November 1, 2011

The Spiritual Practice of Giving and Receiving

When I was a little girl I went to a Catholic school. An ongoing ministry through the school year for us children was collecting our change in little boxes, like the UNICEF boxes used by children at Halloween, to send to the Catholic missions in Africa. In order to fill our boxes as full as possible, we would deduct coins from our own allowances. We would solicit extra change from our parents and grandparents and neighbors. It excited us to think that children so far away in Africa were being helped by our small sacrifices and the generosity of our families and friends.

Today I have a lot of questions about some of the assumptions our teachers made about why those children in Africa had need of our charity. But I value the lessons I learned at that tender age: that sharing my wealth with others feels good, and that small sacrifices can be strengthening, and can change lives.

Somehow, as I got older, sharing became a little harder. When I left Catholic school there was no longer anyone in my life that expected me to share my wealth. During my young adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies, the adults in my life expected me to save and to get a good job to pay off my school debts. Conversely, my friends considered money something that spiritual people didn’t consider in a serious manner. So I compromised. I got a decent job, but I pretty much lived from paycheck to paycheck. Don’t ask me what I spent my money on!

By the time I was a young mother and attending Quaker Meeting, my life had taken several surprising turns and my resources were very scarce. I didn’t consider myself someone who had much to give others. I would buy the things my family needed when I had the money, and when I didn’t, we did without. I never considered regularly setting apart any part of my meager mite for others, although I would respond as I could to special requests or leadings to give to those less fortunate than I was. But I had developed no habit of giving.

By the time I had more resources, I had developed the ineffective and decidedly unspiritual habits of ignoring money, purchasing without planning, making insignificant contributions to my Quaker meeting, and making semi-regular charitable contributions to non-Quaker groups doing work I admired. In spite of the fact that I had purchased a home and had a bank account, I had no will, and therefore had arranged no bequests. Charitable giving was not a regular part of my thinking, my budget, or my life.

What I did give was my time and energy. I worked as a teacher and social worker, and poured my caring into my work. I gave unstintingly of my time to my Quaker meeting wherever I was needed. I was never a hardhearted person. When asked to contribute money for a specific purpose, I gave, and sometimes gave more than was easy to give. What I did not do was to nurture in myself the spiritual discipline of giving as much as I could without being asked, of practicing the ministry of money. As a result, I missed out on the ongoing and powerful spiritual benefits of sharing my wealth.

One of the things I do in my Quaker meeting is teach First Day School (our equivalentn of Sunday School). I work with the four to six year olds. One day we were engaged in a simple math game using tiny bunny cookies. They had played this game before and loved it. When they finished the simple calculation, I would allow them to eat the cookies. The trouble was that on this day there was a larger than normal group, and we had to use a small number of cookies so that they could do the calculation. There were not enough cookies to go around. So I asked, “How should we solve this problem?” One of the children, Jacob, immediately, without pause and without being asked, snapped his cookie in two and gave it to young Willow. I asked Willow how it felt when Jacob shared his cookie with her? “Like he wants me to be his best friend!” she said with a big grin. “And, Jacob, how did it feel to you to share your cookie with Willow?” And, rather matter-of-factly, he said, “Like I’m a nice person.”

I think this was Jacob’s way of saying that sharing his cookie with Willow helped him connect with the Good within. That it helped him ground in Goodness, and act in compassion, and feel connected to both his goodness and to Willow.

I want to nurture that in myself, that connection to Goodness. So I'm going to check my budget and work toward giving away at least 10%, saving half of the rest (since I am old with not much time left to work, and may live to be much older), and learning to live on the remainder. I may not be successful, but I will try. I want to come to the end of my life knowing deeply what it feels like to share my cookies.

October 12, 2011

Poem: Read My Poems?

Baby, you hungered for the Gaze.

“Can you see me? Am I really here?”

(Babies can’t gaze into their own sweet eyes.)

You beguiled the soft, charmed adults,

Captured the random friendly glances.

“Look at me! See me! Laugh out loud with me!”

Eyes of store clerk, mailman, doctor.

Offering up their transient love. Joy!

And now – distant echoes, warm, and empty.

Wouldn’t you like to read my poems?

© 2011 Merry Stanford

October 11, 2011

Into the Throat

Sitting in the butter sun of a warm October day
Hiding in the sugar maple

I watch, silent and unmoving

as the great blue heron fishes.
She is a teacher of patience

Legs still and straight as cattails
Head cocked and ready to dive – NOW!

Beak emerging then, dripping with the wiggling dinner
Taken carefully, carefully, into the throat.

© 2011 Merry Stanford

October 7, 2011

Poetry: I Am

This blog is about the spiritual journey, specifically my spiritual journey. And I have been traveling through some wild and high ground lately. At a recent training, Tom Cowan , shamanic author and teacher, mentioned a spiritual discipline of writing nine lines of poetry per day. The suggestion stirred my interest, and I find that Spirit is leading me back to writing poems. Poetry is sparse, yet full of personal implications and mythic images. It is a useful medium for writing about the things that are hard to write about. It helps the soul to breathe at the high altitudes. So I will be offering some poems here for awhile. Here is the first.

I Am

You burn.
You dance and you burn in the wind that blows across the sea.
You excite me and gather me and entice me.

We are here.
We are here.

We are here and here and here
flowing into and out from each other.
Breaking the seals of the fate that we believed in, once.

Living into the fire of I Am.

 © 2011 Merry Stanford

August 26, 2011

Newfoundland, Wild Soul Place

I just returned from a summer vacation in Newfoundland, where I took a road trip with my husband and his cousins on a quest for their ancestral roots. The human history was very interesting, and I took many notes about the goings on of both the staid and the less staid members of the family. But the highlights of the trip, for me, were the connections made with the untamed spirit of this island which extends the easternmost reach of North America into the Atlantic Ocean.

Along its coasts, Newfoundland has a really wild feel. While we were there, the weather was uncharacteristically cold, never reaching above 55F, and the rain varied from a “mauzy” drizzling rain to a “misky” fine rain nearly the whole time.  Salmon Cove (pronounced SAmmincove as one word, with the emphasis on the first syllable) is a small cove off Conception Bay in the Avalon Peninsula, on the eastern coast of Newfoundland. During a misky rain I hiked along its rocky shore near the beach of black sands, watched the gulls and crows soar and glide as they screeched into the blustering wind, and connected with a particular small rock. Even this small rock carries the untamed energy of the place within it: a swirl of white entwines itself with a swirl of black, just as the white caps, collapsing on the black sands, create whorls. Holding it, I can still feel my soul’s connection with Salmon Cove.

We hiked up the steep path to the top of the cove’s southern bluff. I took my time, taking many photos of the native flowers and plants: Indian Pipe, bunchberries, ferns, and many others, including wild roses – which absolutely covered the hills and gave off an intoxicatingly gorgeous scent. I had no idea that wild roses could be so red, so large, and so prolific in such a wild place. Many fairies crept among the greenscape.

As did the elves creep among the rockscape. The cliffside views along the way were outstanding! The large rock in the middle of Salmon Cove was once called the Fishing Rock by the children who grew up here in the early 20th century. They would swim or boat out and set up for a day of fishing and swimming in the cove, scrambling over the rock. From our high up perch, we could see rushing waters crashing 15 to 20 feet up the steep, rocky cliffs of the bluff, trailing white foam. Another boulder out in the bay with a large hole through the center of it, called the “Cave,” has sent a siren call through the generations to children and teenagers: “Boat out! Come visit me!” And there was, of course, the seemingly limitless ocean before us, blending into the skyline, demanding our respect on this windy, rainy day. I felt the power of the place and the presence of Spirit, in her divine and earthly forms, all around me. It was so strong that our human energies were simply puny in comparison, a part of the background noise. But the invitation to join the wild dance was unmistakable.

