What Burns, What Remains


Smoke3 days ago Harbin Hot-springs was burned to the ground, bringing Global Warming into even clearer focus for our community. I believe it will be rebuilt with the love and inspiration of a people whose commitments and beliefs once challenged are subsequently renewed. Yet in this moment as the shock of the loss settles I feel the reverberation of a different kind of awareness in our community. How to describe it? No matter how much we know intellectually, how much we may have imagined, what we may have seen in other places- knowledge enters the body most effectively through lived personal experience, through loss that is personally meaningful. If we hadn’t really deeply and personally felt/understood global warming before some of us now have a personal experience of global warming as a bringer of pain and loss.

After the immediate grief has subsided and the soul-searching/reclamation process has begun loss often offers the opportunity to see the world as it really is. Like so many things we would never choose for ourselves sometimes we need to be delivered an experience that will help us see, understand, grow, and choose. What are we being asked to see? What are we being asked to renew? What is asking to pass away? What in our understanding needs to grow larger to hold what is?

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Disoriented I awoke early this morning to the sound of rain at 5am. I’ve always loved the sound of rain in the night, or its alarm sound early in the morning. These days it also brings a sense of momentary relief as I feel the tension of the parched earth ease, if only for half a day. The last 10 days of heat down here in San Diego have been incredible. I don’t remember it ever being like this. Further North in California, in Washington, and all around fires ravage the forests and drought cracks the land. There was a time when I thought the desertification process of global warming would be slow enough that the Bay Area would be warmer but still wet. That changed in the last 10 years. I thought when it got like this I would move to Washington, or Canada, to find a cool and wet respite from the heat while doing what I could to help from wherever I lived.

It’s an interesting thing to say aloud as it belies my own privilege to be able to move at will. It also belies my unconscious wishful thinking that seamlessly until now filled the gaps where my ignorance could not see the future. As fires and drought touch Washington it is clear that there are no guarantees that those imagined safe places will remain wet, safe, or hospitable.

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And will we choose to become embittered or enlivened by what we see? I believe that when we are unwilling to see the world as it is we choose a battle. We choose embitterment, cynicism and victimhood. Did joy lay only in the illusion of how the world was? Does it not also lie in the world newly revealed as it truly is? When we choose bitterness we resist letting the old ways of seeing fall away. We resist new eyes, new seeing, new understanding, new honesty with oneself- we resist enlightenment. We resist life.

All things end. All things change. All things are at times renewed by the long process of succession. All things are at times renewed by fire. But life is always renewed. For whatever reason it seems to be true that the human consciousness at a certain level of development requires crisis before it can awake to find new ways of relating and being. This time is painful and we need to hold each other in this awakening, not blame each other for not being awake yet. The world is asking us to see ourselves no longer as separate, but as one. Let us not let this loss make us separate through the blame we’d like to place on others, or even on ourselves as a race. We are children learning. Shame about not knowing or not yet knowing how to enact is counter-productive.

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So- 5am this morning, disoriented by the heat and the rain, my mind and heart once again traveled to the strangely connected constellation of losses in my own life in this moment- the losses up North, the reverberation of the death of valued community member Scott Dinsmore, and my own grandfather awaking a stranger to his very own life and story. And his story is mine too, it’s our story really, our history…so both of us awaking to a part of our history having vanished in the night as its storage place in him deteriorates under the stresses of heat and time. The loss of place, people, and memory… what is passing away? What is room being made for? What is being asked of me?

I remember my brother, tears streaming down his face, shovel in hand digging a grave for our dog underneath the pepper tree in our backyard, saying “you know, nothing is wrong here.” It is a wild world to awake to. There is some sadness and ecstasy to all that is unknown to us about how and when things pass away- but there is no mystery that all things do pass away and change. And things also are reborn in new forms, rising in infinite mornings that aren’t ours to witness.Silence

That has been important for me. After years of feeling hammered with loss I finally learned to surrender to the way of the world without bitterness. This morning I feel a new space has opened inside me with the question- What next? What does it look like for me to live the truth that I am a full and complete participant in creating this world? Is more being asked of me? Yes and No…

I have tried at many times in my life to will the world to be different, to tell people why they need to stop doing certain things, start doing other things. I have had an immense energy and urgency inside to throw myself into the fray and through the pure force of my will make the world different…better…

I still wish on some level my will could be enough, though I now feel that would miss the point of this whole consciousness project- not to be perfect, but to learn that we are powerful creators. Part of me still wants desperately to save the world. I still want with every ounce of me to scoop up our beloved creatures. Images of deer walking down burned roads enshrouded in smoke touch the mother in me that wants to relieve the suffering immediately. I so deeply desire safety for those who don’t have the privilege to move at will when it gets too hot (or violent, or wet, or underwater, or cold, or unstable, etc).

And yet when I fought the world and tried to change it I grew bitter, cynical, and sad… more deeply sad than I had the support to even feel. I was living deep in my separation. And that part of me eventually burned out and gave up. I didn’t know it then but it was a gift.

In my understanding then the problem lay outside of me- with the warmongers and climate change deniers, with those who are apathetic and comfortably going along with their heads in the sand, with those others. Because it was their fault I was enacting and creating that my only power came in changing them. In what was actually mine to do with my life I was deeply disempowered.

Seven years ago, almost eight now, a friend helped me wake up…it’s hard to describe the experience in more depth here, but I will say that one of the key understandings that hit me in my chest, my throat, my mind, and my whole body, was that I had been carrying the pains and losses of my family, and of the world. I had been trying to make it right for them through my own choices and life. Yet I wasn’t carrying myself. I wasn’t carrying my own passions, my own loves, my own path that I was born with. Through this experience I knew with a deeper certainty than I’d ever felt that I was not capable of carrying their weight. And I saw that I needed to take responsibility for walking my own path. Would what I chose have an affect on my family and the planet? Yes, probably- but what that affect would be was out of my control. I had to commit to my own path of peace for myself first. I later learned to hold it in my heart that my family, and all living beings, would be able to find peace in their own ways too. I learned to relate from a place of trust rather than panic. I had to acknowledge with humility where my power and choices actually lay.

I joined a Ministerial Training Program through the Center for Sacred Studies and there I learned about different Indigenous traditions from all over the world. I learned it into my bones that there is not one right way to approach the divine. That my job is to hold every path to the divine as sacred. That my job is to honor every manifestation of the divine, of spirit, even if I don’t understand it, even if I don’t “like” or “prefer” or “agree” with it.

When I was in college I studied Gandhi and the work he did in South Africa and India. So much of the way he worked was impactful for me, but his conceit that each person held a piece of the truth was a true revelation for me. That there were no enemies, only friends that haven’t been made yet and that solutions need to include their needs too. This learning has been echoed for me in my training as a facilitator. This learning has been echoed for me in how conversations change when I speak with respect, curiosity and openness firmly in my heart.

In this moment of destruction, death and loss I find myself feeling called to renew my commitment to my path. To renew my commitment to personal loving accountability about how I show up to sing. How I show up to speak and teach. How I show up to my day. How I show up in my relationships. How I show up to what I create with my words.

I feel in this moment that I am capable of doing what I must do from a deeper place of commitment. That more of my life can be conscious. That I can reclaim some of myself from distraction and put it back in service. That I can again live inspired in every cell of my life. I will not return to the patterns of blame, shame and fear about what has been. When I blame where does that come from? What does it do? What use does it have? Anyone with a background in personal growth knows the answers to these questions: it comes from our seed of separation and lack of self-awareness. It does no good. It has no use. There is a difference between lovingly taking responsibility and blaming. Blame is about a story of being bad. Responsibility is about action, ownership, and learning to make new choices. When I choose blame I create conflict. I too can obscure truth and make it harder to be seen. What I blame on others without seeing in myself I relinquish my ability to change as well. I am a universe of choice in each moment.

I am my greatest responsibility, and I believe you are too. Only when I take responsibility for my own consciousness can I begin to ripple peace and consciousness into the world deeply. Only when I make myself an environment for peace, forgiveness, understanding, and personally accountability can I hold that potent environment for others transformation. It is not my work to convert people by my will. If the seeds of my being are of cause for others I am grateful to be a link in a chain that stretches way out back behind me. It is my work to read the book of my own life and hold the possibility that each of us carries something precious and beautiful that only love and their own readiness can reveal. And love can be strident- but stridence without love is just one of the disguises of arrogance and fear.

