Category: Musings

Going Beyond GDP

Letting It In

Grief. It’s not that we need to stay there. It’s that we need to first let it in, consume us, before we can let it go and make room for what comes next. It’s true after a loved one dies, or the end of a relationship, and it’s true when we are grieving for our planet.

Holly Truhlar’s must-read article on how The Environmental Movement has Failed points to an issue any somatic practitioner knows – all trauma is stored in the body – whether you are aware of it or not. And it is through the vessel of the body that we can access both the trauma and the resources needed to move through and ultimately to release it. This is one of the key principles that those not well versed in the nature of trauma will forget or miss altogether – with trauma there is no way out but through.  And through means feeling it.

It won’t be enough to bypass your emotions and stay afloat. At some point you will have to drown so you can be reborn. Now, saying this doesn’t not mean there is a predicated timeline. Grief takes as long as it takes. But the more we are willing to spend time in the quiet, to be with our thoughts, be with and listen carefully to the voice underlying our emotions, then we can get on with the wailing that needs to happen… in the silence of the forest that is dying, face planted in the soil, listening to our bodies and to the body of the Earth. Those who can surrender enough to the grief to let it move through them from the depths of their being can then become the hand that holds, the arms that cradle, the next one ready to surrender.

The only timeline is this… Mother Nature is waiting on us. The longer we hold out, the more species die. The longer we wait, the more our world becomes the dystopia of Total Recall with humans living in oxygenated domes or Avatar’s vision of humanity looking for a new home planet because we ‘already killed our Mother’. As long as we are insisting nothing is wrong – or maybe knowing something is so very wrong it feels impossible to face head on – we are not just delaying the inevitable, we are actually choosing to let the entire planet’s ecosystem collapse while we close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears and sing “Mary had a Little Lamb” at the top of our lungs. This is a choice.

It is not just ignorance anymore, it is willful ignorance.

And it’s not because the news media is talking about it more, it’s that you know the weather – and the climate – has changed.

You have already experienced or are presently experiencing storms, fires, floods, unseasonable weather at any rate. You are maybe hearing less bird songs or seeing fewer flowers and fewer bees. Your grandchildren are talking to you about it and even walking out of school to get your attention.  And if you are poor, well, you know it’s coming even if it hasn’t already arrived on your geographical doorstep. You know because you are vulnerable and that vulnerability means if anything should happen…

This is Climate Apartheid.

If you have money, you own your house, rooms for your family, maybe even a nice yard or land, you might be outwardly denying anything is going on.  However more than likely, just in case, you are preparing –  making sure your windows are energy efficient, replacing the roof, keeping a store room of bottled water and food stuffs. You know how to access your funds should you need them. It is likely that you have insurance and if you lose your home in a flood or fire you can afford to acquire new accommodation elsewhere while your insurance company pays to rebuild your old house where it stood. It might be uncomfortable, and certainly a bit of a hassle but you won’t actually be hurting. You won’t be in a shelter having lost all your belongings with no way to replace them, or be sleeping a family of four on a floor in your friend’s living room.

This is the difference in perspective when we talk about Environmental Justice, why we say the poor and disenfranchised are hardest hit.  This is why the poor, and therefore often minority groups, are labeled those on the front lines of climate change.

Those who are most vulnerable may not survive.  Whether we are talking about Pacific Islanders preparing for migration as the rising tides slowly engulf their home of generations, whether we are talking about Cancer Alley in the South and mortality rates among those living in and among raw sewage and hookworm, or those who have no clean water from Alabama to Michigan… India or South Africa.  This is what we understand when hearing the testimony of a 14 year old Sioux girl begging for our intervention so her tribe does not meet it’s final end by pipeline.  She’s consumed by the absolute terror that her entire tribal race will be wiped out by a pipeline spill destroying their water source.  And the horror that no one seems to care about it.

This is the grief we must face.

Facing the reality that in the United States, still calling itself the wealthiest country in the world, families & children have gone without clean water in Flint, MI since 2014 and that the federal government has not allocated the funds, created the jobs and hired the necessary people to fix it in five years.  This, too, is the reality of our paralysis.  Our inability to respond in the face of these crises.  Even when people need jobs.  Even when our neighbor’s lives are at stake.  Even when we have more money than any other country in the world.

