How the Seaweed Man Came to Be
Q: How do you want to start?
(Quiet voice) Oh dear. It’s a bit like a box of paper clips and rubber bands and short bits of string and an occasional ribbon, all tangled together. Well, maybe we can sort it out. I don’t like tangles any more than you do. Look. I’ll do my best to tell the truth. You deserve that and more. But tell me something: Where were YOU when my page was just white? Dear Reader, I’ve been waiting for you to show up! We NEED each other when it comes to truth-telling. We co-arise in this meeting of souls, as previously agreed, this time ‘round. That’s in the nature of sacred contracts. I know, I know……it takes a little while to get here especially when we are coming halfway ‘cross the universe for a playful conversation. But now I’m wearing my body costume, and you have yours: food tube, bellows bag, heart pump, wiring harness, cables & spreaders. For the moment, we are what the Japanese sometimes call humans: fire ghosts, holding warmth upon the earth until we lift and rise again as soul travelers. This time ‘round, I am someone who is learning that the heart has its own intelligence, and this intelligence is capable of having a direct conversation with the intelligence of plants. When you got up this morning, you knew something about this, else you wouldn’t be here. You did, didn’t you? I hope so. At any rate, fair warning:
Q: So what brought you to Maine?
A BMW motorcycle. That’s the short answer, and when someone interviews me, the next question is usually “Why?” I grew up in Minnesota with a tribe of Norwegian relatives. By the time I was 16, I had few illusions about life. I had a real honest-to-God Norwegian bachelor farmer Uncle Barney who wore striped Osh Kosh overalls, and in the morning he slicked his hair straight back and put on his striped Osh Kosh cap and drove John Deere tractors all day, cultivating rows of corn that were just as straight as the stripes on his overalls. When I was a teenager, Barney shot Santa Claus with a double barrel shotgun one moonlit Christmas eve out in the farm yard. Santa had parked the reindeer with the cows, and Barney said that would scare them. All of this didn’t scare me. I had already seen death up close and personal. My father had died of cancer when I was ten. Over the course of three years, I had watched him dying at home, going from 6’3″ 180 lbs. to a 90 lbs. skeleton. I was an only child. My maternal grandparents lived next door. They all encouraged me to “sit with your dad, listen to the radio with him in the evening; just be with him.” Miraculously, they supported me in keeping my heart open. But after he died, I had a lot of unexpressed grief inside me. The Norwegians are not like the Irish. They don’t hold a wake. And I’m not sure the Irish could have helped me, either, because abuse of alcohol is the most universal means of suppressing the fear of loving. Years later, I learned how to love and leave my heart open to the person who had crossed to the other side of the veil. More about that later. Anyway, the bottled-up grief was underneath, and there was a layer of teenage frustration on top. I wanted to extend awareness and feeling further than midwestern culture allowed me to go.
When my mother tried to guilt trip me into being a “good boy”, or else, she said, God would drop me into the eternal flames of Hell forever, I replied, “You know what I would do, just before God dropped me into the Eternal Fryolator?” (We were in the middle of an argument. I was a teenager, and I knew how to push all her buttons. I had probably said something to her like, “I think my father, dying of cancer for three years, suffered a lot more than Jesus, hanging on the cross for three days. Jesus had the inside track. My dad didn’t. That’s real suffering, when you don’t know who you are.”) Anyway, my mom asked,”What would you do?” and I said, “I’d forgive Him,” For a moment, she was a stunned bunny. Garrison Keillor unmasked this cultural process as “Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.” This time, the gift wasn’t having the desired effect on me. This time, she could feel me slipping away from her into another world beyond her ken.
Q: How does that depressed and guilty state of mind actually FEEL, when it’s held for a moment in the body?
Stagnant. Breathing feels collapsed. That’s the main feature. They had given me the live polio vaccine when I was a boy, and I had contracted a case of polio. My ribcage had collapsed. But there was also a grief knot in my belly about loss of father that held the ribcage down, and as I said, Norwegians of that generation didn’t give each other, especially children, much permission to grieve, permission to feel and express. “There there now, don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” Adults often say that to children, shutting them down, rather than acknowledging the fact that a child’s grief often elicits our own grief and memories of loss.
Q: How would it feel, to hold that depressed, stagnant, shallow-breathing state for a lifetime?
