Letter to My Son, the Energy Engineer

Dear Bear,

It’s Easter Sunday and I have the windows open to let in the sunshine, warm breezes, and the sound of a squirrel squalling in the Chinese Elm in the front yard. The ceiling fan – powered by electricity that your employer distributes to my house – is humming softly.

This is a watershed day.

Last night you responded to a video I posted on Facebook – Dr. Helen Caldicott’s assessment of the scope of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the light of 25-year data from Chernobyl. To put it mildly, a frightening video….and I’m not sure you actually saw the whole thing. I know I found it hard to watch.

This was your response:

I believe that nuclear power needs to be EXTREMELY tightly regulated, but mom, you have to realize that most of europe, and many other areas are primarily powered by nuclear energy. As an environmentalist I would think that you would understand – the only alternative forms of energy generation that are even remotely environmentally friendly are solar, water, and wind – all of which have problems with consistency. If we were completely powered by these methods there would be periods of time where we had no power whatsoever. Clearly governments are understating the dangers of nuclear waste to the public, but to say that nuclear power should be discarded because it has risks is just as questionable…

I’ve been sitting for hours with this, trying to work out a response that comes from my heart and presents data that you’ll understand as a engineer.  With the  black/white, either/or, us/them perspective that’s becoming the rule in this society,  Earth-based environmentalists often paint Big Energy as the greedy, rapacious, planet-destroying enemy….just as Big Energy paints environmental advocates as eco-terrorists, potential if not actual.

Bear-bear, I know you’re not going to work every day with plans to destroy the planet. Your job is keeping the lights on, so to speak…literally, at times, in the BG&E storm center! You and I have been through enough tough discussions that I know you’re reaching out to come to a shared, complex, understanding of a complex issue…and that means a lot to me.

If you’ve read my posts and poems on this blog at all, you know I’m painfully aware that we’re all the problem…it’s not a matter for simple finger-pointing. Sure, I’ve chosen 100% wind energy through WGES…and the house is still heated by oil, so my hands are not clean.

On your side, I know that, given the sources of the energy your company provides – in 2009, at least, 33.6% was nuclear (according to the BG&E website) – they’re likely to minimize the risks of nuclear power and not encourage employees to inform themselves further. In terms of job and income security, it’s perhaps safer for you not to question the company line too closely or to look at too much of the opposing data.

But I also know the fierce integrity of my son, who looks at all sides of an issue and makes up his own mind based on the information he has…so here’s some of the data that’s being supplied about nuclear energy post-Fukushima, not by anti-nuclear advocates or environmentalists, but by people in the field, and by international investment advisors.

UBS AG international wealth management analysts concluded in a report released earlier this month – “We believe the Fukushima accident was the most serious ever for the credibility of nuclear power.” In a nation as technologically advanced as Japan, one would think that steps would have been taken to avert such a disaster – and the plant did indeed withstand the quake, as Dr. Caldicott said in the video. What caused the disaster was not the quake, but the tsunami.

As Fukushima is many orders of magnitude greater than Chernobyl, the health impact globally is near-incalculable – the figures on Chernobyl-related cancers alone are just coming out, not to mention assessments of the post-disaster environmental impact after a quarter century.

Horrific as it is, Bear, the ongoing meltdown at Fukushima (and the years projected until full control of the situation is achieved – years in which radiation will continue to be released into the air and water of the planet) is the real-life unfolding of just one of the nuclear disasters that are quite reasonably possible.

For one thing, nuclear power plants around the world are aging. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Energy Information Association – “higher capacity utilization rates have been reported for many existing nuclear facilities, and it is anticipated that most of the older nuclear power plants in the OECD countries and non-OECD Eurasia will be granted extensions to their operating lives.”

Even if you leave deterioration due to age out of the equation, however, the quake at Fukushima was not an isolated risk. In the U.S. alone,  according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance of an earthquake strong enough to cause damage to the reactor’s core, which could expose the public to radiation. No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a single ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145.’  Multiply the damage from one nuclear disaster by the number of reactors at risk and…well, you can do the math.

The truth is, Bear – as Dr. Caldicott pointed out – that the risks associated with nuclear power stand fair to leave this planet uninhabitable, not only for future generations, but for our own. That’s not an acceptable risk for any gamble.

While nuclear power is certainly a primary source of power in Europe (I would question whether it’s the primary source, based on the data I’ve found), the Fukushima disaster is prompting a worldwide step back. Just in the past few weeks, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, for example, have moved to ban nuclear energy.

Other energy sources are gaining attention as a result: according to the UBS AG report, “Natural gas producers OAO Gazprom and Woodside Petroleum Ltd. are among companies set to benefit as countries shift away from nuclear power.” So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that in Maryland, BG&E may be gearing up in that direction also…or that we will be seeing both an increase in fracking for natural gas, and fracking disasters such as the recent one in Pennsylvania.

As you say, Bear, “the only alternative forms of energy generation that are even remotely environmentally friendly are solar, water, and wind, all of which have problems with consistency.”

You’re right in saying that if we went 100% to clean energy sources today, there would be periods without any energy.  The technology, not to mention the infrastructure,  to support a 100% switch doesn’t exist. The problem, however, is that instead of ramping-up research and development of such technology (as we were briefly), this country’s government appears to be pushing for new ways to expand extraction of fossil fuels and production of nuclear energy.   Earlier this month Republican-led bills passed to continue and expand offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Not too long ago the headlines in the news were on tar sands extraction in Utah; just a few weeks ago I was seeing stories on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon.

