Porous to Life

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I only know one way to keep or regain a passion for life.

The word is porous.

Porous 

Permeable

Able to be penetrated by

Capable of being drenched all the way through

Vulnerable

There are as many ways of living as there are humans, but there are two main ways of being which determine how much we can absorb of this thing called life:

Open or Closed.

You and I, well, here we are. We were born naked and shivering. I was and so were you. Tabulae rasa–soft, fragile blank slates. We had no choice except to experience everything.

At first we screamed and pooped and crawled around and stuck our fingers into wall sockets, potted plants, ant hills, and that jar of delicious face cream on mother’s vanity stand in the bedroom. We crayoned walls and family heirlooms, we stripped out of our diapers and wandered around the front yard delighted by the grass tickling our naked skin.

Before long, though, we learned. We ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and nothing could ever be the same again. One bite at a time we discovered how unsafe it was to be a walking, talking experiencer-of-everything.

Remember the time you were jumping around, telling a story and suddenly noticed that they weren’t looking at you? Their eyes were glassing over and maybe you caught the shake of a head or a cruel little laugh barely veiled.

But you learned. Oh, yes you did, and so did I.

And in the learning, began to close the portals of ourselves. One at a time, in subtle, quiet ways, we plugged those chinks in the armor.

The armor was heavy but it was safe inside there. We learned how to block out experiences and how to numb ourselves against pain and fear.

You’ve seen them, these armored souls. They grow shells of spirituality or cynicism or optimism or whatever other -ity or -ism they use to keep out the freezing rains of life. 

You know them because you can only ever talk to the outside of this shell. You ask a question. Something curious, an invitation to tell you something true. What you get in return is a mantra–a memorized phrase designed to fend off your thrust of interest. It can appear so beautiful, too. An elegant, sugarcoated,wise-sounding response is often as much a shield as anything hard or brutal might be.

We can’t blame them or ourselves for cladding the tender, passionate spirit of us in this way, either. Though it limits our movement, this unporous armor keeps out the badness of life–helps us feel safe enough to get out of bed and mingle with those terrifying others out there.

But it’s no way to live. If someone told you that they would keep you safe, feed you every day and be sure that nothing would alarm you so long as you would agree to live inside a prison cell with only that one high barred window showing a patch of sky, would you do it?

Probably not.

Because what is a life of safety if it means cutting off our senses? Would you cut off your arms to guarantee that you’d never be burned or put out your eyes to be sure that you could not see ugliness?

But this is what we do to our spirits in tiny, invisible ways every day when we choose Closed instead of Open.

So what does it mean to live porously?

  • It means remembering to (as often as possible) unbuckle the armor and step out of it into naked experience.

  • Look strangers in the eye.

  • Say that honest thing which has been hiding inside but, if said, will set you free.

  • Speak a non-rhyming, spontaneous poem at the sunrise.

  • Read a book which goes exactly opposite of all your beliefs.

  • Stand on the ridge of a hill and let the wind blast your face, then imagine that your body isn’t a solid block but able to let everything blow through.

  • Risk loving deeply.

  • Do something uncalculated and stay absolutely curious because that intense, passionate child living inside you just wants to know what happens next.

Oh, and much more important than any list of ideas I might offer, the main thing is to take this moment–the one right here–and swan dive into it without looking first.

Just ask, “What feeling is this?” then say, “Oh, hello Feeling. Tell me all about yourself. I know you won’t stay here long but you have so much to teach me.”

In the real world, I’ve learned to notice my body and the signals it sends. If I sense my jaw clench or my body contract, that’s a sign to remind me that I’m closing down on something which hurts or I am afraid to feel. This reminds me to take a deep breath, and open my body and mind to whatever has showed up in this moment. Opening, opening, opening…again and again. Body, mind and spirit.

And what is the payoff for living like this? There must be some great reward or it wouldn’t be worth the risk.

The reward is death.

Death of boredom. Death of fear. Death of that petrified shell which keeps everything and everyone out. Death of what is not alive. Death of cynicism. Death of death.

And when you, I, we begin to live this way, we change the world. Because the world is begging for change, but not merely for change’s sake. It wants to remember. It wants to recover what came before the first bite of that fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It wants to know that it can use all the experiences and learnings but somehow regain its senses.

Don’t do it for the world, though. That’s too big, too much to ask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children. Do it because there’s no other way to “…live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”.

