Pedaling for Peace

On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

More on "Telling the Good Stories" in Response to Dylan Ratigan

This was what Dylan Ratigan had to post today: "Peeking Behind the Curtain" where he shares the latest on his work with J.R. Lewis in presenting the "Thousands of Stories of Hope..."

In my previous blog, I expanded on some of the ideas Dylan shared in his talk to TZM San Diego especially with regards to his idea that our life stories become the myths for those around us, maybe even for people we do not even know.  With the technology we now have available to communicate our stories, the telling of these stories can affect the broader population "asymmetrically" in a much more powerful way than we might be able to bring about change "linearly"; i.e. by "going door to door".

This is what I have to add to the consideration at this point.

First of all, I appreciate the fact that our brains naturally pay closer attention to negative and threatening information or stimulus, especially when it might relate to our physical harm. This is why the news broadcasters almost always focus on the Bad News - who shot whom, etc., etc.  They show it because that is what they are also trained to pay attention to and it is the same kind of information that keeps us paying attention to them and all of the commercials in between these (mostly) negative stories.  This is something that Paul K. Chappell and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman have pointed out in their work as well.

Just recently, I was listening to an NPR broadcast including an interview with neuroscientist Dr. Mark Waldman. In my follow-up research I came across this TEDxConejo talk he presented in March 2010. In this talk, Dr. Waldman also points to how the brain responds much more strongly to threats and even the simple word "No", for instance, as compared to the word "Yes." It's simple: Our brains naturally respond more strongly to any information that pertains to survival.  Furthermore, as Dr. Waldman explains, and what many spiritual masters before him have also communicated: We Become What We Meditate On. The very neurons of various parts of the brain will restructure themselves according to the thoughts and feelings we focus our attention on most often. And since our natural tendency is to focus on Negative input and Negative emotions and Negative thoughts, then we have to work extra hard to give our attention to positive input, positive emotions, and positive thoughts if we are going to be able to counter those natural tendencies.

Consequently, as Dr. Waldman explains, if you have a relatively positive concept of "God", no matter what any of your other religious beliefs might be, and if you "meditate on" that idea of "God" consistently, then it will have the same positive effect on your brain as it will on anyone else's who meditates in much the same way that you do, but on their relatively positive concept of "God".  Apparently, the "big idea" of "God" has a very particular effect on the brain, just as other "big ideas" or concepts like "Love" and "Truth" might have on the brain.

Nevertheless, the main point is you have to work extra hard at focusing on the positive in order to counter the natural tendency to focus on the negative. In fact, according to what I heard from Dr. Waldman in his NPR interview, there needs to be at least a ratio of 3 to 1 of positive to negative, and better yet 5 or 7 to 1 in order to reverse the effects of negative focus.

I know that for some people this is all "old news", and the idea of "thinking positively" has become cliche'. But from what I'm seeing of Dr. Waldman's work, there's a lot more science to back-up the "hearsay" these days, and more specifics on exactly how it works and how to make it work most effectively.  Furthermore, I can certainly speak to my own life experiences, having grown up with the ever present fearful concerns of my paranoid schizophrenic mother, only to do a 180 degree turn away from that by the time I was 20 and she went into the mental hospital, and then taking on an even more deliberate contemplational/meditational practice in my early 30's. Although I do not meditate as intentionally now, I know my overall state of being, maybe as a result of the "restructuring of my brain" from my meditational practice, is, on the whole, pretty positive, and focused on the positive, most of the time. And, most people who are around me for very long pick up on that as well.

You may be wondering at this point: How does all of this tie-in with the work that Dylan Ratigan is now doing?

I've been thinking, for all of the negative stories that each of us might be exposed to through the media each day, we might make progress restructuring our "cultural brain" by making sure we've got at least Five to Seven Positive Stories to counter and eventually reverse the effects of each of the negative ones.  And it seems Dylan's mailbox is full to overflowing with those positive stories.  Furthermore, once other well-intentioned communicators like him start to catch on to this basic strategy for asymmetrically changing the way people think and behave in the world, we could see the media filling with positive stories A LOT MORE positive stories to the point where the negative one's are no longer the one's that are shaping our concepts of ourselves or the possibilities for humanity and this world that we inhabit.

