The need for a reset button

Photo credit: Carbon Arc on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Our world is in trouble. So much unrest and anger can be blamed on the growing towers of  tensions we read about daily. We’re either caught inside these towers or watching them tilt crazily toward us from the ground. Every day we have to decide who to trust, who to believe, how to act, and what it means to be responsible in a world that seems about to crash. Maybe society needs to blow up in order to reset, but I sure wish we had a button to let us do it safely and sanely.

A reset button, in fact. A time out for routine maintenance. A release valve. Something! A chance for relief from this building energy.

My own body tells me I need this: with relief, tension-held muscles relax– ones I didn’t know had locked into position creak into a new freedom. Tears come. Deep sobbing. When my body finally settles into peace, it’s possible to think again, examine reality with fresh eyes. Form new vision and set new goals, maybe form new beliefs to help guide me through this new reality. or this same reality viewed with a different lens.

We are on a brink here. I’m curious and I’m worried and I’m praying more than I ever have for guidance in what to do. Our country–and maybe it’s our whole planet–cannot keep on like it is without breaking. I’m still reading the New Testament with my sisters, and sometimes Paul’s words seem perfect.

In hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.”–Romans 8:24-26

I love that last, “inexpressible groanings.” It makes me  smile. It makes me think of something I might read in The 13 Clocks by James Thurber (a childhood favorite). It makes me think that God is on my side, groaning along with me, groaning FOR me in fact.

How hard these times are for us all!  It brings me some peace to think God will provide all the inexpressible groanings we need in these crazy times. My job is to keep my hope intact, which I think is another way of saying my faith strong. The reset button is out there, for me and for my world. I HOPE my heart opens to understanding where that reset button might be, what it might look like, and what I can do to press it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gospels with my sisters

The Covid Crisis has given me a deeper appreciation of my health and awareness of my shocking privilege among other things, but its greatest gift so far has been to connect me more with sisters.

Gospels bookclub with my sisters

Photo on VisualHunt

In early March before any of us were issued a “Stay at Home” order, three of my four sisters and I went to a family funeral and shared a very small airbnb over a weekend. We got into some deep conversations about spirit and faith and the importance of the Gospels. Although we were all raised Unitarian, my two eldest sisters have studied the Bible with vigor, one as a thoroughly involved evangelical christian, the other as a very active Episcopalian. We other three have never before read the Gospels, let alone studied them. We agreed it would be fun and informative to read them together; the Lock Down orders and a new understanding of how zoom works allowed this to happen very quickly. We’ve been  meeting almost daily (daily!) for about an hour since mid-March.

It’s slow going. It’s amazing how much there is to discuss! I had no idea, for instance, that the Lord’s Prayer comes from the Sermon on the Mount (which is not labeled as such, really) and that it’s only in one of the Gospels! Well, you can imagine how blown away I was by Matthew (whom we started with). It’s been fascinating to discover where so many of the famous stories and expressions come from, and a little embarrassing that I didn’t know this before. Luckily, two of my other sisters are in a similar boat so I don’t feel too much like an idiot. 

I’ve been so surprised to find out that Jesus isn’t always (ever?) portrayed as the sweet, loving person I’ve always assumed he was. I had no idea Mother Mary is barely mentioned in the gospels, and Mary Magdalene not much more. A huge amount of my prior understanding of the gospels came from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. I grew up singing both.

In case you’re curious, I’m reading with the free Bible app, bible.com. It’s an astonishing resource. You get to choose and move between editions. I mainly use the NET, whatever that stands for, because the notes in that version can help sometimes. I also frequently look at the Messenger for a more contemporary rewriting of the verses. My sisters often bring in other resources: the Jewish interpretation (can’t remember what it’s called), for example. Because we go so slowly–often just chapter by chapter–our conversations are (sometimes) deeper than, say, those of the FAB Fems podcast. Because three of us are such novices, we ask questions about verses that my more knowledgable sisters admit they’ve skimmed over.

