With Liberty and Justice for All

 

When I was a child growing up in New England in the 1940’s, we began each school day standing, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the flag and “the republic for which it stands.”

In this difficult time for our nation, the last words of the flag salute seem important to remember—with liberty and justice for all. images

There are other words, older than the words of the flag salute (first written in 1887), which have shaped our nation from its inception—”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (from the Declaration of Independence 1776.)

These have been guiding words for our nation, though we haven’t always lived up to them very well. We have stumbled again and again, acted as if such words were only for some of us, yet over time we have made progress. It is no longer legal for one of us to own another as slave; women can now vote and own property and even run for president; people of different races, gays and lesbians can now marry. Immigrants have been welcomed and integrated, enriching our culture. We have made progress in developing cleaner sources of energy. And much more.

In recent weeks, with dizzying speed, some of these steps toward liberty and justice for all have been turned back. Fear, anger, outrage run in strong currents through every level of our society.

It seems a good time to vision what it might be like if we lived up to the guidance of our founding fathers. To dream. What would it look like if we had liberty and justice for all? If all people were considered equal with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Here is my dream: that every person in this country have adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, the support of a loving community, meaningful work, and enough time and energy for family, children, play, art, laughter.

That we all work to heal our planet until we have clean water, clean air, clean earth, grow our food and meet our energy needs in a sustainable manner, and that we respect and protect all the plants and other creatures who share this land with us.

We have the resources and the know-how to manifest such a dream. It is only our scrambled politics and upside-down economic system, our fears of scarcity—if they have enough, I won’t—that stand in the way.

The last two words of the pledge are important. “For all.” All. Not just those of us who are already educated, whose race and circumstances make it unlikely that we will be targeted for traffic stops and drug searches, whose families do not need to fear being torn apart by deportation.

But this dream is not nearly big enough. We cannot afford “America first.” We are all, all living beings on this planet, inextricably woven together. We need this dream to be for all people, all plants and creatures on this Earth.borowitz-earth-endangered-by-fact-resistant-humans-690

Which is HUGE. Way too huge for any one person, any one organization, even any one country to manifest alone.

What can we do? I think we each need to find our own unique contribution to the manifestation of the dream. It may be political, it maybe joining an organization, creating art, or simply being open to what crosses our path, what calls us to the furtherance of the dream. And most of all, to hold the dream close to our hearts in all the interactions of our daily lives.

I

Threads of Light in the Dark Time

Winter Solstice. The dark time. It is cold. The garden sleeps under the snow. The nights are long, the days short, the sun low and slanting.

The wonder of Solstice is that at the moment of deepest darkness, the sun is born anew. Even if only for a few minutes at first, the days begin to lengthen. Spring will come again. Such is the promise of the solar cycle.

This is also a time of darkness for our planet. We humans continue being brutal to one another, waging endless wars, and compounding ecocide. Our Earth cries out—deforestation, radioactive waste, nuclear accidents, wetlands destruction, fishery depletion, toxic waste, pharmaceutical pollution, electromagnetic pollution, habitat destruction, oil spills, soil erosion, islands of plastic waste in the oceans, aquifer depletion and pollution, and many more atrocities to this rich, beautiful Earth given us as gift and upon which we depend.Borowitz-Earth-Endangered-by-Fact-Resistant-Humans-690

We can trust that the sun will come back, but there is no promise that, if we destroy it, the Earth will be born again.

I have recently been touched by the book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein. He says we have reached the end of the Story of Separation, that our ways of relating to the Earth, to one another, our institutions, our money systems, our attitude of dominance are at the breaking point. We must find a new story. He presents the possibility of a Story of Interbeing. “That my being partakes of your being and of all beings.” How would we act if we believed in such a story?

Not long ago on Facebook, I saw a video that showed a circle of indigenous children. A white man put a big basket of fruit in the center of the circle and told the children whoever got to it first could have it all. The children took hands and ran to the basket together. When asked why they did, they answered that the fastest one could not enjoy the fruit if he did not share it.

