Morality: what Goodness has to do with healing

I began my studies of the nondual with the intent to heal myself and the world. Surely, I thought, healing has much to do with doing good and being good. But from early on I had questions about where morality fits into a nondual scheme of things.

I sensed I had a moral compass that turned me toward right motivation, right discernment, even if that was not always enough to propel me into action. And I felt “bad” when I did something “wrong.”

But the nondual seemed to hold out something greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.”

 

Childhoods lessons in right and wrong: I’ve thought a lot about how I first “learned” what it means to be a good person, to tell right from wrong. Religion had little to do with it. My father was a trial lawyer who took on hard-luck righteous-cause clients, cheated on my mother and tried doggedly to remain “friends” with her.

“Honesty”  in my home was deeply mixed up with privacy and poisonous secrecy.

I rarely took inspiration, guidance, or direction from rules. Rules were made to be bent, if not broken. Both were clearly best done out of plain sight. By the time I was in elementary school I lied to avoid getting into what I feared was bigger difficulty. I stole change from my mother’s purse and Jokers – and only Jokers – out of  decks at Woolworths to add to my trading card collection: I reasoned that whoever bought the deck could play gin rummy without the Joker. I knew I was wrong. That was not enough to stop me.

I often chose the right thing because I liked the way I felt – not merely an absence of guilt and not a smugness at “being right,” not even some parental acknowledgment but – well, there was some vague yet meaningful emotional reward.

There was no religious observance in my house, and no talk of God. I was sent to Hebrew school and remember having to recite the Ten Commandments as part of my Confirmation training at age sixteen. They were dry as dust. The view that the “mitzvot” of the Torah were binding on me seemed quaint, except maybe for murder – a heretical position even for a Reform Jew. It was decades before I would come to trust the workings of the world, of God as Good.

Nevertheless I was well-mannered (for which upbringing I am especially grateful in our uncivil times). I was useful, courteous and cheerful (three of the ten Girl Scout Laws I pledged to obey). I colored inside the lines.

Since I spent most of my life until my mid-thirties with people who looked like me and thought like me, my perspective on right and wrong was never seriously challenged.

 

A limited relationship with reality makes for a flawed moral compass: With the help of strangers – that is, people who at first were strange to me, who looked and thought and behaved differently. With the help of teachers and role models, religious, spiritual and secular, I did develop a moral compass that I trusted, but that was not always trustworthy. It remained flawed and limited by many defenses and fears that were not yet even visible to me. There were so many parts of me and the world that I had no relationship with at all. Hence it was a moral compass designed to align with my selectively filtered aspects of reality.  It was not true enough to keep me from being in denial in ways that fundamentally injured even those who were dear to me. This compass was True North only within the boundaries of my limited reality.

It has turned out that the key to moral maturity and trustworthiness has been the practice of waking up to one filter after another, one preference after another. The practice of coming into relationship with more and more parts of myself and the world. Of ceasing to turn away from, turn aside, and instead turn more and more directly into life, into discomfort, suffering, pleasure, joy. Nor is there an end point to this practice. It demands persistence and necessitates places of temporary refuge.

 

The Very Good does sometimes appear: This Very Good is the something that the nondual held out to me, greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.” There are times when I am able to access a Totality of self that recognizes, re-cognizes right action: moments of brilliant clarity. Life quite simply parts in its direction and moves on, nourished.  How does this happen? It is, despite all appearances, the mystery of our inherent Goodness, of the inherent Goodness of creation: And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was Very Good (Genesis 1:31.)

And when I am not so able? Well-tested codes of behavior, it turns out, are essential to my doing good and being good after all. They support my practice and continue to help me to reflect, discern, and act accordingly.

 

The intent to heal: We each of us come into this world in a messy act of separation we call birth. If we are fortunate we attach to a nourishing adult, experience life as more trustworthy than not. We separate again and grow into our own wholeness, fully individuated and connected with our fellow humans. This adult may not be our parents, but a teacher, an uncle or aunt, a babysitter, a mentor.

More likely our early wounding takes us on a circuitous journey where we are pulled forward by our soul knowledge of the Totality of who we are, a soul knowledge of the Goodness of which we are made, and a soul intent to heal and awaken.

From the perspective of Kabbalah, the world into which we are born is  made of Goodness, is also broken, and also has an intent to heal and awaken. The world does not heal and awaken in spite of us.

