Our Global Community

Chapter 4                   Healing the Heart of Democracy

“The human heart is the first home of democracy.”[1]

“The heart is where we wrestle with questions on which democracy hinges.”[2]

According to Parker Palmer the word heart comes form the Latin cor.   Because of its origin the word heart references our emotions as well as the core of the self, which is at the very center of our being.  All our ways of knowing come together in our hearts: intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, experiential, relational and information from our bodies.  He also sees the heart as the center for the heart/brain connection, which we integrate with all our other sources of knowing.  Courage also is derived from the Latin root, cor.

Viewing politics from the point of view of the heart moves it out of the arena of a game of tactics, strategies and might makes right.  “Rightly understood, politics is no game at all.  It is the ancient and honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day. ‘We the People’ build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently united to know our own will and hold those who govern accountable to it.”[3]

Making it work

Being able to agree to disagree is one of the gifts democracy gives us, particularly when we can use this energy to create a third and even greater alternative.

Because democracy is suppose to be a government of the people and by the people and for the people this tension always exists for a good reason.  This basic premise becomes a continual “experiment in the strength and weakness of our political institutions, our local communities and associations, and the human heart.  Its outcome can never be taken for granted.”  It “is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good.

“For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive…the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as opening to new life o us and for our nation.”[4]

Tension is created by differing ideas, perceptions and points of view.  A relationship where opposites attract can have enough common ground to provide a platform from which to create.  The tension builds once the honeymoon phase is over and what was once cute or endearing becomes a real bother.  Do we let this tension drive us apart or create the whole greater than the sum of its parts?  Do we allow this tension drive us to creative solutions or angry disagreements?  Can we allow ourselves to grow from conflict, differing points of view or different ways of understanding to something that is greater than when we began?

Parker Palmer[5] encourages us to engage our differences rather than evade them, to embrace the tension of differences in order to develop a true democracy.  He recommends that we listen to each other openly and without fear in order to learn how much we have in common despite our differences.  Hold what we believe and know with conviction and at the same time be willing to listen openly to other viewpoints, allows us to change our minds if it promotes a better outcome.

When we can put ourselves in another’s shoes by opening up to listening with empathy, in this way we can entertain someone else’s perspective and opinion even if they are radically different from our own.  By opening up to understanding another by asking question and exploring why they feel the way they do we engage in a dialogue that deepens our view.  To really work to understand the other as well as deepen our understanding of our own point of view creates movement in a process.

If we put our hearts into it we can learn a lot from each other and from our differences.  When we are willing to expand our perceptions and ways of responding to accommodate another our differences can enhance our perspectives and enrich our hearts and minds. This applies in relationships, communities and in the process of democracy.

When entering the complex arena of politics, we are become available and capable of holding the dynamics of that complex force field in a way that keeps the government accountable to the people it governs.  By engaging in collective problem solving and decision making, which in turn generates better solutions as we work with competing ideas.  There is an excitement at being an active participant in a process where our voices are heard and taken into account.  We are able to grow with respect and acceptance of difference especially when we can enjoy the fruits of diversity.

A positive response to terrorism

Usually terrorism strikes deep fear in the hearts of the best of us.  There are many groups throughout the world who use this ploy as a way to gain recognition in putting forward their cause.  Even in the U.S. the terrorist attack of the twin towers is used year after year to foment fear.  As the films are replayed over and over, we are reminded that we are vulnerable.  This vulnerability has been used to create more centralized power in our government, and to justify a “war on terrorism” that has cost the lives of many innocent victims, including our own soldiers and has been used to justify more tax money spent to build a stronger military complex.  What if there was another way to respond?

There were two very interesting responses to terrorist attack in Paris, which occurred just before the Climate Change Summit in 2015.  The way these two people responded takes away the power of terror.  If people do not respond to terrorist attacks with fear then there is no reason to create more terror.  It completely undermines the purpose of those behind these heinous actions.

The following is an email sent by Nicholas Haeringer of 350.org.

Friends,

There are times when words are hard to come by, and when you find them they feel inadequate.  I’m writing you from France, with a heavy heart. Following Friday’s attacks in Paris, the mood here is tense. People are angry, and many are afraid. Many of our staff members are in Paris to get ready for the climate talks in a couple of weeks, and they are feeling the pain of this moment sharply.

I am heartbroken — for the lives lost in Paris, and for those lost in Beirut and Baghdad, which also suffered devastating attacks late last week. Clearly the world is hurting in many places right now.

As we’ve struggled to find the right words and the right response to Friday night’s attacks, one thing rises to the top for me:  The upcoming Paris Climate Summit is, in a sense, a peace summit — perhaps the most important peace summit that has ever been held.

We need global solidarity more than ever right now, and that is, really, what this movement is all about. Even as climate change fans the flames of conflict in many parts of the world — through drought, displacement, and other compounding factors — a global movement that transcends borders and cultural differences is rising up to confront this common existential threat.

Let’s hang on to that solidarity and love. Let’s learn from it. Especially at a time like this.

Friday night’s events were horrific, and we must clearly and unequivocally condemn such violence. Their aftermath has also been frightening though, and we should stand in equal condemnation of the instinct to meet violence with more violence. It is a cycle as old as it is ugly: after tragedy comes the rush to judgement, the scapegoating, the xenophobia and Islamophobia, the blame.

There is a real danger here that those already impacted by both the climate crisis and the wars that are so intimately bound up with it — migrants, refugees, poor communities, and communities of color — will be further marginalized.

If there is a thing we must resist, it is our own fear and short-sightedness. No government should use a moment like this to increase the burden of hatred and fear in the world — sowing suspicion, calling for war, and reducing people’s civil liberties in the name of security. This is a mistake we’ve seen too often before, compounding tragedy with more tragedy.

The Paris Climate Summit, scheduled to begin in just a couple of weeks, will proceed. The government is promising heightened security measures, which is understandable but also worrisome.

We don’t yet know what Friday night’s events mean for our work in Paris. The coalition on the ground is committed to working with the French authorities to see if there is a way for the big planned march and other demonstrations to safely go forward. We fully share their concerns about public safety — just as we fully oppose unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations.

We do know that this global movement cannot and will not be stopped:  The Global Climate March — a worldwide day of action scheduled for November 28th and 29th — will also proceed, no matter what. We can think of few better responses to violence and terror than this movement’s push for peace and hope.

There couldn’t be a more important time to work for climate justice, and the peace it can help bring.

With love and determination,

Sent by Nicholas Haeringer of 350.org

Another wonderful response came after the Paris terrorist attack.  Antoine Leiris posted this on Facebook.

“On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won’t have my hatred.

I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know-you are dead souls.  If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.

You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost.

I saw her this morning.  Finally, after many nights and days of waiting.  She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.

Of course I’m devastated with grief, I admit this small victory, but it will be short-lived.  I know she will accompany us every day and that we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls to which you will never have access.

We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all other armies of the world.

I don’t have any more time to devote to you; I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap.  He is barely 17-months-old.  He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free.  Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”

How amazing is the strength and beauty expressed from the heart in a time of deep sorrow.  How inspiring to see alternative ways of responding to terrorist attacks.  These responses steal the rug out from underneath of terror.  Perhaps this kind of response is creating a new pathway that will shift us away from negativity and help us stay seated in the power of the heart that will allow an opening to new doorways and new possibilities.

“When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend.  If we cannot talk about politics in the language of the heart—if we cannot be publicly heartbroken, for example, that the wealthiest nation on earth is unable to summon the political will to end childhood hunger at home—how can we create a politics worthy of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good?

“ …Thus we do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions.”[6]

According to Tom Shadyac in his film I AM our DNA is built for democracy and cooperation.  Darwin mentions love far more that survival of the fittest, affiliation and cooperation as well as the Golden Rule.  In fact we depend on each other in order to be human.  We are because we belong.  The mirror neurons that we carry enable us to see someone suffer and feel it in ourselves, which makes us hardwired for a compassionate response.

In a participatory universe reality is really a relationship between parts.  We are connected with all of life.  When we see all of Nature as our family, our perception changes and the whole world changes.  Nothing in Nature takes more than it needs.  It is cooperative.  When the body takes more than its share it becomes cancer.  There is no evidence that war is human nature.  Love is the force that has power.  Critical thinking is powerful when it is followed by actions that make our hearts sing.

Awakening awareness

Catherine Quehl-Engel[7] created a program to help people awaken their awareness to the interconnectedness and oneness of all of life.  She wants to inspire people to live with love in order to lead and serve as instruments of peace.  One aspect of her practice involves focusing inward and surrendering with softness to the deepest part of self as spirit and life force.

Her program outlines a process very similar to the heart-centered meditation, which establishes an internal experience of positive emotions and gratitude for those feelings.  She then encourages the people to send out healing and compassionate energy from the heart to others as well as asking them to act as instruments for the energy of healing peace.  People are encouraged to do this practice on a daily basis as well as informally at times during the day.  When they feel pulled to send healing energy in the form of a prayer to someone or when they want to be a peaceful, calming and healing presence, they are encouraged to recall this practice.

