Standing for Love in the Forest of Sandisfield–A Microcosm of the World

Last week I went to a meeting of the Conservation Commission in the little hill town of Sandisfield, MA, which has many more trees than residents. Indeed, it has no “town” to speak of, just roads threading their way through forests, streams and lakes, making it ideal habitat for beaver, coyotes, deer, bear, and many other birds and animals, including the occasional moose.

But now, Kinder Morgan has come to Sandisfield.

For more than a year, the local Conservation Commission, composed of three residents who serve as civic volunteers, has been meeting with representatives of the giant multinational fossil fuel corporation, which has gas pipelines running for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles in my corner of the world: the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, and on up to the big commercial tanker port of St. John, New Brunswick.

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Kinder Morgan wants to clear a site in the Otis State Forest in order to lay a pipeline loop that will—as I understand it—be a kind of holding tank for liquefied gas, giving surges of gas coming through the pipeline somewhere to go besides down to the depot.

The Otis State Forest project is not about providing gas to local communities; it’s not even about creating increased ability to move gas from one place to another. It’s just about creating a back-up pipe.

And for this glorious purpose, Kinder Morgan proposes to disrupt land directly abutting a section of old-growth forest at the heart of the Otis State Forest, removing a beaver dam and withdrawing about a million gallons of water from beautiful Spectacle Pond.

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The case has been discussed at the EPA, by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and in court for months now. Local heroes Jane Winn of The BEAT News and Rosemary Wessel of the NoFrackedGasInMass campaign, now a BEAT program, have led the legal charge to stop this unnecessary invasion of state forest, and the case is still in court: Kinder Morgan does not yet have the last permits necessary to proceed.

According to Jane Winn, “We still don’t know if any toxic chemicals will be released from the lining of the pipe and there will be no testing of that water.” Jane adds that we do know that Kinder Morgan wants “to tear up and reconstruct a third of the 73 Ceremonial Stone Landscape features in Sandisfield – destroying the spiritual link and desecrating our native history. (Would FERC allow them to dig up part of Arlington National Cemetery and replace it afterward?) This desecration of the CSL features should not be allowed – and the agreement among the tribe, Kinder Morgan, and FERC has not been settled – as much as Kinder Morgan’s representative tried to mislead about that as well.”

Jane, who filmed the entire Conservation Commission meeting, says that the “FINAL 401 water quality permit won’t be issued until March 27 – and could possibly be denied, appealed, or require an additional Alternatives Study.”

Nevertheless, the conversation between the Conservation Commission board and the Kinder Morgan reps last week was chummy, with the main discussion points being what kinds of plans the company has made to contain erosion when—not if, but when—tree felling and bulldozing start.

Sitting across the table from the Conservation Commission folks, in the shabby basement of an old school, the Kinder Morgan rep never looked directly at any of the 60 or so concerned citizens surrounding him. He looked like a nice enough young man—an environmental engineer who had no doubt gotten his degree some 10 years earlier, and gone right to work for industry.

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Conservation Commission meeting, March 2017

As he talked casually about cutting trees and bulldozing wetlands, I had a vivid image of the quiet forest out there in the blackness beyond the fluorescent lights of the meeting room. The owls swooping about in pursuit of mice; the coyotes ambling in their pack, looking for rabbits; the beavers paddling contentedly between the wooded bank and their den, adding some more mud and logs to create a snug home for the new litter of young ones.

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As though it were a steel blade ripping through my own gut, I felt the pain and terror that will come when Kinder Morgan bulldozes over the opposition and starts cutting the trees, gouging up the roots, ripping out the beaver dam. They are in a hurry to start because there are some guidelines (state? Federal? I am not sure) that enjoin them to cut the trees before nesting season.

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American bittern

One resident spoke up at the meeting on behalf of two rare endangered species that he said he often sees at the very pond they are talking about destroying: the American bittern and the sedge wren.

What will they do when they fly in from their migration to find their usual habit a muddy, gaping scar in the forest?

They’ll fly on to some other pond, state officials and industry reps would say philosophically.

The problem is, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to go. Why do you think we have coyotes living in cities, bears hanging out in suburbia, moose strolling along highways and train tracks? It’s not because they want to be there. It’s because they have nowhere else to go.

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Snow geese

I thought about this recently when I heard about the thousands of snow geese that died painful, torturous deaths because they landed on a toxic pond in Montana left wide open to the sky by industry. This is a common occurrence; it was only the scale of this particular mass murder that brought it into the news headlines.

I am as complicit as the next person in all of this. I will get up from my desk to heat some coffee on my gas stove. I will drive my car into town for groceries that are produced and procured using fossil fuels. I live with this knowledge every day: that I am part of the problem. Look at this picture long enough, and you see the very clear strands of complicity linking me and my lifestyle with the chainsaws buzzing in the forests, the pipelines snaking over the countryside, the water taps on fire and the rivers, lakes and ponds choking with contaminants and algae.

While it is good to acknowledge the lack of innocence, it does no good to beat myself up with guilt.

The question becomes, what CAN I do?

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Environmental activist Jane Winn accepts an award from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions

If I have money, I can share it with environmental groups like The BEAT News, 350.org, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which are working hard through information, organizing and legal battles to hold industry accountable to the public good.

I can work with the ACLU, the honorable news media and democratic political groups to bring down the Trump administration as soon as possible, before industry hacks like Scott Pruitt and Jeff Sessions have a chance to totally wreck the environmental standards in this country.

I can run for office myself, with the goal of putting my values and vision to work at the local, state or even national level.

Jane Winn suggests we all work on the local level to get New England off of fossil fuels.  “The latest study, she says, “points out that we have a legally mandated shrinking need for fracked natural gas. Massachusetts is adding off-shore wind and storage. Towns are starting to aim for 100% renewable. All of us can work toward zero net energy – buy fossil-fuel-free electricity through Mass Energy and add cold-climate heat pumps to stay warm. Use electric stoves. Buy an electric vehicle.”

