Reflections about Responsibility – February 11, 2021

Watching the courage of the House Managers of the impeachment trial for the former US president as they presented compelling evidence about evil actions, I realized something profound about myself. I know with absolute certainty that people are born in a state of original sanctity. I knew it even as an infant before my first birthday.

I often think of the question Phillip Zimbardo wanted to explore in his infamous study, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

“What happens when good people are put into an evil place? Do they triumph or does the situation dominate their past history and morality?” (Philip Zimbardo)

At least for me, I know I had choices. And I didn’t always make the right one. I was not yet five years old when I stopped eating because life was too panful. At thirteen, I tried to end my life again, unable to find a way to reconcile the senseless violence all around me that was so at odds with what I knew to be true. The father who beat me and the mother who helplessly watched were not evil. They were in pain. Life had wounded them in ways that left them unable to do otherwise. It took my daughter’s birth to force me to finally decide to stay despite the pain of witnessing so many people who carry soul-deep wounds, myself included.

The responsibility of caring for a tiny infant in a crazy world felt so daunting. Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t do it alone, so we set off on a journey. Though I didn’t consciously realize what I was seeking at the time, now, I know. The question that inspired me was different than the one Zimbardo asked. I wanted to know if good people could work together to create and sustain sacred places.

I searched in many places, among them communes and intentional communities, health service agencies, state governments, tribal communities, and educational settings. I discovered it is possible to create sacred spaces for brief moments of time with great effort, but they are so easy to destroy. In the past 50 years since my daughter was born, I have tried to create both real and metaphoric gardens wherever I worked to encourage plants and people to blossom.

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Recently, though, I discovered something important and shared it in an email to a dear friend.

“I truly wish people didn’t feel the need to rely on leaders or ‘experts.’ I spent much of my career trying to help people learn to see their own beauty and find their own power within. Yet I often failed to see my own strengths and beauty. It’s taken me a lifetime to realize I am not responsible for others’ choices. I am only responsible for my own.”

I sincerely hope that the courage and dedication of the House Impeachment Managers will encourage US Senators to decide wisely. There is much that has always been imperfect about this colonial nation, but in its defense, it nonetheless has embodied the potential to inspire the best in people. We have all witnessed yet again how easy it is to incite people to behave in angry, violent, destructive ways. It need not be so.

Regardless of the Senate’s decision or the distorted beliefs and despotic behavior of a former president, his enablers, and his followers, I will do my best to continue planting gardens, both real and metaphorical, wherever I go. I have no power to change others, but I do carry a responsibility to breathe the essence of who I am into what I do. I also carry the responsibility to be grateful for all of the gifts and friends I have encountered in my journey, and all of the people who have continued to share their light because it’s the essence of who they are.

Reflections – January 29, 2021

Who would believe
that the mixed ancestry
which made my life
and that of my descendants
so challenging
is a phenomenal gift?

It represents an inheritance
of courage from ancestors
who challenged strongly held social conventions
in acts of resistance and diplomacy
to forge and cement peaceful alliances
between cultures and nations
in contested spaces
during times of conflict and war.

This inheritance is not an easy one to carry.
It conveys a sacred responsibility
to walk the bridging, healing path
of inclusion and peace
in a world so easily divided
by powerful fears
of those who are different.

It means living in a world
that reifies distinctions
between cultures,
nations,
religions,
and political views,
to name but a few of the differences,
often demonizing those who dare
to challenge social conventions
and the ruling elite.

Yet the legacy passed down
from the builders of bridges
created new possibilities
for peaceful coexistence –
hybrids, if you will,
who carry the legacy
of courage
and a sense of responsibility
for living in harmony
with others and the earth
within their blended DNA.
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Acknowledgments:

Sharing with deep gratitude for the participants in yearning circle dreaming who inspired these reflections.