Catherine Quel-Engel’s program could be used in tandem with Parker Palmer’s five habits of the Heart for a successful democracy.[8]

  1. Understand that we are all in this together.
  2. Develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. Cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. Generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. Strengthen our capacity to create community.

They both remind us that in order to participate in the process of creating a good democracy we have to be centered in our hearts, speak up, be heard and know in our heart of hearts that we have a right to express our feelings and our ideas.  It helps to keep in mind that our personal ideas and visions are only one part of a greater whole.  All contributions are taken into account and are important to the whole.  This is not easy at all but essential to the healthy functioning of a heart centered democracy.

Our Global Community

With the advent of the Internet and cell phones, Skype and Zoom, and other technologies, we can be anywhere any time having a fabulous conversation with a loved one or a friend we lost touch with or someone we’ve never met before.  This has brought forward both the good and the bad.

For example, pornography addiction is out of control.  Years ago someone had to go to the sleazy part of town to a bookstore and hope that no one noticed.   After purchasing a few magazines in a brown paper bag and they were hidden under the bed. Today in the privacy of our own homes, click, click, click and one can find instantly any kind of information.  We can participate virtually or not.  With all of these options available, people are spending an inordinate amount of time and money on them.

On the light side we can connect with friends from high school or trace a family tree or research anything we want to learn out about.  We can watch old or new movies while lying in the comfort of our beds, track down our favorite bands, or keep up with the weather moment by moment.  Although sometimes I think we would do better to walk outside or at least look out the window and see what the weather is actually doing.

We have cell phones have as much capability as some of the best computers.  Instantly we can see how the traffic is ahead and be given an alternate route if necessary.  The best advantage is that we have an immediate emergency connection if we need it.  This ability to be constantly in touch also has its downside.  I find it sad when two people are in a nice restaurant both talking on the phone to someone else.  Or parents so enamored with their phones, they spend more time on them than with their children.  Apparently the ten percent increase in unintentional childhood injuries is being seen as a side affect from parents otherwise preoccupied.[9]   Phones can easily become an addiction to instant social or information gratification.  On the positive side smart phones and computers allow more parents to work from home, which cuts down on commuting and give more time to children and home activities.

As with anything these tools if used wisely, can enhance our living and if not, can destroy our positive connection with Nature and humanity, numbing us to violence and trauma.  Make good thoughtful and heart centered choices and feel like you are a viable part of the global community.

[1] Tempest Williams, T. (July-August 2004) The human heart is the first home of democracy.  Engagement, Orion Magazine.

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/143

[2] Parker, P. (2011) Healing the Heart of Democracy: the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit.  Jossey-Boss, A Wiley Imprint. San Francisco, CA. P.50

[3] Palmer, P. ibid. P. 8

[4] Parker, P. P. 9-10

[5] Palmer, P. ibid.  P. 15

[6] Parker, P. ibid. P. 7

[7] Quel-Engel, C. (2014) Deep Abiding:  Praying, Living and Loving from the Inside Out. Doctoral Dissertation presented to the Virginia Theological Seminary.

[8] Palmer, P. ibid. P. 44

[9] Novotney, A. (February 2016) Smartphone = not-so-smart parenting? Monitor on Psychology.  American Psychological Association. P.53

Bringing your heart to your communities large and small

Chapter 1       Developing heart centered communities

Communities come in many shapes and sizes.  You can form a community that gathers together around like-minded ideas, practices, interests and living arrangements as well as geographical locations.  I have been attending a weekly seminar in Washington, D.C. for close to twenty years.  Even though I do not know the last names of most of the members of that group I feel very close to them.  This last year circumstances prevented me from being able to attend.  The group had become an important anchor point in the middle of my week.  Because we focus on spirituality, energy and psychology, I missed the deeper meditations that come from group practice.  While I continued to meditate on my own, Swami Muktananda reminds us that two consciousnesses are better than one.  Coming back to the group I could feel my spiritual connection to the group strengthen and deepen.

I have friends who live nearby in an intentional community in the middle of Amish country.  Long ago they came together to raise their children with a simple stable life and living close to the land values.  They wanted a healthy environment to reflect the health and well-being of their lives.  The thread that originally brought families together has shifted and changed over the years as children have grown and moved on.  There is some new energy to create a demonstration and teaching facility for biodynamic gardening.  Over time some communities may shift their focus as the needs of the participants change.

There are a lot of communities coming together around the “buy it local” idea so that you know the source and support local economy.  There is a new word, “agritopia,” which describes communities developing around organic farms.  People can participate in the growing and caring for the food that they eat.  Usually once a year Mother Earth News picks the ten best cities to live in the United States.  These communities often combine organic farming, flower farming, raising chickens in order to live a life style that is healthy and coherent with the local ecology and the Earth.

People are finding out that life is easier when they join together to create a viable community where everyone pitches in.  A new model is DIO, “Do It Ourselves.”[1] People are drawn to partner with neighbors, friends, local governments and faith groups.  They are looking to learn the skills to become self-reliant in order to create new approaches to community living.  People are coming together to share resources and skills.  People are finding fellowship and connection in communities throughout the country.  This particular brand of experiments is being dubbed “Homestead Hamlets.”

In their April/May 2014 issue Mother Earth News tells the story of a couple, Tim and Kay, who changed the way they lived in a city neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska.[2]  Inspired by a book, Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, they turned their yard into an organic garden.  They wanted their home to support an edible landscape with no lawn to mow.  They were hoping by networking with people in the neighborhood to inspire others to live more sustainably and securely so that they could cooperatively produce and share homegrown harvests.  Other ideas grew out of a workshop on Cohousing and Intentional Communities, which brought two families together.

One of them purchased an inexpensive property close by so that they could establish a larger garden.  When they began to share strawberries with neighbors, those neighbors, who had been helping, decided to turn their lawns and backyards into productive food producing gardens too.  Pretty soon another neighbor joined in at the suggestion that he keep chickens.  Later several of them took a course in beekeeping and added a hive or two.

As their group expanded, they also decided to turn their 108 year-old house into a green residence.   They watched their utility bills go way down when they installed a geothermal heating and cooling system to which they added solar panels on the rooftop.  Inspired by Elliot Coleman in Maine they decided to build an unheated greenhouse, which allowed them to grow food all year around.  More and more of the neighborhood came on board until they established a self-sustaining community right in the middle of the city.  Fresh organic food and green living was not the only benefit.  True friendships grew that deepened as they worked together for the common goal of healthy living.

Kevin Wolf suggests for anyone hoping to start a Homestead Hamlet.  Tear down the fence between two houses.  Start using that space together and encourage others to join. His group has grown to include 21 houses with common, connected yards.  A good balance between privacy and community time is important as well as the attitude that suggesting a good idea and suggest goes toward getting it done.  They have found that working together makes the task not only doable but also easier and fun.

A new model for communities called agrihoods[3] is being seen as a way to create a healthy involved cooperative community, increase resilience, boost sustainability, increase property values and most importantly make a healthier residence.  Before developers built neighborhoods around golf courses.  Now with the interest rising in locally grown food sources, neighborhoods are being built around orchards, vineyards, cow pastures, vegetable gardens and even local organic farms.  Urban agriculture is a way to grow healthy vegetables and strengthen community.  People can volunteer on the farm or have their own garden plots.  It is a way to have good food for the table and to get to know neighbors.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to grow vegetables.  My mother was good at flowers but not so knowledgeable about vegetables.  Because our neighborhood had World War II Victory Garden plots associated with it, my mother asked our neighbor Mr. Rock if he would teach me about vegetables.  That was the beginning of a long career of growing as much food of my own as I can.  Even when I lived in New York City I had some vegetables growing on the roof of our loft building.  This interest extended to northern Vermont  and growing food for my young family.  We had a root cellar, no electricity but a way to dig fresh root vegetables out of the ground all winter long.  I just had to remember to mark the rows high enough to identify where they were under lots of snow.  Perhaps the World War II victory gardens were an earlier version of agrihoods.  In the back to the land movement in the late 1960s there were experiments with living in communities or a loose network of friends that shared ideals as well as ideas about living, building and gardening.  This new wave of communities is creative and hopefully more sustainable.

Some communities throughout the world are experimenting with the concept of a time bank.  This is a system in which communities internally operate without normal currency.  The exchange is in the form of services.  There is a resource called hOurworld[4], which serves as a host for an exchange of ideas, questions and advice based on lived experience.  There are many communities that have been successfully working with this idea.

In Greenbelt, Maryland they are working on implementing such a system.  Right now they are working through the basic concept of what this “bank” will look like exactly.  They have been using hOurworld as their host and have been wrestling with questions like:  Is time a tit for tat?  How do we negotiate hours?  Should “professionals” who offer services take more time?  And, how do we “pay” for classes?  Is the teacher to receive an hour from each individual?   How does the bank accrue time so that it can give out time?
The time bank concept is neither new nor unique.  There are multiple successful time banks throughout the world.  What a nice way to feel like you have value to your community. Your skills can be used and a return is made when you are in need of a service offered by someone else.

