Adolescent Conservative Rhetoric, Part I

As the days continue in the saga of the new American political circus, I am finding that more and more of the people in my social media circles have either come into a strong position of standing together for the upturn of the insanity that has infected our government, or for those few who were supporters of the insanity, most have fallen away pexels-photo-131616into silence, or simply removed themselves from my circles altogether.  The latter has, on occasion, been disappointing.  One particular situation comes to mind in which a man who shared many of my own real-world social connections had begun to engage in dissenting conversation with me regarding my opposing viewpoint.  While we clearly had very different values and views in regard to political and social systems, for me, the conversation had a lot of potential for mutual growth and understanding.  Our exchanges were civil, mostly respectful, and somewhat informative – though my very open nature was met with his own unwillingness to lay his beliefs on the table, as he feared a backlash from the community as a whole, I believe.  Just as I was preparing to reach out to him and invite him to a larger, and more formal conversation about the issues we are facing as a nation, I discovered that he had severed our social media connection.

man-couple-people-womanWhat continues to surprise me is that there are still many people in the conservative world who seem simply unwilling to consider the bigger picture of what is arising in this time of dissent.  They seem hell bent on simply upholding their values, speaking louder and louder, and doing what they can to force their ways on a majority that is simply not in agreement.  The very idea of a mutually respectful conversation where true listening and sharing of values and ideas can occur is apparently quite threatening.  Instead of the willingness to enter dialogue, the defensiveness of some conservatives seems to be digressing more and more into a mockery of the values of other people, carrying the maturity and humor of the average 13 year old boy.

One such meme I observed recently among these folks, who I am going to call adolescent conservatives here, involved the cartoonish depiction of a number of moderate to liberal democratic leaders, calling them “ranters” and implying that they were nuts.  The very colorful label they have adopted, “libtards,” was of course prominently placed in the StockSnap_V5QEW134KBmeme, and I’m sure that all who see it are laughing as loudly as they would after an especially colorful round of “pull my finger.”  Curious, and ultimately hoping to gain some insight into the perspective of these people, I googled “libtard,” and found a great wealth of information on Urban Dictionary:

“A libtard wants to live in a fantasy world (in which life is the way that they WISH IT WAS) as opposed to dealing with life the way it actually is. The most idealistic libtard envisions a time when science/technology and Socialism will eliminate all poverty, hunger, war, disease, injustice, unemployment and prejudice… Most libtards subscribe to the notion that “people are basically good,” and build their foundation for activism and “improving the human condition” on that faulty premise… Metaphorically speaking, a libtard is a sheep who thinks that their grasp of diplomatic nuance or metaphysical sensitivity will prevent their flock from being devoured by the world’s Islamic/Communist wolves.”

And there it is.  Also equally enlightening on the Urban Dictionary page is a list of specific fears and grievances that these adolescent conservatives hold as their values.  Given that the values that they hold are so diametrically opposed to the reality that I live within, and have lived within for my entire adult life, it seems helpful to me to really take in and consider these openly stated beliefs.  For those of us who are in a constant state of shock that there are *actually* people in our own country that could even consider supporting a regime filled with such hatred and lack of integrity, I believe that taking these ideas in can be helpful in coming to understand those who are so different from us, as well as what kind of thinking we are up against as we defend our democracy.  Here’s a partial list of the “libtard” agenda, taken from the Urban Dictionary’s page ~ with bold italics for the quotation, and responses in regular typeface:

  1.  The conservation of the environment over the conservation of the American economyLet’s consider for a moment which of these is dependent on the other.  The American economy requires a viable environmental state in which life can be sustained in order for it to exist at all.  Not only that, but the environment – aka the entire natural world, including humans – is more than a simple commodity and resource for pexels-photo-27022Americans to harvest and decimate based on personal whim.  Other humans, other nations, and other life forms are equally and fundamentally interconnected in this world, and each part is undeniably impacted by the actions of every other part.  Ultimately, the American economy is simply an idea within which we are all living in various states of participation, and LIFE did in fact exist far before the nation we call America was even imagined.  For humans to continue to exist here, we must wake the fuck up to the reality of cause and effect, and face the results of the past century of ignorant, self-interested, and destructive choices we have made.  If we don’t, the effect will be the ejection of humanity from this beautiful, diverse planet.  Species extinction doesn’t exclude us, though the horrific ways that we might initiate that are certain to cause our exit to be rife with unprecedented ugliness and suffering.
  2. The abolition of individual freedom.  Wow, really?  I see it as quite the opposite.  In this current political environment, it seems that a culture of personal, individual freedom for the wealthy white Christians is being defended in more overt ways than ever pexels-photobefore in my lifetime.  And at the same time, personal, individual freedoms of pretty much *everyone else* is on the chopping block.  Person of color?  LGBTQ?  Non-Christian?  Woman?  Poor?  Differently abled?  Somehow, in the adolescent conservative mind, protecting the rights of these people is felt as a theft of rights from the wealthy white Christian faction, and often the poor white Christian faction as well.  So many of these people believe that their own freedom has been violated when they are barred from hateful speech and actions that are threatening to these other target groups.  Ultimately, the adolescent conservatives hold fast to a fundamental sense of superiority and entitlement that has allowed them to believe that when those who are different from them are allowed to exist freely according to their own values and principles, it is a threat to their own freedom.
  3. The teaching of HATE (superficially disguised as “Women’s Studies,” “African Studies,” etc.).  This one is a stretch for me to comprehend.  Hate of who, white people?  Hate of men?  Hate of Christians?  Hate of conservatives?  For these adolescent conservatives, I imagine that teaching the true history of abuse, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and ongoing oppression for women, people of color, and others canStockSnap_QKFY1FBMG3 possibly be imagined into a doctrine of hatred toward those who are being outed as the abusers, discriminators, and oppressors.  There is ultimately either a lot of shame, or a lot of denial in this kind of thinking.  Ultimately, bringing these conversations out of the closet and into the mainstream, and into academia, certainly initiates a powerful movement toward learning from our collective mistakes, and rewriting our current reality in a new way.  But when these trends of abuse, discrimination, and oppression are ultimately still being upheld by those who believe in their own moral or ethnic superiority over those they prefer to dominate, the rage and shadow emerges.  The haters project their hatred onto those who are merely stepping into their rightful place in the conversation and in the culture.  As our collective tolerance for racism, xenophobia, sexism, and other forms of discrimination is dismantled more and more, these people are called on their shit, and are forced to change.  That’s probably very uncomfortable.
  4. The establishment of one religion (with no personal accountability), OR the abolition of all religion.  Actually, I can’t think of *any* group more dedicated to the world domination of one single religion than evangelical Christians.  Both currently, and historically over many centuries, the Christians have done their best to infiltrate every corner of the globe in the name of cultural conquest and conversion.  They have attempted to dominate Indigenous peoples on every continent, declaring anyone who is a non-believer to be worthy of servitude, slavery, torture, and death.  If you doubt this, spend even five minutes reading through a list of Papal Bulls beginning in the StockSnap_EUNLA5OHBB11th century.  If the increasing number of agnostics, atheists, and undefined spiritual people are any indicator, it is true that more and more people are leaving traditional religions, either with a profound disinterest in systems of belief that are rooted in punishment, guilt, and shame (though they may profess to be built upon love and truth), an unwillingness to blindly believe mythical stories that require the abandonment of human intelligence, or the desire to embrace the sacredness in everything without all the dogma and pomp.  That movement, however, has little to do with the “liberal agenda” and more to do with people who have had enough of the bullshit of religion, and exists across the political spectrum for sure.  It takes only one minute of serious inquiry into the current administration to see that adherence to Christian faith is utterly absent from all those in positions of authority, if one is to consider the actual Bible and teachings of Jesus as a determinant.
  5. The disproportionate taxation of citizens “who have more money than they need.”   I think that most progressive people would hope that in the name of basic human goodwill and responsibility that those with slightly more would be willing to give to those with very little.  But ultimately, most of us would be perfectly satisfied with the whole spectrum of citizens being taxed at exactly the same rate.  If a family in poverty must pay a certain percentage of their income as taxes, it only makes sense that a wealthy person, and indeed, a bazillion dollar corporation, must pay their StockSnap_ITA18FXIBLpercentage of taxes as well.  This is a basic civic duty.  And yet, the name of the game ~ especially in the Republican Party ~ is to do everything possible to dismantle taxation altogether.  The reality is that we all share some basic amenities that are currently an indispensable part of our culture, and which we all benefit from directly or indirectly.  While it is noble to assume that people would *want* to support these basic amenities, the truth is that the wealthiest people and corporations are constantly looking for a way out through tax breaks and loopholes.  They take far more than their fair share, and they are undeniably benefitted by the systems that taxation supports, but they somehow believe they should be excused from their role in supporting these things.  Ultimately, it comes down to greed, and painting-typography-gift-paintthe desire to stockpile money, invest in lavish and extravagant things, and live in luxury on the backs of the working class.  As many of these adolescent conservatives align with Christianity in identity, if not in practice, I offer two excerpts from the gospel of Proverbs:  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you. — Proverbs 3:27-28  A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.  — Proverbs 11:25   If the Bible declares it, and Christianity is the dominant religion of the land, doesn’t it make sense that the people who hold fast to that doctrine would follow it?
  6. The filing of specious law suits in order to thwart the will of the people.  The specific law suit that was referred to in this reference was one where the people of California voted to bar all illegal immigrants from receiving any public support, including public education and healthcare.  Though the law was passed in a majority vote during an election, the enforcement of it was barred in an injunction, and never went to trial, ultimately allowing for the continuation of illegal immigrants being able to red-school-blur-factoryreceive support in the form of public education and healthcare.  Now, as most of us have already observed, the adolescent conservatives were the ones cheering when a young woman from El Salvador was taken from a hospital where she was receiving treatment for a terminal brain tumor, and denied any further treatment while being locked up and awaiting deportation.  The issue of illegal immigration is a rich topic that challenges us to really define how we wish to go forward as a country, having a long history of colonialism, oppression, and injustice in the name of this thing we call America.  Though many adolescent conservatives deny it, the reality is that any one of us who is not a full-blooded Indigenous North American is the child of illegal immigrants.  Some came through the entitled desire to steal land from the Indigenous people.  Others came through forced oppression.  But very few of us can truly claim this land as those who have the fundamental right to be here.  And now that the white Christian culture has exerted its presumed right place in the social order, there is a strong amnesia of our history.
  7. The abolition of all private property rights.  I don’t even know what to say to this one.  I don’t know any progressive, Democrat, or other liberal person who actually has any iguns-rifle-weapon-target-50571nvestment in this idea.  Could this come from the idea that the government has the right to regulate certain things for the safety and well being of all citizens?  Is this ultimately about gun ownership and the belief that certain things that are used *only* to cause harm should be regulated to make sure that insane people aren’t stockpiling weapons?  Given the number of mass shootings executed by white males in the US, as opposed to foreigners and immigrants, only the most stubborn and fearful conservatives could continue to believe that guns should not be regulated at all, living in utter denial of the reality of gun violence in this country.  Beyond the gun ownership situation, though, I have no idea what this could refer to.
  8. The establishment of a Socialist “utopia.”  If this means a country that uses its tax money to provide education, healthcare, and other positive contributions to the people of the country, then YES, hell yes, God yes, we do indeed want tpexels-photo-339620o create a Socialist utopia.  Having people who are educated and can contribute in a meaningful way to society is good for EVERYONE.  Having people who have good jobs and can support their families is good for EVERYONE.  Having children who are well fed, safe, and supported in learning is good for EVERYONE.  Having a society that is taken care of during times of sickness and injury is good for EVERYONE.  Realigning basic human needs as social wellness issues instead of business issues is ultimately based in moral integrity.  What continues to baffle me is the number of poor, struggling, white Christian families who oppose these things, calling them “handouts,” and preferring to continue trudging on in their misery than stepping pexels-photo-209651into the re-imagining of our culture as a place that is morally invested in making sure that ALL people are well taken care of simply because we DO have the capacity to do it, both financially and logistically.  The only argument that opposes this seems to be the one that believes that other people are “not my problem” and that it’s just too expensive to care for each other.  Oh, but the bazillions of dollars that we spend on war, war that leads nowhere…  And of course, there is full denial of the numerous countries in our world that provide these things for their people – many of the most highly developed and wealthy countries in the world – and the ways that thiStockSnap_PPXZCFSXJWs has allowed people to thrive mentally, emotionally, physically, and economically.
  9. The legalization of marijuana.  All I can say is that the person who posted the meme that inspired this article is a confessed frequent pot smoker who procures it illegally.  I could go on about this, but it seems to make more sense to bring this piece to a temporary close.    

