Category Archives: compassion

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

 

Oscar- panning for the Gold-en rule

Looking beyond the flubs to the treasures the Academy Awards offer us as a unique marker of time.

  ©A.M.P.A.S

There’s a lot of love in this room, and let’s use it to create and champion bold and diverse work, work that inspires us towards joy, towards hope and towards empathy.”

Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land

 “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith…The power of art is that it transcends all these things. That is the magic of the movies and that is what we celebrate tonight.”

-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

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I wonder what my grandmother would have thought about Twitter? It seems to have enough power to wreak political havoc or cause the biggest snafu in Oscar history. It is interesting that this year’s awards may only be remembered for what appeared to be Bonnie and Clyde trying to steal the Moonlight.  As with most things, where we put our attention yields up pyrite or gold.  There was also a vein of nuggets throughout the night such as Viola Davis’ speech that escalated this year’s awards for me.

The Oscars are such a unique marker of time. When I was 14, the Oscars were a holiday for me. The movies were a Shangri-La where my dreams and inner being were kept eternally young and whole.  I looked forward to the Oscars, like New Year’s, like Hanukah. It was a mecca for me. Not that I knew what a mecca was, but it was a pilgrimage to honor that which shined bright in my firmament.  Not just the current gathering of stars, but the art that they represented: the chance to simultaneously overcome and uphold the human condition.

This particular year, my mother and I were watching the awards alone when the phone rang in the kitchen. My mom went to answer it and instinctively, I followed her.  I knew by her body language that something irreversible had happened.  I watched grief come through the receiver as laughter and applause rang out behind us, worlds away.  I watched before I understood what had happened; my mother bore herself up to be the bearer of what she instinctively knew would be unbearable for my father. My grandmother had passed away. This burden was momentarily buoyed up in her by the recognition that my grandma had escaped a drawn-out illness. She had bowed out before having to play the role of a patient, which she would not have enjoyed.

My grandmother Ida was the penultimate caretaker. She had cared for my grandfather for years before he died, she took great care of everyone around her. All of her grandchildren were convinced that they were her favorite. It was obviously me. My grandmother didn’t need an Oscar, her conviction was so complete, each of us can lay full claim to being her favorite. There was no measuring the love she showered us with every time we saw her.  For me, the proof was there in the soft golden gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons, the hours she spent in front of her TV set wrestling with reception so I could enjoy my beloved Creature Features, her slipping me money for a party I was ‘secretly’ planning to throw for my friends.  My grandmother was a movie star in my eyes. She always wore sunglasses.  She was the grand poker player. That is, even in great pain, her grandchildren only saw her smile.  We never knew of her troubled childhood, of her mother and siblings having to move into a new apartment every time the rent was due. She held herself up regally. Ida was a matriarch, a magician, a master baker and chef, a conspirator, the delta of our heritage. For me, my grandma Ida was gentle, radiant, the personification of unconditional love.

My father came home.  I stood in the hallway, peeking around the corner as my mother told him. He put his hand on the waist-high stereo console for support but it did not console him. He crumbled. “She was my strength,” he said. I had never known anything but strength from my father. It was harrowing to see him in a seemingly helpless state. I couldn’t bring myself to go to him. I longed to. I didn’t believe I had the strength within myself to cross that distance or that I would be able to offer him what I wanted to give him if I could.

Here was the drama.

How many film makers try to issue the relief that I longed to pour into my father, to fill him; to make him stand again?

My father doubted his ability to move on successfully without my grandmother.  His vulnerability is something that has allowed me to take up my role with strength.  My grandmother lives fully within my father, as does his father. He remains one of the strongest, most tuned in and genuinely caring people I have had the good fortune to meet.

My grandmother was a star. She was strong and had a full life.  She didn’t need a movie to tell her story but she was worthy of one. She didn’t need a lot of words to convey to each of us how special we were to her.  She may have been a queen on Twitter.

During her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis said:

 “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

So, here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. And to … the cheerleaders for (making) a movie that is about people. And words. And life and forgiveness and grace….

…And the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose. My parents…Thank you.”

As life’s actors, we get to take up our various perspectives: child, parent, sibling, friend, enemy, lover, loveless, confident, fragile, sung, unsung, free, indentured, addicted, connected, intuitive, automated…

“A sky full of souls, you play all the roles. You are the Great Constellation, not just one soul in isolation.” – The Levins/ Great Constellation

This year, the Oscars reminded me to have hope in humanity, even as reports of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, bomb threats in nursery schools and good citizens being deported rise up to separate us.

