As the Talking Stick Moves Around the Circle…

talking stickThere’s been a lot of commotion around political gatherings this year—bullying, shouting of offensive names, and holding up of cruel signs. I wonder what purpose this serves? In my own life, I’ve noticed that shouting, name calling, and attempts at intimidation have had only a negative effect.

I wish it was easier to understand the motives and intentions of those who use offensive stereotypes. After all the years we humans have lived on this planet, negative intolerance is the best we can do? In a time of crisis? To me, this way of seeing indicates someone or something is off-balance.

There are genuine ways to communicate what is important to us. Take, for example, the Talking Stick, used in some Native American societies. The participants sit in a circle and only the person holding the Talking Stick speaks. All others honor the speaker by listening attentively, reflecting the value of each person’s point of view. Imagine the quiet created by a circle of eyes and ears focused only on you and your ideas regarding an important subject. The speaker has no choice but to be her authentic self, to share sincere thoughts, feelings and even possible solutions. As the Talking Stick moves around the circle, a higher spirit of cooperation, insight and wisdom is engendered. From this quiet, genuine and inspired gathering, concerns are understood and solutions appear.

Can you imagine this type of communication at office meetings, or town hall gatherings? Each of us can be a fount of wisdom, should we choose to become aware of our Creator’s hopes for humankind, which certainly do not include spewing hateful opinions and condemnations of others. God is love. God is peace. God is goodwill. Let’s open up and see all that we have in common, build some bridges, and gather together with mutual respect and kindness. Today, let us commit to being more like God in every way that we can. In this way, we each can and do change the world.


We Don’t Have to Take Everything Personally


The Observer

Have you ever noticed how something sets you off and you let loose on someone, not just about the thing that set you off, but everything that ever set you off? That’s because, quite often, our upsets are stored in a dark pool inside us. Some of us may be more just or more organized than others, and we only yell at Person A for Person A’s wrongdoings; some of us just let go on everyone for everything.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. There is a school of thought that teaches there is nothing that can upset us unless we allow it to, unless we give another’s actions power over us. The idea is that we are in charge of ourselves: what we think, what we feel, what we say and what we do.

This is serious business, accepting responsibility for ourselves. It’s a powerful life philosophy because we can completely transform our lives. We can stand back, breathe deeply, look around as if we were watching a movie, no longer an actor, but an observer. From this vantage point, we can see the girlfriend wasn’t cheating on the guy, she had just stopped to help someone with directions. As a movie-goer, we see the boss is worried about her own job, not our production like she said. As an observer, we see the guy’s face when he cuts us off in traffic and we realize something is terribly wrong in his life.

A shift like this means we don’t take everything personally. We see there is a lot going on that has nothing to do with us; and for the things that are related, we can choose upset, or to consciously look a little deeper. From the deeper place, doors to communication open; understanding grows, forgiveness develops, wisdom increases, and life changes for the better.

It’s not easy to make a change like this. But it certainly is possible and it’s very worthwhile. We know ourselves better and we know others better. We see how much we all have in common, not how different we are. We are all human beings with the same basic human needs. It is just our small-egos that tell us differently.

A Broader, Gentler Way to See the World

watering the worldI wish that as we age our hearts grew gentler and more open. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that with more experience we would better understand being human, and pass on our wisdom to younger people? I’ve met people who grew kinder as the years passed, but I’ve met others who protected their shrinking hearts with walls and became afraid of the world. It’s easy enough to do today, isn’t it?

I understand protecting our hearts because I have curled up inside myself at certain periods in my life. I also see the need in the world for love and kindness because something inside me awakened. I think it’s because my own need to heal and perhaps to help others heal was so strong that a soul-seed took root and then blossomed within. It is just a little flower of light, but it is enough that I saw this seed inside all of us. All of us!

