War is wrong


War is wrong
War is government
sanctioned murder.

Stop it.
Stop war.
War is too late.

War is failure.
War is the past
Seeping into the present.

War is a black sun rising
In front of the real sun,
Blocking the light of day.

You think war is necessary?
You are wrong.
You go that way

And we may never meet
Because I choose this way.
Do you understand me?

This is important to me.
Not too many things
Are this important.

Not too many things are this clear.
War is wrong.
War is wrong.


Why did I feel the need to write this strident, even pugnacious poem?  This is how I always feel somewhere, all the time in my heart of hearts. and I probably always will because I am a citizen of a war-mongering super power, a militaristic bully of a country. The United States maintains 800 military bases in 70 countries and territories. And I like to think of myself as a pacifist! But what kind of a pacifist am I when my taxes help pay for war after war?? Naturally this relationship generates some rancor. My country’s behavior worries me, at a low frequency all the time, day and night, and sometimes it boils over. Sometimes I just have to express how I feel, and poetry is the best way to do that.




Thoughts about soulful containers, followed by Rumi’s poem, “Saladin’s Begging Bowl”

A good friend (who is also a dream worker and a shamanic practitioner) and I were talking about offering a workshop on the soul, and sharing our respective images of soul seemed a good place to start. Right away I thought of a bowl. I might have been influenced by the sight of a sturdy bowl on the hutch in front of me that was carved out of lava. Now, as I think of it, a bowl or cup, at least for me, is not so much a symbol of the soul, as the vessel that receives what the soul brings to us. For me, at the moment, the lava bowl was perfect, as I could easily imagine it holding whatever the soul might ask us to carry that would shatter a more fragile container. Rum’s poem, Saladin’s Begging Bowl has something to say about this, but as usual, with Rumi, the obvious is never the subject. But in this poem I feel certain that he is saying something important about the soul.

Saladin’s Begging Bowl

Of these two thousand “I” and “We” people, which am I?

Don’t try to keep me from asking!
Listen, when I’m this out of control!
But don’t put anything unbreakable in my way!

There is an original inside me.
What’s here is a mirror for that, for you.

If you are joyful, I am.
If you grieve, or if you’re bitter, or graceful,
I take on those qualities.

Like the shadow of a cypress tree in the meadow,
like the shadow of a rose, I live
close to the rose.

If I separated myself from you,
I would turn entirely thorn.

Every second, I drink another cup of my own blood-wine.
Every instant, I break an empty cup against your door.

I reach out, wanting you to tear me open.

Saladin’s generosity lights a candle in my chest.
Who am I then?

His empty begging bowl.

The first argument, poem followed by reflection

One morning, at breakfast,
Creator took a bite out of his toast.
He held it up to his wife proudly.
Moon, he said.
He took another bite.
Mushroom, he said.
His wife frowned.
He took another bite.
Anteater, he said.
And another: Acacia.
Now his wife glared at him.
Creator was squirming in his chair.
He had to pee.
He took several quick bites,
Leaving only the trunk
And a big bulb at the top for a head
Before he hurried from the table.
Human, he said over his shoulder.
His wife stared at his plate.
I feel sorry for that skinny thing! she said.
And that big brain is only going to get him in trouble!
She nibbled the top much smaller and sighed,
Not looking forward
To when her husband returned.

Creator’s wife is seeing only trouble for creator’s handiwork. Not sure why she is so dubious about the acacia (She was probably just tired of his ADD), but she is not buying the the shape he calls “human” with the enormous brain so she nibbles it smaller while her husband is away from the table. The title insinuates that creator is going to be upset with her intervention, but the question is: Would a bigger brain have messed us up even more than the relatively large brain we got? We’ll never know.(Probably He shouldn’t have tried to create us when he had to pee.)

Sparing Daddy longlegs — poem and reflection

Long legs indeed!
If their bodies were our size,
they would be stepping over our houses.
I am stacking wood
From a pile of split logs
that was delivered a week ago.
Long enough for the Daddy longlegs
to move in to the shadowy places
Deep inside the giant pile
that I tend to stare at day after day
until one morning I decide to
do something about it.
When I grab a log to toss it into the wheel barrow
chances are there is a Daddy longlegs
hurrying to the underside of the log
to hide from the sudden exposure to the light.
They don’t know
that a giant has just lifted their world
and is about to send it sailing through space
into a giant metal basin where they will
Be crushed, or, if they are lucky
they will escape.
If I see them I brush them into the air
and watch them land on the grass
Unbroken, where they hurry away
to make the best of their situation.
If they could see me and name me,
I would be Chaos.
I have never seen a dead Daddy long-legs.
Fragile as they are,
miraculous as it sounds,
my name is not Death.

