3.5 years later, how’s that FB recovery going?

Hello world…it’s been a long time. The FB recovery lasted about two months…then fizzled so slowly and gradually I barely noticed. My account and contacts were restored, as mysteriously as they’d vanished, I regained connection with briefly-lost friends, and…well, there I was, back in the thick of it.

…More or less. More warily this time, aware of the slippery slope. I wiped out all the frantic political groups in my feed (Occupy Democrats, etc.), limited my social-media news to staid and reputable pages (NYT, WaPo, MSNBC, NPR), and limited my sharing scope; no more scroll-click-share. And immediately the well-remembered anxiety level went down. SO much better.

Since then, weaving over and around the social-media thread, the vicissitudes of life: changes at work, changes in spiritual connections, shifts in family. A heart attack in 2023 started a year of slowly, incrementally becoming more conscious and self-nurturing. Attending open mics every now and again, learning to dial down my inner chatter, or maybe just growing bored with it, started to reawaken my writer’s voice (could it still be there?).

Am I going to start blogging again? If I did, what would I say? Would the posts be nice, tidy “teaching stories” again? Right now I don’t know. I’m learning to listen to a deeper inner voice, below the monkey-mind chatter: the voice of awareness, observation, creativity, relatedness. What does she have to say?….we’ll see. But this is definitely a new turn in the road.

Facebook Recovery, Day 14

The work weeks passed in a blaze of productivity…but oh, the weekends. I had loads of overdue home and garden work, client work… no worries, I thought. I’d keep busy, call friends….

Little did I know…

Outside of the compulsive news-sharing, Facebook, of course, brought connection….lively connections with activists and news junkies across the nation and around the world. Many of us had never exchanged email addresses or phone numbers, because – why should we? We were in near-daily connection in FB-land or Messenger!

Until…..my contact list was just as inaccessible as the rest of my FB account. And I had simply vanished from their world without announcement or farewell.

Kind friends shared my news of deactivation with their overlapping friends lists. A couple of friends emailed in response. But that was all…and I realized with a jolt of humility that between the water-cooler convenience of Facebook, and our fast-rushing news stream, my Facebook friends may not have even noticed my absence. Even if they had, the velocity of the news feed and the busyness of their lives probably prevented their reaching out specially to a nonparticipant. I had become a rogue, a renegade. An outsider.

How I choose to pursue connections, what they will look like henceforth, is entirely up to me. And it is entirely probable that hundreds of Facebook connections might simply be lost.

That was when grief and loss finally broke through the energy that had carried me through the work weeks: at the thought that deep, profound friendships may have just vanished with my disappearance from the platform.

There is one group in particular – a group made up of poets and priestesses and psychologists, scientists, storytellers and mystics…we called ourselves a tribe. Early this year (2021), a dearly-beloved member, a storyteller, photographer, master gardener, potter, and force of nature in the form of a woman, who had become part of all of our off-Facebook lives in her travels, was diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable cancer and entered her decline only a few months later. A group member went to stay with her as she prepared to move into hospice; a week later we all gathered on Facebook Live to hold vigil with her as she lay comatose, the end approaching. We sang to her, read poetry to her, prayed with her, told stories of our friendships with her…cried and were held by the circle in our shared love and grief. The Live session lasted, I think, more than two hours.

Offering bowl by Bonnie Ann Burnett

Bonnie Ann died in her sleep the next day.

Some time later, her brother sent me a bowl that she had made, a form so organic that it seems to have grown directly from the earth. It sits as an offering bowl on my altar in her memory.

Connections like those are the ones that matter on Facebook. Connections like those are the ones I can’t let go. And because the Tribe group on Facebook was, for most of us, our only point of contact, these contacts are lost to me now.

That needs to change. So…I’m going to jump through the reactivation hoops just to check in with the groups I loved, let them know I’m leaving and make plans with them to stay in touch….then download my contacts and data, delete my account, and leave.

Make it a proper leavetaking, not an involuntary banishment. Do it with honor and love, not AI aspersions and reactivity.

Hello, I’m Phila, a Recovering Facebook Addict….

First, on October 3, there were the verification requests. I’d just closed a tab, why did I have to login again? Sigh. Enter username, password – why was I having to verify again, and again?! WordPress, Facebook, three other sites – what on earth –???

I didn’t realize until later that night that my new browser was set by default to private sessions – close the tab, you’re logged out. And until Facebook suddenly pulled the plug and locked my account, I had no idea that the big blue F would see my browser’s annoying behavior as highly suspect.

Next thing I knew – just before Facebook’s own world crashed – my account was deactivated. But when 2.8 billion people around the world breathed a sigh of relief as they recovered their pages and data – I was breathing a sigh of relief because – through no effort of my own – my FB addiction was broken, cold-turkey.

No more doomscrolling. No more reflexive clickshares. No mo’ FOMO. Sure, I could show government-issued IDs to reclaim my page (really?!) — but why? For the first time in years I was breathing deeply, fully present. The itch was there to share articles I read, sure – but I couldn’t. And amazingly, with that impossibility, the itch quickly faded.

I haven’t had such a productive week since…I don’t know when.

