The Shared Moment

I still remember the exact moment when I met someone exactly like me. Life doesn’t often give us a chance to see ourselves in what I call the fleshy mirror, so when it does I look deeply.

It was difficult at first, as are all things that require effort. But to see what others see, how could I resist such an opportunity? I would have to turn in my curious bear card if I didn’t at least let my glance linger.

And linger it did. I still laugh at the battles between two willful beasts born within months of each other, or as one of friends described it then, two iron rabbits meeting the immovable force in each other.

But I also saw a shy withdrawn child who hid in corners at social gatherings. I saw how others misunderstood and called him standoffish, aloof, snobbish. Like me he had few social skills other than the mandatory ones that kept us out of jail, guaranteed we could somewhat work for others, and drew people to us the same way many are drawn to the impossible task of taming cats.

We helped each other take the first step in learning to walk through the halls of a perilous universe. He was finally able to perform without his fingers shaking on the strings so badly he couldn’t play. I was finally able to read in public without having my voice choke in fear halfway through.

Over the years I met other fleshy mirrors and some I glanced at briefly, while others I stared into like a scrying stone. With each one I experienced the same feeling of recognition, the same sense that here was someone who understood. And the relief that I was not alone in who I was.

It took many more years for me to develop the confidence and verbal skills to talk to others. I was and still am far more comfortable writing than I am talking. I text far more often than I talk. But again that’s because many of my friends began as my fleshy mirrors. We interact as we are, not as we wish we were, nor how others want us to be.

During the pandemic solitude, we began to text less and talk more. I don’t know if it was the isolation, the introspection that grew from it, or the need to hear a human voice, but the connection to my fleshy mirrors deepened. Our conversations grew longer, more personal, more honest.

I formed deeper bonds with those I once shared only pieces of myself with in the past. They responded in kind. I suspect I’m not the only one who has been healed and changed by this. I suspect there are many “out there” who could have written those words as well. I suspect none of us are done yet. With anything.

That’s why I get so personal at times with this blog. I know the value of fleshy mirrors. I know how just one person understanding who you are, what you feel, where you’ve been, makes a difference. There is a special solace in receiving the understanding of another. It’s a blessing. A sacrament. A gift.

In spite of the terms I use, I’ve never been a religious person, nor do I see such a thing in my future. I detest dogma. But they serve to communicate my true beliefs. I believe in the power of love. I believe love is stronger than hate. I believe love feeds you and hate feeds on you.

The fleshy mirror who taught me these things was a man who walked gently on the earth because it was nature’s skin and he didn’t want to bruise it. I was frightened of him at first. I thought him odd beyond my understanding. I was suspicious of his intent and expected him to whip out his version of the bible at any moment and wave it at me threateningly.

But he did none of this. He simply taught me to value what he reflected back, that we both, at the core of who we were, believed the connection to nature and the connection to other human beings was the same. He accepted my atheism while expanding my connection to a spirituality that didn’t feel like fingers on a chalkboard like too many of the others often did.

When I write I remember what I learned from him. I write to establish that connection with someone else, that moment of looking into the fleshy mirror with someone who needs to feel less alone.

We’re all wounded children. That is what every fleshy mirror has reflected back to me. The worst experiences we’ve had are also the most universal. As my friend said, if you’re going to be the change in the world, someone has to take the first step. Why not you?

I live in my house as I live inside my skin: I know more beautiful, more ample, more sturdy and more picturesque skins: but it would seem to me unnatural to exchange them for mine.” Primo Levi

