a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for September, 2007

Go Placidly – some things we’ve always known

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Last summer, we worked and played in Berkeley, CA, staying in the “basement” of someone’s home, which was filled with yard sale things and “collectibles”. I saw this in a large frame. It sounded familiar, so it most likely will to you, too. I sat on the floor and copied it longhand. It’s worth reading a few times, even if you’ve seen it before. Tao

Found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore – dated 1692

Go placidly amid the noise and hast and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the coursel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. many fears are born of fatigue and lonliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with god, whatever you conceive him to be and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Practical Magic – Book Crossing and more

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I believe in magic. Well, if not magic, then the power and possibility of manifesting what we want and believe. And I have personal experiences to back me up. There’s the one where my dog’s badly torn knee ligament, which had not responded to any other treatment, was healed overnight by an Intuitive (2,000 miles away). And the time the ongoing invasion of ants left my house when asked politely.

Well, here’s something for the pragmatists out there. I joined Book Crossing recently – an online group that encourages the exchange of books through random and anonymous giving. I normally, and yes, pragmatically, enjoy the exchange of used books. But adding a bit of mystery to it felt more fun – where would your book end up and with who?

So, I joined the group, wrote my name and email address in a book cover, along with instructions to “please take me” and left it on a table in a coffee shop. What book did I choose to hand out? As you can guess, I’ve collected many dog self-help books over the years, so I grabbed one off my shelf that I had purchased used and found a little too scientific for my purposes – it was called “The Dog’s Mind”.

A week or so later, I received an email from the person who picked it up. He saw my note, but was confirming that I had really meant for someone to take this book home to keep. Once he was convinced, I learned that this person had acquired 3 dogs and this obscure book was on his reading list. He was grateful, but I was overjoyed!

Maybe it’s not the power of magic that will change the world, maybe it’s the power of giving – or both.

We Ain’t As Smart As We Think – Killer Popcorn

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

September 5, 2007, NY Times headline: “Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit” “Lung specialists and even a top industry official say the case raises serious concerns about the safety of microwave butter-flavored popcorn.”

Are you worried? You should be. Even if you’re a “naturalist” like me who stays clear of artificial and processed foods, just the knowledge that our consumer industry, as a whole, messes with our food supply to the extent that it can kill us is more than frightening. Yeah, I ate microwaved popcorn occasionally during college, but the odd taste (and the stomach ache that followed) kept me from making it a habit. Well, that odd taste turns out to be the butter flavoring made from diacetyl, already linked to cases of severe lung damage in popcorn factory workers. Huh?

“We’ve been working on the workplace safety side of this, but the potential for consumer exposure is very concerning.” says counsel for the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the U.S.. Huh?

So, the fact that workers lungs were being destroyed by this stuff wasn’t enough to discontinue its use? They even have a nickname for the disease – “popcorn worker’s lung”. Yet, the subject of consumer exposure never came up? And now? According to this NY Times article, ConAgra Foods (the nations’ largest maker of microwave popcorn) planned to remove diacetyl from its microwave popcorn products “in the near future”.

Mother Nature perfected our food supply, but somehow, we always think we know better while in actuality, we’re mutating our food into nutrition-less, toxic, empty calories. And we pay for it with our health and our wallets. After all, it costs mere pennies to buy kernels and make your own popcorn on a stove top. But we need it in 3 minutes, not 8 and we certainly don’t want to wash a pot, so give us something we can just throw in the trash. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I’ve always supported the organic and natural foods industry – even before it became popular or widely available. It made sense to me, even then. I don’t know of one food that has been improved or shown to be completely safe with artificial or altered ingredients. Do you?

If this posts seems full of questions, that’s the point. It’s time to wake up and smell the popcorn (wait, don’t do that – it could kill you!). The industry nor the FDA will not protect you. The health of our planet and bodies is in the hands of consumers – Want not. Buy not. Stop the madness!

Earth Dance 2007

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Earth Dance 2007 is a simultaneous music and dance event happening all over the world on Saturday, September 15th. Communities large and small will be gathering to dance, sing and play music for peace. 350 events will take place in 60 countries. At 4pm PST, millions of people will unite in a prayer for peace and join voices in a synchronized global OM, a vibrational sound of the Earth.

Earth Dance 2007 is not a celebrity-driven event, but an initiative to unite the intention and strength of all philosophically aligned organizations throughout the world to build a sustainable culture of peace for all humanity and the Earth. The theme/focus this year is “Healing the Earth’s water with sound and intention”.

