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Not a Plane in the Sky

There have been a series of beautiful weather days recently here in New Hampshire USA, a perfect time to get outside as much as possible before the onslaught of bug season. There has not been a single plane to be heard or contrail to be seen in the sky. This is normal.

We have things upside down. It is so easy to think that what we have witnessed in the last few years is “normal”. Being the adaptable primates we are, we quickly become habituated to sights, sounds and routines and then consider changes from this to be abnormal, and sometimes we even judge the change negatively.

My students are generally around 16 years of age thus they were born three years after the twin towers collapsed, were only infants when Janet Jackson’s blouse malfunctioned at the super bowl and have never known an Earth with her natural interglacial climate and weather patterns. The Vietnam war and Civil Rights movements are distant history to them, as far back as World War I was to those of us born in the ’60’s. These young people arrived on Earth during the computer age and most have had a cell phone in their pockets since middle school. The chaotic, busy, consumer-driven world they inhabit is their normal.

My father in law, Robert Houston, is still quite well at age 96. He flew B-24 airplanes in World War II. At age 19 he was responsible for a crew of 9 other young men. He remembers as a boy seeing Civil War veterans in the fourth of July parades in his small town, old men honored for their duty and sacrifice. Born in 1924, he grew up before the age of antibiotics, and well before the age of commercial aviation.

We forget that air travel is relatively new and is in truth mostly optional. We are finding out how optional as air travel is down 95%, and while the collapse of that economic sector is creating real and extreme hardship on those who have lost those jobs, the lack of flying opportunities is not harmful to the general population.

In 2018, 4.4 billion air trips were taken by people, up from 2.6 billion in 2010. There is nothing “normal” about billions of Homo sapiens in planes powered aloft by the energy of ancient sunlight, captured by marine algae over tens of millions of years. These flying buses are just one of many frivolous methods we humans are mindlessly using to burn up the planet as fast as we possibly can. Deep in our hearts, we all can find a place of love for planet Earth. What could possibly cause us to turn a blind eye towards her well-being?

Are we flying towards something or away from something? When we take trips to exotic places, yes there is the joy of discovery, seeing new sights, relaxing on warm beaches, and yet perhaps we are also trying to escape our own hectic lives and the internal distress we feel within. We run from anxieties, our troubled relationships, unhealed trauma haunting us from our pasts. A favorite line from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene describes this perfectly.

The result is that confusion and disturbance resonates throughout one’s whole being. 

True and lasting peace cannot be found in a 5-day Caribbean vacation. It can only be found within and this requires some work, some conscious efforts to wake ourselves up and to face our inner demons, feel our feelings and allow them to become transformed. There is spiritual work to be done too, in order for us to transcend the illusion put forth in our culture that life is all about competition, winning and acquiring more things. Paraphrasing John Welwood, psychologist and teacher who made great strides in integrating spirituality and psychology…

“If we live just on the horizontal, we will be relegated to a limited life of anxiety and fear. With just psychological work and no spiritual work we won’t be able to see our place in the larger whole. If on the other hand, we try to live only on the vertical, and if we do not inhabit our bodies, we become disconnected with life in this realm, and we will be swallowed by our unhealed issues and complexes. But with both psychological and spiritual work, we can let go, while also taking hold, committing ourselves to meaningful and productive work in this world.”

We are waking up. This pandemic, as terrible as it is in so many ways, is also prompting us to reflect on what is important to us, family, friends, relationships. We find our greatest pleasure and inspiration in stories of compassion and giving. In short, we are starting to see our place in the web of Love that is at the heart of existence. Our drug of choice, endless distraction, is less available and we find ourselves by default, engaging in psychological and spiritual work which offers us liberation and real peace. We are on our way, both individually and collectively as a human family.

A link worth clicking, says it all much better than this essay…

Tom Foolery, Hindsight 2020, A Bedtime Story

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Stages of Grief: Denial

“We can’t have change without loss.” Lori Gottlieb

“You cannot have creation without destruction.” Rupert Spira

Like young children raised by an abusive parent, we cling to the memories of our pre-covid society with fervent blindness to its faults and fealty to the fantasies. When will we resume all the wonderful fun: movie theaters and restaurants, fly away vacations and shopping, a rising stock market and dreams of wealth?

Yet in our clearer moments, we know there were problems and we feel in our hearts a longing for something better. We cannot totally block out the darker side of the world we created, homeless veterans and desperate refugees, acidifying oceans and Australian bush fires, children laboring in mineral mines so we can have new i-phones.

