Why Cultural Appropriation Is Morally Wrong

                                             “To be equal, this is what I like.” Norval Morrisseau

blogimage2These simple words speak volumes, in Norval Morrisseau’s closing statement to CBC-TV’s Close Up reporter June Callwood, on the occasion of Morrisseau’s 1962 first art exhibition, at age 31. His remark followed upon Callwood’s acknowledgment that his 35 paintings had earned him $4,000, and how did he feel about it. Morrisseau, introduced as shy and mystical by a male CBC-TV newscaster, had mentioned to Callwood his childhood dilemma, to negotiate a Catholic upbringing with traditional Ojibwa spiritual beliefs and, more specifically, his personal spiritual experiences during walks in the woods. The whole conversation is poignant, given Morrisseau’s trust that his deeply felt spirituality would be understood.

Unbeknownst to Callwood, who asked simple questions with courtesy, Morrisseau’s life, henceforth, would continue to be fraught with conflict between his inner spiritual experiences vis à vis producing works of art that foregrounded sacred imagery for a Euro-western clientele who were attracted to imagery so unique, and mysterious, to them. Moreover, the lifelong struggle for Morrisseau to survive psychologically in a secular Euro-western culture predominantly based upon materialism – success valued by financial measure – would be unimaginable.

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Twenty years later, in 1982, I had begun to write about Aboriginal issues, as a newly minted journalist. My motivation was grounded both in unsatisfactory B.A. university studies in which “Native peoples” were treated as historic versus my real life encounters soon afterward in 1979, in Kenora, Ontario, with living contemporary Ojibwa and Metis individuals. The revelation for me was that Native people still existed, not merely as individuals yet, more importantly, as nations, for Canadian government and citizens to deal with and recognize. Those encounters changed the direction of my life, and I began reporting on the first peoples of Canada, whom I never had learned about throughout my formal years of education. Within a decade, I became disillusioned as a journalist, awakened not only to the cultural racism in all Western institutions yet also, with dismay, even within the news media itself.

I cannot recall how many of my stories about Aboriginal achievers were rejected by mainstream media, but instead were welcomed by then-existing Native newspapers and magazines across Canada and in the United States. Canada’s federal government subsequently terminated funding to most indigenous news publications across Canada, making it impossible for small Aboriginal nations to inform their respective peoples effectively on events pertinent to their lives. To be true to the culturally restorative mandate of the `truth and reconciliation’ initiative, I advocate that the federal government ought to provide Indigenous journalism funding again, more inclusively across the country.

In those early years, only a few Aboriginal journalists worked in mainstream media. Among them, outstanding Mohawk reporters Brian Maracle and Dan David did their best to endure the undercurrent of systemic racism in various newsrooms to produce important stories. They followed upon the new wave of Native political activism that began in the 1960s. edesk

My film Soop on Wheels relates the life of one of the earliest among those pioneers, the late (still under-recognized) Blackfoot political cartoonist Everett Soop. The larger cultural movement, initiated by artists, spread throughout North America, planting the seeds for the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the USA, while Aboriginal political organizations developed in Canada.

Fast forward to the 1990s. I was pursuing two graduate degrees back-to-back at the Ontario Studies for Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). As a member of a cross-cultural Indigenous committee advocating for Aboriginal courses of study, I recall a debate that truly shocked me. A few of the Aboriginal students questioned a Morrisseau painting (hanging in a hall way) in regard to its authenticity as Aboriginal art. By then, a freelance journalist through many years and art college graduate who initially wrote about Aboriginal artists, I was well-informed about Morrisseau, and gobsmacked that his work would not be well-known to everyone. What this debate signified, however, was how profoundly younger Indigenous people had been separated from their cultural heritage, to the degree that they were oblivious to their own artistic pioneers in the Indigenous cultural revival.

For all of the above reasons – the Indigenous cultural, and personal, spiritual roots of Morrisseau’s art; the life-affirming intention by him to share with the wider world the sacred meanings in his work; the pivotal role of his Indigenous art in the early years of Indigenous cultural revival; and the obvious continuing challenges for Indigenous people to be able to recognize and take pride in the creatively-gifted expressions by their own people – I stand totally against the current non-Indigenous painter, a young woman named Amanda PL, who demonstrated the most powerful example of wrongdoing in her appropriation of the Woodland style of art initiated by Morrisseau.

Amanda PL has no business “to make it my own,” as she is quoted saying in an online CBC article, one of a series published on cultural appropriation in recent days. These images are not her own, and never can be. Their origin is too specifically recognizable as referents not only to a different culture, yet more personally to the medicine dreams (mentioned by Morrisseau to Callwood) of another human being. Her stubborn willfulness to continue, despite an art gallery cancelling her show, illustrates the failure of mainstream society to instill awareness about, and respect in, our Indigenous history and also honour what are distinctly Indigenous contributions to deepen human understanding across cultures.

Fuller human understanding embraces the yin-yang of unity in diversity. Authentic honouring of unity in diversity is to know how to distinguish what we hold in common as a human family in relation with what each human culture contributes uniquely through its own distinct expressions of universal spiritual experience and belief, and more. As an African woman states in the excellent documentary The Destruction of Memory: “Cultural heritage is the mirror of humanity.”

I would add that the highest purpose of cultural productions importantly facilitates a continuity with our past, to remind us what is valuable to retain in regard to our origins, to awaken us to what was forfeited and needs to be recovered, as well as to recall transgressions that need amending – ultimately for our consciousness to evolve and transcend the false, human-constructed `us/them’ dichotomy. We need to appreciate why we are here on earth, through the practice of our shared higher spiritual qualities. Those qualities are manifested not only in physical artifacts such as sacred structures and ceremonial items for worship yet, moreover, kept alive through all forms of storytelling.

I have deeply appreciated the clarity of communications in recent days, on CBC television and in online CBC articles, from Jesse Wente at CBC, Trevor Greyeyes as publisher of First Nations Voice, and Niigaan Sinclair as an author and acting head of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. Please look at the video interview with Jesse Wente on CBC radio’s Metro Morning, as well as CBC The National‘s segment “Why an editorial sparked a cultural appropriation storm.” These news items eloquently cover the concerns about `cultural appropriation,’ and point out why this issue is distinct from infringing on `freedom of expression.’ Note how these Indigenous spokespeople emphasize that production of stories about Indigenous people is different from taking ownership of Indigenous voices, even though the former is not above critique as well.

Nor should any cultural production be above critique. As a disillusioned journalist, I became involved in media literacy – an international educational movement that began in Australia, spread next to the United Kingdom, followed by Canada and the USA, some European countries and, finally, some nation states on other continents. From the late 1980s, I specialized in investigating the 500-year `back story’ to stereotypes and cultural racism, related in the pattern of misrepresenting Indigenous people in Euro-western imagery. I conducted many workshops around North America at conferences for teachers, conflict resolution professionals, and fellow journalists.