The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells has shaken some readers into action.  As Mark O’Connell writes in his review for The Guardian:  “Because as dire as the projections are, if you are surveying the topic from a privileged western vantage, it’s easy to overlook how bad things have already got, to accept the hurricanes and the heatstroke deaths as simply the unfortunate nature of things. In this way, Wallace-Wells raises the disquieting spectre of future normalisation – the prospect that we might raise, incrementally but inexorably, our baseline of acceptable human suffering. (This phenomenon is not without precedent. See, for example, the whole of human history.)”

And it seems this is not the future after all – we, in fact, are already there.  A society allowing children to die quickly in gunfire at school and slowly in detention centers or by poison in the water.

Holly Truhlar attempts to bring it home:

Essentially, the environmental movement failed because it’s not big enough. It lacks both width and depth. It’s based on an old paradigm, existing within a system which separates us from each other and the wild. Rather than being born from our hearts and soul, and connected to the anima mundi—the Soul of the world—the environmental movement was conceived through the colonized mind. This limited mindset breeds hierarchy, supremacy, and solutions of force. Within this space, we continue to oppress and abuse because it’s what happened, is happening, to us and we aren’t capable, resourced enough, to radically take it on and transform it.

So here we are.  Attempting to fall back in love with the earth so that we might protect it.  Here we are in a feedback loop of grief so deep we can barely perceive it.  Here we are with deep needs and with few therapists, counselors or spiritual leadership equipped to take on the transformation required in our personal journey out of the apocalypse.  If you made it this far in this post, then there’s a chance.

Let us begin letting it in.

Dancing the EarthDream: The Pedagogy of Nature Connection

Somatic Resiliency:  The Work that Reconnects & Turning Towards Grief

Moving on Center (MoC)

VICE: Women Prisoners Heal Trauma with Dance

What Would Dr. King Think of Our Progress?

Frigid. I cannot remember a King’s Day celebration that wasn’t. Born on January 15th, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was remembered today in many places throughout the country on what would have been his 90th birthday. Here today, Chief Dwayne Perry and I were in Newark, New Jersey, participating in the demonstration with the Peoples Organization for Progress. The march slowly began in front of the MLK monument.

As we drove around searching for the location, we reminisced about our younger years, trying to find work, direction and purpose. What would we have done at Dr. King’s young age? How did he manage?  It’s interesting to know that Chief and I traveled in the same parts of New York City at different times, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and the Bronx, areas that were dangerous; drugs were brought in to the old neighborhoods, the steady climb toward mass incarceration began. The dreams of the Civil Rights era shattered by Urban renewal, which at first seemed like a good thing only to find that it really meant urban removal of Black homes and businesses. The drive showed us the changes made in the city; large empty lots, huge sections of new builds. The communities are impacted with gentrification. Again, at first it seemed like a good thing, but then, it wasn’t.  Our communities are co-opted, our businesses cannot pay the high rents, our homes are being taken over by developers. It’s as if the clock had stopped. Dr. King had preached that we each needed to become leaders. In our own way, we and those we gathered with took that to heart, to continue the struggle.

What would Dr. King think of our progress? Our society does a kind of slow dance with its people of color, one step forward, two steps back. We had a Black president for eight years, and now the progress we made is being systematically rolled back. Dr. King would want to know that we are still positioning ourselves in justice work, that we are still mobilizing, we are still working for income equality. In his speech on economics and reparations, he outlined how our government subsidized the white peasants from Europe with land, with colleges to educate them on how to farm the land, and with tools and supplies to use to produce their farms and machinery to work the land. This same government had refused to provide any land for former enslaved people. Those same immigrants are now receiving millions in subsidies not to farm and with their privilege, telling Black people to pull themselves up by their boot straps. King’s tone and stance had changed over time, as he came to see that conditions for Blacks and poor folks remained the same. Martin was angry as he advocated for a radical redistribution of wealth.  He challenged us to march on Washington and demand to get paid. Today, we are only just approaching a living wage as laws are past for $15.00 an hour.

Our income disparity has grown with new tax breaks for the rich, while the lower classes are forced to pay for defense, infrastructure, and perhaps a new border wall. Corporations pay wages below the poverty line and those who are incarcerated are paid dollars a day to manufacture goods. Even more egregious, is using untrained inmates to fight fires and handle other natural disasters, their humanity seen as expendable, their lives as throw-a-ways. What can we do to help them, what can we do for the children held by the thousands in detention centers at the southern borders, or the families marred by gun violence, those in government working without a pay check, to say nothing of our endless wars?

