responsibility

waking up to my white privilege

dixondwhite

recently i saw a video which moved me to tears. it was posted by a man who called himself “Dixon D. White.” sitting in the cab of his F-150 truck somewhere in the southern U.S., he made a passionate call for white people to wake up to our unowned racism and undeniable privilege. it was so palpable in its sincerity and humility that, as i watched him speak to so many aspects of how racism plays out in millions of peoples’ lives, i was moved to tears multiple times. i was also deeply impressed by his eloquence on the subject, especially given that he alluded to the fact that he was not necessarily a well-educated man and had a difficult background. he spoke about being a racist himself, but had had an awakening and needed to speak out. he spoke from a place so deep and true and real… he spoke from his heart.

that afternoon, i posted his video on my Facebook page and quite shortly thereafter received a couple of comments which gave me pause, and ultimately inspired me to address the first one in this blog. the other one, i’ll address next time. before i go any further, i want to be very clear that this is simply my opinion, that i’m bringing as much compassion as possible as i can, and that i’m still learning about this (in other words, the more i learn, the more i realize i need to learn and the more i’m seeing my own internalized racism at every turn). i’m not saying i'm right; i'm just offering my perspective as a white person who is deeply sad about what’s going on.

what about reverse racism, anyway?

the comment:  ”I don't know if I agree with all the self hating white talk going on. It's one thing to recognize, reflect, correct and move on, but it's all that is talked about now`a day's. It gives excuses to victimize and use excuses to be violent and create reverse racism. Until everybody wakes up and stops using the race card on every level, we will always have racism, and reverse racism."

before i go on, i want to say, i hear you. i make up that it saddens you to bear witness to the violence you may be seeing wherever you are seeing it (on TV, social media, etc.) and that you are frustrated with the continuing of a conversation that seems to be getting nobody anywhere. i, too, am saddened by the continuing violence and the fact that we are still very much in the throes of this conversation. however, i want to point out a few things which i hope will give you some food for thought.

first, most of the violence in our society is, in large part, due to something called oppression and its offshoot, internalized oppression. it is a well-documented fact that, whenever a group (people of color, women, LGBT people, religious minorities, any marginalized group… the list goes on and on) is oppressed by another group (in our case, mostly white people) for any length of time in a regular, systematic and institutionalized way, the people in the oppressed group can easily begin to believe that they deserve no better. even worse, they can often play out that oppression on themselves, each other and society at large. thus, the violence (physical, mental or emotional) which has victimized millions continues to beget violence in many, many ways.

second, our black and brown brothers and sisters on this continent have been victimized since the day white Europeans came into contact with them. i'm not saying that every white person who ever came into contact with a black or brown person did bad things or never stood up for them. what i am saying is that, as a group of people, we white people have systematically and institutionally made other groups of human beings the targets of severe oppression with every possible form of injustice, violence and hatred known to humankind. remember, this country was built on the backs of the people shipped here like cargo from another continent and expanded through the forced removal and relocation of prior inhabitants. i’m not saying that the U.S. is all bad. it was founded on some wonderful ideals with an amazing document to try to uphold them (although i know it’s not a perfect document, i don’t recall the constitution saying all white men are equal). but, we cannot ignore the basic facts that, even though the European settlers came here to escape religious persecution (a form of oppression), we didn’t do a very good job of living up to those ideals. 

third, even if we want to educate ourselves about what really happened and what is really going on, mainstream education (being part of that institutionalized system) perpetuates the myth that, "oh, yeah, slavery happened... way back then, and we're sorry to hear how badly folks were treated but it's way more important to educate you about the battle of (fill in the blank)." mark my words, it is no mistake that we don't know the stories of people who were thrown overboard on slave ships in order to conserve food, who were driven to near extinction by disease and massacre, the thousands of families torn apart never to see each other again. it’s no mistake that the daily acts of violence perpetuated against our black brothers and sisters in the south before, during and after the civil rights movement barely get a mention in history textbooks. it's no mistake that most states still celebrate Columbus Day, even though Columbus and his compatriots were responsible for reducing the population of the Taíno people of the Caribbean from over 1,000,000 to less than 500 in just over 50 years. i could go on and on. are you getting my drift?

how many decades of violence have our brothers and sisters endured while we have had the unearned

benefit of being able to turn away? to whom have they been able to turn? how many frustrating conversations must they have with white people who make all sorts of assumptions about them without even thinking? where have they been able to go to find respite and space from a system which does its best to disempower them at every turn? what gives us the right to think that we can avoid having the crucial and, yes, probably very difficult conversations that our predecessors were too afraid or too unconscious to have?

i don't believe it's "self-hating white talk." this isn’t about making you, me or any other white person wrong for what’s happened. it’s about being accountable to the fact that the only best way to truly end racism is for white people to wake up to our part in continuing this cycle of oppression. it seems like "it's all that's talked about now`a day’s" because it's important.

martin-luther-king-jruntil we really address racism and the multitude of ways it plays out in every level and area of our culture, it will continue to be an important conversation. until we realize, as white people, that it is our job, our duty, to stand up for our black and brown brothers and sisters personally and systematically, we will continue to need videos like this to wake us up to the very real and sad fact that the color of our skin gives us the unearned privilege of “not knowing” more than we do about their suffering. that is a huge part of what perpetuates this conversation which i make up seems so uncomfortable to you.

look, i don’t mean to make you feel bad, but actually we need to feel bad. 

a huge part of the reason why racism continues to have such a grip on our country is exactly because we white people have been unwilling to feel the guilt, shame, sadness, grief, regret of what our ancestors and fellow citizens did and continue to do to other human beings. it is absolutely a shame that the things done in the name of progress or money or ignorance continue. it is time to look at it, to acknowledge our part (even if that part is “just" being able to ignore it), and to make real changes. and that, my friend, is an inside job for every single white person in this country, including me.

although i acknowledge that you may already be doing these things, i have a few questions for my white brothers and sisters: what are we so afraid of when we deny that we are part of a system - consciously or not - which engenders the continuing treatment of any human being as less than any other human being? what will you do the next time you see someone being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin? will you inform the person who is being rude, hurtful or even hateful to them that what they’re doing is wrong? or will you look the other way?

finally, although i acknowledge the pain and frustration you are obviously expressing about your own experiences, the concept of "reverse racism" holds no weight in my book, and, more importantly, in the experiences of millions of people in this country. the truth is, the race card will continue to be played until we, as members of the white group (whether we want to be labeled as part of that group or not), decide it is time to stop playing the race game. it is up to us to end it. not the other way around. in other words, there is no such thing as “reverse racism."

you are right about one thing, though… everybody must wake up. and, that “everybody” is mostly white.

what can i do?

i believe - strongly - that, as Mr. Moran said, it is up to us white Americans to stand up and speak out with ferocity and conviction for our oppressed brothers and sisters, many of whom have suffered all too long at the hands of a system designed to keep them in the place of providing a good labor force to produce the products and services which ultimately continue to serve us and uphold the great disparity between those who exercise the unearned “right to not know” (you and me) and those who have no choice but to live every day with the knowledge and experience that their lives are often used as collateral to maintain an unjust and rigged system.

