Cairns #73 – Koans

Helping turn the prow of our entropyship, the Earth, back upstream so that Earth’s evolving consciousness may explore the vast headwaters of the Universe for billions of years to come.

Cairns 73 – Beginning of the Long Days, 2013

Taking Students Backpacking

I offered an overnight backpacking trip to our middle school students. Ten
students (and four parents) came. A majority of the students had never
backpacked. I was especially delighted that six girls came because I believe
our culture needs more strong women and I believe that backpacking
strengthens people in so many ways.
We made a small campfire about an hour after sunset. Two of the seventh
grade girls came up from the river to the campfire and shared how, in the
dark, with their headlamps shining onto the water, they could see many
small fish swimming in the shallows and sometimes they could touch them.
The campfire lasted about an hour, in the course of which the thin crescent
moon set and the sky darkened deeper. After the fire burned down to
embers, some of the kids went on down to the river again.
We were camped on a point bar so the river at that point was a long, slow,
shallow, upstream eddy. Therefore, I felt comfortable with them down there
as a group. From where I stood back in camp, I could not see the kids but I
could see an occasional dim pool of light when one of them shone a
flashlight out over the river. After about half an hour, the two boys came
back to their camp near me and settled in. About fifteen minutes later, I saw
a flashlight come up and go over to the girls’ site. It was now about 10:30 or
11. Dark. Quiet. About five minutes later, a girl came over and asked for
permission to go back down to the river because two of the girls were still
down there. I said that I would go check on them and that she should go
back to camp. I walked slowly down to check on them.
I prefer walking in the night without a flashlight. My feet can find their own
way; I want my eyes to stay wide open to be able to take in the night world
around me. So down I moved towards the dark river. As I drew closer, I saw
for a few seconds a dimness on the water surface about twenty yards upriver.
I angled towards it. There came a point where I could see over the edge of
the bank and I saw the two girls about 15 yards away. What I saw stopped
me in my tracks. I stood there silently in the dark for about twenty seconds
and then, because the scene felt so sacred that I wanted nothing to disturb it,
I backed away so I could not see them. It was a time for the two of them, not
for me. I stood there in the darkness, grateful for what I had seen, for
probably another twenty minutes until they, on their own, returned to
camp—never knowing I was there.
All I had seen was the lights from their headlamps. I could not see the girls.
The headlamps were not turned in my direction so the only light was a few
square yards of dimly-lit river surface. But the lights emanated from their
foreheads and shone precisely on whatever they were looking at so the
subtle movements of the two lights revealed as perfectly as words whatever
conversation of spirit the two were having with the night world. The lights
originated a couple of feet above the shore so the girls were down on their
hands and knees at the river’s edge. The lights were playing over the water
in a way that I knew they were watching the small fish again, and had
probably been, just the two of them, for half an hour or more. The way the
two lights moved together revealed, within seconds, how deeply they were
sharing this experience—but without words. Two girls, silently down at
water’s edge like raccoons with glinting eyes and paws in water, deep within
the Earth’s dark shadow of night, their spirits dissolving in the water,
merging with the world of the illuminated fish.
Next morning: Said by a student learning how to skip rocks: “I thought you
just had to throw the rocks.”
It’s been quite the few months. Alysia was diagnosed with breast cancer. My
mother died. And I was diagnosed with atrial flutter and fibrillation (caught
me totally by surprise). Alysia had a lumpectomy (which was very
successful) followed by radiation. She is now recovering from that. Her
prospects look good. I had an ablation procedure that cleared up the atrial
flutter and hopefully has long-lasting benefit. I had a one in one thousand
chance of dying during the procedure. I wasn’t worried; those are very low
odds. But all of this did put mortality in my awareness.
I’ve been puttering away on my next book, Roaming; reworking the easy
sections rather than create first drafts of hard sections. I might die before I
finish the book. But if that happened, what part would I want to make sure I
had put out there already? I thought of this as “The Heart of It” and started
writing that section. As I wrote, the Heart took on an orientation within the
larger work and gathered other stories around it. So what follows is “The
Heart of It” strung upon a long necklace of other stories (ranging from a one
or two sentence mention to many paragraph elaborations) within Roaming.