Facebook for me had been a place for connection with friends, sure, but also a soap box: I loaded my page with shares of news stories and political analyses from NYT, WaPo, LATimes, SFGate, BBC, Reuters, etc.; well-documented environmental memes; statistic-laced calls to mask and vaccinate; ecospiritual blog posts, petitions…..I was proud of my feed; I curated it like a minor newspaper, with a minimum of personal posting. And friends praised the breadth and depth of information I shared; I felt I was offering a service of worth. And those who told me I was too political, too vocal, please sit down and post pictures of food and cats like polite people? They were always welcome to unfollow, I told them.

Meanwhile I met the end of each day exhausted and increasingly depressed and anxious from the immersion in news packed into mealtimes and coffee/water breaks. Distracted and nervy from scrolling my newsfeed, I rarely engaged in personal conversations except in FB self-help groups, adamantly skimmed past the newsfeed flamewars, but who could not see (or unsee) them?

There were the acquaintances passionately posting egregious COVID misinformation, the GOP family member’s laughing emoji at a heart-wrenching news article about refugees…the…..ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I rarely responded…on the occasions when I did, it was usually with one clinical blast of (hopefully) inarguable data and corroborating series of impeccable links, then usually unfollowing the post and turning off notifications. The goal was to educate, not debate.

Even so, toward the end I was checking in on my feed feeling like I was on speed – not in a good way: muscles tensed, heart racing – how could I process this, how could I share responsible, good information that put outrages in a clear and truthful light? Because, surely, it must be communicated, people must be informed!! How else could change occur?

Like the girl in the fairy tale, my feet were locked into the dancing red shoes – I couldn’t stop, couldn’t help myself….until, by the grace of the Goddess, Facebook lowered the boom thanks to my wonky browser.

And suddenly – PEACE. FREEDOM. PRESENCE. FOCUS. Suddenly, I could think – could hear myself think. Could carry on a train of thought, undistracted. My depression and anxiety vanished, creativity came flooding back. I was free of the Facebook trance.

I’d forgotten it was possible to feel so good, so peaceful! Yes, I’m aware that the world is in dire straits; my professional work is focused on promoting educators working for positive change. But I’m not swimming continually in fear, outrage and catastrophe; I am intentionally creating a base of simplicity and serenity in my home, from which I can deal with what must be faced.

Next? Find a way to connect and communicate outside of FB.

I’ve been journaling the journey offline this week, so there will be a couple of back-dated posts until I catch up. I’m hoping that this chronicle will inspire others to take the leap…and rediscover their sanity outside of the FB trance.

Till next time!

The Disarming of a Crusader: Memories of My Mother

She called herself a crusader, as far back as I can remember…and as Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking once more of my mother’s folders upon folders of writing and correspondence.

Leadership in the Maryland Back to God Movement, volunteer hours spent with the National Federation for Decency, donations and letters to innumerable similar organizations. Op-eds supporting Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, letters and essays on abortion, school prayer, pornography… writings on every conservative hot-button issue imaginable.

In those same bundles of files are also her environmental campaigns: passionately advocating for the trees in the City and in our neighborhood. For the preservation of green space. For protection of the Chesapeake Bay, of national parks and wildlife, of alleycats and retired horses.

And then, radiant spiritual meditations such as The Mystery of Love….or her extended memoir piece, “Recollections of an Ethnic Childhood in Baltimore”…or laugh-out-loud humor pieces such as “Die Comes Before Diet” and “I Married a Workaholic.” In two packed file cabinet drawers I have a multilayered, nuanced, intensely complex portrait of a fiercely independent-minded, deeply spiritual woman who fed every creature that came to her door, who held firmly to the teachings of old-school Catholicism and scorned the label “feminist”…but held firmly that women were responsible for protecting the Sacred in art, culture, and politics. And protect it she did, with all the ferocity of her Confirmation saint, Jeanne d’Arc.

Like her namesake, she was a mystic; born “with a caul,” she spoke of having had visions: when her beloved sister died of alcoholism, she stormed heaven with prayers until she saw Jesus cradling Aunt Olga as a lamb, and received the message that all was well. I believe that was not the only vision she had…and she certainly had the gift of foresight.

But that mysticism was firmly reined in by dogma and politics. When I became involved in the Charismatic movement as a teen, she came in with me to be sure it wasn’t a cult. We studied together, were “baptized in the Spirit” together…it was one of our closest times. But Campus Crusade for Christ came in and we both were swept off into evangelicalism, albeit from different perspectives: I saw the narrowness of a succession of fundamentalist churches and fled first to Quakerism, then Earth-based traditions; for her, a fusion of experience and dogma led to an ever-deepening love affair with the political Right.

I see the foreshadowings of today’s polarization of the nation in her writings at that time….her 1977 piece, “While Gentle Art Languishes,” for example. It started off with a line in the sand

“I hate liberals, radicals, leftist activists, activist leftists, and all others of that ilk. While my ideological persuasions are, of course, involved, I have an even more compelling reason for hating them. They and the brand of mischief they are dedicated to fomenting are preventing me from peacefully pursuing my chosen avocation of creative writing. They are like fiendish imps of the perverse creating discord, controversy, confusion, and always a deliberate state of unrest. All of this, as a matter of conscience, demands of a patriotic, conservative American a prompt and impassioned defense of whatever traditionalism is currently being attacked. As a result, it turns out that before the Muse can be indulged, duty always seems to be demanding protesting letters to Senators, Congressmen, editors, TV networks, local politicians and/or bureaucrats, schools, churches – the scenario is repeated continuously. The end result, of course, is that my creative writing is neither created nor written……”

Originally submitted to the Baltimore Sun, it was rejected (which she interpreted as a sign of that paper’s liberal bent and the unlikelihood of her being published there….despite their publishing many of her op-eds and letters to the editor). It went on to be rejected by the National Review, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Boston Globe, and other publications before it was finally retired to her files with “Unpublished” firmly written across its first page…..the only unpublished manuscript I found among her files.

