Monday, June 28, 2010

Motherlove and Caring for the Environment

The full Mother's Moon took me by suprise. It has been a busy couple weeks of gardening, summery outdoor activities and get togethers with friends so I had completely lost track of what the moon was doing. Then on Friday night I was driving home and the almost full moon jumped out from behind a tree or a building and BAM, it was the Full Mother's Moon. The weather was finally feeling summery so I took a late night stroll in the moonlight. Not dark until 9:30, night time walks in shorts, flowers and growing grass and warm breezes - it is finally summer!

The main energies of the Mother's Moon are those of the unconditional love a person, animal or land deserves just for existing. Annette Hinshaw describes this as Motherlove and contrasts it with Fatherlove, the love one earns through their merit or accomplishments. We know about this dichotomy in the raising of children - kids need to know they are loved for who they are no matter what, but they also need to be praised for striving and doing good work, and reprimanded when they choose harmful actions. We can bring this idea of Motherlove and Fatherlove out into a broader realm of dealing with our planet, the Earth we walk on, as well. When I was a ranger at Crater Lake National Park a man asked me, "What do we do with all this water?" I didn't really understand and am sure I stared at him blankly for a moment. "How do we use this water? Is it used for power generation or do people fish in it?" he asked again. "No," I finally stuttered out, "It's just here to be beautiful." This man wanted to care about Crater Lake because of what it does for us while I (and the forward thinking individuals who created the National Park Service) understood that sometimes we need to care about nature for it's own beauty and presence, not for anything it provides us.

One specific area that this Motherlove for Our Planet has been popping into my thoughts lately is in our culture's use of plastic. Cat over at Quaker Pagan Reflections has recently felt a leading to examine her use of plastic and is documenting it in her newer blog Chestnut Tree. A few days after reading her blog I came across Beth's website Fake Plastic Fish. Beth has spent the last two years reducing her plastic use and helping others understand the threat plastics pose to our environment and how to find more appropriate options. I'm not sure I have sensed the same urgent leading Cat has felt, or the same level of revulsion-leading-to-action Beth has had but I am on my way.

As these two blogs, and all the other articles out there show, there are many, many reasons to avoid plastic (and many, many equally good reasons to use plastic). The arguments against plastic usually fall into two camps - the it's bad for us camp and the it's bad for the planet camp. In the it's bad for us camp are arguments about leaching toxins, off gassing, hormone disruption, and the unsustainability of petroleum production that will leave us in a nasty lurch if we don't wean our habit now. These are good reasons to avoid plastic. But the reasons that really get to me, make my lip sneer up in disgust and give me indigestion and insomnia, are the motherlove type, it's bad for the planet reasons.

Our use of plastic, or more specifically, our improper disposal of single use plastic products, leave an enormous mark on our planet. As a person with a lot of science and specifally geology training I find it hard to believe that we as individuals or humans in general can really make a mark on the geology of our planet. The processes that make rock or create volcanoes are massive processes that cover emense amount of time and space. But we are. Our plastic garbage has collected in the Pacific Ocean to form a a giant patch of plastic garbage that might be as big as the continental United States, or it might just be as big as Texas. No matter how big it is the pieces of plastic are ending up in everything from albatross to diatoms. And, as I learned from my favorite TV Geologist (Iain Stewart... swoon!) in his new series on National Geographic our plastic detritus is actually getting into the ocean sediment that will, over geologic time, create new rock. Someday, millions of years in the future, geologists will look at some future incarnation of the Grand Canyon or the Himalayas and see bits of plastic in among the snail, fish and whale fossils. How gross is that?

Iain also told me about a mud volcano in Indonesia that has been erupting for years and has covered entire villages with dozens of feet of hot mud and displacing thousands of people. What does this have to do with plastic? The "volcano" is actually a broken well pipe from a drilling rig exploring for gas and oil, the raw materials for plastic. And I don't need to remind anyone about the tragic Gulf of Mexico "oil leak" (as NPR insists on calling it. Yes, I have written letters. That's no "leak", my friends). That disaster is not going to stop getting bigger, let alone start getting smaller, anytime in the forseeable future. I am quite confident that huge swaths of the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Gulf Coast will be uninhabitable wastelands before it is all said and done.

