This Sweet Life I

How can we begin to understand the nature of simplicity, here in the Western world? Is our restlessness symptomatic of a deeper yearning to know our sense of place more profoundly? Many of us are feeling called to a life less fettered with consumerist trappings and meaningless work. How ironic then, that nations only recently diverted from an agrarian base which ensured meaningful work with unwavering family and community support and time-honored sacred daily rites and practices now want what we have in the way of “quality of life.”

Has one nation tipped the balance of an entire planet? What are we collectively seeking? In his essay The Orphan and the Angel (Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology), Robert Romanyshyn seems to encounter, as we all must from time to time, the dark night of the soul. “Today we desperately need a transformation of soul, a spiritual revolution. And we need to be awakened in this way not in order to save ourselves or to save the world. Too much of the old arrogance clings to such dreams, too much of our busyness, our hyperactivity, our stubborn refusal to listen. On the contrary, we need to be awakened in order to be saved. We have forfeited our birthright in the scheme of creation, and as such we have lost any right, if we ever really had one, to save the world. Only the world can save us. We need this humility. We need to learn again how to pray.”

Finding time to meet ourselves honestly in the quiet and solitude of our own hearts seems key to discovering the nature of our place in the world. Only then may we feel the pulse of creation flowing in our veins; only then can we taste the sweetness flowing from the fount of Mother Earth. The speed at which many of us hurl ourselves through life can be measured by reflecting on the past day or week or month where we feel time steamrolling by, leaving us flat and dry. It causes us to wonder, wander and ultimately feel a growing sense of isolation from our own skins, our own kinship to nature both phenomenologically as well as from our own human nature. We become orphans on alien ground.

In A Sense of Place, Wallace Stegner offers, “In our displaced condition we are not unlike the mythless man that Carl Jung wrote about, who lives ‘like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary human society. He lives a life of his own, sunk in a subjective mania of his own devising, which he believes to be the newly discovered truth’.”

Does this subjective mania describe our cultural malaise as well, and if so, how has our American way of life inflamed virtually all of civilization with the desire to possess a lifestyle which promotes attachment to things and detachment to a deeply rooted sense of place? Is this forgetting something all human beings must collectively move through in order to reencounter a lasting, harmonious relationship with the planet we call home, else lose our place in nature’s scheme? What are we looking for, but more importantly, what are many of us attempting to reclaim? To delve deeply within, to explore our inner life is not the same as isolating ourselves from family, community and our world. To meet the sweetness that life already offers us without condition, we need to reclaim simplicity, meeting life on its terms, not ours. When we meet creation with a certain sense of wonder and enchantment and a lack of guile, life is and has always been infused with the nourishment the hungry ghost within us seeks. In Universal Dharma Realms, Maha Thera describes these ghosts that “always live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum.”

Americans might discern the difference between being alone with ourselves and being alone with no sense of place or belonging. We are still a young nation on borrowed soil, needing to come to terms with our arrogance and national philosophy and practice of eminent domain. We need to see ourselves less as owners of the land and more as citizens of Planet Earth. However this plays out in our psyches, ownership is illusory, for our bodies are made of the same earth we stand upon, regardless of where we locate ourselves mentally in space and time. Yet our minds continue tethering themselves to another home, we know not where. How can we remain grounded with this kind of duality in a time where escape seems more desirable than ever?

We are given what we need for this earth walk. Every emotion, every bodily organ serves our path. Many of us have become surgeons of the soul, cutting loose whatever pulls us into discomfort. Yet we also possess the threads which attach us to community, to our sense of place in the world. When we reckon with our innermost yearnings, we reestablish a rooted inner life. When we encounter life on its terms, we find common ground in an unpredictable world. Ultimately if we are to create a quiet life, a serene existence, unpredictability becomes an acceptable state of grace. Without expectations of what life is here to provide for us, we take refuge in the wonder of existence. We meet life profoundly with openness and a sense of being in a place we are meant to inhabit as fully as we are able.

 

(@2005 Bela Johnson – formerly published in Inner Tapestry Journal)

 

42 thoughts on “This Sweet Life I

    1. Aww, Betty, I’ll bet you were! 🙂 It was a very long article of which I’ll post the second half soon. Marie Williams really wanted some more prose, and this was what I came up with. So hoping her eyes find it. Mahalo for yours. 😘 And btw? Hoping those fires aren’t affecting you too adversely … ?