If the Story of Interbeing is true, then perhaps our illnesses, addictions, suicides, depression are because we unknowingly feel the other parts of ourselves suffering. The Syrian refugees, the bees dying from pesticides, the coral reefs  disintegrating, the many creatures losing habitat, the Earth groaning and shifting under the effects of climate change, and so much more.

What can we do? It is too big.

There is hope. In the darkness of our dying Story of Separation there are many threads of light, creating the tapestry of the new story of our oneness. Some of them have been weaving themselves into our culture since the 60‘s. There were protests against war. Make love not war. The influx of spiritual teachings from the East tempered our Western dogmas of dominance over the natural world, and the separation of body and spirit. Communes evolved in which small groups of people courageously explored how they might live together and care for each other, simplify, make decisions by consensus, and produce food in a sustainable manner. Descendants of those communes continue in co-ops and co-housing.

In a recent article, written after the election, Eisenstein speaks of these threads, “those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?”

Threads of light in the dark time, the time of confusion between stories. What if we begin with simple, daily acts of compassion? What if we see the opponent, the “other” as part of ourselves? What if we come to truly believe that we are part of all beings, that our own well-being depends on the well-being of the Earth, of all beings, even the “enemy?” Can we trust that if we all live in empathy, that it will make a difference, that we can be part of a shift toward “the more beautiful world?”

During the years I was part of a ceremonial circle, we often began our talking staff councils with the words, “Do you love yourself enough to listen with the ears of your heart to other voices of yourself speaking?”

What threads of light can we weave into our daily lives, what acts of compassion and empathy?

 

One Becomes Two

Have you ever longed for an identical twin? Someone just like you who would completely understand you, like to do all the things you like to do, be your constant, compatible companion?

(I know very well that all identical twins are not that compatible, but I am speaking here of longings.)

Many years ago when I was living in Durango, I visited an acquaintance. He was still with a client when I arrived, and asked me to wait in his living room where his four-year-old, identical twin daughters were playing. Two lovely little girls with long, dark, curly hair. They seemed to barely notice me, and I sat quietly observing them. From time to time they spoke, but didn’t seem to need to as they created their play together, happily and harmoniously. I was touched by the deep connection between them. Later, their father told me how lucky they were to have been born with their very best friend.

Lily and Rose, identical twins in my upcoming novel The Purest Gold, were like those twins, so close they had telepathic communication, did everything together, and looked so much alike that other people, even their own father, had difficulty telling them apart. They spent their childhood in harmonious oneness. Then adolescence, and the challenges of crossing the country in a covered wagon with their stern, minister father, drew them apart. Their struggle with letting go of each other is the main theme of the novel.art-for-cover-of-purest-gold

I think of the two little girls that so touched me in Durango years ago and wonder what their relationship is like now that they are in their early twenties.

Not only twins must individuate. Children brought up to have the same opinions and habits as their parents must at some point find their own path. If the parents can’t let go, there is suffering.

Lovers and marriage partners sometimes must go through the same process. Once the first swift passion softens, they may discover that they are not so alike as they thought. Cherishing the differences can lead to an enriched relationship, resisting them can damage the love.

There is a paradox concerning our oneness. The truth on the deepest level is that we are all one, all part of humanity, of creation, all one with the One. The other truth is that we are each unique. There has never before been anyone just like us, nor will there ever be again. Each one of us is an inimitable blend of the colors and vibrations of God’s rainbow. Cynthia Bourgeault  in her beautiful book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, uses another image, speaking of being “a string in the concert of God’s joy. . . . in harmonic resonance with all the other instruments is revealed both my irreplaceable uniqueness and my inescapable belonging.”

Let us rejoice then in those times of harmonious unity with another and also delight in the wonder of our differences.