As global energy consumption demand – and the demand for an American-style standard of living – continues to grow, regulation and oversight of fossil fuel producers is likely to dwindle (truth be told, it already is dwindling, witness Deepwater Horizon) with environmental impact increasing exponentially. And the U. S. is  leading the world in a race of regression.

Bear, you and I both know that the picture isn’t good. Sure, swapping lightbulbs, turning off lights, cutting consumption, etc. etc., helps, but in the end, deeper solutions are necessary, both for consumers and providers. Our choices today, on both sides of the fence, have unimaginable consequences, today and in the long term.

Yes, your company does have renewable energy initiatives. I am hoping that my boy, the engineer, has an opportunity to move into one of these…

…and no matter what, I’m proud of you, I love you, and I hope we keep talking…..

Mom

Welcome to the Real World

I knew of a physicist at the University of Chicago who was rather crazy, like some scientists, and the idea of the insolidity, the instability of the physical world, impressed him so much that he used to go around in enormous padded slippers for fear he should fall through the floor.

— Alan Watts, Nothingness

Most people would laugh at such a scientist. But as new science steadily addresses realities far beyond the reach of our so-called “common” sense –  I find myself wondering about the craziness of those padded slippers.

After all, what would you do if the theoretical science that formed the framework for your world view suddenly turned out to be visibly, tangibly verified by your everyday sensory experience? If, for example, instead of seeing a floor,  you saw a million swirling points of energy?

I suspect you might be just a little….well, freaked out.

Indigenous cultures have taught such concepts for millennia – for example, that we are all energy beings, and that we are all connected – but despite popular movies like What the Bleep and corroborating data from institutes such as HeartMath Research Center, modern society has a great deal of difficulty accepting the empirical reality of such concepts.

We’re deeply conditioned by our secular-materialist culture to believe that we are isolated individuals, that the boundaries of our minds do not extend past our skulls, that a solid floor is a solid floor, that…well, you get the idea. Even if we  subscribe to the belief that we are all connected, and that we can communicate energetically, a core of skepticism  may linger: without direct personal experience, how can we be sure? And we file the quantum concepts away in an agnostic cubbyhole.

For example, I’ve always held the belief that all beings, from stones to trees, from viruses to gorillas, from crickets to skunks, from krill to whales – and oh yes, also including humans – are sentient, thinking and feeling in their own unique way. These beliefs are woven into indigenous faith and practice around the world, in shamanic cultures from the Amazonian rainforest to the Siberian steppes.  And they’re core beliefs that I’ve held, and tried to act upon, since long before the days of my husband’s deep involvement in Traditional Native American practices.

But it wasn’t till this past weekend, when I was out following the guidance of a coach/nature mystic, that I received a firsthand experience of exactly what these beliefs mean in real life, outside the heady realm of cherished certitude. And I’ll admit – I was mind-boggled.

I was walking a path on sacred land near my home, and intentionally stopped to connect sensorially and at heart level with two trees along the way, as I’d been taught in the first class.  Connecting with each tree individually, I received very different impressions of personalities and attitudes toward humankind (or rather, human(un)kind in one case…passing two-leggeds had not been kind to that Standing One).

I responded politely to the input those trees were giving, and then stepped a little further down the path…and had the mind-boggling sense that every tree in the park was aware of me and assessing me – my intent, my attitude, my reasons for connecting and communicating with their two siblings.

Have you ever stood at a podium in front of a thousand psychics, all of them “reading” you? That’s roughly how this felt. I’d read old folk tales of people wandering into a forest and experiencing the spirit of the wood, panicking and fleeing – I’d never been able to understand such a reaction; forests had always felt like sanctuaries for me.

Now, however, I could understand. While the gaze of these uncountable trees was in no way hostile, it was wary, cautious, penetrating, evaluative…and overwhelming. I responded to the unspoken questions – “Who are you and what are you doing here? What do you want with us?” by explaining that I was a beginner trying to learn the right way of being in relationship with nonhuman beings, and asked them to ease up a little – they were scaring me! And they did. The contact broke, the sense of intense attention faded;  I could breathe again, and continued on my way.

I have been sitting with the aftershocks of that experience for the past week. Even though I’d hugged and talked (privately) to trees for years, even though I’d experienced individual trees as sentient beings in class as well as in the two conversations before the encounter with the entire forest, even though I’d had every reason to expect such a response from the forest as a whole,  the experience of trees en masse, as a crowd of individual personalities, was beyond any of my imaginings.

I remembered the response my husband used to give to such experiences: “Welcome to the Real World”....that is,  however much I believed in interbeing, the interconnection and sentience of all things, I couldn’t know this as reality until I stepped past my conditioning to experience it directly.

And the implications were staggering….

Imagine living in a world where energetic communication not just with other humans, but with every other being was not only possible, but also acknowledged fact…not a fantastical delusion to be treated with antipsychotic drugs, but the foundation of uncountable indigenous cultures. We know this to be the truth…and yet this real-world daily communication has been dismissed by this “enlightened” culture as pagan superstition.

