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Through Love Alone

By Glenda | February 25, 2015

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Recently I discovered that my 9th great grandmother was tortured as a witch in Europe during the Inquisition. This led me to reflect yet again on how violence is engendered by religious extremism of every type in every age.

The news today is full of stories of ISIS and “radical Islam,” and, on other days, of “hate crimes” against minorities in this country. Racial and religious tension is at a peak, it seems. And, as a result, I fear that many of us in our distress may be in danger of over-simplifying, over-identifying, or in other ways over-indulging in the very energies that we would denounce.

Or, we may, in our own emotional self-defense, simply hide ourselves away in exhaustion, turning off the news, tuning out the terrorism and the suffering.

So I feel obligated as a spokesperson for peace and reconciliation to remind us all, yet again, that no religious tradition is free from the taint of extremism, and none of the world’s religious source documents are without inducements to violence.

The latest article in the Atlantic magazine speaks in depth of the way ISIS is the rediscovery of medieval tenants, not modern Islam, and that, in fact, most of ISIS’s violence is perpetrated against other Muslims who are considered apostates because they do not follow the letter of the law written about 1500 years ago.

I am mindful, too, that, in our own midst, there are individuals and groups equally fervent and sometimes even equally violent, who use Biblical pronouncements of vengeance and punishment laid down some 2800 years ago to justify their own ideas.

In this stewpot of heated emotions and rhetoric, perhaps it would be hard to find anyone or any spiritual tradition innocent enough to “cast the first stone.” And so I urge us to the more difficult and more courageous task of being open to understanding in depth those who are different from us in any way, that we may find new ways of living in peace together.

And, while it is good to be clear-eyed and far-seeing and to protect ourselves from real harm, may we restrain our own violent responses to violence, let us re-examine our own blind spots and our own prejudices, and let us evolve new ways of dealing with conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Let us move forward each day toward a more perfect understanding of what Love is, of what being in one world together, at peace, might be.

I challenge each of us to pray daily, twice daily, morning and night, for forgiveness and tolerance, for understanding and renewal, in the world and in ourselves. Let us open our hearts to newness of life, even as we remain alert to actual danger from the ignorance and ill-advised behaviors of others, whoever they may be.

My heart is torn for my long ago grandmother, who finally, in prison, after being tortured and her tongue ripped out, took her own life. My heart is torn for countless sufferers in the Middle East, of all stripes. My heart is torn for those in my own country who are blinded by a thirst for revenge, who think “an eye for an eye” will yet bring peace.

Hate is never overcome by hate. Let us find yet ways to attune ourselves to the miracle of healing Love.

And here are a few quotations from the source books to counter those other horrific ones:

“Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!, he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.” Islam. Qur’an 41.34

“Aid an enemy before you aid a friend, to subdue hatred.” Judaism. Tosefta, Baba Metzia 2.26

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Christianity. Romans 12.21

“Man should subvert anger by forgiveness, subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy with simplicity, and greed by contentment.” Jainism. Samanasuttam 136

“A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe, the ornament of virtuous persons in their conduct…A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even toward those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?” Hinduism. Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115

“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 5

Being Gentle With Myself

By Glenda | January 22, 2015

Have you noticed?  Often “Tis the season to be jolly” is followed by the season of wintry gloom and depression, the time of being downcast, of being revisited in the still of the night by the sorrows and sadness of our past or of the world?

I have.  Between that annual recurrence of melancholy and the flu, I have lately been laid low for long enough to reflect on this strange yearly regression I go through. I notice on social media and elsewhere that some others have the same issue right now.

What are we to do with sadness, powerlessness, grief?  What are we to do when we rediscover again and again, year after year, our failures, our weaknesses, our sense of alienation from ourselves and the rest of the world?

Well, I’ve come to think of this as a visitation by an old relative, one whose habits are familiar, predictable, and difficult.  But, after all, this is my relative, and I must bear with her until she leaves, and find some way to take care of myself in the meantime.

I know there are self-help books and seminars that would have us rally our energy and, once and for all, get over this self-indulgent self-pity, this wallowing in this “aint it awful” game.  We’ve been told to tell our inner brat to grow up, get up, get going, get over ourselves.  Lighten up, they say.

And that’s great, as long as we can do it.  For me, there often comes a time when I realize that I must, like it or not, endure and survive while somehow honoring this visiting relative of mine, this inner villager that brings the same bad news, disguised in current variations but basically the same message: “It sucks, it all sucks, you are no good, never were, never can be,” etc., etc.

Now, the thing is, this seems to be a “given” in human experience.  I actually do not believe it is something we can do away with, or even that we should.  We develop means to cope with it, a value structure that shapes it, practices that lift us up eventually out of it, as other “villagers,” other aspects of our human nature, come again to the fore.  But experience it, I believe, we must, at times, all of us.

It supports me to know that I am not alone in this experience.  I am comforted somehow by the following fellow sufferers who are, in my opinion, among the most highly advanced, wise, and spiritual people I know about, coming from all ages and places on earth, people who know and often also speak at times of great joy and love and enlightenment and ecstasy, but who also suffer greatly, routinely.  I submit the following examples.

The very first pages of the great Hindu masterpiece, the Bhagavad Gita, begins with the main character, Arjuna, saying that his soul is sunk in grief and despair.

