Friday, December 18, 2009

System Blindness

Wonderful thinking on justice, systems, relationships, living your life...

System Blindness from Restorative Circles on Vimeo.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ten years after the day that changed everything

Ten years ago today were the Seattle WTO protests, a real turning-point for the anarchist scene, and as a result a turning-point for my life as well. Before that point most people outside of radical and counter-culture circles had never heard of "anarchism", after it, all kinds of folks were talking about it. Suddenly mainstream media venues were talking about "anarchists", as were my relatives (totally unprovoked by me!). More important than that, within the anarchist scene in general a new sense of hope, optimism and possibility emerged that we can and are going about changing the world.

After November 30th 1999 the momentum from that carried on to other big protests and events as the "anti-globalization movement". Summit protest after summit protest around the world the excitement continued on until September 11th 2001 when suddenly everything changed and the ground we were standing on shifted. The "anti-globalization movement" then lost steam and in it's place arose the "anti-war movement", which simply was not as much fun. It was a long dark night of the soul living under and protesting against the second Bush administration and it's blatantly militaristic and authoritarian approach. That all continued on until essentially last year, 2008, when Obama and his rhetoric of "hope" and "change" took many activists who were simply worn-out by the years of Bush.

From the anarchist perspective, specifically, by the time that Obama emerged from when the Seattle WTO protests happened it was by and large an entirely different crowd of people who were around. Most of the people who were actively involved as "anarchists" then had essentially moved on, and an entirely different, younger generation, came in to take their place. The new generation of anarchists had known of the Seattle WTO protests as recent history, much like how my generation of anarchists had known of the anti-nuclear and Autonomen movements of the 80's.

From my perspective, by the time last year came around I had largely burned myself out on "anarchism". I had for a long time had a critique of protests as being an effective strategy/tactic for social change, while despite all of the similar critiques out there protests remained the main thing that seemed to inspire and mobilize anarchists out there. When the Republican National Convention protests happened in September of last year, the combined effect of police repression against activists, lack of a coherent public message on the part of the anarchists, failure to inspire people outside of anarchist-activist circles towards radical action, and the fact that this protest event was so anticipated, planned for, and worked-towards for so long - my final reserve supply of enthusiasm for what is called "anarchism" had run empty.

Another aspect of the whole thing was that I had always seen anarchism as being equally positive as well as negative in it's focus. "Positive" in the sense of presenting an inspiring and moving picture of a beautiful new world that we can create afresh, as well as pointing to the power that each of has individually as well as collectively to radically transform our lives for the better. "Negative" in the sense of openly critiquing and rejecting the existing structure of the world today, it's historical precedents, and the various mainstream movements to change it, from a comprehensive and fundamental stand-point. For a long time I have seen most people identified as "anarchist" as focusing very heavily on the "negative" aspects, that is on the critiques and denouncing, while focusing very lightly or even not at all on the "positive" side of things. Having such a lop-sided perspective eventually leaves very little emotional/spiritual "fuel" for people to keep going, I believe.

Over time I have come to adopt more of what could be considered to be a Buddhist Tolstoyan perspective (although I don't identify as such), part of which could be summarized with this quote from him:

"The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power ... There can be only one permanent revolution - a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man."

It's an evolving ever-changing work-in-progress, I admit - my beliefs, the various movements for social change, as well as the world in general. Ten years after the anarchist scene was so radically catalyzed by the Seattle WTO protests we all seem to be at some very different places than we were before. I wonder where we will be after the next ten years.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

(I) is for identity

About ten years ago at Twin Oaks Community I wrote on a 3 x 5 notecard announcing to the world that my new name is henceforth "(I)An-ok", which is pronounced "Yan-ock". Since then I have traveled all over the country meeting all kinds of different people, introducing myself to them as "(I)An-ok".

Nowadays, after all that time, I commonly introduce myself to others using my original and legal name, which is "Ian". Increasingly those who know me by "(I)An-ok" are making the switch back as well. "(I)An-ok" is dying.

