Stretching through Grief

sad-child-at-a-stone-wall-George Hodan
image via Public Domain.net/ George Hodan

Here in the mid-March energies, few are not feeling the effects of the changes happening across our planet. In a profound sense, humanity is experiencing a tsunami of change. Yet, as humans being, well, human, we tend to dismiss, deny, disregard or discount what is actually happening here on Earth. The good news is, more and more are waking up and discovering that the Earth changes are real, not imagined. They are recognizing the need for massive changes to how we treat our world, each other, and ourselves. And while it’s hopeful to know all of this, knowledge alone doesn’t help with the intense emotions that accompany all this change.

Right now I am in a cycle of viscerally experiencing the tensions running extraordinarily high all around me. We all experience it in our own way, and for me it manifests as grief. There’s a lot to grieve in our present state—go to any reputable online news site and there is no lack of sad stories across the world. On Monday, for example, an airliner carrying 157 people from Ethiopia to Nairobi crashed, killing everyone on board. The daily news tells similar stories of unexpected death, destruction, injustice, corruption, abuse, inhumanity, and damage to Gaia in a nonstop stream. Even if a person has no interest in reading these reports, it’s basically impossible to avoid the knowledge of these chaotic times. It’s literally in the air we all share, the water we all use, and the common ground beneath our feet.

It can be difficult to know what to do with all the heavy energies around us. I read many blogs and watch select YouTube channels for encouragement and inspiration. Some days this helps, but other days nothing I read or listen to seems to touch the level of sorrow I feel regarding our world. Many times I read advice to the effect of, “Be joyful! The changes happening on Earth are necessary for the purging and cleansing of long-held negative and toxic energies that humans have held onto for eons of time. You cannot take the old energies with you into the new Earth, so it’s imperative to forgive others, forgive yourself, and release them.” I understand this logic with my mind, but right now I cannot feel joyful as I look at all the difficult life experiences we are enduring. There are times to grieve for what is being lost, and that’s how I’m personally experiencing what’s happening right now.

On this blog, I’ve posted recently about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has made headlines around the world for her courageous school strikes in protest of the lack of action by world leaders. At the end of this week, on March 15th, many thousands of school-aged children and youth are planning to strike for climate action all across the globe. Greta, in an interview with The Guardian this week, said she was excited about the strike, and that it will be fun. But she made no hopeful speech about the future of Earth for her generation. She clearly recognizes that by the time she reaches mid-life, the world is likely to be a very difficult place to live upon for nearly everyone. For those of us who also see that future as very likely, it’s a heartbreaking acknowledgment of how we’ve mistreated our home, and through our complacency and lack of care, have allowed the climate crisis to continue.

I am by nature an optimist and want, more than anything, to believe that solutions will come in time for the next generations of humanity to have a chance at a healthy world to live in and raise their children and grandchildren. But to be completely honest, it is becoming harder and harder to believe in a healthy future world in thirty, fifty, or a hundred years, without some seriously major changes on a global scale happening NOW. That is Greta’s message, and she speaks for many millions of people. As long as the majority of people in power do little to change policies, laws and regulations regarding fossil fuel use, the future scenarios we’ve all heard and seen of a dystopian world are likely to become reality.

When I look around at our planet, say on the internet, and see places that still hold such absolute beauty and majesty, are still relatively unspoiled by humanity’s activity and where wilderness is still alive, it makes me wonder how much longer will these places survive intact? Increasingly there is a split between the human-made world and the world of nature, to the point where now there are many humans who never experience wild places, or even touch the bare earth with their bodies. Through technology, people feel that they no longer need direct, sensory experience of nature because they can play virtual reality games which simulate those type of experiences. A whole generation of humans are now being raised in a virtual reality environment without direct knowledge of how it feels to simply be outside in a wild place, with all the sensory stimulus it provides. It’s the equivalent of eating fast food your whole life, never realizing that there is food available that’s natural, unadulterated, and nutritious. Having never experienced it, they don’t even know it exists or what they’ve missed out on all those years.

The premise of this blog is that all life on Earth is connected, that we are all joined in the great web of everything-that-is. When one is hurt, all feel it on some level, no matter to what degree. The thought of a future earth that is uninhabitable because it has become so damaged by thoughtless, careless human beings full of hubris who only focused on extracting the planet’s treasures without giving life back, is utterly unbearable. No one wants to live in such a world, so why are we living in such a way?

