“I stand here today humbled by the task before us”

inaugurationkeyholeHumility.

I had never considered the virtue of humility, the necessity magic that is conjured by being humble, until I began working with Caroline Myss’s book about Teresa of Avila’s theology, Entering the Castle.

Raised in the 80s age of self esteem – you can do anything, sky’s the limit, everyone is an individual snowflake worthy of accolades and advancement – humility was never considered a noteworthy skill. Who had time to learn what humility was when there were so many dreams to be chased and so much self promotion to be done ? The only way to get into college and then get a good job and be any sort of success at all was to learn young and learn well: you need to constantly remind the world that you are unique and worthy.

Slowly, the recognition that humility is in fact a virtue, not just the fall back plan for quiet kids who’ll never win the best prizes, has started to color my life. If you know me in the flesh, I’ll let you be the judge of whether that approach is really working… At least I can tell you I am thinking about it!

Humility has come to mind all week because I am still struck by the very first line of Barack Obama’s inaugural address: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

Part of our new president’s mystique is his quiet confidence, his even demeanor and delivery, his deep belief in himself that allows him to move from this place of humility. We can all pray that this quality endures in him so that he can open his heart and mind to other perspectives and continue to work with the common good as his ultimate goal.

It is becoming more and more clear that humbleness not just an attitude for monks and scullery maids. Taking humility beyond an interior dialog with the soul and watching its practical application on the stage of presidential politics makes this spiritual work make a new sort of sense.

Like I said, humility never meant much to me until a couple of years ago when I picked up Myss’s book. I am left to wonder how many other brilliant words and ideas like that still circle around me, as yet ignored and unacknowledged. I know I cannot get hung up on all of the visions that have not yet revealed themselves to me – that is a sure way to madness, looking desperately for the next moment of enlightenment. It just inspires me once again: this journey through life offers so much promise, such evolution of the mind and soul, so many opportunities to look at this adventure of living afresh.

A couple more bits of wisdom from that incredible speech on January 20:

inaug-speechAs we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

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Returning Sun and Waning Moon: Presidents and Progressions

dsc00228There are some things that you do not blog about, at least not until the lessons have been distilled and the gory details been sublimated into lessons and broader examples. It is important to me that I offer wisdom here, not a transcript of my life. The sanctity of my inner world and those of my loved ones depends on my understanding that difference.

I have been working with some challenges that were bound to demand my attention eventually, and so I have stayed away from daily posting. If I had tried harder, I could have scraped together the time to spin out some rhetoric and offer some platitidtudes, but I think my readers are too smart to read what would have simply been empty pleasantries.

Today, I am still dancing warily with this sort of communication, afraid the necessary veils may slip and I may reveal too much and also worried that I am not in a place to yet believe my own optimism.

What I can offer is my husband’s comment on his way out the door as he put on his coat to brave the 6:30 a.m. chill: “I think the sun is actually trying to come up.”

The winter solstice was one month ago today. Despite our darkest December convictions, the sun is proving that it will in fact return and that we will once again be taught the joys of daylight.

How perfect it is to notice that the light is finally getting the upper hand on the first morning that the sun has risen over a new family in the White House.

Hope and dawn. Those two ideas are always linked in metaphor. I feel blessed to watch that metaphor take on a new sense of reality as I watch the horizon brighten a little earlier each morning.

lincoln-memorialThinking about politics and the skies, this morning I looked up to a waning moon again the rosy east. I would never have gotten married or planned any other life changing event while the moon was in its phase of decrease, but there is something fitting about January 20 falling during the fading Wolf Moon. As much as we are celebrating all that is fresh and new in an Obama administration, we also recognize the diminishing influence of fear and aggression that have marked the last eight years. And that incredible inaugural address yesterday was as much about letting the greed and irresponsibility fall away as it was about adding new challenges and strength to the American character.

APTOPIX Obama InaugurationAnd for all of the meaning that the astrologers may assign to the phases of Earth’s closest neighbor and dearest friend, we must remember that there is always beauty in our moon, no matter what face she shows us.

We need to be able to find that sort of beauty in ourselves and one another. May our new president inspire us. May we find the courage to act upon that inspiration.