As there are so many more elements to the adolescent conservative rhetoric around the “libtard” movement, this conversation will be continued in next week’s blog.

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Where Did Our Compassion Go?

In the past week, one of the recurring messages I’ve seen popping up in the news is regarding the new series of budget cuts declared by the current US government, and how these cuts are “compassionate” and ultimately in favor of the poorest people in the US, who struggle so much already.  Voiced by the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, here’s what was said:

“… can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no… I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do… I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna ask you for your hard-earned money, anymore, single mother of two in Detroit … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.’” (New York Magazine)

Reading this statement over and over again, I found myself infuriated.  First, infuriated that these insanely wealthy beaurocrats, business tycoons, and manipulators are doing pexels-photo-29642their best to twist the truth not only to continue filling their own pockets and serving their own interests, but they are masterfully doing so at the expense of the very ones they have tricked into supporting them in the strongest way.  There are so many conservatives who are so die-hard supportive of their own demise, it truly baffles me.  But second, I am equally infuriated at the very lack of decency and integrity that is being espoused by these people who have railroaded the government.  If I could suspend my utter shock that there are people who are so heartless and self-interested that they would dare say such things, and follow through with fiercely harmful actions, I would not be surprised at their tactics – they are indeed sharp in this game of human chess.  But that’s where I get stuck… I am still barely able to believe that there are humans alive and existing among us that can be so callous, heartless, indecent, greedy, and cruel.

I’m reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit by Steve Martin that a friend used to refer to all the time:

“I’m a little angry, I guess. Uh, I’m just, uh… Boy. I don’t know, I’m just mad at my mother. I don’t pexels-photoknow, she just, uh, she calls me up the other day. She wants to borrow ten dollars for some food! Can you believe that? I said, “Hey! I work for a living!” So I loan her the money. Yesterday, she calls me up and says she can’t pay me back for a while. I said, “Hey! What is this?!” So I worked out a deal with her. I’m having her, uh, work on my transmission. And, uh, move my barbells up to the attic. So that’s pretty good, huh?”

As much as this sounds absurd, it seems that the hall of shame that is our current government is full-on embracing this kind of mentality.  While they’re positioning the weak, uneducated, and ill-informed masses of followers to believe an equally massive pile of lies, with the intention of generating greater and greater fear of what I like to call the unknown other, they are building up a following for their desires to build a wall, ban the bad people, and prepare for greater military engagement.  The starving ones, the sick ones, the poor ones ~ they are all ready to give up any government mandated support for themselves and others in meeting their basic human needs for food, shelter, healthcare, and stability in following along with this crazy and illusory story they are being fed, instilling ever greater fear in their hearts.  They become so afraid, and so riled up, they are willing to surrender their own best interests, trusting the ones who claim they can save them from imagined threats.

When we are scared, our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we live in a state of fight-or-flight, prepared to run away from a tiger, a bear, or a terrorist.  When this system is activated, it also diverts energy from our essential metabolic systems that perform necessary functions that keep us alive, including digestion and reproduction.  When we are triggered into fight-or-flight over a long period of time, we are flooded with stress hormones, which affects our physical and psychological wellbeing.  What if there is no tiger, bear, or terrorist at all?  Unfortunately, even the imagined threat of something that is not there can trigger immense stress, and keep us from thinking clearly and making wise choices.  Add to that very real stressors, including job instability, financial struggles, black-and-white-people-bar-menfamily concerns, and health issues?  Seriously, who can think clearly in that situation?  And when the politicians swoop in, espousing the “right” social values that align with these people, they can be easily manipulated.  They choose the ones speaking to them in their own language, even if the whole picture is full of holes.  It may be a lie, but when it sounds good, it wins.  Who in his/her right mind would vote in a bazillionaire president, who would fill his cabinet with other bazillionaires, if s/he was a poor farmer, miner, or factory worker, strugging to get by, believing that those bazillionaires truly understand their needs and values?  Someone too stressed out to discern the full picture simply wants to be heard and understood and “met” where s/he is.  What is clear to me is that the desire to be understood and cared for is so strong that it overrides the full story of what is happening.  We can truly only see and hear what we want to see and hear…

Divide and conquer.

And this, folks, is how the richest of the rich keep suckering the poorest of the poor into their support stream, while continuing to keep them in their place as the poorest of the poor.

Back to compassion.  While it is possible to track the ways that the manipulation works, and while it is infuriating and frustrating, what is worse is that there are humans among us who care so little that this game was even dreamt into reality.  What is it that makes a man wake up one day and say, “jeez, you know what?  I really am better than that other guy, and all those other women, and all those other people, and I deserve to rule the roost, take whatever I want, and be king of the world, yes indeedy I do!”  I truly can’t comprehend it.  What force within our fellow humans has pushed them to believe that their lives matter more than others, that their lavish and grandiose desires are worthy and deserving of manifestation no matter the expense, and that those who suffer and struggle are truly not their problem?  What has happened to their basic humanity, their capacity to care about the lives of others?

pexels-photo-302552It’s certainly not a new idea.  The infamous words attributed to Marie Antoinette from the late 1700s share much the same sentiment, as she was told that people under her rule went without bread.  “Let them eat cake.”  Compassionless.  Heartless.  Cruel.  What drives this kind of thinking?  In my research, I discovered a new-to-me label for these folks:  Machiavellianist.  Ones who can detach from basic human concern, care, and morality in order to manipulate others and get what they want.  And while wildly selfish behaviors in children are teachable and can be corrected through proper parental guidance, what can be done once these behaviors have become deeply ingrained, practiced, and used as the basis for all adult relationships, business dealings, and governmental positions?  Scary.  Very very scary.  This has never fared well in the world, and we are seeing the same horrors now, once again.

I can’t speak for everyone.  I can’t speak for a poor single mother struggling to feed herself and her children, trying to give them a better future.  I can’t speak for a coal miner whose pexels-photo-196673job has or will soon become obsolete in the changing of our structures.  I can’t speak for a poor factory worker whose job has been outsourced.  I can’t speak for millions of white, conservative people who have watched the world become increasingly diverse and colorful from a safe and fearful distance.  I can’t speak for someone whose “traditional family values” now live alongside other people’s new family values, who now feels threatened by the differences.  I can’t speak for anyone at all but myself.  What I do know is that when I meet people in their sincerity, truth, and basic human vulnerability, I find that we all want the same things.  And I believe that a huge majority of human beings do care about each other, and have compassion for the suffering of others, as for themselves.  It’s only when we introduce ideas that intend to induce division based on fear of otherness that we lose our connection.  And THAT is exactly what the Machiavellians are attempting to do here.  They know that some of us have done our homework to such a degree that we can’t be so readily manipulated, and they have studied long and hard to figure out how they can best manipulate the ones who haven’t done their homework.  Divide and conquer, indeed.

We, the spectrum of liberal progressives, have a lot in common with the poor social conservatives, and if we were to band together in the name of serving the best interests of all, those greedy, power hungry tyrants holding the power right now would fall in no time.  But the hair-trigger response of the most radical conservatives is so devoted to blocking those who have different belief systems, it seems unlikely that a movement of unity could ever unfold.  I imagine it often…

food-salad-dinner-eatingLiberal progressive:  I care about everyone having food and water and shelter and healthcare and having his/her basic needs met.  This is a human right.  We must protect all people and all liberties, and make all of our lives better and better. 

Poor conservative:  I am struggling but I don’t want your handouts, take your crazy liberal madness elsewhere!  Heathens!  You’re going to hell!  Where’s my gun?!  Get outta here!