From a social media post, quoting social justice activist Sonya Renee Taylor making its way around the virtual world, these words articulate our recognition of the pathologies we desire to leave behind and our yearning for something we are beginning to envision.


“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequality, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”  

The rapid rate at which Sonya’s verse is spreading, speaks to the degree it resonates.

We know we want change and our hearts know there is a more beautiful world possible, as Charles Eisenstein so eloquently describes. The problem, change must start with letting go the old ways, watching them crumble, feeling the earth shake under our feet, our sense of security in free-fall. A system with so much momentum was not going to relinquish power willingly and our puny efforts to enact incremental change was not altering our basic course trajectory of burning up the planet as fast as we could while trampling the least of our brothers and sisters under the heartless marching boots of progress.

Inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross put forth her model of five stages of grief in her seminal book “On Death and Dying” published in 1969. Soon enough “DABDA:” Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance entered the popular lexicon.

Looking around our country right now, there is quite a bit of stage one ongoing, denial. Denial that we have a problem, denial that social distancing and masks are necessary, denial that this virus will likely be here for the long haul, denial that 20 plus percent unemployment will not fix itself quickly when restaurants are serving again. There is much clinging to the illusion that if we just close our eyes and make a wish, we will soon return to our pre-corona economy, perhaps even stronger than before! The denial and confusion is so strong some folks are conflating wearing masks with loss of their God-given American freedom to do as they please. Such an attitude is not limited to protests outside State Houses. We see it all the way up to the White House, and in the last last few days the foolishness of this attitude is being revealed as Covid infiltrates the west wing. This is all quite stunning to witness.

At this place in this essay it is important to pause and reflect on how easy it is to see this denial “out there,” to point and possibly even to laugh or blame. However, life is always offering us mirrors for our own growth. When I look within, I see some denial there too, a vague sense that perhaps this is all a dream I’ll soon awaken from. The truth is, we are all going to have to face the brutal realities of this pandemic as it continues to unfold, grapple within ourselves with the resulting fear, anger and grief. There won’t be a way around what is coming. We are not in control. Our agency is only to be found in how we respond and that is going to involve allowing those emotions to move through us.

As spiritual teacher Michael Brown explains, the greatest challenge is how deeply uncomfortable it is for us to allow, process and integrate our feelings. We must feel our feelings, all the fear, all the anger, all the grief, without judgement or condemnation. As he says “It is not about what we want, it is about what is required to grow.” Growth within ourselves and growth as a society mirror one another. This is our path to healing.

Further Links:

Is your phone tainted by the misery of 35,000 children in Congo’s mines?

If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet, New Study Says

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Our Shadow on Display

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” Richard Rohr

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

Trauma propagates itself across space and time. A child’s heart wounded by trauma must be protected by the grown adult. Because few of us make it through childhood without significant wounds, our tender child-hearts gradually acquires armor. Thus, we walk around this Earth having lost, to various degrees, the ability to see and receive the love offered us continuously by the Universe.

As Richard Rohr explains, good spirituality teaches us how to transform our pain rather than pass it along to others. Suffering can be the greatest teacher of compassion and empathy, or unhealed it will be projected outwards. We are witnessing this in the ongoing protests outside state houses all over the country.

Many of these protestors are doing their best to elicit the most outraged of reactions. Stress brings forth extreme behaviors from the human species, and this pandemic is nothing if not stressful. Dressed in quasi-military get-up, carrying assault rifles and displaying swastikas and nooses, these symbols speak of the degree of pain accumulated, not just in these individuals, but in the collective shadow of this nation. Seen this way, one can hear the anguished cries for help from the inner child.

There was a facebook conversation I became entangled in once. The person with whom I was dialoguing was very angry and wanted to do all sorts of cruel things to people whom he perceived as having done wrong. After much discussion it was revealed he had been beaten by a drunk father and sexually abused by another man. Suddenly the origins of his vitriol and his fantasies of violent revenge were revealed. A hurt and terrified boy needed protection.

The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of what can be seen in a photograph of himself as a boy. He infers what many have found is true; photographs can act as sort of portals to a mystical seeing.

