Guns and Empathy

Asha, ready for Talent Round-Up day on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show

Asha, ready for Talent Round-Up day on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show

I got my first gun when I was 10 years old. It was a Daisy BB gun (not a Red Ryder, and I did not shoot my eye out). We had just moved to 76 acres in the middle of nowhere, Texas. It was nice land, maybe one-quarter plowed and the rest wild. I also got my first pair of cowboy boots, because only a fool walks through tall grass on a warm day in anything else. There were lots of snakes, and it’s far better that they bite into leather than your ankle.

When I was 11, Dad bought me a used 4-10 shotgun at a pawn shop. I think he bought his 12-gauge at the same time. Now, I know some people would think that we didn’t really need these guns, because I didn’t start deer hunting until I was 14 or so. And you don’t shoot deer with a shotgun—well, not with shot, anyway. Dad did hunt deer with 12-gauge slugs before he bought a 30/30, which is a good deer rifle. No, the shotguns were not for deer, but they were for wildlife. This is going to horrify some folks, I know. And I will be honest:  Dad shot animals he simply did not need to shoot, and he should have left alone. But there are times when you have to. For example, I woke up one morning before school and went out to Dad’s workshop on the porch in my bare feet and nightgown. We had a freezer in there, and I wanted a frozen waffle. The moment I walked into the shop, I heard a rattling noise. I froze. I looked around and could not see the source, so I high-tailed it out of there faster than you can say, “Leggo my Eggo.” My Dad got his .22 pistol (with shot bullets, which are effective against snakes at close range) and discovered that not one, but two rattlesnakes had bedded up in some old insulation he had in there. Mighty cozy. In circumstances like these, you are not going to try to catch the snakes and release them somewhere else. No, you’re going to shoot them. And he did.

Guns like these are excellent tools for hunting and protection from things like rattlesnakes and rabid animals (remember Old Yeller?). Over the years, I have eaten squirrel, rabbit, and even raccoon (which we did not like—too fatty). In general, I believe that if you kill an animal, you should eat it. I don’t have a lot of respect for killing for trophies. In my opinion, that’s something that insecure people do. And deer hunting, at this point, is probably necessary, because we’ve killed most of the big predators. Deer hunting is regulated to maintain a stable population. Hunters who follow the rules are good hunters. Unethical hunters kill out of season, poach, or don’t eat what they kill.

Right now, Americans are quite divided on the issue of guns, which is understandable. A shotgun can do a great deal of damage, but an AR-47 can cause carnage on a large scale. The liberal take is generally that we need some gun control. The conservative take is that the liberals are not going to take their guns away. And let’s be honest:  that will never happen. Constitutionally, it can’t happen, and practically, it can’t happen because you would face an uprising of some sort. Americans shooting Americans, episode 50,089. Ish.

Our nation’s founders did not envision what amounts to an arms race, however:  a man with a gun is met by a man with a cannon, who is then met by a man with a bazooka… Remember Bugs Bunny?

It’s all about who has the bigger, better weapon. In the days of single-shot muskets, they never envisioned something like the AR-47 which, let’s face it, was designed for one purpose, and one purpose only:  war and killing other people.

Some folks maintain that they need guns like the AR-47 to defend themselves from a potentially tyrannical government. Liberals scoff, but the government does have a lot of power to mess with people who don’t adhere to the status quo. They have done so, and the assumption that the government always operates in the interests of its citizens can be easily disproved (witness our current Congress, which continues to fail to advance legislation that the majority of people support). On the other hand, however, no AR-47 is going to protect someone from a drone and military-grade weaponry. The man who shot the police officers in Dallas, Texas recently was taken out by a drone. The shooter’s actions were horrific and deplorable, of course, but it is significant that an American citizen on American soil was executed by drone for the first time with no trial or jury. Even Charles Manson is still in prison…

So, what’s next? Should conservative gun-owners who fear the government start stocking up on drone warfare? I doubt they could, but you see my point. It’s escalation. Our governments have done it, and now we have a globe awash in weapons that can destroy the whole planet. And they’re working on “mini-nukes” for more tactical use. After all, what matter if an entire region is laid waste for countless generations, with God knows how much “collateral damage,” which is a nice way of saying, “dead people everywhere?” And in the middle of it all, a handful of companies profit from our desire to kill one another and be the last person standing on the wasteland that ensues. Remember Duck Dodgers?

There once was a day when, if you wanted to kill a man, you had to look him in the eyes and watch him die. You might use a knife, sword, battle axe, or rifle, but you could see what you had done. Murder, whether “unlawful” or state-sanctioned (war), is ugly. Now we can pull a trigger and spray hundreds of bullets in one go, or kill from afar with an unmanned drone. The whites of their eyes? No, targets on a screen.

Conservatives are correct when they say that guns aren’t the problem. (After Nice, no one is suggesting that we ban vans.) That being said, I don’t think that military weaponry has any place in a civilized society. I think the ban on semiautomatic and automatic weapons should be reinstated, not because it will prevent all mass shootings, but because it will lower the body count if one occurs. The real problem, as always, is our lack of compassion and empathy for one another, and our desire to solve problems using force instead of understanding.

Civilization—and I mean real Civilization, not “civilization” defined by tons of technology—is impossible without empathy and its cousin, compassion. In America today, there is a shortage of empathy. People who are diagnosed with personality disorders like narcissistic or borderline personality disorder are literally incapable of empathy. It’s part of their illness. They cannot relate to others. Likewise, people who were raised by someone like this, or were heavily influenced by someone like this, may struggle with empathy as well.