it is up to us white Americans to speak out and call forth a continuing dialogue about how we can transform our story of underlying racism which permeates every sector of our society into a story of real equality and collaboration to try to prove, if only to ourselves, that we can actually live from love and respect for everyone. i’m not saying it’s easy. i’m not even saying it’s possible. it may be impossible. but i, for one, at least have to know i did my best.

it is up to us to support our non-white brothers and sisters when they speak up and not rely on them to educate us or do all the work for us. that is not their job!

lastly, i would be remiss if i didn't acknowledge that i am just scratching the surface here… that i’m an active participant in this system, whether i want to be or not… that i’m still learning about this and have not acknowledged so very many issues here… that i need to apologize for my unconscious actions and words and will continue to need to do so, likely, until the day i die. the thing is, i feel passionately that this is one of the most significant conversations of our time... it runs deep and wide through every sector of our society and has a profound impact on how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves and how we treat the planet.

so, if you are one of my white brothers or sisters, i encourage - no urge - you to watch Mr. Moran's video, read blogs by people like Tim Wise, Tiffanie Drayton and Jamie Utt, watch videos that make you uncomfortable… and take notes. i urge you to educate yourself - not with the mainstream media, but with alternatives providing the information our white-dominated system wishes would remain hidden. share what you learn with others about what really happened, what’s really going on and what you can do to help. then, i ask you to stand up and speak out at every possible opportunity. in other words, be an ally to your friends, neighbors, fellow citizens who have to live every day with circumstances you may likely never have to know.

remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr…. “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

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earth day 2015... where is the accountability?

today is Earth Day.

i woke up at 3:45 again, unable to sleep... it happens every once in a while (i've written about it more than once). i wake, usually pretty suddenly, either in a total panic or with a more subtle sense of dread and low-level anxiety. this morning is one of those... the dull, unavoidable ache. lately, i've been able to go back to sleep, knowing how tired i'm going to feel later in the day. but this morning, it didn't work. i got up and fussed around for a bit, then tried to go back to sleep but it simply wasn't working. so i curled up next to Jakob, hoping not to disturb him, and prayed. the answer came swiftly - "go get in the water." so i quietly slipped outside to the back garden and into the hot tub which has become one of my favored places of rest and reconnection.

almost as soon as i got in, i began to weep. i knew it was there waiting under the surface, but it came on hard and suddenly... and i let it. i sat there in the dark, under the stars and the silhouette of our Grandfather Tree and wept from the deepest place inside of me.

at first, i thought it was from all the anxiety i feel about living up to the expectations i've set up for myself with what we're creating and doing. then i thought it was from the preparations for our wedding in July. but i soon realized that it was deeper than those things. it didn't have a name nor did it have a voice other than a silent, heart-wrenching cry from deep within.

i remembered - like so many times before - this feeling of unspeakable anguish, this cry emanating from 11174867_10206141196706905_8458638082752159094_nthe deepest part of my being... the cry of being alive, of being in human form. the cry of Mother Earth and all the beings who share life here... the birds, plants, dolphins, Tibetan refugees, lions, impoverished children, elephants, raped women and girls, slaves, parched riverbeds, burnt forests, hungry homeless, barren tar sands, isolated teenagers, plastic-strangled seagulls. the cry of Life itself calling out to and from my heart, reminding me that i am not separate.

it is so easy to forget. i do it all the time.

it is so easy (when i have so much to accomplish) to minimize the torment of women (some i know personally) who have suffered abuse at the hands of wounded fathers, husbands and strangers... leaving everyone disconnected, numb and filled with rage. it is so easy (when i can never truly understand) to dismiss the pain of so many men longing for connection whose choices have had devastating effects on themselves, others and our planet... excavating the hole in their souls even more deeply. it is so easy (when i live such a privileged life) to pity children who must walk miles every day for their water or hunt through garbage heaps for their dinner... knowing that, with the toss of a cosmic coin, it could just as easily have been me.

it is so easy to forget that who i really am and where i come from is... this beautiful planet, the stars, the infinite cosmos... Love itself.

as i kneeled in the warm water, weeping and praying for help, i heard my Mother's quiet voice reminding me that all i have to do is let her take care of me. i felt her gentle caress holding me as i allowed myself to release the worries i had thought were the cause of my discomfort. i held her profound grief in my bones as all the silenced voices of innocent victims, the pain of the persecuted, the anger of the unjustly imprisoned arose in my belly.

as i knelt there weeping, many questions (some new, mostly old) surfaced...

how is it possible that such a small group of humans could have such a profoundly negative impact on the Whole of Life?

how can the people, privileged with the "right not to know," once informed, live with the fact that they have caused so much pain, destruction, torment, anguish for so many?

how is it they can so easily forget that they are inextricably connected to everything, that every action they take has a profound effect on everything and everyone around them?

what keeps me working so incredibly hard all the time to bring more Love and Light into the world only to have it end up feeling as if the boulder i seem to be pushing up this impossibly steep hill could be flicked back down to the valley of hopelessness by the finger of some government official or corporate CEO who seemingly has only profit and power in mind with no regard for anything else?

where is the accountability? it's all just so f-xx-ing unfair!

i arose from the water, not with a sense of satisfaction at having found any answers nor with a sense of relief, but with a knowing that, right now, my best and only option is to let myself feel what i am feeling... deeply and thoroughly. (as i wrote those words, a small bird hovered right in front of my window in confirmation.)

and to continue to express and allow these feelings of despair, rage and hopelessness at what is happening to remind me that, at the end of my raging, wailing and despairing, is only Love. plain and simple.

Earth-May31today is Earth Day.

this is the only home we have.

and my question is... what will we choose to do when we remember who we really are?

Be... Long... Ing...

to belong...talkingcircle

1. to fit in a specified place or environment

2. to be a member of a particular group

3. to be rightly placed in a specified situation

i'm honored to be part of a wonderful group of women here in my community which sits in sacred circle together each month, the underlying theme of which is "belonging." i've been thinking about this idea a lot since our last gathering. what makes me feel like i belong? what defines belonging and the various derivatives of this word? where do i belong?

i think it's easy to overlook the potency of this word and what it means at first glance... "of course i belong! i'm here aren't i?" but, upon deeper examination, i realize  these questions bring awareness to my present circumstances... to where i am right now, in this moment. and they are more complex than i have considered until now. i know i belong in many places and i experience that feeling of belonging every day. when i wake up next to my husband. when i witness the sun rising over the hills. when i think about my wonderful family and friends and this circle of sisters with whom i am so honored to sit each month. these and a multitude of other experiences reflect my experience of belonging.

what about you? what makes you feel like you belong? how do you define belonging? where do you belong?

Lantern Ceremonybe... to exist, occur, or have a specified state of (identity, nature, quality, etc.)

longing... a yearning desire

as i pondered the experience of belonging in our circle last month, i realized there was a whole other way of looking at this word which begged an even deeper question... what do i "be longing" for? if longing is "a yearning desire," what do i yearn for? what do i desire? what is missing in my life that, if fulfilled, would have me experience a greater sense of belonging?

in sitting with these questions, i notice they connect us to our past... to what we've held inside for years, possibly even since the day we were born. the question of "be longing" invites us to re-member who we really are. personally, i am fulfilled. there is really nothing on a personal level i long for, but rather i carry a deep longing for humanity to awaken to our beauty, wisdom and power. i long for those moments when i witness someone - a friend, a client, a politician, a corporate executive - awakening to their place in the world. i long for the time when we, as a species, live from that place of knowing we are inextricably connected to each other and all life. i long for that time when we act from that knowing rather than from the experience (the illusion!)  we have given ourselves that we are separate and alone. i long for this more than anything.

what do you be longing for? what are your yearning desires? what is missing for you that would have you experience a greater sense of belonging?

be... to exist, occur, or have a specified state of (identity, nature, quality, etc.)bumble bee

long...

