Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Desert Flowers

Wall Lizard
Female Japanese Grass Lizard (Takydromus tachydromoides) sunning itself on the wall of my apartment, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004

Funny how the mind works. After quite a spell of feeling pretty good about myself and the window into my own heart, suddenly this enormous feeling of close despair hit me for a week. Everything around me suddenly seemed too much, nothing was lovable or nurturing or wholesome. Even the words that I attempted to wrangle into some kind of meaningful dialogue about the world seemed to coalesce into beetle browed grumbles about any and everything. Worrying and seething over things happening in faraway Iraq and America… What an exhausting week.

Then, while riding the train and doing my usual reading I came across this quote from David James Duncan’s “My Story As Told By Water” :

“Aren’t one’s mental energies a bit like a knife-scoop of mustard and one’s geography a bit like a piece of bread? Isn’t it true that if your bread is thousands of miles across, you’ll be spreading your mustard mighty thin? The world, it seems to me, is awfully big, a human is awfully small, life is awfully short, and most of our plates are mighty full for our personal geographies to approximate the international or national geographies. When humans go global with their geographies, bad things happen to their thinking.”

He goes on to talk about the necessity for us to wrap our minds around what we are capable of grasping, that any more than that we risk losing touch with what make us what we are. There is a lot more than that, of course, but it hit me then and there on the train that one thing I lack is a true sense of dwelling in a place. Not just existing somewhere, but actually becoming wholly involved with the function and symbiosis of a habitat, including more intimate responsibility over the food that I eat, deeper knowledge of the creatures that live around me, and a stronger presence with a supportive community. There is none of that here where I live, at least with me as a foreigner, more or less outside any spirit of neighborhood goodwill that so far I have not seen to exist any where around my home.

These last three weeks have begun to awaken me to new goals and possible further errant steps in this haphazard track I’ve wandered down all my life. First it was a realization of a need to delve deeper into feminine ways of seeing the world, now it is an active search for a real place to call home. Quite a few people have criticized me for searching for “a perfect place”, chastising me with the worn phrase, “there is no such thing as a perfect place.” I’ve maintained that I have never searched for heaven on earth, but rather a more or less constant state of deep involvement with a natural place, that numerous times throughout my life have culled a state of grace and joy while I interacted with such places… even during the hardships that often accompany such places. Maybe other people can’t identify with natural things… but I know that when I walk in a healthy wood or along a wild river or even just wander an ecologically balanced human landscape, such as some places I’ve seen in Norway, Sweden, and a few small villages in the mountains in Japan, the sense of completeness fills my soul. When I see plants and animals in abundance, living their own lives alongside mine, then I feel the world is whole and wonder sustains me as much as the healthy food I eat.

It seems other people have been going through this sense of despair throughout the blog world. Quite a number of people have been voicing doubt about why they blog and what significance it might have in their real lives. A lot of it has to do with the awful things happening in the world and the sense that something fundamental is being lost. The words in the blogs funnel around a empty core from which people seem unable to escape. Hope seems to be evaporating with each proclamation the world leaders make.

But there are people pushing back the envelope of fear and hopelessness, too. Denny, of Book of Life has held on to those things that give meaning to each of our lives, the “personal geography” that David James Duncan speaks of. And Charley Reese’s latest article, “A Sense of Wonder” retreats from Reese’s usual preoccupation with the darker things happening, focusing instead on the joy that children experience of the world, and how we must find the childlike enthusiasm of the enlightened, delighting in the simpler things, the living things, the magic that is the very material of existence and the world.

I want to try an experiment: instead of keening about the terrible things going on, let me try to rediscover the old rhapsody that I carried with me while I wandered the fields and woods as a boy. Beneath the concrete surrounding me the soil still harbors seeds and little creatures, all the little live things. There is my door, there the sky, there the cracks in the concrete and the birds in the trees. It’s a start.

I used to sing a lot. Time to listen to the melodies again and love the world. To, as Denny put it, be grateful.

America: Society Iraq War Journal Society

What About Within the States?

Another question needs to be asked: all those September 11th suspects who were secreted away in the States and who have not been mentioned in the news for a very long time now, what happened to them? Are they being abused, too? Is anyone going to force an inquiry into this, or is it just too unpalatable for Americans to ponder? If there is nothing to hide, then why are they being held in secret?

