Tag Archives: spirituality

February Gloom

by Stan Hirst

Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest -J.D. Robb

From my perspective on a dark and gloomy Vancouver North Shore being assailed by interminable chilly rain February absolutely seems like the longest month. And the whole world seems dark and gloomy. Environment Canada says we have just had the fifth wettest January on record. The trend is set.

Its actually a most appropriate backdrop from which to consider the world situation right now.  Its depressing and made more so by the unfettered barrage of negative news delivered non-stop from a multitude of TV talking heads and contained within rain-sodden pages of the daily papers.

News commentators view the US presidential decision to transfer the American embassy to Jerusalem as a strategic and political move. However, to many Christian evangelicals (who make up 26% of the U.S population) Jerusalem is of special significance. It is tied into the concept of the rapture — a time when, according to evangelical tradition, believing Christians will be suddenly and unexpectedly “raptured” up to heaven before the events that presage the end of the world. In most accounts of the rapture, believers go straight to heaven while nonbelievers are left behind to undergo a period of political chaos and personal torment.

Are we living in some kind of “end time” now?  Theatrics aside, we are definitely living in a highly altered world of rapidly and visibly changing climate, massive disruption of terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, and burgeoning  and shifting human populations. Its not just that so many of the basic physical, ecological, social and political parameters have changed and now approach breaking points.  The thought that we are at some kind of breaking point has now become a point of focus.

Its hugely ironic that we now sit in this situation while at the same time being in possession of more scientific knowledge and technology than at any point in the whole history of our Earth.  There is more computing power in the laptop in front of me than there was in the whole IBM mainframe computer I timidly used just a half-century ago.  We know what is on the other side of the moon, we have closeup imagery of the surface of Mars, we can dissect and manipulate strands of DNA to produce new forms of life.  But we can’t stop ourselves from destroying the very foundations of the global ecological system that gave us life in the first place.  The ridiculousness is all too much for an eldering brain to embrace.

In his book Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas addresses this very question.  He believes that we are fundamentally unable to comprehend the greater perspective.  As a global society we suffer from a profound metaphysical disorientation and groundlessness.  Something essential is  missing, and it is tempting for many to think it might be on the spiritual level.

Pope Francis, 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, took a brave chance at responding to this type of global challenge back in 2015 and produced his 2nd encyclical Laudato Si. This emphasized connectedness and the need for global action, both socially and politically. The document has been read by millions worldwide but seems to have become more of a polemic than a mode of genuine transition to something better.

Ken Wilber, the creator of Integral Theory (or The Theory of Everything), provides another type of framework for (the attempt at) the understanding of what is going on with our planet and ourselves.  Often difficult to understand, at least to this Elder brain, the theory postulates four levels of universal consciousness, coded ‘red’, ‘amber’, ‘orange’ and ‘green’.

The world was once at the red level (egocentric, self-referential, instinctual), followed by amber (ethnocentric, authoritarian, pre-modern) and lately at the orange level (world-centric, rational, individualistic, modern). Apparently back in the sixties we started to move onto the green level (world centered, pluralistic, post-modern)

Wilber postulates that, somewhere along the way, Green  began to wander off course, increasingly caught in some internal contradictions that were inherent in its worldview from the start (e.g. maybe there are no such things as the widely supposed universal truth and universal values in the first place).

This brings me to the point I feared when I started penning this piece in the first place. I really don’t know how to end on a positive note.

Certainly, the world will continue to unravel the complexities of our existence, from the very, very large (think deep space and black holes) to the very small (snippets of DNA being coerced to do magical things). New ideas will come and go, hopefully some will leave a residue behind. The kids will grow up and hopefully be much better at this existence business than we Elders.

But I fear the wars, greed, interminable bickering, and upsurges of horrible diseases and ecological afflictions will also go on.  Why will the search for the magic bullet not continue to be an utterly futile quest?

It has stopped raining. I’m going out to clean the gutters.

 

Of Priuses and pick-up trucks

By Bob Worcester

The world seems caught in a conflict between “globalists”, the urban elites who welcome and support the world-wide integration of communications, commerce and transportation, and “localists” who view with suspicion the move from traditions, home and family to the “new world order” and its chaotic clash of cultures.

