Vegetable Soup for the Non-dual Soul

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.

Of Butterflies and Bees

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.

 Imaginal cells

You and me

With our desire to be

Whole and free

In harmony

With the whole family

Of humanity

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


Man’s domination

Our separation

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

We’ll muster

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

And remember

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

Hearts re-sizing

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.