Unexpected Musings

What trees can teach us

(Connections to the place where we are standing)

 

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The solitary mountain ash now stands alone

to weather the winds that led to the passing of the two old willows

that once embraced her and nurtured her through her tender years

Still, they anchor her firmly and deeply
between their stumps and roots
feeding the abundance
of  berries
that hang
from   her
delicate
branches as
sustenance
for    her
winged and
four-legged
relations
when    the
deep snows
fall and the
cold winter
winds blow
strong

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Acknowledgements

Although I have so little time to write and blog these days, stories and poems sometimes flow through me any way. They are meant to be shared with others  because they are connected to others who inspire them. I am sharing this with gratitude to my colleague who insisted we use trees as a metaphor for the class we are teaching about community practice. Initially, I thought she was a little bit crazy. But the course has continued to inspire students year after year. I am also sharing it with gratitude to a dear blogging friend, Robyn, a gifted writer and poet who has inspired me to look ever more deeply at my connections to the land where I stand.  And of course, last but not least, this post was inspired by the mountain ash tree bearing her gifts for all who come into her presence.






Lighting a Candle for the Four Directions

January 21, 2021. The blustery, gusty winds that were twisting and rattling the bare branches of trees this morning mirrored the volatility I sense in the world at the moment. It was hard for me to center on hope and possibility. And then I remembered gifts from other times. It felt important to share one of them this morning even though I will not have time to reciprocate visits or reply to comments for a while. The classes I will be teaching begin tomorrow and I still have a lot of work to do developing and uploading content online.

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December 13, 2014. This morning when I awoke I was reflecting on my lack of hope and passion these days. It feels as though everything I love, everything that brings me joy and peace and hope is at risk. When did my hope and passion disappear? Was it because of the institutions where I worked that publicly espoused social justice missions but contradicted those values through the actions of the majority? Was it because of the neighbors or ex-spouses who only appeared to be concerned with their own comfort and their own pursuit of happiness? Was it because of the zeitgeist of the times summarized by the observation of my newest neighbor when speaking of a child with serious mental health issues, “I’m in this alone”? This feeling of being alone, when internalized, is a destroyer of hope and collective action and it seems to be a major obstacle for joining together to address the serious threats of these times.

As I look back, I realize this feeling has been an undercurrent in the past. Every intervention I have worked on hit this stumbling block sooner or later despite my best efforts. Like my neighbor, ultimately I felt alone in my past efforts because I was never able to inspire or cultivate enough hope for a critical mass of others who were willing to put aside immediate personal comfort to carry the responsibility for working toward a greater good. It was not for lack of trying. Yesterday, as I was contemplating clearing away some of the gifts, papers, and books I’ve accumulated over the years that fill files, shelves, walls and cupboards, I noticed the white candle that sits atop my most important bookshelf – the one that holds irreplaceable books I used to write my dissertation. Of course, like all my mementos, the candle has a story.

DSC00539

Photo Credit: Duluth December 13, 2014

I was working as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. It was not an easy job for many reasons, primarily because of the enduring legacy of colonialism that continued to impose dominant cultural paradigms on tribal communities and use divide and conquer tactics to foment conflicts between “traditional” and “progressive” tribal factions. Resolving conflict was a central part of my job, and it often put me in the middle of powerful competing interests. At a particularly challenging time, I needed to travel with one of my staff to a conference on worldwide healing for Indigenous people held in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference helped me realize I was not alone. Rediscovering the candle on my bookcase reminded me of the conference’s closing ceremony.

More than one thousand of us, representing many cultures and nations, stood in a circle within a large auditorium holding hands. Then, one elder walked to the center. She explained that the closing ceremony was intended to remind us that we were not alone. Because we were in a government building, we couldn’t use candles (fire ordinances prevented it), so flashlights would have to do. And then, the lights in the room went out as her flashlight went on in the center of the circle. She signaled to the four directions, highlighting one person from each of the four directions to walk to the center – first the east, then the south, the west, and the north. The representatives were all given a flashlight. As they touched their darkened lights to the elder’s “candle,” their flashlights were turned on. They were instructed to carry their light to the four directions and light other candles in their part of the circle. The elder explained that it would not be easy to keep the candle fires burning, but if the light went out, people could always return to the center to light them once again.

This morning, I realize I need to take the time to finally light the candle on my book case. It’s not the same white candle I used for a similar ceremony years later for the 40 staff who worked for the Honoring Our Children Project that included nine tribal communities. Building and maintaining multicultural, interdisciplinary teams within and across different tribal cultures was not an easy task. Providing a center they could return to in challenging times was important. But it is the same candle I used in a farewell ceremony with the graduate students I mentored during our final class together. They would all be graduating and scattering to the four directions.

candle

Photo Credit: Sending Light to the Four Directions from Duluth, MN – December 13, 2014

As I lit the candle this morning, I thought of the inter-tribal staff who did astounding work, and the creative and inquisitive students I worked with over the years. I thought about my blogging friends around the world who help me realize that each of is sharing our light. And I thought about the many other people who carry light yet feel alone. May we learn to share our light and stand together for the sake of all we love.