One is tempted to call this a conflict between the hillbillies and the city slickers, but perhaps a ‘red’ and ‘blue’ viewpoint is a less loaded classification. Jim Hoggan’s timely book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot identifies the toxic quality of these conflicts and recommends that understanding is a prerequisite for constructive conversations.

I would like to suggest that between the red and the blue view of the world is a green perspective that, like old 3-D glasses, provides more depth and clarity than that found in most current discussion of this new world we are moving into.

Polarization is not new to politics since often one is either “with us” or “against us” on any number of issues such as Peace Site C, the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, or trophy hunting. Of course there are always grey areas but that spectrum still often ranges from black to white. ‘Green’ adds colour to the discourse.

Between the global and the local perspective is an ‘ecological’ view which implies that everything has its role and place. This may sound like a wishy-washy perspective but it is not. Globalists see local perspectives as too limited and narrow yet the global is made up of a mosaic of local conditions, each of which emerged from the particular circumstances of that region. Locals discount the cosmopolitans as out of touch with the day-to-day realities of lived experience.

It is not surprising that groups polarize around their particular issues – jobs, growth or limits. What is unfortunate is that environmentalists often contribute to that polarization unnecessarily. As Hoggan suggests, “you’re wrong” quickly degenerates into “you’re evil!” The ‘green’ viewpoint steps back to find the bigger picture that puts both red and blue in perspective.

That, of course, is more easily said than done. Construction of the Peace Site C dam may very well bring jobs and prosperity to many people in the region while displacing others. It may allow Albertans to close down their fossil fueled electrical utilities but still encourage fracking. First Nations do not always agree among themselves on what is in their best interests and may resent that “city slickers” get to call the shots. It is easy to see how anger and resentment emerge regardless of the outcome. The green perspective may not avoid conflict but it can, at least, appreciate that their positions affect people and there may be three or more sides to an issue.

There are legitimate concerns to be addressed and not papered over as “deplorable.” The green perspective will recognize that being in the majority on an issue is not a reassurance that it is wise. Popular causes are notoriously fickle and “all movements go too far” according to Bertrand Russell. The green perspective is not just the middle ground between two extremes, it can be a radical position beyond either extreme – something outside the lines of the conventional. The green perspective dives deeper into the imagination to find things unseen – “your young people shall see visions, and your old people shall dream dreams.” Here is where a ‘green’ vision can go further. If egotists can become tribalists and globalists can become ecologically-minded, then what can ‘green’ become?

Nature provides a deep, rich model of how the world works, but perhaps that view too is limited. Spiritual traditions claim that now we “see through the glass darkly” and that more depth may be revealed. If the old movie goggles with red and blue lenses converted hazy images on the screen into three dimensions then maybe ‘green’ with ultraviolet lenses can give us even more dimensions. Our ‘cosmological’ understanding keeps astonishing us with quantum possibilities of multi-verses and dark matter. Ecological understanding may yet give way to something cosmological that we have yet to imagine.

For now, it would seem that the “wisdom of the elders” is to see the world with new eyes, perhaps even the eyes of a child. Biologists tell us that evolution is random, chaotic and no particular outcome is more natural than another, yet we feel that some outcomes are better, truer, more beautiful than others. Let us trust that feeling and look into the greening future with hope, imagination and grit.

 

 

Pick a Mantra

by Jill Schroder

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions and then not keeping them, what if we decided to pick a mantra? The current issue of Future Crunch, my favorite good news publication and source of much valuable and encouraging information, suggests just that: Pick a Mantra.

They suggest choosing one word that resonates for you, and making it your focus for the year – a guide, a touchstone, something to return to.  For a number of reasons the editors chose Optimism.  Not blind, or pollyanna optimism, but realistic, compassionate, courageous optimism. When I thought about picking a mantra what came to mind for me and for the year ahead was Simplify.

I love the ring of it, the flavour, the effect on my body when I feel into what that could mean for me and how it could manifest in my life.  And this is especially nice, even startling, because not that long ago Simplify meant ‘give up’, ‘stop doing’, ‘slow down…’  it felt like a lot of “shoulds” being laid on me — with all the fun taken away!  That’s a bit of an exaggeration but if I had been asked to pick a mantra five years ago, it would definitely not have been this one.

