Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea

 

Throughout the process of writing BOFAW (and Facebook entries) I tried to shine my magical flashlight on the people (especially students) and events that created what became known as Biodesign.  It was not a poorly veiled form of self-deprecation, but an honest attempt to show that the millions of variables and puzzle pieces that had to miraculously fall into place were utterly beyond my comprehension, let alone ability to organize or direct.  The Class, and thus the book, resulted from Lettie’s simple, yet profound, question, “Is this really important?”  Over 24 years 750 more students would ask their questions that molded and shaped the Class.  If “no two people have ever met and departed unchanged,” then every student (even those who dropped the class) left his/her mark.  They were joined by over 400 chaperones, and hundreds of scientists, sages, sinners, and poets who collaborated in the creative/evolutionary process.  Just as, “there is no such thing as biological equality,” no two classes were the same.

Therefore, after much reflection and analysis, I have concluded that a mysterious supernatural being, power or process created and guided the Biodesign experience, expressly for my education.  It is probably not likely but, I hope that every ex-Biodesigner feels the same way.  After all, was the Earth not created expressly for the purpose of our education?

As this Fb page (and “blog”) began to wind down, I began searching for the perfect metaphor that would communicate the profound sense of gratefulness I felt for the privilege of spiritual sharing with all of you.  After much soul searching, the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony came to mind.  The purpose of chado, the ritual of tea, is contemplation (to make a temple with).  The four basic principles of chado are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.  The ceremony typically involves one, two or three cups of tea.

The first cup of “face book tea” was offered by a group of fans, friends and “likers,” and included the implicit invitation into the private (if not sacred) regions of their being.

As we sipped our tea we sauntered with Henry Thoreau seeking Holy Land and tried to live deliberately.  We hiked up Half Dome with John Muir, and into the depths of Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell and Loren Eiseley.  We were lulled to sleep in Mendocino by the gentle rhythm of the Pacific Ocean.

We heard Brother David encourage us to actively practice the art of gratefulness, and Kabir shouted at us to: “Wake up! Wake up! You have been asleep for millions of years.  We squirmed a little when Thoreau pondered, “Oh, to get to the end of my life and realize that I have not fully lived!”  All the way, Phroncie, Jane, Jeane, Sabrina, Barbie and others, cheered me on from the sidelines.  Sharka and Mark joined us from somewhere in cyberspace and became spirit-brother and spirit-sister.  Their spectacular photos, married to inspirational thoughts (even slide-shows) took us all back to the time of wonderful slide-shows that students used to prepare.  Their presence (and presents) had a synchronistic feel with no logical reason for occurring.  How could we not love them?

I worried a little about the lack of comments, but our fb numbers indicated a lot of “passive viewers.”  Then I remembered Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) where he described many people as “Silent watchers.”  We hope the silent watchers have gained something worthwhile.

Even so, in spite of Sharka and Mark’s wonderful contributions, I was nearly out of photos and ideas and was prepared to gracefully leave the Tea Ceremony after one cup of tea.  Little could I have known that Lori Evensen, another member of the class of ’79, would arrive with the “second cup of tea.”  She is traveling around the US on a “vision-quest.”  I didn’t really know what a “blog” was before she invited me to follow her travels by reading: http://meanderest.com/ I was suddenly inspired to take a shot at blogging.

The blogs were intended to be reflections, illuminations and introspective glimpses into the soul of Biodesign. Whether or not the blogs spoke for themselves, they shifted the conversation to a monologue.  The single, most important secret of any success in Biodesign was the circle, and not lectures or monologues.  If, during the Tea Ceremony, the conversation lags or the guest stays too long, a third cup of tea is offered.  This is a face-saving device that leaves no hurt feelings.  BOFAW Fb viewers were too kind to offer the “third cup of tea,” still; my spirit guide was telling me it was time to take another trail.

The final Biodesign trip each year was to the Mendocino coast of California.  On the final evening we celebrated our own version of a Japanese Tea Ceremony.  We thought it would be appropriate to share part of this ceremony.

