Priscilla Stuckey's Blog: Nature :: Spirit

October 14, 2017

What happens when we see ourselves as separate from or a part of nature? The Center for Humans and Nature in Chicago is asking this question. Invited to respond, I found myself remembering a little Mouse and how her life experience challenges all my favorite assumptions about merit and success and who deserves what. We say “life is a gift,” but do we really understand all that implies? The full response is available here.


Early one morning a few autumns ago, when long rays of sun were just beginning to light up the fallen leaves, I glanced out the window to spot a tiny flutter on the ground. Grabbing my binoculars, I found a Mouse foraging in the leaf litter. She burrowed and sniffed, nosing here and there, absorbed in her search. Suddenly she pounced. Now animated, she picked up something in her mouth and ran a short distance away. There she set it down, picked it up again, took a bite or two, scurried off in a different direction, nibbled some more, then scurried to a new spot.








I adjusted the binoculars for a clearer look. She was holding between her paws the striped carcass of a Yellow Jacket. It seemed a prize too precious to eat. Read more . . .


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Published on October 14, 2017 12:45

September 29, 2017

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The scene above interrupted our dinner one recent evening, the sunset glow too beautiful to do anything but stare. We stopped eating and simply looked. Long golden rays kissed the tips of chamisa and rose and wild hyssop and Russian sage in our garden while at the same moment lighting up the Sandia Mountains a few miles away.


Sandia is the Spanish word for “watermelon,” and a geologist will tell you the Sandias glow red at sunset because they contains feldspar. It is a perfectly good explanation. It speaks to the physical elements of the rock. But it doesn’t explain elemental experiences such as jaw-dropping awe, which burst our hearts wide open when we get treated to a scene like this.


Beauty such as this is fleeting—five minutes at most on lucky evenings. Yet we get lucky a lot around here. It’s why I live here—I need beauty.


Reserves of strength

We all do. We need beauty especially during challenging times. Beauty gives us juice for living. “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts,” wrote Rachel Carson.


Beauty is indispensable—especially when those tender places inside us are being hammered by stingy or heartless acts of others. Beauty reminds us that the world is generous, that we do nothing to deserve its gifts.


Choosing generosity

Opening to beauty means choosing generosity over heartlessness. Beauty disciplines our hearts to joy like riverbanks nudging the current ever closer to the sea. Opening to beauty, over and over again, means saying yes to a fierce and wild hope—a hope that has nothing to do with expecting better times in the future and everything to do with soaking up goodness available right now.


To receive beauty, again and again, is to be trained in love.


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Published on September 29, 2017 15:17 • 1 view

September 19, 2017

Supercharged hurricanes in the Southeast and millions of acres ablaze in the West—all amplified, we now know, because of climate change. Yet most of us feel powerless in the face of an issue so overwhelming. When it comes to climate change, what can one person do, anyway?


A lot! Individuals do have power. It just doesn’t get talked about very much.


Some actions, such as reducing our carbon footprint, are no-brainers, and we’ll get to those in a minute. But let’s start somewhere else—with actions that can give you the juice for making changes in the first place. If you want to feel your own power, start here.


Get outside

[image error]Get outside. Keep your connection with nature strong. To feel your own power again, simply go for a walk.


When we get outside, we rub shoulders with countless other lives, other ways of being alive—whether a downy woodpecker on a cottonwood in a city park or the roots of trees snaking through concrete. Life in all its forms is pushing up through the cracks.


All these other beings have been solving creative problems far longer than we have. Getting outside reminds us that we are in good company—with all the species who together shaped the four-billion-year-old experiment of life on Earth before humans appeared.


Get in touch with your senses

To feel your own ability to affect the world around you, get in touch with your senses. Pay attention to what you see, what you hear, what you sense and feel and taste. You will be seating yourself firmly in your own body instead of getting lost in your mind with its worries and fears for the future.


Take a time-out periodically throughout the day just to breathe deeply. Enjoy the feeling of your lungs expanding, your heart pumping.


[image error]Notice the colors of each day—different from season to season. Listen to the voices of your more-than-human neighbors—sounds of birds and animals, the whoosh of breezes or the crinkle of leaves underfoot. Trace the bark of a tree with your fingertips. Enjoy the changing palette of flowers. Eat mindfully, paying special attention to the taste of each bite.


