|The conversation between two runners assaulted my ears as I pulled my car under the shade tree in the lower lot at Reynolda Gardens. I adjusted my socks and shoes while the men talked loudly about war and China conspiracies, shifting from one dystopian topic to the other without a breath in between. “Gentlemen, it’s Sunday,” I yelled as I began the short walk across the lower meadow toward the boat house path and into the woods. They laughed. “We’re on our way to church.” I turned toward them and smiled. “You’re in church, right now. Look around you. This is church!” I took off toward the path at a fast clip, confident that my smug righteousness would leave them thinking about more than guns and politics. |
The Gardens was a busy place this Sunday morning. Near my starting point were people – lots of them. And without exception, every single person within my sight was engaging with a phone while strolling babies or walking dogs. Gah! How inattentive can one be? A short way down the trail, a woman scurried past without seeing me and without hearing the birdsong, the cicada choir, or the wind playing tag with the leaves. She was entranced by her phone, blind and unaware of her surroundings.
The present morning and its many gifts were being ignored by my fellow travelers and I wanted to shake them awake.
Some portals are entered seamlessly. Just as I began to feel my own tension creeping in, The Divine showed up as a handsome young hippie dude walking down the path toward me, barefooted. We greeted each other as familiars and stopped to chat. I listened while he talked about how good his body felt when his bare feet touched the ground, how nothing ached, how not one bone felt out of place. We talked about the creatures living below us and how connected we feel with the earth when we walk as part of a greater whole.
I thanked that precious human being for his inspiration, then removed my shoes and socks. Free to explore, my bare feet and awareness expanded into renewed comfort and joyful innocence with each slow step up the path. No need to hurry, and I didn’t want to. In an aha moment, the fast, sweat-inducing walk I had planned and the smug, preachy words to the runners about nature’s church flashed to the surface and exposed my hypocrisy before falling away, leaving me feeling lighter, happier, and grateful.
The people walking the path with me changed, too. A smiling, gentle woman strolled with her seventeen-year-old beloved dog Tipsy who gifted me with kisses when I stooped to rub her sweet head. A little further up the path, an effervescent and resilient friend accompanied by a cheerful white poodle shared good news of his continued healing after years of being chased by cancer.
Barefooted. Carrying my shoes. Swinging my body so naturally (and maybe somewhat gracefully) across the graveled split to the dirt path on the back side of the meadow where there were more dogs, more people, and not one cell phone or ear bud in sight. We smiled at each other, and exchanged pleasantries, and marveled at the morning while the birds, the cicadas, and the leaves marveled back at us.
I sang as I walked on my delighted bare feet down Jaco’s Cut, then through the big meadow and back toward the estate and gardens, profoundly aware of every deliciously naked step. After rustling around like a spellbound child in the Magnolia family’s thick carpet of dry fallen leaves, I sat on the steps near the greenhouse and pulled on my shoes for the short walk back across the asphalt to the car. Leaving the portal was the first moment I realized I had been in one.
Again, I saw people, many people. People on phones, people pushing strollers while talking on phones, people walking dogs with phones glued to their ears. But my perception was altered. The urge to critique their behavior disappeared in the portal.
May I always remember to see beyond my eyes. May I always stay open to the barefoot portal. May I always remember the power of sole to soul.
Some people like tomatoes and some don’t.
(Opinion: I prefer the yellow cherry tomatoes because they are sweeter. Others may disagree with my opinion.)
For all its beauty and civic pride, Winston-Salem, North Carolina – the city I love to call home – is really no better than any other southern town and in many ways is much worse. Why? Because we tie a pretty bow around our ugly inequities. The wealth in our town is extremely high, but take a closer look. In a town this flush (and we are flush), why do our citizens of color continue to suffer? Why does the serious financial power still belong mostly to white people, especially to white men and their white families? Why are most of our city’s critical decisions made by and in favor of the haves rather than the have-nots?
We schedule workshops and meetings to discuss the same old, tired disparities with the same old, tired (but well-meaning and kindhearted) people riffing on the same old, tired tune. Very little of real value changes, but we smile and pat ourselves on the back because we joined in the conversation. Plus we donated last year’s clothes to Goodwill and six cans of black beans to Second Harvest.
Make no mistake: systemic racism is right at home here in Camel City. So are hungry children; unfathomable poverty; financial inequity so deep it carries the stench of rot and greed; and blatant injustice, including the latest cover-up of Mr. John Neville’s murder by the hands of his jailers and a jail nurse.
