“Which gods choose us now and how the dreams we write are manifest may just depend upon our offerings and the visions carried aloft in a thousand upon thousand new prayers”
It was the end of August. Sand and I house-sitting a gorgeous home in Novato, California. Sitting in the garden with my friend Martin, just arrived from Peru to offer his sounds and ceremonies here in the North.
He picked up a flute, I produced a poem. And for the next few hours we played, just played. We felt how sound provides a space for words to expand, and how the vibration of poetry can be interpreted in music. The whole offer we created that afternoon was certainly greater than the sum of the parts. We had a blast and birthed a new idea too - we would record an album!
I'm telling you the backstory to the production of my first ever album of poetry because this venture has surprised me as much as it might be surprising you. My wife, Sand, and I are recently arrived back in the USA, having spent a year or more in Ecuador. It was a tough year, and we left before our good intentions to help rural and indigenous communities there could be realized. Chastened, we headed back to the Bay Area to find what would be next. Needing to get back into earning but unwilling to simply "get a job" I've been looking at how best I can bring my skills as a speaker, writer and facilitator to serve the people and organizations aiming to shape a sustainable future. That afternoon in the garden gifted me a new start in that direction that I simply hadn't seen.
Throughout September the muse was with me, inspiration to finish poems I'd started or completely new ideas came flooding in.
In October we were in a recording studio in Peru. Martin introduced me to Pepe, another musician with the ability to find and elevate the vibration of my poetry. In Pepe's recording studio we created the album, eight poems set in a gorgeous soundscape of Andean and ancestral instruments, flutes, charango, and percussion from Pep's collection from around the world.
Two days later I had a set of files on a thumb drive, a lift in my step and a new project - to turn those files into an album and get this album out in the world. Here's a sample poem from the album (and you can find the rest here).
The project is gathering momentum - with a crowdfunding campaign. As I write we are about two-thirds of the way toward raising the $3 000 of the costs of producing CDs and hopefully heading toward recouping the full $6 500 it has cost me so far.
- I've taken the plunge and ordered the CDs, they arrive any day now
- I have my first reading booked for a week's time
- I'm getting wonderful feedback
and best of all, I'm alive with this new venture and new way of sharing my voice.
For anyone willing to support the kickstarter you can find all of the details here. There are two ways you can really make a difference;
- by pledging $'s, in return for which you get rewards that include the album (of course) but also a personal poem crafted by me, or a reading especially for yo and your friends
- by sharing this campaign with others.
As I think you can see, the hand of grace has been guiding this project from the outset, I want to acknowledge and give thanks for that. And so I feel it only appropriate to share my prayer for the album: may it bring hope and inspiration to people who hold the dream I do, that we find a way to live together in peace and justice, sustainably. And my personal wish is that it open doors for me to bring my voice and contribution more fully to the movement for change. These are dark days, following the recent US elections, perhaps the perfect backdrop for my new offer - check it out and see if you agree.
As ever, your thoughts and feedback in the comments below are much appreciated.
I was inspired by my own blog. To re-choose what I'm committed to. I'm sharing this in the hope that it inspires you . . . and you, dear readers, also provide me with an accountability that will harden my resolve in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks for that.
What am I committed to? In the early hours, not sleeping, this was the question that reverberated through my mind. I could sense that a renewal of my commitment was calling me. To provide that impetus, that motivation, that clarity so needed for any meaningful endeavor in life.
The question took me to a couple of surprising, and rewarding places.
Commitment #1: me. I struggle with this all the time, so let's dive into it . . .my first pledge is to look after myself, better and more consistently than ever before. I know from experience that when I neglect this it undermines all else. My creativity, my productivity, my centeredness, my service to other people, all these stem from taking care of my own wellbeing. And that's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. So what will I do? I have a morning routine that involves meditation, stretching, journalling, planning the day and coffee. I'll share about that in another post, but believe me, starting the day right is an indispensable condition of success. The bonus: when we serve ourselves fully, it serves others too.
