Posts Tagged With: human rights

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

Indigenous to the Journey

Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.

When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.

For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?

Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.

The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari, gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.

Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.

For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.

And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.

In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.

This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.

In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…

…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?

 Later…

…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…

 And much later in scenes toward the end…

…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…

 Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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The May 20-29, 2020 women’s pilgrimage, Spiritual Travel to Southern France: Sourcing the Ways of Love and Light, takes place in the Languedoc and Provence focusing on Mary Magdalene, the Cathars, art and bounty of the land. There are currently 2 spaces open with group size very limited to maintain depth of process and outcome for participants.

Categories: cultural interests, Film Review, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Insidious Expectation of Privilege: Taking Things for Granted

By chance, I flew out just hours ahead of the predicted snow, hoping to meet better weather in Ohio where I was visiting my folks for a week. I live in a rural, wilderness-like setting on a hill abutting state trust land below, and love it there. Just yesterday morning a bobcat sat on my deck giving herself a bath then wandered on her way. Such things are a blessing to me. Nature—miles of it—is right outside my door. The fact that I must drive unmaintained dirt roads to my place, and absence of services like mail delivery and trash pick-up, have been of little consequence to me. I figure these factors will keep most people from inhabiting this area, and I can maintain my solitude. My neighbor Barry, who lives about a mile away, would stop in to feed my cat while I was gone. He was dependable and I wasn’t worried. That was Monday.

By Wednesday, there were news updates that a colossal snowstorm was imminent back in northern Arizona. I texted Barry and asked him to leave a full bowl of dry food that day for my cat in case he couldn’t make it over the next day. Over the ensuing days, he sent texts with updates as to the situation at home. We had a few feet of snow with drifts up to a foot higher and periodic white-outs. He couldn’t locate my driveway due to the depth of snow and was trekking in from the old ranch road that ran through the state trust land. I later learned that for a day or two the road from his place was also unpassable and—bless his heart—he slogged through snow up to his knees to feed my ungrateful cat who never shows her face to him.

Now, if you live in places like Wisconsin, New York or Canada, this is probably nothing. But we don’t get this kind of weather here and aren’t prepared for it. I didn’t even own a snow shovel. Normally, if there is snowfall at my home, it melts in a couple of hours and the sun is out again. Not so this time. Then came the text from Barry that I had no water. Now I was worried.

Nothing changed over the days until I headed home except Barry said he’d made a trail from his repeated footsteps up the hill so I’d be able to walk in more easily, about a quarter mile. Again, that doesn’t sound like much, and minus the snow wouldn’t have exhausted me ferrying necessities up the slippery slope from where I’d had to leave my vehicle.

The storm was moving eastward across the US. Again luckily, I got out of Ohio early morning before high winds hit but was rerouted because of the storm elsewhere. Before I ventured homeward in the car the next morning, I remembered to buy gallons of drinking water.  Over the next several days, I learned just how much snow it took to make a minimal amount of melted water for domestic use and how much of my time had to be devoted to basic living needs. At least I still had heat. I still could not drive my 4WD vehicle up my driveway.

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Q’eros. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In the midst of scooping snow into containers, I began to think of my Q’ero friends living in their high-altitude villages in the Peruvian Andes in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water and minimal heat. What was a temporary, minor inconvenience for me is a way of life for them, a hard one.

Just a few days prior to my trip to Ohio, I received a message from Santos Machacca, my Q’ero friend and liaison for the work I do there. He was up in the village of Ccochamocco and told me of the cold torrential rains they were having. At 14,500’ altitude the nights get quite cold even in their springtime. Santos said a lot of baby alpaca were dying. This news reinforced to me the importance of our project providing shelters for alpaca and sheep, not something the norm for them. The Q’ero people are subsistence farmers living on inhospitable land and climate. Loss of any livestock threatens their wellbeing and traditions.

 

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Newborn lambs. Photo: Gi Thomas.