Why Simplify?  What does it mean, where does it reside, how does it resonate? First of all, I’d like to cull.…in many areas of my life.  I love passing on, getting rid of, consolidating, organizing.  It’s always easy.  For example, take the things I really like but never use.  Simplify would be a helpful, gentle guide when I get down to it: clothes, files, family pictures, stuff in general.

Then there’s my schedule, activities, use of time. Simplify would help me assess, with compassion and kindness, what really matters… day to day, and on through the year – activism, food, exercise, contribution, mind-body-spirit balance…

Plastic Pollution is the new focus of the Green Team in my building.  We are trying raise awareness, and encourage people to face this huge problem – reducing the amount of plastic that we use, especially single use. Have a look at A Plastic Voyage, a depressing yet inspiring documentary made by the daughter of a resident in our building. Simplify would help me, help us all, take a closer look at our consumer choices.  Little things done often by us all add up to a significant difference.

And then this biggie arrived today, Salient Facts and Actions regarding climate change.  In a nutshell it comes down to Fly less, Drive less, Eat less meat (especially beef). We could add, Buy Less (new stuff in particular).

Pick a Mantra.  Mine is Simplify.  I feel light (a little heavy too, if I’m wholly honest, but mostly light) and heartened.  Like starting a new adventure.  I feel my shoulders relax, my breathing slow, space opening up, right now, in the moment.

What might be a helpful mantra for you in 2018?

 

 

Reflection Leads to Connection

by Jill Schroder

Most years I have relished Advent. After all, Adventus, the Latin root for our word, means “coming.” On reflection, I can feel into the expectant waiting, the pleasures, the promises of the coming weeks.

This year there seems to be so much craziness in the world, the political weirdness added unto the commercial excesses that overshadow the season, that I find myself needing to take deep breaths to remember the promises of this special season: the rich, dark days, the inherently quiet time, the opportunity for reflection.

I was drawn to reflection as a title for this post, in part, because of the image of the “supermoon” we experienced recently. These magical moments are all around, if I create space and tune in. Then I remember how much I love the seasonal music, festive gatherings togetherness with friends, and I celebrate making my Advent Wreathe with its four candles, savouring tea and meditation with the appropriate number of candles lit, which is one of my real joys of these weeks.

Celebration, of wreathes, friends, music, brings me to connection, actually a “reflection on interconnection.” At yoga this week our gracious teacher read this quote from Einstein, and as I lay there quietly, I let it sink in and spread in my body like a healing wave. (Forgive and see past Einstein’s masculine pronouns… and fill in gender-inclusive terms.)

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of … consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

We can help ourselves and each other to remember the countless and deeply encouraging signs of interconnection, compassion, sanity, balance – innumerable shifts toward more sustainable ways of being and making our way forward – not always on the surface, definitely not in the news, but to be found everywhere we look. We are all of the one, interconnected, as in Indra’s web, or the exquisite spider’s creation shown above. Reflection and connection, indeed!

It is my hope and inspiration that these signs and actions will swell to a tidal wave of change for the benefit of all beings, a veritable coming of the light. Let us all be part of this unfolding in any and all ways we can. Even in the dark times of the year and of life.

 

Turning the wheel – reflections on the season

by Jill Schroder

Turning the wheel of the seasons, we soon come to Hallowe’en, full of tricks and treats for some. This time is also widely honoured as Samhain, All Saints Day, and an opportunity to remember the dead, and supposedly a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. Acknowledging the seasons and their transition markers helps me to sink into to feeling, to notice the flavours, and take meaning from the moments as they flow by.

Apropos thin veils, the living and dead, here is a provocative article in the Huffington Post: “Are You Living Your Eulogy or Your Resume?” Good question, that! The article is an invitation to explore our priorities and how we spend our minutes, hours and days. At some point we will no longer be living our lives… we’ll be gone. That’s the one sure thing. So now, while we’re still here, still alive, we still have the opportunity to reflect on the question.

Turning the wheel, indeed. A useful way to frame it: am I living my “to do list” – scrambling around hectically and electronically, forgetting to breathe, fitting in one more e-mail, or even signing one more petition for a good cause – before we (actually I, because I’m talking about myself here!) dash off to an activity, or move on to another item on the list. Or am I truly living my life — being here, attending to what nourishes me, ‘taking in the good‘ (as Rick Hanson recommends), tuning in to the larger context, the deeper holding, what’s beyond the body, the personal…

Here’s a short and sweet, helpful and transformative three-part practice I’ve just come across.