Commitment #2: to Sand and me. I'm lucky enough to share my life with an extraordinary woman, my wife Sand. With her support and encouragement anything is possible, with my support and encouragement her light shines bright in the world. And, like any married couple, it can be easy to take this partnership for granted. We can both lapse into this and neglect nourishing our love and our relationship. So my commitment is to find a still deeper level of love from which to partner with this woman. A love profound enough to dissolve those conditions and restrictions we often place on our love for other people. I've just had a huge insight in this area, another upcoming post, but suffice to say I am renewed in my commitment to nourish us. The bonus: when we nourish our relationship with those we love, the benefit rebounds on us too.
Commitment #3: to you as readers. OK, I know this might sound cheesy, or manipulative, but its neither. This is my principal service in the world right now, delivered here through this web-site, to you. And, to be confessional, I know I have not always been fully committed to maintaining a service to you as readers at this web-site. So today I renew my commitment to you all, and to developing this web-site as a source of inspiration and tools for you to live the fullest lives possible, for yourselves and all that you can touch. The bonus: when we serve others, we get to find what our gifts truly are.
When I re-chose these commitments this morning I had no thought to share them here, but it seems so obvious now to write this post, to encourage you to re-visit what you are committed to. What will you prioritize? What will you uphold above all else? What's important enough to be assured of your energy and care? If you are moved to do so, please add your thoughts into the comments below.
And thank you for being readers here.
To survive in the jungle requires a tremendous amount of knowledge, built up over centuries and passed mother to daughter, father to son. You need to know which plants are edible, or can be used as dyes or poisons, where particular birds gather and at what time of day, which parts of the river are safe. The more you know the easier it is to survive and even thrive in this place.
So many people got in touch, on this site, on Facebook, in phone calls and emails. We have been inundated with offers of help and support, from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. We'd be deafened if we could hear all of the prayers that have been said, if love were liquid we'd be drowning.
Its easy to cope with life when everything is going right. When the bills are paid, our health is good, relationships are nourishing and the sun is shining, its easy to call that “good,” even “magic,” and celebrate that we are on the right track. But how do we cope when circumstances aren’t so rosy and life looks “bad?” How do we deal with challenging times? And for us, Sand and Jon, those times came recently.
Just as every step of this journey has seemed to be guided, frequently surprising us with what it reveals (Peru? kapok?), we are finding connections and opportunities revealing themselves time after time. Over coffee Pablo mentions a woman he met at a symposium down at the coast - we might try talking to her. Enter Rocio and husband Mario, already well-established organizers for community-based agriculture in Manabi province and experienced farmers of, you guessed it, kapok. Mario even taught me how he hauls himself up a tree . . . .
I'd followed the narrow path up the mountain, meandering at first between the small, angled plots on which the local people were growing corn, passing through grassy slopes admiring the lush greens and bright flowers that surrounded me. Then the path steepened and began to zig-zag, picking out an invisible route between the towering buttresses protecting the mountain's top. My pace slowed, until I finally reached the top after 4 hours of hard work and sat to lunch on boiled eggs and potatoes.
When Sand and I said Yes, we would head for Peru, we had little idea exactly what we would do there, much less how we would sustain ourselves: but Providence was already at work. Within a couple of weeks of announcing our intention we were contacted by friends in California with an invitation that moved and inspired us both.
We’ve enjoyed eight years of the Bay Area and made life-long friends here, yet the call of spirit has us, once again, pack up our lives on one continent and move to another. Our destination is the tiny town of Pisac, nestled in the Sacred Valley of the Peruvian Andes. We’ll be living with our friend and teacher, Luzma, and hoping to find opportunities to serve some of the exciting work she is pioneering there. But in truth, we travel there without jobs, without income and without speaking Spanish, trusting the guidance that says Go!
