Your Own Pace

I gazed at the old wall of red bricks, stacked and mortared one by one in an earlier time by what are now old hands. The rattle of the old vents offered a necessary element of white noise beneath the resonant tones of meditative music and the gentle voice of Dawn, this evening’s yoga instructor.

On a wooden floor on a corner in downtown Asbury Park, I was in surf shop, at night, practicing yoga with strangers.

The pace of instruction was faster than any pace at which I’ve ever operated. My less than nimble body refused to assume some of the postures I suggested it try out. With more than two decades of being trained as sitter and a thinker and a test-taker, my body had habituated to certain tasks, and this is reflected in my current physiology.

The good news is that the body responds to what you ask of it. And today I am inviting it to practice yoga. I skip many of the sequences, preferring to modify and hold and breathe at a pace that befits my own tempo. Much has been said regarding my particular style and tempo, and “quick” and “fast” are adjectives not commonly used.

At one point during the session, we were asked to rest, close our eyes, and find a place of peace. As soon as my eyelids had closed I was looking through the window of a car. I was heading north, crossing the San Francisco Bay via the Richmond Bridge. The water was that green-blue it gets when the sun is out and there was a large cargo tanker in the distance. From the height of this bridge, you could see in every direction, and the sense I had was not that I was leaving San Francisco as much as heading toward someplace quieter, greener, and with a pace much more akin to my own.

 

What is Written

My clinic advisor never missed a chance to remind us: “if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” With a background in the med-legal world, he placed a high premium – and rightfully so – on the importance of documentation. We needed to document what was reported, what was observed, and what was done so that we not only had a record of it (for clinical and legal purposes), but more importantly to witness change over time.

We write to remember, to enshrine an experience in time. Just as the marks on a page are irreversible once made, experience is written in the body. If the body and mind cannot fully be present for and process an experience as it occurs in real-time, the energy of memory will be stored in the tissues and the structures of the body. Often, this leads to a pattern of tension in the body, which leads to stress physiology – the body (and mind) go into defense.

Just as a journal will reflect the evolution and complexity of a person over time, so too will their body.  The vital element in the development of both is expression.

Have you ever had a thought or a problem – a to-do list, what you really wanted to say to that jerk, a schedule, what you wished you said to someone you cannot or will not see again – and tried to keep it in? In writing it down, you give it a chance to be expressed. It no longer has the same hold on you because you have allowed it to exist in a different medium.

I see chronic stress physiology and the patterns of tension held in the body as anchors to the past. When in this state, your mind fights to defend the sense of self of the person you were.

When the communication between the brain and the body is permitted to be expressed, those patterns of tension and the need to defend a sense of self you have outgrown will cease to inhibit who you are now.

I like to write because it helps me to keep a record of where I came from. It serves as a point of reference, a measure of success, and an instrument to acknowledge how the unpredictable, unexpected, and sometimes unwanted is ultimately shown to be exactly what was coming and what was needed.

Writing is a way to honor experience, create memory, and revisit a time and a version of us that in every way contributed to who we are today and what we will have the opportunity to write tomorrow.

Nemesis

It’s a simple proposition, really.

Good is the enemy of Great.

Enemy does not necessarily mean opposite. If this were the case, it would make more sense to say, “Dismal is the enemy of Great”. Yet Dismal does not calmly lie in the middle of the road to Great. With it’s emphasis on moderation and safety, Good effectively blocks the way with its neutral inertia.

Good yields the status quo, a common denominator, and is radical only in that it will expend massive resource in an attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy.

I am not anti-Good. Good plays an important and essential role in the cycles of experience and in the progression of life.  My point is that if Good is the goal toward which we are striving, the desired end we imagine for ourselves, then success will be attainable – and ultimately unfulfilling.

Without the stretch that uncouples us from certainty, Good will not be overcome. The step into the poetry of possibility is what allows for a new unfolding of the path, one away from the secure dictate of probability.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about the lowland perspective of Good. It is often where we begin and where we return at different points in the cycle. The question is whether that perspective is enough, and if not, what kind of risk and what kind of poiesis we need in order to see from an alpenview.

Return

 

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Why do we return to the places of our youth, especially those places that once held promise and mystery? Perhaps it is in the hope that the mystery remains, that it can be rediscovered. That even with the passing cycles of time and the often-heavy price that “progress” exacts on natural spaces, we can reorient our bearings from a place that still holds meaning.

I grew up near a quiet coppery stream in the low lands. The sandy soil gives rise to pitch pine, American holly, and a few varieties of oak. Of our horizontal cousins, squirrels are the most common, with the occasional chipmunk or mallard duck. Every once in a while you may come across deer, and every once in a rare while, a stag.

