Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
The pilgrimage conceived as a There and Back Again journey or the pilgrimage as a holy spiral, a journey never-ending, for the pilgrim cannot ever return home unchanged and home must change, then, too; and once home as a changed pilgrim the journey begins again, and on and on, in a deepening spiral, a Dantesque path leading not to a giant trapped Satan, but rather to a cavern of still waters, gentle candle light, and food for the journey on, deeper, down the next tunnel, through the chambers of the heart, below the unconscious and then a turn west of the moon, a journey underway now, then, and always, the soul’s peregrination from home to earth, then on, on, on. Excelsior.
Gifts for the pilgrim. Available only outside stores this holiday season. Small torches. Brisk winds. Clear skies with stars for guidance. Rebellion. Persistence. Stamina. Heart. Minds alive with incarnation. A sanctuary once again holy. Night prayers and songs sung with reverence. The darkest night of the year. Short days. Friends and family. Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. Babies. Children who will share their bright view of the season with any one who asks. Santa Claus...no, not the one in the chair with the Polaroid...the one with the sleigh, the one at the North Pole, very busy, elves scurrying, reindeer pawing the ground, snorting, ready to fly. To fly. That Santa Claus. http://hahana.soest.hawaii.edu/santacls/santa.html
A brand new year. Day 1. All that in the past now. Fresh time, cleaned with the turn of a calendar page. Time open and alive, made just for you and your journey. Hopes and visions lively, dancing among the Northern Lights. The small urgent prod, the festival is now. The festival is here. Be festival. http://members.gardenweb.com/members/Trudi_d
Each year for the past several I have struggled with holiday décor. Kate converted to Judaism a long time ago and part of that process involved leaving the Christian holiday celebrations behind. I moved to the side of the Christian practice, yet, with Joseph at home and the prevailing culture so strong, I maintained a tree, lights, gifts, interior decoration.
Also, my own acculturation, no matter what my adult faith, involved a heavy dose of Christmas, both religious and secular. Many happy and many not so happy memories. And, a set of expectations about what the holiday season means.
This is deep, imbedded stuff, not easily dealt with in a rational manner, especially since it includes the emotional overlay of childhood’s sweet visions of Santa and reindeers and that silent night and angels and the baby Jesus and the three Wisemen. Not to mention, “And what do you want for Christmas this year?”
A good question to ask ourselves as adults. And what do you want for Christmas this year?
Last year I mentioned to Kate, then forgot, that I wanted to celebrate longer this year—the holimonth idea, perhaps better, holiseason—and in a way more integrative of the underlying themes in this festive winter time.
The themes are these: the dialectic of dark and light (Deepavali, Hannukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, even New Year’s, and Imbolc), honoring of ancestors (I start this season at Samhain and so include Day of the Dead, All Soul’s and All Hallow’s Eve, and Kwanza), the incarnation of the divine in human form (Sol Invictus, Christmas), the sanctification of time—each in their own way, but especially Advent, Samhain, and New Year’s, pilgrimage (Posada, New Year’s), and the imminent return of spring (Imbolc, even Winter Carnival).
My current approach involves indoor gardening to maintain flowering plants throughout the season, decorating with holly, ivy, and mistletoe, purchasing two large candlesticks and two pillar candles, one for upstairs and one for down. On the day of the Winter Solstice itself I will move the Norfolk Pine I purchased four years ago for just this purpose (and now all grown up) into the living room and decorate it with cranberries and popcorn. Under this evergreen will go our gifts.
I’ve not yet decided on how to honor our ancestors or the pilgrimage theme, though this year the latter takes care of itself with the Southeast Asia experience so recent.
The hope here is to lace the celebration(s) into our daily lives in a more holistic way. I have also created holiday music play lists for the computer and we will have special meals, probably a Thai meal on Christmas Eve and something else special on New Year’s at least. Also, during Hannukah Kate usually makes latkes; Joseph loves them.
