Thomas Berry

Are we having any fun yet??

Sheesh. Yikes, & sheesh.

Off the charts busy & even overwhelmed, spending time in very challenging times, it seems, & wanting to write about 25 things I can’t seem to find the time for, & last night I attended an all-candidates’ meeting at which the performances were quite underwhelming, to say the very least, & this morning I’m working on some stuff that is very hard to keep my head in, & hey! I work for myself, theoretically, & don’t get paid a cent for any of this crazy stuff I do (except for an occasional donation from a friend or other who sends me a buck or two sometimes; bless you!!!) & the phrase came into my mind, are we having any fun yet??

Of course, the answer is Yes! Yes, yes, yes.

As I said to some friends last night, via e-mail after that awful all-candidates’ meeting, doing worthwhile work is of course in & of itself rewarding, but the biggest bonus is hanging out with the coolest people.

Plato said, “Your wealth is where your friends are” & my old boyfriend used to marvel at my amazing friendships & I used to say “Yeah, I sure know how to pick my friends eh??”

So, onward ho during this oh-so-challenging time. Nuclear work, tar sands protest (yes – if you are not yet signed up, please go here & sign up!!), lots of writing projects & other projects I can’t seem to find the time to make happen.

But here’s the thing: I’ve figured out that, basically, I guess, I am a date planter. Sister Miriam MacGillis, a most amazing woman from Genesis Farm in the U.S. & a devotee of the ideas of Thomas Berry, once said on a tape I have of her speaking (the tape is from 1992, is called "The Fate of the Earth" & is awesome!!), that those who plant dates do not live to harvest them. Dates take decades & decades to bear fruit, & the people who planted them are by then long gone.

I hang out with date planters. How cool is that??

Janet

p.s. Sister Joan Chittister has said “If you are expecting to see the results of your work, you simply haven’t asked a big enough question.”

p.p.s. I read the novel So Long, See You Tomorrow (by William Maxwell) recently. Really enjoyed it. At one point the main character said "I understood not only how entirely generous they were but also that generosity might be the greatest pleasure there is." Ah, yes.......

 

‘Quote of the day' with this post: Thomas Berry on the environmental crisis: “It is something like being in a lifeboat. There may be problems of distribution of food, there may be people that need medical care, but if something happens to the boat, the boat has to be taken care of immediately or else everything else becomes irrelevant.”

 

Christmas 101...

<My first impulse was to call this post ‘Uh-oh. Christmas: here we go again!’>

It’s a couple of weeks before Christmas as I write this. Oh, Christmas – season of emotional confusion & messiness, & (in some cases very likely) emotional blackmail, even. (What fun! Not…)

Season of all our wanting & neediness to reach preposterous levels – & our dissatisfactions & pain, also.

The emotional complexity of this time of year boggles my mind! Stirs up my own emotions & emotional neediness like some great big bubbling, messy stew. And has, now, for more years than I care to think about.

I can’t help but wonder: do Jews & Muslims experience this season (or any season) in this same way?? Is this great big annual mixed-up, emotion-laden season the sole province of “Christian” people? (quotation marks because I & so many of us are, of course, merely “cultural Christians.”)

Christmas has always been a bit loaded for me (&, I think, for many). It seems to be all tied up with nostalgia – nostalgia for those “perfect” Christmases we had as children. (Ha! Since so many of us come from dysfunctional families, I think many readers will “get” that little ironic chuckle of mine there.)

A long-time un-fan of waste (of any & all kinds), & of this culture’s excessive consumerism, Christmas has long been an ambivalent time for me.

I want it to be about family, & love, & togetherness, & laughter, & preferably some snowy activity such as skating or tobogganing, with a little (or even a lot) of chocolate thrown in – & truthfully, I’m grateful to be able to say, I do spend some very enjoyable Christmas days – but the weeks of agonizing over who is going to be where (divorce, eh? That gift that keeps right on giving…) & what to get for everyone & … the angst, the angst! Sheesh!!

This year is proving no exception. We families of divorce have our awkwardnesses to navigate, year after year after year. It’s a real bummer. This year’s crop of personal angst (details not important) is helping me “get” a few things, I think, about the “human condition.”

First off, & apologies in advance for the offence this will very likely cause to some, but I do not believe for a moment that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christmas celebrations are really about the big blow-out human beings have been having to celebrate the end of that painful trajectory of growing darkness – those days that grow shorter & shorter until December 21st. Our species has apparently been hosting big bashes at the time of the winter solstice for … a whole heckuva lot of years!! (Do look this up, if you like. That’s what Google is for!!)

So, wanting to “party” at this time is practically primal. It’s virtually wired into us.

All the gift-giving … baloney… All the hoopla & the excessive consumerism – that’s just modern-day nonsense.(1)

I have my own theory about Christmas – first floated in 2006 in one of the “Letters to My Daughters” collection I was then working on. I keep fine-tuning this little theory, & recent/current events are adding more ingredients to the mix.

I think what really comes out in (many of) us at Christmas is the pain of our abandonment. I believe we all have feelings of pain & abandonment; every last one of us, one way & another. It’s a matter of degree.

Long story short?

We human beings evolved to be tribal creatures. We need more than these ever-so-aptly-named “nuclear” families. On the big picture, geological time scale, we only walked out of those caves yesterday afternoon. You get what I’m saying?

Not only do we each have our very own personal experiences of abandonment, we feel abandonment/alienation as a species.

We feel lonely, alone, adrift, isolated, alienated. Why? 10,000 years(2) of living in opposition to our very nature as tribal (communal, if you prefer) creatures have left us feeling this way.

Don’t buy this? Well, you don’t really have to.

Bring it back down to the level of the personal. To Christmas, & our nostalgia & our neuroses & our angst – every year, like clockwork, at this season.

As I alluded to, some recent/current “stuff” in my own life is helping me rassle with this. On the personal level – on the very down-to-earth, Janet McNeill level, I am rassling with it all, trust me!

& I am “getting”:

  1. I have emotional pain that rears its head for me most particularly at Thanksgiving & Christmas.
  2. Divorce is a very generous contributor, in my case, to this annual angst. There is simply no getting around that. No point pretending it isn’t so.
  3. In my pain, it is very tempting to lash out. To want to “punish” someone else for the pain I am feeling inside me.
  4. This emotion of wanting to spread the pain around (“Misery loves company,” hmm?) is very…real. (Can you say “war,” anyone?? Can you say “So-&-so just did such-&-such; let’s whack her/him/them with a 2 x 4, or a rocket launcher, or a missile, or a nuclear bomb,” or…you’re getting my drift, hmmm?)
  5. I can’t just “talk myself out of” the pain that comes up sometimes over some of this ancient or more recent or current personal slights & slings & arrows. It does seem to help an awful lot, though, to be fully honest with myself about what I am feeling – & sometimes even to articulate it out loud.
  6. And then do my best to take that understanding of my own self, my own situation – my own emotional conflictedness…to understand better what other people are feeling – without making them wrong for their feelings.(3)
  7. Because being petty & mean-spirited in my own “personal life,” & acting as though making other people miserable (punishing them, in essence) will make me feel better is only so much futile nonsense. It doesn’t work... That way does not lie happiness.
  8. So. I know I have some more figuring out to do. The nuts & bolts of this year’s Christmas remain to be fine-tuned. I’m hoping that some of my understanding of the “big picture” (millennia of celebrations at the time of the winter solstice; universal feelings among human beings of loss & abandonment; the state of life here on Planet Earth at this so-very-sobering time in human history) will help me out on the personal level. I need to be sensitive to – mindful of – my own emotional … stews; to know with certainty that making others miserable will not make me feel good; and to figure out how to balance simple honesty about the challenges that rise up at this time every year with sensitivity to everyone else’s personal share of emotional ambivalence & pain…

& try to have some fun!! I do believe the blow-outs we human beings have been having at this time of year – for millennia now – are really all about what some brilliant thinkers(4) say the whole point of human life on Planet Earth actually is:

Celebration!!

