Global Consciousness

In Time With the Deluge

Nearly twenty years ago, I began writing my second book Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage. It was a time of exhilarating change and deep insights for me, rampant with significant leaps of faith, without any visible safety net, that brought me to where I am today.  I was presented with another fork in the road as there had been others along the way. Who knows where I’d be if I’d remained on the beaten path? While those personal choices dismantled much of my old foundation, they were proactive in constituting another, likely waiting for the right time to emerge.

Here we are now, as a Collective, with something so major thrust upon us, something so new that little can be predicted, safety net unknown or when it may settle down. It’s torn apart our systemic status quo and exposed what was kept under wraps. Upheaval. The measure of response at both an individual and macro level will necessarily bring revolution and evolution, or (my belief) we wouldn’t have been presented with it. Its time was past due.

I’ve had plenty of time to muse about things over these months in ways I wouldn’t have had before, being so much on the move. Being still has always worked its magic on me.

With that, I began to consider the words that came through me all those years ago. They flowed out of me to become the prologue, setting the stage for Standing Stark. Presently, we are in the time of monsoons, the same period I wrote then, with barely a drop of relief, hoping for the rains to come. Yet they’ll come in their own time or not at all. We have no control over the movements of nature. But, as with any time, we do have control over our own responses and sensibilities.

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We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy — trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.

But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.

Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before. They draw our attention — our fascination.

The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren…

The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive…

In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and merely stand waiting. This is for those souls who hold themselves available — to be struck.

— In the time of monsoons

For a few years, prior to a huge personal fork in the road in 1992, I worked as an internal consultant for the US government. (Those who know me find my long stint in civil service hard to believe. Now, so do I.) I was one of several in my small office trained to seed organizational development by focusing on leadership strategies, team building, conflict resolution and the like. The approach most meaningful to me was a holistic one. With intact work teams, we used the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator or experiential activities that pointed to similar outcomes: the varied styles and capabilities of each individual made a stronger, more creative team. Everyone brings something to the table to contribute. Most of the time, I felt like I was banging my head against a stone wall. It was a challenge to get most of those managers to think beyond protecting their own turf and short-term thinking.

When that happened, we had another trick to pull out of our back pockets: WIIFM (pronounced whiff-um). When wanting them to consider a more holistic, visionary style, we’d guide them to consider, what’s in it for me? Back then I was fresh-faced and hopeful. Now, I see asking that question likely served to entrench rigid individualism rather than open a pathway toward higher values on Maslow’s pyramid and farseeing. It wasn’t long before all came to a head for me. I simply couldn’t do it anymore and cut those ties.

A friend recently said, we’ll all find something to justify our beliefs and actions. Of course, we do. That’s true no matter where you fall in the current deluge that assaults our moral compass or however else you make decisions.

Shortly after leaving disillusionment behind, I was first introduced to traditional Indigenous ways: seventh generation decision-making, sacred reciprocity and actions intent on the well-being of the planet and all beings. This is the world where I choose to dwell, one whose time is long overdue and endangered. In practicing stillness, these are some of the memories and metaphors that have guided my considerations over the last months.

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Friends With Whatever Arises

Last week, I had a landscaper deliver and spread much on the few garden beds I have. He’d been out to my place before and is dependable. It’s been a trial over the last several years, finding plants that the wildlife in this outback won’t eat and that can tolerate drought conditions.

It’s certainly been a trial this year in so many ways. Even the flowering plants have largely hidden their color, choosing instead to retain their blooms, leaves frequently curled inward to protect themselves against the raging hot winds.

At dusk, I wandered out to admire what the workers had accomplished. When I rounded the slope alongside my long dirt driveway, I stopped short. I felt a pang in my heart and nearly burst into tears.

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Seeking solitude, I moved to this particular spot nearly 20 years ago because I would have a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks nearly 90 miles to the north. They were precious to me, precious to the Indigenous peoples of Northern Arizona.

When I walked this land back then and noticed small mounds dotting the hillside with waxy leaves on branching stems holding quarter-size violet flowers, it cinched my choice. For me, seeing these brilliant points—each flower only lasting for a day—in this sunburned, high desert landscape has been a kiss of beauty I’ve come to cherish. My love affair with these wild four o’clocks, that I’ve never seen elsewhere, has endured.

A few years ago, several of them started volunteering in the lower bed containing only a large juniper and a few shrubs native here, cliff-rose and Apache plume. The four o’clocks made their home around the juniper where little else would grow. I felt blessed and never failed to glance their way when driving down the hill, looking forward to the day they would completely cover the ground.

But now, the four o’clocks were gone.

At first, I thought I was seeing—or not seeing—things. But then I spotted a pile of wilted leaves and branching stems laying on the wild side of my driveway. They held their beauty close to the vest this year, few of the flowers making any appearance whatsoever.

When I showed my landscaper the next day, he said he felt so bad. I could see he did, having mistaken them for weeds. We searched for some to take their place. Most elsewhere had died back in the heat and lack of water, but we finally found a few. I don’t think the transplants are going to take. I’ve been encouraging them in my daily visits but don’t hold out much hope.