We do love each other!

But this experience brings us so much more than a deeper knowledge of the Bible. We move into discussions about our personal faiths and family history. We are being brave and sharing–questions and answers and ponderings (and sometimes songs!)–that we might otherwise have kept private from each other. We each bring a very different perspective to the discussion. And my mother, 89, sits in. She doesn’t often participate, but seeing her face daily while she’s in lockdown has been a gift to all of us (and vice versa).  Because I am about 2000 miles from my nearest sister and 3000 from the furthest, this experience has kept us all grounded in family connection.

Although we may well morph into less frequent gatherings, I hope we are all addicted to exploring spirit together. I’m not sure, but I think we’ll be reading the Koran next. 

 

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Life as a Teeter Totter

I’ve been seeing a lot of these little cairns placed on my walks–on the beach, in the woods. Many, I think, are created by bored children who need a project when let loose to play without a playground or friends. Many are created by adults for perhaps a similar reason. But I love seeing them. I love seeing these signs of humanity in nature. And it’s a sign that others, like me, seek balance.

Of course my life, like yours, has been upturned by the Coronavirus. I receive daily updates on how many in our small city and larger state have the disease, how many have died. We are told the numbers are lower than reality–anyone could be without symptoms, transmitting it. I could be. We are cautioned to self-isolate.

I want to obey my governor’s strictures, but people disagree about what that means. Do I avoid going to the grocery store?  Can I still meet a friend for a socially distant dog walk? How far away is 6 feet, really, and why doesn’t that other person move to the side of the path? How frequently should I wash my door knobs? Do I wash my hands even if I haven’t touched anything out of the house? Am I supposed to wear a mask when I leave the house or just when I go into a grocery store? The “shoulds” change daily.

A few weeks ago, not long after this started, I was guided through a Focus therapy exercise by a friend. It’s crazy to think I’ve never had formal therapy before, but it’s true. That morning I woke to a burning in my chest, pressure pushing down there and moving up into my throat.  I freaked inside: maybe I had the virus! But then I remembered that this is what it feels like when I have a little panic attack. I’m scared, I realized. And in grief, too, I have since read. I’m afraid I won’t make good decisions. I don’t trust myself to know the answer. I can no longer trust my world. I am no longer in control.

I hate that. I told my therapist friend that I didn’t know how to balance the conflicting drives in me. On one side is my desire to connect with people, to help with threshold singing, which I know in my soul brings comfort to people. To help in other personal ways also.  On the other side is my need to be a good girl and follow the rules, to do what is right. To be safe and keep others safe. There are some heavy duty moral dilemmas in the world right now–and I know mine must seem pretty shallow in comparison to what others are suffering. But my friend is wonderful and said nothing remotely dismissive.

“So, when you think about balance, what image comes to your mind?”

Immediately I pictured a teeter totter. “Good,” she said. “Now imagine it next to you, far enough away so you can really see it.”

Photo credit: nzgabriel on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

“When you look at it, what comes to you?”

I remember as a kid sitting on teeter totters–seesaws–and the glorious sensation of flying, moving (if I was balanced well with the other person) in a floating sort of dance of up and down–always best when no one crashed to the ground or was thrown off the top. But if it was TOO balanced, it wasn’t much fun either–it got dull pretty quickly, just staying in stasis. And then I thought of the bongo board.

Back in the day I was quite good at the bongo board and ended up having to really challenge myself with tricks that put my balance (and ok, safety) at risk–moving my legs together, jumping up around on the board, etc. The best part of any skill is to be good enough to do it and feel some success, but not so good that it’s no longer a challenge. I crave balance, but once I get it, I’m bored!

Life is fun when the balance board is moving–we aren’t rocks, we humans. The coronavirus has put a big challenge on our teeter totter of global humanity. I’m not saying that the virus is a game–no!–but that the challenge of figuring out how to stay UP is … exciting in a way that maybe it hasn’t been for a while. At least not to this privileged white middle class, middle-aged woman from a functional family.

