Transformative Moments with Trees: The Limits of Usefulness and the Beauty of Imperfection

My wife and I live in rural America on a dirt road on a sometimes-steep hill. Near our home, rising out of a steep bank, is an old red maple tree whose extensive root structure was torn open years ago when the road department widened the road to accommodate large snowplows. Many of us who live in the neighborhood resisted this move very loudly, because the trees lining the road were beautiful and made the road look so ancient.  A neighbor, inspired by other activists in the news at the time, tied herself to one of the trees.

 

But the resistance was short-lived. The crews with chain saws, excavating machines, backhoes, etc. came up the road cutting trees and carving out the banks. Exposing the roots of this one large tree which remains there even today as a reminder.

 

Sometimes, when I focus on the tree, it looks beyond sad. I feel a vulnerability, a pain constantly renewed, a wound that can never heal.  A wound that we humans caused, we humans with our frequent disregard for the health of the earth we depend on. Other times, the roots look very different, look like a secret layer from underneath the surface of the earth, a mystery that had been exposed. Unseen by us, there’s layers of possibly infinite interconnections all twisted and woven together. This is what we stand on.

 

Or maybe the two viewpoints are really one. Maybe there’s an infinite layer of vulnerability and pain, life and death woven into everything. And the pain is what we feel when we can’t sense the infinite weave.

 

We built our house room by room many years ago, in an old, abandoned apple orchard, fitting it in-between trees so we wouldn’t have to cut any. Outside our front door is one that is probably over 100 years old. It barely holds itself together anymore. Its trunk has a large hole running through its center and only three medium-large branches are left alive. It has some blossoms every spring but no edible fruit. Yet, it persists, and we can’t bear to cut it down.

 

Our cats would object strenuously if we did. They depend on the tree as a ladder to the roof and the second story of the house, where their cat window is placed. They love siting on a limb of the tree and looking down at the wildlife that enters the yard. The tree also provides some shade to the front of the house keeping it cool.

 

One morning years ago, when we had almost completed the first room of the house, and the tree was younger and still bearing fruit, I went out to feed the birds. We had a feeder, but also scattered seeds on the ground. This was before we had any pets. A few birds quickly appeared. The first was a chickadee. Maybe the tree had been feeding it for years, so when I held out a hand open with seeds, one bird flew into it to grab some food and fly off.  I was so excited; I offered my hand again. And the bird, or some bird, returned. Maybe the birds saw us as kin to trees.

 

The tree speaks to us, although at a frequency beyond our hearing, but not beyond our feeling. It speaks of a bond between us. I used to clean old bark off the tree every spring, which exposed new growth. It felt to me that the tree took it as a massage, because afterwards it always looked refreshed, more colorful, and alive. I don’t know if that feeling was in the tree or in me, or maybe there was no difference. Maybe this was what the tree spoke to me about. About silent bonds. About living for relationships. Maybe because of my affection for the tree, it felt like the tree had affection for me….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

What is Personal Strength? One Way to Demonstrate Who We Are

What is strength? Weakness? It’s not just aerobic capacity. It’s not just physical. It’s not how much weight we can physically lift but maybe how much reality we can allow ourselves to feel, consider, and act upon.

 

How would any of us like it if we were mistreated? If our children didn’t respect us and quarreled even with each other? If the schools our children attended were filled with people perpetually angry, constantly looking for revenge, and ready to attack before being attacked? Who held grievances they wouldn’t let go of and wouldn’t listen to anyone that expressed an opinion different from their own?

 

Or imagine a workplace like that, where no fellow worker would compromise or work on solving any problems or disagreements, and then spent their time and energy blaming someone else for the failure to get anything accomplished or a workplace filled with mistrust. And then they used fear and intimidation to get what they wanted⎼ their agenda or no agenda. These are not places filled with people I’d consider strong.

