Goatwalking 1 - Jim Corbet


The most attractive surroundings removed from consumption and busyness will be a hell for you. To discover the uses of uselessness you must be reborn into the present.


"My first marriage ended after five years and I lost my three children. The possibility of a family breakup never occurred to me. Without warning or good-bye, they were gone. I withdrew. When I didn't need to tend cattle, I stayed out on the Black Bear slope of Miller Peak, high in the Huachucas, in the Arizona -Sonoran borderlands. I began learning Malay, a language I'd never heard, spoken on the other side of the world by a people I'd never met. Then I went to the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, where people wouldn't expect me to understand them. Then I went to the San Francisco Bay Area, where there was a good supply of library books written in Malay.


Sitting in the cheapest room I could find in Berkeley, I often concentrated on my heartbeat. When I concentrated on it, the stillness expanded and each beat became a sudden clutching, to keep from slipping away into final stillness. Each beat let me know that my heart still cared enough to clutch for life. As caring withered, the stillness grew and the clutching weakened.


About a month passed. Then, late one night as I sat waiting with indifference for each next beat of my heart, I realized it was slowing much more than ever before, to a stop. The last strands of caring gave way. I let go.


Out of the stillness that I thought was death, love enlivened me - or something like love that doesn't split, the way love does, into loving and being loved.


I gave away everything that I didn't need, acquired a copy of the New Testament, and left Berkeley, hitchhiking. For a week or two I wandered. Everywhere, I saw I'd been living in conjured make-believe, yet I had no new beliefs. It was more like having always seen an optical illusion one way that seems meaningless and then seeing exactly the same relations another way that's completely meaningful. On the basis of quite limited information and no familiarity, I guessed I must have turned Quaker. Finding myself in Los Angeles, I located a Quaker meeting, attended, and decided that I had.


I hadn't become a Christian. I'd become a Christian, briefly when I was nine, because a preacher said that was how to live forever. I'd eagerly tried to bend my mind to accept everything he said I had to believe. I also read the Bible, doggedly and with limited comprehension, from cover to cover. After almost a year of saying I believed, I decided anyone who actually did believe would follow Jesus. But I had no more intention than anyone else I knew of following the way revealed by Jesus of Nazareth.


Even a child has the prudence to see that believers lose nothing if wrong, but unbelievers lose everything. . . . . But even a child can tell the difference between prudent pretense and genuine belief. Faith built on cost-benefit analysis is a conjurer's trick.


The Christian beliefs I'd learned about when I was nine were of practical relevance only to rewards and punishments, but reward has nothing to do with the faith that had opened for me in Berkeley. This faith fullness is active dedication to fulfilling the covenant to become a people that hallows the earth, regardless of cost or failure; it has nothing to do with maintaining an unshakable belief, regardless of improbability or absurdity. . . . . Even after I turned Quaker, Christianity remained poisoned for me by the New Testament's emphasis on rewards. It would be many years before I began learning to read the Book of Job as the capstone of the Greek as well as the Hebrew books of the Bible.


Goatwalking is a way to learn about hiding the world in the world in desert solitudes that I know as home. It's no sham; I do tell of what I know from personal discovery. Yet, I can't include the vital first lesson that starts it all. The first lesson is where everyone starts: despair that clears the way. The Buddhists call it "the First Truth," universal suffering. Everyone tries to take possession, hiding little things in big ones, and we all fail.


Until I was almost fifty, I used Taoist and Buddhist traditions to provide a cultural context for goatwalking. I never sought guidance from the Bible. (Joshua's genocides and Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac were the parts of the Hebrew Bible that I remembered most vividly from my childhood reading.) Yet, I couldn't avoid seeing that the way had already been blazed. Goatwalking reenacts the history of the prophetic faith. Contrary to my preconceptions and aversions, goatwalking is biblical - even liturgically biblical.


Goatwalking opened the way for me to read the Bible in the present, as covenanting in which I, as much as Joshua and Paul, am a participant. Learning to read the Bible in the present is the key to participation in the prophetic faith. All of us gathered here today stand at Sinai.


. . . The covenant - to become a holy people - requires that a hallowing way of life be established somewhere, in a specific land; the people covenants to hallow the earth through its way of life. As faithful errantry unwilling to settle for make-believe, Zionism is inseparable from the covenant; cimarron generation raised in the desert therefore crossed the Jordan to take and settle Cannan.


To learn why you feel compelled to remake and consume the world live alone in wilderness for at least a week. Take no books or other distractions. Take simple, adequate food that requires little or no preparation. Don't plan things to do when the week is over. Don't do yoga or meditation that you think will result in self improvement. Simply do nothing.


Isolation distresses all social animals. To distinguish the human craving for company from the cultural compulsion to remake and consume your surroundings, go out afterward with congenial companions. When you want to be alone, seek solitude; when you want companionship, seek company. Just cease to intervene and plan. Do nothing but celebrate the goodness of the Creation if you can.


. . .Awakening into the fullness of the present yields unrestrained intimacy; awakening into the present is communion; but one awakens from despair, not from self-gratification. Despair shouldn't be cultivated, just allowed to surface. Being useless uncovers despair, and the same empowerment occurs when the optimist ceases to grasp the future, when the mourner ceases to grasp at the past, or when the bereft ceases to grasp at what might have been.