Presentation this AM on the Southeast Asia trip, then brunch and a tour of the Southeast Asia galleries for the folks at Groveland. A package deal. Sounds like fun and will help cement the trip in my memory, though I admit I’d like a bit of a rest from it for a few days, at least until the 21st—the beginning of my annual winter “retreat.” For the last few days of the year and in to the first week of the New Year I have, for several years, focused on one topic or project, trying to make good use of the time at year’s end. I got this idea from the Mayan’s who believed the last five days of the year were hopeless, black days with no luck at all—if you were lucky.
When I worked for the Presbytery, these days were often off days when no one in a church wanted to connect with the home office (after the Christmas rush) and psychically every one was between Christmas and New Years.
Last year I focused on Taoism, the year before magic. This year I’m going to go over the Southeast Asia trip, begin to catalogue everything, write notes for chapters in a potential book or, as examples in the revised and edited version of this pilgrimage text.
I also use this time to review the plans I make each Samhain for the coming new year; I used the trip to Singapore as time to focus on that task this year.
In a way this time sets out the pilgrimage ahead, things I want to receive attention in the next year. Last year this pilgrimage writing, the Great Wheel work, the MIA, the purple garden, the Jungian seminar, learning to draw, and the trip to Southeast Asia dominated what I count as my work time. Family, with Jon’s wedding and Joseph’s bumpy year vis a vis relationships, Kate, Mary and Mark, The Woolly’s, and caring for the dogs, along with exercise and health related care dominated the domestic front.
On the plane to Singapore I decided to continue work on four writing tasks:
I’ve also decided to apply for the docent program at the Minnesota Institute of Arts. This is a two-year, once a week Wednesday 9:30-2:30 art history course, followed by a three year, 40 tours a year commitment. Between the Woolly’s and the MIA I will not have time for the Jungian seminar or much, if any, preaching.
And, of course, the garden, the boys, Kate, and the dogs. Exercise, too.
I have other things, the Lake Superior book, Jennie’s Dead (a novel), and Superior Wolf (a novel), but they don’t seem compelling right now.
Over the course of my retreat I’ll lay out plans for the next year to allow for these foci plus a vacation or two. It’s an odd way to run a life, but it’s the way I’ve found works best for me. Without Kate it would not be possible, nor, if the truth be known, without the Woolly’s either, since this kind of alternative life is so much easier with a network of friends who get it. So, in my list of thanks for the end of the year Kate, and Joseph and Jon and Jen, and Bill and Tom and Charlie and Stefan and Paul and Warren and Frank and Scott and Jim and Mark and, by dark god, the melancholy, too. And, photosynthesis. And dogs. And mother earth, too.
Yesterday was fun and definitely pilgrimage related. I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but another aspect of pilgrimage lies in telling your story, or the story of another’s pilgrimage; so there would be preparation, the journey, arrival at the destination, return journey, integration, and story telling.
I gave a presentation of my trip, complete with a digital slideshow, monk’s begging bowl and Jim Thompson silk, Sri Mariamman and the Ramakian, and a geomancer’s price list for a feng shui analysis of your home. (includes finding the kill spot.)
Then, a Thai lunch at Taste of Thailand where I had a chance to introduce folks to a Minnesota Thai version of a street vendor favorite in Bangkok, deep-friend bananas. We all saw each others choices from this varied cuisine: Bangkok, Royal, southern, northern. Smelled the smells.
But, nobody (except me for a bit) used their fork to scoop their food onto their spoon, then eat it. A Thai would stick a fork in their mouth about as soon as we would stick a table knife in ours.
Over a meal we discussed Angkor, the plight of the Khmer, the geography of Thailand, and freedom in Singapore.
After lunch we adjourned to the round bench at the MIA for a tour of the Southeast Asian galleries and chance to see up close some of the objects related to the journey. We started with the door header from a Vishnu Temple, went on Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Cosmic Dance, and then looked at the surprising Ghandara Buddha, dressed in a Roman toga and looking for all the world like an Italian or Greek nobleman. Next we saw the wonderful Vishnu. He stands erect, a pillar, an axis mundi, the god of preservation and stability, the god to whom the sober magnificence of Angkor Wat still stands witness down the centuries and there, beneath his statue waits his vehicle, the eagle man, the guardian Garuda.
