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Summer comes to Indiana

Summer comes to my homeland. So do I.

Green that spreads so far it feels like it will never end. That’s summer in the midwest, when the rains are plentiful.
Row upon row of plants, field upon field of crops, hay, grazing land.
Barns. Farmhouses. County roads.
Cities that emerge from the farmland, guarded by outlet malls and fast food, strip malls, suburbs. The clover leaf of interchanges. The cities built for cars.

My grandmother is 94 and I am staying with her. I love her dearly. I’ve spent so many years learning about our recent family history and her childhood, but I’ve never learned much from her about her family’s history. I ask her where our ancestors came from – what country in Europe? She doesn’t know. She doesn’t remember ever learning. She suggests I ask my Uncle Joe. I know that her family came from the British Isles, more or less. But it makes me sad that she doesn’t know. We should know where our ancestors came from. We should know who the original people were who lived in the hills of my great grandparents in what is now the state of Kentucky. We should know where we came from and who we took from to get there.

On Friday I drive to Detroit, arrive at Allied Media Conference and attend a Healing Circle for Orlando. I feel the grief wash through me, in this beautiful space led by beautiful queer, black and brown people. This is important.

I visit Linda and she holds a mirror up for me of my own exhaustion, of how much my soul and my body has gone through this spring. She holds me in a gentle embrace and together through creativity and collaboration we create a space for me to heal. This, too, is important.

I return to writing, the need to write, to try and make sense of things. Maybe there’s no need to make sense of things, maybe I just need to dig my hands into the earth.

I look at the photo I took from the plane window as I flew into Indianapolis. To fly so easily! How many more years will this last? Surely not many.
I look at the photo and I see can see beauty in the lines, in the shapes, in the green. But it’s wrong. This isn’t how we should live on god’s green earth. She wants more from us than this. I want more from us than this.

This spring a vision came to me and told me that it’s okay to shed my skin. That the old skin serves a purpose, and it helps usher in the new. What is the new skin we’re forming, under the shells of the old? Because the task before us is nothing less than this – to take the structures of human society and rework them in service of this fundamental truth:  All life is sacred. IMG_9464

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Distractions, Threats & Little Birds

Today I tried so hard to do good work. I really did. But I couldn’t vanquish the demons of distraction. The endless checking of email with no real momentum. The vacuum of social media, Pavlov’s red notification button. It’s not that I don’t have important work to do. I do. The list is long. But I’m scared. Scared of getting it wrong. Scared I won’t get it done. Distracted by so many different words, most of them not mine, coming at me from a zillion directions. Confused by conflicting desires. Uncertain. Unsure.

The smartest thing I did today was leave my computer early, to sit in the park a little before my next meeting. It didn’t feel smart to get a pastry but I did. A rich buttery croissant. I sat on the roots of a thick tree and resolved that I would do this act, at least, mindfully. I put away my phone. I smelled the croissant. I felt it on my skin. I ate my first bite. Enjoying the flavor, the texture. Realizing how, eating in this manner, I would have little need to eat the whole thing. And then I noticed the birds.

Pigeons, mostly, and wrens and starlings, they were all attracted by the sounds of the bag, the crumbs. New York City birds are such expert scavengers. I broke a bit of the croissant off and tossed them, attracting even more birds to me. For the next 15 minutes I delighted in the presence of these creatures, darting so skillfully to capture their prizes. I noted the differences between them, stark and subtle. The rainbow of colors on the starling feathers, the pigeon who was shivering, another with a wire stuck to his foot. As we finished the croissant they lost interest and moved on. A bold little wren was one of the last, coming close for the crumbs just under my lap. In this time of communing with the birds I felt more alive than all my hours on my computer earlier today. I noted that observation, and felt into it.

Then I noticed a man coming into my space, an energetic shift, a fleeing of the birds. Tall, broad-chested & muscular, of indeterminate age and background. At first I thought he might be suffering from a mental illness, and perhaps he was, but mostly he just felt menacing. He walked past me, just a few feet away, and growled “cover up” and other threats I couldn’t quite discern. Who was he talking to? Himself? I looked around and realized he was speaking to me, and his words were effective, because I immediately wondered if my bare legs were somehow exposing more than they should. They weren’t, but that hardly mattered. The intensity of his hatred was palpable. It was beside the point to assess its validity.

To move through the world is so complicated, isn’t it? As I write this sentence I think about how much sad news there has been in the US the past few weeks simply related to that — how many people face incredible struggles to move through the world just as they are. For so many women near and far it is much more of a challenge than my general experience has been. And yet I’ve spent time doing deep work with women with much different experiences than me. I remember interviewing Burmese refugees living in the poor suburbs of New Dehli, facing constant threats, harassment, abuse and violence every time they stepped through their doors. For three years I worked with women in Haiti who lead networks of rape survivors, women with incredible stories at which I could only marvel. But on a day to day basis, I don’t personally feel unsafe moving through the world as a woman. I know this is due to many factors, including my white skin, cisgender status, perceived sexual orientation, class, etc. And perhaps it’s due to more subtle things as well. I’m not a petite person, and growing up with brothers taught me how to defend myself. I feel comfortable traveling to new places and walking streets at night. Learning journalism and doing international work at a young age how to connect with people very different than I am. Much of the time when I receive unwanted male attention (sexual or not) all this privilege allows me to find creative ways to engage and shift dynamics.

