Crying For the Beauty of the Earth

I awoke with this dream on November 28th, the morning after a momentous neighborhood celebration of Thanksgiving in 1997. The celebration took place in Rivendell, Light Morning’s new and still-under-construction community shelter. Nearly twenty-four years later, “Crying For the Beauty of the Earth” remains one of the strangest and strongest of my strong medicine dreams. While it seemed to come out of the blue, it was presaged by a song by Bob Dylan called “Not Dark Yet.” The dream was a descent into unimaginable darkness, and the following eleven days were darker still.

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What Is Worship?

Prologue

What follows was originally intended to be shared with a small circle of fellow Quakers. But as the writing unfolded, it took on a more general relevance, which is why it’s now appearing here. An earlier post, Two Roads, traces the ongoing influence of my Quaker family background. Another post, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, explores the evocative similarities between the lives of George Fox (who founded the Religious Society of Friends), J.R.R. Tolkien (who wrote The Lord of the Rings), and Carl Jung (whose Red Book is discussed below).

For those unfamiliar with Quaker ways, and especially with the unprogrammed branch of the Quaker family tree, meetings for worship last about an hour and are mostly silent. Now and then a Friend may offer a brief inspirational message. These sharings are often called vocal ministry.

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An Unintended Leave of Absence

Bob Dylan, 1964

After having posted here each Wednesday for 56 weeks, my well-established habit unraveled. I lay the blame for this lapse squarely at the feet of Bob Dylan. Having recently completed “A Sword In My Side,” the synchronicity-laced account of my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course (which begins here), I turned to “The Lofty Chronicles,” a series of stories about child-led learning in the early pioneering days of Light Morning (which begins here).

In April, however, I was seduced by a treacherous impulse. In one of those predawn moments of seeming lucidity, I was given the title for another post: “Practicing Vipassana at the Gates of Eden.” It was to be a deeper exploration of why I sit for meditation each day and would utilize lyrics from “Gates of Eden,” a surreal song Bob Dylan wrote in 1964. Instead, the impulse led me down a rabbit hole of hallucinatory lyrics, multiple drafts, and missed deadlines.

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The Lofty Chronicles: 1

Saying Goodbye to Early Childhood

The Lofty Chronicles grew out of a daily journal that I kept for several years during the early 1990’s. Many of its entries were about our daughter, Lauren. She turned six in 1990 and soon asked us to call her Lofty. Since she was the first grandchild on either side of the family, her geographically distant grandparents, aunts, and uncles were especially eager to hear what she was up to. So I volunteered to send them selected passages from my journal each season. I also sensed that a grownup Lauren may one day become curious about her roots.

The reason for posting those long ago journal entries here on Light Morning’s website is that peeking through the day-to-day concerns, wonders, and routines of parenting is a startlingly intimate view of the three core values of this community: living close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, and with a shared transformational journey. These foundational values have already been explored here. In The Lofty Chronicles, however, they come to life in a viscerally specific way.

We see adults trying to live simply, work closer to home, and become more self-sufficient. We watch a mostly self-chosen family of friends and traveling companions work and eat and play together, hurt each other, solve thorny problems, and slowly learn to truly care for one another. We catch surprising glimpses of what it means to “become again as a little child.” And we see that a path of transformation can be both long and arduous. There’s nothing quite like parenting for showing us our shadows and humbling our pretensions. It’s fully as good a teacher as marriage and community.

Now it’s time to let the stories speak for themselves. The Lofty Chronicles will be an ongoing series of posts, making way now and then for posts on other themes. After first setting the stage with a few journal entries from Lauren’s younger years, we’ll take up the story proper in May of 1989, shortly after her fifth birthday.

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Choosing To Age in Community: 3

This is the final portion of a story that begins here.

Christmas at Light Morning, 1992
Tom with Ron & Marlene and Lauren, Robert, Joyce

Prologue

Tom Hungerford was born in Winslow, Arizona in 1916, shortly after Arizona became the 48th state. He died at Light Morning at the dawn of the new millennium. Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.

Yet in the brief interval between when Tom took his first breath and his last breath lies a span of some 30,000 days, each of them a tapestry woven of stories. Thus did J.R.R. Tolkien speak of a tree of tales in a forest of days.

In this concluding portion of Choosing To Age In Community we’ll see that Tom was deeply influenced by two books, The Razor’s Edge and The Comforter; that he loved a little cabin in the woods called Snowberry; and that a chance viewing of a movie freed Tom from a trauma he’d been carrying since World War II. Since he was always a traveling man, we’ll close with the story of how Tom ended his days at Snowberry, and finally traveled on to who knows where.

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Choosing To Age in Community: 1

Thomas W. Hungerford

Born in Winslow, Arizona on April 29th, 1916
Died at Light Morning on May 25th, 2000

Tom at Light Morning in 1986

Prologue

In the spring of 1976, a large white van pulled up to an old 8×10 granary shed which served as Light Morning’s community shelter. We were working outside, building a small woodshed out of salvaged materials. Dry firewood was a necessity. We used it for both heating and cooking.

Eight or nine people climbed out of the van, looked around, and introduced themselves. Almost all of them were our age, in their 20s and 30s. One of them, however, was 60. We wondered what had attracted someone our parents’ age to visit a remote rural commune in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia.

That’s how we first met Tom Hungerford. During Tom’s many subsequent visits, and more fully after he moved here, we drew out portions of his remarkable story. Finally, on the eve of Tom’s 79th birthday in 1985, he and I sat down with a tape recorder and he reminisced about the circuitous path that led him to choose Light Morning as a place to both live and age.

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Assimilating Vipassana

Last week’s post brought to a close an account of my first Vipassana meditation course. It’s a story about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity, which begins here. As compensation for this longer story, below is a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll put some flesh on these weathered bones.

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A Sword In My Side: 3

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This concludes a story that begins here.

Come Out Steaming

It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.

Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.

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A Sword In My Side: 2

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspective of how I experienced it twenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995. Part One can be found here.

A Frightened Octopus

I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.

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A Sword In My Side: 1

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

The following story, in three parts, is told from the perspective
of how I experienced it 25 years ago, in December, 1995.

Prologue

After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I came to believe that the path I had traveled had to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight showed me clues that I had missed and discernible traces of long-dried blood on the tracks.

But we don’t see what we’re not yet ready to see; or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have caused me to run from the pain that awaited me, and from the improbable healing and commitment that that pain would bring.

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