War is what happens when civilization fails. And our efforts at civilization have failed again and again, including at this very moment in many areas of the world.
I have just finished a stimulating interview with my friend, Dr. Ed Tick, a depth psychologist who has focused on healing the wounds of war.
Dr. Tick is a profound teacher and healer who works with the relationship of the Warrior Archetype to the healing of the traumas of war: PTSD and moral injury. His work with Veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan has included bringing groups of Veterans to Vietnam for reconciliation ceremonies with what were “enemy combatants” from the “Viet Cong” and National Liberation Front.
In this interview he talks about his own development. He speaks of the work he needed to do himself as an anti-war activist crossing boundaries of belief and attitude so he could sit with empathy and compassion with physically and emotionally wounded soldiers who have fought America’s wars.
Dr. Tick is the author of numerous books including, Warrior’s Return -Restoring the Soul After War, The Practice of Dream Healing – Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine and his just released Coming Home in Vietnam. Coming Home is a book of poetry that comes from his direct experiences doing the reconciliation work in Vietnam. The book “illuminates the soul-searching and healing that occurs when Vietnamese women and children and veterans of every faction of the “American War” gather together to share storytelling and ritual, grieving, reconciliation, and atonement.”
I highly recommend his books available at all the regular sources and hope you listen to and enjoy my interview with him either on YouTube , or as a podcast.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” –Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address (before the Civil War)
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” –Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address (as the war was ending)
Are there Angels, Aliens, Beings that reside in other dimensions? Are we humans able to contact them, communicate and commune with them in ways that would be of benefit to ourselves and this planet? Even to entertain this question seriously, one would have to cross a series of mental boundaries set by the Western, secular and scientific mindset of reality.
Are many of the people who embrace and support Trump actually decent, moral and intelligent men and women? For a liberal or progressive person, it would involve crossing a boundary of beliefs and attitudes to even consider this. Likewise from the other direction.
I had a conversation with someone who has crossed both those boundaries and is also helping others to do the same, especially regarding the latter issue. Ciaran O’Connor is one of the leaders of Braver Angels. Braver Angels is one of the organization that I’ve spoken about (see: https://youtu.be/PhSPDyFnEfo) and written about (see: http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/talk-with-your-enemy-dialogue-about-dialogue/ ) that brings folks from polarized political and cultural viewpoints together for what I call bridge building of the heart. They call this reducing affective depolarization – being able to disagree strongly about ideas, but not hate or disrespect the person with the opposing views.
I’ve participated in a number of Braver Angels workshops and recently began a one-to-one series of meetings with a conservative, Trump supporter arranged through Braver Angels. These meetings have carefully structured outlines for the encounters. In all my experiences with BA I’ve found myself challenged. At the same time I’ve found myself gaining a more expanded sense of appreciation for the people on “the other side” and grown in my ability to speak of my progressive ideas without anger or disrespect.
Ciaran has been with Braver Angels since its very early days and has helped it grow to where now it has thousands of members and has reached many thousands on both sides of the political divide. I admire how he models the attitude and skills of healthy dialogue involving complex and usually divisive issues. He does this through his own podcast and through Braver Angels style panel “debate/discussions” on very contentious issues of the day.
I was also very interested (and pleased) to hear from Ciaran that he has explored altered states of consciousness through both meditation and psychedelics. In my interview with him, he talks about how these experiences have helped him in his life. He’s also talked of experiences that opened him to the possibility of relating to non-physical beings as allies in our work to make the world better. He and I agree that this reawakening to the indigenous and shamanic worldview may be an important key to resolving the crises of our time.
Whether you are yet a believer in the presence of Angels or believe that humans can act more like “angels” courageously and empathically, I think you will find my interview with Ciaran O’Connor stimulating.
“Any drug can be used successfully, no matter how bad it’s reputation, and any drug can be abused, no matter how accepted it is. There are no good or bad rugs; there are only good and bad relationships with drugs.” ― Andrew Weil, M.D.
“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates.” ― Gabor Maté,
“By banning psychedelic research we have not only given up the study of an interesting drug or group of substances, but also abandoned one of the most promising approaches to the understanding of the human mind and consciousness.” –Stan Grof
I’ve been thinking about writing about drugs for the longest time. There is so much to say and it’s also hard to keep up with the changing mood of the public at large and the slower but noticeable changes taking place in public policy. So it’s been hard to know where to begin.
