Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous
°You

Monday, April 18, 2016

Putting together the PhD Puzzle

During the years since finishing my master's degree at Claremont Graduate University, I have struggled with visualizing what my entry to a PhD program might look like despite the fact that I can't imagine my vision(s) reaching their full potential without a scholarly community. Therefore, I have felt somewhat stalled with respect to my academic career—but there is indeed a silver lining in it since my stewing in whatever it is I'm stewing in has produced two published essays, both some strange offshoot of "nature writing" that pull in semiotics, ecological identity, and cultural history. For a while, it seemed that these scribal projects were taking me further away from my context as a religious studies scholar, and therefore left me more confused as to where my academic "people," are. I've also spent that time getting married to a person equally geeky about ecological consciousness (yay!) and cutting my teeth as a nature educator and wilderness guide. I've gotten the feeling lately that I've passed a zenith (or nadir?) and am on some sort of return, a drift to inevitable community—scholarly and otherwise.

So then it seems to be an issue of "which discipline" shall I land in, since a central struggle for me has been how to reconcile my work in nature education and ancestral earth-based skills with the highly literary/theoretical world of the humanities as I've experienced them. My field thus far, religious studies, is already a multi-disciplinary field, yet I've still been hard pressed to find departments in which the combination of scientific and literary analysis is an acceptable approach to analysis of human relationships with the transpersonal and sacred. (A big part of this is the methodological and ethical impasses many claim between the cognitive and evolutionary sciences and postmodern/poststructuralist approaches to cultural studies. I, for one, believe that they can be reconciled as long as we keep working to redefine and expand our definitions of "cognition" as well as "culture," which are, respectively the things that each approach takes as their universal referent)

I see these realms of thought and practice--the study of what humans consider sacred and the (often participatory) study of ecology, that is, not only naturalism/nature observation but ecology as a sort of practice and mode of being-- as interconnected. One way they are interconnected is in my experience of the ways that human-animal, human-landscape, and human-other relationships inform identity and personhood, for myself and others. Growing up, I was ripe for a paradigm shift around identity since I was queer and gender non-conforming in a small New England town, and so had to look into the virtual, beyond the human, and beyond the Western for representations of personhood that could provide me with a sense of belonging in the world. (Hence my fascination with animals as well as hacker and cyberpunk culture.) But that curiosity opened a door to a whole other world—more precisely a multiplicity of worlds—where definitions and standards of knowledge, ways of knowing, personhood, and agency were radically different from those of the modern Western culture I had known. Such perspectives come most blatantly from animistic and shamanistic world-views, but treatment of the cosmos as alive, inter-subjective, and reciprocal can also be traced in my own ancestral Greek history, even in modern Greek religion's iconographic tradition. For all this theory there has been a fair share of practice. For example, when engaging in earth-based living skills like tracking and hunting, the intersubjectivity in the natural world--the phenomenon of being seen, noticed, and apprehended by the non-human world--has become for me an unavoidable fact.

There have been inklings of my fate in encounters with some of my intellectual heroes, like Donna Haraway, Stuart Kauffman, Barbara J. King or Ellen Dissanayake, who did and do really important and relevant interdisciplinary work in the vein that I imagine, in the intersection of ecology, semiotics, and religion/spirituality. But now the literary and scientific trend toward animal intelligence and language (thus semiosis, meaning-making, in the non-human world, in my estimation one of the worthier literary trends coming out of environmentalist culture) is getting too big to ignore and it's inviting, in some sectors, a reframing of both science and the humanities. It's also manifesting in the form of recognizing indigenous ways of knowing as legitimate means of tempering and de-centering some of the more limiting hermeneutics of western science. 

When I began this blog back in 2008, my rallying call (still visible above) was that "natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems," which, though I wouldn't stumble upon biosemiotics until years later in grad school, was my attempt to gesture at the perhaps not-fully-awakened ability of ecology to reframe our ideas about information, computation, and cognition. Many of the themes that I have tracked under this rubric now are really able to be put in conversation (and recognized as something integral) via what some are calling "posthumanities" which some describe as being characterized by the "non-human turn" in the humanities (and in the philosophy of science). This is very exciting! 

