The word "sovereignty" which derives from Latin through the Old French souverainete started off in the 14th century meaning "pre-eminence" or "absolute authority." It was a term applied to feudal situations in which the landholder had dominion over all who lived and worked upon his land. This approach to human relations, in which the holder of lands was subject to no one who lived upon his lands, and who indeed was considered "lord" above them, led to unjust approaches to the concept of authority, such as the droit du seigneur, or the right of the landholder to legally sexually violate a woman of an oppressed class before she consummated her relationship with her new husband at the time of their wedding. Since a woman's virginity (both as physical reality and as a social construct) was and remains a key point of attention in patriarchal cultures, this example serves as a keenly focused lens through which to view the origins of the concept of sovereignty and its problematic nature under continued patriarchy.
In the 17th century, however, the word sovereignty took on a new meaning, in which a state or group of people in a region could claim authority over their own terms of existence apart from the influence of outside sources. By 1800, in feudal and developing democratic situations in both Europe and the US, the word came to mean, according to Thomas Hobbes, a type of social contract between a landholder and his residents that included his protection of their welfare in exchange for their faith in his authority. Under the social contract, if people did not feel that the landholder was doing enough to protect their interests or demonstrating good leadership, they had the right to revolt, ignore him, or overthrow him. This concept is part of why those arriving in America from Europe during that time felt empowered to form their own nation and defy British rule. Note, however, that the sovereignty of what we now call "America" came at the expense of the sovereignty of the existing First Nations peoples who were already here. In order to find our own freedom, we (those of European descent) took theirs.
So, over the course of the past several hundred years, this word has meant BOTH "the right to rule over others" as well as "the right to accept or reject the rule of others, according to the comportment of both the governor and the governed, held in trust by social contracts." Today, I hear the word sovereignty used with yet a third meaning, something akin to "the power to be myself, as I wish." A sense of personal sovereignty includes the right to define, comport, and rule one's self. It is similar to saying, as Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, "The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another citizen begins."
What is missing from this contemporary definition of personal sovereignty, however, is the necessary and robust topic of responsibility. Sure, we all have authority over ourselves and our own identities and comportment...but what about responsibility for ourselves? Who is showing up for that conversation? According to all definitions of sovereignty, authority comes with responsibility. So, when we claim sovereignty, and effectively set ourselves apart from the collective as an independent state of one, we also are claiming ultimate responsibility for ourselves. If we took that to its most literal meaning, it would imply that we build our own personal roads, schools, hospitals, water delivery and garbage services, and the like. It would imply that we grow our own food, raise our own livestock, and save our own seeds from year to year. It would imply a lot of things which are actually not strictly true for most people.
Naturally, we are not each living in a hermetically sealed little vacuum. Our needs and actions spill over onto one another. We are not, most of us, living completely independently of one another, nor free from need for things that happen in the collective. In fact, most of us are much, much more collectivist than sovereign, when we really think about it, using shared water, phone, power, food, transportation, mail, medical, and other crucial services in a big cauldron of community.
Thus, when we loudly and proudly proclaim our personal sovereignty, under these conditions, what are we really saying? Are we really completely independent and responsible for ourselves, entirely? Or is that untrue? Is it just that we wish to distinguish ourselves from others? And what motivates that desire for singularity? What if what we think of as personal sovereignty today is merely self-centeredness born of an illusory separation from the collective, when in fact, for most practical purposes, we are actually one body of humanity, sharing the major resource of this planet?
I used to feel powerful when I declared my personal sovereignty. I used to think it meant something about being free to be myself. I used to describe myself as sovereign in the sense of "free from the interference of others in my personal comportment." But that was really just about my ego and a sort of immature lens through which I was viewing the collective and its main shared resource, the Earth. Because I thought of myself as limitless, I convinced myself that everyone and everything were, also.
Recently, as I think on what is best for me, I realize that what is best for me and what is best for the collective are actually one and the same. Therefore, my need to distinguish myself as separate has lessened, and my desire to be of service to those things that sustain the collective has grown. I have experienced less "me" and more "we" as I have gotten older. I still wish to be the author of my own life, and to be free from interference in my expression of my singular self, but I also wish for that singular self to be as beneficial to the collective as possible.
How about you? Where in your life are you working on issues related to sovereignty, singularity, and collectivity?
In my ongoing saga of examining the idea of "enoughness" I find myself regularly ruminating on so many different kinds of questions: is what I am doing enough? If me just being myself is enough, what does that say about enoughness? About me? What constitutes enoughness? Is enoughness a feeling? If I am feeling enoughness, what does it feel like? Is enoughness contentment? Is contentment a bad thing that will stop me from striving further and growing more? Is enoughness actually just taking privilege for granted? Does feeling content mean I'm not facing the real world and all of its suffering? Does contentment mean I'm not doing enough? And so on...and on...and on. I suspect that anyone who is consciously and deliberately examining their own emotions, attitudes, and circumstances through a spiritual lens can relate to this self-questioning, even if your questions are different.
There are benefits to this kind of self-inquiry. My gadfly questions cause me to stretch and explore uncharted acreage of my own mind and its presumptions. They give me opportunities to reflect on what the consequences have been of me thinking, feeling, or acting a certain way. They challenge me to move beyond lazy comfort into a space where my comfort is not merely consumptive, but provocative and dynamic. Sort of like the difference between feeling comfortable sitting on the couch versus feeling comfortable balancing on a bicycle while waiting for the light to change. One is a passive comfort and one is an active comfort.
Being an all-in, active sort of woman, I trend away from passive comforts. To be honest, I don't even have a couch to sit on. Albert and I have one rocking chair, otherwise we sit on the floor or occasionally on folding chairs. We would like a couch, but it's not a huge priority, and hasn't been for well over 5 years now. I am much more accustomed to the active comforts of "being able to figure it out with nothing but my wits" and "living fast on the fly" than I am to the passive comforts of "sitting on a couch reading a book" or that nebulous and multi-faceted term, "self-care." I have, in this life, even taken a sense of pride in the fact that I eschew the easy for the more difficult. It makes me feel alive, and free, and valid, to always be working on something or having to figure something out. That constant striving is not motivated by a sense of enoughness. Rather, it is motivated by a sense of NOT-enoughness, or maybe a sense of do-more-ness. It's certainly not motivated by contentment.
At the same time, I also know that this go-go-go urge is not fully sustainable. I literally, actually do need to make time to eat, and sleep, and exercise, and laugh with friends, and rest, and experience passive comforts. We all need that. Every being needs some of that. Whether I choose to give that to myself is often based on my self-inquiry into enoughness. Have I done enough today to warrant putting it down and resting? Have I accomplished enough this week that I can take a couple days to just hang out and relax? Do I have a solid enough plan for completing these tasks tomorrow so that I can get my mind to be quiet for long enough to sleep for a few hours tonight? This search for elusive enoughness...having/doing/being just enough, neither too much nor too little, can really become like a merry-go-round in my head, with no known end to the music.
