“A spiritual partnership is a partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. Spiritual partners use their delightful experiences together as well as their power struggles to learn about themselves and change themselves.” – Gary Zukav
Excerpt: Biodesign Out For A Walk, Forward by Linda Williamson.
I now realize that one of the great lessons of Biodesign was learning how a strong marriage works. Christie was, and is, the strength behind the scenes; the wind beneath Lowell Young’s wings.
Linda Williamson is one of my most-admired colleagues who taught at St. Helena High School. As a consummate world traveler, she was keenly aware of the myriad of logistical challenges of moving a group of 40 people from St. Helena to Grand Canyon and back six days later. As a chaperone on one trip to The Canyon, she watched Christie dispatch the tasks with skill and grace.
However, Christie’s role in the Biodesign Program, was metaphorically wider and deeper than Grand Canyon. She is a bibliophile and eventually provided 20-30 books that became the physical—mental—spiritual fabric of what evolved into Biodesign.
One of our Goddaughters is astutely aware of this and dubbed her “The Book Whisperer.” The designation is a soulful sobriquet and bares witness to the fact that Christie has been my personal “Book Whisperer” for nearly 55 years and affirms Linda Williamson’s observation:
Christie was, and is, the strength behind the scenes; the wind beneath Lowell Young’s wings.
The photo was taken 5 years ago at our 50th wedding anniversary. It was celebrated at San Francisco’s, The Golden Mirror Restaurant, the same restaurant I proposed to Christie 56 years ago.
Three years earlier (1961) the Wedding Song was written by Noel Paul Stookey (Peter Paul & Mary) as a gift to be sung at the wedding of his pal and singing partner Peter Yarrow. The song has become legendary and been sung at countless 1000s of weddings.
Although the song was likely inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew, the magical blend of lyrics and melody can create transcending moments for all who celebrate the mystery and sanctity of marriage.
Christie recently joined Facebook and can be contacted at https://www.facebook.com/christie.young.50702
After Biodesign students explored Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino coast, it was not uncommon for them to vow publicly (or privately) to return to one of the areas when they became adults. I have no record of how many achieved that goal, but I do know of one ex-student who has climbed Half Dome 8 times.
Therefore, I was not surprised when an ex-Biodesigner mentioned that he was joining a group that was going to retrace the hike that his class took over 20 years earlier.
His class rode a bus from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point and as the bus approached Washburn Point, Half Dome loomed into view. I have seen that view approximately 40 times and each time it has left me breathless. The student responses were predictably gasps, oohs and aahs, however, on one occasion a student blurted out, “He’s freaking crazy if he thinks I am going to sleep up there!”
An orientation discussion included the major landmarks; Muir’s description that glaciation was the primary force that created Yosemite Valley and the current theory that Half Dome did not have another half, but was an atypically formed “pluton.”
After allowing time to absorb the sublime beauty, the group headed south, 1.4 miles to Illilouette Fall. Turning left at the waterfall, they ascended the Panorama Trail to Panorama Ridge.
[I agree with many veteran Yosemite hikers who regard the Panorama Trail as the most dramatic, and thus inspirational, trail in the entire Park. The trail is mostly level and the easier walk provides the opportunity to better appreciate the stunning new perspectives that appear around every bend.]
After approximately 2 miles the trail descended steeply downhill and joined the John Muir Trail, which originates in Yosemite Valley. A short walk to the top of Nevada Fall provided a great place to remove backpacks, relax and eat lunch. After a leisurely lunch, the students donned their backpacks and trudged 1.8 miles to their first trail campsite in Little Yosemite Valley.
The next morning, after breakfast and a briefing of the day’s activities, backpacks were hoisted and they began the challenging, 4-mile-hike up 2700 ft. to the top of the 8800 ft. Half Dome.
After sleeping on Half Dome, the group made the 10-mile descent back to their basecamp at Yosemite Valley.
After the ex-student returned, I contacted him with a request to hear about his adventure. He gladly obliged and filled me with wonderful stories and images. His group left their backpacks at Little Yosemite Valley and they hiked up Half Dome in time for a gorgeous sunset.
“It was a hard hike,” he said, “I don’t k now how our whole class made it with backpacks on.”
However, when I casually asked him how they handled the trail meals, he looked a bit sheepish and said, “Our guides took care of all of that.” I was not aware of such services, but quickly connected the dots and blurted out, “I HATE YOU!” Of course he knew that I was kidding and we shared a hearty laugh.
