Thoughts on War & Voting

I watched part of the “extended debate” on DemocracyNow! with Jill Stein & Amy Goodman. It was pretty good. I liked the way they collaged it together, showing a clip from Hillary & Donald then cutting over to Jill Stein for her two minute response.

Watching the segment really solidified this thought for me: we’re missing & needing the call of third parties in this country. Specifically, restorative justice at home & anti-war sentiment abroad. But so many of us are getting caught in the tabloid culture of Trump. It’s so easy to get lost in the tit for tat. But we could be spending time reading up on the Greens or Libertarians or Vermin Supreme or who’s running for local elections.

Granted, on the large stage, Gary Johnson going blank here & there doesn’t help out. I won’t hold it against him as a person, but as a presidential hopeful, that’s a different story…

And what’s more, he was offered a spot on the extended debate with Jill Stein, but declined. Why? You would think a candidate of his nature would jump at the bit to get on Democracy Now! but I don’t know, maybe MSNBC & Cnn is where he feels comfortable? After all, he is historically a republican.

In any case, I suspect he & Jill could use the practice of a healthy third party debate turned discussion. I think America could use it too. It would bolster the growing interest diverging from the two party system. It would also educate us on different positions, simultaneously, they could work to find common ground. There’s no use having third parties that just fall into the pattern of democrat v republican, this v that, diametrically opposed philosophies.

If we want any chance of seeing new parties rise to the occasion, they actually need to find harmonious space in our consciousness, they actually need to be listened to & understood as thoroughly as we’re able to.

And to be clear, when it comes to this election & future presidency, I’m not looking to sway your vote one way or the other. I’m asking that when you do vote, don’t limit your conversation piece. Please do not just keep one eye on what’s good – & – close the other eye to what’s bad.

Because, for instance, Obama got the Nobel peace prize, but where is the peace? Whether you blame war on him, or Bush, or Hillary, or whoever, the fact of the matter is the US has a history of imperialist military conquest. We remember Vietnam, of course. But how many remember 9/11 in Chile when democratically voted president Allende was disposed of by a CIA-backed coup d’etat? And what about a similar instance in Guatemala? The list goes on. War is, sadly, too often hidden from the general public, or just straight up willfully ignored.

Noam Chomsky has this great analysis of the subversive way propaganda blinds us. He gives the phrase “Support Our Troops” as an example. When asked the question, Do you support the troops? The answer is so often, yes, of course I support the troops. But it masks a bigger question, Do you support the agenda?

$100 million has been set aside for a drone base in Niger. It pales in comparison to the $40 billion package recently given to Israel, but it is an investment in war nonetheless. Rest assured, the powers that be will attempt to sell this as “counterterrorism” for the sake of security. There is a strong likelihood it will wind up looking like Syria & actually spur on terrorism. With the knowledge of the drone base, we have to ask, When the Middle East is so totally devastated & blown out, will the larger sphere of war move to Niger next?

I don’t feign to have any answers, but one thing I do believe, awareness (& the lack thereof) is a powerful tool. It can be the difference between blind oppression and collectively rising.

To use an example from current events, the movement for Black lives & #RestorativeJustice has made its way into many places of conversation. Kaepernick’s protest has helped bring it to new levels of awareness – high school athletes are taking a knee, sports radio & tv are having the discussion too – but with that breach in awareness comes another argument & concern: Disrespect for the military…

And yet again, the question from earlier comes up, Do you support the troops? The answer is so often, yes, of course I support the troops. But it masks the larger question, Do you really support all lives?

It’s All Happening

When I was in Valparaiso, Chile a few years back, I had the chance to witness & participate in some of the protesting happening there. It was wonderfully rampant. It took over the streets like morning glories take over an empty lot. When I saw the huge numbers of people marching on a weekly basis, from professors to students to shopkeepers to your average citizen young & old, or walking around seeing chairs thrown in the doorways of schools to protest for free public education, or people creating beautiful graffiti murals midday or simply tagging the wall “policia sucia,” or the organized pillow fights in the middle of an empty square, I felt as though I was amidst a widespread culture of protest.

Yes, I was an outsider looking in, but the spirit swept me up. It was all so joyous & empowering.

On any given night I could hear people jamming, singing, clapping long into the sunrise, and when morning woke, the workers who drove through the winding, hilly streets to pick up empty propane tanks would bang a little rhythm that echoed pang pang pangity pang. It put a smile on my face. The liveliness was ripe. I couldn’t help but join in the marches &, of course, dig my hands into the dirt. 

I find I am forever digging in the earth.

I started a couple plants from seed, and before we left, planted them on the side of a hill where people had occupied the abandoned land. (After we left, I had the chance to build a garden for a woman in Argentina. She owned a restaurant & fed us so much tasty food in exchange. Gardening has been a constant in my adult life, & for one reason or another, only now am I really starting to share that).