Open to Change, Receptive to Healing

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What if it’s true? What if, truly, “we are the ones we have been waiting for“?

I have always loved this phrase. First I heard it on the lips of women who inspired me. Then I found June Jordan who first strung those words together in her powerful, earth-shifting poem. Alice Walker gave us a book that borrowed the line for its title. And then of course there was Barack Obama who turned the phrase into a something more than a campaign slogan and made it mean something national and something real.

The election results are a month old now, but all that shiny hope cannot have worn away yet, right? The inauguration is still ages away, so I am sure that we are all just marinating in possibility. Aren’t we?

I ask that question because there is a sneaky little part of me worries that complacency will creep in. And perhaps it already has in some ways. The economy is still sliding downward. Cabinet picks are less sexy than frenzied chants of “Yes we can!” Christmas is coming and there are too many thing to get done in the next three weeks to even remember all that election night champagne

This was not intended to be a post about post-election let down, nor am I trying to let a big old cynical moon eclipse our gorgeous new sun. Our lightning-fast news cycle would have us believe that such musings are so three weeks ago anyway.

I am actually thinking about the changes that I am seeing take root in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. These changes have nothing to do with the political and have everything to do with the personal. Of course, we know that eventually, those two spheres almost always start to blend together

Though I have been practicing Reiki for eight years, I have begun to dedicate myself to the path of a healer in the last year since I have been enrolled in a Healing Arts School. The beautiful sense of wisdom that finally takes root when we find we’re closer to the middle of our lives than to the beginning, combined with what I have learned in my classes, has totally shifted my perspective on the world. I know its been a long process, but suddenly I realize I am able to articulate my interest in alternative health and offer what abilities I have in service to others.

This evolution in the way I can be honest about my belief in our power to heal ourselves and the possibility of finding true wellness outside the strict confines of typical Western medicine has been downright infectious. Trusting in the intuitive power of my hands and others’ desire to heal, I have been able to offer my warm touch to people who never would have been receptive to such “out there,” “new age” ideas. I think this is successful both because I take a quiet approach, casually introducing what I do and what I believe and then allowing people to open up to me in any way they can and because I have new confidence in what I do.

People’s new sense of receptivity has very little to do with me, however. I am just lucky enough to have had the chance to observe it. Something within the individual is shifting. There is the recognition that the road we have all been careening along together is doing us more harm than good and that we need to find a new way.

If we are the change that we have been waiting for, we have to realize that change is here, now. Despite all the chaos in this world, people are finding the ability to open themselves up to new experiences and new wisdom.

How can we access and live this change ourselves and how can be the midwives of change for others?

On Witnessing a Righteous Mama

Seeing Ani DiFranco last night for the first time in years was like going home to a cherished vision of my emerging self, the one that realized I was woman with a passion for justice and a voice that had to be heard. At the same time, listening to a thirty-eight year old mother singing brand new songs allowed me to stand firmly rooted in the being I have become.

In the space of nineteen songs, she reminded me how to be twenty-one all over again, but she also taught me to be twenty-nine and thirty-eight and I think, if listened carefully enough, I could find the secret to agelessness in her sound and her stature. To witness this woman create and express and take action, to inform and inflame and inspire… what more do you need to your fill heart and soul with the courage to be fully alive?

One of the first times I saw Ani was in the lead up to the 2000 election when she called all of us in the true blue states to throw our votes in Nader’s direction to show our support for the Greens and third party politics. I saw her at least once a year through the early days of the Bush administration, and the anger at the political disaster that was our national state of being was boiling righteously. Then life changed and my partners in crime who would scream at the first chords of “Gravel” with me melted away, and I didn’t seen her for four long years. I half-heartedly agreed with friends who just felt they were beyond all that ranting chick stuff and songs about abortion clinics and date rape and capitalism gone deeply awry.