“The class was sitting in a circle in the wonderfully rustic building that smelled of thousand-year-old incense cedar. The room was dark except for 30 brightly shining votive candles, each adding its unique color to the twinkling rainbow. This was their moment. They had traveled thousands of miles together; they had walked over 100 miles together. They sang, slept, and broke bread together. They had seen some of Earth’s most beautiful scenery, matched with some of man’s greatest thoughts. They had been encouraged to write their own bible. The time had arrived for them to gather the tools they had selected, pick up their candles, and head out into the darkness, alone.

Sean Gagnier, a local folk singer, stood by, poised, ready to offer his musical benediction. The six strings on his guitar were perfectly tuned and came softly to life. His eyes sparkled like Sasha’s, the Mountain Man’s, and the Mule Skinner’s, only they reflected the brilliance of 30 twinkling lights.

He began with a chorus that they all knew by heart. A chorus that echoed from the beginning of time; off the granite peaks of Yosemite; into the depths of Grand Canyon, and thundered on the waves of Mendocino beaches—ancient echoes of time and the rhythm of the universe; a chorus that united over 700 students, 400 chaperones; hundreds of scientists, saints, naturalists and poets into one glorious circle:

May the circle be unbroken.

Christie joins me in expressing our profound gratefulness for the opportunity you have given us to share our spirits with you.  We have been greatly privileged to experience something totally beyond our ability to conceive. Love from both of us.

 

Full Circle: Lettie and the Final Synchronicity

Full Circle: Lettie and the Final Synchronicity.

 

 

Throughout the thousands of pages of Loren Eiseley’s 13 books, his greatest single line is, “It’s a great day to be alive!”  He was camping on a scientific field trip, got up early on a crisp morning and was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and the joy of being alive.  John Muir described a similar elated state when he was in the Yosemite high country, sustained by a pillow case of bread balls, pocket full of tea bags and a single wool blanket.  Walt Whitman wrote:

To me, every hour of the day and night

is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”

Henry Thoreau went to the woods to live simply.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes his life as a monk as leading him to a nearly continuous state of gratefulness.

I admire all of these men but, it recently dawned on me that what they all have in common is that they spent great periods of time alone.  Leading 30 “rowdy” high school students out into Mother Nature, in search of truth, beauty, and goodness was hardly a solitary walk in the woods.  There were times that were painful, dreadful, horrifying and nearly impossible to cope with, however, the rewards were so great that it seemed like I had little choice.  The closest metaphor I can invoke is that each class was similar to having a baby.  If that is so, then it should not be surprising that some of the students became as close to me as my own children.

As this Fb page and blog wind down I find myself identifying with Ingrid.  Looking back over the 24 years, I can’t believe we did it.  It all started with a simple, yet profound, question from Lettie, and evolved into something otherworldly.  It was politically, scientifically, religiously, economically and educationally incorrect, yet the results were very, very correct.

Brother David regards every experience of gratefulness that is not shared is an opportunity lost.  Remembering this, I decided to send a complimentary copy of BOFAW to the four universities that provided the biological A-B-Cs that were necessary in order for me to become a teacher; San Francisco State U., Sonoma State U., Washington State U., and U.C. Berkeley.  I received a kind thankful note from WSU, and an e-mail note from Joe @ San Francisco.  He was interested in the book and wanted to talk with me about it.  When I saw where the note was from I burst out laughing.  When I attended “State” it was a liberal bastion and students whispering the words God or spirituality, did so at their own risk.  The professors were mostly “secular progressives” and in many cases overtly regarded any spiritual references as antiquated, if not regressive thinking.  I was OK with that, after all, I was in the “science” department and science was going to solve ALL mysteries, including debunking the “myth” of God.

I suspected that “S.F.State” is far more “liberal” now and could not imagine what interest they would have in the book.  Even so, Joe and I agreed to a phone conversation.  He had scanned the book and was pressing for a “sound bite” definition.  I laughed, knowing that when students were asked the same question, they would stammer and struggle before saying, “It can not be defined.”  Feeling the same frustration, I blurted out, “I guess you could call it “Spiritual Ecology!”  I had never heard or used the term before so I decided to Google it.  What I found was both surprising and cathartic.  Several colleges and universities, in the US and abroad, offer classes, majors, Masters Degrees, and Northwestern University offers a PhD program in “spiritual ecology.”  Suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated and that Muir, Emerson, Thoreau, and all of our protagonists, were visionaries, 100 years ahead of their time.  I also discovered Dr. Leslie Sponsel (Anthropology Professor emeritus: Univ. of Hawaii) who released “Spiritual Ecology: The quiet revolution,” one year after the release of BOFAW.

