Where is my place in this world? How did I get here? Where am I going?
I find myself at a somewhat strange intersection of spiritual ecology, ecofeminism, indigenous paradigms, a Nature-based epistemology, and all leading to a sacred space of restorative justice for all life on Earth. This is a somewhat “strange” place because I am a “white male,” but the patriarchy of white maleness has never resonated with me, and in fact, it has made me feel ill, full of guilt and shame, and even self-loathing for being what looks like to be the source of many of our world’s problems. This is a “somewhat” strange place because I am becoming much more comfortable with my full humanity, with my masculine and my feminine, with my darkness and my light, and this balancing of my humanness puts me necessarily at the boundaries of a society lost in patriarchy and unhelpful mythology of what it means to be fully human.
I am an Euro-American of mostly Scandinavian descent. My blood is actually three-quarters Norwegian and the rest is German and British. Most of my ancestors came to this country in relatively recent times, but my British kin came to Plymouth in 1623. My recent ancestors were Midwestern farmers, and I carry their love for the dirt within my flowing blood. I was raised on a small farm, and I feel my family’s farming heritage.
Socially, I am a son, brother, uncle, friend of many, enemy of few, heterosexual ex-boyfriend of too many, canine caretaker of one, steward of the Earth, and lover of life and Nature. I am no stranger to conflictual interpersonal relationships, and this painful history has led me to become a transformative leader who is learning to embody a relational model of being, knowing, relating, and doing. I use the pain of the past as motivation in the present, and guidance for the future. In the last several years of my life I’ve done a lot of intrapersonal and interpersonal work that is transforming how I relate with others. As a result of this work I’m currently in the most amazing and healthy intimate relationship I’ve ever experienced, and feel tremendous gratitude for the beautiful woman I’m coupled with. This amazing relationship is not free of challenges, and one of them is the fact we are a biracial couple, she is a Filipina-American. I welcome this challenge, but do not take it lightly, because I know how racially biased our society can be; I know how racist our society truly still is.
Culturally, I feel like a refugee and do not see much of American culture, if there is such a thing, being worthy of passing down. Culture is supposed to help us adapt to the challenges of life on Earth, to give us deeper meaning to this experience of being human, it’s not supposed to help us destroy all life on Earth. Yes, I’m a conflicted resistor of the American way of life. I am “conflicted” because I realize the best way to help change a culture is through maintaining one’s membership as an insider, but I feel like an outsider to this culture that appears to be hell bent on destroying itself through its mindset of domination, white supremacy, and warring.
Politically, I am aware of my “white privilege,” and I realize it is this privileged location that allows me to distance myself from being “white.” I’d like to think I’m not any color, any boxed in category of humanness that reads “essentialist” on the external label, but I know better than that, and see my ability to not regularly have to deal with my racial category as being the very definition of what white privilege really means. Cops actually wave at my white ass! Is this not the ironic epitome of injustice and social inequality? Now when I get a friendly wave from a cop I feel the painful other end of the stick that my black brothers are receiving because of their essential category of belonging. I get smiled and waved at because I’m white, and they get beat and shot because they are black. Why the hell would a police officer wave at me? They don’t know me, but they see me as “the good guy” because I look like most of them.
The flip side to this privilege with the police is a not-so-friendly relation with some Native American men in the northern California area. Over fifteen years ago, I had my life literally threatened by an obviously intoxicated Native man, and when he was yelling at me that he was “going to fucking kill” me, I looked down at the forty caliber Glock handgun I used to carry, and I had to psychologically get ready to shoot him dead. It was a moment of extreme intersubjectivity that I will never forget. Time stood still in that moment. This Native man who was obviously struggling in his life (he was stoned drunk at 8:00AM), sincerely wanted to kill me because of how he perceived me. Luckily I had the time and space to just drive off in my vehicle, and avoided having to use deadly force to defend myself. I’m fully confident that if I would had shot that man dead there would have been very little concern from the local sheriff’s department or the State police who are all very white.
I believe part of the police’s friendly “wave” and the Native man’s death threat are two sides of the same white supremacy, patriarchal, dominator culture that in my younger years I learned how to fit into it for my own survival. I learned long ago how to embody the dominator, how to play the game of patriarchy, how to mirror the dominator and become the poster boy of patriarchy. What does power look like? Okay, I can be that. God, I feel ill. This privilege has a very sharp double-edge to it; this privilege can cut both ways.
Speaking of feeling ill, recently I’ve been introduced to the social understanding of “white fragility,” and this is a voice I’ve been looking for for several years now. The explanation of white fragility speaks to me at a very deep intuitive level, and one I understand much fuller now with my education in psychology, anthropology, and Native American Studies. Being raised in a somewhat racially homogeneous landscape, which is southwestern Oregon with its mysterious lack of Native Peoples, I have not had a lot of lived experience with racial diversity. When I experience white fragility it is as if something alien is in my being, and I wish I could instantly rip it out, but that would only make the problem of racial oppression worse. Through cultural and epistemological humility, I’m learning how to become more resilient within the unbalanced social and racial landscape of American patriarchy and white supremacy.
