to dream the possible dream

Good group, wrong name.

Recently, while doing an online search, I found a listing for “The Quixote Foundation”…

Their stated mission is: “to see free people in fair societies on a healthy planet.”

I praise their ambition.  I just wish they’d chosen another name.

In the novel by Cervantes, Don Quixote believes himself to be a knight-errant on a quest—a fantasy that continually collides with reality.

When Quixote comes upon a row of windmills, he perceives them as hostile giants and attacks.  Though he suffers mightily for this mistake, Quixote refuses to wake from his cherished dream.

His stubborn blindness is not unlike the delusion of many modern-day Quixotes.  When confronted with a field of giant wind turbines, these Quixotes may perceive a hostile threat…

…a threat to an old way of life, an old way of doing things.

Like the man of La Mancha, these contemporary Quixotes dream the impossible dream: they believe we can continue to do as we’ve done in the past, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ironically, these Quixotes often see others as quixotic.  If you’re trying to solve a new problem using a new way, you’re quixotic, they say.  Out of touch with reality.

I say: anyone trying to see the reality of a developing situation and respond appropriately—sanely—is not delusional.  Such a person is a realist.  A dreamer—but of possible dreams.  Necessary dreams.  Yes, our possible dreams often face what seem to be impossible obstacles.  But if our survival depends on such dreams, we will eventually find ways to make them real.

So, don’t call these dreamers and their dreams “quixotic”.  For that matter, don’t call the Quixote Foundation quixotic.

“Quixotic” would better describe those who wish to impose an imagined past on our present—and our future.

Like Don Quixote, they will eventually give up the fight and accept reality—but only after doing much blind damage.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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extraordinary ordinary people

I say Martin Luther King, Jr. blessed all us ordinary folk…

…when he chose not to join the Freedom Riders on their trip.

In 1961, that multi-racial, multi-generational group boarded buses and traveled throughout the South to protest segregation.

Leaving behind jobs, school, and family, they endured verbal abuse, physical assault and injury, arrest and imprisonment.  They endured terrorism.

If Dr. King had gone along, the group might now be known as the Martin Luther King Freedom Riders.  Those brave men and women would have been overshadowed by King’s towering presence.  A big loss for us, as I see it.

Yes, King’s story inspires.  But I believe the story of the Freedom Riders presents us with a greater challenge.

Those folk are closer to our own size.  Most had lived fairly ordinary lives before getting on those buses.  And most lived fairly ordinary lives after getting off those buses.  And yet they are heroes.  When faced with injustice, they went beyond themselves, beyond the standards of their time.

The Freedom Riders take away our “out”—our excuse.  After hearing their story, how can I say, “I can’t fight that fight—I’m just an ordinary citizen”?

I think most of us feel we have something more inside ourselves…a bigger person, usually held back by the necessities of our lives…

We wonder: could I raise this other self, if called upon to act?  Untested, we doubt the reality of the strength we feel.

In answer to that doubt, the Freedom Rider story tells us: “If they did, then you can.

But also adds: “Don’t worry—afterwards, you can take off your cape and go back to being an ordinary human being.”

I’m scared of the worst within myself.  But I’m also scared of the best.  And for good reason.  The best asks me to sacrifice.  The best asks me to risk.  The best asks me to go beyond my fear.  The best asks me to get on that bus.

Today, we honor the courage of the Freedom Fighters and see their journey as a victory.  But if I step up, I might get squashed and then forgotten.  Another flattened bug on the sole of history’s shoe.

But we don’t step up to win glory, do we?  We step up because we feel we must.  We step up, because if we don’t, how do we live with ourselves?

Yeah, we may be flattened and forgotten.  But aren’t we successful the moment we step onto that bus?

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetryt’s bid all big loss

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confessions of a projectionist

Who among us has not been terrorized?

Who among us has not also been a terrorist?

I’m talking about minor acts of terror.  Under my definition, even a petty snipe can be a terrorist act.  Even a petty snipe is an attempt to instill fear in a fellow human.

The minor or major terrorist feels small.  The attack is his attempt to feel big.  And it does boost his ego—for a moment anyway.  But the truth is: he still feels small.

So, as if addicted, he may repeat the behavior and keeping on repeating it.  Keep on throwing stones.  Keep trying to inflate himself.

The terrorist usually justifies these acts by demonizing the other.  But the demon he sees in the other is actually an aspect of himself.  An aspect he’s rejected.  The aspects we reject become the aspects we project…

…project onto other people, other groups, other nations.