 

This is the US GOP led House of Representatives. They quarrel not only with Democrats but each other. Who could forget that, in a historic situation, it took them four days and 15 rounds of voting to elect Kevin McCarthy as Speaker? The Hard-Right GOP later removed McCarthy for the sin of working with Democrats to keep the government functioning⎼ and took 22 days to replace him. Too many threaten opponents with violence instead of trying to talk or negotiate.

 

Too many don’t care about governing as much as seizing power, attacking President Biden, and saying no to legislation proposed by Democrats, even if the proposed legislation will help the nation. What have they done besides holding up funding the government? Or starting an impeachment investigation into President Biden with an accusation of fraud, despite the fact that there was no evidence of fraud? Even their own witnesses in their investigation proved nothing except the corruption of the GOP accusers. Or they threaten to remove President Biden from the ballot in GOP states in order to stop or make meaningless Colorado and Maine removing DJT from the ballot for his involvement in the January 6th violent insurrection.

 

Too many accuse others of fraud to distract from the prosecutions of their own leader(s) for fraud and to make the reality of corruption and its destructiveness meaningless⎼ or to make it seem that all leaders, all of us, do it. I don’t know about anyone else, and I’m not always successful, but I do my best to be sincere and honest, not corrupt.

 

Too many use hate and violence as tools of manipulation. But hate is a way we distance ourselves from others, blinding us, or anyone, from what we’re doing to ourselves and others. It is moral weakness and pain masquerading as strength. It deprives these GOP of the character, patience, or ethical system required to work on the substantive issues we face as a nation, or to care about the pain and difficulties our fellow Americans face. Such work requires the strength to listen to and respect other people as being important. The ability to self-reflect, be patient, and feel empathy illustrate what I think is true strength.

 

The world is suffering deeply right now. Many of us in the US have so much compared to others in this country, and world. There is a great concentration of wealth causing immense poverty. Too many people worldwide are suffering from disasters caused by the climate emergency. Too many are suffering in Palestine and Israel, Ukraine, etc. The GOP just try to deny the threat the climate emergency and wars are to us; yet the threats continue. As an article in the Atlantic Monthly put it, we (our environment) can’t afford another DJT Presidency. We, all the people on the earth, can’t afford another DJT presidency. During the DJT administration, they scrubbed data on global warming, undermined the EPA and environmental laws, pulled out of international agreements, etc. etc.

 

We might cry out in anguish, “What can I do? What effect can I, alone, have?” As if, in a democracy of millions one person should have such an effect. As if each of us was an isolated being, uninfluenced by or incapable of affecting others, and independent of the earth….

 

*To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

An Illusion None of Us Can Afford: An Opportunity All of Us Can Embrace

We humans have many biases, but one that often asserts itself is the negativity bias, or a propensity to select, or attend to negative instead of positive information. We often expect the worst. We do this so the worst won’t happen, or so we can take steps to avoid it.

 

But often, the bias can do the opposite, and lead us to inaction. It can cause depression, or a sense of powerlessness. We can tell ourselves we can’t do anything to avoid whatever we fear will happen or to stop the dismal future we fear is inevitable⎼ even when the only thing making it inevitable is our inaction. We might hide from feeling the reality of the danger because we fear that even the thought is too much to bear; but the reality would be so much worse to face.

 

This is happening to our nation, and maybe our species, right now⎼ in the US, with the dangers of a DJT administration. We might know intellectually how awful he is but ignore what he’s telling us he will do if he wins, because we can’t believe it. Somewhere inside us, it feels impossible that such a destructive result could occur. We can’t, I can’t, believe that our world could change so drastically and get so much worse⎼ and not just the human world in the US but everywhere. But, of course, it can. If DJT somehow becomes president again, NATO would be undermined, and dictators would have even freer rein than they do now to undermine democratic nations.

 

DJT said he would invoke the Insurrection Act on day one of his imagined new administration, and use the military to make him a dictator. He’d suspend the constitution, suspend the rule of law, round up thousands, and initiate rule by him alone. It’s illegal, unconstitutional, but that has never stopped him before. We must stop him.

