Tag Archives: Peace

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.

 

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.
 

 

Stream of Light 8-13-14

 Smile.  In an instant we can shift out of so many thoughts that serve to damage our momentum, like pot holes in the road.  Sickness is something that results from being disconnected from our source on some level.  It may bring those around us closer or it may bring us a calmer or deeper perspective but it is not the intended state of being.  Being at peace with where we are sometimes means recognizing that we are not our sickness, it does not define us.Knowing that we are light years away from the image we hold of ourselves while we are sick is the same as the smallest particle of energy being animated as if by remote control.  We are here and we are also safe and whole within and without.  The seeming paradox is explained by knowing that all things are connected and that seperation is an illusion. Focus on your blood rushing through your veins and your cells dancing and your heart beating and fathom the intricate balence of everything that occurs within a single breath.  Be at peace and smile.  This is not a denial of what is but a means to return.