New Year’s 2021: Be the Light

Greetings, 2021. 

My prayer is that you will be the year in which we come to appreciate our interconnections with each other and all things on Earth and in the heavens. 

May you be the year in which we came to understand and value the importance of health, and to see that as we are all interconnected, one cannot be healthy while others are sick. 

May we embrace the entire Earth community as our tribe, recognizing that peace and plenty in one part of the globe cannot be lasting if others are starving and in strife. 

May we remember the sensitive arts of diplomacy, negotiation and mutual respect. 

May we remember how to listen deeply, how to open our hearts to strive for understanding, even when we are confronted with radical difference. 

2020 taught us the hard way that climate disruption is well underway, accompanied by fires, storms, melting ice and parched or flooded farmlands. We learned the hard way that the globalization of human civilization has opened pathways for pandemics as well as for profits. It has become clear that our favorite toy, the Internet, has the power to connect us as never before, but also to shred our trust in one another, undermining the stability of our social and political systems. 

As we step gingerly into this new year, 2021, and this new decade begins to unfurl, may each of us find the center of calm in our own hearts, and radiate that out into the world. I know this is not easy when it seems like everything we have known is under assault; when we are separated from our loved ones; when we are faced with disrespect, violence, hunger and fear. 

But for those of us who have our immediate needs met, who have the luxury of sitting on a safe, if crumbling, shore—for us, there is a simple, but not inconsequential practice we can undertake for ourselves and for others.

We have simply to center ourselves, open our hearts, and radiate our love and compassion out into the world. 

Buddhism calls this tonglen. Other religions call it prayer. It needs no name, nor the seal of any established religion. Each of us has a direct connection to the steady light of the sacred, which grows brighter as we focus on it and call it forth into the world. 

Each of us can be the love we want to see in the world. We can embody and radiate the divine love we seek, and become a channel for the beauty all around us. 

May the glow of our collective light form a healing matrix around our beleaguered planet, harmonizing with the divine light that connects us to the cosmos and all the other stars, suns and planets out there. 

May 2021 be the year we realize our profound interconnection with all that is. 

May the light that animates each of us strengthen and protect all of us. 

Namaste. 

New Year’s morning 2021. Venus aloft. Photo by J. Browdy.

Inspiration from the Oyster and the Caterpillar

Winter Solstice Reflections

I have been thinking of the oyster lately.

How she spends her life alone, down in the deep dark of the sea; how the craggy peaks on her roughened shell express her toughness and resilience; how inside that calcified fortress she is tender, soft, vulnerable and sweet. 

I have been thinking about how it’s the irritation of a bit of sand inside her shell that gets the oyster creating. 

No sand, no pearl. 

She takes a sharp-edged bit of silica and works on it patiently, secreting the layers of creative juices that transform ordinary sand into lustrous pearl. 

Alone in the dark, the roaring of the great sea around her, she is like the caterpillar in her cocoon, working her magic with methodical, rhythmic attention. 

I have never seen an oyster creating a pearl, but I have had the great joy of watching a caterpillar transform into a cocoon.

First she fixes herself head down on a sturdy stalk, curling her body up into a J. Her soft body jerks and vibrates, magically changing into a hard shell. Once the shell is complete, the vibrations stop and the deep transformation begins. You know she is almost finished with her work when the walls of the cocoon become translucent, and you can start to see the veins of the butterfly wings outlined inside. 

Moving into the ultimate darkness of Year 2020, this Solstice weekend, I am embracing the inspiration of these two exemplary creators: the oyster and the caterpillar. 

One takes the irritants that beset her and transforms them into beauty. 

The other unhesitatingly embarks on total transformation, trusting the inner guidance that assures her that even in the face of complete dissolution, all will be well. 

I know that as a human, I am sand in the tender flesh of the oyster of the world. 

As a human, I am an earthbound crawling caterpillar, focused on munching, unaware of the great cosmic and Gaian rhythms that so generously provide my sustenance. 

On this Winter Solstice, I offer myself up for transformation. 

May the rough being that I am, slouching through these times of crisis and sorrow, be taken up by the world and made beautiful. 

May I emerge from these lonely struggles with new energy, insight and sense of purpose, ready to fly into a world so in need of loving attention.


Join me Sunday 12/20 for a free online writing workshop exploring the transformative potential of the Winter Solstice. More info here: https://www.jenniferbrowdy.com/event/winter-solstice-2020/

Be the Light…Photo by J. Browdy

Seeking clarity…on a new, better “normal”

In the northern hemisphere, each day is getting a little shorter now—the  darkness of dawn lasting longer, and the darkness of dusk coming on more quickly. The candles and festive lights of the season help to counter all that gloom, but the usual rounds of holiday parties and concerts have been shifted online this year, and no amount of Zoom can replace the warm animal pleasure of being physically close to the people we love. 

Still, thank heaven for Zoom, as it has allowed us to continue to gather face to face in ways that were, until very recently, the stuff of science fiction. And thank heaven for the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, upon which is pinned our hopes of resuming “normal” life. 

This is a good moment to reflect on that “normal” existence we were living at this time last year. What were the good things about my 2019 life, which I miss and want to resume as soon as possible? What am I grateful to have let go of in this pandemic season? Are there things I used to do that maybe I don’t want to resume, or that I will want to take up again differently once the virus recedes?

One thing I know is that the emergence of COVID-19 is just another sign of a stressed planet and the unhealthy human relationship with the rest of the Earth community. 

Therefore, getting healthy is not just about getting a vaccine. To be truly healthy, we have to learn to live more lightly and lovingly on our planet; to regain the ecological balance that has sheered so dangerously off course in our lifetimes. 

This is a matter of policy, yes, to be negotiated at the highest levels of government through international agreements; but it is also a matter of individual actions, small choices that you and I have the power to make each day. 

The darkness of winter Solstice, coinciding this year with some of the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, is a time to seek clarity on what matters most. 

Seeking clarity. Photo by J. Browdy

It’s a time to ask, with focus and intention, for inner guidance on how to live in right relation with each other and the Earth. 

If I’m honest, I know that the old “normal” was pretty awful for all but the top echelons of elite humans, all over the world. And if you were to ask a butterfly or a bee, an elephant or a whale how things went for them in 2019—well, you know what the answer would be. 

In these dark days, I am trying not to be overwhelmed by all the fear and negativity swirling around our collective psychic landscape. I am trying to remember times in my life when I have felt clear and spacious, in right relation with myself and those around me, moving with grace through the time and space that we inhabited together. 

I want to regain the clarity I felt as a young girl walking the woods by myself, catching the liquid eye of a grazing deer, raising my head to the sharp scream of a hawk circling overhead, nodding happily at the cheery greeting of the chickadees in the hemlocks or the whistled alarm of the chipmunks in the mossy stone walls. 

In those moments, I was totally present, totally calm, every sense stroked alert and zinging with joy at the beauty around me. 

In my new normal, post-pandemic life, I want more of such moments of clarity and exuberance. I want to seek out more occasions to deepen my relationships with the more-than-human environment around me. 

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I believe that if more of us could get into right relations with our animal neighbors, our relations with our human neighbors would improve too. It is no coincidence that so many pets have been adopted in 2020. Animals, trees, and the entire ecological web of life on Earth have so much to teach us about health and well-being. 

Could it be that finally, in 2021, we’ll be ready to listen?

Mama Fox, hunting. Photo by J. Browdy

A Thanksgiving Invitation

I’m not gonna lie, this Thanksgiving Day post has been really hard to write. 

I don’t want to write platitudes about how we should remember how much we have to be thankful for. 

I don’t want to remind my readers, as I have in the past, about how Thanksgiving is a corrupt and dysfunctional holiday anyway. 

I don’t want to indulge in self-pity as I contemplate my first EVER solo Thanksgiving Day. 

I want to say something that will be of comfort to others who, like me, are wrestling with the reality of the “cancellation” of the whole winter holiday season. 

Let’s see, I could say something like: “Thanksgiving was such a hassle anyway! Did you really enjoy the pressure of producing a memorable meal and festive occasion for all those friends and family?”

Or: “Just think of how the planet is thanking us for staying home and not polluting the air with our cars and airplanes. Now we can all just visit by Zoom!”

These bright Zoloft thought bubbles waft away dismally, bursting as soon as I write them down. 

The bottom line is that despite the problems baked into this holiday, there is some ancient and fundamental impulse at the root of it: the desire to gather together with loved ones as the season turns cold and dark, meeting in circle around a warm hearth and a good meal to share the love that will sustain us through the winter days to come. 

But this year, for so many of us, that impulse will die on the vine, because gathering together is precisely what we should NOT do this pandemic holiday season.

As the gloom of this Thanksgiving Day has come into focus, I’ve caught myself trying to push away nostalgia for all the wonderful holidays in my pre-pandemic life. I chide myself: What use does nostalgia serve, for myself or for anyone else?

But mulling it over, I’ve realized that there is an important distinction to be made between self-indulgent nostalgia and purposeful remembering.

Self-indulgent nostalgia runs an endless loop of fixed, Technicolor memories, through which you remind yourself in a self-flagellating way of those good old happy days—now lamentably over and gone. At its most basic, it’s an unprocessed form of grief.

Purposeful remembering is a loving reanimation of the special people, places and circumstances of your life, which composts nostalgia into a loving tribute to the past. 

While nostalgia invites commiseration, the purposeful sharing of happy memories is an offering of nourishing nuggets of inspiration, an invitation to warm your spirit with the glow of past happiness. 

This strange pandemic Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in creating a virtual pot luck smorgasbord, a warm and welcoming circle at which we can offer each other little tidbits of remembered joy.

I’ll go first—here’s my “covered dish”:

I remember how after Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, as the last dishes were being washed and the delicious food packed away for the next day’s leftovers, one of us would open up a guitar case, sit down by the fireplace, and strike up a song. The music would bring the rest of us gravitating to the fire, humming along, grabbing more instruments, breaking out the old folk songs that my brother and I learned from my parents as babies, and have been singing together over all these decades. One song would lead to another, from the blues to the union songs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Odetta…at some point the Cognac would appear to whet our whistles and we’d keep singing, our faces flushed and happy in the warmth of the fire, until finally the music we’d been carrying around unexpressed since our last family jam had all been released, leaving us sated and soothed, in the companionable, open-hearted quiet before bedtime. 

Browdy family jam, a scene oft-repeated through the years.

Your turn next. I’d love for you to share a happy, nourishing memory from a Thanksgiving past.

Share it in the spirit of a gift to the circle, knowing that even from afar, even when we’re sitting alone, we can touch each other lovingly by sharing the warmth of the happy stories we carry in our memories and in our hearts. 

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. 

Don’t let their blood red tarnish your vision

In the wake of the 2020 US election, I’m sitting with the sinking feeling, lodged like a stone in my gut, that there is not going to be any easy exit from the social quagmire that now exists in the United States. The ideological lines between red and blue have deepened into chasms between people who apparently disagree about pretty much everything. 

The red side is ready and willing to take up guns to settle such disagreements. In 2020 America, violence is always only a hair’s breath away, with millions of guns in civilian circulation, combined with militarized police forces everywhere. 

On the red side are autocrats who liked the original Constitution just fine—the one that gave rights only to landowning white men. It’s been especially disturbing to see how many white women support their own oppression, voting for the Handmaid’s Tale-esque party of “grab’em by the pussy.” 

I’ve seen some social media posts blaming the robust red turn-out on a poor public education system. It’s true that the red autocrats have been battling for years for ideological control of the common curriculum, with considerable success. I’m always struck by the starkly different narratives offered by American students from various parts of the country, when I ask them what they were taught about key topics like Native American history, the Civil War, slavery and women’s rights. 

But the most potent ideological education seems to be happening via the media these days. The red/blue divide is also a Fox/NPR divide. The Fox side lies with impunity and calls anyone who disagrees with their point of view a liar. How can you argue logically with people like that? 

Both sides speak to their own choirs, in a cacophony that boils over in every election cycle, when we are forced to hold our noses and listen briefly to each other. 

I have found myself pondering how a red/blue secession might work, logistically: is a bicoastal country possible? Or would the Pacific Coast and New England/Atlantic Coast each form their own federations? 

The fact that I am thinking about this is profoundly disturbing.

But given the Democrats’ failure to secure a majority in the Senate or mobilize a presidential landslide, in a year where at least apparently this was not because of “Russian interference” or any nasty “October surprise”—in a year when the red leadership seemed to be bending over backward to show its heinous true colors—blood red, we might call it—well, there is just no way to sweet-talk myself into believing that sane heads will prevail in American government going forward, even if, as I hope, Biden takes the White House.

The meanness and gridlock will continue, with the most vulnerable people being continually sacrificed on the altar of greed and xenophobia. Racism and sexism will continue to worsen, with a Fox-driven hysteria around “socialism” and “elitism” that whips poor white people up to do the bidding of the masters. 

As a woman of Jewish heritage, I am aware of my family’s privilege, these past few decades, of “passing for white” in the racist USA. But any Jew in this country has to be triggered by the Nazi rhetoric and symbolism coming out of the White House lately. What are Jews like Mnuchin, Miller, Kushner and Adelson but the kapos greasing the wheels of bigotry, hoping to profit off the downfall of others? Attorney Cohen saw how well that went. 

And yet—and yet, all the sages of the world tell us to respond to such evil with love, not fear. Meet hatred with forgiveness. Melt oppression by turning the other cheek. 

I don’t like the feeling of my heart hardening. I know it’s the work of fear, throwing up walls, finding enemies, closing down compassion. 

I have compassion for the millions of people who have been duped by the Fox oligarchy into voting against their own interests.; those who have been persuaded to harden their own hearts, not only against their perceived enemies, but also to the vulnerable within their own ranks. 

I do not have compassion or love for the ones who are doing the manipulating, in such a cynical, open way. They may be thinking that it worked for Hitler, but we know how many paid the price. 

Is the US heading for a civil war? Is there anyone on the horizon with the uniting vision of Lincoln who can pull us back from the brink and remind us what “these United States” are supposed to stand for?

I know it’s a mistake to rely on charismatic leaders. We should be looking within ourselves for that leadership, those answers. 

Vision is all. Vibration is powerful. We cannot allow their dark visions to prevail. 

Perhaps this is what is meant by “coming from love, not fear”:

Continuing to hold a bright vision of “equality and justice for all”; to animate that vision with personal integrity, making it so at least within our own limited spheres; trusting that the positive vibrations we put out into the world can and will make a difference, growing into a mighty chorus affirming the human potential for kindness, respect, beauty and right relations among all beings on this Earth. 

Join me in this, the least we can each do: don’t let the blood red of their vision tarnish yours. Keep your vibration high. 

Photo by J. Browdy, October 2020.

Split Screen

These days I feel like I am in some kind of weird split screen zone. On one side of the screen are the crazy, upsetting and nerve-wracking events taking place in human public sphere. On the other side are the beautiful autumn days unfurling serenely in the more-than-human landscape. 

Autumn jewels. Photo by J. Browdy, 2020.

As we count down the days to the Nov. 3 election and the turmoil that will undoubtedly follow that watershed day, I am inevitably drawn to focusing my attention on the natural world, where I can find tranquility that nourishes and soothes my soul. 

Is this a cop-out? Should I be spending my every waking hour following the US election, the COVID-19 spikes, the latest outrages of the Trump administration? Should I be focusing on the wildfires and hurricanes happening on the other side of the continent, instead of the peaceful sunrise taking place before my eyes?

Here’s the thing. Each of us is an individual expression of the same psychic landscape. It’s like there is a psychic mycelium to which we are all connected; an energetic matrix, which acts as a substrate for our embodied experience. 

Just as we are herd creatures in our physical experience, susceptible to peer influence and persuasion, we are also herd creatures when it comes to our collective consciousness. 

The more people there are in distress, the more that distress will continue to spread and grow. 

So when I focus on the tranquil side of my mental split screen, I am not copping out.  By calming myself, I am actually serving the collective, trying to send a positive, beneficial vibration out into the world. 

I am not always successful at this, as my social media feed will attest. Sometimes I share upsetting news just because I need some commiseration—I need to feel I am not alone in my outrage, distress and anxiety. 

When I do this, though, I am aware that I am being self-indulgent. It’s not like people need my social media feed as a source of news. We are all swimming in an information sea all the time, no one needs me to be the town crier. 

As we move through this intense Full Moon/Halloween/US election and spiral down into the darkest days of the year, let’s all try to at least give equal attention to both sides of the split screen. 

Soak up all the positive vibrations you can find, whether in the natural world or in the human community, and then do your best to share that positivity with others. 

It doesn’t mean you are being a Pollyanna; it doesn’t mean you don’t care about all the horrors going down in the world. 

It means that you are doing your best not to add to them. 

Autumn sunrise. Photo by J. Browdy, 2020.

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: 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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