Tuesday, January 29, 2013


My journey to nonviolence really began in college, where I found Tolstoy. Prior to this, I wouldn't say I was a violent person, but I didn't give it a lot of thought. I was, a typical American. Having no exposure to the nonviolent thinkers of the last century, nor any of the centuries prior, small acts of violence could be heroic, and of course growing up with Superman and Spiderman, evil could only be defeated by physical might!

Sometime toward the end of high school, I grew an interest in philosophy and spirituality. I began picking up books by Neitchze, Kant, Huxley, and Plato. At the same time I started reading books on religion and spirituality. Religion didn't really play any part in my life then. Church was someplace we went on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Easter. That was it.

But this stuff was intriguing! This stuff was stuff that the pastor never spoke of in Church.

And this all led me to Tolstoy.

Russian authors are my favorite! Their overly verbose, thick books describing characters so real to me, though I was so removed from their time and life. These 900 page books would enrapture and engross me until I had finished them. Dostoevsky was and still is my favorite of these authors. His work was my first foray into the Russian writer. Notes From the Underground and Other Writings struck me deeper than anything else I had read up to that point. Specifically the story, White Nights. The brilliance of this story, the longing ... it all jumped off the page. And I was hooked. Next came the Brothers Karamozov, my all time favorite novel.

At some point I read a short story collection from Tolstoy, and found his style equally inviting. It came quite naturally then that I would pick up his book The Kingdom of God is Within You. This book outlined his intense belief in nonviolence (or nonresistence to conflict), and was expressly built upon the life and teachings of Christ. These ideas were powerful, but what was powerful still was that he changed his life to live my those ideals. This is the power we all hold - the power of example.

From there, his book, The Gospel in Brief, culled the teachings and life of Christ out of the rest of Christianity, and spoke quite deeply to me. This wasnt the mumbo jumbo that I felt religion was. No, this was practical, and peaceful.

And possible!

These two books heavily influenced Gandhi and were what ultimately led me to the writings of Gandhi. Gandhi's life-long quest for Ahimsa and Truth have inspired many amazing things in the world. The idea of changing the world by changing yourself was a very new idea to me. And such a powerful; one! You don't have to be Superman. You don't have to be Bruce Willis. You don't even have to physically fight evil.

It is in this spirit of deep inspiration that I'd like to pass on what Ahimsa means. After you read the following, really take a minute to think about the implications, and how joyful our lives can be if we sign our lives over to this principle. Meditate upon these ideals for a minute.

The 6 Pillars of Ahimsa

A- Abstinence from Animal Products
H- Harmlessness with reverence for life
I- Integrity of thought, word, and deed
M- Mastery over oneself
S- Service to humanity, nature, and creation
A- Advancement of understanding and truth 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Some Encouragement

Three things to keep in mind when making the vegan life change:

1. You can do it!
You can do anything, and this is a task you have the strength to undergo. Take those first steps, and if the going is tough, keep focusing on each little step. You always have people to turn to for help and encouragement. Even if your family or friends are not as supportive as they should be, there is a wonderful community of veg folks who would be happy to mentor you.

2. Eat a variety.
One of the common problems people have with vegan and vegetarianism is when they dont eat a variety of veggies and grains. Yes, there is vegan junk food. I mean, Oreos are technically vegan. Soups are a great way to get a lot of nutrients, fairly easily. Fresh veggies are all around, and there are some wonderful winter farmer's markets still roaring all across the country.

3. Your change is changing the world!
Yes, it's true the steps you are taking right now are making an overall difference in the world. You might not see it; it might not be overly apparent, but it is true. The small steps we each make add up to a large wave of compassion that changes the lives of others close and far away.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Adventures in the Tetons (cont)

December 30

The Oxbow

It was -10 below much of the day.

At these temperatures the air is literally crystalizing. It shimmered in every direction, kissing my face and hands and coat.

Warmth is all about layering. A long sleeve layer of  Under Armor,  a light long sleeve jacket, a heavy vest, and a think outer jacket together keep one nice and toasty. Snowshoeing generates a lot of heat and energy. Lifting ones leg up through three feet of snow on each step can turn up your inner furnace pretty quickly.

