David Levi is one of thousands, who having been inspired by the energy and integrity of Robert Bly, has brought the values of the Minnesota Men’s Conference back to his community. David is the chef and owner of Vinland, in Portland, Maine.
Revolution: It’s What’s for Dinner
In my recent TEDx talk, “Revolution: It’s what’s for dinner,” I lay out an argument for reindigenizing (a term laden with presumptions that make me wary, but I accept it) and striving to manifest the worldview of animism. Animism is in our bones. It manifests as conscience. It manifests in our innate biophilia. It is the essence of love.
“There is reason for hope, but we have to be the hope.” – David Levi
But we have been taught since birth to deny it, repress it, and supplant it with various forms of objectifying materialism, whether theism in the Western, non-pantheist tradition, atheism, or humanism. But to me, animism, on a practical level, is simply recognizing the inherent value of others, human and non-human. That inherent value is spirit. It is encountering another and saying, “you are a someone, not just a thing with or without value to me. You have your own value unto yourself, with rights. You are not a resource. You are you. ” It’s the understanding that the only way to exist sanely in this world is to enter into relationship with the myriad beings that comprise it, never to exploit and destroy them.
My journey toward animism, which is, to me, the universal hallmark of indigenous cultures, began with my first encounter with Robert Bly, in January, 2002, at Bennington College, where I was in the MFA writing program for poetry. It was a dark time for me, in the midst of heartbreak, burgeoning alcoholism, massive struggles with my father, and my personal loss and confusion in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 event, in which my young friend Juan Pablo Cisneros died. Robert appeared as a confident and cogent voice of reason in the midst of insanity. The talk he gave on the spiritualism of William Blake, including brilliant and far-reaching allusions to Rumi, William Stafford, Vietnam, the costs of television, and so forth, left me literally on the edge of my seat, taken completely off-guard. In a conversation we had soon thereafter, I asked him what he thought America needed to make genuine progress, and he said, “well, we’re all going to have to get a lot poorer.” I soon read Iron John, much of his poetry and a good bit of his criticism and translations. I was awakened, if only in small part, to the power of myth, symbol, indigenous wisdom; the chthonic medicine of this conscious world.
“a calm potato by day” – Robert Bly
Over and over again, I’ve returned to The Thousands (volume 1 and only), Robert’s self-published journal he handed out that day in January. It begins with a long essay entitled “Six Disciplines That Intensify Poetry,” the fourth of which is “Obeying the Urge To Form That Is In Nature.” In a stroke, this section revolutionized my approach to and understanding of poetry, all creative processes, and, incredible as it seems, the basic structure of existence.
Robert is not the first to note that nature is ordered, that is “in love with form” and permeated by it. But he is the one who expressed it beautifully in the time and place where it got through to me. And I will be forever grateful for those first gifts, among the many others I’ve received from him. I’ve had other great teachers along the way, very notably including Noam Chomsky, Derrick Jensen, and Arundhati Roy, but none have done as much for me as Robert, to shape my thinking and feeling, to sing me into the mysterious, beautiful dance of this world with an understanding of the responsibility and sorrow our presence entails.
And so, it is an honor, on the deepest level, to share this little talk I gave with this ritual community, so dear to me, brought together by Robert, held together by us all.
The Thousands, Number One, 2001
David Levi’s Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Paul Stamets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjv8Zj1ABAc
Noam Chomsky http://chomsky.info/
Derrick Jensen http://www.derrickjensen.org/
Arundhati Roy http://www.weroy.org/arundhati.shtml