Why point up this one, bitter, early article out of her long and well-respected writing career (albeit minimally paid….when she wanted to retire on disability from her work as an executive assistant, she was forced to prove at length that her writing was a hobby, yielding an occasional windfall of pin money, not in any sense a second income)? One reason, mainly: it puts in specifically personal terms the moral outrage that lay behind her political writing….not to mention the delicacy of the dance we shared over the decades that followed.

How did she, a conservative Republican Catholic, feel about having a daughter who married a Quaker liberal and ultimately made a living writing for businesses, nonprofits and individuals matching my mother’s list of hates,  signing endless petitions to vent her outrage at the actions of a government representing the unholy religious-political marriage my mother seemingly supported?

We never talked about it. We tiptoed around the elephant and donkey in the room. Oh, there were openings – one year she asked me to buy her the latest Ann Coulter book for Christmas while I asked her for Starhawk’s Webs of Power – but neither of us took it any further. Out of love and respect for each other, we bought and gave the requested books without comment, hugged and kissed beside the Christmas tree, and that was the end of it. We asked each other to edit our op-eds, and gave critiques that were grammarian, literary, and studiously neutral.

It wasn’t because our relationship was equally pro forma. Despite all appearances, I believe we both knew that we shared a foundation that went deeper than political demagoguery…that the right-left rift was superficial at worst and that we were in deep alignment at a spirit level, where it really mattered. I gave her Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter one year…but when she quizzed me later on my fascination with herbalism (nudging toward an inquiry about spellcasting), I was wary. Eventually we had deep theological conversations in which she sought to understand what I believed and why – but she ultimately admitted that she found it too challenging and retreated into her conservative comfort zone.

That core alignment was never so clear as it became at the end. Nine months after my husband passed, and after years of rigorous cardiac self-care and two bypass surgeries, Mom had a heart attack, falling and hitting her head, causing the beginning of her decline. I’d already begun to pursue my master’s degree at that time, and when Mom was in hospice a year later, I showed her some of the reports I’d written in the program. They began by thanking her for teaching me to value and connect with the natural world and hold it sacred….and went on to lay out the framework underlying my spiritual understanding.

She struggled to follow my reasoning, stopping midway through with a sad smile and saying, “I’m not up to reading this, I’m sorry. But what I clearly see is that you have a vocation. It’s not the one I would have wanted or chosen for you, but it’s clear that you have a vocation.” She stopped and said slowly and with great intensity: “And I want you to follow your vocation.”

That was her blessing, and our last deep conversation. My father was a constant presence when I visited after that, mandating stilted small talk and precluding mother-daughter sharing. She passed peacefully in her sleep, two weeks later.

The hospice called that morning at 6:00 am to let me know; Dad and I came to say goodbye and do the necessities. When I came home afterward, I walked in the door and asked the house – Where’s Mom here? Where is her energy in this house?

As if she were standing behind me in the flesh, I heard her say, “I’m right here with you. I’ll never leave you.” Not as a ghost, stuck on this plane, but as a living ancestor protecting the generations that follow. Feeling her energy, all I sensed was our deep spirit connection – all the conservative Catholic dogma, the hard-right political ideology, had fallen away. She was as I’d always known her to be.

She is one of my guides to this day.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Why Bother? No, Really?

After a sleepless night and an overwhelmed, distracted day, I kept coming back to the question – why bother? Why go on putting out the energy to continue? Why keep on putting activities on the to-d0 list, slogging through them and checking them off? Why keep signing petitions and re-posting awareness-goosing news articles?

Why bother?  Why not just stop, go to bed, pull the covers over my head, and forget it all?

I am asking this because I am tempted. On days like this when it seems the headlines add 100-lb lead weights to every thought, every turn brings a new obstacle and just moving across the room is like plowing through half-frozen molasses, it would be so easy. So WHY???

Law of Attraction believers would chirp perkily about “never a negative thought,” yada yada. I’m sure that makes and keeps them happy (maybe)…but right now I’m more of the mindset, having fled to the extent of my energy, to turn around, charge, and throttle the thing that’s chasing me. That keeps me doomscrolling through social media in off-moments, projecting my anxiety and depression onto external causes: climate deniers! Anti-maskers! MAGAites! He who will not be named! What could they possibly be thinking?!

Truth is – it’s all about avoiding “the feels.” Some to get away with getting what they can while the getting’s good, some to simply survive day to day in a nation lurching from one disaster to the next – whether it’s wine or video games or addictive news shows or social media or what have you, it’s a way of numbing out, not thinking, not feeling.

What’s chasing us? What are we running from?

I see the answer in my cats’ eyes when they come up and head-butt me in the midst of a doomscroll or reflexive share. I turn around and grumpily start to complain – the angst of the world is calling me! – and their eyes are wide and wise and guileless as they gaze at me and (of course) turn on the purr.