      1. Will look forward to reading the second half!
        Smoke from the fires was bad off and on for awhile but never as terrible as it was in Seattle and Portland. We had a lot of eerie red sunshine for a few days. Air has cleared up here now with all the rain and wind the last couple of days. (Fall is definitely here!)

  1. Bela, this is so well scripted my friend.. So many of your thoughts echo out what I have been verbalising in my journal as I vented out my thoughts to no one other than the ether to listen to my rants..
    I am in the process of aligning those thoughts into a less aggressive tone for a post..
    Ever since the Eclipse a shift within me has occurred that I want to withdraw from the world at large..
    Yet as much as I try, My own Earth Walk is pulling me to communicate, and expose the truth of a world that in many ways continues to blindly be led in the consumerism of greed.

    Your words ” We are still a young nation on borrowed soil, needing to come to terms with our arrogance and national philosophy and practice of eminent domain. We need to see ourselves less as owners of the land and more as citizens of Planet Earth. ”

    Like you also said ” Many of us have become surgeons of the soul, cutting loose whatever pulls us into discomfort”

    And while it is painful for those of us whose empathy we feel connected to so many who are going through turmoil, we cannot turn our backs.. For we are after all ONE.. And what affects One affects the WHOLE

    And yes we are all of us threads within the tapestry of Life.. Each good and bad deed creating the pattern from which we learn from..

    Your thoughts now have made me take the plunge and post a diluted version of my own rant. I was still in two minds of posting..

    Love and Blessings for guiding me today Bela..
    We need to hear your words…
    Sue xxx ❤ 💜💜

    1. Aloha sister Sue – thanks for your perusal and your kind affirmations, as always. I feel we need to hear the words of one another, and I’ll be searching for yours shortly.

      I, too – for we are always, it seems, on similar wavelengths – have been struggling with the in/out since the eclipses, and frankly a bit before that. I’m definitely in a Hermit stage, archetypally speaking. For how long, I cannot say – but I think the end of the year sounds right. I know I’m going to be seeing clients again, but I will not do that healing work inside our sanctuary/home, and the guest house won’t be finished until then. And so I write. I don’t feel as though I must go out and disperse my energies in person – I feel I’m best of service by sitting here writing and contemplating and yes, there’s always the garden. I don’t feel as though those labors are wasted in any sense of the world. What heals me, heals the planet in some not insignificant way. But we all have our journey, for certain.

      I feel you so keenly through your words, and my heart goes out to you in support of the frustrations we are both feeling with the state of the world. On the upside, we are living to witness significant changes on Planet Earth. On the downside – well, we know these changes are going to be painful for many. And so we do what we can while remembering we can’t give from a dry well. Sending you love and blessings from across the seas! ❤

      1. I agree we can not give from a dry well. so true.. The garden is my sanctuary also my knitting.. And like you I write.. Some never to see the light of day as I tear them into a hundred pieces and burn them.. While others I need to share..
        And yes.. I am reminded many times these days of what my guides said to me in previous years.. of this time of endurance. And we are lucky in the sense we see the greater circle of what is playing out. Trying to verbalise a Knowing within is not easy.. And I think why even try.. But I try.. even though I know it may not always come out right..
        Thank you Bela.. we so understand one another .. 🙂

  2. Wow. And this won’t leave my consciousness for some time: . In Universal Dharma Realms, Maha Thera describes these ghosts that “always live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum.”

  3. Beautifully said Bela. I’ve heard similar messages from many of the leading scientists and philosophers today, that we need to “change the way we do business”. Ultimately life is simply not sustainable when the paradigm of how we live is profit over happiness. We can still have science and innovation with such a paradigm. Maybe competition in the free market drives innovation faster…but there is no race here…I suspect we could slow down and nobody would really care. However I suspect a focus on happiness would lead to greater cooperation among people’s and cooperation is our greatest evolutionary strength. Imagine what we could have accomplished all this time with racial equality, with gender equality….so much human intellect and ability has been lost simply we reduced the value of people based on arbitrary measures.

    1. Swarn, I certainly couldn’t have said it better. And I agree that ‘we could slow down and nobody would really care.’ And for certain humanity would be in a totally different place had we learned, in the immortal words of Rodney King, ‘to just get along.’

      There is a sweet little book written many moons ago that my acupuncturist gifted me on Kindle called “Ecotopia.” It is a visionary tale of how society would play itself out, given a radical shift back to basics. Starhawk also fantasized about this in “The Fifth Sacred Thing.” I can’t think how having less materially and increasing the quality of living would be a bad thing. We are all so stressed out all the time, trying to keep ahead of the monthly bills but also to constantly replace poorly manufactured consumer items and maintain a living space. It’s a conundrum, to be sure.

