Trying on a new story about crying

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This is an x-ray of my son’s left humerus. He tangled feet attempting to leap an opponent on the soccer field. Time suspended as he hovered horizontally cartoon-like, then landed WHUMP! flat on his back. Gravity snapped his arm near the shoulder. Before the orthopedist revealed this image with his diagnosis, he asked if my son had cried. He said, “This is a break that makes people cry.”

On the field of battle, right after it happened, Toby stood up without help. I was sitting three yards away in the stands, holding my breath. Knowing, as the mother of an adolescent son, my worst move would be to go to him. That mortification would hurt far worse than the arm. He did not cry while in company of coaches, trainers and teammates. He finally shed a few tears in the car on the way to the doctor. Continue reading

Confronting the “other” is an invitation to spiritual growth

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“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” ~ Dalai Lama

I’ve heard the term “spiritual growth” so much that I at some point I stopped wondering what it means. Wise teachers tell us that spiritual growth stalls when we attack others as evil instead of facing our own failures. With honest self-appraisal ideally comes the humility to recognize our need to grow, literally to expand our capacity to learn from those with whom we disagree. In that sense, then, spiritual growth is a process of making room for opposites inside of us.

This requires a stretching of consciousness, a way of confronting our self-imposed boundaries, our cultural story of separateness. The story is so deeply ingrained, though, that it taxes the imagination to see good and evil as part of one whole, rather than an opposition that begs to be resolved through force and war. Continue reading

Listening to the song of the Chesapeake

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As a resident for the last 25 years of Baltimore, Maryland, I have spent many days on the Bay, usually in a sailboat. I, like many Marylanders, am acutely aware of the state of the Chesapeake Bay and her many tributaries. My son has been studying water quality in his 7th grade geography class, which included a trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s study center on Smith Island—a truly special place, one of only two inhabited islands in the Bay. Tom Horton’s wonderful book about his time living on Smith, An Island Out of Time, is aptly titled.

The recent Report Card issued in late 2014 by CBF gives the state of the Bay a D+, the same grade as in 2012. Hard-won improvements in water quality were offset by losses in other areas, the impression of no progress defying the efforts of thousands of people and the expense of millions of dollars. The Bay is a complex ecosystem, its watershed sprawling over parts of six states, including major urban areas, two shipping ports, intense suburban development, industry and farmland. As the Report Card says: Continue reading

The essential questions at the heart of our lives

Still-Life_620wLately, I keep bumping up against that old saw, The older I get, the less I know. I have more questions than answers, and while it is an invitation to humility and surrender, I find myself getting frustrated too. Looking for signs and affirmations that I am on the right track. And suspecting that the signs are everywhere, if only I would notice them. Sometimes I think maybe the questions themselves are the sign.

I recently heard Ricardo Semler speaking on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. In 1980, he took over his father’s company, Semco, and redesigned it to be a corporate democracy, where people design their own jobs, define pay levels, and select and evaluate their supervisors. During his 2014 TED talk, Semler recounts his discovery of the power of asking “Three whys in a row” to access deeper wisdom. Continue reading

Improvisation unlocks the magic of spontaneity and connection

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All told, we’ve collaborated to offer eleven Restorying retreats over the last two years, with more in the planning stages. They’ve come to have a dynamic balance between structure and improvisation. We are learning as leaders to be present and notice the field, to give ourselves over to what wants to happen next, what the earth is dreaming for us. Within a framework of ritual and ceremony, poetry and mythic time and space, we enter the door that leads to the realm of heart and soul and mystery.

Themes, questions, and insights begin to weave into and through the assembled group from the first gathering. We are getting better at tuning into that and inviting participants to join in the fun of giving ourselves over to what Mystery wants to do with us. It reminds me of what Malcolm Gladwell had to say about improvisation in his book, Blink. Using basketball as an example, he wrote that in practice, the players drill patterns and set-ups relentlessly, and then every game is totally improvisational. The patterns are strung together in completely new ways in every game, every moment. I can guess from the way my son talks about soccer that it’s much the same. Continue reading

What we are doing in this time between stories

3.26.15_Meeting_topI’ve been participating in a fascinating online course convened by Charles Eisenstein called the Space Between Stories. There is an active forum as part of the course and I’ve been able to join in a few conversations with people from all over the world. One of the topics that’s captured my imagination is our longing for clarity about what to do, once we’ve recognized that the dominant cultural stories, that we were raised on and that constantly surround us, are mistaken and damaging. Once we see that, we cannot unsee it, and can go with the program only at great cost to our sanity and health. Which opens up a rather intimidating question: now what?

Paul Kingsnorth of the Dark Mountain Project, has a humble and inspiring list of five actions at the end of his beautiful essay, “Dark Ecology.” While I can wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, I am also aware that part of living into New Stories is that each of us must find our own way. Not in isolation, surely, but in recognition that our paths are as unique as we are. It’s such a different way of thinking that I’m constantly having to remind myself that’s it’s really okay not to know. Not to know where I’m headed or what will happen along the way, not to know if climate change will get the better of us in my lifetime or my son’s, not to know whether this awareness is going to destroy precious friendships and relationships or whether “enough” people will come to this same awareness to make a difference in all the environmental, social, and economic collapse going on around us. Not to know much at all. Continue reading

On trauma, simplicity, art, healing, and love

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A useful practice for living into new stories is to pay attention to themes or patterns that show up, especially coming from different directions and sources. Lately, I’ve been encountering the theme of healing trauma — in podcasts, conversations with friends, dreams, memories, and articles. It started with Bessel van der Kolk’s interview on “On Being,” describing his research into using yoga to train and improve people’s “heart rate variability,” which greatly improves resilience in the face of trauma. This work is groundbreaking in treating PTSD.

In a webinar I watched yesterday, he spoke about how profoundly interconnected we are as a species, that emotions ripple between us and into our bodies whether we’re aware of it or not. He showed two slides of a mother and baby monkey. In the first, both mother and baby are calm. In the second, the mother is agitated and screeching, the baby looks terrified and stressed out. I found myself thinking of my own childhood, steeping in my mother’s anxiety, depression, and (as the psychologists call it) hyper-arousal. Continue reading

We are all in this together

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I woke this morning haunted by two phrases chasing through my dreams: “We’re here to make the world safe for —” and “We can eliminate all evil,” half-consciousness laying bare the emptiness of such phrases, the mistaken assumptions about who we are, how much power we have, and why we are here in the first place.

When we tell ourselves that we are here to cleanse or perfect something — whether it’s us, the environment, people with different skins, alien cultures, or desperate terrorists — we totally miss the point. Perfection is one of those goals born from the story of separation. As is curing, rather than healing. Or cleansing, rather than embracing. Continue reading

A ceremony to clear space and invite new perspectives

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I’ve had a vision board in my office for many years. Some images have been there since 2011, and I’ve been adding to them. There are pictures of people who inspire me: Wangari Maatthai, Paul Hawken, David Whyte, Joanna Macy, and Karen Armstrong, to name a few. Other precious images remind me of goals for my health, my family, and my work. Verses and prayers light me up or calm me down.

On the last day of 2014, I took them all down and burned them outside in a ceremony, during which I released specific goals and hopes and turned the next year over to divine order. As the fire quickly moved through and consumed the paper, I honored the many growing seasons of the trees that formed it, of leaves turning sunlight into the miracle of life and growth, now being released into the air by the flames. Continue reading