Saturday, August 11, 2018

Be an Informed Voter


The Mystery within...
The following was my letter to the editors of the News Graphic and Ozaukee Press:  

I have sometimes voted with trepidation because I didn’t always feel well informed when marking my ballot.  I long for a requirement that all candidates provide a succinct summary, not more than three paragraphs, on how each one plan to serve us if elected.  This information would be readily available to all.  I’ve been told, “That will never happen.”  But I did get one good tip to educate myself, which was to go to https://myvote.wi.gov/en-US/MyBallot. There, you can enter your address and see a sample ballot for the district in which you live.  (Current gerrymandering of district boundaries makes this information important so you will know which candidates will now appear on your ballot.)  The upcoming August 14 primary field of candidates is narrowed since we can only vote in one party.  So I copied, pasted and printed my chosen party’s sample ballot for my area, and then went to work searching the Internet for my area’s candidate information.  I’m now better informed.               

I see great paradoxical promise in the scary political turmoil of our time that can give us all pause to reflect on our past, present and future.  How our politics, and we as a people evolve, really lies in our own hearts, minds, hands and ballots.  Author Parker J. Palmer links politics to our humanity in his book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy:  The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.”  Following are some excerpts of his thoughts that will give you an idea of what makes real democracy possible when we understand:  “…we are all in this together…profoundly interconnected…accountable to one another; …practice deep hospitality…invite ‘otherness’; …hold tension creatively…to expand our hearts…to generate insight, energy and new life; …speak our truth checking and correcting it against the truth of others; …companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.”
  
It is easy to get totally discouraged with the messiness in our politics.  But we the people can help create a politics worthy for all.  Have sheer compassion for another’s fears.  Know it takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child to create a healthy future for us all.  What if our scary political turmoil is designed to awaken us to a new era of understanding and growth in our humanity?   

Please take time to be informed and vote August 14.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thresholds

The Mystery within...
What a great focus we had for reflection for this summer’s weekend Women Gathering retreat--the many different thresholds crossed in our life, and what new threshold currently awaits us.  Cathy Gawlik and Dawn Zak, from Way of the Willow again lightly and skillfully led an incomparable group of women seekers in helping one another grow through sharing our struggles, and understanding it is our troubles that grow us in grace and wisdom.  Prior to our gathering we were given a Jan L. Richardson quote to reflect on: “And there are times for leaving; times when the holy thing to do is shake the dust from our feet and leave behind a place that is not meant for us.”

To help each of us reflect on the past thresholds we have crossed we strung either multi-colored glass or wooden beads of varying sizes, shapes and colors on a cord. Each bead we chose was a symbol of a past significant threshold we had crossed. Reflecting on my past thresholds, within our sacred circle, I was overwhelmed at just how hard life has been sometimes.  Through our sharing we became intimate with our own and others’ past pain and present fears.  I had Pema Chodron’s book with me, “When Things Fall Apart—Heart Advice for Difficult Times” and shared this quote from her:  “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”  And each of us did just that in unique and unfathomable ways.  In the process of our sharing we were touched with sheer compassion for one another.

My fear of ridicule and getting dirty in a fight was exposed and brought into the light.  I am now making peace with my fear by simply speaking or writing my truth and then showering any ridicule or criticism I might receive with sheer compassion for my detractors’ fears.  I want to advocate for thinking with our hearts and not our wallets to help one another live free, productive and healthful lives on a vibrant, healthy planet.  So the nest I was given to decorate in the OT (Occupational Therapy) portion of our gathering represents our home, Mother Earth.  I put a small sprig of white flowers representing me, the grandmother, who has some hard won learning. The feathers, joined together by two butterflies, represents the transformation that will take place when our female and male energies become more integrated resulting in a more equitable, peaceful world.  And the nine multicolored flowers within the nest represents all of us on this planet, and our nine different Enneagram spirituality types, each with a unique strength to be shared and a corresponding weakness in need of sheer compassion.  Accepting our fears, and integrating our spiritual strengths as men and women, is what this grandmother wants for us all and our planet. 

Cathy Gawlik’s husband, David, thoughtfully put the five poems Dawn and Cathy used to create the outline for our weekend into a booklet for us.  Lines from each poem that especially spoke to me:  Being Here, to live fully, we must take the path and keep sweeping it.”  We look with uncertainty “…something new is being born in us if we but let it.”  A Blessing in the Dust,“…feel the full weight of your gifts…” Blessing the Threshold,  “…This blessing has been setting the table as it hums a tune from an old song it knows something about, a spiraling road and bread and grace.”  Breaking Surface “Let no one keep you from your journey, … no lover who measures their worth by what you might give up, no voice that tells you in the night it can’t be done.”

