Steven Universe and the Euphrates Institute Save the Day!

Fostering hope for humanity by investigating alternative channels.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

-Albert Einstein

I recently had a conversation with an intelligent, informed, introspective young man in his twenties. He said that, aside from advances in technology, it appears that humanity hasn’t really changed. He felt that we are, essentially, still hostile towards one another.

I understand why he feels that way. The media tends to project a story which instills the belief that our chances of getting along on a global level are hopeless. Variations of a zombie apocalypse have dominated the entertainment world and have steadily been infused into the nightly news. It is a story based on fear of the “other”.

There is, however, a steady stream of hope that flows below the tumultuous waves raging on the surface of what gets mainstream airtime. Here are two of my recent favorites:

Janessa Gans Wilder was a CIA operative in Iraq. Her job was to make sense of the “other” or the enemy, and report back so the situation could be handled with greater intelligence.  Janessa discovered that, even when her team managed to stop four terrorists, hundreds of others took their place instantly. She described it as catching drops of water from a leaking faucet. After a month or so of diving on sandbags during deafening explosions, she found herself on a rooftop quietly overlooking the Euphrates river. The calming, life-giving waters below her contrasted with the violence and suffering she knew were on the river’s banks a few miles away. A question presented itself to her, “Which will you choose? Peace or war?”

Janessa chose the peace of the river. Turning a three-month assignment into a twenty-one-month journey, Janessa began seeing the “other” as fellow humans. She listened to the stories of the people around her with the intention of understanding their problems, working with them to devise solutions. This lead her to found the non-profit Euphrates Institute, which promotes peace by building personal relationships with individuals throughout the Middle East and the West. Via tours and talks given by the institute, people in both the West and the Middle East begin to see there are people like themselves behind the fearful stories that have built walls between them. The institute is constantly shedding new light on the impact we have on one another and empowering a more moderate understanding, taking the power away from extremists.

Another far out example of hope for humanity in the world of entertainment is Rebecca Sugar’s cartoon series Steven Universe.  A wonderful role model for children, Steven Universe also carries a deep message for adults. Like Janessa Gans Wilder, the child hero of this show strives to relate to difficult community members and “hostile aliens” with the aim of understanding them, and befriending them when possible. Every episode demonstrates the practical benefits of empathy. Steven shows us that when we uphold our own humanity, we can often transform the “other” into an ally.

Steven and his super-hero teammates  also have the capacity to ‘fuse’ together and become a larger being with synergistic power that transcends what each can do on their own.  This fusion takes place when the individuals dance together with a conscious intention. A brilliant metaphor, that children may miss, but another reason why this is a favorite go-to series for my wife and I.

In 2015, the creator of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was named Visionary of the Year by the Euphrates Institute. Zuhal Sultan was only 17-years old but her orchestra ‘fused’ together young people from every culture and religion in the war-torn country. By playing together, with conscious intention, the heroic musicians become a larger force with a power that transcends what not only what they can do individually but what individual nations have been able to do to build bridges towards peace.

When you are inundated with hostile news and feel yourself loosing hope for humanity, I urge you to investigate new channels to tune into. Steven Universe and  Janessa’s TED talk are great places to start .  Just this week Bill Gates recommended Steven Pinker’s book: The Better Angels of Our Nature- Why Violence has Declined, calling it “The most inspiring book I’ve ever read.”

There are ways for us to change our collective story. They all start by entering the calm-river of our hearts.

“We are the Crystal Gems, we’ll always save the day. And if you think we can’t, we’ll always find a way!”

– Steven Universe theme song by Rebecca Sugar, Aivi & Surasshu

 

The Year My Mother Became My Auntie Mame

  • A Mother’s Day reflection

The Year My Mother Became My Auntie Mame

A Mother’s Day Reflection

“…get the message of my book. Live, that’s the message!”

– Auntie Mame (Patrick Dennis- author)

When my mother turned forty, her hair turned red and that was it; she was off to the races. She became a liberated woman. The local theater troupe gained an invaluable actress as well as a director. The local nudist colony had a valued new resident. The local Science of Mind Temple got a new congregant.