Philosophy and learning I think is so much like tracking (following and interpreting a trail of signs made by an animal which can provide novel information and encounters). Cognitively, tracking I think provides a framework, even a theory, for semiosis (meaning making) and this explains why when I was studying history and tracking in separate context, I started to see historiography as a form of tracking and tracking as a form of historiography. I elucidate this idea in an essay forthcoming in the eco-poetic journal Written River, "Tracking as a Way of Knowing," which I look forward to sharing here.

I only see a piece of this. Looking at the generation younger than me, (at least the kids I work with at Feet on the Earth, which are admittedly a very specific demographic) I can already tell that as they come of age they are going to blow this sh*t up. I want to respect my own dreams, so they can dream as big as possible.


I think it's time to pull out my old notes on PhD programs...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Self-Initiated Ceremony: Beyond Belief and Non-belief

Note: This is a post I just wrote for The River's Path about the utility of self-initiated ceremony and ritual. It's a small, incomplete sliver of why I, an agnostic/non-theistic person, think ceremonial consciousness matters, even (and especially?) in a secular context. It's not for everyone, nor does it have to be, but these 'psycho-spiritual technologies' really help some people in profound ways that at least to me, beg curiosity and respect.
***
As wilderness guides who do not promote either belief or non-belief in divine beings, it might be difficult to understand why we include self-initiated ceremony and ritual as an optional therapeutic modality in our work—particularly on our river-based wilderness fasts. What follows is a tiny sliver of why I think ceremonial consciousness matters, even in a secular context.
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A ritual is defined here as a series of intentional acts (usually physical acts, but they could be mental also) that a person engages in in a specific way. In this definition a ritual has an intended purpose or outcome (though this doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome is totally predictable or known). Rituals are different from habits because they tend to have a sort of a transpersonal or symbolic meaning to the person performing the ritual. Rituals can have the effect of marking something, like an emotion, a certain time of day, or a certain food or drink about to be consumed; they can serve to help someone feel safe and grounded in a time of uncertainty; they can also be connected to interacting with elements of one’s religion, like making the sign of the cross (for Catholic and Orthodox Christians) or performing the Salah (the traditional Mulsim prayer).
The words “ceremony” and “ritual” are somewhat interchangeable. Generally though a ceremony is typically a special type of ritual, often one that marks important religious, social, or political events within a community. “Ceremony” generally has more of a social connotation.
Ceremony and ritual aren’t just for people who are religious in the traditional sense though. They are for anyone who thrives from creating order, beauty, or symbolic meaning in (and with) their environment. These universal human impulses are a deep part of spirituality to begin with.
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Some examples of rituals and ceremonies that are found across many cultures include making altars, putting on special clothes that symbolize a sacred identity or role, cutting one’s hair to mark change or signify grieving, performing a dance of celebration, getting in a particular posture to signify prayer or surrender, receiving a tattoo or other type of mark, wearing masks or painting one’s face, fasting, being silent for a set period of time, bathing or cleansing parts of the body with water, burying objects, anointing and rubbing the body with oil, and eating special foods.