The Oxbow is a place of great beauty. The Snake River winds out of Jackson Lake at the Jackson Lake Dam, and creates this little oxbow area shortly thereafter before heading south. This area is habitat for about every creature that lives in the ecosystem.  In the spring, the large open sage fields on two sides of the river are calving grounds for a large elk herd. This, in turn, makes it prime country for Grizzly Bears. They tend to spend a decent amount of time in this area, when they aren’t hibernating. Willows line part of the shore and are such home to several moose. An otter family lives toward the back of the oxbow, and eagles, swans, sandhill cranes, and pelicans are always around. Wolves also stop by, and there are a few coyotes with dens close to the river.

Snowshoeing this area is enrapturing to me, especially because it is difficult to venture into in the summer. Not only the high chance of running into a Grizzly mama and cubs, but there is a lot of wetland and marshy areas near the river. So it’s an area I only get to explore in the winter.

Not many folks venture into this area, possibly because of the heavy snowfall (it is north in the park, which gets more snow). Whatever the reason, I am glad that I have it to myself.

The mighty Tetons tower to the west. Magical Mt. Moran is perfectly framed with the water and sits at a marvelous angle that one gleans nearly only from this vantage point.

After a short climb over the six foot tall plowed snow banks, I wind through a series of willows. The snow here is tricky, as it lays on top of very uneven surfaces and bushes. Frequently one foot drops down to the hip. But after some negotiating, the willows are left behind, and ahead stretches a wondrous open field which slopes down to the mostly frozen river on two sides. Many deer and coyote tracks dash this way and that.
An eagle calls a greeting (or sounds our arrival) from a dense stand of large pines and cottonwoods. Though it sits on the uppermost branch, it takes a while to locate. The nest in which it will live in the spring is two trees over, and giant.

Another eagle responds from across the river.

Other than this, there is absolute silence. Silence to the point you make a small vocalization simply to make sure you haven’t lost your hearing.

The upper route is not a flat, easy path, though it seems it. The shoreline waves in, sometimes several hundred feet, causing you to either go all the way around it, or down into the little valley and back up the other side.      

The day feels quite warm by the time I reach the far bank of the river. The sun has been shining proudly, my face is getting a tan despite the zero degree day. I unzip my outer jacket.

The far bank of the river is bordered by a tight forest one the back side. The eastern side winds along the open field before heading into the forest. The western branch runs along open fields all the way to the dam, a mile or more west. Here the river is not totally frozen. Numerous ducks swim along. A very large beaver crawls out of the water, gnawing on something there on the snowy ice.

Farther west along on the shore, I muskrat swims. A few of the ducks there angrily shuffle off. Coyote tracks dot this whole scene. Often I have seen the otter family playing on the banks, sliding down big piles of snow like a ride at a water park. Today, though, they are off elsewhere.

The second eagle is finally visible as it sits stealthily still on a branch near the very top of a large pine directly across the river from me.

Time ceases to exist here. If it wasn’t for the movement of the sun and the approaching evening, I would have no idea as to the length of time spent. One of the great mysteries of the woods is its ability to transport you to a place where time doesn’t exist. Where your mind is not thinking about how long you’re hiking. 

Hours pass swiftly here, and stand still at the same time.

After several hours basking in the wildness and exploring the shore, I head back, following a long trail of coyote tracks. This is his hunting route. Every now and again the tracks are accented with big puff out sections where the coyote punched into the snow after the little mole or other such small ground creature that runs under the snow.

Some tracks drifted off, away from the shore, leading to his den, tucked neatly against where the land juts up to the field. The angle of the uprising, and the piles of snow create a natural den, and the coyote has taken great advantage of this. The coyote himself came jogging out of his den after I had nearly finished the hike.  
Clouds had begun to move in, wrapping around Mt. Moran like a shawl. A brilliant purple shawl. The setting sun was throwing cool pastel colors upon the mountain like a child imitating Jackson Pollack.

A moose wondered out of the willows on the far side of the river from me as I climbed the bank back up to my van.

What a wondrous place!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thoughts on Vegans

Three days of mostly driving are over.