Janet

p.s. Over the years, I’ve written environment columns for several small town newspapers. The most recent one was the North Renfrew Times, during the Deep River phase of my life. A few of these columns can be found under the NRT Columns tab. The one that springs to mind right now is ‘Transforming Christmas.’

p.p.s. I just came across a scrap of paper that reminded me of Sister Joan Chittister’s phrase that describes our current way of living. “Pathological individualism.” Bang on, I'd say!

p.p.p.s. I came up very recently with a thought that maybe I should share here. It was this: The human tendency toward pettiness should never be underestimated. You can quote me on that! It came up while I was out on one of my daily walks. I had an episode of personal pettiness come over me, & up sprang those words…We can all, of course, resort at times to pettiness & mean-spiritedness. But it never really makes us feel good, does it?? I think we tend to feel much better when we strive to be big…not when we get all caught up in unpleasant “little me” stuff.


(1) & btw, if you have not already watched the brilliant little animated show “The Story of Stuff, get thee to it & watch!! It’s funny & very smart & packs one heck of a punch into a few short minutes’ viewing. Highly recommended!!

(2) Other posts have dealt with this 10,000 year idea:

(3) The way we so often make other people wrong is a key concept I took away from my Landmark Forum (LMF) experience. The blog posting ‘Landmark Experience is relevant here, but I think in that post I may have failed to mention this insight about how we make other people wrong, & how this really doesn’t help any of us a whole heck of a lot…

(4) I think both Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry have written about this. & they are (were, in Berry’s case) big, BIG thinkers…

Cases of Mistaken Identity

<Nov. 26/10>

Been meaning to write about this phenomenon for a while.

A dream I had last night made these thoughts come to the surface as soon as I woke up & recalled it. I’ll spare you the details, although it’s a rather oft-repeated theme in my personal dream life.

Everyone has heard about “cases of mistaken identity.” I think an awful lot of us are victims of the phenomenon, yet with little or no conscious awareness of it.

What I’m referring to, to cut to the chase, is that I think large numbers of us relate to our spouses/partners as though they are the mother or father with whom we had such vastly emotionally complex dealings as children. If you are one of the lucky few on the planet who had a “perfect” childhood, with “perfect” parents, in some lovely Waltonesque or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family, well – hey, 2 things:

  1. Lucky you! You’re about as common, I suspect, as the long-extinct dodo bird!
  2. You probably won’t understand what the heck I’m talking about here.

I don’t really need to say a whole lot about this. I think we all have to wrestle with this in our own way, on our own time.

I personally seem to have a pretty intimate acquaintance with the phenomenon – from inside out & outside in & 6 ways to Sunday, as they say. I’m not going to share any particulars, because making this “personal” is not my point. I’m talking about it because of its seeming-universality. It seems to be something an awful lot of us are wrestling with, one way & another…

Most of us come from dysfunctional families. It seems a lot of us have lives in which there are a fair number of “elephants in the room.” I’ve had my own gutwrenching experiences with elephants – & I’ve lived with some… & I think there are plenty of them around.

I occasionally see folks whose elephants are so gigantic, they look to be squeezing the life out of the human beings who are trying really, really hard to skirt around them without winding up on a psychiatric ward (& I’ve seen enough of psychiatric wards, what with one job & another I’ve had over the years, to know that there isn’t liable to be much help found there).

It’s painful to watch this stuff from the sidelines (even more painful to be right in the midst of it, of course!!) – & I’m a much bigger fan of joy & possibility & singing & changing the world than I am of numbing pain & misery & scarcely being able to breathe for all the neurotic nonsense one is having to dance around on a daily basis.

So…good luck, everyone. All of us! Wouldn’t it be cool if we’d all work on creating a personal life (& world) in which, if there must be some “elephants in the room,” at least they are small ones? Here’s to baby elephants!

Janet

p.s. I guess you could say that one of the purposes of our lives is healing. Seeking (& working on) our own healing & all the while, as we work to heal ourselves, helping to heal everything & everyone around us. The planet itself too, of course – since we humans are maybe something like the planet’s eyes & ears & hands & legs (& consciousness, but…oh dear me, if I get going down that road, I’ll never get stopped!)

p.p.s. I was about to suggest some books I think can help couples who think they might want to understand & wrestle a little with the mistaken identity “elephant.” Two I can recommend are Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want & Martin Rovers’ Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships. (John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is a pretty helpful read as well. & Byron Katie’s Loving What IsFour questions that can change your life is indeed potentially life-changing!)

p.p.p.s. Some fascinating authors on the subject of consciousness & perhaps the uniqueness of human beans – I mean beings – are:

  • Thomas Berry
  • Matthew Fox
  • Sister Miriam MacGillis
  • Tom Harpur
  • Eckhart Tolle

& oh yes, I could go on… (Check here for lots of great book recommendations.)

Since the personal is indeed political, there is lots of useful spillover from one to the other with all of these books, of course.

'Quote of the day' with this post: “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

15 Things I’d Do (if I had a little more time…)

I drafted this funny (as in odd) little list in August 2009, at which time I had sold my house & was getting ready to  move. The first 2 items are now sort of obsolete - but I did indeed help w. them. The rest of the list seems to me now as relevant as it was in August '09 - so here it rather belatedly is! 1. Promote like crazy the 350.org movement & the global day of action on climate change this group has spearheaded. Organize a busload of people to go to Ottawa (Ontario, Canada - our capital city) to 'Fill the Hill' and show our politicians & fellow Canadians we DO care about climate change and want action - NOW. (Actually, I am doing this. So...yay!!) Tons has happened since Oct. 24/09. Check out www.350.org for what's up now!!

2. Promote the Canadian tour of long-time anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott to Toronto, Peterborough, Kingston & London. I'm going to do a separate post about her itinerary. [Of course Helen Caldicott was very recently in Port Hope & Oshawa, Ontario, for a barn-burner of a talk to members of the Port Hope & area public about the very appalling situation created there by Eldorado & Cameco.]

3. Promote the Syracuse Cultural Workers & their wonderful work/catalogue/projects. Check them out here & ask to have one of their catalogues sent to you. The stuff they do - & sell - is awesome!!! (1)

4. Contact Sarah Ban Breathnach - author of the book Simple Abundance - & get permission to make buttons of her quotation "We are not meant to fit in; we are meant to stand out." I've wanted to do this for years!! (I picture black lettering on a pink background...)

