Love is courage in action


Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Given that outer is a reflection of inner, love begins within. I sow love by bringing its warmth and compassion into the cold, dark, unloved places deep inside me. I wonder it’s this region that is moved to tears when touched by a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Or the beauty of the world in general, which has much to teach me about love. Red berries touched by snow, whitecaps on water, a young boy singing the high soprano notes opening “Once in Royal David’s City.”

The film “Still Alice” is a lovely exploration of this verse. While she, and her family, hated what was happening to her well-honed intellectual mind, they made the choice to seek solace in the love that bound them together. That love, and the attendant grief of loss, illuminated unique aspects of each of them. The youngest daughter, Lydia, had the fiercest courage to face her emotions, and so she let her love turn to curiosity. She asked her mother what she was experiencing, giving her the precious gift of being witnessed. To stand in helplessness with that much power requires tremendous love and awareness. Continue reading

Practice being an instrument of peace


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

I made several failed attempts to capture my response to this first line of St. Francis’ prayer. Here is one: “It is perhaps a sign of spiritual maturity to dedicate oneself to be of use in the world. There is a nice reciprocity in knowing that the world is not only for me, I am also for the world.” But that sounds like I’m saying I’m spiritually mature, which could not be farther from the truth.

What I love about this line is its humility, the willingness, perhaps longing, to turn over my life to. . . .Well, to what exactly? That word, “Lord,” keeps tripping me up, steeped as I have been in Western Christian tradition, with its centuries of patriarchal hierarchies. I tried dropping the word altogether, leaving “Make me an instrument of peace,” which sounds nice but utterly bland. That higher power is stripped out, that appeal to the unseen, the majestic, the other-than-worldly. In short, the sacred. That’s it, isn’t it? Those eight words are an invocation, a summoning of great power, and a linguistic bowing down. Continue reading

Prayer is an expression of reciprocity


I’m beginning a daily consideration of the Prayer of St. Francis, going line by line. Reciting this prayer out loud every morning is a wonderful practice to open to the mystery of opposites and experience being a threshold of both/and. Though I’ve gotten out of the habit, I was doing this a few years ago during what I would soon discover were my father’s last months. Since I’d never experienced the death of a parent till then, I can only intuit that this prayer worked quite a bit of magic on me. It certainly helped me to be present to the paradox and profound mystery of life and death, love and loss.

Although I was raised Catholic, my mother—who had the most influence on me as a child—was not a practicing Catholic, so we didn’t do much prayer around our house. In fact, other than saying a pretty rote grace before dinner, we prayed not at all. My self-consciousness about prayer is tempered with a fascination for people who do pray, especially those to whom it’s like breathing: just as natural and just as necessary. Continue reading

Cultivating our ability to balance opposites and heal separation


This wonderful five-minute talk by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee about women and the mystery of creation appeals to the great potential of the sacred feminine to help shift our cultural stories. When you think about it, how miraculous it is that women have this ability to bring a new person into the world, to give a soul the experience of this physical plane. Spirit and matter are literally united within a woman’s body.

Throughout most of human history, women, therefore, were the guardians of the spiritual life of the people. Their connection to the earth’s cycles and seasons, as well as its great Creative power, made this connection natural and enduring. Anything we can do to align with the cyclical and the non-linear, the intuitive and the more-than-rational, will feed into this connection. Continue reading

Allowing emerging new stories to have their way with us



“We need a new story” seems to be coming out of more and more people’s mouths these days. From Thomas Berry to Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein, to David Korten and Duane Elgin. Each of these deep thinkers and actors has their own unique spin on the diagnosis, as well as ideas for what we might do to begin changing the story. One of my personal favorite pieces of writing about this is “Dark Ecology,” by Paul Kingsnorth, the co-founder along with Dougald Hine of the Dark Mountain Project. At the end of that essay, he cautions:

“If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.”

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We have a lot to learn from nature’s design intelligence, even if throwing a hammer in first doesn’t help

Hunters Field_620w

Yesterday, I mentioned David Korten’s work on new economic systems, which he calls “living economies.” This strikes me as a beautiful interim step away from our unquestioned disconnection from nature and elevation of reason over intuition, towards a more humble, conscious, and connected relationship with the living earth. We’re talking here about “biomimicry,” which I first discovered from Janine Benyus, a science writer who published a book by the same name in 1997.

Biomimicry has three basic principles. 1) Nature as model. Study, learn, and imitate how nature works, rather than how objects in nature look. 2) Nature as measure. Use an ecological standard to judge the rightness of our innovations. Nature has a 3.8 billion year head start on us and has learned what works, what is appropriate and what lasts. 3) Nature as mentor. Approach nature not from a perspective of what we can extract, but of what we can learn. Continue reading

Accept the muse’s assignment


2.15.15_Winter woods_620w3“Don’t forget to let it do its work on you.” These words were spoken by a retreat leader in response to my telling him I was eager to get back to work on my novel after the inspiring experiences of the week. It was a beautiful piece of advice, one that I knew immediately to be true on many levels. I was reminded of it again yesterday, reading Steven Pressfield’s blog post on how he healed his self-doubt by working for two years on a book about Alexander the Great, arguably the most confident man in history, one who knew and embraced his destiny even as a child.

Pressfield’s advice on overcoming Resistance in his book The War of Art, fueled me through my novel’s first draft, so I tend to listen to him. His point in yesterday’s post is that the muse gave him the Alexander the Great assignment for his own good, and that all art is a soul contract. What that says to me is: don’t question the inspiration too analytically, just answer the call, put in your best work, and let it do its work on you. Continue reading

Creativity is clearing space to welcome the unknown


There’s an axiom that all successful people know, from artists to entrepreneurs to winning coaches: never let yourself be daunted by the scale of your ambition or the audaciousness of a goal. Instead, do what you can do today, as well as you can do it. And do the same tomorrow, and the next day. Think as little as possible—or never—about the actual goal. Championships aren’t won by obsessing over the championship game. They are won by focusing on being the best individual on the best team in every moment of every game.

I need to remind myself of this today, heading into the fourth-plus year of working on my novel. Looking over what I’ve got, what has already been thrown away, and how far I still have to go (which actually seems farther than when I started, if that makes any sense), it’s too easy to become intimidated by the undertaking. I’m finally understanding a little of what Don Quixote must have felt, and why that story has such universal appeal. Fortunately, I have Rilke with me this morning, whispering in my ear. Continue reading

Living with the messy realities of both/and


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” ~ Charles Dickens

This opening to A Tale of Two Cities is a perfect encapsulation of how reality feels to me these days, and I am aware that many of us are living with the strangeness of both/and. I’ve had several conversations lately to puzzle over the apparent stalling of green building in my area, even while trend graphs put out by the U.S. Green Building Council look rosy as ever. I wouldn’t go so far as to lament that it was a fad that’s now fizzling, but I am curious about what feels like a slowdown, if not a general lack of interest, as compared with most of the 2000’s. Here’s a story that is not atypical. Continue reading