The Sufi poet Kabir writes of his loss of center, of the absence of awareness of the Divine Friend:

“When my friend is away from me, I am depressed; nothing in the daylight delights me, sleep at night gives no rest, who can I tell about this? The night is dark and long…hours go by…because I am alone, I sit up suddenly, fear goes through me…”

The radically mystical Ramprasad Sen over and over presents a bill of complaints against the Great Mother he worships:

“What did I do wrong? Every day it gets harder. I sit here blubbering all the time, telling myself I’m going to get out Of this place, I’ve had it with this life…”  And again, “I’m not calling you Mother anymore.  All You give me is trouble…I keep wondering what worse You can do than make me live over and over this pain, life after life.”

Again and again the Hebrew Psalmist King David, cries out his grief and suffering:

“How Long?  O Lord, wilt thou forget me forever?  How Long wilt thou hide thy face from me?  How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? …O Lord, give heed to my groaning…”

 The great poet Rilke:

“It feels as though I make my way Through massive rock Like a vein of ore Alone, encased. I am deep inside it. I can’t see the path or any distance: everything is close And everything closing in on me Has turned to stone…”

The woman mystic Mirabai:

“…How can I sleep…the seconds drag past like epochs, each moment a new torrent of pain…On my couch the embroidered flowers pierce me like thistles, I toss through the night…”

Jesus, in the Christian gospel, cries out:

“My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me.”

So, there, you see, are my fellow sufferers, them and many of you whom I love and care about who are even now sunk in what is often dismissed as “seasonal affect disorder.”  It is seasonal, but it doesn’t simply happen in winter.  It is an affect disorder, but it can’t be erased by tricks of lighting or lightening.

Sometimes it must also be borne with, sat with in stillness, sometimes.  Sometimes I just have to go to bed and lie there quietly, letting the poison drain out of me, letting my sense of grief and solidarity with the rest of suffering humanity have its time, until it releases me, which it eventually does, as other aspects of myself come back, bringing me back into balance.

I was once given a great gift by Joan Halifax, a chant her community had come up with.  We sat in the semi-darkness, at that time, in a teepee in California, long before she became a Buddhist who is now friends with the Dali Lama.  I am sure she still chants it to herself sometime.  It goes:

“I will be gentle with myself.  I will love myself.  I am a child of the Universe.  We are one together.”

Being gentle with myself.  That is the key for me.  Once, in another of my periods of great suffering, when I was deeply disturbed by behaviors of my own and of others close to me, I parked my truck on the side of the road in New Mexico, and these words came to me and sang through me:

“You don’t have to be afraid.  You don’t have to be afraid.  Nothing you can do will ever separate you from the Maker of your life.”

Being gentle with myself, in times of reduced life force, of soul-searing loneliness, of self-accusation, of immense spiritual emptiness.  Being gentle.  Gentle.  Sometimes speechlessly gentle, for days.  Sometimes moaning, even as I go about the necessary tasks of life.  Sometimes moving, as Rumi moved and moved, spinning and spinning in a dance we came to call the dervish dance, when his mentor and loved friend was killed; his gentleness with himself and life required movement.  For some of us it comes in music, in getting a hug, in whatever way gentleness says to us, “It’s alright.  You are alright.  Even as you are.  Even as things are.”

Each of the above writers I quoted went on to move into powerful times of praise and comfort and uplifting sentiments and personal power and achievement.  They found their ways out of the abyss.  So do I.  Again and again.

But I never deny the reality of the pain.  It is, as I said, an occasionally visiting relative that I honor and drink tea with.  I don’t try to throw her out into the wintry storm.  She is my relative, and she is real.  Just as spring is real and joy is real and love is real.  And perhaps her visitation, bringing with it almost a madness of despair, is essential.  Perhaps.

Thomas Merton said:

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” And again:  “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy…It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Stephen A. Diamond, in reviewing The Red Book, Carl Jung’s amazing journaling, which Diamond describes as “a very personal record of Jung’s complicated, tortuous and lengthy quest to salvage his soul,”  remarks:

“…There is no doubt that during this devastating period in his life, Jung was deeply depressed, and inundated to the point of being overwhelmed at times by these powerfully intrusive images, thoughts and feelings, which, as he put it, ‘burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.’ And there is also no doubt that this extremely introverted (a necessary compensation for his former excessive extraversion) treacherous state of mind…that took almost total hold of Jung, affected his reality testing, impaired his psychosocial functioning, caused him to consider suicide, and forced him to withdraw from most of his former worldly activities, with the exception of his family and, oddly enough, his private practice. Indeed, two of the things that likely kept Jung’s head above water and feet more or less on the ground during these difficult and disorienting years–other than writing regularly in the Red Book–were his wife and children and daily sessions with troubled patients seeking his psychiatric assistance….

“Indeed, to me, denying the depth of Jung’s despair and severe psychic disturbance tends to undercut the power and importance of his monumental achievement: Rather than being defeated by it as are most, Jung stared psychosis in the face, unflinchingly confronted and explored what he found there, and ultimately came out the other side stronger, wiser, and more whole…

“What he discovered were manifestations of both his personal and collective unconscious. In this sense, he demonstrated by personal example that the enigmatic phenomenon we call “psychosis” is often about being completely inundated or possessed by the personal and archetypal unconscious…

