Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wolf Rules: Attending the Bones



I discovered this printed piece on the General Wolf Rules for Life, 25 years or more ago. I don't remember where I found it; it was a flyer, or an advertisement, or an article reprint. I was so captivated by it, it made so much sense to me, it was so right and true in an almost totemic sense, that I cut it out and saved it. I remember that at one point I made my own artwork around it: a flyer with clipart illustrations and this text; I may still have a copy of that somewhere, although it's probably 15 years or so ago that I made it.

Last week I was going through my box of old journals, looking for something else—looking for my poem journal from my teens, wherein I wrote my first hidden, furtive homoerotic poems, when I was 16 or 17 years old—and I found the Wolf Rules again, tucked inside the endpapers of one of my old journals.

I have thought about these Wolf Rules over the years. I look back on my life, and I realize that the Wolf Rules express my core values better than any formalized doctrine from any institutional religious tradition I've ever known. They resonate with those decentralized, informal, nature-centered religious traditions that I have been attracted to, at various times, from Native American paths to Taoism to Wicca to post-Christian creation-centered spiritual traditions. The lineage is Paleolithic. I hold very old values, not new ones. Not pre-human values, but values grounded in the earth, in living on the earth as part of the earth, not separate from it. These take us all the way back to our unitary consciousness, to the epoch of the bicameral mind, to the sacred heart of the shamans doing their healings by firelight, starlight, and moonlight.

The Christian doctrine of the "Fall" into "original sin" paradoxically raises many humans in their own esteem as placed above the Earth, separate from it, not part of it. It is this separation that many eco-centered poets—the bards of the earth herself—have rejected, from Robinson Jeffers to Gary Snyder, among others. Jeffers reminded us that our place in existence is not at its pinnacle, but among its creatures; Snyder reminds us that Paleolithic values of interdependence and husbandry are not radical, but ancient. If poetry is a way, which it is, then poets such as these are its way-keepers.

These Wolf Rules for Life make more sense to me, even now, than many other formulations. There is a no-bullshit logic to them about what really matters. (The rest is mind-drama.) I realize that in my own way I've been living by them. I rove often, I cavil in moonlight, I attend to the bones, I make love, and I howl when I need to, sometimes from loneliness, other times from joy. Howling is a connection, a way of communicating. What is singing in a chorus but enacting the howl? What is writing but the howl? Tuning my ears has always come natural and easy—both in terms of literally tuning my ears, as a musician whose sense of pitch and timbre have always been precise and accurate, and also as someone who listens. I have always been hypersensitive to my sonic environment, aware of every sound, aware of their signal-to-noise ratio.

Attending to the bones means remembering my history, remembering where I've been. It also means knowing what lies where. Where my caches and special places are. I rove between my personal sacred places every time I get in the truck and do a roadtrip. My caches of bones are scattered far and wide, and I attend to them each time I travel, as well as when I'm at home.

Rendering loyalty is so fundamental to my worldview I rarely talk about it. it's just assumed. If you're my true friend, my have my loyalty, and I'll do anything for you that's within my power to do. I remember once, in a sweat lodge, when all the people in that dark and hot womb were invited to speak out loud the qualities we wanted to invite into the lodge, I remember speaking out with a voice much bolder than usual, "Come, fierceness and loyalty!" That outcry rippled around the lodge, with something more than usual force, it felt to me. I knew I was speaking a profound truth from a profound, ancient place within myself. A totemic place, a Wolf place.

Loving the children is something I've always done, even though I have no children of my own. I like kids, and kids seem to like me. Even kids shy around strangers often come up to greet me, at dinner parties and gatherings of family. Kids have pretty good radar about who they can trust, who genuinely cares for them. I remember a time when a friend's child came up and sat in my lap as I was working on the computer; just quietly sat there, asking nothing, just being present. I continued to work, and he just sat and watched for awhile, then eventually wandered off. I felt fiercely protective in that moment; a feeling I don't often get to feel often for specific people, but which I generally feel about the clan-circle of people who I care about, who are my adopted families, who are my close friends. And I feel protective of those my circle cares about, including the children.

Eating. Well, I'll come out of the closet, finally, as a foodie. I love food. I love all kinds of food. I love cooking, and I love eating. I have dietary restrictions now, because of my health, and I have known foods that I'm allergic to, or that trigger bowel irritations I'd rather avoid. I've been enjoying reading through roving chef Anthony Bourdain's books, and quite enjoying them. I know that I can't eat half of the foods that he loves to eat, because of my health issues; but what we have in common is a lust for life, a lust for good food, and a love of great cooking, no matter where we find, no matter who does it. I have memories of great meals at roadside foodstands in central Java, where I was the only foreigner eating amongst the neighborhood locals: saté-skewered grilled meats and tubes of sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf doused with ketchap sauce. My own neighborhood in central Surakarta was renowned for its many foodstalls, and I knew several of them intimately, or at least had tried everything on their menus. I love to cook, and I've become a pretty good chef. I have no pretensions to being a chef, and I have not the technique of a culinary institute graduate. But I love to cook, and that's what it's all about.