5. Get the Syracuse Cultural Workers to make up & sell the buttons.

6. Promote sustainable living in every possible way. Off-grid living. Solar power. Wind power. Better public transportation. Local food. Community gardening. Communal, cooperative living.

7. Help children learn to be:

    • Resourceful
    • Resilient
    • Capable
    • Strong
    • Useful
    • Cooperative
    • Compassionate
    • Unselfish
    • Unafraid to use their own voices
    • Activists
    • Lovers of the Earth / Nature
    • Independent/critical thinkers
    • Lovers of books, reading & learning
    • Leaders, not followers.

Encourage them to NOT:

    • Watch television much at all
    • Pay any attention whatsoever to ads in movies & on TV
    • Immerse themselves in violent games, movies, video games, etc.
    • Be obsessed with "looking good"
    • Be "spoiled brats."

8. Encourage all adults to:

    • Grow up!
    • Parent well
    • Get counselling/professional help, if need be, in order to help with the 2 previous items
    • Be critical thinkers
    • Read good books & become better informed
    • Realize that all the best & most important things in life are not things...
    • Love the Earth / Nature
    • Be leaders
    • Take action
    • Turn off the TV
    • Think "outside the box"
    • Walk daily
    • Sing daily
    • Think long-term but Be. Here. Now.

Encourage them to NOT:

    • Count on things continuing to "be the way they've always been" (2)
    • Spend much time watching television
    • Fear change
    • Fear death - but instead, learn to live fully now.

9. Figure out how to distill my (usually) cheerful spirit & faith & willingness to act & somehow distribute it to everyone - or wave a magic wand - so that everyone would begin to care (& act) passionately about looking after the Earth (& each other!) properly...

10. Teach everyone to have faith in abundance, & to abandon fear-based thinking & our all-too-characteristic "poverty mentality."

11. Publish the books I've written.

12. Encourage EVERYONE to turn off the TV, read more, 'get back on their feet,' & do things every single day to help the Earth/fellow human beings.

13. Clean up all the lakes & rivers & streams & oceans - & the air - zap all the toxic waste & garbage & nuclear waste & just give the Earth - & the human spirit - a very, very thorough house-cleaning.

14. Encourage everyone to consider a little "civil disobedience" once in a while. As I once heard someone say, if you saw a child about to be hit by a car, you wouldn't spend any time thinking about how to react in a "rational" fashion. The adrenaline would start pumping & you would leap to action. I'd say - given the state of our world - we all need to leap to action - now!!

15. Encourage everyone to have fun - to laugh & sing & be good to & appreciate the people in y/our lives every day. To celebrate Life - & the grand experience of being alive here on beautiful Planet Earth. Life is not meant to be a funeral dirge, nor to have us chained miserably to a mostly meaningless 9 - 5 Monday to Friday grind. It's supposed to be a celebration!! So say some very, very bright dudes whose books I've read (Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry). I'm convinced they're right!

Janet

P.S. My sincere apologies for the dog's breakfast (as they say) of this post's formatting. It's the nastiest post I've ever put "up"! Nasty, nasty, nasty, & for the life of me, though I have tried & tried, I have not been able to format it as I'd like. Sometimes life's just like that, isn't it???

(1)    Great T-shirts, postcards, buttons, calendars, books, bookmarks, posters, bumper stickers with cool messages, & probably other neat stuff I'm forgetting to mention.

(2) 'cos they're not going to be! 

Tell Me a Story…

<April 8/08>

I got up this morning – my birthday! – in a quite stunning place. I’m at a retreat centre called Hollyhock on Cortes Island in B.C., and this is my last full day here (darn!).

It’s a rainy day, and I have to admit, rainy isn’t my very favourite kind of weather. But it’s my birthday, and I know darn well a morning walk is always the best way for me to start my day (and also that “attitude is everything,”) so I cheerfully suited up in my raingear and set out for a walk over to nearby Smelt Bay Provincial Park beach.

On the way over I thought “dressing for the weather” is not such a bad metaphor for life. We will each encounter every kind of “weather” in our lives, and certain attitudes/behaviour/habits will stand us in better stead than others. Actively practicing gratitude, being out in and appreciating Nature often, learning to “let go,” understanding that “the best things in life are not things” and that “your wealth is where your friends are:” all of these will help get us through even the stormiest “weather.”

On my walk down the beach (the one pictured at the top of this blog), the phrase “The magic is everywhere” came into my head. I’ve long believed that “everyday magic” is all around us: again, the kinds of magic we encounter when we love Nature, follow our bliss, find our tribe and practice gratitude faithfully.

The magic this morning was in the natural beauty around me; never mind that it was raining. I saw two friendly fishermen arriving back on shore in that classic, charming yellow raingear, several loons, a whole host of interesting shells and pieces of driftwood, and just kept breathing it all in and giving deep sighs of gratitude.

Down at the farthest point on the beach, I looked out in the water and saw a huge flock of scoter birds. I had a chuckle recalling the amazing show some of these birds had given me on an earlier walk. If only I had videotaped them – they’d put on the most captivating play for me (well, not for me, of course, but there I was to gratefully drink in their highly amusing little “show”).

Then, for some reason, the thought came to me, as it has on other occasions, that we all carry a personal “story” with us, and that when we let it go – let it fall away – magic happens.

I used to carry a story about a not-terribly-happy childhood. Then, over time, that tired old one was replaced by one about the 20-year marriage that blew up.

Now, I’m just me – woman, mother, writer, environmental activist, friend, community volunteer, human being...

I think – I hope! – my story has grown bigger.

I think that, although I may weigh a little more now in actual pounds of flesh, every time I let my “story” go and just be, I become lighter…more full of light…freer…more joyful.

In the language of Eckhart Tolle (whose book and appearances on the webcasts with Oprah are so “hot” right now), our egos are very heavy.

They slow us down…they trip us up…they get in the way.

I’m not saying we human beings don’t need stories – we do. Many big writers and thinkers (e.g Thomas King and Thomas Berry,(1) to name just two) are quite right when they say that story is in fact the whole deal.

But what we need now are big stories; big visions – not little stories that keep us all caught up inside our own heads, recycling those little, personal “oh poor me” stories…

(Maybe we are like a snake that needs to shed its skin? It is time to move on…)

What happens when we drop our old personal story? Many of us are afraid of doing so, I know. The old story seems to give us an odd sort of comfort, doesn’t it? It’s so familiar. Yet the old stories don’t make us happy; they’re more like some sort of prison, actually – yet we do cling quite tenaciously to them, don’t we?

Letting them go sets us free.

One begins to sense one’s pure potential.

I’d say we are pure potential.

So here’s my birthday wish for all of us:

Tell me a story.

A story about possibilities and potential.

And then, let’s all start putting flesh on the bones of these new, big, grand stories.

Amen…

Janet

P.S. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” It is so, it is so...


