I am the tree.
The tree is me.
The tree rests in winter, preparing for new growth in spring.
Blessed Thanksgiving, all.
Charles Eisenstein has written in Sacred Economics, (Evolver Editions, North Atlantic Books, 2011) of a man who struggled to do his never-ending work of owning and running a care home. State regulations made his life miserable. Every day he looked at his desk and didn’t know where to begin – and didn’t know how to make it through the work, necessary and important. His attitude and his approach to the work itself began to change when he learned to start each day by “bowing to service.” When he offered his work in the spirit of service, when he surrendered his need to control and manipulate in order to get the work done, he found that his days flowed smoothly – what was needed was accomplished.
Indeed, each one of us is called to be of service, in whatever work is ours. Most of us make our lists and fill our calendars with important dates and appointments, all focused on getting the work done.
How many of us choose to “bow to service?” I heard Eisenstein speak on Veronica Entwistle’s weekly radio show on BBSradio.com, “Paradigm Shifters.” When he spoke of “bowing to service,” I was touched and moved. In those words I see an action, the action of bowing, of offering, of surrendering to what is needed. And I feel the movement of “bowing to service” as much as see it.
Today is the day after the Grand Jury’s announcement in Ferguson, Missouri. Last night I cried as I heard the Jury’s decision read. I cried for all of us. I cried for Michael Brown’s parents, who will grieve the loss of their son forever, even as they call for honorable action on the part of protestors. As I went to sleep last night in Oakland, I heard helicopters circling overhead. When I awoke this morning, an early-morning Twitter stop flashed pictures of businesses burning in Ferguson during the night.
This world, our world, this world that is yours and mine to steward, to serve, is in need of those who will “bow to action.” Our young people are in the streets, begging through violence for justice and hope they may never have unless those of us who keep wisdom “bow to service.”
So often we hear calls for justice. So often what the “calls for justice” really speak to are calls for fairness. I doubt we human beings really know justice. I know I am not wise enough to know what justice is. But I also know that so much of what we take for granted is built on the shoulders and the lives of those without privilege. That is how things work in the world as we know it.
So my call today is for us to “bow to service.” Bow to service to serve something higher or greater or more wise than ourselves. Bow to service not as a “do-gooder,” serving some forgotten voice that has controlled your life forever; bow, instead, to service that will guide your actions, move you to act in ways you may not have thought possible.
This is Thanksgiving Week. It is good practice to be grateful. My thought is to also, in this week when we honor abundance – we who live in the midst of those who only suffer want – that we “bow to service,” whoever we are, wherever we are. It is good practice, to be sure, to “bow to service.”
Joy settles into me, into my blood and breath and all of my being, as I watch the morning light change from moment to moment on the branches and the colors and the shape and form of the tree outside my window.
I have lived with this tree and watched the passage of time, the passage of the seasons, the passage of the years, through the ever-changing light of its branches and of its being. I am learning that “its being” and “my being” are not separate at all. We are part of one another. We are one another.
We humans count these minutes and hours and days by the clock. When I exercise, I make sure I know how long I’ve exercised, in minutes. When I lay on the floor to stretch, I count the seconds, my trusty clock on the floor with me. I watch months go past on my calendar, and I watch my calendar go from paper to electronic, and now I watch it sync – magic! – from one device to another. I count. We count. We all count!
This beautiful birch tree does not seem to count, however. The beauty of this beautiful birch tree is that it is in sync with another kind of rhythm, a deeper rhythm, a rhythm that is surely beating inside of me. It’s beating inside of you, too. Remember that today, and be grateful.
I have lived with this tree for almost 10 years now, and I am ever grateful for its presence in my life. This tree has taught me that change is a constant, that time is constant change, that life is moving, being shaped, changing all the time. This tree is teaching me that there is beauty in the most ordinary – and that the most ordinary is the most-extraordinary. This tree is teaching me that it is simply a tree, one complete being on this earth, and that I am simply – and wonderfully – me. This tree is teaching me that it is good to simply be yourself, and that being yourself happens without your working at it, and that being yourself is something you don’t have to do. This tree is teaching me to stand through change and the passage of time, even the time when tears are streaking across my face and the world out there is full of violence and shame and fear and grief. This tree is teaching me that the movement of time is slow but relentless, and that we are all changing in every moment, getting older, becoming more ourselves. This tree is teaching me that I don’t have to make all this happen, it is happening for me and through me and in me – and in you, and in this tree, and in all living beings, even those we call enemies.
This tree is teaching me to stand no matter what the passage of time brings – drought, cold rain, wind, sunshine that makes everything sparkle – and that I continue to stand, from moment to moment, from day light to end of day, from season to season.
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.”
©Max Ehrmann 1927
The documentary (based on the book) “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, professor of geology and physiology at UCLA, chronicles an interdisciplinary attempt by Diamond to explain why Eurasian civilizations have survived and conquered other civilizations, while at the same time maintaining that this dominance is not due to any intellectual, moral, or genetic superiority. Diamond began to explore this dilemma after being impacted by a conversation with Yali, a politician in New Guinea, who asked: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”
Why do we have so much cargo?