Imagine living in a world in which plants, animals and humans consciously coexist in a delicate dance of balance that leaves their environment largely intact for millennia. We know that this also is true – it shows up in one account after another of intact indigenous cultures, even today.

Just sit with those images for a moment. Imagine being a consciously participating element of a living, communicating, mutually supportive environment, gaining wisdom from every other element.

Now picture our world, with humans isolated from all other beings by an assumption of superiority and dominion, exploiting or eradicating those other beings while we debate their level of sentience and dismiss what knowledge cannot be gleaned by instrumentation and metrics.

Is it any wonder that this culture is crazed and soul-starved? And what is there to be done about it?

I have only just completed my second lesson of the apprenticeship, so I am hardly the one to advise wholesale solutions. However, the old childhood rule for crossing the street does come to mind:

Stop.  Stop assuming, stop numbing out, stop objectifying…

Look. Try looking at everything around  you as a sentient being. What would it be like to get the perspective of an oak…a deer grazing in your garden…a polluted river?

Listen.  Next time you’re about to prune a tree, for example, tell the tree politely what you’re planning to do and why, then ask permission. And wait to see what you hear or sense inwardly.

If nothing else, ask – what if? Even if you already believe that we are all related and all beings are sentient in their own unique way, what if these trees, for example, are not simply standing passively in the earth, waiting to serve the purposes of humans, but are observing and participating in their environment in ways we can’t even imagine – and quite capable of communicating their perspective?

You may be familiar with the Gaia theory of a conscious, self-regulating planet. For many of us it ties in with the Earth-centered values we have carried for many years. Now take it a step further: what if that theory describes not only a living system of interacting organic and inorganic elements, but also a living system of interacting individual consciousnesses – consciousnesses with which we can communicate and interact to heal the wounds this world has suffered?

What if?

 

Welcome to the Real World

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I knew of a physicist at the University of Chicago who was rather crazy, like some scientists, and the idea of the insolidity, the instability of the physical world, impressed him so much that he used to go around in enormous padded slippers for fear he should fall through the floor.

— Alan Watts, Nothingness

Most people would laugh at such a scientist. But as new science steadily addresses realities far beyond the reach of our so-called “common” sense –  I find myself wondering about the craziness of those padded slippers.

After all, what would you do if the theoretical science that formed the framework for your world view suddenly turned out to be visibly, tangibly verified by your everyday sensory experience? If, for example, instead of seeing a floor,  you saw a million swirling points of energy?

I suspect you might be just a little….well, freaked out.

Indigenous cultures have taught such concepts for millennia – for example, that we are all energy beings, and that we are all connected – but despite popular movies like What the Bleep and corroborating data from institutes such asHeartMath Research Center, modern society has a great deal of difficulty accepting the empirical reality of such concepts.

We’re deeply conditioned by our secular-materialist culture to believe that we are isolated individuals, that the boundaries of our minds do not extend past our skulls, that a solid floor is a solid floor, that…well, you get the idea. Even if we  subscribe to the belief that we are all connected, and that we can communicate energetically, a core of skepticism  may linger: without direct personal experience, how can we be sure? And we file the quantum concepts away in an agnostic cubbyhole.

For example, I’ve always held the belief that all beings, from stones to trees, from viruses to gorillas, from crickets to skunks, from krill to whales – and oh yes, also including humans – are sentient, thinking and feeling in their own unique way. These beliefs are woven into indigenous faith and practice around the world, in shamanic cultures from the Amazonian rainforest to the Siberian steppes.  And they’re core beliefs that I’ve held, and tried to act upon, since long before the days of my husband’s deep involvement in Traditional Native American practices.

But it wasn’t till this past weekend, when I was out doing homework for the Land Healing apprenticeship*  I’m now pursuing, that I received a firsthand experience of exactly what these beliefs mean in real life, outside the heady realm of cherished certitude. And I’ll admit – I was mind-boggled.

I was walking a path on sacred land near my home, and intentionally stopped to connect sensorially and at heart level with two trees along the way, as I’d been taught in the first class.  Connecting with each tree individually, I received very different impressions of personalities and attitudes toward humankind (or rather, human(un)kind in one case…passing two-leggeds had not been kind to that Standing One).

I responded politely to the input those trees were giving, and then stepped a little further down the path…and had the mind-boggling sense that every tree in the park was aware of me and assessing me – my intent, my attitude, my reasons for connecting and communicating with their two siblings.

Have you ever stood at a podium in front of a thousand psychics, all of them “reading” you? That’s roughly how this felt. I’d read old folk tales of people wandering into a forest and experiencing the spirit of the wood, panicking and fleeing – I’d never been able to understand such a reaction; forests had always felt like sanctuaries for me.

Now, however, I could understand. While the gaze of these uncountable trees was in no way hostile, it was wary, cautious, penetrating, evaluative…and overwhelming. I responded to the unspoken questions – “Who are you and what are you doing here? What do you want with us?” by explaining that I was a beginner trying to learn the right way of being in relationship with nonhuman beings, and asked them to ease up a little – they were scaring me! And they did. The contact broke, the sense of intense attention faded;  I could breathe again, and continued on my way.