The following are examples of different kinds of communities.[5]  In one community the dream is that every homestead would have enough land to establish a their own place while sharing recreation and working together for the common good. Work parties are formed to help maintain the roads, community center, swimming pool, soccer field, community garden and trails through the woods.  They share big tools like a log splitter and wood chipper. They hired a farmer to grow food that is shared and to teach gardening skills.  A health and welfare committee quietly pays attention, to which households has a member with serious illness or injury.  They help organize meals, rides to the doctor, and other support if the neighbor requests it. They share an ideal of living an Earth-centered life with plenty of time to be connected in community or be alone when needed.

Another community calls itself an Ecovillage.  People in a city neighborhood began to get together to rehab the area that had been hard hit by the recession and changes in demographics.  When the houses were refurbished they were sold to new owners who shared a similar spiritual orientation to the idea that the Earth is sacred and humanity’s success depends on honoring that reverence in their daily lives.  Residents are involved in sustainable living.  They take care of rain gardens, forest gardens, plant trees, build walking trails through the woods, create shared rituals, and offer educational programs focusing on sustainability. They get together several times a week at potlucks helps develop friendships and a sense of community.

In another area a man, who believed strongly in think globally, act locally, subdivided part of the family farm so that people could own their own land and build their own houses.  There is an organic farm at the center, which serves as a place to learn more about sustainable living and to teach it to others.

Several of these communities have used the idea of a community center at the hub being of primary importance.  One place was able to get together and purchase an abandoned school, while another used a big house and still another a yoga studio.  Senior activities, classes for a variety of ages, childcare, community potlucks or recreation, etc. were established to fit the needs of the people and provided a means to be connected with each other.

Another community that had a big house at the center used it to provide a communal kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining and laundry spaces for everyone while building small individual tiny houses as detached private bedrooms.  They enjoy sharing resources and feelings about the ups and downs of everyday life.  They don’t always socialize together.  Getting together happens as a part of life and sharing a common space.  There are ready-made connections as relationships have grown and spread to friends of friends. They like taking some time to get to know each other.

There are still other styles of communities.  Libraries have become local gathering places where activities, meetings and classes are held.  In some places, because people are thrown out of the homeless shelters during the day, they gather at the library.  Senior centers also provide a sense of community for elders with yoga, art, craft, etc. classes, activities and trips.

Another way to view communities is as simple as a local study group, or a farmer’s market, or a school to develop inquiring minds, or a course on voluntary simplicity.  Other possibilities are a socially responsible local business, a church congregation devoted to spiritual inquiry and community service, or a holistic health clinic.  No matter how small or isolated each creates a safe space in which diversity, experimentation, and learning can flourish.  These can be building blocks for a new mainstream economy, politics, and culture.[6]

Learning to live together from the heart promotes ways to create new models that support our lives, our families, our communities and the life of the planet.  The health of the individual and of the community is inseparable.  The whole depends on the health and integrity of the individual, and the health of the individual depends on the health and integrity of the whole.  Both can survive and prosper together.[7]

David Korten tells the story of the destructive workings of the current system of human governments. He encourages us to work together to build a new sense of community based on cooperation, not competition, so that success as relates to the health of the whole.  All people can have enough to eat, clean water to drink, safe shelter, access to good medical care, a meaningful vocation that contributes to the well-being of the larger community, a true democracy where everyone’s voice counts and everyone is motivated to participate in that process.  Happiness is a caring community is his motto.

Because he feels strongly that our very lives depend on creating a new way of living together, he lays out some very thoughtful suggestions about how we can begin to get from here to there.  Neighbors understand that it is far more powerful to connect around things they want to happen, than argue about past events.

Here is the summary of the criteria people used to rate their communities as great places to live[8] in the U.S.

  1. Support of the preservation of natural areas, wildlife habitat and historical and cultural sites.
  2. Having a good solid volunteer program that supports all aspects of the community.
  3. A place where people take pride in their homes and yards. They want a place where they can walk.  They want a sense of aliveness, which includes spaces for people to gather in the heart of downtown.
  4. A vibrant local food system that is central to the city/town. Working together to create a community food system that models how to incubate new farms and develop farm-related businesses, how to market agricultural products and care for the land, and how to develop farm-to-school and farm-to-table programs through protecting working landscapes.
  5. Organic gardening, self-sufficiency, an involved community, renewable energy and a commitment to health is important.
  6. Have a good mix of green spaces, active gardens, lawns converted to flowers and vegetables.
  7. Working together to support initiatives for renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, waste reduction and recycling, water conservation, and land use.
  8. Creating more public transportation and a pedestrian friendly city.
  9. Creating projects where people come together to work on something important for their community, e.g. taking a woodland area in the city/town limits and digging out all of the invasive species.
  10. Valuing and involving a mix of generations results in mutual respect and care.
  11. Integrating life with Nature involves the respect and care for all of life.
  12. “The quickest way for newcomers to become a part of the community is to volunteer and demonstrate that they’re willing to work for the betterment of life there. Protecting the land and water have been citizen priorities because everyone knows that the great local foods depend on good water and land that’s safe from pollutants.”

 These are a number of elements that make for a good vital community.  It is important to recognizing that the Heart of the Community literally exists and functions as a power to create positive coherence.  It can be a place of activities central to the community like the village green or a church/cathedral or community garden plots.  It could also be a symbolic heart like a medicine bundle or a community hall or gathering spot.  It needs to be something that is precious to all the community and its importance is recognized by all ages.  This Heart functions as an active element in which all members of the community can participate in, one way or another.

Stories weave into the community a sense of history, presence and importance.  They can be about how the community began or about special events that have occurred during the development and life of the community. They can be about the people who live there or about those elements that have created and maintained life.  They can to be told at community at gatherings or as bedtime stories to the children.  Old stories and new ones are added on as the community grows and changes.

A community benefits greatly from having a direct relationship with Nature.  The community can come to view itself as a cell in the body of Nature within which it lives, breathes and depends.  There is a sense of giving and receiving and an appreciation of the relationship between the community and Nature that supports the life of the community.

Communities need to have activities in which everyone participates.  The could be festivals, holiday celebrations and spiritual gatherings, events where people’s houses are repaired or where things are given away in support of those who do not have enough.  This is when stories can be told, friendships cemented, finished projects celebrated and new ones created.

Every member of the community has a job that contributes to the well being of the whole.  People are accepted for who they are and appreciated for what they bring to the table.  The hallmarks of good relationships are good guides for all interactions:  honesty, trust, respect, acceptance and good communication.  Holding each other in high regard from the heart is essential.  Wherever possible something like a time bank economy is practiced.  People trade time doing what their skills allow them to give for the services that they need.  Trades are made with other communities for goods or services in such a way that everyone benefits.

If there are problems, a process of consensus, non-violent communication or good negotiation skills as described in Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in by Fisher, Ury and Patton[9] can used to resolve them.  People are loved and are made to feel like a viable part of the whole.  Children are taught these skills in their families, in their schools and by participating in community events or projects.  Adults are good models because they practice what they preach.  Every member of the community practices being a coherent emotional presence. There is little competition and a lot of cooperation:  one for all and all for one.

There are those who are devoted to holding the spiritual center of the community.  There is no competition between belief systems.  People are free to believe what they believe.

Communities are like cells in the body of larger communities, which are cells in the community of Earth, which is a cell in the body of the Universe.  The community cell is small enough so that everyone knows everyone’s name and everyone’s voice counts.

The community participates in town meetings where their voices are honored and heard.  Those who help govern the community are truly there to serve the people:  by the people and for the people.

David Korten suggests that we need to shift our focus from the values of an inauthentic culture to one grounded in a love of life rather than a love of money.  By doing this we can bring our life energy into alignment with those institutions that promote a sense of well being for all.  He encourages us to change our personal stories so that we can love life and feel a positive connection our culture.[10]

I believe that the change has to begin with the story that we carry about ourselves from ones like, “I don’t deserve to be successful,” “I don’t deserve to have a good life,” “I am not pretty enough,” “smart enough,” “tough enough,” etc. to the story of truly loving ourselves from the inside out, from the heart.  We will need to change our ideas about what being successful and having a good life mean in order to benefit not only ourselves but all of life.  When we begin to believe in our own heart-centered living, then that love will flow naturally into the way in which we chose to live together and how we live in relationship to the Earth.  By having the wisdom to look carefully at ourselves and the way in which we live, we can create positive changes in our communities and our world.

[1] Mother Earth News: the original guide to living wisely. (October/November 2015) Community + Self-Reliance = The Good Life. Compton, K. p. 42-51

[2]Rinne, T. (April/May 2014) How we created a ‘Homestead Hamlet.’ Mother Earth News, p.42-45

[3] Neighborhoods with Local Food at the Hub. August/September 2014.  Mother Earth News: the original guide to living wisely, p. 15

[4] www.ourworld.org

[5] Compton, K. (October/November 2015) Community + Self-Reliance = The Good Life. Mother Earth News: The Original Guide to Living Wisely. P. 42-51

[6] Korten, D. (2006) The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.  Kumarian Press, Inc., CT. P. 317

[7] Korten, ibid. P.309

[8] Great Places to Live. (October/November 2014) Mother Earth News P.41

[9] Fisher, R., Ury, W. & Patton, B. (Third edition 2011) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. Penguin Books, NY.