But now, the New York Times has published the sanest, most sensitive, rational and clear and…did I say, SANE, article on drugs that I’ve yet seen in the mainstream media. As I read it, little wows kept going off in my mind. Wow, this person really gets it, the whole picture: the stupid waste and destruction of the war on drugs, the false assumption that some drugs are inherently addictive, harm reduction, legalization, cultural appropriation of native cultures, the healing and spiritually awakening potentials of psychedelics, and more. The author even managed to write about all this without what has become the required disparaging note about Tim Leary, even offering a respectful observation of Leary’s insight about set and setting (which, in fact, this is all about – see below).
At the bottom of the article I found out the author is Michael Pollan, which then made sense. He’s the best selling writer about food who then wrote about his exploration of psychedelics in his book, How to Change Your Mind, and has made psychedelic journeys a best selling experience. I say that respectfully. I’ve been closely aware of what Pollan calls “the underground psychedelic movement” (as distinguished from the “above ground” much smaller, but growing, network of government sanctioned research studies at various university medical schools). Pollan’s book has brought folks who may or may not have done some acid or shrooms “back in the day” out seeking psycho-spiritually or shamanically guided experiences with entheogens (the now preferred word for psychedelics). And I think that’s a very good thing (for the most part – again, see below).
AND, let me take advantage of this moment of sharing the lucid writing of Michael Pollan to segue into offering some of my own thoughts on the subject that I hope you find interesting.
Coming back to set and setting. Basically, this means that a psychedelic (for example) does not contain in itself the states of consciousness that people experience with them. Rather, they are catalysts for what is happening with the mix of the setting (all that is out around the person – people, sound, environment, etc.) and the set (all that is within the person – expectations, fears, hopes, beliefs, intentions, etc.). In truth, and Pollan does say this, this is happening all the time with everything that we experience. Our inner world is meeting with the outer world and producing an experience.
When I was teaching a class on chemical dependency treatment at several schools in California in the 90’s, I developed a model that I feel applies to everything we relate with whether drugs and alcohol or people, places, things, or even processes or activities like sex, exercise or eating. The idea is that we relate with a quality of consciousness, a mindset, that defines and makes the relationship into one that is very destructive or very helpful, even sacred.
These kinds of relationships can be thought to exist on a continuum from addiction to spiritually awakening. And the interesting thing is that almost anything can be used in any of these ways, depending on the set and setting. Andrew Weil, whose classic on the subject, From Chocolate to Morphine, gives numerous examples of the ways that different cultures (settings) have made use of substances that we think of as destructive and addictive (e.g.: opiates, coca, tobacco) in healthy and sometimes sacred ways. If we only know about the unhealthy ways people in our culture have related to them, we tend to think the substance is inherently bad.
Fo another example, it’s not too hard to see how one can have a kind of relationship with another human being that falls within any of these descriptors: addictive, abusive, recreational, etc.. Likewise with sex, exercise, food (or certain foods), or any substance. It’s all in how we relate.
Some folks seem able to use substances recreationally that other folks abuse or use addictively. For some people, the healthiest way to be with a certain substance may be to only use it ritually or ceremonially with a clear intention, or not at all. I once worked with a medical doctor who was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. In a visionary experience he came to see that he loved tobacco but that the healthiest way for him to relate with it was to put a small amount in a bowl on an altar and not smoke it. He stopped smoking from then on.
As marijuana legalization is now the rule in a growing number of states, and will likely be legal nationally before long, it’s a good idea to recognize that pot (like very legal alcohol) is not an innocuous substance. It can indeed be abused and people can be addicted. That in no way means it should be illegal or criminalized. People need to learn to form healthy relationships with it if they are going to use it. To quote Tim Leary again, “Just say KNOW.” Know what you are doing and how you are doing it. Pot can relax and help sleep, it can be fun, it can inspire creative, artistic work, it can be used to amplify spiritual discovery. It can also be used to numb the mind, amplify depression and stunt motivation. To say it one more time: it’s how we relate with it.
With stronger psychedelics now becoming mainstream, we should also be aware of some dangers. Inexperienced users taking potent substances in chaotic settings and untrained “guides” setting up shop to lead sessions may very well lead to dangerous and harmful events and be a setup for another backlash.