All my life, going back to my very early childhood, Daddy longlegs have been around. Like most animals, including insects, which were much bigger and closer-up when I was little, Daddy longlegs were introduced to me by my mother who was introduced to the same creatures by her mother when she was little. This is a simple poem that I needed to write to acknowledge the presence of these creatures who, unlike the writing-spider and praying mantis and the walking stick, seem to be doing well in 2018, and for that I am grateful.

Prologue to my forthcoming memoir: “Finding myself in time: Facing the music”

Prologue, Part 1 — Taking my gloves off

In this memoir I am taking my gloves off. I didn’t know I was wearing gloves until very recently, when I started working with some extraordinary local college students who were interested in shamanism, who began asking questions about topics that I am not used to discussing in depth, or I guess I mean, explaining. Until these students entered my life, nobody ever expressed more than passing curiosity about shamanic experiences or, however we choose to refer to them — spiritual, or psychic, non-ordinary or visionary experiences – mine or theirs or somebody else’s. These students were pushing to know what I know, instead of just using me to help them fill in the gaps of what they need to know to pass or graduate. I am used to people touching on very profound questions and then casually changing the subject, as if all subjects of conversation are equal!

I am not a shaman. I am a shamanic practitioner and a veteran dream worker. I have worked with and studied under shamans and I have entered what I would identify as shamanic spaces on vision quests and in ritual and I will say this about the shamanic calling: It is difficult to sustain in a materialistic, money-based culture that treats land as a resource and real estate and suppresses and exploits nature. Anyone who pays taxes and lives a life of privilege is unlikely to be able to sustain a shamanic calling. Shamanism is not an avocation. It’s not part-time; you can’t turn it on and off. It is a time-honored way of life, and even in stable, healthy indigenous cultures where shamans are still the healers, being a shaman requires enormous personal sacrifice. It is much easier to be a dream worker than a shamanic practitioner. Thanks to Jung, who single-handedly restored soul to psychology, and painstakingly introduced archetypes and synchronicity to the Western world, dreams have opened many doors for me over the years, and have helped me stay in touch with my own soul. The kind of dream work I do is also a calling. I did not choose to work with dreams. I was a born dreamer, and I expect to die dreaming. Dreaming is very old, as old as the human race, as old as shamanism. But I am careful not to confuse dream work with shamanism.

I am not happy with my country to put it mildly. I have been critical of it for my entire adult life. If I don’t smile for the camera, which appears to be the case, if I tend to be serious a lot of time and not particularly fun to be around, it is because I am very worried about what the so called developed world is doing to the planet and to nature, on my watch. So, I would be remiss if I did not address some of my feelings about that in this writing, and unpack my own, admittedly skewed analysis, of what is causing such dysfunction in our corner of the human race. I think we all have a right to weigh in on that.

People wear (metaphorical) gloves for lots of reasons. I was wearing gloves because I didn’t want to get my hands dirty by writing about things that are not neat and clean and well-defined but kind of wild and not easy to pigeonhole, with barbs and prickers and sticky sap and maybe even a little poisonous to touch. In my defense, my gloves were skin-thin gloves, but gloves nonetheless. To be fair to myself, some of the poetry I was writing (over the last few years) was trying to tell me that I wasn’t being completely forthright or genuine, to myself or anyone else. I was holding back. I guess I thought that was OK. It turns out it isn’t.

Lack of complete honesty can easily become a life-long habit that some of us have to pass through if we intend to keep pace with the stages of life. There is a time of life, after middle age and before old age sets in, when, other factors allowing, life affords us the opportunity to down-size our psychic space and clean up our act. We can live this phase out by literally simplifying the space we are responsible for, but it’s really an inner process because it centers around listening to our soul.

What kind of truth am I talking about? The kind of truth that bubbles up when you visit an exhibit of “modern” art, that is, the art of the first half of the 20th century when artists were nothing less than the saviors, therapists and conscience of Western civilization during the darkest chapter of its history, that is, darkest until now. My son and I were in New Haven, Connecticut for a wedding and we decided to check out the Yale University Art Gallery. Together we wandered through giant rooms of Brancusi, Max Ernst, Juan Gris, Metzinger, Edward Munch, Picasso, De Chirico, Dali, Modigliani etc. Whenever I expose myself to those worthies it feels like a baptism by fire and ice followed by a warm Spring rain. Exposure to truth is like that. It burns and scalds and sears and cauterizes, ultimately cleansing and ultimately empowering and refreshing the soul. I once wrote in a poem, “The truth is this as I awaken: / In order to live, one must die, / In order to die one must live.” Take your choice, but I’m here to tell you, they are the same thing.