On the topic of institutionalized oppression and the desire for homogeny. I was baptized and confirmed into the Lutheran Church. I went to Sunday school throughout my youth, and tried not to fall asleep on most Sundays for the first eighteen years of my life. The family deal was that I was obligated to attend church services, of all kinds, until I was an “adult,” and when that day came I didn’t let the door hit me in the ass. At the age of eighteen I left the church, and found solace and my true spirituality in the mountain temples of the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains, and was re-baptized in the raging rivers of the Pacific Northwest. I fired the religious middle-man, and went straight to the source. I found God in Nature; I found Nature in God; I found God in myself, and I realized that “God” is just another name for the living universe that is an ongoing creative process. Now, I realize the difference between religious teachings and religious institutions, the former holds priceless ancient wisdom, and the latter is corrupted by modern foolishness.
Along with finding “God” in Nature, I also found a career in leading others into my church. My early attempts at conforming to the institution of higher education resulted in further alienation to a humanly constructed system, which made little sense to me. At the age of twenty I decided to pursue a career as an outdoor adventure leader, and found my sanity, my life’s purpose, and a deeper meaning to this being human thing in the Wilds. This ability to “choose” to become an outdoor adventure leader is another example of the privileged life I’ve been lucky enough to lead. Over the course of my career’s development I’ve benefited from many forms of “family financial aid,” which helped me to become a leader in my field of leaders. Now I am using my privilege, power, influence, and authority to help transform the human systems of modernity that have become perversions of culture and are leading us to a collective form of self-destruction.
My place as an outdoor adventure leader has brought me great diversity in experiences. I’ve lead all kinds of adventures: whitewater rafting; kayaking in lakes, rivers, and ocean; mountain biking; fishing; skiing; and hiking. I’ve taught avalanche safety and rescue in snowy mountains, and I’ve taught swiftwater rescue in raging rivers. My students of swiftwater rescue taught me to be humble enough to always be open to the teachings of one’s students, because my students were some of the most highly trained rescue technicians in the world. Their badges read organizational names like: NASA, US Air Force Para Rescue, US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, and lots of talented professional fire fighters, police officers, and river guides. It was also in teaching these elite teams of rescuers, which were usually of the alpha white male type, that I learned how to hone my own skill of patriarchy dominance. In a culture of dominance, the leader learns how to dominate anyone. I learned how to psychologically dominate anyone. The river was my “muscle” that did the tough guy work. I learned a lot from these experiences, and I’m grateful that it is in my past, not in my future as a transformative leader.
After years of struggling to make a living as an outdoor adventure leader, and the family financial aid had finally been denied, I decided to try my luck at being a farmer, a farmer of marijuana. Southern Oregon is known for its killer green bud, and I found myself living the life of a successful outlaw. This was an easy choice because of my comfort with existing on the margins of society, and my ability to discern between legality and morality, but the stress of living a lie finally caught up with me and I decided the money was not worth my integrity. So I quit. I quit growing and making lots of cash, and decided to pursue a more meaningful life of spiritual and academic inquiry. This “choice” to quit growing was actually not a choice, but the obvious path forward after a spiritual awakening on the Hatha yoga mat. When one wakes up there is often no choosing what needs to be done, only moving forward deeper into awareness.
Since I returned to academia, I’ve learned a lot about this being human. I’ve learned why that Native man wanted to kill me. I’ve learned his great grandfather may have been hung from a tree for no other reason than he was an Indian and in the way of White progress. I’ve learned the ugly truth about why the police view me as a “good guy” and anyone of color as a potential “bad guy.” I’ve learned through my spiritual inquiry that I no longer need any guns, because “Where could I ever go?” Yes, I’ve changed a lot in recent years, and I hope I keep on transforming.
From this place where I am currently located, I can see my standpoint as an ongoing creative process. I can see how my multitude of identity has been formed through a dialectical relationship of intersubjectivity with many types of diversity. Just as my identity is a social construction – I am who you say I am, and you are who I say you are – I see my standpoint as being highly permeable to the historical pathway of my development as a human being. My recent studies in Transformative Leadership are helping me to transform my standpoint into a place where I can effectively and ethically help the world with our crisis of perception and relationship. I see my future standpoint as being one that speaks a voice for the need of the resacralization of our relationships, to each other and to the Earth. As of March 29th, 2016, this is my standpoint, and thank you for considering it.
My family of origin with all of its extensions. Photo taken in at a Scherfenberg (mother’s father’s name) family reunion in 2003 on the Oregon Coast.