Beyond Stress: Sound Medicine Heals

In recent years, Sound Medicine has been making headlines. Instead of heading out to _MG_9016the pub on a Friday night, many people are now choosing sound journeys as a way to relax and unwind. To those who view music as nothing more than entertainment, Sound Medicine may sound like a New Age gimmick, and even those who have experienced the benefits of healing sound may struggle to explain what exactly happens during a session. In light of this, it is helpful to consider the history of sound healing, as well as the science behind its effectiveness.

In western culture, people often assume that Sound Medicine is an emerging field, however cultures around the world have practiced sound healing for millenia. The indigenous people of the Amazon have long used medicine songs called icaros in plant medicine healing. The pre-Hindu Tantric Yogis used potent sound meditations to heal and awaken. Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda use sound for both diagnostic and treatment purposes, and in ancient Greece, Pythagoras cultivated practices based on the Harmony of the Spheres. Indeed, Sound Medicine is hardly an innovation of the New Age.

Sound Medicine is much more than a relaxing concert. With artistic mastery of their chosen tools and instruments guiding the experience, as well as a thorough understanding of the energetics of sound, a good sound healer possesses the presence and knowledge to support clients in engaging with healing in mind, body, and spirit in an intentional way. The underlying goal of any Sound Medicine work is to reset the sympathetic nervous system’s response to ongoing stress. Western medicine now acknowledges that the cumulative effects of stress contribute to nearly every major illness. Living in a culture of busyness, increasing levels of mental and emotional strain escalate into chronic stress, and over time, this can have a serious affect on our health. As the body is continually flooded with stress hormones, heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates, and the digestive system can’t function in an optimal way. Over time, this ongoing state of fight-or-flight can lead to disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, ulcers, and immune suppression.

Many health professionals now encourage patients to engage in simple and effective practices, including meditation, body awareness, and breathing exercises, to interrupt the cycle of chronic stress, and supporting the body’s natural capacity to heal and return to balance. This is where Sound Medicine is key. While all forms of meditation and self-awareness are beneficial, the part of the brain that engages with sound is directly connected to memory and emotion. Sound Medicine embraces this natural interconnectivity. Whether evoking soothing sounds, such as ocean waves or chimes shimmering in the breeze, abstract sounds such as the gong or singing bowls, or the words of a song to guide the exploration of a particular emotional landscape, life experience, or inner inquiry, Sound Medicine engages the parasympathetic nervous system, initiating a deep state of relaxation. In turn, the body is able to come into greater balance, and can result in lower blood pressure, improved digestive function, and nourishment of the body’s tissues and organ systems, not to mention allowing the mind and emotions to enter into calmness and clarity. Ultimately, Sound Medicine is a wonderful tool that can support any healing journey. While it is not a substitute for appropriate medical treatment when facing a serious health condition, as a complimentary modality, it can be very beneficial alongside any allopathic or holistic disciplines.

 

 

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who carries deep understanding of the healing powers of music and the Earth. A lifelong musician, she has been deeply influenced by the traditions of Nada Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, as well as indigenous and contemporary traditions of healing medicine songs. With a pure vocal quality, lush, beautiful harmonies, and rich instrumentation, Angela’s music brings people into profound meditative and ecstatic states and inspires deep connection to the heart. She is the founder of Sound Medicine Journeys, and offers sound healing sessions, classes, and workshops that are both experiential and grounded in the principles of holistic healing. A shamanic practitioner rooted in the traditions of the Peruvian Andes, Angela is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world. For more information, please visit angelablueskies.com and heartofthemotherretreats.com.

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First published in Natural Awakenings DC, June 2017

Photo courtesy of Yulia Mikalchuk

Spiritual Bypass

monk-458491_1920In a recent conversation, I was surprised to hear a woman who considers herself a new-age spiritual teacher say something like, “with enlightenment, we don’t have to care about the worldly stuff anymore.”  I noted a distinct air of superiority in her tone, as if she had finally risen above the need to get involved in the mundane affairs of living as a human being here on Earth at this time.  Taken aback by her declaration, I pointed out the ancient vow of the Bodhisattva, who continues to reincarnate into this world to serve the awakening of all beings.

Bodhisattva:  (in Mahayana Buddhism) a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.

This idea was instantly dismissed, of no interest to this self-proclaimed enlightened master.  The conversation has stayed with me, inviting me to look within the culture of the personal growth movement, and consider the roots of such a perspective.

Even though a few moments with the daily news might make it difficult to believe, there is an unprecedented movement of awakening happening all around the world.  People are seeking to move beyond self-interest, greed, separation, fear, and mental rigidity, opening into a new way of living that is compassionate, inclusive, and holistic.  As we come to identify habitual approaches to living that are no longer in alignment with the awakened vision of a new way, inevitably we are forced into the uncomfortable process of change.  In order to create a world that is no longer dominated by self-interest, greed, separation, fear, and mental rigidity, we must look within ourselves, seeing where these things are alive within us.

The process can be painful.  Most of us like to think that we’re good people, doing the best we can, and when we uncover a shadowy, misaligned part of ourselves, it can trigger disbelief, guilt, shame, anger, self-hatred, and complete denial.  Ultimately, in order to transform ourselves and the ways of our culture, we are required to face these things and to walk through the alchemical fire of change.  When we encounter our pain, wounds, fears, and flaws, it is easy to become overwhelmed, and we push it all away.  It certainly seems preferable to just walk away from all these issues, stepping instead into a new way of being, but without honestly addressing these parts of ourselves, no enduring change will occur.

In the process of spiritual awakening, this dissociation often falls under the guise of spiritual bypass.  A term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in the mid 1980s, spiritual bypass includes all the ways that people attach themselves to spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid facing emotional and mental wounds.  Spiritual bypass often shows up as detachment, repressing the full spectrum of emotions, hyper-positivity, stigmatizing anger, lack of beneficial boundaries, denial of personal or collective shadow, an elevated sense of importance of the spiritual, and an elevated sense of self in regard to the spiritual.

Having walked in circles connected to yoga, spirituality, and personal growth for over twenty years, I am intimately familiar with each of the strands of spiritual bypass, and have personally experienced many of them.  In reflecting upon these things as they appeared in my life, I believe that I ultimately wanted to know that I was OK, that I was a good person, that I was getting something right.  Seeing the suffering in our world, and wanting things to be better, it was too painful to believe that I was a part of the problem.  After all, I had devoted so much time and energy into becoming a better human being, living up to my potential, and doing my very best in all the arenas of my life.  Of course, the path of healing unresolved emotional wounding is circuitous, and it’s not possible to force a complete and thorough resolution according to our preferred human timelines.