“I am a continuation like the rain is the continuation of the cloud. When you look deeply into the photograph, you can see me already as an old man. You do not have to wait fifty-five years”

Thich Nhat Hanh age 16

Look deeply into the eyes of one of the angry protestors. See the wounded boy within. He is there, behind the shouting, the symbols of hate, behind the big guns, beards and military fatigues, there is pain there. It is easy to think that pain belongs only to that one man, but it is bigger than that.

Carl Jung pointed out that the real struggle we have as human beings is with our shadow, the part of our individual and collective psyche, that largely unseen, is often at the helm. The assault rifle wielding protestors, their racism, antisemitism, desperation, anger and hate, are this country’s shadow in dramatic full relief, the denied aspects of our nation, the parts made of raw, suppurating wounds, unattended and unbandaged.

In Resmaa Menakem’s book “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” we learn about the generational trauma traced back before this country was born. It goes a long way towards explaining the roots of European atrocities acted out in the genocide of Native peoples and the brutal enslavement of Africans. In Europe through the middle ages, extreme forms of retributive justice were routine, widely accepted and even celebrated as entertainment. Horrendous forms of execution for even petty crimes kept the commoners in fear and in line and the nobles in charge.

That which we do not heal in ourselves, we pass on. It takes many generations to heal our trauma. The general pattern seems to be that we are better parents to our children than our parents were to us, just a little kinder, more understanding, more skilled and less punitive. Likewise, we see the arc of history “bending towards justice” as Dr. King articulates it. Nations and their leadership, slowly evolve, as reflections of our own collective growth towards our full potential as human beings.

We have much healing work to do here on this Earthly plane. An important part in that process is to see more clearly what is happening. Life offers us abundant opportunities to do so, when we are willing and able to look more deeply. We are not separate from our fellow humans, but rather part of one another in a way that transcends space and time. At some vibrational level we feel each other’s pain and joy. What we see “out there” elicits strong reactions “in here” because we are truly connected with each other as a human family.

Richard Rohr Transforming our Pain

Thich Nhat Hanh on Seeing in photos (facebook link)

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts.

Carl Jung on Hitler and our Shadow

Carl Jung the Heart of History

Angry Protests

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Living Life in Alignment with Our Hearts

Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.”

Gandolf: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This pandemic brings forth great feelings of powerlessness. Our choices seem so limited and all of them are bad. Stay home and go broke or go about our business as usual and reignite the firestorm of this virus. We agonize in search of solutions to this impossible dilemma.

What must it have been like for citizens in Europe during World WarII, knowing they were about to be overrun by one army, and then another, no way to keep their families safe? Choices narrowed until the only one left is deciding which direction to run.

This pandemic is especially difficult for our nation, the United States, because we are so accustomed to feeling in some level of control over our lives. The American Dream is all about the power to forge our own way. When examined more closely though, we see this is not as true as we like to believe.

Most of the circumstances that will propel our lives are not of our choosing. Let us make a partial list: where we are born and into what sort of family and socioeconomic situation, our race, our gender, the genetic attributes of our bodies, the schools we will attend and the jobs available to us. Extremely pivotal factors such as the quality of parenting we receive and trauma we might suffer in our lives all just happen. We can take no credit, nor can we project blame for these critical cards we are given that will have large influences in our lives.

However, there is tremendous freedom in this realization. First, we are free to question the relentless judging our minds automatically seem to do, regarding other people, as we see that they too, had their hands dealt to them, and are in their own way, doing the best they can with their own cards.

This past week we watched, probably in some level of horror, as men carrying assault rifles entered the Michigan State house, demanding the governor open up the economy.

It is easy to become angry with these protestors, to mirror their fear and anger with our own. The trap here is that it leads nowhere except to an escalation of more of the same.

It is tempting to simplify what is happening in our world into paired sets of opposites. We can then declare one side “right” and the other “wrong.” We should all stay in our houses versus we must go back to work. We can argue over this decision endlessly and succeed only in increasing animosity and polarization, all the while losing track of the fact that the virus has more power than we do at this time.

Mystics suggest stepping back, or one might say up, a level in seeing reality.

From Hsin-Hsin Ming, 6th century Zen patriarch.

If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”

As we look around the world today, the vast majority of people are responding to the pandemic in ways that feel right in their hearts, congruent to an intuitive understanding of their given role to contribute the the whole. People everywhere, faced with difficult circumstances, are reaching out to help others, generously donating their time, skills, and resources. We are sharing, indeed propagating, the highest aspirations of what it means to be human. In this way of being in the world, we find not just immense inspiration and a powerful resonance with the whole human family, but indeed, meaningful purpose in our lives.

