Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life's Big Adventure

small is possible: life in a local economy by Lyle Estill

I just finished reading “small is possible. I have met Lyle Estill a few times, and we have mostly waved hello. One conversation I remember happened when I attended a booksigning for his first book, Biodiesel Power, at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro. I admire the passion and depth of knowledge and activity of biodiesel advocates, especially these local “neighbors.” I wanted to learn from them, and acknowledge their efforts at the same time. When Lyle signed a copy of his book for me we struck up a conversation and he began telling me a little about his “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” what it meant to realize he’d had this all of his life. I had said a few things about the depression I'd lived earlier in my life and what it has meant to me to learn to change this (my) energy. My passion is not "fuel," as Lyle's is, but, more and more, the human "energy and matter" of us and how we use it, beginning with my own. (As I wrote in my recent book, without love memory has no meaning.) I remembered this conversation again when I began “small is possible.”

In the Acknowledgments, Lyle mentions George McRobie and E.F. Schumacher, and that his book comes from their tradition. When I was in college in the early 1980s, I took a wonderful class called "Constructive Survival." This may seem an odd classroom focus - it certainy seemed unusual at the time, yet I recognize how our knowledge of "constructive survival" is still and ever more relevant today. I read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, and many other books during the class. We had a great professor who was intensely interested in teaching us to really think about what survival means to us, as individuals, as a society, a culture, as a nation, and as a world. He guided us to think beyond the boundaries of our perceptions as young students, to examine ourselves as "human beings" first. What does this mean? Though I was very interested in this focus then, and learned a lot about others who were and why, my own "constructive survival" was still a distant star in my mind. I had no real idea or sense, motivation, to "constructively survive" beyond the most basic paramenters and experience. I was living a relatively reckless life in relationship to my ignorance about what it means to eat good food, drink lots of water, get good rest, enjoy all of life. I was happy at times, and liked learning, but did not truly learn much about myself as "energy," therefore my mind could not really constructively use this information in the best ways possible. (This did not help my depression, and in part created it!) That folder from C.S. class is one I have saved as I have moved from place to place since then. I think of that professor and his guidance often.

In his new book, I learned about Lyle’s urge to move from Canada to the United States (namely, North Carolina), where there was plenty of water, things were cheap, and the technology market was growing. I got a good glimpse of the growth and shift of his thinking as he sought more “light,” and came to the sense of celebrating “life’s big adventure” as he does now. From tireless effort helping to expand one family’s business into a global economy, to making one man’s mission to know the light of his life as his family and “hometown security,” this is a creative tale (unfolding snapshot) told by a thinking mind with maybe a poet’s heart and a sincere and growing appreciation of “the good life” and the cooperation that makes it so. I relate to Lyle’s example in his Conclusion: once he was a connoisseur of video games, and he dreamt of racing go-carts. Yet when he spent a weekend with his boys, his dear friend and his friends’ children, they dug up garnet stones, raced go-carts, played video games, took shifts in the batting cages, and he was bored out of his head. When he explored his boredom to understand it with his friend John at John's "therapy shack" in Silk Hope, John framed it simply – Try to find a way to sustain human life on earth. When you are in the game, it is easy to get up in the morning and start playing with everything you’ve got.

I like the structure of this book. I like the way a simple curiosity leads to integration of other, more expanded activities (like deep-frying the turkey and curiosity on a ride to the Eno River Festival leading to barrels of biodiesel), the Pioneer Family sculpture memory leading to his “Going to Town” at the Carrboro Arts Center.

Some sentences I really like:
“Dirt snobs like to be able to control the content of their piles.”

“Making soil is at the heart of sustainable agriculture, and for some it is at the heart of healing the planet itself.”

“Yet a massive garden of one is forever doomed. A garden of many has a much higher change of success.”
(I’d like to talk about that further, though – since I’m a triplet, I’m all-for-one, one-for-all.)

“It all made me think I know very little about healing ourselves.”

“At the end of the day the fundamental healing that needs to go on is in our heads.”

Another bit that got my attention and prompts me to write to Craig Venter is on p. 202 "I like the thinking of Craig Venter on this subject (changing our collective self-image from 'consumers' to 'conservers'). He's the one hwo led the private sector's effort to sequence the human genome, and who published the work for all to use.
One of his core arguments for untangling our genetic maps is that it could lead (to)a preventative approach to health care. He laments that we do not live in a 'preventative society,' and that we prefer 'big fixes to big problems.'

Hmmmm. In Kathy Oddenino's sixth book, Depression: Our Normal Transitional Emotions, she defines health this way: from the root word 'heal,' a condition of physical, mental, and emotional balance of equal energy. There is that "energy" word again. As I learn what it means to "heal myself" daily, I am gaining a deeper understanding of "prevention." It is as though we have come to define health as the "absence of disease." I talk with friends and family, and more, who are struggling with disease and multiple levels of symptoms of "imbalance." On a program after the human genome was "decoded," Craig Venter showed the vulnerability he felt as he interpreted what his own DNA told him. This prompts my question again, What does it mean to "constructively survive"?

What would our world, our lives, be like if we all knew ourselves as "energy beings" equal to the opportunity to heal ourselves?

I hope you will read Lyle's book. You might think more about what it means to be a “Good Neighbor,” a good human being. I am, constantly, and appreciating Life’s Big Adventure more all the time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cooperation and Cultural DNA

A few days ago I had a dream of a tornado forming. I was in a friend’s home, with glass windows that invited the world in and our looking out. We sat close, facing each other, talking, enjoying tea or some such, and suddenly we noticed the air building in the distance into a big dark cloud and forming the funnel that is so familiar to so many. The intensity of air and speed building was very impressive and while not immediately threatening, we sensed the urgency and began to move. We headed to the basement. My friend’s house was designed with many wide, open levels that were staggered. Elegant gold tones, blonde wood, and flowers in pots were everywhere. It was beautiful, and beautifully this friend’s personality. Suddenly two other friends were there on the patio, feeling the urgency of this air. We all headed to the basement, awed by the wind.

Once awake, I watched the news from the Midwest, where water levels continued to rise, crest, recede. I took it in: the resolute faces of those in Cedar Falls, Iowa as the many volunteers gathered to sandbag the levees. The overall energy of this cooperation came through loud and clear in every way – the pictures, the voices, the tones, the reporting.

As I watched this, and remembered this and other parts of the “dream,” I remembered again how I am opening my mind to truly know that I am an energy force creating matter, ripples as I live and breathe. Gifts of love and life are infinite.

Lili Haydn- She began playing when she was 8, and soloed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic by the time she was 15. “Violin resonates with people on a lot of levels,” she says. “In Mississippi or India or Spain – every culture has its violin music, and when people hear that played with a lot of intensity and a lot of heart, it hearkens back to their fondest memories – or their worst. It really has a place in everybody’s cultural DNA."