A Hollow Reed

Years ago when I was untangling the emotional roots and antecedents of fibromyalgia, I saw a counselor, a lovely 60ish-year-old man with round spectacles. I kept hoping he would hook me up to his biofeedback machine and fix me. I would sit in a chair in front of him and look over at the biofeedback station significantly. Kind of like my dog points his nose at the treat bag, with great hope and impatience.

On our initial phone call I had told him that biofeedback was what I needed. I figured I would force my beleaguered body to relax, and boom, all would be well.

Instead, he asked me to close my eyes and breathe. How did my body feel, sitting in the chair? Where was the pain, where was the tiredness? What did it want to say? He’d ask me to play witness to the tumult inside me. “We are present to this discomfort,” he would say.

Eventually the witnessing came around to breathing in openness and ease. I was never long in his presence before I felt it: the touch of the Divine. I breathed in and invited it. The ache in my chest might grow more pronounced, but with each inhalation, I felt a lightness flood every cell, until the ache transformed into something softer, like a blossom opening to the sun.

Sunlight

I don’t remember specifics from our time together, except the way my breath would flow the length of my body. I drew it in from my feet and exhaled it out my crown, an old yogic practice.

“You see how this is right there for you, as soon as you invite it?” I remember him saying. “This is your gift.”

It didn’t seem like much of a gift at the time, even though those meditations brought the rare sensation of settling me fully in my body. The grounded feeling never lasted; one step out of the haven of his office—that luscious sweetgum tree outside the window!—and I would leave my body again.

One thing stuck with me: He said once, “I am not the doer here,” with his long fingertips pressed to his white canvas shirt. “I am not in charge.”

He spoke of being a hollow reed, the Divine playing its music through us. “We just need to step aside, get our egos and personalities out of the way,” he said.

埙

I wasn’t sure that was possible, for me.

These days I find myself opening to that possibility, as I check in with guidance every step of the way. For the first time, I don’t plant myself so firmly in the driver’s seat.

I wrote about my tendency to push 18 months ago; rereading the post now, I see how I was playing with the idea of surrender, which had been enforced (again) by illness.

Only now is this starting to filter into daily practice. If life moves in a natural ebb and flow, as Charles Eisenstein suggests, then aligning my own activities with that natural movement brings a delicious serenity. Not only that, but cosmic forces line up to push me farther than I could ever push myself, and with much greater ease.

So I pause and ask: Is it actually time to do what the ego/driver in me wants to do? Or is it time to do something else? I’m finding more ease and joy as I move through life open to the possibility that it’s not all up to me.

Step Up to the Fire

One of my favorite year-end practices comes at Solstice time, when we gather with friends to mark the longest night. While we welcome the return of the light, we let go of what no longer serves us.

My spouse and I have been doing this with various groupings of women friends for a couple decades now. We build a fire and each burn something to symbolize what we’re ready to release.

IMG_4453Over the years I’ve noticed a shift in the types of things people throw on the fire. If I remember right, in our 20s and 30s we often burned things like business cards, to symbolize an important job transition. I recall burning “toxic” letters, wanting to shift a problematic relationship.

Looking back, the focus felt external to some degree: We needed to declare that something was over and done, and move on.

(I do recall that one creative soul burned a photocopy of a sponge, to indicate she no longer needed to absorb everyone else’s “stuff.”)

In general, nowadays, it feels like we all are more apt to turn our focus inward. What is it within me that is ready to slough off? Is it my need to be right? my habit of pushing? my fears? my dismissive self-talk?

One by one, we step up to the fire and burn the pattern that’s holding us back.

At our 2013 Solstice celebration, this is what I committed to the fire: my need to distract myself. What would happen, I wondered, if every time I thoughtlessly drifted to Facebook, email, or some other addiction, I first checked in on my inner world?

The result, over the course of the year, was a deepening of quiet, and an opening of possibility. I began to turn toward whatever plagued me instead of overriding it. I began to listen more carefully to guidance, to seek it, to act on it.

I had been moving in this direction since my dear friend, energy healer Merry Henn, introduced me to energy work several years back. In a 15-year quest to heal from fibromyalgia, the “invisible arts” (as I sometimes call them) proved indispensable. In combination with other healthy practices, energy healing and emotional clearing have brought me back to resilience. I no longer get sick at the drop of a hat, and I no longer need the maintenance regimen that sustained me for so long.

Now I find myself offering intuitive sessions and hands-on healing work to others, integrating everything I’ve learned. I never imagined myself in this role. But it turns out to be one of the most meaningful contributions I could ever make to a new Story of Reunion.

It was the Solstice ritual that helped me receive this unexpected gift.

I won’t say yet what I burned at the 2014 Solstice gathering, but who knows what magic is afoot after that releasing?

The More Beautiful World

I’ve been savoring Charles Eisenstein’s book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. It’s affirming, challenging, stimulating, surprising—and filled with wisdom for this age of crisis. Nature in my hands Shared cultural myths make up the “Story of the People,” the beliefs we all hold about the way the world works. Eisenstein notes that the old story is beginning to crumble as we see institution after institution unveiled as unworkable, untenable. He shows how this old Story of Separation—based on control, force, domination, competition, and scarcity—informs everything we see: the prison system, food system, educational system, money system—not to mention religious institutions, childrearing practices, and even activist organizations.

Even the medical establishment’s treatment of illness is based on this model, where bacteria is the enemy we need to conquer to save our own skin. (Never mind that 90 percent of the cells that make up a human are actually bacteria and fungi!)

This overarching cultural myth—that we are separate from each other and the rest of nature, inhabiting a hostile universe built on random accident and competition—is the source of much pain, violence, despair, and exploitation.

But the old story is beginning to fall away as a new Story of Connection takes its place. This transition is far from complete, Eisenstein says. And the time between stories is fraught. Many of the institutions are revealing their true natures in horrifying ways, and our usual tactics seem useless in the face of the horror. That’s because the tactics are also made of that old story. Compelling people to change by force or ridicule, demonizing institutions and leaders as evil, even rushing to action or response before the best path is clear—these are all born from a model that won’t work anymore.

Meditation

“The situation on Earth today is too dire for us to act from habit—to reenact again and again the same kinds of solutions that brought us to our present extremity. Where does the wisdom to act in entirely new ways come from? It comes from nowhere, from the void; it comes from inaction.”

That passage is one of many that resonate with me, especially since I’ve been spending so much time in that void he mentions. Sometimes I worry that by the time I emerge from this cocoon the world will have been fracked to death. That urgency to stop such horrors is real, but we need to reach deeper than action. Our task is to create something new that leaves these old systems and tactics in the dust. We need to make a whole new world, based on the vision of connectedness. NJ - Montclair: Montclair Art Museum - Earth Mother Eisenstein brings up the ebb and flow of the birth process. Much of the time the mother is not pushing, but resting. When the time to push comes, the urge is unstoppable. But the push comes in its time, and not before.

“Can you imagine saying to her, ‘Don’t stop now! You have to make an effort. What happens if the urge doesn’t arise again? You can’t just push when you feel like it!'”

The question is, what are we gestating? What kind of world wants to be born?

Birthing a New Story

Does it ever seem to you like an age of innocence is past? I’ve been thinking about this since reading Charles Eisenstein’s brilliant article, 2013: The Space Between Stories.

He describes a nostalgia for the cultural myth of his youth, “a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the Superbowl was important, in which the world’s greatest democracy was bringing democracy to the world, in which science was going to make life better and better. Life made sense.”