But most of all, I think the reason I’m generally unafraid to walk through the world as a woman is this: I’ve simply been really lucky. And that makes me feel sad, to think that sexual and gender-based violence is so normalized, such an entrenched part of society that my general lack of fear can be attributed to luck rather than the right all people should have to not live in fear of violence or attack for some basic aspect of their identity.

I wish that for the world. And today I was given the smallest dose of a reminder of what happens when one feels endangered for something over which they have no control. In my case, today it was being a woman wearing a dress sitting in a park, when an aggressive man came to threaten and growl at me to “cover up.” Even as I write that I feel an instinctual shame, as though maybe, just maybe, he was in the right and I was in the wrong, for daring to sit by myself in a dress in the park. I know that’s crazy, which is also how I know how deeply this stuff goes, that I should feel shame for something I had 100% the right to do.

Normally, I might have ignored him. Not today. Oh I wanted to fight back, to challenge him, to show him he couldn’t intimidate or scare me. I wanted to stop him in his tracks, to end his behavior. Or simply pretend he didn’t exist. But instinct kicked in and I knew neither option was safe. He was so close to me and his large body so tense — it was like he was waiting to spring. I knew better than to give him a reason. I gathered my things, stood and walked away from the man and the tree, straight ahead to a woman who had been watching with concern. We spoke, and then I walked on. I looked over my shoulder, to make sure he hadn’t followed. I wasn’t panicking, and I wasn’t behaving irrationally. I was taking steps to protect myself. And as I walked away from that area of the park, I reflected on how easily he could have hurt me. Inside him was a rage like a caged animal, cruel and snarling. How sad.

Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know, it’s just what I experienced today. Deep communion with the birds. A quick reaction and escape from a dangerous situation. The chance to reflect on the larger threats people face while writing this piece. Stepping out of the sisyphusian cycle of digital communications into the face-to-face richness and complexities of a 4×4 foot patch of grass in Central Park.

(cross-posted from Medium.com)

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Reasons why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders in the California Primary

Tomorrow, June 7th, Californians will go to the polls to vote in one of the final primaries of what has been at times exciting, at times infuriating and an all-together unpredictable primary season. I’m not generally one to wear my political preferences on my sleeve, but in this primary we have a real choice, and I haven’t seen my reasons for supporting Senator Sanders fully reflected in media coverage of the race. For my own posterity as much as anything else, this is my attempt to comprehensively outline my own reasons for supporting Bernie. Some will be familiar to anyone who’s been following the election. Some are perhaps more unique — issues I care deeply about, like the lives of people in Mali and Haiti — that have been hardly touched by mainstream news outlets.

Why am I voting for Bernie Sanders?

1. For the climate & future generations.

Planet earth — our mother and our only home — is suffering on a level unknown in human history, and for the first time this suffering is due in large part to human activity. Since I was a little girl I could not understand how adults — namely those in power — could continue to prioritize short-term economic gain over the future of life on the planet. It seemed the definition of insanity, and the injustice of it is one of the driving forces in my life and in my work.

Now we are beginning to experience the effects of climate change, and more and more people are calling for a shift. Yet Bernie Sanders is one of only a few elected officials in this country willing to advocate for the full measures necessary to ensure the future of life on this planet. From banning fracking to supporting a transition to renewable energy, Bernie’s environmental policy is the number one reason I will vote for him.

2. Because I am voting FOR, not AGAINST.

Bernie is a candidate I believe in. And I’m not alone. He’s engaged a huge movement of people — across economic, ethnic, religious, gender and age lines. He’s inspired us by standing FOR something, for a future that we all can be a part of, rather than playing the tired game of being better than the alternative. For too long Democrats have pandered to minorities and women rather than boldly standing for what we need to have a thriving society. Bernie’s policies from healthcare to education to immigration represent what I want to see coming from the executive office. People argue that his ideas are unrealistic, but history shows that every change worth fighting for seemed impossible until it wasn’t. From the abolition of slavery to the New Deal to the Civil Rights Act to Obama’s presidency, none of those things seemed possible, until enough people worked to make them a reality. Bernie Sanders isn’t running because he’s a man who can make those things a reality, he’s running because he recognizes that there is a huge movement of people who TOGETHER can make real change a reality. We’re in a time of great change and one thing that is clear from the primaries & caucuses of the past few months is that the status quo will not hold. I’m voting for the candidate who has articulated the best vision of how we can all work together for something better.

3. Because Neoliberal policies have failed us & we need to build an alternative. Now.

From international trade agreements which have trampled our human and environmental rights to corporate tax evasion and devastating income inequality, even the International Monetary Fund is beginning to recognizethat neoliberal policies have failed us. Bernie’s platform advocates for sane and practical changes we can make to our economic system to return public goods to public control. These are policies that will benefit working families, small business owners, students and society as a whole.

