The Mind Watershed

Matti Salminen


Self-directed learning should not be solely about cramming knowledge into your brain.  Our mind is an interface stemming from our spiritual-center that allows us to explore the world we live in.  Skills are vital to making the most out of our minds.  The skills we cultivate serve as pathways for us enact our mind-source into our work, our lives, and our relationships.  Building skills for independent learning requires that you cultivate a scholarly practice.  And it is from practice that our mind/world interface is utilized—skill development assists intellectual emancipation.

Skill building not only feeds the mind but gives the independent scholar an avenue to explore ideas learned from books.  About six years ago, I decided to study chess; I bought books and subscribed to a chess magazine; I took an online chess course; and I joined my first chess club.  Each of these helped me to build thinking skills as they applied to the game.  Improving took work.  I spent at least an hour improving my game each day for many months.  Today, I am better at chess than ever before with no need to study to maintain my skills.  Chess skills did not assimilate to my natural state of being right away.  There was a time after my initial push to study chess in which my interest receded—as did my ability.

Learning persists.  After my stint at studying chess I developed skills at working on bicycles.  For two seasons, I worked on bikes almost full-time.  The learning of bike maintenance that I did at my trade school provided the necessary background for me to build skills in the workplace.  Repetition of diagnosing and resolving the mechanical failure of a great variety of bikes allowed me to yield something from the knowledge I gained at school.


Hours and hours went into my skills at fixing bikes.  Today, I find myself in a community with a vibrant chess scene.  Like bike maintenance, I have a decent base of knowledge around the game of kings.  Without playing game after game—day after day—my knowledge would not assimilate into my skill base.  It would instead remain dormant.

A skill base is an important concept for independent learning.  We can, with hours of experience, make knowledge integral to our mind/world interface.  Just as I said, I do not need to spend hours a day studying the game of chess to hold onto my chess skills.  In this unencumbered state of mind chess knowledge flows freely; and I can devote my time to studying other subjects.  I can develop skills in other areas—build a more expansive base of knowledge.  I have—over the last two and a half years—been cultivating skills as a writer.  Writing is, now, arriving at a stasis where it is a natural part of my mind/world experience.


Building skills is a great means to wrapping your mind around problem solving, and creativity.   My mind seems to be like a cold water stream; water flows gently from source to destination.  Cold water streams are home to some of the most beautiful game fish that inhabit fresh waters.  Similarly, minds that are not stagnant are home to beautiful ideas which elude those who are less creative.  A vast body of knowledge can find home in just a few well developed skills—much like a few small streams can drain from an expansive watershed.

Something Dead and a Glass of Red

Nanci Bern


The mouse, oh the mouse! I thought this was over for the season. I thought that snow and cold would dismantle the primal lust and give a certain feline a pause for a few months. After all, it’s bloody cold outside!

This is a tricky time of year. It demands many balancing acts. It demands a delicate tongue, a patient spirit, good jokes and bourbon in the hot chocolate. There is no perfect season; I get that. They each have their own beauty and their own difficulties that we each vibrate to differently. I resonate best to autumn and winter, although the more I garden, the more hours I spend happily outside; the more my regret of winter’s leaving is cushioned by the scent of the coming warmth. But I do not get longingly impatient for the warmer ‘clime o’ spring’ as many do.

It is at these times, when others are ‘done’ with the cold and they wax upon the mirth of 90 degree audaciously sunny days(I rarely do sun, nope…no lolling under the thing for me), that I have to watch  my wry wit, or my potentially indelicate tongue. After all, I do not want to get thrown out of the house into a snow bank permanently. But really, why is it okay to rail against the cold but not as okay to anguish about the hot? “If I sit out in the Sun with you for 10 minutes, will you believe that I am not a vampire?” I posed this question to housemates a few years ago, although for full disclosure, it was before becoming a gardening lush.

With that noted, I bundle in my winter shawls, sort through socks and keep only the fleece and alpaca within easy grab. I cull through tops and scarves and hang them within fast cold morning reach.

Inside or outside, I do love the snow. I love to look at it. I love to play in it. Have you ever meditated in a snowstorm? Providing you don’t get blown away; it will blow you away. While I do no snow sport, as I have some lingering accident injuries; I do make a very good ski bunny. I’ll read by the fire while you take you last run and ply you with spirits and stories when you are done.

Okay, reader, I have a question for you. Do you remember when the word ‘localvore’ came into play?  A ‘Localvoring’ whenever possible is important. It supports the native economy and cuts down on carbon emission. It makes us responsible and opens all sorts of networks. This is all great. I support it. I try to live it. But being a localvore is also a state of mind, heart and commitment. While you might get frustrated by some of its constraints, they are assuaged by your life philosophy faithfulness.  So let’s take this a step further.

Walk with me, talk with me…and later we can make some snow sculptures. Humor me, okay?

In ‘olden’ days, people ate according to the seasons and what they stored. Canning and root cellars aside; a variety of fare was not what they were used to by any means. It was a given that this is how things roll. The seasons have their bounty and unique flavor and we really are just are here for the ride. Nature has its way and we are part of it. Do you really think that Farmer Jane would put up with Farmerette Mabel being cranky because she wanted a peach in the middle of February? I think not. One can imagine, one can pine, but then one needs to get over it. You finished the canned peaches last week so move on and enjoy some more potatoes.

What is the point of this you ask? Well, dear 21st century resident, I know you have heard the phrase ‘Be here now’.  As each season has its attendant life style, I propose that we become ‘Seasonvores’. Be in the season of The Now with your earthy partner. Let it lead and support you in the dance.

Yes, in the warmer weather you get more sun, you socialize more because you get out more, you don’t have to haul wood. For those who don’t like clothes, you don’t have to wear as many of the pesky things. Have you guessed that I am not one of them? I do adore a soft cashmere sweater and leggings with a hot pair of boots. But I digress.

Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger. She calls her family together within her inmost home to prepare them for being scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. ~Hugh Macmillan, "Rejuvenescence," The Ministry of Nature, 1871

So here’s the thing. We have Skype, we have phones, we have cars. We have the capacity to adapt and shift. And here’s another thing. We are part of Nature. This is easy to forget when we feel claustrophobic and housebound isolated. But Nature has a grace in her turns toward and away from each season and so can we. We can plant a garden in our plot of heart that will keep us comfortable and at peace during this mostly inside time. Grow your mind with books you want to read. Garnish the borders with projects or cookery that grow your spirit.

Allow Nature to embellish your life. It is one of her favorite things to do.

But I cannot in good conscious leave this page without acknowledging S.A.D. It  is a real issue here and causes pain for many. The first time that I dealt with S.A.D. was March 2007. A friend who is native to here suffers from depression. I told her that I had been feeling that there was a foreign, almost chemical overlay of depression that I had been feeling. I never felt it before, but I knew it was coming at me rather than from within me. It was very disconcerting.  Her response, oddly gleeful, as if she were happy to help and enlighten me, was to inform me that most suicides in Vermont happen in March due to the lack of sun, which is what she was sure I was feeling. Yikes, should I just throw myself out of her moving car now! I suppose she saw the look of horror on my face because she toned her exuberance down a bit and told me that I ‘just’ had a good old case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Well, that I could cope with and even fix through various methods. I learned to meet it on its own terms and have not had a problem since.

And so, while  a certain four-legged sits on my floor contentedly chomping on her snacky find and I, on the couch, sip a glass of wine, it is a good winter’s night, indeed. 

Profound Experience

Matti Salminen


Life experience—it is a source of a great deal of intangible skills and knowledge.  Whether you go to college for a degree or pursue a path of self-education, you will in time, see more and do more than you originally thought possible.   We are when we are young too naïve to know what will come in the years that lay ahead.  Youth is such a tremendous asset to the soul—and—to the mind.  Maybe, it was my naivety that led me to pursue self-education as an adolescent, but therein lay my brilliance.  Without the scrapes and dings in my character I’d be just another less than genius intellectual who carefully plotted a path towards financial independence.

College would have been great for me; if only I could have studied harder in high school, and taken myself more seriously—many hardships would have been avoided.  Heartbreak and sadness would have been subsumed into status and financial security.  But studies—when I was still in my youth—were anything but a priority.  College seemed obtrusive.  It seemed something that was to further instill in me compliance to a social order which I was already very unhappy with.

It’s interesting to see things from the perspective I’ve now gained on life, and on higher education.  Although shortsighted as an adolescent I have come out of trying life circumstances to proceed on a socially conscious path.  And in doing so have I’ve found reason for independent learning.  I have found the relevance of being an intellectual.  What has been first and foremost in my finding relevance in books is writing.

November 1st of 2012, I moved out of a group home to live in a room on Canal Street.  At that time I was writing a mental health blog which I named Breathe.  Although I had a desktop computer (the one I’m writing on now) I did not feel I had space enough in my room to justify keeping it with me.  Instead, I left my computer at my parent’s house in Milton up in the northern part of the state.  But I was writing, and I was writing a lot.  In fact, I wrote two-hundred and fifty two short essays for Breathe—that was in the span of seven months.  I finished Breathe in February of 2013 at which time I began writing for Phil here on Vermont Views.

What I ran into when I began writing for Phil was that I could not compose essays on the library computers in the forty-five minutes they allot per session.  The essays for my first column on Vermont Views were between seven-hundred and one-thousand words.  What I did to be able to write for Phil was write all my essays long-hand; I would write them down in a spiral bound notebook to later type them at the library.  For that time, I was going through seventy page college ruled notebooks every forty days.  I read a lot too.


Writing and reading during those months on Canal Street were great for my mind.  But what I didn’t know when I started writing for Vermont Views was that it would lead directly to my being a professional in the field on which I was writing—that is, mental health.

Life has much in store for all of us.  Self-education is a means to make the most of unexpected twists and turns which prove to be unavoidable.  Often, the greatest lessons we get out of learning are but in the process of living.  This is something which is for all of us too profound to be taught in school.  It must be learned in life; that is not to say that life learning does not get done in college—it does.  It is to say however, our minds are meant to engage us with our world.  To make the most out of our intellect we need to reframe the light from which the world is illuminated.


Nanci Bern


Fallout: the debris from an explosion, the remnant of an action long past and finally, the silent remains of the unresolved. These are the ones that bear the most complexity. These are the ones that seed themselves in our souls even though we walk with resolute steps. 

To give a relationship energy that cannot be changed, although our hearts are willing to explore the possibility, means that it must be met with the gaze of the other. If this doesn’t occur then just because we choose not to inhabit that emotional place because we do understand, in our minds, that there is nothing left to be done, does not always mean that the brash colors of loss will be blanched by time.

Years ago, before I had settled into the work I now inhabit, I did something else. This is no surprise. Most of us have been many things before finding our ‘one’ or, a number of ‘one’ soul home thing. But that had not happened at the time. However, surprisingly enough, I was quite good at what I was doing and became a mentor for more than a few people. I was known for my openness, professional generosity and ethics in a field that has many grey areas where the ethical is concerned. The Ethics of Ambiguity is right at home here. While we all worked hard and seriously, we also enjoyed ourselves with each other in the same way.

