take all the needs of humanity and all the needs of the planet and hold them together; if we can honorthe paradox of a union of opposites, then we can create a world like never before.

A strong, resilient community is a diverse community. Diverse in needs, in skills, in thoughts and perspectives. Homogeneity is fragile. Especially in transition times. Not everyone needs to run off to live in a yurt in the woods in the middle of winter. Not everyone needs to be a farmer, or a hunter/gatherer or whatever. But everyone does need to stop for a moment, and take a look at what's actually going on in the world around them, and begin to examine the story that's been told for the last 5,000 years, and take stock of the resources of their community, and figure out what their role will be in adapting to and prospering in the changing times to come. And whatever we do, we all need to plant trees. Really. If you are a lawyer or a banker or an accountant, plant trees. If you are a construction worker or craftsman or artist, plant trees. If you are a musician, plant trees. If you work a crap 9-5 job behind some desk, plant trees. Research what type is best suited to your area and your own needs. Look after it for it's first couple years until it gets established. It is just about the best gift you can give to the future - an investment for yourself, your children, and all life on the planet. In all the economic turmoil that's going on, it can be hard to find the energy and resources to actually invest in a gift like a tree, but know this: trees are a source of real, tangible wealth and abundance, rather than the abstract paper kind which could be worthless tomorrow.

When we have abundance we can have specialization and thus diversity. And this abundance and diversity is what allows progress on every level. We don't all need to be doing the same thing, working on the same project or have the same values and ideas. In fact, it's often the odd fellow, who lives on the margins on society and doesn't fit in, who's the one who brings something new to it and prompts it to evolve (see, for example, Harry Partch for a musical example). The diversity we have produced as a race is truly incredible; the ideas and cultures we have birthed - the anthrosphere if you will - is perhaps our greatest accomplishment. But recently we have begun to live in such a way that it destroys diversity - we are destroying ecosystems left and right, spreading them over with an endless sea of pavement, and we are also destroying cultures through the homogenizing effects of the mass media and advertising. Regionalism is disappearing at the same time that pockets of interest groups of every imaginable description are coming together via the internet (this very blog is an example of a collection of obscurities and marginalized forms of expression and curious people). And by destroying diversity we rob ourselves of our strength, resilience, and abundance.

Now, traditionally, we humans have understood abundance on a material level, and we have sought energy in a material form. And thus we dig and cut and burn in order to get all the energy we need for our lives. But we are beginning to realize that what seemed like a limitless bounty is actually running out, and we don't know where to turn. But realize that abundance and energy is all around us, all the time. The sun shines down upon us every day, and the winds blow and the water climbs to the sky and returns to us in its graceful dance. And every night 6 billion people dream, and rediscover themselves and have a chance at glimpsing something new. And every time I hear some fantastic beautiful piece of music or see some original work of idiosyncratic art, I remember just what we can do. And the deeper I go into that artwork, the more I see the true nature of the universe reflected back at me. You may not be able to live on art & music alone (I for one have tried), but you can't really live without it either. Or rather, you can't live without beauty, and without the sort of communion that beauty offers. Mostly we get it from the arts, but you can get it from nature too (as my month away from technology/culture has taught me). In fact, nature is the origin of all the arts, all the culture, not to mention all the economy. Nature is abundance, nature is inspiration, nature is mystery. And we are a part of nature, so the more we probe the depths of our own being, the more we discover reflected in the world around us, and vice versa. And the greatest instrument of perception, the greatest weaver of community, and the greatest instigator for growth and change is love. So whatever you do, do it with love: love for yourself, love for others, love for the planet. If you can do that, your every action will bring about good.

So, with all that having said, I guess it's back to the business of unearthing and enjoying musical treasures. I am still living in the yurt, but there is a computer nearby and I will hopefully be able to resume posting again, as time allows. But don't forget: we are living in transition times, and we are at the ships helm, deciding where the future of humanity will go. Go forth and love!

As you dream, so you create.

8 comments:

Ernst said...

A great thought, though i think some things mentioned are quite different. I don't really want to go into every detail, but i believe we can't change the way of the world or prevent any of the changes, it was already too late when humanity cut down the first tree, that was not needed in order to survive, but for comfort. We are really on the edge of the change, but i guess it's a slow shift that most people can't see simply because they are so bothered with themselves and their restless lives. Also it's not like "arts" are better for the environment than anything else. I have no figures but think about how many resources have been sacrificed for the sake of art. We don't need millions of instruments, all made out of wood. Sure i wanna play the fucking theremin, but you have to compromise, either you want progress in arts or you want the lowest impact on nature as possible, e.g. like what urban legend tells about native americans. Look at what we dismissively call "ethnic music". None of that is done with electric instruments, except some modern interpretations of old traditions as say amplified mbira. I know you get my idea as you say this blog gathers the curious (no pun intended), but you are preaching to the converted in a way right here. I say there is no possible way to change humanity, though your thought on local community is quite right. I am not against globalisation, but the way we do it, makes everything worse. Look at current wars, it is not even pessimistic any more, just plain realistic to see that we are too dumb to help ourselves and will ultimately fail to save ourselves.

