ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
Go on. Wrestle that angel.
Lean into her with your whole self. Wrap your arms around and press your torso to hers. Dig in with your heels and feel her weight pressing back. Hold on tight to her arms, her ribs, the curve of her hips, anywhere you can find purchase. Feel her electric pulse course through you. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't let go too soon.
Our struggles are not curses. They are not mythical demons or punishments for our sins. They are not troubles to be wished away, not obstacles to avoid. There is not another, safer path we should have taken. They are gifts. The trouble is we are conditioned to believe that gifts are only things that come in boxes with wrapping paper and bows. (Or these days, in the last-minute three-dollar bag with colored tissue paper stuffed in the top.)
We're not used to gifts looking like a dark room with furniture we can’t see. Let alone a gift looking like our own darkness. Hell, we’re not even used to acknowledging our own darkness. Other people’s, sure. We’re like forest rangers with binoculars on lookout towers when it comes to spotting (and calling out) anyone else’s shadow. With any hint of our own shadows tucked up neat and tidy underneath us as we lounge in the brightness of our perpetual high noon. Only rainbows, unicorns, and smiley faces here.
Here’s the thing. We’re humans. We’re not angels, seraphim, or saints. We’re not even ascended beings. (If you are actually an ascended being, my apologies.) Which means we don’t generally spend our days floating around on clouds, wrapped in unearthly light, singing with voices like gelato (real Italian gelato, I mean), possessing all divine knowledge, and carrying tiny messages of truth to the besotted masses.
As humans, we’re possessed of just enough wit to want to know what the angels are talking about, but not quite enough to actually understand them. (You can see why we’d want to wrestle them. They piss us off.) If it feels like this is an unfair situation, that’s because it is. And if you think about it, no one promised us anything about life being fair. (Seriously, look on the back of your ticket if you don’t believe me.) Life is an enter-at-your-own-risk event.
So, how again are these things supposed to be gifts? Let me explain a different way. Recently there was a single mobile game app from Japan that grossed up to $75 million a month. The worldwide video game industry grossed over $93 billion the same year. What this means is that, while we complain constantly about the riddles of our real lives, we are perfectly willing to spend hard earned cash, and lots of it, to solve make-believe problems. Or at least to blow them up.
Let me say that another way.
You know how, whenever you are part of any given organization -- be it your job, your math club, or your cult -- someone will eventually decide the thing that will make this group more cohesive is a ropes course? Before it became kind of a cliché, a ropes course was actually a good idea. It allows people to face their fears and to transcend them, generally with the support and encouragement of other humans who are there to face their own demons. The challenges are physical and emotional. And overcoming them provides self-assurance and an opportunity to bond with others.
Life’s kind of like that. We don’t think of it that way, because life is something we do every day all day, not just once, or once every few years. Whenever I have traveled in my life, I wake up every morning excited to face the unknown adventures that await me. When I am back to my daily routines, I strive to remember that I can greet every day just like this. I don’t have to be in another city or country to find adventure or to be excited about my day.
Whether we admit it or not, we like puzzles. We like to be challenged. And not just on the screen. If you think about it, life would probably not be worth living if all the streets were flat, the weather was always perfect, our kids were always well behaved, our thoughts were never troubled, and we had all the money we could ever spend. Wait a second, that actually sounds pretty damn good. Forget all that other stuff I said.
While it’s tempting to think that a life of nothing but ease would be nothing but grand, this is flawed thinking. The only reason we know anything about ourselves is because we’ve had to figure it out. Stop me if I’ve said this before, but how many of us have known trustafarians who are pretty screwed up. Probably everyone. Though it may sound like a good idea, saving your children from certain hardships, setting them up so they’ll never have to work to make a place for themselves in the world is not really doing them any favors.
So give yourself permission to grapple. It’s okay that we don’t have everything figured out. It’s okay that we walk around daily bearing the weight of these small worlds. That our minds are constantly working on these puzzles in the background. That these angels we wrestle make guest appearances in our dreams, our work lives, our arguments with friends and lovers, our endless conversations with ourselves.
We were born to wrestle. It’s part of our DNA. And history tells us the angels know how to lose. So go on. Lean in.
Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
- A Course in Miracles
There are days when the world will break your heart. I don’t mean you will be sad or disappointed or even angry. I don’t mean your feelings will be hurt or you will sob into a pillow. I don’t mean you will be so depressed you won’t want to get out of bed or talk to anyone.
