Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bicycle Rider Courtesy and Safety

Last year after one of my daily walks in Greenway Park I posted an article about my frustration with riders who failed to announce when passing a walker on the path.  Greenway is a heavily traveled park path, both for walkers and cyclists, so it is important to exercise care and courtesy as the path is shared.

Recently I read the suggested “rules” for riders posted by a local cycling organization in preparation for the celebration of the opening of the completed Fanno Creek Trail.  Among the suggestions was to announce when you are passing a walker:  “Passing on your left.”  I was glad to see that those suggestions are, in fact, supported by responsible riding organizations.

This morning, during my regular walk, I was twice passed by a rider who announced his presence.  I quickly acknowledged the rider with a “Thank you!”  Since I was quick to share my frustration last year, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to give my appreciation to all riders who exercise this common courtesy and safety procedure.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a senior and I find that my walk is not always as straight and true as it once was.  It is much easier to partially lose balance from time to time.  For a rider to announce he/she is passing can be the difference between safety and an accident.
So, a big “Thank you” to the riders this morning, and to all riders who share the path safely and with courtesy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Community In the New (Old) Age: An Update on Ecotopia

A week ago I posted an article on LifeCentering and on my Facebook page discussing how those of us who lived through the birth pangs of the “New Age” might look back on those days from our “mature” perspective (note the emphasis on mature).  The idea for the article arose out of my reading of the last article found on the computer of author Ernest Callenbach following his recent death.  In 1975 he published his classic tome on building a new society. (Twenty publishing houses rejected it before a small print house accepted it.  It went on to be “working” paper for folks around the world who felt the need for societal change.)  Ecotopia was about the hypothetical secession of Washington, Oregon and parts of Northern California from the rest of the United States because the residents saw the decline in the quality of the air, water and indeed human life itself because of their failure to heed the warnings of the damage being done to Mother Earth.

I bought the book and have now finished reading it.  As I told my friend, Lloyd, I felt exhausted emotionally as I read the final pages.  Let me share something I said to Lloyd as well as to another friend.
I am struck by the way it (Ecotopia) speaks to some of my own thoughts about relationships and how what is offered in the book reflects things I wish I were able to embrace freely.  I am not speaking simply of the manner in which they handle open relationships, but rather the sincere and open way people relate without pretense, agendas or seeking gain of some type.  That, of course, leads to an entirely different way in which sexual situations are embraced as well.  What is important, to me, is that "relating" is developed first and everything else comes after.  It does not eliminate all of the personal pitfalls--some hurt, some jealousies, some disappointments--but because "relating" came first there is a different basis for resolving subsequent issues.  In Ecotopia it is possible to be an individual, and a better one, because community is understood as something beyond the arrangement of people.  It goes into the relationship with our Mother Earth.  For me this draws from the depths of my being something I wish I could more adequately express--the real oneness of all things.  I "know" this intellectually, and occasionally I get out of the way enough that I do experience a measure of that REALITY.  Maybe the next time around I can more fully experience this broader potential.
I will not go into all of the details of how community building took place or how education, industry, employment and entrepreneurship were achieved.  It is very well developed in the book for those who may be interested.  What I do want to talk about to the best of my ability is my emotional connection with certain beliefs, philosophies and practices that I encountered within the story.  In fact, I found those things to BE the real story of Ecotopia.

The whole process of change and examination of new ways of living and doing things is a challenge.  We tend to get comfortable with what we know and our present experience.  Often meeting someone new brings a concern as to whether they will like us, or we them.  There is a hesitancy to engage.  This is not always true, of course, but I am certain most can identify with those feelings.  Meeting new people in new environments in Ecotopia is just the opposite.  It is, after a number of years as an independent stable state, the most natural and comfortable of situations.  This is possible largely due to a greatly decreased sense of “yours” and “mine.”  This is not to say individual ownership does not occur.  In fact, rather than large industrial complexes the emphasis is on small groups of individuals doing what many would consider “brainstorming” ideas and eventually forming a business producing their “product.”  It is not the same as how brainstorming was or is typically done where the ideas are thrown out without judgment from other members of the group.  In Ecotopia ideas are challenged, adjusted and improved upon until a consensus is arrived at.  As to the personal sense of “yours” and “mine” the emphasis is not on things, but on people and harmonious living.