A word about the chronology of the story I am telling. It is not a linear story and if I told it that way, it would not be the real story but rather a narrative of convenience for easier consumption. It would be a fake story. If we are honest with ourselves we find that life is messy, and memory is fickle, and, just for example, I can easily imagine writing two memoirs, one told by my head and one by my heart. The one told by my conscience would be different from both. This memoir, as it purports to be, is about finding myself in time and what, after-all, is time? Is it a stream? A spiral? A loop? Is it illusion? Is it the dimension of our mortality? I choose to see it as all that, but it is also subjective, especially when we are using it as a medium for tracking our lives. As I say, it wouldn’t be fair to the reader if I stuck with a chronological time-frame. The image I have for what I am offering here, is the three-dimensional chessboard on Star Trek, the third dimension being time. There are still rules governing the movements of the pieces, (diagonal, rectilinear, step by step) but, all I am saying is, the possibilities, compared to the flat board, are as potent as they are self-evident.

Prologue, Part 2 — iPhones and can-phones

   I sent this prologue to a friend and I read it to my wife, Shirley. Both of them questioned the validity of my claim that paying taxes and living a life of privilege would compromise one’s ability to stay true to a shamanic calling. Shirley was upset with me! She said I was being arrogant and painting with way too broad a stroke.

There is no easy black and white explanation for what I am feeling, but I think maybe the best way to explain what I mean is to sidestep attempting to respond directly to the objections of my wife and my friend.

When Alverto Taxo, Ecuadoran shaman, was about to leave his village to travel North for the first time, to the Land of the Eagle to teach his message, the women elders took him aside and cut his waist-long hair to within a half an inch of his scalp. They wanted him to leave his pride behind and maybe to stop taking himself so seriously. That’s a good example of what I mean by sacrifice. When I attended his workshop in Connecticut, there were three kinds of weather passing through — rain and sun and a strange combination of hot and cold. The weather spirits were throwing a party. Alberto was excited and summoned us all outside. He sat in the yard under a tree and we formed a semi-circle around him. (He had been telling us that the world will only heal when the eagle flies with the condor.) He took out his medicine objects, arranged them in front of us and invited us to place our iPhones beside his feathers and bones and rattles. He said we need to stop using technology as fancy toys, and start seeing them as powerful tools and medicine for healing, to broadcast our truth, bring each other together and change the world. Only then will the eagle fly with the condor.  Right when he finished speaking it began to rain. Everyone grabbed their phone and ran under the porch. He sat there all by himself and laughed and laughed just like a child, with huge delight.

Maybe Alverto pays taxes in Ecuador, but his country isn’t destabilizing the Western world and selling weapons to countries that will use them to destabilize their own regions. We are living in a time when, because the United States happens to be the most powerful and the richest country on Earth, we could be heading off almost certain disaster, using our wealth to stabilize the world by fighting plagues like Tuberculosis and Malaria, by supporting true democracies, by wiping out starvation and helping third world countries help themselves, no strings attached.

I’m saying there is an ominous disconnect in the Land of the Eagle that reminds me of the 1956 film, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. I was only five years old when it came out but I remember the stir it created. Pods were being delivered to hometowns by the truckload, presumably all over America, by soldiers, whose human essence had already been “snatched”. The way it worked was, this alien filament would issue from a giant pod to infiltrate a person’s body through their nostrils the moment they fell asleep. When they woke they would be themselves in appearance only, but their affect would be flat, no life in their eyes; they would be a pod person.

Why wouldn’t we be investing in our own communities, our children, their education etc. If we stopped investing in war, but allocated our resources for the rehabilitation of our humanity, the war chest would pay for everything, with plenty left over for pick nicks and block parties. Instead, this country is a very sick addict sucking the life-blood from its own people to feed its habits. We have become a country of pod people. But seriously, this dysfunction has created a huge shadow and very bad karma that is virtually inescapable! To the extent that we finance this addiction with our taxes, allowing ourselves to be lulled by a privileged life-style, we are complicit in what many are calling the crime of the ages . . . the dismemberment of Mother Earth.