Just as my snow days were starting to draw to an end, I heard from Gi Thomas, one of the board members for Kenosis Spirit Keepers. They were being hit with the monster snowstorm moving across the country. Gi and her partner Katrina Marshall live on a farm in Oregon and had newborn lambs. She wrote, “I’m working hard at just keeping the sheep warm, fed, snow shoveled, water tubs full, etc. All this snow reminds me of what Q’eros must be like during those big snow storms of late. Helps me keep things in perspective.”

 

 

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Katrina Marshall in Oregon. Photo: Gi Thomas.

But lack of snow can bring about hardship, too. I’ve just returned from my program on Hopi. This year they’ve had the same plentiful moisture we have so far. It wasn’t so last winter.  We’d received almost no snowfall and very light monsoon in 2017. I saw the effect because the free-range cattle that sometimes come around my place had eaten a four-foot spread of prickly pear cactus down to nothing. They must have insides of iron. Prickly pear have long, menacing thorns.

During the several days we were on Hopi, comments came from different directions lamenting the drought conditions of the previous year. Traditional Hopis use dry farming, depending on moisture from the sky—not irrigation—to grow their corn, beans, melon and squash. Last year they were not able to produce the needed corn for their ceremonies, or food from their fields.

These days they have access to grocery stores, so are not solely dependent on what they can grow. But it caused me to ask the question, “What did your ancestors do?” The answer came, “They stored food from year to year.” But what if there are years of drought?

The snow finally cleared to the point a plumber could make it up my driveway a week after I returned home. He checked the usual (scary, expensive) suspects causing lack of water, and they didn’t apply. Thankfully. He finally tracked down the issue, an outside electrical outlet that needed to be reset—strangely connected to my well. A push of the button and water began to flow again. He was there about fifteen minutes minus the friendly conversation. I was glad to pay the rather large bill for my needs to be taken care of so easily.

I’m a privileged Westerner living in the area I do by choice, in a home built to my specifications with modern conveniences. Any inconveniences are ones I choose or merely temporary. Most of us—those likely reading this article—are given to taking precious things for granted. Running water, electricity, access to food, readily available transportation, wellbeing. Freedom to live where we choose. These are some of the insidious underpinnings of privilege. There are plenty more. We expect to have them even as others do not. By an accident of birth, we are not where they are.

I cannot brush that recognition away. I cannot turn a blind eye. I cannot do nothing. I bless that storm for reminding me.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Borderlands

I’m sitting here waiting for the words to come. Sometimes writing is like that. Not because there’s writer’s block but because it takes a while – sometimes a long while – for the feelings to swim up…and form thought…then phrases…then sentences. At least enough to make a cohesive statement.

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Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Carla Woody

I’m not sure I’m there yet. I knew it five days ago when, during the final circle of this year’s spiritual travel journey in Maya Lands, I attempted to express myself. By then we’d been in the rainforest for five days. Its soft humidity – really, something about the inherent energy ⎻ tends to open other dimensions for me, even as it retains the Great Mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the insistent, primal calling of the howler monkeys.

Having heard theirs, I’d offered some last reflections to the group on our experiences then paused. I realized I’d left out a piece I was struggling with emotionally, something well beyond my control. What I was able to say in that moment felt totally inadequate in relation to what I wanted to say. I imagine it came out somewhat flat, even though I could feel the tears in my throat.

linebecomesariverI’d avoided reading The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú for several months. I knew the subject matter would be hard for me to ingest. My feelings about what’s been happening at the US-Mexico border run deep. It rips my heart out. I personally know Rita Cantú, the author’s mother, a retired park ranger and composer-musician. She lives just a few miles from me. Knowing more now through her son’s book, I have enormous respect for the care in which she raised him, to instill the cultural values of his Mexican heritage and respect for nature. That said, I could imagine her challenges when he decided to join the US Border Patrol. Learning so in the book, it seemed unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine what possessed me. But I decided to take Francisco’s book on my spiritual travel program in southern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. I guess some part of me decided that reading it from a physical distance at home in northern Arizona, difficult but still easier, wasn’t appropriate. Instead, after our daily immersion with the Maya peoples and sacred traditions of those lands, I spent most nights with Francisco’s recollections. I struggled with them.

