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               Looking out over the homeless encampments in his city, Leo Tolstoy exclaimed, “What then must we do?” His words keep echoing in my mind these turbulent days. Homelessness is only one of many tragic realities playing out in our nation and our world.

            It feels heavy wherever I turn, and yet, in pure self-defense, I have kept a diary of the wisdom of those around me, as well as the wise voices in my own head.

            Aligned with “What then must we do?” is its opposite, “What is it wise Not to do?”

In the agony of looking for answers, some people are given to take on more than they can or should, and I don’t mean obvious choices like recycling, calling your local and national representatives, donating to good causes, or marching in rallies. I’m speaking of the tendency to engage in “us” versus “them” thinking to the point of demonizing the “other.”

            This sometimes inserts itself into family life. As Thanksgiving approaches, I know some people who are choosing not to attend Thanksgiving dinner with those with whom they disagree. Others are rehearsing speeches to confront family members who they judge as “blind” or “stupid”.

            If we seek choices that contribute to healing the split between ourselves and others, angry confrontations don’t seem a wise path. It is also very important to remember to address the splits within ourselves. This is ongoing work, throughout our life cycle. Poet May Sarton wrote of the courage, “to see the dark with open eyes.” Our challenging times call on us to see the dark within ourselves, tend it, know it, ask what it is wanting to teach us.

            I propose that in 2019 and beyond, activism is bi-directional: activism in the world following the integrity of your own path, and activism within your own psyche, facing your own limitations, your strengths, having the courage to examine parts of yourself you would rather keep in the dark.

            Listen to your dreams, and to the “off stage” voice of your waking mind. I call this my “off stage voice” because I never see who’s talking. It is a whisper, or a shout from my unconscious, and never fails to get my attention. Honoring these communications from your psyche is an invaluable tool in making ethical choices.

            And for my money, as you engage in the first two forms of activism, it will lead you to spend more time nurturing and creating relationships, friendships, and family connections.

            Love, joy, humor, adventure—hiking in nature or going to the opera, serve to counterbalance the stream of uncertainty, and divisiveness we are pummeled with. So is limiting your consumption of mass media, social media, and long texts from friends on the state of our political world.

            And now as never before, it is mandatory to follow your passions, create what you love.

            During the war in Bosnia, Leonard Bernstein wrote, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more passionately, more intensely, more devotedly than ever.”

            Playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, wrote, “(in violent times) we should engage in activities that are of interest to us, our friends, our families. These need not be expressly political. An example is the brewing of very good beer.”

            Play your music. Make your art. Feel the fire of your own patriotism coming to life. Get out in the streets, call your representative, work political campaigns, run for office —if you are called to. And as you cook your pies for Thanksgiving dinner, love your enemy: that pill of an Auntie across the dinner table whose values are opposite of yours. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with her, but it does mean you can endeavor to see the complexity of her humanity, her shadow, her warmth, her light, as you can see your own.

CELTIC WISDOM FOR OUR TIME

                              “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, nor

                                stain the joy of the cosmic dance, which is always there.”

                                                            ——-Thomas Merton

It can be hard to connect to the “cosmic dance,” in the midst of the pandemic,climate change, and now, war in Ukraine. Add to that our own daily woes and those of our loved ones, and despair looms like a great howling beast scratching at the door.

 In my search to find a spiritual home in these maddening times, I discovered the Wisdom School at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. This discovery came after the isolation of Covid inspired me to turn directly to the divine in a way I never had before. Ironic, since I have written a play and acted the role of Saint Teresa of Avila (On the Doorstep of the Castle), but while I could explore Teresa’s relationship with Christ, I avoided exploring  my own relationship with Him. I was haunted by the Christianity of my youth, which seemed filled with strict, often arbitrary edits, and a portrayal of man as “sinner,” while being utterly void of a path to a life of psychological freedom, joy, and delight in the interconnection of all living things.