That was all 5 about years ago.

As I sit here now, reflecting, sitting in the community garden, taking in the growth of plants, thinking about the past few years living in & around Philadelphia, I can’t help but feel a similar coalescing of culture. Protesting has become so widespread, from the streets to the prisons to the sports arena to the sacred land of Native people, it’s difficult not to feel like we are living amidst a massive uprising.

People are congregating in so many ways.

I remember being at Occupy Oakland a few years back & someone gave me a pamphlet that read at the top in bold letters, THE JOY OF REVOLUTION. The theme of the pamphlet stuck with me. It was so simple. It read like this, “There are a number of righteous causes to take up, and we should give our time to that which our hearts are called, & never forget, the sheer happiness that exists alongside these troubling times. Rebellion in the face of oppression comes in many forms. When the spirit can rise up & laugh & dance & sing, remember that, remember you are alive.”

The Hidden Uprising of the Sacred Mother

When we cut through the noise, when we read between the headlines, we know the world is experiencing a radical transformation. There is a spirit that will not be shackled. The thing is, you have to consciously tap into it (or it will smack you in the face), because resilience is cultivated. It doesn’t just happen smoothly. It’s a practice.

I feel it when I walk down the street. It’s in the way people make eye contact & give a nod of the head. Maybe a word is said in passing, or a fist is held over the heart.

Being not depressed in the face of oppression is a courageous act of resistance.

It makes me especially happy when people collect together spontaneously. It makes me even happier because I see it happening more & more, from working in the garden to families hanging on their stoops to the swinging door of our house. People are joining together as if by a magnetism, a desire to lend support and be supported.

That’s why it was a great surprise to come home to a house full of people for the dark moon.

Throughout the day, I painted by myself, & rode my bike over the bridge in the evening. When I reached Philly, the bells of the St. Augustine Church banged & echoed a solemn, yet joyous tone. It felt lonely, like a precursor to a night of solitude, but how wonderful it was to arrive home to a house full of people.

We made dinner. We talked about plants, about the spirit of the earth, about protecting the land.

We started a metheglin to celebrate the new moon cycle. A metheglin is a mead infused with herbs. We added slippery elm, rose buds, and peppercorn. It’s already starting to bubble. The yeast is just chomping away at the honey. It’s so alive.

We started a couple tinctures too. Mugwort for one, which smells so potently vulgar, & echinacea root for the other. I let the plant material dry for a few days, then crushed it up with a wooden mortar & pestle. I love being so intimately involved with these medicines. It gives me a unitive feeling, a direct connection to the surrounding environment.

The more often I go to the garden, the more people I interact with. From neighbors to strangers to storeowners, people want to grow their own food too.

I think the deeper you go, the more relationships start forming, the more alchemy you start discovering. There’s metaphorical fire occurring just about everywhere. There are minute processes of change occurring every step of the way. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get clued in to the means of catalyzing these wondrously mysterious transmutations.

I keep finding ganoderma on oak trees. It’s really spawning a belief in the intricacy & grounded reality of magick.

I’m slowly learning the scientific names of plants & fungi too. I don’t know why, but I was uninterested in learning them at first, & now I find them wholly intriguing.

Red clover, for instance. The scientific name is Trifolium pratense, which translates roughly to- three leafed flower of the meadow. It’s so accurately descriptive & so accurately pretty. Getting to know the scientific names for plants is just another means of acutely getting to know their spirit. As plants grow roots in the mind, they take on a stronger life of their own.

This is a peculiarity of language that I find fascinating. There’s a hidden expandedness, an invisible unfurling; words contain worlds like seeds contain the blueprint for life.

There are nights I go to sleep and all I see are fields of foxtail & chicory & morning glory lightly dancing & swaying in the darkness of my closed eyes. And because I’ve been eating from the land, there are nights I can’t help but dance around with my own sway of wild presentness.

Life is better when it is nutrient dense. As is the body, so is the mind.

When I was in college, I took a class called Existentialism. The professor told us we were making a mistake by taking the class because we would lose a lot of friends. A lot of us laughed at the notion of it, thinking it was a novel prompt. But on the first day of class he wrote the word “journal” on the blackboard and asked us to shout out definitions. Someone recorded what we came up with, I think it totaled to 116 some odd number of meanings. The next class he talked about the word “they” and questioned, Who are “they”? Every time you use that word, ask yourself, “Who are they?” Really, truly, who is this group, this omnipotent, organized “they” we keep referencing? And class after class he just broke down language in such a way, it made me feel like I was having to rebuild my tongue one bud at a time. Communication became somewhat difficult, but also fresh & new. For a few years afterwards, I stopped using a dictionary to find the meaning of words and went straight to the origins. Was it Greek or Latin or Arabic? Did it come from German or Middle English? How was the word used back then? How did it evolve from its roots?