(1) You will never go wrong reading any or all of Thomas Berry’s books…trust me! I’m particularly fond of The Dream of the Earth and The Great Work – Our Way into the Future. He also co-authored The Universe Story From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos with physicist Brian Swimme. Also eminently worth reading…

Self-Help Books

<July 24/09>

The genre of self-help books has exploded in recent years. I myself have read a ton of them – & for sure, there are plenty I am happy to give a big “thumb's up.”

I’m sure there are people who scoff at this phenomenon; who wonder how much good all these books are doing. After all, the world still seems to be in a pretty fearsome mess, doesn’t it? We seem to be perched like lemmings on the edge of a cliff. (Hmm. Not so much on the edge as throwing ourselves off it…)

But I see the phenomenon as very healthy – & very poignant. Clearly, many of us realize we’re all mixed up. That things aren’t working – in the world, & in our own lives.

We are uneasy – dissatisfied – unhappy. We know there has to be something more.

We come to our personal crises through a variety of doorways. We get sick – or get fired – or our partner/spouse dumps us – or maybe we get tired of feeling as though we’re only half-alive.

I came through the door of environmental activism – & then the unexpected end of a 20-year marriage that was a very good one for 17 of those years.

Environmental activism did/has done/continues to do a lot for me. For one not-so-small thing, it led me to be re-acquainted with the beauty of our world – this precious Earth.

And in reading about the environmental crisis – reading books by big thinkers like Thomas Berry & others, I came to understand that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. It’s not really about filling the oceans with garbage & toxic waste, & the air with pollution & the earth itself with garbage & poisons – although that’s what we’ve done & continue on our merry way to do.

It’s about what it is in us that causes us to do these things – allows us to carry on this way.

Ever since I was about 14 years old, I’ve felt the need to try & “help” the world, & to be a part of something bigger than myself; for sure, environmental activism helps me do that.

Self-help books have helped me understand my own psychology, my own neuroses & personal pitfalls (& their likely origins) – & by extension, those of my fellow human beings.

So, at the drop of a hat, I can rhyme off the names of, oh, 20 or 30 self-help books I’ve found very, very useful.

Each of them has given me, at the very least, one significant nugget of insight & understanding. Each of the writers has helped shine an illuminating shaft of light into my own behaviour/soul & more generally, human behaviour/the human soul.

So I don’t take the proliferation of self-help books lightly at all – & since reading books has been just about my salvation in this life, I’ll probably keep right on reading & recommending books that I think can really help others.

With one caveat.

I personally believe that until we devote ourselves/our lives to forces much more powerful than our own – a picture that is very much bigger than our own little lives & our immediate circle of acquaintances/loved ones – all the self-help books in the world cannot “save” us.

I’m not going to try to tell anyone else what that “big picture” consists of – how you can break into it – nor will I suggest that everybody ought to become an environmental activist (although that would surely be grand!)

I know quite well that we all have to figure out quite a lot for ourselves in this life. There doesn’t seem to be any way around that, although reading excellent books can certainly be a great un-locker of our soul’s secrets & desires & repressed emotions.

I can say that a greater appreciation of Nature can take each one of us a very long way. A 20-minute (or longer!) daily walk can do wonders. (In my view, this is best done alone, & with nothing inserted into one’s ears.) Even cities have parks & trees, sky & clouds, birds & other critters one can learn to appreciate & feel cheered by.

When we learn to really appreciate Nature/the Earth, we begin to “get” that it’s a gift, & a treasure, & a privilege to be living on such a stunning, orbiting ball of beauty & abundance – living always in the radiance of the sun that is, count ‘em, 93 million miles away – & without which we couldn’t function for five minutes!

This can crack us open to the realization that, no matter how many personal neuroses & foibles & problems we may have, we are all part of something very vast indeed.

And then the self-help books can send us on a path of “spiritual” growth that will bring it home to us that, when we help the world, we are helping ourselves, & when we make the effort to grow spiritually & help ourselves, we are simultaneously also helping the world.

And as Kurt Vonnegut might have us say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Janet

p.s. In addition to reading lots of books & ruminating plenty, I’ve been to counsellors on several occasions, & have also taken advantage of some very worthwhile workshops. You can read about these in the blog item ‘3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth’ & the ‘Landmark Experience’ essay.

There are also two lists of recommended reading found under the ‘Recommended’ tab of the blog. Neither is a full listing of all the really good books I’ve read; by now, there are many I’ve read & forgotten about – but there is plenty of good stuff there…

Joanna Macy Invites Us to SHOW UP!

<June 27/09>

On Thursday, June 18th, I heard Joanna Macy speak in Toronto.

What a blessing!!

Luckily, I took notes (writers always do), so I can share some of her insights here.

(Joanna Macy has written some great books, & there are other JM-related items on this blog; I’ll refer to these in a P.S. at the end.)

Joanna opened by thanking us for our attention and pointing out that the phenomenon of self-reflective consciousness (a concept also frequently referenced in the work of Thomas Berry & Sister Miriam MacGillis and perhaps others I ought to name) – i.e., where we now are in the evolution of the Universe/Earth/humanity, has been a 4-billion year process. Here we now find ourselves, at this so-amazing time in history – what an amazing miracle and blessing! (She also referred briefly to the fact of the stunning biodiversity that supports our self-reflective consciousness.)

She noted that we are “waking up together” – and that it’s hard for us to wake up. Our world/culture works very, very hard to keep us asleep – and the “power holders” are very happy to see us stay that way. Not just asleep, but caught up inside our own personal pathologies. For the power-holders/moneymakers, it is good that we feel ashamed of our personal problems, and keep quiet. This serves their agenda very well indeed. (That way, we don’t question, we just keep buying. We don’t rock the boat.)

She spoke of the deep need for gratitude. “Gratitude is essential for our showing up,” she said, and pointed out that all indigenous cultures have always had a spiritual tradition of gratitude. When we are caught up in self-pity, that keeps the power-holders very happy – because it keeps us buying and buying and buying, trying to fill up those holes we have inside. When we focus on gratitude, we see how rich and blessed we are – how beautiful our Earth is – and self-pity (and addictive consumption) fall away.

So – it’s hard to wake up – and gratitude is key.

As is truth-telling. Telling the truth, Joanna Macy said, is “like making oxygen.”

When we do acknowledge the truth about our world, it is definitely painful. That’s why we hold it off – whether as individuals with our personal pathologies (Janet talking now: this is all very, very familiar territory for me just now), or as human beings recognizing the state of the world and the abyss our species is perched on the edge of.

Joanna Macy has long been a scholar of Buddhism, and Buddhist thought and practice have very much shaped her life. Compassion is a key linchpin in Buddhist thought.

Macy points out that when we suffer with others (there is much, much pain and suffering in this world, after all), that is compassion – suffering with is what compassion means. We are sometimes made to feel as though we are crazy when we “suffer with” – but as Macy says, No, we are not crazy – we are allowed to “suffer with.”(1) Our fear and our tears and our outrage are also not personal – we are suffering for our world, not just for ourselves. (This insight alone is so powerful I could probably muse on it for days.)

She also commented that we need and should and are allowed to honour our pain. (I needed to hear that too.)