A couple of days later, I began to think about my response to the situation, the visceral sadness, the barely held in tears. I knew something was going on with me well beneath the surface.

A few days later, a friend and I were catching up with each other, a rare opportunity for me to be in the physical (safe distancing) presence of another person, these being pandemic days.

We’d just co-facilitated a meeting via videoconferencing in accordance with safety guidelines. She asked me how I’d been faring, and I told her I was personally fine. But I was so concerned about the Indigenous communities I work with. My nonprofit had been fundraising to provide emergency relief for the Hopi and Q’ero villages who had reached out for help—and the fact that I just didn’t have the means to extend assistance to all.

I knew all were suffering in a variety of ways, from isolation to lack of medical care and protective supplies to food insecurities. I was aware that some of the Maya people I work with are also in a bad way. Across the board, there is serious loss of livelihood for any Indigenous community or business dependent on tourism.

A memory surfaced, and I began to tell her of the experience.

“In 2006, my friend Will and I were traveling in Guatemala. There had been some kind of natural disaster, a hurricane or earthquake causing mudslides and washed-out roads. It was impossible to get to Lake Atitlán or surrounding villages for a few months. We went there right after it had opened up again.

The night we arrived, we had dinner there in Panajachel at an open-air restaurant. I ordered fish. But it didn’t taste quite right, like it was old. I picked around on my meal for a while. I noticed two little Maya girls and an even smaller boy sitting on the curb across the street, their eyes glued on us. When Will and I finished our dinner, most of the food remained. The children ran over and asked politely if they could have what we’d left. Of course, they could! We put it all in a series of napkins, and they scurried back to the curb and devoured the food.

It made my heart ache. Clearly, these little ones had been suffering. Up close it was evident. People just don’t realize how on the edge so many live. How can we ignore such a thing? Once you’ve seen it right in front of your face, you can’t ‘unsee’ it. It breaks my heart, and I know for sure that’s happening now in so many places in the world.”

By the time I finished my story, tears were pooling in my eyes, threatening to overflow. My friend was the same. She said, “You’ve made it real, personal.” We went on to talk about the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing and so many others, the same. I could hardly bear it all.

I don’t want to bear it.

For the last several weeks I’d been participating in online teachings with Pir Shabda Kahn, the spiritual director of Sufi Ruhaniat International, reconnecting with practices.

I suddenly remembered he said something I’d known from long ago:

Whatever arises make friends with it.

And in that instant, the discomfort I’d been so valiantly trying to push down—to make invisible—made its presence fully known.

Grief. I was grieving. How could I not be and still be human? How could any of us not be?

I don’t want my grief to be lodged in my body and forever be carrying it. I don’t want my grief to go underground again.

I want it to be fully present. That way, I simply cannot be complacent or allow anyone to be seen as other.

Pir Shabda had talked about the real meaning of justice, bringing things into balance. Peace won’t come from justice alone but transformation. The remedy comes from each of us. Perennial wisdom has to do with the development of compassion. This is our contribution to send into the world.

The Sufi wazifas are the “99 Beautiful Names of God” that, when chanted, seek to call upon the person any sacred attribute that is named and release it globally. In closing our last session, he offered us the phrase “Ya Jabbar” as a strong way to bring things together. Known as the bonesetter, this wazifa is the healer of fractured human existence.

I’ve been placing this sacred phrase on my breath.

***

Make Friends With Whatever Arises was first published in the Elephant Journal on July 6, 2020 and awarded the status of Ecosystem Winner.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

An Offering from the Heart

A  couple of months ago, the newly established Museum of Beadwork in Portland, Maine sent a call out for bead artists to participate in a very special project, which would become part of their permanent collection.  It was an invitation to a community undertaking. Artists would create a design of their choice on a six-inch square hard surface. All the squares would be put together in such a way to form a visual quilt.

The potential of such a project caught my attention. Decades ago in a college art class, the instructor assigned students to shoot black and white photos of the urban industrial landscape that were later cut up, pieced together and mounted on a large collective board. It produced an interesting piece of art. I’m quite sure the outcome was intended to probe the depths of a philosophy—because that’s who the instructor was—and open our sensibilities. I wish I remembered what we unearthed, quite unknown to us at the start. At any rate, the memory of that assignment, the process and result, stayed with me all these years and came to mind again after I received the call for bead artists.

I sat with it. I considered participating but nothing as far as design came to me. And frankly, I  work much larger than the criteria allowed, and it felt restricting. But then I thought about haiku and the six-word story. In their brevity, just the framework, much is left open to the reader’s interpretation.  And isn’t that what art is at its best anyway? Something evocative that touches you? Through which you can have an experience?

That still didn’t produce a design of any juice for me. Finally, something did. I focus my writing there frequently, and especially now.

 

…liminal space, the territory that holds the material and imaginal realms equally…until they come together as one.

—Excerpted from Liminal

 

In the last month I’ve written of immediacy and the process we’ve collectively undertaken one way or another produced by the pandemic: This Pilgrimage We’re On and Move Slowly Back Into the World.