1. covering a great distance (space)

2. lasting or taking a great amount of time (time)

3. retaining things for a great amount of time (memory)

ing... denoting an action, instance or result of

then, yet another form of this question presented itself as i sat around the fire with my sisters... how am i "be long ing"? in other words, what is it that i am willing to be and do for the long term? what vision am i holding for the future... for myself, my community, our world? what am i committed to changing or creating in order to insure that my children's children and beyond have a more beautiful world to live in than i do now?

as i'm present to these questions of "be long ing," i see that they summon a deep inquiry for the future... and that they also weave a thread through our past and present. if we know where we belong and we understand what it is we long for, then we can identify what it is we are willing to stand for in the long run. this is a profoundly personal conversation for each of us, and it is utterly critical. for it holds the possibility of a different future than the one we seem to be creating. a future we cannot yet see but long to belong to. each of my days is built around these questions, for they are the foundation of my existence. there is not a day that goes by when i don't consider some aspect of my beingness in relation to the long view, the long arc of the Universe.

what are you willing to be and do for the long term? what vision are you holding for the future? what are you committed to changing or creating in order to insure a more beautiful world for all?

finally, given that this month we celebrate Valentines Day, how does all of this connect to Love? for me, there is no separation... if i am not doing my best to live from the space of these questions, i am not Being Love to the best of my ability. if i am not inquiring about my past, living fully in my present and committed to a more beautiful future, then i can say Love is not at the center of my life. and, for me, that is no way to live.

what about you? how do all of these questions connect to your version of Love? and what does Being Love look like to you?

i hope you are inspired to inquire more deeply about these questions for yourself. i invite you to take some time to consider your responses and notice what comes up as you discover new insights and possibly even more questions in the process. and, as always, i would love to hear what this was like for you in the comments below.

A New Year... A New World

sunrise at The Refuge

for a while now, i’ve been pondering what to write for the New Year. it’s been exciting considering the turning of this year for many reasons, but i haven't been able to find the words to convey what i've been feeling. what could i say about this juncture that would be different and unique? what would be profound enough, meaningful enough and motivating enough? and, honestly, i haven’t been able to come up with anything that feels right… until now. i’m sitting here, enjoying the early morning quiet, remembering that this turning is significant in great part because New Years Eve was the end of a very important four year cycle - a cycle of awakening.

in November 2010 i was introduced to the FourYears.Go (4YG) campaign when i attended my first Pachamama Alliance fundraiser. i was moved to tears by their incredibly compelling video and decided that day to join the campaign. i had no idea it would become one of the most important decisions of my life. in stepping into the world of 4YG, i was given more gifts than i can possibly imagine - opportunities to stretch and grow, beautiful connections with hundreds of people and organizations, and deep friendships which i am certain will last a lifetime. besides that, i am honored to have been part of a small group of passionate and committed change agents who were given the task of getting this four-year campaign out to the world in a more public and interactive way. although the active work on the campaign ended a couple of years ago and our group dissolved, i continue to be deeply grateful for our continued connections and all i learned about collaboration, group process, consensus, the power of an “ask” and much more. then, on 12/31/14, my friend Ingrid (one of the key members of the group and founder of Iomlan), sent an email reminding us all about an exercise we did in July 2011, and i was inspired to include it in this blog and share some of my thoughts.

"Forget everything you have ever known about what 4YG has ever been and locate yourself at a celebration on 12/31/2014. Human Beings all over the world have obviously transformed. We are now being in ways that there is more life, love, connection, joy, resonance, alignment, trust, intimacy, love, freedom, co-creation. Looking back from this place to today, who did we learn to be? Who have we become over these past four years?…. How did we become a just, sustainable and fulfilling world? What values do you hold? What do you believe is possible? How do you feel about the future from this place you are holding? How did we blossom?"

in looking back over this last four years, there has been a quickening of personal transformation, social unrest, and awareness about what we have done to our planet. and what i see as the over-arching theme - on a global and personal level - is that we have been waking up. we have been waking up to the fact that this is the only home we have and that those around us are here as our guides and teachers. we have been waking up to the fact that we need to balance our thoughtfulness and capacity to consider outcomes with our desire for change and our capacity to take swift, bold action to create a real and lasting course-correction. we have been waking up to the fact that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

something has truly shifted in this last four years on what may even be an invisible, possibly cellular level wherein we, as a species, can no longer tolerate injustices and outrageously bad behavior the way we used to. our ability to connect with anyone anywhere at any time, and for news and information to be shared across borders and boundaries is creating platforms for change never before possible. we have learned better how to think critically as individuals and to question authority, even as “the powers that be” seem to be wanting us to dumb down and shut up more and more. it’s almost as if the very core of our being, the primal “NO” is rising up and taking hold in a new and different way. and i believe it is because what is rising up alongside that “no” is the most powerful, ancient, passionate “YES” to life and love and all that we truly are.

we are, in new and multi-faceted ways, creating that just, sustainable and fulfilling world in more ways that we can possibly imagine. as my dear friend Paul Hawken shared in his inspiring must-read book, Blessed Unrest, there are millions of organizations working for the good of all and hundreds of millions of people, if not billions, who are running, working for and volunteering with those organizations. if we choose to open our eyes, we can see what is happening in and to our world, but we are starting to do more than simply stand by and watch… and that is the difference that has been made in this last four years. i believe we are waking up to the possibilities for, and beginning to feel inspired about, our future. as Paul said in his 2009 commencement speech to the graduates at the University of Portland, “The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful.” we are waking up to being truly, deeply hopeful and we need to do it now.

and now, at the end of this four years, we stand on the brink of a new beginning. we have an opportunity to do it differently than ever before.

i declare 2015 the year of action - thoughtful, powerful, bold, decisive, and, yes, sometimes even messy action. we have honed our ability to see what’s really going on. we are ripping the curtain away from the little man behind it, and we are calling spades spades. we are standing up and marching and dancing and using our voices - strong and clear and powerful - in numbers like never before, and we are shouting from the top of our passionate lungs, “we’re not taking it anymore! we are done with being silent!” we know we can no longer afford to stand idly by. we know that no one is coming to rescue us and that we must do this ourselves. so i say, take Paul’s advice - “Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.” the time is now… it’s been four years and i say let’s go!

how would you answer those questions above? i’d really like to know. share your comments and i promise i will reply to them.

in the meantime, check out Paul Hawken’s new website, Project Drawdown. it’s awesome! and… read about a hopeful turn of events on the climate change front… things are happening!