To grow our own little flower of light, we have to stand up to our stubborn, fearful thoughts like a baseball umpire: “You’re OUTTA here!” Every time one arises, we toss it out and replace it with its opposite. If the thought is, “I hate my job,” we replace it with, “I SO appreciate my work.” Sometimes it’s a co-worker or boss. Years ago, I was telling my therapist that some people are just plain mean and she said she once believed that, too. Then, at a conference, she learned something about ‘mean people.’ The speaker said, “Every time you see this person, find something pleasant to say, like, ‘Nice tie, Bob,’ or, ‘I like your new outfit, Mary.’ No need for more than that,” the speaker added. “And watch what happens.”

My therapist knew exactly who she’d practice on. She kept at it and at first her ‘mean boss’ was surprised, then cautious. Then he began to smile when he saw her and eventually he said pleasant things back. The man she thought mean to the core and hopelessly irredeemable was a nice guy. He was only protecting his heart–and a gentle touch helped bring down the walls.

What have we got to lose, anyway? Our fearful, tunnel vision? Good. Let’s toss it and reward ourselves with a whole, new, broader, gentler way to see the world. It surely can’t hurt.

Restorative Justice in Oakland

Fania Davis,  YES! photo by Lane Hartwell

Fania Davis, YES! photo by Lane Hartwell

Nelson Mandela’s adage, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends” captures the profoundly inclusive nature of restorative justice (RJ).

The hallmark of RJ is intentionally bringing together people with seemingly diametrically opposed viewpoints—particularly people who have harmed with people who have been harmed—in a carefully prepared face-to-face encounter where everyone listens and speaks with respect and from the heart no matter their differences.

The talking piece is a powerful equalizer, allowing everyone’s voice to be heard and honored, whether that of a police officer, a judge, or a 14-year-old youth.


A Giant Umbrella of Love

Little Umbrella

You know that old saying, ‘It takes one candle to light a dark room’? We’re like that one candle, even when we’re feeling mostly down and dark. Our little spark of life and light within is all we need to brighten our hearts and minds. Why? Because it’s a cord back to the Source of light and love and comfort and peace. We may flounder and feel lost at times, but we’re always connected to the Great Being that made the universe. Surely the being who breathed life into us, mounted a rescue mission for us and created a home planet for us while we are away, knows our needs.

The story of life truly is a great mystery. Why are some lives long and others so short? Why are some people strong and others disabled? Why are so many homeless people sleeping on the streets of our town and why do so many children go to bed hungry every night? Everything happens for a reason—that’s another old expression—and I accept this as true, because we are the co-creators of our lives, with our thoughts and actions having amassed and ferried us along life’s river to wherever we are this very moment.

But is it enough to dismiss people with problems, people who, like you and me, are sacred beings, children of God? I think of Mother Teresa’s work in India, where those who have nothing are left to die in filthy gutters because this is their karma—except for the souls she and her Sisters brought/bring into their care-center to die, loved, clean and with dignity. Great acts of love can transcend karma by triggering self-forgiveness.

When Jesus spoke of ‘the least of these,’ he meant people with problems, those who have lost their way, who have not survived well the trauma of their lives, even those who have mistreated others, because they are most in need of love and forgiveness. We can rise above tough upbringings and circumstances, but often not alone. We may need to hear that we matter, that we’re also loved and valued, because only when a person knows his true value, can he fulfill his purpose in life. No matter the karma, why not open a giant umbrella of God’s Love and bring everyone under it, where we’re all connected by compassion and serving one another? Wouldn’t that light up our world!

The Challenge: One Whole Day of Kindness

Peaceful GestureOne whole day and not one unkind or harsh word to anyone or about anyone. This is the sleeping prophet’s, Edgar Cayce’s, challenge to us–to practice kindness for an entire day and see what happens. I don’t know if I’ve made it a whole day yet–especially if thoughts count, and I believe they do. But it’s a worthwhile challenge. Why?

In years past, I’d often had the feeling, What can I possibly do about the world’s problems? Sometimes I stopped watching the evening news for months at a time because I couldn’t take in another word about one more tragedy. I felt powerless and overwhelmed until I began to understand: I can practice kindness. We all can practice loving-kindness if we choose to.