Later in the trip, on the western coast, we explored a bit of Gros Morne National Park, a face of Beauty made manifest in the Long Range mountains, the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains. Gros Morne is a World Heritage Site, a designation conferred by UNESCO. There are such designated sites in many countries of the Earth that “exemplify the beauty and richness of our planet.” Gros Morne is considered such a site because it illustrates so well the plate tectonics that occurred when two continents collided, creating the Appalachian Mountains. Glaciers have also had a significant effect on the landscape of Gros Morne, exposing rocks and slicing off the tops of mountains to form the Table Lands.

We spent an afternoon on a boat tour of a fjord in Western Brook Pond, a deep and very cold glacial lake. Because the water is so cold, the soils on its rocky cliffs so thin, and human impact so low, the water is extremely clear. Our boat carried us into a narrow fjord between 2000 foot high cliffs, down which cascaded numerous slender waterfalls, including Pissing Mare Falls. They have interesting names, these waterfalls.

The energy here, in the fjord, felt very different from the wild ecstasy of the seashore at Salmon Cove. The fjord energy was also powerful. But it was quiet, large, and alien. The cliffs had their own life – what greenscape there was clung to the rock without any assurance of continuity. The clouds hung low that day, hiding the tops of the mountains. Occasionally, a table top was visible, or a hanging valley, or an upper plateau on which the caribou would graze in the spring. But the mists of the rain clouds and waterfalls intermittently obscured our views of the heights, and highlighted the otherworldliness of the place.

I could see faces in the cliffs. One face has been seen by many others, and is called the Tin Man by the local population because of its resemblance to the character in the Wizard of Oz. It has a friendly, watchman energy to it. But there are many other faces in the rock, some stern, some warrior-like, some elfin; and they are more impervious to our human presence. They live their long, slow lives without much awareness of mere mortals. There was no invitation here to join a wild dance; rather a blunt and indifferent tolerance of our presence. In spite of their indifference, I long to return.

I don’t know when I shall make another journey to Newfoundland. But make it I must. In spite of the cold and wet. In spite of the weather’s difficult effect on my autoimmune system. In spite of the distance, the expense, and the advancing age of my physical body. I was not born there. I have no blood relatives there. The blood of Newfoundlanders does not flow in my veins. But the Light of its wild places fills my soul.
Blessed be.

June 1, 2011

Boldly Going Where I Have Not Gone Before

I have had two pretty awful weeks, including a few days’ worth of the serious blues. Several standby fixtures of my life suddenly changed, literally overnight, and all at once. The routines that I had been living with for quite some time were suddenly tossed asunder. It was quite a shock, since these changes were unrelated to each other, involving both personal and professional commitments and  relationships. Everything was different now when I woke up in the morning. And, while the changes were clearly timely and good for me and those around me, they were unexpected, and it was a bit unsettling to be facing days that held so much unknown. Perhaps I was suffering the aftereffects of having been tied to my routines. As the 19th century author and educator, Henry VanDyke, suggests: As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” Perhaps my habits had gotten in the way of my soul work, and Spirit needed to intervene in a dramatic way, pulling the proverbial rug of my routines out from under me.

While all these changes were taking place, some unexpected and heavy emotional work presented itself to me, which prevented me from writing and kept me busy wrestling with my inner demons. Writing is typically quite difficult for me when the demons are afoot. There was a person who was over-the-top obnoxious and insulting toward others in a group I participate in, and who is also apparently disabled. My response to this person’s ranting was to “educate” regarding respectful ways to communicate. I was clear and kind in what I said. But since I was also angry, and did not express my anger in any way, because of this person’s apparent disability, I was also dishonest and disrespectful. In my experience, dishonest communications cause more trouble than they are worth! And so it did. I became a personal target for more over-the-top insults. I worried that I had interfered, which is a common impulse for me. And the old demons of second-guessing myself and self-loathing were resurrected, until I realized what I was doing to myself. Some friends helped me remember that, while I may have made a mistake that would have benefitted from loving eldering, the insults heaped upon my head were not true and undeserved. Blessed friends!
So that has been my soul work of the last two weeks, adjusting to a mountain of unexpected changes, and once again taming the demons of my past. It left me sort of wrung out. But several things assisted me in regaining my sense of balance and connection. Those kind words of caring friends reset my mental attitude, and helped me remember what is True, versus what is right. Working in my garden was also wonderfully grounding: patting new plants into the cool, dark earth, experiencing the freshness of the air and the pleasant smells of sweet alyssum and stock, the feel of the breeze on my arms, the sight of juicy, fat earthworms tilling the soil. These very physical sensations helped me reconnect to the soil of my Being, to my joy and delight. I was able to come back home to my inward Garden.

And playing with my little granddaughters reminded me that soul work, like all work, takes practice. Willow, four years old, is full of fresh wonder and wise persistence in her engagement with this world we share together. Not yet reading, she loves having The Polar Express read to her – for possibly the thousandth time – as she looks carefully at the words and hears the sounds of a story she knows by heart. She has great fun mastering the Slip ‘n Slide by flopping down on her belly over and over and over until she finds just the right spot that will give her the longest ride possible. Raina, at 10 months, is devoted to learning how to walk up and down steps, over and over and over again (to the complaint of her Nana’s back!), propelled by the joy and delight of mastery. Children have no routines, and they are content to practice something over and over again. My granddaughters teach me know how to learn, and how to stretch myself, and I am grateful to them.
So, soul of mine, let this be our declaration that we are again purposefully engaged! We begin again, like the Starship Enterprise and her crew, the intentional exploration of our inward places, seeking those strange new worlds not yet discovered. We will boldly go where we have not gone before. And we will do so, again and again and again. Because, really, there is no other purpose worth our time and energy. And so, dear Soul [with right index finger pointed toward the future], Engage.

May 18, 2011

Free at Last!

The other day I watched a PBS American Experience episode called Soundtrack for a Revolution. I saw television footage in that segment that I remember seeing while I was in high school. I didn't really understand what I was seeing back then: police dogs attacking nonviolent protesters, freedom riders pulled off buses that were then torched, people being clubbed by police, dragged by their hair, set upon by fire hoses, turning up missing, killed. Seeing those clips again resurrected the horror of the violent sixties for me, when John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were all assassinated, over one million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed in the war, and untold numbers were killed, injured, or maimed in the nonviolent movement for civil rights.

A portion of Dr. King's I Have a Dream
speech was also included in the episode, made all the more poignant by the contrast with the violence of the television clips: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" I wept, seeing that speech again all these years later, after countless viewings during Black History month. I watched it again today on YouTube, and wept again. You have to remember the violence to appreciate the full power of his words.

On Saturday I practiced telling the story of the Ten Best Ways (a/k/a the Ten Commandments) in a Godly Play/Faith and Play training. The background of the story is this: The Hebrews, enslaved in Egypt, have escaped on foot. They are following Moses and are being chased by the Pharaoh and his soldiers, who have horses, chariots and weapons. The Hebrews are afraid. They come to the Red Sea, an inland sea that is about twice the size of Lake Superior. They believe they are trapped, and they think they are going to be killed or enslaved again, with the punishment that comes following escape. Then God tells Moses to hold his staff out over the sea. And the water is parted so the people can cross.

The Ten Best Ways lesson begins at this point. The story is told in a "desert box" or sandtray, using small human figures and a tall mountain. I began: "The people came through the water to freedom! They were so happy they danced!" As I moved the figures over the edge of the blue tray into the desert, it felt very real to me. My own body's joy joined with the joy of the people as they leaped to their freedom. I could feel the rush of adrenalin, the bubbling up elation, the anticipation of being "free at last!"