He obviously had not forgotten that a major chore for the Biodesign trips to Yosemite was preparing trail meals for a group of 30. Rather than packing 15 small backpack stoves, we took three MSR Rapidfire stoves. Each one sounded like a small jet airplane, but could get six quarts of water boiling in about 10 mins. We carried 3, 6-qt. pots and each pot provided enough hot water for 10 hikers.
He continued, “Only some of us had some equipment and rather than spend a lot of money on equipment that we would probably never use again, we hired two guides. They supplied all the equipment, cooked all meals on the trail and filtered all the water we needed.”
When I shared this with Christie, not unkindly, she burst out laughing and said, “I didn’t know that Yosemite had “Sherpa Guides!” LOL
My curiosity was piqued and so I went on-line to research “Yosemite Sherpa Services” (just kidding) and found a plethora of options available. The guide service that I Googled charged $900/per person for a three-day backpack trip similar to the one we took. At first, I was a bit shocked, but quickly recovered and concluded that the price was reasonable for what most participants would call, “a-once-in-a-lifetime-experience.” The $300/per day for guide, food and equipment seemed like a bargain compared to the $450/per night for a room at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Furthermore, it pleased me that our 6-day Yosemite trip cost our students $50. (with confidential scholarships readily available.) When I apologized to parents about the cost, they frequently dismissed my concerns and said their kids cost them more than that when they were at home. ;o)
John Muir hiked mostly alone at Yosemite and was happy with a single wool blanket and pillowcase with some dried bread balls and some tea. However, I truly believe that he would both approve and marvel at the evolution of the latest backpacking equipment and trail techniques, including professional guides. After all, he himself guided many Yosemite visitors, including President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so impressed with Muir’s wilderness that, after returning to Washington D.C., he ordered 230 million acres to be protected and formed the foundation for the US National Park Service and the US Forest Service.
Although today is the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere) we have already lost 2 minutes of daylight in the morning and in about two weeks the Earth will begin its tilting process that will lead to the autumnal equinox in September.
For 1000s of years, people have used the stars as guides for physical, mental and spiritual direction. In terms of oceanic and land travel, this guidance can be a matter of life and death. Proper attention to seasonal changes could also be a matter of survival. However some observations may be more playful as in the case of tonight’s Strawberry Moon. “Strawberry Moon” is the title some Native Americans have used for the full moon that occurs in June, which marks the beginning of strawberry season.
Although physical survival is of paramount importance, for thousands of years people have been aware of the importance of religious and or spiritual traditions for personal and community survival. Although the terms religion and spirituality may not be interchangeable, I find it intriguing that the origin of the word “religion” is biological. The word derives from the Latin, “re-ligare.” Literally, this means to re-apply ligaments to hold your spiritual life together. There are countless ways of doing this, however naturalists like Muir, Thoreau, Emerson, etal recommended “going for a walk” into Nature for “recreation” or perhaps a “religious,” or “born again” experience.
Although John Muir knew all of the Old Testament (and Psalms by heart) he kept a tattered pocket-version of the New Testament (with the Psalms) with him on all of his adventures.
In “The Wilderness World of John Muir,” Edwin Way Teale wrote:
“Repelled by the harsh fanaticism of his father’s religion, John Muir belonged to no church. He gave freely when solicited by Protestant and Catholic alike. But he affiliated himself with no formal creed. Yet he was intensely religious. The forests and the mountains formed his temple. His approach to all nature was worshipful. He saw everything evolving yet everything the direct handiwork of God. There was a spiritual and religious exaltation in his experiences with nature. And he came down from the mountains like some bearded prophet to preach the beauty and healing he had found in his natural temple where he worshiped. He spoke with the fire of the old Covenanters. This religious fervor and spiritual intensity in Muir’s response to nature contributed much to the power of his pleading for the cause of conservation. He never based his arguments on economic considerations alone. He always appealed to men on a high moral plane. I know of no other writer, with the exception of Henry Thoreau, who had so pure and lofty vision of man’s ultimate relationship to nature.”
The summer solstice just may be a perfect time to pause, look up at the stars (or the Strawberry Moon) and be grateful for our physical, mental and spiritual seasons.
On an unscripted whim, I had them close their eyes and asked them how many of them had a soul? Every hand shot up. “Hands down,” I said. “How’d we vote?” someone asked. I answered, “One hundred percent positive. I guess this class has a lot of soul.”