I have been sitting with the aftershocks of that experience for the past week. Even though I’d hugged and talked (privately) to trees for years, even though I’d experienced individual trees as sentient beings in class as well as in the two conversations before the encounter with the entire forest, even though I’d had every reason to expect such a response from the forest as a whole,  the experience of trees en masse, as a crowd of individual personalities, was beyond any of my imaginings.

I remembered the response my husband used to give to such experiences:“Welcome to the Real World”....that is,  however much I believed in interbeing, the interconnection and sentience of all things, I couldn’t know this as reality until I stepped past my conditioning to experience it directly.

And the implications were staggering….

Imagine living in a world where energetic communication not just with other humans, but with every other being was not only possible, but also acknowledged fact…not a fantastical delusion to be treated with antipsychotic drugs, but the foundation of uncountable indigenous cultures. We know this to be the truth…and yet this real-world daily communication has been dismissed by this “enlightened” culture as pagan superstition.

Imagine living in a world in which plants, animals and humans consciouslycoexist in a delicate dance of balance that leaves their environment largely intact for millennia. We know that this also is true – it shows up in one account after another of intact indigenous cultures, even today.

Just sit with those images for a moment. Imagine being a consciously participating element of a living, communicating, mutually supportive environment, gaining wisdom from every other element.

Now picture our world, with humans isolated from all other beings by an assumption of superiority and dominion, exploiting or eradicating those other beings while we debate their level of sentience and dismiss what knowledge cannot be gleaned by instrumentation and metrics.

Is it any wonder that this culture is crazed and soul-starved? And what is there to be done about it?

I have only just completed my second lesson of the apprenticeship, so I am hardly the one to advise wholesale solutions. However, the old childhood rule for crossing the street does come to mind:

Stop.  Stop assuming, stop numbing out, stop objectifying…

Look. Try looking at everything around  you as a sentient being. What would it be like to get the perspective of an oak…a deer grazing in your garden…a polluted river?

Listen.  Next time you’re about to prune a tree, for example, tell the tree politely what you’re planning to do and why, then ask permission. And wait to see what you hear or sense inwardly.

If nothing else, ask – what if? Even if you already believe that we are all related and all beings are sentient in their own unique way, what if these trees, for example, are not simply standing passively in the earth, waiting to serve the purposes of humans, but are observing and participating in their environment in ways we can’t even imagine – and quite capable of communicating their perspective?

You may be familiar with the Gaia theory of a conscious, self-regulating planet. For many of us it ties in with the Earth-centered values we have carried for many years. Now take it a step further: what if that theory describes not only a living system of interacting organic and inorganic elements, but also a living system of interacting individual consciousnesses – consciousnesses with which we can communicate and interact to heal the wounds this world has suffered?

What if?

The Right to Own Our Mental Health

I heard it again at a recent Christmas party, as my girlfriends from high school were sharing the “whatever happened to…” of the last 30 years. Another friend had suicided, the second in our class of barely 30, and this one by an overdose of antidepressants.

I came home heavy-hearted. Not just at the tragedy of a life needlessly lost, but the means of her going: during the hormonal uproar of my 30s, I’d attempted the same thing. It took far too many appointments with far too many psychiatrists whipping out scrip pads the moment I sat down in their office, far too many descents into pharmaceutical hell, before I finally found people who would teach me to manage my turbulent thoughts and emotions, not manipulate my brain chemistry.

Evidently, my high-school friend had not been so blessed.

So what I am about to say is rather passionate – and there have been those who have told me it is uncompassionate. I hope not…from personal experience I have profound empathy toward women suffering in these circumstances….and a great deal of anger regarding what I see as destructive and disempowering patterns in addressing their suffering. And I am speaking specifically of some – many, I believe – women’s experience, based on my own history and that of women I know, not to imply that men have no mental health issues, but simply because I cannot represent their experience.

First of all, the physiological facts. Let’s face it – the environment in which we find ourselves is growing steadily more toxic, loaded with chemicals known to disrupt hormonal activity. Add this to the imbalances of the Basic American Diet (a.k.a. B.A.D.), high in chemicals and low in genuine nutrients, possible food allergies or sensitivities, along with the high stress of daily living (whether working at an outside job or inside the home), topped off with the hormonal ebbs and flows that a woman’s body normally undergoes during her childbearing and peri/menopausal years….

The truth is that all – yes, all – of these factors can affect the mind, and are rarely if ever looked at in an initial psychological workup (or often in the average medical exam).

That’s not even touching on the silencing wounds that women may experience in the family, in school and in church, wounds that cannot be verbalized because they go to the level of profound feelings of shame and unworthiness – even unworthiness of life. How many women, suffering these wounds, succeed only in describing the most superficial emotional symptoms, and feel ashamed even of admitting those? And how many psychiatrists, running on a ticking clock, diagnose only on the basis of those superficial symptoms, and miss the core of the problem completely?

That was certainly my experience….and from talking with other women, I know I was not alone in this (though I certainly believed I was at the time).

Instead of an exploration into all the factors that might be causing a woman’s suffering,  however, she receives a new diagnostic identity (“clinically depressed,” “bipolar,” “depression/anxiety disorder,” or what have you), a scrip pad is whipped out and the latest drug is prescribed for the perceived pathology… sometimes, theoretically, to dial down the symptoms until she can learn to do it herself through therapy.

