Heart Full of Ecstasy

Mountain Ecstasy by Maxfield Parrish: This is the painting "Mountain Ecstasy" by Maxfield Parrish.Ecstasy.

No, I’m not talking about the drug. I’m talking about the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual experience of an all-consuming bliss that is both immanent and transcendent in nature. I’ve been feeling this again lately, so I thought I’d share what I feel.

Words can never explain the beauty and power of this experience. Words can, however, present us with imagery that evokes our memories of whatever fleeting moments of ecstasy we may have experienced. In this way, words can be a simple but powerful form of magic, reawakening our consciousness into an echo of our previous experiences of ecstasy.

Ecstasy is in the racing of our pulse, the widening of our eyes, the sudden silence of our otherwise chattering minds as we find ourselves in the presence of incomprehensible beauty. We may feel it when we find ourselves bathed in the radiant glow of a sunset, or immersed in the verdant vibrance of a meadow, or enraptured in the eager embrace of a lover. In these moments, there is no denying what we feel, and no containing what we feel without a great deal of willpower and a greater amount of sorrow.

Ecstasy is a manifestation of the deepest, truest form of love — a love which demands nothing in return, and which radiates the purest of joys simply in response to the presence of the subject of that love. This radiant experience can arise out of any form of love: a love for our living Earth; a love for the brilliance of human creativity; a love for one or more of our fellow humans; or any other love that leaves us in awe of something greater than ourselves.

This love, however, isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Where there lies great passion, there can also lie great sorrow and suffering. Deadly smog and neon lights can blot out the beauty of sun, moon, and stars. The human spirit can be twisted and broken by the banality and viciousness of a society gone mad. The ones we love can be taken from us through death, destruction, disagreement, confusion, self-absorption, and betrayal. At times, we may look upon these realities of life and feel our heart wrenched by a terrible feeling which rivals our former joy in its depth, complexity, and power.

And yet, in its own way, this too is a form of ecstasy. We only feel such profound suffering and sorrow in the presence of true love — and so our deepest and most hurtful experiences of anguish and despair serve as testaments to our love.

I used to wonder why people closed their hearts to love to varying degrees. But now I understand all too well. Love is a wild, restless, explosive, untameable force of nature that transforms and tears apart everything in its wake. When you open your heart to love, you open it to both extremes of this ecstasy — the transcendent bliss of a hopeless romantic and the inescapable anguish of a romantic who has lost all hope.

Some people say it’s not worth the pain. Most if not all of us insulate ourselves from this maddening force of nature with a strong measure of apathy, numbness, and self-restraint. We open our hearts to no one, or only to a select few who have slowly but surely gained our trust. We may at times feel like something’s missing in life, but at least we have sense of comfort, security, stability, and perhaps even peace.

But I say it’s not worth it. I say that no amount of security or stability is worth the cost of living in fear of our own passion and potential. I say that we should embrace our love for ourselves and each other, and embrace our creative inspirations, and embrace any path in life that sparks an ecstatic experience within us. I’ve started doing so, and I encourage you to do the same.

When I open my heart to love, I feel alive — more alive than I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. When I open my heart to love, I feel the fires of passion arising within me, and the strangling constraints of social expectations burning away all around me.

In the past, whenever I felt the sting of sorrow or the slap of a social constraint telling me how to think or feel or live my life, I started holding back on my love, dampening the flames of this fire burning within my heart. But now more than ever, I can see that this internalized repression of my own passion for life was killing me, and that this dampening of my own flame is worse than any amount of suffering that embracing my love may bring. I can see that people all around me are dampening their own flames in their own ways, and it fills me with an overwhelming, relentless, wild, untameable desire to become a living force for the liberation of our innermost passions and deepest experiences of love and ecstasy.

And that liberation starts with me.

