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Week of July 23rd, 2020

We Could All Use Some Mercy

Song lyrics by Mary Gauthier:

We all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it but we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance dangled
between hell and hallowed ground

And every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Hear the whole song

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"Aren't we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference in the eternal contest between the forces of light and shadow, between togetherness and division, between justice and exploitation? Oh, be joyful that you are a warrior in this great time!

"Will we rise to this battle? If so, we cannot lose, for rising up to it is our victory. If we represent love in the world, you see, we have already won."

—Doris "Granny D" Haddock, political activist

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Looks like we'll be needing to take precautions for a while. So I decided to spice up my sacred duty with some accessories. See the photo here.

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Lindsay Kolasa writes: "Let's not forget that people are crossing over right now. Some of them are scared. Some of them are lonely. Some of them have had a really hard life. Some of them have been the recipient of a lot of cultural/environmental toxicity. Even in their final moments, some were not even treated or cared for properly.

"Center yourself. Light a candle. Ask for their guides, their angels, their benevolent beings, and their ancestors to be with them and protect them as they cross over. May they cross over safely. May their souls not become stuck in this world. Envision them in a safe place, full of light.

"When you are done, thank their guides and all you called in and say that you are complete. Then, blow out your candle.

"Then, as the smoke rises from the wick of the blown out candle, dream of the world you want to see. Just start with a few things...and imagine what it looks like...what it feels like.... Imagine yourself standing in that world.

"This is something we all can do."

The author of this ritual, Lindsay Kolasa, is here.

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In Joseph Campbell's vision of myth, the hero is typically a solitary adventurer, usually a man, who renounces intimate companionship to pursue his glorious, arduous quest. Along the way, sporadic assistance may arrive from an ineffable muse or deity.

There are alternative scenarios for the hero's journey, although Campbell underplayed them. In the Tantric tradition, for instance, a seeker's connection with a beloved human companion is essential to his or her spiritual inquiry. Some practitioners of Taoist alchemy take a similar approach.

Among early Gnostic Christians, a few proposed that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were equal collaborators in the mission to manifest heaven on earth. Sufi mystic poet Rumi may not have actually made love with his teacher Shams (then again, he might have), but it's clear the two men sought divine communion together, not through lonely solo work.

Under the influence of Westernized Buddhism, some modern psychotherapists have also departed from Campbell's perspective. The quest for illumination, they say, can thrive on the daily challenges of loving and living with an actual person. In John Welwood's book Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship, he re­imagines a close bond as potentially an "alliance of warriors" devoted to awakening each other's "holy longing."

What a revolutionary proposal! That the heroic power to accomplish miracles and attract epiphanies might stem not only from a rugged individual drawing from his or her independent strength, but also from a synergistic duo whose interdependence generates transcendent transformation.

In the view of Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki, a solitary contemplative life may not be the most promising discipline for those seeking enlightenment. He writes, "The best monastery for Americans might in fact be marriage."

The scholar Megan Rose Woolever provides a further nuance. Drawing on extensive historical research from various cultures, she suggests that the heroic journey has been and can be the collaborative adventure of a human and an otherworldly being who are joined together in a "spirit marriage." Together, they draw on the power of both the physical realm and astral realm as they navigate the challenges of the Great Mystery.

In Wiccan practice, a witch's "familiar," or supernatural guide, might take the form of a cat or other animal. The help provided by the creature might be indispensable to the witch's magical experiments.

The television show Sense8 extends the concept of the hero's journey even beyond all the above modes. Although its story is technically science fiction, it offers an intriguing possibility: that as many as eight people might be so telepathically bonded, so overlapping in their identities, that they in effect constitute a group soul working together to master the art of love—which is, of course, the righteous agenda behind all striving for peace and understanding.

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The language we use shapes our lives. Here are some words I use to help to reconfigure mine:

vorfreude: (n.) the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures

numinous: (adj.) describing an experience that makes you overwhelmed yet fascinated, awed yet attracted -- the powerful, personal feeling of being viscerally inspired

ostranenie: (n.) encouraging people to see common things as strange, wild, or unfamiliar; defamiliarizing what is known in order to know it differently or more deeply

smultronställe: (n.) lit. "place of wild strawberries"; a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress or sadness

rasasvada: (n.) the taste of bliss in the absence of all thoughts

firgun: (n.) the act of sharing in or even contributing to someone else's pleasure or fortune, with a purely generous heart and without jealousy

namascray: (n.) The crazy in me recognizes and honors the crazy in you.

