Birthing Past to Future

Blues night…Dar Williams on Spotify as I de-clutter the kitchen for donation runs tomorrow. Maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the last of Mom and Dad’s odds and ends on the front porch of the old house to go to the dump…fraying carpets, ancient air conditioners, mattresses…the last push of transition.

My son’s old bedroom is packed with stored energy, memory-weighted artifacts to sort, keep, donate or gift. I look at these things and see them as Mom displayed them, hear her reading her writing to me for feedback, see Dad jerry-rigging his unique creations from bits and snips…

I look at the boxes stacked around the dining room, feel a heavy lump of grief in my chest. The past is a vortex that could pull me in; where is the razor’s edge of integration versus submersion; how do I reclaim my forgotten past, discover my parents’ lost history, honor remembrance and retool legacy, while gaining a perspective on a lifetime’s conscience-driven role of family misfit, a grasp on the work of today and the demands of tomorrow?

OK. Start with simple things. Open up space, open up clarity and energy. Open up time to grieve and let go. Listen to the inner guidance on what each piece wants to offer to me or to unknown others.

My Mother’s Paradox

Moving through the process of clearing my parents’ house yesterday…next up, the audiotape collection, from classical to easy-listening to my mother’s conservative political tapes: Oliver North’s “My Dream for America”; a titleless Pat Robertson tape; home recordings of Nixon’s resignation speech; Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech; a birthday honoring of William F. Buckley with a talk by Leo Buscaglia on Love on the other side (perfect representation of the paradox that was my mother).

Feeling her presence so clearly, I ask: what should I be doing with these? A quick answer: keep the ones that resonate, Freecycle the rest.

I put the box of tapes up on Freecycle with a brief inventory of its contents by category: take some or all. A quick response: “Ted” will take all, pickup tomorrow AM. I feel a moment’s mad clutching – this was food for my mother’s conservative persona and religious belief; the home recordings were made out of deep devotion. Those tapes were a key to understanding her (and perhaps communicating with others likeminded); should I be letting them go? Who knows what these artifacts of her devotion would feed in Ted?

I check in with her presence and feel a reassuring “It’s OK.” Ted will do whatever he’ll do. This letting-go, stripping-away, is about defining Mom’s legacy, the imprint of her paradox, in my life. I need no more than a touchpoint for that…and later on, not even that much.

The Other Side of Reality Bites

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads: Don’t Believe Everything You Think.  It’s one of my rules for living…most of the time. Stop, look, and reconsider: what interpretations am I taking for granted?

And then there are the times when I am sliding down the scree slope into despair over the inaction of People (read: me) in response to the state of the world. The numbing-out habits of Our Culture (read: me). The indecision, time-frittering, distractedness, deflection,  inessential activities, etc., etc., of Others (read: me).

There are the times when I face up to the fact that I am witnessing the reflection of my own inaction, numbing-out, indecision, time-frittering, etc. in the crazy-making patterns of Our Society – and then the interpretations, reinterpretations,  and  options for action spread out as numerous as the crossing of threads in a spiderweb….

And I spin into a state of pure paralysis:  no matter how much I do, no matter how hard I struggle toward Right Livelihood, it will never be enough.

The hell of it is – it’s true. It doesn’t matter how hard an egotistical lone-wolf “I” works. It will never be enough. All the ordinary mundane work of one person could never suffice.

So reframe, reframe.

I remember witnessing a lecture by a spiritual teacher who is fiercely engaged in attempting to wake up the sleeping Divine awareness of the People. He had just gotten off the plane, having traveled from Australia to Pittsburgh, probably hadn’t slept in 24 hours, was haunted by the knowledge of devastating news on the fronts of global eco-social justice.  With all the controlled ferocity of a Zen master whacking sleeping students awake, he descended on his audience of churchgoing devotees, gradually leading up to a peroration exposing the raw truths no one wanted to see:

“But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty and you are that poverty.” This is what will happen if you don’t go on the journey to uncover your divinity, and uncover the responsibility for sacred activism that belongs to that divinity.   We must start doing something at this point, when everything is at stake and the potential of the new birth of a radical embodied humanity is possible. If you don’t do that, you’re not just not doing something, you are actually serving the machine of death!
You are actually conspiring with the darkness that is destroying this world. You are the children of poverty and you are spreading that poverty like marsh gas. You are walking cholera.

I remember being shocked by these words…until I remembered as a child realizing that none of our human constructs – churches, companies, governments, have anything to do with the essential, conscious, sacred, interconnected reality of creation surrounding us. That, unless we’re dancing in conscious interaction with that reality, we’re drowning in disconnection, the delusion of our imposed control.