Last night was different though… The entire world shifted when our little folk singer was able to sing a brand new tune about Obama’s victory that had to have other people besides me wiping away tears of joy. “Thank you, America” she sang “for more than I expected.” Isn’t that how we all feel in this fresh blush of pride for being the country that grew up a little by allowing itself to follow youth and a new beginning? What an amazing rebirth: to stand in a concert hall full of progressives and scream until our fillings rattled not because we raged at the anti-choicers and the war mongers and the biggots, but because there was a woman standing on the stage before us who was talking about a man who now stood on the world stage. Ani gave us the soundtrack that will support us in our quest for change that we all dreamed about while we struggled under the thumb of those old regimes.

Though the audience filled the theater with whistles and shouts of “We love you Ani!”, nearly everyone sat until the encore. Was it that her fans had become elderly, or were we all just full of the sort of reverence that had us hanging on her every word rather than dancing in the aisles?

I think it is ok that we have all grown up a little. For all that we still need to hear that “everyone is fucking Napolean,” we all need to just be in this more steady place of bliss and brilliance. We can believe that the world really has changed and that we are lucky enough to be around to listen to it. Even better, we can find the inspiration to record our own histories of how all this good stuff began to find its place in reality.

And wisdom is a butterfly

And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey
– W.B. Yeats

When I first read those lines I thought image striking and I loved the way that “wisdom” and “butterfly” sounded together, but I never felt the power of the sentiment until recently.

So many have written with a spirit of elation and relief this week. The greatest potential difficulty that many of us have discussed is the need to take responsibility ourselves, rather than leave it all in the hands of our new national leadership. Many of us are swept up in the awe and the hope, but I’ve also read gleeful revelations of GOP infighting and Palin in a towel, the Black Snob’s awesome rebuttal to the sore losers and the conservative Monday morning quarterbacks, and Christine Kane’s reminder that there is a lot of potential ugliness mixed in with all this hope.

After eight long years of feeling like the victims of a war mongering regime run by a man whose intelligence we questioned at every turn, it makes sense that we want to throw our heads back and crow about our triumph. Unfortunately, just because it is human nature to gloat a little (or a lot) and point out the flaws of the fallen opponent, that doesn’t make such impulses alright.

We have lived in a nation ruled by hawks for so long, it seems that it might be difficult to remember that we never meant to learn their tricks, their addiction to fear, their recrimination of the “other.” This is not to assume that “Democrat” or “liberal” automatically means kinder or gentler or any more wise, but I can hope that these qualities are within our grasp.

I am not just thinking about the left side of the aisle lording over the right, I’m talking about our own reactions and intentions as we move forward. How do we carry our victory and our wisdom more lightly? How do we avoid slipping into those nasty patterns we have seen from others when they have tasted success?

The Dance of Limitation and Limitlessness

America is a country where, theoretically, any native born citizen can be president. Barack proved that it can be done regardless of race; Palin tried to prove that it could be done regardless of whether one was actually qualified.

As I settle into the path that I have chosen and that has chosen me, I cannot help but think about what I will most likely not be doing in this lifetime. Unless I wake up with some completely different priorities tomorrow, I am not going to be a doctor or a rock star or the governor of Alaska. Without a radical change of heart I will not be an aid worker in Afghanistan or a scientist studying polar ice or a film director. Luck and fate and desire and following the path of least resistance combined with the gifts that God has given me, have helped me find my way to a life that precludes countless options.

None of this is said to express regret; I simply recognize that making one decision will always limit other possibilities. It is a testament to my own contentment and my own belief in my journey.

As much as I am full of near limitless hope for America right now, I think about limitations when I look at all that Barack Obama has before him. For all that he might accomplish, there are endless things that prove impossible for one man to do, despite his intelligence and dedication. If the future leader of what is still the most powerful country in the world must confront the boundaries of what one person can do, how do we private citizens trying to keep together one relatively simple life deal with all that we will not attain?

Everyone is constrained in some way. A doctor who saves lives is powerless to eradicate the poverty that weakens the body. A reporter who brings us stories of the Sudan cannot stop the fighting she describes. A teacher who gives children the gift of language cannot change her students’ home life if it is not supportive of education.

Reality will always intercede at some level when we extend ourselves into the world around us, but that cannot stop us from engaging in life’s pain and glory. Mortality and time and space burden all of us and hold us back in myriad ways.

It is inside the soul that we find infinity and the erasure of barriers. A relationship with all that is limitless is always available if we look within.

