Sunday, December 18, 2016

Inspiration

This week, I don't really feel like I have all that much to say.  I watched this amazing TedTalk yesterday and really what I most want to share is this talk:

John Francis: Walk the earth...my 17 year vow of silence

Please watch it - a great way to spend the next 18 minutes.  A total delight, and an amazing story of his life - one part Forrest Gump, one part Gandhi.  I really really love this guy.

Update 1/6/17: I notice that since I heard this guy's story, something new has been inspired within me.  To me, he's a beautiful picture of profound success.  Not that more common type of success, but the success of keeping a deep personal commitment, of walking a long path to deep wisdom, of cultivating a wild allegiance to one's own truth.  His ability to hold to his inner commitments to not ride in a motorized vehicle and then to not speak for decades absolutely astounds me.  I think his story resonates for me because I feel like I'm of a similar breed.  I have pretty outlandish idealistic impulses, and sometimes, I even have a glimmer of the kind of fortitude his story illustrates.  He makes me curious about what it would look like if I was more focused about cultivating these traits in myself.     

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Forgiveness

This image really grabbed me this week:

From the Facebook page of Standing Rock Rising

This picture was taken this past week when a group of U.S. veterans bowed down while one of them expressed an apology for how our military and government has mistreated and harmed Native people.  The Native elder responded by an in-kind apology for the 268 soldiers who were killed during the Battle of Big Horn by Sioux warriors.  This apology and forgiveness exchange was followed by a call by both the gathered veterans and the elder for World Peace.

Reading about this event, watching video, looking at pictures - this did much more than warm my heart.  It freaking set it on fire.  All week, I've felt giddy with optimism and love and hope. 

Almost 20 years ago now, I was studying abroad in Australia and saw a flyer for a meeting to discuss Aboriginal Reconciliation; I was intrigued enough to show up.  The meeting was related to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and I sat and listened as this small group of passionate people talked about their plan to organize some sort-of public recognition of the tragic history of the Indigenous people who were killed and abused in various ways as the Europeans settled Australia. 

Being in that meeting opened me up to consider facing the ugliest chapters of our history with something besides debilitating shame or fearful denial.  It gave me hope there was another way, and I've reflected back to that often over the years.

Australia continued experimenting with these questions about reconciliation, and around 9 years after my visit, the Australian government gave a public apology to their Indigenous people, the Apology of 2008.  This article has interesting comparisons of the Australian and United States' attempts to restore and heal relations with their Indigenous people.  The grand apology does not seem to have created the hoped for reconciliation in Australia, but that doesn't dampen my hope for what's possible.  It only makes me that much more curious about how it could be played out more meaningfully.

Forgiveness feels a bit like magic to me.

When awful things happen, both parties hold a key to deep resolution in their own ability to  apologize, to forgive, to be honest about what occurred.  In my own life, I've found that these are some of the hardest things to meaningfully do, and yet, these are our greatest opportunities for transformation and healing, both personally and collectively.

I pray that the forgiveness ceremony this week is a catalyst for more in that vein.  May we walk the road to deeply forgive ourselves, to deeply forgive each other, to deeply forgive our ancestors, and may some hard earned forgiveness be the fertile ground for a cultural transformation.
 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Long Shot

Man oh man.  These last six months or so have been a doozy here in the US, and it appears to be similar for planet earth in general.  And as the weather is turning colder, I'm really feeling the draw to unplug, head into hibernation, and hope everything goes ok out in the world while I'm warm in my little cave not paying attention to it all.

I have been paying attention, trying my best, and hoping the hardest things to hope.  And it's getting exhausting. 

I always seem to pick the long shot.  I vote for third parties in presidential elections a lot of the time.  If I'm not enthused by either major party candidate, I just can't get myself to choose the one that seems a lesser evil.  As we were nearing this election, I really thought that maybe I just had to do it this one time;  but at the final moment, I just didn't.  I somehow seem to have no trouble mustering the hope, despite everyone's "you must be crazy" looks, that something else is possible than the status quo, than this toxic two party system that seems so filled with smoke and mirrors.

And then since the election, again, my mind keeps turning to another long shot.  I keep wishing that maybe 37 of the republican electors will decide not to vote for Trump on December 19th, and just maybe the House will choose someone else.  If not, I'll move on and start hoping that he surprises me in the best possible ways, but until that long shot passes, it's where my eyes keep falling.

And then, there's the Dakota Access Pipeline; I'm hoping like crazy that it is never completed.  Somehow, maybe all the people, the prayers, the urgency of climate change will overcome, and this company losing billions of dollars on a pipeline that is never finished will change the tide and begin a cycle of rapid movement away from fossil fuels.

Even look at this blog: A Peaceful Human Race - dedicated to the hope that we evolve into a peaceful human race.  And the first blog I ever made I named A Sustainable Human Race, one I started on the hope that human beings would learn to sustain themselves in harmony with the miraculous and sensitive environmental balance of this incredible planet and all its inhabitants.

I'm a total dreamer, and even when something is a complete long shot, if it resonates for me, I believe, the way a kid into the double digits might still hold that belief in Santa.  It can be disheartening for me at times, but I have to admit that mostly I sort-of love this trait in myself.  Those long shots give me this comfy feeling that lets me know I'm home in my own strange self.

But lately, the long shots are feeling harder to believe in and more dire.  Last night, my husband and I were talking about some of the scary possibilities of our future - like nuclear war - and he said, "wow, maybe we won't even get to see global warming."

After we had a laugh, it hit me: maybe we won't.

