Recovering my faith through my phone

IMG_1220My relationship with Christianity has been a rocky one. I have felt conflicted about the Christian church my entire life, part of me attracted and another part repelled.  As a child I so disliked going to church that I resisted at the risk of setting off Dad’s intense temper.

Ironically, during high school I was lured into a Christian-based cult by cute young men who lived on our street, partly susceptible because of loneliness and partly because I wondered if there was a way to go deeper in faith and find something real within Christianity. As you can imagine, my foray ended badly, leaving me with a form of PTSD that to this day is triggered when I hear Christian terms and phrases.

And yet despite my dis-ease with Christianity, I found that when I hear friends adamantly rejected anything Christian, I was not in agreement. I continued to believe that there must be something of value in Western religious tradition that was either buried or distorted. Instinct, experiences of mysterious peace, told me this, and as I explored I learned there is also a mystic tradition within Christianity that was tossed aside in the Enlightenment. Much of Christianity, influenced by Newton, Descarte, and Western patriarchy, became dualistic, materialistic, misogynistic, and in some cases, nationalistic.

We humans inevitably create institutions reflecting our own limited awareness, egoic striving, fear, and need for power.  Most within a patriarchal, fall and redemption religion, internalize a negative view of ourselves as sinful and unworthy, and we give ministers, men, and bosses our power. I certainly have struggled with low self worth and with a view of woman as inferior and as subject to men’s leadership.

Throughout my youth and young adulthood I knew of no teachers speaking of a living and expansive Christianity. I tried to read authors my dad respected like C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, but their writings stirred guilt and confusion within me, perhaps because of my previous conditioning in the church. Though for many years I could not articulate the idea that we have neglected the feminine, jettisoned mysticism and contemplative practice, I continued to believe there was something real in Christianity.

It took many years of exploration within yogic philosophy and some dabbling in Buddhism to help me see Christianity with new eyes. Yoga taught me that God is within us, that we can practice spiritual disciplines that help us remember that truth, that help us loosen the hold of ego and live more often as the divine beings we are. It gave me an experience of God, of love and joy in being alive and in touch with our source. I discovered that Christianity has a mystical tradition of its own, that teachers like Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, and Matthew Fox embraced the yogic traditions and lived as mystics in the Western world.

Yet in this discovery process, within the excitement of uncovering the riches within my own tradition, I felt isolated. I had lost my yoga teacher to cancer, and I was wary of returning to the Methodist church. I didn’t know where I fit. Fortunately, I found help online, others who’ve felt the same mixed sense of disenfranchisement and renewal.

I listened to podcasts on my phone—OnBeing, The Road Back to You, Insights at the Edge, The New School at Commonweal. I heard from spiritual teachers in different traditions and discovered the Enneagram, a tool that has been immensely helpful to me in understanding my egoic patterns, and that introduced me to Christians who live within a mystically-informed, justice focused type of Christianity. In listening to teacher Suzanne Stabile and minister Ian Chron I heard Christians who are informed and open minded, alive, loving, and smart. I learned through them of The Liturgists, Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue (Science Mike), two youngish men who talk about contemplative and justice-oriented Christianity as well as about a range of social, psychological, and political issues seen through a Christian perspective. They desire to provide a home for people who have questioned, who have fallen out with the church, but who want to explore what they have missed within Christianity and faith.

I love their mind-and religion-bending take on life and spirituality. They turn churchism upside down and come to Christianity honestly, openly, admitting the conflicts and upheavals in their own journeys. They embrace the feminine, people of all races and gender orientations, and they are truly Jesus-oriented in they way they think and live. In a podcast on activism they talk to two black women who are deeply wise while acknowledging their own silo experiences as white, Christian, Evangelical-raised men. In a discussion with Rob Bell on the Bible, Mike acknowledges that the Bible is confusing in its admonitions to kill and the way such awareness led to a period of estrangement from his religion.

These two guys, neither of which is a theologian or minister, bring intelligence, education, humility, and curiosity to discussions of faith, life, and activism. They expose their own stories and invite others to connect with them and with each other.   They embrace the alienated and ostracized.

Having fled the church long ago, I find it startling to hear people living and breathing true Christianity in a world in which religion is used to justify discrimination, misogyny, and abuse. I now know there are Christians within and outside the church who are alive with spirit and ever growing and changing. In listening to these wise souls, one realizes how rare it is to live as a Christian, how a truly spiritual being like Jesus would certainly appear to us as radical, as one carrying a sword and exposing hypocrisy. I believe I am seeing a slow-growing revolution, one that is grassroots, honest, and truly loving.

Arise, Year Three

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Morning after my third year at Arise music festival. Wake up congested from a damp three days, run hot water over my head, my hair, my body, twisting and shaking to move the phlegm. Notice some sadness, loneliness, feel words, music, and encounters slipping away and yet conjure up Nandhiji calling us divine beings, the plaintive singing of Doug Good Feather, the sonorous dreamlike music of We Dream Dawn inviting me to dance. Impressions of people expressing themselves freely in a kindly space, men wearing sarongs and women going topless, young bodies making music and art, expressing soft, strong, nurturing or challenging energy at will.   People of all colors mingling, dancing, singing, listening.