The knowledge that we are all shaped by the limits of being human, paired with this sense that there is always an unfettered world of possibility within seems the only way to thrive.  We can let go of all that we do not possess and embrace all that we do have in our unique lives, vital and essential each in their own way.

Witnessing this Moment

Do you feel it yet? Did it really happen? Can America actually have elected a black man running on a ticket of hope and change?

I know the realization has not seeped into my soul yet. I cannot integrate the events. I have not yet found a way to make it real.

When I visited my healer a couple of days ago, she followed her usual practice of kinesiology, or muscle testing, to discover words and concepts that resonate with me on a psychological and spiritual level. Usually they are ideas that trouble me, and this session was no exception: “experiencing my mind.” At first the phrases she comes up with almost always sound like they belong in fortune cookies, but they eventually make sense, even if I had never parsed my experiences in quite the same terms before.

My mind is my shelter and my weapon whenever the emotional world gets too hot. Refusing what my gut or my heart are trying to tell me, so often I try to muscle through on brain power alone. I resort to analyzing the situation rather than feeling it, I look for wisdom in the table of contents rather than in my own experience. Today, I jumped from website to website trying to find a way for the joy to penetrate, but could not find a way to truly feel my way through the moment.

Our worth in this world is so often determined by our perceived intelligence, by how swiftly you can take in information and sort it and use it for your own gain. The brain is such an inadequate organ, however, when you want to be moved and inspired by something so awesome and intense as Barack Obama becoming our next president.

There are a few brilliant moments in all of our lives, be it a marriage or a birth or an historic election that requires we do more than think about how everything just might change. This is one of those moments that must be fully witnessed, body and soul.

Striking Back at the Empire

The purest, most powerful sense of excitement I have ever experienced was when I was four years old, shaking with anticipation in front of my grandparents’ TV about to see Empire Strikes Back for the very first time.

My excitement today is almost reaching those heights.

I should rewrite history and say that I was watching Return of the Jedi, the final movie where the Rebels win it all, but I have confidence that everything will work out exactly as it should, even without a perfectly formed Star Wars allegory.

For today, thoughts of soul and self are shelved. Despite all my level headed talk about the power of the individual’s shift in consciousness, right now I am allowing myself to be completely swept away by the entire fifty state drama. Tomorrow, there will be stillness, there will be contemplation, there will be peace, but tonight there will be blue Obama teeshirts, cable news watching, and, God willing, a champagne toast.

The Responsibility of the Dreamer

In dreams begin responsibilities

W.B. Yeats

When I first savored this line in college, I was too high on the poetry and dreaming to realize it was a simple phrase that ends with thud of adult responsibilities. By graduate school, Yeats was as much vocation as avocation, and I was so chilled by watching literature become a responsibility that I left the path of academia before I had really begun. Once I was marooned in the “real world” and trying to forget about poets and their dancing words, I eventually realized I was ducking both dreams and responsibilities. Now that I am carving out a new space for myself and trying to balance the poetic and the pragmatic, I am figuring out the relationship that Yeats described.

I have surprised myself over the last few days with my entries that call for a focus on individual choice and change even at a moment when we are all captivated by events on the national stage will shape our lives. “Responsibility” has not come up in my writing yet, but I think it is inevitable when we think about finding hope and renewal within ourselves rather than relying purely on the inspirational tones of a man at a podium.

America is the perfect example of a dream that became a most certain reality. It has not been sustained by idealists alone, but by people willing to bear the burden of its reality. It hasn’t just been perpetuated by the politicians who believe that they follow in the footsteps of the framers of the Constitution either. If we want to take part in this dream of America, if we want to resuscitate this once mighty icon and save it from its nightmarish state, then we all must take part in weaving the visions of what we want this country to be and then tend those visions as they become reality.

Dedicating oneself to birthing any creative impulse, be it a work of art, a piece of writing, service to another person, or the invention of a country quickly divests the dreamer from her airy throne. There is criticism and exhaustion and fear and doubt to contend with at every turn. In the end, finding yourself in charge of your own brilliant fantasy made sweet flesh must be worth sacrificing the freedom of being devoted to nothing in particular.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.