I know I’ve written on these themes before, and I know that in the past I’ve been searching for some way to unleash this inner fire. But I’ve come to realize that all of this time, I’ve been looking for some external solution. I’ve been looking for some dramatic event, or some golden opportunity, or some profound experience, or some brilliant idea, or some incredible person to come into my life and open the door to freedom and self-actualization.

But I can feel something different now. I can feel something shifting inside of me. I can slowly but surely feel a strength welling up within me that I’ve never known before. This love, this passion, this ecstasy that I’ve invited into every fiber of my being is transforming me. Yes, at times it’s brought me more anguish and despair than I would have even imagined possible. But it’s also made me who I am, and who I am becoming.

I’m becoming someone who feels in my heart what I previously searched for in the outside world. I feel a growing strength and security; I feel a rising sense of freedom and empowerment; I feel as though the chains that have held me back for longer than I can remember are finally falling away.

For longer than I can remember, I’ve looked high and low for a spot of solid ground where this inner flame of mine would be safe and free to shine. Now, I’m finding that spot of solid ground within me — in my body, in my heart, in my mind, in my spirit.

This is the start of a whole new dimension of personal empowerment and liberation. The flickering flame has suddenly grown steady, and my inner fire is ready to shine. There’s nothing more to wait for, and no force in the world that can stop me from unleashing this fire within.

This is big news. This is such big news that I don’t even know where it’s going to take me. But I’ll be sure to let you know once I know. In the meantime, I’m off to bed. I’ve got quite an adventure ahead of me, so I’d better rest up now while I still have the chance.

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State of the Revolution, Fall 2008

For over two hundred years, the President of the United States has taken the time once per year to deliver an address to Congress about the state of the nation. Sometimes, this was simply a written message that was read to Congress by a messenger. Other times, it has been a speech delivered personally by the President himself. Ever since the term of Franklin D. Roosevelt, this address has become widely known as the “State of the Union” address.

As a social anarchist, I’m not a big fan of Presidents and the disingenuous speeches they give. I am, however, a big fan of addressing public issues of local, regional, national, and international significance. As citizens of an allegedly free and democratic society, I feel that it’s our right — indeed, our duty — to talk about such issues and make our own decisions about them. Therefore, I’ve decided to issue my own State of the Revolution address.

A well-informed person could write an entire book on the subject. Sadly, I must admit that I’m not as well-informed as I’d like to be. Revolution is ideally a global affair, and my knowledge of international affairs is minimal, gleaned mostly from the Daily Show and internet chatrooms. My awareness of national and regional struggles is only slightly more expansive. Therefore, I will keep my thoughts relatively brief and mostly focused on the potential for revolution as I see it in my life, my community, and my region.

First, though, a few words on the international scene.

Globalization continues with each passing day. The question is no longer whether or not humanity will start to function as a single global society, but rather what form that global society will take. Will the world be a place of freedom, independence, and relative harmony, or a place of domination, centralized authority, and perpetual violence? Both tendencies seem to be experiencing a renewed resurgence, so it’s hard to say which way the struggle will go. The fate of the world for the next several hundred years, though, will probably be largely decided by the current and next generation.

I’ve been happy to see a greater focus internationally on global climate change and other environmental crises. The US could learn a lot from the work of other nations on these issues. But then again, the transnational corporations are continuing to become more entrenched in the global economy, surpassing small nations with the vastness of their wealth. And nobody really seems to be paying enough attention to Peak Oil. Sure, there’s the surface dialog about high gas prices, especially in the US and a few other places. But who is really ready to cope with the fact that from approximately this point forward, our oil supply will start to decrease?

Nationally, it’s been heartwarming to watch Bush’s poll numbers plummet — yet disheartening to see that nothing is being done about him, and probably nothing will be. There are mountains of evidence indicating that a sitting President has willfully deceived the American people and lead them into a war of aggression. Where are the massive general strikes? Where is the militant popular movement demanding for him to be impeached and tried for war crimes? Do people not appreciate the depths of his crimes, or are they just not willing or able to act on them?

