Participation 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.