I adopted "(I)An-ok" for a very important reason - I was creating my own new identity for myself. I objected to how others saw me previously, as well as to how I saw myself. I saw "Ian" as representing passiveness, acceptance of the status quo, and bland un-original conformity. I began at that point a decade-long quest to re-create and re-define myself in opposition to how my parents molded me as well as in opposition to how the world-at-large constructed me. I wanted to be a new person and to live a life that is radically different from everything that I had ever known before. I wanted to live outside of what most folks even considered possible.

The name in itself signified something of a unity and identification taking place between myself with the philosophy of anarchism. I didn't think about it this way explicitly as such, but on a very core & fundamental level that was the case. The name is a combination & synthesis of my original name "Ian" together with the word "anok", which is a little-known punk rock abbreviation for "anarchist", "anarchy", things of that nature. My name did not explicitly "mean" that, I usually told others that "(I)An-ok" did not actually "mean anything" per se. But on a deep level, it did.

That all feels over, or mostly-over, for me now. One reason is that increasingly I find very little to gain of value by holding onto "anarchist" as an identity for myself. A friend once told me that he essentially had anarchist views but that he never refers to himself as one. He said that to introduce oneself to a stranger by identifying yourself as an "anarchist" is for many folks the equivalent of meeting a stranger and saying, "hello, I am a violent asshole". It simply is just way too much work to clear up that kind of initial misunderstanding, so it's best to start out some other way.

I feel as if I am entering a new phase of my life now in terms of how I see myself, how I would like others to see me, and more importantly in terms of the general underlying sense or feeling that is moving through me in what I do. For most of the last ten years of life I have felt a general underlying sense of opposition or desire to destroy all that is around me (in terms of social institutions, life-styles, standard operating procedures) and now - I yearn for more peace, acceptance, and stability throughout all that I do.

That all being said, I really do not feel the drive to identify myself with any particular group, belief system, cause, ideology or movement. There are many different things that I like, many different things that I have identified myself with in the past. But now, the whole thing seems like a receipe for disaster. I say this because every belief system is limited, every person is fallible, and everything is impermanent. To identify with something like this is to set oneself up for needless suffering - something which I have put myself through again and again repeatedly these past ten plus years.

So there are many different things taking place all at once here:

For one I no longer feel the great burning desire for myself to stand out, to be unique, "to make a name for myself" so-to-speak.

At the same time I do not feel a particular affinity for that which falls under the name of "anarchist" above or beyond other labels, belief-systems, and ideology-based social scenes that I also have affinity with.

And I do not feel a particular desire to identify myself with any particular belief system for I see that as a way in which one creates unnecessary suffering for oneself.

As a result of all of this, "Ian" emerges once again. I've been around a bit, through a bunch, with a few others, and here I am again.

Now I'm back to where I started.

But not really.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Anicca Yearnings

I feel the urge to write some kind of up-date-on-my-life post here, since it has been so long (since mid-February) that I did such a thing and much has taken place in my life since then.

However, when I think about itemizing & explaining all of the different changes and developments that have occurred in my life, I really have no interest in going through it all. I have talked with a number of different people in-depth about these things, and I have thought, worried, emoted, mourned & rejoiced - gone through the whole theatrical deal - so the possibility of writing it all out now feels something similar to filling out paperwork. I'd hate to see our relationship degenerate into something like that.

So I'll write something different here, while hopefully still relatedly on-topic. Hopefully you will be able to figure out what's what - or at least enjoy the confusion & your own varyingly vivid imagination.

Tomorrow (August 1st) is the last day of the "school year" here at Camphill Soltane. After that, people are then released, different folks are moved around to different places, and everybody gets a new label as to what their status is. There has been very much anticipation and excitement leading up to all of this all-around. The day after tomorrow my "August break" begins with various plans, commitments, and intentions hopefully kicking into place. Come September, we all return in a new constellation for a new "school year" to begin again.

I too am eager and excited for this new phase to begin. Perhaps I have been looking forward to this too much. Perhaps we all have. But I am getting ahead of myself.

At this point I actually feel exhausted and depleted - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am needing relief, rest, and rejuvenation. I am also wanting to integrate all that has taken place over the past couple months, but I do not know how to do that without first attending to these three "R"-needs.

I suppose that part of my feeling of energy-depletion comes from how I have been living with four developmentally-disabled people who habitually turn to the volunteers of the house for attention, direction, and orientation. Usually this takes the form of them asking questions, and usually these questions are very similar and repetitive. I suppose that I have not learned to respond to these ongoing patterns in ways that are sustainable for me. I realize now that, over time, this has worn me down, and I am unsure of how or why this has occurred.

It seems to me that some of the most important things that I want to look after now are ways for me to honor and reinforce my own personal energy, focus, and momentum. Without these, everything all goes to hell, and I have seen/gone-through it enough times now to know exactly how this happens.

Looking after these needs, personal energy, focus, and momentum, seem to be of the nature of a spiritual practice - as well as a getting-things-done practice. Interesting, that. But as "interesting" as that may be, all-too-easily my attention can be snagged by the inane, the irrelevant, and the unnecessarily burdensome. This has happened to me, now. Or rather, the leading-up-to-now.

Right now though, literally speaking, I find myself in the familiarly-unique experience of conceptually clearing the fog from my head and realizing all that I have before me, options-wise and wisdom-wise. The path (or paths) to personal energy, focus, and momentum can be seen here.

Recently I have been reading the book "Don't Push the River (it flows by itself)" by Barry Stevens. In it can be found this quote:

"I think I need to be reminded of things I already know more than I need to be told things I don't."

That applies to me here as well.

When I wrote my last up-date on this blog about my life at Camphill Soltane, I was still in the midst of a kind of euphoric I'm-in-love-with-this-place state. Now, I am in more of a settled this-is-my-home-despite-all-the-weirdness state. Settled as well as in flux, because the whole thing is in flux. The "settled" comes from a great deal more familiarity and depth & variety of experience with the place.

Friends from different places often write to me asking me how I am doing, how things are going, etc. I really don't know what to say to that, really. I often respond by not writing back, ie, overwhelm = mental shut-down due to the encroaching waves of cascading thoughts & my attention going else-where to retreat to "higher ground". Or, I feel like answering their question with one four-letter word ("good") and then following that up with a long personal ramble that answers their question more fully but in an indirect way.

Another pertinent quote from "Don't Push the River":

"Whatever clarity I achieve is refined out of so much confusion that I am often more aware of the muddle than anything else."

Interactions with other people can help me to achieve clarity - or at least the kind of clarity that I want. However, to get this is not just a matter of "interacting with people", but is more about "interacting with people in particular kinds of ways". Usually I come to associate these "particular kinds of ways" with "particular people", which due to circumstances immediately begins to narrow down my options for support for clarity. I want to break this open - open it up - for more to use for everybody. In other words, if these "particular ways" really are supportive, why not share the wealth? And then, how can I do this meaningfully?

This then leads me to how often I adopt the missionary approach to whatever it is that I am into. Spread the Gospel, Teach the Faith, Reveal God's Word (even if the word-on-the-street appears to have it all be atheistic in nature). So now I am wanting ways to help others to help me (and to help themselves & help each-other) achieve clarity. Earlier I said that I want to find ways to more sustainably meet my needs for personal energy, focus, and momentum. Chances are that if I found ways to do that too, I'd want to share them, reproduce them, get others to get into it too. So what is that? Missionary-ism? Proselytism? Yet another wingnut pushing yet another cause?

I'd like to think that we all can go down together, and we all can go up together too. And the building-up part can happen consciously, by choice. The opposite usually happens through the opposite way, that is, sleep-walking off some cliff. Or listening to the voices in our heads instead of really listening to those around us. Or, particularly in my case, listening to the idle chatter of bored/nervous people instead of listening for deeper meanings.

I feel like I am burned out because I have burned up all of my own sense of personal meaning more quickly than I could generate it. And I generate it by "really listening", or really feeling, which is a kind of listening. When I distract myself by gazing entranced out the window at the pretty scenery moving by, I am not keeping an eye out on my fuel-meter - or watching where I am going for that matter!

About a week from now I will willfully lock myself into a series of cages (metaphorically & somewhat literally-speaking) to help "force" myself to more fully practice / immerse myself in all of what I am going on about here. I will do that with the help of these two organizations. I am eagerly looking forward to it, which is perhaps an unhealthy way to look at it, from a number of perspectives. In other words, I am intending on getting myself back "on track", and plans are in the works for that.