Each year I find parts of myself in this event in the foothills of Loveland, Colorado. The nature-loving girl who loves to dance beneath the sky, the childlike woman who loves to listen to others and discover spiritual kinship. The adventurer who longs to share her passion for life in community, the amateur philosopher asking questions about who we are, the injured woman looking to uncover her buried feminine instinct, the lover seeking to express gratitude and joy.   I don light prana t-shirt, nylon pants that dry quickly after rain, merino wool socks and minimal shoes. Pack some snacks, raincoat, and folding chair, and dive in.

Older than most at Arise, I nevertheless feel at home. The hippy in me, the embodied, outdoor loving young woman has never changed: My hair may be graying, but I can yoga and dance with most, can traipse the landscape, explore, engage, celebrate, and discover.

I learn about yogic energetics, herbal medicine, making podcasts. I pull out of the crowd, enter Sunrise Dome and watch a movie about Standing Rock. I listen to director Josh Fox and producer Doug Good Feather talk about a movement encompassing the pipeline, Black Lives Matter, and others, a people’s movement, a stand for nature, clean air and water, justice. Fox speaks directly and forcefully about his travels throughout the country learning about the devastation of fracking, being a Bernie surrogate, making documentaries. We, the people, he says, are not as divided as we might think or as we might glean from the media. We would have voted for Bernie, a plain-speaking politician who supports people and the earth. Most of us, says Fox, reject the neoliberal-corporate way. I believe him.

Indeed. I believe that if we listen to Trump supporters, the alienated, especially the ones that voted for Obama, that longed for a shakeup in Washington, we hear people talking about good jobs, people who want decent healthcare, food, water, and community. Listen to the ranchers affected by fracking, the people of Flint Michigan deprived of clean water, the disaffected coal miners and other blue-collar workers. Listen to what the Democratic party said versus what we wanted, and remember Bernie’s words about the rich hoarding the wealth, about providing universal healthcare and ending fracking. Talk about a shakedown in Washington.

What I hear in Arise, from the name to the values expressed there (kindness, care for one another, treading lightly and cleaning up after ourselves), the clarity in the song lyrics about our situation and our need, the opportunity to connect with Native peoples, to practice yoga and qigong and other energy practices, the chance to learn about herbs and permaculture and about activism—is about supporting awakening and connection. Three days of meeting, supporting, celebrating, and learning. You can go simply to party, but most of us go for community, Spirit, and fuel for both daily living in insane times as well as for our activism.

I go to awaken my body and spirit, to find a launching pad. Arise as a whole provides that base: Revisit our natural joy, it says, our love for life, for each other, and for the earth. Glean wisdom for the journey from Nature and other teachers such as indigenous people, yogis, and activists who help us remember who we are and why we are here.

Nandhiji tells us we are divine beings capable of higher consciousness. Each day, he says, honor your mothers and fathers and the divine energies within you. Be your powerful, loving self. Josh Fox presents our work: Know that it is up to us, the people, to speak up for life. Connect with the spirit of Standing Rock, he says. Become a protector.

Stand up, stand for

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On inauguration day 2017, Greenpeace hoisted a banner behind yet above the White House that said “Resist.” I loved the boldness of the act and the way it “welcomed” the new administration to Washington. At the same time, the Indivisible movement was building, and they too adopted the term Resist as they began to challenge Trump’s agenda using the old Tea Party strategy of showing up to Congress member town halls and making themselves heard.

I identified with the word and its implications in these times when civil rights, healthcare, and nature are assaulted, and yet something about the concept left me feeling uncomfortable. Maybe it was the voice of a friend from some environmental activism quoting Carl Jung in saying “What you resist persists.” Or maybe it wasmy exposure to the stance of nonviolence advocated by Ghandi and King and my admiration for the Zen Peacemaker approach, which stresses “not knowing,” “bearing witness,” and “compassionate action.” Perhaps my discomfort stemmed from my concern that the challenge is so daunting and comprehensive that I wouldn’t have the energy to resist, to fight, for years to come. Maybe it was the fact I’d been on the losing side as corporate interests bowled over citizen stances in my own small Colorado city.

And yet I wanted to be out there with marchers, standing for all I hold dear.   I wanted to focus on what I was for, to “stand up.” I wanted to hold a stance that reflected my love for life, my passion for nature and for justice, one I could hold no matter what happened out there on the streets or resulted from the sea of influences converging in our out-of-balance world. In the midst of the turmoil and breakdown occurring I knew what I stood for, and I knew many others did too. Regardless of party, race, religion, or region, regardless of stance even on climate change or immigration, most want clean air and water, good healthcare, opportunities for meaningful work, politicians who listen to their constituents. We can start there I thought, find these values we hold in common.

Recently I heard a podcast in which The New School at Commonweal featured mythologist Caroline Casey. Casey noted that Resist is a basic, elementary concept for concerned citizens. She praised the Standing Rock movement and its ability to set a stage and tell a story for what they were standing for, and she noted that instead of calling themselves “protestors,” a word which, she says, means “grab them by the balls” in LATIN, a word that connotes fighting against. I looked “protest up in Merriam Webster to verify, and I found it means to assert publicly, “assert” coming from “testare” or “testis,” which means “witness.” I love that the people at Standing Rock, that Native peoples, call themselves “protectors” of the land, water, people.   The thousands that visited or inhabited Standing Rock emphasized their interdependence with the river and chanted “water is life.” They told the story of how Native women were protectors of the water, and how the people know their reliance on water and treat it with respect.