Suddenly Lettie’s question came full circle: “Is this really important?”  According to Sponsel, we are rapidly approaching the point in human history, whereby, if a world-wide renaissance of spiritual ecology is not embraced, there will be a major loss of humanity.

It is hauntingly ironic that many readers of BOFAW have contacted me and said that the book “gives them hope.”  I feel that the book is an honest narrative of kids at their finest, and that gives me hope too.  Sadly, on the other hand, adults do not offer me the same solace.

Meanwhile, Muir stated that books are merely piles of stone set out to show future travelers where other minds have been.  That being so, we are proud to offer our “pile of stone” to the universe as record of 750 kids who were courageous enough to go on a walk and discover realities that very few humans know exist.

I have no delusions of grandeur and fully realize that BOFAW has only provided a scintilla, at best, of many mysteries, miracles and revelations.  If the students only did it for me, then I am the most privileged teacher on the planet.

In the later years of the Biodesign Class, I imagined a group of Juniors gathering each spring out on the Quad and asking, “Has he got “it” figured out yet?”  “No,” someone would reply, “Well then,” someone said, “I guess we better sign up for one more class and hope he gets it.  He’s getting pretty old and Half Dome isn’t getting any smaller.”

Kahlil Gibran suggests that the depth of our sorrow is a measure of the joy we previously knew.  I have found this to be true and still experience deep pangs of sorrow reminding me of the intense joy we once we shared.

The Road Not taken

The Road Not Taken

 

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” has probably been used at more high school and college graduation ceremonies than any other reference.  And, while I like the poem, what is more significant is that its message became a touchstone for the Biodesign Class.  As it evolved and progressed it became a class that may have been the only one of its kind, especially in a public school.  This process was greatly facilitated by two books: “Religions, Values and Peak Experiences,” by Abraham Maslow, and “The Road Less Traveled,” by Dr. Scott Peck.

Maslow’s book knocked my socks off, not because of “religion” or “values” or “peak experiences.”  Yosemite and Mendocino (later Grand Canyon) provided mountains, canyons and oceans of peak experiences, but the powerful little book offered a huge surprise.  For those of you who have read Biodesign Out For A Walk, you may recall chap 3, “Firestorm.”  I was facing a major outer and inner battle of how to reconcile topics that seemed to overlap, “science,” religion and spirituality.  Maslow suggested that his studies showed that religion and spirituality were not necessarily interchangeable.   He established that from a psychological perspective, there were many examples of spirituality that did not require a supreme being as the source, and therefore can and should be considered in a public school environment.  Interestingly, if we are, as the Bible contends, “made in the image of God,” then why should we not be capable of generating and communicating spiritual experiences without crediting them to a supreme being?  These were exciting, albeit challenging threads to sort out.

The Road less Traveled,” ironically released in 1978, would also have been extremely helpful.  I can only assume that we had to go through the crucible to be ready for the two newly discovered books.

The first two chapters in The Road…pretty much sum up the essence of the book; Chap. 1, The Problem of Pain, and closely related Chap 2,-Delaying Gratification.

All of the authors that we referred to were interconnected, and so when Peck described the greatest threat to American culture was the inability to delay gratification, it resonated well with Erich Fromm’s contention that the greatest threat was our inability to master the art of loving.  It appears that they are related.  Their common bond may be that they both require heaps of self-discipline.

 

Melody–Kay–Vintage–1979–II

 

 

 

Melody—Kay—Vintage –1979-II

 

Early this summer Melody contacted me to say that Kay Cummings (Shaw) was coming from New Zealand to show her husband Napa Valley.  She and Melody were spending a week together and hoped to be able to visit with Christie and me.  I smiled and did a mental flashback to the classroom.

