Friday, November 23, 2012

This is What We're Taught

This is what we're taught
By age two or age three
We work hard in school
Go to college to get a degree

And that degree will
Tell the world who we are
Or who we are trying to be for society
While our dreams float among the stars

We get a job, build credit,
Buy some debt, save up, buy a car,
Because possessions apparently
Reveal how successful we are

Eventually we might
Even buy our first house
Meanwhile, we meet people, go on dates
Until we choose to make one a spouse

We get married, settle down,
Get a dog, have some kids
We love them, raise them, and tell them to
“Attack life, do it better than we did”

And this is our life
Pressured and planned out before we start
How much say do we really have
In becoming who we are?

How might one break the status quo
And walk away from all one has ever known?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where we are Starting.

There are many challenges to be faced in today's world, and countless more in the years to come.  Those of us living in the USA will be facing years of increasing economic hardship, as the tide of oil and capital upon which the country rose to great wealth begins its long ebb. Climate Change is threatening to endanger the basic necessities and livelihoods of a substantial fraction of the world's population. Additionally there is a dysfunction in many of our institutions, problems can evolve much like organisms: legal, social, scientific, religious, and political systems which are relatively stable breed resistant forms of corruption just as surely as antibiotics breed resistance into bacteria; problems that particular institutions are very good at solving are dealt with very effectively, but those at first minor problems the institutions can't detect or control run rampant. No doubt by the same logic new institutions will rise to fill the niches no longer maintainable by current systems, but of course the transition is very taxing in the best of circumstances. These challenges listed above are challenges of circumstance, over which we as individual have little control; focusing on them, except in anticipating future limits we may have opportunities to prepare ourselves for, does little except invite despair. Circumstance is not what we must overcome, but is the context in which we must carry on.

This Thanksgiving I want to talk about one of the most useful habits in being able to carry on through times of hardship: gratitude. When times are tough, there is a constant temptation to take our circumstances as a misfortune; this temptation is realized in the opposites of gratitude, entitlement and nihilism. By entitlement I mean the feeling that we deserve a certain life, and that if we do not get what we feel we deserve a great injustice must have been done; by nihilism I mean (in this article's context) the feeling that if we do not get the life which we feel people ought be entitled, then life must be worthless such that there is no justice. These are very similar, but quite distinct, (and both members of a broader family of vices which are beyond the scope of this article) in the former case one believes in justice, and feels it has been slighted, one believes that things should be going differently, but a evil completely separate from ourselves is preventing it, a tell-tail sign of entitlement is the projection of blame for our problems onto a moral failing in some other group, idea, or force; in the later case of nihilism one concludes from events seeming unjust that there is no justice, and that there isn't anything worthwhile to be worked towards, a sign of this is seen in cynicism run rampant to a point of dysfunction, such that no effort can be gathered to change circumstances.

Fostering a sense of gratitude undercuts the shared premise that both pitfalls rely on, it means letting go of preconceived notions as to what we deserve and making the choice to find joy in what we have; poverty can be crushing to many, yet there have been great people who choose to find grace in what little they had and thus avoided the emotionally debilitating effects of hardship and sudden limitations on ones life. The difference this makes is huge, when the reality of hard times differs from our narrative of what we were taught we deserved we find that the narrative no longer works, with out a working narrative our minds can latch onto any number of dangerous habits of though, including the two explored here; gratitude's essential step of letting go releases that disconnect, and allows us to consider our circumstance as it is, with out the blinders of how we wish it were. Our long era of prosperity has hollowed out gratitude, because people for generations have habituated to getting what they want far more often than is typical, and we were for a long time able to get more exactly by disconnecting from reality and promising to fulfill everyone's wildest dreams. As that era of grown turns into an era of decline, those who remember and foster gratitude in their lives will find themselves blessed, not only by what they have been given and take time to acknowledge, but blessed by many new strengths that follow. A source of joy in small things keeps away depression which in many areas ravaged by decline debilitates huge parts of the populous; courage is fostered by gratitude, as the world no longer seems unjust and adversarial (never make an enemy of your circumstances, every blow you land will haunt you many times over) but instead as a place that has given you much and which will continue to give in its own time and manner, thus the world is a place where meaningful work can be done; clarity of thought comes from no longer having any motive to find blame for circumstances beyond our control, and our mind can put its considerable power behind constructive and creative responses;  generosity and good nature are fostered by the exercised ability to find goodness in others, which gives us the support of community, which most thrives in times of need.

Matt and I have been very blessed in the last year, and have received great boons toward setting up our school. It is easy to lose track of those blessings during the stresses of day to day life. First I want to send thanks to my colleague and best friend Matt Holzapfel, and his daughter Maria, living alongside their family we have learned so much about what is truly important in life, the most precious wisdom. We have received many opportunies to raise more revenue for sponcering a Thinkery base in Oregon thanks to the Lairmer County Conservation Corp giving me an opportunies to begin as a sawyer professionally, and in thanks to The Fire Camp for giving Matt the opertunity to develop his Saw teaching skills, while building experience for more work. Thank you to our coworkers this summer for a great season on the crew: Andrew, J.C., John S., Tom, Rachelle, Tylor, Grant, Peter, James, Will, Leon, Zach, Justin, and Sam! Thank you to The New Earth Farm Project in Berthoud where we were so blessed to have a place to stay, and given countless learning experiences. Thank you to our friends who came out to visit and help us here in Berthoud, a by no mean comprehensive list: Mathias Babel, Dave Carter, Theran, Ryan, Jake, Devin, Eric Chancellor, Joe Haag, Samson, Brightheart, Trip, James, Dylan, Carly, Ryan Gray, Rachelle, Vanessa, and Peter; if anyone notices their name missing where it should be, remind me so I can give proper thanks. We thank circumstances for introducing Matt and I to Devin and Jake this summer, they have opened our perspective on many issues, and are both men who will one day offer so much to the communities in the terms of good old fashion craftsmanship rethought for helping a world of decline and salvage. We thank our families for being supportive of what on the whole is a rather ambitious and radical project. I thank fate for introducing me to Saraswoti Adhikari, who for the past few months has been a brightening source of inspiration for me personally. We thank our teachers: Jack and Kathy for educational projects around their homestead, Brightheart for introducing us to the possibilities of lime plaster and showing us his excellent leadership/teaching style. We are grateful for the opportunities we were given for education and information by being born in this narrow window of time, it is a blessing of world historic scope. We are thankful to the pioneers of permaculture, lime plaster, natural building, natural energy, organic farming, sawing, and countless other skills that I won't list here for doing the hard work of discovering that there is a way, after that point the road is much less frightening for those who follow using their map. We are grateful to have encountered the great thinkers of the western tradition, and grateful to those souls who are trying to continue their work in light of our current circumstance, I will for now just name John Michael Greer, James Carse, and Gregory Bateson. Thanks for the music: Andrew Bird, Grateful Dead, Bach, Scroobius Pip, Simply Swoti, Buckethead, Ghost Finger, The Talking Heads, and many many more. Thanks for the books: Plato, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Deleuze, Zizek, Freud, Poe, Emerson, Wallace, Tolkien, Bateson, Greer, Wittgenstein, Russel, Moore, Ianto Evans, Bartman, Carse, and many more whos names escape me at the moment, but who are mostly too long dead to be offended. We thank the technological advancements which through the internet allow us to gain practical information and network with people across the world in making sense of our current global circumstances and building responsive networks.

There is more that I didn't mention than there is that I did mention, but this post is already wordy by my taste. The best way to show grace is to accept a gift fully and to make the most of it. So, this is where we are starting.