Regionally and locally, I’ve been excited by a resurgence of environmental and social activism. This new wave of action (or at least the portion of it that I’ve been following) is largely student-led and consists of a wide array of reformist, radical, and revolutionary actions and campaigns. I think that people my age and younger are starting to get tired of being viewed as amoral consumers and starting to get tired of watching their lives and their futures ruined for a cheap buck.

The one fatal flaw of most of this activism, though, is a lack of revolutionary strategy. Reformist groups seek to challenge and petition corporate and government agencies without questioning the very existence of such authoritarian and inhuman institutions. Radical groups go a step further by seeking to oppose and disrupt oppressive institutions, yet often lack a progressive strategy for change and a constructive vision for forms of social organizing to replace the corporations and the centralized governmental bureaucracies. If we don’t get our food/energy/information/etc from the corporations, then where will we get it?

As I see it, then, the biggest challenge facing progressives, radicals, and revolutionaries today is to take all of this renewed dissatisfaction with the likes of Bush and channel it into forms of organizing that are effective, strategic, and revolutionary in nature. That way, we can take all of this energy people have and turn it into a powerful force for positive and lasting change.

We have all of this pent-up frustration over what Bush and the men around him and before him have done to this country and this world. What we need most right now is a way to draw all of this frustration together and channel it into actions and organizations that have a real chance of uprooting the authoritarian power base and sowing the seeds of a more free and democratic society.

I have some serious and specific ideas on how to go about this. For the past few months, I’ve been looking off and on for other people who share an interest in this sort of far-reaching strategic thinking and how to apply it here in Carbondale and throughout Southern Illinois. I encourage all people who are interested in strategic organizing to contact me and share their thoughts.

To be honest, it’s been rough going. But I’ve talked to a few other people about it on a few different occasions, and we all seemed to feel a sense of hope and have our own unique ideas to contribute. Therefore, as harvest time approaches and the students return to town, I’m hoping to see a resurgence in strategic thinking and planning. Really, I’m hoping that other people will get a project like this going and I can just come along for the ride! But either way, my heart lies with this effort to draw people together under the banner of strategic visioning and community organizing, so I will go wherever my heart takes me.

On a personal note, I would say that the State of the Revolution in my own life is looking much better than it has in a long time. For a while there, I was letting my exhaustion, frustration, and depression get the best of me. Now, with the help of a combination of yoga, prayer, and quality time with friends, I’ve seen a significant improvement in my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. This renewed foundation of personal empowerment has started spilling over into a renewed inspiration to take on creative projects and community projects.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called Revolution of One. This book outlines a collection of personal practices and community organizations that can help each of us to build our power and reach out from that place of empowerment to do good in our community and our society.

At the time, this approach to revolution was still fairly new to me, and I found myself bogged down in a series of personal challenges before I had the time to fully understand and implement the very strategies that I had just written about. But now, with a bit more experience under my belt and a bit more time for personal healing, I find myself taking to heart the lessons that I first learned while I was writing this book.

At some point in the next week or two, I plan on rereading Revolution of One. It’s a quick read, and it’ll help me to stay on track with this renewal of focus and purpose. Without even thinking about it, I’ve found myself intuitively applying some of the strategies and tactics contained therein with surprisingly good results. Therefore, I intend to reflect on what I’ve learned and shared with others, and what I’ve finally started to benefit from personally. From this kernel of positive personal growth, I can grow once again into the role of community organizing and perhaps even broader regional visioning. Together with other kindred spirits, I can do my part to leave the world in a better state than I found it.

Revolution is a daunting task. A true revolution challenges and transforms all aspects of life, from our innermost thoughts and feelings to the most broad and impersonal institutions of state, national, and international power. But ultimately, revolution starts and finishes with a shift in consciousness: a feeling that something is not quite right in the world; an understanding of how a better world might come into being; and a relentless drive to turn that vision into a reality.

