Category Archives: peace

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.

 

Holding the chord

Barring love to uphold justice prevents the completion of the circuit that fulfils our aim.  Locked within us are the answers we seek to resolve the struggle that our minds cannot reconcile. Belief is an individual process that becomes entangled with our upbringing as well as loyalties to both the need to be accepted and our innate fear of punishment.  Love transcends our need for self-preservation.  Wanting to uphold for all beings what we desire for ourselves is not rational but instinctual.  Nestled in our conflict is the desire to embrace our vehemence and outrage, to allow the song of life to rejoin itself in harmony.

Israeli Palestinian peace*************************************************************

Last week I posted the Stream of Light about Elie Wiesel onto Facebook. A musical acquaintance of mine made some accusatory and ugly remarks about Mr. Wiesel.  I deleted his comments. He was outraged and asked me to unfriend him for censoring him.  We messaged back and forth.  I apologized for deleting his comments without asking him to.  My acquaintance is very passionate about standing up for the rights of displaced Palestinians and he felt that Mr. Wiesel, who stood for other groups rights, failed to do so for the Palestinians and was antagonistic to their plight.  I looked up an article written by a Palestinian writer who was a fan of Mr. Wiesel’s book Night but who was disappointed in Mr. Wiesel’s actions.  Since my acquaintance also works for peace, I pointed out that although outraged, our ability to not close the hearts of those who are needed to amend or help facilitate justice, is vital.

Elie Wiesel, who would have concurred that he was not a saint, said:

“No nation is composed of saints alone. None is sheltered from mistakes or misdeeds. All have their Cain and Abel. It takes vision and courage to undergo serious soul-searching and to favor moral conscience over political expediency.”

At the end of our conversation, my acquaintance and I reached an understanding. We both were able to be heard.  In fact, that Friday night as Julia and I sang for a service at a temple, I was wrestling with the issue of people wanting a home for themselves and their families. The depth of the situation, is parallel to the plight of the Native Americans, whose land many of us rent or seem to own.

During the service, Julia and I were asked to sing Jerusalem of Gold, by Naomi Shemer. The song reflects 2,000 years of yearning for a homeland. In the middle of it, I held one of the chords and stood there with my eyes closed. I had to wait, overcome by what felt like an endless torrent of tears.  The innate connection to the song felt deeper than my identification with my tribe. The moments of holding that chord in silence felt like the collective longing all of humanity has for shelter, to belong, to be embraced by the dignity of their own wholeness.

When I related this event to my mother, she shared this excerpt from one of the I Am discourses:

   “When you enter into the understanding of what Indestructible harmony means to Life, you will have entered into the Powerhouse of the universe, because discord is disintegration; and the only thing that is Eternal Perfection is Indestructible Harmony. There is no freedom without Harmony, no permanent health without Harmony, no Victory over that which you call evil, which is discord, except Indestructible Harmony.”

Last night, here in Iowa, Julia’s mom gave me an article she has saved for me about Elie Wiesel talking in a church. Mr. Wiesel confessed that he was only able to speak and sing in this church because he was able to put aside his anger and recognize that not all Christians had turned their backs on the Jews during the holocaust.  What he said after that was what had stayed with the author of the article ever since:

“I believe people who can stand together and sing together, can live in peace together.” – Elie Wiesel

Even in the midst of all this heart wrenching unrest and the Civil Liberties that we still need to stand for here in America and around the world, remembering our harmony will help us to sing as we stand.  I believe our internal harmony bridges the gap between us.

May you hold the chord, even as you struggle to regain your voice within the silence of yearning.

 

James Durst- World Weaver of Peace and Song

James DurstThis past week my friend James Durst passed away.  On the surface, it is tragic for he was only 71 and left behind his beautiful wife Madhumita. But when you look at James and the life he lived, he was not a tragic figure. Even with his passing, he managed to fool everyone, who thought he had gone last Thursday. James held out until the wee hours of Friday to leave on April Fool’s day perhaps as a way of telling us not to remain too down hearted.

Elizabeth Gilbert asks in her new book Big Magic: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

James had the courage and did.

For fifty-one years, James travelled the globe, playing in over 200 cities in 45 countries.  He played in all fifty states in America alone.  He sang in some two dozen languages and incorporated them into his songs.  His drive was, as he would say, “to reflect a global perspective and underscore the interconnectedness we share with all of life.” He didn’t just sing about peace, he put himself into places where many of us would not have been comfortable and made the people he sang to feel his love, even if they didn’t understand his words.

He not only won awards and had honors for his own work but was always promoting the work of others.  He formed a band called the Work of the Weavers to pass on the pioneering legacy of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, whose humanitarian and environmental aims echoed his own.

In his song, I wish you good evening James says: “May you know someone loves and appreciates all that you are.” This is the main reason that James’ life far exceeds his death.  Not only did he love and appreciate those around him but he knew the true love, support and full partnership of his beloved Madhumita, who made him feel that he mattered as much as he did.

