Part two of my Fierce Light talk in Nelson BC, after the screening of my feature documentary ‘Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action.’
Part two of my Fierce Light talk in Nelson BC, after the screening of my feature documentary ‘Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action.’
Here’s part one of a talk I gave in Nelson a few weeks back, the day after a screening of my feature documentary on spiritual activism, “Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action”.
I’ve recently started waking up every morning with a thought of thankfulness. Taking a few moments before I begin my day, to think of a few things that I can be truly thankful for, sets me on a bouyant path, out of the right side of my bed and into the day. It’s a simple thing, but so easy to forget. Gratitude is a tremendously powerful force that aligns us with an attitude of celebration, openess, spaciousness. Thank you world! Thank you friends! Thank you animals! Thank you enemies! Thank you trouble makers, thorns in the side, the people who drive you crazy – or do they drive you sane? The choice is yours. If you come from a position of gratitude, even the difficult aspects of our lives reveal themselves to be the gifts they actually are. There is nothing, not one thing that happens to us, that can not be transformed into an opportunity for further awakening. Awakening never stops, we’re never done, new offerings for growth will always be there for us, should we choose to accept them.
A Fierce Light warrior moves through the world in an attitude of celebration, thankful for this precious human birth, thankful for the opportunity to be of service, thankful for the opportunity to play, to cry, to laugh, to be delighted or dismayed – to experience everything in the light of full and awakened consciousness. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds – it’s actually our natural state of being and doing. The unnatural mode of existence is that which has been foistered onto us by lifetimes of cultural programming designed to disconnect us from our origins. We don’t actually need to gain anything to become celebrants of life. We just need to lose the thick layer of disconnection, of fear, of distrust of life, of love, of existence.
Yes, the world itself is constantly throwing curveballs at us all, every step of the way, but if we stop for a moment or two, we might notice that a great majority of the problems we encounter, are mirrors of the internal work still to be done, the soul changing work, the transformative work, waiting to blossom. Even the larger problems, that might seem distant and out of our control – the environmental issues, global warming, species extinction, the economic crisis, war – all of these are also tied into our own consciousness. Most of the problems we are facing are man made – and in this case the gender bias is pretty darn accurate – but we’re all responsible, men and women. We all have some evolving to do to get out of the mind set that created these problems in the first place. Einstein famously said that we cannot solve problems in the same mindset they were created in.
So we need to step into a new paradigm in order to break free of the paradigms that are so clearly no longer working. One of the biggies that plagues us all is greed. We have been trained to feel a sense of lack in our society – if only we had this, if only we had that, then we’d be happy. We constantly defer our happiness until some future arrives…but what if it never does? Maybe we should just start being happy right now, with what we have, in an attitude of profound gratitude. The universe has given us exactly what we need for our souls growth. We have summoned the conditions in our lives. The thorns are there to show us the work we still need to do. The flowers are there as reminders – don’t forget to smell the roses! And to look for them. Always look for those small and tender shoots of new growth. Those small and tender offerings of possibility. They are always there to be found.
As I am writing, a swan just flew above the lake, a startling white against the cool green of the ice. Thank you swan. You are gorgeous.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
As another Valentines Day passes, I’ve found myself thinking about how we can transform a Hallmark occasion into an opportunity to celebrate True Love. The kind of love that Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King Jr. talked about. They knew a thing or two about what true love really is.
For starters, it ain’t easy. It’s not about just loving the people in your immediate circle – the ones that agree with you, the ones that look like you, the ones that turn you on. That’s a good thing, and hard enough in itself. But the kind of love these peaceful warriors understood, in the depths of their hearts, comes from recognizing that we are all truly, utterly and completely, interconnected. This is the kind of love that enables us to actually love our enemies.
Have you ever really tried it? Not just tolerate our enemies, but actually love them. How about even someone who just irritates you a little; or a lot. Phew – it’s tough! That’s fierce love. That’s industrial strength love. That’s the love that’s going to change the planet. Martin Luther King Jr. used to joke sometimes, “we’ve just got to love the hell out them. You just love them…”
This isn’t a simple, sanctimonious holier than thou love – no, this is the kind of love that loves right through the ego, the hatred, the misunderstanding, right through to the divine spark that flames inside each and every being on this planet. This love does not excuse them for their actions, does not excuse them for the pain they cause, but recognizes that they are inflicting pain, because they are in pain.
