Gooooooood morning SuperForest!
Here is another one of my little diatribes about philosophy, systems thinking, and spirituality. If you aren’t into that sort of thing, please read on ahead. I won’t mind at all ;)
I would like to let you in on who I am and why I write these words today. And I would like to somehow relate to you how all of this is about unlocking the secrets of inner peace, and having mucho fun all the time. I write these words for myself, to read later and smile at my early naiveté.
I have always been a fan of fun. Since my Universe light entered my little baby body, I have searched out positions and systems that gave me comfort and entertained me. I was supported and have been supported in this endeavor since always, because my parents are incredibly generous and have supported my exploration. Because my father is a famous musician, I have been lucky enough not only to travel the world and hang out with incredible people, but also to have a maximum of fun while doing it. My dad would be going from gig to gig, working his butt off at making each performance a genuine expression of his love, and I would be in this happy wake, joyously free to play backstage. I enjoyed all of the perks of being a very famous rock star, even singing on stage in front of thousands of people many many times, while having to do very little of the work.
My father, singing to the Occupy Wall Street protestors. (via)
This is the basic formula that I based the first 31 years of my life on: See who was having the most fun, and FOLLOW.
I have had many fun times since then, and one time that was not so fun when I was living it, but now, as I approach my thirty fourth trip around the sun, I can see that there was fun in it after all. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.
The hard time was this: when I was thirteen, all the fun I had been allowed to have, where I had been able to do and say and think as I pleased, had caught up with me. I found myself a high school drop out at thirteen, having gone to my first boarding school a year earlier, which had been a humiliating and totally self-destructive experience (at the time.) Returning to Los Angeles, I found myself in a depressing public school, packed into classrooms far too small to accommodate the number of students, and in numbers far too large to ever hope for quality instruction. I was pretty heavily into the idea of taking drugs and being a drug user at this point, idolizing people like Sid Vicious and John Lennon. I would use the savings account that my mom had started for me to buy large amounts of weed, and I would smoke this weed, alone, on my rooftop, at night, and I would drool while I did it. Something about the smoke made my mouth water. Classy, right?
I really and truly did not like being in school. Not only did I feel like I was smarter than the place and the system, but I thought that everyone else was too, and I could not see for the life of me why anyone, teacher or student, would want to perpetuate or even participate in such an obviously failed model for the transmission of knowledge. I also did not like my family at this point in time. I can’t remember where my dad was, probably on tour, but I remember fighting with my mother. Oh boy, I remember a lot of that. It was a wild time for my family. My brother, then eleven, was leaving one school and going to another, and my sister, then nine, was rapidly becoming a young woman. I was wanting only the freedom to be free, which meant conscious self-destruction at that point in time, and my mother was basically alone trying to hold a family together.
So where is the fun? And where the hard time?
It was Halloween day when I arrived at CEDU, the place that was to be my home for the next two years and eight months. CEDU was an emotional growth boarding school in the mountains of Eastern California, up by Big Bear lake. It was a sprawling grounds, with many buildings, all surrounding a large, wood timbered house. The former home of actor/director Walter Huston, the CEDU house was filled with a fluctuating number of boarding students, from 90 to upwards of a hundred thirty.
We students arrived at CEDU, said goodbye to our parents or whoever had dropped us off, and then we were strip searched. That’s right, strip searched. Made to walk, accompanied by two staff members and one student up to the bathroom in the New Wing, and there made to strip naked, have ones clothes checked, and made to do a twirl. The twirl, a quick three hundred and sixty degree rotation, was ostensibly to make sure that we had nothing taped to our skin in the mid back, or nothing between the cheeks. Mostly I think it was for an added dollop of humiliation. With my inner command to have fun, and the school’s policy of strip searching students every time they ran away, meant that I would be strip searched four more times during my stay. By that last strip searching, I had reclaimed the fun.