No judgment. No conditions. Just be-ing, pure presence, together. I turn away from the computer and pick them up; they knead my shoulders, nuzzle their head under my jaw; the purr reverberates against my ribcage, and suddenly I’m clinging to them, shaking with the sobs I’d earlier refused to admit or allow. And bless those cats, as I soak their fur they purr madly, then lick the tears off my face.

The same thing happens when I push myself to leave the house to walk in the woods…an effort that’s become steadily rarer, and not just due to COVID. Where I’d once sought to tune in to the forest, I’ve shied away; the trees, the birds, the sun through the leaves, the roar of the river, have been too real, too present, they’ve blown through my defenses and left me weak-kneed with sobs, pressing myself against a tree for support – and feeling the presence of the tree, slow, calm, immovable, and comforting, unswayed by my inner storms.

The message comes through again and again: just let down the shields, allow the connection, the feelings, the tears, and Our Relations meet us halfway.

Too simple? I don’t think so. From the growing practice of eco-psychology, to the Japanese practice of forest bathing, to gardening programs for prisoners and equine therapies for veterans and trauma victims, and so much more, there is a growing recognition that healing and full presence can be achieved through our connection with nature.

Quote from Richard Louv, The Nature Principle

And as healing is received, healing partnerships can form.

Even now, when it seems the world is going up in smoke from the fires humans have set, worsening the Earth’s climatic fever, we are given the small opportunities to connect, again and again, small opportunities to open our hearts, tune in, open our intuition, and gain wisdom from a non-human perspective.

We are not alone. Despite everything, we are loved. The question is – can we open to join in partnership with our nonhuman relations to preserve life on the planet we share?

One Perfect Tomato

This year, as I watch the headlines – wildfire here, floods there, a typhoon, hailstorms, drought, vanished sea ice in the Arctic, millions of hectares clearcut in Brazil – I have been witnessing the most extraordinarily gracious and gentle weather in our part of Baltimore. Warm – but not stifling – days, balmy nights, plenty of soaking rain – California weather, I’ve called it.

I spend afternoons on my front porch swing with my computer, watching the catbird and cardinals – and a new bird, looking and acting like an acid-washed starling – working over the suet, and the hummingbirds buzzing around their feeder with their anxious-sounding little chirps, occasionally whirling over to check me out, just a few feet from where I sit. Crickets chirping, the sound of traffic distant on our dead-end street.

This is perfection, I think to myself. The black-eyed Susans and echinacea and phlox overflow their corner of the rain garden; my backyard is a jungle with plaintain and red clover and lemon balm and mugwort spilling over the perimeters and the veggie garden awash in insectary and medicinal herbs among the veg plants.

“Thank you,” I tell the spirit entities of the land. “I love you. Thank you for all you do to keep this land green and healthy.”

Everything is overgrowing its boundaries. The cucumber vines wrap almost all the length of the garden fence and have wandered into the tomatoes and beebalm. I have been madly picking fat yellow cucumbers that expand in diameter, not length, turning green only as they grew overripe. Cucumber soup and felafel, my mother’s cold beet-and-cucumber soup, cucumber salads….I want to share them, try pickling some but these cukes grow too fast! They are on the edge before I realize they are ripe.

I step though the gate, brushing past the borage and the bean vines with their foot-long crimson fruit. Perfunctorily lift aside the squash leaves – these two plants have been blooming like overworked lawyers in love, trying to book a mating time between their male and female blossoms. It’s August and they haven’t hooked up yet, despite my efforts to hand-pollinate. It’s not pollinators that are the problem here – I see plenty of ground bees, moths, butterflies. The problem is timing. I imagine the blossoms immersed in smartphones and planners, watching excretions and temperatures, not looking up until their would-be mates have faded.

At first glance I see nothing – withered stumps where female blossoms died unfertilized. I move on to look for cucumbers…and then notice, almost under my feet, a length of dark-green, smooth – squash!

I feel like a middle-aged mother greeting her in-vitro firstborn. Eyes wide, mouth agape until I realize I’m likely to swallow a mosquito. The baby is about six inches long – big enough for picking, but I’ll wait till tomorrow when the latest batch of cuke soup is gone. This squash may be the only one I harvest; it deserves special treatment.

Gesturing a blessing over its speckled length, I turn to the tomatoes, not expecting to find anything but blossoms and baby fruit. I’ve picked one huge tomato to ripen in the window, after seeing it hang green for weeks in the heat. It was easily four inches in diameter; any others would be easy to spot…

And there is one! One enormous yellow fruit, hiding under the leaves, as big as my palm. It comes off readily in my hands.

I admire them as the sun glances off its skin, setting it glowing. Its heady fragrance rises along with that of the warm basil plants next to me.

And suddenly the beautiful, fragile, glorious, suffering world narrows down to this one moment: a small jungle of a garden producing these rare, glorious fruits in the face of tragedy and disaster around the world. I hold the tomato up to my nose, take a deep breath  of its aroma, reach down to pinch four leaves off the basil plant.

I want to immerse in this tomato and its green companion. I want to taste and absorb the golden sunlight shining in its skin, the earthy-spicy-sweet flavor of its flesh. We go into the kitchen and I wash and slice them, thanking them for their beauty and vitality. Put them in a Sunday-dress-up bowl and take them out to the porch swing.

The sun is bathing the porch with its golden glow. The birds are winging in for their evening feeding. I sit on the swing, watching them, taking one bite after another of perfect golden-green balmy rare, perfect-summer sensual delight into my mouth, savoring it, being nourished by it like a cancer patient savoring a last meal.