It's amazing and slightly sad for me to realize that only three days ago I was in Portland, OR, where the mountains and volcanoes intertwine in the landscape and citiscape.

These long driving days are days and nights I spend thinking, writing, and listening to audio books. I spent much of the country heading Westward listening to a book on the art of rhetoric (debate, and how to win people to your point of view). But the way back, I started with some John Muir, which inspired me to no end.

If you have ever stood in a forest, on a mountain, at the tongue of the ocean, you know what it is to have words so utterly fail you. While there are half a million words (the smaller of estimates I have seen) in the English language,  none of them can truly describe such a scene. It takes full paragraphs, full books even to try to present how it feels to stand in nature.

John Muir has an ability to describe the scene of mountain hikes in such wonderful ways as to bring up every memory I have had of being in the woods and mountains.

Somewhere in Nebraska I switched over to a book called Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat. A book about our relationship to animals. I had not researched it much before putting it on (I found it at the library). I can't say I agreed with with author on some of his points, though I could at least appreciate his point of view. Mostly it was a book about logic.

He looked at our society's bizarre attitudes towards animals. How we can have a pet and still eat meat. How we can be animal-lovers, and kill mice or bugs, or other "pests." There were a number of interesting statistics and personal stories shared.

Several studies were presented showing that a majority of people who identify or claim to be vegetarian, actually eat meat, and some quite often. These folks are not vegetarian, obviously, but they think of themselves as animal-lovers enough to say they are. We are complex creatures that can label ourselves something that we are not. But these sorts of contradictions are all around us. And within us.

I do not present this statement to judge. We all have some level of hypocrisy and confusion in us.

One statistic though has been disturbing me ever since hearing it.

There are more ex-vegetarians, than vegetarians.

This is a difficult idea for me for grasp. The idea of compassion is such a deep thread that once pulled upon slightly, unravels many other things. This can be an overwhelming time, indeed! Yet, how, once one has seen a wondrous light, can one turn back and reside in a darkness? When one is freed from a cage, to give up the open field, once again for that cage?

Yes, the cage is easier. It is familiar.

But to know and experience the open field, how can a cage ever be satisfying?

Even the Bible warned the spirit may be willing but the body is weak.

I suppose many folks turning to vegetarianism can return to omnivorism because they have not looked beyond the shallowest waters of the act of not eating meat.

This is a journey. And it is easier to change course early on.

My journey is different, as is my personality, I suppose.

I came to veganism after watching my father battle pancreatic cancer.

Once I decided upon living my life as a vegan, I could never go back. To me, I have watched that other possible future play out, watching my father sit in the chemodrip, and be doubled over in pain, and finally drifting into a wraith-like shell.

I don't think any taste is worth that fate.

I also don't think that saving fifty cents more for food is worth that fate.


People talk about diets and food and use the term "cheating" when saying they have a candy bar, or a hamburger, or some cheese, etc. I feel perhaps this is the muddy swamp that can lead the weak of heart back astray. However, the damage even one hamburger does to a body is frightening. And I would like to give heart disease and cancer as little fuels as I can in my body. There was no way I could ever cheat or "indulge." I had no desire to sip strychnine once in while because it tastes good or is convenient.

For a while, this is what veganism meant to me.


All about me.

My health.

There is nothing wrong with this. However, the thread of compassion will, if tugged enough, start unraveling much deeper and bigger spaces.

As the words and life of Gandhi and Tolstoy began to be a part of my life, I had another large realization.

We must be the change we want to see.

I wanted to see a peaceful world.

That peaceful world starts with me. Sure, we are not perfect, any of us. Yes, I am not some haloed saint. I try my best to live by compassion and peace. Sometimes what I have been taught by society is hard to unlearn. Sometimes I dont realize I learned things in the first place.

But if I don't make a serious and all-encompassing effort, how can I ever expect anyone else to do so?

If I would ever have a hamburger, or a cheese pizza, then that would mean I personally believe it is ok for people to murder other beings. For I can't say murder is bad if I myself am participating.

If I believe life is Divine, and that God is truly in all beings and in all of Nature, do I have any choice but to love all beings fully? Can I really say one life is more sanctified than another? I feel this is the basic root of injustice in our world - that man says one life is more sanctified than another.  