What is empathy? It is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is the ability to imagine life from their point of view. In our increasingly binary society (“I’m right, and you’re wrong”), we need this, desperately. Liberals, imagine for one moment that you are a white man living in rural America. Imagine that you have a high school education, because you stuck it out, and that maybe you found a good job at a nearby factory. Imagine that you had expectations:  marry, have children, buy a home, earn a pension. And then your job was outsourced to Mexico, or China, or Bangladesh. Imagine being jobless for 6 months, then a year, then maybe three. Your wife supports the family working a couple of jobs. How do you feel? Are you angry? Hopeless?

Now, conservatives, imagine for a moment that you are a black mother. You love your children. You have two teenage boys. They’re good kids, and they go to school, but it’s rough sometimes. They get called out for infractions that white kids seem to get a pass for. They’ve been called the N word a couple of times, by strangers. Your oldest has his driver’s license. You watch the news, and you are afraid. You’re afraid that he’ll get stopped, that he’ll do or say the wrong thing. You’re afraid of having to plan a funeral for your child. How do you feel? Helpless? Angry?

Here’s the thing:  if you simply cannot imagine either scenario, or similar ones, then you need to increase your empathy quotient. If the mere thought of placing yourself in the shoes of someone you think of, even unconsciously, as “other” or an ideological “enemy,” then you need this exercise badly. Everyone has a valid perspective. Everyone has feelings and fears and dreams. Everyone may act illogically or unkindly on the basis of their perceptions from time to time. But that doesn’t mean that their perspective is any less valid.

We need to be able to imagine ourselves from another person’s perspective, no matter who they are. In some cases, this may be extremely difficult. I get that. But if we don’t, then we can’t talk to one another without getting defensive. It’s the first thing that happens in an argument! A liberal says, “Your gun…” and the conservative instantly responds by feeling attacked:  “You’re not taking it!” And vice versa. If a person of color brings up race, most white people get defensive and respond, in some form with, “I’m not a racist!” And so forth.

We get defensive when we assume we know what the other person is saying, even if that is not what the other person means. It happens all the time. Our beliefs and judgments color these assumptions. For example, I have noticed that a conservative mindset reads some memes very differently than a liberal one. We can literally read the same meme and come away with two very different interpretations. And neither of them is wrong.

Getting defensive goes hand in hand with getting angry. Our anger sits right there, beneath the surface, ready to flare up at any moment. But here’s the thing:  a five-year-old may erupt into a tantrum over a perceived slight, but this is something we’re supposed to grow out of. We’re supposed to mature. Yet our political and social discourse seems to be degenerating back to a preschool state. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to lash out at someone in anger, though. Would you give a gun to a five-year-old? I hope not. But I’ve seen a lot of emotional five-year-olds in grown-up bodies lately. Some of them kill people.

Do we want to talk to each other? Really? Then we need empathy and compassion for them before we begin. We need to listen before jumping to the pretaped conclusions and judgments that run through our heads on a regular basis. We need to be dedicated to finding mutual solutions, to compromise, to understanding. Compromise is essential:  trying to enforce our views with force has never worked, but it has created a lot of misery.

Alternatively, we can continue to scream at each other and hurt one another as though we’re in a macabre Argument Clinic sketch back in the Wild West:

Kids, You Can Play on My Lawn

Davy Jones & Maureen McCormick from the Brady Bunch

Davy Jones & Maureen McCormick from the Brady Bunch

My university sent me a card congratulating me on the quarter-century anniversary of my degree. Quarter century. Not 25 years. A quarter century.

Like most people in their 40s, I have fond memories of college and other days. I still listen to New Wave music (that’s 80s music, if you’re wondering). I still smile at Big Hair and leg warmers. I remember when MTV actually played music. I remember growing up in the 70s with Marcia Brady, coveting her hair. So yes, when I find my body no longer recovers as quickly as it used to, or I absent-mindedly put down my phone and then wonder where it is three minutes later, I know that I’m not 21 anymore. Some of the kids I went to high school with are dead. It’s just what happens.

Aging, particularly in a society that sees this as a Bad Thing (cover your gray! dress younger! lose weight!) can make one feel anxious:  we don’t have as much time left. The world changes around us, and we no longer understand the slang, the technology, the mindset of those who were born decades after us. In our insecurity, we may begin to denigrate the younger generations, perpetuating the “generation gap.”

An older woman on Facebook recently referred to the Millenials as the people who are “raising more entitled kids.” It’s funny how we tend to see people our age as somehow better than the younger kids. My generation had its share of entitled kids, I have to say, which can only reflect poorly on the Boomers who were raising them. What does that even mean, though? Are we to believe that there were no assholes before 1990?

The world is changing, and it feels like chaos to the older generations. I was raised in a culture that had commonality in the Fonz, Archie Bunker, and Daisy Duke’s ridiculously short shorts. “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” was instantly recognized. We shared a common lingo. We went to movie theaters—a lot. We swam without life jackets. When I was very young, we rode without seatbelts. And while all of this was my valid experience, that doesn’t make it necessarily the best possible experience. Because if my parents’ car had been in an accident, I would’ve been thrown out the window. And the long-term value of a show like “Diff’rent Strokes” can be easily debated.

My children cannot even conceive of the world in which I grew up. My daughter asked, “What kinds of apps did you have when you were a kid?” So I told her about my Atari and my Texas Instruments computer that didn’t have a hard drive, but I loaded games onto it with a cassette tape—which she’s never even seen. My kids have also never seen “The Brady Bunch” and they may never do so. When I showed my daughter “The Jetsons” at the age of three, her response was a yawn of complete boredom. The things that felt special to me can never feel that way to her. We have moved on.