Francisco set the stage by writing of his fascination with the borderlands, wanting to know as much as he could. He disclosed that, after obtaining a degree in international relations, he desired more than intellectual knowledge. This is what led to his work as an agent for the US Border Patrol working in the hard deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico between 2008 and 2012.

I doubt he held anything back in the book. Although, he does say some of those in the book are composites of different people he worked with or otherwise encountered. Locations were sometimes changed. Done so to protect privacy and, I imagine, safety in some cases. He relayed his daily life: the range of personalities and approaches of fellow agents, tracking and capturing humans in the bleakest places, witnessing desperation, hopelessness and death, the horrific acts of the drug cartels and opportunism of coyotes.

No matter what you tell yourself and how kind you may be toward asylum seekers, after a while it’s got to take a serious toll on your psyche. I was relieved when I began to pick up Francisco’s internal conflict such that he finally opted for a job removing himself from the field, and then from the Border Patrol completely.

But that brought new awareness. He’d developed a friendship with a Mexican man who, unbeknownst to Francisco, had been brought to the US illegally at age 11, married and had children who were US citizens by birth. His friend went home to Mexico to be with his dying mother but was caught attempting to re-enter and detained. Not able to just stand by, Francisco found himself on the other side. He did all he could to support his friend in navigating a legal system that cares little of personal circumstances, and otherwise helped out the family whose father was deported. At the publication of the book, they remained torn apart.

The Line Becomes a River, named a top ten book for 2018 by NPR and the Washington Post, was a hard read but a necessary one. I was personally glad the author didn’t gloss over the most difficult parts, that he was exposed to wide-ranging aspects of the border issues, and wasn’t afraid to write honestly about it. It’s a book all should read to best inform their thoughts and votes.

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I’ve spent many years developing relationships with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their own people in the lands where I sponsor programs. Travelers’ tuitions help support the families of those involved and, through special projects, for the well-being of their communities. A range of service people are also involved and the local economy benefits. I don’t frequent areas considered unsafe. So it’s unlikely those I work with encounter the drug cartel. However, for many of them, behind the scenes of our time with them, they endure the results of acute poverty with little to no opportunity to change that state.

That hurts my soul, and extends globally to anyone seeking relief from violence, scarcity of any kind and inner demons they carry as a result. I cannot harden my heart as many can and turn away. Through a slight accident of birth and the times I was born into, I have not personally experienced these levels of hardship but a good number did down my family line.

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Altar at the Cofradia House (Brotherhood), Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo: Carla Woody.

So I am yet sitting here waiting for the words to arise to adequately express the sorrow I hold for a world where everyone isn’t invited to the table, and the helplessness I feel to do anything about it except my very small part to make it so.

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The Metaphor: Borderlands

During opening circles for any of my spiritual travel programs, I invite participants to note any personal themes that run through our time together. Mine are not tourist trips but first to help preserve Indigenous traditions, and also an invitation for travelers to undertake deep inner work. What better way than spiritual journeys against the backdrop of sacred lifeways of foreign lands where we’re not within our usual comfort zone? The purpose, of course, is to carry the learnings home to create re-alignment and best live through personal values.

I invite them to note any metaphors that arise from their themes, providing a rich foundation and potential in-roads. Only this morning, as I finish writing this article, have I discovered my own coming from these travels: Borderlands.

There are the literal borderlands fraught with political issues that create great distress and tragedies. But also there are metaphysical borderlands. In this moment, what comes to me is the forbidden ground we’re told we must not cross in order to reinforce the status quo. But if we did and navigated those lands wisely, with great courage and heart, there’s the opportunity to integrate any wounded or unintegrated aspects of the self, and move through the threshold to enter an elevated life.

This is an area of personal depth and further unearthing. The Line Becomes a River  delivered it to me, gratefully while being immersed in the Maya lands and in relationship with peoples I’ve come to love.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Great Unsettling

Maybe you’ve been in the same place or still are. I started experiencing a sense of generalized, underlying dread. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop. A kind of existential angst…over which it felt like I had no control. For months, I awoke in the morning and steeled myself to face the day. What new outrage would be presented? How do I navigate the low-level grief – or overwhelming waves of sadness and righteous anger – and be able to function reasonably in my everyday life? My energy was sapped by some stealthy foe.

Then I realized I’d started to grow numb to what occurred…and that’s not healthy. That would only indicate that it was becoming submerged to the point of becoming the norm.

That isn’t who I am or how I choose to live my life. I can pinpoint exactly when it began – and it turns out I haven’t been alone.

Oh, I’ve been through the intensity of the Dark Night of the Soul, thrashing around in the invisible landscape, and came out the other side. You can read about those years in my book Standing Stark. That’s not what this is about. Nor is it about all the times I stood at the threshold – restless for change – sensing, but not seeing, the next realignment of my life. Those times I actively chose. Those were personal. As much as any of us have any control whatsoever, I felt as though I was the rider of that horse who, in partnership, would take me where I was meant to go.

After the many months, I finally determined I’d relinquished the reins and wasn’t on the horse at all. In shock, I’d allowed myself to be thrown off by a dangerous runaway, out of control, underbelly completely visible.

Here’s what makes this different: This challenge was delivered at the meta level. It affects the world community and our collective future.

***

In June, I was in France for the month, the last leg two nights in Toulouse. A little rest before the long flight home. I was walking along the river when I glanced back toward the Pont Neuf bridge and saw the most curious thing. There at the edge of the circular opening between the piers closest to this side of the bridge sat a figure, its legs dangling over the edge. A red devil. At first I thought it was someone dressed in costume, maybe a street performer. I snapped a photo and posted it on my Facebook timeline, jokingly labeling it The Entrance to the Underworld. A closer look – and the fact it hadn’t moved the next day – determined it to be a fixture.

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Overnight I’d done some research and learned of Notre Dame de la Daurade, less than ten minutes from my hotel, that contained a Black Madonna. Excitedly, I struck out the next day. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t noticed the church previously when it was located along the river, quite close to Pont Neuf. Then I saw why. It was a blocky building, looking more like a Masonic Temple or maybe part of the art school whose walls adjoined it. Plus, it was partially hidden by fences and restoration equipment. But the front door was open. So I entered.

The inside walls were shrouded in dirty draping, dust everywhere, building materials scattered on the floor. No pews. Nothing really. Not what I expected. The few workmen I saw paid me no mind. It took me a minute to get my bearings. I knew the Black Madonna was supposed to be in the southern transept and picked my way through. I was about to go through a small opening in the drapery that segmented the back part when a man, probably the one in charge, told me I couldn’t be there. I attempted to talk him into it, “Even for a moment?” But he was firm.

Disappointed, I turned to go. I was nearly out the front door when I felt a strong pull coming from my right. I paused to look around to see if the coast was clear…then followed the energy. That’s where I found her. She was stuffed into a dark niche, stripped of her finery, behind tall iron bars, a padlock barring entrance. It seemed so disrespectful. A couple of candles burned just outside. I stayed for a long time. If anyone saw me, they let me be.

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Something bothered me. The only things of significance I took away from Toulouse were that devil – on which I could find no information online – and the Black Madonna. It just didn’t sit right with me. So I sat with it for several days through the first few days I was home. It hit me.

The devil guarding the gate. The Black Madonna and child locked up. Held hostage. Renovation.

I’m one for metaphors. When I’m involved in deep spiritual inquiry, that’s where my mind tends to go. This, coupled with all the environmental upheavals across the planet, brought me to focus. It’s not like I didn’t know this at some level. Now it’s no longer hidden. I’ve got it.

This is shadow work. We’re all being called to it: collectively and individually.

We’re being asked to consider:

  • In what ways we argue for our limitations;
  • The call to re-examine our cultural norms;
  • The willingness to avert our eyes;
  • The act of unconsciously filtering because we can’t contain it all.
  • How we perpetuate implicit bias.

I’m deep in the thick of it. Sorting. I don’t have any answers yet. Just the questions that have been there all along now made plain and visible.

For me, insights come in silence and solitude – in the early morning when all is still and little is fighting for my attention – still fresh from sleep where so much is recycled and put to bed. The way through reveals itself in the aftermath of meditation, in the process of writing or creating artwork, and during the method I use to clear my brain.

