Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Monday, December 13, 2010

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

In which I uncover the most compelling reason to stay put in my California home, track my about face from a knowledge driven quest for truth to an intuitively informed one, and contact the dead.

Recently a peak oil blogger I follow, the Russian born US based Dimitry Orlov, published a guest post by a writer urging us to leave the United States for a country more conducive to good living. Or at least not so frustrating, given our perverse, denial ridden, but nevertheless failing empire politics. And because I do have that option open to me I had to give serious thought to why I chose to stay put. The post had even suggested Thailand as a viable option.

It is certainly true that the US government consistently favors the rich and fleeces the rest of us while our economy sits on the unstable specter of printed money. Our education system, healthcare system, pension plan and infrastructure all fail to offer us the amenities expected by our first world counterparts (not to mention those enviable five-week vacations).

None of these reasons are new revelations. Nor were they ever motivating factors. The prevailing reason for me staying in the US (specifically California), is because of what I am easily able to think while living here. California is the most conducive place for believing, as Lewis Carroll put it, six impossible things before breakfast.

Not that I can't believe impossible things in Thailand. The population is, after all, obsessed with ghost stories. Reincarnation is a given and every homeowner offers a comparable tiny home for the spirits while other spirits of the land are also honored where they make their presence known. Technological wonders are equally embraced. In Thailand I can express whatever impossible things I might want to believe playing both sides of the cultural fence (given my foreign born mother); most will nod in agreement or listen in wonder. Thus unchallenged, my new thoughts slip away in favor of the next congenial social event. And being from a wealthy family I had fewer material and social limitations to act as a whip. What impossible thing would I strive for when all is provided?

I occasionally think of living in England, my birthplace. Europe, we all know is more enlightened as far as social welfare, walkable cities and culture. The level of intellectual discussion I've experienced is refreshing. However it is much harder to get away with verbalizing six impossible things before breakfast. Despite the UK being the land of Stonehenge, table-rapping spiritualists and crop circles, the way one speaks is so important that nearly all my effort is devoted to shoring up evidence that I am properly educated and not given to unscientific notions or fits of grandiosity that might lead to life-changing experiments.

Given the eternal politeness of the British, barbed as it is with an ever-judging wit, everyone is allowed their say uninterrupted. This slows the pace of conversation way down and I become quite self-conscious. It is not an atmosphere conducive to off-the-cuff suggestions that might rapidly marshal a meeting of the minds. I can't really get up a good head of steam unless I get to interrupt someone.

In the US we have proven that being well-educated does not necessarily result in logical beliefs, given the absurdities of our politics. In the Bay Area, however, the tension between intellectual vigor favoring technological innovation and the diversity of spiritual practice managing to co-exist with equal determination, make Northern California a haven for far out thought and activity. One can partake in all manner of healing modalities and alternative medicine, several flavors of Buddhist meditation, Taiko drumming, a gathering of Queer Pagan Faeries, Qigong, sex-positive masturbation workshops and spiritual environmental activism without having to drive more than an hour or two if that.

Unimpaired by inclement weather, California is a place of perpetual intentions—the perpetual pursuit of health, individual sports, spiritual enlightenment and entrepreneurial wealth. Any of six impossible things I might think up before breakfast can manifest itself into full-blown immersion by evening with a book from the library. Thus last month, when I became interested in Shamanism, I went from book to weekend workshop in a matter of weeks.

I had been practicing meditation with Catherine who is a more serious enthusiast of Theravada Buddhism than I. Meditation was a good tool for identifying, then dispelling my mind of my many intellectual arguments. But lately, I began to hanker after the vividness of the guided meditations that I had experienced when I spent a year studying the earth-based religion of the European Goddess tradition aka witches, the medicine women of the times, burned at the stake to make way for the Christian Church. I had studied with an engaging teacher on the coast in Moss Beach who focused on using the Tarot.

The last time I had entered the pastoral landscape of those guided meditations was 15 years ago. I went to see my cat who had just died, killed by a car. I wanted to say goodbye and make sure he had found his place with the witches, being a very fine black cat. He greeted me with such familiarity that I was immediately comforted by the warmth and feel of his fur and his face pushing into mine. We spent some time together as he showed me his new home among the welcoming wise women. Buddhism does not encourage such telling of stories, favoring the stripping of illusion from the mind to enhance a dispassionate perspective (and thus free ourselves from the sufferings brought on by clinging and grasping). It is a stark discipline. I lacked enough intention to get on with it. I was a zafu potato.

Chronic Disaster Fatigue

Over the last decade, I have been immersed in the concerns of the environment, from climate change to peak oil. And in between, the discovery of plastic islands in the ocean, the depletion of natural resources, globalism replacing colonialism and all the rest of it. It has been a very grim decade indeed, but not without its rewards. I felt less like a Cassandra over the years and gained a modicum of respect. I am even part of a movement (claimed by name, even, by one of the Peak Oil brethren—published author Sharon Astyk, the academic turned domestic diva of sustainable living and farming).