Journal Nature Spiritual Connection

Holding Back Tears

Nogawa Rapeweeds
Blooming rapeseed plants along the edge of the Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan 2004

It’s been a week of shuffling through the dungeons. I guess the fatigue of too much work, weeks and weeks with no other people to just talk to, little time outdoors (let alone amidst anything green), a cough that won’t let up, and news so bad that it’s hard to come up with words any more, have combined to bring on this enormous sinking feeling.

Chris from Creek Running North had recommended David James Duncan’s “My Story As Told By Water” so at the beginning of the week I started reading it on the train commutes to and from my evening work. The writing is sublime and gritty, and has a way of shaking up perceptions like low rumbles of the earth deep beneath me. Duncan writes about connection to place and how these places and their inhabitants shape you. The metaphors he uses strike with such concrete immediacy that numerous times on the train I felt myself mentally reeling, and had to close the book to regain my balance.

What I didn’t expect was the book’s impact on my emotions. Duncan relates a childhood that seemed almost to recreate my own, offering a world of rivers and intimate forays into the bushes and creature-laden hideaways that reflected the wandering among rice paddies and through the woods, hunting for insects and birds, that took over my whole understanding about what the world is about when I was a boy. Like Duncan I have never been able to square the mindless paving over of the forests and mountains and rivers, the cavalier attitude about such precious treasures as water and air, and the apathy and fear towards other creatures, with our grand hope of “civilization”. To me the world is dying. Our monotony and sterility, our cruelty and utter stupidity have turned the world into a gray playground and cesspool, and all that I love so much has gradually gone silent. Living in the heart of Tokyo doesn’t help, of course. I dwell in the midst of all that I despise most, far, far from that green tendril and the “sphere of eyes” that Duncan talks about, that never fail to awaken love and joy and all the other states of vitality, like fear and wonder, that make you feel alive.

The book slipped, like a needle, so surreptitiously under my skin that I found myself knocked to the edge of control all week. When one of the train lines I take to work was delayed by an hour due to an accident and the platform grew so crowded with commuters heading home like me that one man was pushed over the edge down to the tracks, I had to grit my teeth and find a nook within my mind in which to take a deep breath. I kept repeating, “Damn it, I hate this! Damn it, I hate this! Damn it, I hate this!”, over and over again, like a litany to the devil. “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here. This is madness!”

Or yesterday, while heading to have a quick dinner up the street from my school, when I noticed a pair of barn swallows alight upon the telephone wire above my head… I looked up and there they were, taking a brief respite across from their nest hidden under the eaves of a building. But it was just them, in the middle of this tumult of concrete and human waste, not another visible living creature around. All I could think of was memory and how these two creatures connected to a time long before, when this very location must have harbored trees and fields and rivers and glades full of insects. I paused in my walk and stared at them. When the male momentarily lifted his scissors-like wings, and like a weightless dancer lifted from and let down to the telephone wire, with such precision and effortlessness that it came across like a caress, I nearly broke down weeping.

It felt the same as seeing the homeless old man, while thousands of commuters scurried by, kneeling down on a piece of cardboard, carefully placing to one side the shoes he had removed.

The same as the young toad that had been crushed to death by a passing bicycle, its tongue lolling out and innards glued to the pavement, that I lifted and carried to a nearby bush.

The same as the jolt of pain I felt the other day when I came across the empty lot near my house, and found that its grizzled old flowering dogwood had been chopped down, an asphalt parking lot in its place.

These days it seems as if nothing but pain and loss and carelessness have taken over the whole world. As if nothing mattered but a human agenda. As if the world, when it finally succumbs to our desire to build it in our image, would only then find completion.

If it is true that the body finds expression and wholeness by participating in the ebb and flow of the diversity of living things, then I no longer know who I am. Or where I am. It is strange living disembodied from the very circle of earth that I tread upon day in and day out.

6 Month Bicycle Circuit of Northern Europe Art of Living Bicycle Travel Journal Outdoors Simplicity Trip Reports: Bicycle Travel

Winding Down the Weathered Road

Cherry Blossoms Bright
Playing with the light around a cherry tree in bloom, Nogawa River, Tokyo, Japan, 2004 (It is well past the cherry blossom season, but I’ve only this weekend had any time to sit down and work on my spring photographs)

This is the 23rd installment of the ongoing place-based essay series at Ecotone. This week’s topic is Time and Place. Please feel free to drop by and read what others have written, and if you’d like, to contribute your own essay.

