Loving Circle for the Earth

Trees from the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada, cut and stacked like matchsticks to make way for a new Tar Sands excavation.

I usually do something at this time of year around the Day of the Dead/Samhain/All Souls, toward honoring our ancestors. This year, however, I have been haunted by accounts of the dying of the ocean…the razing of the forests for Tar Sands and toilet tissue, for oil and hydropower…the massive injustices being perpetrated by the U.S. government.

I’ve been silenced by sheer overwhelm at the enormity of the social and environmental destruction…and I have heard so many others expressing similar feelings of overwhelm and despair.

The words that have kept coming back to me are: “We need to be loving them in their passing.” Not only fighting to save the beings that are dying, the species that are being extinguished, the planet herself in the vast wounding of extraction and contamination, but also sending them specifically LOVING energy in the recognition that it may be too late.

So on Saturday, while I was on a woods-walking retreat, the guidance came: to offer a Reiki/energy sending afternoon this coming weekend in an outdoor setting, specifically focused on sending LOVE via whichever healing modality(ies) we practice, to those beings/elements of our earth, known and unknown, that are so direly on the edge…or tipped/tipping already.

Part of this may look like grieving, and I suspect that some grief release may be involved for what has already been lost. But the deeper intent is to give the sort of love and cherishing that one gives a hospice patient – aware that all things end, that our species is responsible for too many ends, and loving fiercely those beings that remain.

Just that – LOVING. And who knows but that such love might make a difference?

So I’m inviting you to join me in spirit or in person on the afternoon of Sunday Nov 3, at 2:00 in the Avalon area of Patapsco State Park (see the location info below) for a meditation/healing circle for the Mother.

We’ll begin with a brief song/drumming ritual to unite our energies and intentions, and we will close with song and drumming, so please bring a drum or percussion instrument if you have one!

If you feel so called, you might also bring a small natural object (e.g., a stone, a crystal, a pine cone, a seashell, a handful of tobacco or cornmeal, worm tea, etc.) to charge with your loving intention and give to the Earth.

Or if you aren’t nearby, and want to take part at that time at a distance, please join us remotely. To register for this event, please go to https://www.facebook.com/events/175404279330553/.

Please share this invitation! For more information, email me at philahoopes @ gmail.com.

Thank you!

“Someday someone will isolate the frequency of love and build a machine to transmit it. Calling it Smith’s Healing Rays, they will charge to beam it at our injured parts. And we may forget it was ours all the time. But for now, we will call it TREE.

The fabricated TREE will not be as effective as what we can develop within ourselves. For TREE is individual, each person sending that love particular to her/his being and no computer can simulate the variety, tenderness and efficaciousness of the heart. TREE is particular, but it is also collective, not the act of one person, but of several, not exclusively an act of intimacy, but also of community. And TREE is not what we have associated with healing, the sucking into our own healthy bodies of a disease occupying another, but rather the loving saturation of the other body with the healing light originating in the heart.”

– Deena Metzger, TREE: Essays & Pieces


Here is the webpage for the Avalon area of Patapsco:


We’ll meet at the Visitor Center and then go from there – for this reason, it’s important that you arrive at 2:00! There are two places where we could do the actual circle – at the Cascade Falls nearby, or right by the Patapsco. We’ll need to play it by ear, depending on the number of people (partiers, hikers, etc) in the area at the time and the energy of the group.

Patapsco State Park – Avalon Entrance
5120 South Street
Arbutus, MD 21227

Link: <https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode&q=Patapsco+Valley+State+Park%2C+5120+South+Street%2C+Arbutus%2C+MD+21227&aq&sll=39.21972%2C-76.704998&sspn=0.110648%2C0.200157&vpsrc=0&ie=UTF8&hq=Patapsco+Valley+State+Park%2C+5120+South+Street%2C+Arbutus%2C+MD+21227&hnear&radius=15000&ll=39.247941%2C-76.68354&spn=0.110604%2C0.200157&t=m&z=12&iwloc=A&cid=14954589578245953755>



Comes the Dawn

This heartbreakingly beautiful poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall was first shared with me by my mother…and it has surfaced at key times of my life ever since.