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Disunited States – Reflection on the Morning After

Where does one begin to unpack the factors that contributed to yesterday’s attempted overthrow of the nation’s governing structure? What comes to mind is the profound effect the circumstances of our birth have on how we learn to see and understand the world. Our “positionality.” The time and place of birth matter greatly. Our status in the nations or societies or cultures which we inherit from our parents and ancestors affect the rest of our lives, often in ways we may never see or understand.

Sometimes, those of us born into the liminal space between differing ancestries and cultures learn at an early age how to see the world from differing vantage points. We directly witness the consequences that racism and classism had on our parents and grandparents. At an early age, we begin to question the values and governing structures created by a ruling class that not only allowed an attempted coup to materialize on January 6, 2021, but were also the actual architects that purposefully imposed oppressive structures and policies designed to preserve the power of the Anglo- and European-American capitalist elite.

It’s easy to assign blame for yesterday’s events on “thugs,” “neo-Nazis,” “White-nationalists,” or “domestic terrorists.” It’s easy to blame demented Donald Trump who, himself, is merely a product of a materially privileged, morally bereft, and emotionally abusive childhood. And it’s easy to blame the racism that runs rampant through the nation’s criminal (in)justice systems. Yet through the lenses of those on the margins, none of these simplistic explanations and reactions come anywhere close to explaining or addressing the root causes of yesterday’s events.

What do we expect from the soul of a nation built on genocide, enslavement, and unearned entitlement based on gender, the claim of property “ownership,” and ancestry? Why should it be surprising when the legitimacy of the governing structure of such a nation is challenged by those who inherited their positions on the margins and view themselves as victims of its unfair system?

In a very real sense, all of us have been socialized to accept and internalize our congenital place in a given society. Every aspect of the social values and institutions we encounter is affected by our positionality – our birth, where we live, how our parents parent us, the quality of nutrition, care, and education we receive. We are constantly reminded about our place in the social order. Myths of meritocracy encourage a largely unattainable false hope that we can achieve increased social status if we work hard enough. We are rarely, if ever, encouraged to question the legitimacy of the values or institutions that constrain our life possibilities, though.

The work and resources of people on the margins are essential for the continuing existence and comfort of the parasitic elite. The issue of how to control the vastly more sizeable percentage of the population that is marginalized has been accomplished through a capillary network of discriminatory practices in every aspect of people’s lives by their ability to pay. Education is a crucial dimension in the socialization process. Those who are lowest in the social structure are the least likely to receive an education that prepares them to think critically and aspire to professional careers (other than sports) or leadership positions. 

When confronted by events like the one we all just witnessed, I am grateful for a framework that can be used to think critically about the differing ways cultures have conceptualized conflict and operationalized their values in the social structures and institutions that evolved over millennia. A simple question illustrates how profound differing views can be. Does a society seek to help heal individuals and damaged social relations or does it seek revenge by punishing individual offenders? Rupert Ross’s work offers a fascinating contrast to consider.

Contrast between Ojibway/Cree and Euro-Canadian Cultures

Adapted from the work of Rupert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Octopus Publishing Group.

The most important of Ross’ (1992, pp. 165-184) observations from my perspective is that way he characterized cultural differences in fundamental beliefs about human beings. In his role as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Ontario, Canada, he had an opportunity to work with Ojibway and Cree tribal communities and described their belief that children were born in a state of “original sanctity.” In contrast, as a Euro-Canadian, he argues that the cultural view held by most non-Native Canadians is a belief that people are born “in a state of original sin.” He goes on to point out how these differing views resulted in distinctive ways of dealing with conflict that were linked to very specific goals. Simply stated, one culture focused on isolating and punishing deviant individuals and the other cultures were interested in healing individuals and their relationships with others.

The United States is once again at risk of repeating mistakes its made in terms of how the nation responds to conflict. The quick avenging call to action is being sounded to punish the “bad” people. I feel a sense of responsibility today to type these words even though they are unlikely to be read by the people who are in greatest need of wise counsel.