Freedom is such a precious thing. I never knew freedom as a child or teenager, except inside of myself. I could create worlds with my imagination, read stories, watch movies, and I could feel free for awhile. But the reality of my physical life was not an experience of freedom. I didn't realize it then, of course. It was many years later when, as an adult in a therapy session, I could feel the relief of escape. And the burden of it.

Because it takes courage to be free. Rollo May, the American existential psychologist, once wrote, "The opposite of courage … is not cowardice, it is conformity." Conformity means that you go along with the crowd, you don't follow your inward leading. In order to resist going along with the crowd, it seems to me, one has to practice doing the things that help you be free. In my language, this is a "discipline" or a spiritual practice.

The people of the Civil Rights Movement practiced the spiritual discipline of nonviolence. They received the physical blows and attacks, the spitting and harassment. They fought back with music, words, and prayer, not with violence. Occasionally someone may have lost the discipline. Perhaps they bit the policeman who was dragging them by the collar, or yelled an insult at someone who had insulted them. But the Civil Rights Movement achieved freedom under the law for African-Americans because they had the courage to deeply practice the discipline of nonviolence.

When the Hebrews were marching across the desert to God-knows-(literally)-where, they began to complain. They were tired and hungry and scared. The first time Moses went up Mt. Sinai, he was gone for awhile. The people became even more anxious. They longed for the certainty of their enslavement, they longed for a God they could touch, a God they could see. They longed to conform to the life their captors had created for them! So they melted all their gold and made a golden Baal, a God of Egypt. Everyone there had presumably heard Moses tell them that if they committed to Yahweh, Yahweh would commit to them and lead them to the Promised Land. And probably not every last one of them felt at ease with dancing for the God Baal. But they did it anyway. So there was another level of conformity when those who were not led to dance conformed to the prevailing mood of the crowd. The people lost their courage, and their commitment to the discipline of monotheism. They made a graven image, and returned to the ways of their captors.

Personally, I like graven images. I have several in my home: Isis, Innana, Kuan Yin, Kali, Nut, Ix Chel, Brigid, Ganesha. My God doesn't require that I forsake these aspects of myself in order to worship with the Unity. My disciplines are different, but I must practice them in order to experience the freedom I seek. I must practice breathing, singing, drumming, and inward worship. I must practice physical movement, and healthy eating. My disciplines set me apart in some ways, since I avoid foods that are commonly eaten, and engage in some practices that are uncommon among Friends. Sometimes I feel an internal pressure to conform to what I perceive to be others' ideas about what is socially comfortable or Quakerly. I lose courage and I let go of my disciplines. When I do that, I am unfaithful to my freedom. I conform to my perception of what other people, not God, want for me. And then we all lose. Everyone loses my power, and my authentic, sovereign self, including me. Everyone loses what I could offer, if I were courageous enough to be free.

Quakers can also lose their freedom and leak their power through rituals of conformity. When we don't practice our discipline of mindful listening for the will of God in our Meetings for Business, we lose our freedom to discern creative ways forward. When we focus only on our own comfort without attending to the needs of the different, the poor, and the disadvantaged, we lose our freedom to live in harmony with the whole complement of humanity. When we allow ourselves to vent our frustrations about others in our meetings, rather than approaching the offending Friend personally, in kindness, we lose our freedom to be in unity. Every time we fail our discipline, every time we expect other Friends to conform to the prevailing Quakerly political attitude of the day, every time we recognize the "heavy" Friends of our meeting but slight the "light" ones, we are like the Hebrews, building our golden Baal of social and political correctness around which to dance.

It takes courage to be free. And when we have the courage, "… when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children … will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


May 11, 2011

The Gathered Meeting

All my life I have yearned for a deep experience of community. Perhaps this grew from my yearning to have a family in which I felt I belonged, and in which there was an experience of being heartfully present to each other. I was a pretty resilient kid, though. I made fine use of even a little bit of goodness. So I found my community in a Catholic school, and I knew just how to fit in: follow the rules, don't talk out of turn, and make sure you write JMJ (Jesus, Mary, Joseph) in the right hand corner of your paper, under your name. I fit in so well that in the eighth grade, I was asked to consider a vocation as a nun.

But, as I got older and got interested in boys, the charm of becoming a nun lost its luster. I went to high school, then to college and on into the professional world, and I was really lost for awhile in terms of community. I had my friends. I eventually had a husband and two wonderful boy children. Their father and I experimented with a community of renegade Catholic families who set up a house church and held our own liturgies. That was very satisfying for awhile, because this community was grounded in a shared experience of worship, social justice and peacemaking. Many of us had young children so there was a sense of shared community in childrearing. But there was inevitable conflict among us, and we had no good way of coping with that. We eventually split up.

When I attended my first Quaker meeting I sat in the silence with 30 other people, only a few with whom I had any acquaintance, and I felt at home. I don't think it was only because I was familiar with and opened by the Quaker style of worship. I think I felt at home because I sensed and felt included in the gathered meeting of that particular First Day.

Here is what it felt like. It was as if everyone in the room had been scooped up by the Hand of God, and that we were all being held tenderly, lovingly, peacefully. It was as if all fear, hopelessness, agitation, and concern had been drawn off without fuss, leaving only sweet calm. And what's more, it felt very different than how the peace that surpasses understanding feels when it comes to me alone. This was all of us, bundled up together, as if our individual lights had become one Light held at the center of the Sun. It made me weep.

I was soon to learn, however, that not every meeting for worship would be a gathered meeting, and that the community that existed outside of worship had a whole different feel. As I became more involved with Friends I tried to push the river, so to speak – to create a gathered meeting. I researched and talked, and tried to convince the Friends of my meeting to let go and let God so that we could experience more gathered meetings. But that really was just arrogance. The experience of God grows from a hunger of the soul; it is not a goal that can be achieved.

So eventually, I just let it be. Now I wait, expecting God to make herself known. I try to be faithful, to keep silence when the Inward Teacher silences me, and to give ministry when she gives me the words. I support the Friends of my meeting in following their bliss – to participate in spiritual formation groups, work with spiritual directors, meditate, do the inward work of healing and integrating, discern developing ministry, cooperate in service projects, eat together, teach our children, help each other. Everyone in my meeting is growing, including me, so I think we are doing something right.

And sometimes the grace of a gathered meeting is given. Thomas Kelly says the conditions for a gathered meeting include a number of Friends who come prepared in mind and heart to enter deeply into worship; and deep vocal ministry that continues, but does not break, the silence. I don't know if those are requirements. I've been in situations where the gathered meeting was sprung on us, even though we were all unprepared, and even after there was a vocal offering that broke the silence.

I just know that the gathered meeting is a grace, given not earned. I just know that it is the gathered meeting – and nothing else – that feeds my communal hunger so deeply that I am content to wait patiently for the gift of it. It is the only collective food that satisfies me.

May 7, 2011

The Spiritual Power of Three Percent

My two sons, now grown, have always been unlike each other in some significant ways. As a shamanic practitioner and therapist I have worked with many clients and have learned that strategies need to be tailored to the individual; the same size does not fit all in healing work. So I have often wondered about the nature of temperament and how it relates to personal growth.

Temperament may include things like energy level when healthy, whether you are more extroverted or introverted, your preferred way of emotionally protecting yourself, some innate talents like musicality or dexterity. Twin studies indicate that temperament is largely determined by heredity (nature), rather than environment (nurture). An Indian swami I knew once claimed that we only have choice over roughly 3% of our lives, that the rest is determined by karma from past lives and social and familial cultures. So science and yoga seem to agree that most of what we are comes in with us at birth.

