No longer a lurker

So I guess it’s about time I started a blog since I’ve been part of this website for months and have nothing to show for it. Well, let’s start w/ the obvious. The weather. Wow, Carbondale is like one big glacier. Snow covered by ice everywhere. I’m from Chicagoland, so I’m used to ridiculously cold winters, but never have I seen such a thick later of ice on top of snow. It’s ridiculous. And I don’t know what they are putting out around campus, but it sure isn’t salt. It’s more like they’re just throwing dirt everywhere.
Just 3 days ago it was soooo nice out. Saturday was shorts weather and now this. Well, I guess the only thing to do is turn it around and find the beauty of it all. Every tree and bush is covered w/ a layer of ice, and they each seem to sparkle differently from one another. The needles are still green on many pine trees, and the ice around each one makes the trees seem like they almost glow green. That’s one thing I’ve been able to do better since I’ve come down here. Finding a little bit more beauty in everything, even if it’s usually mundane.
I’m continuing to work on a tv show on spc-tv called “What The Hell”. It’s supposed to be a slightly more exciting version of campus news and goings on. Our 1st episode aired last week, and the 2nd one will be rerun this coming sunday at 7:30p.m. We haven’t had much luck finding new crew members to help out, but we haven’t given up hope yet.
Classes are the same as usual, boring. That’s just like the rest of my life. It’s not that nothing ever happens, just not much. I spend most of my time just sitting in my room w/ my roommate. Hopefully that changes soon though. Well, I guess that’s enough for now.
-Nick

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Snow Day

It looks like I’ll be missing part or all of my shift at the Co-op today due to the challenging travel conditions. So, rather than catching up on any of my numerous other tasks in life, I thought I’d write a new blog entry about the weather, my life, and anything else that comes to mind.

First, the weather. As I prepared for my afternoon shift at the Co-op yesterday, the day’s snowfall was just starting to stick. Rather than trying to bike through the snow and ice or wait a half hour or more for the next bus to arrive, I decided to walk.

The walk to work was decent. Snow and a bit of freezing rain was swirling all around me, and it occasionally got in my eyes for a moment. But I was bundled up well, and the walk got my blood flowing, so I was warm and mostly dry.

The walk back home was a plodding but pleasant journey through a winter wonderland. Several inches of snow had carpeted the landscape, leaving the sidewalks all but lost in the snow and the streets coated and clogged with a whitish-grey slush. At one point, I almost went to help a snowbound car on the other side of the road, but they eventually made it out on their own. A few minutes later in my walk, I noticed that the falling ice pellets were making a rather unique and musical sound as they lightly pelted the leaves of a nearby holly tree. I guess that even after all of these years, I still have new forms of “treesong” to discover!

So, I made it home safe and sound. After taking a few minutes to kick the foot or more of drifting snow away from my front door, I made my way inside. For better or worse, once I was indoors, the rest of the night was largely uneventful.

When I woke up in the morning, I went through a fairly ordinary morning routine for a work day — eating breakfast, checking email, bundling up for another day in the cold. When I opened the door to head to work, though, I was in for a surprise!

The entire landscape was frozen over. Now, I’ve seen a sheet of glassy ice coating the trees and buildings before. That’s actually something that I see at some point every winter here in Southern Illinois. But today’s ground conditions were something that I’ve rarely if ever seen during my time down here.

Apparently, after laying down a half-foot carpet of snow, the winter storm doled out enough freezing rain to transform the surface of that snow into a thick sheet of ice! My boots have lost most of their traction, so when I stepped out onto the snow-ice, I could barely keep my footing long enough to take a few steps out the door to examine my surroundings. The coating of crystal-clear ice on the trees and buildings cast a frosty glimmer on the landscape. It was quite beautiful, really — and yet it was clear very quickly that I wouldn’t be walking to work unless I wanted to walk in the street the entire way.

With a few quick phone calls, I determined that the buses weren’t running, the taxis weren’t running, and I had little other means of making my way to work. The Co-op is open, though, so I’m going to try again later. In the meantime, though, I realized that I had plenty of time to write a blog entry.

With my description of the wintry weather complete, I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I may write more later if I don’t end up going to work at all today. In the meantime, though, I hope that you’re staying warm, dry, safe, and happy. This weather may be difficult to travel in at times, but it’s seasonally appropriate, and it sure is beautiful!

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Love: A Beatific Vision

Immanence: This is a lovely painting that I found on a website with no title or source mentioned.The “beatific vision” is a religious term for the eternal and direct perception of God that is said to be enjoyed by those in Heaven. For me, though, the Divine — or “God,” if you prefer — is not a bearded old man who rules from on high in some distant Heaven. The Divine is all around us, and within us, right here on Earth. Therefore, the beatific vision is not some distant mystical state that we will only achieve once we’ve shed this mortal coil. It’s the birthright of every living being — and it can only be experienced through the power of universal love.

