Tag Archives: honesty

Making Returns

I’ve been sick with the whisky of sorrow
Drowning in draughts of deep grief
Delirious, intoxicated by the excitement of chaos
Shame the thick tenebrous brew that I drink

I have chosen isolation, drunk from such loneliness
The sharp scent of silence staining my breath
Tending a pantry of long bottled secrets
Despair, and terror, and regret

Here are the hops of hope, all drained dry
The jinn of constant crisis and its tonics on recall
Cocktails of confusion and forbidden joy
And of the cider of solace, not much left at all

Here are my chilled kegs of childhood memories
Just the hurtful ones … I want a refund if I can
And the traits on tap I formed to survive these
If nothing else, please take them off my hands

I want the light stuff, it never goes bad
Something soothing and gentle to calm me inside
The soft touch of wholeness to shelter all that I have
The spring thaw of winter to bring me alive

For the past and its memories, there are no returns
And though life has its trials, no one keeps score
The freedom you long for isn’t something to earn
Learn to trust that with patients, you’ll live more and more

We’ll trade for your hatred, your blame and your rage
Deep peace and acceptance, forgiveness comes slow
And gently replace the twinned silence and shame
With the seeds of compassion, that with you will grow

Your need for pain, your constant clinging in fear
You now can safely leave behind
Hope shines centered in the stillness here
Gathered together, it’s love that we find

Remember, grief cannot be exchanged
Without the tears cried, it’s joy that you’ll lack
And please be mindful when making each change
Of the old and familiar, so you don’t choose it back

The Gifts of Grieving

At the center of each of us
A deep pool glistens
A well of tears
Fed from rivers of remembering

Here, exhausted hearts stop to rest
To spill the growing grief of moonless tides
Gently, waves wash gnarled bent hands
And the gaunt faces of mothers with stillborn dreams

Sorrow of sisters who could not tell their stories
Weary weeping borne with the nameless burdens
No time to reflect, slow down and ask questions
No time to repair all that’s worn through and ragged

Sunlight slowly smooths the surface
And the fog of forgetting retreats
Peaceful honesty, soft touch of gold hues
Soothes the swirling swells to calm

And from the vivid depths of human losses
I witness myriads of mirrored faces
See myself reflected in them all
As have millions of eyes before mine

Eyes that have watched deserts
Being formed from women and children
Singed with the screaming
Sparks of raw hatred

Eyes that closed yearning
For the warm welcome of family
In between long hours
The endless hunger of the red-splashed anger

We cannot evaporate the charred scars of our choices
Some tracks of tears weren’t meant to be dried
Healing hides in this quiet reservoir of keening
I will tend it tenderly with salty rain

The Apology

While what’s broken mends
We gather one another’s tears
Frightened by these raw words
Shared in earnest honesty

For our trembling hands
Suddenly afraid to touch
For the truths, unearthed
We longed to rebury in sand

For fragile trust
We thread between to weave again
I will share with you what no one else has known
What hidden shadows still inform who I am

Reach out, light one, I have much to own
Though you found the strength to take a stand
A midst the rubble of our yesterdays
What I wish to take back, were it that I can

Why do you still blame yourself
When there is nothing else you could have done
How could you not be carried away
By wild waves, compelling you too far from land

I led the way, in the space that was ours
And almost lost you; of course you ran
Let the sea of forgiveness enfold our hearts
You were caught in fierce tides you did not understand

Reflected Darkly

How can I love you?
All you are lacking:
Your empty spaces,
Locked doors,
Torn dreams,
Blind fears?

How can I love you?
Squinting through the glare of fluorescent memories
At every twisted, knotted decision
Rewandering the wrong turns
Of your wasted years?

How can I love you?
With resentment coiling in your eyes?
Purple with anger
A thousand scars
Rage against the silence
Incapable of tears.

How can I love you?
I have searched the worlds for compassion,
But my bitter judgments are all I’ve found,
Every flaw screams loud and clear.
At a loss, I turn around
And put away the mirror.

Spiritual Teachers and Discernment

“This blog post will change your life!” Actually, the truth is, it won’t, and there are good reasons to be skeptical of anyone using this phrase a little too often with a little too much enthusiasm, in my humble opinion. besides the fact that people reading this are probably alive and reading these words are adding to your life experience, (in a positive way, I hope,) most experiences are not life-altering. Some experiences, especially spiritual experiences, genuinely do transform you. In changing your inner world, your behavior, your relationships, even sometimes the way you hold yourself in the world will change.