By the time June rolled around I had shared all that I could and learned as much from them as I could absorb.  I was not inclined to give them a final exam, but the administration demanded that I do so.  Instead, I told them that I would prefer that they return after 20 or so years and tell me how they were doing.

I was smiling now because, after 33 years, Melody and Kay were coming back to take their final. I was glad that they were coming, but still, I knew that I often felt awkward in purely social settings.  Little did Christie or I know that lunch at Gillwood’s would be the highlight of our summer.

When they arrived they proudly introduced their husbands who both looked like they could be GQ models.  They brought photos of beautiful (nearly adult) children and shared stories about how good life had been to them.  However, they also brought totally unexpected spiritual (and therefore priceless) gifts.  As they talked their eyes sparkled and danced like Sasha’s, the Mule Skinner’s and Moses’ on top of Half Dome.  They were vibrant, enthusiastic and engaging.  And then suddenly, another gift was unveiled; “belly-laughter.”  Kay’s husband (Steve) is a rugby player and built like a fire hydrant.  I was feeling relaxed (w/o alcohol) and playfully mentioned that I was admiring his body.  His face flashed bright red and we all erupted into fits of belly-laughter.  Christie elbowed me sharply and asked, “Why did you say that?”  I mumbled, “Maybe because I am 71 and maybe a little envious?”  It didn’t matter (I hope).  Melody’s mom (Sharon), from the end of the table asked, “What did he say?”  Melody, holding her sides said, “He said that he was admiring Steve’s body!”  Another wave of laughter washed over the table.  Belly-laughter had been released like a Genie from a bottle and we were instantly spiritually connected.

The two hours we shared seemed to pass in two minutes.  The conversation was spirited, skirted dangerously close to “Politics,” but was magically blessed with belly-laughter.  We were happy to meet them and sad to seem them leave.

When we returned home I remembered a beautiful book, “John Muir’s America,” that the class of ’79 presented to me at Yosemite.  I glanced through 33 (ugh) names and found Melody and Kay.  Melody wrote: “Mr. Young, Thank you for all your giving, Love Melody Petersen.”  And Kay wrote, “Happy Birthday Mr. Young (and many more of course).  I know throughout the year, our class will continually feel stress and pain as we grow together. Love (even in such a short time) Kay Cummings. New Zealand.

Kay and Melody were very special, however, nearly, or all, of their classmates were equally special.  Kay predicted what they were going to do, and they did it.  It was almost as if the cosmos had aligned and decreed, “This Class is the foundation upon which 18 more years of Biodesign will be built.”

 

The year proved to a banner year with the only major trauma coming at the very end. I had fallen in love with a whole class, and when it was time for them to graduate, I was heartbroken. I decided that it would have been much less painful dissecting pigs.

“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour

of his departure drew near—

‘Ah,’ said the fox, ‘I shall cry.’

‘It is your own fault,’ said the little prince. ‘I never

wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to

tame you …’”

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery.

 

 

After they left I began to process the gifts they brought and how the meeting evolved.

They returned to say, “Thank You,” and without words ask, “So what do you think? Did we pass our final exams?  Christie and I returned home floating on the cloud of knowing that the girls had exceeded all that we could have hoped for them.  We were extremely honored to have lunch with them.

I have long suspected that the women in Christ’s life were, symbolically, and in reality far more important than the male-dominated “Church” gives them credit for.  I grew to love many of the guys in Biodesign, and they offered many significant “left-brain” improvements to the class.  However, it was usually the girls who profoundly and consistently redirected my spiritual path which led to a class that may never be duplicated.  Melody and Kay were two of the movers and shakers.  Even though Biodesign ’79 was 33 years ago, Melody summed up our relationship when she wrote: “Sitting and talking with you two during lunch felt like no time had passed at all.”

I wonder if that is what heaven will feel like.