In another irony, the solitude of the pandemic opened a door in time and space. I began to talk out loud to the Earth Mother from my dreams, and ultimately, Christ entered in a very different form from the cardboard figure of my youth. The results were profound. I became aware of a progressive movement called Wisdom Christianity through books by Cynthia Bourgealt (Mary Magdalene, Wisdom Jesus), Adyashanti (Resurrecting Jesus), Richard Rohr (The Universal Christ), and my beloved Thich Nhat Han’s Living Buddha Living Christ, who referred to Christ as “the Buddha of the West.” Wisdom Christianity is very much like Zen in that it is not about punishment or dogmatic interpretations of scripture, but envisions Christ as a revolutionary prophet whose mission was for humanity to wake up to the reality of the divine in all things.

 I was deeply inspired by this, but it was a solitary journey. I didn’t go into a church because I was afraid I would be turned off by what I remembered as hollow or shaming pronouncements about going to hell for our sins. And yet, the words of Cynthia Bourgealt haunted me. In Wisdom Jesus she wrote, “My concern is for those of you who have begun to find your way in the wisdom stream, that in this time of institutional retrenchment you not be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater….the same religious practice can look like a very different animal when articulated at different levels of human consciousness….at heart the Eucharist is a wisdom practice originating from a nondual level of consciousness.” She continued, “Search your local area for the most open, inclusive, and mystically attuned Christian community you can locate…. Meet the Wisdom Master (and your own true self) in the breaking of the bread.”

  I took my fear in hand and searched the website of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. I had been there many times over the years, to attend my daughter’s Women’s Chorus performances, and a myriad of workshops as a member of the Jungian Psychotherapist’ Association.

Lo and behold, there it was, right on the Saint Mark’s website: The Wisdom School.

I recently met my Wisdom Master, Cannon Jennifer Daugherty, author and presenter of Creation Spirituality; Delight, Wonder and Reverence. Drawing on the wisdom and nature-based spirituality of the ancient Celts, Jennifer led us into a world where the divine is everywhere. The Celts would have been confused by the notion that heaven is a different realm, or that there could ever be a schism between the world of sensate world,  and the “cosmic dance,” of Thomas Merton. The “Saints” were always with them. A Saint could be your mom who just passed away, your favorite uncle, or a child who died at birth, or any of the official Saints, like Saint Patrick, or Saint Brigid. The Holy Spirit was always present with the Celts as they tended their fields, spun their wool, or performed rituals inclusive of the whole community.

I was particularly moved by the Celtic definition of sin. It simply means, “separation from God,” and should be met with sorrow, not judgment or guilt. The person experiencing the sadness of sin is surrounded by the love of the community and brought back into connection with the divine. A non-dual world, where God walks with you through plague or famine or war.

Hence the deep relevance for our time of plague, hunger, displacement of thousands, and the horror of war.

 A video of Jennifer Daughtery’s class is on-line under the offerings of the Wisdom School on the Saint Mark’s website. I commend you to check it out.

She gave us homework after the first class, to write our own Lorica, a Celtic prayer of protection that describes our own view of the divine. This is what I wrote:

Mary, you are here.

Christ, you are here.

I feel the presence of your essence

In the great blue heron,

The purple hyacinth,

Those tiny baby spiders that come in the spring,

Everything.

Hold me in your love,

Hold all living things in your love,

As I, gratefully, hold you in mine.

After experiencing the beauty, openness, and welcoming spirit of Jennifer’s class, I went to Sunday morning service at Saint Mark’s. I took part in the liturgy, sang hymns, learned that “glory” does not mean glory in war, or even in worshipping the glory of God, it means the feeling we all have when we experience the divine living within us. Thich Nhat Han would call this “Enlightenment.”

 I ate the bread of the Eucharist, seeing it with the fresh eyes of Wisdom Christianity: a nondual celebration of the unity of consciousness.

 Last night I went to Saint Mark’s Ash Wednesday service. Guess who administered the ashes to my forehead and the bread to my waiting palm: my Wisdom Master, Cannon Jennifer Daugherty. Full circle, even as the Celts celebrated the circle of the seasons as an expression of their spiritual whole. 

May all of you reading this blog find your own unique path to being held in divine love, as we sail the uncertain seas of our times, together.

INTIMACY WITH THE DIVINE

                                              

            What does it mean to have a relationship with the divine? Much less an intimate one? Intimate as in a close, trusting, continuous, committed, loving relationship. Like a long marriage filled with stability, vitality, growth, and a measure of magic.