Their stance, their peacefulness, and the unity of so many tribes made an impression on many American youth who traveled to be part of the move to protect water and to acknowledge our connection with it. It captured the imagination of war veterans, of Christian clergy members, of Buddhists and Hindus.

Those protectors modeled for me how to express my love for nature and my conviction that we must treat her well. They showed me how to stand up, how to stand for, what I love and cherish in this life. They reminded me that we actually are one with the land, dependent on clean water and air, and on each other. I now remember and know clearly what I stand for: Respect for nature, and respect for all God’s creatures, human and animal. A just and moral society in which we care for one another and engage in practices and ceremonies that honor creation, that tame our minds and egos and help us remember who we are and of our interconnectedness. A society of people always learning to be humans fitting of the name.

The Trickster

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Last weekend my partner pulled me away from work, activism, writing, and my busy worried mind for a weekend in the Wyoming mountains. It took some energy to prepare, to put on a heavy backpack, and walk up into the hills, but that effort led to a profound shift for both of us, a shift on every level of our being—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Rain was forecast for all three days, and yet we didn’t see more than a ten-minute sprinkle. Instead the sun shone upon brilliant green vegetation and an abundance of yellow, lavender, and white wildflowers. Patches of snow hung on mountain faces while rivulets of water streamed down trails, and clear clean water flowed strong in the creeks. Sweating, sleeping on the earth, breathing mountain air and drinking mountain water for three days while attending to simple chores, our minds calmed and focused. We had conversations and reconnected. We watched sunrise and sunset, the changing light throughout the day as sun and earth shifted, feeling the cool air and hot sun on our skin.

More than any other trip I’ve taken, this one reminded me of my passion, my strength, and my love for life. Perhaps it was that it came six months into a destructive reign in our government, in the midst of wondering how to respond, how to act, in forgetting who I am and the beauty and power in our life here on earth. Mother Nature restored me, reminded me, invigorated my body and spirit.   Remembering her, I remember myself, God, and the power of Love.

The trip also came as I was becoming acquainted with a mythologist and storyteller named Caroline Casey, the founder of KFKA’s “The Visionary Activist Radio Show.” I found this description on the website: “Her show provides the Mythological News, the Themes of Now, and has as guests anyone with a piece of the puzzle for Dreaming Conjuring and Implementing a more lovingly ingenious world.” Casey weaves stories around what is happening our world, naming the forces arising in this time of great change. She speaks often of the trickster, the archetypal force that shakes up our perspective, upends institutions, and she speaks of the conman who may appear to be a trickster but is not.

From my time in the mountains and listening to Casey, I see differently. I know we humans have power, creativity, and love to bring to these times. We can join together when forces seek to set us apart, we can create community and new approaches to our work and daily lives. We can dance, tell stories, sing, celebrate, share. Conversations in mosques, urban gardening, introducing children to farmers, creating unity among races, we can tell our own story while the “powers that be” wreak their destruction. Those of us who attended women’s marches experienced a loving, devoted, powerful spirit—the very spirit that stands, that spreads, that plays its own trickster role in this wild, crazy, upside down time.

In fact, it is the midst of great change and in suffering that the best in us arises. The light shows bright against the dark, and we know they are one and the same, yin and yang.  We know that we humans are one with all, a truth that it takes a trickster, a crisis, a breakdown to remind us of.  May we indeed awaken to our power as sons and daughters of Mother Earth and Father Sun. May we rise and shine like those flowers filling the meadows, spreading as far as we can see.

The education of a young white girl

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“It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers. That’s the bottom line.”

James Baldwin, “The Price of a Ticket”

When I was a kid I had the only bedroom on the ground floor. My parents and three sisters slept upstairs while I inhabited a cocoon adjacent to the rec room where I withdrew into books, many pulled from my parents’ collection in the large wall-to-wall bookcase. Leaning up against my bed in front of the space heater, I discovered a world barely within reach of my imagination, one that existed before I was born in my own country, that persisted in various ways in my own lifetime.

It was the world of the Deep South, but really it was the world of African Americans in the United States during the 20th Century. I discovered it through books called Black Like Me and Nigger there in my white middle class home in a middle class neighborhood: I learned through reading stories difficult to fathom, stories that were troubling and at times horrific. In modern times, as the specter of white supremacy rises once again, I find myself thinking about those stories, about what I learned about conflicts between blacks and whites but more importantly how my heart was opened and my conviction of our equality and interconnection grew strong. Today, in the volatile racial and social situation we face we cannot ignore the fact know our lives are intimately entwined and that we have much to explore, admit, and rework.

I must have been 12 when I read Black Like Me. It was the improbable story of a white journalist named John Howard Griffin who blackened his skin and traveled through the Deep South in 1960 and published an account of his experience 1961. Traveling in the South in an era when segregation reigned, Griffin experienced racial slurs, demeaning comments, fear, and alienation. As soon as he landed in New Orleans, he felt alone, isolated, and as the days wore on and he felt traumatized and afraid for his life. After he published a magazine article and book on his experience he was threatened by many and later beaten and left for dead by KKK members. He left for Mexico.

