Wake Up, Human 013: Ancient & Sacred Sites of Ireland

A Conversation with Jack Roberts


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You do not build a massive monument like Newgrange or Stonehenge on your own. You do it as part of a massive consciousness. And that’s what we’ve lost in the modern day. We’ve lost this ancient sense of consciousness.

Jack Roberts

In this episode I have the pleasure of talking with Mr. Jack Roberts, an independent researcher and publisher on the landscape, mythology, and sacred sites of Ireland.

Born and raised in England, Jack has been living in Ireland since the 1970s, where he’s been researching ancient and historical sites of the Irish landscape, like stone circles and ring forts, fairy mounds and dolmens, and the symbolism embedded within them.

Jack is the author of various books, including The Sacred Mythological Centres of Ireland and The Sun Circles of Ireland, as well as a number of illustrated maps and guides to Celtic and Megalithic sites. He’s one of Ireland’s leading investigators of the Sheela-na-gig, a symbolic representation of the goddess culture of ancient Ireland. His books and guides are richly illustrated with his own striking pen and ink drawings, based on observation and field research. And if that weren’t enough, Jack is also a jewelry designer, his designs acclaimed for featuring accurate depictions of original Megalithic and Celtic art and imagery.

My conversation with Jack begins with the ancient sites of Ireland, but quickly expands to include our relationship to those sites: the human history and culture that bring them to life.

We’ll talk about Newgrange, the most famous neolithic monument in Ireland, and the importance of mythology to understanding the meaning of such a site in its own context. We’ll spend a good deal of time unpacking the development of Christianity in Ireland, and the inter-relationship between the Christian religion and the pagan world of the druids. We’ll discuss why Ireland is so bloody important (as Jack would say) for modern people, especially of European ancestral heritage, to understand our place in the evolution of human culture. And no conversation about mythic Ireland would be complete without talking about the Sídhe (pronounced, “shee”), the faeries of the otherworld, and what they can teach us about ancient ways of seeing and being that can serve us in our modern world.

I had the good fortune of meeting Jack in Ireland recently, and I was impressed, not only by the extent of his knowledge, but also by his passion for preserving Irish culture and sharing its richness with future generations. For this interview, Jack is calling in from his home in the west of Ireland. He’s chock full of information, gracious as all get out, and he’s also just a lot of fun. I hope you’ll join us for this lively conversation. Oh, and if you think you hear a squeaky noise in the background, don’t worry…it’s not faeries in the basement. It’s just Jack’s squeaky office chair.

*

You can learn more about Jack and find his research, books and publications, as well as his beautiful jewelry, at his website http://www.bandiadesign.com



The journey of discovery is everything. And the journey is to go back into what our ancestors have left us.

…And once you start looking in that direction, you are looking at the world from the same point of view as every indigenous culture on this planet ever did.

Jack Roberts


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Pro-this, Anti-that: In a Divided World, I’m Pro-Compassion.

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

I won’t let my heart be divided.

The pain of divisive words has been eating at me. So many of the words being used in the mainstream media, social media, and what has become of our common discourse are lit up with disrespect, fear, and hate. The us vs. them rhetoric is hurtful to my heart.

And it should be hurtful. Because it’s not healthy. When something’s not healthy for us, our body and psyche will afflict us with pain, to signal to us that something is wrong.

Is the hateful language hurting you too?

Language of divisiveness—left vs. right, or pro-this vs. anti-that, for example—is not the language of the people. It’s not a product of our lived sense of one another as fellow human beings. It’s propaganda.

Employed by ruling and elite classes to manipulate the narrative, divisive language is wordplay designed to pull us apart, by those who benefit from our division.

These days as we navigate the pandemic, for example, the words “anti-vax” and “anti-science” strike sadness in me every time I hear them. I don’t believe those words genuinely define anyone. I do believe those words (and many others, on both sides of the political debate) are being used as tools to turn people into labels.

When we minimize others to labels, it’s easier to dehumanize them. When we dehumanize others, it’s easier to care less about them. And when we care less about each other, those who wish to divide and conquer us have just had their job made much easier.

I won’t allow divisive words to stop me from caring.

Whichever side of an issue we’re on, there’s going to be someone on the other side of it. That doesn’t mean that person is bad, or evil, or wrong. They may be wrong, in fact. But we don’t need to allow media, or government, or influencers, or friends and family convince us of what is right or wrong, simply by virtue of their authority (or proximity). Because they may be wrong. They may not have all the information. And they may be lying.

If we believe divisive words out of hand, we fall prey to othering: the belief that another person or group is the problem, or the source of our pain. But when we’re divided along ideological lines, it’s not you making me hurt, or me making you hurt. It’s division that’s hurting us both.

The “other” is not the enemy. If there is an enemy, the enemy is the othering.

So what to do? It’s hard to know where we stand, when we don’t know who to trust.

That’s why I’m pro-compassion.

In a world so riven with “pro- vs. anti-” ideology, compassion—recognition of the other as a feeling being who also suffers—is a balm to the heart. Compassion for the other is a unifying power, pointing us toward common ground to ease our collective suffering.

If I’m pro-compassion, that means I’m incapable to dehumanize you for your beliefs, because compassion is a humanizing force. If I’m pro-compassion I won’t hate you, because compassion understands that hate breeds more suffering, not less. Compassion is born from a primordial connectedness that exists innately within us, long before the labels of the outside world begin to subdivide our minds. Compassion comes from wholeness.

See, your ideological beliefs don’t tell me who you really are.

You may define yourself as pro-life or pro-choice. Neither of those stances tells me whether you’re kind. You may call yourself anti-racist or anti-fascist. That doesn’t tell me whether I can trust you with my heart. You may say you’re pro-gun or anti-censorship; that doesn’t tell me whether you’re willing to seek common ground with me.

But if you’re pro-compassion, whichever side of an issue you’re on, I feel safe with you. I know you’ll see me as human. I know we can work together. You may lean right and I may lean left, but if we center compassion between us, part of us is already on the same side.

I’m not saying that compassion is easy. On the contrary, I think it’s often easier to hate than it is to be compassionate.

But I am saying that compassion makes us free.

A popular verse by Rumi comes to mind:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Being willing to meet in the field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing doesn’t mean there is no wrong or right. It doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions. It doesn’t mean we don’t take a side, or fight for what we believe in. And it doesn’t mean we’re admitting weakness or defeat.

It simply means that we recognize the weakness of defining ourselves by our differences.

When we allow ourselves to be defined by opposing labels, we become trapped in those definitions. Division stokes more division. And from inside that box of wrong and right labels, we can lose sight of what “the right thing” even is.

But when we step out into the field beyond wrong and right, we free ourselves from that box and see clearly. We can turn around and witness the suffering going on “inside,” and feel compassion for those who are hurting on both sides. From that place of clarity, the last thing we’ll want to do is add to the harm. From that place, we can work for solutions that heal.

In this divisive world, I refuse to let my heart be divided.

I won’t allow myself to be lit up with disrespect, fear, or hate. I won’t let manufactured or normalized stereotypes break my connection to you. And I’ll do my very best to define you, not by any label, but by your humanity.

In a world that’s rife with us vs. them rhetoric, we can be pro-compassion. We can come together in the field of shared needs and put down roots of connection in the face of those who would divide us. That is a radical act.

So, I’m on my way out into that field. Whichever side of whatever thing you’re on, I hope to see you there.

Maybe together we can begin to heal our hurting hearts.

*

Elephant Alert! An edited version of this article is available on Elephant Journal at this link.



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Wake Up, Human 012: Love as a Spiritual Path

Love as a Spiritual Path ~ with Matthew Busse


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The more we start listening to and following our heart, the clearer the path becomes.

Matthew Busse

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Matthew Busse, teacher in residence at the Abbey of the Redwoods, a contemplative interfaith community in Northern California.

My conversation with Matthew explores his current teaching on the theme of “Love as a Spiritual Path,” offering practices that reconnect us to our hearts for healing, in a world that has, in so many ways, forgotten how to love.  

We’ll talk about the value of an interfaith approach to spirituality, especially important in this time when so many of us have been turned off by conventional religion. We’ll explore how the word “love” is often misused or co-opted in our culture, and the importance of reclaiming it’s true meaning for ourselves.

We’ll ask why we sometimes struggle to love ourselves or others, and offer some simple practices to reconnect with our hearts. And we’ll talk about “saving what we love, vs. fighting what we hate”: exploring love, not only as a healing path for the individual, but as a tool for the activist working for a more just and loving world.

Join us for conversation on these topics and more in this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

*

You can learn more about Matthew and his work at his website, www.embracelove.life, and find more of his writings and videos at the abbeyoftheredwoods.org.