That’s Diamond’s take on Jung’s experience. To be sure, I feel the need to say, Jung was a medical doctor, a psychotherapist, with many tools, as most of us are not when we face this dark night of the soul.  All too many people do indeed have untreated brain chemistry disorders, many are destroyed by psychosis, tragically.  Suicide does happen. We all need help.  We need each other, as Jung needed his family and colleagues.  We need anchors to bring us back to the “real world.”  We need a recognized spiritual dimension, which is, in fact, what Jung was about realizing in this search.  We need love to get us through those darkest times, and, in fact, Jung also had all of that to get him through. But for us, as for Jung, this dark night of the soul has, as Diamond concludes, psychological and spiritual significance, meaning and purpose.  If we allow it.  If we bear with it as it moves us to new dimensions.   Diamond says:

“C.G. Jung’s  Red Book  begins as a detailed log of one man’s personal, lonely nekyia or night sea journey to the underworld and ends with his heroic return to the outer world renewed, much like a latter day Dante, Jonah or Ulysses…”

So to all of you who may be, now or at another time, in a mild season of discontent, or on a deeply serious night sea journey, I send you my love and my solidarity.  All is not lost.  Hope also is a reality, as is love, as is companionship on the journey, as is balance and renewed creativity.  (After all, today, I got up and wrote this post!)

And I quote, in closing, Maya Angelou, speaking at a conference on Evil:

“Each person in this room has gone to bed with fear or loss or pain or distress—grief—at some night or another.  And yet each of us has awakened, arisen, made whatever ablutions we chose to make or could make.  Then, seeing other human beings, we said, ‘Good morning, how are ya?’  ‘Fine, thanks, and you?’ Now wherever that lives in us—whether it’s in the bend of the elbow, behind the kneecap—wherever that lives, there dwells the nobleness in the human spirit.  Not nobility.  I don’t trust the word.  I think it’s pompous.  But the nobleness is in the human spirit.  It is seen in the fact that we rise to good, we do rise.”

 

And lastly, Rilke again:

 

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

Listening

By Glenda | January 19, 2015

“All things and all people, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices.  They want us to listen.  They want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being.  But we can give it to them only through the love that listens.”  Paul Tillich

The Tragedy in Missouri

By Glenda | November 25, 2014

Missouri riots bbc pic _76991219_76991218

The gift of age can be to have a long view of things, allowing one to assess current events in the light of one’s history.

The present tragedy in race relations, unfolding before our eyes on television, reminds me so much of the 1960’s during the upheaval of the civil rights movement. This similarity sometimes causes me to feel hopeless, given that these deep wounds remain so unhealed.

However, as painful as it is to see that prejudices and outrages and terrible reactive behaviors endure, disastrous as ever, I am brought up short when I see that the president who is coming on television to comment on the situation is black, agony in his face, to be sure, but president he is, the president of all the people on all sides of this situation.

That, in itself, is an amazing thing that, though it is obviously not enough of a change, is, indeed, something that, frankly, in the 1960’s, I wouldn’t have believed could have happened by now. We have, in fact, made amazing progress, and so I can bring myself to believe that a better future is yet possible.

Recognizing all this, I myself have taken time overnight to face my own inner demons that want to hold absolute one-sided judgments, to condemn, to imagine revenge—all in an attitude of righteous indignation.

Indignation may be appropriate. But age has taught me, if anything, that righteousness is a state more imagined than realized by most humans, including me, and, further, that recognizing the absolute “right” and therefore the righteousness in any situation is a many-faceted thing, requiring an all-seeing clarity that is beyond most of our abilities to encompass.

The actions of every individual in Missouri and anywhere else is likely a product of the shaping of genetics, environment, and the randomness of life itself. If I were in the life scape of any one of those individuals I would better understand why they are doing or have done what they do. It behooves me to be humbly attentive to my own demons inside, while, certainly, at the same time, doing all I can to establish everywhere peace, tolerance, justice, etc.

Whatever one’s opinion, on either or all sides of the situation in Missouri, we all must surely feel a need to bind up the wounds, to heal the injured, to right the wrongs, to embrace true justice with mercy, to practice forgiveness—even self forgiveness—and, certainly, to work to make the agencies of our government and our laws ever closer to the service of peace and freedom everywhere.

It is true that observing the long span of history teaches us much. Part of what it teaches us is to take time to be gentle, with ourselves, with others, even with whatever we refer to as “God.”

There is work to be done, good work, important work. Let us not waste our energies in adding fuel to the fires of intolerance by our own proclamations or actions, however momentarily gratifying they may feel.

May we use our energies instead in immediate constructive actions for good, especially in the arenas in which we ourselves live, surrounded by serious issues that beg for our commitments to the betterment of the world.

May the peace that passes understanding be with you this day, and always.

Naming the Essence

By Glenda | November 13, 2014

Mesa Verde (640x480)The following excerpt concerns a people and a place about which I personally know almost nothing, but about which I have long been deeply interested and to which, somehow, on a spiritual dimension, at least, I feel connected.

The quote comes from a book given to me recently by a friend who feels, as I do, that honoring the ancestors as well as honoring with respect the history, taboos and protocols of individual spiritual traditions, while yet seeking the bedrock wholeness of all things, is vitally important.  Whenever I can, I like to foster this awareness among my own scattered “tribe,”  and it seems to me that this book does just that.

The quotations that follow speak for themselves in this regard.  They are from House of Rain, by Craig Childs.  This fascinating read is an autobiographical exploration of land and people, history and prehistory  that is fashioned by a man imbued with respect and indeed love for his subject, both the land itself and the ancient peoples whose pathways the writer is following on a life-long and often arduous trek.

