Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Desert Flowers

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.

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.

21 replies on “Desert Flowers”

Amazing, Just as I was going through my blog reading list, I left a comment on Denny’s site echoing what you said, not even realizing that it was you until I came here…

I think that I have been loosing hope recently in many things, desparing that I can’t make “big” change, but it’s amazing to see how something so simple as a positive attitude can make such big changes in others.


Having a border collie with endless energy and enthusiasm is a wonderful reminder of the free spirit and pleasure in action. Her innocence and simple sources of happiness give me something which I mostly find hard to achieve for myself. Going out walking in the countryside is a much easier place to be, by and large, than in the peopled world of strange decision making. I feel quite perplexed about the very issues you raise – for myself I mean, in an ongoing way. I think if one is lucky enough to have some connection with nature than it can be so generous to the spirit but one still needs to be philosophical about that bridge back from the walk linking one with The Mad World. I am quite dependent now on fellow bloggers who share similar dilemmas about living with such split realities. That too is for me sustaining. I wish you well in this quest, my friend. Sing out!


When I read your writings about your despair, I feel sadness for you. Then I read your comments to other blogs (one is Basha who is my sister & Creek Running North is another) and I don’t read despair in your comments – in fact I have seen some humor in some of your comments……..Have you ever thought of psychotherapy? I went through psychotherapy 10 years ago after my divorce when I thought my world was at it’s end- it is the best thing I ever did for myself. It is talk therapy & the therapist is there to help you come to the realization that you are ok, and to find yourself and what your purpose is in life…… might be something to consider……….


I had to laugh to myself a little when I read your comment, Dottie. I certainly must come across as pretty messed up at times. What with things not going well with my wife, anger over the war, anguish at the destruction of the natural world, and uncertainty about where to go with my life at the moment, it must certainly seem that I’m slipping past the radar. I have considered psychotherapy, but, one, I live in Japan where finding such help is extremely difficult (psychotherapy is still not accepted by most people) and even if I did find someone, it would be in Japanese, which I can speak, but would never be able to express the subtleties and nuances that I would need to do in English. Second, I would need to find a psychotherapist who would deeply understand the natural world and why I feel the way I do. I feel the way a person watching their pet dog or their sister dying might feel… grief at not being able to do anything for something that I love to my very roots.

But then, you are just reading things about me through snippets of posts and comments. In reality I laugh a lot and am usually quite an easy going person. The blogs make me focus ideas and emotions that in everyday life are spread out among all the every day things that I do and live. I think many people would be quite surprised if they meet me in person; I am certainly not as dark and serious as I come across here, as perhaps my humorous comments on other sites attest to.

Thanks for worrying about me, nonetheless.


I don’t sense a feeling of despair from you, even if that is how your perceive it personally. I am not saying you’re wrong, nobody can say better than you what you are experiencing, but as a reader of your blog, I see the great sense of wonder in how you experience every little thing. I see you as a Seeing Eye, a Hearing Ear, an Open Mind, someone always seeking the inner reality of the outer circumstance. The fact that you share your experience is a great gift for all of us, who are perhaps a little less sensitive to what is happening, or have a little less compassion for the interconnection of Life, whether animal, vegetable or miniral or Human.

Thanks, Miguel, for the music of your heart. It soothes mine and even if I have never met you or will ever meet you otherwise than electronically (“they” say electronic relationships are only 60% “real”–who decides these things?), I count you as a most important person in my environment.


I tried to post a comment on here yesterday but it mysteriously ended up on a post of Lorianne’s at Hoarded Ordinaries, so the universe is having a chuckle at my expense. Anyway, the substance was this: for someone with your talent, perhaps a pen and sketchpad might do in ten minutes what hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of psychotherapy may–or may not–accomplish. As someone who’s done both, I think I’d vote for the pen and sketchpad, but that is simply a point of view. It is, for me, a form of singing, which I don’t do nearly enough of…


Thanks Pica. I’ve often thought about what psychotherapy might do for me and have considered it, if just to get a clearer picture of myself through someone else’s eyes. But I’ve also always felt that most people are naturally equipped to work out the things that life throws at them; it is how our minds work. So it has always seemed to me that, for me at least, I am doing just fine, handling the heavy things with pretty good balance and insight. When I was in my early twenties I went through a short period of suicidal thoughts, but nothing ever very serious. These days, while I get down, I always bounce back and find my own path again. I wonder, too, if someone who doesn’t feel sorrow and shame and horror at all that is happening, someone who seems to have no emotions about it all about it, is perhaps the one who is not sane.

Whenever things get really shakey a pen and a piece of paper, upon which I get out and draw pictures, write a story, or write a song (something I wish I could share on the net. I have quite a lot of songs I have written) with my guitar, always has a way of internally clearing the mud in the water. yes, Pica, you are right. I’m not sure why there is power in creativity (my wife uses pottery to commune with the other side of herself… pottery is incredibly therapeutic, in part because so much of it involves the hands and touching something), but it really works. I often wonder how I would handle something like solitary confinement… and always my mind shifts back to creative visualizatioin… using what one has to make more out of a situation than is initially visible.

And perhaps that is the answer to all the trouble in the world. People being more crative and finding alternate solutions that haven’t been thought of before.


It seems that there are only a few things in life that are guaranteed, one of them is that things change. As with your post’s opening, it is always good to remember that good times always make way for struggles and even these struggles are never permanent. One thing I have been working on with constant effort is to keep from being blown like a windsock by the push and pull of the endless number of external circumstance of life in the world today, as with the wise sages that live by concious indifference. It sounds alot like what you are saying with your experiment. I wish you well with the intention, for there is so much to the saying that ‘you create what you think about.’

Thanks for the beautiful photos and transparency of expression.