The truth is – outside of that essential reality,  each of us may genuinely be choosing darkness in our most ordinary decisions: the mountaintops leveled, wells drilled or birds turbine-killed to power our homes; the sweatshops financed through our choice of clothes; the aquifers emptied for our bottles of water; possibly the planet-destroying lobbying funded by the businesses that pay our salaries; the soul-destroying belief in our own limitations keeping us from a world-changing vocation; every decision that does not proceed from awareness of our Divine connectedness. And how can we have the heart to resist this daily collusion with Death unless we have a daily-renewed vision and experience of Life to offset it?

I can drown in interpretations, reinterpretations, and tangled options…point fingers at Others, at myself, and despair…unless I reach beyond it all to sit down,  compassionately witness the underlying fear and denial,  and consciously connect with the Divine embodied in others and in creation.  The Essential truth that All is connected, conscious, aware, sacred, Divine, and that the solution must come from that point of connection. 

And the awareness that this is all words, and the solution lies in the practice and doing.

Personally Deciding the Future of Humankind

In a prior post I shared a question that keeps arising for me in meditation:   What would you do if you really believed Arvol Looking Horse’s words: “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?”

Some months ago, I read Belief Without Borders by Linda Mercadante…a deep analysis of the growing groundswell of spiritual “Nones” – a.k.a. the “spiritual but not religious.”  I could find much to resonate with…but one glaring absence left me flummoxed.

Nobody talked about having an outward vocation or purpose in life. No One. The non-question fairly screamed its absence: it was not asked, nor was it raised by the respondents, even implicitly. Incredulously, I wrote to ask the author about this silence, and she verified: no one brought the topic up at all.

As I sat in utter shock at seeing the results of the midterm elections – a similarly thundering non-turnout by Democrats, particularly women, particularly Millenials, who are among those with the most to lose – I was wondering: were the two somehow connected? Was the apathy linked somehow to a sense of helplessness, disconnection, non-involvement in the events of the world (I’m setting aside the documented issue of purposeful disenfranchisement – that’s a topic for another post…)?

Much has been written about President G.W. Bush’s urging following 9/11: Go Shopping. I’ve written here about the cultural immersion in fantasy, from TV shows to computer games and virtual reality. Bread and circuses – the distractions worked in ancient Rome and they work equally well today.

But the problem is – contrary to what the Law of Attraction would have us believe, disagreeable realities don’t stop when we’re ignoring them. Social injustice, environmental devastation, war, famine, pestilence and death don’t go away when we close our eyes, sing La la la and think happy thoughts. Quite the reverse, in fact.

We can bury ourselves in work, play, retail therapy, food and drink, narcotic substances, fantasy, gaming, on and on – but world events and global devastation will not stop plowing forward just because we escaped into a more pleasant, ephemeral version of reality. Oppressors, ignored, will not suddenly turn into philanthropists; they will only amp up their destruction of the planet to add to their wealth and power.

It doesn’t matter to a warming planet, dying species, drying rivers, poisoned aquifers, vanishing rainforests,  in the slightest whether we have this, that or the other “must-have” dress or vehicle or app; whether we’ve beaten XYZ “boss” in the latest RPG or paid just $XX amount for a full tank of gas. It doesn’t matter to the planet whether Republicans or Tea Partiers or climate-change-deniers of the day insist that the status quo can continue without consequences. Those consequences will come no matter what comfortable untruths the politicians and pundits spout…and no matter what comforting blandishments we offer ourselves to feel momentarily better about the state of affairs in the world.

And then there’s the enemy within: the paralyzing thoughts,  the “I don’t matter, I don’t know enough, who would listen to me? — I don’t have this, that and the other credential, I’m in a completely different field — I’m the one who stops conversations by asking the questions nobody wants to hear — reality sucks, but what else have we got?”….on and on and on.

But what if these paralyzing self-doubts are integral to the forces of destruction? I remember attending a sweat lodge in which I was asked to serve as “outer door” – a guardian/warrior position responsible for watching the perimeter of the lodge circle and protecting the people inside. I was told to make prayers while feeling the lodge circle as a membrane, where it was strong, where it was thin, and to keep my sensors alert for any shifts that might indicate negative energies breaking through.

I did as I was told…all seemed well until paralyzing doubts began to arise: what the —- am I doing here? This isn’t my heritage, I have no right to be doing this! What do I know about this anyway? I’m not trained… and on and on. I suddenly realized – my prayers had stopped and I was engaged in self-sabotage: where did that come from? Feeling the energy of the perimeter, I found the breach, began hurling prayers at it…and heard the prayers inside the lodge, which had faltered, suddenly rise into song.

Distractions, self-doubts and projections onto others: these are the most effective forces that keep us silenced and ineffective.

