Category Archives: Spirituality

Survival

From an intriguing book I just picked up: Behaving As If the God in All Life Mattered, by Machaelle Small Wright, 1983 (1997):

Overlighting Deva: “By survival, we mean the act of maintaining the fusion and balance between spirit and matter on the physical planet Earth…. The very physical existence of [humans] on Earth has depended upon all kingdoms of nature…. [The dynamic] must shift from being one of distant benevolence, as it has been in the best of past times, to being one of conscious co-creativity…. Humans do not, on the whole, understand the dynamic relationships between spirit and matter. Nature does. It is a dynamic that is inherent within the life force of nature….

But in order for the dynamic to be fully useful to all the other levels of reality within this universe, [this dynamic] must be unlocked from its custodianship within nature and linked with the human tool of intelligence. Only then can it be applied in principle within all realms of life.

If humans continue in their reluctance to join [nature] … then surely out of human ignorance and arrogance, we will all continue to experience difficult challenges to our survival and, eventually, we will be faced with the full separation of spirit from matter on this planet (xvi–xvii).

Wright says, “ The nature intelligence I speak of contains within it the truth—a truth that has been present and available to us since the beginning of time. It is not available exclusively to the gifted. It is a vast universal truth that is present around us everywhere. Our doorway to this truth is through nature itself” (xiv).

Communion

“Okay, this is where I am. How am I going to let that grief alchemize me into something that can listen to life in a different way? …the awakening is so strong, so rich. Because there’s so much loss going on. The love that’s becoming available because of the grief is so huge [so as to] blast through our apathy.” Clare Dubois, interview on Buddha at the Gas Pump, March 9, 2020

These words and this entire interview with Clare Dubois, the intelligent and passionate founder of Tree Sisters, strikes me in this time. Especially when, this morning, I took a bit of time to catch up on the news and saw headline after headline, from PBS to the NRDC, about this heartless U.S. administration destroying one environmental protection after another—migratory birds, old growth forests, trophy hunting on nature preserves with the allowance to kill animals raising young in their dens, industry bypassing environmental impact studies and rules, deregulation of chemicals and pesticides (that go into our food and our homes, by the way), and the frightening list goes on.

This is where the Orange One has been putting his energy (when he is not bolstering his ego and his image with those he has in his thrall) during Covid-19, during a nation uprising in rightful and right-minded protest. He and those focused only on GDP and $$$ would like us so very much to just forget about the protests and especially the coronavirus. I’ve seen politicians and media encouraging us to go out and spend money! Drink at a bar! Go to the beach! To return to “normal” ASAP. It’s a gas-lighting campaign, for anyone who hasn’t figured that out. If you tell folks it is safe and everything is great enough times, they will believe it.

I know we are weary, but racism is a deep, deep societal ill that will require long, sustained energy to change and heal. We need long-range activism to deal with it. And the virus is still here. This novel coronavirus is here to stay. Yes, we will have waves, spikes, and outbreaks for the foreseeable future (aka, years). Yes, case counts and mortality of the First Wave continue to rise, especially in countries led by despots like the U.S., Brazil & Russia. Yes, if you haven’t already, you will know someone who dies of Covid-19 before long. No, they don’t know how herd immunity will look or if it is likely, yet. Or how long immunity will last – a few months, a year, permanent? We just don’t know yet. No, we won’t have a vaccine distributed to 7 billion people by next year. No, a vaccine won’t magically make normal life reappear. Only small pox was eradicated by vaccine and it took a drastic concerted effort and decades upon decades. Eventually, scientists are thinking Covid’s effects upon those who are vulnerable will grow milder over time, but that will take years. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/2020/05/27/coronavirus-en…/)

So we need to build long-range, thoughtful strategies. We need to work together to RETHINK how we live and what we value, to build a new vision. We should not return to the damaging “normal,” to, in the words of Dubois, “kneel at the altar of the current economy that requires the death of nature [and people] to thrive.”

Donald Trump and his administration have made war on us—war on the environment, war on our health through inaction or negligent action concerning the virus and increased pollutants through deregulation, and have incited renewed war on race, color, and difference of any kind.

This is reality. And acceptance of what IS now, not what once WAS, or what we WISH were true, is the only sensible path. Because acceptance allows us to make rational decisions. Like removing this man and those who support him from office as soon as possible, by whatever legal means we can find.

This is no time for apathy, or magical thinking. And we are rising up, no longer apathetic. This is full of heart and is heart-lifting.