 

I’m not making this up. We know this. Read the 2025 Project. Listen to his speeches if you can stand it. He copies Hitler, Mussolini, etc. in his language and emotion, promises to “root out” all the “vermin,” imprison those who oppose him. He might end social freedoms, freedom of speech, voting rights, legal rights, abortion rights, workers’ rights, end legal concepts of gender, racial, and religious equality. He’d give ever more preference economically and otherwise to the rich and diminish or end government programs that serve and help most of us ⎼ he’d end Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, end protections in health care, end the Biden reductions in drug costs, end the EPA, privatize the US Post Office, possibly end public schools, etc. ⎼ and make the poorer 90% of us pay the costs of running his dictatorship.

 

Corruption would flourish. Incompetency. I remember when I was younger and traveling in other nations ruled by dictators. In such nations it was common for people to pay not only fees but bribes to officials to get anything done, to get a license to drive a car, to fish, to build a house, whatever. DJT has already shown a propensity for fraud and corruption. He promises to replace civil service workers, who must show competency for the position in order to get the job, with those whose only noteworthy attribute is being a blind follower of his campaign. Imagine the inefficiency of a whole government bureaucracy controlled and populated by people who’ve shown no competency in their jobs. If DJT somehow gets in office again, whatever restraints on him that were in place before would cease.

 

On Christmas, Rachel Maddow spoke with Chris Hayes about the threat posed by DJT Fascism ⎼ and the need for all of us to act, to vote, and help get out the vote ⎼ and speak to our neighbors. To speak not just to share information, but to get to know them. Create a connection, a community. Because this is our time. Not all generations are called upon to act so significantly….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

I Was Going to Write an Email: To Converse with Truth, Let Silence Speak

I was going to send an email to The Good Men Project about not being able to write a blog this week. For several years, I’ve sent in a piece almost every week. If I couldn’t do so, I informed the editors in advance. This time, I tried several ideas, but none coalesced into a finished piece. And I kept imagining what I could say about why or asking myself if I needed to say anything at all.

 

I started to question any excuses that popped into my head or the need to have any excuses. I started questioning my explanations, my pattern of thinking, my distractions. And suddenly, a realization of what I could write came clear to me. What was going on inside me became clear.

 

Why am I writing blogs? Why do we ever feel a need to justify doing what we need to do, or what is right?

 

It can be so difficult to put life first. When we are not immediately and physically threatened, and I’m so thankful there are no bombs falling here instead of the rain, it can be difficult to put the reality that we can lose all we have first, that we might die.

 

Even now, with two major wars in the world, with a climate emergency ⎼ with the leader of one of the two major political parties threatening that if he becomes President again he will be a dictator. He will take away our constitutional rights, to vote, to the rule of law and to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Or to say anything in opposition to what he says, or get good healthcare or have choices about our healthcare ⎼ it’s so difficult for many of us to feel the reality of this. To believe we might die. To prioritize this. This, now.

 

We have all these things we do, layers upon layers of habits, of patterns of thinking, prioritizing, passing time. We have our normal concerns, communities of concerns. Obligations. We have all the pain, joys, and memories we live with.

 

Yet, this morning, fresh from a long sleep, I woke up questioning so much. And what before was hidden became clear. What do I really feel? What should I write? Why hadn’t I completed a blog? Do I need to explain anything to anyone about how I’ve lived life?

 

And the freshness of just waking up, and questioning, with a willingness to look, and the desire to see what’s real, all the clouds in my mind were pushed apart….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to this link to The Good Men Project.

When Fear and Hate Burns in One of Us, It Could Ignite Any of Us: What Kind of Human Being Will Emerge from The Flames?

 

It’s gray and raining. Raining as if the earth itself were crying. As if the gray “inside” me and the gray “outside” were one and the same. As if the very light of the world was going out.