I have also thought about this as it applies to my own life. I’ve come such a long way. I was once a lost, unformed, traumatized person. I didn’t know my own likes and dislikes, fell into relationships based on other people’s desires rather than my own, lived without much conscious awareness of other beings, was completely unconnected from my body and Nature, experienced God as a stern taskmaster. And while I had many strengths, including intelligence, intuition, and empathy, my ability to use these strengths was limited by the numbing effects of unhealed trauma. Today, following years of psychotherapy, spiritual direction, shamanic intervention, energy work, and a personal commitment to honesty, authenticity, and the willingness to be vulnerable, I am significantly different. I am more conscious of my inner workings, I feel deeply connected to a God of Love and to the Earth, I am tender toward my body, and my consciousness continues to grow. I appear to be “a whole different person,” largely as a result of choices I made that shifted the trajectory of my life.

Could the difference really be explained by three percent? Can three percent of my life shift the other 97%?

I guess it depends on where you place the fulcrum.

Say you have a field you want to plow. And say there is a great granite boulder sitting in the middle of it. The boulder is heavy. It’s been sitting there for a very long time. It’s become part of the scenery of the landscape. Willing it to move doesn’t move it. Using the brute force of your body doesn’t move it. Using the brute force of your friends’ bodies doesn’t even move it. You need a lever, you need a team, and you need the right conditions. It’s going to be harder to move in the winter, for example, when the ground is frozen and the ice and snow are stuck fast to the base of the boulder. But in the spring, when the ground is thawed and heaving, or in the fall after the harvest, it might be easier. If you dig up the ground around the boulder, it will help. And if you then apply a lever, resting on a fulcrum, to the right place – perhaps a point representing 3% of the boulder’s surface – you can move that boulder all right, if it isn’t buried too deeply. Whether and how far you can move it may depend on some factors over which you have no control: the lay of the land, how deeply embedded it is, the size and weight of the boulder. It may also be affected by factors over which you have enormous control: your willingness to stick with working the earth around the boulder before you try to shift it, for example, or your willingness to allow friends to help you operate the lever.

But one thing I know. We all have plenty of boulders in the fields of our lives. And the point is not to get rid of the boulders. The point is to shift them, if we can, to more appropriate places so that we can plow our fields. Some we are actually able to shift to the side of the field. Some we will be able to shift into the low lying areas that collect water and aren’t very good for planting. Others we have to learn to live with, and we just plow around them. In those cases, it does no good each spring when we go out to plow and plant to fling ourselves at the massive boulder. We accept the boulder, understand that it is there to stay, and plow around it.

The goal is not to have a field that is 100% clear of stones and boulders. The goal is to have a field that produces a good yield, a yield that can feed and sustain us, and perhaps others. We can enjoy this work. It produces a good feeling. The good feeling of using our labor, wits, and inner strengths to shape the life we are inwardly led to live. The good feeling of nurturing the soil, and seeing it become, as we age, full of the rich humus in which life can grow. The good feeling of planting the crops we want to tend and eventually reap. The good feeling of living the Good Life, no matter the quality of the field we’ve inherited. In fact, I think the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to tend the fields we’ve been given and, when they are yielding well, to assist others in their fields.

So, yes, there may only be three percent of our lives over which we have choice. Thanks be to God that it is a powerful three percent.

May 1, 2011

Breathing In, Breathing Out

I remember reading somewhere for a developmental psychology class a description of how a baby learns language. Picture the little one sitting in her crib on a summer morning, experiencing the sunlight dappling the walls, the feel of the breeze coming in the open window on her skin, the pressure of the mattress under her bottom, feel and smell of her forearm resting against her chubby thigh. Maybe there is the sound of birdsong also coming through the window, the sound of the curtain fluttering gently. There is the temperature in the room, warm but refreshing. And there are the smells of sunlight on wood, grass freshly mown in its green-ness, smell of roses perhaps just coming into bloom. And all the human smells of a baby’s room. Meanwhile she is feeling pleasure, perhaps anticipation as a bird approaches the window, perhaps delight in the movement of the dappled shadows on her bedroom wall. Baby is having a multidimensional, multisensory experience, rich in color and texture, sound, smell, depth, shape, feeling; rich in ways we can no longer even imagine.

Then mother comes in, sees the baby looking at the window. She delights in her baby and this opportunity to teach. “See the sun? That’s the sunlight coming in. Yellow sun.” In order to learn the language of her mother, in order to join the human race as a socialized, communicative being, the baby must divorce herself from the richness of the experience of the current moment, and focus her attention on the more limited visual concepts of “yellow sun.” There is no choice for the baby, as there was no choice for the mother, or her mother before her, or the many mothers before them. It is how we learn to communicate – by separating ourselves from our sensory and internal reality and incorporating words to describe those experiences so that others can understand us.

We all have experienced this separation from the garden of Eden. There is an inward remembrance of what it was like to live in this incredibly rich, multidimensional world in which we experienced all that is. We hold that remembrance under layers of words, concepts, intellectual schema, belief systems, cultural mores, social constructs, and intentional learning. If we are blessed to have a spiritual awareness, we may seek the experience of intimate knowing in nonphysical ways, through experience of Spirit, God, or Universe. And yet, there continues to be this rich, physical world of which we are only infinitesimally aware. And because we are physical creatures, with bodies that sense, we are lonely for that experience of intimate physical knowing.

We spend the rest of our lives trying to regain it. But we get confused about what it is we want. We thrill our senses with extreme sports, drugs, sex, driving too fast; and for some of us, this even becomes removed from our personal physical experience through the use of telecommunications and the entertainment industry. Yet while it thrills, the thrill doesn’t seem to satisfy for long. Perhaps, if we are spiritually inclined, we come to believe that the world of spirit is superior to the world of body, that what we seek can only be gained through connecting to the world of the unseen.

But that is a false solution, a partial truth. The world of the unseen is important and precious and transcendent. We should cherish the life of the Spirit, and reverence it, and open our hearts and minds to it, be stilled by it, led by it, taught by it, and prodded to action by it. But we are not yet living wholly in the world of Spirit. Our spirits are living in bodies right now, in a three-dimensional reality. We are not only transcendent beings, but immanent ones. And I believe we have these sensing bodies for a reason. There is something critical about learning to love and be present to the physical reality of the senses.

Mindfulness helps me learn to reclaim that rich sensory experience of the prelingual baby. Mindfulness practice, breathing in and noticing, breathing out and noticing, is helping me learn to be fully present to the physical reality of the moment I find myself in. It is my hope that it is helping me learn to love better.

Breathing in, I notice the green of the spring grass. Breathing out, I feel the grass between my toes. Breathing in, I feel the moisture of the grass, the slightly sharp edges of its texture. Breathing out, I feel tender love for the tender grass. Breathing in, I notice the pain on a stranger’s face. Breathing out, I pray for her. Breathing in, I feel the sun on my arm. Breathing out, I notice the sun is my relation.

Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God. The Zen Buddhists and the therapy models call it mindfulness. Whatever we call it, it can help us regain the garden of Eden – now, here, in this life, and in this body. It can help us become as little children again. Blessed be.

April 29, 2011

Spirit Nudged Me Awake Again at 2 am

So Spirit came swooping through in the night again. I need to get up early to catch a plane to Philadelphia. Really, oh Holy One, what are you thinking?!

I am learning that when I am nudged awake at this terrible hour,  Spirit has a thing or two for me to see or hear. So I start cruising the spiritual blogs I know about. And the one that grabs me the hardest tonight is the first one I go to: Peggy Senger Parson’s blog, A Silly Poor Gospel.