            Until recently I held this possibility at arm’s length. I wrote plays and novels about it. I didn’t live it. I tried to meditate, but always got lost in my monkey mind, and nodded off to sleep. In retrospect I was peering in through a glass darkly, when what was needed was to open the window and walk through into another dimension of reality.

            I began to get closer to this leap with our most recent theatrical production,

An Intimate Anatomy of Light.

Here is the link to the recording.:  09-27-20 Intimate Anatomy Zoom.mp4

 Set in the year 1970, our Zoom play is work of my creative imagination, brought into reality by my cast and crew. It tells the story of Carl Jung, physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jungian analysts Marie Louise von Franz, Barbara Hannah, and a fictional modern character, Jewel Carver. Jung, Pauli, and von Franz had a passionate desire to integrate the world of matter and the world of the psyche, aka the divine. I was inspired to write this because the intellectual left-brained side of me needed “proof”, in terms of microphysics, that the world of matter and the one I saw in my dreams are not separate realities, that there is no division between science and soul. They are one.

Far from resolving this for me, in the aftermath of the production, I felt restless. Unfinished. But something was building in me, very gradually, signified by small things. I bought Christmas stamps in 2020 of a Renaissance painting of Madonna and child. No reindeer. No Frosty. I wanted the image of the birth of the divine. In truth something was wanting to be birthed in me, but like many things in our busy lives, where it is so easy to push aside things that are frightening or “woo woo,” it took a while to emerge.

            After the holidays, I chanced on an interview with Stephen Colbert and Father James Marin. I knew nothing about Father Martin, but he was so engaging, so warm, so humble yet with a clear sense of his own authority. I bought his new book, Learning to Pray.

            Only a few pages in, with his invitation to build a relationship with the divine, I put down the book, closed the door, and began to talk to “Her,” a figure of a woman in earth-colored cloak, who has appeared in my dreams over the years. Taking Father Martin’s cue, I spoke out loud to Her. It is hard to put words to what happened, and frankly, it was so emotional, so unexpected and shocking, I want to protect it. Christ spoke of this in Matthew 6:5, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the street, that they may be seen of men….But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.” (New Testament, King James version)

            What I will divulge is that simply speaking out loud to Her, and letting my imagination flow, has opened before me a brave, new, very real world. I berated myself at first, fearing I was just “making it up.” Father Martin addresses this, writing about a form of prayer pioneered by Saint Loyola Ignatius in the 1500’s. Ignatius Contemplation is precisely what I was doing: letting my imagination flow not from anything pre-scripted, but allowing a dialogue to proceed, back and forth, enhancing my connection to Her. And Hers with me.

            I have done this practice daily for over 3 months now. I know I am still in my infancy with building a deep relationship to the divine. I am aided by the writings of Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr, Father James Martin, and the earth-shaking (for me) Resurrecting Jesus by Adyashanti.

            Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, I wish you depth, commitment, imagination, and courage. It takes all of these, but a fearless world awaits you. For me it began with the words, “I’m so sorry. I have put writing about you ahead of being with you. I am so late in understanding this. Can you forgive me?”

            She did.

THE OCTOPUS BEAUTY AND HER BEAST

                                       

Film review of My Octopus Teacher, featuring documentary filmmaker Craig Foster and a female octopus in the kelp forest off the Western Cape of South Africa

            From the very first image of this film, we are drawn into another world. A man wearing only a mask, camera, and his swim trunks, swimming with an octopus. They are clearly connected, a feeling of lightness and intimacy between them.

            And so begins a journey for the viewer like no other I have ever seen in a documentary film. There are moments when I gasped, “This can’t be real!” And yet it is very real, and also a story that resonates of ancient myths and fairy tales: a man in search of himself encountering a magical beast who teaches him what he needs to know to become a whole person.

            That is the human side. And yet, the brilliance of this piece is that our identification shifts from the man, Craig Foster, to the object of his fascination and affection: the female octopus. He asks, “I am leaning so much from her, what is she getting from me? Is it possible that a being so intelligent can find nourishment by interacting with a creature so different from her own?”