[10] Korten, ibid. P.18

Heart in the Family

Once you have developed a good sense of centering your life on the positive emotions of appreciation, gratitude, caring, loving, contentment, calmness and peace you probably notice that people around you are also more positive.  You may experience yourself as a beacon of positive heart light energy that seems to spread organically outward.  When you are in heart coherence there are fewer obstacles.  Without giving it more thought, your life flows more freely as do your relationships.

Nannette

Nanette has had a very difficult time with a very self-centered mother.  She struggled over the years thinking that if she just pleased her mother enough she would finally get the love that she was so desperately seeking.  But this has not happened no matter how hard she tried.

She had just learned the heart-centered meditation.  This meditation is based on research done by the Heart Math Institute on heart coherence.  The first step is to establish a breath pattern of 4 or 5 counts in and 4 or 5 counts out.  The second step, while continuing this breath pattern, is to focus on the center heart.  The third is to recall an experience or imagine one that makes you feel good.  The fourth step is to express a deep sense of appreciation or gratitude for this experience.

Remembering the wonderful times she and her family had at Thanksgiving dinners, she thought of a particular picture of her whole family.  Her mother was included along with her husband, children and grand children.  She felt wonderful, which immediately changed her never good enough feeling, to one of deep love for her whole family.

The next day she was taking her mother for their monthly hair, nail and pedicure appointment.  This was always an ordeal because her mother was never satisfied and always complained.  This time however it was radically different.  Nanette greeted her mother pleasantly when she picked her up.  She told her mother, “We are not going to discuss the tip I gave the hair dresser.”  What had happened before in a previous appointment, Nanette rounded up the amount that her mother was paying the girl to the nearest dollar amount, which meant that her mother paid a few pennies more for a tip than was necessary.  Since that incident her mother had berated her, every time they went for their hair appointments.  Now Nanette had had enough and was finally brave enough to make a clear boundary.

Her mother seemed to respect Nanette’s request and the trip proceeded pleasantly.  In fact the whole experience with her mother that day, which included their usual lunch afterward, went better than ever.  When she dropped her mother off, her mother hugged her and said, “I love you.”  Nanette was astounded.  She told me later that she could count on the fingers of one hand and have some left over for the number of times that her mother had not only hugged her but also told her that she loved her.  Nanette attributed the success of the day to the internal shift in her feelings and her new found courage to set good boundaries, which helped her feel love for her mother.

Lucy

Lucy, age 7, was having a melt down.  The popcorn bowl had fallen.  The popcorn that she had been sharing with her brother was all over the floor.  Their father told them both to pick it all up and not fight about whose fault it was.  “Work together you two!”

Her meltdown came because her brother kept accusing her of spilling it.  “It’s your fault,” he taunted over and over.  As she ran to her mother the flood of tears came quickly as did the waterfall of words.  She wanted her mom to understand the truth.

When mom said quietly, “We’ll get through this.  I am here to help you.  I love you and we’ll do it together.”  The tears stopped.  Her red face cleared and Lucy smiled.  She knew mom was in her corner and that she was loved.

Dancing Heart Retreats

Move out of the ordinary into an awareness of a deep inner heart-centered spaciousness and peace.  Discover the untouched, unexplored crevices of your being, aspects of yourself hidden by normal routines and daily distractions.  What is that part of you that longs to stretch your wings and fly free?  Perhaps there’s a belly laugh, a creative impulse, a moment of clarity, a voice from the divine that reveals itself.

Give yourself permission to play, to embrace joy and be fully present in this moment.  Here your soul has room to whisper softly, inviting you to experience new possibilities.  A safe space supports the blossoming of inner awareness within a circle of companion explorers. By partnering with Breath, Heart, Earth, the Heavens and the natural beauty of Cape Cod, you can strengthen your inner vision and be empowered to be who you really are safely with others.

This year I am offering three week long retreats on beautiful Cape Cod to help you develop a greater awareness of your own internal experience in order to improve the health and well-being of your body, heart, mind and spirit.

They are based on the premise of the philosophy expressed in this blog.  When you center your awareness on your heart through meditation and breathing practices, love and appreciation, wonderful things happen.  The way in which you relate to yourself, others and the earth changes.  Internally your moods become more stable and positive.  Your anxiety levels are greatly diminished and your immune system is boosted.  As a consequence, you feel more at home in your own body, are in touch with your creativity and your increased ability to solve problems. Spiritually you have the opportunity to deepen your relationship with All That Is.

Connecting the Inner Vision with the Outer:   May 6-11, 2018

Enhancing Creativity Inspired by the Heart:   June 17-22, 2018

Using the Body as a Vehicle to Connect with the Infinite:  September 9-14, 2018

For more detailed information please go to my website www.drcarolmarcy.com

Conclusion with Jumping Mouse

 1.  Including the part and the whole through the Heart

We are living in times of immense chaos.  The warning signs are there: global warming, the deep unrest and violence among people and cultures of the world, the lack of coherence inside and outside, etc.  We all feel it.  The need is great.  We are given the opportunity to shift our way of being and doing so that we can have a different outcome.  It feels like it is now or never.

Our human hearts have the ability to heal and transform the way, in which we live, relate to each other and to Earth.  If we focus on healing our own personal traumas and live a heart-centered life, individually and together we can have a profound impact on the whole.  We can shift our individual and collective destiny to a place that is healthy and full of love for all of life everywhere.

World peace begins at home in your heart and mine, which grows from how we choose to meet the moment.

2.  Jumping Mouse[1]

A long time ago a young mouse name George lived in a village of mice on the edge of the great prairie.  As a child his favorite past time was to listen to the old stories told by the very old mice of the village.   The one he loved to listen to the most had a deep resonate voice, which animated each of the characters with a particular charm.  There was always some wisdom, some point or some lesson to be learned.  The little mouse loved to try to figure it out.  George asked a thousand questions while his comrades would get bored and wander off.  The story about the Ice Lake in the North particularly fascinated him and he asked the old mouse to tell it over and over.  In truth George knew the story by heart.

As the seasons changed George was old enough to help out with mouse business.  This consisted of collecting, sorting seeds and placing them in the proper storage piles. His entire community depended on these stores to get them through the long winter. When the snows piled high, they had no access to other food.

George took great pride in his job.  He loved wandering out onto the great grassy sea to find some special unique seeds that others had ignored or not seen.  Even though wandering too far from home could be very dangerous, George was very careful.  He got good at sneaking from one grassy hillock to the next watching out for the black spots.  If you were taken unawares, those black spots could mean instant death as Eagle swooped down to breakfast on sweet grass fed mouse meat.  He’d known of those who never returned from their foraging missions.

He became good at spotting the plumpest seeds, taking them back and putting them in just the right piles.  Day after day week after week the little mouse worked hard.  He had the idea that the harder and faster he worked the sooner winter, his favorite story telling time, would come.

While he was out on gathering missions, he became aware of a faint roaring sound.  When he moved toward the direction of the sound it would become louder and louder.  What was it?  The mouse was curious.  When he asked the others in his community. they had no idea what he was talking about, which just made him talk about it all the more.

The others were getting pretty annoyed by his behavior.  “Just keep your mind on your work and it’ll go away.”  So he tried to do as he was told.  But the more he tried not to listen, the more he could hear the sound, until it was roaring so much inside his head he could hardly sleep at night.  This began to affect his job.

Some even made fun of him, saying, “You’re crazy.”  “You’re lazy.”  “You’re a silly fool.”  They taunted him a lot, until it was unbearable.

He finally got up the courage to go to the old storyteller.  He hesitated, embarrassed.  He was sure by now that he might be a little crazy.  But he had to know.  So he asked his friend if he heard the noise and knew what it was.

“Go young man.  Find out for yourself.”

That was not exactly what he wanted to hear.  “But can’t you just tell me.”

His friend was silent, going on about his business.  “But it’s not fair.  You don’t understand.  Everyone thinks I’m crazy.  If I go they’ll know for sure.”

The old mouse smiled and patted him on the back.  George slipped away, disappointed and dejected.  He felt betrayed by the one person he was sure would help him.

Halfheartedly George returned to his work.  The roaring continued, but he did his best to ignore it.  For days he focused on seeds, but they just became a bigger and bigger blur of browns and greens.  At night the words of the old mouse echoed in his dreams, “Go find out for yourself.”  Sometimes his dreams were full of light and beautiful, while others were filled with black spots and huge furry mice laughing hysterically at him.  He would wake up shaking all over.

Finally the day came when he couldn’t stand it any more.  He had to do something different.  To keep on trying to do the same old thing wasn’t working.  He truly would be crazy at this rate.  So he packed up a little knapsack and stole away in the early morning just before first light going toward the sound.

As dawn began to promise a new day, George found a path that seemed to go in the direction he was headed.  Before long, a huge furry person with big teeth and a large flat tail joined him on the path.  George was terrified, but this new person, in spite of his huge teeth, nodded in a friendly manner as if it was a common occurrence to meet a fellow traveler on the road.  George screwed up his courage and asked if this was the way to the roaring.

“Follow me,” he was instructed.