It looked like any other bowl of soup; chock-full of vegetables, colorful and tasty for sure, but just soup. But as I looked into the bowl, tasted the first spoonful, the ordinary became extra-ordinary. I could see corn on the stalk waving in the breeze, and taste the soil in which the carrots had grown; I was taken to a whole never-before-seen world, an astonishing and surreal experience. The feeling however lasted no more than a few seconds, and the chatter at the table pulled my attention away, but as the conversation waned I gazed again at the corn and the carrots and could recreate that profound feeling of connection and awe and peace. That fleeting moment some months ago came back to me this week when I was interviewed by my friend Megumi for her dissertation; her subject, the meeting place of non-dual consciousness and the work for global justice. Now that sounds like quite a dry topic (what is non-dual consciousness anyway?) but it turns out to have lots to do with vegetable soup.
Firstly justice, a concept that needs no introduction. We are all wired to detect justice, or its absence, and sensitized daily by the images brought to us from around the world of injustice and suffering. It may be the global scale of injustice which moves us most: few of us can be unmoved by the plight of the parents of the 20 000 children around the world who die every day from preventable diseases, desperate to get their hands on the cures that exist and yet watching their children die unnecessary deaths. Maybe it’s a more local expression of injustice that penetrates our heart, seeing those unable to “make it on their own” left falling through the safety net of care in this, the most affluent country on the planet seems particularly painful to me.
There are many forms of work for global justice and millions at work, both those who directly bear the yoke of oppression in their own lives and those who are insulated from but nonetheless feel this pain. The work includes the very necessary efforts to lessen the hurt and impact of injustice on human lives; feeding the poor, providing shelter for those without, assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. Yet we also need to enquire into the causes of poverty and homelessness and all forms of inequity. Without answers here we will be unable to do the equally necessary work to overhaul the global governance and trade systems that generate and perpetuate this inequity and suffering.
Non-dual consciousness is a more difficult concept to understand. A simple definition might be the state of awareness in which we experience everything as interconnected. As Megumi said, “The experience (of non-dual consciousness) can be temporary or permanent, it may feel like a sense of communion with all natural and other beings, and for some people our identification with an egoic self, ideology or opinion also fall away.” To me, that sounds like my vegetable soup experience and like the transcendent feeling when we have witnessed a miracle. It sounds like the state I pull myself towards in mediation or prayer, where I try to remain as long as possible, at peace with myself and the world around me.
In those moments we see everything as connected, you and me are not separate, merely two aspects of a unified whole. In this awareness we get to see that there is no good or bad, no villain or victim, no grounds for judgment or separation; in this realm there is merely “how it is.” When we are able to suspend our desire to evaluate and label every occurrence as “right”, “wrong” or some other category that makes it knowable, we get to rest in the less comfortable territory of how it is. In this space there is no blame.
With Megumi’s gentle probing I begin to unfold my understanding of these two topics and how they relate to each other. I began to see what a powerful place lies where they intersect.
Her questions had me juxtapose these two domains, looking at global justice through the lens of interconnection. Try it for yourself – look out at an issue of injustice, of suffering, see the faces of those involved, those you might previously labeled the victim or the oppressor. Can we look into their eyes and not collapse into an interpretation of right and wrong? Can steer clear of blaming those who seem to have power or privilege on their side? And can we now see how each of them is the natural, predictable expression of the world of separation we live in? What a powerful way to build the muscles we need to do the work for global justice, compassion, non-judgment and empathy.
I began to see the place where they join is the stance I aim to embody with my life, a place of wisdom and power. And this isn’t a vantage point for spectators, this is the ground for action, discerned and direct, aimed at ending unnecessary suffering. This is the place from which our heroes have stood, and stood again for justice, Gandhi and Martin Luther King preeminent amongst them. And this is the place from which ordinary people are standing up for what will protect the quality of their lives, the health of our Mother Earth and the choices of their grandchildren’s generation. Join them, develop the muscles we need to be a force for justice in a world without separation, a just and interconnected future.
Thank you to Megumi and to the vegetable soup.