All that said, I am one of those who find the upsurge in interest in the healing and spiritual awakening uses of psychedelics to be a very good thing. I know it may be a stretch to say, but it may be the primary thing that will keep humanity from driving over the cliff. But I’ll leave that for another day.
One last thing. Here is a great place to go for understanding the care and mindset that goes into a healthy guides orientation for “holding space.” Please see The Guiding Presence: https://theguidingpresence.com/.
“It is time to let go of the notion that we are independent individuals and disconnected nations.” — Paula Green
“Our survival depends on a significant portion of the human race accomplishing a change in worldview, from one of patriotic and tribal loyalties to loyalty to life itself.” —Paula Green
My interest in crossing boundaries goes back many years, focusing on individuals who adopted whole new belief systems and practices from the ones in which they were raised, to groups reaching across the chasms that divide them from other groups and finding common ground and appreciation.
In my last message I brought some focus to the work of Paula Green and the project Hands Across the Hills that brings together liberals from Western Mass. with Trump supporters from coal country Kentucky. Since then I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Paula and we had a wonderful conversation which is available on my YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GA. Please listen in when you have some time. Paula is truly an amazing “peacebuilder” as she calls her work. She founded the Karuna Centerwhich developed projects all over the world helping build bridges between people in areas wracked by violence and war. That work took her to Burma, Bosnia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Nepal and Israel/Palestine.
About Hands Across the Hills, Paula has said, “I believe, the project offers hope in a time of national despair.” We all can benefit from more hope
There is much to learn from Paula’s work and how it relates to our own consciousness. As she says, “Our challenge is to understand …and take responsibility for our role in the dance. The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.” We would all do well and benefit from learning to monitor our own stream of judging and dividing.
“Tradition is a profound echo chamber
of the countless generations of its faithful
reaching into antiquity.”
“We are creatures of a natural world
that is itself a multi-colored garbing of divine glory.”
“I have learned to express the universal truth
in the language of Jewish tradition.” –Arthur Green
Arthur Green went from being raised in a
secular (in this case, atheist) Jewish home to become one of the leading
lights among those re-infusing Judaism with a deep mystical experience
that is universal in nature and devoid of the rigidity commonly
associated with Orthodoxy.
He refers to his path as Neo-Hasidic, drawing on the mystical teachings
of the great masters of the early Hasidic tradition and bringing them
into alignment with life in the modern and post-modern world. Arthur has
a voice of authenticity and makes no pretense of being a guru (or even
rebbe) but rather teaches and shares from his own study, practice and
He was a founding dean of the non-denominational rabbinical program at
Hebrew College in Boston, where he still teaches and he has authored
over seventeen books. I read Judaism for the World -Reflections on God, Life, and Love
preparing for my conversation with him. There is something so real and
honest and deep about the Judaism he describes that I can honestly say I
am drawn to look again at the study and practices of the Jewish
We spoke of the very common phenomenon of Jews seeking deep spiritual
experience through other spiritual/religious paths such as those I
interviewed for my own book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. We
also spoke of his early experiences with psychedelic substances through
which he found, along with his friend and mentor, Zalman Schachter, an
experiential confirmation of the mystical teachings of Judaism and all
world religions. You can view a full half-hour interview with Arthur and
Rabbi Zak Kamenetz on this subject which took place at the “Jewish
Psychedelic Summit” in April of 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHZqwQiuO0A
My conversation with Art ranged along many
lines including ideas about Jewish identity, the Soul, the role of
tradition and ritual, the perennial philosophy, Israel/Palestine, and
the One and the many. It is part of a series of Crossing the Boundary
interviews I am doing with people who have crossed boundaries for their
own good and the good of all life. You can see the the full list of them
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have shifted from being seen as a quaint, odd but innocent presence, mostly but not exclusively in New York, to a political power block at the center of numerous controversies. Their very high birth rate makes them the fastest growing of all Jewish sects in the U.S. (and Israel). As their population expands, they have taken over increasing areas of New York City, Rockland County, and small towns upstate. They have been able to roll over resistance from previous residents of those areas and present challenges regarding environmental regulations, residential zoning laws, school boards, and other issues.
