Who or What

Who or what is this thing called God?
God is the one who directs my studies,
who nods and smiles approvingly
and pats me on the back and says
Job well done
while another of God’s countless hands
is pulling the rug out from under my feet.
And as I go down,
hitting my head on every sharp corner,
and somehow finding with my heart,
exposed and open in my moment of accomplishment,
the one long slender thorn, hard as steel,
growing up from below,
and managing, as though destined, to run myself through,
I look up, bleeding, and see God
smiling and nodding, and saying
with infinite kindness,
Very well done.

More art from the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality.

Employment! Breaking News

Hello!  Today I’m departing from the usual opining and philosophizing to give you an update on my life!

After not getting a much-desired permanent faculty position at the community college where I have been teaching for the past four years (which shall remain nameless), I decided that rather than go back to cobbling together a semi-living from multiple low-paying, time-sucking adjunct gigs, I would go on the non-teaching job market this summer. I wanted to find a job in which I could grow, in which I could be creative, in which I could make a positive contribution to the world, and in which I could use and develop some of the skills and interests that my previous job wasn’t tapping into as much as I would have liked.

And now, lo and behold, I have been offered and I have gleefully accepted a job at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating just north of Boulder, CO. Wow! I am super excited! These folks have been doing amazing work in the field of people’s relationships with food, which has been a passion of mine for years, as well. The owners of the company write books, train coaches, produce conferences, and do all sorts of activities to provide information and education to the public about the ways we interact with food, both as individuals and as a culture.  I am of the belief (ok I guess I’m not totally departing from the usual opining …) that this is one of the most important areas of inquiry in the U.S. today, and that it touches every aspect of our lives — our energy bodies, our personal lives, our politics, our environment, our growth and evolution. I am very psyched to support this endeavor AND to learn more about it!

What I will be doing is working in the communications end of things — administrative support, student services, and editing, to start out. And I think it is going to be really fun. The tasks are things I like to do, and the workplace seems to be a perfect combination of my favorite qualities — fast-paced, driven, and committed, yet laid-back and positive in attitude.

When I started the job-dreaming-process back in the spring, a friend in my spiritual community suggested I check out the book Wishcraft by Barbara Sher, which is available for free online. She said that it had really helped her to get clear on what qualities she wanted from her next job, and had turned up some surprising hidden desires, too. The name of the book appealed to me — it sounded magical, like the way I wanted to manifest my next job, not through a bunch of hard struggle and slogging through mires, but through joy and magnetism and play. So I downloaded it and started working with the exercises. And indeed, although I had already come up with a sort of short list of qualities I wanted in my career, the book helped me to turn up the mossy stones in my brain and see what wriggling little dreams were squirming around in there. One thing I realized was that it had been hard for me to have clear and specific dreams for my life as a child. I had developed a great strength in finding something that I liked about almost any situation I found myself in, but had a very difficult time picking one thing that I wanted. A lot of my “job dreams” were not so much DREAMS as “well, if I do this then I should be ok” types of conclusions. But when I devoted some time and thought to clarifying what I wanted out of professional life, I realized that writing really IS central to what I love doing. (That wasn’t a surprise so much as an “oh, well, I guess I’d better take it seriously then” moment.) And it also surfaced that I would find it very enriching and soul-supportive to work in an explicitly spiritual environment. Not just one that espoused values that were compatible with my spirituality and ministry (as was the case at the college where I taught), but one that specifically addressed the spiritual side of human existence. The spiritual framework doesn’t matter that much to me — I am a universalist and I believe that all sincere paths are true, and I can get with the Baptist game as much as the Buddhist — but to work somewhere that would acknowledge the soul’s needs just felt like, you know, too good to be true.

But the thing about getting really, really clear about wishes is that the Universe hears. And, at least in my experience, when I’m able to bring my heart’s desires to a sharp focus, and own up to really wanting them, and also let go of the outcome and trust to Divine wisdom for the highest good of all, that is when miraculous connections really do happen. I found out about this position through another member of my spiritual community, with whom I was casually chatting about my life’s hopes and dreams. She said, “Hey, I just heard about a position just LIKE that,” and forwarded me the announcement. That’s synchronicity at work. And so here I am, three weeks later, about to start (tomorrow) what I could honestly say is a dream job, at least for this stage of my life.