The white wagtail scurried ahead and stopped, to glance back at us, bobbing his tail and wheezing his shrill chirrup, urging us to “Hurry, hurry! Come, right this way! It’s just a little further! Hurry!” When our bicycles neared just enough to loom over him, the loaded panniers brushing the grass at the edge of the asphalt, he popped up into the air and darted further up ahead, to repeat his encouragements. For more than 2500 kilometers it seemed he led the way, the same wagtail, forever ahead of us, like the second hands of a clock.

That was the warmer half of 1995, the year my wife and I got married and decided to set off for a six month honeymoon by bicycle across the northern circle of Europe. We left our jobs, packed away all our belongings, drew wads of traveler’s checks from our bank accounts, rolled out our heavily laden bicycles, and flew over the expanse of Eurasia to Holland, where the wind waited for us outside the alleyways and canals of Amsterdam.

Neither of us had ever taken off 6 months to just follow our whims and the first few weeks tailed us with the worries of Tokyo, and the Bullet Train accuracy of speed timed to within seconds. That first day pushing the pedals beyond the sign for the city limits of Amsterdam felt like being flung out the door into the cold; the hardness of the road under our tires seems to present a vast horizontal wall beyond which we could not perceive. In a kind of reverse deadline panic we raced from town to town, urging each other to make the kilometers count, tallying up the numbers on our cycle computers, and feeling unsettled when, because we were still out of shape and exhausted from the wedding preparations, the average day’s distance added up to no more than 30 or 40 kilometers. We shouted at Holland’s seething winds, holding us back, and bickered when darkness fell too soon in the campsites. The weight of unenclosed hours and days, and when we paused to accept them, weeks and months, whispered for us to hurry, not waste any time, and make up for the guilt we felt from taking so much unproductive time off.

Under a stand of dark leaved chestnut trees on the western edge of Germany we threw our bicycles down and threatened to each return to Japan, alone. It seemed the trip would be over before it had even started.

On the road, cocking its black capped head, stood the wagtail, tsk-tsking. It left us to stand silently gazing out over a field of flowering yellow rapeweed, the heads billowing like waves in the breeze and the slow whale bellies of clouds overhead dragging their shadows across the rolling hills. We munched on bread rolls with gouda cheese, and in chewing calmed down enough to look at each other again.

“It hasn’t entered our heads yet, has it?” I offered.

“What hasn’t?”

“We’ve got six months. Six whole months! What are we hurrying for?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one in a hurry!”

That almost stoked the fire again, but I nodded. “You’re right. I don’t know what got into me.”

“Ever since we arrived you’ve been racing to finish the day. I can barely keep up.”

“I guess I don’t know how to get my mind around this. How do you plan for six months?”

My wife had a way with time. She always turned toward the sun and closed her eyes. “We’ve got six months. We can take our time.” A gust of wind brought the fragrance of some distant flowers. My wife inhaled deeply, smiling, and then opened her eyes again. “Didn’t we come here to look around? Isn’t that why we chose to go by bicycle?”

I sat silent a long time, just seeing the fields and the swallows swooping through the air. A damselfly alighted on my bicycle handlebar and slowly relaxed its wings. I felt something deflate inside myself, replaced by a quiet beating.

“I think I was scared,” I said.

“Of what?” inquired my wife.

“Of frayed ends.”

She looked at me with a frown, but said nothing. She brightened and picked up her bicycle. “First we have to get rid of a lot of this weight.”

Everything changed that day. The whole journey. We slowed down to the point where moving forward invoked less headwind and trees and passersby fell behind with less sharp reduction. We stopped when something nicked the corners of our eyes or the sky swung us into stillness under its great pendulum. The kilometers rolled by day after day, week after week, more as expressions of movement in the scrolling panorama than as signposts. Much of the journey hovered above the bicycle handlebars, each of us lost in long reveries during the spells between towns, and much of that time as partners in a silent traverse of newness, leaving unanswered questions in our wake.