“Film-makers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others.” – Asghar Farhadi, director, Best Foreign Film- The Salesman

Keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion, and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our lives tomorrow.”

Marc Platt, producer, La La Land

May the gold we seek to be awarded be the golden rule upheld in our hearts.

 

MLK and “interrelated structure of all reality.”

How MLK stayed connected to love.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by the Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.- a man who utilized his stream, or what Mooji would call, “the cosmic current of existence,” to help expand our universal understanding.  MLK was a man of action. His actions were blockbuster without having to shoot his way into enemy territory, punch out the bully or watch as the villain plummeted from a great height. Instead he actively connected to love, to the energy and awareness that manifests as all of us, to help us to see, feel and experience this, “Interrelated structure of all reality.”

You could say that MLK was selfless. He was willing to sacrifice even his life to get us to know that our differences are not only skin deep, mere pigmentation, but that our true Self includes everything that we perceive, and can conceive.

Again, I will quote Mooji to show how the actions of MLK stimulated a whole generation to work together towards our greater freedom.

“If you study and learn as a person, you can only function as a person- maybe as a good person, a skilled person- but when you awaken… you start moving as a whole environment. When something arises that needs to be done, that need is recognized, and a movement to fulfill it begins, and other streams join in until it becomes a river. You see how the forces join together.”- Mooji

How did MLK do this?  Martin did not allow himself to be defined and filled in with hatred of injustice but he would daily pray to be used by love, to live in the manner of love. He made sure to perform regular services for others. He strived to stay in good bodily and spiritual health. He meditated on the teachings and actions of his spiritual leader.  Most importantly and the hardest of all, he prayed for the oppressor.

His knew that love was a non-dual reality that transcends our limited clinging to the black and white.

This morning I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote:

“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou”- the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou”, and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “though” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.” “ – Joseph Campbell

Matt Khan in talking about surrendering to love says it starts with taking a vacation from concern.  Not denying the things that are wrong or unjust, just taking a vacation from filling ourselves, our mind and body, emotions and cells with what is wrong.  Allowing ourselves to connect or surrender to love allows for solutions to our concerns to come through so when we come back from vacation, we can get back to work refreshed.

We are all a perception away from being able to act as a unified field.  The victory of MLK is not a victory for the church, or for one people but for all of life.

He knew who he was and his most constructive actions came from that knowing that he was, “free at last.”

Today is a chance for reflection and for being aware of the work that needs to still be done.  Still, in the midst of it all, may we be able to connect to love so that our concerns can be faced without anxiety but with the expectation of solutions we will usher in together. 

 

Dirje Childs: This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery…The cello, my heart and me.

“The ultimate aesthetic value is closely connected with the notion of a higher experience to create beautiful things, but ultimately to reach this higher state of mind. The skills and techniques of the arts are…  nothing more than the means to reach this deeper aesthetic value… Religious enlightenment and aesthetic enlightenment are the same thing…”  Hideo Kishmoto, “Mahayana Buddhism and Japanese Thought,” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, no 3 (Oct. 1954), p. 221

“Nothing is more hallowing that the union of kindred spirits in art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself.  At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred.”-     K. Okakura, The Book of Tea, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991 (!906), p. 10

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Dirje Childs

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, I would love to spotlight Dirje Childs.  (Dirje is pronounced Dear-G)

In our search for a cello player to record with, Julia and I asked our friend Mark Dann. He enthusiastically recommended Dirje.  He said she was right in line with what we were doing.

“Great,” we said, “where does she live?”

“Austin Texas.”

Well, that was that for a while.    

Then he suggested her again. We looked her up and found this video:

Dirje Childs-The Grateful Cellist:

https://youtu.be/TdHXzrBRo6U

Here is a portion of the transcript:

Dirje: “I finally said to the universe, alright do I need to be a nun, should I go to seminary? … I knew this is the voice I am meant to sing through. Right from the heart. This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery. The cello, my heart and me.

Kate Potter: On retreat in the morning after meditation, we agreed that we would be silent until after breakfast.  Dirje played for us during that silent portion and everybody who was on retreat was suddenly alive in the silence, quite engaged in the silence.