In buff sandstone next to him is Shiva, this time with his partner Parvati and his vehicle, Nandi the bull, and his son, Ganesh, remover of obstacles, he who carries the cosmos in his rotund belly.
In the Thai, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnamese gallery we saw Buddha’s walking, calling the earth to witness, decorated with gilt and bright mirrors. We also saw another, large Ganesh, his trunk tucked in the bowl of sweetmeats he craves so much and one of his four arms holding a rosary. There in the glass case was the devaraja, another head—the Buddha, and there was Vishnu again, this time on his vehicle Garuda.
I confessed to a certain uneasiness now in these galleries, especially the Indian gallery, and about the stone heads we saw. At Angkor I saw the context from which many of these fine objects were chiseled. Here, in the sterile context of the museum, we see these objects as artifacts, and, as Maisy, a Groveland UU member put it, “...as if they came from the past.”
If they were in their homeland, back in the temples where their devotees still come, they would have garlands of flowers, milk poured over them, incense lit, saffron robes, rituals and gifts. Here. Nothing.
Yet, in another, odd way they act like Nandi and Garuda, vehicles for these gods to walk among a strange people. Perhaps, if you go, you can feel Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Three Worlds and the Cosmic Dance, as he twirls in majestic fury, making and remaking the universe within the confines of your soul. Or, perhaps, you will find a steadiness of purpose, an orderly principle in the midst of chaos and understand Vishnu, who comes to walk among us whenever evil threatens to overtake good. Who knows?
You might return with the Buddha from heaven, to walk again among the earth-bound, the samsara-held. You might find Ganesh accessible, a god to whom a shy prayer will result in an obstacle removed from an important project. You could understand, in a moment of insight, how a man might see the god within himself and identify himself as devaraja. Perhaps the man, or woman, might be you.
Maybe there is good reason for them to be here after all.
Mentioned at the meeting at the Black Forest last night a new book I’m reading: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. He is a philosopher and part of a recent movement among some philosophers to return to the public square. He is not a popularizer; he does philosophical thinking in language and in a style accessible to the general reader.
Big difference and it takes a very savvy guy to do it. Writing in the very precise style philosophers often feel necessary, and with the neologisms many philosophers feel constrained to create because of their radical worldview philosophy grows further and further away from its root purpose—to think with clarity about issues important to humans: beauty, truth, knowledge, divinity, justice, wholeness, order, chaos to name a few.
I dropped Philosophy as a formal discipline of study, after completing my undergraduate major; the faculty where I finished my degree were captured by logical positivism, now passe, and I found discussions of hot and cold way off the mark. Also, the logical positivists dismissed metaphysics as an anachronism in an age devoted to empiricism and the scientific method. As those of you who read this know, I’m devoted to metaphysics, so...
Anyhow. Botton investigates a phenomenon central to my life for the last fifteen or so years, longer, really. Status anxiety. Botton says each life seeks two great loves: the intimate, sexual love with a partner and the less easily defined but equally well known, search for love from those around us, the community.
It is his belief that several factors led to a situation in western Euro-American culture where we can never rest comfortable in our status. Many pressures make this so, one’s familiar to me: “You can do anything you set your mind to.” “You are so special.” “You were born for a special destiny.” “Your gifts make you responsible for living up to a great potential.” “What do you do?” “Can you make a living doing that?” “We are all equal in America.” “This is the land of opportunity.” “How much is enough?”
Botton digs into the historical and cultural roots behind these attitudes, then goes on, in the last five chapters, to offer antidotes from within a philosophical frame, drawing on these resources: philosophy, art, religion, politics, and bohemia.