In those years, through the 1980s and early 1990s, I also attended Indigenous conferences regularly – it was an exciting time – to listen and learn about the concerns voiced by a number of traditional Indigenous people who, since then, have crossed over to the spirit world. One of the constant themes, underpinning the need for cultural revival, was the profound inter-generational spiritual devastation, hence cultural destruction, from the demonizing of Indigenous spirituality and outlawing of it. Spirituality had been at the core of Indigenous life. For example, particular rituals enabled each person to be valued and to become aware of their responsibilities, in order to feel a place of belonging in the communal embrace of the community.

In fact, I would suggest that the issue of cultural appropriation is caused by the continuing lack of wider public awareness – and continuing systemic denial about – the long history of systemically-grounded racism. It is shameful that this history is not yet a mandatory part of school curriculum, no longer merely relegated to a single course in one grade level. Instead, various curriculum subjects could incorporate not simply the political, economic and religious wrongs but, importantly, also include insights about the resilient strengths of Indigenous people and their contributions, that more completely have shaped Canada’s world identity.

As a non-Indigenous person, my perspective is that the systemic loss in my own Euro-western culture of what I consider to be a fundamental spiritual truth – that all human beings are spiritual beings in physical bodies during our earthly existence – is why Euro-western culture through centuries wreaked so much destruction upon cultures different from its own. In other words, European ancestors, collectively speaking, long ago had severed our understanding of the basic reality about human interrelationship with Spirit and with Nature. Today the same destruction continues through industrial projects that undermine the planet’s life support system, such projects fed by gross consumerism reinforced by capitalism. We all are implicit, by our very human existence, in the fate of the world environmentally. Today we are called, across the human family, to strive towards a transformation of human consciousness. To me, that shift is essential to turn around the trajectory of global environmental destruction.

My above characterization of the human condition is the very big picture wrapped around the need for serious change at multiple levels. Such change, therefore, is not limited to a meaningless litany of continuing apologies from those who are privileged and power-holders across all societal sectors. Not only do Indigenous people deserve more, but so does the human family and all planetary life.

In Canada, `truth and reconciliation’ is not simply a template of policy. More importantly, it is a guide to provide a pathway for people across cultures to pursue some genuine exploration to understand where Euro-western culture and its institutions went wrong, leading to such extraordinary, inter-generational harm inflicted upon Indigenous people, the amends long overdue. Amends can begin through individual acts of respect – such as avoiding cultural appropriation – plus essential transformation at Western institutional levels.

Euro-western society sorely needs to address its own systemic flaws perpetuated in institutions that tragically exhibit mainstream culture’s fragmented consciousness – the split from Spirit and Nature. Doing so is an essential pursuit and non-Indigenous responsibility, on top of our role in cross-cultural healing, to strive together with Indigenous people (and the larger human family) to protect and restore a threatened planetary life support system. The pursuit of healing the natural environment is one type of multi-faceted, collaborative, and life-affirming action among other possibilities, along the path of reconciliation.

Returning to the issue of cultural appropriation per se, Hal Niedzviecki’s opinion piece in Write magazine that opened with his assertion, “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation,” followed by him advocating a prize for non-Indigenous writers to exploit it, exposed the depth of societal lack of awareness about Canada’s history – more painfully evident when some high profile “white” writers then agreed to contribute money to such a prize. The entire sorry farce exposes the continuing hurtful consequences caused by ignorance when well-known and respected cultural producers behave so insensitively. The reason is, their tacit agreement (whether in jest is irrelevant as a stupid excuse) – as privileged professionals – gives permission for the larger public to behave similarly.

With that said, this firestorm is only the latest in an identity politics movement that arose with a vengeance – cultural appropriation in the eye of the storm – more than 20 years ago, in universities and across Canada’s literary terrain. I got caught in the cross hairs of it, and witnessed the dark side of identity politics when it is used and abused as a tool for censorship and, worse, an ugly method to alienate the allies who are culturally respectful. Allies are essential as bridge-builders to enhance healing across cultures. Today we need a lot more cross-cultural dialogues with related community-based actions, from talking circles to public panels, in order to facilitate the essential change that is needed for genuine reconciliation to happen. In other words, all cultures need to be better aware of history through the lenses of different cultural perspectives, to build together a bridge to mutual understanding.

I recall with a wry smile Maria Campbell’s wordsMaria-Campbell-picture-300x300 to me, during a long afternoon conversation many years ago, part of which was an interview with her for a profile in a Native American magazine. Maria, a Metis writer, filmmaker, broadcaster, and much more, stands among the pioneering Indigenous contemporary storytellers, who spoke her truth powerfully. Today, she herself would be valued as an elder. In her no-nonsense style, she told me that when you get everyone mad, you probably are doing something right.

Sure enough, I eventually experienced being attacked by individuals from every side, but mostly within my own culture. Seeing Jesse Wente’s emotional commentary on Metro Morning, in which he said that he hopes never again to experience the display of insulting responses to the issue of cultural appropriation, deeply resonated with me, in accordance with an incident in my life 20 years ago. I had an experience, in a `cultural studies’ course at OISE/UT, which I wished never to be repeated. After an attack that descended from intellectual to personal, I ended up bedridden for the next two days, my body in a major spasm. I swore never again would I give away my inner power to external attackers, enabling them to silence me.

The assignment given me by a professor was to analyze an essay by an Ojibwa woman, as part of my oral class presentation to challenge the discrimination against Indigenous spirituality, within the larger issue of cultural racism in my society. I began by pointing out that the Ojibwa woman, who named the fact that she had not been raised within her own culture, had “intellectualized Native spirituality” in the way that she criticized the “alleged” events during her participation in a Native ritual. In that classroom, no Indigenous student was present. However, a vocal number of the students held Marxist views, so that discussion of anything spiritual, for starters, was fuel for attack. Among the litany of insults that followed, someone said that Native people only accepted me because they were being polite. That statement, to me, was an insult to the integrity of the many Native people whom I had encountered. Before the tears silently fell, and I still had a voice, I did point out that I never yet have met a Native person too polite to express displeasure directly to any individual, privately or publicly.

I never was shy about challenging appropriation. During a visit to the Maritimes, I triggered haughty anger from a Celtic artist who worked in porcelain. He told me about his intention to start using Indigenous imagery, and I tried to explain why he ought to rethink doing so. Even based on simple economics, it always has been difficult enough for any artist to earn income. Secondly, consider the pleasure by the buyer, who purchases a work of art directly from its creator, and can receive the layered story behind its meaning. For Indigenous artists particularly, the layers reside in the fuller cultural history, with acts of cultural revival, as well as personal healing and celebration, signified in the production of genuinely meaningful artistic expressions.