I love Peggy’s blog. I've said so before. Recently. She is bright and talented and Quaker. She’s obviously dived deep into the shadow of her own soul because she gets it about needing and making use of the mystery that is Jesus. She’s a Quaker, too, though not from my branch of Friends. I wish we could claim her.

I wonder what she would think of the shamanic/christian/universalist flavor of my particular expression of Quakerism? I worry about things like that in the middle of the night. Would Peggy, this person I really admire, think I’m a nut, were she to read my blog? Especially that one about listening to the voice of the diamonds. Hoo boy.

I went to Quaker Quaker, too, in my search for spiritual inspiration. I checked all of their groups for one that I could connect with. At least tonight, the liberal blogs seemed to be focused on things having to do with the Light, the Conservative blogs were focused on tradition (as in how important is it?) I found one on the Evangelical site by Johan Mauer about prayer. He inspired me. He prays daily for a list of people whom he divides up in his head into little “villages.” And he is faithful to the prayer discipline, making it very, very specific. That is awesome faithfulness. I left a comment about Meeting for Healing. I wonder if he has ever experienced it?

But it is Peggy’s blog that really sticks with me. She wrote about Mary Magdelene, the Apostola Apostolorum, the Apostle to the Apostles. And about Jesus as Fire Dancer. (Hmmm. Maybe she’d be okay with the talking diamonds….) If you are ever up in the middle of the night, or you ever have need to be released of your demons, check her out at

Blessings and good night.

April 20, 2011

Looking Inside

I saw a blog post today by Peggy Senger-Parsons, a Quaker pastor in Oregon. (April 16 at It’s a beach scene with these words printed on top of it: “Dear God, I have a problem. It’s me.” She titles the post, “Honesty.” I like Peggy's posts for being so practical. To me this one says something about looking inside when we are tempted to look outside.

Because I have noticed that we – and I include myself here – don’t always do such a good job of looking inside. When something goes emotionally very wrong, we almost always reflexively think that either 1) the problem is outside of us, or 2) the solution is outside of us. It certainly happens with our responses to the big problems: the alcoholic family member who can’t hold a job, the young girls who have sex and get pregnant, the teachers whose students do poorly on the state tests. We do the same thing as a nation, with Republicans blaming Democrats, and Democrats blaming Republicans for the problems we face together, and then passing laws designed to curb the excesses of the other. It’s where we are in our development, I guess, to blame anyone but ourselves, and to respond by trying to control others and our environment, rather than breathe into the problem, accept it, and learn from it so that we can respond differently.

It happens with the small problems, too, the ones where we could be getting really good and frequent practice so that when the big problems come along we’d be ready for them! For example, I might feel angry that my wishes are not being respected around a particular problem in our shared household. My first impulsive thought is that if my partner would only change his habits, we wouldn’t have this problem! (My mistaken belief is that the problem exists outside of me. He is the problem.) One of the effects of some recent poor diet choices I made was an experience of sudden and severe muscle seizures. When they would hit, usually in the middle of the night, my first reflexive motion was to make it stop, get away from the pain, run to a hot bath, shout for help. (The mistaken belief was that the solution was outside of me, rather than in my response to the pain.)

Perhaps it is a Western thing, with our valuing of armaments and industry and engineering and hard science. We want to make things happen the way we want them to be. But mindfulness practice leads us to just the opposite: to receive the experience, accept whatever it is, be relaxed with it, and eventually respond as led - in my language, led by God. Some people get their shorts tied in a knot about the idea of “accepting” something that is unjust or just plain wrong. But for me, accepting doesn’t mean that I agree that this situation should be here now. It is just noticing that it is here now, and that I can’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t here and that wishing it wasn’t here is not going to do me any good at all, at all.

So, the next time the muscle cramps come – please, God, let them be milder, let the practice be successful – I will try to notice them. “Here you are again, cramps. Come to tell me something about how I’m treating my body, eh? Thank you for showing up so I can pay better attention to my body’s needs.” And then I will breathe. "Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I am at peace with my body." That’s my intention, anyway. I am willing to experience my life and my body as it is. I expect that, as I continue to practice, I will get better at it.

What are you working to accept in your life? Can we hold each other in the Light?


April 8, 2011

Listening to the Voice of the Diamond

In the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, north of Toronto, there is a painting by Blake Debassige, an Ojibwe artist of the second Woodlands wave. It shows a grandfather holding a baby. They are surrounded by the things of their environment: rock, butterfly, sun, flower, cloud, if I recall. There are lines of connection drawn from the baby to each of these "things."

In the shamanic world view, the indigenous world view, everything is alive. Not only are the foxes, raccoons, butterflies, and snakes alive. The rocks, the mountains, the lakes and rivers, the clouds and the soil also have beingness. Spirit dances in all of them, awakening them to Life in an interconnected web of creation. The Ojibwe baby in the painting, held in the arms of his grandfather, his tradition, easily experienced this sacred connection with all. It is a very different worldview from the one in which both the living and the nonliving are objects without sacredness, things placed here solely for the use of human beings, who may discard them when they are no longer needed or wanted.

The experience of energy also infuses this world view. In a world where everything is alive, there is a lot of sparkle! Every being has a vibration, a sound or light, which is unique to that being. Sometimes it is deep, a slow undercurrent of barely audible sound or a dark and comforting light. Sometimes it is a very high sound, or a brilliant, white light. Often it is something in between.

One can journey through this world of vibration and energy through the power of one's mind alone. One can see and hear and touch and taste things undreamed of in ordinary human perception. One can receive deep insight into the condition of one's own soul; can receive deep healing of body, mind and spirit; can experience openings of perception that places our personal and communal problems in their proper perspective.

In my journeys over the past several months a ring has appeared. It is a golden band with small diamonds inset into the band. The ring has healing properties in these visions; it is a companion to me, and is eager to help me, to show me the way to access a different vibration in my healing work, to take me to a place of merging with the Light that I have never before experienced.

I have felt a little awkward about these visions. I'm a Quaker, and Quakers are supposed to be simple people. We eschew expensive trinkets like diamond rings. Then there is also the human suffering caused by the mining of diamonds; so much suffering that commercial diamonds are often referred to as "blood diamonds." In this view, there are few "good" diamonds; those that have been mined and traded through methods that don't cause human suffering.

In my journeys, the diamonds are intent on healing. They have beingness, they have suffered, they have a desire for wholeness, they want to be of service, and they have a spiritual mission to fulfill. I have cherished these visions, and the spiritual companionship of the ring of gold and diamonds, precious elements of the Earth. I have felt the power of the journeys, but until recently I explained the diamond ring to myself as a metaphor.

Four weeks ago the lapis stone in my silver wedding band popped out and disappeared. It could not be found, and this was the third time that the stone had escaped. Each time before it had been found and professionally repaired. But now it was gone for good. Clearly the lapis was done with me! So I began the process of seeking out a different ring, checking out my friends' wedding rings, imagining a thick gold band with carving on it. Occasionally I considered a gold band with diamonds, as in my visions. But I felt guilty about liking diamonds and put the desire away from me. I was ready to contact the artist who had created our original wedding bands to create new ones. But as I was driving past a local jewelry store, I impulsively stopped in. I looked at the rings, and suddenly saw the ring. I felt an immediate energetic connection with that particular ring. I heard its voice in my mind's "ear": "Yes, it's me, and it's about time you came by. I've been waiting for you a long time." It was the ring in my vision: small diamonds set down into a gold band. I didn't know until the jeweler told me that this was called "channel set."

