Archive for November, 2010

abandoned journey?

Staying here i have abandoned my path – the heaviness and sluggishness have now set in; it seemed a calm, but now that the intensity is gone, a deadness looms inside. I retreat and hide away, no longer engage with the energies of place, no longer feel them, at least consciously. But i know that i do, and that they have become a part of me – they have won. My world becomes small; i become small. My world the hostel – i cook some, gain weight, feel overwhelmed by the endless chatter or pratter of some, not part of “the group” to whom i cannot relate – big dominant personalities, so i shrink away to my room, my bed, hide behind the computer screen, and now so much of my life on line – a place where i engage much more than before – reach out- but again on the outside. I crave that intensity and passion, some glee that drives me out of bed in the morning, that gets me moving, but instead i find diversions to fill my day – sometimes. and i remember this feeling, the place where i have spent so much time, not in the physical world per se, but inside – that place that says this is it, this is all it is supposed to be, why can’t you be like the rest, get off on what they do – but i cannot – for how long did i try, and then, as now, for how long did i merely resist, still not engaging in what calls me forth, and as i do not feed that light, it slips away and i no longer know what it is. Has it died or has it just been buried inside? At times i feel like maybe some of the harsh edge is fading, that a softness is shining through, but where is the edge in the positive that makes me more than a lump.

It is not merely this physical place where i am – the return to hostel zone – the place where i said i would not go back to, but something drove me here – for although many drive me nuts and i am on the outside, i do interact with people more, and it was years ago in hostels where it first began. And here i have been allowed to stay, not pushed out, as it has been in so many locales. Why is it that these very places where i feel dead, are the same ones where i can stay. Is it because i dared not live? Or is it in the quiet times, that something slowly grows inside, a transformation that is imperceptible to me, but when i look back that is where it occurred.

Is it November, the coming of winter, people huddle in, the trees have dropped their leaves in all their splendour, and reveal their nakedness. The days are darker; so much less light revealed. but no, i have felt it in these zones at other times – but the late fall has also been a time of retreat.

But it is also the place – not only here – but others like this – that i stop in locales where i do not see me staying, do not see a way to bloom that is me. I went to a tree lighting in a square – heard about it through another, but like so much with events here, the information is hard to find; it was small, subdued, and without passion so it seemed, that restricted feeling that comes with salt lake – of nice streets and clean, but that does not know how to do festivals and events. i walk through temple square, so beautiful and lit up in a multitude of colours; it made me smile as i made my way through the conservative well dressed crowd, but again i felt something press down through the choral music in the air. But i ventured out a little bit; for a moment felt less sluggish then returned with an empty evening ahead of me.

The sluggishness is here – and has taken over – reminds me of beaconsfield and toronto with my dad; the two cities, montreal and toronto are grand, but when i have been back i have felt this emptiness and deadness grow; i thought it had gone away but it has returned. And it is that feeling of having given up once again, of supposing to be someone i am not, of neither understanding nor fitting into the mainstream, but of feeling that is what i am supposed to do – get along, fit in, carve off the corners of my star to fit into the square hole, and kill that part of me that is unique and different, that walks to a different beat, that provides the spark and light that can shine – and i feel her dying inside. And how to move beyond that deepest most primal feeling that she is unacceptable and that who she is is wrong, that if only she were fixed somehow, that she would be allowed to dance. And while i dance with her sometimes, there is that feeling that i must put her aside; her music is different than what others feel and she cannot dance to the canned dancehall pop (and when it comes to literal dancing this is so true – i move and shine to the more offbeat tunes that so many “struggle with” and remain stiff or go through unfelt motions when if comes to many of the popular tunes when the floor comes alive and fills up – but at least when it comes to dancing i am now ok with that)

Maybe that is why i have been stuck here – a stuckedness i brought on myself – to learn to own this and to shine through anyways – to accept and love that girl inside, and to feed her energy, so that she might shine through and dispel those voices that say she should be something else – to reclaim that slogan of my teens “you gotta be weird to be normal” and accept my difference as a unique shining light.

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Angel Dogs among us

A dog hops onto the table that sits outside the coffee shop – whining for his person who just went in. He’s a young german shepherd with separation anxiety, nervous or afraid that he will be left behind (perhaps again). My heart reaches out to him and i say, “don’t worry, he’ll be back, all is ok”. But he does not turn towards me, his gaze intent upon the door. And when it opens up, and his person comes out, his tail wags madly, a smile opens up on his face, with a kiss (or lick) his beloved who has returned – overjoyed in the moment that is now, leaving behind the stress and pain that was.

