Friday, December 25, 2009

Thoughts on SOULCRAFT

Had a friend lend me his personal copy of SOULCRAFT by Bill Plotkin. I am loving the book, and find it is one that for me takes slow and deliberate digestion. I think I will share quotes from it here periodically as I slowly consume what is within it...

Malidoma Some, an African shaman of the Dagara people, gives us an extreme example of how therapy and soulcraft goals can diverge. When Dagara boys undergo their initiation ordeals, the people of the village realize that a few boys will never return; they will literally not survive. Why would they Dagara be willing to make such an ultimate sacrifice? For the boys who die, this is certainly not a therapeutic experience. Although the Dagara love their children no less than we do, they understand, as the elders of many cultures emphasize, that without vision - without soul embodied in the culturally creative small risk of death is preferable to the living death of an uninitiated life. Besides, when we compare Dagara society with our own, we find that an ever greater percentage of our teenagers die - through suicide, substance abuse, auto accidents, and gang warfare - in their unsuccessful attempts to initiate themselves.

It is fascinating that in such a risk-avoiding, convenience driven-society as our own we think that people such as the Dagara are backwards or violent because of such initiations. Yet, the evidence is there to show us how our own children are seeking to be initiated through the only vehicles they see fit to use... drugs, alcohol, fast driving, gangs and so on.

In addition, many of the children who survive in our culture and make it into so called adulthood, hardly seemed to have grown into true man or womanhood. Some, no matter what age they might be, are still children who happen to be in adult bodies.

Graduations, promotions, legal drinking age, and other small acknowledgments of the transitions in life are in our society a generally soul-less affair. They address the mundane transitions, but not the deeply individual changes occurring at those times.

From Tracking Apprenticeship Winter Outing

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Langauge Older... revisited

A great quote from Derrick Jensen that has made its way into my present life again.

There is a langauge older by far, and deeper than words. Its the langauge of bodies. Body on body. Wind on snow. Rain on trees. Wave on stone. Its the langauge of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We've forgotten this langauge. We don't even remember that it exists. - D.J.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A beautiful quote from a series of documentaries called THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICAS BEST IDEA. The series is so powerful, it moved me to tears on several occasions. And, that's saying a lot since I have only watched 2 out of the 6 parts... :)

As long as I live, I'll hear the birds, and the winds, and the waterfalls sing. I'll interpret the rocks, and learn the language of flood and storm and avalanche. I'll make the acquittance of the wild gardens and glaciers, and get as near to the heart of this world as I could.

And so I did. I sauntered about from rock to rock, from grove to grove, from stream to stream. Whenever I met a new plant I would sit by it for a minute, or a day. To make its acquittance, hear what it had to tell. I asked the boulders where they had been and wittered they were going. When night found me, there I camped. I took no more heed to save time or to make haste, then did the trees or the stars. This is true freedom. A good, practical sort of immortality.

- John Muir

From AWCP OR Dunes 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

- IF,
by Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The little mysteries

Step out onto the Planet
Draw a circle a hundred feet round

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody's ever really seen

How many can you find?

- Lew Welch

Saturday, April 18, 2009

All I know is that I don't know

My recent participation in the Tracker Evaluations and other events have left me feeling very small and humbled. All though I have heard and understood this before, it seems the recent lesson to focus on for me is:

The more you learn, the more you realize what you don't know.

The more my awareness of the world grows, the more understanding I gain, the more this wisdom seems to be hammered home. I feel like the closer I reach to mastery in nature awareness or tracking or whatever else, the more clearly I see that what I see is a single layer... barely a nail scrape on the surface of what is there.

My eyes just become open wider to the awe-someness of the mysteries all around, outside and in. When I am honest with myself, when my personal ego stands aside...sometimes all I can do is stand and stare in wonder.

Just when that part of me that wants to claim some kind of control over the world (the ego) feels like taking control, it seems an opportunity arises for me to open my eyes wider. To listen more closely.

Isn't it funny how it is at the edges of things that life seems to flourish most intensely?

In that place between joy and sorrow, that knife edge between pain and pleasure, selfishness and humility, it is there that life seems to shine most profoundly...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Many of my recent experiences and thoughts on our cultural and individual relationship to the land never formed themselves into words. They did not seem to want to be written here. So I have not posted for a while.

I picked up a book called THE ANIMAL DIALOGUES by Craig Childs. I have only read a little of it, but already it has my attention. Here is a great quote from the introduction, and is referring to the authors encounter with a great blue heron.

You can not look at this bird and decide who is superior and who is not. The encyclopedic vocabulary of a raven is no more admirable than a red-spotted toad's ability to drink through its skin. The human penchant for deciphering the world has no greater merit than the unusually large eyeball of a pronghorn.

This is essentially an animist outlook on the world of wildlife around us. I dunno if Craig Childs would bother calling himself an animist, but this statement fits the bill anyway.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

We are the land

I struggle to put to words the great feelings of intimacy that flow from me to the land, and from the land to me. This understanding I have is largely intuitive and so personal that I find it a struggle to write out. But, I feel it is so vital that I want to try here.