CEDU is gone now. Shuttered amidst a flurry of lawsuits earlier in the decade. Allegations of child abuse, murder, and other pleasantries brought down the beast, but that was after I was many years graduated. Yes, I made it out of there. But many did not, and by that I mean, plain and simple, that they died. They did not all die at CEDU, though quite a few did. Most of my friends who died I think died because they chose to, but CEDU was a place that stressed the destruction of the ego, and paid little attention to rebuilding the heart. WIthout a heart, what point is a life? With CEDU gone, and its staff scattered, I feel like I can tell this story. For all of my friends who did not make it out.
CEDU was a system of rules, with its own arcane language, its own words for things, its own code of behaviors. Our job as students was to memorize that impossibly convoluted code and live by it. We were expected to help enforce the twisted rule sets, first by telling on ourselves in the form of writing weekly “dirt lists”, (a literal listing of the rules we had broken that week,) and secondly by enforcing the code in others, adding whatever we’d seen others do to our dirt lists and being punished for allowing other students to commit infractions. This system ensured that we the prisoners guarded not only ourselves, but the other prisoners too. It was pretty amazing, now that I stand back and admire it. An incredible system of thought control accomplished through isolation, reinforcement, and the brain washer’s best friend: sleep deprivation!
It worked like this: Students would arrive at the school and be grouped into peer groups. When enough students had accumulated to allow the formation of a new peer group (between twenty and thirty) the new group would begin their journey through what was called the Propheet system. These propheets, as they were called, were all night long ordeals. They always began the same: we would go up to a room, take off our shoes and belts (so we wouldn’t run away or hang ourselves) and leave them outside. We would enter the room and sit in a horseshoe shaped ring of chairs. Night would fall and the propheet would begin with some sort of ice breaker, something to get us all loose and laughing. Like dancing, or being made to sit on a chair when you’d been told that there was a tack on it, only to find a piece of gum.
Then would basically follow ten hours or so of screaming, being screamed at, screaming at each other, confessing our sins to each other, and doing various exercises, like running in place to music. Your mind would be reeling from fatigue, hunger, and trying to keep warm in a chilly room with no shoes on, all while the staff would sit in warm sweaters and sip coffee, and you’d have someone you barely knew screaming in your face. Some poor kid like you, with snot running down their faces, screaming at you that they weren’t going to be a loser any more. This madness would be accompanied by readings from Kahlil Gibran’s amazing book The Prophet. The sun would be rising, the sky getting grayer, and you’d been harassed and humiliated all night long, to the point where you would happily, cheerfully, gratefully do and say anything the instructors told you to do, if it meant that they would leave you alone for a little while. Around eight AM, we would break for breakfast, scarf a quick meal, and be allowed to sleep for a precious hour. Then up and back at it for another six hours of screaming and yelling and being yelled at.
The idea was that we as little humans (we were all in our early teens) had accumulated a lot of crud on our psychic selves, and that a concentrated blast of anger and screaming could somehow, uh, power wash it all off? It’s not the system I would have made, I can happily relate. Between the terror and violence of the propheets, which came every few months, and the terror and violence of the thrice weekly “rap sessions,” and the suspicion and paranoia of everyday life, CEDU was a place that forced the surviving intellect to retreat inwards, crafting an inner pleasure garden that no prying or violence could ever gain access to. That was how I survived. For two years and eight months I screamed and was screamed at an average of once a day. Can you imagine that much screaming? That much crying? That much constricted human desire and sexuality? Ninety plus teenage boys and girls in a log cabin in the woods, and no sex (or sexual behavior in any form) allowed whatsoever? Plus all the brainwashing, control, and medication for most? It must have been so wild for the adults in charge, presiding over rooms full of hysterical or angrily screaming teenagers and thinking: job well done. Wild and wooly times, mateys. Arrrrrrrr.
When you broke the rules or ran away, as I did four times, the punishment was to sit at a table in the dining room alone. That was it. I had to sit alone at a table. I could not have people join me, except the people my instructors chose to sit with me. I could not speak unless spoken to by an instructor. I could not smile, whistle, or sing. I could not make eye contact with the majority of the students, and I was not allowed to be touched. To be in this forced bubble of isolation WITHIN the whole of the student body, three meals a day, was an incredible punishment. There everyone was, happily finding ways to either survive or exit the system, and I was unable to interact with them in any way. This punishment was called a Full Time.