And while that is true, there is a strong desire to at least seem like we’re getting it right, finally.  Among spiritual circles, one might feel compelled to say, “I’m Angela.  It’s all good, I’m okay with whatever is happening in the world.  It’s all in Divine order.  I’m a positive influence in the world, happy in every circumstance, never angry, never sad or hopeless.  I’m completely open, fully whole, and living in the radiance of my own true inner light.  The suffering in this world is an illusion, and as a warrior of the light, I transcend this plane of existence, an intergalactic citizen of the universe.  I’m on my way home, and this place just isn’t it.  Peace, love, and light to you!”  But what happens when the truth is more like this?  “I’m Angela.  I see the good all around me, but there is also a lot of pain in this world.  I have experienced a lot of suffering and trauma, and am not sure how to go about healing it, though I want to very much.  I want to understand the mysterious unfolding of life, which sometimes seems like it is in Divine order, and other times seems to be nothing but chaos.  I am doing my best every single day, but I stumble a lot, as I am human.  I feel all things that come through me, from the heights of bliss to the depths of agony, and know that these things are the essence of human experience.  From this comes compassion, opening my heart to the suffering of others.  I know that in my own journey of awakening there has been no clear-cut path.  Sometimes it seems clear, and other times I feel utterly lost.  But I am awake, paying attention, listening, and present.  I hope that through my life’s experience I can be a positive support to others, as we are all in this together.” 

The path of awakening is a path of embracing the full spectrum of human experience.  Too often, the error we make is in wanting to transcend the world and its problems.  We tend to believe that when enlightenment comes, we will no longer have to feel pain, sadness, fear, anger, or confusion.  We want to believe it is possible to live in a place of endless joy, and too often that is accompanied by the belief that we will either escape this realm of challenges and struggle, or we will be saved by some external force that will eradicate whatever is in the way of eternal ease and happiness.  Ultimately, awakening is much the opposite journey:  as we open to experience all that arises and all that falls away, we cultivate greater compassion, and are able to be present with life with all the challenges and struggle.  We awaken into feeling every single thing, resisting nothing, embracing it all.

On an individual level, this is profound.  As we truly awaken to the present moment with our full senses and heart, healing and transforming our own lives, we also awaken to a greater sense of personal responsibility, and the desire to be of service to others.  On a collective level, as we awaken, we make the leap from living in a human-centric way of conflict and exploitation, to living in a respectful, balanced way, considering the impact of our choices within the interdependent web of life.  Bringing together the gifts of compassion and insight, and uniting our hearts and minds, it is no longer desirable to simply look the other way, seeking an escape from the pain of this world.  Instead, we look fully into the suffering of the world, opening our arms, becoming the healing presence that will transform the world.

This is not a simple process, nor an easy road.  We are facing immense global challenges that threaten life as we know it.  The extinction of species, climate change, social and human rights issues, violence and discrimination, injustice, fear, and deep and abiding separation are pervasive at this time.  Hearts are closed, minds are rigid, and weapons are at hand, as we continue to face the darkness within humanity that has been suppressed for millennia.  And just as with an infected wound, we must open and purify the wounds within the collective consciousness of humanity, allowing the infected hearts and minds to heal and return to basic goodness.  This will take time, and it will not always be graceful, but when held in the compassionate embrace of the Bodhisattvas that have come to Earth just now in order to facilitate this awakening, it will continue to unfold.

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who has traveled the world for over a decade in search of meaning and spiritual growth.  She is the founder of Sound Medicine Journeys, and offers sound healing sessions, classes, and workshops that are both experiential and grounded in the principles of holistic healing.  A shamanic practitioner rooted in the traditions of the Peruvian Andes, Angela is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world.  For more information, please visit angelablueskies.com and heartofthemotherretreats.com

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First published on My Area Yoga:  DC, Philly, Chicago on May 15th, 2017monk-458491_1920

Healing the Feminine Soul

The womb is not a place to store fear and pain. The womb is to create and give birth to life.In shamanic cultures, soul loss is a condition that occurs when a person has a traumatic experience, leaving one feeling disconnected, fragmented, and lost.  Though ultimately seeking a part of oneself that is missing, those who undergo soul loss often seek external experiences that help them feel whole once more. Others withdraw, unable to find a sense of inner strength and centeredness.   While the path of resolving trauma is complex, shamanic healing addresses the situation at an energetic level, which in turn supports the process of healing mind and body. Through the process of soul retrieval, it is possible to recover lost and fragmented parts of oneself, restoring a sense of wholeness.

While soul retrieval is a potent way of initiating personal healing, the collective pain we share is much more challenging to address. In our modern world, we have immense material abundance and comfort, but in many ways, we have lost our connection with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Caught in the trap of constant busyness, we are exhausted and struggling, ever striving toward an elusive and distant goal. From the shamanic perspective, this is indeed soul loss on a cultural level, and tremendous healing is needed to restore us to balance.

Seeing a vast collective need for healing, a number of indigenous elders around the world have begun sharing their wisdom and traditions with those who are called to bring healing to their people. One such exchange took place just a few years ago, deep in the Peruvian Amazon during a powerful ceremony with the female shamans of the Shipibo Nation. Urging women to step into their power and heal the trauma that women have carried for generations, the Rite of the Womb was brought forth. Also called the 13th Rite of the Munay-Ki, the Rite of the Womb may be shared with all those who are committed to healing themselves, their relationships with the feminine, and Pachamama, Mother Earth.goddess-1500599

As the Rite of the Womb is passed from one woman to another, it transmits an energetic force into the womb of the receiver, with the intention of initiating the healing of fear, pain, sorrow, grief, shame, guilt, and all other burdens that women have carried from their life experiences, their ancestry, and their cultures. As these heavy energies are cleared, the Rite empowers women to reclaim their place in the world as wise leaders, teachers, and healers. In full understanding that healing the feminine requires the healing of the masculine as well, the Rite is also shared with men who are called to support healing and balance in the world.

As women receive the Rite of the Womb, they open themselves to healing their relationships with their bodies, find greater love and acceptance for themselves, release self-limiting beliefs and habits, and embrace the fullness of who they truly are. Letting go of competitiveness and judgment, women find new ways of uplifting and supporting each other in sharing their gifts and creativity with the world, creating a stronger sense of community based in care, compassion, and connection. In continuing to nurture the Rite, the process of healing is fully integrated, and as the wounded fragments of the feminine are welcomed home, the feminine soul is restored to wholeness, bringing humanity back into balance within the interdependent web of life.

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Would you like to schedule a private initiation into the Rite of the Womb in your home or venue of choice? 

Please contact us at angelablueskies@gmail.com.

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First published in Natural Awakenings Magazine DC, May 2017_mg_9029

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who has traveled the world for over a decade in search of meaning and spiritual growth. She leads initiations into the Rite of the Womb and the Munay-Ki Rites several times each year.  She is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world. For more information, please visit www.angelablueskies.com and www.heartofthemotherretreats.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foncebadon & the Iron Cross: A Sacrifice in the Mountains

Excerpted from The Slowest Pilgrim ~ the story of my journey along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage road.

***
Foncebadon is a fabled village of wild dogs and even wilder fear. A village finally back in the mountains, a place of silence interrupted only by the whistling wind gently brushing the grass covered hillsides with her long, gentle fingers. A town higher than any other on the Camino, Foncebadon is little more than a relic. This is the final town on the ascent to Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on the entire path through Spain.