Rich conservative:  Good boy!  You keep telling them how it is!  *Pockets more and more money from the government in the name of big business support, including big oil, big pharma, and the war/weapons industry.*

And so it goes, on and on.  Instead of working for the greater good of all, the shadow forces keep working to dismantle anything done in the name of the greater good.  If there is more and more war, there are more and more investments in war.  War is good business.  If we end war, their wealth will die off.  If there is more and mmoney-coins-stack-wealth-50545ore sickness, there are more and more needs for pharmaceuticals that mask the symptoms, and little interest in approaching an actual cure.  Sickness is good business.  If we cure sickness once and for all, the wealth will die off.  If there is more and more need for conventional energy in fossil fuels, there are more and more ways to profit from it.  If we transition away from fossil fuels, and truly launch the green revolution… wait… there are plenty of ways to profit from that, right?  And if we don’t face the facts that our current energy needs are causing rapid and undeniable devastation on the planet, we will soon be on the short list toward ejection… this one doesn’t sound like such good business after all…

There are no clear answers to these matters, and I am hardly in a position to suggest any fast and hard solutions.  But I do believe that in the pondering there is great value.  If we pexels-photo-129859can take the time to honestly explore the thought systems at play, the chains of cause and effect, and the reasons people are choosing their responses and strategies, we can truly learn about the innerworkings of the human psyche, and understand more fully what it is we are working to transform.  Until we can see the big picture without being triggered, we cannot use the full force of our hearts and intelligence to create meaningful and lasting shifts in consciousness and culture.

10 Spiritual Books to Inspire You in Difficult Times

There are so many wonderful books available in the realm of spirituality and personal growth.  I sure have gathered a large collection of them over the years!  As we face the challenges of an uncertain political climate, as well as increasing evidence of environmental destruction, it is easy to become disheartened.  During times like these, I often ponder the question, “which 10 spiritual books would you reach to in the midst of times of profound change and intense challenge?” A few come to mind that have been trusted guides throughout my life.  These are the books that have been at my bedside, in the backpack, and away from the bookshelf the most often. They have inspired me, over and over again, always continuing to teach me in profound ways.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 8.44.09 PM1)  The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz This small and simple book teaches us to live in ever more happiness by disengaging from habitual mental patterns that bring so much suffering.  Don’t take anything personally.  Always do your best.  Be impeccable with your word.  Don’t make assumptions.  With these simple ideas, I have found my life transformed over and over again.  If you haven’t read this book, make it a priority.

2)  The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Stephen Mitchell  This wonderful translation is clear, beautifully expressive, and very connected to the heart of the teachings of this perennial classic from India.  In the Gita, we meet Arjuna, a warrior, and Krishna, his guru and great master.  Through the story of Arjuna’s collapse in the face of battle, Krishna guides all of us to embrace the challenges, to be strong and willing to face what is difficult in life, to do the right thing as inspired by the heart, and to release attachment to any results.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 8.56.46 PM3)  Love, Freedom, Aloneness, by Osho This  book is a wonderful guide that inspires us to fully embrace a love that is free of attachment and expectations, and to fully accept life as it is, whether bringing us into togetherness or solitude.  It has been a wonderful re-centering guide for me as I have navigated challenging and transforming relationships of all kinds, and wanting to reconnect with my own center.

4) Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews This is a wonderful resource for connecting with the intuitive and instinctual teachings of animal totems.  If you find yourself crossing paths with crows, foxes, deer, or even insects of any particular kind, this book offers guidance in interpreting the messages that these creatures may hold for you.

5) A Thousand Names for Joy (or any other book), by Byron Katie With love, compassion, and no-nonsense clarity, Byron Katie brings people to question the very ground of the stories we tell ourselves that cause so much suffering.  She encourages people to question these stories and thoughts by asking “is it true?”  As I have approached her work (often reluctantly and with lots of resistance), I find myself unravelling my own thoughts instead of attempting to solve the problems that I have created as a result of those thoughts.  This is always a welcome process!

6) Practicing Peace in Times of War, by Pema Chodron  A tiny book compared to her others, but a wonderful gift.  This book encourages the reader to practice presence, and reflect on the wars that we enact within ourselves, inspiring us to embrace acceptance, compassion, and peace from within.  I love to underline meaningful passages in books, and I must say, most of this book is underlined!  Truly a wonderful book that encourages us to practice freeing ourselves from war in our daily lives.

pexels-photo-577627) Earth Prayers, by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon  This is a wonderful collection of prayers, poems, invocations, chants, and writings from a wide variety of spiritual traditions.  Each one expresses a deep connection to the natural world, abiding love in nature, and deep mourning for humanity’s loss of connection with our Earth Mother home.  I sometimes like to keep this by my bed, reading one short inspiring piece each day.

8) Blue Truth, by David Deida  This book is a collection of short writings by Deida, each intended to be a powerful reminder of the ephemeral nature of living, and to inspire us to open to ever greater capacities of loving.  Sometimes sensual, sometimes shocking, this book returns me to presence in my body, and connects me to the deepest longing of my heart.

9) The Lost Language of Plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner – Buhner is part poet, part pexels-photo-202610biologist, and part philosopher.  His words have inspired me over and over again, reminding me of the deep and visceral connection that we humans have to the Earth, and especially to the green growing world of plants.  His vision and language are clear and filled with both incredible knowledge and heartfelt love.  His words come to me as a reminder of what I have always known, what is buried in our collective human consciousness and DNA.

10) Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach – I truly love Tara Brach’s kindness, compassion, wisdom, and willingness to be vulnerable and open about her own life and practice.  Her humor and stories are lighthearted and filled with wonderful teachings about this human existence, and the practices from the tradition of vipassana meditation she shares are always a gift.  Through her work, I have learned that it is possible to return to the moment, open my heart and mind to what is arising, and accept what is with gratitude and awareness.

Please feel welcome to add your favorite books to the list in the comments below!  And if you have read any of the above, how they impacted your life, too!

_______________________________

Modified from an original post, published March 14, 2012

A Culture of Care

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”         ~ Martin Luther

pexels-photo-346885We have been living in difficult times for years now, and for any sensitive person, it can all feel like too much.  Having an open heart full of care and concern is a recipe for depression at the very least, and at the worst, addiction or even suicide.  The news on any given day holds so many horror stories, and in these times, our government is lacking in even the most basic sense of human decency and responsibility.  Indeed, it seems that with this current administration, we are reaching a new low.  Nothing is sacred.  Everything is fair game.  Whereas in the past, self-interest and greed in government were balanced by at least a few token attempts to do the right thing in the name of social and environmental progress, now pexels-photo-121598there is little effort to mask the ultimate intentions of America’s most wealthy and powerful tyrants.  The ship was already sinking, for sure, and now they’re lighting fire to the deck, and pouring on the gasoline.  For anyone with open eyes and a heart, despair is the new normal, and it’s hard to know how to go forward in the midst of such confusion and overwhelm.

How does one care about everything?  About fair and just treatment of those who are Jewish and Muslim and every other religion, or none?  About people with all colors of skin?  About those speaking every single language and none at all?  About all genders, and the particularities of discrimination that come with each one?  About people of all ages, and of all socioeconomic brackets?  About people from every single culture and way of life?  About all life forms, animals, plants, forests, deserts, oceans, rivers, skies, and more?  How is it possible to keep one’s heart so open that it is wide enough to carry love and concern for the living interdependence of all things, open wide enough to not only care in the heart and mind, but also in speaking and acting on their behalf?

And what a contrast it is!  On one end of the spectrum, people honestly believe that nothing is their problem, and feel no need to care for anything or anyone but themselves and their own people.  And at the other end of the spectrum, people whose hearts are shattered, whose minds are raging, and whose deepest prayers are for guidance about how to love and serve every single part of existence.

As one whose heart is shattered, I struggle to comprehend how humans have gone so far away from care.  How have so many of us come to be ruled by fear and judgment,pexels-photo-48566 and by entitlement?  Fear and judgment of those who are different in some way – fear of the unknown other – is being fueled in an unprecedented way by our current administration.  With so many blind and ignorant people following in support, there is a strong belief that certain ones of us are superior to others, and superior to all other life and systems on this beautiful planet.  That we can act like bullies and bratty children, doing as we please, taking whatever we want with no repercussions.  How have we come so far from the ways of our ancestors, who valued living in balance, respect, and harmony with each other and the world?  How have we come to create so much suffering and devastation, utterly without remorse or the least interest in what we have done?

It seems to me that care has fallen out of fashion in America.  It has become somehow weak or piteous to look at the world around us and be moved.  Somewhere in the unfolding of this post-industrial world, the capacity to feel has become inconvenient, foolish, and even pathologized.  With the wealthy pharmaceutical industry lending its support in the way of antidepressants and other mood altering drugs, there are more and more ways to avoid feeling much of anything.  In a culture that values productivity, busyness, and working toward economic prosperity as its markers of success, feeling is messy and bothersome, and it gets in the way of the demands of speeding through the day as planned.  But the further we move from feeling, the further we move from our essential human nature, with its discerning intelligence and deep well of compassion.

Among those of us who are feeling people, it is immensely challenging to wake up and face the day.  How many times a day can we handle having our hearts broken?  How long can we continue feeling powerless in the face of injustice, suffering, and devastation on personal, cultural, and global levels?  It’s so much easier to become numb, and drug and alcohol addiction has soared in the US in recent years.  Most of us don’t know how to keep opening and loving and feeling and striving to make change day after day in times like these.  And yet, that is what is most needed if any real change is to happen.

There is a glimmer of hope within the knowing that no one person can do it all, and that it takes many opexels-photo-305098pen hearts and brilliant minds to transform our world.  In fact, it MUST take many open hearts and brilliant minds – for if the world is to change, we humans must change along with it.  In our diversity we find our strength.  As we each survey the current state of things, considering what we love, and what we stand to lose, we are free to choose which piece of the puzzle to claim as our own.  And in doing this, we hold the space of trust that others,too, will find their piece of the puzzle, giving their hearts and minds to compassionate care of this beautiful world.  I like to imagine this like a spiderweb, sparkling with the dew of morning:  each intersection of silken threads is necessary to hold the entire web together in its magnificence.