Several times I have been verbally lambasted when I criticized the exploitation of Indigenous spirituality and, worse, the misrepresentation of it, in fictional works. A foremost example was in reference to the `Medicine Woman’ book series authored by Lynn Andrews, in which a “white woman” appears to be the ubiquitous heroine through exploiting Indigenous spiritual concepts and practices while, moreover, mixing them up from diverse tribal nation sources.

What Andrews exploited through the later decades of the twentieth century was the spiritual hunger felt within Western culture, most particularly in North America. Even the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps who relocated to the United States, referred to the “existential vacuum” existing there. I also recall the words of Tuscarora scholar Richard Hill, in the 1980s, who applied the label “shake-and-bake-shamans” to those individuals within Indigenous cultures who similarly exploited the spiritual quest of any and all seekers, primarily for personal financial profit.

The trajectory in the Westernized treatments of Indigenous spirituality, therefore, began in missionaries demonizing and desecrating it, followed by political outlawing of symbolic, and actual, presentations of traditional practices – together with forbidding Indigenous languages in the schools – to rampant commercial exploitation in the late twentieth century. No wonder Indigenous people get really pissed off!

When the outlawing began, threatened Indigenous cultural practices went underground to be protected. The integrity of some ceremonial practices survived and, in accordance with traditional teachings, certain ceremonies were opened to cross-cultural participation. This was done to broaden the understanding across cultures about human interconnectedness not just among each other yet, very importantly, with all planetary life. Indeed, renewing cross-cultural dialogues and actions today about our imperilled planet could be one of the most promising and productive paths for reconciliation, at many levels.

I clearly remember the profound concern about running out of time expressed among my generation of Indigenous storytellers trying to gather and preserve traditional knowledge from the elders who had lived it, before they were all gone. Moreover, they agonized over the discernment required about how to communicate cultural traditions vis à vis the need to earn a modest living in today’s world, most particularly when sharing (necessarily limited) spiritual knowledge across cultures. Sharing it, nevertheless, was part of the intention as well in traditional storytelling. For example, teaching basic morality in how to conduct ourselves in this world.

The latest twist, most egregious in the educational sector, is that the works of creators ought to be available to students for free. Once again, respect still is not understood within Euro-western institutions to appreciate the arts in their higher purpose. Even as `callings’ for some practitioners, in today’s world, necessarily, they also ought to be recognized as professions, in which the ability to earn a livelihood increasingly is undermined by violations of copyright. What is overlooked is the reality that serious messengers, dedicated to gathering and disseminating knowledge, want to do so through a lifelong commitment of ongoing deep research, in a professional capacity. But, in today’s reductionist, and dumbed down mainstream, cultural climate, who will be the younger generations of such committed storytellers and messengers? As well, who will demonstrate more respect for the veteran storytellers, across cultures, before we are gone?

Indeed, across cultures through the ages, the memorable artists always have been on the cutting edge, yet sadly either overlooked or controversial in their own time. In every historic era, they have illuminated, through storytelling in various arts (writing, painting, music and theatrical performance): the perennial human condition in particular places at particular moments; who we are (or assume we are) in our human diversity; what are our responsibilities; what befalls us when we abdicate moral responsibility; and what is possible, if we have the will to strive consciously towards it.

My late Blackfoot friend Everett Soop gave me strict instructions not to present him either as a victim or as a role model in his life story Soop on Wheels. Everett wanted simply to speak his truth, and be seen as a whole person even as he presented his human imperfections, with integrity and courage. One film segment shows Everett encouraging Indigenous students to speak out for their people. He believed the power of self-determination resided in the heart and mind of each individual. Everett would be so proud of today’s growing numbers of Indigenous professionals, who are using all forms of creative media to be silenced no more.

POSTSCRIPT: Morrisseau’s painting `Androgyny’ exhibited in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, and photographed  in 2008 by Adrian Wyld, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Let Us Disempower Trump By Actions That Unite Humanity

blogimage2American President Donald Trump’s immigration ban is horrible enough. But then the murder of six Muslim men at a mosque in Quebec City, shot in the back last Sunday while in prayer – by a young Quebecois who admires Trump – was beyond unspeakable. Trump’s poisonous influence must be challenged wherever we live, most particularly to help those young people who feel disenfranchised, are most vulnerable to being manipulated through fear and misinformation and, subsequently, feel compelled to scapegoat cultures other than their own as the cause of life’s difficulties.

So heartening, immediately after these murders, has been the solidarity across cultures demonstrated by the thousands of fellow Quebecers who attended a vigil on Monday night. Many came as well the following night, to show their respect and to grieve, at a mass held in a local Catholic church. What was an unexpected yet welcome follow up, from that neighbourhood’s local MP on Wednesday was his apology in the House of Commons, plus asking forgiveness from immigrants who have experienced being ostracized and stigmatized.

Condolences, and further gatherings, are happening across Canada throughout this week, from my rural mid-western Ontario area to Inuit communities in Canada’s Far North, as well as abroad. Such community-based actions hopefully will continue, not limited to a journey of healing yet, as well, embracing a journey of celebrating life together across cultures.

We live in extraordinary times, when anything is possible, including the unthinkable presidential election of Donald Trump to one of the most powerful political positions in the world. What also is possible, conversely, is for all of us as human beings to tap into our own immense inner and outer resources and skills – too often left unrecognized and untapped – to co-create an amazing, loving world. First and foremost, therefore, we must stand up to challenge any forces of darkness that seek to destroy the human heart.

Wherever you live, now is the moment to express solidarity and compassion that is inclusive of the whole human family, proactively through a wide range of actions. At the same time, continuing actions, at all societal levels – from grassroots to corporate and political – must send a message loud and clear to the larger world that the dark forces of hate and extremism everywhere that Trump symbolizes, and fuels, will not be tolerated. We must reduce, and ultimately strive to eliminate, Trump’s political and economic influences.

In advocating “disempower Trump,” consider the definition of `disempower’ in the Merriam Webster online dictionary: “to deprive of power, authority, or influence: make weak, ineffectual or unimportant.”

This disempowerment already is happening through the courage and intelligence of various groups and individuals, yet must continue to grow across sectors of society in North America and internationally. For example, currently, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing over the violation of the Constitution on faith grounds, as per the immigration ban. Several federal American judges immediately blocked the ban’s enforcement, at least temporarily. Such stories are documented in The Financial Times, and more stories will follow, to map events and the needed counter-measures that will continue to unfold in the coming weeks and months. Indeed, denouncements of the ban, with legal actions in development, are being reported by a growing number of multinational companies.