I will cherish this property and its green and feathered and winged and four-legged and burrowing beings as long as we share life. And – if this is the last summer of delight – I will savor and share and immerse and give thanks for every blessing this land gives. Until this summer, until I faced the awareness of coming loss, I have never truly savored or given adequate thanks for the fruit of the land I tend, or the beings who support its production.

Taking Refuge

Along with just about everyone else I know, I have been moving through various stages of depression, anxiety, dread, horror, and grief as I witness the travesty of government, the utter destruction of anything remotely resembling democracy, a social safety net, or environmental protections, indicated by Congress and the evolving cabinet of the soon-to-be-inaugurated dictator-wannabe.

But lately something has happened that – while it hasn’t brought me to singing and dancing, it has allowed me to put my feet more firmly on the ground. take a deep breath, and put myself back together.

A couple of weeks ago, an old real-life nightmare returned after I’d thought it gone forever. It brought profound upset, fear, anger, outrage, and a raft of other emotions, all based on pure conjectures built on a chance 15-second encounter on the street. Trauma kicked in and – after digging deep into my own “Defense against the Dark Arts” toolbox and many others’ – I went through massive home purges and clearings, doing shadow-work and practicing Metta meditation and self-Reiki.

I didn’t know what was coming regarding that nightmare, but based on what I knew, it was likely not to be good. Another wise friend had told me “If you project XYZ negative possibilities, you are also responsible for finding the same number of positive possibilities. You simply don’t know why this has happened.” I tried hard, but past experience was getting the better – or worse – of my intentions.

Click to hear Tara Brach’s guided meditation: Taking Refuge in the Beloved

Finally – exhausted by the what-ifs, the possibilities, the projections, and the near-paranoia of this close-t0-home circumstance on top of the drama on the national stage – I stood at my Reiki altar before the images of Tara and Mother Mary, and the words came to my mind, “Take refuge.” And – having run out of other options – I did. Envisioned a field of compassionate love, the arms of the Divine Mother, took a running mental leap and threw myself in.

The peace was immediate, and exquisite. It wasn’t that the genuine and potential horrors of the world – or the potential terrors of my immediate neighborhood – had ceased to be; I became aware that they were not all that existed. That – as Viktor Frankl had discovered in the Nazi concentration camps – the final freedom of one’s mind was still unbroken:

 …everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.. ~~Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I could choose my focus: fear and paralysis, certainty of helpless victimhood, outrage and striking-back – or I could focus on the human spirit taking large and small acts of compassion and love nearby, across the nation and around the world. I could focus on the goodness, beauty and creativity of Earth Mother and her endless adaptations of evolution. I could focus on the dark, and surrender to despair, or I could focus on the knowledge that there is a deeper balance.

This didn’t mean that I was going to disappear into never-read-the-newspaper/never-look-at-the-news/happy-happy perky never-a-negative-thought denial. It meant I could see the horrors, but deny them their power over me. I could choose my state of mind, I could choose my actions rather than reacting.

As I disengaged the emotional hooks of dread and helplessness, I remembered the words of the young warrior at Standing Rock:  “The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” Take refuge in divine love and compassion.

 

 

 

 

Making Peace with my Mother’s Paradoxes

Dear Mom,

You’re one of my angels now, nine years gone, cheering and challenging me from the spirit world after you blessed my vocation in our last real talk….but I’m still trying to make sense of your paradoxical legacy as I, in my turn, approach elderhood. Not only your legacy in my own life, but the legacy you left the nation through your contributions to the Heritage Foundation and Republican Party and the rest of your conservative causes.

I know you would never have wanted a man like the DT to become president – he would have horrified you – but his position as president-elect is nevertheless the outcome of many of the things you supported devotedly in your life. And I still, to this day, can’t figure out whyWhy someone so profoundly spiritual as yourself – I’m not talking about your conservative Catholicism, but your incredible, compassionate, visionary spirituality – could have fallen so completely for a party that waves its collective middle finger in the face of all the virtues you taught by your lifelong example: reverence for the natural world and all its beings; compassion for all regardless of color, nationality, creed; strength that did not deny your femininity.

Propped by my desk now is the prayer by Max Ehrmann that hung over yours, and spoke to the values you demonstrated through your life…

Let me do my work each day; and if the darkened hours of despair
overcome me, may I not forget the strength that comforted me
in the desolation of other times.
May I still remember the bright hours that found me walking over
the silent hills of my childhood, or dreaming on the margin of a quiet
river, when a light glowed within me, and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the tempests of the changing years. 
Spare me from bitterness and from the sharp passions of unguarded
moments. May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit. 
Though the world knows me not, may my thoughts and actions be
such as shall keep me friendly with myself. 
Lift up my eyes from the earth, and let me not forget the uses of the
stars.  Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself. 
Let me not follow the clamor of the world, but walk calmly in my path.
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am; and keep ever
burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope. 
And though age and infirmity overtake me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams, teach me still to be thankful for
life, and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet; and
may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still. 

 

I still remember when I came home from school crying because someone in my fourth-grade class had said I was communist, because we had family in Lithuania, then behind the Iron Curtain. I was raging, “I hate the Russians for what they’re doing to our people!” and you corrected me, saying that the Russians were victims of their government, and that it was the Soviets who were holding our people prisoner.