 
I have no idea what happened in Foncebadon, why this beautiful place is nothing more than ruins. Especially when one considers the tremendous number of thousand-year old houses that are still standing, this village is anomalous in Spain. It appears that Foncebadon was never a large village, perhaps twenty houses and a church. Today almost all of those stone houses have collapsed. A stone wall here and there, surrounded 002_14by stone rubble and fuchsia foxgloves growing wild. Some of the houses are nothing more than piles of stone. Others are partially standing structures with wood frameworks that appear ready to give way in the next strong gust of wind. One house even had a window frame moderately intact, however, it was misshapen from the stones settling over the years and looked more like a fun house window than one from an ancient village. The few modern houses seemed oddly out-of-place in this pseudo-gravesite, but the smell of wood fires in July was remarkably comforting as the surprisingly chilly evening breeze settled in with the night.

 
Foncebadon is a place of great peace, deep silence, and endless time. Nature has returned humanity’s structures to her womb, to be held and weathered and reborn. To have spent time here is a blessing, reminding me that nothing is permanent, that all of life is a sacrifice. With every step, water courses through my veins, washes my eyes and throat, pours out of my body as sweat, and is returned to the atmosphere. With every step, air moves through me, feeding my body and moving me into greater awareness through the aligned rhythm of breath and step. With every step, the earth meets my feet, reminding me that I can’t help coming into relationship with all that is around me, that the earth and I are intricately connected. With every step, I am asked to face my existence now, without any consideration of the past or the future, the fire that is my life force burns on even when my mind is unable to process any more. The cyclic nature of my place in existence, the cyclic nature of earth, the cyclic nature of life in every form, I can’t escape the reality of these things. Every step takes me further away from the notions of my life and closer to the pure current of life that is no different from the foxgloves pushing their way through the rubble of fallen Foncebadon.

 
As for the wild dogs of Foncebadon reported by Shirley MacLaine and Paulo Coehlo in their books, the only dog I encountered in the entire village was a large tan dog sleeping outside the albergue, a dog who didn’t move from the time I arrived until the time I left the next morning. On the Camino we all have different paths, different struggles, different fears, different demons to face. The wild dogs of Spain didn’t emerge as my experience. I believe that in some way we all created the obstacles we would face on our journeys. Mine didn’t involve devil dogs with gnashing teeth. Mine was a maddening struggle with the sun and the inescapable heat.

 
In Foncebadon, I began to understand some of the greatest lessons of my Camino. My journey showed me that there is no true escape, though I may often feel that I can escape from one problematic situation to the safety and comfort of another situation. In truth, 027_25Athere is simply one thing, then another, then another. To be cornered by the open sky, to be trapped beneath the bright summer sun, and to be unable to escape was the greatest suffering I’ve ever known. In the midst of such intensity and exhaustion, even my mind was no longer available as a playground of escape. My mind abandoned me on the Camino. I was left holding nothing but another step, another breath. The horizon wasn’t a goal, but a frozen moment of now. I was always safe, the ground was always there to comfort me, and occasionally there were trees to shade the way and fellow pilgrims to remind me that I was indeed absorbed in the flow of life.

***
After I finished my morning writing, I noticed Matthias standing on the hillside to watch the sunrise. I left my pack inside and joined him. We huddled close together in the freezing morning air, watching clouds of breath form. At first a deep, earthen color began to emerge from the horizon, illuminating a few deep gray clouds. A few others joined us, but the sunrise came slowly. I returned to the dining room for a breakfast of tea and toast, enjoying its cozy warmth. I stared out the window and watched the sky transform to a deep amber, then through a sequence of fiery oranges. When the appearance of the sun itself was imminent, I ran back outside to join the others. As I watched the sun emerge from the earth, I felt as if I was witnessing a miracle, the birth of radiance, of light from darkness. As my heart expanded, tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.

 
After the sun had taken its place in the rhythm of the day, I went back inside and gathered my pack. Before harnessing my bag, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, exploring the contents within. In the right pocket, tangerine lip balm, as usual. In the left pocket, two small, smooth stones. Assured that everything was in order, I heaved my backpack onto my shoulders and wandered out into the bright July morning.
I wandered up the well-worn dirt path that led through the town. I passed by the ruined 007_19stone houses that I had spent so much time wandering amongst the day before. The foxgloves turned their bright fuchsia faces to greet the sun, and I nodded my greeting to them as I passed. A trickle of pilgrims wandered past the church, past the modern houses and up into the mountains. On the outskirts of Foncebadon, I paused between two small ponds teeming with frogs and other wildlife. Delicate grasses grew on their shores, softening the edges and partially hiding smooth stones that were scattered here and there. Before continuing, I turned around to glance at Foncebadon. From that vantage point, it was hard to believe that a village existed there at all. I felt deeply glad that it was there, though, offering pilgrims a peaceful place to rest and contemplate their journey to the Iron Cross. I honored Foncebadon in my heart, and after a few moments I turned and continued walking.

 
I walked alone that morning, holding a stone in each hand. One stone was mine, the other for dear friends who had asked me to carry a stone for them. I walked very slowly, appreciating every step. I breathed deeply and drank in the morning light. I gathered my thoughts during the walk from Foncebadon to Cruz de Ferro. What do I want my stone to 001_13represent for me? What part of my life am I ready to release? What are my prayers? I whispered these questions to my stone as I walked. That morning, I encountered many familiar faces, and while I greeted fellow pilgrims, my attention never left my contemplation. The path wound higher and higher through the sparse trees along the stone-strewn trail.

 
Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross, is an unusual sacred place. A small iron cross is mounted atop a tall wooden pole, which is atop a mound of stones that’s more than ten feet high. The casual passerby would see just another Christian shrine along the Camino. But pilgrims know that this mound of stones is different. For centuries, pilgrims have carried stones to this place. An act more likened to Pagan tradition than Christian, pilgrims leave stones as a symbol of leaving their old lives behind. Some pilgrims pick up a stone along the way, and others carry a stone from home along the path to this place. A variety of rituals surround the surrendering of stones. Some pilgrims meditate in the fields next to the site, others climb instantly to the base of the cross and pray, some jovially take photographs with fellow pilgrims. But few pass this place without taking the time to honor their journey.

 
My eyes sought the Iron Cross, eagerly anticipating that first glimpse. Around every twist or turn, I hoped that its glorious image would appear on the horizon, but the trail followed the ridge in such a way that the shrine wasn’t visible until a pilgrim is upon it. Upon arriving at Cruz de Ferro, I was flooded with a wave of emotion so intense that it took my breath away. I walked around the base of the stone mound, trembling, barely holding back my tears. I squeezed my hands around the little stones within, taking in as much of the place as possible in those first few moments.

 
Along the Camino, there were many small shrines. Fields or steep hillsides were frequently covered with cairns, stones stacked in pillars. Fences were filled with twigs assembled in the shape of the cross. Notes were left on guideposts, held down by a stone, offering the finder wishes and prayers, but Cruz de Ferro was overwhelming. The stones were piled nearly fifteen feet high. Big stones, little stones. They somehow managed to remain stacked together solidly and the hill was sturdy enough to handle hundreds of pilgrims climbing it 033_46every day. Bigger stones tended to be further down on the mound, toward the bottom, and small stones and personal objects of every kind were offered at the base of the cross. The colorful array was deeply moving.