Also from "Don't Push the River":

"We set up all sorts of difficulties for ourselves like a barricade, haul ourselves over them, then pat ourselves on the back for our accomplishment."

Yes, that is what I am doing. I suppose that I am wanting to do this a bit more intentionally now, with the idea being that through doing so I would then be able to better appreciate the clear path for when it is clear. And to notice when I am habitually reaching to clutter up the path with fragments from a dead mind - another form of busy-work.

My energy for writing this has gone, and I am too, seeya.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Step-by-Step Compassionate Anger Transformation Process

Below is a step-by-step process for transforming anger that myself and a group of others worked together on co-creating last year. I am posting it here so that it will not be lost to the world, and so that I can get some further feed-back to use for developing it.

This process is based on the work of Nonviolent Communication.

Please speak up if you see how this process can be improved to be more beneficial and effective at transforming anger into further clarity, mutual understanding and harmony.


Compassionate Anger Transformation

By Ben Spencer, Conal Elliott, Parenthesis Eye, Susan Livingston and Milli O'Nair - Coming from collaborative dialogue at Acorn Community and NVC Evolves

Have you noticed that when you behave and communicate in anger, you are less likely to get what you want? You would probably prefer to respond to anger in a way that results in reconciliation, healing, peace, and harmony. Anger is a compound made up of feeling/s and thought/s. The following approach is offered to empower you to separate the components of this compound and harvest these gifts.

Step One - Anger alert

As soon as you notice anger in your heart, say, 'My heart is closed right now. I must go and open it.' And then go. As you go, ask, 'is my heart open, or is my heart closed?'

Whatever the answer, promise your heart that you are holding it with care.

Step Two - Connect with your intention

Are you enjoying your anger? If you are, then take a 'time out' and enjoy your anger! If you are not, then continue.

Step Three - Identify your thoughts

Are you telling yourself that you are right / wrong or good / bad, or what you want / need / deserve, or should do?

Are you telling yourself that the other is wrong or evil, or what s/he wants, needs, deserves, or should do? Stay still and silent and adopt an attitude of intense curiosity. Accept whatever comes up without censorship or clinging.

Step Four - Examine your thoughts

Repeat the thoughts you identified in Step Three, and ask again after each one, Is my heart open, or is my heart closed? If your heart is open, take that thought off the list. If your heart is closed, carry that thought forward for further processing.


Now it's time to slow down, breathe, and celebrate the work you've done so far. Taking the first four steps as quickly as possible will restore safety and balance, but it is important to take your time as you continue the process. When you are ready, offer yourself a choice about how to proceed. For example, if you would enjoy processing privately, then you might choose to meditate or go for a walk. If you would enjoy processing during heart connection with another, then you might choose to talk with a friend, peer or mentor.

Step Five - Dance between each thought and identify the need

And now how do you feel having recognized your need?

For example, 'I'm telling myself, he is rude.' I need respect and now I feel frustrated; 'I'm telling myself, he always does this to me, I'm sick of it.' I need progress and now I feel hopeless; 'I'm telling myself, how many times do we have to go over the same thing?' I'm longing for movement and connection and now I feel relieved, as I connect to my needs.

Ask yourself after you translate thoughts into needs and feelings, 'is my heart open, or is my heart closed?' If your heart is closed, there are deeper needs and feelings to be found in amongst some thoughts, continue the dance - thoughts into needs and feelings now. When your heart is open you have connected to the beauty of your needs, you are ready to proceed.

Step Six - Make a request of self, the other or another

When you reach the 'sigh' and are connected, see if a request emerges of self, the other or another to move forward in the situation.

Step Seven - Healing and Reconciliation

When you see the other with unconditional positive regard, you are ready to engage in empathic dialog. If you are not comfortable or confident about doing this, ask a third party who was not involved in the stimulus incident to hold the space. This works best if this third person is equally known or unknown to each party.

Step Eight - Celebrate

When you both have open hearts and there is peace and harmony between you, celebrate!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Fundamental Choice

Tonight I got to experience an old Camphill tradition, "Bible Supper". In it, everyone all dresses up in their Sunday finest, a dinner is prepared with the table set nicely, and an attempt at "higher conversation" is had. After dinner is over, everyone retires to a separate room to collectively read from the Bible and discuss the meaning contained in the verse therein.