"Vorfreude" is a German word.
"Numinous" is English.
"Ostranenie" is Russian.
"Smultronställe" is Swedish.
"Rasasvada" is Sanskrit.
"Firgun" is Hebrew.

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Author and activist extraordinaire Rebecca Solnit wrote the foreword to the book Pandemic Solidarity, so it's got to be a winner.

A description from the book: "The world’s media was quick to weave a narrative of selfish individualism, full of empty supermarket shelves and con-men. However, if you scratch the surface, you find a different story of community and self-sacrifice.

"Looking at eighteen countries and regions, including India, Rojava, Taiwan, South Africa, Iraq and North America, the personal accounts in the book weave together to create a larger picture, revealing a universality of experience - a housewife in Istanbul supports her neighbor in the same way as a teacher in Argentina, a punk in Portland, and a disability activist in South Korea does.

"Moving beyond the present, these stories reveal what an alternative society could look like, and reflect the skills and relationships we already have to create that society, challenging institutions of power that have already shown their fragility."


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"The nirvana fallacy is the belief that because something is not completely perfect, it is deeply flawed or even broken. It is very common in economic and political discourse.

"The nirvana fallacy compares actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. It can also refer to the tendency to assume that there is a perfect solution to a particular problem. A closely related concept is the perfect solution fallacy.

"By creating a false dichotomy that presents one option which is obviously advantageous — while at the same time being completely implausible — a person using the nirvana fallacy can attack any opposing idea because it is imperfect.

"Under this fallacy, the choice is not between real world solutions; it is, rather, a choice between one realistic achievable possibility and another unrealistic solution that could in some way be 'better.'"

—from Wikipedia

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I hope to see a lot more of this: The city of Asheville, North Carolina voted to give reparations to Black residents because "removing statues isn’t enough." Representatives of the city apologized for its role in slavery and voted in favor of providing reparations to its African-American community.


Would you like to read the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay on "The Case for Reparations"? It's here.

Coates writes: "Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."

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Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill once spent two years living in a redwood tree she named "Luna." Her goal was to save it from being cut down by a logging company.

Here's her manifesto: "I didn't climb the tree because I was angry at corporations and government; I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. My feelings of connection drive me, not my anger and feelings of being disconnected."

On this July 4, I reaffirmed my goal to have my activism inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill: to cultivate activism as a spiritual practice that keeps me focused on the transformative power of love.

I will certainly fight and struggle against racism, militarism, misogyny, ecocide, oligarchy, homophobia and transphobia.

But I swear that at least 60% of my motivation will always be to express my love and care and empathy and compassion for all those humans and creatures who need and deserve justice.

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I just finished watching my favorite TV show ever, Sense8.

Eight "Sensate" people in different parts of the world are connected with each other more than merely telepathically. Each is intimately linked to the minds and bodies of the other seven. They can share sensations and knowledge, and participate in each other's experiences even if they are physically far away. Every Sensate person inhabits all of the others while also being himself or herself.

Sense8 is unbashedly optimistic in its portrayal of gender multiplicity and a variety of sexual modes. It's the first TV show ever written and directed by two transgender creators and starring a transgender character played by a transgender actor.

Aside from those exhilarating nuances, no TV show has ever portrayed emotionally rich love between humans with so much joyous desire and intelligent delight.

Bonus: At the climax of the final episode, the trans woman Sensate named Nomi gets married to her cis gendered Black lesbian partner Amanita in a party on an upper level of the Eiffel Tower!

More info: More info

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Reverence is one of the most useful emotions. When you respectfully acknowledge the sublime beauty of something greater than yourself, you do yourself a big favor. You generate authentic humility and sincere gratitude, which are healthy for your body as well as your soul.

Please note that reverence is not solely the province of religious people. A biologist may venerate the scientific method. An atheist might experience a devout sense of awe toward geniuses who have bequeathed to us their brilliant ideas.

What about you? What excites your reverence? I invite you to explore the deeper mysteries of this altered state of consciousness.

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When I dream you, I dream everything I'm afraid of losing—the shadowy shimmer of the reef-building elkhorn corals in the Caribbean, the croaks of the precious few Sehuenca water frogs fading in their Bolivian freshwater marshes, the aroma of longleaf pine trees dying out in the southern Appalachians, the precious mud of the Los Cerritos wetlands encroached by seeping oil spills.

I call you by their names. I hear them in your songs. I pray to them through your ears. "Dear Earth I love as much as my birth, please resurrect our lives together."