When we’re ready to love ourselves, then our intuition will lead us down the right path. It may be full of hurdles and pitfalls, it may lead us off a cliff into a fiery crash or double back on itself in seemingly endless loops. But deep down inside, we know the way.

Matthew Busse


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We are All Indigenous to Somewhere.

A journey to Ireland brought me closer to my worldly roots, and in the process, reminded me that I am always rooted…wherever I may be.

*

Spending time in Ireland, so close to the lands where my own ancestors would have lived many centuries ago, is healing.

Where I grew up in the American West, it feels right to honor and name the indigenous peoples of that place, and respect the spirits of their ancestors however I can. Knowing that I am from that place but not “from” there, I love and tend that dry and sun-glazed land the best I can, trusting that somehow I know what she needs.

For human and nature are one in soul, no matter the place we meet.

We are all indigenous to this planet. There is no human being who is not rooted in some ancient place.

But it’s healing to be in a place where the indigenous spirits and ancestors are my own. Where my toes are familiar with the moss, and waves crash over rocks making music that fits the curve of my ear. Where even the birds seem to be speaking my language.

This old tree I passed every day during my time in Ireland caught my attention. Like me, she is rooted in this place. Unlike me, she has never lived anywhere else. So I listened to her. What does she know that I’ve forgotten?

I believe that when we honor our own story and walk in the wildness of our own ancestral lands (even if only in our hearts), all land becomes more sacred. ✨

*

This post inspired me to record podcast Episode 11, “We Are All Indigenous,” available here.



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Wake Up, Human 011: We Are All Indigenous

Reflections on Native American Heritage Month as a Non-Native to this Country


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Just as I wonder whether this woman might be asking too much of human beings, she utters something clear and wonderful that catches my attention:

“We are all indigenous.”


Welcome to episode 11 of the Wake up, Human podcast. In this episode I’m offering something a bit different. It’s a reading. No, not a psychic reading. I’ll be reading out loud, narrating one of my own written works.

The piece is called “We Are All Indigenous: Reflections on Native American Heritage Month as a Non-Native to this Country.” It’s a reflection on what it means to belong to a place, and the strange task of asking that question while living in a land that is not one’s ancestral home.

I humbly offer this story as a small contribution to the important conversation in this country about healing the wounds of the peoples of this land, both those who have been historically oppressed and those who are descended from the oppressors—and everyone in between. If we are not native to the place we live, how can we honor the peoples indigenous to the land we live upon, while also nurturing our own roots, and navigating toward own sense of place and home?

I find that listening to a story can sometimes feel more real than reading it. Human storytelling traditions were oral before they were written, and there’s something that feels very natural in speaking this story aloud. I hope you’ll find it natural to listen. And I hope you’ll find something of value in my words. See you on the inside.

You can find the written version of the article at this link.


So I wonder…couldn’t the words “we are all indigenous” be words of healing? If we are all indigenous to this planet, and all in need of a home, could that understanding be a source of empathy, a path of reconnection for those who have lost connection to their lands all around the world?



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You can’t own me: a lesson I learned from water.

Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

There’s a ritual I practice every Sunday afternoon.

It’s a humble, worldly ritual. Yet it connects me with the spirit that moves all life in a way that nothing else can.

Every Sunday, I water the plants.

Growing up, I never considered myself a green thumb. I didn’t know much about caring for plants. But when I inherited a carload of houseplants from my biological mother after she died, I knew I would have to learn.

In the decade since my mother’s passing, I’ve grown into an adept and attentive waterer. Once a week I circle around the house, stopping from room to room, tipping a longnecked metal watering can into the vessels of houseplants that make their homes in nearly every window.

As I go, I stop to admire and tend to each plant. I pinch off dying leaves, adjust stems and saucers, rotate pots to accommodate for seasonal changes in light. I stand on tiptoe and wiggle my fingertips into the soil of hanging baskets—have I watered enough?

As water settles through soil, I circle back a second time to each plant, topping off the water for those who need more, seeking the sweet spot that lies between giving enough, but not too much, for everyone to thrive.

*

My weekly ritual reminds me that water is a commons.

In sociopolitical language, commons are public resources shared by the collective. Spaces where everyone can gather and give and take freely. Experiences owned by none and available to all.

Parks and trails, sidewalks and streetside benches are commons. So are mountain views, the ocean’s edge where all can bathe, and the shade of ash trees on an urban parkway. Air and sunlight are commons. So are the night sky and the stars.

Land was once a commons. But since we modern humans have the hubris (and the real estate contracts) to claim we “own” tracts of earth and the life upon them, the concept of land as a commons has been largely lost.

Yet we remain humbled in the face of water.

We cannot own water, no matter how much we try.

We can use water. We can channel it, contain it, freeze and thaw it. We can fight and kill for it, and we can pollute it. We can even steal it. But we can never own it.

Water slips from our fingers when we try to grasp it, evaporates should we try to encircle it, deluges us with rain showers on its own schedule. It shapeshifts from solid to liquid to gas, and cuts canyons through solid rock. It cleanses all the world with its healing vapor manifest as rain. And there is nothing we can do about it.

Nor should we want to.

Science tells us that our bodies are 70 percent water. Without water, we’ll dry up and die.

Experience teaches us that water is necessity. She quenches our thirst and blesses us with resilience, flexibility, and flow. Blood is water. Tears are water. Water is our every move.

And spirit tells us that we are part of water, and she is part of us. We dance in a relationship of reciprocity, we the containing vessel and she the prism that reflects the rainbow. Water does not belong to life, and life does not belong to water. We belong to each other.

Body, blood, breath: water is a bridge between the commons of the world, and the commons of the spirit.

*

When I inherited all those houseplants from my mother, I also inherited six cats and a dog.

The cats were accustomed to drinking their water, not from a standard-size cat bowl, but from a 5-gallon plastic bucket in the corner of the kitchen. The bucket was much bigger than needed. Yet for six cats, it somehow seemed the right size.

Amused, I watched the cats not only drink from the bucket, but wade their paws through it, peer curiously at their own reflections, and scoop it over their whiskered faces to drink and groom themselves. Touched by this activity I couldn’t bear to take the bucket away. I kept it and renamed it the “swimming pool.”

Each week, the swimming pool got a little grimy with use and needed to be emptied, scrubbed, and filled with fresh water.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize the opportunity: transfer settled water from swimming pool to watering can and repurpose it to feed the plants.

And thus began the ritual of feeding all the home’s life with one bowl.

It didn’t take long for me to sense that I was operating my own microcosmic version of the water cycle. What in the macro would be transformation from ocean to clouds to rain, in my cozy little house was mirrored as tap to bucket to watering can. And behind both the phenomena of transmutation whispered its magic: water becomes air, becomes ether and the world of the unseen.

And so, my task of watering began to take on a timeless quality, a sense of participating in something ancient. In my ritual of care I was no longer simply watering plants and scrubbing buckets. I was tending to the perennial cycles of life.

And not only tending, but participating. After all, don’t I also need water to survive?

*

Over time, I’ve learned that different plants like to be watered differently. The calathea loves to have water poured over her broad-striped leaves like a waterfall, dripping from her curves and edges to fill her saucer below.

The jade plant tells me when she’s had too much water: she shrivels up a single leaf and drops it onto the rocky soil beneath her.

And when the lily has had too little, she droops her leaves sorrowfully, one eye open to make sure I’m paying attention.

Aren’t we humans like this too? We all need the same basic elements for survival. Carbon and oxygen. Nutrients and sunlight. A place to spread our roots and call home. And water.

We, like the plants, each need these elements in different measures, more of one or less of another, depending on our nature. And we ask for them in different ways, too.

It’s humbling to know that we humans have a deep, shared need for water, something we don’t own and can’t control.

But it can be a joy to awaken to the shared blessing of interbeing: something that no one owns is something that belongs to all.

Water gives herself to the lily and the jade, as she gives herself to the songbirds in the morning birdbath, the sloppy grin of a dog paddling in the river, or the squeal of a child splashing in a mud puddle. And me, running barefoot and laughing into a rainstorm.

In interbeing, we get to be simply one more part of nature. We belong.

*

Recently I’ve added a closing step to my weekly plant watering ritual.

When the watering is done and the bowl is scrubbed and all have what they need, I pour myself a glass of water, and drink.

The life of the world is in a dire state. The planet needs us humans to care about the commons of life, from the forests to the oceans to the thawing tundra. The web of interbeing spans the globe like ocean water, all our fates suspended within it.

The need can seem so big that we may feel incapable to help, or unsure of what to do.

This is where mother water can be our teacher. In her generosity, she nourishes us all, each in the place we are, according to our need. And in quenching our common thirst, from plant to animal to humanimal (us), she reminds us how intimately we’re all connected.