At the same time, I was doing research for a professor writing a book on the divine feminine. One little piece of information at a time slowly brought into view a hidden history. It gave me the sense that the practice of magic has never actually disappeared (despite years & years & years of persecution). It’s remained stirring in the shadows, deeply studied by the flickering light of a candle. And why wouldn’t it? We’re talking about the occult, after all.

Not only are there hidden histories arising from the crumbling ashes of our modern scrabble board of rapid communication, there are latent energies in the body just waiting to be jostled from their slumber.

There’s this really beautiful word that comes from Latin & it means “to bind back to the source.” Of course, there are a number of different translations, & it’s been corrupted over the centuries, so I won’t even mention it because it’s like saying the word God; it evokes so many varied feelings & potential arguments & misunderstandings. Regardless, I think binding back is important. & There are so many ways to reconnect.

Like gathering & digging in the earth.

Like making a tea from roots.

Like cooking & sharing a meal together.

Like conspiring… If you reach down far enough, it’s another way to describe simply breathing together.

Alignment & the Synergy of Rebellious Spirits

We drove through Blue Ridge at sunset. It was perfect timing. We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried. The densely jungled mountains swallowed the evening sun, and we continued on our way to Asheville.

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We made the trip, a short one of about five days, to give a hand to a newly found friend we met in the Green Mountains of Vermont. He was leading mushroom walks and just spilling information & knowledge when we met him. We arranged a casual work exchange: We’d help out on his property in exchange for sleeping arrangements and general permaculture & mushroom identifying know-how.

It was quick, but it worked out in mysteriously synergistic ways.

At one point, I was pruning the yard and, inadvertently, snipped down the only elderberry on the 1.5 acre property. When I realized what I had done, a feeling of embarrassment swept over me. How could I be so careless? How could I be so ignorant? Why wasn’t I more mindful? I felt like an asshole. I apologized profusely, and upon instruction, filled a few buckets with water. We placed the elderberry cuttings in the buckets in hopes they’ll shoot out roots. With any luck & encouragement, there will be 8 or nine elderberry trees from the original one.

We got back to work, and the embarrassment eventually passed.

That night, we had a decadent potluck & shared bottles of mead. We sipped lightly appreciating the fermented goodness. As we sat in a circle, a few folks called in one of their herbalist teachers, Frank Cook, who passed a few years back. It was a powerful moment. His spirit was palpable. It pervaded the room. I’ve never felt such a strong connection of lineage as I did with these herbalists, ethnobotanists, mycologists, and permaculturists in Asheville.

We hadn’t planned it as such, and I don’t know that you can plan such things, but so many alignments were occurring: From our journey, to the filling out of the moon, to the work we accomplished earlier in the day, the gathering of people from all around, the potluck that night, the anniversary of their teacher’s death, as well as I’m sure a little magickal residual sparkle from the Perseid meteor showers the week before. & With all this in heart, mind, & spirit, I rolled up a little tobacco to share a few prayerful moments with the elderberry.

I walked outside & the moon hovered brightly in the sky, nearly full, maybe the slightest sliver missing from her edge. Despite it being almost Autumn, it felt like an appropriate time to mistakenly whack down the elderberry. Mateo, who we stayed with, laughed it off pretty quickly after the reality of it set in, saying he’s been wanting to urbanize the elderberry, and this was perhaps an instance of divine comedy or cosmic absurdity that could indeed turn into that opportunity to propagate the tree & spread it.

While I was squatting down saying a prayer blowing tobacco smoke to the heavens, a possum scurried by my feet. It gave me such a fright, I jumped up with a shout. The possum, I think, got such a fright too and redirected its path.

I laughed and shook my head thinking about the possum who plays dead but isn’t really. To think, I snipped the elderberry, but it wasn’t dead either. The symbolic nature of the situation further expounded when I relayed my experience to Mateo. He shared a theory of how the persimmon tree made its way to Central America via the possum.

It all made so much sense.

Here I was, under the moon talking to the elderberry, to the spirit of Frank Cook, to the land, and this little ancient mammal who propagates trees crosses my path.

You know those moments when synchronicity after synchronicity pop up? It’s kind of like deja vu but feels more like the complex, interconnectedness of a Celtic knot. The whole trip was so tightly woven & synergistic. It’s why I like to wake up in the morning & meditate. To let the upsurgence of life settle. To let it make sense. So often I just have to sit back in awe, because the language needed to unravel the journey crumbles at my feet.

This heightened experience is a gift. It takes work, but it’s a gift nonetheless. And it’s really wonderful to share it with other people too.

One night, at a farm house called the Galactic Sanctuary, we enjoyed homegrown squash soup and homemade pumpkin pies. We drank wine and people jammed their instruments. People danced and moved and felt alive. A bonfire blazed outside. We climbed onto the roof and watched the moon rise.

