Monday, October 11, 2021

Indigenous People's Day 2021

Many of my most treasured memories and have been times when I was a guest for Native American ceremonies. Some of the education I treasure most comes from the wisdom of Native Elders paired with critical study of European- American efforts at Native genocide. I have rarely tried to explain or express the powerful beckoning of my spirit toward Native spirituality. Part of the draw has been Native reverence in relationship to nature. For hundreds of years Western culture has imagined itself superior to Indigenous culture. What we Euro-Americans have tried to obliterate might now be what we need most for survival. As humanity races headlong into greater ecological disaster, I'm praying that we will turn to the spiritual wealth and wisdom of Indigenous Cultures. Through history there have been whites who realized the hypocrisy and brutality of American actions against natives. At most it has been an undercurrent, glimmers of awareness of the worth and dignity of Indigenous Peoples. Unfortunately, nothing has stopped the drive to prove white supremacy. A song from my childhood rings in my ears: "When will we ever learn?" With news of ecological peril becoming unmistakeable, I pray that there might be a dawning of awareness (and healing) of racism toward Indigenous and First Nations People. If we explored it, I imagine we would find at the core of the global marketplace culture, a dysfunctional relationship with nature and life. We have been hell bent on attempted domination and control of nature. We are antagonistic of nature including our own nature. From our self--loathing we project and act out hostility toward natives, (women, Africans, any we identify as been closer to nature or who “fail” to conform with the domination culture.) Whether or not my analysis appeals, hear this: Our culture has failed to see the beauty, wisdom and power of Indigenous Traditions. If we could value Natives and Native Cultures it would help us heal the racism embedded in our culture. It could also help us face and heal the spiritual and physical poverties that keep us divided. Maybe we could even give up our war against nature. More than essay, I wish I was offering a song. My spirit cries out to celebrate and mourn on this Indigenous People’s Day. I would sing out a sharp note to honor my brothers and sisters of AIM, Idle No More, United in Defense of the Sacred, Water Protectors and all who give themselves to the revitalization of Native Cultures and traditions! I would sing to all my relations!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

28th Anniversary Recovery Rap

5/25/17. celebrating 28 years alcohol/drug free. This anniversary is far more important to me than my birthday.
Thirty years ago, 7 years past swearing off toxins, I learned the Buddhist precept of "No Intoxicants." It fit, and the course continued.  About the same time, I began studying "Re-evaluation Counseling." To be RC teachers we were asked to give up drugs and set your intention to heal all addictions.
Two+ years later, having been turned down for UU ministry, I sought help and found 12 steps. That  path has led to treasure upon treasure. Through all of the courses of study (Option, ACIM, NVC, RC...) there has been a theme of coming into consciousness. It's not about being "good." It's about being; discovering what is, extricating oneself from conditioning, trauma, fog and illusion.  "It's not about perfection.  It's about willingness to grow along spiritual lines." (AA) ..And yes steps forward have often been followed by several steps back.  It's not always linear.  Faith fuels and enables me to live in grace able to affirm that G*d has me in the right place at the right time no matter how it seems to me. At times it does seem otherwise to me.  Then I discover another layer of distress operating: another illusion and limiting belief to break through. 
Addictions are a part of the human condition, not a disease that plagues a small minority. Small minority?!  See much insanity about you? Witness people repeating unintelligent behavior over and over? People become addicted to their coping and defense mechanism. We become addicted to the chemistry inside our brains, addicted to doing things that keep us from feeling the pain that we re carrying inside of us. 
The conditioning and social enforcement of turning away is ubiquitous and strong.  Try this! Take this! Eat this! Do this! Buy this!  Oddly, so many wisdom traditions teach the same thing: Turn not away.  Turn toward the pain with curiosity and compassion. Then get ready for the miracles and gifts of awakening that will ... eventually come.  Warning: it's often a wild ride getting there.
I have learned to celebrate the whole journey. The forgetting and backsliding are part of the journey.  From such an early age, I claimed "facing" as important to me, and I've spent most of my time forgetting. That only makes it that more amazing, awesome and wonderful to be celebrating 28+ years alcohol and drug free.   
The most important part:  It's a WE thing.   I couldn't do this alone.  I crave (ha!) and cherish companionship and support on this journey.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me!  Thank you friends who practice your addictions in front of me.  Thank you friends working recovery and wellness programs. You help me escape addiction and grow in consciousness of the mind blowing unfolding of existence.
Rock on? Yes please!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Caught In A Summer Rainstorm With My 90yr Old Mother