Whatever answers finally come are mine and may not be yours. But my deepest hope is that all will hold the core values that nurture the collective. In the meantime, these things I write of here are helping me fine-tune the path I take.

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Book Review: The Muralist

muralistI read B. A. Shapiro’s bestseller The Art Forger when it came out and enjoyed it immensely. When art is the backdrop against a true-life story, and I can learn something along the way, I’m automatically drawn. So when I stumbled upon her next novel, it was a shoo-in that did not disappoint. Plus, I became aware of shameful things in US history that certainly have been downplayed, but absolutely relevant today. A horrendous part of French history is also enlarged upon beyond what I’d known. These two areas are largely why I’m reviewing this historical novel here.

The storyline is introduced in present-day when art historian Danielle Abrams, working for Christie’s auction house, received boxes of paintings to research and authenticate. Knowledge and gut feeling told her they were likely Abstract Expressionist pieces, potentially pre-WWII. She felt the stirrings of excitement, a possibility arising. Could they be early works of renowned Abstract Expressionists? With that, her thoughts turned toward her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, the family legend and mystery surrounding her. In the first stirrings of WWII, Alizée had moved to New York for the sake of her art, leaving her Jewish family in France. Family stories had it that she somehow became connected with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others, little known at the time, and played a significant influence on these giants in the Abstract Expressionism movement and their styles.  But suddenly in 1940 she disappeared. No one knew where or why. Attempts led nowhere and there were whispers of mental illness. Only two of her paintings remained, given to her US family by a patron.

An unexpected find that she believes was somehow connected to her missing great-aunt causes Danielle to undertake her own search to resolve the mystery. We are ushered back to the late 1930s, a couple of years after Alizée’s arrival in New York, as she is making her way in a country critically affected by the Depression. By this time, she is working for Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Program (FAP) on murals, destined for public sites like government buildings, train stations and the like. She rubs elbows with serious artists of the time, and becomes part of the close-knit group that include those mentioned. The narrative follows Alizée as they work and practically live on top of each other, arguing about art and loving in the midst of uncertain times.

In the meantime, the threat of Hitler becomes more and more real. Alizée’s close and extended Jewish family in Europe enlist her to help them apply for US visas to escape the tyranny as it becomes increasingly dangerous and communications diminish. The one bright point in her life is art and the unforeseen patronage of Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the FAP.

Alizée bumps up against block after bureaucratic block in rescuing her family. She learns that Breckinridge Long, the Assistant Secretary of State in President Roosevelt’s administration and an anti-Semite, was actively withholding granting of visas to Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany, stating they may be criminals and spies. President Roosevelt, for his part, turned his head away from this matter as too politically sensitive.

Rumors of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo, police raids in Paris, where her family lived, and transfers to a “holding camp” an hour away by train trickled through. Becoming more and more desperate, Alizée found no recourse but to join a dissident group and take drastic measures.

Danielle’s painstaking search for the fate of Alizée Benoit uncovers answers, piece by perturbing piece, that bring resolution from the past to the present.

B.A. Shapiro was faithful to documentation of the bohemian and sometimes tragic lives of the Abstract Expressionists, WPA/FAP and Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of the arts, which I found quite interesting. More so, she built a poignant story against the terrible landscape of politics, war and genocide of those times…some of which sound all too familiar today.

Here are the facts.

Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Drancy camp was designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak held more than 7,000. There is documented evidence and testimony recounting the brutality of the French guards in Drancy and the harsh conditions imposed on the inmates…upon their arrival, small children were immediately separated from their parents for deportation to the death camps…

Of the 75,000 Jews whom French and German authorities deported from France, more than 67,000 were sent directly from Drancy to Auschwitz… As the Allies were approaching Paris in August 1944, the German officers fled, and the camp was liberated on 17 August when control of the camp was given over to the French Resistance and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling…

Source: Wikipedia.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s son James told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin that the greatest regret of his mother’s life was her failure to convince her husband to admit more European refugees to the United States before World War II. Her lament is a warning to all of us.

Source: Salon.com.