 

 

Melody–Kay–Vintage 1979

Melody—Kay—Vintage—1979

 

Melody Petersen (Floyd) was one of the earlier ex-Biodesigners to locate this page.  She was in the Class of ’79 and intrigued that I had singled out her class as extraordinary.  I tried to approach all classes without prejudice or expectations and, not wanting to hurt other student’s feelings, was hesitant to highlight the class of ’79.  In the end, however, the fact remained that they were directly responsible for, not only drastically altering my life and career, but saving the next 18 classes from dissecting fetal pigs.;-)  After the “Firestorm Class,” it was too late to cancel the next Boidesign Class so the administration and I agreed to try Biodesign one more year.  What happened is now history.

After reading BOFAW, Melody offered several reflective comments.  Two important ones were: “We didn’t know what you were going through.”  And, “We didn’t realize that you were growing along with us.”  She also didn’t realize that both of her comments were related.  What I was going through was necessary for my growth.  She also said something that made me burst out laughing.  “We just thought that you knew what you were doing and were going to take us to Yosemite and Mendocino.  The truth was that I usually did NOT know what I was doing, especially on the trips.  Every trip was a blank slate with potential joys, sorrows, dangers and trials waiting around each bend in the trail.  The first time I took two ex-Biodesigners along on the Yosemite trip as chaperones; they approached me on the second or third day and said, “Something is wrong, the trip is not like our trip.”  The last afternoon, they came to me with huge smiles and asked, “Are they all that different?”  I laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s kinda like children being born, they are all that different.”  Each trip was like a living, breathing, cosmic kaleidoscope and as each student and chaperone bumped the scope, the view shifted creating a “once-in-a universe” moment.

It was certainly never boring.  On the final morning of Melody and Kay’s Yosemite trip, we had just finished breakfast and were preparing for the morning activities.  I made a quick trip to the restroom and, as I came around the corner three of the father/chaperones were standing in a small circle.  As I passed by one of them said, “I don’t know what he has planned for this morning, but these kids are pretty worldly, he better not try anything funny.  A pang of fear shot through my body and I instantly retrieved a line from Shakespeare, “Assume the virtue though you have it not.”  Without breaking stride, I laughed and said, “He doesn’t have a clue what he is doing.”  Two of them laughed nervously.  I would have loved to have seen the speaker’s face.

We gathered in a circle under the watchful eye of Half Dome.  I shared a meditation and some thoughts from (of course) John Muir and the students were released to find a quiet place to spend 1.5 hours referring to their journals and gathering their thoughts in preparation for their required, post-trip descriptive paper.  After the allotted time we reformed the circle and invited all (including the chaperones) to share thoughts or reflections from the 5 previous days.  This was typically a time of celebration when students joyfully shared things that they had discovered.  Sometimes I asked what the high and low points were, but usually those all came out in the discussion.  When the final person shared, it was common to share a huge group hug, followed by many hugs between pairs.  During this time, the three male chaperones approached me shaking their heads.  The one who had mentioned “funny business” blushed red and said, “We had no idea of what the kids were capable of.  Sharing this with my daughter will surely be one of the greatest experiences of my life.”  I laughed and said, “John Muir promised that great things happen when men and mountains meet.”  We all laughed.

Ingrid: “greatfulness is the heart of prayer”

Ingrid:  “gratefulness, the heart of prayer.”

 

At 17-years-old, she took the courageous step to travel 7,000 miles alone, from her home in tiny Yugoslavia, to St. Helena, Calif.  She would attend her senior year of high school with “foreign” students, and live with a strange host family.  She would make the grueling 10-mile hike from Yosemite Valley, up 4800 feet with a full backpack, to the top of half Dome.  She would walk to the bottom of Grand Canyon and sleep among rocks that were 1.8 billion years old.  She would be lulled to sleep, by the soothing rhythm of the Pacific Ocean, in Mendocino Ca.,   She would contemplate the fact that she was the result of the union of a “once-in-a-universe” sperm with an “o-i-a-u” egg.” Perhaps it was all of this, and much more, that triggered a rapturous catharsis around a Mendocino campfire.

Excerpt: BOFAW.

Ingrid sat alone by the fire, crying quietly. I approached

and sat beside her without speaking.

After awhile, she said, “I don’t believe this.”

I had no idea of what she didn’t believe, but guessed that she

would tell me if she wanted to.