We have a nice TV. We mostly use it to rent streaming movies from Amazon, or watch Netflix. We don’t have cable. My son mostly uses the TV for the Playstation. Their preferred entertainment is Youtube. Youtubers like DanTDM and Twaimz speak to them the same way that Marcia Brady spoke to me. The difference is that Marcia Brady was created for me to idolize by television executives, but my children are finding their peers and deciding for themselves whom they like and admire.

I’ve heard plenty of Generation X’ers and older folks complain about social media and the way the young people spend their time on Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, or whatever the latest rage is, but it’s because they don’t understand what they’re doing or why. Our kids are forging their own commonality, still based on communication and media, but in a different way. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was no better than a Youtube account, and many might argue that it was far worse.

In many ways, the Internet is like the Wild West:  it’s mostly unregulated and free, some people are good citizens, some are morally questionable, and some are just outright crooked and disgusting. We are no longer confined to Walter Cronkite for the news; now you can pick your own preferred source (and viewpoint) from anywhere in the world. For every argument, there is a blog with a counterargument. We have gone from four major networks (I’m including PBS because FOX came about when I was older) to millions of media outlets, from professional/corporate to homegrown/some guy in a garage. This is a little scary for some folks.

The world is changing, and our kids are leading the way. We can’t stop the changes, but we can support our youth in making them. We can adapt to these changes, or we can be left behind. Whatever we decide, screaming, “Get off my lawn!” is just howling in the wind.

Why I Love Immigrants

 

By WorldAccent - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

By WorldAccent – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

I live in the U.S., and let me tell you, life is getting hard for immigrants here. I suspect that’s also the case in Europe, as the terrible war(s) in Syria exact their toll on an innocent population, who have no choice but to flee or die. Rhetoric from the right is angry and all too often racist. If you heard nothing else, you’d think everyone in America wanted anyone who looks or speaks differently than they do to stay out, period. This makes me sad.

I get that the anti-immigrant crowd are afraid and angry. The America that people my age grew up with is, quite frankly, gone. We have many challenges ahead, and change is the only way through. Of course, change itself is a very scary thing. And nothing is easier than finding a scapegoat for all your worries. “Those people” make handy scapegoats.

Here’s the thing, though. If my world really looked like a Neo-Nazi dream, all white and Christian, well… well, I wouldn’t be here. I admire the carpenter, but I don’t think he’s God with a big G. But aside from that, let’s say I were allowed to exist in this whitewashed world. Here’s what I would miss.

Skills

We take for granted many of the skills that come from somewhere else. My Taekwondo master is Korean. Taekwondo is Korean. No Koreans, no Taekwondo. No Japanese, no Aikido. No Chinese, no Kung Fu. Yes, there are white instructors. But they didn’t learn it from their European forebears, now did they?

Or maybe you like Yoga. That’s a Hindu practice. No Indians, no Yoga.

Speaking of skills, without the skills of the people already living on this continent, many early colonists would have died. Native Americans understood the flora, the fauna, and basically how to get along. Some of them generously shared their knowledge, giving Caucasians such wonderful new foods as corn and potatoes.

Art & Music

Imagine the world of art and music without input from other cultures. Most of the music Americans listen to these days derives from or was directly inspired by the music of black people. You know what pure white music looks like? Mostly classical (which is awesome, but still) and regional folk music. I love the bagpipes, the oom-pa-pa German folk songs, and Irish reels very much, but I’m glad they aren’t the only things I have to listen to. No black people, no jazz or rock ‘n roll.

Likewise, while the European artistic tradition is rich and fabulous, there’s an entire world of great art out there that we wouldn’t have access to, and that would be a real shame. African art, Oriental art, Islamic art, South American art, all wonderful and all equally valuable.

Food

I don’t even have to explain this, do I? Even so-called “American” foods (like pizza) were inspired by immigrants. Oh, but that’s Italian. White people. But not always. The Irish and Italians were not exactly welcome 100 years ago.

Back to food. I like French cuisine, German food, Italian food, even haggis. (Yes, really.) But it sure is nice to eat Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, so much variety and goodness!), as well as Ethiopian, South American, Lebanese, and Mexican food. (Mexican food originated with those brown people down south that a certain someone wants to wall out.) No Mexicans, no burritos.

Ideas

I have worked in the high-tech industry for a long time now. It is probably the most diverse workforce in America, aside from science and academia. I have worked with, and continue to work with, immigrants from India, Singapore, China, Japan, Russia, Hungary, Central & South America, and the Middle East. Are they here taking all the white people’s jobs? No, because I work with a whole lot of homegrown Caucasians, too. So why do the tech companies hire people from all over the world? Quite simply because they are good at what they do and can inject new ideas into the creative process.

No immigrants, no new ideas. Stagnation.

Friends

If I stop and think about how many people I know are first-generation immigrants, it’s a big number! I can’t imagine not having them here. Their absence would diminish my world.

Aside from basic friendship, the presence of immigrants in our communities provides the catalyst for new and wonderful things. No immigrants in your town, no fusion cooking!

It is certainly true that all of these skills, ideas, food, and art would exist around the world even if we isolated ourselves in a sort of white Utopia. And that’s the way the world looked once upon a time, before people started to travel longer and longer distances. European heads of state financed explorers because the explorers brought back cool stuff. Tea, corn, potatoes, herbs & spices, unusual fruits. If Yoga only exists in India, then you don’t get the benefit. Immigrants bring the best of themselves with them.

Yeah, I can hear the folks who say, “And the worst!” Well, I personally don’t think immigrants have a monopoly on the worst of human behavior. As evidenced by the existence of right-wing hate groups, most of whom are…white.

