In my earlier years I believed that the world was moving toward peaceful co-existence. Coming of age during the sixties, I was convinced that my generation would make things different —even “fix” things. As I moved into my prime, I naïvely thought that millions of my peers and I were part of a leading edge of consciousness — what was then called a Harmonic Convergence. Later, as more years went by and the progress I had been anticipating seemed to be at risk, it became increasingly difficult to believe that the world was really moving toward peaceful co-existence. Yet, somehow I held onto confidence that, along with like-minded others, we would be able to circumnavigate most of the difficulties, at least where I lived. My practice became to focus on what was working and appreciate encouraging developments.
These days the state of affairs has grown alarming. An uncomfortable proportion of those holding worldly reins of power have ceased to honor the general well-being to such an extent that the overall survival of life is threatened. Whoever would have predicted that children would be gunned down in our schools on a regular basis with almost nothing being done by those with the power to stop it from happening again and again and again? Whoever would have thought that genocide could happen on the watch of a woman who won the Nobel Peace prize? Whoever would have thought that a sitting U.S. president could lie his way into office and then proceed blithely along as if his made up reality was a basis from which to subvert due process of law, and collude with a hostile foreign power? Who would have believed that in this day and age refugees from war torn areas worldwide —mothers, fathers, children, the elderly—would be left to drown, starve or be brutally killed? Who would have anticipated that dreamers in our country would face deportation simply because they have the wrong color of skin or religion?
For the last several years I have been caught up in a compulsion to read the latest news articles and editorial commentary, which is all too easy to do when I keep a smart phone in my pocket almost all the time. I keep hoping to read something that indicates that things can’t get any worse in the political realm and for the environment. Surely something will happen to turn things around. I’m looking for a groundswell of public outrage and collective coming to our senses sufficient to set our interconnected world on a more humanitarian, life-affirming course. Mostly what I read is disheartening. It’s no wonder that I feel like a sitting duck. Greed for power and profit flowing out of those who already have “enough” threatens us all. Wish I could just transport myself to another, better world. But, like it or not, this is the era I’m in. I’ve just gotta live here. The only guaranteed physical escape is the inevitable demise of my skin encapsulated self. But, in the meantime I have choices about where I direct my attention and how I choose to live my life.
It seems to me that trying to “fix” things is both the saving grace of humanity as well as a fork in the road where we get lost. Who wouldn’t want to make things better? But how to go about it? Well, there’s the rub. A lot of fixes are short sighted with dreadful unintended consequences. Despair is inevitable when I spend too much time following the latest breaking news. To discover and embody places of hope, vitality and joy, I must seek it.
Almost two decades ago I graduated from seminary and was ordained an interfaith minister. Speaking at the ceremony, I traced the etymology of the word “ordination” to the root word “ordinary”. I vowed to dedicate my ministry to the ordinary – the “hiding in plain sight” places frequently overlooked, yet holding transformative potential — far beyond the ordinary meaning of ordinary. One example of this is just noticing the breath: as we inhale our nostrils flare slightly, our ribs expand, the breath flows throughout our entire body; upon exhaling the chest collapses ever-so-slightly as the warm particles of our breath merge with the air around us. Something as “ordinary” as mindful breathing helps us redirect our focus towards a calm center of being, rather than an anxious or uncomfortably emotional state of consciousness. We have our breath with us all the time.
While I was speaking I was lifting a slow heartbeat rhythm from my handmade elk skin drum. I explained that the heartbeat of the drum evoked the rhythms of Mother Earth and the relationships that interconnect of all life. I told the congregation that for me ordination wasn’t about being special or above it all. Ordination was a sacred promise to be in the thick of everything while aspiring to bring an awareness that was greater than the agenda of the moment or the angst around suffering and injustice. My goal was to be a vehicle for compassionate presence all around, perhaps sprinkled with sustaining wisdom. I knew it wasn’t so easy. or as simple as it sounded. The temptation to lament, defame and judge is strong. The desire to impose my solution is often on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just BE with everything as it is—and to remember to notice what is neutral, or even uplifting such as— my breath cycle, the pads of my wiggly toes touching the ground, the wild beauty of an oak tree, or the feeling of joy as I encounter the smiling eyes of a fellow being. These kinds of experiences are right at hand — both ordinary and extraordinary.
Over the years, I brought my ministry into hospital, hospice and community settings where I had the privilege to offer my presence over and over again. I also witnessed first hand the sorts of things many people regret when facing end-of-life issues.
Nowadays I’m entering elderhood. I’m tending a late season harvest in my own life garden. Over the years I’ve nourished the soil as best I knew how —regularly amended it with professional training and learning experiences, forked in significant “raw” ingredients , and carefully added beneficial micronutrients from my family. Attempting to remove residual toxicity, I’ve sifted through the whole mix and the result is wonderful compost for life here and now.
There’s a new voice blossoming in my life garden —that of Grandmother Storyteller. She appeared recently, much like a seed that lies dormant in the soil for years before sprouting. Seems like the conditions are ripe; she’s been readying herself for this moment in time, adding a wise perspective to all the earlier seasons and events.
The phoenix has risen out of the ashes many times. Even as so much of life as we have known it is dying or is threatened, there is also life a-borning— in the midst of everything. If we had the wherewithal to create the problems, we must have the wherewithal to bring about better circumstances. Like most of us, I am both complicit in the difficulties as well as a part of the healing. My aspiration is to bring healing awareness and wisdom into the entire circle of life.
Sally Singingtree March 2018