As other writers/teachers are also pointing out, if in slightly different ways (e.g., Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie), the problems of the human race are mind-made – they are problems that originate inside our minds and our ways of thinking; thus, they can be un-made! (As I’ve said so many times in other blog items here, for goodness sake, read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose!!!! A must, must, must-read.)

We need one another terribly – we need communion and community. Our loneliness/aloneness/isolation keep us “small,” when in fact, as Joanna Macy says, “We are so much bigger than we thought.” We spent thousands of years projecting all the greatness on a “Big Daddy God” who was somewhere up in the sky – not on the Earth – and now we have brought the sacred “back down to Earth.”

Macy says “Our roots, our true nature – is vast.”

We are vast – I have felt this, many times. I’ve also – and very, very recently, as in, a few hours ago – felt entirely trapped inside my own aloneness and personal sadness – and just had the insight this morning that most of us don’t understand our very own nature. We are strangers, even to ourselves! Only in talking with others, in communion and in conversation, do we shed our isolation and our lack of self-understanding. And gain compassion for ourselves, as well as for others.

Well – this notion that we are actually vast creatures should surely empower us!!

Macy says that we now find ourselves, as a species, in a time of transformation as huge as the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago. Some are calling this time “The Great Turning(2),” and as we know, its outcome is not certain. Perhaps we will make the turning; perhaps we will not… No one can yet say.

As Macy explains, “the not-knowing is the prerequisite of our presence.” In other words, if we knew the outcome, either way, would we “show up” in the same way?

What happens will be the result of “how we show up.”

In World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Macy says “Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” And “Do-er and deed co-arise. Hence our continuity of character, bearing the stamp of repeated choice and habit. Hence also our freedom, for new options arise with each present act of will.” (my italics)

We cannot know what will happen… What will happen will be the result of our choices and actions. So our choices/actions are very, very important.

Macy also says “You also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” As I said in another essay in which I quoted this, I do believe this is true.

I am so very grateful to have been introduced to the work and wisdom of Joanna Macy (thank you Skye!!)

I can see no way ahead for my own peace and sanity but to continue truth-telling. This may take some unpredictable turns.

But if I am somehow helping to create a little oxygen with it, I’ll be one very gratified person.

And you, now. How will you show up?

Janet

p.s. Books of Joanna Macy’s that I have read & much enjoyed are Widening Circles – A Memoir (New Society Publishers, 2000) & World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal (Parallax Press, 2007).

p.p.s. Other items on this blog with Joanna Macy-related material are the 2 ‘Despair & Empowerment’ posts – & one called ‘Joanna Macy: Wise Woman.

p.p.p.s. Joanna Macy spoke about the pivotal importance of gratitude in our lives & in the Great Turning. I talk about gratitude a lot too. If you go to the post 'Gratitude Posts: A list & an insight' you’ll see both a list of the posts here that touch on gratitude, & some insight on gratitude from Joanna Macy. Here is the quote:

“Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more – more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.” [World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 2007.]

(1) The next day, on the street in Toronto, I saw people begging, & as I’ve written in a couple of other blog entries, I like to give money to people because a) I suffer with/have compassion for people in this situation and b) it makes me feel good and now c) I have permission to “suffer with” – it’s nice to have this tendency of mine affirmed. I am not crazy for these feelings of compassion.

(2) There is an excellent book by this name, The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community, by David C. Korten, 2006. Well worth reading. Also a film by the same name, & it’s great too!

Joanna Macy: Wise Woman

Joanna Macy says in the Introduction to her book World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal that the personal life question that has been central in her life is “how to be fully present to my world – present enough to rejoice and be useful – while we as a species are progressively destroying it.”

Phew. That statement certainly resonates big-time for me…

Joanna Macy, Ph. D., is now 80 years old. She is, according to the book’s jacket, “one of the best-known eco-philosophers and spiritual activists in the country. She is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology, she weaves her scholarship with four decades of activism.”

She is also an incredibly caring and compassionate woman, a mother and grandmother, and a fantastic writer.

In the 1970s Macy and several colleagues pioneered a phenomenon known as ‘despair and empowerment’ workshops (they’ve also been known as ‘Deep Ecology Work’ and ‘The Work That Reconnects’). Macy maintains “The problem lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it.” (pg. 94 of World as Lover, World as Self).

The chapter of the book called “Despair Work” is very moving and useful. Macy explains that the apathy widely decried by activists is not due to our lack of caring. She says, “The cause of our apathy, however, is not indifference. It stems from a fear of the despair that lurks beneath the tenor of life-as-usual” and goes on to say “The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies. Fear of despair erects an invisible screen, filtering out anxiety-producing data. In a world where organisms require feedback in order to adapt and survive, this is suicidal.” (pages 92-3).

Her book is replete with wisdom and infused with her deep compassion and caring. I could fill pages with her amazing, articulate, wise comments about the state of the world, the need for us to open ourselves up to the true nature of the situation we as a species now find ourselves in, and the ways in which we might properly respond.

A few of the chapter titles, to intrigue you: “Faith, Power & Ecology,” “Three Lessons in Compassion,” “Taking Heart: Spiritual Practices for Activists,” “The Great Turning,” “The Greening of the Self” and “Perseverance for the Long Haul.”

Joanna Macy has led an amazing life, and her experiences are fascinating. Her insights are numerous and profound.

In the chapter “Taking Heart” she says “So we are caught now in a narrow place where we realize that Lao-tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and our own hearts were right all along; and we are as scared and frantic as a cornered rat, and as dangerous. But if we let it, that narrow cul-de-sac can turn into a birth canal, pressing and pushing us through the darkness of pain, until we are delivered into…what? Love seems too weak a word. It is, as Saint Paul said, ‘the glory to be revealed in us.’ It stirs in us now.” And a few lines later, “But now comes the daunting revelation, that we are all called to be saints – not good necessarily, or pious, or devout – but saints in the sense of just caring for each other.” (page 135)

Is it not so??

I surely do recommend that you read the book yourself! (Her memoir Widening Circles is also a wonderful and inspiring read.)

Janet

P.S. The chapter “Taking Heart: Spiritual Practices for Activists” has wonderful, practical tips you can put to use immediately – no need to meditate for 10 years or become some sort of spiritual “master” to be able to apply them in your life right away. Ms. Macy certainly knows how to help us become more compassionate, among other things…

P.P.S. One of the qualities Joanna Macy shares with other big, big thinkers Eckhart Tolle, Thomas and Wendell Berry, and Matthew Fox is that her perspective is not narrow, but very wide indeed. While Macy practices Buddhism, and both Berrys & Fox come from a Christian background, they all see the very, very big picture. Their insights and wisdom are for all of us, whatever our state or habits of belief … or our utter lack thereof. These thinkers are for everyone

P.P.P.S. I attended a ‘Despair & Empowerment’ workshop led by Macy colleague John Seed, the Australian rainforest activist. This was a profoundly moving, worthwhile and memorable experience. There is also a film by that name.

Thomas Berry, Environmentalist, Priest, Eco-Theologian, Dies at 94

*For a short video of Thomas Berry, go here

** There are 2 sources for this post. I received it via the EEON list serve, and the EEON list serve received it from the Program Coordinator, Poverty, Wealth and Ecological Justice, The United Church of Canada, 3250 Bloor Street West, Suite 300, Toronto, ON, Canada M8X 2Y4.