The truth of this world is that all parts are inseparable from all other parts.  There is no individual that exists on its own, free from the reality of interdependence.  From the air we breathe, to the water we drink, and the food we eat, we humans are dependent on the flow of the natural world for our very existence.  And now, as the American gpexels-photo-235615overnment is willfully attempting to remove every bit of responsibility for our human place in the web of life, the only way we will be able to fully stand for the healing of our world is by reconnecting with the essential truth of interdependence.  As we fall in love with the beauty of the interconnectedness of all things, we will find new inspiration and a deep sense of resilience, beckoning us to show up and keep showing up with open hearts and minds, ready to lead the way to living in balance once more.

We are in the midst of uncertain times, for sure.  With the environmental destruction that is escalating every day, there is truly no guarantee that humans will endure as a species long enough to fix the damage we have done.  But when we connect to a sense of deep and abiding care for not only ourselves and our families, but for all people and families, and for all living systems, we know that we have no other choice but to show up, push back our sleeves, and begin from wherever we are.

There are many choices we are faced with right now.  Will we collapse in despair, and allow whatever has begun to continue on its course?  Or will we take a stand for what we love, and do our very best to care for this beautiful world and all her living systems?  What I know for myself is that I’ve spent far too long with my eyes averted, my head in the sand.  I know that my care counts, and that I can show up with an able body, a strong voice, and enduring trust that I, along with many others, will find the strength and guidance to do what is needed now.  I know that my gifts have a place in the healing and transformation of this culture, and this world, and I know that my gifts will be met by the gifts of many others.  Together we can create so much more than any of us can create alone.  We can co-create a Culture of Care, and step into our true roles as wise stewards and compassionate caretakers of this beautiful little planet we call Earth.

And so, I invite you to join me in contemplating these questions: 

What do you CARE about? 

What will you give a piece of your heart and life toward protecting?clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-45842

 

Basic Goodness

Today, I had the honor of sitting face to face with a woman I had never before met, and engaging in a deep listening practice that allowed me an intimate window into her childhood dreams, what she loves about this world, the ones who lifted her up, and ways that she loves herself.  It’s a powerful thing, witnessing a small piece of another person’s existence from such a deep level, and it’s rare that we share that much intimacy with even those we know and love the most.  What was clear to me within the brief time we connected was just how easy it is to see the beauty and magic in another human being with absolutely no agenda, simply basking in the delight of sharing from the heart.

What keeps us from connecting in this way with those we love?  And too, what keeps us from connecting in such a deep way with people we know less, or ones we don’t know at all?  All my life, I have experienced first meetings that are superficial, sharing the pexels-photo-69100obligatory niceties that are the preference of our culture, and if extending into the personal, keeping the connection in the safe realms of work and family and the weather.  But there have been other times in my life when a first meeting with someone penetrated my social walls, leaving me vulnerable, touched.  And it is these interactions that have lingered in my mind.

In 2004, I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, an amazing ancient route that winds across the mountains and plateau of the country from east to west, ending at the Atlantic Ocean.  On my first day, I had set out with my 50 pound backpack in the steady rain, insufficiently clothed for the wet cold that set in.  As I climbed to the crest of the mountain over the course of many hours, the rain turned to sleet, and the conditions were so inhospitable that I couldn’t even take a moment to open my pack to retrieve some food, for fear of drenching all of my possessions.  I trudged along, exhausted, hungry, cold, and overwhelmed, and after more than twelve hours, gratefully arrived in the next town, eager for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.  The day’s conditions had brought on the sniffles, which turned into a nasty respiratory infection overnight, and upon inquiring about a pharmacy the next day, I was told that it was days away on foot.  The only medicine I would be able to use was raw ginger root.

Feeling miserable, but grateful for the change in weather, I headed out to the path for another day’s walk.  Staying behind to rest and recover wasn’t an option, as the pilgrim refuge was only available for one night, and closed during most of the day.  As I walked on, I could hardly breathe, and my throat ached.  With every step, I sank deeper into self pity, and though the day was beautiful and the countryside was spectacular, all I felt was irritation.  After a short time, a woman fell into step beside of me on the path.  On my first day, I had already become accustomed to allowing others to pass me up, as it seemed they were all much faster and fitter than I was.  I was surprised to enjoy some conversation with this woman.  She was about my age, from Spain, and talked of travels in India.  She was carrying only a small daypack with one change of clothes, some soap, and a towel, and it was almost embarrassing to me to consider her light load beside my own massively heavy pack.  After a time of walking, we stopped to take a rest, and she offered to trade packs with me – she would happily carry mine since she was well and I was feeling so terrible.  I tried to protest, but she insisted, and with a guilt as heavy as my pack, I agreed.  We decided the town we’d stop in for the night, and if we were separated, we would trade packs there at the end of the day.

The tiny woman strode off into the blazing sun with my enormous bag on her back, and I shuffled along with her tiny pack on my own, sniffling, feeling more miserable than ever.  All of my own self judgments came calling, and I spent much of the day feeling not only physically terrible, but fundamentally inadequate.  Mixed with that was a sense of fear that this woman might disappear with everything I had to my name for the journey, including all my money and my passport, but in that moment, I had no alternative except to trust.  On I walked, and as the late afternoon sun blazed, I finally found myself in the town.  There, on a bench with some fellow journeyers, was the kind woman who had carried my pack – she had been patiently waiting for me, and genuinely felt grateful to be able to help me in a time of need.  We traded backpacks once more, exchanged a hug, and that was it.  In one day, everything I had come to expect and believe about my fellow human beings had been utterly shattered.

Since that experience, I have delighted in the opportunity to forge meaningful connections with people, sharing kindness, curiosity, and care in conversations and exchanges with people I will likely never see again.  And as my own understanding of the inherent goodness in human beings continued to transform, I was gifted with more and more encounters that pushed me to trust more deeply, and to open my heart with as much presence as I could manage.

Several years following that journey on the Camino, I travelled to South America in a quest to connect with the Indigenous spiritual traditions in the Andes Mountains.  At the end of a six week sojourn, I was violently assaulted and robbed in a hotel, and after I regained consciousness, I discovered that my bag had been stolen.  In the midst of my panic and fear, while waiting for the police to arrive to file a report, a woman came to sit with me.  I was sobbing, and she simply sat down next to me, holding me while I cried.  When I could pexels-photo-195403pause for a breath, I asked her, “what’s your name?”  “Carolyn,” she replied.  She didn’t ask any questions, she was simply with me, and her presence helped me to feel safe and cared for in one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.  Just before I left with the police, she handed me some money and said, “here… I was in a similar situation once in Africa,” and that was all.  Years later in the most serendipitous of circumstances, I would meet her again, and have the opportunity to offer her my gratitude and friendship.  While the whole experience in La Paz was truly horrific, the beautiful gift Carolyn gave me has stayed in my heart, guiding my own goodness.

As the US feels more and more divided, and as there seems to be less and less common ground that calls us into connection with each other, it seems that these kinds of fundamental human goodness are more and more rare.  Fear is rising like a tide, overtaking our hearts and minds as the powers-that-be are doing what they can to separate us.  But it is truly within our power, our common ground, that change will happen.  I don’t have any clear ideas about how to approach this yet, and I am staying present with this question every day:  how can we come together for the greater good of all?  What will it take for us to remember that we are all breathing the same air, drinking the same water, and feeling the same heart beat within our bodies?   Even as families and communities are divided, and hatred swells with a fierceness I’ve never before witnessed in my life, I know in my heart that there have to be ways to return to our basic human goodness.

Will you join me in pondering these questions?

Soul on Deck

Last night, I opened a message from a sister of mine and received a wonderful gift, words that were intended to uplift and inspire, and to acknowledge the shared courage and strength that we are gathering in these crazy times.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws pexels-photo-220483sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Soul on deck shines like gold in these dark times.  These are words that pierced my heart fully, bringing tears to my eyes, and acknowledging the feeling that I and so many others have expressed of late.  That even though the turning of times in this great American democracy leaves any loving, compassionate, and forward thinking person in a state of ongoing anxiety and distress, we ARE indeed made for these times.  All the ways that we have approached learning, all the ways that we have pursued healing our hearts and minds, all the ways that we have practiced finding center through the breath and body in the moment, again and again ~ we have been preparing for a time when we’re no longer practicing for practice’s sake.  Now, we must embrace all that we know and all that we are and stand strong in the light of truth, kindness, compassion, justice, and love.  Soul on deck, indeed.

I have spent much of the last decade engaged in spiritual healing work, hoping to unravel and repair what has seemed to me to be wounds of the soul.  Some of them have definitely been personal.  Others have been familial and ancestral.  But most of these wounds have also been cultural, and archetypal even.  One of the recurring themes that has arisen again pexels-photo-192517and again is what I’ve come to call refugee consciousness.  I have seen it in myself, and explored it from many angles:  the pilgrim, the traveller, the nomad, the wandering minstrel, the homeless wanderer.  Though the underlying motivation is quite different for each of these, when I have gone deep into myself, I have found the same voice:  the one who doesn’t belong, always seeking home.  In my daily life, I’ve been fairly fortunate.  I have never fled from a war torn country, or from a crime and gang infested neighborhood.  I’ve never slept on the streets, and always had food in my belly.  And yet, in spite of this, I have had dreams and visions in meditation that have brought me into the immediacy of the refugee’s flight:  running like mad, terrified, barefoot, clothing torn, explosions and gunshots all around, having no idea where I’m heading, only knowing that I must continue to move, go, flee, seek refuge.

