As we sink deeper into darkness approaching winter solstice, poet-playwright, actor, director & author David Sparenberg offers this breathtaking video “inviting all Sufis, Gypsies, poets, alchemists, mystics and lovers to come and have a look. This is an alternative to violence video, to the cult and culture…”
I shut down another conversation the other day on Facebook. Didn’t intend to do it…but my comment was one of those that are met with embarrassed averted eyes and even more embarrassed silences.
No, I wasn’t sharing the intimate details of my health, sex life, or bathroom habits. I wasn’t evangelizing or objecting to the exclusive holiday greeting “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” or what have you (though I do object to such exclusivity, early and often).
So what taboo did I break in this supposedly taboo-free society? I responded to a friend’s posting of Elaine Boosler’s comment: “When women are depressed, they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.”
I pointed out that even if women hold ourselves aloof from macho male militarism, as long as we are purchasing goods that are kept artificially cheap by American companies’ outsourcing to regions with lower standards of living, extracting fossil fuels, minerals, tropical woods and other resources from impoverished nations that are happy to sell off their virgin ecosystems for desperately needed cash, and employing workers in sweatshops at below-living wages, that we, the nonviolent women, are morally responsible for the militarism that protects the companies that provide these goods.
It’s the truth that nobody wants to acknowledge. It’s so much easier to blame somebody else – Extremists in Congress, the Military, the unchecked Corporations otherwise known as The Bigs – Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Agro, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big X – Big Y – Big Z – when the truth is that none of these powerful perceived villains would ever have gotten their power or grown to their cancerous size without our buy-in…our votes (or non-votes)…our taxes…our energy and dietary and health care choices…our “therapeutic” shopping…feeding them.
But what other choice do we have in our society, we ask? Surely we need oil to run our cars, warm our houses, make the uncountable numbers of plastic and resin and synthetic-fabric products that fill our homes and offices and hospitals and …well, you get the idea…our society is based on petroleum products! Surely we need coal to keep our lights on and our appliances and computers running – how can a few (hundred) mountaintops and valley ecosystems and species compare to the importance of keeping the power on? Surely we need industrial agriculture to feed our families – not to mention the hungry of the world, isn’t Monsanto solving the problem of world hunger with their genetic tinkering? And pharmaceuticals keep our symptoms at bay, and insurance pays for the rising costs of modern healthcare…well, some of them, anyway…
It all comes down to the core belief that we don’t really have any other options. We’re not in a position to argue – we just have to make the best of the godawful, toxic situation we’ve got, with the Bigs getting bigger every day, the planet getting more compromised every day, more ecosystems and species failing every day, while our balances of money – and hope – grow smaller every day.
And the popular solutions? Work! Shop! Eat! Watch television! Go to the movies or the casino! Pump up that flabby sixpack at the gym or on WII Fit! Invade another country on World of Warcraft! Ingest narcotic substances! Reality is a nightmare, so let’s go virtual, or numb out completely! And maybe before it all goes down, science will have found a way to get us off this planet to embrace mankind’s Destiny: despoiling other planets, having trashed our Mother Earth.
What a grim scenario…no wonder nobody wants to talk about it! With our eyes myopically fixed on the situation-as-it-is, our energy and our brainpower enmeshed in our jobs, we’re frantically scrabbling to save what we have, make small changes (sure, we say, I’m eco-conscious! I’ve swapped all my lightbulbs and I’m a real nut about recycling!). But God forbid we challenge any core certitudes (least of all our own) or consider making deep changes in our lives….
….because we can’t.…
But what if we do have other options? Maybe, as theologian Matthew Fox proposes in Original Blessing, this apparent hopelessness, this paralyzing “I can’t-ism” itself stems from a self-negating certitude* that needs challenging: the certitude that we, ourselves, are somehow insufficient, powerless, not capable of self-motivation, self-management, direct connection with the Divine. The certitude that we need others, more powerful, richer, more authoritative, more degreed, more ecclesiastically accredited, to employ us, direct us and control things for us. The certitude that we are isolated individuals who cannot change our own lives… much less our society…much less our world. The certitude that we, alone, personally need to control and drive any change we initiate, and that this is a crushing, impossible responsibility.