The verse read tonight was about a woman who was sick for years. Then she one day came across Jesus. She knew that simply by touching him, she would be healed. She made her way through a crowd of people, touched his clothes - was healed. Jesus then said in response something along the lines of: "It was the faith in your heart that healed you".

The conversation following this I found to be quite interesting and meaningful. At one point someone said: "If faith can heal people, why can't we be healed from our disabilities?" It felt to me then that there was a sudden shift in intensity throughout the room. "You can't be healed from that", was said in reply. Resignation. Angst seemed to emanate.

I then felt struck to say, "Disabilities or not, there is always one fundamental thing that you can control, and that is your own heart. We can always choose to love or not, we can choose to be closer to God or not."

I admit, this sentiment did not originate from me. For one, there is Victor Frankl:

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

And, similarly, there is the old religious sentiment of - have every moment be taken in prayerful communion with God. This too is a choice that one can make.

It may not seem like much, but at the same time it seems like an incredible foundation to start with.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My new anthroposophical community-life

A number of folks have asked me what my new life here at Camphill Soltane is like. Here is a brief little description for you...

I've been getting more and more settled here at Camphill Soltane, with my own room, work that I enjoy, and people who I appreciate living with. Despite my initial anxieties, the living / working with developmentally disabled people thing turns out to not really that much of a challenge for me, since I see how they all have their unique talents, contributions, hang-ups and short-comings just like everyone else. Continued time and interaction has enabled me to feel more and more comfortable with them. There is still much to learn in this area, and I look forward to it.

My room is something that I really feel grateful and content with here, and I am increasingly finding it reflect who I am. It has a hardwood floor, a large wicker cabinet, a large comfortable padded wood chair, a desk with chair, a tall vertical mirror, a window-seat, and a door that opens directly to the outside that has a paved path connected to it that wraps around the house to the nearby parking-lot. In all of the places that I have lived, I have always wished to have direct access to the outside so that I could avoid interacting with people whom I lived with if I so desired, and now I finally have it. My room also has a door that locks too, which is helpful since a number of the disabled folks have a tendency to abruptly open doors if they can. A number of people have remarked that my room looks like a monk's quarters, and I love it. I guess I mention all of this stuff because it provides a place for peace, quiet, and solitude, as well as a "space of my own" which I have not had in a very long time.

The architecture here in general is something that I really love. A lot of the buildings here are designed in an anthroposophical style, most notably with very few right angles. A colors and decorations for the buildings too also has it’s own unique style, apparently prescribed by Rudolph Steiner to be the most effectively soothing and nourishing for the soul. The whole effect of it all on myself is really nice, I think that it supports me in having more of a sense of inner safety and stability that I really like.

The work that I do here is relatively easy, so far it mainly has been stuff like collecting trash & recycling, cleaning things, moving things around, and accompanying people places. I also help assist in a class here, and am working on designing my own new classes here in Nonviolent Communication. The challenging thing here is not the work per se, but the interacting with the disabled folks such that they feel a greater connection to and harmony with the work that we are doing together. I am also gradually learning how to cook here. I cook one meal a week for the house that I live in, and am looking to move that up to two so that I can get even more experience with it.

The house that I live in is an old traditional style farmhouse that was here before Camphill Soltane even got started. I live with seven other people - three volunteers and four disabled folks, and the name of our house / group is "Nantmel Farm". The group living quarters are separated by gender, with the men in the basement and the women upstairs, with the kitchen and two living rooms on the ground floor. I do feel a real sense of care and connection with the people that I live with, but often find it frustrating that the main topic of conversation is schedule-related matters - who is going to do what when. I would like to introduce more meaningful conversation topics for us all, and I believe that the work that I do with Nonviolent Communication here can contribute to that.

One thing that this culture has is a lot of meetings, meetings of all kinds, pretty much every day some group is meeting about something here. Some people are frustrated with the number of meetings that take place, but I really love it. For me, I view it as a way to have greater mutual understanding, awareness of what is going on, and trying to consider everybody's needs. I could easily see myself, if I am not careful, get totally overwhelmed and immersed with meetings here. I enjoy meetings, but I also see how I too have my limits with that, and I want to be sure to honor that.