Comes The Dawn

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.
— Veronica A. Shoffstall

Midpoint: Winter to Spring

Decompressing after a long day of passionate work, promoting a client’s upcoming seminar series, I stumble on an article and video and step through a window in time…

Twenty-eight years ago I was singing these songs in a living-room folk band with the man I would later marry. Today, seven years and a few weeks after his death, I listen to these songs as I have so many times before, and remember exactly the feel and taste and smell of those days…the feeling of being young, newly on my own, intoxicated with freedom and love and music and art and a liberated, bohemian lifestyle after a so-conservative childhood.

A new friend, another widow, said to me recently that when her husband died, “the technicolor went out of her life.” I know what she means, as I work now to regain my zest, confidence, intentionality, sense of living from my heart.

Unused memberships in singles networks still occasionally beckon – do I want to go out on nervous, hesitant coffee dates, hoping I will recognize a kindred spirit across a crowded room as I did once, 29 years ago? Not really. I’m still looking for someone whose powdered bones I and a group of family and friends sprinkled into a river seven years ago.

Work is the best medicine now, as spirit and serendipity guide my copy writing business into new directions and new clientele… changemakers serving Spirit and creation. Still emerging from a deep dark period, I simply follow the energy, discovering tools for growth and transformation, finding new confidence in my inner resources, witnessing miracles taking place in magical connections and undreamed-of developments. We’re a week past Imbolc, ancient turning-point from winter toward spring. The daffodils’ greenery has emerged and buds are forming; some enterprising forsythia are already blooming.

Awhile back I posted an invitation to a support circle for widows who are transitioning from deep loss into finding their voice and purpose for living…that invitation hasn’t been forgotten. In keeping with a circle of empowerment to honor our inner knowing and the wisdom gained from our scars, I’m looking toward the week of spring equinox, March 16 – 22. Bring flowers to hold the intention of your blossoming, eggs for the promise of new beginnings.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YuaZcylk_o]

But What Does the Earth Have to Say?


(A review of Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life)

There are wise, multicultural, insightful books…books that urge profound strategies of awakening to change our culture’s current course. And there are books among these that have – I believe – miss a vital piece of the picture.

Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life[1], I believe, is such a book. Detailing experiential workshop processes that Macy and others have been using since the 1980s, the book aims to awaken the ecologically unaware to a connection with nature, other species, and their fellow humans. Reading it as our world stands at the tipping point of global warming and climatic disaster, however, I simply felt frustration?… irritation?…annoyance? Call it what it is – anger – at what I saw as fruitless emotionalizing.

As I read the book while tending to my mother in her last weeks and days, Macy’s approach seemed tantamount to moaning and wailing over Mom’s impending death and the loss that our family would experience, blaming ourselves for all that was failing in her body…all the words ever spoken in anger, all the telephone calls never made…all the emotional blows that her heart had taken through the forty years she had spent fighting her genetic inheritance of coronary disease. To clarify: not standing at her bedside, engaging in the painful yet comforting interactions of mutual apology, forgiveness and blessing, but retreating to another room to stage cathartic psycho-performances focused on her worsening physical condition and our own self-blame.

What a horrible, futile way to spend the precious last days that were ticking remorselessly on.

Instead, our family chose to spend her last days in appreciation – after all the medical measures had been tried and had failed, simply to spend the time as lovingly and caringly as humanly possible, enjoying and appreciating our time together in the face of death. When we had our last deep conversation, she turned aside my apologies for actions not taken, and instead affirmed her love and blessing for my path…which was so vastly different from the spiritual tradition she had espoused all her life. I have felt her spirit reaffirm this blessing many times since her death.