4. Because Bernie is the strongest candidate to stand against Donald Trump in the general election.

Poll after poll, Bernie Sanders is the strongest candidate to oppose Donald Trump in the fall election. The reasons are many, but at the core of it, Donald Trump is a candidate who is uniquely poised to attack Clinton’s weaknesses, while Trump’s weaknesses play directly to Bernie’s strengths. In my estimation this article from Current Affairs does the best job of summarizing.

5. Because Bernie stands up for voices that are marginalized & ignored, not because he has to, but because he knows they matter.

He may not always get it right, but I have seen Bernie as a politician and a candidate to be deeply committed to racial justice, healing and reconciliation. I don’t forget his missteps at Netroots Nation, but I also see the way he has learned from making mistakes, and the way he has truly listened to constituents. He also listens to young people — and I don’t take that for granted. Across the board I’ve seen him truly committed to diverse voices and honoring the best of our differences, rather than exploiting them for cheap political gain (here I am not referring to his Democratic opponent, but to some other candidates you may have seen the media occasionally cover, once or twice). I believe Bernie firmly advocates for working class people of all ethnicities as well as specifically for African-American and Latino populations. As all Democrats should — because without them, they will never win an election. But Bernie has also taken the time and effort to significantly amplify the voices of groups of people who are even more marginalized in US society, groups of people who do not have the numbers to ever win an election for any candidate, particularly in a National race. I’ve always believed that people’s voices count no matter how big and powerful their constituency. From Muslim-Americans to convicted felons, Bernie Sanders has advocated for marginalized groups not because they can win him votes, but because it is the right and just thing to do.

6. Because Bernie is calling to honor the treaties and respect the sovereign rights of Native Americans.

According to the 2010 US census, Native Americans represented less than 1% (.09%) of the US population. Their population is too small to be a voting bloc. They will never deliver an election for a candidate. And yet here is Bernie Sanders, holding a community meeting at Pine Ridge Reservation.Making a passionate call for justice for Native Americans in Navajo Country.Appointing Native American activist and former Tulalip Tribes Vice Chair Deborah Parker to the Democratic Platform Committee. Most importantly, he is promising to honor the treaties and respect the sovereign rights of American Indian nations.

7. Because we desperately need a new approach to foreign policy.

My university degree is in international relations. I have lived and/or worked on five continents. I run a nonprofit organization (which does not take political stances and in no way is connected to this personal piece) that works across international borders with grassroots human rights activists. I have seen firsthand the ways in which US foreign policy devastates and literally destroys the lives of people living in other countries. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, I respect Secretary Clinton as a leader, but I cannot condone the results of the policies she implemented at the State Department, nor can I stay silent about their impact. I am not an isolationist, but the more I have done work in the world the more I have become convinced that we best serve the people of the planet — who truly are our global family — when we address political, social and economic injustice in our home country. In my opinion Bernie Sander’s approach to foreign policy is one of his greatest strengths, not weaknesses, and a Sanders presidency is the one that all my study and experience tells me would have the greatest impact on people all over the world. We need a president who will turn away from our failed policies of regime change. Below are just a few of the reasons why.

Exhibit A: Iraq War

I would write more, but more than 10 years since the fateful invasion I still feel devastated and betrayed by all the politicians who voted to authorize what has been a terrible war of horrible and ongoing consequences. Bernie was against the war when it was not popular, but it was right. Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement of Bernie says it all.

Exhibit B: Haiti

Haiti is a country I care deeply about and know intimately. And Haiti is a country that has suffered from US meddling and support of capitalist interests over the lives of Haitians since the Haitian revolution. Unfortunately this trend continued during Bill Clinton’s presidency and Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State. I do genuinely believe that the Clintons care deeply about Haiti and had the best of intentions, according to their worldview. But I disagree vehemently with the way the US State Department interfered with Democracy in Haiti, and the consequences for average Haitians have been devastating. As journalist Jonathan Katz said in regards to Secretary Clinton’s disastrous policies in Haiti:

By now I’d imagine she was expecting to constantly be pointing to Haiti on the campaign trail as one of the great successes of her diplomatic career. Instead it’s one of her biggest disappointments by nearly any measure, with the wreckage of the Martelly administration she played a larger role than anyone in installing being the biggest and latest example.

By opposing privatization efforts & trade agreements that supersede human rights and national sovereignty, by addressing climate change at home and focusing away from regime change abroad, Senator Sanders will do much more for people who are suffering in Haiti and elsewhere.

Exhibit C: Libya & its aftereffects — including the coup in Mali

In 2012 there was a military coup d’etat in Mali, which overthrew the democratically elected president and has resulted in years of conflict, struggle and pain for the local people. This coup was a direct result of US intervention in Libya, which has been a disaster on many fronts. To me the coup in Mali was personally heartbreaking, because I lived there as an undergraduate and know firsthand how much my friends and host family have suffered. To me what happened in Mali is a reminder of the law of unintended consequences, and how critically important it is to shift away from a foreign policy of regime change.