Of course, I’d also want to commemorate my own process in a piece of artwork! But it’s even more than that. Within a rite of passage, it would become a sacrament. An invocation, an intent to release into the world held lightly by community. It takes on power. With shape, color and symbols, as the piece may speak for me, others may find their own meaning through what is left unexplained. The fashioning of form, the placement of each bead is no less a prayer, the embodiment of spiritual practice set into it, ultimately to be released to those who may feel and see, those who open their sensibilities to be touched in that way.

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Offering from the Heart. Bas relief mixed media, 6″x6.” ©2020 Carla Woody.

I finished my Offering from the Heart. Now it’s getting ready to travel across the country to finally find its placement in the community project.

An idea occurred to me after my own piece was completed. This really is a momentous time to make visible what comes from the core. While I usually don’t accept art commissions, I would be glad to do so for anyone wanting to mark their own rite of passage in this way. An intent to move into form, remembrance of a loved one, a blessing to release whatever it is whose time is past. The expression would be yours to formulate and provide me as the well from which to draw. The heart—being the carrier of love and resonance—and the square—as consciousness, Mother Earth, foundation—would remain the common elements. A piece to take its place on your altar, hang on the wall, or include in ceremony. I’d welcome any sacred items, symbols or anything else that would further personalize and would be possible to include within a 6”x6” or 8”x8” format.

See my artist website for detailed images, options and pricing.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Move Slowly Back Into the World

In looking back to This Pilgrimage We’re On, I was surprised to see I wrote it on May 13 when I was 60 days into sheltering at home. Now—in time—here I am just upon a month later when, in some ways, it feels like only yesterday. Yet, it’s been within my reach, even experience, to travel through galaxies—possibilities and probabilities—to come back to the place I am now.

 At some time in our lives, we receive a signal to arouse from a deep sleep. If we answer the cue, we set out on a journey toward authenticity that takes us into the unknown. We begin to separate from the selves we thought we were and search for who we are.*

Having made the monumental journey, albeit enforced, globally we’ve come to the next phase. It’s a precious time to be framed with thoughtful consideration…how to re-enter the world. Yes, it’s a consideration of safety measures and health precautions. But equally important is the measure of who you are and how do you want to be in the world moving forward. That means something not only on a personal level but collectively. What consciousness do you want to hold and act through?

If you’re like me, during this containment, you’ve visited lifetimes, incarnations you thought you’d left behind. Sometimes giving you a fleeting visit, or sticking around for a while, to let you know there are aspects of underdeveloped selves still contained wanting to fly free. Having habitually denied it, you don’t know that one is still there until you’ve jumped right into the middle of it, automatically entranced as you were when the inroads were made in the first place.

Isn’t it fortunate the pandemic has provided the conditions to shake us all up? There are no words for the tragedies that have occurred. Lost lives. Global grief. Righteous anger spilling out for all the historical and present-day inequities. Injustice. Devastation. Generational trauma. Calling for all to be righted.

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Facing the Storm. Oil and cold wax. ©2015 Carla Woody.

Do not waste this. Do not let life go back to what it’s been.

For in this time, we’ve all been given a gift. If you can take it to heart then its expression will translate to right action.

It’s explicitly due to instilled solitude, crowding, whatever your situation, that gives space for exactly our strengths, yearnings and woundedness to arise.

In my contemplations, a memory came that provided me with a metaphor. It was from the very early 2000s. I was traveling in the Altiplano of Peru with Peruvian mystic Américo Yábar and a couple of friends. This remembrance comes from the hours spent on a sacred mesa  in the middle of nowhere.

Don Américo motioned, inviting us to follow him on a walk around the mesa’s edge. I followed closely behind him, the others straggling farther back enjoying the view. After a distance, he came to a sudden halt and brought me over to the very rim and gestured to a flat rock jutting out below, indicating I was to light there and meditate…

I didn’t want to think about the sheer drop of at least a thousand feet and preferred to look instead at the narrow ground where I would place my feet. I charted a short course and then carefully picked my way to the stone and settled into a comfortable seated position. Legs crossed, spine straight and ready to meditate, a bizarre urge ran through me. There was a strong part of me that wanted nothing more than to physically leap into the lonely, empty space in front of me that stretched for miles! Quickly quelling that impulse and pushing it from my mind, I closed my eyes…

After a while, I heard  a tranquil wind from the right, whistling softly, slowly coming along the perimeter of the mesa. Surprisingly, I felt it touch my body and instead of moving around me, it went through me on its way to the left. The wind was immensely long, its blowing gentle, but when its tail finally exited, it left me bodiless, having indulgently thrown me into the abyss I’d wished for after all. I dissipated into the dark nothingness of the Void while, at the same time, I merged with the totality of the landscape, covering it. The silence was such that I have no words for it, but a feeling of profound tranquility and yet expansive joy permeated the being that I call myself.