      Thanks again for your astute comments, Swarn. Aloha and peace. 🙏🏽

      1. It’s interesting to think about. Oddly that was sort how the new Battlestar Galactica series ended. lol

        I don’t see us giving up technology for a going back to basics sort of life, but I can see us designing technology in a more ethical way, and also designing technology that fits how humans work. The way it seems to be right now is that the focus is always on something new and having humans fit the technology instead of saying maybe we don’t always have to think new, but rather develop technology that helps humans do what they want to do. Or in other words right now it feels like corporations are deciding what humans want to do, and we’re falling for it. Such is the capitalist model which can only continue based on continuous consumption of goods.

      2. I think there are many dystopian models out there – these two books are more about ‘after the gray’ – I swear, Hollywood seriously lacks imagination when it comes to these types of movies – from The Matrix to The Hunger Games, the feeling is all gray (even though I loved both films) – but I get your drift. It doesn’t seem possible we’ve developed all this technology to have it swept away. Then again, if we keep dumbing down this nation and refusing to fund science and the arts, I could totally see a serious reversal, so I rule nothing out. I like your model though – get rid of corporate-sponsored consumption and we might begin to make some significant strides. Here’s to hope for the future.

  4. It’s lovely to read your thoughts in longer form, Bela, purely by dint of contrast to your sensational poetry — not that one seems superior to the other, not at all. As you open here on the question of simplicity, and in being a simple person myself, I tend always to come back to our ubiquitous tendency to enslavement to our thinking, and that being the root cause of our sense of alienation. One might flip the coin and say rather the cause is the inadequacy, at times even the insufficiency, of our thinking — how we seize upon old behavioral patterns as well as falling prey to malignant influences. This is all obvious, I know, as action is always preceded by thought, and yet it’s the identification with those thoughts, the belief that they are synonymous with the imagined agent within, that is pernicious. The answer, as I see it (and such as it is), is not to attempt to banish the flow of verbal mentation — a task too far, for most, and unnecessary in any case — but to allow some space to gather around it and the awareness that illuminates its presence, and which itself is non-spatial, or unbounded. In thinking, the mind naturally collapses and coalesces around its objects, and this is in fact a mode of concentration, albeit a dumb one. Once we allow our thoughts to drift in open space (expansive mind), that process of itself aids the disidentification. Thought can then think whatever it will, as it’s now detached from a causal chain which otherwise would have led into action, or inner turmoil and suffering. What is thought? Imagined sounds, conditioned by the past, by the immediate environment and our sense contacts with it. If we can detach ourselves from it (‘dis-identify’), using it for our and others’ weal whenever necessary, but otherwise setting it free, then this in turn frees ourselves from enslavement to it. Awareness, unsullied by the heated neuroses of thought, is indeed then sweet, as life is, and as it and life always was. I suspect we’re pretty close on these positions, dear Bela, so let my words just float free here. Look, they’ve already gone. Who cared? We are at last free of their tyranny. H ❤

    1. First, thank you, thank you. You know, Hariod – it has been far too long since you’ve written a post – did I miss something? My ears always stand up when I read your words – so enlightening. Wonderful. We are all blessed to hear them any time.

      While I am aware that of course we understand one another, there is always merit in writing or reading another’s point of view on a similar subject, and none more important than this.

      It’s why we love dogs. I think often while observing our puppy how in his body he is – no thought whatsoever. If he ignores something we ask of him that is enough for a scolding, even then he’s over it immediately. Oh, right. Don’t pull mom’s arm off while on leash. Oh, that. Pull, pull again, with just as much delight as before. It makes me laugh. At the same time, we do need to continue with the training. Of course. But he’s not premeditating – he’s just excited. Not overthinking anything. Just responding to the pure joy of being a puppy. How cool is that?!

      Love to you on this brilliant day. 🌅☀️😘

  5. Thank you Bela for giving me some more prose – I knew you wouldn’t let me down! 🙂 And yes, my “eyes” found it! There is so much food for thought here too! My thoughts are that as long as we seek to possess and own material things we will never be free to live a ‘simplistic’ life. I think it brings out the worst in us – greed, jealousy and envy which in turn lead to conflict in communities and the world at large. Those who have will want to sadly accumulate more and those who don’t will want to take or steal it from them – it’s a never ending cycle.