I know of what I speak—I have been (and still am) quite a projectionist.

Yes, I try to keep a watch on myself…

But I fall asleep so easily.  And once asleep, I may be slow to wake.  When I finally realize how I’m projecting, I’m humbled—disappointed in myself…

Yet at the same time, I feel a little more hopeful about my prospects.  After all, I’ve gained in awareness.  I can break the cycle.

We know this behavior cycle—we know about rejection/projection.  We’ve told ourselves this story in countless books and movies.  In folktales, fables, and songs.  This story might be as old as we are.

So if we know the story, why can’t we change?

Here’s what I’ve realized:

Though I can see your bad behavior in those fictional characters, I can’t see my own.  That’s because I’m projecting my own bad behavior onto you.  Ironic, yes.

I believe stories are usually the best way to communicate an idea…

…but in this case, maybe not.  Maybe it’s better if we state these twin ideas plainly, simply, unequivocally.  Repeatedly.  A quotable quote—something catchy, something clever.  A hook that will stay in the mouth.

Or rather: an expression that ring with a clear bell sound—a clear bell sound that can awaken the wise bell within us.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say: our survival depends on this understanding.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Searching for My Best Beliefs: a poetry book

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remembering…

Victory.  Failure.
After the battle is won
The wise ruler behaves
As though at a funeral.
Grieving.
     — from Tao Te Ching, Cloud Hands Edition

Memorial Day seems to have become another holiday of celebration in my country.

For years, I’ve heard people say: “we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas”.  Perhaps we’ve lost the true meaning of Memorial Day.

my war for peace: a poetry book

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freedom fighter

As most children do, I dreamed of being free…

Finally (a century later, it seemed), I got my freedom.  At the age of eighteen, I left home and over the years, moved here and there, to one city after another, in these United States.

I enjoyed a freedom of mobility not available to most humans in most ages.

But perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t the best word to describe my experience.  I was traveling on a shoestring…and that shoestring often got awfully thin…sometimes, so thin that it broke.

Some thought I was free as a bird.  But they didn’t consider the cost of my choices.  For that matter, neither did I—until afterwards.

That’s not to say I didn’t gain.  In fact, I’d say the gain was worth the cost, because I learned so much.  By trying to be free, I learned about freedom.  I learned about the shackles.

We’ve all seen this story: the hero bursts free from the shackles of his prison and emerges into the bright sunlight of freedom.

That’s the one we want to be.  The problem is: in order to be free, we must give up some degree of security.

I’m not saying security is evil.  Security is necessary for our survival.  The trick is: not to overvalue it—nor, for that matter, undervalue it.  We all deal with that dilemma, that question of balance.  And on a daily basis, as I see it—regarding issues large and small.

As for myself…

I’ve both overvalued and undervalued security…

I’ve made many high-flying leaps…some of which ended with me limping back to more secure confines…

I could fly the coop, but I had trouble remaining aloft…

…because the shackles were still hanging from my back.  Those shackles are made of fear.

So then, what do I do about that fear?  Well, you can’t simply talk yourself out of it.  It’s useless to say: “I shouldn’t be afraid—I won’t be afraid.”  I know because I’ve tried.  Many, many times…

At least now, I’m semi-aware of the fear.  Aware enough to be able to control it, instead of being controlled by it.  That’s true freedom.  But let’s be honest: I’m not there yet.  Not by a long shot.

It’s a helluva fight: to defy my fear is to defy a basic instinct.  An impulse necessary for my survival.

So here’s my ideal: to listen to that instinct—and then make a conscious decision.  Maybe I leap, maybe I hop, maybe I stop, maybe I step back…

…but as long as I’m making a conscious choice, I’m acting with freedom.

However, I realize the equation is often not so simple.  We have commitments and responsibilities to consider.  We may be limited by circumstances over which we have little or no control…

But here’s what else I’ve learned: “freedom” doesn’t mean being free from all restraints.  There will always be limitations.  Our freedom depends on our ability to expand within whatever limitations we face.

Maybe there’s no way out of prison for our hero.  Nevertheless, he finds ways to expand.  They can’t shackle his mind.  He expands by giving up the security of old habits of thought, of being.

As I see it, I’ve been struggling for freedom since birth: I’ve been trying to find ways to expand—to grow—within the limits of this life, this world.