We are all having to re-invent how we do things.

We all seek balance, struggle to find it in different ways. Another  friend shared HER two sides artistically:

collage by Lois Holub

collage by Lois Holub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is  always a teeter totter, but these days it feels more tottery than usual. I seesaw back and forth between grief and hope, acceptance and fear.  I have gratitude vying for attention at the same time I feel swamped with guilt that I am still able to feel gratitude, that I am so blessed. I worry. And yet I also walk outside where my city is bursting with spring beauty and  notice things I never noticed before. And I take picture after picture of balancing rocks.

 

How do you put the teet into your totter?

 

 

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Hearing compliments

This month, I was in a cabaret. So much fun! And in the aftermath of our two performances, I was both blessed and challenged with many personal compliments. They were wonderful, but hearing them felt weirdly uncomfortable. Though they were tremendously affirming, they unsettled me.

Photo on Visualhunt

And because listening is my word of focus this year, I got curious: what’s going on with that?

The challenge of compliments is to listen to hear.

I can listen to compliments. I can even graciously accept them and affirm the person for being so kind (“How wonderful to hear you say that–that makes me feel so good inside.”). I can usually accept that the person handing out the compliment means it. I can certainly glow in the moment, bask in the stardust. But oh boy, it’s really really really hard to accept that a compliment is actually TRUE.

Listen to it. Take it in. Hear it. Accept it.

When I googled the difference between listening and hearing, the distinction everyone seems to make is that hearing is involuntary, what our ears allow us to take in when there is sound; listening requires paying attention. And of course that is one of the definitions of what hearing means. But I am a lover of words and a manipulator of them. Like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

So when I use “hear,” in “I want to listen to hear,” I mean “I have listened, I have taken in your words and feel like I understand their meaning.” Some urban dictionary labeled this as an old person’s hippie speak.* If I hear someone, I’m honoring the speaker’s (or writer’s) honesty and intention and courage in speaking (or writing) their truth. I used to think it automatically meant that I accepted the truth of the opinion, but I’ve changed my mind.

Acceptance is a different step. Sadly, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, I often leap into accepting criticism, but when it comes to compliments, I’m like an immovable object.  “Don’t believe everything you hear!” I learned that in my crib I think. But doesn’t it hurt not to believe anything? And if I choose, why am I choosing to believe the negative over the positive?

Again, WHY? Am I scared?

I wrote about vulnerability a long time ago. That post talks about the fear of how others perceive you. I think what I’m talking about here, though, is a fear of how I perceive myself.  Famously, Marianne Williamson said it better:

Our Deepest Fear**
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Williamson’s poem doesn’t tell us why we are afraid to shine; she simply labels it powerfully and universally. But as she underlines the call to action to accept our glories, I figured out something. It’s pressure to show up and shine. To be “on” all the time takes a lot of energy. A lot of work. Can’t I just be a dim lightbulb and move around in the shadows, enjoyed in a very casual way, but not much to remark upon?

And so the truth comes out. I’m just too darn lazy to comfortably own compliments.

But it’s more than that of course. I have a big wall erected against believing my qualities are much to write home about. Some of that is deep-seeded training from my mother’s school of humility. Some of that is because I worry about getting so excited about this quality I have that I’ll become unbearable and boring, immediately negating any truth to the compliment by my acceptance of it.

You like this energy? Let me ramp it up even more! You like my smile? I’m gonna never stop smiling then. You think I’m warm-hearted–just hold still while I smother you with my affections.

With communication, if I accept I can impact others with my words, then the pressure is on to make sure those words are well thought-out, that they express the meaning and message I want them to. The responsibility is intense. “What if I screw up?” stops me in my tracks way too often. And that’s silly and annoying.

Because it’s impossible to control how people hear your words. Hearing is active. As humans, we bring our emotions and our prejudices to the action. And so I must be patient with myself, too, in my own ability to listen, hear, take in, accept.

We are just so complicated, we humans.