The one thing that I have found that can get the music to stop playing and the wheels in my mind to stop spinning on the issue of enoughness is gratitude. When I pause to remind myself to feel grateful rather than rushed, worried, or even simply motivated, this welling up of emotion accompanies it, and all of a sudden I feel a peace that goes beyond the mental gymnastics I have been doing in search of enoughness and its implications. I am fed, I am clothed, I have a roof over my head, I have friends to laugh with, I love and I am loved...it is enough. In fact, this momentary relief actually shows me an alternative meaning for the phrase "enough is enough." Not fed-up enoughness. Not yearning for enoughness. Just simple gratitude. Enoughness is whatever I am grateful for, right here, right now.
From that momentary experience of enoughness, I probably have anywhere from hours to days before the search for enoughness begins again. Maybe this is a problem with my retentive ability, or maybe it's just the nature of cyclic existence, but I know that no matter how grateful I feel in a given moment, the questions, fears, worries, and other phenomenon related to enoughness, striving, and yearning will creep back in eventually. Maybe there will come a day when I no longer return to that ruminative pattern, but for now, it seems to happen no matter how mindful of it I try to be. Thankfully, I know I have a tool to help me answer the eternal unanswerable question of enoughness: the power of gratitude.
What is enough? Enough is enough.
What are you grateful for that exceeds all other judgments, yearning, and questioning?
I'm a skeptical believer. I listen to what is taught, sift it through the colander of my own discernment, and then either choose to walk down the path of believing a thing or not, based on my research, intuition, and experiences. This is how I approach the concept of karma.
There is a lot of lore, there are many accounts, there are sacred teachings, and there is a tremendous body of belief around karma that suggests we have all been here before and we are all here forever, in many different bodies over time. In the West, we tend to think of karma as reward or punishment. We sometimes even think of it as cause and effect, but it's not really any of these things. Rather, karma is the energetic ripening of every stream of thoughts, word, and action that we have ever launched into being in any of our lifetimes. This ripening over time is not judgmental, not punitive, not rewarding, not discerning, not emotional, though we are all of those things. Rather, this ripening is merely the inevitability of a trajectory of energy and the momentum it gains.
Through this lens, we can see maybe more clearly that karma is neither subject to gods nor humans, but is rather subject to the laws of inevitability. Through this lens, even the gods themselves are subject to karma. They, too, have seemingly irreversible trajectories that appear in their myths...times when we see foreshadowing of what will happen to them in their own stories, when we might be screaming inside and wishing they would use their godly powers to change something that is seemingly so obvious to us and so invisible to them. I think about Hera's marriage to Zeus, fraught with foreshadowing of his many infidelities to come. I think of the fact that Artemis was born feral, initially cast out from the sacred places of gods by dint of her mother's sad story of loss under a patriarchal paradigm. Isn't it then inevitable that she, in a certain way, always wanders at the outskirts of seemingly "acceptable" godly society, wild and alone, or in the company of women who defy the patriarchal paradigm? Also, if you really look deeply into the existing literature, you can sort of see how a great deal of the strife that occurred among many characters in Ancient Hellenic mythology seemed somehow fated. The Fates themselves answered to no one save Hekate, and even she could not change everything. Many other world mythologies are similar. Though Fate and karma are different, rooted in different systems and cultures, they both bear a similar message: there are things that, for whatever reason, cannot be avoided, regardless of how powerful, visionary, or magical you are.
And yet, what is seemingly inevitable CAN sometimes be changed in both mythic and phenomenal reality. Gods can change it. Humans can change it. Nature can change it. Time can change it. Just like all fruits start from a single seed, but then are subject to the vagaries of weather and growing conditions that shape them, or misshape them, so too are all beings in all realms subject to the weather of life, time, personalities, experiences, and other influences. While we may be different in form and capacity from the gods, we are also similar to them in our common plight of watching time, circumstance, and fate (dare I say, karma also?) ripening in our paths.
What is one lesson you have learned in this life due to a seemingly unavoidable, and/or foreshadowed circumstance? To whom, deity or human, did you turn? What is one situation where you managed to turn your own fate around in some way, or avoided something that seemed inevitable? To whom did you turn then?
The photo above is of a sacred spring dedicated to Sts. Catherine and Augustine, tucked into a small grotto off the main path in a medieval cemetery in Southwestern England. It is an otherworldly place I have visited on pilgrimage twice, and must visit once more to fulfill a promise I made there. I look forward to going back, and I long to sip the clear waters directly from this spring again. To me, this site represents a liquid gateway between the worlds...of life and death, of here and there, of then and now. As a person who traverses many different liminal spaces, I deeply appreciate the exquisite, finely-tuned vibration of this sanctuary, its quietude, and its gentle but immense power.
The last few months have been a study in liminality for me as Albert and I launched our nomadic lifestyle, moving north near Mt Shasta while simultaneously keeping a toe in the Oakland waters. We come down regularly to work in the store, attend CAYA Coven and other spiritual events, and spend time with friends, and then we head home to work intensively on our behind the scenes responsibilities and rest. We have also been traveling extensively for work and family this winter. "Being neither here nor there" has suddenly become a way of life rather than a temporary condition. I am learning some new lessons about impermanence through this experience, and I feel that this kind of life is in alignment with my spiritual calling as a wandering wild woman of Goddess dharma.
In my belief, we are actually never truly or completely "here or there." It might be more accurate to say that I believe we are always both here AND there. We are flesh, and we are stardust. We are human, and we are divine. We are light and shadow at once. We are real, and unreal, at the same time. We are living pluralities, not convenient or easy to label and fix in stone, but rather dynamic forces of movement. In my view, Goddess is not a single being, she is a flag waving in the cosmic wind, rippling with many colors, names, stories, and possible truths. I see the waving banner of Goddess in all the realms I traverse. Recently, rapid and fast-paced travel has given me a dizzying view of the enormous, wide-swinging arc of her dance.
Because of this, the concept of "Being in the Flow" as a spiritual practice is more important to me than ever. I have recently been shown that it is less valuable for me to define, pin down, and try to apprehend what is, and more valuable for me to learn again and again that what is right now is simply right now, and that if I resist the flow of what is right now, I will be swept up and washed away by it or worn down like stone over time by it. I have dedicated a large portion of my spiritual life to working with deities and spirits related to water and flow for this purpose. As a fixed Earth sign, I tend to get easily entranced by the illusion of permanence, and feel alarmed when things change, or when I cannot define them with crisp edges. The practice of Being in the Flow challenges this, and expands my capacity to create magic in my life and the world by calling me to abandon my seeming need for fixation in favor of spontaneity, and by forcing me to accept that my own worldview (even things that are seemingly very delineated and concrete) is incomplete.