Never does she stop to ask whether the task is too big.

Ironically, in a time of great collective need, it may be the smallest of tasks that teach us how to heal.

What if we could sink into that great need, and feel our place in it? What if we could ask from there what small thing we have to give, and give it?

One small thing doesn’t solve every problem, but it does help us show up as part of the solution. We can start with what is close at hand. Give to each what is needed. And know that should we cease to grasp, and let our gifts flow, there will be enough for all.

From that place we might remember our great power as one essential drop in the great ocean of spirit that moves all life.

I remember, and I pick up my watering can.

*



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Wake Up, Human 010: Everyone is an Artist

The Nature of Creativity with Denise Kester


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There’s more to life than meets the eye…there’s something going on that’s deep and rich and strange.

Denise Kester

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Denise Kester, an artist, writer, teacher and dream-keeper, about the fundamental power of creativity.

My conversation with Denise explores creativity as a portal to our deepest knowing, a source of inspiration, information, and contribution. We’ll weave through discussions on creativity as a doorway to the unconscious, the relationship between creativity and dreaming, and the notion that creativity is not a luxury, but an essential need of the human being.

We’ll talk about strategies for accessing our creativity, including Denise’s practice for getting out of our heads and into our bellies. We’ll discuss the phenomenon of “art abuse,” and why it’s important not to listen to critics and judges of our creative work, internal or external. We’ll learn why it’s important to exercise our “imagination muscle.” And we’ll explore the essential truth that every one of us is an artist, in our own unique way.

Denise is an elder, a grandmother, and a wise woman, and a teacher to be grateful for. I hope you’ll enjoy learning from her as much as I did.

You can learn more about Denise, and find her book and her beautiful artwork, at her website, www.drawingonthedream.com.

Our conversation was inspired by Denise’s video, “Important Things to Remember,” available here.

Enjoy the episode, and let me know what you think!


Episode at a glance: (some of) what you’ll learn by listening

  • How does creative work help to connect us, and remind us that we’re not alone?
  • What is the key practice Denise recommends for getting in touch with our creativity?
  • What is our “imagination muscle,” and how do we exercise it?
  • Why should we choose our words carefully when talking about our own and others’ creativity?
  • What advice would Denise give to someone who believes they’re not creative, or “not an artist”?
  • And why the world really needs you to remember that you are an artist, too.

No matter what you create, it still has information for you… You really have to deep listen, going within yourself and letting that voice come through.

Denise Kester



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Wake Up, Human 009: Meditation as Medicine

Meditation as Medicine with Shannon Wills


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There’s more to life than what we ‘think.’

Wake Up, Human

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I’m going it solo. Rather than post an interview, I’ve decided to spend some time talking about a single topic, one that’s been foundational to my own development, and one of my favorite tools for waking up: meditation.

My intention here is not to teach meditation or promote any particular practice (though I’ll list some resources and favorites below). Rather, my intention is to unpack a specific theme around meditation: meditation as medicine.

I’ll review the concept of “separation sickness,” (from Episode 2) the ailment of separation from nature and wholeness that so many people suffer in our fast-paced, technological society. I’ll offer my take on meditation as a medicine, or a “reconnection remedy,” for separation sickness. I’ll give a short overview of meditation, share some personal stories from my journey, and provide some practical tips along the way.

I offer this episode, not as an expert or master meditator, but as a longtime student, still on the journey toward self-mastery in relationship to the mind. I hope there’ll be something here of benefit to both experienced meditators and beginners alike.

I hope you’ll join me for this personal (and somewhat philosophical) episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.


*Shout out to Naturalist Jon Young, from whom I borrowed the terms “separation sickness” + “epidemic of disconnection” referred to in this episode.


Episode at a glance: topics we’ll explore

  • Why is meditation an excellent tool for waking up to our essential nature?
  • Why do I call meditation a “medicine,” and what is it a medicine for?
  • I share the story of my first meditation experience, and how it blew my mind.
  • What do I mean by meditation? I offer a basic explanation of meditation practice.
  • I discuss gaining sovereignty and self-mastery over our thoughts, and why it matters.
  • I share a daily practice for making space between our thoughts and our beliefs.
  • Why meditation is not a cure-all — and some of the other things we need to thrive.

Suggested Resources for Meditation:

Meditation Centers/Teachers:

  • Eknath Easwaran and Blue Mountain Center for Meditation: I recommend Easwaran’s books, videos, and the community/courses offered at BMCM.
  • Shambhala meditation centers: The lineage is Tibetan Buddhism, teachings are highly practical and modern.
  • Transcendental Meditation: a simple meditation practice similar to what’s discussed during this episode. You can find a teacher and take classes. But for background, I would honestly start by just searching YouTube and watching a few videos on TM from personalities who interest you.
  • Vipassana Meditation: For those ready to go deeper, I highly recommend the 10-day meditation experience of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka.

Recommended Books:

Extra: “Meditation as a Lab”

“There’s a lab for this class. It’s called meditation.”

Michael Nagler

If you were intrigued by the episode segment about meditation being a “practice lab” for Peace and Conflict Studies class, check out the link below. Michael Nagler’s Metta Center hosts a recording of his 2-part PACS course at University of California at Berkeley, recorded before he retired in 2007.

In the right sidebar are links to an updated set of recordings Prof. Nagler has produced since retiring, followed by a note on the Meditation Lab, including instructional videos and a short e-book on “Meditation for Peacemakers.”

Peace and Conflict Studies & Meditation Lab for Self-Study, Metta Center for Nonviolence

May it be of benefit.


When we’re quiet, receptive, listening…there’s a universe of experience waiting to open our eyes to the mystery and wholeness of life.

Wake Up, Human


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Birds and Dogs. {poem}

Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

I face the bathroom mirror…

I face the bathroom mirror
Standing silent
Listening to the sounds outside my window.
Birds chirping, dogs barking
Breaking through the peace
That hangs heavy in the summer air.

Meanwhile, somewhere far away
On the other side of the world
Bombs are dropping.
Someone like me faces her bathroom mirror
As explosions shatter the peace
Outside her window.

She will scream
And grab her children
And run.

Meanwhile, 
I twist my hair into ringlets
Wondering what if
Instead of lazy summer sounds
I heard bombs 
Exploding outside my window?

I try to imagine the horror
But I cannot.

I can imagine wild horses' hooves
Pounding over dry mud.

I can imagine the roar of a great dying tree
Split open by the wind.

I can imagine the cry of the eaglet in the nest
Unable to fly, falling to his death.

I can imagine many things 
I’ve never heard or seen.

But I can’t imagine 
The horror
Of the bombs.

You may say I can’t imagine it
Because it’s never happened to me. 

But maybe I can't imagine it
Because it's something that should never be.

How fortunate I am, I think,
To hear only birds and dogs.

*


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Rest is Radical.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.

Lao Tzu

In the month of July we enter into the time of Idir Ait, the in-between, according to the Irish-Celtic tradition. At the summer solstice, the sun stands still on high. The days are long, and life slowly ripens, in this midway time between spring planting and fall harvest. July saunters in lazily and falls across our laps with a popsicle in her hand. Work has been done. Work can wait.

My mother’s family of Nebraska farmers takes advantage of this time, to take a breath. They park the tractor and combine in the shed, and get out on their fishing boats. They shine their hot rods and drive into town, pay visits to neighbors, chat away long evenings over glasses of iced tea and lemonade.

I ask myself how I can find such rest amidst the traffic and sirens and over-scheduled bustle of my city life. Then a goldfinch lands on my fence and sings to me. Work has been done. Work can wait.

Rest, like herbal tea or cool water, can be a medicine for this season. In the space between the wild unfurling of spring and the ripe urgency of fall, midsummer invites us to make like the sun, and rest.

Our culture might try to convince us to disregard rest as a privilege, or a luxury. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this society that depends upon our constant movement to keep its machine running—and rewards us for it—rest is a radical act.

Nature allows herself to rest when the sun is high; we can follow her lead. Everyone has a right to rest. Work has been done. Work can wait.

Wake Up, Human 008: The Wisdom of Yoga-Vedanta

Yoga is Union: the Wisdom of Yoga-Vedanta with Gajananam


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


When you want to dig a well, and you dig down one or two yards, and dig down another yard somewhere else, and somewhere else…you’ll get a lot of holes, but you won’t get to water. Where if you dig one, you’ll go deep. You’ll get to something.

Gajananam

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Gajananam, a long-time student and teacher of the ancient Indian wisdom tradition of yoga. Gajananam is the founder and director of the Vishnu-devananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Fremont, California. He’s a direct disciple of Swami Vishnu-devananda, one of the early pioneering yogis who brought the practice of yoga to the US from India in the mid-twentieth century.