Inhabiting your body fully gives you a stronger foundation for perceiving the world accurately.


Sit with a tree

[image error]Sit for a few minutes next to a tree. Look, really look, at it. Absorb the lines of its branches, feel the quality of the air near it. Choose one question to ponder—maybe one of your big questions. In the presence of a tree, you might be surprised what creative solutions arise.


Live from the heart

Being in nature has many health benefits, as the ever-growing list of scientific studies shows. But many of those benefits, such as lifting people’s spirits or increasing their energy, add up to something simple: Nature helps people live from the heart.


What does it mean to live from the heart? It means being a good citizen of the planet—remembering that every other being on Earth is equally worthy of respect. It acting in reciprocity, giving back when we take.


It means making decisions differently—not what will benefit me in a narrow sense but what will benefit the renewing of life on Earth. Not how to get ahead but how to contribute to nature’s bounty. The truth is that we’re all related, and what affects one individual or species or watershed or region is going to affect every other person and place on Earth. Live with awareness of our interdependence. Live from the heart.


Build community

If the human race is to survive a heated Earth, it will be by supporting one another and building resilience. Contribute to resilience by strengthening your local community. You might work with people, you might work with animals, with attitudes, with economies. Every bit of support and resilience will help—and will address climate change because it gives people a foundation for making better decisions.


Work to end the use of oil, gas, and coal

Okay, now we get to the no-brainers—the direct actions individuals can take. First is reducing the size of your own carbon footprint. Earlier this year, the group Environmental Research Letters quantified individual actions, and here’s what they found.


Changing light bulbs may have little impact, but biking instead of driving makes a big difference. Actions in the high-impact range in fact can make more difference than some organized group efforts, such as community recycling.


And the biggest difference of all, if you live in an industrialized Western country—far outpacing all other actions—is to have a smaller family. This is because each baby born in an industrialized country, over the course of their lifetime, will develop such a large carbon footprint. Another surprising fact: avoiding one transatlantic flight—only one!—makes a larger difference than buying green energy.


[image error]Other direct actions

And then there are the actions that are not even addressed in this study, such as eating organic and stopping the use of chemical pesticides in your yard. You can reduce climate change by helping to encourage your friends and neighbors to make these and similar choices.


Cut down your use of plastic, and work to end the use of plastic altogether—in your office, your business, your industry. Wear natural fibers, not synthetic or microfibers, which are derived from petroleum and contribute to plastic pollution in the oceans.


Follow ESG (environmental, social, governance) standards in your retirement fund, or pressure public institutions such as your town or city or university to divest from oil and gas. Work to end the $5 trillion directed to oil, gas, and coal subsidies every year around the world. Because oil and gas money represents a significant percentage of total campaign contributions, work to get oil and gas money out of elections. In countless ways, petroleum infiltrates modern life, so the actions you can take to end its use are likewise limitless.


Ask audacious questions

[image error]Then there is all the work of the imagination to be done in order to conceive of a world beyond oil, gas, and coal. Anyone can do this work! How? Ask audacious questions. Think outrageous thoughts. Imagine different rules.


For instance, much of climate change is driven by rules of commerce that reward accumulation and profit rather than reciprocity. What might it look like to change those rules? What if, for instance, all corporations were benefit corporations, required by law to demonstrate each year some public benefit? Or, more radical, what if they all had to be nonprofit, providing a decent living for those involved and required by law to distribute any remaining profit to others?


What if companies within the same watershed shared profits, like a modern-day version of the potlatch? Or what if local communities passed community rights ordinances to claim their legal power to stop corporate damage to the environment in their local areas? How could humans ensure the rights of nature in addition to our own? Or encourage human responsibility to care for the more-than-human world?


Inequality is one driver of climate change, so working toward economic equality in any way will help to mitigate climate change. Inheritance preserves inequality, so what if there were no inheritance, so that when a person died, their assets passed into a community fund or a national healthcare fund or even to a worldwide climate mitigation and reparations fund?


Imagine different rules

We humans made the current laws, and we can unmake them too. We can imagine different rules that promote a more just world where people live in creative balance with the rest of life on Earth. Because if we don’t, the human experiment will not last long.


Creativity is waiting to happen—within every person, every community.