Childs writes in his introduction:

“…The Colorado Plateau is…a 150,000-square mile blister of land that rises across the dry confluence of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Its surface is incised with countless canyons and wrinkled into isolated mesas and mountain ranges that stand suddenly from the desert floor up to 13,000 feet in elevation.  The combination of irregular topography and infrequent rainfall gave rise to the Anasazi, an indigenous people who knew how to move.  Small family groups and clans readily skirted around climate changes, transferring their settlements to high, wetter mesas or down to the sunbaked lowlands whenever the need arose….”

In later parts of the book, Childs echoes the most recent consensus among “experts” that the “mysterious abandonment” of literally countless ancient sites like Mesa Verde and others was not simply a one-time thing, and not, at least until the very last, simply because of sudden devastating circumstances, but was rather an amazingly organized and ritually orchestrated cooperation of an incredibly observant people with their always changing environment.

He points out, for example, the roads, radiating straight out from Chaco Canyon in all directions for hundreds of miles, with beacon towers perched atop the highest spots or built of masonry on man-made mounds along the way, so that an almost instant communication was possible over vast distances.

This, and much else, on many topics, fascinated me about Child’s book, and I highly recommend it.

But the excerpt which follows, as I came upon it this morning in my reading, became the important bit I felt it my duty to pass on.  In the chapter “Antelope Mesa,”  Childs writes:

“…As Yeats and I walked through the ruins, I asked him about ancestry—the relationship between Hopi and Anasazi.  But when I used the word Anasazi, Yeats put his hands in his pockets and looked uncomfortably at the ground.

“’I’m sorry,’ I said.  ‘I wasn’t thinking.’

“Yeats shook his head as if to say it was nothing, but I knew better than to use that word here.  Yeats reminded me that the Hopi prefer the word Hisatsinom, a Hopi term for their ancestors.  Anasazi, I knew, was an insult.

“The word Anasazi was crafted by the Navajo, who in the 1800s were paid by white men to dig skeletons and pots out of the desert.  The Navajo who came up with this name probably did not arrive in the Southwest until the sixteenth century, nomads from present-day southeast Alaska and British Columbia moving into a land left mostly empty by the departure of the previous civilization.  Their reservation now dwarfs the Hopi reservation and surrounds it on all sides.  Understandably the Hopi do not like having their ancestors named by the Navajo.  For a long time Anasazi was romantically and incorrectly thought to mean ‘old ones.’  It actually means ‘enemy ancestors,’ a term full of political innuendo and slippery history.

“In Navajo, a notoriously complex and subtly coded language, ‘Ana’I’ means ‘alien, enemy, foreigner, non-Navajo.’  ‘Anaa’ means ‘war.’  Sazi translates as something or someone once whole and now scattered about—a word used to describe the final corporeal decay as a body turns to bones and is strewn about by erosion and scavengers.

“’You understand why it is an unpopular term,’ Yeats said.  ‘It is not a name the Hopi chose.’

“I understand,” I told him…”

“…I told him that I could find no easy solution for what to call these people I was following, that I understood naming the past can either connect people to their ancestors or alienate them.  I politely suggested that although Hisatsinom is an adequate word for the Hopi, like Anasazi it does not take into account other names and languages.  How do the Zuni feel about using a Hopi word for their ancestors?  What about…” (all the other Pueblo peoples).

“…Among those language families are numerous dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible even if they belong to the same family.  The linguistic background of the Pueblo people points to incredibly different histories, which are glaringly oversimplified by the word Anasazi. 

“I spoke to many people—natives, scientists, wilderness travelers—in search of a consensus about what to call these ancestors, but I found none.  Most archeologists and Pueblo people implored me to switch from Anasazi to Ancestral Puebloan.  One could argue that this rather bleak term is a combination of English and Spanish, neither having linguistic roots in the Southwest…

“…Each name is history—or prehistory—seen from a particular vantage….”

“…Each is a tool with its own limitations—inadequate in some senses, revealing in others.  The most common denominator is the name Pueblo.   Referred to now or a thousand years ago, these are the Pueblo people, a culture based on corn and kivas, their masonry rooms butted against one another, forming compact pueblos, an architectural hallmark.  Though it is a Spanish word, an outsider’s term, Pueblo reasonably encompasses both history and prehistory, telling of a people who have been here from the beginning.

“Yeats stopped atop a hill of broken pottery, at the peak of this buried pueblo.  We stood beside each other gazing south across dry, maize-colored washes, a brindle expanse.  He said, thoughtfully, ‘Maybe it’s more than Anasazi you’re looking at.’

The desert spread a hundred miles into the distance.  Everything looked so deathly dry that it seemed no one could possibly live here.  Yeats is right, I thought.  This was not a mere culture I was following, at least not in the common use of the word.  It was a form of organization carried across a landscape, a means of orchestrating a mobile civilization in the face of a marginal, unstable climate where geography presents boundless possibilities.  It was an umbrella covering many heritages and clans, something that could be traded, incorporated, fought for, resisted.  It was a time, a place, and a way of living…”

Thoughts Concerning Halloween, Ancient and Modern

By Glenda | October 27, 2014

Thoughts Concerning Halloween, Ancient and Modern

This week many of us in our culture will celebrate Halloween with pumpkin carving, gift giving, trick or treating, and many other joyous ceremonies.  When we do so, we will be only the latest among many thousands of years of people who have marked this occasion, not necessarily in the same way, but certainly with intentional ceremony.

Halloween is a word derived from the Christian traditional calendar, being Hallows Evening (the “hallowed” referring to the holy or blessed dead souls).  On this occasion the church remembers in prayer and ceremony the spirits of the dead.

But this ceremonial occasion goes back much earlier than the formation of the Christian church.

There is evidence that as long ago as 150,000 BC, human beings honored their dead with ceremony, and the ancient burial sites indicate a belief in the survival of the “spirit” of the dead in some manner.

Further, the belief among early peoples that the spirit of the dead relatives or ancestors are still related to the lives of the living in a meaningful way has resulted in all sorts of ceremonies—preservation and ornamentation of skulls, ceremonies of propitiation or exorcism, rituals of aiding the spirits of the deceased to move forward into new life, etc.  These are probably the oldest religious ceremonies known to the human race.

Also common was the belief that, in the time of the year when the vegetation appears to be dying back as autumn comes on, as the cold of winter approaches, and as all the ancient people began to come together for mutual support and security during the winter months, the “ghost” of the dead also would return to the family hearth.

So, in the course of time, the ceremony of the “first new fire” of the season was solemnized.  That particular night, then, became the ceremonial time for remembering the dead.  The Christian church simply incorporated this ancient rite into its calendar of saint’s days.

And so, from this honoring of the dead, we derive the “ghosts” and “goblins” of Halloween costumes—a debased remnant of the ancient honoring of the departed once a year.

In the olden days, and in certain places today, the occasion of the building of the first fire and welcoming home the spirits of the ancestors was not necessarily a “spooky” experience, but rather could be a joyful time of reconciliation with the fact of death and the uniting of all energy or “spirit” in meaningful kinship.  So it is appropriate, perhaps, that the children enjoy the holiday, and by wearing the costumes, take some of the fear out of the idea of death.

But death has always held a necessary awe for us.  In the “ghost stories” and teaching stories for many generations, the threat of being captured or punished somehow by an unsettled “spirit” led to such things as the Baba Yaga of children’s stories, as well as to the many other personifications of the dead who are not at peace.

So other ceremonies have been held, as I said, to aid the departed in certain ways.

The fact that “witch” costumes are worn on Halloween reminds us of the thousands and thousands of women (and some men) who were killed because they were accused so randomly and tragically of “witchcraft” in a time when narrow-minded ignorance often shaped the Christian church’s doctrine concerning such things.  I personally have chosen to remember on Halloween those many burned and tortured “witches,” praying not only for their souls, but also for an always-needed opening of the minds and hearts of our own people that will allow us to cease to demonize any group, either with a “witchy” title or by harming them in tragic ways.

These Halloween rituals can always involve remembrance of our personal family linage, those on whose shoulders we stand, those who went before us.  In our modern global and digital world, we can all easily find out about our genealogy, and many of us are being blessed by learning more and more about ourselves and our history in this way.

Through the years, as my children were growing up, we created ceremony on Halloween, waiting, no matter how cold it got, until that occasion to build, ritually, the first fire of the season in our fireplace (that it often gets cold a couple of weeks before then and we must go around in sweaters adds to the meaningfulness of the ritual).

And on Halloween, after the children’s secular trick or treating, we would have our family ceremony honoring our ancestors and relatives who had died.  We set out in the living room some of the items that had belonged to any of our deceased relatives, along with photographs of them.  We got out the family tree and studied it, telling stories.  This helped us all to feel deeply rooted in a history that is meaningful and powerful.  Each of my daughters was named, for example, for an ancestor, and the stories my girls learned about their namesakes added to their sense of their own depth and possibilities.

Certainly we know that in some ways our ancestors have by now dissolved back into the void and into the earth, but we also know that their “spirits” do return, inside of us, as we remember them, and my family has been helped by this ceremony to know who we are and from whom we have come.

And we usually concluded our ceremonial time by remembering that our ancestors actually go all the way back, back to the early homo sapiens who were ancestors of all humans, and so we remember that we are related to everyone, we are all related in that essential way.

And we always remark in closing that we go back even farther, to the mammals, to the earth itself, to the atmosphere, to the Super Nova star that exploded—in short, we remember that we are part of the great Family of Life Itself, that we belong here, that we are not alone and never can be.

May your own Halloween be Hallowed and Holy.  May you find deeper connection to your family’s roots and to the concept of a loving concern for all the generations, both those who came before and those to come after you.  I consider you part of my family, and I send you greetings in this sacred season.

 

Glenda Taylor

Earthsprings, 2014

Common Ground

By Glenda | October 1, 2014

Common Ground:
“Stay away from those who consider themselves to be learned.  They walk around in fine clothes and like to be noticed so that they might be honored in public.  They take seats of honor in synagogues, and at feasts.  These hypocrites steal from widows even as they repeat long prayers. The judgment that comes upon them will be great. ” Christian. Gospel of Mark.

“Those who perform spiritual practices in public so that they will be noticed and praised with honor and respect are unbalanced; their ostentation will come to nothing.” Hindu. The Bhagavad Gita

“Monks who seek recognition in order to gain influence and admiration, and monks who overwhelm others by insisting on their own point of view, only increase pride and passion.” Buddhism. The Kevaddha Sutra.
“Follow the Way; but boasting and seeking recognition is not of the Way. One who is arrogant has already failed. There is no reward for those who are conceited, and no one can become a true leader by puffing themselves up.” Taoism. The Tao Te Ching.

Ever Complex

By Glenda | September 10, 2014

I have been thinking about nuance.  Webster:  “Nuance:  a slight or delicate variation in tone, color, or meaning;  shade of difference.”  Hmm.  Shade of difference. So a nuanced statement would acknowledge and incorporate shades of differences.