Even without a particular religious framework in mind, as I read each item in the list above, I get a powerful image and feel a connected emotion. Do you? For example, I cannot help but feel a tinge of coyness and trickery when I consider a mask-wearing or face-painting ritual, and I cannot help but sense deep devotion when I picture someone with their head touched to the earth in surrender—no matter who or what they might be praying to. When I imagine ritual bathing, I can’t help but think of new, fresh beginnings, and when I think of ritualistically anointing the body with oil, I can’t help but be moved by the power of reverence for human life. Though this list of rituals might seem generic, when we relate to many of them our emotional responses are anything but generic!
Perhaps an act in this list stood out to you—something you’ve done or something you’ve longed to do. Or maybe, something that triggers and repulses you because of an experience you’ve had with it in a certain cultural context. All that is valid and speaks to the somatic and emotional potency of performing symbolic acts, and thus it points the way to how we might re-claim this ancient psycho-spiritual technology.
Whether we believe that our reactions and associations to these ritual acts are cultural programming, mirror neurons, or both, either way it is clear that these acts have huge capacity for symbolism, for signification. They can hold meaning in a distinct way that perhaps can’t be achieved otherwise. And religious or not, humans are narrative beings—we are storytellers and story-seekers by nature. We are also puzzle-solvers and game-makers who like to encode, encrypt, and decrypt things— We like to uncover secrets and bury others, making new secrets. Ceremonies and rituals are ways of speaking, ways of telling a story, but they are also distinct from the sort of speech we are used to because they are about embodiment—they are about not just telling a story or passively receiving one, they are truly about being a story.
Why do we tell stories, see stories, guard secrets, and glimpse our fate? It is perhaps because meaning, even fiction, in the proper doses, helps us thrive. Just as with epic myths that have fed the hearts and dreams of cultures since prehistory, rituals and ceremonies both thrive off and feed the life-giving gift of human imagination. Thus, what I see in ceremony and ritual is a huge store of potential that exists at the heart of the human story. To access this potential, it is imperative that the technologies of ceremony and ritual not be used to squash life and creativity, and instead be mobilized for dreaming into being the future that most needs to be born.
The most comprehensive—and ecumenical—way I’ve found to describe ceremony/ritual is that it is a kind of speech without words. It is a speech perhaps ‘greater-than-words,’ that you make with your whole being. You may be speaking to yourself, your soul, nature, God, your ancestors, a dearly beloved one, or something else entirely. And whoever—or whatever—you’re talking to might not talk back, at least not in a language that can be immediately and readily understood. Thus practicing this grander, more epic way of “speaking” can re-calibrate your awareness, specifically the ways in which you “hear an answer” to whatever you have “said” in ceremony with the earth. You might become open to symbols, signals, and signs that would otherwise go unnoticed. Some might worry that this approach encourages people to read too much into things. Indeed, balance and discernment is called for in the art of ceremony. But the best possible outcome is that by practicing more-than-human ways of speaking, we might more fully inhabit some of the great human gifts, like the ability to see and tell profoundly meaningful stories, and the ability to feel and demonstrate devotion to the world around us.
One of my favorite metaphors for intuitive ceremony in the context of transformational work is this. Picture a young person, maybe 20 or 21 years old, who has never met one of their grandfathers because he lives in a different country. There was a rupture in the family and the young person’s parents stopped speaking to the grandfather when the child was young. When the young person is confident enough to travel by themselves, they travel to this faraway country to finally meet their grandfather. The young person has an old picture of the grandfather, and the grandfather doesn’t even know what the young person looks like now, as a young adult. When the young person gets off the plane and arrives at the airport, they scan a sea of faces at the meeting area. The grandfather also waits, watching eagerly as passengers exit the gate. When the two finally spot each other, there is instant recognition. But they do not speak the same language—how will they communicate? They communicate in smiles, in bright eyes, in gestures. They pull out old pictures and point at them, and then at each other. Smiling ear to ear, they nod, and then embrace. They might speak to each other, but since neither knows the other’s language, this speech is merely a way of sharing presence, of connecting with the heart, and not with the specifics of the mind.
This is what I have found nature-based ceremony and ritual to be like. It’s a way of conversing with beloved relatives—the earth, the ancestors, spirits, or God if you are religious. Our human spoken language is naturally limited, and there is so very much we might want to communicate to these various beings! So how do we hope to communicate what is in our hearts? I think that as with the story of the youth and their grandfather who didn’t speak the same language but yet felt so drawn to meeting each other, we do know intuitively how to express things that we need to express—deep-seated things like grief, praise, regret, hope, and love. These emotions are the currency of the soul. Finding creative ways to express them when we are alone with the natural world (without fear of being seen and judged by other people) is a worthy pursuit, and the reward can be a deeper relationship with yourself, nature, and whatever other realities might be important to you.
In wilderness settings, many feel they have more direct, unmediated access to elemental forces and transpersonal dimensions of existence. This makes emotional and psychological sense because of the sheer complexity, depth, and power of wild landscapes, and the many contrasts we “modern” people often feel when immersed in these landscapes. For these reasons, engaging in self-initiated ceremony can be especially potent in wilderness settings within groups that are holding a strong and safe psychological container. Today, many of us are searching for a more visceral and authentic spirituality that we might not have grown up with. Or, some of us are searching for ways to re-invent things that we did grow up with, to make them feel more right for us and to re-claim them in a sense. We strongly encourage participants on our river-based visionary trips to go into their solos with their heart and mind open to the possibility of a ritual or ceremony they might create for themselves out on the Land. What they do out on the land might be (will probably be) deeply personal and we do not expect that all, or even most of it, will be shared. But the beauty of ceremony is that it does not necessarily have to be shared or spoken about to be powerful and significant. It just has to be witnessed by you and whatever else is out there with you on the Land…
Wild (and civilized!) Blessings,
The Faun
at Petrified Forest National Park
at Petrified Forest National Park

