Tag Archives: spirituality

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.

 

Rain, restoring rain….

by Lillian Ireland

 

Sunlight, reflecting off the washed wet leaves,
leaves laden with dew and much needed moisture
from yesterday’s rain…

The cloudy, grey smoke covering and coating each cedar branch,
each maple leaf, each blade of grass, each blackberry leaf,
now, clean and green, strangely alive again,
washed afresh by the healing, restoring rain.

The glistening, even on the dead, fallen leaves
given up by summer’s scorching heat
lay scattered on the path
waiting to do their work and give back to the earth.

The path, no longer choking with dust, beckons me somehow
to find my way again, along her meandering turns.

The layered grief of summer’s intense heat
and blanketed smoke from the flagrant, vagrant fires
kept me away…    too long.

Today, I am home again as the sunlight reflects off the leaves
leaves laden with dew and much needed moisture
from yesterday’s rain…

 

 

First Nations and pipelines

by Karl Perrin

Abridged from a sermon delivered May 21, 2017, to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Chief Seattle once said: “This we know. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

We are meeting today on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.  Unceded: what does that mean? Never conquered? Never sold? Never given away? So are we guests? Perhaps we are guests of guests, of our 2- and 4-legged relations, our finned and winged cousins, the lords and ladies of the deep, the whales who inhabit this home. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our relations. Thank you.

In “A Native Hill” farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world. . . .

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . .  

For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

On that very theme I take you back to 2004 when I had an insight into the spiritual rebirth of Coastal First Nations. I recall an exhibition at the UBC Museum of Anthropology entitled The Abstract Edge featuring Haida artist Robert Davidson. He had a new collection which used the Haida alphabet of shapes, myths and heraldry but which he had deconstructed and reimagined with a 21st century global sensibility.

Some pieces of his new collection featured an old shape with a new meaning. The tri-negative or tri-neg was traditionally used as a three pointed filler in negative space, i.e. the background, to add fluidity to the form lines and to simply frame the foreground. Robert Davidson’s innovation was to take the tri-neg shape and, through colour and position, turn it into foreground, i.e. into positive space instead of negative space.

At that point I had a revelation. I realized that just as Robert Davidson had demonstrated with his tri-neg space filler that foreground and background were interchangeable, so too were our cultural perceptions of the First Nations. Based on our cultural history we colonizers had seen the so-called wilderness – the heathen, dark pagan forest – as negative space. We thought it empty, devoid of Christian civilization, devoid of Europe, which was the only reality which made any sense to our collective wisdom. And the denizens of this emptiness were to us simply negative people lacking our blessings and the salvation of our Bible. We settlers saw them as un-settled.

But as First Nations broadcaster Candy Palmater has taught me: “We were not “settlers”; when we arrived this place was already settled. We didn’t settle anything!” Likewise, whenever I see old Haida representations of white men they look ridiculous. Not intentionally ridiculous, but the hats and beards seem odd as if they were copied but not understood. We were in fact lacking Haida culture. We were the negative space; we were the devoid and lacking savages.

Everyone had the same view of Captain George Vancouver on the deck of the HMS Discovery, whether it was the First Mate, a Musqueam warrior looking up to the ship’s deck, or a random eagle circling overhead. But what did the view mean to each? Captain? Devil? Friend? Foe? Disgusting? Maybe delicious? The visual information was the same, but the meaning was completely different.

As we know today only 40% of our vision is what is actually out there, the remaining 60% is what we expect to see. That’s why we have optical illusions – our biased brains just insist that our eyes must be wrong until proven otherwise. Usually we just categorize what doesn’t make sense as simply “wrong” and what does make sense as obviously “right”. Whether something is wrong or right is determined by our culture, our language, our fashion, popular history and mythology, our religion, and sometimes by what is called our “slow thinking”. Evidence and logic together make up our weltanschauung or worldview. And worldviews don’t appreciate tinkering or correction, e.g. creationist vs. evolutionary worldviews.

What does any of this have to do with the Kinder Morgan pipeline? It all depends on how you look at it. Does another oil pipeline mean development and jobs, or does it primarily mean tar sands exploitation, more corporate colonization, plundering our common ground, killing our Mother Earth bit by bit by bit? It all depends on how you look at it, your weltanschauung.

I won’t review here the litany of smallpox, addiction, residential school cultural genocide, and social fragmentation which has maimed First Nations since George Vancouver first appeared on the horizon. I do want to point out the prevailing, cumulative, corporate colonialism represented by the industrialization of Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. Where was the “free, prior, and informed consent” to pollute this unceded native land? Where was the respect for the Tsleil Waututh clam beds and the Musqueam fisheries? Where is the invitation from First Nations to dredge Burrard Inlet for huge dilbit tankers?