Exhibit D: Honduras

In 2009 there was a military coup in Honduras, one which has had devastating consequences on the country and been one of many factors that have led to large numbers of young people fleeing violence in Central America and seeking refugee in the US. The coup was widely condemned by the international community but tacitly supported by the US State Department, resulting in widespread human rights abuses and the weakening of democratic institutions. Once again, this event has had long-term consequences, including the murder of environmental activist Berta Carceras this March, who was listed under threat of murder since the coup in 2009 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. When I look at Berta’s picture and hear her story, I am reminded of so many indigenous activists with whom I work in Latin America. All face threats I cannot imagine, and the US’s influence in either forcing governments to honor their rights or turning a blind eye to official and paramilitary violence cannot be understated.

8. Because Bernie proves you don’t need corporate financing to win.

How will we break the hold that corporate interests and Citizens United have on our democracy? By electing candidates like Bernie and the many congressional candidates who are allied with him who are running on small dollar donations that they are able to command because they have a message and platform that people believe in. A quote from Senator Sanders himself, from his Rolling Stone interview:

“We have to deal with the way that the party raises money. … We have proven in this campaign, having received 7.6 million individual campaign contributions, more than any candidate in history at this point, it can be done. Last night, we were in Sacramento. We had 16,000 people, OK? How many Democrats are out there talking to thousands of people as opposed to being at some rich guy’s house talking to 10 people and walking out with $30,000? This has got to be the goal: to communicate with people, bring people into a political movement.”

9. Because the US prison system is one of the greatest human rights travesties in the world, and we need to dismantle the prison industrial complex.

Mass incarceration is one of the greatest human rights issues of our time. To dismantle it will take serious effort and vision, and Bernie’s policies are off to the right start — beginning with decriminalizing marijuana and taking on the for-profit prison industry. Last week the Sanders campaign released this moving video that profiles why we need so desperately to change this system.

10. Because Bernie brings out the best in people. Bernie brings people together.

I’ve seen this firsthand. Deep kindness at rallies. Unlikely alliances. I’ve seen white rural voters stand next to urban Latinos, I’ve seen Bernie introduced by transgender activists. By formerly-Republican small business owners. In an election season when Trump is gaining traction by playing on people’s fears, Bernie is his opposite — fueling his candidacy on calls to all of us to be our best selves, and showing it’s possible by leading by example. I can’t wait to vote for someone who represents the many.

(Cross-posted on medium.com)

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True Power

Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.
– Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching – verse 33
translation by Stephen Mitchell
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MayDay 2015: Reckoning

I was always struck by the fact that May 1st, May Day, is pronounced the same as Mayday, the international distress call.

May Day. May Pole. International Worker’s Day. Beltane, ancient gaelic celebration of summer and fire. Light, flower, dances around the May Pole.

Mayday. M’aidez. SOS. Distress. Mayday Mayday Mayday. Three times it is repeated to signal life-threatening emergencies. Making a false Mayday call to the US Coast Guard can result in 6 years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000.

Speaking metaphorically, when is it appropriate to send out a distress call? When your ship is sinking? When your house is on fire? When your children are being killed in the streets?

Is it appropriate to send out a distress call when you are working 60 hours a week for dollars a day? Threatened with deportation, destitute or detained? What insidious force convinces us that pervasive and systemic injustice and inequality are not “urgent” simply because they have lasted hundreds of years? Who gets to decide what is life-threatening, what constitutes an emergency?

“Mayday” became the official distress call for radio communications in 1932, when British radio officer Frederick Mockford was asked to find a word “that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency.”[1] He chose Mayday for “m’aidez”, French for “help me.”

May Day. Mayday. May Day.

Five decades before the term was coined, US workers facing deplorable conditions deemed May 1, 1886 the day by which the 8-hour workday would become standard. For the two years leading up to it, workers — mostly immigrants—orchestrated work slowdowns and protests to convince industrial titans to reduce their workload to 8-hour days without lowering their pay. That day, hundreds of thousands of workers across the US held a general strike, its epicenter in Chicago. Over the following days tensions grew. On May 3, police fired onto a crowd. The next day, a homemade bomb was fired back at police, and later 8 activists and self-identified anarchists— none of whom had launched the bomb, some who weren’t even there — were found guilty, and 4 were hanged. They became martyrs, sparking international outrage and prompting May Day to forever be linked to labor movements, and chosen as International Workers Day. [2]

Mayday. May Day. Mayday.

At the time of the Haymarket Affair, “mayday” wasn’t a term that yet meant anything. But what was being cried out in the streets, in the factories, in the shipyards and union halls if not distress, a cry for help, a Mayday?

Mayday Mayday Mayday. Isn’t this the cry that folks in the US, as a nation, are starting to hear and respond to as systemic violence and racial injustice — baked into our society from the beginning — are being increasingly recognized and challenged? People march in the streets to say #Blacklivesmatter. #HandsUpDon’tShoot. #WeCan’tBreathe. Mayday, goddammit! Enough is enough.