Life’s Resilience

In the high country, except for the area around the trail, all is wilderness. One can see the whole cycle of life—the seedling, the giant tree, the fallen log, and out of its decay new life.

The wondrous persistence of life can be found in the most unexpected conditions.

A bare stone rises out of a tarn high above tree line. The wind blows a bit of organic debris into one of its crevices, and flowers bloom there. DSCN0496

A fern crowns the stump of a long dead tree.

A seed of blue spruce lands between two slabs of granite. If left undisturbed, it will push those heavy stones aside, and grow to a tall and mighty being.DSCN0498

Even in the city, life persists. A tuft of green has emerged through the pavement in the street in front of my house.DSCN0517

 

 

 

Such intention! I have long thought that the nature of intention was best illustrated by the seed that awakens under pavement. We’ve all seen the result of such intention as we fuss to weed our driveways and patios. But imagine for a moment what it might be like to be that seed. It doesn’t bitch; it simply intends to grow, gently, persistently toward the light.  Light, light, light. And the pavement cracks.IMG_1095

Sometimes it seems that life throws a huge slab of concrete over our goals and desires. It can be very heavy, extremely discouraging. Yet the human spirit is even mightier than the seed. With intention to grow toward the light, even the heaviest barrier can be breached. It may be a different form of the life than we had before, like the fern crowning the stump of a long dead tree,DSCN0500 or the soft mosses that grow from the decaying log.

But if we do not give up, flowers can bloom from rock, new life can emerge. If you feel you have buried in concrete, think of the seed.

The Dome of Time and Space

One of the most primary experiences of Earthly incarnation is that we are bound in time and space. But are we?

I recently reread the novel Siddhartha  by Herman Hesse, a novel that has intrigued me since I first discovered it long ago as a young student at the university.

Set in the time of the Buddha, it is the story of Siddhartha, a young Brahmin, and his search for enlightenment. After following many divergent paths, Siddhartha finally finds peace in his old age as a ferryman living by a river, listening to its voice.

In this reading, it was Siddhartha’s image of the river that stood out for me.Unknown He came to understand that the river was always now, its source, its passage through many landscapes, its return to the ocean, all one, all present at the same time. Then he realized that his life was like the river, always now from birth to death.

I have been thinking about this in relation to my own life. The concept bends my mind. As I age, memories long forgotten thrust forward unexpectedly from time to time, so real and clear they shake my sense of presence. Can it be that my long life is all now? The joys and griefs of my childhood, all the ways I’ve danced, all the spiritual paths I’ve followed, all the dance and yoga and Rolfing students I have taught, my marriages, my lovers, my children and grandchildren at all their ages and stages?

The not-yet-remembered unknown years that lie ahead? My death? All now? All present in this moment?

I can barely hold this realization for the length of a breath. But in that breath, I am free of time.

Then there is space.

Last week my husband and I spent the day in the high country.DSCN0309 We lingered long among the peaks, and, even as we descended, kept looking back to the snow-dappled mountains, the huge sky. We drove down through the canyon, ears popping with the change in altitude, and came into town. It always feels sudden, jarring, after a day in the mountains to emerge from the canyon onto the city streets of Boulder.

But this last time, I had the strange experience that all the streets and buildings were very small, tiny, like doll houses, like the streets and buildings of the elaborate model train layout my brother created when we were children. That it was only by some weird Alice-in-Wonderland trick that I could fit into them at all. That strange perception stayed with me all the way home, driving through the impossibly narrow streets between the teeny tiny buildings. It was as if the vastness of the high country had filled me and was the only true dimension.

stars on the dark

There is also the immensity of the starry sky.

If there is no time, if all the bliss and the anguish are now, how can there be suffering?

If the world we think is so important is actually rather insignificant in comparison with the dimensions of the cosmos, of even our own mountains, then perhaps we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.

It is only a glimpse, a crack in the dome of three-dimensional reality, a whiff of possibility, hope. Yet in that glimpse is freedom.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

I haven’t posted on my blog for a long time, because I have been absorbed in the process of getting married.

