Hey, People: Don’t Be Embarrassed By This, but It’s Human Nature to Be Kind.

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 Hispanic. 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. It has been divisively overfed and may benefit from a short fast.

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.

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.

safety-pin

OM SHANTI, AMEN

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.

l7

Paranoia Turns Vengeful as Cat Sucks Soul From City Garden

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.

What humans see

The Lucy we see.

See this dog? Her name is Lucy. She’s a nine-year-old Labradoodle and a recent add to our household.

lucy cats see

The Lucy our cats see.

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.”

How Lucy sees the cats.

The cats Lucy sees.

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…

Front yard farmers

Front yard farmers

…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.

Don't fuck with me.

Don’t fuck with me.

Don't fuck with me, either.

Don’t fuck with me, either.

How Lucky Am I

World Water Day is March 22, every year. This is a good year to pray water, every day.

heart waterSometimes I think small round thoughts, like this one: How can I make a difference in the comfort of others?

June 12, 2009: A boy drinks water from a pond in Bule Duba village, near the edge of Oroma and Somali regions of Ethiopia(Irada Humbatova/Reuters)

June 12, 2009: A boy drinks water from a pond in Bule Duba village, near the edge of Oroma and Somali regions of Ethiopia(Irada Humbatova/Reuters)Sometimes I think small round thoughts, like this one: How can I make a difference in the comfort of others?

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.

ahimsa

Small round thoughts are precious drops of water to a thirsty heart.

A Note to Archaeologists in the Year 4015

Hey guys,

Dear Person Who Put Their Dog Pile in a Plastic Bag and Then Left The Bag By a Tree, thank you for reminding me  to check in with my karma.

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.

10 Ways to Know For Sure You’re Not a Shaman

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.

I am not a shaman, I am God.

I am not a shaman, I am God

2. You haven’t suffered through a shamanic initiation of pain, hardship, or terror.

frog hand cropped

Frog poo hand, a traditional and terrifying Shamanic initiation

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.

America the Beautiful

Wait wait wait simba wait simba yes simba go go wait simba no simba go simba

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/

trust_shaman_button(1)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.

220px-Reading-jester-q75-760x753

“You get the Timothy Leary you deserve.”

BONUS! 11. You hackle and crackle and burn this post down.

Walk on.

Red Rover, Red Rover

Regarding the snarky health insurance post from the other day: I think maybe six people read it, and I’m guessing at least half of them didn’t like it.

Maybe it was the creepy subject matter because, really, who publicly announces that her doctor recommends antidepressants? Not only for me, but for my entire family, even the dead ones. Knowing this about someone is like looking up their skirt and seeing dirty underpants.

And then there’s thepaw paw and mama suicide reference.  What to do with that? I don’t come from a family of suicide experts like the Hemingways.  But several people who perch in my family tree have thought about it. Some have tried and failed, and at least one has actually succeeded. Precarious, these family norms and dysfunctions. Aren’t they, though.

Retroactive antidepressants, what a concept. Beginning around the time I started to express myself creatively. “She’s a troublemaker,” the professionals would say, if they could go back to then. “Trouble. Troubled. Let’s knock off her edges with antidepressants if the exorcism doesn’t work.”

What if? Who would I be now? Would I watch a lot of television? Would I still be a writer? Would trees matter, or birds? How about horses? Would I still need to dance? Would I have kept the same job forever? Would I have learned to play the piano, or swallow fire?

Gibb's HeadHow does the soul weigh in ? Does anybody know? What if the answers have no questions?

The magnificent horse to your left is Master Gibb, Psychic Healer and Masseur. You may sense his largesse, although he is no longer present in physical form. He had all the answers, no questions asked.

Just so you know, the soul always weighs in on the side of the horse.

In response to the snarky creepy insurance post, my friend and play pal Prema Lynn Felder (who works toward personal enlightenment without blinding the rest of us) sent Rumi right over.

The Guest Houserumi robin good

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi
— translation by Coleman Barks from The Illuminated Rumi, 1997

Bonus Serendipitous Doo Wah:

felder head shot

Prema Lynn Felder doesn’t know that The Illuminated Rumi lives by my bed. But this dame sure knows how to lighten a load. Want to know more about her? She’s a smart and highly productive human; Google her.

In the meantime, walk on.

On Being Covered By Health Insurance (for a minute)

The PA said, “You should really consider antidepressants.” I said, “No thanks, but would it be all right if I take the thin plastic gown bag as a souvenir?”

“We want you to know what may happen with your insurance benefits for today’s visit. Many insurance health plans will pay 100% for wellness/prevention visits. These visits only cover ways gown adto improve or maintain healthy habits.

They often do not cover talking to your health care provider about other items such as current health problems. We know that many people want to talk to their health care provider about all of their health concerns at their wellness visit as this can save time. If your visit with your health care provider today includes talking about current or new health problems, your insurance company may not pay 100%. They may ask you to pay some of the cost. This may be a co-pay, a deductible, or a part of the charge.”