Let me jump back to something a bit more concrete before returning to this point…

For about ten years of my life, I experienced chronic depression. When I say “depression,” I don’t mean that I was simply sad or dissatisfied with my life. I mean that if I had gone to a psychiatrist, they probably would have diagnosed me with clinical depression. In retrospect, I would classify it as more of a “mixed episode” of bipolar disorder.

Regardless of what you want to call it, though, my experience of life was very negative. Social situations were very draining to me, and even my physical perceptions seemed very dull and grey relative to what they are today. It’s like I was walking around in a fog, with the beauty of life hidden from me by my own fear, sorrow, frustration, and despair.

At first, this lead to constant thoughts of suicide — a symptom known as “suicide ideation” for all of you psychology buffs out there. But eventually, just a couple of years into the process, I started undergoing a slow but steady awakening. I didn’t want to die… not really, anyway, or at least not fully. What I really wanted was to LIVE — and the fact that I wasn’t able to live life to the fullest is what made me feel that death might be a better option than a life left unlived.

My first step towards what I would call a “beatific vision” started with activism. It was an internal step, initially — a choice to care, and a choice to reach out with my heart to those who were suffering an injustice. I lead a fairly sheltered life, but I knew what it was like to be bullied, and I knew what it was like to watch my family and friends suffer needlessly. And so, the sight of their beauty, and the ugliness that circumstances had thrust upon them, was enough to inspire me to take what little actions I could to make a difference in the world.

From there, it snowballed. Caring lead to action, and action lead to more caring. During the height of my depression, I had lead a very socially isolated life, speaking only to family and to friends on the Internet. Out of sheer self-defense, I had kept my tender heart behind lock and key. But now that I was out in the world talking to people about important issues, I felt my vision broadening and my heart expanding. This world — which I still found very frightening — was filled with beautiful people, and beautiful places, and a constant struggle between harm and healing, malice and benevolence, ignorance and understanding.

About two years ago, I crossed the point of no return — the point at which I made a conscious decision to release my death wish and embrace my love of life. Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been experiencing another stage in this awakening — a deepening ecstatic spiritual experience which I can only describe as a beatific vision.

Life is so strange to me, sometimes… to see what I see, and yet to act as though an “ordinary” life is still possible for me. There’s nothing ordinary about life anymore when I can see the divine beauty in even the most unlikeable and frustrating of people. It’s like holding Heaven in one hand and Hell in the other… recognizing the divinity of each and every person, each and every place, each and every moment, and yet seeing that divinity denied and defiled by a mix of apathy, greed, ignorance, hatred, and the like.

If only people saw each other — and themselves — the way that I see them, there would be no war. There would be no poverty. There would be no racism, classism, sexism, ecocide, and the like. We would spend our lives in ecstasy, sharing in all of the joys that life has to offer, joining in free cooperation to ensure the best experience for everyone. Instead, our vision is limited… our love is limited… our lives are limited… and even with my own beatific vision, I find myself sinking back at times into that bleak grey cloud that had a hold on me for so many years.

Is it wrong for me to love with such reckless abandon? Is it foolish of me to hope that the ecstatic power of my joy, my humor, my passion, my lust, my sorrow, my rage, my bliss, my sensuality, my creativity, will not fall on deaf ears, blind eyes, closed hearts? Is it mad of me to feel a deep longing to run naked through the streets, howling and whooping, crying out in praise of the beauty that so few seem able to see and so many seem willing to extinguish?

Even in all of my ecstatic fervor, though, I find the extra ounce of strength necessary to hold back for just another day, hoping and praying that my efforts to create change will be successful. If I have my way — and if others like me have their way — we will live in a world where more people see the beauty of life, the beauty of the Earth, the beauty of freedom, the beauty of love. Individuals will come together in circles of friends and family; friends and family will come together as communities; communities will come together as bioregional societies; and in the end, we will discover a good life the likes of which few of us can even imagine from the vantage point of the fog that currently surrounds us all.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about the prospect of being involved in projects that may in some way contribute to making this vision a reality!

Stay tuned for more details, because I’ll be announcing a few major projects over the course of the next few months. In the meantime, I encourage you to search your heart for all of the sources of pain and sorrow that may be blocking you from loving others and yourself fully. Find these blocks and release them — because love is its own reward, and the earthly beatific vision that results from a life of love is perhaps the most precious gift available to us as living beings.

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Post-Samhain Reflections for 2007

Samhain is always a big time of year for me. This year has been no exception. Now that the old year has passed away and the new one is waiting to be born, I thought I’d share some of my latest reflections on the state of my life and the state of the world.

First of all, the small but beautiful Tradition that my Coven belongs to had a Samhain gathering this year. We only had 5-6 people in attendance, but since last Samhain passed without a Tradition gathering at all, I saw this as progress. We had quite a bit of chaos set in when it turned out that the venue we had reserved for our ritual and our dinner had been double booked! Even so, this scheduling snafu turned out for the best. It gave us the opportunity to hold our ritual at the house of one of our Coveners who had never hosted a group ritual in her home before. The ritual went very nicely, and everyone was happy to reconnect after a long time apart.