Between the noise, air, and water pollution, and the continuous human imposition on the surrounding area, the boundaries of the open space are shrinking. It is too frighteningly similar to a boxed display in a museum or a caged animal in a zoo.

Time in the mountains of the West irrevocably altered the scope and scale of what natural space meant to me. Whereas explorations into my own backyard mixed being in the woods with a sense of imagination, journeys to the High Places became pilgrimages. In the music and the silence of the mountains, in the companionship of solitude, the heavy fetters of the lower mind are lifted like the smoke curling off of a campfire.

And then there is the return.

The descent back down the mountain is the gift you give to the world, just as the world gave you the gift of the mountain. Returning to the lowlands, the population, and the energetic buzz of society paints a stark contrast against the alpenglow of the mountain. It reasserts the challenges we had when we left as well as offering new ones. The cycle of descent and ascent is the noetic and experiential commerce we agreed to by being human.  Simply,

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can.

The Great Dance

From the ballroom of the Heavens to the twinkling steps of the quantum world, there has always been Form and Void…and Music.

The atomic tradition begun by Leucippus emphasized that the manifest world is composed of indivisible objects called atoms, and that these atoms are many and are in motion, which requires room for them to maneuver.

But why do the atoms move?  Lucretius offers the clinamen or swerve. This “most minute of movements” is enough to randomly and frequently initiate the collisions and combinations of atoms that generate the physical world.

Traditionally, the attempt to answer this question splits into two arguments: “it’s a random physical process” and “there is a plan”. Taking a wide berth around the trailhead to that road, there is a third option.

If we operate from the premise that Form does not exist without Sound, we have a basis for atomic motion, a mechanism for the physical process, and an account for the logos observed in the universal dance.

Atoms are moved by the primal Sound that is the Ground of Being. They dance – some more freely and wildly than others, but every atom at the very least is tapping their figurative toe. They dance because the Music of the Kosmos is indivisible from the very nature of the atom.

Since not all atoms are moved in the same way, they behave differently. This leads to the variety of ways they combine to generate the manifest world. There is always an element of randomness – the wildcard. When the conditions are right, a shy atom might take everything and everyone by surprise and swerve. Far from upsetting the balance of the system, this new pattern reorganizes the status quo and shifts the whole system to a new level of complexity. This is happening constantly.

The logos of the Song is more likely an improvisation than a score. Shifts in time signature, key, and style reflect the constant spontaneity and evolution of the dancers. The exchange is bi-directional because the indivisibility of Sound and Form cuts both ways.

I have been referring atoms in the ancient philosophical sense, not the contemporary scientific one. I am aware of sub-atomic particles, strings, and the like. Even so, at the end of the reduction, I imagine whatever is found to be indivisible is going to be moving. Depending on who happens to be observing this “atom” they might see either a medium for the transmission of the Song (i.e. an instrument) or something that appears to be dancing its ass off.

Yosemite

It was not until I was in the high country of the Sierra Nevada in eastern Yosemite that I learned to be quiet, and to slow down. Here my ears opened, my eyes relaxed, and both my gait and breath changed.

It was here that I was formally introduced to John Muir, and I sensed an immediate kinship with him and an affinity for his philosophy, his love of Nature, and his pace of Life.

That there is “a Universal Intelligence in all matter, which continually gives to it all its properties and actions, thus maintaining it in existence” is the Major Premise of chiropractic. It is the foundation upon which its philosophy of Life is grounded, and it is nowhere more evident than in the harmony and ecosphere of the mountains.

Indeed, as John Muir wrote, “the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”.

Two Months, Abridged

The following is a brief, somewhat poetic account of my travel through the American Southwest between 1 April and 1 June of the year 2013. Although I don’t mention any names, there were a tremendous number of individuals and families that conspired to support me on this journey. To all of them, I give my sincerest gratitude.

. . . . .

On a sunny mid-morning in the East Bay, I depart. I find my way to California 1, and wrap the coast along Big Sur. Southern California is humming as I pass through Santa Barbara and into Santa Monica. A few dolphins and I catch some waves in the warm water near Sunset Boulevard.

Entering the desert to the east, I was greeted by Yucca brevifolia en masse. They dance and sway in the gust, but remain rooted. They create a silent forest, bearing witness to what came before and awaiting what is to come. After recalibrating my route in Palm Springs, I decide I need to return to the Pacific. I land Oceanside, witnessing death, but also the birth of a friendship.

Resuming east, I experience the primal fear of being alone in the wild, at night, in cat country.

In Yuma I entertain some vehicular difficulties. From the hopelessness of the southern Arizona desert, I enter an oasis of kindness and hospitality in Scottsdale.