            This seems to be true, for as he shows us all of her survival strategies that have sustained her species for thousands of years, her intelligence is as palpable as her grace, beauty, and curiosity. We begin to experience the story from her perspective: a creature of the depths, living moment to moment to survive, to disguise herself from predators, and then—here is this new creature with white arms and legs and a strange appendage he puts in the ocean floor in front of my den…She reaches out of the den with her tentacles and inspects the camera: it is not a living thing, and will not harm her. But will the man? Her story has mythical resonance, Beauty encountering the Beast, even as she also encounters the devouring pajama sharks, who try to eat her, and later serve as dark angels in a moment that literally takes your breath away.

            There are many levels of meaning to be found in this film. Like every great work of art, it offers a diversity of experience for each viewer. For me personally, it has brought me closer to the “beautiful octopus” in my own psyche. I have realized how quickly I abandon myself and let myself be pulled into divisive politics and fear of the lethality of the virus. What did the octopus do when the pajama shark attacked? She dived into her den, saving all but one tentacle from his snapping jaws. It grows back in time, her body regenerating what she had lost.

I use her as a role model, taking time to return to the “den” of my own self. From there I can experience calm, even as a watchful eye peers out. I believe it is important to pay attention to the sorrows of the world, but to keep a larger frame: change comes slowly. We must take care of each other and tend our inner lives. The more calm we are inside, the more we can support those around us to discover resilience and even hope.

Credits for My Octopus Teacher. Netflix original documentary. Directed by Pippa Ehrllich and James Reed, Director of photography, Roger Horrocks, Produced by, and featuring Craig Foster.

FINDING BALLAST, DELECTABLE AND PROFOUND                                    

ballast: (3) something that gives stability, esp. in character. American Heritage Dictionary

            These days I feel like a whirligig, the child’s toy that is continuously spinning. The Pandemic affects everything. I wake in the morning, and for an instant, all is enchantingly predictable. Then I remember.  A heavy feeling comes over me, often expressed in the most trivial thoughts. I can’t drop into Office Max and buy Post It notes willy-nilly. My children and granddaughter have made it abundantly clear we are not to sally forth, under any circumstances. One daughter ordered grocery delivery for us, and we stared at the packaging: do we dare touch it? Whose hands carried those bags, what unwitting carrier selected the avocados?

            I glance at the stack of New Yorkers on the back of the commode, “Well, if we run out of toilet paper…” We aren’t hording toilet paper, but do panic at the thought of running out of coffee. Then we turn local news, or Rachel Maddow, with her passionate outrage and footage from Italy, and we feel the pain of our global suffering.

            This teeter-totter instability reverberates not only in our material lives, but deep within the part of us just beyond our conscious awareness. This is the twin of our sensory experience, the country of the soul often called the Unconscious, producing its own images, wisdom, and sense of humor!

If ever there was a time to listen to your intuition and your dreams, it is now.

            To illustrate: a few nights ago. I had a dream that I was back in my childhood home, and it was being remodeled. All the walls were bare, and newly-painted white; sweeping glass windows, tall French doors. A much larger and more elegant home that the one I grew up in.   I walked into an alcove and touched the white wall, ”This used to be the pantry,” I say, somewhat wistfully, “There were rows of spices on small wooden shelves…”

Then, I gaze out the picture window at the sumptuous back yard. A magnificent chartreuse-green weeping willow sways in the breeze. Next to it is a monumental tree, its leaves darker its trunk broad and deep and ancient. It could be an oak, or a maple, or a tree not specific to this earth. “It is Mother,” I whisper.

I woke from this dream with a sense of peace, and profound gratitude, to my dreaming Unconscious, a force of nature embedded in the Collective Unconscious that lives in us all.

I later told this dream to someone who said that the willow is a fragile tree, often losing all its limbs in a wind storm. From this I gather that the willow symbolizes our temporal bodies: destructible. The Mother Tree is the eternal grounding of life Herself. Indestructible. Our temporal bodies are vulnerable at this time and we are living in a “remodeled” house of self. a house where the ordinary spice of life has been replaced by the blank white wall of the unknown.