 

We’ve had so many gray, shattering moments over the last seven or so years. The election of a wanna-be dictator, who put his own darkness as more important than the life of anyone else. Luckily, we also had some relief, some sunshine, as he, despite his lies, was voted out of office and now faces prosecutions for some of his most major crimes. We had a life-shattering pandemic. We had all the weather disasters signaling the climate itself was shattering. We had the invasion of Ukraine by another dictator.

 

But this…. Hamas invading Israel and committing such torture, of children and of so many others. And then, the whole world waited to see what horrors would follow in retribution, as Israel attempts to free the hostages and end Hamas forever. A whole world seemingly brought to the edge. And then the violence continued.

 

However, as many have said, an idea can’t be killed. Many of us are acting to limit or control the violence. But the killing, maiming, torture, and displacement continues. It must somehow stop.

 

What kind of humanity will emerge from these flames? Who will we, we individuals, and we as a species, show ourselves to be? This moment is all we have.

 

What face will we see as ourselves? What will we do? Will we lay blame, or will we model compassion? Will we care more for securing our assumptions and beliefs than perceiving the reality of the whole⎼ the reality of ourselves, of all humanity, all life? After 70-80 years of such grief, and historic trauma going back before that for years and years, of fear, anger, and horror, compassion is not the first response that might come to us. But what about those of us not in Israel and Palestine?

 

Whenever we feel tempted to believe we know the one and only truth, we must look more carefully. Many of us focus on Israel oppressing the Palestinians for years, keeping millions locked into a tiny space under inhumane conditions. And this, I think, is part of the truth. Or we might see that Hamas has been secretly plotting for years for this moment; planning to utterly destroy the Jewish state, maybe destroy all Jewish people they find. And this, too, is part of the truth. Or maybe other nations in the area have been contributing to keeping Palestinians locked up in Gaza, to serve their own purposes? The situation is so complex; so much I don’t know.

 

But why close our minds with blame, and justify it with hate, instead of feeling our shared humanity? Why must we demonize one person or group? Why must blame come first? Too often, blame paves the road for violence to travel on. Can’t our pain unite us? We need to quickly recognize what or who is dangerous to us. But can’t we use less distorted distinctions than those based solely on race, nationality, religion, gender, etc. to do so?

 

Many claim it’s just human nature to create in and out groups. But whatever we say about human nature we can find factual evidence for the opposite….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Studying the Space-Time Continuum: Maybe Time Can Reveal the Timeless, Our Limits Can Reveal the Limitless

Traveling can do so much for us. So many people have written about how much they learned from other cultures, and themselves, by leaving behind the known, the culture they grew up with, and immersing themselves in another place. I love listening to Travel with Rick Steves on NPR, or reading travel books by Pico Iyer. When I was in College, I took 4 months to hitch-hike through Europe. It was one of the most formative times in my life. Same with being in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, hitch-hiking across the US, traveling with my wife for a month in Greece. But since COVID, I haven’t traveled very much.

 

And it’s not just that we learn from where we arrive. We can learn from the mere fact of moving from place to place with awareness.

 

We frequently get caught up in one place or way of doing things. We look out the window of our home, maybe into a garden, street, or city. Maybe we enjoy it, maybe not. But we create a momentary identity space. And then we might lose touch with how the yard or garden spreads to the hills beyond it, or to the street and the city, or neighboring nations.

 

I walk almost every day and pick a route, places to go and see, but really, I could go almost anywhere. I’m limited only by my concept of what the walk should be. Our ideas about what we’ll meet on the road can limit how and what we greet.

 

There’s space, miles, and there’s time. We might want to go someplace. Go to a doctor, visit a friend. And we want to be there now. We want to “cheat” space by speeding through time, by driving faster, or diverting ourselves with music and podcasts as we move, so we don’t feel “are we there yet?” Driving can be a good time for music and such. But time and space, as Einstein and others have shown, cannot be separated.