Gandhi's brilliance was in his notions that to create a better system, you have stop participating in the old one, and at the same time build a new one. A better one.

This is what, at it's very best, veganism is. And can be.

Now, this is all about compassion, justice and nothing less than the very end of man-made suffering.

I have no choice but to continue along. Forever.

With each step, attempting to purify and cultivate ahimsa in all I am.

These are my personal experiences and revelations. I can only judge myself by them.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Adventures in the Tetons

Adventures in the Tetons

I am beginning to learn the importance of carrying a journal.

And using it.

The last few years have been whispering this idea to me, so much so that friends have bought me journals, which I keep in pride on my bookshelf, completely empty of course. As one who travels often, I mean to write out thoughts and stories that I come across, however, even the best intentions haven’t kept me regular at such an undertaking.

This current inspiration sings to me from reading John Muir’s journaling and works. Amidst the great Sierra peaks, he would take nothing more than his journal and bread ration for the day on his person as he hiked and climbed and explored.

Driving for endless hours over Nebraska allows one time to think. And finds thoughts to put in your head.
So the hope of journaling has been revived.


Some people are called to a city. Some to a neighborhood. Others to the sea. My callings come from the ragged and majestic spires of the Tetons. Western Wyoming’s sublime vibrant mountain wonderland. Sometimes, I wonder if our pullings and inspirations are thought out years before our knowing. I would know nothing of this wilderness if my aunt hadn’t moved there 30-some years ago. It is doubtful that my travels would have sent me to an out-of-the-way small town in Wyoming. Sure, I would have stopped briefly in Yellowstone and drove through the Tetons en route to some other western city.

But would I have had the time to explore? The ability to return? One never knows. Whatever the intension, I am quite happy with the end results.

The last few winters I have adventured to this rough and wild spot, originally to see if I could find the beauty in a winter that had up to then, only depressed me.

After hours in snow fields, among great pines ornamented in their Christmas best, it was hard not to see the beauty in such truly awesome surroundings. My whole view of winter has been altered since.

This year I looked upon my voyage with particular interest. Being the winter solstice of 2012, I was interested in feeling the energies of such a magical place, on such a magical date. A place full of granite would sing in marvelous ways on such spiritually intense events.

My road-weary van crossed the snowy pass, pulling into Jackson in the afternoon of the 18th, one day delayed due to a white-out snowstorm that suddenly happened upon me crossing from Utah into Wyoming. The clouds remained low in the sky, but the snow had permitted me a free day to drive through the vast pastures, farm roads, alongside the growing mountains, and finally into their arms.

Jackson is a joyful town in the winter. Lights adorn much of the town. Snow clings to all the buildings in thick layers. The roads are sheets of snow and ice. If one cannot find the Christmas spirit here, one has no capacity for such spirit.

It is also home to the National Elk Refuge, a vast mostly low-lying area traditionally a wintering ground for elk, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep, and many other peoples of the surrounding mountains. Tens of thousands of elk can, depending on the severity of the winter, seek this land and stay the worst of the winter.  

Frequently the large bulls with their enormous racks will forage and sit near the road. I do not know if it’s the salt, some enjoyment of the celebrity, or some other reason that they are drawn to the area most populated by humans.

When I arrived, there were few elk down. The previous days snowstorm was one of the first of the season. A select few hundred peppered the vast landscape and were so overwhelmed by it, these 500 pound creatures seemed as though tiny housecats in its midst.

The clouds and mist continued throughout the next few days. The great Tetons were not visible until nearly the third day, though they abruptly soar 6,000 feet above the valley floor.

Snow cover was light in many of the sage fields, making snow shoeing a difficult prospect. However, one can waltz along the inner park road which is closed to vehicles during the winter. This option is frequented by cross-country skiers and snow shoers.

This wilderness calls deeply to me. It hums a lullabye at night; its messages of love are forwarded by the magpies and jays. And I cannot wait to be in it. Temperatures are slow to rise and had no intentions of topping 10 degrees much of my stay. This makes the early morning rise so easy during the summertime unwise. But no feat of cold or chill would keep me inside.