As we approach the 150th Anniversary of Confederation we can remember what Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George said 50 years ago at the 1967 Canadian Centenary: “When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority”

What did John A. MacDonald, our first prime minister, say about Indians in 1879?  “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

My goal in terms of stopping the Kinder Morgan (Trans-Mountain) pipeline expansion project is to speak truth to power. The Unitarian fourth principle encourages free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the seventh principle is to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. My goal is to fulfill my vow to my son and to his generation that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to prevent his premature death due to global warming.

So, take courage my friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.

Seeking a spiritual foundation for an environmental renaissance in these trying times

by Stan Hirst

I have occasionally heard some of the Suzuki Elders refer to our group as a Unitarian/Anglican conglomerate. It’s meant as a flattering reference, although statistically its not quite true. A mental rundown of the sombre faces around the Council table indicates that neither group is in the majority and the combined number makes up just half the total Council membership. The remainder of the Council membership seeks formal spiritual attachment through a wider range of channels.

However the pages of this site attest to the fact that spirituality is a deep-rooted facet of the Elders’ group. Karl Perrin has written “…..my faith, my long term spiritual discipline, is in seeking truth and offering service.” Don Marshall makes a case for spirituality as a part of building resilience to the psycho-social impacts of climate disruption. Guest contributors Sally Bingham and Anneliese Schultz  write eloquently of the strength of spiritual traditions and communities in supporting our ongoing efforts to care for Creation. Paul Strome writes of the importance of his spiritual connections to Inuit communities in the North. A review of Pope Francisencyclical Laudato Si published just 16 months ago on the website has to date attracted 2500 readers.

Apart from personal convictions, why should we be concerned at all over spirituality and its role in the activities and future of the Suzuki Elders? For one thing we need perhaps to draw on spiritual convictions to highlight the growing importance of connecting personal, social and political transformations in the public realm.

It is rapidly becoming evident that the world is changing very rapidly and not at all for the better. Global climate change has become the norm along with all its consequences – deterioration of terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources, widespread social unrest, political instability and economic imbalances. The world’s existing and emerging challenges seem to be so complex, contested, interrelated, urgent and exacting that technocratic and technological solutions are unlikely to be enough. They often seem to compound problems, not reduce them.

Canada, and especially British Columbia, have policies and procedures in place to try and manage and ameliorate the conflicts of exploitation and extraction. Planning and assessment guidelines, environmental and social assessment requirements, and mandatory consultation procedures have been in place for close to half a century. Most of them have been adapted and upgraded with experience over the years, yet major conflicts between proponents and opponents continue to be the norm. Oil and gas pipelines, marine transportation of fossil fuels, hard rock mining, hydroelectric dams and marine aquaculture, all commonly deemed indispensable to a modern economy, are prime conflict zones. Why?

One major issue continues to be the deep and sometimes widening divide between, on one hand, corporate interests and their political supporters who drive resource exploitation and economic enhancement and, on the other hand, communities and groups who stand to benefit economically from such activities but who also bear the burgeoning environmental and social costs and losses.

There is a growing sense that more importance be attached to spirituality as a source of motivation, meaning and creativity. A revised understanding of human nature and our relationship to the earth and its bounties would help us reconceive the nature and value of spiritual perspectives, practices and experiences.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the U.K. speaks of the unfortunate fetishisation of economic growth as a panacea and global competition as the only game in town. Some in the political sphere point out that citizens need to be the subjects of social change, not just the objects. Spiritual perspectives play a role in shaping and expressing the roots and values of democratic culture. They deepen the vision and lend structure and texture to human development and maturation. The overarching societal role of spirituality should be to serve as a counterweight to purely utilitarian thinking.

Many of the world’s environmental conflict zones already have ‘spiritual’ elements. They are a key pillar of First Nations’ defence of their territories and resources against the inroads of fossil fuel and other extractive exploitation from outsiders. Non-native society by comparison seems unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge a spiritual dimension, and is unwilling or not equipped to seek common ground at such a fundamental level.

Spirituality is ambiguously inclusive by its nature and cannot be easily defined, but at heart it is about the fact that it is we who are alive at all, rather than our personality or status. It’s about our “ground” rather than our “place” in the world. It is possible and valuable to give spirituality improved intellectual grounding and greater cultural and political salience. The primary spiritual injunction is to know what you are as fully and deeply as possible.

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