 

Buddhism and other spiritual and philosophical approaches share a similar perspective yet turn it in an engaging direction. They remind us change is constant and everything impermanent. Dogen Zenji, a Japanese Zen teacher, poet, and philosopher said we, all things, are time. “Time itself is being.” “The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers.” In this moment, I am dependent upon and enmeshed with all beings in all time.

 

Driving, or that time in the airport or those minutes in a subway, can be a great opportunity to learn from others. By being mindful of our feelings, we learn an important lesson about ourselves and how we experience time. Of course, what we learn traveling we can learn anytime we pause to study ourselves. But traveling makes time and change so obvious.

 

Dogen said, “Do not think that time merely flies away…If time merely flies away, you would be separate from time.” Imagine driving a long distance. Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I drove 8 hours to visit my brother and sister-in-law. And I noticed the obvious⎼ when we’re driving, we’re always moving. Then we stop, get out to pump gas or go to the bathroom. And internally, we’re still on the road; or still focused on a destination other than where we are. So, when we stop, it takes effort to feel that moment in that space. We’re not fully alive to where we are.

 

We often mentally limit ourselves to what’s within our skin or conceptual border, so everything else is considered outside us. Our culture trains us in such limitation. It also trains us to think of time as moving in a linear fashion abstracted from us and the rest of existence. This exaggerates the borders or spaces between us, and between here and there. Yet the universe is open. We have to re-train ourselves, so even the limits are ways to touch the limitless….

 

*To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

**The photo is from Delphi. Greece.

A New Kind of Dream: Maybe A New Form of Reality

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been having a new kind of dream, or one that’s new for me; one that clearly changes its plot over a night but not its trajectory or theme.

 

The first one I remember occurred last week. It involved being asked to come back to the alternative secondary school where I taught for 27 years and teach one of my old classes. Maybe there was a shortage of teachers, or one would be out sick for a while. In one version, it was a philosophy course called Questions. In another, it was a history course, The Historical Development of Human Ideas.

 

The first course, Questions, was just that. It was built around what the students and I chose as the deepest questions in our lives. It always started with different versions of the same question: How do we face death? It always ended with what is an ethical life. In between, it could be about love, meaning, reality and truth. Or do we have free will, and what is mind?

 

The history class began by asking who are we? What, if anything, can we say is characteristic of us humans? And what are the biggest problems you are concerned about in the world today? We spent the first and second day analyzing which of these problems are most basic and underlie the others. Then, the rest of the year, answering: from the ancient beginnings of humanity, what do you think are the roots of these problems? The final exam would be following a strand through pre-history and history of how that problem changed and developed.

 

But in the dream, I questioned whether I knew enough to teach the history, or either course. Not only because so much of what we know about human history and pre-history has changed over the years, or been clarified. But because we, human society, has changed so much since I retired in 2012. The students are now in a far different place and are suffering so much. We’ve been facing the threats of DJT and covid and more clearly recognize the threat posed by the climate emergency.

 

We’ve gone through so many assaults on public education since President Reagan; but lately even more so, on what books can be allowed in a school library, and what courses can be taught. Whether the most accurate information on who we are as a species and who we are as a nation could be shared with students.

 

One question that was often asked by students then was: what are the roots of racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc.? That question is now outlawed in some states. Maybe the asking of all real, sincere questions will be outlawed next.

 

There’s been so much trauma over the last 6 or 7 years. Could the philosophy course even ask about death when we’ve seen so much violence and death? Or would it be even more important? In history class, would the teaching of the roots of hate be allowed? And what new questions would students have? One of the most frequently asked questions back then was How has our relationship to the environment changed over the years? And would the question today be, can we survive?