The Muralist is available in print, audio and ebook through Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Neither Wolf Nor Dog…Or When a Calling Comes

This is less of a review and more of a story about how I came to learn of the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and then my process through attempts to understand its full, often uncomfortable meaning.

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About this time a year ago I received an invitation, really it was delivered as a demand, from a Lakota elder that I come to South Dakota to receive teachings. It came at a time I was continually traveling, barely home but longing to be. When I thanked him and attempted to arrange a time that made it easier for me, he became insistent. We finally settled on a time. For me, it meant giving up the only travel-free week I’d had in some time. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, and didn’t know the elder. The prior contact we’d had was relatively brief, a long phone call. I finally decided it was something I was being called to do.

I would like to say it was a meaningful journey and a great sharing passed between us. Instead, our time ended abruptly. I left with even more confusion than I’d periodically felt over those days and a high level of frustration, angry at myself that I’d been talked into coming. Clearly, there was much he kept tightly wrapped. Although, it sometimes emerged in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with, much less how to respond adequately. But I was going directly to another commitment, one that mattered a lot to me. So I tucked the strong emotions away and chalked the whole thing up to a mystery of the Universe.

Before I made that trip to South Dakota, I’d mentioned it to a friend. She said there was a book she thought would be good for me to read. I dutifully ordered Neither Wolf Nor Dog but didn’t have time to read it before I left. It found its place on my bookshelf where it languished. I hadn’t known it was made into a movie. Some months later it was being shown where I live, and I followed the strong urge to see it.

The film hadn’t progressed very far when I began to get the eerie feeling of dejá vu. An author from Minnesota, Kent Nerburn, received a cryptic phone call out of the blue from a woman saying her Lakota grandfather wanted to see him. No reason given but delivered with a sense of urgency. Some months later, Nerburn—as he came to be called—finally was able to free up some time to make the long trip to the isolated place the elder Dan called home.  There were few explanations given to Nerburn, punctuated with a lot of silences. Quickly, Dan’s younger Lakota friend Grover was introduced into the story, a caustic individual with barely contained anger frequently directed toward Nerburn in clipped tones and looks. Frankly, I wondered why Nerburn stayed around. I think he did, too. He wrestled with his own responses and ultimately decided to let things play out. Plus, he had the nice guy syndrome going.

I experienced repeated slaps in the face watching all this. It was visceral. When Dan and Grover threw Nerburn in the car and took off on a little explained, exhaustive trip across the Dakotas, my forearms puckered into chicken skin that didn’t go away until the film ended. There were just too many parallels. The places they went, the flavor of the discourse. Showing rather than telling. When Dan broke silences to hold forth on what he wanted Nerburn to learn of the Lakota people…what he wanted Nerburn to put out there in writing… Well, I don’t have words for what I felt.

Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to tuck away my still strong emotions and bewilderment about the journey I took to the Dakotas. I can only believe unseen forces were taking me by the hand to engage with all of it.

So I started to read the book. It was not easy going for me. I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I’d have to digest the contents. Most of the things covered in Neither Wolf Nor Dog I knew about in some form: the atrocities done to Native peoples by whites, cultural differences in beliefs and values…and then there’s appropriation of Native traditions by white people searching to find spiritual grounding…or those who seek to do good but hold a hidden agenda. But I hadn’t found anything to the depth or in the frame presented by Dan, and even Grover, in this writing. The book naturally goes much deeper than the movie ever could.

It took me over two months to read Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I stepped back numerous times to examine the level of my own assumptions and awareness, as well as my motivations behind the work I’ve devoted twenty years of my life. It was a necessary, intensive process. I can’t say it’s over. Instead, it’s all percolating some place inside. I don’t know what will finally emerge.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is book one of a trilogy that recounts the story of an Indian elder, the surrounding Lakota community, and the white man who somehow has been called to be part of the Truth-naming. The Wolf at Twilight is about Dan’s search for his long-lost sister Yellow Bird who, kidnapped from her home some eighty years before, never returned from the Indian boarding school. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo brings back the things many have forgotten: the meaning of dreams, the abilities to engage with nature and speak with animals. Sadly, it uncovers the existence of a secret asylum and events that took place there.