The Rudolph Steiner / Anthroposophical orientation underlying Camphill I find to be really interesting, but I also recognize that it is not for me. I love religious and spiritual matters, but when it comes down to it I am just not a Christian or an esoteric-minded guy (despite my previous flings with Gurdjieff and 2012). I do hope that I can learn and grow spiritually and personally through the Anthroposophical stuff here though.

I am eager for it to become Springtime here, for I have a sense that what I have been experiencing of Camphill Soltane is just a fraction of what is possible here. Being able to go outside and enjoy outdoor activities and leisure time here seems like a whole other world here that I have yet to experience. I have seen pictures of this places and the people here during Spring and Summer and I often find it hard to believe. It has been quite snowy and icey here, which I also greatly enjoy, but after a while I begin thinking about this season moving on.

Overall, I am finding my life here to be quite peaceful and enjoyable. I feel very content here, and I can very easily see myself being here for longer than the one year that I signed up for. I enjoy the connections with the people, the shared values with folks, and the structure and stability of the place. I love the overall sense of awe and beauty that I feel for this place, what it is trying to do, and the whole area surrounding it (two other Camphill communities and a Waldorf school are nearby).

I am wishing you all the best, my beloved readers!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Coming & Going: Reflections on 2008

I would characterize my experience of the year 2008 as: my holding a fierce determination to "change" my life in some radical way, come hell or high water, for better or for worse, often in a blind thrashing-about kind of manner.

I will elaborate.

The year began in Jacksonville, Florida, alone, lonely, and confused. Then it continued on in Jacksonville, with family. From mid-March on the experience was a wild cross-country excursion of (in my own mind, at least) epic proportions. In late October, I turned 30, adding an additional layer of meaning & importance on all of this for me.

I write now from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, awaiting my new life to begin tomorrow - literally. Perhaps this sentiment of the heart is one that I have carried with me all throughout the year, coloring the whole experience everywhere I went: My new life begins tomorrow, somewhere else.

For the sake of posterity, and for my own aging memory, I will briefly list all of the places that I have been in 2008:

Jacksonville, Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Folsom, West Virginia
Washington, D.C.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Warm Springs, Georgia
Williamburgh, Virginia
New York City, New York
Acorn & Twin Oaks Communities, Virginia
Takoma Park, Maryland
Troy, Pennsylvania
Canton, New York
Athens, Ohio
Rural southeast Ohio
Mieggs county, Ohio
Lee, Nevada
Reno, Nevada
Boise, Idaho
Seattle, Washington
Vashon Island, Washington
Tacoma, Washington
Eugene, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Skokie, Illinois
Pecatonica, Illinois
Madison, Wisconsin
London, Ontario
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Springfield, Missouri
Austin, Texas
Bradford, Pennsylvania
Egbert, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario
Roseville, Michigan
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This list is roughly in chronological order for the year. Many of the places in the list I went to multiple times throughout the year and I did not bother to write them out more than once here. To qualify for the list means that I spent the night there and had a reason for going there. There are a number of places that I was planning on going to this year, and that I wish that I went to - such as the San Francisco Bay Area, New Orleans and Las Vegas - these I will have to forever keep in the "I wonder what would have happened if..." pile.

I went to all of these different places in search of meaning, purpose, and direction in my life. I have gone to all of these places to see where I can be.

The funny thing is that I did this same thing (with a somewhat different list) the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that. Ad nauseum.

In fact, I have a long tradition now of going out, seeking my meaning, purpose and direction in other places. It's my own yearly pilgrimage. I believe the novel thing for me now is to find these things in one place over an extended period of time. And that is exactly what I intend on doing in 2009.

Every year has it's own themes, I believe, and here are some for this one.

Deeper meaning of Nonviolence

In 2008 I read a number of books. The author who had the biggest impact on me this year by far was Mohandas Gandhi. I was also affected by reading a book by a Buddhist monk on "the Noble Eightfold Path", a book by a Buddhist nun on doing social work during wartime Vietnam, "Island" by Aldous Huxley, and "A Confession" by Leo Tolstoy.

