Tonight I caught the first glimmer of the moon peeking behind the Ojai mountains. She knows this is her valley, the Valley of the Moon, and that we welcome her. Soon she rose all plump and juicy, like a messenger from the cosmos . . . For a long time she stayed connected to the mountain, as if reluctant to let go. She waited, and then she rose again, ever so slowly, vibrant yellow in the still blue sky. The river bottom landscape shimmered as if covered with a layer of gold fairy dust . . . and everywhere I looked I felt the Goddess smiling.
Note: This is Part One of two parts –written quickly while it’s fresh in my mind.
Update, May 14, 2013: Still working on Part Two. By the time I got home yesterday the heat was so oppressive that I threw in the towel and passed out.
Update, May 25, 2013: The river of life carried me away from my personal writing back to yoga writing, which I’ll post on this blog in the coming days. I also took a four-day focused journal writing workshop at the Krotona Institute in Ojai with playwright and screenwriter Cathrine Ann Jones. The notes for Part Two still sit on my desk, patiently waiting their turn to be posted, as promised.
There has to be a first time for everything and yesterday was the first time I ever asked a group of people at my Journal Writing for Self-Awareness workshop to actually write. I gave them a few prompts, like “The thing I’m most worried or mad about is . . . ” and assured them that if their hand froze up they could doodle or make a To-Do-List to keep the pen moving.
Much to my amazement and utter delight —thrill of thrills–when I looked around, everyone (about 35 people) was intently looking down at their paper and their pens were moving!
I arrived at the Krishnamurti Retreat around 9:30 a.m., (now renamed The Krishnamurti Educational Center) and unloaded all my books to sell, books to read from, big yoga bolster, mat, blankets, and other props, binder full of notes, my purse, etc., into my old lady shopping cart, so I wouldn’t have to make three trips back-and-forth. Craig Walker, one of the organizers of the event, was sitting nearby under a Pepper Tree, possibly the same tree Krishnamurti meditated under for many years. When Craig spotted me he offered to help schlep everything up the path that led to the Pepper Tree Retreat garden area, where I would be speaking.
I was almost an hour early, just as I had planned, because I wanted to absorb the peaceful atmosphere and get the lay of the land. When I saw that Craig had in mind that I would be speaking at a spot under the canopy with some bushes right behind me, I asked if we could reconfigure the chairs so participants would face out to the lawn area, to the open space, where they could better see the sky, mountains, and tall pine trees. And where I could freely move around and demonstrate the poses I often practice before gluing myself to the chair.
After arranging my books and notes on the table, I got out my yoga props. The lawn was still wet so I spread out a blanket instead of my mat. Then I laid down on my bolster with the soles of my feet together in the Goddess Pose, and closed my eyes. I noticed my heart was beating fast–maybe from the exertion of pulling a cart loaded with forty books slightly uphill, plus the anticipation of doing something new and maybe a bit of anxiety of speaking to an unknown audience. And, to be honest, it was no small feat to extricate myself out of the river bottom, feed and water Honey, Chico, and the cats, clean the kitty litter, shower, get dressed (my friend Sholom says he’s starting to freak out because I always wear the same thing) load up the borrowed car, run back into the house for a banana, and say good bye to Honey all over again . . . etc.
So, lying on my old familiar bolster, I smoothed out my breathing and felt my heart slow down. When I opened my eyes I looked straight up at the branches of the trees and the sky. It just happened that for these few moments all the people were elsewhere on the premises and pretty soon I noticed a bird coming closer and closer to the bolster. Relaxing on the bolster brought me in touch with the sweetness of my surroundings. I stopped worrying about the workshop and by the time people started to sit down around the tables under the canopy I was enjoying a heart opening supported backbend on the yoga chair I’d thrown into the backseat at the last minute
At the end of the workshop I promised participants that I’d describe how the workshop unfolded, the material we covered, including a list of the writing books I read from, which I’ll do later today.
