Life is Soupy

Every moment is a new beginning
– T. S. Elliot

Life is one continuous mistake
– Dogen

Everything is equally evolved
– Lynn Margoulis

Life is soupy, mixed up and tumultuous. Muddying the waters is precisely the point, because it’s from such nutritious streams that life grows.
– James Bridle, Ways of Being

Every moment is a new beginning. That’s the saving grace… we can make changes, sometimes, usually, hopefully. The second quote sounds more depressing than it is. For me Life is one continuous mistake means that we might as well be prepared to keep getting up, because we will continue to fall down. I like to remember all of the lucky accidents in art, in music, accidents that became the defining element of a work. The stupid mistake I just made may lead to a helpful insight later. We move forward, we fall, we get up, we get used to the fact that it’s all a continuous mistake.

A couple of days ago, while walking through Santa Fe, a sentence bloomed in my head: We are all broken.
This sentence appeared out of nowhere, like birdshit hitting me square on the bald head. The deaths of loved ones, accidents, medical emergencies, diseases, depression, sadness. We may pretend on Instagram that our lives are perfect, but no life is. It’s not perfection that makes a life beautiful, it’s the Kintsugi… putting the pieces back together as best we can. As Ram Dass said, We’re all just walking each other home. Hopefully we can be mended like this bowl, and wear our brokenness in beauty.*

That brings me to the quote by Lynn Margoulis, Everything is equally evolved. Everything on this planet evolved together. Humans aren’t separate. In fact we carry several pounds of non-human critters in our gut and share DNA with many plants and animals. We didn’t rise out of nature, and we are not separate or above nature, we rose in nature. We rose in the soup, together with everything else.

*These words would make a great t-shirt: We Are Kintsugi…
or This Planet is Kintsugi… or Kintsugi is Life

Left-Handed Commencement

I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.
Ursula K. Le Guin — A Left-Handed Commencement Address

I came across this 1983 Mills College Commencement address by the great Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a lovely address that is earthy and timeless and sounds just as relevant forty years later. I have read a number of books by Le Guin and her translation of the Tao Te Ching is a cherished part of my library.

Nietzsche on Walking

There is Nietzsche in the Air…

I would walk for six or eight hours a day, composing thoughts that I would later jot down on paper.

That summer, he composed The Wanderer and His Shadow — the third and final installment in his aphoristic roadmap to becoming oneself — almost entirely on foot, filling six small notebooks with penciled-in peripatetic thoughts. In it, he considered “the wanderings of the reason and the imagination” by which one becomes a truly free spirit — wanderings that, for him, took place with the mind afoot across mountains and meadows. Long before modern science shed light on the role of the hippocampus in how landscapes shape us, Nietzsche became himself in his wanderings.
Nietzsche on Walking and Creativity – The Marginalian


“Today this process, known as sortition, is familiar to us from jury selection, but the original democracy, as practised in Athens in 300 BCE, used this method to assign almost all the important positions in government. The Athenians believed that the principle of sortition was critical to democracy. Aristotle himself declared that: ‘It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.’ Sortition – randomness – was the foundation of radical equality.”

from Ways of Being by James Bridle

I did not know that Athenians used a lottery to select people for government positions. At first I thought it was a crazy idea but then I warmed to it. And to think it’s a 2,500 year old idea. :-)

Old is New

About 1,500 years passed between these two statements. I am slowly working my way through the James Bridle book. Highly recommended.

To be non-binary, in human and machinic terms, is to reject utterly the false dichotomies that produce violence as the direct consequence of inequality. A culture of binary language splits us in two, and makes us choose which parts of ourselves fit existing power structures. To assert non-binariness is to heal this divide and to make different claims of agency and power possible.
from Ways of Being, by James Bridle

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

Third Patriarch of Zen

Tree People

Yesterday’s post about viewing people as trees, which helps to accept them as they are, got me thinking. What we think of as our personality or character is actually the consequence of many, and often unknowable, forces.

Research involving the gut biome of mice showed that when the gut biome of timid mice was replaced by the gut biome from bold mice, the timid mice became bolder, and vice versa. In addition to the old saying you are what you eat, this means you are who you hang around with, and which bacteria you allow to join you. It may change your appearance (yes, gut biome from skinny mice can transform fat mice) and, more importantly, it can change your personality.

Here are a couple of human examples. In the fall of 1994 my mother started getting angry at my dad. She would talk to him and he would not understand, which would make her furious. She believed him to be deliberately obtuse. Eventually it was discovered that she had a tumor, located in the language center of her brain, and she was, in fact, speaking gibberish. The second example comes from a friend, a man I knew as a gentle and soft spoken person. When I met him, last summer, I hadn’t seen him in many years and asked him how he had been. He was fine he replied, but had gone through quite an episode. Friends had been concerned because he was acting very mean, which seemed completely out of character. He had a health checkup and it was discovered that he had a tumor. The tumor was removed and he was back to his gentle self.

What we perceive as an “I”, a personality, a character, an individual, a self, is actually the sum of a huge amount of separate data points. Some of those lines we can control, others we are helpless about. Like a tree bending to catch light or bending from the wind.