My first hike was along the road, sort of.  A gentle trail breaches away from the road along Cottonwood Creek. It was well tracked by skiers, but that day, I was alone , a near-miracle, as it was right at the head of the road where a parking area and the trail to Taggart Lake collect dozens upon dozens of hikers, skiers, tourists, and outdoorsfolk. Leaving the road, the trail lightly follows the mostly frozen creek, bordered on the other side by a large meadow of sage that reaches to the foothills of the Tetons, which rise high overhead.  Three large moose sat in the brush and fragrant bushes just off the trail. Two were large bulls; their brilliant antlers of no use to them now that the rut had passed, though it would still be more than a month before they were to be shed. All three watched me. Pausing, not wanting to surprise them and cause them to stir (and waste mortally important energy), we enjoyed each other’s company for a few moments. I altered my course, leaving them in peace.

Another two moose were foraging on the open hillside a distance away. These solitary creatures frequently gang together in sometimes large communities during the winter months. Perhaps their numbers allow better protection from wolves. Perhaps they just like some company when it’s cold and the loneliness is most pronounced.   

After a half hour or so, I made it to a set of cabins in use by the park service, where I turned slightly and made a trail perpendicular that re-connected with the road a ways from where I started. From there, I continued along until I reached one of my favorite summertime places, Lupine Meadow. In warmer months, the wide meadow is filled with the purple splash of lupine. Enormous boulders dot the meadow, reminders of the ever-changing mountains. This trail is frequently not well tracked in the winter, and as I had tracked it in previous outings, with a watchful eye to the western sliding of the sun, i turned back. The temperature falls quickly, I dare say immediately, once the sun begins setting. A 10 degree evening can sharply turn into a -10.   

Clouds were enveloping the mountains again, leaving only a short window of their visibility. Even at that, only a few peaks and other rock parts were distinguishable from the mist. For the most part, the setting sun was also locked behind the clouds, with a few lines of magenta sneaking out here and there.

 December 21

The solstice.

The morning was spent In various yoga and meditations an organization in Jackson was organizing.  Once my practice closed for the day, I headed out to Granite Canyon. This area is rife with large boulders, open meadows that crawl up the foothills of the mountains, and draw into the forest, eventually up into the canyon, where it crawls until it has reached the 10,000 back shelf. I would not be traveling that far today.

Though the sage was dormant, its perfume seemed to drift in the air. It had snowed the night before, and there was a decent blanket over the 2-3 foot high sage brush, as well as nearly coating many of the boulders.

My trail ended shortly after it wound into the forest. I continued on through the stands of pines decorated so perfectly, they seemed each one as a perfect Christmas tree in some Christmas movie. To not stop and stand in reverence is to be blind to the beating pulse of the world around and within us.

Meadow after meadow passes along this route until finally either turning in to begin the ascent into the canyon or drifting into the forest to eventually make your way away, back to the road.

A lone boulder sat within a few hundred feet of my path, and I set my sights for it. The snow had slid or melted off most of it. Standing taller than I, it was too much to climb with my snowshoes, and as I was unwilling to exert the effort to remove them for a short climb, I leaned back, laying on the granite, breathing.

The mountains were breathing in splendid pslams.

With the ravens adding harmony.

After several “Oms”, and a solid meditation, I made my way away from the canyon. Snow sparkling in the air the whole way, as a real-life snow globe. It also shimmered in the snow covering the meadows. What a surreal disco ball of natural brilliance!

December 27

Swan Lake

A staple in my hiking is Swan Lake. This trail is fairly north in the park, so the snow is generally more, but the trail winds through an inviting and open lodge-pole pine forest. The past summer, this is where I came upon an unhappy mother elk who proceeded to charge for three quarters of an hour before I could get a safe distance away. There was no repeat of this incident, thankfully. Swan Lake itself was frozen and snow covered. Willows lined it and grew in their great giant willow flat on the other end of the lake. The calm is striking here. The silence is penetrating. And yet, relaxing. No sounds from the crows, geese, or people here. 

Just the stillness and crispness of the air.

