Why Spiritual Activism

IMG_7283It sells nothing. It has no agenda but to give voice to those values which otherwise go unexpressed in the public discourse: values like peace, justice and sustainability.

Unfortunately, as the term “sustainability” has become synonymous with a specific business driven agenda, it’s easy to forget what it’s really about: the capacity of human beings to sustain our presence on this planet.

At a time when resources seemed infinite, sustainability was not an issue in our world. It’s only recently that we’ve seen the vast consequences of the West’s shift towards corporate capitalism, industrialization and technology.

But if things changed so quickly once, they can change again.

There are certainly nefarious individuals among us who would have you believe that greed, violence and injustice are the cornerstones and final words regarding human interaction. In believing that dark vision of human nature, you do their work for them. They would not have you believe in things like peace, cooperation or even an equitable democracy. Instead they wish you only to think the worst of each other and yourselves.

Religious forces ask you to believe in your unworthiness. Capitalist forces ask you to believe in your poverty. Media forces ask you to believe in your helplessness and ugliness. Pharmaceutical forces ask you to believe in your illness. So called educational forces ask you to believe in your children’s disabilities, and political forces ask you to believe in the most pernicious things of all: your separation from other human beings and the world around you. These are the values to which we are exposed everyday. These are the values of every advertising and political campaign, and they play on the assumption that you are inadequate.

As a Spiritual Activist, I only ask that you dare believe in your best, in the power of your voice, in the power of harmony to seek itself and the power of human beings to come together peacefully to create solutions for a better world.

Don’t bother  sharing this message with the ignorant, the angry or the willfully indifferent. I don’t speak for them, I speak for you: the caring but overwhelmed, the loving but discouraged, the peaceful but afraid.

I speak in order that you find your own voice, your own courage and your own sense of purpose. I speak to let you know that you are not alone and to remind you that when you give in to cynicism and pessimism, you give in to those forces which seek to make you powerless by turning your own mind against you.

As Margaret Mead once famously said: never doubt that a small group of committed individuals has the power to change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

A Garden Of One’s Own

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This quote from Ram Dass expresses how the body, mind and spirit must all be nurtured in order to create optimal circumstancesnot only for ourselves, but for those around us.

My understanding of the way a child grows is that you create the garden, you don’t grow the flower. You can merely fertilize the earth and keep it soft and moist, and then the flower grows as best it can. It’s an interesting one, because people get guilty that they’re not doing enough about their children, and they tend to get caught in this sort of predicament.

You don’t change your wife or your child. You just keep working on yourself until you are such a clean mirror reflection, such a supportive rock of love for all those beings that everybody is free to give up their stuff when they want to give it up – your wife, her anxiety; your child, that habit. You keep creating a space in which people can grow when they’re ready to grow. – RAM DASS

Thinking about Columbus Day – a few days after the fact

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Rocking the Latina Vibe!

As part of my recent work with The Pachamama Alliance, I volunteered to write an editorial reconsidering ColumbusDay for some local papers in Tacoma. It was a fun assignment and I enjoyed it, but didn’t think much more about it until this evening when I discovered my Op-Ed in The Tacoma Weekly.

Here is the complete text – co-written with the kind folks at Pachamama. And I am happy to say – even before the publication of this piece, the city of Seattle designated Indigenous People’s Day on the day traditionally reserved for Columbus.

Reconsidering Columbus Day

With Columbus Day approaching, it’s interesting to consider what we learned, and more importantly, what we didn’t learn in school about the holiday and the man. We can all probably still recite the names of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, but what were we taught about the brutal legacy of Columbus’ venture and those that followed?

According to the late historian Howard Zinn, Columbus’ discovery initiated a time of mass killings and commenced an era marked by colonization, the tragic dispossession of native homelands – including those of my Taino ancestors – and a seemingly unending drive toward the accumulation of money and power. While much of our modern lifestyle is possible due to resources acquired this way – and much knowledge has been gained through interaction with other cultures – it’s time to consider the harm that has also been done.

Beyond the historical destruction of our natural world and the devastation of indigenous peoples, we would benefit by looking at the insidious impact these trajectories continue to have on contemporary lives as well. While the excessive development that ensued in the New World celebrated the notion that “more is better,” that belief has kept us all moving at unhealthy speeds to achieve an idea of success characterized by money, power and little else. With both human health and the health of the planet in jeopardy, it may serve us to question what values we celebrate in our modern culture and consider whether there are different values we should cultivate instead at this point in human history – values such as sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment. Something else we didn’t learn much about in school was the mutually enhancing relationship indigenous cultures have had with the Earth for millennia – and this may be a lesson we ignore at our peril.

Last month more than 300,000 people gathered in New York for the largest climate march in history. It was a plea to return to a more reverent relationship with the Earth. With Columbus Day approaching, it’s time for a reality check on what we’ve learned, a correction of what we haven’t and the cultivation of a relationship between ourselves and the Earth that’s more in harmony with indigenous wisdom.

 

5 Steps On The Path To Peace

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Beach grass with dew.

1) In the October, 2014 issue of “O”  The Oprah Magazine, Paulo Coelho says: If you think small, your world will be small. If you think big, your world will be big*.

The smallest things seem big to me. When I was a child, I believed that if everyone slowed down and saw things as I saw them, there would be peace. Which is why I wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to show my world to people and have them experience life in all its perfection and glory.  If we took this world into our hearts, I believed, there would be no war.

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Fallen feather.

2) A heart is like a flower… It can be very brave, but it can easily be hurt.

As a young adult, I began to believe this desire meant there was something wrong with me: that I was naive and idealistic, that I was not cut out for the “real world.”

I was brave for a while but, as I grew older,  it seemed impossible that my vision of peace would be realized and I forgot my dream. My world grew small and I felt hurt.

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Purple Centaurea Nigra.

3) There is a Zen proverb that says, basically, if you want something, step aside and let this thing come to you.

And yet, once my heart was broken, it could be re-opened to the beauty that had captivated me when I was young. When I reconnected with the natural world, I reconnected with the vision of peace I had once known. Inside me was an inner child who said: Hey, do you remember that dream?

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Reflecting pool in an old tree stump.

4) A Personal Legend is the reason you are here…It is the only thing that gives you enthusiasm.

The only thing that gives me enthusiasm is the experience I have when I pay close attention to the world and my mind gives way to my heart. This experience is available to all people but it’s too often forgotten.

In Paulo Coelho’s terms, it is my Legend to live this principle: to demonstrate that peace is within reach at all times, within all people and between all divisions if we can slow down, listen and connect – with each other and the world around us.

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White clover.

5) If you are honest enough, God will guide you. Even if you take some wrong steps along the way, God will recognize that you have a pure heart and put you back on track. 

I have taken many wrong steps along the way but I am still on the journey. My resolve is tested daily. I’m not the proof but I AM the experiment and I live for peace not only as if my life depends on it, but as if yours does.

*All italicized statements from the Paulo Coelho interview in the October, 2014 issue of “O” magazine.

Reading about Global Warming…

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Last week, one of my friend’s posted a link to an article by environmental journalist Bill McKibben in this week’s Rolling Stone magazine. While reading it reduced me to skulking around in a stuporous gloom for the rest of the day – even though it was my son’s birthday – I highly recommend you take a deep breath (or a drink or a toke) and dive in.

Entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” the article lays out the numbers – in terms of amounts and time – that are leading us towards almost certain environmental doom. I do not, however, recommend you read it just to be depressed (though that certainly is a possibility). 

You should read it so you know. AND so that you can make your own choices about how to proceed. Ultimately, McKibben advocates for social unrest of the kind that characterized the civil rights and Vietnam anti-war movements. There IS an enemy, he insists. It’s the Oil Industry* and they are an enemy worth fighting. 

Once you get that, however, comes the next question: what will be your role, should you choose to play one? What will be mine? How do I use  my specific strengths and gifts, to make the maximum contribution to the fight of our lifetime?

*Not that you didn’t know that. But just to be sure you do, you can also view Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s documentary “The Big Fix.