By Simon Q from United Kingdom (Rusting Sherman Hull Uploaded by High Contrast) via Wikimedia Commons

By Simon Q from United Kingdom (Rusting Sherman Hull Uploaded by High Contrast) via Wikimedia Commons

He talks about how we used to believe that the good folks in charge had things all under control, but of course it’s clear now that isn’t true. Our eyes are opening. We can’t ignore the perpetuation of global poverty and extreme inequity. We’re waking up, painfully, to the destruction wrought in the name of commerce and greed. We see that things are falling apart, and the institutions and experts we used to trust are not going to fix it.

And we can never get back to that old cultural story. We’re birthing the new story now, but we’re in a between-time. Our lack of shared cultural myth makes this a turbulent and often frightening time, with the extreme death throes of the old story showing us the worst of the worst.

Or that’s what Eisenstein thinks anyway, and it rings true for me.

Joanna Macy says it this way:

This is a dark time filled with suffering, as old systems and previous certainties come apart.

Like living cells in a larger body, we feel the trauma of our world. It is natural and even healthy that we do, for it shows we are still vitally linked in the web of life. So don’t be afraid of the grief you may feel, or of the anger or fear: these responses arise, not from some private pathology, but from the depths of our mutual belonging.

Bow to your pain for the world when it makes itself felt, and honor it as testimony to our interconnectedness.

So instead of running from our pain in this chaotic between-time, we can turn toward it, with compassion. We can grieve what’s passing away, mourn what’s lost to us forever. We can acknowledge the emotions that arise as we awaken, even the ones we’ve been taught are best kept locked down.

Crocus blooms under snow

Crocus blooms under snow

Instead of cutting off the feeling parts of ourselves, we can invite our whole selves to help dream the new story.

What story shall we create?

Too Many Tons

There’s a moment in Barbara Kingsolver’s devastating new novel, Flight Behavior, where the protagonist realizes the craziness built into our globalized economy. Dellarobia and her husband are in the dollar store, trying to buy a “real Christmas” for their children on $50. Every toy is Chinese-made, plastic, and depressingly cheesy. She tries to find something, anything, that won’t fall apart immediately, and muses:

“There had to be armies of factory workers making this slapdash stuff, underpaid people cranking out things for underpaid people to buy and use up, living their lives mostly to cancel each other out.”

I recently learned something horrifying from this video featuring Society for Organizational Learning founder Peter Senge: It takes a ton of raw materials each day to sustain the American lifestyle. Per person.

extraction

© David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I don’t know about you, but it guts me to envision a ton of earthly extraction happening on my behalf—today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next, until the whole house of cards collapses. Or until we demand something different.

Do we really need to buy into this waste?

All that energy that goes into making money to be able to buy stuff? If we could divert a fraction of that into work that sustains us, we might see the merry-go-round start to slow.

I met a young mother recently who had made some changes after asking herself, “Why am I spending money to buy food when I could grow my own? Money doesn’t grow on trees, but food does.” Visionary Charles Eisenstein, Radical Homemaker Shannon Hayes, and countless others have said it: It’s time to rethink, regroup, relocalize.

My partner is cutting her workplace hours this year to spend more time gardening and making things. These projects enrich her life and leave something tangible, and they mean—yes!—fewer trips to the store to buy goods made or grown by someone else.

Sure, we still do our share of purchasing. We’re not immune to the consumer culture. I just got my very first smartphone, after all, with much gnashing of teeth. But we are coming to see ourselves less as consumers and more as small-scale producers, or self-provisioners, or urban farmers. The more we make, produce, grow, and repair with our own hands, the less money we require to live.

One group is working in a big way to break the cycle. Open Source Ecology was started by a young farmer who was frustrated by repeated tractor breakdowns. It bothered him that corporations keep their designs secret and build obsolescence into their products. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Now he’s working with others to develop 50 industrial machines to cover every need of a local-level sustainable economy. The open source part is revolutionary: Their designs are available for anyone to use and adapt.

Here’s a three-minute video showing how it all works. There’s a builder from Indiana using one of the machines to make bricks. I love this!

Build yourself. | Tristan Copley Smith from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

What about you—how are you slowing the merry-go-round?