Soon they mounted a small ridge.  As they crested the hill, out before him lay something so magnificent, so beautiful, so awesome that he had no words inside to describe it.  As soon as he could find his voice, he asked, “What is THAT?”

“River,” was the simple reply.

A thousand questions began to tumble out of George’s mouth along with a huge sigh of relief.  A very heavy burden lifted.  I’m not crazy after all.  He felt a big swell of peace inside like he hadn’t felt for a very, very long time.

“I’ll take you to a wiser person.  She’ll answer all of your questions.”

George felt like he had just hit the jackpot, fifty million of the most beautiful and unique seeds in the world.  He could hardly contain himself and started to ask a half a million questions about who this person was.

“You’ll see,” was the cryptic answer.

Oh how George hoped he could trust this furry creature.  Just as he was beginning to have all kinds of doubts his companion said, “Here you are.”

He looked around.  They were now at the edge of a huge flat rippling expanse.  He got scared.  This was completely foreign territory.  He had no idea about what a river was made of, or why it roared, or where it came from, or where it went, or what the dangers were, or the joys.  Here he was, and he saw no one.

His companion had moved on down the path while George had been thinking all of these things.  “Wait!  Wait!  Where’s the one?”

He heard a strange voice that seemed to be coming from the river itself.  So he stopped and tried to take some deep easy breaths, 4 counts in and 4 counts out, like the old storyteller had taught him.  He needed to calm himself.  Who was this great wise being, and where was she?  In the river?  He heard the deep voice call to him.

“I’m out here.”

Again, George strained his eyes and ears in the direction of this new voice.  He saw some small green islands floating on the water.  Some had beautiful white flowers and some did not.  The deep rhythmic voice seemed to come from there.  He remained quiet, still breathing deeply.  Getting up his courage, he asked a question about River, directing it towards the green islands.  The voice replied with a clear, direct answer.  What a relief!  Encouraged he began his whole long list.  Learning about the mysteries of River and the roaring sound, excited George.  How beautiful.  What a great wonderful discovery.

Now the voice, who introduced herself as Frog, made a request of George. “I want to show you something even more beautiful and magical, but you are going to have to jump very high and look very far into the distance to see it.  Are you willing?”

“What could be more beautiful than River?”

“You won’t know ‘til you see it.”

So George agreed.  He was given the instructions to jump as high as he could and look long into the North.  He bent his knees, took a deep breath and pushed off as hard as he could.  He saw nothing.

“Try again.  I know you can do it.”

Again he bent his knees, took several deep breaths and again pushed as hard as he could only to fall to the ground seeing nothing spectacular.  He was getting a little frustrated.  Maybe Frog was just pulling his leg.  Maybe she was laughing at him.  Maybe the way he was jumping made him look like a fool.

“Take your time.  Center yourself, 4 counts in and 4 counts out.  Feel the strength of the Earth underneath you.  Ask Her to help you.”

George was surprised by these instructions.  They were familiar.  They were part of the old stories.  Yes, he had forgotten to do those things, and he knew they would help.

So he took those deep breaths, 4 counts in and 4 counts out.  He connected with his Heart, extending his Heart Light to his feet, and then to the Heart of the Earth.  He made a little prayer asking Her to give him some extra jumping power.  Slowly he bent his knees, felt his feet, breathing long and deep, he connected with the Earth.  He pushed off harder than he ever had before in his life.  He felt a spring in his legs and a power in his body.  Higher than ever he went.  Keeping his focus to the North, he saw a Mountain so high and so beautiful; it seemed to have a Light of its own.  He felt his Heart stretch all the way out to the Mountain, and the Heart of the Mountain stretch back to him in a powerful exchange of Love.

When he landed, he was so excited.  Jumping up and down, he heard the rhythmic voice loud and clear in his mind.  “That is Sacred Mountain, Jumping Mouse.”  But before he could answer, he slipped and fell into the River.

Bubbling and sputtering, almost nearly drowned, he pulled himself up onto the bank.  His excitement now turned to anger.  He felt like he had been betrayed all over again and made to look very foolish to boot.  He yelled.  He screamed.  He huffed and puffed. He ran up the embankment trying to get home to safety as fast as his little legs could carry him.

When he tumbled back into the community, he was still all wet from River.  The other mice looked at him funny.  Word travelled fast.  “George was in the mouth of an animal who spit him back out.  Must ‘a tasted really bad.   Told you somethin’s wrong with him.  This proves it.”

Nobody wanted to hear that he had discovered the source of the roaring noise.  Nobody wanted to hear about the magic of River.  Only the old mouse was interested in what he had seen.

Day after day George tried to work harder and faster.  He wanted more than ever to find some safety in the familiarity of his community, but the other mice just looked at him sideways with a pitying nod, keeping their distance.  This was not comfortable.  He tried to ignore his discomfort, telling himself that this would pass.

But it didn’t.

His dreams were filled with the wide expanse of the beautiful River and the luminous Mountain in the distance.  A deep resonate voice whispered to him, “Sacred Mountain, Jumping Mouse.”  Gradually a longing for that mythical mountain grew in his Heart.  He remembered that profound exchange of Love.  He had never felt anything like it.  It comforted him during the day, becoming a shield against the cold stares.  His old mouse friend died, so there was no one to turn to.  Finally the day came, when he could he couldn’t stand it any longer.  He knew what he had to do.

But he still put it off, hoping for some miraculous shift in the behavior of those around him.  Filled with self-doubt, he began to think that he had made the whole thing up.

“But the dreams.  It’s got to be there.  Really.”  Conversations filled his mind.

“You’re so stupid.  Even if it’s there, it’s a long, long way off…far to long for a little mouse to travel.  A dangerous journey.”  This part of him was so logical.  It was hard to argue.  So he tried harder to focus on his work.

He awoke very early one fine mid-summer morning, after a night of fitful sleep and relentless dreams.  He didn’t think.  He just quickly packed his knapsack and ran out into the coolness of first light, running as fast as he could—North.  He felt an aliveness he hadn’t felt in months.  “I’m FREE.”

He ran and ran until he could run no more, crashing at last into a huge grassy hillock.  Panting hard, he tried to catch his breath.  His legs felt like rubber.  His heart was racing.  He rolled over and began, 4 counts in and 4 counts out.  It was hard to calm down enough to establish the rhythm, but gradually it came.  When he opened his eyes, he was looking up at a sky so vast and so blue.  He almost felt as if he was swallowed up by it, becoming part of endless blue.  All of the puffy white clouds lazily drifting by, seemed to be heading North.  One even looked like a mountain.  Another like an eagle.  He shivered and tucked himself more deeply under the grasses.

He must have dozed off, for he awoke with a start.  “Welcome to my kingdom.”  He rolled over cautiously in the direction of the voice.  There stood the plumpest biggest mouse he had ever seen.  “You must be starving.  Come feast.”

The little mouse hadn’t realized it, but he was starving.  Following his host, the little mouse gasped at the site of so many unique and beautiful seeds that had been laid out for him.  He tried his best not to be greedy, but he wanted to taste each and every one.             “I see how much you enjoy each of these seeds.  What about staying here?  It’d help me out.  I’m getting old and can’t do as much.  I’d share my kingdom with you.  Everything you need is here.  All the seeds are easy to find.  There’s more than enough.  It’s safe.  Beautiful.  And there’s me for company.”

The little mouse was taken aback by this generous offer.  It was true.  Life here would be so easy, filled with new places to explore and wonderful seeds to discover.  The little mouse was very tempted.  For months no one had been nice to him much less spoken to him.  It felt good.  It was very tempting.  He needed to think it over without insulting his host.

“I’d like to sleep on it.  You’re very generous.  Can I let you know in the morning?”

With that the mouse king showed him to a soft safe bed.  What a long day.  As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light.

When the bright sun hit his face, he awoke with a start.  “Where am I?”  Then he remembered.  He quietly thought over yesterday’s adventure and the generous offer his host had made.  Should he or shouldn’t he.  Staying had great advantages but a small voice inside urged him.  The mystery of the Mountain and the Love he felt for it propelled him forward.

After a sumptuous breakfast, Jumping Mouse explained to his host that while it was very tempting to stay, and that he was really grateful for the generous offer, and that he appreciated his warm and welcoming company, he needed to be true to his Heart and continue his quest to find Sacred Mountain and the deep well of Love he felt from that connection.

Disappointed but understanding, the old mouse helped him pack a variety of good seeds in his knapsack.  He was off again.

By now the sun was high overhead.  It was hot.  The prairie seemed to stretch out forever.  There were black spots here and there, waiting.  He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, watching carefully.  It was a lot.  He was terrified.  One time, he could hear the swish of feathers as the black spot grew bigger and bigger.  Just in the nick of time, he ducked down a gopher hole.  He pushed himself harder, until he could push no further.  This time, again avoiding a hovering black spot, he raced into a grove of cottonwoods hiding under their welcoming roots, breathing so hard he was certain he would pass out.  Slowly, he pulled himself together, 4 counts in and 4 counts out.  He rested.