As Betty Friedan wrote – “Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women’s denigration of themselves.” Or rather, make that humans’ denigration of ourselves….
But what if we can come up with other solutions…or notice the solutions that already exist, right under our noses…solutions that might start with lightbulbs and recycling, sure, but go much, much deeper….? What if we start to believe that our imaginations, our intent, our love – not just our anger and frustration – can move mountains?
What if, when we (metaphorically) pray for rain, we start carrying umbrellas?
Awhile back I attended an afternoon symposium called Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream, and just recently trained as a facilitator. It’s a multimedia, interactive program developed by the Pachamama Alliance, bringing together the best of millenia-old indigenous wisdom with the most visionary concepts of the modern scientific worldview to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just, spiritually fulfilling culture on the Earth.
In one portion of the symposium, we gather together with others in our community to discuss and discover what we are already doing – and can do. We link up our ideas, campaigns, organizations. Most important, we discover that we are not alone…that there is a groundswell of likeminded people stirring at the grassroots level, group after group arising to save one aspect of the planet, or to care for one group of the People…and another…and another…
We watch Paul Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest” speech and realize that millions of such organizations are working today around the earth…as the Achuar people who initiated the Pachamama Alliance say, it is the spirit of the conscious planet taking action to protect herself, and her life forms…inspiring people to do the work that is needed, guiding them along the way to find the right connections and resources…
We. Are. Not. Alone.
I could quote Goethe at this point, about the Universe acting to support us once we commit ourselves…but instead, I’ll close this post with a story.
Last week I went on a two-day retreat with a very wise and unassuming holy woman. I was struggling with my own forms of confusion and “I can’t-ism” – moving from work with one Teacher to seek a stronger connection to the Light within. In our conversations, she urged me to ask for inner guidance, and listen not only with my mind but also with my heart and body…to sit in “eyeball to eyeball” conversation with Spirit, however I experienced Spirit, and seek the inner voice, not in desperation or begging or presumptive problem-solving, but in silence.
After our conversation, she sent me to seek and follow inner guidance for the day – whether to sit indoors and read, meditate, and journal, or go outside to walk the grounds and connect with the Earth for grounding and direction.
So I went outside, asking for direction, noting the springs that arose from the ground and cut across the fields toward a wetland at the bottom of the property. Drawn to follow them, I stood at the bank of a small stream, barely a foot wide, and felt led to step over it, onto a small island completely surrounded by small separate streams. Ahead of me, two trees called to my attention. I approached, and between the trees found a pile of rusted metal junk, and felt the inner calling to remove it.
“How?” I asked, and the inner leading directed me back to the house…where my hostess was talking with her neighbor, a farmer who had been working for years on cleaning up and restoring the wetland. He was delighted to provide a wheelbarrow and practical advice for the job. My hostess provided work gloves and boots, and thus supplied, I had the pile cleared within a couple of hours, receiving further guidance in every quandary.
The message was clear: ask for guidance and it would come, step by step…if I consciously remained focused and aware. Whether I chose to say it came from God, Goddess, the Earth, the Universe, the Unified Field, what have you, the guidance came. I was not alone – guided by the Divine, the Earth, and helped by the People, and I could create a change. Yes, a small change…but a change, a beginning.
I believe that this is the key to real and lasting change, not on behalf of the planet, but in partnership with Spirit, the People, and the sentient Earth….and that each of us is capable of that partnership.
And I would like to invite your stories of similar experiences, if you are willing. If you feel called to share, please add them in the Comments below, or email them to me at phila @ soulpathsthejourney.org. Together we can create an empowering affirmation of partnership that goes beyond our individual abilities.
* Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe, NM. Bear & Company, 1983) p. 120
Where have the words gone –
over perception –
assigning meme, not meaning
to pure phenomenon
I sit in woodland
sucked – whoosh –
into a febrile vortex
Tumbled and mashed
in a transmuting maelstrom
of shamanic vision
out false dogma
in true heresy)
through an imaginal wormhole
Words have no place here
prisons of meaning
Crush them to Essence
surrender to formlessness
Dance with the nameless
dust of exploded stars
whirling to coalesce
(with thanks to Theodore Richards’ Cosmosophia for the inspiration)
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.
THE MYSTERY OF LOVE
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.
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! )
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?