The Hermit of Merrimack River

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.”

― Henry David Thoreau


He’s known by the locals as “River Dave.”

A man who simply walked away from the trifling world of comfort and culture and into the womb of the natural world.

The small-framed 81-year-old off-the-grid hermit, David Lidstone, has been living in a little old raggedy cabin in the woods of New Hampshire for the last three decades. Alone. Barebones living to the core, River Dave says that he’s happier than all the billionaires that inhabit this crazy world.

A modern-day Thoreau who never quite made it back to town. With his Tolstoian white beard veiling his habitual smile and an old walking stick clutched in his ancient hand, River Dave moseys all around his tiny little homestead, a bother to no one. Like Thoreau, he’d rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to himself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

He’s a man who has, in the poetic words of Emerson, “retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes his daily food. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

Alone but never lonely, he keeps busy, a deliberate kind of busyness that living a self-sufficient life requires. He enjoys the company of his pets, chickens, honey bees, and, occasionally, the random kayaker that he makes friends with on the river and invites up to his place to tell stories about his long life.

Dave’s Cabin

River Dave’s wooden, two-level A-frame cabin is located back in the cut of a 73-acre parcel of land along the Merrimack River. He grows his own food there and has solar panels for power and gets his water from a nearby stream.

“I do all my wiring, all my plumbing, I’ve done every bit of it. There isn’t a nail in this house I didn’t drive myself,” he says proudly to a local newspaper reporter who came out to interview him a few years back.

On long summer afternoons, you might find him chopping wood or tending to his garden or hiking up a little wooded hill to sit in an old lonesome chair that overlooks the river. “This is where I talk to the eagles,” he tells us.

“So why are you living out here, Dave, why you doing it?” asks the reporter.

“To get away from people like you,” he replies with a wink and a chuckle.

“Fair enough, Dave, fair enough,” and they both laugh and slap each other on the back.

In mid July, River Dave ran into a big problem that threatened his whole livelihood. His cabin is allegedly located on private property, and the 86-year-old landowner now wants him off despite the property sitting untouched with no future plans of development.

On July 15th, men with badges and guns came out to River Dave’s place in the woods and arrested the old man for a civil contempt sanction for refusing to leave. When he arrived at the courthouse, Dave looked the judge in the eyes, called him a few unpleasant names under his breath, and stated that under no circumstance would he comply with the order to leave the cabin. “You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ‘em,’ I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”

Sitting as a solitary figure in a little jail cell didn’t bother Dave all too much. Unlike most folks, he thrives in solitude. He’s in good company when alone, always has been.

“I told that judge, you can step on little people, but I will bite your ankle,” he says.

On the very day of his court hearing, Dave got the unfortunate news that the cabin that he built from the ground up himself, the cabin he called home for 27 years, had been burnt to the ground. This happened last week.

Dave believes that his cabin was intentionally burned down. “There was nothing in there to set it,” he said. “The cats usually don’t smoke very much.”

Out of jail and homeless, the local community came to his support. They set up an “Official” GoFundMe Page to help find Dave a new home and he’s completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of love he has received.

Material things come and go, he tells us, they don’t last, but relationships last forever, having good relationships with people is what matters most.

River Dave is a rare breed among us civilized humans. He chooses poverty over wealth, solitude over the crowd, sitting under trees rather than behind screens. He is a man with few needs, an old man with a childlike soul who simply carved out a little finite plot of existence in the infinite cosmos — a place where he could live authentically and unbothered by the demands of a broken world.

Unintentionally, perhaps Dave is advocating a new way of life — a life lived closer to the earth, an outdoors life lived in solidarity with all living things. Perhaps he wants us to understand that we are all a part of everything — the forests and the skies and the mountains and rivers and even to yesterday’s fallen leaves that crunch under our worn boots.

He doesn’t have a lot of time left. But at his age time doesn’t exist. In the brilliant words of the poet Ranier Maria Rilke, “Take time as nothing but a tiny step within the presence of the infinite.”

Each day is a triumph. Each moment a miracle. Each breath a blessing.

He has no desire for the endless fetters and trinkets of the man-made world. He has no need to involve himself with the excessive commotion of modernity. He simply wants to live out the remaining days of his life tucked back in a place where the “flowers flaunt their fragrance” and “every fruit demands a kiss.” A place secluded in nature where “the call of life never ends.”

A place, once again, to call home.