With all this excitement comes, of course, a little nervousness. I want to do a good job. And I’m also aware of how different it’s going to be. Just the schedule change — from the all-over-the-place academic lifestyle to the consistent daily nine to five — is going to completely rewire my brain. And I’m excited about that too. There’s nothing like a big lifestyle shakeup to open the door to even more previously un-thought-of yet awesome possibilities. Above all, it feels like a quantum leap in self-value and listening to my own heart. So — wish me well, because I’m off to the Great Unknown!

From my back porch

From my back porch

Talkin’ ‘Bout Capitalism

Now and then, at the end of the day, my partner and I sometimes end up talking about capitalism — what it is, what it does, what it encourages, what it does and/or does not allow.  We observe that it seems to foster creativity and innovation, but we wonder whether it’s part of its nature to then squash any truly status-quo-challenging pursuits.  We don’t know whether or not it contains within itself the capacity for facing and solving the problems it has caused. These are sincere questions.


Not long after one of these late-night conversations, I randomly came across this lecture by Paul Mason, recipient of the Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize, published in the New Statesman on June 12, and it attracted my interest. Keynes, Mason says, believed that capitalism (barring unforeseen circumstances) would have to end up providing for the well-being of all. But Mason disagrees, or rather points out that the circumstances that followed Keynes’ prediction were indeed unforeseen, and as a result of these circumstances, most recently the rise of information technology, capitalism has evolved into a system that can’t support itself indefinitely. (In my words, I would say that the system is unsustainable).

Mason describes the economic impact of a situation “where large amounts of information are produced and exchanged at negligible real prices, if not for free.”  He argues,

Consider the social implications: if the cost of information goods tends towards zero, and the ability to standardise and virtualise the manufacture of real things also rapidly reduces their cost, the real price of labour will also fall because a) supply exceeds demand and b) the input costs fall.

That is what I think underpins the surprise outcome of the neoliberal revolution: the impoverishment of the developed-world working class. It looks like the outcome of class struggle and defeat, but it may also be the product of a one-time technology event.

Mason goes on to point out specific ways in which the phenomenon of the concentration of wealth constrains people’s movement, speech, choice, and wellness.  The examples he gives, like the protester being kicked by the official, resonate with his analysis; really, they are just a very few of the many possible events, public and private, that could be cited.

Yet Mason also notes that the new information technology and culture have led to a flourishing of “non-managed, peer-produced, non-market activity based around information” — all the content and all the software that people are creating and giving away for free.  “Non-market activity”!  Those are good words, to me.  Activity that exists outside of the market?  Really?  It can exist?  What an important site of production.  Mason thinks that it has the potential, if not the destiny, to unravel capitalism itself.

What most stood out to me in this lecture, however, might have been nothing more than a quirk of phraseology.  Toward the end of the essay, he writes:

If we avoid this dire outcome, it will because the forces for good, for understanding and knowledge and restraint are also being strengthened by technology. I think we should imagine new technology creating the world of abundance Keynes longed for, but it is likely to be decoupled from the question of pure GDP growth and compound interest.

It won’t happen by 2030. It will not be the transition Marxists imagined, led by the state suppressing market forces, but a transition based on the controlled dissolution of market forces by abundant information and a delinking of work from income. I call this – following economists as diverse as Peter Drucker and David Harvey – post-capitalism. In making it happen, the main issue is not economics but power, and it revolves around who can envisage and create the better life.

It’s this language of imagination that compels me.  “Creating the world of abundance … decoupled from the question of …” What he’s calling for, or maybe just observing the need for, is a paradigm shift.  Can we imagine a world of abundance?  One that’s based on something other than the working models of the current economic system?  Can we imagine that?  I think we NEED to devote a lot of our attention to imagining that, and imagining the tools that we would need to get there.

I love the last line of this passage.  It points to the idea that power, as it is currently aligned, stands in the way of any type of paradigm change.  It states that “the better life,” hopefully the sustainable life, is something that needs to be envisaged, visualized, envisioned (or held as a vision), and created, emerging from our creativity, imagined and brought into being.  My interpretation: that the practice of envisioning a better world, of a different order entirely, must be nurtured and spread, until so many people are doing it that it begins to have power of its own.