I have personally had many such experiences, and none of them came prepackaged with the claim, “This will change your life!” There were no claims about outcome, only compassionate suggestions. There was no anecdote to uncertainty, only direction based on a plethora of past experiences. As a spiritual friend said recently, there is a reason people in the spirit world are called spirit guides. They don’t live your life for you, (by for instance, telling you how an experience will effect you or how you will feel afterward) and thank goodness they don’t! If things were different, life would be quite boring, disempowering, and distancing and you’d learn a lot about dominance and control and very little about authenticity and freedom.

The thing is, not everyone in this world has a healthy sense of compassion, unconditional love, personal responsibility, or honesty. Everyone knows that. But this statement is true, sometimes even more so, of self-identified spiritual teachers.

Two months ago I signed up on a mailing list to receive access to free telephone calls with various well-known spiritual teachers whom I had never heard of, because I was very curious about others’ experiences and approaches to their spirituality and the theme for the series of calls was waking up, something I am more than passionate about. It was a mixed bag. There were many genuinely spiritual people interviewed on those calls. There were also cooky cutter new agers and blatant scam artists. The host of the program seemed, in my opinion, to have a discernment problem of her own, and every call she hosted, she claimed, would “change your life!” The claim became statistically unsustainable after, say, call number 5, and yet she continues to make it.

For Aristotle, true excellence was synonymous with practical wisdom–sound rationality and emotional balance— and it was notoriously hard to achieve. Some scholars of ancient Greek philosophy surmise that to this date there has not been a single human being who has achieved this ideal. All this to say that, whatever excellence is, it ought not be a quality such that everyone and their adopted cat possess it. Such is true of the property of being life-changing, I think. It cannot be given to every experience, lest the concept lose its meaning entirely.

In any case, life transformation, as well as excellence, often were both sadly absent in this realm of inquiry.

First, there was a call with a spiritual practitioner who manufactures a filter which produces “structured water.” Skeptical already, I went to his website, only to find that the filter specifications explicitly state the apparatus does not take toxins out of the water. It simply “purifies” them with spiritual intentions. The rest of this filter’s enormous, and yes, “life changing!” benefits are scientifically proven facts about water itself. I was appalled by this person’s willingness to call himself spiritual while making a cash cow off of his dishonesty and people’s ignorance, both scientific and spiritual. (I was not surprised however, given the power of human egotism.) Here is a site discussing the scam:

People who don’t realize hydration has huge positive effects on the body whether or not it is “structured” but who have, for instance, heard accurately that water is contaminated by fracking could potentially be one set of scam victims. Structured water systems don’t prevent or reduce, let alone eliminate, contaminants in water.

People who want to evolve spiritually but still believe the authority to empower them lies outside themselves could be the second set of victims, and there will probably be overlap. Here’s the secret people: you are the one who empowers yourself, you are the author of your own life (not the same as the creator of reality) and you and everything else is interconnected. You can infuse as many intentions into water as often as you like, because ultimately you and the water are inseparable. If you need proof, your body is 75% water. You can infuse intentions in the water existing already within you, and get the same results as if you placed them in a glass of water and drank it. Water isn’t just outside you, it is you.

In general, you have all you ever would need within yourself to arrive at the threshold of your belonging, because that threshold has always been at the center of you. You can structure water for free. You can also skip the step of structuring water and become who you have always been and already are, from the inside out.

Several other people featured on the mailing list sold products that, though might have some nominal benefits, are wholly unnecessary to spiritual development. In the end, many spiritual tools are developed to help people focus and get into a state to access what is already within them. Tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. You don’t need a fork to eat pasta, but it’s sure helpful! However, if someone is trying to make you dependent on a product for enlightenment, run.

Another tragic example. The spiritual practitioner who is speaking tonight and who already has my discernment radar flashing red was introduced with the now increasingly meaningless “This will change your life!” guarantee which accompanies every single call, along with the following reason for why I should listen to her (which I will not): “Her popular Twitter feed has over 54,000 followers.” (No, I didn’t make it up!) For anyone philosophically inclined, but even for those who are not, arguments from popularity are fallacious and scream ego trip.

Just to be sure, I went on her website , where, sadly, she offers many blatant self-promoting reasons why people ought to work with her, including the particularly horrifying reason that she is “unique” because she works with the most high-ranking spirits on the other side. Now, this is one of the most blatant fallacies of argument by authority I have ever heard and, again, a huge ego trip. (Not to mention, if someone on the other side actually said something like this to her, she is being lied to.) What spiritual truth could a person possibly impart while fully believing in her superiority? While pointing out why your skills as a stock broker are unique in the business helps you gain customers and successfully compete in your field, the tactic is terribly tacky and telling when it comes to imparting spiritual wisdom.