The price tag was higher than I had ever before considered paying for a piece of jewelry. I was disturbed by liking it so much, and put off making the purchase for a week and a half. I wanted my husband to see it and offer his opinion about it. I searched rings online, thinking that I should be a "good consumer" and check out all the options. I asked my friends if it was a sin to own a diamond – they basically said, "Yes, unless it is a fair trade diamond." But I kept coming back in my mind to this particular ring, with the seven small diamonds channel set into a gold band. Sitting in the case at the jeweler's, being looked at and admired as a potential possession, but not honored, not invited into service. And ultimately, the voice of the ring convinced me.

Since my husband and I bought its freedom two weeks ago, this ring has journeyed with me. I've accessed a different experience of the Light than I have ever had before – just as in the vision. It has shown me the suffering of earth, rock, water, and human community in the mining business, and how the water, humans, and animals near the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan are suffering right now. It has shown me how this and every oppression can be healed through the power of "now Love" – loving the place where you are now, loving the ones whom you see in front of you, and letting that love expand, just as yeast expands to raise the whole loaf. It has shown me that human beings aren't the only ones suffering at the hands of human greed – so are the diamonds, and the trees, and the animals, and the whole planet Earth. And that we are not the only ones who can help with the healing.

We must make friends with all of the beings of Mother Earth, and make room for their help. The survival of this web of Life depends on recognizing that we are a community, and that it doesn't all depend on us. Let's listen for the voices of the diamonds and the trees, the coyotes and the deer, the lakes and the rivers. Listen deeply to them, the voices that are here, right now, in front of us, behind us, all around us. The dog, the cat, the wild parsley, the rabbit, the urban fox, the raindrops. The clouds above, the earthworms below, the oak leaf, the cactus flower, the stones in your driveway, the rain puddle outside your front door, the mountains on the horizon. What do they have to say to you? When you have heard, please don't keep it a secret. We all need to know what they are saying.

April 4, 2011

My Determined Grandmother

My father's mother, Beeda, grew up in Alabama. She was the fourth of ten living children, all girls except one. Her father was a subsistence farmer, as was her father-in-law, who had a larger brood of children. Basically, both of my paternal grandparents grew up dirt poor. As far as I know, all of my grandmother's siblings remained in Alabama except her.

She and my grandfather brought their two young children north to Michigan on the heels of the Great Depression, seeking a better life. He went to work in a factory, but hated it, and later found work in a lumber yard. They built a house, living in the dirt basement through the winter while my grandfather built the house over their heads. My grandmother took cleaning jobs, and eventually got work selling clothing in a small department store, from where she retired in her mid-seventies. Unlike their parents, they never had more than two children. They worked hard. They improved their circumstances.

In my home, while my youngest siblings were still babies and toddlers, there was confusion and chaos and violence. But at my grandmother's house, there was peace and quiet. She would bake big sugar cookies which she would cut out with a water glass dipped in sugar. She made me "Lone Ranger" toast in the oven, which she buttered with real butter and sprinkled with sugar. She would let me sleep in late, and she told me how smart I was. Once when I was sick with a high fever, she kept me at her house, and got up in the middle of the night to check my temperature and wash my body with cool cloths. Although she never finished high school, my grandmother made sure I got a college education. She sent me "spending money" every month to augment my scholarship and job earnings. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. And I knew she loved me.

When I would ask Grandma to please tell me stories about her childhood, she would say, "That was the past. I look to the future." I was always sorely disappointed by this response. I was hoping for happy tales about my family that I could enjoy, and be proud of, and perhaps laugh at.

A few days ago I heard a story that made sense of my grandmother's refusal to talk about the past. Her mother, Mollie, was married at 14 to a man who was ten years older. The family story is that Mollie's husband would say that he married her young so he could "raise her up" the way he wanted to. When I tell this story to my friends, they get very quiet. They understand the implications of a young girl, not yet fully grown, marrying a fully grown man, unprepared in body and spirit to be a sex partner or a mother, being "raised up" exclusively to care for this man and bear many babies. I imagine Beeda as a young girl, watching her mother's life, and wanting something different for herself.

Beeda became a determined woman, and I believe that her intention was to create a different life for her offspring than the life she knew in Alabama. Her "up north" life included all sorts of things like nice clothes, a clean house, adequate money, and education and good jobs for her children and grandchildren. But it also included certain qualities like charity, generosity, and safety for the children. At some point my grandparents moved into a converted garage, a small house with heavy curtains for bedroom doors. When I was a girl and would spend the night there, Grandma would set me up in the spare bedroom and she would always sleep on the couch just outside the room, even though she preferred a different couch for sleeping. Once in the night I heard her talking firmly to my grandfather, "What are you doing, Frank?" Pause. "Go back to your own bed. This isn't Alabama." I can't say that I know for certain what she was referring to. But I had seen my curtain flutter, and I think I know where my grandfather was heading.

As an adult I became estranged from my parents. When my grandmother asked me to call my father and "make it up" with him, I told her that I couldn't do that until he had made an apology to me; that he needed to acknowledge that he had hurt me before I could open my heart to him again. She became very, very quiet. She seemed to know immediately what I was talking about. Then she said, in a broken voice, "I don't know about all that." I heard in her statement both the recognition that she hadn't known, her conflict about knowing now, and her hope that it wasn't true. At the end of her life, when she was dependent on her sons, my grandmother resolved the conflict by withdrawing into silence from me, and eventually into dementia. She may have gotten dementia anyway. But I believe that my determined grandmother, who had wanted something better for her offspring, had heard in my words that her life had been a failure. That while she had been able to get more things, more financial security, and education for her children and her grandchildren, she hadn't been able to stop the family pattern of using girls and women.

Beeda, I want you to know: you were no failure. I am alive and well and strong-spirited. I know my own heart and my own mind, and I don't easily put up with being used or being minimalized. I grow more strongly every day into the true stature of my soul. The pattern, as it played itself out in my life, stopped with me. I see my tender son with his strong-spirited girl children, I see the strong woman he married, and I know that I am enjoying the fruits of my grandmother's determination. Thank you, Beeda. For the sugar cookies, for standing guard, for the college education, for your determination that I would have a better life. I do, and so do my granddaughters. You did it.

March 19, 2011

Lordy, Lordy

I sometimes make myself sick over conflict with others. I just hate the feeling of disharmony between us. It is as if there were flowing currents of water between us, and suddenly the currents freeze, break off, and become sharp, pokey ice shards. I feel tender and vulnerable, and confused about what to do with the ice shards in my hands. Sometimes I feel that the shards are pointed at me, either aggressively or just defensively. Sometimes there is a part of me that wants to stab and swipe. Always I don't want to hurt or be hurt. It sets me up for quite an internal conflict.

I have a difference of opinion with a close friend about a way that she is dealing with her life. She has a serious problem. She is working on some of the internal and external factors that contribute to this problem in her life, while working to stay in touch with joy and peace. Who could argue with that? But the thing is, the problem is not shifting, and it needs to shift – in my opinion, and in hers – in order for her to step into her wholeness and her full power.

I realize that I have understood my commitment of friendship to be both supportive of my friend, and to challenge her when I think she may be "off the mark" so that she can consider a different solution. I know we have that commitment to each other. But there is a vast, luminous space between the place of emotional support and the place of loving challenge. Sometimes a person needs the support more, sometimes the challenge more. In my experience, when I most needed the challenge, I fought most strenuously against it.

So - I believe I see something clearly that my friend is too involved with the problem to see. Yet, when I try to talk with her about it, she doesn't want to go there, she wants to stay in the feelings of joy which help her stay grounded and regulate her feelings of fear. (This is a great strength of hers. I know many folks who stay stuck in the more difficult feelings, and who continue to feed them, which then feeds the problem.) But, as is true for all of us, her strength is also her challenge.