In earlier times we sat, all together under the same stars we see today, around a fire. The world worked. There’s a moment in the life of a caterpillar when it begins to eat more and more. It becomes a voracious consumer and eats many times its own weight in food. It eventually becomes bloated and immobile
The container ships groan under the Golden Gate Bridge every day, many times a day: I see them from the bus. The huge red calipers of the bridge measure their loads. 6 containers high, 16 long stacked 12 abreast, Oakland-bound and regular as clockwork. Global trade on the high seas. Box after box after box, loaded with iPhone, iPod, iPad, iStuff, motor cars, empty jars, jars of pickle, Christmas tinsel, plastic beads, plastic toys, sweat-shop jeans, rice and beans, my next pen, or pencil, my next purchase, my lifestyle, my comfort . . , , all heading for Main Street, from China . . . or Vietnam . . . or Thailand . . . or China.
You and me
With our desire to be
Whole and free
With the whole family
The plants and trees
The rivers and seas
The clouds and the breeze
The birds and bees
[Please bless the bees
We need them bees]
At that very moment inside the caterpillar there are these tiny cells waking up. The biologists call them imaginal cells.
A winter’s evening in San Francisco, rushing through unfamiliar hallways in the community center searching for the meeting that would open doors to new understandings. Redirected at Exploring Norse Mythology, straight on past AA, left at Cantonese for Beginners, eventually we find Room 23: Transforming Oppression. Here in a room of more than 40 this white male is in an unfamiliar minority, now seeing the world through the eyes of the Latino, the African-American, the Asian-American, the Native American, the queer, the transgender, the trans-sexual. Every “oops” and “ouch” shows us where we haven’t really seen each other. Every time we cross the lines of difference to overcome the experiences that have shaped our lives and to hear our sameness and our beauty. Each new understanding helps us see the differences as mere constructs, the separation unnecessary and ultimately unreal. Each new connection opens up new conversations and new worlds; it is hope for our future.
These cells keep popping up and joining together despite the best efforts of the caterpillar host to destroy them. The cells join as clusters, the clusters as strings.
The host will control
Break up the whole
Divide and conquer
Extend still longer
The tired old dream
The dominant theme
The rule of nation
Unless we’re together
Come what may, together
Author Rivera Sun writes about the USA, “Revolution is on the table, once again. It is being discussed with increasing seriousness as our representative republic fails to adequately meet the populace’s needs”.
Can we imagine a revolution here, amidst our imported comfort, manufactured consent and hijacked dreams?
As the imaginal cells gather the rest of the cells collapse into a kind of nutritive soup
At the bus stop heading home, another container ship beneath the bridge, heading home too. Stacked high again. What are we exporting these days? Root beer, coca cola, baseball hats and yoga mats, cheerios and candy canes, planes, missiles, bullets and bombs, tanks, Harleys and Hummers (or do the tanks come in from China?), modified seeds and cures for diseases we didn’t used to get. Or promises of peace, freedom, democracy, and the American dream. Perhaps the boxes are empty after all.
Much is dying in our world, or collapsing; fish stocks, pristine forest, water tables, glaciers . . . . . but also economic systems, financial models, trust in government, and jobs, good honest jobs. We are in the end times, the dying days of an era, all of us together caught in the death throes of an outmoded way of being. All of us together trying to do what we think is right, and protect the children; in the sweat shop and the boardroom, on the commuter bus or the ship’s bridge, doing what we think is right and protect the children. As our world collapses around us, something new is born too, deep in our hearts; care, responsibility, compassion and camaraderie. Will enough of these precious goods arrive in time, before Sun’s revolution?
So let’s cluster
Will and creativity
Greatness has waited patiently
For the day when
We’ll rise again
Speak truth to power
Now’s the hour
To fan the ember
We are who we’ve been waiting for
The imaginal cells become the genetic director of the caterpillar. The cells and strings reorganize in new unrehearsed ways.