*Note: Which is I suppose is true, but I find myself incapable of saying “I grok you.”

**Note: This inspiring poem is taken from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love.

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Listen, my word for 2020

Listen.

Photo credit: ky_olsen on Visual hunt / CC BY

Last year my word was VOICE. It inspired me to speak truths, to have courage to cross lines I might have otherwise stayed behind. I sang in a choir and learned more about music. I got older. I asked for help when my mother fell and broke her hip and I did not know how best to advocate for her. I spoke my truths even when it meant that I had to leave a group of women whom I had grown very close to, and whose support had encouraged me to own my voice. Ironic.

It’s also ironic that the word VOICE predates this year’s word, LISTEN. Oh, now I get it: I’m supposed to listen before I say something!

So this word choice is in response to some lessons I learned with last year’s word. But I was also inspired to choose this word by a powerful song my choir sang last month for our winter concert. Composer Gwyneth Walker adapted the words from a 19th century poem by John Greenleaf Whittier called “Oh Brother Man.” Her song is called “The Tree of Peace.”

The words:

Oh my sister and my brother, all who walk upon this earth, fold to your hearts each other. Where mercy dwells, the peace of the Lord is there. To live rightly is to love one another, each kindness a gift, each deed a prayer. Oh my sister and my brother, fold to your hearts each other.

Listen, listen to one another. Listen, listen to one another.

Walk with reverence in the steps of those who have gone before, where forgiveness and wisdom have stood. So shall the wild world become a temple, each loving life a psalm of gratitude.

Listen, listen to one another. Listen, listen to one another. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Then shall all shackles fall. The violence of war over the earth shall cease. Love shall tread out the fire of anger, and in its ashes plant a tree of peace.

There’s a lot of repetition in the song, and a crashing frenzy in the music with “listen to one another” over and over and over. The music turns this song of peace into a cry of desperation, but it resolves at the end, leaving  me with hope. The promise of hope. I melt with each poignant return to “Oh, my sisters and brothers: fold to your hearts each other.”

Isn’t that a beautiful image? Fold to your hearts each other.

My heart aches. There is so much ranting these days, so much delight in building up the energy of anger in our world. I need a balm to that energy. I want to sing a chord that resonates across all of creation and calms us. I want to listen to the resulting vibe. Hear it. Breathe it in. Become it.

Can we listen in love? Can I?

Anyway, that’s my inspired goal for 2020. You can hold me to it.

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The Magic of YET

Hope can be hard—some people are better at it than others. They have strategies. A friend references Dory from Finding Nemo to keep herself and others motivated and amused:

I have a husband who tears up when he relates episodes of the Moth that touch him. There are students in his school who awe him with their courage. Recently, a girl with special needs stood up at a bullying assembly and asked her schoolmates to please stop calling her retarded. “I don’t like it” she said. He tears up when he tells me this. The tears come when his faith in humanity is given a boost.

Teachers inspire him too. One of the elementary teachers has a big sign in her classroom:

Remember the Magic of Yet

When he told me about this, I felt blood rush into capillaries that had not had enough oxygen in a long time, a moment of dizzying relief.  Obviously I need to go back to grade school.

I have to get YET into my life. It never occurred to me before, but “yet” is the most powerfully hopeful word in the English language. When I feel hopeless, when I notice  the words “never” and “can’t” creeping into my self-talk, it’s time for the Magic of Yet. It takes a bit of work, but hey, I’m a writer. I can revise!

Some examples I’m trying out:

I’m not a successful writer…becomes… I haven’t figured out how to be successful YET. [note to self: partly because I haven’t figured out what I mean by “success.” Yet.]

I’ll never hit that note…becomes…I can’t hit that note YET.

We can’t save the planet…becomes…We can’t save the planet YET.

The understood codicil to YET is “and we are/I am working on it.”

I bought this photograph years ago. I have no idea who this person is, only that her expression melts my heart. I look at it every day, and she reminds me of what I love about humans. She is so filled with mischief and promise, brimming with humor and joy.