There is a great and profound responsibility that befalls anyone wanting to spiritually guide others, whether in this world or the next. Those looking for direction (not a prescriptive formula) are, by the very nature of the relationship, making themselves extremely vulnerable. In such a situation, maintaining spiritual equality isn’t the ideal, it is necessary; otherwise one or both of you could get seriously emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically hurt. This intrinsic spiritual equality is one of the very first things I learned about with my ancient family. Spiritual relationship falls apart without it.

Yes, not all of us have the same skills. That is why there are teachers and learners. But hierarchies of expertise consist of inherently spiritually equal people, period. I would personally avoid anyone who believes otherwise.

I don’t understand how it is possible to be both consciously aware, aware enough to be in the circumstance of walking a spiritual journey with many others, and continue to hold the opinion of yourself that you are unique, and because of your otherworldly connections (who would undoubtedly insist on their equality) besides. I cannot fathom a more hypocritical message, personally. I can only conclude, as seems reasonable and my right in the circumstances, that such people are only pretending to be spiritual for their own personal gain.

I am unfortunately now not just wary of a few practitioners booked for calls through this program, but wary of the person conducting the program as well. What could have been a journey of interesting and insightful discovery has, most of the time, proven to be nothing more than a disappointing marketing campaign. I feel fortunate to have listened to the people whose energy and message resonated with me and to know to look within, rather than out to my culture, or to the popular spiritual culture in which this all takes place, to know when something feels like a scam and honor that feeling. I did not have to learn how to do this with a teacher, and I am not unique, nor special. I am one among many and I am learning and imperfect and very human in all that entails and my authority extends to my journey alone, and really not even that far. And, contrary to the innumerable claims made lately about everything and its lookalike being there to save you and change your life, if you just follow such and so or if you pay for it, I have this to say, which you can take or leave:

I have learned that I am valuable, I am needed, as is every other person here, and our worth is with us from before we were born, and each of us is one among many. We are whole. We are enough just as we are. I believe we don’t follow a spiritual path because something or someone needs to fix us. I follow my path for the joy of it, for growing, and because in changing I become more myself than ever before. I have learned that comparison is conformity, and conformity stifles authenticity. I am here to speak my truth, to finally see I am enough in my eyes, and be completely who I am. Isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves?

So, when someone bombards me with unsupported and incessant claims that “This (whatever it is) is going to save your life!” I remind myself that nothing outside you changes your life. You are alive. To transform our lives, we only have to go full out in living and being all we are.

One Moment At a Time

Some days segment out
Moment
By
Moment
Letting go now

Letting go now
Present, shifting
Bafflingly clear
Every second a choice

Yes I can
At every instant
Behold again my broken
Shards of mirror

Shattered and yet
Within each appears
A whole reflection
What is, I accept

I am and am not here
Known and unknown
Fragile and all
Fragmented and complete

Some days segment out
Free at every moment
Choosing to be
I let go

Now and now
I quietly allow
Becoming to unfold
The change in me

A Different Way

February 4, 2015

It’s a crisp February evening. I sit on a bench outside the Berkeley philosophy building, having at least the next fifteen minutes to myself before going for dinner with a friend. A breeze blows softly around me, the air smells clean, here and there a bird calls. It is almost six o’clock. An hour before, I learned that today is the 100th anniversary of the Campanile, a historic clock tower on UC Berkeley’s campus. At six PM, bells will be going off in the tower, rigged by three ingenious professors to chime in rhythm with the Bay Area’s famous earthquake fault line. The seismic waves in the earth will determine the pattern of the music, which will be accompanied by flashing lights.

I have come from a lively seminar on free will, and though I’ve enjoyed It immensely, I’m now needing to ground and center out of head space to become present once again with the living, breathing world before connecting with the world beyond. Soon, Caoilte will be joining me. We have a challenge to discuss and some solid time to ourselves before my friend arrives. I smile to myself thinking on how delighted Caoilte is going to be to have an awesome display of modern technology occurring as a soundtrack to our discussion.

I first heard about the challenge two days before while quietly spending time with a large standing stone during an imbolc celebration. Ailbhe sat down next to me. I was in the middle of thinking about how some people have apparently learned to bend spoons, which is not really what I was intending to meditate on. Silently, I greeted Ailbhe who looked thoughtfully at me and then said abruptly, “How would you feel about bending, as if you were a spoon that could be reshaped to reflect the most light? We will hold you safe until the end of it.” She sent me a picture of several people carrying me in their hands while I went through some kind of transformation.