It is so interesting to read all the different views from your blog friends – nobbog, Pica, aki…………everyone views your plight differently and everyone has different ideas on what your options might be while you are wrestling with your problems. I’m sure not one of us has the right answer- that is something you must figure out for yourself…………….and I sincerely hope you can do that ………….In the meantime I hope you continue writing as I eagerly look forward to reading how you resolve your struggles. I also eagerly look forward to your beautiful pictures.


Miguel, you have such a wonderful spirit. All of us who think of ourselves as your friend wish you happiness. I’ve encountered few people in my life who have such intense spirituality, especially as you express it in posts about your encounters of the natural world. Surely you will find peace and happiness in your relation with something so good and awe-inspiring.


Thanks Denny. I guess such words make me a little embarrassed, though it sure is nice to hear them. What with all the criticisms that I’ve aimed at the U.S. I amazed that there are Americans who still want to talk with me. Not to succumb to false modesty, though, you are right. I don’t say the things I do out of hate for Americans. My anger grows out of very deep concern and because I care about what Americans are doing to the world and to themselves. It’s anger out of love, the same kind that you express when a child you love does something destructive or stupid, or a friend who hurts another friend. No one who really loves someone would idly sit by while they create havoc.


Someone I know, who hates driving, got caught up in peak hour traffic one day in the searing heat with two little kids in the car. The kids were impatient and tempers were flaring as they painfully inched along the road. She could feel herself starting to ‘lose it’. As she looked around all she could see was resignation on the faces of other drivers. This infuriated her all the more. Something snapped. She pulled to the side of the road, slid from the car and collasped in a sobbing heap.

Somewhere in those sobs it all started to make sense. “There is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need fixing. I’m the sane one here. When did it become acceptable for people to spend hours of their lives waiting in smoggy queues of traffic? This is inhumane! Our lives are inhumane. It is THIS – this madness – that needs fixing, not me.”

I often think of this story when I read your entries. You are so acutely attuned to the pain and beauty of our world and have to wrestle with the curses and blessings of that awareness. I think you manage to live with it very well. And perhaps that, in part, is because you also seem to be just as aware of what you need to feed your soul and help you navigate that journey.

I’m just glad you chose to share it with us.


I liked seeing ‘your’ lizard.

There is a saying in my family that we see what we’re looking for. You voice wisdom when you say “There is my door, there the sky, and the cracks in the concrete and the birds in the trees. It’s a start.” Hope springs naturally from a focus on beauty.

It is possible to make a home almost anywhere–humans are incredibly adaptable. But it’s more pleasurable to find a place that feels like home. Good luck in your search.


“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.”

You and I undoubtedly read different blogs. I’m not going to say I’ve never encountered despair in the blog world but I haven’t found that it’s prevalent.


i’ve been so busy with my job and my garden job that I haven’t read you in weeks. I DID do some blogging of my own at my job when work was light, and I did read your comments to me. Thank you. I feel honored when you comment.

Sometimes when I am planting, or harvesting, or even pulling weeds, and an earthworm pops out, it makes me incredibly happy. Don’t know why. It also makes me happy to grow my own food. Not sure why, maybe it’s a feeling of security, that I can really take care of myself. But it also connects me to things that I really don’t know much about, that have their own lives, and cells, and seem to bring me into deeper connections with nature. Sometimes, when I see viruses on plants, or a dead baby bird, though, it fills me with a foreboding. As if I am still carrying around an illusion that bad things aren’t supposed to happen.

I can’t stand to watch the news lately, so when I get home, I just change and run out to the garden, where there is always a million things to do. And then when I come in, it’s almost dark, and I am tired and then can go right to sleep. I am truly powerless over all things, except my own actions. And I know I need a community of souls that understand me, so that I can break my isolation and feel like I belong. My alcoholism brings that to me, as I am driven to go to meetings to calm my restless mind down. And meditation, when I allow myself to do that.

Dark moods for me come and go. I have been offered many tools in my life to help me when I am anxious about something, or in a dark place, and sometimes I can’t find the right tool for what seems to be an endlessly long time. I am grateful to have a few people in my life to whom I can tell anything, even my “crazy thoughts” to, and trust that they will give me good feedback.


Do we succumb to the sucking quicksand of despair and paranoia the media presents us, the worst that mankind has to offer put into soundbytes, videoclips, graphic photos, or do we carve out and establish a personal place of peace and beauty and then try and expand it, share it, the way you do?
Hope and fortitude are the only chance we have to turn it around aren’t they? To maintain hope, we have to shut out the violence (not deny it, but protect ourselves from it’s possession of our souls) and move forward focusing on the light.


I just happened upon your blog… such is the blog world… and I love your writing. It is not despair, as one person commented before, but a human reaction to the world. Sometimes it seems as though we are naked and exposed, and yes the world is a heavy thing to carry around. Keep singing, keep writing.


Thanks everyone for all your reactions. I’ve been actively trying to rework the way I’ve come to see things in the last three years. Never in my life have I gotten so cynical and constantly full of anger and despair. I’m not exactly sure why my anger should be greater with the Bush administration than with other presidents, seeing as what he is doing is not all that different. Perhaps it is the sheer blatancy of it; he’s throwing the dish water directly in our faces. But it’s more than that, too. It’s outright, bold-faced racism and hubris, giving us all a huge feeling of peril and anxiety, a state of mind that no one can comfortably live with.

I am living for life, not for death. I am not a war machine or a harbinger of despair. I can’t look out my window or step out the door desiring to destroy, murder, and maim all that I see around me. I cannot see an iota of beauty or maturity or wisdom in curbing all one’s resources and spirit into preparing for war and controversy.

So my little experiment. That life is sacred and that this Earth is a good place to be. That we can learn how to live with one another in harmony and joy. That is the only sane and responsible direction to turn.


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