But things can sometimes go terribly wrong, or at least seriously blandished with misinterpretation that forges its way into intractability toward understanding. When mixed with a yet immature attitude toward life, let alone the ‘adult’ world of business, no blacksmith could rework what this fire had wrought. There was no fixing this. I had become the villain despite other’s opinions as well. And so a relationship that was a steady stream of connection, warmth and growth was stunted by a closed and recalcitrant young woman who clearly felt betrayed.

Although forgiveness was not what I deemed I needed, I offered her the chance. I framed my apology in terms of a wider picture but she demanded the particular. The best I could do was to apologize for the fact that what transpired, although done ethically, did not yield the outcome she felt she deserved and I was sorry for her disappointment. It was not enough and I was dismissed from her life. She moved from the area soon after. I moved on and while I acknowledged my sadness I did not especially mourn because frankly, I was emotionally exhausted and felt I had done everything I could to be done. But affection and human regard, nonetheless remained.

This past August, after many years, I began to think about her. I needed to find her. I tried all the social channels yet found nothing. I thought that odd. So there was nothing to do then hope she was well and happy. But that for some reason did not feel right.

Today I felt called to try again. This time I found her. She had died in August. I read about her life. She was still with the husband she married at 18. They had 2 teen aged sons and she had become a professional success who was known for mentoring others. She suffered in a long struggle with death. I am so proud and impressed with what her life bloomed into and I am mad as hell at life for handing her over so soon.

Her picture still sported the vaguely petulant turn of her lips and her smart eyes. She was still challenging the rules, but this time she lost because, as far as I am concerned, the rules were rigged and she had no chance. There is a stillness that has a hard center in my gut. It is heavy with the feel of eyes that cannot take themselves away from a target. I want to come face to face with the source that took her future and wounded her family so deeply. I want an apology.

Creative Learning

Matti Salminen


Your mind is but a window to your soul.  Years of study went by before I realized that the greatest lessons I would learn would be learned not by reading books.  Learning is not just an accumulation of knowledge.  In order to access the depth available to us, we first need to access not just the library or classroom, but the boundaries of our character.

Study is important to living in this world, and I’m certain in saying life-long learners very often fair well in this society.  They do not necessarily get to where they are because they read books.  Instead, I believe, success comes to those who are disciplined learners because learning takes dedication and creativity—as does life.  Practice of expanding your mind, must, if you are to be successful in self-education, become an extension for personal growth. 

Learning independently is its best when there are tangible results being acquired by its practice.  Project based learning is a term for creating work around your learning practice.  And projects with which to expand your mind may range from speaking publicly on a topic of interest to putting up an art show in a gallery.  One learning project which I tackled that took months of planning was to host a rally.  Not only did this take organization—it took credibility too.

Several organizations sponsored my rally which was to raise awareness for the mad pride movement.  These organizations included the Brattleboro Retreat, and Vermont Psychiatric Survivors.  I received a $500 grant through Vermont Psychiatric Survivors to host the rally which made the whole event possible.  Arriving at this place to get a $500 grant and $800 more in sponsorships did not happen by accident.  But the path which led to the completion of this project was beautiful, synchronistic, and exceedingly educational.

In July of 2012, I began a mental health blog that I worked on almost every day for seven months.  George Nostrand, from VPS, saw the blog and came down to Brattleboro to talk with me.  He and I worked together to draft up my first ever grant proposal.  The grant would cover costs for me to host a writer’s workshop for a whole year.  Attendance at my writer’s workshop was modest, but among the regular attendees was a man who is now a co-worker.

The organization—Pathways Vermont—that I now work for put my writer’s workshop on their calendar of events.  Their hope, at the time, was that clients might show an interest in attending.  Eventually, a position at Pathways opened up and I applied.  However, the position open was only available to people with a Bachelor’s degree.  However, Pathways created a position just for me.  When I requested sponsorships for my rally it was imperative that I was associated with this not for profit organization. 

What a learning experience it was to go from blogger to paid social services worker, and leading mental health advocate.  I suggest that you take on an intellectually challenging project this week to expand your mind.  It could be a small project of writing a short story or memorizing a short but famous chess game.  Projects could take the form of moving into a new career path, or learning a foreign language.  Maximizing the potential of your mind will only come as you learn to bend, explore, and create. 

Breaking Trail

Matti Salminen


A conversation went on over the internet between me and a chess friend.  It was inspired by a previous installment I made to this column.  In this conversation I compared our capitalist society to that of a cornfield.  We are, I said, organized by our profit earning potential much the same way corn is grown in neat rows.  Capitalism creates a societal paradigm which subverts the wants and needs of the impovershed.  Very few people set out at a young age to be impoverished.  There is, however, no greater statement of discord for the state of our society than to live through impoverishment.  So why not—if our schools are purposed to set us off towards financial independence— argue against public education?

Maybe the measure of our actions as citizens in a culture of profit earning would be, simply, to act in a manner contrary to capitalistic ideology.   The measure of our ideas then—could be, to what degree they speak of radical change.

Now, why would I argue against the public schooling system?  Schools might just be the very best institution in our society.  School teachers are the closest thing to saints most of us will ever come into contact with.  Furthermore, both my parents were school teachers; and while I had a terrible experience in the public school system many others are put on a track towards college, and worldly success.  Tax dollars which go to public schools give those who grow up in poverty the chance to succeed.  But is that the true reason for public education?

As a boy, I was segregated from my classmates by the age of seven.  My class work would be done behind an easel in the corner of my second grade class room.  School became a place I associated with punishment rather than learning.  In time, I would associate getting in trouble with winning the admiration of my friends.  Finding my way in the world through getting in trouble was misguided, and I knew that even at age seven.  Later years would show that I would fall into intrapersonal challenges which would find me in jail, and in psychiatric hospitals.  Few people would fault me for taking on much of the adversity which I’ve faced.  I have schizophrenia.

School was meant to teach me that learning and following directions would lead to prosperity, and life fulfillment.  Tools were supposed to be handed down that I could use to build a temple for my mind.  This didn’t happen.  As much as I’m a critic of social institutions I must say that my waywardness was despite the best efforts of my teachers and principals.  Schools—despite the efforts of great teachers—are not serving the best interests of many of our most promising young people. 

In the discussion with my friend, I said that soil for cornfields is robbed of its nutrients because of how only corn is grown there season after season.  To combat this, farmers fertilize the soil with agents that pollute.  Social institutions lead to a corrupt society much the same a farmer’s fertilizer pollutes groundwater.  The farmer does not intend to do harm to the planet when he fertilizes the field and I believe the same is true of our schools.  I believe our schools are meant to serve those who will serve our communities.  What is unfortunate is that service to community is service to inequality, and socio-economic hostility.

We are not all rows of corn—and as such, self-education is a powerful tool for some people.  I’ve found a great resource in independent learning for life enrichment, intellectual development, as well as for financial independence.  The difficulty I once had in conforming to the order of public school did not keep me from cultivating my mind later in life.  Although my life path has been arduous the challenges are rivaled by the growth they’ve led to.  Maybe my waywardness was rooted in a sense of independence which deep down incited me break trail.

Our Eyes

Matti Salminen


Two books are significant to my learning path right now as I sit writing this essay.  Both began with the premise that they would further my understanding of self-education.  Both serve the purpose of my writing for this column.  However, they are otherwise quite dissimilar from one another.  One is a history book while the other is a workbook for “creative recovery.”  Three weeks ago now, I began reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  While I’ve had this book for well over two years, for whatever reason, I’ve felt hesitant to immerse myself in it.


Learning renewed its importance in my life when I began writing—that was in the spring of 2012.  Thinking along the lines that writing would help me cultivate greater creativity, I picked up a journal, and began jotting down my thoughts.  At the time I was living in a group home…another group home.  Writing, in a short time, would become top priority in my life, and to my recovery.

Writing has opened doors to a more synchronistic life; on many occasions, when I thought I was done with writing, someone would give me just the right encouragement and I’d keep on.  These words of encouragement came from readers, often, but from other writers too.  And then the opportunity to work with a publisher, Phil Innes, came about.  At the time that I began writing for Vermont Views I was hardly a polished writer.  But I kept working at it.  Soon, another writer—who also writes for Vermont Views—took me under his wing, and introduced me to the finer points of grammar and style.


Getting published in Vermont Views gave me further reason to dig deeper into my understanding of my own madness.  My first column on this magazine was called My Side of Madness; it was a social commentary which targeted our broken mental health system.  I was seven months into writing for publication when I signed on to write My Side of Madness.  Not knowing how I was going to continue my writing regarding mental health without having a great deal of overlap with my first blog—I started blindly writing.  But soon, I was doing lots of research, and in all I read thirty books to keep My Side of Madness going.

Now, I’m researching self-directed learning to create a better base from which to write for this column—4our.  The books I’m reading to further write on self-education act as lubricant for the mechanized parts of my brain.  I thought the Artist’s Way would open me up to learning in new and interesting ways.  The other, a history book, I thought would help me to better understand the politics of popular education.  This other book is called The Modern School Movement.  It is about an anarchist movement purposed to create places for learning that were not vestibules for social control.

Schools have enlisted us all into a world of inequality.  Formal education is supposed to help us go further, and achieve greater social independence.  But it only serves to broaden the crevasse between the rich and the poor—that is, unless we put our education in our own hands.  Learning can—and will—serve to promote humanity and justice for all people when it is done as a life-long process.

Schools, however controlled and isolated they are from the real world, serve to plant a seed for independent personal growth.  Self-education allows that seed to grow, and with some patience, flourish.  To best coax that plant into maturity, we must, ourselves, unlearn much of what we’ve been taught.  Learning takes practice.  Each day I see more and more that learning is about harmonizing my mind with my works.  When our minds and our work are harmonized we open ourselves to the synchronistic existence that allows us see the world through our eyes as only we can.

A Ride Through the Mist

Nanci Bern


Sometimes a feeling we perceive is really the mask for something else. It is the cover of what is underneath, what the true and source-feeling of what we sense we are experiencing is. But we do not always realize this. When we say we feel sad, or angry or lost or hopeless, we may be feeling something else with a similar enough flavor that we misinterpret our own awareness.

So does this mean that we cannot trust what we think we feel? Do we need to question ourselves? Are we habitual liars without our even knowing that we are such a creature? If I am lying, albeit, not intentionally, to myself; then are you lying to me? How can one ever believe anything? Must we now throw out those love songs, and tangible strings of mutual thought that connect us. Are these strings just another type of clothesline from which we hang our emotionally ragged lies? Of course not.

Not all of what we are aware of feeling is an untruth. Many of these glittery things, such as pleasure, love and compassion, are the real thing.  And the somber--less-than-glittery-things like grief, pain and the indignation we feel at injustice are a cornucopia of the genuine heart.