I have had many long years of agony over these issues. Am I a failure? Have I been a good steward of my gifts? Have I lived up to my potential? Have I done as well as others, ones I consider my peers? This all ratcheted up by the decision to abandon the hope of Christianity and its ministry for the more ambiguous waters of liberal faith and writing as a vocation.
As I did make my peace with living in the exurbs and now find our home tranquil, a retreat and a place of solace, as well as a vital center and source of creative energy, I have also put to rest my fantasy of fame, riches, and recognition.
I have replaced them with a personal commitment to follow creative paths important to me. I also have committed to producing creative works that meet my own standards of excellence. If I do that, I have done enough.
I have also offered myself an immersion in the world of the visual and written arts, especially the classical traditions of both as exemplified by the MIA’s collection and the works of the Western Canon. I have also kept myself open to the world of liberal faith and continue to explore the pagan path through those thickets.
Politics has had its painful lessons in these last thirty years or so, but I have, in the end, come to this: my liberal voice, while not dominant now, remains vital; I will not leave the field, though I have changed the locus of my action from retail politics to theory and writing.
In large measure these shifts in perspective, often hard won, have answered my status anxiety, realizing it finally was a burden I carried and, therefore, one I could set down. So, I set that burden down by the stream and let the waters of my life flow on by it.
This is an important book for men, and women, too. We all need to find the place where our life and our life work converge. May it be so for you...
Until January 23rd, 2005
Japan's remote Kii mountain range, overlooking the Pacific ocean, is home to three sacred sites, linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto. This beautiful region, replete with shrines, temples and waterfalls, is where Japan's tradition of mountain-worship is said to originate.
In 2004, UNESCO pronounced the area a World Heritage Site. This unexpected move has resulted in a unique exhibition at the Setagaya Art Museum. This winter, you can see some 253 works of art, from the Nara era to the 16th-century Momoyama era, lent by the shrines and temples of the Kii mountains. Not to be missed.
Setagaya Art Museum, 1-2 Kinuta Park, Setagaya-Ku. Tel: 03-3415-6011. Open: Tues-Sun 10am-6pm. Subway: Yoga on the Tokyu Den-en-Toshi line. See also the museum's website. Setagaya is a suburb of Tokyo, easily reached in 50 minutes on the Tokyu Den-En-Toshi line.
As the first draft phase of this work comes closer and closer to a finish, my excitement about editing and revising grows. I have certain books, websites, movies and poems I want to add; pictures I want to include. Much I want to delete, some I want to expand, some I want to make more concise.
My current plan is to produce an edited version, a second draft, by Beltane, 2005. Then, I would appreciate if each of you who’ve read with me—at any level—would reread it, critique my edit, add ideas. I will then go through that work, probably sometime after Labor Day next year, say around Mabon, and produce a third draft.
This one I plan to farm out a little wider—to some friends and in-laws who’ve had no first-hand experience with these documents. It will be, by then, I hope, a book on pilgrimage, on the Woolly’s, and on a year in my life. If all goes well, I may try to find an agent for it. If it’s a clunker after all that, well, I’ve learned a lot and have plenty of shelf space.
Waiting on snow. I have a start on poems for each day of the holiseason, some thirty-five collected. How many I’ll use, I don’t know right now. If you have any ideas for poems pertinent to this season of holy days and sacred nights, please let me know. I will include some in either a book or a section of a book on creating your own liturgical year.
It is hard, waiting on snow. The ground looks bare, undressed, a bit forlorn. Plants, in need of a blanket to shelter them from spring’s thaw and freeze, wait without cover. Bird’s seem confused. The geese fly north, east, west; sparrows and chickadees fly in and out of the yew and cedar, complaining about the heat. “For this I could live in Florida. Know what I mean?”
My heart waits the feeling of enclosure, the time when whiteness drifts up my study windows, hides the horizon. Gives me a sense of world changed, boundaries temporarily erased. A world now made new; as it must be every once in a while. A problem with the tropics; it is made anew only by the gradual growth of vine and tree. Kapok and bodhi work and then there is green. Not white. And the green remains, grows thicker. The monkeys howl and the cicada ring the alarm saying the time has come, the time has come. But what time? For the world stays green.