  1. Take a few belly breaths. Deep ones.
  2. Let your muscles melt… drop the shoulders, let go of all the contractions. Just do it.
  3. Calm your mind… maybe use a favorite mantra, or whatever helps to create space. Just for a while.

I’ve been amazed at how this seems to literally change the chemistry in my body.

As I get ready to head out on a bike ride, I remind myself to take 20 to 30 seconds to really feel into some of the magical moments in a day: the sound of the burbling fountain near my desk, the colour of the fall leaves, a stranger’s smile, the good feeling after a big workout, a hug from lover or friend or grandchild.

Don’t rush, or even move, on to the next moment, but savour this one, let it resonate. Wow! It feels like all kinds of veils thin when I do this, and I become more alive. Turning the wheel consciously.

May these thoughts help you find your own ways to live your Eulogy, not your Resume. May your days be blessed, rich, full, aware. May we see clearly, look far. Let us help each other find ways to live now as we would like to have done when we’re no longer here!

 

Spiritual poetry and its roots in Deep Ecology

by Errol McKinstry

Professor Arnie Näess (1912-2009) introduced the term ‘Deep Ecology’ in1972. As a philosopher, activist, and mountaineer he wrote and taught extensively over 37 years about environmental degradation and possible solutions. He stated that

Stewardship of nature is shallow impersonal ecology often in service to capitalist profiteers. Our interference with Nature is arrogant, excessive, causing global loss of biodiversity and habitat. Our solutions are superficial, piece-meal, anthropocentric, perpetuating biblical domination of all life. What is needed is a paradigm shift of consciousness from ego centered identity to eco-philosophy where deeper wider identification with all living beings leads to self-actualization as mature compassionate ‘Ecoselves’ with respect, reverence for all non-human life/eco-systems”.

These ‘living beings’ include not only flora and fauna but also rivers, watersheds, oceans, mountains, and wilderness.

All life has intrinsic worth beyond utilitarian commodity value. As with our pets which we name, clothe, and love, the pain and suffering of other beings should also cause us grief as we share a common home. Millenia of poets and indigenous culture elders, in teaching stories through song, dance, totems, and poetic narratives have celebrated the right of all wise beings to flourish. These truths have much relevance for us in 2017.

My 30 years engagement with the mythopoetic men’s movement as a participant/facilitator was mentored by three wise elders – Bly, Meade, and Hillman. It restored my love of poetry, it is pithy, nourishing imagery echoing life’s agony and ecstasy, woundings and healings. Bly’s gift to me in one retreat was this:

You loved poetry as boys but came to hate it when teachers demanded perfect public recitation before the class; any error in content or performance was shaming. Do read/hear poems again, discern the essence, and share them in your own vernacular voice. Be liberated!”

So, what is a poet? Hafiz (1320-1389), the celebrated Sufi mystic wrote A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup, then raise it to nourish your beautiful parched, holy mouth.” A poet may also express the ineffable, the unsayable, touching deep mysteries of life/death that can inspire us. We can feel nourished, encouraged, emboldened, to persist in our quest/work that is often stressful.

The vast cross-cultural poetry written over millennia (mankind’s legacy) include a few special poems—a unique genre, a deep well, that illustrate Deep Ecology’s values and principles. They reveal our unconscious need as a species to personify ‘Beings‘ in Nature, and then to identify with that ‘Being‘ to broaden and deepen one’s sense of self through dialogue and drama. This is the framework of fairy-tales and mythology (think Zeus, Hades, Hera, Freya). Our separate “I”, our ego-self merges with the `Other’ creating a ‘We’ or expanded eco-self as Naess explains.

Now our concern for the ‘Other’ has shifted dramatically. Now we care deeply for this new composite being’s welfare and destiny. The Other is no longer just a commodity to be cruelly exploited, but part of us – mind, body, and spirit. Now our priorities, values and actions may take a major shift towards compassionate kindness, peace and love – a re-sacralization of the world and our lives.