After a long pause she continued, “I can’t believe I am alive, sitting

here, in this place, 7,000 miles from Yugoslavia. I could have

been born, grown up, grown old, and died without having any idea

what life was all about.”

 

Ingrid and I never discussed religion or spirituality.  Yugoslavia was a communist country and any discussions broaching those topics were likely politically incorrect, discouraged or deemed obsolete.  She was therefore presented with the dilemma of an overwhelming sense of gratitude and not sure what to do with it.  Without an awareness of a supreme being to offer thanks to, or assign credit to, she was either going to explode with joy or share with a fellow human. I was the lucky recipient of her shared rapture.

Brother David Steindl-Rast chose to open, “gratefulness, the heart of prayer”, with a brief poem from the poet Kabir.

 

Do you have a body? Don’t sit on the porch!

Go out and walk in the rain!

If you are in love,

Then why are you asleep?

Wake up, wake up!

You have slept millions of years.

Why not wake up this morning?

 

I suspect that regardless of Ingrid’s spiritual background, she was experiencing a plethora of intuitive emotional responses.  Like Kabir’s poem, she was “waking up!”  Another was the utter joy of feeling grateful, and another was that sharing that joy seemed to amplify it and make it more real.

Each time we added a child to our family, in her maternal wisdom, Christie avoided some understandable sibling competition for her love by giving the oldest one a candle.  She lit her candle and then lit the others and showed them that adding more candles added more light to our family.  “The same is true for love,” she told them, “each one of you is adding more love to our family.”

Russian Gulch Recreation Hall smelled of 1000-year old incense cedar. The hall was dark except for a single white candle burning brightly in the center.  Each student was sitting in the circle with a dark, votive candle in his/her lap.  After a centering meditation, I retrieved the center candle, returned to the circle, lit the votive candle at my left and handed him/her the white taper.  He/she in turn, lit the next votive and passed the taper on.  Within a few minutes the taper traveled the circle and the student on my right, lit my votive and returned the taper to the center.  What happened next was transcendent.  Each face was bathed in the unique color of the stained-glass votives.  Their faces were absolutely resplendent, giving off a supernatural, heavenly glow.

Although the experience seemed otherworldly, it was in fact real.  It was also a perfect metaphor for the Class.  Every fall each student arrived in room 103 with a unique physical, mental and spiritual face.  During every circle each face added light, color, drama, passion, anger, wisdom, humor, joy and sorrow.  The students usually discovered that by sharing all of these, their learning, compassion, love and joy were amplified and the sorrows, pain and disharmony were minimized.

In July of 1984 Ingrid returned to Yugoslavia.  The country has since been divided up and no longer exists by that name.  I have lost contact with her, but her words will ripple throughout the cosmos for eternity:

 

I could have been born, grown up, grown old,

and died without having any idea

what life was all about.”

 

Am I grateful for Kabir’s words?  You bet!  He keeps reminding me to:

Wake up, wake up!

You have slept millions of years.

Why not wake up this morning?

 

 

We Are Seven

 

We Are Seven

William Wordsworth

 

 

—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! — I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘T was throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And say, “Nay, we are seven!”

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

 

Hopefully, readers of this blog will regard the title as semi-facetious and not boorish ego-basking.  Being the facilitator of Biodesign was often exhilarating, delightful, humorous, dramatic gratifying and many other positives.  It could also be terrifying, aggravating, traumatic, chaotic and many other negatives.  Dealing with negative forces sometimes required me to be the chief law enforcement officer.  It was the job that I disliked the most, yet paradoxically, may have been one of the most important.  Biodesign was not a tree-hugging, rainbow-chasing, retro-hippie class, or a “New-Age,” touchy-feely experience involving lava-lamps, and peacock feathers.  Any successes that we experienced were the result of discipline and hard work.  The more disciplined and harmonious the class and teacher worked together, the richer the results. This often involved role reversals as students took leadership responsibility and created learning experiences that I would not have been able accomplish by myself.

Although, working, playing, laughing and crying together yielded many close relationships (with both boys and girls), there was a tacit understanding that I could not throw caution to the wind and completely join with them.  This was part of the magic and power of the circle.  While sitting or standing in a circle, we were as close to equals as we could possibly get.  Each student had the potential to add a priceless insight, reflection or unique point of view and transport all of us to a higher level of understanding.