The Wisdom of Gandolf

Michigan Protestors at the State House

Inspiring News Amid Pandemic

Acts of Kindness During Pandemic

Inspiring Coronavirus Responses

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We Are All in Training Together

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound

Life prepares us for what is coming next. Usually one can only see this in retrospect, but when viewed this way, the path by which we have come is clear. We say “I wouldn’t wish that tragedy on anyone, but I see now how it has made me stronger, wiser and how I have grown as a person.” Sometimes there is even a sensation, at the start of a new endeavor “My whole life has prepared me for this challenge.”

If there is a single theme coming through Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conferences these past couple of weeks, it is this. Our actions matter. By cooperating and in fact self-sacrificing for the sake of the whole community, the virus has been slowed to a level where we can start to think about coming out of our houses again, carefully of course. We have flattened the curve.

We are all in training during this pandemic, and our training is going well. As bad as this pandemic is so far, there is much more to come, not just possible new waves of this virus, but other monumental challenges in the future. We can all feel this fact. Indeed, we have been feeling it for some decades now.

At a deeply intuitive level, we all know the party cannot go on forever. Sooner or later we will run out of trees to cut, land to plow, and oil to extract. “Drill baby drill!” was a desperate cry, and we all knew it at the time, even those yelling the words. That’s why it frightened us so much.

Back in the early days of the environmental movement, a study was commissioned looking at the then future, and when we could expect to reach those inflection points, the points where thing might start to fall apart. We find ourselves just about there. Put a sticky note “you are here” on this Limits To Growth Graph where we might be at this time.

We are learning through this pandemic that our actions, each of them, put together, makes all the difference. We can and do cooperate together. We are not doomed to run about each person fending for him or herself, society destined to fall apart into anarchy and a Mad Max style dystopia, when life gets tough.  Our true nature is better than that, and our hearts seem to be coming on line to direct our actions. We take care of one another.

We have successfully flattened the curve of this first wave of pandemic. Had we not all cooperated together, this virus would have raged through our country far exceeding hospital bed capacities, leaving countless bodies dead in the streets and in beds at home. It would have been unfathomably horrendous. Likewise, we have the power to shift the lines in the limits to growth graph as well. We have a say in how the future is written.

The story is often told around the campfires on Outward Bound trips, about the origins of the organization. Back in the early days of WWII it was noticed that when ships were hit by enemy fire and the sailors forced into the water, the younger, stronger men drowned at a higher rate than the older men. The explanation for this apparent paradox was soon found. Older men did not panic. Their life experiences had fortified them for the terrifying situation of finding themselves in water over their heads with only a dim hope of rescue and surrounded by sharks. Thus, the Outward Bound program was born to teach younger men how to work together and keep their wits about them in extreme challenges. It turns out that the bonds we form with others and how we work together, are more vital to our survival than the strength of our bodies.

We are being trained right now through this pandemic. We are learning the power of seeing ourselves as one large human family, because we will need this perspective as we face the upcoming planetary challenges. We share one atmosphere, one interconnected ocean, one interlocking global ecosystem. We can do this. We are being trained for it. The Universe is always working on our behalf, even when we cannot see this truth.

Origins of Outward Bound

Limits to Growth Club of Rome Study and Graphs

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Living in the Shadow of the American Dream

It is said the eye is the window to the soul

File this one under the category of “beliefs which deceive us”. We have been raised in this culture to admire hard work. Hard work, we are told, leads to success. Work hard in school, get good grades, go to college if possible or simply work hard at whatever job you get out of high school, and make something of yourself. You will be rewarded with money, housing, food and a secure life.

Historically perhaps this comes from another belief we hold dear, one about our “pioneer spirit”; visions of the downtrodden masses arriving from Europe via steamships to Ellis Island with nothing more than a satchel of clothing and a few coins in their pockets. They came and carved a living out of virgin soils or worked their way up as tradesmen in the burgeoning towns and cities. And thus, America was born of muscle, determination and a faith in progress! We tend to leave out the part about genocide of the human beings already living here, or the other uncomfortable fact that it was slave labor truly at the base of America’s initial wealth. (essays to come)

In any case, we have great faith in this American ideal of hard work. There is some virtue in it of course, but it is the corollaries generated from this belief that lead us into trouble. One of the main corollaries is that poor people must be lazy. If hard work makes for wealth and success, then poverty must come from laziness. It follows in a cruel sort of logic.

