Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wild Blackberries Need No Intermediary

Today, for the first time since I've returned home, I finally found time to reflect on my time with Joanna Macy at the Land of Medicine Buddah.  It was a very powerful experience, one that is continuing to have reverberations and aftershocks in my life as time passes.  I feel more present with the work that I have long felt called to do in this world: as an earth-priestess, as a healer doing the work of the Great Turning.  The threads that seem to be pulling me with the most consistency and passion are bringing me ever deeper into a life that is different from what I'd ever imagined I would want at 31, or 35, or 70.  I'm trying to be open to that, to simply let go -- let go and go to Pittsburgh for the G20 actions, or to Copenhagen for the Climate Talks, or to wherever this wild ride takes me.

All day, as I've picked wild blackberries and made homemade yogurt and read about herbs and urban foraging and been loving and open with Jason, my partner, I've continued to feel peaceful and joyous  like I did at the retreat.  There is a sense of Time Magic happening -- it started in those woods, at a Buddhist monastery steeped in ancient practices and silence and tall redwood trees, yet continues even now that I've come home to my little pad in Oakland, surrounded by invasive and elegant Eucalyptus trees and the California Bays that in spite of their lush fragrance point to recent environmental destruction in these hills.  Every moment seems to stretch out, to open up, like a blossom that closed in the harsh darkness of the Industrial Growth Society and is now unfurling, petal by petal, in the pink dawn of new possibility.

Earlier today, picking the blackberries that are so profuse at this time of year that I can hardly keep up with them (that in fact I need to will myself to stop picking, for it seems they go on forever) I realized that I was learning about abundance in a way that I have never in my life understood it.  No matter how my friends have tried to tell me otherwise, it has long been one of my core beliefs that one of the unavoidable facts of life is that we must struggle in order to live, struggle to "make a living."  I may have wished it and even said otherwise, but in my heart I bought the myth inherent in that phrase: that the basic experience of living is something that must be made, willed, constructed.  There may be loopholes here and there, lucky breaks, but those are the exceptions that make the rule.  I've even found a couple of those loopholes here and there in my life, but those experiences didn't have the power to change the overall belief that I've carried with me since adolescence -- one that my intellectual father posited over and over again in my young life, the creed coming through in his actions even when his words said otherwise.

The Industrial Growth Society is completely dependent on a pervasive Myth of Scarcity: we are kept in chains by our belief that at the end of the day our survival is contingent on having money to buy food, to have a place to live, having water to drink. 

A couple of months ago, I went to a talk given by the urban homesteaders that founded the Freedom Farm movement -- home gardens that provide enough food to live on, even on a small city lot.  It was hearing them speak that helped me make the connection between freedom and food.

My epiphany, though it felt mind-blowing and intense, was quite simple: "Oh, right.  They have our food."

They -- the corporations, the IGS, the landowners -- whatever incarnation "they" are taking at the moment doesn't change the predicament.   "They" have the things that are essential to our survival, and if we don't do what "they" want (like working for them), we won't be able to have those things, and we will die.

The wild blackberries tell a different story, one that I could sink my teeth into in a way that made the truth of it unavoidable.   Abundance comes from the earth; it is natural -- it is the way of things when they are in balance -- it is ripeness waiting to be realized, and when it seems gone or lost, that is only because it is being stolen, suppressed, or adulterated.  The earth, of her own accord, nurtures us throughout our lives if we open ourselves to the juicy fertility of her and surrender our stubborn ideas about what wealth is, what happiness and success should look like, what it means to be satisfied.  She does not need to be paid -- nobody needs to be paid in order for our most primal, essential needs to be satisfied -- food, shelter, water, sunshine, sex.  Abundance and diversity-- not the scarcity of the IGS -- is the quintessential nature of life on earth, and has been since life began on this garden planet.

Just as Time, freed from the confines of the IGS during the retreat, seemed to unfold and blossom before me, today I found that so too does abundance.  The earth herself provides the sweetness and sustenance of the blackberries and elderberries and the miner's lettuce in the hills all around me.  No corporate power acts as intermediary or granter -- it simply is.  No man pays me so that I may in turn pay another.  She simply Is.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Shambhala Prophecy


Coming to us across twelve centuries, the prophecy about the coming of the Shambhala warriors illustrates the challenges we face in the Great Turning and the strengths we can bring to it. Joanna learned it in 1980 from Tibetan friends in India, who were coming to believe that this ancient prophecy referred to this very planet-time. She often recounts it in workshops, for the signs it foretold are recognizable now, signs of great danger.

    There are varying interpretations of this prophecy. Some portray the coming of the kingdom of Shambhala as an internal event, a metaphor for one's inner spiritual journey independent of the world around us. Others present it as an entirely external event that will unfold independent of what we may choose to do or what our participation may be in the healing of our world. A third version of the prophecy was given to Joanna by her friend and teacher Ven. Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche of the Tashi Jong community in northern India.

    There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen. Although these powers spend their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and technologies that lay waste our world. In this era, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

    You cannot go there, for it is not a place; it is not a geopolitical entity. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors—that is the term Choegyal used, "warriors." Nor can you recognize a Shambhala warrior when you see her or him, for they wear no uniforms or insignia, and they carry no banners. They have no barricades on which to climb to threaten the enemy, or behind which they can hide to rest or regroup. They do not even have any home turf. Always they must move on the terrain of the barbarians themselves.

    Now the time comes when great courage—moral and physical courage—is required of the Shambhala warriors, for they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power, into the pits and pockets and citadels where the weapons are kept, to dismantle them. To dismantle weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where decisions are made.
    The Shambhala warriors have the courage to do this because they know that these weapons are manomaya. They are "mind-made." Made by the human mind, they can be unmade by the human mind. The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers threatening life on Earth are not visited upon us by any extraterrestrial power, satanic deities, or preordained evil fate. They arise from our own decisions, our own lifestyles, and our own relationships.

    So in this time, the Shambhala warriors go into training. When Choegyal said this, Joanna asked, "How do they train?" They train, he said, in the use of two weapons. "What weapons?" And he held up his hands in the way the Iamas hold the ritual objects of dorje and bell in the lama dance.

     The weapons are compassion and insight. Both are necessary, he said. You have to have compassion because it gives you the juice, the power, the passion to move. It means not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Then you can open to it, step forward, act. But that weapon by itself is not enough. It can burn you out, so you need the other—you need insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. With that wisdom you know that it is not a battle between "good guys" and "bad guys," because the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. With insight into our profound inter-relatedness—our deep ecology—you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern. By itself, that insight may appear too cool, too conceptual, to sustain you and keep you moving, so you need the heat of compassion. Together these two can sustain us as agents of wholesome change. They are gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world.

    These two weapons of the Shambhala warrior represent two essential aspects of the Work that Reconnects. One is the recognition and experience of our pain for the world. The other is the recognition and experience of our radical, empowering interconnectedness with all life.

(scriptural source: the Kalachakra Tantra, 8th century AD)