Maybe we really are seeing the end, maybe we're living in Atlantis, maybe we are the dinosaurs stomping recklessly upon this planet and will soon be sunk under layers of dirt into its history.

I really haven't wanted to make peace with that.  I've wanted to hope my way through it, dreaming and visualizing and coming up with solutions to all the world's problems.  But after a couple decades of seeing humanity driving towards this brick wall and trying to wish and pray it away, I feel like it might be time for a change in my approach.

Those violinists on the Titanic have been on my mind this past week.  While everyone was rushing around in panic all around them, they went out on deck with their instruments and played their music, until the very end.  I've always loved that scene of the movie, feeling the deep beauty of choosing that way of spending their last moments.

I'm wondering if it's time for me to just make peace with the tragic ending, with the possibility that we will never become a truly peaceful human race, with the possibility that we may be among the last generations of human beings to live on this gorgeous planet. 

Nah.  I can write those words and I can see a significant number of arrows pointing at those possibilities, but something in me won't cooperate with that thinking.  A peaceful and sustainable human race is something that feels real to me, from the inside.

I have absolutely no idea whether this ship is going down or not, but either way, those violinists are a strong message for me right now.  Calm down in the midst of panic, step out on deck, and just play the role that you're clear is yours to play.  Part of my role is apparently to hold these long shots, and so I will, but it feels like time to hold them a little lighter and focus more on the music, the tastes, the everyday miracles that abound.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Nation's First Sin

The first thanksgiving feast between the Native Americans and Pilgrims that I was taught about as a kid colored my stories about the photo below.  This is a picture of my own Native American ancestor and her white husband, and as a kid, I told myself a story about a lovely unity and cooperation between the settlers and the Native Americans, a unity that led to a marriage that eventually led to my family.

But, is that the true story behind this photograph, behind the story of Thanksgiving?


I don't really know much about the real lives of the two people in this picture, and what really happened in that first thanksgiving feast also feels like a quite a mystery to me as I've learned more about that era.  I discovered this article, and I like how it boils things down to what we most likely do actually know.  It's a somewhat lighthearted look in comparison to the detail given in this article on the oppressive relationship between the settlers and the first people of this land.

Even if there was a beautiful shared celebration, both articles agree that things turned ugly. Our government walked a path of broken promises, stolen children, and genocide, and we only relatively recently and completely inadequately have worked to right those wrongs.  This video may surprise you with some of the key dates when Native Americans earned certain essential rights.  The treatment of our Indigenous people was our nation's first great sin.

This Thanksgiving weekend, along with being filled with a personal gratitude for the overwhelming blessings of my own personal life, I have been jumping out of my skin ready to scream, "IT IS TIME that we get moving on real reconciliation of our history of ignoring indigenous wisdom and our severe mistreatment of Native Americans by doing the right thing at Standing Rock!"  Seriously, if I had a mountaintop to scream from, I'd be there, screaming until my throat was sore.

For a snapshot of what's happening at Standing Rock, here's a look at a video that lays out the situation in favor of the Tribe and an article with the position of the company building the pipeline and another article from that point of view.  I've also found this map extremely helpful to give some context.  There is a lot out there on the militarized response of law enforcement against the Water Protectors, as the demonstrators call themselves.  You can start here and here if you'd like to learn more on those violent clashes.

Although I can accept that there are different ways to look at the situation in Standing Rock, what resonates most for me is what feels like a simpler and undeniable wisdom at the heart of all this. Water is Life, the Earth supports All Life, and our current way of living is not aligned with the preservation of our natural resources and environment for future generations.  And that this message is being brought to us by Native Tribes coming together in huge numbers, unifying to speak a truth of harmony and earth-honoring that reined in this land before the settlers came - that makes this whole situation feels all the more important to me.

When I first started learning about what's happening at Standing Rock, I didn't realize the mixing of the immediate issues for the Sioux Tribe and this company trying to finish the pipeline, and all these bigger picture issues.  It all seemed very intertwined, and I didn't much notice the lines between them, but as I've gone deeper, this has all become about so much more than just the immediate concerns and needs of the Sioux Tribe. 

It's become about preserving all water, Honoring the Earth in all our actions, and how the militarized response to the peaceful protests reflects back to the horrible history of relations between this country's first people and the immigrants who came to this country starting in 1492.  It's become about "killing the black snake" and keeping this pipeline from every being completed.  Re-routing it doesn't feel sufficient to me.  It's about the fossil fuel industry taking the hit this time, and a beginning of aligning bottom line profits with what really profits us all.

The first people of this land had a perspective of connectivity, harmony, and interdependence.  They cultivated their sense of connection with the Earth, the environment, the water, the animals.  They felt an allegiance to future generations, and they honored their responsibility to preserve and steward the Earth for the benefit of future generations.  The idea of land ownership made no sense to them at all, and their perspective was used against them by the early immigrants in all sorts of trickery.  Now, the realities of climate change are occurring and escalating, and the rejection of that indigenous wisdom is hitting us like a karmic slap in the face.

The vast majority of our schooled scientists are seeing that we are actually all connected, that we are actually all intertwined, and that we are actually fucking up our planet by our way of life.  They are seeing that we have to end this way of relating to the earth, to water, to energy and progress, or there will be far fewer future generations than we would hope.

I pray for a miracle here.  I pray that our country starts down a new path with Standing Rock - both in embracing our different cultural populations and our shared planet.  The United States is in crazy turmoil right now, and I pray that we begin the healing by facing our history honestly and facing our nation's first sin to take whatever action we possibly can to make things right at Standing Rock. 9 Effective Ways to Help Standing Rock.

