Courage

grateful for gratitude… witnessing the re-birth of hope

marianna gratitude this weekend i had the great privilege of participating in a gathering with some amazing folks. there were people of all ages, faiths and histories, and we were all there to support a wonderful woman in our community and deepen our own healing as well. it was powerful to say the least.

i personally had some powerful things arise for healing (about which i’ll write in my next blog), but there is something that happened which i will never forget. because what happened was so deeply moving - on every level - that something fundamentally changed in how i see children.

as you may know, i have been a champion of young people and children forever, having been a mother, substitute teacher and Challenge Day Program Leader among other things. in other words, i have been extremely aware of the prevalence of adult-ism in our culture and the incredible damage it does. so, it was truly awe-inspiring to witness the awareness and encouragement from every single adult there when a beautiful little 5-year-old boy stepped up of his own accord and asked to take on a leadership role in the gathering. this was no small thing he did… let me tell you.  no small thing.

it meant stepping up in a way that many adults i know would not be comfortable doing, and he did it with joy, grace and the deepest sense of knowing that emanated from the center of his being. it was so beautiful.

it was in that moment that i reconnected to my vast store of hope for the human race.  as you may know, i’ve written more than once about my struggles with hope and my capacity to carry on with a smile in the face of all we are facing in this critical time in history. i have often felt more despair than i care to admit. but in that moment, i felt hope. real hope. a deep trust, an abiding faith that we are going to be okay.

as i sat with tears streaming down my face, i watched this child’s incredible poise and presence as he listened to all he needed to do to fulfill the role for which he had volunteered. and my heart soared as though it had wings when i watched him carry it out with more grace than most adults. this little boy, with his tiny, young body and huge, eternal heart, restored my faith in humanity.

and the beautiful thing was, i had this momentary flash of, “I’m so glad young people like him are going to fix the mess we created” but it was instantly replaced by, “no. i’m so grateful he is joining us in the task of healing what needs to be healed so we can all awaken together. i’m so glad i get to stand side-by-side with this beautiful being as we build the bridge to the New World together.” all in one moment, i was informed, inspired, ignited and illuminated. in that one moment.

IMG_0213in these last couple of days since the gathering, i have felt so different. so much more possibility and joy. and this morning, i woke up feeling so grateful… for everything. for being able to get up well before sunrise to enjoy the quiet and dark to meditate, do yoga and share time with my husband. for the privilege of living where i live, for the way trees remind me how to be still, for eating food from my own garden every day, for the vast, deep and joyful love i feel for my husband and our children, for our amazing community and all the possibilities that stand before us as we walk forward. for children who have parents who stand beside them (rather than in front of or behind them) and say, “i believe in you.”

then what i realized is that i am so deeply grateful to be grateful. to know that i am grateful and to feel gratitude pretty much every hour for my life- even the struggles. especially the struggles. and to be grateful while i’m right in the middle of them, even if i don’t understand why they’re happening.

i have truly come to believe that gratitude is the key to everything… if i can truly be grateful for every one of my circumstances, regardless of how wonderful or terrifying they seem, i can be free to trust that everything is falling into place exactly as planned.

and what i have seen, time and time again, is that gratitude and generosity are the keys to healing all wounds. if we can be grateful, we can be present. if we can be present, we can be generous. if we can be generous, we can experience moments of connection which remind us how grateful we are. and the whole cycle repeats itself as we spiral upward toward remembering who we really are.

so, in this month of Giving Thanks (at least here in the states), i say, “thank you.” to everything and everyone. to my family, my friends, this beautiful little boy who brought hope back to my heart. to the people who make the most difficult choices they can possibly make, like the courageous and beautiful Brittany Maynard. to the heroes i meet every day like my friend Mark who is helping to heal deep wounds in a native tribal community and my friend Rosendo who, although faced with possibly impossible odds, is one of the brightest, most joyful people i have ever met. to every sentient being who lives on this beautiful planet we call Home. and to our Mother Earth, who gives unceasingly, without expectation, and supports us despite it all.

i am so grateful for being grateful.

what are you grateful for?

i wish you a beautiful November filled with joy and gratitude.

erin and cow

When would NOW be a good time to wake UP?

on Thursday February 6th i changed my profile picture on facebook from this erin fb profile pic

to this

fb nsa profile pic

after being inspired by the fact that my sweetheart had done so.

