Bread, Folk Music & the Techno-Age

Transcending the Invasion of the Machine
By Kevin & Donna

“Be a sweet melody in the great orchestration, instead of a discordant note. The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replace by love, and fear must be replaced by faith that love will prevail.”           – Peace Pilgrim

 The Rise of the Techno-Age

We’ve come to a point in our evolution where our reliance on technological solutions is creating a disconnect within us between the desire to survive comfortably and the longing to feel satisfied. Throughout most of man’s long history, tools and machines have been utilized to make work and survival easier. But we must collectively begin to recognize the associated high cost of every technological solution we create.

The techno-age has taken away our connection with real life and left our hearts empty.  We are missing the personal connections with each other and the essential exchange of life energy that came from working together for food, survival and community.  Humanity has lost its’ phylogenetic connection to real, organic life.

Our intrigue and obsession for more and more techno-gadgets, cell-phones, computers, cars, instant entertainment, convenience food, and designer drugs has ultimately succeeded in taking us away from the natural world, which we are biologically attuned to in the most profound and mysterious way. Each human being is a complete DNA-library of genetic history that has thrived for millions of years on the biogenic energy of the terrestrial world. Through this evolutionary process we have been divinely programmed to function in accord with the natural rhythms of life - the stars, the seasons, natural elements, herbs and animal life.  Yet over the course of just a few decades we have thrown much of that away.

Instead, we’ve artificially entrained ourselves to the clock (a machine), adapted to eating genetically modified food (techno-sustenance) and strategically insulated ourselves from the environment by living inside climate controlled and artificially lighted buildings. Each of these advances in modern civilized living comes with a high price – our own individual level of physical and emotional health and sense of connection with the earth and each other.

Food, Folk Music & Real Life

For many years now, Donna and I have chosen to radically alter our lifestyle to accommodate a return to the wisdom of what we are now calling “real life”.  When we began our EarthStar Primal Habitat project in 1997, we were attempting to create for ourselves a life of voluntary simplicity in order to reduce the complexity and burden of contemporary life.  This is when the web-site was created and we began to write about our experience and the things we valued.  Having achieved all that, we’re experiencing the benefits of good health, a peaceful environment and quality time together to enhance our spiritual relationship.

Although still happy to share what we’ve learned with others about the lifestyle of Voluntary Simplicity, we recently noticed a growing sense that “something is not right.” During the long years it took to build our place on a pay-as-you-go plan, I had to temporarily put aside my love of singing and playing guitar.  There was simply no time for it.  But since all the building is completed, I have joyfully returned to it with a renewed sense of passion.  And the answer to the “something’s not right” is finally coming clear – it’s time to create a fulfilling sense of community through music and food.

Every process always seems to have its’ own timing.  First we took responsibility for our own lives by radically downsizing, simplifying and reducing our dependency on too much technology.  And now that we have loosened ourselves somewhat from the insatiable jaws of the machine world, we are free to move on to an even bigger perspective, the joyous homecoming back to our roots and the common thread which sustained and soothed our ancestors in ages past.

And what is the common thread that has been missing?  Once upon a time, wasn’t singing and music a part of everyday life, as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion?  Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes or walking long journeys.  As Donna and I reached out to our community through the medium of singing and sharing traditional and modern folk music, participating in singing circles as well as the sharing of savory wholesome foods, we began to see more and more smiles.  We are finding a renewed sense of hope that we can create a revival of the celebratory energy of our ancient brothers and sisters – people who relied on the security and companionship of one another.

It is this kind of connection with real life that gives meaning and purpose to existence.  And without that sense of union, people are left with a malignant emptiness that festers and grows until it devours every shred of life-force energy within us. This is what I see happening to a large extent in the lives of young people. For example, the modern pop, hip-hop culture-craze is an adequate reflection of this extreme level of dissatisfaction, insecurity, rage and frustration plaguing the minds and hearts of modern youth.

Hip-hop music is the most truthful voice describing the social depression and the stagnant distorted energy experienced by many of our young people. The gloomy lyrics and discordant monotone voices drone and echo their sense of hopelessness.  This is the result of having lost the primal connection with the natural rhythm of life. Just think about the difference in the vibrant life-generating energy of indigenous drum rhythms to the kind of sluggish, back skipping beat of rap music and you’ll understand what I mean.

This kind of modern music rarely offers any kind of message of hope or a better condition of life for young people. Instead, the lyrics speak of violent conflict, drug abuse, gangs, sexual cruelty, despair and so on. Unlike the songs of Woody Guthrie and the folk music revivalists during the dust-bowl depression and into the 1940’s and then again around the early 60’s during the civil rights movement (Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, PP&M, and Johnny Cash), today’s pop music has lost the power to remind people of the true values of hope, peace, inner strength and a sense of community.

Preserving these true values has been the unique role of folk musicians throughout history. They brought together and preserved the collective stories and wisdom of older traditions, the social joys, laments, verses of praise and love songs and kept the message of hope alive for the children. Folk music has always been the universal thread, the voice of the common people, the hope and inspiration, heart to heart, of one generation to the next.