But I will add this:
To set the tone for the workshop, I opened my talk on journal writing with this quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti, from The Book of Life: Daily Meditations
Igniting the Flame of Self-Awareness
“If you find it difficult to be aware, then experiment with writing down every thought and feeling that arises throughout the day; write down your reactions of jealousy, envy, vanity, sensuality, the intentions behind your words, and so on.
Spend some time before breakfast in writing them down, which may necessitate going to bed earlier and putting aside some social affair.
If you write these things down whenever you can, and in the evening before sleeping look over all that you have written during the day, study and examine it without judgment, without condemnation, you will begin to discover the hidden causes of your thoughts and feelings, desires and words.
Now, the important thing in this is to study with free intelligence what you have written down, and in studying it you will become aware of your own state.
In the flame of self-awareness, of self-knowledge, the causes of conflict are discovered and consumed.
You should continue to write down your thoughts and feelings, intentions and reactions, not once or twice, but for a considerable number of days until you are able to be aware of them instantly.
Meditation is not only constant self-awareness, but constant abandonment of the self. Out of right thinking there is meditation, from which there comes the tranquility of wisdom; and in that serenity the highest is realized.
Writing down what one thinks and feels, one’s desires and reactions, brings about an inward awareness, the cooperation of the unconscious with the conscious, and this in turn leads to integration and understanding.”
– J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life
Books quoted at the workshop and recommended reading:
The Book of Life: Daily Meditations by Jiddu Krishnamurti
Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg
If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
Zen In the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury (Mine is an older edition. The subtitle has been changed in recent years.)
Writing Yoga: A Guide to Keeping a Practice Journal by Bruce Black
Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir by Suza Francina
The Way of Story: The Craft and Soul of Writing, by Catherine Ann Jones
Note: This is a listing of books I brought to this workshop–not a complete list of all the writing books I recommend!
Photo credit: Carolyn Studer
(I demonstrated some of the heart-opening restorative poses I often practice before writing)
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
I’ll be reading some short passages from Krishnamurti’s journals (as well as my own) at my Journal Writing for Self-Awareness workshop this Saturday morning, May 11, from 10:30 till 12:15. This is a free event, part of the May Gathering at the Krishnamurti Pepper Tree Retreat, on McAndrew Road in Ojai.
I attended Krishnamurti’s talks at the Oak Grove, and also heard him in Saanen, Switzerland, one summer. Over the years I became friends with many of the people who came to Ojai to hear Krishnamurti, including Beatrice Wood, Alan and Helen Hooker of Ranch House fame, and Frank and Bennie Noyes, who started Live Oak School on Orange Road. There, while living in a tiny trailer on the edge of an orange orchard, I tutored, cleaned, cooked, and cared for my toddler son. Back then I had endless energy, and almost everything was great fun.
Alan Hooker used to walk into the kitchen, roll up his sleeves, and make multiple loaves of oat and prune bread. He would also show us hippie chicks how to grind and chop nuts, celery, carrots, onions, and mushrooms for nut burgers or nut loaf.
While I’ve been journaling for more than 40 years (50 if you count my high school and Haight-Ashbury diaries), I’m new at teaching journal writing to people who might feel inhibited when faced with a blank page. I’ll see if I can nudge them into putting their innermost random thoughts and observations on paper. I’m filled with a kind of joyful trepidation, along with curiosity about who will show up.
The nature descriptions in Krishnamurti’s journal, below, are so simple, timeless, and moving. The book consists of observations made between February 25, 1983, and March 30, 1984, toward the end of his life. We here in Ojai can walk the “little village” as well as the East End, Horn Canyon, and all the trails he took high up in the mountains, and see all the places that he described with such depth and sensitivity.
I remember now how many early evenings I would be in my garden on Thacher Road, picking zucchini squash or digging trenches for chicken wire in an endless battle to keep gophers at bay. Krishnamurti would walk by, and the neighbor’s little dog would come running out onto the street, yapping at his heels and threatening his companions. The dog would often follow them a little way down Thacher, and Krishnamurti would turn around, bend over, and, arms waving toward our driveway, tell the little nuisance dog, “Shoo . . . shoo . . . shoo. . .”