I first noticed them as i was sitting at a table across the parking lot – something silent called to me – and i turn and noticed them in full embrace. The dog was standing on his hind feet, his head reaching the shoulders of the person whom he hugged, and who hugged him back. A smile lit up upon my face, and as i glanced around, i noticed that i was not the only person who was drawn to this display.

I had moved inside, but through the window saw that his person brought out a paper cup of water for him to drink and as he drank, splashing half the water out over the cup, two men from the other table came over to pet him. In his true joy and love of the moment he calls people forth to connect and licking faces spreads the joy around.

Although i am dogless, i often find myself being drawn to dog parks and off leash areas where dogs may freely run. I cannot help but feel alive as i watch them running joyfully, jumping into whatever water might be found or just sniffing around following their noses. They are so present and one with what is. They meet and greet, check each other out and play; the purebreds and the mutts, the large and the small, the dressed up and the naked. They have chosen to live with us, but also have a world of their own.

At times i am able to interact, as a dog comes over to check me out, or sometimes it is just my food, or drops a ball beside my feet, or like the other day, exuberantly greets me with, jumping up with muddy feet upon my freshly washed beige pants. But i cannot be angry, how can i not forgive a dog, one of the kind who has taught me so much about forgiveness and unconditional love. While we imagine ourselves as their owners and guardians, i more and more frequently ask myself, is it not they who have chosen to be our guardians instead; not only protecting us, but teaching us so much about what is important – love and presence, forgiveness and connection, and of being alive with what is. All too often when a dog comes to me, the person follows shortly behind, apologizing for the intrusion and the disturbance their animal has caused. I say i don’t mind, and sometimes i get to pet or play, but generally the dog is called away and then i feel sad.

Just as dogs can transform a place and the vibe around, they too are transformed by the environment and milieu in which they live. They can be so attuned to our vibes, and know when we are sad or scared, and can come to us when we most need a friend. And their connection to the energy about also means that they can become different dogs in different places. I think not only of the difference between a dog who has been battered, neglected or loved in their homes, but of a generalized difference in dogs in different locales.

Often city dogs can seem as neurotic as their people; with nervous glances and anxious behaviour – barking, nipping or whining. Many have been trained and behave on cue, but seem cut off from what their essence is, waiting for a command and occasionally acting out; or walking ‘properly’ even though their nose calls them forward to a scrap of food on the ground or the scent of another, or a squirrel beckons from a tree, but often with a yearning in their eyes. But the love and connection to their person overrules the other natural callings inside. They tend to be more “socialized” than their suburban cousins, and being in the city they know when to engage and when to ignore the others who share their space – be they canine or human – according to the human defined norms. Suburban dogs also often spend their days alone, and though their people’s homes may be larger, can also be locked into a room or a crate. Their outside world may be their yards, or a walk on a leash down a street alone with their people and maybe an approved friend. They are discouraged from sniffing and exploring the world, instead exercising and “heading natures calls’ – relieving themselves where it is ok. Often like people who are isolated, they do not know how to interact with strangers around, especially of their kind, and pull forward madly or begin barking out of fear. Those who are truly confined to a space, a yard or a home, may shout at all that goes by protecting their little world. And when they get free, will run and run and explore their world, and sometimes get lost and not know how to get back home. But they are happy when they do, for they follow in the lines of their ancestors who agreed to live with us. And they live in our world, both teaching and learning, and take on our stresses and neuroses and separation from our inner natures.

I remember the dogs of central america and places in mexico – those who lived in the human environments, but apart into their own worlds. They were neither wild like their brothers the coyotes and wolves, nor were they tame, like the ‘domestic’ dogs. They were free to come and go as they pleased and often truly belonged to no one. They would just be on the street, laying in the shade or the sun, depending on what the climate may be, really paying little attention to the people who went by, They seemed calmer, more at ease with themselves and in tune with their natures having their own little world though integrated and connected, with our human one. Some hung around the market places or restaurants, hoping for scraps of food. They had certain human friends, but others who chased them away, and more generally were wary of humans or oblivious to our presence.

The street dogs were part of the scene, and i loved to watch alone or in their packs, but they were not as attached to the people by the bonds of love. often in these places you had the house dogs, the pets, who played that role, and while it seemed that some looked longingly at the street dogs, others regarded them with fear, and for others they were in another world; i feel that the luckiest of all were those who had a life in-between – a street dog by day, and a house pet by night. I wonder now if the reason why so many of the dogs have not yet joined the people intimately is that there is less of a need in those places where people tend to live more in the now, are more closely connected with the families and those around through bonds of sharing and love.