Because this wants to expand into a book, this truncated form is arbitrary. I
apologize for rough sections you might come upon. (You will come upon
three straight lines that somehow got formatted without any meaning that I
can’t figure out how to eliminate.) But with best intentions, I’ll call this
telling . . .
During my second ranger summer at Denali (age twenty-eight), I began
feeling restless. I had fulfilled my life goal of becoming a seasonal
ranger/naturalist at Denali National Park. I had hiked all the parts of the park
that had beckoned to me. Returning for a third season would be easy but it
felt like it would be marking time, an avoidance of whatever was next. But
what was that?
I wrestled with that question throughout the summer. Part of what kept the
question stirred up was a book my mom had given me in college, The Hero
with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, in which the famous
comparative mythologist analyzed hero myths from a variety of cultures
around the world. If I understood him right, myths contain and pass on the
evolved wisdom accumulated by a culture over thousands of years on how
an individual should face the adventure of being alive. The fact that hero
myths from around the world contain similar elements suggest that a
universal wisdom is being conveyed in all these stories. Hero myths are not
about heroes but are guidebooks for us.
In brief, the universal tale Campbell hypothesized begins with some
unexpected encounter that leads a person off the known and familiar path.
The ensuing journey has many tasks, obstacles and dangers. However, along
the way, the person also encounters various characters that offer help in a
variety of unexpected ways so that eventually the person reaches a place
where s/he receives something of value. The person then must bring this gift
back to their village so that it can benefit others.
My encounter with the grey-crown rosy finch (described in the Roaming’s
first chapter) felt like the beginning of that story. Rangering in Denali
completed my first great task. What adventure was my next task? When I
tried to envision what that might be, when I opened myself to the “mythic”
space of Campbell, I found my mind being pulled into orbit around the black
hole paradox posed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics: how does one
live within a universe shaped by the Second Law?
I think my spirit had been circling this idea ever since, somewhere in second
or third grade, I learned from someone that our Sun, sometime in the future,
would die and that would be the end of all life on Earth. I remember sitting
at the school lunch table, feeling a great rift between me and my friends
caused by possession of this huge, dark secret. I felt both very mature to
possess such adult knowledge but also now exiled from childish wonder and
hope with no one I could talk to about the effect of this knowledge of cosmic
futility on my spirit. What’s the point if it’s all going to end?
The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that energy flows; it
spontaneously flows in the direction towards greater entropy. The amount of
energy does not change (part of the First Law of Thermodynamics) but its
“availability” diminishes. We think of this as “things run down.” My phrase
for this is that energy flows down towards less possibilities. The image
underlying this phrase is two cross-country skiers standing on a slope,
surveying possible paths of descent. The skier higher on the slope has more
possible routes than the person lower on the slope. The proof of this is that
one route the upper skier has is to ski down to where the other skier is. From
that point, the two have exactly the same number of possible routes.
Therefore, all the other routes lying possible for the higher skier are in
addition to the lower skier’s routes, proving the higher position possesses
more possibilities.
The Second Law is usually presented in terms of a system. The most
common expression goes something like “A closed system will “run down”
(increase in entropy), with a further implication that this “running down”
will inevitably kill any thing living within that closed system. This is the
way I first heard of the Second Law.
However, we and our earth are not a closed system. A “closed system”
(meaning a system that energy or matter can neither enter nor leave) is a
theoretical abstraction. Great flows churn Earth; every outflow from one
place is an inflow into another. More importantly, the Earth opens to the
universe. Solar radiation adds energy and falling meteorites adds matter. An
open system is not thermodynamically predictable like a closed system.
Contemplate starlight to understand the unpredictable nature of open
systems. Attenuated over quadrillions of miles, a miniscule amount of
starlight energy has entered our eyes to create pinpoint pricks of
electrochemical stimulation on our retinas which, as they spread through a
massive neural network connecting eyes to brain, are amplified to generate
questions and wonder, seeking and awe, dreaming and finding. Faint
starlight, generation after generation, has been the triggering energy that
brought telescopes and science and satellites into existence.
