Circles, cycles, ebbs and flows

Today I am reminded how life is circular. Our planet is round, our orbits are round, even if not perfect circles, the moon, my meandering creek, and even my own life’s experiences. I pay attention to oscillations around me, both seen and unseen, and wrote an article about it for Subtle Energies Magazine. Part I of [E]motion: from music to my ears to oscillations of the spheres,  is the set up to my thoughts and ideas on oscillations, to be released this spring in Part II. As I turned 50, I became aware of my own life-scale oscillations. According to Vedic teachings, we live life in 7 sets of 7 years: one set for each chakra. Malavika Suresh beautifully maps out the energies of each year in her blog  CHAKRAS: 7 YEAR DEVELOPMENT LIFE-CYCLES. At age 50, I literally started over at the root chakra, like when I was born. This second life, however, begins as a conscious human being, complete with awareness and thought, which I did not have the first time around. Unlike that first time, I find myself consciously wondering what I will do with this second life.

30 years ago today, I strapped a backpack on and set out to camp on the summit of Pikes Peak. I got a late start, and so I decided to stop at 13,000 feet and at least set up my tent. I deliberately chose this mission in order to put myself in a position of having only ME to count on. I was here to do this on my own. I did tell friends I was going, and that if they didn’t hear from me in two or three days, to send the search parties. But I had no intention of having someone else bail me out.

It was comforting to have my tent set up, and my -30 bag rolled out. I knew that at least I had shelter should the weather turn, which can happen quickly at 13,000 feet in the middle of winter. Then, with dwindling light, I headed the last mile to the top. The sun was setting as I reached the summit. I sat against the leeward side of the summit house, to stay out of the wind, for a long time watching the lights of Colorado Spring slowly begin to twinkle. It was magical. There were thousands of them. At first they were individual, and then they began to glow as a collective hive. So many people down there, and me 7,000 ft above them enjoying my solitude. It was like a dream, and I wondered if this was what the stars see when they look down upon us.

Cold started to set in. I had good clothes, an absolute necessity to survive extreme conditions, but no clothes will completely guard against winter at that elevation. The only way to stay warm is to keep moving. I got up to head back to the shelter of my tent and sleeping bag. As I rounded the west side of the summit house and walked into the darkness, I was met with a pitch blackness unlike I had experiences before. And for the first time in this adventure a wave of utter and complete aloneness consumed me. I dreamed of this vast emptiness as a child, and it was terrifying. Loneliness is an emotion. Being alone is a circumstance. The two together are a powerful one-two punch in gut-right about at the solar plexus. I remember thinking that if something went wrong, I may never be heard from again, and thought of my friends in the comfort of their warm homes down below. Still, I did not question, doubt or regret what I had chosen. I was right where I had wanted to be when I started out from Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp that day. I was on staff there for the winter, and that in itself was an isolation. That day, I had gone from self chosen solitary confinement, to solitary confinement without guards. I had only myself to unlock the doors of whatever prison I sought to escape. I was both terrified and exhilarated by this aloneness.

The only antedate was to get moving. I knew where my tent was, and I knew how to get there. All my energy went into focus on being careful one step at a time. I had no headlamp, but once my eyes adjusted, the stars were enough light to follow the summit road back to my tent. I was comforted at least by not having to descend the boulder field with no light. I will never forget the feeling of crawling into my sleeping bag. It was like being wrapped as a baby. I was a papoose, nurtured by careful preparations. The wind flapped the tent all night long and I slept lightly, always wondering if that wind might be bringing with it weather. Finally the morning light came, and as I opened the tent, still wrapped in my sleeping bag, the moon greeted me high in the sky. It was cold. But it was also clear!

I took the long way home: my favorite walk across Sheep Ridge. That walk was not without its own challenges. The ridge sits high above the valley, and has mild ups and down, but there was more snow than I had planned on. The descent from sentinel Point took me down a steep snow covered timberline, and over snow covered boulder fields. As I post holed through waist deep snow, I wondered if there was a crack between boulders waiting to swallow me. On that day, I learned that the summit is only half way. When I finally made it back to camp, I was exhausted. And incredibly fulfilled! I had gone to the heights to be with myself, and had returned. I wept. Tears of joy, of grief, of wonder, gratitude, and exhaustion. That experience was a key to unlocking my self-determination and motivation, in a year that I spent truly getting to know myself.