Dirje: They get a space of time where they are totally held in a peaceful quiet place where they are allowed to wake up to their life.  It goes beyond regular meditation practices because the cello is there singing to those broken places.  A tonic that is practical as it is deeply nourishing to the spirt. Something different yet simple, accessible to everyone.  Breath, presence, rest, clarity. How many of us could use that oasis of rest in the breath and this present moment? …  Any human being, to have the gift of coming out of all the things, the busyness of our mind, even the pain of our body, to rest in the moment… When I am in the future, I am in anxiety. When I am in the past, I am in regret and depression. When I am in the present, I am in the gift. … to be present to each other is a gift.  One of my great heroes is Mother Teresa, binding up these people on the street. Well, you wouldn’t think that any of us are the wounded or the broken, but we are. And so this is that spirit of Mother Teresa offering to bind up and bring us all out of that craziness that we have in our heads; back to ourselves and our breath. Simply and to each other.  My dream is that not only do people feel access to some healing but that it begins to wake up in their hearts.  The call to be who they are in this earth.  That’s what my cello wants to whisper in the ears of every soul that listens, “wake up to the gift that you are on this earth.”

When you listen to the video, you can hear the tone of Dirje’s cello delivering what she is describing.

There are moments, when religious or meditative practices do not reach us.  Moments where we long to be immersed in the fullness of being.  At these times, we may be moved aesthetically. Dirje’s music provides that aesthetic.

I am grateful to say, that we reached out to Dirje and she will be on The Levins’ next recording.

May we come into a greater equality within, so that we can finally reach the summit of our humanity.

www.Dirje.com

www.Thegratefulcellist.com   

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.

 

Beyond Belief

 

“Don’t belong to anything. Don’t belong to anyone. Just Be. Feel your Being first and foremost, and don’t compare or compete. Just Be your Being.” ~ Mooji

holding-space_hug-2

I have had the good fortune of having an ongoing dialogue with friends throughout the years who cut through whatever I may be espousing in terms of beliefs and are willing to throw down or splash around in the stream to get at what is really going on.

As we get older, it becomes easier to get lodged into a belief system and become stiff. I believe this is because we find a way to deal with what is coming down the pipe and we want that cushion to keep us protected.

My good friend Leyna recently sent me an Uplift article about what it really means to hold space for someone else.  It is a great article that reminds me to give those around me space without wanting them to take up my point of view.   It talks about allowing them to have their own take and feelings on life, without overloading them, judging them or asserting my ego into whatever is going on for them.

Leyna once said that she believed there were 613 commandments in the Torah, not so that we would follow each one to the letter of the law, but to get us to reach higher than we would have.  Sometimes if the bar is raised really high, it inspires us to stretch or jump up.

The article of holding space is not something we may be able or willing to do completely; it is a reminder that we can always open more, be more allowing of what is.

Leyna and I have often discussed the concept of “being positive”.

Leyna: “My process could be seen as “being negative” to say “negative” things – because fears and disappointments can be interpreted that way – but I see it as a positive process because as long as I don’t let fear have a home inside of me, it pushes me to move on and succeed. I did not prevail despite voicing my fears, disappointments, anger and doubts. I prevailed because of voicing them with as much courage and confidence I could to not run away from it, sugarcoat it or try to paint it into something it was not. This has been my way and it has worked for me.”

Surely as the old proverb says, “A sorrow shared is half a sorrow.” Leyna’s method of courageously looking at what is and refusing to run away from it, sugar coat it and most importantly, not be defeated by it, allows her to move continents.

The totality of our being, is the totality of being itself.  For me, that means that trying to adhere to any particular stance or view of ourselves is restrictive.  We choose limits to gain a measure of comfort and peace.  Everything comes and goes but what remains is the life within us.

I have certainly been guilty of overloading my point of view onto others and judging them for theirs.  That is not my defining point. As Leyna suggested, it’s what we let make a home within in us that sticks.  We can be motivated by everything coming through our ‘house’.