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Julia Butterfly Hill at the top of Luna, the California redwood she singlehandedly saved from the lumber industry

All very good, productive advice. Nevertheless, what I most felt like doing, as I filed silently out of the school basement and out into the cool dark Sandisfield night, was putting my own body on the line–chaining myself to an old-growth hemlock, let’s say, before I let it be cut down.

I felt like pulling a Julia Butterfly Hill, becoming a treesitter who could save the forest.

I wish I had that kind of courage.

As it is, I sit with my grief and my rage as the Sandisfield scene is played out in small rural towns in every corner of our country and beyond.

Kinder Morgan, Energy Transfer Partners and the rest of the fossil fuel gang have been running roughshod over people and wildlife and the natural world for long enough.

img_1557Yes, we love our electricity, our cars and our warm homes. But now we know we can get all the power we need from the great Source of all of us, the Sun—with a little help from other elements: Wind and Water. We don’t need to rape the Earth any longer to satisfy our short-term human wants and desires.

The tragedy of Sandisfield is a tiny blip in the almost unimaginably huge devastation humanity has wrought on our planet. Still, it’s in my backyard and I care about that forest and the life it supports. If each of us cared and tended for the land around us, our world would be a different place.

The problem of the corporations is precisely that they are too big, too amorphous and unrooted. The managers, board members, financiers and shareholders live far, far from the places they are destroying. They don’t care.

So my heartfelt question is: how can we reach these human beings, who literally have the power of life or death in their tiny, grasping hands? How can we get to their hearts and make them care?

I think we need to get these guys out of their office towers and into the forest.

And I suspect that the strongest thing I can do, with the talents and gifts I have been given, is to try to communicate to them, and all their henchmen and enablers, why it is so, so important—indeed, critical to all life on Earth—that they reconnect with the natural world, open their hearts, and learn what love in action looks and feels like, and the true value of what it can produce.

Love is the simple solution. If we lived in love, and acted out of love, every single problem we face would melt away.

And what a beautiful world it would be.

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Marching with Words into the Light of a New Era: Time to Rise!

My friend Barbara Newman described the staged reading she and I will be participating in on January 21 as a “march with words,” and this resonates with what I see so many of us doing these days as we rally together in our homes and community centers, our town halls and places of worship, and of course in the great 21st century town square, social media.

MEXICO - ZAPATISTAS ANNIVERSARYI am reminded of Subcomandante Marcos, who said “words are our weapons,” while fighting what appeared to be a hopelessly lopsided fight in the southern jungles of Mexico–Indians with rusty rifles and bandanas standing up to soldiers with helicopters and bombs. Marcos was one of the very first resistance fighters to use the power of the Internet as a way to sway the hearts and minds of ordinary onlookers, the world over, against local oppressors.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we see the man about to become the 45th president of the United States deploying the same tactics, his every tweet as powerful as any bombshell.

This is a dark time, and yet it’s also a time shot through with the light of the new age that is cracking open before us. Let us be candid and admit that while it would have been a symbolic victory for women to have Hillary Clinton sworn in as President today, her political bent was conservative, in the sense of maintaining the status quo.

What is familiar is comforting, we’re all children that way. Some of us are more adventurous than others. Some of us have nothing left to lose, and so we’re willing to place our bets on a total dark horse like Mr. Drumpf. If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he would probably have won for the same reason (barring major interference from Moscow).

But no use looking backward now. Let’s squint and look directly into the light of the future. Has there ever been a human revolution that has happened without struggle? Have people ever been willing to embrace radical change without having their backs pushed to whatever the wall of the moment might be?

Today in Washington DC a charlatan will take the oath of office as President of the United States. No, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s reality.

But it’s also reality that millions of Americans are energized and activated as never before, as a direct result of the crazy events of 2016. We are “tuned in, turned on, tapped in,” to use the favorite saying of a certain psychic I know.

That same psychic often reminds us that sometimes it takes a strong dose of WHAT WE DON’T WANT to jar us into an appreciation and understanding of WHAT WE DO WANT.

You can see that happening in the outpouring of love for the departing Obamas, in our entreaties to them to stay engaged in public life.

DEM 2016 ConventionBoth Barack and Michelle Obama are powerful orators. So is Bernie Sanders. We will need the power of their words more than ever in the bleak months ahead. We will need words to keep our spirits high, to remind us of the stakes and why we must fight for what we value, even putting our bodies on the line if need be.

It is surely no accident that in the very week that saw a parade of military-industrial complex billionaires coming to Washington hoping to ride Trump’s wave into political power, we got word from the scientists that 2016 was officially the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began in the 19th century. It topped 2014 and 2015, which were also the hottest years ever in their time.

When I align the personal, political, and planetary in this moment, I see an amazing crystallization taking place. The Earth herself rumbles and roars her discontent and imbalance; political systems that have held for centuries crack and fall apart; and in so many human psyches a deep sense of uneasiness registers, an intuitive sense that something is not right.

Change is not just coming…it’s here. We are living, day by day, through extraordinary times.

I call on all of us to rise and meet the light of change with a strong spine and a resolute spirit.

We cannot go back, we can only go forward. There is a huge opportunity now to go forward into a more perfect union—not just among Americans, but among all peoples on Earth, and to reimagine our role as humans to become the caretakers of our planet, rather than its pirate plunderer-destroyers.

As we cry out against what we don’t want, let’s also use our words to envision and describe the contours of what we stand for.

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

How would each of these ideals look to you, brought down to the level of your community, your family, your life?

Look boldly into the light of this new era we’re entering, and use your words and your actions to make it so.

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Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

Only Connect! Urgent Questions for our time

Social ecologist Nora Bateson published an urgent blog post this morning, a list of the questions she believes need to be posed in order for global society to shift from our current careen toward chaos towards a sustainable future.

Her excellent questions are (and I quote):

“Education: How can we best cultivate curiosity, information, and learning between generations to prepare ourselves to perceive and respond to the complexity of our world with less destruction than centuries past?

“Health: How can we support health in human beings by making it possible for each person to eat healthy food, sleep well, know that their families are supported, be respected in their community, have relevant contributions (education and employment), breathe clean air, and drink clean water?