All of these “illnesses” above are rooted in dualistic thinking and the ideology/worship of domination. I have said it and will say it again. We are all interconnected. That small snail crawling on the stone wall after the rain? It is no less important than you. It deserves just as much compassion as you. It deserves life, just like you. Clare Dubois goes on to say that “Communion—oh my god, communion! The most exquisite level of belonging!” It is time for communion my friends. The time is NOW. Before it is too late.

It Is Time for New Visions

The refrain to open up and get back to business as usual, back to “normal” is amplifying. Understandable—being asked to stay mostly in our houses, many not working, and with a tanking economy is not healthy. However, I have a thought: I would like to see a conversation emerge—a loud and pervasive conversation, an unrelenting conversation—that seriously explores the question: “Is ‘normal’ even what we want to or should go back to?”

Initially, of course, we will just need to get up and running, to the extent that we are able, so as to not create a second, more deadly wave of the virus. Just because we have cabin fever does not mean the virus is magically gone. Nor will it be gone for a long while. Nor do we have herd immunity. Researchers are not even certain, at this point (as far as I’ve read) how herd immunity will even play out. But, though I feel we will open too fast and too soon, I get that we need to “open” CAREFULLY so that financially bereft families have income coming in, so they can eat and keep a roof over their heads. I am one of those people. BUT I hope that we will self-reflect for the longer trajectory of “opening.”

Do we really want gridlocked highways? To be sitting in our cars for 2-3 hours a day? To be so harried that we barely get to see our families? To be mindlessly consuming the next shiny thing to quell the existential ache in our hearts?

Do we really want brown air, the same level of noise from traffic and planes, and the machines that bulldoze and carve up our remaining wild spaces? Do we really want a world with so many fewer birds, so many species gone extinct? Do we really want particles of discarded plastic ending up in our food and water, like they are now? Do we really want to eliminate our pollinators with loosely or now unregulated pesticides? (Look sharp to the EPA rules that were suspended and are being drastically eroded.)

Do we want a world of unprecedented droughts, storms, fires and floods due to a dramatically altering climate? Do we really want no ice sheets at our polar caps?? For the permafrost to melt and release large quantities of methane gas and create a runaway warming?

And do we even need to rescue the fossil fuel industry (with price per barrel in the negative)? Let it fall. It is time. It is way past time.

Do we really want to continue a society where some people don’t have a place to get out of danger in the face of a threat like a virus, or a catastrophic weather event? A society where the poorest had the least ability to self-isolate safely, due to crowded living conditions? Where the poorest ran out of food first? Or had the highest mortality rates?

Let’s instead open up to a new idea of “wealth” where the wellbeing of all people, animals, and wild spaces is what is measured, is what drives our decisions, and is the focus of our “work.” Capitalist consumerism is soulless; neoliberalism only works for an elite few and it sucks the life out of Nature and out of us.

Let’s instead pour the recovery energy and money into green technology, into local sustainable living, into buying ourselves more time to do what we love, into more practices of working from home for some of the week, into a new way of living.

Let’s ALL re-envision this, so we can preserve the precious little gifts we’ve discovered while self-isolating.

For those of us privileged enough to have a place to self-isolate, how many people, in the past month, have deepened their relationships with partners and children? How many people made some art for the first time since they could remember? How many people read a really good book? Or several? How many people made amazing food and relished the process? How many people meditated more, walked more, did yoga more? How many people created a much more healthy routine in working from home? How many people did some thoughtful introspection and felt themselves grow consciously and in dedication to live a more compassionate, meaningful life?

Let’s not throw away the silver lining while we chase the gold of the opening up. The reality is that there is no “normal.” We can create a new normal, a better normal.

The Acceptable State of Busy

The other day I went into the staff room of the small college where I teach, and after I punched in the door code that lets faculty and staff in and keeps students out, I encountered a young staffer seated at one of the round lunch tables munching energetically on chips.

“How’s it going?” he asked loudly.

“Pretty good I guess,” I replied. I was lying. I was tired. I had a mountain of portfolios to grade in the upcoming week; each of them would take an hour. My checking account was overdrawn. I was currently working with my TMJ doctor to find the right mouth splint adjustment to relax my jaw joints enough while sleeping to keep me from biting my tongue off in the night.

“Me too!” he said, with seeming enthusiasm. “Pretty busy, which is good I guess.” He crunched another bunch of chips. “Makes the day go by fast,” he said, as I hustled into the bathroom to check my eye makeup and comb my hair. I was late to my learning center mentor shift.

