Practicing Freedom of Choice

This article is featured in the January edition of The Be Zine, which you can read HERE.

TO The States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;

Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty. – Walt Whitman

James Hepworth and Gregory McNamee chose these italicized words from Whitman’s writing for the title of a book they put together on writer and radical environmental activist Ed Abbey. I think of Ed in the desert wilderness of Utah’s Canyonlands. He is choosing to explore without roads, without a vehicle, without expensive equipment. He is on foot. He has matches, a knife, and boots. He drinks from the river. He walks in the cool of the night. He gathers sticks and makes a fire. He cooks a fish from the river. He is free. He is central to his existence, no other. I met some of his friends at the Wilderness 50 Conference in Albuquerque in 2014. They were a spirited bunch and passionate about the value of wild places, places without systems, where humans are visitors only and do not dominate the landscape. These wilderness advocates represent a resistance movement that truly inspires me.

the myth of nothing

The freedom to choose how you will act is basic autonomy. To relinquish that choice is enslavement. However, exercising that choice need not be violent or ego-driven. I believe it is possible to act freely while maintaining a posture of love and openness. I admire the practice of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk who engages in political activism in a peaceful and mindful manner. The first step to acting in freedom is awareness. Being aware of the present moment includes being aware of the suffering inherent in a situation, of the emotions that all parties bring to bear. It also includes being aware of the values you wish to embody. The Eight-Fold Path describes values to consider: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  Determining to walk this path while resisting temptation and influence in other directions is indeed a form of activism.  

I am wary of the pressures that systems in this country employ to urge compliance.  I don’t want to see my freedom of choice reduced to “paper or plastic?”, as George Carlin suggests.  At the same time, I recognize that freedom requires responsibility. If I make my choices, I must abide by the consequences. Again, I think of Ed in the wilderness, happily accepting the dangers along with the adventure, feeling completely alive. There is risk involved in living in freedom and an opportunity to respond in community to the outcomes of those risks. That I will be wise enough to respond with compassion and not restriction is my hope. I cannot say that I practiced that as a parent raising four children, though!  I do know the urge to stifle the free exploration of a youngster. I am not convinced that it is the best practice for the spirit of either parent or child.

May we all have the courage to resist enslavement, the compassion to encourage freedom, the awareness to recognize the choices before us, and the will to act in love.  

Small World

“There is just one moon…

mystery

…and one golden sun…

skyscape

…and a smile means friendship to everyone…

…though the oceans are wide…

edge 3

…and the mountains divide…

2002

it’s a small world after all.”

My thought is that since it’s a small world, we ought to stop competing over it and start respecting it and each other.  Stop playing Tug of War; join hands, stick together, and play nicely. Children figure this out. Why can’t adults?

A Palette of Change

What color is humility?  What color is Pope Francis?  What color is poverty?  What color is racial injustice?  What color is responsibility?  What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice?  What color is love?  What color is peace?  What color is Thich Nhat Hahn?  What color is health?  What color is despair? What color is the sky?  What color is Earth?  What color am I?

How shall I paint?contemplating colors

100 Thousand Poets for Change event link HERE.

The Other Side of Bliss

This morning, I posted a Photography 101 assignment on Bliss.  (You can scroll down to see that or click on the link to the right under Recent Posts.)  I “bliss out” when I am with people I love who love me.  I am a Lover by temperament.  I get all relaxed and happy and dreamy when my love tank is full.  It feels very nice, and I tend to fall asleep.  This is bliss. 

The other side of this, the fierce energy of love, is not far away, however.  I CARE about my loved ones.  I CARE about the environment.  I have a lot of beautiful landscape photos on this blog.  Those would depict the bliss I feel about loving the Earth.  But it’s not a sleepy bliss.  My relationship with Earth is not in the blissful, dreamy lover stage.  The Earth is in distress, and I am in distress with it.  The election results this week are chilling to me.  I got this letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council yesterday:

“Prepare yourself. Yesterday’s election results will put the Senate under new management, and its incoming leader — Senator Mitch McConnell — has made no secret of his pro-polluter, anti-environmental agenda.