I met a young woman who traveled to Indiana, the Dakotas, and Pennsylvania to work with native tribes in ceremony. She felt a calling from a young age to learn tribal dancing and sit in sweat lodge, but it wasn’t until recently that she learned she has native blood.

I told her about my experience road-tripping through Indiana, how I kept seeing feathers in my mind’s eye, and native spirits flying around expressing anger and pain, and the earth bubbling over with blood. She was wowed at the visions, because, she told me, that goes beyond intuition, that’s psychic perception, it sounds so much like the Lakota Sun Dance.

It was all so intimate and eye-opening.

Each morning we awoke and made oats & cut up fruit for breakfast, drank coffee or tea, and listened to Amy Goodman & Democracy Now! It influenced the start of the day. We engaged a lot of political talking, ranting, and raving, a lot about the corruption of Hillary Clinton and her inclination for fracking. We went further than that, but so much of her shadow side is being hyper-focused on, I’ll leave it at that. I am hopeful, though, the Bernie crowd stays active & keeps pressure on Clinton and the status quo. We’re at a crux with this election, soon to see a turnover of presidents. There’s a need to push an organized movement forward to resist the further for-profit destruction of earth. It’s important we don’t fall into apathy. It’s happening. As I write this, the folks in the Dakota regions are raising the spirit against the construction of a new pipeline.

There are those reoccurring questions of how to get more people involved, how to wake people up, how to present & enact radical change without pushing anyone away.

The programming runs deep in so many multi-varied ways. We have to keep our heads high and our eyes wide. How long can we sustain what’s going on?

Baton Rouge is flooding & there are continuous forest fires in California. Not to mention, women are still being sexually harassed and raped.

It all has me wondering: How much violence & death can people mindfully absorb & process? Do we turn a blind eye because we’re already inundated with so much of it?

The ongoing war in Syria is so seemingly hidden. The situation is devastating. Seeing video footage of blown out streets & rubble leaves me wondering how so many people can be silent about it. At this point, since so many Syrians have fled their country, they ought to fully evacuate the worst of the cities, and blow the rest of what is already destroyed to smithereens and re-wild the area. At the very least, create space for the fertile re-emergence of earth living.

We’re dealing with a war in our own streets too. There are food deserts everywhere. There are prisons stuffed to the brims. There are black bodies shot up and thrown around by those who are paid by tax dollars to protect & serve. But who is being protected and who is being served? It’s clear there is a subconscious agenda lingering from the days of slavery, and some might say, it’s not even subconscious anymore. It’s out in the open for all to see.

Yet ever so slowly, we are breaking the chains.

I met a woman a few weeks back who is reaching out to the police to start a meditation class. Among other forms of activism, it’s a necessary frontline to forge if we’re going to see harmony in our streets.

Amidst all of this, we ought to find time for ourselves too.

One day on our trip we dedicated to hiking. To forest bathing. To remembering there is beauty in the world. We hiked to a 60 foot waterfall. We trekked down steep inclines and climbed up vertical walls. Along the way, we collected chanterelles and an enormous specimen of hemlock reishi. I carried the red mushroom with me, stopping every now and again to look at it and appreciate it. I was transfixed. The fan-like nature of the reishi kept conjuring images of the frilled-neck lizard as well as dancing shamans donning headdresses painted on cave walls.

My inner eye blossomed.

Initially, the reishi called to me through the trees from beyond a creek. I balanced across a fallen log to check it out. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two of them a bit over a foot wide each. I harvested the one mushroom, and cherished it, but decided to leave it in Asheville.

If swimming and meditating at the foot of a gushing, crushing, crashing waterfall is powerful, the reishi stands right there with that potency.

It was all so nurturing.

We put in a hard day’s work too. We plastered the exterior slip straw walls of our friend’s backyard cabin. We built and took down, built and took down temporary scaffolding. We told silly jokes. We plastered and plastered and plastered. A few of us who are skilled with music took breaks to play & sing as we continued to work. It was a wonderful convergence of livelihood & help.

There were friends from New Orleans, from Philly, from New Hampshire. It really amazed me that we all happened to coincide in Asheville at the same time. How many places is this happening? How many people are experiencing this similar interconnectivity? How often are we coming together to work in community?

It’s so true, the revolution will not be televised. If you’re not experiencing it for yourself, you might not even know there is one.

We mixed so many batches of lime & sand for the plaster, it felt like alchemy & earth magic. I wielded the hoe and the shovel, the wheelbarrow and buckets as if they were wands and shields.

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The night prior, we bottled two batches of mead. One had been aging for a year, the other had been aging for two. We sipped on them as we bottled them. I caught a little buzz before going to bed.