And then there’s complexity.  Webster: “Complex: consisting of two or more related parts;  involved, complicated, intricate, not simple.”  (I note that the Latin roots of the word complex involve “weaving “or “twining together; braiding.”)

How do those differ from contradictory?  Webster:  “Contradict:  to assert the opposite (of what someone else has said); to deny the statement of a person; to declare a statement to be false or incorrect, to deny; to be contrary, to go against, to oppose verbally.”

Living as I do in the “information age,” when news media, social media, and various other media provide us with instant opinion and analysis with mandatory contradictions, when economists refer most frequently to the “bottom line,” when politics is often ruled by a poll taken on any given day, it seems to me that nuance and complexity are sorely disregarded.

Not new, of course.  Any religionist can tell you that Jesus was crucified by those in contradiction to his views, those with no appreciation for circumstantial nuance.  What do I mean?  Well, let’s review the complexity (or, if you are in for instant analysis, the contradictions) of some of the statements attributed to Jesus in the Bible.  He is quoted as having said:

On the one hand:  “Honor thy father and thy mother…”    Matthew 19:19

On the other hand:  “Whosoever shall not forsake his father and his mother and his brothers and sisters does not follow me… Matthew 12:48

On the one hand:  “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other cheek; …Blessed are the meek…”  Matthew 5:39; 5:5

On the other hand:  “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”  Matthew 10:34

On the one hand:  To one who was healed:  “Go and tell no one…”  Luke 5:14

On the other hand:  To another who was healed:  “Go home to thy friends and tell them what great things the Lord hath done for thee.”  Mark 5:19

On the one hand:  “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Matthew 7:1

On the other hand:  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites….ye serpents, ye generation of vipers…”  Matthew 23:23

On the one hand:  “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you…Forgive and you shall be forgiven.”  Luke 6:27; 6:37

On the other hand:  “And whosoever shall not receive you nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.  Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city.”  Mark 6:11

And again, on the one hand:  “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret…”  Matthew 6:3

On the other hand:  “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

Now.  Why do I bring up these statements that are apparently contradictions in what Jesus said?  Do I mean to imply that he was hypocritical, ambivalent, etc.?  That might be what the current run of pundits might do, those who love to play “Got You!” But my intention is the opposite.

My intention is to show that, as poet Richard O. Moore said, “Simplicities are enormously complex.”

Jesus was attuned to nuance, responding to specific details of any given situation and placing those details in a larger context. For example, take the first quotation above, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” which he said to a young man who asked him how to be good, how to achieve eternal life, and Jesus responded with the ancient Hebraic ten commandments, including this one.  But in another situation, where Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about why the disciples of Jesus ate forbidden food at certain times, Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees by pointing out to them how the Pharisees themselves dodged the commandment of honoring their parents by saying that in certain circumstances this was allowed, yet they did not have the same flexible attitude in assessing the disciples’ behavior about eating.

Some might call this “situational ethics.”  And that too may be an over-simplification.

Labeling something, (such as calling this “situational ethics”), can be useful and it can be dangerous.  As writer Arthur Miller once said of psychology, “You think that by naming something you have done something about it.”

Labeling, or “tagging,” (an activity so popular and even valuable on the internet) is an aide, to be sure, but ultimately its usefulness must depend on how much or little reflection we bring to the broader context of what has been so succinctly labeled.  Certainly we all know that if we Google any word so ever, we will likely find definitions and statements on all sides of the meaning of that word, and we will find it “tagged” in all sorts of often contradictory directions.  We do well not to stick with the first tag we encounter.

Where am I going with this?  Am I implying there are no facts?  Should we throw up our hands and give up on “truth,” if it is actually many sided?  Or do we take the time to find a legitimate nuanced understanding, to “braid” together everything we can to get a broader and clearer tapestry of nuanced meaning?

Why do I bother to write about this?  Especially when the grammarians, the politicians on either side of the polarized world, the religious extremists—all these could easily rise up to fuss with me and disturb my peaceful meditations?  Because it matters!  It matters big time!

We are at risk of losing something in our culture so valuable I cannot begin to imagine what the future may hold without it.  Already we seem to have put aside Aristotle’s notion that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Perhaps we still pay lip service to Socrates’ refrigerator-magnet quote: “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

But do we actually slow down long enough to entertain the nuances and complexity of any situation, any statement no matter who makes it?  Or do we rush to judgment, jump on the bandwagon, jump to conclusions, accept as truth whatever we hear from those on “our side” of things?

Or (please let it be so), do we seek to discover and learn more, so that we may “weave together” the various and seemingly opposite elements of any situation to come up with a more perfect clarity?

And, most important, to me, do we leave our minds open at the end of our analysis to continue to receive new information, new ways of seeing things, instead of making an absolute out of our current findings or opinions?

David Bohm, the quantum physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy, and neuropsychology, has said, cited in Wikiquotes:

“We often find that we cannot easily give up the tendency to hold rigidly to patterns of thought built up over a long time. We are then caught up in what may be called absolute necessity. This kind of thought leaves no room at all intellectually for any other possibility, while emotionally and physically, it means we take a stance in our feelings, in our bodies, and indeed, in our whole culture, of holding back or resisting. This stance implies that under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow ourselves to give up certain things or change them….”

Congress and gridlock.  Yes, that problem.  Nations at war.  Always that.  Religious ambiguities.  Oh, yes!  Does all this matter?  You bet!