I was taking Mother for her daily stroll (she in wheelchair). We stopped at the AMH community gardens, and met Cliff. He came out and gladly told us all about the greenhouse where veggies grow year round. A rain drop fell on us. Then another. We got half way back and it started coming down a bit more. I chose to seek shelter under a large overhang rather than risk getting caught in what was coming.
Initially Mother was clearly worried. "Where did you park?!" she asked several times. Mostly choosing faith, I felt a fear thought bubble through my body. Had I messed up? This and my mother's worries seemed to fade quickly in the face of my effusive delight for the scene. Being outside in a summer storm, ... given sufficient shelter and safety... well that's up there for me.. Glorious!!! The contrast of colors was magnificent! Initially there was a bit of light in the Eastern sky and the rest was dark to the horizon. Then the entire sky became dark, and the heavy rain came.
My stomach fluttered a bit. I imagined that if it didn't pass quickly my mother might become upset. I didn't express and could hold that worry long. The beauty was too much! The Eastern sky became dark and the western horizon now had a bit of light. Ah, the storm was moving east. Soon the sun became visible in the western sky. It threw a spotlight on the third floor of the vacant "Hovay Fruit Co. / Grist Mill at 222 Maple St. I have dreamed of buying this building. I was amused to be pinned down right here. "Okay God, I'll stop kvetching." The typically fabulous lighting of twilight was multiplied by the storm event.
The rain continued, and another wave of concern passed through me. (Sigh) "It's picking back up." These words no sooner out of my mouth, when I saw it. A rainbow, very faint in the Eastern sky. After a while the colors became more and more vibrant.
Mom said it was the first rainbow she had seen in years. Ah, the hero child son redeemed again!
Next, guessed it! A second rainbow, faint in comparison formed on top of the first. I went out into the street. A light rain continued. Okay I'm hearing that guy's voice now, because now in the Eastern sky ... was a full double rainbow. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a rainbow so close, so full and bright (the lower bow).
Even though the rain hadn't completely stopped, I convinced Mom to let me take her into the street to see the full rainbow. Then I rolled her back to "The Pines."
When I arrived two hours earlier, she appeared and sounded miserable. On the way back into her room, as she spoke to the Aide, Trudy of her adventure, I'd pretty sure it was joy I heard in her voice.
For True!,-73.632823,3a,75y,7.39h,90.94t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1seKTAngCrSXhxW3zwWV20ow!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1?hl=en

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kathleen's Ted Talk

I like this Ted Talk by Kathleen Macferran sharing the work of the Freedom Project bringing "Nonviolent Communication" and "Restorative Circles" into prisons. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to "go in" to prison with Kathleen on numerous occasions. "Nonviolent Communication" workshops in prison are transformative, not only for the prisoners but for those of us who go in to offer these programs. Last year, I had the opportunity to go into prison several times a week. This year I'm back in parish ministry. I love and value the work of parish ministry. It's an honor to accompany people on what I call "the sacred journey" (to faith, consciousness, awakening etc). However nothing I've known here touches the depth of encounters I experienced in prison! What I witnessed in prison; the quality of work, learning and sharing cracked my heart open again and again. As a result I have more access to what's in there, and can share it with the world. I was regularly deeply inspired by the great hunger for learning that so many men and women demonstrated. Their vulnerability, their willingness to hear and be influenced by their peers, their willingness to "get honest" amazed me. With nearly 25 years of substance abuse recovery, I'm no newcomer to deep work. I have heard people "in the rooms" "talk the talk" and seen them "walk the walk." We use the phrase "getting honest" to acknowledge that insight and spiritual growth comes step by step. It takes discovering blind spots, acquired habits/ defense mechanisms. It takes trying new behaviors, making mistakes and learning gradually. As George Harrison said "and you know it don't come easy." I met people in prison who were willing to do that work, willing to talk about what they did on the outside and more importantly what was going on in the inside .. inside themselves. I long for companions who share deep appreciation of "the sacred journey," of this kind of learning. I long for people eager to join me in living this way, in willingness to use tools from NVC and/or other resources in order to discover our blind spots, our places of intolerance, our reactive habits, learning why we've held them in place. I want companions willing to learn how to cultivate compassion, speak up for people's needs, decline the seductive temptation to blame others or ourselves, and increasingly be able to take responsibility. Kathleen Macferran has been a mentor and a close companion. Her love of this "work" has inspired my own! I'd love to hear your responses to her Ted talk!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