This sudden revolution in our nuclear unit did not take place without resistance. We were a conservative Jewish family. For my mom to break out of the confines of the home was one thing but to go outside of the circle of the religion?  My dad is an honorable man, who really didn’t know how to handle the situation, and that train had left the station. Even the silent treatment he gave her as a last resort, was no match for my mom’s resolve.  After a week of giving her the cold shoulder, he realized there was nothing to put his foot down on.  The foundation of our lives had shifted. It was no longer where it had been at all. I used to joke that we would soon be hosting a Martian convention.

I remember standing outside of the laundry room a few years prior, listening to my mom quietly cry. I asked what was wrong and she said, “It’s nothing.” I longed to be able to do something for her in that moment. Her lament was not about her family. It was about innately knowing there was a universe inside her expanding and not knowing how to expand with it. The plight of the fifties’ housewife was something with which she was not prepared to be content. What she was yearning for was wholesale liberation.

Once she made up her mind, she never looked back. Even Science of Mind was just the first station on her spiritual trek up a mountain that is, still to this day, rising.

I got swept up in her revolution, joining her in theatrical productions, at the nudist colony, at Science of Mind meetings, at a matinee of the controversial French romantic film Cousin Cousine.

Mom didn’t abandon the house. We still had our meals together, my sister and I made it to school on time, we still had clean clothes.  My mom’s clothes, when she wore them, were brighter, still classy, always classy, but with more of a theatrical flair. Overall, after a few months, there was just a lot more leivity, as if there was an extra breeze that hadn’t been there before.  Our house became filled with the laughter of wild thespians, authentically larger than life characters. Late night parties ensued, complete with group singing, around our upright piano.

My mom had really just taken me along on her adventures but I loved the whole thing. It was a grand opening that never stopped. It was as if I had popped into the novel Auntie Mame. The book inspired both the play and movie and was about a boy, his eccentric aunt, and their bohemian, outrageous adventures. “Life,” as Mame would say, was indeed “a banquet,” and not only was my cup overflowing, I was able to pour some out to those around me as well.  I had friends at school and had made my classmates laugh but my new extended theater family were really my people.  My mother became a portal for us, to not escape into, but to be transported fully into who we were meant to be.

The fact that I became an actor, a musician and someone who aspires to inspire peace and connection between faiths, communities and colorful lifestyles, all bloomed the year my mother came out to her fabulousness. I never heard her cry behind a closed door again.

My mom- Sally Levin as Sweet Charity

Sally Lee Levin has become a dedicated fountain of life, a river of positive affirmation and a healing presence for those within the rippling circumference of her heart.

My dad was not only a good sport but rose to the occasion of my mom’s transformation with award-winning valor. He still rolls his eyes at some of my mom’s beliefs, but acknowledges that she is very powerful. He is grateful for her and their invaluable, intertwining partnership.

My sister aimee, (She spells her name with a lower-case ‘a’.) was a teenager and was essentially doing her own thing during mom’s emancipation. Still, I believe it sent a message to her that she could be strong within herself and become what she was drawn to be. My sister is a doctor of audiology with a thriving practice and has two wonderful children of her own.

So, here’s to unconventional, strong moms and how they model life for us inside and outside the circle of our expectation and understanding.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mary Oliver’s Quiet Revolution

Poetry that brings the outdoors inside

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”- Mary Oliver

Year after year, decade after decade, Mary Oliver has turned with the seasons. Quietly, she has turned out master poetry that brings us back outside, back to ourselves.

Mary Oliver published her first book of poetry the year I was born, yet I only became aware of her writing this year. For me, discovering her has been like looking up and seeing trees that have silently grown all around me and finally getting to explore their grandeur. It is like falling in love with a song and discovering the artist who wrote it has scores of albums for you to dive into.

Through her poetry, I am being offered a guide to take me, not only into forests, meadows and mountain streams but into the landscape of memory and being. Mary is a guide who points out things that I most certainly would have missed.

Mary Oliver spent her childhood in seclusion. She talks of “living in a small town surrounded by woods and a winding creek- woods more pastoral than truly wild.” She would build herself little hut houses out of sticks and leaves with open doorways. These were her shelters where she could look out and truly take in the majesty around her. No one ever discovered or at least disturbed her houses. When the weather took them down, she recognized it as part of the process and moved on to build new ones. This was not a socialized communal fort building or territorial stake-claiming game. It allowed her to see the world that she was a part of not merely as resources, materials to be exploited or utilized but something wonderful.