While many dogs still do work, guarding flocks or stores or pulling sleds, and some have been trained to attack and guard, the main role of domesticated dogs is of caregivers and teachers to us. They remind us that life is not just about us – at both an individual and a species level. I see few street dogs in this town, but many places the kids who travel around are accompanied by their canine friends who give and teach of unconditional love, provide connection and someone to care for, and protect them at night. I think of some small hip progressive towns, Santa Cruz CA and Nelson BC to be specific, where i knew that i could not stay despite their liberal vibe, and it was their policies that banned dogs in the downtown zones that were one of the major reasons why. To me those laws spoke so much about the vibe of the towns, and made me question how open they really were. Dogs add so much to a place, and to forbid them strips a place of life.

I am grateful to that part of the canine species who have agreed to live intimately with us. although i am not bonded to one, their presence adds light to so many places and they often appear as angels in out midst. i am grateful for the dogs who light up my day through being themselves. I know that the smile that i gain from them lingers on and is shared with those who i contact, and that dogs play such a role in uplifting the vibration and spirit of a place. And i cannot help but smile at them.

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Joy on a fall day

I feel so happy in this moment, my cup overflowing with joy. I see the beauty that surrounds and feel connected to the spirit in all. The leaves shine brightly on the trees and flutter in the wind on this late fall day. I feed the cycle of beauty through appreciation and gratitude and by sharing that which has welled up inside. The wind blows strong, and just as the trees cannot cling to the leaves that flutter to the ground, I cannot cling to this moment. But just as the fallen leaves nurture the soil in their decay and contribute to new cycles of growth, i know this moment and the ever fading memories of it will nurture me in any dark days that may lay ahead. The moment is fleeting, but it is, and i am so grateful for that light which shines.

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Shared Energy in the dorm room

I had the room to myself last night and my sleep was wonderful and deep. Though i went on long journeys in my dream world, i woke up early and refreshed feeling happy and alive. The air in this room feels so much clearer today even though the window was closed last night. I am so grateful for this momentary peace.

I sleep in a dorm room with six beds, sharing space with others not known to me – at least initially. I am in another hostel where people come and go, and with them their energies; some are brought in, some picked up and some linger on to be picked up by others who enter in.

The air in this room had been heavy to say the least. Despite the cool night air, i would usually open the window by my bed a couple of inches, to let the air flow in. A few nights where i did not before i went to bed, i would find myself suffocating and not wanting to breathe. A few nights there has been stronger perfume (or scented lotions etc) but it was the emotions and thought forms that i was suffocating on. The other woman who has been here the past two weeks felt it too. In the mornings she’d open her window up wide and open the door to air out the room. It would be freezing in here, but she did not care – she was going out for the day.

And it was her energy i know i felt for she did not want to share a room; she wanted to be in control and she expected all to live small. She could not sleep with any noise, a person opening up the door, or rolling over in bed – never mind the conversations outside (which could bother me) or people coming in late. Although she did not speak directly (which was part of the problem), her emotions and thoughts came through in comments overheard or made about others, in the tone of her voice, in her movements and body language, in her actions however small, and of course in the energetic vibe she sent out. I could feel her tension, her resentment, her frustration and anger. At times I consciously felt it, but it drifted in even when i was asleep. At times i felt like i did not want to be here, or would loose my thoughts and passion when i came into the room. Although we would open the windows, some of the energies lingered behind, and would be fed and renewed each day, for what i projected as not pure either for i got caught in and inadvertently helped build the thought and emotional form that has lingered in this place. Resentment can be felt in the air.

Rooms are containers of energy, and without movement what is inside can become stagnant. Winter is coming in this part of the world, and it is a time of year when homes and buildings are closed up against the cold outside, and more time is spent in the inside where there is now often less of a flow. I think of the sick building syndrome of recycled air inside sealed buildings and workplaces where a general malaise and vague illnesses build inside. It is not just the chemicals or germs and bacteria that can make us ill but the thoughts and emotions that get trapped inside and therefore grow and feed themselves, renewing their energy in and through us. And so we want to open the windows and clear the air, and when we do it can feel fresher for a while.