We closed our weekend together the way we began it by calling in our ancestors and inviting them to be with us for our healing as well as theirs.  We again asked the four directions for blessing and guidance and thanked the Great Spirit, known by many names, for bringing us together in sacred circle.  And then we carefully took our sense of fragile wholeness back out into the world and our next threshold crossing.   

What if we could all welcome the truth our threshold crossings have taught us and continue on with a sense of fragile wholeness?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Spirituality and Politics

The Mystery within...
“I’m spiritual but not religious” is a term I’m familiar and comfortable with, especially given America’s current political/religious climate.  So what would a spiritual/political climate look like, feel like and sound like in America?

First of all many Americans, myself included, would have a lot less stuff.  It would feel good because spirituality thrives when sharing our resources with others who have too little; and it feels good to thrive spiritually.  Corporations would work continuously to protect the environment and also proudly display their philanthropic efforts.  All workers would receive a just and living wage.  We would grow in respect for all of life.  Healthcare would be exceptional, universal, and affordable for all. Care of the born would be understood as a societal task with aid to families needing help and quality education available to all.  Abortions would become very rare.  We would be tolerant of people holding views different than our own and open to changes that demonstrate compassion versus blame and bigotry.  The arts and entertainment industry would deepen our understanding of what it means to be a spiritual people.  And we who profess liberty and justice for all would ask forgiveness from Native Americans and Blacks for our past colonial imperialism.  Politician’s voices would resonate from their hearts in support of the above.  This isn’t an impossible dream.  How America evolves really is in our own hearts, minds, voices, hands and ballots.     

I see great paradoxical promise in the scary political turmoil of our time that can give us all pause to reflect on our past, present and future.  Will the quest for more and more money enslave some of us while others languish in poverty?  Can the over consumption and destruction of our earth’s resources become an urgent understanding for a more reasoned and protective stance; or will we continue down a self-destructive path of no return?  Can we see it takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child to create a healthy future?  Can we replace judgment with compassion for others’ desperate acts?  Can we be open to being changed? True forgiveness of the other, and ourselves, heals relationships and is a never-ending need. The ability to love creativity is what spirituality is all about.  It exists in all of us.  Find and nurture it. In my heart, mind and soul I see no separation between spirituality and politics.

What if our scary political turmoil is designed to awaken us to a new era of forgiveness, empathy, compassion, love and generosity toward one another?                                 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Seagull Blessing

The Mystery within...
“Grandma, this was the most impressive walk I have ever been on.” Words spoken by my eleven-year-old grandson, Kason, as we returned to my car, tired, wet and muddy, but oh so impressed with our seagull blessing.  It was my birthday.  I had called my grandchildren to see if anyone wanted to walk to the beach with my yellow lab Oliver and me.  Kason said yes to the invitation.  

Long before Kason was born, a Shepherd/Husky named Bear and I would walk across a vast field, then on a narrow bare earth path that wound down into a deep quiet valley with a meandering stream winding its way out into Lake Michigan.  A frequent destination for Bear and me was to walk north up the shore from the valley’s opening to the remains of an old car that still lies there, now mostly buried in the sand.  In “God Never Hurries” I wrote:  

“This one odd piece of misplaced wreckage never appeared to be offensive litter. It is more an artifact, a relic of time. I wondered what it looked like when it was new and fully in service. Who rode in it? Who cared for it? How did it come to rest in such an unlikely place? Who pushed it over the bluff? How long will it take for all the rust to melt into new life? I felt a kinship with this old departing soul.”

I told Kason about the old car on the beach and we both wanted to go there.  Now we did not walk through the valley but on a wide gravel path to a wooden stairway down to the beach.  (I miss the old dirt path and quiet valley route.)  On the beach, recent heavy rains brought down intermittent mudslides off the high bluff, along with some tree debris we had to crawl over, making progress to the old car awkward and slow.   As I started to climb over yet more branches, Kason asked, “Grandma, is it much farther?”  Then I was startled by what I saw on the other side of the debris—a seagull in great distress.  I climbed down and walked toward the flailing gull, looked into its gray terrified eyes and spoke gently from my heart.  The bird stopped flaying and let me pick it up.  One wing tip was caught in multiple fishhooks and a sinker all tightly wound in fishing line around its mangled wing.  From my heart I said,  “We are going to help you.”  How? I had no idea.  I gently set the bird down on the sand and it stayed quiet.  Kason unwound some of the extended fishing line that was also attached to a downed branch, while I looked in my backpack.  Not much there except some cookies, two water bottles and a mosquito net that slips over my hat that I threw in my pack as a last minute afterthought.  As I gently slipped the frightened gull into the netting, I again told it, “We are going to help you” and then rested the bird in the crook of my left arm.  The seagull looked content there and I relaxed some as we headed back down the beach.

