"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Sunday, August 16, 2009

8/16/09: That Uppity Ego

Dennis has become a major catalyst for a sobering perspective shift and a stunning transition. This has been a vicious personal process, considering I knew him for five short hours 15-months ago. I often talk high-minded about “lessons,” and if there is a small positive that I may be able to take from this sad story of Dennis, maybe it’s the long- overdue, deep seeded acceptance of “give & take” and a significant reinforcement of the Big Two of 2009: “The Side Car” and “The Center of the Universe.” The last two weeks has also made me view the next few months much differently.

I have been forced to re-evaluate how I view myself and the connections I’ve made while traveling. I long ago stopped believing in random “coincidence,” and while I will not invoke the Celestine Prophecy and claim that every interaction is of some importance, oftentimes people arrive in your life, or you arrive in theirs, at just that right time. What is hard for the ego to grasp is that it is not always for you. But, it is the height of arrogance to assume that every person is a bit player in each of our own personal dramas; that “fate” has only our particular interests in mind: Center of the Universe. Yet, each of us periodically falls into this bear trap, and it is difficult to observe while in its jaws.

People much more articulate than I have written it, but it seems that sometimes we need to resign ourselves to servitude; the Brush rather than the Artisan. I have concluded that was my role with Dennis, but while I wrote at the time that I knew I was of some potential use to him, my primary focus was on the egoistic thought that, “Hey! Maybe I’m fucking right about all of this!” Pathetic, yet understandable. On the other hand, I could have done nothing to “save” him. The ultimate responsibility to reclaim his life and identity WAS his. Conveyed words and ideas are useless to he who is blind and deaf. Staying with him that night was pointless, and considering the vibe and his ultimate fate, out of the question. My instincts were solid; what else could I have done? Nothing. You can extend a hand to the man lying in the gutter but what if he refuses to pull himself up? We are always given the black and white metaphorical choice: Fate v. Freewill. Maybe Forest Gump had it right and it’s both. I am also rapidly coming to believe Rush’s notion that blaming venomous fate is victimist thinking. Fate can influence and provide us opportunity, but our decisions define us. Or, perhaps fate is influenced by our decisions? I’ll let someone else crawl into that paradox. My regret resides not in my actions, but in my ignorance as to its significance.

Days of thinking about all of this and a couple other events have caused me to step back, relax and, to borrow A.A.’s term, take a bit of an inventory. I have asked questions that have resulted in frightening and intimidating answers. Ones that require relinquishing a degree of control. I am not entirely sure at this point that I want, or even know how to accept that entirely. Then again, it’s too late to have any choice in the matter, isn’t it? That time has long past. Fighting it only prolongs and complicates the inevitable.

I have fought individual and collective battles with Uppity Egos over the months, and I believe I have begun to see where mine has been dragging me. It is also becoming clear where the good half of that duality has been not so gently nudging me with that oft-mentioned “irritation.” My purpose has little to do with developing technical schematics for the secrets of the universe. They are secret for a reason and it is laughable to think that I (or anyone) is that clever. Even if I were to come to conclusions and decided to share it, how would I then be any different from Mormon Missionaries? How would I be different from the Christians who trade charity only in exchange for the chance to impose their doctrine? I believe mine is a process of learning how to remain “awake,” or tuned- in while returning to 2008’s mindset of riding the wave; seeing what characters take the stage, but also with a keen focus on when I am playing the role of the bit player. Staying tapped into what Brian called Flow; the unseen but tangible energy of life that we can touch, feel, and use to guide us; the source of Joy. Those of you familiar with Joseph Campbell will probably recognize it as “Bliss.” For the record, I have yet to read or watch any of his material except for a few excerpts but here is one:

“But if a person has had the sense of the Call -- the feeling that there's an adventure for him -- and if he doesn't follow that, but remains in the society because it's safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to that condition in late middle age: he's gotten to the top of the ladder, and found that it's against the wrong wall.

If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I'm not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one's "bliss" -- the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life -- doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of.

…When you are at a certain age…and look back over your life, it seems to be almost as orderly as a composed novel. And just as in Dickens' novels, little accidental meetings and so forth turn out to be main features in the plot, so in your life. And what seem to have been mistakes at the time, turn out to be directive crises…

Life seems as though it were planned; and there is something in us that's causing what you hear of as being accident-prone: it's something in ourselves. There is a mystery here… Can anything happen to you for which you're not ready? I look back now on certain things that at the time seemed to be real disasters, but the results turned out to be the structuring of a really great aspect of my life and career. So what can you say?