I could feel the time I had to meditate was almost up, and soon the space around me would no longer be quiet. Baffled and not at all persuaded of the merits of her suggestion I simply said, “It sounds wholly disagreeable to me. But I don’t understand what you mean.”

I am once again turning over what Ailbhe said, not becoming any wiser for it, when Caoilte appears and sits down next to me. He waits patiently while I finish moving into a softer, more reflective focus and take down the shield I use to help shut out the chaos of this world during my long day. Now I can see him clearly, and for a while we sit together, looking at each other, understanding each other without speaking. He is asking how I am and I answer in the otherworld way, letting go of any defensiveness, allowing myself to be seen. I make the gesture for acceptance.

Now, Caoilte gets up and is standing in front of me. He surrounds us in a white light, so I won’t take in any energy that isn’t mine while we’re talking. “Ailbhe says you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this challenge with us,” Caoilte begins, “Why? What are you afraid of?”

He can see how I am feeling and asks the question sincerely, without judgment. Still, this is when staying out of the way gets difficult. It occurs to me that ethicists like to talk a lot about honesty, but tend to skip over the fact that being completely honest quickly dislodges you from your comfort zone. That is beside the point now, however. I meet Caoilte’s eyes: “What Ailbhe said reminded me too much of some sort of intense alchemical transformation or shamanic initiation, and I’d rather run and scream than do either of those things. Unfortunately.” I have the urge to apologize for this, but Caoilte shakes his head, so I continue, “I thought I was already enough, so why become something different? Besides I don’t want to become a shape shifter or be unable to physically recognize myself once I’ve changed form.”

There is compassion and thoughtfulness in Caoilte’s eyes now. I can already tell that whatever I took Ailbhe to mean, I was at least mistaken in part. I’m very glad about this. After a moment Caoilte says, “I can understand how you might take Ailbhe literally, as you were just in a physical challenge with her. No, this is not another physical challenge. Ailbhe and I will be doing this with you together, and the changes are energetic ones. Let me try to explain it a different way.”

Now between us there’s a picture of a dark looking space, and out of this space Caoilte pulls tiny shimmering threads of light, which glint against the night sky. Each light strand has a different color which I can’t see, but implicitly understand is there. Now, Caoilte is unraveling the strands of colored light and reweaving them, then placing them back in the darker space. As I look on the dark space becomes illuminated with the colors previously opaque within it. Instead of lying hidden in the space, the light is suddenly drawn out and brightly shining through, every color radiating out in a myriad of directions. It is stunningly beautiful and I catch my breath, in awe of what I’m seeing.

“This is what we mean,” Caoilte says, “This is about energy, changing, reweaving the patterns that keep your light absorbed in shadow, so your light doesn’t remain hidden, so that gradually you can reflect more and more the radiance already within you, to shine for yourself and then out into the world.”

“Oh!” I say, grateful for the clarity, viscerally relieved. “I’ll agree to that! I’m up for energetically changing shape, it sounds fascinating.” And more than that, which I show in intention, I understand now how I can both go through with the change and still be enough, because I am not becoming other than myself, but aligning more and more with who I have always been.

A look of pure enthusiastic joy silently transforms Caoilte’s face. I can tell he is wishing he could shout “Okay, let’s do this thing!” This is the first time it has occurred to me that shouting isn’t possible in the otherworld. How frustrating!

And, although I now find that I’m having to suddenly console my small self who’s not particularly fond of transitions and change of any kind, Caoilte’s excitement is infectious and it feels like my eyes light up. I am full of curiosity, wondering what on earth will happen now (or perhaps, more fittingly, how out of this world it’s going to get.) Again, I am holding my hands out palm up accepting my place here on the next step of this wild, wondrous journey. And then the Campanile performance begins.

The Danger of Silence _ The One-Many (OM) Project

“It was the three things we lived by,” said Oisín: “the truth in our hearts, the strength in our hands, and fulfilment in our tongues.”

Next up in the One-Many Project is Clint Smith’s TED Talk, “The Danger of Silence.” From TED.com: “We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says slam poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

Watch the talk!

I’ve included the transcript in entirety as it’s short, beautifully written, and to the point.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1968 speech where he reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement, states, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

As a teacher, I’ve internalized this message. Every day, all around us, we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide and war. In the classroom, I challenge my students to explore the silences in their own lives through poetry. We work together to fill those spaces, to recognize them, to name them, to understand that they don’t have to be sources of shame. In an effort to create a culture within my classroom where students feel safe sharing the intimacies of their own silences, I have four core principles posted on the board that sits in the front of my class, which every student signs at the beginning of the year: read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.