what I want for Christmas

kitchen windowi’m sitting here in the comfort of my beautiful country home looking out over the bucolic view from our kitchen window… and i’m feeling sad. even though i have tomatoes cooking on the stove waiting to be canned, a warm cup of tea sitting next to my computer, and a fire in the wood stove to keep me cozy, i am grief-stricken at the state of our world. and i am well aware that i am sitting in the position of having an amazing amount of privilege… even the privilege to feel this way, to even have the time and space to think and write about my privilege.

i have so much.

probably more than i deserve.

definitely more than i’ll ever have the opportunity to know and understand.

i am so grateful for every single thing in my life… every person, relationship, object, opportunity to serve, feeling and experience - every single one. yet, despite all of the goodness, i sometimes feel the deepest sadness, grief, anger and outrage at what we continue to do to ourselves and our world. i could go on and on about all these things, but i’ve written so many blogs about it, i’m honestly kind of tired of hearing myself talk about it.

so, in honor of the upcoming holidays in which many of us exchange gifts and some of us write lists to Santa Claus asking for what we want (a questionably commercialized practice for many reasons which i won’t go into now), i’m writing my own very idealistic, yet wholly heartfelt “Christmas list" - not to Santa, but to Life, to God and mostly to myself and my fellow humans:

i know this isn’t a very cheerful (or nearly extensive enough) list*. but it seems to me we keep making some pretty poor choices in the big picture, and not much has changed over the years (i.e. compare this article about the Copenhagen talks in 2009 to Lima 2014). regardless, i hope you found it interesting, informative or inspiring in some fashion, and that it ignites you to take some kind of action to illuminate your life and our world more brightly, even starting right in your own home.

there is actually a lot going on that is super positive (i’ll share that in my January feature blog), so there is a great deal to be hopeful about. and the truth is... we need your light to add to that list.

Earth-May31

we have so much to lose and so much to gain.

probably more than we can imagine.

definitely more than we’ll ever have the opportunity to know and understand.

Happy Holidays and may 2015 see more of our wishes come true.

*this list was written in no particular order including some links knowing that they are but a few of many examples i could have used. if you recommend others, please let me know; i promise i’ll check them out. thank you for understanding.

Four Years. Go.

this video was what inspired me to finish my book and begin doing speaking engagements. watch it and get inspired! a side note... i was recently on a call with Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance, and she reminded us all that this year- 2014- is the year we must make the greatest commitment to our world. What will YOU accomplish?

An Opportunity

as we have been working in our garden, my sweetheart Jakob and i have been talking a lot lately about the fact that, as a species, we have an opportunity to evolve to our next possible stage of awakening. this opportunity is urgent, clear and massive. we've already lost so much in making the choices we've made until now. we have lost ancient and deeply wise ways of living, numerous ecosystems, and countless species. we've also been talking about the fact that, if we don't seize this opportunity, we are in danger of losing our connection to what's most important - the very earth which supports the life of every being on it. if we don't seize this opportunity immediately, we may miss it forever. if we don't seize it right now, it may cost us absolutely everything.

what i am talking about is the opportunity to take on, in the most personal and global ways possible, responsibility for our current state of affairs on every level - economic, political, social, spiritual and environmental - by waking up to what we have done, feeling our deepest, scariest feelings about that, choosing to take a different path and creating the new world we all know is possible.

when i'm present to the possibility of this lost opportunity, i feel deeply sad, hopeless and angry all at once. my old fantasy of breaking a box full of dishes against a concrete wall while screaming at the top of my lungs comes back to mind in full force.

10175066_827780840570161_6773105950655030111_n

when i hold the possibility of the opportunity seized, i feel hopeful, excited, deeply grounded, infinitely grateful and calm all at once. kind of like how i feel when i walk outside at dawn and take a slow, deep breath as i listen to the songs of the birds, feel the warmth of the spring breeze and absorb the color of the sky changing before my eyes.

although i am likely preaching to the choir, i will continue to say this at risk of being a broken record:  continuing on the trajectory we have laid for ourselves and our world will bring us to the brink - if not over it - sooner than we think. i believe that we all know, even if we don't want to admit it, that we are at the 11th hour and 59th second of pushing our planet beyond its capacity to hold our species much longer. the stakes are higher than they have ever been. and we are lounging at the table betting on who will win the game.

and, although i don't want to perpetuate the "us and them" story, the players in this game represent a clear dichotomy between the course the world-at-large seems to be setting and the direction in which individuals and local communities are doing their best to point us. it couldn't be more clear, more obvious.

We have now the opportunity to take on in the most personal

governments and corporations (institutions we created or allowed to be created which are now basically indistinguishable) continue to engage in wars and regional conflicts despite global protest, consistently choose fossil fuels over renewable energy at great cost to all in every way, and choose profit over people and planet at every turn. on the other hand, i meet people every day - organic farmers, holistic healers and outspoken poets - here in my rural community and online in communities around the world, who have decided that they are the heroes they have been waiting for. they know that it is up to us to turn things around in the most fundamental ways… like growing our own food from non-GMO seeds, dedicating ourselves to plastic-free lives, and choosing to buy locally over purchasing fake food and mass-produced products from corporate conglomerates that pay their employees just enough to stay trapped in the humiliating and devastating cycle of poverty.

the thing is… this game, if we miss this opportunity, has no winners. let me repeat that. this game has no winners. everyone loses.

so, what is to be done?

as Neo says in the last scene of The Matrix, "…I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."

i don't have your answers. all i have is what's in front of me, what's here for me to be and do. so, i choose do do my darndest to be a positive contribution for the new world millions of us want to birth. i choose to love our Mother. i choose life.

what do YOU choose in this month of the height of spring, of celebrating mothers? i'd really like to know.

really.

Dear President Obama

Oil Pipeline through forestDear President Obama- Although I was a huge supporter of yours in 2008 and have written several blogs regarding supporting you in the past, I regret to say I am deeply disappointed in your actions, and my faith in your sincerity as our country's leader has seriously diminished.

As we all know the Keystone XL Pipeline is a huge issue. Some think it could be the defining environmental moment in our country's history given its very real potentially dangerous consequencesOthers think it will be a failsafe answer to our economic crisis. I'm sure it is clear on which side of this issue I stand. To quote an email I recently read in regards to the start of the operation of the southern leg of this pipeline, "This is a simply a sad day. The president who launched his campaign with a call to 'end the tyranny of oil' has now allowed - and even publicly encouraged - TransCanada to run the dirtiest tar sands crude straight through American farmlands, waterways and even front yards."

I will be the first to admit that I have been, at best, a pretty ineffective armchair activist. I have not yet chained myself to machinery nor strapped myself to the fence around the White House, the way i have often wished to. I have not written countless letters nor have I marched on Washington. Yet.

Mr. President, I ask you - what will it take for all of us to learn that more oil (translate as "more money lining the pockets of a very, very few already excessively wealthy") is not the answer to any of our crises - economic or otherwise? When will we wake up to the fact that completing the southern leg was actually a cunning (albeit totally blatant) way to ensure completion of the northern section (i.e. "well, we can't not finish what we started!")? Will we have to continue to poison our water sourcesdecimate sacred landswipe out precious wetlands and performeconomic hari-kari to finally learn that we made one of our biggest mistakes as a nation by allowing this fiasco to even be considered, much less acted out?