Nearly two years before, I had taken another approach with my husband as he lay drugged and unconscious, fighting massive sepsis two months following heroic heart surgery: I refused point-blank to believe at any time that death was a possibility. When the drugs could do no more, the doctors’ urging to turn off life support was like reaching a sheer drop-off at the end of an elevated expressway …I was still racing ahead, but with nothing beneath me…falling, instead, through open air. There could be no conversation, no exchange of forgiveness and blessing – only my repeated “I’m sorry” between sobs as I watched his heart monitor slow, then flatline. It took months to come to terms with the reality of his passing. I still struggle to connect at a deep level, inwardly bracing myself for loss yet again.

But these were the deaths of single human beings…not the death of massive numbers of individual humans, plants and animals, entire species, ecosystems, even potentially life as we know it on Earth.

How do the two connect? As I see it, faced with death, we have four basic options:

  • To despair, blaming self and others, wallowing in the expectation of loss
  • To relentlessly and remorselessly oppose the inevitability of any ending
  • To value life more highly and live more intensely, resisting death as long as possible while seeing it as the wise advisor who gives meaning to life[2]
  • To connect with a larger picture in which nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected, in which death may be the gateway through which an individual’s influence and impact transcend the body…as I came to see it was for my mother and husband.

It is easiest, least risky, least painful, to choose the first two, focusing on the patient as subject or victim, focusing on the external body, disease process, and overwhelming physical needs, imagining and projecting the patient’s experience (or distancing oneself with the platitude “I can’t imagine what you must be going through”), or worse, speaking of the patient as if s/he were an empty, unaware thing in the bed, rather interacting directly with the whole person as a total mind/body/spirit entity.

It is terrifying to engage with another human being as they stand with their toes curled at the brink of the unknown…hanging ten at the drop edge of yonder …how much more terrifying to engage directly with a planet whose compromised ecosystems are in similar condition…especially when this whole culture is based on the belief that the Earth is an unaware, unconscious object?

This is the problem I saw with Macy’s book: while she briefly references the third option of living life more intensely with death as the constant companion[3], by far the bulk of the book, I believe, is focused on the first, which she calls “despair work.” And enlightened as Macy’s intent is, while she recognizes the awareness of other beings, she appears still to be limited by the beliefs of this culture. There is a great deal of discussion around connecting with other humans about the Earth, but no actual direct connection with the awarenesses of the Earth.

The book presupposes that workshop participants already experience a level of despair for the destruction…that as beings of the Earth we inevitably feel pain for the Earth, and that “the problem…lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it. Our efforts to dodge or dull it surrender us to futility – or in systems terms, cut the feedback loop and block effective response.”[4] Macy lists the consequences of our repression: among them, fragmentation and alienation, avoidance of painful information, and sense of powerlessness[5].

She speaks of the Earth as a “presence in our consciousness, not unlike the presence of gods and goddesses in the lives of our early ancestors,” and writes with reverence of the “shamanic traditions of …indigenous peoples…(whose) voices find a hearing because they tell us – as the natives of the late Industrial Growth Society – what we want to know once again: that as kin to the animals and plants, rocks and airs of this sacred world, we can tap its powers, take part in its healing.”[6]

She presences this reverence by invoking the presence and wisdom of the ancestors and succeeding generations in one exercise[7]; invites participants to experience seeing themselves in natural objects in the Mirror Walk[8],  and in the Council of All Beings, invites participants to invoke the awareness of the being they portray[9]. But that is all she says about connection with the awarenesses of the Earth: the rest is focused on participants’ personal awareness, experience and projection.  The Earth, through most of the book, remains a subject to be defended, projected and acted upon, without consultation or invitation for input.

My experience: reading a hospice handbook on the dying process – even doing a guided visualization on death — is very different from standing at a loved one’s deathbed with eyes and heart open. Reading of a rainforest being slashed and burned is very different from sitting in sacred space and hearing a single tree being felled by loggers, or struggling through deep muddy tire tracks and crushed underbrush to touch the stumps and shreds of trees taken. Reading even the most heart-wrenchingly written fundraising letter on the death of our watersheds is very different from standing on the cracked earth of a dried-up streambed and bearing witness to its failing ecosystem.