His Only Victory

He’s a good man but he believes in politics 
and therefore, an irrational man.

Not a dumb man by any means 
but a man 
hypnotized, 
paralyzed,
stupefied,
like a staunch believer
at a tent revival, his hands 
are raised for the taking.
 
He’s a man whose mind 
is pummeled with certainties 
and thus, dead to 
new truths.

He gives unwavering allegiance 
to a certain political party 
in spite of all its corruption 
and culpabilities 
and will defend these vices 
by voicing that the other party 
has countless more.

You’ll see him on most days, 
bored and defeated, 
posting clichéd political memes 
on his little social media 
account that hardly anyone 
follows.

His only victory.

He doesn’t post to inform people, 
or bring forth a fresh perspective, 
no no no, 
his only goal is to point out the other party’s
hypocrisies and evilness while remaining 
completely blind and silent to his own.

He swims in a vast sea of manufactured
lies spawned from the party line. His only 
aim is to seek out information that 
confirms his biases.

He’s a good man but he believes in politics 
and therefore, an unprincipled man.

He’s only against war if the other party wages it.
He’s only for a program if his own party advocates it.
Different points of view are deemed “conspiratorial.”

He’s not after the truth or justice or mercy
even though he’ll constantly tell you he is.

If the solution lies on the other side of the 
political spectrum, not only will he 
refuse to acknowledge it, he’ll double down 
on his own misguided stance and will 
hurl childlike insults to any
opponent.

Sometimes, 
perhaps after a glass of wine or two,
he’ll have the gall to try to convert 
those on the outside over to his 
delusional side of the issue.

His only victory.

He won’t lift a finger to help 
because his opinions are all that’s 
required for change.

He’s a conformist disguised as a revolutionary. 
A hoodwinked citizen cloaked in enlightenment. 
A man who identifies his sense of being 
with the existing institutional entities.

He’s a man that Nietzsche long ago predicted 
would eventually arise - the last man. 
A man who sits more than he moves. 
A man who regurgitates slogans 
because he’s incapable of grappling with
the complexity of new ideas
and concepts.

He’s a good man but an unheroic man 
floundering in his own sloth. A man 
who looks to politics for salvation. 
A man who hasn’t fucked his wife 
in months. A man who despises 
the current system but lives 
lavishly within it.

When the evening comes 
you will surely find him 
in the dark corner of his home 
typing away his latest political diatribe, 
his grinning face lit up by the screen, 
his wife, alone in bed,
reaching into the nightstand, 
slightly opening her legs, 
as the soft vibration purrs 
into the night…
her only victory.

You’re Painfully Alive in a Drugged and Dying Culture

Photo: Kavan Cardoza

“It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more;
nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their
own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.”

— Richard Yates

It’s quiet here in the early dawn and no one’s around. Just the way I like it. I’m sitting on a bench, sipping black coffee on an old dock looking out over the ancient lake. I watch with an incredible sense of serenity as the fog dies out with the rising sun. There’s a peculiar stillness here this morning.

The sky grows lighter and lighter. A subtle breeze makes small ripples on the water. The fish jump and splash and the birds chirp and flutter and everything seems joyous and harmonious. The great hum of life.

Behind me, the world is not so joyous and harmonious.

Behind me is a society teetering on the edge of all-out madness; a society of half-asleep people completely entangled in a web of false narratives and social fictions. A semiconscious society of disenfranchised people at war with each other over manufactured illusions and irrational beliefs — people completely alienated from each other, from themselves, from the TRUTH.

“Every realm of society is permeated with falsity and falsification,” as the great Henry Miller reminded us so many years ago. He’s still right. Probably more today than ever.

As the morning unfolds the commotion begins much like the day before. Alarm clocks fire off. The TV’s flick-on and the news prompts us as to what we should be afraid of today. Antagonizing headlines heave us into a partisan frenzy before we even step foot in the shower. No one cares too much about the TRUTH because our minds are already made up.

This is the modern world.

The water splashes the face. The coffee is brewed. The social media is checked and updated and the emails are read over breakfast. Tired and heavily medicated souls make their way onto the billboard-littered highway to inch along in bumper-to-bumper traffic to a job they despise.

The kids are dropped off at their prison-like education camps where they are segregated by age and forced to submit to an outdated national curriculum concocted up by some inept bureaucratic process. And it’s here, where the inherent curiosities of little unique individuals are smashed out, and their little minds are molded and standardized and taught the “virtue” of conformity and obedience.