But often the airing out is not complete and energies linger behind. Even when a room is enclosed, there is always movement; people (and objects) coming and going – carrying energy in and out. And some are susceptible to picking up on the energy around; they are more open to it and it is in tune with (a part of) that which is carried inside and the larger energetic form can call that part of the being out. And i know that is in part what happened to me. When i arrived i was exhausted and after a few days became dispirited in general; there were many larger factor at play in the city and beyond; but i also picked up on the energies of others in this room and across the hall who were emitted vibes of frustration, depression and/or negativity – not directed at me but that were in the air, the vibes and subtle actions of all – and thereby despite some attempts to move above or beyond, i got caught in and dragged down and became an agent in the cycle myself. While at times i would consciously try to alter it through thoughts, movements and music, the force was greater than myself, and i could not make it hold; and i believe that at times she tried too.

People and energies move in an out of here, and while there is a force it also changes and empties out. But what does it attract; more of the same? I have seen that it other places, be they hostels or workplaces, where the “same person” keeps on coming through. the bodies and names change, but the energy and mannerisms remains the same, and when one leaves, another arrives, as if to fill the niche. Before i came, i had been feeling “off” and was called to here, and it seems like many were at that stages of their trips – at an impasse, a blocked course, or otherwise frustrated with their journey or their lives when they arrived; and i wonder if the larger energy call them here. For i notice that different places call in different types of vibes, and those who stay, including myself, often resonate with it.

The woman who came in and who left yesterday, took the same bed as another girl who had been here and who also seemed not to want others around; i talked to a few others, and they felt the same way – you would walk into a room and she would leave or would vibrate disapproval at your presence; i knew it was not personal, for from the little i picked up, she was unhappy overall, and at a low point in her trip – the point that i believe went lower in her time here. When she checked out i had the room to myself for a night, and like last night could feel the heaviness lift from the air. For a while – until it returned once again.

And i ask myself, what in the energy matrix lingered on? Was it that it is greater than any of us and pulls in a certain vibration? It is powerful enough to alter the energy of those who come in? In my rejoicing of the lighter feel and having the place to myself, did i unconsciously send out unwelcoming thoughts? Was i trying to protect what seemed to be a lighter energy, and a space that was momentarily my own and thus only furthered the cycle when she arrived? Was i wanting others to live small and wanting control myself and she was but a mirror? Did i fail to transform the energies of this place and that place called myself and so that which lingered beneath leapt out when called? Was it that i wanted space alone and resented her as she did me – not on the personal level – but in terms of someone else being there or having to deal with the energies about?

But this is a dorm room and people come and go. Some live large and some live small. It is shared space, as this planet is. Last weekend the dorm was fuller; one night five of the six beds were occupied. One girl had arrived the night before the other two, and her energy was initially heavy and she moped around – the tours she wanted to take were done for the season and she did not feel comfortable renting a car and driving on the “wrong” side of the road; the next day others came in so there were enough people for a hostel tour and many went out to party that night; and thus some of the energy was transformed. There was a group who formed to shop and drink and they lived larger and formed another energetic matrix; one with which neither i nor the other woman resonated with. But you could see feel a switch and also a subtle conflict between the energetic forces that were at play. But when they left, the other prickly heavy energy returned; the new matrix was not being fed.

Now some will say, this is all in your head; merely a product of your imagination and is not real. But i know that others comment on it too, and can pick up similar vibes or energies from a person or a place though they may not describe it in terms or energies or vibes per se. But we all know the feeling of stepping into a room that feels heavy and one that feels so alive. Often there are several energetic forces at play – some may dominate while at other times many are available, some may resonate more with our own energy which is why we feel them more, and sometimes, some may be able to overpower us – when we are weak or emptier or tired or run down – and yes, sometimes our own energies can overpower what is there – be it in terms of our ability to perceive the “larger” energies at place or in our ability to tranform them alltogether and thus the energies of those around .

People do not live alone; most have lived in community and this by definition is shared space. And the key is to somehow transform the energy inside this room, like those girls did coming through but towards an inclusive energy of love. We have the ability to alter the energy of a place – for better of worse – through not only our actions, but the thoughts and emotions we send out. This is applicable to the larger spaces and places for all is so connected, and as we move from one to another we can and do pick up and deposit traces of energy, and to the place within ourselves, for what is our body but another form or container that holds, picks up and transmits energies.

At times our energy has the ability to break through and transform a place, again for better or for worse, at others it may only be a small wave that gets subsumed in the larger matrix at play, and often it contributes to a larger dynamic through the interplay with the other vibrations that it comes into contact with.