I believe that in order to be effective and inspiring we as individuals need to let go of the desire for our story to be right for anyone but ourselves. We need to let go of convincing others to see our way and put all of our power, love and inspiration into learning, creating and being the change we want to see.

This is not spiritual mumbo-jumbo. And it is not passivity. And it need not be narcissistic either, though surely the focus on the self can go that way when we don’t hold ourselves accountable. And I have caught myself there too. And I have brought myself back to my own right action. It is an individual dance upon the razor’s edge and we slip. It is a dancing into form of the unique sacred seed each of us carries preciously inside. My longing for peace and safety for all beings calls me to be honest with myself about what ways forward have the most power, beauty and…. efficacy.

I choose this path not just because it’s philosophically sound, but because I have seen it as more effective, and more enjoyable experientially. Even when it is hard there is an incredibly enjoyable liberation that comes in speaking truth or acting where only we can with courage. And people have been killed for setting such examples. And in their passing their spirit went into everything and everyone and a million more are still springing forth til this day. Like in humble little me.

A path of choosing love requires faith that change seeds invisibly in peoples hearts and sprouts when it is ready in them, not when it is convenient for us.

“The arc of history is long but it leans towards justice.” Martin Luther King Junior

I take this quote deeply into myself and see that it asks of me the humility to allow that this story isn’t something I get to see or know the end of in my lifetime. It requires of me the courage to hold a staff of peace when others are calling for violence, mental, verbal or physical. When other’s are calling living from love “wishful thinking.” It requires developing the trust and discernment in myself that I can tell when I’m using the staff of peace as “wishful thinking” to protect myself from what I am called to do that may be difficult or uncomfortable. It requires that I not let what I hold most dear become a spiritual bypass by which I avoid my responsibility. It requires that I hold myself accountable to the day to day process of interpreting what love in action means.

For me some days it means sitting in meditation. Some days it means singing a song. Some days it means going to a protest to participate with a broader community to bring attention and awareness to what isn’t right. Sometimes it means holding a friend accountable lovingly. Mostly it means holding myself accountable lovingly. It means forgiving ignorance. It means compassion. Sometimes it means working for extended periods of time on something that is not visible to my community or the world. Sometimes it means being very visible. Sometimes it means carrying something through that no one will ever know or see or appreciate. Sometimes it requires intervening. Sometimes it means letting it ride. I are the distiller of spirit through my eyes and life, and so are you. I can’t tell you what it means for you in any given moment, but I respect your process of engaging that question. And I think it’s of critical important that more people to understand how sacred their place in that process is- and say yes to being in that process consciously.

I am called to tend the seeds I carry as though they are the earth itself. It is a work in progress and I am refining, and I will always be refining. The source of my knowing comes from within. I cannot be the master of that if I don’t practice learning and healing. And as I have practiced that I have seen that I abandon my own integrity when I choose the urgency that argues in my ear for less skillful tactics- tactics that grow from and continue to plant seeds of division and separateness. These seeds germinate into deeper belief that there are sides. Perhaps the most pernicious illusion that being on the “right” side will provide some safety. Illusion, illusion, illusion. Further forsaking of the one future that we share. I have watched it happen in myself, I have watched it in others.

It does take courage to live from the seeds that contain my original instructions- to choose to descend below the noise of urgency and into deeper longer-term reality. To play my own part and acknowledge both that sacred power as well as the limits of my control. When I descend into what is lasting, what is true in the long-term, I find wisdom to act with courage and love in every situation.

And it looks different for each of us. We have all been perfectly placed to play a particular part that no one else can play. Sometimes we want a bigger role, or a different one, and so we run from the one role that no one but us can play. We must come home to our own lives, make our own kind of peace, see what we are here to do with humility and willingness, and then carry the burden that only we can carry. This requires great trust.

And-there is an opportunity cost for every choice in life. The greatest risk, in my opinion, is the risk to not live what I came here to do. My inspiration to live my life truly…authentically… humbly….inspires me to be courageous about certain risks that would seem too immense were they not the ones I was made to take. The willingness to take certain risks is what helps me know I’m on the right path, committed to my own freedom, and the freedom and growth of this planet through taking the risks that are only mine to take

John Muir said “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I am a particular place in the universe, and I am hitched to everything else. As I walk my path from love everything changes, together.

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