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Ieshia L. Evans, nurse and mother, stands strong and unbowed against the dance of death.

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Dear Rob: I follow your writing, and like a lot of it. But you seem to have gone off the rails and jumped the shark in your support of the dumb experts who advocate the lockdowns and mask-wearing and social-distancing as a way to allegedly foil the spread of the coronavirus. I thought you supported freedom. I thought your concept of "pronoia" was about liberating us from control and manipulation. Why do you support the government telling us what to do? —Confused in Tampa

Dear Confused: My approach to freedom derives its inspiration from the freedom to love and care for and protect and help other people and all the creatures of the earth. The lockdowns and mask-wearing and social-distancing serve the cause of cherishing life—thereby honoring and celebrating my freedom.

I don't mean to minimize the challenges of the lockdowns. Many of us are separated from loved ones and have lost our jobs or had our incomes reduced. Many of us feel alone and have faced dilemmas in our efforts to remedy non-COVID-19 health concerns.

But those are different issues from the minor inconvenience of having to wear protective masks in public and being careful to keep sufficient distance between ourselves and others. They're different from the very small problems of not being able to gather in groups at indoor dance parties, salons, and tattoo parlors.

Those modest constraints on our freedom enable us to express a far-more robust kind of freedom, which is the freedom to take care of each other, to ensure we do no harm.

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Bonobo apes and humans share 98 percent of the same genes, leading some biologists to suggest that they, along with chimpanzees, should be reclassified as members of the human genus. While their gestures, postures, walk, and facial expressions have remarkable similarities to ours, however, their social behavior is quite different.

Bonobos live in a peaceful matriarchy characterized by egalitarian relationships. Power and status are of minimal concern. They build and maintain social rapport with frequent erotic exchanges of every variety. Homosexual contact is common.

"Bonobos use sex to appease, to bond, to make up after a fight, to ease tensions, to cement alliances," writes Natalie Angier in 'The New York Times.' Because it's their social glue, says primatologist Dr. Frans de Waal, author of 'Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape,' sex is casual and free of elaborate taboos. Unlike humans, bonobos are not obsessed with orgasm. Their reproductive rate is similar to that of other primates.

"All of this has relevance for understanding the roots of human nature," concludes Angier. "De Waal corrects the image of humanity's ancestors as driven by aggression, hierarchical machinations, hunting, warfare, and male dominance."

(Source: Natalie Angier, The New York Times)

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A good way to become more fearless is to cultivate tenderness. As you expand your capacity to feel compassionate affection, you have less to be afraid of.

That's the opposite of conventional wisdom, which says you become brave by toughening up, by reinforcing your psychic armor.

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Let's cultivate our capacity to be astonished . . . to be thrilled by every subtle mystery that sneaks into our daily rhythm . . . to make ourselves fully available for the unexpected riddles that life is always setting in front of us.

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I hereby appoint you a dissident bodhisattva in charge of overthrowing the sour and crippled mass hallucination that is mistakenly called "reality," and replacing it with an authentic reality built on the principles of insurrectionary beauty, ingenious love, voracious curiosity, ecstatic gratitude, and reverent justice.

(Any other principles you want to add?)

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Throw a party for all the people you've ever been and all the different selves who live within you. Invite the teenager who once seethed with frustrated potential and the four-year-old who loved nothing more than to play.

Include the hopeful complainer who stands in the shadows and dares you to ask for more, as well as the brave hero who comes out every now and then to attempt seemingly impossible feats of happiness.

Don't forget any of the various personalities who have contributed to making you who you are, even the "bad" ones. Celebrate your internal diversity. Marvel at how good you are at changing.

(For extra credit, you could also invite all the characters you've been in past incarnations, like the Balinese puppet-maker and the Nigerian herbalist and the Chinese midwife and the African savannah elephant.)

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I pledge allegiance
to the birds
of the United States of America
—and to the sky through which they fly


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"Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love."

—Reinhold Niebuhr

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The seeds of the lodgepole pine and jack pine trees are so tightly compacted within their protective cones that they need flames to free them. It's only through the help of periodic conflagrations, then, that they're able to reproduce. Fire-dependent and fire-resistant, they can tolerate temperatures of 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

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"When I look at a sunset, I don't say, 'Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color.'" Pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers was describing the way he observed the world. "I don't try to control a sunset," he continued. "I watch it with awe."

He had a similar view about people. "One of the most satisfying experiences," he said, "is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset."

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