Mason ends the lecture by claiming that “the true Keynesian thing to do is to imagine a humanist future based on abundance and freedom, and explore what tools we have that might make it come about. There is no better time to imagine it.”

Social change needs imagination right now.  Ok, it needs a lot of things.  And one of those things is imagination.  From school to business to personal relationships.  From science and technology to human services to politics.  Everybody has imagination.  It is a truly vast, undertapped resource (here in America in the present day).

If imagination were truly valued in America, would we stand for companies buying out promising innovators with planet-saving solutions simply to shut them down? Or companies like Monsanto buying the research firms that test their products for safety?

Would we cut every imagination-developing class from our public schools?

Why does anyone wonder why we haven’t yet imagined, on a mass scale, a sustainable society?

And who does the status quo serve?

It is said that every system does exactly what it is designed to do.

What is our system doing?

Is that really the best we can imagine?

“American Tune”

A couple of days ago, I was listening to the last episode of the NPR call-in show Talk of the Nation.  I’ve never been a huge follower of the show because I’m not usually driving around listening to the radio at midday, but I did always enjoy it when I heard it, and even though I’ve been accused more than once of being unsentimental, I did feel a slight welling up of emotion at its going away.

Host Neal Conan had Ted Koppel on as a guest on this series finale, doing a look back over the hosts’ lifetimes (since 1940) and speculating about whether America as a nation is better or worse off than it has been at other points since World War II.  The question on the table, for both Koppel and the callers-in, was, are you hopeful about the future?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic?  How bad are things now, compared to other times in the history of the nation, and what’s “bad” about what “things”?  One way they asked it that seemed to resonate with a lot of people was, “What keeps you up at night?”

Koppel stated in no uncertain terms that he was not hopeful about the future.  He had a series of reasons why he thinks the nation is in great danger at this moment, in some ways more even than in the Cold War days of Mutually Assured Destruction.

While listening, I thought of a friend who’d recently brought up this topic, from a different perspective.  She’d heard a speaker at a community gathering who’d totally changed her thinking on that question.  This speaker (whose name I don’t know) had listed many OTHER reasons why he saw things as getting continually BETTER, and noted that globally speaking, we humans are living, on average, much safer, healthier lives than we did earlier in the 20th century, with many fewer of us dying violent deaths or succumbing to epidemics.

Interestingly, the same debate came up in my class the other night.  It was an extended tangent away from the original topic of violence and competitions for dominance in society, where those forces come from, and whether or not they should be read as any sort of problem.  One guy, a returning student and Iraq war veteran in his 40s, stood up and insisted that first of all, humans are nothing more than animals with a VERY thin veneer of “culture” or domesticity, and we are inherently and appropriately violent beings, right down to our genetic cores; and, second, those elusive “things” in this country are going to get worse, and worse, and worse. “The world is never going to change,” he said adamantly.

As the class split up at the end of the evening, he lingered to wrap the conversation up with me.  He mentioned something that he would do when he ran for Congress.  I asked him if he really planned on running for Congress, because I could imagine him realistically doing so, and I like to encourage people to pursue their dreams.  He said yes, maybe someday, and would he have my vote?  I laughed and said I would have to see his whole platform; that I would have to reserve my judgment.

This is how I feel about the “what’s going to happen to us in the future” question, the debate over whether things are getting worse or getting better.  I do not really know, and anyway I suppose the standards of measurement are fairly suspect (“things”).  Many of my students, and others around me, express their anxiety about the future in terms of whether American will be able to keep its status as “number one.”  They see the possibility of other national currencies supplanting the dollar as “strongest” as a harbinger of future humiliation and economic hardship.  Meanwhile, others frame the problems of the present in terms of the United States’ refusal to prioritize the survival needs of the people and the planet over the survival needs of corporations.  So the jury is still out on whether we humans WILL make things better.  But I do wholeheartedly believe that we CAN.

I am hopeful about the possibility that humans can evolve, make new choices, and become less harmful to each other and to the planet.  There are other parts of us, besides our animal instincts, which give us the drive, in the face of extreme inconvenience, to create ever more just and compassionate social systems and ways of interacting with each other in every area of life, from the family to the industry to the market to the international stage of diplomacy.  I don’t know where this human journey is going, but I know it’s going somewhere.  I believe it’s our destiny to evolve.