An approach that has worked for me in facing the very, very difficult feelings is to run smack dab into the middle of them, to confront them, to take them on, to let them flow. When I have done this, I learn things about myself that I cannot learn without that contrast of intense feelings. And when I have received the learning, the intense feelings about the issue leave, for good, while my core being – my power and wholeness - expands. I do not turn away from the feelings. I do not try to shift them or change them. I let them be themselves. And I watch them - to the best of my ability - as they flow on through.

I believe my friend is trying to escape from the more difficult feelings about this problem. I believe that she is afraid of the period of time in which she would be "out of balance," when joy would not feel anywhere near at hand. I can surely be wrong in believing this. And, if I am not, I can surely understand the escape. Because, in the end, there don't seem to be any guarantees in life. Everything is a risk, based on one's faith in Spirit and Earth, self and others, Love and Life.

The internal conflict is this. Do I support her as she requests or do I challenge her according to my sight? If I support when she actually needs challenge, I'm not being faithful to our friendship and our commitment to each other's growth. If I challenge her when she needs support, I am hurting her and risking our friendship.

I suffer to see her suffer; I want to help her, I want to midwife her labor, to provide her something to push against when it is time, to give her a cool cloth when the labor abates for a bit. I want to hold her and love her as she walks into the storm. But my sweet friend does not want this kind of help. And the risk of hurting her by offering unwanted help is greater than the risk of being unfaithful. I have to respect her wishes because it is, after all, her life, and her journey, and her shadow, and her choice. And because she may be absolutely right that walking into the storm is my way, but not her way.

As I write, the ice shards in my hands are melting. I am remembering Grandmother Rita's lesson from her preschool days: "When you walk among people who are not like you, don't say a word. Just watch." I am to cultivate my own practice of quiet watchfulness. I am to witness, loving her and the ways that we are different, as well as the ways we are the same. I am to help in the ways that she allows me to help. I am to remain, in this way, her faithful friend.

And I am learning, again, how important it is not to interfere – unless asked. It is surely difficult – for me – to remain close and compassionate, without interfering, when a loved one suffers. My own suffering, witnessing hers, begs me to help her so I can suffer less. And so I discover while the ice is melting – that it's my ice, not hers! "Lordy, lordy," as my own grandmother would say. That was a good one on me!"

March 14, 2011

The Simple Way

I want you all to know about the Thirteen indigenous Grandmothers, and especially Grandmother Rita. The Grandmothers come from all over the world: Alaska, Nepal, Brazil, Gabon (Africa), Arizona, South Dakota, Oregon, New Mexico, Montana, and Tibet. Thirteen grandmothers in their 70's and 80's who have been brought together by the movement of Life and the prophecies of their various traditions. Grandmother Rita is in Alaska, and of Yupik, Athabascan, and Russian descent. She is proud of her diverse heritage.

The grandmothers teach simply about reciprocity, respect, caring for the earth, peace, social justice, and honoring the water. The Shift Network is hosting a long-distance learning opportunity with them in which I am participating. Each week for six weeks one or two or three of the grandmothers teach a group of over 500 people, from all over the world, via phone. Although many of the grandmothers have cell phones just like I do, sometimes the grandmother has to walk to a "station" in order to make the international call, having no phone of her own. Sometimes, as in the case of Grandmother Rita, someone in the family is coming home for dinner while she is talking on the family phone, and the dog starts barking a greeting for the world to hear. They are homey lessons.

One of the participants asked Grandmother Rita how to help others understand the importance of being harmonious with each other, how to stop fighting and creating so much discord, how to understand the world, basically, the way she understands the world. Grandmother Rita told a story. When she was three years old her mother took her to a Montessori school in Seattle. It was the first time she had ever been away from her village. She was scared. Her mother told her that when she walked among people who were not like her, to say nothing. Just watch, and try to understand.

When asked whether we should get involved in politics, or not, to effect change in the world Grandmother Rita said simply that she did not know. And then she sang The Magic Penny, a song written in the 1950's by Malvina Reynolds:

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away

You end up having more.

It's just like a magic penny

Hold it tight and you won't have any.

Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many

They'll roll all over the floor!

Grandmother Rita is a tribal doctor, a healer, and here's another thing Grandmother Rita teaches. This one really speaks to me, given my history with physical illness. She says – and oh, how I know the truth of this!—that unattended emotions become physical, and that the unattended physical becomes emotional. Healing is about peeling, she says, peeling away the layers of emotions that have become densified as physical illness. But she follows that with saying that the secret is that she doesn't know anything. She doesn't know what she does to help you heal. She's just your friend.

They are simple and profound teachings with the power to change the world – to keep your voice quiet and try to understand when you do not know the ways of those you walk among. To give and so receive. To peel away that which is no longer needed. To walk humbly. To be a friend. They sound very like the simple teachings of a carpenter I know.

The Voice agrees.


To find out more about the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, go to

March 13, 2011

It Depends on All of Us

This is a revision to the previous blog post, "It Depends on Us." As I thought about what I had written, I realized that some of my perceptual filters had been in place, and that the piece reflected that. I've tried to remove them a bit more for this revision.~

There is a lot of turmoil since the Wisconsin anti-labor bill was passed. The Republicans were able to vote on it, even without the absent Democrats, because they stripped the bill of financial provisions – thus allowing them to vote without a quorum. There is a lot of grief, anger, and anguish among the people I know. Some are calling it a class war, with the Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other.

Instead, I am focusing on what I believe to be true:

  1. That nearly everyone – including Republican and Democrat legislators and governors – want Americans to live full and healthy lives, with happy children, access to healthful nutrition and good education, and adequate medical care. We just differ on how to make that happen.
  2. That we are polarizing our discussion about the ways we are different. I'm sorry to say that some of those who are feeding that division are people I have personally admired.
  3. That it is possible to speak clearly, and strongly, without blaming or attacking others, and without backing down.
  4. That all of us regular working folks, regardless of our political affiliations, have more in common than not. And that we have more power together than we have apart.
  5. That there really are some who are greedy and manipulative. They tend to have a lot of power, so it will take all of us working together – and it will cost us something – to oppose them.
  6. That every human being, including those who are greedy and manipulative, have a spark of the Divine in them, and that this spark has the potential to transform greed.
  7. That speaking to that spark, without anger or violence, in the way that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did, will do more to transform our economy and our country than any amount of political discourse, angry discourse, or name calling.
  8. That the oppression and greed of a few simply cannot stand up against the power of millions.
  9. That we will receive what we envision. If we envision battle and fighting and anger and fear, that is what we will get. If we envision strength, courage, and victory, that is what we will get.
  10. That it is up to us and no one else to transform the economy so that the children are cared for. So the old people are cared for. So we are all making a living wage. So we know our pensions and our savings accounts are safe. So we are able to buy and keep our homes, and live in them. So we have the means to grow or purchase healthy food to eat, to see health practitioners if we are sick. And so we know that our freedom to get these things is protected, so we don't have to live in fear, without choices, like indentured servants.

I believe these things because I have experienced them. I know the power of the spark within that can lead my tongue in ways that help, and don't harm. That can turn the darkness in my soul toward the Light. That can open my heart to compassion when I am only feeling judgment and hatred.

If that can happen within me, it can happen within the hearts of those who are getting richer, while the majority of workers are getting poorer. And if it doesn't, then they will have to face millions of nonviolent, determined voters who will not allow themselves to become their poorly paid servants.

So – any who know the tools of nonviolent campaign, we need you now. Any who know how to listen deeply to your neighbors and coworkers, even when they disagree with you, we need you now. Let us not comfort ourselves by numbing with our televisions and newspapers. Nor let us feed the seeds of anger and hatred that are so ready to sprout among us. Let us pray, sing, gather, and be confident in our power to effect change on behalf of the future generations. It really does depend on all of us -- and no one else.