“The soul is the name for the unifying principle, power, or energy that is the center of our being. To be in touch with soul means going back to the sacred source, the site of life-releasing energy, the activating force of life, the god-grounds; to venture forth and confront the world in all its marvelous and terrifying forces, to make sacred our hours here; to learn to pay such supreme attention to the world that eternity blazes in to time with our holy longing. Soul-making this.” TheSoul of the World, by Phil Cousineau and Eric Lawton.
One year, shortly after we reached the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome, a group of rock climbers were completing climbing up the face. They were surprised to be greeted by a welcoming party of excited young adults. I was setting up our camp area about 200 yards away, but voices often travel clearer and farther in the mountains.
Climber: “What are all you guys doing up here?
Student: “We are all in a high school advanced biology class.”
Climber: “You’re bullshittin’ me!”
Student laughing: “No it’s true.”
Climber: “So, your biology class just happened to wander up here?”
Student: “No, our teacher led us up here.”
Climber: “Damn! He must have big balls!
I laughed out loud, but was suddenly embarrassed by what I considered to be a crude metaphor and that I had been eavesdropping. More importantly, however, I was tempted to hurry over and tell him that it was the students who were the courageous ones. I wondered if he had read Carl Jung:
“Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of personality, most people are overcome by fright, and many run away…The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case, is alien to most human beings.”
Jung etal, described the spiritual journey as potentially far more scary than any physical or mental challenges. On the other hand, maybe the climber was acting out Joseph Campbell’s purpose of life; “The Soul’s High Adventure.”
Perhaps it didn’t matter. After all, The Class was not only experimental, but experiential and existential. This meant that any discoveries that students made would be their own and not of my doing. Over 24 years there were many books that I discovered that would have been very helpful, but they also would have altered the many paths of discovery that were vital to the students’ spiritual growth. The best example of this (and now one of my favorite treasures) is a small (but powerful) book, “The Soul Of The World.” Phil Cousineau paired amazing quotations with Eric Lawton’s spectacular photos into a breathtaking book. It has been a deep source of inspiration for me since it was released in 1993. Cousineau included profoundly inspiring “poems, prayers and promises” from men and women from all walks and major religions, including people who are Red—Yellow—Black—White. He paired the inspirational lines with photos of some of the most beautiful and or sacred places on planet Earth. The book proved to be a powerful validation of the collaborative journey that about 500 students had shared with me. I was able to draw freely from it for the last five years of the class.
Nearly 15 years after the Biodesign Class of 1979 decided to embark on a journey of the soul, Cousineau and Lawton confirmed just how spiritually aware those students were. Jung, Thoreau and John Muir were correct when they noted that many people will live their entire life without probing their own spirituality. John Muir wrote: “Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone; touching but separate.”
The rock climber demonstrated tremendous courage climbing the face of Half Dome, but I wonder if it equaled the courage that it took for each of the 700 students to follow Loren Eiseley, Carl Jung and John Muir by embracing wonder and terror and thereby discovering that “Going out For A Walk was really going in.”
Christmastime is a wonderful time to awaken us to the fact that the journey we are on is a “spiritual journey,” a journey that would not be possible without the gift of Soul.
Thank you to those who have wondered if we are OK here in the Napa Valley. Although the fire is called, “The Valley Fire,” it did not reach Napa Valley. Miraculously, rains on Wed. 9-16-15 slowed the firestorm and hopefully it will be contained in northeast Napa County, just north of Aetna Springs.
Saturday, 9-12-15, 9:30 PM:
A caravan of fire trucks roared through downtown St. Helena with sirens screaming. I thought it was odd because the community siren (that alerts our local volunteer firemen) had not sounded. I went outdoors to investigate. The engines were headed north so it seemed logical to look in that direction. Mountains to the west and north border our property, however, I could see a very scary red glow above the horizon through notch in the north-facing mountain. My knees trembled as panic-induced adrenaline surged through my veins. And if that weren’t enough, I got a whiff of the acrid smell of forest-fire smoke. All of Nature’s calamities can be terrifying, however, being consumed by fire must be the most horrifying way to die. I had no idea where the fire was, but a quick call to the SHPD information # informed me that there were no fires in Napa County. Somewhat relieved, but still curious, I Googled “Cal-Fire” for any information. The site noted that a fire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about 30 miles north of us in Lake County. This piqued my interest because 50 years ago I lived on Cobb Mt. and started my teaching career at Middletown High School.The fire was still relatively small and I went to bed assuming that ever-dutiful Cal-Fire would respond quickly and bring the fire under control. It was a huge misassumption. As a 37-year veteran biology teacher, I used to tell my students that man exists at the pleasure of Nature and not the other way around. 24 hours later, that law became a horrible reality as I discovered that in less than 24 hours over 50% of the town of Middletown had been scorched to the ground.
