Dedicate yourself

More aspen leavesIf you dedicate yourself to a true vision, to something that wants to be done on this earth, it will find a way to allow your service.      -Charles Eisenstein

If you’re like me and are prone to imagining a world in which we all live more gently on the earth, you may have found your way to the work of Charles Eisenstein.   Author of A More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, he is in demand as a speaker all over the world for his ideas on “a new and ancient story,” alternative cultural narratives, ecology, and the gift economy.

What does all that mean? Basically, he is sharing a story of interconnectedness and addressing the illusion of a world based on competition and control. Eisenstein brings to life inklings many of us have about the unsustainability of our economy and proposes another view and way of living that fosters community, creativity, and living in tune with nature. In a recent conversation with psychiatrist Kelly Brogan at the Alchemist’s Kitchen in New York City he talks about the process of stepping out of “the matrix” into a different way of being. The matrix, as referred to in the movie of the same name, is the idea of a reality created by man that is socially constructed, that is about exploiting certain others for gain.

“What happens when we step out of the matrix, which is where all the money is,” repeated Eisenstein. “How do we make a living?   Seriously: “How do we make a living when we want to step out of the world destroying machine and contribute to the healing of the world but there’s not as much money in that?”

His first response was to disclose that he sometimes falls into doubt while wrestling with the contrast between how we are and how we might be and to note that friends call encourage him and call him back to his work. He’s learned, he said, that mental models fail us when we try to think about another way to approach a problem. Wemust rely on another compass, he says, one within our hearts and spirits. His own compass, notes Eisenstein, has been cultivated by elders, friends, and supporters. “I’m like a tuning fork or an antenna,” he said, “that is only as effective as the generalized consciousness and desire.”

In learning to find that compass within, we encounter our pain, and we find that the path unfolds moment by moment. We do not know how to get to this other way of being, it seems impossible, says Eisenstein, it is just that the path is invisible from where we currently find ourselves. “If it is a true vision, it is not unrealistic,” he says: We will make it through tests and past obstacles and find our way to erve.

We are immersed in an old story of how change happens, but in embracing the darkness, the not knowing, we open ourselves to an adventure, a discovery, and the creation of something new. “If you dedicate yourself to a true vision, to something that wants to be done on this earth, it will find a way to allow your service,” says Eisenstein.

I have found myself dedicated to several visions, though I can see a common thread running throughout my endeavors. Moving to Colorado to live close to mountains and not knowing what my work would look like, I became a yoga teacher and freelance writer. I was then able to carry the yoga into positions working in a county drug court and then in a center for people people with disabilities. Discovering a great deal about myself and my human way of feeling flawed and inadequate, I found that in following my heart and being open to my experiences each day, I slowly grew more compassionate towards myself and others. I became a midwife of sorts, able as I was to listen to people’s stories as an writer and as a program manager/teacher. None of these endeavors suggested themselves in my youth in the Northern Virginia suburbs, in college, in my first jobs in DC. Yet they were niches that were just right for me.

I could not foresee how I could meet a carpenter living in the foothills and fall in love or how I might become an activist working to protect my adopted town. Yet I see now that the vision of gleaning wisdom of the mountains and from yoga led me to the work of helping people transform their relationships with their bodies and to trust themselves and their hearts. Whether it was being with youth deciding to value themselves and follow their vocations, or people with chronic illness who took ownership of their health and treatment, I was blessed to witness people attuning to that internal compass.

Nowadays I hear stories everyday of people who exist outside of the matrix: People who lose their eyesight or ability to walk and change careers, stories of bodyworkers and artists who learn to live frugally and in community, activists and writers who find their voice and stand up for what they love. Whether well-known like Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking about the black experience, or less known like Eisenstein, or hidden from view like my healer friends, they are pushing into new territory while carrying their own stories and heart desire close. They have chosen to follow inner inklings and to observe the response of the universe, asking questions of life, following their own visions, and finding joy in the midst of creation.