Our actions show a profound lack of basic respect and love for our planet and the other living things that live here with us. We are absolutely failing to show any amount of Motherlove to our planet. And thats no way to treat any one or any thing.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of building the world we want instead of focusing on destroying the world we don't want. My hero and personal astrologer, Rob Breszny, once said in an interview "The new culture is a blend of rage at what exists and love [in creating] something you like," Brezsny explains. "The answer isn't just to say 'no' to what's going on, but to imbue it with your own spirit." How does this apply to massive, planet scale environmental degredation rooted in thoughtless personal habits? We have to work at consciousness raising and use all the tools in our toolbox, including righteous rage, to bring the problem to people's attention.

We also need to work at how we build the new world we do want. How do we live a life without plastic, or without disposable plastic? How do we rearrange our priorities so that bringing reuseable shopping bags, cups, and to-go containers is not an inconvenience but simply the way things are done? How do we plan our lives and the lives of our cities so that we can use less oil for transporting our bodies and the goods we need to live? I certainly don't have answers to these questions, but maybe asking them - in the spirit of motherlove to all of creation - is the first step.

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new." - Socrates

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Season of Light Nights

He sat back on his heels, relieved that the small fire finally caught and was burning well. He was tired from the day’s adventure and the thunderstorm in the afternoon had made it hard to find dry tinder. There had been a moment of near panic when the small pile of dry wood collapsed and he had to build it again from scratch but now that he had his fire going he was able to relax.

His mother had looked worried when he set off the previous morning. His grandfather had set the trip up almost against his mother’s wishes. She had said he was too young to go off on his own. Nonsense, Grandfather had replied. He’ll be 17 this fall, plenty old enough to spend a few nights by himself in the forest. The young man and his Grandfather spent many hours that spring in the forest behind their cabin teaching and learning the skills necessary for a trip like this. Grandfather showed him the secrets of finding dry tinder and how to build a fire that will cook food in the evening and then bank the coals so it was easy to start up again in the morning. He learned how to use a bow and arrow to take down rabbits and wood pigeons and then to him to clean and roast them over an open fire. Grandfather also spent many evenings telling stories about wild spirits and forest people that share the land with them. As it got to the height of summer, the season of Light Nights, Grandfather said he was ready. He packed his rucksack, filled his canteen and his mother handed him a bundle of jerky and dried fruit. And off he went. Alone.
That morning had seemed like a holiday. He could do whatever he wanted! Stop whenever he felt like it, take whichever trail called his name. He climbed higher up the mountain, following a bubbling stream through the buzzing, sunlit pine forest. At noon he stopped to pick salmon berries and thimble berries and gorged himself like a little bear cub. As he climbed higher and higher he started singing to himself, then shouting. There was no one to hear and no one to stop him. No one to tell him he was acting like a child, because he was a man now.

The first night had been fine, if a little lonely once it finally got dark. He had not had any trouble finding dry wood or a sheltered place to sleep. As the sky darkened and the stars began to twinkle above he sang the songs that Grandfather had taught him. Songs about heroes of the past who had battled spirits that terrorized their tribe. Songs of Raven and Coyote, the wars between the Mountain Gods and songs that called the Salmon People back each summer. Ancient love songs and work songs and funny songs. He had actually fallen asleep sitting up next to his small fire and had completely forgotten to bank the coals. When he woke up, stiff and cold, he felt a little chagrined at having failed to do such a simple task, but he quickly got a fire started, made some tea and packed up camp.

Today, his second day out, at about noon he topped a ridge that had been a steep climb. He wiped the sweat from his brow and saw a small lake below him. Yipee! He ran down the slope, dumped his rucksack and clothes in a pile near the shore and dove into the water. He relished the feeling of the cool water on his bare skin, how his hair and limbs floated in the water. He opened his eyes under water and watched the fish darting through the grass growing near the shore then floated on his back watching a hawk make lazy circles in the blue sky above. He swam to the far side of the lake and crouched in the bushes watching a mother elk and her calf come to the shore to drink and then get spooked by a family of river otters who chose just that moment to erupt out of their den hole in the bank. He couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the antics of the otters as they tumbled around each other, chased each other across the grass and dove effortlessly under the water.

He really thought life couldn’t get much better than this and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing about on the shore of the lake. He shot a rabbit with his bow and collected wild greens and onions to make into a stew with the meat. He was just ready to eat when the rain started like someone had turned on a faucet. If he’d been paying attention to the signs his Grandfather had shown him he would have had enough warning to clean up his camp and find some place dry to wait out the storm, but he wasn’t. He was able to grab his rucksack and find shelter in some low brush from the worst of the rain, but his fire was put out and his stew pot got knocked over in the wind. What a storm! Theron lay huddled in the bushes, at least wise enough to have stayed out from under the tall pine trees that ringed the lake, and watched the lightning hit the mountain tops across the valley.