Dear friends,

We wanted you to know that Thomas Berry passed away early on the morning of June 1st at Wellspring home where he had been living in Greensboro, North Carolina. He died peacefully and with family at his side. Fortunately we were visiting with him just 10 days ago. He was our beloved teacher and friend. Because of his insight and understanding of the religions of the world we were inspired to carry his work forward in the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

An article was published in the National Catholic Reporter:

There is also further information and a longer biography of him here:

Thomas Berry was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1914. From his academic beginnings as a historian of world cultures and religions, Berry developed into a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes. He described himself as a “geologian.”

Berry received his Ph.D. in European Intellectual History with a thesis on Giambattista Vico's philosophy of history. Widely read in Western history, he also spent many years studying the cultural history of Asia.

He lived in China and traveled to other parts of Asia. He authored two books on Asian religions, Buddhism and Religions of India (distributedby Columbia University Press).

For two decades, he directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research along the Hudson River. During this period he taught at Fordham University where he chaired the history of religions program and directed 25 doctoral theses. His major contributions to the discussion on the environment are in his books The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988 reprinted, 2006), The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (Random House, 1999) and, with Brian Swimme, The Universe Story (Harper San Francisco, 1992). His latest collection of essays is Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club Books and University of California Press, 2006).

This August two more books of his essays will be published: The Sacred Universe (Columbia University) and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Orbis Books).

He has been a great gift in our lives - and in many others' as well. His warmth, humor, and insight have enhanced so many gatherings and his writings will remain as a remarkable legacy of a brilliant mind.

We will be at the funeral celebration of his life in Greensboro on Wednesday, June 3rd. Thomas will be buried at the Green Mountain Monastery in Greensboro, Vermont on June 8th. We are also planning a memorial service in New York this September at the Cathedral of St John the Divine where Paul Winter will play and Brian Swimme and others will speak. We will keep you posted on this.

His family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations can be made in his memory to: The Thomas Berry Foundation, c/o Mary Evelyn Tucker & John Grim, 29 Spoke Drive, Woodbridge, CT06525, U.S.A.

 

Lonely & Terrified: Just Another ‘Bozo on the Bus’

The “Pollyanna lady” (that is to say, I, Janet) awoke this morning feeling as though there was a huge ROCK sitting on my chest. I felt heavy. The world felt heavy. LIFE felt heavy.

I was not a happy camper.

So I made a cup of coffee & went back to bed with my newly-arrived treasure, the book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. I’d encountered the book & read about ¾ of it a couple weekends ago, while away with a friend (thanks mucho, Penny!!). Arrived home & promptly ordered 3 copies. What a book!!

It seems downright magical to me how words can be such a powerful un-locker of our emotions.

Within a few moments of cracking the book (reading the entries in the last 2 sections, ‘Birth & Death’ & ‘The River of Change’), I was teary & feeling cracked open myself, & suddenly said out loud a thought I had not articulated at all before that moment, “I am lonely & terrified.”

Yikes! Until I said it out loud, I had not known I was feeling lonely & terrified. Lesser’s words/stories made me feel all opened up – & when opened up, seemingly, we can articulate emotions we didn’t even know we were feeling.

I’m not exactly used to feeling lonely & terrified – & I don’t suppose my personal circumstances or “reasons” for feeling this way right now matter in the slightest. We all feel that way, hmm? At least some of the time. It is the human condition, is it not??

Like you, dear Reader – like everyone – I’m just another “bozo on the bus.” “Bozos on the bus”(1) is the title of one of the essays in Lesser’s wonderful book, & I love how she helps us realize we’re all in tons of good company, being less-than-perfect, less-than-always-wonderful – that we all have foibles & insecurities, & that that other bus that supposedly contains all the “perfect” people, with their perfect bodies & families & lives?? – is nothing but an illusion. We’re all on the same bus – with all the other bozos. What a relief!!

Well. I got myself out of bed, turned on the computer & downloaded my e-mail (there was a work-related task I knew I had to do before going out for my walk) & learned from a good friend that Thomas Berry died two days ago [he died on June 1, 2009. The next post tells you much more about this very special man].

Thomas Berry has been one of my major heroes for some years now. A big, big thinker, Berry studied, understood & articulated the entire range of human endeavour on the planet – as well as grasping & articulating the Universe story from the Big Bang on.(2)

It certainly feels to me as though a very big light has gone out.

Which doesn’t help very much with those feelings of loneliness & terror, of course.

But I made myself go out for my walk,(3) went to my beloved Pine Point Beach, & sat by the river for quite a while in silence, gazing out at the water, the hills & trees on the other side of the river, listening to birds sing & the breeze rustling leaves in the trees. I let sand run through my fingers & I thought “Ahhhhhhhhhh…….”

No great insights, revelations or epiphanies. I had some quiet, sad-ish thoughts about the relationship that ended so abruptly nine months ago now – grieved some for all the related losses – & thought, again, “Yes. I suppose we are all lonely & terrified – one way & another – & yes, we are all just ‘bozos on the bus.’”

And of course, my sadness & my tears will not break me. They are real – very real – but they are not life-threatening, & they will pass.

And for now, at least, life/Life goes on…

Janet

p.s. Right at the front of her wonderful book, Lesser has the Anaïs Nin quotation “And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Breaking open, hmm? Joanna Macy has said, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” Seems like breaking open is a good thing, doesn’t it??

p.p.s. Within a few hours of this “down in the pit” mood, btw, I felt restored to my usual (relatively) sane self. Moods really come & go, don’t they? Leonard Cohen sings in his song “That Don’t Make It Junk” (I have this song on his wonderful “Ten New Songs” CD) “I don’t trust my inner feelings – inner feelings come and go.” And they do…they do…

p.p.p.s. on Jan. 25/11: Link to a relevant, later post 'Lonely, Terrified, Near Despair: This TOO Will Pass.'

p.s. # 4: Link to 'Despair and Empowerment.'

(1) Lesser credits clown-activist Wavy Gravy with the "bozos on the bus" phrase.

(2) Thomas Berry co-authored The Universe Story From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos with physicist Brian Swimme. You will never go wrong reading any or all of Thomas Berry’s books…trust me! I’m particularly fond of The Dream of the Earth & The Great Work.

(3) Paul Dudley White, a physician who lived from 1886-1973 apparently said “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” I’ve long believed he was entirely bang on about that!

 

Light Things, Heavy Things…

<July ‘08>

These are challenging times. Everything is shifting. Everything is morphing. It’s simultaneously exciting and scary and empowering and unsettling.

The future is in our hands.

The events and challenges of our personal lives are paralleled in the events and challenges facing our entire world – our entire species.

We have to grab ourselves by the entrails and turn our personal lives/the human world around.

Many of us are laden down by things inside our own heads and minds. Heavy things, things that weigh us down. I recall seeing a sign once while travelling, that said “Caution: Heavy load.” I recall thinking at the time “Yes, our egos are a heavy load, for sure….” (I was reading Eckhart Tolle at the time, so was doing some thinking about egos…).