Our perception of time and our participation in the revolving of the globe reflected in the mornings and evenings, when we woke with the calling of the hooded crows, jackdaws, and robins, and with the first light filtering through the walls of the tent, and when we retired to books held up in the coolness of the evening air and the stirring of hedgehogs and shrews in the bushes, before turning out our lights and sleeping with the whole night wheeling through our minds. At times we happened upon a place that so merged the inner stories we bore with its character of wonder that we lingered for a week or more, tasting the place to its very fruits and vegetables and getting to know its hoary old inhabitants. The bicycles moulted into wings that flew between rest stops for our eyes and feet. We became like the wagtail, landing somewhere to root around among its rocks then flitting a few pedal strokes to the next sunny vantage point.

By the time we reached the Shetland Islands and the Orkneys our muscles took us without protest to where we pointed our front wheels, the rhythm one with our bicycles. Our breathing seemed to exhale from the soil, and we headed on and beyond in all weathers, thoroughly entranced by the light of the sky. We walked for hours, sometimes alone, and returned to the tent with sprigs of flowers or seashells that we handed to each other as if they replaced the money that we used now only for food and occasional transportation. At the campsites other long term travelers joined us over hissing camp stoves to converse and relate tales until deep in the night. Our time and their times brushed together like passing veils, always with the light glimmering through.

We had ceased to exist wholly in the modern world.

So when it came time to return to Japan and back to jobs and four walls and alarm clocks, we floundered along the highways and took every opportunity to escape them. The last days of the journey wound down in the copper light of late autumn, among the wet country hills of Northumberland, England, and the gray tangle of backroads in Belgian town outskirts. Neither of us could find words to protect the dream we had just woken from. Six months had passed and it all seemed like a single instant, like shaking loose summer leaves from a tree.

Japan crashed into our ears, cut into our eyes. We slept for two months with the apartment windows thrown wide open, welcoming the bite of winter air, feeling our breath stoppered in our chests, our muscles aching for resistance. And gradually, insidiously, the clocks ticked louder and the television screen held our gazes longer, and that lone figure tramping along the sandy lanes retreating further and further down the road.

It’s been nine years. My beard has sprouted white hair. The bicycles stand furled in the kitchen by the window. Days pass when the sun creeps past the curtain. Sometimes I wake at dawn, after a evening laboring at some other person’s dream and falling into dreamless sleep, and hear the wagtail calling. He bobs his tail, like a finger beckoning. “Hurry! Hurry! No time to lose. It’s out here where the heart beats like thunder.” Like a storm moving across an endless field, and the road leading straight into the dark, gathering clouds.

Journal Musings Nature Stewardship

Voice of Reason

Kurt Vonnegut writes a chilling evaluation of the direction we are heading in as a species. The last line had my hair standing on end.

(Thanks, Robert Brady)

Lately the advertisements for the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” has hit the media here in Japan, and the scenes of the Earth in its dying throes has caused a lot of people to turn their heads. One evening while on my way to work, the entire interior of the train was plastered with posters and flyers of the movie.

While I am curious about the movie and would like to see where it takes the whole issue of caring for our planet, it bothers me very deeply that most people will probably just watch the movie for the thrill is induces, as if the degradation and destruction of all of life is just a media event and has no direct bearing on their lives.

As Vonnegut points out, we are all in for a terribly rude awakening.

America: Society Iraq War Journal Society

Shaking My Head 2

Just look what Bush has evoked in the world! Chaos. One man is doing all this. One insane, deluded, pitiless, fanatical man. All this. If there is one thing Bush has secured in history, it is the honor of being the single most hated human being ever, by more people round the globe than even hated Hitler, if simply because of the range of the media today, if not because he has threatened so many more people on a scale never known before.

And the article talks about just Europe… Think of all the other countries, everywhere, where people despise Bush, where the chaos is spreading. He will never in his life be safe to walk anywhere on his own again.

If there is one good thing that can be said of all the madness it is that it is bringing people together, even people who were not talking before.

But then, Bush probably has another card up his sleeve, namely the much talked about Extra-terrestrial invasion hoax, first openly referred to by Dr. Werner von Braun, the German rocket scientist. . (See The Disclosure Project). When all is seemingly lost he will most likely conjure up this ruse to continue building up weapons and the military.