This awareness of open systems leads to a more relevant formulation of the
Second Law in terms of open systems. I call this the classic textbook answer
to the question of how can life continue its presence within the draining flow
of the Second Law because I learned it in textbooks. The textbook answer is
that in an open system, things can “run up,” entropy can decrease,
possibilities can increase. However, this can only happen only if an even
greater increase in entropy happens elsewhere. Up is possible, but only if
there is a greater down somewhere else. A roller coaster can go uphill but
only because it went down a larger hill before then.
The food chain is a well-known example of this. Plants absorb a small
amount of the radiant energy flowing from the sun and use it to lift
molecules to higher energy states that can then fuel plant growth and
metabolism. Herbivores harvest those plants which fuels their growth and
activities. Predators do something similar when eating their prey. Each
living thing is an open system, surviving by harvesting free energy residing
within other open systems.
All living things harvest high-possibility energy around us. A fetus draws
nourishing sources of energy from its mother and grows towards increasing
possibilities. A plant absorbs the photosynthetic energy of sunlight. A bear
harvests a salmon that preyed on smaller fish in the ocean a thousand miles
away for three years before swimming back upstream to the bear. We carry
on by eating food grown and delivered through a planet-changing production
This is the textbook explanation of our position relative to the Second Law
of Thermodynamics. However, this explanation can evolve into a
sophisticated despair. Garrett Harden, a prominent ecologist summarized the
three Laws of Thermodynamics as: “You can’t win. You can’t even break
even. You have to play the game.” Calvin, talking to Hobbes, expresses the
despair more dramatically with “The problem with people is they don’t look
at the big picture. Eventually we’re each going to die, our species will go
extinct, the sun will explode, and the universe will collapse. Existence is not
only temporary, it’s pointless! We’re all doomed, and worse, nothing
Joseph Campbell said “Earlier [in history] it was not a mechanistic world in
which the hero moved but a world alive and responsive to his spiritual
readiness. Now it has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic world,
as interpreted through our physical sciences, Marxist sociology, and
behavioristic psychology, that we’re nothing but a predictable pattern of
wires responding to stimuli. This nineteenth-century interpretation has
squeezed the freedom of the human will out of modern life.”
Christopher Alexander, a profound architect I admire, wrote: “The findings
of science have intentionally separated the process of forming mechanical
models of physics from the process of feeling and from appreciation of the
poetic whole that forms our own existence. In brief, then, we have not yet
found a model through which we may understand things in an overall,
wholesome way that is both rooted in fact, as deciphered by scientific effort,
and also gives us a foundation for ethical daily thought and action. As a
result, to put it bluntly, we do not know who we are. We can hardly act
without floundering morally or emotionally. Often, we find ourselves in the
greatest pain because things do not hold together. We cannot find a
comfortable picture of our daily actions in relation to the larger whole of the
Earth and universe.”
How do we live in this world? My spirit wanted to believe that I am doing
more than just living at the expense of others. But my years of roaming in
nature had also convinced me that science’s interpretation of the world is so
grounded in a bedrock way (and so majestic) that I can’t help accepting it.
So how do I acknowledge and orient my roaming within a universe shaped
by the Second Law in which energy steadily flows towards less
possibilities? I began thinking of this question as my personal koan, that
answering that question was my next task after Denali.
Koans are teacher-given questions developed in the Zen tradition whose
answers can only be discovered at a level the student has not yet attained.
Koans might take years of meditation before the answer is realized. Perhaps
the best known koan is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” With
questions like that, koans held an exotic allure for me as a young man.
(I came upon a koan in a coffee-table picture book once that actually
included the answer. The koan was something like “You are trapped in an
inescapable cell without windows or doors. There are no openings and there
is no way out. How do you get out?” The answer was “There, I’m out.” I
derived no enlightenment from an answer that failed to address the
As the summer season drew to an end, things fell apart with my girlfriend.
Many factors were at play but one I was particularly conscious of was an
emotional detachment I felt. A friend had recommended a book to me, The
Primal Scream, and what little I knew of it hinted that my detachment might
be indicative of deeper repression.