This process is only possible, in my opinion, because before anything is started or an idea even tossed out for consideration, much time and energy has gone into developing relationships, honoring each other and the individual gifts/contributions each person makes to the society as a whole.  There is no judgment of class or hierarchy of power as existed in the regular USA.  A great amount of attention is given to the “needs” of the individual for free time to simply be, (work week consists of 20 hours) to recognize oneness with the forests, the streams, the sky, and sunsets.  This may sound idealist.  It is!  But, as the story developed, a strong rationale for its viability was demonstrated.

In one part of the story the reporter, who came from the main USA ostensibly to write about how this utopian plan could not work, found himself in the hospital after taking part in a ritual “war” exercise.  This concept in itself was worth reading the book for because it dealt with possible hostility in a much different way than the building of armies.  The hospital was like a small country place with about 30 patients.  There were more nurses and doctors than patients and a nurse assigned to a patient was always with that patient or within immediate reach by pager.  A whole different kind of relationship develops due to this concentration on the healing of the patient using every modality that might be of benefit.  As he was preparing to leave the hospital the nurse asked if he was going to write about her in his diary.
“Yes,” is all I can reply, and I hug her, and feel like crying.  This country has certainly taught me to cry, and for some reason it feels good, as if it is not only my tear ducts that have been opened up . . .
As the reporter writes his final piece, “Ecotopia:  Challenge or Illusion?” he concludes that the risky social experiments undertaken have worked on a biological level.  Systems are working and can continue to do so indefinitely.
While extreme decentralization and emotional openness of the society seem alien to an American at first, they too have much to be said in their favor. . . Ecotopians are adept at turning practically any situation toward pleasure, amusement and often intimacy.
It was the mention of emotional openness that got my attention as I realized that was one of the keys to understanding the Ecotopian society.  We Americans, by and large, are a long way from being open emotionally.  We tend to be very guarded in our relationships, whether personal or business.  Yes, there are exceptions to this condition, but I feel they are far too few to make much of a difference in how our society functions.  I could go into our whole political dilemma, but that is not the purpose of this article.  What I come away with, primarily, is that we must come to the place where we are confident enough in who we are (not from the ego) that we do not feel negatively challenged by others, nor do we feel inferior or superior.

Because relationships were well grounded in personal self-worth, it was easy for Ecotopians to feel free in touching and embracing one another.  To Americans, we find touching often is an invasion of our personal space.   I would love to quote from the final page of the book because the author’s recounting of the impression made on this reporter from the “outside” was very moving for me and summed up the values of the Ecotopian society.  But, I will leave it to you to read and I hope many of you will.

This was not so much about withdrawing from the society that we know and creating a better one.  It is, for me, about knowing who we are and what facilitates our continuing understanding of what is really important in our present community.  I strongly believe that will lead to the necessary changes that would produce a better, more stable-state society.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The “New Age” in Old Age!

My good friend, Lloyd Agte, has been trying to encourage me to write an article about how we “old geezers” who experienced the birth of the New Age are viewing those experiences today.  In our correspondence I have been sharing how what I am reading in Ernest Callenbach’s book, Ecotopia, corresponds to many of the principles that were the basis of the Whole Life Learning Center, (WLLC) the non-profit wholistic education and counseling center I founded in 1973 in Denver, Colorado.

Mr. Callenbach recently passed on, perhaps to Ecotopia in the great beyond!  Just before he passed he left on his computer a last article on an America in decline.  I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page at the time.[1]  It seemed like every news feed of any importance at all was also posting that article.  It definitely was getting the attention of so many of us who are profoundly frustrated with the direction the policies and functions (or lack thereof) of government are headed.  As I am reading the book I am re-identifying with the principles and functions those of us involved with WLLC shared.  Ecotopia was about the hypothetical secession of Washington, Oregon and Northern California from the rest of the United States and forming a “stable state” society.  The United States was becoming more and more polluted and more focused toward profits than concern for what was happening to Mother Earth.