We CANNOT resolve conflict by assigning one-sided blame. How many of us have reached out to try to understand those who have differing values and political views? I am not suggesting it’s easy, believe me. I have participated in activities to find common ground on polarizing issues with people whose views were diametrically opposed to mine. Sometimes the best we could do was to civilly agree to disagree. The positive outcome, though was that no one was harmed and nothing was destroyed in the process.

I have no desire to assign blame to anyone. Perhaps it’s the researcher in me. I just want to understand what we need to do differently as a society to help all people feel they are valued members with a vested interest in our collective, peaceful survival on a world we all need to take care of. I want to do what I can now to help us make that transition.

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May we take time to reflect and choose the wiser path to peace and healing.

Reflections about the Power of Presence

There was really nothing remarkable about her appearance
small and thin – if truth be told, a bit ordinary and mousey
perhaps a blessing in disguise – it made her invisible
Her voice was soft and melodic – with a hypnotic quality
that created space where those who were too loud, quieted, 
and leaned forward to listen intently when she spoke
She didn’t think this had anything to do with her in particular

Her laughter, though infrequent, created sparkling crystal light
thawing and healing wounded hearts or invoking fear
among those who were filled with darkness
Her gaze was focused and intense – a reader of souls
People who were relegated to marginal status
were often drawn to her light like moths to a flame
sensing a compassionate presence others could not see

She sometimes felt the power within and hid from it
knowing that power brought overwhelming temptations
aware that an ill-spoken word hurled with anger or rage
could leave legacies of lasting harm
and would certainly cut her most deeply

Life taught her to hone her voice, gaze, and presence
though she somehow intrinsically knew only to use them responsibly
on behalf of others in times of great need or danger
and spirits watched over her helping her learn
to only use her gifts in ways that would not draw attention
from the watchers who wanted to stifle compassion, wisdom, joy
and the loving spirit of ordinary people
in order to keep them afraid, confused, angry, and divided
and unable to express the transformative beauty they carried within

Imagine life in COVID for such a one
with months spent largely in isolation
unable to use abilities that were gifts
intended to help others on the margins
to be seen and heard, to have their voices matter
in decisions that affect their lives and all our relations
The regenerating effects of energy shared between humans
through the magic of presence, smiles, and touch now taboo
forcing reliance on distancing technologies and online platforms
as the primary means for communicating through virtual words

Yet nature provides a way for her to stay connected to the world
with the gentle winter kisses of snowflakes – each unique
and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
reminding her to be grateful because she can still share
from her heart even with distancing technologies
even in the midst of suffering, loss, and darkness

She hears a message for herself
and feels compelled to pass it on to others

“Be kind and gentle with yourself and others
each unique and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
rekindle the light within and envision the best you can imagine
for the new year just beginning – let it be a time of healing
and a time of freedom from bondage to fear, suffering, and separation”

Christmas Morning – 2020

Was this the magic of Christmas
or just a snowy wintertime –
this memory of mine
awakening just before sunrise
to a world soft and silent
that soon began to sparkle
with the dawn


moments like this, sacred
with a sense of peace and joy
so deep and all-encompassing
only reverent silence can convey

Sometimes I feel it still
reminding me of what
is glowing within us all
pulsing with the possibility
of the worlds we can create

Sending wishes of peace and joy to all this morning  💜

Sunday Reflection – December 20, 2020

Ah, Creator,

Please don’t let anyone see me

maskless,

coughing,

in their neighborhood

in these times of surging COVID

on this cold Sunday morning

with a frigid light breeze

turning my nose into a leaky faucet

rather than an apparatus for breathing

 

Fingers already freezing

half-way through

my morning trot

and stop

and sniff

and start

with Pinto.

despite triple-layer polartec mittens

especially the fingers on my righthand

often bared to grab a plastic bag from my pocket

to pick up Pinto’s offerings along the way

 

Please don’t misunderstand my whining

I am truly grateful for my little companion

whom I love enough

to face this uncomfortable responsibility

for his sake alone

knowing that greeting the morning this way

is not a choice I would be willing to make

otherwise…

Pinto in his cobbled-together winter suit – October 7, 2018


Note:

I am always willing to be the one to take responsibility for making sure we are properly physically-distanced from anyone else we encounter on our travels. I truly hope we will not need to do so in the near future.

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