We all know the power and influence of music and sound. Let’s put it to good use for peace on the planet.

I’ll be getting down, in my little town, hooping my heart out, this Saturday. Where will you be? For more information or ways to get involved, go to

Hydrate or Die

Friday, September 7th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

A few years ago, I participated in an AIDs Ride from Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC. It was one of the hottest weeks of the Summer, with a heat index of 107. I was well-trained and so survived the first 113-mile day, though more than a few dozen people suffered heat exhaustion and were picked up by the sag wagon. What I remember most from that long, hot day is the enthusiastic support crew driving alongside the riders yelling, “Hydrate or Die!”

And so it goes. Water is our most precious resource. Not a human or animal can survive more than a few days without it and as I look around during this continuing drought, it becomes obvious that the trees and plants will also soon need to hydrate – or die. Yet, not much has changed in my area, or in the world, in we are using and abusing the water supply. The local water use restrictions only recently moved from voluntary to mandatory and even then, lawn irrigation systems are running every other day, while car washing services continue to operate day and night.

Never mind Peak Oil, where is the urgency in regards to our dwindling water supply? Conservation efforts are minimal at best as we continue “business as usual”. Our local Public Works has issued a water supply “alert” but not many people I’ve spoken to are even aware of this or, even worse, bother to take it seriously. We need a message with an impact. Raising water rates will have an undeniable effect on conservation efforts, but for some reason, this rarely happens, making our most important resource our cheapest utility – in other words, out of sight – or our wallets – out of mind.

There’s more than 100 ways for businesses and residents to conserve water, which I highlighted a few months ago here. This drought is sad – we’ve lost trees and crops and will need an unreasonable amount of water to refill our reservoirs. We may get some relief soon in the Fall months, giving yet another false sense of security to our lives. It’s time to think about new trends and technology when it comes to water use. It’s past time.

Seeking Spirit – joining in the conversation

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

by Ben Hoadley, Florida

I think you make some great points, Tao and Sami. For me, its very similar to the thoughts we shared over Live Earth. My question for burning man is this, by joining a collective group of 50,000 like minded people who advocate radical self expression…how do you keep from becoming one of the herd? I don’t think Burning Man is a bad thing and I don’t think banding together with like-minded individuals is a bad thing. It can promote unity, growth and awareness as well as birth new friendships. I just question the philosophy behind self-expression by doing what everyone else is doing. Maybe I’m dancing too close to the line of semantics.

One of the things that I enjoy most about this blog is the perspective of the people who participate. After all, the point of Burning Man and the point of this blog is to join like minded people together in their efforts, right? I mean, we advocate responsible living and being good stewards of our resources and for some reason making that effort in conjunction with friends or even other bloggers somehow makes the journey more accessible and palatable. Even though we are working in common goals together, there is still a vast sea of diversity amongst us.

I think its important to remember that. Tao mentioned, in “It’s an Energy Thing”, that she has a 75-minute daily routine and morning walks in the woods. Sadly, most people don’t make their physical, mental or spiritual health a priority in this way. People likely say, there is no way I could free up that much time in my day for that! To me, that’s a very sad thing. It’s sad because for most people it really has nothing to do with available time in the day – it has everything to do with priorities. If you decide to make it happen, it will happen. If you make the decision not to prioritize your health and well-being, then understand you’re making that choice by free will rather than such a thing being dictated to you by the availability of fleeting minutes in your day.

People are subject to human nature – some will choose to learn and foster growth while others are seemingly content with simply passing days. Some people will travel to Burning Man. Others will wake up in the morning and read this blog. Some people look at life and see opportunities for growth. Others see a mountain of frustration and life-load of obstacles. Some people are scared off by things like self empowerment, yoga, or even earth-honoring overtones. If its not something they’ve experienced, they’re likely to rule it out for the simple reason that it’s different. And then there’s people who embrace the diversity and different experiences.

The goal is to be transparent. The goal is to be accepting and understanding. Embrace the idea that people come from all walks of life. Some people are into yoga. Some people are not. Some are for daily exercise routines. Others don’t see it as important. Some people get up and live life everyday. For others they might find that somewhere along the way living became dying.