When I despair about our species, she is my “yet.”

What are the messages you need to change? What are your strategies for hope?

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A Call to Step Out of Line

Last week I toured an art exhibit at my local Lightcatcher Museum honoring the life work of a man I had never heard of before. It’s called “WANTED: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace.” I recommend going if you can.

The docent focused on getting our group to voice what the artist’s images made us think about. There was so much to see, so much to let settle into my mind and heart. She talked about how Ed Bereal uses symbols and white space to make a point, and that the power of art is that it is interactive with the viewer: we bring our perspective to the piece in a kind of conversation with the artist, and (in this instance) with each other. I never took Art History in school, so have never really had a guided experience of talking about art with others.

Bereal’s images are disturbing. Near the entrance of the exhibit, in a life-size sculpture, several bored-looking white people (mannequins) stand in line to step up to a podium where a man, eyes wide in a head that had been turned upside down and backwards, is being staked through the throat by a mechanized Statue of Liberty/Miss America.

With my word-of-the-year (VOICE) still very much in my mind, I immediately thought, “this is about how we are all standing in line, waiting to have our voices stolen from us.” The image has stayed with me. Our voices are stabbed out of us—yet we seem surprised when it happens. We wait in line for it to happen! This is killing us, obviously. No one in the line—again, all white people—seems to be paying attention to what is happening, what they are in line for. As a white person myself, I can’t help but think this is about me. We are all just waiting our turn, patiently.

The Title of this piece is: MISS AMERICA: MANUFACTURING CONSENT (UPSIDE DOWN AND BACKWARDS)“

Wake up, world!” this seems to say. Wake up, white people! Your America is not what you think she is. She is dangerous. She is mechanical. She is at least a little obscene with her fleshy bulbous breasts exposed. Does that mean she is supposed to be nurturing or sexy or…? I didn’t get the idea that she was a puppet, but definitely man-made, a destruction machine. We have made her what she is, we Americans.

I can see that I could take this as a warning from minorities that whites need to shut up, open their eyes, and get a different perspective.  Or/and it can mean that whites have created this appalling reality we live in where people feel powerless to change anything. Or that the reason we feel powerless is because we are waiting in line to have our power—our voices—removed from us. Or/and…or/and… This must be the sign of great art, or art that has done its job anyway: it gets a response.

Along with much of the world, I heard Greta Thunberg’s words at the United Nations this week. Her voice, her passion, her youth, her total knowledge that she has not just the right but the duty to speak, the duty to act, reminds me of Joan of Arc. She shames us, we who tippy-toe into our support to stop raping our planet and the life Earth sustains.

It’s too easy to stand in line and let those in the White House make me feel like a stake has been driven through my larynx. Stepping out of the line is scary, because I’m not even sure what it means. I’m not sure what I’m doing, not sure what I’m risking, not sure that I have the  energy as a not very ambitious writer who gets extremely nervous at the thought of talking to people I don’t know.

But Greta Thunberg is doing it. She’s doing it brilliantly. And if we all step out of line to speak and do SOMETHING—make those in power pay attention—make our friends and neighbors pay attention—we will all model for each other.

And we must do it now. I must. I need to walk the talk and talk the talk also, knowing I cannot be perfect, knowing that even if I fail, I will have tried.

What comforts will I ignore to push for more action? What other causes and passions? What friends will I lose when I step out of line? What friends might I gain? Personally, locally, regionally, nationally, globally? I’m pretty scared I’ll fail, but my good heavens, Mathilda! What have I been trying to learn and teach  my whole life? Failure is not the problem. The problem is having no hope, of letting despair take me over and give me permission to do nothing.

“How dare you?” Greta Thunberg demands.

How dare I allow myself this luxury of having no hope? How dare I?

NOTE: Just as I was about to push “publish” on this post, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper entitled “It’s Time to Step Out of Line” came up in my email. I guess my psyche keeps pretty grand company.