They become much like ourselves — well-adjusted disciples of the status quo. A society of well-fed, inwardly starving folks who’ve become dissimulated by this thing we call “culture.”

I sit here in complete solitude as the freshly born sun seeps into my eyes. The morning chill dissipates along with the warmth of my coffee. A cardinal sings on the wood railing of the old dock. I breathe in the pure air of a new day.

I read somewhere recently that more than 99 percent of all organisms that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. And yet, here I am, alive, and it’s good to be alive. I think. But so many of us take it for granted — this miracle of breath, this accidental thing we call LIFE.

Sitting here I can’t help but look up at the skies and ask — what the hell is happening to us as a species?

Prayers haven’t worked out all too well. Most of the big cities are uninhabitable. Our communities have all but disintegrated as the pockets of our overlords have fattened. The vast array of self-help books that fly off the shelves daily haven’t helped us. Money and an abundance of toys and possessions haven’t made us happy. The filters on our posing faces can’t keep out the truth.

Everyone is afraid of everyone else. This once beautiful land is now a land of dread. Something is ending. We are at the precipice of something none of us understand.

How did we get here?

How did we arrive at a point in the United States where unbridled consumerism, endless war, vast surveillance, conformity, obesity, illiteracy, loneliness, victimhood, bitterness, infinite division, mindless entertainment, and an insatiable appetite for OUTRAGE came to be the defining characteristics of American civilization?

Looking around you can’t help but feel this grave, disquieting anxiety slithering all through our culture. A recent article revealed that a third of adults right now in the US are walking around in a concussion-like daze due to stress and lack of sleep.

More than three in five Americans are feeling lonelier than ever before. Suicide is one of the most persistent causes of death among young people. Obesitydepression, and anxiety rule our days. Chronic disease is rampant along with various kinds of addictions44% of older millennials already have a chronic health condition. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are taking at least one prescribed medication and half are taking more than one.

As Richard Yates wrote in his brilliantly intense mid-20th century novel, Revolutionary Road, “You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.” Indeed, we are.

Look at us.

Woven nicely into the fabric of a sick society, plagued with an aching sense of emptiness and self-entitlement, passions snuffed out by the nine-to-five or no work at all, no time for voyages and adventure, too timid and afraid to live creatively and authentically — just good folks splashing around in the shallows as the pills are gulped down and the lights slowly dim.

Author, journalist, and one of the most fiercely lyrical, no-nonsense writers of our time, the late great Charles Bowden, had his finger on the pulse of our whimpering nation when he wrote:

We are an exceptional model of the human race.
We no longer know how to produce food.
We no longer can heal ourselves.
We no longer raise our young.
We have forgotten the names of the stars, fail to notice the phases of the moon.
We do not know the plants and they no longer protect us.
We tell ourselves we are the most powerful specimens of our kind who have ever lived. But when the lights are off we are helpless.
We cannot move without traffic signals.
We must attend classes in order to learn by rote numbered steps toward love or how to breast-feed our baby.
We justify anything, anything at all by the need to maintain our way of life.
And then we go to the doctor and tell the professionals we have no life.
We have a simple test for making decisions: our way of life, which we cleverly call our standard of living, must not change except to grow yet more grand.
We have a simple reality we live with each and every day: our way of life is killing us.

Is this life? — this apathetic mode of existence that we’ve created for ourselves? Living at odds with nature, at odds with our natural instincts, unable to cultivate a connection with our own spirit, forever in exile from our own being?

Is this it?

To live in a kind of forgetful fog while being dominated and pushed around by the whims of these institutional-minded bigwigs and so-called experts?

To keep buying and consuming our way toward this phantom idea of happiness? To work soul-sickening jobs to keep up the illusion of success? To be given the miracle of breath only to become life-long servants to the myriad of rules and dictates imposed from the outside?

Is it any wonder why so many of us live lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau noticed?

Are we the society that George Orwell warned about so many decades ago? A society “marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting — three hundred million people all with the same face.”

Seems we’re mighty close. All the ingredients are there — rampant fear, anger, ignorance, blind obedience, laziness, and immense resentment.

We are people who have turned the elemental emotions that make us human beings — fear, anxiety, sadness — into “illnesses” and “disorders” that must be “managed” and “treated” by an ocean of pharmaceuticals rather than taking the necessary measures to get down to the root of it. As Dr. Gabor Maté once reminded us, “The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.”