 
I walked to the meadow beside the cross and sat cross-legged, leaning against my backpack. The dry, brown grass was so tall that it was nearly over my head, but it was soft and cool. The wind rustled the leaves over my head, and the grass danced about, brushing up against me. A faint fragrance of pine filled the air. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the energy of the two small, warm stones that were encased in my hands. My mind was swimming with all the thoughts that had come to me during the morning’s walk. I first placed my attention on the stone I held for my dear friends. I imagined their faces and felt gratitude for their presence in my life. I felt honored that they had allowed me to carry this little stone, along with their prayers, to this sacred place. I asked the universe to bless them with joy, love, and abundance in every way possible as I held their small, greenish stone between both hands. I felt a wonderful warmth in the stone, and meditated as I held it. After a while, the energy shifted, and I placed their stone in my lap.

 
I picked up my stone. It was so small, so smooth, so round. It was beautiful. A smile spread across my face as I regarded the little stone, and I began to cry. I was alone, and I spoke out loud. I poured my heart out to my stone atop the highest mountain on the entire Camino. It was confession, it was prayer. It wasn’t poetic (or maybe it was) but it was pure and raw. I offered my entire heart and soul to that little stone, holding back nothing. I felt as if a raging river was rushing through me, beginning at the ground where I sat, and leaving through my words. When the words ran out, I sat in meditation for a while longer. Suddenly, I opened my eyes. I was ready to make my sacrifice to Cruz de Ferro. I left my pack in its place and walked in a straight line toward the cross. My pace was deliberate, focused. I felt pulled forward with each step. The tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt myself climbing the mound of stones to the base of the Iron Cross.

 

There were photographs pinned to the pole, prayers for friends and family who were ill or had passed on, letters, jewelry, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Some were new and colorful, others were faded and tattered from exposure to the elements. Surrounding these offerings were stones of every kind. There was so much powerful energy on top of that mound of stones. My lips quivered as the salty tears spilled down my face, and I could feel my stomach begin to clench, holding back the sobs. I walked counterclockwise around the pole, feeling slightly self-conscious about the fits of sobbing that could burst 030_28Aforth at any moment. There were three or four other pilgrims there, but I didn’t make eye contact with any of them. I breathed deeply, searching for the best place for my two little stones. I selected a spot on top of a large, flat stone right at the base of the pole and offered a final wave of emotion as I regarded the two little stones. They’re just rocks, I thought. Or are they? I drew in a quick breath and brought the stones to my lips, kissing them quickly. Then, I kneeled down to my chosen spot and placed the two stones there. I arranged them so that they were aesthetically pleasing, making sure that they wouldn’t easily be knocked aside. I nodded my head, and without a second glance I walked back down the way I came. I could barely see through the tears as I found my way to level ground. I walked quickly into the edge of the pine forest and immediately burst into gut-wrenching sobs. I sat down on the ground and cried and cried. The feeling was not merely of letting go of the past, but also of creating a new intention for my way of life. It was a formal dedication. I felt light and serene.

***

The rest of the morning was a blur. Though I felt a little spacey and lost, I found my backpack in the grass and prepared to go, but something about this place made compelled me to linger. Once I began walking, my step felt lighter, the air felt fresher, and my heart sang out with joy as I walked in the mountains. The cloudless blue sky was an intense contrast with the dry, sage-colored mountains. Prickly, scraggly plants grew in the dust in every direction, intermingling with sharp rocky outcroppings. These were the most unusual mountains I’d ever seen, a strange mix of the dry American southwest and the gentle, rolling Appalachians of Virginia. I loved them, and felt their love flowing back to me. After only a couple of kilometers, a few crumbling stone buildings appeared along the trail. Manjarin, whose albergue was rumored to be run by an eclectic Spanish saint.

 
As I approached, a loud bell rang out, momentarily drowning out the warped sounds of Gregorian chant that was being broadcast from an out-of-sight speaker. Manjarin was a beautiful village, even more ruined than Foncebadon. Many dilapidated stone ruins were nestled into the steep hillside, but two ancient structures remained intact. One building 015_19was the refugio, a tiny, dark building with mattresses scattered about, all covered with heavy woolen blankets. There was no electricity, and in the center of the room there was a wood stove, the only source of heat. I wandered toward the main building, which was bustling with pilgrims. Again, the loud bell rang out. Next to it stood a wiry-haired, wild-eyed older man, dressed in a t-shirt and flowing pants. He spoke quickly and loudly in Spanish, guiding several young men in various tasks. I inquired about the bathroom, and I was directed to the fields next to the refuge. No electricity and no bathroom.

 
I sat down at a long, wooden table. This space was protected from the elements by a very basic wooden roof and felt much like a porch. Coffee and cookies were provided, with a box for donations placed in the center of the table. For a while, I simply sat at the table, drinking coffee and attempting to ground myself for the day’s walk. I was snapped back from a moment of reverie as a woman approached me. I had noticed her earlier, and based on her body language and interactions with the odd bell-ringing man, I had gathered that she was his wife. She stopped beside me, smiling beatifically. She gazed at me intensely, looking directly into my eyes. She then bent down and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then turned and left. I was deeply touched by her kind gesture.
As I sat at the table, various members of my Camino family wandered in. Matthias, Gemma, and I went into the main building where there was a small shop. There were various pewter pendants hanging on red string, all symbols of the Camino: scallop shells, images of Saint James, gourds. To commemorate the day, I purchased a large scallop shell pendant with the image of Saint James on the inside.

 
Manjarin was an oasis in the mountains and I didn’t want to leave, but the day was young and I continued along the path. I quickly developed a headache. Was it from the coffee? From too much crying? It became worse as I walked, and I stopped many times. The mountain vistas were spectacular. I pushed on, walking alone for a while, then meeting friends along the path. After a few kilometers in the high mountains, the path 161steeply plunged into a small village. My heart kept trying to jump-start feelings of joy and happiness, but my head throbbed. I wandered into town and spotted a row of familiar backpacks outside a bar. I heaved mine onto the ground with the others and entered.

 
Food. That’s what I decided would cure my headache. They offered empanadas, which looked delicious, but the bartender informed me that they had just sold the last one. I ordered a Coke, paid, and sat down to sulk at a table with my friends. After looking over the menu, I settled upon a bocadillo con queso, half a baguette with slices of deliciously mild Spanish cheese. I ate part of the sandwich, which was dry and bland, and made my way back outside.

 
I wandered to the next town. My stomach began to churn as my headache pounded. I dropped my pack next to a stone wall that was shaded by an olive tree, and lay down beneath it. The town’s refuge was right across the street. I contemplated ending my day’s walk right there, but decided that a nap would help to clarify my decision. I drifted off into a dreamless sleep. I awoke and found two other pilgrims sitting near me on the stone wall, but I was feeling too miserable to engage in conversation with them. I wandered through the rest of the town and found Mette and Brigid reclining in the shade. We chatted for a few minutes, and I continued walking.

