Sunday, August 27, 2017

Diversity's Many Gifts

The Mystery within...
Experiencing discrimination as a woman has led me to seek to understand and appreciate the many gifts of diversity. So when I encounter others who understand diversity’s’ importance in the natural world, and among us who inhabit it, I get excited and want to share their wisdom.     

Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, Native American and author of “Braiding Sweetgrass,” braids science, spirit and sacred stories to show us where people, the land, and everything inhabiting it, can be good medicine for each other. This symbiotic relationship grows and flourishes from our gratitude for the earth’s many gifts.  

Gratitude and respect for the earth’s diversity is distinctive of native cultures across the globe and has become an essential understanding for our future health and continued existence.  Other species can be known as models of ecological and cultural sustainability demonstrating the power of unity through diversity.  Kimmerer says, “…it’s about listening and translating the knowledge of other beings.”  She knows scientists would do well to listen to and respect the wisdom of old women who talk to plants.  A line from a native prayer she shares acknowledges, “Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth.”  Kimmerer and many others know gratitude begets abundance and our strength lies in our embrace of diversity.  Being thankful for the plant and animal lives that sustain us, taking care not to waste or over consume, and understanding our interplay with it all is critical for Mother Earth and us. 

Reciprocity is a word Kimmerer uses throughout “Braiding Sweetgrass.”  If we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us.  We need to give back for what the earth gives us choosing leaders rooted in service and wisdom; leaders who are willing to work for common ground and common good, with an ability to ameliorate differences; leaders who will present us with a Bill of Responsibilities toward our earth and one another.  We need to show up and speak up for Mother Earth; become co-creators by risking loving the world and one another.  Will it be the gift of fear that will eventually awaken our dependence on the earth and one another?   

I was exposed to some good diversity training in my former work life with the USDA Forest Service as managers worked to comply with the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. Just as biologic diversity is the hallmark of a healthy ecosystem and planet, a symbiotic relationship among diverse people can create a vibrant workforce and a healthy society.  As the Forest Service worked to add and advance minorities and females to its workforce (from which I directly benefitted), it was also coming to terms with the importance of biologic diversity in good natural resource management.   

Understanding the value of diversity seems endless.  Reading Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet—The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” I was fascinated by her report of Harvard Business School’s preference for more extroverted students.  This, along with her citation of management theorist Jim Collins’ study of the best performing companies of the late 20th century, more light was shed on the importance of diverse human input.  

Cain wrote, “Collins hadn’t set out to make a point about quiet leadership.  When he started his research, all he wanted to know was what characteristics made a company outperform its competition.  He selected eleven standout companies to research in depth.  Initially he ignored the question of leadership altogether because he wanted to avoid simplistic answers.  But when he analyzed what the highest-performing companies had in common, the nature of their CEO’s jumped out at him.  All were unassuming leaders. Those who worked with these leaders tended to describe them with the following words:  quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild mannered, self-effacing, understated.” The lesson, says Collins, is clear.  “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies.  We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they serve.”

Employees of these unassuming leaders were more often motivated to think for themselves and offer their thoughts in a more accepting atmosphere.  I believe the dynamic of more thought interactions and contributions, sourced in diversity, is the foundation for success, not just for a company, but also for its employees, their country, and all of life.  I have to wonder if the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in America is exacerbated by our 21st century discrimination toward introverts?  I see, in a new way, how important it is to respect, revere and promote the gifts of both extroverts and introverts for a more whole society.

As I read Howard Zinn’s ,“A Peoples History of the United States 1492 to Present,” I periodically had to put the book aside for awhile to recover.  His brutal detailing of the horrific cruelty to native people, and later to imported black slaves, was emotionally draining.  Awareness of America’s shadowy beginnings sheds light on lingering racism and other social problems.  Learning of this deep darkness can grow empathy and compassion for the wronged so needed now to end assigning others with inferior status. Understanding our country’s past darkness can grow us to embrace ethnic diversity and social justice.  According to Carl Jung, knowing our own shadow can be pure gold for enacting positive change.