Just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard a very strange loud sound.  He sat up quickly.  What was that?  He had no idea.  Looking around he realized that he was not in eminent danger.  The sound came periodically.  It had a sorrowful edge to it.  He was curious.  Cautiously he decided to explore.  Making his way around the copse of cottonwoods, he discovered a huge mountain of shaggy dark brown fur that shook all over when the sound came out of it.  Going ever so quietly, he made a wide circle around it only to find the huge furry face of Buffalo, who was obviously very sick.

“Ugh…dying.  Haven’t long… been a good life.”

Jumping Mouse was very taken by the deep sadness he felt emanating from the beautiful giant.  “Can I help?” he said meekly.

“Don’t know…. only thing that’ll cure me is the eye of a mouse.”

The eye of a mouse.  Jumping Mouse was startled.  He was a mouse, but oh so small and insignificant compared with this magnificent creature.  “Are you sure?  The eye of a mouse?”

“Yes.”

Jumping Mouse stepped back and thought about it.  “Seriously?  How could one of my eyes… This being is far more important and beautiful that I am. What’s one eye?  I’ll still be able to see with the other…but not so well.  What about the black spots?  Doesn’t matter.  I’ll give him my eye.”  The minute that thought slipped into his mind, his right eye popped out of his head and went in Buffalo’s mouth.  The huge creature shook himself and struggled to stand up.

“Thank you, Jumping Mouse.  I’ve been waiting for you.  Get a good night’s rest. Bright and early we’ll head out.  You’ll walk under me.  I’ll protect you.”

Astonished Jumping Mouse, adjusting to seeing with only one eye, stumbled back to the cottonwood roots and his knapsack.  Ate and slept.

Early the next morning he was up and ready to go.  Buffalo was there as promised.  What seemed simple wasn’t.  One step of Buffalo’s was at least thirty for the little mouse.  Yes, he was protected from the black spots, but those huge sharp hooves were terrifying.  He dared not to slack but kept up the fast pace as best he could.  As the sun lowered on the horizon, Buffalo finally came to a stop.  “Here you are my friend at the foot of Sacred Mountain.”

At the foot of Sacred Mountain.  The little mouse could hardly believe his ears.  Slowly he emerged from underneath and looked up.  Sure enough here was the beautiful glowing Mountain of his dreams.  He was immediately enveloped in a sense of peace, stillness and comfort.  Love and acceptance seemed to ooze out of the rocks, contributing to brightness of the Light.  Vaguely he heard the words, “Rest here.”

Jumping Mouse turned to express his deep gratitude to Buffalo only to see him disappear down the trail.  Exhausted, he nestled at the base of one of the big boulders, ate a few of his seeds and drifted quickly into a deep sleep.  Towards morning he woke up in the middle of a dream, in which a wolf was talking crazy and confused.  He didn’t seem to know who he was.  As he became more awake, he heard the voice of Wolf for real.

“I’m Wolf…. least…I think I’m Wolf…. maybe not.  Crow…Badger…no, Wolfff.”  The words were muddled.  The poor thing was definitely having a very hard time.  Very carefully Jumping Mouse snuck around the boulder.  Sure enough there was the befuddled Wolf.  Making wide berth around to the front of this sad but wonderful creature, Jumping Mouse couldn’t help himself.

“Can I help?”

“No…. only one thing.  Am I a…Wolffff?”

“Yes, sir.”  He was being very careful, because he knew that mice were like candy for Wolves.  “What’s the one thing?”

“The eye of a mouse.”

What!  Not again.  This couldn’t be.  Jumping Mouse’s mind raced.  Wolf is so handsome and powerful and pitiful.  He’ll eat me the first moment he gets.  Wolf or Mouse.  Wolf or Mouse.  Wolf wins.  I could be very close to the boulder and hide immediately.  And then what?  Gone in a nanosecond.  But here at the foot of Sacred Mountain, what better place.

“OK” he said out loud.  Immediately the eye flew from his head.  Panicked, he gasped.  He wasn’t ready.

Oh well.  He took one last breath and prepared to be eaten.

Instead he heard the clear and strong voice of Wolf.  “Jumping Mouse, I’ve been waiting for you.  I’m here to take you to the top of Sacred Mountain.  Climb on my back.”

Yea.  Climb on his back.  With one little flip down his gullet I go.  OK, but your choice?  Die here slowly from starvation or one, two, three in the belly of Wolf.  At least I’d be sweet for someone in the last moment.  After a long internal deliberation, Jumping Mouse felt his way bravely up Wolf’s tail, up his back to the scruff of his neck and held on for dear life.

Up the mountain they went around boulders, up steep trails, sometimes running, sometimes trotting, sometimes leaping.  The little mouse could only imagine what the terrain looked like.  It felt rough and swervy and tipsy.  He continued to hold on tight.

The air seemed to grow thinner and colder.  Before he knew it Wolf said, “Slide down my friend.  You are at the shores of the Ice Lake.”

He could hardly believe it.  He was here.  Ice Lake.  In awe he slid off Wolf’s back onto solid Earth.  He cried and cried.  He couldn’t see a thing but could feel the beauty and Love of Earth and Sky, hear the lapping of the water and creaking of the ice and smell the cool freshness of the air.  As he turned to thank Wolf profusely, he heard another familiar deep resonate rhythmic voice.  “Frog is that you?”

“Welcome to Sacred Mountain.  Prepare to jump higher than you ever had before in your life.”

Jumping Mouse knew what that meant, so he centered himself in his Heart, took long breaths 4 counts in and 4 counts out, extended his Heart deep into the Heart of the Earth, said his prayer for strength and beauty, and extended his Heart way up into the Sky, just as he pushed off.

Crash!  Everything went black.

Confused he heard Frog.

“Open your eyes.  Spread your wings Jumping Mouse for you’ve become Eagle.”

“What did you say?”  How could he open his eyes he was blind?  But there was Light.  He could see!  He was filled with Joy as he unfolded his powerful wings and took flight.  Again and again, his wings churned through the air as he circled higher and higher.  His Heart felt so swollen with Love and Joy.  Excitement flowed through his body.

Even though he flew so high, he never lost sight of Earth.  She looked so magnificent.  He could see her curving shape, her blue oceans, high mountains and desert plains.  There was River, his first discovery beyond his mouse village.  It looked like a beautiful blue sapphire necklace, adorning the body of Earth.  He had never seen anything so beautiful and precious in all of his life.  He was in love with All of Life.  As a child of Mother Earth and Father Sky, he felt both separate and one with All of Life, all at the same time.

And so he lives on carrying the gift of Spirit to people of all sorts: appearing in their dreams, or flying close to inspire them to connect to their Hearts, to breathe 4 counts in and 4 counts out, to reach deep into their Hearts, and to connect with the Heart of Earth, praying for the strength to jump high into their biggest dreams of peace, love and beauty.  His piercing voice cries out to each of us, “Sacred Mountain lives deep inside of you and everything, uniting All of Life.”

 

Enjoy the journey!

 

[1] Adapted from a story told by Storm, H. (1972) Seven Arrows. Ballantine Books, NY

Gaining Strength through Adversity Part II

Joan always wanted babies. From the time she can remember she had an array of dolls that she nursed and cared for like they were her own children. When she married she chose a man who also wanted children. She was very excited that the time had finally come when she could begin growing the family that she had always dreamed of. Eventually she became pregnant. How thrilling! Her time had finally come. Imagine how devastating it was for her when she miscarried. Her dreams were shattered and she was devastated. Mourning the loss she waited until her body was ready to try again.

Time passed, she prayed daily and was finally able to get pregnant a second time. Such joy! She had been given a second chance. She carried this child full term. Doing all the things that one does when expecting: they choose names, prepared a room, bought baby clothes and got ready for their new arrival. The child went a month beyond the due date. This was before you were forced to induce labor if the child was two weeks beyond the due date. How painful to wait and wait. Would this be the day when she would give birth? The day finally arrived and the child was stillborn.

How could this be? They had done all they could do to keep her healthy. How had she failed? The doctor told her that “some women are good baby makers and others were not. You are not.” She was beside herself with a deep sense of feeling shattered. The end of her world had come with the death of her baby. She was so sad, so deeply sad. Seeking consolation and understanding she visited her mother. Unexpectedly her mother got angry with her, “I am sad too and we will never speak of this again.” Joan could not take in what had been said. Again she was devastated.

Her whole world turned black. What meaning did life hold? She completely shut down. In deep despair and hopelessness she felt like she descended into Hell. Joan said, “ I am immensely grateful for my orthodox religion because in my bottomless grief I became Our Lady of Sorrows. She was the only one who would understand my pain.” Luckily as a child she was always encouraged to have a relationship with Mary. During this time Joan felt that Mary was the only one who would understand her despair. Mary was able to hold her anger and her outrage because she had been there herself. “I came to her as a black hole and felt her meet me with kindness, acceptance and intimacy. In that despair I learned of love. Her love became my love.”

Time went on. After many prayers Joan became pregnant again. She gave birth to a beautiful girl she called Genevieve, which means “of life,” and Simone, which means “the one who hears.” Joan’s prayers, her pleas, her begging and finally her surrender had been answered at last. The life of this baby brought Joan back to life. Every time she fed her, bathed her, changed her diaper she felt the preciousness that moment, of the gift she had been given and treated it like it might be the last time she would get to do that act. Each act was filled with immense gratitude and love for she was afraid her gift would be taken away from her. “This is the most loving act that has been ever done since the beginning of time,” she thought each time she fed her.