I have no idea how long I remained in that state, a minute or an hour. It was timeless. Somewhere in the midst of it, something compelled me to open my eyes, and I received a jolt. Not only was my consciousness not fully in my body when I did so, but I had also erased any awareness that I was seated on the precipice of a very high mesa rather than the usual ground! In addition, I had catapulted myself from the blackest black into the brilliant light of the high Andean sun. I slammed my eyes shut, unwilling to experience the colossal contrast.

Slowly though, I began to feel the outlines of my body and the friendly stone supporting me. This time I took my time raising my outer eyelids and gazed without fear across the miles of the Altiplano, all the way to the ring of mountains on the other side. I found that I was taken with the beauty of this place that many would consider barren and lifeless. I had discovered the richness hidden from casual eyes.

While my compulsion to jump into thin air was unexpected at the time, I’ve experienced it before in high places. After having talked with others, I realize that I’m not alone. This is a common urge. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s a petition from the deepest part of us. It’s the soul’s sense of wanting freedom. It’s a strong inner existential yearning that calls for merging rather than separation…

As though a curtain is drawn open to admit the sunlight, we discover that the Truth for which we’ve strived is revealed to be ever-present. We merely partitioned it off. If we’ve chosen to fully immerse ourselves, without fear, into the effervescent warmth of nothingness, we automatically want to remain there. The everyday world matters little in this flow…

If we’re going to travel the deeper path, we need to learn how to navigate it. If we were thrown into such a sea without any tools we would be seriously disadvantaged at best. So, there are the continuing series of re-entries we make to increase our awareness of the geography. If we pass back and forth over similar area enough times, perhaps we will become familiar enough with the territory to make the one transparent to the other. In the meantime, the transitions can be shocking until we recognize them for what they are.

…The silence may come when we make a space, take time out from normal activities. It can come through meditation, using the breath to empty the mind; finally inspiring the no-breath. It can come through a walk in the forest, mindfully, slowly placing the feet firmly on the earth, connecting in such a way that the body is no longer a body, but a bubble of energy skimming along the surface of life. It can come through intentfully opening the crown center of the head during times of creative expression. We only know that silence has visited when we return to our work later and wonder who has written the passages or painted an image nowhere in our memory to have done so. But oftentimes, no matter how we prepare the ground, it doesn’t come. At least not to the depth we would choose, or the habitual voice imposes instead…

Many have already begun to move back into the world with pronounced actions, clearly needed. Others—I fear—are unable to deal with the discomfort  found in a containment where internal and external voices are more apparently loud, and pain ever-present…and the old ways of numbing out appear the only solution.

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Mythic II Oil and cold wax. ©2019 Carla Woody.

Soon it will be time for me to walk again in a world other than I’ve known over these last months. But not yet. I know I’m charting another path forward, and I know I’m leaving something behind. I can’t formulate words but can feel the energy slowly presenting itself.

In the meantime, I’m sitting with these questions.

  • What are the choices you’re making in the moment—those that fulfill deeper values?
  • What are you giving care to that you had forgotten or set aside?
  • What has come to the forefront that you’re no longer able to ignore?

I’ve called upon patience. I know the answers will be given in stillness. Silence is the conduit for creation.

***

* Quoted portions are excerpted from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage, my narrative nonfiction book of a spiritual path.

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Film Review: Fantastic Fungi

The film opens  with the fungi  speaking, identifying the alternate universe—the invisible, intelligent network—just beneath our feet.

When you sense Oneness, you are with us. We brought life to earth…We flourish all  around in everything…even though you can’t see us…

 Then goes on to describe how fungi figures so predominately in the birth-death-rebirth cycle that, without fungi we would be in deep trouble. To the point that, potentially, life would have ceased to exist long before humans came along without the fungi kingdom, numbering 1.5 million species.

Mycologist-advocate-researcher Paul Stamets is largely featured. He’s been immersed in the world of mushrooms since quite young when his older brother took him into the forest and they found an unusual variety. Today he’s considered one of the foremost authorities on fungi. He also had a debilitating liability. Although he’d had years of speech therapy as a child, it had no effect. He was unable to communicate well and was socially isolated until one significant day… when, in college, he was given a bag of psilocybin—“magic mushrooms”—and took the whole bag, enough for ten people. As it began to come on, he set intent to lose the stuttering…and did. One enormous dose. The stuttering never returned. A remarkable story that would surely make one a believer.

Additionally,  Stamets is  backed up with segments by scientists, journalists, therapists, clinical trial participants and consciousness seekers. Wide-ranging uses for mycelium fungus are covered, potentialities affecting health, expanded consciousness, bioremediation and more.

The documentary covers the full history of mushrooms from Gordon Wasson’s introduction by curandera Maria Sabina of southern Mexico through its resurgence today as a viable ingredient to clean the environment all the way to providing a gateway for health and spiritual wellbeing.

You’d do yourself a favor by watching this film. I came away spiritually uplifted, hopeful for the planet and feeling gratitude for this great gift of Nature that’s been there, hidden in plain sight, for millenia. The cinematography is also stunning.

Now available to rent ($4.99) and stream or buy at Fantastic Fungi in several languages. 1 hour, 20 minutes.

 

Categories: Film Review, Global Consciousness, Healing, Honoring the Earth | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Breath, Energy and Lifeforce

[This article includes a free download of a breath meditation at the end.]