The battle between the head, heart and hands   

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 We live in an age where dominant value is placed on the intellect (or head) aspect of human beings. Most would agree that society values most those who are cleverest, have studied longest (such as doctors and attorneys) and those who have used their intellectual prowess to gain the most monetary reward (think Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos). Conversely, society places the least value on those who do “necessary” jobs involving physicality: farmers, construction workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, and those who primarily rely on their hands to make their living. In between are the ones who focus on the heart: teachers, health care workers, caregivers, social workers, social and environmental activists, artists and creative people. Clearly, there are millions of combinations, and the luckiest of all people are those who find ways to live in the world with all three aspects balanced. The optimum condition for health and happiness, it seems, is to strike the perfect combination of intellect, feeling and physicality in one’s daily life.

Many authors and experts have already written tens of thousands of volumes on this topic. So why do I dare to explore it in my blog tonight? Mostly because I’ve been pondering my options for what to do with my life a lot lately, and this idea of balance between the head, heart and hands has reemerged for me. The phrase brings me all the way back to when I first heard about Waldorf education, 27 years ago. The Waldorf movement uses the expression “head, heart and hands” as its motto. It captured my imagination strongly at that time, which ultimately led to a several-year journey down the Waldorf teacher path. That path was full of discoveries and knowledge of the child, the human being, and our unshakeable connection with the spiritual side of our nature, via the teachings of Rudolf Steiner about a hundred years ago. Let me be clear that I love and respect Rudolf Steiner and the essential esoteric teachings he brought forward to humanity during his era of history (For a taste of Steiner’s wisdom and philosophy, click here). However, times change and so should theories of education. As I became further involved in Waldorf education and its proponents, I found a level of rigidity and dogmatism within its ranks that I simply couldn’t abide—eventually, I had to leave it and move on.

Like any polarizing philosophy, anthroposophy (the underlying philosophy beneath Waldorf pedagogy) has a core following of believers who carry its tenants with fundamentalist fervor. There are many wonderful aspects to Waldorf education, including a reverence and respect for Nature, an acknowledgment of the human’s role as bridge between earth and heaven, an emphasis on health, play, spending time outside in natural surroundings, building trust and love between all members of the class (who stay together with their class teacher from first through eighth grade). It’s known to be a holistic form of learning, an artistic education that fosters creativity, teamwork, cooperation, and honoring of each person’s humanity. In many respects, there is a lot to love about Waldorf schools. In fact, I fell in love the first time I experienced a Waldorf kindergarten, when my youngest child and I had an exploratory visit to see if there might be a spot for her chubby, adorable three-year-old self. I remember sitting in one of the toddler-sized wooden chairs, watching the kind, pretty, young women teachers who were gently guiding the children, readying them for the freshly prepared, whole grain, organic lunch they were about to sit down to eat together. The atmosphere was so calm, so relaxing, with a beeswax candle burning brightly in the middle of the polished wooden table, bowls of hot porridge set for each young child. When everyone was seated, the lead teacher asked everyone to hold hands around the table and she sang a lovely song of thanks for the food, the sun, and for each other. Then the hungry children happily ate the wholesome meal, in between smiles and laughter all around. I sat quietly, amazed at the scene I was witnessing, wishing I could simply stay in that pink-draped, rainbow infused world forever.

But, as all too often happens in the world, the idealism and harmony I experienced that day, and throughout my subsequent teacher training program which lasted three years, did not hold up. Eventually I saw another, shadow side to the pedagogy and met teachers who were unwilling (or perhaps unable) to change, adapt, and embrace new ideas and concepts, shedding what was no longer appropriate for 21st century children. This divide, between traditional, strictly dictated ways of teaching and learning with new methods, ideologies and educational theories, is a prime example of the battle currently raging between humanity’s collective head, heart and hands. Plenty of people espouse the extreme benefits of technology in our world, extoling artificial intelligence and robotics, predicting that technological advances will surely save us from an otherwise hellish future. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who eschew the evils of technology, screens and virtual realities. Those folks preach that only by returning to a kinder, gentler time, long before modern technology was invented, will humanity be able to restore its former compassionate, natural way of living close to Mama Gaia, and eventually get back to a state of paradise and equilibrium on Earth once more.