I had so many vivid dreams.

When we returned home, on the night of the full moon, I started a reishi tincture.

How Uncouth: Reverence for the Dirt, the Goddess, a Wild Garden Salad

The rain came in waves. Like oceans of orgasm. Five or six of them. Wet and sweaty and drenched. I lost count.

I stood under a tiny structure. Usually a place of refuge from the sun, but in this case, a safe haven to keep dry from the rain. Or so I thought. Intermittently, the sun popped out amidst thick grey clouds, but those rays only served as a false flag the storm had passed. Every time I saw a bit of blue sky, I walked into the garden & continued weeding. I stayed out for the lighter rains, but for the torrential falls, I took cover. Either way, I wound up soaked.

Throughout the course of the storm, the winds were both chilled and hot, which caused shivers to raise up and roll across my skin. A thunder clap reached so far into me, it cracked my skeleton, and my nerves jumped out of my body. It caught me by such surprise, I laughed at my timidness in comparison to the omnipotence of nature. There were moments I questioned why the hell I would be outside amidst such a storm, but that quickly passed because it all made me feel quite alive & connected.

And then, when the storm finally did pass, I dug right into the dirt. The soil was so soft, the weeds came up with such ease.

Calling them weeds, though, does such a disservice to what is actually growing amidst the vegetables and covering the rest of the lot.

Mugwort reigns in these parts. That creeper of a plant with her silver undersides & risqué name. Artemisia vulgaris. That enchantress of dreams. I pull up mugwort for days. I pull up so many plants for days, there are moments I wonder why the hell I would pull up plant after plant after plant knowing they just keep coming back, but that quickly fades when I see pretty red clover and pluck the flowers to add to the collection in my pocket. I like taking them apart, separating the tiny flowers from the flower head and adding them to salads. The tiny tubular flowers nearly disappear amidst the larger green leaves, but regardless, they are packed with nutrients.

Off to one side of the garden, along a fence, grows a patch of melons. Before we planted the melons, morning glories grew there. They still do, and it’s apparent they don’t care for uninvited guests. So I’m pulling up what feels like hundreds & thousands of morning glory seedlings. Despite this, I like them. As the name indicates, you have to catch their flowers early. They grow mostly along the edges where they are free to roam and climb, like a witchy coven of vines and flowers just radically doing what they do.

There’s so much natural spontaneity.

I met one neighbor at the garden who is half Puerto Rican & half Hawaiian. I saw him before the start of the rainstorm. He said he likes to get wet. I laughed, I do too. We chatted briefly, but then it really started dumping buckets. He went home, and I took cover under the tiny structure.

After the rainstorm, he came back around, so we chatted some more. He rattled off so many stories about his kids, his wife, his life in the military, his upbringing, his grandparents, where he’s been, the police, the neighborhood, everything. He’s lived a full life.

He offered a blunt to share, but I don’t smoke all that much, so I said no. He said no I’m offering it as a gesture of peace like a peace pipe. He smiled. I smiled. I couldn’t say no to a peace pipe.

We walked over to a mulberry tree where he likes to sit, smoke, and reflect. I took one puff and passed it back to him, but he said it’s mild weed it’s not that heady shit that makes you sit there STONED it’s homegrown by a friend there’s no paranoia it just makes your eyes click makes you aware. So I took a few more puffs and we passed it back and forth a few times and I got a nice mellow stone.

I invited him into the garden, because wild edibles kept catching my eye so I darted back and forth showing him the flowers of this and the leaves of that & it sparked that urge to keep playing in the dirt.

To both our delight, he speaks three languages: Puerto Rican, Spanish, and English, so we traded words. I gave him some plant identification & names, and he gave me some Puerto Rican. I was feeling stony baloney and goofy and my memory bounds along like an elephant; but it was worthwhile to readjust my tongue and vocal chords and practice what he was throwing my way. He kept calling me a green man and was trying to figure out how to explain it all to his wife. Like, this white nigga in the garden, you won’t believe what he’s growing, you will love this shit. I tried to give him some herbs to take home to his wife, but he said he wanted to bring her so she could see and learn.

It really struck me how amazed he was at the plants. Like we were on a foreign planet. He imparted to me as well, a renewed sense of amazement. Like wow, look at that corn. The way it sprouts tassels. The way they blow in the wind and shake off pollen and fertilize the silk that grows from a lower portion of the stalk. Maiz. It’s bisexual & voila, the male tassel and female silk birth ears of corn.

It’s so complicated, yet so simple.

I tend to relate gardening to zen, especially when it comes to weeding. Weeding a garden is both active and challenging. There is a focus required to make sure you pull gently enough so you don’t snap the stem and firmly enough so the roots come up. There’s also a letting go involved because I know I’m not going to get all of them. It teaches me to be content with the silence of equilibrium.

