Free means open (vulnerable, even), not in control nor out-of-control, for out-of-control is really evidence of remote control. What stars are to a crown of starthistles no cause-and-effect mechanism can ever answer, but the free person can. From three parts suffering and one part grace you can spell “free,” and with the remainder, make up the word “cragusnif,” which you can then decide, by fiat, means “free” in your made up language.
All of what we do takes place, has a place, and creates place as much as it merely happens in a place. Our freehoodship approach sees, experiences, and establishes place as temple, jungle-gym, lab, studio, and wilderness, each of these place types with its attendant human way of being: reverence in the temple, play on the jungle gym, precision and experimentation in the lab, creativity in the studio, and freedom in the wilderness. All of these possibilities are potentially actualizable in every place — even a strip mall — inwardly and outwardly and betweenwardly. And place in the freehoodship approach is also a place of dialogue, a putting oneself into dialogue not only with other human beings but with the whole of reality. We agree with Thomas Berry when he says that “the universe is a community of subjects, not a collection of objects.” Synchronicities, in the Jungian sense — a sense which make sense to me — are examples of dialogue in this universe as “community of subjects.” But, as the philosopher Robert McDermott says, “it makes all the difference whether someone is convinced that the universe does in fact communicate insights and meaningful hints, or whether the universe is cold, exclusively material, silent, and disinterested, in which case a synchronicity will not happen, or will happen to no avail.” We at the freehoodship have suffered long enough under the tyranny of the latter view of the universe, and are therefore making a place in our minds, hearts, and actions for the former.
In the summer and fall of 2011, I wrote a poem, which I ultimately ended up calling “A Little Reality Music.” The poem is noteworthy for two reasons: first, almost every word in it has the word “it” or the sound “it” embedded in it. Second, it seems to be the last output of a youthful imagination and way of being that had carried me in my twenties and thirties but had grown progressively more sclerotic in the two or three years leading up to 2012. Perhaps because it was the last output, the poem’s language both reflects and describes clearly this process of sclerotization; here is the poem’s first line: “Bit by bit by plummet and summit I admit/ I’ve literally audited the units of awe out of it.” The pronoun “it” here refers to “reality” in the title. Of course, as “I audited the units of awe out of it” this reality shrank enough over time to more than merit the modifier “little.” This auditing, however, was not intentional in the usual sense, in that my everyday, conscious self consciously did it, rather, as I look at the process in hindsight, there was definitely a higher, wiser, less everyday sort of consciousness driving the process and at the same time urging me to wake up to the lesson of the audit. On a more tangible or somatic level, this auditing led to a health crisis that manifested as an inability to normally digest and eliminate food, which led to my losing weight and for a while appearing jaundiced, not to mention feeling like shit. The crisis kicked off with a migraine — the only one I’ve ever had — at the beginning of August, 2012, when I was forty-four, and was followed by a feeling, which lasted about six months, that can best be described as having one’s head encased in a helmet of dense fog. Around this time I also stopped writing poetry, my inspiration having run dry.
Avoidance, which had been the preferred option until the migraine, quickly lost its luster, and obviously, its efficacy. I went to see a variety of healthcare providers, both traditional and non-traditional, tested an assortment of diets, and began, through a more honest approach to self-reflection, to try to get at the root of my issue, an issue I was certain had a psychological/spiritual origin. I discarded my meditative practice, not so much because it had been ineffective, but because I realized, to my chagrin, that I had been meditating for years in a way that had actually helped lead me into the crisis. Indeed, one of the central motivations and mantras of my practice was to meet and transform my shadow so that I could better serve my fellow human beings – for years I actually invoked this desire every night before sleep. I clearly got what I was looking for – a meeting with my shadow – but not the know-how nor the immediately accessible courage to transform it, rather, I seemed to be swallowed by it more and more. From a certain perspective, this practice that led to my deepening encounter with my shadow seemed necessary because my crisis felt necessary, but once in it, I realized I needed a different approach to get me through it, a different sort of meditative practice, a different way of relating to the world. This approach has involved learning how to breathe and relax, learning how to fully feel my feelings (no small achievement, really) and access and un-stick knots of old feelings lodged in my body, as well as learning how to cultivate a “gentle will,” to us the philosopher Georg Kuhlewind’s term. A breakthrough came about a year ago when I started to weep almost daily, being overcome by feelings that seemed to have their origins in very early childhood. At about this same time I started to experiment with releasing knots of energy in my body, mostly in my descending colon, which had been irritated almost continually for two years. I would access a place of pain and blockage with my attention and then, in my mind, scroll through my collection of recurring memory complexes and belief structures that had, for years, caused negative emotions. I did this until I hit on one that seemed to be responsible for the knot. I say it seemed responsible for the knot because at that moment the knot would begin to unravel and release emotions of an intensity that felt old, original, and new all at the same time. I would then most often weep as though I were a small child overwhelmed by an emotion. But it also was a different form of weeping, a form I had never experienced before: it often felt as though I was vomiting knots of energy out of my abdomen, solar plexus, heart, throat, and jaw, even my teeth. These sessions of this peculiar vomiting – they have something of the quality of a self-administered non-sectarian exorcism – still occur a few times weekly even now. The collection of reoccurring memory complexes and belief structures that I mentioned earlier is lately much less subliminal than it used to be. I’m sure that this breakthrough that happened nine months ago was connected to the yearlong work, on a biweekly basis, that I had done with a Rhythmical Message therapist. Her goal throughout the year we worked together had been to help my body breathe freely again and relax.