in all honesty, i thought long and hard before doing so. because, even though i fully stand behind this movement to keep our current system, this "corporatocracy," from making our lives look very much like scenes from George Orwell's infamous novel, 1984, i was a bit scared to be Bold about it in such a public way. then i realized that's exactly what they want me to do. they want me to pause and let that little trickle of fear grow into a river coursing through my veins causing me to stay numb, speechless and paralyzed. in that moment, i knew i had to do it, regardless. in choosing to change my profile photo and make a bold statement about how i feel about what is happening in our country, i was choosing to say "enough is enough."

i'm not saying that changing my profile photo is all that big of a deal or some super-courageous act. nor is it likely to land me on some list in a thousand-page document in a box in some government vault somewhere. (i'm probably already on one somewhere for something, anyway, like any good, vocal, participatory and upstanding citizen of what is slowly becoming the antithesis of a democracy is likely to be). but what i am saying is that there is, honestly, a growing shout inside of me saying, "screw it!" this is more important than my personal comfort, bigger than my fear and sure as hell something that deserves to be written about in as many places as possible.

the thing is, most of us are behaving like the proverbial frogs in the pot of water - the temperature being turned up just slowly enough that we won't notice until it's too late and we're all floating at the top of a big pot of frog soup. so many of us are going through our daily lives ignorant of or avoiding the truth of what is happening all around us - and we can no longer afford to remain in blissful ignorance. as i've quoted my friend Shanan many times, "it's time to wake up, sheeple!"

when i clicked the link for the Day We Fight Back website to learn how change my profile photo, this very compelling video grabbed my attention. if you really knew me, i usually tend to watch videos with half an eye and ear as i switch back and forth from what i'm writing to my email, but something about this one caught me, particularly every time i heard Aaron Swartz speak. i'd never heard of him until i watched this video, but he was incredibly articulate, passionate and intelligent… and i noticed that everyone else in the video spoke about him with a great deal of love and respect but also as if he were no longer here. so, i looked him up, and sure enough, i learned he had died. at the age of 26, this amazingly brilliant, boldly courageous and tirelessly dedicated man had hung himself after being indicted in 2011 "on federal data-theft charges for breaking into the MIT computer system and allegedly downloading 4.8 million documents from the subscription-based academic research database JSTOR"1  to which he had pleaded not guilty and was facing 35 years in prison and a $1million fine. As DemandProgress Executive Director David Segal said, “This makes no sense; it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library…. It’s even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute."2

being honest john lennonas i sat in tears reading about this man's life, i realized that he was born just a few months after my son, who is also a brilliant, articulate and passionate man who happens to live in the same city as Aaron Swartz did. this was crazy. and, although this young man died at his own hand, i have no doubt that the very system he was trying to change carries much of the blame for his death. as his family wrote, "Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims."3

and he is not the only one who has suffered - as we all know, there are many courageous men and women who have been willing to question "authority" at great risk to their own lives. i believe whistleblowers and others who are willing to "say it like it is" are some of our greatest heroes - people like Daniel Ellsberg, persecuted for his bravery in exposing the vagaries of the Vietnam War, and Edward Snowden, currently living under a year-long asylum in Russia for courageously leaking numerous NSA documents about global surveillance. people like Bill Moyers, Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald. these are the people standing on the edge of the pot screaming at the rest of us, "jump out before it's too late!"

now, dear reader, you may be thinking that this issue has nothing to do with you. but i say it has everything to do with you, me and every other citizen- of every country around the world. if you don't think it does, i invite you to click these links and let me know how you feel after watching them:

• "The Program":  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/opinion/the-national-security-agencys-domestic-spying-program.html?_r=4&

or, maybe you think it's not a big enough issue. but i say, this is huge. it is connected to every other issue about which i and everyone i know is concerned - from climate change to human rights to gun control to environmental racism and on and on and on. in other words, it has become woven into the very fabric of our culture and, in my opinion, we cannot afford to ignore it any longer.

or, perhaps, you may be wondering what this bold, personal, political statement has to do with Get That You Matter. i say, it has everything to do with what we're about- getting that everything we think, say and do matters, and that standing up for our basic human rights is part of that. As Chris Hedges writes in his Truthdig article, The Last Gasp of American Democracy, "The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives…. The most radical evil, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, is the political system that effectively crushes its marginalized and harassed opponents and, through fear and the obliteration of privacy, incapacitates everyone else…. The object of efficient totalitarian states, as George Orwell understood, is to create a climate in which people do not think of rebelling… [it] achieves this control… by systematically crushing human spontaneity, and by extension human freedom. It ceaselessly peddles fear to keep a population traumatized and immobilized."4

i invite you to consider that we are at the most critical point in human history - right now, right here, today. if we are to truly get that we matter, my questions to you are these…