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Why Nature Matters

Life moves at a slow pace where I live. There’s a lot of places to walk, to sit and contemplate, to be alone with just the sound of the waves against the shore. I’ve spent a great deal of my life living in such places. I sought them out. I made them part of the essentials I needed in order to live somewhere. I had to be within walking distance of a park, a lake, a river, an ocean. I needed trees, lots of trees, even if they were dry, shrubby water-starved sticks in the desert. They still spoke to me in their language. I still let them fill the empty spaces inside me.
Where I live now is the smallest, least populated place I’ve lived. I’ve noticed in the blissful years I’ve lived here that something is opening in me, a new introspection that comes partly with age, from that sense of having survived all the minor stuff that’s no longer worth wasting sleep over, and partly something else.
That something else is a closer relationship with nature. I’m retired. I have the kind of time I did as a child to just walk around, splash in the water, walk through a pile of freshly fallen leaves, and just sit and think about everything and nothing.
I often stand outside and gaze in wonder at the diversity of trees planted by my landlord. There’s everything from blue spruce to a giant sequoia. There’s fruit and nut trees. There’s trees with pretty leaves in the spring, summer, and fall, and stark, dramatic shapes in the winter. This is a land planted by a man who loves trees, and I am the recipient of the fruits he so lovingly planted.
But it’s the silence that makes my communication with these trees special. It allows me to hear them, to trace them inside me where they influence my thoughts, my emotions, my dreams. I wrote my novel in the shade of their summer and the beauty of their winter. They make me whole.
I’m going to repeat that. They make me whole. I repeat it because humanity lost that wholeness in the last few decades. Humanity lost its connection with nature and so it lost its wholeness. And an empty population is a miserable population.
That misery creates polarized times that demand sides must be taken in everything. It creates people who get up in the morning and choose which side to take that day. It demands a society where every person, idea, injury, slight, or petulant tantrum is examined for either allegiance or betrayal. It creates a society of us and them instead of we and one.
This is a sickness caused by losing the connection with nature. The frenzy and noise of even a few minutes in an urban environment is more than enough to break the purity of the connection. The degradation of this connection infects people by making things that were once cherished and valued, become cheap and meaningless. The simplicity of love, of friendship, of companionship becomes diminished because simplicity itself becomes diminished.
It creates a dependence on things instead of people. The constant storms, fires, and disasters caused by the abuse of our planet creates a fear of nature. It turns nature into something to conquer and exploit.
The sad thing is, when people do this, they further distance ourselves from the very thing they need to heal, the simple thing that is so complex, so hard to attain. They get lost in the noise to the point where they allow themselves to remain in a constant state of war and anxiety with not only each other, but also with their own selves. There is no contemplative silence to feed them.
So they strike out. They blame. They accuse. They find reasons for their misery that have nothing to do with them. They push everything outside themselves. They run from meaningful friendships, from loving relationships, from kindness, from altruism, from compassion. They embrace emptiness because there’s nothing left inside that feeds them. Everything takes from them. Everything makes the hole inside them deeper.
That is why, now, more than ever, we need those quiet places where we can just sit in the presence of majestic trees, and gaze upon awe-inspiring mountains, drink in amazingly blue, green, and turquoise water. We need to just sit and listen and let nature fill the emptiness. If we don’t, then we will destroy each other with our hunger.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Life Outside The Kingdom Of Singularity

I’ve always lived in a world that was more comfortable on the edges looking in than on the inside dreaming of getting out. My family was a culturally blended stew with lots of different flavors, none of which got along well with the neighbors. They survived too many wars, saw too many horrific examples of man’s inhumanity to man to ever stand a chance of willfully joining the human race.

After what they lived through, my parents didn’t really like people much. My father was an unsuccessful gambler. When his winnings bought us a roof over our heads, the next hand took it away. We moved around a lot, often in the middle of the night with little notice. We lived in the car, on the road, in cheap motels. When he drank, the cops came. Sometimes they took him away. Sometimes they left him behind, angry, vengeful, and seeking soft targets.

There was no safe world for us. Most of it was controlled by bland, church-going pillars of whiteness who feared and distrusted our dark, accented, religion-mocking lawlessness. They thought they could save us. They saw us as savages in need of civilizing, so they flung invitations to church like monkeys flung poo.

But we flung it back by refusing to become part of their Borg-like existence. From the outside looking in, it seemed as confining, as limiting as the world on the other side of the door. It angered them. And then it frightened them. How dare we not assimilate. They warned their children away from us. They made us outlaws by default. They left us only one path to walk, our own.

It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand what a gift that was, how unusual it was to walk a path undefined by others. It was a rare freedom, this right to forge one’s own path. It is a freedom unknown to many people.

One place I notice the absence of that kind of freedom is in education . Students are well-trained in their skill set. They are the best at what they do. They can discuss their field endlessly and flawlessly. Until they run into a very large wall.

That is the wall of singularity. They know what they know, and maybe the more creative ones can imagine and implement ways to incorporate what they know into something similar, something that will grow into a third thing. Like sequels, prequels, and remakes. Like cover songs and knock-offs. Like mass produced reproductions.

Members of the singularity know their subject. They can apply anything to that subject: the religion of computers, the politics of engineering, the literature of design.

But then the wall gets them. Then the noose of singularity cuts off their thinking. Then the conversation becomes forced and not as entertaining. It becomes as meaningless as discussing the weather. Yes, it rained in the past. It is raining in the present. It will rain in the future.