This, then, is the State of the Revolution. The world is still in a sorry state, and our efforts to do something about it lie strewn about us like so many disparate strands of thread. But the fate of the world is in your hands, and in my hands, and in all of our hands. So let’s do whatever we can to honor this feeling inside of ourselves that something is not quite right in the world of today. Let’s work together to clarify and strengthen our understanding of how a better world might come into being. And most of all, let’s embrace our relentless drive to turn our shared visions into a better reality.

In the fires of our passion and the light of our vision, a more free, more cooperative, and more ecological world will be born. Any doubts of this that I may feel from time to time melt away when I look into the eyes of a fellow revolutionary, see the same fire that burns in my own heart, and know that we will not rest until our dreams of a better world have become a reality.

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Standing Up To The Madness

Tiananmen Tank Man: This is the iconic photo of the Unknown Rebel, aka Tank Man, who stood up to a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Photo by Jeff Widener (Associated Press) So… this entry is half book review and half call to action. The book is “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times” by Amy Goodman and David Goodman. And the action… well, that’s for you to decide. But you’d better make it good if you want to end up in Amy’s next book!

First, a few words about the book. “Standing Up to the Madness” is a must-read for anyone and everyone who would rather not be a pawn of the powers that be. It explores several examples of situations in which “ordinary” citizens found themselves confronted by some extraordinary injustice and chose to take action against it. In most if not all cases, these were David versus Goliath type stories — a lone individual, or a small group of family members, facing off against heartless bureaucracies and corporations in spite of the personal risk.

At times, this book is as disheartening as the dynamic duo’s last book, and the vast majority of other books and other media that describe the situation in our nation and our world today. Many such reports only serve to raise our ire without giving us any sense of what if anything can be done about it. But with this book, they have chosen — quite wisely, I might add — to reframe the narrative by focusing on everyday citizens like you and I who have done what little they knew how to do in an effort to make a difference in the world.

And on a good day, the difference is made.

If we ever hope to live in a land of real democracy and real freedom, we need more books like this, and more people like the ones described in this book.

As I read this book, and consider the positive impact that this “ordinary hero” approach may have on our society, I’m reminded of the work of Joseph Campbell. If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend that you check it out, starting with the interview series called “The Power of Myth” that he did with Bill Moyers shortly before his death.

You can debate all day whether it’s a matter of hardwiring, or social conditioning, or something else entirely. But at the end of the day, it seems quite clear that human beings understand the world in terms of mythological narratives. These narratives have similar themes and aspects that cross all cultural and ideological boundaries with their stories of archetypal heroes who go on a journey to right some wrong, learn some lesson, or become who they truly are within.

I would argue that the quality of life in any society — and the realization of true freedom and true democracy — is largely dependent on the quality of that society’s mythological narratives. Who is seen as having power in the society? What is seen as important? What is believed to be possible and desirable?

Our understanding of these questions can either keep us in bondage or set us free.

The narrative pushed by the mainstream media is carefully crafted to keep us in bondage. Heroes are rare, superhuman, unreal creatures bestowed with great power by some accident of birth, or some divine intervention, or some marvel of science and material might. We are taught to watch these unrealistic archetypal narratives as a form of catharsis so that we will feel more content with the narrative laid out for the majority of citizens: namely, a life of conformity and consumption. If you live by the rules, work hard at your 9-to-5, and don’t ask too many questions, you’ll earn a fair amount of toys to play with and a life of relative comfort and stability.

That’s the story, anyway.

But this story isn’t terribly empowering. It’s understood that most people will never do anything terribly heroic, and most things in our society will never change. This leaves a lot of people longing for something more… but they seldom know why, or where to find it.

Sadly, the narrative told (somewhat unintentionally) by radicals and revolutionaries is often equally disempowering. The world is ruled by supervillains; politicians like George Bush and corporations like Halliburton and Wal-Mart are at the center of the narrative, weaving a path of death, destruction, and global domination in their wake. Ordinary citizens fight against these titans, and sometimes they even win — but in the end, the Big Corps and Big Govts are the main characters of these stories, and the most heroic action that any citizen can take is to flail wildly in the paths of such behemoths and hope to foil their plans by swarming them.