Native American wisdom is shared through story in Hyemeyohst Storm’s book “Seven Arrows” which I read many years ago.  I was fascinated with his telling of the Sioux tribe’s peace shields that depict an individual’s strength along with one’s weakness for all to see.  What a great ego softener that honesty would be.  My shortcomings could elicit understanding and help from those I encounter throughout my day, and my strengths would be known for what I could contribute to the whole.  Native American wisdom parallels the wisdom of the Enneagram.  Their Medicine Wheel represents the Universe into which we each enter through a particular direction as a unique self with gifts to share along with a balancing need to learn from others’ gifts.  Different totem animals and people come to us throughout our life bringing teachings to grow and balance us.  Storm writes: “The Medicine Power is within all People, and in all the things of the Universe.”     

I understand spirituality as a profound sense of belonging to the earth and one another and was grateful to the friend who loaned me a PBS video titled “Beyond Our Differences” featuring diverse and prominent spiritual leaders from around the world.  Highlights for me from that video were: roots of good religion are sourced in love, compassion and tolerance—quests for certainty are dangerous; there are different approaches to the same goal—to create good human beings; everybody and everything is forgivable; God is found in the heart and where people come together; surrendering to anger and hatred is violence against ones self; non-violence creates spiritual healing; we are to help people understand each other; authentic spirituality is working with the excluded and abandoned; all is sacred; inalienable rights belong to everyone and everything; surrendering to the Mystery will reveal your purpose; it is most important to be brave; a recipe for peace is for everyone to contribute a small part; when you become peaceful your life is different; appreciate and celebrate diversity; share each others gifts.

In 1945, the late priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin wrote:  “It seems to me that the Russian prestige is declining and that America holds in its hands the immediate future of the world as long as America knows how to develop the sense of the earth at the same time as her sense of liberty.”  In 2017, America struggles mightily to embrace the health and well being of others and our planet.   

There are other countries that do a better job of providing for the health and well being of its citizens and understand the crisis of global warming to our common home.  Some countries have enviable health care, family care, and better education, and not surprisingly a correlation to drastically lower incarceration rates than America.  The following quote from Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD’s book “The Body Keeps the Score” should give us all pause:  “Could this approach to public health have something to do with the fact that the incarceration rate in Norway is 71/100,000 in the Netherlands 81/100,000 and the US 781/100,000, while the crime rate in those countries is much lower than in ours, and the cost of medical care about half?  …The United States spends $84 billion per year to incarcerate people at approximately $44,000 per prisoner; the northern European countries a fraction of that amount.  Instead, they invest in helping parents to raise their children in safe and predictable surroundings.  Their academic test scores and crime rates seem to reflect the success of those investments.” Are lower taxes worth their cost?  Is the height of America’s stock market the only measure of success for some?  Darkness, mistakes, and trials really are the supreme teachers.  Perhaps it will be the gift of fear that will bring us to acknowledge what our country needs, awakening our dependence on the land and one another.  

Linda Sechrist’s article in “natural awakenings” titled, “Heart-Based Leadership—Women Mobilize to Heal the World, cites Rucha Chitnis’ conclusion that women’s groups and networks offer a paradigm shift exposing links between unbridled capitalism, violence, the erosion of human rights and destruction of the earth.  Jean Shinoda Bolen has been advocating since 2002 for a United Nations Fifth World Conference on Women and says, “Empowered and equal women are the key to peace and sustainability.  We need to rise up together and fulfill the Dali Lama’s words at the Vancouver Peace Summit:  ‘It will be up to Western women to bring about peace.’”

I believe the one thing we all have in common is our differences.  It is what gives life its color, allows us to learn from one another, and grow from experiences shared.  Understanding and appreciating the depth and gifts of diversity is endless.  It would be like knowing the Great Mystery who created it all.

What if we shared more often diversity’s many gifts? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Women Healers

The Mystery within...
“The Courage to Heal—A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse,” by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis deepened my understanding of the healing power of the women’s circle retreat I described in my last post on Self-Compassion. The honesty and courage of the victims’ accounts, and their insights of what it takes to heal wasn’t easy to read but worth the effort.  It highlighted the need for women to regain their role as spiritual healers.

 “Incest is not a taboo.  Talking about it is a taboo.”  That quote reveals the great challenge of healing for both women and men.  A woman in Bass and Davis’ book, using the name of Gizelle, told of her strong feelings for revenge against her abuser.    She said, “…I am letting it all come right on through.  And the more I allow all of it to come up, the more I find myself moving toward love.  The more I block the rage, the more I stay stuck.  I trust the validity of my outrage.   …But at the same time, I believe that the only way to stop abuse is to come from a consciousness of love and forgiveness.  Hate cannot be stopped with hate.  Abuse cannot be stopped with abuse. And so for me they’re both right there.  I reconcile it by saying I trust the process.  I trust the validity of my outrage.  The outrage is because I honor and value and love life.” 