Last Sunday a group of friends gathered from widely differing spiritual traditions and personal backgrounds to talk about Andrew Harvey’s masterful book The Hope: A Guidebook for Sacred Activism. The issues I’ve described above are just a few of the topics we addressed….and plan to address in deeper conversations on an ongoing basis. Simply not being alone, finding people who shared our pain and struggles to move past the confusion and despair of our time to positive action for change…this gave a profound sense of hope and healing to all.

One of the key insights we found was that “sacred activism” – action directed by Spirit – showed up as a unique calling to each of us: some felt called to direct action, others to private ritual, or writing, or….

But whatever our calling was, we felt strongest and most effective when we were listening to and following our unique inner guidance from Spirit. 

I’ve written in other posts about the tragic loss of self-worth and personal purpose created by this society. If there is any salvation for our species – and life on this planet – it rests on our shoulders, our awakening to our individual connection and importance and responsibility to Spirit and to all of Life.

Yes. We each have a purpose that has nothing to do with our paycheck or social standing or net worth.

Yes. That purpose is critically important to the fate of life on Earth.

Yes. We are each responsible for choosing to step past  our personal and cultural addictions to discover and act on that purpose.

And if we each become aware of our connection and importance and responsibility to Life, individually and together, we can find that we are not alone, and affirm each other in the journey.




“Joyous Repentance” by David Sparenberg

As we sink deeper into darkness approaching winter solstice, poet-playwright, actor, director & author David Sparenberg offers this breathtaking video “inviting all Sufis, Gypsies, poets, alchemists, mystics and lovers to come and have a look. This is an alternative to violence video, to the cult and culture…”

Reality Check

Questions I’ve been receiving in meditation:

What would you do if you could see that every fumbling step was a lesson, a priceless piece of the mosaic of your life?

What would you do if you knew that the paralysis you feel in the face of greed’s ascendancy is due to your own participation – buying gas for the car, oil for the furnace, etc., etc.?

What would you do if you knew that solutions ultimately won’t come from pointing fingers, blaming self or others, but from sitting in the cosmic dance of interconnected wisdom?

What would you do if you really believed Arvol Looking Horse’s words:” “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?”

What would you do if you really, really, in-the-real-world-really believed that you were one cell in the Divine Body of creation, with an irreplaceable part to play?

To Stop Feeling Alone, Stop Being Alone

In a long-ago job, a manager once told our team – “I don’t want to hear about a problem unless you have a solution to offer.”

I’ve tried to take that as a guideline for blog posts: not to kvetch about an issue unless I can work my way through it to an answer…or at least a new perspective.

Lately, though, between rollercoaster headlines – the violent seesawing between hard-fought wins and losses for the environment, social justice, the economy, one humanitarian disaster after another – the death of my dad and the breaking up of the old homestead – I’m feeling stunned into silence. Have felt stunned into silence for months, for most of this year, truth to tell. Brief, glittering and profound phrases flicker randomly through my mind, but heavy-hearted,  I feel exhausted at the mere thought of connecting them into a message to inspire thought, feeling, or action..

I’m not alone in this. I know that. Activist friends, writer friends have shared their own feelings of shocked and devastated wordlessness in response to the events of the day.

And I know with equal certainty that my spiritual exhaustion stems also – perhaps even more – from insufficient daily, purposeful, practice in engaging with nature. Just to hug a tree, to sit on a stone and feel the earth under my hands, to work in my garden and listen to the guidance of the plants, revives my energy. This depletion from the human excesses around me is a sure sign of “nature deficit disorder” in my life.IMG_20140827_172826

And just as suffering offers the lesson of compassion, this exhaustion reaffirms the source and inspiration of my creative energy.

So…to renew, get out each day, away from keyboard and screen; go out of the house and feel the rain on my face. Listen to the whispers of the ancestors, in all their faces and races and species, in the rustle of wind in the trees. Hug a tree, place my feet between her roots, and feel my own roots reaching into the earth.

To renew creative energy, renew connection to the conscious, living, interconnected creation. To stop feeling alone, stop *being* alone.

On Staying Sane in a Suicidal Culture

Reposting this terribly important essay from TruthOut, drawing inspiration from Joanna Macy and The Work That Reconnects on remaining alive, sentient, intelligent, and emotionally and spiritually connected in these horrifying times…

Taking the Risk of Sharing Our Stories

Four years ago, in the midst of studies towards my Master’s degree, I birthed the precursor of this blog on the free WordPress platform. What a journey has taken place between that time and this!

At the beginning, I had no idea of where the journey would take me. I only knew that I was waking up to the reality – not just the single, catechism-shattering experience that I’d had in childhood,  but the everyday, sublime-and-mundane Reality —  that we exist in a conscious cosmos.