My conversation with Gajananam explores some basic definitions of yoga and Vedanta, as well as the misconception of yoga as “just” physical exercise. We discuss the benefits of learning yoga directly from a teacher, and the importance of deep and focused study on the spiritual path.

We dig into some tools for study, exploring Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, and the Bhagavad Gita, one of the key scriptures of the tradition. We explore some ways the practice of yoga manifests differently in the US and India. We’ll even trade a couple of dream stories with each other.

Join me for this thoughtful conversation, in this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

To learn more about Gajananam or get in touch with him, visit his website at http://www.vishnuyoga.org.


Episode at a glance: topics we’ll explore

  • What is yoga, and why do we practice it?
  • If Yoga means “union” (and it does), when we practice yoga, what is being unified with what?
  • What is Vedanta, and how does it relate to yoga?
  • Yoga is sometimes thought of as physical exercise, or “stretching.” Of course, it is more than that. But what part does physical exercise play in the traditional practice of yoga?
  • We address potential concerns about the cultural appropriation of yoga. Knowing the tradition of yoga has roots in Indian culture, how can non-Indian students proceed with respect for that culture and still reap the benefits of the practice?
  • What is the importance of studying yoga as an oral tradition with a teacher, rather than on our own?
  • How do we know when we’ve “won the battle of life?”
  • What is one most important question Gajananam suggests that we ask ourselves now, before it’s too late?

Links and resources mentioned in the episode:


“What you gain from yoga is not something that’s cultural. What you gain from it is balance of mind, health, greater understanding of peace, of unity. That’s something totally universal.”

Gajananam


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Dandelion Seeds. {Poem}





Dandelion.

She catches my eye
Poised quietly among the irises,
A tall and spindly star of seeds.
Wild among the cultivars,
She’s a quivering silver sphere
Among the docile lavender blooms.

I bend down and pluck her,
Gentle, careful not to shake her
Lest her seeds come loose
And cascade onto the lawn.

But something in this feels wrong.

I look at dandelion,
And she looks at me,
And I consider my choice.

When I was a child I would have
Blown this little flower to smithereens
—in a good way—
Without even thinking twice.

Rushing to sweep her off her feet
I’d wave her wildly in the wind,
Smiling eyes to the sky
Watching her seeds take flight
On the breath of the day
Off to far-flung reaches and unknown seedbeds
Where she could take root and grow.

But now, all grown up, I hesitate.

“But, this is a dandelion!” I think to myself.
“If I blow it, seeds will spread all over the place, and next year
the whole yard will be full of hundreds of little yellow flowers!”

She hears my thoughts and whispers back,
“Isn’t that the point?”

Dandelion waits,
The breeze tickling her seeds,
Wondering what I’ll do.

Who taught me to think this way?
I didn’t come with these instructions.
Where did I learn
That a perfect plot of manicured grass
Is more worthy of protection
Than the lavish, wild diversity
Of nature’s aliveness?

What is more important…
A lush and radiant lawn,
Or a lush and radiant life?

I breathe in, and blow.

Dandelion opens her wings
And farewells herself upon my breath,
Tumbling into her destiny.

Inside me, a little girl smiles.
She’s the one who once ran ahead
To spread the seeds.
No one had to teach her
That lips are made for blowing,
And dandelion seeds
Are made to fly on the wind.

And the funny thing
About all this is,
I don’t even care about lawns.

*

Photo by Sarah Mak on Unsplash



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Wake Up, Human 007: Living a Life of No Regrets

Living a Life of No Regrets: Jeffrey S. Cramer on the life and legacy of Henry David Thoreau


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


If I am not I, who will be?

Henry David Thoreau

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with author and editor Jeffrey S. Cramer, Curator of Collections at the Thoreau Institute Library of the Walden Woods Project. Jeffrey is perhaps the foremost living authority on the life and works of one of my earliest and greatest heroes, Henry David Thoreau.

My conversation with Jeffrey weaves through discussions on Thoreau the writer, naturalist, and social reformer. We’ll touch on themes of his two most famous works, Walden and Civil Disobedience, and discuss what those writings have to offer us for today’s activism and social justice work, and for navigating the craziness of the modern world. We explore how small, personal acts of kindness can be a powerful means of social reform. And Jeffrey and I will each share a couple Thoreau geek stories from our own lives along the way.

If you’re a fan of Thoreau, you’ll likely learn some things you never knew before. If you’re not familiar with him, you’ll get a primer on topics as diverse as transcendentalism, the power of the moral compass for making decisions in our lives, and the art of living deliberately in a distracted world. We’ll even randomly discuss what eating strawberries can teach us about waking up to our place in society and the world. Join me for this rich and fascinating conversation, in this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

To learn more about Jeffrey, visit his website at http://www.jeffreyscramer.com. You can learn more about the Walden Woods Project at http://www.walden.org.


Episode at a glance: topics we’ll explore

  • Who was Henry David Thoreau, and why are people interested in keeping his work and his legacy alive?
  • Why Thoreau’s Walden is not really a book about a man living in the woods, and why his essay Civil Disobedience has nothing to do with civility.
  • What is the one shared message that all the world’s sacred texts boil down to, according to Thoreau?
  • What is the absolute litmus test for deciding what is right and wrong, concerning our actions in the world, according to him?
  • We discuss the difficulty of “doing what’s right” in a divisive world. How do we stand up for what we believe is right, against someone with an opposing view who is equally convinced they are right?
  • Jeffrey shares his key takeaway from Walden, which he calls “the Thoreauvian question.”
  • What is Jeffrey’s favorite his favorite quotation by Thoreau, and why? (And why he wishes every school in the country would have this emblazoned over the front door so every student could read it every day.)

Links and resources mentioned in the episode:


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau


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For the Tomboys: Let’s not Become just another Archetype of the Patriarchy.

Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Our world doesn’t need more girls trying to be boys, or women trying to be men. The world has enough men already. What we do need is the archetype of the strong woman.

“Is that an upside down cross you’re wearing?”

I looked up from my instrument as I prepared for first period band class. A girl I’d never met from the grade below stood above me, curiously studying the silver pendant hanging from my neck.

I shrugged. “Yes, that’s what it is.”

We were both stating the obvious. There was no mistaking the symbol hanging from my neck: a three inches long, sharp-angled, inverted cross flashed defiantly over the black backdrop of my heavy metal T-shirt.

“Why do you ask?”

She smiled. An open, genuine kind of smile I didn’t see often back in those days.

“I’ve just never seen anyone wear one of those before. It tells me you must have a different point of view, that maybe you think deeply about things.”

She tilted her head, waiting for my reply.

And she captured my attention then. Her flowing, multicolored skirt swept the floor, just high enough in front to reveal her Birkenstock sandals, with long, auburn hair flowing over a floral, woven top. In one hand, she held a clarinet. With the other, she reached out to me.

“Hi, I’m Jen.”

I smiled back and shook her hand. She felt open, not closed like me. She felt light and warm. Not like me: cool on the surface but screaming hot on the inside.

I wondered where a girl like her came from.

~

As a young girl, I emerged early, much to my mother’s dismay, as a tomboy.

Despite Mom’s tireless efforts to dress me in flowered jumpers and tights, I preferred bare feet and shorts. She enrolled me in ballet lessons and showered me with Barbies; I rejected them in favor of model cars and construction sets.

On school nights, I writhed on the couch as she yanked my hair into curls and pinched them to my scalp with bobby pins. On weekends, I learned to cook and bake, weed the garden, and fold the laundry. My job, I was told, was to help the house run smoothly.

My younger brother was held to no such standards. He was perfectly happy—and allowed—to spend his free time climbing trees, making mud pies, and setting things on fire.

I was well aware of the patriarchal double standard that restrains girls and rewards boys in our culture. And not just because of my brother.

I’d heard women on TV talk shows complaining that while they felt diminished by society as they grew older, men their age were considered distinguished. I learned, via weeknight sitcoms and ladies’ coffee-table conversations, how our culture shames women for embodying our sexuality, yet celebrates men for doing the same.

I watched my mom get up early to make breakfast, drive us kids to school, work nine-to-five, and come home just in time to make dinner and put us to bed before crashing to her own mattress, late and exhausted.

I saw my dad come home from work, crack open a beer, and watch TV until the credits rolled on the Johnny Carson show.

In a culture that pitted men and women against each other in a social hierarchy of power, it was clear to me who was winning.

~

In fourth grade, my mom finally gave up fighting my fashion sense and allowed me to choose my own clothes. I dropped the dresses for corduroy pants and polo shirts. I grew out my bangs, bought myself a BMX bike with my paper route money, and never looked back.

No one told me to do these things. I wasn’t trying to please anyone or be anyone. It was my natural way.

But I quickly found that my “natural way” carried with it some excellent perks.

In response to my outward changes, grown-ups and even some other kids now started rolling their eyes at me. “You’re such a tomboy!” they chided.

On their faces were smiles of quiet approval.

When I dropped ballet in favor of a skateboard, people smiled and shrugged their shoulders.

When I asked for a toolbox instead of a manicure set, my request was obliged with a wink.

I realized that the tomboy in me not only felt more natural, she earned me a reprieve from the pin curls, the dancing lessons, and the boring dollhouse play sessions with the neighbor girls. She gave me railroad tracks and dirt trails and fishing for water skippers on my belly by the ditch. In contrast to the constraints of girlhood, my tomboy gave me freedom.

It didn’t take me long to heed the signs and lean hard on my tomboy for the benefits she gave me.

What had been merely a preference for pants became a strict mandate of no dresses. My simple delight for dirt over dolls gave way to a self-imposed requirement to avoid anything girly. No pink. No purple. No unicorns. And…Absolutely. No. Crying.

I saw some of my classmates insulted for throwing “like a girl” during sports, and I took it upon myself to learn to throw “like a boy”: harder, faster, farther.

When I realized I didn’t have a good throwing arm, I stopped playing.

I loved to sing, so I auditioned for the school choir, and was thrilled to be accepted to the chorus. But when I learned I’d been assigned to the girls’ chorus, I promptly dropped out.

My masculine had taken over as a self-reinforcing identity, locking out the feminine from my life like an annoying little sister.

At the time, I suppose, I was fighting to be free.

But in the process, I was quitting things, dropping things, and shrinking my sense of self. I was becoming not only less free, but less me.

~

By the time I met my new friend Jen in high school band class, I was fully ensconced in the patriarchal worldview of masculine power supremacy.

There was no fearless maiden archetype in my world, no warrior goddess, no wise crone to inspire me toward a higher vision of the feminine. No heroine but perhaps Wonder Woman, who fought the bad guys with long fingernails and large breasts and wore a swimsuit to work. That would not be me.

But when I started spending time with Jen and other girls like her, my eyes opened to another side of feminine power. Free spirits confident in their femininity, those young women were just as strong as me in body, mind, and soul. Yet unlike me, they had not learned to prop up their power on the masculine.

Those girls, even the boldest ones, weren’t afraid to cry. They could throw the ball however they wanted and just enjoy it. They could wear pants or dresses. They could be tough, or kind, or both. And anyway they did it, they were free.

Jen was right about me when she met me. I did think deeply about things.

I’d begun to witness the sorrows of our world, and they hurt me deeply. I was aware of the sociocultural power structures limiting the freedom of me and my peers. I knew our ability to live fulfilled lives would depend on resisting the suffocating directives of religious, state, and corporate power.

The upside down cross that had caught Jen’s attention was a symbol of that resistance. It wasn’t meant to be satanic. It was meant to question the status quo.

I refused to be owned by organized religion, to have my values and choices defined by an archaic, hierarchical power structure. I refused to be controlled by “the man.”

But what I had not seen is that by empowering myself solely with the masculine, I had let myself be owned by “the man” in the form of a related and just-as-dangerous hierarchy: the patriarchy.

Now I saw it.

I saw that the unchecked masculine energy I’d cloaked myself in for my own freedom was the very impulse making the world around me so unfree. Military and war. Aggression and cold logic. Objectification and commodification of nature, beauty, and life itself.

I saw that by feeding the masculine and starving out the feminine in my world, I’d not only become controlled by the man, I’d become part of him.

I was pissed.

I wanted my feminine back.

But the damage had already been done. Because after so many years of practice, when I wanted to sing, I couldn’t.

When I wanted to jump in and play ball, good throwing arm or no, I couldn’t.

And if I wanted to cry? Forget about it. My tears had forgotten how to flow.

~

Our world doesn’t need more girls trying to be boys, or women trying to be men. The world has enough men already.

We don’t need more competition, aggression, or masculine warrior energy.

What we do need is the archetype of the strong woman.

The earth goddess and the protective mother. The fierce warrioress and wise grandmother. The torch lighter, the well keeper, and the fearless truth teller. Maiden, mother, and crone.

The world needs whole, wild, unapologetic women. Women strong enough to be independent, yet smart enough to know we can’t do it alone. Women strong enough to fight, yet wise enough to know what’s worth fighting for. Women strong enough to push back against the patriarchy without becoming part of it.

A strong woman understands that tears cleanse the window of the heart and clarify our vision.

She understands that the power of jumping higher or throwing farther is nothing compared to the power of standing our ground.

And she knows that the power of a woman does not come from co-opting the masculine, but reclaiming the feminine, in a culture that has bullied our mothers, daughters, and sisters for millennia.

The masculine is not the enemy. And men are not the enemy.

All of us, of every gender, contain both masculine and feminine within.

The trouble comes when the masculine is allowed to be a parasite, feeding on the feminine, considering her at best a weakness to be devoured, and at worst, an enemy to be destroyed.

When this happens, all of us—of every gender, race, and species—are the victims.

And we get what we have now: a world rife with people who’ve lost touch with their hearts. A world of people putting personal gain over the welfare of the whole. A world of people who can’t cry.

~

It took many years for me to undo the damage done to myself while living as an archetype of the patriarchy. But it was meeting Jen, a girl confident in her worth just as she was, that started me on the path.

It turns out I never needed to change who I was to be free. I only needed to change what I valued, in myself, and in others.

To this day, I still consider myself a tomboy. I still love bugs and dirt more than dresses and pin curls. (Who wouldn’t?)

But I’m second-guessing whether I even want to use that word “tomboy” anymore.

Because if there’s any chance that calling a girl a tomboy will estrange her from her feminine power…well, I don’t wanna be that gal.

So I say, by all means, let’s play in the mud. Let’s climb trees. Let’s definitely set things on fire. And let’s wear our symbols of resistance with pride.

Let’s just remember what we’re resisting, and why.

Let’s celebrate every little girl for the fullness of who she is: masculine, feminine, and everything in between. Let’s give her the loving approval she needs to embrace her innate, authentic power, whether it manifests as race cars or rainbows.

And if we see a girl (or woman, for that matter) who’s lost her sense of her own sacred power, let’s reach out a hand and give her a smile, and a warm and open hello.

Warm and open—and strong.

(Thanks, Jen.)

~

This article is also published on Elephant Journal at this link.



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Wake Up, Human 006: Your Body is Your Own Business

Your body is your own business | Janis Isaman

In this episode I talk with movement specialist Janis Isaman on the theme of body awareness: shifting our attention from outward appearance to the inward experience of our bodies that is our birthright—and our empowerment. Join us.


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


What our bodies look like
is nobody’s business but our own.

Janis Isaman

In this episode, meet Janis Isaman, a movement specialist who has helped hundreds of people to rid themselves of physical pain and remember what it feels like to be at ease in their own bodies.

Janis is the founder of My Body Couture, a one-on-one private fitness studio that provides customized movement and nutrition coaching. She’s also a passionate advocate for healthy body awareness, pushing back against damaging norms around body image and cultural stereotypes of beauty.

My conversation with Janis centers on the theme of body awareness: shifting our focus of attention from the external world to the internal, felt experience of our bodies. We discuss some of the reasons we’re often uncomfortable in our bodies, and explore a several practices for returning to ease. We also spend time unpacking cultural narratives that often lead women and girls, in particular, to judge ourselves based on outer appearance versus inner experience. (Though, this discussion may certainly be of interest to members of other genders, as well.) Finally, we touch on the healing wisdom of learning to live according to our own definitions of beauty.

Join us for conversation on these topics and more in this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.


Episode at a glance: what you’ll learn by listening

  • What are the two principal reasons many of us fall into pain and/or discomfort in our physical bodies as we age?
  • What can we learn from a 10-year-old child about being more at home in our bodies? What might we learn from our grandparents?
  • How can we discern the difference between working on our bodies for our own benefit, and working on our bodies for others’ approval? (Hint: it’s simpler than you think.)
  • What’s the most helpful thing not to have in your workout or movement space?
  • What social norms around physical appearance does Janis refer to as “cultural terrorism,” and why?
  • What is the one tool Janis would first offer to girls and young women for cultivating empowered body awareness?
  • What we wish we knew when we were 12 years old, and what we would love to share with 12 year old girls right now.

Links and resources mentioned in the episode:


Find Janis on the Web:

Website: mybodycouture.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/mybodycouture
Instagram: Instagram.com/mybodycouture
Twitter: twitter.com/mybodycouture
Elephant Journal: https://www.elephantjournal.com/profile/janis_isaman/
LinkedIn: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/jisaman
YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/user/janisisaman
Clubhouse: @janis


It’s almost a human right, to be able to move the body freely.