Last year, I had a very striking dream.  It was one of a series of dreams that I have had that I call “healing dreams,” in which I simply am someone completely different, with a very clear and developed storyline, with no discernible connection to anything that I can call “my” life:

In this dream, I was on a train somewhere in the Middle East.  I was a young man, and I knew that “they” were looking for “my people.”  The train was fairly full, and I turned myself toward the window, resting there and pretending to be asleep, masking my face.  As the vigilantes came on pexels-photo-207626board the train with their huge semi-automatic weapons, I tried to be as invisible as possible, continuing to feign sleep.  They didn’t see me, and I was able to continue my journey in safety.  Some time later, I was inside a large building of some kind, and I was hiding there.  We were all hiding in there.  I looked into these cabinets and closets, trying to figure out where I could best hide, because I knew that they were going to enter soon and capture us all.  We knew that the possibility of escape was there, but in fleeing, we would most likely be shot and killed.  It was such a difficult thing to decide:  stay and be captured and killed, or flee and be gunned down.  I, along with four other young men, decided that the risk was worth it, and we fled.  Escaping through a window, we ran in the direction of the river that ran through the city.  The river was walled in by stone and concrete, and about six feet down from street level, there was a tiny ledge, barely wide enough for one foot to fall.  We leapt down onto that ledge, and we ran and ran, moving as fast as we could, praying that our steps would be nimble, and hoping that we wouldn’t fall into the river below. 

I awoke, heart pounding, hands clenched, and sweat drenching my clothes.  My body began to shake, and I began to cry, eventually sobbing.  Yes, it was only a dream.  But too, this is the very reality that millions of people are living within.  According to the UN Refugee Agency, it is estimated that there are over 65 million refugees in the world at this time, forced by violence, war, and devastation to flee their homes, their lives, and their countries, hoping to survive and find stability once again.  With the current insanity that is the American government, people are being fed horrific images of refugees being violent criminals just waiting to plague our sweet homeland with terroripexels-photo-26298stic mayhem, and unfortunately, there are far too many Americans who are willing to buy into that.  With the political divide on the issue of humanitarian work and the resettlement of refugees, it seems that more energy may be invested in the argument itself for some time, and I pray that other compassionate nations continue to welcome those in need while the US navigates these issues.  What I do know for sure, though, is that I have SEEN through the eyes of refugees time and time again.  Not in my body and my life experience this time around, perhaps, but in heartspace, and in soulspace.

Let’s face it.  Most Americans would rather just not know the horrors of what’s happening.  Imagining fellow humans being senselessly beaten and killed is horrible.  Imagining what it’s like to live in fear of that is horrible.  Imagining entire villages, towns, cities, and countries devastated by war and political unrest, torn apart by bombs and fires, strewn with the bodies of human brothers and sisters, it’s all more horrible than we can bear.  Other people’s children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends.  Other people’s houses and places of worship and schools and libraries and markets.  Other pexels-photo-256738people just like you and me.  It’s heart wrenching, truly, to open the heart and allow it all in, to feel the shock and anger and grief caused by the insanity of human beings just like you and me.  And in this country, it’s pretty easy to just tune it out.  It’s easy to think of all those people and all those horrors as some kind of distant movie, ultimately not real.  It’s easier still for us to consider all those people dangerous and ultimately deserving of whatever is happening ~ and there are certainly plenty of authority figures who do everything in their power to promote that story, as we’re seeing right now.  Heart door closed, key turned in lock, shut away for good.

And so it goes.  Good people, just like you and me, whose lives are devastated, seeking home and safety.  And good people, just like you and me, somehow bamboozled into believing lies that all these people are stockpiles of violent renegades, just waiting to destroy all that we love.  Because if they can’t have good lives, safe homes, and beautiful old-woman-desert-old-age-bedouin-40509families, why should we?  And the powers-that-be who have financial interests in taking over those countries for their own selfish desires, for promoting weapons industries and access to oil?  Somehow the goodness inside of most humans prevents them from believing that there are people out there ~ and especially the ones on OUR side ~ could ever do something like that.  It’s too sinister, too unimaginable, too horrible.  And so, it’s much easier for people to buy the stories that are spun by the powers-that-be:  the refugees are bad people, they are terrorists, they want to kill your children and destroy your religion, and must be stopped at all costs.

In my path of personal healing, I have made a strong and abiding commitment to look into the shadow, to face the darkness, and to feel everything, allowing it to move through me fully.  I have also made a strong and abiding commitment to open the doors of my heart all the time.  It’s not an easy path, and I don’t always succeed.  But there is something that guides me to sit with the most painful and unimaginable things, and to be in loving connection right there.  No running away, no averting my gaze, no distracting myself with something interesting, happy, or shiny.  In the space of compassion, holding love and sorrow in my hands, I am often met with the feeling that as much as I would love to fix it all, I am simply one small woman.  My power is only so great.  I am not a lawyer, or a politician, or a doctor, or a scientist.  I am a musician and medicine woman.  I am not famous or wealthy, and my reach is only so far.  What can I do?

And last night, these words came in the same inspiring piece I received:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.    ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

What can I do?  I can sing.  I can create beauty with a mission and a message.  I can hold space for others to find center, to cultivate peace, and to feel whatever has been hidden away, blocking the river of the soul from its full flow.  I can listen.  I can share my words.  I can collaborate with others who share the same mission of bringing healing to this world.  Soul on deck shines like gold in these dark times. 

After that dream, and after the crying and shaking subsided, I began to hear a melody.  Though it was 3:00 am, I came to the living room and took my guitar.  Through me came a melody and words, sharing the heartfelt prayer of that young man I had embodied.  Following his, the prayer of a young woman who had been raped and assaulted over and over again.  Following her, a child who had lost his parents in war.  Following him, a homeless man, sick and hungry.  I sang their prayers, their longings, their stories.  They want the same things that you and I want:  to know that they are safe, that they have a right to exist, that they can find a way to have their needs met.  Deep gratitude for this dream, which gave me the gift of knowing firsthand what they experience, and deep gratitude that I can find a way to share their prayer song.  I have never shared it yet, as it was too tender, too vulnerable.  But now the time is coming.

pexels-photo-195364What I now know more than ever is this:  no contribution is too small when it comes from sincerity of heart.  No act is too inconsequential when it is given with love and kindness.  For it is through small things that all great things are built, and we must mindfully choose what we use as the foundation on which we stand.  Right now, it’s clear enough to see that when we build a nation on separation, hate, bigotry, ignorance, self-interest, greed, and division, we create the kind of scenario we are now faced with.  But just as the body replaces every cell within a relatively short period of time, we too can replace the building blocks of our country with values that are life-affirming, compassionate, and just.  And that begins with you and me.

In closing, I want to wish you a magnificent International Women’s Day!  I, along with many other women, will be stepping aside from business as usual, suspending all work and commerce – with the exception of supporting women-owned businesses – and making a strong statement to this world:  that women’s rights and protections of freedom are not negotiable.  Enjoy the day!

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Awakening to Cause & Effect

In the last decade or so of my father’s life, the accumulated effects of a lifetime of choices escalated into a number of serious illnesses.  The primary illness in his decline was type 2 diabetes, and the complications that unfolded from that.  On occasion, I would be in town doctor-medical-medicine-health-42273visiting while he had scheduled medical appointments, and I was happy to spend the day with him while being his transportation and advocate.  One of the things that I heard every single doctor tell him is that in spite of his advancing illness, his lifestyle choices, and especially his diet, could slow or even halt the progression of the disease process.  They gave many clear and specific instructions, and I took careful notes so that I could support him once home.  For years, I pushed fairly strongly, encouraging and almost demanding that he follow their instructions – all out of a deep sense of love for him, and wanting him to be around for as long as possible.  After all, he was my best friend – and surely the only person in my family who I felt I could truly trust and confide in.  Whenever I visited, I would shop for delicious, fresh, and organic foods, and I would share new and amazing recipes for healthy foods that were in alignment with the diet his doctors had recommended.  But ultimately, the choice was his, and ultimately, his desires for the foods that he had grown up with, the ones that were the most delicious to him, wepexels-photo-66440re the ones that he continued to choose.  Familiarity and habit are certainly hard to break away from, and food can be one of the most intimate and personal relationships of a person’s life, for sure.  My dad grew up in the mountains of Appalachia, and the rich, carbohydrate-filled, and fatty fried foods of the south were his delight.  Though he made occasional small changes, he left this world with his preferences in tact, never taking the words of the doctors to heart.

As a keen observer of cause and effect, I watched the choices he made run their course in his health.  Terrified to find myself in a similar health crisis at a young age, especially one that could be completely avoided through better dietary and lifestyle choices, I made radical changes of my own, accepting the gifts of learning that came from my father’s experience.  I was able to observe the ways that he was stubborn and unwilling to make difficult changes because he was just too hooked on his personal tastes, and he wanted what he wanted with little concern for the long term result of those choices.  I think that by the time it was clear what was happening in his health, he felt that it was too far down the line to make any significant changes that would improve his quality of life.  Even though his doctors said otherwise, he accepted the results of his lifestyle choices, not wanting to suffer through giving up his life’s pleasures of food, certain that it wouldn’t help in the long run if things were too far gone.

addict-addiction-ashtray-bad-46183What is it that keeps humans from seeing the results of their choices and making different ones that would bring a better outcome?  What inner force keeps humans continuing to do things that are destructive to themselves, to others, and to the world?  What is it that keeps people hooked in habits and patterns of action, and refusing to change even when continuing in the same way is clearly going to bring the same harmful results?  Is it just willfulness?  Laziness?  Ignorance?  Or pure denial?  Is it refusal to see beyond the present moment?  Or beyond oneself?  Or is there some drive toward destruction that is hidden within us, and we simply look away as it continues to run its course, ever more surprised when things don’t turn out quite the way we had hoped?