Sadly, for the most part, the folk world is slowly fading away. There are still many who treasure these old songs and work to keep the flame alive, but it is still relatively small in our world. I believe the steady decline is a direct result of our civilizations’ seductive fondness for the toys of the techno-age, as well as our reliance on credit cards, which gives us a false sense of security.  When people are able to distract themselves by purchasing electronic gizmos and toys, it’s unlikely they will return to the ancient custom of engaging in traditional songs and folklore which held them together.

Technological gadgets are great for providing entertainment around the clock. Anyone can access a whole library of information (or misinformation) or instantaneously listen to any kind of music, news, sports, etc., but these modern devices can never transmit the energy and aliveness that telling campfire stories or singing folk tunes did for our ancestors.

The experience of real life - that is what our civilization is losing. Thankfully the old songs are still around, but the bonds of community gathering are dwindling. People would rather drive around with ear-buds plugged into their own personal IPOD or Blackberry or some other techno-gadget instead of getting together to break bread and sing songs.

In times past, hearing someone play an instrument was rare and highly appreciated and treasured. Though the rich could hire musicians to write symphonies to be played in their castles, the poor people had to sing their own “work” songs. Music really meant something to them because the very people who were meekly struggling for basic survival generally composed it. Songs were handed down and they had a heartbeat that was real and genuine. For simple country people, life was typically about providing food and shelter, raising children and keeping warm and dry.  Their necessary reliance on each other kept them bonded together.

But in our techno-age, we rely on the extension of credit rather than on each other for survival.  This has severed the bonds of community and real life.  Even though there are a lot of good things to celebrate about the conveniences of modern living, there are an equal number of negatives as well. The consequences of the contemporary American lifestyle are often overwhelming and degenerative.  There is no time or energy left to create the type of community solidarity we are all craving. 

After the two of us had spent a number of years working on our EarthStar project, we began to sense that there was still a missing piece in our lives.  Although we had become debt free, independent and reconnected with nature, we still needed a realistic way to connect with others in our local community. For life to be truly satisfying and fulfilling, we saw that we needed to create and sustain the delicate balance between “communion” and “community”, the breathing in and breathing out of life.  Donna and I had successfully created communion, the breathing in with each other, the earth and the natural world.  But what would life be if we never breathed out?  It would only be about “me and mine”.  To be whole we must learn to breathe out too, caring and participating in community outside of religious or political gatherings.

Ultimately we must go back to lovingly nurturing our human connections. And what we have realized most profoundly is that there is so much benefit to be gained in creating some of what our ancestors enjoyed through singing together and sharing nutritious food. This is about the closest we can get to our primal roots and sense of community. Though we may not necessarily gather together with our neighbors anymore to celebrate the harvest and dance around fires in the moonlight, we can still gather a few friends together from time to time and sing songs and break homemade bread. This simple act of fellowship can do more positive good for us than spending our time and resources trying to find release from boredom through entertainment technology. The more basic and primal we can get, the more fulfilling our life becomes.

If this notion appeals to you, then organize a small gathering, call up a friend who can play the piano, guitar, fiddle or banjo and get some people together to sing a few old tunes, even if it’s only something simple like This Land is Your Land, O’ Susanna and Home on the Range, or even some favorite hymns. Make the musical accompaniment as simple as possible, no fancy equipment, no microphones.  You don’t need to organize a band, you only need two or three people and you don’t even have to be a talented singer or musician.  Singing together as a group generates a joyful energy and that’s all that counts. Everyone goes home filled up and feeling connected.

We’ve been getting together informally and sharing some of our freshly baked sourdough bread with cheese, olives, a couple bottles of wine and singing together. Maybe there will be one guitar and a banjo while someone else wails on the harmonica.  It’s really a very satisfying and heartwarming experience.  As Pete Seeger said once, “ When one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know:  there’s hope for the world.”

This is our vision of creating community…recognizing and treasuring our diversity, our different paths and our different values while experiencing a taste of real life through singing together and sharing simple, wholesome food.  Sadly, most people are simply content to eat a microwave pizza, listen to the radio or CD player alone. Even little kids love to zone out on DVD movies in the car! These technologies have their place, but we have to become aware of how this influence is eroding away our sense of purpose and contentment in life.

Though this may certainly not appeal to everyone, for us, the joy of singing together is as important and healthy as breathing, eating and making love. It’s the best method we’ve found to cultivate a meaningful sense of community. It connects us to real life and allows us to extract ourselves from the sterile, virtual world of computer-generated landscapes, competitive sports and action movies. And just as all human beings need basic whole foods, our minds and hearts do best when we’re singing simple, uplifting folk songs and inspiring melodies with friends and family. This stream of sound that we can create together is so precious in our techno-age. We can go back to our roots and the ancient wisdom…break bread, share it and rise up singing!

 

“So though it’s darkest before the dawn

These thoughts keep us moving on

Through all this world of joy and sorrow

We still can have singing tomorrows”

- Lyrics from Quite Early Morning, by Pete Seeger

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