This narrative is at times quite helpful in mobilizing mass numbers of people to flail in the paths of the behemoths. And sometimes, this strategy is effective at taking out a particularly nasty corporation or politician. But you know what? We can do better than that. We can live in a world where we, the people, are the main characters of the story. We can develop our own narratives, and become our own heroes, working individually and collectively in a proactive and creative manner to create the sort of society that we would like to live in.

That’s one minor shortcoming I do see in “Standing Up to the Madness.” In this narrative, the focus is still on the evils being done by people in power and how we as individuals and communities can stop them. But at least they’ve made the quantum leap in thinking that is essential to any real change — namely, the shift from seeing ourselves as helpless victims to seeing ourselves as the heroes of our own narratives.

So let’s do it, then. Let’s reframe the story of our lives so that we become main characters, perhaps even heroes in our own way. Let’s stand up to the madness. Let’s challenge the Big Corps and Big Govt at every turn. Let’s stop waiting for heroes to come along and rescue us, and start taking concrete actions in our lives wherever we feel the pinch of war, of racism, of classism, of sexism, of homophobia, of ecocide, and beyond.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We are the heroes we’ve been dreaming of. And that doesn’t mean that life has to become a dry and bitter struggle against the forces of oppression and injustice. Let us take a step beyond any of the blueprints offered to us, and let us tell a tale of everyday heroes who celebrate life with equal measures of righteous rage and loving creativity. For in our hands, we hold the heroic power of both creation and destruction — the power to foil the plans of even the most epic supervillains, and the power to create communities of freedom and cooperation that outshine any mythological utopia that has come before us.

With that said, I’m off to enjoy the happier half of that equation by spending time with friends at the Sunset Concert tonight. If you like this idea of rewriting the narrative of your own life so that you are a main character, then I highly encourage you to explore it in as many ways as possible. If you desire the company of a fellow adventurer on this journey, you know where to find me.

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Health and Wellness

Vitruvian Man: I included this image of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man image in a blog entry called New Beginnings. Since my earlier Adrenal Burnout entry had used the Vitruvian Man with a frowny face, I used this as a way of establishing continuity with the previousNow that another year of my life has come and gone, I find myself thinking deep thoughts about life, death, the meaning of it all, and the direction that I”m headed in. The lessons that I’ve learned lately and the thoughts that I’m having lately will lead to some definite changes in the way that I approach social and ecological projects. I’ll have more news on that soon, once I’ve sorted out more of the details. In the meantime, I have a bit to say on the importance of health and wellness in any quest for personal empowerment and/or social transformation.

Good health is one of the most tangible, enduring, and foundational forms of personal empowerment available to us. With a healthy body, mind, and heart, each of us becomes a master of our own destiny, possessing the material and spiritual resources necessary to face any challenge and accomplish any goal. Of course, a person with no money, no political power, no companions, and so on will face many more challenges and delays than a person with wealth, power, and numerous allies. But even a pauper without a friend in the world can often accomplish great things if they have the energy, the vision, and the passion to do so. All of these qualities and more bubble forth from the wellspring of good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

But how is such health achieved? This question has been on the minds of much of humanity for millennia. Really, there isn’t a simple and universal answer. Each human is a unique creature, and the health needs of our species in general have been complicated and mutated by millennia of toxic foods, toxic psycho-social dynamics, and other forms of “unnatural selection.” As such, there is no cure-all approach to health and wellness that can solve all of humanity’s health problems, or even necessarily the health problems of any individual.

The good news, though, is that there are specific and tangible things that each of us can do to improve our health and the health of our communities.

I think that for a lot of people, the first step is to change the way that we think of pursuing good health. Many of us, myself included, tend to see the pursuit of good health as some sort of burden or buzzkill, kinda like homework or chores. And if you’re rigid and uncreative about it, healthy living really can be seem like some sort of masochistic self-punishment. But really, even if you achieve some sort of diet or exercise goal that way, you’re still not achieving emotional health in the process, otherwise you’d be happier about what you’re doing.