Here, the world stays green. Have we become the tropics? Are we only months away from howler monkeys, scorpions, and bodhi trees digging their way into the foundations of our houses? Or, will we get the whiteness, the coolness? The breath of earth’s pole, not its belt-line.
I await the snow. The cold. The isolation...
These days, these silent dark nights and chill days, colored gray steel with clouds filled with bags and bags of snow, only waiting the hand to loose the string, release. It falls, then, sometimes driven by winds, other times floating, reluctant to land, happy with its occupation alone, finally, in the air, independent until the landing, once again absorbed, united.
Together, as water droplets churned and churned, boiled cool, tumbling, all one, how much like souls snowflakes are. A platonic push through the Lethe edge of home and in the air, life as a being sui generis, moving through a crowd, then alone, now clumped near others, caught by strong gusts and blown back high, swirling up, until, at last, the end, the mass, once again absorbed, united.
Wait though. Consider this. Later, wind again or sun breaks this snowflake soul loose from its time so close bound to others, death-like stillness ended, and this snowflake, transformed again to drops of water, moves up, up, up the great transmigration of the soul, happening again, as it has, and as it will.
Or, perhaps, a small child out to build a snow man scooped up the snowflake, ate it whole along with others of its crowd. Now the soul merges with the blood, the heat, of a human living out his gusty trip from the heavens to the earth and back again.
This, too, is a Great Wheel, or, a Great Spiral all happening as we, snowflake, soul, and human spin wildly through space in our elliptical way.
Had an opportunity to write a note to the DNC thanks to Move-On.Org. Realized in the writing, yet again, that the political passions still pulse, move and flow in my veins.
I want to ask you all to help me stay on the path with Liberal Way research and writing. Your attention and occasional care about these items have helped me stay on the path of personal and collective pilgrimage. Though these writing have strayed from the message at various times the editing process and the revision of the whole will work that out. Surprises will also come, that is, things that seemed far afield may, in the scope of the whole year, have a very clear point.
I’m even asking Charlie to help me stay on the path here. I want to reshape the notion of liberal political thought (tinged with the blood red of radicalism, too), so that it can once again be heard in the land, a voice loud, clear, and compelling. My beginning hypothesis is this: liberal thought has distinct roots and clear agenda, yet some of these, as with all broad systems of thought, can work at cross purposes, even contradict each other.
The quickest example is the difficult reconciliation of liberty and equality. One person’s liberty is another persons blocked dream. Or, a nation of equals, fully resourced and with all able to offer their gifts from a healthy, safe, and secure home base, is a place where economic and political liberty has limits. These are not easy to hold in tension, especially not in the body politic with its emphasis on constituencies.
I have a research plan in place, and, after sufficient immersion in it, will develop a writing plan, too. It involves mixing liberal (radical) politics with a liberal faith pilgrimage: action with devotion, radical politics and meditation, political humility with assertive public advocacy.
This work should take at least three years, if not five, but I want to finish in late 2006, or early 2007; so, my work can have a shot at the electorate in the 2008 race. This is where I want to put my political chips for this next go round.
Unless you want to see this work as it happens, I plan to work more traditionally on this one. Research, outline. Write. Revise. More research, change outline. Write. Revise. Then, outside readers.
This work will go on as I (hopefully) immerse myself in the MIA Docent program and continue work on Magic in America, so these next few years will require my best attention and healthiest person...and the support of my friends and family. This is my new pilgrimage and when this diary is done (revisions and all), I will organize my whole life around it.
For everything, the Preacher says, there is a season, and this is the season of harvest for me. I want, no, I need the patience and positive support of all willing to give it.
I’ve enjoyed the discipline of sitting down each day, seeing you all in my mind and imagining a conversation, perhaps a conversation I would have greater difficulty engaging in person. I’m not big, for example, on asking for help...I know, it’s a character flaw, a vestigial male thing unfortunately reinforced by my early experience with polio. Yet, I mean it. This weekly communication has been a great help, though, in a sense, I didn’t ask, I just did it. Still, Bill early on added it to the website and some of you have commented from time to time and that constitutes real help.