Success to me is circumventing alienation by way of building a bridge to connect with people. Yoga, no yoga, exercise, no exercise…just come and learn and share experiences and be open to the idea that even though people may act and have different habits than you, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from their experiences. Success is heightening the awareness in people that personal responsibility is the only cure to problems like climate change and rapidly depleting resources. I think it’s easier to tell a story about personal responsibility with an audience you’ve made a connection with. So how do you make that connection? How do you make that connection with someone who feels alienated? If they don’t understand where you’re coming from, or what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it…you’ll have a much more difficult time trying to share what you’ve learned – the way of change.

Ben studied Civil Engineering at Purdue University and owns HPS Engineering – “green” consulting and construction. You can reach him at

Seeking Spirit – the conversation continues

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto and Sami Grover, Carrboro, NC

(For part one of this post, go here.)

SG: “Yoga can cure all problems, except those caused by yoga” – I’m not quite sure I get this. So you’re saying that if yoga, or other forms of spiritual exploration, lead to an overly introverted outlook (inlook?), then the solution would lie outside of yoga – i.e. political action, protest, direct boots-on-the-ground environmental work?

In a sense, I do get the need for balance – if you concentrate only on the political, or technological, or any other (for want of a better word) ‘practical’ aspect of positive change, there is a danger you build abn entirely new set of problems. Equally, if you stay focussed only on the personal, the spiritual and the emotional, there is a real danger of fooling yourself into thinking you’re making a difference. Whenever I hear that personal change is where it’s at, or ‘all you need is love’, or any other such sentiments, I’m reminded of a quote from George Monbiot’s book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning:

“…a Buddhist once told me when I questioned his purchase of unethical products. ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it with love.’ I am sure he knew as well as I did that our state of mind makes no difference either to the exploitation of workers or to the composition of the atmosphere. Thinking like ethical people, dressing like ethical people, decorating our homes like ethical people, decorating our homes like ethical people makes not a damn of difference unless we also behave like ethical people.”

So, I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If attending Burning Man, or following any other exploration of ones beliefs, emotions and spirituality leads to a greater awareness AND a greater ability or willingness to act, then I’m all for it. If it leads to a desire to buy more incense and fly to Goa more often, then I guess I’ll give it a miss. My jury is out (and they’re probably chanting ‘Omm Shiva’ in the backyard…) 😉


TAO: Actually, what that quote reveals is the fact that anything can be used to an extreme and become something else entirely – religion, diet, work, even what we think of as love. A yogi who practices with too much ego, ambition or even aggressiveness, will possibly will probably have those things show up in life. Yet, a spirit-seeking practice which is half-heartedly – without commitment, could show up as apathy or weakness in other ways.

I do not believe that “love” is enough unless we have the corresponding awareness and balance that allows “Right Action”. I may decide to fill up a wading pool for my kids (or in my case, dogs) every other day in hot weather – because I love them – despite the drought conditions. Out of love, I may buy gifts for people, without considering social and environmental responsibility.

There is no one or right way to find this truth – we will all follow our own path if we look for it. Perhaps all you need is be willing to ask the questions first and be willing to do the work that appears. As Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet,

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks on all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

It’s An “Energy” Thing…meditate for peace with One%

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Raleigh, NC

Saturday, September 1, began an 11-day process in my area of “generating peace by being peace” through an all faiths group prayer and meditation. This event, happening both virtually and otherwise, is sponsored by One%, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to bring peace to our community and ultimately to the world”.

In June of 2005, Yoga International published an article by Dr. John Davies describing the positive impact of consistent, deep meditation by One % of a community. The Article That Started It All. Rev. Neusom Holmes urged his congregation at Unity Church of the Triangle in Raleigh, North Carolina to participate and they have continued their commitment since then.

Locations are available up to 3 times/day for those who desire to share space as well as intention over the next 10 days, but shared personal efforts is all that is necessary to produce an opportunity for impact.

It’s hard not to accept the premise that any form of meditation can have far-reaching benefits for practitioners, including physical, mental and emotional health. The researched theory that our efforts can also reach out into the world is especially confirming and motivating.

Like many yoga practitioners, I consider my 75-minute daily practice a form of meditation. Walking can also be meditative – I notice similar effects from my mornings spent in the woods. I intend to challenge myself to include a longer period of seated meditation in accordance with this effort and join a part of the 24- hour meditation vigil being held in Downtown Raleigh next Saturday. Nothing to lose, much to gain.

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