The Buddha sitting at the base of our old ceanothous (native lilac) east of my backyard medicine wheel spoke to me this morning during meditations. “Freedom is living your life guided by spirit.” This post is dedicated to exploring what this might mean.
Today is July 4th, 2007, Independence Day, and the 30th anniversary of my striking out in business for myself back in 1977. I’m taking what I call a “studio day” to reflect on this. My studio looks out on this back yard, and is a fully equipped creative space, the original home of Sibbet & Associates when we moved here in 1982 from 6th Avenue in San Francisco. It is where I do my creative work. It is my sanctuary in a busy, busy world.
At a recent Summer Solstice, I committed to beginning each day with prayer, facing the rising sun and the goodness that is in all beings, and lead my life guided by spirit. It’s not a completely new commitment, but meditating EVERY day is, and I’m in the 13th day of that commitment. Already my body and soul are singing like a violin finally being tuned.
In the teaching of the Delicate Lodge, the teaching that our Solstice leaders Firehawk and Pele are bringing forth from their years at Ehama Institute, the East is the place of freedom and creativity. I know from my own work with Chayim Barton and my vision quests based on the Cheyenne medicine wheel, that the east is also the place of vision and the home of the inner spiritual child. As I drummed and sang to the East I was back at my wheel in Joshua Tree National Monument, experiencing the sunrise breeze on my body, a small child, transparent and transported, filling with light. I remember my time at Sea Ranch one morning mediating at dawn and having two peregrine falcons rise out of a distant pine at precisely the moment and place the sun became a blazing seed of light in the East. I face the White Mountains on my Bishop wheel on the mesa and see the sunrise become a golden spider over the bristlecone pine trees I know are high on the ridge. The wonderful thing about a practice like mine with the medicine wheel is the layer and layers of meaning that begin to accrue. Working it is like hearing the deep sound of the Tibetan crystal bowls as these associations resonate deep in my memory and practice.
At the Solstice I placed my deceased teachers on the wheel, and my first art teacher, Aim Morhardt, appeared in the East. He was a balladeer and prospector from the “flatlands” in LA, as we called them, and sought refuge in Bishop where he painted the mountains, taught, composed poetry, and prospected. He was the first to “see” me as an artist and his seeing has been my flame. Being red green color blind I always steered away from art as a career, but it’s force is huge in my life and creating is my passion. Aim lit the fire.
This morning I found Chinmayananda, a teacher of Vedanta I met on my first trip to India and Lama Yeshe, Chayim’s teacher in the chakrasamvara practices of Tibet and now my teacher, coming to the wheel in the East. They are vibrant presences for me now too.
So what does all this have to do with July 4th and Independence Day and my business, I wonder. I’ve become accustomed to waiting for meaning to emerge, and letting ceremony and writing be the crucible. I know this country was created in the name of freedom. The religiously persecuted were driven by it. My first relatives fleeing the English crown as Scottish Protestants helping the Irish were seeking it. The entrepreneurs who saw bounty and riches in the new world flew the banner of freedom. Thoughtful people sick of the repression of capricious monarchs and inflamed by the possibility of government by law and reason reached out to it. But was freedom the same to all these?
Rising above definitions, I imagine that each was following some kind of dream, some part of themselves that was a rising sun, probably without clear plans at first, probably propelled by circumstance, but fueled by this light.
It’s a lesson of the wheel, and of Arthur Young, my most influential teacher and author of the wonderful Theory of Process that builds some of the best links I know of between modern science and ancient ways of knowing, that all aspects of life are interrelated and need each other. Freedom and creativity are no exceptions. They need the rest to flourish. They need awareness and appreciation of present conditions to find a soil to grow in. They need trustworthy reporting, truth about injustices, appreciation of the bounty, presence and engagement to move forward. And when it begins to move, south, it finds power and danger. Landowners ruled the colonies The British sent troops and guns. It was dangerous capturing and running slaves over to the colonies and taking land away from the natives. Passion was required.
But this unruly, adolescent energy needed purpose and direction to succeed. Principles and declarations of intent were required. To be freed from monarchy forever would require more than bravado. Indeed the maintenance and balance of the west is needed in any process of life. We all die. The sun sets. The winter comes. Persistence and patience follow passion. The founding fathers held this country in circle, in their strong intent, and compromised, tried to balance the historical excesses of power.
Right timing and interrelatedness brought the colonies through. Connection and timing is the portal for immigrants today. Knowing when to work and when to begin the drawing on the white page are part of manifestation in my work. And so it all takes root in the clarity and action of the north. Here the worker, warrior chiefs move with the rules of the practical world, striking the sword of skillful means against the flint of circumstance.
But the world is not complete with action. The integrity and vitality of the whole must be taken into account, for there are always consequences, and blind spots, and ignorance. Freedom and creativity have been a flame for this country, and for me, and yet where has it brought us?
We live in a time when monarchy has been replace by plutocracy, rule by the rich, often in the mantle of the modern corporation. They are governed by laws, but in too many cases have forgotten Voltaire’s warnings that rule by law must be balanced by humanitarian values. Jefferson believed this. He and many of his group were farmers. They believed in natural law, the rhythms of the mother, and trusted that freedom, balanced by structures to mitigate abuse, would free natural law to express itself in the affairs of humankind. But our corporate and state leaders now most often far removed from the land and nature, and have come to trust their technocratic advisors and steer by reason alone. I know. I facilitate those meetings.
What does it mean then, to find freedom in spirit? I think about Bush and his religious orientation. My father is a Protestant minister. I know about faith communities. I am from and live in them. Perhaps faith is Bush’s reaching out to freedom from his family and the forces that surround him. But does he walk the whole wheel, and insist that all the other elements come into play? Perhaps, like alcoholics, his and Cheney’s and Rove’s intentions are good in reaching for freedom. But spirit in a bottle and creativity in a cruise missile is not the same as being guiding by spirit in my understanding.
I read in the Sun, Sy Safranski’s wonderful magazine chronicling the way spirit moves in everyday life, a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, the breathtakingly courageous Buddhist monk that refused to be crushed by the Vietnam war. “If you have a gun,” he says, “you can go out and shoot one, two, three, five people. But if you have an ideology and stick to it, thinking it is the absolute truth, you can kill millions.”
So seeing the East as the source of my inspiration, and place of freedom and creativity, and following the practice of seeing the rising sun, the goodness in all people, does not exempt me from the mystery, the movement on the wheel, and the shadows. But it does, today, fill me with a quickened energy and hopefulness. I feel the flow of the wheel in my body, and I feel this Independence Day in a special way.
I think that today could mark the beginning of another turn around my wheel of business, now as a teacher, a writer, and supporter of leadership that thinks about the whole and listens, inspired by spirit but awake to the dangers of ideology. As a people we MUST find a way back to lives guided by deeper values than those appearing as objectives and reason. I believe we can learn from our new sciences how to return to a respect for nature and its deep patterns, the embedded wisdom of ages packed into the plants, the animals, and the indigenous people of this earth, of which I am one, for this land of California where I was born.
Tomorrow my youngest grandchild visits us for the first time from Portland. Today Susan is with two other grandchildren in Florida. We’ll see the other two on Sunday up at son Thom’s in San Rafael. I want them to be proud, looking back, that I was among those who declared my freedom from plutocracy and the ideology of consumption, and creatively set out to draft a new life in this new time that would nurture them and their children.
I talked to my brother John last night and he said he went around and greeted everyone yesterday with “happy interdependence day!” He’s stepped into the East. So have I today. Aho!