Giving thanks for kinship with all of Life


After a long holiday weekend spent with extended family, I am moved to reflect on kinship. I am a branch in a family tree that has roots in Italy and in Germany, Bohemia, Ireland and England. My ancestors are always with me: in specific memories, in personality traits, in my heart. I have a place with photographs of them which I greet daily, smiling at the stories behind the pictures.

Stories tell us who we are and where we’ve come from. My father’s father came over alone on the boat from Italy when he was fourteen, just a year older than my son is now. He lived in Chicago Heights, a town south of the infamous Southside of Chicago, and worked at Calumet Steel to provide for his family. Continue reading

Magic and the real


“Logic only gives man what he needs… Magic gives him what he wants.” ~ Tom Robbins

I’m fascinated by the popularity of magical fantasy worlds. The empire of the “Harry Potter” series – books, audiobooks, films, amusement park, merch – is just one example. More recently, the book, “The Night Circus,” became an international best seller. My son and I were hooked on the British show, “Merlin,” which ran for five seasons. It’s the backstory of Merlin and Arthur as young men. The voiceover at the beginning says, “In a land of myth and a time of magic. . . .”

What’s behind our attraction to these kinds of stories?

Maybe we turn to these fictional worlds of magic to soothe our longing for the actual magic of the wild world from which we have disconnected. Continue reading

Thanksgiving’s clash of stories


Americans grew up with the story of the First Thanksgiving: how the native people took pity on the Puritan settlers (Pilgrims), who weren’t quite prepared for what they would encounter in the strange new land. The Indians rolled out the welcome mat, giving them diverse foodstuffs and valuable survival skills, and the Pilgrims held a great feast to thank them. Containing elements of both truth and fiction, this story is part of the founding mythology of our country.

It wasn’t until quite recently that researchers began to discover the sophistication of the civilizations encountered by outsiders in the Americas. Continue reading

Perfectionism’s last stand


In all my years as a dedicated perfectionist, I never once stopped to ask myself — what is perfection? What has to happen for me to be satisfied? Even if I had asked these questions, perfection is a wily shapeshifter, a trickster goading me to try to control events and outcomes. It tells me I can live in a world entirely of my own design, safe and predictable. Everything can turn out the way I want it to.

Perfectionism keeps the focus on exterior appearances, at the expense of inner literacy and spiritual connection. It dictates that only the material, measurable world is real, and tries to be both means and ends. Borrowing a bit of wisdom about peace: There is no way to work for perfection. Perfection is the way. Continue reading

Anti-aging, cultural delusions and wildness


An online search of the term, “anti-aging,” yields 6.7 million results. There are anti-aging foods, techniques, guidelines, secrets, creams, fitness regimes, experts, medicine, supplements, checklists, fellowships, diets, and systems. And that’s just on the first page of results. Interestingly, Dr. Oz figures prominently, but that may just be due to savvy SEO.

That we even have a term like “anti-aging” is a sign of our continued delusion of control over this foe we call “nature.” Witness the place of hour that “anti“ has  in our national vocabulary: anti-abortion, anti-guns, anti-terrorism, anti-nukes, anti-fracking, anti-slavery, anti-environment. Some of these movements are quite well intentioned, and yet find themselves lumped into a subclass of “war on” phrases: war on terror, war on drugs, on poverty, etc. Continue reading

Love, conditional and unconditional


Years ago, a therapist countered my confession of longing to be loved unconditionally with this statement: there is no such thing as unconditional love. Being used to therapists who are more Socratic, I was shocked at the bluntness.

It felt wrong to me, like admitting defeat in a game you weren’t even playing. What’s the point of intimate relationships, if not to be loved, warts and all? Through thick and thin and all that. It felt like our marriage vows are worded just so, to bind us into something before it dawns on us how over our heads we’ve gotten. Continue reading

From scarcity and hierarchy, through abundance to miracle


The story of scarcity infects not only my relationship with time, but with other people. It destroys my peace of mind and isolates me from the world. My habit of rushing for no real reason usually hurts only me. More damaging is an ingrained tendency to see difference, to rank myself in comparison with others, or to let biases stand unexamined. As long as I believe there isn’t enough to go around, I will mindlessly go after my share before someone else grabs it. Since those in positions of power stand the best chance of getting the goods, it’s only natural to strive for domination and control over others, right? We are told from childhood that’s how to get what we want.

In a 2005 New York Times essay, “The Founding Sachems,” author Charles Mann outlined the influence of Haudenosaunee’s “Great Law of Peace” on the colonists and founding fathers. The democratic ideals practiced by this alliance of six tribes, also known as the Iroquois confederation, derived from an unshakable belief in the sanctity and value of each individual, man, woman, and child. Continue reading

Opening the door to ancestors and guides, humble and extreme


About twenty-two hours into Charles Lindbergh’s famous nonstop solo Atlantic crossing, having endured hours of fatigue and boredom, he was visited by the distinct feeling that there were a number of ghostly presences in his plane with him. This story is one of many fascinating encounters with the “third man” from John Geiger’s 2009 book, “The Third Man Factor.”

Lindbergh, of course, had his own understanding of their identities and purpose, and felt perfectly comfortable with their company. As I read, I thought how cool it would be if they were the ancestors of the invention of flight: Daedalus and Icarus, DaVinci, the Mongolfier brothers, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, Wenham, Ader, Maxim, Langley, and the Wright brothers. They would be crowded in there with him, celebrating his grand achievement and guiding him to a successful crossing. Who better to understand the trial of grueling endurance before Lindberg reached his goal? It was a shared victory. Continue reading

How does science explain a numinous presence?


The film, “Rosewater,” is based on the memoir of Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari, who was held in solitary confinement for almost four months following the controversial 2009 elections. I haven’t read his book, but was intrigued that he was visited in his cell by his dead father (who had also been jailed for his politics, under the Shah), as well as his late sister Maryam, who was jailed under the revolutionary government in the 1980s.

Such a presence is not so uncommon, given the right circumstances. It appears when someone is in an extreme or unusual environment, such as mountaineering, shipwreck, natural disaster, mine accident, terrorist attack, space exploration, or the extreme isolation and loneliness experienced in solitary confinement. Continue reading

We don’t like being weather’s loser boyfriend


“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” ~ Charles Dudley Warner

I love how this captures so much about the human condition. There’s our tendency to make small talk, avoiding substantive conversations. And also our powerlessness in the face of natural forces — even now, after decades and centuries of working so hard to harness, control and subdue them.

It’s humbling to admit we can’t do much of anything about the weather and this ticks us off. In a world of factory farms, deep ocean oil drilling, and genetic engineering, we are little more than sitting ducks in the path of a “Superstorm” hurricane or a “Snowmageddon” blizzard. Continue reading