Has anyone ever wondered why, the 2 years before September 11th, 2001, so many movies about the destruction or invasion of the earth from outer space came out: Independence Day, Armageddon, Men in Black, Deep Impact, all targeting New York, to name just a few?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

America: Society Iraq War Journal Society

Coming Home

In reading yet more news about all the tragedy in Iraq, I thought this evening about the Viet Nam vet roommate I had back in college and the stories he told me both of what he experienced over in Viet Nam, and what it was like to return to the States and become “something like a ghost”. I can still clearly recall the darkness of our dorm room after speaking for hours after seeing the movie “Deer Hunter”, and lying there unable to find words to reassure him.

I fear, that with all the madness going on right now and the government’s scramble to find someone to blame and get themselves out of the spotlight, once again those young soldiers are going to come home to public shame and invisibility. And another generation will have to live with the awful demons that war awakens, forced upon them by leaders who can wriggle and lie their way out of anything.

Gender Journal Nature Society Spiritual Connection

The Feminine Mystique


Gaia in pencil
Colored pencil drawing, Tokyo, Japan, 2000

It seems women are more on my mind than usual this week. First there was the discussion at Feathers of Hope (Looking Within) and WriteOutLoud (The Things She Carried: An Open Letter to Tim O’Brian) in which a number of women voiced disbelief and shock at seeing a woman, Lynndie England, participating in acts of humiliation and coercion in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib. My initial reaction was that it seemed to me arrogant and presumptuous to ever have assumed that women are not capable of awful acts, just like men. While I still maintain that women are just as equal in this as men, I’m beginning to wonder more now if I was reaching for more justification than is warranted. In my life I have rarely encountered women who actually resort to violence and I feel that this is so everywhere. In a recent interview with England she claims that she was ordered to commit the awful acts that were photographed. And most likely this is true.

More than anything this provides a very clear picture of how it is that so many Germans (and I must point out that most Germans were not Nazis and did not descend to acts of atrocity) ended up committing the deeds that they did… just like England they were ordered to do so, and in typical military mentality, there was very little leeway for dissension.

I wonder now if England would have committed such acts, or even thought about them, if she hadn’t been ordered to do them.

But of course there will always be Nurse Ratchets in the world, so who knows?

Balanced on the other end of the seesaw came an earth shattering revelation within myself over the last two days. One thing that has always sat off kilter within me was a sense of not feeling right about both the places and peoples I lived in and with, and the suspicion that the general direction that everyone seemed to be auto-piloting their lives was missing a fundamental connection to the natural world. I always assumed this suspicion stemmed solely from my living in towns and cities that were physically disconnected from natural places and therefore I needed to find my way to some less developed habitat where I could discover my roots. The problem was that even when I did manage to get out into the mountains and woods and sea sides, there always remained a yearning and need that originated within myself, not out there. There was a hunger that drove me to keep seeking that sense of balance, but I could not discern exactly what it was that was supposed to be balanced.

Until this week when I picked up the suspense thriller “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.

Now, I usually don’t like such cliched populist books in which the dialogue always seems flippant and predictable, and the first part of the book confirmed my notions, but then the plot twisted into talk of the Christian Church and the Goddess, and something clicked into place. Not to give away the plot to those who still want to read this book, suffice it to say that the book awakened me to something that I had known and felt all along, but never recognized: it was the feminine balance in the equation that was missing in my life and all I saw around. And it was the feminine that I had been seeking all my life, why the natural world meant so much to me, but could never quite fulfill the completion that it promised.

This is the spiritual poverty that the world has been carrying around for so long, why it always felt wrong to see priests celibate and men make decisions about abortion and have sole husbandry of the land and to push women into subordinate positions. Without the feminine aspect of spirituality that had been an integral part of so many traditions before the Catholic Church there could be no sense of completion in the world’s understanding of itself.