Finally she realized that she was terrified that Genevieve would die. The child who was bringing such love and purpose would be taken away like the other babies had been. Maybe this wasn’t such a good way to think about this beautiful gift. She began to shift her thinking. The child was here, was healthy and was thriving why should she continue to see her dying. It was time to celebrate life for the both of them. Several years later a son came to bring her the experience of joy. Willie was always so curious and full of laughter. Two beautiful children fulfilled her dreams. How magnificent.

And so these gifts given to her were the seeds of her awakening. From these experiences came her life work. They gave her acceptance, compassion, intimacy and the strength to be with someone else who is suffering and broken by pain. Because she was shattered and taken down into a living Hell she knows through her own experience and deep faith how to hold someone in divine love in order to help him or her discover the own road to recovery.

When I asked my friend Georgiana what was the most defining moment in her life she told me a story about October 1. She and Calvin were lying on a mattress together in a small apartment in Brooklyn talking while their spouses were off consummating their newfound relationship.

This was the 60’s and open marriages were the experiment of the day. While Georgiana had intellectually agreed that traditional marriages were too constricting her heart was telling her another story. She was in pain, in deep emotional pain. She and her husband had always done everything together. She had shaped her life to fit his. That is what had made their partnership work. But now he was off with another woman, her best friend, madly in love with her, not Georgiana.

As she was speaking with Calvin the light bulb went off in her mind, “Oh my, I have no sense of myself. I am so intricately interwoven with my husband whether we are in a traditional relationship or some other version. I don’t have a clue who I really am.”

October 1 became the beginning of a very long journey of consciously building a sense of self. In the end she has emerged a strong woman with a big heart who has a very successful healing practice and a successful long-term relationship with different man. “I am so glad that I am not married to my ex-husband even though I still have a place in my heart for him.” She has learned to love herself first and her love for her partner flows out from that center. What a gift that painful day became.

Another woman I know has been taking care of her father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He has been difficult from the beginning. There were always demands for perfection probably projection on his part. He was a brain surgeon. Eloise always felt like she could never measure up. Fleeting memories began to surface for her. Just how abusive was he when I was a child? What kind of abuse was it anyway? This became very confusing and disruptive. It was getting increasingly difficult to be face with him no matter how dysfunctional he had become. Taking care of him was extremely challenging. He was often mean and demeaning with little concept of his behavior a few minutes prior.

They were all invited to a christening for her brother’s daughter. Hoping to protect his child he had requested that everyone get a flu shot. Eloise refused. Why put that “poison” in her body? She took care to be healthy in other ways. Apparently her father was one of the only ones who had gotten the shot just before the ceremony. In the middle of it all he had a case of explosive diarrhea. How embarrassing! Eloise took him out of the room and helped him clean up. He was the only one who had come down with the flu.

When she and her husband were helping him into the car to take him home, Eloise gently put her hand on his. “Get your hand off!” he said loudly. Hurt by him again she jerked her hand away. There was a cold silence on the drive back to his home. Shortly after dropping him off he called her on the phone. “I am so sorry. I think that I hurt you. I love you. You were always my favorite.” She burst into torrential tears. How she had longed to hear those words from him. Who would have ever thought a case of diarrhea would end with those profound words?

As I write about each of these painful and courageous stories I am struck by a sense of the Hero/heroine’s journey. Often the call to engage in that journey comes unbidden. We get pulled up short because we are confronted by some unforgiving event, which makes us stop and pay attention. At this juncture we are at an important choice point. How are we going to meet the moment? Are we going to engage in an adventure that pulls us into the undertow, challenges us to the limits of our abilities and stretches us into new ways of responding and being? With sweat and tears, bruised to the bone we are given the opportunity to reap new treasures.

We are also given the choice to ignore it all by shoving the experience into some backroom closet. If we make this choice I believe that often that closet becomes jam packed over the years with numbers of skeletons that begin banging on the door trying to slide their boney fingers out from underneath the door. When they finally get our attention it is sometimes too late. Diseases are born of this inattention. Our bodies take the toll. Or we may choose to engage at this point with a full plate and years of bad habits of inattention. However it is never to late to change and become the hero or heroine of the journey.

Dr Rollin McCraty reminds us that if we take the time to practice moving into coherent emotional states (gratitude, appreciation, joy, happiness, caring, etc.) we establish familiar brain patterns that can be easily accessed when we are in more stressful or fearful places. This familiarity helps us reestablish much more quickly a sense of internal safety and stability. “Ultimately, when we achieve stability through our efforts, the results are feelings of satisfaction and gratification.

By contrast, when there is a failure to achieve stability or control, feelings such as anxiety, panic, annoyance, apprehension, hopelessness or depression result…. Where we focus our attention has a powerful effect on modulation inputs and thus on determining what gets processed at higher levels.”[1] P. 98 There is no doubt that practicing ways of accessing coherent emotions on a regular basis have far ranging effects.

We all have our stories those that turn out well in spite of the challenges and those that don’t. The key here is to practice ways to be in emotional coherence and to take the time to see the gifts that are being given. Sometime we can only see them in hindsight and sometimes we are able to understand with gratitude the unfolding of something new. Whichever way it comes for you if you can take the time to step back, release the “why me,” look for what you are gaining and be grateful for the experience that brings new insights and new gifts. As you center the experience in your heart you will be amazed at how much easier life will flow.

[1] McCraty, R. Heart-Brain Neurodynamics: The Making of Emotions. HeartMath Institute

 

Being in Nature

I am just back from a walk through the woods up and down my driveway bringing back today’s mail. My dogs and I do this daily. I say they take me for a walk and call it driveway aerobics. Almost at winter solstice it is late afternoon and the sun has just set. It is particularly beautiful. The late fall sky is a dusky lavender. The gray tree bones reach their bushy fingers up into the sky. They have let loose a multicolored leaves to form a thick quilt to keep Grandmother Earth warm against the cold winter soon to come.

My heart leaps with joy drinking in the brisk clear air and taking in all of the shapes and sizes of my tree friends. The Hollies now decked with abundant red berries and Mountain Laurel hold on to their green along with the tall tufts of Loblolly Pine. Research has shown that the bigger and thicker the forest the more pleasure and happiness is gained from a walk, but if the trees are too dense people feel a sense of foreboding and fear.[1] Here is certainly proof of it.

I often seek the solace of the forest. This last full moon the woods were filled with bright magical light so bright there were no visible stars and no light needed to follow the path. Wrapped in a blanket I sat for a long time feeling the cool earth underneath holding me. The soft silky white light filtered through bare tree branches was so peacefully comforting. The energy from the joining of Earth and Moon danced off the forest floor. Everything felt so alive.

Roger S. Ulrich[2] has done some very interesting research showing that scenes of nature have “increased positive feelings of affection, playfulness, friendliness and elation” while scenes of cities increased feelings of “sadness, anger and aggression.” Apparently nature increases our levels of serotonin, which when available in the brain results in a good happy mood.

Ulrich continued his research to show several other very interesting reasons why great gifts are given when we engaged with our environment. Doing activities in a garden setting lowered the levels of cortisol in older adults. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into the body when we are feeling stressed and can be destructive to the body if high levels are present over time.

Researchers at Kansas State University found that plants and particularly ones that are flowering helped people recover from stressful videos more quickly. I have often suggested to people who work in cubicles or offices that don’t look out onto some natural scene to have a pretty plant in their office or scenes from their favorite places in nature. Fountains with running water are also very peaceful and can help calm a stressful work environment.

“A research group from Taiwan reported that rural farm scenes are associated with higher alpha-wave activity, which has been associated with creativity. Forest scenes and natural water scenes promote alpha-wave activity and decrease heart rate.”[3]

On a nice day if clients are willing we might sit outside on the back deck looking out into the woods and watching the very active bird feeders. Sometimes we might even go for a walk and talk. People are also free to come early for appointments or stay later to walk. I am glad that my office is attached to my home because it gives me more flexibility. I am free to create with the natural environment, planting gardens and creating trails in the woods as well as having plants in my office. People often comment on how comfortable, peaceful and calm they feel here.

The free-range chickens are a big hit. Sometimes clients come early just to watch the chickens. If the clients are all right with it I also have two Border Collies who can be present during sessions. The older one is the greeter. When she’s finished saying hello she is off to snooze for the rest of the session while the younger one is particularly attentive when someone is having a difficult time emotionally. People are quite comforted by all of these parts of the environment. I like it too because I offer an example of a more self-sufficient quiet lifestyle with an organic garden and honeybees too. Maybe people will be inspired. I strongly believe that I have to practice what I preach.

There’s a funny story about a wild turkey that came walking up the path in front of my office just as I was finishing up a session with a young woman. She said to me, “Do you keep turkeys?” Surprised I said, “No.” She was looking out the French doors at the front of my office and saw a big tom turkey. We were amazed and cautiously went to show her mom who was in the waiting room. He looked in at us but just kept walking. How odd!