The only real question any of us must ask if we wish to live in this way is, “can I keep opening myself to myself again and again, as long as I live?”

You know porous people as soon as you meet them. It isn’t that they are always nice, or make you feel good. The thing is, they’re real. They’ll look in your eyes and ask you an honest question. They are quick to laugh at themselves. They are raw, they listen, they watch. They have courage to get up in the morning and do what must be done whether they feel like it or not. They go all in. They try things. They fail faster. If you are reading this, you are probably one of those people.

“You can’t know this right now, but…your ragged, rugged honesty…your crazy, passionate, naked vulnerability…your trusting plunge into the unknown of Life at every turn…your journey of love and healing…these change your world, the world of those around you and the world as a whole.Someday you’ll know how important you are.”

jacob-nordby

jacob-nordby

Jacob Nordby is a storyteller, thinker, and adventure seeker whose many quests have led him to a deep fascination with life in all of its weird splendor. He has written the award winning novel, The Divine Arsonist, and a non-fiction title, Blessed Are the Weird - A Manifesto for Creatives.

What Is The American Dream

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I have had an uneasy relationship with America for almost a decade. Before that I was as flag-waving as anyone else, and more than most.

That changed when I began to see a world without borders. I spent some years feeling that we would be a lot better off as a species if we could live together on this round planet without all the artificial lines of nationalism to divide us.

I am also gut-sick over what the ethos of America has become. We have strayed, it seems, from the rugged, creative, dynamic spirit which inspired people from around the world to land on these shores and start something from scratch. Instead, we have slouched our way into believing that being Americans means an entitlement to being the biggest (and I do mean biggest in every way–just look at the average waistline on this continent), most badass consumers on the planet. Somehow we have come to believe that we have a right to scarf down every resource in sight to fuel our lifestyle.

Couple that with a long, honest look back at how we occupied the territory now known as America and it is hard to avoid feeling shame about the atrocities and genocides we committed along the way.

We haven’t stopped committing atrocities in the name of our most holy America, either. We are doing it in different places around the world right now. Some of our transgressions are sins of commission. Others are sins of omission. 

We wave the flag, drop bombs and cheer for ourselves. Our constant quest for more resources and more control creates imbalances and power vacuums that cause tremendous misery in real people’s lives around the world. We ignore them.

The most unconscious of us yell some equivalent of, “‘Merica…fuck yeah!” whenever we prove that we are God’s chosen people to reign over the earth. I get sick when people talk about how “…our boys are over there defending our freedom,” when what they are really doing is engaging in corporate warfare. I don’t question the heroism and loyalty of our soldiers, but I can’t handle the blind nationalism which keeps us believing that we are doing something honorable and pride worthy most of the time.

All of that being said, and as disheartening as it can be, I am convinced there is a lot more to the story.

In my search to find out if there was anything worth saving about America, I learned a lot about human nature and about the magnificent intentions of those who designed the foundation for this country.

First, the fact is that humans have not yet evolved past the need for boundaries and national identities. We just haven’t. We are headed that direction, but it is a horizon we have not yet reached. To pretend otherwise is to argue with reality.

Second, those who drafted the blueprint for America were imperfect from our two-hundred-years-later perspective. They owned slaves, approved slaughters and did otherwise horrible things from our current vantage point. That does not diminish the fact that they helped start the most ambitious experiment in human history. In their times, they were the most progressive thinkers around.

This land of ours is a laboratory. We are all involved in adding chemicals, turning up the heat under test tubes and otherwise messing around to see if a theory called Human Freedom can be viable.

The spirit of America is not a license to live like great alimentary canals with mouths full of teeth, mindlessly chewing up luxuries and gorging ourselves on shiny lifestyles at the expense of the world, then stomping on anyone who protests. That is a direct violation of what our founders meant to create when they signed their names, lives and sacred honor to a document which declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

From where I sit, holding an American passport is like carrying orders that read, “I am an American. I have a responsibility to use the mind-boggling freedom and riches in ways that will honor the creator potential in all humans. I have been given opportunities to live my life in peace and safety, with all the resources I need to craft a magnificent life. It is my job to prove myself worthy of this and to treat the rest of the world with humility, respect and honor as they also seek to gain the freedoms which come so easily to me. I have a sacred duty to live in joy and spread the possibility of this wealth for the benefit of everyone everywhere.”