Life is messy. There are never any guarantees. There is no such thing as security, really. So from my perspective, a white-walled palace “to keep them out” is a prison. A really boring, homogeneous prison. Immigrants bring us so many gifts, why would we want to turn them away? Come join the mixing pot. It’s where the party is.

Fighting Each Other, Fighting Ourselves

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472Small

We’re all in this together.

It was with a sort of macabre amusement that I noticed the Washington Post said of the San Bernadino mass shooting that it “might be terrorism related, but we don’t know.” Two people killed 14 others at a Christmas party. Personally, I call that terrorism, and I also call it terrorism when a white Christian man shoots up a Planned Parenthood or when white guys shoot at peaceful black protesters. But I guess the message here is that only certain brown people commit acts of terror. Right.

America now experiences terror, by my definition, almost daily. Mass killings are now normal. Got a grievance? Disagree with someone? Well, if you have a gun, you can sure fix them. They are the problem. But who are they?

Maybe they are Hispanic immigrants. They don’t speak English. They do things a little differently. They are suspicious. Or, maybe they are Middle-Eastern-looking-brown-skinned people who may or may not be Muslims (PSA: people who wear the turbans are Sikhs, not Muslims). They have different customs and beliefs and are therefore suspicious. Probably can’t trust them. Or maybe they are hoodie-wearing black gangsta-looking youths who are probably on welfare (my tax money!) and about to steal something. Or maybe it’s just your ex-wife, who has it coming.

Our society now overwhelmingly prefers to blame someone, anyone but ourselves, for our problems. And the best fit for that is a scapegoat. They are our scapegoats. (Struggling to keep your family solvent and healthy? Maybe it’s their fault.) But you know what? The people who actually exert the most control in this country prefer it this way. Because if we’re busy fighting each other, we’re not going to notice that man behind the curtain. That “man” who is destroying our environment, robbing us blind, and enslaving us with debt and growing poverty.

So, here we are, fueled by our own personal echo chambers (Fox News, MSNBC, etc., take your pick). We’re no longer content to merely disagree with one another. Force has become a viable alternative. Are you feeling powerless and enraged and you don’t like abortion? Kill some people. Don’t like the government? Blow up a government building.

Last night I dreamed that Nazis were coming. They had arrived at my house, and they were going to kill us unless we left. We were now the “Other,” the misfits, the scapegoats. We grabbed backpacks with a few belongings and set out on foot. We had to leave the pets behind. It was terrible. I was so relieved just to wake up. But listen well: fascism is not something that ended with World War II. The seeds are right here, in America, and demagogues like Donald Trump are watering them furiously. “There’s nothing wrong with you! Immigrants, Muslims, China! There’s your problem!” This kind of talk is how you incite a mob to violence. “Those people are misfits and don’t deserve to live.” We are not better people than the Germans in the 1930s, some of whom fought the Nazis to the best of their ability. We are just as susceptible to violence against “the Other” as they were. And right now, it ain’t pretty.

So what can we do?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

It is very important not to let fear take over. Fear is the enemy, because all hate stems from fear. Fear of the Other, fear of the unknown, the need to feel “secure.” If that need for security and safety becomes too strong, people will give up a great deal to achieve it, even their own liberties. Fascists will tell you that they will take care of you and make you secure. There are no guarantees in this life. I’m more likely to die while driving than I am to be killed by a terrorist. Fear is a fascist’s currency. They will use it and manipulate it if they can.

It is also incredibly important to stay in the energy of love and compassion as much as possible. If watching or reading the news makes that difficult, then stop doing it! The purpose of the media is to make you afraid.

Most importantly, remind yourself that there is no “Other.” We are one humanity. We are One Being. The idea that we are somehow separate from each other is an illusion. So each day, do whatever is given to you to help. Pay someone a compliment. Tell someone you love them. Help a neighbor with a chore. Feed someone who doesn’t have enough to eat. Smile at a stranger.

Even though it seems like the world has gone completely mad, tell yourself, “It is healing.” Make this your mantra. “It is healing.” There are healing pains, yes. And you may feel powerless, but I assure you that you are not. Use your light. Use your compassion. When you gaze upon another face, know that you are looking at your brother or your sister. And then smile.

The Universe in Your Hand

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

It would seem very strange if I told you that you had a nose. “See? It’s right there, in the middle of your face.” And you might respond, “Duh.” You can see your nose. You can touch it. You can even blow it. But if I also said, “You have something in your hand that contains the Universe’s Power of Healing and Creation,” you might wonder what I’ve been smoking. Nevertheless, you do, and it does.

Reiki practitioners and other energy healers are unlikely to be surprised by the idea that your hands are conduits for healing, but they may not yet be fully aware of why that is. In your dominant healing hand (for me, my right hand), lies something that is just as much a part of you as your DNA (which can be seen and measured) and your aura (which most people cannot see and which science declines to measure). Tune into it. It is a higher-dimensional being that looks like a star tesseract. By definition, tesseracts are four-dimensional (and higher), so it’s difficult to draw one. But if you look at it psychically, you will be able to see its shape and color.

The tesseract in your hand is no simple object, either. It has its own consciousness. It is not separate from you, but it is not entirely you as you define yourself, either. The reason for this symbiotic relationship is that you, the spirit in the human being skin, must achieve a certain level of consciousness yourself before the tesseract will become available to you. The power of Creation and Healing is not for the person who has not yet mastered themselves, at least to a degree. (The abuse of this power is part of what led to the downfall of Atlantis, after all.) No, the tesseract works with your heart, not your head. Your heart must be open and compassionate.