I mean there are days when your heart will break. It will bleed out right on the desk, the floor, the kitchen table. And the pain in your chest will be so great you’ll think you cannot bear it. And everywhere you look, everything you read, every conversation you have will feel like peroxide being poured onto an open wound. I mean that you will not be able to see any future that is habitable, because everything will seem irreparably broken. The meanness of the human race will appear beyond comprehension.
There are days when what you believed to be innocent things will suddenly appear as the opposite of what you thought. When the destructive nature of children and their inhumane treatment of one another, suddenly will explain all the world’s woes. And you will realize that everyone you know is just a child in grown up clothes, with more responsibilities than they are capable of handling, throwing the occasional toddler’s tantrum that is disguised as either righteous indignation or hormonal vicissitudes. And you will understand that their poor treatment of other humans is exactly the same thing as the oversized playground bully ruthlessly making the younger kids cry with his taunting and name-calling.
There are days when the rich will keep getting richer, the greedy greedier, the hard-working even more marginalized, the sick, more in debt. When the insurance companies will continue to steal our money, month after month. When the banks will take our houses and then take some more. And when Congress and our President will seem impotent to do anything about it. Meanwhile they will handover our lunch money to the oil companies, the garden to Monsanto, and whatever is left to the NRA, you know, for protection.
There are days when the world is just mean. That is all there is. Meanness. And the occasional bout of insomnia which shakes us from our chronic slumber of unawareness to acknowledge our inability to do anything about it just before we fall asleep again, exhausted.
There are days where the world will not only break your heart, but tear it out of your chest, stomp on it, and set it on fire, right before your dumbstruck eyes. And you won’t know what to do.
And I won’t know what to tell you to make it any better.
And yet somehow, somehow, you will find a different set of days. In those days, the sun will be warm on your skin. But there will be just enough cloud cover to allow the colors all around you to show themselves. And your world will be filled with beauty. You’ll get buzzed by a hummingbird on your morning walk. And the green and yellow foothills will spread their beauty across the horizon as if just for you.
These are the days that are true. This is what is real. All else is nonsense dreamt up by small minds and feeble imaginations. All else is illusion. All else is the emptiness of delusion.
Come with me. Let's find our own way out. Let’s live all our days saturated in beauty.
Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.
- Richard Feynman
In other words, be like a child again. Not childish, as almost all adults can be -- which is far more annoying than it is endearing -- but childlike. A child is endlessly curious. Though a child does not really need to know the answers. A child just needs to question, to investigate, to dig, and to root, and to turn over stones. Then to keep on digging, building, adding, and tearing down. And starting over with new questions and ideas.
The finding of things is fun, too. But it is not the most essential thing. The discovery of anything will do. Children are masters of serendipity. Their innate impulse is to question, and to go about looking for new things, whether they are water bugs or woozles. The important thing is the adventure, which really never ends. And which is only occasionally interrupted by the silliness of adults making them stop to eat, or to brush their teeth and put on jammies.
For children, the world is stuffed full of magic things. This is because, well, the world is actually stuffed full of magic things. Our prejudices are learned. We are not born with our narrow approaches to life and its inhabitants. Our natural inclination is to seek out and to celebrate the magic. Every day, all day long. I think this is why children annoy some adults and delight others. The annoyed ones don’t want to be reminded of all that they’ve left behind. The delighted ones either still carry a healthy dose of magic with them, or they at least know where to find it.
Certainty is an illusion.
If there is evil in the world, which is at least debatable, the root of it most certainty lies in the desire for certainty. The older we get the more we realize how few absolutes there are in the world. But one of the absolutes we’re all pretty sure about is change. Everything is on its way to somewhere else all the time. There is no standing still. There are no forever answers.
And so how could there really be certainty about anything. When we are young, we think that the answer to the question of who we are is answerable. If we are really precocious, we may even think we know who we are. Or maybe we think, it’ll just take a little more examination, a little more life experience. The older we get, the more we understand that there could never be an answer to this question. And even if there were, it would be outdated as soon as we uttered it. In fact, we can’t even answer the question of what we mean by the word “me.”
As I’ve said before, it’s okay to be uncertain. In fact, it is preferred. Imagine a world without uncertainty. We’d be bored out of our heads. In fact, there wouldn’t be much point to it at all. The corporate, governmental, and religious institutions of modern society and their radical counterparts rely upon our deep-seated fear of uncertainty and our absolute unwillingness to admit this fear. Without our fear, they are nothing. They know that we desperately want someone else to tell us what the fuck is going on.
