There is a Chinese proverb that says, “those who know but do not do, do not know.” I think that this best expresses my life and its purpose—a devotion to understanding truth, and to speaking and living in a way that reflects that understanding.
I have always felt grateful for the safe and loving upbringing that I enjoyed as a child, as well as for the many privileges that I have benefitted from. And yet alongside this there has always been a sadness in my experience, which arises from an awareness that was felt before it was known, that the economic and political regime I live under does not prioritize what is beautiful, meaningful and fair—but rather exists to bestow power onto those who are already powerful. Today, the sadness is paired with compassion for all people, who all love good things at heart, and who are doing their best to make it in a world that they did not design. I have compassion for myself, who am complicit in a hundred ways with the destructive decline of our species and the ecosystem as a whole. I have compassion for those who are most responsible for the destruction, because they too are stifled and hurt by their actions.
As a younger man, the sadness compelled me to seek a life of separateness—traveling, playing music, reading philosophy and literature, learning plants, seeking to disconnect from the society that had raised me in the hope of encountering something more authentic.
In 2011, I became a parent, and, as most parents experience, my life was changed because it was no longer only my own. I could no longer just push away from what I was against, but had to try and create a home for my family, and to hope for the possibility of real beauty and authenticity in the budding life of my son. So we found a beautiful place to make our stand, and began to get what we needed to sustain our bodies from our relationships—to the land, the animals and plants around us, and each other. For many thousands of years, this was simply called “being human.” Today, it is usually called “farming,” and so today I call myself a farmer.
The land where my wife and I live with our five children is now called Evening Star Monastic Farm, in rural southwest Wisconsin. We practice permaculture, live without electricity, and are working to eliminate the use of gasoline in the next few years. We do these things not as a penance but because it feels fun and true. Every day we feel more connected with our community, on and off the farm, human and non-human alike. Our monasticism is a turning inward, to spiritually seek our truest selves. But it is also a going outward, as we discover the joy of bringing our true selves into the world.
As I grow in connection to life and truth, I know that my path is to engage, with authenticity and universal care, with the destruction that has always brought me sadness. I know now that any notion of separateness is a futile illusion. In the upper Midwest, the purest manifestation of that destruction is the network of pipelines that carries tar sands oil out of the devastated boreal forests of Canada, which perpetuates our debilitating racist history by crossing over Ojibwe territory, and which daily plunges humanity ever deeper into the abyss of climate disaster.
The pipeline valve is the manual override to the destruction. It exists in case of emergency, and this is a time of great emergency. I turn the valve because I believe in humanity, and in our capacity for a more beautiful way of living, in connection with each other and the world.