A strange thing happens when violence is met with love. It doesn’t know what to do. It knows how to respond to violence – now you’re talking, now you’re speaking it’s language. It’s a common practice for police to infiltrate peaceful activists to start them on a violent course of action – inside agitators. Because this allows the forces that be to be justified in an even more violent response. But if we are committed, deeply committed, to non-violence, to love in action, the perpetrators of violence will one day run out of anger.
Yes, it seems impossible in some of these large, seemingly endless conflicts – like the one in the middle east – to hold true to the path of non-violence. But I believe there is no other way. There will be huge costs to be paid, in the standing up for peace, in the standing up for love, as there has been throughout history. In the civil rights movement, many people died, but still, they refused to respond with anything other than love. And eventually, that love, and action – direct action – triumphed.
Ah love. If only we could truly learn to love. If only every breath, every gesture could resonate with love. For some people it’s just natural. For others, especially us men, we need to learn. Society in the west has ingrained in us the ethos of “every man for himself.” But when you learn, from the inside out, that everyone is yourself, you will discover a huge shift takes place. When we learn the truth of inter-being, when we learn True Love, look out world! Cause here we come – the compassionate warriors of a new millenium.
We can do it – we’re here to do it. Nothing could be more rewarding. When we move through the world with our love light shining, the world beams it right back up. And heart by heart, we can illuminate this world of violence and inhumanity. We can transform it into one of life and possibility, from the inside out.
Happy Valentines! May we find peace in our hearts, and everywhere we go on this planet.
“Heart, you are lost.
But there’s a path
From lover to love.
Worlds blaze round.
The path is hidden
Well here it comes – Valentines day. A celebration of love! And a great opportunity to market flowers, chocolates and Hallmark cards. For those not in a relationship, it can be a bit of a downer – like christmas when you’re far from family. A new friend just commented that she calls it “singles awareness day.” Ha.
Ah love, that beat up misused misunderstood word. We just finished interviewing Coleman Barks, the great Rumi Translator, for Redvolution: Dare to Disturb the Universe. Rumi is well renouned for his tremendous love poems, but the love he talks about might be a little different than the kind of love those red hearts in the store windows are selling. Coleman told us that he once got a phone call from Hallmark, asking if he might consider doing a line of cards with some of his Rumi translations on them. He said, “well you realize that the kind of Love that Rumi writes about involves complete and utter obliteration.” There was a long pause, and then the Hallmark rep asked, “is there a holiday for that?”
Say what? Love = annihilation? WTF? Isn’t love warm and fuzzy and nurturing and sticky sweet? Not the kind of divine love that Rumi talks of. He wasn’t referring to romantic love, between humans. No, he was talking about the human daring to truly love G~d. Daring to truly be loved by G~d. This can certainly, and most beautifully, happen between humans – in fact, one of the highest forms of human love is when souls meet through the human form. Which can involve down and dirty sex. Spirituality and sexuality are ecstatically happy bedfellows. But it is not the kind of romance and intrigue, the ‘will you be mine’, the clinging, grasping romantic love that we’re taught is love, the kind that is really about the quest for ownership over another. No, the kind of love Rumi talks about involves complete freedom, non-attachment, and trust.
To be consumed, destroyed, burnt in the flames of divine love, to the place where your ego dissolves, and there is nothing left of you but G~d stuff, that’s Love. The search for this union with the divine is the path of the mystic. Every tradition has a mystic path, the path that involves daring to stare into the sun with your eyes wide open. It’s not for everyone, and there are many dangers on the way. But once one has had a taste of the possibility of the the mystic path, it’s hard to turn back. One is consumed by what the Sufi’s call a sense of divine longing, which calls you, and refuses to let you sleep – refuses to let you fall back into unconsciousness, lose touch with your divine heritage.
There are as many paths as there are humans on this planet, and we each need to find the one that is ours, and ours alone. As Rumi says, “the chefs of God are cooking up a special stew, just for you.” For me, that stew is ever changing, though at one time I used to call myself, in an attempt at simplicity, a “sufi buddhist baha’i punk rocker.” There is still a lot of truth to this description – the Sufi in me is the passionate, fiery side, the Buddhist is the patient, peaceful, centered part of me, the Baha’i offers me a global perspective and a sense of law, and the punk rocker is the rebel, always seeking the fresh truth, the present truth, the truth beyond all limitations and dogma. I am all of those, and none of those.
Here is a mystic poem I have written, in honour of the search for annihilation in the fire of God, here spoken of as the divine feminine, the great Goddess, so needed as a counter balance to the worship of God as a patriarch. It is about the search for true divine Love.