And I find myself thinking a lot about that last point, tell your truth. And I realized that if I was going to ask my students to speak up, I was going to have to tell my truth and be honest with them about the times where I failed to do so.

So I tell them that growing up, as a kid in a Catholic family in New Orleans, during Lent I was always taught that the most meaningful thing one could do was to give something up, sacrifice something you typically indulge in to prove to God you understand his sanctity. I’ve given up soda, McDonald’s, French fries, French kisses, and everything in between. But one year, I gave up speaking. I figured the most valuable thing I could sacrifice was my own voice, but it was like I hadn’t realized that I had given that up a long time ago. I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn’t meant to be anyone’s conscience because I still had to figure out being my own, so sometimes I just wouldn’t say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence, unaware that validation doesn’t need words to endorse its existence. When Christian was beat up for being gay, I put my hands in my pocket and walked with my head down as if I didn’t even notice. I couldn’t use my locker for weeks because the bolt on the lock reminded me of the one I had put on my lips when the homeless man on the corner looked at me with eyes up merely searching for an affirmation that he was worth seeing. I was more concerned with touching the screen on my Apple than actually feeding him one. When the woman at the fundraising gala said “I’m so proud of you. It must be so hard teaching those poor, unintelligent kids,” I bit my lip, because apparently we needed her money more than my students needed their dignity.

We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t. Silence is the residue of fear. It is feeling your flaws gut-wrench guillotine your tongue. It is the air retreating from your chest because it doesn’t feel safe in your lungs. Silence is Rwandan genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there aren’t enough body bags left. It is the sound after the noose is already tied. It is charring. It is chains. It is privilege. It is pain. There is no time to pick your battles when your battles have already picked you.

I will not let silence wrap itself around my indecision. I will tell Christian that he is a lion, a sanctuary of bravery and brilliance. I will ask that homeless man what his name is and how his day was, because sometimes all people want to be is human. I will tell that woman that my students can talk about transcendentalism like their last name was Thoreau, and just because you watched one episode of “The Wire” doesn’t mean you know anything about my kids. So this year, instead of giving something up, I will live every day as if there were a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition. Because who has to have a soapbox when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?

The Beauty In All Things

I look all around this world
For the beauty in all things:
It’s in your eyes,
It’s in the starlight in your hair,

It’s in the cries of children,
The murmurings of all that grows.
Sometimes it just breaks me to see so much anger, so much fear,
And the tears we cry over what people’s hands and minds have done.

Flowers do not know despair,
Sitting there so patiently
They never mind the waiting.
I am looking far away, struck by memories almost fading–

For what is left behind when we die, but how we’ll be remembered?
None of the trees, none of the seas, none of the green stands still,
Until pieces of the scars start to be beautiful, make sense,
Bright and radiant, even holding truth at our expense.

How change so suddenly engulfs us,
Forcing us to recognize dishonesty.
How change so suddenly enfolds us,
Transforming all we thought we’d be.

In time I know wounds will heal, mountains fading into sea,
Time smooths over what is real, while conquerors write its history.
In time the children crawl, then stand, to walk life’s mystery,
And I hope this time that I can find the beauty in all things.

Rarely is existence black and white,
As in betweens we have a power of our own:
To magnify the bruises,
Etch the outlines of scars,

Glint in the rain drops,
Shimmer with the echos through the sky,
And bless the dawn with light,
And draw out all the life in everyone.

Sometimes there is too much darkness,
And I don’t know what will become of us,
But as long as I am here, I’ll make sure I’m standing tall,
Taking in all, swaying when the wind blows.

I’ll survive somehow,
Our memories, our dreams they have survived,
Broken pieces of identity,
Often not invaluable enough to save,

Our needs not what they used to be,
In a way there is nothing more to need.
I am here, a testament to love,
What are tides, if we never had changed course sometimes.

It’s hard to say just how I feel,
Harder still to share the desperation in my eyes,
Hardest to admit when I’m afraid
To walk the world alone, unsure of what’s ahead.

What else can I say, you are shining, ,
You are changing the way I face the things of life.
Holding gently in my hands what time has left for me,
Songs of joy and sorrow, I wish to gather gratefully.

And I hope, despite what life might bring,
I’ll find shelter in some trees,
Look across the seas,
Hear the laughter of my children and with them, wonder at such beauty,
The beauty in all things.