What would Dr. King make of our current dilemma? Our march focused on the deaths of so very many of our youth at the hands of police. This is surreal in Newark, New Jersey, today. The litany of names read echoed into the cold. We know that those who protest these acts are demonized in the media, but we are in solidarity with them. Voices of intolerance have gotten louder and bolder, evoking concern and fear. And still, we pressed on. We sang songs of the movement, teaching a new generation to carry on the tradition.  The senior organizers were passing the baton to the younger college students.

Chief Perry reminded the crowd gathered to use their right to vote, and their advocacy to encourage others to do the same. We have to combat voter suppression nationwide. There are those who claim that voting is happening illegally, taking away from the fact of their suppression of this precious right, so many have died defending. He is heartened by so many women in Congress, he feels the tide is turning in a new and better direction. I am reminded that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. The calendar has turned, we are fifty years later than when Dr. King was with us, and the struggle continues. On his birthday and every day, it does not matter how cold it is, Dr. King continues to walk with us, as a revered ancestor, whose constant and abiding love holds us in faith. His voice echoes on, teaching and inspiring us, giving us hope as we continue to work for justice and our Beloved Community.

***

For more on the continuation of Dr. King’s work:

www.poorpeoplescampaign.org

www.leadtolife.org

thekingcenter.org

Watching the Flame Dance in the Time of Our Ancestors

By Shep Glennon, CEE Field Ed

As Autumnal Equinox has occurred, as it does around Sept. 21st, we are now in the Western gate. This is the portal to the realm of the ancestors, of the dead, where the Sun goes to die before being reborn every morning. In September, October, and November, there is not only Dios de Los Muertos, All Souls Day, and Allhallowtide (an English tradition that came from the Celtic Samhain and became Halloween), but also fifteen days of ancestors’ visiting in Cambodia’s Pchum Ben and Thailand’s Sat Thai’s festivals. These rituals involve ancestor veneration and an opening to the underworld so that spirits can pass back and forth. In ancient Rome, a stone entrance to the underworld was ceremonially opened for the blessed dead. (Other indigenous peoples have summer as the mark of their festivals for the ancestors and cross-overs between the underworld and our world, appropriate as this season corresponds with the direction Cardinal South, pointing down to the underworld).

Our European ancestors saw the effects of the opening of the Western gate in the death all around them. And this was not just in nature’s dying season, but in the return of the dead. Celtic rituals honor ancestors who revisit their homes seeking hospitality, rituals which eventually became Halloween (before Halloween was made more generic due to Christian and corporate co-opting). Norse rituals proclaim the beginning of winter with the Wild Hunt of ghosts or underworld beings across the sky led, some say, by Odin.

In other words, this is the season of the dead.

Rejoice, because this season is the gate of Communion. Sept 21st – Dec 21st is the time of rootedness, of context, of our ancestral bonds linking us all together to the Tree of Life. Its element is Water. Its tarot suit is Cups. Its human energies are Love/Compassion and Communion. Water, like empathy, binds all of life. I have learned to leave a cup of water out for ancestors. Wait– not tap water! I was taught to honor the dead as if they were living guests, with the choicest selections. So if we offer, we offer water which *we ourselves* would drink. We need to make it something they would be proud to partake in. What did our ancestors find beautiful and inviting? We can decorate with flowers, with harvest produce, with libations, turning our table into an altar. We can attract with fun. By the end of a week, the water will have noticeably evaporated, symbolizing our ancestor’s acceptance of and partaking in the offering. We can say our ancestor’s names for each of the seven days.

We burn a white candle for them.

…Watch the flame dance.

This is our ancestors’ entertainment, this dance.

Stare at it and hum, and see vitality, passed on from the pregnant potential of the void to big bang to our ancestors the stars (humm),

who passed it on to our ancestors of planets of gas and rock, our ancestors the mountains and minerals (including craters, cliffs, canyons and other landforms) (humm),

who passed it on to our ancestors the bodies of water (humm), who passed it on to our ancestors the plants and animals (humm),

and then to our human race ancestors (humm),

to our communities (humm), to you and me.

We are the keepers of the eternal flame, hoping to move in new possibilities. But as this relay shows, we always move in a context, in a web of relationality. Our ancestors used to extinguish their hearth fires before certain festivals. Then the fires of all the homes in the village would be re-lit from the bonfire of a major ceremony the whole town attended, linking each person to each other.

We cannot access the Spirit directly, cannot sit alone and meditate outside of the constructs and constraints of the physical, linguistic, and cultural symbolic representation, and into direct access to the Most High. There is an analogous narrative in the Abrahamic canons about not being able to look at G-d directly and live. While we are alive, we simply cannot escape from our contexts and into pure objectivity. During near-death experiences, those breaking through to the Other Side have similar experiences of a light they move towards, but they experience variations through different symbols that align with their unique religious-cultural traditions. We can only commune with the Creative Life Force through the bodies and language that our ancestors gave us. For better or for worse.

Through things such as gut bacteria, epigenetics and archetypes of the collective unconscious, we inherit the strengths, coping strategies, mental illnesses, traumas, fears, repressions, expressions, attitudes and behaviors of our ancestors, often not knowing their origin. Even if and when we take things to levels they could not imagine, we do so on their shoulders– there is nothing totally novel, everything is founded on trajectories that can be traced. We can trace these lineages, if not by our blood ancestors, by our spiritual ones, our elders, those like-minded culture-influencers and human-nature articulators whose examples made things fall into place for us, or gave us permission to explore ourselves. That’s a way our ancestors show up, too.

It is considered bad luck to mix in living ancestors with dead ones in the same list, according to one priest in my Afro-Cuban lineage of Santeria. So it may be wise to create a separate list, but honor our living spiritual ancestral elders who continue to be an example for us. To that end, I honor Tom Waits, Kathleen O’Connor, Shelly Rambo, Karla McLaren, Allie Brosh, Catherine Keller, Brené Brown, William Chittick, and Audre Lorde.

And to my deceased spiritual ancestors whose examples impact me to this day: James Baldwin, Ronald Takaki, Ibn Arabi, Prophet Muhammad, Jesus; I speak your names.

And there are those whom I reluctantly honor, like the framers of the Constitution, knowing that while they carry irredeemable problems, I have the ability to criticize them because of their help in making it so I can criticize the church and state without either crucifying me. And the Unitarians, Transcendentalists, Joseph Campbell, the hippies, and the New Age self-help pop psychology movement, and the Protestantism that set their groundwork, for despite their problematic pieces, they lay the foundation for me to give voice to trust my own intuition about God and universalism, to put my spirituality prior to organized religion, to not identify with my identity- a lesson that helped me have less of an ego and be more receptive to criticisms of when I am being racist, sexist, and otherwise problematic. Our ancestors are our ancestors, we have to acknowledge the good they gave us, and do daily work to heal from the bad.

Which of your ancestors are those whom you reluctantly honor, and why? Ask them to your candle to reckon with these family members and culture-influencers.

Who are your ancestors and elders you more deeply honor, ancestors both blood and spiritual? Invite them to your flame. Give them thanks. Ask them for guidance. They have much to offer you! Think about how if you died right now, you’d have so much more you wanted to share with the world about your insights. Our deceased ancestors, blood and spiritual, are hoping to enlighten us with their lessons and ureaka!-moments. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help for things you tried but couldn’t do on your own.

***
Featured photo: Mundus Cereris was a gate to the underworld used in ancient Roman ceremonies uncovered three times a year in late August, October, and early November. The first-fruits of the harvest would be offered for the blessed dead, as this was a time when they were seen to commune with the living. Most cities would have their own microcosm of this, a pit or ditch where first-fruits would be buried.

September Musings

By Shep Glennon

September, you need a makeover. You need a name change, first of all. Your name literally means 7, yet when we write the date on government documents, we have to mislabel you as month number 9. All because some Christians thought it would be cute to make the coldest, bleakest time of year – January – be the New Year, instead of gorgeous spring. Celebrating New Years in Spring is more like a pagan practice, and a nearly universal one at that, and it also makes sense because everything is new again.

September, we’re just going to have to de-number you, that’s all. No more nines, not even sevens. We’re going to start off this makeover by untying you from Christian mishandling and the boring blandness of reducing your complex beauty and wholeness to a number, as if you were some warden’s prisoner, or some bureaucrat’s statistic. 

And I mean, look at you now, September. Aside from an amazing Earth, Wind and Fire Song that even a Gap advertisement couldn’t destroy, we humans let your name become meaningless, devoid of connection. Your name is the vulgar absurdity of being somehow seven and nine, like naming our first daughter “One and Only” before proceeding to procreate siblings for her like a factory assembly line. Come, let’s get your name a makeover…Google! Wiki me September!

 

“September was called “harvest month” in Charlemagne‘s calendar
September is called Herbstmonat, harvest month, in Switzerland.[3] The Anglo-Saxons called the month Gerstmonath, barley month, that crop being then usually harvested, and for the Native Americans, it was full corn moon month.
Both Native North Americans and indigenous Europeans referred to the moon this month as Harvest Moon. Likewise, for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is a harvest festival also celebrated in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.”
Below the equator, even though it is the equivalent of March, it’s also harvest season. Grains are ready to be harvested and eaten; September is thus the “grains of sorghum,” titled Hlakubelé (Sotho). In another South African language (Xhosa), it is called “month of first fruits” (EyoKwindla).

 

Anything that has the word “herbs” in it is naturally attractive to me, so I put “Herbst” in Google translate, and it’s actually synonymous for “autumn” in German, and synonyms for “Herbst” include Spätjahr, Rückgang, Sturz, Baisse, Absturz.  I like those, especially Ruckgang (to recede) and Sturz (to fall).  But what does “herbst” (pronounced like Pabst but with a silent P) mean exactly? Well, herb in German means: tart, dry, bitter, harsh, austere, severe,

Dour… cruel… and rude.

So, it might be rude to some to interrupt summer and vacation, but I personally find February and March to be more so in its bitter coldness, so I am going to go with “tart” as a synonym for September. Tart in German is sauer (pronounced zow-wah), from which we get sauerkraut. Why choose tart? Because it’s good, despite being a bit sour or angry around the edges, maybe like an uncle we know?

The air itself smells tart. Breathe it in and reflect on what it means for you. The tart, sour apples are falling from the trees; it’s now apple season. Walnuts fall to the ground and rot along with the leaves. We are the harvest, we’ve got to reap and pluck things in our lives before they rot on the vine. We’ve got to live our best life before we stagnate.

But because we’re so good at waiting to the last minute, we might mess up and miss it. Not to worry. We’re going to take that mess and let it rot and ferment a bit, because that’s how you make sauerkraut, that’s how you make apple cider. Things will die, that’s a fact.  Yet it is the dead that also ferments, being rotted and crushed and having a kick to it, which when imbibed are known as “spirits.”  Alcohol. Our cheeks might get lifted up, our mood may elevate. Easter, with its rotten grapes-turned-wine, maybe should be held in fall?  But with chalices full of hard apple cider of a Dionysian Jesus,

a Jesus with surrounded by our uncle’s shady biker friends,

Enlivening on any occasion, yet rough-around-the-edges

like sauerkraut

because,

Septembre,

You give a hard edge to things, reminding us none of us are perfect.  We humans poke each other in the eye all the time, mostly without meaning to, but just out of the sheer fact of being different, and coming at things from different angles. That’s good for our growth. Like apple cider vinegar, it’s helpful. But if you don’t cut it with water, it burns. So we learn to balance time with edgy friends and relatives whose wisdom sometimes comes in moments of discomfort or in waves of discontent, with the comfort of friendships where good vibes come easy. We’ll water down our days of sour with the sweetness of pleasure, and carefree joy, too.

So while everything is dying all around us, thanks to you September – sorry, Sauer – and thanks to our hot mess-ness, we are reminded to engage in self-care.  

We are reminded that:  Anything good will not come easy.  We cannot force anything, we can only cultivate the seeds which the Most High has planted. And thank you so much for planting these seeds. Thank you Sauer, for making space for us to cultivate these relationships, and to enjoy their fruits. Sometimes we get lucky, and find relationships where we don’t have to try so hard, where things just happen naturally. May we reap our carefully cultivated relationships. Hopefully what we sow into them, the hopes and our good intentions to bring joy and prosperity into this world, get to see the light of day.

May that be our harvest.

Ameen.

***

 

The Center for Earth Ethics welcomes Shep Glennon, as our new Field Ed student for 2018-2019.