Monday, March 7, 2016

Emotional Relationships With Nature

Note: I'm cross-posting this from the blog at my friend's website The River's Path, where I'm a new contributor.
If you are reading this, you might be familiar with the fruits of a personal connection to nature —nourished by the memory of a tree or a river from your childhood, or the birds or deer that regularly pass through your backyard. Even if you move or travel frequently, perhaps there is some omnipresent element of the natural world that can ground you wherever you are—for me it is the feeling of the sun on my face, or a view of the vast stellar clockwork of the night sky turning around the still  point of the North Star. These encounters remind me that wherever I go I am held by ever-greater concentric circles of being. Being “friends” with particular plants or hills or rivers, or with sunshine or starlight, by which I mean loving them and on some level needing them, have been part of my experience of “home.” And when I haven’t felt at home, at least my experience of the home of my body.
The emotional and spiritual value of the natural world is hard for our culture to quantify, hard to monetize and market, but that doesn’t mean that it is superfluous. Actually, it is often an unacknowledged facet of what we consider sacred, special, safe, novel, or memorable. Personal relationships to elements of the natural world are much more emotional—characterized by affection, awe, or nostalgia—than they are abstract or intellectual. They are friendships, kinships. There was a time when I might have thought that these sorts of relationships were restricted to childhood. But today I am more and more convinced that they are also the domain of adulthood—at least, the kind of adulthood I want to inhabit.
A beloved white birch at my grandparents' former home in Vermont's Green Mountains
A beloved white birch at my grandparents’ former home in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

My time as both student and instructor in the fields of nature education and nature-connection has begun to teach me many useful things—how to make fire-by-friction, how to identify edible and medicinal plants, or how to track and trail wild animals. But the most important (and humbling) lesson impressed upon me has not been something new, not a skill or a bit of information, but a reminder of something old: the validation of the emotional richness of my experiences in the outdoors and with animals—experiences that never seemed to fit comfortably in any readily accessible interpretation of the world.

The feel of the northern hardwood forests of Vermont where I grew up, the smell of my family’s orange tabby cat, or the sight of a herd of sheep grazing in a field, are fundamental to my personhood in ways that seem to upend and subvert what I’ve been taught about being a person. Perhaps it is because these things are fundamental not just to ‘who’ I am, but ‘what’ I am. In an era brimming with political and social identities, certain labels, though powerful in their own right, still can only take me so far in such a quest. Indeed, such affiliations help answer who I am within the human world, but not what I am by virtue of my relationships to the non-human world. By these latter measures I am an acquaintance of maple trees, a creature that cuddles with cats, a guardian of sheep, and sometimes more, sometimes less. In this realm, one communicates simply by being, by moving, by looking. In this realm, one is simply a friend of things, or an eater of things, or, occasionally, food for things. One is a creature.
Gray Jays, one of the north country's most charming solicitors of treats, visiting my spouse and me in Algonquin Provincial Park.
Gray Jays—one of the north country’s most charming solicitors of treats—visiting my spouse and me in Algonquin Provincial Park.
I have found that I cannot know this creature-hood merely by relating with other humans. I can only know it by also relating with non-humans—with landscapes, animals, tracks, fire, with bone and wood—as well as with humans. It is balanced on this edge, where relationships with both human society and non-human society can be mutually cultivated, where I have felt a deep kind of belonging take root in my heart—an enigmatic feeling of being hugged by two very different parent-worlds that nonetheless are fated to intertwine through me. I want ardently for this medicine to be available to anyone whom it might help, which is one reason I work as a nature educator and guide. Teaching wilderness survival skills is an awesome perk for me, but I also am an advocate for a more surreptitious survival skill: cultivating relationship with as many parts of one’s surrounding ecology as possible in as many ways as possible. Even if we don’t need these “survival skills” for our bodies, we might need them for our souls.