Here’s my question: If I stuff my head in the bag and off myself in the doctor’s parking lot, will the bag still be 100% recyclable?

Maybe I Will

My 40th high school reunion is approaching, and last week I decided not to go. After digging up this old essay, however, I’m reconsidering. Maybe I will, just to check in with the elephants…

REUNION

Dancing-Elephants-Cover-448x260The sparsely furnished convention center room, brown, dull and big enough to hold 300 dancing elephants, is empty in the west forty save for a young blonde DJ punching his board. Loosely knotted groups of electrified adults stand near the bar and exude the kind of confidence only those over fifty can lay claim to.

“I was an unruly teenager,” a friend reminds me, after receiving a compliment on his work as a psychiatrist who connects with troubled youth. “I know the behavior.” Our brief conversation is a pivotal moment during my reluctantly attended 35th high school reunion.

All grown up, we are. My unruly childhood friends have turned shrink, politician, ad executive, high school teacher and attorney. I hobnob with classmates, some who managed to escape the scars of a tumultuous and disorderly upbringing, and some who still channel Janis Joplin, Andy Kaufmann, Jim Morrison, The Devil, and other miscreant and spectacular spirits.

I used to believe the cooperative, obedient class members of ’74 missed out on spectacular things—a drug-induced near-death experience, perhaps, or an up close and personal audience with The Law. I don’t believe that anymore. Life is less about the spectacular (although I love it, love it!) and more about learning to live. It is more about the Nature of Grace, and how little I know about it.

See, tragic events happen. Our tears form a headwater that marks a high lonesome  landscape, a private place rife with sharp edges that’ll rip a heart to pieces. People die, love goes wrong, marriages fail. None of these events respects our best shoes, a tanned and thin frame, or a thick wallet, or cares one whit about our innocence or happiness.

The longing for a stable kind of magic teases us, and because we long for it so deeply, we get fooled again and again. “Shame on me,” we say – squared, to the tenth even. But we keep on believing in it. We have to, you see, because while the other choice may be more spectacular, we awkwardly carry on with the business of learning to live, of transforming ourselves into openhearted grace-bestowers. And therein lies the magic.

Differences fill the cavernous corners of the reunion room like piles of cast-off clothing. Those dancing elephants I mentioned earlier? They sift through our dregs, weave them together and create a safety net laid thick with grace. Suddenly, the entire room fills with brave elephants rumbling toward each other.

A cantankerous former beauty queen’s first words are bitter and jealous. But as an elephant tunes the safety net behind her, she relaxes. The elephant says silently through the woman’s softened eyes, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I forgive you for hurting me.” Good vibrations move through a roomful of elephants whose collective purpose is to tune our frequency to a higher plane, and we rise with them.

dancing-elephants-jean-norenShe smiles and says, “I used to think your mother was the most beautiful woman on earth.” I meet her soft eye, smile back and say, “Thank you. I will tell her you said so.” And there it is, a moment of pure grace.

Nobody complains seriously about the soulless venue, or the tasteless industrial foodstuff smoldering on the steam table. “Thankless job, planning a reunion,” we mutter. “We should be grateful.” The $45 entrance fee guarantees a live audience for a few hours, nothing more. We get our money’s worth.

No extra charge for the dancing elephants.

Elephant heart photo credit: http://www.theviolinchannel.com/dancing-elephants-bach-double-violin-concerto-wisconsin/

Dancing Elephants Photo Credit: Jean Noren

This “Loving” Business: Work in Progress, Major Revisions Underway

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see bad behavior and gross errors in judgment tattooed across my face. Not that I’ve gone to this extreme, but no amount of hormone replacement therapy will erase my mistakes. It’s part of my history.

Some days, my life seems a rough outline of its future self, sort of like a Michelangelo in progress being carved from stone. But I like to Rainbow_Ocean__by_Thelma1think it’s more like a rainbow, exciting and colorful and fluid and fleeting. Some days, hatefulness seeps in and changes my true colors to black and white. But when I move out of hate’s shadow – for example, when I stop saying “I hate _______” (insert your favorite thing to hate) and start loving that hateful thing up, I see life in color again.

Here is my heart’s debate. Is it wrong to hate an action that threatens one’s survival? Hating the sting and loving the bee may be a stretch if one is deathly allergic to bees, but one has to start somewhere.

So I’ve decided to crank this loving business up a notch. I’m going to try to love those people whose actions I hate so vehemently. But first, I’m serving notice.

To all you people out there raking in the big bucks while making a mess of our air, earth, fire, water, and spirit (you know who you are), to all you child and animal abusers and all you human traffickers, I love you because you are human beings, but your actions are greedy and inhumane and it sucks sharing the planet with you right now. That noise you hear in your head at night? We hear it, too. It’s the sound of our souls crying because we miss you and need you to be whole. We need you to join up, see, because we’re all in this together. Please, come home. Come home now. I’ll make cookies.

This loving business is hard sometimes, but I am a rainbow. I promise to dream my life, and yours, in color. Starting now.

Rainbow Ocean by Thelma1