The power of the world to heal and awaken depends on the Totality of each of us and all of us together who make up the body of the world.

As we each continue to invite in every single part of ourselves and grow into the Totality of who we are – as we become more and more who we already are – we cultivate a trustworthy True North. We grow in our capacity to marry our personal intent to heal with the world’s intent to heal. We marry our intent that the world not destroy itself with the intent of the world to heal. A totality of us within the body of the world.

Then, in the words of Suzuki Roshi, society and culture “grow out of us.”

The power of seeing exactly what is in front of you

There are consequences to not seeing exactly what is in front of me, whether it’s invasive bamboo or human need.

Bamboo-sprouting season has arrived. Practically-speaking, this involves a daily excursion to the rear of our property, Felco pruner in hand, to snip each new shoot flush with the ground. At the peak, I’ll find fifteen or twenty. If I miss a day, the next morning the garden will host a handful of 3-foot “sprouts.” If I miss the next day too, the shoots will have gone from soft to hard – hard enough to require a chain saw to take them down.

The idea here is to hold the line on the advancing edge of this highly invasive bamboo grove, which starts three houses down the block from us, to limit this grass to the helpful windbreak that it offers against storms that most frequently blow in from the northwest.

 

AT TIMES I can look right at a rising stalk of bamboo and miss seeing it, in spite of its distinctive shape and its reddish-brown color standing out among all the shades of spring green.

SOMETIMES we can become so accustomed to a chronic symptom that it disappears from view. It becomes the norm. The way we “normally” feel.

MANY TIMES we can live so deeply from within our own story that we forget it is merely our own way of making order and finding meaning in our lives. We just think: this is the way the world is, the way our life is.

MOST TIMES we forget that what we see through our near-sighted, far-sighted, or color-blind sight is a matter of our own limited vision. We mistake this limited vision for the way the world looks.

AND MOST TIMES we live in a trance of shifting identities. Practice is a means to proactively invite in awakening from this trance. Here are a members of the cast of characters who showed up this week as I practiced inviting in the parts of me that showed up. The lapsed calligrapher and the lapsed dancer. The one who mourns the lapsed dancer. The boundary-crosser. The hit-and-runner. The Wandering Jew. The one who is certain she eats to live and does NOT live to eat. I may instinctively reach for the psycho-spiritual equivalent of my Velcro pruner, but no: every part of me, attractive or no, annoying or no, is invited in to take its place among the whole of me.

Other awakening moments come by grace, gently or fiercely. Life shakes me gently awake with its beauty or poignance. Or my eyes fly open when life hauls me up short or shakes me by the scruff of the neck. Then I remember to question my own narrative so that I can see what is right there – whether it is a fresh bamboo stalk, a skinned knee, my own bogus identity, or a look on the face of a loved one I have failed to meet.

I am needed for bamboo patrol for only three-four weeks. Questioning the ways I impose my story on the world, so that I can tend properly to what is before me: that’s year-round and life-long.

We are all strangers in a strange land

My memory of the brief exchange is so sharp that, some forty-five years later, I can picture the layout of the livingroom, just where I was sitting – a stranger in a strange land – among a group of a dozen or so women. 

The ceiling of the old Victorian was high, the walls a creamy white, an oriental rug spread out over a worn wood floor. The lighting was soft. A woman seated diagonally across from me on a damask-covered sofa spoke: “I always thought that if anyone got to know me, really know me, they would see me for the fraud I am.”

At that moment, hearing another woman speak the words I had so often furtively whispered to myself, I realized how alone I had truly felt, a stranger even to myself.

I was flooded with relief to have found my tribe.

This memory sprang back to life during the Passover Seder a few nights ago, as I reread a slip of paper I had tucked into my Haggadah – the text that tells the story of the Freeing of the Israelites from slavery.

God may have reached into history with “His long arm and outstretched hand” to free our bodies from forced labor. But our Exodus from Egypt is ultimately about getting the Egypt out of us: freeing ourselves from our sense of estrangement from one another and from God or Reality. 

It is  up to us to free ourselves of misunderstandings and beliefs that destroy the promise of intimacy.

My scribbled note lists three kinds of estrangement:

feeling ostracized in one’s environment

feeling displaced among one’s friends

feeling estranged from one’s own soul

That sharp memory of finding my tribe? Encoded within it are remnants of every one of these themes of isolation and alienation. Sometimes they still ache, like a deep old scar. Occasionally they bleed freely and bright red, as I am wounded afresh.