I didn’t stick around to find out. A coach in high school looked at me and said, “You’ve got long legs. Maybe you can become a distance runner.” I gave it a go. We trained for a four lap mile by running five laps and sprinting that last fifth lap. Training like that made it possible to sprint right through the finish line on a four lap race. I ran a mile in five minutes and something, and after that, there was no holding me back in Minnesota.
I negotiated with mother that I would go to a Lutheran college in Moorhead MN and become (what else?) a minister. As soon as I was 200 miles from home, I said that I would like to become a youth pastor. Then I said I wanted to be a teacher. After all, she was a fifth grade teacher. How could she argue with that? Ever see the movie “Cool Hand Luke”? Paul Newman is Luke, ankle-shackled on the chain gang, and whenever he wants to take a pee, he has to shake the bush that blocks the view of the chain gang boss who stands guard with shotgun, wearing mirrored sunglasses, ready to shoot anyone who tries to run. “Shakin’ that bush, boss, shakin’ that bush!” says Luke, as he ties a string to the bush, then unwinds the ball of string, still shaking the bush, until he’s far enough away to make a run for it. “Shakin’ that bush, Mom, shakin’ that bush!” No matter how far I ran, the letters still came, offering the gift of guilt. She said she was trying to save my soul. She didn’t get it, until later when I wrote to her, “Mom, I made a decision to NOT give any more of my energy to any political, cultural or religious system of thought that uses images of emotionally shutdown, mutilated, circumcised, crucified, militarized, industrialized, broken, armored, addicted, alienated males with unhappy-heart faces in an attempt to control me, make me feel guilty, indebted, empty, or afraid. That just isn’t love.”
Q: Wow. So you taught school?
I graduated college when I was 20 by taking summer classes. By the time I was 25, I had five years of teaching experience, including helping to start an alternative school. I also had four years of hospital work experience that included working two years as an orderly in a neurology physical therapy ward while attending college. While teaching language arts in Sarasota FL, I worked two years (night shifts and weekends) as a respiratory therapist. During junior high and early high school I worked summer hay seasons on my aunt and uncle’s farm, and during late high school and early college, I also had a couple of summers working an 84 hour week in a factory that made powdered eggs for the army. By the time I was 25, I had bought and sold a house in Sarasota, and even though I had about 11 or 12 years of work experience under my belt, I was beginning to realize that I really didn’t know who I was.
Q: Do you have any regrets?
The first thing that comes to mind is this: After my father died, my maternal grandfather spent a lot of time raising me. When I graduated high school, everyone said, “Now you go to college.” Grandpa Martin died while I was in college. I wish that I had spent more time with him. But in those days, I didn’t know how to slow down and open my heart as wide as grandpa’s heart. There was something amazing deep inside him.
Q: What was that?
A heart code. When Grandpa was a young horse farmer with a wife and infant daughter, one winter he took his wife into town eight miles by horse and sleigh to have her tonsils taken out in a doctor’s office. There were no hospitals. This was frontier medicine. He brought her back to the farm, she was bleeding, and she bled to death. He couldn’t save her. His heart was cracked wide open, losing his beloved, comforting and caring for an infant daughter. Native Americans would say that he had a true heart of sadness. All of the everyday romantic illusions that operate in most people during the course of normal life were shattered in him. Buddhists would say that he had a true heart of compassion. There’s a book about The Heart Code by Paul Pearsall. The heart passes its code of love to the next heart, and in turn that heart does the same. In carbon-based reality, marked by impermanence, that is the tradition that carries forward. Personality dies, conscience goes forward. Souls reincarnate, over and over, to earth, the spirit garden, a school for souls…..a school that is inhabited by human bodies with hearts that have evolved to become multi-layered and complex. These hearts provide temporary anchoring while the body of light is being formed and further refined. That was the message of Jesus. It was not “only Jesus can become a body of light”. The message was, “You, too, have the potential to develop a body of light.” This is why the Tibetan culture is worth saving. They still have modern day spiritual practitioners who realize the Body of Light. My grandfather transmitted a heart code to me that was complex and many-layered, clear, tinged with sadness. Sometimes I have to stop and sort out, “What is my sadness, what was grandfather’s sadness?” He cried easily, and so do I. I stay open to finding my own clarity. I’m grateful to him, for starting me on the path of learning to remain Present, in the face of suffering and death. When he died, his roommate said, “Martin just took three deep breaths, and he was gone!” When I came to understand the Tibetan spiritual practice called “guruyoga” which involves three deep breaths coupled with a visualization of one’s own heart nature related to that of one’s teacher, and then widened to encompass all spiritual teachers throughout time, I realized that some of those old Norwegians were as Buddhist as Buddha…..and at the same time, they were devoted to the teacher in their own particular culture who had realized the Body of Light, the Christ. It doesn’t matter what religion we practice, provided we understand the underlying principles I’ve just mentioned here. We’re all different on the surface, but there are no boundaries in Consciousness.