And so here we are at May Day 2015, 129 years after the Haymarket affair. Mourning Freddie Gray, a young man who committed the crime of being young, male and black, and paid for it with his life. Rage and grief fill the streets, for Freddie, for so many others, known and unknown. The most extreme cases of police brutality garner extra attention, and yet we know these are but symptoms of a broader society that values some lives more than others — to the detriment of all of our souls.

May Day, 2015. Unionized longshoreman and other port workers collaborate with anti-racist activists to march from the Port of Oakland to City Hall. In Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, [3] newly-elected prosecutor for the city of Baltimore announces the prosecution of the six officers linked with Freddie Gray’s death.

“To the people of Baltimore and demonstrators across America, I heard your call for, ‘No justice, no peace’. Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”

“To the youth of this city: I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.”

Mayday. When a distress call has been issued because a system has collapsed under the weight of its own hypocrisy, what is the appropriate response? When a Mayday signal indicates we’re all in it together in a life-threatening emergency, how can we collaborate to save ourselves?

There is no Coast Guard who can rescue us in this emergency. It will take us — all of us- to change the status quo, because change grows from the ground up. And yet, it can be represented in higher places, and it feels hopeful to me that on this May Day, Mosby and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, both relatively newly elected, young Black women, made public statements that directly addressed the popular uprising calling for justice across the country. Following Mosby’s public announcement of the charges, Rawlings-Blake made it clear:

“There will be justice for Mr. Gray, there will be justice for his family and there will be justice for the city of Baltimore.”

May Day 2015. I walk to downtown Oakland in the afternoon, and attend the First Friday artwalk in the evening, a glorious gathering of Oakland’s diverse community. Protesters march through; some continue on to Broadway’s Auto Row, where they smash windshields and windows in a few car dealerships. I walk home shortly after, past the broken glass, past police officers in riot gear. Property destruction. This behavior is the kind that gets condemned by so many ordinary citizens and media outlets, and I understand that. Broken windows don’t bring back the dead. They don’t dismantle inequitable power structures. They arguably increase animosity by feeding it. But I can understand why someone might break a window, smash a bank logo, rage against status quo. Because when I look at those broken windshields and think about Freddie Gray’s broken spine, I feel something breaking in my heart. Who am I to judge those who would rather break a window than face the brokenheartedness of a system that so consistently pits working class people against one another? And just how broken is a system that prioritizes protecting private property over people’s lives? Most importantly, what can and will I do to contribute towards a more just community?

May Day. May Day. May Day. Not just strikes and protests. May Day of ancient rites, a dance of masculine and feminine, the power of summer sun and the fecundity reached by the end of spring.

Mayday Mayday Mayday. Even as we celebrate a new season, can we take a step back and look at the global picture. From a species-wide perspective, isn’t it about time we issue a distress call? Or listen to the ones that have already been issued, about carbon levels in the atmosphere, acidifying oceans, species collapse, and so on? Does a distress call cease to matter when it goes unacknowledged?

It’s easy to think like that, to hurdle headfirst down that cynical path. But I know the true story is much bigger than that, because I know so many people who have heard the distress call, the SOS, the Mayday regarding our global ecosystem, and are responding to the call, each in their own individual, critical and necessary way.

Labor advocate August Spies was on stage after giving a speech when the bomb went off in Haymarket Square, May 4 1886. He was found guilty for conspiracy to commit murder. These were his last words before he was hung:

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

So, too, the silence of those killed by police brutality is being heard and reverberated a thousand times over. I don’t know what happens next. I know that there are forces bigger than us as individuals at play. The drama of human affairs, the quest we are all on to find meaning in our lives and a contribute to a society we can believe in … all of these are at play this May Day.

Mayday, May Day, Mayday. May we all find the courage to recognize valid calls of distress and respond to them with all the creativity and compassion we can muster — which is to say all the creativity, compassion and courage we’ve always had in us all along.

cross-posted on Medium

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Going deep

Make some tea.
Bring it into the meditation space.
Sit in a circle. Open the chocolate. Have an orange.
Read a taoist poem.
Share six ground rules. Breathe deeply. Begin.

Tonight was a merging of two of my worlds – dreamwork with my housemates, and dreamwork with friends from across the country part of the Web of Change community. For two hours we held space together to share deeply, tap into the wisdom of our dreams, and specifically work with a recent dream from one of the members of the group.

In North American culture we are told to “follow our dreams,” but how often do we really pay attention to what our dreams tell us, not to mention work with them enough to understand where they might lead us?

Although I’ve always had a relationship with my dreams, in recent years that relationship has become one of the most important in my life. Inspired by the way indigenous cultures work with dreams, and grateful to key pivot points when dreams have helped me navigate tough situations, I’ve made a commitment to recording all the dreams I can remember. Doing so builds my dreaming muscle, and I now average remembering at least one dream a night.

I’ve also learned that dreams serve us best when they are shared. Sharing our dreams – the ones we have at night – helps us gain new insights from them, gives us the energy to do our part to help the processes present in dreams to unfold in waking life. From doing artwork (I created my first pastel painting a year ago based on a dream I had) to getting in touch with a long-lost friend, group dreamwork can be a helpful conduit to making dreams a more concrete reality.