“A conscious tesseract with the power of creation in my hand, you say? You must be mad.” There are many things that are unseen or difficult to measure (is light a particle or a wave?), but that does not mean they don’t exist. If you’re open, you don’t have to look very far to find the evidence. Jesus Christ was said to heal with his hand and create food from thin air. Given my understanding of the tesseract, I have no problem believing this. Or take the Yogi Milarepa, who demonstrated his mastery by leaving his handprint in stone.

Every culture has its stories of miracles and healing that simply cannot be explained. In our overly logical culture, we tend to dismiss these as simple fairy tales, separate from our very hard and measurable reality. But even fairy tales have something important to tell us about ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it, however. Develop a relationship and understanding with the tesseract in your own hand. It will help you learn all you need to know. I say that you likely have a nose in your face. It gives you the sense of smell. I also say that you have a conscious star tesseract in your hand. It is yet another sense to help you navigate the world and the universe. And the fact is that your heart and your tesseract are needed to help heal and transform this planet. Chaos and self-destruction is avoidable, but it will take many of us to awaken, to love, and to heal.

Your star tesseract is part of your personal power, just like your heart, your mind, and your aura. Awaken to it. We need you.

Burying Abigail and Learning to Reconnect

My daughter and Abigail, back in healthier days

We had to put a beloved cat to sleep this week. This was painful and difficult, but as with all things, it came with its own set of profound lessons.

Abigail came to us as a middle-aged cat, and we enjoyed her for five years. For the past year, we knew that she was ill—likely some form of cancer—so we watched to make sure she wasn’t suffering too much. This past week, we could tell that she was suffering, and she hadn’t been able to eat in at least two weeks. It was time.

We don’t believe in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars that we don’t really have to try to prolong the life of an animal with a terminal illness who will probably just be made more miserable by the process. Death is another part of life, and we will probably see Abigail again in a new, healthy kitten body one day. But parting is still painful.

When I had her put to sleep, we didn’t really have the money for the cremation, too, so I opted to take her body back home for burial. At the time, I wasn’t very happy about it, because I was already so upset, and dealing with her mortal shell seemed overwhelming to me. But in retrospect, I’m so very glad that I did. I learned something important, and so did the entire family.

When we told the children to say goodbye to Abigail, they did so almost casually, as though she’d be back again in an hour. They are 6 and 8, and death did not seem real to them. They couldn’t really grasp it, although we had lost other cats before. But when I returned home at dusk with Abigail’s lifeless body, they began to understand.

I asked our dear friend Jonathan to help me bury her, in the dark and the rain, out underneath our “Christmas tree,” a large, tall fir tree in the corner of our yard. The children came out in their coats and galoshes to see what was up. I handed the flashlight to Wren, so Jonathan could keep digging, and then I went to the car to get Abigail.

She was still warm and heavy, and I petted her and invited the children to do the same. This was their first visceral experience with death:  here was the lifeless body of their old friend. This is what death looked like.

When the hole was ready, I laid her in it gently and made her “comfortable.” “She looks like she’s sleeping,” said my son Harry. I said a few words and sobbed, and then she was covered in dirt. This had a profound effect on my son, who worried that she would not be okay beneath the dirt. “Her soul is gone, Harry,” we told him. “Her body is like an old coat that she outgrew. She doesn’t need it anymore.”

My son, who had so nonchalantly yelled “Goodbye!” to Abigail, now understood. He went to his room and cried. My daughter, seeing my distress, was sad and subdued. Death was now real.

I don’t believe in hiding “the real world” from my children, and death is an important experience that happens to us all. I was thankful that we buried Abigail, and for the lessons that this brought to us. But even more than that, I began to realize—viscerally—how disconnected we have become.

Our society has become so specialized that the bodies of our loved ones disappear out the back door, are “prettied up,” and laid in the ground (possibly sight unseen) or cremated without our direct involvement. Most of us in the west have no idea how to produce—much less prepare—our own food. We have no idea how to make our clothes, build a dwelling, or teach our children about the trees and the stars. We are isolated from one another in little boxes, performing specialized functions while others take care of our dirty work for us. And it’s precisely our “dirty work”—the stuff of life—that connects us to one another and to the planet itself.

We no longer gather around the fire as a community and sing and dance. We have “talented” professionals whom we pay to watch instead. We no longer gather in a circle and participate in our own unique spiritual experience. We have “professional” religious people who tell us what our experience should be instead. We no longer participate in the cycle of the moon and the seasons and its impact on our world and spirit. Instead, we shop for certain holidays and curse the winter snows or the summer heat, confident that Safeway’s shelves will continue to magically fill. We no longer mark the passage of time by the stars or retell the stories that they illustrate and wonder why they matter to us as human beings in this plane of existence. We no longer see the stars, and we don’t notice their absence.

We are suffering from a profound spiritual malaise because we are disconnected from the source of our spirits:  the Earth, the trees and plants, the waters, the stars, the entire cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. We have forgotten the ways of our ancestors, whom we dismiss as “primitive” and “superstitious.” We believe that we can control nature and bend it to our will. Our hubris and arrogance are precisely what is killing the planet we depend on for survival.

There is a cure, of course. We can reconnect to the earth and with each other. We can reconnect with our inner divine spirit. We can see it everywhere we look in the world. The trees have a spirit. The waters have a spirit. Everything is alive and One, and we are a part of that. I miss Abigail terribly, but I’m so grateful for her final lesson to us. Bury me, experience me, honor me, remember me, and then look for me again! Love is eternal.

Stuck in Judgment Ruts

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008  Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary  of State, (Department of State photo)

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008
Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary
of State, (Department of State photo)

The mantras of our times:  Barack Obama is a liar and a threat to our nation. George W. Bush was a liar and a threat to our nation. Sarah Palin is an ignorant Barbie doll who can’t put two words together. The police in Ferguson, Missouri are all racists. Black residents in Ferguson, Missouri are hyper-sensitive and see racism whenever white people are around.  And so it goes. We’ve lived together on this planet for millennia, and we’re still stuck in judgment ruts.