What can one person do about climate change? Turns out, a lot!


But it all starts with getting outside.


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Published on September 19, 2017 16:52 • 1 view

August 2, 2017

[image error]A few years ago I took up a spiritual path, a story I tell in Tamed by a Bear. I was in my fifties, a longtime spiritual skeptic and a veteran of several bookish careers, and I got won over by a bear. A spirit bear. A bear who tells jokes and chuckles at me.


It was Bear’s gentle teasing that disarmed me from the start. How could I have guessed that Spirit would show up in such a jovial form? The first time I spoke with Bear in meditation, he was chuckling at me.


Too intrigued to be offended, I returned for more. Almost every day after that I holed up in a private spot in my house, coming into the loving presence of Spirit and resting my heart and mind there. From that calm and unruffled place, I could then watch any impressions that flowed across the mental screen.


Happiness coach?

The impressions Bear sent in those early weeks and months were all about joy. Never in a million years would I have thought that what I needed most was more joy. Being cheery was for Pollyannas. I’d have died of embarrassment before hiring a happiness coach.


Yet in those early days, that’s exactly what Bear sounded like. Over and over he advised me to lighten up and enjoy life. Bear seemed to take great pleasure in tweaking my outlook—too much pleasure, I thought.


“Robust good enjoyment provides energy!” Bear announced one day.


I considered. “How do I contact this enjoyment?” I finally asked.


“Just crack the door, and it’s there,” Bear replied. Along with this thought came a picture of double doors in the floor, like a trapdoor or a chute leading downward. I watched the doors slowly open to reveal a cheery warm light emanating from below. “Just slide down the chute of enjoyment!” Bear said, cracking up.


Millennia of spiritual dialogue

Humans have conversed with spirit beings for many thousands of years. For much of that history, spirit helpers were trees or animals or other wise beings of nature—companions who shared the same land. The most well-worn path for wising up may be learning to see life from the perspective of other creatures.


People in the modern world tend to think communing with animal spirit helpers is something only Indigenous people do. And yes, many Indigenous cultures, in many different ways, do teach their children to respect and commune with trees or animals or water.


My European ancestors too were Indigenous, and as hunter-gatherers in prehistoric times, they must have talked with other-than-human beings. Bears especially were central to their lives. They hunted bears, painted skilled pictures of them, named the central stars of the night sky after them, and likely imitated them in rituals. Even today, men dressed as straw bears dance in carnivals in northern Europe, while in other villages bear performers bestow annual good-luck visits on people—rituals that may stretch back to a time when humans and bears dwelled side by side.


Spiritual dialogue in Christianity

In Christianity, the path of spiritual dialogue continued, with the spirit helper being [image error]Christ. I think of Teresa of Ávila, a nun in Catholic Spain of the 1500s, finding her prayerful way through the many rooms of the soul—what she called the “interior castle”—toward the hidden chamber in the deep center. There her Beloved awaited, and there she celebrated a spiritual marriage between Christ and the soul, “a secret,” she wrote, “so great and a favor so sublime—and the delight the soul experiences so extreme—that I don’t know what to compare it to.”


And sometimes the spirit helper was God, who walked closely beside one in daily life. I think here of Brother Lawrence in the kitchen of his Carmelite monastery in France in the 1600s practicing the presence of God while he cooked. “I made this my business, not only at the appointed times of prayer but all the time,” he wrote; “every hour, every minute, even in the height of my work, I drove from my mind everything that interrupted my thoughts of God.” He spoke with God “frankly and plainly,” and it made him a person known far and wide for being kind and joyful.


Spiritual dialogue in world religions

I think too of conversations with the divine taking place in other lands, such as Prince Arjuna’s epic dialogue with Krishna in the middle of an


[image error] House decoration in Bishnupur, West Bengal, India, photo by Arnab Dutta. Wikimedia.


Indian battlefield. “Be aware of me always,” Krishna says at the end the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna speaks with affection: “Adore me, make every act an offering to me, and you shall come to me; this I promise; for you are dear to me.”


Or there is the tender and fierce intimacy in Sufi traditions of Islam, where the divine accompanies the seeker as an unseen Friend. “The Friend is an unfathomable well / That [image error]knows everything,” wrote Hafiz in fourteenth-century Persia. “Draw from that safe luminous sky.”