Simply put, come January, both houses of Congress will be run by a faction of climate deniers and friends of the Koch Brothers. A list of the attacks they have threatened to unleash is as long as it is alarming —

They want to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline … cripple the President’s bold plan to crack down on the power plant pollution that is driving climate chaos … open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling launch a full-blown attack on the Endangered Species Act … restrict the government’s ability to protect our drinking water from fracking … slash budgets that promote clean energy … and strip the EPA of its authority to block the disastrous Pebble Mine.

… GOP leaders are making a huge mistake — a potentially fatal mistake — if they think this election has given them a mandate to deepen our addiction to fossil fuels and shred our environmental laws.

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for strong environmental protection. An ABC/Washington Post survey has reported that 70 percent of Americans view climate change as a serious problem and want the government to tackle it.

House and Senate leaders ignore these facts at their peril. …But, historically, there seems to be something about the headiness of victory that makes the fossil fuel lobby overreach and try to ram radical policies down the throats of the American people.

We’ve seen this movie before. In 1994, Newt Gingrich swept to power in the House, brandishing a “Contract with America” that never mentioned the word “environment.” But once installed, the new majority claimed a mandate for undoing 25 years of environmental protections.

NRDC and our allies fought back hard by mobilizing an enraged public; more than one million Americans wrote or phoned Congress in protest. In the end, the House leadership gambled everything — their budget, their power, their agenda — on an extremist assault on nature. They lost, and found out the hard way that protecting the environment is a bedrock American value.

We must do no less this time.

NRDC will bring everything to bear — the grassroots power of 1.4 million Members and online activists like you, the advocacy clout of our legal and scientific teams and the unmatched effectiveness of our rapid response operation — to stave off Mitch McConnell’s Big Polluter Agenda.

But playing defense is not enough. If we are to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes of an overheating planet, we’ve got to prevail on the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone pipeline, deliver on the toughest possible power plant rules and move America beyond all fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

That is our planet’s last best hope for a sustainable future — and we are not going to let Congress stand in the way.”

I want to use the anger energy that is in my fierce love for this beautiful world to make a difference in the policies and mindsets that determine action.  I vote, I blog, I talk to people I know.  I want to raise awareness, to educate if I can.  Why are we harming the ones we love?  It is madness.  The opposite of bliss. 

Sign along Hwy 137 in New Mexico; near Guadalupe National Park and Lincoln National Forest...and oil wells.

Sign along Hwy 137 in New Mexico; near Guadalupe National Park and Lincoln National Forest…and oil wells. “Generally, any gas- processing facility where hydrogen sulfide is present at concentrations of 100 ppm or more must take reasonable measures to forewarn and safeguard people that have occasion to be on or near the area. Wells drilled where there is substantial probability of people encountering hydrogen sulfide gas in concentrations of 500 ppm or more must have warning “poison gas” signs.”

Elect Eco Leaders!

As you head to the polls, I want to encourage you to Look UP! 

Battleship Rock

Battleship Rock, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico

Look up from your life, past your own career, beyond your own neighborhood.  Look to the wider world when you vote.  What kind of leadership are you electing for the future?  What kind of vision are you supporting?  Are you helping to put in place legislatures that will protect natural resources or exploit them?  Are you voting for human development or for the environment that hosts all life?  These are challenging times, and much hangs in the balance. 

How will you stand on the Earth? 

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Good Gawd, Y’all!

Another school shooting hit the news yesterday. The impact seems dull. Repetition has begun to numb my response. The predictable media storm continues, but just as raindrops seem less penetrating after your clothes are soaked, I simply can’t absorb this horror. And that is rather shocking.

 I Googled “List of school shootings in the U.S.” The Wikipedia article’s chronology goes by decade, starting with the 1760s. There is one entry there. The next listing is 9 decades later. Two items there. The narration continues to list shootings for every decade. When we get to this millennium, the bullet points are replaced by a chart. From 2000 – 2010, there are 46 different shooting events chronicled. From 2010 – 2014 (n.b. Not even half a decade!) there are 65, including yesterday’s. And I may have lost count of one while scrolling down through the list.