Kent Nerburn says these books are fictional accounts of actual events. The truths are in each sentence and have global application. This isn’t merely history. It’s today.

The books are available on Amazon or elsewhere. The movie may still be making the rounds in theaters. Hopefully, it will be offered streaming soon.

***

With many thanks to Karen Marchetti who turned me on to Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Without this guidebook I may never integrate the odyssey I was strangely called to undertake.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lineage and Tradition: Holding Strong for All That Matters

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Ceiba: Tree of Life. ©2018 Carla Woody.

I’ve been considering lineage. First coming from Latin as linea, evolving to Old French lignage and English line to finally form lineage, meaning lineal descent, ancestry and parentage. It has to do with roots from the seed. What is the seed? Where are your roots planted, and how deep do they go? That’s underground. What is drawn up through those roots to make its way above ground? Heritage is a living entity. What does the bloodline produce?

I like this on lineage from biology: a sequence of cells in the body that developed from a common ancestral cell. I think about origins, and all the stories that are passed along a family line ⎯ said and unsaid ⎯ and those told over and over that bind a collective to each other. Influences. There are those stories best to learn from and let go. But that’s another piece of writing.

Here I want to focus on tradition as it speaks to lineage.

When we are rootless…when we don’t know where we come from and don’t hear the stories…we long for knowledge of the line that could give us spiritual grounding, heritage in the highest sense. If we never know…if we’re disconnected…then we’re left to take the solo journey toward creating a solid identity. Or, not at all and remain ungrounded. Some are fortunate to find community that sustains them. Floundering is often the norm until some semblance of foundation forms. Whatever traditions come of this quest are deeply personal and create stability through time. They give expression and instill what it means to be human.

There are multitudes across the world who can trace their lineage back hundreds to thousands of years. Most of these are tribal peoples. They are grounded in the very lands where they or their ancestors were born. Their stories are centuries old, some never written down, and endure. They know who they are at a deeply unconscious level, made visible through their traditions. Rituals ⎯ how a baby receives its name, crops are planted, dreams advise ⎯ provide the framework that guide lives. They are not alone. Ancestors are actively present. So is the community. The richness of lineage is told through dance, songs, music and art.

I say these are the sacred threads that hold the world together because it’s true. These timeless elements produce spiritual grounding and strength beyond anything material. Yet to the present-day mainstream majority these threads are unseen or valued least with little to no thought or understanding.

There are so many examples of detractors acting against the stability that we all seek at a core level. On the world stage, most of us (who would be reading these words) can name those most grievous actions and their perpetrators right off the top of our heads. The source is rootlessness, the disconnect of those who have chosen to stay ungrounded. I have to believe this because I can’t imagine that anyone who has pledged commitment to all that encompasses spiritual identity could even consider, much less act on, what tears the world apart.

The question becomes how do those of us who hold value for the planet and all beings, not only survive but thrive and stand up to what acts against all we hold dear. I don’t believe we do it by force. I don’t believe we do it by cutting ourselves off from what is going on in the world. By virtue of holding anything at arm’s length, tension is created by focusing on what we want to avoid…thereby naturally drawing it to attention.

I don’t believe we do it by allowing ourselves to be assaulted. I say this in particular because I felt that way for months in this last year when I’d learn day by day of yet another thing that went against my deeply held spiritual values. This wasn’t just an attack on my mind. I felt the attack viscerally. But going numb isn’t the answer either.

I’m writing of this because it’s been so much on my mind. It’s probably been on yours. As I have been attempting to grapple, accept, rise above…I can’t say I have answers. But in the midst of all this, something did present itself. I’ve been drawn to return to reading passages in spiritual literature, adding this practice in to my daily meditation as I did many years ago when going through difficult times. I do feel strengthened.

We find our true identity in lineage and tradition, the sacred threads that hold the world together, woven tightly and held lightly.  I do believe this is what we’re called to do in these times, upleveling the breakthrough that must be on the horizon.

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Drops and Ripples. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Synchronicity being what it is, as I was finishing up this piece, I received the weekly newsletter with an article from Yes! Magazine entitled Don’t Just Resist. Return to Who You Are by Taiaiake Alfred. I zeroed in on these words scattered through a paragraph.