In recent years, given the dire economy that sucker punched us all, I didn't feel like haranguing my readers with how bad it was and have mainly amused myself by reporting on projects I have undertaken to teach myself skills for the deindustrialization of the world (as the pragmatic John Michael Greer, the Archdruid describes it). I got a lot of mileage out of imagining a life simplified enough to fit into a tiny home that I could then build.

And then suddenly I was done with it. There is something rather pathological (and boring) about the accounts of one who is preparing for the end of the world as we know it especially since I am part of a metropolitan area that is thriving, relatively speaking, and I live in a fairly luxurious suburban house, while making a living helping people cope with the expectations of a standard lifestyle.

My peak oil colleagues, having carefully persuaded their readers of the particular flavor of future doom to prepare for, were now in lock-down mode, inventorying their skills, writing how-to manuals and haranguing anyone who disagreed with them. They were so sure of themselves that I felt they were damn well going to live the future they entertained whether it happened that way or not. Talk about intentions.

I will continue to read them because we share an interest in educating the public. But in the context of this community, I was no longer able to believe six impossible things before breakfast; the scientific mindset didn't take into account the built-in features of the world I had grown up with—the world of Spirits, the communication between this world and the next; the possibility that the earth was fully alive and capable of reacting in a different way than science predicted; not to mention what science was proving—that human intention, focused in a disciplined way was able to do seemingly impossible things.

I was even in the mood to believe in the assistance of beings waiting to help us, whether those on the Other Side or alien life forms from outer space.

There was one peak oil writer, the cantankerous James Kunstler, who entertained the idea of people with psychic talents coming to the forefront as advisors, as well as children raised to exceed the capabilities of today's expectations. But given his Western tradition, he was doing it with fiction (in his recent novel The Witch of Hebron). Still, that was enough encouragement for me to open myself to alternative sources of knowledge. That same week I saw Clint Eastwood's movie The Hereafter which made contact with the dead seem more possible than not, so I decided to make an appointment with a psychic so as not to bypass such an opportunity. Catherine had contacted one after her mother's passing last Spring.

A Visit From The Other Side

My father, having been dead for 8 years now, had waited a long time to talk to me, but it had given him time to become wise and patient. The psychic, a Mexican American named Rachel,with a young and vibrant voice, said he had rushed to see me. He seemed used to this kind of work with mediums, she said. Though a scientist, my father was completely accepting of the Spirit world and had consulted psychics throughout his life, as did his mother who would send a yearly reading.

When he approached, Rachel described him as a generous soul and asked if that's how I remembered him.

"He was hardly able to express it," I said, giving her the benefit of the doubt. My father could never have been described as generous, preferring to use money and possessions to control and manipulate people.

He was offering an apology, she said. She went on to explain that he had had a social disorder that caused him a great deal of frustration and pain. (Here he transmitted the pain to her to illustrate his point; she didn't need pain she told him and thanked him when he stopped.)

"Like Aspergers," I said recognizing the social disorder part immediately.

"Yes, things didn't make sense to him. It was a puzzle that he couldn't piece together; he withdrew because he was afraid of making mistakes especially with family and as a parent—he did make mistakes, but work helped a lot because of the structure." (My father loved his work and held a patent for a piece of engineering he did for the heads-up helmets now used by military pilots.)

And here he was leveling with me from the Other Side, much as he used to explain science to me. He said he had damaged me with respect to trust levels due to his lack of closeness. That, because both my parents put up a wall to me, I had had to become self-sustaining. That was certainly true of me; I was a self-contained unit endlessly able to amuse myself. That's why, he said, I sought out nurturing partners, but she was not able to right now. He counseled me not to try to fix the relationship, that was "putting the cart before the horse", but to nurture myself. I was too isolated and it was going against my nature. I needed to focus on myself. Whole people make good relationships, he said. I was later amused that my father, who had had three problematic marriages and was clueless about women, was giving relationship advice. (Rachel reported that the Life Review process he had gone through after passing had helped a lot.)

Then he proceeded to give me business advice, told me not to panic, that it would all work out—he was arranging contracts and negotiations for me. He was paving the way and here Rachel said he was showing his hand as though smoothing a path. So I should surrender and let the worry go. That watching over me was his greatest pleasure. Then before he left he said, "I offer you the greatest love." Rachel described the emotional message as one given not out of regret or guilt, but because of a missed opportunity.

"Thank-you," I said, completely dumbstruck. "Yeah" Rachel agreed. This would take time to sink in, but I accepted his love and more so his apology. I liked his use of language. It was spare and grand in an antiquated, but formal Thai way that fit him had he been able to express such sentiments in life. He liked the title Father, Rachel had reported, as though he just now was becoming a parent.

Part of the reason I had decided to contact him was because I had come to suspect he was helping me when I took on the property in San Bernardino. Things reminded me of him and I had a sense that everything about the project would be serendipitous and intuitive. Every time I went down there I had a sense of wellbeing.

Just before booking with Rachel I got a client whose husband was working on the very same heads-up project my father had a hand in. The coincidence gave my client goosebumps. I just acknowledged it as another gift. There is no word for coincidence in Thai.

Thus armed with a guardian angel it was difficult to look at the future with quite the doomer perspective I had been operating under. At least I didn't have to figure it all out. I would have help.

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