You can’t help but see it in the eyes and hear it in the voices — the despair, the fear, the animosity. A society of weaklings walking on eggshells, afraid to speak, afraid to offend, afraid to live. A society of indignant complainers and fraudulent do-gooders and sanctimonious political hacks strapped with a fanatical biased worldview constantly projecting their inner shortcomings onto the fruitful.

Somehow this is the world we’ve created for ourselves — it’s our way of life.
We all see it. We know something is severely off in today’s overly managed society. Everyone is angry and divided and everything is politicized and no one seems to care too much about the insidious narrative that has been fed to us as “reality.”

We’ve lost the appetite for LIFE long ago. We’ve forgotten how to belch out that big ol’ fucking YES to life.

Instead, we’re eaten alive by our own self-righteous concepts. And because so many of us have neglected our inner life, we’ve become deluded slaves to our surroundings, blindly giving allegiance to the fear-soaked narratives of our “drugged and dying culture.”

Bowden again:

… we are all on a train and it is racing toward a bridge that is out but no one on the train cares because they are busy arguing about train security measures or who gets to sit in which car or whether the train is only for people or whether the train is only for one sex or the other or maybe the train should be divided up according to race or language or religion and still the train races toward the bridge that is gone, races toward some chasm that will shatter it and so the people argue and do not care that their behavior means that they can never reach the future.”

Now what? What do we have to do to “break the mold”, as they say? Is there an escape hatch or are we all destined towards the looming chasm?

That’s the question I sure as hell haven’t found the full answer to yet. Perhaps there is no answer. Or maybe it’s too late. I don’t know.

One thing is pretty clear, though — there’s no Department of “whatever”, or a coalition, or some half-smiling partisan handshake coming to set things right. No one is coming to save you or the world you inhabit. No one is responsible for the affirmation of your life. Only YOU. YOU. YOU.

It’s on each of us to untangle ourselves from the fear-ridden narratives of our deathbed culture. It’s on us to live beyond our limited, fragmentary selves— the job, the labels, the nation, the race, the sexuality, the politics, etc — and in full possession of our inner drives, the fire within.

And I know nobody wants to hear that. We seem to need labels and categories to function in this society. And we need other people or some irrelevant institution to tell us how to live — the politician, the law, some guru, the preacher. Nobody wants to take on the responsibility of their own consciousness, their own brief, miraculous existence on this godforsaken planet.

But it’s the only way.

As the French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre reminded us:

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”

We must awaken and deepen our understanding of the world we live in. The essential task is to provoke a radical sense of self-awareness and to transform our passions into action. To live LIFE directed by our own real interests as unique human beings rather than becoming a subject of external causes who never possess the “true acquiescence” of our spirit, as Spinoza put it.

Becoming free, or at least as free within the contingencies of our finitude, is the result of intense awareness, effort, and extreme courage. Erich Fromm explained that “in order to achieve this freedom man must become aware of those forces which act behind his back and determine him…If you remain blind and do not make the utmost efforts, you will lose your freedom.”

I want to end once again with the inquiring words of the great Charles Bowden:

“Imagine the problem is not some syndrome of our society that can be solved by commissions or laws or a redistribution of what we call wealth. Imagine that it goes deeper, right to the core of what we call our civilization and that no one outside of ourselves can effect real change, that our civilization, our governments are sick and that we are mentally ill and spiritually dead and that all our issues and crises are symptoms of this deeper sickness…Imagine that the problem is not that we are powerless or that we are victims but that we have lost the fire and belief and courage to act.”

The Death of a Great Man

My grandfather passed away this week (on my father’s birthday) at the ripe old age of 93 years old. The following is a tribute speech to him that I presented at today’s funeral service.


On behalf of my family, we want to thank everyone for coming here to celebrate the life of this extraordinary man who I was lucky enough to call my grandfather. Us grandkids called him Papa. And for those who don’t know me, my name is Erik, and I’m his oldest grandchild and most likely his favorite one too (wink, wink).

Ever since I can remember, I’ve known my grandfather as a quiet man, a stoic man, a loving man, and an incredibly handsome man. But he was immensely humble and never took himself too seriously – well, except his hair. His hair was a serious matter. His hair had to be combed perfectly every single morning before he’d show his face to anyone. Even his own family.