Humans have always gathered in small communities; we evolved as a socially connected species. Working with dreams is one of the most powerful ways I’ve ever encountered to foster depth of connection, and get real with people in all their messy, complicated, wondrous glory.

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The Beloved Community

“We make the beloved community

By being the beloved community

I spent today with members of the Web of Change Community – both board members as well as fresh recruits to the leadership team (I was one of them), in a planning & work session focused on how to make the Web of Change gathering at Esalen in October Web of Change’s best event yet. The room was full of people whose company makes me beam. There was a range of folks, from people with whom my friendship goes deep to others I was meeting for the first time.

My dear friend Sabrina, who connected me to Web of Change a few years back, kicked off the day reading a quote: “We make the beloved community by being the beloved community.” Today exemplified that for me. Not because everyone is perfect – they’re not – or that we perfectly exhibited  or even because I feel the need to be close with the 20+ people around the room today (I don’t). Today exemplified this idea because people showed up in a spirit of generosity, ready to roll up their sleeves and work with one another for something larger than themselves.

The beloved community is a concept Martin Luther King Jr amplified through his philosophy. The beloved community is not the faraway kingdom of heaven, as far from our daily reality as the prospect of getting wings. No, the beloved community is available to us, in the here and now. It is when and wherever people gather to treat one another with deep love and respect. In the beloved community we behave as though we are not wounded and weary, but instead expansive and open. The beloved community is wherever people have gathered in consciousness, wherever conflict is addressed through dialogue, where force is neutralized rather than amplified.

Today I had a lot of good conversations about the metaphor of compost … compost is the rich soil from which we can grow fruit, vegetables, flowers. But it starts out as garbage, as junk, as rotting produce, wet leaves, discarded foodstuffs. After time, all this trash becomes compost, rich black topsoil.

So it is with our negative and challenging emotions. When we discard them, we junk up the larger landscape. When we compost them internally, they become the rich soil from which new blossoms grown.

When I first began studying King’s work more than a decade ago, one of the most radical and important ideas I learned about the beloved community was this one: To behave as though we are already part of the beloved community, not that it is a distant future far away. When I take an honest look inside myself at how well I measure up to this ideal, I recognize there is a long way to go. But the learning opportunities along the way are seemingly inevitable. And every time I fall shy of my goal, I can recognize those negative emotions as going into the compost from which my garden will eventually grow. I’m grateful for days like today, when I am able to physically and in person connect me with folks who are so dear to me. In their presence, I feel the warm beating pulse of the Beloved Community emerging through us.

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

– Martin Luther King Jr

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The End. The Beginning. The Cycle Goes On.

After blogging for 31 days, one thing is clear to me: There is no better time than now for us to do the things we dream of. When the desire to create overcomes the fears that hold us back, we are propelled into new territory. Like driving from a darkened forest into a sunny meadow, from a raincloud into clear skies, when we make a commitment and begin to act upon it, we find ourselves changed. The path is made clearer, and we find ourselves accelerating sooner than anticipated.

For me this post represents the completion of one project, and therefore the beginning of many more. This post is a letter of love and gratitude for the sources of inspiration behind it, and it is an opportunity to highlight many projects which might inspire others in their wake. This post is my offering to the sun and moon as they dance their dance across the sky. This post is my encouragement to you, whoever and wherever you are, to start something, whatever it is, to work on something, to give back to the world the gift of your creative devotion, to learn from it, to grow.

On the Moon Cycle blogging project

Friday, March 20, 2015. New moon, supermoon, solar eclipse, spring equinox.

At 3:30 this morning, as the sun was still being eclipsed by the moon over the Arctic, a truck caught on fire in the lot down the block from my house. I was awaking from a dream when I heard a strange alarm that sounded like a trombone, before the more familiar sound of a fire engine joined the soundscape. I watched from my window as a fireman hosed down the fire. Eclipses bring fiery energy.

The new moon represents the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The equinox represents the end of one season – winter – and the beginning of another – spring. This new moon represents the end of this experiment for me – can I write a blog post every day? and the beginning of a new one – how do I integrate the writing habits I have built over the past month? Although January 1 may mark the start of the calendar year, in many cultures spring is considered the beginning. It is certainly a time when the intentions we set at the beginning of the year (call them resolutions, goals, what have you) begin to sprout. They ought not to have fully blossomed yet, but they are tender seedlings, and the extra sun of springtime will help them grow. Our intentions for the year are meant to be lived on a year’s scale, but spring represents the moment when we begin to see that our efforts are yielding results.

How I got to this moment: Hard work but also working with the unplanned & unexpected

I entered this year with some big intentions and audacious goals. Some of them, I had no idea how they were going to happen, I just knew I had to commit to them, one way or another. One of those goals was to publish more of my writing, particularly to share more of the insights I have learned in my work around the world, and make progress on a larger piece of writing, like a book or a manuscript. I didn’t know *how* I was going to achieve this goal, I just knew that I had to commit to it.