What is one thing that you think you know for sure, or that you have chosen to accept wholesale, but when you look at it in a dynamic way, it might be challenged if circumstances or views changed? How can you Be in the Flow in your own mind, letting go of fixed ideas in favor of cultivating beginner's mind or allowing for right now to stand on its own?
Whether you are (like me) in the camp that celebrates for any little reason at all, or whether you tend to sneer at people who make everything a silly reason to celebrate, or somewhere in between, it can hardly be argued that there is a sort of special charge in the air on Leap Day, Feb 29, which only happens every 4 years.
I might truly just be a silly rabbit, romanticizing this arbitrary event that was invented by humans to account for the vagaries of attempting to define the spacetime continuum in calendar form. After all, it really is rather a strange thing to "celebrate." It's hardly a holiday, more like a glitch in the matrix.
But hey! There is this weird cool thing that humans invented that accounts for the vagaries of attempting to define the spacetime continuum in calendar form! It only happens every 4 years, but NOT at the same time as the Olympics! How strange is that! Why didn't they line that up better? Whatever, doesn't matter, I love our bizarro world!
I relish the charge in the air that signifies that something unusual is happening. As a child, who was very sensitive to energies but didn't always know what what actually going on, I would feel the electric current of something unusual rippling around me on days like today. Something that was normally quiet and sleepy was awake in people. They would pause, shake their heads, and laugh as they wrote a check in the supermarket, or filled out a form requiring the date. The teacher would make a big to-do about explaining Leap Year as she wrote "Feb 29" on the chalkboard. Supposition would abound amongst the other children about, "What would you do if, like, today was your birthday? You'd only have a birthday every four years! So even when you are, like, 8 you'd technically only be 2 years old! Bwahahahaha!"
And later in life, I DID meet a woman who was born on Feb 29, and we happily celebrated her 6th birthday, complete with party hats and Sesame Street cake, in a bar. Bizarro world! I love it!
The reason I like that charge in the air is because it signifies that more people than usual are tuned in to the reality of RIGHT NOW. An unusual circumstance gives us a reason to be more present, rather than staying stuck in the beep...beep...beep of everyday routines. There are whole parts of our brains and consciousness that we tend to set to autopilot in our workaday lives: alarm goes off, take shower, feed the kids, get kids ready, drive to school, drive to work, sit at desk, fill out paperwork, check Facebook, think about dinner, pick up kids, pick up groceries, go home, cook, watch TV, go to bed. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Most of the time, our invisible routines (that is to say, the things we set to autopilot in our minds) don't include art, poetry, beauty, fluffy tutus, champagne, tiaras, or a sense of celebration. There is nothing really celebratory about a yellow post-it note stuck to the fridge that says "Defrost the chicken at 7 am on Tuesday morning." Not much special to pay attention to in that. Or is there? What if you came home and your partner had put a tutu on the chicken? Then would it be special?
It could be special, even without the tutu. In fact, everything is special when you approach it with mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to EVERYTHING. At first, it seems exhausting because our minds try to cling to everything we pay attention to, to hold on to it or own it or account for it in some way. But clinging is not sustainable. That is not the goal of mindfulness, to have an exhaustive level of clinging attention to everything. Instead, you have to learn to pay deep, focused attention and totally let go all at once. The goal (and arguably, the practice of being mindful itself is the ongoing goalless goal) is to be awake, aware, and alert to all of the beauty, poetry, and miraculous phenomenon of everyday life.
Mindfulness is whispering, "I appreciate you so much for taking out the garbage" as I heard the truck pull up to the curb this morning, and the used cat litter went into its maw. I hugged my husband who made little happy noises and went back to sleep. He won't remember that this happened when he wakes up, but he will have generally positive feelings about himself and his day. Mindfulness is placing a special pillow on the shoe bench under the window so my little girl cat Artemis has a cushy perch from which she can lord over the three big boy cats with a ferocious joy. Mindfulness is paying attention to the little embarrassing sticker on employee's name badge that says, "I'm new" and then complimenting them on their speed and accuracy in the transaction.
Mindfulness is about creating the opportunity, by changing nothing other than our attention and intention, to light up the world an extra 100 or more times per day with small gestures, words, prayers, and bits of electric energy that send the message: Every day is ripe for the unusual.
My amazing friend of over 20 years, Angelina, and several of her wild, wise cohorts, have created a project designed to bring the energy of the unusual into everyday life more often, through laughter, performance art, and tutus. Their project, The Purposefully Ridiculous Network, offers people ideas, suggestions, and inspiration for adding more color, texture, flavor, and outrageousness to the world. They have all kinds of fun, funky things they are doing, such as tutu parades at the mall, church in the grocery store, and interviews with a host of wacky characters. Their Mission Statement reads:
"Purposefully Ridiculous are celebrants of joyful self expression. Our mission is to foster freedom by engaging in acts of the ridiculous on purpose. We change the world by encouraging others to spread their silly and share the shine.
Join us and share your shine today."
From my newsletter this week:
I owe a great and ongoing praise to the Goddess-cum-Saint Brigid, without whom I would never have found my current path of Graeco-Tibetan-Tantric-Nomad-Alchemy-Goddess Spirituality. How the heck did that happen? Well, the world is both a bigger and a smaller place than we usually think it is.
In 1999, feeling lost in the patriarchal machine of Catholicism, in the throes of a "what now?" identity crisis, I made a pilgrimage to visit Brigid's sacred site in Kildare, Ireland. What happened there touched every part of my life- personal, professional, relational, and spiritual. I was changed, permanently, for the better. It is fair to say I would not be where I am without having met Brigid. She was the single seed that started a forest of spirituality for me, a forest that is still proliferating, now with many different types of trees.
Today, for Imbolc (the first major Pagan Sabbat of the calendar year), I am launching a month of poetry on HiveQuest in her honor. Poetry is sacred to Brigid, along with fire, the forge, holy wells, fertility, cows, sheep, medicine, statecraft, and more. She is a Goddess for every season, and for every phase of life. There is still time to join this challenge: with help and support, you will write 4 poems (one per week) about the ways in which you have been forged, tempered, healed, and transformed in your life thus far.
It is said that a daily recitation of the following "Genealogy of Brigid" found in the Carmina Gadelica will protect the one who has spoken the words. I must admit, I do not speak this genealogy every single day, but perhaps I ought to, and today I surely will.