However, while their population expands explosively, so does the growing number of those who seek to leave the fold when they are able. That ability to leave is hampered by the fact that children raised in the very insular ultra-Orthodox world often speak little English and have few skills for navigating the world outside. While this is not true of Modern Orthodox families, the more extremely fundamentalist schools of the ultra-Orthodox, (yeshivas) provide very little secular education (math, civics, science, history). As well, the students are taught to fear the outside world. A young adult seeking to find their way outside the boundary of the enclave faces not only intense family and community pressure, but a lack of knowledge on how to communicate, find housing and work.
Despite the fact that New York and most other states have requirements for all schools, including religious ones, to teach English and secular studies, the political power of the ultra-Orthodox has caused even liberal mayors and governors to look the other way. Along comes one yeshiva boy who couldn’t take it any more. Naftuli Moster was raised with 17 siblings in a very conservative sect of the Hasidic world in Borough Park, Brooklyn. His journey, starting with an interest in psychology, led him on an odyssey that put him in conflict with family and community and to his founding of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education).
YAFFED has taken on the task of advocating for young people who attend yeshivas to receive the state mandated time and attention to secular education. While he and his organization have received a great amount of recognition and awards, the actual progress has been minimal. Political leaders seeking re-election fear the voting block of thousands of ultra-Orthodox mobilized by their rabbinic leaders. The ultra-Orthodox leaders fear that if their youth were educated properly, more would find their way to live outside the very confining norms and traditions of their community. That fear may be well founded, but preventing kids from receiving a full education is both immoral and illegal.
Many popular books have portrayed the very difficult and sometimes dangerous road to leaving the ultra-Orthodox world. There are memoirs such as, All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen and the hilarious Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander. Also, several mainstream movies, such as “Unorthodox” and “One of Us” give a stark picture of the challenge in crossing that boundary to the outside world they’ve been raised to see as “the other.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Naftuli as part of my Crossing Boundaries series. We explored his life as a child growing up leading to his slow transition to a very different kind of life and dedicated activism on behalf of those young people still in the Hasidic yeshivas. You can view the full interview here: https://youtu.be/7yHxCqejlVU.
“The introduction of LSD and psychedelics into the culture produced a transformation of the entire culture, the consciousness of the culture.” –Ralph Metzner
“For years I’ve followed a principle: Read anything Ralph Metzner writes.” –Larry Dossey
“You have pulled the whole thing together in a truly illuminated and illuminating way.”
–Joseph Campbell (about The Unfolding Self)
“…….When I asked him how to experience this teaching, he closed his eyes and his body seemed to de-materialize. Part of him went up and up in stages and then slowly came back down. …When he came back down, he told me to follow him to his cabin and he led me through an experience in which I felt all the negativity, doubt, fear, shame and pain that I’d been carrying for my whole life cleansed from my body, cell by cell, cleansed by a stream of white light. I felt clearer than I’d ever felt, confident and certain that this was the path for me to follow. Ralph (Metzner) had initiated me into the spiritual lineage of Agni Yoga and what would be a 45 year relationship with him as well as a meditation practice I use to this day.”
Ralph Metzner died two years ago and his birthday was last week, May 18th. The experience I recount above is part of an article for a Festschrift (tribute book) for Ralph that is being lovingly edited by his wife, Cathy Coleman. The piece above is about my first encounter with him in 1969 where he led a retreat on “Maps of Consciousness” and introduced me to the Western esoteric practices of Agni Yoga. I can honestly say that two years after his death I think of him every day. No one has been as important in my spiritual journey.
Ralph was a scholar, a prolific writer of books and articles, lecturer, teacher and ceremonial leader of inner experiences which were participated in by perhaps thousands. His influence in the fields of transpersonal and eco-psychology was profound. But to many of those of us who worked with him, nothing compared to his unique and innovative approach to guiding altered-state experiences with sacred medicines. Ralph was the teacher of teachers, the guide for guides, the shaman for shamans in the underground movement of entheogenic (psychedelic) experiences.
Ralph was the third, much lesser known of the three men from Harvard renowned for blowing the lid off the secret study of psychedelics. Tim Leary went on to be an icon of the wild side of the counter-culture while Richard Alpert became Ram Dass and brought Eastern spirituality to millions. Ralph took a quieter road and became deeply involved in disciplines of esoteric practices and finally integrated those with psychedelics bringing about his unique form of teachings and guidance. His legacy includes books which are filled with both scientific information and instructions for the use of: MDMA (Through the Gateway of the Heart), Ayahuasca (Ayuhasca-Sacred Vine of Spirit), Mushrooms (Teonanacatl-Sacred Mushroom of Visions), DMT and 5-Meo-DMT (The Toad and the Jaguar) as well as an all-inclusive manual (Allies for Awakening – Guidelines for productive and safe experiences with entheogen).
A master of shape-shifting and consciousness, he could also maintain his work as a psychologist, a teacher and dean at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and beloved husband and father. His books and articles took in-depth looks at consciousness studies, the roots of war and violence and the meanings of many of the world’s mythologies, metaphors and symbols.
The depth of his insights makes for more dense reading than most popular spiritual books. But my guess is that many of them will become classics for those seeking to penetrate beyond the superficial understandings of consciousness and spirit. For Ralph, the alchemical work was not an intellectual exercise. He practiced what he preached and transformed himself decade by decade. I miss him and yet know and feel he is still here.
As celebration of his birthday, Green Earth Foundation announced that what I think is his most comprehensive work, The Unfolding Self, has been made into an audio book. You can see more and order it here: https://www.pipewellstudios.uk/.
“How do we vigorously disagree with political positions and destructive actions while refraining from dehumanization and self-righteousness?….
The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.” –Paula Green, founder of Hands Across the Valley
“If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from hatred or disdain to respect & appreciation.” –from Braver Angels website
“…today’s crises demand that we aim for what King called “positive peace,” with justice for all, rather than civility, which is sometimes used as a cudgel to uphold an unjust status quo” –Joseph Bubman, founder of Urban Rural Action
I’ve been a meditation teacher since the mid 1970’s and a licensed therapist since 1985. I think of myself as skilled in communication and resolving conflicts. I have worked with people to resolve conflicts within themselves and in their personal relationships. But I have to admit to being a slow learner in being able to talk with people who disagree with me politically, especially if they are conservative or right-wing.
A helpful teaching for me is that we are not our ideas. I am not my beliefs and therefore neither is anyone else. People are far more than any particular idea that they happen to believe. This is especially true of political thinking involving abstractions, complex sets of ideas that often have little to do with the deeper values and intentions that move a person through life.
But we are living in a world where political beliefs have become a rigid form of identification of who we are. Beliefs about people with differing views tend to be placed in boxes labeled with stereotypes that ignore the many facets and dimensions of the individual. This polarization plays a major role in tearing the country apart and is an obstacle to any efforts to actually solve the many problems we face including racial and gender justice, the needs of refugees, poverty, and the ecological crises.
So I’ve been looking into groups that are seeking to help de-polarize the culture. I gave a talk about one very successful effort, Braver Angels, which you can view at https://youtu.be/PhSPDyFnEfo.
Another group with a similar focus, Hands Across the Valley, has been bringing liberals from Western Mass together with conservatives from Kentucky for deep encounters and human bridge-building. As Paula Green, who founded the Hands group states, “What can we progressives learn from how we are perceived by others that is worthy of self-examination and potentially modifying our views? How do we vigorously disagree with political positions and destructive actions while refraining from dehumanization and self-righteousness? In my work as a peace builder overseas, I learned to recognize dignity as fundamental to human well-being and its absence as a contributing cause to social ills ranging from self-rejection to hatred and war. Since dignity is not self-appointed but is confirmed and upheld by others, a harmonious society requires we grant it to one another…..
“Our challenge is to understand this dynamic and to take responsibility for our role in the dance. The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.”
This last sentence is especially worth noting as it calls attention to the importance of the psychological and spiritual work we need to do on ourselves, to free ourselves from our own destructive impulses.
Joseph Bubman, who founded Urban Rural Action, , writes, “We bridge-builders often identify civility as the goal—polarization is the problem, incivility is the diagnosis, and civil dialogue is the solution. If we just bring everyone to the table, the thinking goes, then we can unify. We can heal by accepting a “negative peace,” as Martin Luther King Jr. described the absence of tension in an unjust society.
“But today’s crises demand that we aim for what King called “positive peace,” with justice for all, rather than civility, which is sometimes used as a cudgel to uphold an unjust status quo.
“We must recognize that we ourselves are actors within the conflict context—what we say and do (and don’t say or do) affects the context. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can or should be “neutral.” When violent extremists desecrate our democracy and we demur lest we face criticism for appearing biased, we are not being neutral—we are normalizing political violence. Instead, we should champion American values of peaceful expression and democratic participation.
“At worst, our bridge-building efforts champion superficial civility, celebrate false unity, and uphold an unjust status quo. But at our best, we can expand movements to advance peace, justice, and democracy. Indeed, the future of America depends on it.”
Among other things, Bubman was reacting to a “debate” held by Braver Angels where one side was arguing that the election was stolen, a view he sees as untrue and destructive. But how to address the millions of people who disagree? So there is conflict about how to resolve conflict. No surprise. I recommend reading and learning more about Braver Angels, Hands Across the Valley and Bubman’s Urban Rural Action.
At another point, Bubman does says, “Better conversations alone won’t address complex societal problems, but complex societal problems can’t be addressed without better conversations.” Who can argue with that?
The groups mentioned here all attempt in somewhat different ways to foster better conversations and I do think we all very much need to learn the skills for doing that. You are invited to join me this next Monday in my webinar series Staying Sane While Making the World Better. We’ll focus on all this there. Hope to see you Monday, April 26, 7:30 PM EDT. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81129871531?pwd=YWl1QVlPd0twWHV4a3VGN3d3MDNmZz09
Another important key I’ve been working with is to remember that the intention of conversation is not to persuade but to understand.
If you want to begin or further your understanding of “the other side,” some recommendations are:
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver
This is an invitation to take part in a free online series focusing on keeping a healthy balance while working to improve the conditions of the world. These one-hour presentations will be aimed at supporting those already active in the movements for justice, peace and Earth-care, and anyone seeking to find their way to be more involved or supportive.
As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher for over 45 years and a long-time activist since the Sixties, I have for several decades been working with those who seek to integrate spirituality, psychology and progressive social/political action. I believe that this holistic orientation, sometimes called “spiritual. sacred or holistic activism” is the path for truly shifting the consciousness that underlies injustice, war and the destruction of our home planet, Gaia, Mother Earth. It is the path for those seeking to sustain the courage, energy and attitude needed to help bend the moral arc of the universe towards true justice*.
I’ll be doing this through Zoom and will send the invite link to those who request it by replying to this message. Following is a flyer that describes some of the themes that will be part of the series. I hope you feel inclined to give it a try.
Added note: All actions for justice must consider the healing of past injustice. In this regard it is important to recognize that we live on land taken by violence and honor those first peoples and their descendants. Here is a resource for finding out something about who lived on the land you now occupy. https://native-land.ca
STAYING SANE WHILE MAKING THE WORLD BETTER
ONLINE GATHERING EVERY OTHER MONDAY STARTS – SEPT. 21 – 7:30 EASTERN TIME
This will be a series of one-hour sessions, each focusing on an aspect of the main theme, staying sane while making the world better. We will focus on teachings and practices with two essential goals: 1) not going crazy or getting stuck in depression or anxiety in response to what is going on in the world, 2) finding a full bodied, fully human, fully YOU way to take an active part in the transformation the world needs. Each session will include an introductory talk, a meditative/inner work experience, and a chance for questions. All sessions will be presented with a holistic view integrating body, mind and spirit.
Below is a tentative outline describing some of the topics we will focus on. Changes will likely be made as things unfold and I receive feedback, comments and suggestions. We are at a pivotal point in human history, we are all feeling it in one way or another, we are all being called to be who we are and do our part.
I offer this for free to activists or anyone who is wanting to become more active but has not yet
found a way.
1- Intention – Why do we do what we do? Intention is what determines what we pay attention to and it is what moves us to do what we do. Being able to make our intentions clear and conscious is essential. Wisdom traditions tell us that we each have a unique, core intention or purpose for our lives, but we have to recognize and choose it. We will look at how we can open and align with that core intention. We will also shine light on and recognize the unconscious intentions that distract and sabotage us and move us towards confusion, anxiety, depression and/or destructive behaviors.
2 – Your body and your mind as your primary responsibility – We all need to make our own bodies and minds a first priority. People frequently share the simple metaphor of being on an airplane when there is a problem, the oxygen masks drop down, and you first put on your own and then help children and others. Yet, most folks, especially those helping others, don’t operate this way. We will experience specific methods to bring caring and healing attention to the well-being of your own body and take responsibility for the state of your mind. It’s been said, “Be the peace you want to see in the world.” Let’s BE that.
3 – Being with and Dealing with heavy emotions – It is quite human to react to the things happening in the world with anger, sadness, guilt or shame. There is nothing wrong with that. It is how we respond to these emotions within ourselves that determines how they affect our physical and psychological health, and our effectiveness in our work. We will work with practices for looking inside, sharing in group ceremony or ritual, and finding empowerment in the energy of all our emotions.
4 – Finding your ecological self – You are not alone. You are part of a family, a community,
humanity, and the community of living beings of all the realms that are with us here on Mother
Earth. Though you may feel alone at times, this reality of inter-relatedness is always a fact of
life. Yet, just as our minds have been conditioned to see through the lens of patriarchy and
white superiority, we have learned to experience ourselves as separate from and a higher form
of life than the rest of nature. We will seek to reawaken to a more unbounded sense of who we
are and find support for our activism from the web of life of which we are part.
5 – Being the Peaceful Warrior – The Warrior, as an archetype or aspect of our true nature, works to support and defend an individual organism, group or natural system. While most people associate it with violence, it is more profoundly expressed by the non-violent activists who devote time and energy for social justice and peace, and to protecting and sustaining our natural world. It is a part of your nature in the way your immune system protects your body. It is what gives us the strength to carry on the struggle for a better world. We can learn to call on it for what we are called by our soul to do.
6 – Finding Your Unique Part – Few things are more frustrating than receiving dozens of messages, each calling for help related to a piece of the puzzle of world suffering, and knowing you cannot respond to them all. How to decide? Where to place your attention, your money, your time, your energy? We will share some ideas and exercises for answering these questions. We will also draw on ways of finding guidance that comes from the wisdom traditions of our ancestors.
7 – Empathy for the “Enemy” – Many of us struggle with feeling hate towards people whose ideas and behaviors are repugnant to us such as White supremacists, misogynists, homophobes or Donald Trump and his allies. There is an almost instinctual feeling of hate towards those who hate. It’s easy to repeat the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But it’s sure not easy to do. Let’s look at how we can be in this world with haters and not poison ourselves or anyone else with more hate.
And lots more if there is interest!
We start Monday at 7:30 Eastern Time, Sept. 21st (International Peace Day and Autumn Equinox) and will meet every two weeks. Attend when you can. I’ll plan to record and make available for those who miss the live event. Email me for link to participate: alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org
(Note: In 2003, I wrote the following message which I have only slightly edited to reflect that there is a different President and circumstances. I hope it is helpful for some of you.)
For a good while there has been a groundswell, almost a tidal wave of interest in yoga. Yoga studios are open in storefronts everywhere. Yoga is being brought into the executive suites. Video tapes of yoga teachers are selling in supermarkets and chain video stores (a bit outdated, substitute streaming services). The word, from 10,000 years back, is now mainstream.
I may not have to tell you that yoga, in addition to including stretching exercises that help the body relax and release stress, is a path towards spiritual wholeness. It is a way to move towards union with one’s true nature, the compassionate essential nature of living free of attachment and the entrapments of the reactive mind. There is a belief that when practiced with expanded awareness of the entire planet, its benefits are brought to all living beings.
Well, practitioners are about to have a powerful opportunity to practice yoga in a most challenging, and potentially life-transforming way, and at no charge. The upcoming Republican convention will culminate on Aug 27th with when President 45 will be giving his acceptance speech. It will be televised. He will, among other things, make his case for what he has done to this country and the world over the past three plus years. This is the opportunity for your practice.
If you choose to watch this event, you will be challenged to maintain awareness of conscious breathing, observe your body deeply, stay centered in the heart of compassion, and allow images, thoughts and emotions to pass through your mind without clinging to them. The benefits of doing this will be enormous, both for your own growth and the entire planet, perhaps having an influence on whether or not he is re-elected.
From my own practice and teaching experience, I want to share a couple of suggestions. I realize that I take the risk that some will think this is “New Age” pablum. But as I see it, our civilization’s notions of what is real are as much in question as the politics of narcissism, fear and greed that have been dominant. The truth is, I could not be more serious about the depth and significance with which this process may be held. I offer these 12 suggestions to you for your consideration. Take of it only what resonates for you and feel free to pass it along.
Caution: If you are quite well established in your practice you may choose to do this alone. But most people will find that a group setting brings the necessary support for safe practice. Prepare by agreeing on your intentions. Practice lightly and with good humor.
1) Find an appropriate posture that best allows you to stay aware of your body, a comfortably straight back is good. Allow yourself space, and give yourself permission to move and stretch as your body needs.
2) It’s a good idea to prepare with a deep centering meditation prior to the viewing. You may want to do some movement to discharge tension. Center your awareness in the area of your heart or heart chakra, and allow love to radiate throughout you and the room, including the TV. Recognize the presence of others who share your intention, even those who are not physically with you.
3) As the President is introduced and you first see his face, remind yourself that the Spirit that pervades everything – the Source of Life – is within and all around you, and within and all around him. At the same time, be aware of any reactions that you are having: contractions in the belly, nausea, rage, the urge to flee, scream or break something. Open to these feelings and thoughts, and breathe. Especially be aware of your body. Breathe and relax. Do not be afraid if you feel a sense of empathy. He is, after all, a man, a man caught in a web of immense, almost incalculable influences from sources we barely fathom.
4) As he speaks, pay attention to his face. Notice his eyes, mouth and lips especially. They will help you see more clearly where he is coming from. This will also help you to be aware of your own reactions. Breathe. Stretch and relax. Don’t judge yourself for any emotions or images that appear in your mind. Let them be.
5) Remind yourself that you are watching a television or computer device. When your mind starts to pick up a stone to throw at the image on the screen, remember this: This machine is made largely of petro-chemicals (oil) and it is consuming electricity coming from energy sources that are part of a global empire, an empire expanding at the expense of the life of this planet. Acknowledge that you are complicit in the human activity behind this man and what he is advocating. So am I. Breathe. Let the tension soften. Accept how imperfectly you are able to release the contractions in your body that result from judgementalism. Accept the degree of release you are currently feeling. Breathe.
6) Open to recognize the forces that are behind and all around this man. What do they feel like? Do you have a name or image of what they look like? Perhaps they are the same forces that are behind his apparent friends in Brazil, China and Russia? Perhaps they are the forces that sometimes work through you and me, perhaps right now. Breathe. Consider the intensity of being really in the grip of these forces. Perhaps images that come from the Tolkein trilogy or Harry Potter will come to mind. Perhaps you’ve heard of Wetiko? Recognize how your body and mind react in the face of this. Call on your strength to stay in your heart and feel the light of compassion. Let tears or rage rise and let all feelings be in the fire of your peaceful intention.
7) Remember that we are in the flow of time and that as you breathe the present is forming into the future. The quality of your mind, your thoughts and intentions are helping shape the reality that is becoming, just as is the mind of 45. Be aware of what you are putting into the system. Know that you can be responsible for your thoughts. Breathe. Release judgement of yourself for not being perfect at this.
8) Continue to look at 45 and listen to his voice. If you find it difficult to stay centered, invoke the presence of all the peaceful warriors that have sought to bring humanity to more harmonious consciousness and behavior through teaching, healing, the arts, and through organizing activist movements. Remember your ancestors. Breathe.
9) When curses and gestures of rage are felt, notice how they effect your body. If you contract, move into that and exaggerate it, then release. If feelings of helplessness and grief arise, be aware of your breath and feel the strength of the life force within you.
10) Be aware of the people of color, the refugees, those currently demonized and made to seem “other” by this man. Be aware of the animals, plants, rivers, oceans and land. Picture as clearly as you can, the faces of actual men, women, children, babies separated at borders, abused by police and disempowered by the system of thought 45 promotes and amplifies. Be aware of the tens of thousands of young American men and women who are required to enforce his commands and fight for him. Consider their families and your own relationship to these people. Allow whatever feelings you have to rise up into your full awareness. Let the awesome tide of suffering be in your view and in your heart. There is an ancient Jewish prayer that I find helpful in such moments: Shiviti Adonai L’negdi Tamid. “I invoke the presence of the Holiness of Life throughout and around me at all times.”
11) When 45 says “God Bless America”, remind yourself of the highest, deepest Reality that truly does bless ALL that is and helps that which it blesses to become more awake to the boundless love of the Source of life. Feel that in yourself and in all your relations. Bring your hands to prayer position in front of you and bow humbly to that Presence even in this man.
12) Allow time to continue to be with the feelings and thoughts you are having during and after the speech. Allow your thoughts to gradually open to the question of what it is that you are called to do about what you are experiencing, about what is going on. If you are with friends, perhaps a healthy discussion would help.