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.

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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

Accepting or Giving Up

Part of incarnate life on planet Earth is aging. It doesn’t happen to all of us; some die young. But for those of us who avoid early death, it is inevitable.

My mother, who was brought up in aristocratic circumstances, used to say of various unavoidable human frailties, including aging, “It happens in the best of families.” So it does.

One evening when I was twenty, standing in line at a church supper, I became impatient with the old woman in front of me. She moved so slowly, fussed clumsily with her tray and utensils. “Oh, get on with it,” I thought. “I’m hungry.”

Then it hit. A chill went through me. I can still remember that moment of realization. Someday I will be old like that.

And now I am.

I wonder what the young woman behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store feels as I slowly unload my cart and dig in my purse for just the right coins to give exact change.DSCN0181

It’s shocking, really. It seems just yesterday I could see clients all day, mow my big lawn running barefoot behind a push mower, hike high in the mountains, dance for hours.

When something is inevitable, an important question is, “How can we handle it gracefully?”

I think one piece has to do with finding the line between accepting and giving up.

In my novel Never Again, Clara, on her eightieth birthday, seeks to climb high in the mountains to a place she loves. She stumbles, her heart races, her inner voice tells her she should turn back. But she does not, because she fears that if she does, she will never try again, and her walks in the mountains, which are her greatest joy, will be lost to her forever. So begins her story.

When we are injured or ill or aging, there comes a point when we will have less grief if we accept where we are, adapt to it, make peace with it. There is grace in that.

But where is that point? Ah, that is tricky. It can be too easy to say, “I can’t,” and give up, when perhaps a little more effort would gain more function, more good years. There is also grace in pushing through, trying harder, holding hope.

Of course, finding that line between accepting and giving up applies not only to aging, but to any situation that challenges us, at any age.

Ecstasy

Years ago, one of my therapists asked me, “Are you addicted to ecstasy?” (Not the drug, the state of being.)

I was startled by the question, had never considered such a possibility. Later, taking a walk alone to integrate the session, I answered him. “Damn right, I’m addicted to ecstasy. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.”  The tell-tale conviction of the addict.

Since then I have thought a great deal about ecstasy. It is wise to understand one’s addictions.

I think most people seek ecstasy at some point in their lives, in some way. Or if they do not seek it, long for it.

The word literally means “to stand outside.” So the experience of ecstasy is one of moving beyond ourselves, breaking free of the walls of our ego, our duties, our fears, all the trivia of incarnate existence, and opening into another dimension.

Some seek ecstasy through speed—flying downhill on skis, racing on a bicycle, a skateboard, or in a car. Some seek danger—hanging on a cliff face, riding towering waves on a surfboard, any activity so life-threatening that there is no room for thought.

Others seek ecstasy in quieter ways—immersing themselves in nature, in the creation of an art form, in the arms of a beloved, in meditation.

I believe the essence of it is connection. We not only go beyond ourselves, but merge with something greater. The rock face, the wave, the art, the beauty of nature, the beloved, the Beloved. IMG_20120824_104227

Some say we should not seek ecstasy, but contentment. Let go the drama, live gently. They say the higher we fly, the harder we fall, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow.

It is true. Clara (Never Again), muses on her life. “It had not been an easy life. It was like the wild mountains around her, ecstasy in the high places, despair in dark ravines at the bottom of sheer cliffs. Not often the wide, level path.”

Yet I would not want a life without ecstasy. I would let go the addiction. Addictions are never good; they warp life. I have been working for years to find more contentment, less drama.

But I also know that moments of ecstasy can be an invaluable resource, a renewal, a shift in perspective that can turn one’s life around.

At the beginning of her story (Leaves in Her Hair), Lyra was tormented by inner voices, struggling with an unhappy marriage, cut off from her art. Then she found her magic glade and Derwydd, the dryad of the oak tree. Her ecstatic times of dancing with Derwydd into the light strengthened her to return home and transform her life.

Back in 1972, I took a three month spiritual training called Arica. Toward the end of the training, we were asked to go to a place alone for three days and nights with a regime of practices to follow. One practice was to begin with an awareness of light at the center of the chest and then, breath by breath,  to expand it—to fill the body, the room, the building, the city, the planet, and on out into the universe.

That practice was a major turning point for me. When I reached the boundaries of the universe—never mind that such a thing is inconceivable—there was light, and light and beyond that Light. When I came back at last to the quiet room, my hands folded in my lap, the candle flickering, I knew I would never be the same again. Whatever ill might befall me in the years to come, I would always know the Light was there, within and around me.

So. I seek contentment, but also ecstasy. For me the paths are dancing, meditation, hiking in the high country, and . . .

You never know in what unexpected moment you will be surprised.

Forms Change

Forms changing is an important underlying theme of Leaves In Her Hair.

Derwydd says to Lyra, “The only thing that is real is the light before form and after form dissolves. Forms are a dream. And they change; forms always change.”

So it is.

An ocean wave rolls along as a round bulge in the surface of the sea; rears up as it comes to shore, white lace blowing back from its crest; curves into a shining arc; then crashes into a churning chaos of foam

A tree grows from a shoot to magnificent height, falls, crumbles, returns to earth.

Water can be a crystal of snow, a sheet of ice, liquid in an infinity of shapes, clouds flying in the sky, mist rising from the earth.

All living creatures, including us humans, are born, grow, flourish, age, and die, returning to dust and ashes.

Even though we are surrounded by mutability, there is a strong instinct in human kind to cling. We cling to youthful beauty, to the ecstasy of new romance, to the magic of a starry-eyed toddler, even to such ephemeral accomplishments as a clean house or a freshly weeded garden. We know we will grow old; romance will either shatter or settle into comfortable familiarity; the toddler will eventually become a challenging, maybe even pimply, adolescent; the house and garden will soon need cleaning and weeding again. But still we cling, only to be frustrated, disappointed, heart broken by loss. As Lyra was devastated when Derwydd let go of his dryad shape.

Throughout history, humans in every culture have looked beyond change, seeking something eternal, unchanging, some essence that remains even though visible forms pass.

The psalmist writes, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like the flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103)DSCN0049

All the great religions point us to that which is beyond our changing world and urge us to release our attachment to earthly things. Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and dust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Some devote their lives to seeking and connecting with the essence beyond form. But most of us live in the world of change, working at our jobs, raising our children, only occasionally glimpsing that other elusive reality.

Lyra experiences a reality beyond form when she goes to her magical glade and dances into the light, but then must come back to her everyday world of childcare and housekeeping.

Clara (Never Again) muses on the rather unusual shifts in her life. “So strange. The Elirians healed me to express my essence. If that is so, why am I uncomfortable in this body? Maybe because an essence belongs on the eternal plane, and I am here in time, walking the earthly path between birth and death.”

How do we dance then, between the eternal and the changing?

I think we must enter fully into life, let it flow through us, knowing it is a flow and any attempt to stop it or cling to its forms is futile. As we surrender to the flow, we may find it easier to be present with each moment. Then we may discover that in the immediacy of the moment, the eternal shines through.