The wisdom of the imagination is very different from the wisdom of the heart and spirit connecting to the wisdom of the Earth – in the moment, on the spot. Macy’s beautiful, profound, and poetic visualizations cannot – I say – replace the direct experience of the living Earth, the green, feathered, furred, finned, scaled, crawling, and two-legged beings, and the unseen energies and awarenesses of the Earth.  Offering a workshop of “practices to reconnect ourselves, our world” – that does not involve direct connection with the Earth – is like offering a kayaking practicum without the river.

What results from this distancing, I ask? Consciousness can be righteously raised in theory with no resulting actual action, personal cost or long-term outward effect.  How will these visualizations achieve real, lasting change in people who may never have personally experienced the wholeness of the Earth …or those who are only now beginning to awaken to the damage being done? What actions, if any, will result from use of these experiential exercises involving no direct experience – what kind of real change will ensue? What kind of change has ensued in participants of these workshops, six months, twelve months, five years down the road?

The phenomenon of workshop addiction is recognized in psychological circles; I have experienced it myself as both an observer and addict. From years of experience in personal growth communities, I have witnessed that only a fraction of those who spend weekends examining their souls in workshop settings actually emerge with anything more than a brief emotional high or passing insight, soon to be overwritten with the day-to-day concerns of home and work. Only a fraction of those attenders will actually achieve deep behavioral changes over the long term, or sacrifice routine and convenience to strategically pursue a new workshop-generated mission. Laden by my own experience of workshop highs followed by quick-fading resolutions, I had burned out from process work years before, choosing other paths toward personal change.

There are those who say that the brain does not know the difference between reality and ritual (or process)…while this may be true for some, I have not experienced this beyond a very limited degree. A guided visualization or process, like divination – I say – is necessarily limited by the inward filters of the person visualizing…unless support is given to weaken those filters and facilitate an opening to new insights.

I remember my husband sharing stories of inconspicuously using Lodge medicines and prayers to invoke spiritual protection and support during the transformational workshops associated with the Lodge he served…how the processes supported in this way went deeper and achieved greater change than those that were not. And from staffing experience in workshops that did not use – that actively discouraged – -such forms of support in its workshops, I can vouch for the difference made by this absence.

My experience: where only human energies are specifically invited, only human energies, in all their limitations, will contribute.

I say – for Pity’s sake – stop asking participants to visualize from their memories and limiting filters, go out to the woods and the water, and invite the awarenesses of the Earth to speak for themselves in sacred space! To invoke the words of Chief Seattle, without experiencing the context of direct, sacred Earth-connection and Earth-communion from which those words arose, is to empty them of their soul.

By the time I reached the last chapter of Coming Back to Life, I had set the book aside several times in anger. To offer experiential trainings that include no direct experience, I told myself, is simply to feed a cultural workshop addiction and the easy belief that “well, I’ve attended a workshop on XYZ, I’ve had my emotional display and catharsis, I’ve produced a personal vision, therefore I am officially enlightened on the topic.” The certificate goes on the wall, the reference in the resume, and that’s the end of the matter.

There is no time now for such easy outs…any more than there was time for engaging in self-recriminations at my mother’s bedside. There is only time for action.

To be fair, Macy does address the question of action, and in the last chapter[10] provides a format to inspire participants to bless one another and move forward in acting on their insights. Earlier in the book, there is even a suggestion of ways to continue the bonds forged in the workshop. [11] But here again, there is no recognition of direct connection with the awareness of the Earth: the patient remains an object to be discussed but not engaged in interaction.

While I have noted the prevalence of the first possible response to the inevitability of death in the book, I believe the fourth possible response believe is what is needed at this time: To connect with a larger picture in which nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected, in which death may be the gateway through which an individual’s influence and impact transcend the body. To seek direct, humble and loving partnership with Earth Mother and the non-human beings of the Earth, seeking their answers to the destruction. I believe that this approach offers a healthy and effective means of moving through emotional pain to achieve inspired action to protect life on Earth.

[1]        Unless otherwise noted, all references are drawn from Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1998).