I will now leave the room, and i sent out the energy of light. When i return i might still have it to myself or i might be presented with an influx of energies from many others – that i do not know and cannot control. And i know, what ever the case, it that we all have a role in uplifting the energetic force that is around and that is within.

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I have not been down to Temple Square this week. It is the place that drew me here, and that enthralled me on that first early morning when i came to town. It sits in the centre of the city and the temple spires call from a distance, but it sits apart from all around.

The original square is enclosed behind gated walls. The gates are open throughout the day and you are free to enter inside. The adjoining area is a pedestrian zone with defined entry ways. The museum and family history library lay across a busy street, but feel more connected to the square than to the city that lay around.

When you come into the square you feel like you have entered a different world – which is the purpose of it. You leave behind the daily concerns and enter into a sacred zone. There is much to inspire with fountains and flowers and statues and the architecture of the buildings, all designed to uplift the spirit, but it is not a place where you can just be and connect. Although there are no “no loitering” signs, i feel like i cannot just be with the place.

It is a place where you visit and in many ways it has become just another tourist zone. Two visitors centers, one at the north gate, and the other at the south, serve to show and tell the history of the square and to provide an introduction to what the latter day saints are about; several free films are shown every 90 minutes throughout the day showing the founding of the faith, the journeys across the land to come here, and some of the unique beliefs; a history and art museum lay across the street. I visited them all when i first arrived feeling an entry back into tourist zone. it has become a show case for what is there – the simple shiny surface to show the world.

The sisters, pairs of young women wearing skirts that reach mid-calf, are there to guide you around the square. They are helpful and friendly – but so very young, on their version of the boys(young mens) mission – and have not yet experienced the depths of life. And i am afraid the my philosophical questions might dim the perkiness they possess. And everywhere there is someone to guide you – and on any spiritual journey, is that often not what we seek – a guide to show us the way. but here in the show room, i feel that it is the superficial cover that is shown and it is a deeper connection that i seek. But the girls encourage me to both fill out a card so that i may receive a visit in my home and a greater introduction to the faith and to read the book of mormon itself. And so perhaps,this square is but an entry way into another world – a world that may be deeper, but remains unseen to me.

As an outsider the most holy place on the square – the temple – remains unseen. While there is a full model of the temple in the visitor’s center, with inside relief, and photos, videos and explanations of each room, you cannot enter the temple unless you are LDS. Even for church members it is not a place where you go on a regular basis; it is a place where you engage in ordinances (or ceremonies of faith), communicate with the spirit and engage with god. It is not the gathering place of believers, but a holy place set aside from worldly concerns. I look at the fence that surrounds the temple and feel cut off.

At times here i have craved many of the mexican and central american churches that sit on or beside the lively zocalo or central square – the square that is full of life, the grand churches that are open much of the day, where people wander in and out, not only for mass but to pray, to light candles or to merely visit. I remembered Christmas in Leon, nicaragua with people flooding in and out of churches with balloons and more – oh, it seemed so much livelier there. And the churches are not as separate, connected to city life around, the public square with a variety of worldly activities, a market by the steps, food stalls inside or outside the gates – a visible part of daily life. You enter the church, just step inside, and you can be taken to another world, that of the spirit and of god. The spirit is incorporated into the daily life, a place apart, but connected. its true life outside is often louder, more crowded, more alive, and the church is a place you can go for a moment of peace, prayer or reflection (or to mass of course). It is a living faith, one that extends to the crosses in taxis, buses and cars, and far beyond. worship and spirit is not just something that happens apart from daily living. but then again all life zones are not as differentiated there.

It is true that the mormons also practice a living faith. Here much was designed to happen in the ward houses in the local neighborhoods – but those building are not part of a larger public gathering space; they are calm and well ordered like the neighborhoods themselves. Although holy buildings are a material representation of faith, spirituality is much more than a sacred place and what is practiced there. And here they do affirm the spirit through service, in their families, with the rules or practices that guide their daily lives and even through their underwear. Perhaps the undergarments represent the difference, they are worn beneath the clothes and thus not visible on the outside.

