The sun is out. The snow that fell yesterday is melting,
starting with the highest branches. There’s a metamorphosis of light, a
scattering of stars in place of the white tracery of snow. Fat drops fall from
the sky. High branches above the picture framed by my window.
All is right with the world in this moment. Brave folks
speak out against injustice, drag predators into the light, unearth forgotten histories.
Tell stories from ancient lands and distant times: stories with acute relevance
to us now.
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 →
“You are in the time of the interim, where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out. The way forward is concealed from you. The old is not old enough to have died away; the new is still too young to be born.” ~ John O’Donohue, Celtic scholar, mystic and poet
Recently, the Public Radio program “On Being” interviewed several people about the spirituality of running. The most riveting interview was of Billy Mills, a Native American runner who won gold in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics. Just as he was nearing the finish line with nothing left, he glanced at the runner he was passing and saw an eagle on the guy’s shirt. He thought of his dead father telling him, “You do these things, Son. Someday, you can have wings of an eagle.”
Inspired, Billy Mills flew the last 60 meters to set a world record. No American has since won gold in that event. After he got over the shock of winning, he went to find the guy whose singlet had propelled him over that last bit of track. There was no eagle on the shirt. In that moment, he understood the power of perception. “I realized that perceptions create us or destroy us, but we have that opportunity to create our own journey.” Even more moving is what he says about his true motivation for running: Continue reading →
I’ve been reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It’s a perfect illustration of the threshold between stories. The old stories—of law and order, of command and control, of rich versus poor, of white versus black—are exposed through vivid facts, stories, and history as unfair and inadequate, manipulative and destructive.
Everyone has the power to conjure the stories that we so desperately need now, particularly when it comes to the gulf between people of means and those in poverty, white privilege and the oppression of people of color. Alternative stories are recognizable for their humanity, their appeal to empathy, connection, and belonging.
In “Straight Outta Compton,” Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E and their friends are taking a break outside the record studio in Torrance, where they are producing their second album. The police roll up and get to work harassing and humiliating them in a practiced way, assuming they are gang bangers and dope slingers. The musicians’ protests are met not with respect or the benefit of the doubt, but with threats of further harm. It’s a clear dramatization of the power-over dynamic enabled by the war on drugs. The militarized tactics of police rely on the logic of old stories. Continue reading →
Last, night, I joined in a conversation at my son’s Quaker school about Ta’Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. It was a fairly diverse crowd—ethnically, if not economically. Everyone there was well educated, thoughtful and, with one honest exception, liberal. I was especially thankful for the opportunity to listen to two black intellectuals and a Quaker elder who lived in Detroit during the 1967 riots.
We worked our way through various responses to the book, including praise for Coates’ use of the dream as metaphor, which I wrote about here. I appreciated hearing new (to me) ideas from folks I don’t usually encounter. A black man who teaches high school history pointed out that one of the horrors of slavery was not that white people thought black people weren’t human. It’s that they knew how human they were, and were able to manipulate the relationship to get what they wanted from them—their labor and obedience. Continue reading →
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 →
In politics and advertising, there’s an old saying: Whoever controls the story, wins. Campaign advisors speak of “framing” a story, of “getting ahead of” stories, “firing the first shot” against their opponent. This appropriation of Story to sell things—whether face cream or a financial bailout or a candidate—is a debasement of the magic and power of storytelling. One favored tactic is to reduce individuals to cartoonish generalizations, as some Presidential candidates are currently doing with immigration.
Michael Moore’s 2009 film about the financial crisis uses just the opposite technique, weaving a story from honest conversations with real people. “Capitalism: a Love Story,” is told in his signature quirky, gloves-off style. In the opening sequence, he intercuts an old classroom film about the Roman Empire with contemporary images of poverty, homelessness, backbreaking labor, and entertainments used to divert the people’s attention from the true state of things. It’s a brilliant commentary not only on how far we have fallen, but on where we might be headed if we don’t take an honest look at the stories we live by. Continue reading →
“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 →
“When you turn to the sun, all shadows fall behind you.” ~ African proverb
I usually visualize the shadow as a dark cavern deep inside me, the kind you have to swim to the bottom of a lake to find, and that leads almost to the center of the earth. I like this proverb because it provides another image. The shadow follows us wherever we go. Maybe it can even take on a life of its own. In the second book of the children’s series, Peter and the Starcatchers, the evil Lord Ombra steals people’s shadows to possess them, read their thoughts and enslave them. The shadow is imagined as a kind of repository for an individual’s essence, but the fact remains that it is ever and always behind me. I never can turn around and face it squarely.
In the Tantric tradition, the back body is aligned with the universal, the front with the individual. This is a wonderful way to imagine wholeness: it’s in our body that we integrate our uniqueness with the wider world. The front is our place of effort, of being who we are in the world. The back is the unknown, the unseen, and yet it is always there, ready to support and help us when needed. This fits nicely with the classic teaching that the shadow is part of our childhood survival toolkit. Continue reading →
I’m feeling resistance to delving further into this topic of the shadow. It demands honesty and strips off masks. With nothing to hide behind, I tell myself it’s too hard or it’s all been said before. What can I possibly add to the conversation? And yet this resistance itself is a perfect invitation, a dare to keep going. Shadow is not only a repository of shame and evil. It’s a treasure house of insight for those with the courage to look.
As slippery and tricky as the shadow is to pin down, we encounter it daily just by living life. Whatever shows up to block my way, to challenge and frighten me—that’s showing me my shadow. When a person or situation brings up strong emotion—especially aversion, fear, anger, or shame—that’s revealing something deeply buried. Either I know about it and thought it was safely under lock and key, or it’s been so long ignored, denied, or unacknowledged, I’m taken by surprise. Being blindsided happens less often now, but it does happen. Continue reading →