Thirty-some years later, I was asking your former parish priest, the saintly Father Tony Dranginis, of the Lithuanian community’s church, St. Alphonsus, to help a Russian refusenik friend to bring his wife and son to the U.S….he was appalled, saying, “Do you know what the Russians did to our people?” I quoted your words verbatim…and he had a change of heart, and sent me to the Lithuanian community’s immigration attorney. She made the same objection, I gave her the same response…and six months later Sasha was welcoming Tatiana and Sergei to the U.S.

Your compassionate teachings had more of an effect than you probably ever knew.But for all your parenting wisdom and visionary writings, you could be just as righteous an essayist as your media favorites, William Buckley, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter. And here I find myself choking on why? Why, always Why? How could you not see the hate, the arrogance, the meanness of these people?

I remember years ago, when you told me, “When I was young, I was just as liberal as you are. Then somebody took me aside and told me how things really are.” I’ve wondered for years who that person was, what sway they held over you, that they could turn you aside from the natural inclination of your own soul – the compassion to which you’ve returned since your passing, that shone out of you so many times as you cried over forests being razed and wrote impassioned letters to the editor about cruelty or neglect to animals. The compassion that led you to feed the birds, squirrels, raccoons (“poor Mrs. Raccoon, having to be a single mother and raise her babies alone!”), foxes, possums, cats, dogs….any animal that came your way knew it would receive a meal.

Part of it, I believe, was the church in which you grew up – as Baltimore’s Lithuanian community church, St. Alphonsus was deeply imbued with anti-communist and conservative Catholic ideology; to this day it is one of the centers of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, which you swore to the end that you preferred to the modern vernacular version. Part was surely generational trauma – your parents and sister Olga fleeing Lithuania for their lives, just ahead of the Soviets in 1919. How many anti-communist pamphlets did I unearth among your papers, your uncountable issues of The Voice of the Martyrs chronicling the horrors of life under Soviet Russia? I vividly remember writing letters to my cousins in Lithuania, with you carefully schooling me to
remove any references to Christian holidays because they could cause our family to be sent to the gulags.

I stumbled on an article the other day – The Red Scare and the Liturgy and Life Pamphlet Collection – that gave a deeper perspective: evidently good Catholics couldn’t enter or exit their parish churches without being accosted by ranks of anti-communist literature. And at St. Alphonsus, with its Lithuanian population still grieving families behind the Iron Curtain, that anticommunist message must have been particularly powerful….and amnesiac. I didn’t learn about Lithuania’s quisling government, or collaboration with the Nazis, until I was in my 20s, and was devastated by the information.

And you seemed to swallow it all in your devoted loyalty to Nixon, Reagan, Oliver North, the Bushes, your scorn for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic politicians across the board – “godless liberals.” Your conviction that only incitement by malcontent leaders with malign intent could twist “our fine black families” to engage in protest against the conditions of their lives. And yet you lived just blocks away from poor black neighborhoods in your Depression/WWII young womanhood in Union Square; you must have seen those conditions at least in passing. Or was your ethnic childhood so insular?

If anything emerges from my browsing through your writings, it is your innocence, your naivete, your allegiance to the patriarchal establishment, so conditioned that you couldn’t see the fusion of church and corporate interests. Working for Standard Oil in your younger days, you would have been in the thick of that paradigm, the rise of Christian Libertarianism. And surely there was an attraction (a crush?) to your hyperliterate conservative gurus; how many times did I hear you dreamily quoting William Buckley’s articles, savoring his turns of phrase like a fine wine?

You could have had no idea how it would all wind up; you died years before the rise of the Tea Party, when even Dad, staunch Republican that he was, abandoned the GOP and voted for Obama, not once but twice. “It’s a sin and a crime what the Republicans are doing,” he said. But even in his dying days my work for green businesses and the Earth was still anathema to him, your blessing clearly a misinterpretation on my part.

But always, you and I shared a deeper understanding. And I am heart-glad that, despite our differences, you saw that I was still coming from that spiritual/mystic place we shared…heading in different directions, but from the same point of origin.

Mom, as I’m reading the writing you left behind – years of letters to and from Aunt Olga and Dad, carefully stapled and filed in a box with cheery 1970’s flowers on the cover; years of Op-Eds, articles, and Letters to the Editor, carefully pasted in on fragile pages in big leather scrapbooks – I’m seeing some of the forces that shaped you, but so much remains a mystery. I’m glad that – even while you veered wildly between holding your political ground and cheering me on as a writer; asking me to review your outraged op-eds and saying you were proud of my work; borrowing books from your parish priest on bringing lost family members back to the Church and telling Dad that my husband’s and my Earth-based spirituality was no less real and valid than the fervent Catholicism you practiced – I never doubted your love for me. However reactionary your political and religious positions, you framed them from a place of heart and spirit, and even while you argued fiercely for the default masculine pronoun and derided feminist ideology, you were never any less than proud of being a woman, nor did you expect anything less than that as a woman, I would be strong and hold my own in a man’s world.

For all our differences, Mom, you’ll always be one of my heroes.

One Heart, One Mind – A Cry and a Flood of Solidarity

At two-twenty one morning, after a week of horrific news from Standing Rock, Washington, Aleppo, ecosystems of the world, I was numbly clicking through Facebook posts so I didn’t have to go to bed, lie there staring at the ceiling, and possibly get waylaid by the despair that had been building in me since….I’m not sure when, probably since the brutal attacks started at Standing Rock.

