Words to Live By: Nelson Mandela

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” -Nelson Mandela

This is not a new quote.  It has spread through the internet on countless blogs, and likely used by teachers, therapists, and commencement speakers to the point of exhaustion.  But like many deeply insightful but overused statements of wisdom from world leaders, the significance of Nelson’s words did not strike me until reading them in this particular moment in this particular essay, in this particular place and time in my life, an era of personal rediscovery and personal re-empowerment.  As I ground myself in my own strength and self respect, these words are perfect for contemplation and meditation.  I want them to sink into my skeleton, to infiltrate my metacognition, to infuse my realigned priorities.

Let us hold our darkness but embrace and live from our light.


Words to Live By: Pema Chodron

Following is a quote from Pema Chodron that I found in the first entry in the ‘Favorites’ list on my long forgotten Google Reader feed; too many stories, too little time!  It’s just…perfect.  I’ve spent many hours talking with my housemates about my need for control, for knowing exactly how what I’m doing is meaningful.  And Pema Chodron’s words just break all of that down beautifully, because truly we can never know, and need to find peace and freedom and life in that truth.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. When we think something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.”

In other news, I’m getting into zines again.  Maybe I’ll even create one at long last!  I’m ordering this, and would love any recommendations.

A new mantra.

“Today I commit to living with humility, detachment, acceptance and, most of all, joy.”

It’s been an internally tumultuous, overly busy couple of weeks and months, and I’ve felt incredibly heavy with the weight of the world as well as my own personal decisions.  So yesterday, while staying home for some R&R to get over a cold, I did the I Ching, at long last.  ‘How do I create a clearing in the dense forest that is my life?’, I asked.  The answer was clear: The Joyous (58).  It was one of those answers that instantly illuminated a truth I already had inside me but was too dense and too self pitying to see.  Out of this answer came the above mantra, that is now taped to the inside of my bedroom door.


Breathe out.

This week I’ve been focusing on exhaling fully and deeply, releasing hours and days of stale air from my lungs.  So often meditative practices and exercise regimes are centered on breathing in, pulling air into the body, and while this is important of course, I have found that my personal challenge is for release, to expel tension from my body.  I find that I’m often holding my breath while doing any number of things which certainly doesn’t help for stress reduction.

Such a simple thing.  But so essential.  Today, breathe out.  Find serenity in stillness.

And here’s a different kind of serenity:

Existential discontent and remembering love.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been deep in the throes of an unsettling, a questioning and questing, an existential discontent.  I frequently find myself frustrated or deeply saddened, a case of weltschmerz embedded in my brain.  Really and truly the work of building community, both in living and vocation, seems too small in comparison to the world’s need, a need created by the unsustainable systems our culture has created that are often thoroughly destructive to both the human and natural world.  Moreover, I’m not sure what I want to do or how I want to live instead, just that my core nugget of hope has been dislodged and something must change in order for it to be reestablished in the center of my being.

After hours of venting with housemates, not a few tears, and imagined letters and journal and blog entries, I finally came across a marvelous piece on The Beauty We Love called Death of Pretense.  The entire thing is worth reading, but this section struck me most of all:
She longed to live, to really live, to no longer suffocate under the weight of the false image. Only one who longed to live could experience such an overwhelming urge to die. She longed with every cell of her body to end the pretense and the falseness and half-lived dreams and to open up to life in all its rawness and beauty – not to die, not to die, but to live in a real way.

Upon reading this then and now, I cannot help but shudder with identification, for I too want to live, truly and deeply, and to shed the pretenses and expectations of not only my own life but society and culture as a whole.  To commit wholly to that which is beautiful and real, to hope, to love.

The day of initial discovery of this piece passed, but this past weekend was spent in the company of some of my very best friends, people I can happily and gratefully call my rocks, trusted and respected wonderful beings that challenge and support me.  Though I didn’t consciously realize it while in their presence, I love these people and many others, and they are what root me to my present path even while I flounder, unable to see the way forward or even where the edges of the journey lie.  It is so easy for love to become a caricature of itself, an empty term of endearment applied only to Disney weddings and long lost family members.  But real love, chosen love, is what is real, what is true, what is beautiful.  It creates and sustains hope.


My deep world sadness is not yet resolved, and I’m not entirely sure it ever will or should be.  I can easily envision a long spiritual retreat in my not so distant future, as well as many long conversations with friends and family near and far.  But remembering love, and how present it is in my life and relationships, this I think will hold me and keep me until the light of meaning dawns again.