The American dream is beautiful when it wakes us from our sleep and reminds us that we are living, breathing participants in the greatest social experiment ever.

How will the world and our own lives appear if we pursue happiness with responsibility and the full understanding of exactly how amazing all of this is?

Calling All Reluctant Heroes

I’m sitting here in a warm coffee shop on a Monday morning while my hometown of Boise, Idaho wakes up. It’s cold outside but this place is comfortable and friendly.

It’s hard for me to believe that just outside these doors and across the “sweet land of liberty” known as America there is a ferocious war going on. This is a battle for our collective soul. It’s a great question that we are struggling to answer about who we really are and if we are willing to step out of comfort zones to prove it.

Truth is, I hate war. War is stupid. War leaves wreckage behind it. I want no part of the battle that pits families and friends against each other and spills their blood on the soil.

I’m reluctant to say anything. I have achieved a comfortable recluse status and I enjoy my life of writing and teaching and nature and friends and thinking. If I stand and pick up my sword to fight—to speak out about right and wrong—I know what it will mean. It will mean the end of comfortable neutrality.

Know what I mean?

In the Blessed Are the Weird book, I wrote a chapter titled "Misfits". Here’s a paragraph that is taking on new meaning for me:

One of the primary archetypes in many legends is the Reluctant Hero. A reluctant hero is an ordinary man or woman—usually with a great wound or chaotic past that makes them resistant to any idea that they might be worthy to perform acts of heroism or service. During the tale, they are called into action against their protests. They rise to the occasion, and although they are often beaten and bloody by the story’s end, they avenge a wrong or vanquish a foe. They often deal with inner demons, weaknesses, and doubts about whether or not they will succeed in their mission. Their misgivings, insecurities, and general ordinariness allow us to identify with them and believe that perhaps we, too, might be heroes-in-waiting.

What I’m suggesting here is that you and I are being called out of our comfort to be the heroes we've been waiting for.

This is actually our time. Right now.

But if that’s true, what can we do?  If you are at all like me, you can have your heart stirred by burning rhetoric and then go home later and wonder, “Now what?”

I can’t sit here and write out a policy prescription that will fix the broken mess that we face. I’m not a politician and generally loathe political discussions because it means expending tremendous energy on a cynical game when the real action is happening somewhere else, behind the scenes.

I do know that sitting comfortably on the sidelines is no longer an option. I do know that sharing political memes isn’t enough. Having outraged conversations with likeminded friends won’t do the trick.

Truth is, I don’t want to mess with it. I’m mostly libertarian—live and let live. Know what I mean?

The trouble right now is that we have to “mess with it.”

This brings to mind an exchange between Frodo and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This isn’t happening in some other place or time. It’s now. It’s here.

For me, this is not a political issue. It’s not Democrat or Republican, Left or Right. It’s not Hillary or Trump. 

This is a human problem.

We are asking ourselves whether or not we have learned any goddamned thing over the last twenty or thirty thousand years—anything at all.

The truth is, the world wants its soul back.

A great and deadly menace has arrived at the borders of Middle Earth.

The only way to stand up against the tsunami of fear and soullessness is to get radically clear about the most basic things that make us human, and then refuse to take any action that violates our birthright.

It’s lovely to live in our version of Tolkein’s Shire; enjoying a way of life that is envied by the rest of the world, sleeping peacefully in our beds at night, sipping lattes at Starbucks, and letting the people “over there” deal with their problems.

But our time is calling for heroes—quiet, reluctant, peace-loving heroes—to stand up and decide. We have to decide what it means to have a soul.

Many of us say that we believe in love. We hum along when John Lennon sings “…imagine all the people, sharing all the world… yoohooo-ooooo.” We want the world to be a better place.

Now it’s time to prove that we want that more than our own comfort.

“But how?” I can hear everyone who cares asking, “How?”

I don’t know, but I do know that we have to ask that question over and over again until "what" and "how" becomes clear.

If you are hearing this call to stand up, rather than just throwing up your hands at the enormity of what we face, please join me in asking

  • What makes me human?

  • What do I love?

  • What will I never give up?

  • What requires me to say ‘no!’?

  • What am I willing to die (and live passionately) for?

  • What shall I do?”

Ask these questions over and over again until the shape of right action emerges from the smoke and fog of war—until we know for sure what must be done.