Like certain thoughts that come up in the mind, weeds can make you mad as hell. There are so many of them. And they just keep coming. So it’s good practice to weed, simultaneously, the madness from your mind.

I often leave a number of weeds, because often, they aren’t weeds. Purslane and lambs quarter are good examples of this. They pop up on their own accord, and they taste great in salads.

It’s wild.

There are so many plants who just grow because that’s what they do. They don’t need your attention or care, yet they can add flavor and nutrients to your life. They also impart that wonderful spirit of growing wherever the fuck.

Like the dandelion who will sprout from the cracks of the sidewalk AND detox your liver.

Here, there’s something to be said about soil quality or lack there of, & potency & poison. We don’t want to just willynilly eat any old thing that looks green. Educate yourself. Talk with people who are willing to share knowledge.

Also, if you’ve taken prescription drugs your whole life, just trying to shift to a more natural diet might be a bit of a struggle, especially if those prescriptions are psych meds. If we look at the body like a culture, how hard is it for people of an ineffective, racist culture, how hard is it to let a dead horse die and subsequently grow into the future? It’s difficult. The body is similar; it’s not going to change over night. I imagine there are people who specialize in those kinds of transitions, because, needless to say, the body is an intricate webwork of biochemistry & a wily, ineffable spirit that is impossible to box up.

There’s also something to be said about fear, lack of trust, and lack of confidence. How many people would rather buy a neat little package they find in a store vs harvesting something growing wildly in their own backyard? I understand there is hesitance that has been built in; too many of us grew up being taught that soil is dirt and dirt is dirty and dirty is nasty, disgusting, and just plain bad. Well, in one way, shape, or form, it’s true: the sacred mother is bad as hell. She is more powerful than we give her credit for.

It doesn’t surprise me people are scared.

Taking to the Woods

I arrived in Boston at 5:30am. The sun was up, but the skies were grey. I walked around Boston Commons and people watched. A number of homeless folks slept on the grass. Seeing them brought back memories of the panhandlers I met while I went to school here. There was Uncle Bricks who got the name because he was tired of people stealing the few possessions he had, so he carried a brick in his waistband to protect himself. There was the One Armed Push Up Man who IMG_1977was jacked up from doing so many one armed push ups and smoking crack. The next door neighbor who everyone called Papi who I drank beers with on the stoop and listened to his stories about knife fights and gun fights from his days playing baseball in Puerto Rico. He was proud of his scars. He invited me to play dominoes with his family but I was heading home for summer break and moving to a new place the following year. There were also characters I never chatted with but saw often, like the woman who walked around holding a small mirror at arm’s length in front of her face. I don’t know if she was keeping an eye out for someone sneaking up behind her, or if she was bringing the myth of Narcissus to life. There was also a guy who had scraggly hair and long fingernails. He talked to himself and laughed a maniacal laugh. He reminded me of a Merlin type who was deemed mad by modern society. Despite so many colorful characters wandering & creating texture throughout the city, Boston for the most part houses a whole slew of relatively stuffy, conservatively dressed professionals re: basic, flavorless, and vanilla cookie cutter in-the-boxers. It probably has something to do with its Puritan roots. That’s my guess. In any case, the combination offers up a strange juxtaposition of aesthetic.

I walked probably ten miles from the time I got off the bus to early evening. I decided to pay a visit to Northeastern, which hasIMG_1968 the same distinct smell I remember from years ago. I’ve never been able to find the exact words to describe it. The first description that comes to mind is always young hormones & fresh mulch. I went to the philosophy department as I usually do when I’m visiting, but it must have been too early because no one was there. I left a note for one of my professors. I slipped it into the pages of a poetry book I self-published. I’ve been giving them my literature for years now. One of these days maybe I’ll write a masterpiece and it’ll slip its way into the curriculum.

Skipping ahead to the Rainbow Gathering, wherein, the outside world is called Babylon…

Upon arrival, I started hearing “Welcome Home” and “Loving You” and “There’s a hole in my bowl, I need a nugget to plug it” and all sorts of other cheery phrases. But, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Many people, although having an open heart & gentle countenance, they also maintained a sharp edge of cynicism and realness.

I was walking along the main path enjoying the sunset when I saw an elderly woman wiping her eyes with a tissue. She said she was having a moment. I asked if it had anything to do with the sunset. She kind of laughed and shook her head no. I walked over and sat on the rock next to her & gave her a little hug. She rested her head on my shoulder for a moment and cried a few more tears. Her husband passed away three years ago, and she was feeling disconnected from the gathering which made her sadder than sad. She told me about her family, both her son and daughter who live in Berkeley and Norristown, PA, respectively. Her daughter coincidentally lived in Fishtown for a number of years and married a firefighter. She went on and on about her life and desire to live in more intentional communities. She was sweet. She just needed a friend and a shoulder to lean on. I happened to be there at the right moment.