Sedona provides more primal experience, where I almost paint the red rock with my own blood, and where I am serenaded by a pack of rambunctious coyotes. Back down through Arizona, in the shadow of the Dragoons, a bond is strengthened.

Approaching Santa Fe from the south, I understand why it is considered the oldest occupied city in North America. Here, hospitality and community give rise to greater clarity and new friendships.

Entering Colorado from the south allows for the transition from the high desert to the Rocky Mountains. At ten thousand feet I camp in bear country, overlooking a snow-covered vista and one of the first railroad tracks to bridge the Continental Divide.

Into Durango and through to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, I see marked on the mountain the history of the Anasazi.

Over three mountain passes and along the Gunnison River, I meet a friend at the office of a master. Diving back into the Rockies, I emerge in Fort Collins. In addition to first-class beer and a happening music scene, I receive quarter, insight, a rekindled respect for The Force, and more than one synchronous meeting.

In Spring, the streets of Boulder are filled with tulips and beautiful women. Downloading precious acumen and befriending a Shih Tzu, I am again honored by Coloradan hospitality.

A surprise return to the East coast unites the clan and brings the relationship between the inner and outer landscape into focus.

Resuming the tour in Colorado, I stay again with a sage, a friend, and a cherub.

Eventually entering Utah, I follow the Colorado River, through the Arches and into the Canyons of Moab. Across southern Utah I come before Capitol Reef, enjoy the waters of the Fremont that breathe life into that quiet valley, and then find myself among the orange-fired architecture of Bryce’s backyard. Finally, in Zion, a true paradise, in the heights of the sandstone and the waters of the north fork of the Virgin River I prepare myself to descend.

Passing unscathed through Sin City, I enter the Valley of Death. A tremendous descent into a blazing heat and vast desolation, I do not tarry. After an even more vigorous climb, I finally approach the eastern Sierra. The green relief of the pine and landscape on the jagged and untamed Sierra, as it rises proudly to be reflected in the lakes on its eastern edge re-establishes that which I had felt all along: there was always a reason the keep moving West.

On the edge of the country that was so close to John Muir’s heart, I am finding that which was buried in mine.

Emergence

Approximately 800 years ago the Pueblo people of Mesa Verde, in what is now southwestern Colorado, began to build sandstone dwellings in the face of the cliffs between the mesa above and the canyons below. These people were later called the Anasazi, and the reasons for why they built these structures and why they left them is a matter of interpretation.

One of the primary features of these buildings was the kiva, a circular ceremonial and multipurpose room on the lowest level. Within each kiva was a fire pit, and smaller hole, the sipapu, carved into the stone floor.

The sipapu represented the symbolic entrance to the underworld. It was the hole through which the departed soul traveled to join the ancestors, and it was also a symbolic reminder and representative of the hole through which the ancient ancestors originally emerged into this world.

The sipapu can thus be considered a “Hole of Emergence”, an element representing a mythological transition from one plane of existence to another.

The consequences of emergence are profound. The immaterial underworld that was gave way to the material world of form. New challenges and opportunities arose as a result of this transition, and these are anthropologically familiar to us: resource consumption, the natural environment, politico-social considerations, etc.

Philosophically, emergence refers to “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems”.

The Anasazi most certainly created novel and coherent structures – the cliff dwellings that still exist today. They also created novel and coherent patterns and properties – the logistical considerations for living in cliff dwellings.

The “process of self-organization in complex systems” is an alternative definition for evolution. The fundamental feature of living organisms is that they self-organize. This is seen biologically on the level of the individual organism. It is seen in societies as the internal pressure of growing population, and the external pressure of the impact on the environment create the need for increasing levels of organization.

Emergence characteristically takes what came before, includes it, and transcends it in structure and complexity. Oftentimes, what emerges looks, feels, and acts differently than the components that went into it.

What the Anasazi did, as a mythologically attuned culture, was to create a symbolic reminder for where they came from. They chose to acknowledge and honor their roots, maintaining a sense of purpose and providing a context for a daily life unlike anything that preceded them.

Ignis Mutat Res

The pre-Socratic Heraclitus related the kosmos to an everliving fire; kindling in measures and being quenched in measures. The world, like the beings that inhabit it, are constantly in a state of flux. Changing, they stay the same. His use of contradiction and paradox, I think, was designed to transcend the dichotomy and exclusivity of a logic that had not yet been “invented” by the rational minds that followed him.

In a figurative and a literal sense, fire transforms things. It is at once destructive and constructive, varying only by the way in which it is understood and tempered. Prometheus may have introduced us to the external phenomenon, thermodynamics is introducing us to The Science of Fire, and yet perhaps our most important relationship is the measure in which fire is being kindled or quenched in our own hearts.