We love to focus on our differences, but what do all of the people in the preceding paragraph have in common? Simply this:  they are all acting out of their own sense of what is right. None of them wake up in the morning and think about how evil or wrong they can be that day. It doesn’t happen. They have their own perspective, certainly. They have their own prejudices, their own experiences to inform them. They make their own choices, and not all of them are good ones. But they are doing the best they can. Just like everybody else.

All people are “good,” even if they don’t act that way. Some folks are mentally ill, too, and may be a danger to themselves and others, but that doesn’t negate their inherent worth. Even nominally sane people are capable of deluding themselves and doing some very harmful things while being in denial of that fact. But everyone deludes themselves at some point. Why are we so hard on some people, but not others? Why do we single out certain people to vilify, while having compassion for others?

We are all raised with certain beliefs, emotions, and truisms that are not necessarily true, but we follow them blindly because they have left “judgment ruts” in our mind. For example, there are many kind, compassionate people who would gladly help a friend in need, support their local food bank, or perform any number of charitable acts. This same person, however, may reflexively avert their eyes from a homeless person on the street because they have a judgment rut that says, “All homeless people are either lazy or addicts.” And the corollary to this rut is, “Addicts and lazy people do not deserve my help.”

Of course, the truth is a gray area. Any given homeless person may be a veteran suffering PTSD, a sick person who lost their home because of a medical crisis, a victim of child abuse, mentally ill, or someone who just lost their housing for whatever reason. And yes, they may have addictions, but a person is more than their addiction. Does an addiction really make them unworthy of help? Does this judgment really vindicate our decision not to help them? What would a compassionate person do? What would love do?

Perfectly kind and reasonable people also make judgments on the basis of race as though it really is a black and white issue. You are a racist, or you’re not. Or, you see racism everywhere because you’re a paranoid victim; or racism, however subtle, still exists. Whichever view you prefer depends on the judgment ruts that you formed growing up.

In modern American society, we are as divided as ever. If you are a conservative, your judgment ruts may predispose you to defend Sarah Palin from unwarranted and often vicious personal attacks by the left. If you are a liberal, your judgment ruts may say that Sarah deserves what she gets. On the other hand, conservatives felt that they could attack Hillary Clinton with equal impunity, while the left defended her just as fiercely. And both sides accuse the other of misogyny. And the winner of this battle of judgments? Not a soul.

Jerry Rubin said, “Ideology is a brain disease,” and that is true, regardless of the ideology in question. You could say that ideology is determined by our judgment ruts—and we just know that they are right. The truly interesting thing about them, however, is that because of their nature, few of us have ever actually examined our reasons for our judgments. Because if we did, we would find that we don’t really know what our reasons are. This is the peril of inherited thought.

When we grow up in a given culture, we accept it as normal. We assume that this is the way the world works—the only way. But other people grow up in different cultures, with different ideas and world views. And they know just as certainly that this is how the world works. That is, until they find out otherwise.

This is why some people fear education. The Taliban love to burn down schools for precisely this reason. Becoming educated and being exposed to new ways of thinking can fill in some of those judgment ruts. It can help you to think about things from multiple perspectives. Of course, it’s not a panacea. Educated people still hold judgments. But the possibility for understanding increases. It can, if nothing else, make your judgments more flexible.

Are we doomed to judge, then? Must we always pick up a stone, knowing full well that on a different day, we might be the ones who are hit by it?

We can choose to pave over our judgment ruts, but we must recognize them, which isn’t always easy. Most judgments are unconscious. They come so naturally to us that we don’t even realize that we’re doing it. We see a person or a situation, and bang! Our thoughts are instantly moving along that same old rut, making it deeper with each passing. So, how do we begin?

The key is our emotional state. When we make judgments, we feel fear, anger, contempt, or jealousy. There is always a feeling beneath a judgment, and it’s never joy. Recognize that. Are you angry with Sarah Palin for not behaving the way you think a woman should? Are you angry with Hillary Clinton for the same reason? Do they represent something that frightens you or makes you uneasy? What are you projecting onto them? What is it about the person that reminds you of you? What is that you are not able to love about them? Whatever your feelings are, they’re not about the person. They are about you. The answers to these questions will tell you what your fears and feelings are, as well as what you need to learn to love in yourself. When you address these issues in yourself, your judgment ruts will disappear.

Every person and situation that comes into our lives is a mirror. If we love something, then it reflects back what we love in ourselves. If we dislike or hate something, then it reflects back what we dislike or hate in ourselves. This is a gift. The people we judge or don’t like are showing us what we need to heal in ourselves.

There is no right or wrong in our ideological divides. No one side has it all figured out. What we have to offer each other, however, is healing and a third road, just there—on the far side of our judgment ruts.

Abundance is Unlimited

does it mean economy abundance

This image is currently making the rounds in social media,
which illustrates that a shift in our thinking is already
taking effect.

The Universe doesn’t keep score. This is hard for our egos to understand, actually. We like to think that everyone will get what’s coming to them—if not here, then in the great beyond, for good or bad. We equate Karma with revenge, as though the Universe is just waiting for that perfect moment to say, “Gotcha!” But it isn’t really like that at all.

The Universe is primarily interested in two things:  balance and giving. The Universe is the entire being of the Great I AM in physical form, and the Great I AM, quite simply, loves and gives. Whatever it is you need or decide to create for yourself with your thoughts and beliefs, it will gladly give you. Balance is important to the Universe because it cannot and will not offer more to some parts of itself than to others. That’s the kind of crazy thing that the human ego does, but not the Great I AM. So the Universe gives of itself freely to all life everywhere, without hesitation or exception.