All this and the novel Coronavirus, too.
Have you had enough? If it’s new leadership we need, then step up and make your platform known. If you have more money than you can spend in this lifetime, step up and fund a grocery store in one of our (or your) city’s many food deserts. Step up and help feed people by making a tithe worthy of Jesus; it’s not like the need is hidden from you or your children or your church or your bank or your neighbor. A short bit of research will lead you down the path of righteous knowledge.
My favorite Winston-Salem food project is SHARE Cooperative and Harvest Market.
Please. Look up from your life. We are in crisis here. Your help is so desperately needed. Every single one of us is in this cesspool together, and nobody gets out until everybody gets out. Come on, let’s get real. It’s time to get real.
Go ahead, let your light shine. Taking the bushel off your lamp won’t hurt but a minute and isn’t nearly as painful as going to school or work or bed hungry, or to live in fear for your life or the life of someone you love. Every. Single. Night. Can you imagine? No. You cannot. Those shoes don’t fit you.
Whether we go willingly or kicking and screaming, we are all being directed to mask up and take a seat in The Church of What’s Happening Now. We are being asked to search our hearts, find our humanity, and join up. My hurting town of Winston-Salem needs all the soulshine it can get these days and most likely yours does, too.
Why am I talking?
First born children are said to be natural leaders with a bent toward the bossy and authoritarian side – not my favorite personality traits, but I own them. Now that I’m entering the Crone Age, I no longer crave the attention that comes from being out front. My turn is over.
For a Type A person like me, it took a few years and several missteps before I accepted the “your turn is over” message. But the physical discomfort and emotional rigidity that accompanied my fear of losing control disappeared when I loosened my grip. It’s like my psyche finally had enough and said, “Relax. It’s somebody else’s turn,” and my body melted in relief.
Participating as a witness, shining my little light in the dark corners and helping hold the safety net for others feels solid and desirable. These are my senior super powers.
During this time of brutal chaos and change, thoughts about stepping back (when with all my might I want to step forward) and figuring out how best to help purge the pustular infection of systemic racism and heal our country’s deep, ugly wound led to the memory of a powerful lesson in awareness. Last year, a friend and co-worker turned me on to the acronym WAYT, meaning “Why Are You Talking?” She was frustrated because during a seminar, white women were dominating a discussion about race in the workplace rather than listening to the experiences of Black women, all of whom were co-workers in the very same office. White women, taking the lead on black issues.
Blind racism. White privilege. Do we really know better than they? Have we ever walked a mile? I’ll be blunt. The answer is NO.
There has never been a better time for us white people to recognize our own racist shortcomings and do the work with eyes wide open. This is absolutely the right time to use our white privilege for the benefit and protection of our Black and brown family.
More important is that we listen, really listen right now to what Black people are saying, what they are asking us to do. It’s not the first time we’ve been asked to be allies. After turning a blind eye to over four hundred years of oppression topped by decades of apathy, white people aren’t the most trustworthy collective on the planet. Good news: there’s nowhere for us to go but up.
It is not our turn to lead right now; it is our turn to listen. Please understand this.
Hush. Hear what is being asked of us. Maybe the most basic thing we’re being asked to do is to really understand what these three words mean: Black Lives Matter. Maybe it’s time we repeat those words as a mantra until they become part of our heart’s peace. Can you say it and mean it? Black Lives Matter. If your knee-jerk response is “well, all lives matter,” please read this article which explains why you need to stop saying that.
Maybe we’re being asked to share the history of George Floyd and the Dominoes of Racial Injustice across oceans and mountains, through valleys, up sidewalks, on corners, and down alleys. If you’re asking yourself if you have time to watch this video, the answer is yes. (Thank you, Trevor Noah.)
Today I imagined I was part of a posse of old Black and brown and white women, granny-boobed women with thin hair, arthritic hands and sore feet, standing firm and holding the line between protestors and policemen, handing out homemade cookies to both sides and asking everyone to sit down and eat together, which they do. Then everyone has a little rest while Mavis leads us in the singalong version of “I’ll Take You There” at which time we old women begin to collect all the shields and guns, all the words and blood and breath of the dead and angry and oppressed and weave a story quilt from them; a story quilt of national mourning that is large enough to cover all of us with so much comfort, safety and love that we choose to believe in our ability to really love one another, to thrive with shared purpose and justice for all. My imagination is innocent.