I would wake up in the morning in my dorm at seven thirty. Silently, and avoiding eye contact with the other students in my dorm, I would get dressed and do my dorm chores. Then my dorm head would walk me down to the dining room, where I would have breakfast and do writing assignments. Then outside for four hours of work. The work was invariably dull and made to tire you out, first by numbing your mind, then by sapping your strength. Dig a hole, wheelbarrow the dirt across the campus to a ravine, dump the dirt. Do this for a week. Then, fill back in the hole, using the dirt form the ravine. That sort of thing. Lunch would be silent and solitary unless an older student would condescendingly sit with me to give me advice, or once in a while to cheer me up, or a staff member would touch base with me. Then back out for more work assignments until either raps or dinner. After dinner it was time to wash dishes with the other students who were being punished for a variety of reasons. All of this work was done in silence and without making eye contact. After dishes, up to the dorm, sleep, repeat.
Ironically, it was within the dishes system that my fun spark found the necessary tinder to be re-lit, and rekindled. Washing dishes became my secret source of fun. Here’s why: Imagine a sink full of dishes after you’ve had a dinner party. Lots of caked on, baked on, greasy crud, stuck everywhere, on every dish you have. Now imagine the sink full of dishes that has accumulated after a full day of cooking for a hundred plus students and staff. That’s at least a hundred plates, a hundred bowls, a hundred cups, a hundred place settings, and all of the industrial sized pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, needed to cook such a feast. Now, imagine that you and three other people have to clean this mess, scrub all the food off the everything, stack it all in trays, run it through a sterilizer, dry it off, stack it, and then totally clean the room that you’d done the washing in, ALL IN SILENCE. And no eye contact, soldier!
What would happen if you’d had four boys all doing the back kitchen cleaning job together for a week, and they had gotten good at it. They all assumed their positions when dishes began and worked quickly and quietly, each exquisitely aware of the other, able to accomplish the seeming impossible in lightning speed. Now, remove one of the boys and replace that boy with a new student, one who had never set foot in the back kitchen before. How do the three pro dish washing boys indicate to the new boy exactly what is expected of him, and where everything goes, and what the sequence that things get done in?
This is where the fun comes in. Somewhere between the rules of the crazy system and the rules of reality, there had to be an overlap. Somehow the crucial information had to be communicated to the new person in a situation that expressly disallowed any communication at all. The new boy would be emptying the sterilizer, wiping the pots and pans down and stacking them, and then! Horrors! The new boy, unaware, has set the newly washed pan upon the filthy, grease covered floor! The boy manning the sterilizer, who knew instantly that something was wrong, would stop stacking dishes into sterilizer trays, quickly walk over and pick the pan up off of the ground, placing it back in the sink of the head boy, who was washing the dishes. The head boy, seeing the pan he had just washed suddenly return to him would risk a quick look back over his shoulder to see the new boy, red faced, standing looking chastised, and the other boys quickly resuming their work. I would know instantly what had happened and we’d all continue, but the herks and jerks inherent in this non-communication communication style were trying and frustrating at times. You’d notice out of the corner of your eye that movement had stopped where movement should be, and you’d see the new guy standing in front of the shelf where pans were stored, not knowing where to place something and having things stack up behind him. You’d stop what you were doing, walk over to the shelf and casually run your hand over the place the pan should go, not to communicate to the new guy that the pan should go on the bottom shelf, but simply to take stock of the pots and pans and see whether the shelf was clean. Get it? You weren’t telling them where to put things. You just happened to be there and magically your shared interests collided. No rules broken. Game on.
In this way, we were able to develop a sixth sense for what was happening in the environment around us, where the other people were, what they were doing, and most importantly how you could either help them or hinder their movement. Which I sometimes did just for fun. You cannot imagine the frustration that builds in someone who is already being punished by missing the weekly movie night and having to do dishes, and there is someone in his kitchen who is holding things up. If there was someone I did not like, or who I felt compelled to get revenge on, grinding dishes to a halt was a passive aggressive dream come true. You’d see the hope in their eyes to get things done quickly and get back into the house in time to catch at least part of the movie go out, and you’d know that you were the one who’d squashed that little dream. Oh the things I have been trained to do, SuperForesters.
Washing dishes, digging ditches, not being touched, not smiling, not singing, this punishment life would continue for as long as it took to break the student down and make him or her willing again to resume the horror of the process. The longest Full Time I was ever one was forty plus days long. In the end, I believe that they let me off not because I had shown contrition and was willing to be bullied again, but because I had emotionally retreated to a place where I could no longer be affected by their abuses. I would do my work assignments with all the fury and gusto I could muster, and that was a pretty considerable fury. I would dig the hole so fast that they would be forced to give me another assignment, and this one I would do with an equal intensity, finishing tasks with such speed that I think they simply got annoyed at having to think up new ones for me. They would put a shovel, or a pick, or a wheelbarrow in my hands and I would fly into motion. Each shovel into each pile of snow and dirt was a sword stroke right to the heart of my tormentors. Each wheelbarrow full of firewood was dumped upon the heads of my attackers. I was a very productive bunny. Dirt got moved and firewood got stacked with great quickness. And I learned to transmit anger into productive work.
Seeing my invulnerability to physical labor, for I would have been quite happy to have worked myself into the hospital, where freedom lay, my instructors moved me into the kitchen to work with the ladies who made the three meals a day. I would look out the window of the kitchen as my fellow punishees would trudge their shovels, picks, and wheelbarrows through the driving snow, and me and the kitchen ladies would bake birthday cakes. It was cheerfully depressing; mind-scrambling and enlightening all at once.
When I wasn’t working, I was writing. CEDU was a system that loved assignments, and work and writing were held in equal esteem. Our writing was in journals that the staff would collect and read, and we were given tailored sentences to use as starting points for full page writing explorations. These sentences included charmers like: “I hate myself because…” and “What I really think about my parents…” Anger and vitriol was encouraged and viewed as a measure of success, after all the “barnacles” were coming off of the whale, so to speak. The crud was melting and revealing the perfect un-muddied child soul that I was. That was the line they were toeing.
Whatever the motivation, I soon became very used to journal writing. To taking bits of information and expounding upon them as if they were true. That experience transformed after I left CEDU into carrying journals around with me, and then that transmuted into these journal entries on SuperForest. I no longer write in a physical journal. This is my journal, and I try to write here exactly the same way I would write if I knew no one would ever experience these thoughts. My aim is both to serve as my own yardstick, and hopefully, if anyone cares at all, to help others avoid the same absurd mistakes that I have made, or to at least make them with full awareness and joy.
This transmission of knowledge without communication is something that I have thought much about since I left CEDU. I have seen firsthand what it means to simply yell at someone to do something, or to belittle them into subservience to your will. That does not interest me. Violence is something I have explored so thoroughly, it no longer has any luster to me. For me, to communicate true joy and love has become the challenge. Without words. I am great at words! I can word, word, word, along with the best of them. But to simply live in joy, and transmit the life of joy, has been my goal.
As I said before, I am a fan of fun. What is fun? According to my culture, to accumulate material goods is fun, and to be a successful Capitalist. I can say from experience that I have not found this to be true, either personally, or for the people I know who are very rich and have lots of things. To be very rich and have lots of things is not inherently fun, as I discovered. True, you can definitely buy entertainment. But what I’ve always studied was how people behaved AFTER the show stopped, after the music was done playing. How did they end the party so to speak? Did they yell at the staff? Did they behave with grace and compassion? Did they simply leave and hope to leave no trace? Did they say thank you? From what I’ve seen, to be super-rich is a recipe for isolation and paranoia, fearing that someone may take your wealth from you, or otherwise find a way to make your wealth work against you, like kidnapping your children. To be surrounded by shiny things can be just as depressing. Shiny things generally take a lot of shining, and if you aren’t the one doing the shining, hiring others to maintain your fleet, then your possessions leave you feeling hollow and empty. No fun in that.
The most fun I’d ever seen on a large scale before I stumbled into permaculture was when I visited Cuba in 2003. The Cuba that I experienced there was poor, funky, polluted, corrupt, and the people were so happy it was confusing. I was walking down the street in Havana one night and a drunk man came and threw his arm around me. “Have a drink, Americano!” he said, his breath spicy with rum. I happily complied, taking a polite swig of the firewater and handing it back to him. My brother Will, who had been walking behind me and unseen by my new friend, decided to play a joke. Will ran up behind us and jumped over us, yelling: “Give me your money!”
My friend, who I’ll call Rumtums, handed me his bottle and whipped his arms into a fighting stance, ready to protect me. He appeared to be milliseconds away from punching Will in his Americano mouth, when I hugged him and said: “No, es me hermano!” (My Spanish is crap, forgive me.) We all calmed down, shared a laugh and a drink, and went our merry ways. In Cuba I found place where a man could quite happily walk drunk down the street, find a new friend and share a drink, and quite happily be willing to fight for this new friend, not out of bravado, but simply because it seemed a sensible and definitely fun choice in the moment. The entire country felt that way to me. Loose, well meaning, happy. We rented a car and drove out of Havana into the country side and every single person I waved to waved back at me. There may have been one or two who did not, but my memory is one of constant returned waves, unhesitating returned smiles, and bright, cheery dispositions. Even in the midst of economic repression and a very controlling government, the Cubans I met were all uniformly happy. It was and is a colorful, fun, wonderful place, and I highly recommend going.
I am beginning to see the through line! Now I know why we ended up in Cuba!
Dig it, The United States is like CEDU here. Violent, ignorant, savage, and well intentioned, going about it a completely pig-headed way, and needlessly killing thousands out of misdirection of energy. With a few minor tweaks, and some therapy, it could very easily become the engine of its own salvation, a place that deserved the moniker “Land of the free, home of the brave.” Cuba is like the garden of good vibes that I am trying to create. The United States hates Cuba, and Cuba happily thumbs its nose at the fuming of the United States.
What is the difference? The system. In the US we are isolated and violated with the slow-motion violence of economic slavery, and in Cuba there is social welfare that makes it so that no one goes hungry and no one is homeless. Medical care is high quality and free in Cuba, as is learning and higher education. Say what you will about Cuba’s historical intolerance of gays, artists, subversives, intellectuals, anti-Castro-ites, et al. Has the US treated any of those groups any better? Hardly.
Well, maybe the anti-Castro-ites.
My point is this: At CEDU the students were kept isolated and alone, not physically, but emotionally and mentally, exactly like life in the US. If we students had gotten together around a message that said basically: “all this violence is not working at making us better people, if anything it is simply making us better at tolerating and perpetuating violence. There has to be a better way.” then we could have affected real change. As one, we could have enacted a system of non-participation that would have forced the system around us to change.
So it is with life in the US. If we do not change the system by refusing to participate in it, then we are perpetuating it. US culture has us all competing to see who can be the best at Capitalism, which means the same thing as competing to see who is the best at slavery and environmental degradation. For in Capitalism, slavery and environmental degradation are the engines that drive growth, and growth is profit. You disagree? In Capitalism, someone has to eat the shit burger. Someone has to have his or her sacred mountain strip mined, someone had to turn his or her back yard into a lead-smelting facility. Our toilets are designed to get clogged and need someone to unclog them. We have built a system that is made to break down and need content repairing. As long as we have flush toilets, we will need some poor schlub to clean and fix them. That poor schlub has been me many many times. We’ve been taught that this happens to inferior people who don’t mind the destruction. People who were poorer, or less educated, or had different skin color than us. They deserve lead poisoning. They deserve to work endless jobs breaking American ships apart on their beaches for the steel, polluting the beaches and killing the workers. If you feel that people must be free to live healthy productive lives, then you must opt out of Capitalism, for yourself as well as them.
The US could be great, but it isn’t great right now. It is up to us to make it great again, by not participating in parts of it and by instead working to free ourselves from Capitalism and then free our friends and family. The US economic model could be based on anything we choose, like agritourism, entertainment, longevity treatments, space exploration, but right now it is based on economic slavery, fossil fuels, and the creation and sales of weapons of mass destruction, plus fomenting the wars necessary for making those sales profitable. To blindly go about your day, your job, your schooling, knowingly complicit in this destruction is immoral and bizarre. You are helping to destroy the very thing that you love. Your job, schooling, and day are rooted in illogical untruths. Untruths like: money is the answer! I can do this on my own! I am a self-made man! I don’t need love, I have stuff! If I sit in this box long enough to get that diploma, then I will be a happy and fulfilled individual!
The truth of your and my existence is so pure and simple that if you knew it, (which you do but cannot recognize it,) it would forever change the way you interacted with the world around you. In our culture we would hesitate before pulling out a gun and shooting someone with it, but we don’t hesitate at all to scream at someone who cuts us off in traffic, or flip them the bird, or stop short with our car and try to get the tail-gater to rear end us. What is the difference between a bullet and a scream? A bullet can miss. In our culture, casual violence is totally acceptable. Major violence is less acceptable, but tolerated. This violence is evident in everything that we do and say and think, because all of it is based in Capitalism which itself is based on violence against the low man on the totem pole, and violence against the Earth and its natural systems.
There are solutions to all of this. The solutions do not matter. The only thing that matters is our willingness to utilize those solutions. A man could starve to death in a room full of food, because he was too distracted to eat. So the answers do not matter. Our willingness to see that there is something wrong and search for new answers is all that matters.
To exit the structure of Western thought has been the hardest thing I have ever endeavored to do. In the end, as in the beginning, the support of my parents and friends has made the difference. For though we didn’t always see eye to eye, and there have certainly been a great many worried conversations, my parents have stood by me and allowed me to explore this thought system, with all its twists and turns. There is no logic in Capitalism. It very existence destroys the very thing it sells as valuable: freedom. To force us all to compete has made slaves of us, employee and employer alike. To deny us food, lodging, medical care, adequate schooling has made shadows of all of us, shadows of the beings that we actually are. Stress and guilt are our bread and butter in America. Stress and guilt breed depression and sickness, and so depression and sickness are our bread and butter as well.
The choice is ours: recognize that there is huge problem inherent in maintaining the status quo, and work to find new systems of life support (I highly recommend permaculture) or simply plod on ahead, hoping that one day we will strike it rich, win the lottery, make it big, and finally be able to buy our own little piece of unspoiled paradise and escapes from the rat race. Except there is no place to escape to. Rich or poor, we are all Earthlings. United in our carbon based brotherhood and our Earth-dwelling status.
Quit your job. Drop out of school. Quit buying disposable things. Quit trying. Quit striving for a place in Capitalist society. Give it all up. Give up status. Give up on ambition. Give up on hope for tomorrow. Give up your past. Give up your guilt. Give up the idea that you are somehow wrong, or that you’ve sinned. Our culture is based on the illusion that any of it will make you happy, when it is precisely the reason that you are miserable. What would you want if you were free to want freely? What would you do if you were free to do anything you wanted that wouldn’t hurt anyone else?
Who are you outside of the cultural and Capitalist set of values and ideals that you’ve been brainwashed into believing that you want?
This has been my quest. There is never going to be a destination. I will never arrive at the end. This quest never began and so it will never end.
Join me on this quest for perfect willingness. It will be the most fun you’ve ever had.
When we were done cleaning the back kitchen, two students would have to run the trash cans out to the dumpsters at the edge of the school property. To emerge from the hot, steamy kitchen, into the cool of the mountain air, and run with a friend who you could not speak to or look at, through the night, sliding the can over the ice, in silence, with the stars shining down on you, united in purpose, was a glee and a fun above and beyond imagining. To lift the heavy can and pour the contents into the dumpster took two people, working in perfect unison, (or else the can could tip and slosh one or both of us in liquid trash,) required an unspoken communication, underscored by glee, each working as the other. The perfection of these moments is beyond words.
We must operate with the same shared intention. No longer can we allow each other to suffer needlessly in our self-made prison. Not when a concerted effort at non-participation by a significant number of us could change things in such an awesome and peaceful way. Change everything for everyone, for the better, forever. Such is the power of the little willingness.
If we are willing to change things, then there is an entire world to build. So much fun to be had by all. I forget all the time. I had to get it tattooed on my wrist to remember.
Thank you for putting up with me.
I love you,