There are many ways to relate to a tree, for example—you might sit in its shade with your back against its trunk, or climb it to look at something far away. How is its wood for carving? For fire? Is any part of it edible—its leaves or its inner bark? How might you find out such a thing? Could you make clothing or medicine from it? Maybe! What animals use this tree for food or shelter? What birds does it attract? On a slightly different note, what does this tree mean to you? Maybe you built a fort in this tree, buried your family pet under this tree, or cut your wedding cake under this tree. Maybe this tree has witnessed something monumental.

Do trees in general symbolize anything to you, and why? And what might this tree—or trees in general—signify to your ancestors, within their mythology or their livelihood? What about to the people who are indigenous to this land? What if the people indigenous to this land say that their ancestors were actually born from this tree? If this is a common tree in this area chances are it was (and is) very sacred, very useful, to someone—certainly an animal, but also a human, even maybe an entire culture. This is indeed an unwritten rule of human ecology. Is there a way you could honor this tree or thank it? If the last question seems to be getting into cryptic or far-fetched territory, I get it. But believe me, if you learn all the other things about the tree, you might actually really want to thank it.
A physical ode to the white birch, ethereal denizens of our northern forests. From top left: Chaga, a medicinal fungus that grows inside birch trees, highly prized by northern latitude peoples; a utensil carved from birch wood; birch bark baskets made at Roots School in VT; the beginning of a friction-fire bow drill kit made with white birch.
My ode to the white birch, ethereal denizens of our northern forests. From top left: Chaga, a medicinal fungus that grows inside birch trees, highly prized by northern latitude peoples; a utensil carved from birch wood; birch bark baskets made at Roots School in VT; the beginning of a bow drill fire kit made with white birch.
One could call such multifaceted connections—ones that inspire praise and thanksgiving—spiritual. I do, though this term may not work for everybody. Whether you choose to look at them as spiritual, emotional, or both, there is an undoubtedly numinous nature to such relationships, as there is to any close human bond. There is a feeling of empathy, of togetherness and community, yet at the same time a mystery, something coy and esoteric—the allurement of undeniable difference. There lies the magic, the potency, and the deeply transformative nature of relationship and our human capacity to relate. If we can recognize (and name) that we have the ability to relate to plants, animals, and landscapes in a more interpersonal way—the way we relate to a beloved family member, a pet, or a dream—we can shift our center of gravity in remarkable ways. We can, perhaps, feel even more at home in the world than we thought possible.

As this shift takes place it is imperative for us to humble ourselves with the fact that relating to nature in emotional and social ways wasn’t invented yesterday—this is the well-trodden territory of shamanistic and animistic cultures the world over. It would be much more accurate to say that relating to nature in these ways ‘invented us.’ Certainly, we are alive today because our ancestors intimately knew the natural world, both in a utilitarian sense and in a spiritual sense. Those things, I think, used to be intertwined…it is only some modern cultures that parse them out and see them as different, for better or worse.