Since I’d spent the 26th and 27th observing the holiday spiritually, I decided to spend Samhain itself at a Halloween party with some of my friends. I feel very close to my friends, and having fun at parties with them is often a spiritual experience for me. So, I thought that a Halloween party would be a good way to watch the old year slip into the shadows.

At first, everything seemed to be going quite well. Unfortunately, though, some rather serious drama unfolded that turned the whole event into a surreal spectacle. I’d like to blame it on the thinning of the veil, or the presence of some mischievous spirits fiddling with our drunken minds… but really, it was just a rather mundane case of one or more individuals having too much alcohol and not enough common sense. We all survived the night, though, and I’m still friends with everyone involved, so I see it as a learning experience for everyone rather than anything more serious. I love my friends dearly, and I’m happy to stick with them through thick and thin.

Samhain is always strange, but this Samhain has seemed stranger than most. I know that some people who read this probably see “spiritual energy” as a bunch of hooey and just want me to get back to the politics… but I must say that I’m feeling a strong relationship between politics and spirituality right now.

According to my beliefs, and the beliefs of many others, the veil between physical reality and spiritual reality is at its thinnest during this time of year. With all of the leaves and the annual plants dying away, a lot of spiritual energy is moving right now. This is why many traditions take this time to honor dead ancestors — because the flow of energy between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its greatest.

But with each passing year, I feel that this “thinning of the veil” is being affected more and more by climate change. That may sound funny, even to people who believe in spiritual energy… but if the ecological reality that sparks the thinning has fallen into chaos, then why wouldn’t the thinning itself do the same? When I feel the cold rains on my skin, it feels like Samhain is here, and the old year is passing away… but then a day or two later, the temperature slingshots back up to the 60s or even 70s, and I feel like I’m back in September.

Southern Illinois has always had somewhat unstable weather — but with climate change creating further instability, the result is a very strange transition between seasons. And as someone whose spiritual life revolves around the change in seasons, I find this very disturbing.

In any case, I feel that for the most part, we’ve passed the turning point. Samhain has come and gone, and Yule awaits us in just a little over a month. What do I foresee for the new year, both in my life and in the world at large?

In my own life, I can already feel the energies shifting in preparation for a new and exciting year. Some of the changes will come soon, and some will come in the spring… but all of them will come, and all of them are worth sharing.

One major change is where I live. I’m a Taurus, and I like to stay put if I have any say in the matter. But for a variety of reasons, it seems I’ll be moving in the very near future. I’m sure I’ll be staying in Carbondale, so don’t worry about having me disappear entirely. But my life will be thrown into chaos as I resettle in a new location somewhere else in the city. There’s also a good chance that I’ll be securing a more “permanent” living space in the coming year, but I don’t know if that will happen in the near future or sometime next Fall.

Another major change lies in my career. I’ve decided that I’ve come to live in this place, at this time, with these people, for a reason — and that reason does not revolve around stocking the shelves of a grocery store. The Neighborhood Co-op Grocery has been my bread and butter for over three years now, and I still feel that it’s the best retail job I’ve come across in Carbondale. Retail work, however, is not where my heart lies. Therefore, effective immediately, I’ll be resuming work on my career as an author, public speaker, and community organizer. I’ll also be resuming work on a side project with a friend that may or may not lead to income. Of course, I’ll still be with the Co-op indefinitely as I sort out the details of getting my career up and running. However, one of my goals for next Samhain is to have all of my income coming from my “revolutionary projects” rather than my day job at the Co-op.

This is a huge goal. In an economic arena like Southern Illinois, where people can often barely scrape by on retail work, it’s a daunting task to attempt to secure my economic survival through “unconventional” means. But really, that’s what it’s going to take to reach my goals in life, and that’s what it’ll take to create positive change in Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, and beyond.

The trick, as I see it, is to create social and economic projects which are readily achievable in the current setting, yet also serve to enhance and transform that setting. A “pie in the sky” approach to social and economic development doesn’t create change because it doesn’t work in the here and now — and a “conventional” approach doesn’t create change because it continues the same unfortunate trends that have lead to social and economic depression in the first place. Therefore, if our goal is to create social, economic, and ecological abundance in our community and region, we must come up with “innovative” solutions. These are solutions that take the resources we already have on the ground in Southern Illinois and use them in new ways to create economic abundance and positive social change.

I’m working on a few projects that I feel will fit into the “innovative” category. I’ll have more news on these soon. In the meantime, I’m off to take care of a few chores so that I’ll be ready for the big Veggie Thanksgiving dinner at the Interfaith Center tonight. Ahh, yummy food and yummy community connections…

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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