Looking out on a beautiful autumn morning on Stannard Mountain in Vermont, I marvel at the creative expressions before me. Nothing is ever the same when I look out my window. Just now light shifts, leaves drift from increasingly bare tree limbs, and birds weave their unique patterns of flight among the rocks of a decaying stone wall. Two nights ago, a wild rain storm took down the better half of an old cedar that has been a part of this landscape for a very long time. Life itself is ever creating a new reality, and we, Life’s human expressions, are called to do the same.
There is a concept in Japanese philosophy known as Wabi Sabi. While this term has had many different meanings over the centuries, here in the west we have borrowed the term to express the staggering beauty we find in the imperfections of life. A wander through any forest confirms the wisdom of a Wabi Sabi philosophy. On a recent hike up Camel’s Hump here in Vermont, we discovered fallen trees in various states of decay, leaves in the process of browning, and a path sometimes rutted by the feet of countless ardent visitors. Stepping off the path, looking high into the canopy of trees, and allowing afternoon sunlight to illumine what it would, we were awed by the exquisite harmonies we found there. Objectively, we saw rotten wood, decaying leaves, and churned earth; aesthetically, we witnessed the dance of life in one of its most vibrant and inspiring expressions.
I first read about the large but invisible group of culture changers known as cultural creatives in 2000 when Paul Ray’s and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World, hit book stores. I believe I heard about the book on a CBC radio show, but I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of is the electric shock of recognition I felt when I heard the authors describe their research into a sizable but largely invisible segment of Americans whose values set them apart from mainstream culture.
Most of us are positively and negatively affected by weather changes. On sunny days we smile (for the most part), and when it has been raining torrents for what seems like weeks, we grumble (unless we are building our Arks.) While there is something to be said for the glories of every season, we here in the upper half of the Northern Hemisphere appear to revel in our summers more than any other season. Perhaps this is because local fruits and vegetables are with us in such abundance, or because digging in the dirt and walking in the sunshine connect us with our essential humanity. Not many of us let go of summer without a few bittersweet sighs. We may delight in the autumn colours and brisker temperatures, but there are those boots and coats we have to dust off and slog with us wherever we go. While summer is an expansive time and expansion is always exciting, once fall comes, its contractions announce the birth of a whole new way of being in the world.
We usually get our wood for the winter in early summer. This timing creates the luxury of a long slow stacking process, something we enjoy because there is no rush in getting it accomplished. Sometimes we stack as little as a cord a week. Our young strong friends scoff at our slowness, telling us they can stack a cord of wood in an hour. We admire their strength and speed even as we luxuriate in living in life’s slow lane, at least some of the time. The slow and steady rhythm appeals to us because stacking wood comes with certain risks, pinched fingers, bruised arms, legs, and feet, and complaining backs included. And yet, all of these possible injuries are overshadowed by the wisdom of our relationship with wood. As the sages tell us, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
What we believe about aging influences how we age. If we doubt this, there are numerous scientific works proving the role of belief in aging, including Ellen J. Langer’s Counterclockwise, and Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief. Both books offer convincing evidence about the pivotal role our beliefs have on the way we age, develop illness, recover from illness, and live life as glass-half-full or glass-half-empty people. Once we become convinced that our beliefs influence our lives we understand that to live with greater energy and joy, we simply need to shift our beliefs about our bodies and our world. However, we quickly learn our beliefs are often resistant to change.
Although we are spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual beings, our lives often demand that we focus on one of these areas to the detriment of others. For example, work may require hours of intellectual energy in front of a computer, challenging situations with family and friends may overburden our emotional circuits, a variety of situations may require prolonged physical energy expenditures, and all of our material-world demands may conspire to make us feel without spiritual support. It is easy to fall into the habit of depression or anxiety when we meet one of these basic needs at the expense of others.
Sometimes on our forays into daily physical practice, we hit speed bumps and even walls. Fear can discourage us from beginning a practice just as the fear-based memory of injury can prevent us from resuming a practice once we have recovered. EFT is effective in resolving any irrational fears or early influences that keep us at home when our trustworthy inner voice tells us it is time to lace up our shoes and head out into the beauty of the larger world.
Most of us have discovered the benefits of physical movement by now. Regular, sustained, physical activity of every variety energizes us, and more energy for living our daily lives helps us to feel joy. Loving relationships, conscious connection with the natural world, meditation, prayer, and gratitude also bring us joy, but without some activity that requires the full in-breath/out-breath that is the hallmark of an active life for humans on Planet Earth, joy is often an elusive visitor.
Throughout my childhood and early adolescence in the nineteen fifties, it seemed almost everyone I knew smoked. My mother, aunt, and eventually my older sister and school contemporaries were lighting up Dumauriers, Rothmans, Kools, or Camels. Boys used cigarettes to foster an aura of coolness, hoping to emulate James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Girls often used cigarettes to suppress their appetites to achieve the lean boyish look that would eventually peak with Twiggy, the wide-eyed, androgynous teen model who burst onto the Mod style scene in the mid-sixties.