~ ~ ~
All my life
I searched for the diamond heart
Alchemy’s leaden Gold
The hidden truth
At the center of lifes labryinth
At each turn of the bend
A fire awoke
Yet around the bend
A sudden downpour would appear
To douse my desire
Until there was nothing left
But smouldering coals
Back in the cave
Or was it tommorrow?
In this dark dark cave
I found that spark
A single flash
A droplet of light
And fanned the flames
With my dogged Love
My unextinguishable love
I let the wind of my desire
That Red and gold divinity
I can taste
On the tip of my tongue
On the very tip of my tongue
The aftertaste of truth
I pound the pavement
I kneel before you
Broken wide and bloodied
And roaring loud
And you who witnesses
You truly know
That this is no charade
That Love is here
And all I ask for
Inside that nothing
And not now
And not then
I shriek like the wind in february trees
And loom like the moon
On a hot august night
My stalwart friend
Waiting for the day
Not wanting anything more than this
Even if this
Is the waiting
Waiting for God’s deepest embrace
To rip my illusions to shreds
Until all that’s left of me is Love
To be destroyed by Her raging love
Her flaming benediction
Annihilated by Her grace
I kneel before You
I stand before You
I cartwheel before you
To bless me with a deadly kiss
I ignore you
Turn from You
The haggler in the market
Suddenly tired of trying
I’ll never be finished
I’m still baking
I am half baked
I will not be finished
With this Love
With this life
Until my very last breath
And even then….
Well I just may be back
To continue the Work
But let me tell you this one thing, this one thing:
If you want to talk numbers
I am 100 percent divine
Not one iota less
I cannot be otherwise
Even at my most imperfect
Try as I might
I am Him
Even when I’m too foolish to know it
He is me.
And He is here
In front of this perfection of wisdom
Burn me to the ground
Until there is nothing left of me
Until there is nothing left of me
Thank you mother earth for all the work you’re doing to try to re-stabilize, revamp, recover from all I’ve done to you. I know, there are no words of apology that could ever make amends for the outrageous disdain for which I’ve ravaged your land, your air, your water. So I dare not ask for your forgiveness-it’s yours to give, if you wish to give it, perhaps one day, some day after I’ve transformed my apologies into action. Know that I know that what I have done to you, I have also done to myself. There I go again-beating myself up. Again, again, again. It’s time I started to truly love myself, to treat myself with the respect I deserve.
More than respect, but with awe. Just take the human part of myself alone. Look at this oversized brain: 15 million neurons- as many as there are stars in the milky way. Incredible. Look at what can come from all those multiferous electrifying lightening strikes: creativity and conflict, love and terror, comedy and contempt, miracles and monstrosities.
The mistake I made was thinking this brain meant I was better than, bigger than, seperate from….anyone, anything, anywhere. It’s like saying my brain is more important than my heart. Which as scientists have discovered, has it’s own brain anyways. Maybe if I learned to think with my heart brain more, I wouldn’t have fucked up this bad.
So….Earth, mama, baby, darling, sweetie, look, I know, it sounds lame – but I’m sorry. I mean it, this time, for real. Is there anything I can do to make things right between us again? I promise, Big Blue, I’m gonna stop treating you bad like this. I’m gonna stop taking and start giving. I’ll go to AA, I’ll get counseling, I’ll start meditating, I’ll have my head examined. I’ll learn to walk lightly, to leave no footprints, only beauty or nothing at all wherever I go. I’ll make it up to you, really, truly….I promise.
Are we still friends?
Really? We are? Wow. You sure?
Thank you for giving me a second (or is it third?) chance. You won’t regret it!
I mean this: thank you, thank you, thank you for the air you give, the water you give, the food you give, the unbelievable, indescribable, inexplicable beauty of your vast diversity, from butterflies to sea anenomes, from multi-hued birds to leaping whales, from buddha babies to crustaceans, from meadows to mildew, from Mozart to Madonna, from Jesus to Johnny Rotten, from Beatles to beetles, from Ravi Shankar to penguins, all the endless variations of organic creativity, life exploding in all dimensions, from the center of the earth to the last wisps of breathable air, you blow me away with your gorgeousness. Thank you for still being there for me, for us, for all of us. We need you, we need you, we need you. You’re the only earth in the whole world. We love you, we love you, we love you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
March 2000, Tashi Lunpho Monastery, Southern India
The long low horns begin their drone, and the great double door swings open. The drums pound, the cymbals crash, and the first creature emerges from the dark depths of the temple: the giant masked demon of Yamantaka, the lord of death.
In Buddhism, everything in life, even death, is considered an opportunity for awakening. Meditation on death is considered one of the highest paths. Unlike the west, death is confronted directly, treated as the wonderful teacher that it is. Tibetan monks often meditate in graveyards, to help them fully embrace death.
Two clowns with grinning skeleton heads appear, and stay throughout the six hour long ritual, keeping the crowd amused during transitions, heckling all the performers without reverence. Death will always have the last laugh. It’s startling to a westerner to see death treated with humour, but Tibetans have a much more open relationship with the matter than us.
To live with the full awareness that you will die is to truly live. This is the beauty of understanding and accepting the truth of impermanence. This is the great mystery of creation. This is to be human and to be divine. You’re alive! And, you will die. We all will die.
One of the death clowns offers up an apple to the audience members, who laugh in his face. He tries to convince me to take a bite, but I shake my head, smiling. It’s not quite my moment to taste that fruit. The little Tibetan boy snuggled up to me claps his hands, laughing. I raise my camera, and the death clown puts his hands together in a prayer position. The scared and the sacred, united.
Just what is death? A skeleton in a dark cloak holding a scythe? Not likely. We cannot know exactly what will happen when we die, nor should we. As with the unnameable, the namelessness of G~d, death is mystery. And mystery has beauty. Embracing death requires embracing the unknown.
There are things we can know. Thousands and thousands of people have had near death experiences, and there are consistent reccurrences. There is a often a sense of moving towards luminosity, accompanied by strong feelings of peace, contentment and joy. One comes to a threshold, a gateway to cross over. At this point some have been called back. These people are often disappointed, sad to leave that light. Those that must return, emerge with a transformed relationship to life.
A small family of mother, father, daughter and son, appear on the dance floor, innocent smiles on their giant wooden masks. They humbly offer a white silk blessing scarf to a fierce dancing demon with a dagger in one hand, dressed in elaborate silk brocade. His red grimacing face is surrounded by tiny skulls. The death clowns peer over their shoulder, pulling at the scarf, poking their ears, drawing one of their children aside.
‘Death is always there, looking over your left shoulder,’ Carlos Castenada’s shamanic teacher, Don Juan, was fond of saying. We’re not dead, not quite yet, so there is still time, maybe only a day, an hour, a breath, for all we know, but we still have the chance to orient ourselves towards the light. Ask yourself-is this breath worthy of being my last? Is this a breath of luminosity, of spaciousness, of compassion?
In the late afternoon we leave the temple, following a procession of monks with hand drums, monks with banners, monks with crashing cymbals, black hat dancers, the jaunty death clowns, and a chaotic dancing crowd of larger than life demons. At the head of the parade, four monks carry an effigy of intestinal red plastic tubing, topped with a skeleton head.
We gather at an open field. A bonfire is lit and the Rag Dungs, held aloft by monks with straps over their shoulders, sound their mournful drone. The effigy, representing the accumulated bad karma of the previous year, is thrown onto the fire. I move in for a close-up. The bonfire explodes in a loud ratt-tatt-tatt of rapid staccato bursts of fury. I jump back, startled, eliciting merry laughter from the monks. The thing was stuffed full of firecrackers.
And then it’s over. The crowd unceremoniously wanders off and all that remains are two tiny monks-in-progress, a couple of Hindu street urchins, and one Canadian filmmaker, staring at the fire and melting mess of effigy in fascination.
I shoulder my little ‘Kilim’ Sufi bag I’d bought in Konya, and head out into the fields, following a narrow, hard packed dirt path. I settle under a flowering magnolia tree that stands alone against the dry tilled fields. Three crows perch on the branches above me. My Dharma study today is a long tract about death by Je Tsongkapa, in which he states that no matter who you are, rich or poor, eventually your name will be ‘that stinking corpse riddled with maggots.’ I smile as I read it. At this moment I feel as if the fear of death has no power over me. I could die now, if necessary. I am a transparent diamond. Selfless. I do not mind being a particle of light. A wave of light. A ripple of light. Emanating from the One, and back again.
When I open my eyes at the end of my meditation, the fields around me are glittering, as they did in Mount Athos that morning after dawn burst through the chestnut trees. As they would every day, if I had but eyes to see. It’s all perception. Sitting on a leaf directly in front of me is a quartz crystal. I place it in my mouth to wash away the red dirt. I hold it up to the sun, which refracts through the translucent stone, breaking into the full spectrum of colour. Like manifest reality – from oneness to diversity. And back again.