Janis Isaman


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What if Nothing had a Name? A Practice in Connection without Words.

Photo by Shahzin Shajid on Unsplash

Dear reader, this includes practical exercises for reconnecting to our native powers of being and knowing. No time or desire to read the whole article? Jump down to the practices at the bottom of the page to get to the practical stuff. And may it of benefit.


The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

Tao Te Ching

I find an open spot on the gymnasium floor and roll out my blanket. Arranging myself silently among a room full of fellow students, I sit up straight in respectful attention as the teacher takes his seat.

I’ve come to learn from this respected yogi and mystic, a wise elder who has spent a lifetime in devotion to the ancient yogic path. I’m fortunate to sit at his feet, even for just a morning.

We’ve gathered in the echoing hall of a sports gymnasium converted to a classroom for today’s lecture. Surrounded by bins of balls and nets, tumbling mats stacked aside rows of empty bleachers, every slightest sound bounces in sharp relief from the walls and rafters.

The master speaks.

“Why are you here?” His voice rings through the air like a bell.

“Have you come here today because you want to wake up? Because you want to know the truth?

Maybe you expect to receive a mystical insight, words of wisdom that will open your eyes and give you the answers you seek.

He smiles and raises his eyebrows.

“I tell you now, there will never be any words that can give those things to you. Because truth is something that no word—from me or anyone else—can express.

He lifts his eyes and surveys the room with receptive awareness. Resting his gaze on the wall behind us, he gently raises his hand, and points.

“What is that?”

We students shuffle about, unhinging our crossed legs and cranking our necks to look behind us for the object of his attention.

I follow the pointing finger to a spot high on the brick wall behind me, and there I see it.

“Basketball hoop,” I whisper to myself.

Others speak the words aloud. “It’s a basketball hoop,” “Basketball hoop.” “It’s a hoop, man,” someone offers, in a voice warm with amusement.

“Yes,” the teacher nods. “In English we call that a basketball hoop. That is the word we use to label it. Now. What is it, really?”

No one makes a sound.

*

When we are just babies, our consciousness newly awakened to the world, our parents begin teaching us the words for things.

Red. Blue. Dog. Cat. Sun and Moon. Mommy and Daddy.

This is all great fun for everyone. We humans have a proclivity for naming things. It’s one of our natural ways of learning the world. Our childhood brains soak up words like dry land drinks in the rain, and the world unfurls its magic before us as we begin to know its names.

We learn a word—red—and the fiery color of blood and roses blooms into life all around us. The tiny child points and bounces on her toes with delight as she spies her newly christened color, perhaps in a box of crayons or woven into the winter parka of a passerby. “Red!” she exclaims with joy. “Doggie!” “Moon!”

Naming the world organizes our lives, makes sense of things, and brings us joy.

But what if nothing had a name?

I recently interviewed Taoist teacher Solala Towler for the Wake Up, Human podcast. We talked about about words, and names, and whether human language can ever fully reveal the true nature of things.

As Solala reminded me, shamans say that in long-ago times, we humans could talk to the animals, and the animals could speak back, in a language we both understood. They say we could talk to the plants and rocks and streams, learn their stories and their songs. They say we lived in communion with all life, with no need for the likes of human words.

If this is true—if there is a language deeper than words, one that connects our soul to nature’s song—where has it gone? How did we modern humans lose this native power of communication, the unspoken language of life we once knew by heart?

It happened, the sages say, when we started naming things.

In the Tao Te Ching, the foremost book of Taoism written some 2500 years ago, the author-sage Lao Tzu addresses the folly of naming.

The very first line of his timeless work on the Tao, or the Way of the Sage states the impossibility of expressing truth through words:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The story goes (as Solala reminds me again) that Lao Tzu didn’t want to write his teachings down in the first place. He was connected with the lineage of the Wu—the shamans, women, and storytellers of ancient China, who would have passed their knowledge orally from teacher to student, and never through written words. He likely believed, as did the modern shamans who admonished early western anthropologists for insisting on taking notes about everything: “No, don’t write the stories down! If you write them down you imprison them.” But he was prevailed upon so he did write the Tao Te Ching. But he was careful to begin his work, in the very first lines, with the reminder not to take the words for the truth.

The Buddha expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “My teachings are but a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon.”

Are our words just fingers pointing to a greater truth? Have we forgotten that there is a difference?

*

I once read a book by the white South African author and explorer Laurens van der Post, in which he recounted stories of his time living among the Kalahari Bushmen in Southern Africa during the 1950s. In one memorable story, Laurens told of sitting around a nighttime fire with a group of Bushmen, under a vast expanse of star-filled night sky.

As they chatted and shared tales of their day’s adventures, one of the Bushmen casually remarked how beautiful the stars sounded that night. The others nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes. The music of the stars is beautiful tonight.”

The modern and civilized Laurens chuckled at the comments, thinking the Bushmen were making a joke to trick him.

He responded with something the likes of, “That’s very funny, pretending to hear music of the stars. Of course, the stars don’t make a sound, yet you are trying to convince me otherwise. But I will not be fooled.”

The Bushmen laughed as well. They in turn thought that Laurens was was playing a joke on them. For the deeply-connected Bushman, living in full immersion with nature, that the stars could sing was a given, a fact of life. The very idea of stars without music was ludicrous to them.

After some back and forth and no small amount of confusion, Laurens and the Bushmen together realized something shocking. The Bushmen really could hear the music of the stars. Laurens really could not.

In that moment all the men in the circle fell into sadness. The Bushmen felt sorry for Laurens because he couldn’t hear the sound of the stars. And Laurens felt sorry for himself, because he understood that something precious had been lost. He was devastated.

I share that sense of devastation. I have never heard the stars. Yet I sense that we have the capacity to hear them, and so much more. I believe the shamans who say we have the ability to speak the language of the animals and the trees, to understand the primordial language of life. I believe that life sings to us, whether we can hear it or not.

I ponder my own loss of hearing, and I wonder, if we do have this capacity, is it truly lost? Or is it still alive and latent within us, biding its time, waiting for us to remember?”

During my conversation with Solala, it occurs to me that understanding the power of naming might be key.

I wonder, if it’s true that we separate ourselves from other things by naming them, what if we could separate ourselves from naming?

I decide to try it.

*

Experiments: the Practice of Not-Naming

The sages say that by naming things, we lose some of our connection to them. By building boxes with words to describe things, we separate them from other things; we separate them from ourselves.

So what if we were to try not naming? Might we, in the absence of names, find a doorway back to our original self—the self that knows things as they are, and not how we have labeled them to be? Might we hear, see, or sense something new? Or something old, remembered again?

Below are some experiments for remembering.

*

Practice 1: See it before you say it.

Practice connecting before the words come in.

Sit in front of the object you’d like to comprehend, aim your gaze toward it, and close your eyes. Sit silently for a few moments, and focus on your breath, or perhaps the sounds or sensations around you; just get present in the moment. When your mind feels quiet and your vision empty, open your eyes, and focus on the object before you. What do you notice the very moment the object enters your awareness? What is there before words come in to label it?

There may not be any earth-shattering message in this. There does not need to be. What we’re looking to practice is just the instant of connection, the flash of recognition before the name. See if you can experience it.

Practice 2: Forget what you know.

While going through the passes of daily life, practice contemplating things you’re familiar with, but pretending you don’t know their “names.”

Consider the flame of the candle. The pot in the sink. The shoes, as you tie them to your feet. Look, listen, as though you are seeing them for the first time. Pretend you don’t know what they are. You only know that they are.

Instead of “brushing your teeth,” there may be only movement. Instead of “music on the radio” there may be only sound. This does not need to be hard, or forced. It is just a practice of getting to know things without the words we’ve superimposed upon them.

Practice 3: Encounter the new without a name.

Though we know the names for many things, there will always be new things that come into our lives, things we haven’t yet experienced. We can use such fresh experiences as an opportunity to engage without words.

When encountering something new for the first time, approach it without asking what it is. Maybe it’s a flower you’ve never seen before, or a bird you’ve never heard. A new model of car that drives by. Or a cloud in a formation you’ve never noticed. Resist the temptation to ask, “What flower/bird/car is that?”

Instead, simply drink in the experience of newness, without asking the name. You may be taught something even better, which you would never have thought to ask.

Practice 4: Your name is just a name.

I have an old friend who used to introduce himself, “My family calls me Pancho…nice to meet you.” I appreciated this reminder, every time I heard it, of what he meant to express with his choice of language: his being was not to be equated with his name. Our identity does not depend on words.

I’ve tried Pancho’s strategy, but find I can’t say “My family calls me Shannon” without chuckling, or at least feeling compelled to explain my choice of words. So I go for a softer approach. When I introduce myself, instead of defaulting to, “Hi, I’m Shannon,” I go for, “Hi, my name is Shannon.” That’s all the reminder I need to touch in with the part of me that has no name.