So how can we know when to consider that what we feel is not the real deal? How do we tell the difference? Is there a tell-tale sign? Can you hear its beat? Should we look under the floorboards? Do our bodies feel this in a reliable way? Do we get a certain flush when the truth is racing through us and our body, mind and heart are truly in synch?  How do we know that we are a little amiss of the mark? We may not until we have been thrown against the proverbial wall and slide down the thing only to find ourselves with some mighty sore vertebrae and a little of the breath pressed out of us. Let’s not even talk about our sore as hell bottoms.

So the sky has turned dusky and it is just our self and our shadow on the cement in the Alley of It’stimetowakeup. Too bad smoking is so unhealthy, for what a silhouette that would make. Film noir has nothing on this state of affairs.

Coming out of the hidden space of our awareness is a vague sense of unease. The name we have given sits a little crooked on our bones, like a chiropractic adjustment gone wrong. This is what we need to remember to notice. For instance, if the name we give our discomfort is not comfortable, it may not be because it is too hard to face; it may be that it is not the correct name. Our bodies know, even if our consciousness has not yet caught on.

This name should resonate in the interstitial crevices of one’s being. When it does, you know it. Truth is a visceral language. It uses all of our faculties as its alphabet. It is up to us to learn how to read Truth and come face to face with what is our truth.

Sadness, anger, fear, hurt, despair, to name a few of the ‘difficult’ emotions are easy to confuse. It is said that depression can be anger turned inward and hurt can be a form of deep disappointment. Despair just sucks, let’s face that one. Or can it also be a front for something else? While we are often ‘correct’, for me, this time this was not the case. I was missing something and it was big and I knew it, but I didn’t know how to find it just using my ‘head’. I was so uncomfortable that breathing was even a burden. I had to call my true feeling forward in order to move through it.

So I flagellated, fasted and put myself out in the dark alone. Really?  No, not really. While I have done two of the aforementioned three, and I will leave you to decide which one I did not do; this was not the time for that. Instead, I sat quietly and prayerfully and let my heart become fierce for the answer. I gave her eyes, I gave her a horse, and I gave her the right to know. I gave her a voice. The heart is comprised of 65% brain cells, so I figured the rest of me stood a chance.

She called into the dark mist and rode with the determination that comes from a resolute center and soft eyes. “What is your name? Show me your truth. Show my truth, as we are the same.” And from the swirling and grainy night it came into view. Resplendent in its forthright presence, there was no doubting what this was.

I was not expecting this to be the answer, but as soon as I looked deep into its eyes, of sort, my body became settled and I felt more whole. Is this particular emotion a shadow figure with which I must forge an alliance and understanding? Is it my companion and healing partner? It is both and more. I suspect we will transmute into something better than we could both be on our own. So if you see me in a restaurant looking at an empty chair, do not presume I am alone.

Explorative Mind

Matti Salminen


Finding meaningful work is a goal among the very most important, which we, as adults in this society can attain.  For some, the wages they earn might be of greater importance.  And for others finding love or having a family might trump all.  There are certainly areas in between each of these which allow for compromises that result in a better sum of all the parts.   College is an exceptionally profound way to reach towards your goals, and for some, attain greatness.  Many people find, while they are in college, all the things necessary to live a rewarding and inspired life.

What I want in writing a column on self-directed learning isn’t to demean college.  Rather, I would like to allow my successes in self-education to influence others to look at their life paths as valuable resources.  Our lives, if cultivated properly, will allow for exploration which will benefit our entire essence as people.  Work I do allows me to directly draw from my life experience with a chronic mental disorder known as schizophrenia.  I help others walk a path towards life enrichment.  Not all my clients are diagnosed with mental illnesses as I have been.  They are all, however, people who have been—or would be—homeless if not for our agency.

For so long, my value judgments did not allow me to see my life experiences as serving to give me credibility.  The work I had was, at best, menial; at its worst, it was hard to stomach.  I once had a job cleaning port-o-potties…seriously.  Life can, and often will, serve to enrich us as human beings.  Self-directed learning has been for me a catalyst for growth and change.  All that I’ve learned from reading books has not enriched my life as much—as has—the act of taking time to sit down and read.

From many perspectives, and through many turns, people can find tools which will be useful for loving life.  Awakening ourselves to the bounty that can be the lives we lead is hard work. Fortunately, we have time enough, on this earth, to realize dreams, and possibly gain enlightenment.  However, we are often too blinded by the creed of our materialistic society to see how dream like our current lives can be.  I believe that self-directed learning, can overtime, allow us to open our minds to what our souls wish to speak.  Our lives can become a reflection of the newness of our ideas, and of the quality of our insights. 

For the work I do, it helps that my path to independence was not linear or clearly defined.  I am better able to empathize with clients that come from similar backgrounds.  Without self-education I would not exemplify these qualities.  Life experience—which has been accredited through self-education—makes me an asset at my work place. 

R.D. Laing believed that existentially we are all equal.  And it is my hope to raise my reader’s attention to the unseen values of learning paths that are non-traditional.  Because, I believe, each one of us can find truth within ourselves—as an artist, or writer, or other means to intellectual accomplishment.  We just have to explore a little to unearth the truth which is unique to each of us.  Growth and prosperity will come, just as long as we do not give up on learning what only we can know.  Our inspiration brings with it responsibility—our ideas and opinions only serve us when we learn to cultivate our character and soul. To live is to die having offered something to the world as compensation for our loss.

Rear View Mirror

Laura Momaney


I glance over my shoulder a great deal. Generally in amazement.  But I don't look back. Once, right now, I will turn around because it's time to write this down. Then I'll keep moving on.

 As I approach my 4th year of remaining clean I find myself almost reflexively reflecting on the path I've been down.  In the throes of it, my long standing addiction felt insurmountable and all consuming and above all .. necessary.  A pharmaceutical  cage, cleverly constructed like a grave, built to protect myself from constant disharmony and internal controversies.  Prone to dark, clinical depression coupled with extended fugue states of panic, I often experienced states of altered primordial consciousness where terror reigned with a malevolent hand.  As a repeated phenomena you're not supposed to get used to shit like that and I couldn't.  I surrendered myself to the mental health system for decades, racking up so many inpatient stays that I don't know which I was more embarrassed by - the sheer number and length of them or the dismal fact that I never seemed to get better.  Near catatonic with depression yet too much of a pussy to take my own life I endured repeated rounds of electro shock therapy which was terrifying and debilitating in it's own right.  I tried most of the anti-depressants, anti-anxiety agents and anti-psychotic medications on the market.  All to very little avail. Talk therapy had no impact. Narcotics finally numbed my embattled mind and gave me the sense of calm and direction I prayed for, longed for, craved. I was spiritually bankrupt, my moral compass was shattered on the rocks of addiction, a woefully poor navigator.  Eventually I went legally and clinically insane, was involuntarily committed and lost not only myself but finally lost it all.  Everything I owned and all I loved.  I forcibly watched those I'd loved and relied on turn sharply and walk briskly, finally away. I shamefully carried two 1st degree felony charges of assault with me for a year until I was found not guilty by reasons of insanity. Bittersweet judicial wisdom to hear proclaimed about oneself and juicy words for the ears and lips of anyone sitting in the court gallery.  I was homeless and bereft, emotionally and soulfully unstable.  For 18 long months on my own I endured frightening delusions, hallucinations and paranoia coupled with amnesiac moments woven through each day and all those long, sleepless nights. Often I slept in my wheelchair, so tortured inside that I didn't even recognize I wasn't getting into bed.  And I didn't care.  Maybe I weighed 100 pounds but I don't think I was anywhere near.  Within most of those moments I recognized that I had gone crazy, sensed I still was but was too insane to know it was true.  I was dangerously adrift and frighteningly alone.  I often felt like I was drowning and experienced a corresponding level of panic.  Pushed down and held under by a heightened, acute sense of loss and internal devastation that was akin to an emotional apocalyptic smothering. Inside my head it felt like a constant swarm of angry insects, collectively intent on torturing me with their hostility and their bite. My mind had given up. My heart was having it's say and it was excruciating to feel and hear.  I was remaining clean anyway, bravely, without the armor of narcotics to beguilingly protect me from my own tortured soul. You can't rise from the ashes until you are face down in the heat of them, burning there, but alive.  Not in the rise, not in the fall but in the very rising itself .... that is where you will find, or not find, the grace to bear it all. I  found clumsy grace and hitched my wagon to a dim and distant star called hope which was not a star I'd previously recognized in the order of the universe.  That star has a firm and guiding hand in my life.  To get out of the darkness you have to not only see, but be, the light.  In order to feel the warmth you must be the glow. 

 Once I was shakily on my metaphorical feet I pointedly turned my attention to sharpening the frail intellect I'd neglected for so long and bathed luxuriously in strengthening my mind and coaxing strength into my fragile heart and soul.  I hungrily learn as much as I can about anything that strikes my fancy.  I listen to music constantly because it gives my heart bountiful, beautiful expression and in the maelstrom of surround sound I painstakingly taught myself how to manage and redirect my thoughts, endure and encourage my feelings, so filled with trepidation and fear of themselves and set out to explore a new world order.  In this environment and under these conditions I've also taught myself how to draw.  I never drew or exercised much of an artistic hand before. I didn't know I could.  Now my apartment is burgeoning with bright chalk art on a backdrop of black walls.  I like drawing in chalk because it's so obviously vulnerable to change and excruciatingly open to being obliterated by one innocent swipe of a coattail or misplaced wave of a casual hand.  It is a remark on the impermanence of everything, including life itself.  Everything that is hard won, innocent, beautiful and dear to me and to you. Art and the act of creative expression heals. It binds a fractured mind, heals the wounded bones of the soul and not only frees but exalts a previously bridled spirit. 

 My friendships are blossoming still and growing.  Lovely to have and behold.  I'm a more compassionate individual, able to see well outside the confines of myself, to feel and exhibit care and concern on a more global level.  My romantic encounters are fraught with vulnerability and fear but .... one can't have it all and I'm learning and growing from that as well.  I'm still trying to figure out how to romance myself and when I do the other part will most likely fall into place and make something close to comfort and sense.

 I am inherently damaged.  I'm not ashamed of that anymore. I didn't go to some cosmic K-Mart and pluck myself off a rack or pick myself out of a bin, excitedly crying for all the other customers to hear ... 'This is the one I want to be!'  And I didn't get to pick out any of the physical or emotional components of myself either.  If I could have I'd have been a fucking knock out and not a disabled, eccentric, kinda unsteady on my emotional feet, individual.  I'm damaged further by the experiences of which I sketchily write yet so much stronger and more steeped in my soul than I would have been without any one of them. I've been intimate with and inhabited places in the mind and the heart where one is not meant to go or have to cozy up with and get to know.  I feel mysteriously blessed and fortunate because of all this. Rebuilding a new life upon a foundation of overwhelming loss, grief, defeat and insanity is both a formidable task and a once in a lifetime opportunity. Most especially so if you want to build a house of bricks instead of poisonous dope. I've got a thin but mighty piece of advice. Build it on hope.  I don't think I could stomach doing it again.  I don't think I'm going to have to because this time I think I'm doing it right.  Righteously so.

Upon Getting Ready for Samhain (Halloween)Why Are There No Mirrors in Tarot Cards?