It seemed to me like something was coming. I had a similar sense when I was in my late thirties. Back then, I knew something was hovering on the horizon, but I just couldn’t see what. It turned out to be a big shake-up in my life. A time of new awareness. Clarity. A recognition I could no longer live the way I had. That recognition led to significant choices that placed me squarely on the path I’ve been on ever since. I still don’t have a word for it…this walk that chose me. But know when I’m aligned to it, and when I falter. This is at the personal level.

What I’ve been sensing, as many had—long before it happened—is global upheaval. Now here it is. Something like this had to happen to rip the foundation out from under us. Something big enough to stop us short. Indeed, it has. Collectively, we couldn’t go on much longer without things coming apart in a catastrophic way. We’ve been forced into lockdown, to shelter-in-place—a phrase I’d never heard before now.

I prefer to say that we’ve been called into retreat. We have things to consider, foundational things…each of us.

I know I do because I’m relieved to be here, at home, having been forced to reschedule commitments and journeys all the way into next year. I see open space stretching out in front of me and relish it for the rich possibilities it brings. It’s been a very long time since I allowed myself to meditate for longer than an hour during daily practice. Not so now.

After a few days, it’s no longer about allowing. I’m naturally slipping into those longer hours, finding it to be a familiar place that I haven’t stepped into in a long time but always remember…because significant clarity came from that space. And I became different as a result of being there.

But it wasn’t at all a place of mind but rather a space of Unity with the Absolute from which Silence is naturally delivered…and unseen, unheard but felt guidance is offered. And the entry is through breath and energy. You could say mysticism is the by-product.

I’m looking to emerge from retreat with another perspective. I’m holding out for a deeper way of living and appreciating.

For several years, back in the late 90s to early 2000s, I held a regular meditation circle. I’ve never had any religious affiliation so felt free to borrow from Sufi, Buddhist or any other sources that that worked well to enter a non-mind state.

There was one meditation I used frequently with the circle I called Chakra Breathing. People found it particularly useful to deepen their state of being, relaxation and alleviate physical issues. I’ve had folks use it pre and post surgeries to support healing. I actually created it for myself in my late 20s for healing purposes. They asked me to record it.

It occurred to me that some may find it useful in the environment we find ourselves now.

We’re all in this together after all.

Connection

Download Chakra Breathing here.

Please feel free to download and share this 20-minute meditation.

Intended to accompany meditative practice, this recording uses the breath as a conduit to still spaces against a backdrop of Tibetan bells. Chakra Breathing is a tool to cleanse and vitalize the energy centers of the body and lead to that inner sanctity called Silence.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Energy Healing, Global Consciousness, Meditation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: It’s What I Do

One of my keen interests is about risk-taking—the people that take them and what underlying pull nags at them to take the leap consistently. Is it the adrenaline rush? That’s certainly there depending on how great the risk. Or is it something else that’s driving them?

It'sWhatIDoBookLynsey Addario is one of those people. Her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War tells her story. She didn’t start out to be a conflict photographer, one who goes into war-torn areas and refugee camps, right in the middle of it. This eventuality wasn’t even on her radar when she took a job as a professional photographer at the Buenos Aires Herald at the age of 23, never having trained as a photographer. Yet, as willingness lays out a path, at 26 she traveled to Afghanistan to interview women living under the Taliban. How did she even do that? I’m guessing troubling thoughts at least flitted through her mind. She was moving into a field almost solely dominated by males and all it came with…that the course was filled with threat of all sorts around nearly every corner…that she was sacrificing any ‘normal’ love or family life. All this in addition to witnessing graphic horror, so much on a daily basis, the kind that typically gives nightmares for years to come.

Clearly, she set these concerns aside. Lynsey Addario wanted to tell the truth, what was happening in such places and times. Not the media spin or political propaganda. She had something most men in the field wouldn’t think to entertain. She had the women, and men who let themselves, willing to tell their stories, which she captured in images. She knew how to hear them and wanted the world to know. That was her calling—humanitarian issues and human rights.

Over the years, she’s twice been kidnapped and periodically in areas where troops had been ordered to kill journalists, which happened. Her photographs relayed people’s stories and the realities of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan and the Congo. Sometimes her images weren’t published—too politically sensitive—she was told. And the truth remained veiled.

Sometimes she was called out by critics for the photographs she took. Too intrusive, disrespectful. Lynsey Addario’s images for Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone: The Story of Mamma Sessay (!) is the graphic accounting of a teenaged mother traveling by canoe from her village seeking medical intervention to birth the second of twins, still in her belly.  She did not get the help she needed and died a terrible death. “In Sierra Leone, 1033 women die for every 100,00 live births…This  statistic is made more tragic by the fact that the deaths are almost always preventable.” Unnecessary maternal deaths are high across much of the world, including the US. It’s because of such publicity, keeping nothing under wraps, that it can’t be ignored and prevention is more likely. As brought to its attention, the UN created Every Woman Every Child, “a long-term effort with global health partners to create a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.”