Before sharing the full lyrics to his song, which I feel represents his work clearly, I would like to quote the character of Death in Terry Pratchett’s book, Shephard’s Crown:

“FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT. . . .”― Terry Pratchett

I Wish You Good Evening (James Durst) (w/Howard Levy, harmonica solo) ‘Wish I Were Here’ CD by James Durst.

“I wish you clear sailing/ I wish you calm seas /May your sails come to life On the sweet billowed breath of a breeze/ I wish you safe harbor/ I wish you sweet dreams /May your tempest be never so Troubled and tossed as it seems /I wish you clear vision /I wish you strong voice /May you walk straight an’ tall Down the well-lighted path of your choice

I wish you good lover
I wish you true friend
May you find ‘neath the guise of one person
A balance and blend
I wish you full dance card
I wish you full moon
May the band know the music and words
To your favorite tune
I wish you full belly
I wish you square meals
May you only know hunger for knowledge
And thirst for ideals

I wish you bold venture/ I wish you bright star/ May you know someone loves and appreciates all that you are/ I wish you rich harvest /I wish you glad heart

May your work in the world Transcend work and come closer to art/ I wish you good evening/  I wish you god speed/ May your journey through life Be focused and purposeful, rich and rewarding, Ennobling in spirit, in thought, word and deed In thought, word and deed.”

-James Durst © PhoeniXongs ASCAP

May you be regaled more than this while you are still here.

Loving more than the myth

“See all things, not in process of becoming, but in Being, and see themselves in the other. Each being contains in itself the whole intelligible world. Therefore, All is everywhere. Each is there All, and All is each. Man as he now is has ceased to be the All. But when he ceases to be an individual, he raises himself again and penetrates the whole world.” – Plotinus (Greek Philosopher)
 
Hassidic dancing with the Easter Bunny
Yesterday Julia and I honored the idea of resurrection with a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and two Power Puff Girls cartoons. After that, we finished reading an article  by Ken Wilber on Integral Spirituality.
The article, based on his book Integral Spirituality reminds us that religion and spirituality have the capacity of guiding us to both grow and wake up. Even though a large portion of the world has become stuck in a place of needing their group (religion, nation, race etc.) to be the sole bearers of Truth, there is an increasing awareness that we are all here together on the planet and share more than we are aware of.   The need to believe that each holy book is historically accurate and that the stories within them are to be taken as absolute and literal, has caused us to attack one another instead of recognizing our capacity to be and share profound peace.
IntegralSpirituality
After spending a lovely day with friends we read about a terrorist attack on a Christian gathering.  The sting of it, reinforced the sadness of choosing to remain stuck in a level of needing to take our myths or understanding so literally that we are not able to see one another in ourselves.
As the teacher Mooji points out, my concept of ‘me’ is a myth as well. 
At the end of the article we read that morning, Ken Wilber concludes that, “evolution and love go hand in hand…The more we love, the more we flourish. The more morally sensitive we are…”
Wherever you are today, may you be gently carried by love so you can see how beautiful you and those around you really are.
 

 

Belief and the cosmic telescope

On days when we feel fragile, it is vital to remember how much vitality we have.  Certain gifts are made accessible in the moments that we need them.  There is no end to our supply but our belief systems become so firmly locked in place we succumb to the will of the projected majority.  Individually, we can feel we have no power.  From the ego’s vantage, the power we have is limited to what we can grab.  We are not dog kings that need to flash swords to defend our alloy thrones.  We are folded in grandeur.  Do constellations despair that they are powerless in the sky?  Are we observed and marveled at even now?
*********************
Julia and I are holed up at the airport. Our flight to Ft. Lauderdale has been delayed.
On the heels of little sleep, my outlook on reality has been revivified by thumbing through issues of The New Yorker that we haven’t had time to peruse during the past month.
New Yorker
Culture, humor and a literate lens make a great tonic.
It is vital to recall in moments of burnout or exhaustion that the rabbit hole we are looking down isn’t necessarily the future but a willful insistence that we look through the wrong end of the telescope.
Of course it could be said that I often look through a kaleidoscope. In honor of this, I would like to share a scene from the Terry Pratchett movie, Hogfather. (Hogfather is Santa Clause on a fantasy version of earth called the Discworld.) The character speaking in all caps is Death:
HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.
You need to believe in things that are not true, how else
Can they become…?
Terry quote
May we continue to believe in peace on earth and good will to all sentient beings.

A different 1% – Expanding our perspective

Here is a talk worth viewing:
Best Explanation Ever! To A Fascinatingly Disturbing Thought! Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson  
https://youtu.be/aTZyVZBtP70 
 
Dr. Neil breaks down the thought that we are composed of the same elements as we see in the night sky, that we are not separate from what we see all around us.  He makes the point that we share 99% of the same DNA  as a chimpanzee.  The one percent difference is what allows us to compose symphonies and launch the Hubble Telescope into space. Talk about the 1%!  What if we were to meet beings who had one percent higher than us?  Their children would have an explanation of the string theory magnetized on their refrigerators.  We think we are so special but it is all relative.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”-  Albert Einstein

Child in Space
 
We are all part of – a child in space.
One body, one mind, one race.
           