When the rain let up he crawled out from under his bushes, cleaned out his cooking pot and kicked apart the soggy, smoking fire. He wasn’t feeling much like singing as he doubled back up the ridge he had come over that morning, heading back towards home. Being alone in the woods, wet and hungry was not nearly as much fun as when it was sunny and warm with a whole day ahead of you. He hiked well into the evening and as the sun was setting found a place to build a small fire.

His spirits were much higher now that his fire was safely burning, but a tinge of the somber mood brought about by the storm was still on him. This night was not a night for singing silly rhyming songs but a night for deep thinking. After making some tea and eating another piece of jerky he found a comfortable spot to sit next to the fire. Why was it so important to Grandfather that he spend this weekend alone? Part of him had been as nervous about it as his mother had been. It was scary to go out all alone. In addition to the bears and cougars that lived in these mountains there was always the chance of falling and breaking a leg, or getting lost or getting sick. Then he felt a flush of pride that he had made it two whole days alone despite all these risks. He hadn’t fallen, he hadn’t met any scary carnivores. He had shot a rabbit, even if he hadn’t gotten to eat more than a taste of it before Brother Thunderstrorm took it away from him. And hadn’t he found a dry spot to build a fire this evening and persevered in making that fire out of the damp tinder? Then a rush of gratitude rushed over him as he sat. He began a spontaneous song of thanksgiving to Brother Rabbit and then to Brother Thunderstorm and Father Sun. To the Mountain itself and to Summer and the Sacred Fire that burned from the wild wood he had gathered. Eventually his song of thanksgiving was directed to Mother Earth and The Great Spirit themselves for all he had and all he was.

As he continued his chanting song of thanksgiving he watched the stars come out in the darkening sky above him. Soon, or maybe it was ages later, felt himself floating through them like the way he had floated through the pond this morning. In his mind's eye he floated, watching the stars and tree tops above him. He felt the trees around him reaching down into the earth and then felt himself sinking down into the soil. But it wasn’t just sinking into the soil, it was sinking into deepness, into expansiveness, into That Which Is. He didn’t know that some people call this the Tao, or God or The Goddess. He didn’t know and he didn’t care, all he knew was that he was no longer a single young man, alone in the forest, but a small part of All.

He could feel the great joy at being Physical, and the great joy of being Spirit. He could feel the joy of worms moving through soil, and of water moving into tree roots. He was in awe of the power that moves water up and the tree trunks and felt the explosive power in plant leaves turning sunlight into sugar. He felt the sweet freedom of movement as an elk walked along the forest floor and the panic as a wolf chased it down. The wolfs pride in its kill was his own as was the satisfaction in feeding its young. He also felt the fear of the rabbits hiding from the owl, the hunger of the baby owls when their mother couldn’t find rabbits and the desperation of fox cubs left alone when their mother had be picked off by a coyote on her way back to the den. He felt the resolute acceptance of the tree falling in a windstorm and the passive watchfulness of a mountain peak.

As his awareness expanded to encompass the whole forest, the whole world, he could even feel the sorrow, the terror, the elation and pride of the humans that walk the earth. He understood that the Spirit he was a part of relished all of these feelings and experiences the physical elements of the earth experienced. The Creator created The Created for just that reason. The realization exploded into his consciousness… we weren’t just a part of the world in a physical sense the way the nitrogen in the soil becomes a part of the leaf of a tree and then the body of a deer. We weren’t just a part of the world in the energetic sense in the way sunlight becomes sugar in a blade of grass and then the energy to make a rabbit run and a snake hunt it down. We were a part of the world in a spiritual sense. We were the same stuff as god, physical manifestations that allow god to experience the energetic world and the physical world.

As the cacophony of the physical world continued to blare into his senses he felt the rising notes of love come out of din. The love mothers feel for their babies, the love between brothers and friends, the love of husbands and wives and lovers of every kind. He felt the love leaders have for their tribes, prophets have for their people and teachers have for their students. His spirit rose with the love people feel for their land and for the other creatures that share that land, and with the love people have for their creative works. The love people have for that which they can not define, for The Great Spirit, The Tao, Nature, God. With this realization the young man felt his heart expand and explode and all he could feel was love and all he could see was white light.