Such a process. And we started out saying we wanted a simple wedding. But even with a simple wedding, there were so many details to attend to: creating a guest list, designing an invitation, finding a venue, researching a caterer, choosing a menu, manifesting table decorations—and on and on.

But we did it all, and now we are wed. Clay Elliott is my beloved husband. It is very good.DSC_7932

The most important part of the preparation was creating the ceremony, which we did with our dear friend Cedar, who was also our minister.

What promises do we make, we asked each other,  when we marry at the age of eighty? And we found that they were the same promises we had made long ago when we married in our youth. The language of love and commitment is archetypal, timeless.

But now, some sixty years later, these words—to love, honor, comfort and cherish, ’til death do us part—have deeper, richer meaning, seasoned by the experiences of our previous marriages and by the tempering of some sixty more years of living. All the hopes and disappointments, the unrealistic expectations, the gifts, the fears, the mistakes, and the many good times, have shaped us, carved us out, so we can hold more. This love has never been the crazy love of desperation that I wrote about in an earlier post, “The Insanity of Falling In Love.” From the beginning it has been gentle, fun, growing gradually, sweet.

When I was married the first time, at age eighteen, I was full of dreams, but I didn’t understand unconditional love as I am learning to understand it now. I don’t think I understood commitment at all. How could I? I was barely more than a child, though I would soon become a mother and begin to learn about commitment as only a beloved baby can teach you.

Getting married is huge. The commitment is huge. I have promised to love and care for this one dear man, no matter what, for the rest of my life. At this age the no-matter-what contains the sureness that we will face aging and infirmity together and one of us will have to deal with the death of the other. That is, of course, true whenever you marry, but when you marry at the age of eighty, it looms closer. We hope for ten good years together.

We gave been showered with so much love and blessing from our friends, our spiritual communities, our families.DSC_7904 Some who have been too long alone and lonely told us that seeing us find each other so late in life gave them hope. It is never too late.

And that is true. It is never too late to find love. Perhaps it is not romantic love, but Love is always there.

THE LIVE OAK

I have recently returned from a trip to Louisiana to visit my partner’s family. It was my first visit to that part of the country. The air is soft, misty, moist, so different from the dry clarity of Colorado air.

But what amazed me most was the trees. They are tall, tall, fully leafed out in April springtime. My partner’s son has ten acres, all mowed in a vast green lawn with trees set wide apart—huge pines and many live oaks of different sizes and ages. My partner tells me live oaks are so called because they are always green. The leaves stay on through the winter and each spring new ones gradually replace the old.

My favorite tree on our host’s property was a huge old live oak near the front of his house. There was a bench underneath, where I spent long quiet times resting in the peace of its presence.DSCN0401

The trunk at its base is so wide, I had to go to three sides of it to reach all around it with my outstretched arms. The bark is composed of rough ridges, subtly adorned in its crevices with yellow-green moss and gray-green lichen.

Only about four feet from the ground, the trunk divides into five branches, each as big around as most Colorado trees. These five branches lift and divide, lift and divide again. Some wrap around each other like snakes mating. Up and up the branches grow, spreading until they create a full circle of shelter.DSCN0405

The tree seemed still to me except for the slight movement of its leaves in the soft spring air, but I knew it was dancing. Slow, slow the dance of its growth, as it shapes the magnificent architecture of its branches, too slow, for swift-moving human vision to perceive. But if one were to be very still, perhaps . . .

Does it love to dance as much as I do?

Coming and going from our host’s home, we were on the highways, in the shopping centers, surrounded by busy humans with their complicated agendas, attending as fast as they could to the intricacies of incarnate existence.

As we were.