Q: Anything else?
Well, I eventually made it up with my mother, after doing some internal explorations. At birth, I had been stuck inside her while her heart stopped. As a child, when I would run a high fever, a set of sensations would play off inside me like an old movie: I was buried alive all curled up with my head tilted to the left, and my skull bones felt egg shell thin and fragile. Voices out there were talking fast. I was going slow. My mouth felt like it was poured full of cement, and I couldn’t move my jaw. I was like a candle in a bell jar with the oxygen supply about to give out, and my pelvic diaphragm was quivering as I tried to expand my ribcage and pull in just one breath of air, but no dice. And then, suddenly, I was out of body, floating around and looking down on the scene of the doctor, holding me, shaking his head “no,” eyes behind the surgical mask scowling as if to say, “Blue baby. Brain damaged.” And I got back in the body, and scowled back. As a young man I found a breath therapist who knew Stanislav Grof’s method for exploring the realms of the human unconscious, using high levels of oxygenation. Oxygen has always been my ONLY drug of choice. This is because I have an understanding that we have come from the water world inside mother to the air world on a watery planet, and next we progress to the world of light and vibrations.
Exploring the realms of my unconscious while in a highly oxygenated state, it became clear to me that the old tape was actually the sensations of my birth. The first day of a baby’s life is 100% of what the baby knows about life while transitioning into the air world. It’s a profound imprint that deeply patterns us. The sensation of a mouth full of cement was what had happened when the doctor pulled me out, high forceps delivery. The forceps prevented me from being able to move my jaw. Years later, I said to my mother, “That doctor who held me had black bushy eyebrows and a beaky nose.” “How did you know that?” she asked. “I was there,” I replied. “The infant brain is totally open, taking in whatever appears. The first imprint can establish a perceptual pattern that colors all of life. In my case, the pattern became, ‘Stay quiet, conserve energy, survive, and wait for the right moment, then come on strong with all you’ve got!'” I was rubbing her feet while we had this conversation, and she told me that she had had a near-death experience while she was birthing me: “There was light, and I got a voice that let me know that I had a baby boy, and that I could go either way. It was my choice.” I said, “So you came back, and they let you know I might be brain-damaged, and you felt guilty, and that’s why you pushed me so hard, to excel in everything I did. You felt a lot of guilt, and it sort of oozed out of you, toward me, cloaked in a religion that uses guilt to manipulate people. Mom, it isn’t often that we get a chance to slow down and take time to step outside the patterns. You weren’t in a culture of compassionate therapists who could help you look at all this and decide how to parent me consciously. I had to leave Minnesota, in order to step out of the patterns.”
Q: Did that really work? Can you, in fact, step into a new place and become a new man?
It’s not that simple and easy, but I did manage to live apart from the world for awhile, and I was fortunate to find good therapists. For awhile I had therapy and then became friends with Eva Reich, daughter of Wilhelm Reich who had studied with Freud and then developed his own ideas when he wrote a book called Character Structure. I’m now a structural bodyworker who likes to teach workshops for amateurs and therapists of all stripes, and all of us bodyworkers are beholden to Reich for describing the physical and emotional map of the body. In those days when I knew Eva, she spent her winters traveling in developing countries, teaching infant baby massage to midwives and doctors and nurses……anyone who would listen. She said, “I want to work as far upstream on human problems as possible. Then we therapists won’t have to deal with so many 40 year old neurotics.” Eva was also placing copies of her father’s writings in libraries overseas because his writings were forbidden to be published by federal court injunction in this country.”
Reich helped people to read character structure by observing the facial expressions, postures, and the gestures of the body. Fascist government found its basis in fascist family structure, and he pointed that out. Once you understood how to read the language of the body, you could decide who to vote for, and reform your country. Politicians and judges didn’t want the people to become that wise, so they suppressed him, one way or another.