 

The more recent dream was even more dramatic….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

Do We Love Ourselves Enough, and Love the World Enough to Save It? When We Feel a Hole in the Center of Our Lives, Loving Action Can Heal It

We know this. So much climate suffering. Droughts. Then rains. Then dangerous smog from fires. Then heat, heat domes so large and deep people are not just sweltering but burning. Dying. And it’s increasing. We are burning our earth around us. The earth itself is crying out to us. The city of Phoenix had over 19 days straight days of 110 degrees or more. Residents of south Florida might be tempted to swim in the ocean to cool off from the extreme heat, but the ocean temperature itself is about 100 degrees. We can, we need to do all we can to stop the policies, the ways of thinking and behaving that contribute to global warming.

 

And our leaders? I don’t agree with all that President Biden has done, or not done. But he has given us and our earth a chance. He has pushed helpful legislation for the environment, and  accomplished a great deal that benefits most of us⎼ for the economy and international situation, but so much more is needed. And he’s managed to do this despite a political opposition not seen since possibly the Civil War, and so virulent that many denied that he fairly and legally won the presidency. Several GOP lawmakers even supported a violent insurrection against him. Many news outlets severely under-report his accomplishments.

 

The GOP in general have no shame, or care about the state of the world; don’t care about our rights, health, children, or the democracy they are sworn to serve. One of their favored governors stated some blacks benefitted from being slaves. They let free their own hate, lusts, and other unethical behavior, while they act to restrict the right to vote to young, black, brown people. To take away a woman’s right to control her own health. They lie about who they are, and so much else, including the science of climate change.

 

Their leader is a 2-time, and soon, possibly, a 4-time indicted criminal, liar, and sexual abuser who in public conspired to stop an election and end democracy. He continually  threatens violence against anyone who opposes him. He uses hate to serve his own personal aims, uses misogyny or hate against women, hate of black, brown, Asian, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ+ people. Maybe all those not white, Christian, patriarchal.

 

DJT even told us what he would do if he regained the White House. Historian Michael Beschloss described his goal as a “presidential dictatorship.” Others have labeled his goal as White Nationalism or Fascism/Nazism. The New York Times reports he and the GOP plan to expand the power of the President so deeply that his authority would cover every part of government.  They want the power to regulate the economy, control the Department of Justice, the courts, and dictate to Congress. All members of government agencies and bureaucracies would be chosen according to one principle—their allegiance to him, not to competence, not ethics. If we want a passport, loan, building permit, etc. we’d first have to pass a loyalty test.

 

This would convert the mission of the government to one goal⎼ to exert DJT’s narcissism, to free his lust for power and sense of entitlement so it covers the whole earth. And all of us, all creatures, would serve him. His followers think he would bring them freedom. But the only freedom they’d have is to serve him while expressing their grievances at the wrong people. This is almost unbelievable; but if we can stomach listening to him we can judge this for ourselves….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Touching Life in All Its Forms: Summer, Walking, and Treating Living as Learning

I so enjoy spring and summer. Despite the drought this spring, and the continual rains that have so far marked the summer, I feel like I’m once again a child on vacation. I hear the song “Summertime” in my head, and feel that every day I can play, do something new, create, get together with friends. Everything is so alive. In both spring and summer, so many birds, peepers, cicadas, etc. speak up, and seem to speak to me.

 

So, taking a walk during the summer or spring, in any natural setting, or in the blocks or parks of a city, immerses us in this beauty. It can be a meditation if we bring full attention to it. We don’t need to do a formal walking meditation. We just walk normally, and let the exercise remind us it’s not just what we do that determines how we feel, but how much awareness we bring to it.

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, two things I’ve been doing even more frequently than before is reading about and practicing meditation, and taking long walks or hikes. And I’ve found a few things that increase the joy I have when walking. One particular reading that inspired me was Old Path White Clouds, the Story of the Buddha, by the revered Zen teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. It was recommended by a friend and co-worker. The book gives us a wonderful insight into the deep history of meditation and mindfulness practice.

 

In the book, the Buddha is described as walking “just to enjoy the walking, unconcerned about arriving anywhere at all…[not] anxious or impatient… [T]heir steps were slow, balanced, peaceful…yet they covered a good distance each day.”