Trump’s petulant childish recourse to anyone who criticizes him, namely, to take away his toys, i.e. his financial support, and not care about the human and environmental collateral damage has been well-documented, and now must be directly challenged. Consider the example of the Trump golf course fiasco in Scotland, from which he eventually backed out, breaking his word to create major local employment, when he no longer was allowed to persecute the brave Scots individuals who stood against his abusive tactics. Read a CBC news story on the latest episode of this Scottish saga, about how the local Scots brilliantly have raised Mexican flags in solidarity with the Mexicans, given Trump’s plan to build a wall to shut out Mexicans’ further entry to the USA.

Let us reverse the situation, given the pattern of news stories that too often report how Trump financially punishes anyone who disagrees with him. I implore anyone who has invested in Trump enterprises, as shareholders, to disinvest and instead reinvest in other businesses which support culturally diverse employees, locally and globally. The collective power of withholding such investments from Trump could be huge.

Speaking of Trump enterprises, I hope to read upcoming news reports from those folks in positions who can impeach Trump, and remove him from office sooner than later. Surely much evidence can be gathered, to prove not just blatant unethical disregard for the American Constitution and laws, but also his nepotism and, most of all, his fundamental lack of competence even to be in a political presidential role. He fired the (now former) Attorney General Sally Yates, who bravely stood against his executive order on the immigrant travel ban. How much more destruction will he reap, in order to build a totally autocratic government, brick by brick?

The man is a `sociopath,’ who fits the full description according to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 indicators for what the APA prefers to call “antisocial personality disorder.” Look up the list of indicators for this pervasive pattern of behaviour on the mental health website Healthy Place.

Earlier this week I turned from my usual Canadian news sources to an American TV program Tonight with Don Lemon. Several political commentators voiced important insights. Viewers were reminded how the failure of key political figures to stand up against extreme nationalism in the 1950s perpetrated McCarthyism’s morally reprehensible discrimination which destroyed the lives of many people, professionally and personally. The question raised was, could such a failure to obstruct Trump’s rash and radical actions to undermine existing policies and infrastructure cause similar widespread harm?

Among other cautionary observations, one commentator emphasized how Trump “sees himself as a disruptor” and enjoys the chaos that he is creating. Indeed, earlier that same evening on CBC-TV news I had seen Trump on-camera saying that everything was going well. My God, I said to myself, because his statement followed news broadcasts all day that had shown large demonstrations of people across America, and abroad, protesting his immigration ban. Incredibly, Trump loved it.

Therefore, yes, it is good for the world to see large crowds of Americans standing up against the increasing xenophobia that Trump has unleashed, in order to shore up the courage for more people to step up and support a unified human family. But, other types of actions within communities are needed as well, to ensure the social and economic stability, and inclusiveness, of all cultures at the grassroots level. Speaking out immediately against any expressions of discrimination is foremost.

Continuing initiatives related to the above-mentioned legal actions must be developed in North America and elsewhere. Civil disobedience, in and of itself, is not enough and, instead, could play into Trump’s hands. While he prefers the larger populace to remain distracted, and adores every type of attention, what really is imperative is the pursuit of practical actions to obstruct his unfolding trajectory to undermine every law in America that facilitates equality.

As fellow human beings, each of us every day can choose to express our compassion and kindness to the people around us and across the world, in so many creative ways. We must fill the `black holes’ that Trump’s lack of empathy creates with the Light of our own Love.

Understanding not only Trump’s mind but, furthermore, the larger psychological, religious and political landscape that enabled him to become president, is important. The Atlantic magazine has several articles that provide valuable, albeit unsettling facts, to enable us to confront unpleasant truths. Nevertheless, confronting such unpleasantness is a moral responsibility at critical moments throughout life, to transform human consciousness.

I strongly recommend The Atlantic‘s June 2016 article “The Mind of Donald Trump” by American psychologist Dan P. McAdams, who concluded: “I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost…[H]e has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation.” Very insightful as well is McAdams’ outline of America’s nation-state authoritarian personality:

“During and after World War II, psychologists conceived of the authoritarian personality as a pattern of attitudes and values revolving around adherence to society’s traditional norms, submission to authorities who personify or reinforce those norms, and antipathy – to the point of hatred and aggression – toward those who either challenge in-group norms or lie outside their orbit. Among white Americans, high scores on measures of authoritarianism today tend to be associated with prejudice against a wide range of “out-groups,’ including homosexuals, African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims. Authoritarianism is also associated with suspiciousness of the humanities and the arts, and with cognitive rigidity, militaristic sentiments, and Christian fundamentalism” [McAdams, June 2016].

Even more unsettling is the very recent interview with McAdams in the January 2017 edition of The Atlantic, in which McAdams confirms that what he had stated in his previous profile of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are manifesting even worse than he had anticipated then. Note McAdams’ follow up article as well, titled: “He’s Going to Continue to Create Chaos,” in The Atlantic.

Therefore, we have been warned, and hopefully awakened as well, through the more discerning outlets of news media and popular culture, those which take the higher ground to inspire our better selves about what is possible. Doing so, in turn, persuades us to be informed and choose life-affirming actions in our daily lives.

Let us not ever become complacent about the availability of well-researched information and fields of knowledge, where the arts and humanities play a significant role. Rather, note how such liberal freedom of expression could become increasingly under threat in the currently unfolding political climate.

The power, and freedom, of the arts to inform and remind us about what really matters must not be undervalued. Consider Meryl Streep‘s calm and eloquent evisceration of Trump in her 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award. (Scroll down for her full video speech and/or read the transcript.) I also cheer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, whose essential theme is the supreme meaning of love. Rowling tweeted a passage from the Bible, in reference to Trump: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” Matthew 16:26.”

Every person is capable of using creativity in a life-affirming way, and can join the voices of all caring individuals to make a statement, whether orally or written letters or other forms of expression. Consider the unnamed person who built a miniature wall around Trump’s star – bestowed in 2007 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – topped with razor wire and tiny border signs saying “Keep Out.” Scroll down to see this image shown in The Guardian‘s article on Trump’s obsession for attention and celebrity.

History has been bookmarked with a series of transitions, from societal to planetary. They bring out the best and the worst in human behaviours, in accordance with our choices to negotiate tough realities. We can choose either to evolve or, alternatively, to regress and self-destruct as a human species.

We may live according to different religious beliefs or their absence, yet at the core of all belief systems is the spiritual truth that we are all connected, energetically, to each other and to all planetary forms of life. Spiritual growth happens through the humility and grace to learn from life around us, through interrelationships, not through divisiveness and isolation.

Let us choose to act from our higher qualities of compassion, generosity, gratitude, grace, humility, inner fortitude, bravery and more, to rise above our own hurtful behaviours and fears, and instead function from our soul’s innate beauty and love.