What can we do, white people? We can start by truly understanding what the words Black Lives Matter mean. Maybe say them aloud in front of a mirror so you see how beautiful you look when tears of understanding well up in your eyes. Witness and speak out to other white people. Practice compassion in action. Shine your little light. Hold the safety net.
Remember: they lead, we support. They talk, we listen.
I’m through talking now. It’s time to listen.
Last weekend, I held a small musical gathering at my home and served up tea, cookies and safety pins. FYI, it’s a challenge to find a safety pin these days. Even my dry cleaner staples his inventory tags into my clothes now. I went to three stores before I found one small pack of pins. It appeared the “you are safe with me” safety pin movement had ginned up support in my town and it felt good to be a part of it.
I had no idea that a safety pin could cause so much controversy but, as the proverb states, Hell is paved with good intentions. Shortly after the idea caught fire, several bloggers pushed this simple show of solidarity and kindness into the “white privilege” category.
Now, I have this weird idea about white privilege. You may or may not agree, but hear me out. Is your skin white? If you answered yes, then guess what, you’re privileged. Specifically, if you’re white, there’s a very high probability you’re not afraid that your child could be killed when walking down the street wearing a hoodie (AKA racial profiling) or that government agents will knock on your door in the middle of the night and take your daddy to a deportation center (an immigrant reality). You are privileged. Accept that as fact. End of Chapter One.
Chapter Two: Over 500,000 children living in North Carolina will go to bed hungry tonight and wake up hungry tomorrow. About 150,000 of those children are white, approximately 165,000 are black, and close to 185,000 are brown. Can we overlook the hunger and poverty of 150,000 kids simply because they’re white? Please don’t talk about white privilege to the mother of a hungry child. It’s too much. If you can find it in your heart, please take the White Privilege argument off the table during the Safety Pin discussion. Hunger is hunger.
Those who back the idea of (mostly) non-violent emotional support for any person who feels maligned, abused, bullied, harassed, or fearful are not thoughtless, so how did the people who responded favorably to the safety pin become disparaged? I don’t know about you guys, but this confuses the heck out of me. All of a sudden, mostly good and basically average people who are standing for kindness, including some who may have little other than a smile and safety pin to offer the world right now, are being shredded by people who seem to need only an eggshell’s space of room to create a maelstrom of negativity aimed at concerned and yes, OK, maybe, impulsively kind people.
Hello! We’re human. Being kind is natural to us. There is no shame in kindness. The safety pin idea has touched the hearts of hundreds, or thousands, or maybe millions of people who are worn slap out by meanness. It has sparked a spontaneous outpouring of compassion. It has given many people a purpose, a way out of darkness into light. It is a movement that feels helpful and pure, non-political, respectful and generally good for the whole wide world. Kindness is a foundational block, like soul shine.
Most of us will never have an idea this simple or brilliant, ever. And if that bums you out, think of it this way: it’s not your turn to be recognized as the creator of a brilliant idea. Give someone else a chance to shine. Maybe we’ll all rise above our egos, recognize our vulnerability and resolve to embrace the best parts of our common humanity during the long haul ahead. Maybe it’s time to thank the Good God A’mighty or whoever you pray to for bestowing these challenges upon us. Maybe we’ve been given another chance to tune our collective soul to the job we signed up for which, last time I checked in with my heart, was to love each other. Sometimes that particular lesson comes disguised as tragedy, discomfort or controversy. Sometimes it manifests as rowdy yet respectful discourse, dusted with humor and sealed with a kiss. That’s if we’re lucky. Or open. Or, however it works for you. Ain’t no such thing as one-size-fits-all soul work. Every human being is connected to this big fat loveball of a planet through a substance known as universal soul shine. If you get lost, simply follow the path of kindness. It’s the route illuminated by grace, the one that leads to your soul’s true home.
Safety in numbers, right? Let’s stick together. That’s what pins are for.
Why are we here?
I rarely ask that question anymore because my Magic 8 Ball broke years ago and all the shamans I know are animals, not people. When in the rare instance an answer reveals itself, it is not because I paid someone to tell me; it is because I confided in my dog or spoke with a trusted friend—some of whom are gifted healers— or cleared my head, sat still and listened.
You’ve heard of it. Meditation; it’s free.