More often, however, therapy is severely limited or left out of the equation entirely, based on insurance restrictions: it’s costly and uncertain, dependent on the therapist’s skill and the patient’s willingness to heal. Now, so far from empowering the patient to take any personal, active ownership of her own mental health,  supplementary drugs (with side effects including suicidal ideation even in adults) are being promoted in case the original antidepressant doesn’t solve the problem!

And with the message being subliminally repeated again and again – doctors and drugs make you better, your experience is chemically based or pathological, you are sick and we have the cure – there is nothing to suggest, instead, that the client has control of her mind, that she can choose her thoughts, that she can imagine more than one interpretation to an incident or a conversation, that she can reframe and heal from past or present traumas, that she can own her feelings and perceptions and intuitions and deep wisdom,  that her mind is her sacred territory and not a chemist’s test tube. In fact, the very people who claim to be helping her are, instead, leading her deeper into disempowerment and dependency.

As James Hillman points out in The Myth of Analysis, the roots of this pattern go back to the beginning of psychiatry as a science, back in 1817, when psychiatric pioneer Jean-Etienne-Dominique Esquirol equated visions with hallucinations, thus effectively placing matters of soul on a par with pathology. The pattern, driven by the rationalist French Enlightenment, continues to influence psychiatry even now…and while psychospiritual therapy is gaining ground, psychopathology and psychopharmacology still have a firm grip on insurance payouts.

All of this, of course, is light-years from Jung’s view that the patient held the keys to his or her own process, that s/he had the intuitions and connection to Spirit/Source necessary to effect healing from within; the therapist’s role was to support the work. Or even from the Buddhist technique of contemplative therapy, using meditation as a tool to become aware of and rein in rogue thoughts and emotions. Both of these are facilitated approaches; both place a high value on the client’s own inner awareness and guidance system.

I’m not saying I  believe the brain can’t have organic or chemical disorders; certainly the boundary between physiological, psychological and spiritual affects appears to be very porous: autism is being linked to environmental toxins and extreme depressions to postnatal hormones; thoughts are known to affect brain chemistry;  and psychologists from C.G. Jung to Dr.  Maureen B. Roberts have reported remarkable results in treating schizophrenia without anti-psychotic medications. For this reason, I believe that chemical treatment as the default  serves the insurers’ and pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines at the expense of the client’s true healing.

And frighteningly, as Big Pharma gains an ever-tighter stranglehold on health freedoms, this default appears likely to become more the norm, not less.

I fired my last psychiatrist for that pharmaceutical default, and was blessed – and driven – in pursuing healing on my terms. My late husband’s work with an international men’s organization led me to a women’s personal growth community that provided my first taste of Jungian deep-process work. From there I went on to experience healing insights through Earth-based spirituality, shamanic paths, Five Elements acupuncture, Reiki, mystic spiritual traditions,  diet and supplement changes, and have been blessed with the help of rare and wise healers and teachers all along the way …..it’s been a long and continuing mind/body/spirit path, with plenty of twists and turns and switchbacks and heights and depths and detours.

I’m recognizing now that that ongoing experience has not only been a life-saving process of personal healing, but also a process of claiming my mind and soul, my right to my life and self-determination, from a grossly dysfunctional culture that cynically fosters a half-life of profitably marketable distractions, addictions and dependencies rather than placing a value on personal awareness, aliveness, and inward and outward responsibility.

It’s a process necessary and unique for each of us…not just a self-indulgent exercise in achieving  personal wholeness, but a culture-saving process that makes it possible for us to take an effective role in healing our society and our world.

If we do not recognize the patterns that bind us psychologically, how can we work to change them, or recognize the impacts (good or ill) of the patterns that guide other cultures? If we’re not awake to our culture’s (and our own) blind addictions and dependency on outward solutions and outward scapegoats, how can we stand for responsibility in ourselves, our communities, our nation, or our planet?

Looking from this perspective, my friend’s death is not just a tragedy for herself, her family, and all who knew her – but also for the world. And the conditions that led to her death – her death, and that of how many others? –  represent the grossest possible social injustice.

Deep questions for a bright morning

Pondering questions springing from a disconcerting conversation last night (trying to phrase these in the most open-ended manner possible):

  • Does the overlap between  new theories of quantum science and ancient metaphysical and shamanic principles  lead you to a perspective focused on personal desires, intention and goals, and/or to a mystical experience of awe, wonder, relatedness?
  • What point on the spectrum of and/or resonates as a personal place of balance?
  • What is the impact of that point on personal consciousness and action? On others, human and nonhuman? On the planet?
  • How does this experience shape personal choices regarding responsibility and action?

Comments, thoughts, insights invited!

(As a p.s. – Thank you, Angela Blueskies, for your beautiful and profound meditation on these questions! )

Seeking What’s Essential

I saw a church sign today, offering the week’s Sunday sermon: The Tragic Fall from Faith to Religion. The preaching was long past, so I don’t know what the gist of the message was, but the topic stayed with me. It reminded me of the verse from the Tao te Ching (translation by A.S. Kline):

When the great Way is lost
There is ‘benevolence and rectitude’.
When cleverness appears
There is ‘great ritual’.
When the family is not harmonious,
There is ‘filial piety’.
When the state is in chaos
There are ‘loyal’ ministers.