 Obviously, this storm is escalating. This is a flood. Our country is awash in violence being perpetrated against school children. School children! What can that be about? What madness has overtaken our culture that young people at their studies have become targets? I’m pretty sure it’s not so much about the targets as it is about target practice.

 Our culture has target practice deeply embedded in its psyche and readily available in its entertainment, military and politics. Angry? Take aim. Proud? Take aim. Patriotic? Take aim. Need security? Take aim. Impoverished? Needy? Insulted? Invisible? Defiant? Miffed? Whatever the uncomfortable feeling you have, you can get relief by pulling out a weapon and taking aim at some target. Children in school apparently make a pretty easy gallery.

 This approach is like using the same tool for every situation, no matter what it is. Would you use a hammer to wind your watch or play your piano or punch down your bread dough or crochet a sweater? No. And how did you learn to lay your hands on the appropriate tool for each of these situations? Most likely, at a very young age, you watched someone do it. A role model. Perhaps a parent or grandparent. Someone you trusted, who spent time with you, doing everyday kinds of things.

P1040287

 Let’s look around. Where are the role models that are pulling out weapons for every crisis? Where are the role models who are negotiating, discussing, creatively engaging, brainstorming and experimenting with different non-violent approaches? Who are the role models who have multiple tools in their belts and use the appropriate ones for the situation? And violence, what is it good for? Is it ever the best tool for the job?

 And, c’mon, let’s be creative. Why does our entertainment have to follow this unimaginative formula of violence? There are a million other options. There are a million other roles to play. Playing something different will make us smarter, wiser, more flexible, more open, more like children. School children….our vanishing resource.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

U.S.A. Evolving

The 2012 presidential election is over, swept up like confetti in the parade of change and movement.  The conservative, religious, wealthy White male was defeated…for the second time.  This seems to be frightening a lot of people.  Our nation was founded and shaped by those types.  Isn’t that what America is supposed to be?  Or is America “The Melting Pot”?  Is evolution, change and movement something to resist, or something to embrace?  Why?

Fear is a powerful agent.  Safety is a motivator.  Primal survival instincts are very active in our social species.  However, the history of the planet shows that species evolve, they change, they adapt to the environment, and they die out.  It’s natural.  Is it acceptable?  Can you accept that your country, your “club” and your family will change?  Elements that may threaten you WILL be introduced.  How do you respond?  How do you want to respond?  Who do you want to be?  The “fighter”?  The “opposer”?  The peacemaker?  The tolerater?  Do you change along with the rest of the Universe…or do you go down stubborn as plastic into the landfill?

You can probably guess my preference.  I want to be mulch.  I believe something beautiful will always grow.

All the best, America!  Be joyful and courageous in change and movement!

Detail: Aldo Leopold’s shack

Humanity

Curiosity, creativity, collaboration, compassion.

Spontaneity, self-esteem, self-reliance, morality.

 

Ignorance, competition, capitalism, aggression.

Complaint, dogma, habit, paranoia. 

 

Love and appreciation. 

Ego and aversion.

 

Open. 

Closed.

I observe humanity, myself included.  What’s been in the news and on my mind?  Landing a roving data-collector on Mars.  The fatal shootings at a Sikh gurdwara here in Wisconsin.  (My sister is a Sikh.)  Drought and global warming.  Conversations with Steve about who we want to be, how we want to live, what risks we are willing to take, what new modes of being we want to develop.  Trying to see my inner self and assess it with honesty and compassion.   Hoping and yearning for my children.   Monitoring my energy. 

We are living.  We claim and generate energy, all the time.   The flow of that energy is governed by our choices.  (Ours and other living things’, although we humans are the ones who make cognitive choices.  Plants, animals, planets and cosmic particles participate in that flow differently.)  We are responsible for our choices.  Are we looking carefully and critically at those choices?  Are we blaming some other source for the results of our choices?  Are we even aware of the results or do we look the other way?