Many in our world have conceived of the world on their own terms, reckoned with their grief, and engaged in their passions. They are the “proof” that we can embrace lifestyles true to ourselves and our hearts and experience the mysterious support of the universe. They show us “the more beautiful world” we imagine is real. It lives within us, and we can birth it in our own lives and our own communities each day.

Advertisements

Black, White, Yin, and Yang

IMG_0787

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates garnered attention recently after publishing an article in the Atlantic called “The First White President.” The article talks about Trump’s white supremacy, the white vote. Its subtitle is “The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.” It makes me think.

On the one hand, my eyes have been opened as the prejudice in our country is uncovered and white supremacy is loosed in terrible ways. I appreciate the challenge in reading Coates, the way his words make me remove my shoes and slip on his, they way they make me step out of my bubble and reckon with what is really going on, the racism deeply embedded in our country. On the other hand, his words make me feel off kilter as I reflect on my own experience and detect some relationship in our situations. We whites have benefitted immensely from our elevated status and histories as the enfranchised, but we are sick from this cancer in our society too. Women and men striving, competing, climbing over each other, we are soul sick. We don’t even know what we are working for, and we are so busy we don’t realize what we are missing.

I will never know what it is like for Coates to live in this predominately white world where police kill black men and incarcerate many more. What it is like to be feared and hated, to be seen as a threat and as less capable at best and as criminal at worst.   But I feel that we and those like us are brother and sister, both of us awake to the truths of our society and the long history of its sickness.

I am pierced and aggrieved by this white nationalistic stuff, and I know in the face of it, I am, to borrow a sentiment voiced by water protector Doug Goodfeather to a small group of us white people, a [red] black man now. In these current times, white nationalists are a threat to all of our safety, to our communities and democracy, to any wellbeing. This threat to half the population is a threat to me, to all of us, and I know this assertion to be true from the depths of my heart and soul.

I know my life has been far easier than Coates’s has, and yet I feel that his struggle is a highlighted, more intense, and poignant partner to my own story of alienation and lack of self-worth. As a white woman, my own weak sense of self, the sense of being at odds most of my life now reveals itself to be a function of our corrupt and destructive economic system.

I honestly read Coates like a hungry child, one who is living with a sense of lack, who is sad that the “adults” about her work, often producing more junk, more highways, more shopping malls, while finding little time for their families, for their creativity. I begin to understand how these white suburbs I’ve inhabited are built upon others’ suffering and exclusion. I begin to see how screwed up our economy, our politics, our media are. Within Coates’s shoes, I see who we are as Americans.

As he shares his own experience growing up in Baltimore streets and witnessing the horrific treatment of black men in this culture, I consider how I grew up in the edges of DC in all-white suburbs, not far from Baltimore but oblivious. In depicting the economic hardships, drug problems, inner city violence, and discrimination in the prosecution and jailing of black men, he helps me better understand the world I see in which materialism, competition, and isolation reign. In the shadow of his story mine shows well lit, my blindness as well as my crippling low self-worth and my confusion. Coates contributes to my long slow awakening.

I see more clearly than ever how we whites suffer from the same corporate greed, from dismissal and denigration by those in power or those with money, from the materialism, from political and economic corruption, from egotism and exploitation. While whites might have hid from or avoided some of the ill affects of corporate greed, from economic and political corruption, we are now beginning to enter the thick of it. When oil companies want to frack in my back yard and dump toxic waste in my community, when Republicans want to take away my health care and increase my taxes, jail me for protesting, I become the black man, the red woman.

Though most white people may not experience daily fears for our lives, our bodies, our loved ones, we have become more and more isolated, focused on our own little lives, our goals and dreams, unaware of what is going on around and in us. We are alienated from our neighbors and sometimes our own family members. We are brainwashed by a demeaning economic model, worn out and sometimes sick from our striving, our amassing of stuff. We hurt from our divisions. And in our insulated and whitewashed existence we have not realized how toxic industry and politicians have raped the land and poisoned everything around us.