This shows up in so many ways.  People who smoke cigarettes do so by choice, knowing that in every single use, they are exposing themselves to cancer causing chemicals that destroy health.  And yet, the addiction keeps them willing to take that risk, choosing the high of tobacco, and implicitly accepting the illnesses that may result.  People continue to consume sugar in copious amounts, even when the risk of diabetes is known, and even when others in their families and lives have been diagnosed.  The delight in the sweet pexels-photo-139746taste and its richness calls them back over and over again, diabetes seeming to be a distant idea, and a bummer to consider.  On a personal level, people may see the writing on the wall, and blatantly ignore it, as it’s just too difficult, too inconvenient to change.  Life seems so much better just as it is, thank you very much, and those dire consequences are so far away, and unlikely to even manifest at all… until they do.  And of course they do, eventually, and suffering is most definitely a result.  The question that so many face later in their lives is this:  was it worth it?  If I could go back and change things… if only…

On a cultural level, a national level, and a global level, these things are much more complex to manage.  While a struggling smoker or sugar junkie might hate the process of quitting their addiction, it is totally possible to make those changes and see rapid results.  Some do, and change their lives.  Some don’t, happy to stay with things as they are.  But in scenarios where many people are involved, finding a way to make collective changes is much, much more difficult.  When the international scientific bodies, for example, have been demonstrating valid and undeniable evidence of climate change, with its causes and effects, and decades later there are still significant numbers of people in positions of authority and power who refuse to believe it, the problem is much harder to address.  It seems that in the US, this is yet another of the major areas where we stand divided:  many of us feel clear that the scientific evidence on climate change is beyond sufficient to oil-pump-jack-sunset-clouds-silhouette-162568warrant major changes in our lives on individual and global levels.  And yet, it seems that we have a persistent and sizeable anti-science movement of people that would rather ignore the evidence until something more convincing is presented, finding little believable truth in the global scientific community’s decades of research.  It is likely that for these people, only a catastrophic turn of events will be sufficient to convince them.

We know that fossil fuels are causing irreparable harm to the planet, and yet somehow, that’s not sufficient evidence to change our ways.  Every day now, we see inflated, wealthy politicians continuing to speak their deep denial of the problems.  Do they truly not believe what is presented by the world’s greatest scientific minds?  Are they actually skeptical about the values of scientific inquiry and findings?  I doubt it.  I’d venture to say that the greater truth is right in alignment with my dad and his unwillingness to give up cheese laden sausage biscuits by the half dozen:  addicted, stubborn, and unwilling to change.

When it’s cultural, though, there’s a much stronger undertow, and a much more complex pexels-photo-191842system to break that extends far beyond one person’s bad habits.  Beyond the urban areas with excellent public transportation, most Americans would be hard pressed to live without a car for long.  Most Americans have a limited ability to choose the source of electricity that powers their homes.  Most Americans don’t grow their own foods, and are dependent upon the food industry to haul in truckloads of food to feed their communities.  Woven into all of these things is a dependence on, and an addiction to fossil fuels, of course, and in order to change the systems in place, we ALL have to be a part of it.  Fossil fuel vehicles have to become obsolete so that we are all smoke-smoking-chimney-fireplace-60575more reliant upon electric ones.  Dirty forms of energy must be replaced by solar and wind so that our needs for energy are met without continuing to cause harm, and the infrastructure must change to support that on both personal and community levels.  And it all costs a lot of money, for sure.  And as things are now, there are very strong systems in place that keep us going using the same resources in the same ways, resisting the flow of change, as things are just fine as they are right now, thank you very much.  A lot of people are making a lot of money from the systems in place, and making major changes to those systems would jeopardize that success.  After all, just because you’re a billionaire oil tycoon doesn’t mean you’ll be equally prosperous if you have to start over in solar.  But much greater is the cost of continuing in our ignorance, and ultimately contributing daily to our own annihilation as a species.

And so, the powerful ones in charge deny the science, they deny the evidence, they ignore the facts and stick their heads in the sand as they continue to direct the flow of profits, filling their pockets, keeping them in place as the wealthy and powerful.  They do everything pexels-photo-259027possible to keep things in place, of course, as they like being wealthy and powerful!  And with that much control being exerted from our wealthy and powerful leaders, it’s increasingly more and more difficult for the rest of us to attempt to make necessary changes, no matter how much we want to.  The ones of us with greater means do everything we can to install the solar panels, to buy the eco-friendly car, to eat organic foods,pexels-photo-70862 and to support the industries of change, voting with our dollars.  But the ones with lesser means that are struggling to have any food and electricity at all?  The ones walking to work because they don’t have any car at all?  It all seems far outside of the realm of possibility for those of us, and so we continue to support whoever is in power that will bring them what is needed for the bottom dollar.  Simply put, when we are struggling to survive, we don’t make it a priority to try to change the world and save the environment, as we are just trying to make it through the winter and feed our families.

This is the way the cards are stacked for us now.  And yet, out there in reality beyond the conceptual and self-interested structures of the human mind, life keeps on living.  Nature continues to respond to cause and effect in the same ways she always has:  by attempting to maintain dynamic equilibrium through the best means available.  And yet, just like a human body that has been pushed too far by lifestyle choices that cause harm, systems eventually begin to fail.  We see this now in so many ways.  Climate change.  Increasing extinction of species of animals, insects, plants, and more.  Living systems of interdependence are all struggling to survive now, more than ever before in our history.  And when evidence is presented, we have the opportunity to make choices: identify the problems, understand how they operate, and make necessary changes to bring health and balance back into the system, or don’t and let things unfold as they will.

It seems that while we have become more advanced in our technologies, and more informed in solar-panel-array-power-sun-electricity-159397our understanding of the innerworkings of life and the systems that sustain it, we have lost touch with the fundamental wisdom that was the law by which our ancestors lived.  Have we truly become such foolish, greedy, and self-interested creatures that all we care about is the success of our monetary systems, the capitalist machine, our perceived needs, diversions, and entertainment?  Have we truly forgotten that we are not above Nature, nor separate from Nature, but simply one of many living forces of Nature?  Has our collective perspective become so foolishly human-centric that we are ultimately willing to sacrifice the rest of life on Earth?  Ultimately, if that is true, we will be sacrificing ourselves as well.  With the spread of Christianity around the world, have humans taken the words from Genesis so seriously that they believe that they can dominate and destroy the whole Earth for their own preferences and jollies?  I can’t believe that was the fundamental intention of those words:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Genesis 1:28

Will we humans awaken beyond the ignorance that persists at this time?  Will we come to pexels-photo-38851claim responsibility for the foolish choices we have collectively made on this planet, causing unprecedented destruction in the past 100 years?  Will we awaken to the truth of cause and effect, and acknowledge that we can either continue as the ignorant and greedy force of destruction, or we can see from the larger mind, understanding that we can still be a presence of transformation and healing?  As we continue to consider the path forward, I share the wisdom of our Iroquois brothers and sisters, who understood the responsibility of wise leadership and environmental stewardship:

“The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law.”

“In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your pexels-photo-246642official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the past and present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, writes: “We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come… What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

 

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Divided: Solution?

Last week, I came across a conversation on social media that suggested the only solution to the current state of things in the US is the dissolution of the country into two (or more) separate nations.  One person claimed it would be best if California just became its own country, and secession is indeed a hot topic these days.  Another claimed that we should just cut off the entire center of the country from “us” and give it to “them.”  Still another claimed that it might be a good idea to divide up as a nation based on red states and blue follow-your-dreamsstates, and just let them take over running their countries as they saw fit.  Now, I admit that I have also considered this idea, and a lot of the time right now, the ideas coming out of the madness that has infested Washington are so far removed from anything I can comprehend as reality, I have thought that dividing into country-states might be the only solution in the long run ~ we seem to be approaching an increasing point of no return in our political divide.  However, the practicalities and deeply unsettling process that would be required to enact such a division seem utterly impossible without destroying the lives of a vast majority of people living in this country we call America.

The conversation I was taking part in was one between progressive American women.  All of us were horrified by the unfolding of events and attempts at legislation at present.  We all wanted to see things change dramatically.  And most of those in the conversation also realized that daydreams of creating our own liberal progressive utopia, and kicking out all those who we find to be ignorant, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, sexist, and the like are merely that:  rich and hopeful fantasy.  Ultimately, living in a diverse world with a variety of ideas creates a meaningful democratic conversation, and having a variety of differing ideas to bump up against provides the opportunity for growth as individuals, and as a nation.

As differing ideas appeared in the dialogue, I was surprised to find quite liberal values being espoused with the same kind of dogmatic fervor as the most radical conservatives.  One voice in the conversation, let’s call her Mary, insisted that the states should divide into their own countries, and that those who were not of like value with the majority of those in their red or blue state, would be welcome to move.  As a fantasy, this is great ~ it acknowledges the pain that so many of us feel as we live in divided communities, and many people feel increasingly greater fear of those with opposing views.  And it is a huge problem in our current American political situation to determine how to continue evolving as humans and as a country when our government has been overtaken by such heinous and backwards ideas.  It’s not a comfortable time, for sure.  But dividing the country into more homogenous smaller ones is unlikely to solve the fundamental issues that we are facing right now.  At best, we’d end up as hostile and warring neighbors.

I engaged in conversation with Mary, who I do not personally know.  She was from California, and was a solid supporter of secession, as well as the division of states into their own countries.  As I questioned the reality of that kind of movement, I asked her to consider all those people who might be forced to move to another place in the name of living according to their values, or in the name of the safety of their families, stripped of human rights protections in their former home state.  Mary was dismissive, saying that it would be a small sacrifice that was worth it in the name of getting “those people” out of the way.  The conservatives in California could either just deal with living in a liberal utopia, or get out.  I spoke to her from the opposite side of the conversation, as a progressive living in a red state.  Sure, I could pack up my life, leave my beloved home and land, and move to one of the neighboring progressive states – both of which I’ve lived in previously – but it’s far more complex to take these ideas and turn them into living reality.  We live where we do because it is 1) considerably more affordable than surrounding areas, 2) a beautiful and unique place surrounded by nature and with a good amount of land, 3) a place where we have built a business, which is working, and 4) close enough to major metropolitan areas without being congested and overdeveloped.  For the same money in a neighboring state, we’d be lucky to rent a studio apartment in a highly overdeveloped and sketchy area, which would strip us of all the things we love about our home and life there.