My friend Jeremy and I talk a lot about “monkey mind,” the buddhist concept for all the voices in our heads which tell us, in a seemingly endless chatter, that we aren’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough, etc to do the things we want to do. Monkey mind takes many forms, but for me, a common one is the voice that tells me I can’t do things quite yet, I have to come up with the perfect plan for how to make something just right before I can take even the smallest action to execute my vision. With all due respect to the importance of strategy and the wisdom of planning, I’ve learned that this voice has some serious limitations. Planning and strategizing are key, but mostly because they prepare me to take action when the time is right, which often is when there is very little notice at all. In fact, that’s how this blog project itself came about.

Knowing that writing was important to me but that I didn’t know how to prioritize it in the context of my current work, I spent the first few days of the year offline working on writing and intention setting. I began telling close friends about the goal. And within a couple of weeks I had found co-conspirators with whom to begin a writing support & accountability group. Within a couple weeks of that I began to have opportunities to publish blog pieces for other publications. Around the same time, a friend asked if I wanted to do a blogging challenge in February. In early February I’d be traveling in Peru and knew that wouldn’t be feasible, but I decided to say yes to the broader concept, and committed to starting something in mid-February.

I returned from Peru on February 16, intending to start my blog project then, but I had a long flight and the inspiration to write a first post didn’t come. I intended to start on the 17th, but once again, life got in the way. I realized that the 18th was a new moon and decided that my late start could be a blessing, not a curse. The idea to link my project to the moon cycle emerged and voila, here I am.

Here’s the shorter, more pointed version of the story: One of my goals this year is to make significant progress on writing, whether in the form of a book, series of articles or something else. From the vantage point of today, it’d be easy to view the past month of blogging as a smart component of a longer-term strategy to integrate writing into my busy life. But I didn’t start the year with that brilliant plan in place – it emerged organically from months years of dreaming about writing, wanting to write more, feeling frustrated for not writing, seriously doubting my ability to produce content while still running an organization, etc. But, I made a broad commitment to writing at the beginning of the year. I found a group of supportive friends who wanted to do the same, and we made a plan for weekly checkins. Soon after, I said yes to a friend who suggested we both commit to writing ~30 days. A few weeks later, I said yes to my own intuition that told me to tie the project to the cycle of the moon. And then I told lots of people what I was doing, so that when the inevitable desire to quit emerged (which, frankly, it did almost every day) the desire to save face would be stronger. And all of a sudden, here I am.

What is your own project that wants to emerge?

So, what is it that you are dreaming of doing? If there is a new habit, action or creation that wants to emerge, it’s worth noting the spring equinox is perhaps the most auspicious day of the year to begin something new. But really, you know, any day will do. We make things special by ascribing specialness to them. Is there a project you’d like to begin? What’s the smallest possible action you can take to move it forward? Can you start that today? Then take the next smallest possible action on it tomorrow? If you do that, and keep doing so day after day, just imagine where all that will add up within a month.

What happens when people say yes to the creative fire within them?

What’s cool is how many people I see effectively leveraging their internal creative fire through similar projects. I’ve watched people transform their self-confidence and inner strength through 30-day yoga challenges, commitments to meditation, Couch to 5k training programs, etc. Particularly inspiring to me at the people who create their own containers to test their limits and see what they can create. The projects below are just a few of my beautiful and amazing friends whose projects inspire me, and might inspire you.

Adventure Sandwich’s Saturday morning TV spots

Lily & Charlie are two of the most funny & creative people I know, and they are out to enrich and transform children’s television with Adventure Sandwich, a DIY live-action cartoon. Last year they spent a lot of time working on the backend of things – pitch documents, meetings, etc – so this year they decided to get their cardboard sets bustling again, and have been creating one video every single week so far this year.

Mailande Transforms Leftover Biz School Business Cards into Tiny Works of Art

Mailande bizcard

My dear friend (& daily supporter <3!) Mailande hates waste but doesn’t have much use for the pile of cards remaining from her business school days. She’s been applying her considerable talent and magic use of metallic markers to make oh-so-pretty, mini pieces of art once a day, every day, until the stack is gone. Check out the images, and the quite inspiring guidelines behind ’em.

#BlackHistoryMonthFacts

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For the past few years, an old buddy from high school, Darrell Ford, has posted FB status update every day in the month of February using the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonthFacts. Sometimes the updates are about his experiences with race, growing up Black in the Midwest. Sometimes they are about his family, his youth, his wife or ex-girlfriends. But what makes them #BlackHistoryMonthFacts is that each status is a statement about his life, whether about stereotypes he faces or his love of tacos. I’ve got a whole blog post drafted about the larger implications of this, and how moving and inspiring I find this project. But for now I’ll share something Darrell told me – that for him, the coolest part of doing this has been seeing other people take it and do something of their own with it, like the many friends of his who now do something similar for Women’s History Month. We are a part of history, but we so rarely remember it. I am floored by how authentic and vulnerable Darrell’s sharing becomes during the month of February as he engages in the daily practice of sharing a piece of himself with the world.