In The Souls of Black Folks, published in 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois pondered the situation and status of Black Americans but also the direction of society as a whole. In that work he noted that a Tennessee town he lived in experienced major changes some called progress and he called “ugly.” He warned against the “greed of gold,” or “interpreting the world in dollars.” He said blacks should not abdicate “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness,” to the ideal of wealth attainment. “. . . to make men,” said Du Bois, “we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living,-not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold.”

Greed and progress are the very values our whole society has succumbed to. Time for a book called “The Souls of Americans,” time for taking stock. What meaning will our youth find in their white suburban lives as the notions of progress and achievement whither?

Paradoxically, the revelation of our decay and corruption releases energy.  When I feel my connection to Coates, to people and planet, I am feeling life. A force that allows me to break through the fear, conformity, and insanity like a new shoot through dead leaves.

This darkness and division actually allows love to surface and grow. The roof or our prison can be removed to let in sunshine and allow movement. We have an opportunity to listen to one another and to learn, to remove walls and plant gardens. To awaken within our bodies, minds, and hearts. Shaking out rusty limbs, blowing off dust, let us build cabins and communities, listen to our Mother and learn new ways of being. Forgive one another and work together, celebrate together, live as the beautiful multi-colored imaginations that we are.

Dedicated to renewal in the midst of breakdown

IMG_0869May we all be agents of guiding our rogue species back to the Choreography of Creation in the Garden of Conscious Kinship.

-Caroline Casey

Call me a tree hugger, an idealist, a romantic. I don’t care. I stand by my love for Mother Earth and her creatures, and I felt that way even before Mr. Trump came along to show us our shadow in stark relief, before he began to gut the EPA and free industry to develop and pollute at will. I am ready to sit with my community and face our seemingly insurmountable problems, from those in energy “production” to rising healthcare costs to toxic forces in our education system, and the rise of racial hatred.

It seems to me that the deterioration in our institutions and communities stems from our materialism and our misguided conception of progress and achievement. In the midst of striving to conquer, achieve, and gain, we created an unsustainable and poisonous society.

At the same time, I believe, the chaos and breakdown is an opportunity for tremendous renewal, reconnection, and creativity. I feel excitement energize my body from my toes to my scalp. Why don’t we begin to admit and express our feelings of entrapment in deadening jobs, our loss of meaning and lack of time for loved ones, for celebration, and for creation? To learn to connect with others and develop a new society in which we see, hear, and serve one another?

It is a kairos time, kairos meaning “a propitious time for decision or action.” We are in a moment of opportunity for transformation. Such a concept gives me hope, drives me out into my community to talk with others. Though many rise up and lash out from fear, we might instead share our fear with one another, sit with mystery and the unknown, with our communities, and acknowledge our lostness and our grief as well as the potential for something new to be born.

I believe in what I say. I have traveled through the dark tunnel of fear and grief and discovered connection with Self, God, and my fellow humans. I experience a real sense of life force in my desire to dance and break bread with others, to sing, dream, and create. The dire situation we face galvanizes us, means there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. It says to us, who are you, what does it mean to be human, and what kind of world are you poised to create?

As a woman on the edge of the mainstream society, a woman attuned to nature, to people with disabilities and illness, as an animal lover and a mystic, I dedicate myself to our renewal. I commit to working with my fellow humans in, as political thinker and astrologist Caroline Casey says, “guiding our rogue species back to the Choreography of Creation in the Garden of Conscious Kinship.” Kinship with God, nature, and all earth’s creatures.

 

 

No way out but in

IMG_1511

“We are living through a battle for the soul of our nation.”

Joe Biden after Charlottesville Alt right rally, 2017

Our country is in trouble, and I think most everyone knows it. Some think the liberal elite is the cause of our breakdown, others believe blacks, Muslims, and immigrants are taking away their opportunities and ruining our nation. They feel the government doesn’t care about them, and they hope Trump will.   Others think we are in trouble because of the increasing political and economic power of the right, of corporations and their ability to control policy, of skewed and fearful views of women, religion, and minorities.