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Spirit of Life–part two: Sun Moon Dance, being a Dog Soldier

My oldest sister invited me to be her support person/dog soldier in her third Sun Moon Dance this past April at Sweet Beautiful Waters located just outside Tucson, AZ. It was such a powerful experience that I feel it’s important to share, not just with others, but to remind myself, over and over.

Saguaro Cacti at Sweet Beautiful Water in Tucson

This is what I wrote in my journal, following the experience:

I just need to write without too much thought. Jane (the dance chief) asked that we not read or write while the Sun Moon Dance was happening, which meant that my processing, such as it was, has all been internal–though as a dog soldier support person I was allowed to speak to others when a good distance from the arbor. And there were hugs and kind smiles when things got overly intense for me. The last morning, the drums went to a very sad place and Becky was so clearly experiencing anguish. My heart felt like it was being torn out of my body–that’s maybe overly dramatic–but I was trying so hard to be strong for my sister and to support the Tree of Life, the beautiful young acacia tree in the center of the arbor.

The arbor with the Tree of Life–before we placed the shade tarps for the dancers and drummers

The drums and chanting…the dancers danced their love and support and gratitude for the Great Spirit to the Tree, then turned around and danced its love and support for the world on the way back to their spots. They each had a line to follow, sacred and laid down with cornmeal at the start: symbol of work and sacrifice and gratitude to all that sustains us from Mother Earth and Father Sky. They danced and blew their piercing turkey bone whistles as long as the drums sounded. When the chanting happened,  it seemed like the Tree was speaking to me, that the Great Spirit resonated into me with the drums and chants, messages that repeated, over and over, an infusion of meaning.

Some were songs of pain, some of joy, some of conviction and promise to work hard and stay steady. Some were songs of acceptance of very hard things. And of healing. I resonated with the drums and whistles so much more than I thought I would. At times I felt so full of chi–I flowed out with intention–my prayer of energy to the world, to the dancers, to the other dog soldiers (there were many of us). The drummers explained that the drums and chants learn THEM, as opposed to the other way around. 

We dog soldiers tended the fire, which marked another strong line heading East from the Tree, also laid in cornmeal. We smudged all who entered the sacred arbor. We witnessed all the dancing, standing in a roped off (less holy) place as soon as the drums called the dancers back. In a sort of clumpy crowd of support and witness, we faced the Tree, feeling the music, offering our love and energy as support to the Tree and to our particular dancer if we had one, and to all the dancers if we did not. It was such a deep connection to witness my sister doing this. Her spirit is so strong. Her being is so beloved. I felt and still feel so honored that she asked me to support her, that she trusted me to say yes, trusted me to have the giving energy required. And the open mind and heart. I want all my sisters to be able to have this experience.

I am still feeling fragile, vulnerable, ready to cry. Exposed. My heart feels exposed to the air of life. Not a bad thing, but also not exactly easy. 

I’m still hearing the chants: “Mama san, we will walk through pain, ayee oh ayee oh ayee oh ay o.k. Ayee oh, ayee oh, ayee oh, ay o.k.” I know that’s not the words really, but it is what I heard. The message: pain is not a bad thing. We will walk through it. We will be okay. I think there must be an element to this as part of the ritual of the dancers, fasting without water for three days.

At other times in the arbor, I had visions of a gash/gaping wound on the Tree of Life healing over, and the Tree assured me that it was stronger for the wound. It’s that adage, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” So there is hope for Mother Earth; there is still joy in her heart. The Great Spirit is part of Mother Earth, but also there supporting her, having her back. 

Visionary, artist, and author, Joseph Rael Beautiful Painted Arrow had several visions in the late part of the 1900s that showed him that non-natives needed instruction in how to cherish and care for the earth. These visions led him to create song chambers and centers where he instructed non-natives to train other non-natives in important rituals. Several non-native centers across the nation now run sweat lodges, drum and song circles, and various sacred dances for people who would not otherwise have access to such practices. Although some practices–maybe all–have been borrowed from the traditions of several tribes, I was told Joseph tried hard to escape the accusation of abetting non-natives in appropriating the holiness of native cultures and practices. For instance, he created his own language for the chants.