The message appears to be that when the essence is (apparently) lost, we turn to the empty forms to maintain appearances…but what happens when the empty forms – being empty – no longer satisfy?

But I have a further question: If the essence is so easily lost, was it really there in the first place – or was it just a childlike belief in a wish-fulfilling god like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy?

Many people say that this is the question that led them away from any spiritual practice:  because the magical wish-fulfilling god faded, and the forms failed to satisfy, there’s nothing left to believe in.  It’s easy to give up on the whole deal and turn to distractions: workaholism, TV, gaming,  “retail therapy,” various addictions to stay busy (or sedated) and keep attention focused outward.

But every so often the Essential breaks through on the heels of illness, death, broken relationships, loss of a job or a pet – and the questions begin to surface from underneath the piles of distractions: what does it all mean, anyway? Why am I here?

With popular wisdom holding that legitimate answers come from outside – i.e., that authorized ministers or psychologists are the proper ones to provide answers to such questions – we may seek Essence in predigested religious studies or self-help programs. We may zero in on a favorite preacher or motivational speaker and follow his or her every seminar, book, and CD, finally referencing our chosen guru in every conversation.  We may take process workshop after process workshop, structured retreat after structured retreat…struggling to hold onto our hard-won learnings and insights in the cold light of the workaday world…

And if we’re lucky — and aren’t distracted from our goal by the vehicles we’ve chosen to get there – we might begin to connect with Essence, step by slow step.

So what’s the answer? If even religious and motivational inspirations are not solutions but means to an end – where can we turn? Who has the Answer?

I believe the answer isn’t a secret, it’s not trademarked, and it’s nobody’s intellectual property…in fact, it’s so obvious it appears banal. And in the end, I don’t believe that the answer we personally recognize as Essential is necessarily accessible by anyone else’s process. In the end, when all the outside answers prove insufficient, it’s time to set sail upon the unknown to find the Truth within.

My experience: there’s all the difference in the world between attaching blindly, forcefully, to predigested concepts, memorizing approved doctrines and translations, rejecting all but imprimatured verbiage, hoping that somehow, someday, the sanctioned truth will trickle down from head to heart, versus connecting to Spirit experientially in oneness with the earth, the stars, the whole of creation… sitting still, touching and sensing, questioning insights and beliefs, and allowing Essential understanding to arise from within.

My experience:  there’s an enormous difference between laboring under guilt for real or imagined sins, versus witnessing cherished certitudes, wounds, fears, habits as they show up in my life, and compassionately choosing how to deal with them. Allowing chasm-like experiences of emptiness, nothingness, grief, to discover that Essence is as close as my own heartbeat. Discovering that when I finally get my yammering mind to turn off its protests, complaints, excuses, and be quiet, Essential knowing can finally show up.

I  believe that it’s ultimately up to each of us to move beyond chapter-and-verse literalism or osmotic absorption and find the thread that ties belief to Essence for us alone.  Daring to step outside the catechetical box to seek and recognize who, or what, the reality of God, Goddess, Spirit, Higher Power, Source, Essence, is in our authentic experience…and to build a real faith on that recognition. Growing beyond childish wish-fulfillment and rote religion to own our mature spirituality.

As Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

Ultimately (we) should not ask what the meaning of Life is, but rather must recognize that it is (we) who are asked. In a word, each is questioned by Life, and we can only answer to Life by answering for our own life: to Life we can only respond by being responsible.

Is it frightening? Of course! Does it get easier? I would tend to doubt it….

But the question is – do we choose a life of empty forms and empty distractions, or a voyage of discovery, however challenging?

Finding the Secret Magic “They’re” Not Hiding From Us

It’s one of the most powerful marketing secrets out there: that most of us have a hidden, painful sense of inadequacy… a lurking subconscious suspicion that some super-informed and miserly “They” are keeping all the ability, the skills, the knowledge about useful (or lifesaving!) topics from the rest of Us.

Just take a look at the pages that came up in a quick Google search (these are selected from the 95,900,000 results listed!)…

  • 20 Things They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Debt Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About
  • The Secrets Creative People Don’t Want the Rest of Us to Know

Doesn’t it sound like there’s massive conspiracy to keep the information we need out of our hands?

As a copywriter I can tell you, however: while there are certainly big secrets being kept (the scope of the Gulf oil disaster, the health impact of GMO’s – pick your issue…), it’s a pretty fair certainty that the “secrets” listed above aren’t among them.

These are pseudo-secrets – solid, practical, available knowledge, enticingly labeled and posted behind multiple sales spiels that tap into our inner victim, compelling us to click through and read the article and/or buy the info-product ….proving the effectiveness of that headline template over and over again.

Yup, it’s a template, recommended by just about every copywriting course I know. Tapping into our underlying feelings of victimhood is that effective.

Let’s take that headline on creative people as just one example (and as a disclaimer, I know the woman who wrote it. Promoting Us-vs-Them victimization or disempowerment is completely against her values, vision and mission; the event she was promoting intentionally disproved the premise – but not the power – of her headline).