I realized this week that what I, and everyone else in the Christian world, need to bring back together, whole, is the two sides of the circle, the male and the female, the god and the goddess. I realized why it is that I am having such a hard time pinpointing my need to fill my life with the natural world, and why it is that I can’t seem to find a more wholesome balance in planning a future with the women in my life. Why I seem to be able to speak better with women than men, but at the same time miss a vital connection with men. Why so many of the attitudes and prospects of men seem to me crude and one-sided. Why so many of the men I know who are “happily” married are so because they have procured a position of power, in which the women have backed down to carrying out the whims of the men, even in this modern, “enlightened” world. Even, why it is that eroticism and sex have always danced foremost in my mind, but I always find a great wall of hesitation in candidly speaking about it, or writing about it.

Part of what surprised me so much about this revelation is that so often in the past, when coming upon images of women gathering in “goddess reawakening” rites I felt fear. I could never quite grasp where this fear came from, except that it seemed to undermine men and threatened to topple the sense of equality that I believed in, in part because so often these gatherings conspicuously counted men out. So often I lashed out in anger. But why was I so angry?

In reading “The Da Vinci Code” a kind of hidden gate seemed to have swung open, to all my lifelong tendencies and imaginings, such as an almost erotic sense of intimacy with wild places, a more empathetic connection with female dialogue about the beginnings of life and reasons for being, and dreams filled more often with conversations with women than with men.

But I am a man and have always felt an ache from not finding a suitable definition and ethos for what it means to be a man, both without women and with women. When I was a boy I fell in love with the Arthurian tales and for a long time modeled my outlook on the code of chivalry, believing deeply in self-sacrifice, doing good deeds for others, and courage in the face of all odds. But somehow it always felt artificial, whereas women always seemed to carry something within themselves that didn’t need to seek codes and lists of qualities. Ever since I have been seeking for the same state of grace within men, perhaps attempting to find the key to the garden of Eden, where men and women were one.

I suspect that my thinking, by living in the world that I do, can only bring me heartache. But somehow I feel that it is right, too. Perhaps by embracing the feminine aspect of myself I can win back the balance of the whole world within myself. Certainly that must be one reason I returned to Japan, where much of that male-female intermixing has never been lost. And perhaps that is why, over the last three years, I have been able to slip past the great male anger that I carried for so long. Men, alone in the vastness of the wilderness, without the guiding voices of women, can only hope to cry out in anger and fear.

Blogging Journal

At Last!

I’m not usually into posting links to computer information and such, but this is something I’ve been very eagerly waiting for over the last six months: TypeKey. It’s a free authentication service from Six Apart, the makers of Movable Type, the web-based blogging application. Six Apart just came out with Movable Type 3.0, which is supposed to have a lot of improvements over the last 2.6 version.

TypeKey allows those who sign on the one time free subscription to post comments to all blogs also participating in the service, while protecting the bloggers from comment spam. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would welcome this service, so I’m posting the information here. Those who use TypePad for their blogs are already automatically signed on, so you may want to look at your profiles and change what needs changing.

The instructions for activating TypeKey have not been posted by Six Apart yet, but I hope they will in a few days. If I do start up TypeKey, it will mean many readers who come to this site will most likely need to sign up, too, so that you can access my comments.

What does everyone think about this? Do you welcome it, or is it a hassle?


It looks like I might very well give up Movable Type. I hadn’t noticed when I wrote my earlier post that the new licensing and pricing are going to make it very hard to justify moving up to MT 3.0. At $70.00 for a basic personal license, with a maximum allowance of 5 authors and 5 blogs, I find the price very steep. I have another blog with TypePad and that service allows far greater leeway with what you choose to create. It’s a shame. I was so looking forward to using Movable Type 3.0, even if it meant paying a little for it. From the incredible backlash at Six Apart, it looks like the people there may have their hands very full as a huge support base may very well shift to other software. What a terrible way to lose your customers.

America: Society Iraq War Journal Society

Saddam Hussein

With all the hullaballoo going on about the prisoner treatment it suddenly occurred to me today that there has been no news about Saddam Hussein in a long time. Makes me wonder what has happened to him and if perhaps he is being badly treated just as the other prisoners are. Whatever he may have done he deserves a fair trial and to be treated humanely. What exactly is going on with him? Anyone know? There is a lot to worry about with his being secreted away somewhere.

And what about the Guantanamo prisoners? What’s the true story behind that?

I don’t normally wish ill for any one, but I certainly hope that, at the very least, all this uproar ruins Bush’s career. At best, I’d like to see him tried for international war crimes and genocide.