My Higher Self said: “Learn about other people, imagine walking in their shoes for a mile. In this way, you will learn compassion for your brothers and sisters.” From there, I could see the bigger picture, how we are all connected by Creator-Love, through our souls, and how every act of loving-kindness ripples throughout creation. We can change the world, ourselves and the lives of others, one small act of kindness at a time.

Up for a 24-hour kindness challenge?

We Need Each Other

Group of KidsHow do we humans make real contact with each other? Isn’t that what life is all about, connection? Imagine if you woke up one day and after exploring your entire city, you found not one other person. Imagine you had access to every store, even all the banks. Would that matter if you had no one to share all the stuff with? Even the thrill of choosing any home you wanted wouldn’t last long.

Even if we don’t know it, it’s real contact, relationships, we long for. We need people to care whether we make it home or not, families to gather and celebrate with, friends to share experiences with, educators to teach us. We need to expand and grow and we can’t do it alone.

The scarier the world gets, the less we may trust—but that’s when we need each other the most. You and I are not so different from one another and neither is the person or group of people you least trust. We are all made of the same forces, both light and shadow, by the same Creator, and all of us have many mistakes to our credit. We are no saints and we cannot know the tragedies of ‘the other’s’ life until we walk in his shoes.

It does great harm to suspect someone of being evil or less than us because of the color of their skin or their religion or their sexual orientation. The world is a hard place right now. We can soften the whole system by expressing genuine interest and concern, by listening to ‘the other,’ and by extending a hand up if needed. It’s up to you and me to be the peacemakers the world so needs.

No Safe Place

No safe place artThe woman cradled her newborn son in her arms and knew she would never be the same. The world expanded around her and she momentarily saw into the future—his future. She saw his round face and bright smile that would light up her life. His eyes were clear and looked deeply into hers with limitless love and gratitude. “Thank you,” his eyes seemed to say, “for bringing me into this world. I waited a long time for the perfect family for me.”

The bubble around them closed and she was back in the hospital with her husband and young daughter. She looked at the tiny being in her arms and knew he was a special person who would make a difference in the world. She vowed then to keep her children safe from the darkness in her country that hunted them.

But the darkness was everywhere. She went for a walk with her infant in the stroller and her four-year-old daughter walking alongside her. A car sped by, obscenities spewing from it. She held her breath—she was too far now to get home. Thank God, they seemed to be gone. She heard the tires squeal and cringed inside. But she kept walking, her spine straight. The car screeched to a stop next to them and two young men with shaved heads and the same bandanas jumped out.

“Hey, (obscenity), who gave you permission to walk here? Get your (obscenity) ass outta here!” Continue reading

The Fine Art of Rekindling Hope

Most of us don’t set out to hurt others. We just want to be fully ourselves and don’t appreciate pressure to change when we don’t feel the need to. The problem is with the narrow perspective of our human natures.

You can only see from inside your head, and I from inside mine, and we both think we have, at the very least, the basics figured out. Beyond human limits, though, there is the much greater perspective of that which brought everything to life, through a creative act of love and grace, generosity and wisdom. Wherever you see beauty and loving-kindness, you see the creator-forces. Wherever you see things that are hard and corrosive, angry and separating, or dark and twisted, you see the forces that fell away from the light.

And both of those forces live within you and me. That’s why when we do hurt others, some part of us feels pain and tries to lead us back toward healing; and it’s also why when we hope to make a positive difference in the world, our shadow selves suddenly sit up and go to work on dragging us down. “Hey—YOU? I see what you’re thinking. I think you need some problems of your own.”

It’s quite the plight we’re in, isn’t it? One thing that helps is to know that we each have a part in how this great play unfolded, and that we can each help to heal the mess. It’s all about a shift in our awareness—expanding our minds and hearts to include others, to be open to hearing their stories, for every single person you or I believe is taking advantage of ‘the system’ has a story of being pummeled so greatly, they no longer believe that good things are possible for them. We humans are made to be creative and productive and when those urges are stomped out of us, we feel like the walking dead and need help with rekindling. And the rekindling is something you and I can help with, by being kind and patient and wise.