Now I just walked in the water around the mud and debris and where debris went too far into the water, I would have Kason crawl over first and then I’d hand off our bird to him so I could use all my extremities to get me up and over.  In the hand off I would tell Kason, “Gentle, gentle.”  And amazingly our bird stayed calm.  As I walked back down the beach, with the gull nestled in my arm, I thought of how many people in our world are hooked, bound, terrified and need help.  A soft grief filled me.  

When we got closer to the wooden stairs, and started encountering others on the beach, I would ask, “By chance, might you have a pocketknife?”  They would look puzzled and then I would nod to the seagull in the crook of my arm, who was now starting to feel like a part of me.  Surprise lit their faces.  I explained its plight.  With sincere regret responses were, “Oh I’m so sorry, no I don’t have a knife.”  At the base of the stairs I remembered I once counted there are ninety steps up to the top.  So we started our slow climb back up the stairs.  Just as we reached the top a young man with a backpack came bounding up the steps and said, “I heard someone needs a knife.”  My heart leapt for joy for I now knew there was a plan. And then two Asian men up top offered nail clippers to also aid in the freeing.  So while I gently held our bird, others sniped and cut away the hooks, line and sinker.  Pictures were taken and gratitude expressed all around.  

I knew I had to walk back down those stairs to release the bird in the water for it was its best chance for recovery.  Standing in the water’s edge I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings the seagull brought—for allowing me to feel a part of it and it a part of me—for the kindness of the people on the beach who sent the young man with the back pack and knife, and the teamwork that cut our bird free; and for knowing we are all in fact one, here to help one another be free.  After I gently slipped off the net and lowered the gull into the water, it hesitated as if wondering if it could now move freely.  I lit up with joy when it started to paddle.  And when it was about fifty feet out into the lake it turned and looked at me.  I said, “You’re welcome.”  Then Kason and I headed back up the wooden stairs and path back to my car.    

We are, in fact, all one. We don’t have to look too far to find others needing to be free from discrimination, greed, and poverty.  Be gentle.  Think and act from your heart. Trust others will come and help you help. 

What if we all got to feel one with one another?  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Repair Democracy and the Earth

The Mystery within...
Our democracy is broken because our electoral system is broken.  We no longer have a government of the people, for the people and by the people.  Until we get partisan money out of politics our democracy’s decline will continue to erode our freedoms and our ability to promote the common good for one another, our earth and all beings inhabiting it. 

In addition to getting partisan money out of politics, a condition to become a candidate for political office should be a requirement to provide a clear, concise, written statement on what the proposed candidate stands for and briefly state how his or her goals will serve us and our environment. These aspiring politicians’ written statements are to be free of attacks on their opponent’s character or ideology, and only state their positive agenda and why it is critical to the common good. 

In addition to getting candidates written messages to us voters, I suggest a six-week time limit for active campaigning.  A time limit on campaigning would necessitate clear, more concise thinking and presentations on the many serious issues facing our local, state and national governments.  Hopefully, more clear thinking and positive written documentation of candidates’ goals would curb some of the pre-election protracted bitterness we are all subjected to for many months on end—bitterness that does not inform us about the common good and easily infects us all.            

Since most media are also among the many who benefit from the seemingly endless barrage of negative adds paid for by special interest money, they would oppose limiting the length of time for active campaigning.  

But at least, we the people could start by demanding positive written goals from all political candidates and how each proposes to serve the common good so we can intelligently weigh critical decisions to be made in the voting both. Libraries and voting places could be required to have copies of all candidates mandated, clearly written, concise, positive only statements on how they propose to foster a government of the people, for the people and by the people.  And if a candidate really wanted to impress me, he or she could hang their qualifying positive statements on my door telling me how he or she plans to promote the common good for one another, our earth, and all beings inhabiting it.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Belonging

The Mystery Within...
I have found it difficult to write of late.  I want to write about belonging and have become painfully aware I was not schooled in a language of belonging—a language where all of nature, including humans, have inalienable rights and belong to the same Sacred Whole.  It make’s Robin Wall Kimmerer’s words ring true for me that the language of capital imperialism refers to nature as an it or thing for personal gain, not as kin. I am also reminded of Berkley law professor, john a. powell, who said we do not yet have the words to speak what needs to be said about race relations in America today.  As one who searches for the right words, I better understand my difficulty in writing about belonging.  