It is no coincidence that many nature-based cultures consider their environment populated with legions of spirits and forces that are stewards and shepherds of nature, of the elements, of the turning of the earth and the movement of the clouds, or that they consider non-human animals or trees as persons—as beings with a soul. Relationships with these beings became personal, intimate, emotional, and social—not because someone thought it was a hip idea or because it made theoretical sense, but because of the demands of living in a world that was both ever shifting yet in certain aspects stayed the same. In a subsistence life where so much is uncertain, one does well to get to know one’s neighbors, and to duly honor them. Some day—or maybe even most days—our lives might depend on them.
Some natural objects that decorate my living room, reminding me of the beings that silently support us.
Some natural objects that decorate my living room, reminding me of just a few of the beings that silently support us. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Michael Meade: "It Takes More Than a Village"

An entry for modern humans in an alien's field guide to earth would be incomplete without noting the centrality of meaning and symbols to our lives and behaviors. The struggle to find empowering meaning (and perhaps eradicate corrupted meaning) marks us all, but regardless of the intensity of the pain it may bring, the importance of meaning itself is never nullified (even if we periodically declare it is), but highlighted, perhaps never more than by nihilism itself. What is quoted and linked to below is an under-represented angle on the current socio-political atmosphere by Vietnam vet, mythologist, and youth mentor Michael Meade. This guy is a true elder!

He has an amazing ability to be holistic and not divisive in his language. At the same time, he doesn't unite his readers to the point where their unique identities are erased and subsumed under one "hero's journey." Meade is not the "Joseph Campbell" that the academy loves to depose. (I often wonder if even the actual Joseph Campbell was that "Joseph Campbell" XD)

"A society is playing with fire each time it rejects the innate nobility of its youth. Youth not only carry within them the dream of the future; they also tend to act out the imbalances and injustices of society as well as the deep grievances of their communities. Injustices that are not faced inside a culture will eventually be lived out on its streets as a kind of fate." - Meade
Read the rest of his commentary here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Upcoming Queer Fast with the School of Lost Borders