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Let Us See What Love Can Do

blogimage2Elephants have been very much on my mind lately. Their very existence is under threat more than ever, and we need to act now to avoid their extinction. Similar to so many non-human species for whom we now appreciate their fuller intelligence and ways of knowing, elephants’ capacity for love is magnificent. Some days ago I watched three TV documentaries in a row about elephants, after seeing the latest petition on the continuing global struggle to stop ivory poachers. Visual imagery, of course, radiates directly into our hearts, with the power to transform consciousness, and why documentary films are so important to engage us on the human and planetary issues of our time. Indeed, simply watching a film story can change our life and the life of other beings.

Bearing witness to the communal spirit of the extended families and clans of elephants, persevering through migrations of hundreds of miles each year to forage for enough food and water to survive, while contending with ever-present threats, was mind-boggling. Threats range from four-legged, and two-legged, hunters, while also dealing with deforestation, land encroachment by human settlers and, of course, continuing loss of habitat exacerbated by climate change. The most important, and imperative issue right now, to avoid the extinction of elephants, is to support a global ban on the ivory trade. Please look up the petition to persuade the European Commission to agree to support the ban at “Avaaz – Europe: Stop the elephant slaughter.”

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If you become deeply affected, as I do, in body, emotions and soul, by the troubles in the world that can seem overwhelming, find the ways in which you can express love. Doing so is how I maintain my will to stay alive, and rise above depression.

Acts of kindness are possible every day, from signing a petition, or personally rescuing an animal or bird from harm, to giving support to a person in need. Sometimes the outcomes are unknowable, while the interventions nevertheless can be urgent. Other times the visible results can be immediate to celebrate. Through the earlier months of this year, in fact, I experienced circumstances that required urgent attention and, more recently, was tremendously blessed to receive loving care and assistance through the physical presence of friends who happen also to be Friends.

In mid-June, a number of members in the local Quakers/Friends worship group visited my homestead. (They had welcomed me into their fold close to two years ago, thus bringing more regular emotional and spiritual support into my life, given my loss of family.) Their proactive compassion and communal values are a model to the wider world in regard to what is possible for people still to come together and accomplish tasks collectively – doing so with grace, joy, and even gratitude.

Indeed, what I found awesome was not only the generosity yet, unexpectedly, their gratitude expressed to me in offering to them an opportunity to do a `work bee.’ In other words, a work bee was not perceived either as a moral duty or sacrifice or carried out with an attitude that the helpers see themselves at a different level of existence by any measure from whom they are helping. Despite their own sufficiently busy lives, the Quaker ethos perceives a `work bee’ – physical labour accompanied by moral and emotional support – as a normal activity to extend to fellow human beings. These acts of kindness, moreover, are carried out in a spirit of joy.

I can verify how everyone, visibly, was having a grand time! Weather on that wonderful day was perfect, sunny but not too hot nor humid, with a cool breeze. In three hours, the group accomplished what would have taken me the entire summer to achieve. Aside from stacking eight cords of newly arrived firewood against a fence, other activities focused on reducing the overgrown jungle of bushes, vines and weeds that had become too daunting for me to tackle.

My total homestead is two acres, with two pastures and a barn. I provide access to my closest neighbours who, in turn, plow me out in winter, plus help with other occasional tasks. That barter arrangement is a life-affirming exchange, and example of how folks who reside in the countryside recognize the mutual benefits of extending thoughtful care to each other. Relocating here ten years ago was the most soul-fulfilling decision that I ever made in my life. The bonus: the world of Nature heals us through continually teaching how to appreciate our interconnectedness with, and care of, all beings.

Regarding the Quaker work bee, it closed with a celebratory potluck dinner in my large living room (built by the previous owners), whose picture windows look out upon my neighbour’s cornfield blowing in the wind. The feeling of celebration definitely was shared. Nevertheless, I felt especially gifted by this first experience of having a group of folks in my home, who genuinely wanted to be there, an event for which I had waited and hoped after an extended period of intermittent, unexpected, house repairs.

Indeed, the experience of yet another creosote fire in an old wood-electric furnace last February grew into a major crisis, from which it took several months for me to recover. (Hence, the work bee.) The old furnace was declared unsafe. I existed without sufficient heat through six weeks during the heart of winter, also becoming ill with flu and bedridden much of the time. The photo shows snow halfway up the cellar door into the furnace room during the crisis.

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I researched heating systems as well as crowdfunding sites on the internet, choosing a new wood-electric furnace, partly because I know how to use it. But also, importantly, I trust both my chimney sweep and electrician, impeccably; indeed, they know my century-old farmhouse inside out. Through ten weeks of online campaigning, I raised the greater part of the costs. Among the good-hearted folks who offered financial help were individuals who appreciate my nuclear waste activism (which continues).

Crowdfunding is not for the faint-hearted. Never again will I do it. Such campaigning requires courage, tenacity and swallowing large dollops of pride, in raising funds for a personal emergency. Ultimately, it is emotionally draining and, eventually, I began experiencing the worst bouts of depression in my life. Never before had I ever felt so frightened and vulnerable, in exposing myself so personally to the larger world.

Please know that I outline my experience of crowdfunding not just to caution about the pitfalls. But, more importantly, I still would advocate crowdfunding as one of the valuable, and growing, movements of our time, given the fact of our present and future economic uncertainties. Increasingly, we are being called to recognize what we hold in common as a human family, and learn to care better for each other.

While much social resistance continues to exist, this historic moment is calling us to go beyond criticizing, and scapegoating, in regard to all that is seen as wrong in the world. Instead, we are called to do the much harder work, to come together across our differences – at every level of society and across levels – in order to transform economic and political systems in which inequality is embedded.

For folks who seek more fairness of treatment, work with kindred souls to create new possibilities. This is a journey both adventurous yet also beautiful, when it is pursued with love, not hate, and a compassionate, not judgmental, heart. Look to the folks already setting the example, in non-violent groups and movements that are challenging every type of injustice.

As for the personal crises that sometimes are characterized as “the dark night of the soul” (and which I have experienced several times throughout life, once almost ending it), what I learned to give me strength is to listen to the tiny voice within, that whatever befalls us, we need to make meaning of it. Dealing with the unpleasantness in life is painful. But, tackle it we must. For the road to spiritual maturity, and growing closer to our human potential, is life long and never finished.

Even when we are blessed with the presence of caring people in our lives, through times of hardship and trauma that can really wallop us, how we respond, ultimately, is our own responsibility, to deal with adversity in order to grow and move forward.

Thank heavens, when `the unexpected’ happens in life, such events are not limited to crises yet also include uplifting, transformative moments.

