While we are making plans, the Earth is making us


All I want is to sing to you
The song that no one has heard
~ Krishna Das, from Heart as Wide as the World

We seem to be fond of comparing ourselves to animals, or, as native people tend to call them, the four-leggeds. Our post-Enlightenment minds play this game by finding ourselves to be superior to those “Others.” One story we like is that we are the only conscious beings on the planet, which is rapidly being debunked even by modern science. I did recently think of this difference, though: we make plans. We take on long-term projects that last beyond seasons, that may take five or ten years to complete. And sometimes our projects fail.

Plants and animals are seasonal, and their physical aims much simpler: survival and reproduction. They don’t seem to have the ambition to change their surroundings or invent things or look at distant galaxies, let alone travel to them. They don’t make musical instruments or write symphonies or Shakespearean plays. And yet they are part of a vast dance, a swirling ongoing Creation that is impossible to comprehend in its entirety. While we make plans, the Earth makes us. Continue reading

Who are we at war with? Let’s be honest about opposites.


I usually refrain from engaging in arguments on political or economic theory because I don’t consider myself to be well enough informed to do any particular stance justice with supporting evidence. Today I learned that my reasons go deeper than that. I recently violated my own injunction by posting a quote from Governor Scott Walker on my Facebook page about dependence on the government. He was calling up a trope from the Reagan era, one that ignores that he and all Americans are dependent on the government for roads, help in emergencies, and education, to name only a few.

In the ensuing back and forth argument, my Libertarian cousin chimed in about the role of government, taxation, military spending, energy policy, and the squeeze of the middle class. I responded that it saddens me to see finger pointing at “those people” who are on public assistance. Maybe if their place of work (WalMart, McDonald’s) paid them a living wage, they could afford to put a roof over their head and food on the table without such help. Or if the “education” they received had actually educated them, they could get a higher paying job. It’s so small minded and petty, and reflects poorly on Americans. I still prefer to believe that we are capable of much better. And yet my salvo is a distraction from the deeper lessons of this exchange. 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

On gender, power, being an outsider, and inhabiting the “other”

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It’s not hard to notice that a lot of the people on the frontiers of “alternative” health, justice, education, [fill-in-the-blank], those helping to write the new stories, are women and what is known as “minorities.” (Which, just think about it, is a horrible word in so many ways.) Why is that? We have less to lose, for one thing. We’ve lived our entire lives on the outside of a system that, we can see from here, makes little sense. For starters, whoever heard of a functioning natural system that excludes whole swaths of reality?

Being on the outside does have its upside. From here, it’s easier to a) spot the flaws, inconsistencies, and insanity of the dominant system; b) see alternatives, and c) shift sideways, away from the mess and towards something better.

The disadvantages are many as well: a) lower status, in the eyes of the white men inside the system, means b) difficulty having much influence on the system itself, and c) risk of being disregarded or downright ignored by those in power, and consequently, d) preaching only to the choir without effecting much change. Continue reading

It’s all sacred, so give up control and enjoy the ride


“There are no non-sacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.” ~ Wendell Berry

Towards the end of Maureen Murdock’s book, “The Heroine’s Journey,” she brings up Matthew Fox’s observation that the sin behind all sin is dualism, that force behind all separations: from the self, from other people, from nature, from the sacred. When blinded by dualism, we see everything and everyone outside of ourselves as “other,” as object, a thing we can control, manipulate, dominate, or own.

It seems to me that the way back from this separation is to see everything in terms of “both/and,” a grand dance of opposites, a constantly shifting, dynamic paradox that we navigate with humility and imagination. In a given situation, when I jump to a particular conclusion that causes or contributes to conflict, I would do well to take a breather and imagine the opposite being just as true. Continue reading

Take two stories and call me in the morning


Nowhere is the breakdown of the old story of command and control more evident than in the modern “health care” arena, with its ever-increasing cost and complexity, reliance on drugs and technology, and faltering ability to make us healthier or better cared for. When my parents were diagnosed with cancer, the very language used by their doctors was a language of war. In older cultures, by contrast, illness was seen as an indicator of disconnection, disharmony, or imbalance. People, not diseases, were the focus of treatment.

“If you treat disease, you win some, you lose some. But if you treat people, you always win.” ~ Patch Adams

Last week, I attended a noontime lecture at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health. The speaker, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, is a Stanford trained doctor in clinical psychiatry who researches so-called narrative medicine — the healing practices of indigenous elders. His goal is to introduce their healing wisdom into mainstream medicine and to transform medicine and psychology by coupling it with various narrative traditions. He opened his talk with this:

“If you want to change the world, keep talking and tell a story.”

Continue reading

Dr. King and the hero’s journey of freedom

Since today is Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to share one of the greatest speeches by a great role model for living into the New Story of connection and belonging. In this speech, King sets a high bar for our nation:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Continue reading

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

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

The gift of storytelling


The gift of storytelling is a felt sense of connection that awakens hidden kinships and renews our belonging to the whole community of Life.

Sitting with a group of people around a fire and telling stories opens us to an experience of shared creativity that goes back millennia. Even if we have only just met, our stories have a way of weaving in and among each other. One story will trigger another story, long forgotten but now just as alive and relevant as it was fifteen years ago. That story will contain an image or character that sparks a third story.

The stories come through individuals and have their way with us in a collective mystery. Each story seems to take form and move among us, conjuring themes and shared emotions. As the stories are spun, we create worlds within worlds. Or maybe they create us. Continue reading