According to NASA scientist James Hansen, who likens the building of the pipeline to the enabling of an addict, "If he [you, President Obama] chooses the dirty needle [the pipeline], it is game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction. Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer."

The Keystone Pipeline is a NO WIN situation for all, and the fact that it is being considered at all is clear evidence of how far we have to go. The choice is clear: stop the pipeline and leave a lasting legacy of a workable, healthy future for us, our children and generations to come or allow this monstrosity to go through and provide a very short-term economic gain to a very few short-sighted individuals now, with their descendants suffering the consequences along with everyone else. We must all take a bold stand for ourselves and our country by rejecting this pipeline, shifting to 100% renewable energy, and making personal commitments to changing our habits now.

There is no issue more important, more vital, more critical than our climate.

There is no issue more important more vital

Clearly, business as usual is not the answer. That is exactly what has created "the Mess" my friend Sharif Abdullah says we face.  If we don't care for our environment, everything else is a moot point. Nothing less than a radical, urgently swift and complete change and  is required. No change, no business. No change, no economy. No change, no rights. No change, no future.

Mr. President, I urge you to stand with the voice of reason, those whose lands are being seized and your children's futures rather than the corporate machine which, sadly, seems to have your vote more than mine on this issue. Although I have lost faith in the promises you made six years ago, I hope with all my heart you take bold, decisive action in the right direction. If you don't, I promise you this… we will fight this travesty with everything we have.

with hope,

erin ross

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

We're all Connected… Waking up to what's wrong with the current picture

How Does the System in which I livelast month in the U.S., we celebrated Thanksgiving- a holiday in which many of us gather with family and friends to share our gratitude for life. regardless of what we believe about its murky origins (and they are murky), the idea - the ideal - of Thanksgiving is to come together - to connect - and remember the power and beauty of being grateful. however, it has also sadly become a day which marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season with the fabrication of "Black Friday," a day on which millions upon millions worship at the altar of the corporatocracy at the expense of our humanity, our dignity and the very survival of our planet. to me, Black Friday represents all that is wrong with our culture. i recently saw this post on Facebook. and i ask you, what is wrong with this picture titled "Define necessity?" here's my answer in this moment:  what's wrong is the lack of conscious thoughtfulness we put into our choices and our inability or unwillingness to see that everything is connected.

if, indeed, everything we think, say and do has an impact; if everything we do matters, my question is… how does the system in which i live (represented by the photo of the people with all that stuff ) have a direct effect on those we may never know are suffering due to our participation in it (like the children in the other photo)? and, who is starving? is it the young children who are dying - literally - for a morsel of food to fill their bellies or those of us who attempt to feed the bottomless "hungry ghost" inside with things which will never fill it - shopping, tv, alcohol, drugs, sex? or is it both? i agree with my friend Keith, who commented when i shared this post, that he sees 2 photos that have a lot in common.

then, a couple of days ago, i saw this post on Upworthy (one of my favorite websites) about the distribution of wealth in the U.S., and, truthfully, it sickened me. i can say it no more plainly than this… what is happening in our world is simply wrong - in so many ways. and it is time - actually, it's long past time - to wake up people!

if, indeed, we are all connected; if, as i believe, everything is one, my question is… why wouldn't we want the best for everyone? when i watched that video about wealth distribution, it moved me to tears of deep pain. not because i feel like i can't do anything about it (even though i often do feel that way), but because what i believe is that, when we are not paying attention to the whole, ultimately we are not paying attention to ourselves - on the deepest level. when we're not ensuring that everyone has enough, when we're not ensuring that our planet is not being raped - and she is literally being raped, somewhere, every minute of every day - so that some can have more, most can have nothing, and others struggle in lines buying into this mentality that's been created by a few, what are we saying? we're saying that we don't care enough to stand up and say, "No. Not any more." All of this is to generate what? money - and all it seems to buy - for a very, very few.

if we are not paying attention to or concerned by this massive global inequity, what that is is an absolute lack of love for ourselves. if we don't see the connection, what we're not seeing is that we are actually killing ourselves in the process. "it's as if," as i wrote in a blog last year, "we have become like the virus Agent Smith speaks of in The Matrix - the only other species on earth which consumes its host without considering that doing so will result in its own demise." we are behaving like that virus, acting as if it is more beneficial for us to kill our mother without fully understanding that, in doing so, we put our own lives and the lives of all beings, all future generations, in peril.

taking it a step further, if we assume that we're all connected (that we're one with everyone and everything) and if the only thing that's real is Love (that, as i truly believe, God is Love and that nothing other than Love exists), then everything we're doing is a monstrous egoic pursuit to prove that we're different from, that we're other than, God… other than Love. only a truly obtuse mind would do that. when we forget that we are one mind, one heart, one soul- that we were literally born from the same stuff as the galaxies, bees and all existence, that illusion of separation is what engenders in us the distorted presumption that we can exhibit the kind of behavior we've all bought into without suffering grave consequences. that illusion is what enables us to do what we are doing. and it is not okay.

i ask you, in honoring all that we have been given to care for and love, how can we possibly- any one of us- believe that our perceived need for things and acquiring and power and territory is more important than the good of all beings on and of this precious planet? how can we possibly continue to make choices which lead us all toward inevitable destruction without seeing the connections?

i don't have any easy answers to these questions, but i and many others do have a lot of questions that i think are worth taking the time to ask ourselves so we can find the answers that are workable for everyone.

finally, i'm very present today, with December being the month that many people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, to celebrating the birth of someone who gave his life so that we could all wake up. that, to put it simply, is huge. and, with the passing of Nelson Mandela last week at the venerable age of 95, we celebrate a man who did not give his life by dying, but rather gave his life by living… in chains, imprisoned, and then surviving probably countless threats of death and attempts of murder to become, as Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote, "the world's most admired and revered public figure."  in living their lives from that deep knowing in their inextricable connection to all beings, these two historic figures have given us more than we will probably ever know.

i ask you, in honoring these two men this month, how can we possibly fly in the face of that kind of dedication to Love?

some might say that, in the end, it doesn't really matter what we do here - that this place is just a playground or schoolroom for our souls, for all the parts of the oneness that thinks they're separate to just hang out, buy stuff, behave badly and die. perhaps that's true. but i disagree. i think that is a monumental cop-out. what i see is a massive opportunity… to remember that who we really are is Love and act from that opportunty, from that remembering. this unprecedented time in human history is a massive opportunity to wake up and get that, with every thought, every word, every action, each of us has an impact on the entire planet far greater than we will ever know.

it's like Russell Brand spoke to so brilliantly in this fabulous video, "I believe profoundly in the power of humanity. I believe that we're connected. I believe that there's an inevitability to a successful revolution. I think this is a change in consciousness that we're experiencing…. I think there's going to be radical changes. I think that we need to look at the world as one inclusive entity…. The ultimate truth is Oneness. We believe so much in our identity and our individualism…. On a deeper level, I recognize that all these things are transient. What's more important, what's defining things is the things we all share- love, unity, togetherness…. There's going to be a revolution. It's totally going to happen. I ain't got no flicker of doubt. This is the end. This is time to wake up."

so i ask you, in this final month of this remarkable year, do you see how you are connected to everyone and everything around you? do you get it? and, what will you choose with your thoughts, words and actions? is there any better place than here? is there any better time than now? how will you change this picture? are you ready to wake up?