In latin america the boundaries between the inside and outside are much more fluid and permeable in general. There is more of a flow. In North America the separation of church and state, inside and out, public and private is greater and we often strive to maintain and build boundaries or borders. While there is a time for joining in and bringing the spirit into the dance of life, and a time for leaving worldly concerns behind, perhaps what i feel here is the split between the sacred and the profane. And when i go to temple square, i am the profane who may visit, but is to be kept outside of the truly sacred grounds. To be seen as profane is akin to being cast out and separated from the divine. But i know the boundaries are more fluid, and the divine can be found in all – if you only look for it and see it, and call it forth. And all can be sacred if we let it be.

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What does it mean to build a New Jerusalem? Is it possible to build a city or community for god here on earth? Is it desirable?

i have been curious about Salt Lake City for several years because of its history and why it was founded and built – as a place to practice religion, a place built for god. I am not a mormon, and several aspects of their faith do not call to me, but the idea of founding a place on this basis has always appealed to me.

But what i find here is a modern american city, well laid out and planned, but still a regular city – though with a certain underlying vibe – one that is based in the foundations of it, and it makes me wonder about the ideal. And around is sprawl, the sprawl of modern cities, the endless development up and down the valley – but i see that too is related both to the growth and development patterns across the continent, and to the original (and continuing) mormon corridor – of small communities, or stakes as they were called, built for people to live and worship. And like small towns everywhere, they have merged into one amorphous sprawl.

The curiosity with the origins of cities came to me when i was in San Francisco and Seattle and other places that were founded or grew because of the gold rush, and the old buildings were dedicated to business of the getting rich quick, and there it occurred to me to what extent does the foundation, the raison d’etre of a city in its inception, carry over to modern times.

For me the movement west in search of the ideal has always called, for i too have done it myself, the lure of “go west, young (wo)man” but what has been the ideal – a comfortable life, adventure, riches of gold, the possibility to be free, whatever that means, god. It has been symbolic of a place where you can be both free and safe to live your dreams.

The story of the latter-day saints of seeking to build a Zion, of fleeing persecution for their beliefs, and of finally arriving and building what was to be an ideal place called to me. And so i came to this basin, where they built the temple and called for believers around the world to join them in creating a new zion. for many years that is what they did – design a place that would reflect a living faith on so many levels from the physical design and layout to collective enterprises in an attempt to be self-sufficient.

Once i got here, i realized that part of why salt lake called is that it, in some way, represented the transition from the journeying to the building stage. A journey is a period of travel or movement and of seeking where new horizons continually present themselves. It can be hard and challenging, but it also is a period of growth and renewal, and important transition from one life to another. The pioneer stories are still a prominent feature of the mormon history, dramatic time.

However, the switch from one type of movement of searching to another of creating came about once they found a place. It may not have been ideal, a desert basin, but time comes to say enough, lets stop and build it here. Now according to legend, Bingham Young stood on top of one of the hills and knew or was told by a higher source, that it is here that you are to build. Was it divine inspiration and knowing this is it, and how much of it was weary fatigue, and saying this is the place where it will have to be.

I think this is where it differs from some present journeys where you are looking for a place that already exists and ready-made for you to come and join; here there was nothing, and it represented a palate upon which to build – it was not already there and required vision to believe that it could become something more, something worthy of god here on earth. But then again, how many new frontier exist today in our ever connected and known world? Is it possible to just find a fresh place to transform – a place where you can land fresh? A place where others are not already? But then again, was there ever such a place, for native americans were here already? Is it just the belief in such a place that has disappeared?

Another difference is, that while in the motion of a journey, the pioneers had a home in a community, one without stable roots in the ground, but one of interconnection to one another and to a higher source.

Still once you have stopped there is a shifting of gears – you are no longer searching for the place but you have found it – or rather you have found the locale where you are to build it. Your action changes from seeking and imagining to building and creating. You are now transforming the environment, and although it is a difficult time, you are guided by a higher vision and a concrete as well as abstract purpose and can see the progress you are making. Although they almost starved in the first years, and lived a harsh existence, it is a time that is now romanticized for it calls forth (or back) a higher ideal, and a time when the ideal called forth.

During those initial years this basin was transformed, a city and community and temple were built and thousands upon thousands of pioneers arrived, making arduous journeys of their own, but having a specific destination – of a place that was there, unknown and known at the same time, a place where they would help build and live. They were called forth to help build something greater than themselves and to join with others who had already begun, and were able to do so, making transitions and transformations of their own and thereby transforming the place to where they were called.