But of course there has been appropriation, and I am torn knowing that Native Americans have every right to feel offended–violated even–by whites practicing rituals that historically our race has tried its darnedest to wipe off the face of the continent. There can be no racial right for whites to practice this kind of ritual.

But the purpose of the Sun Moon dance outweighs my concern that it could offend someone. It is a ritual replete with gratitude and sacrifice. We need these symbols, all of us do, no matter our heritage. We need to feel the power of the symbol of the Tree of Life in our bones and our hearts. I’m claiming this as a species’ right, a species’ need.

The purpose of the Sun Moon Dance is to save the world.

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Spirit of Life-part one

“Spirit of Life”–that’s a big title for an occasional blog to tackle, but this April was quite an adventure in spirit for me.


Years ago I painted my image of God. I think of God as the Life Force, the Chi that runs through all living creation and connects us together. I think of Life as stemming from the planet herself: Gaia holding the energy in her womb.

 

Zion’s sheer edges

In April I traveled to the Southwest US, beginning with a Road Scholar tour of Zion National Park,

then stayed outside of Taos,

The gorgeous light of high desert above Taos, NM

 

 

 

 

 

 

and ended by supporting a Sun and Moon spirit dance in Tucson.

Saguaro Cacti in Tucson

The landscapes I visited were so different from what I’m used to in the Pacific Northwest–and each very different from each other, despite all being desert climates.

In Zion, I was introduced to the geology of the area, which necessitated some background education in geological time in general. To place humans on the timeline of the planet, we looked at at a 25 foot tape measure stretched out as far as it can go: its length represented 4.5 billion years–how old scientists now think Earth is. Humanity comes in at the relative time of the metal alloy that coated–coated!– the edge of the clasp at the end.

A simple diagram of time and life development on Earth on a 12-foot tape measure (note: I did the math myself, so I wouldn’t trust this for, say, a school project or anything.)

I have a 12-foot tape measure, and so of course I have to do the math here. Each inch represents 31,125,000 years. That’s thirty-one MILLION years for an INCH. This blows me away. Single celled organisms came in about 3.5 billion years ago–before that, who knows what life was? If the planet was formed at 12 feet on the tape measure, single cells come in around 9.3 feet–close to 1/4 from the beginning of our planet. One-celled organisms remained the status quo of life on the planet until 600 million years ago, when multiple-celled organisms first came into existence. On our tape measure, that is 19.25 inches–just a little over a foot and a half from “today.” Life as we know it– I mean beyond single-celled organisms!–is pretty darn recent. Humanity on this scale is too thin to measure.

A big benefit of this exercise was to give me some perspective on how big a number a billion is.

But it also broadened the way I think about Earth. Partly it’s because I got to see that this planet isn’t all about “life.” So much happened on Earth, slowly from our point of view of course, that had nothing to do with life. Tectonic plates shifting under seas, colliding, separating, creating mountains and grand oceans and plateaus. Sand dunes petrify.

at Snow Canyon, not far from Zion. Petrified Sand Dunes

A huge plateau is lifted, then a river might, over time, cut through the sandstone, allow wind to come in and further erode the rock. Over eons.

The Virgin River cuts through the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau, here at Zion National Park

Spectacular beauty. And the fact that plant and animal life has adapted to the rigors of this land is both exciting and awe-inspiring.

But setting that aside, now I’m wondering where the Life Force was during the one billion years before single celled organisms came into being? Does Chi require actual life in order to exist? Is Chi in the rocks themselves? I’ve been reading enough lately about the thought processes in fungus and trees, how plants communicate, that forces me to broaden my perspective. The concept doesn’t seem too weird to me, so I probably read about or watched a fantasy or sci-fi show where rocks and dirt and water were somehow sentient. Or maybe these elements are vessels for holding energy, just as we are. Chi being the force from which life stems, not life itself. Woo.