Words to Live By: John O’Donohue

I’m surprised that I haven’t yet shared any poems or quotes from John O’Donohue because he is one of those poets that literally seems to see the souls and longings of humanity and translate them into language, a remarkable gift that I hope to cultivate over time.  It’s uncanny how his poems surface just when I need them, from books or friends or, for the poem below, from wonderful blogs like The Beauty We Love.
On a farm you learn to respect nature, 
particularly for the wisdom of its dark underworld.  
When you sow things in the spring, 
you commit them to the darkness of the soil.  
The soil does its own work.  
It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of its darkness.  
You sow drills of potatoes on Tuesday and you are delighted with them.  
You meet someone on a Wednesday who says 
that you spread the potatoes too thickly, you will have no crop.  
You dig up the potatoes again and spread them more thinly.  
On the following Monday, you meet an agricultural advisor who says 
this particular variety of seed potatoes needs to be spread close together.
You dig them up again and set them closer to each other.  
If you keep scraping at the garden, you will never allow anything to grow.  
People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts.  
They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why 
they are the way they are.  They have found an old memory that opens a new wound.  
They keep on relentlessly, again and again, scraping the clay away from their own hearts.  
In nature we do not see the trees, for instance, getting seriously involved in therapeutic analysis 
of their root systems or the whole stony world that they had to avoid on their way to the light.  
Each tree grows in two directions at once, into the darkness and out to the light 
with as many branches and roots as it needs to embody its wild desires…
It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life.  
You might not see anything stirring for a long time.  
You might have only the slightest intimations 
of the secret growth that is happening within you, 
but these intimations are sufficient.

~ John O’Donohue
from Anam Cara

My Sacred Intention

Though I ravenously read Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing many months ago, it has taken me all this time to pick up any of her other books.  And the reason for doing so is silly, but deeply rooted: my upbringing has given me an illogical but very present aversion to anything Wiccan/Pagan.  Which is absurd because I find much more truth, both personal and universal, in the feminist spiritual system of energies and elements than in the sterile, separatist Judeo-Christian system of my heritage.

At long last I got Starhawk’s Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature from the library, and I am loving it.  It’s not the sort of book one necessarily needs to read front to back, but rather I am opening to sections spontaneously and appreciating the personal stories, universal insights, and practices that Starhawk shares.

This morning, while idly sipping my coffee and enjoying a breakfast of local eggs and a perfectly ripe nectarine in the long awaited cool breeze after last night’s storm, I was reading through the chapter entitled ‘The Sacred’.  Toward the end I arrived at an exercise to meditate and write on one’s sacred intention, and rather than read it and move on, I decided to take the time to ponder what my personal sacred intention might be.  It is far to easy to think ‘oh, I’ve already thought about those things’, but enormously beneficial when such habit energies are overcome in order to actually consider what and why I think what I do.  Following is my meditation- responses would be much appreciated, either on your own sacred intention or thoughts on mine.

Connectedness is sacred to me- as Tait said at the ED/CO retreat, it is the secular religion.  I believe in and want to support/create: connectedness of people to their own bodies and emotional experiences, people to each other and the larger human community, people to the vast multitudes of other beings, and people to the spirit, the sacred, the larger truth and beauty of the universe.

I want to take a stand for connectedness, feel the need to do so deep in my bones and spirit, but am often not sure how to do so because it is such a vague thing to explain while also being deeply personal and experiential to me.

A world where connectedness was cherished would be glorious and sustainable.  Leaders and politicians would feel truly accountable to those they speak on behalf of.  The disparity of wealth would essential disappear because individuals would recognize and know how to enact the fact that the health and wealth of one is dependent on the health and wealth of the community.  People would be intentional about their choices in everything from what they consume to what they choose as their vocation to how they educate themselves, and such intentionality wouldn’t be overwhelming, but rather seen as an opportunity to better understand the vast web we live in.

I desperately and wholeheartedly want to help bring this world into being, and I long for guidance as to how to do so.  My current work, both as community organizer and urban community house organizer, does not feel in conflict with creating a world where connectedness is sacred, but neither does it feel like the best use of my energies.

I feel blocked in doing this work by the enormity of the systems that are in opposition to a world that cherishes connectedness, by apathy of so many around me, and by my own pessimism/cynicism regarding the future of humanity.  I’m not entirely sure what will help me remove these blocks.  Courage would be good.  Educatedly optimistic mentors and friends would help too.  And a way to process and move beyond the despair that creeps in now and again.  From the universe, I need continued moments of reverence and awe.  I don’t mind crying, and in the moments I feel so much a part of everything I could burst my physical bounds and join the spirit stuff, I know in every cell that something and everything matters.