We are all atoms dancing  face to face
and the bond that we can’t see between us-
keeps us in this place.
 
While the left hand wrestles with the right,
belly goes hungry, eyes shut tight.
If i could reach accross the great divide,
our tears would become nurishment to heal us from inside.
  
And the darkness would fade.  If I could hasten the day.
We are all part of – a child in space.
One body, one mind, one race.
We are all atoms dancing  face to face
and the bond that we can’t see between us-
keeps us in this place.
One body, one mind, one race. 
– The Levins

We may overcome our need to strive to be part of the socio-economic one percent and collectively reach out to touch the next percent in our understanding.

 

Making peace with Mother’s Day

I would like to officially extend Mother’s Day into a life-long celebration.  This weekend was overflowing with Hallmark cards, flower arrangements, teddy bears and balloons sold on the side of the road, but the love of the ones who gave us life is a sacred bond that can be honored with external gratitude and internal reflection.

Mother’s Day, as we know it was started by Anna Jarvis for her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis, who started Mother’s Day Work clubs in the 1850’s to tend to the wounds of solders on both sides of the Civil War and to lower the infant mortality rate.  Later, these work days became Mother’s Friendship Day Picnics, where these same women would get together to promote peace by having a light feasts for former foes.

Anna Jarvis started Mother’s Day in West Virginia in honor of her mom, when she passed away.  Her original intention was to celebrate your own mother, not all mothers, (like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.)  Her celebration soon became a national and international holiday.  Anna Jarvis, who could have capitalized on this, actually spend all of her money and sanity fighting the commercialization of what the day became.

In honor of her original intention, I would like to give a special thanks to Sally Lee Rubin Levin.  During an era of Mad Men, where women stayed at home in the kitchen, my mom found her own path of spirituality, became an actress and director, frequented nudist colonies and was outspoken, even when it made her shake.

She managed to do all this and remain kind, supportive and fun.  She has taught me that to be true to your craft, you have to be true to yourself and bring a light to whatever situation you are in.  She is a great light in so many lives and when you are with her, it is an invitation to be yourself, participate in the moment and live it up.

Beyond the commercialization, here is to all the moms we know and to those that live inside of us.

May we be nurtured and nurturing.

*******************************************************************

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is, Impatient of no Child — The feeblest — or the waywardest — Her Admonition mild — In Forest — and the Hill — By Traveller — be heard — Restraining Rampant Squirrel — Or too impetuous Bird — How fair Her Conversation — A Summer Afternoon — Her Household — Her Assembly — And when the Sun go down — Her Voice among the Aisles Incite the timid prayer Of the minutest Cricket — The most unworthy Flower — When all the Children sleep — She turns as long away As will suffice to light Her lamps — Then bending from the Sky — With infinite Affection — And infiniter Care — Her Golden finger on Her lip — Wills Silence — Everywhere —

***********************************************************************

To My Mother

Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,

The angels, whispering to one another,

Can find, among their burning terms of love,

None so devotional as that of “Mother,”

Therefore by that dear name I long have called you-

You who are more than mother unto me,

And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you,

In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.

My mother—my own mother, who died early,

Was but the mother of myself; but you

Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,

And thus are dearer than the mother I knew

by that infinity with which my wife

Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.

 

by Edgar Allan Poe, addressed to his mother-in-law

Happy MLK Day! Wedging ourselves into the doorway of love

This weekend Julia and I had the pleasure of playing at a Folk Festival.  We were part of a songwriting competition.  We were grateful to be asked and got to play under a huge banyan tree, a living backdrop that made this the most amazing stage we have played on. We really allowed the songs we sang to not be about us exclusively and had a wondeful time. It was a pleasure to connect with so many beautiful songwriters and the people for whom music appreciation is not only a lifestyle but is life manifest.
The three judges announced their favorite three songwriters and we were happy for our friend who was among them.
Now, while I personally went though a sadness of not “winning” and noticed the thoughts that go with that dissappointment, I was keenly aware when one of the winners said to me, “You two (Julia and I) get to play together. Many of us have tried to make that work and weren’t able to. You are the real winners.”
The next day what stuck me was that it is great to win and to be recognized in a certain light, to be able to put things on your resume, but what is most vital is the ability to come back in with your love and delight, to honestly connect to the people around you, to see them, to build them up.  We all seemed to play from a relaxed place the next day and we got to hear some amazing songs from the heart.
All of this seems relavant today as I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the men and women and children who persevered through doubt, sadness, humiliation and death to uphold their love and the belief that we can all be together, free to share the songs of our hearts.
Surely our troubles are very small compared to many who have plunged into the frey for freedom. Still, our struggles can seem insurmountable in the moment.  Here is to the bonds of friendship, family and even strangers who see our light and help us get back to a place of joyful strength.
My friend, the poet Ashby Lankford shared this MLK quote:
 
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
-MLK
While this is more pertinent today, it holds up and holds us up.
We may see ourselves as winners or loosers but beyond all labels or external acknowledgement, it is about wedging ourselves into the doorway of love, to let the light come through as long as we can.

Stream of Light 12/1/2014