    As I see it, “Ultimately if we are to create a quiet life, a serene existence” – I think that one of the things we need to get away from is the desire to own land as this seems to be hugely conflicting and the cause of much human suffering. Then we need to recognise equality of all people and to accept cultures different to our own, and practice harmony and peaceful co-existence. This will be a tall order for many people because there are those of us who will always want the exact opposite of these ideals. This sounds so depressing, I know.

    On a lighter note, blessings and I look forward to part 2! Aloha dear Bela.:)

    1. Aloha, sweet Marie – thanks for sharing your thoughts. The crux of my complaint, as it may be these days, is this, “Those who have will want to sadly accumulate more …” And not so much that the poor want to take or steal, though some do when forced into dire circumstances.

      I’ve lived among simple country people for almost fifty years of my life. And what I have witnessed, especially living among people of color, is the immense focus on sharing what they have (food, music, laughter and food – always food!) and not solely on what money can buy. Friends I know who have wealth just seem to be obsessed with it, to the blind exclusion of anything else. Watching it ‘grow,’ conserving it, making sure others are not taking advantage of them because they have it (a most ridiculous notion!), using it to leverage their ‘work in the world,’ even if that ‘work’ is art, which I find most peculiar, as historically artists were a pretty desperate lot. I’ve pretty much washed my hands of these sorts of people, even though I have felt compassion for them in the past because we are of course all on the same human path. I just grew very tired of the games they don’t even know they play as a result of a deeply wounding sense of entitlement – using people as opposed to relating with them.

      So living simply ‘could’ happen for the rich as well as the poor, but in order for this to happen, we would all of necessity have to share what we have with one another. For the rich, this would be money – oh no effing way! They are Not going to part with their precious cash (which, by the way, has no intrinsic value) – and don’t even ask to grow food on their land, even if you want a quarter of one of their 1000 acres and they cannot see you working(!)

      We are not poor by any standards, but neither are we rolling in money, though we feel rich in every way imaginable. We have what we need, and we help many others along the way. But you know as well as I do that we cannot force others to give or to share. Humans are a very strange lot, are we not? Just incomprehensible on so many levels.

      Sending you love and blessings on this beautiful day, Marie! 🌴🌺🐳❤️

      1. Aloha sweet Bela – what a lovely way of greeting others you have!:) My goodness you are fired up tonight/today, and I can’t say I blame you one iota! 🙂
        First, let me clarify the part about ‘taking/stealing’ – I meant it the way you said it, not for one moment did I think that the all of the ‘have-nots’ were quietly plotting to steal from the rich! And the part about owning land, I was referring to colonisation and people fighting over what they deem to be their territory, not objecting to people owning a bit of land.
        Yes, I agree with you about poor people and sharing – having come from that sort of background in Jamaica: listening to my parent’s stories about my grandfather owning his own small plot of land and how everyone in the community shared and shared alike back at the beginning of the last century.
        And I so agree with you about how ‘simple living’ could happen, but how unlikely it is to happen because humans are a ‘very strange lot’ and ‘incomprehensible on so many levels’. I live in hope though!:)
        Love + blessings dear Bela!💚💕

      2. Well honestly, whenever I think of Marie (my eldest daughter’s middle name), I hear Bob Dylan singing, ‘where are you tonight, sweet Marie?’ Though it’s not my favorite song of his by far, I love that last line … 😉

        And thanks for clarifying the ‘land’ bit – I did grasp your meaning, yes. But also made me think of what I mentioned about sharing. Because. The whole idea of anybody owning a piece of Mother Earth is ludicrous. At any rate, I figure yes, we do own property as such, but it’s a happy monetary contribution to stewarding a bit of her for our time here on earth.

        As for your grandfather’s land, this is quite common here in Hawaii as well – even if someone else doesn’t come and plant and tend (people are far lazier these days, on balance), what one grows in the yard gets shared around the community. We always have stacks of fruit on our countertop, and it’s not always from our own gardens.
        Hugs! 🤗

      3. How many daughters do you have? Are all your children in Hawaii? Excuse nosiness please!:) Will check out that song – I hadn’t heard of it.
        Have you seen the film: ‘Mother’, Bela? I saw it last weekend, and hadn’t a clue what it was about after watching it, but after Googling found out it was about Mother Earth – and then of course it all made sense.
        Life in Hawaii sounds like a dream – it puts me in the mind of when I was a small child in Jamaica, although I don’t have that many memories as I left when I was 4, but I still have that sense of it in my soul. Hugs back!:)