You are a hero-in-waiting. You and I were born in such times and now is when we can choose to shine.

As Tolkein said in the voice of the wise old wizard Gandalf, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Jacob Nordby is an award winning novelist, essayist, and podcast host. He is the author of the new release, Blessed Are the Weird - A Manifesto for Creatives. He leads a worldwide conversation on social media via his Facebook author page and Blessed Are the Weird community page. He is the founder and teacher of the Creative UnBootcamp online course for writers (and those who want to be), and founder of the indie press Manifesto Publishing House.

Irreducible

Irreducible

by Jacob Nordby

What's left of me cannot be reduced any further.

This lump in my throat, this ache in my heart. The irreducible emptiness in bed next to me. This love and everything that I am and always have been, but am now carved down to the essentials of it.

I’m naked. Irreducible. Can’t take any more clothes off. Exposed. I walk around in the world this way, behind a swaddle of the things I hide behind. A smile, my shoulders square, facing the wind and sun.

My eyes. Irreducible.

Inexorable in asking everything.

Why?

Who are you?

What’s left here?

This beauty and everything, the breathing and talking.

What's left of me is irreducible. 

That means it is strong.

That means that I am walking on the ground with these bare feet, feeling the good earth and the sharp gravel and grass. 

Strong. Simple. Distilled. Lacking the fluff, the small talk, the layer of static that makes everyone comfortable.

And I woke up at 3 am again but couldn't sleep, which is how it sometimes is and I don't mind, really, if I can find something to enjoy at an hour like this that won't also destroy me. 

So I watched the first episode of the last season of Rectify. That beautiful show about a man who lost himself in solitary confinement for twenty years and is now trying to find a way, a place, a self in this world.

He's living in a halfway house this season. Far from home. Banished from his native state. The man who runs the home is Ray.

I won't try to tell the whole story here but you can read a pretty good write up about it in this other person's article on Culturess.com.

But Ray catches Daniel coming back in from a devastatingly awkward day in the world. He won't let Daniel slip away into his room. Not yet. They need to talk.

Daniel resists. No one could possibly understand him, he thinks. He has suffered the loss of self so deeply in the traumas of his past that he doesn't have any idea who he is—at least not in the easy, seamless way that most people unreflectively see themselves.

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ray

In fact, accused of a crime that he most likely did not commit (that question, itself, is part of the tension that this series delivers so well) and locked in a solitary confinement death row cell since his teen years, he isn't even sure whether he did or did not murder the girl. Isn't sure about his own mind and what it is telling him. Isn't sure if maybe he has accepted the story about himself that others, with their own agendas, have told him.

Ray asks the devastating question, "Do you deserve to live?"

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daniel

Daniel just shakes his head, looks away, tears now running down his cheeks.

Ray doesn't stop. "After all you've been through. After all that punishment. After all that suffering. Your one life. Do you deserve to live it? And just because you don't remember or know for sure whether you killed that girl or not... that doesn't mean you did it, either. Right?"

Daniel gives a tiny, reluctant nod.

"Maybe you ought to lean the other way for awhile. That you didn't do it," Ray says.

He closes, "This may sound hokey as shit, but... you gotta figure out some way to love yourself."

And that is the irreducible truth. Right there.

You gotta figure out some way to love yourself. You gotta figure out some way to forgive—and be forgiven, too. You gotta figure out some way to believe that maybe you are innocent and deserve a place in this world.

And there's no possible way that can happen without the terrible process of reduction that scrapes and burns everything away down to the charred bones of our souls; down to the living, solid realization that we are, in fact, real. That we cannot be reduced away. That we are here and deserve to be. That we belong.

I do.

You do.

We do. We deserve to live this life. Live it well. Live it as the art it can be. Live it with radical love and with the roots of us digging deeply into the soil of life and being nourished by it.

Whatever we have done to get here (to this moment); whatever coping or covering or flinching or running we've done to survive... we deserve healing. We deserve to forgive ourselves. We deserve to live.

You can't be reduced to a set of facts and stats on a sheet about your life. You are not the sum of your mistakes. You are not an equation that must forever work out the balance of painful karma. None of us is.

We deserve laughter and love and the thunder roll heartbeat of knowing for sure that we are doing it all the way.

That is the irreducible truth.

Jacob Nordby lives in Boise, Idaho.