I had been trained as a scholar of religion; I was familiar with various paths of spiritual dialogue and had read many of these mystical texts.


Spiritual dialogue in the modern world

But did spiritual dialogue happen in the modern world? Yes, of course; in Judaism and Christianity it was usually called prayer. But outside of those mainstream paths, few talked about the possibility, though one of [image error]those who did was Carl Jung.  In his memoir Jung wrote of meeting certain spirit teachers in meditation. Through a process he called active imagination, Jung spoke with these teachers, asking them questions and receiving replies. Clearly, the tradition of talking with spirit helpers was still alive and well.


But I didn’t expect that a path of spiritual dialogue would call to me. And I certainly never expected that the one to do the calling would be a wisecracking Bear.


A lively communion

As my relationship with Bear unfolded, I came to enjoy that gentle teasing presence. Looking forward to a lively connection kept me coming back for more.


And still Bear was all about joy. If the weather was too cold or gray, Bear advised finding something—anything—to enjoy. Bear called enjoyment the quickest route to faith, to that deep sense that all is well no matter how things look on the surface.


Each time I talked with Bear, my voice grew lighter. I can hear it now on the recordings I made of our conversations. Ten or twenty minutes into a meeting with Bear, and my voice would grow more amused, more ready to see the humor in things.


After only a month or two of this, Tim commented one day, “You seem happier.” By then Tim and I had known each other more than thirty years and had been living together for nine. If anyone could spot a change, it was Tim.


He was right. Though I had no idea where these spiritual dialogues would take me or what they meant, my outlook was indeed becoming more cheerful. I was hanging out with a perpetually cheerful Bear who seemed to think the purpose of life is to enjoy it. Under Bear’s influence, I was beginning to enjoy it more too.


Talking with Bear was lightening my spirit.


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Published on August 02, 2017 19:14 • 2 views

July 11, 2017

Today is the official release date for Tamed by a Bear: Coming Home to Nature-Spirit-Self, from Counterpoint Press. The story I never thought would see the light of day has become a book! You can find more about the book here, or read the opening pages here.


It feels a little unreal—partly because I haven’t held the finished book in my hands yet and partly because the process of making a book is itself a miracle. One moment there is nothing. A moment later, a book. All you artists and creators—every one of you, that is—know what I mean.


I’m celebrating in the usual, daily ways—walking in the national forest just up the street from my house. Doing a few of the many small pieces of promotional work. And especially sniffing the air and enjoying a little leftover moisture from our first big monsoon rain of the season yesterday evening.


Ahhhhhh!


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Published on July 11, 2017 12:16 • 2 views

June 4, 2017

From our house we enjoy gazing at the North Peak of the Sandia Mountains. The North Peak is the tallest point in the photo below, reaching 10,447 feet. Sunsets over the crest of the mountain are gorgeous—on an average day. Then comes a stunning show, like last night’s:


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Checking the mountain so many times a day attunes us to its moods, its changing light. I’ve heard that living next to a mountain, one learns to tell time by its quality of light.


And we can instantly spot the changes in its foliage. Last week we noticed fresh green on the side of North Peak—aspens leafing out. Aspens’ spring raiment is a feast for the eyes. So we picked a day and headed up the mountain for one of our favorite hikes. Maybe we’d catch a glimpse of calypso orchids as well.


Calypso sprouts

From the parking lot at the Ellis Trailhead, we slipped into the woods on the first spur and headed toward the Survey Trail. At just the spot where we’d found them last year were the starts of the orchids, two telltale leaves at ground level, each with a sprout about three inches high:


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It will take another week or so for the flowers to appear. We’ll just have to go back and visit them again.


Heading down the trail

The trail begins above 10,000 feet and slopes gently downward for nearly three miles. The morning was quiet and sunny—perfect for hiking.


Imagine a soundtrack throughout—the plaintive song of the hermit thrush echoing at the treetops, plus warblers and chickadees. Hermit thrushes accompanied us the whole day, each of them now asking a question, now answering it, as if endlessly seeking and endlessly finding.


And that smell! Fresh forest air, damp humus—ahhhhhh! A place where the lungs relax and open with no effort.


Before long we spotted aspens offering fresh leaves to the sky:


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Finding just a few young leaves and sniffing the tantalizing fresh scent of aspen whetted our appetites for more.


We hadn’t planned on doing the whole six-mile loop—this was the first hike of the season at 10,000 feet—but right about then we decided to go for it. Calling to us was the stunning overlook at the halfway point—for me, the chance to stare straight into a mountainside of fresh green aspen on the flank of North Peak. Tim looked forward to the view of Albuquerque nearly a vertical mile below. For him, the higher the overlook, the better.


Farther down the trail we spotted Canada violets (Viola canadensis):


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And chiming bells (Mertensia), from the borage family. I’m told we have Franciscan chiming bells here (Mertensia franciscana), though I’ve only seen very short plants—shorter than ten inches—so am wondering if these are the dwarf variety (Mertensia fusiformis):


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Many trees had fallen over winter, including this one, ripped at its base into see-through shreds:


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Painterly bark

Tree bark is fun to frame into abstract compositions, as if in a painting. This unusually geometric pattern caught my eye. Anyone recognize it? Spruce and fir predominate at this altitude, but this one?


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And this one—no, it’s not cottonwood, though it has similar thick structures with deep fissures. It’s an aspen tree, an extremely tall, old tree, and this is the bark on the lowest ten feet of it:


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Overlook next to North Peak

Finally we arrived at the overlook—a flank of young aspens to our left, plus the high, far view that Tim so loves. This is the mountainside we gaze at so often from our house, and it’s always a thrill to stand next to it.


We plopped under some fir trees and dug into our lunches. But we didn’t stop for long. Three miles of uphill hiking at 10,000 feet awaited us, and a gray cloud had begun to form overhead. It was time to get off the mountain.


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The Crest Trail

We made our way back uphill on the Crest Trail, serenaded all the way by hermit thrushes:


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By the end of the trail, we were hurrying as fast as we could, for the gray cloud overhead was emitting a few low and threatening growls. We’ve been surprised before by lightning striking way too close for comfort, and we didn’t want to repeat the experience.


Arriving safely at the car, we breathed deeply once more of the fresh, invigorating air and promised to return next week.


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Published on June 04, 2017 21:52 • 5 views

March 7, 2017

It swung in high gear at the Women’s March in January, and now, six weeks later, resistance is clearly a long-term deal. We’re running a marathon not a sprint. Yet it’s hard to keep going with new wrongheaded and cruel decisions coming down by the minute.


So how do you keep from getting dragged down? In the middle of sacred rage, is it possible to find joy?


Joy is not only possible but crucial to resistance. Joy is, after all, the fuel of life. During a marathon of resistance, joy is what can keep a person ready to find hope and poised to act.


So how can we stay in touch with joy?


I need regular help with this, so I turn to meditation. In the nature spirituality path I follow, meditation consists of conversing or going on spirit Journeys with my unseen spirit Helper, who is Bear. Helpers are always ready to offer a few suggestions for how to live with more ease, and here, from a recent Journey, are a few suggestions I needed to hear.


Bite off no more than you can chew

When tackling a steep or rocky trail, we avoid fatigue by choosing only a portion of it. In the same way, to stay closer to joy during this challenging time, pick only the activities you have energy for.


Spend a little time reflecting on where your limits are. Then take a moment to feel affection for them. Your limits are good limits. No need to be impatient with them; where they are is simply where they are. Being aware of what one can and can’t do keeps one in touch with joy.


Find refreshment

Stay close to what is life-givingart or beauty in all its forms; green-springing shoots or bright flower petals; laughing; hiking; playing with children; bird-watching; visiting the expanse of an ocean or the sanctuary of a forest. Allow your breath to open and your perspective to widen. Whatever is refreshing to you, do it now and do it often.


Stay close to those who love you—your partner or family or friends, your dog or cat. When interactions with others begin to slide toward heaviness, resist. Instead, welcome lightheartedness.


Check in with that little place inside that is in touch with life. If you find that it’s feeling tired or stale—or, worse, that you can’t quite imagine laughing—take a break and find refreshment. Seek the juiciness of life—belly-laughing fun and activities that energize you.