Then, maybe we can continue with the healing by turning some attention to our country's second sin: slavery.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Unleashing the Shadows

Ever since the election, I've been oscillating between different mental and emotional states, having a hard time finding a comfortable place to stand.

When I first found out who won the election, it was 5 or so in the morning.  I was awoken by my daughter moving around, way earlier than she would ever be awake on a typical school day.  I quickly checked my phone to see the results that she'd already found out.

I knocked on her door, and she opened, revealing her tear stained face.  She told me she was crying because "now all those people in the different groups that he offended will feel like America isn't with them, and I can't stand that."  I felt exactly the same way myself. Before she pushed me out so she could start pulling herself together for school, I stumbled to get some words out, trying to help her not lose hope, help her continue to feel like our actions are important and can make a difference.

Telling her about the importance of our actions sent me in mental circles trying to feel out what useful action really looks like in this situation.  Is it showing up at demonstrations?  Making phone calls?  Donating money?  Signing petitions online?  Getting into debates on Facebook?  Which actions help, which hurt, and which don't really make any difference at all? 

Then, as I heard about the protests breaking out against Trump, I felt such mixed emotions.  On one hand, many of the protesters were young people like my daughter, that wanted to shout loud and clear that they are for an inclusive, diverse, and accepting America, that they are not against any of the groups of people that may have felt attacked or threatened by the Trump campaign.  And on the other hand, to hear of the violence and destruction that accompanied some of these protests, the harsh judgements and name calling against anyone who voted for Trump, these protests seem like the exact same energy that does not resonate for me - divisive and judgemental, just leading to more unrest and chaos.

The violent words and actions going in both directions are so upsetting and even confusing.  I don't want to bury my head and ignore what's happening, but I started noticing that when I read about the incidents, engaged in conversation with other people, believed in what was coming in from the airwaves and the conclusions being made by different people, I could feel myself getting sucked into a vortex of fear.

I felt overtaken by worry that we're getting deeper into a divided and volatile state.  I've felt this coming for such a long time, but I've always held on to and cultivate a hope that we'd change course somehow.  Even look at this blog, a tangible reflection of my hope that we actually will become a peaceful human race.  But looking, it sure hasn't seemed like we're changing course, and it can really freak me out at times. 

And then with my post last week, I realized that for my own well-being I really needed to back away from the opinion and information abyss coming to me through screens.  I started paying more attention to the energy of the people around me.  I started focusing more on making a conscious effort to lovingly connect with whoever crossed my path and to let go of the post-election chaos. It gave me a much needed respite from the madness I'd been feeling.

And as I was experiencing this shift of gears, a friend posted this video: Alanja Forsberg - Thank you Donald Trump!  With this title, I just had to watch, and listening to her, I felt this mix of "YES" and "huh..." 

YES, I long for more compassionate people, too, and YES, I see how he does bring a great opportunity for us to really see the shadows in our culture and in ourselves.

Huh... She really said thank you to him, and she really seemed to mean it.  No qualifiers, no back handed compliments, no negativity towards him at all.  And the longer I sat with that "huh", the more it started transforming into a yes.  As I've been coming across statements from different spiritual teachers that I love: Adyashanti and Pema Chodron and Byron Katie, there was also that common theme of cultivating equanimity and holding loving space, and it all very much resonated for me as the way I want to orient to this situation.  YES.

The unique and lovely thing about Alanja's video in particular is that she goes a little further.  She speaks his name, she does so with a loving tone, and she truly honors what he is bringing to the world and the alchemy that is possible with what he is unlocking in all of us.  Here I am: barely able to say Trump's name; I almost default into Voldemort style "he who shall not be named" manner.  And in the video, there she is: openly embracing his name and his place in the world.

I see how I can work harder on saying Donald Trump's name without wincing, without pushing away, without anger.  My husband had this set of Ram Dass cassette tapes that we used to listen to, and in one, Ram Dass talked about when he was deeply challenged by some public figure or individual in his personal life, he'd put a picture of that person on his meditation alter.  It's time for me to clear some space for Mr. Trump on my alter.

And, as I've been continuing to mull over this video in the last few days, I also realize that I feel called to be a warrior too, within myself.  I feel ready to deepen my focus on meeting my own trauma, fear, and fight reflex - head on.  Ready to hold it, become curious, become interested in giving space to what is being unlocked and released within me.

I've loved Gandhi's be the change quote for so long, but sometimes I can get caught up in my head - visualizing and attaching to a particular change I want to see, instead of really feeling in my heart the change I wish to see in the world.  I feel myself returning to a simpler perspective within that quote, one that feels so much more authentic and useful to me than the recent mental tornadoes that have been spinning.

The change I wish to see in the world is love, compassion, connection, peace.  That change isn't a cause I need to demonstrate about or a phone call I need to make; it's an action I take with my eyes, with my gestures, with my words, with my emotional openness to the people around me.  It's an action I take with my understanding and willingness to listen to people, even when what they say triggers me, alarms me or isn't in agreement with my values.  It's an action I take by keeping people close, even if someone didn't vote the same way, even if they don't believe in the same things, even if they don't see the same dangers I see on the course ahead.  It's an action I take when I humble myself and open to the truth that I really don't know any right answers, certainly not for anyone else.

An answer to the question about action that started spinning on the morning after the election is coming into view now.  For me, there may be some phone calls, some passionate discussions, some events that I'll be drawn to attend to stand up for the people and things I care about, but there is a much bigger call to action here, one which requires much more of me: the call to be a warrior.  Not a warrior that fights against people or things with aimed words and actions, but a warrior that has the courage and the strength to meet the shadows that have been unleashed in myself.  To hold space with love and compassion for whatever arises, both within and without.


And if I could return to that moment at my daughter's door on the morning after the election, I'd say that we don't know what's going to happen, whether we'll look back to this moment ten years from now and say this was a turning point for good or for bad.  Good luck, bad luck, we can't know.  All we can do is our best in whatever we are given to do and whatever we get to work with, one moment at a time.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Peace on Earth

An experience from 8 or 9 years ago has been on my mind quite a bit this week.

We were living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Church wasn't part of my life at the time, but some good friends raved about their church.  It sounded really unique and in line with our beliefs, so one Sunday, my husband, six year old daughter, and I decided to check it out.

As we drove up, the little white building with a blue roof stood out against the pinon trees and the mountains.  I'd driven by it a few times, but I had never even realized it was a church.  Following suit with the non-traditional appearance, the service was also out of step with my other church experiences - casual, funny, inspired.

As the service was coming to a close, the kids came in from Sunday school and everyone started confusingly scrambling around.  In the shuffle, I lost my people, and after a few minutes, I finally realized that this game of musical chairs was actually everyone beginning to form a circle around the sanctuary.  I ended up in the circle holding hands with two people I didn't know.

The pianist started playing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and everyone began to sing.  Not really knowing the words to the song all that well, I just listened, and after a verse or so, I realized that they were singing, "Now, there is peace on earth, and yes, it begins with me."

And it just really hit me.  I was overwhelmed with unexpected tears, and my hands were awkwardly occupied by the two strangers on either side of me.  I didn't pull away to wipe the tears; I just let myself be held in this state of vulnerability, tears on my face, listening to a song proclaiming a reality that I so badly wanted to be true.

And I felt this almost magical sense of being able to muster a belief in that moment that both inside and outside that funny looking building, there really was peace on earth.  I felt no violence, no injustice, no war.  All that felt really true was peace, and that moment was cathartic for me.

Afterwards, I started noticing some things.  I noticed my long held and deeply conditioned view that good needed to fight violence and evil in the world.  And I realized how very far from the reality of peace on earth I felt when I held that point of view.   When looking at it as a fight, peace felt like centuries or millennia away, maybe just completely impossible.  How could we end the immense amount of injustice in our world by chipping away at it, one little bit at a time?

But the experience I had felt like a contradiction of that view.  In that moment in the church, peace on earth didn't feel far away or unattainable at all.  It felt like a reality I could contact, a reality I could strengthen and feed by visiting it, feeling it, believing in it.

After that day, I also started to notice my own thinking around violence.  I noticed how I could easily get caught in thinking that I knew the good guys from the bad guys, what was right and wrong, who was responsible, other people's intentions.  Even in situations for which I had absolutely no first hand knowledge, I saw how easy it was for me to slip into a perspective that I had it figured out and I was on the right side.  I noticed how this whole mental pattern was feeding a war within myself.

As I felt some familiar pangs of that war this week, I've been longing to find a way to the feeling that I had in the church that day.  I've been searching myself for the memory of how to use my own faith to experience peace on earth.  To believe in a peaceful human race, now.

I got caught in a couple rounds of my own mental hamster wheel, thinking that my work to get there was in convincing other people to see this or that.  Then I remembered the other part of what hit me that day in the church: peace starts with me.  It starts with my own actions, words, and thoughts.  It starts with suspending judgement, with being mindful of how I'm casting characters in my mind.  It starts with holding love and hope, even when I don't know what the hell is going on.

I have no idea what is going to happen from here.  I can only watch the story unfold, playing my part when there is a part to play, and hopefully doing so with at least one foot firmly placed in that realm of peace on earth. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Moment of Truth


After an ugly battle, we're just about to the moment of truth.  Tuesday is the day when all the American voters who didn't cast their vote early will have that moment, alone in the voting booth, deciding once and for all who they will choose in what I imagine must have been the most polarizing election in American history.

I've taken quite an interest in this presidential race, mostly spouting my own opinions about the need for more choices, the downward spiral of lesser of evil choices, and the philosophy of governance that I think is most likely to lead to a peaceful society, but I'm finished with standing on that soap box. As we get close to the end of this election cycle and the beginning of whatever chapter follows, my greatest interest is in how we will choose to move forward from here.

Will we hold on to all the anger that has been generated during this election?  The screaming fights, the judgement of other people as stupid or ignorant for their positions, the physical violence that has broken out at rallies.  Will we bury the hatched, let it go, and move on from all this division?

Will we be able to unite under whoever wins?  With such passionate opposition to both of the subsidized party candidates, will the vehement opposition be able to accept, allow, and be at peace with the win of the candidate they believe will fail us horribly?

And most importantly in my eyes, will we heed the call of that common intuition that we are so off track and it's so important that we get on track?

As I've talked to people over the past year, I've noticed that Trump supporters, Bernie supporters, Third Party supporters, and Hillary supporters alike seem to have a very similar theme when they are actually talking about their candidate of choice instead of bashing the other.  They all seem to say some version of "we are off track, and X is the only one that can begin to get us moving in the right direction."

Whether the hot button issues are climate change, economic inequality, the monstrous size of government, the possibility of our own economic collapse, all our military intervention abroad, political corruption, or the looming potential of World War III, I sense this agreement that it's so important we don't repeat the mistakes of our past.  Even though our focus may be on different mistakes, different issues, different qualities in each of the candidates, there seems to be a common desire for a peaceful and prosperous future, a common intuition that if we stay the course we will not get there.

That intuition is very alive in me as well, and as much as we'd all like it to be as simple as electing the right person as our president, it is becoming obvious that this will actually require much more from us than a simple moment alone in a voting booth, deciding who to put our faith behind.  Let's be real: we're grasping at straws in thinking that any of these candidates will fix our predicament.

The greatest act of leadership I've seen in as long as I can remember, I saw this morning: Forgiveness March, Lyla June.  In this video about a Forgivenss March happening today in North Dakota, these women point so clearly in the direction that I feel Life is aching for us to choose.  The direction of love, of unity, of forgiveness, of reconciliation.  They are being the change they wish to see in the world.  They are the leaders that herald that change of direction that I believe so many of us, despite our differences, are feeling is needed.

I don't just mean these two beautiful women are our leaders.  They are expressing something that is sitting just below the distracted, self-righteous, and mentally charged surface of our culture and of all of us.  They are expressing the heart, the soul, the truth that we all have access to when we quiet down enough to really listen to the subtle whispers of reality.  That inner voice which can lead us.

Every single moment is a moment of truth.  A moment when we can choose where to act from, choose what to support, choose whether to fully pay attention to what we are doing and saying.

And yet, there is something unique about the moments that many of us will spend in the voting booth on Tuesday.  It's our chance to send out our own personal intention into a collective hope for the future.  Each of us will be there, alone, no one else watching, knowing, or judging what we do.  It's our own personal moment to express our own intention as part of a whole.

When I have that moment on Tuesday, I plan to take a second before I vote.  I'll close my eyes and take a deep breath, and when I open my eyes, I'll see what button I push.  I'm sure all my preaching, my bumper sticker, and my yard sign make it seem obvious what I'll push, but I'll tell you that it's actually not obvious to me right now.  Some new thoughts and feelings are moving in the mix, and now, I'm just going to allow that moment of truth to arise when it's just me and my own conscience.  I trust that right there in that moment, Life will know just what to do through me.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Time of Reconciliation

What is happening in Standing Rock feels so deeply important to me.  I'm feeling inspired and alive seeing these Native Nations from around the country come together with a unified and important message of protecting water and honoring Mother Earth.  At the same time, I'm feeling heartbroken by the militant violence breaking up prayerful demonstrations and the government inaction to protect the peaceful water protectors and heed their important message.

[For a great snapshot of what's happening in Standing Rock and the historical context, watch this: Time to Listen to Native Americans, by Fusion.]

I have a very small percentage of Native American blood, and even when I was little, I loved and identified with that little sliver of myself.  When my spirituality started to feel like my own, the very first touchstone was an obsessive interest in native spirituality, shamanism, the Great Mystery, and ways of harmony with Mother Earth and All-That-Is.

I remember when I realized that all the rosy stories from my childhood about the Native Americans and Pilgrims peacefully coexisting were bullshit.  In the time since, I've always noticed this lying, covering, and ignoring of the history of the European contact with this country's first people.  In recent years, there has been more of a movement to question the idea that America was discovered by Columbus, but still, we have a lot of white-washed stories clouding and covering over the truth of what really happened.

And then, there is the history of the African Americans.  What we so often refuse to acknowledge here is how the history of slavery isn't really behind us. It is causally related to so many things happening today, right now, all around the country.  The first time I stepped into a prison, I literally gasped as I looked around the intake desk: all the white guards with batons on their belts and the overwhelming number of black inmates.  My boss and mentor could sense my shock, and she turned to me and said something like, "yeah, it looks like a slave ship, doesn't it?"  Since that experience, I've become more and more aware of how our racist history is having a profound impact, here in the present.

[For an eye opening look at how slavery relates to our current state of mass incarceration, watch this: Slavery to Mass Incarceration, Equal Justice Initiative]

America has some ugly skeletons in her closet.   The dominant culture seems to think the closet can just stay shut, and we can just keep all this long gone history neatly tucked away from view, not causing any disruption.  But, come on - that is not how things work.  Whatever we relegate to the shadows will find its way to the light, sooner or later.

And as I look around lately, it seems like that time is now.  In addition to Standing Rock, there is the Black Lives Matter movement.  [For a clear and useful explanation of the intentions behind Black Lives Matter, check this out: Do Black Lives Matter To You?]  And this presidential election has made many other things that have been seething below the surface more visible: our anger, our division, and our obsession with entertainment over substance.

A time of reckoning has come, and my deepest prayer is that we respond.  Brushing these unresolved issues from our past under the carpet will not work anymore, and if we don't change our approach, I sense that our country is headed for a major crisis.  We have to realize that there are other ways to respond.  We can question the status quo, we can question the stories we've been told, we can question the options placed before us, and we can stand up with those that are speaking a truth that resonates inside of us.

I sincerely believe that it is possible to reconcile, to come together, to unify, even from the state that we are in right now.  We can turn things around, if we find the courage to face the past honestly and take a stand for truth.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

"there is no way to peace, peace is the way"

This week I got into a political discussion with a friend considering Trump because this friend senses that Hillary would be the one of the two most likely to get us in a war. The two of us ended up having a refreshingly open and civil back and forth, and when sharing a Gary Johnson link with him, I let myself go on a little peace rant in my email. I was surprised when he responded so positively and said how it really opened his perspective. When I looked back at what I wrote, I realized I had my peace post for this week:


Even though people might see me as na├»ve, I’m a strong believer that “there’s no way to peace, peace is the way.”  We can’t bring peace to war torn areas by bringing violence; it hasn’t worked and I don’t believe it ever will.  On this point, I really love Malala – a far more worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize than Obama.  She says we need to help educate, protect, and create opportunities for the kids who grow up to be these terrorists, and I couldn’t agree more.  I think we approach the problems with backward thinking, and it’s no wonder we just keep perpetuating the things that we hope to eradicate.  The kind of aid that’s really needed is so much cheaper, so much more restorative, and in the end, there actually are so many good souls that are and want to do that work – we could dedicate resources to supporting them instead of the ridiculous amount of money and blood we spend on trying to fight them.  Ever heard of “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson?  In my humble opinion, he’s such a fantastic example of what real change looks like.  I see both Trump and Hillary as the same old tried and failed approach to  fighting violence with more violence.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

the other side of peace

This old post from the end of 2010 has been on my mind, as I got caught up in all this conflict on Facebook around the presidential election.  I'm struggling to find the balance of engaging authentically and not projecting my own opinions in a hurtful way.  My conclusion: I have no freakin idea.  For now, I think the place for me is off Facebook, so my personal account is on pause at least until this crazy election is over. 

"conflict is essential to the development and growth of man and society.  it leads either to the construction or destruction of an entire group or state. . .  if there is no conflict - internal or external - there can be no growth."
-sun tzu, the art of war

thinking about this quote brought a conversation from many years ago to mind.  at the time, i was an idealistic new college graduate in my 20s and was tutoring high school and middle school students.  one particular student challenged me when i talked about peace as an important ideal.  he defended war, and he called it a completely natural thing.  "war is even something that happens within our bodies," he told me.  that teenager so eloquently left me flustered.

then, just this week, my body went into a state of full revolt against a virus or something i ate, and i remembered that student's words.  a war was going on in my body, and on some level, i was grateful that the battle was being fought.

i agree with the art of war on this one: conflict is essential for growth.  there is something about conflict that is necessary for our evolution, and even for our well-being.  to deny conflict is often to deny truth, and to me, peace that's faking it, isn't peace at all.  many times, i've had experiences when i can feel anger, resentment, or judgment coming from someone, but the peace mask keeps it neatly hidden.  to me, this mask isn't true peace.

true peace is in having the courage to stand up, be true, and deal with a conflict if it exists.  when i think of a wise martial artist, or even my body defending itself from something perceived as harmful, those images don't hit my sense of violence.  the use of force as defense can actually be a way of creating a state of harmony, balance, and eventual peace.

now, a couple days later, my body is at peace again.  there were moments bowing before my toilet that i honestly wondered if i would feel normal again.  the sense of overwhelming chaos and out of control nausea was all i could see or feel at that time.  but then a day or two later, balance was reestablished, and it was reestablished rather quickly simply because my body was willing to stand up, defend, and deal with the problem.

i see the truest and strongest form of peace just like that.  peace isn't necessarily the person that's always smiling and friendly, never with an unkind word to say.  peace is the one that has the courage to speak the truth.  peace is the one that doesn't cower when conflict enters the room.  peace is the one that stands up, and if truth is in saying what someone else might not want to hear, true peace is secure enough to speak anyway.

there may seem to be a contradiction between this and my last post, but the deepest truth about peace seems hidden in this paradox.  peace is courageous, but not a vigilante always looking to destroy injustice on the outside.  peace is the willingness to look within first.  peace isn't fueled by anger or righteousness; its fuel is Truth and Love.  all actions that are driven by the purest sources of this fuel, even ones that might seem externally violent, can be actions of peace.

this peace i talk about isn't the opposite of conflict; it is just big enough to encompass conflict.  within this state of Peace, there is room for all that rich conflict that leads to our greatest lessons and growth.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Earth Loving Libertarian

The Hillary machine has turned its sights on Gary Johnson, reacting to how the Johnson/Weld ticket is drawing from young people and independents that Hillary was counting on in November.

And in what I've seen of this surge, most of the attacks feel like slanted presentation or the complete lack of understanding/acceptance of the libertarian philosophy as a whole.  Although these things don't sway me, the area I'm most unsure of my alignment with Gary has been exposed: his stance on the environment.

I resonate with the libertarian perspective because of how the philosophy is about reducing governmental power to its essential roles.  I see government's power as the seed of the discontent expressed by both the Tea Party and Occupy Wallstreet.  With Occupy Wallstreet and the Feel the Bern movement that followed, the finger is just pointed at the corporations that have co-opted that government power, but what if the government didn't have that power to hand out to its crony corporations?  Both movements, so often seen as opposites, point to the same oppressive corporatacracy, and in my view, it makes much more sense to go after the root of the power than to try to control its recipients.

And my libertarian leaning views have seemed to fit together like a neat little puzzle: keep government limited, reduce its money, reduce its influence on people's decisions that don't impact others, reduce its ability to empower special interests in their attempts to control and exploit the public.  But I really don't jive with my sense of the traditional libertarian platform on the environment.

On the Johnson/Weld website, there's a nice write up about stewardship and our role to care for the environment, but it really just seems like fluff.  And on the libertarian party website, there's a write up about further privatization of land and animals as the way, but that really does not resonate for me at all.  And as hard as I've been trying to find something a bit more concrete on how the Johnson/Weld administration would approach the environment, I just keep running into Mother Jones and other left publications trying to characterize him as someone who is uninformed and uncaring about the environment, a friend of dirty big business.  From what I know about Gary and his philosophy generally, I'm not buying that, but I also admit that I don't really know what goes in these blanks.

And all this got me thinking, where am I on these issues?  I don't feel an inconsistency or incompatibility between my view that we need to radically change our relationship with the Earth and my libertarian values, so how does it fit together? 

And I realized that I see the whole environmental realm as about harming and safety, not regulations and rules.  I agree with the main thing Gary has said - regulations and messing with the markets isn't the way to deal with our environment.  A carbon tax would help bring the environmental cost into the equation, and the tax credits help boost alternative energy, but I wonder if that approach is in scale with the solutions we need.  The regulatory approach leads surges in alternative energy, and then, we have some huge environmental disaster that pushes all that progress back.  We sign an agreement full of great commitments for a more sustainable future, and then they aren't kept and enforced at the national level.  It's just an ebb and flow that doesn't get to the essential heart of the problem.

We aren't honoring and respecting the Earth as a living being, the source of our lives and of life itself.  We see it as a commodity and our theories of property ownership and resource management just cement in the illusion that we can control, manipulate, and exploit this resource if we can call it "MINE."  We can even fix it if we really mess things up.  Privatization, as it relates to the Earth, natural resources, and animals is a big part of the problem in my view.

There's this faulty set of dysfunctional principles that have led to a lot of progress, but the utility of these theories is running out and will not sustain us.  Whether we have years, decades, centuries, or millennia until these principles lead to our self-destruction, I truly believe we are inevitably going that way and the only thing that will truly shift the course is a complete reordering of our priorities.

When I went to law school, my initial thought was that I would practice environmental law.  I took environmental law classes, spent a semester working in the environmental law clinic, and even initially accepted a job to work in that environmental law clinic after graduation.  Although I felt a strong pull toward protection of our environment and our natural resources, I found environmental law so frustrating, so much like banging my head against a wall.

The area of law itself felt so uninteresting and tedious to sift through, very different than say constitutional law or criminal law.  Try breezing through the Clean Water Act: pages and pages and pages of statutory sections with reporting requirements and picayune details that can only be mastered and understood by a whole team of people tunneling into them.  And just guess who knows these statutes and regulations the best?  Just guess where the most money is dedicated to mastery of environmental law and understanding how to navigate its maze?  Obvious, right?  It's the corporations trying to find the most affordable ways to remain in compliance, or at least only amass the fines that won't throw profits out of balance.

I deeply respect the work that passionate environmental lawyers are doing, and I think it's horrible that they are so often paid poorly and have so few resources available to support them in this important work.  And the further shame of the situation is that their hard work might give us a millimeter, a centimeter of progress.  And we don't need a centimeter; we need meter sticks upon meter sticks of progress.  I feel that moving on this scale set out by our regulatory approach just is not going to get us there.

Perhaps environmental protection actually belongs in our criminal code.  It's been a long while since I was involved in environmental law, but my understanding is that there are few small ties to the criminal code for egregious environmental infractions, but the vast majority of our environmental enforcement comes in the form of reporting requirements and fines.  This approach seems completely out of scale with the level of harm these activities have the potential to cause.

If you dump poisons on the Earth – it’s like pouring acid on human beings.  If you emit toxins into the air – it’s like releasing noxious chemicals in a crowd. It doesn’t matter if you do these things in your own back yard, just like it doesn’t matter if a victim is your own child. A living being is a living being, and it’s the government’s role (even under a libertarian philosophy) to protect safety.

We've criminalized the hell out of the things that people do to harm themselves and no one else, things that rise simultaneously with poverty and with the dangerous conditions on our streets, but we leave some of the most harmful things that are being done on the largest scales untouched by our criminal code.  If there were more criminal penalties for environmental misconduct, and if we defined environmental misconduct broadly enough to catch all the things that are degrading our environment and resources, all the financial resources now dedicated to navigating environmental regulations would be redirected into finding cleaner ways to operate.  The reason so much work is done to justify our environmental degradation is that even with the costs of polluting, it's still cheaper.

When we align the costs with the governmental response, we will see real change.  I recognize how radical this is in terms of infrastructure, jobs, and just overall feasibility, but when society really and fully sees the right thing to do, it does it, even in the face of immense inconvenience.

Just like the plantation owners had to restructure and reorient after the abolition of slavery, we too need to begin again without this faulty belief system that has set us on this course to our own extinction.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Living Namaste

For the last few months, the phrase "Living Namaste" has been playing in my head.  I don't even think I heard it anywhere; I just started to feel like I was experiencing a phenomenon that seemed aptly named Living Namaste.

Namaste is a common greeting in India and it's pretty much always the last word of a yoga class.  A translation of its meaning is the light within me honors the light within you.  It's a word I've liked for a long time, and a word I started spontaneously saying when I'd see a beautiful little fox dead on the side of the road, or I'd pass a person in my car that looked sad or overwhelmed.

And lately, it's become almost like an addiction.  I'm not just finding myself spontaneously Namaste-ing when I see something troubling, but now I'm doing it when I see someone adorable or endearing or awkward or just interesting for one reason or another.  Then, there are those challenging Namaste moments, when I see someone being cruel or just completely out of step with my own values.  And strangely, I'm watching myself gravitate right to the center of those moments, thirsty to work this developing muscle.

And as I started reflecting on this Living Namaste phenomenon that's been taking me over, a book that I read several years ago came to mind: The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Prandervand.  In this book, the author shares his own discovery and practice of blessing as an everyday art.

When I first started reading the book, life right away presented me with an opportunity to put it into practice.  A student came into my office one day and informed me that he'd gone to the administration to complain about me.  As he told me about my unfairness in grading, my adrenaline started to pump, and the knee jerk reaction to defend myself and point out his deficiencies started revving up.

But, instead of picking up my own sword and fighting back, I felt aware that I could choose to see his integrity, his goodness, his desire to connect and succeed.  I could see his blame as merely one small part of all he was bringing into my office, and I could honor and recognize how much more there was to him and to what he was saying.

As I sat quietly listening to him, I worked to just hold a loving space, to see him in the very best light that I possibly could.  I detected a little surprise from him that I was so calm, and the entire encounter was over so quickly.

The real surprise for me came as the semester continued.  I was astounded at how the behavior of this student shifted.  Prior to that meeting, my impression of him was that he was somewhat of a slacker, rather disengaged, and a little too arrogant to be receptive to learning.  After the meeting, I noticed that he engaged differently in class, and even more surprising, he regularly and humbly started coming to my office with questions and taking the necessary initiative to bring his own skills to the next level.

These subsequent visits to my office could've been awkward, even adversarial, but they weren't.  They were pleasant, and as a teacher, I felt fulfilled by how this student had shifted.  And even more, I had a chance to learn from and reflect on what caused his discontent.  By avoiding the temptation to defend myself, I had the opportunity to see where I could grow as a teacher.  He walked deeper into his role as a student, and I felt filled with ideas about how I could walk deeper into my role as a teacher.

Looking back, I feel like the book and that student episode planted a seed in me.  In the years since that time, I think this Living Namaste thing has sprouted from that seed, and it's honestly one of the most amazing discoveries I've ever made.  It feels wonderful when it really takes hold - a flowing forth that fills rather than depletes me.  And as I continue to go deeper, it really has me wondering whether these small and seemingly insignificant intentions we throw out into the world might just ripple greater impacts around us than we ever thought possible.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Peace Ticket

This morning, I reflected with my husband about 15 years ago on the morning of September 11th.  About how he was getting dressed with the tv on while our 4 month old was still in her crib, about how I had just arrived at my second day of my first job out of law school, about how scary and surreal it was to watch the images on tv, about how panicked I was on the ride home, about how we had no idea what would happen next and whether we might be at the beginning of a living hell.

And then, as I thought about all that has happened in the last 15 years, I felt deeply grateful for the ways that day made me realize how short and fragile our lives are, about all the ways it has pushed me to make the most of the time that I have.

And I felt heartbroken about how the fear generated on that day has shaped the world.  How the responses to what happened have unintentionally created September 11th experiences for people in other parts of the world.  How the fear has paved the way for widespread support of the use of killer drones and crossing more and more ethical boundaries on the treatment suspected terrorists or other prisoners.  How as a nation we have traveled so far from the unified and supportive feeling that was running high in the aftermath of that terrible day.

I fear that we've aggravated the very things that broke our hearts, and I feel with the entirety of my being that it is time for this chapter to end.  It is time that we really: Choose Peace.

United States of America, we need to call back that first word in our name and live up to it, and we can start the shift of the tides in this next presidential election.  We can choose a leader that does not want to continue all this fighting, at home or abroad.  One that will be focused on safety and defense and compassion for those whose homes are taken over by violence but will not continue the response of sending more weapons and violence into these war torn areas.  We can choose the leader that has the most support among our active military personnel.  We can choose a leader who wants to build bridges between Republicans and Democrats, not walls between us and our enemies.

We need to really ask ourselves and have the courage to act on the answer: who out of our options could possibly start us down a road to peace?  Both our mainstream candidates are looking to get a lot of votes that are just against the other candidate.  Could the win of either of those two candidates ever unify us?  Could the millions of people passionately opposed to that candidate ever come around?  I think we've seen enough to know the answer.

I've put a lot of time and thought into these questions, and I'll tell you that I have wholeheartedly come to the conclusion that Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are our best chance of turning this whole thing around.  I really believe they are the peace ticket in this 2016 presidential race. 

Johnson and Weld are high integrity human beings, with strong leadership resumes, and without the baggage of too much time in Washington DC.  I also see their Libertarian leaning platform as the only one under which a peaceful, diverse, and democratic society could sustain itself.  We all have such differing values, interests, and experiences.  A government that leaves room for us all to be as we are must be limited to its essential role, it must maximize our ability to pursue happiness in our own ways, it must both encourage and empower us to bring forth the best that we have to contribute.  I don't have a fantasy that electing them would be a magic wand that would give us a whole new government, but I strongly believe it would create common ground on which all these separated factions could begin to meet and cooperate.

Let's look through all this entertainment value and media sensationalism and place a higher value on authenticity, on honesty, on intelligence.  Let's pick leaders like we pick our friends, like we pick the people we trust with the most important aspects of our lives.  And let's listen to Stevie Wonder's advice from back in the 90s on picking a leader: "I want you to vote for that person who is going to commit to bringing unity to all people, not just throughout the world, but in this country."

People, please investigate Gary Johnson, Bill Weld, and these questions for yourself.  I really and truly believe he could start us down a path towards greater peace in both this country and throughout the world.  I believe that he will sincerely and selflessly dedicate his intelligence, his hard work, and his iron will (that got him to the top of the highest peak on each continent) to making this country better, to making us a better world citizen, and to helping us work together again.

I really think we need this and it is possible.  We just have the have the guts to vote our hope instead of our fear.