Along with my stopping writing poetry during this crisis, I also progressively lost enthusiasm for my work as a high school teacher, a profession I had pursued for almost fifteen years. This was not an easy experience, if fact, it was devastating. I had invested much of myself in this vocation, and loved the work, and yet, if I was honest with myself, it was the work of an era that seemed to be coming to an end. Simultaneously, I began to sense that I had new work to do, more a feeling than any clear thought, but I had little idea what shape it would take, not to mention how I would make money and support a family. Clearly a part of my new work expressed itself in the creation of The Freehoodship. Though I have yet to fully define this new work, I have thankfully experienced the re-emergence of my enthusiasm for high school teaching as a parallel path. Most recently it has become clear to me that my crisis was less about what I was doing and more about how I was doing it.
About halfway through “A Little Reality Music,” there is a shift in tone, like the volta in a Petarchan sonnet. The “I” in the poem, on experiencing a widening of perception, stops lamenting the dearth of awe in reality, and says instead, “I witness likewise an auspicious orbit of a new spirit/ my novitiate itch to intuit a secret exit/ into the infinite itself.” This itch to intuit an exit, which is really an “ex-it” was and is a manifestation of my effort towards a new form of effort that was about flow and breathing and infinite non-space as opposed to pushing and straining within the confines of an all too finite space. Though I don’t feel anywhere near fully out the other side of this crisis or rite of passage, I’m feeling up to the task of not pushing and straining to complete it.
My friend, high school teaching colleague, and fellow freehoodship leaf-catcher, James Meier, died quite suddenly on February 19 — he was 58 years old. I would like to share the elegy his students, fellow teachers, and I created for him.
Elegy for Mr. Meier
He was never small: too many liters of majesty, cubic acres of strength, kindness immeasurable.
He was towering, mischievous, sassy, commanding, devoted, wise, and gentle,
a great and fearless lion: teacher, sponsor, St. Nick, Michaelic Master of Ceremonies, Dumbledore.
He was tire iron and tissue box,
forged, by the man-makers of the old world, of pure thought, feeling, and principle.
He was the teacher of morals for those whose fathers never were,
book in one hand, spread open wide across his huge palm, the other with chalk
between his fingers, gesturing as he spoke.
He was an oracle
but you didn’t have to climb a mountain to get to him.
He knew the right words for situations, his voice
filling every corner of the room, no matter how quietly he spoke.
He saw each of us for who we were – he saw what was shining inside.
I want to thank him for that, thank him for having my back even
when I was not honest with myself.
He taught more than humanities;
he taught us what it was to be humanity.
He was a knight,
an instructor of strength, completely in character when striking
a superman pose as a fireman in front of the Oasis Springs hotel,
saying, “No thanks are necessary, I was just doing my job!”
He was here to teach us that we can always do better,
that we can always do more than we ever thought possible,
that giving our best is the best thing we can do.
He was inspirational with his blue toenail polish
and spandex bike shorts. Once, he taught, nonchalantly, an entire
English class dressed in a long flowing purple robe and turban.