 
My headache continued to pound, and I stopped to relax in the shade of several very tall trees. The grass was soft and inviting, and the glade was perfectly serene. I dropped my pack and leaned back across it. My headache began to subside. Before long, I heard singing. Brigid approached, and she was walking alone. She joined me in the shade for a while, and shared stories from her childhood. My headache gradually disappeared. I lingered in the glade for a while after she left. The next part of the trail meandered through beautiful woods, and I wandered through a stand of giant chestnut trees.
The path emerged from the woods and the afternoon was very hot. My headache reappeared. The earth was red and a trail of dust billowed behind me. The scent of the dry, dusty earth mingled with hot pine, and the trail flanked narrow ridges. I walked with care, for the narrow trail was full of rocks and roots that could easily trip a pilgrim lost in thought. It was a long way down those steep cliffs.

 
The trail emerged alongside a crystal-clear river, and a charming village appeared. Molinaseca. A picturesque stone bridge led into the center of town, and in the river 004_20below, people were laughing and splashing in the water as they swam. A shout rang out from below, and Claire and Gemma waved to me as they waded into the river. The others were sitting in the grass nearby. My mind wandered to the sparkling stream, dreaming of the delight of immersing myself in ice-cold water after a hot day of walking. I met the others on the far side of the bridge. The refuge was full in Molinaseca. Even the porches and tents had been filled. The next refuge was in Ponferrada, over an hour’s walk away. I glanced down at my watch. It was already late in the afternoon, and the sun was roasting the dry earth, everywhere except on the banks of that cool river.

 
Suddenly I knew there was only one rational thing that helps in a moment of deliberation such as this: eat ice cream! I shed my backpack on the sidewalk next to a bar that offered helado con chocolate and as I walked back toward the river, I contemplated my options. I could walk to the next town, following my day’s walking plan, or abandon the plan completely and spend the rest of the day relaxing by the side of the river. Matthias, Tom, and Irina were planning on camping right there for the night. Gemma and Claire wanted to continue to Ponferrada.

 
In retrospect, I can clearly see that this day was pivotal. It was the day that my Camino family began to fall apart. It was inevitable, really. The fact that we had continued together for so long was extraordinary. I had walked with these people since I had met 014_31them in Najera three weeks before. Day after day, we has shared each other’s stories, often over a hearty dinner in a bar or town park. We had embraced each other’s joys and sorrows. We had nurtured and supported each other physically, emotionally, spiritually. The bond that formed between us is difficult to describe. We were bound by our common journey, by walking, by suffering, by laughter, by sweat, by tears, by moments in time that might appear rather ordinary under everyday circumstances. Like gazing at the sunrise. Or placing a stone at the base of an old shrine. With the trappings of modern life set aside, all of life became infinitely precious. Indeed, standing silently beside another human being, simply alive in the light of day was the greatest blessing. To walk in the company of others while becoming more and more deeply aware of this was profound and experiencing this depth of community for weeks along the Camino was a beautiful experience.

 
There seemed to be two choices at Molinaseca. The first seemed to beckon me to go with 010_14the flow, to luxuriate in the beauty of the moment. The second asked me to complete the task I’d set out to complete, to push on at any cost. I hardly noticed the deeper question that was presented to me in Molinaseca: will I choose now or will I choose then? Will I live in the moment or am I bound to the goal? My mind was reeling with heat and exhaustion and a lingering headache. I felt a deep connection with Claire and Gemma and I didn’t want to fall behind, succumbing to my feared role as The Slowest Pilgrim. I listened to my mind, not my heart. Then, I heaved my pack onto my sunburned shoulders and began walking toward Ponferrada.

Conscious Revolution

Step back in time with me for a moment.  Imagine that we are poised at the edge of the first signs of mass conversion to an agrarian society, while most have lived as hunter-gatherers pretty much forever.  While the hunter-gatherer way of life is certainly a difficult one, requiring people to follow the source of food with the seasonal changes and migrations, it is woven into our survival instinct to literally go with the flow.  The hunter-white-tailed-eagle-2015098_1920gatherer way of life requires strength, stamina, agility, sharp senses, and perseverance, the likes of which most of us living in western society cannot even imagine.  A way of life is a way of life until a revolutionary idea is introduced, one that changes not only the daily experience of living in terms of what we do, but also how we think, what we believe, and who we are.

Introduce revolutionary idea #1:  the seed. 

The transition from being hunter-gatherers to an agrarian way of life upended everything that had comprised human living for millenia.  While I acknowledge and honor the few remaining cultures that still practice hunter-gatherer lifeways, the reality is that the agrarian revolution swept in strong, and pushed people to adapt to a new way of life that was vastly different from all that had ever been known before.  As people came to understand that they could cultivate certain plants that were known to be a good source of nourishment, and that they could domesticate certain animals as well, the hunter-gatherer way of life gave way to visions of abundant food sources that were easier to acquire, and more consistently available.  Humans are clever animals, and the maize-264520_1920idea of making life a little easier by any means possible was likely as strong then as it is now.  The strong movement toward settlement and agriculture certainly bumped up against the dominant culture of the time, and over time, the agricultural movement won out.  It’s easy in our post-industrial age of technology to assume that movement away from a nomadic lifestyle and toward civilization was an improvement.  Yet, I invite you to stay open and consider that all change comes with both positive and negative effects, depending on who you ask.

Revolutionary idea #2:  the machine. 

Farming is hard work.  It is very physical labor, and demands long days of work throughout all growing seasons.  It is not foolproof, and climate, weather, pests, and infections can demolish an entire region’s crops, leaving farmers with little capacity to do anything about it.  While agriculture may have been more consistent in providing food than the life of a hunter-gatherer much of the time, there remained so many unknown factors, and life was still hard.  The resilience and ingenuity of the human rusty-185531_1920spirit continued to seek ways to make existence easier, and the brightest minds began to create ways to do more than ever possible with our bodies and minds alone.  Machines, from simple to complex, began to appear, and the movement toward making life easier blossomed.  Machines to help with agriculture, to communicate, to travel ~ and machines to entertain and amuse us, too.  Along with this shift toward machines and automation came immense changes in lifestyle, and the busyness of the human mind was stirred in new ways.  With machines came the speeding up of life, and we are still living within the scope of this today.

Imagine what it was like as these ways of life emerged alongside each other, bumping against each other, causing conflict as human values and ideas diverged.  Imagine the new, enthusiastic farmer fighting the fierce, enduring hunter-gatherer, in the throes of conflict over which way of life would dominate.  Imagine the new, enthusiastic inventor, eager to convince the old-fashioned farmer that there were newer, faster, and better ways of doing things, and that life could be so much more than just labor.  Imagine what each one would feel:  the new way of life teeming with possibility, knowing deep down that life wants to diversify, change, and morph in new and unexpected ways.  And imagine the old way of life, determined to defend what is known and tested, threatened with becoming obsolete, certain that things were just fine as they had been, tried and true.  Can you feel the righteous indignation in each side of the conversation?

Revolutionary idea #3:  ???

It seems to me that we are sitting on the edge of another massive turning point.  There are many who believe that things are fine as they have been, and those people are prepared to defend their way of life with full force.  But now we are also in the unique position of seeing the results of our choices, and the damage done through the advancement of the age of machines.  And there are many of us standing on the front lines of the next revolution, knowing that change is ripe, and that the time is now.  We time-2105690_1920know that we must change many things:  our unsustainable choices through the use of destructive technologies; the damaging belief systems that oppress and harm so many people; the attachment to a way of life that favors some living beings over others, and stacks the cultural systems in favor of that.  What is true as we stand here on this evolutionary battle ground is that change is coming, and the battle is raging because those changes are coming fast, and there is much to defend, and much to lose.