      4. Two girls, Marie. Both acupuncturists, both gifted in other realms 😉 And no, haven’t seen Mother, though have seen many earth documentaries, including David Attenborough’s Planet Earth which is amazingly good. Well to be fair, most of his stuff is. ❤

      5. Oh, as for the Dylan song – unless you like loud and confusing, it’s not his best. Not my favorite of his by far, but I always remember that last line, as I say 😉

      6. Oh gosh, running too fast this morning – the girls are not in Hawaii – they lived on the islands for a year growing up, but education was so regressive they begged to return to their east coast school, which we gladly acceded to. So we all went back. Then came back to HI after the youngest was through her undergrad – or in her senior year, anyway – and well on her way to independence. Then she came to live with us in HI for a few years, but returned for graduate school on the mainland US. So now they both are in practice in the western part of the US. Strange how we all migrated west 😉

      7. Sometimes life is a bit like that Bela – anyway, it sounds as if you all are where you should be at the moment … who knows what the future holds? I’m sure you hadn’t planned to move back to the east coast – but you did! And now you sound as if you’re having a wonderful time, which is just as it should be. 🙂

  6. “…the hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum” – is as thoughtful as your powerful post, oops, prose. I love both forms, and you know I mean it 🙂

    We’re breathing in trying times, aren’t we. The super rich is belting out lies, and we’re the unwilling recipients. Isn’t money corrupting everything, including the soul.

    Everyone – except for our delusional self – is loathsome, and how delusions die a definite death, which we know but don’t care: who else can stop us from peeling off our layers of insensitivity. When everybody else is repugnant, how do/should we react to every other culture, class, creed, race.

    I was watching Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King on Netflix: he was born in the US (his Indian parents had immigrated) – an American (white) girl had wanted him to be her prom date – he was super excited – but, his father was against the idea – Hasan had to sneak out his window and climb down the roof, and was soon standing on the doorstep of this girl’s house, wearing his best suit – girl’s mom opened the door, and apologized – an American (white) boy was chosen to be her date – mom said that they were going to take a lot of pictures and that he (brown) won’t be a good fit. Hasan did reveal at the end of the show, though, that the girl ended up marrying another Indian guy.

    I don’t know why I’m mentioning all of this here – perhaps my point is, our first reaction or response to anything outside of us has become negative. Yes, we got to be careful, but beyond the careful part are the more bigoted layers of doubt, fear, and uncertainty – the racist outlook?

    In your precious words “…to meet the sweetness that life already offers us without condition, we need to reclaim simplicity, meeting life on its terms, not ours.” How self-connect followed by community-connect or nature-connect may well be the journey. Always.

    1. Aloha Mahesh, and many thanks for your kind and thoughtful commentary. I am familiar enough with racism, having been raised in the 1960’s civil rights era in the US. I was always choosing men of color and different culture to be friends and lovers back in those times; and my girlfriends were of every stripe. Oddly enough, my parents did not object once I stood my ground. Part of my rebellion against the ridiculousness of racism itself was and is the fact that we could even begin to judge another based on skin color(!) when the most intriguing, beautiful people always, at least for me, are people of color – culturally their lives are different from mine, and there’s always something to learn from ‘different.’ Fear, even when I was young, was precipitated by old white men. And that’s the truth. I don’t think that’s changed much in decades of living, either – only it’s less the leering creepiness and more the deep fear of abuse of political power. There is no logic or justification for racism, it’s just the easiest way for ignorance to gain a foothold. And it’s so very dangerous.

      So living simply means dropping pretense of all sorts – to live and let live, meeting life on ITS terms, not ours, yes. I know so many people who would and could achieve this sort of community, but we are scattered like seeds amidst vast fields of ignorance. I guess there’s a reason for that on this beautiful planet of polarities. 😦

      Just yesterday we were coming down off a mountain to glimpse for the first time the back-side of Waipio Valley and it took our breath away – the verdant cliffs plunging down to the sea below, looking every bit like the magical land of fairytales. We are so blessed to live on this precious earth. How anyone could feel anything but goodwill toward All of life at such times is beyond me. But that is the topic of many, many other discussions on the dangers of humans living in their heads to the exclusion of contact with the earth they walk upon.

      Blessings, Mahesh – and again, my thanks. 🙏🏽🌈💓

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