And Gizelle goes on to identify the Mystery that will heal both women and men:

“I feel there’s a great deal of magic involved in this healing process.  And what I mean by magic is that the old ways of healing, that have been lost, are waking up.  I’m awakening in my cells a lot of that old knowledge.  It comes from the earth, from the spirit of the earth.  It’s the knowledge of women who have healed through the centuries.  It’s very mysterious and it’s very in our gut.  It doesn’t come from books.  It doesn’t come from medicine.  It doesn’t channel through churches, or through yoga teachers, or through anything like that.  It’s ancient traditions that were passed down from mother to daughter until they were lost through witch hunts and the systematic elimination of women healers.” 

“This knowledge connects with the capacity to heal the rift that has the world in crisis that has us in danger of extinction.  It’s the healing power of mother earth.  It’s been taken away and lost.  And She’s coming back through us now.”

“…Only She is more powerful than the forces of destruction and death.  …To me She is the sweetest force, the most gentle healing force there is.”

What if we more often trusted our outrage to eventually lead us to a consciousness of love, forgiveness and healing?      

Sunday, August 6, 2017


The Mystery within...
I was privileged to attend another Women Gathering circle where two skillful women, Cathy Gawlik and Dawn Zak, designed and facilitated our personal introspection and sharing circle around self-compassion.  Through our own  reflection, and sharing, we helped one another experience the essential grace of self-compassion.  We began our weekend together by calling in our ancestors to help us know compassion for ourselves.  I’ll confess my initial reaction to this calling in of the ancestors was a bit negative since my life became much easier after of some family moved on.  The beauty of sharing my negativity was I learned not only can my ancestors now assist me, but what grows me now can also grow my ancestors.  It connected compassion’s circle for me.  My self-compassion allows me to be compassionate toward another for our mutual healing, and also reveals a Creator sourced in love. 

Among the tools given to grow us was a worksheet with questions that helped me identify how I react to life, and myself, when the negative shows up.  We were encouraged to stay with the negative when it does show up for it is there to teach us.  A telling question and answer for me was, “How do I think I would feel if I could truly accept myself exactly as I am?”  I answered, “Relieved.”  That one word answer brought back all my past hard won learning that nothing changes until I first accept whatever is. It has been, and will always be, my starting point for growth. 

Other tools to help me reflect and go within was a gift of a picture, I chose randomly, of seven large round stones piled in two stacks and illuminated by a pair of candle flames; and later some real stones I chose from a pile to speak to me.  Lying down, after reflecting on those tools to help me get in touch with their effect on my body, was revealing—it was numbness.  When our facilitator Cathy touched my shoulder and gently asked me what I was feeling I told her,  “Just a numbness.”   She suggested I breathe into that numbness and as I did the beauty of a hidden Wholeness within me was revealed.  I now know the Mystery of Breadth can touch my hidden Wholeness to continue healing the numbing effects of past traumas.  To take time to sit, breathe, and go within sounds so simple, but for me it is not.  I now know I can hold that struggle with compassion.    

And then came my OT (Occupational Therapy) challenge, to construct three prayer flags on a string to be a visible reminder of my weekend’s work and learning and apply it to my life going forward.  Thankfully, the cloth squares of many different colors and prints we had to choose from were already precut as well as the white center squares to be decorated with our choice of sequins, strings, glitter, beads and more.  My printed fabrics soon found me.  The leopard print represents my love of quiet and solitude; the beige print with tiny green flowers spoke to my domestic side; and the center, more childlike floral print, represents the fun I want to incorporate more of in my life for better balance.  The bright yellow flower at the center of each white square is the hidden Wholeness I glimpsed within; and the nine different colored flowers surrounding it represent the nine different Enneagram personality types (of which I am a One).  I initially said the nine little flowers represent the different personalities “I have to deal with” but am now formally amending it to “whom I can learn from.”  I love these little flag reminders of who I am and what will grow me.  They now hang above my bed next to a gloriously imperfect weaving from a past Women Gathering circle OT session.  Both will now remind me to be compassionate with myself as I lay me down to sleep, when I wake, and will guide me through my days. 

What if we all gifted ourselves with compassion more often?