Whatever the cause, many institutions are deteriorating—education, healthcare, and religion are obvious ones, with money a large part of the problem. Oil and gas companies are in conflict with citizens and with those supporting renewable energy. Whether we like it or not, the economy is changing, and some jobs are disappearing in the process.   And though some won’t admit it, we also know the planet is warming, the polar ice melting, the climate patterns changing, plants and animals dying off.  Our environment is becoming more and more polluted each day as the cumulative effects of industry leave trails of toxins and as we decimate forests and animal life.

The truly sad part of our dilemma is that we are becoming divided, polarized, when in actuality we want the same things. We may agree that institutions are in need of renewal, but we disagree about how to revive them.   But let’s start at ground level: Think of any young mother, politics aside. She wants decent food on the table, good healthcare, access to good work for herself and/or her husband. She wants to live in a safe community with clean air and clean water, and she wants affordable quality education for her kids. Young adults want to feel needed, able to feel a sense of belonging, to make a living and to contribute to their families or communities.

Consider a small community of centuries past. If a town faced threats or problems, people would gather together to discuss those problems and come up with solutions. They would care together for the young and the old amongst them. And while coming together might mean facing grief, fear, and uncertainty, the act of meeting, of acknowledging the dilemma and fragility of the community is a starting place for new connection, for new solutions, to emerge. It quite likely would represent of set off a change of course, new ideas, creativity, and bonding.

We must go into the heart of the matter and into our hearts as living creatures on the earth, as members of the human community and the earth community. If our way of living has run its course, or if it is flawed, and one of those things must be true, we must take stock and prepare for a change. We must open to the possibility of a new way of living. Dividing and fighting weakens all of us and in these times could lead to complete destruction.

Indeed many things have evolved or transformed in US culture.   Since the days of the early settlers, when we lived without running water, toilets, sanitation, into the times of slavery, of women as property, we have changed dramatically. Technological development gave us the automobile, the airplane the TV, the telephone. Imagine how we might now take new leaps forward in human “technology,” in self-awareness, communication, and working together. How we might even change our lifestyles to drive less, work differently, consume differently, create and enjoy more.

When I, a simple program coordinator and yoga teacher, began to learn about fracking and its rate of development in my own community, I learned it was using far too much clean water and producing a spate of harmful toxins and occurring in the middle of farms, ranches, and neighborhoods. When people told me the practice was inevitable, that we needed the oil and gas to heat our homes and drive our cars, I felt stuck, and troubled. If that is the case, and we continue to drill into shale and inject chemical-laced water into the land and water table, we will eventually pay a huge price in the health of our environments and bodies. We will also eventually use up all the oil and gas and be without. Why not gather together like those earlier communities and talk about what we are doing, its effects, and alternatives, I wondered?

Instead I saw politicians and industry leaders insisting that fracking is safe, that it is great for the economy, that is essential for our nation’s independence. Both these groups were benefitting financially from the practice, and neither would give an inch. When other groups tried to at the least impose stricter regulations, they fought them. In the meantime, some young men have jobs, but at a cost to their family lives, their health, and sometimes their lives. And when the drilling slows down, they are at a loss.

We are now faced with a choice: We can go blindly along looking for that job from one of these weakening institutions, reaching for scraps thrown to us by the greedy industrialists, or, we can bond together and ask the questions about what is happening and what kind of community and country we want to live in. We can begin to think of our connection, our need for each other, the limits and destructiveness of our competitiveness and materialism. We can get angry, or we can admit our fear and vulnerability and begin to create anew.

I have decided to start a podcast about people who are doing this very thing, people of great heart and creativity, people with new ideas, with a love of life and a desire to live in harmony with the planet and with their fellow creatures. I know many such people. We can give birth to a new way of being—are you in? Are you willing to go into the grief, into your fear, and into connection?

 

 

 

 

 

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

IMG_1262

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

asters

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

IMG_1491

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

IMG_0551

“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

Jul102010_0434

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.