Transparency and patriotism… an open letter to President Barack Obama

Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama-

In honor of the Sacred Commerce communication tools I teach and do my best to live, I am writing you today to apologize. I have not been an involved citizen by holding you accountable to what you have said you are committed to creating during your presidency, such as closing Guantanemo Bay, ending our wars overseas, strengthening gun control and working tirelessly for stronger policies to fight climate change. I apologize for not writing to you to speak to my deep concern when I heard about the tragic prosecution of courageous young men like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and the continuing threat from corporate entities like Monsanto. I am not committed to giving you an experience of feeling unsupported and alone in the daunting task of doing what's right for the whole. What you can count on me for is to do my utmost to communicate with you personally, to support you in being a strong voice for the rights of our planet and its inhabitants, and to speak out publicly about issues which are important to me as often as I possibly can.

In December, 2009, I wrote the following words, which are just as pertinent now as they were then:

I campaigned for you and was elated when you were elected. You were the very first President I have ever voted for because I wanted to vote for you, rather than voting for the lesser of two evils. However, I'm also a realist and understand that, no matter how much you may have wanted to move this country forward towards real, lasting, positive change, it takes time. You have said so yourself... and you are right. I continue to believe in you, Mr. President, and pray... that you find the strength to stand by your values and convictions, that you remember why we voted for you, and that you remember the legacy you are leaving your two beautiful daughters, my children and children everywhere. You have the power and opportunity to do so much good.

As I wrote in a November 20, 2008 blog:

For the first time in my adult life, I feel a growing sense of patriotism. According to the dictionary, patriotism is "a pride in or devotion to the country somebody was born in or is a citizen of," and by that definition, I do feel patriotic. I feel proud of this country and devoted to it in a way I never have before. And this patriotism stems not from a feeling of panic, desperation or hopelessness, but rather from a feeling of hope. For the first time in my life - the first time  - I feel invited by the person in the highest office in our country to participate in the process of Democracy, and I am willing to do whatever I need to step up to that invitation….

I've heard some people say that it's up to the government to take care of us - we pay taxes for that, we should be able to trust the people we elect to do their jobs so we don't have to be a watchdog over them. After having given it some thought, what I have to say to those folks is, "Has that worked in the past? Has it worked for us to not take responsibility for the things we want to see done? Has it worked to trust our politicians [and the corporate entities which are so deeply embedded in our government] to take care of things for us?"

We have an opportunity now - a great  opportunity - to participate in this process called Democracy. If we care about an issue, we need to make sure that we take personal responsibility for making it happen, or at least do everything we can so we know we gave it our best…. There is no excuse - if you think you have elected someone to do a job for you, think again.

We face unprecedented challenges, not only here but around the globe, and it would be foolish of us to think that, simply because we have elected someone who stands for change and creative solutions, we can sit back and relax. On the contrary, having elected a new leader who has clearly spoken out and asked the people of this country to participate. It is time for us to step up more than we ever have before. This choice that the people of our country have made is a clarion call for change, for a radical paradigm shift and most especially for responsibility…. We have an opportunity to recreate a true democracy. I believe the founding fathers and mothers of this country fought for that - for everyone to have a voice, a say, in what happens on every level. This creates true accountability in our government. That is what President Elect Obama is saying, "Work with me. Let's do this together."

And a year later in my blog on November 2, 2009:

I was simply so relieved and thrilled at having such an incredibly down-to-earth, well-spoken, visionary leader in the White House, I forgot that it was all of us (well, the majority of us) who put him there. I was so ready for a change, I forgot I had a responsibility to be part of it.

Because the truth is, no matter how much some may want to blame him and his administration for the various messes we're in right now – our national health care travesty, the real, horrible and deepening chasms in our own country between the "haves" and the "have nots," and the greatest challenge of our time, the global climate crisis - we can't blame anyone but ourselves. We are collectively responsible. All of these things started a very long time ago and we chose to ignore the signs and keep living as if everything was just fine….

Because we are the one species who has caused the most damage to this precious planet, we must be the ones to take responsibility for it. Personally. We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that every decision we make has a great affect on everything around us. And because the U.S. is the most privileged nation on the planet (and the one with the greatest environmental impact), we have the greatest responsibility to do our part. With privilege comes great responsibility.

No one, not even the President, is going to rescue us from these things that cause pain or suffering, No one has a magic wand to wave over our lives or the planet to "make it all better." There are no band-aids big enough for the wounds we've created. The only solution is serious, concerted effort to do our part. As my friend Yvonne St. John-Dutra says, "We are the heroes we've been waiting for."

Thank you, Mr. President, for having the courage to speak out boldly in favor of our environment by stating that the Keystone pipeline could only be approved if the project doesn’t "significantly exacerbate the climate problem" and speaking in favor of fossil fuel divestment. Thank you for having the courage to even take on this monumental task in the first place…. And remember, that we, the millions who voted for you, are here for you, to stand by the words you spoke so eloquently during your campaign, and to work by your side to make sure we give every American and every global citizen, for that matter, a fair, fighting chance for a thriving, sustainable life.

What I leave you with is this:  What requests do you have of me, a citizen of this country, to do even more to support you and to help restore Love to the world?

I very much look forward to hearing them and will do my utmost to honor them.

With deepest respect, utmost gratitude and abundant blessings,

Erin Ross

Connection and Community… We Are the Universe

Jonah M. Kessel / China DailyIf you really knew me, you would know that I've started spending more time pondering my blogs than writing them… musing, staying open, gathering bits and pieces of stories or information that are so readily available on the internet, and mapping them all out in what would look like the inside of a baseball to most folks (you know, a mass of rubber bands all wrapped around each other…). This process actually takes up most of my "blog time" (that, and worrying about not getting them done in time because I haven't started writing yet). But lately, I keep trusting the process, continuing to gather and muse and map… and - lo and behold! - something catalyzes and everything clicks into place. This month, my catalyst was re-reading one of the pieces I had saved to use for this blog - a commencement speech given by Paul Hawken at the University of Portland in May, 2009. As I sat here reading it, I felt such awe at how succinctly, poetically and brilliantly he expresses the core of what I am feeling. So, I'm "borrowing" quite a few of his words. However, I really urge you to read his entire speech for yourself. It's profoundly beautiful and utterly inspiring.

My ego has been putting up a pretty darned good fight lately as I've been struggling with what I've been pondering for this month's feature blog. It feels so big, so unwieldy - how to explain what I feel, what I am coming to know on the deepest level and so urgently want to share with everyone… that we are all connected. That there isn't anything we're not connected to… nothing. If you think of anything - anything at all - from a baseball to a butterfly, a nuclear power plant to the Nubian Desert, we are all utterly, wholly, inextricably connected to it.

In other words, we are this creation we call the universe, and our only job is to wake up to that fact and do our part in helping others to do the same.

This is the good news and the bad news… good news for our hearts, bad news for our egos which have the tendency toward separation, isolation and wanting to be right (about pretty much everything…). Ultimately, though, the heart wins out and remembers that it is the voice to be heeded, even if we feel like we may be labeled as "crazy." As the Mary Oliver poem says:

One day you finally knew what you had to do,

and began,

though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice…

there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.1

The thing is… whether you  know it or not, you are striding on a path of awakening, "moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world."2 It's not necessarily easy, but there is absolutely no turning away from this path. Yes, there are plenty of detours - working at jobs we hate and complaining about them rather than letting go, numbing out with any number of addictions (alcohol, tv, shopping, drugs, self-abuse, abusing others), buying products we know are made in factories that pollute and exploit, putting food in our bodies that really doesn't qualify to be called "food," - and they can seem pretty satisfying in the moment. But they're not. They offer empty promises that will only leave you wondering who you are and why you're here. No matter how long it takes (in this lifetime or in many, if you believe in that sort of thing), even if only a millisecond - even if it's with your last breath, you will see that everything points you toward remembering this very simple truth that you are awakening and you are connected to everything.

And, as you stride deeper and deeper into the world, you find that your connection to everything means you are part of at least a couple handfuls of communities… visible and invisible. You are part of the community of your family (whether you have regular contact with them or not, that's where you started). You are part of the community of your friends, co-workers, neighborhood, the people at the grocery story, and your town or city. You are part of the community of the plants, animals, insects and fungi above and below the earth around you. You are the community of cells and micro-organisms which cause your body to function without you having to do anything but care for it. You are part of the community of the billions of stars which make up the galaxy in which we are spinning through space.

And consider that everything you think, say and do has an indelible impact on those communities and your level of connectedness to them. Consider that every product you buy has a ripple effect environmentally and socially in how it was made and how it is disposed of… like choosing to buy local, organic produce in cloth bags which supports the reclamation of the soil, local jobs and reduction of plastic waste over buying non-organic (even GMO), agribusiness produce which perpetuates the degradation of the soil, social inequity, and plastic gyres in our oceans. Consider that every choice you make is like your vote for awakening or not… like choosing to walk, ride a bike or carpool to work which reduces greenhouse gases (we just hit over 400ppm last month), exercises your body or strengthens your community over driving to and from work alone which increases greenhouse gases, stress and isolation. The list goes on and on.

In choosing acts of kindness, restoration, peace, reconciliation, justice, love and more, we have infinite opportunities to "join a multitude of caring people…. [in] the largest movement the world has ever seen… [which] rather than control, seeks connection… [and] provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world."3

In April, I was taking a walk with Sarah Haywood, founder of 3 Pieces A Day (3PAD), and she said, "It seems to me that, by the look of the trash I pick up, the people who are trashing the planet are also the ones who are trashing their bodies." There it is again… the connection. Consider that what we put in and on our bodies, where we live and work, what we buy, the thoughts we think, beliefs we hold, what we say and do, and the attitudes we have towards ourselves, each other and the planet are all undeniably connected as Sarah so astutely pointed out.

Consider that every thought, belief, and action we take impacts the world. Get that you matter.

There is not one of these choices that does not affect the others. Every choice, starting with the seeds of our thoughts, matters. And it matters not only on the personal level, it matters on the community, national and global levels as well. As Paul said, "The living world is not 'out there' somewhere, but in your heart…. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it…. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich."4

Do you hear the voices of the women dancing in the streets of the world in protest against violence and genocide inextricably intertwined with the voices of trees crying out for their brothers and sisters being slaughtered for cheap lumber when we have "tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes?"5 Do you see the connection between the oil pouring out of tar sands in Alberta, Canada turning everything in sight to a black ooze and the damming of  rivers which continues to displace indigenous peoples in Africa? There are no winners in this game; there are only losers. And, there is nothing that isn't touched by something else… that's actually the good news.

The good news is in farms that raise truly free chickens, in Clare Dankin's Tree Sisters project, in the creativity and commitment of 400 people who gathered for the Awaken Leadership Retreat and the passion of Vandana Shiva and millions of others Marching Against Monsanto in May. It's in lemonade stands, Arcosanti and Philadelphia with Lily Yeh. It's in our capacity to empathize with others and, from there, allow ourselves to make deeper connections. It's in the people gathering to protest the Keystone Pipeline this summer, in the letters written to President Obama to hold him to the promises he made in his State of the Union address, Amazon Watch and in the glass jars my friend Cheyenne creates so I don't have to use disposal cups when I buy my tea at the airport. It's all around us….

As Paul opened his speech to the graduates at the University of Portland:

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.6

And in his final words to them:

We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing and stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.7

Because it does….

What will you choose?

Let the trees be consulted

before you take any action

every time you breathe in

thank a tree

let treeroots crack parking lots

at the world bank headquarters

let loggers be druids

specially trained and rewarded

to sacrifice trees at auspicious times

let carpenters be master artisans

let lumber be treasured like gold

let chainsaws be played like saxophones

let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees

give police and criminals

a shovel and a thousand seedlings

let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns

let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods

walk don't drive

stop reading newspapers

stop writing poetry

squat under a tree

and tell stories

-John Wright8

 jumping into lake

 

 

 

*******

Notes:

1. Mary Oliver, "The Journey"

2-7: Paul Hawken, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/columns/you-are-brilliant-and-the-earth-is-hiring

8. John Wright, "Let the trees be consulted"

Our Call for the Elephants

Once again, I am inspired by my family. They never cease to amaze me with their capacity for compassion, love and standing up for what's right. I know this propensity definitely came through my grandparents, but there must be a long lineage because I see it echoed through every member of my family in many unique ways and I admire it greatly. Thus, I've decided to create a series of blogs about the issues about which some of my family members are passionate. For this first piece in the series, I'm focusing on the plight of African elephants that was brought to my attention by my uncle's partner Barbara Hall, who, although not born into the above-mentioned bloodline, is truly one of the gentlest, most compassionate souls I have ever met. She is such a gift of humbleness and equanimity to our sometimes loud, often opinionated and always wonderfully vibrant family.

When Barbara first shared this information with me, I found myself in absolute disbelief. I thought things were going relatively well for elephants lately – that the horrors of the '80's genocide (I use this word deliberately) of more than half of the elephant population in Africa which took place was behind us.

I guess not.

She pointed me to two New York Times articles (1, 2) describing the slaughter of elephants in Africa to support the illegal ivory trade, which brought me to tears of outrage and deep grief. This cannot be possible. If the killing continues, I understand there may no longer be elephants on the African continent within one generation. I find it unimaginable and horrifying to consider a world without elephants. I can't think of a single child I know who doesn't love these gentle giants. They are an intrinsic and essential part of the fabric of life on this precious and fragile planet, and we need to make sure they remain that way.

 

In 1989, my first husband and I took our son (then two and a half years old) on a trip around the world for ten months, landing first in Thailand. I will never forget the day we visited an elephant camp near Chiang Rai to spend a day with these amazing beings. I was eating a banana while we were chatting with some of the folks who worked at the camp when, out of nowhere, I felt a nudging on my shoulder and next saw a rubbery grey shape reach over and very deftly pilfer that banana right out of my hand. I looked up behind me and there was the sweetest, biggest thief I'd ever laid eyes on. He was looking at me as if to say, "Well, what did you expect? You made it so easy!" I patted his trunk and cheek as we all laughed and joked about what a sucker I was for letting him get away with it. Honestly, it was a pleasure.