Nigger is the autobiography of Dick Gregory, a writer, critic, and activist who is still alive today. Gregory tells the story of growing up black in America, his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, and his rise to fame. He writes about his anger at his abusive father and the fact that he almost killed him for assaulting his mother, about being assaulted in a tavern, about poverty and prejudice. He uses humor while portraying intense social issues.

As a young white girl sheltered in a middle class white neighborhood, these books and the stories they told seemed surreal: They shocked me, but I had no way of “processing,” no one to talk to about them. Instead I absorbed them in a way that changed me, that left me feeling more compassion, and more guilt. They touched a deep vein, stirring empathy, grief, and an awareness that I was in some way connected to black people, that skin color would never be enough to separate us in our humanity, that their oppression and suffering had something to do with our society, some sickness in us whites living safely in our nice tract homes in suburbia with every need met.

Given that my parents believed in equality, and that the Civil Rights era woke us up and created change, it seemed that we as a society would continue to evolve and leave those divisive years behind us. My first kiss was with a sweet boy named Robbie who was the only black boy in the school, and whose friendly open spirit attracted me. I read The Invisible Man in that school, and Toni Morrison books on my own, but it seemed to my naïve mind that these stories were of the past, that we had moved into an egalitarian society.

Years later, I moved to Colorado, an experience that unnerved me because everyone I knew and saw was white. When I followed the killings of Travon Martin in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, and Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement it was from a bubble, a small town north of Denver.   The shootings and riots and revival of a movement all seemed so remote to me as I recovered from a divorce and tried to make a living, as I buried myself in studies about alternative medicine and healing.

This summer, in 2017, with Trump in the White House, I watched I am Not your Negro, a documentary covering writer and activist James Baldwin’s writings and thoughts on the murders of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Given Trump’s presidency and the racism in his administration, my earliest empathies and a strong believe in our interconnectedness has been awakened. I know that our violence and destructiveness stem from delusion rather than true threat from one another. No matter how scared of the “other” we feel, we are all in this together, and given the dense population, the fragility of our economic and political systems, I feel my bond with my fellow humans more keenly than ever.

And the drama of “the other” plays out in new forms. Today it is Muslims who are outwardly disparage. At the same time, the unspoken attitude is that “liberal” whites like me as well as African Americans, gay people are bad. We stand in the way of those who want to reclaim a patriarchal white system in which a white God, white males, and corporations hold authority.

We are in a heap of trouble. We cannot hide anymore from the fact that we don’t know how to live together, how to basic human tasks such as grow food, dance and sing, love each other–to create a healthy society and economy, and the lowest most divisive energies are tearing things down. We have to acknowledge that our quest for comfort, for material goods, for status and safety have resulted in the creation of a glass tower that in truth is easily broken. We have to acknowledge our emptiness, the chimera we live in, the bubble of money and plastic and processed food and addiction. And we need to remember that our country was built on the backs of African and Native Americans.

In I am Not Your Negro, Baldwin says “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.” He talks about the emptiness of modern life, the pursuit of material goods, and the quieting of the inner moral voice.   He notes that Americans are afraid of their inner lives and their sexuality. He writes, “I’m terrified of the moral apathy, the death of the heart …” in America.

Many times in the last couple of years a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount has risen in my mind: “Blessed are the meek, for they share inherit the earth.” LOOK UP “MEEK.” I hear in theses words the reality of our situation and the truth that those who we have marginalized are the ones we most need to listen to—Blacks, Native Americans, people who have lived with disabilities, women, and children. Like Baldwin, they can show us where we have gone wrong and how to create a viable community, economy, and world.

I know many who have been marginalized have experienced trauma and, like the rest of us, have not grown into maturity. I also know that I in some ways am naïve about race. But there is some sensitivity in me that was fostered by these books and modeled by my parents, that was nourished enough to endure . . . and I possess an unshakable belief that listening to those on the “outside” is crucial to knowing ourselves and creating health community.

As Baldwin also said, “What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.” Why do we need to single out and ostracize those who are Black, or Muslim? Certainly our rejection of those different from us reveals our fears, our lack of self-knowledge, our one-sidedness.

The leaders within civil rights groups who have overcome, the individuals that have bound together and advocated for nonviolent protest and change, who have invoked a spiritual essence in their work and who are inclusive, are surely our leaders. Like Gregory, Baldwin and Griffin, they help us evolve. They may appear “meek” because they are not visible, not rich or powerful in the mainstream sense, because they are humble and devoted to a cause bigger than themselves, and yet they are the future. Better than anyone they know where we have come from and where we need to go. I am ready to once again sit at their feet and listen.

Women at work

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As someone on a nontraditional career path, I occasionally feel exposed to the “elements,” buffeted by values, messages, and fears that stem mostly from the society I was born within. While most of the time I feel energized and fulfilled, at others, perhaps in transition from one job to another, or needing to redefine my offerings and make new connections, I become fearful. In such times I have learned to slow down, get quiet, and spend time in nature, to remember I have felt and heard a call to healing and writing. I also remember that I am not alone, and I call to mind women friends, people who have lived and worked intentionally, with grace, with a palpable nurturing and feminine energy.

