I recently dreamed this thought: our country’s mantra is every man for himself. In that light, it makes perfect sense that one of our national obsessions is about the economy. Remember It’s the economy, stupid? Of course we care so much about making as much money as we can, making more than the other guy. We are on our own. Nobody is going to help us if we fall on hard times. It’s all about feeding, clothing, and sheltering our families, first and last. Every man for himself.
When I wrote this in my journal in the early pre-dawn, it looked a bit puny on the page. It was momentous when I opened my eyes, as if I’d been mucking around in the secret stuff of life, that realm where answers live. Trying to catch this dream message is like seeing a landscape all sharp and shimmery after a storm, as if for the first time. I’m so immersed, so indoctrinated in this story that I rarely even notice it. It seems so true that it’s boring. Obvious. Hardly worth stating. But our lives are not only about survival and meeting basic needs. Everyone should be able to do at least that in a just world. There’s plenty to go around, but the story of scarcity makes us forget. Continue reading
Fear of embarrassment isn’t the only reason for armoring up, hiding, ignoring or denying love. I just noticed today how much I arrange my life to avoid the pain of loss. It started early on, as habits often do. When I had my first high-school boyfriend, I was just certain he was going to come to his senses and dump me. Which he eventually did. At the time, I took it as a warning to be more careful with my heart next time. As if.
The other evening, my husband and I were out enjoying our forested backyard. He remarked (as he has before) on the grandeur of the tulip poplar that stands right in the center. There are also two huge beeches off to the side and a couple of oaks further back. But this poplar, this giant column of craggy bark, is a presence. I almost asked him whether he has told the tree how much he loves it. But he just had, by telling me. Right after that, I pictured it toppling over in a huge windstorm, perhaps crushing our house. Continue reading
The Dalai Lama was at the White House last week. It was their fourth meeting, held in private with no video cameras or reporters present. This rankled the officials in China, who see the Dalai Lama as “a dangerous separatist.” Obama considers him a friend, and I imagine a trusted advisor and fellow leader. Given the timing of the visit, the Dalai Lama offered his condolences for the many victims of the Orlando shooting.
Last year, the Dalai Lama celebrated his 80th birthday. There is a big photograph of him off to one side of the yoga studio where I practice. He’s laughing and pointing, like he just made a joke or is putting someone at ease. Looking at it yesterday, it struck me that he has been the spiritual leader of Tibet for my entire life. Even when I had no idea who he was. Continue reading
I was driving last Wednesday night during a sudden violent thunderstorm, first on the highway and then on city streets unable to handle the epic volumes of water flow. It was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience, especially as I had someone else’s child in my backseat. I was thankful for the traffic, so I could gauge the depths of the fast-running streams that crossed every intersection. Give me a snowstorm any day.
That intimidation feels familiar. It’s been with me all week, as I continue to work on my novel. I keep thinking I’m not up to it and finding other things to occupy my time. I’ve never been afraid of hard work—especially when I’m on a roll. This project is calling me to let go, to let the writing take me where it will. And yet I’m afraid I can’t pull this off. That all these years of work will have been for naught. It seems the more I learn about craft, the bar gets higher and the finish line farther away. Continue reading
In my early 20s, I went through a major Henry James phase. One of my favorite stories—the one that has stuck with me all this time—is, “The Beast in the Jungle.” Maybe you know it. The main character spends his whole life certain that an unnamed evil is waiting out there for him. Something horrible is going to happen; he can feel it. He waits and worries and abstains from engaging with life, trying desperately to stay safe, to avoid this fate. At the very end of his life, he realizes that the catastrophe he feared is, literally, nothing. Nothing has ever happened to him. He has never lived; he refused the love of a good woman and squandered his one, precious life.
Most days, I wake up feeling uneasy, like something is wrong and it’s probably my fault. One recent morning I caught myself and thought of how many days I open my eyes and feel this mild dread. It’s like all the fears and failures, doubts and embarrassment, so carefully packaged and hidden during the previous day, grow restless in the night and surface with the new day. Where else are they to go? They don’t seem willing to stay stuffed down by my oppressively optimistic self. The list-maker. The implementer who stays busy to stave off anxiety. The do-er desperate to avoid an end-of-life realization like Henry James’ unfortunate character. 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
Instead of resolutions, each year I listen for the words or phrase that will guide me. Last year, the words were trust, magic, and play. I appreciated the guidance of these words, which reminded me to trust that everything is unfolding according to a secret order, and to appreciate the presence of magic in the ordinary. Instead of deadly seriousness, playful trickster energy helps to stay fresh and present, to navigate even the most challenging moments.
In the dark days of the winter solstice, I was guided to step into the flow, and recognized that this is my phrase for 2016. I love the fluidity of it, the invitation to get up off the bank and wade right in to the moving water of life. I have a lifelong habit of observing from the sidelines so this is an invitation to get into the game, engaging with the mystery of unknowable outcomes. 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
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