Try it. This exercise may or may not make a difference to the person you’ve just met, but it can make a big difference to your consciousness.

Practice 5: Rest your mind on things that don’t have words.

Our world is so full of words that it can be hard to get away from them. How can we expect to practice connection without words, if words are everywhere we look?

Practice getting away from it all. Get away from the word, written or spoken, and into a place where only the language of the unspoken is known. This does not require a vacation to the mountains or the beach, or a silent retreat. It does require removing our attention from words, and making an effort to be present to that which does not require them in order to be known.

Lift your eyes from the page or the screen. Look around your everyday space and give long, loving glances to anything that has no words on it. Perhaps consider a blank wall with nothing on it. Better yet, witness your own starry sky. Listen to music without words. Touch the items close to you and feel their quiet textures. Open to receive the kindnesses that can only be bestowed upon us by a word-silent world.

*

Back in the gymnasium, the master breathes deep into his belly, lowers his hand to his lap, and continues.

“We must never confuse the name of something with the truth. We must ask ourselves in every moment, with everything we experience, what is this thing, when answering only to itself?

“For everything has a life, a truth of its own, before we apply a name to it. Nothing depends on human words for existence. What we happen to name a thing is never what it really is.”

“When we understand this this, only then will insight come. Only then will our consciousness open. Only then will truth transform us.”

The master nods his head in the direction of the wall.

“Now, I want you to look at that basketball hoop again. But before you do, you’ll need to close your eyes and clear your mind.

“Turn in the direction of the object, such that your eyes, when opened, will fall upon the object with fresh awareness.

“Now, close your eyes. When you open them again you’ll notice that there is a moment, a fleeting instant, of apprehension without words. A flash of recognition where the consciousness sees the object before the mind catches up. For consciousness is faster than the mind.

“In that instant, that thing has no name. In that moment there is no “I” and no “thou.” There is only consciousness, experiencing itself.

In that moment, when there is no word to describe, in English or any other language, you may understand.

He tips his head back and laughs heartily. “And then the mind will arrive and tell you it’s a basketball hoop, and the practice will be over for today.”

“Remember,” he winks. “Naming is not the same as knowing.”

I turn my body toward the wall and aim my gaze toward the hoop. I close my eyes and clear my mind in meditation for several minutes, until my thoughts are as empty as they’re going to be. I open my eyes, no expectation. There is a flash. And for only an instant, I see it.

A split second later the intellect steps in dutifully. “Basketball hoop,” it instructs me, surely trying to be helpful. But it is too late. I’ve already seen it. I’ve already made the connection.

The yogi was right.



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Wake Up, Human 005: The Magic of Breathwork

The Magic of Breathwork with Travis Steffens


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


Believe it—and then you’ll see it.
That’s when you step into the infinite.

Travis Steffens

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Travis Steffens, a teacher and practitioner of breathwork: breathing exercises and techniques that employ conscious control of the breath in order to improve physical, mental, and spiritual well being.

My conversation with Travis explores breathwork as a portal to transforming both body and spirit. We’ll weave through discussions on the science behind breathwork, the mechanics of breathing practices, and the gifts that breathwork offers to the mystic and the spiritual seeker. Travis will even introduce us to two of the most powerful breathwork practices in his repertoire: Wim Hoff breathing and the DMT breath.

Watch for practices from Travis to be included in the upcoming breathwork app, Breathspace. You can learn more about him on his company website at www.Rinvestments.net.


Episode at a glance: what you’ll learn by listening

  • “What exactly is breathwork, and what can the experience of breathwork open up in us that otherwise might not be so available to us?
  • Why has our physical body been referred to as “the greatest pharmacy in the universe?”
  • What’s the difference between breathwork and “just breathing” as we do all the time?
  • Travis mentions he’s seen breathwork heal people from chronic illness. How is this possible?
  • Why is visualization important to the success of a breathwork practice?
  • Who is Wim Hoff, and why do we love him?
  • What is the DMT breath, and why might it be “the closest thing to an ayahuasca experience without the ayahuasca”?
  • What’s the most foundational reason for practicing breathwork? (Hint: It’s not to become superhuman, heal from illness, or to become enlightened.)

Links and resources mentioned in the episode:


Knowledge is a book on a bookshelf. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge. And the only way to connect the two of them is through experience.

Travis Steffens


There’s a monthly digest of this stuff…

Thank you so much for visiting! If you liked this offering, you can sign up below to receive the monthly Wake Up, Human digest, which includes writings, podcast episodes, and other offerings. Have something to share or suggest? Head over to my contact page and drop me a line.

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Wake Up, Human 004: Giving Ourselves Permission

Giving Ourselves Permission

(…and writing about it.) With Marci Brockmann


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


We have the ruby slippers all the time.

Marci Brockmann

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Marci Brockmann, an author and teacher whose work empowers people to live more fulfilled lives through the healing power of expressive writing. Our conversation centers on the theme of giving ourselves permission: permission to be who we are, to chart our own path, and to seek inside ourselves for validation, instead of waiting for the outside world to give it to us.

We’ll weave through discussions on hearing the inner voice within the outer noise, shifting our locus of control from the outside in, and why “going with the flow” is not enough if we want to live a fulfilled life. We’ll also explore the practice of journaling as a portal to self-discovery, a way to connect with the deeper knowing we all carry within.

And we’ll even ask the bonus question: what can spawning salmon teach us about giving ourselves permission?

Marci has a delightful personality, and tells some great stories, too. I hope you’ll join us for conversation on those topics and more in Episode 4 of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

~ Follow Marci’s writing and her podcast here ~

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube


Special offers from Marci as mentioned in the episode:

Write a review of Marci’s podcast, Permission to Heal, for Apple, Amazon or Audible, and Marci will periodically enter your name in a drawing to win a signed copy of her memoir, Permission to Land.

Purchase a copy of Marci’s memoir, Permission to Land, directly from her website at www.marcibrockmann.com, and use the code BookBundleDeal at checkout. Along with the memoir you’ll receive a free copy of the accompanying Permission to Land journal workbook, and a custom bookmark as well.


“We don’t need anyone else to give us permission to do anything. Just the sheer fact that we are standing on this earth and drawing breath into our lungs gives us that right.”

Marci Brockmann


There’s a monthly digest of this stuff…

Thank you so much for visiting! If you liked this offering, you can sign up below to receive the monthly Wake Up, Human digest, which includes writings, podcast episodes, and other offerings. Have something to share or suggest? Head over to my contact page and drop me a line.

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Why are We Sleeping? An Essay on Disconnection.

Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash

Are we sleeping? And if so, how can we wake up?

Dear reader, thank you for dropping in on this essay, which I pour my heart into in an attempt to describe the epidemic of disconnection.

As explained on the about page of this website, the intention of Wake Up, Human is to explore the ways we humans have become disconnected from our native ways of knowing, what we have lost, and practical knowledge and wisdom for coming back into wholeness.

The intention of this essay is to explore the epidemic of disconnection as the root cause of our ‘sleep’ and reconnection as our opportunity to ‘wake up.’

This is a long form essay, and due to the length of it, I will be publishing it partially and adding to it bit by bit. I’ll drop in the first segment below, and add to it as time goes on.

For anyone not the long form essay-reading type, I’ll post the article’s key points below: a summary of the content without the deep dive. For an audio related to this discussion, check out Wake Up, Human podcast, Episode 2.

Otherwise, I’ll see you on the inside…



Essay on Disconnection: Key Points

  • We humans have forgotten how to use our inherent human powers—powers such as intuition, keen awareness, and sensory communication with the natural world. The sands of time, along with the destruction of our own indigenous cultures, have erased ancient forms of knowing from our shared memory.
  • We’ve been conditioned away from our natural inclinations toward wholeness via modern ideologies of progress, individualism, and cultural superiority.
  • We’ve been distracted by the alluring comforts of technological advancement and placating materialism (and encouraged to do so by decades of targeted advertising and media propaganda).
  • Our psychology is susceptible to negative biases, stereotypes, and fear-based reasoning, which, if continually and unnaturally stimulated, can short circuit our inner knowing.
  • We’ve been manipulated by powerful economic and political interests, and the institutions and systems built to serve them, to remain in such states of fear and separation…for a very long time.
  • This state of disconnection estranges us from our own wisdom, and our place in the interconnected web of life. This estrangement leads us to objectify the natural world, and thus, become able to rationalize the ways we destroy it.
  • This is not the way it has to be. By recognizing our state of disconnection, we gain the ability to address it. We can dismantle the rationalizations that allow us to destroy ourselves, each other, and our home. We can wake up into reconnection, and grow together, and heal.


