The Want of Peace


The Want of Peace

All goes back to the earth,

and so I do not desire

pride of excess or power,

but the contentments made

by men who have had little:

the fisherman’s silence

receiving the river’s grace,

the gardener’s musings on rows.

I lack the peace of simple things.

I am never wholly in place.

I find no peace or grace.

We sell the world to buy fire,

our way lighted by burning men,

and that has bent my mind

and made me think of darkness

and wish for the dumb life of roots.

-Wendell Berry, Openings: Poems

This photograph was taken in 2008 near Ritter and Banner Peak in the Sierra Nevada.  My rock climbing buddy Chas Warner and I were sitting by a pond meditating after hiking into the park from Berkeley.  Chas worked as a computer programmer and is now in Fort Collins, Colorado married.  His girlfriend at the time, Emily White took the photograph of us sitting by the pond.  She worked for Wilderness Press at the time.  It is crazy to think that seven years have passed since this picture.  I feel like I have lived about 10 lives since then.  When I look at this picture, I think about what it means to be healthy.  Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder I in 2010 at MIT, I had a very intense regiment of physical exercise and cognitive pursuit.  I think the key to my being successful at that time was the combination of cerebral and embodied discipline.  With one week to go before my Appalachian Trail thru hike (starting 3/1/2015), I am meditating on what it will take to return to this state.  A lot has changed since 2008, I have developed an appreciation of Spirit and learned to trust God.  I have made an entirely new set of friends from the limited circle of people that I used to associate with at Berkeley.  Yet, much remains the same.

All goes back to the earth,

and so I do not desire

pride of excess or power,

I do not want to be rich.  I do not want to be famous.  I want to be at one with Spirit.  The cold of winter is still present in the south.  I found this poem that goes with that.

The Cold

How exactly good it is

to know myself

in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own

warmth, divided from all

by the cold; and to go

separate and sure

among the trees cleanly

divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,

your life withdrawn into

your own keeping

-to be clear, poised

in perfect self-suspension

towards you, as though frozen,

And having known fully the

goodness of that, it will be

good also to melt.

-Wendell Berry, Openings: Poems

Yesterday, I posted the following on Facebook:

“Just spent the whole day beating my head against the National Institutes of Health. I was told they would not fund me. I may have found some ways to work with them. After about twenty emails and five phone calls I am exhausted. I also talked to Ellie about Stephanie Raven Summerfield and my book, and she help me focus on a coherent plan for publishing our poem-drawings. A chemist discovers trees and his own brain in nature on the Appalachian Train with friends. Poems about leaves, brains, Spirit, and Nature. Saw this picture in my cafe spot with hikers in the woods. I may not be able to teach in a classroom, but I can create. I am probably going to hike the AT with my MacBook Air to get all this done. Imagine rentering science on a wilderness pilgrimage and creating art at the same time inspired by this science. I am slowly finding balance in this new way of life. Each day brings something entirely different.”

My friend told me to trust Spirit.  What is meant to come will come if you listen to her.  That is so hard for me to do.  I am a headstrong man, used to getting working hard and getting what I want.  Sometimes, however, Spirit has bigger plans.  I have never thought of myself as a poet, but that seems to be exactly what I am becoming.  Ellie told me to study poetry, so I am…



I talked to Ellie, my writing coach, on the telephone yesterday.  I wrote this summary of the conversation to a friend.

Ellie and I just finished talking. I would like to spend the rest of the afternoon writing up a report for you what we talked about.

She really helped clarify a ton of things. She likes the idea of a chemist going into nature to study the Spirit of Nature by writing poetry about things like leaves and his own brain to explain in spiritual harmony his discoveries to an artist who has done a pilgrimage of her own to try to get down into careful drawings. She absolutely loved the first seven pages of our book that I sent her!

She suggested me studying very carefully modern poetry. She said to look at the work of contemporary poets and poets like Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder, as I have already been doing. She said there is are poem of the day websites.

Regarding the publishing details. She said since we both already blog, we already are doing the work of getting out our writing to people. She really loves both our blogs.