I like thinking about stuff like that. Yay, Road Scholar!

Next post I’ll talk about the second part of my spiritual journey in April, the part that was full of ritual and intimate connection to the Spirit.

 

 

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Large Heart, Large Hands

Art card by Susan Mrosek at www.ponderingpool.com, used with permission

I’ve had this card taped to the door of my office for years. I so enjoy Susan Mrosek’s artistic creative whimsy (check out her website at http://www.ponderingpool.com ), but it’s the sentiment behind this card that captured me from the first. What’s funny is that although this card is about gratitude, I’ve always seen it as being about this woman having a generous heart. It’s the words “the unparalleled gratitude housed beneath her monstrous hand” that had me going there. This woman’s heart must be darn huge to contain unparalleled gratitude. And a heart that big must be generous.

Thank you for stimulating my connection between gratitude and generosity, Susan!

Hands have huge symbolism.

Outstretched, they signify both offering and accepting.

As you can see, I have monstrous hands, too. I usually feel full of gratitude, but then the quality of my life makes that very easy. It’s harder to be grateful for the challenges in our lives, the things that test us, make us grow, deepen our connection to the core of who we are.

I have not been tested severely by this life. That’s okay with me–don’t get me wrong! But that fact makes me realize that there may well be a lot of readers who despise me because I’ve had it so easy. Totally privileged. Sometimes I wonder if I even have the right to an opinion. I know there are people who think I don’t. Or that if I voice it, then they have the right, maybe the duty, to dismiss it.

It’s ironic to think that my test is that I have not been tested. How do I handle that? Can I feel gratitude for being dismissed as not having a right to enter the conversation? Just asking the question, I find my perceptions shift a little. I see a little more broadly into the arena, the concept of how it could be really good for others if I were ignored. Maybe not forever, but for now.

A doodle that inspired this little epiphany

So you see how the concept of gratitude is linked in my mind to generosity–stepping into that new perspective has allowed me to open up to being more generous to the perspective of others who dismiss my voice.

Generosity has been on my mind since my husband and I went to Mexico a couple months ago. We went shopping for a birthday present for one of my sisters, and Andy didn’t even consider negotiating a lower price. To be honest, this took me aback. We lived together in Morocco almost 30 years ago for a couple of years. At that time (maybe now, too)  it was considered insane to accept the first price offered for something. Getting the price lowered was a kind of game, but it was also a duty. I remember thinking that it was shameful somehow if I “let myself be taken advantage of” by a shopkeeper. I would be a patsy, a stupid tourist. Pathetic, in other words.  Not worthy of the rug or bowl or whatever it was I was interested in purchasing. Talking down a price became a matter of pride.

So, here we were–different time, different country, but the same kind of shop, with the shopkeeper clearly waiting to hear a counter offer, and Andy was not playing by the rules. Why not?

Basically, he didn’t care about the game, about this silly moral issue of whether or not we were being ripped off. We could afford it. The price sounded good to him, so let’s pay it and be done. Oh. It wasn’t about the other person’s possible motivations in showing a need or asking for something. Worrying about getting ripped off is really just my ego getting in the way. I am only in charge of myself here. My heart, my mind, my motivation, my ability.

Such a small thing–a shopping expedition! But I felt a paradigm shift in the way I’ve been thinking about money and even gestures of kindness. Now I consciously notice how others are generous. I pray for more generosity in my own life. Not just practical generosity, but generosity of spirit and heart. I think by noting it, I have more chance of asking myself, in the moment, “how can I be generous here?”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu can be my big-time heroes in this. In The Book of Joy, they say that Generosity is the 8th pillar of Joy  (the others are perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion).

Douglas Abrams sums up their perspective:

When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is, There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.” (p.275)

I started adding “practice generosity” to my daily goals. I’m thinking I can change that to “Large heart, large hands.”

 

 

 


 

 

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