It has also been many other species’ destiny to evolve—and some of them did so to the point where the original species became unrecognizable.  In a sense, thy evolved themselves out of existence.  And in at least some cases, I’m okay with that.

I’ve been called unsentimental because sometimes I have the ability to let go, without too many tears, of things that are no longer functioning, or no longer the most beneficial, or no longer meeting the need they were created to meet because the need is no longer there.  At least sometimes, I can recognize that it could be better to have a vacant space, into which something new and better suited to the present moment might come, than to hang on to the old thing, which, though it might still be providing some benefit, when weighed in the balance is really doing more harm than good.

So I’m led to ask, could this idea about America always being number one in the world be one of those things?  To question this assumption, I know, sounds bad.  But I’ve always believed that to hold someone accountable for their failures is an act of love.  Maybe it’s more the idea that America must be number one in the world–in everything–for us to feel secure that needs to go.  Because first of all, we’re not.  We’re not handling our internal affairs in a responsible way, and corporate preferences continually triumph over public good in our political, economic, educational, and cultural spheres.  And second of all, “the winner of everything” is a very insecure spot to be in.  When one’s sense of self worth is tied to beating everyone else in everything, one has to be constantly on the defensive and pour all one’s energy into maintaining one’s status.  And then one ends up forced to endorse the idea that all others are, in small and large ways, lesser than oneself.

In that same Talk of the Nation interview, Koppel and Conan talked about Nelson Mandela, who was at that time in the process of dying at age 94 in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.   The journalists were calling him an exceptional leader, a great leader in a historical period that’s been mainly absent of noticeable greatness.  The source of Mandela’s distinction was the way he approached nation-building and national healing in the years after apartheid.  He and his party promoted a policy of “Truth and Reconciliation,” through which those who had benefited from the regime and brutalized the Black South Africans took responsibility for their actions, while those who had been oppressed and terrorized were treated with respect, and their suffering and grief and anger were given space to be heard.  It was not a reversal of the existing hierarchy, with the formerly colonized group now ruling over the old colonizers.  Instead, it was a process of actual peacemaking.  I daresay it involved everyone courageously forcing themselves to see everyone else involved as humans, attempting to find out what they all needed as humans, and seeking to meet those needs when possible, thus allowing each other to let go of some of their fear and defensiveness and pain.  It was a process whose goal was to lay a framework for lasting and continuing peace in that nation.

Voices around the world have been practically unanimous in acclaiming Mandela as a hero and visionary.  Yet none of our leaders have been willing to follow in his footsteps, rejecting the path of revenge on those who have been constructed as our enemies, those who we believe have done us harm.  None of our leaders, when faced with other nations, groups, or individuals behaving towards us in a hostile way, have stepped up to begin a discussion by taking responsibility for the many actions of the United States that have undermined the liberty, autonomy, and well being of people around the world and within our own borders.  In interpersonal relations, this would be the stance of a strong person, a brave person, a person trying to do what is right to the best of one’s imperfect ability.  In international affairs, such an approach is trivialized and called weakness.

I saw a meme on Facebook once that posed a question similar to this: The war in Iraq has cost the US government over 800 billion dollars so far (that’s according to CostofWar.com as of 6/30/13; click to see what it’s up to now).  What if, instead of going to war, just half of that money had been spent addressing as many of the needs of the Iraqi people as possible, that is, building sustainable civilian institutions to bring the best possible public services to underserved regions?  Would there be a conflict now?  Would there be an unstable situation?  This scenario is unimaginable to most people; it’s outside of the currently dominant paradigm.  And I’m not saying there has been none of this, but I am saying that the investment in really meeting the people’s needs has been tiny compared to the investment in fighting the people.  For all the dozens of military veterans I’ve met in my community college classes over the past three years, I’ve never met one person who’d been in Iraq or Afghanistan on any kind of peace mission.  The US has approached the situation from a military point of view only; our nation, at the government level, is just not capable yet of looking at an international conflict from a healing point of view.  But if they could, I’ll wager they’d see a lot more progress, a lot more resolution, a lot more stability and security, a lot more freedom for both “them” and “us.”