One dark night a guy attempted to kill himself. He cut his neck and wrist with a knife. The cuts weren’t deep enough, so he survived. That night I made a supply run for a kitchen. It rained and rained and rained. When I was hauling the dolly loaded with supplies through the thick, wet mud, I stopped in front of the medical tent to take a breather. I heard a guy screaming, strapped to a table, “You can’t keep me here! I can’t take this fucking place! I want out! I can’t take it anymore!” The name for the medical tent was CALM (Center for Alternative Living Medicine).

There were a lot of lost souls wandering and babbling probably taking too much acid for their own good. For that reason, Calm occasionally put up a different sign. “There are a number of people experiencing bad trips on acid. Maybe you should consider enjoying these beautiful Vermont woods sober.” Also, “Today is July 5. You are in the northeast region of the United States in the forests of Vermont. Maybe Babylon isn’t out there. Maybe you are Babylon because you are an ass hole. Be kind. Don’t be Babylon… And fuck this “‘loving you’ how about ‘helping you.’” I guess some people needed the reminder.

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For the most part, I stayed grounded. It’s easy when you’re learning about the plants and mushrooms in the area. We were literally grounding our focus and language into the surrounding flora. I also remained more or less sober. One night we sat around a fire passing tinctures, wines, meads, and teas all homemade and wild-foraged. We each got a little squirt of tincture and maybe two sips on each bottle. The mood was light and floating and our little camp got giggly from the fresh air and sips of spirits.

IMG_2093Outside of that night, I was offered acid a few times, but passed, because I like to do my drugs in the city. The forest is the real world where the air is clear and there’s filtered water to drink directly from the spring. It’s easy to open up the heart. It’s easy to dive deep into conversation. Clarity of vision allows realizations to unfold without effort. Why do drugs? I’m already there. Whereas the city is ripe for psychedelic medicine because there’s so much bull shit in the air & water and we close off our hearts more quickly because there are so many people in close proximity it’s likely we’d lose our bearings if we opened up to everyone. Low doses of mushrooms or LSD help facilitate deeper connections when there are obstacles like electric wires and concrete slabs blocking us from the natural energy flows of life. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be psychedelics: eating healthier foods from local gardens & farms and growing your own goes a really long way in building relationships as well as your defenses via your immune system.

I’ll say also, taking refuge in the woods (or the ocean or the mountains or the desert) is a necessary recharge. Some people view it as an escape, but it’s really rejuvenation when done with the right intention. I believe everyone needs to take time away from social media and work and return to the earth for extended periods of time or even short spurts. I understand this isn’t always an option, but I strongly encourage the culture to shift in that direction.

Many of the folks I connected with, we had very real conversations about the world we are currently living in. We discussed privilege and questioned why it’s so hard for some people to come to terms with it. We discussed emotions and why so many men (and women) have trouble dealing with them. We talked about polyamory and the need to be vulnerable and open. We talked about the implications of converging in the woods and living communally. For every few people talking about chakras, there was another person talking about biochemistry. I’m still amazed at the depth & variety of interests and archetypes.

Rainbow Gathering came together for the first time in 1972 in Colorado. It was inspired by a Hopi prophecy that spoke of the “rainbow people” who would rise up from the earth in all races, colors, and cultures who would help steward in the renewal of community and earth living. In the beginning years of the gathering it was a good portion vets from Vietnam, recovering alcoholics (one reason alcohol is still strongly discouraged), and hippies. It has been consistently moving around the country from year to year, slowly taking on different forms & evolutions. Every year it’s held on the week of July 4th; re-independence day. It’s held in a different national forest for free as an exercise & practice of assembling freely. The economy is solely based on gifting and bartering. While there, I saw zero exchange or handling of money. Every evening there is a center circle where folks gather to eat. Songs are sang and hands are held. Hundreds & hundreds of people circling together. This particular gathering hosted something like 6000-8000 people. A village of tents and other small structures temporarily put up & spread throughout the forest. There were many, many kitchens that prepare meals over wood fires and feed everyone. Some people bring their own food too. There’s an interesting crossover of self-reliance and interdependence.

So many nomadic people.

The Hare Krishnas had a camp and they went deep into the night with their repetition of mantra. They served food too, but for one reason or another, not at the main dinner circle. In the morning, they paraded around singing Hare Krishna.

I’m really happy I met up with Green PathIMG_2045, a group whose intentions are to educate. Their focus is primarily on plants, fungi, primitive skills, and the like; more or less a skill-share/knowledge-share group of people. There were maybe one or two other crews who brought a similar intention to the Rainbow table. I found it pretty incredible how easy it was to access information. All you had to do was ask someone about this or that plant, and they could tell you so much you wanted to know: what it’s good for, how to cultivate it, how to process it, etc. My notebook was full to the brim with practical education, and I returned home with a pocket full of goldenrod.