It is difficult to express how blessed I feel to have the opportunity for my first ceremonial fast to be within an intentionally queer/LGBTQ community of questers this June, on the literal eve of my 30th birthday. Doing a fast with the School of Lost Borders brings together two of my passions: nature-connection and rites-of-passage work. Both of these interests are inspired by my experience of these things as a queer person, and my longing to be able to share these elements of a resilient and healthy culture with queer folk and many others. 
One thing I’ve told myself is that the "queer" part of me is “the secret face of my connection to Creator.” I became interested in mysticism in my early teen years and it’s been such an integral part of who I am since then. My longings to connect to the realms of spirit and soul seem to be interwoven with my queer identity, which is really more of an “unfolding” than something that can be identified and quantified. Put another way, the unfolding of my queerness seems to be simultaneously an expression of soul (unique, organic, and personal) and also a means for connecting with spirit—with the transpersonal and cosmic. Being genderqueer was something I became aware of, on a sub-conscious level, when I was 7 or 8 years old, long before sexuality was something I thought about. Gender, which I understand in part as the interplay of masculine and feminine energies within me and around me, seems deeply coupled with that enigmatic concept folks call “soul,” as a pattern mysteriously emerging from the cosmos through me, and it is an inevitable mediator in how I relate to the world and to other beings.
I earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Religious Studies, focusing on the Judeo-Christian tradition. These traditions hold a lot of cultural trauma and ancestral grief, but also offer powerful connections to ancestors, and with that potential for healing and reclaiming parts of “Western” mythic consciousness. Nature-based and contemplative aspects of these traditions especially interest me as those have been largely lost in mainstream American Christianity. Although I was raised agnostic and non-theist, a big part of my draw to Christianity is to the devotion to Mary in my Greek matrilineal ancestry. To me, Mary is an underworld guide (a role that could also be known as “psychopomp” or “bodhisattva”) and represents perhaps the last vestiges of an archetype for “soul” in Christian tradition. One of my intentions in my fast is to continue a conversation that I began to discover the threads of last year; to delve deeper into my relationship with her as a guide and ally in my journey as a queer mystic, and to step outside of the comfort zone of merely knowing her in an intellectual sense (through scholarship).
My main intention though with this fast is to mark a passage into initiation as a mentor, educator, and cultural transformer who is genderqueer, someone who stands as a “star” person, a vital space in between the moon (feminine) and the sun (masculine) beings. Almost five years ago now, I came out as transgender and started hormone therapy to become more masculinized. However at the time of my coming out, I was in a long-term relationship where the pressure to be “heteronormative” was absolutely crushing. Though my former partner was fascinated by and supportive of my journeys in the realm of gender, the pressure and tension created by our very different upbringings and social circles had me trying to fit myself into a ‘male’ identity. It didn’t feel right. And truly, it was me who was my own greatest judge during that time. Slowly, I figured out how to get out of my own way and chose to hear the message that had long been there: that my androgyny (the androgyny of my soul as well as the androgyny that is visible to others) is a gift and is holy, not something that needs to be cured. There aren’t social roles or archetypes in Western culture for the possibilities of genderqueer personhood, but that does not mean that these possibilities don’t exist. Today, I’m still on testosterone therapy, though I’m on a low dosage that upholds, externally, the interplay of masculine and feminine that I feel inside.
Last year, only about 8 months after my former finance and I—with great difficulty—ended our engagement, I had the privilege of participating in a sunrise ceremony led by a Chumash elder in Southern California. I was among a group of about 30 people and the elder had been informed by our group leaders that there was a transgender person in the group, since part of the ceremony involved dividing the men and women into two different groups. When the time came to divide us in that way, I wasn’t sure where to stand, so I stood with the men. The Chumash man came up to me and gently led me to a place where I stood alone, at the head of the two lines of groups, (men and women) that were facing each other. Then, as he directed the groups to arrange themselves in a circle around the ceremonial fire, he asked me to hold his can of tobacco and stand at the place where everyone was filing into the circle. I was honored to assist him. Later, he met with the men and the women in the group separately, but allowed me to attend both meetings. He then publicly called me out in honor of the medicine I carried as a bridge between those worlds. I had never been treated like this before, especially not from a respected male elder and community leader. It did not feel like he was tokenizing me at all or excluding me from either world—he actually saw me how I saw myself, not as an “exile” or “rebel” from the gender-binary, but as someone who deeply empathized with the cultural wounding around gender and wanted to hold space for healing using the gift of shape-shifting and manifesting connection.
I see all humans as shape-shifters, ecologically speaking, but queer folks of many varieties (not just gender-queer folks) hold a unique sub-niche within that: we are able to access an innate understanding of shape-shifting that is rapidly being lost in the modern world.
In this year since the sunrise ceremony, I often think about the Chumash wisdom keeper and have such immense gratitude that I don’t know what to do with it. I feel so humbled, and also responsible for the important role that he seemed to naturally and effortlessly see me as occupying. It is hard to hide, to feel “unseen,” now, if it ever was easy before. For months I wondered, should I write to him and ask if I could learn more from him about how to hold that space that I caught a glimpse of? Do I dare ask that? I wonder, as a “Connector,” and someone who empathizes deeply with the struggles of the masculine and the feminine, how can I be a model of empathy when I still have so much unlearning of destructive emotional patterns to complete? I struggle to feel worthy in the realm of the heart, because I worry that I have not paid enough attention to its intense longing, and instead cultivated the intellect too strongly. I struggle to sing out loud and to enact the spontaneous ceremonies that my heart imagines. Confronting these fears seems connected to the ability to fully embrace what I’m capable of. At this time I cannot crystallize all of the above questions into one single question, and I’m not sure if that is exactly what is called for since in the realm of the vision fast, one has to be careful about posing questions to Mystery that are “too specific.” It feels like I am gathering important tools that I’ve gained in the last year and a half (in which my ego has been through a few proverbial blenders) and arranging them together, aligning them to see what they evoke, how they ask to be used in this world...
Thanks for reading, and for holding space for this quest if it moves you.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Indigenous Notions of Land Stewardship