Enjoy the contradictions

Laugh at absurdities. This is different from laughing at stupidity; it’s not about snark. It has to do instead with the ungovernable quality of nature—that every moment and every event holds within it pieces that don’t fit. The actions people take rarely have the results they expect. Unintended consequences abound—consequences that contradict and even undermine the intended outcomes. Just because X has been decreed does not mean Y will happen. Reality—or nature or life—is just not that linear or predictable.


[image error]Think of the symbol of the Tao: a small circle of the opposite held within each half. Those who try to control nature—whether people, events, or land—have to work extremely hard to quell the popping up of those contrary bits. The life force is unquenchable.


Noticing contradictions can bring a smidge of equanimity. It also provides toeholds for resistance. A hate-inspired ban on Muslim immigrants? It brought about an outpouring of love and support for Muslim neighbors. Vandalized Jewish cemeteries? Muslims took the lead in fund-raising for repairs.


On the face of it, events driven by hatred and fear are unmitigated disasters. But look deeper, and each of them holds the seeds of its own unmaking. Look for those seeds. Enjoy them. Plant them and nourish them.


Stay in touch with sweetness

Many years ago I attended sohbet—a gathering of people around a Sufi teacher who tells stories and parables to open their hearts. Baba, a quiet Sufi man from Turkey with warm dark brown eyes, directed a few remarks that day to each person around the room. Looking at me, Baba said, “Every sweetness holds a bitterness, and every bitterness holds a sweetness. When you go through a bitter time, look for the sweetness hiding inside it. Find the sweetness in the bitterness.”


When life is painful, the mind is tempted to clamp down around the pain. One begins to lose touch with the possibility that things can change.


To resist with joy, it is crucial to resist that urge to close down—to instead remain open to sweetness. This is not to deny horror and pain; they are real. But so is this more-hidden thing taking place at the same time, a sweetness slipping right out of its bitter wrappings. A prime example is the “great new accidental renaissance” in humane values taking place in this country—a tremendous sweetness that no one could see before it was forced out of hiding.


Staying in touch with joy is a decision; it requires a choice. And that choice forms the foundation of resistance: the choice to remain free within your own heart, not allowing the decrees of others to dictate the state of your own spirit.


Love

Love is a tough practice. It takes rigorous training to keep the heart open in peacefulness instead of closing down in hatred or fear. Consider this time a boot camp in learning how to steady the heart. When resistance is powered by such love, it cannot be defeated.


A loving, open heart is on the right side of history. It holds the moral high ground. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Hatred and fear are unsustainable. They squander the life force. Nature washes the impurities away, and what is left is justice. Love. Equality. Room for all. What Thomas Merton called “that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations.”


Trusting in nature’s ability to set things right can bring comfort and joy at this time.


Wishing you a heart firmly grounded in love. Wishing you resistance with joy.


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Published on March 07, 2017 14:11 • 7 views

January 30, 2017

[image error]Here is my Letter to America including all the original links—each link a shout-out and thank-you to the writer, civil rights worker,  water protector, scientific researcher, or philosopher who provided inspiration.


The letter first appeared in Terrain.org’s Letter to America series.


Dear America,


“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” our Declaration of Independence announces—words so bold they clearly belong to a different time than our own. For we could never be so confident about truth; to us it does not appear self-evident. Increasingly, we have trouble seeing it at all.


In our post-truth era, facts grow fuzzy and rumor replaces substance. The strongest journalistic standard has to do not with truth or even fairness but with appearance only: Has equal time been devoted to each side?


False equivalences are simply false. They are “bullshit,” a philosophical category (yes, really) meaning “unconcerned with truth.” Whereas a liar distorts the truth—thus bowing to the idea that there is truth—a bullshitter simply “doesn’t give a damn.”


Dear America, we’re going to have to give a damn again about the truth.


We might learn from resistance movements of the past and how they placed truth at the center—because those who deny freedom have to first withhold truth, for starved of their alternate reality of propaganda, tyrants can hold no power. We might learn from Gandhi’s satyagraha, often translated “truth-force” but literally, “holding firmly to what is real.” Satya, the truth, rests on sat, reality itself. What is truthful is what is real.


Dear America, we’re going to need to hold with all our might to what is real.


Being rusty in the art of perceiving what is true, we might take a cue again from the Declaration. “All people are created equal,” it says, read through the Nineteenth Amendment, and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”—natural rights that can’t be taken away because they proceed from a source bigger and deeper than human laws, nature itself. Rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are givens; they rest in reality.