Don’t give in.
We’re so addicted to certainty that we create and obsess over our daily routines. Even though they create the very boredom we complain about. Even though it is these routines, along with our fear of uncertainty, that are the hands that secure the blinders in place on our heads. And those things make it really hard to fully experience life. Don’t buy in. Don’t sell yourself out. The big lie is that you need to give up your curiosity, your creativity, your desire to cut your own path through life, in the name of becoming an adult. Your curiosity is not the enemy. Any more than terrorism is the enemy. To paraphrase Edward Snowden, bathtubs and police officers kill more people than terrorism, yet we’ve been told to give up our fundamental rights to protect ourselves. It’s a lie, just like the lie that it’s time to grow up and kill your dreams.
We do not need to cast away our curiosity in order to be fully evolved adults. In fact, it’s just the opposite. All of the greatest spirits who have walked the planet have been possessed of fiercely curious minds and hearts. If you are paying attention, there is never a reason to be bored. Wake up. That’s it, really. If we are awake, we cannot help but be curious. Because what is curiosity, really, except the tendency to be awake. And to be looking for more stones to turn over.
To be like a child again.
Alchemists were able to turn base metals into gold. Or so the legend goes. The alchemist must undergo their own transformation. As inside, so outside.
So it is with writing. And the alchemy of words.
You have all probably read writers who have the ability to turn words into gold. But to do so, they must allow themselves to be changed in the process.
Here’s an example of words being turned into gold.
I am honored to share with you that my recent collection of words -- Happiness is an Imaginary Line in the Sand -- has received a Gold Nautilus Award.
Which is certainly enough, all by itself. (I mean, I thought only people like Barbara Kingsolver and Gary Zukav won Gold Nautilus Awards.)
But Nautilus also named the book the Best of Small Press.
These two honors certainly go beyond my expectations. And I find myself a tiny bit at odds as to what to do with this information.
Of course, I want to celebrate the news with you. And I also know that social media has made us all a little weary of all the self-promotion.
Maybe it is just that the world is filled with bad news right now. And I thought I’d share a little glimmer of good news with you.
It is like the book’s titular essay explains. A big part of being happy is deciding to be happy. Creating a little alchemy of your own out of the circumstances of your life. And bringing forth a little gold from inside to light your way.
I hope you are well. And that you are finding reasons, big and small, to celebrate your own lives.
Take care of yourselves.
P.S. If you haven't pick up a copy yet, Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand is available here.
And my friend and fellow Landmark Prize winner Kip Greenthal also won a Nautilus Award this year. You can find her award-winning novel Shoal Water here.
Trust. As if you didn’t know better.
While we walk around guarding ourselves against every conceivable threat from the outside, most of us betray ourselves in small and big ways all day, everyday. Mostly it’s the little voice that we carry around inside us. The one that nags, criticizes, and unnecessarily narrates our lives all day long. (And all night for those insomniacs among us.) Once we turn on the light of awareness, we realize that all this listening we do to this sociopathic voice in our heads is exhausting.
* * *
Trust. As if it were as essential as oxygen.
We do not give trust its due. Like oxygen, we file away its importance until we are under water. Until we are frightened and our hearts have already slammed shut. And then there’s little chance we’ll remember. But the unspoken truth is that it is trust, not fear, that makes the world go ‘round. If fear were the order of the day, if vigilance were the reigning factor, then nothing would get done. The richest of people on the planet trust countless others all day long, every day. Neither Gates nor Jobs, nor Musk nor Oprah built their empires on their own. We rely upon countless others every day for more things than we can count. Look at that sandwich you are eating. Who grew the grains for the bread, the vegetables, the mustard seeds? Who milked the cows and who cultured the cheese? Who salted and hung the prosciutto? Who mined the metals and built the toaster? Who welded the steel counter where the ingredients were assembled? If we did not trust in these processes, we’d never take a bite.
Give yourself permission to be you.
No one else can.
Life does not come with instructions. No one can tell you what is right for you, where your path will lead, how to find your way home.
The world of humans is drawn in straight lines, because other people are just trying to make sense of it. Most of the time you don’t have to color within those lines. Or walk within them.
You can jaywalk over to where you want to be. Even if no one has drawn an outline for it yet.