  • what has reading this blog sparked in you?
  • what are you willing to change? to choose? to commit to?
  • and, finally, as i've said before, "when would NOW be a good time to wake UP?!"

as David Sirota said so well in the New York Times Op-Doc Why Care About the NSA?, "if you don't speak up for everybody's rights, you'd better be prepared for your own rights to be trampled when you least expect it."if we are to play our part in the great re-evolution of humanity from where we've been to where we want to be going - if we are to build this bridge from "business (or life) as usual" to a whole new paradigm as we are walking, running and dancing across it - we must each be willing to commit to what we believe in and live it with every fiber of our being. if i am not up for that, then i should pull the plug on what i've been working on for the last 7 plus years, plug my ears and sing, "la la la la" while the world as we know it crumbles around me.

truth

QUOTES:

  1. http://business.time.com/2013/01/13/tech-prodigy-and-internet-activist-aaron-swartz-commits-suicide/
  2. http://techland.time.com/2011/07/19/reddit-co-founder-aaron-swartz-indicted-for-data-theft-could-face-35-years-in-prison/
  3. http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/memories/
  4. http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_last_gasp_of_american_democracy_20140105
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/opinion/why-care-about-the-nsa.html

The Courage to Love

what do you love? who do you love? and what does it take to love… to really love - deeply, fully, unabashedly? i'm reading Joanna Macy's and Molly Young Brown's book, Coming Back to Life, in preparation for a workshop i'm doing by Joanna in November, and it has brought up such deep feelings of love for our beautiful world and all of its inhabitants… a love laced with intense grief, despair and anger. a love interwoven with a fierce desire to radicalize my expression of it. a love continually surrendering to trusting the perfection of all that is and all i can be and do to contribute. this is the love of life, the love which wants to protect my children and theirs from all we've created thus far out of our ignorance and greed. this is love born of faith that we are not alone in our striving to create something far better from the ashes of what is dying all around us. this is love willing to lean into the discomfort of taking actions that may be judged as impractical or out-of-the-box. but, as Paul Hawken writes, "At this crucial stage in human history, there is no inconsequential action- only consequential inaction."

Being Love requires the courage to let go of old ideas, beliefs and behaviors - a bold leap from the continent of the known, falling into the wide open vista of the unknown, trusting that our wings grow as we begin to soar. it takes allowing our ideas of who we thought we were to be burned away for who we are ready to be now - again and again and again. in the last month, i've been given a chance to leap from the safety of my comfort zone into loving more fully. it's been vulnerable, raw, wide open, fierce, tender, scary, deep and strong. what i've gained, though, in doing so are invaluable opportunities to give up taking myself so seriously, habits of thought and action that no longer serve me, and multiple layers of pride. it's been exhilarating, demanding and real, and there are many moments when i stand in awe at what has transpired by being willing to take that leap.

like seeds that sprout only in the wake of great infernos, Being Love also requires a tenacious commitment to create ourselves as greater than our circumstances no matter how small we feel. once we reach the shore of that new continent, we stand on fresh earth where we have endless opportunities to co-create even more love. for me, this has deepened my capacity to stand in the face of intensity, doubt and judgment with love and compassion. sometimes that tenacity looks like potent reminders of "i hear you," "i see you" or "you can do it." sometimes it looks like gentle whispers of "i'm right here" or "i've got you." when we courageously commit to Being Love, we remind ourselves and those around us that every one of us has countless opportunities to BE Love in the face of adversity, deepening our experience of transformation and awakening. when we choose to do so with whoever is right in front of us, we can walk through the fire of what seems most challenging, difficult or impossible. we can choose to courageously love our children, parents and other family members, even when we experience them as demanding or unreasonable; the people in our communities, regardless of circumstances; our chosen partners, no matter what.

so i ask you, what does it look like to Be Love courageously? what would it take for you to love boldly? what is it costing you not to? what would you have to give up in order to do so?  what could you embrace? and what would be available to you if you did? whether we are facing outright hatred, global devastation or unfathomable loss, or we're embracing the tenderest of moments of deep connection, when we step into Love, there is no more courageous act and nothing as true and deep. after all, love is what we are. love is all there is.