I think of my gentle and humble friend Susan, who in reality is a powerfully dedicated community servant. Susan left college early to work in the corporate world but in time began to make decisions increasingly aligned with her personal values. She changed paths and now works for Habitat for Humanity while volunteering in a restorative justice program.

Susan took a stand and changed her worklife at midlife, when she and her husband moved to a new city. Though she had been the main breadwinner while her husband built a landscape business, she told him she was going to take a job with Habitat for Humanity for $9.00 per hour. Though he was again building a business and was concerned, she was clear on what she wanted to do and ventured forth into work she loved. She helps families prepare for the program and for homeownership as a calm and compassionate mentor. Ten years into her work with Habitat she has a management position and travels about the country overseeing projects.

Another woman I came to know when our respective nonprofits partnered on outreach told me the story of how she’d come to work for an organization serving people with vision impairments. Kim had been working in corporate marketing but was laid off. She began volunteering to read for the blind in an organization that provides radio shows, news, and newspapers in verbal form. The director liked her and soon offered her a job. Nine years later Kim still works at this organization doing outreach and marketing. Devoted to her work, she enjoys the more relaxed environment, her lighter schedule, and the opportunity to help others.

A third friend became a massage therapist, a counselor, and a student of shamanism. She has her own practice and lives with three roommates. An intuitive person with healing ability and great warmth, she brings her gifts into her work, adding new dimension to the physical and emotional struggles of individuals she sees. Donia is so intuitive and gifted that she found her academic studies counterproductive: She says they almost killed her ability to work with people.

These women are wonderful role models for those of us who want to do gentle work, healing work. Their stories reveal their inherent gifts and their intentional approach to accessing their gifts to serve. They aligned their lives with their values. Each has a quality of resolve, of nurturance, and of dedication that inspires me, a mysterious but also tangible inner strength and motivation that guides and holds them in their work.   Having made decisions independent of financial considerations or the opinions of family members, their lifestyles and work now reflect their giftedness and their personalities, Susan’s in her gift for helping people find their way, Kim’s in her artful way of presenting to the community dressed and speaking in a unique expressing style and savoring local music through her musician husband. Donia’s in bringing her intuitive gifts into her work with people and with environmental activism.

My own work path has been unusual and circuitous, though looking back I see a common thread running through my choices and the situations in which I landed. An interest in biology and medicine actually turned to psychology and ultimately yoga therapy, and I worked in a holistic center, a drug court, and disability center. I wrote for magazines on holistic health.

I could never have foreseen such a path when I was in college; in truth it didn’t yet exist, and in actuality it is a unique path, a combination of teaching, writing, and healing outside of any particular field that reflects a role in educating about the individual’s role in her own healing and promoting the evolution of healthcare toward wellness, self-care, energy medicine, and spirit.

What these stories show is that there are many types of work, of lifestyle, that in sensing what our hearts, hands, and minds want to do, in noticing the needs in the world and the love in our hearts, we are propelled to carve our paths, and we find openings along the way. As we listen to what truly draws us, what feels right, we find our niche and the accompanying satisfaction and joy. We are happier, healthier, and we often have enough to live on, perhaps less than we thought we needed, but that now feels like more than enough within a context of meaning—a life aligned with one’s calling and abundant with joy.

In moving toward what calls us, we realize we have choices in how we live and work. We feel energized and engaged, and we participate in the community in ways that have meaning for us and that reveal our own beauty. I am so grateful to see living examples of this possibility, this way of being. The stories awaken my imagination and help me remember who I am.

To parents and friends of young adults: Let’s reconsider college and beyond

IMG_0216I have four nieces and nephews in college or choosing schools, and I find myself empathizing deeply with their state, that liminal status marked by poignant uncertainty, fear, and excitement. Like deer stunned by bright lights, they move through graduation ceremonies and parties, pause, and then launch into summer jobs and elaborate packing preparations, culminating in their departure for a new stage of life.

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is filled with competing urges to prove as well as to express ourselves. It is fueled by biology and the impulse to extend oneself into and contribute to our world.   Energies pulse, motivating us to engage our hearts, minds, and hands into our communities to work, learn, and explore. And yet what kind of world are youth today stepping forth to meet? What are they sensing, feeling, and thinking about the economy and the societal values presented to them? How do they respond to the prospects and roles awaiting them?  What ideas and imaginings brew within them waiting to take form?

Young adulthood is a potent stage of becoming in any age, but the current generation experiences a much more intense and fraught time than most preceding generations. Our society is breaking down and changing at a rapid pace, the fruits of our economic and societal worldviews revealing themselves in stark relief. The times are perhaps riper than ever in post-industrial civilization for innovation, for revising, for gaining perspective and altering course.

I believe our youth are poised to meet the challenge posed by our times, that the universe has planted seeds within them that will help us evolve. I say that because I know and see the seeds in me and my generation: Many of us know that a “more beautiful world” suggested by writers like Charles Eisenstein is possible and are living accordingly. Yet how do the young find their way under the intense pressures upon them?

Youth preparing to take the helm hold within them the age-old longing to use muscles, mind, and hearts to create or serve, and yet generally are not equipped to know how to proceed. Our benchmarks of money, status, and home in the suburbs perhaps have less meaning than ever, so presented with options of college, job, or if they are lucky, training in a field they already exhibit promise in, how do they decide? There is no talk of one’s inner voice or of seeking wisdom from greater sources, and though the impulse to grow and learn and work is strong, many youth experience overwhelm, ambivalence, and confusion. My own young family members are not terribly motivated. They seem a bit stunned, moody and out of sorts, impressionable at one time, half asleep at others, and at still others, angry. Some part of them is resistant to pressures and questions as they begin to experience the pull away from parents.

Given the dilemma young adults face, I believe their apparent ambivalence, the tendency to shut down or become restless in the face of pressure reflects wisdom buried deep within. Indeed, why should we go dutifully forward when we are not inspired by the prospects before us, when we do not sense an inner passion or response, or any receptivity for who we really are and what the gifts we have to bring forth? When no one helps us to access our own desire, our heart, our energy and insight?

And yet we cannot hide, or give up. We need, all of us, to look hard at this dilemma, one that has at least two aspects: We expect our youth to move forward and prepare for their work lives before they know themselves or the world, and, (this is crucial to acknowledge), there are some who do not resonate with the society and its values. How many young adults either sense or know the extent to which our institutions are breaking down? How many do not want to work as hard as parents who were rarely home, or find no inspiration in institutions that are losing their effectiveness, or funding, or whose leaders are being exposed as corrupt, sexist, homophobic, or racist?

At the crossroads from adolescence to adulthood, most of us cannot know what we are heading for.  We don’t understand the institutions and their assumptions, the politics, the context and history influencing our own values and roles. We don’t really know what any profession entails or what natural abilities we might have that would lend themselves to a knack for and potential in. Competition is high and prevalent, and opportunities for apprenticeships, internships, entry-level jobs can be difficult to find. Even if a young adult secures a “good job, does the role or profession inspire her? Does it call forth her gifts, does she encounter an elder mentor to help her realize her abilities?   Some can answer yes, but many more cannot.

I know that when I was young, I didn’t understand the sources of my dis-ease or alienation. I didn’t understand my restlessness. There were so many ways I felt hog tied and confused by my own damaged sense of self and by grief I felt in the face of our destructive ways of living and the resulting suffering of humans, animals, and earth herself.

Now in my fifties, I have worked in healthcare and have friends who are social workers.   Medicine, politics, education, social service—are all in disarray, already straining before the current administration has moved toward privatizing them. Given the state of our government, healthcare, and education systems, how inspired would anyone be to sign up for a career within them? Today even science is questioned, and the dot.com industry is going through dramatic changes while at the same time being exposed for rampant sexism; indeed most institutions are either coopted with dirty money, or the models which have been their centers for decades are no longer relevant. If our youth are half awake, they will not feel motivated by calls to join the oil and gas or pharmaceutical industries, two dominant industries today spreading propaganda in order to make money without regulation. They may sense that long-term prospects in computer science or even medicine may not be what they used to be.

Perhaps some young people aren’t aware of the collapse of institutions and are dutifully moving forward as society leads them. Is not allowing them to do so like building on sand?

Given all these uncertainties, given the decay and destruction within and beyond these corporate monoliths, why not look to the human heart, the responses and dreams of the young? Why not consider deeper motivation, values, the cultivating and expression of one’s gifts? Why not pause, seek guidance, listen for what is in one’s heart, what one’s “hands” long to do, what needs in the world stir one’s desire to work? I believe we are spiritual beings and that in crisis we will realize it and work together to claim our humanity, our love, and ways of living that reflect our better selves.

As someone working in integrative medicine, I have found that there is great reward in living from deeper instinct and desire, a possibility for connection, for satisfaction, and for meeting great needs in a changing society. I would go so far as to say working from one’s own sense of calling is the very way in to needed transformation. It stirs possibility for the renewal of a dying society. Work with others to build a new healthcare model, foster the development of sustainable energy, bring your mind, hands, and energy to the project of remaking and revisioning.

For inspiration, look to Charles Eisenstein’s website, or the innovative approaches of others in your own community: In the city near me, many young entrepreneurs are supporting one another in starting businesses, selling their services, building networks for childrearing, growing food, playing music. I know a young man who started a solar energy business, another who helps peers market their own businesses, another who started a no-kill cat rescue that receives abundant funding from the community. I see others take on traditional roles of carpenter, manager, herbalist, farmer in community supported agriculture. They follow a calling, a yearning to create something tangible or repair things instead of discarding them.

It is time for those of us in the preceding generations to change our way of interacting with the youth, to move from fear and conformity to imagination and heart. I see my nephews and nieces face much pressure at school, in sports, in preparing for adulthood, and I see them resist. I want to know how they imagine their own futures, what do they long for, and what is their response to these pressures? Why not encourage young people to think about what is important to them, what calls them, what their gifts and talents are? Why not encourage such longing, creativity, such energy to bring forth one’s gifts and vision?

Let’s ask our youth these questions, encourage them, and help them implement their ideas. We elders might provide gentle “spaces” in which to conceive of one’s path, encouragement to help young people tune into their own hearts or passions, and stories of people who have opted to work for nonprofits, or who have started businesses or embarked in old or new industries. We might together find ways to creatively use “gap years” in which they might travel or work or apprentice in something that appeals to them.

We need our youth, their hearts, their energy, and its time to tell them so. We need their ideas, their instinct, their desire and passion as well as their disillusionment and questions. We need their feedback about which things are working and which are not. The young have wisdom within, but they need help in hearing it, and it is our responsibility to help them birth and give form to their dreams.

Already amidst this tumultuous transition, a new consciousness is emerging. Many are ready to acknowledge the reality of our state, to sit together in uncertainty, to grieve the breakdown of our society and nurture new ways emerging within and without. Time is surely ripe to listen to one another and to work together to birth a new age. Such work will engage our heart and our energy, foster community and connection, those things most of us long for. Let us reimagine and remake our world, young and old together.

 

 

 

Our original medicine

IMG_1026Years ago I met a cultural anthropologist and “new age” teacher named Angeles Arrien. Small, earthy, and whimsical, Arrien felt familiar to me like a beloved aunt, and I found the combination in her of scholar, Basque heritage, creativity and open heartedness captivating as well as confidence inducing.   This delightful woman introduced me in a real way to the idea that we might access guidance from indigenous cultures, from ancestral and spirit realms. My encounter with her led to some new ways of thinking, ways of listening and noticing.

Recently I read Arrien’s book The Four Fold Way, a deceptively simple manual drawing from indigenous wisdom and the concept of four archetypes including teacher, healer, warrior, and visionary. Her aim in the book is to provide a guide to accessing our deeper wisdom and power and reclaiming our connection to the earth.

An idea from the book that struck me particularly strongly was that of “original medicine:” Indigenous cultures say that each of us is born with a unique nature, or power, characterized by our individual gifts, talents, and attributes.

Arrien writes, “. . . it is important to bring one’s creative spirit, life dream, or purpose to earth. Not to do so precludes healing from coming into our family and our professional lives. Our work is to come fully forward with our gifts, talents, and resources, and to meet our tests and challenges.” She adds, “Not to be ‘in our medicine’ or bring our power into the world precludes healing from coming to Mother Nature and all her creatures.”

I find this a beautiful idea, one that provides a helpful way through which to view my life, that inspires me to listen for my medicine and bring it into the world. The awareness of my power instills energy and desire to listen and to learn how to be myself and to bring my gifts forward. Following a desire to spend time in nature, learning to be more mindful and present with my own emotions and thoughts and in my daily encounters, practicing yoga and qigong, I become more attuned to my power. I encounter others earnestly seeking to do their work, and life is rich with meaning and daily discovery of the divine dance we humans participate in. These practices, as well as sitting with woundedness, in therapy, have shown me how I how I muted, buried, or lost my own power. I find myself growing more natural, more able to feel and express what I know. More open to community, I find myself a good listener and communicator who helps others reach deeper wisdom. And as I become freer to be myself I feel great joy and gratitude, a desire to dance, to connect more deeply with others and with nature.

In exploring my own particular medicine I started with noticing my natural way of being:  I felt a deep love for life and Mother Nature in the midst of environmental devastation. I realized I have always had a way of observing and fostering process or transformation, a way of being that demanded simplicity and ongoing connection to nature as well as my inner world. I noticed I have an ability to respectfully listen to others and to help them discover what is natural and heartfelt for them, an ability to foster exploration and experimentation in groups that brings forth knowing and inspiration for new action that leads to physical and emotional healing. I recovered a love for song and dance, and a fierce protective instinct for life in others and in the world.

While once I felt like a misfit and failure within this driven, materialistic society, today I see that I am a teacher and change agent, an artist and a lover. I accept and embrace my deep sensitivity and gentleness, my unique way of being in uncertainty as something new emerges, and I realize that I help others to listen for their own medicine. This power in me manifests in the world as I teach yoga, write, and facilitate groups for people with chronic illnesses or in restorative justice.

My hope is that I may bring a little more freedom, love, and care into the world. That more and more of us will bring forth our medicine for each other and the earth, that we may together engage in rediscovery, recognition, and rebirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Wall Kimmerer and intimacy with nature

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I like to imagine what it would be like if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land today, as it was in our past. Imagine if a developer, eyeing open land for a shopping mall, had to ask the golden rod, the meadowlarks, and the monarch butterflies for permission to take their homeland. What if he had to abide by the answer?   Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have read many books in my life, a plethora of novels as well as treatises on psychology, religion, culture, and our relationship with nature. I love to explore various worldviews and ways of living. But there is one author whose work stands out to me in its beauty and in its revelatory power: a woman deeply acquainted with ways of living aligned with nature, a mother, scientist, university professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Robin Wall Kimmerer. A talented writer as well as thinker, she brings alive the science of botany, the ways of her people, and the art of teaching the young while simultaneously educating her readers in a manner that reaches mind, heart, and body.

Kimmerer believes that plants and animals are our oldest teachers and that we live with them in a reciprocal relationship. She is skilled at illustrating nature’s teachings and in helping us understand the generosity of the earth and how to give our own gifts in return. Her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants revealed to me a dimension of life I had little knowledge of, and it brought that dimension alive in a way that stirred my heart and at times made me weep.

Braiding Sweetgrass tells stories of the basketmakers and the sweetgrass they tend and harvest, of the history of the Potawatomi people, the Thanksgiving Address of the Onondaga, of her adventures studying botany in college, raising her girls and taking her students out into the woods and instructing them in biology as well as intimacy with nature.   Within this rich tapestry, I found the chapter “The Honorable Harvest” to remain with me most palpably, perhaps because I am so keenly aware at the moment of all-out assaults on our natural areas by corporations and their government enablers. At the same time I am wondering about how I live and what role I play in this culture of material profit and plunder.

I bow to Kimmerer as a truly wise teacher. She tells us that there is an “indigenous canon of principles and practices that govern the exchange of life for life” which is known as the “Honorable Harvest.” “They are rules of sorts that govern our taking, shape our relationships with the natural world, and rein in our tendency to consume—that the world might be as rich for the seventh generation as it is for our own.”

Inspired botanist and professor as well as inheritor of Potawatomi tradition, Kimmerer has immersed herself in observing the interaction of people and plants, and she uses examples of basketmakers to show us a relationship and way of living long forgotten by most. Basketmakers gathering sweetgrass ask permission of the plant, take only what they need. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the sweetgrass.   Kimmerer tells us that the old stories say that of all the plants, sweetgrass was the first to grow on the earth, and the Potawatomi use sweetgrass as a ceremonial plant as well as material with which to make beautiful baskets.

“Both medicine and a relative,” notes Kimmerer “its value is both material and spiritual.”  In fact, all of nature is material and spiritual, and humans once knew how to honor that truth. Braiding Sweetgrass, in its illustrations of living, celebrating, honoring, and giving, is a radical treatise. I find the message of the honorable harvest to be central if not the theme of every other chapter introduced and brought to life in this beautiful literary work. And its message of what it means to be human on the earth is crucial: “The Honorable Harvest asks us to give back, in reciprocity, for what we have been given. Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.”

This is a book that will turn you inside out and upside down. It will stimulate your brain and change your perceptions. Read it only if you are prepared to have your heart broken and nourished in mysterious and startling ways.

Climbing out of the career box

IMG_1096When I was a child, the adults imparted various ideas about work to us younguns.   School counselors spoke about needs in the economy we should plan to fill, and parents admonished and steered us based on their own experiences and concerns, promoting particular vocations or roles and criticizing others. Our social mores, economic realities, and political arena provided the backdrop.

In my particular case, junior high school teachers told me I should use the Occupational Handbook to learn what careers were in demand and prepare to find my place within them, and Dad relayed the message that I as a female should focus on raising children and not pursue too demanding a career.   Given his religious and medical background, he urged me to find work in which I could serve others.

Dad did send me to college, where I briefly studied science and considered being a doctor, then a physician’s assistant, then ended up studying English and psychology without a clear vocational goal in mind. I was confused. The good news is I have had several jobs that I loved, and I’ve made a living with a combination of skills including health writing and education as well as yoga teaching. This work, however, changes constantly—wellness centers and magazines alike rise and fall, funding comes and goes.

In piecing together a work life I’ve thought and analyzed, tried to find a niche, experimented, taken career tests, and pondered the idea of calling. I’ve come to realize there may be deeper and more mysterious forces at work within us, guidance we may begin to hear if we slow down, soften, and listen.

For example, I notice that I think I could or would or should pursue a particular career like psychotherapy, or digital communications, or patient advocate, such thoughts come from trying to fit in, or from thinking that’s all I can get. And yet if I become quiet, I realize this is an impulse to fit in, make money, find a quick answer while experiencing a gap or a change in my work life. Underneath that impulse lie deeper desires to teach, to help people realize new truths, to write about new ways of healing and living. I find that when I tune in to deeper knowing, to my desires and passion, I am energized to step forward and create. Often I nervously channel my mind into more well-defined career paths, and yet the deeper vocational impulses do not let go.

We are conditioned by existing beliefs and the institutions we grow up in; we live in a busy society within an economy defined by achieving material wealth, status, or an acceptable gender role. The vocational options presented to us are those that support this economy, and though we may at times feel yearnings for some other vocation, we quickly brush these aside to find a niche that will provide security and recognition and perhaps money we can use to placate our other yearnings.

While being a doctor was the established and recognized and monetarily rewarding field presented to me, while nursing or motherhood were suggested, it was being a yoga teacher that called me. It was studying yoga philosophy, archetypal psychology, and wrote a book.

I recently met a woman who told me the story of a friend’s son, a young man who graduated from college with a degree in business. While he was looking for a job, a family friend offered him a position at her company, a manufacturing business that made weaving looms. While working there, this young man learned to weave and became quite skilled at it, discovering an eye for design and relishing creating patterns in his tapestries. During his time there, his mother was doing some genealogy work and learned that their male ancestors from Scotland had been weavers. This young man now works as an artist: He designs and weaves tapestries and also works as a graphic designer.

While we may not all be drawn toward the vocations of ancestors, this story reveals the mystery of our lives and the unconscious forces driving us. Whether there is a soul calling or an ancestral memory passed down through the blood and behaviors of our elders, whether it is a desire to do something unrecognized in our modern society, we should follow it as best we can.

Our callings are deep and mysterious, and they are difficult for we moderns to discern. Often it is in the inbetween times, after losing a job, finishing school, etc., that we may begin to hear them at last. And following them may not lead to riches or niches but to meaning and joy. I believe they may just lead to the renewal of our institutions and our society itself.