            Oh, and did I mention the Unconscious has a sense of humor? The night after the beautific dream of the Mother Tree, I dreamed I am sitting in a small office, working on a manuscript. Barack Obama comes through the door, fresh out of the shower, a white bath towel wrapped around his waist. He has a mischievous grin on his face. “I have cracks, “he says, pointing to the crow’s feet around his eyes. “And here,” he says, pointing to the creases around his mouth—“And you want to see the biggest crack of all?—” “Seriously??!” I gasp. “Why not?” he says, whirling around and whipping off the towel as he shows me his back side. We laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

            I will leave you with this. I’m howling as I write it. May you find ballasts in your loved ones, your community, your own dear self, and in soul images like the Mother Tree, and in the joy and humor from the likes of my mooning Barack.

OUR CLIMATE JOAN OF ARC

There are some striking similarities: Joan of Arc was 16 years old, an introverted  girl from a modest family. Greta Thunberg is also 16, from a middle-class Swedish family. Both teenagers heard a “voice” of something much greater than themselves. For Joan it was Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret speaking for God. For Greta it is the voice of Science speaking the warming Earth.

Both have a relationship to fire. Alas Joan was burned at the stake by the British for her success in leading the French army against them. Greta speaks of the fires that are ravaging our forests, and the fire needed in the passion of our souls to extinguish the burning of fossil fuels. In both of them, the burning passion for a higher cause.

At her trial Joan refused to sign a confession that she was an agent of the Devil, in exchange for life imprisonment instead of death. Centuries later, British playwright George Bernard Shaw captured her passion in this immortal speech for his play Saint Joan:

JOAN: Give me that writing (she rushes to the table; snatches up the paper, tears it into fragments) Light your fire: do you think I dread it as much as the life of a mole in a cave. My voices were right. Yes, they told me you were fools You promised me my life; but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead. It is not bread and water I fear. I can live on bread. When have I asked for more?…But to shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers, to chain my feet so that I can never again ride with the soldiers nor climb the hills…and by your wanting to take these things away from me, or any human creature, I know that your counsel is of the Devil, and mine is of God.”

As I typed Joan’s words, I saw Greta saying them in my mind, not as a martyr going to the stake, but with her resounding passion for the earth, the freedom of the human soul to live outside the “prison” of global climate destruction. Greta described in an interview what it was like to be on the boat that brought her to New York City: the quiet, the sight of the Milky Way at night, the waves lapping the boat.

The child hero is an archetype our species has revered through the ages,  in fairy tales, myths, and legends. Why is this character so important, and why are we so drawn to Greta Thunberg in our modern era?

There are many answers to these questions, and I encourage you to think of your own. For me, I think we are always drawn to innocence. A reminder of a time in our own life that was, ideally, safe, carefree, filled with magic. Combine that with courage, and the ability to literally take on the whole world, and Greta becomes a warrior worthy of any era, but deeply needed in our own.

I spend time every week with people who express a deep depression about the state of our world. They feel helpless and hopeless. The powers-that-be are corrupt and oppressive, and our voices seem to drown out in the dark.

Enter Greta and her millions of youth and adult supporters. The mention of her name often produces a gasp of joy in the hopeless.  I doubt that Greta in 2019, and Joan in 1429, thought about this aspect when they began their respective causes, but spreading global inspiration is a powerful anti-depressant. We all need something to champion, to believe in, to give us a sense of purpose. I have enormous gratitude to Greta, for bringing a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts, and allowing us to get beyond our own problems—in Jung’s words, putting our complexes aside, and living from a deeper place in ourselves. From this deeper, more alive place, we can join Greta on the picket lines, call our Congresswoman, meet with friends to plan a community garden, and whatever else the creativity of our souls wants to manifest.

THE 4 P’S OF ANGER

PRESENCE. Allow the feeling of anger to emerge in your body, not suppressing it for fear that it is bad or inappropriate. Expressing blaming anger is a destructive choice, for both the one who expresses the anger, and the one who receives it. A better choice is to allow the anger to be, without judging it or pushing it away. It is a creative challenge to find a way to express your anger that is not destructive. Often physical release helps – walking or chopping wood, painting an entire canvas every shade of red. In this way we take responsibility for our own feelings, and don’t look elsewhere for the release of blame. This doesn’t mean not standing up for yourself. On the contrary. It means being fully present to your feelings and stating it to the person, or circumstance (as in an illness) that is the object of your anger as an “I” rather than a “you” statement.