An Essay on Disconnection.

What are our essential human powers?

Historically, we humans were more attuned to the natural world than we are today. We lived in deeper connection with the rhythms of nature and communion with other forms of life.

Inheriting this attuned sense of knowing as a birthright, our ancestors were able to see, hear, and feel the essence of reality more clearly than we do today. They lived in a state of interconnectivity with the natural world that has largely been lost in our modern distracted and fragmented world. This sense of connection enabled them to survive in harsh and sometimes dangerous environments, but it also allowed them to live full and harmonious lives in tune with the rhythms of time and place.

From indigenous and wisdom traditions that shine light on our historical and spiritual beginnings, we understand that our native state of being is receptive and communal, our inner and outer lives harmonized to our natural surroundings and the lives of other beings around us. We understand that our species is but one instrument in a planet-wide symphony of life.

If we consider our species as but one voice among many, it might worry us at first that in such a worldview our species would become less important or valuable. But this is not true. In fact, the more we understand ourselves as one facet of a greater whole, the more we can tap into the the vast shared capacity of that whole.

Rather than living for ourselves and solving problems by ourselves, we can access all of nature’s combined intelligence as our guide. The more we discern our role, and our power as world citizens, the more impactful we can be.

The wisdom indigenous to every one of us is capable of this understanding: to communicate across time, space, and species boundaries. To be guided and helped by nature. To know the truth of who we are and what we are capable of. To leverage our remarkable creativity and intelligence to collaboratively transform our physical world, for the benefit of all.

These are our essential powers.

*

We’ve largely forgotten our essential powers—
but they are not lost.

We “modern” humans are less embodied than our ancestors, living more in our heads and less in our hearts. As modernization has urged us forward across thousands of years of historical terrain, we have developed our thought and reason at the expense of our intuition.

In our march toward the mental and mechanical, we’ve forgotten how to use our inherent human capacities—powers such as intuition, awareness, and sensory communication with the natural world. In doing this, we have disconnected ourselves from ways of knowing that are essential, and might even seem magical to our rational scientific minds.

But these powers are not lost to us. They are still alive within us, albeit perhaps deeply buried under lifetimes of conditioning. They are tools that evolved along with our bodies and minds, to help us understand the world, and our place in it. Such tools still belong to us, as our birthright. For those of us who wish to reawaken and use them, is it still possible? I believe it is.

Through good fortune and perhaps grace, we continue to have access to a multitude of living traditions that carry the ancestral threads of our collective being, leading back over many centuries, to the source of our ancient knowing.

We also have access to millennia of written records of mystics and sages who have pondered the deepest questions of existence, and come to conclusions instructive for both their time and ours.

Finally, within each one of us lie dormant the seeds of our innate human powers, seeds that when watered with the light of our attention are ready to sprout to life and direct us toward the full expression of our essential nature.

We need not become anything new. We only need to open to what we already are, and reawaken the great power that sleeps within us.

To the extent we can do this, we may find ourselves once again able to perceive our interconnectivity to the whole: dormant, yet ready to come powerfully alive in us, and reawaken to the truth we have always known:

When we harm one thread in the tapestry of life, we harm us all.

*

How we got lost: the epidemic of disconnection.

I believe we’re suffering from what naturalist Jon Young calls an “epidemic of disconnection.”

In our species’ centuries-long push toward scientific and economic progress, favoring individual gain over collective evolution, we have isolated ourselves within our own self-centered experience. Focusing on expansion (of knowledge, territory, power, etc.) above all else, we have leveraged our significant creative-intellectual powers to advance our own interests.

Through scientific and technological advancements, we have increased our knowledge, extended our capacities, and firmly established ourselves the most secure, comfortable, and powerful species on the planet.

However.

This advancement has come at a cost. For our growth has been so impressive, progress so enticing, comfort so bewitching that we have largely become content to advance our own interests at the expense of the rest of the world.

We humans have always looked out for our own kind. Self-protective instinct within one’s species is not new, nor is it wrong. Focus on collective welfare is a survival mechanism that has helped us thrive for hundreds of thousands of years.

What is new is that modern humans seem to have forgotten that the collective welfare of our species depends on the collective welfare of the whole.

Ironically, in our unbridled push to secure “our” well-being, we have taken self-interest of our species so far that our collective action now focuses on the individual human to the extent that it threatens the very fabric of the world that holds us.

Thus, we now favor human needs over the needs of non-human animals and the natural world, to the extent that we routinely destroy and commodify nature to advance our interests.

We favor our individual addictions to comfort over the needs of other humans who do not have as much as we do, even when our comforts are frivolous and others’ needs are basic.

And astonishingly, we often favor our addiction to expansion, our desire for more, faster, and better, even over our own inner peace and health.

The upshot is that we seemingly have no trouble destroying our own earthly home, our own species, and our own personal well-being in the name of progress.

*

The symptoms of disconnection.

Thus we exhibit symptoms of the epidemic of disconnection: estrangement—from the natural world, the suffering of other beings, and the importance of our own physical and mental survival.

This disconnection, while it portends to offer us security against the wild world, has left many of us so-called “advanced” humans in a state of desperation and hopelessness. Why?

Because we are part of the wild world.

We are meant to be wild.

Ahh, we intuit that something important is missing from our lives. We feel incomplete. We struggle to find happiness in the trappings of the modern world, with all its distractions and comforts, and we fail.

Time escapes us and slips through our fingers; we feel we never have enough of it.

Health escapes us; we suffer en masse from ailments with unknown causes, and succumb to modern diseases we’re unable to cure with modern methods.

Understanding escapes us: our science and reason promise to give us all the answers, yet information overload, without connection to true knowledge, leaves us with more questions and less insight into what truly matters.

And peace escapes us. We long to know our place and purpose in life, yet find ourselves overwhelmed by too many choices, unable to discern where we belong.

As all these searches come up empty, in our sense of lack we continue to look for more, to fill the gaps in our hearts that know they are lacking. Pulled in multiple directions by the dizzying array of “opportunities,” we may result full of experience yet devoid of meaning, or falling into depression, sickness, and overwhelm. We sense the lack of security in this; the comfortable rug has been pulled out from under our feet. And we are back where we began, running on the treadmill of daily life, too busy to ask ourselves what is wrong.

Separated from our inherent wholeness, it is not surprising that we feel incomplete.

We have become the hungry ghosts of Buddhism, ravenous beings suffering from endless desires that can’t be fulfilled, compulsively feeding ourselves to soothe an emptiness that only grows larger the more we try to feed it.

Why do we let ourselves live this way?

To be continued…

*

You Darkness, from which I come, I love you more than all the fires that fence out the world. Because the fires make a circle of light so that no one can see you any more. But the Darkness holds it all. The shapes, the animals, the flames and myself… I have faith in the night.

Rainier Maria Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly

	

Wake Up, Human 003: Daoist Tips for Getting Back to the Garden

Taoist Tips for Getting Back to the Garden

with Solala Towler


Listen here…

Episode 3: Taoist Tips for Getting Back to the Garden with Solala Towler

…or listen in wherever you enjoy podcasts:


“If there’s no joy, then what’s the point?”

Solala Towler

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Solala Towler, a modern American teacher of the ancient Chinese philosophy and practice of Taoism. Our conversation centers on the theme of Taoist Tips for Getting Back to the Garden: exploring Taoism as a practice for reconnecting to our true nature—and our true knowledge—within the complex and sometimes overwhelming modern world.

We’ll weave through discussions on Taoism as embodied practice, the difference between “head knowledge” and “belly knowledge,” and guidance from the Tao on living in balance during times of trouble. We’ll have some fun exploring the Taoist way of being serious without being too serious, and we’ll even ask the quasi-serious question, “Do white people have chi?”

Join us for conversation on those topics and more in Episode 3 of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

Learn more about Solala, and his many offerings. on his website at www.abodetao.com.


Bonus audio: Golden Light Meditation

During our interview conversation, Solala offered a guided meditation for listeners. That meditation is available for listening below.

Guided Meditation: Golden Light

Resources mentioned in the episode:

  • The Hidden Life of Trees, a book by Peter Wohlleben
  • Hua Ching Ni, Taoist master, teacher, and author
  • Master Chungliang Al Huang, highly regarded authority on Tai Ji, Taoist studies and related disciplines
  • Zuowang Daoist meditation practice, “sitting and forgetting”
  • Yang Sheng: Nourishing Life practices


There’s a monthly digest of this stuff…

Thank you so much for visiting! If you liked this offering, you can sign up below to receive the monthly Wake Up, Human digest, which includes writings, podcast episodes, and other offerings. Have something to share or suggest? Head over to my contact page and drop me a line.

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