But there is no poetry to the rain. There is no search for meaning in the sound of the rain or the feel of it upon the skin. There are no love songs written to the rain. It is all sterile and precise and oh so tedious and boring. It is all so singular.

Such singularity easily crosses the short bridge to dogmatism. No new input means no new ideas. No new ideas means the existing ones are elevated to the point where they are beyond criticism. They take on a holiness, a religiosity that won’t allow criticism, because the other sides no longer exist.

People become as rigid as their ideas. Change becomes fearful. Differences become scary. Different ideas become tyranny. The more the world around them changes, the more the members of the singularity cling to the only things they know, whether it is religion, science, art, politics, music, literature, murder, mayhem, war, hate, bigotry, intolerance.

This is when cultures begin to die, because it wasn’t their differences that destroyed past civilizations. It was their sameness. Inbreeding of ideas was just as destructive as inbreeding of people.

Over time they were left with monumental stupidity and nothing to repair the damage done to communities, towns, states, countries, and the planet. There was no one left smart enough or educated enough to fix the problems, so the culture died.

We are once again moving in that direction, and we will reach the crossroads fairly soon. Ignorance has a way of taking over because it feeds on itself. But there are a few things to throw in its path that may not stop it, but it might at least slow it down some.

One of the biggest is education. I was one of the lucky ones, as were many of my generation. We had a true liberal arts education, which meant we had to also study math, science, history, literature, and art.

We learned how to think and analyze, something that is rarely taught anymore. It was valued once. Now only outlaws think outside the herd. It’s discouraged, and instead students are taught to focus, to apply precise learning to precise topics and to never deviate from the task at hand.

But we need to deviate. We need to learn how to apply what we are taught to the past, to the present, and to the future. We need to see the historical consequences of actions, and not have them filtered through the cesspools of politics, religion, and dogmatic thinking.

We need to understand what it means to make our own decisions and how to accept responsibility for our own actions. We need to learn to think, to analyze, to discuss, to hear, to listen, and to contemplate.

Because if we don’t, our singularity will be one end of a chain hooked to the nose of our precious little prejudices, and the other end will be held by those who need herds of singular minded sheep to exploit for their own purposes.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Nature As Teacher

Religion never found a home in me because the rooms were already full. I was so tightly woven with nature’s threads that religion’s limited spirituality couldn’t break through. Each door it tried opened to a truth far beyond the mere words of priests.

Religion couldn’t compete with an entity that completed me by showing me we were one, not separate. Nature gave me a continuity of self that would never allow me to give away my power to something outside of me. Religion wanted to exert control over me. It wanted to make me something that was not me.

Nature showed me how to find myself in the flow of the rivers as they meandered through canyons, valleys and majestic mountain ranges. I followed my own mind, my own fantasies, my own dreams, and discovered the rivers and I were a circle that nourished each other. An intermediary like religion would only cheapen that relationship.

I saw myself reflected in the depths of a lake’s many layers; the silty gray of thawing ideology, the multi-hued greens of new growth and maturing spirit, the blues of ice and sky, and blinding insight so intense my heart found new heights to test its wings.

I gazed at the ocean as if it were an oracle with answers to all the questions worth asking. I listened to the sound of the waves, the call of sea birds, and the whisper of my feet walking through sand.

I learned I was not separate from Nature. I understood we were one entity with many hearts all beating in a rhythm of different places in the same space of time.

I heard my own breath taken one thousand years ago and then reborn as the whispered sigh of a creek dancing through a break in the rocks.

I heard a drop of rain fall one thousand years in the future as the tear of a love so profound, the oceans wept from its intensity.

I learned I was the crash of a wave against the rocks. I learned I ebbed and flowed. I learned insight meant sweeping over the man-made obstacles that stood in the way of my growth.

I learned about myself in the deep silence of ancient forests, where I heard more than the soft rustle of scurrying feet mixed with the song of birds. I heard more than the trees shaking their leaves and whispering secrets with the wind.

I learned what it meant to wrap myself in the scent of change as it died and grew and died again. I watched as it evolved to a new form, as it embraced a new reality, as it celebrated its new growth.

I learned how to change with the seasons. I learned how to die and be harmoniously reborn in nature’s death and rebirth. I learned I was the waves of the ocean as they formed new inroads into the shore of my understanding.

I learned how to become the mist, the cry of the seagulls, and the call of geese as they flew through the flames of a setting sun.

I learned nature was a piece of my soul, a part of me shaped, formed, and created by a process similar to giving birth.

And all those lessons taught me religion and its unholy intermediaries were irrelevant to who I was, who I was becoming, and who I will become.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art