Altogether, these books have helped me to see nonviolence in a different way than before. Both inside and out, I see how this is a beautiful value to strive towards. I also see the importance of having a living faith in God to back it up - to sustain it, to give it energy.

Reading these books, I am left with a renewed inspiration and commitment to live out nonviolence in my own life.

Straightedge by not brahmachari

Inspired by reading Gandhi, I have considered and toyed with the idea of taking the vows of Brahmacharya. These consist of refraining from consuming intoxicants, caffeine, sugar, animal products, and spices in one's diet. Sexual desire is also curbed. In place of all of this, there is daily prayer & meditation, periodic fasting, and a general focus on & devotion to God.

In September and October I took some vows in hopes of becoming a brahmachari. By November they had mostly fallen apart, broken & disregarded. One thing did come out of all of this, however - I became Straightedge.

Straightedge is a lifestyle that came out of the punk rock scene which consists of abstaining from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, eating meat, and engaging in casual sex. The definition of "straightedge" is debated a lot, but this is how I define it, and this is how my life has shaped out - with ease.

There were times in my past when I could not have imagined that I would not desire meat, marijuana, and sleeping with whoever I found attractive - and now these desires have all just slipped away. I am grateful for that.

I still do desire the path of Brahmacharya - I want that in my life. The time-period this year where I was living up to my vows was a time where I found a particular kind of peace & contentment that I really enjoyed. I see Brahmacharya as best being done in steps, in increments, instead of all at once.

So this year, beginning on New Years, I renounced caffeine and sugar once again - and I have the headache right now to show for it. My intention is to gradually eliminate animal products and spices from my diet, and to establish a new daily routine once I have moved into my new home which includes regular prayer and meditation. I would also like to engage in fasting on a periodic basis, in a context other than riding a Greyhound bus or being broke.

The intention behind Brahmacharya, for me and in general, is to purify one's mind & body and to re-direct one's attention to that which is truly important - devotion to God.

Service to others, changing the world

My deep desire for a long time has been to be a positive contribution to others and to help to bring about meaningful social change (revolution or otherwise). I don't think that I've been that good at it.

This year I volunteered at a Vipassana Meditation course - twice, at two separate locations. These experiences, and the ethic and context in which they are done, "dhamma service", gave me a new insight into how this kind of service can practically be carried out. Most importantly, the spirit behind this way of doing service was made clear to me, experientially, beyond just books & writings. I am grateful for these experiences, and hope to embody dhamma service more & more in my life.

Now, thanks in part to the recommendation of some friends, I am joining a Camphill community as a volunteer for a year - 2009. Camphill has a policy that they call the "80/20 Ratio" for their volunteers - that is, 80% of one's time, energy, and attention is to be spent on serving others, and 20% on one's self. In the context of a Camphill organization, I have faith that this is a good structure to aid me in carrying this out.

Grounding out, moving forward

The ironic thing that I find now in my life is that in order to move forward I need to stop traveling. I already have plans for this, like I mentioned. More than anything, I want to build myself up as a solid and capable person. In order to do this, one needs a solid foundation and a steady hand.

I have certainly learned, the hard way, what the lack of all of this is like and what it results in. Now, I want to take concerted steps towards what the positive is like. I want to see what the previously-missing qualities are like when present, in practice.

What this entails now for me is going to Camphill. Beyond that, it can look like more volunteering at Camphill communities and/or Vipassana centers. It can look like me going back to college to complete my degree. It can look like me going abroad to teach English. It can look like me getting a normal job or getting married.

All of what I do with these "next steps" I think are best done when planned out, thought out, connected with my needs & values, and surrounded by adequate "spaciousness" through regular meditation, silence, & stillness.

I want to increase my capacity to serve others, and I want to grow & develop as a person as well. If anything, 2008 has been a series of "trial & errors" with different people, places, conversations, and series of events unfolding with the same themes threading through them all.

The Obama election and the responses to it from both the NVC scene and the anarchist scene have all given me hope for the future. Most important, though, is realizing that hope can be found from within myself and that there are practical skills to use to do it.

There is much to be learned.

To positive growth, development, health and well-being!

Happy New Years!