But this tribe around our Seder table is full of good will, deep listening, intentions for the world to not destroy itself. And full of  the wisdom of having devoted themselves to the study and practice of bench science and glass art, history and philosophy, theology and nursing, Afghani tribal and US government versions of conflict and diplomacy, helping others re-write the stories of their lives and writing for herself as a necessity, the art of guiding traumatized children and families through the education system, and the new political science of identifying two outworn regulations that can be dispensed with for each new one proposed.

So much engagement with life, so many hearts hands and feet finding ways to offer welcome and solace to the ostracized, a refuge for the displaced, and soulful connection to the estranged.

So much engagement – with one another – that our guests lingered for the better part of an hour after we concluded the Seder at 12:10am, reveling in the freeing intimacy of the evening and the nourishment of hospitable and welcoming hearts.

Even as we struggle with how we may harbor one another,  relieve the desperate journeys and living conditions of those who are even now physical outcasts, we strengthen our capacities to be of true service as we heal our own personal estrangement.


Banner photo from The Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Raphael Abecassis

We interrupt you to bring you this PAUSE

Nothing frustrates me more than to be interrupted when I am bent on my objective of the moment: until I can receive it as the pause I need.

In my more fanciful moments death looms like a vacation with a checklist directed towards tidiness and completion. The plants are watered, the bills are paid and there is enough in the checking account to cover the next month. The garden is weeded, mulched, and blooming in season. Deadlines have all been met, duties acquitted, birthdays and friendships acknowledged, questions big and little answered, sorries made good, forgivenesses extended.

No room for dust, accumulated mail, the list of Things that Must Be Finished  that multiplies by twos and threes for every task checked off: plane reservations, checking in on a sick grandson, grasping some essential key to a writing blind-spot that Gregory Orr’s essay must hold, emptying the overfull rain gauge so I can keep track of the bounty of this week’s generous skies.

And especially no tolerance for interruption and the disproportionate heat of irritation that comes with yielding my priority, my timing, my drive towards completion. 

In my more fanciful and unawakened moments – and they are plentiful, I actually try to live this way, in spite of the fact my doing so has led not to the sought-after continuity or satisfaction, but to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

I have entirely missed living in those moments of interruption, defending against them as against a mortal assault.

So here is what I have learned to do in those moments: pause.

When I can just pause and let things come to rest where they are, let myself come to rest where I am – there is a fulfillment that is greater, I could say more real, than completing any task itself. The pause may call for me to turn away from my task and face the person, or cat, who wants my attention. I may cap my pen and place it in the red ceramic cup I use as a holder. Or I may put my laptop in sleep mode. Taking such a physical action lets things come to rest where they are.

It  takes naming where I am to let myself come to rest.

A string of namings helps to to let the irritation and heat dissipate. I am pissed. I am holding my breath. Oh, I am breathing. I am cooling down.

These two – a physical action and a string of namings – turn interruption into an ally who invites me to PAUSE, to stay in contact with the living moment.

Tasks lose their frantic edge and any claim at shoring up my security, identity, or attitude of good-will towards myself, and become one absorbing shift of relationship after another.

The heat of my irritation at countless daily interruptions dissipates.

The pause: this is life making itself useful, like my mother’s pen knife.

This practice confers an actual, not a false continuity, one that holds both the completed and the unfinished, the resolved and the unresolved, perhaps eases the difficulties of that most final of interruptions: death, attended by untidinesses of all kinds – loss, solemnity, awe, and mystery. Perhaps even my own death, inevitably to be attended by the untidy, and by the great unknown.

Wait, what? An old insight beckons me to practice

Wait, what? I actually had that experience? That insight?

Paging through  my old journals turns out to be an archeological dig that yields an occasional gem of insight, but one that has remained uncut, untumbled, unpolished: unintegrated.

Recently I unearthed this entry, penned more than seven years ago.

There are times I want to just weep and it’s not “about” anything. My mind goes looking for a “reason” for grief or sorrow, and sometimes finds one, but that is a kind of after-the-fact approach, and not particularly fruitful.

What turns out to be fruitful is letting my impulse to weep become vivid. Then I notice that my my feeling has a gravity to it, a sinking quality that takes me deep into a well. There I encounter what I am starting to call – and not with a lot of confidence, but starting to call: joy. An awareness comes of something light, a taking flight, and the weeping-feeling and “joy” are intimate, they are married. Their joining has something to do with the beauty, preciousness of life, and that beauty and preciousness has something to do with its fleeting nature, with mortality.

This is quite a revelation to me. Joy has been a mystery, an unattainable goal, a hunh?, a head scratcher.

During the cycle of the Jewish High Holy Days, that runs for a 62 day cycle in the late summer to early fall I can intelligently if not comfortably make my way through introspection, remorse, taking actions that repair relationships, awe, holiness, the language of error and judgment: but the holidays that close the season, that are presumably shot through with “joy”? I’ve approached this part of the cycle with a sense of isolation, disappointment, mystification.

So it is no small thing for me to arrive at a growing edge where grief and joy of this subtlety are companions and teachers. The effects are like having felt oxygen-deprived for years…and then breathing in ocean and mountain air together, over and over again.

That’s what I call a rock of a moment: untumbled, unpolished, unintegrated –  an opportunity not yet lost, because it beckons me back to practice.

Recently I’ve had a lot of must-weep moments, along with a heightened sense of my mortality, and have reached for my  wonderful herbal friend Pulsatilla (common name, Windflower.)

There is no better first-aid than a few drops when ready to dissolve into tears, looking into the dark side of life.

And I can testify that these recent must-weep moments have no companion,  nothing I would even consider venturing to call “joy.”

So now, along with taking the help of my herbal friend, I also have to make time to sit.  

To follow the wisdom of this old insight: let weepiness become vivid, cut, tumble, polish me.

Allow insight to teach me, heal me, awaken me anew.

And I must be willing to sit without hope of recreating that delicious marriage of weeping and nascent joy, to sit without hope even of integration. That’s the nature of practice.

Bend the Arc 100 : Come on in out of the cold

So you want to do your part to bend the arc towards justice? Then you’d better check you haven’t left some part of yourself out in the cold. You’re gonna want to bring your whole self with you. 

A week ago I basked in the company of eleven women ranging in age from their thirties to their seventies. We met to talk about how to mobilize our yearning and practice to bend the arc towards justice. We shared our intentions.

We practiced letting in all the parts of ourselves who showed up. 

We started there because we need every bit of our body, imagination and soul strength to bend the arc.

I want to share with you what I shared with them: a few words about inclusion from a nondual perspective. About its origins and power in what I call….

The Radical Oneness of existence, or the Universe, or Reality. Many spiritual traditions view the world in this way.  You could call this Oneness God, the One who Holds (as in He’s got the whole world in His hands), The Buddha-Nature, Isness, The Great Kindness, The Garment of Destiny (as Martin Luther King did), the Quantum Field (if you are a physics nerd.) My own roots are in Kabbalah, the Jewish wisdom tradition. I am partial to the Hebrew name Makom, which means The Place.

This is a Oneness so great that it holds every distinction, separation, split, pair  of opposites, conflict, suffering, goodness, and every known and unknown. This is a world that is One not because it is has not shattered, but because it includes every shattering and every shard and sliver.

We humans, on the other hand, split the world. It is our nature. Hard-wired. For our survival. We make distinctions: this/that, urban/rural, fashionable/out of style, essential/frivolous, normal, i.e. the norm/deviant. Then we go on to label them as “good” or “bad” and attempt to be/do/associate with the good-only. Or we inappropriately ride over, transcend, or erase differences, as in the view that we are a “post-racial” nation.

We do this splitting as we look out at the world. And we do this splitting as we look inward at ourselves. We tend to include the parts of ourselves that we like – that are up to our standards of behavior or performance or skill or kindness or morality. And to exclude other parts we don’t like.

For some of us, it’s the “good” parts we have trouble including, so we deny or minimize – that thing that I do, it’s not such a big deal.  Or diminish ourselves in comparison to someone “better.” Or fall into the mantra, “not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.”

The inner critic manages to keep close track of these. So does the task-master. So does the one intent on personal or spiritual growth, who often teams up with the critic/taskmaster to

–  wheedle, charm, or ring self-acceptance out of us

– turn us into an un-ending self-improvement project

– insist that we “let go of,”  “purify” or “transcend” or “see it as illusion” or otherwise get rid of/kill off the the parts of ourselves we don’t like

– shame us, a category all its own

Living in this gap between our idealized and our real self is a high-maintenance and exhausting job, all the more-so when we aren’t awake to it.

Nondual practice – rooted in Radical Oneness, turns our attention towards forging a path of deep self-acceptance and dedication to staying at our working edge. We do our best to listen to the intelligence of our strengths and limitations, the parts of ourselves that we like, the parts we hate or despair of, the parts we deny or minimize.

The more we can do this, include each of these parts, come into relationship with them, give them a place, the more wisdom we have access to, and the less our limitations are obstacles in our path. The more we can do this, the more we can be intelligent companions to all kinds of people. We have less compulsion to turn our  “opposites” into our “opposition.”  The more we can do this, the more we are neither larger nor smaller than we actually are. (This has been one of my specialities, going back and forth between messianic aspirations and goals and helplessness.)

It also turns out that as we can do this, the more that connection and Oneness shine through the multiplicity. The fabric shimmers, even while wet with tears. The more palpable God’s presence becomes in our daily lives. This is the work of healing and awakening.

What does this have to do with bending the arc?

  • Pragmatically, materially speaking, we need all the wisdom we can access, and all the wholeness we can muster, to meet life.
  • From the standpoint of healing and awakening, we are each born into this world to bend the arc in a particular way: that particular way of bending that we are born for, born to, heals our soul, and heals the world. Inseparably. Simultaneously. The very same life. That is what we are here for.
  • And we are not on our own in this work. Reality has our back.

We humans and God: together we bend the arc.

How to sit in the dark

Insomnia taught me how to come fully alive in the night hours, how to sit in the dark.

Listen to the night-time traffic pattern, to the wind, to waves of feeling I sequestered during the day, to the ordinary.

Listen for a prompting, a question, a relaxation of muscle, intellect or heart.

Listen for Who might be listening for me.

Speak not with my tongue but some more subtle organ.

Here’s what I learned not to do: turn on a light, pick up a book, banish anxiety, get online, organize anything, expect answers. Distractions all.

Darkness is to sink into, like a seed held by soil without a tremor of urgency, the womb of time and space. Darkness, as Wendell Berry says, does its work.

These lessons of sitting in the dark strengthen me now, when so much of the shadow of the human psyche is abroad in me and in the world.

Darkness itself is sentient, full of knowing, and able to awaken, as we come into relationship with her.

As I wrestle with the sea changes in the US and around the world, I am more aware than ever of my own shadow being, and how vital it is for me to continue my “night-time” work, then bring it out as I engage with the daylight world.

While the days have begun to lengthen now,

may we be willing to continue laboring in the dark,

may we come to appreciate its value,

may we be resolute,

may we hold hands,

may we lift up one another as we stumble.

 

White women: Take the Privilege Challenge

The first in an occasional series that brings the skills and power of a life of practice to bear on healing and awakening deep cultural and tribal divides.

As white women, we know plenty about male privilege. And we can use that knowledge to take the mystery and invisibility out of White Privilege.  I turned to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” for a list of prompts to begin to assemble my own.

While associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women, Macintosh came to understand white privilege through her work on male privilege. She recognized that she had been “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems” that favored her group.  She set out to work on herself by observing the daily effects of white privilege in her life. Her seminal and scholarly piece (dating to 1988) remains widely cited today: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

Take the Privilege Challenge – check out Macintosh’s Knapsack and then unpack your own. I promise you it will wake you up to our shared humanity in some surprising ways. Even if you think of yourself as awake and on to yourself in racial matters.

And if you are a white healer, coach, bodyworker or therapist who works with people of color, as you explore and deepen your embodied awareness of privilege, you will offer them a level of safety in the healing relationship of incalculable value.


On the white side of privilege

When I don’t feel normal I can be sure it’s not institutional racism, or even personal prejudice, at work, just some neurotic part of my personality that’s the culprit.

I can hang out with a bunch of white people almost anywhere, even a street-corner after dark, without being told to move along.

No one comes up to me and touches my hair, or even asks if they can touch my hair.

No one asks me to give them examples of micro-aggressions.

I can browse undisturbed for clothing or CDs or a gift for a friend: no one follows me around to make sure I’m not a shoplifter.

No one will be surprised and thus praise me for being “so articulate.”  The way I speak is considered proper and normal, aka “the norm.”

I do not put myself in danger or suffer any threat or penalty for remaining ignorant of the language, culture, and history of other races.  But I can cluelessly ask a person of color to remedy my ignorance by explaining things to me.