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Blogging Towards A Modern Brain Makeover

My friend Emory is the one who called upon me to do a daily blogging project (note – had he suggested weekly I still would have wondered if it wasn’t overly ambitious, given the *one* personal blog post I published last year). On March 2 he underwent the first of a series of very interesting procedures called LENS – Low Energy Neurofeedback System – which is a relatively new approach to treating brain trauma, like the kind many of us have sustained if we’ve ever had a concussion or fallen on our heads. He decided to blog daily for the month leading up to the procedure, to more thoroughly explore this brave new realm of brain treatment, and to closely examine his experience with it moving forward. To blog so openly about his experiences is brave. Many of his posts are quite informative, others quite moving. I’m grateful, too, for the push he gave me.

Take this project. Make it your own.

That’s the final word of the Moon Cycle writing project. My original rules were relatively simple:

  • I will post one thing every day, whether a few words or many.
  • I will pay attention to the moon phase at the time of each posting, but won’t limit myself to lunar subject matter.
  • I will experiment with form and function, allowing myself to be playful with the creative process.
  • I will write about whatever feels most ripe and relevant on a particular day. It may be about work, it may be about food, about bodies, about nature, about an interesting book I read, about a piece of music that inspired me. I’ll write about what feels alive and what moves me.
  • I will set a timer for 30 minutes and attempt to post within that time. If I feel energetic I will allow myself a little longer on some days, but the goal of this project is to get in the flow of easy posting without focusing on perfection of craftmanship.

What is it you want to cultivate? What needs to exist in the world that you can help create? What are some baseline rules you can establish to help you accomplish this goal? Take my rules above. Hack them. Make them your own. Check out my friend Dan’s beautiful blog post Dark Light, A Solar Eclipse Writing Month, as he embarks on his own lunar-linked month of writing. Don’t know what you want to do? Take a walk in the woods, find a comfy log. Sit on it. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Ask yourself – what wants to emerge in me? To sing more? To learn the guitar? To write, to read, to create a garden? Whatever it is, spring is such a good time to give attention to the things, habits and patterns we most want to grow in our lives.

Let me know what you’re up to. It’s so much more exciting to create something when you feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself.

Final final word: Thank you, moon, for all the inspiration you’ve provided to me along the way. I look forward to watching you emerge as the tiniest sliver at sunset, in the west in the coming days. As you wax toward fullness, I’ll be catching the first buds of spring on a trip to the East Coast and home in the coming weeks. I will no longer be writing blog posts every day, but I’m so excited for what comes next.

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Second to last

It’s almost midnight in California, and it’s nearing the moment when the moon will block the light of the sun in a full solar eclipse, 13 hours before the spring equinox.

By the time anyone else reads this, their today will be my tomorrow. And oh, what a morrow it is! A special day, as I’ve already written about, a wondrous celestial dance 300 years in the making, setting off a series of four solar eclipse/spring equinoxes that will occur at 19-year intervals this century. Wow. What a special day.

But what if we treated every day as no less special? Every day the miracle of sunrise occurs, a world’s worth of activity passes, and the sun sets again so it can renew and return once more in the morn’. There is an important place for holidays, ritual, marking the movements on the wheel of time, but in my experience these moments serve us best when they remind us to find the sacred in every day, to apply the same lens of wonder to all the movements of life around us, not just the dramatic eclipses, equinoxes and solstices.

These aren’t new ideas; I’m writing them because in my own life I want to embody a practice of finding the special in the mundane. I don’t want to treat life like it is a race from one peak to the next, but instead savor the sacred, the wondrous, the miraculous in every day, not just tomorrow.

Blog 30/31 of the Moon Cycle Project. The moon is just about new … ready to cross paths with the sun, and then begin again. Every day, every moment, we have the chance to begin again.

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Jacques Prevert, Words, & That Which Is Untranslatable

Barbara

From Jacques Prevert’s Paroles

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Epanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi
Rappelle toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Barbara
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Amoureusement
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abîmé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

I lived in the French port city of Brest for seven weeks in the summer of 2000, a high school student with the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages. Living for seven weeks in a foreign country with a host family, forbidden to speak a word of English, (under threat of being sent right home) is a quite effective way to learn a language. The first few days were shaky, for sure, but within a week I was starting to think in French, and mid-way through I was dreaming in French. Upon the end of the experience, hearing English in my native lands felt like being doused with a bucket of cold water, and I forgot basic words in English, most memorably “roof.”

Barbara is a poem by the great French poet Jacques Prevert, but the protagonist of the poem is as much the city of Brest as it is the woman, Barbara. It is an exquisite poem, for its rhythm and meter, for the story it tells, for the way it plays with language, for the way it surprises the reader, delivers a deep statement on war and what it leaves in its wake.

It is also, I believe, fundamentally untranslatable.

Sure, of course it can be translated into English, word by word, even some of the original rhythm and rhyme can be preserved. But the meaning of it, the surprise of it, can really not be conveyed without explaining the way Prevert uses basic grammatical constructions in French and leverages them to tell a much different story than the reader initially imagines upon reading the words or hearing them recited. In other romance languages, it might work. But in English? Impossible.