“Ecology: How can we interface with the complexity of our natural world so as to create less harm to the interdependence of all living things?

“Economy: How can we shift the economic system so that it is not based upon exploitation of nature and humanity –without crashing the globe into chaos? (note: no one gets rich on this version of economy)

“Politics: How do we get the policy makers of our world to mandate cross-sector information for their decision making processes so that they have the possibility of taking into account complexity?

“Media: How do we get a moratorium on binaries? How do we support public understanding, not trained in perceiving complexity, to become accustomed to it and demand communications institutions deliver cross-contextual information?

“Culture: What is the approach to open the global discussion about the pending fate of humanity? What matters? What are we willing change? How can we survive together?”

She specifies, “The danger we are in is woven across these contexts, so the questions posed must correspond to that transcontextual process,” and “All of the questions…scale from personal, to institutional, to global concern.”

I so agree that ours is a time of questions. In my classes these days, I spend a lot of time working with my students on formulating their questions about whatever material we’re reading/viewing/discussing. The old answers no longer suffice, and the old ways of framing questions are often too simplistic to address the full scope of the complexity and multi-dimensionality of our time.

I tell my students that I care more about the questions they raise in their humanities papers than about their “thesis statements”; and that the goal of their work is all about process: tracing a new thought path by getting into conversation with others about possible answers that can help us all to refine our questions, sharpen our vision, and build sturdier bridges into our uncertain future.

I believe that there is an important category/ context missing from Nora’s list of questions: the sacred.

I have been thinking a lot about the 95% of the cosmos that is made up of “dark energy” and “dark matter”—“dark” meaning that we don’t know what in the world it is. Everything we can perceive represents only 5% of the universe. What is the rest?

My guess is that the vast 95% is related to what humans have been referring to for millennia as the metaphysical, the psychic, the spiritual, the divine.

That divinity is the big “context,” the sacred connective tissue shining through the cracks between each of Nora’s questions. Science has only just realized it’s there, though our mystics and shamans have always been able to access it (sometimes with a little help from the fungi and plant world).

I see Nora’s first and last questions as related, closing a circle. Education must encourage curiosity and questioning about what matters most: the survival of our species and all of our companion life forms on Earth, including the elemental building blocks of life and the vast, largely invisible-to-us micro-biomes that support and enable life on the planet.

If we shift our vision from the foreground represented by Nora’s rightly urgent questions to the background—the vast “dark” energy and matter that we might call the spiritual interconnections of self and cosmos, immanent in every speck of the familiar 5% confines of the universe we know so far—suddenly the questions shift too, crystallizing into a mighty clarion call that can reach around our little planet and unite us all:

How can we live in sacred harmony? How can we most firmly, most productively, most lovingly connect with each other and with All That Is?

I am reminded of the famous quote from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, when Margaret Schlegel reflects on the “incomplete asceticism” that rules her would-be lover, Henry Wilcox. Margaret believes that:

“She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire….Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die” (Chapter 22).

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At this moment, in the early 21st century, we are poised on Forster’s “rainbow bridge.” We have the potential to “connect the prose in us with the passion,” to leave the beast and the monk in us behind.

It’s time for Benjamin’s Angel of History to turn around, snap out of the trance of the past and look bravely into the glowing, as-yet-unlived future, asking the question that reverberates through the “dark” realms of our cosmos:

How can we connect and truly progress?

 

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Look for unexpected beauty this Solstice Season

This Winter Solstice seems particularly dark to many of us, especially in the northern climes. There is a danger now that as we dwell on the sadness, outrage and fear that bombards us every day through our media, we end up adding detail and strength to what we least want.

This Solstice, join me in aligning the personal, political and planetary as we appreciate the beauty and warmth of our friends, family and Mother Earth. As we welcome and create love and light in our lives and the lives of those around us, including in the non-human realms, we will create the future we yearn for, one precious moment at a time.

Beaming love, courage and light to you all—TWOFOLD!!!

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Solstice suns, Stockbridge MA, December 20, 2016. Photo by J. Browdy

Dear Van Jones: We Need a Dream Party as well as a Love Army

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When I first heard Van Jones call for the widespread mobilization of a Love Army to stand against Trump’s legions of haters, I was taken aback by the juxtaposition of Love, the life-giving force of pure positive energy in the universe, with Army—a hierarchical human structure organized in the service of war, death and destruction.

I’m still not crazy about the term, but I do appreciate the sentiment behind Jones’ call, especially after reading this excellent interview with him in Rolling Stone.

“Tight around Trump is a little hate army… of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government. We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction. That is completely doable. Because there’s now many more people wanting to get involved than were trying to get involved a month ago, when it would have mattered. [bitter laughter]

“The problem is not the abundance of people with bad intentions; it’s the superabundance of people with good intentions who don’t know what to do yet.”

Jones suggests we people of good intentions get organized in order to fight back in the service of Love. Impossible to argue with that, and bravo to him and other leaders, from Standing Rock on down the line, to getting right back on the horse after that wild bucking bronco episode otherwise known as the election.

The Army metaphor conjures up a vision of many people coming together in a common cause, carrying out a vision set by the politicians and crafted into an actionable agenda by the generals.

That would be OK if we could trust the politicians to actually represent us. But one thing this election season has made quite clear is the extent to which our political elite has become alienated from the ordinary folks. Bernie Sanders aside, both the Democratic Party and the Republicans showed themselves to be equally tone-deaf to the concerns of masses of Americans in every state who are just barely scraping by in an economy entirely rigged for the rich and powerful.

To use obsolete terms that suddenly seem relevant again, America is host to a huge Third World within its own seemingly First World borders. This has always been the case—ask any denizen of a rural trailer park, a city public housing project, or, for that matter, an Indian reservation.

But now the middle class is slipping into the abyss of poverty too. Between the credit card shysters with their 35% interest rates, the mortgage loan sharks, the exorbitant cost of health care and higher education, the takeover of Main Street by the big box corporations and the steady erosion of working class jobs to other countries and to robots….the middle class is going, going, gone.

Why these folks thought Donald Trump, of all people, might serve their interests, is a puzzle for the historians. It seems mainly to do with the dumbing down of our general populace, raised on reality TV and shoot-em-up video games, trapped in oppressive school systems that discourage creativity, questioning and independent thought, and insulated within conservative communities that fall back on a passive, fatalistic acceptance of “God’s will” that can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians.

That this is the reality for millions of people in “Third World America” is an outrageous truth that Democrats must bear responsibility for, as well as Republicans. President Obama did his best to be the president of “all Americans,” but with the Republican Congress blocking him at every turn, his hands were largely tied. And even he supported the TTP agreement, another trade deal that embraced globalization without accounting for the harm it might do to working Americans or to the environment.

As Van Jones says in the Rolling Stone interview, both parties sold working Americans down the river—and they’ve been doing it for many, many years, it’s nothing new.

What’s new is the social media technology that enables us to know about it, practically as it’s happening.

Even when we’re talking about Big Espionage operations, like the Russian hacking of the U.S. election, now information that would have been sealed away behind CONFIDENTIAL barriers for years is suddenly rip-roaring through social media channels, totally out of the control of the politicians or the generals.

This can seem scary, but it is also a huge opportunity. If we’re to create a Love Army, it will be a decentralized one, mobilizing from individual communities and operating through household computer networks, connected by telecommunications satellites open to any user with a smartphone.

The elites who developed the technology that is so ubiquitous now did not anticipate it would eventually have the potential to be used in the service of populist goals. Donald Trump, with his simple but effective use of Twitter, is so hard to understand because he’s playing both sides so well: the populist general mobilizing the working class to follow him…while at the same time courting the rich and powerful and promising them total control.

What does “populist” mean in these topsy-turvy times? It means Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump—both of these guys tried to work through established channels, the Elephants and the Mules, to gain the power to remake the country in their image. Bernie might have succeeded if the Democrats hadn’t stupidly shut him out, leaving the field open for Trump and his Russian allies to sweep to victory.

van-jones-fist-in-your-faceBut here comes Van Jones and his Dream Corps with a new definition of “populist” and a new, 21st century vision of how to mobilize a decentralized army in the service of Love.

His reset at the values level starts with national teach-ins, “once a week, every week, standing up for the most vulnerable people: Muslims, the DREAMers, Jewish people, women, trans people, black protestors. And once a week, give the whole country a chance to show a whole lotta love – both to demonstrate and deepen a solidarity with those groups, all under one hashtag. #LoveArmy is an opportunity to reassert at a values level….And it has to be inclusive, by the way, of rural poor people, of people in coal country, red-state and industrial Heartland voters who are also going to be let down by Trump, who are also going to be in a lot of pain.

“If you’re building a Love Army that includes all of the usual suspects that Trump went after and also people that Trump tricked, you start building a majority movement. That’s what I’m trying to do. The people that Trump attacked, but also the people that Trump duped.”

The truth is that the Democrats have not acted with sufficient love either. As Jones puts it baldly, “Both political parties suck right now. The Democratic Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of elite snobbery, and Democrats won’t confess to it and deal with it. The Republican Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of bigots, and they won’t confess or deal with it.”

Maybe we are at the point in our Union, almost 250 years on, when another party is needed—a party that is truly in the service of all Americans, and even bigger—in the service of Life everywhere on our planet.

This new party needs to go beyond tribalism to work on behalf of the health and well-being of the entire planet and all its denizens, from the rainforests to the boreal forests, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in-between. We are all connected—we know that know scientifically, and our values, as Jones says, must come from that profound awareness of interbeing.

I would like to see Jones stir up not just an army, but a political party that could advance his inclusive activist vision and mobilize those of us who want peace, prosperity and the happiness and well-being of all. Maybe he should call it the Dream Party.

I’m in, Van! Sign me up!

Prayers for Standing Rock: Holding the Light

Sitting in my snug house, my thoughts turn constantly to the thousands of people camping at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, now under its first coating of winter snow.

I am not sure how to think about the 2,000 veterans who are arriving there this weekend with the intention of shielding the civilian water protectors from the brutal attacks of police.

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Although they come unarmed, in peace, it still seems like their presence may up the ante and draw even more violence from so-called “law enforcement.”

Violence is part of the mechanics of justice. Has there ever been a peaceful revolution? Power is never conceded without a demand, and rarely conceded without a breakdown of communication, a descent into the ancient human inclination to settle scores with our fists.

With the camp under an eviction order set for midnight Sunday, and the people there defiantly vowing to stay and resist, to hold their ground to protect the land and the water, it’s hard to know what to expect. Anything could happen. There is a lot of pressure being placed on President Obama to intervene, and he still might. Hope springs eternal.

What I know is that the Standing Rock confrontation is the strongest volley yet in the ongoing struggles to resist the might of the fossil fuel lords.

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Minutes later, these unarmed people, praying in and for the water, would be hit with mace by the police.

 

In Pennsylvania, when the frackers came and began leasing up the forests over the Marcellus Shale, the people there took it as an unexpected bonanza, and began signing eagerly on the dotted line. They couldn’t imagine what would happen next: the logging, the industrial-scale pumping stations, the noise, the tanker trucks, the poisoning of the surface and ground water with toxic chemicals.

Same thing in Oklahoma, where the people who sold their land rights could never have imagined that the fracking would start setting off earthquakes.

Ordinary people took the bait of short-term gains, accepting the fool’s gold of the frackers and drillers. In the Bakken oilfields of the Dakotas, as in the Alberta tar sands, it’s the same story.

But ordinary people are perhaps not quite as stupid as the fossil fuel magnates seem to think.

It may take time, but we do wake up. We are coming to appreciate the inestimable value of clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems and a stable climate.

we-will-never-forgetBack in the 1990s–when Julia Butterfly Hill sat in Luna, the 1500-year-old redwood tree, to protect her from logging, and Rachel Corrie stood up to the bulldozers in Palestine and paid for her bravery with her life—news of their protests spread mostly through word of mouth. The mainstream media didn’t cover Rachel’s commitment to her cause until she was dead.

But now in the 21st century, we are all connected. I can bring the snowy camp at Standing Rock into bed with me on my smartphone. I can watch the police beating up elders and kids. I can see the exquisite dignity of the water protectors praying at the river bank. I can be with them, virtually, excruciatingly, in real time.

And that makes all the difference.

The days when corporate bosses and their hired goons could ride roughshod over protesters without anyone even knowing—those days are gone. We are all citizen journalists now, and each generation of digital natives is savvier than the last about how to use the communication tools available to us to spread the word and stiffen the spines of the larger circles of resisters and witnesses.

I fear another Wounded Knee could be in the making at Standing Rock. The police are trying to needle the water protectors into “riot” so that it will look justified when they call out the big guns to “keep the peace.” Will “law enforcement” actually take the risk of escalating from rubber bullets to real bullets?

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Water protectors being hit with water cannons in 28-degree (F) temperatures last month.

 

So far it’s been so inspiring to watch the Native leaders steadfastly resisting those incitements, standing firm in their commitment to a movement grounded in non-violent prayer.

This Sunday, December 4, 2016, we have all been called to pray with and for Standing Rock, and for the entire Earth—to pray that we human beings will come to our senses and stop destroying our home and each other.

img_0268Although I was not raised to pray in a formal way, I find myself increasingly drawn to a kind of prayer that borders on channeling: a deep meditation in which I ground my feet in the roots of a tree or a mountain, open up my heart to the high vibrations of the air, and let the streaming energy of the sun and the stars pour down through my head into the rich loam at my feet.

When I shared this practice with my Facebook tribe recently, others chimed in, saying they too had felt a similar call. I found it spelled out again by Sharon McErlane, who channels the “grandmothers of the light.”

We are being called to stand up for the light now, even as the darkness deepens around us, literally and figuratively.

We don’t need the Internet to connect our hearts and minds through the energy flowing down to us from the cosmos. We can do as the trees do, and turn that radiant energy to sweet nourishment.

Like every living thing on this planet, we were born to grow and to flourish. Human beings have been fulfilling that original mission all too well lately.

We need to learn to grow wisely now, in harmony with each other and with the vast pulse of life on the planet.

The protectors of Standing Rock are like the immune system of human civilization, come to fight off the aggressive cancer of short-term corporate profiteers. Let us join together to strengthen that immune system through our love and concern, our prayers and our actions.

I end with words from Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee that I return to over and over for guidance in these dark times:

….The ancient energies of the Earth are still alive and we do not begin to understand how they are responding both to the energy of change and our collective resistance. But rather than attempting any prophecy I would continue to be aware of what each moment is telling us, watching the signs in the inner and outer worlds just as a sailor would read the winds and tides.

And from within this darkening there arises a cry that we hold the light that is left, the light that is within our self and within the spiritual body of the world. So much as been lost, so much has been desecrated by our endless desires, but those of us who are aware of the sacred need to hold what is left, hold it in our hearts and real awareness. The light of the sacred needs our care and protection. Maybe at some time it will give birth to the child with stars in its eyes, to the future whose seeds are still all around us. Without our relationship to this light nothing can be born, and the darkness will devour any real hope. Those of us who are aware of what we were given, of the oneness that was awakening, are needed to hold true to life’s deeper purpose, the unfolding of the soul of the world. We need to stay attuned to the heart of the world and life’s essential message of love, however the drama in the outer world unfolds.

–from Darkening of the Light (Golden Sufi Center, 2013)

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Nova Scotia, Winter 2015

 

Luna Rising: Calling on Women to Rise for Our Communities, and for Mother Earth

A lot of women I know are taking the knock-down of Hillary Clinton personally. It’s as if she is standing in for all the women who have ever tried to climb the male-dominated career ladder, no matter the field, and found themselves finally up at the top only to realize that that ladder is teetering…so that we all found ourselves looking at each other through Hillary’s eyes on election night, with that sickening realization dawning that…we are going DOWN.

Yes, she won the popular vote, we remind ourselves, clutching at straws of self-respect. Petitions are circulating demanding that the Electoral College represent the will of the people and split its vote accordingly, state by state. Many women are writing letters to Hillary, thanking her for fighting the good fight, and vowing to keep it up, to fight all the harder for this disappointment.

Meanwhile the frat-boy bully, our worst nightmare of the sleazy underbelly of America, is now slithering into the White House.

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How different is this guy from George W. Bush, another frat-boy bully, an entitled scion of a rich family? Bush Jr. had more of a patina; he had the patrician Kennebunkport charm, even though it masked a profound idiocy that kept him dependent on scheming advisors like Cheney.

Trump is the brash New Yorker, the kid from the boroughs whose family ran a real estate mafia, getting rich one gouged rent at a time. Although he has a lot of sycophants and wanna-be besties around him, Trump follows his own counsel. I don’t think he’ll be as easy to manipulate as Bush Jr. was. That just makes him all the more dangerous.

Yes, he’s dangerous. He represents the ascendancy of the worst forms of hyper-masculine arrogance—the kind of guy who throws his weight around, shouts down any dissenter, insists on having his own way all the time. He will glory in uniforms and lust in the power of legions of men saluting and doing his bidding. He will raze forests just for the fun of it like a modern-day Gilgamesh. He will rape and pillage and laugh about the humiliation of the women he leaves behind moaning in the dust.

This man—our soon-to-be President of the United States—is as bad as any petty warlord. Although we can think of dozens of similar dictators and tyrants like him, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a man this bad in our White House. Not this unapologetically, energetically, gleefully BAD.

President Obama is calmly talking about passing the baton, sitting down with the President-elect to talk about the nuclear codes and other key levers of government. His preternatural calm, like Hillary’s unemotional concession speech, baffles and frightens me. Don’t they fear for our country? Is it forbidden for them to express rage and frustration? Or do they know, in some insiders’ way that ordinary folks like us can’t, that it doesn’t really matter who is in the White House, they’re all, as Obama put it, “on the same team”?

What team is that, pray tell?

The team of the rapers and pillagers of women and of the planet? The corporate-finance team that is hell-bent on enriching the richest while hitting up ordinary folks with usurious interest rates on the loans and credit cards we need to survive; casting our children into perpetual debt bondage in return for the education they need to find the jobs that don’t pay enough to live on; drilling and fracking and scraping and bulldozing the Earth to make her pay her way in fossil fuels, no matter that the burning of those fuels will send our climate to Kingdom Come….

Yes, I am angry. If Obama really thinks that he and Trump are on the same team, then that is not a team I want any part of. I don’t want the “peaceful transition of power” if it means power will now reside in the small fat hands of that hateful would-be dictator.

Deep breath. Deep breath.

There is value in anger, I think. We can’t go quietly into the night. We have to fight this menace, and I am glad to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Bill McKibben and Van Jones, Naomi Klein and Michael Brune and so many other good folks rallying for the fight.

But we have been fighting for a long time, and now to have this sudden loss of ground is disheartening, to say the least. It’s exhausting and demoralizing to see all those old bullies rallying around Trump—Giuliani, Gingrich and Christie, to name just a few—and know that this time around, with the power to appoint federal judges and justices, the way forward will be even harder.

I am wondering if there’s another way to fight this time. Yes, the street demonstrations are important; being visible is essential. The social media shares and livestreams are also key.

I’m just asking myself, what would it look like to launch a feminine response to Trump’s hyper-masculinity? Sort of like what Code Pink was doing in the Bush years or what One Billion Rising has done with dance flash mobs: meeting the gray sobriety of our corporate-militarized American “team” with the vibrant color and gay creativity of generative, nurturing freedom and joy.

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I think about the patience of Mother Nature, giving endlessly to all of her children, asking nothing in return but our success. I think about how no matter how fast we chop down her forests, she simply starts growing them again, even if the growth starts with the tiniest layer of lichen or moss. I think about the rhizomatic underground networks that support and nourish everything visible; the ones that persist and regrow no matter how much the aboveground targets are hit.

The Treesisters movement is promoting nature-based feminine leadership, specifically focusing on climate change as the global issue that unites all humanity. Climate change knows no national boundaries and it affects everyone—even the richest tyrant in his castle will eventually be starved out by the droughts and floods that will come once the warming has gone totally out of control.

With climate-change-denier Trump and his henchmen holding power in the White House and the US Congress, the whole world is in grave danger.

Feminine energy is needed now; the energy of nurturing and cultivating, the energy that is present in all humans but strongest in those whose bodies are made to bear life: women who are flooded with the loving, nurturing hormone estrogen before they leave their own mother’s wombs, and throughout their entire lives.

Women, now is not the time to shrink back in horror, to curl up and hide for four years hoping for a better champion the next time around.

Now is the time to look at our world through the eyes of Mother Earth, with compassion and benevolence, but also with the fierce love that can move mountains.

We have to rise for our daughters and sons, modeling for them not the passive acceptance of Barack and Hillary “passing the baton” to the bully, but proud and forceful independence that knows no humiliation and will not be intimidated.

There is a lot of talk right now in elite circles about trying to understand the Trump supporter better. I don’t think there’s a lot of mystery to why people in the rust belt are angry, frustrated and ready for change. The public education system is lousy, turning out people who are docile enough to follow a liar and a cheat over the cliff; and if you’re unhealthy from toxic chemicals, in debt up to your ears from huckster lenders, without decent jobs or any hope of improvement—well, it’s revolution time, and we know that people who have nothing to lose will often follow a charismatic leader, no matter what false prophets he is preaching.

A feminine-inspired leader, taking her cue from Mother Earth, will embrace these children along with all her children, trying her best to give them what they need to flourish and grow well. That means good nutrition, good education, healthy communities, a sense of purpose and ways to contribute productively to the common well-being. It’s not too much to ask. It’s what every American and every human being deserves.

At the same time, we know now that we would need six Earths to support the vaunted American lifestyle in its current incarnation, for all the billions of humans on Earth. We are going to have to shift away from the old idea of limitless economic growth, into a new steady state that consumes much less of Earth’s resources, much more efficiently, in ways that make more of us truly happy.

This can be done.

It must be done.

I am calling on women to lead the way here and now—to use the galvanizing push of this horrendous election to inspire us to rise up in our communities, everywhere in the world, to insist that the bullies will NOT have their way this time.

Not on their lives…and not on ours.

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PS: On Monday November 14 the Moon, whose magnetic pull sweeps the tides and the menstrual cycles of all mammals, will be as close to Earth as she’ll be until 2034. Women, let’s all honor Luna that day. Go out and gaze at her. Take her feminine energy into your hearts and then send it out into the world, bathing your communities in that peaceful pulse of pure white light. If we come together, our feminine power knows no bounds. We can do this. We must!

The Soul Force We Need Now

When I wrote my last Transition Times piece, imagining the darkness that would descend on America if Trump should win the presidency, I didn’t believe it would happen. I trusted Americans to unite behind Hillary as the better choice; to defeat the bigotry and stupidity represented by Trump.

Hillary did win the popular vote, but she lost the electoral college. Is this a fair system, this winner-take-all system we have inherited? I don’t think so. But with Republicans gleefully about to control all three houses of government, I’m not expecting any changes on that score. We just have to deal with the cards on the table now.

The cards are not good. Not good for people, for animals, for wildlife, for oceans and forests and prairies. The setback is real.

But let’s not kid ourselves that a Clinton presidency would have been a walk in the park. There’s a reason so many of us were unenthusiastic about her candidacy, even while applauding her as a woman with enough grit and backbone to survive a punishing public life and continue in a historic bid for the highest public office in the land.

Yes, Hillary is tough. Yes, she made friends with the wealthy whose money she needed to make her run viable. Yes, she talked the talk and walked the walk that the Democratic Party wanted to hear. Yes, she won the popular vote in the end.

But not by a landslide. Not by enough. In the end, she could not go that final mile to victory.

The pundits are busy parsing out why the pollsters and journalists were so blindsided by the Trump insurgency. No one is talking fraud, but I wonder…all it would have taken is fraud in a couple of key states…say, Florida and Pennsylvania…to tip the electoral scales.

Even if there was no direct vote tampering, there was tampering of hearts…Trump’s empty sloganeering giving people something simple and digestible to hang on to, so much more appealing than Hillary’s endless fine print.

Bernie Sanders understood the profound despair and hopelessness of the American middle-to-lower class (the middle class slip-sliding away into the hanging-by-the-grace-of-a-credit-card class). And unlike Trump, he actually has some ideas about what to do for these suffering millions.

Hillary represented status quo stability, an extension of the relative peace, prosperity and even tentative progressive tiptoes that Obama brought us. That’s nothing to sniff at. But for people who weren’t feeling the benefits, it obviously wasn’t enough.

No use crying over spilt milk. As pundits around the globe are saying this morning, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and recommit ourselves to the struggle for a sane and livable world. People who believe in the ideal of social justice for all, who believe in preserving our environment as the essential pathway to a livable future—we have to come together now as never before.

That old Hopi prophecy about “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” seems to be awakening, both in the Trump camps and now in progressive circles. The good people of Standing Rock are already living it.

Obviously we can’t look to the Federal government for protection or support. But as Bernie proved in defying the Democratic Party last winter and spring, there’s a lot we can do at the state and local levels, with direct appeal to individuals who share our values and want to put their money and energy behind a shared vision of what America would look like if there was really “justice for all”—and I include all living beings in my understanding of that phrase, from the fish in the sea to the trees in the forests to the birds in the sky and on and on, our whole magnificent ecological web.

Mother Earth is in convulsions right now, thanks to the unchecked growth of us, her most successful species yet. We are over-populating like lemmings, and like lemmings we seem to be on track to restore stability by running off a cliff together—powered by our remarkable technology and the fossil fuels required by our machine-based lifestyle.

This is the bigger picture we must keep in our sights on this gloomy morning after the Trump win. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, red or blue, elites or working class, or any other way of slicing and dicing our differences.

In the face of climate change, we are all the same in our vulnerability to the big shocks that will inevitably come if we don’t succeed in shifting away from fossil fuels. Trump in his faux-gold tower can’t survive long without the farmers of the world producing food, and the farmers can’t do that if the climate gives way to floods and droughts and storms. We are all connected. We are all connected. We are all connected.

As Charles Eistenstein memorably puts it, we are one being looking out at the world through a multitude of eyes.

The sooner we understand this and get beyond old tired habits of separation, the better chance humanity has of evolving into the great steward species we were meant to be.

That old Garden of Eden story was a warning about the dangers of knowledge without wisdom, a warning that we are still struggling to absorb and learn from (and no, it wasn’t Eve’s fault!).

What is the wisdom we can live by in the difficult era that’s now dawning?

We have to acknowledge the deep pain, disappointment and anger that the Trump voters are living. It’s real. Trump didn’t invent it or even cultivate it; he just understood it, and understood, as an entertainer and consummate con man, how to make it work for him.

He will have no balms for the disenfranchised. America won’t return to some mythic “great” past. The anger and bitterness will continue until we can come together as a society to find real solutions that give all people a sense of dignity and purpose; opening up accessible pathways to health and well-being, individually and as communities.

Behind the wish to “make America great again” lies longing for a time when we could believe in and work together towards a brighter future. I know we don’t all agree on what that future could or should look like. But we should be talking about it together, not walling off from each other in distrust and fear.

Can I listen to a man spewing vile hatred over me and my family and everyone I love? Can I try to understand where he’s coming from, as he shoves me under a bus?

I don’t know if I have that in me. But I do know that in these times that are coming, I must stand firm in human decency; stand up for justice and integrity and love; and let that soul force—called forth by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other social change agents from Jesus on down the ages—stream through me out into the world.

If enough of us do this, together we can make that stream a mighty river, and ride that river to a better world.

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Soul force

Love is not a luxury

I am not one to be prone to panic attacks, but I do admit to often being in a low-level state of foreboding, that sometimes elevates itself to full-on dread. It’s not a mystery; I know what my triggers are:

  • the latest news of human activity destroying life or making our planet unlivable, whether by warfare, industrial agriculture, chemical contamination, deforestation, fracking and drilling, leaking and spilling or simply burning fossil fuels;
  • the insanity of a vapid, rapacious, evildoer like Drumpf coming so close to setting up his vampire camp in the White House;
  • the horror of the violence inflicted over and over again on African Americans, Native Americans, undocumented Americans, female, trans and gay Americans;
  • violence and cruelty to the vulnerable, in whatever form.

The dread comes when it seems like this filthy tide of misery is rising, threatening to engulf all the beauty that still exists, day and night, moment to moment, on our precious planet.

I have realized over time that I cannot be an effective activist for positive social change if I let myself be overtaken by sorrow, anger, disgust and despair. If I allow myself to sink under the weight of all the injustice and horror of human “civilization,” I will simply lose it—it will be crawl-under-the-covers time, time to check out of the real world into the dream world, time maybe to never come back.

So I have to practice this strange form of double vision, where part of me remains open, aware and enraged by the suffering, while another part of me goes about her daily life drinking deep of the beauty of the newly risen sun shining through the dew-dropped spider web strung up among the brilliant blue morning glory flowers, mainlining this beauty like an elixir capable of granting me the strength I need to keep the dread at bay and go back out into battle.

It’s almost as if by giving my attention to beauty and good I can strengthen those forces in the world, whereas if I steep myself too long in fury and horror those negative emotions begin to take hold in me and drag me down into a sinkhole of despair that only gets bigger when I struggle to escape.

This is a difficult thing for me to articulate, because I have never been someone who believed in sitting on a meditation cushion and focusing on “the light” as a way to combat the darkness of the real world. Even the ivory tower of academia has always felt too removed for me, although lately, thanks to the activism of the current generation of college students, the lofty impermeability of the tower is wearing thin.

I’m not advocating retreating and withdrawing and pulling up the drawbridge against the dread of the real world. I’m just admitting that for me, and maybe for others as well, it’s essential to restore my energies for the good fight by giving myself permission to savor and spend time immersed in what it is I love and value: deep emotional connections with humans, animals and the natural world.

The key words there might be “deep” and “emotion”: I have to allow myself to really feel deeply my love for specific people, places and animals in my life. I have to take the time to honor and appreciate how much these connections feed me.

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It may be one of the unheralded sicknesses of our era that we no longer feel entitled to the time to simply hang out enjoying each other’s company in real time (as opposed to screen time): cooking and eating a delicious weekday meal with family or friends; spending a couple of hours brushing and romping with a beloved pet; going for a long walk to a special patch of forest and sitting on a rock until the woodland animals forget you’re there and accept you as a harmless part of the landscape. These things take time, and time is what we seem not to have these days, or to deny ourselves.

At our peril. The sense of not having time, of time being regimented by the clock and occupied by a never-ending to-do list, is peculiar to the 21st century experience of being human, and it’s not a good thing, because that constant rushing from one task to the next keeps us living life at a superficial level—surfing through our lives, you might say, as though we were flitting from one website to the next. You can’t develop the capacity for deep emotional connections when you’re surfing…and without that capacity, you won’t be able to commit yourself passionately to any cause—or indeed, to anything at all.

So there seems to be a necessity of living “as if”—giving yourself permission to laugh, to love, to drink deep of the beauty of nature, as if innocent people were not being murdered by bombs and guns every day, as if the polar caps were not melting, as if the forests were not burning, as if the sixth great extinction were not advancing daily, as if the oceans were not being poisoned and warmed, as if the coral were not dying off, as if the bulldozers were not still grinding through the tar sands that will just accelerate all this death and destruction of everything we love….

It’s not easy to hold the awareness of all of this horror—and so much more—at bay. But we who care and want to work for positive change have to focus on love—on our deep, abiding love for this beautiful world and all the precious beings in it that we want to protect.

It sounds simple, like the Beatles line: All you need is love. But on a day to day basis, barraged as we are constantly by all the bad news and evildoers of the world, it’s hard to remember, and can feel like a cop-out or a self-indulgent escape from reality. It’s not.

It’s what “being the change” means. Live the change you want to see in the world, at a deep emotional level, and be part of a rising tide of hope and love that can sweep away the misery.

img_3727This is such an exciting time to be alive. There is so much potential for human beings to take an evolutionary leap away from the tribal competitiveness and heedless destructive ignorance of the past, stepping at last into our full potential as the sacred guardians of the complex ecological web of this planet, which we are finally beginning to understand. The leap won’t happen without our giving ourselves permission to honor our deep connections with each other and with Gaia; without our giving ourselves permission to love.

Hence the need to live, at least part of the time, as if loving was the most important thing we could possibly be doing with our precious time.

Because it is.

 

audre_lordeNOTE: My title is a take-off on Audre Lorde’s famous essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Poetry, as she lived and practiced it, was love. A few lines from the essay that I go back to again and again: Poetry “forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought….Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

–from Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press, 1984, 37-38.

Star showers

These past few days I have been aware of how overhead the meteors are sizzling, though we can’t see or hear them. Apparently this year’s Perseid meteor shower is especially intense, with some 200 shooting stars an hour at the peak, instead of merely 80 per hour, the norm.

Here in New England it’s been cloudy in the evenings, so I have not been able to see the shooting stars…but I’ve been thinking about how the meteor showers happen 24 hours a day, whether or not we see them. Just because they’re blotted out by the brilliance of the Sun doesn’t mean they’re not happening.

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Somehow I have been able to sense the whoosh of the meteors during the day, as the Sun burns mercilessly overhead; as well as at night, through the blankness of my ceiling, despite the grind of the air conditioner that is the only thing making this heat wave bearable.

Every few seconds: whoosh, there goes another one!

Even though I know the shooting stars are meteors, it still seems, when I see one, like I am watching a “star” detach itself from the dark heavens and fling itself across the blackness of space.

Lately I have been restless, wanting that freedom, the ability to detach myself from the background and streak forwards towards an unknown destination. This is strange for me, as I have been someone who has hung on firmly to my corner of the universe for my whole life, very rarely venturing beyond the borders of what I know and love.

I have the sense that maybe I’m not alone in this.

It seems like we are once again entering a time to “let our freak flags fly,” as Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young put it during the tumultuous 1960s. Time to let go of the customs and habits we’ve accepted as normal, and held on to as if they were the answer to the question we were never taught to ask.

Question: If you’re born as a human being, what is your life all about? Why are you here? What are you meant to be doing with your “one precious life” (Mary Oliver)?

To some degree, I think the answer is both simpler and more complex than we might expect.

We are here to be the soul of the Earth, the anima mundi, the means by which the planet can see, hear, touch, feel and understand herself. The other living beings perform this function too, of course. But only Homo sapiens, so far, has the ability to see into the future and evaluate the past. Through our amazing technological ability, we can foresee when the meteor shower will come, not just this year but for the years to come as well. And we can record the beauty of these showers, in writing and in images, preserving the present moment for posterity in a way that was never possible before we showed up on the planet.

We have a unique capacity to manipulate time, we humans. For better or worse, we are aware of the past and the future as well as the present moment.

I am not sure that this is really a blessing. I might be happier if I could simply detach myself and fly, like a meteor, without worrying about everything leading up to this moment, and everything that will result from my choice to let go.

In my memoir I wrote about an August night long ago when I went to watch shooting stars with a friend up on a dark hillside, just the two of us lying on a tarp, under a blanket, our warm bodies a counterpoint to the cold brilliance of the shooting stars overhead.

That night I chose not to become the lover of my companion; we went our separate ways. Does the memory of that August meteor shower haunt him as it does me? Does he feel the soul connection we made that night, still firm and unshakeable despite more than 30 years gone by?

I feel the meteors shooting across the sky all day, all night, though I cannot see them. Does that make them any less real?

Maybe it is time to detach ourselves from the tyranny of believing only what we see. Maybe it is time, despite our media obsessions, to give more credit to what we feel with our mind’s eye, with our hearts and souls.

Whoosh, there goes another one! Did you see it? Did you feel it?  There it goes!

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