Stop letting the days go by

An invitation, from my heart to yours

It’s been several years since I woke up to the fact that we live our lives at the nexus of the personal, political and planetary. By this I mean that our individual lives are enmeshed in and shaped by the collective experience around us, and the wider backdrop of the physical environment in which we live. 

This may seem obvious, but when it comes to thinking about our lives, very often we tend to place all our emphasis on the personal story, giving only the barest of nods to the role of the political and planetary systems that are, whether or not we acknowledge it, the scaffolding that enables (and sometimes constrains) our individual possibilities. 

Suddenly, in the post-COVID world, many more people are coming to understand the essential role played by the political and planetary in our personal lives. The importance of health, in the personal, political and planetary sense, is now foremost in the minds of almost all of us, it seems. We see clearly how impossible it is to be healthy as individuals if our political systems are corrupt and our environment is diseased. 

The invitation of this dire year, 2020, is to dig deep into the question made famous by David ByrneHow did I get here? 

His answer: Letting the days go by….

To some extent, all of us have drifted heedlessly to this watershed moment, letting the days go by, letting the political system rot, letting the generals, finance wizards and corporate masters rule, letting the racism and bigotry go on, letting our planet be poisoned and our fellow Earth beings go extinct, letting ourselves be carried in the fierce undertow of the 20th century to finally hit up against the stark realization that this cannot go on. 

The despair that allows us to tap into and express this deep, heartfelt insight is also the potent seedbed of the vision that comes next, of the world that could be, if we begin to align the personal, political and planetary in ways that are healthy for all. 

If you are fortunate enough to have the time and space for reflection now—as the wildfires and floods rage, as the political and economic systems crack, as the winds of collective and planetary change sweep over us all—then I invite you to inquire into how you, as an individual, got to this particularly fraught moment in time. 

This inquiry is not about guilt or regret; it’s not about blame or anger, although aspects of these strong emotions may show up as your excavation deepens. 

It’s about seeing how the threads of your personal experience are woven tightly into the tapestry of the larger collective social and environmental reality in which you have lived. It’s about taking stock of how your experience has been shaped by the circumstances into which you were born and in which your individual life played out. And about how you, in turn, contributed to the warp and woof of that larger tapestry of collective experience.

Once we are able to see the past clearly, we can begin to understand the present more fully. And from this place of understanding, we can move into the future more intentionally, more responsibly, with greater awareness of the power each of us has, as an individual, to make choices that affect the collective experience not only of other humans, but of the entire world system in which we live. 

There is much we cannot control about our world. But we can choose where to put our focus each day. We can choose to focus on the positive that continues to resound in our experience: the beautiful colors of the sunrise and sunset, the stubborn persistence of the weeds that flower in the sidewalk cracks, the cool touch of wind and rain after a long hot day. 

This is not a matter of denying the horrors and injustices of our time. It is a matter of tuning our own awareness to a positive, harmonious, resonant pitch that gives us the strength to stand up and fight, each in our own way, for a better world.

This is what I call “aligning the personal, political and planetary for a thriving future.” Once we understand how we got here, on all levels, we can take the next step of envisioning the brighter future we want to live into, and roll up our sleeves to work actively towards bringing that bright vision into reality. 

I invite you to join me on this journey of introspection, embarking on the inner, personal work that leads to action in the outer, political and planetary world.  

You don’t have to be interested in writing a memoir to enjoy and benefit from this contemplative practice. 

This inquiry is for anyone who wants to understand how we got here. It’s for anyone who wants to stop drifting, letting the days go by. It’s for everyone who is ready to start working actively to align the personal, political and planetary in service to the thriving future we all so deeply desire. 

This invitation is for you; from my heart to yours. 

Namaste.

The sun always rises. Photo by J. Browdy, October 2020.

Next online purposeful memoir workshop:

October 18, 2 – 4 pm EST.

Join me on the journey…more information here.

Just remember to breathe

We knew what to expect, didn’t we? Donald Trump is a street brawler from Queens, turned Manhattan mobster, and he certainly acted the part in the first so-called presidential debate. It was, as everyone bemoaned on the morning after, a disgrace, a national embarrassment, a total sh*t-show.

Well, I have a bright idea. 

The media should stop enabling Trump’s bullying. If he can’t participate in a civilized exchange, fine! Let him and Biden each have their own 90-minute slot to discuss their vision for the country with a moderator (or a panel). 

Let Trump stand in the spotlight all by himself, and put his incoherent, racist, misogynist, arrogant, moronic self on full display. 

And then let Biden do the same. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he looks like an angel next to the orange demon. We’ll take him!

I am straining to reach for a thread of positivity to catch hold of today. I’ve been awake for almost 12 hours, and I’m still straining. 

One thing I know is that for us human herd animals, emotions are contagious and self-reinforcing. One smile leads to another; but the same is true for frowns too. 

When we are constantly bombarded with negative emotions, via the media and each other, the negativity quickly builds into a vortex of toxic energy that whips over the entire psychic landscape like a tornado, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

We have to resist this! This is what Meg Wheatley means when she calls on us to become “warriors for the human spirit,” creating “islands of sanity and calm” in the midst of all the chaos of our time.

This morning I was distressed as I settled on to my yoga mat, in need of the able physical/mental/emotional massage of Jurian Hughes’ gentle yoga class. 

Come back to your breath, Jurian reminded the 80+ people who joined the virtual class. No matter how out of control things seem, one thing you can control is your breath.

And by the end of the hour of deep breathing and slow deliberate movement, I was calm again. Not happy; not buoyant; but calm and ready to face my day.

We can’t control what others do. We can make suggestions, and here’s mine: next time give each man his own stage, or at least turn off the damn microphone so they can only be heard one at a time! 

But on a day-to-day basis all we can do is to try to remain anchored in the present moment of our ordinary, physical lives, which for most of us continue on their own rhythms no matter what the clowns on stage are doing. 

Try not to let your active imagination trigger your fight-or-flight fear reflex over something that is happening far away, or that might happen in the uncertain future. 

When you resist the tornado of fear that threatens to send you spinning into panic or depression over something you can’t control, you are doing your part as a “warrior of the human spirit,” holding your positive vibration steady for everyone.

This matters. It matters for you, and it matters for everyone around you. It matters for the psychic energy of our whole human tribe, and by extension for the health and wellbeing of our entire Gaian web of life. 

For all of our sakes, please—remember to breathe.

In memory of RBG, we must stand up for justice

Moments after the NPR notification appeared on my phone—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died—my social media feeds also lit up with shock and distress. Dear Ruth, so beloved by so many! She tried so hard to stay alive until after the election, and she came close…dying on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. 

As is often the case with Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah has a serious tone to it. The day RBG died is the first of 10 days of introspection, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for one’s mistakes over the past year, along with a vow to do better in the coming year. 

Although I am not a practicing Jew, this ritual of taking stock of one’s transgressions at the start of the New Year seems like a wise one to me. I think many Americans are asking ourselves these days: how did it come to this? How did we let it come to this?

Well, my fellow Americans, it came to this because we were not paying close enough attention. We were not willing to rock the boat. We were not willing to give up our comforts. 

Justice Ginsburg was a shining example of a woman who paid attention. She repeatedly rocked the boat to stand up for her principles, and was beyond stoic in her willingness to sacrifice her personal comfort in order to serve her country. 

Imagine, at 87, after several battles with cancer, still working out at the gym to stay fit enough to keep going to work every day at an exhausting, demanding job. 

Gail Collins, in an admiring eulogy column, offered this summary of RBG’s trail-blazing legacy and her legendary grit:

“She came up as part of that first generation of women who proved they could mix families and careers, who stunned the authority figures in even the most demanding parts of their profession with their determination. While she was in law school at Harvard, her husband came down with testicular cancer. She went to his classes, brought him back notes, took care of their little girl … and made the law review.”

So many hard-working professional women today stand on the shoulders of women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thanks to her, the doors to power have been cracked open a little wider, allowing more women to step through more easily. 

But we still have a long way to go, and without RBG at the Supreme Court, or someone like her, America will continue its backslide towards what I can only call patriarchal fascism. 

Thanks to the social and economic devastation of the coronavirus, the wildfires and the hurricanes, coupled with the open train wreck of Republican “leadership” and the twin threats of militarized police forces and death-dealing vigilantism, Americans are finally paying attention. 

The Black Lives Matter movement showed that when people get angry enough to take to the streets en masse, change happens. 

No political tyrants have ever been able to withstand the will of the people when they refuse to go along with oppression. 

Americans above all should know this, coming from a country that proudly celebrates its birth in revolution. 

But revolution, or civil war, is always a tool of last resort. America has prospered as a law-abiding country, with good people like Justice Ginsburg working to bend the moral arc towards justice through the legal system. 

However, if the Republicans have their way, it is quite possible that RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court will be filled by someone who wants to bend the law towards oppression.

Americans have to pay attention, and refuse to let this happen. 

I still can’t understand how we all stood by and let Bush Jr. steal the election from Gore in 2000. 

How have we stood by while the Republicans gerrymandered the districts to give themselves the advantage in the state legislatures?

For that matter, how have we allowed the injustice of the Electoral College to stand for so long?

How have we stood by and allowed police brutality against people of color to continue with impunity?

How have we stood by and allowed women to be hobbled by the expectation that they will do unpaid housework and child care while also working jobs for which they are paid less than their male counterparts?

How have we stood by and allowed the corporate chieftains to throw the planet into the maw of industry, with the resulting extinction of millions of species?

How have we stood by and allowed America to thumb its nose at the rest of the world’s efforts to get a grip on climate disruption?

This long list could be much longer. The point is that in my lifetime, Americans have just stood by as our supposed shining city on the hill became ever more tarnished and corrupted. And now, in our networked, globalized human civilization, we are dragging the rest of the world down with us into the pits. 

Each of us bears some responsibility for the way things are now. And each of us has the power to act to make things better.

Of course, we all have to go vote. That goes without saying. 

But like so many Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, I find it hard to trust that we will have a just electoral process this year. 

And if the vote is stolen, if the election is rigged…then what? Are we going to stand by, like we did in 2000, and let the Supreme Court decide? Of course, that is why the Senate Republicans are suddenly slavering to appoint a Justice now, before the election.

How hard will they have to push Americans before a critical mass decides it’s time to stop standing by and letting the Republicans get away with the murder and mayhem they have inflicted on the country?

No one wants to see civil war erupt in the United States, and yet the conditions are ripe for it: a bitterly polarized citizenry, vast wealth disparity, and the powder keg potential of armed vigilantes and militarized police. 

The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg brings us closer to this nightmare vision. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one tossing and turning last night, unable to sleep. 

I have no words of comfort to offer. 

We are in a transition time and the contractions have started. The pain will be real, the suffering immense. We can only hope that our collective labor will bring a better world into being. 

This morning, I am grateful for the shining example of RBG, who never, ever, gave up. 

Be the prayer

This week has felt hard. It’s reminded me of being in a plane going through stiff turbulence, being bumped around, in possible danger, and without any way to control the outcome of the flight. You just have to hold on tight and pray that the plane is sturdy, the pilots know what they’re doing and all will be well. 

But in this case, we are in the midst of political and planetary upheavals that promise no smooth landing. 

I don’t have confidence in our pilots, a.k.a. world leaders, to carry us safely through the turbulence of climate disruption, pandemic, economic crisis and all the rest of it. 

I know that the rivets are loosening on our “plane,” a.k.a. our planet.

We are in for a rough ride.

All we can do is continue to hold on tight…and pray.

For me, prayer is not about appealing to some all-powerful higher being that can step in to save us. Rather, I think of prayer in the way Mary Oliver described it in her wonderful poem from happier times, “The Summer Day,” when she describes prayer as the act of paying attention to the beauty of the world around her. In this case, it’s a grasshopper she’s watching:

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

The grasshopper invites Oliver’s meditation on prayer:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, 

how to fall downinto the grass, 

how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed

how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

This is indeed the powerful pulsing question of our turbulent time, isn’t it? What are we going to do with the precious time we have left, before we are swept away into the maelstrom of suffering and death?

Glimmers. Photo by J. Browdy

Like Oliver, I believe that the other radiant Gaian beings with whom we share this planet have so much to teach us, if only we take the time to pay attention. 

The biggest difference between humans and other animals is in our vivid imaginations. We humans tell ourselves and each other stories all the time, and sometimes we get so caught up in the stories that they become our reality. 

For example, there I am up in the plane, imagining that any minute the turbulence is going to knock us out of the sky. We’re going to fall, flaming, to the ground! We’re all going to die! I start hyperventilating with terror, even though this is not what is actually happening…in point of fact, we are flying steadily on through the turbulence toward our destination, where, as the pilot has just informed us calmly, we’ll soon be landing.

There is no other animal that expends so much energy on worrying about imaginary future scenarios. Our Gaian relations model for us the equanimity that comes with living tranquilly in the present moment. 

We humans have the capacity to make ourselves sick, physically and mentally, with our neurotic imaginary anxieties.

To counter this tendency, we need to pray, in Mary Oliver’s sense: to ground ourselves in the calm of the natural world around us, and remember to breathe. 

This is probably not possible in the fire lands of the Pacific Coast of the USA right now. It’s not possible when one’s body has been invaded by the coronavirus. In such dire moments, any animal would be rightly terrified and suffering, as so many are at this very moment.

But you who are sitting in some quiet place reading these words…if you are still healthy and well-fed, able to breathe deep and listen to the birds chirping and the wind in the trees…your job is to ground yourself in that beauty and let yourself become not only a receiver but a transmitter for it. 

Send the beauty you inhale out into this turbulent suffering world. Let your attention to the beauty of what surrounds you be your prayer, for yourself and for others.

May our focused gratitude for this precious moment be a balm and a beacon of active hope in a world so desperately in need of the solace of prayer. 

Glory. Photo by J. Browdy

Labor Day 2020: Honoring the labor of birthing in a time of transition

This Labor Day, when I turn the word “labor” over in my mind, the image that comes to me insistently is that of a pregnant woman, laboring to give birth.  

Having been through it twice myself, I can attest that birth is the most miraculous form of labor. There is some kind of intense non-rational knowing that occurs in those final days of pregnancy, an impulsion to go with the mysterious, hormone-driven instinct that comes over a woman as she goes into labor and surrenders herself to the body’s wisdom. 

In my first pregnancy, this inner knowing was marred by the hospital system to which I surrendered my laboring self. I was summarily strapped onto a gurney, hooked up to a fetal monitor, given an epidural and then an episiotomy—all things I had said I did not want when I made up my birth plan with my woman obstetrician, who did not show that day, leaving me in the hands of a male colleague I’d never met. 

Although becoming a mother was the greatest joy of my life, that first experience of labor and delivery was terrible. The anesthesia given in advance of the episiotomy put my legs to sleep, which meant I was sent to the recovery ward  without my baby after the birth. I will never recover from the frantic misery of being separated from my baby in his first hour of life. Of course, he was frantic as well, and it took him weeks, if not months, to fully settle down from the violence of his entrance into the world. 

Therefore I was much more careful in my second pregnancy, making sure I had both a midwife and a birth doula in attendance, with a doctor to be called only if needed. 

I was on my feet or on my knees during the labor, the midwife loosening my birth canal with warm oils, the doula rubbing my back, both of them talking me through the contractions reassuringly. Within a remarkably short time, six hours from start to finish, my second baby came slithering peacefully into the air. He nestled in my arms and latched right on to my breast, looking up at me contentedly.

My two sons, c. 1998

So here I am on Labor Day 2020, more than 25 years after my first pregnancy and labor, thinking about the parallels between the everyday wonder of a woman giving birth, and the great shuddering contractions of this Gaian transition time, as we strain to give birth to a better world.

This Labor Day, as I celebrate all the women who have or will be giving birth, I also want to recognize the hard work all of us are doing as we strive, each in our own sphere, to bring to birth the new, better society that is gestating actively now in our dreams and visions. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are all in labor now. My two very different experiences of birth have taught me that we cannot do this work alone. We need to plan for it with care and make sure we have allies who understand how the hard work can be made easier in community, even if in the end we must fly solo. 

This Labor Day, let’s honor the work of birthing, literal and metaphorical, and offer each other what nourishment and support we can. 

If you are interested in exploring writing as a means of inquiry and discovery, check out my upcoming workshops, including the 9-month Birth Your Truest Story By Nourishing Your Most Tender Voice series, as well as the monthly drop-in Purposeful Memoir for a Thriving Future series.

I’ve got workshops in both series coming up Sept. 13 and 20, and you are most welcome to join! Find out more in my latest WRITING LIFE newsletter, here.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. 

Whatever your work is now, may your efforts bear good fruit.

21 Questions for 2020: #20

#20. How will we find the inner fortitude to make it through this time?

I am writing today with a heavy heart, as I look out into a social landscape that seems to be ever-darkening. “I can’t breathe” has come to be the anguished whisper of our time, whether it comes from yet another Black man being criminally choked to death by supposed “law enforcement officers,” or from one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fatally succumbed to COVID-19. 

Watching the contagion of violence spreading across the U.S. while the immoral  “commander in chief” twiddles his thumbs, seeming to maliciously relish the ensuing chaos, it’s impossible to see where this will end. The November election is still far away, with a lot of turbulence before us. 

How will we find the inner fortitude to make it through this time?

Each of us will find their own answers to this question, day by day. Here is what I am coming up with today.

Despair serves no one.

If we respond to the darkness of our time with a darkening of our souls, then the world will quickly become a very dark place indeed. Light has many gradations. I am not talking about “sunny optimism” that refuses to process reality. Nor am I talking about the pyromaniacs who take pleasure in setting the world on fire. 

I am thinking of the inner light that beams steadily within every living being on the planet, an inner flame that that connects us to the world soul, the anima mundi. This soul light is fueled by the same life-giving energy that turns our whole planet green in the spring, that for untold millennia has welcomed new life with joy and abundance. We humans are part and parcel of that cosmic dance, and we serve no one by letting our inner light gutter and dim. 

On the contrary, as revolutionary leaders throughout human history have shown, we take the first step towards a better world by standing firmly in the light of our own ideals and sharing our positive visions with others. 

Take our cues from Nature, and the Gaians around us. 

We are drawn to Nature in times of trouble because she models for us, without fail, the potential of positive energy manifested into form. In doing so, she gives us a glimpse of the full glory of a world suffused with the sacred: that sense of rightness that we call divine. 

All around us, in the natural world, we see enacted the principle of equality. The sun shines down equally on every particle of this world. The raindrops fall equally on both sides of every artificial border humans try to impose. 

We see Gaia providing, free of charge and with no strings attached, the conditions of flourishing life for every last member of her glorious Being. We see the tenderness of new life being nourished by the graceful death of the previous generation, a spiraling of life and death without end. 

Looking around us in the natural world, we see our relatives, our sister and brother Gaians of every shape and size, pursuing their life purpose with a fierce joy that knows no bounds. Despair is a uniquely human condition, which we sometimes force on animals we cage—but in Nature, all beings go at their lives with a fearless intensity that makes each new day an unfurling blessing. Death may come any moment, but a being who is tuned into Mother Gaia knows she is held in a secure, loving embrace at all times and does not live in fear. 

Embrace the light—and the darkness. 

The essence of Gaia is not only material, it is spiritual. Gaia is positive energy made manifest by the collective activity of each and every particle of her being. Spirit is the light that shines in and through each of us, and it is our task, each day, to tend our inner flame so that we shine out brightly into the world. This is all the more true when it seems like darkness is threatening. 

Just as there are different gradations of light, all animated by the great Light that gives this planet life, there are different gradations of darkness. The sweet darkness of the womb time, the dreaming darkness of a still, starry night, are not the same as the miasmic darkness of a world set upon by the demons of greed and cruelty. 

Knowing this, we must be discerning, rejecting the manmade darkness that we often call “evil,” while welcoming the blessed darkness of night-time, which we need, just as we need sleep, to nourish the creative power of the Light. 

Living as we do in a time of artificial light and manipulated darkness, we find ourselves under the thrall of artificers who have made us dependent on their spells. We must take care to use our magical technologies to enhance life, not to detract from it. This is not always easy: for example, we can see clearly these days how the connective fibers of social media can be used for good or for ill. 

That is where choice comes in. When we are fully connected to the positive life-giving energy of the anima mundi, we know instinctively, by our inner emotional gauge, when our actions contribute to the Light. 

Yes, there are sadists among us who take delight in others’ suffering. But those are the outliers. I believe that the vast majority of humans come into this world as light-bearers, ready to love and be loved. 

If only we could make society into a welcoming, nourishing garden in which every new soul could grow to its full potential….what a beautiful world it would be. 

Approach adversity with steadfast love and light. 

It’s always been true that we make history with each of our daily choices, but in times of great pressure and sorrow, like now, how we live each day becomes especially momentous. We each have a role to play in creating this great collective tapestry we call Life.

If adversity is the mother of invention, then we are surely in for some adventurous new twists and turns in human history, which afford us unprecedented opportunities for innovation. The specifics are up to each one of us, but the basic task is clear: Whatever you do, do it with love. 

Let your light shine out like a loving beacon on a darkening shore. As each of us kindles our inner light, our connection with each other and with the Gaian world grows stronger, our little lives becoming a prayer rising in a chorus of celebration of the fierce, fearless, unquenchable soul force of Life. 

Let every breath be a prayer. 

Even as we grieve for the unjust deaths of those whose lives have been harshly cut off too soon, life continues to surge through each one of us. 

With each breath, we have the opportunity to offer gratitude for the Gaian world that sustains us. 

And more: with each respiration we can offer inspiration, following the ancient Buddhist practice of tonglen: breathing in suffering, breathing out love. 

Breathe out the light that shines within you; or if you feel your light guttering, breathe in the restorative light of all the bright souls that are dancing beside you, visibly and invisibly. 

Just as Fire needs Air to kindle, we can blow on the embers of our spirits as we breathe, igniting the passion of our soul’s purpose in each cycle of breath. 

Let your breath be a song of love and gratitude, a quiet but mighty offering of the light that you are. 

21 Questions for 2020: #19

#19. How does a bigger-picture understanding of the COVID-19 crisis change the questions we ask and the solutions we are able to perceive? 

Since the “novel coronavirus” burst onto the global scene in the early months of 2020, we’ve been barraged by “experts” telling us how to process the events unfolding before our eyes. Much of what they are saying boils down to common sense: wash your hands. Don’t sneeze in people’s faces. Stay home if you’re sick. 

COVID-19 is a nasty little bug. But it’s a strange bugger, too, because it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people host this virus with no symptoms at all, while others get horribly sick and die from it. 

What is the solution to the mystery of why northern Italy was hit so hard, along with Wuhan and New York City, while in other places it is rolling through more or less like the common flu? 

The dominant voices—the experts who are testifying before Congress and sharing their views through major media outlets—don’t really have an answer for this, or at least, I have not heard one. 

But there are a few voices suggesting that the answer may lie not with the virus per se, but with the relative health of individuals’ immune systems. 

To me this perspective makes sense. We live on a planet that is naturally teeming with countless viruses and bacteria. Our immune system enables us to keep all the various viruses and bacteria that enter our system under some kind of balanced control, which we experience as feeling well

The problem we’re facing in 2020, according to researchers and activists like Winona Laduke,  Sandra SteingraberZach Bush and many others, is that for the past 70 years or so we have been systematically attacking and exterminating the natural microbiome of the soil, as well as contaminating our waters and polluting our air. Is it any wonder that so many of us have weakened immune systems, since we’ve been breathing, drinking and eating these toxic chemicals for our entire lives?

It is common sense to correlate those who are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 with what the doctors call “underlying conditions”: 

  • People who are already sick with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma are more at risk. 
  • People whose immune systems have been weakened by mental health issues like stress, depression and isolation are more at risk.
  • People who live in unhealthy environments are more at risk: cities with major air pollution and crowding; industrial areas, including Big Ag areas where toxic chemicals lace the environment; and possibly, though this is unproven, areas that are being suddenly flooded with 5G electromagnetic frequencies. 
  • Elderly people living in nursing homes are more at risk—no surprise as they are often living in poor conditions, with unhealthy food and lots of medications that disrupt their immune systems. 

Yes, it is true that we are hearing about the occasional young, healthy person who gets sick and even dies of COVID-19. But we are also hearing that doctors are being pressured to write COVID-19 as the cause of death even when they are not sure this is so—something to do with insurance payments. Many of the health care workers who have succumbed were probably stressed, exhausted and frightened—a potentially lethal “underlying condition” that a virus can exploit. 

I certainly don’t have the answers here, but at least, like Socrates, I’m willing to admit how much I don’t know. I want to stay open to a wide range of voices, knowing that in our age of viral fake news, all information has to be parsed very cautiously and with active intelligence. 

As usual, one question leads to another. Why, in the 21st century, have we seen such an explosion of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, auto-immune disorders, autism and mental health issues like depression, anxiety and addiction? Why, in the country that likes to think of itself as the richest and best in all ways (the United States, of course), is the population the sickest and most stressed and unhappy? How does the GNH (gross national happiness) correlate to a population’s ability to fight off “novel” viruses like COVID-19? 

Although I am in no way an anti-vaxxer (I have been getting my flu shot annually for decades, and made sure my children were fully vaccinated), I have to wonder whether a COVID-19 vaccine is going to be the magic savior that people are hoping for. A vaccine is not going to cure the underlying conditions that created the perfect storm from which the COVID-19 crisis emerged.

Curing what ails us means addressing underlying conditions such as: 

  • social inequality, poverty and crowded, unhealthy living conditions, along with the stress and unhealthy behaviors that emerge from despair and anger;
  • debt bondage that keeps people in harness to the system, preventing us from exploring creative forms of living;
  •  massively unhealthy agricultural practices that result in toxic soil, water, air and food; 
  • widespread chemical contamination from fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction and consumption; 
  • the relentless destruction of the forests and oceans that give our planet its oxygen and keep the climate system balanced.

None of this can be medicated or vaccinated away. There is no quick, clean, easy fix for any of it. But we do have many good ideas about how to start—visit the websites of Project Drawdown, the Bioneers or Yes! Magazine for lots of excellent ideas and inspiration.

It’s going to take slow, careful, loving regeneration to remember how to farm in healthy, sustainable ways, weaning ourselves away from the cheap industrial food that has been so damaging to both our internal and our external biomes. 

The way we educate our children has to change—no more sitting for hours at desks under fluorescent lights, learning how to take tests. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, we need creative, active, lively young people, who understand the importance of respect for the natural world, and who are not afraid to challenge orthodoxies and lead the way towards deep systemic changes in every aspect of life. 

A healthy Earth = a healthy human. I know people are imagining future scenarios where the health of the Earth becomes irrelevant, as human beings take off for Mars, or live on space stations, or transition into virtual reality—but is that really the kind of future we want to create and leave for descendants? 

I am a living cell in the great body of Mother Gaia. There is no boundary between us: every particle of my body is part of the woof and weave of her grand living tapestry, and every moment of my life she and I share breath. In death, I will return my body to her flanks to be regenerated in new forms. 

How could I not wish with every fiber of my being for the health of this grand system of which I am a tiny part? How could I not do whatever I can, with the intelligence and creativity I’ve been given, to ensure that the vitality of this system is regenerated, for the benefit of all life on Earth?

Solving the COVID-19 crisis is not about attacking a novel virus. There will always be more where those came from. It’s about restoring the well-being of the Gaian environmental and social systems—starting with lovingly tending our own individual immune systems, realizing that as we do so, we will also be tending the wider world that is our larger Being. 

21 Questions for 2020: #16

#16. Whither education in the time of the pandemic, and after?

This is a question that cuts close to my bone, since education has been my calling and profession for my whole life: as a college professor, I am the perpetual student, always wanting to explore my own cutting edge, never content to simply offer again what I already know. 

In recent years, as you might have guessed if you’ve been reading this series, I have become far more interested in questions than in answers. In the Internet age, we can find 100 expert answers to any research question we might pose, and students are always whipping out their phones in class to consult their pocket oracles.

But the kinds of questions that interest me cannot be easily answered by a Google search, or even a virtual trip to the library database. 

I want to explore the questions that have not been answered yet. Big ones that I ponder regularly include: 

  • What happens to the spirit after death? 
  • How can we access the energetic and material realms that scientists say compose 98% or more of the knowable universe, the so-called “dark matter” and “dark energy” fields? 
  • How can we engage in more frequent, widespread and reliable communication with the mysterious voices that a few open channels among us have been blessed to receive? 
  • How can we make more intentional and regular use of the potential of the dream world as a portal for telepathic communication, healing and guidance?

Answers to these questions lie tantalizingly out of reach of my rational mind, and yet my intuition continues to circle them, probing for a way in to understanding. Especially at this juncture in history, when the systems that uphold our physical world and our social structures are under such strain, a better understanding of the non-physical realm beckons urgently. 

If we knew that death was a gentle return to a dazzling energetic sea, a chance to reset and renew in the company of our loved ones, with whom we have returned to physical form over and over again, beyond time…how differently we might live our lives and contemplate our deaths. 

I have been thinking about Socrates lately; how he insisted that the job of a serious student of philosophy was to prepare for death. A well-educated person is a person who is able, ready and willing to make that ultimate journey into the unknown. And the method of education, for Socrates, was asking questions. 

My students and I frequently get annoyed with Socrates for asking leading questions and tangling his interlocutors up in sticky spiderwebs of nuance that never lead to any clear answers.

But the example he set in his own death, as recorded by his devoted student Plato, was crystal clear. Death for Socrates was a blessed release, for which he had spent his life preparing. In his own calm, peaceful death, he gave his weeping students the greatest lesson of all. 

Enjoy life. Be a lifelong student. And be not afraid of death.

***

As an educator, I am always questioning my own goals and methods. With a PhD in Comparative Literature and an expertise in personal narrative by women from different parts of the world, for many years I offered classes where we used the course texts to open windows into complex identities, social structures, and dynamic communities. In particular, I have been interested in patterns of resistance across cultures—how women found their way and claimed their voices and their power despite individual and societal barriers. 

But now it seems that resistance is no longer the right thread to be following in exploring the ever-shifting tapestry of life.

I don’t want to push angrily against what is; I want to explore, eagerly and with an open heart-mind, what might be. 

Young people today do need to learn the real, unvarnished history of the centuries of pain and injustice inflicted by the powerful on whomever they could subordinate and dominate in the service of their greedy goals.

But having learned what was, students today need to turn their bright minds and spirits to imagining what could be

How can education focus itself around the urgent task of creating a happier world where people live well in harmony with the flourishing more-than-human denizens of our planet? 

Shifting the questions we’re asking seems key. 

If we were to ask not “how can we maximize profits” but “how can we maximize happiness,” as Bhutan did in establishing its Gross National Happiness index, the goals of every field of education would shift. 

Instead of applying our intelligence to domination and extraction, the black magic of turning exploited workers and natural resources into money in the bank, we would be looking at how to make an entire system thrive, from the tiniest microbe in the soil on up.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to trigger massive social and economic shifts that we can’t yet measure, one question keeps surfacing for me urgently:  What do today’s young people need to know? 

What talismans of knowledge and rites of initiation can educators offer that will light young people’s paths on the shrouded road ahead?

I am pondering this question, with no sure answers to offer yet. I would be grateful for your thoughts. Whither education now?

21 Questions for 2020: Introduction

I begin this New Year with gratitude for a solid enough perch on life to be able to sit in warmth on a cold winter morning, tapping away at my computer, a mug of steaming dark coffee at my side and a candle bringing light to the great blue dawn around me.

I no longer take any of this for granted, aware as I am of the fragility of everything that makes life predictably comfortable from one day to the next. Each day brings its tidings of suffering: so many beings, human and more-than-human, are wounded, traumatized and suffering their way to death each day. Knowing this, I cannot relax into the ease of my life. I am aware of my complicity as a citizen of a country that has cushioned some of its citizens at the expense of many others, both internally and around the world. I know the moral price I pay for my comfort here and now.

I have so many questions about life in this period I call our Transition Time: these early years of the 21st century when our Mother Gaia is laboring to birth a new, healthier world order. Being of a scholarly bent, I have been reading and researching, looking for answers. And being trained to read as a Comparatist, my quest has been broadly interdisciplinary, ranging widely from the sciences to the humanities, as well as out on the fringes of conventionally accepted thought, where I’ve found some of the most interesting characters and ideas hang out.

Most of my questions lead to more questions, as is to be expected in a time when our learning curve—as individuals and as the collective “hive mind” we are externalizing through our Worldwide Web—is growing in leaps and bounds. This is not a time to settle on new dogmas. It’s a time for experimentation and innovation—but in my view, the adolescent eagerness of western science must be tempered with and informed by ancient indigenous forms of wisdom. Earth-centered spiritual traditions are now re-emerging all over the world, after centuries of repression, offering what Joanna Macy calls “new and ancient ways of seeing”: pathways into a more balanced, harmonious human relationship with the Earth and all her beings.

Across the disciplines, we are in a period of increased awareness of the great mysteries of life—of all we don’t know. In science this is represented most clearly in physics, which has discovered that some 98% of the universe is composed of “dark matter” and “dark energy”—so named because we have no idea what they are. Thus, what we can see, touch and at least superficially understand is only 2% of All That Is, according to physicists. Perhaps the parallel worlds of the multiverse posited by quantum theorists have their place in that “dark matter” sector, beyond linear time? And could it be that every night we humans, along with all life on Earth, access that quantum realm—also known as the domain of Spirit—when we range far beyond the confines of time and space in our dreams?

I am increasingly convinced that the greatest mystery of all has to do with the relation of Matter to Spirit. In our Transition Times, it seems urgent to understand this relationship better, including in its basic earthly guise as the cycle of life, death and rebirth. As the human population has exploded into the multi-billions, the familiar species we grew up with have been going steadily into the night of extinction. Our scientists tell us that we humans have thrown the entire global ecosystem out of balance, pushing us into the Gaian reset mode we call “climate disruption.” Is our current predicament entirely about matter—a situation for the earth scientists to study, diagnose and solve? Or is there also a component of spirit involved in the vast global changes we are living through now?

To ask such questions is to open oneself up for the possibility of radically new answers. Too often our best and brightest minds are being trained to look for answers within disciplines, and thus they miss the potential for leaping beyond the frameworks that have led us inexorably to this extremely pressured moment of transition. What is needed now is a new synthesis of knowledge that opens its arms wide and is not afraid to admit how much it does not know. We need a new human humility that is not a servile crouching to a “higher authority,” but an acknowledgment that our hubris has not served us well, nor the many bright beings, our fellow Gaians, whom we have tortured and sent to their deaths unnecessarily in these past 5,000 years of what we call, euphemistically, “civilization.”

It’s a time that calls for an alchemical union of opposites: the heretofore dominant masculine-intellectual-competitive-hierarchical-separation modes of knowledge joining with the feminine-emotional-collaborative-horizontal-inclusive approaches. Not either/or, but both/and; with the heart-mind perhaps the most important union of all. Westernized humans have to reconnect with our heart’s knowing, and use our emotional intelligence to guide the blazing smarts of our intellect. Imagine if the men who unlocked the energetic potential of atoms had been tapped into their hearts as they made their startling discoveries. Would they have weaponized that fiery power? Or instead worked on it quietly until they understood how to use it for good, including solving the intractable problem of waste disposal?

So many human inventions have proceeded in the same way as nuclear power, guided by short-term thinking and greed, without sufficient attention to consequences. We need to become better longterm thinkers, hyperaware of how every choice we make impacts the entire web of life, of which we, as physical, earth-based creatures, are an inextricable part.

It is important now to keep a positive, life-affirming outlook on all the changes coming rapidly upon us. This is not a time to succumb to fear, or to panic over the unpredictable future. The fear-mongers are out there, but I’m not buying their wares. There is no point in spending my precious days on Earth freaking out over the future. There is huge value, on the other hand, in using this time to search for understanding that can help humanity navigate the tumult of our era with a heart-centered balance that can guide us through to better times.

This approach is neither easy nor common in a time when so many of us wander around with heavy hearts, plodding through our days, looking forward to the release of intoxication and distraction. But I’ve become aware that keeping our vibration high is essential to accessing what I can only call higher knowledge. We are moving from a heavy, dark, low-vibration time—what historians call “the industrial age”—to a light, airy, high-vibration time, a time of transition to a new, lighter way of being on Earth. In this moment, the calm before the storm, we are poised on a tipping point. The wave of change is gathering strength. Will we ride it with exuberance and grace, or will we roll and tumble painfully in the pounding surf?

To the extent that I can choose, I choose Grace. And with these initial reflections in my backpack, I’m setting forth on this journey of 21 Questions. My promise to myself is to keep a “fool’s mind”—free of dogma, open to new ideas, with a certain spring in my step, looking for pleasant surprises.

I’ll be posting a new question, and my own mini-essay response, every week for the next 21 weeks. Come along with me, and bring your own questions and ideas! Your company will be most welcome as we set off into this new year of a new decade, 2020.

giphy

The Truth of American Thanksgiving

I have been thinking and writing about Thanksgiving for many years on Transition Times. Waking up to the deep hypocrisy of this American holiday was part of my own process of mental decolonization, unlearning the indoctrination of my conventional American education. With each passing year, it’s good to see more public acknowledgment of the truth of how the early settlers of this country treated the native people they found here.

The myth of sharing a bounteous table may have been true on the Indian side: early accounts of Native-European interactions often show the Europeans reacting with amazement at the generosity of their Native hosts. Without a doubt, the Indians helped the Pilgrims and other early colonists survive by sharing food, seeds and knowledge.

 

History tells us how this generosity was repaid. It’s true that some of the cultural and physical genocide was inadvertent, as alcohol and smallpox were let loose on a defenseless population. But as time went on and more settlers arrived, all greedy for land, the violence and cruelty increased. When you read about the massacres of entire villages of Native people in Massachusetts, New York, and throughout New England; or the Cherokee Trail of Tears; or the heartrending massacres that occurred throughout the West…it’s easy to understand why Native Americans today consider Thanksgiving a day of mourning rather than celebration.

 

My complicated feelings about this holiday have only deepened over the years, as I’ve become more aware of the huge sacrifices that undergird the comforts and pleasures that I might want to give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day.

Let’s take food as an example. I am thankful for the markets that are bursting with food at this time of year. I am thankful for the delicious meals I will be enjoying at the tables of family and friends.

And yet I am aware of the holocaust of turkeys that occurs to satisfy American appetites on Thanksgiving. For most Americans, the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes of sweet potatoes, cornbread and stuffing will be cooked with conventionally farmed vegetables and grains—meaning that billions of beneficial microbes and insects were destroyed to bring them to our table, with the costs reverberating up the food chain as the toxic wastes of industrial agriculture flow into the ground waters and rivers, and the loss of insects devastates the birds, bats and other creatures who depend on them.

This is just one example of many I could give of the way the contemporary American lifestyle is based on a violent, unsustainable foundation. If you peel back the glamorized façade of American Thanksgiving, what you see behind it is a bleak industrial landscape, a place of poverty, ill health and unhappiness. It is no accident people are turning to drugs—whether alcohol, cannabis or opioids—to escape from it all. It’s no accident that the suicide rate keeps rising in our “home of the brave, land of the free.”

 

The Thanksgiving holiday is an extreme version of the whitewashing of American history, and the willful ignorance and denial of all the damage that our vaunted American lifestyle has wreaked on the world. Each of us who sees beyond the façade has a choice to make: we can continue to maintain a complicit silence and go along with the destructive flow; or we can speak up and share our perspectives with others.

Obviously I am choosing the latter path, in my own small way here on Transition Times. No, I won’t be making speeches at my family’s Thanksgiving table. I truly believe, with the great Audre Lorde, that guilt helps no one. Go ahead and enjoy your turkey and stuffing.

But as you tuck into your Thanksgiving meal this year, be aware of the true costs of our American lifestyle. Don’t take the ease and comforts of the industrial agriculture system for granted. Know how fragile our life support systems are, in this time of ever-increasing climate disruption.

There may come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when we Eur-Americans will turn again, in desperate need, to the wisdom of the indigenous people of this land. We will give thanks, then, that they held on to the ancient knowledge of how to survive in the old ways: how to hunt and gather and farm sustainably, in harmony with the other creatures who inhabit this Earth.

This Thanksgiving, I honor and give thanks to the indigenous people of Turtle Island, who are so often on the frontlines of resistance; who are too often victims of violence and abuse; but who still—indomitably, stubbornly, powerfully—stand tall and proud as crucial wisdom keepers, holding the spiritual, philosophical and practical keys to a thriving future for humans on Earth.

May Americans come to honor and respect the precious legacy embodied in the resilient, wise Native peoples of this land. May we give thanks for their great generosity of spirit, symbolized in the American Thanksgiving story. May we Eur-Americans learn, with humility and compassion, to live in harmony with all others in our Earth community.

Namaste.

 

Wisdom-Lessons-Cover-MaryLyons-FRONT copy

If you are looking for contemporary Native American wisdom, I recommend this book, which I was privileged to midwife into the world through Green Fire Press. Available wherever fine books are sold.

 

 

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