I look into the eyes of the great great grandfather of my great great grandfather, and I see a warrior, a strong man who has done his best to survive and provide for his people.  He is courageous and determined because his way of life has demanded it, and as he sees the beginning of the end of his way of life, he will defend it with everything he’s got.  In my heart, I feel great compassion for him, as I feel the anguish and devastation that comes in his knowing that everything he has known is on the chopping block.  My heart fills with compassion.

And I look into the eyes of those who are politically and socially in opposition to everything I value, the conservatives in my country who celebrate victory in what is to me horrific injustice, pure ignorance, and hateful divisiveness.  My ideas about environmental preservation at all costs are a threat to the machine culture that has brought such success.  My idchildren-1822701_1920eas about social justice, equality, and human rights are a threat to the traditional values that they cannot understand, and often have no desire to understand.  I truly want my culture to dismantle nearly everything in the minds and lifeways of these people, and they are committed to defending that with all their power.  To feel like everything that you have known and trusted is on the chopping block, pushed toward extinction – I imagine that is a terrifying proposition, and no one will go quietly into the night of history without a good fight for what they believe in.

We are facing this revolution right now.  We can’t name it yet, as it is still too fresh.  The fierce force of change will come anyway, though the resistance is strong.  All that is born shall surely die, all that rises shall fall.  And yet, in this moment, I am finding a new depth of compassion for those whose ways of life are threatened.  How vast is the heart, that it can hold the conviction of necessary change, with the certainty that the trajectory of transformation is exactly as it should be, while also holding deep understanding and empathy for the longing of those who no longer know the world in which they live, the landscape of culture and tradition utterly new?

For those of us riding the wave of change, celebrating it, I want to invite you to join me in beach-2089936_1920a place of understanding and compassion for those who do not agree or wish for this process to unfold.  The way we approach this revolution will certainly affect the outcome, as well as modeling a new way of being that is more in alignment with the greater good.  This time, the revolution must become conscious.

Beyond Nice

I grew up in the south, and learned from an early age that “nice little girls are to be seen and not heard.”  My grandmother’s words still echo in my psyche, and as a small child I was determined to do the best I could to live up to her expectations.  Those were the StockSnap_0IS0OJTQN1same expectations that I found as I entered school, for the reality is that nice children are polite to others, treat their teachers with respect and deference, do what they’re told, raise their hands, and work very, very hard to get everything right.  From grades to behavior to social roles, from a very early age we are indoctrinated into a way of being that is the one preferred by those around us – parents, communities, schools, religions.

Nice is one of those words, sticky sweet and kind of bland, grayscale, obedient.

Nice:  pleasing, agreeable ~ a nice time; a nice person

I’ll be the first one to say that having a certain base level of respect offered to others is the foundation of any meaningful human relationship, and in order to meet others with differing views in the world, maintaining a certain degree of respect is a good thing.  Having a strong sense of self-respect is also fundamentally valuable, as it gives each of us an inner sense of the old adage, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”  We can only give others the same respect that we carry within ourselves, and we do StockSnap_PJW9WOUH16ultimately treat others the way we treat ourselves.  But there is a real difference between respect and nice.  Respect says, I know you are being a total asshole right now, and I’m not going to go there with you because I respect myself too much to follow you down that low.  Nice says, Oh, I better keep smiling here and nodding my head and agreeing with whatever you say, otherwise you might somehow reject me, and even though you’re being an asshole right now, I need to stay on your good side because I can’t bear the thought of having people dislike me, or even worse, consider me their opponent.  

Fuck nice. 

After a lifetime of trying to be all things to all people, I gave it all up.  I decided instead to find out who I am, to learn what I truly love, to discover what my true values are, and to follow my own inner compass.  Along the way, I learned that many of those things included in being a “nice girl” are stifling, and require me to put myself dead last in pretty much everything.  And while this kind of Donna Reed style paradigm was certainly the norm in white middle America’s golden age during the 1950s, where woman-s-legs-high-heels-vintage-car-turquoise-90767women’s lives were relegated to mothering and house making, looking pretty and keeping it all together so that their husbands always come home to a place that met every one of their needs for comfort and care.  After centuries of oppression, the 1950s were indeed the swan song of “nice.”

But, as we’re seeing today more than at any time in recent history, oppression doesn’t die fast or willingly.  If you’re black in America and don’t toe the “nice” line just the right way, you may end up beaten or shot by a cop.  If you’re a woman in America and don’t toe the “nice” line just the right way, they will threaten to dismantle your healthcare and reintroduce abhorrent legislation, doing their best to remind you of your proper place in society:  barefoot, pregnant, and subservient.  If you’re Latino or Muslim in America, even if you toe the “nice” line in just the right way, there is no such thing as “nice” enough.  For those power-hungry fools at the helm of American government right now, there is no such thing as “nice” enough that doesn’t forego all progress that has been made, and anything short of devolving back into that golden era when everyone knew their proper place will be upon the chopping block.

While American conservatives are often the ones playing the “nice” card hard and fast, at least for appearances, they are rarely guilty of actual “nice” in the way I was taught.  When is the last time a rich, white Republican put himself dead last in considering the best path of action?  More often, that rich, white Republican puts himself – and his cronies – dead first in considering the best path of action, namely what will give him a rise in power or pocketbook.  But everyone else had better play nice, and recognize their place in the right social order as declared by God himself…

Which brings me right back to fuck nice.

It seems to me that moderate to progressive Democrats have spent way way way too much time playing “nice” in these political games.  Is it because they truly possess such vast and abiding respect that they simply are unwilling to meet their political opponents in the game?  Are they so totally and completely bought, by and large, that they are StockSnap_1CB98C9DF8merely playing “nice” to their backers, trying not to rock the boat so that the playing field at least appears “nice” to the vast majority of supporters?  Are they trying to maintain some stiff upper lip sense of decorum, not wanting to be too subversive or progressive, fearing that the more moderate among their supporters will flip sides, choosing a more moderate Republican party?  What’s clear right now is that we have one party who has fully abandoned any attempt at playing “nice,” and the other seems to be standing in the wings, still holding on to their passionless, accommodating agreeableness, with a hope and a prayer that something can be done about it.

When the Democratic party awakens to a sense of passion, purpose, and fierceness equal to that of the Republican party that is now making a mockery of our democracy, there will be a lot more people who wake up and participate in the shaping of the nation.  “Nice” just won’t do.  It’s time for more and more of us to shake off the shackles of our own upbringing and cultural conditioned propensity toward “nice” and speak our truth, StockSnap_M2CUPBNKTAstand for what is right, and be the hands, feet, mouths, minds, and hearts of a total revolution.  Revolution does not come from fearing who might be offended by the changes that are needed.  For real, who in the current administration is holding on to the tiniest bit of fear that their actions or values might offend anyone?  Voldemort himself sits there, posing for the camera with his puckered, boastful grin, proud of the atrocities he stands for, and hungry for the next, giving little consideration of the vast needs and perspectives of Americans.  It’s his way, his agenda, his values, and his preferences alone that guide him.  My Democratic friends, my progressive friends, it’s time that we embrace the very same unapologetic, bold, fearless, and righteous stance, adding a degree of grace and dignity, and take a stand for what we value, what is right and just, and what is in the best interest of ALL people.