This pandemic is shining some light upon the working poor. We now get a glimpse into their lives, how trapped they can be in a predicament, and for the first time perhaps, we also see how utterly dependent society is on their labor.

This week we hear on the news many stories about problems with our food supply related to the workers who are integral to its production, and up until now, have been quite invisible. We are learning of meat processing plants closed down due to Covid outbreaks among the workers. Then we are shocked to hear how these events unfolded over the past few weeks, sick workers told by their bosses “It’s just the flu, get back on the line and work” with no personal protective equipment provided. Fathers, mothers and adult children have died as a result. This is real.

Cutting meat is grueling, hard work. America promised us hard work led to “success” and a more secure life. Why are these people still poor and working a job few of us could endure day after day? There are many reasons, too many for this essay, but at a first glance we can at least say there is a combination of factors including race, undocumented status, and the pyramid nature of our economic system that disempowers these human beings, making them exquisitely vulnerable to exploitation. They work on average for less than 12 dollars an hour.

What is it like when we look into the eyes of a grieving family? Can we see our very own selves in reflection? Once again, this pandemic pause provides us an opportunity to connect more deeply with other human beings, who like us are struggling to find a way in this often-confusing and challenging world. In seeing others as ourselves, we can let go of judgement and instead find commonality and compassion. In the long run, when we put things back together again, just maybe we will demand better treatment of our fellow human beings. After all, we are in this together.

Links in the Essay

Slaughter house workers

Photos, Paul Sanchez who died of Covid-19 is Laid to Rest

Further Links

Coronavirsu at meatpacking plants worse than first thought: USA today investigation finds

US Food Processing Plants Become Covid-19 Hot Spots: CIDRAP

Average pay of meat packing worker

CNN meat processing plant workers reaction to executive order

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The Clarity of Sobriety

Our world has been turned upside down. When will life return to “normal” we ask? We long to go back to our lives as they were: driving, shopping, ball games, bustling restaurants, even going to an uninteresting job. Simply the return of a boring routine would feel like a relief, a sign of safety and security.

Instead we find ourselves all on retreat, involuntarily And like seekers at an ashram, the initial glow is giving way to that period where we must face our inner demons.

What exactly is it we dream of returning to? What was that “normal” thing? Was it good? Certainly it kept our minds and bodies busy and distracted. We could avert our gaze from war, poverty, and Australia on fire.

What escapes do we have now? Turn on the TV and there is 24/7 pandemic pandemonium, stories of overwhelmed hospitals, patients dying alone, nurses and doctors working desperate 12 hour shifts, heart breaking images of refrigerator trucks holding bodies. Change the channel and we wince at old TV shows where everyone is hugging and touching one another. Already we have rewired ourselves for a different kind of human interaction. Asleep in our beds at night, we worry about losing our jobs, our savings, our houses, and most of all our loved ones. Everything is up in the air. We are in freefall.

And yet…. there is also a miracle unfolding. The planes, cars and cruise ships are parked. Whales can hear each other, and children can hear birds singing even in the city. For goodness sake there is even an outcry for a global ceasefire as this pandemic makes killing one another ever so much less convenient! Whoever anticipated humans could simply stop! Stop everything all over the Earth! Even oil drilling is reaching an absurd point of nowhere to store the oil we are not burning! It IS a miracle!

Let’s face it, the old “normal” was in fact somewhat insane. We just couldn’t see it because we had become so numb: numb to the suffering of refugees, immune to the plight of low wage workers, blind to the escalating ecological crisis. So painful are these things when faced fully, and so helpless we have felt about it all, we have resorted to distracting ourselves with a glass of wine, an Amazon order, or for longer term relief an airplane flight for vacation. Vacation from what? From the hectic, stressful life we all think we want to return to?

All of it can now be seen and questioned: the pyramid scheme of our economic system, the rapacious consumption of Earth’s treasures, the endless search for happiness in money. We are addicts who have been on a global bender for a few decades and now the drugs and liquor have run out.

Sobriety comes next. Detox can be painful. Yet there is opportunity here. In sobriety we can make choices, real choices this time, not reflexive reactions, but decisions made from reason, and just as importantly, more truly aligned with our hearts. This is the purpose of this blog, to explore the possibilities and opportunities that will arise out of this crisis. We will look unflinchingly at the reality of the pandemic, while also participating in the making of a better world.

“What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create.”
(Buddha)