RC in Prison Day 1

I co-facilitated my second “Restorative Circle” class and Practice group Tuesday. This circle was as moving to me as my first. Somewhere in my mind Snoopy is doing his happy dance. I have fire in my heart that is fueled by a mixture of awe and gratitude. So grateful to be doing this work. I've been having a hard time categorizing my work this year during my sabbatical. My ministry and professional career path are in re-formation. This certainly could be called a prison ministry, but the organizations that send me into the prison don't use such terms. We enter into prison to facilitate "Nonviolent Communication" and "Restorative Circle." These are considered educational not religious programing. Just the same, we're doing soul work. Although I use little religious language, we do indeed encounter something holy, mysterious and sacred. Below I retell my experience of Wendy. (name changed to maintain confidentiality). It was the first day of our 10-week class in Restorative Circles * (RC). We began by asking each woman why she had chosen to take this class. Wendy said that she had been accepted into the program that allows mothers to have their babies in the prison with them for their first 5 years. She said that she wasn't getting along with the other mothers and she didn't want to get kicked out of the program. Her tone of voice and language seemed tough, angry; every sentence delivered criticism and blame, attributing the cause of her problem to others. I heard pain in her voice. I imagine everyone heard it. The question is whether this pain would get acknowledged. That makes quite a difference. My work is to hear into the heart of what people are saying, to help this be expressed and heard. As facilitators, we certainly can't control others. Fortunately, the process offers people opportunities to try new ways of connecting. Sue, my co-facilitator, directed us to break into pairs to do a sharing/ listening exercise. There was an odd number of women in the circle, and Sue asked me to pair with Wendy. This listening exercise is not actually part of the RC process. We choose some exercises that we imagine increase the chances that learning will take place in the short time we have with them. Sharing and listening in pairs fosters connections. We believe it increases willingness to “jump in,” - offering a real conflict they have for the group to practice on. In our dyad, Wendy told me that she would be leaving class in a few minutes to meet with the counselor. I encouraged her to take her turn, and she did. As she started in on her story, she seemed more unbridled than she had been during the “check-in” with the whole group. Her voice was still hard, but it seemed to me that the energy of her expression was flowing. I heard anger and blame in her words. I also heard the pain of her existence. She had many complaints about the officers (who don't like to be called guards), and about fellow inmates: "The women are mean to me. They ostracize me and treat me like an outsider. I think they are afraid of me. I've had to be the way I am here; plus, they know how I got here. I was an accomplice to a homicide. So they keep their distance. They exclude me." She looked down frequently as she spoke. Her flurry peaked with these sentences: "They see me as a violent person. They don't see that he beat me and tried to gang rape me.” The next moment was liminal space. It's this space between words where the most important communication happens. It is also something like the moment at the top of a swing or trampoline when one is neither rising or falling. Hard lines soften. In these moments, I pray wordless prayers. I've just come to expect to joined in such moments by the presence of the divine. In this moment I felt calm, confident, and yet aware of the uncertainty. Unless there is support, or unless safety is sensed, the quivering of the voice ceases, the posture and composure return. We've all become quite skilled at the habit of composing ourselves. In that tender timeless moment, she shot me a glance that checked to see how I reacted to what she said. How would I see her? Would I see her as a category; a criminal, a violent person, an accomplice to a murder? I believe she looked to me to see if there was room to release some of the hurt she was carrying. I don't speak but I trust she sees my answer. "Yes, Wendy, it is safe to talk about it." Wendy turns her head down again. She makes no sound, but the tears come. When she next speaks her voice has changed. It's softer. And so to her words. When she speaks of the officers and the other women, she acknowledges them as people with their own needs. The difficulty of her situation is still there, but now she brings it in closer to her. Her session ends, and she leaves to keep her appointment with her counselor. She returns in less than 10 minutes not the half hour she had said she would be gone. She gets back just in time to hear us ask "So who has a conflict that they are willing to let the group use?" I wasn't surprised when Wendy volunteers. Wendy has a lot of difficulty choosing one act to bring to the circle. I imagine that it all seems overwhelming to her. It's as if she is saying "you have to know how everything happened, how it all just piled up..." I think she wants us to understand that all those events made it so that everyone is against her. With the support of the facilitator, she does identify an act, and picks women in the circle to “substitute” for the ones involved in the conflict. As the circle proceeded, Wendy seemed to move in a pattern similar to the earlier session: she began with anger and blame, but ended with a very different story and different attitude about the others. It seemed to me, that the women in this circle take her side. I imagine that the real people would be more defensive. Part of me longs for for more authenticity and balance. However I have the sense that Wendy is getting a lot of support. At the end of class the other inmates express a lot of appreciation for Wendy's willingness to share her situation. I imagine that Wendy has experienced a very different world than the one she had been living in. We'll never know exactly what effect this day had, but I suspect that Wendy was seeing a new world. I saw it; I know that I'm changed. I feel encouraged to remember these worlds and the difference between them -- the world of pain and blame, and the world of hearts being shared and received. I know a little more how I want to live. ~~ *Restorative Circles is a way that a community can address conflict in order to seek restoration. It was developed almost 20 years ago by Dominic Barter, a trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication. More info on NVC here: and RC here:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Exploring what's in us in the wake of the Earthquake

In Compassionate Conversations class tonight, we used Grok cards ( to help us connect on a deeper level with the feelings and needs that are stirring in us after hearing the news of the earthquake, tsunami, explosion @ nuclear power plant etc. Wow! I figured that people were reeling from this, but I must admit to being surprised by the depth at which the news was affecting people.

I realized that I have been in denial. I have quick answers;theological ones, rational ones, helpful ones. Although these answers have been useful to me in the past, I realized that now they were simply more thoughts that were standing in my way of being with "what is". Despite "knowing better," I somehow believed that I could be unaffected by recent news from Japan. I had been telling myself; "I have a lot going on, and just don't have space for this right now." As I listened to others, I not only connected to them but also to the grief, hopes and concerns that were already inside of me.

The first participant shared the thoughts that had occupied her mind. She gave us some clues as to her feelings. She said that she had stayed with people in Japan a few years ago, and that she had long been a believer in the safety of nuclear power. Now she felt overwhelmed.

As she spoke she seemed to connect with the pain that was insider her. And this seemed to bring life into her. When people reflected back the important things they heard her saying, she seemed to become even more present. Then suddenly, an idea flashed insider her. It was a simple idea but obviously meant a lot to her. She realized that she could and would try to the contact the people she had met in Japan. You could almost see the electricity move through her body, as she integrated her epiphany. Later she explained that she had been excited by the thought of them receiving her letters and hearing of her concern. She began smiling. There was a profound shift in her appearance.

We may tell ourselves that this is news from far away and is not affecting us. In the face of what has been visited upon the people in Japan, it's easy to dismiss as unimportant any effect this is having on us.

There exists in each of us, an unseen world. Waves of thought and emotion are moving through us. When we reflected and shared with each other what was stimulated by the news from Japan, this unseen world became visible- at least in part. We got a glimpse at what Echart Tolle calls "the pain body" traveling with us. Awakening to the waves of thought and emotion, we also became more aware of the bonds between us, and realized the connection of humanity that extends around the globe.

Becoming less numb, even to pain and things that are hard to be with, ... no longer turning away, opened a door from which a surprising guest entered. Beauty became our companion, as we saw more clearly the humanity in the room.