As I’m getting older, I’m beginning to understand that I don’t need as much of the “cargo” I’ve carried with me as I once did. I find that I want to have objects that are beautiful to me, and that I can enjoy when I happen to glance at them. But I don’t want as much of that “stuff” around me as I once had.
And as I’m getting older, I also understand that much of the cargo I’ve carried is not just the external cargo, the “things” I’ve accumulated, although they are, for sure, part of what I carry. I am beginning to understand that most of the cargo has been my own internal cargo – feelings, thoughts, and ways of being that no longer serve me, and have not served me for a long, long time.
Robert Bly writes of carrying a huge sack on our backs. For most of our lives, we carry a sack of others’ expectations, and thoughts, and judgments on our back. As we go through our lives, the sack gets bigger and bigger, and as we go through our lives, we are more and more weighed down by that huge sack of expectations, experiences, memories, and unforgiven things in our lives.
Most of us are so busy working and doing important things in the world – and getting credit for doing that important work – that we do not reflect on what is driving us, what is burdening us, what is really behind all the activity and the work and the importance.
What a burden that is!
“Are you carrying, Heavy burdens?, and you don’t know what to do
Are you sad? And disponded, wondering how you’ll make it through
Is your heart heavy, laiden? With many, many cares
Why not do, like many others, Oh
Take it to the lord in prayer… ” words and music by Dr. Charles Hayes
I am certain that people of all places and in all times have been burdened by what they are carrying on their backs. As I reflect during this time of my life, I have come to see that some of what I carry with me belongs to someone else! So I’ve been carrying not only my own cargo, but the cargo of others, perhaps the cargo of others from many generations back!
Part of the wisdom of life, it seems, is to let go of that cargo, that heavy load of expectations and others’ dreams for us, of shame and guilt over what we have not done, but about who we are. How do we let go?
I think of “letting go” as the real work of life. We all carry too much “cargo,” to be sure, and it weighs us down, makes today’s problems seem bigger than they are, fogs up the beauty of who we really are – shining bits of light, here to shine our beauty into the world.
What cargo are you carrying with you today? Can you let go?
What cargo can you take from that long, dirt-covered sack you are dragging, take a look at it, and leave it here, now?
Can I join you in this work, this work of letting go?
As I’ve written before, it seems as if the only real work of this life – of these lives that are ours – is surrender, surrender to what is, to what will not leave, to reality as reality presents itself to each one of us. How to surrender is quite another thing – how do we surrender to what is? What is the movement, the action, the non-action we must take to surrender? I cannot say for sure, although I know many stories – of my own and of others – of those moments of surrender.
Over the past few years, much has been written about the polarity of the people of this country. We see the polarity played out in so many ways, not the least in the failure to operate of our elected officials, of the Congress, of the leaders of the nation. “Deadlock” is the political word, I believe. In a deeper sense, I would continue to use the word, “polarity.”
As I reflected, over time, about the polarity, I began to realize that I, too, was part of the polarity. How did I see this? How many times was I able to engage in conversation with someone with whom I do not see eye to eye, someone “across the aisle?” Truth is, I don’t even know many folks “across the aisle.” That’s a problem in itself. And if I know folks “across the aisle,” there are things we don’t talk about! That, too, is a problem…
But, there it is…
As time passed, I began to see that I am somehow locked in my own thinking – my own thinking with its own definitions of “justice, truth, fairness, equality.” But how to break out?
Often, I began to think of the current political situation as a reflection of who we are as a people. Our elected officials are polarized because we are polarized. And where does the polarity lie, really? How do I surrender to this? How do I accept this?
I don’t want to be seen as a narrow thinker! After all, I’m a progressive, post-modern woman with a history and a sense of time and history of my own. But – and this is also true – I am locked into my own polarized thinking. How is that? “I am right – they are wrong.” “How can they think that way?” (How can I think this way?!) “Don’t they see what I see?”
In the inner journey, the journey that is the real journey of life, the “enemy” is only within. If I want to be part of a movement to end the polarization so that I can also be part of what moves us forward as a people, then I have to begin by dealing with my own part of the polarization. It’s easy enough to look at the elected officials, to say, “why don’t they reach across the aisle?” Why, why not?
My task is to deal with the enemy within me, the one who sees things as “good, bad,” “right, wrong,” “just/unjust.” This goes way beyond morality. This goes to the heart of who we are as human beings.
And “dealing with the enemy within” is no easy job. It may be the hardest job in the world… My freedom may lie with this job. My own freedom, and perhaps the freedom of others.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ah, yes, sounds good… but how, Jesus??? How do I love, how do I learn to love, how do I act to love this one enemy, within me?
More, later… the cogitating continues! What do you think/feel/consider/reflect?
*** A good read about the way the brain works that leads to polarized thinking: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,
written by Jonathon Haidt. You can also see Jonathon on TED talks online.