He was the king of Waldorfia: when he told the people to cheer,
Here are five instructions for being Mr. Meier:
1. Become a great writer with hard-to-read handwriting.
2. Learn everything there is to know about U.S. History.
3. Have a voice meant for audio books or radio.
4. Learn to sing.
5. Try again. It will take a lot more practice to be Mr. Meier.
In his pastel shirts,
he would stride across campus,
covering what seemed like a mile with each step. Only yesterday,
I had a dream I was in class and Mr. Meier was the teacher.
For the whole class he walked around giving students hugs.
Never spoke a word, just gave us hugs.
Now, as I wander on the bike path,
through a grassy field, past the quad,
and near his office, I feel surrounded by his presence
and his deep capacity for love.
Every so often I feel as though I need to reestablish (or establish anew) the principles of the Freehoodship, which means getting not merely at the principles, but at the principles behind the principles, to the deepest layers of human motive and action, where even the subtlest residues of duty and compulsion dissolve and the free human being arises full of enthusiasm for action, for missions in the world that are also alembics for the individual spirit.
Google, Apple, and Facebook are known for the unusual interview questions they ask prospective employees, ostensibly hoping to distinguish the especially creative and hardworking from the rest of us. When I create my behemoth tech company (the freehoodship), I will subject prospective employees to a ritual meeting with death like the one I briefly describe in my documentation of mission #25. I would “test” prospective employees with this ritual because I would want to see whether they could think symbolically, experience reverently, and reflect deeply. In the years that I have played death in this ritual, I have realized that for the experience to mean anything, one must experience it as a symbol of a human life, that from the time one is led into the room (into life) until the time death taps one on the shoulder, one has simple, but powerful, ways to live the life one wants. Will I stand in front of the candle in the middle of the room and await death? Will I run away from death as he wanders slowly through the room? Will I consciously go and face death? Will you look into the face of death, literally? You can tell a lot about somebody by how she participates in this ritual. Indeed, many these days find it difficult to achieve the heightened attention and reverent engagement that a ritual demands, particularly rituals unsanctioned by institutions thousands of years old.
First trying used to be so easy, then I had to try to try. Now I welcome myself without expectation to the age of crushed expectations. My first mission there? To accept as true Kant’s “thing-in-itself”? Ouch, but doable, because there’s always something I don’t know, like some unknowable “thing-in-itself.” To finally concede that the spiritual world is just an illusion? Okay, we’re getting somewhere, but still only like a scientist hoping to remove the memories of beheadings while ignoring the beheadings themselves. How about if my first mission is to just give up? No way! Impossible! You can’t be serious! That’s my first mission? I don’t even know where to begin.
For mission 26, what’s supposed to be my most spectacular yet, I’m organizing the important sounding “first international leaf-catching tournament.” Why, you ask? Well, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to catch leaves on windy days in autumn, and I’m pretty good at it. Also, at the moment, I’m trying my damnedest to squirm out of my tightly fitting exoskeleton of “you-must-be-great-and-important-and-therefore-ought-to-do-more” and this leaf-catching project with its whimsical and non-utilitarian nature, seems like a fun and beautiful way to spend some time using my pincers outside my lonely hermit crab shell, so to speak. I have yet to decide on dates — it of course depends on the weather and seasonal changes — but I’m thinking November 1 or November 15.
If we were to make a three dimensional model of contemporary thinking, we would get something like the urban core of New York City: lots of rectilinear positive and negative space, and predictable circulation patterns through these spaces. Into this conceptual geography, however, come we at the freehoodship, Parkour novice expert novices, projecting ourselves “Deleuze-style” into spaces only the liberating (not liberated) imagination can access, risking whole-heartedly beyond failure or success on the plane of immanence.
In Volker Harlan’s interview with the artist Joseph Beuys, Beuys refers to our habit of “retinal seeing” not only as it relates to visual art, but also to the rest of the world, including each other. According to Beuys, this sort of seeing is superficial, passive, and cold. He insists that only a more active, multi-sensory, and participatory mode of sensing reality, one that involves the imagination, will keep us from plummeting further into alienating and unhealthy social forms. In my experience, the outcome of protracted retinal seeing is apathy. We are called upon, therefore, to take up a practice of cultivating a more conscious and creative engagement with our lives and our communities, treating each as great art projects, what Beuys calls “social sculpture.” The freehoodship is my attempt at social sculpture.