March 11, 2011

It Depends on Us

There is a lot of turmoil today since the Wisconsin anti-labor bill was passed. They were able to vote on it, even without the absent Democrats, because the Republicans stripped the bill of financial provisions—thus allowing them to vote without a quorum. There is a lot of grief, anger, and disbelief among the people I know. I am avoiding the paper and the online web reports because I just don't want my spirit to deflate.

Instead, I am focusing on what I believe to be true:

  1. That nearly everyone – even the Republican politicians – want Americans to live full and healthy lives, with happy children, access to healthful nutrition and good education, and adequate medical care. We just differ on how to make that happen.
  2. That we are polarizing our discussion about the ways we are different. Some of those I admire, like Michael Moore, feed that division.
  3. That it is possible to speak clearly, and strongly, without blaming or attacking others, and without backing down.
  4. That there really are some who are greedy, and there are some who are manipulative. They tend to have a lot of power, so it will cost us something to oppose them.
  5. That every human being, including those who are greedy and manipulative, have a spark of the Divine in them that has the potential to transform greed.
  6. That speaking to that spark in the way that Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. did, will do more to transform our economy and our country than any amount of political discourse, angry discourse, or name calling.
  7. That we have more power together than we have alone.
  8. That the oppression and greed of a few simply cannot stand up against the power of millions.
  9. That we will receive what we envision. If we envision battle and fighting and anger and fear, that is what we will get. If we envision strength, courage, and victory, that is what we will get.
  10. That it is up to us and no one else to transform the economy so that the children are cared for. So the old people are cared for. So we are all making a living wage. So we know our savings accounts are safe. So we are able to buy and keep our homes, and live in them. So we have the means to grow or purchase healthy food to eat, to see health practitioners if we are sick. And so we know that our freedom to get these things is protected, so we don't live as slaves without choices.

I believe these things because I have experienced them. I know the power of the spark within that can lead my tongue in ways that help, and don't harm. That can turn the darkness in my soul toward the Light. That can open my heart to compassion when I am only feeling judgment and hatred.

If that can happen within me, it can happen within the heart of Governor Scott Walker or Governor Rick Snyder. And if it doesn't, then they will have to face millions of nonviolent, determined voters who will not let this pass.

So – any who know the tools of nonviolent campaign, we need you now. Any who know how to listen and do motivational interviewing, we need you now. Let us not comfort ourselves by numbing with our televisions and newspapers. Nor let us feed the seeds of anger and hatred that are so ready to sprout among us. Let us pray, sing, gather, and be confident in our power to effect change on behalf of the future generations. It depends on us and no one else.

March 9, 2011

The Million-Piece Life and Its Imminent Demise

Yesterday I "began" my writing ministry in a conscious way. Now I am left with the road before me. And how to navigate it when I am supposed to write what is given – nothing more, nothing less.

What is given today? Sitting here in Michigan on a dull, wet, cold March day I am yearning for the spring and the sun, and this yearning for warmth and light feels also like a yearning for God. As if the winter has dried up my soul along with my skin; as if being inside under too much artificial light has diminished my capacity to see the true Light shining through grey skies and disturbing news stories.

My spiritual practices have fallen off a bit, even while my sense of being called has increased. It is as though backing off from practice might be a way to numb down a bit so I don't have to pay such close attention to the call. Gad. Winter and I have been in collusion this year to dampen down and hide away.

I can continue to bellyache, or I can start to do something differently. Immediately my mind objects – every little bit of my life is mind-mapped to a million other pieces. Move one piece and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

That's the idea, says the Voice. This life with its million pieces is not serving us well anymore.

"Who is us?" I ask.

You, me, and all the rest, says the Voice.

Well, I can't complain. This is what I wanted, to serve the Unity. And I guess it is true that nothing changes if nothing changes. If I just keep wishing for change, that's all I'll have in the end – a bunch of wishes. So here goes. I am about to step off a cliff. I am girding up to ride into battle. I am about to push the baby out. I am about to allow Change to have its way with me. I am about to leap into the unknown, because, for all I know, moving a piece of this life may end up with someone else being disappointed in me, or getting angry with me. It might mean that I lose connection with someone or something that I have cared about. It might mean I have to live with less money and comfort. It might mean a lot of things my ego would not choose for me. I am afraid.

And then the Voice again: I will not lead you into anything except your fullness.

My fullness. Yes. I want that, very much. "But will the ride be bumpy? Will it be scary?"

Probably. You will not face it alone.

My body shivers. My heart swells. Here it is. Consent rises up. The tears come.

"OK. Which piece do I move?"

Which piece do you want to move?

Swelling heart deflates rapidly!

"I beg your pardon?! Didn't you just say you were leading me?!"

I feel indignant. Tricked. And then…..

Oh. I see. The call is to get simpler. It's up to me to follow the path of my heart's content.

I feel the physical sensation of "coming together." Yes, this is right. This is always the way it has been between us. I am led, but must also navigate. I am given the map, but it's up to me to decide the route.

So - which piece will I move today?

March 8, 2011

Spirit is Bugging Me Again

And I have finally given in, which in retrospect is always the best thing to do. I surely don't know why I put up such a fight before submitting.

I am being led to write more. I am being led to write as ministry. And not now and again, as I feel like it, or when I like the message that is forming within me. But I am to write faithfully, about all the pieces that Presence uncovers for me, even when I haven't really figured them out to my satisfaction. This writing is not to be about writing well. [Oh no, I can feel my ego reacting, my stomach tightening, and my hands going cold.] This writing is to be about vocal ministry. To say what is given, without serious editing. [Actually, I just heard that I can edit after the fact for structure, grammar, that sort of thing. But that I am to leave off any sort of editing until the piece is finished. Feet are getting cold now, too.]

I am put on alert. I have been trying to harmonize with that which I call God, have been offering my energy in service of the unity of humanity and nature. I have known for some time that all of the personal healing work I have done, and continue to do, is in service of this goal. That my own healing and the healing of the planet and her creatures, including all humanity, cannot be separated from each other. And now it is time to step up to the plate.

I thought I would be traveling, working face-to-face with Quakers. But I am being called to place more energy into this writing business. This is not what I expected.

Here is the trouble. I hate to write. When I write, I cry a lot. It is literally painful to me because it is so friggin' SLOW. I would much rather sit in Quaker worship, experience the ecstasy of God, be filled with the Presence, sit wordless with the Light, be at Peace. Or channel the Light in healing work for myself and others, toning, singing, rattling, drumming, ACTING. I want the ecstasy of feeling, the pleasure of action. A life filled with that would be my bliss.

But Spirit wants words, and that worries me. Words are solid. When I try to describe my experience in words, it feels like trying to shove tender little baby feet into high tops that are too small for them. It is hard for me, and I fear it hurts the baby feet. So I am deeply reluctant.

Still, I trust this bugging feeling. When it comes to me, this swelling in the chest, this readiness to break into tears as I think about the invitation, this quaking of the limbs, this warmth in my heart, this fearsome awe that arises within – when this feeling comes, I know it is Spirit knocking. When I have ignored that knocking, or tried to numb myself to it, I have gotten depressed and ill. I have learned over time that Spirit does not invite me into anything other than my fullness. So it is when I ignore my wholeness, or when I try to numb to it, preferring a smaller, more comfortable life, that depression and illness come.

There really is no choice but to say "yes." Because what I really want - deep down where it matters - what I really want more than anything, more than love and holding, more than being right, more than comfort and security, is this: to use my body, mind, and heart as fully as possible to help the community of the Living Presence become manifest on planet Earth. I tremble with the daring of it.

And so I begin.