To look at the number of web pages focused on boosting creativity (a quick Google search turned up 2,090,000 or so), a lot of people are feeling uncreative these days. And when you look at the rising cultural pastimes – surfing the Internet and watching television – the reason quickly becomes apparent: we’re becoming passive receivers.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: it’s easier to relax and enjoy the fruits of other people’s creativity than it is to create our own, and as we exercise our creative muscles less and less, the harder it becomes to use them at all…so we become increasingly dependent on outside sources. And the cycle deepens….

Worse: if you’ve grown up with the idea that you’re not creative – that you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, or draw a stick figure – you don’t have a lot of incentive to try.

But there’s a cost to sitting back and receiving, buying into this sense of powerlessness.As visionary theologian/author/educator Matthew Fox writes in his revolutionary book Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, creativity is an inescapable element of our humanity, which we ignore at our peril:

We are a species and indeed a civilization very prone to dictatorships; that is, to addiction. It is as if we want to turn our power over to others….I propose that most addictions come from our surrendering our own real powers, that is, our power of creativity. We get a temporary “high” from a shot of some external stimulus, be it nicotine or sugar, speed or acid, sex or more money, entertainment or television – and that is our sad substitute for the joy and ecstasy of creativity and creation.

This was a powerful “aha” for me. Even as a writer, producing copy for clients upon demand, I knew I wasn’t going as deep as I could if I dared. I was being creative, sure, but there was something missing. And I was looking at the experts – coaches, copywriting gurus, etc. – and thinking, “Perhaps if I took just one more course…….”

I didn’t find the answer until I went for a two-week training out of state, and returned to find my home reeking and filthy and my garden dying from the neglect of the person I’d (unwisely) employed as house/cat-sitter. I was battling my way through costly repairs, replacements, and cleaning to reclaim my home, feeling my energy steadily sliding into depression and victimhood…

…And then I read this, also from Creativity:

When our ancestors discovered fire back in the savannahs of Africa over a million years ago, they set out on a great journey. When they arrived at the place we not call EuroAsia, the ice age broke out. There they were, fresh from the heat of Africa, forced to live in caves for seven hundred thousand years. Did they give up? Did they fall into masochism and say “Woe is we!”? No. They got to work. They put their imaginations to work. They learned how to prepare hides, sew warm outfits, hunt animals for food and clothing, and how to tell tales around the campfire and entertain themselves. In short, this is where our creativity came to birth.

And I realized: my creativity isn’t limited to the work I do for my clients. My creativity can dictate the mundane choices I make as I live my life. I can sit feeling victimized and depleted, or I can use the skills and tools I have at hand to envision new answers, craft new solutions.

I gathered the materials I’ve collected for space-clearing and got to work…and the energy of my home – and my mind – changed. As I moved through the house, smudging and singing “We are the rising sun – we are the change – we are the ones we are waiting for – and we are dawning – we are the rising sun,” I began to embody the song as a truth in my life.

And out of that truth arose a question: What if – just as a wild possibility – I’m feeling uncreative because I am simply not recognizing the creativity I use every day?

What if creativity is not just about writing copy…producing works of Art…or even saving sanity in a high-stress situation? What if creativity can show up in something as mundane as crafting a healthy dinner from mismatched odds and ends in the fridge…rewiring your home’s electricity…or negotiating a truce between two arguing children?

In a culture that identifies creativity with the computer-generated, special-effected, airbrushed, Photoshopped megaprojects featuring an elite class of Beautiful People, such everyday practical creativity comes off looking as glamorous as a tone-deaf shower singer.

But – if what I was reading and realizing was true – creative skills don’t need to be flamboyant and artsy; they’re also mundane, everyday, practical, as much a part of us as our thumbs. Perhaps they’re not producing a blockbuster movie, a million-dollar art sale or a lifetime income in book royalties – but we could not survive without them.

“But leftovers and fuse boxes and peace among the kids – that’s not a creative legacy,” you might think.

Or is it? Food on the table, lights in the dark, and lessons in living together…these make up the most basic legacy of all, one of nurturing, protecting, civilizing.

My mother wrote many emphatic op-ed columns on conservative politics and religion – but the earth-loving values she lived were the legacy she gifted to me. And while my husband left a massive artistic and spiritual legacy, his carefully-drawn schematic of the wiring he installed in our house is the practical legacy that has kept our lights lit, our basement unflooded, and our frozen foods unthawed. We pass on all sorts of legacies in ways we’d never expect…or necessarily intend.

Of course creativity takes many forms, from a leftover casserole to an  electrical schematic to Michelangelo’s David or James Cameron’s Avatar….but that experience of reclaiming my home taught me that honoring the creativity in our mundane, everyday choices is the foundation. Consciously developing intentional, creative solutions for the challenges of our daily lives, rather than going with the easiest default — clearing the energy of the house instead of wallowing in victimhood – making up a new recipe rather than hitting the speed-dial for pizza – talking with the kids about (creative!) problem-solving techniques rather than plunking them in front of the TV.

To adapt another quote from Matthew Fox: Creativity is not just about (artwork). It is about ALL your creative energy put to good use. We practice our creativity in the ways we choose to show up, in all the facets of our lives…in the beauty we enact, as well as the beauty we create.

So far from conspiratorial cabals of Grinchlike gurus hiding secret knowledge from us, the real question becomes: what are the secret gifts that we’re hiding from ourselves?