After the summer season ended, I hiked to the Wickersham Wall, the
greatest vertical rise in the world, and gazed for two days at a mountain
rising another three miles above me. I remained at the park into the early
snows of October, volunteering in the office and hiking the increasingly
empty quiet lands of Denali.
In late September I sat within a vast, beautifully empty space at the
convergence of three glacial valleys, all alone, until two wolves appeared
way downvalley, approaching at a steady trot, marking their territory,
passing me with hardly a glance, and then heading up the left-hand valley
and away. (The next day I followed over the pass at the head of that valley
and came upon the still bones of a young Dall sheep.
On both hikes, I was acutely aware of an odd detachment. I knew I was
within wondrous spaces of great beauty… I knew that, but the magnificence
manifested only as thoughts without an accompanying emotion. The
thoughts were not superficial. They were very rich and detailed but
detached. The world felt like the too-small world you see when you look
through the wrong end of binoculars.
I flew home and there read The Primal Scream, by Arthur Janov. Janov is a
psychotherapist who believed that certain primal experiences in our early
lives can be so painful that we sever our emotional connection with them
and so slowly cut ourselves off from our world. The goal of his therapy was
to help his patients revisit those primal experiences and experience the
emotional pain (with the help of a now adult perspective on the situation)
and re-open these hitherto closed paths. I assumed this would lead to a
happy life but no, according to Janov, this healing led to a mature acceptance
of the existential nature of life.
His detailed descriptions of the emotional states of his patients fit me so
accurately that I felt pinned with no evasion possible. What made it
especially bad was that as I reread Janov, he offered a seemingly bleak
reality. Even for those who resolved their primal experiences and
reconnected emotionally, what lay before them was the grey existence of the
existentialist: living a life without intrinsic meaning, the highest possibility
being to live that meaningless life honestly, nobly and therefore create some
dignity where there otherwise is none. Most of us don’t have the strength
and courage to accept this truth about existence and so we spend our lives
fussing with details.
I gradually accepted his description of life as accurate and true and that the
rest of my life might be lived with a mask. A part of me would play the
appropriate role when dealing with others but my real self was sitting back
on my left shoulder, watching, ironically dissecting the futility of it all,
congratulating me on my performance while always aware that a
performance was all that it was. The only virtue, a triumph of sorts, was to
bear this greater awareness of the pointlessness of it all with a stoical
decency and honor.
I went driving off onto western roads, ostensibly to check out new parks to
apply to for the next summer but hoping somewhere in the wilderness to
wrestle unknown demons of the past and reconnect with my vitality through
some sort of primal scream. It was a dreary, wretched time of growing
depression and winter. Got stuck in a blizzard in Wyoming where snow was
blowing into my sealed up car parked on the side of the road. Broke down in
Vernal, Utah. Got sick and threw up somewhere out in the desert.
I came home for Christmas emotionally battered, depressed, resigned to
futile existence. It was too hard maintaining the appropriate holiday mask
when my true self was so ruthlessly seeing it as a fragile sham, so I found an
old farmhouse up a dirt road that needed house-sitting over Christmas
Every four or five years, an Arctic cold wave reaches down to Walla Walla
and it happened that winter. Snow followed by absolutely clear, blue skies
and minus ten degree weather. The old farmhouse was uninsulated. The
pipes froze. I lay in my sleeping bag. I would, however, occasionally bundle
up and go for a walk into the most beautiful scenery of sensually curving,
snow-covered wheat field hills backed by the silvery Blue Mountains. The
blue, blue air was so cold and clear that it sparkled in the sunlight. Yet all of
this beauty felt detached. Wherever I went, whatever I did, the watcher
behind my left shoulder analyzed it for the little that it “really” was.
Whitman College presents a January intersession where, instead of regular
classes, a diverse smorgasbord of ungraded short classes, seminars, and
events are presented to encourage risk-free exploration. Many of these
offerings are also available to the town’s people. I looked over the courses
and a few appealed, especially a three-session dance workshop of “contact
improvisation” led by a dance company in Seattle. I had grown up being
uncomfortably stiff with couple dancing but I had discovered the joy of
spontaneous dance in college. So the class appealed and I went.