What do I mean by heavy things that weigh us down?

Things like attitudes. Resentments. Memories. Judgments. Expectations. Hang-ups. Neuroses. Pride.

It’s hard to avoid or transcend these less-than-useful habits of mind – but it surely is tremendously worth our while to do so!

Muse for a few moments (or days, or weeks – however long it takes!) on how much lighter you feel when you suspend habitual attitudes/resentments/judgments/expectations. Do your best to stop labelling every thing and every situation and person you encounter – say often, calmly, “It is what it is” and let your mind engage in more productive pastimes than the customary (mostly negative) internal chit-chat.

Go for a walk and really BE there – feeling breezes on your skin and face and seeing clouds and hearing birdsong and noticing flowers and trees.

Listen to music, and sing. Sing your heart out! Lose yourself in the singing.

Talk to a friend really honestly, and open up about your fears and frustrations, dreams and hopes. You will feel so much lighter afterward!

Read some useful, mind-altering books that can help liberate you on a more routine basis from the mind prisons we all create for ourselves. (There are 2 different recommended reading lists under the ‘Recommended’ tab on this blog.)

We live, dear Reader, in a world that is breaking down around us.

We are sick as individuals – with cancer, or heart disease, or heartbreak or a hundred other diseases or conditions – and our culture, our society is also very ill.

We can come together in our grief, and pain and fear – where we find the opportunity to create community – to shed our aloneness, loneliness and feelings of abandonment – or we can cling to the old angers and resentments and fears, and continue contributing to the world’s pain level.

This is a choice.

The crises (personal and global) are our “wake-up call.”

Will we heed the wake-up calls – as individuals and as a species – or will we choose to stay asleep?

I’ve written plenty on this blog about gratitude (“Radical Gratitude,” “Gratitude – A How to” and “Transformation Now! Why Wait??”)

While expectations/attitudes/judgments/resentments are very heavy and weigh us down, gratitude opens us right up. It makes us lighter, airier, more open to joys both large and small – to pleasant surprises and simple pleasures.

A sincere and regular (preferably daily) active practice of gratitude can transform your life – only if you want it to!

If enough of us choose to dump the heavy things and embrace lighter ones, we will transform human endeavour on the planet.

I’ve said this elsewhere, but I think it bears repeating:

“Fossil fuels may be a finite resource, but the psychic potential of human beings is infinite!”

May the force be with you!

Janet

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” Agnes Repplier

“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.” Leonard Nimoy

“We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.” – Thomas Berry in The Great Work – Our Way into the Future

“The universe oozes with power, waiting for anyone who wishes to embrace it.” – mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, author of The Universe is a Green Dragon, quoted in Matthew Fox’s The Coming of the Cosmic Christ – The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

12 Things YOU Can Do

These are a combination of the 10 items posted in the Earth Day 2009 essay & some other items I’d put in another essay.

1. Start buying less “stuff.” Watch the 20-minute film ‘The Story of Stuff’ – it’s funny & very, very smart!

2. Watch less TV – better yet, none at all. But DO watch the documentary movie “The Corporation.” It’s very, very enlightening. (Your local library may have it…)

3.  Work at creating less garbage. Reduce – reuse – recycle – compost – refuse to buy over-packaged stuff (buy in bulk) and so on… Buy a reusable coffee mug & be done with those darn cups you use for two minutes, then trash. Visit here for more tips.

4. Find alternatives for toxic cleaners, cosmetics, etc. There are other very helpful resources in the footnote.(1)

5.  Practice organic lawn & garden care. Learn to chill out about the diversity in Nature, which never intended us to have boring lawns (great tips & info on this issue here)

6.  Learn how the way we eat affects the planet

7.  Reduce your carbon footprint. Lots of good advice here!

8.  Get back on your feet! Walk more. Ride a bike. Take a bus or train or subway. As you hang around outside more, you’ll get motivated to do more work to preserve and clean up our stunning, beautiful, amazing Earth. Whatever you do, don’t buy a gas guzzler!

9. Read & get educated on the issues, or even just one issue. Read books & articles & start making your way out of the dense mental fog most of us have lived inside most of our lives. “Recommended Reading” here, along with some good film titles. There are TONS of other good films to watch…

10. Join/support a group! Donate money to groups doing work you particularly value. Check here for Ontario groups you can join &/or support. Start an environmental film night in your neighbourhood/town/office…

11. Become politically active, so you can help turf out the nincompoops in the political world & bring in some decent human beings who “get it.” Vote. Work on behalf of politicians who really are our friends (there are some). Help them help us all…

12. Question everything. Question the political structures and systems we take for granted. Question capitalism. Question organized religion. And consumerism. And the corporatization of our world. Question what it is to be a human being and what it is that brings meaning and joy to our lives. Question everything. This is bound to bring you some unsettling insights and conclusions…but it’s a necessary part of the process!

Be sure to have fun!! Make new friends – & be sure to laugh – & look after the people you love – every single day. Some really, really smart writers & thinkers whose books I’ve read (Thomas Berry & Brian Swimme) say the Universe is really all about celebration. It’s supposed to be fun – & we’re supposed to appreciate it like crazy! When we begin to appreciate it more (I think I already said to get outside more, hmmm? Get back on your feet!), we will surely start treating it a whole lot better.

2 key points to bear in mind:

  1. Action is the very best possible antidote to despair.
  2. Activism is its own reward!                                   

Janet

Earth Day 2009 - A Photo Essay...

limited-vision-sign So, I'm walking down the street in Vancouver, and I see this sign.

I think, "Wow, never seen a sign quite like that one before!"

I walk out onto Kitsilano Beach, and I see this neat-looking tree trunk.

tree-on-kits-beach-1

The trunk is really quite stunning, I discover as I examine it up close. Every square inch seems to have a beautiful pattern.

tree-shot-2

Swirls, bumps, indentations… It is very, very neat-looking.

tree_shot_4_1

Every angle I look at it from, it’s like a whole completely different tree!

tree_shot_5_1

It makes me think of human beings, all of us caught up in our little lives, all of us thinking we have a grasp of “the big picture” – of what really “matters” – all of us unaware that from three feet away (in any direction), to anyone else, the world looks completely different.

tree-shot_6

What is “the big picture,” really?

It’s 2009, and the environmental crisis (and the planet) just keeps heating up.

Who is really “minding the store”? Is anyone??

What might happen if we were all to move from “limited vision” to “unlimited vision”?

If we all began to see the whole tree trunk (and world), not just our own teeny-tiny little piece of it?

Thomas Berry has said about the environmental crisis, “It is something like being in a lifeboat. There may be problems of distribution of food, there may be people that need medical care, but if something happens to the boat, the boat has to be taken care of immediately or else everything else becomes irrelevant.”

Astronomer Carl Sagan said, “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something.”

Lester Brown says, “Saving our civilization is not a spectator sport.”

Joanna Macy has said “If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear. People who can open up to the web of life that called us into being” and with Molly Young Brown, that “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” 

The Dalai Lama has said, “The most important meditation is critical thinking – followed by action.”

