Category Archives: Hope

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

 

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.

 

Women marching in solidarity with all of life

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver

Julia and I were grateful to be a part of the Women’s March in NYC on Saturday. I hold the conviction that marching for something is always more powerful than marching against what you do not want.  This is spurred by the story of Mother Teresa saying she wouldn’t march against the war but would march for peace. However, what we experienced on Saturday was confirmed by everyone we talked to, in DC and around the world. The feeling on the street was not one of anger, hatred and rage.  Certainly people were protesting and expressing themselves fully but good will was the prevalent feeling.  In DC alone there was 1.2 million people and as my friend Ashby said, “everyone was so kind to one another.” People were considerate to the police and there were no arrests. Over 3 million people around the world marched in solidarity to peacefully demonstrate the love of freedom, the love of this planet, and the drive to not be satisfied with less than equality for all women. For, as one of the many signs said:

“Women’s rights are human rights.”

“People are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”

– Joanna Macy

I believe The Great Turning is happening and what we are experiencing now is a reactionary clinging to the old age.

We are being told to fear.

If we really want to combat terrorism around the world. Educate girls and honor all women.

Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot by the taliban for daring to stand up for a girl’s right to education, is still standing.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. they are afraid of women.” – Malala Yousafzai

This country was founded by brave people who were willing to face down tyranny,

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”- Preamble to the Constitution

As Gloria Steinem said at the DC March on Saturday:

“The Constitution doesn’t begin with, ‘I, the president, it begins with, ‘We, the people.’

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

– Malala Yousafzai

You make the difference. We, the people, have the power to usher in the change we wish to be.

Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I will sing in solidarity with all of life. Not just for its right to be here but in harmony with the love that it gives form to.

March on!

Beauty has claimed you

Caravan of dawn

There’s a caravan of dawn. Always on the curve.
  Always moving on…
Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song:

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.  Bowing your heart strings”

Side by side- wide as the horizon,
  
giddy as a bride; the universe inside them. 
Lighting up the streets.  Lighting up the fields.
Splash the sky in streaks of azure, lilac, gold and teal.

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.   Bowing your heart strings.
Splendor reveals you.
   Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song, singing:
River of broken hearts
“Gather up all of the broken hearts.
Pour them in a river of tiny parts.
Set them in motion, lighten their burden. 
Head for the ocean. Flow out and over, away from the falls. 
Rising  like mist ‘til  they can’t recall,
Not being  kissed  by sunbeams. 
 Separation is only a morphine dream.

Authentic joy and honesty cut a path right through to me.
Splendor reveals you.  Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

I close my eyes and breathe you in as if I’ll never have to leave again.
– The Levins
hearts rising up
 

Elie Wiesel- Independent but never alone

“Self-confidence is knowing that we have the capacity to do something good and firmly decide not to give up.”

The Dalai Lama

“Self-confidence is not a feeling of superiority, but of independence.”                                      — Lama Yeshe

Even if only one free individual is left, he is proof that the dictator is powerless against freedom. But a free man is never alone; the dictator is alone. The free man is the one who, even in prison, gives to the other prisoners their thirst for, their memory of, freedom.        —Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

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

Happy Independence day.

July 4, 1776

What we celebrate today is the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The draft of this famous document was submitted to the Continental Congress on July 2nd and they were able to agree on the changes by July 4th.  Then the real work began.

It is significant that Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Laureate, Humanitarian and American citizen, passed away on July 2nd.  His life and passing are inextricably linked to American Independence and what that truly means.

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Wiesel’s essay entitled The America I Love:

“The day I received American citizenship was a turning point in my life. I had ceased to be stateless. Until then, unprotected by any government and unwanted by any society, the Jew in me was overcome by a feeling of pride mixed with gratitude.

From that day on, I felt privileged to belong to a country which, for two centuries, has stood as a living symbol of all that is charitable and decent to victims of injustice everywhere—a country in which every person is entitled to dream of happiness, peace and liberty; where those who have are taught to give back. That day I encountered the first American soldiers in the Buchenwald concentration camp. I remember them well. Bewildered, disbelieving, they walked around the place, hell on earth, where our destiny had been played out. They looked at us, just liberated, and did not know what to do or say. Survivors snatched from the dark throes of death, we were empty of all hope—too weak, too emaciated to hug them or even speak to them. Like lost children, the American soldiers wept and wept with rage and sadness. And we received their tears as if they were heartrending offerings from a wounded and generous humanity.

In America, compassion for the refugee and respect for the other still have biblical connotations.

Ever since that encounter, I cannot repress my emotion before the flag and the uniform—anything that represents American heroism in battle. That is especially true on July Fourth. I reread the Declaration of Independence, a document sanctified by the passion of a nation’s thirst for justice and sovereignty, forever admiring both its moral content and majestic intonation. Opposition to oppression in all its forms, defense of all human liberties, celebration of what is right in social intercourse: All this and much more is in that text, which today has special meaning.

Granted, U.S. history has gone through severe trials, of which anti-black racism was the most scandalous and depressing. I happened to witness it in the late Fifties, as I traveled through the South. What did I feel? Shame. Yes, shame for being white. What made it worse was the realization that, at that time, racism was the law, thus making the law itself immoral and unjust.

Still, my generation was lucky to see the downfall of prejudice in many of its forms. True, it took much pain and protest for that law to be changed, but it was.

America understands that a nation is great not because its economy is flourishing or its army invincible but because its ideals are loftier. Hence America’s desire to help those who have lost their freedom to conquer it again. America’s credo might read as follows: For an individual, as for a nation, to be free is an admirable duty—but to help others become free is even more admirable.

Some skeptics may object: But what about Vietnam? And Cambodia? And the support some administrations gave to corrupt regimes in Africa or the Middle East? And the occupation of Iraq? Did we go wrong—and if so, where?

Hope is the key word for men and women like myself, who found in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair.

Well, one could say that 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. And America, in extreme situations, is endowed with both. America is always ready to learn from its mishaps. Self-criticism remains its second nature.

Hope is a key word in the vocabulary of men and women like myself and so many others who discovered in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair. Remember the legendary Pandora’s box? It is filled with implacable, terrifying curses. But underneath, at the very bottom, there is hope. Now as before, now more than ever, it is waiting for us.” – Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel made his life about speaking out against indifference.  He believed in the Independence that does not stand alone but recognizes that caring for one another is at the heart of our freedom.

May his light kindle our own vigilance and courage to continue to stand up to injustice.  If we strive to “Make America Great Again,” let us remember what really makes us great is our generous spirit, our kindness and striving compassion to promote true freedom around the world.

Stream of Light 2/16/15

Recognize that life even now comes to our rescue from the scenarios we have constructed to hem ourselves in.   

We find comfort in things that are both personal and universal.  Contemplate the bond we have formed with objects.  Could there not be a form of molecular exchange we share with them?  Love forms its own science.  What cannot be explained defies cynical resignation.  Hope pops out of the box like a prize. 

King Lear Laughs

Here is a video of The Levins singing a new song inspired by King Lear: The Levins at the Towne Crier, Beacon, NY – God’s Spies
  King Lear is essentially us in our pride needing to know how much we are loved.  That which loves us the most purely and ineffably seems to remain silent while that which is false proclaims it has our best interest at heart and once we have separated ourselves from what is essential to us, we go mad.  However, if before we are lead away to our supposed doom, we recognize the love that was always there, we can walk off the stage in the fullness of our being, “..and sing and tell old tales and laugh at gilded butterflies and take upon us the mystery of things… as if we were God’s spies.”*
 *- King Lear Act 5, Scene 3- Shakespeare
Old Will Shakespeare has 157 million pages on Google that refer to him.   The wisdom and wit he managed to impart to us transcends the common wheel of daily drama.  We are suffering from the same components of our collective dumbshow as the groundlings experienced at the Globe while watching Hamlet for the first time. Yet, the perspective his plays offer us allows us to rise not only to the finest seats in the house but out through the roof and above the firmament.
Our lives are not a forgone conclusion but “One of the finest comforts that life offers us is that you can not sincerely help others without helping yourself.” – Shakespeare
“Let no one who loves be unhappy… even love unreturned has its rainbow.”  –  Shakespeare
Savor your week and may your time be as gold collected at your rainbow’s end ; )

 

Stream of Light 7-22-14

When out of shame or a painful memory someone unexpectedly shows you a courtesy, something simple, you are allowed to experience what has been intended for us all: Dignity and release from all cruelty.  Life is not meant to be controlled and manipulated into fear and separation. Take the laughter inherent in your heart and braid it into bread that you can feed those around you.

Endings and beginnings are subject to change, nothing is as tragic as we imagine it to be.  Life is more of a comedy than we realize.  Lighten up and proceed with the joy of your bliss.

Stream of Light 7-16-14

For the periods of time when life bears down on us as if an unforgiving force, recognize that we are life itself.  Becoming cognizant of where we are responsible for our own misery can make the difference between loving the process and resigning ourselves to fate.   The sweetness of existence is the recognition of love bestowing love.

Bon Apetit Jered Nelson! and “Put down your phone, pick up a poem!”

Last week I wrote about my friend Jered, who is expanding his pottery business and training and hiring local potters.
He didn’t make his kickstarter goal but because he and his family put it out into the universe that they needed a specific amount of money and were open to receiving it, it came through in a different form.  Happily, this week a couple of investors loaned them exactly what they needed and Bon Apetit magazine is going to do something about Jered!
“Funny how that happens,” his wife Sarah Kobrinsky said.
This is an amazing example of how when we come to a place of knowing what we want to manifest and decide it is going to happen and are not shaken by appearances, but remain fully engaged, we can recognize our good when it comes to us and take it up with discernment and gratitude.  Julia often reminds me to ask for the best thing to happen for everyone involved.
Sarah also has a project as the Poet Laureate of Emeryville which is Poems on the Emery Go-Round, (the free shuttle bus service in Emeryville.)  Their tagline is:
“Put down your phone, pick up a poem!”
The city just approved her Call for Submissions and here is the link:

https://poetlaureateofeville.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/call-for-submissions_emery-go-round.pdf

If you are a poet or know a poet in the SF Bay Area, please pass this on!