In those days, often I would find myself reviewing some part of my education or past experience, and asking myself the question, “What was THAT all about?” There’s a lot to be said for quieting and emptying out. And, of course, writing is a form of self-reflection. Finally I had a true dream that let me know I was free of the old pattern of my childhood.
Q: Tell me the dream.
I used to take catnaps up in the loft of the little cabin I built, and one early summer morning the sunshine was streaming through the window and I woke up laughing from the dream. The setting of the dream was the country church where I had attended with my family throughout childhood, and there was a funeral procession, all dressed in black, looking down at the ground, following a group of pallbearers carrying a coffin up the hill to the cemetery behind the church. I came out the front door of the church, and I was wearing a bright dashiki and dancing with my arms spread, whirling and leaping and….that’s when I woke up laughing, knowing that I had freed myself from a certain view of the dark.
It’s not that I avoid the dark. The dark void is luminous with energy, but you have to sit with it awhile in order to sense what is there. When I first came to the forest of Maine, I went without a flashlight at night so that my senses would open up. My outstretched palm would sense the presence of an animal before I heard it. On a pitch black night, the region around my eye would sense the presence of a branch before I reached up with my hand to verify that it was actually there.. My feet felt the path even though my eyes didn’t see it. Most important, I felt that the spirits of the land and the spirits of my ancestors were supportive of my being there. That was what I had to realize. Later, I would learn how to find a kelp bed in the dark and harvest it, miles from home, in the cold and dark. That is just child’s play now.
Physically, one must have enough good quality oil in one’s system to burn to make heat. I found that eating a bit of fatty duck in late afternoon, for instance, would guarantee a successful night harvest. Learning to breathe fully would supply oxygen to the fire, so to speak. And opening my joints, relaxing and allowing my internal energy to flow (call it chi if you like), was part of the equation, too. Stay loose and open, in other words. Water tends to loosen the spine when one is sitting in a boat. Just go with it. I remember when I discovered how to do that: not shiver, just relax and accept the movement and the cold. Embrace it. In the early years, I would go rowing. One day I rowed out around Petit Manan Island and came home. I decided that would be my working range. If the motor quit, I could always row home. I’ve pretty much settled on working within a five mile radius of home port most of the time. There’s talk about staying out on the islands overnight in the summer while we extend our range, picking dulse. That may happen.
Q: Did your mother begin to realize that you are someone who has stepped outside of a lot of religious and cultural patterns?
When we were talking about the birth, I said to her, “Ma, the astrologers say that I was born on The Day of the Survivor. I’ve survived a lot. You know, I’m really pissed off at you.” I winked. “My IQ was probably 160 before that birth, and now I’m only 130.” We had a good laugh. Much was realized, and all was forgiven.
Q: Any other longings or regrets?
I’d give anything to relive the evening when all the men in my family were gathered together in the farmhouse on Christmas eve, the night Barney shot Santa Claus. The way it all came down was that after supper, all the little kids were waiting for Santa to arrive, and suddenly we heard, out in the farm yard, “Ho! ho! ho!” Uncle Nels said, “I hear Santa Claus.” Uncle Barney said, “Where did he park the reindeer?” Nels said, “With the cows.” Barney jumped up and said, “That rascal! He’ll scare the cows!” He grabbed a double barrel shotgun and rushed out the door. We all heard Ka-blam! Ka-blam! Uncle Nels said, “Barney shot Santa Claus.” The little kids got upset. The aunties frowned and said, “Barney, that’s not funny.” The men laughed. Barney had an incredible high-pitched and loud laugh. He was always teasing me, one way or another. I was beginning to doubt the myth. I grinned and sided with the men. In the end, we brought Santa Claus in, somehow patched him up, and went on with Christmas. Santa even apologized for parking the reindeer in the wrong place and said next time he would be “good”. The uncles ruled! You know what? Nowadays, when it’s early November, and the stores are playing mind-numbing Christmas jingles, trying to get you to believe that you HAVE to spend money in order to be part of the Christmas spirit, giving me “guilt, the gift that keeps on giving,” I think to myself, “You know, Barney almost got the bastard……” That memory is balm to my Santa-tortured soul: BE GOOD! PROVE that you love! BUY something! You see, those men in my family, one way or another, were honing my crap detector. There is a part of us, deep down inside all of us, that recognizes truth. Those men all cared about me, they all loved me, and I felt the truth of that. The women loved me, too. It was a great place to grow up.