 

I’d like to walk like this. How did the Buddha and followers do this? One method described was making a moment of walking a moment of practice and potential insight, “observing each breath,” step, and part of the breath. In other writings, Thich Nhat Hanh explicates further how to be at one with the walking, so we notice the whole universe walking together.

 

It’s so easy to get distracted or lost in thoughts or worries, or to lose awareness of where we are. So, whatever reminds us to pay attention to where are, who we’re with, what our body-mind is telling us, can help our overall sense of well-being.

 

Even before we start, we can stop. Close our eyes partly or fully, and just greet our body, be aware of what’s going on right now. Or we feel our feet on the earth, or the pace and depth of breath, how tense or relaxed are our shoulders and belly. Then we walk.

 

Walking, the capacity for upright, bipedal movement, is, after all, a major defining characteristic of being human. It can be great fun when we do it just to do it and it’s not solely a means of transporting us from where we are to where we aren’t. Or we don’t do it only to meet exercise goals recorded by devices like a fitbit or apple watch or satisfy societal created images.

 

Such motivations can lead us to walk only to get it done, to check off a box in an accomplishment ledger. This focuses us on the future, and we miss what’s here, now. And 10,000 steps can seem a lot; one step can be simple and easy….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Maybe There’s a Joy So Deep the Whole Universe Is in It: The Curious Power of the Wind

Sometimes, just staying still and listening to the wind can be an event of great beauty. Nothing else is needed to feel full, satisfied. Happy. Those are rare and glorious moments.

 

Sometimes, wind is a gentle touch, a cooling breeze on a torrid day. Sometimes, it disappears. Sometimes, and too often lately, the day is hot, dry, seemingly lifeless; then it suddenly gets cold and the wind rages, sounds like a speeding train, and is too powerful to stand up to. Tonight, the earth gently whispers, a soft, steady sound. Then it almost goes silent. Then it builds until it sounds like a rainstorm is about to slam us, but there’s no rain. No rain clouds. Just wind. Then it calms before it rises once again.

 

The wind animates the world around us. It builds, and the trees dance; falling leaves, and papers lying in the street, fly around; bushes rattle, clouds stir, oceans wave. Just like the breath animates us, the wind can animate the world.

 

Ancient humans made a connection between wind and human breathing. After all, breathing involves air moving in and out of the body, animating us like wind animates the world. So, in India, for example, there was the concept of the five winds in the body, discussed in the Hindu sacred book, the Upanishads, in yoga, and later in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian science of medicine. When we breathe, we take in the wind of the world.

 

The Greek word pneuma can mean both breath and wind, as well as soul. The presocratic Greek philosopher Anaximenes said, “just as the soul (psyche), being air (aer), holds us together, so do breath (pneuma), and air (aer) encompass the world.” Anaximenes thought of air as the first principle out of which all else is composed. The Bible uses the word pneuma in a similar fashion. There can be spiritual as well as a mental and physical dimension to breathing practices.

 

If only we listen carefully enough, every wind can remind us of these interconnections. We can feel our surroundings calling to us or hear people all through time calling to us. We are not two. We are not two. Maybe if we listen, we might hear in the wind the trees, birds, leaves, and clouds speaking of our natural inseparability with the universe in which we exist. No air, no us.

 

We can make listening more deeply, with more curiosity and compassion, a regular component of our lives, along with exercises, as in yoga, martial arts, and mindfulness meditation that help us breathe and live more fully.

 

We can also think about what animates us besides the breath. What stirs us? What stirs us so much that, afterwards, we don’t feel we’re lacking anything? We don’t feel more in pain afterwards than we did before. But instead, it leaves us with a sense of Ah, yes. This I love. No other time or place or anything is needed. Just this, this moment, is sufficient. Wonderful.

 

What stirs us so much we hear our inner world coming alive, and hear the universe speaking?…

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project. Enjoy.