That same year, while we were making our way around the British Isles, we had the great fortune of attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a week with my mother. One of my most memorable events was a reading by Heathcote Williams from his epic poem, Sacred Elephant (3). My mom had a copy of his previous effort, Whale Nation (4), and was thrilled that we actually had the opportunity to hear him read in person. This was not to be missed.

Mr. Williams' books are unique in that they are written as epic poems – pages and pages of history of and tribute to these regal creatures. And, not only is there a multitude of photographs and illustrations of whales and elephants to complement his words, but there is an entire section with massive amounts of research on their behavior and biology as well as thorough chronicles of their often unfortunate interactions with mankind. I have been captivated by these volumes for years and could be found reading them often when visiting my mom's house, so it was truly a rare gift to be able to hear him read the poem in person.

So you see, I have a very soft place in my heart for elephants.

I won't go into detail here about how they are being slaughtered – you can read that for yourself in the NY Times articles and elsewhere. But I will, however, say this – elephants matter. If you have ever looked into the eyes of an elephant, you will see the soul of one of the wisest, kindest beings you have ever met. They know stuff. They're brilliant. Remember the old saying, "An elephant never forgets?"

Recently, my friend Shoshana emailed an article (5) about the passing of a gentleman in South Africa, Lawrence Anthony, who was known as "the elephant whisperer." This courageous man not only helped to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife around the world, he also rescued animals in the Baghdad Zoo during the US invasion if Iraq in 2003. According to the article:

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives…. For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved.,,, “A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

In the U.S., our tax dollars support regimes like Uganda and South Sudan whose militaries have been, directly or indirectly (depending on how you choose to see it), linked to the systematic slaughter of entire herds (including babies) of elephants from helicopters so that the global thirst (mostly Chinese) for Ivory can be quenched. Last year, over 38.8 tons (that is 77,600 pounds) of ivory left more than 4,000 elephants dead. It is absolutely untenable that this rampage continues. How can anyone enjoy using ivory chopsticks knowing that they contributed to the extinction of a species? How can we as U.S. citizens stand by and simply let this happen? Like Soraida Salwala in Thailand, what can we do to help our elephant companions?

If you are, even in some small way, as moved as I am to make sure we save our elephant companions, I urge you to consider one or more of the following actions:

  1. Write letters to President Obama and your congress members to protest the subsidizing of this genocide with our tax dollars.
  2. Thank Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for speaking out against the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
  3. Write letters to the governments and/or representatives of South Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and China. You can find information about any country at this link.
  4. Boycott any jeweler who carries ivory products, illegal or legal; consider that even they may not know which is which.
  5. Consider boycotting all products made in countries, such as China and the Philippines, which support the illegal demand for ivory.
  6. Share information and petitions on your social media pages like facebook and twitter. Here are some sites to sign petitions and learn more (warning: there are graphic images on some):
  7. If you have children, share this information with them and enlist their help and the help of their friends and teachers. I fully believe we must tell them the truth about what's happening in the world. This is the only way of empowering them to share their profound fears and deep wisdom about the world we are leaving to them.
  8. Send love to these wonderful beings with whom we share this fragile planet in whatever way you feel moved to do.

 

We do not have to stand by and let this happen. Remember, every action you take or don't take has a profound impact on the future of our world. Your choices to speak up and take action – or not – help shape the decisions of policy-makers and have the potential to inspire the people you know by being an example of what it means to make a difference. If we could understand what the elephants might be saying, I'm sure they would agree.

As Andrew Dobson, a Princeton ecologist, asked, "The question is: Do you want your children to grow up in a world without elephants?"

 

Together, let's make sure future generations get to live in a world where elephants roam the African landscape, free from the terror of organized slaughter, as the gentle, wise and beautiful companions they are. It breaks my heart to consider the alternative. Can we learn to revere and care for them as much as they deserve? Because, if we truly are all connected, all one, what are we doing to ourselves when we allow this slaughter to continue?

 

In an upcoming blog, I look forward to sharing about the work of the Guatemala HumanRights Commission (GHRC), for which my cousin Kelsey Alford-Jones is the director.

 

Resources:

  1. Gettleman, Jeffrey. "Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits." NY Times. Ed. Margaret Sullivan. 3 September, 2012. The New York Times. 8 October, 2012.
  2. Editorial. "Elephant Slaughter." NY Times. Ed. Margaret Sullivan. 8 September, 2012. The New York Times. 8 October, 2012.
  3. Williams, Heathcote. Sacred Elephant, London, Jonathan Cape; New York, Harmony Books, 1989.
  4. Williams, Heathcote. Whale Nation, London, Jonathan Cape; New York, Harmony Books, 1988.
  5. Kerby, Rob. "Wild elephants gather inexplicably, mourn death of 'Elephant Whisperer'." Beliefnet. Ed. Rob Kerby. 8 October, 2012.
  6. Please visit Gregory Colbert's website, www.ashesandsnow.org, to see more of these stunning photographs.

Step Up, Give Up, and Be Love

As we move into this new and already transformative year, it seems to me we are all being asked to "step up and give up." Step up and raise the bar of our consciousness- both individually and collectively. Give up anything that stands in the way - be it habits, addictions, or attachments to things or even identities. As I often say, we are at a crossroads in human history. Can you feel it? The opportunity to choose the very fate of humanity is in our hands… and, despite the fact that much needs to change in the big picture, what is truly going to make the difference is all of the small, seemingly insignificant choices we make on a daily basis. It is these choices, the outward expressions of our willingness to "step up and give up," that will collectively add up to tip the scales in the direction of creating a world that works for everyone. It's about taking care of our many communities… one thought, belief, word, attitude and action at a time.

In the wake of the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, CT, I have been wondering how to make sense of it, and honestly, I have not been able to… other than to continue to ask myself, "What would love do now?" I love this question because it brings me back to the fact that I am always have an opportunity to be accountable for

Being Love with everyone in my life. In doing that, I can make my contribution to a more peaceful and loving world.

So, I invite you to consider where you can "step up" by sharing an acknowledgment with someone you just met, give others an opportunity to share what's in their hearts by giving the gift of listening, or reaching out and offer a helping hand to someone in need. Or consider "giving up" being right about a position you have held that causes separation between you and someone else or choosing language that causes pain or separation (such as gossip).

What would love do now?

Our dear friends at Challenge Day shared these wise words, "During times of tragedy, it's natural for many of us to experience anger, upset and strong emotions. Now, more than ever, we invite you to Be The Change and join us in choosing love. Instead of dialogue that causes separation, let's all create opportunities for connection and cooperation." You can learn more about their tireless work to create a world where everyone feels safe, loved and celebrated here. Consider that, if we focus on what is best for the whole (which includes us!), we can't help but succeed!

In honor of this time of great change, I invite you to try on one or both of these Superpowers of Community - acknowledgment and apology - to begin your process of "stepping up and giving up." In taking on acknowledging others for who they are (rather than what they do) or apologizing for any way in which you have showed up as anything less than love for anyone, I invite you to see for yourself that transforming the world can be as easy as changing ourselves… it's an inside job.

Here's to a year filled with more blessings than we can possibly imagine.

 

Photos come from Challenge Day.