Tag Archives: Change

STANDING AT THE FORK

March 13, 2019
THE CHOICE
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
     Robert Frost; The Road Not Taken

Last Weekend:

Twenty-one men and women who are involved in doing Restorative Justice work sat in Circle for an evening, a day, and half a day. Fifteen hours. A number of us were descended from people who were the original keepers of these American lands, many descended from people brought here by force from Africa as slaves, one who came to be in America from Korea through adoption; a few more who had come to America to study and to work; twelve altogether. Nine more of us were descended from ancestors who came to America from European countries, most of them in need, escaping oppression, famine, servitude, and poverty.

We had come together to work at bridging the divide between white-skinned people who enjoy privileges we barely know we have because we take them for granted, and black and brown-skinned people who have been deprived of even the most basic human rights of respect and safety.

The United States is a country who lays claim to being the greatest, to wearing the white hats in an evil world, to being the benevolent keeper of whom we perceive as lesser brothers around the globe. The United States is a country whose hands are bloody, and whose heart is sick with the lies and corruption it has hidden, whose foundations are crumbling under the weight of its violent legacy.

I am one of the white-skinned descendants of European tenant farmers who came seeking a better life for their children. Like the majority of Americans who are seen as “white”, I grew up believing what I was taught in school was true. I and my peers and my parents and grandparents were conditioned by our communities, our religions, our cultural backgrounds to see the world through a particular lens — America was great and good; a land of opportunity and equality.

Depending on where we lived, some of us white skinned Americans grew up entrenched in views that feared and dehumanized black and brown people. Many others, my family among them, did not hold with such views, but were oblivious to the subtle ways systems we took for granted — education, housing, economics, employment — were booby-trapped, even closed to non-white people.

But no longer. Very few remain who can honestly say that they have not been confronted with an alternate reality. The truth of America’s founding legacy of genocide, appropriation, theft and plunder, of slavery, and of our continued oppression of non-white people in many insidious forms is pretty much available for everyone to know. The silence has been shattered. The truth is mainstream news now. Perhaps in part because of social media. But even still the lies proliferate as those in power and those who are afraid (of what?) try desperately to discredit these realities. But even as the lies are told, reality and truth are holding their ground.

The first question posed to the Circle in which I sat was, “So, what are YOU going to do about it?”

It is a question that every white skinned person in this country needs to be asked, and needs to answer.

Most of us who are white, if we are even willing to look at the depth and breadth of the pain and suffering, don’t know what to say.

Many of us, at least initially, shrink back from the magnitude of our nation’s crimes against humanity. Many of us are shocked when we uncover the truth of the perpetuation of these crimes by government and corporate power and wealth. Those of us who are educators and social service providers feel trapped and entangled in the oppressive and harmful rules and regulations to which we are expected to comply.

I feel very small standing before this Goliath. I feel very weak looking up at the mountain that needs to be moved. I feel very confused by the chaos swirling around me.

It isn’t enough to say, “I’m sorry.” What am I sorry for? How will that change anything?

It is a beginning, though. Victims who have suffered great harm might say they want revenge. But often this actually translates into, “I want you to understand the pain you have caused me. I want you to acknowledge the suffering you have caused. I want you to take ownership and responsibility for it.”

So I begin by listening and acknowledging the pain that I hear and saying, “I am sorry for what has been done to you”.

But then what? What can I do to make amends? What can I do to make reparations? What can I do to bring healing? What can I do to dismantle the systems that have prevented my black and brown brothers and sisters from participating in the same privileges that I have taken to be my inalienable right? What can I do to stop the suffering?

I left that Circle on Sunday afternoon heavy with these questions. Heavy with the pain. Despair had injected its venom and my stress responses had kicked in and were screaming, “Run away! Quit! Who do you think you are to do this work (teaching restorative justice in education). Who the fucking hell do you think you are to write a book for educators on creating healthy learning environments?!”

And then I took a swig of Alice in Wonderland’s elixir which packed a heavy dose of anger. Where I had been shrinking to something very small and helpless, I suddenly began to grow. I got bigger and bigger. I didn’t sleep. Through the dark hours of the night and the sunshine of Monday I sat with the questions. I walked with the questions through the new layer of snow that belied the coming of Spring. I examined my work and my motives for doing it. I will not quit. I will not run away.

Tuesday

“The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account.”   Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

This morning I received an announcement from Minneapolis based Mixed Blood Theater in my inbox. A one time member it has been awhile since I read what they are up to so I explored their website. I found the following under their [Community] Engagement page.

Mixed Blood’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood has long been a home for immigrants and refugees, including one of the nation’s largest concentrations of African and Muslim immigrants and refugees in the U.S. today. Mixed Blood is working on multiple fronts to engage with its neighbors:

Health Care — In partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center, Q Health, Cedar Riverside People’s Center Clinic, and Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association, Mixed Blood uses artistic endeavors to help health care providers improve patient-centered care for the residents of Cedar Riverside

Education — Mixed Blood resident artists teach drama classes to neighborhood youth and host performances and workshops for teachers who serve the schools that Cedar Riverside children attend.

Safety — Through Mixed Blood’s work, Minneapolis Police officers and young adult Somali men, change places to gain knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity of the other’s experience and perceptions. One recent participant entered the police academy and is currently an intern for Transit Police.

Performance — Mixed Blood hosts plays by Somali writers and directors as well as story circles with Somali elder women.

Assembly — In a neighborhood choked for common space, Mixed Blood’s auditorium and rehearsal hall provides a steady place—without charge—for meetings, performances, trainings, and social and political events.

Hope rekindles in me when I know things like this are happening.

Here in Duluth (where I live), there have been several campaigns during the past 10 years with town hall meetings, billboards and other lectures and plays to raise awareness of Race and Racism. Next week there is another community discussion on Anti-Racism sponsored by a local TED TALK style forum held once a month on a variety of issues. Last month it was on Restorative Justice, which is the field in which I work.

Are there still mountains to move? Yes! Does it take too long? Yes! But with each swing of the pick-ax, with each bucketful of mountain dirt removed, that mountain shrinks a little more. With each white-skinned soul that wakes up, each heart that is turned to love and justice, each step taken to right the wrongs, we are closer. There may be thousands of star fish stranded on the beach at low tide, dying in the hot sun, but for each one that the small boy throws back into the water, one more life is saved.

Before Trump won the election, as I read the various articles about his campaign and those who followed him, I turned one day to my husband and asked, “As terrible as this sounds, do we (mainstream, white America) need this to happen in order to fully wake us the fuck up? To blow us out of our comfortable slumber where we expect some vague “they” to solve the problems we abhor?”

We talked a long time. I cried in anger and frustration and it took me days to rise back out of the funk I sunk into.

And then to the shock and dismay of the majority of Americans, Trump won. But what I have seen happen in the years since is exactly what I asked my husband that long ago June day in 2016. We are being dragged out of the poppy fields of Oz and waking the fuck up. We are being driven to action. To our shame, it has required these awful times for the wool to be stripped from our eyes and the rugs to be rolled up exposing the garbage that has been putrefying there to motivate us to care deeply enough to do more than read, think, shake our heads and cluck our indignation. Now we are arguing and debating, screaming in pain and reaching out to one another to do something about it all. It is chaos out there. Confusion. Pain. Just like cleaning out a house, it is messy and ugly and chaotic and layered — it has to be before it can be put back together. We have to expose the wound before it can heal. Every ugly inequity, every lie, the destructive and violent acts — whether against a culture/race, against women, against children, against our economy and our environment, or to the detriment to our health…hell, fill in the blank! Truth is exploding out of long perpetuated lies and suppression. But in my opinion, the biggest whopper of all is the myth about our great and noble, innocent, America.

American people have done some great and noble things. And everyday great and noble people live and work and write and make art and teach and fix cars and dispose of our garbage and save our lives on operating tables. But the other side of that truth is that these United States were founded on genocide and slavery, both of which have been perpetuated into today even though disguised by other names and practices. The absolute dishonoring of life in this blatant way has allowed us to do the same in all the other categories where we are complicit in the destruction of life — whether of the minds, bodies or souls of people — especially our children, or of the Earth, or of animals, or of cultures.

It is a hard choice to leave safe havens and walk straight into the war.

Because of my white skin, my European ancestry, and the privileges accorded to me because of that heritage this debt and the responsibility for it is laid as equally upon my shoulders as those directly responsible, past and present. My attitudes and past actions have sprung from a heart that as long as I can remember desired to bring healing and restoration and equality. But since most of our current destructive systems were developed and are still perpetuated by white people, systems that have benefited me, I am complicit simply because my heritage makes me a member of this mainstream culture who wields the power.

It has been said, “to whom much is given, much is required.” My white skin has inherited a measure of freedom and privilege. The question I am confronted with is “What do I do… and what will I do with this privilege to make a better world for everyone — especially for my brothers and sisters who are Indian, who are Black, who came or are coming  from countries torn by war (a war probably supported by my government), or who came because they had little to no opportunities to better their lives. Within my small world, within my sphere of influence, within the possibility of what my personal strengths and gifts and resources are… what will I do with this privilege I carry in my skin?

“Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”    Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

A group of educators and I were recently discussing the idea that hurting people hurt people. Healed people, heal people. There is a lot of information out now about how stress and trauma affect the brain and our behavior. There is also a lot of information about how to heal our trauma, how to manage our stress, how to move from mindless reflexive reactionary behaviors that ultimately perpetuate harm, to responses that allow us to remain compassionate and kind even in the face of someone else’s negative behavior.

Those of us who have the privilege of being able to do our own healing work have no excuse for ignoring it. I don’t have bombs blowing up in my city. My children are not starving. I am not fearful every day that my son might be shot or arrested for just existing. I have all I need at my disposal. I need to do whatever self-work I need to do so that I might be able to be a source of healing and help in our world — whatever that might look like based on my gifts and skills and sphere of influence.

That is the beginning.

I will do what I can do today to make a difference for healing, for change, for equity in my city, my state and my country. And tomorrow and next week? I will know what to do as I listen, as I pay attention, as I choose to keep my heart and my mind open.

I am standing at a fork in the road of my journey. A choice lies before me.

I choose the road less traveled. It is the one my heart knows it is meant to walk. The one that disappears in the undergrowth and I can not see where it leads. I fear it will not be a comfortable or easy journey. I fear there may be land mines and monsters. But I also know it is where love flourishes. It is the only path that will allow those of us who travel there to attempt to heal and re-create this suffering world.

I hope I find you there. We can walk together.

 

 

 

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THE POWER OF WORDS — PART 3

April 4, 2018

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for awhile. — Kobun Chino Ottawa Roshi 

Recently I watched the movies The Shape of Water and A Wrinkle in Time.

Guillermo del Toro, the director of The Shape of Water, describes the film as “a Fairytale for our troubled times.” He says, “The shape of water is the shape of love. Love and water are the most malleable, powerful things in the Universe.” Sally Hawkins (who plays Eliza) said, “The film is about the transformative power of love. …we need this film in the world today. ”

Similarly, the primary message I took away from A Wrinkle in Time was the power of love to overcome fear, to overcome evil, to call us back to ourselves when we are lost in the pain of our own dark places.

I have been thinking a great deal about the power of love…of courage… and about the ripple effect of our choices. Sometimes it is one small, seemingly insignificant act or word on someone’s part that opens a door in someone’s life — or slams it shut.

In an interview, author Elizabeth Gilbert once described that she regards her ability to write as a sacred trust… she’s been given a gift that is meant to be shared. What happens to what she writes isn’t her problem, she said. Only that she makes the time to write and does her best. I may never meet her. She may never know of my existence. But her comment, recorded in an interview… changed my life. It is why I keep hanging in there with my writing, even if sometimes I abandon it for months at a time. I come back. Because of Elizabeth and her sacred trust.

What if Harry Potter had said, “Hey, I’m just a kid… I can’t deal with this.”

What if Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings) had said, “This ain’t my ring… ain’t my problem.”

What if Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time) had been unwilling to gather her courage, remaining frozen in fear, unwilling to act ?

I realize these are characters in a story, but like all great stories, they accurately portray the choices we all struggle with. No superheroes here, no easy answers. The hero’s journey is not an easy road. So why do we bother?

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Yes, our world is worth fighting for. My grandchildren, your children, all the children — they’re worth fighting for. But most of us won’t be packing our bags and heading out on a quest. We won’t be marching in the streets or laying down in front of the bulldozers. We won’t be arrested for refusing to stand up or stand down when ordered to by those who abusively use their power.

Most of us will be minding the store, minding the children, doing what needs to be done to keep the world going.

The opening quote by Kobun Roshi was my pardon for sitting down — which I seem to often need to do. It was also what helped me get back up. I agree that every day I am responsible for how I use my life, for the energy that I radiate into the world through my thoughts, my beliefs, my emotions, my actions; for what I create around me. There is no one to blame, no one else responsible for my choices, neither my presence nor absence negates that I am making an impact in the world around me. Because I am.

When I remember this, when I allow it fully into my being, I realize that I am changing the world every day — for better, or worse. I am radiating energy into the world that is either aligned with the energy of love, or the energy of fear. This energy attracts like energy… and so it grows, it multiplies, it merges with like energy and makes stuff happen.  And it ripples out… through time, through space…

 

 

THE POWER OF WORDS — PART 2

March 14, 2018

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

My husband and I have begun reading The Four Agreements, a Toltec Wisdom book by don Miguel Ruiz about the power of our thoughts and words. I remember the first time I was introduced to these ideas. It was the late 1990’s and I was attending a Truthought Criminal Justice conference titled Mind over Matters — Corrective Thinking. It was there I first learned a formula that has stuck with me ever since:

  • Our repeated, ingrained thoughts become our deeply seated beliefs —
  • Our Beliefs become our individual and collective values —
  • Our Behavior is a result of these beliefs and values.  As are our words.
  • ThoughtsBeliefsValuesBehavior (actions and words).
  • Feelings? They are the messengers…but, like our behavior, they are a result of our thinking, our beliefs and our values.

Our words are the building blocks with which we construct our world. But it all begins in our mind, with our thinking. You want to change your behavior? You have to first change your mind.

When the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? hit the theaters in 2004, followed soon after by the movie The Secret, positive thinking and manifesting abundance became a hot new topic. But as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 of the Old Testament, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Books on the subject had been coming out way before the movies of the early 2000’s opened the floodgates. Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich, and Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 release of The Power of Positive Thinking were two well known books from the early 20th century.  The behavioral sciences had been studying the power of our thoughts as the conference I attended attests. In the early beginnings of the field of quantum mechanics (physics) researchers stumbled upon the impact that the thoughts of the observer of an experiment had on the experiment’s results, which has led to greater research into consciousness. Scientists studying water and the effect that our thoughts and words have on the properties of water have been going on since the middle of the 20th century.

And yet, none of our “discoveries” are new.

There are numerous references in the texts of various religions and spiritual practices that describe the importance of “positive thinking”. In the New Testament we are counseled to “take every thought captive to Christ” (who embodied love, compassion, forgiveness) and to think on: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

The Buddha taught: “What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What you imagine you create.”  

Abu Amina Elias in his commentary about the teachings of the Quran wrote: “After understanding the effects of positive and negative thoughts, we then need to direct our thought processes towards positive trains of thought and learn to dismiss negative thoughts before they take us into a downward spiral. Many of the Prophet’s companions considered the skill to direct thought in a positive way as the enlightenment of true faith.” 

And then there are the Toltecs. The Toltecs lived thousands of years ago in southern Mexico. They were scientists and artists who formed a society to both explore and preserve the spiritual knowledge of the Ancient Ones. The Toltecs came together as Naguals (Masters) and students at Teotihuacan. But over time, due to European conquest and misuse of personal power by some of their apprentices, the Naguals were forced to conceal the ancestral wisdom. They embodied and passed it through the generations of different lineages of Naguals. Their ancient prophecies foretold the coming of an age when it would be necessary to return the wisdom to the people.

That “future age” has come. We are living in it. don Miguel Ruiz is a Nagual from the Eagle Knight lineage, and has come forward to share the powerful teachings of the Toltecs, one of which is, The Four Agreements. Ruiz says that if we were to take these to heart and live them, all conflict would be resolved. I believe him. Certainly all my conflicts would dissolve. These agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable (do no harm) with your word;
  2. Don’t take anything personally;
  3. Don’t make assumptions;
  4. Always do your best.

These agreements are where the rubber meets the road and expose how we really think. Being “into” positive thinking and intention and manifestation is a good thing to  be “into”. But, are we living it? How well are you able to live according to these Four Agreements?

A VALUES AND BELIEFS EXERCISE

Consider what behavioral values are really important to you in terms of how you show up in your relationships. Maybe honesty, or kindness, or with humor. Jot down a few.

Now think about what you believe about how life works that makes those values important to you.  Write down a few sentences about these beliefs.

For example, it is important to me that I show up with gentleness and grace. I believe that in doing so, the other person feels safe enough to be themselves.

Now, choose one of your values and think about the last time you violated that value. Lied, lost your temper, used humor to harm.

Now, here’s the tricky part. Figure out what belief was bigger in that situation than the one you just wrote down that made living that value important to you.

After you have identified this “other” belief, think about which belief more often runs your behavior. Many people doing this exercise, if they are really honest, find that their idealized values and their lived behavior are frequently not in sync. Rather takes the stuffing out of some of us.

I believe the verdict is in. Our words are raw, creative power. They do create our experience of life. It is our thinking, our beliefs, and our words that construct the world we live in. We are waking up to this powerful truth at a time when it is absolutely essential that we begin deconstructing the way we’ve been running the world, and build something better. We cannot do this with marches and posters and petitions and elections alone. We certainly cannot do it with violence — we’ve proven that over centuries of carnage! But maybe, just maybe, if each one of us begins to make serious changes in our own mental constructs of the world, if collectively we can imagine a thriving world, we will indeed heal our Earth, and build a world of peace, where all are allowed to thrive.

But even if I don’t live long enough to see such a world, I at least can heal my little corner of it. I can create my own wild, wonderful life, sending out vibrations of love and joy and peace. Who knows where the ripples will end — in what time, in what place?

Next:  The Power of Words — Part 3: The Ripple Effect 

THE POWER OF WORDS — Part 1

March 11, 2018

WAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

The chaos and suffering in the world frightens me. It feels overwhelming, especially when I contemplate the fact that the power to change it not only lies within me, but the responsibility to do so is also mine, ours, all of us together. I echo what I hear others say, “What can I possibly do?”  The words are said with a sigh of defeat. I feel helpless. I want to turn away, go back to sleep. 

Waking up is hard to do, none-the-less living wide awake and taking responsibility for how I impact the world around me. Shifting deeply rooted paradigms and habits of being is no easy task, no matter how much I intellectually agree with the idea! But I see no other way. So I am choosing, day by day, to mindfully, intentionally co-create a thriving world beginning in my own small corner of it. Beginning with mySelf.

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Words conjure images — paint pictures in our minds. Words generate feelings. Words create the structures of the stories we create and within which we live our lives.

Many years ago I read a number of books about intention and manifestation and how we create our reality with our thoughts. I was fascinated.  I dove right in. After awhile, the shine wore off. It wasn’t working for me. I saw it working in the lives of others, but I wasn’t manifesting what I wanted. I had a wish list. And I intensely wished for the things on it. Yet, my life continued much as it had been, and it wasn’t the life I wanted.

I’d get another book about positive thinking. I would try to shift my thoughts. But in too many of my real-time moments I didn’t have the energy to work through the negative thoughts inundating my brain. It felt more satisfying to wallow in the role of victim, to be angry, to hunker down in depression and despair, or to blame others for the lack of happiness and abundance in my life.

Then, eureka! One day it dawned on me that this power of thoughts and intentions thing was working! I was indeed creating the story I was living with my thoughts and words. I was creating the real experiences of my life with my beliefs about myself and others, with my assumptions, with the stories I made up in my head about situations and people. Yep, I had a wish list, but what I manifested was linked to what I actually thought, actually believed, actually felt, and from the words that I spoke, too many of them pessimistic and negative. I had a little tiny smear of positive thinking on top of a whole mass of negative thinking. Sweet frosting on top of a bitter, burned cake.

That was the turning point for me. What followed was a journey of exploration to search out old, gnarly and deeply rooted negative beliefs living in the shadows of my Self. Craggy giants, parasites quietly hogging all my energy.

I had to wake up. I had to face up. I had to ferret out the agreements I had made in my past as to what would keep me safe, or make me acceptable. I had to open my heart. I had to change my mind. The Old Guard had to go.

I often walk along the railroad tracks that run along a service road carved between the trees that climb the bluffs above my neighborhood. The tracks became a metaphor for the path to the life I wish to be living. The only way to manifest this life, is to keep my feet on the track, walking it every day, step by step. If I lose my balance and fall off, I must courageously step back up and keep on going. My life, at least the life that I wish to be living, depends upon my keeping my feet on this track: It is a path of Love and Joy.

It has been absolutely necessary for me to fire the Judge who pompously struts about within my mind and  arrogantly assumes she is in charge. Unfortunately, she keeps showing back up for duty, and sometimes I forget that I fired her and before I know it, she’s taken charge again, and I have to rein her in and dismiss her from her post yet again.

I have to choose each day, sometimes hour by hour, what I will think about, how I will perceive others, how I will respond to the situations I am experiencing. Sometimes it is as easy as choosing to smile when otherwise I may have remained glum of face, and a bit rough in my thoughts. Sometimes it is as difficult as choosing to bless someone that I have perceived has wronged me. Sometimes it is as crazy as imagining the world differently — cleaner, safer, happier, more compassionate. It is as simple as looking for the beauty in the world and in the people I encounter. It is as unsettling as trusting that health and wealth are flowing to me effortlessly.

I am aware of the ugliness and the cruelty and the insanity happening in the world, yes, but as I respond in the “now” — offering compassion or comfort, signing a petition, contributing money, attending a meeting, voting, teaching, writing — I also choose to imagine it transformed. I look for what already may be wonderful that otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed or may have dismissed in the face of the overwhelming chaos that surrounds us daily.

As the sun quietly rises this morning with feathered scarves of orange and pink and purple, I am happy. Because I choose to be. I am grateful for the blessings that fill up my life. I open my heart to the flow of Love, my mind to the Wisdom of the Creator who dwells within. I choose to allow the Light that is within me to shine today.

Next:  The Power of Words — Part 2: Nothing New Under The Sun 

 

SPRING SONG

SPRING SONG

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March 20, 2016

I saw two robins in the slush during our Winter’s final tantrum the other day. They were fighting over what looked to be a worm. It had been raining hard in our part of the city, while snow buried everyone up over the bluffs. Our basement was leaking, proof that the ground was saturated and the earth soft–we knew this because it was easy to pound the metal stakes into the ground to put the deer fence back up around our garden. The tulips were pushing up above the earth–a beloved delicacy for the pregnant does who wander out of the snowy woods into the neighborhood where the snow has retreated, looking for the special treats they crave. So, it might truly have been a winter fattened worm escaping a flooded den. Do worms hibernate in dens? Where do they go when the ground freezes up? The scrawny robin won.

When my children were young, we went for our first ice-cream cone after we saw our first robins in Spring. It was a tradition. But I’ve become lactose intolerant. I bought some fresh strawberries instead that afternoon while it rained, and the school children were at home having a “snow day”.

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This morning the sun came up blazing rose-gold, announcing the first day of Spring. It is streaming in through winter streaked windows, inviting us to fetch our overshoes and go for a muddy trek in the hills. I am making fresh ground-buckwheat pancakes. David is frying bacon. There is a pitcher full of Green Smoothie on the counter filled with pears and pineapple, grapefruit and greens, ginger and celery and cucumber and avocado–we’re getting IMG_3258fortified for our Sunday migration into the bluffs. There are a flock of Redpolls taking turns having breakfast at the feeder outside the kitchen window; getting fattened up for their migration to their summer home in the Arctic–true northerners after my own heart!

I’m going to buy some daffodils from the Market today. It’s a tradition. A vase of Sunshine on my table. Last week we found some pussy-willows just beginning to consider opening up. This week they will be ready. Maybe we’ll find some today as we slog through the mud and navigate the swollen streams in the hills that climb up to the bluffs. From up there we can see our neighborhood laid out like a toy town. Beyond lies the harbor, the bridges, the Lake. We can see all the way to Wisconsin.  We’ll gather some pussy-willows, and fill up our house with Spring. Tonight we’ll go grill steaks at my daughter’s.

Tomorrow we’ll clean out the closets and put away the parkas and the skis.

DaffadillaBlueVase

 

 

 

THE THUMPER RULE

December 2, 2015

MY GUIDING BUNNY

Some people have Spiritual Guides in human form–counselors, priests, pastors, teachers. Some people have Spiritual Guides in the form of Spirit Beings, like Angels or other Beings of Light.

I have Animals. Sometimes real ones. A dragonfly brought me a message one spring day when I was trying to resolve a problem. She flew right up to me and hovered about a foot from my face…she just stayed there until finally the “aha!” broke through to my consciousness; then she flew off.  Another day  when I was particularly edgy and cantankerous I went for a walk and inadvertently walked into the middle of an entire herd of deer. Deer Medicine is all about Gentleness and Grace. I stood stock-still, with silent tears rolling down my face. Two young ones actually walked towards me, stopping about eight or ten yards away. After about 15 minutes, they all slowly wandered off and I went home, gentled, graced and peace-filled.

But my Animal Guides aren’t always real.  I have a Tiger and a Bear and a Wolf in my Mind’s menagerie. The Tiger’s name is Jack and he’s the one teaching me that there aren’t any parts of my Self that I need to kill off…it’s more about integrating. He’s taught me that Ego’s aren’t monsters that we need to keep caged somewhere deep in the dungeons of our psyche. They just need to learn when to move over and let the more Enlightened One of Us drive the bus.

But this isn’t about Wolves and Tigers and Bears. No. This is about a Bunny. Yesterday, Thumper got loose from the Bambi set and came wandering into my bathroom. I had just scrubbed the floor an hour previously, but there I was wiping up a pile of whiskers. Evidently my husband had dumped the whisker bin from his electric razor mostly on the floor, with some on the toilet seat and in the sink, just to keep it interesting. I think he meant to put it in the wastebasket, but he was probably looking at something else, his brain three steps ahead of his body. Sometimes his brain is actually out the door and three blocks down the street before his body leaves the house. You can imagine what he doesn’t notice then! Frowning, I could feel my body tense as my mind furiously wrote up the negative incident report that I would surely deliver as soon as he came upstairs.

Suddenly, there was Thumper, shyly peeking out from behind the wastebasket.

I eyed him suspiciously.

“Hello,” said Thumper.

Wow, I thought. I haven’t seen Bambi in maybe, oh, 25 years?

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Well, ummm, I just came to remind you what my father taught me. It’s pretty good advice, ” said Thumper.

He ducked his head shyly. His foot started nervously thumping. And I remembered.

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” said Thumper and I. Together.

“You know this one?” asked Thumper.

“Yeah. I guess I do,” I said.

“Cool!” said Thumper. He loped out of the bathroom. Then he quick stuck his head back around the door-frame. “Don’t forget, now!” he said.

And he was gone.

I finished cleaning up the bathroom and joined my husband in the kitchen where he was making smoothies. I opened my mouth…

“Remember!” whispered an invisible Thumper.

I shut my mouth.

I never mentioned the whisker mess.

Not once.

I have been thinking a lot about my new Thumper Rule. My life will be so much more amazing because my focus will be on all the good stuff. I’ll bet I’ll smile more. I might even discover humor in the nooks and crannies of my life.

Thumper never said ‘If you can’t say something nice to someone…’. He simply said, ‘If you can’t say something nice…’ Period. About anything or anyone or to yourself.

Does that include the weather do you think? And stupid drivers? And insurance regulations? OMG–does it include politicians?!

I just finished writing a letter to someone because they had written one to me and it required a response. It took me 4 days. I had to keep applying my new Thumper Rule so I had to keep deleting shit–stuff– and re-framing, ah–stuff, and…Whew! What an exercise! It was like running a fucking–um–an exhausting–marathon. But different.

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE, DON’T SAY NOTHING AT ALL…

 

THE FIGHT SONG…

November 4, 2015

GRACE…

Today I have to send out my gratitude to Rachel Platten and to The Piano Guys and to my daughter Susie who sent me the link to the Piano Guys rendition of Rachel’s Fight Song.

I stood at the top of the hill in the mist, looking out over the trees into the thick soup of grey cloud. Nothing more. There was the road, the trees at its edge and then solid dirty white nothing. I live here, so I know that hidden in that tired, dirty cloud are houses and schools and businesses, roads and railway tracks, cars and trucks and buses. Beyond them, far below me is the busy harbor with ships and bridges and industry. On a day when the clouds mind their own business high above us, from this spot I can see the strip of land we call Park Point that separates the harbor from the southwestern tip of the Great Lake, Superior, Hiawatha’s Gitche Gumee, the Shining Big Sea Water. Often there are a ship or three at anchor out there, waiting for clearance to enter the harbor.

But today, all that can be seen is this grey stuffing smothering everything. A stranger in this place, or a bird happening upon this land would have no idea what lies below.

The day reflects my life. I have had a dirty grey cloud engulfing me this past month. It presses against the joy I want to feel. It silences the song that wants to rise up inside me. It fills up my brain until I find myself lost in an obsessive circle worrying over endless lists of incomplete tasks, petty offenses,  unresolved situations and their unknown outcomes that have a 50/50 chance of coming up roses or shit. And I’m worried about the shit. Some days the cloud has been so full of heavy stuff that it has wrung out crusty old garbage that I forgot to throw away and had left in some trunk in a forgotten closet of my brain.

I find myself on the good days keeping my eyes on the path in front of me, taking one step at a time, doing the next best thing to do, the good that is in front of me, offering gratitude for my ability to navigate the path through this fog.

On the bad days, I can’t shut off the steady assault of condemnation for every mistake, real and imagined, five minutes ago, five years, five lifetimes–it doesn’t matter, they’re all screaming at me. I can’t redirect the rage that bleeds from the old wounds that have opened up. Neither breathing or walking or chocolate will ease the chaos churning in my body that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. I don’t enjoy living with myself on these days…and neither does anyone else.

I have been given some answers, some guidance through the month–hours or minutes when the sun burns through a patch of the fog and reminds me that he’s still up there shining in a blue sky.

The best day was the one when I was pondering what exactly this part of me called my Soul, or my Higher Self IS–the bit that is eternal, has come from the Creator, the Source of all Life, God if you will and always returns there when completing a life cycle here on Earth. (Yes, I happen to think that living multiple lives here on the Earth, learning, growing, working, contributing, makes more sense than spending an eternity singing in a celestial choir. I’m tone deaf.) For many years when I try communicating with this part of me, this Soul of me, I imagine her as a young woman–but she doesn’t really even look like me. But, there has been for many years another image who has visited me in dreams, and come to me at other times when I’ve been searching for answers, or healing. She is a little girl who looks like I did when I was five years old–complete with short brown hair, navy blue pedal pushers and a white tee shirt. I called her, “Little Mary”. When she first started showing up, I thought this was my “inner child” that I was learning about in therapy. But, she never acted like a wounded child that I needed to take care of. Instead, she would teach me, or offer guidance. The first time she “showed up” I was in a class on chronic pain, lying on a yoga mat, being led through a breathing meditation. I had started crying softly as deep emotional pain began to rise up inside me. And suddenly I was aware of this presence–this five year old child sitting on the floor next to me. She reached out and stroked my cheek and the love I felt coursing through me was so intense, I almost couldn’t bear it.

In Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book, The Call, she asks us what the one word is that would describe what we understand is the central, most important thing we have come to this Lifetime to learn–and then to teach. When I read that a few years ago, I knew immediately that my word is Grace. Because it is the most difficult state of being for me to allow to touch me–or to live (to learn, in other words), but also the one thing I want to BE more than anything–grace-filled, gentle, compassionate, kind. And in my work in Restorative Justice, it is what I teach.

So, on this foggy day a few weeks ago, I was meditating about what, or who, this part of me is that is my Soul, that is the real, true, core Self of me. And the image of the young woman popped into my mind…okay, yeah, sure. You again. But who ARE you? “Do you have a name”, I asked? Immediately the word Grace dropped into my mind. Right. And then she said, “Hail, Mary, full of Grace” and giggled like a little girl. I stopped right in the middle of the street I was crossing. WTF?!

My father named me Mary–after, yes, the mother of Jesus. Who it is recorded in Scripture was greeted by an Angel who said, “Hail, Mary, full of Grace!”  And then of course, there is this notion that our Soul is what fills our corporeal body and animates it. Without our Soul, our body is just dead meat. So…Mary, full of Grace was just the most clever, ridiculous pun–and I have never found puns particularly amusing. But she thought she was hilarious.

The next ray of sunshine that found its way through the fog of this storm raging through my life came a few days later when the image of my Soul, “Grace”, showed up not as the young woman, but as “Little Mary”. She had a few choice words to say to me about my needing to embrace joy, stop resisting the very gifts my Life was trying to bring me, and and as my imagination had her dressed in her usual pedal pushers, she put her hands on her hips and said, “Really?! Pedal pushers? Again?!” She ended up dressed in jeans and a raggedy red shirt and cowboy boots and had a fairy wand stuck in her back pocket. And she had long dark hair in braids. (Because I always wanted long hair in braids…and my mother wouldn’t let me.)

In some other dimension in my mind she took me to an archaeological dig in Egypt and started moving a grain of sand at a time until she uncovered a treasure. She told me, “When you finally discover a truth, a treasure, or a revelation to shed light on the mysteries or the problems in your life, you have already done more than 90% of the work. You are finished. And this is true in your life now, you have finished the hard work. Now it is time to gather the treasures and celebrate! Share them!”

But then the clouds whirled about and drove the rain and the wind and shut off the sunlight again. Sealed me off from Grace, again. If I could just get it through my head that Grace is not “out there”, but here, inside me, then it wouldn’t matter anymore if there is fog, or sunshine–storms or balmy waters. I have Grace inside me. I AM Grace.

But still, the anxiety in my guts has me writhing; the cacophony of critical and condemning voices in my head rail on into the night. The despair weighs so much it is difficult to breathe. I open my heart over and over to the flow of the stream of Light and Life, to love, to joy. I offer gratitude for the simple things. I cry. I write a little. I yell at my husband for something stupid. I want to crawl out of my skin and run away. I freak out over the bills. I slam my fist on the rocks on which I’m sitting, furious that the help I pray for isn’t showing up.

Today I stood at the top of the hill in the mist. I told myself all I can do is keep on keeping on walking the path in front or me. The part I can see. Doing what I know to do in this moment. And wait out the storm.

I came home and watched the music video by The Piano Guys–their rendition of Rachel Platten’s Fight Song which they wove together with John Newton’s Amazing Grace. Of this project they wrote:

We all struggle. …to make the most of our lives. To take what we’ve been given and turn it into something better… But to do so seldom is simple and more often requires we fight. Not against each other. But against the current threatening to drown the ambition in us. There is tremendous purpose in struggle. From our youth we’ve been taught that when faced with insurmountable, unthinkable odds, we cheerfully do all that lies within our power, and then stand still with the utmost assurance to let fate, destiny, karma, or to let God do the rest. …the closer we get to the furnace of the affliction the more our obstinance and pride burns off revealing the best way to win a fight in ourselves is to let Grace fight the battle instead. There are those that have been through so many defining moments that they are intimately acquainted with Grace and know Her to be close cousins with Hope. They know that when they can’t fully understand the purpose of a struggle, they instead recognize that knowing there is a purpose is enough.

My Soul has a sense of humor. Grace, indeed.

Rachel Platten’s Fight Song...

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me