[2] Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1972) 34

[3] Page 187

[4] Page 27

[5] Pages 35-37

[6] Page 50

[7] Page 136

[8] Page 80

[9] Page 136

[10] Page 171 and following


Guest Post – The Mystery of Love

To honor the memory of my mother, Helen Joan Rizzo, this Mother’s Day, I am posting one of the many essays she wrote…this one was printed in the Catholic Review.


All through our lives, our greatest need – our greatest hunger – our greatest pain – is our desire for love. Not the natural, definable emotion we are most familiar with – like that of children for parents, married people for spouses, lovers for beloveds or devoted fans for their heroes, but the soul’s mute ache for, recognition of, communication with, and response from someone who speaks our soul-language.

The human spirit wanders through life for the most part lost and alone. We are essentially aliens in an alien world. Our routine relationships with others provide little more than superficial contact on a material plane. Even our most intimate alliances with relatives and friends fail most often to meet the depth of sharing we yearn for.

A great hunger for a deeper love haunts us all our lives. On rare occasions, a kindred soul or a sublime intellectual or cultural experience or a deep spiritual insight (and, oddly, even sometimes the acceptance of unavoidable suffering) may sound a chord within us which we somehow sense as familiar in a transcendental way. While it may bring brief enrichment, we soon realize that the feeling is gone and we are lost and alone and hungry again.

The ability of families and friendships and marriages to endure is not because perfect love is discovered, but rather because the imperfection of human love is instinctively recognized, accepted and accommodated.

Our human vulnerability is often exposed by the strength of even imperfect love. This can be illustrated by our stoical ability to maintain composure under truly heroic circumstances as long as we are not undone by love. During periods of mourning, for instance, we can bear grim, unrelenting grief for long stretches, but only let a compassionate loved one appear newly on the scene and our stoicism dissolves in a poignant outburst of tears and love for the deceased. During illnesses, we can present an enviable bravado even while enduring severe pain. But in the open-armed presence of one who knows and loves us in spite of our weaknesses, our bravado diminishes and we become childlike again in our need to be held and comforted. However, we sense somehow that we cannot long expect this sort of comfort – that sooner or later we must face our pain or sorrow alone.

The striving for but always failing to achieve the strange, inexpressible yearning within us has long saddened humanity and particularly intrigued philosophers and poets. Keats, in his “Ode to a Nightingale,” described the agony of the world’s inadequacy: “Here where men sit and hear each other groan;…Where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs.” Francis Thompson, in his “Hound of Heaven,” said “And now my heart is as a broken fount…Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever…From the dank thoughts that shiver…Upon the sighful branches of my mind.”

Still there seems to be embedded in the human spirit a strange magnetic phenomenon so profound that when or if something stirs the elusive memory, it hits us with such a shattering force that we can never forget the experience but we cannot reproduce it at will.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “Surprised by Joy,” described his first such experience by noting that for him “the memory…suddenly arose as if from a depth not of years but of centuries.” It was, he said, “a sensation of desire, but desire for what?” Before he could know that he desired, it was gone. “It had taken,” he wrote, “only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant by comparison.”

Perhaps it is that when we are born, we come trailing a dim recollection of God’s eternal love, and He lets it remain deep within us. Then, suddenly, when we are searching silently for we know not what, it stirs again as a reminder that He, who knit us together, is the source of all love and truth and beauty. Further, while our desire for perfect love is never satisfied in this life, He does give us the wondrously comforting recognition that those dearest to us are actually individual facets of His own immense love, just as we all are.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “Love is a messenger from God saying that every human affection and every ecstasy of love is a spark from the great flame of love which is God.”

And from this, we can slowly come to perceive that what we are really enamored of is God Himself! We realize that He is the architect of the greatest geniuses of all time, and of the humblest saints – all that we find so appealing in our most cherished beloveds and most admired heroes is but a tiny glimmer of the supreme appeal of their Maker – and that He is the embodiment of all the loveable things we love in others.

The happiest ending to any love story, then, is the deepening mutual closeness of two people to the Source of all love – a closeness the world cannot match. The profoundest, truest fulfillment of all our human attachments can only be found in God, the hub of the wheel of eternal love.