The Irate Pirate said...

If we can't change the world, then how did we get where we are today? There are certainly a lot of changes that have happened in the last 100, 50, even 10 years. Quite a lot of that change was unplanned and unexpected, or depended on new technologies that burst upon the scene. But there was definitely some very intentional directing that worked to shape the kind of society we see now.

And that very intentional directing worked in subtle ways. It worked through the arts, it created new myths, and it used the media to disseminate them. Trade has always been an important facet of culture, but consumerism as a core value of people was cultivated and established intentionally at a specific time for a specific reason. And if we can create something like consumerism on the scale it has grown to in 50 years time, we can de-create it, and create something different that suits our needs for the current time.

Perhaps I am preaching to the converted here, but I think there's actually quite a number of different viewpoints coming into this site, as can be evidenced by the wide range of comments on my last post. And you're right, it's not like the arts are the most important thing. But they are important, both as a way of spreading an idea on an unconscious level and as a tool for creating community. I really do urge you to check out the film "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" because they actually have made the change, in just a few years, and a big reason they could do it without resorting to anarchy, stealing, etc is because of their strong communities, and one reason for the strength in their communities is the arts, particularly music. Other factors come into play too, of course: their social structure, their generosity towards other latin american nations, etc. But don't think the arts are just for pleasure. The fact that free artistic expression is severely suppressed by repressive governments gives you some idea of the power it can have.

Also, in regards to the Native Americans, well there's two sides of every coin i guess. Many of them actually had considerable impact on their environment: some of them deforested their land and drove species to extinction, others kept things in such an amazing balance that when their culture was destroyed, the land suffered and biodiversity went down. So we actually have the potential to enhance our environment, and by doing so enhance ourselves. But in order to do so we have to re-orient ourselves from the mentality of "Take what I need, use it up, and throw away the rest". If we re-orient ourselves towards the sustaining and balancing of nature and the life-support systems of the planet, we will be rewarded with abundance 100-fold. If we plant lots of trees, we can have millions of instruments all made out of wood. If we figure out how to turn natural planetary processes movement and gravity into energy, we can have an abundance of electricity-based things including electric instruments and computers and the like. For a while there was no electricity at all in my yurt. Let me tell you, you really notice the night time then. And it really limits how much and what sort of things you can do. And returning to that timeless rhythm is wonderful, but it also really makes you appreciate what the technology gives us.

It's important to be realistic, but pessimism and optimism are both equally false. But if we can't believe in the possibility of change, we might as well throw in the towel right now. Of course, the deeper you believe something, the more you'll bring it into existence, so if I had to choose, I'd take optimism for what it brings forth in myself and others.

And remember this: the Earth created us, and I'm not sure it made a mistake in doing so. The game is not over yet: there are still cards to play.

Anyways, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

gadaya said...

Hi Pirate, it's good to hear from you again... I came back from a trip to India and visited some places and met people that gives me hopes for the future. First i went to Amma's Ashram because my brother is very involved with her (go to http://www.amma.org/ if you don't know her) and everything she does is just giving her infinite love to India and to all humanity. I visited also Auroville which is an utopian community created by The Mother and reflecting Sri Aurobindo's teachings (go here:http://www.auroville.org/). In Auroville, there's an amazing community called Sadhana Forest (go here:http://www.sadhanaforest.org/) which is about recreating a tropical forest and live in harmony and self-sufficiently with nature. In all this places, some people try hard to go against the flow of egoism, violence and mediocrity that is ravaging the world...So i'm all heart with you Pirate, may you live according to your very soul...
Peace,
Gadaya

Anonymous said...

Robins, crocuses and now WOTG ... it must be spring! Welcome back, glad to know all went well

Ernst said...

Well, after all i guess both our views of the world point in the same direction. I think pretty much the same thing when it comes to our society evolving around trade. That probably is our biggest problem. See i mean our problem isn't something like "climate change", we can't do as much as we think we can about that. I love the idea of planting a tree. Our main problem is of intellectual nature. I don't live in NY, but even in my small rural community the media among other things has put these false values like you mentioned in the common mind. It makes no difference what class of society you come from, it refers to anybody.
So what i am trying to say is, i like your ideas and though i would change some things about it, i guess the problem isn't what to do, but how to make the common man accept and do these things we need to do. Like you say we achieved to make everybody think that consumerism is the answer to everything. So how are we going to deconstruct those ideas?

flwyd said...

You should name your dwelling Mississippi John Yurt.

Welcome back to the light.

The Irate Pirate said...

Yes Ernst, how to deconstruct the old story and find a new one that works, and then how to spread that new story to the people. It's a big challenge. I don't have an answer. But I've put it on the backburner (unconscious) to simmer for a while and hopefully at some point I'll discover. At the moment I'm just working on spreading the story of why we need a new story, kind of like building a bridge to the place where you want to build the new bridge.

The Irate Pirate said...

@flwyd:
yes! brilliant! you're a good bro, bro.