The master weapon we must engage in this revolution?  Passion, boldness, fearlessness, courage, and purpose are all fundamental, but underlying all of these is compassion:  the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them.  While “nice” is tainted with a sense of obligatory duty, a hidden agenda, or a lack of sincerity, pexels-photo-235478compassion is filled with heart and a desire to act from kindness.  While we’re in the middle of this crazy, chaotic revolution, it only behooves us to embrace the way of being we want to bring into the world, modeling it as we go.  “Nice” tells us to walk on eggshells, and to continue trying to convince our opponents with logic and reason why things are going to hell in a handbasket right now.  Compassion sees all sides of the situation, understands the challenges we humans face when we must change, and wisely holds the mutual suffering we all share… and then stands up courageously and creates the pathway forward that is in the name of truth and justice for all, and especially for the disenfranchised.  “Nice” wants us to be all things to all people, obedient like good puppies, and smiling as the house is burning to the ground.  Compassion wants us to be true to our own deepest wisdom, persistent and strong in the face of any challenges, and always anchored in the heart.

As much as I truly loved my grandmother, her vision of nice little girls needs to be fully and completely retired.  Any semblance of the golden age of the 1950s must be updated and purged from the culture.  We must revise not only our outward appearances, but our inner belief systems and structures that keep these old, dead paradigms still running in the background, half-conscious but persistent.  We have continued far too long as a culture dominated by white pseudo-Christian men, and they will not be dethroned without kicking and screaming, to be sure.  But just as any good parent would do with a pexels-photo-345092misguided child, we must model a new paradigm, continuing to point out the errors, and insisting upon broader understanding and greater wisdom in the shaping of our country.

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.   ~ Frederick Douglass  

Adolescent Conservative Rhetoric, Part II

In the span of just a few days, so many things change.  Just this week, the current administration failed in their mission to gut and dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and seem to have succeeded in stripping away discrimination protections for LGBTQ people working in pexels-photo-38924the federal government.  These things, together with an ongoing barrage of similarly maddening attempts to roll the US right back into the dark ages, bring us swiftly back into the consideration began last week.  It seems that our adolescent conservative faction of Americans are passionately ready to cut off their own foot and pave the way for their own demise in the name of self-righteous beliefs that express their ultimate assumption of entitlement to not only live their own lives according to their values, but to also force others into their small vision of the one and only right way to live.

A reminder of our basis for the discussion, the adolescent conservative insult “libtard,” which is defined by a contributor to 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.”

In part I, we began to consider the things these conservatives believe to be the core of the threatening progressive agenda, and here we continue.  But before diving in, I think it is ultimately telling of the fears espoused by this segment of the population right here in the above definition.  “Fantasy world” would imply that the world is a static place that is the way it is without ever changing – and I can imagine that to many people this may seem true, especially if they feel powergoats-competition-disputeless to affect meaningful change in their own lives.  The idea that people can hold a big vision of a better way and make that happen indeed may sound absurd.  And the elimination of “poverty, hunger, war, disease, injustice, unemployment, and prejudice” may sound like an idealistic fantasy to those who are entrenched in lives that include those very things, and who have had no success in finding a way out of suffering from the effects, but again, I believe that the inability to imagine and subsequently create a situation where these things were fully resolved is ultimately the result of being deeply stuck in an oppressive way of life, and holding a lot of anger and hostility toward anyone who imagines they can transform it.  I also see that for people who are living in oppression, there could be a major injury to one’s pride in suggesting that someone else can figure out and remedy these things, while those who are stuck couldn’t find a way out themselves.  And pride is foolish and stubborn.  Many times, we humans would rather be prideful and uphold our rightness, even to our own detriment, than humble ourselves and receive support and make changes.

And as for the “Communist wolves” ~ considering the number of members of the current administration who are suspected to have ties to the Russian government, the whole argument falls apart instantly.  Now, back to our evaluation of the “libtard” agenda, as told by the adolescent conservatives.