Amazingly, the firefighters were able to save all of the schools in Middletown, as well as the little one-room elementary “schoolhouse” on Cobb Mountain. However, the Middletown superintendent of schools just announced that, although all schools were saved, major smoke-damage and ash issues need to be corrected. The Middletown High School principal lost his home, as did 35 other teachers and school district employees. The latest info from Cal-Fire indicates that over 600 homes have been destroyed.
I only taught three years there, but I established ties with students that will last for a lifetime. It was devastating to see these students (now grandparents) interviewed on the media and posting their stories on Fb. The firestorm roared through town so fast that some residents left their homes in their pajamas and slippers. Veteran firefighters described the fire as like nothing they had ever seen.
Several emergency evacuation shelters were quickly established, including one at he Napa County Fairgrounds located at Calistoga, Ca. The response to requests for food, supplies and clothing from the Bay Area has been astounding. A nurse volunteered to help anyone with health issues. A local Vet offered his services to any of the large and small animals that needed assistance. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with meals, sorting through mounds of clothing trying to match what is available with what is needed and scores of other chores. Many of these volunteers are Calistogans, but some have come from Sacramento, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. A convoy of trucks and trailers with hay, alfalfa, clothing, sundries and toiletries arrived at Middletown from Humboldt County. Costco, Wal-Mart, and many other commercial business, have donated food and supplies. Calistoga merchants and merchants from all over Napa County, have donated food, equipment and supplies. Christie and I visited the shelter to drop off some camping equipment. It was overwhelming to see over 1,000 men, women and children trying to resettle in RVs, trailers, tents and the large pavilion hall with sleeping cots.
This is a tragic story from which some may never fully recover. To date, one woman and two men were trapped and perished in the fire. However, the fire has also provided the dreaded opportunity for people to act in extraordinary ways. Over 3,500 ground firefighters; bulldozer operators, helicopter and retardant bomber pilots literally put their lives on the line, trying to quell the raging inferno. Neighbors helped neighbors protect their homes or with rapid evacuation.
Events like these can be a sobering reminder that life is precious and fragile and should not be taken for granted. We live in a time when science and technology can avert many potential natural disasters, however, Mother Nature can be cruel and indifferent with her forces that shape the Earth. In a tragic irony, Middletown High School was scheduled to celebrate their Homecoming football game this weekend.
The Red Cross was the appointed lead emergency organization, but unfortunately they experienced some glitches before they achieved reasonable command, control and co-ordination of the numerous groups that wanted to help. Understandably, mobilizing and directing personnel to meet the instant needs of 1,000 people can be daunting. San Francisco and Tokyo are both multi-million, high-density populations that are built on, or dangerously close to major tectonic plate fault lines. It is sobering to wonder how FEMA or the Red Cross could handle a crisis with over 1 million casualties.
One amazing example of the human potential to cope with unspeakable adversity was recorded on one of the Bay Area news shows. A grizzly-faced man, in his mid-70’s, was asked by a reporter how he was faring. He twisted his face into a difficult smile and said, “Well I lost my car, house and all of my possessions, but I have my dog and a tent to sleep in so at least I am not homeless.”
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”
If Lewis is correct then love is a spiritual phenomenon and marriage is more about the union of two souls and less about the union of two bodies. The failure of couples to be intuitively or consciously aware of this is probably the most common cause of disharmony, heartbreak and divorce.
As one of the world’s great anthropologists, Loren Eiseley wrote passionately and powerfully about the physical, mental and spiritual evolution of man. There are hundreds of quotable quotes in his classic, “The Immense Journey,” but perhaps none is more profound than, “The Garden of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed.”
It is a stunning example of a scientist, who put his faith in empirical thought, suggesting that a Biblical allegory may possibly offer an explanation for the evolution of a human being with a soul or spiritual awareness. The intriguing suggestion that Adam and Eve were embarrassed and covered their genitals is reflected in nearly all of the earliest, pre-Judeo-Christian cultures who also felt the need to cover “their parts.”😉 No such behavior is demonstrated in pre-human apes.