Around the fire, faces lit by the dancing flames, a quiet settles, a calm with depth, a calm that resonates with responsibility freely chosen, that vibrates like a sworn vow. It’s a moment that dissolves the last vestiges of difference. The fire is a comfort even though the air around is warm, a pipe is passed and the tobacco smoke carries our prayers into the star-bright New Mexico night. These sisters, these brothers have gathered here to pour their love into Mother Earth, to take on what’s theirs to do in the creation of a new way of being. Not one of us can see this future clearly, nor how we must be, but unstoppably, alchemically, forged in those flames and countless other fires around the world; a new consciousness is emerging.
One day soon that container traffic will end, we’ll export only compassion and import beauty. We’ll worry less about our differences and dance with all that connects us. The collapse will complete and the new-birth will deliver. We’ll laugh about those old, dark, caterpillar days and celebrate our triumph, the will and creativity that brought us through.
Happy ever after
Joy and laughter
Our spirits rising
With who we really are
On this bright star
All of us free
To live in harmony
With the whole big WE
Plus those birds and bees
[How we need those bees!!]
Soon the chrysalis becomes transparent. And in a final leap we discover the unpredictable miracle that is a butterfly.
Well, I hope you are sitting really comfortably now, because the story we are living out on planet Earth has taken a dark turn. The they-all-lived-happily-ever-after future is now on hold, it can no longer be seen as the inevitable conclusion emboldening us on the journey, no longer even probable, it has been relegated to a mere possibility, of diminishing likelihood. Maybe we’re in for the not-so-happy ending . . .
If we truly do listen with mother, Mother Earth in this instance, we will hear some worrying tales; cataclysmic weather patterns, polluted seas, choking skies, depleted forests, all are clear signs of environmental distress. If we listen to our fellow citizens the news is no better; huge disparities in wealth, violence pursued throughout the world by terrorists and by governments, a breakdown in the rule of law and corruption embedded in the countries that purport to champion democracy, worrying indicators of social distress. And thirdly, if we listen to our hearts, and I mean listen deeply, we know something is wrong, we can feel the disconnection between what we know is true and the world we experience every day, a spiritual distress.
None of this is “news”, we have been aware of these factors for years, but what is new is that the time for action has not only arrived, but nearly passed us by. If we are going to transit as 7 billion people into a happy ending future we need to start moving away from our probable fate (environmental collapse, social mayhem) toward the still possible future (environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling) and we need to begin that journey in earnest, immediately.
There is also one often factor that may occur as “news” to some of us. Our current social, political and economic systems stand in the way of the happy ending. Based on exploitation, which is the antithesis of sustainability and justice, they guarantee that, for as long as these systems stay in place, the happy ending is not possible. That’s right, while we continue to dig up, or chop down, the natural capital of our planet to convert it into consumer stuff, and while we continue to abuse our poorest and least educated brothers and sisters as cheap labor to reduce the price of that stuff, we will be unable to find the future we desire. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must; our happy ending requires a radical shift, the replacement of some or all of these systems of power with new systems that are based on inter-dependence, collaboration, non-violence and renewable practices.
A radical shift; this may seem improbable given the current attempts by both government and capital to restart the global progress project, that unlikely tale that we can infinitely grow our economies on a finite planet. Around the globe, with only few exceptions, it seems as if those in power are more firmly wedded than ever to the flawed policies in which 99% suffer for the enrichment of the 1%.
But perhaps we can also see the signs of chaos and breakdown, ferment and rebellion, in active politics and intellectually. Visible in the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the worldwide climate action movement, and in the emerging fields of earth jurisprudence and alternative economics, here is fertile ground for the birth of new ideas and, in time, new systems.
What options will it take to produce radical change? How can we affect that change? Will our collective future cost us our personal well-being? These are all unanswered questions we will be exploring in future writings. But maybe, just maybe, the happy ending can still be reached when enough of the human family take the radical options to love in the face of adversity, to collaborate in a world that requires completion, to affirm and protect life in a culture that prefers to conquer it, to walk in peace amidst the violence. And maybe, just maybe, we will find the humility required to admit our mistakes and change course, and in that, find the wisdom we need to all live happily ever after.