Nanci Bern


Upon Getting Ready for Samhain (Halloween)-Why Are There No Mirrors in Tarot Cards?

What is a mirror? Is it a way to check yourself before you venture out in public so that you might not scare small children and the infirm? Are mirrors a decorating tool to make a room look larger than it is. There is nothing like a little illusion. We all indulge in it at some point. And why is it a bad thing to crack a mirror? If your vision of yourself is skewed, as a crack will do, how will you see yourself, how will the room look larger instead of crooked? Are mirrors a handy metaphor for spiritual development and relationship?

And, so I ponder again, why are there no mirrors in Tarot cards? Does the Tarot know something we don’t? Did the Tarot spirits obscure that particular thing from all our symbol seeking minds when creating a deck? What would a mirror on a card look like? Or perhaps we should just move on and trust that there is a reason for this. But, wait, what about that card, or that card, or that other card?

So what are mirrors about? How typical is it when something or someone annoys you that someone else says, “She is just a mirror of yourself.” What the does that mean? That I find myself annoying to myself? Does it mean they are a mirror and so they are my reflection? Well, if they are better looking than I am, that might not be so bad, but I don’t think that is what Martin Buber meant in ‘I and Thou!’

So what about that annoying ‘otherself’ who is chewing in your ear in the seat behind you at the movies?  Did I ‘call’ this chomper into my general gestalt because I am a chomper myself and so am reflecting back that I am annoying to others? Am I ‘chomping at the bit’ about some issue or something I want to do. Am I ‘chomping off’ something that is too much for me to chew? Is this showing me that I have the ability to choose how I want to deal with adversity? I can always move seats; which says perhaps that I deserve to be treated better and will make a move toward that. I can nicely ask said Chomper to go buy some cotton candy (although he may also be a lip smacker), and even hand him some change. I can accept the noise, as perhaps this person has had a horrible day and needs some compassion and not another confrontation or criticism; or maybe he has a horrible jaw disease that precludes any other more mannered tone of eating. Or maybe he is not even aware and would be horribly embarrassed, or maybe he is just a selfish jerk. Am I then, a selfish jerk?!

No I am not. No comments from the peanut gallery please. Not everything has to be ‘cosmic’. Some things are just random. How else can you possibly explain being blown up by a bomb or being born into abject poverty and political strife? Do not bring karma into this because that is a different issue and way of understanding. Living is a continuing puzzle and foray into the ultimately unknown.

However, there are certainly times when this mirror phenomenon does happen and wouldn’t it be great if we could actually learn from it. At times we are very much mirrors for each other in a web of mirrors that collide and cascade. Kind of like a new age fun house, although I do not know why they call them fun houses because I never had fun in them. So is that a reflection on me and my lack of mirth?

So, yes, a mirror can reflect and also show and illuminate what your reality is mirroring back in reaction to what you are creating and putting out. The trick is to distinguish, to discern when this is truly the case. Sometimes a person is annoying because they just are! Your mission is to deal with it and the ‘lesson’ or ‘teaching’ is about how you react to it, not that it is something that is also inside of you. While you and the collective ‘we’ are our own source on the personal level; the ultimate source is something outside of ourselves. We are a part of that, but not the center of that; hence not everything that happens around us is for us and about us other than we are part of the entirety. If something about someone drives me up the wall but does not bother someone else, and someone else is bothered but has decided to ignore it and not ‘be bothered’, where are we? What and who is mirroring what and who? I now have a headache, do you? 

Mirrors illuminate and also reflect images back and forth as a reaction to one another. Perhaps this sounds like splitting glass shards, but maybe not. Maybe our beings knock about and slam into one another on so many different levels that we cannot even fathom. We are energetic prisms through which lights and energy flow from all sources.

‘Quantum physics tells us that nothing that is seen is unaffected by the observer. That statement, from science, holds an enormous and powerful insight. It means that everyone sees a different truth, because everyone is creating what they see.’  Neale Donald Walsche.

There is also evidence that light reacts and changes on some level when it is observed. If we are the center of our emotional lives, and our experiences radiate from our center, might we say that the outside is a manifestation of the inside? If I see you in a certain way, are you really that way? Is it possible that I am seeing or understanding you incorrectly? And how might you see me seeing you? If I am out of touch with myself how can I see the truth? Do I just think I see the truth because my perception is the only thing that counts so no matter what the reason or ‘reality’? And then how would I see myself if you are reacting to me based on a possible false understanding? A mirror can get cloudy also.

Case in point: People who have been abused are often very perceptive about others because that is how they survived the abuse. They had to know their violator and their environment. However abuse leaves such unbelievable scars that healing from abuse is tantamount to being tossed from the exploding Tower card and landing on the ground in the dark and alone. So many abused do not have someone to guide them through their dark. They live their lives in an emotional firestorm and become self-destructive and out of touch with themselves.

Are there other characteristics of mirrors? Mirrors are also a gate and threshold between worlds of the conscious and unconscious, the expressed and the unexpressed, personal image and cultural image. If you choose to be Alice and go through your looking glass to a part of yourself that you have not yet met, be warned that this modern day shamanic journey will not leave you unscathed; but it will give you many gifts and wisdom if you are brave enough to look yourself in the eyes and take your own hand. And this is why, perhaps, there are no mirrors on Tarot card. They are the mirrors. But then again, that can always change. I may need to get out my sketch pad.

My mirror hangs on my wall and helps me put on my make-up.

My mirror is your mirror. Don’t drop it or we’ll all be screwed.

Mind Eternal

Matti Salminen


Continuing on my path towards independent learning, I stay sharp by first playing chess, and otherwise by writing.  Having both practices is important to the depth from which I perceive things.  They both help to keep my creative and analytical minds active, but also they connect me to the world.  However, reading is by and large the most fundamental of all learning practices.  Skill develops in reading, as in most things, when it is habitual.  Also, to read well you must obtain a respectable vocabulary and have some knowledge of any subject you study.

The pursuit of bettering your reading skills requires learning some grammar—familiarizing yourself with language.  And if you then write some you’ll find your enjoyment of books to leap forward.  What might be most important to reaping benefits from any one book you read isn’t however your ability to grasp the language, but rather, your ability to make use of the knowledge obtained in your study.

My path in self-education has been largely rewarded due to learning things I can do, but also, by studying the history, politics, and theories regarding issues pertinent to my life path—and to my working path.  Skills and experience are everything.  Then, it must be said, that retaining knowledge must be done through practice; but, not all important issues in the wide arena of learning are directly relevant to our life paths.  Our reading must still serve to help us better understand, and formulate ideas—to perceive the matters and topics we’re interested in with clarity.

Therein lay the art of self education: how can you best reap the rewards of sitting down with a newspaper or even a novel.  One of the important factors for mastery in this skill is being on a learning path.  Learning has to be life-long.  Let’s venture further into understanding our minds, and even further still; why not understand our “eternal essence” and how it relates to our learning.  There need only be one goal in mind if you want to successfully approach independent learning.  You must be a person of substance!

Your character is what connects your mind to your experience in the world.  The sum of these parts is, as I call it, your eternal essence.  Our mind’s energy is put forth into work, and when this work is of a creative, intellectual, or spiritual nature it both exemplifies, and cultivates, this eternal essence.  Great artists have always been, and are still, masters of cultivating a mind body experience.  This seems to let them translate understanding of humankind through abstract self-expression.  Some of our greatest scientific minds have this quality of universality to their accomplishments too. 

Great inventions of science deeply enrich life on planet earth.  The thinkers responsible tapped into something deeper than physics or medicine.  My activities likewise, keep my mind stimulated, and help me to relate to other people in my community.  The friends I keep are all intelligent and creative people because I have cultivated these qualities through practice.  Together, we form a small intricately knit community of radicals, out to bring something into the world that shines like a distant star.

Courage lay in the willingness to be different; our eternal essence is best cultivated when we break off the beaten path.  Know for yourself, what allows your mind to create in new and interesting ways so to speak the universal truths which you can communicate as only you can.  And then, each time you pick-up a book you’ll find inside it worlds of creative energy.  You’ll have found yourself immersed in another author’s eternal energy.

Learning for Enrichment

Matti Salminen


On August 9th, I was fortunate enough to take a weekend trip to New York City.  My fortune to go to NYC was exponentially greater that my trip was fully funded by a local philanthropist. Over two years ago now, I began writing a blog; at the time I would have hardly considered myself educated.  But I had something I needed to communicate to the world.  I was by then setting out to be a recovered schizophrenic.  I was, at the time, receiving treatment, and support, at a group home. What happened was a little surprising to me—writing became the means to my recovery. I’ve turned my life around through writing practice, and have reignited a love of learning. It has now been just over two years since I began writing my blog at my former group home.  I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a writing mentor, which was by itself enough to make me a powerful writer.  Writing has however, also provided me a platform from which to do better work in social activism.

In May, I put on a rally to honor mental health awareness month.  Fundraising for this rally was front and center to making the event possible.  All in all, I acquired over $2000 for making this event something my employer would support as an undertaking.

Shortly before the rally, two activists approached me and asked me if I still needed money to put on the rally.  I did not.  But as it turned out they were asking me for someone interested in funding a creative project.  This person was who I received money from to fund my trip to NYC where I took a poetry workshop.

My contributions to this column have been centered around self-education.  What I want is to show how independent learning isn’t a means to an end.  The idea isn’t that you come out of your studies with a degree as you would college.  And if you really are interested in following a learning path you should stay on that path…through thick and thin. Learning is itself a means to living in the world.  I have, from working on my writing portfolio, become a qualified professional. Working as an independent scholar can afford you opportunities which will enrich your life, just as I got money to go to NYC.  A whole world exists out there for independent people willing to work hard to be writers, researchers, and leaders. 

Visiting New York was wonderful, it was, even without the writing workshop, a valuable experience.  Within half an hour after arriving in New York, I checked out central park.  Before even walking five minutes into the park, a young man tossed me a football.  We threw back and forth for a few minutes, after which I introduced myself, and asked a few questions about getting around in the city. I’d like to have my contributions to 4our not only inform people of how to follow a path of independent scholarship.  I want them to galvanize people.  You can, if you get creative, find your own ways to make learning more rewarding. 

Meandering knows no mean

Charles Monette


Another 4Our is calling, come on…. your turn to churn in.  So, I’ll walk you through two labyrinths, one left, one right in between.

New joy discovered in Newport, New Hampshire, back of a Kelley yard, a labyrinth so enchanting. It brought awe and a morning nod.  Granite gates and portals abounded, Buddha surrounded every tree and my shoes came off, then alpaca socks in gracious harmony.

I was with new friends who made it even better, so I followed their lead to the center.  Along the way, the meander, green moss swallowed feet down somewhere.  A cushioning carpet of green, cool wet with dew lightened my dance, dropping weightlessly.  Smiles were easy as talk while we looked to see. 

Close to the Equinox, summer’s change into fall, I keep coming back to easy as I try my best to recall.  So, Wayne counsels to bring in new vision on a turn by a sycamore tree, and the light lightens, begins to set you free.