Our mentors helped immensely.  John Muir suggested that between every two trees is a doorway to a new world.  Henry Thoreau reminded us that every person has an innate need to be spiritually reborn in the sanctity of Nature.  Loren Eiseley pointed out that many indigenous people knew the value of going apart from the tribe to seek visions and insights.  Emerson reminded us that, “The whole of Nature is but a metaphor of the human mind.”  And, e.e.cummings opined, “Every day is a birthday for a creative mind.”

Even so, for the first 15 or so years, there were times when I felt like The Lone Ranger.

Then Christie pulled another magical book out of her bag of tools.  The title is, “Kything:”The Art of Spiritual Presence, by Louis M. Savary.  Kything is from an old Scottish word, “kythe,” meaning “to make visible.  It is a sort of wordless, mind to mind communication in which one person, in essence, almost becomes another, seeing through their eyes and feeling through their senses.  Mothers and daughters often communicate this way.  Identical twins (especially female) are often adept at it.  It was also not unlike the concept of making a “mandorla” or Socrate’s concept of friendship as being two bodies with one soul.  I had read this all before, but was shocked to learn that the Scots believed (many still do) that kything can and should be used to communicate with the dead.  The possibility that my spirit could have communion (intimate fellowship or rapport) with my mentors was truly one of the most revolutionary ideas I had ever encountered.

John Muir was tricked into attending a séance, something he had no interest in.  He admitted, however, that as he left the room a table started mysteriously tapping a leg.  I agreed with Muir and had no interest in attending a séance, however, the book opened a whole can of heavenly worms.  The students in the class of ’79 ALL believed that they had a soul.  They were convinced that after they died their soul would “live” on.  Most religions believe in an after-life and I began to wonder if the “spirits” of John Muir, Loren Eiseley and all of our poets, saints and scholars, existed beyond the writing they left behind.  Was it possible that they were “aware” of us, and even capable of mysteriously guiding us?  While Christie and I enjoyed the book, it was not information that I wanted to share with the students. I could imagine what the school board members would think: “Now he walks and talks with John Muir.  Has he finally gone off the deep end?”  However, the possibility gave me pause to wonder.  Just perhaps, Muir’s “living” spirit really was hovering over us on our Yosemite trips.  Maybe Eiseley’s spirit guided us along Grand Canyon Trails.  Could this be why we experienced the many miraculous moments that I knew were not of my doing?  After that, I found myself consciously thinking (if not talking) with them more on each trip.  There is so much we don’t know, perhaps Muir’s Scottish ancestors had it right and we are walking around spiritually ignorant.  It could even be hilarious.  There were times when I could almost hear John’s rich Scottish brogue saying, “Aye, aye childrrren, yurrr are on a bonny path.”  Or even, nae, nae, that path will lead to rrruination.  Whether it was real or imaginary, their presence often comforted me and I no longer felt like The Lone Ranger.

Assume The Virtue Though You Have It Not

Assume The Virtue Though You Have It Not

William Shakespeare

 

At least one time each year a student would ask, “You know a thousand quotes, how do you do that?  I usually laughed and said, “It really is not as hard as it may appear.  It is simply a matter of starting with the first one.  You have the mental freedom to think whatever you want.  If you choose, you can memorize crude, disgusting, pathetic quotes (there are a lot out there).  The quotes will become part of you and you will act accordingly.  Or, you can select quotes that are uplifting, inspiring and filled with hope and enthusiasm.  Unlike the ‘low road quotes,’ these will take you to a higher level of passion, sensitivity, perhaps even love.”

In a way, however, it was easy for me.  We started out nearly every Biodesign session with a quote from someone famous.  Of course Muir, Eiseley, Thoreau, and Emerson were quoted often, but so were many saints, scientists (even sinners).  Loren Eiseley wrote so succinctly and economically that he often offered several gems on a page. However, some of my favorites came from previous Biodesign students.