“…The world of leaves, light, birdsong, flowers, flowing water…to the young, these materials are still celestial; for every child the garden is re-created.” – Mary Oliver

Her poetry has encouraged me to cast back to my childhood.  I first remembered making what I used to call my ‘bird house’ by surrounding myself with the bolster pillows from my bed.  I would drape a thinly woven blanket over the top of these pillows so that the light would stream in on me.  This isolation seemed to connect me to the “Green Mansions” I had read about in my dad’s two volume set of The Reader’s Encyclopedia. I felt tranquil and connected.  Without having the slightest understanding of meditation, in retrospect, I was tapping into the innate nature of silence that children find so enticing.

I remembered the tree in our back yard.  It was perfect for climbing.  I used to climb high up in the branches, surrounded by leaves, and would look down at the ground. I would look up into the sky, into the hallowed hollowed space the branches made within the crown of the tree. I spent hours there. It became my office, my temple, the best place to think, the best place not to think. It was my perfect place to Be.  As an adult, I rarely allow myself to be. When did I start to take a book with me everywhere I went?  When did I start overfilling my day with the obsession of productivity? How often do I allow myself to just sit on the train and watch the sun spots dance on the river?

Since I discovered Mary Oliver, I spend part of my mornings with her poetry and essays.  She takes me Upstream* where I reconnect to the riches within my backyard and along the roadsides while in route with my wife Julia from state to state, gig to gig. Mary reminds me to notice, to look up from my phone.  She offers “the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit.” It makes me want to go exploring. It is a point of view that helps me understand and more fully appreciate my friend Greg who moved to New Zealand to go on epic hikes along mountainous terrains for several days at a time. His drive to be there is the connection with the earth that goes beyond words. Julia naturally shares this drive. She will stop the car to take in what can never be captured by a camera, although our phones are both filled with more pictures of scenery since Spring has arrived. Our house is also adorned with special branches, leaves, stones and shells collected from glorious moments of noticing. It’s fair to say that my wife is quite conscious that –

“The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” – Mary Oliver

Mary’s poetry is not composed of heady, ethereal dense concepts that have to be decoded or navigated with a mental machete.  She reminds me that each morning the dawn not only breaks but is there to break us open if we are awake for it. Even in traffic or on a subway, a portion of each morning’s spectacular unfolding performance can reach us where we are.

One morning in high school, a handful of my friends and I traversed out to the other side of a lake where I lived. We found a log that was long enough to accommodate all of us. We watched the sunrise in silence.  Spontaneously, we all rose to our feet in admiration, giving nature a standing ovation.

Mary Oliver’s writing prompts me to remember that I still have access. I can listen, absorb and be absorbed by nature’s radiance that offers us a temporal eternity.

Mary has not filled the streets with pamphlets and propaganda. No government has been overturned. There has been no violent uprising.
Still, person by person, Mary has brought us upstream poem by poem, where we can rejoice in silence at the turning of the tide.

*- Upstream- Selected Essays Mary Oliver Penguin Press New York 2016

Many Happy Returns

Birth, Death and Friendship

“It’s all one big day.  The sun is a maypole and we are winding away.

How many moments, reflected like diamonds, gather around you

to light up your way?” – Time to Go/ The Levins

***

The return journey around the sun is an opportunity for reflection. As the date of my entry point into the world approaches again, I have been thinking a lot about how our lives are intertwined.

I have never officially participated in a birthday maypole dance, which is traditional on May Day for some, but while I was living in California there was one morning that passed for one. My wife Julia decided to orchestrate a sweet celebration for me by secretly inviting two of my closest friends to town.  There is a dream like quality of discovering two familiar faces that inhabit your heart but not your daily space suddenly appearing behind a door. Time excused itself and the spaciousness that surrounds all things momentarily expanded, imbuing the surprise with an elongated sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

This occurred the day before my birthday. There was much rejoicing late into the evening. Music, reveling, creating new memories to laugh about.  Some friendships pick up right where you left off.  I fell into sweet dreams which were shaken up the next morning when my cousin phoned to tell me that my uncle Jeff had passed away during the night.

My mom’s brother Jeff was my holy goof. Sometimes, he would rake his two-day stubble across my face suddenly in an enthusiastic ritual of affection. His natural earthy musk would be mingled with apple cider vinegar, which he would practically bathe in to promote good health. To this day, this act reminds me that love is something that can playfully invade your private space.

Jeff was a beautiful synthesis of Baba Ram Dass and Woody Allen. He had the understanding of how we are more than our bodies while maintaining enough of the episodic-neurotic New Yorker to keep things real. I had just been down to see him in the hospital the week before. He had been singing to the nurses.

His message to us all during his battle with cancer was to be at peace. He had been an actor and a dancer.  Instead of losing a leg and being dismantled piece by piece, he decided it was best to take his curtain call. He managed to be released from the hospital and with his powers of intention, slipped away quietly in the night.

I entered the living room that morning, with my uncle now a part of me. Julia and my friends were there for me but I felt Jeff was with me, as well. Somehow, even closer than before he left. There was an unspoken reassurance that our journey together was not tragically linear.

I put on one of my favorite records, which is Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood. All of us began to dance around the living room. I sang along with the lyric, “Join the chorus if you can. It will make of you an honest man.” Again, there was the sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

The doorbell rang. It was my neighbors and their little girl bringing me a gift. The sun streamed in as I knelt down to receive the wreath of Spring flowers she had woven for me.  My neighbor’s daughter had long blonde hair and little red checks. There were flowers in her hair, as well, and in the golden light, she looked like a cherubic faery. We invited them to join our dance, winding around each other, taking up the invisible ribbons, celebrating the life that was ours to share.

This was many years ago. Yet, even though those friends and neighbors are far away, I am still intertwined with them. As for my uncle, I offer up this new lyric to him and for all of us holding the memory of someone dear while we celebrating our entrances and exits on this grand stage.

“I cried because I lost you.

I lived because I loved you.

I laugh because I knew you.

I’m vast because I’m with you.”

Many happy returns!

 

You are the Earth- The Earth is You

Reaching the ‘Becoming Life Point’.

“Captain Tree: ‘Leaf your worries behind.

Climb up high.

Be still and you will find.

See the world as it was meant to be.

Free, free, free.’”

-Ira Scott Levin (Uncle Eye)/ Captain Tree

***

In honor of Earth Day, I humbly suggest that the Earth is here for all of us, regardless of our belief, culture, or point of view. It does not discriminate or judge us. Silently turning, it churns out life in myriad forms.

Throughout history, poets have paused to listen to the Earth’s song whistling through the meadows and mountains.  Its verses are endless but the refrain is essentially the same:

“Make of me what you will for you are me and I am you.”

The Earth is modeling a way of being that encourages us to recognize what we have to offer.

If I were to find the cornucopia, the mythical ‘horn of plenty’ that perpetually pours out fruits, nuts and flowers, I would be overcome with wonder. If I thought I was the cornucopia, and could offer beauty and nourishment to everyone I met, it would transform my life. If I lived on the cornucopia and was not aware that I was a part of it, I might not take the time to be still enough to recognize what was at hand.

The famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, interpreted what the poet T. S. Elliot called the  “still point of the turning world” as “The energy of the center. The inexhaustible fountain, of the source.”

He reflects on this “source” further by saying, “The source doesn’t care what happens once it gives into being. It’s the giving and coming into being that counts, and that’s the becoming life point in you…

…I think of grass- you know, every two weeks a chap comes out with a lawnmower and cuts it down. Suppose the grass were to say, ‘Well, for Pete’s sake, what’s the use if you keep getting cut down in this way ?’ Instead, it keeps on growing.”

Think of this within you.  How often does life try to beat you down? We are subjected to life’s forest fires, that flare up and claim what we love. There are bitter winters, droughts, floods; we are strip -mined, poisoned, polluted, over-populated and yet…Like the Earth, we can still access “the becoming life point.” We may be broken open but are capable of bestowing beauty and nourishment to ourselves and those that are not even here yet.

So, here’s to the Earth and here’s to you my friend. May you come into the fullness of your splendor.

The Sanctity of Laughter

A relative anecdote

“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world.  This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously. 

Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).

Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears.  We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”

-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College

My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore.  On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie.  They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley.  Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat.  This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner.  They never missed a movie.  “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”

My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it.  His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.  

I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.

Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.

 

Spring’s colorful conspiracy.

The joys of renewal.

“A saint is an earth in eternal spring. Hafiz is a poet whose song I sing. Inside the veins of a petal on a redbud tree are hidden worlds where he may be.”- Hafiz (Rendered by Daniel Ladinsky and The Levins)

Here in NY, winter clings as if it begrudges spring its inevitability. Still, the daffodils have started to blossom in wild packs in our yard. They survived a serious snow storm that buried them after they had started to emerge from the ground. When it was time to shovel the walkway the next day, my wife Julia suggested we make a stop-action short that made it look like the snow was shoveling itself. There is always something to enjoy in winter. It doesn’t stop us from heading out to make music any more than it stops the deer and the groundhog (who lives under our deck) from traipsing all over our yard.  They leave trails that look like elaborate dances in the snow. Still, there is a freedom of movement that we rejoice in as the days get longer. We are excited to shed excess layers, putting away the heavy coats and big boots that crowd our entrance ways and closets.

Next week, we will travel down to Florida to join my family around an elongated table. There will be three generations of us celebrating Passover. There will be singing, joking, and philosophical wrestling during our elaborate symbol filled feast. Even though we gather to remember our emancipation from slavery, one of the dictates of this holiday is to be joyful. A mandate of joy seems like an oxymoron but sometimes we could all use a nudge.

I remember celebrating Easter as a kid with friends of my family. I stayed at their house, we colored eggs, they hid them and I went around their apartment looking for them. Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments was on TV that night. The movie played in the background providing an epic backdrop. Even as delighted as I was with the egg hunt, I was aware that the thrill I felt was the connection I had laughing with my hosts. There was something divine about these bright colors staining our fingers, the prospect of discovery and getting to abandon ourselves to play.

Today, I read about the Hindu holiday of Holi, or “festival of colors.” Thousands of people gather in the streets, showering each other with bags of colorful powder called gulal.  The god Krishna was said to have played pranks on children during spring. In honor of this, everyone is invited to be children and a representative of the love-filled deity simultaneously. Again, joy is worked into the ritual. It is a prankster’s holiday where relationships are mended and friendships rejoiced in. Looking at pictures of vast crowds covered in clouds of color, it struck me what a wonderful way to remind ourselves not to let castes or pigmentation divide us.

All over the world, in its own time, spring comes in to warm us up with the promise of renewed life. That is a colorful prospect. Abandoning care long enough to let life in is a liberation. However we choose to celebrate this month, may we feel renewed, connected, colorful and bright.

Hook, Line & Thinker

Navigating Through an Overload of Advice

“I’m all lost in the supermarket I can no longer shop happily I came in here for that special offer A guaranteed personality”- The Clash

Some days it seems the floodgates have opened and we are all but drowning in information tossed at us. We do our best to swim, but then it can seem like we are fish swimming through a gauntlet of hooks.

Even something that is supposed to bring you peace, like meditation, can ironically cause anxiety if it becomes an intellectual exercise. There are so many ways to meditate that vary from teacher to teacher.  Do I keep my palms up or down? Do I keep my eyes open or shut? Am I focused on my breath, the mantra, my heart or my “third eye”? Is walking in the woods or doing the dishes my form of meditation, or do I need to sit for ten minutes or three hours in order to calm my being?

The thing to remember when going through the mega-store of advice with the 5 ways to get this and the 10 ways successful people to that, is that you have an internal guidance system that allows you to choose what is right for you. This internal guidance system operates below the mind’s chatter.  Some call it intuition, some call it discernment. Whatever you call it, there is a calm part of you that offers to help you make the right choice moment to moment.

As someone who loves to investigate and splash around in various practices, I see the value in many things simultaneously. There is a comedic group called The Firesign Theatre that used to sing:

“How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

The book Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, talks about a yogi who is said to have actually appeared in two places at once.

While that seems impossible, the truth is we just do not know what is possible because we become prisoners to our intellect, and our fear of missing out on what the other kids are doing, (the old FOMO). Perhaps that yogi just realized he was not confined to anywhere at all, so he could simulcast himself like a wandering hologram, or, to borrow from Firesign Theatre again, “a holy-gram.”

So, what am I getting at? I believe we each have something grounding that constantly streams through us. This stream is at once unique as a snowflake and universal as water.

We have an innate sense of peace when we encounter something that rings true for us. We feel the resonance. For example, you might not be a Buddhist but hearing the Dalai Lama laugh might make you feel, “Hey, this guy is alright!” That doesn’t mean your inspiration is telling you to become a monk, but you may agree with him that kindness is key to happiness. You file that notion away and it becomes a part of you.

When we begin to trust the natural flow within us we can navigate through the world without being paralyzed by advice.  Accessing our inner wisdom starts with making peace with all of ourselves. For example, the ego is a part our wholeness in the same way that a  two-year-old having a tantrum can be a beloved part of a family. You can cherish the two-year-old and still not let him drive the car to work.

Calming the part of us that is scared is key. We each can become susceptible to doubt and flop around like a fish out of water wondering if we are ‘doing it right’ (Whatever ‘it’ happens to be in this moment). We may have a good friend that has a practice that gives them great peace, insight, or allows them to travel around in the “astral plane”. We might want to jump on that magic carpet ride. However, if we rush in because we are afraid of not only missing out, but feel that if we don’t follow this particular path, we will remain forever incomplete, then we will not allow ourselves to become grounded enough for any practice to work. There are times when I am overwhelmed, consumed by doubt, and search around for an answer. Then, there are moments of clarity when I allow myself to be where I am and I feel open, flowing, connected to all there is.

I would like to suggest that there is always a part of us that is consciously observing. It watches us freak out, be “brilliant”, and everything in between.  It is open. There is no journey or time needed to access this part of ourselves.  When we are stumped, blocked, misguided by things like fear, depression, or rage, that part of us that is silently observing is still there. The slightest shift of perspective allows us to lovingly reassure our rampaging two-year-old that they are alright.

My uncle Jeff used to say that people and things will try and put their hooks in you but you can let them pass through. It is only in reacting that we get snagged.

By observing ourselves as we swim through a flood of advice, we can keep calm, remain in the flow and give ourselves good advice.

 

Lumpy crossings going up the hill of harmony

Finding where we connect with those who seem so different

I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”- William Butler Yeats

This year to celebrate the Judaic-Celtic connection, instead of drinking green milkshakes and Irish whiskey, my love and I watched The Secret of Kels and listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  Mr. Ó Tuama is a poetic theological social healer.  He is the leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. It is a refuge for people around the world. It is a space for people to share cups of tea and listen to one another while learning how to ask themselves the right questions.

When Corrymeela was founded in 1965, they were told the name meant “hill of harmony.” It was 10 years before someone pointed out the Irish word roughly means, “a place of lumpy crossings.” Once we are able to stay centered in an uncomfortable interaction, harmony will arise.  This is a role model we could really benefit from in America right now.

Mr. Ó Tuama illustrated how two groups, seemingly at odds, sat for two days within the heart of Corrymeela before this kind of breakthrough occurred.  A man that considered himself a “fundamentalist” Christian asked those he referred to in the room as “homosexuals” if his words had bruised them. He was told they had.

“Are you telling me that it’s painful for you to be around me?”  the man asked.

He was told that it was.

Mr. Ó Tuama noted that this man “chaplained himself”. That is, he was the one that brought himself to ask that question and was transformed by the answer. No one else could have pointed this out, it was something he had to come to on his own.

This same “fundamentalist” mentioned that he loved a political show on the BBC. Mr. Ó Tuama told him “My partner produces that.” That opened up amazement, curiosity and the capacity to ask the question mentioned above.

This exchange changed not only the “fundamentalist” but Mr. Ó Tuama who said he wanted to see the ways “in which I’m the perpetrator of real hostility and lack of understanding and lazy thinking. I want to be someone like him, who says, ‘Tell me what it’s like to hear the way I talk because I need to be changed.’ ”

This podcast went along splendidly with the animated masterpiece, The Secret of Kels.  The film is a mythical legend about the creation of the Book of Kels, a book that is the most prized treasure in Ireland. It is a Gospel whose illuminating illustrations were started in Scotland and finished in Ireland while the Vikings were ransacking villages for gold. The film suggests that the boy monk who becomes one of the book’s illustrators, is helped by a girl who is the spirit of the forest. The girl is the feminine. She is what would be considered pagan. She is the Goddess, she is the earth and life itself.  Within in this tale, the boy of faith and the girl of nature are able to steal one of the eyes of the serpent of darkness. The eye is a crystal that allows the illustrator to see the miraculous in the ordinary.

This symbol suggested to me that when face our inherited fear and see through the eyes of our ‘enemy’, we can gain a perspective brings light to the darkness of our hearts.

There was a art historian named Sister Wendy Beckett who talked about cultivating the “Gaze of Love”.  That is, placing your love into your eyes and seeing the world that way.

At a time when we are in a place of lumpy crossings with one another, perhaps we can cultivate this “Gaze of Love” to see those whose political, religious, cultural, philosophical and orientation are different from our own. We might even be able to join in a conversation over a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.

“Are there human connection points where quietly you can say to people, ‘Can you help me understand this?’” And maybe then you’ll participate in this fantastic argument of being alive in such a dynamic way that it’s great fun or really enlivening. And you can have a really robust disagreement. And that is the opposite of being frightened of fear because you can create that.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama

We can help one another up the hill, even if we disagree.

 

A Creative Reframing of Stress and Superpowers

Overcoming your fear of utilizing your creativity.

Frame: noun  – “a ridged structure that surrounds or encloses something.”

“Reframing…Your frame is the house you live in.  That which you tell yourself on a regular basis.

What you talk about, you make real. Words are magical incantations.

Create a home that works for you, that brings you peace, that makes you calm.

Frame something that makes you feel good, makes you more patient, more kind.

It’s not a destination, it’s a way of living.”- Drake Powe

One of the advantages of being a travelling musician is getting to listen to audio books and podcasts on the way to various gigs.  Two recent highlights have been Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful resource book about creativity called Big Magic and her follow-up podcast Magic Lessons.

In episode 12 of her podcast, she has a dialogue with author Brene Brown. During that discussion, Brene noted:

“Without (creativity) I am not OK and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not OK.

I absolutely understand, personally and professionally from the data, there are no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and those that don’t, and unused creativity is not benign.”

Brene Brown

My friend Drake Powe is someone I think of whose living presence is an expression of creativity. Drake was the best man at my wedding. Each interaction I have with him, brings me fully into the present and shifts me back to what is vital in this moment.

Even before he had an outlet for his creativity, Drake’s canvas was interaction.

Drake is a big persona. He is not only larger than life in personality but also in stature.  You might be surprised that despite being over six feet tall with a barrel chest that houses his immense heart,  Drake has wrestled with a fear of being attacked. This might stem from growing up in a rough neighborhood, however, fear of being vulnerable extends to being criticized as well.  Anyone with a presence on line, risks being attacked by mean spirited individuals with a lot of time on their hands.  Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown talk of having to deal with trolls who antagonize them for being powerful women who choose to demonstrate their creativity in an empowering way.  Drake has pushed past his fears and the stress of being an empowering black man in his community. As a yoga instructor, he has felt comfortable dealing with individuals and small groups but recently he has challenged himself to begin speaking in public.

In one of these presentations, he talks of accessing his inner superhero whose power is being calm and optimistic in stressful situations. He has managed to reframe his story, (fears of attack) by applying this superpower. He has recognized that very thing that stresses him out, simultaneously has the power of fueling his gift.

“Conflict is our opportunity when we realize how powerful we are… We are stressed because we feel vulnerable…You are not what you are stressed about…our true state is calm and loving…

Change the size of your framing, make yourself big, make yourself magnificent, because that’s who you are.”- Drake Powe

When I think of what super power I want to have, it is the ability to step outside of time, to be able to experience and bestow a state of timelessness. What pushes my buttons and causes me stress are, most often, fear based time-related issues, such as deadlines and ‘to do’ lists, even if they are self-imposed. When I react from a time-stressed center, my frame becomes small and, as my wife would say, “I am not my best self.” I have experienced that my creativity is heightened when I activate my superpower. Timelessness brings me back to benevolence. Benevolence extends the frame of my being beyond space. The music that flows from that, reduces stress and dances without constraint.

I wonder if each of us has a superpower that is restrained by stress, fear, or not fully utilizing our creativity.

Just for this moment, allow yourself to step out of time, reframe. Go beyond the self you know.

There really is no frame to what we actually are.  Being able to sit within our natural state of being gives us access to our creativity, our ability to be Faster than a speeding negative thought- More powerful than criticism -Able to leap stress at a single bound!