This gave me a bit more time to observe Krishnamurti, and sometimes I’d have to run to the street and scoop the dog up. Back then, at age twenty, I was still painfully shy, and never took the opportunity to say a friendly hello.
Today, Krishnamurti’s journals serve to remind me how journal writing not only makes us ever more aware of our automatic thought processes and responses, but strengthens our powers of observation and awareness of ourselves, other people, nature, and all the rest of life:
As you climbed, leaving the little village paths down below, the noise of the earth, the crickets, the quails, and other birds began their morning song, their chant, their rich worship, of the day. And as the sun rose you were part of that light and had left behind everything that thought had put together. You completely forgot yourself. The psyche was empty of its struggles and its pains. And as you walked, climbed, there was no sense of separateness, no sense of being even a human being . . .
Krishnamurti’s last journal, spoken into a tape recorder at his home, Pine Cottage, in the Ojai Valley, brings the reader close to this renowned spiritual teacher. Dictated in the mornings, from his bed, undisturbed, Krishnamurti’s observations are captured here in all their immediacy and candor,…
“Today Any Spiritual Connection to the Slaughtered Animal Has Been Completely Replaced by Profit and Greed”May 5, 2013
Saturday, May 4th, 2013. Today I want to thank Ventura animal activist, Shelley Petlansky Watkins, for joining with animal rights groups to protest pig slaughter at Farmer John, the largest pig slaughterhouse on the West Coast. The protest is from 10 a.m. to noon, at Farmer John’s Slaughterhouse, 3049 E. Vernon Ave., Los Angeles, California, where 6,000 pigs a day are routinely slaughtered as if they were unfeeling creatures.
A few years ago, after the publication of one of my annual columns questioning the ethics of sending 4-H animals to slaughter without showing the child who raised the animal the truth of what happens to their pig, lamb, or cow, (see video below) I received the following hand-written letter from a man who witnessed what I wish every meat-eating person could see.
In solidarity with today’s protest, am posting his letter here:
I have been reading your articles about 4-H kids. I understand why they should not send their animals to the slaughterhouse.
What I am about to tell you here are events that actually transpired, as accurate as my memory can recall. I could never in my life think up anything like this.
Several years ago I was living on a five-hundred acre ranch right in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation, a hundred miles east of the Grand Teton Park in Western Wyoming. I was trading my husbandry talents and the feeding and care of fifty horses and mules, plus summer time irrigating of all the pastures, in exchange for a nice ranch house and the use of any of the stock I wanted to ride. For me and my many dogs and cats, it was ideal.
The Wind River Mountains were in my backyard and the Wind River itself wound in and out of the property several times. I could swim and play any day I wanted to without anyone telling me what to do or where to go. I guess in retrospect, I should have never given up the place, but when I found out several of the horses were earmarked for slaughter and sales to the French meat market, I quit the very day I found out.
One summer afternoon, I saw activity at the small house across the dirt road that ran in front of my place. Curious, I walked across the pasture in front of my house and across the dirt road to see what was up. I lived down there all by myself and if neighbors were moving in, I wanted to meet them and find out what kind of people they were.
Standing in front of the old house and leaning up against the bent and rusted fender of an old Ford pickup was a red headed man smoking a cigarette and whistling along to a Waylon Jennings song. As I approached, he yelled out to his wife to bring up two beers. He introduced himself to me as “Red” Hollis and he handed me one of the beers. He said his wife’s name was “Twila” and he told me they were going to spend the summer in the house. Red was going to do odd jobs around the smaller ranch up the road and Twila was going to work as a bar waitress in the small bar half way between where we lived and the small mountain town of Dubois.
Red told me that they had moved out from Illinois where he worked in a slaughterhouse. He told me all he did was hogs. No cattle, no sheep, no chickens and no turkeys. Just hogs!
This revelation made me a little nervous as I don’t feel that comfortable around anyone in this line of business and, actually, I do not know anyone in the slaughter industry. I usually keep my personal feelings about eating mammal flesh to myself unless I’m pressed to defend my choice of what I eat and how I feel about the slaughter of these incredible animals.
But I was going to spend the summer living across the road from these folks and so I just made casual conversation with Red and Twila. (Great names, huh?)
Anyway, Red went on to explain what he did in the slaughterhouse. It seemed to me that he was quite happy with his odd career and he had absolutely no reservations about talking about it. He told me he was a “Knifer” in the hog section of a huge slaughter operation. The hogs were weighted and graded out in these enormous holding pens and then they were forced, single file, to shuffle into the openings in the sides of the five story cement building. He said the squealing was so deafening that it could be heard five miles away.
As soon as the hogs got into the building, there were several men standing on the right side of the ramp with huge chains ending in sliding looped cables. As soon as each hog passed by, the men would reach down and pick up the right rear leg and slip the sliding cable over the leg and secure it. As soon as the cable was tight, the chain was mechanically pulled up and the hog was hoisted, up side down, into the air. This is where the squealing began to heighten. The terrified animals were actually screaming for their lives.
The next closed off room is where Red performed his macabre duties. As soon as the terrified hog entered the room, Red would reach up and slit its throat with his knife. He told me that he was pretty sure that he managed to successfully kill at least seventy five percent of all the hogs that came into his room. He also told me that by the end of his eight hour shift, the room was so filled with blood that it literally came up to his arm pits and that is why he wore rubberized fly fishing waders. He said that the killing of hogs went on twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year.
Double time for holidays!
He then told me that the hogs, always on the move above him, went from his room into the next room where they were dipped into huge vats of boiling water to remove any dirt, bugs and all the hair. If any of the hogs he had knifed were still alive, the boiling water ended their lives immediately. He also said that several times a day, several of the “Knifers” would yell out “live one coming in” when a still living hog came through the entrance to the boiling vats and everyone would laugh and yell when its squeals were hushed forever by the boiling cauldrons.
I asked him how he could live with himself after what he had done in the slaughterhouse. With an enormous smile on his face, he told me that he enjoyed, immensely, the fact that he held the life of so many animals in his hands and that he slept real good after a long day in the “Knifing Room” and a pork roast in his belly.
We talked for several minutes longer and then I made up some lame excuse that I had to get back to my feeding of the horses. When I got home, I hugged all my dogs and cats and began to cry.
I cried and cried and cried!!!
The 4-H and Future Farmers of America pretend to teach real values to young children in hopes of thoroughly brainwashing them into believing that the raising of farm animals for profit and slaughter is a sound, moral thing to do. These children raise each and every cow and pig and lamb and goat with tender loving care and talk to them in soothing voices telling them all along that everything will be all right. But sadly enough, the day after the fair auction is over, each of these cuddled animals are going to go off and meet the thousands of Red Hollis’s waiting in the dark of some slaughterhouse with sharpened knives in hand and murder in their hearts!
How many children would happily raise a pig, or lamb or goat after they got to spend a full eight-hour shift with Red Hollis in his house of horrors? I’m telling you, there would be no more 4-H or FFA except for those children who maim and torture animals anyway!
What kind of a message are these parents and organizations sending to our children? Are they telling them that it is perfectly okay to raise an animal in a loving environment and then willingly send them off to the horror of the kind of death that Red Hollis would give them? I said it to you on the phone and I will say it here: If these children are going to raise these animals, then by the Gods they had better go to the slaughterhouse and see exactly what happens to their sweet little furry friend the day after they relinquish their ownership of them. Otherwise, everything the 4-H or FFA teaches them about life on the farm will be in vain!
I hope this letter is not too disturbing to you Suza, but I feel if you are to make a serious stand against this most barbaric act, then you should have some real ammunition against it. This is first hand information taken from the very mouth of one Red Hollis, “Knifer” from Illinois and believe me, he knows!
What have we done to our children and what are we teaching them about how to love and respect the creatures we share this tiny planet with? Each and every time an animals is slaughtered, the Creator does hear its screams!!!
There was once serious spiritual connotations concerning the killing of an animal for food and leather, but today any spiritual connection to the slaughtered animal has been completely replaced by profit and greed. Most people today have absolutely no idea of the immense suffering that our animal friends are put through just for that “Big Mac” or that “Whopper” and the immense profits the sale of these items bring in. Hell, most people never even say grace before they sit down to eat anything!!!
Thank you again, Suza Francina, for your stand against this most disgusting act and the people and the organizations that perpetuate its continuation. Namely the 4-H clubs and the Future Farmers of America.
Stephen King, in his best writing style, could never, ever come up with as horrifying a tale as Red Hollis told me that day down by the Wind River. I still have nightmares about it.
Keep up the good fight!
* * *
The first step to “enlightenment” is to stop living in denial and see the era we live in with our eyes wide open, both the profound beauty and goodness in the world, and the immense, unspeakable horror.
The stack of books by my bed reflect my dual Gemini nature. There is a copy of There are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives, by Robert H. Hopcke, a Jungian psychotherapist who explores all the unexplainable events and curious coincidences that happen in the course of our lives. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there sits Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Times, by Michael Shermer, PH.D., the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the director of the Skeptics Society (www.skeptic.com), and a contributing editor of Scientific American.
Living here in the Ojai Valley, a hotbed of every belief under the sun, my inquiring, incredulous mind likes investigating both views—the rational and irrational. Back in 1957, when my family was still in Holland and in the process of emigrating to America, my dad told my mom he had a dream about orange orchards. Sometime after this dream, he received a telegram saying that we were going to a place in California called Ojai. My dad still remembers how when our sponsor drove us to our house in the east end, he recognized the orange groves he had seen in his dream.
If you look around, you’ll see that there is no end to the things that people believe in. At around age fourteen I began to question the dogma of the church I was raised in. And now I question the popular belief that there are no victims, that everything that happens is a “soul choice”— for the greater evolution and understanding of the soul. My rational mind cannot fathom how the eight-year-old boy who was blown up in the bomb blast in Boston was making a soul choice —and all the other people blown up elsewhere on the planet that same day.
When I consider the enormity of the suffering and atrocities that have occurred over the centuries, both in the human and animal kingdom, and the magnitude of what is going on in our era, I ask myself, “If it’s true that we’ve all lived many lifetimes, and if we learn from experience, why aren’t we more enlightened by now?”
For me, at this point in life, at the end of nine seven-year cycles (63 years) on the planet, I don’t know anything. And the more I embrace this feeling of not-knowing, the more open I feel to the great mystery that is life.
Tonight, when I walked the river bottom with my pack of dogs, and I saw the fuzzy black caterpillars crawling on the dry dirt path . . . when I saw the shiny black “stink” bugs moving along . . . and when I saw the white and brown flecked birds swooping bravely in front of us, trying to lure us away from their nests. . . and when my eyes caught the incredible ever-changing light that is the gift after sunset as the days grow longer . . . and when I looked up and saw the coming of the soon-to-be full moon, I said to myself, “This is enough.”
To be awake to the miracle of being in nature— that is enough, for now.
“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder’.” ––Aldous Huxley
It remains to be seen if I’ve gone off the deep end or if I’m thinking outside the box. I’m so desperate to have a writing room again—a space where I can leave projects “cooking” and not have to put all the papers away—that I’ve emptied the kitchen cupboards of all the pots and pans and other stuff I’ve hardly used since I moved here last fall and converted the kitchen into an office.
I halfheartedly tried this a few weeks ago—kind of like an office with a kitchenette– but the cats sat (and threw up) on everything, and the dirty dishes piled up with nowhere to go. So I gave up and went back to movable-office mode.
It’s a challenge to write, teach, and live in a small space with five or more animals. But I feel a heightened intensity to get my next book done. If I must make a sacrifice I’ll give up cooking and dish washing—not writing and yoga.