Beyond traditional church theology, liturgy and catechism is a mystical tradition that values direct experience with the sacred/divine in Nature without ministers and priests as intermediaries. The three Abrahamic monotheistic religions all have their gnostic traditions (Jesus an Essene, Rumi a Sufi). This a rich source of ‘seed’ ‘poems that can spark ‘awakening.’

Critics may exclaim loudly “But this is just new-age psycho-babble, all sound and fury signifying nothing” (to quote Sir Willy), the world is ours to plunder”. To them the deep ecologists say “All new revolutionary ideas are threatening, but in time benefits will accrue and we may save our sacred Mother Earth from our avarice and ignorance”.

Here are some of my favourite examples of Deep Ecology poems. Some have been gently edited for brevity and space. A brief introductory comment is included about the author or salient features.

Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po (762 A.D.)

“The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.”

Widening Circles by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

[From ‘The Book of Hours’ pub.1905. Hints at a sacred world with a mysterious centre. Rilke was considered Europe’s Rumi]

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one, but I give my life to it.

I circle around the primordial tower, I’ve been circling for thousands of years, I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?”

When I was the Forest by Meister Eckhart (1260–1328).

[Eckhart was a celebrated Christian mystic and philosopher whose theme seems to dramatize his hope to rediscover the Garden of Eden]

“When I was the stream, the forest, the field; when I was every hoof, foot, fin and wing, even the sky itself—no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, or was there something I needed, for I loved everything. But when I left all we once were, the agony and fear began, questions came and 1 wept tears as never before. So I returned to the river, the mountains asking for their hand in marriage again. I begged to wed every object and creature.”

A Limb ( Branch) Just Moved by Hafiz.

[Hafiz was a Sufi mystic whose name means ‘recite’. He had memorized the Quran and made a living reciting verses at ritual functions]

“You taught Your songs to birds first—why was that? You practiced Your love in the hearts of animals before You created man. I know the planets talk at night and tell secrets about You. A branch just moved before me and the Beauty of this world makes me weep.”

For All by Gary Snyder

[Gary Snyder is a famed contemporary Buddhist monk, deep ecologist poet and activist who, at age 87, still leads the Ring of Bone zendo in California. We met at Hollyhock Farm in a 1989 workshop and earlier in 1973 at an Alan Watts memorial in San Francisco. Turtle Island is a traditional First Nations term for North America]

“Ah to be alive on a September morn, fording a stream barefoot, pants rolled up, holding boots, pack on, sunshine, icy shallows, northern Rockies. Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters, stones underfoot, small and hard as toes, cold nose dripping, singing inside, creek music, heart music, smell of sun on gravel. I pledge allegiance to the soil of Turtle Island, one Eco-system in diversity, under the sun. With Joyful Penetration for all.”

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Frye (1905-2004).

[The only poem she ever published (1932) for a friend’s memorial. It has become famous, set to a lovely melody sung by many western singers and choirs. She comforts her friend by reminding her of their shared experience of Nature’s Beings as ‘I-thou-we” will live on beyond our demise.

“Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.”

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (1935).

[A well-loved contemporary American poet, English professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner who captures our longing for union with ‘the ten thousand things’ (Tao Te Ching) in many of her nature poems. The ‘despair’ she mentions could be our emotional response to ominous climate change facts. She is known for her haiku “Instructions for Living a Life” – “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”]

“You do not have to be good or walk on your knees for 100 miles through desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, I’ll tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on: the sun and clear pebbles of rain move across the landscape, over prairies, deep trees, mountains and rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers herself to your imagination, calling to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over, announcing your place in the family of things.”

Name Give Away by Phil George (Tsimshian 1975).

[A poignant, painful remembrance of residential school days and the importance of his/our birth or initiation name that references ‘beings in nature’.]

“My teacher gave me a new name again. Yesterday it was Peter. Today it was Phillip. Still I don’t know what they mean. She never even had a feast or give away. ‘Two Swans Ascending from Still Waters’ must be a name too hard to remember.'”

In conclusion: you undoubtedly have your own favourite ‘Deep Ecology’, ‘Eco-Self’ poems that inspire and ground you in the Great Inter-connecting Web of all Beings. Do bring or send them to share with the Council, especially one’s you’ve written. Please recommend your favourite poets and books.

 

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