During the 1890s there was a switch in policy, where immigration to the new zion was no longer actively encouraged and organized, and instead people were encouraged to stay in their homelands and build there, and go out into the world as missionaries. I see this as a major shift, and this period marks a transition in the history of both the church and the society at large; the abandonment of polygamy, the entry of Utah into the nation and the national expansion in general, the economic downturn that swept across the nation, the end of one century and beginning of another. It also led to the decline of the more collective enterprises, and i believe, the realization that you cannot live totally apart or isolated from that which surrounds. Another century that we have passed through.

Before that time, with the building of the railroads many “others” came for very different reasons and the area was no longer homogeneous in terms of worship. Salt Lake and parts of Utah were no longer only for true believers, for members of the church. And this remains true today; while mormons still predominate in many areas of the state, Salt Lake is a diverse city – but one where you can, at times, feel the original influence of the pioneers – not only in the built material environment, but in terms of an underlying vibe.

Today we see both the search for community building upon common ideals and migrations of so many around the world, of people coming in who you believe are different. In my weeks here i have pondered many questions, many that have been churning beneath the surface on my journeys through the west, through small towns, both ideal and shattered, through divided cities, and intentional communities. Can you build a place for those who share common values? Should you? Can you build such a place and also be connected to the world be it via rail or ideas? Can you change or control the others who come for their own reasons? Can you remain distinct within? should you? What do you need to give up? Is it central to your core or essence, or is it just a minor part of your being? But how does giving up a minor part affect the whole? Do you engage with those “others” who come in? Do you just coexist (to quote a popular bumper sticker) allowing each to remain in their own worlds? Can you? Should you? What do you take in and how do you change? Do you welcome “them” and want them to join you? Do you try to keep them out? Are you afraid that some of you might join them? Do you ever merge and become one? Is it possible that all are transformed, intertwined, but unique? Can you move beyond the notions of “us” and “them” and realize that all definitions and boundaries are fluid and ever-changing and shifting?

This is a dilemma that i see being played out over and over again, not only here, or with many ideal utopian or intentional communities, but all who seek to create a life where you are surrounded by common values, lifestyles and cultures. With the splinterization of society, we see more and more pockets being built, and while you want live in a certain way, can you ever separate yourself or your “group’ and what are the consequences of trying to do that? This is a common theme that runs throughout my thought and i am certain to write more about it.

They mormons also came to Utah not only feeling that they would be free to practice their religion, but that it would also be safe to do so. They had been persecuted and had to flee one locale after another from New York to Missouri to Illinois, attempting to build and then being at times brutally suppressed for being what they were. They fled the nation to what was a land where they could be safe and free, but soon after arrival what was mexican territory was suddenly under the jurisdiction of the united states. Does what you seek to flee eventually find you? And they were not free from persecution in the forms of attacks and legislation. Did they discover that there is no truly “safe” place where you can go? And it asks when is it time to lay down and flee as they did across the land? when is it time to fight and what are the consequences of that – as with the mountain meadow massacre when they attacked a wagon train of pioneers? When do you take a stand? Do you build walls to protect yourself? Can they stand? But just what do you keep out and what do you hold in? Is it what you imagined that you would? And when the walls start to crumble, as they eventually will, just what comes pouring in and rushing out. Or do you spend so much time maintaining those walls, that you neglect to nurture what is inside? And what becomes of those who stand looking at the walls from the outside? Can you just be and let the light shine out? Is it possible when the forces against you will not let up? When do you compromise and how do you do so without giving up?

The temple was finally completed in 1893 and many compromises were made to allow for the continued existence of the church and the society. But from what i sense as an outsider looking in is that the LDS movement was transformed from something quite radical and dynamic to something that is now more staid and conservative. As i went exploring the history it occurred to me more than once, is that while i could not see myself ever joining the church today, i might have been inspired in its earlier days when it seems to be more a movement and a journey rather than a stable institution. But wasn’t that the goal all along? Still, it seemed that something major changed around that time.
With the statement on polygamy i see a shift from building communities to building (and today, maintaining) nuclear families and a focus more on individual behavior with words of wisdom and rules taking on a greater importance, as did obedience to authority. With the separation of church and state (which are still intertwined) the communal aspects of economic togetherness seemed to have faded away.

But i have to ask how much of that came from the specific compromises made and how much of it from the ending of the journey and the building process. Once, the journey kept people engaged and provided a goal and means of togetherness, and then once a place was found, its transformation and building served that role again. But once you have stopped the building, then what do you do? what does life become about? What guides your worship and practical purpose in the here and now? How do you stay connected and inspired? Do you keep building or can you say – yes, this is done. But then what? what do you concern yourself with? You have the building, to go in and worship – is it what you imagined? Are you still connected? Do you feel that you have landed or do you feel a loss? Can you step into what is the next phase? And does it take you along the path, and how does that path transform?