For me, there is no substitute for solitude and the wilderness… and no substitute for coming out of the wilderness either. I still feel like the shower at the end of a “go till you throw” day is as good as the day itself. 30 years later, after another spell in the wilderness, I find myself returning to re-engage the world around me. At the beginning of a new cycle…a new oscillation, I am grateful for all who have joined my path, for a day, or for a life-time. No matter what part of the circle our interactions happen on, each experience teaches something new, or remembers something old. Bit by bit, a rich soul journey is pieced together and connected, past present and future. As I move into the world from a mid-life wilderness, learning from all my experience, I stand like mountain and move like water. Hello all. Nice to meet you!

Solo dare

Experience, Information, Reality

I was getting ready to give a guest lecture at a prominent mid-Western University. Sitting outside the room, a pendulum dangled over my lap. I was asking questions. A faculty member came by and made a comment about how he wouldn’t stake his life savings on information from a pendulum. It was a bit condescending, but I get that. At an institution of higher education, many choose intellect over intuition, even in a creative field like music. It was a first encounter with what I call: “bracketing out:” both conscious (because of preferences, biases or prejudices), and unconscious (see “inattentional blindness“) discarding of information. Often times bracketing happens because of how “worthy” we perceive a source to be. In our culture,  rationality and intellect seem to be the most trusted sources of information: perhaps a byproduct of suppressing the feminine principle for so many centuries. To the faculty member in Illinois, my source of information: a well asked question, followed by observing the motion of the pendulum (guided by micro movements in my hand), was mystical hocus pocus. It was not real or trustworthy.

Permeable reality
Permeable reality

Tör Nørretranders in The User Illusion, however, presents a compendium of research behind how misleading the results of our intellectualizing can be. He introduced the notion of exformation: all the stuff beneath actual communicated information. It turns out that our thinking brain can only process a wee fraction of the data coming in through our senses. In each verbal or written communication, there is a body of shared data and experience, not actually communicated directly. Cultural codes, assumptions, research behind conclusions, etc. all go unspoken, because they are perceived to be mutually understood. When information comes from a scientific study such as the 80’s, when doctors told us cholesterol from eggs was bad for us, we tend to favor it, as opposed to information that comes with, say, my being stung 5 times by two bumble bees yesterday as I accidentally disturbed their nest. Animal totems are a compendium of wisdom compiled over centuries by [First Nations] People observing, and divining significance from times when animals show up in our lives (compiled in books such as Ted Andrews‘ Animal Speak, to name one source). The information on cholesterol is deemed more valid because it came from a very specific and “approved” (marketable?) methodology (however biased…), while information derived from bee stings or a pendulum, is deemed superstitious because it comes from intuiting conclusions based solely on observation and contemplation.

And yet, in my own experience, everything I encounter is information with potential significance asking to be integrated. I do not necessarily believe everything, but I believe in the possibility of everything. And lots of information requires belief. Even scientific studies. I have never seen a germ, and yet I believe in them, and because I believe in them, correlate them to sickness. In reality I have never even experienced a germ, only the symptoms that doctors tell me come from germs (there’s that pesky exformation again!). All of the information of studies on germs has been discarded, and I am left with only the conclusions: to believe or disbelieve (or “buy in” or not). I must trust the doctors, and yet one decade eggs are bad for me, and the next…oops…they were wrong, and eggs are ok again. Of course, I never gave up eggs…because I love eggs, and my higher wisdom told me the studies were wrong, or perhaps were not about the health of eggs, but the sale of drugs to counteract cholesterol. There’s that hocus pocus again…and yet it served me far better than the science did. So I tend to favor ideas based on experience and am careful with beliefs. There is a great dialog in Dogma between Rufus and Bethany:

Bethany: “You’re saying having beliefs is a bad thing?”

Rufus: “I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.”

I’m not advocating that we give up science. But choosing to bracket out only that which has been verified by science or rational thought is like trying to walk without legs. Information is everywhere, and we get to choose how to interpret it. We are the writers of our own studies. If we ignore our own experience in the face of someone else’s (no matter how rigorous their methodologies and conclusions), then we deprive ourselves of our most trustworthy source: intuition. Intuition stems from the full-bandwidth of information coming in our senses, which our body, mind and spirit (subconscious!) IS fully processing. Our own experience, and subsequent intuition, is the one source that contains all of the exformation with nothing discarded!  Malcolm Gladwell explored this notion in Blink.

“The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. “ (Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

So cast your radar widely, and absorb everything with an open mind, body and spirit and play with all information, no matter where it comes from. If nothing else, it is a practice in creativity and imagination. And imagination has changed the course of individuals and humanity more than once!

Reach out and Touch Someone
Reach out and Touch Someone

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