Three dancers from the American Contemporary Dance Company in Seattle
(later renamed the Skinner Releasing Ensemble) led us into a kind of
dancing I had never heard of. “Contact improvisation” starts with the point
of contact between two dancers. As they begin moving, this point moves. A
dance emerges out of this changing point of relationship. It’s a form of
dancing somewhat analogous to my cross-country roaming where my path is
a constantly changing interaction between my eyes and the land. But the
workshop was not just that. Lots of bodywork to loosen the muscles and
work away habitual holdings so the body is freer to respond
improvisationally. Lots of exercises and encouragement to feel and respond
to the energy of one another. They would have us do group improvisational
dances where somehow the energy of the group would draw to an ending
that left us feeling intimately connected.
The evening between their second and third workshop, they offered a
performance to the public. We sat in chairs around the edge of the room
while they danced in the center. At some point in the performance, Kris
Wheeler rolled across the floor. But she didn’t roll. She had an ineffable Zen
quality of “being rolled.” This subtle but vital difference planted in my mind
the phrase “It is possible.” That began repeating on its own, “It is possible. It
is possible. It is possible.” I knew exactly what “it” referred to. “It” meant
that a life of spiritual significance beyond Janov’s description was possible. I
did not know how it was possible but I knew it was possible.
Afterwards, talking with the dancers, the world brimmed over with
possibilities. The detached watcher on my left shoulder, murmuring his
trance, was gone. And suddenly I remembered that long-ago stupid koan and
I understood it! “How do you escape the inescapable cell? There, I’m out!”
I had been trapped within an inescapable solitary cell of logic guarded by
that watcher on my left shoulder who was never going to allow an opening.
But somehow, now, I was out. And once outside, the power of the logic that
seems irrefutable and inescapable from the inside collapsed. All I had to do
to get out was to see the confining logic from the outside. I could still feel
the presence of that little cell over there in some part of my mind with the
shoulder watcher and his entwining logic. That cell was so little, and yet
when I had been within it, it had contained the rest of my life! I knew that if
I wanted to, I could go back inside that cell and feel again the trance that had
held me inside, but why bother? The keeping power of its logic was broken;
it only applied when I was within. I was free of the depression with no need
to try figuring out how I had gotten out. Walls that appear confining from
within appear very small from without.
I walked home afterwards chanting spontaneous verse celebrating this
exultant state of freedom. To my amazement, line after line, fitting meter
and rhyme scheme, rolled forth lucidly. I often would not know how the line
would end but when I came to the last word of each line, it came into voice
with right rhyme and meter. The sidewalks were snowpacked and I spun
balanced pirouettes without fear of slipping, sure that anything I attempted
was possible.
[Then there will be several chapters describing fascinating experiences
following that “emergence” from the cell followed by more chapters
describing my erosion control work including the ideas of levels of flow,
shifting relative balances, and how that can transform enemies into allies.]
The Heart of It
And those chapters will allows us to draw near to the Heart of It: the heart of
the Gaia work I do when I walk the hills in the pouring rain with my
umbrella and my trowel. There is a third way to frame the Second Law in
terms of systems. (The first was that a closed system (including whatever
life is within it) is doomed to run down. The second is that in an open
system, subsystems can increase in free energy but only by harvesting it
from other subsystems within the open system.)
The third way is that though energy flows towards less free energy, this flow
(like any other flow) can back up. The Second Law specifies a direction that
energy will flow towards but it does not specify the rate. Rates can be
changed. A talus slope filling in with gravel and sand, will slow the rate at
which snowmelt percolates down the slope. Ground water becomes more
available and plants colonize the formerly bare jumble of rocks. If rates can
be changed so that outflow from the system is less than its inflow,
interesting things begin to accumulate within the open system, increasing
possibilities for all within the entire system. Possibilities accumulate, not
because entropy is somehow magically decreasing but because energy is
flowing in faster than its flowing away. A profound example is
photosynthesis. Contrast the Earth and Moon in terms of the flow of solar
energy. On the Moon, most of the inflow of solar energy reflects off the
surface and is thousands of miles away in outer space a split second later.