Dear America, this is a time to care that nature is the source of equality of all. That long before there were human beings, insects and birds and animals arranged themselves in democracies, and a sense of justice and fair play preceded us by eons. This is a time to recognize that history “bends toward justice” not because human beings choose it but because justice is the firmly threaded warp of reality across which every species and creature threads its own strand, and those who would align with what is real will weave their own stories around that same strong support.


Now is a time to celebrate that nature is not authoritarian and orders do not flow downward from above. That beings in each landscape, each ecocommunity, create themselves and one another through endless mutual responsiveness and dialogue—between clouds and soil, between microorganisms and insects and plants, between trees and fungi, between rocks and water and birds and wind. That social status, even among animals who organize themselves in hierarchies, is held through consent of the group, and community members vote with their feet. This is a time to care that nature is on the side of setting free—that the life force flowing through all is a liberating force. That it is continually making possible new creative experiments, and that beings from earthworms to octopuses choose liberty and pursue happiness. And that any human government that wishes to be sustainable will do likewise.


Dear America, this is a time to take to heart the nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King. To study the determined yet peaceful faces of the marchers and lunch counter sitters and to borrow courage from their calm—that having suffered hundreds of years of violent slavery, dozens of generations’ worth of grievances, they disciplined themselves in the heat of confrontation to act with respect, firmness, patience, and truthfulness. This is a time to learn from Dr. King, who translated Gandhi’s satyagraha not as “truth-force” but as “love-force,” because he knew that truth and love are synonyms, and they form the bedrock of reality.


This is a time to know that the ugly wound of slavery still scars our collective body and that suppressing voters’ rights is one of its current forms. That even when an election follows existing laws, if those laws limit the democratic right of citizens to cast their ballots, that election violates the self-evident truth of equality, and the party spearheading those laws is unfit for democratic leadership. To know that if the winner’s victory rested on voter suppression in battleground states, that election remains illegal and the winner’s power illegitimate.


This is a time to care that a smooth transfer of power, no matter how peaceful appearing, conceals a reality of violence if the candidate gained power by attacking freedoms and silencing dissident voices. To know that the moment a candidate mocks the disabled or demeans those of a different faith or skin color or boasts of criminal assault or threatens violence to those who disagree with him, he is announcing his unfitness for leadership and has disqualified himself from governing in a democracy.


Dear America, now is a time to learn from the Standing Rock Sioux and all the tribes and allies protecting water in North Dakota, who after centuries of cruelty and attempted genocide have disciplined their minds and hearts in order to act with dignity, patience, respect, and generosity. For nothing less than the well-being of the Earth is at stake, and with it the well-being of the children and indeed all recognizable life, and in the face of such enormous stakes, enormous strength is required, the kind that can be cultivated through spiritual practices of love and prayer.


And what of us, America? What of the millions of us who are listening to the buzz of angry voices—of poisonous radio hosts and white supremacist neighbors and the bitterness of personal grievances? How will we come to know that behind all that hate lies fear? How will we recognize that fear as an illness—to know that a society caught in such profound and pervasive fear is a society deeply under the weather? How can the people of this country nurture ourselves back to health—to a sounder, healthier frame of mind?


Dear America, this is a time to come to our senses. Literally. This is a time to visit the ocean or walk in a forest or sit in a garden and listen to birds. Because opening the senses to nature—even just looking at natural scenes—helps to set the mind and heart at ease, reducing stress, increasing kindness, building creativity, and increasing happiness. Feeling awe in the face of nature’s beauty and grandeur decreases self-importance and increases generosity. We need the shin-bumping solidity of rocks and the towering comfort of old trees. We need nature’s healing power. We need it now.


Dear America, now is the time to tackle the vast inequality in wealth and income in this country and to repair the ill health and reverse the scapegoating it engenders. To remember that pursuing wealth corrodes the soul and increases narcissism and that those who chase wealth are chasing ephemera, not reality. To know that inequality sabotages democracy by instilling a false picture of reality—the idea that some naturally deserve more while others deserve less—when the truth of the natural world is that everyone lives for a time and then dies, that “you can’t take it with you,” and that no other creatures bequeath a private inheritance. Now is the time to tackle the capitalist system of rewarding accumulation, for collecting more than one needs contradicts the economy of nature, where every breath taken in is balanced by a breath given out, and the true bottom line is reciprocity.