And the other point is, if you follow your bliss, you'll have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose money, and then you don't have even that. The secure way is really the insecure way and the way in which the richness of the quest accumulates is the right way.” –Joseph Campbell “An Open Life”

You will either sense a familiarity with that, or have no clue what the hell we’re talking about! It’s useless to attempt explaining it; you get it or you don’t, but it is the foundation of everything. It’s your “Voice.” The one that so many artists have tried to capture. Unfortunately, I don’t believe everyone is capable of acquiring that frequency or maybe they’re so lost in ego and corrupted identity that they simply can’t hear it. Many more can hear it, but have no idea what it is and are incapable of articulating it beyond a feeling. A “Splinter in the Mind.”

I am a Spiritual Anarchist. Each person’s beliefs are his or her own; to find on his or her own. That thing I term the Voice, Campbell calls Bliss, and some refer to as Consciousness, is not be dictated by, confused with, or confounded by any doctrine. I believe that was what I was trying to convey with the “Dragon Parable.” That basic, ancient concept of self-discovery IS the essence of spirituality and the Voice’s vocal cords. The “spirit” in spirituality refers to yours, and only you speak its language. It is tuning in to your sixth sense. The Voice, Frequency, Bliss, call it Broccoli if you want; terminology is meaningless. Snake and other Christians refer to it as a “calling.” Eastern religion describes it as God Within, using meditation (Sit Down & Shut Up?) to engage it and become that Sidecar. Of course, none of this philosophy is anything new. What are new is where it is taking me, and how the course has been altered.

It’s easy, when discovering something you think will help others, to become excited and want to give it away. Brian’s insight has resonated well: mirroring is the way to inspire people, by offering them the opportunity to quietly and privately inspire themselves thru introspection. In my opinion, “Peace Pilgrim” is a hypocritical nut job, and I do not buy her self-righteous claims about “finding total peace.” No one finds total peace, unless they’re named Buddha or Jesus, but there is one wonderful quote in her little pamphlet: “You cannot change anyone but yourself. After you have become an example, you can inspire others to change themselves.” I have noticed that at work several times from surprising sources when I have not spoken or written a word. It usually begins through a series of serious, heartfelt questions usually in an attempt to understand and fight fear. It’s remarkable and humbling, but I personally do not aspire to be The Great Sage of the West, nor some self- appointed Leader of Men. Beware of those assuming or preparing for that particular title. Our past is littered with these egomaniacs: Manson thought and convinced others that God put him on earth to lead following Helter Skelter. Hitler "knew the path" to domination for the Aryan Race. I am sure there are more than a couple “vacuum fillers” embedded in the various militias around the country waiting for the collapse. The best leaders do not have to campaign; they are just followed.

Looking Forward

Over the last week, I have decided to abandon the Seattle plan, and perhaps Oregon & California. Such is not my path. While Chris and I share many of the same beliefs, our focus now lie in significantly different directions. Over the past month, whenever I would discuss the plan to ride with Chris, Penney & Robert to Washington, I would notice that it was quickly followed by that same annoyance that’s been plaguing me in various degrees since New Jersey, and it had gotten more intense since Dennis. It became obvious that my path needs to be solo, and look more similar to 2008. The difference being that I have an acute awareness of the Ying & Yang of alternating roles, as well as taking the Big Two of 2009, and practicing them on a more consistent basis. It’s not hard to get back there. All I have to do is remember the people from the last 15-months: Snake, Will, Ciel, Pat, Nick, Ken, Cesar, Jo, Florian, Eric & Marine, Kim, Gus, Trent, Shelly, Steve, Brian, Dave, Inga, and more. These people and more have left significant traces.


Since Michigan, this is a topic I seem to be contemplating and discussing quite frequently. Fear is a never-ending fight and if we cower too often, it can cripple and make us a prisoner of our own mind.