I dig walking meditations the most. Some days it takes awhile, but eventually I stop thinking about the bone I’ve been gnawing and start noticing the magic of the woods or, like my favorite guru John Prine said, the diamonds in the sidewalk. Sometimes I chant and make up songs for the trees. I open my throat and set my voice free and, as far as I know, my soul-sound hasn’t killed any birds or small children.
Inhaling light from the sun and exhaling love to the earth feels crazy cool, especially when I track how far my exhale of love extends. When I’m cranky, my breath barely reaches my toes. I adjust my attitude, breathe deeply into the sun and consciously send more love through the exhale. Eventually, my breath moves through the world on the back of a neutrino and, for that moment, I am One with Everything.
Straight-tripping. Give it a go. Anyone can do it, I promise.
I pray, too. But for me, praying is different from meditation. When I pray, I talk. When I meditate, I listen. Sometimes I’m so softened up by meditating that my heart radiates love and gratitude for a long, long time. Sometimes I spread goodness like butter.
But, not always.
Today, I am having a crisis of kindness directed toward the healing community at large. The way I see it, healing is a calling and many people are being dialed up every day, which is a really, really good thing. If we’re paying attention, we know our whole world is in crisis and we need healers of every stripe to join hands. But it takes years or, depending on the discipline, a lifetime of practice and a major ego overhaul (as in deconstruction) to fly that flag.
Look, we can’t put on a white coat, drape a stethoscope around our necks and, presto chango, call ourselves a doctor. So enough already with announcing to the world that we’re spiritual healers or Sherpas or, for the love of Pete, shamans when we haven’t done the work, when our concentration is on blatant self-promotion rather than meaningful, compassionate action. At this point in our collective history, we’re looking pretty close to the spiritual equivalent of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, regardless of our ability to use the term “hold space” in a sentence.
There. I said it.
It’s a judgmental, petty and graceless rant; it makes me sad for myself.
Why am I so out of sorts? Then, I remembered. I double-checked the December 2013 calendar to confirm. Two years ago today, I saw my precious mother for the last time. She was lying in a Hospice bed, close to transitioning. She looked exquisitely beautiful. The last words she said to me were, “We go deep.” Mom flew thirty-two hours later.
I am mourning my mama, my one true beacon of authenticity. Holy or unholy, aware or unaware, ego-driven or burned down to ashes and regenerated, she accepted us all at her table. She dished up super-sized servings of unconditional love to everyone she met.
And I’m mourning the passing of my dad, one dear friend, two fine old horses and the world’s best dog. There’s been a lot of letting go in the last two years.
That kind of loss can make a person cranky. I’m feeling its weight today.
So, do me a solid, will you? Take a walk outside. You may feel your head tingle when you inhale the sun. When you exhale love, extend your breath as far out as you can. Send that love to the ground you walk on, then through the neighborhood, then through the United States and into the big wide world, all the way to Syria and beyond. Chant if you feel so moved. If om feels funny to you, a simple ah will do. Hold the note like you would if you were a kid in church singing the first syllable of the word amen. You know what I mean.
The world needs you. I need you. We need each other.
My sweetie and I are able gardeners. We feed old compost to the microorganisms (AKA “The Microherd”) that live in the ground and, in turn, the organisms feed the veggies that eventually feed us. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
But our plants are dying and we don’t know why. Wait. We didn’t know why until this morning. Now we know. It’s the fucking cats. They’re killing our plants and it’s not because they’re using our garden as a litter box.
See this dog? Her name is Lucy. She’s a nine-year-old Labradoodle and a recent add to our household.
The cats hate her. Hate her. They’re vocal about it, but willing to trust they’ll be safe with us. After all, they live with Jaco Pastorius, a great dog and friend to cats.
Lucy is a cold- blooded killer. She can hypnotize a rat, then grab it, toss it and snap its little neck in midair. Poor rat’s dead before it hits the ground. She has the mad hunting skills of a patient and bold assassin.
Atticus and Shiki Coco Pop – the cats – now shiver through one Siberian night after another in our air-conditioned home because traversing a short span of bedroom floor to reach the backs of our bed-warmed knees poses too great a risk. Poor things. They are being forced to sleep on the broad, cushy back of a down-filled leather sofa. It’s the one scarred by deep claw marks.
Did I mention Lucy sleeps facing the wall? And snores?
