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.