And along with that awakening came the calling to, somehow, integrate and share both that experience and that Reality.

Thanks be for the circles, and friends, and teachers, who shook me free of the Catholic-schoolgirl impression that such an experience was bizarre and unique, and the Reality…well, theologically incorrect at best! It’s taken a long time for me to realize that that experience is both archetypal and universal, and that it genuinely reflects REALITY, the mystical core of both shamanism and religion, and the guiding ethos of this inter-aware, interdependent creation.

It’s a challenge to stay in that awareness, and to share the journey from a place of personal authenticity, seeking, and ongoing discovery, when the risks of vulnerability and spiritual self-revelation are terrifying. And a very humbling task indeed, in the knowledge that the personal discoveries that are cracking open one cage after another in my mind are the mystical equivalents of 1+1 and a-b-c. It’s a wild ride between “wow – this must be shared!” on one hand and “who do I think I am?”on the other.

I’m deeply grateful for – and challenged by – the teachers who have encouraged me, affirming that each person’s shared story validates the experience of others, and gives others the courage to share their own experience in turn.

Looking at the mess we’re in as a species – and the devastation we have wrought on this planet – the human journey is about waking up to recognize and choose to walk in Sacred relatedness with the nonhuman awarenesses and wisdom that surround us. This awakening and re-connection to our brother and sister beings, I believe, is the key that can ultimately save life on Earth.

So to affirm, and live, and share, the truth of Sacred inter-being, at whatever bare-beginning level one understands and experiences it, is no longer an option but a necessity.

This blog traces some of my own path, and the events and people whose work speaks most deeply to me. It is one step in the evolution of a project further exploring the experience of conscious connection to the Divine embodied in creation.

I invite your sharing of your journey in response!

Heal the Land & the People? Racism says “Not Here!”

Three years ago, a friend returned from a conference, thrust a book at me, said “You must read this!” – and shifted my perspective on the world.

The book was Cosmosophia, by the Rev. Dr. Theodore Richards (see my Great Reads page for a review). Shortly afterward I contacted Dr. Richads directly… and that was the beginning of a rich connection. Since then I’ve studied under his direction, and helped to promote his work, and have been deeply moved by his writings on the Wisdom Education tradition, and the way he has been putting this tradition into practice in the Chicago Wisdom Project.

An important aspect of the CWP vision is to help children connect not only to their inner wisdom and their ancestral wisdom, but also to the wisdom of the land through practicing permaculture: the Project has been working for some time now toward starting a permaculture farm in Baroda, Michigan.

Having studied permaculture with the Earth Activist Training, I’ve personally experienced the magic that this integrative approach to agriculture and human culture can work…not only in healing the land, but also in healing and empowering those who work the land, as well as raising the consciousness, sustainability and resilience of the surrounding community. It’s work that affirms the message of Martin Luther King, Jr. at its deepest meaning: that we are one people and we are all related to every other being.

So it was with shock that I read the following blog post from Dr. Richards this morning…and I ask you to join me in supporting his petition:

Dr King’s Work Continues: Forty-eight Years Later, Still “Not Welcome”

Dr King’s Work Continues: Forty-eight Years Later, Still “Not Welcome”

“NOT Welcome!” read the email. I stared at it for a while. We were not welcome to build our farm in Baroda, Michigan, apparently. Even though, in the same email, the neighbor claims he does not know what we are doing. [“It is not clear to me what the complete objectives are for this project, who will be ‘farming’ this land, and why you thought it would be appropriate placement in my front yard! NOT welcome at all.” – Gregory Davis]

But hey, I thought, this is just one neighbor. No big deal. But then I got the call from Mike Moran. Mike is running the farm in Michigan and had just returned from a hearing with the town board. A dozen or so neighbors had showed up, bringing pictures they’d printed from our website, bringing wild accusations about what our plans, bringing, most significantly, fear and ignorance that we’d been taught was a thing of the past. I’d seen “Eyes on the Prize.” I knew that when my wife’s family moved to a white neighborhood in Chicago in the eighties she’d faced similar prejudices. But this was 2014. Dr King’s birthday is celebrated as a big, collective “thank you” for getting rid of this kind of thing, or perhaps as a “Day of Service” where people do nice things like feed the homeless. But addressing issues of systemic racism and exclusion are not really part of the narrative.

(read more)

Please sign this petition to ask the town of Baroda to give Wisdom Farm a fair hearing.

Theodore Richards is the director and founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project. He is the author of several books, most recently Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, finalist for the USA Book Award. His second novel, The Conversions, is to be released in October. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including two Independent Publisher Awards, The USA Book Award, and the Nautilus Book Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters.