What is Sacred Activism – Part 2

It seems propitious to be reflecting on what sacred activism means to me on an uncommonly hot summer afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday I heard from a Montana friend that the water level is dropping in Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi River. I immediately asked if it was caused by high irrigation use. “Oh no,” she replied. “It’s evaporating.”

Sacred activism is the only path I can see for opening our hearts and writing a new human storyline in response to climate change, one that allows us to contribute consciously to the evolution of our species.

Because I have no choice about living according to my clearest truth, I have risked my economic livelihood to honor my integrity. I am rich beyond measure. Years ago, I already knew I would have no regrets on my death bed, an evolutionary shift for me and my lineage since both my parents died regretting that they had never fully lived because of their fears: lack of money and looking like a fool were the two primary plot lines that trapped them.

Sacred activism means living a life full of risk. Many of us do not want to risk opening our hearts to protect ourselves from feeling grief. And yet without willingness to grieve we cannot fully live wholeheartedly.

Opening the heart also leads to compassion. Compassions means to me that I feel the blow when another is struck. Imagine the power of compassion to change absolutely everything.

Opening the heart may also look like being a fool to someone else. Then the ego has to engage with shame. Myths have come to us through the ages about that risky kind of love. Kissing the frog and falling in love with the hag are two themes that come to mind. But remember magical outcomes occur when we’re willing to commit our boundless love, put our trusting selves on the line no matter what.

I remember back in the early 1980’s when I was still serving as a psychotherapist, one of my clients was a tough guy – a black hearted, grey hooded, obese, acne cheeked, dull eyed, knife holding adolescent punk who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Yet week after week he came to my office and sat, mostly mute. One day my heart melted. Overwhelming warmth and maternal compassion flooded me and spilled over on him. I don’t remember moving a muscle, scarcely breathing, but he felt it happening and looked up. He saw my expression and our two pairs of eyes brimmed with tears. We were both changed in a split second by wordless communion.

That’s sacred activism.

It happens with non-human creatures as well. One day on a beach I flooded with love for a spider. I’d been watching it through a high powered jeweler’s lens. Suddenly the spider looked up at me through the glass – we saw eye to eye – it raised its two front legs as if in prayer and I got the message: Stop invading my privacy. I felt not only compassion but shame. What gives me the right to treat another life with disrespect?

That’s sacred activism.

grounding gaia (800x800)

Discipline is part of sacred activism too. Can you remain centered in love when all is chaos and anger around you? I participated in several peace marches over the years and noticed every time that they didn’t embody peace. The use of the word ‘march’ reveals the confused point of view. The chants they sang were militant. I just couldn’t join in because the staccato beat, raised voices and challenging words were combative, spewed under the guise of song. At one point, I stood practically nose to billy club with a guard a foot taller than I. We were unable to move, jammed together midst the mad swirl of chanting peace marchers. I knew I had to make a quick decision. I chose to breathe deeply, closed my eyes for a few seconds and remembered what I knew about love. Opening my eyes, I began singing only for him. Not a chant, not a love song written by someone else, but my own spontaneous song sharing the story of how I came to be standing in front of his billy club protected chest. I shared my story of being afraid and imagined he was too, told about my family and imagined his, expressed my dream of a world where we all had food on the table and shelter over our heads and enough money…I sang and I sang and I tried and I tried to make eye contact but his eyes were hidden behind the bill of his baseball cap. I never did see them before the spell was broken by an enraged peace walker. What I saw instead were tears rolling down his cheeks.

That’s sacred activism.

In another few days, I’ll return with Part 3.

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What is Sacred Activism – Part 1

In the September/October 2006 issue of Spirituality and Health magazine, Andrew Harvey in an article on Sacred Activism is quoted as saying: When the coming crisis reveals itself fully, it will threaten us at the most fundamental depths. If we aren’t rooted in our spiritual identity, we will be driven into meaninglessness and despair unless there are people to say, “No, this horror can be healed through the sublime truth! We will survive and we will find purpose and joy and love through sacred practice and sacred action.” In fact, that is the whole point of the crisis – to drive us to that place where we, as a species, will have to go into our divine nature. The truth of our situation brings tremendous turmoil, a huge, sacred turbulence into the core of one’s life, but this turbulence is the condition for the flowering of more and more divine grace, divine passion, and divine energy…I know there is a way to be a conscious creator with God in this stupendous birth of the divine human taking place through the chaos of our time…and that is the way of the sacred activist. But the word ‘sacred’ carries with it the need for great inner transformation. Only when we have truly surrendered our will to God, only when our minds and hearts are shattered open by what we have created out of our ignorance, will we go deep enough to the divine within and bring out the energies of transformation.”

These elegant words speak the truth to me and at the same time turn me off!

I have to wrestle with my knee jerk reaction to words like ‘God,’ ‘ sacred,’ ‘divine,’ even ‘energies of transformation,’ words whose meaning I can appreciate only by looking beneath them, experiencing and defining them for myself. How many of us are willing to do that? Divine this and sacred that may be too easily dismissed by the masses of people in the industrialized nations of the northern hemisphere as new age mumbo-jumbo or too divine, too sacred, too spiritual for ordinary humans who live mundane lives.

I want sacred activism to spread far and wide, because the notion lights a fire in me. And yet the definitions don’t ignite the tinder, it’s the pairing of those paradoxical words that sparks.

Sacred by definition refers to anything connected to God or dedicated to a religious purpose, including embodying the laws of religion or anything regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group or individual.

Activism on the other hand is any policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

So I ask myself what does sacred activism mean to me?

Sacred activism means I have no choice. WHAT? Yup, I said it. I have no choice. In 1994, I painted this picture called Inside Out inspired by a vision I experienced while holding an Ecstatic Wisdom Posture .

Inside Out

The image might have been called You Choose as my accompanying journal entry reveals:

Black and white Kachinas dance in the center of a circle. Suddenly a tiny orange and red Kachina leaps into the middle   I wonder where the women are.  I find them off to the side, standing in a circle dressed in black shrouds as they help a woman give birth.    Suddenly I see through the eyes of one of the black and white Kachinas.  As he swings his head from side to side, I see the desecrated earth and the green beautiful earth and I hear him chant,
“You choose, you choose, you choose.”
Then the animals come spilling through, their eyes peering out of the rainforest, watching us.  A huge heart rises in the midst of the circle of dancers.  I see its wounds and also that it is healing itself.  A river of green slashes through the heart, carrying heart energy and spilling green all over the earth.  I see that the green river has opened the heart so I can see the texture of its interior.  I am shocked to see it is the same texture as that of the molten “holy” rocks I saw yesterday in the Jemez Mountains.  I wonder if our heart’s interior simply mirrors the earth outside our bodies, if all our bodies’ parts and functions reflect the earth outside us.
Can that be right?
Is the earth really outside us?
Maybe, instead, the earth is ourselves turned inside out.

Years later, I understood that I have no choice. My head stays turned facing the green beautiful earth. My love for life is so deeply rooted in my coeur and so passionately cellular that I no longer have to question how I live. Can you appreciate what a relief that is – no more second guessing, no more equivocating, no more resisting…I am as I am…passionately in love with the miracle of being here on this tiny dynamic world floating in the unfathomable seas of infinity…that bone deep awareness of sentient presence all around me is always present guiding me, honing me, tuning me…

I have no choice – that’s the first thing that springs to my mindheart about what being a sacred activist means to me.

(I’ll continue this exploration about what sacred activism means to me as an elder in my next post. The final two posts in this series will look at sacred activism from the perspective of the young ones, the twenty somethings who are inheriting the world we are leaving them. I have learned much from witnessing their stories.)

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Sacred Activism: It’s TIME for ME and YOU

Sacred Activism brings my lifetime of experience into the main current of a strongly flowing river. I have spent much of my life stuck on the bank, unable to jump into the flow and to speak my truth for fear of capsizing someone else’s boat and thus threatening the stability of my own. I diminished myself with waves of false pride and inflated humility.

As was pointed out at the May 2006 Seattle Sacred Activism Conference sponsored by Wisdom University, to be a Sacred Activist requires community. Like the butterfly’s imaginal cells in a caterpillar’s cocoon, we need countless others like us to stand up to the resistance of the old ways of being. We need to inspire and encourage each other. So Sacred Activism gives me many jobs to do in addition to expressing myself personally. Sometimes I need to hold the tiller, sometimes read the compass or hoist the sail. Occasionally I may even serve as the Belgian Schipperke, barking the rats away from the barge. I need the support of my comrades and they need me to “exhort, compel, guide and inspire everyone of us to become…tender hearted…fire-walkers…” ( paraphrased from Andrew Harvey/ Spirituality and Health magazine, Sept/Oct 2006.)

And step onto those glowing coals I must. Will you come with me?

WomanTree( Experience the song by Jean Anthony that inspired this painting “Reaching for the Last Hemlock”. )

At the Seattle Conference, Barbara Marx Hubbard was one of the speakers. Her description of what she knew as an adolescent reflected my own childhood knowing. She calls it conscious evolution which she describes as: part of the trajectory of human evolution, the canvas of choice before us now as we recognize that we have come to possess the powers that we used to attribute to the gods…We are poised in this critical moment, facing decisions that must be made consciously if we are to avoid destroying the world as we know it, if we are instead to cocreate a future of immeasurable possibilities. Our conscious evolution is an invitation to ourselves, to open to that positive future, to see ourselves as one planet, and to learn to use our powers wisely and ethically for the enhancement of all life on Earth.

I see the planet, the universe, the whole of IT as my lineage. I am an ancestor, we are all ancestors of the future and as a person alive now, I contribute to evolution by my choices.

As an only child of intellectual, unhappy and reserved parents, in a family with no reverence for ancestry or extended family, where the only mention of God was to disparage religion, I “grew myself up” befriended by the wood beyond my backyard. I had no human mentors to validate my reality which included the sentience of the non-human. But the world validated that for me. The willow was my best friend, snowflakes my wisdom makers, the compost heap my fecund mystery, my dog, the stars, the lily of the valley in the cellar window wells, all these were my boon companions.

One day in the early 1950’s, after the school bus had dropped me off at the top of the hill, I realized something was horribly wrong as I walked down toward home. It took me a few moments to “see.” On that afternoon blue sky rose above the roof of my house. That morning dark green had framed it, the crowns of maple, elm, tulip and ash, a few centuries old mixed deciduous eastern forest. During my school day, the wood behind my house had been clear cut to make room for the first ticky-tacky housing development in the western suburbs of Philadelphia…no warning, just gone. In an instant, I lost my bearings, my bedrock, my family without so much as an apology.
I’m not sure why I share that particular story again. Perhaps because the loss of the wood symbolizes the lack of engagement from which we modern, urban humans suffer… kept just below the surface of our consciousness that loss is fundamental, alienating, and ubiquitous. The cutting of trees in one swoop, the harvesting of fish in a mile long net, the leveling of complete mountain tops, gunning down wild creatures from helicopters, all reveal our lack of awareness that our lives depend on the complex interdependency of everything around us. When we rape a landscape and pillage a species, we violate ourselves.

Isn’t it time to choose more loving, joy-filled, play-full possibilities? That’s my call to you to be a Sacred Activist.

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Life Is Short

My apartment is on the second floor, so I don’t see who flings open my front door but I hear the footsteps racing up my stairs. My neighbor appears, breathless with excitement, “Deborah, Deborah, we’re calling all shamans. The tides have just acted wyrdly and the oil rig destined for the Arctic has run aground. We’ve got to support the kayakers praying out there on the water.” She bolts for the door so fast she forgets to tell me where.

I burst into tears of exuberance for miracles. The nature spirits are collaborating with human spirits. We CAN join forces, we can…


I feel as if I’ve contributed in some small way. Three of us went to the beach the day before to Make Artful Prayers, a project of Praying True, and to participate in the Global Earth Exchange, a project of Radical Joy in Hard Times. Added to prayers for the toxic beach and the forced removal of our Japanese American neighbors during WWII, we prayed for the softening of hearts and the opening of minds of all those involved with Arctic oil drilling. We prayed that the kayakers would be safe and be able to honor their commitment to respect and non-violence. We prayed that the corporate conglomerates – which are peopled by people just like us – would experience the surprise of their own cellular wisdom awakening.

At some point soon we have to say NO to more resource extraction, say NO to more ravaging of the forests and fields, say NO to more growth.

Unchecked growth is cancer
whether it’s in our human bodies or the earth body.

As an elder on this planet, I grew up before clear cutting forests and bulldozing wild meadows to build housing developments became the norm. I suffered the anguish of losing the wood beyond my back yard in one day – without warning. I came home from school and it was GONE. The grief for a nine year old dependent on that woodland for “family” was nearly overwhelming. Can you imagine what it was like for the deer and the rabbits and the foxes and the squirrels and the birds of all feathers? Can you imagine what it is like to be forced from your home as a Jew, or a Japanese American, or a Cherokee, or an Aschuar?  On this planet, we rob each other all the time
of our dignity and our birthright
in pursuit of money.

Limitless growth is cancer
whether it’s in our human bodies or the earth body.

oil rig
My Dad was an advertising man. One of his clients was a coal company. I learned a little about clean coal and dirty coal as a youngster. And I remember wondering about mining. ..digging all those tunnels deep underground. I wondered how the planet could handle the constant extraction – hollowing out for subways and tunnels for cars and draining underground aquifers to quench our thirst. The planet’s surface is a big swiss cheese and I still wonder when she’ll collapse on us.

Last Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr. Guy McPherson   titled: Responding to Abrupt Climate Change. He’s collated data from hundreds of scientists and presents a convincing argument for acknowledging rapid climate change as irrefutable. His bottom line: Life is short even if you live to 117, which was the age of the oldest known human being. You know what she said two weeks before she died: Life is short.

Life is short and our human species time on this planet may be very short compared to other mammals but that’s how it is. Since life is short, he suggests we honor it as the miracle it is while we live it. Choose to love and love some more. Love everything and everyone and make loving relationships your priority because when you die, as we all will, you won’t regret not having purchased the latest gizmo. You’ll regret not having ever told your son that you love him. You’ll regret not having stories… the kind of story made by remembering shared experience, where the first words are: “Remember when we …”

His other suggestion is: live a life of excellence. He said the word excellence needs to be defined by each person. For me excellence relates to integrity. It means I live a life that is congruent with my deepest yearnings, as authentic and transparent and real as I can be. And that feels so good.

Which brings me back to where I began this post: the call for prayers to support the kayakers and the oil rig and the Arctic waters and the call for awakening. Last night I attended a living myth – a gathering of community to welcome back the kayakers and witness their stories. This is the way it happens in the s/hero’s journey. In those myths, the return is honored by the s/hero sharing the boon of his/her travels and the community embracing the s/hero’s transformed Self.

I’ll tell that real life living myth next time.

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Dying to Live

My left leg feels frail, aches a little bit, doesn’t move quite right but I CAN put weight on it without excruciating pain. Three days ago, I couldn’t.

What happened?

I don’t know. After more than five hours at the ER, mostly hanging out in a wheelchair, the doc is mystified. Technology rules out the scarey things like blood clot and fracture. But my lack of other symptoms makes it hard to determine a cause.

So what’s a woman to do?

I retreat to my daughter’s home, bringing my two elder dogs with me. We all lie about, except my daughter, who brings all three of us food and drink when we need it. Walking on crutches isn’t as easy now as it was when I was in college and broke an ankle.

Until this unexpected detour, I’d been painting madly for several months getting ready for an art exhibit that opens in less than three weeks. Despite that time pressure, I decided to leave my painting gear at home and take a break, focus on my much neglected blog and other computer chores while waiting for healing to weave itself through me. And healing I am. I walked without crutches a little bit today and can bend my knee and stretch it out straight without pain, albeit a little stiffly

Our bodies are like tuning forks and I’m well aware that this malady illustrates exactly how I felt last week. My knees wobbled. I felt as if the rug had been yanked out from under me when I got the news.
kimbly  radiant hder

Apparently healthy, vibrant and vital, Kimberly Davis, 43, died on Monday the 11th of May. Though I never met her in person, she felt like a daughter to me. Online painting colleagues in several classes, we’d also produced the Fearless Sisters’ Oracle Deck together. I reveled in her colorful imagery, applauded the path she unerringly followed as she honored her muse and honed her creative gifts. For three days before my leg gave way, I’d been participating in a commemorative painting vigil with women from around the globe who also loved and admired Kimberly. Her loss and the power of globally sharing love and grief does make me wonder about the timing of my inexplicable leg pain. I know there is a deep connection between my body’s mind and the morphogenic field of empathic, mythpoetic response. So I do wonder about this leg of mine…I do.

Since I’m preparing for an art exhibit called The Many Faces of Gaia, I decide to paint a Gaia for Kimberly as my way to participate in the vigil. Here it is as a work in progress.
gaia for kimberly

While I paint, I ponder how losing Kimberly has filled many of us with the desire to live more fully, to be bigger and more true to our souls while we still breathe in these bodies. One woman painted for the first time in 18 months. Another painted a larger canvas than ever before – and it was a big one – 30” x 40”. Another woman brought all her images out from hiding. And I re-commit myself to pouring my love for life into painting more evocative and compelling Gaian imagery.

Kimberly’s passing has made each of us more than we were before.

And that makes me wonder how our values would shift if we all remembered our loved ones stand at death’s door, that each breath we take could be our last. Would we love more, play more and fear less, be more willing to change our greed driven priorities so all beings and ecosystems could thrive?

As I paint Gaia for Kimberly – She Who Blesses our Lives Eternally, I ponder the power of death to inspire life and give gratitude for mortality.

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What Makes Us Human?

Prairie dog lives threatened by building another mall.

Wolf lives threatened by removing them from the endangered list.

Spotted owl lives threatened by yet another clear cut.

Salmon lives threatened by yet another dam.

Whale lives threatened by yet another deep sea sonic boom.

Bear lives threatened by yet another pipe line intrusion through their wildnerness home.

Bee lives threatened by yet another pesticide.

Human lives threatened by yet more polluted air, polluted water, polluted food.

Human lives diminished by yet more uniformity, climate controlled habitats, windowless rooms.

Human lives devalued by money, economic disparity, persecution, displacement of habitat.

Human lives diminished by the illusion of needing safety…control… sterility…quick fixes.

Human lives detoured by institutionalized needs for speed, efficiency and greater yields..

Have we forgotten what makes us humans feel alive?

How animated we become when we sing and dance together. . .How entranced we are by the birth of a baby… How moved we are by the sacred process of dying. . . How falling in love makes us want to live. . .How creating something engages us with living in the moment. . .how creating something reveals the depth and expansiveness of the mystery within… How intimate conversation can inspire for days… How we breathe deeper and more easily when we sleep when we’re tired, eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, spend time outside, and exert ourselves physically … How eye contact with the other moves our souls…How a glorious sunset can trigger tears, the aurora borealis pulls awe from our throats…How making meaning means everything…How helping another connects us. . .

Just asking: have we forgotten what makes us human?

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Painting Gaia continued…

On Friday, the 27th of February, 2015, I hung my first exhibit for a new series I’ve begun. Titled: The Many Faces of Gaia , painting more images for this series promises to carry me richly throughout this year, maybe for the rest of my life, because those Gaian faces are infinite. And each time I paint a portal and then the cosmos birthed through it, I am stunned by the surprises, the depth of communion these images evoke, the emotion. Though I’ve only painted four, I’m deeply committed to the fifth one

I think she’s titled: She Who Protects the Burdens of Spring and here she is in process:

gaia march 2015 035 (1024x833)

I will be sharing the process for Gaian Face # 6 with you as we work our way through the online course called Painting Gaia – Autumn/Spring 2015.

As I thought about my first four Gaias being seen publicly, I decided to prepare a statement to help the viewer appreciate why we artists are doing what we’re doing. Here is the statement followed by my first Gaian Face accomplished during the online class which started last November:

Gaia: “The earth viewed as a vast self-regulating organism.” New Oxford American Dictionary

Gaia: “A name for humanity’s Habitat, an ancient yet new name, which I understand to include Whole Earth and Cosmos—there is no seam separating Earth from Her Context.”
Glenys Livingstone, PhD author PaGaian Cosmology

Painting Gaia: “It’s exciting to imagine all the new images . . . that will come into being. The importance that these . . .images play in the psyche of not only our being, but the earth as a being, and further, the legacy that we leave behind for future earthlings cannot be underestimated…We are at a poignant time in history where Gaia is being re-membered, re-claimed, re-birthed and re-imagined. We are an integral part of deepening and developing a new relationship with the Primordial Earth Mother for it is essential to the future health of not only the Earthbody, but our bodies and the universal body.”
Jassy Watson, Artist and Teacher of Painting Gaia.

The Many Faces of Gaia: “At this pivotal moment in Human Evolution, our culture needs new storylines and new images for envisioning a reverent human relationship to our planetary home, our cosmic Habitat. These paintings, accompanied by short poems, are my articulation of that sacred interconnectedness between humans and the ALL-OF-IT.”
Deborah J Milton, PhD, Artist/Mentor

Finished Willow Gaia

Willow Wombman
Born to the elements
Feeding the seasons
Willow succors life

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