One can see numerous rabbit tracks hopping out from under low-limbed pines, but as much as I hoped, I did not catch any sight of the little creature that day.  Sunsets here are frequently astounding. The vast fronts of Mt Moran and its neighbors that form the end of the Teton chain turn a light violet, with hints of pink. The sky above and behind them is dashed with darker purples and even the occasional red. The mountains turn blue and the chilliness of their wilderness goes from something suspected to something very real.

Moose tracks dashed back and forth from the forest. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome to the New Year

We survived the end of the world.


And now 2013 has blown into town.

As an adult, I don't remember a new year bringing the amount of hope and possibility that this one carries with it. My favorite idea from the Mayan 2012 predictions was that this is the beginning of an age of compassion. This idea is powerful because if we believe that a new age has begun which will bring about great compassion, than it quite possibly will come to be. Reality is all about our own mindsets. Just believing in this new age is calling into being.

So that's where a lot of my giddy hope comes from.

We all look back to see where we've been, so that we can look forward to where we want to go.

2012 was a pretty interesting year:
- Recorded a CD with Colin John
- Played SXSW
- Toured ATL and Asheville
- Attended a moving service on the Anniversary of MLK's assassination in ATL
- Hiked in the Smokey Mtn National Park 
- Wrote, recorded "I Want a Future Too" about fracking (was featured on 350.org's page)
- Toured KC, Denver, Phoenix, Southern California, Sacramento, San Fransisco, Utah, Wyoming, Montana   
   in the summer
- Hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park
- Stayed a night in Arches National Park
- My girlfriend, Courtney, finished her thesis and got her Masters in Arts Administration
- Wrote an amazing song with my friend, Randi Driscoll
- Hiked in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
- Had a photography show in Lakewood
- My bassist, Neil, got married
- Played Chicago Veggie Fest
- Underwent Kingian Nonviolence Training / Became Certified
- Played St Louis for the first time
- Participated in a 250 mile bike rally from Pittsburgh to DC to protest fracking 
- Performed on the National Lawn
- Performed for a big fracking protest rally in Philly
- Began recording a new Bright Lights CD
- Organized the 3rd Peace Week, the most successful yet
- Studied a week with Swami Shree Yogi Satyum
- Created an annual bike ride for Peace (Peace Riders)
- Performed at the World Peace and Yoga Jubilee
- The Akron Canton Airport used Upon Your Dreams in their marketing video (as well as me as an actor) 
- Performed for the 1st Vegan Thanksgiving at Pura Vida 
- Toured St Louis, Phoenix, Southern California, Utah, Wyoming (and heading to Portland) in the winter
- Recorded the song I wrote with Randi Driscoll in San Diego
- Snowshoed in Grand Teton National Park 
- My organist, Michael, had their 3rd child, Thomas
- Began the process for a very exciting CD I can't discuss yet
- Asked to have my photography be part an upcoming show at Malone College
- Met so many wonderful folks
- Was inspired by so many wonderful folks, music, books, nature
- Cultivated some nonviolence in myself and the community
- Had a lot of delicious food!
- Played over 220 shows
- I woke up every morning

Not a bad year, indeed. And this is just a small list off the top of my head. 

We are all so blessed. A good idea was passed along to me through the Peace Project Facebook page, which is this: take a jar and write down all the good things that happen throughout the year. Big good things, small good things. And at the end of the year, look them over. 

Id already have several for that 2013 jar, and we're only a few hours in! 

Looking forward. Things that as of today I am excited to bring to fruition:
- Releasing a Bright Lights Record, the Colin John CD, and at least 1 other CD
- Expanding my practices of yoga and meditation
- Undergoing Transcendental Meditation
- Creating an amazing 4th Peace Week, including the Peace Ride and a huge Interfaith ceremony
- Touring the West in May/June
- Performing for many peace, animal rights, vegan/veggie/ yoga/meditation/spiritual events
- Returning to NYC, ST Louis, Chicago, Louisville, ATL, Asheville, Portland
- Cultivating more nonviolence in my self, and community
- Spending time in nature and mountains
- Becoming inspired by more wonderful people and music
- Bringing meditation to more folks
- Bringing my music and message to many folks
And so much more. everyday is a journey, an adventure. Every breath is grateful.

Be the Change.