“Agreed,” I called back from the bathroom door.

Inside the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and grimaced. Fluorescent lights always create a ghastly effect, making me look ten years older than I really am. A thought pounced on my mind.

“No you don’t,” the thought said.

What?

“You don’t agree. At all.”

My inner self was right. I didn’t prefer to be busy, or for my day to go by fast.

But, in my “congenial colleague persona,” I had just demonstrated how mindlessly our culture views busyness as a good thing. When did “busy” become the acceptable good? The desired state of being? The best and most successful modus operandi of our species? Sayings of busyness abound:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

“Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” Jimmy Spithill

Productivity: produce, product, production, gross domestic national product (note the first word is “gross”)

Bottom line. ROI – return on investment

Get a move on. Daylight’s burning. For chrissake, hurry up. Get out of my way.

The early bird catches the worm.

The noise of busyness is ever present.

When I was a kid one of my favorite books was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand does not headbutt, kick, and run about and try to get in good with the other bulls. Nor does he share their aspirations to be selected to go and fight in the bullfights. He just wants to sit under his cork tree and smell the flowers. For this he is viewed as extremely odd. Speaking volumes about this little book, Hitler and Franco banned it, while Gandhi embraced it.

How could I explain to this guy at the lunch table that what I really wanted was to sit in an open field all day long like Ferdinand the bull and simply smell the flowers? My vision of a good day, of success, was slow and quiet. Just being.

I am not advocating a life devoid of purpose, contribution, and meaning. But I wonder how modern society’s current trajectory, which most days seems bent on mass destruction, might change if we just slowed down—the way we talk, walk, breathe, drive, think, and do. What if we sat and listened? What would we see if we just looked at what is really going on all around us? How would it change what we DO?

What are we really accomplishing with all of this busyness? Is it what is best for ourselves, our family and friends, for society, for the planet?

I try to carve out time for slowing down and observing. Interesting words we use – to carve … cutting and slicing as if time were meat on a plate, or a tree to be fashioned into a wood carving statue. Rather violent, this idea of carving time.

When I do slow down and observe, I am often appalled and astounded at some of the awful things we do and say to each other, what we do to fish, birds, plants, oceans, forests. It takes guts to listen and look.

But I am also inspired and hopeful, enlightened. Always I see the most beautiful moments of the natural world. Sometimes I see the tiniest acts of joy and kindness between fellow humans.

I take a long, deep breath. And the fresh air is a delight.

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Braking for Butterflies

In New England it’s late summer and the days are growing shorter, but still the sunshine-infused hours flow by lazily. The breezes are easy, not yet carrying down Arctic briskness and warnings of winter.

Floating on the wind, in sync with the slow energy of the season, are a myriad of butterflies—some white, some yellow, and some orange. Of note this year, and hooray for this as their population has been of concern, is a seemingly large number of monarchs (Danaus plexippus). These beauties maneuver the lift and fall of air currents with astounding grace.

Unfortunately, butterflies like to crisscross and hover over the back roads. In a speeding car, they are a challenge to miss, the flyers moving much more slowly and randomly than the hulk of metal propelled by fuel in a straight-forward trajectory. It’s common for the hapless butterfly to glance off of the windshield, or hood, and tumble to the road. I guess it’s human conditioning to say, “Oh well, it’s just an insect. What can one do?” This thinking is likely further justified by the idea that one has to get here or there as quickly as possible to do this or that, as if that task is one-thousand times more important to the grand scheme of the universe than the said butterfly’s mission to sip a flower or a raspberry, to pollinate, and prepare to travel thousands of miles to their winter hibernation grounds in Latin America.

While I never like hitting any living creature large or small, I will admit that I was one of those humans that made these justifications in my mind. That is, until this summer, when I took the time to observe the reality of these mishaps of vehicle to Lepidoptera, the insect order label taken “from the Greek, ‘Lepis’ = scale, ‘pteron’ = wing” (“Biology of the Monarch”).

This summer when I have witnessed a butterfly hit by a car, especially a large monarch, I’ve stopped to move it off the road. I do this just in case it was not injured badly and might still live. Sometimes my efforts are fruitful: the butterfly emerges from being stunned, grabs my finger with its legs, and takes flight. However, more frequently what I have discovered is rather horrifying: rarely is the insect dead. Instead it is alive with some part of its body maimed, be it its wings, legs, or torso. Alive, they lay in the gravel or on the burning hot tar awaiting death. For hours.