As for my own position, I am awkwardly standing in between the two polarities. Technology is advancing exponentially, and most of us living in industrialized societies have become hyper dependent upon it (how close is your hand to your cell phone at any moment in your 24/7?). On the other side, the natural world is now at the tipping point of being irretrievably damaged, as the climate has become extraordinarily unstable and extreme weather produces ongoing catastrophic situations at any moment on the planet. We are living through precarious times, attempting to balance on a raft as it’s moving through increasingly whitewater with no end in sight.

We can’t go back to a gentler age, and we don’t want to move forward into a futuristic dystopian nightmare world. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a critical look that humanity must find the fulcrum, the place of balance on which we can stand and continually readjust as we ride out the tsunami waves of this century. We need to protect our planet, period. We must stop valuing and monetizing intellect over all else while devaluing physical labor and emotionality. We are a species at war with ourselves; it is imperative that we learn to love and respect ALL the parts of us, from our heads to hearts to hands, feet and everything in between. If one aspect of the human above all else should lead, then it must be the heart. Only though living with love as the driver will we make wise, compassionate choices that will lead to a future world we want to live in.

For a worthwhile long read on this subject from another angle, see this article on Medium. It’s written by a woman who decided to leave the master’s degree program she had enrolled in at Schumacher College in England, and why she made that difficult choice. She writes, “A core tenet of Schumacher’s approach to education is ‘learning with the head, heart and hands’.”   https://medium.com/@rhithink/leaving-schumacher-college-bcda7ee800c1

The Hidden Blessings of Liminal Space

green_sprout_flickr_jay_heyl

If you are observant, you can notice the subtle changes from week to week during this season. We have arrived at the end of January, which means that we are at the midpoint between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. Ancient peoples celebrated this season with festivals of Imbolc (Gaelic/Celtic), Candlemas (early Christian), and Saint Brigid’s Day (also Christian). However one chooses to think of it, including Groundhog Day, even though some are deep in Winter’s freeze and polar vortex weather patterns, we know that before too long the signs of early Spring will show themselves to us in the northern hemisphere again.

Ranchers and farmers will be busy with calving and lambing during the month of February. Farmers are also buying seed and planning their spring and summer crops. We can take a cue from them and prepare our own life’s soil, planting seeds of inspiration and desires for what we want to happen later on in the year. I’ve noticed that it is usually during February that the seeds of our dreams and desires germinate, and tiny, imperceptible roots begin to grow. By March, we can begin to see the very first green sprouts break through the cold, dark soil of our imagination. With tender care and diligence, we nurture those fragile, tiny shoots and help them to grow stronger, as their roots continue to extend down into the rich humus where creativity and inspiration live. In fact, human dreams and earthly plants have a lot in common beyond simple metaphor. We, like the plant realm, create from seemingly nothing, starting with an invisible thought of something we wish to give life to in the fertile dark. By the time the thought becomes a tangible thing that we can see and experience with our senses, it has grown from thought to fragile physicality—like the plant, a dream seedling needs nurturing and protection.

What would you like to grow and nurture in your life this spring and summer? Choose the seeds now, plant them in the fertile dark of your imagination, then abide in liminal space as you await the miracles that those seeds will eventually produce. Give your dream seeds enough water and care, but don’t fuss over them too much or you may harm them. Let them slowly unfurl from within the dark womb of Mother Earth, all the while trusting and allowing them to naturally grow in their right timing. Trust in their inherent wisdom. Do not force, or impose your will upon them. Just let them be, and abide with them in the season’s rhythm as people have done for many thousands of years.

During the coming weeks and months, work to let go of worries and anxiety concerning the daily news (nearly all negative and fear-based), the global situation (ditto), and the climate (which is going to do what it does regardless of your anxiety or anger about it). Instead, focus your energy on what it is you WANT to have happen in your world, and in the common world of all living upon Gaia. She needs your positive, joyful energy more than ever before. Alongside your own personal dream seeds, also plant and nurture the seeds for all humanity and life on our planet. May we each and all do whatever we can to add to the love, joy and peace quotient on Earth this year.