That would be greatness, America.  Living in fear that the dollar may not be the international standard any more is not greatness.  We’ve had that distinction for a while, and we should feel honored; but there are other countries in the world whose citizens know something about economics, and maybe have been doing some things better than we have lately.  What’s so bad about that?  Don’t capitalists supposedly love competition?

If we follow the line of reasoning that says that in world politics, one nation must be permanent leader (and it must be us) out a little ways, we begin to sound suspiciously like the sort of people who get called “dictator” in the mainstream media when they are in charge of other countries.  And if we look inside of that argument, we realize it depends on the assumption that if there is a permanent top dog, then everyone else must necessarily be an inferior dog, at least in the eyes of the top.  In other words, the culture of dominance in which one group has to be on top implies that all the other groups are 1. submissive, 2. subservient, 3. dependent, or 4. enemies to the ones on top.  Is that really the relationship we want to be in with ALL of our neighbors on the planet?

As you may be able to infer from this blog, I’m a terrible one for picking favorites (favorite word? favorite book?  I just can’t answer).  But I do have a favorite songwriter: Paul Simon.  After I listened to that Talk of the Nation finale, his 1973 song “American Tune” came into my head.  What I love about that song is that, for me anyway, it perfectly captures the frustration and the optimism, the quiet necessity of moving forward even with a broken heart.  I hate to quote a single line or verse, because the song is such a complete whole, but here’s the bridge:

And I dreamed I was dying

Dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly

And looking back down at me

Smiled reassuringly,

And I dreamed I was flying

And high up above my eyes could clearly see

The Statue of Liberty

Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying …

The mystics of all religions teach us that when we become something new, we do die.  Indeed, as we are continually changing, we let go of what we were, continually dying and being reborn while still living this life.  When we transform into something really different, when we take a big leap forward in our evolution, our old selves die in a more dramatic way, and that’s one reason why it’s really really scary, and takes huge courage, to allow ourselves to grow in those important ways.  As we reach toward the best that we can be, we necessarily shed old identities that no longer serve us.  Those identities may have served us for a long time, and become full of routines, relationships, ways of doing things, answers.  Letting go of them can be really damn hard.

But as the song suggests, I do believe we individuals have souls, and our souls are on a rising journey.  Our souls are heading upward; the more we get our egos out of the way, the faster they rise.  And I do believe that’s the way forward for groups of people, too.  There has to be a desire to become better—when the fire of passion for being the best one can be is awakened, we find the courage to let go of old paradigms that no longer serve.  We find the will to push ourselves to do difficult things, or things that scare us because we don’t already know what the outcome will be (because we’ve never tried them before). We can do it because we come to want so badly to become better than we are.

The concept of “hitting bottom” is illustrative here; an addict, after all, is just someone who’s become extremely dependent on a way of coping with life that’s actually much more destructive than beneficial, though it may at first seem otherwise.  Hitting bottom, losing or being truly threatened with the loss of something that it would feel unbearably painful to lose, is the most tried-and-true way that addicts have found to begin the sincere search for recovery.  Hitting bottom puts us (not just drug or alcohol addicts, to be clear here; we might include people addicted to bullying, or to being in control) in a humble frame of mind.  It gives us a yearning to transform for the better, and makes us willing to do anything it takes to heal ourselves and our relationships.  Ironically, hitting bottom can be the most powerful source of courage.  Maybe we reach this place when we finally look around and see all the suffering we’ve caused – something happens that’s so dramatic, it becomes impossible for us to continue to be willfully blind to our role in the destruction.  Maybe we reach it when we take a big hit from the world, get knocked out, see stars.  Suddenly we see ourselves with clarity and realize that our ways are not sustainable.  We need to change or die.

And, out of utter necessity, our minds become open to receive ideas from a new paradigm.  What was impossible to conceive of doing before now becomes a lifeline.  This is one way in which I can imagine nations like America evolving.