I can have a bad hair day, grocery shop in torn and dirty jeans, even raise my voice in public without anyone attributing my looks or behavior to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of my race.

If I get pulled over while driving, I’m going to drive away with a warning or a ticket. No search of my car or body cavities. If I need the police, I can call 911 without worrying that somehow I’ll end up suspect, roughed up, or dead.

I can get really angry, even act really angry without scaring every white person in view.

I have never been denied credit or a rental because I am white.

I never had to have The Talk with my children on how to stay physically safe because of their color. Nor did they go to school in the morning  after their sleep was disturbed by gunshots or their waking by news of another neighbor, cousin or friend shot. I never had trouble finding them books that tell their stories.

No one in my family has been denied bail, tried in a court of law or been imprisoned.

I am pretty free to choose to avoid people who have been taught to be afraid of me.  And if people of another race distrust me, I am likely to be oblivious to it.

Health statistics in my country are pretty much on the side of my race.

It’s easy to find “flesh-colored” crayons and band-aids that are close to the actual color of my skin.

I am never asked to speak for the entire white race.

No one crosses the street to avoid me.

No one freaks out if I wear a hoodie.

No one mistakes me for the janitor, the stock clerk, or the door-person because of my race.

I can come home at the end of a day in city, suburb, or small town without the weight of having felt unwelcome, unsafe, suspect, as if I did not belong. Without the exhaustion of constant vigilance.

 


Now you give the Privilege Challenge a try, and please – share  your findings below.

2017: the power to act weds healing and awakening

It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.

My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.  

Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.

The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.

2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?

 

Here’s my back story,  with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.

I was a reluctant student of power.

Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.

Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.

A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.

I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.

But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.

Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.

He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.

Twenty years later

When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.

Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?

I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?

Here’s my invitation:  Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST

in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.

TO REGISTER: email me at alifeofpractice@gmail.com

Please make Subject line BEND THE ARC

I’m gonna rock my rhythms into 2017

I am about to rock my way into 2017, re-membering and re-calibrating to my own rhythms.

As the year turns, I will be blessed once again to visit Assateague Island, wonder at the shaggy wild ponies as they wander roadside fields, see what changes the weather has brought this year.

Assateague is a barrier island, 37 miles long, stretching offshore of Maryland and Virginia. At no point is the island more than a mile wide. Overwash continues to move the island landward: winter storms move sand from ocean-side beach and dunes and deposit it along the landward side, sometimes opening new inlets or closing old ones. Depending on the severity of the storms and the extent of the changes, recovery may or may not take place over the gentler summer months.

I will take some time to sit in one of these generous wooden rockers on the deck at the Visitor’s Center and consider how the year has re-shaped me.

A year a go I found myself aware not only of possibilities but also of hesitancies, uncertainties, limitations: irresolution. I passed up goal-setting in favor of some open questions – and now I have a few answers.

How am I being drawn forward in my life as well as shaped or impelled by my past?

I have been drawn forward into teaching and group facilitations by hearts, minds, and hands extended toward me in partnership and collaboration. And impelled forward by consuming interests  from my past (I mean past, as in 20 years!) that have reappeared, seeking re-integration: social activism, Jewish renewal, the texts of Kashmir Shivaism.

It has, in fact, been a little spooky how people from that earlier era have made a series of reappearances into my life, and we have picked up conversations as if we had left off just yesterday.

Clearly there is some Very Large Rhythm at play here.

What is the thread I have followed, sometimes consciously, sometimes not?

When I posed this question a year ago, I had in mind some theme, a result perhaps, like, oh, becoming more myself. But I think the thread I have followed has been a process thread: listening and choosing. Listening to what Life is saying, what Life is offering, what Life is denying. And then choosing. And then making myself responsible for my choices.

What do I know that I have not allowed myself to know that I know?

That the Universe has my back. And not just sometimes. All the time. I’ll admit I have come to this from a place of doubt, even skepticism. I came to it through outcomes much grander than my partners and I could have created out of our own volition and skill. And through losses that did not fell me.

That with the Universe at my back, I need no longer sit when I should stand, stand when I should walk, walk when I should dance.

Which is a very good thing, because, my friends, 2017 is calling us loud and clear to stand together, walk together, dance together. 

There are some very Large Rhythms at play, and some very Large Dissonances at play, and the Universe has our back.