So, I can picture Alverto fielding this question: Can there be real shamans (see footnote) in the Land of the Eagle when so much dysfunction, and I would even say evil, is being perpetrated on our watch, at our expense?  I can picture him smiling sweetly while his eyes communicate both compassion and deep sadness, and he might hedge the answer with a halo of his innate optimism, so as not to discourage us, because I know that he sees our culture as adolescent. We have a lot of growing to do. The sweetness is his nature, the compassion comes from his all-embracing heart, and the sadness comes from his sense of the very real possibility that we might be out of time.

I admit, I am deeply troubled and I promise to address this in my memoir. The trouble is, I feel we are dealing with a real core problem or, something tells me, we wouldn’t be where we are now! But I’m not sure I am describing the problem accurately. It has to do with the question: How can contemporary shamans be effective at healing the kinds of existential crises that crop up in modern life if those shamans are living under the shadow of the dysfunction they are trying to heal one on one or in workshops, or by journeying. An analogous question might be: How can anyone within the Washington Beltway be expected to solve any of the problems that plague our government?

The most powerful forms of healing in the world are shamanic because they are deep. For the healing to be deep, effective and lasting we can’t leave nature and the spirit world out of our rituals. Shamanic rituals are not like a shot in the arm; they cannot be performed in a vacuum or by appointment or in the ER, but, especially here, we must foster the creation of communities that support healing rituals. I would even go so far as to say, communities are only as effective as the rituals they support. Every time I have worked with a shaman (one on one or in group) and participated in healing ritual, I have tasted the deep connection I have just described, but invariably, as I drive away through the Land of the Eagle, that feeling (or taste) begins to fade.

    I use the Alverto story with the phones because I see him as someone who is “outside the Beltway”. We listened to his teaching but when it rained we responded in a knee-jerk way, reverting to our conditioning, and that is what he found so hilarious and even endearing. His and other spiritually older indigenous communities have many generations of experience and conditioning behind their shamanism.  For the last hundred years or so those communities have been under siege by the so-called global economy, and global culture. They have been infiltrated by pod-people. Without those ritually-rich ancient communities with close ties to nature and place and ancestral land spirits, shamans and shamanism remain on the endangered list.

Malidoma Some’, in Of Spirit and Water, was abducted from his village, in West Africa, to be schooled at a French mission where he spent the next 16 years. He escaped, returning to his village and was eventually initiated but the elders told him he couldn’t remain in the village because basically he is two people in one; he has two purposes that meet in his name, which means friending the enemy. I can identify with his situation. All my life I have felt that I am living in two countries: my home, which has no name, and the land of the enemy, the United States. With Malidoma, the two sides of his nature are experienced as two places, two continents, two cultures. He finds balance by going back and forth between Africa and the West. I experience a similar division but rather than two continents, it is two awarenesses vying for one psyche and one body and the conflict is intensifying as I get older. I cannot ignore how I feel about my country (the Land of the Eagle), which seems to be intent on flying alone. It has created many of the epic problems we are facing now because of its addictions and has squandered numerous opportunities to transform.

   This memoir follows some of the threads that have not snapped in my life. They are like strings that stretch from who I am right now, all the way back to my teenage years and childhood, like a tin can-phone. Remember those can-phones we made? They didn’t really work as phones but, in the metaphor I am using here, my can-phones work. My “grid” is very basic; it doesn’t need the power company. I am talking to myself from different stages of my life, pooling information and stories and dreams, consolidating my truth. And the strings that connect me to earlier versions of myself are party lines, with my present self operating the switchboard.

Footnote: I’m talking about the old indigenous, traditional forms of shamanism. Shamanism, as an age-old tradition is based on very solidly established communities comprised of huge intact extended families that have nurtured a long-standing relationship with a specific geographical place and the spirits that dwell there. For the last hundred or so years these communities have been unraveling. The third generation shaman I worked with in a remote rainforest in Peru, claimed that all the most powerful medicine came from, not him, or even through him, but from proximity to the river that ran past the maloka. (A boiling river.) You might have something that looks like shamanism but without a strong embeddedness in those four elements: old community (extended family), access to familiar sacred land, ancestral and land spirits and at least remnants of unmolested nature, the shamanism we find is apt to be undermined, compromised and infiltrated by the karma, the collective shadow and the various addictions of the dominant culture that surrounds it.

The bloody gun and brief reflection

The soldier was tired of his bloody gun.
He saw a young stranger
And handed him the gun.
Here take this.
The stranger said,
I will take it, but what will I do with it?
The soldier had walked away.
I will give this gun to the ocean.
He gave the gun to the ocean.
I will take it but what will I do with it?
The stranger had walked away.
I will wash the blood off this gun,
I will give it to the depths.