POLARITY. The sister dimension of anger is grief. Sad/mad: two sides of the same nickel. We can sometimes deny or push away anger out of the fear of discovering what is underneath it, ie, profound grief. Rage and mourning need to find an outlet. Often we feel both simultaneously, and must, literally, rage and weep and cry out to the Universe. If these feelings are bottled up, it can literally eat you alive. The body keeps score, and suppressed rage or grief can create physical symptoms from ulcers to migraines to many other maladies.

POWER. Once the full range of feelings has been allowed, the possibility emerges to transform anger into the healing power of the self. By “self” I mean your deepest inner being, your sense of its value, your compassion for its imperfections, your will to love, protect, and advocate for your self. This includes your body. Anger transformed into fierceness on behalf of the self can be a powerful force for healing. It can manifest in many ways, including a sense of inner peace and connection to a larger spiritual experience.

PROTECTION. We all have vulnerabilities, especially when faced with an illness in ourselves or others. Being aware of this, tending our fears, and creating psychological protection, can help us get through such experiences as chemo, radiation, or surgery. This also applies when we are the object of the anger of others. Especially those of us who had known trauma or abuse, are particularly re-traumatized by a blast of anger, or when we are subjected to a necessary but frightening medical procedure. Entering a breast MRI machine with its loud noises and odd music, can feel like an assault. At such times, we can use imagination to put ourselves in a safe place: a cabin in the forest, or, in my case my grandmother’s white porch swing. We can create a “shield” wherever we go. An imaginary protective barrier that protects us from every possible assault. We can put a favorite protective pet on the shield, or an Earth Goddess, or, for Christians, the Virgin Mary, whose very presence would disarm anything or anyone out to do harm.

These reflections on some aspects of Anger were compiled for a workshop I am giving at Cancer LifeLine in Seattle on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Northwest Hospital Medical Arts Building. Free, for those experiencing the illness, and also for families, friends, and caregivers. Register on line at cancerlifeline.org

 

WALK WITH ME, A Film that Radiates Peace and Joy

It is one week to the day that Christine Blasey Ford and Bret Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world. In the last week I have felt like the old lady in the black and white opening of The Wizard of Oz, who passes the window riding her bicycle through the tornado. Not that I’m a witch, but I have felt that I’ve been steadily peddling through a blast of dust and fury, that has left considerable emotional devastation for both women and men.

For women, a triggering of trauma, shame, humiliation, grief, and rage. For men, a horror to find themselves of the male gender in this climate. Many are combing through their own adolescent behavior, wondering if they had been stupidly offensive to women in their distant past. To those men I have gently pointed out, “When she said ‘Stop’, you stopped.” This was gratifying to hear, but for many, the shame of being associated with the typically aggressive gender, persists.

In the midst of this, I stumbled upon a Netflix documentary, Walk With Me, a poetic, often humorous, and ultimately inspiring portrayal of life in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in southern France.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist, or even a person of faith, to allow yourself to be immersed in the Zen Master and his community. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, the filmmakers take us into a world where women and men live, sing, meditate, and tour together.

One can take exception to the chastity provision for nuns and monks imposed by this particular Zen Order. One can certainly speculate about the family circumstances that motivated so many nuns and monks, many of them Americans, to renounce all worldly good and re-locate in this monastery in the south of France.

But all such speculation pales as we, the viewer, walk into a community where all feelings are welcome, all pain seen, known, and honored. The sonorous voice of Cumberbatch guides us with quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh’s journal, Fragrant Palm Leaves, written in the 1960’s when “Tay” was a young monk at a monastery in Viet Nam. He attempted to unite the disparate Buddhist communities, and promoted peace in a country torn apart by war. It was a terrible and divisive time, and Tay was sent into exile, ultimately establishing Plum Village, far away from his beloved homeland.

We can imagine his plight, as we reflect on the divisiveness in our own country: the manipulative, power-grabbing, cultural and political war that has brought shame and outrage to both women and men.

The opening quote of the film provides insight into how Tay began to work toward awareness of a deep human unity, even as everything around him was falling apart: “I know what it is to get angry. And I know the pleasure of being praised. I am often on the verge of tears or laughter.  But underneath all of these emotions, what else is there? How can I touch it? If there isn’t anything, why would I be so certain that there is?” (Fragrant Palm Leaves, Riverside Books, New York, page 84)

I encourage you to find this beautiful film, Walk With Me , on Netflix or on DVD at your local library, or elsewhere. The film touches the heart of this world “underneath” the anger, rancor, power and glory. There, in the dimension of universal consciousness, we can experience peace, and the reality of our intimate relationship to all of nature, and human women and men, for each other.

The Whale Whisperer

“I’m here to answer questions,” said the young woman wearing a Naturalist shirt. She is tall, slender, pale, long dark hair pulled back under a brimmed cap, her eyes large, dark, gentle Though the day is overcast, she seems poised for action, as if expecting brilliant sunlight, or a pod of orcas, to break through at any moment.

“Are they out there?” I asked, scanning the calm surface of Haro Strait, the habitat for J, K, and L pods just off coast of San Juan Island.

Her eyes wandered to the rippling kelp beds. “We’ve lost 17 orcas in the last 5 years. You probably know about J50, the young one they keep giving medicine to, and that poor mom who carried her dead calf with her for so long. She finally let  go… “ Her voice was clam, professional, laced with a gentle mourning.

“Why are they dying?”

“Food source. They’re picky. The kind of salmon they like are being fished out, or dying because of the warming ocean. Dams are making it harder for the salmon to reach the sea.”

Her cell phone beeped. “I’m here,” she said. “Right. I’ll report siting. I promise” She chuckled and hung up.

“So you’re confident they are out there?”

She sighed, sizing me up: would I be open to what she was about to tell me?

I smiled. “What is it?”

Her eyes returned to the sea. “Look, I think of myself as a pretty scientific person. But, with what I’ve seen lately, I’ starting to finally listen to people who talk about whales having, you know, extra-sensory perception.”

“Really?”

“Like, last week, I was out by the lighthouse and I could see a pod way out there, and I knew from the data report that one of them I had, well, communicated with, was swimming out there with the pod.”

“Communicated with?”
“Yeah. So, I got this weird feeling that one of the whales was waiting for me. It’s hard to describe. So, I shouted ‘Galineau! ‘ And, way out there, so far away he couldn’t have heard me, this one whale broke off from the pod and went under. The rest swam out to sea, and I waited, and then I thought ‘Well, that’s that,’ and I reached down to get my pack, and I glanced in the water, and there was a face staring up at me! I walked to water’s edge, and Galineau came up as close to me as he could possibly could!”

“You’re here!” I said, and he raised his dorsal fin and slapped the water!

I laughed, and kept talking, and he slapped and turned his head so his eye could see me real well, almost like he was taking a picture of me in his mind. It went on like this as long as I kept talking. Then, when I stopped, he went under and went out to sea.”

“That’s really amazing.” I said, aware of a slight skepticism in the back of my mind, but she spoke with such sincerity, and astonishment, as anyone with a scientific mind would describe something that seemed inexplicable.

“It keeps happening!” she said, her large dark eyes growing wider.  “Last week I was down at Lime Kiln, you know, where they come real close to the rocks, and I couldn’t see them, and couldn’t see them, and then I hollered out, ‘Ok, Solstice! Ok, Vega! I’ve got to leave at 8:30, boys. Hoped to catch you! Maybe next time!’ “

“Again, nothing. I gathered my stuff up, checked my phone, and then, I glanced out and here come two dorsal fins, heading right toward me. Vega! Solstice!  They came so close I thought they would beach themselves in the low tide!  I looked at my watch. 8:29! I kept talking and shouting their names, and we stayed there together, just the 3 of us, for what seemed like a long time. Then I said, “I really have to go.” And they went under and swam away.”

“You’re an orca whisperer,” I said reverently.

She laughed. “That’s what my mom says. Orcas, their brains are a lot bigger than ours, and I’m starting to believe that they couldn’t have been just cuing off the sound of my voice; they were too far away, and I can’t make my voice heard like one of their own, even if I dived under and shouted through the water. It was something else, like there’s an emotional, spiritual connection between us. Sounds woo woo, doesn’t it?
“Sounds like you’re describing your own experience. How can you deny what you’ve observed and lived?”