But on Earth, the atmosphere and plants absorb a significant portion of this
incoming energy so that outflow is decreased, relative balances shift, and
possibilities begin accumulating. Gophers and earthworms change the rate at
which rain can soak into the ground. Beaver dams change the rate at which
snowmelt flows from the mountains. Salmon change the rate at which
nutrients flow from the land to the sea.
The second way of formulating the Second Law (harvesting at the expense
of other subsystems) focuses our awareness on how we acquire free energy.
The third way (doing the work of shifting relative balances so more
accumulates) shifts our attention from how we acquire energy to what we
choose to do with it. Spiritually, this shift in awareness creates a dynamic
tension. We must eat other living things in order to live. Our lives depend on
this taking. But what then do we do with this taking? We can use the energy
we acquire to change the rates at which things flow and so shift relative
balances so that possibilities accumulate. Contour plowing is one example,
creating furrows across the slope that hold the rain so none runs off. The
most profound, perhaps, is nourishing trust with every action. So much time
and energy is consumed by locks, gnawing doubts, weapons, and fear
because of all the violations of trust that have occurred in the past. We can
shift that balance so that trust accumulates and more of our energy can flow
towards creation rather than just prevention.
Now we draw closer to the Heart of It when we compare the world view
built on the second formulation with that of the third formulation. In the
second formulation, we must, like it or not, take from others in order to
survive. The focus is only on how one acquires energy. So one practices
“getting mine.” Caveat emptor. The more I control, the more possibilities I
have. Wealth becomes a desireable; the culture’s focus slides towards
measurements of personal wealth.
At least four things happen as a consequence of this. I only touch on them
because I assume we all have experience with these consequences. One is
that wealth is used to accumulate more wealth, whether it is through
advertising or lobbying for laws that shift flows in a way that helps one
accumulate greater wealth or using leverage to speculate. This allows wealth
to concentrate even more and thus exert even more force to shift various
flows of money towards the wealthy.
The second is that a gradient of wealth evolves in which those who are
entranced with possessing more wealth than others tend to move “up”
through the gradient. In this process, they become increasingly surrounded
in neighborhoods and charity balls by people with the same motivation,
acutely aware of all the signs that denote one’s relative position within the
gradient of wealth. (Is their house on the shore line or on the side of the road
away from the lake?) The more wealth one acquires in such a situation, the
more important the acquisition of wealth tends to become and so more
wealth is used to acquire more wealth for oneself. Therefore, the
accumulation of wealth can change one’s psychological connection with
The third consequence is that cultural policies are increasingly shaped by
those who are ethically comfortable with seeing others as resources to be
harvested and are intent on increasing their personal wealth. (I am not antiwealthy
people. Rather, I am opposed to certain ways money can influence
the world. Money is a tool of ours that we have not yet perfected.) They will
use their wealth to redirect money flows towards them. An example are the
increasing fees and fines banks charge customers. People get worn down by
being nickel and dimed. More and more people find themselves in a position
where economically they feel themselves starting to slide towards debt with
no future. A desperate competitiveness begins to grow. Kids are pushed to
perform a scripted childhood that will look good on a college resume.
But the fourth consequence is the most important because it creates the
feedback spiral. As more and more of the Earth’s possibilities (energy and
resources and trust ) are harvested and transformed into things that are
measured as wealth, relative balances shift and fundamental accumulations
that were always taken for granted begin to diminish. Aquifers decline.
Climate changes. Deforestation leads to greater erosion. Species diminish.
The world is experienced as running down. And THAT confirms the world
view that focuses on “getting mine” by harvesting from the greater system.
It feels tragic but necessitated by the seemingly irrefutable logic coming
from the world around us.
Contrast this with the economics of the third formulation where the
fundamental issue is not on acquiring as many resources as possible but
instead on using the resources we’ve acquired to do the work of artfully
shifting the relative balances of underlying flows so that more possibilities
accumulate within Earth’s open system. Doing this work makes me aware of
the great blessing of being alive with the gifts of consciousness and voice
and mind and tools! When we nourish upward spirals, possibilities emerge
in unexpected places all around us.
