Get into the red convertible; you know you want to

There’s been so much written and said about the “inner child” in the last couple of decades that any mention of it is likely to bring on an eye roll. This morning, though, I was visited by a memory that gave me a whole new view of it (or, in my case, her). I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship with the creative, childlike part of me. Okay, mostly hate. And shame. Today, I have a new understanding of how unnecessary that has been. And a glimpse of the sweet freedom that’s available with just a small shift.

About ten years ago, I was at a weeklong program at Integral on Sustainability. Among the many fabulous experiences we had was a guided practice called “Big Mind.” This is a combination of Buddhist and modern Western psychological thought developed by Dennis Genpo Merzel to not only “get in touch” with inner voices, but to embody and integrate them. To feel whole. When he invoked the inner child, I became sad and forlorn. Later, I was surprised when everyone else said their inner child was carefree and playful and joyful. Continue reading

In praise of the power of love and human intention to solve problems

Modern civilization faces many intractable and seemingly unsolvable problems. We can be beguiled by simplistic, flashy, one-off moves like building walls or issuing Executive Orders to keep so-called “undesirables” out. But humans have proven again and again that clear thinking, creativity, and cooperation can work wonders. How else could we have landed a man on the moon? Or invented the iPhone? Or stopped spewing ozone-depleting chemicals into the air?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of intention. I’m not talking about films like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep Do We Know,” although I confess to being fascinated by the idea that this whole thing we call life is a game that we are literally making up moment by moment as we play. Today’s stories will not require a mystical acceptance of alternative realities. (You can find explorations of those in other posts here, here, and here.) Continue reading

#whyimarch in celebration and support of the whole community of Life

I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?

So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.

Finally, the last point at the end of page 4, is this: Continue reading

A year to nourish, show up, and connect

Despite its obvious downsides, 2016 had some good moments, too. I made a list of them on New Year’s Day and was surprised to note so many highlights. The exercise filled me with gratitude and appreciation for great friendships, abundant love, a healthy family, robust community, interesting work, modest successes, and many material comforts. It was a good frame of mind to receive the words that will guide me in 2017.

This year, a friend helped me to consult Tarot cards. I am new to this method; it offers a view that is simultaneously retrospective, introspective and speculative. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side. Each card is a picture story, and together they form a linked story that twists and turns, confirming what is known and revealing what is hidden. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side.

I enjoy the mix of intuition and rationality involved in reading the cards and interpreting them. As part of a skeptical culture that dismisses the language of symbols, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And the payoff for such trust is insight, surprise, and a fair bit of having one’s complacency shaken up. Continue reading

Let’s build something worthy of us for a change

I’ve written before about the play between mythos and logos, particularly the impoverishment of our lives from the elevation of logos—reason, facts—over its partner mythos—meaning, context. Logos alone sends us looking for truth in news items, not in fairy tales. At least until recently. The very crisis of the so-called “fact-free” world we woke up to post-election points to the inadequacy of logos alone to make sense of the world. And we’ve gone so long without mythos; it’s hard to visualize its relevance anymore. Or what it even looks like in the physical world.

In the first century BCE, back when mythos and logos still enjoyed equal billing, a Roman architect and engineer called Vitruvius wrote an architectural treatise called The Ten Books on Architecture. It’s actually an interesting read. The most quoted principles from it are the triumvirate: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, or “firmness, commodity, and delight.” Vitruvius argued that architecture must be structurally sound, functional, and beautiful—all three. It must serve its purpose economically and spiritually. Though human cultures and their architectural styles have taken many different forms over the centuries, these underlying principles have generally held. When logos was promoted over mythos, the unraveling began. Continue reading

Weaving and unraveling in black dog times

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Mythic storyteller Michael Meade tells the story of an old woman weaving in a cave. It is as relevant today as it’s been for the hundreds or thousands of years it’s been told around the fire. Here is the story from the White Mountain Apache, adapted from his book, Why the World Doesn’t End.

The old people of the tribes would tell of a special cave where knowledge of the wonders and workings of the world could be found. Even now, some of the native people say that the cave of knowledge exists and might be discovered again. They say it is tucked away in the side of a mountain. “Not too far to go,” they say, yet no one seems to find it anymore. Despite all the highways and byways, all the thoroughfares and back roads that crosscut the face of the earth, despite all the maps that detail and try to define each area, no one seems to find that old cave. That’s too bad, they say, because inside the cave can be found genuine knowledge about how to act when the dark times come around again and the balance of the world tips away from order and slips towards chaos. Continue reading

The vision, uncertainty and hard work of moon shots

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This morning, spin class started with mash-up song of Kennedy’s 1962 Rice University speech about expanding the space program. We sprinted up a hill, fueled by these rousing words:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I resolved on the spot to listen to this every morning before starting work. What better way to get psyched up for the day’s challenges? It does make me wonder why our politicians don’t talk to us like that anymore. It’s become unpopular to tell people the truth about anything, or to promise that something will be hard. Ever since President Carter’s 1977 “MEOW” (“moral equivalent of war”) talk during the energy crisis, our leaders have been skittish to tell us the truth.

And no wonder. Carter’s talk opens with: “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you, about a problem that’s unprecedented in our history. . . . It’s a problem that we will not be able to solve in the next few years, and it’s likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.” Man! Talk about a downer! He should have studied Kennedy’s oratorical techniques. President Kennedy spun his dazzling vision and inspired people to hurl themselves into the unknown, with only the promise of a lot of hard work and no guarantee of success. Continue reading

True wisdom comes not from intellect but from feeling

11.7.15_Horse_620wOn the DVD of the 2000 film, “Requiem for a Dream,” the great actress Ellen Burstyn has a conversation with the book’s author (and co-screenwriter) Hubert Selby Jr. He wrote the novel in the 1970s. It’s an unflinching dive into the hell of addiction, rendered with timeless pathos by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Selby tells Ms. Burstyn that he works consciously to get out of the way:

“The ego has to go. I don’t have the right to put me, the ego, between the people in the story and the reader. They should have an interrelationship and experience each other. Because, if you really want to teach, you have to do it emotionally. The intellect can get a whole bunch of information, but it doesn’t turn it into wisdom. And it’s wisdom that we need if we’re going to save our souls and this bloody thing! We need wisdom.”

He also tells her that it took him a year to write one twenty-page story, and after he was done, he went to bed for about two weeks. For him, this is what it took to go beyond telling a story, to put the reader through an emotional experience. Continue reading

On conflict, unlearning, evolution, and building new narratives

9.11.15_bears_620wI recently participated in a conversation about Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. It was civil, although heated at times. Many of us expressed our dismay at being duped for all those decades of the “righteous” war on drugs. We were sold a bill of goods by one politician after another. Journalist Dan Baum’s shocking opening passage in the recent Harper’s article about legalizing drugs provides a fine coda to Alexander’s book. He relates an encounter with John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s co-conspirators and inner-circle advisors, who confirmed the cynical intentions behind Nixon’s war on drugs. It’s a sad legacy that haunts us still.

My teenage son asks some challenging questions lately. As I was telling him about the wrangling during the book discussion, he popped this one out: “Why not build a wall between us and Mexico?” He said Mexico built a wall between itself and the country on its southern border. He said he’d looked it up, although he could not in that moment remember the name of the other country. (It’s Guatemala, and a small bit of Belize.) Continue reading

Playing it safe is a ticket to mediocrity in art and in life

2.27.16_marsh_620wI was driving last Wednesday night during a sudden violent thunderstorm, first on the highway and then on city streets unable to handle the epic volumes of water flow. It was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience, especially as I had someone else’s child in my backseat. I was thankful for the traffic, so I could gauge the depths of the fast-running streams that crossed every intersection. Give me a snowstorm any day.

That intimidation feels familiar. It’s been with me all week, as I continue to work on my novel. I keep thinking I’m not up to it and finding other things to occupy my time. I’ve never been afraid of hard work—especially when I’m on a roll. This project is calling me to let go, to let the writing take me where it will. And yet I’m afraid I can’t pull this off. That all these years of work will have been for naught. It seems the more I learn about craft, the bar gets higher and the finish line farther away. Continue reading