The genealogy of the holy maiden Brigit,
Radiant arrow of flame, noble foster-mother of gods,
Brigit the daughter of the Dagda,
Dagda the Good God, the son of Ethlinn,
Ethlinn the daughter of Balor,
Balor the king of the Fomoire.
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Brigit,
I shall not be killed, I shall not be injured,
I shall not be enchanted, I shall not be cursed,
Neither shall my power leave me.
No earth, no sod, no turf shall cover me,
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No water, no lake, no sea shall drown me,
No air, no wind, no vapour shall sicken me,
No glamour out of Faery shall o'ertake me,
And I under the protection of the holy maiden,
My gentle foster-mother, my beloved Brigit.
Hail, Bright One of Holy Fire and Sacred Water! Hail, Green One of Earth and Birth! Hail, Daughter, Mother, and Leader! Thank You!
I'm pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the African American Wisdom Summit offered by The Shift Network this February.
My talk is called "Alternatives to Appropriation" and is focused on ways that we can begin to decolonize our approaches to cultural wisdom-sharing. As a member of a multi-racial, multi-religious family, this topic and I have a long history together.
In my presentation, I offer three alternatives to appropriation: appreciation, preservation, and propagation. I offer some very simple, down-home examples of what I mean by these terms, and how one might apply them. The talk is especially directed toward Caucasian allies and practitioners, but may also be useful for cross-cultural practitioners from every background.
While I am certainly no expert on this subject, and am ever-learning better ways to be sensitive, I was very grateful to be asked to speak on a topic near and dear to my heart. I feel especially honored and humbled that I have been included among some truly great people in this Summit, such as Yeye Luisah Teish, LeVar Burton, Szmeralda Shanel, Ifalade TaShia Asanti, Nikki Giovanni, and StaceyAnn Chin. Each of these powerful people has offered so much wisdom and grace to my life that I bow in deep respect and am so happy to be able to learn more from them in their talks for this event.
The best part about this Summit it that it goes all month in February, and is completely free of charge. I strongly recommend that, like me, you'll register and tune in to this wisdom-sharing powerhouse of programming.
If you are curious about some of my opinions and feelings on multicultural workings and workings to heal the effects of racism and colonization, you might be interested in my posts about these topics:
Know Your Place
Our Shameful White Ancestors
Our White Ancestors: Can We Heal?
Today we nationally celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But what does it mean to "celebrate" this day?
Does it mean a day off from work, school, or events?
Does it mean store sales and other reminders that the American Way is to fill the holes in our souls with goods produced by sweatshop labor in other countries?
Does it mean platitudes and memes that effectively whitewash his radical message?
Does it mean anything at all? What is the meaning of this day? What has the meaning become?
I read two excellent articles this morning that I'd like to share with you: one from Jacobin magazine about how King's legacy has become compartmentalized and distorted, and one from Mashable that speaks to the way MLK, Jr's message has become "sanitized." Please take a look at them.
White America has found a way to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr its "safe Black friend" and in doing so, has done a disservice to his memory. If maintaining one's privilege by refusing to stand up, to truly STAND UP to the forces that are gunning down Black children in the streets with impunity, denying Black people their bodily sovereignty via legal technicalities, and disenfranchising Black voters based on made-up criteria is the legacy you embody when you post that King quote today..don't bother. He would have had none of that.
If your "nonviolence" actually translates to "inaction," don't post that meme.
If your idea of revolution involves tidy, calm, structured dialogues with Black people who must be careful not to express themselves and their anguish fully so that you can feel safe, please delete that post about love.
I'm not trying to make anyone "feel bad." I'm pointing out the reasons that already exist why we SHOULD feel bad. We SHOULD feel bad that we have not seen significant change in the power, privilege, health support, safety and financial disparities that exist for Black and Brown people in America. We SHOULD feel bad about thousands upon thousands of lives lost in racial violence. We SHOULD feel bad about predatory laws, legal loopholes, and old boy networks that keep true justice from being served at all levels of our society.
We should feel bad enough to want to do something.
What are three active things you do- I mean things that you get your body up and do, or pieces that you create in a physical sense, or real money that you spend- to bring about change that will benefit people of color in this country?
If you come up short, ask yourself this: what are the unjust laws in my area? How might I start disobeying these unjust laws, or working to get them changed? Whether you choose to stand up for Black Lives at protests, advocate for prison reform, work to even the imbalances in the healthcare and insurance systems, or stand up for Affirmative Action at your workplace, there is something you can do.
Dr. King did not live, and die, so that we could turn him into a myth, a martyr, or a platitude that makes us feel better about the fact that very little has changed. He lived as an example of "do something." Today, let's recommit to doing something, and start where we are.
From my newsletter this week:
I woke up this morning, as we all did, to the sad news of David Bowie's passing. I cried, and my husband cried, and I looked online and my friends were crying. There is an entire generation of people crying right now, who grew up bestirred by his vivid outlaw art.
He was so thoroughly himself and he invited the world to accept him, exactly as he was at any given moment in his creative career, without fear or shame. I will always be grateful for his example in doing this. It encouraged me to be myself more, to take the risk of being out loud and proud about who I was, and still inspires me in who I am now and who I hope am becoming: a free being, a beautiful being, an empowered and willful being at every stage of life.
I believe that nothing is born and nothing dies. Everything just changes shape, and all matter is actually simply a churning ocean of energy that just IS. I'll be looking for the shapes of energy and paintings of sound that David Bowie will be creating in his now form. I am sure he will relish the freedom and limitlessness of his new medium. It does not make my grief about his transformation, the transformations of countless gifted beings, or the transformations of anyone I actually know and love, any easier.
Learning to accept that the things and people foundational to our inspiration and development will age, change, succumb, and pass on is deep spiritual work. Learning to accept the wrinkles, memory foibles, failings of health, and other conditions that accompany the wheel of life, death, and rebirth is one that requires great compassion. Learning not to be devastated by loss, but instead to delight in all the good of what has been, what is, and what is yet to come is a very advanced practice. There is hardly anyone on Earth who can achieve it all day, every day, but we each have our moments when we look up at the stars and know the joy of being one small grateful piece of a vast and timeless body of light.
Today there is a new star shining on us, singing to us, dancing in the sky above, beaming courage down to those of us who have chosen to be our true creative selves as freely as possible. When we leave these bodies to dance among the stars, to join the vast and timeless body of light, to literally become imagination itself, may it be so that we each paint the beautiful, technicolor universe with the songs of our flight, and inspire the generations yet to come in their own quest for freedom.
Have you ever heard the phrase "out of the frying pan, into the fire?" It seems as if many of us, myself included, live our lives somewhere between the pan and the fire. We occasionally drive ourselves to the brink just trying to get it all done, experience it all, try it all, do it all. Many of us wear several hats, or occupy several diverse roles in our lives. Many of us have several different commitments that all vie for the top spot in our day-to-day.
On some level, the heat of all that doing provides us with a sacred spark that gives us energy, courage, and vigor. On the other hand, it can become fuel-depleting. Around this time of year I hear many people committing to self-care. What does self-care look like, even if there is still a fire burning all around? How can we carve out space to breathe amidst the chaos, and find our inner calm? My upcoming Spaciousness class is all about how to do that, and how to make it last. Our first round of the class last year went so well, we are offering it again beginning Jan 11. I also have some other classes and offerings starting this week- see below for details.
One way we can defend a sense of calm amidst the myriad demands and distractions of life is to breathe mindfully. If you feel nervous, agitated, anxious, or overwhelmed, take a few moments to count your breaths in counts of four. 1-2-3-4 in, 1-2-3-4 hold, 1-2-3-4 out, 1-2-3-4 hold, and so on. The effect is very soothing. Close your eyes. Let it all go for a minute. Breath into that sacred light of life force you carry at your core, and stabilize.
But what about when we are drowning in so much to do that we feel stuck, frozen, and unable to even begin? Another type of breathing can help. Envision that there is a tiny flame at the center of your being, and you are trying to feed and stoke it to be a crackling hearth fire that warms and empowers you. Breathe in short gusts (careful not to hyperventilate), until the furnace of your belly begins to warm up and you begin to feel more energized and clear.
At this time just past the solstice of light's return, when the spark of 2016 is fresh from the flint, take time to review and redefine your relationship with the fire of being. It can be a weak flicker, it can be an anxiety-inferno, or it can be a warm catnap in front of the fireplace. It can get us hot under the collar or it can be sooo delightful. We have to learn to treat ourselves well, even amidst the fires of life. We cannot count on anyone else to do it. Let's all hold our flame of self-care aloft this year, for real. It begins with taking time to breathe.
CAYA Coven is working with the theme "Song of the Phoenix" this year, and one of the lines of our Daily Practice by Stella Iris RedRaven is, "I find myself in the heart of the flame." When have you found yourself at the heart of the flame? How did it shape your life?
From my newsletter this week:
Every month, during the majority of her years, a bleeding woman’s body turns itself inside out in a cycle of creation and destruction. At least, it feels that way. We cramp, ache, feel like the end of the world is happening sometimes, lash out, tell hard truths we might otherwise fear to speak, cry, and bleed for several days as our bodies release the materials that would have been used to build new life, had we become pregnant that month.
This process is one of the human body’s most intelligent design mechanisms. The materials needed for new life cannot be stored indefinitely- they must be fresh and still have a certain potency to them to be fertile. Yet, if they go unused, they can cause toxicity in the body. Therefore, to shed these materials is just as important as manufacturing them. The body has worked this out to perfection: nothing is released that should not be released, nothing is wasted, all of it is biodegradable, and all of it is part of a cycle that completes itself.
Look at how many things are created or manufactured in this world without a plan for release or destruction: plastics, batteries, cell phones, buildings, cars, and more. None of these items currently has the guarantee of a closed, complete loop that is deliberately designed to take things all the way through their predictable life cycle. I mean, sure, we are ENCOURAGED to recycle plastics and batteries and e-waste. But it’s not a presumed, natural part of the cycle of production or acquisition. We know we can sell homes, or leave them to others in a will upon our deaths, but what actually happens when they begin to degrade, or require major repair? Many people just move and leave it as someone else’s problem, rather than closing the loop behind them.
What if we began, as a society, choosing to include destruction and/or completion as part of the cycle of creation? The recent movement toward compassionate death at will for terminal patients allows for this. The recycle-upcycle movement is an encouraging example of this. But truly, for each of us, what if we had to ask ourselves thoughtful questions at the outset of a new purchase or venture? What if it was just a natural part of things to think about the end as we enter a new beginning? It might mean less waste, more compassion, greater care and attention to detail, less consumerism and more quality. It might mean more mindfulness about what we choose to offer, and take from, the seemingly constant stream of “stuff” in our lives.
It is in this spirit that I encourage everyone to think about their holiday gifts this year. Give things that can be used completely. Give things with a shelf life. Give things that are not things, but experiences to be savored in the moment. Give with the intention of making an impression without leaving a trace, as best you can. Willful, not wanton, destruction is a form of creation.
From my newsletter this week:
For years, a tiny handwritten sign hung in my bathroom, giving me instructions for how to begin each day. It said, “What is your story today? What do you want it to be? Write your story. Look the part. Act the part. Feel the story. Listen to the wisdom of the universe and your guides. Be the best you that you can be.”
Every day we have the choice to either drop automatically into whatever our mind, the media, or our circumstances tell us about who we are, or we can take the small amount of time and energy required to reflect upon who we want to be, and make the effort to live into that. I have noticed that people who have a truly healthy sense of self-esteem--neither being dragged along by the nose ring of ego nor crouched in the corner of self-abnegation--are the people who are willing to really reflect upon their own stories, listen with receptivity and discernment to the stories and evaluations of others, and then sift their minds and experiences carefully enough to bring forward only what they truly wish to exemplify in the world. Otherwise, I see how many people suffer due to the stories of worthlessness and powerlessness they allow to penetrate their lives uncritically, or that are forced upon them.
As the new year approaches, I thought I might share an exercise I did that took me three years, that helped me come to a more honest, compassionate, and loving story of myself. I hope this helps you. Maybe it won’t take you as long as it took me!
For one year, I made the new year’s resolution that no matter what compliment was given to me, I would just say, “Thank you,” with no further elaboration. I would not criticize the giver, I would not criticize or reject the compliment. I would not nervously rush to explain anything about myself in reply. I would just say, “Thank you.” That year taught me that a) many people really give compliments as a gift, and what a precious gift they truly are, b) some people give compliments as a hook, and if you don’t bite, much is revealed about the nature of the relationship, and c) there is a quiet grace in learning to just receive in the moment and evaluate later in privacy.
The next year, I took the next step, and every time someone gave me a criticism, I vowed to just say, “Thank you,” with no argument, no defensiveness, and no resistance to it (unless I had to correct something that was specifically untrue). I learned that a) many people who open with critique are actually just seeking a dialogue, b) criticism is very useful when one moves past the emotions about it, and c) that I can sit with a criticism for a while and then decide to either incorporate it or reject it. No part of listening to criticism implies automatic acceptance or necessitates change on my part.
