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.

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Black, White, Yin, and Yang

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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

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“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?

 

 

 

 

 

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.