She said the publishing industry is in total flux and that things are changing so fast that it is impossible for anyone to make any concrete advice.

She said she will send some links about the pros and cons of self-publishing versus finding a publisher.

A concrete outline of what I can do in the next week:

1. Study Mountaineers Books collection.

2. Buy the book entitled “A Blistered Kind of Love” published by Mountaineers Books from REI and read it. It is the best thing in the Mountaineers Books catalog that I can find so far that resembles a template for a book proposal to Mountaineers Books.

3. Look at “Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Pilgrimage.”

4. Optimize my gear list for the 6 months on the AT to facilitate writing poems about Spirit.

The single biggest question I have is, “Should I bring my laptop?”

Does it make sense to have it on the journey to make figures of molecules like CDK5 and photosystem II for you to draw?

Will bringing the laptop be reasonable given the weight limitations of thru hiking the AT?

Can we talk about this all on the phone tonight?

Ellie was blow away from the amount of work we have done this past week. As a coach, she is very focused on helping us find the critical atom on which to focus to split to make a chain reaction in readership. As my advisors at Berkeley used to say, “The Devil is in the details.”

I would like to add, “With Spirit, worry about the big picture and the details will take care of themselves.”

I talked to a friend who works at Shambala Press and a friend who works at Mountaineers Books about how Raven and I should publish our book of poem-drawings that we are writing about wilderness pilgrimage.  Ellie said pretty much the jury is out on that whether we should publish on Amazon or hold out to find a print publisher.  My intuition says that since we are both blogging already, we may just want to go ahead and wait to publish with a big publisher like Mountaineers Books.  Raven found these books:

(I know you already told me about this one)

(The only drawing one I found)

by Mountaineers Books.  I found a book called Backpacking with Saints: Wilderness Pilgrimage as Spiritual Practice.  This is exactly what Raven are writing!  What synchronicity.


I went to a Catholic cathedral the night I got the book and read chapter 1.  I love this part:

“The body is an extremely reliable guide.  It knows instinctively how to move over difficult terrain, when to stop for rest, how to breathe deeply and relax in crisis situations.  Panic, by contrast, has its source in the mind (in the amygdala, to be precise).  It forces me into action after I’ve failed to listen to the body’s cues, its early warning system.  The body is more naturally at home in the wilderness, able to practice there the alive and alert presence in which it delights.  Gary Synder says wild terrain fosters a “state of complete awareness…That’s why we need it.”  It evokes an intuitive way of knowing – the way a new born baby knows its mother’s breast, the way a dancer anticipates her partner’s practiced turn, the way a climber and the cliff he ascends share a reciprocity of touch.  It is our most basic, animal-like, and impassioned way of knowing anything.  What the mind hardly fathoms, the body already knows.

Sometimes the body slides so completely into the rhythm of the trail that the mind follows its lead, relaxing comfortably into an effortless pattern of “flow.”  Psychologists speak of this as a wondrous state of unforced, complete absorbtion in the activity at hand.  It is what athletes speak of as being “in the zone,” acting on instinct and training without having to exercise deliberate thought.  In a moment of flow, the ego falls away.  Time flies.  The body’s fatigue is experienced as a “high,” opening the soul to an unexpected fluidity and immediacy of presence.

This is something the mind can appreciate, but only the body knows.  In wilderness hiking, one’s body is the distinctive vehicle for experiencing mystery.  It responds with inexplicable fear or delight to what the mind hardly recognizes.  The power of shamanism in indigenous cultures around the world is rooted in this deep attunement of the body to the natural world.  The shaman’s gift doesn’t depend on physical strength or prowess.  She may even possess what others consider a physical “disability,” a unique sensitivity making access to the spirit world easier.  The body is her fundamental connection to a deeper knowledge.”

p. 7, Backpacking with Saints: Wilderness Pilgrimage as Spiritual Practice, Belden C. Lane

I might add, the shaman’s gift can be considered a mental “disability.”  Consider what society calls “mental illness.”  Are not these “disabilities” not gifts that poets, artists, scientists, and writers can harness to create?

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InnerLight Enlightenment by Dr. William Kaya Erbil is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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