Thursday, December 30, 2004

Start your New Year right! : All about habits

Oh, wait: is it true that there is a right way to start a New Year? Can you absolutely know as true that there is a right way to start a New Year? How do you feel when you adopt the attitude that there is a right way to start a new year and that you must find and apply it? Who would you be without that belief?

One way to start any year, month or day is to begin examining assumptions. One of the most amazing of human abilities is our ability to use words, and this ability can often be mistaken for thinking. Words do not equal truth, even if spoken/written by Important People/Experts/Parents/Teachers. Maybe especially not if spoken/written by I.P./E./P./T..

Of late several phrases have become hidey holes for not thinking. “24/7” and “no brainer” strike me this way. “Thinking out of the box” is drifting perilously close to becoming another cliché far easier to say, than to say with any real meaning. What exactly is this “box” outside of which people are supposed to “think?” One way to approach this is by examining habits of physical, emotional and mental varieities. This is not to imply habits are “wrong,” but t begin to peek into one of the most striking of human characteristics: the tendency to do, think and feel the same thing over and over and over again.

Physical habits are the easiest to observe without getting into internal warfare. Which shoe do you put on first? Which leg comes out of pants first? Which foot moves forward first in walking? When faced with a new or complicated task, what happens to the breathing? Which sit bone do you favor? Which foot is steadiest for one-legged standing? Try writing or printing upside down. This gets interesting.

There are feelings that are such deep habits, we assume them as if ordained. What if someone is rude to us? Is our habitual response anger, shame, wish to disappear, amusement, curiosity, or delight? What if someone rejects us (divorce, leaves us, fires us). Is our response anger, sadness, guilt, fear, shame, resentment, clinging, worry, wish for revenge, amusement, curiosity, delight, or love? These lists of possible reactions, and our general incredulity at the possibility of responding with amusement, curiosity and delight to something “bad,” is an indication of how wired in our emotional habits happen to be.

Patterns of behavior are so deep in our lives as to be almost unseen, especially in our addiction to being in four kinds of boxes. The four walled, six-sided box of indoor life in home or office has become our substitute for a vast and beautiful world. The metal and plastic box of our cars is the major factor in our moving from one place (box) to another, and in how most of so-called civilization is ordered. From outer space it could look as if humans exist merely to feed, house, exercise and maintain these car boxes. And to top it all off we glue our attention for how many hours a day to the computer box and the television box?

These habits of placing our minds and bodies in these four boxes don’t need to be unseen. Can we be aware of that as it’s happening? Is that really where we want to be, or are we just there because that is the pattern we have molded ourselves into? If we put our minds and bodies somewhere else where would that be? Just to begin to think of the alternatives might begin to give literal meaning to the almost cliché of “thinking outside of the box.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Goodbye to 2004 in Sonoma on this Earth

The year is almost over. We all have to say goodbye to 2004. the days are beginning to get longer , a little less than two minutes a day. If you can read or hear this, you are still alive.

To be alive in a vast and open and mainly empty universe. That is no small thing. Though we are a small thing in this vastness.

We are alive in Sonoma. We won’t always be alive. Sonoma the town wasn’t always here, even this valley wasn’t always here. Who knows how long it will be here in the future. Will Sonoma be a future curiosity for scuba divers if the polar ice caps melt? Will it be a thriving small town showing people throughout the country and world how a group of people could decide to live ecologically and emotionally satisfying lives? Will it be a crowded spot in some gigantic metropolis that runs from Monterrey to Mendocino?

The future is blessed in a certain way: we can’t know what it will be. It is also beginning to be known, as it is being shaped right now. Many people want to slow the rate of building in Sonoma. That will have an effect on our future, if we can do that. People around the world are studying how to create what they call natural capitalism, where one business’ waste product (extra heat, say) is used as another business’ resource (heat to a greenhouse business, say). In nature there is no pollution. Every creature’s waste is some other creature’s food. In a garden this is easy to implement, using last year’s dead tomato vines and the fall’s leaves and the ongoing kitchen wasters, to stir into the alchemy of a compost pile, where nature knows how to turn this all into next year’s soil.

Look around town and you’ll see tons of soil food (leaves, grass clippings, weeds) being blown into piles and thrown into trucks, hopefully to be carted off somewhere they’ll be composted. But always this activity is denuding the garden from which it came of organic nutrition.

Mow and blow. Poison the grass, often. Water it too much, usually. Make a huge racket cutting back the over fertilized lawns and stripping the property of valuable organic matter. What do these sorts of practices tell us about our chances for a harmonious future? Think of the alternative: the soft sound of a rake or a broom, but then, terrors: it might cost more. Then again, what if we cared for our own yards and saved the cost of a gym membership because we did real work? More heresy. Oh, well: thinking ecologically in often heresy in our society. So be it.

We are alive, on this earth now. This will not always be true. One of the great egalitarian facts of life is that no matter how rich or how poor we are, no matter how beautiful or not so beautiful, no matter how lucky ( and is not to be alive in this blessed corner of the planet lucky in itself) or unlucky we all, we all die. Did, dad, done, dead. The year ends. So will we.

A reminder to stay clear on what we are living for. Perhaps to love more, to be happy, and to connect with and help the Earth.

Happy New Year. Happy Life. Happy Sonoma. Happy Earth. Happy you and your happiness and your life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

To be human, and the night; Solstice

“If you want to think out of the box, get out of the box; the house/office box, the car box, the computer/television box.”