So, am I saying Karma doesn’t exist? That bad stuff doesn’t happen? No, but we are the authors of our own journey. We are Creators, endowed with the same creative power of the Great I AM, and our choices have consequences. All journeys, all consequences are part of our spiritual growth, and we will continue to repeat lessons until we learn them. This is our highest good, and that is the Universe’s concern.

Okay, what does this have to do with abundance? The Universe doesn’t keep score with abundance, either. There are beliefs such as, “People who are wealthy have it because God has rewarded them.” That belief is very popular among some, but it’s not true. Other beliefs include, “People who are wealthy are essentially stealing food from the mouths of the poor” and “Money is the root of all evil.” These beliefs aren’t true, either.

Most of our beliefs about abundance in any form stem from the idea that there is a limited supply of abundance to be had. If you hold that belief, then you may feel that having X amount of abundance only leaves Y amount for everyone else. If you’re a compassionate person, you may feel guilty about that. If you’re not very concerned with anyone else, you may wonder just how you can get your hands on more of that Y amount for yourself. Either way, both perspectives assume a limited pool.

Of course, there is a limited pool of physical resources. We can’t all have a beach house in Malibu; the land won’t support it. We can’t devastate our ecosystem by extracting every last iota of burnable whatever-it-is and expect there to be no consequences. The laws of abundance state that you will always be given the opportunity to have what you need. Greed, on the other hand, is about having something you do not need, having more than you need, or just having more than anybody else. Even though there is an unlimited supply of abundance, greed is all about taking without giving. And that is out of balance.

Abundance energy flows the same way your energy body does, in the shape of a torus—really, there is no difference between the two. Abundance is literally part of who you are. It comes into you, and then it flows out and away from you to be shared, and then it comes back into you again. If you disrupt this balance, you disrupt the flow of energy. This is why taking is just as important as giving, and vice versa.

If you are living in the flow of your abundance, then you recognize that everyone else has the same right to it that you do—it is part of them, as it is part of you. This awareness must extend not only to your neighbor, but to the land and seas and all life everywhere. The greatest balance is in our Oneness.

In our Oneness, everyone can be supremely abundant and live an effortless life. You can be a good steward of your abundance, as well, and share it with those who have a harder time getting theirs to flow. That is balance. Anything you give out will come back to you, and then some. What this abundance looks like will vary with the person, because each person has different needs. Whatever you have, however, be grateful for it and watch your flow increase.

The Earth is an abundant home, just as the rest of the Universe is. We can increase that abundance by respecting it and each other. We can rejoice in the abundance of others, instead of coveting what they have and wondering why we don’t have it as good. Again, the key is gratitude for what you have.

Another person’s house in Malibu does not detract from your own abundance—unless you decide it does. Trust that the Universe knows how to create balance, and trust that the Universe will provide. It doesn’t have anything to do with what other people have or don’t have. It is all about what you need today, in this moment.

Our current economic systems do not reflect the true nature of abundance, unfortunately. Our illusory beliefs about it are tied into them:  the idea that there isn’t enough for everyone, that some people inherently “deserve” more than others, and that it’s every man for himself. There is a photo making the rounds of the Internet that says, “Humans are the only species that pay to live on the Earth.” That says a lot right there about how our beliefs have shaped our lives. Abundance has become equated with paper, the flow of which is controlled by a relative handful of people, and without it, you may find yourself with no food, shelter, or clothing.

Humanity can change this paradigm and develop a true abundance economy that also allows individuals and communities the freedom to choose for themselves and to support one another and the planet. Global change is possible, but it starts with personal change. It starts with you. As you allow your own abundance to flow into your life, it will flow to others—this is inevitable! Allow it, embrace it, and resolve to be a good steward of that abundance. What are you called upon to do? What is your passion? Why are you here on this planet? The answers to these questions will put you on a journey that will fulfill you, provide for you, and bring you great joy.

We are the Earth

gaia oneness life

We have pushed ourselves to extreme limits in our Dream of Separation. Not only are we “I” and “you,” but we are not of anything else. We are not of our community, so suffering in our midst can be overlooked. We are not of our environment, so clear-cutting a forest for short-term gain does not bother us. We are not of our planet, so ecological destruction, land development, and pollution are simply signs of “progress.” Indeed, we have brought ourselves to a place of utter alienation and isolation, and the right of the individual to do as they please without considering the whole is our holiest god. No wonder we are in crisis.

We have become disconnected from all that we are. We have lost what is truly sacred:  ourselves. As a race, we are mentally and emotionally disturbed, because we have forgotten who we are.

Fortunately, that is changing. A number of people are waking up and will continue to do so. But on this path of change and shift, it is important to understand that we are all part of a larger body. We are part of a larger organism. On the cosmic scale, we are all God, everything is God, there is nothing in existence that is not the great Deity. On a more local, physical/spiritual scale, we are also the body of the great organism of this planet, known as Gaia. She is alive. She is aware. But she is also diseased as a result of our disease—our disconnection and disregard.

The earth is a living body. The oil we so callously burn and spill is her blood. The rivers, mountains, and tectonic plates reflect her movements. Ley lines are meridians on her body. There are sacred places that house her chakra system. Many peoples have known this. The Native Americans, the Druids, the Australian aborigines, the South American rain forest peoples, and on and on. They know. They have been careful stewards of this great being. They seek to live in harmony with her and her laws instead of attempting to impose their own.