I imagine this is the effect she hoped for when she took those photographs of Mamma Sessay.

Recognizing Lynsey Addario and other female photo journalists like her working for good in the midst of war, poverty and suffering. They’re a rare breed. Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day.

It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War is available in print, ebook and audio book. I listened to the audio book and highly recommend.

*******

! A warning the images—shot by Lynsey Addario and published by Time Magazine—contained in the link are a graphic series of suffering and maternal death in childbirth. The child survived.

 

Categories: Book Review, Compassionate Action, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Music Review – On the Wings of a Butterfly

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Kathy Marshall has released her third CD in just the time we so need her thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics. On the Wings of a Butterfly took five years to come into being. Worth waiting for, her words and music are reflected against the backdrop of a world that has gone off the rails. Kathy poignantly acknowledges her own challenges in these times, but gently pulls us back toward realignment. And she reminds us…together we matter in building a world that embraces love. We gather strength for this journey. That is the effect this new album has on me.

Some works of art unconsciously, naturally create themselves as a whole within the artist first. Then emerge in purity and perfection to touch others in such a way that we—the listener—become the one singing the song, having the experience.

From It Takes Love: Carry me across the water…Fly me through the air…it takes love to flow that way…Help me light the fire…Walk with me on the earth…

From Help Us Now: We were meant for these times…We were born to be here…The world is changing and fighting for her life…Today I said a prayer…That Love and Light is there…Shining brightly like the midday sun…

All lyrics and music written by Kathy Marshall. CD available to purchase or download via her website and CD Baby where you may also listen to individual songs.

For my review on Kathy Marshall’s second CD, Standing on Sacred Ground, go here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Honoring the Earth, Music Review, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Churning, the Empowerment

Sometime in the fall an idea began to form that I would participate in the retreat taking place at Garchen Buddhist Institute over the turning of the new year. It was called their Winter Event—with Garchen Rinpoche and Lamas—for the Long Life Ceremony, Mahakala Empowerment and Bodhisattva Practices. I was actually surprised when the thought arose. I hadn’t been drawn before and knew absolutely nothing of Tibetan Buddhism. But somehow it seemed clear to me I was supposed to be there, so signed on for three days of the seven.

As the raven flies, Garchen Institute is about ten minutes away from my home. But because of the dirt roads between my place and theirs, it takes me about four times that to get there. As my first attendance day approached, I decided I’d better do a dry run to see if I could find it. I’d been out there about seventeen years ago, a few years after it was established, curious to see what was there. It’s fortunate I went with a friend then who had a vague idea where it was because it felt like we were lost for sure. But finally, all those years ago, there was a tiny sign indicating where to turn.

This time, on my dry run, I was alone and took my GPS which turned out to be no help, trying to take me down a cow path and then in the opposite direction, which I knew wasn’t right. It occurred to me that such places need to be hidden in a certain sense. When I did find my way, prayer flags were flying and it was clearly marked. But no signage along the way.

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I arrived that first day knowing nothing, which for me has usually worked out best. Little to entangle my mind, and the staff was kind in advising me of basic protocol—no shoes in the temple—and showed me to my place on the floor for the next few days.  I also did not know…

His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche is one of the foremost Buddhist masters and accomplished Tibetan Lamas alive in this world today.” Instead, I began to know so by his overwhelmingly compassionate presence when he first entered the room, something maintained throughout my experience there.

I had a rough time the first day. For years I’ve been able to sit cross-legged, straight-backed without support for hours without discomfort. One time in the middle of another retreat a long time ago, it just suddenly happened, like I was planted, and had continued ever since until this time. Every muscle in my body ached, and my right leg was restless. My mind wandered from the Lama’s teachings, and I kept fidgeting. I wasn’t able to follow what was presented. Frankly, I couldn’t wait for the day to be over.  But overnight something happened. I can only believe I’d been experiencing unconscious resistance in the face of something profound. In order to shift, there’s always conflict between what was and what is coming into being.

Over the next two days, the gentle smiling presence of Garchen Rinpoche, the chants and ceremony took me, culminating with the Mahakala Empowerment. Again, I had no idea what was coming. For me, the teachings were complex. Better to overwhelm my mind with. One of the nuns passed out a card to everyone with an image of a very scary looking deity. It was from the two-armed Mahakala, through Garchen Rinpoche, we were to receive blessings and the empowerment. I only understood this Mahakala to be one of the protector bodhisattvas.

People began to get up from their places and line up. They all had white silk scarves draped over their outstretched arms, seeming to appear out of nowhere. I touched the woman in front of me and told her I was unsure what to do as I didn’t have the length of silk. She smiled widely at me and said, “Yes, you do! I’ll pass mine on to you.” People were so kind. Then suddenly I was standing in front of Garchen Rinpoche. He took my face in his hands and touched my bowed head. One of the Lamas threw the silk scarf around my neck. I felt something. I was passed from one Lama to the next accepting sacraments from them in the form of a seed to swallow, dribbles of juice and a packet of seeds to keep. Somehow, I made it back to my place, closed my eyes, engulfed in energy. A few times I opened my eyes slightly to gaze at the Mahakala image on the card and close them again, as we’d been told to do. Then something completely unexpected happened…and I sat with it for days before I even attempted to express it to a couple of trusted friends. I’ve found that sharing such things, once I’m able to articulate them somewhat, helps to ground them.