Resting under the tree, tuning in to its essence, was like entering into the space of meditation. I experienced a kind of time warp—its dance compared to mine. It’s benevolent presence, its wide-spreading canopy, created a larger field around all the concerns of my little life. Perhaps they were not so important after all, maybe not such a big deal. Then, after a time, even those small concerns melted away until there was only peace, and a deep sense of connection to the tree and the Life that creates and enfolds us both.DSCN0415

What Would You Choose?

What Would You Choose?

Imagine that you are eighty years old. You have lived a full life and now you are slowing down. You have some aches and frailties, but for the most part you are doing well.

Then imagine you are suddenly given a perfectly healthy young body. But your spirit is still eighty. You remember all your life experiences and the wisdom you gained from them.DSCN0155

That is what happened to Clara, the protagonist of my novel Never Again. After her transformation, she was delighted with her vitality and health, but also found her new life confusing, and the incongruity between her body and spirit increasingly distressing. Finally she asked the Elirians, the immortal extraterrestrials who had transformed her, if she could have her old body back—and learned that she could. DSCN0184

As she struggled with her choice, she turned again and again to nature. She saw herself in the tree that held onto its leaves too long and was bent with snow, and in the flowers that were still blooming in late fall when it was time to make seeds. When the Elirians asked her about birth and death, she explained the human life cycle by comparing it to the seasons on planet Earth. DSCN0323

In recent months I have given several talks about Never Again. I tell my audience Clara’s story up to her point of choice, and then ask, “What would you choose?”

It has been interesting to hear their answers. The ages of the people in my audiences has been between late forties and early eighties. Most were over sixty.

The discussions were lively.

The younger people were more likely to choose to keep the young body. They were into life and wanted more. Perhaps it was hard for them to imagine what it would be like to be eighty.    Older people in the audience, with some exceptions, chose to return to their old body. Some said they loved their retirement, not having to be on a schedule, following their own rhythms, enjoying their hobbies. Others spoke of looking forward to seeing what lay beyond, to reconnecting with loved ones who had died before them. No one over eighty chose to keep the young body.

Then, of course, they asked me what I would choose.

It is a difficult decision. Oh, to have a young body again! To be able to leap and run and dance for hours, to reclaim lost yoga postures, and climb high and far in the mountains. To wake without pain. There is also the lure of the path not taken, and the tempting thought that I now have the patience and maturity to be a much better parent than I was the first time around.DSCN0049

But like Clara, I am weary, so full of memories I feel I can hardly hold more. Clara said, “Too many memories. They weigh me down like the pack I carried up the mountain. No, heavier. Much heavier. Like an immense manuscript hanging over me, riffled by the thumb of God, a blur of endless pages falling on me, page upon page, pressing me into the ground.”

I find the increasingly impersonal and electronic world daunting. And I do not want to sit in a hospice room and watch my elderly children die before me.

The season of my life turns. I am curious about what comes next. Already I feel my skin becoming more permeable, the boundaries of myself softened. I long for a more complete blending with Spirit, a longing that has called me all my life.

Not yet, not quite yet. But definitely I don’t want to wait another fifty or more years.

What would you choose?

Life Is But A Dream

My friend Kathy, who is studying to become a spiritual counselor in the Mile Hi Church, tells me that none of what we experience in daily life is real. Only Love is real.

I have been thinking about that.

A month ago, I had a moment when I seemed to see myself from afar, an old woman with a cane walking down a winter street in the late afternoon, bare tree branches stark against the sky. It felt like a dream image.DSCN0380

It seems as I age that my identification with the persona  of  “Heather,” with all her history, experiences, perceptions, and elderly habits, has grown more and more tenuous. There have been other occasions when I have seen myself  from afar, as if from the other side of a veil. Then the question arises, who is seeing me from there? I have no conclusions about that.

It is not a new idea that this world of the five senses, that we insist is reality, could be a dream. Certainly if we see it that way, we would have a different perspective on all our dramas. Often I have waked from a nightmare or the ecstasy of flying and said with relief or regret, “It was only a dream.”