Homeward bound, following a worship meeting one Sunday, as I drove along a narrow countryside road, I soon encountered a very large cow standing in the middle of the road sideways across both lanes, uninterested in moving as she stared at my car. It was really funny, and I giggled, slowing down to a full stop, and reflect on a course of action.

At that moment I sensed my body opening up with a lightness of being, which restored the feeling that it is good to be alive. This event was a major turning point in which I felt lifted out of a sadness that had flattened me through several weeks.

The carefree cow eventually sauntered to the roadside, and I decided to track down the farmer who owned it. Choosing the first driveway as a logical start, at its other end I came upon two pre-school age Mennonite children, beautifully dressed, as well as a tall young bearded man, wearing a broad brimmed hat.

I climbed out of the car, and noticed in the distance a young woman stepping out of her home onto the porch, and appreciated her vigilance in regard to the children. Sure enough, the errant cow belonged to this farmer, and he thanked me. I offered to take him down the long driveway to the road. He politely refused, thanking me again, instead choosing to hop onto his horse to fetch the cow.

Travelling again on the road, I could see that the cow, enjoying her freedom, now was heading to the hilltop on the other side of the road, and would disappear from sight. So I turned around to notify the farmer, on the road further back. He then galloped into that field. As I slowly drove away, the last picture visible in my car’s rear-view mirror was the vision of the cow hustled onto the road again, with the farmer close behind on his horse.

One of the most exquisite lessons in living that I have learned, and continue to experience serendipitously, is that when you take the time to slow down, and give full presence to the moment unfolding, the sweetest experiences can happen.

Each day, whether through crises or ordinary moments of bearing witness to life, be grateful for something and focus on who and what is keeping you alive, reach out to connect with fellow human beings, and embrace the simple and tiny opportunities to express, and receive, love.

POSTSCRIPT: “Let us see what love can do” is a quote by William Penn, a historic American Quaker.

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Relearning How to Cherish Life in the Moment

blogimage2I heard a loud whump, and ran to the back room of my farmhouse. The splat on the window indicated a bird had hit it. Opening the side door, I gazed upon the spread wings of a bird laid out on the porch floor. Oh my God, was it dead or alive? Quickly putting on boots and gloves, I approached the bird and saw his head twitching. Removing the gloves, I spoke softly and applied therapeutic touch over the body. I gently lifted one wing, and dislodged the bird’s talons – very impressive – from the wet snow underneath. What I later identified as a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk gingerly stood up, but did not change position for several more minutes. His head darted in all directions, as I backed up. Stepping forward again, the hawk hopped away from me, then stopped, so that I disappeared indoors, still worried whether a wing had been broken. But, blessedly, through the window, I then saw it perched on the porch railing. Noticing it gone a few minutes later, I stepped outside, and heard a rustle from a nearby bush, followed by the hawk emerging for a low flight across the pasture.

The message here is, care enough to take action in the moment, before it is too late. Doing so requires being tuned in sufficiently to one’s immediate environment to heed an unexpected or unusual sound or visual image, and be willing to investigate – fully.

Look at the photo below of a similar yet different fallen sharp-shinned juvenile hawk. The photographer (see Postscript) relates that he recognized it was alive, did not disturb it, and was delighted to see it fly away an hour later. My hawk was cushioned in a bed of snow, and needed remedial attention immediately.

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If I had ignored the initial `whump’ or peeked out the side door, and assumed – wrongly – that the bird was dead before checking more closely, yes indeed, the bird would have died, its talons stuck, and soon frozen, in the deep, wet snow. This incident is not the first time that I have been vigilant, and caring enough, to rescue a bird and save its life from an unnecessary premature death.

Another pertinent lesson that I have been reminded about in recent weeks, however, raises the question, how vigilant are we about our own self-care? For those of us who are passionately committed to advocacy for social and environmental justice (and other significant issues) in the larger world, and/or overwhelmed by the constant call of care-giving loved ones, one’s own well-being can be pushed aside as the lowest priority.

A recent diagnosis of cancer radically changed my own worldview 180 degrees away from focusing too much on all of the woes in the world, as well as a list of regrets of what had transpired through life to cause me endless sorrow. Worse, I recognized how profoundly I had succumbed to chronic anxiety which almost entirely snuffed out joy in being alive at all, thus becoming unconscious to life in the moment.

The impact on the hawk of the unforeseen whump on the window could be a metaphor for the aftermath of the whump on my consciousness in hearing the initial diagnosis of malignant melanoma. Such a transformative moment changes everything forever, initially entering the body and feelings, before registering in the mind.

I blessedly can add, however, that the speedy actions of, respectively, my family doctor, a dermatologist, then a plastic surgeon, within a month of my doctor first seeing the unusual mole on my arm, followed by two biopsies, resulted in all cancer successfully cut out. Mind you, I had not bothered to show the doctor this mole through many months, so that I am darn lucky, because I sure had the crap scared out of me early last December.

This blog post is my way to process what has led to a more awakened perspective. I write it in the spirit of encouraging other helping professionals, volunteers and caregivers to avoid similar pitfalls. Please take time to reflect on your respective patterns that could undermine your own well-being.

The lessons for me are not to dwell on past disappointments or future uncertainties, any of which can paralyze us with anxiety and fear. Moreover, I had driven myself last year in efforts to revive my professional profile; but, at what cost is the question to address.

Most important – as I have relearned – is to cherish life in the moment, even as we contend with existing circumstances that are not pleasant or easily acceptable, such as chronic health issues and financial hardship.

We all have vulnerabilities, sometimes exposed through encountering unexpected dangers, and other times when previous traumas are reawakened through how others treat us.

Vulnerability resides in patterns of anxiety rooted in past traumas and subsequent projections of anxiety into the future, not to mention very real currently existing sources of stress – singly or collectively – which can overwhelm us. Transcending them is easier said than done. Yet transcend them we must.

Consider the young hawk’s vulnerability, slamming into an unexpected window. If another caring creature had not arrived on the scene, the hawk could have become lunch for one of my neighbour’s several barn cats who prowl the area.

If I had not been held in the embrace of my circle of friends in Toronto where I had agreed – synchronistically it seems – to house sit throughout the holiday season, I could have remained in a precarious condition of health, mentally and emotionally – between the second biopsy and the lab report’s findings two weeks later.

Therefore, critical moments of intervention are valuable, even life-saving.

Nevertheless, when we feel flattened, or stunned by an unexpected event – even while graced with the caring support of one or more intervenors – it still, ultimately, is our own responsibility in choosing either to give up or rise up to take the next step. Those who care about us only can provide encouragement, compassion and love, but the ultimate choices in our pathway forward in life are ours alone.

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Note the young hawk whom I encountered (similar to photo above). He bounced up, next pausing several times as he surveyed the surrounding landscape, choosing to walk forward, step-by-step, with interludes of stillness and reflection. How regularly do our choices include such interludes, in regard to reflecting on our inner landscape and how we respond to outer world challenges?

Granted, the hawk’s initial stillness was the obvious consequence of being stunned from hitting the window. Similarly, I felt stunned from the initial diagnosis of cancer, and floated through several days in a mental fog after the news.

Stillness and reflection, admittedly, have been mostly absent from my life in recent years, particularly during the year 2015. Last year was bookmarked by two personal health scares. Between them I drove myself relentlessly in nonstop mental productivity, culminating in the worst burnout experienced in many years this past autumn, prior to the diagnosis of cancer.

Ignoring the signs of accumulating effects of overwork on mind, body, and emotional state had been a lifelong habit that I thought I had kicked.

The year 2015 originally had held much promise in opportunities to pull together the major themes of decades of professional and volunteer work, in writing, facilitating workshops, and oral public presentations.

These interwoven themes include how and why to deepen understanding across cultures – specifically Indigenous vis a vis Euro-western cultures – as well as deepen understanding of the wounded soul, universally, through the perspective of spiritual psychology. The third theme on human consciousness, added in more recent years, connects the outcomes of human actions to the plight of all planetary life. My quest now is to illustrate how such patterns can, and need to be, transformed to heal and restore our humanity and, as well, treat the planet’s life support system with more respect and intelligence.

Consequently, after recovering from painful chilblains on my feet as a result of a broken furnace through several weeks of 2015’s beginning months – and even through that discomfort, writing conference presentation proposals for deadlines – I continued to feel as driven as a freight train, to make up for lost time.

Indeed, like a freight train under a tight schedule, I felt constantly under pressure to meet a series of deadlines, rushing to unload freight at each station as well as piling on more freight before continuing on the route of obligatory stops. the nonstop demands became overbearing and, worse, the freight carried was too heavy for the train’s engine to keep running at its optimum.

Here, metaphorically, the freight that sorely burdened my inner train engine was continual research and organizing of data to rework into coherent presentations, endlessly loading up research and packaging data, to deliver it for each and every deadline. Pushed to the limit, my engine was brought to an abrupt halt caused by total mental exhaustion.

Meeting my `Waterloo’ was the end point reached not just from creative, joyful commitments in 2015. But, while busy in the transformative work that usually regenerates me, as does receiving the acknowledgment of peers, something else much less rewarding was burning out my engine.

From spring through to early autumn was moral pressure – self-imposed – to challenge the numerous flaws in the Joint Review Panel (JRP) environmental assessment report published May 6, 2015, regarding a proposed deep geologic repository (DGR) next to Lake Huron. The report, incredulously, approved the DGR to receive a licence to go forward.

Our small coalition of local citizens in Bruce County had devoted months out of our lives through three years, and counting, to bring forward independent research and intervene at two public hearings, as did longstanding environmental organizations, and independent scientists. We all felt betrayed, because our research was co-opted (when not dismissed entirely) by the JRP to create almost 100 recommendations for mitigations (yet unproven to be effective) if something goes wrong. By then it is too late, once radionuclides are released into the environment. To proceed with a DGR is morally irresponsible.

Therefore, we also felt outraged, and propelled to continue the fight, the newly elected federal Minister of Environment now making a decision on March 1, 2016 – a decision that might well be challenged.

Analyzing more than 500 pages of the JRP report to submit an informed written submission to the federal government, by end of August 2015, was no small feat, particularly sandwiched between other deadlines on more pleasurable work. Nevertheless, I am like a terrier with a bone when I take on a cause, moral fortitude and sheer persistence pushing through every obstacle like a bulldozer.

My ultimate goal, to fight against this abominable nuclear waste dump, is to produce a book in 2016. I pumped out two writing grant proposals, the larger one requiring a 40-page manuscript double spaced, for a mid-October 2015 deadline. (That followed completing a major essay on an Indigenous theme for end of September, to be considered for publication later in 2016.)

By end of October, I was blotto, inner fuel tank empty and burned out.

In Toronto through the holiday season, aside from seeing friends, I thought I could cope again, to work on a 6,000-word essay, due end of January 2016, on “honouring the sacred feminine.” No, I am not a masochist, just a bit dim at times. I was oblivious – until a couple of friends read me the `riot act’ about self-care – to the negligence I perpetrated upon my own inner `sacred feminine,’ basically my very life force.

Thanks to (how many?) interventions since last August, I rediscovered the meaning of the verb, “relax.” I stayed off a computer in Toronto except for scheduling social dates, and emptied my mind from as much left-brain thinking (analysis) as possible.

What I have relearned is a reminder why I relocated from the city to a modest homestead in the countryside, choosing a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity to restore health previously broken from overwork, and because my soul cried out for inner peace. I also knew that my intellectual mind needed a retooling to wind down.

The tools needed to restore balance within each human being and, indeed, collectively in human society today, are not based on technological fixes. We instead need to relearn how to connect with the earth and the always accessible lessons from the world of Nature when our heart and soul awaken. The choice always is ours to listen up.

The beautiful, powerful, yet also vulnerable, hawk illustrates the qualities in all of us, when we pay attention. We human beings are biological creatures, yet susceptible to living out-of-balance, and inflicting the consequences of that mindset on all other forms of planetary life today, so painfully evident in climate change and extreme weather.

Whether we learn sufficiently as a human species to restore more balance in our own lives – overburdened in the developed world by so much ridiculous, and unnecessary, artificial baggage and materialism, with the subsequent self-induced stress and disconnectedness to what really matters – is an open question.

Doing so begins in the heart and soul of each and every person, when we can listen once again to those inner voices and not give all the power to the intellectual mind which is not adequately equipped in itself to assess the root causes, beyond merely the symptoms, of the challenges of survival we now confront.

Always, always, I am so grateful to be alive, when I open myself to the beauty and joy around me in each moment. All it takes is stillness and reflection, and the grace and humility to be thankful for everything that sustains life, and to learn from Nature’s messengers.

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May the Creator bless that dear young hawk, a messenger who inspired me to communicate once again what really matters – caring, presence and love.

POSTSCRIPT:

Photo of hawk laying on porch found on Flickr, taken by normanack

Photo of hawk on fence found on  BIRDS CALGARY, taken by Bob Lefebvre

Photo “Alert Baby Hawk” found on another website, photographer unidentified

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Season of Gratitude for What Really Matters

blogimage2Participation at this year’s winter solstice gathering on December 21st at the home of Tony and Fran McQuail bestowed the gift of one of the most loving, beautiful, and spiritual, Christmas season gatherings that I ever have experienced in my entire life. Being welcomed by this Quaker family into their circle of family members and friends has been an experience of soulful, loving fellowship. We sat huddled together in Tony and Fran’s cozy stable, all seated on haystacks, their gorgeous horses nearby, and also accompanied by a large sleeping dog and several, playful kittens. Tony recited the Nativity story punctuated by brief interludes in which we sang carols. We then relocated to another festive building to enjoy a potluck feast followed by games and sharing stories.

Is not such a fellowship, and embracing the original Christmas story, at the essence of the meaning of Christmas? Indeed, the sanctity of life itself is what really matters.

How the honouring of this sanctity of life is played out is through the love and caring that we give each other, and all other earthly creatures and planetary life in our midst, all of which we so vigilantly must protect, as a human family.

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Doing so is what we hold in common, and our diverse actions to protect, heal and restore all forms of life offer us opportunities to heal, as well, regrettable divisiveness both globally in regard to the human family, and personally in our familial, professional, volunteer, and community interactions.

The best New Year’s resolutions, indeed, can be focused on promising to take actions through the coming year in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, for good relationships, whether within one’s personal family, a workplace, an organization, or the community where you live, and also offering financial, or simply emotional, support to those folks committed to activities that serve humanity and the planet’s well-being.

The healing begins through each and every small, random act of kindness. Too often, however, the behaviour patterns that tend to reside in various layers of our unconscious obstruct us from expressing our better qualities.

One common example – usually unconscious – is passive-aggressive behaviour, such as rejecting affection and offers of assistance, so that the giver feels unwelcomed and unvalued by those who exclude the person who wishes to participate in their lives. This happens in family dynamics, organizations and, undoubtedly, at all levels of power and control in the world.

A second common example, related to the first, is the denial and refusal, consciously yet more often unconsciously, to recognize with honesty and humility one’s own responsibility to make amends for causing harm, even when not intended. Regardess, harm is caused by omissions and thoughtlessness. Sadly, such behaviours impact all levels of relationship, from the personal to the global.

These foibles in human nature are universal and why transformation of consciousness is what I identify as the essential first part of our 21st century human project in order to evolve, and develop our ways of being, to carry out the second part – restoration of an imperiled planet.

The challenge, meanwhile, is for us to rise above the personal outrage we so justifiably can feel, but which can paralyze us into inaction and blaming. Sometimes, we need to grieve about who and what we need to let go, and shift energy away from fretting about other people’s hurtful behaviours. Instead, the preferred task is to redirect energy to focus on life-affirming reflection and activities.

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Indeed, what can be more productive than awakening our Higher Self, where our emotional, mental and physical energies can be mobilized from a place of spiritual outrage through acts of caring that proactively confront what is hurtful and destructive.

For example, through the past two years I began to participate within a coalition of concerned local citizens to become one of the oral intervenors at two public hearings, in order to fight against the potential licensing of a proposed deep geologic repository for nuclear waste next to Lake Huron, in the Great Lakes Basin.

Each of us, in our own ways, had to rise above our anger – and disbelief that such as an environmentally risky project even could be proposed at all – to channel our respective energies, instead, in the pursuit of various types of research. The task, ultimately, was to provide solid evidence for all the reasons why this project is scientifically indefensible, as well as identifying ethical issues, based on the many uncertainties. Our struggle continues.

Indeed, what sustains me through many years are: longstanding personal friendships; having a sense of purpose for my existence that goes beyond personal comfort and pleasure; a place of belonging; the fellowship of like-minded colleagues who stand together, in extensive volunteerism, to confront various types of injustice; and the willingness to see one’s life journey as a spiritual quest in which to continue growing, learning and deepen one’s caring.

Despite financial poverty, I therefore feel very rich because of feeling embraced within a circle of caring people. First of all, on an emotional level, at times I have felt so vulnerable that, without my close friends who share my spiritual beliefs and environmental concerns, I have come close to falling apart. Their love most of all sustains me through the `dark nights of the soul’ that have visited upon me on several occasions.

Choosing such a life journey, and engaging in the protection of whatever sustains life – for that is the spiritual essence of environmental activism – offers continuing opportunities to meet caring individuals. I am strengthened through these beautiful relationships, and pray that my reciprocal offerings reinforce the strength of other caring individuals.

In recent months, for example, I joined fellow local citizens and agencies in lobbying against the removal of protection for “locally significant wetlands” in my county. Each of us submitted letters to our county council, to challenge its new amendment to remove such protection, as did regional conservation authorities and other agencies.

Regardless, the Council was considering a vote to remove protection, until a December public meeting in which two citizens – me and a retired science professor from the northern peninsula – both showed up to give oral presentations that helped better inform newly elected municipal councillors. We won, as proactive, concerned citizens! Council terminated the amendment, and agreed to pursue a more complete environmental mapping as we had requested.

The lesson here is to: be aware of the issues wherever you live that could threaten the health and safety of future generations; be persevering; prepare your research; and last, but definitely not least, show up and speak your truth, because that is how life-affirming changes can happen – in the unexpected moments and through the actions of just a few caring folks.

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Indeed, we, collectively as a human family, have arrived at a historic moment that calls us to action, to affirm life. What are the ways in which we, across cultures and across diverse religious paths, can demonstrate the essence of perennial spiritual teachings that preceded today’s major world religions, and originated in, for example, Indigenous belief systems whose teaching still have value today?

The essence of such original teachings were grounded in respect, and love in all of its expressions, directed to and embracing the basic earthly elements and species that make human life possible. As the Indigenous teachings tell us – albeit misunderstood and undermined through most of Euro-western cultural history – we human beings are the youngest brothers and sisters of all Creation on Earth. Therefore, we need to relearn that our very sustenance depends upon all other planetary life.

For many weeks, since the mid-October Thanksiving celebration in Canada, I have pondered how I could best present this message. But, a series of crises, personal and otherwise, repeatedly delayed this blog post. Regardless, I chose to focus on urgent activism since the early summer, discerning between the timeliness and wisdom to act rather than simply write about issues here, when either immediate attention was needed or ongoing intervention through other forms of writing.

As I now complete this message a few hours before the New Year bells ring in 2015, I sincerely hope it offers inspiration, hope and possibility in your life.

May you choose to offer kindness and generosity to others, and feel gratitude for everyone and everything that enriches your own life.

May you also feel inclined to co-create a world in which all of the human family can experience love and dignity to enjoy a life worth living. Collaborate across genders, generations, and cultures, to heal and restore an increasingly wounded planet, so that the children yet unborn also can experience a life filled with beauty, meaning and love.

Blessed be.

POSTSCRIPT: Visit The Meeting Place Organic Farm to be inspired by the loving example of the McQuail family in the produce and knowledge they contribute for the well-being of all life, holistically.

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