 

what if we're here to remind each other of who we really are… and what if that, simply, boldly and truly, is Love? as William Carlos Williams expressed so eloquently, "It was the love of love, the love that swallows up all else, a grateful love, a love of nature, of people, of animals, a love engendering gentleness and goodness that moved me and that I saw in you.”

The Courage to Choose

when we choose to live fearlessly, it doesn't mean we're choosing without fear… it means we're choosing to fear less. in other words, when we bring fear with us, we receive its powerful energy as our ally, our friend, and have opportunities to be courageous - to take heart - in the choices we make. and.. we are not alone. there are countless millions around the world who are courageously choosing to live fear-lessly, inspiring others to step up and do the same. in mid-January I boarded a train to San Francisco after spending five wonderful days with my daughter on a trip to southern California where she was going to attend a new college. we had some time on the front end of our trip, so we decided to take the coast highway. we both kept remarking how glad we were that we decided to do that. it was leisurely, beautiful and inspiring, and it gave us time and space to have some wonderfully heartfelt conversations about school, work, the beauty of California, relationships, family and life in general. it was a beautiful journey on the outside, but more importantly, i was inspired by the beauty of her inner journey and proud of her for being so courageous in the face of all the choices in front of her.

IMG_0938

when we arrived at Pitzer College, Jemma realized that she felt less certain about her decision to be there as she had been a few months earlier. and, although we spent three days getting her settled into her dorm, shopping for supplies and visiting with our lovely hosts, this feeling persisted. and, though she felt certain, we decided that i would leave on Sunday, giving her a couple of days to be there on her own and deepen into her decision to stay or not. as I made my way back up the middle of the state, I felt a wave of sadness at leaving my little girl all alone in a faraway place, but i wholeheartedly trusted her capacity to make the right choice for herself.

i am deeply honored she asked to spend that time with me and to witness her process of becoming clearer about who she is and what she wanted. two days after i left, she called another college to which she had applied to inquire if they still had her package available- and they did. so she took the necessary steps to withdraw from Pitzer, packed up her things, drove the 8 hours back to the bay and enrolled the next morning at her new school. inspired by her courage, self-awareness, wisdom and clarity, i learned much from her willingness to live in the mystery of a lot of uncertainty, her ability to listen deeply to her own heart, her courage to change her mind and her capacity to navigate the world with a maturity that is rare and precious. she made the right choice, even though it meant changing her mind and possibly appearing fickle in the eyes of others. she chose courageously and well.

switching train tracks

recently, i've had some opportunities to make my own courageous choices which have helped me grow and learn in ways i didn't realize were available to me. i've had opportunities to lean into discomforts, to question my own motives, to stretch into love and to take an even deeper, more courageous look at who i am and what i'm here for. if you really knew me, you would know that i've often had lofty ideas of making get that you matter a global movement which inspires, informs and ignites millions of people to make their greatest contributions to the world. i've spent countless hours dreaming and scheming about how to make that happen, and what i've come to realize is that i have to reel it back in. i have to get back to the roots of the entire message which was to write a book called Getting That You Matter. that was it. it wasn't "you need to create a global movement" or "you need to inspire millions of people to take action." it was to write the book.

what i'm coming to see is that, in getting back to the basics of this message, in returning to what sang to my heart seven years ago this month, i am courageously choosing to follow this path from a place of what inspires, informs and ignites me rather than from a place of strategizing about what may inspire others to get that they matter. in other words, there is no way for me to share this message without BEing it myself. so, i'm taking a long, hard look at all the ideas i've had, and am giving myself an opportunity to see that the only person i can choose for is myself. although i can - and i do, to the best of my abilities - live from the place of this message being out in the world in a big way, the way to actually allow that to unfold in the best way is to return my attention to the simplicity of it. in doing so, i have yet more opportunities to let go of my attachment to my identity, to step bravely towards love, and to continue to surrender to the moment while standing firm in the bedrock of who i am underneath all of the memories, stories and dreams.

Temple sunrise on the playa

in diving deep into my personal process of surrendering to awakening and letting go of identity (sometimes grieving and celebrating all at once), i am becoming more and more present to the perfect unfolding of it all. in choosing to love wholeheartedly without expectation and to forgive myself and others for choices we've made that weren't always courageous, i'm giving myself repeated opportunities to Be Love. in shedding my old skin for what's to come and trusting that, in balancing what's in front of me with what needs to happen to bring this message to the perfect audience, i am choosing to be the messenger i'm here to be.

as i have told my daughter many times, "it's always okay to change your mind. what matters most is what you think of yourself, not what others think of you." what matters most is that we get that we matter, that we choose courageously for ourselves and live from that place of authenticity. that is the only place from which we can create powerfully.

where in your life are you being courageous? what choices are in front of you that feel stretchy or uncomfortable? are you in a situation in which you need to change your mind, like Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets, in order to bring yourself or your organization into integrity? like this amazing teacher in Washington D.C. or my friend Ian Mackenzie, do you have something you need to speak out about courageously? where are you making fear-less choices? what do you stand for enough, believe in enough, love enough to make a different choice than you're making right now? what choices could you make in order to Be Love over everything else?