Garchen 1

The retreat went on for a few days but it was the last for me. I emerged from that sacred space to hear that Trump ordered the murder of Iranian General Suleimani, that we were on the precipice of war. And it broke me apart. My great sadness and horror that yet another thoughtless act could be perpetuated by this president. The contrast was just too great.

Today I listened to Justine Toms of New Dimensions Radio interview mythologist-storyteller Michael Meade discussing Recreating the World. It was timely and reminded me of what I already know. Meade says we’re in a place the Irish call the Betwixt and Between. I call that place the Edge of Limitation. The end has already happened. We’re in the middle of it. He calls this state the Great Churning, when things come up from the bottom, those things we’ve sensed all along but now clearly laid out in front of us. We’re faced with the cynicism of politics where so many of our elected officials don’t stand for the wellbeing of Mother Earth and all beings. But acting for the 1% and their own self-interest, bought by large conglomerates and the extremely wealthy with an agenda. We’ve lost our Innocence. We experience loss and tragedy.

At the same time, Innovation is also revealed in a multitude of ways, speaking to the possibility of unity, the potential of coming together. We must enter the Imaginal Realm, identified so by Henry Corbin, where we must dive deeply and attune to our true inner nature. Now is a phase heading toward Initiation, unveiling all that’s light and dark.

In the last minutes before I arose from the cushion where I sat eyes closed in meditation— removed from the world in the temple at Garchen—I had a vision. One so real and powerful that…even now as I write this…I feel chills.  There was a great pile of rubble and earth. It began to shake, to come apart. A terrible, strange being climbed out of the gaping hole…and came to stand squarely…in front of me. It was the two-armed Mahakala, protector, remover of suffering for sentient beings. He then vanished and, in his place, was a control panel of the kind in the cockpit of an airplane.

Mahakala

Initially, I was overwhelmed by this vision and remained that way for some days. Now I know it was a clear message and the empowerment…and not only for me.

Now is the time for all of us to make the choice…to journey on…to be leaders in this transition.

I’m reminded of walking the Camino Francés. By the eighth day of my pilgrimage, I was in a great deal of pain, my right foot having sustained a mystery injury. I shuffled along slowly, pulling myself by my walking stick. I was alone. I was in the middle of nowhere…somewhere in northern Spain…

The trail was pretty much empty. I just toddled on. Another older gentleman, this one French, checked on me in passing, “Ca va?” In the middle of nowhere there’s nothing to do but go on. He must have taken a break somewhere because later he whispered as he passed again, “Courage!”

—Excerpt from The Essential Way

 

 

Categories: Compassionate Action, Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Be Human

There are two questions Krista Tippett of On Being consistently asks people she interviews. She starts out with what was your religious upbringing? The answer to that may or may not be relevant in the present, although the effect lingers in some way—great or small. Somewhere along the way she does the deep dive with what does it mean to be human? Even though people are usually expecting this question, given Krista’s long history of asking it, there’s a pause…because the answer is defining. There are two additional questions that aren’t usually spoken but are inferred: How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? From these, the beliefs, interests and actions of the individual naturally unfold to state who they are in the world. It has to do with Identity. It’s important.

I’m not religious but do identify as spiritual. My beliefs are firmly grounded in human potential, the humanitarian and respect for the planet. With that, the questions mentioned previously—setting aside the one on religion—are engrained within my consciousness. Sometimes I think it would be easier if they weren’t, if I could turn my back. But I can’t, even as exhausting as it’s become in the last few years. The questions are swirling around all of us, coming from every direction, calling continually for us to define Who We Are.

Aside from the many environmental issues, immigration is at the forefront for me, having written of it before in regard to Francisco Cantú’s book The Line Becomes a River. I hold great respect for the many who are acting with decency, some with great sacrifice, to do what they can, seeing those in need as people—not chips in a political game.

In October, the Prescott United Methodist Church and others in the local interfaith community, League of Women Voters, Prescott Indivisible and Prescott Peacebuilders sponsored an immigration panel. I went because I really wanted to know how the question was being answered locally. Representation on the panel was wide-ranging, covering a lot of ground. Of the invitations extended, we learned that only the Prescott Police Department declined to send a representative as panel member.

These are the key points offered from those on the panel.

Saul Fein is a Holocaust survivor. Born in Romania, he emigrated to Argentina in early WWII, finally coming to the US to become a citizen after the mandatory five-year wait period. He made these important statements.

Emigration spells persecution. People don’t leave their homes unless they’re threatened significantly.

A member of the local immigrant community, who had come from Mexico 25 years ago, spoke of life as an immigrant seeking citizenship in the US. The tears she could not hold back, her shaking body, communicated more than words ever could.