What does it mean to be a human being? It all starts in the ocean, nine months in the womb, almost no gravity, no light, no cold, no past, no future, at one with the mother. Then, it all changes: we come plopping out into a world of light and sound and gravity and breath. This is a lot of new. We need to suck to get our food, temperatures can change, if we aren’t supported we flop all over the place.

Life on earth. We had sound in the womb, but no light. We might have felt gravity a little, but now we have to learn to raise our heads, to roll over, to come to crawling. Sooner or later we walk, a miracle. Standing on feet so small compared to our body size is amazing. If you don’t believe me, make a clay human figure with feet not glued to a base and see what happens. Amazing. We learn language, we get social, we decipher the whole word of “dog” as an indicator of that furry, moving, warm and smelly thing, of “grass” as a pointer to that green stuff that feels neat under and between our toes, of “sky” as a pale substitute for that blue (even blue is a pointer) stuff up above. We lose immediacy when we come into language and we gain the communication, common-unification thing.

Gravity rules life on earth. As I write this, as you read or hear this, you are pressing down on the earth in certain ways. The earth has a big attraction for you. You are connected. Stand on one foot for awhile and you remember this is an important game, this reconciling to gravity part of our lives.

Gravity rules, sound heals, light brings delight. Color and clarity in the day, movement and shape at night, when there is far more to see than we are accustomed to allow. Out in the fields and on the hills, there is the moon bouncing off the sun’s light all nights of the month but three, complemented by the lights from our city and even Napa. You can’t pick out a ripe tomato at night, but you can follow a path, notice more clearly the shape of the trees, listen to a stream, hear your own footsteps. It’s a quieter world at night, if we can get out to some land, some earth away from this last century’s bedazzlement, the electric light. Four million years of human history, one hundred years of electric lights, sometimes it’s useful, but what have we lost?

Our connection to the night. Is the Overlook Trail open at night? Let’s assume it is. Humans need places to go to celebrate and partake of the night. This is half the world, always, everyday, every moment, half the world is in the twilight or in the dark. This dark tells us to rest, to listen, to pay attention to our heart beat and our dreams. We cannot walk so mechanically in the dark. We can’t see night animals nearly as well as they can see us. All our gadgets don’t seem so powerful. We are a small being in the shadow of our big planet, we are out of the mother’s womb, but back in the world dominated by sound and sensation. We are breathing. Can we notice that? Our feet are on the earth, maybe we can notice that more clearly, and the owls may be hooting nearby, frogs croaking up their symphony this time of year.

Sound, sensation, listening, breath. This is an exhilarating world, and in these longest nights of the year, can we partake of some of the rich nutrition this darkness has to offer?

Monday, December 20, 2004

interesting websites all about the garden, the beautiful garden, my "credentials," since I haven't been on a bunch of commissions a magazine that helps promote one of the most useful and exciting design principles on the planet: thinking and acting as nature does, so that the culture and agriculture can be permanent, not using up the Earth as is now being done a system of learning, connecting mind and body, that inspired me to run for city council, since once you begin learning again as you did as a child, anything seems possible. a new friend and colleague has this list of things he likes, uses, or recommends. pretty fun guy, pretty fun website

a favorite phrase of Moshe Feldenkrais, the inventor: making the impossible possible, the possilbe easy and the easy elegant. an amazing new magazine devoted to people and ideas that are making a happy, real and positive change on this planet not as great a website as the organization is fine, but gives an idea of all the things they do find out about aggendas, commissions, and download the general plan update ( or go to city hall and get a hardcopy) not as generous as ode magazine, but it hints at one of the great instituions in America. all about the local radio station; if you haven't gotten the bug yet, check it out about the movie about the scary stuff they are doing with genetically engineering of food what if oil runs out? Hmmm, that will make life a whole new ballgame. a movie about this.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Slow and small is beautiful: hospital letter

Keep the hospital small and in town. Marilyn Goode’s marvelous letter expressed what many of us want. We do not want to be steamrollered by a high end project that looks good on paper, costs a hundred million dollars ( without the cost of land, which is assumed a trade for the downtown land), and will ruin a giant chunk of the green belt for which we voted in an Urban Growth Boundary.

Now, I know the people who support this plan are full of good intention. In an issue oriented discussion group called SPIN, where we talk of education, energy, war, economics and all sorts of local issues from all sorts of points of view, we were treated to a presentation by Bob Kowal. He is a fine person, and had a fine presentation.

But the assumption of a huge hospital complex was never questioned. Ignored was the option of a small hospital that would be consistent with our small town and leave the countryside alone. Marylyn’s letter raises this alternative plain and clear. I say: build the emergency portion of the hospital at West Fifth and MacArthur, and have the two buildings function together.

Throughout the state, hospital districts are being bankrupted by seismic requirements. Something is going to have to give. In the meantime, it was an eye opener to see that about half of the million and a half dollar a year parcel tax was going to salaries of people whose main job is the push forward this plan for the giant hospital complex.

You’ve heard me extol the virtues of slowing down. Driving slowly for less accidents, more safety, calmness, a chance to really see where we are going. Getting out of cars, to be even more in touch with our environment. Slowing down the rate of building to keep our small town small. To this, let’s add as well: slow down, too, this rush to build a big hospital complex, out of scale for our small valley, and a financial burden that doesn’t really serve our core needs.