Death and Ceremony on Sacred Land

Nearly four years ago, I witnessed a tiny, shattering microcosm of the destruction being wreaked on the Earth. I was sitting by the fire-circle of my husband’s teacher (“Coyote”)’s sweatlodge, at the edge of a forest where he had often conducted vision quests…sacred land consecrated by years of ceremony. And now this land was under threat: the legal owners wanted the trees logged and sold so they could get double the value of the wetland before they sold it for development. Legal steps had been taken, counter-offers made to preserve the land, with no result. The loggers were due to move in soon.

I had been meditating at the fire circle for much of that morning. The sky was brilliantly blue and the trees just beginning to show a tinge of green. A fox had passed close by me an hour or so ago, stopping briefly to look in my direction before it trotted on. In my state of mind at that point everything seemed radiant, quivering with life, living silence cradling me like a nest.

That was when the chainsaw roared, somewhere over the hill to the north. I heard and felt it bite into wood and felt the energy of an elder tree being attacked. The grinding din entered my head, then my body – I sat wanting to run, but paralyzed, feeling the rending shock in my own body as each limb was severed and fell to the forest floor. Tears were pouring down my face as I pleaded with Spirit – make them stop, please make them stop – but there was no stopping, only pauses while the loggers prepared for the next assault. I felt I was bearing witness at a murder, wanting to run, unable to move. Finally, I heard/felt a rending scream as the tree fell and there was silence. I gathered my things and fled, half-hysterical with grief, up the path to the field where my car was parked.

At the street entrance to the other side of the property I slowed the car, seeing the heavy machinery parked down the rutted gravel access road. Should I go in, try to stop them – How? I started shaking at the thought of witnessing more trees felled, and drove home to call Coyote.

He heard my story and the frantic prayers I’d been making, and after a brief silence said “That’s not going to stop them.” He told me that he would go to see where the cutting had taken place, and he’d give me directions: if I was willing, I should go and offer tobacco to the trees that had died and ask for guidance on how to stop the cutting. I agreed.

The loggers wouldn’t come on a Saturday, but I went early anyway. The cutting had been roughly a mile from the lodge, downhill through thick underbrush and across several small streams. The clear-cut patch stood out like a massacre. I could recognize the lingering energy of the tree that had been cut first; it was indeed an elder. Even before I physically reached the cutting, its violence hit me like a blow – I doubled up, holding on to a small sapling, and retched. When the spasms had passed I went to the stump of the elder tree and knelt down in the sawdust, offering tobacco and asking forgiveness that I had not been able to stop the loggers.

As I knelt there with my hand on the stump – still moist with sap – I felt a sense of peace, understanding and forgiveness from the tree. I’d shared in its suffering and death, and I could take action to stop further deaths. I was asked to request a sweatlodge ceremony with the intent of stopping the logging.

I thanked the tree, offered tobacco with prayers of sorrow and release to the other trees that had been felled, and returned to offer tobacco to Coyote with the request. To my surprise, he said that the sweatlodge ceremony needed to be performed solo, by me alone – that he could guide and support, but could not participate. I hoped that I could remember how to do the ceremony properly from witnessing Coyote, my husband and other water-pourers, and Coyote said the lodge would be under his protection and responsibility. We set the date – the Saturday before Easter.

The day dawned bright and clear. I went early to the cutting site to gather stones along with discarded slices from each of the felled trees: one slice would be used in every round of the ceremony. I cleared the lodge circle of leaves and twigs, revealing dozens of tiny holes where cicadas had emerged, then with Coyotes help, hauled wood and water to the lodge and covered the frame with tarps. I laid and lit the fire and sang as I fanned it, a song I’d learned when my husband Sundanced. It was one of the few ceremonial songs I knew, with a translation I’d heard as “I do this because I live.” I could not live with myself, I felt, if I did not do this ceremony.

The rocks heated and it was time to go in. I brought in the first stones and began singing the song that called in the energies of the six directions. Called in the powers of the Earth, Sun, Moon and Stars, the plants, animals, humans, and elementals, and finally the powers of love and unity in the universe. I felt the energy in the Lodge growing as I sang. I stated the intention of the ceremony at the songs’ end, then opened the door, rested briefly, and went to bring in more stones.

I opened the second round with an honoring song to all the relations who gave away their lives at the hands of humans, and grief at the destruction I’d heard and witnessed rose up in sobs and screams. Finally the emotion dwindled and I asked the energies in the Lodge what I should do, knowing that this was only one of many forests – sacred lands – being despoiled.

A vision came then of the answer, and how it would feel to act upon it.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a daze, and I returned home barely present in my body. To the best of my knowledge, the cutting stopped for a period of six years. The answer that was given to me in the Lodge was later repeated as I sat praying in another forest, also at risk.

The Vision that Started It All

Age 10, sitting on the swings, watching the sunset: the light saturated everything around me, swings, sliding board, trees, house, birds…it all shone from within, became energy, connected living energy-forms, conscious, feeling, thinking, communicating, sacred, shining with divinity.

When I emerged from immersion in the living Interconnected cosmos, so much realer than any catechism lesson, I ran inside to tell the story:

Mommy, mommy…!  —  We don’t believe that, dear, that’s pantheism, it’s heresy.

That was the beginning of my journey, with a Church-wound dividing soul from soul, soul from self, and soul from the transcendent/immanent Divinity of the cosmos.