Dan Streeter, Superintendent of the Humboldt Unified School District, the largest in Yavapai County, cited the 14th Amendment, Civil Rights, Family Rights and Privacy Acts related to protection, and that schools are prohibited from denying students access based on immigration status. He was reassuring in that he said, This is not a political issue for schools. This is a child issue for schools. That was a relief, but then he also stated concerns about children coming to school hungry, or not at all, as families avoid available assistance out of fear—a valid one [my comment].

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Photo credit: Doug Iverson.

Laura Rambikur is an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Theology teaching graduate level courses on immigration and theology. She also works as a clinical therapist, serving survivors of torture, for the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix. She spoke of history and what makes it important today.

Family separation links all the way back to the transatlantic slave trade. What we’re experiencing today is baked into how this country really came to be. Immigration in this country is always been linked along racial lines, as well as economic empowerment for very specific groups of people in positions of power.

 We can’t begin to have a conversation on immigration until we recognize the history we participate in. The theological concept of Manifest Destiny is taught in our schools: the right to take advantage of, to conquer and to expand.

 This led westward expansion and cultural development specifically in the Southwest. This is important when thinking of boundaries and borders, especially when considering tribal communities that have been here more than 3000 years. Until the 1930s, tribal membership numbers were kept in the Arizona Game and Wildlife [designation]. Until 1970s, Native Americans had to pass a literacy test to have the right to vote. Immigration has always been about who is counted and who is not, always along racial lines.

 Today politicians use theology [quoting scripture out of context] in a very public way that affirms children being ripped from the arms of their parents.

 How do we participate in these policies whether we are aware of them or not?

Ella Rawls, daughter of an immigrant, is an immigration attorney working with low income immigrants in southern Arizona. Ella went through the types of visas and application process. For some, it may take 12 years.

Now in San Diego and El Paso, when they present at the border, they are no longer allowed into the US. They get a court date and are forced to go back to Mexico to wait. Courts are secretive and do not allow legal observers to view what’s going on. The level of success is very low unless they have access to immigration lawyers, who are often hard to reach and, if not working for a nonprofit, very expensive.

Sue Lefebvre is the author of No More Deaths and representative of the humanitarian organization by the same name based in southern Arizona. Their mission is: to end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative: people of conscience working openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. More information on their website. They have especially been in the news over the last few years for search and rescue efforts in the desert, and providing aid by leaving water, food and blankets on migrant trails. Volunteers have been arrested while carrying out their duties according to their charter. Dr. Scott Warren was put on trial in federal court for harboring undocumented migrants, a felony, which ended in a hung jury. Some of the charges were dropped. But, as I’m writing this, he has entered retrial in Tucson and faces 10 years in prison if convicted. You can follow a daily log of the trial here.

Sue spoke about the impact on those living along the border, and hardships and deaths of migrants.

In 1994 NAFTA between the US, Canada and Mexico came into being and destroyed the cotton market in Mexico. Farmers began to move north. In addition, in 1994, they tightened measures at border entry. Many more began attempting to cross through the desert. Before 1994, there were a few deaths in the desert. In 2000 there were 1,600,000 arrests and 260 people died in the Arizona desert [and it’s kept climbing].

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Photo credit: No More Deaths.

Elea Ziegelbaum is a graduate of Prescott College and community organizer from northern Arizona who has focused on migrant and climate justice since high school. She spent several months on a research project collecting data on immigration enforcement in Yavapai County. In her talk she especially focused on the 287(g) program, an agreement between ICE and the Yavapai Sheriff Department. Few in the audience knew what she was talking about.

That’s because it’s secretive. It authorizes local law enforcement to conduct immigration enforcement, the highest level of collaboration possible, with ICE.

This is a completely voluntary agreement.

The main emphasis is to elevate detentions and deportations in members of the immigrant and undocumented community in any given area by creating a tight web that increases people’s chances of being arrested and deported.

Yavapai County has had the 287(g) agreement since 2008. The impact is hard to determine because the records are kept under wraps. They are not open to sharing arrest and deportation data. So, this is a conservative number. Since 2008, 1812 arrests can be confirmed.  Again, a conservative number. Considering how small our communities are, even this is a sizeable impact that has torn families apart.

 Diane Iverson, children’s book author and illustrator, opened the panel with a prayer she’d written. By the time she’d said the last words, tears were slipping down my cheeks…because, as a collective, we’ve fallen so short of the ideals she mentioned, and so many have closed their hearts.

Prayer for the Immigrant

 Oh God, whose name is love, we have a statue on our shore. She lifts her flame heavenward in a way that makes us proud to be American. Please make us worthy of her lofty ideals. Give us hearts willing to share the blessings of this country.

 Welcome into your peace the father and his child, face down on the river’s edge, who longed for the life we sometimes take for granted. Give us the will to free the little ones from their cages and into the arms of their loved ones.

 Be present with all those who work to create and enforce laws, that our nation may be both just and compassionate. Open our hearts that we may remember our own immigration story. For we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and yet here we are, in the comfort and safety of this room and this country by your abundant grace. Amen.

So, we are left with the questions mentioned in the beginning whose answers provide a platform to live by…

What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other?

Categories: Compassionate Action, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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