On a personal level, I think it’s important to think of health as something empowering and exciting rather than a chore to be worked on. For a long time now, I’ve been depressed and pessimistic about my health challenges, so I allowed myself to start viewing physical health tasks such as diet and exercise as chores. For the sake of my emotional and mental health, I abandoned these chores in favor of more fun activities such as spending time with friends, spending time online, and eating comfort foods that weren’t contributing to good health.

But lately, I’ve been starting to bring the fun back into good health practices. I find that I actually have more fun and feel better about myself when I’m well-rested, well-fed, and participating in healthy forms of physical activity such as yoga and casual exercise/sports with friends (frisbee, whiffleball, walking, climbing trees, etc). Now, instead of seeing the pursuit of good health as a burden, I’m starting to see it as a foundation for all of the good experiences I have in life. I look for forms of exercise that are fun, healthy foods that are delicious, and social activities that are emotionally and intellectually stimulating. This more integrative approach to pursuing and maintaining good health releases me from all of the counterproductive guilt and rigidity of a more chore-oriented health program, while also releasing me from the aches, exhaustion, sickness, and anxiety that result for me when I completely abandon any thought of health or wellness.

This renewed pursuit of good health is still new for me, and the more integrative approach to healthy living is even newer for me. But I feel like I’m already seeing some of the benefits, and I’d really like to see other people I know talking and thinking and acting along similar lines.

This isn’t a purely individualistic issue, though. Good health can be immensely satisfying and personally empowering, but it’s also a crucial social issue. Individuals who are robustly healthy are able to participate more effectively, productively, and creatively in society and social change movements. And a society that neglects the health and wellness of its citizens is putting itself on the fast track to epidemic illness, social unrest, economic recession, and ultimately self-destruction.

Currently, we live in a culture of consumption, extraction, and destruction. Emphasis is placed on the quantity of economic growth, not the quality of human development. This logic of infinite growth and consumption is the logic of a cancer cell, tearing mercilessly through its host — in this case, Planet Earth — without considering the consequences for individual humans, human societies, the species as a whole, or the planet. This way of thinking and living permeates every aspect of our culture and every aspect of our personal, social, economic, and political lives. If we want to turn the tides on this trend and create human societies that embrace the cycle of life, death, and birth, then we have to draw the line somewhere.

As societies, we can draw that line in all sorts of complex and comprehensive ways. As individuals, though, the final point of no return is you — your body, your mind, your heart, and your spirit. If you really want to challenge this logic of global destruction, you must start by challenging it in the innermost recesses of yourself and your life. And the challenge starts with finding approaches to health and wellness that are both effective and enjoyable.

So far, my practice of this way of thinking is still in its infancy. But I hope to talk with other people about it too and see what we can come up with together. And especially since we live in a society where health insurance is a scarce resource, I think it’s essential for us to talk about health with each other and see what we can do to co-create health in our families, among our circles of friends, in our communities, and ultimately in our societies.

I’m excited about this. I want to spend more time on personal and social activities that make me feel healthy and happy and active and empowered. I want to start some sort of informal group that seeks out physical and social activities that strengthen our bodies and open our hearts. We can be urban and arboreal adventurers, seeking out games, hikes, and other forms of recreation that are fun, exciting, energizing, and supportive of our physical fitness and social togetherness.

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do whatever it is that you feel will help you to become both healthier and happier. Maybe that will be yoga for you as it has been for me. Maybe it’ll be jogging, or sports, or getting enough rest, or improving your emotional or social health through time with friends or creative/inspiring activities that you don’t usually make time for. Whatever it is, though, take heart in the knowledge that no matter what else may be going on around you, there is something you can do to make yourself healthier, happier, and ultimately more prepared for whatever else the world may be sending your way.

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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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