Mary argued that by pushing progressive people in red states to migrate to more progressive states, it would drive up rents and raise salaries, and it would give the economy a major boost overall.  And that people like me, who clearly have education and employable skills, would surely find a job at a much higher salary than in the current red state I call home.  While it seems like a good argument on the surface, in reality, she was not acknowledging the diverse career paths that people take, and the diversity of work and economics that are reality for many people.  For an entrepreneur or small business owner, uprooting a business that has grown to find its place in a particular community is no small thing.  For business owners who have established their companies in a particular location, living in a new place would require rebuilding their businesses from scratch.  For those who have local customers and fit a niche in the community in which they live, relocating is the equivalent of a slash and burn.  For someone with a clearly defined set of job skills with a career working for specific kinds of companies and organizations, it may be a fairly straightforward path to find relevant employment in a particular field, be it manufacturing, teaching, medicine, or corporate executive positions.  But what about those who don’t fit neatly into any of those categories, the artists and healers, of which I am one of many?

follow-your-dreams-1Many artists and healers simply find a day job that pays the basic expenses of living.  But a number of us have found ways to establish our work in service of local and global communities, and have found ways of thriving and sustaining ourselves in a world that doesn’t make it easy at all.  We have found ways to live simple, unconventional lives, and by being persistent and patient, we are increasingly able to support ourselves by doing what we feel certain is not merely a job, but a mission, a calling.  As an artist and healer, I chose to make a commitment to my work and my path first, and to find a way to support myself in the process.  At the beginning, this choice left me utterly broke and living out of my car, but in time, I have been able to create a healing Sanctuary on a mountaintop, surrounded by beautiful forest and sky.  For years, I have also worked more than most people I know in order to create an unconventional business to bring my heart’s mission into the world, and I know for sure that this work touches peoples lives, and makes this world a better place.  If  my red state decided to become its own country, embracing the most radical conservative values, it would affect my life in tremendous ways.  First, as a woman who is not Christian, and whose work involves spirituality, it would concern me greatly that my religious freedom could be violated. Perhaps I would then need to live with watchfulness, looking out for those emboldened vigilantes who would seek to teach dissenters a lesson.  Second, as a woman who is married to a woman, it would concern me greatly that my marriage might become void, and that businesses in my state (run by conservatives that promote discrimination) would bar my entry.  Would the grocery store allow us to buy food, or the bank allow us to make a deposit, or the hospital allow us entry if necessary?  Would we need to closet ourselves, never openly expressing affection or even acknowledging our union, in fear that we might be violently assaulted or killed?  Not to mention the large numbers of immigrants and first-generation Americans in our community – would they be safe, would their businesses and families be destroyed?  Would we ultimately be forced to abandon our life and home, fleeing to a neighboring state that would bring us significant financial strain, and forcing us to live in a way that doesn’t fit our needs?

I shared all of these things in my conversation with Mary, and plenty more.  Her initial response was that she was once an artist, too, but she woke up to the reality that she had to pay the bills and get a job.  My question to her:  did you have a gift and a calling to share with the world that was your life’s mission?  Or did you simply like making art?  Because if we force all gifted artists and healers to abandon their life’s work in order to work a status quo job that stifles their souls and deadens their gifts, the world would be a far less wonderful place.  Just imagine if Picasso hadn’t been allowed to flourish, or Mozart, or any number of amazing visionary people who have transformed our world with thefollow-your-dreams-2 work they shared.  The artists and healers are the prophets and visionaries that express the currents that exist in the world, and beyond the world, and without us, the soul of the world would become an increasingly gray scale and utilitarian place, with little inspiration and little meaning.  Most people in the world who have not ever attempted to make a life and a living as an artist or healer have no idea what immense energy is required, how hard one must work, and how little – beyond the work itself – one receives in return in the formative years of becoming established.  It’s certainly not a life for everyone, but it is indeed a life for a number of us – especially in the progressive movement.  And ultimately, would any of us want to choose:  forced migration and total uprooting vs. living in a culture and environment where everything you value is on the chopping block?

As the conversation with Mary began to lose its integrity, I was accused of being someone who isn’t willing to work, and who would just need to grow up and get a job like the rest of the country.  That my freedom to live and work as I choose is indulgent and ultimately not relevant in the greater conversation of what must be done in the name of justice.  That sacrifices must be made, and that some people would suffer.

In that moment a light bulb turned on above my head:  if you shift the details of what she is saying, they fit *exactly* into the very conversation that progressives oppose.  That in order to have a solid country, some people’s lives and freedoms matter less, and are worthy of sacrifice.  We just saw this at Standing Rock *last week* and we continue to see evidence of this in every single insane dictate that comes from the White House right now.

Forced migration.  It happens for a number of reasons.  Natural disasters, environmental follow-your-dreams-1issues, war, development, human trafficking, slavery, ethnic cleansing… all horrible, all traumatizing to those in the position of being forced from their homes.  And you know what we call a person forced into migrating ~ or fleeing ~ outside of his/her homeland?  A refugee.  As if the conversation about allowing refugees from war-torn countries hasn’t already brought most progressives to stand up loudly and fight injustice, the very idea that some progressives would want to enact the same kind of crisis in their own country is pure insanity. NO forced migration in history has ever been successful, in that it promoted a meaningful, rich life to those who had no choice but to flee and survive, or stay and face persecution, suffering, and possibly death.  The ongoing conversation was abruptly halted by Mary’s choice to block me.  She, as are many people on the whole political spectrum, was no longer interested in engaging in a conversation that pointed out shocking but important similarities that progressives and conservatives may share, regardless of the differing content of the argument.

I don’t have any clear answers on how we can successfully shape the direction of this experiment we call America.  No idea at all.  But I do know that it must involve conversation, education, and the willingness to see the full picture for all people, especially those who are disenfranchised and less visible.  If we progressives aren’t willing to stretch ourselves to see the full spectrum of diversity among us, how can we expect the conservatives, with their more closed perspectives, to stretch even a little to see the perspective they oppose?  If we can’t make it a priority to try to understand a little more every day, then all hope is lost.

The mystic Osho says, “Society is not an existential reality.  It is created by man because man is asleep, because man is in chaos, because man is not capable of having freedom without turning it into licentiousness.  Man is not capable of having freedom and not taking advantage of it.  So it is an artificial – but necessary – creation of man.  Because society is artificial, it can be dissolved.  Because it was necessary once, it does not mean it has to be necessary forever.  Man just has to change those conditions which made it necessary.  And it is good that it is not existential, otherwise there would be no way to get rid of it.  It is our own manufactured thing.  We can destroy it any day we want.”  Ultimately, as we continue to evolve as humans, we are indeed free to drop the old ways follow-your-dreams-4and create new ones, ones that are far more enlightened and just.  As I see it, the progressives are choosing to continue moving in this direction, while the conservatives want to hold on to the “good old days” of the past.  This is a strong divide, and indeed, it is not clear how we can navigate this time gracefully, honoring the needs of all, and continuing to do better as humans than we have in the past.  But through intention, and through willingness to see and transform our own personal limitations and blocks, the flow of change will continue, and it will become unstoppable.  The old world will  fall away like the leaves on the trees in autumn, and indeed, society will be utterly transformed.

Weeping for the World

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” ~ Chief Seattle

Today I wept for my ancestors. And with my ancestors. Today was the day that a militarized police force was scheduled to arrive at Standing Rock to forcibly remove and arrest all the dissenting remnants of a months long prayer vigil, a powerful stand to honor and protect the Waters, the source of Life. While in my office, I received a notification of a video just live streamed directly from Standing Rock, capturing the situation as it was unfolding in real time. I tuned in, and watched as small numbers of prayerful, undefended screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-2-31-45-pmpeople were surrounded by the kind of police force that I would expect to see as a response to some kind of armed riot. Wearing heavy gear and face masks, and carrying automatic weapons, they surrounded the camp with military type vehicles, and rounded people up like cattle. Songs broke through the narration of the video’s creator, including Native chants, and the old gospel favorite, I went down to the river to pray. One woman cried out for her grandmother, trying to find her in order to give her a cane for stability. She was not allowed to help the old woman, and it wasn’t clear to me if she was ever found at all. After periods of waiting and wondering, the narrator takes the viewer to an atrocious scene: a young man seated on the ground, burning sage, fanning with feathers, in prayer. He becomes surrounded by the militant police, who aim their enormous guns at him, and though their voices raise, he remains seated in deep prayer. Shortly after this, the video is terminated.screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-2-48-26-pm

In sitting with this, I ran through the full spectrum of emotion. Fear that something violent would happen in front of my very eyes, that someone would be injured or killed. Doubt that the world will ever wake up beyond this kind of madness. Fury that somehow we have not yet learned from hundreds of years of mistakes, as white men have done their best to decimate indigenous peoples. Desperation for all that I read about in the daily news, one horrific situation after another, each evoking more and more shock that this could happen in the “land of the free.” Hopelessness, having no idea what I can do to help, sitting here in my chair, thousands of miles away. And deep, deep sorrow for the ignorance of humanity, with our twisted values and closed minds causing ever more trauma and heartbreak, seemingly more mentally ill by the day.

Many years ago in meditation, I began to witness scenes of war, bloodshed, and horrible violence. I would see the individual faces of suffering people in the most dire of situations, feeling everything they felt. Given that I did not watch television or violent movies, I couldn’t understand why this kind of scene filled my awareness when I sat in silence. Sending my inquiry out into the universe, I was finally given an answer. You are a woman who weeps for the world. In that, it all made sense.  Many of the most horrific situations in this world are never witnessed. Many of those who suffer are never seen, held, comforted, and loved, and they continue to suffer in invisible silence.

Today, many people in the relatively affluent, post-industrial western world have largely been removed from scenes such as these.  Most westerners are able to live in denial, or at least in comfortable complacency, unable or unwilling to open to the atrocities that are very alive in this world.  And it’s a luxury that we can do that, for sure.  People seem uninterested in knowing the reality of war torn countries such as Syria, with its refugee crisis.  People are unwilling to understand the conditions that push people from Latin 15822731_1361843767199109_6953824951815581468_nAmerica to come to the US illegally, or overstay a visa.  People are also too deluded to believe that inner city life could be so hard, pushing people into gangs and crime.  Or that life in the US as a person with any skin but white could bring a constant stream of discrimination, threats, abuse, and violence.  Or that a group of Indigenous Americans could be justified in taking a stand for land that was already stolen from them once by the government over a hundred years ago.  In the vast ocean of consciousness from which we are all born, the wounds, traumas, and suffering of every single person affects the whole of humanity. So, with a heart open wide, I have embraced this role, woman who weeps for the world. As this turbulent time has unfolded around us, I now know that I am not alone; many sisters and brothers weep too.