But there were hard times in my life when belonging words came easily to me.  It was a time when I struggled mightily with my own rights—a time when I steeped myself in nature, was comforted and felt a strong kinship to the Sacred Whole. In my first memoir I wrote … It was a time of heightened consciousness and vivid dreams.  I awoke one morning with words floating in my head.  I did not remember a specific dream, but there were these words that wanted to be put together.  I reached for my bedside pencil and paper, and here’s how they became arranged:  

God is in the sunshine,
God is in the rain.
God is in the wheat field
And in the sky again.

God is in the birds
Who sing to you and me. 
God’s also in the puppy that
Plays so gleefully.

God is in the mountains,
God is in the sea.
But best of all, don’t you know
God’s in you and me.

And during that same period of struggle, my late friend Rosemary signed me up for a retreat titled, “Desires of the Heart” led by Wendy Cory.  She knew my pain needed it. Wendy led us in a meditation dialogue with our heart.  My question to my heart clearly originated in my mind. Answers did not.  I asked my heart if my work was to balance justice and love. The answer was, “Yes, you are coming to see my desire.  But I ask that you not storm ahead with a zealous plan.  Be relaxed and open.  Watch for signs I will give you and opportunities to make a difference.”  I thanked my heart for its wisdom and pleaded, “Help me. Hold my hand.”  My heart responded, “I hold your hand and all of you. Know that we are one.”  Now, in easier times, it is harder for me to remember belonging words in a culture that does not have an adequate language for them. Also, in easier times, it is harder to fondly remember the saving grace in pain and struggle.  But today I do and I am grateful.    

What if we all questioned what our Heart desires and remember pain and struggle can be a path to learning how we belong to one another and the Sacred Whole? 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Earth's Beings

The Mystery within...
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Botanist, Native American and author of “Braiding Sweetgrass” spoke at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, WI to a sold out crowd.  The title of her talk was "What Does the Earth Ask of Us?  She led us to see all of nature as composed of different beings--all with rights.  Kimmerer said the language of imperialism views nature as an “it”, as capital and commodities for personal gain.  This can lead us to a language of extinction for all of earth’s beings including us humans.  

To demonstrate how the language of imperialism pervades our lives Kimmerer showed our group fifty corporate logos on a screen.   All of these logos were easily identifiable for me. They ranged from fast food chains to farm implements and many others.  Then she showed a screen with a corresponding number of plants.  I was stymied.  Although I have deep respect for nature, I don’t know many names of Mother Nature’s beings.  I understood, in a new way, the pervasiveness of imperialism and its effect on Mother Earth. Learning to see all Earth’s beings as kin is a sign of respect and deepened my appreciation for all who surround me.  

Kimmerer told us efforts are underway to bestow rights to the earth and all of its beings similar to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 which begins:  “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” She acknowledged the granting of human rights still has a very long way to go. Nevertheless, some progress has been made.  Likewise, granting rights to the earth and all inhabitants has to start somewhere. Kimmerer said the land isn’t broken; it is our relationship with the land that is broken.  Granting rights to Mother Earth’s beings can deepen our appreciation and care for them.  We can learn to minimize harm, ask permission to take only what’s needed, use every bit, and reciprocate these gifts.  See Rights of Nature.org for more information.          

What the earth asks from us is gratitude, respect and restoration.  There is powerful alchemy in gratitude for Mother Earth, our home, and all her beings.  Making a list of what we are grateful for allows us to be happy with less.  Gratitude for what has been given includes  reciprocal giving back through good care, prudent use, and just protections. Gratefulness for Mother Earth and all her beings can also be expressed through the arts and music. In addition to being our residence, Mother Earth is also the source of our identity and knowledge.  The alchemy of gratitude for all Earth’s beings can transform us.

My cousin Sally and I were grateful for the opportunity to hear Robin Wall Kimmerer’s talk and for the outstanding hospitality of Holy Wisdom Monastery’s staff in feeding us exceptionally well, both in mind and body, and for providing comfortable overnight accommodations.  But most of all, I am grateful to the fragrant lilac bush outside our bedroom window, and the majestic willows that lined a great pond, home to a huge chorus of frogs, that sang us into deep, restful, restorative sleep—thank you all! 

What if we could know all of earth's beings as kin, here to transform us?