Ocean gave the gun to the depths.
I will take it but what will I do with it?
The sea had closed its ears.
The depths held the gun for a hundred years.
I will give the gun to time.
Time said, I will take it
But what will I do with it?

The depths had closed its heart.
Time gave the gun to the reef.
I will take it, said the reef
But what will I do with it?
Time had passed on.
The reef held the gun for a thousand years
And then a thousand more.
Now the gun said,
I am tired of being a gun,
But what will I do with myself?

I will give myself to peace.
Peace said to the gun, I will take you.
I know what to do with you.

Peace held the gun tenderly,
Tenderly, tenderly,
Because the world had finally changed.

This is a little parable of the gun as hot potato. The message of this poem is, there is no way to get rid of a gun given the violent nature of humanity. It can’t be lost or recycled or destroyed because. . .it’s an archetype! It can only be transformed, but the only way for that to happen is the human race needs to evolve out of its violent nature. This situation reminds me of the story of Odysseus. At the end of his epic journey, Athena knows that just returning to Ithaca isn’t enough because he has the ocean in his soul, and after twenty years of wandering he will never sink roots. She instructs him to carry an oar from his ship far inland until someone asks him why he is carrying a winnowing fan. With the gun, the situation is similar. The soul of the gun will continue to be bloody until some day in the future when the inhabitants of the earth don’t know what a gun is. I think that’s the idea behind this poem.

The coming world that should be followed by reflection

There is a world coming that should be.
I can see it.
It’s close to being the world we have
But different in some important ways:
More food for the hungry,
More love,
More honesty,
Less gas and oil and meaningless death and wars,
More love,
Oh, I already said that, more love.

And let it be soon
Before it’s too late
And the door closes
For the creation of would-be worlds.
But whether there is a new world
The time for the end to this old world has arrived
With a clap of thunder,
So loud it makes your brain go numb.
It makes your ears ring
Like the great gong
In the courtyard of a Buddhist temple
To an ant climbing on the gong,
When the gong is struck 33 times
For the 33 faces of the Buddha.

Help me see this world!
Help me paint this new world large!
How about these colors?
Dip your brush deep:
For the desert, orange-rose,
Seaglass-green and ochre for the roofs of the village,
For the clouds, purple and blue,
Red and cerulean-blue for the dragon tumbling out of the clouds,
Diving into a wide plain of waving grass.

Finally, signs of the old world ending:
Swimming pools overflowing
With swimmers swimming across
The barren land for their lives.
Bad people shrinking,
One centimeter a day until they reach the size of ants
And disappear into tiny cracks in the earth.

Good people growing
In beauty and stature.
And suddenly everyone knows how to dance!

This new world may not be for you;
Just wait and see how you like it.
There can be other new worlds.
We’ll just pick the one that we like best.

See that deer
Lip syncing?
It looks fake but its real.
She is saying,
It will be OK.

Finally, listen and you will hear
The breeze rehearsing the tenth prophesy.
It sounds like an old New Yorker,
Someone from Brooklyn,
Like one old man to another on a park bench.

Now turn and watch those pigeons
Take wing over the traffic
Heading south,
Their white underwings catching the sunlight.

It breaks my heart to say this
But you old world corporate hustlers
Have run out of love.
Here’s how it’s going to be for your next incarnation,
So listen up!
Remember the jet that landed on the Hudson?
(Who doesn’t remember the jet that landed on the Hudson!)
It was a flawless landing.
The exit hatch opens over the wing
On the Manhattan side,
And the passengers gracefully descend the great wing
Of the slowly sinking jet.
It’s as if they rehearsed their escape
A thousand times
So it’s beautiful and flawless.
(Their voices randomly amplified like wild geese.)
But instead of what they did next,
Which, personally, I don’t remember,
You will spread your wings,
You will circle the big silver sinking jet
Before you form a perfect V
And disappear over the city,
Honking good-bye,
Good-bye, good-bye.

That’s how the old world will end
For the new world that should be
And it will end a million other ways.
I don’t really care how it ends.
As long as it is poetry
And as long as it is beautiful
To someone.
I came across the title-phrase somewhere, in something that I was reading, but I don’t recall where or I would give the writer credit, but I was drawn to the awkwardness of the wording. And that gave me permission to write the whole poem a little awkwardly, like a kid that is in the midst of a growth spurt. This poem is about a world that is anxious to get here, so it is full of lots of incongruous elements, like a Max Ernst collage. And I wanted to show creation coexisting with the passing of the old, and I felt so sure that the old is finally passing that I wanted to try to see the beauty and poetry of its passing.