For some reason, lately, books and documentaries about Nazi Germany have been coming into my view, raising yet again the old question, “How could so many good people in Germany allow the Nazi regime to take hold and do what it did?”  Why does propaganda work?

Well, people I have known who lived in Germany both before and during the war told me that “in the beginning Hitler did good things for Germany.  We were in desperate straits after the First World War; we were in economic ruin, we were in grief and shame.  We needed to feel better about things, and Hitler provided that for awhile.  We did not know where it would all go…”

In other words, Hitler built up the trust of the people by first giving them what they thought they needed, played upon their emotional distress.  And then, as time went by and he had acquired sufficient power, he brought in the element of fear, always a prime mover.  People in Germany, even many who understand the developments, were then afraid to oppose the Nazis; it was too dangerous.  So, all too many succumbed to the propaganda, the constant control of the media, the repetitive rendition that the Jews were somehow at fault, dangerous, to be put away from decent people.  To be killed.  To be exterminated.

Are we safe here, as we may assume, from propaganda? I wonder.

Here is warning from George Saunders, writer and social commentator, from The Braindead Megaphone:

“…if we define Megaphone as the composite of hundreds of voices we hear each day that come to us from people we don’t know, via high-tech sources, it’s clear that a significant and ascendant component of that voice has become bottom-dwelling, shrill, incurious, ranting, and agenda-driven. It strives to antagonize us, make us feel anxious, ineffective, and alone; convince us that the world is full of enemies and of people stupider and less agreeable than ourselves; is dedicated to the idea that, outside the sphere of our immediate experience, the world works in a different, more hostile, less knowable manner. This braindead tendency is viral and manifests intermittently; while it is the blood in the veins of some of your media figures, it flickers on and off in others…”

There is little of nuance, little room to acknowledge complexity, in most of the dialogue on radio talk shows or television punditry.  Saunders goes on:

“A culture capable of imagining complexly is a humble culture. It acts, when it has to act, as late in the game as possible, and as cautiously, because it knows its girth and the tight confines of the china shop it’s blundering into. And it knows that no matter how well prepared it is — no matter how ruthlessly it has held its projections up to intelligent scrutiny — the place it is headed for is going to very different from the place it imagined. The shortfall between the imagined and the real, multiplied by the violence of one’s intent, equals the evil one will do.”

Let us not add to evil.  Let us imagine, at least, that truth is complex, that justice is nuanced, that villains are humans, that heroes are imperfect, that logic must make room for the mystical, that mystics may be on to something that science is replicating, that, in short, all contradictions are only the various sides of a sacred prism that is called Life.  Let us cherish the opportunity to see it clearly, from all sides, while we still have time, while we can still undress anarchy and tyranny and dictatorship and polarization and militarization and all the other seeming demons to see what they really are, underneath.

I wish to stand with Toni Morrison, American novelist and educator, when she said:

“…It doesn’t matter to me what your position is. You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you’ve got.”

Living with nuance, with complexity, then, what would that be like?  Would it mean that because there are various “shades of differences” in every situation, that we cannot take a stand, cannot act?  Indeed not.

Rather it would give us the flexibility to move in any direction.  It gives us the open-mindedness to receive new information.  It allows us to compromise and then build upon that to develop new possibilities.  It allows us to be free of hero worship and demagoguery alike.

It also allows us to continue to appreciate wonder and to honor mystery.  It allows us to have hope, even trust, in unforeseen positive eventualities.  It allows us to believe in creativity.  It encourages us to respect those who attempt to live by these principles of open-mindedness and nuanced intellect.

It doesn’t mean sticking one’s head in the sand.  Again, quite the contrary.  It means keeping one’s head up there where all the winds blow, where one can get as much of a panoramic view as possible.

It can also afford us a welcome breath of comic relief.   Seeing the world from many perspectives can allow us to see the irony and ridiculousness of absolutism.

James Cabell, American author, said, “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.”

And as marketing and communications consultant Steve Rivkin said:  “The more unpredictable the world becomes, the more we rely on predictions.”

George Saunders, quoted above, has also said about those with views other than his: “At times, they’re so Right and I’m so Left, we agree.”

And poet Kathleen Norris reminds us:  “In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.”

I wonder, though, sometimes, whether some of us have used much needed comic relief, irony, parody, as a place to stop.  Watching comedians do social commentary is helpful in many ways, but is it enough?

Again, scientist David Bohn:

“Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven’t really paid much attention to thought as a process.   We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. Why does thought require attention? Every thinking requires attention, really. If we ran machines without paying attention to them, they would break down. Our thought, too, is a process, and it requires attention, otherwise it’s going to go wrong…I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment…”

May I and you be safely open to and participate wisely in this sacred unending process of movement and unfoldment.

I hope that this rambling posting will simply be food for thought, encouraging an appreciation for complexity and nuance, and discouraging mindless demagoguery.

Sorry this posting was so long;  the subject was complex.  A sound bite just wouldn’t do.

Blessings to all.

Glenda Taylor

In these days…

By Glenda | July 24, 2014

p1010966-ken-daylily
Some days, I’m sure, most of us can identify with the famous saying, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” From plane crashes to invasions, from forest fires to desperate refugee children on our borders, from one friend to another relative stricken down by illness—these days we are hard pressed to find solace for our troubled minds.

In such times, clichés won’t do. We all find ourselves reaching deeper, for the most basic and the most profound ways of facing so many challenges.

My own recourse, long tested, is to reach for the opposites. The opposite for me of the tyranny and the terrible is the simplest kindness, or a touch of forgiveness, or at least a sort of softening around the edges—all in quietness and with compassion.