May your process be glorious.

holding-space_circle-1

 

Grateful for the Love Revolution

“Until we learn to love ourselves, we create space in our lives to manifest all these things to justify why we have no time to love ourselves. “ – Matt Khan

sharonsalzberg

Last week Julia and I went to see Sharon Salzberg, who talked about the power of meditation.  She said the key was “give yourself the compassion to start over a thousand times in one sitting when your mind wanders, to lovingly bring it back.”  She talked about focusing on your breath while directing loving-kindness towards yourself.  In her book Real Happiness, she uses Linda Stone’s term “Continuous Partial Attention”. This refers to our not wanting to miss out on anything…so we are on our phones, texting, checking Facebook, remaining busy which creates an “artificial sense of constant crisis, of living in a 24/7, always-on world.”

Taking time to check in and be with ourselves beyond the list of things that must be done allows for the inner space to merge with our external reality.

Julia and I were playing at the NY Center for Spiritual Living this weekend and the talk focused on “deciding to be grateful on the days we really don’t want to be.”  The prompt was to write down what is making us unwilling to be grateful, allowing it to be there and still finding things to be grateful for.

At the end of the service, a young woman, who was smiling and beaming at us while we sang, stood up with something to share. Months ago, she said she had purchased three of our CDs because she was pregnant and wanted to play something beautiful for her baby to hear.  Sadly, months into her pregnancy she had a miscarriage.  The music she initially bought for positive reinforcement suddenly became music that she turned to for healing.  The song she especially bonded with was a song from our Hafiz album, “The Sun Never Says” (The sun never says to the earth: “You owe me.”  Look what you can do with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.”) She said that when she miscarried, she continued to play the song to nurture and remain connected to her child and to the beauty that surrounds her.

This woman was radiant in her gratitude as she stood in front of everyone and shared this …and it broke us open.  I thought that it was certainly Hafiz that had reached and sustained her but how many signs do we need on a daily basis to remind us to be grateful and loving?

My friend Angie turned me onto Matt Khan, who is the Jack Black of enlightenment.  Matt has a video called Love Revolution and he says:

“You are the one who can rewrite your brain chemistry and all you have to do is love your heart on a regular basis. Relentlessly.  When you love your own heart, you are loving all hearts simultaneously. Transform reality inside out.

We want heaven on earth we sit around waiting for, “Ok who’s going to do it? There’s billions of people on the planet, anyone want a crack at it? I’ll cheer you on.”  No, we’re going to build this thing together. Together but individually.

…Creating new patterns in your subconscious mind by making “I love you” the most popular thing you say to yourself.  And you become the safest person for you to be around. Because the magic is when you become the safest person for you to be around you will never feel unsafe around another person because you will always be there with you.”

Matt Khan- Love Revolution:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFS84Jp1qfc

Matt Khan Love that

Julia noted that the Love Revolution reminds us like Sharon Salzberg, that it comes round again and again so we can give ourselves the compassionate permission to start a thousand times in one sitting; to love ourselves again and again when we get drawn into “Continuous Partial Attention”.

Let me say sincerely that I am so grateful for you.  As hard as it is to bring back our attention to loving ourselves, may we all succeed and radiate our beauty fully.

Flying the Tricolour of compassion

World of Peace ParisFriday night’s attacks in Paris reached Julia and I while we were at a music conference with our community of musicians and promoters.  Heartache and shock mingled with the fear that makes you want to lock yourself away.  One of the DJs who informed us what had happened also told us that she lives in Boston and had just been talking to a completely segregated high school of black students.  When she discussed the Civil rights movement with them, the students could not get their heads around white people risking their lives so black people could vote or white people wanting to help them at all since they are still experiencing such complete segregation.  In the middle of the country, there is a woman who works for Black Lives Matter who was recently sent death threats by the kkk. She is being targeted because she has adopted black children.  One of her friends came and got the children without hesitation.  This DJ explained to the children in Boston that the kkk was a gang.  A gang of white people with the same mentality as the Bloods and the Crips.  She told them to remember that if they were being recruited by one of the gangs in town that the gang, like the klan and other terrorist groups, would be about violence and would be asking them to perpetrate violence for the sake of violence.

My friend Drake once said that with great light comes a great shadow.  Recently, we have seen a shift in society with marriage equality and the confederate flag being taken down from the state capital of South Carolina.  This backlash is part of the shadow created by the light of our desire to become more human.