So all this might read non-earthshaking a walk round a bonsai tree, but it was simply captivating, engaging my feet and me.  The stones circled round as they do in the granite state.  Live free, then die, a hope for humanity. 

Yet, I was truly alightened, another new word by me, like beable, red-underlined google-wronged like a teacher’s remark used to be.

All changed this morning, as it is often wont to do.  Back in Vermont, just a jaunt in Jerry’s, yard a morning ritual that’s become habitual.  Alone here, with the quiet now. 

The Lastlings

Nanci Bern

My garden was different this morning. It felt like I was walking into a wind tunnel without the physical manifestation. My hair was not being tossed about my face. My eyes were not feeling the touch of the airy swoosh that makes them close. But there was a wind in my garden this morning. I almost fell over from the rush of its energy that put pressure on my head and whirled through my spine to my feet. I felt myself going down into the earth along with the garden. We were descending to the primordial underworld.  When I finally got my bearings I understood what was happening. My garden is transitioning. It is moving toward the Fall. I was experiencing the turning of the earth in a most intimate way.

This garden is a refuge, a place for thought and pleasure. It is a reverent place. It holds my heart and nurtures my spirit. It allows my often earth-greedy hands the chance to feel the world that is beneath our feet from where so much of our sustenance comes. This place also allows my design and magical aesthetics to share the beauty and healing way for anyone who is in need.  It holds my sweat lodge as it holds my soul.

And now the time becomes shorter when the days are above and longer when the nights are below. I can sense the tendrils of the coming season undulating in the depth of what we cannot see. They are making their way toward the openness of the surface. They come to claim my flowers, my herbs and my vegetables once again. I can feel the coolness of the furrow down beneath in the gravitas of where the earthworms burrow. It is time for the season to change.

But I must remember that my, as if I really ‘own’ them, plants are reaching toward the earth’s grasp. They want to turn downward and rest and replenish. They are in my charge, so to speak, when the air is warm. Nature has allowed me to be part of this great feast for my eyes and my dinners and every other part of me. It has been an honor to be witness and caretaker to so much. Nature has been generous.

So what is Nature? Nature is not just a tree or a bird flying through the air. Nature is the embodiment of the genuineness of the push of the creative force that encompasses the entire realm of existence. Nature is what enlivens being on all levels. Some would call that force Goddess/God, higher spirit, the great mysterious; but it is this naturalness of being that is the underlying framework of existence. Nature is also what we see and relate to on a physical level. So Nature is twofold. There is, what I will call, the Upper World Nature and the Lower World Nature to borrow Kabbalistic lingo.

Unfortunately, our relationship and understanding of Nature has been devolved by our mechanistic culture that has created a chasm between the body and soul, people and the rest of life. What some may call the supernatural is actually part of Nature. Perhaps we might call it the supra-natural as it seems to be beyond, or above some of our understanding and experiences; but for those who are familiar with these worlds, there is nothing more natural than feeling energy or sitting with a spirit.

Nature, on both levels, is the unifying force of the cosmos. We are not separate from ‘It’. We can communicate with nature. Although we have a different mode of communication, we can learn nature-speak, or might we call this spirit or deva--speak or even complete-speak which will create wholeness and connection. This will help us live comprehensively fulfilled lives as it will change and heal our way of relating to each other and the world.

Nature expresses, nature does not judge, nature is neutral, nature is itself, nature is connected and cannot thrive without those connections being intact, nature attracts and repels. These are all qualities that comprise an ideal human ecosystem which is a part of Nature as well. Nature is and holds a quality that Rudolph Otto called the ‘numinous’.

As there is a numinous spark in each of us, there is a numinous spark in each stone. The numinous speaks each time that feet imprint on the bare dirt road. Its impression guides the connection between the numinous in earth and the numinous in us. The spiritual Higher Nature aspect of the Great Mysterious, the Divine, in the souls of both; coupled with the Lower Nature that we hold, calls forth the numinous of spirit that is creation. It encircles from the inside out and from the outside in. This is the energetic dance, the energetic webstring of life. This is the juncture of joining.

And so I sit with the pansies, smell my roses and gather my herbs. These are the end of the season. I feel thankful for our time spent and know they will return; but my eyes well up despite this. It is time to say goodbye as they begin to fade. There will be no more new growth this season, for these are my lastlings.

Friends With Benefits

Laura Momaney

When I first became friends with Neil I was often preoccupied by what our friendship was denied due to his lack of vision.  I would suddenly be stricken by the very fact that he could not see me, not even a faint shadow of me.  Nor could he see what I saw when we were together or tell me about what he had seen when we were apart.  And I would fall into deep pools of sadness over the fact that he could not see at all.  Being deprived of the opportunity to share a visual experience with him seemed like a crippling and daunting limitation but I came to find that in actuality it expanded my world and our relationship.  I would not otherwise have realized how constrained I was by my own sense of sight.  We unwittingly focus and rely on our vision for information and communication because it dominates our senses, thereby demanding our full attention.  When you are deprived of it then you must give more due to the four left at your avail.          

    Two years ago in the beginning of a new spring Neil and I were sitting on his deck and the birds were making their debut all around us.  I wasn't paying a great deal of attention but when Neil asked 'Which bird is making that sound? I was forced to expand the scope of my sensual attentions.  I believe I was staring at his deck floorboards at the time, enraptured by the splinters there, considering what they could do to a pair of bare feet and tore my riveted gaze from it to look around and to listen.  My ears found the sound he directed me towards and I followed it with my eyes so I could identify it for him.  When I realized it was a simple Robin making that gorgeous melody I began paying more attention to bird calls, when they came, which birds made them, the differences and similarities between them and also, what their sounds meant. 

      By focusing on what I hear a little more I came to understand that you can witness the ebb and flow of a year and the seasonal changes within it by the sounds you hear around you. One of those sounds is our local songbirds . The melodic, cheerful call of the Robin tells you spring has arrived and it generally lets you know at 5:00 a.m. and it's generally sitting right outside your window when it tells you. Keep listening and the Robin is quickly followed by a wellspring of other songbirds to the area.  

      The course of an audible season sounds something like this .  First we are treated to the sweet delectable music of seduction and attraction, remarkable happy sounds of play and love, then the constant twitter, chirp and warble of females directing and correcting males during nest building and directing aerial traffic.  This is followed by sharper whistles of alarm and stern reprimands when vulnerable eggs are in the nest and when babies are taking flight.  By early fall the birdsongs lack insistence, are lackluster and laconic as if there is little left to say to each other.  They divorce or simply part ways, babies grow up. Even their voices seem to be resting up. Then there is the stunning infrequency of sounds at all as one by one they and their offspring leave for more hospitable climes.  

     Now in the stark air the most audible bird sounds are the ones made by flocks of geese taking flight there.  Sometimes in the fall Neil calls to ask 'Do you hear the geese flying over?' and sometimes I have to say 'No, I was taking a well deserved nap.' But when I do hear them out my window or above me on the sidewalk that evocative sound always makes me think of him and what I've learned. And just the other day when Neil and I were out practicing in anticipation of his guide dog I noticed the sound of summer surrendering to autumn.  I heard it in the first fallen leaves, dry leaves dancing down the street, kicked around by a stiff breeze.  This time it was I who pointed it out to Neil who was filling the airwaves with some fine expletives, otherwise occupied navigating his way around some garbage cans on the sidewalk, a tactile giveaway that it is Tuesday.  There is a wealth of information our ears are privy to that we constantly disregard as 'lesser' information. From the initial hard pounding spring rains - the rushing noise of it in the clear wheel wells of passing cars, previously mute and dull of sound, clogged by slush and snow - to the softer sounds of a light snow fall, the way snow sounds soft when it falls and mutes and drowns all surrounding, competing sounds.  And there are no more bird songs to be found.

     This past spring I left my balcony door open while I was away for the day, unwittingly inviting a feathered friend to fly in and make himself at home.  When I arrived back I was greeted by the sight of an adult male Robin in my hallway.  I went right by it initially and then I heard his voice call out.  I went back down the hall and found him there, perched on top of a large picture I have of Neil, one of himself in mid flight, jumping courageously off the face of a daunting cliff into the tumultuous waters below.  Doing it for fun, for the thrill of it all, doing it because he could then.  As if somehow he had the prescience to know.  I made connections like dominoes when I saw the Robin there.  One of them was of how grateful I am to have the sight to see him perched poignantly in place atop that picture of my amazing friend.  The Robin stayed in my apartment all night and I was treated (or punished, however you prefer to look at it) to his sharp cries and delightful chirps until he departed early the next morning.  While I was sitting there stunned by his presence on that picture I whipped out my phone and called Neil up, all excited about the poetry of the moment.  He listened calmly and then said 'Tell me later, Laura. I'm taking a well deserved nap'.

No Sword School

Matti Salminen

One of my first goals—when beginning to take self-education seriously—was to found a sword school.  The No Sword School was, as I intended it to be, a martial arts school, in which, swordsmanship would be a means to worldly learning.  Bearing “no sword” would be a mark of courage and cunning. My path to founding a sword school, which required learning a way of peacefulness, was in being a student of strategy; but also in inducing a meditative state of consciousness which I would sustain for years.  To accomplish this, I set off to abstain from any form of intimacy for the duration of my meditation.  These were years of intense isolation, and inner turmoil.

After the four years of meditation was up, I purposely got arrested so that I may found my sword school in jail.  My charge was assault on a police officer for which I did four months time, but did not found the No Sword School.

Instead, I sunk further into my subconscious mind which had made itself unusually a burden on the sanctity of my soul.  After getting out of jail, I started on a path of dependence on the mental health system.  I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I have, at times, resigned myself to understand that I have been crazy; that I was in no way equipped to invent a martial art.  I do not deny that my pursuit of founding a sword school was highly influenced by an alternate perception of reality.  I had—when I set out to found a sword school—an exceptionally sharp reaction to smoking marijuana. 

My state of mind while under the influence of this drug could be described as psychosis.

But marijuana is a psychedelic drug that when used properly can induce mind expansive states.  When I induced a meditative state by abstaining from intimacy, and from isolating, I was undergoing a mind expansion process; a dark night of the soul. 

Now, I have come to a place where I can see that my idea to invent a martial art was not a mark of insanity.  Rather, believing that I cannot accomplish something I set out to is what’s insane.  The martial art I’ve invented is not as intricate as Karate or Judo.  It doesn’t involve studying a form—what it has is a strike and a code of ethics. I am not done with the process of inventing this martial art.  Rather, I have decided that to invent a martial art will be a life-long pursuit.  I certainly could see myself studying at a dojo to learn techniques which I could adapt to my system.

The No Sword School of martial arts is designed as a means to cultivate martial virtue through life-long learning.  Incorporated in this system’s code of ethics are eight evils that offer themselves as signposts of incorrect study of my martial philosophy.  These include things like haste, pride, and anger.  