Goatwalking 2 - Jim Corbet


For the nomadic hunter-gatherer or pastoralist, wealth is created by sun, rain, and soil. To think of one's life as time to be invested or to sacrifice the present to an uncertain future is foolishness for man-in-nature; it is as obvious that life is a gift. . . .


Students of mysticism often assume the mystic is a romantic who seeks seclusion in nature for its peace and quiet, that intense meditation is possible only in such surroundings free from the noise and physical distractions of civilized life. Actually, most of us can be much more isolated from physical distractions in our own homes-eliminating noise by using earplugs of other devices if necessary - than we can be in natural settings subject to the vagaries of weather, insects, and the numerous variety of life and activity always present in wild lands. Mystics seek seclusion outside society because a person addicted to social busyness cannot become adequately detached, and the most direct way to break the addiction is to withdraw from society. Having arrived at some measure of detachment, a person might return to society without suffering a relapse, but the person who has never experienced solitude can't even understand his addiction or the nature of detachment.


Attachment - as used here, synonymous with greed or self-centered craving - is the emotional analogue of delusion. Intellectually, our alienated condition is the result of delusion; emotionally it is the result of greed.


Greed feeds on the continual busyness of the man-made world. Withdrawal from this busyness is necessary if one is to begin developing the detachment that comes from an elimination of selfish craving. To be detached, in this sense, does not mean the elimination of involvement. The mystic seeks total involvement, unlimited relationship, complete intimacy, inclusive empowerment. Detachment is freedom from the self-centering that destroys our ability to relate.


At one time or another most of us want to get away from it all to live a simple, natural life in seclusion, but this escapist urge and the romantic images associated with it have little to do with the true nature of solitude. Wandering purposeless and without human companionship, one sometimes experiences emotional crises that are in some respects similar to culture shock and in other respects similar to cabin fever - culture shock from social vacuum rather than social displacement, cabin fever in the sense that one finds unrelieved association with one's self intolerable. Sigmund Freud's claim that repression is the price of civilization seems to work in reverse. In the absence of socially supported identities we may discover ourselves possessed by naked demons who have the good manners to appear only in acceptable disguises when we are in polite society. During extended periods of isolation working as a sheepherder and cowboy, I discovered little of this kind of emotional conflict. After all, I was doing a job and earning a living. Each day had its work and objectives, and if I was separated from human society I was still of it. But in full solitude - free and easy wandering without purpose or schedule - the demons appear.


. . . Old wounds become fresh injuries. Unresolved terrors become immediate threats. I've come awake in the close darkness of a cloudy new-moon night, sobbing from an early-childhood rejection, so overcome with its lasting presence that I could only gradually remember my way back into middle age. I've come awake old and senile, awaiting death with dumb, motionless panic. There are good dreams, too, but they come during times of brightly intense wakefulness.


. . . To take the step beyond life in time, one must overcome the delusion of possession - on the dream side, of being possessed; on the waking side, of possessive busyness.


The Buddha advised that speculative theorizing is a waste of time, that what he could teach about the way to selflessness is strictly empirical, embodied in practices leading to direct insight. Mysticism usually rejects speculation and clears away preconceptions because nothing meaningful can be said about the ultimate source of meaning; definition is meaning's heir, not its parent. Can life be meaningful? Only if we are active participants in the Creation. Can the possessing self be the source of meaning? Whatever I try to possess is gone the moment I grasp at it. Can the elimination of self-centering open the way for meaningful living? This is a matter of personal discovery, not propositional proof, of cocreativity rather than entailment, of life rather than doctrine.


Errantry means sallying out beyond a society's established ways, to live according to one's inner leadings. This looks like, and in a sense is, madness - Quixote's Madness. Both the lunatic and the visionary create a life outside the ready-made roles prescribed by their society, adjustment to these roles constituting a society's understanding of sanity. As social animals, ants are invariably sane, but human beings are typically alienated.


Our anxiety, restlessness, make-believe, compulsive intervention, freedom, and creativity are all rooted in the reflective awareness that distinguishes human kind. We aren't called to cure alienation by destroying reflective awareness with drugs, discipline, or meditation. The world has enough ants. Mere survival would constitute adaptation if we were simply living creatures. As life becomes reflective, we must choose either to adapt demonically, or by trying to possess the world, or prophetically, by actively participating in creation.


In its quest of full communion, errantry neither waits for recruits nor compromises to gain allies. It shrugs off the arguments of all theological or political parties, each of which claims to have discovered the right way to fracture time and the world into good ends and effective means. It is therefore an insecure, impolitic, minority way of life. Errantry disdains adaptive pretense, majoritarian morality, and all politic forms of solidarity because it is based on the Quixote Principle: To open the way, a cultural breakthrough need not involve masses of people but must be done decisively by someone.


Errantry's archenemy, "the Conjurer," substitutes a symbolic appearance for the lived actuality, contriving a name to replace the quest. Conjuring often takes the form of organized relation. For example, in a society at war with man and nature, a religion of peace and love might be fantasized into creeds, rituals, and other worlds while its professed adherents continued to live by conquest. The Conjurer also deludes both the religious and the irreligious into assuming that errantry, rather than conjured make believe, is the fantasy. This contrast has to do with two radically different meanings of faith: For errantry, faith is fulfilled here and now as cocreativity; for conjuring, one's faith is professed rather than lived, as a belief in good goals to which the living present is a sacrifice.



Jim Corbet - Goatwalking