The more I think about it, the more I am also seeing that there are organizations who have already been doing that - TED is definitely one of those. Nevertheless, there is also a very personal and individual responsibility that each of us has to more consciously and intentionally decide on where we choose to focus our attention, even with respect to the thoughts and feelings that are constantly playing in our minds and hearts.

As Dr. Waldman shows in his talk, each of us needs to tap into the "Big Idea" of our own lives and learn to spend more time meditating on that and letting our brains be shaped by that "Big Idea" whatever it may be.

So...what's your "Big Idea"? What's Your Story? What is the Myth that You living out for those around you and for the world? And, finally, what can you do to make it the Very Best Story it can possibly be?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Starting a "Conversation" with Dylan Ratigan

Since I have been back in Santa Barbara, I find myself getting up fairly early in the morning and going straight to my iPad. In this way, my mind is most engaged when it is "fresh".  Of late it seems Dylan Ratigan is getting up even earlier than me and he is now posting something to his page every day, and I'm starting to recognize something of a discipline there, something that I would like to emulate.  But it is a little annoying in that I keep finding myself in a "responsive" mode; i.e. I keep finding myself wanting to "respond" to what he has already posted for the day rather than (at least at this point) initiating the dialogue myself. Admittedly, there is kind of a masculine/feminine dynamic there with which I am completely familiar; i.e. the masculine as more "initiatory" and the feminine as more "responsive", but to the degree that I have been "initiating" much more of the course of my life and thoughts in the last two years, I'm not sure I like being in this more "responsive" mode, but, that seems to be the way it is, so I'm just going to go with it.

Today Dylan shared a video of his talk to "The Zeitgeist Movment" in San Diego.  For a guy who comes across as very rational and grounded, I was kind of surprised when he started talking about quantum mechanics and, lets call it, human harmonics; i.e. how our thoughts and feelings resonate out into the world and manifest the world around us. He begins to explain his consideration of all of this around the 6:20 mark. At around the 7:25 mark he shares his realization that "the rate of vibration dictates what manifests", and further at 9:30 "it is our internal rate of vibration that dictates the external reflection, not the external reflection that dictates the internal."

This brings to mind one of the primary Wisdom-Teachings of Adi Da Samraj (with which I am very familiar): You never "communicate" anything but your actual state of being. And, as Dylan goes on to say, he found himself empowered by the idea that he could control that "vibration" within himself rather than feeling at the mercy of the often seemingly overwhelming forces around him.

I would offer, from more of Adi Da's Wisdom-Teaching the idea that the "ego" is an "Activity of Self-Contraction", which Adi Da illustrates with the clinching of a fist. It is most often experienced emotionally as fear, sorrow, anger, and un-happiness; all re-active rather than pro-active emotions. One of Adi Da's most important demands of His devotees was to Become Responsible for this habit of "self-contraction" of "reactivity", and to learn to transcend it through various meditational and relational disciplines. From my own now 16 years of "practice", I know that it is I who am choosing what I am thinking and feeling in response to what I experience externally, and I have, in most instances, learned to transcend my "reactivity" and, therefore, to "self-modulate" the "frequency" of that experience and therefore what I "project" into the world. I'm glad to see that Dylan has assumed responsibility for this within himself as well and that he is using the opportunities he has to share the concept with others so that they might also become empowered as he has been.

At the "NAPF Evening for Peace" event recently, someone asked me how I stayed "grounded" - and it made me pause, because it was hard to say that it could be attributed to any one thing.  Besides the Wisdom-Teaching of Adi Da Samraj, especially addressing "the ego as the activity of 'self-contraction'" and the need to transcend the habit of reactivity, there was probably one other book that had the most significant impact in this area and that would be The New Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis. I have an extended quote in this blog On Loving Yourself . I was reading The New Guide to Rational Living in the early 90's with Adi Da's work crossing my path starting in the late 90's, and I guess you could say I have been "practicing" ever since! And now, it seems, there are others like Dylan Ratigan who are also starting to pick up on these basic principles, which is very heartening to see.