The young man woke up to birdsong and the rays of the morning sun peeking over the ridge across the valley. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard and it made him want to see his mother. He quickly packed up camp and quietly set off on the trail back home.

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Are The Mother's Beloved Child

The other night my cousin was in town and wanted to see the sunset from Council Crest, the higest point in Portland. The weather has been unseasonably wet lately so I wasn't optimistic about our chances for a nice sunset but the cloud cover broke just enough for us to see something besides rain. To the east was a solid wall of dark, red-purple rainclouds, like a curtain dropped between town and the mountains. To the west were fluffy blue clouds rimmed with gold and pink. Above those spectacular clouds was a new crescent moon. I don't think my cousin was as excited to see the moon as I was, but after close to 6 weeks of rain I have hardly seen the moon at all. Hello, New Moon! I'm glad you are back!

The new moon this month is the Mother's Moon which brings unconditional motherlove to all the myriad things. The Mother's Moon celebrates the energy of a love that is given simply because you exist. You are The Mother's beloved child; of course she loves you.

My cousin and I spent some really good quality time talking about our lives and our families during his visit this week. It was interesting to hear his thoughts about his father and stepmother and how little connection he feels with them. He says that even though his mother died when he was very young and his father and stepmother married before he started elementary school he has never called her "mom", only her given name. I contrasted this with my own family and am grateful for what I find. My parents did not have the ability to provide the material comforts my uncle was able to give his family, and from the outside we may look like a less loving family (my dad always half-jokes; "We stayed together for the kids, the screaming and yelling was good for them.") but I know my parents adore(d) me. I know my parents sacrificed their own wealth, their own dreams and even their own friends and relationships to provide my sister and I with everything they could. I have never for a moment, not even in the heat of our adolescent battles, doubted that my mother loves me more than anything in the world. And I am so, so grateful for that.

One of the easiest ways for me to conceptualize god is as an all loving Mother. I have always preferred a feminine pronoun for the divine, love the images of female goddesses of the world and find great strength in knowing that god adores and delights in me as a mother adores and delights in her children. At this time last year I wrote about a couple of my early influences in seeing god in this way and those influences are still strong in my relationship with the divine. The image of God as a mother big enough to hold and rock me, who showers me with gifts and loves me no matter what is comforting. I usually start my prayers with the address "Sweet Mother" in place of the more common "Our Father". I recognize that this isn't the only way to address god, or even always the best way, but it is what feels best to me, most of the time. It feels comfortable and safe. Motherly.

Motherlove, however, is not always comfortable. The Mother loves all her creatures equally and without regard to their merit. This means She loves murders and addicts (see this description of Gabor Mate's In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Additions). She loves unscrupulous politicians and selfish executives. She also loves man-eating tigers, rip tides, blizzards and tornadoes. After the earthquake in Chile this last winter a friend of mine made a quip on Facebook about "Mother Earth just wants to get us off her back." I offered the idea that the earthquake didn't have anything to do with us. The Mother loves the planet and the physical processes of it's geology as much as she loves the billions of humans living on its surface. This is a much scarier idea to me. It's not that God/Mother Earth/Destiny has bad things planned for us, it's that we are rather insignificant in Her plans. Or no more significant than an earthquake.

Holding that juxtaposition of a God that love me specifically and also loves everyone and everything else just as specifically is a hard one for most people to grasp. People like to think of god as loving them so much that obstacles are removed from their path no matter what that means to other people or other beings. I just read the book of Joshua in the Old Testament and the people of Israel clearly worked within that paradigm. God promised them this land and they fought, slaughtered, burned and pillaged to get it. I just kept thinking about the poor people of Jericho and Ai and all the others. What part of God's love was shown in their slaughter?

This is a huge, HUGE question and one that I am in no way prepared to answer. I only have some ideas and some experiences to fall back on. At Meeting a couple weeks ago someone gave vocal ministry repeating the old saying "Never show a fool a work half done." I am the fool to God's work. Sometimes I have to give up thinking that I can know what form The Mother's love will take for all of her beloved. Just yesterday on my morning walk, while meditating on this post, I came across a robin's egg in the trail. It wasn't just the usual shell fragments you see this time of year, it was an egg with a fully formed but still embryonic chick, smashed and dead. Where is the Mother's love in that? That is not my question to answer. I just have to have faith that, as I feel and know Her love for me, that love is extended to all other beings sentient and otherwise. And in this glorious month of June, when the days are long and the garden is green, it's a little bit easier to remember.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Journey Moon

I've been having a heck of a hard time writing this post. Here it is, practically the end of the Journey Moon and all I have is a few scraps of thoughts written down. There have been other things in my life I've been having a hard time doing, too. It makes for an interesting situation that has got me thinking.