Later I learned that the client I had seen just before the young woman had gone to the library at the other end of the house to read. She said that the turkey had come up to the glass door and seemed as if he wanted to come in. She was from Los Angeles and had very little knowledge of wildlife or experience in the woods. Just for kicks she opened the door for him and asked, “Would you like to come in?” He put one foot, pulled it back several times and then turned to go. She decided that he was asking her to follow him so amazingly she did.

He took her along the trail past the parking area and into the woods. She followed him for a while until he veered off the path down into the ravine. It was just beginning to get dark. Since she a city girl who was very unfamiliar with the woods she decided to come back. She was very excited about her brave adventure. That turned out to be a huge boost of confidence as well as a good story to tell all of her friends.

Psychologists have begun to explore using natural setting for helping troubled youth and working on improving family dynamics. Outdoor or wilderness therapy programs have been successful because of a “combination of being removed from daily life and its distractions; doing exercises to build trust and teamwork; taking solo trips where family members have a chance to ponder their individual issues and roles; and participating in group activities that end with a reward, like a beautiful mountain view.”[4]

Other studies have found that this type of youth program has resulted in significantly improved mood and behavior that has held over time even after the end of the program. These youths have been seen to be more motivated, improved their life skills and interpersonal relationships. They consistently have more “hope, self-confidence and emotional control.” [5]

Science is showing us what we instinctively know. Walks in the woods help us feel calmer, less depressed, and less hostile and improve the quality of our sleep. Exercise in an outdoor environment “increases vigor and a feeling of liveliness.” Studies report, “that lower blood pressure, pulse rates and levels of cortisol accompany time spent amid trees and flowers”[6]

There was also another very interesting study that was done in a hospital with patients who were recovering after gall bladder surgery. The recovery floor in this hospital had two hallways. On one side the rooms looked out onto a brick wall and the other side patients looked out into a wooded area. Those patients who had the rooms looking out into the woods consistently recovered more quickly, had fewer complaints and were able to manage their pain with aspirin instead of narcotic drugs. Their response was markedly different than those looking at bricks.

These studies validate our experience that time spent in out of doors in natural environments or even by looking at pictures or videos or by having live plants indoors vastly impact our health and sense of well being. They have even been able to show through MRI technology that viewing nature the opioid receptors in the brain that produce dopamine. Dopamine brings us a sense of pleasure, which means we are more heart centered and happier.

Head for the green spaces nearest you as often as you can, bring flowering plants to work or plan a vacation visiting one of the many exquisitely beautiful state or national parks. Feel better and live longer!

[1] Selhub, E.M., Logan, A.C. Nature Really does make us Happy. (December 2015/January 2016) Mother Earth News. P.58-63. Ogden Press.

[2] Selhub, et. al, P.60

[3] Selhub, et al. P.60

[4] DeAngelis, T. Therapy gone Wild. Monitor on Psychology. September 2013. American Psychological Association. P. 48-52

[5] DeAngelis, P.52

[6] Selhub, et. al P. 60

The paradigm of non-action

Less and less you do to force things,

until you finally arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done,

nothing is left undone.

“A good athlete can enter a state of body awareness in which the right stroke or right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of conscious will. This is a paradigm of non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.” viii

Tao te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

I choreographed a dance once that was based solely on the deep inner impulse of felt sense in the moment. The most interesting performance was probably late in 1967 in New York City in an old warehouse that had been converted into a makeshift theater to show new experimental art films. It was a simple space: bleachers, a cement floor, a space between bleachers and the large white movie screen.

There was no music. The piece began in the dark. Humming on each deep out-breathing, I stood in front of the screen in the dark centering myself. When the spotlight came up a black cat was sitting beside me. As I began to move from an awareness of an internal impulse arising out of each moment the cat began to dart here and there chasing the light that was reflected from the dangling circles that hung from the headpiece that I wore. Each circle contained a small round mirror in its center.

The dance had been inspired by a dream I had had of Ruth St. Dennis searching for a place out of doors to perform a dance piece of hers. In my dream she decided on a small triangular platform under a grape arbor. As an early modern dancer/choreographer my impression of her was that she was very spiritual. The two “rules” that guided the dance were that I was not to move in space and I was to move only as my body wanted to in each unfolding moment. There were no predetermined steps or timing or body gestures. It was purely improvisational arising from the presence of some internal impulse.

This piece for me had come at a time in my own career when I had injured myself and was working under the guidance of Elaine Summers. She had observed that I moved with “much too much tension in my body” and had shown me her kinetic awareness exercises to help retrain my body. These exercises involved lying on the floor placing a 5-inch rubber ball at different places along the spine and moving imperceptively while relaxing over the surface of the ball. These exercises not only reshaped my body but also reshaped my life. I began to slow down to such an extent that I began to experience my body molecularly. I was beginning to explore a deeply introspective internal space.

So that night in the area now called Soho the cat and I moved in complete synergy each responding to our own inner impulses of non-action that became right movement for the right moment. When the light went out at the end of the piece and came back up the cat was nowhere to be found.

Often we want to be in control, to make something happen, to change someone else whom we think would be so much better off if they would only do it our way. The beautiful Serenity prayer from the AA tradition says it all. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sometimes we need to step into the river of life, sit in our INNER tube and float. We’ll be caught up in eddies, rush down rapids and barely move through wide open expanses. It is how we meet the moment that counts. Heart-centered with full presence and an open mind are often very helpful.

A number of years ago I recognized that I had become a human doing. I was rushing around trying to push the river and make things happen on my time schedule. I decided to take a look. Who put me in charge of the world? I looked at the Native American woman’s tradition of the Moon Lodge and the Red Tent tradition of ancient Judaism. Women were seen at the time of their cycle to be in an internal place of spiritual power. They were more receptive to internal guidance. I was fascinated and recognized my own deficits. I needed to learn how to become a human being.

I built a hut in the woods in back of my home. It was a simple structure made of bent branches whose ends were buried in the ground making a shoulder high dome shape, which then was covered with blankets and a tarp. For a year at the full moon I went out to that lodge to stay for twenty-four hours.   Choose the full moon because in Native tradition it was the height of the female power. I was also in perimenapause so my cycles were irregular. I was feeling the loss of that monthly anchor point in my life. The full moon would give me another.

I had one major rule. I couldn’t go tramping around in the woods exploring. I was to sit quietly inside or outside of the lodge and learn to simply be present to what was. I could journal or read a little but mostly I sat watching the moon and sun shadows move across the forest floor. I paid attention to what was moving around inside of me. I prayed when I felt inspired to do so and I listened. At first it was hard to sit still for that long but soon I became very grateful for the quiet sacred time. Life could be so simple, peaceful and beautiful.

You might challenge yourself to be on a quiet retreat for 24 hours with no television, no electronics and no interference. How sweet would that be? Or how difficult? Learn to BE simple and present and heart-centered at least for part of your life. How would that influence the rest of your life?

 

 

 

Water and Self-esteem

There is a Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto, who decided to investigate the impact of emotions on water. What an interesting idea! He went up into the mountains of Japan to a spring that reportedly had very pure water and brought back a large quantity. He put the water into smaller bottles. On some of the bottles he drew a heart or put the words, love and gratitude, I’m sorry, thank you in Japanese, Chinese, English, Korean, Italian, French, Italian and German. On another series of bottles he placed the words you fool, you make me sick, I want to kill you and the like.

He took drops from each of the bottles, placed them in Petri dishes, froze them and then took pictures of the water crystals. He also played music like Mozart, Bach, Tchaikowski, Chopin, the Beetles, Elvis Presley and Heavy Metal music, froze droplets from each and took photographs of the water crystals. The results were astounding. Look in his book, Messages in Water for the pictures.

Those frozen droplets from the positive words were beautifully formed crystals, each one having its own unique shape. Amazingly with Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel there is even a heart broken off from the body of the crystal. The negative words showed no crystalline formation. They looked like sludge.

He tells a story of going to a lake first in Japan and later in Brazil that was very polluted. There was a considerable amount of algae, dead fish floating in the water and a distinctly bad smell coming from the water. He had a group of people in the first case that stood around the entire lake and in the second larger lake he took a bottle of the lake water and set it in the center of a group of 30 people. These people prayed for the lake and the water, prayed for its healing and well-being. Both lakes began a significant healing process.

His work is very interesting and inspired me to think about its application in several venues. In regard to self-esteem we are told that our bodies are made up of 96 to 98% water. And we all talk to ourselves, but in what manner. Do you berate yourself? “I am so stupid, such a fool. What an idiot!” “I don’t deserve…” on and on with our favorite phrases. What is happening at that moment internally? Does all of the water we are made of turn to sludge.

On the contrary if we say, “Good job.” “Six gold stars for that.” “I made a mistake but look what I have learned that I never imagined.” Internally are we producing beautiful water crystals?

This may seem a little far-fetched but an interesting thought. The Heart Math Institute when examining the power of coherent emotional states on the brain backs up the positive or negative impact of our emotional states from a different perspective. The bottom line is that what we say to ourselves may have an immense impact on our self-esteem.

His work also inspired me to not take water for granted but to express my gratitude for the water I am drinking, taking a bath or shower in, watering my plants with and giving to my dogs to drink. It certainly makes a difference in my attitude.