For many years I danced the ceremonial long dance at solstices, equinoxes, full moons, and cross-quarters. The longest and most powerful dance each year was at the summer solstice, when we danced in the forest for two or three days and nights, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, dancing through dawn and midday, twilight and starlight. Many adventures unfolded for each of us—solitary dances at the center pole, entrainment in the circles, dances with others. Dramas and comedies emerged in the central courtyard, laughter and tears. We called it dream time.

Then after the drum stopped and the closing spiral unwound, we gathered in the talking staff circle and shared our experiences and visions.

Could it be that after we die, we gather with old friends and the guides who have watched over us, and realize that this lifetime, that now feels so full and important, is like a long dance or a dream?

Forty some years ago, when I was in Arica Training, we often ended our long day by chanting a mantra. Usually it was in Sanskrit, but one afternoon our teachers surprised us and made us laugh. Then we sang:

“Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily.

Life is but a dream.”

The Spirit Dances

All creation dances. The stars turn in their vast patterns, and on Earth all creatures move in their own inimitable ways. Trees grow in a slow, slow dance shaping the intricate architecture of their branches. Grass bends in the wind. Flowers open their hearts to the sun. Water shapes itself with liquid beauty into stream, lake, ocean wave.

The creatures dance.images The snake slithers sinuously. Dolphin leap and spin. Cats of all sizes stalk with elegant grace. Birds soar on the wind. Under water, fish flick their tails and ripple in harmony with their world.

All, in their dance, give back praise to the Love that creates and enfolds them.

From our earliest beginnings, we humans have also danced. Before words there was gesture. Throughout human history, in almost all cultures, dance has been the language of celebration and prayer. It is true, some religions prohibited dancing,  indeed declared it was a sin, but that did not stop most of humanity from dancing. images-2

When I was a little girl, I danced to the music my parents played on the big victrola in the corner of our living room. Later I enjoyed small-town ballet, tap, and acrobatic classes; but it wasn’t until I was fifteen and met Barbara Mettler that I first felt dance as connection to Spirit. Barbara insisted that dance was a human birthright, that everyone should dance. She taught an improvisational, creative approach that was available to people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and abilities. Under her guidance my heart opened, my kinesthetic sense flowered, and I felt for the first time a quality of ecstasy that has lured me all my life.

Now, looking back, I realize that dance has always been my deepest way of praying. Coming to that understanding has been a long journey through many forms:

Leading a liturgical dance choir under the guidance of Howard Thurman, dean of the chapel at Boston University, when I was a student there in the 50’s.

Yoga. The deep dance of moving from one posture to the next, the song of the breath, each pose a mudra connecting to a different aspect of the Divine.

Sufi dancing. Whirling, meeting others in the circle, touching hearts. God is Love, Lover, and Beloved.

Ceremonial dance. Praying with the Earth, the trees, the sky, through all the cycles of the day and night, the cycles of the year. The center pole the mediator between Heaven and Earth.

Continuum. Blending with the rippling flow of breath, sound, and the movement in all Creation. Boundaries dissolving.

Most recently Subud. The discipline of surrender. Being guided by Spirit to move and to sound.

Some forms of dance/prayer take long years of training and discipline. Years ago, a troupe of whirling dervishes came to Boulder to teach and perform. I sat high on the bleachers in the gym where they danced, looking down on the perfect flow of the patterns of whirling bodies. The beauty of it, the sense of centeredness and peace, was unforgettable.

But one does not have to take on a difficult physical discipline to dance one’s prayer. We can all lift our arms, bow our heads. Spirit connects to the physical world through vibration. Vibration is movement. The simplest movement, when it comes from the heart, can connect to Spirit. The tree, the snake, and the dolphin know.

It is a paradox, that my body, the densest form of my being, can be imbued with Spirit. The whole concept of Spirit is turned inside out. It is not only an elusive floating thing out there, but here in my body, making every cell shine, as I dance my love back to Love.

My wish for you: may Spirit dance in you.