Trade circle, or trade circus, started everyday around noon. People set up their blankets covered with crystals, stones, beads, clothes, trinkets, mushrooms, feathers, knives, jewelry, magic cards, herbs, crafted objects, books, zines, seeds, tinctures, tents, tools, boots, and all other kinds of odds & ends. Oh, and patches, lots of patches. Acid & bud fetch a good value at trade circle. It’s interesting to see what people place value on. I traded a couple of beads and stones for a brown paper bag loaded with chaga.

I, as well as a number of other people, found edible mushrooms, so one night we brought them together and cooked up a hearty meal around the campfire. That night we also sang plant songs to call in the spirits of our favorite wild medicinals.

Kid Village was another camp. On the morning of the 4th from sunrise to noon, we observed silence to reflect on life & peace. It was pretty incredible to experience the silence, the whispers of breeze & birds, especially after so much rowdiness and drum circles that went through the night into the early morning. At noon on the 4th, people gathered in a large circle to meditate, and from Kid Village a parade of all the children came through to break the silence.

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There was very little police presence there, and just a handful of park rangers who rolled through. Because we were in Vermont, which is generally laidback anyway, was everyone’s best guess to the low level of authority. Apparently in prior years, there’s been a higher presence of police. Who knows. It was surreal coming back from the woods to hop on the internet and see everyone in a frenzy about the recent murders of Philando Castile & Alton Sterling (may their souls rest in power). It’s sad for more to say, but it feels as though very little has changed. People are erupting (understandably & necessarily so) and showing their dismay about the way police are over stepping their boundaries, and then police are showing up to protests in military gear and, yet again, over stepping their boundaries. There is absolutely no chill and absolutely no accountability. The law of the land is living above the law. The culture of authority is in need of radical change. Our society at large is in need of radical change. People are overheating and inflamed like the planet we’re living on. Especially when summer rolls around and our blood boils twofold. I’m hesitant to say much more, because it sounds as though the story is on repeat. One thing I do notice from last summer until now is that more people are speaking up and voicing their opinions. In general, it seems more people are engaging with what is happening. And with the shootings in Dallas (may their souls rest in peace), people are realizing the severity of the circumstances. The cries are real. No justice, no peace. There is war in our streets, and everyone is in need of re-evaluating priorities & where we expend our energy.

There are images (and even words) that very easily trigger the sympathetic nature of our bodies into a frenzy of flight and fear. We become agitated by gunshots & death. We get stuck in our heads. We get so accustomed to a state of madness that we very easily sputter out, lose our bearings, and freak. We become consumed by the news. Tapping into the heart helps create a balance. It’s as simple as, let’s say, staring at a rose. When you stare at a flower, allow yourself to not only see it, but feel it. This is the heart at work. So often we find medicine and energy through ingesting food, but there’s something to be said about eating with the eyes too. Like when the brain entrains with the gut entrains with the feeling center of the body, and this consciousness of heart leads the body’s rhythm: the sympathetic branch of the nervous system shifts to the parasympathetic nervous system, at which point the levels of cortisol produced by our bodies begins to reduce. We go from stressed to resting. As we continue to integrate with the digital world, these moments of meditation are very necessary, not only with activism, but also with simply living a healthy life. We absolutely need to ground into our bodies, and access our abilities to connect with our environments via feeling-perception. Otherwise, the brain will run amok, and we’ll witness a spiking pattern of enflamed reaction sputtering into dejection & burnout. We must incorporate rest & respite. We must transmute our anger & rage.

So many of us wanted to be here; we just didn’t know what it was going to look like. The breakdown of modern society is happening. This is what it looks like when we smash the white patriarchy.

And there is more that I can do. There is always more that I can do.

If I learned anything from Rainbow, life starts on the ground. It’s important to grow from there, to shed light where there is shadow, to bring definition where there is blurriness, to give knowledge where there is ignorance. We have to stop giving our stories over to the top-down model and build our stories from the ground up. I know it seems impossible when it’s raining down bullets from above and misinformation is rampant, but other paths are available for walking & living. It takes work. When you start believing in a new world, you start seeing where it exists. If you’re not willing to take the first step on your own, no one can lead you to it. The least I can do in this moment is clean a window so you can see out.

IMG_1974Banjos and guitars, fire and drums, a primal twang & a thumping racket reverberating the trees in the stars so many stars like glitter and gold spread across the sky. Voices go up like the smoke of tobacco and prayers for peace acted out boldly sometimes silent in this world overrun with a war of police. The rhythm of feet stomp the fertile earth, hoots and howls ring the air, bare feet dance long into sunrise.

I am full of gratitude to have crossed paths and sat deeply with so many kindred spirits.