That isn’t always easy to come by, as I suffer the demons along with the rest of us. But I have learned in my seventy-five years to direct what energy I have toward these tender qualities, rather than expending my life force on recrimination or on having health sucked out of me by a prolonged anguish that changes nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. I can get furious over certain things I see, certain ways people behave. Certain catastrophes can literally bring me to my knees in sorrow. And fear, like a clammy cold hand at my throat, too often stalks me.

And yet, in the midst of these very human emotions, I may notice something significant. I may see that I am, in fact, feeling a trace of something surprisingly akin to compassion—for myself! I see, in short, that I am actually feeling sorry for myself; I am in self-pity for all I have to endure.

And, if I am lucky, and if I have a bit of a sense of humor and proportion, I can then reframe that as “I am feeling sorrow for myself,” which sounds wiser and less self-centered.

I can then, consciously, comfort myself as if I were a child. I can pat myself gently on the arm, saying, “There, there, now, hold on; hold on. You’re ok. You’re doing alright. Look at what you are faced with, after all!” Etc.

So, especially these days, I have compassion for myself, for hurting so much, for being so helpless with my shattered emotions. I can feel forgiveness for myself, usually for judging others for being judgmental.

And in that small bit of broadened space in which I care for myself, my heart can open, I can breathe more freely, and soon I can turn that compassion outward toward others and the world.

It’s a small thing to do, really. To be still long enough to feel love for oneself.

But then the next step is a big thing indeed–to know that my real self is the Whole Self, that my true self is the One Being that is Everything, that is Us All.

And that, of course, is the knowing that contains the remedy I seek, the assurance that, no matter what, no matter what, all is well, and all yet may be well. For, alongside the miserable circumstances I deplore, always there are the wonders, the beauties, the loving kindness, the opposites, the other side of things, in the richly-tapestried magic of it all.

I’ve long preached the practice, when overtaken by any damaging emotions, of moving my eyes slightly to the left or right of the direction I have been looking (literally and metaphorically), and there I can always, always see something that arrests me, something that is lovely or moving, possibly only in its potential, but usually it is right there, something beautiful or amazing, bringing me back to a softer place where I find the means to go on in a better state.

I know this all sounds pretty airy-fairy in the face of the six-o-clock news and the “reality” out there. But it is essential to remember that the real reality, pardon the redundancy, is actually, I am certain, that of a Great Mystery. Things are never only what they seem.

Everything is always more complex, containing unexpected consequences and hidden possibilities. So it is that suffering can be the birthplace of more than sorrow.

So I tune my heart to listen for the smallest song of a bird, the slightest movement of a leaf in the wind, the sound of the breathing of the universe in the simplest things.

Somehow I am getting by this way. Prayerful, always. Humbled, so much so that I have hesitated to post anything to any of you.

But today, I send you my love, my compassion, my forgiveness, my tender regard, my adoration of all that is possible for good.

May you be strong. May you love yourself and others. May you find creativity in these times of challenge.

Blessings on us all, everywhere. Everywhere.

May the wars cease. May the hungry be fed. May the homeless be sheltered. May those in positions of power be enlightened. May the cycles of change be gentle. May the natural world be richly renewed. May beauty overtake us with ecstatic devotion. May healing occur for all who suffer in any way. May all this be, even now.

With deep love and respect,
Glenda Taylor

Independence Day Thoughts

By Glenda | July 2, 2014

As always, on approaching the 4th of July holiday, I turn to my texts to review what our founders actually had to say about many things. Here are a few quotes that struck me this week:

“…All men are entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience; and therefore no man or class of men ought on account of religion to be invested with peculiar emoluments or privileges.” James Madison

“…The general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry, and economy seems, in the ordinary course of human affairs, particularly necessary for advancing and confirming the happiness of our country. While all men within our territories are protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences, it is rationally to be expected from then in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sanctity of their professions by the innocence of their lives and the beneficence of their actions; for no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his religious society.” George Washington

“The faith you mention has doubtless its uses in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished nor would I endeavor to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of Good Works than I have generally seen it: I mean real good Works, Works of Kindness, Charity, Mercy, and Public Spirit; not Holiday-keeping, Sermon-Reading or Hearing, performing Church Ceremonies, or making long Prayers, filled with Flatteries and Compliments, despised even by wise Men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a Duty, the hearing and reading of Sermons may be useful, but if Men rest in Hearing and Praying, as too many do, it is as if a Tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth Leaves, though it never produced any Fruit.” Benjamin Franklin

“…that we may promote the happiness of those with whom He (God) has placed us in society, by acting honestly toward all, benevolently to those who fall within our way, respecting sacredly their rights, bodily and mental, and cherishing especially their freedom of conscience, as we value our own. I must ever believe that religion substantially good which produces an honest life, and we have been authorized by One whom you and I equally respect, to judge of the tree by its fruit. Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone. I inquire after no man’s, and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life to know whether your or mine, our friends or our foes, are exactly the right. Nay, we have heard it said that there is not a Quaker nor a Baptist, a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian, a Catholic or a Protestant in heaven; that, on entering that gate, we leave those badges of schisms behind, and find ourselves united in those principles only in which God has united us all. Let us not be uneasy then about the different roads we may pursue, as believing them the shortest, to that our last abode; but following the guidance of a good conscience, let us be happy in the hope that by these different paths we shall all meet in the end…” Thomas Jefferson

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A Gaelic Blessing

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