As Botton says in his Status Anxiety, recognition is a major drive and if we can get it in a way not demeaning to ourselves, then we have a major part of life licked. Well, your help...through recognition has been enough and far from demeaning. Thanks.
So, building on this experience, I’m going to ask for help from each one of you who read this (read in this far anyhow). You can help me in several different ways. Share essays, books, movies, art works you think germane to the Liberal Way. Offer to read finished sections as they become available. Continue to ask me about the work, how its going, if I’ve learned anything new. Send me cookies or gift coupons...no, just kidding...I see this as a long distance journey though and I’m really asking for sustenance of any kind.
In return I promise to work diligently, to give this work the best effort I have, the most careful thought of which I’m capable, and to finish it before the next election (hmmm...or, failing that, the one after.) I don’t want to put out an unfinished product, so I will take the time necessary to make it live up to my own standards, but my goal is 2007, early or late.
I will not start the clock ticking officially on this project until at Beltane 2005 because that’s my current deadline for a second draft of this pilgrimage diary and this has priority for me right now.
But on Beltane Pilgrim will shift to a work in progress, farmed out for others to comment, and I will move on to the Liberal Way and Magic in America.
We’ve got snow. Not much yet, but Kate, ever the Iowegian, always says, “Little snow, big snow.” I put down straw over my tender perennials yesterday so a nice snowfall today would be great timing. This mulch, unlike the blanket analogy that spring to mind, actually preserves the cold in the soil through spring thaws and nighttime re-freezes. By doing this the soil heaves do not unearth the plant, or subject its roots to injury.
Most things I have don’t require mulching, but I have some zone 4 & even a zone 5 plant or two out there, and I try to sneak them through our zone 3b winter. Works sometimes, not others.
I had a Japanese Maple I just loved, thin feathery leaves a wonderful russet; but, even putting it in the little micro-climate I’ve decided is zone 5 could never get it past the stunted, involuntary bonsai stage. Finally, in one of our snowless winters it gave up and so did I. I miss it. I might try one inside.
Horticulture has taken years to settle in as a real pursuit, an avocation of considerable time and resources, but it has. I now understand better and it helps me, even in the winter months, to stay connected with mother earth. My flowering plants I bought for holiseason decoration still have their blooms.
This will be the first day since my trip, and in that regard, my first day since mid-April when I stripped off the mulch from last winter; my first day I’ve not had obligations, events in the near term future, and I like it. Though this was, as I said above, a rich year, I’ve yearned for the open time, time when I can act, basically, on whim. It may seem like my life has much of that, but the way is not so broad after all.
Between now and the 20th, when I start my winter retreat, I will have more days open. I need these days for they feed my soul, give me a chance to breathe, and free the muse. Yes, sometimes melancholy is the result, but now I have a different perspective on it. I welcome it as a sign, signifying a deeper inner journey has begun. I now try to avoid the unpleasant externals: snappy, crabby guy, but often it is those moments that give me my first signal, then I can monitor my behavior, and try to follow melancholy down her unlit path.
This AM, breakfast and the newspaper at IHOP after doing our banking for the week, then, maybe some reading or rearranging of the study to get ready for the retreat and editing. Perhaps a movie in the afternoon, workout, then...Joan of Arcadia, a show I like. Maybe another movie, or a book. I’m almost done with Status Anxiety. It gets better as it goes along. Gives me real hope for philosophy as a discipline, a helpmate to the human pilgrimage--what I always thought it was.
Later in the day. Snow has backed off. Just gray now. I can see my green lawn, the oak leaves brown on the hillside, and tufts of green among them. The oaks themselves reach bony fingers, spare now of leaves, out and down. They have done their part in preparation for winter, but where does it hide?
If I read the meteorologists right, we have a split jet stream to thank for this schizoid weather.