At 16:50 Dylan begins a commentary on the military that really struck home and it is something that I  have seen/heard Stefan Molyneux butt his head against over and over again, even in one of the most recent live Sunday shows I was able to listen to.  I feel this particular point deserves a very direct quotation. In referring to the military Dylan says:

"We have pre-identified the 1% of our population that has a predisposition to do things that are way more fucked-up than most people are willing to do [including sacrificing their own lives], and that's a good thing to know about a group of people because that means that that group of people may be willing to do a lot of things in our own domestic society, like decide to build a bunch of hydroponic organic greenhouses in every city in America, or decide to convert every city in America to a sustainable energy matrix...[etc.]"

Or, I will add, write a series of books on "Waging Peace" like Paul K. Chappell, or ride their bicycle and 230 pounds of gear cross-country "Pedaling for Peace" like yours truly!

At around 21:47, Dylan starts to address another subject that is close to my heart: archetypes and mythology.  He speaks of the "Mythology of Power" and how that is portrayed in popular media and culture.  When we (or our children) see these mythologies portrayed to us, they offer to us focal points for our own identification and aspiration. I know I have communicated this somewhere, but I'm having trouble finding a reference right now. Nevertheless, given the influence of these "stories" in our lives, I too have come to the conclusion that we need to consider writing different stories. 

For instance, why do we have these stories of human beings as fundamentally "sinful"?  I've tried to address that question in one of my most recent Blue Moon Turtle blogs, "What Is So 'Imperfect' about Being Human?". Another "story" that I would like to re-write is the one about how a lone crazy scientist, Zefram Cochrane, in creating and testing a ship with warp-drive, finally brought us to the attention of an advanced, and Peaceful, alien race (as portrayed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, First Contact.) For anyone who might have paid attention to the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover...that was by no means a "solo effort"!  And why shouldn't our cultural advancement be even more important to the interest of another extraterrestrial race rather than just some technological advancement? (My current theory is that we will not be able to get human beings beyond the moon anyway if we don't learn to manage our global resources, including intellectual resources, more cooperatively and, therefore, more efficiently. Furthermore, it is inherently hard to make that kind of progress when repeated armed conflicts keep destroying the basic technological infrastructure of a society as well as the potential intellectual capital stored within every human being that is traumatized or killed in the process!)

At 23:20 Dylan begins to draw a diagram, illustrating a trajectory of "possibility", relative to current "reality" and overcoming the "gap" between the two that is mediated by "fear".  He points out that "reality" is changing more slowly in part because people are living longer; i.e. it takes longer for change to take place as new generations arise in the wake of the older generations passing away.  However, he also offers that our current technological capacity, albeit a double-edged knife, has as much power to help resolve the problems we face as it may be contributing to creating and/or perpetuating them, and it is moving faster than the older generations and "reality" can keep up.

It is at the 26:00 mark that Dylan offers what I think is a Very Critical Insight: There is no way to address the "fear gap" between current reality and actual possibility with what he calls a "linear solution". Instead, he offers an "asymmetrical solution" and that involves changing the Myths that are guiding individuals and the culture rather than trying to directly change the people and the culture itself.  And although I have had the same intuition on my own fairly recently, I have to give him credit for tying all of that into a well-defined framework.

Finally, at 28:15 Dylan begins to offer more specifics as to How to Change the Power Myths, and this is where it again becomes much more personal for me and my work as well as the work of  Paul K. Chappell. As Dylan points out:

"When you think about myths and power, it is always better to meet the audience where they are. In other words, it is easier to take an existing myth and meet the audience where they are with that myth, and then take them on a journey with that story, that hero, than it is to invent a new myth, that you wish everybody would believe in, but they're just not there....In this country, for better or worse, we have mythologized our military and our soldiers, and our marines - for better or worse, it doesn't matter.  The opportunity is to meet that mythology where it is.... The fact [is] that [some of] our marines and our soldiers have already decided...[as these people here have done] to meet the audience where they are...with the myth, and take them on a journey to this location [of new possibility]. They alone will never get us to that location, but they can take that mythology and project it back into our society in a way that will naturally manifest that."

He goes on to say that each of us are, in effect, our own story, our own myth, for at least one and probably for many, many other people around us, even if we do not know it.

"You are a story. And that story is the most powerful thing that you actually have to contribute to this world, because it is as those stories are told that the generations around us will decide that they want to be like those stories. And the greatest thing we can actually do is to create stories that are in the arc that we want to go in."

And I agree with that!

Thank you Dylan Ratigan, for sharing your insights and Your Story with the rest of us, and thank you for the renewed inspiration for me to continue manifesting and telling My Story as well!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Part I of "I've Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night!..."

...And...I now have INTERNET ACCESS again!!!! Yeah!!!

To All of My Readers:

My sincere apologies for not being able to keep this blog updated more effectively over the last three months. During my time in Austin, Texas I was moving around a lot between various hosts, many of them students, and in many situations I did not have internet access. I've also had some issues here and there more generally with getting my iPad to recognize wifi transmissions so I could connect where it was available. Finally, preparing a full blog takes quite a bit more time and effort than I can squeeze in with only an hour here and there, especially when I have to use at least some of that time available for checking my e-mail, etc.

Nevertheless, I am back in Santa Barbara, CA now with a comfortable living situation and INTERNET access, and I figured it was time I posted an update here...finally!

Starting from the last weeks of July...

I began my official tour of Austin, Texas with a stop at the home of John and Eve Koonz. As I mentioned in my previous blog, John and Eve are living examples of how ordinary people are making a difference in their homes and in their own back yards.

They keep chickens, and they grow meal worms to help utilize food waste and to have protein rich snacks for the chickens. At first glance, the meal worm habitat might seem "icky", but it did not smell and it was actually quite fascinating to see the bugs going about their business.

John and Eve also dry their clothes outside, commute regularly by bicycle and/or public transportation, and, as I had the opportunity to experience very directly, they were supportive and very generous WarmShowers hosts. John was particularly helpful in planning my route to my second Austin host and even accompanied me through some of the trickier parts of that journey.

Saying Good-Bye to John Koonz in Austin, Texas

My Beverly Hills host asked me not to share pictures or her personal info on my blog. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to have experienced her hospitality and she helped me connect with Pastor Karl Gronberg of the Gethsemane Lutheran Church as well. That connection eventually led to my staying at their "Hospitality House" for a couple of nights.

From the Beverly Hills address I made a little side excursion with the Austin Sierra Club members via MeetUp. We toured the Mayfield Park well known for its Peacocks.

While staying with Austin Sullivan, I went for a hike through the Barton Springs Greenbelt along with his brother's fiancé, Kira. We mostly followed the relatively dry creek bed, and then it started to rain. Given that it was summer in Texas, it was actually a welcome shower.

On the trailhead we found a turtle. I kind of recognized it, but picked it up to take a closer look. That's when it urinated on me and the smell was all I needed to confirm that it was a "Musk Turtle"!

At my host on Beverly Hills Dr. and at Chad Greene's house, I did not have access to the internet. So to keep myself occupied while I was "resting", I selected books to read from those available to me. Since I spent so much of my young adult and adult life reading more non-fiction (and a lot of "self-help" style books), I decided to read some of the shorter classics that I've heard about but never actually read. These included War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

From Chad's I had a short but Very Hot 4.5 miles or so to Anika Fassia's house. Thinking that it would be a fairly easy ride, I was not as careful as I would normally be and failed to use my damp camp towel under my helmet, and I did not have enough water either. Reaching the peak of the last of a few decent hills, I found myself growing a bit nauseous and light headed, so I pulled off to the side of the road, got onto the sidewalk/curb and rested, holding my bicycle up while I did so. At that point I was probably less than a quarter mile from Annika's house, but every time I stood up to get back on my bicycle, I started getting dizzy again. What was even more frustrating was that there was what looked like a public pool within 50 yards of the concrete retaining wall that rose up over the sidewalk behind me, and that wall was also blasting heat all around me.