Inventing a martial art was a way of expanding my mind through emotional and spiritual cultivation.  All art should be.  For a long time, I deeply regretted the years I spent in isolation and in abstinence.  Still, now, it is difficult to look at those years feeling anything but remorse. Learning is, beyond being a means of reflection, a way of self-preservation.  Whether you are studying calculus at a college, or embarking on a four year meditation, you may, in turn, carry a sword of insight and understanding—that is, in essence, the philosophical basis of the No Sword School. 

 Going Round in Circles

Charles Monette

Given recent events around our world, I’d like to begin with a quote from Albert Einstein, “Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time.  We should strive to do things in his spirit… not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in what we believe is evil.”

I often ask those I introduce to our labyrinths, “Could you hear the quiet?”  “What did you say”, they often say in reply. ?  I said, “Did you listen to yourself when you meandered back and forth?  Did you slow down the game? Did you notice the beauty of the river stones, or the green moss underfoot, preferably your bare foots.

The river stones transported from the northeast kingdom, or the West River are so beautiful in shape, in color, in feel. Most are smooth to see, to touch, or to feel, water having washed over them countless times in the cycle to the sea.  Smoothly showing a way round.

“It is not enough to teach a man a specialty.  Through it he may become a kind of useful machine, but not a harmoniously developed personality.  It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values.  He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good…. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellowmen and to the community.  These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach.  It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture.”              ----- Albert Einstein

We are about preserving culture by teaching in our sacred place,

our community here on the banks of the Connecticut River in the southeast kingdom of Vermont. 

Phil Innes publishes Vermont views as a beautiful tool, an online magazine, to chronicle in word and pictures the quality of life & spirit of place here in our home in southeastern Vermont.  He gathers descriptions and feelings and notions and photos of place to help us remember, to be in, and to dream visions & senses of place.

In 1994, my Metaphysical And Spiritual Healing (MASH) guru, Wayne P. London, M.D. of Harvard & Cambridge & Brattleboro and other wheres, gave me the following prayer to share:

                                 The Labyrinth Prayer

                     For healing or problem solving following

                             The 3-2-1-4-7-6-5 Sequence

Path 3:  Through my third chakra, I will let go of all thought forms and

         behavior patterns that interfere with my healing or problem-solving.

Path 2:  Through my second chakra, I will balance myself in terms of

           Yin & Yang, my feminine and masculine aspects, and create an

           empty vessel to receive on.

Path 1:  the healing or nurturing energy from the earth (YIN) through

           my first chakra on the base of my spine (or kundalini energy)

Path 4:  Through my fourth chakra I will open my heart to experience

            compassion and I will invite in energy in the form of guides or

            spirits that will assist my healing or problem-solving.

Path 7   Through my seventh, or crown chakra, I will be open to receive

            divine energy or guidance… and I want this energy to enter on

Path 6   my sixth chakra, or third eye, and become part of my intuitive

             and personal spiritual vision.

Path 5:  Through my 5th Chakra, I will make manifest the above process. I will   

            integrate the grounding earth energy of Paths 2 & 1 of the Outer region of

            the labyrinth, (the “fishes” of Day 5 of the Genesis creation story) with the

          divine energy of Path 7 & 6 of the inner region of the labyrinth (the “birds” of

            day 5 of the Genesis Creation story).  As a spiritually integrated individual,

            I will go forth into the world and radiate this integrated spiritual energy.

I’ll conclude today’s column with another Einstein quote that guides our work study: “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.”

                                                                                 -- Albert Einstein

Think with your heart and move with your head.

Laura Momaney

You are a vessel sailing the sea of life.  The stars in the heavens are twinkling with cosmic questions you feel enticed to answer.  These questions, they guide you.  The answers you find may grind your journey to a halt. Beware those which grant relief from the very questions that led you to them.  Beguiling, they can anchor you to the depths below, rooting you to one place and disallowing the voyage.. Let go of the insistent need for others to embrace your answers, the ones you find comfort in and pull over yourself like a wool blanket.  Those answers are vows, ones you carried to the altar, an altar where you married a locked box of ideology and agreed to forsake all others.

Don't be afraid to live in the shadow of the larger questions or in the chilly shade of unpopular opinion.  Sometimes there are no definitive answers at all, the questioning  alone will take you somewhere you never expected to go. Sometimes the kaleidoscopic display of ideas and possibilities is enough and so much more intellectually and spiritually nourishing than the simplicity and constriction of any one answer.  Be open to meeting new people and listen closely to their hearts and opinions and the experiences that tie the two together.  Everybody you meet knows something you have yet to learn so take the time to find out who they are and what that is. The more perspectives you gather and entertain the more likely they are to merge and expand in explosive moments of insight and creativity.  These insights present ever more fruitful and influential questions but you must be willing to forgo the cloying comfort of any one answer. Try not to hold your beliefs, your opinions, in a framed snapshot proudly displayed on the coffee table of your mind..  Consider decorating these walls with bold, colorful abstracts, magnificent and unknowable. Be proud of such a creative gallery for here you embrace the true artistry of life. Invite friends to wonder openly about beauty, meaning and where you find such things. They're musings can mix with your own and produce remarkable collaborative works capable of breaking down walls, revealing new architecture in a museum of thought, clever spaces for your mind to fill with artistic vision.

And don't try to throw your anchor onto passing ships in the name of saving them from questioning or because you want company where you have anchored yourself.   It's annoying and prohibitive of another soul's journey. Their voyage is not yours nor can you steer their ship. Pull your anchor back up on deck and sail on. Have an open relationship with life. Have an equally open relationship with it's spectacular, tumultuous waters and with love and especially with ideas and constructs.  Comfort is a lovely place to be but nothing grows there.  Befriend your own vulnerability, it's the key to expansion of both your heart and soul, of your very life.  Openness will be the wind in your sails and send you on a most remarkable voyage.  It will be the catalyst for spiritual and intellectual ascension.  I am blessed - that's no question.

Truth in malajustment

Matti Salminen

At the age of twenty-two, when I first began to take self-education seriously, I also ventured far from my psychological center.  More conventional terms would describe my experience as a psychotic break.  This break marked a separation of two selves within me; one lived life on the edge while the other reeked of intelligence and potential. 

Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two I pursued a misspent youth with a voracious appetite.  Nothing meant more to me than that I could squander my potential, and bounce back from it.  In fact, there may have been no harder working thing I’ve ever done than to back pedal off of the “track” our society presents for us to stay on. 

Knowing what I do now, I see that my “madness” was not without the recklessness and mischief of my adolescence.  And that the “track” we are suggested to follow is not just a recommendation.  We are, rather, herded like cattle to serve a system which has misaligned itself with the common goods—peace and equality.

Society has shown itself as manifest in maladjustment towards human difference in all forms in such a manner as to cause great suffering and injustice. 

One population which society is especially misaligned towards is those suffering from madness. 

Madness isn’t organic even if there are biological markers which indicate it to be of natural origin.   What is natural is an alternative experience, and perception of the world, but what is unnatural and prohibitive is for those alternate expressions of character to be a source of depravity.

This essay, however, is not about madness, the system of psychiatric care, or oppression.  Instead, I wish to share about something that, deep down, I understood, well, even as an adolescent, but did not reveal itself to my conscious mind until only months ago.  That is creative maladjustment.

Creative maladjustment is resistance to a norm; a norm that breeds hostility, segregation, poverty, homelessness, and overall inequality.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the subject of creative maladjustment to a crowd at Western Michigan University, on December 18th 1963.  In this speech, Dr. King spoke of the sacrifice necessary to move society towards a state which would allow dignity and freedom for all.  Dr. King believed, then, that a new order was emerging in our society.  One, in which, the creatively maladjusted would rise up for social, and judicial equality.

Looking back, I believe that I saw something in human potential which incited me to venture away from the norm…towards creative maladjustment.  School did not provide for me the resources I needed to probe the depths of my psyche.  Pursuing a misspent youth, and pursuing self-education, put me on a path towards intellectual freedom.

All my heroes growing up were creatively maladjusted people.  This was expressed in some through ethnic traits, in others through madness, and by some in stepping out from the box by reason to show we are not, as men and women, predestined for anything.

You may call me crazy.  But I’m not, however, going along with the norms of a society which exploits the vulnerable.  And that is still crazier.

Years have gone by now since I began seriously attempting to cultivate an educated mind.  Those years have allowed for me to free myself, and my mind, to live an existence that promotes inner peace, and human compassion.

No individual can ever truly compensate to lead a sane life while living in an insane world.  And thus, creatively misaligning yourself with the world you live in is to exhort personal truth throughout our life, and liberty.  It is the only natural response to the unnatural disorder of modern society.  Our society will only right itself when conformity is wholly invalidated. 


Taking Cover

Nanci Bern

After watching the mid-east news, all I can do is feel the weight of despondency that has wreaked utter havoc upon my heart. There is no one villain and no one victim in this. Despite postings and articles I see that are politically lopsided; innocents are being harmed and that is what bears me down.

Yet at the same time as this devastation, I am tending to my garden, planning healing workshops and finishing my Eco-Art Therapy Certification. These are all positive and life giving actions. I cannot help but feel an emotional and existential dissonance because, at the same time, so many are suffering the pain of this war’s life taking actions. The sound of the rubble and anguish of devastation that a child feels when a loved adult, who was an emotional shelter for them is gone, brought back a personal memory of an aunt who died. She gave me that shelter. That another child may have lost such a gift leaves my words plundered.

From a distance, sounds the earth forming mounds on the top. From a distance, sounds the earth cascading down the sides. From a distance, sounds the earth being still. The casket is now covered and the earth quiets for the sound of prayer.

One can never know what truly lays in another’s soul. We can only conjecture through our own, at another’s truth. The sound of lowering into the earth resonates. Simple wood reflects the shy light of afternoon sun as impending snow makes its way forward. Few are there to put this spirit to rest. She was “done”, she said, and went with resolve to this place. No one can ever really know the insides of another’s heart. We can only suppose from the outside of their lives. And when it is over, we can only ask for blessings of spiritual presence, a quiet surround, like the curtains that blew with a gentle breeze in her kitchen. She lived through the veil of an infirmity that colored and limited her world; yet expanded it in other ways, more than those unwilling to really see could know.

Childhood memories of freshly baked egg custard eaten together in the afternoon waft through the air like the scent of those long ago days. Hers was a quiet house where everything had its place, always neat and orderly, always looking like it had just been dusted and everything was back in place after careful inspection. There was just enough of everything so that it felt full and spacious at the same time. There was safety in that. There was poise to that. The struggle never showed itself to a young child. This was a calm oasis to take cover from a turbulent home. And years later there was a heart that reached out when no one else would.

Sheer will and determination can be quiet and unassuming. It doesn’t have to state itself; it just is, like a stream on a mountain that finds its way through the season’s twists and bends. It always flows and reaches an end. She planned for the end of her life to leave her people taken care of with the least amount of difficulty as would be allowed by love.

Just as the weather and distance prevented me from being at her graveside, her heart prevented her from engaging in life, perhaps, the way she would have liked. But she made the best of it, and walked with the ever-present uncertainty of when her moment might come, when another operation or procedure would again foist itself upon her life.