We can cower before the shadow or we can refuse to be bullied and light up the globe from so many angles, the shadows get smaller.  Seeing world monuments and people’s Facebook profile pictures flying the Tricolour in support of Paris shows me that we are still human and care for one another.  It becomes all too easy to have a militaristic response and paint one another the role of the enemy.  This is about an individual choice to be non-violent and more loving in our personal interactions.  It is a time to uphold our friendships.  Refuse to forgo your joy but feel it intensely and send it out into the shadows.

Liberty, equality, fraternity (and sorority baby)

360 degrees around Harper Lee

Last week I finished reading Harper Lee’s prequel sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird which is called Go, Set a Watchman. (It is a sequel but was written before her famous, award winning novel.) For a good ten years, Julia and I religiously watched To Kill a Mockingbird to remind ourselves what it means to be human. For me, that is nearly a perfect movie and it stirs not only my emotions but my conscience. 
Julia and I went on the first day the new book was released and bought it from the local bookstore which is happily called Pickwick’s.  We remembered being at Pendragon books in Oakland, CA at midnight to get the last of the Harry Potter books.  Pendragon was packed and there was an excitement and comradery in the air.  There will be very few times in our lives now where being in bookstore for the release of a physical book will be an event.
There has been a lot of controversy and criticism of Harper Lee’s new book and I did my best not read or listen to it before I read it myself.  I was worried that Atticus Finch, who said,  “I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you,” would be dethroned as a literary God of justice and stalwart humanitarian. Harper Lee manages to find her own conviction as a young woman and upholds what Atticus has taught her.  But this book is about understanding what it means to be fully human. 
My father taught me when I was a child to walk three hundred and sixty degrees around a person’s point of view.  When I was a teenager, I would come home ranting as if I was a sixties radical and my father would sigh and do his best to help me walk around the additional hundred and eighty degrees. 
There is a way to protest injustice while remaining compassionate and being empathetic to our own shortcomings. 
Here is one of my favorite protests:
One man with a Sousaphone ruins an entire KKK march
by providing them with a silly soundtrack.
Here’s to the prankster that is able to lighten the load of our collective folly.
Here’s to merging our conviction with a loving heart.

The benefits of sadness

Every hurt that is held collects within us. That part of us becomes cynical and critical of all help; suspicious of anything that is not known, that could fool us into further pain.  There is too much at stake to gamble on healing, so we keep a separate side to wait, to guard, to watch.  Still, we can bring ourselves vigilance and validate the protection we offer while slipping ourselves some nourishment and cheer.  Unification is not homogenization, but a balance.

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Julia and I made it home.  It was a successful trip seeing family and staying with friends including Matt Brady, multimedia producer, designer & artist, the perfect person to go see Pixar’s new film Inside Out with.  To say that we were emotionally moved is in line with the movie’s aim but our emotions experienced a paradigm shift. Not only were we grateful and proud of Pixar for making this intergenerational film but they have given us a tool for viewing ourselves in action. Without giving the plot away, we were amazed to see how they handled the relationship between joy and sadness and the role sadness plays in our lives.  h

I for one, as you know, am a huge advocate for joy.  One of the silent prayers I love to offer up calls for the end of all suffering. However, since we are all in the midst of great suffering both directly and indirectly, sadness plays a vital role in the release of our authentic tenderness and compassion.  It expands and connects us to one another.

In Judaism, when someone dies, we sit shiva, it is a period of up to seven days where the family does not go to work but stops the normal routine to open their home to friends and family to receive condolence calls. Traditionally, the person(s) sat on low stools or boxes, to be literally brought low so they could fully grieve the dead and receive relief from the love of the living.  Without this process, or one in which our sadness is validated and expressed, there can be a psychological and spiritual whiplash. This process also allows us to take stock in the community we may have forgotten and gives them the opportunity to be present with the love in their lives.

Ironically in Hinduism, Shiva is an aspect of God that is both the destroyer and transformer, which relates to our sadness destroying what we are holding on to too tightly so that we can transform this moment into bliss.

In Buddhism, bohicitta is the noble heart that breaks open with the recognition that you are not separate from those who are currently suffering. Toglen is the practice of breathing in their pain and breathing out relief for them as well as breathing in joy and sending it out to everyone.

Mother Teresa as well as the nuns that the show Call the Midwife, are based on, funneled their sadness into actively alleviating the suffering of others around them.

May our sadness be mingled with joy so that we are fully and most authentically here.

Love you, Ira