A couple of weeks ago, when he was extremely frail and barely functional, I helped him to the bathroom. As soon as we flipped the light on, he slowly raised his head and gazed into the mirror with squinted eyes and cried out, “Oh boy, my hair, just look at it.”

He was a man always put together, never messy or disordered, always sharp looking. He took pride in his appearance. He was a man of tradition, a simple man who belonged to the past, to a long-forgotten era. A man who never asked too much from the world. And I adored him for that.

My grandfather lived to be 93 years old. And what a life he lived.

I remember at times just looking into his ancient eyes and being captivated knowing darn well that these tired, bloodshot eyes had seen firsthand so much of history and profound change over the last century. It was a reminder of just how connected we all are to the past. Whenever I gave my grandfather a hug, it hit me sometimes that I was hugging a man that was hugged by his grandparents who were born from parents of the Civil War era. It was amazing to think about and it really put time in perspective for me.

But through it all, through the death of so many loved ones, the death of his long-time wife and his precious daughter, and the death of most of his close friends and siblings, my grandfather never lost his dry sense of humor, or his charm, and he never became jaded in life. He remained kind-hearted and humorous all the way to the end.

A few months before he passed, I remember taking him to one of his regular doctor visits for bloodwork. As the young pretty nurse drew a vile of his blood, he looked up at her with a little smirk on his face and said, “well, dear, did you leave some in there for me?”

“Yes Mr. Bays, I left you a little, you silly old man you,” she replied. And then he would laugh that laugh that we all knew so well.

My grandfather loved people and he always made deep connections all throughout his life. He could go anywhere and have a friend – he was that kind of guy. He had a genuine interest in people and their day to day lives. He was one of the most personable people you could ever meet.

And… just let me tell you, he loved his grandchildren and he loved his great grandchildren. So much. Always bearing gifts on our birthdays, always there at our ball games, always rooting us on through life. He really was a special man.

My grandfather, Ralph Bays, was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1928, on the brink of the Great Depression in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. His father was a coal miner, and, like himself, a loving and caring man. His mother was a housewife and a highly religious woman who dedicated her life to the needs of the family.

Less than a year after the conclusion of WW2, at 17 years old, my grandfather joined the army where he was stationed in California and worked as a carpenter. After a short stint in the army, he joined the Air Force where he served as a firefighter in the Korean War.

With honorable discharge papers in his hand, he came back home to West Virginia where he met a little red-headed firecracker of a woman who worked in a department store at the time – my grandma. They eventually married and had two daughters, the youngest being my mother.

And speaking of my mother, I just want to acknowledge her and give her the praise that she deserves for giving up so much of her life in the last few years to take Papa in and take care of him. She was so unbelievably strong in the final days, rarely leaving his side and catering to all his needs. All while trying to work full time. I’ll never forget that. Thank you, mother, thank you for everything you do. You’re an amazing human being.

I’m going to miss my grandfather. So much.

I’m going to miss the smell of his cigars wafting in the midafternoon breeze. And the way he slurped his coffee every hour of the day.

I’m going to miss the way he closed his eyes and nodded his head when an old-time country song came on the speaker.

I’m going to miss the way he let out that childlike chuckle every time he watched those rambunctious squirrels chase each other in the backyard.

I’m going to miss all the hugs that he was never too shy to give out and I’m going to miss the sound of his old husky voice when he always said “I love you, boy” every time he saw me.

As we celebrate this great man today and continue his legacy, I just want to leave you with the heartfelt words of the brilliant Albert Einstein: “Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children… For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”

I love you, Papa, I’m going to MISS YOU.

Forever in Exile

Photo by Kevin Cable

Disarray rules the day like always
and the people are no longer fun
so I hit the road like Jack Kerouac,
a dharma bum on the run,
never lookin’ back till I etch
my cathartic initials
into the sun.

I’m a man these days
of what they fashionably call
“privilege”, a fabricated villain among
the well-adjusted, eternally marred
by the bile of the self-righteous
who seem to be eternally perched
on the ivory tower pedestal of their
pretend merits.

Yet, here I am, bursting
with divine emptiness, ejaculating
my heretical goo into the filtered
face of a sedated culture, dressed
casually in the raggedy
rags of time,
forever in exile, a dignified
nobody in search of
the sublime.

Half alive, half dead
traversing through the
sugar sand of dread
in this digital wasteland,
contented by a peculiar
peace
as an unperturbed
spectator
to the glorious undoing
of a hypochondriac
civilization.

