My message comes out if the life I have lived.
I was raised an atheist. (My parents certainly were a major factor in this, but I believe we children “co-create” the realities in which we understand ourselves to exist; my sister was never an atheist, and is now a charismatic Catholic.)
For myself, I was raised in a “religion of science” with these major areas of catechism:
- geology and the evolution of our planet,
- the evolution of life,
- the persecution of Galileo by the church,
- the importance to humanity that ‘rationality’ overcome ‘superstition’.
It seemed inadequate to me, but children get used to being surprised by how far the world is from what they want and expect. On the one hand, I found my most compelling realities in literature, metaphor, story, and on the other hand I tried to accept my role as a responsible citizen in secular society. In college I entered the “science”(?) of psychology, aiming to be a professor someday.
College, the Vietnam War & Movement for a New Society
As a youth I was profoundly troubled by organized warfare, and in college the Vietnam War forced me to face my issues head-on. As I investigated the strength of my antipathy to war I discovered that I had a moral sense. This was a surprise, since my upbringing had not prepared me to think about it. (My parents were very moral people, but we were trained that conversation about morality was likely to be superstitious.) To my wonder I realized, intellectually, for the first time, that there are powerful non-rational realties in our world that can not be dismissed as superstition.
I registered as a Conscientious Objector and set about trying to live in accordance with the moral imperatives I was discovering. Most notably this took the form of joining Movement for a New Society (MNS), a Quaker-inspired anti-war group that aimed to transform the USA and the world through non-violent revolution. Because we felt we had to live the life we were urging on others, I lived in community, worked on my stereotypes about gender-based roles, was part of shared child-raising, ate low on the food chain, and participated in many other aspects of the hippie subculture that I still cherish. I did this with many intelligent, caring, wonderful people, in my Ann Arbor community and in other MNS communities scattered around the country.
Alas, striving to live a moral and just life was not enough. Even within the community I knew best we fell short, despite all our meetings where we tried to be honest and sensitive. Despite our constant efforts at personal growth using a method called Re-evaluation Counseling we fell short of realizing, among ourselves, the world we wanted to see. Indeed, I saw within our precious community the same kinds of taboos and intolerance, the same kinds of disregard for glaring realities that we were criticizing in the larger world.
My Hermit Period
I got myself kicked out of my community for harping on the discrepancies that troubled me, left my life of social activism and began what I call my hermit period in 1976. I found a method of journal-writing called the Intensive Journal, which allowed me to get in touch with non-rational aspects of myself, fell in love with two women who were inspirations and guides to me, smoked a lot of marijuana and investigated the work of Carl Jung and Carlos Castaneda. These new aspects of my life carried me a long way through my disappointment at leaving the social and political life I had embraced, but I yearned for an even deeper, more direct contact with the underlying truths of life.
I found this working with the Qabalah, a tradition of esoteric practice that originates in Jewish Mysticism. I learned to enter into heartfelt prayer and to join whole-heartedly and carefully with the realities of What Is. I eventually experienced a vision of the vibrant, living wholeness of the universe which sustains me to this day.
I do not recommend the practice of the Qabalah to many. I think there are other paths (one of my teachers calls Kabala “the yoga of the West”) and I believe self-transformative work on any of them is strenuous and should be undertaken with great care and seriousness. In my case, once I had connected with the sense of Underlying Reality that I had sought, the more activist members of my ‘inner committee’ insisted it was time for me to ‘get a life’ and I began on a path out of my hermit period, looking for a setting where I could try, as we had in Movement for a New Society, to live a life based on the most fundamental truths I knew.
“Getting a Life”
The decades of the 80s and 90s were challenging. As best I can say it in a short space, I have discovered that when I neglect or lose track of the underlying truth of my life I become self-destructive and even suicidal. It was while correcting one of those brushes with error that I accepted the identity of a Gaia Troubadour, one who ‘sings’ about the living wholeness of earth–earth as a living organism– which is as close as I have been able to come to expressing my sustaining vision of the throbbing wholeness of everything.
A Gaia Troubadour
My inner daemons (and Betsy Raasch-Gilman) drove me to ‘come out’ publicly as a Gaia Troubadour on the occasion of turning 50. I believed that all I was called upon to do was to utter–to ‘sing’–the truth as I understood it. I still have faith that, when I am able to do this clearly and convincingly, other like-minded souls will ‘hear my note,’ will be drawn to it, and together we will figure out what it is possible for us to do together.
I sang two songs at my ‘Richard at Half-Century’ coming-out party, and tried to evoke in the crowd some of the vision of wholeness I carry. I was warmly received but few said, “A-hah, I’ve been thinking this too!” I do believe I have gotten many glances of mystical recognition over the years, but people find it hard to put this awareness into words, as do I.
In the summer of 1994 I put out the first issue of the Gaia Voices Newsletter [Issue 1, p1, Issue 1,p2] as a way of continuing the energy of my coming out party. In the first issue I suggested a regular meeting of like-minded individuals gathering as a ‘Gaia Group,’ and Jack Phillips responded. The Gaia Group met twice a month for seven years, until spring of 2001. Jack and I started out with an interest in ritual symbols signifying the four directions. We met under a canopy, did some singing, as well as lots of thoughtful, slow-paced, discussion.
Jack’s participation stayed strong until about 1999, and over the years we were joined by Dave Crawford, Diane Peterson, Beverly White, Lyn Egolf, John Martinson, Rhoda Gilman & Betsy Proechel, for varying periods of time. The latter three had been with me for several years at the time we laid the group down. By then all ritual trappings had fallen aside and our focus was on discussion which sprung out of the spirit of the moment.
The Gaia Group was very sustaining to me. I had not loaded a lot of expectations on it, and have been rewarded with years of prayerful contact with others who care about the earth as a whole, sharing our joy, pain, fear and hope about the ways people exist within our shining biosphere.
I did have more urgency about human’s role in our biosphere than I brought to Gaia Group, and I carried that into my work around the storage of nuclear waste at Prairie Island [Newsletter 2, p1&2]. I got caught up in the excitement of it all, and in my desire to have an impact on the situation I went beyond my leading, with painful consequences, which I chronicle in issues 4[Issue 4, p1, Issue 4, p2] and 5[Issue 5, p1, Issue 5, p2] of the Gaia Voices newsletter. It was a valuable learning experience about what not to do, but left me uncertain of how to proceed.
As I was drifting toward a suicidal state once again, I heard Ralph Jacobson talking about the vision he shared with Cynthia of a Quaker Community Forest (QCF). As I wrote in Gaia Voices #6, [Issue 6, p1, Issue 6, p2] this seemed a ‘way opening’ for this Gaia Troubadour, and I was an active participant in QCF from Ralph’s first Adult Ed presentation in 1998 up to the present . There is much more to be said about this, but not here.
By the summer of 2006 I found myself striving again to be an organizer, with predictable results. I do not have the gift for it, nor even the ability to sustain a rudimentary effort.
.: “But wait,” another member of my inner committee interrupts.
.: “It is not that you didn’t have the skills, it’s that your heart wasn’t in it. Quaker Community Forest as an expression of your vision of Gaia nourished you, expressing your core message. Organizing the Student Groves Project–wonderful as it was–didn’t.”
Which brings me to where I am now, working with this website, once again sharing out my vision of Gaia, our planet as a living wholeness. This website is my next edition of my Gaia Voices newsletter, and I am thrilled to be doing it.