Of course, any utopian society would probably not work.  Interestingly, that is precisely how the story unfolds in the book.  A reporter from the states visits Ecotopia presumably to write an expose’ of how it wasn’t working, only to discover day by day how it actually WAS working!  (Personal note:  I think each of us at one time or another has thought about what a utopian society would be like, and maybe even wished we could be part of developing such a society.) 

One of the activities many of us in the New Age Movement seriously considered at the time was the development of wholistic communities.  Some looked for land in the Colorado Mountains.  One group, from the Denver Free University, with which I was also involved, charted out an area just east of downtown Denver and began to plan buying up a number of contiguous blocks of homes, closing alleys between homes, taking down fences and making community gathering places with grass instead of asphalt.  With my realtor’s license I managed to handle the purchase of one piece of property for a young couple.

Here I include a comment from Lloyd on his perception of New Age and community.

“As to New Age and communal living. I see the New Age ‘children’ (which I define as those under 40 at the time and most in mid-twenties to mid-thirties--if my sense of the demographics of the times is accurate), and there was no real provision in their utopian dreams of caring for old people and especially there were no dreams of themselves ever becoming old.  In fact, one function of the New Age was to preserve youth forever (‘May you be forever young,’ Dylan sang). So the utopian communes had no built-in provision for aging or caring for the aged.  There was a lot of reaction in the hippie movement growing out of the late 'sixties to the selfish individualism that was becoming rampant following the U.S. global dominance following WWII.  Now, it seems, nearly all have capitulated to it and capitalist indulgence for self-pleasure seems to the many to be the pinnacle of achievement.”

I have flirted with the idea of community a few times since the heady days in Colorado, but the more I believe in the values that could be realized, the more I feel that perhaps my time for that has passed.  In my aging process, particularly in these latter years where I have lived alone, I have developed my own living rituals.  I realize how difficult it would now be to make the changes anyone would have to make were I to seek to live in a communal life style.  That is not to say that I do not believe there is a wonderful opportunity within that life style for growth and a satisfying sense of productivity and well-being.  I believe I could support such a community even if I could not live in it.

In 2007 when Barack Obama was running for President I strongly felt there was light at the end of the treacherous tunnel of the Bush/Cheney years, which led us into deep debt and depression, losses of life and limbs in useless wars, and a general malaise bereft of hope for many of us.  Unfortunately, in Obama’s successful election there immediately was the beginning of entrenchment of many who could not accept his win.  So continued the downward spiral economically and socially that were the results of the prior years of calculated neglect of prudent financial and social policy.  We now find our country in the midst of chaotic divisiveness where there are no winners, regardless of who gets elected.  The two party system is now in complete disarray and dysfunction.

You say I am simply exaggerating the problem?  That things will work out, because “they always do”?  Maybe.  I just do not see that view out my window on the country.  In defense of your possible questions, I admit to having moved away from the philosophy of life that I was brought up with, that I studied in seminary and afterward, and by which I always sought to live.  I still believe in what I once knew to be true for me, but clearly I am too frustrated to work on it for now.  And I am aware of what that means for me.

Another comment from Lloyd:

“ . . . a large part of the mission of the New Age, at least as I experienced it, was to get beyond all these manufactured, induced desires, beyond the false-self created by advertising and the market as god and to get to the true self and true inner desires coupled with an inner morality and a principled ethics.  It was a moral and spiritual compass in a time of empire over-reach and a massive human sacrifice for an expanding capitalist market. It's not so close to home now.  We can get our sanitized news about twenty people killed by an unmanned drone and not even blink.”

So what is the bottom line when it comes to “New Age” thinking and living as one ages?  Same as it ever was.  Principles and philosophies are only as good as their practice.  If I do not practice the values that have always been important to me, I will not enjoy the benefits that they offer.  Even when enthusiasm wanes and frustration sets in, the ideals are still as true as they ever were.  So, for me at this particular moment I may see in a “glass darkly.”  But, when the light dawns again, when faith is restored by my desire to believe, I will see clearly and once again enjoy the fruits of my practice.