I find it hilarious that people often tell me that they find me "courageous." Someone famous wrote, “None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.” Well, I have known more than most! It has had a history of paralyzing me. I have made a mistake in not publishing the back-story from 2004- 2008, before Running with the Wind. I will correct that eventually, but it literally took me those 4- years to hit the road, primarily due to fear. The “what ifs” consumed me. I was never prepared enough, never had the right equipment, or the destination was not right because too much “might happen.” Much of that was due to a lack of confidence, a major source of fear. In the weeks leading up to my departure in May 2008 I repeatedly shredded myself in my journal about the fact that I KNEW I was an obvious coward with nothing but big talk and bigger ideas, and I was sick of feeling powerless to do anything about it. This is from April 20, 2008, exactly one month before I began this little adventure:

“Same old story. I thrive when it’s concept and planning but when it comes time to execute [and] put my ass on the line I hesitate, procrastinate, and try to avoid the hard fought experience I need to answer questions, identify weaknesses and conquer my pathetic fears. Fear doesn’t reside in the heart of the adversary or [in the] prospect of failure; it resides in the heart of the coward… In many ways, I am indeed a coward. How else can I identify or define it? That’s the hard truth, but I hold out hope that I’ll still be able to change that…. I’m obviously afraid to find and redefine these old boundaries and [create] new ones…. I can ‘pontificate’ to the end of the world, but it’s... simple. I’m a coward. I’m only dipping my little toe into the ocean of ideas I’ve created. It’s as though I’ve built a bridge and am afraid to cross it on my own., waiting for someone else to try it out because I’m not sure I trust my own craftsmanship… While it helps to explain the “whys” and the details of these fears, let’s not lose sight of what it really is. Call it by its real name: Cowardice… From here on, I won’t be delicate about that, and need to be conscious of attacking these things in whatever way I can... This phase is about attacking fears. Cowardice. I don’t like using that term: Coward. Yet I believe it’s an important admission… Admitting to fear, something common to all of us, is somehow gentle, and open to rationalization and easy acceptance of failings. Cowardice, however, is a character flaw. Unforgivable for a man who’s critical of the status quo and systemic life.”
Fear is a motherfucker because it is a terrifying, loud ghost. It’s usually not based on anything tangible in the moment; danger in the moment is confronted with action and instinct. Either fear is rooted in the future (what if) or on the past (what was). I decided to post this self-loathing little entry as an example because, with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I see how silly it was. I was in the business of creating my own worst- case scenarios. “What if” was the phrase most commonly running through my mind. Luckily, I was able to remember the effects of this toxic thinking after I left and this helped combat the nagging fears that remained present, but steadily and quickly faded as time went by. The “Vern Moment” in Wyoming was a watershed because, once through it, I was finally able to laugh at these previously terrifying fears.

The ability to feel fear and keep moving forward distinguishes the living from the merely breathing.” is one of my favorite quotes. You will never completely eliminate fear, but you have a choice of how to handle it. Be crippled by irrational fears and be the equivalent of a brain in the vat, or confront them. In my experience, the more you confront them, the more confidence you gain from the realization that they usually are based on… nothing. A good starting point: Ask yourself, “What would I do if I were not afraid?

An important distinction is the difference between irrational fear and hubris. If you put yourself in ridiculously dangerous situations, for which you are ill- prepared and do not know it, you deserve your fate. Find your boundaries and know your limitations. Chris McCandless of Into the Wild fame has attained cult status amongst many misguided hippie- youth because they believe he died “nobly” living his ideals. Horseshit. He starved to death, and stupidly. The kid thought that he could commune with nature, despite the fact that he had grossly inadequate skills to survive in Alaska.

There was a similar story just this past month in Colorado. He set off into the back-country, eventually mailed much of his gear home, and then quit receiving his supplies. They found his body near Lake City in July, after spending the winter buried beneath 20’ of snow. They found him next to a cabin that may have saved his life, but was unable to get inside because he was ill- equipped. Like McCandless, this person had noble ideals but was either arrogant, or "inadequately common sensed." This hiker was, by all accounts, highly intelligent, had well- developed ideas and kept a meticulous journal. However, he failed to protect it, so not only was HE lost… so was his essence. In the end, what did he die for? To become an anecdote?

Some fear is good; the kind that occasionally protects you from yourself and prevents you from stumbling into legitimately dangerous situations. A little courage coupled with a cup of common sense and a dash of realistic humility will take one a long way.