Annette Hinshaw says that the Journey Moon is the lovely time in the early summer perfect for setting out on a journey. The weather is nice enough to give you a fighting chance at dry roads and there's a little lull in the work between lambing or planting and shearing or harvesting. One of the possible reasons I've been having a hard time with this post is that the weather sure doesn't feel like Journey Moon weather around here. Our paper, The Oregonian, had a story on the front page today saying that we've had 18 straight days of rain. Portland, Oregon is known for it's wet weather so having a story like that on the front page is a bit of a big deal. I make a concerted effort to not complain about the rain - I live here for a reason, and in general I love the climate - but this has gotten a little ridiculous, especially since it hasn't just been rain. It's been hail and windstorms, cold, wet days and colder, wetter nights with no breaks at all! My garden is drowning, my driveway is a lake, my lawn a creek and my car is starting to grow it's own moss based ecosystem. This is no time for a journey, this is a time for curling up in your bed with a good book.

Another reason that I might be having such a hard time coming up with something to say about the Journey Moon is that I really am too much in the middle of my own Journey to have much thoughtful to say. The image of a journey is a powerful image in religious and spiritual thinking and our sacred and secular stories are full of people making journeys. Many people see their own spirituality and even their whole life as a journey or a path that they follow. Some of us see this path as being revealed to us as we walk, others see a more clearly marked way in front of them. My spiritual practice has been leading me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and the new information, new thoughts, new insights, and new connections are coming fast and hard. I haven't had time to synthesize anything yet, so how am I supposed to write a blog post?

Journeys are inherently arduous. If they weren't hard then it would be a trip or a jaunt or a picnic, not a journey. And this one is feeling hard right now. I had a great conversation the other day with a mentor of mine about why I am having trouble getting some seemingly simple mundane things done in my life. She reminded me that sometimes you are just too busy doing things to do other things. Sometimes your brain and your spirit are busy processing or handling things, maybe even subconsciously or at some other level you aren't fully aware of, and that is pulling your energy away from what you consciously think is the most important thing you should be doing.

Last weekend I attended a class at my Quaker meeting where the pastor gave us a background in Quaker history and Quaker thought so they have some good talking points when asked about their new church. Very little of it was new information to me but it was great to have it presented by our vibrant, funny and very knowledgeable pastor. He told us all about Martin Luther and Henry VIII and the religious and social turmoil that marked the 17th century in England. We talked about George Fox and about his insight that all humans carry the divine spark inside them allowing a direct, unmediated connection with the divine. What an optimistic, hopeful idea! Though Mike, and most of the people at my church, are quite Jesus centered I was happy to see a real respect for individual thought and understanding that language is not ever adequate to describe our experience of the divine. Mike said that the best spiritual conversations he ever had were when both people spoke their native language and then attempted to translate, rather than trying to speak in a foreign language when talking about God. It feels good to know that my native language will be received, maybe not always understood, but received in this new home I'm finding.

When I am feeling full of thoughts I always head for the woods. A good two hours of thinking and talking to myself surrounded by trees, watching my dog get to be a dog, can make all the difference. I think of it as a time to sort through all the new information and make sure it gets filed and put away correctly. While hiking this weekend I made a connection between my conversation the week prior with the core ideas of Quaker belief - my feeling lost is not a moral failing, it's a part of being a human being. And I don't need to feel bad about needing help, or about feeling lost. I have the power within me, or within my relationship with God, to move forward. Once I reconnect with that power the obstacles in front of me will shrink to their real size instead of looming so large as to seem insurmountable.

Once I re-established my connection doing that other task came easy. And writing this blog post seemed doable. I still may not have much to say, but at least I'm here writing.

I recently described the current state of my spiritual journey as being like walking a labyrinth, only its so huge that you couldn't possibly see where the center is. I see all these other paths coming close, winding away, twisting over and around my own and I have no idea which of them I might end up walking on myself, or which of them I might end up splashing right into the middle of. All I know is that my job is to keep my feet on the ground in front of me, walking one step at a time, to keep my ears open to the voice of the spirit leading me on and to keep my eyes open to see the glory all around me.