Reclaim.

Rename.

Reoccupy.

Restore.

That seems to say it all.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A Chosen Exile

ChosenExileThere have been any number of books that exposed the horrors of slavery in America. But few have focused on a particular segment of slaves and descendants of slaves: those whose race is mixed to the degree it’s largely undetermined. In slavery times, these were the children produced from union by a black mother, usually not consensual, and a white slaveholder father. This is a history on racial “passing” into white society, how it was accomplished, the weight of that choice and any relevance today.

A Chosen Exile is full of examples of those who made the transition to living as white in white (usually urban) communities, those who were discovered and returned to slavery, and those who were mistaken as white but openly identified as black ⎯ and made a point of correction.  Importantly, it goes into the emotional sacrifice of turning away from a part of yourself and disconnecting from family. That’s the payment extracted in the hopes of gaining a leg up, to live with dignity, to feed a family, to do more than just survive. The choice didn’t stop with the end of slavery but continued well into the 20th century.

One story detailed the escape of slaves Ellen Craft and her husband William. William said he came up with the complex plan.

It occurred to me that, as my wife was nearly white, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid, and assume to be my master, while I could attend as his slave, and that in this manner we might effect our escape.

But it was Ellen who made her transformation so successfully to white southern gentleman. It worked to the point that, on the way to Philadelphia, young southern women fell all over Ellen saying what a “most respectable looking gentleman.” News of their method soon trickled southward, became legend and was replicated to varying degrees.

The term “racial ambiguity” is frequently used in the book. First to identify those of mixed race, but finally pointing to a larger meaning: when “passing” is no longer even relevant.

Highly recommend this book. It goes into great depth on the meaning of race, identity, loss and the need to thrive. Even though political backlash and racial tragedies are the consistent news of this day, through the details presented in A Chosen Exile, still I witness our slow march to freedom for all people.

I found my copy at the public library. Otherwise available on Amazon and elsewhere books are sold.

 

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

The Calling to Truth

Any semblance of moisture we received in Northern Arizona has been long gone for months. It’s so hot that airplanes can’t fly two hours to the south. My eyes burn with the dryness, and I squint sharply against the sun. The winds have been so strong the gale seems to penetrate my very being, leaving only the core essentials as it exits. We await reprieve.

In my 2004 book Standing Stark, I wrote of monsoons to frame the spiritual process I would relay.

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.

A threat to collective Spirit is in effect. The tragic loss of lives, the reigning political untruths and senseless decisions that throw working people and the environment under the bus. Those who stand for Truth⎯in all its manifestations⎯can’t help but be affected. What can be done?

A few years ago, an acquaintance told me he respected my activism, and I was startled. I didn’t consider myself so. I actually wanted to flee. To me, activism meant center stage, labeled a radical, fighting the continual fight. It would mean a huge sacrifice on my part. I’m an introvert and can be left exhausted by such engagements if it goes on long enough. But I’ve shifted my perspective.

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.

It doesn’t mean taking radical action⎯except to stand against what insults your soul. It doesn’t mean being in the forefront, unless you choose to do so. It does means being actively engaged in what you believe rather than passively going with what you’re given, or assuming you can do nothing to change the tide. Every day there are choices to make. The quality of thoughts you launch into the ether. The words you write and speak. Where you expend your energy. You retain power by educating yourself to spend money only where it supports life-giving, not life-taking. These things do make a difference.

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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.

But truly it starts with each of us first to dispense with any untruths, any limiting beliefs, that cling to life within ourselves. Doing the work that must be done to release anything that speaks of “I don’t deserve,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not capable,” “It’s not possible.” Moving into wholeness⎯your birthright⎯lends strength to all of us.

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 stand waiting. Those souls who hold themselves available are struck.

I’ve decided I actually am an activist … in my own quiet way. It’s a step-by-step evolutionary process that has brought me to where, sometimes unexpectedly, I find myself today.

Truth matters. The planet matters. We matter. I smell the moisture coming that will drench the lands.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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