This work steers towards a different world. Rather than trying to concentrate
great wealth in one’s name, one is looking for ways to increase the wealth of
all. This leads to gentler gradients of wealth within a culture, reducing
desperate competitiveness. But more importantly, when relative balances are
shifted so that possibilities begin accumulating, then people can see the
validity of this third formulation and feel hope and faith in the future—
possessions so fundamentally important that we don’t realize their sacred,
defining importance until they start fading away.
This is the Heart of It, this shift from seeing ourselves trapped within a
world where all we can do is harvest others’ possessions for our own
survival to a world that invites us into the billions of years’ work of helping
yet more possibilities emerge. This shift from what I call the second
formulation to the third formulation of the Second Law is the answer to my
Denali koan. Now my next task is to bring this answer back to my village
where I hope it can be like that dancer’s roll when suddenly “It is possible. It
is possible. It is possible” begins reverberating in the mind and we find
ourselves alive in a vast world where, to the side, lies a small abandoned cell
of seemingly inescapable economic cause and effect and anachronistic
science within which the world runs down.
It is possible . . . It is possible . . . It is possible for us, you and I, to help
steer Earth towards upward spirals that create more Earth-encompassing
possibilities. Finding this path is the Great Work of our species. Beaver and
salmon and earthworms have found theirs. We can too, amplified with mind
and voices, hands and tools. We are learning that we indeed have the power
to change the Earth so let us learn how to do it for better.
Is there validity to this way of seeing the world ? I love to dream about how
enemies transform into allies when the relative balance between inflows and
outflows shift from possibilities draining away to possibilities accumulating.
What is possible? That’s one of the reasons I’m not against wealthy people.
“Wall Street,” for example, is full of very smart people who are very
practiced at detecting and analyzing flows and figuring out ways to shift
them so things accumulate. Such people, when they shift over to this other
world view, have the skills to bring forth great blessings for us all.
I love to sit and think these thoughts and spin such dreams but do they have
any validity? Especially when money is concerned, theory talk is cheap.
Would I be willing to bet my life on these ideas? If I did, what would I find
Description of Shifting/Seeing Nature.
Then several chapters about Chrysalis and lessons learned from it. (From
test scores to finances to the kids and teachers and the teachable moments.
Change Bowl Update
Two issues ago, I wrote about a pinch of change and altering the flow of
change in and out of my change bowl. Last week my change bowl (once
overflowing with probably 80 cubic inches of coins) was down to 9 coins. I
showed it to my students and said something like, “If you understand the
rules of flow, you can make many things change in a good way over time.”
From Chrysalis, go to conclusions from all this roaming. One of which is . . .
A fundamental characteristic of this Universe is that it gives accurate
feedback because the Second Law describes a direction by which we can
orient. Moving within that flow gives us feedback just as the current guides
a salmon upstream. This feedback underlies that delicious tension between
determinism and free will. We have the free will to steer our energy but the
world will respond in a determined way – that is what is so beautiful about it.
If the universe was not deterministic in the events emerging from its
physical laws, feedback would fracture into unrelated, disparate pieces of
existence like iceflows swept along on a cold, dark Arctic night. Free will
would have no basis for choice. On the other hand, if free will was
triumphant, then the world would be just the way I wanted it . . . and it’s
We have used that feedback to get to that place we are today- confused once
again by the time lag between harvesting too much and the greater system
responding with a draining of possibilities. That time lag creates such a
seductive feedback loop. By harvesting more possibilities, we can change
the world so that even more of its possibilities come to us. Life is sweet. But
if our way of harvesting these possibilities has the overall effect of draining
possibilities out of the Earth’s system, then eventually the feedback loop
spins past sustaining limits like a hurricane making landfall and collapses.
But the collapse happens later, hopefully after my time, hopefully upon
some other people. This pattern of short-term gain fading in the long run
underlies the feedback loop of the doomed expansion of empires (controlling
the resources of more land gives me the military power to control more land)
or the convergence of wealth and power that is so evident today. Our species
has been seduced by this pattern enough times that we are ready to learn the
lesson once and for all and set off in the direction of hope.
It is possible . . . It is possible . . . It is possible . . . to


Just learning how to play with all of this.

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