  1. The adoption of laws, treaties and tax regulations that hinder America’s competitiveness.  The ultimate unconscious belief in relation to our current paradigm of capitalism is that unlimited growth is positive and necessary.  What that ultimately means is that in order for an economy to continue growing – which is the goal of StockSnap_X0B97ULDPWcapitalism – people must keep wanting and buying more things, and in order to continue providing more things, resources must be procured for the creation of the things.  The American way has become synonymous with more-faster-cheaper, and this is how our current system has come to define competitiveness.  In order for America to continue being the world’s best everything, we must win at the more-faster-cheaper game, and lead the world in… what exactly?  This is where our laws, treaties, and tax regulations have come in.  By seeking to limit the more-faster-better capitalistic drive just a tiny, tiny bit, there has been some hope that we might not destroy the entire natural world for the sake of our little consumer game.  And there is also the tiniest bit of integrity that has attempted to find its way into the system, asking those who are the most successful at the more-faster-better game to do their civic duty and contribute to the wellbeing of the entire nation because it’s the right thing to do.  But just like children with their Monopoly game, many of the ones in charge right now simply don’t want any part in this.  They want their win, they want it now, and they want it all for themselves, and to hell with everyone else.  
  2. Ever increasing government micromanagement of private enterprise.  Just as in the previous commentary, here again is the demonstration of the unwillingness of these taxes-tax-evasion-police-handcuffsadolescent conservatives to come into agreement with certain rules of integrity and justice.  What they call “micromanagement,” many others would call accountability and responsibility.  In fact, those regulations are in place for exactly that reason.  As much as I personally would like to believe that all humans act from a place of awareness, compassion, and consideration of the whole, the reality is that many, many people who come into power and wealth have the emotional and psychological makeup of children, and don’t have the wisdom to understand that we are all in this world, and this life, together.  Like the little child that can’t understand why mama won’t allow him to eat nothing but chocolate bars for dinner, these unwise and greedy business people want to have no accountability for their actions and the results of their actions, and that is dangerous. 
  3. The promotion of the tyranny of the minority.  Instead of “tyranny” I suggest that what is actually meant here is “existence.”  Tyranny is defined as “cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.”  I’d be hard pressed to find *any* semblance of StockSnap_68LVBKGNA0tyranny coming from minority communities, most of whom are simply fighting for their right to even have a place at the table for the conversation about what is fair and just.  But for those adolescent conservatives who are threatened by the very idea that they would be asked to share the world, the country, and the neighborhood with people who live, look, and believe differently, even the existence of those who are minorities triggers an unreasonable and extreme avalanche of ideas and fears that have no basis in reality.  Indeed, if any tyranny exists, it is in the hands of the very ones that espouse the fear in the first place.  Fearing tyranny, they embrace tyranny as their strategy.
  4. The filing of specious law suits to shakedown corporations for cash.  The very idea that suing corporations for their misdeeds, claiming they have done no wrong, is utterly laughable.  This, again, is an example of the belief that more-faster-better is the ultimate law of the land, and that anything that gets in the way of the creation of greater power and wealth must be stopped.  Suing megalomaniac corporations for destroying the environment, for the unfair treatment of workers, for creating products that cause harm, pexels-photo-259027for engaging in illegal activities ~ to the adolescent conservative mind, these things are a bother, a nuisance, and the very essence of un-American, as they attempt to stifle the great American dream of liberty and freedom.  Corporations are being increasingly valued as equal to actual human beings, and those at the very top of the ladder in overseeing – and having their bank accounts stuffed by – these entities have become so drunk on the almighty dollar, they have lost any capacity to consider the bigger picture of what they are doing, and the greater impact of those actions.  In the end, even when these super-corporations lose lawsuits and must pay millions or billions of dollars in retribution, it is likely to be far less than what would truly be necessary to begin making up for the damage done.
  5. The destruction of Capitalism.  These words are spoken about the creation of laws to uphold responsibility and accountability in the system of capitalism, of course.  And just as there are many who believe that Christianity is destroyed by allowing others to follow their own distinct religious and spiritual traditions, there are those who believe that the reigning in of the capitalist monster is the destruction of all that is holy.  Personally, I believe that capitalism as we know it *must* collapse, and I know that when that time comes there will be a lot of instability and uncertainty in our culture.  I also believe it is necessary to make significant change in the way we are living, and most people resist change unless it comes by force.  What we need is a system of exchange that has a greater sense of reciprocity, in which giving and receiving are in balance.  Right now, that is a far fetched idea for sure, as most Americans only think about what they want and how they can get it for less, the very essence of a culture of takers.  If capitalism can transform into something more balanced and just, great!  But if it can’t, we do need to dismantle this system and accept one that is a little more wise.     pexels-photo-261949
  6. The regulation, or banning, of all opposition media.  This, too, makes me laugh.  The vast majority of major media in the US, if not the world, is opposing the current US administration.  Even more conservative media outlets, such as Fox, have been calling out the madness of the current US government.  And this has been met with childish social media rants, refusals of the administration to participate in press conferences, and the desire to regulate, dismantle, defund, and ban all media that oppose, criticize, or satirize the president and his cronies.  And they believe that’s what the progressives want?  Reality check!
  7. The purposeful “dumbing down” of the masses through inane public school curricula and pedagogy.  Yes indeed, if you tell the people that all that book learnin’ is bad news, filling up the young people’s heads with lies, nonsense, propaganda, history, pexels-photo-261895and science, they will balk.  Or perhaps the bigger picture is that if you allow children – and adults – to learn about the past, they will learn about the horrific errors that humans have made, and want to change that.  And if you allow children – and adults – to learn the principles of science, and educate them to understand the whole picture of what is known, and the impacts of that upon our world, they will want to change the things that are causing harm, and do better.  If you liberate the people’s minds by teaching them to read and to think critically, they will not be as controllable as those who have no capacity to think for themselves, simply believing what they are told.  Indeed, school is *bad* if you want to keep people in the dark.  Those who are uneducated certainly don’t have the capacity and resources to fight against things that are undeniably wrong and damaging, or to find innovative and creative new ways of living, as they have a limited understanding of the bigger picture.    
  8. The further promulgation of the homosexual/pedophile agenda.  Oh, this again.  The ongoing and tiresome belief that just because someone falls in love with someone of the same sex, they inevitably want to rape children.  The fact that there is ultimately *zero* evidence of any correlation between non-heterosexuals and pedophilia is simply not acceptable to these adolescent conservatives, as we have just learned in the last item that pexels-photo-27896even information that is verifiable by countless sources is of no value to those who don’t value the application of cultivated intelligence.  I am always amused at the addition of the word “agenda” to anything connected to LGBTQ matters, as I have yet to see anything on the agenda for these people beyond their right to exist as equals in society, with the right to love who they want, marry who they want, and not be attacked or killed for simply living their lives.  In fact, evidence points to an overwhelming majority of pedophiles being quite heterosexual.  These two categories of people are easily lumped together by those who believe anything other than male/female sex to be perverse in some way, but ultimately, whether heterosexual or on the LGBTQ spectrum, relationships are based on mutual desire to share life in all ways.  Pedophilia, by contrast, is the desire to manipulate a vulnerable child for one’s own devious purposes, having little interest in the child’s best interest.  Sorry, adolescent conservatives, the argument here is weak at best, and is rooted in willful and blatant ignorance.
  9. The establishment of world wide socialized medicine under the guise of “fairness.”
    Now this is the best one of all.  The richest of the conservatives have convinced the poorest of the conservatives that having healthcare provided as a basic right of life is not only implausible, but truly a violation of justice.  They have been so thoroughly convinced that the right to healthcare, provided and secured by a government that truly wants to take care of its people, that no matter their own struggles and suffering, they would willingly accept the opposite.  A healthcare industry that is big business, privately controlled, and managed by an insurance industry with no integrity and no controls?  One that demands not a fair amount of regular contribution from individuals, but a high and increasingly higher one, while also having no ultimate investment in wellness, since sicknepexels-photo-220723ss is such good business.  I am baffled by adolescent conservatives who have major health issues, and who would be utterly hopeless in their capacity to deal with those issues should their employer change, or should they lose their job altogether, who would never be able to afford medical insurance on their own.  Or who would be potentially excluded from treatment because of pre-existing conditions.  Or who would be left in permanent poverty if left with no coverage whatsoever.  Or who would simply die because of being unable to pay for treatment.  And yet it seems so much more important to the fearful conservatives to dump ever more money into war and military might, leaving our own people – including veterans – to suffer and die when we have the capacity to do far, far more?  I simply cannot accept how this is still an issue for the adolescent conservatives.  What is the ultimate harm in making sure that everyone can receive medical care when needed?
  10. World peace.  Now that sounds like something really standing up against.  Less peace, more war!  There’s a battle cry if I’ve ever heard one.  I have yet to meet a human being who can stand in front of me, face to face, and say that they believe that war is the best thing for everyone.  That fighting and dying are the only solutions that make sense.  And that there will never be a time when this will be finished.  But again, war is good pexels-photo-249613business.  War sells weapons.  War provides the opportunity for modern-day colonialism.  War pits nations against nations, and creates a strong sense of patriotism and willingness to bravely stand for what is right.  But do those who stand bravely in the front lines of battle do it in the name of economic growth?  Do those who are injured and die for their country accept that they are pawns in wars that are deliberately inflamed and fueled in the name of those sitting in positions in the government who are poised to make billions of dollars in the weapons sales, in the oil procurement, in new alliances that will deliver greater and greater economic advancement?  But if we aren’t at war, what to do with all those combat military jobs?  Won’t they be unemployed?  And employment is good for business… 

Luke 23:34 ~ And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And one more, for inspiration, as we “libtards” have the deep vision, longing, and commitment to creating a new culture, with new ways of living and being with each other that are rooted in justice, equality, love, and kindness.  The seeds we sow may be small, but they are mighty, and we shall persist in the cultivation of this New Earth with the fullness of our hearts, our minds, and our strength.

Mark 4:30-34 ~ And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE.” amazing-animal-beautiful-beautifull

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!

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Modified from an original post, published March 14, 2012