In the book SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS the author, David Abram, describes well the significance of this feeling by saying that we are human through our relationships with the living, aware, and other-than-human land.

Since I was very young, I recognized that different places had different feelings associated with them that one could describe as the "essence of that place." Though I could not describe it back then, nor really even understand it consciously, it was always there. As clear and real as the rising and setting of the sun, or the beating of my own heart.

Part of that experience was what the landscape and all of its elements communicated to my senses. The land still speaks this way to me today. Every place I have grown to know and love, has a distinct swirl of smells, sights, sounds and more. The way the light dances across the forest floor in that very particular way. The way the bark on a particular Douglas-fir tree looks during a cloudy day. The distinct tartness of the huckleberries from this patch. The mosaic of sounds of the soft breeze rasping the salal leaves or scraping the Oregon grape leaves, or sighing and hissing through the tops of the hemlocks and cedars. Those peculiar pockets of cool or warm air that always seem to be around in certain parts of the forest, which I feel with my bare arms or the skin on my face and neck.

Each element, each individual other-than-human person in the landscape, whether rock, tree, animal, herb, fungi, stream or whomever else, shapes the feeling of that place. No two bio-regions are alike nor are any two locations within a bio-region exactly alike.

I think we all perceive these things quite naturally, though, as members of modern western culture we learn to tune these details out as more or less irrelevant. Not much more than the backgrounds noise and a setting for more important human activities.

Every aspect of the living landscape is part of the language of that place. Each species of bird, mammal, amphibian, reptiles, insect, crustacean, herb, shrub, tree, mushroom, mold and so forth has a very particular essence in and of itself. For instance, a white-crowned sparrow might have certain behaviors, songs, locations it prefers that are unique to its species. With time we might notice the individual differences of one or a particular group of birds from that species in the given location. It is easy to slip into the western perspective and see these individuals as separate parts of the natural world. Sometimes it is useful to do that. In a perspective were everything is separate, this obviously makes perfect sense.

If we step for a moment into another perspective, where everything is connected we might see things differently. Every gesture of an animal, a tree in a wind, the sun moving across a stone or the bubbling of a stream is the land speaking to us. This is our birthright, as human beings. It can be argued, that this is what makes us human.

Who I am right now is due to a very large degree on the places that I have gotten to know and visit, and especially those I have lived in, have shaped who I am as a human being and as an individual. I am still the white and black sage covered hills of southern California where I romped when I was a boy. I am heat waves shimmering in those hills, the rattle snake coiled on the road in the evening. I am the cougar that roams those hills like a shadow, and the deer that it hunts. I do not mean this as a metaphor, rather, I am an expression of those places.

Every molecules of my being is infused with the lands where I have been and dwelled.

From UBNA Adventure Nov. 16

In the same way, right now here in the cool, wet Pacific Northwest, I am also an expression of the rain and the forests right here. I am the dripping moss hanging from a big-leaf maple, and I am also the big-leaf maple. I am also the Douglas squirrel chattering from the limbs of that same tree. The air that fills these lungs is air exhaled by the trees and shared by all. There is no way for me to separate from these connections.

This is the essence of animism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All my relations

Recently a video showed up at about 2 Burmese fishermen who survived at sea for 25 days off of only rainwater and fish regurgitated by seabirds. The video can be viewed here:

I am sharing it here because it exemplifies the typical western attitude of disbelief in the face of stories of other animals helping humans to survive.

This is in great contrast to the animist world view, where animals, plants, fungi, stones, stars and rivers are brothers and sisters all working together in cooperation to create a seamless and harmonious working system from which all benefit and grow. There are many stories told by tribal people of animals such as wolves, bears, dolphins, birds and even ants helping people to survive in times of dire need. In a world were all are working as part of the same community, such things are not really unheard of nor even terribly surprising. At least to people with a direct relationship to the living world.

Such stories are absent in our culture, or if they appear are generally labeled as fantasies of "primitive minds" and children, who we are told are both largely ignorant of the world around them. After all, our sciences tell us that nature is run largely by competition and violence. Better yet, animals are driven merely by instincts and can not act outside of the boundaries of what we believe to be the limitations of their behaviors, which are already pre-determined by the genes they carry. If an observation is ever made of something that might even imply to be outside of these limitations, we so easily write them off as being unlikely or random. As if animals were robots which for a moment had a glitch in their systems, and then returned to "normal" working function.

Even the meeting of an animal in the wild is to us a largely random event, to which we usually ascribe no great meaning other than perhaps as yet another reminder of the greatness and uniqueness of us as a species as a contrast to the other species of lower intelligence or lesser evolutionary developmental stage. We see animals so often not as they are, but as mere mirrors through which we can look at our own egos.

Our assumptions about our place at the pinnacle of evolution serves only to push us farther away from the relatives all around us.

From Herons and kin

To an animist, every element of the natural world, whether animal, plant, fungi or some other form, is an other-than-human person. Encounters with these others are taken very seriously and observed very carefully. Since these other-than-human people are seen as equals, there is no room for ideas about or feelings of superiority.

All the persons, human and other-than-human, have a role to play in the web of life that is flowing all around us and through us. How can one say that 1 piece of that puzzle is more or less important, than another?