The Facebook post wrote itself…and touched off a flood of support, empathy, and wisdom: 104 “likes,” 64 comments (some long-extended commencolorful-1320721_1280ts spanning hours or days) and one share…not to mention the personal connections made and deepened off the thread. Six days later, the “likes” and responses continue. I am astounded..at no time have I ever been so raw in my FB sharing; nor have any of my posts touched such a chord. Never have I been gifted with such solidarity, support and wisdom. I am awed, humbled, and deeply grateful for so many soul-connections, unknown until now.

As friends have been posting their own struggles with depression and despair since then, I’ve been tagging them on the post, so they could share in the wealth of solidarity…and finally realized that it would make far more sense to copy the post and comments (with their makers’ permission) here.

Let it stand as a testament to human connection in a time of growing isolation, a demonstration that even when we humans feel most alone, most direly isolated, we are not alone; others are sharing the struggle, suffering with us. We are all truly connected in this world, we all do share in the sufferings and delights of others at profound levels, whether we realize it or not.

I have (for obvious) reasons, posted only a select few of the comments; for each one here, there were many variations on “You’re not alone,” “I hear you,” “I’m struggling too” and “Standing with you,” many punctuated by heart icons. What a blessed festival of love.

___________________________

Phila Hoopes
December 14 at 2:22am ·

 This has to stop. I am lying here on my sofa at 2:20 a.m., clinging to our sharing, our grieving here, each share a bearing-witness, each click a prayer. Dry-eyed, choked silent, feeling the knot of world-pain growing in my chest, in my throat: Aleppo, Standing Rock, Washington, the rainforests, the oceans, the…….all of it. Too much to begin to comprehend, too much to bear…and yet as a human with a heart I cannot shut it down and go to sleep; I cannot stop this vigil of solitary grieving, this silent, ongoing scream of desperate, directionless prayer that does nothing practical (or does it?).

This is the worst time, when the phone is running out of power and bed is beckoning my body, but I cannot think of letting go even this tenuous FB thread of connection to people who together are suffering the connection to the world’s pain and fighting the causes in such wee-hours ways as we can – a petition here, a letter there, a donation somewhere else, prayers and Reiki ongoing – does it make any difference at all? The demons set loose on the world would have us believe it does not – meanwhile trying to keep up the energy to do our own work of service for the world.

This is the time when I wish for a sweatlodge to wring the salt water and pain from pores and eyes while surrounded by others similarly releasing. To hear prayers from others echoing my own. To know that somewhere, somehow, this giveaway of heart makes a butterfly-flap of difference, shifts the balance even the tiniest fraction of a millimeter toward the light.

Comments
Sucely Lucifera Hernandez <3 It does. The Moon bears witness to our pain at the same time as she sheds light on it.

Casey van Bronkhorst You are far from alone. Let the thread of connection act as a very slow recharge cable, linking you back to us all with the faintest and most delicate of energies. You are heard. You are, softly, appreciated. Rest if you can; sleep if you must, but savor the hidden strength of that cable. …Run with us, if you’re too tired to stand. We pace in the earliest hours. We listen, though our ears are too weary to accept silence.Grief is a needle and thread that stitches you back together after a phenomenal loss. Occasionally, as it does its work, it sticks you, catching you off guard. That’s part of its process, though, as each bit of pain is a healing moment but it may help keep your empathic talents in perspective at the moment when you feel like reaching out and grabbing someone’s pain from them.

Cate Raphael  Send out that which you desire and turn it over. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the drama and the emotion of it, it happens to me too. But then when I go into meditation and be very quiet and focused and send out what it is I wish to see in the world , I remember that it is all happening for a reason. The best thing we can do is to take care of our bodies and our spirits , so that we can raise the energy, raise the vibration in this crazy world filled with turmoil. You cannot control people places or things you can only send out the energy that you want to receive. That is how healing works. If you are unable to physically help then work on raising your own energy so you can help with the healing ! You are draining yourself, and that will not help anyone but it will hurt you.

Karen Starr So many of us are reeling at the state of the world at this moment. And it is hard to know where to focus and how to best be of use. Especially for empaths this is a very hard time indeed. However, I think we need to cultivate a calmness that allows us to move past the grief and outrage to find the wisdom to direct our action. So many beings are depending on us and we have more allies in the natural and spiritual world than we can possibly imagine. Each day, each hour there is only each of us doing our best to relieve some small part of the suffering around us as best we can. Sending you lots of love, Phila.

Christel Libiot   I hear you sister and yes there is so much going on in the world, everywhere, at so many levels.. It seems the hope of “better” is so tenuous. And more than ever we need to show up and stand strong as the peaceful warriors that we are and come together to energize the emerging paradigm of Oneness and Right Relationship with All Our Relations, supporting a new establishment of a World that Works for Everyone. We have the power to do what is necessary. Let’s gather; let’s do it!

Sue A. Phillips  I am there with you too. One day despair, the next day hope. I am working on standing in my loving warrior space – I get there for a little while, then I am overcome with a depth of sadness that has me running scared – retreating into my little one who can ignore reality for a while. I honor all sides of myself along this very difficult road. We must move out of FaceBook to the real world and start standing together- for support, yes, but more for the strength of our warriors standing in all of our collective glory to protect Mother Earth and our sisters and brothers . The hard part for me is how to start the process.