But I think we all fight that fight—to some degree.  Don’t we all struggle against our environment—and ourselves—in an effort to be free?  In that sense, aren’t we’re all at least a little heroic?

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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ride on!

Derivative trading, doing business in Siberia, and using bitcoin have all been dubbed “a new Wild West”.

We stick that label on many risky endeavors these days.  Endeavors free of the usual restrictions–and so, frequently of dubious legality.  Nonetheless, the label has positive connotations for us…

A new Wild West offers us the chance to recapture something of the old Wild West.  A sense of freedom and grand possibility.  We can live large…

I understand that desire.  I can understand the frustration of those who feel a loss of opportunity…who feel diminished.

But I say: we need not wish for a new version of the old Wild West…

I say: it’s already here!  As a nation, as a world, we’ve entered a gray borderland…

…with a dark shadowy forest up ahead.  Our new Wild West.

But whereas our Old West ancestors ventured into the unknown filled with hope…

…we shake in the saddle with doubt and dread.  We’d like to stop the horse—or at least, slow it down.  But we know we can’t.  This sense of powerlessness just adds to our anxiety.

A paradox: we want a new Wild West and yet we don’t.  As I see it, we’re struggling with a basic dilemma of human history…

Like any other animal, we desire safety.  Yet, as humans, we also want to know what’s over the next hill.  To complicate matters, sometimes we need to go over that hill for safety’s sake.  To remain safe, we must go beyond our safety limits.  Over the hill—or into the dark forest.

Sometimes we make a conscious choice to go there.  Other times, we’re forced.  We’re dragged by a horse.  A horse that is us.  A horse that is our own unconscious force.

Yes, we’re dragging ourselves into a new Wild West.  But I can understand our resistance.  After all, this Wild West seems to be lacking in both freedom and grand possibility.

However, I think it actually offers us both…

Though tied to this horse, we do have freedom of choice…

We can choose to expand or we can choose to contract.

If we expand, we can realize the grand possibilities of our new Wild West.  But if we contract…

…sooner or later, we’ll be forced open.  So we might as well choose to expand now.

You want to live large?  Here’s your chance.  As for myself, I’m tired of feeling so small.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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in favor of the braveheart chicken

In 1959, Allen Ginsberg said America was having a nervous breakdown…

Maybe he was exaggerating for effect.

However, it’s no exaggeration to say, that in 2017, we’re a very very nervous nation…

No breakdown yet, but our condition is indeed serious.  Nervous citizens and nervous nations can act erratically, impulsively—sometimes violently.

Though I don’t have a cure for our nervousness, I do have a helpful suggestion…

A suggestion based on my own experience as a nervous person:

I think it’s best if we finally admit how afraid we are.  And when I say “we” I mean everyone—yes, that includes all you pumped-up, testosterone-driven ninja-commando hyper-warriors.  Admit it–you’re just as scared as the rest of us.

Yes, I realize I’m asking you to go against an American ideal.  When dealing with a threat, we’re supposed to show cold-face composure based on a snake-like inner calm.  Think of Dirty Harry chewing a hot dog while preparing to blow some punk away.

But trying to maintain that facade can actually create what we’re trying to avoid.  If we deny our fear, we may erupt when the inner tension becomes much too much.  Would-be Dirty Harrys often end up running amok.

On the other hand…

…by being aware of our fear, we learn how to deal with the tension.  We’re able to control our fear, instead of being controlled by it.  We can act with courage when the situation requires—no matter how nervous we may be.

To help with this shift in attitude, I say we need different stories, different models.  Less Predator, and more The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.  We need nervous heroes who are painfully aware of how nervous they are.

This new-ideal hero will have learned to live with his high anxiety.  So, he’s able to keep his head as tension mounts—which means, he keeps his heart too.  He’ll “do the right thing”.

Yes, such braveheart chickens would be good models…but I’m realistic…

I don’t expect audiences to reject the cold-hell heroes any time soon…

We won’t, because that’s who we wish we could be.

Here’s the secret: that’s actually who we are—at least, in part.  I believe we all have that aspect—that archetype—within ourselves.  It may be deeply buried, but it’s there somewhere.

To me, the trick is: to find both the negative and positive sides of that aspect…

…then activate the positive.

But to stay on the positive side, I believe we must remain aware of our fear—our inner Mr. Chicken.

Unless we develop that awareness, I think our nation may indeed have a breakdown—a breakdown expressed in an eruption.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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