That path may end up being pretty crooked. And you’ll be tempted from time to time to judge yourself harshly, because it isn’t neat and doesn’t look like other people’s.
If you walk a crooked-path, take heart. The straight lines others have walked are no measure of success or happiness.
There are no certainties except uncertainty. And this uncertainty is the compost that creates the fertile soil of imagination, of creation, of beauty.
There are times in each of our lives when we simply get lost. Because that is life. The older we get, the more we realize how little we know, anyway. But the best way to know yourself is to walk your own path. No matter how messy.
Some days we are the wind, some days, the feather. The feather’s strength is its ability to let go.
The main thing is to be brave enough to live your own life. Even if you have to break a few arbitrary rules to do it.
So, I am writing this to put out into the world that I am doing just that. Walking my talk. Or jaywalking it, at least.
This has been a long time in the making. And it was ready to launch before covid took over the world. But now I'm making it a real thing.
Jaywalking Between Worlds, a podcast that breaks some rules, in a good way. Stay tuned for dates, times, and debut episodes. Right around the new year's corner. See you then.
Fall is in the air. It rained today for the first time since anyone can really remember around here. And even though us West Coast folks feel like we were sort of robbed of summer, the cooler nights and shorter days are somehow welcome.
We’re ready for something new.
In that spirit, I have more good news. The seasonal winds of change have brought two more gifts to add to the Fall list:
2. A colorful companion Oracle Deck to go along with the book.
Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand is a down-to-earth oracle to help decipher the riddles of modern life. (Hence the companion Oracle Deck.)
Part field notes from a seeker’s journey and part teachings of a would-be monk who doesn’t get to live on the side of a mountain, Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand is convincing in its stubborn insistence that a better world is not only possible, but within our grasp.
Best part, it is available now for pre-order! The release date is October 26, 2021. From any of these places: The publisher https://bit.ly/3zXWITI, IndieBound https://bit.ly/2XcgGeM or Amazon https://amzn.to/3zXCGc1 -- or indie bookstores everywhere.
An Oracle Deck designed as a companion to Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand. Sixty-six unique and colorful cards that correspond t0 each of the 66 essays. Hand-crafted design and available for purchase just ahead of the release date … stay tuned!
Here’s a sneak peek of the book with Essay # 65 Feather in the Wind:
Some days we are the wind. Some days, the feather. Nothing is guaranteed from one day to the next.
To be the wind requires a strong will, a sense of purpose, a willingness to affect change. To be the feather requires a lightness of heart, an act of faith, the willingness to let go.
Life does not come with instructions. No matter what they teach you in church. No one can tell you what is right for you, where your path will lead, how to find your way home.
There are times in each of our lives when we simply get lost. Because that is life. And I don't know about you, but when I am the most lost, there has never been anyone on the horizon with a flag waving me to shelter.
The older we get, the more we realize how little we know. Our knowing turns from youthful certainty towards things like the realization that nothing is forever. That everything is on its way to someplace else, something else.
But I know this one thing: Your wound is your strength.
Like the feather in the wind. Its strength is its ability to let go. To float. Viewed differently, its strength is its inability to stay fixed, stationary. This condition ensures it a life of beauty, grace, adventure.
We should all be so lucky.
Like many other times in our crooked-path of history, these are challenging times. But I want to urge you to take up the challenge. You are more up to it than you think.
Be the feather in the wind. Tossed about by the daily news, the disheartening knowledge of how much fear and hatred is out there, the vicissitudes of fortune. And bring others joy by the beauty of your lighthearted dance.
Because beauty will save us. In the end, light-heartedness, joy in the simple act of living, and the brave act of loving, these things will give us back to ourselves. They will remind us who we are. And what we can do together.
There are no certainties except uncertainty. Tomorrow I may not be here to write any more essays. It is likely far worse and far better things will happen. Still other things will not happen at all. Or at least they won’t happen as we think.
And even the bad things may not be the tragedies we imagine. Because all this uncertainty is the compost that creates the fertile soil of imagination, of creation, of beauty.
Life is built on top of death. Light depends upon dark. And up upon down. Wholeness is just that. It is not the half moon.
In order for us to truly evolve, to move beyond this phase of us versus them, to create the brotherhood of man that Lennon imagined for us, we must let go of our ideas of what we thought life should look like. We must imagine all of the things it could look like.
We must be brave enough to allow life to change us. And to keep kindness in our hearts as we float upon the winds of change.
Every time I sit down to write I am trying to change my life. And the lives of others. And even though it doesn't always work -- even if it almost never works – it is still worthwhile. Even if the words are simply feathers in the wind, maybe they will delight a few people with their dance.
And somehow those words -- even the ones that are feathers in the wind -- they still have the ability to become bridges between me and you.
I think that’s important to remember. That your words, even the ones that are tossed into the wind, they are the bridges between you and everything else.
photo credit: Mellissae Lucia
Life almost never looks like we imagine, like we want, like we think is ideal. Do you wonder why that is? Probably. But our mental narratives are so strong we continue to believe in our mind-made agendas, our imagined scenarios, our false sense of omniscience.
The last month has been surreal for me. Coming on the heels of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic that effectively shut down life as we know it for over a year, that is definitely saying something.
After being self-employed for over two decades, less than two weeks ago I went to work full time for the State of Nevada. Let me explain. I graduated from law school in December of 1994. I moved to Reno in February of 1995. I shopped around my writing portfolio and tried pretty hard not to practice law for six or seven years. But since I was mostly doing research and writing for other lawyers during that time, in 2003, I decided to take the Nevada Bar Exam.
But you need to understand why I took the test. It wasn’t just to make more money (though that definitely was a goal). It was because I wanted to finish writing my first novel. The overarching why here, is that I wanted to be a full-time writer.
I know that makes no sense on its face, so I’ll explain. I’d been working on a novel, but was definitely nowhere near finished. And I’d graduated from law school before that, but hadn’t closed the loop and passed the bar. So in the twisted, but well-meaning logic of my mind, I thought if I took the bar, and closed that loop, it would help me to then finish my novel.
And so I did. Took the bar exam, that is. And passed. And then I wrote, rewrote, finished, and published my first novel. But unlike my grandiose notions of how life was supposed to go, I did not find fame and financial independence from that first novel. I’m sure no other writer has had this experience.
photo credit: Thomas Lloyd Qualls
Since that time, I’ve been involved with any number of creative projects. I was part owner of a music festival, created and put on a series of live storytelling events, wrote a monthly essay for a local magazine (Reno Tahoe Tonight), worked with a team to develop a TV show (which ultimately did not get off the ground), and wrote a second novel. The second novel found a small traditional publisher, won 8 literary awards, and moved me up a notch in the literary author realm. But so far, it also has not brought financial independence to match the awards.
I am working on a third novel. I have a collection of essays coming out in August of this year. And I have been working on two different podcasts over the last two years.
In the meantime, I’ve still been practicing law. Because, let’s be honest, that is what pays the mortgage and the health insurance, and most everything else.
But I’ve been playing this game for about 25 years. The one where I have a foot in the law world, and one in the artist world. And my legs are pretty tired.
Also, this thing happened in December. For those of you more attuned to subtle energies, I’m told the world moved fully into the Age of Aquarius on December 20, 2020. Whatever happened, it shook loose some things in my world.
And since then, I’ve had this heightened sense of awareness. Along with the undeniable feeling that it was time for a big change. That the life I’d carefully curated, the beautiful office in Midtown, with the plant-filled, water-featured atrium, the local art on the walls, and the flip-flops I wore to work to write appeals on the handmade desk near my own personal espresso machine, that was coming to its natural end. One way or another.
photo credit: Lynell Garfield
Aligned with this phenomenon, the Universe also sent a job notice to me. And feeling the tug of that unmeasurable force, I applied for said job. In short order, I was granted an interview, and within 24 hours I was offered the job.
I accepted, because that was my deal with the Universe. If they offered, I would accept. No questions asked.
The result was that I had three weeks to close down my law practice and vacate the beautiful, non-lawyer-like office I’d occupied for almost 11 years. None of the above were easy. I’d hoped that I had bought myself a few days of down-time between realms of existence, but reality was – again – different than I’d imagined.
The good news is I do not have to litigate any more in my new gig. Put another way, I do not argue for a living anymore. The perhaps not-so-good news is that I have no time or opportunity to write, podcast, or do anything else in the personal creative realm during my work week. I barely have time to eat most days.
Why did I do this, you might ask. I’ll tell you why: I was stuck in an eddy. For over two decades. Practicing law, while trying to build a sustainable creative life. And somewhere inside, a voice told me that I had to get off the boat I was on. Had to.
I want to be clear that what I’ve done is not the same thing as giving up. It is a surrender. It is a spiritual leap of faith. The universe told me quite clearly that this was a bridge I needed to walk across. And that I’d be unable to carry almost anything with me.
Or as Rumi said, “You start to walk on the way, and the way appears.”
This is my journey at this moment in our human history. This is part of why I am here. To let go of everything. And to walk into the unknown. Not having any clear idea of why. Just knowing that I must.
That is where I am. And in case I’ve been unclear, or you somehow think me some kind of superman, let me say that almost every day since I made the decision I have experienced waves of grief, self-doubt, even panic.
But I’m also building something brand new where I am. Something to help the underdogs and the down-trodden. The poor and the lost.
I am not sure why I am telling you all of this. Except that there must be some of you out there who are walking paths as maddeningly crooked as my own. And I want you to not lose faith.
As Shawn Colvin says, “I don’t know where / But there will be a place for you.” And so I invite you, if you feel lost, take Rumi’s advice, and “keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.”
To be continued…
photo credit: Thomas Lloyd Qualls
If ever a year needed to be broken up with it is 2020. The Go Home You’re Drunk meme has never been more appropriate. Unquestionably it has been the most challenging year in memory. Probably in the last 100 years. That’s a long time, if you think about it. Or really, even if you don’t.
During the last 100 years, whether you think about it or not, there have been wars and natural disasters and diseases that have been devastating to certain populations. Events that caused suffering, mass death, and destruction of infrastructure. But nothing on the global scale that covid-19 unleashed. And then there is all the other stuff.
Because the pandemic would have been more than enough. But of course, in this year that went on for at least a decade, there were all manner of other things. Not the least of which was the five years of wildfires this summer, literally all over the American West. Already losing our minds from the isolation of the pandemic, our only respite being the ability to get outside and enjoy nature, 2020 decided to trap us inside our homes, or risk hazardous air quality outside. Fortunately, many of us already had hazmat suits. But being outside in a hazmat suit really isn’t the same.
Woven into this year’s tapestry was the mostly peaceful and long overdue protests of Black Lives Matter. Somehow, groups of people gathered together to protest the shootings of unarmed civilians was threatening to a segment of society. Pointing out the empirical atrocity of a police officer unnecessarily pinning a fellow human to the ground with his knee for over 8 minutes until that person dies was seen as an afront to our values.
Like most every other thing I can think of, the activities and the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement were occasionally hijacked for one reason or another. Some were opportunists who showed up with the sole purpose of acting out, possibly to satisfy their own unspecified sense of disenfranchisement. Possibly for more nefarious reasons, including a desire to paint the BLM movement as violent, when by and large it is not. This is a conversation that will and should go on for years to come. And hopefully it is much more than just a conversation.
Of course, it was also an election year. And not just any election year. But one upon which the fate of the country seemed to rest. Perhaps rest is not the correct word. Not one of us rested during this process.
photo credit: Thomas Lloyd Qualls
In 2020, the country was like a highjacked race car that had been dismantled piece by piece by an unskilled 16 year-old who thought he could make it run even better, despite his lack of mechanical education. Now the nation lies in pieces in the driveway. The bolts rusting, the gaskets drying out, oil everywhere. Meanwhile, the teenager, who has neither the knowledge nor the inclination to put the parts back together, posts frenetically on social media about how he is the best mechanic ever. And, in a true sign of the times, a surprising number of people believe him.
The lead up to the vote count felt like either those tense and drawn-out moments before a tornado hits, or maybe the world’s longest birthing labor, in which the whole planet was in the birth canal. That experience was followed not by a great exhale and well-deserved rest, but by weeks of recounting and of wondering if any planted judges would undermine our democratic process, despite one candidate having won by over 7 million votes, or even if the electoral college representatives would vote according to their mandates.
All of that is mostly behind us. But there is still plenty of tension. The teenager continues to dig in his heels and refuses to share his tools. He continues to tell anyone who will listen that the car in the driveway is his. He continues to break as many of its parts as he can. And it is unclear how, when, or if he will get up and go home when the time comes. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: his mess will be left for others to clean up.
Other devastation visited us, including hurricanes, which in other years would have captured more attention. The teenager though, mostly consumed by twitter wars and rounds of golf, did almost nothing to help with the pandemic, or anything else. And lately he has not made any pretense of leading, pretty much telling us all we were on our own.
There are, for sure, good things that came out of this historically bad year. The winners of the election not only promise to start rebuilding the car, but to do so in ways and with technologies that are long overdue. Also, one of the winners of the election made history twice by being the first woman and the first woman of color to sit in the Vice President’s chair. Again, in any other year, this would be grabbing more headlines.
It was a year that challenged our resilience, our creativity, our adaptability, our courage, our empathy, our senses of self, our willingness to serve and to sacrifice, and to hold steadfast vision of the future we want for ourselves. In large and small ways, we met these challenges and found reserves and resources we had either forgotten or had no idea existed.
Also, the murder hornets did not sweep the country, as once feared. But other things most certainly did. Including the awareness that over 70 million of us apparently live in an alternate reality. This is no small thing. And it is only the beginning of another long and uncomfortable conversation that we must have.
But after what we’ve all been through and achieved in 2020, I believe we are up to this challenge. Oneness is not just a new age buzzword. It is the reality of our existence. It is up to us to acknowledge that fact and to begin to work towards it in earnest. It is time to rebuild all that is broken with its blueprint.
For all we have lost and gained this year, I am grateful we are on this path together. Happy New Year, my friends.
There are two primary worldviews, two lenses through which we see the world. In one, the world is wired together, connected. In the other, the world is made up of separate things.
In the first view, things and people are interconnected. We are interdependent upon one another and upon the earth. What each of us does matters to the whole. We have impact on the world around us. This view is held by a broad range of people, from biodynamic farmers and Buddhist teachers to meteorologists and quantum physicists.
This view embraces the idea of oneness, which has many faces. One aspect is that what we do to the world, and anyone or anything in it, we actually do to ourselves. I don’t often quote him, but for those so inclined to his teachings, Jesus speaks to this when he explained that whatever was done to the least of his brothers and sisters, was done to him.
In other words, Love your neighbor as yourself.
Chief Seattle famously spoke to this: All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself… What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
The second view believes that we are born into the world alone, and we die alone. And in between, whatever success we have is up to us alone. That humans are islands, separate and apart from one another. That humankind were given dominion over Mother Earth and everything that is in and on her. And that nothing we can do while here has any significant impact upon the planet or its inhabitants.
This view requires some tricky footwork. But if you can disconnect yourself from the world around you in this way – if nature is just something over there, something to serve as a backdrop to your life, a movie set – then you can easily put poison onto the soil and still eat the food that grows from it. You can dump toxic waste into the oceans and still eat the fish that swim there, without concern. You can do this even though you probably wouldn’t pee into a bucket of water and then drink from it.
This belief also allows you to distance yourself from other humans. How other people are treated -- for example those with different colors of skin -- has no bearing on your life. Restrictions on others as to who they can love or marry has nothing to do with you. They are not you, after all. People who make less money or are otherwise less fortunate are not really relevant to your life. There is no reason you should you concern yourself with them. Also, criminals. Just separate them out of view from the rest of society so we don’t have to think about them.
Another trick of the brain required for this view is that one has to accept the benefits of firemen, policemen, public education, public roads, Social Security, Medicare, and other community benefits, while still decrying socialism in all its forms. Anyone who wants to take part what you’ve worked hard for is a freeloader. They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do what you did, without help from anyone. (Of course this is not true, but that is just another trick of the brain to be mastered.)
In short, large blinders are required for this second view. We learned as kids that the leg bone is connected to the ankle bone. Just as everything in the body is connected to every other thing. Just as we are microcosms of our world and our universe. Separation is indeed an illusion. There is simply no proof of it.
In the first worldview, there are people who see things as they are and go about aligning their lives and activities accordingly. And then there are those who would rather keep their backs to the light of day and believe in the stories told by shadows on the back of a cave.
Put another way, there are those who approach the world with openness and those who keep themselves and their world closed tight. A worldview of love and one of fear.
Yoda reminded us, Fear of loss is a path to the dark side. But we cannot lose a world that belongs to all of us. That is the mystical irony of an open and interconnected world. It is abundant and sustainable and it cannot be lost.
But we can be.
This oneness exists whether you believe in it or not. And the natural order of all things is to fall into alignment with oneness. Indeed, in order for any species to survive, it must find its place within this oneness. If humanity survives its separation thinking, it will be because we recognized the truth of oneness and moved into alignment with everything else in the universe.
Remember to love your neighbor today. And then notice how good that makes you feel. Repeat.