I see them, I see them gaze
upon the unpacked suitcase
in the corner,
weak in vice,
weak in virtue,
I hear the zealous hum of the
new religion, mortgaged souls
dumping the burden
of their lives into the
polluted river of dead creeds,
desperately retreating
from the answers to the
questions they no longer ask,
hushing the whispers
of their own blood
only to hide behind
the lies of their
required mask.

No doubt,
I’m still here in the
diminishing flesh
as a reluctant participant in
this rigged game, but my
spirit is long gone
like an unseen skylark
hovering somewhere beyond
this Faustian amusement park
chanting in the predawn dark,
no longer harboring the
provincial heart
that bleeds in the alley
of Babylon.

The road is the way.

My tattered rucksack
strapped to my back
and a fresh stogie in my
mouth, I take on the jubilant
journey out of the known,
lingering
here in the desert and
there in the mountains,
alone, nursing the
divine spark with my
own marrow.

Tonight, I find a secluded spot
down by the creek
under the white glow
of the moon where I
take on the earth with all my
body and soul and lie
like a wounded doe
around the warmth
of the fire,
descending
down from the
never ending
three-dimensional fight
onto the shores of midnight
where I watch my shadow
dissolve into the new
born light.

The Most Penetrating Preachers

This tree is older than every human alive on this planet.

It was thriving back when our great great grandparents were young, wild, and in love. It just sits here in complete solitude, battered and bruised but deeply rooted and dignified, never demanding respect yet earning it merely by its majestic presence.

As Hermann Hesse once so poetically wrote, trees do not preach learning and precepts, they preach the ancient law of life. They are, in the words of a Lebanese poet, “poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

Here’s Hermann Hesse beautifully writing about trees:

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Sitting in the Cemetery

Now and then I like to stroll into an old cemetery and just sit for a few moments in complete silence under the midday sun.

It’s strange I know but being there alone feels like being in a little sanctuary far from the suicidal world that we’ve created for ourselves. The birds, a subtle hum of the afternoon, the dead flowers scattered around the decrepit gravestones – just taking it all in.

Being fully there and pondering on the impermanence of it all, the brevity of breath, death death death – to feel it deeply, to let it quiver, to be completely frightened to the core by the mystery of it. That’s perspective.

I’m standing still in the green grass with rotting bones beneath my feet – bones that were once draped with skin, hair, and blood vessels – bones that were once people who suffered, loved, and had secrets, and jobs, and children, and strong beliefs only to forever vanish from the pulse of life. Mostly forgotten.

It’s a conscious elevating experience every time. A mid-day meditation that forces you into a state of gratefulness for the modest little miracles around you – the ant, the dandelion on the sidewalk, the mole on your neck, the fallen leaves under the mighty oak.

To acknowledge the shortness of life and to live not in denial but with complete awareness of our imminent death – to keep it as a companion in your front pocket as a reminder of our brief visitation on this amazing planet.

I can’t help but be reminded of what the great German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, once said: “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.”

Resist Much, Obey Little

Photo by Erik Johannson

What a time to be alive
and oh, how so many of us
squander it away on
lavish nonsense.

What are you going to do about it –
life that is?

What are you going to do with
the fleeting years of your one
and only precious life?

Become them?
Do as they do?
Think as they think?
Give away your destiny
to those who promise
protection?
Piss everything away on
comfort, security,
and routine?

Surrender your essence
to the unheroic status quo
that seems to be sliding
ever so quickly toward
oblivion?

Are you going to remain, like
the majority, a pathetic
victim of an ailing culture,
a culture where the people
gravitate toward a life
of rule instead of a life
of autonomy —
a life of HAVING
rather than
a life of
BEING?

Or

Are you going to start living
on your own terms, making
your own plans instead
of following the commands
of others?

This should be the defining
question of your life.
This is what you should
be asking yourself
every waking
moment.

Old and young. It’s
never too late to
become
YOU.

It’s never too late
to revive the
wild nomad
within.

It’s time for a great
Awakening. A rebirth
of great courage and
curiosity.

The
contemporary
world has
subdued you
long enough.

Depart by whatever means
and to whatever place,
throw your life to the wind,
to the sea, and set fire to
the orderly, repetitive life.

It’s time to break from the ranks
of the sleepwalkers
and pick up that sword that
you’ve been conditioned to
disregard, and charge like a
madman into the heart
of the abyss.