Or do you just try to be and shine your light and encourage others to do so all around? Do you try to build other communities of light around the globe not separate or cut off but within the larger whole? But can you? Is that what this church tries to do through the missionaries and expansion around the world? But can you join with those whose light is different from yours and shine together but unique? Has the ideal changed, or has it just expanded knowing that this planet is so interconnected? But then are we not just building zones? And as one grows does another shrink back? does the energy just move around, rather than being increased to a new vibration for all?

I thought i might answer my questions through the act of writing this, and while i have answered some (for the moment), i find that what i have done is come up with even more questions to be answered.

I began this thinking of my college study of social movements and the progression they go through – from radical idealism to settlement and stability. But how can you stop and still grow and change, how is movement possible within the calm – for all does move, but is much more subtle, and the changes may not be recognized until they have occurred. Can you guide them without trying to cling to the old, without hindering movement and change, without becoming defensive of what you have and closed to all that happens around. Salt Lake is now a modern american city – you can still see and feel the founders, but while the city and area expands, it now does for different reasons, and you can sense a defensiveness and protectiveness of what is here, and at times it is hard to imagine the inspiration, activity and faith that was needed to create what was here. But it is all change.

I still ask can you build a “New Jerusalem” here on earth? While Salt Lake does not seem to be a New Jerusalem at all, and i feel that the goal was abandoned long ago (in terms of american history), i also wonder if that might be a blessing after all. The city is not being torn apart by war and strife as is the holy city in what is currently isreal. But then again, can you not try to do so and is it our abandonment of the quest of building cities and communities for god (however named or defined) that has led to the deadened places and strife around?

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A small detour

A large truck blocked the sidewalk. It was picking up a dumpster and the only way around was to walk in the wide street. I did that on my way to the coffee shop venturing out beside the small stream of traffic that was coming towards me. When i left the truck was still there so i took a small detour and discovered something on the way.

I usually walk down that way to the library, in fact it has become routine. My body automatically turns to the right and down 300E and i walk the street that was new to me three weeks ago no longer really noticing what is there. It is not that i am closed down, but that i am on automatic pilot and thus not fully engaged – unless, of course, there is something so obviously different, or in my way – something that is impossible to ignore.

So when i left i had to break out of the habitual mode and come into the present moment and locale. I could step out into the traffic and walk around the truck, or i could turn the other way. The sun was shining, and to go in the other direction would take me there just as well – it was only a few hundred metres longer after all. So i walked over and down 200 east instead and discovered a street cart selling veggie dogs – in fact the food it sold was entirely vegetarian. “Now so what”, you may say, “it was only a street cart”, but for me it was a discovery – something small – but a discovery nonetheless.

Not only did i get to eat a veggie dog, something that i had been thinking about for a while, but I consciously realized that i had ventured out and discovered. The other day i had been at the library and my tummy rumbled and i wanted something small to eat; i did not want soup from the nearby coffee shop, as good as it is, for a can of soup was to be my dinner that night. I walked up and down the busy avenue – 400 south – that i also know so well -, a place where you feel overwhelmed by the cars, looking for what i could not find, for what i knew was not there. Eventually i hopped on the trax in the free zone, and went for a ride to get a street cart burrito that while tasty did not seem as good to me as it had the times before. Last week when grocery shopping, i had looked at the veggie dogs, something i rarely do, but decided not to buy them as for me it is an occasional treat and is street food. What i had been looking for was there all along but i had not turned to see. Now i know that cart exists, only a block from the library, and i can return there any time. And maybe i will, and it will become part of a new routine, or then again, maybe i won’t.

This might seem like a really small thing, but how often do we find ourselves walking the same path over and over again, more out of habit than anything else. Something that could add to our lives is just around the corner, but we have no idea that it is there. We don’t think to venture out until our path is somehow blocked, even momentarily. It is easy to get agitated and bemoan why must i go around this obstacle (even when another way is clearly there). but if i just say, yes, i can go around, I may find something there. A detour need not be a source of frustration, but can be a journey of discovery.

A detour is not the same as a path being blocked, for we know we can get around, and still get to our destination. While it did not happen here, we might find ourselves headed for entirely different place, to where we were meant to be. (And of course, sometimes a detour is just a detour – nothing more and nothing less )

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