The Wolf Rule it's taken me the longest time to learn was to rest. It goes against the grain of my natural impatience, which is driven by the anxiety I've always felt that time is running out, and there's so much more I want to accomplish before my time is up. A sense of mortality I've always had, from a very young age. Perhaps it came from seeing dead bodies when I was a boy in India—those images of bodies being burned on the ghats at the side of the sacred river; those beggarfolk in the street who finally let go and pass over—perhaps it came from seeing my own grandparents pass over in my teens. It doesn't really matter. I've always been impatient. I deal with it all the time. And I've learned a great deal of patience, especially in certain arenas, and it's taken me a long time to learn it. I remember the "Weird Al" Yankovic ant-mellow parody song, "I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead." That could have been my theme song, at one point in my life. I still appreciate passion, the lust for life. Sometimes I've only learned to rest only because my physical body forced me to stop, and rest, and take care of myself: take a pause. In recent years, though, I've learned the value of rest. Of sitting in the morning sunlight, sipping my orange juice, not thinking about anything in particular, meditating, whatever. The virtue of doing nothing. Rest is recharging, revitalizing, refreshing. What a wolf knows that we could all stand to know is how to rest, in the moment: to take any opportunity for rest, and inhabit it fully, before getting back to roving. Just stop. My chronic illness has one symptom, a debilitating fatigue, which I've had to learn to manage, and the Wolf Rules have been invaluable for this. When you're tired, sit down and rest. When you get going again, you'll have more of your strength back than if you'd kept pushing yourself so hard that eventually you splatter yourself against a wall of exhaustion—and then you'll be forced to rest, whether or not you wanted to. I'm learning to just take lots of little rests—lie down, pant, pause for awhile—before getting back up to rove on.

So the Wolf Rules have served me very well in life, and continue to serve. I realize that these little values, these ways of looking at the world, are core to my attitude. I might forget them for awhile, but they're my touchstones. I always knew and believed them, even before I encountered this formulation, on that old flyer or ad or whatever it was. I felt so charged, so alive, when I first read the Wolf Rules—such a feeling of innate recognition—that it seems obvious in retrospect that what happened was my recognition of an elegant formulation of something I already knew to be the way of life, deep down in my bones. There's a very Zen aspect to the Wolf Rules: a wolf can teach you many lessons about living in the Now, in the present moment, and not getting caught up in worry and mind-drama. Of living completely immersed in the experiences of the moment; of full commitment to whatever one is doing at the moment, and living it fully. Then being able to let go of the past, and shift immediately to the next thing that needs your attention. No clinging, no hating what's gone, just the Now.

The wolf eats the monkey-mind. Zen Master Coyote Roshi smiles slightly, leading the dojo in zazen, a few bright canary feathers still caught in his mustache.

I attend to the bones by looking again at the Wolf Rules, and finding them still an accurate summation of my core values, what I know in my bones to be true and real. All the rest is mind-drama, which can be healed and undone simply by returning to being in the Now, to living by the General Wolf Rules for Life.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, resting is hard. For me it is the hardest thing. I sleep but I know I don't rest and my sleep is frequently broken.

I read the howling more as a spontaneous exclamation, something from your very core, a metaphorical throwing ones head back, literally a letting go. That I have never been able to do and I've always been jealous of those who could break into song or start dancing in the middle of their kitchens. I mean what breaking into spontaneous writing compared to that?

8:08 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I hear ya.

At the same time, breaking into spontaneous anything is better than nothing, I think. Spontaneous writing may be more cerebral/verbal rather than physical or aural, but it's still spontaneous. I see what you mean, and since that's poems often come to me—spontaneously—there is still an element of ekstasis, being possessed by the gods as it were, and making art. The ancient bards talked about their muses as if it was a spontaneous possession experience.

I admit that I have been known to break into song and/or dance in my own kitchen, though. I have many friends who so "live in their heads" that getting them to do anything spontaneous can be difficult. I'm at risk for living in my own head too much, too, so knowing that, I let myself act goofy on occasion.

It's really funny. I remember the first time I ever saw the movie "Repo Man" was at a student film series on campus at my college at the time. I went with a friend. I found the movie so freeing, so liberating, that I was dancing and shouting on the concrete-block architecture of the campus in the middle of the night on the way home.

Conversely, seeing "My Dinner With Andre" the first time was so deeply moving that I couldn't talk for hours afterwards. I walked home from the campus venue in total silence, really appreciating the moon and night sky as never before. Later that night, I wrote a poem on what I was seeing and thinking.

Different moods, different occasions, different stimulations.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arthur, you sound like a person who has led an interesting and reflective life. I can't tell if you know, since you make no reference to it, that the Wolf Rules are from Clarissa Pinkola-Estes' classic on female archetypal psychology Women Who Run With the Wolves. The entire book is an inspiration and a feast, which has nourished many women's creative lives for decades now; and it is not a book that disparages men. I don't know how the book might be of interest or use to a man, gay or straight. But maybe it would help you somehow. Be always well and often happy. K.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the attribution. It's good to know the source.

I'm familiar with Estes' book; I even owned a copy for awhile. I've heard many stories about it's been useful and helpful to my women friends. I've never been able to get into, myself, unfortunately. I think there is a lot of wisdom in it. It just doesn't call to me.

But that's okay. What I like about living in the present day is that there are a lot of directions wisdom comes from. If one teacher doesn't speak to you, another will. It's the teachings that really matter. I'm glad Estes' book has been of value to so many.

11:29 AM  

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