Eventually I recovered enough to walk my bike across the multi-lane road to the opposite sidewalk, and down to the street where Annika lived. Even as I walked though, I was still not feeling well, so I had to stop again, within what turned out to be about 20 yards from Annika's house, and sit on the curb once more. Eventually, she and one of her housemates came out to meet me and we all walked back to the house together. All in all, it was a "lesson learned" to never take the heat for granted, no matter how short a ride might be!

One thing I noticed shortly after I got settled in the house was that it seemed Anika's guest bathroom toilette was not shutting off properly. When I helped her understand that the water was simply flowing out and through the sewer pipe, she welcomed my assistance in figuring out how to repair it. At first we tried a new flap, and then once it was clear that was not enough, and that the leaking was coming from the valve itself, we decided to replace that as well, "we" as in Anika paid for the parts and I installed them!

And here I am "modeling" the finished repairs.

Another benefit of staying with Anika was being around for the beginning of an artistic transformation of her living room fire place. Artist Stefanie Distefano was in charge.

Me and Anika at the beginning.

Stefanie at work.

The Completed Fireplace

What was particularly cool about this project was that Anika got together with all of her friends to make many of the tiles that Stefanie eventually assembled into the mosaic. Along with her friends, I appreciate the investment of energy and attention that Anika has chosen to put into her relationships, her home, and into her neighborhood and community in Austin, Texas. And I'm really glad she has chosen to be a part of the WarmShowers community as well!

From Anika's I was generously transported back to the northern part of town by Pastor Karl Gronberg of the Gethsemane Lutheran Church. I felt it was okay for me to accept his assistance since I had already covered the distance by bicycle previously, and I would be leaving on my own to travel back south in a couple of days. While staying at the church "Hospitality House" I was once again without internet, or television, but I did have access to Pastor Karl's library in the house/office next door.

One of the books I pulled from the shelves was a massive volume entitled Psychological Aspects of Pauline Theology by Gerd Theissen. On Page 9 I read: "The Bible was able to become one of the most important textbooks of human behavior and experience precisely because in it 'dominating' models recede and models that first fail, but overcome are so numerous."

In other words... It is full of UNDERDOG Stories! (Something that Paul K. Chappell also writes about in his most recent book The Art of Waging Peace....)

Boy! Did that set my mind on a tangent?!

What I have come to appreciate from reading Lila... by Robert Pirsig is truth...the evolution of Life Itself is an ongoing drama of all kinds of Underdog Stories! (More specifically, the interaction of what he describes as "static" and "Dynamic" "Quality".)

The bottom line is...the actual probability of ANY of THIS existing is so remote, that for it to have all arisen the way it has means THE Underdog - i.e. Life Itself - is WINNING, beating the odds, over and over again, and...moving the process of evolution towards more and more highly evolved and adaptive organisms - including human beings, who, for all their presumed "faults" (i.e. "sins"), have the greatest capacity to Interact Dynamically with their environment(s) than any other organisms on this planet! (Although...some research is pointing a finger at viruses and bacteria that may be living out their very own "underdog stories" and using Us to help Them!)

And now we are in a stage where we are evolving our cultures to catch up with our evolving technologies. I'd say we got a little ahead of ourselves with nuclear weapons, among other things, and Now it is time to re-evaluate Why we are doing the things we Can do, with more of a moral compass for what we Should Do. Furthermore, we have a Central Nervous System - the Internet - that we never had to work with before and it is slowly but surely linking all of us as individual cells into a more coherent, Body Human, that includes more and more individual human beings.

That's a lot to be thinking about, so I'm going to pause this update for now. I will add though, that I was able to share some of these ideas at the talk I gave to the Millville Quaker Friends Meeting in Pennsylvania, and the talk was very well received. (I promise I will share more about that in a future post.)

As always, I am grateful for ALL of the different experiences I have been able to have on this, my own "Underdog Journey", and I am grateful to ALL of the people who have helped me along the way!

Please stay-tuned for "Part II" of this blog series...Coming Soon!