Jennifer wrote:

“Then, I remembered the Merced River2,000 feet below, flowing over Nevada Falls. I thought about the water that had been flowing for over 50 million years and wondered why people waste so much time hating each other?”

One of my several skeptical principals, knowing that I used an ongoing plethora of quotations, derisively commented that he thought citing quotes (out of context) was like eating at Mc Donald’s.  He was a self-proclaimed “secular humanist” and apparently not capable of discerning the potential spiritual radiance of a “free-standing” quote. Many of my favorites appear as lustrous pearls, dazzling diamonds, brilliant blue sapphires, fiery rubies, threads of silver and apples of gold.  For example, it is good if you know that the phrase, “Assume the virtue though you have it not,” comes from Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV, however, if William is not your cup of tea his gem of a quote can be enjoyed, perhaps even be transformative.

Prior to the Grand Canyon trip we read from James Allen’s, “As a Man Thinketh,” where he suggested:

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,

And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes

The Tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:—

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

Environment is but his looking glass.

Allen had no doubt that our human destiny was a result of all of the thoughts that lead up to our ever-evolving behavior in the present.  Some people delight in memorizing trivia, historical events, world records, athletic records, cooking recipes; the topics are endless. The important thing, however, is that each person is in charge of his own list and thus the direction of his own life.

For those of you who have discovered the NatureIsUs Fb page, I rest my case.  Sharka and Mark have created a quintessential page of platonic truth, beauty and goodness. BOFAW readers, familiar with C.S. Lewis,’ “2%-essence-of life,” will readily see that they continue to operate in that rare zone.  They marry stunning photographs with words of wisdom and inspiration (their own and other’s) into a dynamic slide-show that costs only the effort of a mouse click.  You may have to dig a little deeper, but Linda Williamson Fb (BOFAW editor) offers equally stunning images of the plants, animals, and especially people that she has encountered.  All three of these people are “goose-bump-people;” when you see their work you are likely get goose-bumps.  Each one has enriched my life and I am profoundly grateful.

One of the hundreds (?) of triads that I tossed out included the ethical foundation for the International Olympic Organization: Altius (higher) Citius (faster) Fortius (stronger).

My yearly challenge to the students (and myself) was to aspire to think, act and respond in a higher, faster and stronger manner.  In order to do this we often had to assume the virtue though we had it not.

Thoreau, Lemmings and Simple Gifts

Thoreau, Lemmings and Simple Gifts

 

When our son-in-law gifted us with a computer, the first thing I “Googled” was the story about the Alaskan Lemmings launching themselves into the sea, as a means of population control. According to Google, Disney had to go to elaborate (and deceptive) staging to accomplish the footage necessary for their movie featuring lemmings. It is true that, as rodents, they are wont to overpopulate and will migrate in large groups searching for food.  They are also good swimmers, and perhaps, have been genetically predisposed to leap into the sea in search of more territory to habituate.

I only mention this to connect with Henry Thoreau. Thoreau’s “triad” for life was naturally simplistic: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Christie and I marvel(?) at couples out for dinner, each feverishly texting someone else, at the exclusion of his/her mate.  People are killed in autos because of texting.  The, “hang up the phone while driving” law is a farce. There are theories that, because of these devices, we are losing our ability to talk to people face-to-face.  If a humming bird wants to move “one inch” along a twig, it has to fly up, over and land again. It has lost all ability to use its legs for movement.  Muir, Emerson, Eiseley, Whitman, Thoreau etal, predicted that that only chance of saving humanity from destroying itself will be to return to Nature.

I what is a very strange irony, readers of BOFAW have responded that the book offers them hope.  As a trained biologist, however, I fear that we have overtaxed the “carrying capacity” of our environment.  The threat of us acting like lemmings seems very real and scary.

So I return to my mentor for encouragement:

“I have been accused of wooly-mindedness for entertainingeven hope for man. I can only respond that in the dim morning shadows of humanity, the inarticulate creature who first hesitantly formed the words for pity and love must have received similar guffaws around a fire. Yet some men listened, for the words survive.” Loren Eiseley: The Immense Journey

Knowing this, it is little wonder that I leapt for joy, watching my granddaughter singing the words:

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free’

Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[2]