Dear America, this is a time to address fear of difference, for people who are fearful feel disempowered and unable to affect their own lives. This is a time to starve hate speech by fostering inclusiveness and practicing firm kindness and truthfulness. To know that nature is on the side of diversity—that biologically diverse communities are more resilient and creative, and cultural diversity lends vibrancy and strength to a community.


Finally, America, now is the time to end use of fossil fuels, for the oligarchy in power relies on them for its wealth and dominance and will do everything it can to push oil and gas even as the Earth heats up beyond the point of ecological disaster. Political independence is not separate from economic self-sufficiency, as Gandhi knew, and his satyagraha included the practice of spinning, which empowered people in local villages to produce their own cloth and boycott British goods. Today we might find a similar, local self-sufficiency in producing and using solar power, which right now is becoming the cheapest energy on Earth. Gandhi’s spinning wheel might become our solar panel—a symbol not only of survival and sustainability but also of resistance.


Hannah Arendt, after the carnage of Nazism, wrote that totalitarian rulers prepare their subjects by dividing people from one another and imposing an ideology of hate. Once people have lost their connections to others and to their own integrity, the preparation is complete. The “ideal subject” for a totalitarian regime, she went on, is “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exists.”


Dear America, let us not be ideal subjects. Let us resist, with kindness and solidarity, all efforts to divide us. Resistance begins at home—when we refuse to surrender the power of our hearts to hatred and fear. Resistance succeeds when we remain true to experience, working together to restore faith in love and equality and justice.


Dear America, we have a long way to go. But that’s always been true, and in this respect the present moment is no different. What we need now is the support of nature, of reality, and in the natural world there is no post-truth era. May each of us find our footing on that firm ground.


Yours,


Priscilla Stuckey


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Published on January 30, 2017 11:06 • 12 views

January 16, 2017

[image error]Since the election Terrain.org is hosting a “Letter to America” series from writers coming to terms with the present political moment. Here is my contribution.


Dear America,


“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” our Declaration of Independence announces—words so bold they clearly belong to a different time than our own. For we could never be so confident about truth; to us it does not appear self-evident. Increasingly, we have trouble seeing it at all.


In our post-truth era, facts grow fuzzy and rumor replaces substance. The strongest journalistic standard has to do not with truth or even fairness but with appearance only: Has equal time been devoted to each side?


False equivalences are simply false. . . . Read more at Terrain.org


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Published on January 16, 2017 08:11 • 6 views

December 29, 2016

The events of the fall are leaving people frightened about what the new year may bring. When a politician takes power by inciting people’s most vicious prejudices, aided by interferences both foreign and domestic, there is good reason to fear.


Firm in love and in action

But this is a time, instead, to be firm—firm in both love and action. Firm in love—because only unchained hearts, unencumbered by fear and hate, can bring about peaceful change. [image error]Firm in action—because resisting untruthfulness and injustice requires standing up and becoming engaged.


The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies this year have modeled firmness in both, protecting water through their peaceful presence and disciplined hearts. Their processes are ones that Americans committed to democracy can learn a lot from and emulate in the months ahead.


This is also a time to strengthen spiritual resources and tap in to the support of nature. As the enormous full supermoon settled into the New Mexico earth at dawn in mid-October, [image error]it reminded me as usual of the limited power of human beings. No human being can change the moon’s orbit. None are powerful enough to set the pathway of Laniakea, the super cluster of galaxies to which we belong, as it hurtles through space.


The regenerative power of nature is untouchable.


[image error]Because of nature’s power to bring something new into being, change happens. Organisms evolve by seizing unforeseen openings and experimenting. They try something new, over and over again. And every change provides yet more opportunities for the new to come into being.


To be aligned with nature is to be ready to seize every opportunity to bring something new into being.


Thomas Berry wrote in The Great Work,


The present is not a time for desperation but for hopeful activity.


Wishing you an unfettered heart and hopeful activity in the New Year.



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Nature :: Spirit

Priscilla Stuckey
Nature spirituality in down-to-Earth style
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