“Doesn’t matter,” say the cats. “Dogs like Lucy are born with a sensor on their brain stem. Visualize an internal automatic flood light that flares in the presence of small furry creatures. We see it because we’re extraterrestrials. You don’t see it because you’re simple humans. In verbiage you can understand, this is our circus. Lucy is not our monkey. Therefore, Lucy needs to join another circus. End of your tired cliche.”
Last night, our cucumber plants were thriving, happy and ready for an exuberant climb up the trellis. This morning, they were dying. The whole row looked broken, as if it had been stepped on. What the hell? Of course we inspected and discussed as gardeners do, but found no obvious answer.
Thirty minutes later, I heard Jamie yell and pound on the kitchen window. “Son of a bitch! What the fuck are you doing? Stop that!” Then he ran through the living room and out the front door to the garden…
…yeah. Our garden’s in our front yard.
This is how the garden looks through our living room window…
…where Atticus the damn garden-destroying cat sat methodically biting the stems of our patty pan squash plants which happen to be planted on the row just above where the cukes were earlier and, as you can see if you look closely, is now empty, fallow ground because nothing could be saved.
The cats are terrorizing our garden!
You know, it makes sense when I channel my inner cat energy. They feel disrespected by us and victimized by Lucy. At my request, Atticus and Shiki have put their best paws forward and, after two weeks, are resigned to living with a Sling Blade dog. But they are not happy about it. Lucky for us, they chose to attack the garden rather than suck our souls out through our mouths in the middle of the night
Only because Lucy sleeps in the bedroom.
World Water Day is March 22, every year. This is a good year to pray water, every day.
With that one thought, my little ripple of loving kindness is in tune with the world.
Sometimes I whisper small round prayers of love and gratitude to water, and water always hears.
When I pray water, it reminds me to be mindful how I use it. A distance lies between my intention and my action, but I am closing the gap – shorter showers, an extra day in my clothes, fewer water extravagances.
How lucky am I, to have water at my fingertips. Be grateful and conserve, my heart tells me. Listen to your small round thoughts, it says.
Small round thoughts are precious drops of water to a thirsty heart.
On behalf of dog owners everywhere, I want to apologize for the feces-filled plastic bags littering your digs. I’m hoping you can put all those 2,000 year-old dog turds to good use.
If you are also a farmer, I’m betting that manure (or holy shit as some of us like to call it) has been reassigned its rightful place as a natural resource.
Thanks for all you’re doing to restore the planet we fucked up. Here’s wishing you continued success in your work!
ps – Dear Person Who Left Their Poo Bag By a Tree: your karma is making your dog nervous.
This post is dedicated with deep love to the human beings who, like me, yearn to fly while learning to remain grounded. May humor tickle our hearts and grace rule our judgments. Simple work is never easy. The healing masterclass continues. Much love and respect to all my shaman friends. You know who you are. PLB
10 Ways to Know For Sure You’re Not a Shaman
1. If you’ve ever used the word “shaman” to describe yourself, you’re probably not one.
2. You haven’t suffered through a shamanic initiation of pain, hardship, or terror.
3. The terror you feel during shamanic initiation is caused by your lack of preparation for what it takes to become a shaman. No magic in that.
4. Hanging out in a sweat lodge with a group of middle-aged, overweight white people while unknowingly inhaling poison ivy smoke obligates you to tell your story and save others from living through the pain of that dumb mistake, but it doesn’t make you a shaman.
5. You have bought and paid for an arduous spiritual journey requiring intense physical stress and emotional peril, but you’re not at the peak of health and there’s a good chance you may die. You’re going anyway. Reread number 3.
6. You’re just after the powerful visions. Poser.
7. You prepare for your shamanic journey by memorizing the lyrics to John Prine’s famous shamanic journey preparation song, The Bottomless Lake. http://letras.mus.br/prine-john313412/
8. You dishonor your elders and all the animal spirits and the mothers and grandmothers and all the trees and birds and, you know, the worms and bees and all the little living things, by cheaping out on soulless toxic frankenfood. (Seriously, this is the only seriousness in this entire post. Except for the dedication. I am serious about that. And this.)
9. John Prine is a fucking shaman and, although you hate to admit it, you know you aren’t shamanically qualified to pour his beer or light his cigarette.
10. You’ve never heard of John Prine.
BONUS! 11. You hackle and crackle and burn this post down.