I’ve taken to mercy killings, putting them to a quick and painless end, though it saddens me to do so. I’m well aware that an insect’s experience, biologically speaking, of “pain” or “death” is considerably different than human awareness of such things. Science even indicates that they don’t really feel pain. I argue even so, to lie maimed on a road, is this not suffering in whatever the capacity of the experience?

The other evening I was taking a walk when I happened upon yet another monarch lying in the road. It’s astounding, actually, when you start to pay attention, how many are hit on a daily basis. I bent to pick it up, hoping it was dead having had a quick ending. But no, it was alive, it’s antennae swiveling this way and that. I inspected it carefully in my palm—wings were intact, torso intact with a bit of gravel and possible slight body injury on one side, a couple of crumpled legs. Maybe it will have a chance, I thought.

I carried it home where I studied it further with a flashlight, determining that recovery just might be possible.

Lining a small box with some paper towels and grass, I put the butterfly in the box, and set the box in the warm garage for the night. I added in a geranium blossom and some flowering clover. Not exactly sure what butterflies eat, I drew upon my knowledge derived from helping a client write a book about raising bees and added in a lid full of sugar water, put a dab of honey on a piece of clover, and put in a thimbleful of plain water, then propped the monarch up near the lid of sugar water. I was concerned that it didn’t seem to want to use its two good legs and had yet to flutter its wings. But its head moved all about curiously and its antennae continued to twitch this way and that. It seemed not to be suffering egregiously. I put on some classical music on my little garage radio, figuring that studies have shown it to be soothing to plants, why not an injured insect?

I’ll give it the night, I thought.

While preparing dinner—salad with blueberries and raspberries—a little light went off in my mind. I remembered seeing butterflies hovering around the black raspberry bushes out back, possibly sampling the berries. So I mushed up a raspberry and stuck it in the lid of sugar water. The monarch immediately unrolled its proboscis (its straw-like mouth). I joyfully watched it checking out the raspberry, then turned out the garage lights to resume my dinner preparations. Checking occasionally, I found the butterfly was still moving its proboscis about near the raspberry and turning its head this way and that. A positive sign. Yet I was disturbed that it had yet to move around otherwise.

Before bed, I checked on the butterfly one last time. This was about 5 hours after I had picked it up from the road. The monarch had stopped moving, its antennae resting at half-mast. I thought perhaps it was sleeping. Do butterflies sleep? I didn’t know. It’s amazing how little we humans really know about the workings of the natural world, yet we impact it daily. Leaving the classical music on, I went to bed. I did not hold out great hope … it seemed the insect’s legs were not working and its wings had perhaps been paralyzed by the hit. Still, it did not appear to be suffering and I wanted to give it a chance.

The next morning, I got up to see if there was any improvement for the injured member of the family Nymphalidae, subfamily Danainae. The monarch sat quite still, in exactly the same position at the lip of the sugar water, antennae at half-mast. Dead. Part of me was relieved that I didn’t have to kill it to end its misery. And perhaps, at least, its last hours had been pleasant—a warm, quiet garage, soft paper towel with fragrant grass and geranium, a taste of raspberry, and classical music—more pleasant than lying in the gravel, waiting.

Regardless of the current pronouncements of science about if and to what extent each living insect, animal, tree, or plant “feels” or doesn’t feel, or to what degree they experience consciousness, I believe there is a lot we don’t understand about energy, consciousness, and the bend of the universe. As Socrates professed, “the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” I try to keep this open mind and heart. I recognize that nature has her own hierarchy of suffering: survival of the fittest, needing sustenance to survive sometimes taken in cruel ways. And at the same time, I feel it is entirely possible and true that all matter and all living beings are manifestations of one, divine and universal energy—call it god if you will, the goddess, the Great Spirit, the outward thrust of the Big Bang. I felt there was a bit of me in the life of that butterfly and a bit of that monarch’s essence within me. It deserved my compassion.

This summer has brought a shift in my awareness of even the little creatures that may fall in my path, and so, to the extent that it is safe for me to do so, considering the roadway, the traffic behind me, I brake for butterflies.

Butterly three

Work Cited:

“Biology of the Monarch Butterfly.” NatureNorth.com: Manitoba’s Online Nature Magazine, Nature North Zine, 2018, http://www.naturenorth.com/summer/monarch/monarchF2.html.