The third year of the experiment, I vowed to just say, “Thank you,” regardless of whether someone gave me a compliment OR a criticism. This was the year where I broke through and realized something very powerful: that I am the author of my own story, every day, regardless of whatever other stories are happening around me. I also learned that compliments and criticisms are neither to be wholesale accepted nor rejected, that they both sometimes come with strings that are the root of people’s yearning for power rather than authentic connection, and that when I remain unswayed by either the lure of praise nor the fear of critique, I am better able to remain steadfast and clear in doing my real work in the world.
Self-esteem is only useful insofar as it empowers you to take action, make change, or live out loud in a whole, real way. Sitting around wondering if you are good enough or not good enough to be active in your own life accomplishes nothing and really only causes suffering, as we will always have plenty of input to suggest both are true. Instead, maybe give it a try and just say, “Thank you” to all the gifts of input that come your way, then make your own decisions about who you are and what you want your story to be in the world. That is real self-esteem.
When dharma conversation turns to matters of nonduality, things can be truly mind-blowing, or they can get weird, and it’s not as much about the content as the tone of the conversation that makes it so. I notice that some people treat non-duality like “Hey man, you know, I mean what it really means is like there is no me and there is no you and there is no God but we’re kind of all God at the same time, too.” And while I actually really get that, it can be a bit off-putting to some who prefers a more scientific approach to the nature of reality and the nature of mind. Contrast to this quote by Lama Yeshe:
“All existing phenomena, whether deemed good or bad, are by nature beyond duality, beyond our false discriminations. Nothing that exists does so outside of non-duality. In other words, every existing energy is born within non-duality, functions within non-duality, and finally disappears into the nature of non-duality. We are born on this earth, live our lives and pass away all within the space of non-duality. This is the simple and natural truth, not some philosophy fabricated by Maitreya Buddha. We are talking about objective facts and the fundamental nature of reality, neither more nor less.”
Factually speaking, then, at the very least we can see that we are all here on this planet together for as long as any of us lives, and there is, as I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, No Way Out.
Have you ever had to share close quarters with someone? When I was a hippie love child dreamer nomad in my early 20s (that state still describes me, sort of), I remember living with a boyfriend and two cats in a tiny place the size of a shoebox with 3 other people and one other cat. When I lived in my first commune, we had 7 of us living in a 3-bedroom apartment, with an endless parade of guests and long-term visitors. Truth be told, I had no idea if I would come home to people already asleep (or doing other things!) in my bed at that time of my life. I loved the adventuresomeness of that (mostly), but as I have gotten older I prefer a little more spaciousness and order.
Enter this concept: Know Your Place.
It is an interesting turn of phrase. Most often it gets hurled as an insult. Women, people of color, the poor, the disabled, Trans folk, queers, children, the elderly, and others are told to Know Our Place as a way of silencing us, keeping us small, making us feel like we do not deserve to hold the center of our own experiences. It is a phrase that gets flung like a cake of mud, rather than exhaled as a warm invitation, if you get my drift.
Yet that same phrase, when it arises from within the meditative mind of a practitioner, is one of life’s most loving guidelines.
“Do I have more money, privilege, social currency, or power than this individual who is trying to open up their reality to me? Then perhaps I ought to know my place and listen more than I talk.”
“Does this conflict, situation, or debate involve me directly, or ought I know my place and observe as those who hold the center of this issue demonstrate their leadership?”
“Do I stand to gain from what is happening here? Then it might be a good idea for me to know my place and make sure to use that gain to also uplift others.”
To a more advanced aspirant, it might be, “I am experiencing pain right now. Let me take a moment to know my place in the wheel of karma, to accept that this pain is happening right now even if I don’t like it, and to find a way that whatever difficulty I am enduring right now will, in the long run, help alleviate others’ pain.”
Knowing our place, when this knowing arises from one’s own conscience in a way that uplifts, sustains, and supports the benefit of all beings, is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another while we’re all living on what sometimes feels like a shoebox of a planet or a big, messy commune called Earth. Knowing our place is good hygiene for life on the wheel of samsara.
But Know Your Place, when it comes from outside of one’s self, rarely feels like a gift. No one likes to be diminished, as in, “Know your place, stay small and quiet, you should be afraid of me, I’m more powerful than you.” No one likes to feel as though someone else gets to place a boundary around our exercise of personal power in what is essentially a non-dual world of limitless power. Even when it is correct for that to happen. So, if we need to say to someone, “Hey, you are really taking up a lot of room, exercising your privilege, or occupying the center here in a way that is causing harm,” we can basically predict that they might not like it, that they might feel angry or hurt, that they might lash out or get defiant or make things even worse. What does compassion look like in that situation? Is it to assuage their emotions and allow them to continue to take up that space, even if we are correct that they have overstepped in their power and are causing harm to us and others?
I propose that compassion might instead be to hold our ground with clarity and firmness, even if others must then burn through a veil of anger that causes us to be singed in the process. I propose that compassion is to sit in nonviolent resistance until authentic dialogue and communion can be achieved. I propose compassion involves listening to one’s own conscience and knowing when it is inappropriate to try to hold the center, and when not to. I propose that compassion means supporting one another by learning to share power and to expand the borders of privilege into their essential non-dual state so that all beings might live better. Finally, I propose that compassion is to offer gratitude and sensitivity to that person once they have found their way through their knee-jerk reaction, and to give them opportunities for restoration of justice and good will. It’s much easier to know our place when we know that everyone will have one if we exercise this good community hygiene.
From my newsletter this week:
One of the most famous and popular images found in nearly every temple and monastery in Tibet is the Wheel of Life, depicting a detailed cosmological map of existence according to the dharma view. A great, fearsome being, representing the nature of impermanence, clasps the entire wheel as if to devour it. Within each ring of the wheel many scenes are depicted that hold layered symbolism related to attachment, aversion, indifference, the states of conditioned existence, and karma. It’s a profound image to meditate upon, as it clearly shows how intimately connected all things are, and how truly deeply the laws of cause and effect run in the cycles of time.
Implicit in this wheel is another message: that no matter what, we are all here together in this process that has no beginning and no end. It is the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth, in which karma, rather than the concept of punishment and reward as it is frequently misunderstood in the west, is the simple dynamic of action and reaction, more like physics than morality. The phrase, “Every being has, at one time, been your mother,” a popular teaching in Buddhism, is one way of expressing this. Another way of expressing this is found in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the Earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically.” Yet another way of understanding this is to think that for all of eternity, in some form or another, we will meet one another again and again on the Wheel as we go round it.
The upshot is: we literally reap what we sow. Again and again. Our choices have consequences. Our words have echoes. Our actions have results. They are not always as we intend. We are all always learning from our own errors, lashings out, and mistakes. Because of them, we are always suffering from the errors, lashings out, and mistakes of others. It is unavoidable. In the west we are taught to think this is about the judgments and favors of fickle and bribe-able beings, but it’s not. It’s about science. Cause and effect, action and reaction, yielding a state of perpetual motion.
In this perpetual motion machine, we are creating our own need to return and atone for, correct, and experience our own actions, again and again. This goes equally for what we perceive as rewards. They are not actually rewards that have been granted because we were deemed “worthy.” They, too, are merely reverberations. Looking at it this way, rather than doing good things for the sake of feeling pious, or for some sense of personal, immediate reward, we are more motivated to do good things because if we are all stuck here in this cycle forever, it would be best if we do as much good as possible to negate or mitigate our own and others’ errors, lashings out, and mistakes. Because we begin to realize that if we do not want to suffer eternally, it is important that we help cease the sufferings of others, as these are inextricably tied. Alleviation of suffering, our own and others’, becomes paramount in importance when your timeline is eternity.
This is not something esoteric I am talking about. This is very real. I am talking about the fact that the plastic water bottle I threw away when I was 10 will be part of what makes the sea poisoned when I am 70, and will be there no matter how many times I might come back for thousands of years. Who knows how many of those lifetimes I might be a fish, a whale, a dolphin, a fisherman, or a swimmer? The sea itself is my personal responsibility, in this lifetime, and forever. Same, in a way, as with the sea of all living things.
At first, when I came to find that this way of thinking struck a chord within me, I felt trapped. I tried to avoid it, but there was no way out. Once I had seen the truth of this, it could not be unseen. I could not pretend any more that I was ignorant of the profound scientific basis of karma. I could no longer conjure the sense of glamour, fear, and piety that had once held me in religious sway. Rather, I felt humbled and tasked with an enormous mission.
I believe we are all on this mission together.
From my newsletter this week:
Last night I woke up to the sound of the raindrops on my window. Here in California the drought has been nearly unbearable for months now, and this rain made so many people happy. My garden is happy, too. I pulled out most of the dead and withered ornamentals and herbs over the past 3 years of drought, and just left the drought-resistant, hardy ones. The lavender, white sage, and sage scrub are all doing great. The bay laurel and the papyrus in her bucket are the only “luxury” plants I’ve kept and allowed myself to water through this drought, and even then only maybe once or twice per month. So, when the rain began last night, I rushed out into the wet darkness to celebrate along with these plant allies what was, for me, and must have been for them, a cooling burst of relief.
They were dancing on the wind. The leaves rustled and dripped with the sky’s nectar, and the entire garden smelled heavenly, with the release of fragrant oils and fragile compounds as the stalks and leaves surrendered to the storm.
I enjoy my garden here, though it has become wild and mostly desert plants over the past few years, a stark contrast to the lush greens and veggies that used to be there. But really, I have enjoyed every unique garden I ever tended, from my balcony basil in New York City, to my Bay Area guerrilla gardens in street medians, to my container garden in Berkeley, to this garden, with its bushes, trees, and raised beds. Everywhere I go, I garden.
And whenever I move, I leave my gardens behind. I might take a cutting, a small potted plant, or I might even dig up a plant and replant it somewhere else, but rarely do I bring along more than one or two. Mostly, I leave them: to the next person, or to fate.
This plant, seed, and leave process (pun intended) is part of my overall belief that the Earth deserves our care, regardless of where we are, regardless of whether we “own” it or not. When we all care for the Earth, it becomes clearer and clearer that “ownership” is not as good a descriptor for what we do here as “stewardship.” Today’s rain has me thinking about acts of stewardship: how do we care for the Earth? How do we care for the sacred waters? How do we care for the animals and plants?
How about each other?
Today is Dia de los Muertos. Pretty soon I will be headed into San Francisco to attend the annual parade with Albert and our friends. Today marks the final day of my annual remembrance of the dead. The Ancestors have been walking with me all week and weekend…some amazing stuff has happened, including a message from a shaman who passed two years ago whose work has inspired me. They have also been taking things away as they return to the unseen world after their visitation. I don't know who or what will go right up until they disappear these days. But in a way, isn't that always true?
We have to be willing to tend and cultivate everything we love, right up until the last possible minute, and then we need to be ready to walk away with love and grace when the time is right. Being a good steward of our ancestral relationships, spirit connections, human connections, and the Earth means, in part, knowing how to stay present for them, and knowing also that when things, circumstances, and people have passed on, we, too can move on. A simultaneously holding on and yet letting go. A loose handle on things. Stewardship, not ownership.
This Samhain season, I have moved on from several ideas, activities, relationships, and circumstances that no longer serve me. Like my garden, my life needs weeding sometimes. And at the same time, the rain of possibilities has brought forth some new shoots of activity and potential in my life. Little seeds have been planted that will be ripening over the next few months as I make some decisions about where next to focus my efforts. For now, I will be cultivating the dream-like expansiveness of winter, and thinking about where to plant myself next. Tending my own garden right now is my joy.
From my newsletter this week:
Lipton chicken noodle soup packets, tinned oysters in oil, grated horseradish with beets, instant coffee, mushrooms bubbling in a pot on the stove forever, the always-forgotten-till-the-last-minute cranberry jelly in a can... the foods I remember from childhood holidays leap out at me when I walk through the aisles of the supermarket at this time of year. Is it the season? the weather? the zeitgeist? What motivates this? The Mystery.
Yesterday, CAYA Aspirants visited the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, as part of our annual cycle of activities. It was a powerful event...we brought along ancestral items, sat in circle and shared our stories, and wandered among the halls of urns elaborately designed and articulated to look like a Library. We concluded our day with a Silent Supper in honor of our ancestors. This is all in preparation for our annual Festival of Death & Wisdom, this coming weekend.
When we remember the Dead, what is actually happening?
-creating an intention to connect with the memories of persons deceased
-through the connections with those memories, we “revive” those deceased persons, at least in our minds, for a time
-with reverent activities we honor the deceased persons
-offering substances, energies, and time to the spirit of that person
-enacting a promise to carry forth that person’s legend or legacy
-strengthening the wisdom, qualities, and other gifts we have that were originally bestowed by that person
-comforting ourselves after loss
-examining the nature of life and death
After yesterday’s Ancestor event, which admittedly left me a bit tearful (in a good way), I found myself stopping by the store to pick up some items for dinner, and all the foods of my grandmothers and grandfathers were there winking at me. I went ahead and picked up some of the Lipton soup packets-- I’m trying to keep a sore throat at bay, anyway. But it got me thinking about how food relates to eternity in the body of the Goddess.
We are, each of us, food in the mill of the Goddess. She bears us from her womb and swallows us again at the end of life, where we become the seed within her belly that grows into new life. She creates us to be entirely unique, then consumes our egos and identities, till nothing is left of us but our names written somewhere, then nowhere. She literally devours her own children, with great love, only to give birth to us again and again.
This does not mean that anything we do while alive is futile. Indeed, recalling our ancestors reminds us that our own actions are not futile at all, they have meaning, even if only to a single tiny watching child. We can be, at once, everything and nothing at all. We are, always, both food for the mill as well as the stuff of stars. We are, as we churn our way through time, the ancestors and the descendants at once--of a single flesh.
This is the Mystery. Even as it is revealed to us, it is obscured. It is self-secret. We can speak of it all night long and dance this Mystery till morning, and still it would only reveal itself to those willing to drink the starlight and revel in the ecstasy of the unknown and unknowing places in between the thighs of the Goddess and her jaws.
Blessings of Death & Wisdom to you.
From my newsletter this week:
I've learned a lot from watching my mom.
My mom has never shied away from doing the hard work, even when it ended up being very, very hard work. I have admired her for my whole life, as she went from getting her Master's Degree to teaching classes to developing an entire Human Services Department at the local community college to serving dinner to 500 people for Christmas Dinner each year (including providing deliveries and friendly visits to the homebound) to developing programs for everyone from early childhood educators to Alzheimer's caregivers in our town.
My mom is a helper spirit. My dad is, too (he will have his whole own post soon). Both of them have given their lives to service, in public and private ways. In 2013, they were honored by the Local YMCA for their lives of service through the church. In addition to all of the work they have done through their spiritual activities, they have also adopted two children, helped my sister raise her daughter, and supported their friends as they made their way through life's mazes, including really being there for many people who were going through major health challenges.
Nowhere was my mom ever promised an easy ride. In fact when faced with a choice between the comparably easy ride of marrying a soon-to-be doctor or my Dad, a recent priesthood drop-out who suddenly was way overqualified to teach Latin but had not made other career aspirations, she chose my father and his love over the promise of convenience that so many women her age were choosing at the time. Being the daughter of a woman who never made it past 8th grade, who exhorted my mom to marry wealthy but to be prepared with a good education just in case, might have influenced my mom's decisions. All I know is this: she never promised me an easy life, either, but she prepared me for a life rich in service, and taught me to be grateful for being able to help when I could.
Today, I tend to "lean in" when called to serve way more often than I "lean in" to money situations. I have learned the money has its own energy, that it comes and goes regardless of our best-laid plans, that nothing about money is stable or guaranteed. But the warmth and love of community, true friends, people who are willing to lend a hand even in their own times of struggle, and the nature of service as its own reward are very stable if one cultivates them well. And cultivation takes effort.
What could you do today that might require effort, but would help someone out whom you love? What could you do today that helps someone you don't even know? What could you do today that says, "Hey, I know none of us was ever promised it would be easy, but I am here to help as much as I can?"
DO THE THING!
From my newsletter this week:
There is a fire in the belly of America, seeking the waters of Justice.
Last week, a Black man who never told me his name, middle-aged, of average dress and appearance, walked up to my store, saw the Black Lives Matter sign on the door, and broke down in tears on the sidewalk. He crouched down in a squat and wept, and I just stood there and patted his shoulder (with his consent.) He cried for a long time, then he just stood up, looked me in the eye, said, "Thank you," and walked away.
In the witchcraft community we hear the rallying cry: "Never Again the Burning Times!" This is shorthand for our commitment to our religious freedom, and the memory of a terrible time in human history.
Another terrible time in human history was the advent of slavery, which stole people from their homeland and cast them across the waters, with uncountable lives lost and untold horrors wrought upon Black people.
And, make no mistake, there is another terrible time in human history upon us right now, with the mass killings, shootings, police violence, and other outrageous happenings that continue to disproportionately target the oppressed and those who have been left out of the loop of privilege, and who suffer the most from the forcible application of the will of the privileged upon them.
Today, I was driving through Brookdale, an Oakland neighborhood that is largely Black and Latin@, and I stumbled upon a Jewish cemetery I have never seen before. I drove through and paid my respects to the ancestors there, leaving offerings, and it was as though I heard their voices in unison: "No more holocausts! No more mass murders! Learn from what happened to us! No more fascism!"
Every day, we walk through the Burning Times. They are still upon us in humanity, maybe not upon us as witches and pagans, but upon the Black community for certain. What can we do to stop the modern Burning Times? We must raise our voices along with millions of ancestors and cry out, "ENOUGH! NEVER AGAIN THE BURNING TIMES," regardless of whether that Burning is upon a pile of sticks, or in a gas chamber, or with powder from a white man's gun.
From my newsletter this week:
You want real change? It takes work. Lots of work. But beyond our illusory fear that this kind of work is a grim labor is the freedom of knowing that this kind of work is actually a great joy.
One of my favorite quotes is Emma Goldman's famous one-liner: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!" I must have repeated this a hundred times if I've repeated it once.
Except, that's not exactly what Emma said.
Here is the actual quote, from her book Living My Life:
"At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal."
The fact of the matter is, in order to create the changes we want in this world, to truly liberate the oppressed, to end violence, to cease suffering...we are going to have to work very, very hard, in multiple bodies, over many lifetimes. This change will not happen overnight, nor will it happen without some measure of revolution, nor will it happen without a whole lot of effort from all of us in our own ways.
This does not mean there is no time to dance. It does not mean we all must become dour, fearful, tight, and clingy to our ideals instead of ever again enjoying a sunset, or a glass of wine, or a party, or the hugs of friends. We do not have to sacrifice the true pleasures of life, which are relatively simple and unrelated to money, in order to create change. We must be allowed to dance. To cherish the press of the hand of a friend upon our own. Shared laughter. Singing songs of liberation together.
However, we also can't just hit the commercial nightclubs, drink artificially-flavored booze from plastic cups while wearing clothing made in sweatshops, listen to music made by underpaid artists whose talents line the pockets of studio execs, and delude ourselves into thinking that this is the revolution, either.
We have to find ways to make the real work fun. We must uplift one another in times of stress and sorrow. We have to go easy on one another sometimes, and be less exacting in the face of another's human frailty, or our own. We have to remember that joy for all beings is the purpose behind every challenge we choose to take on. We have to care enough about the outcome of our revolution to make it a beautiful and caring revolution. Otherwise, we will just be nihilistically dismantling everything without regard to the deeper purposes of art, spirituality, beauty, family, culture, and pleasure. We already know what that nihilistic revolution looks like, and it is, indeed, a grim one. We can do better.
How are you fomenting a beautiful revolution that celebrates the finest things in life right now?