19th century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

I say, we are quite amazing creatures when we allow ourselves to stop tripping over our own feet. Isn’t it time for us to step up to the plate, instead, and live up to all that incredible potential?

Limited vision…or unlimited potential?

It’s our choice!

Janet 

Crosses, Betrayal & Resurrection…

<April 9/09>

It’s Thursday, the day before the Christian “Good Friday,” as I write this. The Easter imagery of Christianity is all about betrayal, crucifixion/the cross, suffering, death &…resurrection.

I don’t know about you, but it all sounds pretty intimately familiar to me. In fact, the thought came to me one day recently, on my walk, that I feel as though I keep getting knocked on my butt, one way & another, over & over again. And rising up again. Being “crucified”… & later on, resurrected. And then, more of the same…

I got quiet with that for a little while & thought “Yeah. We’re all betrayed, one way or another, at times (or we betray ourselves). We all carry burdens/crosses. We all get crucified. And too, provided we make that choice, we can all be “resurrected”…“reborn.” (Shoot; I’ve been reborn about a zillion times in this life already; haven’t we all??)

Not only that, we can each ensure that our suffering is not for naught. It is meaningful, & it can be transmuted into something beautiful (i.e., useful to ourselves & others). Eckhart Tolle says “Suffering is the spiritual teacher” & I fail to see how he could be any right-er about that…

Do you know anyone who has not suffered? Do you know anyone who does not carry a cross (or a “bag or rocks” or a “bag of s-it”?) of some sort? (If you tell me “Yes,” I won’t believe you anyway, btw…)

Whatever we may believe about Christianity, God & “organized religion,” I think we can see that these Christian images have a whole lot more resonance when we acknowledge their universality – their applicability to everyday life, here & now – whatever may have happened 2000 years ago (or 5000 years ago…or last week…or …whenever…).

That’s what I think, anyway.

Janet

P.S. Some very, very interesting BIG thinkers (& writers) who are kind of there on both Christianity & the urgency of the environmental crisis are Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry & Wendell Berry – & probably others I’ve forgotten, but will add in here when I remember, alright? I also have to say I’ve found Tom Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ – Recovering the Lost Light very, very interesting, challenging & thought-provoking, & I highly recommend it to any & everyone.

P.P.S. Not only can I see all that Christian Easter imagery alive in my (& everyone’s) life, I know too that my own life is very clearly a loaves and fishes story. More on that soon…

 

In Charge…but not in Control

<July 2007>

I’ve believed for some years now that the Universe looks after me. I’m also known to say frequently that I figure I’m the wealthiest woman in the world. Yet I earn less money (by tens & tens & tens of thousands of dollars) than pretty much everyone I know (except my brother Cliff), & for sure there are circumstances in my life that are not exactly the way I would order them up if I had a handy magic wand at my disposal.

There are several reasons why I feel so well looked after & I’ve written about all of this elsewhere (key variables are friendship; meaningful work, although not necessarily the paying kind; service to a large cause; conversation; walking; gratitude; frequent attendance at places of great natural beauty; women friends; loved ones; music & singing).

I think a key element here is that I know down to my very blood & bones that I am firmly in charge of my own happiness. As a matter of fact, my own happiness is pretty much the only thing I’m in firm control of. The one & only thing…

I cannot control the weather, political events, what my daughters say or think or do, or what my many dearly-beloved friends do or say or think, but for sure, I am in charge of my own happiness.

I’m in charge…but not in control.

Agnes Repplier said “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” (Another great way of putting this is "Happiness is an inside job.")

Now, I only picked up this powerful lesson about being in charge (but not control) after a violent & nasty encounter with a brick wall at about 500 miles an hour. After I picked myself up & dusted myself off (this took a few years, by the way), I grasped the hard-won lesson that I cannot control the things that happen to me – or the people in my life – but I am very definitely the architect of my own happiness.

And I’m determined to be happy, darn it!

So I focus on the positives in my life, & I fill myself up with positive emotions (gratitude is right at the top of the list) & I do meaningful work that I love (mostly volunteer work – “changing the world” – through environmental activism & writing) – & I quite often feel full to bursting with joy & gratitude – & am probably one of the happiest people you’re liable to meet.

You too are in charge of your life, you know, in the same ways I am. And your own happiness.

Abraham Lincoln said “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

I do know people who suffer from depression – quite a few, as a matter of fact – & another quality I work on practicing faithfully is compassion – so please understand that I have considerable compassion for those who suffer from depression.

[A woman whose books I greatly enjoy is Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause – Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change. In the latter book, in discussing depression, she says, “…depression is one way your body’s inner wisdom tells you that something in your life is out of balance.” She adds further that, “It may also be a hint that you are angry with someone…” and she advises “The best cure for depression that I know is to be completely honest with yourself about everything you are feeling – even, and especially, those feelings you’ve been told you shouldn’t have, such as jealousy, anger, guilt, sorrow and rage… All of these feelings are part of being human. They will never hurt you if you simply acknowledge them, express them safely, and, ultimately, accept yourself for having them. Then you must take action. I’ve never seen depression lift without the sufferer taking some kind of positive action to help herself. This could be as simple as volunteering at an animal shelter.”(1) I have recommended this book to sooooooo many people…]

Life is a complicated business. Some of us had really, really, really difficult childhoods – & some of us are heir to quite troublesome genes – & life is a mixture – a great, goloptious, weird, unpredictable mixture of history & genes & experiences & intention.

Our intentions are hugely important.

What is it we intend?

I suspect if we all begin shifting our intentions to personal contentment (which I would hasten to point out cannot be bought, whatever the balance in our chequebook) & the long-term survival of our tribe (i.e., the human race), we will soon see miracles of all kinds occurring around us. 

We are magicians, we humans; we are capable of working transformations of all kinds.

Thomas Berry says in The Great Work – Our Way into the Future, “We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.”(2)

Mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme says “The universe oozes with power, waiting for anyone who wishes to embrace it.” (Swimme is author of The Universe is a Green Dragon, a no doubt delightful book, which I have not as yet read myself; I read his remark about power quoted in Matthew Fox’s The Coming of the Cosmic Christ – The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance(3).)

Henry Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Paul Hawken says some very neat things about intention, & reading his book Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming(4) put the word intention into my consciousness in a new way… And Marianne Williamson says very inspiring things about women in her awesome book A Woman’s Worth.(5)

I say, we all have magical powers.

We are in charge, but not in control.

We can all feel, I think, as I so often do: full to bursting with joy, gratitude, great ideas, energy & projects & love if we so choose and oh my goodness, what we are capable of will surely surprise & delight us all!                                    

Janet


(1) The Wisdom of Menopause – Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change, Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D., Bantam Books, 2003. Page 310.

(2) The Great Work – Our Way into the Future, Thomas Berry, Bell Tower/Random House, 1999, Page 175.

(3) The Coming of the Cosmic Christ – The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance, Matthew Fox, HarperSanFrancisco, 1988. Page 40.

(4) Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming, Paul Hawken, Viking, 2007.

(5) A Woman’s Worth, Marianne Williamson, Ballantine Books, 1993.