She shrugged, suddenly a bit embarrassed for having told me the story.

What’s your name?” I asked.

“Ariel. Like the mermaid.”

“Perfect!”

We laughed warmly. She turned away and we looked out at the calm waters. I knew she wouldn’t call out to Galineau, Vega, or Solstice while I was still there, and I wanted to honor her private relationship with the whales, so I shook her hand and thanked her, and took my leave.

As I walked up the hill, I felt hopeful, for the future of the whales. Not so much because so many people are working so hard to save them, but because of the orca’s special genius for communicating with a human, by “extra sensory” or spiritual perception. If only we could learn to do this, to connect across what often seems to be impossible boundaries, species to species, human beings to one another.

THE BOUNTY OF SPIRIT IN SPRING

Does it happen every year, this disconnection to myself in the dark days of winter? Sages tell us it should be the opposite: a deepening into spiritual practice as the days grow shorter, the night calling us to enfold ourselves into a quieter, less distracted state.

For me, this year has been a winter of increasing disconnection from spirit, from soul, arguably at the very time I need it the most. Why? Because of the angst of the world, the turbulence in our democracy, the illness of friends, my own aging body….

A perfect storm of  concerns that seems to have led me to neglect my inner landscape in favor of time-honored distractions, ie, consuming too much dark chocolate (“it’s good for me”), buying too many books (“Oh, this one has a more optimistic view of the future”), too many movies, even as I recoil from the parade of violence and despair so many portray.

What have I been searching for?

Whatever it is, I have been behaving as if it is out there.

            And I know better. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Holy Grail, the Kingdom of God, all are to be found within. I have been guilty of a spiritual amnesia. Weary, perhaps, of this lofty stuff, settling for small consumptions, stemming from a culturally-sanctioned concept of the human appetite.

But now, happily, I have come to realize I am hungry for something else, something I know in my bones, for the body, the mind, the soul are truly One.

How do I get so far astray? Oh, I can follow the breadcrumbs backwards, to complaining about the winter weather so that I neglected to my walking meditation (“it’s cold and rainy”); boredom with vegetables, craving sugar (“I need more energy to keep going”); checking my phone too often, and all the rest.

I am very good at nourishing others, at joining with my clients in an exploration of how they conceive of caring for themselves, but this winter I starved myself in spirit, in favor of what Ronna Kabatznick in The Zen of Eating calls “the numinous muffin”. And I didn’t even know it. .

So as I read about renewable energy and wonder about the future of the planet, can I turn to my own need for renewable, sustainable energy of the soul?

What does this look like this morning, as I watch a Beewick’s wren run along the fence beneath the brilliant yellow blossoms of the forsythia?

It looks like gratitude, for the spring, for the emerging of new life.

It looks like acceptance, that in spite of my aging body and all its new needs, I am still vital, and have a lot of energy to sit with people, share ideas, and listen. Stephen Hawkings said, when asked about his life with ALS, “In my mind, I am free.” Wonderful role-modeling for all of us as we watch our bodies change with the biology of time.

It looks like discernment: turning off the violent movies, and limiting consumption of  political news. I don’t want to isolate myself from the world, but I have been too fascinated with this Winter of Trumpian Discontent. I need to heed the advice of a dear friend who recently told me, “don’t turn it on”. I  do want to stay connected enough to be aware of what petitions to sign, what causes to support, and what to say when I call my Congresswoman, but I’m definitely starting to limit my intake of the madness.

Renewable energy of the soul also looks like changing my perspective on consumption: smelling the rapture of the Mr. Chocolate store without going in to raid the samples. Stir-frying those vegetables, and remembering the farmer who grew them, the soil of the Earth that nourished them. Not buying another flowered blouse in a vain attempt to feel the blooming of my soul by wearing blossoms on my body!

Energy of the soul also looks like joy. Finding it in every exchange in life: the funny waddle of a toddler in front of me at the bookstore; a text from my granddaughter; stopping to take in the brilliant pink of the cherry blossoms along the trail, and taking that moment to listen to the peace and blessed silence within my own self.

Where do you find sustainable, renewable, joy of the soul, in the bounty of the outer, and inner spring?