Of course, some addicts go through their entire lives without ever hitting a bottom that makes them seriously question their habits.  Many nations have risen to power and fallen to the next in line for dominance.  There’s no guarantee that anyone will ever “change” in the sense of becoming willing to undertake a difficult process of transformation—from the inside out—in order to bring their life into greater accord with their soul’s purposes.  But some do suggest that the more of us individuals undertake those efforts, the more collective energy will build, ultimately lifting and carrying along others who might not have come to that process on their own.  So that, for me, is a starting place.  It’s not an end.  I’m actively seeking ways to support and promote my nation’s process of healthy self-examination and change for the better.

Happy Independence Week, y’all.

2012, 2013

I find it peculiar that in all the media references to the Mayan calendar business re: 12/21/12, the only aspect of the hype that any reporter or mainstream commentator (at least that I heard, which to be honest is not a very broad sample) mentioned was the supposed end of the world. I know there were folks out there who did interpret this 2012 stuff as an apocalypse prophecy, and also those who tried to scam the former group into buying doomsday condos in the remote Caucasus mountains or whatever it was. But this seemed like a fringe element to me. Far fewer people seemed to REALLY expect huge disasters than, say, at the time of the whole Y2K thing. That’s just my observation.

In my actual life, I know a lot of people who were and remain strongly invested in the concept of 2012, not as the end of the world, but as the end of an era. Or, as they might put it better, the beginning of something new. Most people I know who took the idea of something happening on 12/21/12 (and/or 12/12/12) seriously thought it would be something like an infusion of new energies into our spiritual bodies or the planet, or an evolutionary advance in the spiritual plane for some or all beings on Earth. Some also thought of it as a dramatic shift in the values or priorities of our culture(s). This shift might be a smooth and easy experience of raised energy leading to better choices, or civilizations might be forced to change their ways through difficult trials and suffering brought by the many errors of our previous ways. So in that sense some would say there could be some events that might actually seem “apocalyptic,” but they are really opportunities for humanity to realize the damage it’s doing. Imagine if the media actually reported on and discussed that! What a different tone that would be, and what possibilities for national self-examination that would bring!

Not that I have ever witnessed, at least, the US observing that the difficulties or tragedies it’s experiencing are the direct results of harm it’s done in the world and been moved to become different or better. That’s one reason I’m skeptical about all of these predictions. And I’m also skeptical of predictions that are very tied to specific dates. (Calendars change all the time. We’ve only had our since 1582. And not everyone in the world follows the same calendar.) And anything that gives an extremely specific description of something metaphysical, like the exact minutes during which the cosmic energies will be pouring in, or the precise language with which to address angels — it just feels uncompelling to me, like someone trying to insist their style is the only true aesthetic that everyone should follow. Faced with claims like these, I become a militant agnostic: you know, “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

Still, I like the idea that maybe we have collectively reached a spiritual growth spurt, or that we are now receiving an extra potent dose of support from the Universe, or that enough humans have turned away from the dominant greed-based worldview to effect a change in outcomes. I would like to see the world at that place, and I also welcome the nudge toward personal growth and change for the better. In my more positive agnostic moments I say something more like, “I don’t know what it is, but it’s something.”

For myself, what I noticed on 12/21/12 was an immediate resurgence of personal issues (or as some would say, character defects) that I thought I had more or less licked!  First thing that morning, I dealt with an emotional meltdown, then had a few more in the next week.  I there are still rooms in my house that need to be cleaned out (which shouldn’t come as a surprise!).  I would think the message from the Universe will be different for everybody, but for me I get the sense that Spirit is letting me know what are the most pressing issues for me to work on, the biggest things currently separating me from a peaceful and harmonious existence.  I’ll be honest, this does not sound like a picnic to me — in fact it stirs a lot of fears about living without the old familiar (though harmful) coping mechanisms — but I feel willing to go there … hopefully without too much kicking and screaming.

Some things to let go of (again … and again):

  • Attachment
  • Jealousy
  • Control
  • Selfishness
  • Complaining

Some things to cultivate:

  • Generosity
  • Acceptance
  • Confidence
  • Appreciation
  • Lightheartedness
  • Friendship
  • Service

In 2013, I ask for guidance about how best to serve and help the world.  I want my life to add positive, tangible good to the balance of existence on this planet.  It is my intention to bring my life into greater alignment with the Highest Good.

Happy New Year everybody!  Love and blessings to you all!