Get out in nature, alone,
where you can hear
the hum of the natural
world around you — the
solemn vibration of the
expanding cosmos.

Get out of your apartment,
out of your house and into it,
step away from your soul-sucking
social obligations
and into LIFE,
into the blood and guts and sheer
wonder and amazement
that the earth offers.

Stop letting the world
drown you in its utter
horseshit.

Take some risks on your
own talents.

Sell your shit,
declutter,
shed the fat,
minimize the attention you
give to “things”
and open yourself up to
the miraculous —
the holy treasures
of the unknown.

Rally up the nerve to escape
from the comfort of whatever
safety net you’ve found solace in
and set off into the uncharted
realms of life
guided
solely by the
murmurs
of the inner
voice.

As the new year unfolds
let us all drink
from the
neglected
well
within
and rise above
our silly
clichés.

Lack of love
breeds fear
and fear
breeds
weakness
and weakness
breeds
dependency
and dependency
breeds
servitude.

This is the modern world –
a prison yard for the
loveless; famished souls
running mad in an
unpoetic society.

We have to reimagine
the world
and recapture
that primordial
spark.

We must create more
and consume less.

Stay out of debt — out of the
clutches of bondage. Resign
from chasing love and
become love. Break away
from the narcotic glow
of screens and get outdoors
and into the soil.

Howl at the midnight
moon, roam the forests
and the deserts, unleash
that primal yelp under
the vast blanket of stars.

Goddamnit, do something,
don’t listen to the administrators
of this dying culture,
take the unplanned road trip,
get your bare feet in the mud,
bathe in the twilight streams,
read old books by candlelight,
grab a rucksack and hitchhike your
over-domesticated ass across the land,
live dangerously, do things that
vibrate your senses, climb that
damn mountain, sleep in that
enchanted meadow,
let your instincts rejoice
for once…

and LIVE LIVE LIVE.

Resist much. Obey little.

Do whatever radical measures
are necessary to help revive
the primordial spirit that’s
been browbeaten by
modern society.

Prove you’re alive.

There’s magic out there
to feast on,
still a little mystery
and wisdom
beyond the concrete walls
of certainties and
conclusions –
go find it.

It’s only when you escape the shell
of protection that you’ll attain
the vast, wider world –
the infinite.

And only then is
when you truly
endure life
beyond the crushing grip
of fear and illusion
and inside the
sacred realm
of truth, beauty,
and LOVE.

Solitary Seeker

You’re alone. I’m alone.
Hardly anyone knows it.
But we are all alone. Everything
You think you need to possess
Is already inside you. Nothing
Lasts outside of you.

All beliefs are borrowed.
No belief is true.
Our mere existence and this
Mysterious light called
Consciousness
That flickers
In our unique brains
Is the only
TRUTH.

I am. Life is.

You look to abstractions for salvation.
You look to a partner for validation.
You look to the priest for confirmation.
You look to politicians for security.
You look to dogma for eternity.
You look to money for identity.

But these things are all false
Comforts – an illusionary
Ticket to salvation.
Only you have the power to
Save yourself.
And it’s a long harsh
But worthy journey to
Arrive at this sacred
Realization.

Do it.
Do it despite
It all.
Take it
On.

Free yourself from
The manufactured
Illusions of the
World.

Be willing to depart from
The noisy congregation
Of a standardized
Culture.

Become a solitary
Seeker. Be always
Ready to risk the
Known for the
Unknown.

Find the throbbing silence
Among the senseless
Mayhem. See and
Listen, not with
Eyes and Ears, but with
The Soul.

Leave certainties
At the door
And BE…
Simple and serene
Like the trees and the streams
And you’ll finally come to see
That life is nothing but a
Dream.

Individuation

“God, I’m so glad we now have a leader who’s going to bring unity and love and compassion to our country.”

Imagine being these people? Imagine being asleep your whole life?

The infantile “leader-worship” we see all around us is what has got us into this repulsive mess in the first place. Decades of it.

Children in desperate need of a daddy-figure to save them from the emptiness of their existence. Both sides are guilty.

There are no saviors. No one is coming to make your life better. There is no presidential wand that’ll make things “ok.”

It’s time to grow up and become a nation of mindful and creative people who make leaders irrelevant. Individuate. Become something other than a pawn in a corrupt political game that has failed us since the beginning.

As a wise man once said:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”