Q: You’re a lucky man. So why did you decide to settle in Maine?
I had moved to Florida because I wanted a complete change in climate and culture.
When I was living in Sarasota, I came across books by forager Euell Gibbons. One of them was called Stalking the Wild Asparagus and another was Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop. I snorkeled in the Gulf of Mexico, and I sampled everything that Euell said was edible. I also had encounters with dolphins. I discovered that when I was floating on my back in a relaxed frame of mind (that water is warmer than 80 degrees in the summertime; it’s not hard to drift while half asleep), dolphins would approach and swim parallel to me. They can scan you with ultrasound. I learned to love the ocean, and finally, one summer when I was headed up to Maine on my BMW motorcycle to be a camp counselor, I followed the eastern coastline all the way, even going out on Cape Hatteras. I was literally dowsing with my body, to discover where I belonged. I did the trip in three days, and when I got off the motorcycle, the cool marine air of Maine penetrated my lungs more deeply than anything I had ever felt before. I thought to myself, “The breathing is easy and free. This is like forested Minnesota, with the charged air of the ocean!” I became hooked on that combination, and it’s been home ever since.
Since 1971. I bought forest close to the ocean summer of 1971, and I went to vocational boatbuilding school that winter. Then I started homesteading. I was mentored by Helen and Scott Nearing. He was a socialist who said things like “from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs”. Helen and Scott encouraged me to go “cash & carry”. Banks make life twice as expensive. As much as possible, I learned to create my own means of production, growing a garden, recycling an old barn by tearing it down and rebuilding it as my first shelter. At first, I did what the locals did to earn a living: I dug clams, raked blueberries, made Christmas wreaths, sold Christmas trees, rototilled gardens, worked as a carpenter, started up a vegetable stand that also offered fresh baked bread and locally caught fish on ice. We had a local talented fisherman who brought freshly-harpooned tuna, gill-netted haddock, cod, hake, pollack, and flounder.
Q: And seaweed?
I wasn’t intending to start a seaweed company. Someone had given me a book called The Joy of Sacrifice. Each chapter described a living spiritual teacher of one sort or another, and the descriptions amounted to “Well, you can follow that teacher and learn to act and think like this, or you can follow this teacher and you’ll turn out a little different.” Six of one, half a dozen of the other. But what caught my eye, being the practical and skeptical sort that I was in those days, was a caution in the introduction to the book that essentially said, “Before you enter into the corridor of madness (that is what most practitioners on the path of transformation would agree that it is: your ego is going to be chewed up and spit out along the way), it would be best to find something to do with your hands, to keep your beasty-body alive while your spirit grows.” I had gone to Boston one winter and read the essays of the macrobiotic philosopher/teacher, Michio Kushi. I was starting to appreciate the eastern view. Seaweed was the ancient, wise, primitive, flexible and tenacious food on the table. It restored balance to tired and acidic bodies that were demineralized, wandering too far from their origin in the sea. I got that bodies are antennas and that the universe is holographic. Do you know what I mean?
Q: Explain please.
If you look at a holographic film of an image, there’s no image. If you shine a coherent laser light on it, a three dimensional image appears, suspended in light. If you tear off a corner of the film and shine a coherent laser light on it, the same image appears, unlike two dimensional photography where the image would be mutilated by such a process. In other words, any one part of the holographic film negative contains the essential information to reconstruct the image, provided a coherent laser light is shining on that part. We are like that. We are capable of realizing that “star stuff and our stuff are the same stuff”. But if our bodies don’t contain all the stuff, as in a demineralized body lacking trace elements, it’s harder for us to realize the connection. It’s harder for us to process information that is bombarding us from the cosmos all the time. It’s a bit like having a corroded antenna and not being able to pick up WERUniverse. (WERU is my local community-based radio station.)
Q: Good pun! OK. So you started harvesting seaweed.
The Nearings had made their living by making maple syrup in Vermont, then growing highbush blueberries in Maine. They also published their books. They advised finding work that did no harm. I thought that maybe I could make a living by harvesting and drying seaweed. I held that thought long enough to make it a reality.