7 billion people.  We are making an impact on the Universe.  Do we like the results we observe?  Can we do better?  Can I do better?

Living Inside Out

Denholm Elliott in the Merchant Ivory production of “A Room With a View” portrays one of my favorite wise characters.  I love the scene at the pensione when he’s trying to convince two women unhappy with their accommodations to take his room which has a view.

“I don’t care what I see outside!  My vision is within.  Here is where the birds sing!  Here is where the sky is blue!” 

He is gesticulating with his dinner fork, poking himself in the heart all the while.  Sometimes I need a good poke in the heart as well to wake up that inner vision.  I find myself feeling bored and peevish, discontent with my fortune.  Why a traffic ticket now?  Why didn’t I get that early bird discount?  What am I supposed to do with myself when it’s 95 degrees out, I’m wearing a tight corset, I’m at work, there are no visitors to talk to, and I’ve got no chores to do?  Why am I feeling so stuck?!?  Because I’m not taking responsibility and I’m not living from the inside out.  I am waiting for the outside world to stimulate and satisfy me. 

And the outside world would love to take over that job!  There are a million things to distract and entertain and lead you from one external thing to the next.  I spent 4 hours this morning at the Wisconsin State Fair, manning the Tourism booth in my 19th Century costume.  A quick tour after my shift was all I needed to grab a lamb sandwich and some fresh roasted corn on the cob.  I passed up all kinds of brightly colored, noisy stuff.  I don’t need a chamois cloth or a giant roller coaster ride or chocolate covered bacon on a stick.  They’re not really going to make me happy.  I want to be satisfied from within, and I want that for my children.  I tend to worry about their fortunes, too.   How are they going to get a job?  How are they going to pay off those student loans?  How are they going to get around if their cars break down?  I find myself getting anxious and peevish on their behalf, too.  But really, more than catching a break, I want them to catch that inner vision.  I want them to be able to be satisfied and happy and enthusiastic about life no matter what their outward circumstances show.

An inner life.  Unassailable, regenerating, like solar energy that continues for millenniums.  Do we even teach our children to cultivate that anymore?  How are we supposed to have a moral compass if we don’t?  How does a nation of outwardly motivated and distracted people develop a moral compass to guide their democratic process?  I wonder about these things…..

Summer School

The Raspberry School is part of the Norwegian area of Old World Wisconsin.  The one-room schoolhouse dates back to the late 19th century and brings back memories for lots of visitors who went to schools like this one.  One fellow I talked to said he loved telling people that he graduated 3rd in his class…and omitting the fact that there were only 3 pupils in his grade level.

Multi-aged classrooms became a “new” education idea again in the 70s when I was in grade school and when my kids were in elementary school in the 90s, but ours only spanned two grades.  I remember when we all walked home for lunch in the middle of the day.  No lunch pails needed. 

Each desk at the school has a slate and a slate pencil (no chalk, just slate on slate) and a copy of one of the McGuffey Readers.  I never used one as a child.  What about you?

But I found the most fascinating thing I learned last Monday at this school was about the Pledge of Allegiance.  The 1892 version by Francis Bellamy reads: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  With so many immigrants from different nations, allegiance to a new flag was part of public school education.  It wasn’t until 1923 that the phrase “the flag of the United States of America” replaced “my flag”.  Bellamy protested, but his opinion was ignored.  Twenty years after that, in Japanese internment camps, all those over the age of 17 were asked if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and “forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization”.  It wasn’t until 1954, when atheism and Communism were perceived as national threats, that “under God” was added.  Francis Bellamy’s granddaughter asserts that the author of the original pledge would have objected to this change as well.  

To what or to whom would you pledge your allegiance?  Liberty and equality (which Bellamy wanted to include but knew the state superintendents were against equality for women and African Americans) and justice are the three great ideas of the American political tradition, according to Dr. Mortimer Adler.  Are we in agreement on supporting these ideas in the U.S.A.?  It’s something to think about as Independence Day approaches.  Feel free to submit an essay in the comments section.  Spelling counts, but neatness doesn’t (it’d be typed, after all).