It is time for Gaia to heal, and she is doing so. She is moving her body and raising her vibration. We will all feel the effects of this, but it does not have to be hard or disastrous if we help her. It can be as gentle as rocking on a calm lake. But we must wake up. She will heal with us or without us.

I believe that we have reached critical mass in shifting our consciousness. All will be well, but it could be a rocky transition yet. Hang on to your surfboards. Listen to your spiritual guidance. Be prepared to swim with the current, not against it. We must change.

Change of this magnitude means creating new systems, new ways of doing things, and new ways of being. Divine inspiration will help us. We just have to listen and follow through. What we have been doing is not working. The things that are out of integrity are collapsing. Indeed, they have already collapsed, we just haven’t noticed it yet. Take your power and start doing things in a new way. When you stop giving your power to what is corrupt and out of integrity, it will disappear. But in order to succeed, we must work together, as one. We must acknowledge that we are One. The planet, every plant, every animal and microbe, and every human being on this earth matters.

An Edenic society once existed on this earth. In it, we lived in harmony with ourselves, each other, and all life. We can be there again, but in order to do that, we must shift our consciousness. Are you ready?

Eating the Future (A Tale of Lack)

homeless_man_during_morning_commute_iStock_000004136154XSmall

When a person is raised within a system or culture of any kind, they tend to believe that it is the natural way to be, and possibly even the only way to be. In other words, we don’t question it, even when it fails to work.

Not everyone in the global economy is suffering, but many people are. In the west, we hear lots of talk about “austerity measures” and “tightening our belt,” as if we as nations suffered from overeating and needed to go on a diet. It is a natural outgrowth of the dominant Protestant philosophy that historically has said that we must be very severe with ourselves, or God will punish us. And if God does punish us, then we no doubt did something to deserve it. So if we are suffering from lack or poverty, then surely we have displeased God.

There can be no doubt that we as a society have overindulged in many things:  energy, cheaply made material goods that are readily discarded (out of sight; out of mind), land development, the very trees themselves, and, last but not least, human life, spent in our many wars and military actions, or lost through suffering, neglect, or corporate greed (unsafe working conditions, exposure to toxic substances, etc). Our current society has been formed by the view that the Earth was gifted to us by an external God who said, “Here you go. Use it all up.” And we nearly have.

Yet, even as we have overindulged in these things, we have an astonishing lack of the things that we truly need as nations and societies:  healthy, clean food and water; decent housing; healthcare; quality education; human dignity and worth; the true opportunity to pursue happiness without economic enslavement; and a healthy, unpolluted environment and planet. And yet our fear of going without the things we have overindulged in has driven us to create even less of these things that we truly need as a single human race.

Ponder for a moment an entire subset of the human race, invested in something called “the economy,” which is run entirely on Monopoly money. That is all that our currency is. It’s a game. We have collectively agreed that currency has a value, and that certain work and goods have a value, and that if you want to avoid this thing called “lack” or poverty, then you have to have a pretty good stash of this Monopoly money. It’s ridiculous when you stop to think about it. Think of all the lives that are either exalted or ruined by the amount of these pieces of paper, most of which don’t actually exist anywhere except as numbers in a variety of computer programs. People actually commit suicide because they end up on the losing side of the game board.

Now imagine that the things that truly make life worth living do not have a value in this Monopoly game. You cannot put a price on love, friendship, or a healthy ecosystem. But you can put a price on the destruction of these things, so those things take on more importance. And they have. And here we are. Monopoly money has ended up in the hands of a relative few, while millions starve or are virtually enslaved in third-world countries which supply something we call “the middle class” with cheap gadgets. And now this middle class is hurting, too. Why?

With all of this austerity and belt-tightening, we have begun to agree collectively that there is a lack (not enough Monopoly money), and that we cannot afford the things we truly need any more (education, healthcare, feeding or housing our neighbors), so there must be suffering. Is this really the world we want? Apparently, because many people now believe in it, and belief will make it so.

Unfortunately, this belief is causing us to eat our future. Consider:  we have cut public education back so severely that the next few generations will pay for it. Society will pay for it. We will have less knowledgeable citizens with fewer skills to solve our problems, which are grave. We have cut back on programs that help pregnant women and children to eat. Children who are malnourished will pay for it the rest of their lives with lower aptitude and opportunity. It is a vicious cycle. What we are doing is eating our seed corn.

Now, this is a bleak picture, and I do not want to leave you with that. There is hope. There is always hope. What is required is for humanity to wake up to this and to see the illusion—and their power—for what it is. This is happening. No, it will not happen to everyone. It doesn’t have to. It only has to happen for enough people. I believe we are there.

All of our systems are in a state of failure. Be glad. They need to fail. In their failing, we will collectively create a new way, a better way. Many are laying the groundwork for this. Consider Greece, that paragon of profligate shame. The Greek people are suffering from what is basically bank-mandated austerity; the bank wants their money, and the people must pay the price. But in this process, the Greek people are reinventing themselves. Watch it closely. Many have already returned to the land. They are simplifying because they must. They are rediscovering what is truly valuable (and it’s not the Monopoly money).

We are an amazing species, and we are undergoing an amazing shift in consciousness. Many already see the illusion for what it is. Do not be afraid to let it go. Spirit will provide. Abundance is your natural state. Trust in that. Do not trust in what is corrupt and failing. Instead, open your mind and heart to new possibilities. We can have paradise on Earth, if we really want it. If we really understand that it can be shared. If we really understand that the Earth itself and our brothers and sisters who live upon it must share in it, too. The Earth is not ours to use; it is ours to share, love, and respect. Everyone can have what they need. The trick is to understand that you do not need to take more than that to have value, or to be happy.

Here is a great video from Bashar, as channeled by Darryl Anka, on this subject. He explains it well: