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The contents at this location are archives only, as this blog was reformatted in April 2019. To find new posts, go to the new URL.

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Where is Your Home?

May 1st, 2019
Land conservationists have long spoken about the importance of person's sense of place. Place is more than where we live or where we stand, it is where we connect. Place once determined the way of life for every American Indian, since they were taught that their people came directly from the mountain, valley, or lake nearby. In Indian culture, this place was celebrated with such regularity and consistency, life at a great distance from it seemed impossible. America's culture now has shifted from connection to dominance. Every acre has been measured and appointed the property of someone. Where Indians believed they belonged to it, we now declare it belongs to us. Thus it is difficult to grasp the concept of "a sense of place," much less let it dictate our daily life. Yet there are those, such as the land conservationists, who know its value and appreciate the endless reward from regular correspondence with a place, written, spoken, imagined, or otherwise. To know where you stand is to know why you are standing there. So how do we introduce ourselves to the places where we are? How do we rekindle this kind of connection? One way is to ask where it sits in relation to earth's core, mostly commonly communicated as its relation to sea level. Mean sea level is a universal benchmark on a vertical scale, a designation for declaring a place's position between earth and sky. It is the language I use to communicate. Admittedly, the number is forever in a state of change since this factors such as gravitational and lunar pull, water volume, and oceanic terrain effect the global average. I cannot pinpoint why this respect for elevation matters so much to me, but it does. I love to explore, to see what lies beyond the place I know so well. As I move along the horizon, rising over the mountains, diving into the valleys, my internal energies are attuned to more than just the sum of latitude and longitude. My heart feels the altitude. Thus, whether consciously or not, I feel most at home, not just when the terrain and its plants and animals are familiar, but also when I stand in its sea level counterpart. As I move up the scale, conditions change. The air thins, the trees shorten, and the weather shifts. I know I am moving farther “away” with a rise of just a few hundred feet. If I stand in a valley and gaze up at a granite cliff 2,000 feet above, I am smacked by the enormous contrast. Meanwhile, the truth of where that valley sits in relation to the place of my deepest connection passes unrealized by my busy mind. That is until the vertical datum point is communicated. Then, when I close my eyes, I can truly sense that I am high, low, or somewhere just like home. Learn the position of your special places as it is measured by its relation to the earth's core and you will begin to awaken your sense of place.

Ten Routine Messages I Refuse to Accept

November 20th, 2018

Daily life in America: what's it like for you? When I tune out the noise and answer honestly, I realize that my days are praiseworthy. I am fortunate enough to have escaped poverty, violence, and ill health, and so I have peace, love, and happiness. I can walk in the park. I can drop in on a friend for a chat and a drink. I can create and sell my own product. I can give my loved ones big hugs and kisses whether they squirm or not. With just a few tiny seeds, I can grow nutritious food and cook it to suite my taste. My list of things to be grateful for in America is very, very long.

Of course, I cannot deny that frustration and hardship exists. I am reminded regularly that I am not made for this world of aggression, competition, and hate. But I cannot deny a certain pattern. These bad feelings are usually experienced when I try to follow society's ill-conceived rules, ones that are incompatible with my personality. Tons of imaginary boundaries set by other people just aren't agreeable to me.

Those who concoct the norms and set the trends are a shadowy population of rule makers. They are people I've never met, people I have nothing in common with, and people who I predict are far less happy than me. They are like Mylar®, helium-filled balloons: eye-catching, synthetic distractions.

With dazzling external appearances, they float to heights far above me and my firm position on the ground. That is until the day their vessels leak. Then they become shiny lumps of trash on the floor. Because this is the future for these over-inflated bags of gas, I must resist the temptation to follow them.

So what are these boundaries I write of? Below are ten. They exist in the form of messages, ones heard so often we naturally accept them as truth. They are nonsense.

#1. Increasing financial wealth is the greatest goal.

And if you have to be miserable to achieve it -- if you have to trample, lie, cheat, obstruct, connive, and abuse -- so be it. With money you can build your own marble-floored happiness club.

My alternative take: Chasing money means wanting more, and more is an infinite noun. Instead, I strive to know what is enough. Just enough. Enough food. Enough warmth. Enough love. With enough I am free to be satisfied, making it easier to give and share. My goal is attainment of the ability to see that there is enough.

#2. Selling the earth brings wealth.

This includes diamonds, gold, oil, gas, and coal. These are the stock trades, the commodities, the tickets to number one.

Pipeline project photo post on the Delaware Riverkeeper Network's blog.

My alternative take: No one gains from disrespecting, degrading, or confiscating any piece of that which we reply upon for life.

#3. College is required.

The first measurement of your worthiness to society is the degree to which you were formally educated.

My alternative take: First and foremost, I refuse to measure, analyze, or credential my ingenuity or creativity. I simply let myself be as smart as I can be. Of course, college has much to offer the person who chooses a path to specialized learning. And it must be required for many vocations (doctors, etc.) But it's not the panacea. The college admissions officer shall never have the power to delineate America's skilled from unskilled, the intelligent from the dumb. And when a society brushes off every person without a degree, it suffers an enormous loss.

#4. People over 50 shouldn't be hired.

The unripe represents the future. It can be more easily molded and has fewer health-related blemishes than the ripe.

My alternative take: Every generation is required. It's true that older-and-wiser people will more quickly recognize exploitation. They know when to stand up for themselves. They can foresee problems based on experience. They realize their worth and demand to be compensated. These qualities don't suite a model which prefers robots. They do, however, propel Equal Opportunity Employers with wisdom, loyalty, proficiency, stability, and more. Ask yourself: would Mark Zuckerberg be in the trouble he is in had he employed the advice of a less-naive generation early on?

#5. Learning depends upon an internet connection.

A man decides to try to disconnect from his smartphone for an entire weekend. When the trial is over, he realizes he was not addicted to his phone after all. He was addicted to all the learning, all the instant answers to the questions and curiosities that came up.

My alternative take: Corporate (Google) dissemination of all society's knowledge is a very frightening likelihood, one that absolutely does not make us smarter individuals. We must retain time-tested resources, which include person-to-person teaching, offline documentation, editor-checked information, and personal observation. We must remember the power of independent learning and analysis. Plus, I refuse to hinge my future on some flimsy guarantee that the internet -- or the electricity that powers it -- is forever and always.

#6. Synthetic is better.

Every avid skier knows synthetic undergarments keep you drier and thus warmer during a winter workout. Pharmaceutical companies can treat larger populations with controlled formulations. Air-conditioned spaces set to the perfect temperature leave nothing to chance.

My alternative take: The average mind may not fully understand the chemistry of a natural substance or existence, but the body most certainly does. "Real" people require "real" food, clothing, and sustenance in a "real" atmosphere. Our inventions have their place, do doubt. But their convenience does not outweigh our organic need for natural things.

#7. The lowest price represents the greatest value and smartest purchase.

The key to a healthy balance sheet is to keep costs low. The key to sales is to always beat the competitor's price. The key to maintaining a household budget is to find the cheapest price on everything you buy.

My alternative take: While such may be true in circumstances of inefficiency and waste, just about everything in today's marketplace reached a tipping point years ago. Now, in order to deflate the price, so too must we deflate the quality. We've reached junk status, effecting even the food we eat to survive.

Further example: One refrigerator costs $500. It is expected to last 8 years. Another costs $1200. It is expected to last 15 years. The math says it would be smarter to buy two cheap refrigerators. That is until you factor in power-use efficiency, food storage life, disposal impact on the environment, and the pay scale and jobs the manufacturers and distributors support.

#8. Tales of lurid sex, bloody violence, and juicy scandal make us act.

An illustrative example is Facebook. The algorithmic structure examines your clicks and Likes, including your peeks into the absurd. This is deemed "engagement." Then it delivers content to your news feed based on what got you engaged. Like television ratings, the system says we're only getting more of what we want.

My alternative take: Empathetic people may not be able to turn away from a car crash, but that doesn't mean we WANT to see more accidents happen.

#9. Peace and love is for the weak.

Animalism dictates that, if you want to succeed at your mission to dominate and reproduce, you must be the toughest bull in the herd.

My alternative take: It requires more intelligence and bravery to confront the future with grace than hostility.

#10. There is nothing I can do about it.

So many people have adopted a philosophy that is contrary to my beliefs that, as a minority in a democratic society, I must accept the results of the status quo.

My alternative take: The counter culture in which I find myself has enough vibrant members to keep me peaceful, loving, and happy every day. It too rejects the ugly trends and norms. All I have to do is stay focused. Let the balloons float aimlessly in their meaningless agendas; I choose to keep my feet firmly connected to earth, the conduit to the energy of all my grounded fellows.

It takes a lot of thought control to keep the worries at bay. It takes practice to recognize pleasing things, but I know doing so is what propels my attraction to happiness. It closes out false paradigms and opens the door to MY reality: a life in America that is full of wonder and possibility.

You Gotta' Read This Book

October 18th, 2018

It's only been a week since I borrowed a copy from my library, and I'm already getting sick of hearing myself say it.


Teacher: "The kids are acting so tribal these days."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."


Observer: "I can't understand how people believe this stuff."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."


Friend: "I'm amazed at the rage in these petty arguments anymore."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."


Talking to each other

If you can relate to my essay from April 2018, "Why I Left Facebook," then you will most certainly relate to this book.

If -- whether by choice or by ignorance -- you don't have a single social media account, you should still read this book.

And if you stand at the other extreme -- you're a social media guru or a social media influencer -- you should definitely read this book.

Before you lose faith in humanity, read this book.

The book is called, "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts RIGHT NOW," by Jaron Lanier. It does not bash technology. It only criticizes the big BUMMER that social media has become.

I think it would be safe to categorize Lanier as a genius, so this isn't light reading. You may not like his writing style. You may not agree with his politics. You may not grasp every point he makes. But I dare you to read this anyway.

His is an uncomfortable yet indisputable answer to the question, "Have we all gone mad?" Lanier challenges us to look at how ugly the world seems to have become from a different lens. He offers the viewpoint of someone who worked in Silicon Valley when the vision for the Internet's impact on society was purely positive.

As long as you have hope that the people around you still have the capacity to be kind, you will benefit from reading this. Fewer than 150 pages, written with humor and the benefit of personal expertise, I urge you to explore his words and see why he recommends we all DELETE OUR ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW.

Find it at your local library or Powell's Independent Online Book Store.

Plus, once you all read it, I can stop repeating myself.

Tuned In or Tuned Out?

September 7th, 2018

I have written nothing, because what I want to say is just too large, too intense, too heavy. Where do I start? How do I arrange my points? What is my point exactly? The only thing prolific about the material I'm producing right now is the writer's guilt over a lack of material.

White floods my page. The non-color reminds me of chocolate stormwater, because my clarity is so polluted with the sediment that keeps washing into my mind—every grain another analogy that broadens the initial point—I cannot frame the picture. I cannot decide which brush to use to apply the first stroke, and so I decide to pick up no brushes at all.

chocolate water

Huge gaps between the public posts on this page indicate abandonment. But only I have the password to look behind the published curtain. There I find the weedy list of unfinished drafts. Every one has been held back for the same reason: rambling. Instead of writing nothing, I have written too much.

I blame it on the times. Stay positive. Trust your instincts. Be grateful. Inspire others to find the best within themselves. These are the messages I want to convey. But I can't hear past my own internal clamor of frustration, concern, worry, distrust, and dissatisfaction. I want to shout, "Can't you see what's happening here?"

How many other artistic expressions are hiding in the shadows of rampant discord? How many brushes have fallen silent from the dust of hopelessness?

And why is this happening? I propose the reason is fear. I am afraid. The jury is now filled with cruel peers. The penalties for missteps could go viral. The best intentions are easily tarnished with the assumption that every one of us is either racist, self-serving, and combatant or all-loving, selfless, and peaceful. No one is allowed to fall in between. Almost all of us fall exactly in between.

A silent, blank canvas is a signal to the audience that the artist has tuned out, which adds to the artist's pain, because an artist's mind is endlessly, relentlessly tuned in. I must click the button marked "Publish!" now quickly, before I change my mind.

Stand Up Straight

August 3rd, 2018

Just watch a cable television station long enough to catch a few commercial breaks and you'll be wondering how we ever got along without medications, surgeries, fitness equipment, or weight loss pills. In response, I'm recycling the following post from 2013. I want to remind you of one, simple, basic practice that can help prevent the need for any of that: learn to stand tall.

You too can have strength, confidence, poise, and vitality. But wait, there's more. Proper posture makes you more attractive. And this can be yours today for the bargain investment of just two minutes of your time. Beautiful models, successful salespeople, effective leaders, and focused athletes all know about this secret. Read on to learn how you can have all this and more today.

Hiking the mountains

Okay, enough sales talk. Our moms and dads told us to stand up straight when we were kids. But there is more to it than just straightening up and pulling your shoulders back. Feeling tall. Holding your head high. Centering your balance. Commanding a presence. These are auxiliary goals, which require a mindful timeout from hunching over our 40-hour-work-week positions.

You probably spend most of your day in a physical position that is redundant. Our accommodating bodies remember this. Then, for another 56 hours per week we sleep, curled into a reflexive comma. This leaves very little time for our skeletons to be in the state of equilibrium required for our whole bodies' optimal function.

We need to remind ourselves what perfect posture feels like. We have to practice. Like the computer you are now sitting at (and have been sitting at for too long), your posture needs to be rebooted regularly. The muscular system needs to be reset in order to let the frame return to true alignment. The kinks must be gently stretched to spread out the workload evenly across the entire body. Even our inner ears need to be reminded of what balance means.

When you stand tall, oxygen and blood circulates more effectively. Overworked muscles get some much-needed assistance from one of the other 600(+) muscles in the body. Thought, strength, and agility sharpen. And you just feel better.

And good posture takes visual pounds off in an instant, particularly in the abdominal area. Have you ever seen those before-and-after photographs for diet-pill commercials? We joke about how obviously the subject is sucking in his or her stomach for the after shot, but the truth is, holding in the stomach to some degree is what we should be doing anyway. Engaging those muscles as we stand, sit, and move removes some of the burden from the lower back, reducing its sag and its pain.

A popular yoga position called Mountain Pose starts at the ground and consciously moves up each section of the body until the crown of the head is reaching for the ceiling. But you don't have to practice yoga to learn how to feel like a mountain. Of course, you should never feel sharp pain when doing this. If you do, stop immediately and address the problem with a doctor. Otherwise, getting into perfect posture goes a little like this:

Take all the time you need to achieve each step; don't hurry.

1.) Stand on a level surface with your feet parallel to each other, about hip-width apart.

2.) Spread apart every toe, so your balance is even on each, then center your balance between the ball and heel. Be sure you are not leaning forward, back, left, or right; your weight must be centered.

3.) Focus on your knees. Aim them straight ahead and engage your thigh muscles to make it feel as if you are pulling your kneecaps up. Make sure your knees are directly above your feet. Do not lock your knees.

4.) Focus on your pelvis. Engage your stomach muscles to tilt the top of your pelvis back (to adjust for the involuntary sag) and align your hips above your knees, which are above your feet.

5.) Lift your waist to hold your rib cage, feeling your back straighten as each vertebra spreads apart toward the ceiling. Fill the rib cage with oxygen.

6.) Pull your shoulders back (to adjust for involuntary hunch), adding more air to your lungs and more space between each vertebra. Let your arms hang comfortably, but extend each finger toward the floor. Do not lock your elbows. Shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and feet should all be on the same vertical plane.

7.) Relax your face, but lift your chin enough to get your head above your shoulders while pulling the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

8.) Stand and concentrate on this posture. Program it into your mind. Breathe deeply and slowly. Tell yourself good things. Come out of the stance gently; sway around if necessary to shake any out any stress that gathered anywhere.

Also, when sitting, center your upper body parts on your hips, while keeping your feet flat on the floor.

The stronger you are, the more difficult some portions of this may be for you. If any part presents problems or produces discomfort, then take measures to stretch out the overdeveloped muscles, or better yet, make full body stretching a part of your daily route. And breathe. Muscles need oxygen. In fact, forcing a cold, suffocating muscle to stretch can cause more harm than good, so it's good to get the blood pumping a little first.

Don't be frustrated if this doesn't come naturally or feels uncomfortable at first. Keep practicing every day. When you are able to get to perfect posture without effort, you can practice it in the grocery line, while cooking dinner, while watching a soccer game, etc.

Don't waste time while waiting for the ship to come in.

Our mental and physical wellbeing relies heavily on our body's alignment. You can improve this, no gym membership, pills, or surgery required. Subtle results will yield great benefits, one muscle, one action, one breath, and one thought at a time.

by Ruth Heil