Unconditional love and acceptance, and seeing one for who they are, are rare gifts for a person to receive from another. It is to be cherished and guarded. One can never pay too much attention to that relationship. So as the earth covers a soul with its heaviness, all that we can do is bid farewell.

How many of the children and people who have suffered losses of loved ones, an older relative, a mentor that guided, another aunt who showered love not debris; how many children will have nowhere to take cover.

Art of independent study

Matti Salminen

Writing for Vermont Views has afforded me something, which does not, necessarily, come to writers easily.  I am, in writing for Phil, building a work history in publication.  4our will be the third column I’ve worked on for Vermont Views.  In this column, I intend to keep a theme of self-education, but I will not stick to it strictly.

Writing has become the focal point in my studies since I first began blogging two years ago.  I’ve managed to turn my life around through writing practice.  It has opened doors for me that for so long I thought would be closed forever.

Learning should serve to broaden one’s horizons.  It should aid a student in leading a more fulfilling life.  Included in life fulfillment are eight dimensions of wellness.  These eight dimensions of wellness are as follows: environmental, physical, occupational, financial, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. Seeking independent learning seems, on its surface, to be less constructive in occupational and financial wellness than a formal college education.  So let’s hammer this issue out right from the start.

One of the things I recommend first for anyone pursuing self-education is to learn a trade.  In regards to the eight dimensions of wellness, occupational and financial fulfillment will be improved by learning a trade.  However, study skills will also be improved by learning a trade.  Gaining hands-on experience in a trade will help a person to understand how knowledge aids skill—and proficiency.

Also noteworthy, learning a trade can show a person how much learning from books will assist their quest in independent study; and how much learning should come from getting their feet wet…by gaining real life experience.

Bicycle maintenance is possibly the trade I’m most knowledgeable and skilled in.  I went to a trade school in Colorado Springs to learn to do general bicycle repair, and wheel building.  Having this educational background helped me to have work at a non-profit bicycle shop in Burlington.  Working as a bicycle mechanic, daily, cemented the skills I developed at school. Learning a trade will broaden horizons, however, it isn’t sufficient to have the equivalent learning of a college degree.  Other pursuits, regarding my education, have been crucial to my search for independence along my path of self directed learning.

Once, I studied long and hard to build a base of learning, which I intended to use to invent a martial art.  Books I read were often about sports science, martial arts philosophy or strategy.  Having already invented a strike, my intention was to develop a code of ethics as a philosophy for my martial arts system.

At the time that I first began to study to invent a martial art, I was setting off on a journey through madness.  Much of my reasoning for deciding to invent a martial art was less than rational.  Still, self-education, kept me moving towards goals that were important to me.

By learning to study independently—I forged the spirit necessary to gain greater independence in my working and social lives.   Today, I am a martial arts inventor, bicycle mechanic, writer, chess player, and I work at a social services agency.  I have developed the skills necessary to venture out in my life and learn or gain proficiency in any pursuit.

Working with bikes, and inventing a martial discipline, have both showed me that nothing worth doing will come easily. Having graduated from a bicycle maintenance school, I had trouble, at first, keeping pace in a commercial bike shop.  And despite spending many hours researching martial arts philosophy for the purposes of inventing my own discipline, I am still just a martial arts novice.

Difficulties in finding a path to success in self-education are part of the process.  Each time I have tried to master something, and failed, I’ve become better prepared for my next project. Each subject I’ve studied, and each skill I’ve developed, has served me to better understand the art of independent study.

Labyrinth as a Universal Truth

Charles Monette

The Classic 7 Path is a walking meditation for everyday life. 

I’ve just returned from pulling some green weeds at the Clark Street labyrinth. Along the path, I balanced myself spiritually and physically. Shushing some inner conversations into silence, tabling some thoughts of today’s doings, as well as, koan balancing a usually, relatively difficult irregular quartz stone atop another of white marble with ease.

My meditation stole 19 minutes from my walk in space and time and gave back 39.  It is metaphysically magical that way…

The labyrinth is a gift and a tool to be shared.  There is no admission fee, no expectations of engagement.  While walking, I use a left-brain rational and a right brain intuitive approach to center.

Intentional thoughts of prayer, of sending vibes of well-being to friends and family and of loving service to all blossom there in stillness and  in gratitude.  Jean Houston in her forward to Helen Curry’s book, The Way of the Labyrinth, writes, “What accounts for this mythic appeal?” (that of the labyrinth) She answers herself, “Something about the turnings of the labyrinths releases us from the tyranny of the local and the habitual.”

As in sitting meditations offered by such masters of breathing into silence like Thich Nhat Hanh, the d’alai Lama, and Thomas Merton, the walking of a labyrinth brings one to calm.  “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.  Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

Wayne P. London, M.D., my metaphysical teacher and beloved friend believes that labyrinths are a tool, a profound tool that offers spiritual and healing aspects to be engaged while centering to center.

He teaches with multiple sensory intelligences that The Classic 7 Path Labyrinth with its 3-{2-1}-4-{7-6}-5 sequence embraces universal truths that are found in science, in the arts, and in multiple spiritual traditions.

I believe in ‘Wayne’s world’’.  To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, Wayne London’s friendship is love set to music.  Campbell wrote, “Love is a friendship set to music.”

World-renowned mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) offers, “Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence.  And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”  His wisdom continues, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”

Labyrinths have been sacred spaces for me… places sacred that allow my heart to beat with the pulse of the universe…. to “follow my bliss”(J.C.), to center to self in my own locale.   Oftentimes, I find the time while quietly walking within.

Darkness and blinding, brilliant light

Laura Momaney

I've never been camping with my children.  This year I've been pestering my 19 year old to spend a night under the stars together. He has not committed.  Last year we tossed the idea around during an afternoon drive and he proclaimed 'Yeah Mom, it's a great idea but you and I both know we won't do it'.   And he was right. We didn't follow through. 

We'll opine about love and life, roast marshmallows like we used to in the woodstove in the comfort of our living room in the years before I began to wither inside myself.  That's my vision.  I will listen to him softly sleep beside me.  He never was much of a soft sleeper, always one eye open, one ear cocked and alarmingly easy to wake.  It seems that would be a benefit in the woods in case we are quietly surrounded by marauding bears.  My maternal heart is sending up smoke signals and asking for an accompanying campfire.  Love for my children and the lack of it from my own mother is a driving force in my life and has shaped me much like water and time shape driftwood.  It's been a teacher, a stern headmistress and the only form of love I've ever been able to provide that's both unconditional and immortal. All the love I've experienced in my life has been a force to be reckoned with, especially vulnerable, lifted me, left me there breathless and stunned.  Maternal love's done that too. But the lack of it can be as profound as the presence of it. The lack feels like an insidious predator of confidence and self esteem.  I've been thinking a great deal about my own maternal drive, failings and triumphs but mostly I've been thinking about how enduring the love for my children is, how sensitive, exceptional, how vigilant. Somebody asked me once if I would continue to love my children even if they were pedophiles or serial killers.  Yes, of course I would. 

I've struggled most of my life with the effects of a lack of parental love. I feel deformed by it and have made some miserable choices because of it.  That's had a direct impact on my children. It hasn't affected the volume or scope of my love but it's affected my parental responsibilities and certainly caused my sons to question my strength, character and choices. In my eyes I've failed them many times but never more than when I descended into a long addiction to narcotics. In their eyes and in my own, I chose the mind numbing, emotion dulling effects of drugs over them, day after day. It's the truth and I must live with that.  I CAN live with it because one of this darker truth's demands is that I do so.  I could not reasonably expect my mother to accept that she was unable to provide me with love or that her choices reflected that inability.  Therefore I believe that one of the components of maternal love is the ability to shoulder its' failings.  Quietly upholding that truth feels like a sign of respect for my children, regard for the impact my poor judgement and choices has on their lives.  I also secretly believe they wouldn't allow themselves to express their disappointment and anger if they weren't convinced of my love for them.  Until I decided to sever all ties with my mother I was unwilling to allow allow myself that voice for fear that she would turn her back and walk away from me forever.  Love is supposed to strengthen not weaken and disable a voice.

There are times when sleep eludes me.  That's when truth and maternal love are sitting side by side under a stern moon staring each other in the eye, sizing each other up.   And it's those two elements coming together, reaching out tentatively with bony fingers, turning to wish upon the star they both see due north.  That conjoined wish is to camp out with my son, to stay awake and watch him sleep again, nestled together again under the blanket of another abiding truth ... that the universe, like love, is never ending, full of mystery, darkness and blinding, brilliant light

Learning of my life

Matti Salminen

From my early adolescence, self-education has had tremendous appeal to me.  Initially, this appeal resulted from the select group of persons, in history, who had engaged in independent learning and gone on to be successful writers, politicians, scientists, and artists. 

My pursuit in self-education has not followed a straight line.  I did not, when I first decided to pursue self-education, sit down, and read lots of books.  Rather, I decided to follow a narrow and rocky path which would allow me to emulate some of the greatest autodidacts of all time. These were men in history who chose a path of self-education, and been criminals.  I intended to walk in the shoes of these giants.  Most notably, among them, were Adolf Hitler and Malcom X.  However, I do not believe either of them were criminals to better themselves.  I was.

Other things in my life, took precedence over my studies when I was a young man.  Specifically, skiing interfered with my pursuit of learning.  Skiing was my passion, and the one thing I had in my life that kept me moving towards goals that would not entangle me in criminal mischief. Then, at the age of twenty-two I lost my job teaching skiing. At that time, I was living in Johnson, a small college town in northern Vermont.  Independent learning became a priority in my life very shortly. That next summer, living in Johnson, reading was the most primary of my pursuits.  Still, troubles with the law were not yet a memory.

What you must understand about young criminals is we set out on the criminal path to prove our worth.  Myself, and the young people I associated with, tried to show that we could face the world going in the wrong direction.  We were somewhat naïve, and very dispassionate about the prospects of our adult lives. The charge I was facing while I was living in Johnson was for careless and negligent operation of vehicle.  Also, people who are willfully criminals are, at our root, risk takers.

Because of the motor vehicle charge I lost my driver’s license.  Shortly afterwards, I lost my job bussing tables at a restaurant in Johnson.  An impetus, in my life, presented itself.  I had no more career teaching skiing, and had been bounced around between dead-end jobs for years.  Self-education was no longer just an interest, but a necessity. Years went by, and I continued reading, but couldn’t manage to pick myself back up to lead a rewarding working life.  My criminal record, and poor work history, followed me.  Furthermore, I was experiencing great difficulties, with, yet undiagnosed schizophrenia. Eventually, all hope I once had for being able to bounce back from a misspent youth was lost.  And my distorted perception, which was a result of my schizophrenic mind, rationalized a belief that I’d never amount to anything.  I would attempt suicide, be hospitalized, and incarcerated before I’d finally find my way back to hopefulness.

And in finding my way back to hopefulness, I sparked an interest in self-education all over again. In 2008, I began studying chess with great interest, and determination.  At the time, I was living in a group home in Castleton, another small college town in Vermont.  To learn the game of chess, I read approximately twenty books, and took an on-line course.  Chess study was the first real success in my path of self-directed learning.  From learning this game, I discovered how to go about independent study.

Some time ago, I was sitting in Mocha Joe’s with a chess buddy.  We were talking about a social activism project which I had been working on, and put on hold.  He said to me, “the pendulum always swings twice.”  Regarding self-education, the pendulum began its second swing when I learned how to study the game of chess. Not all things came up rosy after I learned how to play the game of chess.  Schizophrenia still had a strong grip on my psyche.  A time came, not a moment too soon, in which I was ready to be in the world, despite my disability, despite my spotty work history, and despite my criminal record as a healthy and well functioning adult. 

My path towards self-education has finally served me to be more successful and independent.  Now, I am employed at a social services agency helping others, who like me, have followed a difficult path.  Had I known following the path of recklessness and irresponsibility would be as difficult as it was I would have thought better of it. Living is learning, and no one can ever teach any of us the lessons we most need to learn but, we, ourselves.

Walking a Sacred Labyrinth Centering to  place

Charles Monette

A 4,000 year-old metaphor is surfacing in our locale on Clark street, off the hiking trails at Solar Hill, at a Warrior’s knoll in Dummerston, and up where the road ends and the lake sunsets. 

Scandinavia boasts the highest concentration of the Classic Seventh Path Labyrinth, but it was also built on the isle of Crete at least 400 years before the birth Of Jesus Christ.  It is the symbol of earth for the Hopis and is found in the dwelling grounds of other Native American tribes in the southwest.

A circular path, marked in stone, by a grass mowing, by twigs and branches, or by other materials found on/off site, it meanders to and fro and back again to center… to your center.  At the very least, it marks a beautiful meditative walk in stillness.  For some, it is a path to balance, to healing, to wellbeing.

The Classic Seventh Path Labyrinth is not a maze, although it is truly amazing.   There are no choices along the path; you don’t need a secret to enter, or a ball of string to get out. You cannot get lost, but you just might find yourself.

A unicursal walk from the outside to the center, there are seven paths in the sequence 3-2-1-4-7-6-5.  You simply walk in and follow your nose to the center.  If at any point, you choose to leave, you turn around and follow your toes to walk out.

The 3-2-1-4-7-6-5 (each number referring to a path) of the Classic Seventh Path Labyrinth is a paragon that has both scientific and spiritual significance.  One scientific example is the

(3-2-1) cycle of deep sleep, followed by a transition (path 4) to rapid eye movement(REM) or dreaming sleep (7-6-5).

In this example, Path 3 corresponds to letting go of consciousness and the physical world of space and time.  Path 5 represents the return to and its manifestation in the world of space and time.  Of course, the sleep cycle is slept “off the highway” of physical action.

The Classic Seventh Path Labyrinth can be viewed as a Vision Quest.  Akin to music, the CSPL has many uses and incarnations.

Perhaps the most common theme is of a vision quest where one enters the labyrinth with the intention of letting go of, or spinning out past experiences, memories or behavioral patterns. They are given to the earth on the 3-2-1 sequence or path. After letting them go, one opens the Heart on path 4 to contact the Divinity on path 7 and receive a new spiritual vision on path 6.

Finally, one manifests the new spiritual vision on path 5.  Initially, one is best introduced to, and led by a metaphysical and spiritual healer and teacher imbued with the wisdom of Classic Seventh Path Labyrinth: Or, you can just walk it without intention or introduction to its mysteries and experience a tranquil contemplative jaunt to center.

A ‘down and dirty’ analogy is that of a spiritual oil change. The spiritual vision quest can be likened to changing the oil in one’s car.  First, one leaves the highway and goes to a ‘ritual oil changing place’, or Jiffy Lube labyrinth.  This action corresponds to leaving the daily activities and concerns of space and time to enter the labyrinth.

Cracking the hex bolt and draining out the dirty oil correlates to the spinning out of prior individual experiences on paths, 3-2-1.

Non-attaching to the old oil allows one to let it go down the drain (into the earth) and open one’s Heart on Path 4 to take in the new oil, or the new spiritual vision!  One walks with/assimilates the new oil on paths 7 and 6 (engine motor running) before getting back on the highway and manifesting the new vision in the world on path 5.

I have helped design and build two of the above-mentioned labyrinths and I walk all four.  Each is uniquely beautiful.

The 7 paths vary from about 2’ wide bordered by stones to the 36 inch wheelbase of a riding lawnmower.  For two of them you enter, and the first turn is to the left.   The entry path turns to the right at the other two.   More on the significance of right or left beginnings at a later date.

That’s all for now.  There is much to share, to explain, to engage and simply to walking The Classic Seven Path Classic Labyrinth.  I know of 4 in the southeast kingdom of Vermont; there may be more, and new ones will be created in space and time. 

Phil Innes, publisher, has invited me to write what I will once a month for Vermont Views Magazine.  For the coming months, my ‘what I will’ is devoted to a description and understanding of a 4,000 year-old metaphor manifesting in our locale.  I will be your guide, or point man in the coming months.  Follow me to the centers…

The Lost and Found

Laura Momaney

I lost a man.  I realized he was missing when he didn't come back.  I knew he was gone when I saw him with another woman.  I was stricken by how easily he shrugged off my love and I wonder about that.  Spent some time looking  for him on my balcony, one foot resting on a lower rung, forearms against the top to rest his weight, hands draped over the edge, face in repose, navigating his thoughts alone. I still say 'You're beautiful',  when I don't find him there.  I go to the living room.  Not there pacing, glancing my way with vibrant eyes so arrestingly blue.  Maybe he's in the bedroom emptying his pockets of loose change his hands toy with like souvenirs from the day.  No.  I scatter what lies there about, hunting for quarters I may have missed to feed my laundry habit.  To my computer I go next. Maybe I'll find him standing there looking for a song, legs spread, waist bent to lower his height. If he is I'll tug his pants down an inch and softly kiss the back of his hip.  I'll follow the air with a wistful finger where his form once was and pull my idea of him from the shadows, see how it compares.  Echoes lie about on scraps of paper holding random thoughts pulled from his mind, culled to discard and leave behind, before he left. Maybe he's at his own computer then, happily playing chess. Perhaps he's lost there in rapture, smile playing, dancing across his lips. If so, I'll come up behind him again, whisper sultry and low against his neck, sweet sophomoric nothings about chess vs sex, quite enthralled by my own challenge to seductive success.  I go to my balcony alone in the morning, introduce myself to the day and find him there, walking the street, strong hands in pant pockets toying with loose change, face in repose, navigating those thoughts alone.  To the computer I go next and choose a song I wish to sing, back to the balcony to finish watching him walk away from me.  You're beautiful, I whisper, stunned by all of it, stunned still by him. I lost the man, a man I loved but found that in the end, I didn't lose at love.  What I had to give, I kept it all.

 I lost my sense of humor today. I was sitting on my bed, trimming my toenails when I realized it was gone. Usually it pipes up, calls them 'talons' when they grow long.  But not today.  I realized it was missing. Turning, I looked under a pillow to see if it was shacking up with some recently lost sleep. No, not there. I dashed outside and peeked under a rock I'd been sitting on while pondering other losses and thoughts. I'd meant to be fishing.  Not down there in the dirt where it often finds play.  My eyes followed the line of a tree up to it's overhang.  I wondered if mirth was holding a secret meeting in a club house there or swinging cheerfully from the gallows in a noose of it's own design.  I walked home without it.  Inside I yanked the cupboard open looking for canned laughter beside the stewed tomatoes. No. Moving down the hall I checked the bathroom mirror where it often perches to laugh at itself or preen. Glancing In the toilet I thought I saw traces of it but there's always been some there.  I drew open my closet and poked around, wondering if it had been summoned by the dark of it all again.  I ran to the river and called.  I cried out and it came, limping, dragging it's tattered shadow.  Something else ran to greet it, something I found, something wise enough to notice it was missing and smart enough to hunt it down.  

I've lost a lot of things, lost hope a time or two, always found it again looking shiny and new.  New hope is full of itself too.  I've lost keys and jewelry, my parents, a few reputations I didn't live up to, regard from and for a few, my youth for sure and the belief that skies should always be blue. I've lost a house and land, vicious fights, card games and my ability to stand.  I've found new friends and homes, new games to play, new ways to get along and get around.  I've still got my precious life, almost lost that more than twice but I've yet to lose that final fight.  I've never lost my way though, not entirely, or my appetite for long.  I've never lost my love for music or my urge to sing along.  I did lose some weight this year after spring arrived and formed some muscle I was looking for to replace the winter fat.  I applied it to my heart and arms, my spirit now feels strong alongside the beautiful summer in front of me.  I've decided it's alright to lose as long as there's something in loss's wake to add to the beauty of my life, something in the shadowy wake of loss waiting to be found.

What is Clintonia?

Matti Salminen

Life often takes turns, unexpected and otherwise, but often, until something is right there in front of us we do not know where the next turn will lead.  Backpacking into the Adirondacks presented itself to be a gentle turn in my writing life.  Until I got back home, I could not see where this turn would lead me.

What was it that camping and writing have in common?  Not much possibly.  Experiencing life in the woods, as I did for the last five days, gave me a chance to recalibrate.  It allowed me to empty my cup, and do some soul searching.

Adventures, like backpacking in the Adirondacks, are best to be spent with good friends.  Wyatt Andrews was a great camping companion.  He was willing to try boiled Bullheaded Lilly roots with me; even after I told him how awful they were.  And he allowed me to have my own space where and when I needed it.

Our trip allowed us ample time to hike, read, eat wild plants, and talk.  We got along well.  Despite being a rainy trip (Wednesday Thursday and Friday were very wet) we had a great time.  Almost know people made it out to our secret spot, and we certainly were not complaining.

Wyatt, often, was found writing in a notebook while I spent a lot of time reading Fowler’s Modern English Usage.  Ideas on where my writing life would lead were abundant.  I bounced a few off of Wyatt, and he gave me honest opinions.

But until I got home, I was not certain what would be my next writing project.  Sometime after getting back to my apartment on Elliot Street, I checked my email.  There I read a message from Phil Innes, Publisher of Vermont Views Magazine, asking if I’d like to be a contributor to a new column called 4our.  Not much time passed before I decided this would be an excellent step forward in my writing life.

4our, as Phil described it to me, will be wide open, but relate mostly to quality of life.  I will be one of several contributors to this column.

As for my thoughts regarding my writing life, which I delved into on my camping trip-they will help me to have a clearer sense of what I will write about for 4our. 

Camping in the Adirondacks was an amazing experience that I will cherish for all time.   Returning from this trip was, however, where the fruits of my labor were to be harvested.  Right there in front of me, upon my return from camping, there was the opportunity I was searching for. 

Spending five days in the Adirondacks taught me that Clintonia tastes like cucumber.  The best meal I had all week was this wild plant cooked up with tuna.  Camping also taught me that my interests and passions will lead me on a path of personal fulfillment just as long as I do not let my mind do all the work.  I have to allow my heart and my soul to have a say in things too.


is written by 

Matti Salminen

Nanci Bern

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