The uncharted mysteries of the allegorical “Garden” are many and vast and include the concepts of “original sin,” “original blessing” and the emergence of human values, consciousness and free will. These qualities are common to both males and females, but one of the greatest mysteries is the divergent evolution of male and female human sexuality. As an interesting aside, the Bible describes Eve being fashioned out of one of Adam’s ribs, however, all human embryos begin as female and male genetalia appear later and migrate out of the body to create a male.
Even so, all the embryonic and post-natal sexual development is designed to prepare for eventual procreation. This may or may not involve traditional institutions of courtship, love and marriage or some other alternative arrangements.
In Dianne Ackerman’s book, “The Natural History of Love,” she suggests that, due to an elongated human childhood, it is important for couples to be loving and compatible, especially during the formative years. This brings us to the role of love.
Erich Fromm’s, The Art of Loving, was required reading for one of my undergraduate courses. I recall the professor discussing the fact that Fromm was married two or three times and had several extramarital affairs. He was not being judgmental, but suggested that often there is a disconnect between the theory and practice of personal and social disciplines.
Fromm offers many creative ideas about the “art of love” however, his approach was humanistic. Like many followers of Darwin, he probably assumed that Darwin was an atheist. Even though he included “The Love Of God” in his book, he wrote: “Having spoken of the love of God, I want to make it clear that I myself do not think in terms of an theistic concept, and that to me the concept of God is only a historically conditioned one.” It seems strange that he would include a chapter on something he did not believe in. Ironically, further on in, The Art Of Loving, he predicted the decline of Western Civilization will be the result of the societal failure to practice the art of loving. I don’t know if his prediction was based on his own failures, but it is clear that he had no awareness of, or placed any value of the religious or spiritual importance in love and marriage.
Carl Jung, on the other hand, suggested that most human mental suffering was the result of a loss of a spiritual focus. He wrote:
“During the past thirty years, people from all civilized countries on the earth have consulted me. Among all patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that what which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”
Jung achieved remarkable success, including helping patients address the growing problem of alcoholism. In fact, there are many who claim that his work led to the emergence of, “Uncle Bill’s” world-wide, 12-step treatment program called “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Millions of recovering substance abusers are very familiar with steps 2 and 3
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
We are living in a period of unprecedented material wealth with a converse decline in spiritual awareness. Alcohol and substance abuse are increasing, as is the urban crime rate. Psychologists, family counselors, and sociologists regard the decline in the number of healthy nuclear families as one of the biggest threats to our society. This trend will not likely be reversed unless couples find a spiritual center for their marriage. Sadly, based on his own personal experience, Fromm’s prediction may be correct.
Excerpt: Biodesign Out For A Walk, Chap. 28, “Amazing Faith.”
We were singing out of our songbooks, and, as was the custom, students were invited to make selections that they deemed appropriate. I was quietly strumming my guitar, waiting for the next song selection when someone suggested, “Amazing
Grace.”Dianna was at my left, and she leaned over and quietly said, “I
hate that song.”
“Amazing Grace” may be the quintessential musical mystery and irony. Love it or despise it, its enigmatic blend of melody and lyrics has made it the most widely known song on planet Earth. It has been translated into over 200 languages, a number that is probably too conservative. However, setting language apart, the melody often has a haunting, beguiling and soothing affect on listeners. Interestingly, the effects can be highly magnified when it is played on an oboe, pan flute or bagpipes. The song is played frequently in churches, at weddings, funerals and military memorial services.
Understandably, a song with such universal power and charisma could not exist without detractors. Agnostics often find it bothersome; Secular humanists and atheists typically reject it more viscerally. The song has been banned, either tacitly or overtly, from public performances in atheist countries and or communities. A growing number of public el/hi, college and universities, in the US have, removed the song from their “politically correct” list of songs that choirs can perform.
However, none of this rhetoric matters a whit to the families and loved ones who are standing in tears next to a casket of a soldier, police officer or fireman who died in the service of his fellow man. As terrible as the pain may be, there is often something deeply comforting when the notes of “Amazing Grace” groan out of a set of bagpipes.
I wept when I watched Doring’s video. Not 0nly because of the beauty and simplicity, but because our children are being taught they are soul-less, random accidents who are not appreciably different from chimpanzees. I don’t recall seeing a chimp fashion a pan flute or play a soul-stirring song. Really sad!