David Alan Tyner  Phila, your witness is heard, your sharing felt, your deep compassion appreciated, yet most significantly your hope is kindled and enfolded. We who are letting ourselves be sensitive to this often overwhelming life, must find some way not to be crushed by its weight and expanse. Thich Nhat Hanh has helped me take Andrew Boyd’s challenge to somehow find a solution and to become it, piece by peace.

The Four Qualities of Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
CREATIVESYSTEMSTHINKING.WORDPRESS.COM

….”The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use “compassion” to translate karuna.”
http://andrewboyd.com/the-agony-of-being-connected-to…/

….“Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored”
~ Buffy Sainte-Marie 

…. A close friend just mentioned obliquely who knew of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the lyricist for Donovan’s “Universal Soldier” ? And I burst into tears remembering her as the one who told my near empty younger slate of the story of blankets, that forever changed my life and perception of First People’s struggles, being beyond any misery I could ever imagine. Still trying … many decades later.

Thank you Buffy Sainte-Marie, one of my heroines.
“My country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnuV9m7RahA

“Donovan – Universal Soldier”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A50lVLtSQik

LYRICS HERE
http://www.metrolyrics.com/my-country-tis-of-thy-people-you…

…It’s my honor to share this flame I imbue, as I’ve often been rekindled and know that this spark we share, goes back long past campfires, fighting off the Ice Ages.

… Geese share ‘point’ duty, as that initial sacrifice makes all others’ journey easier, which undermines the nominal leader/follower model with us all being leaders, just waiting for our time

…I talked to one of the creators of this app, and she assured me there are many healing circles that welcome men, although some do not and that’s also needed: 
http://www.findawomenscircle.com/
Find A Woman’s Circle: The Divine Feminine App

Carol Sheppard I understand and share in the mania of love, and worry, and needing to make even a flicker of a difference when all the forces seem to be saying that it is futile, with so many hands reaching toward fleeting connection and community that only faith says might make contact and matter. This is such a dark and difficult time and I pray to the spirits that somehow so much suffering may eased. Hard as it is we must hang on and do the work of loving fiercely and fully, especially when there is no evidence that it makes a difference. It is necessary to be the ones that do so, especially now. Sending you love and blessings ♡♡♡

Kerrith McKechnie I am with you. I think there are countless beings with us. We must be still so we can know our strengths and do what we must do. One tiny step at a time, but it IS a step, and we ARE together.

George Moore I’ve changed my prayer intention from putting an end to all of what is going on to allowing it all to ramp up to the point that finally tips the scale and creates worldwide peaceful resistance and economic revolution. By being peaceful resistors in the faces of militarized corporations, like the Water Protectors are doing, we can affect peaceful change. By not buying anything from the multi billion dollar corporations and buying locally from small businesses that only sell what is produced in your home country we peacefully cut the supply of green blood to the greed ridden billionaires and put them out of business. These actions will change the entire world. This is what I pray for, meditate on, and ask everyone to join me in.

Standing Rock: The Relations Multiply

Just a brief post tonight….and yes, there will be more about my visit to Standing Rock; after the horrific events of 10/27, I am still madly sharing the news I see to inform sympathetic friends.

But this thought: One of the most moving elements of my experience at Oceti Sakowin was the warmth of the welcome and the shared support of the men and women camped there. The elders at the drum circle would speak of the campers as family – “we are all relations here” – and it was common to hear groups addressed as “relatives” or “brothers” or “sisters” with the deepest authenticity.

In the deepest sense, yes, we were all there as members of the earthly tribe of living beings whose most critical and intimate connection is to water – water as sacred, water as life, water as ultimately endangered – and so we as humans (whatever our race, gender, nationality or creed), along with nonhumans of all descriptions, were intimately related. It was a bond of mutual support, respect, caring, and genuine tenderness.

As many times as I had heard the words Mitakuye Oyasin – All My Relations – I had never experienced it so deeply.

Coming home after that profound experience of community – family – was difficult; re-entering my solitary life was difficult. Reading of the events that followed my departure – the overwhelming, brutal force unleashed against the water protectors – has been devastating.  Yes, I’ve been madly sharing article after article; the pain of reading and sharing has in some strange way been…not relieved, but distributed…among other caring hearts who add their prayers and energy to the immeasurable energetic support being sent to Standing Rock, and share the word in turn.

By joining the  innumerable others who have connected to the heart-community of mni wiconi – water as sacred, water as life, water as endangered – in sharing its suffering and power with our circles of friends, and seeing them passionately spreading the felt connection to their circles of friends, we are helping to extend the family of Oceti Sakowin across the continent and the globe.

We are all, truly, related.

14910504_10207499657830224_3903113288269618939_nAnd now the meaning of the water-blessing ceremony begins to sink in: just as the water of life was poured into the sacred vessels, blessed, shared throughout the community, and borne to the river, where it rejoined the earth’s living waters with prayers, we who have visited Oceti Sakowin have become vessels of its message, carrying it in our hearts and sharing it with the world, and returning it to Source in our steadily multiplying prayers of support.

I remember Bea Jackson, the Ojibwe medicine woman who led and taught us the ritual, smiling and saying “It’s all part of the action.”

Indeed it is. Indeed it is.