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
Sunil Yapa’s novel has a strong structure: a ensemble cast—seven different points of view plus a narrator’s voice–weaving around an actual event with vivid details that rise to the level of mythic symbolism. A billy club stands for the brutality of all authority wielded in violence; a police horse evokes intelligence beyond the petty human; a facial scar suggests menace or heroism; the misty rain sets a theatrical atmosphere. Details like PVC pipe, apple cider vinegar-soaked pink bandanas, swim goggles, and a riot helmet reflecting clouds passing overhead work together in an ominous concert of impending doom.
The story at times feels like passages of the Mahabarata, Greek myths of fathers and sons, Shakespearean drama of mistaken identity, or the Bible’s story of the Prodigal son returning. Perennial activist John Henry is a Moses character, bringing his people to freedom through the desert. Even the simple mention of stores at an intersection—the Gap, Banana Republic, a bank—takes on an End-of Empire feel. Yes, they are actual stores, but they also stand for something far greater, beyond any one individual. They are part of a vast capitalist network of exploitation of material resources and people’s lives and livelihoods. Continue reading
I am closing in on that age noted by my parents years ago as one entry point into elderhood: when the U.S. President is younger than me. With Obama, I’ve just squeaked by: he is sixteen months older than me. If Hillary or Bernie win this one, I may be okay at least for another four years. That does seem part of either of their appeal—the wisdom and equanimity they must have accumulated during long, eventful lives.
In general, though, we seem to lack positive archetypes for older people, especially women. NPR’s Ina Jaffe has reported about issues facing older Americans for years, and even she doesn’t have a good word to refer to them. Polls are inconclusive: most older people don’t like any of the usual words. But the problem is more than skin deep: Continue reading
“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” ~ Miles Davis
I know I’m a rank novice when it comes to stillness and listening to the small voice within. I’ve been experimenting long enough that I am familiar with what works for me, whether it’s journaling or yoga or piano or walking in the woods or even mundane activities done with mindfulness. Yet it’s all too easy to be pulled away, to sink back into the muck of the modern world around me, with its incessant noise and technology and blather, its crises and escapism.
This is all an easy excuse, of course. I’ve been away from this blog too much lately, and I’m out of sorts. One of my ways of cultivating the timeless and nourishing energies of creation is to write, to polish a bit and release the results into the world. With regular practice, this becomes second nature. I can count on something pouring forth or trickling in, depending on the quality of my attention. When I allow myself to go completely off the rails, I lose that flow and close up. It becomes a chore to receive gifts that were once freely offered. This toggling back and forth can be exhausting. Continue reading
In his 2009 book about climate change, Down to the Wire, environmental science professor and visionary green building pioneer, David Orr, describes a thought experiment he once gave to his students. He asked them to act as lawyers representing Homo sapiens before a congress of all beings. The charges read like this:
“Over many thousands of years humans have proved themselves incapable of living as citizens and members of the community of life, and in recent centuries have become so numerous and so hazardous to other members of the community and the biosphere that they should be banished from the Earth forever.” ~ David Orr, Down to the Wire, p. 138
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~ Winston Churchill
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~ Epictetus
In acting or Improv, accurate listening comes from the heart. The great actor Alan Rickman went so far as to say, ““Acting is about accurate listening.” As an expression of deep connection, listening goes so deep that boundaries and agendas are forgotten. The action, the emotion, the words between two or more people take on a fluid quality that erases individual egos. You turn yourself over to the moment, surrendering to it and to your scene partners with complete trust. You are an instrument being played by a mysterious force, a gong rung by the wind. Continue reading
A few years ago, pondering my tendency to give in to fear, I got this image of my life as a birdcage. My body is the cage, the beautiful bird in the cage is Spirit, Unity, pure consciousness. As long as the cage is uncovered, the bird will sing and sing. My ego is the blanket that I throw over the cage, especially when I grow fearful of the song or can’t imagine how it can fit or direct the living of my life. Of course the cage is completely porous between inner and outer worlds. What happens when I open the door and let the bird fly out? What happens when I become the bird and fly to meet my fellows?
A dear friend who had recently come through a difficult period strenuously advised not to become the bird, and certainly not to leave the cage. Rather than paraphrase her words, here is what she wrote:
There is so much to chew on, but we are of matter. Of humanity. I think I tried to fly as they say. . . and in the end, I found out that I’m still just human. And we are connected. So my question is: how do we connect and fly together? Connect those dots. It seems to me, from a consciousness perspective, we all need to lift off together. Continue reading
Why don’t we go to the American Visionary Art Museum more often? It’s so full of energy and inspiration. The artist biographies alone contain worlds: stories of modest lives, of strange and average families, of being marginalized or anonymous or defying odds. And the art! Inspiration, desperation, madness, direct divine download, obsessive detail, love, beauty and hope. The human condition and human potential laid bare—and then bedazzled with mirror fragments, ceramics, jewels, beads, day-glo paint, and silver balloons. The whole messy reality of life as an embodied human.
AVAM is a funhouse of play and whimsy and joy-in-the-face-of . . . . I used to naively believe that such playfulness and inspired creativity was the reserve of a select few Chosen, and that they get to shine more brightly and be more loved than the rest of us. Of course, such artists experience the other extremes of despair, darkness, and depression more acutely too. There is no free lunch. Continue reading
I had an exchange on social media after the Paris climate talks, a back and forth of articles and videos with an acquaintance who challenged the veracity and conclusions of what’s known as “accepted” climate science. I let myself be annoyed by his posts, dismissing them as straw men. (The book and film, “Merchants of Doubt,” shows that many of them are). Among the challenges to climate science, the one I find most absurd is that scientists are after big government grants, so they’ll say anything. It’s just not persuasive when you consider that it’s usually leveled by those who DO have a financial stake—like the Koch brothers and others in the fossil fuel biz.
Then I had to laugh. Here I was defending science, when I’m more inclined to question its assumption of human exceptionalism and elevation of reason to exalted status over intuition. Rupert Sheldrake’s book, Science Set Free, shows that modern science, for all its value and rigor, has gotten so dogmatic as to be almost fundamentalist in its stridency. Anything that doesn’t fit the accepted paradigm of materialism is ignored, dismissed, and labeled “anti-science.” Data that doesn’t fit the expected outcome is shoved into a file drawer and not published. Continue reading
When I first started giving talks using the lens of “old story – new story,” I would illustrate my points with examples. Old story is factory farms, mountaintop removal coal mining, clear-cutting forests, Peak Oil, suburban sprawl. New story is organic farming, renewable energy, selective logging, urban agriculture, Net-Zero building, intentional community. I tried to tease out the stories behind them, the contrasting worldviews at the core of these choices. I would say that the world we live in is created by stories of who we are and why we are here.
Several years ago after one of these lectures, a student asked a question that I think about often. Students have a knack for this. At my first teaching job in 1988, a freshman architecture student asked me if the Greeks thought of themselves as “modern.” It was a humbling and exciting moment in which I hoped any knowledge I might be able to impart would not interfere with his ability to ask such juicy questions. This time, the student wanted to know when all this begin, this shift to the modern worldview, the Story of Separation that produces the world we live in today. He asked, When did we start thinking this way? Continue reading