Wendy at Seventy… August 21st, 2010

Today my mom, Wendy Lou Alford, would have been 70 years old, had she made it past 60. And she would have had a rip-roaring party, I tell ya… especially since it's on a Saturday!
However, nine years ago, her life was cut short from a disease which, although she was able to stave it off for years with good self care, Chinese herbs and a lot of support from her family and community, finally got the better of her formerly strong body - hepatitis C. But it's not her death, nor even her living about which I'm thinking this morning, as I sit here watching the sky lighten from dark to day. It's about her essence and her gifts; it's about what she brought – and still brings to me, and I would venture to say, and all those who knew and loved her. It is a testimony to her spirit that, for the last nine years, I still receive calls and emails on her birthday, and every time I've sent out an email or posted a note, I've received numerous responses saying that others were thinking of her on this occasion, too. It's that – her indomitable spirit, her undying gift for leaving a lasting impression - which is on my heart this morning.
Since she passed, my life has changed in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. Although I knew my kids would grow and leave to create wonderful lives of their own, I had no idea that they would both become world travelers, nor that they would come to be the unwavering pillars of love, strength and support they have been in the years since her death. I have stepped into living as a single woman in her 40's, feeling stronger and more confident than ever before, in many ways following in my mother's footsteps. I have moved away from the home I thought I would inhabit for the rest of my life, carving out a new path and creating a new community in a place I could never have imagined hanging my hat – Los Angeles. And, although I have relocated, it seems ironic yet so fitting that, of all the places I could have landed, I landed in Topanga Canyon – a place much like our home in the Sierras.
Nothing, really, has remained as it was when my mom was alive. And it is this about which I am thinking this morning… the way in which her living – and her dying – always inspired me and so many who knew her to stretch beyond our comfort zones and go for our best lives, even when – especially when – it meant going out on the "skinny branches" into unknown territory.
I've written many pieces about her and who she was, about her being larger-than-life, her unwavering courage during her battle with Hep C, her phenomenal ability to make friends in an instant with anyone she met, her deep love of the natural world, and her incredible ability and all of these things were who she was. The thing is, she still inspires me on an almost daily basis.
Honestly, I feel at a bit of a loss for words, but the essence of what I am trying to say is that, in her courageous living and dying and beyond, she has carried a torch of sorts for me. She has walked ahead on this path called life, pointed out the roots and rocks upon which I might stumble - or not and let me stumble and learn. She's held my hand in the particularly dark and scary parts where I might have been too afraid to venture without her by my side. She's stopped me short in my tracks – countless times – to stand in awe and amazement at the beauty of the scenery before me, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the scent of fresh rain, the wonder of being alive.
It seems so ironic that, for a woman who was so vocal about how beautiful and precious and wondrous the world is, I am more moved by her guidance to recognize it now than ever before. She walks with me in the mornings on the misty mountain trails, dances with me on the beach, smiles through me at each stranger on the street, and most importantly gets me up on many a morning when I'd rather stay cozy in bed to write, to correspond, to plan and execute this big life I've chosen to live.
It is she – and the vision of my children's hopeful yet uncertain future – who reminds me that if I want to be of service to humanity and the world, it takes me getting up and staying up, getting uncomfortable and pushing on to do it. No one is going to do it for me. Her favorite quote, from Anais Nin, sums up her life and legacy, "…and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom." In everything she was and did during her brief visit here, in her determined month-long fight to live long enough to receive a liver transplant, and in her guidance from beyond, she shouts from the top of her lungs, "Be the one you are waiting for!"
In this moment, then, I ask you, on behalf of a woman whose large life, and even larger spirit continues to inspire her daughter, her grandchildren and countless others, what will it take for you to risk blossoming? In the words of Mary Oliver, "What will you do with this one wild and precious life?"
I ask you because the world needs you now and Wendy is out there, somewhere, cheering you on, holding you accountable and lifting you up to Be the Change you wish to see in the world.
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