A biocentric model of environmentalism that sees humans as alien or foreign to wilderness (mere visitors) is merely the extreme opposite of an anthropocentric model that chauvinistically sees humans as lords of nature. Both are unbalanced and the former is not a sustainable cure for the latter, more like just a temporary immune reaction at best.
“In wilderness preservation, in land management, forestry, and resource management of all kinds, Native Peoples offer a kind of model. But it’s not the biocentric model that you’re familiar with from deep ecology or Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. It’s fundamentally different because it’s primarily kincentric. That’s the word that I have coined to describe a unique Indigenous cosmology and relationship to nature. It’s not in the dictionary. I had to think of something that would work to explain that what this relationship is about in the universe is one of equality. Humans don’t even have the moral authority to extend ethics to the land community, as the Leopold land ethic and deep ecology would do.

Traditionally, we work with animals and plants. We are comanagers with animals and plants. We don’t have the right to extend anything. What we have the right to do is to make our case, as human beings, to the natural world. That compact, that kind of contract between animals and human beings, is what has guided Indians’ subsistent livelihoods—hunting and gathering—and Indian agroecology and agriculture in the world for a very, very long time.” — Dennis Martinez, Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, pp. 89-90.
Yesyesyesyesyouaresoright. Reminds me of Murray Bookchin’s work (particularly the article on social ecology versus deep ecology). Deep ecology, which has a history of being considered sexy by left wing radicals, (bless our hearts) was rooted in an elite sector of Euro-American academia representing a very narrow demographic. I must quote Bookchin, curmudgeon-sage that he is: 
“Does it make sense, for example, to counterpose deep ecology with superficial ecology, as though the word ecology were applicable to everything that involves environmental issues? Given this mindless use of ecology to describe anything of a biospheric nature, does it not completely degrade the rich meaning of the word ecology to append words like shallow and deep to it—-adjectives that may be more applicable to gauging the depth of a cesspool than the depth of ideas? Arne Naess, the pontiff of deep ecology, who inflicted this vocabulary upon us, together with George Sessions and Bill Devall, who have been marketing it out of Ecotopia, have taken a pregnant word—-ecology—-and deprived it of any inner meaning and integrity by designating the most pedestrian environmentalists as ecologists, albeit shallow ones, in contrast to their notion of deep.

This is not mere wordplay. It tells us something about the mindset that exists among these “deep” thinkers. To parody the words shallow and deep ecology is to show not only the absurdity of this vocabulary but to reveal the superficiality of its inventors. Is there perhaps a deeper ecology than deep ecology? What is the deepest ecology of all that gives ecology its full due as a philosophy, sensibility, ethics, and movement for social change?”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Next Horizon: Excavating the Nature-Based Roots of Christianity


What I'm currently working on: The "Good Shepherd" from the Roman catacomb of Priscilla, c. 3rd century C.E., where some of the earliest known Christian art was found. The Good Shepherd functioned as an early metaphor for Jesus, but this archetype of the herdsmen with shamanic powers can be traced in the story-traditions of figures such as Orpheus, Hermes, Moses, King David, or Endymion the shepherd-astronomer. Indeed, to think such a rich web of meaning discredits the story of Jesus is to miss the point entirely--in the mode of myth such things just compound potency and make things more interesting. I believe the figure of the Shepherd is central to the cultural "creation story" of the Near East, hence Western culture. Shepherd is a symbol of underworld guide (guide of souls), but is also an icon of ecological "deep" history, speaking of a symbiotic relationship between two species that literally made our culture possible. We westerners seem to romanticize such symbiosis in other cultures, especially pre-industrial ones, but fail to see a comparable pattern in our own. Mythology should not be just for talking about other people's cultures and distancing ourselves from the past. I know that religious studies as an institution felt tarnished by the "crypto-theological" work of certain mythologists. But there can be a way to take note from both the universality of mythology and the relativism of postmodern thought. The notion that you have to pick one (and they are just stand ins for the old dichotomy of rational/intuitive, intelligence/emotions, science/art) is the symptom of an emotionally wounded and indecisive culture that, tragically, can't trust itself.