What is true is this: a noble group of Indigenous Americans stood on land that was a part of their legally recognized ancestral nation. They stood alongside other Indigenous and non-Indigenous Americans in humble prayer for months on end, claiming the role of Water Protectors, devoted to the protection of the Earth and all Life. Unarmed, humble, and aligned with simple values, these men and women courageously stood up against the greedy corporate backers of a project that was dated and nearly obsolete before it even began.  They came together to pray for the awakening of humans everywhere, that we may eventually remember that poisoning the Earth is poisoning ourselves. They stood on land that had been given to the Lakota as a part of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and even though this land was previously stolen from them, and even though the US Supreme Court eventually acknowledged those injustices with a multi-million dollar settlement, the rights to this land somehow remain contested. It is obvious that the powers-that-be in the US government have historically lacked the integrity to acknowledge and respect the way of life of the Indigenous Americans.  In the movement at Standing Rock, the government and police have gone way beyond any kind of decency, attacking the Water Protectors as if they were attacking a terrorist force, or attempting to overtake a hostage situation.

Who are the actual terrorists, though? Google tells me that a terrorist is “a person who uses screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-2-49-00-pmunlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” And who is the hostage? “A person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition.” For a moment, I invite you to imagine with me that instead of Indigenous Americans, we were looking at Christian Americans. And instead of the lands of the Lakota, we were inside a vast church. And imagine that a megalomaniac corporation had determined that their right to pursue their project would require that church and its community to abandon its sacred grounds, questioning that those grounds were ever the church’s property in the first place. And imagine that the government and protective forces of your country showed up to support the corporation in advancing its project, fully dismissing the rights and perspective of the church goers. And imagine that the leaders of the church would take a stand for what is right, defending their sacred grounds without weapons, in song and prayer, and in speaking the truth. And imagine those people being violently attacked by a militant police force that was hell bent on shutting down any protest. Imagine what it must feel like to be told that your values don’t matter, that your way of life is irrelevant, and that you will lose in any attempt to stand up for your rights. Imagine what it must be like to be involved in such an intense and lopsided battle for months on end, and to be forced to leave your sacred land, arrested, and held at machine gun point. Who are the hostages, and who are the terrorists, indeed?

Water is Life. Literally. We are water. We cannot live without water. And as we have polluted and poisoned the waters of this world, unprecedented levels of sickness and disease continue to plague humanity. Somehow, in spite of scientific evidence and basic human intelligence, corporate forces have betrayed the basic needs of every living being on Earth. I find it ever more baffling to understand how we, with our advanced technologies and vast knowledge have come to a point where we know that we are perpetuating truly stupid and destructive choices, and yet we fail to make new choices, ignoring the unfolding reality in front of us. This is the ultimate mental illness, telling us that somehow we are exempt from the laws of nature, and that we are intelligent and powerful enough to escape the results of our own foolish actions. It’s the basic rules of cause and effect. But in human arrogance, the wealthy and powerful believe that they can escape the inevitable result of their choices. Other people will suffer, but not them. And through pharmaceuticals, they can escape illness and disease. And through greater artificial living, including foods and environments, they can escape the destruction of nature. Perhaps another planet would be a better fit anyway, and since they have already taken over every inhabitable distant corner of this world, why not just continue? With technology and endless resources, anything is possible, right?

Arrogance says I’ll take what I want, no one can stop me. Arrogance says your needs don’t matter as long as my needs are met. Arrogance says nature is simply a resource to fuel the wants of a greedy humanity. Arrogance says stand aside, this is necessary in the name of progress, which must be supported at all costs. Arrogance says your culture, traditions, and values are irrelevant in the world we are creating. Arrogance looks in the face of reality and denies what it sees, creating fantasies and lies, and making an enemy of anyone who would stand tall and point out the truth.

I sat in meditation for a long time this afternoon, hoping to gain some insight into what has happened at Standing Rock. Past the sorrow, I came into a force of anger, seeing threads of white Christian conquest in these actions. I cannot think of even one Indigenous nation that has not been invaded and damaged by the forces of white Christian men, or their descendants. Through a shameful series of Papal Bulls, the Catholic Church historically authorized an unbelievable stream of discrimination, forcing the doctrine of the church upon any and every person with which its members crossed paths. Many of these declarations condemned those judged guilty of heresy, which is defined as a “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.” There are Papal Bulls against Jews, Pagans, “heathens,” witches, Mongols, and Muslims. One particularly gruesome declaration “prohibited Crusaders from dismembering and boiling of the bodies so that the bones, separated from the flesh, may be carried for burial in their own countries.” Another authorized a Portuguese king “to reduce any Muslims, pagans and other unbelievers to perpetual slavery.” With an ideological base such as this, it is not difficult to see how the current state of affairs has come about. And yet, how far this is from the original teachings of the supposed incarnation of God? From a doctrine that also states, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

And so, the final insight I received: humility. Those who are leading the US right now stand with arrogance, determined to do whatever is needed to create the America that best fits their own personal priorities, especially in the name of wealth and power. But in humility, we return to our authentic humanness. We come to understand that humans are all equal, and all have the rights to live as they see fit, so long as it doesn’t harm others. With a humble heart, we learn to listen with openness instead of dominating the conversation with our own ideas and agenda. With a humble heart, we come to understand the needs, values, and lives of others with love and respect. Indeed, Christian doctrine encourages humility: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) And with a humble heart, we accept our limitations and flaws with the willingness to learn, to grow, and to forgive ourselves and others in walking through the challenges of life. It is only with a humble heart that humans will ever find true, abiding peace.  Gratitude to our Indigenous American brothers and sisters at Standing Rock for being such a stellar example of humility in action.

I leave you with a Cherokee proverb that is one of my favorites, asking each of us to look within and come to know ourselves fully. Only from there can we choose to walk the high road, and serve as much needed leaders for these times of upheaval and potential transformation.

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One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson
about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between 13335932_727981667343874_5404942709784348523_n
two “wolves” inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute
and then asked his grandfather:
“Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one you feed.”

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To watch the video by Christopher Francisco that inspired this writing, please click HERE!

Photos from Standing Rock were taken from Christopher Francisco’s video.

For an overview of the incident in the video, please click HERE!

The Core Story

Today’s blog features guest writer David Beares

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Honestly, I’m kinda burned out on politics, but something has been bubbling in me for days that I feel compelled to write.

Ever since acupuncture school, the gap I see between liberals and conservatives comes down to our Core Story. The way we see the world and interpret it.

I truly think the way we see Capitalism is where we most severely break off…and that divide is why we just don’t get anywhere when discussing politics.

Capitalism is neither “good” nor “bad.” At it’s core, it holds no meaning or emotion. It can be both the creator of good in the world and the root of evil/corruption.

Conservatives, it seems to me, operate by the core story that Capitalism is all good, and we should, at all cost, leave it alone so it can function. All growth is good. All measures to regulate or slow it in any way are bad, and a sign of BIG government. They seem to believe Capitalism is more important than our actual democracy, and our democracy is only there to support the growth of capitalism.

In my liberal mind, capitalism can be great. I am an entrepreneur, and I love the fact that my wife and I are able to create a business that supports a great way of life. I love the “game” of business and find it highly rewarding.

But on the flip side, I also see its evil. Capitalism is literally swallowing our earth’s resources to the brink of disaster. It has created major health epidemics, then run in to sell new miracle cure drugs to fix all the health issues.

I’ve watched the way big business in many sectors has wreaked havoc with our planet…to the point that I literally don’t know what state our earth will be when we leave it to our children. I’ve seen wars created to protect our capitalistic interests. I could go on and on about the rampant social, health and environmental ways that capitalism damages us and is a negative.

This gap in thinking is truly the Core Story that separates us.

I, for one, don’t think we should get rid of capitalism. But I do think we MUST have a strong democracy. We must value the interests of Health, Survival, Social and Environmental rights…and all measures of success at the economic level must be weighed against the impact on these levels.

Never before, with 45 and the swamp monsters he’s complied, have I seen a deeper threat to all of these levels. We are truly seeing how decades of capitalism and wealth over-all-else turns out. But really he’s just the ugliest form of what has been boiling and built on the right for decades. And it’s gotten so bad that people literally think NOTHING matters but economic growth. No cost is too big. Our survival doesn’t matter. Our health is just a pawn. Whatever the social or environmental cost…it would seem that those on the right are complacent.

Folks, I don’t care what your core story is, this version of America can’t last. It’s on the wrong side of history. It cannot last. It’s been a fun ride, but we cannot do another 100 years of this type of consumerism and growth. Not my opinion. Scientific fact.

Literally, the only people who should be for uncapped business and small government (in terms of social programs and regulation) are the people who are served NO MATTER what happens to our earth, our health and our economy. I think you know who they are…and they represent just a small, TINY, part of our population.

I hope you’ll join me to support this great Democracy for the sake of our health and our children. I hope you will ALWAYS vote (and not for a 3rd party) because the “better of two evils” might be the one who isn’t actually evil. I hope you’ll expand what you care about beyond the economy. I hope you’ll see that we still have something beautiful to save in this awesome time of freedom and abundance we still enjoy in America.

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About the author

David Beares has always been a passionate advocate for the earth, traditional forms of health and fitness, and politics. He majored in Political Science at the University of Maryland. After graduating in ’99, David’s adventures took him to the mountains of Georgia where he worked at a wilderness camp for incarcerated kids. Then in the spring of 2001, he was called to head off on the Appalachian Trail, hiking it in its entirety over the next six months. Today, David and his wife co-own 16839447_10209847255031412_511318700_nan acupuncture and kettlebell training facility in Ellicott City Maryland. As a father of three, his passion and concern for the earth and the state of health is even more present.

You can learn more about David and his work at

www.39minuteworkout.com and www.onlinekettlebells.com