THE FIERCE LIGHT TRAILER

Please share this far and wide – click on the video, go to youtube and choose “share”. Help spread the Fierce Light.

IN THE THEATRES ACROSS CANADA STARTING MAY 15TH!!

FIERCE LIGHT: WHEN SPIRIT MEETS ACTION

From the Director of Scared Sacred & The Producer of The Corporation

A Feature Documentary award winning filmmaker Velcrow Ripper

“A SPIRITUAL KALEIDOSCOPE OF HOPE AND JOY. UPLIFTING!” ~ Green Muze Magazine

“HUGELY ENGAGING AND VISUALLY DELIGHTFUL.” ~ Toronto Sun

“A POETIC CALL TO HEARTFELT ACTION.” ~ Common Ground

IN THEATRES ACROSS CANADA MAY 15!!!

Please spread this trailer, along with this note, far and wide, and help us fill the theatres May 15!!!

At the Cumberland in Toronto, The AMC Forum in Montreal and Fifth Avenue Cinema’s in Vancouver, Canada.

FOR MORE INFO GO TO:

http://www.fiercelight.org

“ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL.” ~ NewCityFIlm, Chicago

“INTENSE AND INSPIRING.” ~ Examiner National

“RAW, HONEST AND COMPELLING.” ~ CJSF Radio

“Fierce Light” is a feature documentary that captures the exciting movement of Spiritual Activism that is exploding around the planet, and the powerful personalities that are igniting it.

Acclaimed filmmaker Velcrow Ripper (Scared Sacred) takes an insightful look at change motivated by love, featuring interviews with spiritual activists Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu, Daryl Hannah, Julia Butterfly Hill, and more.

“COURAGEOUS …. POTENT … AUTHENTIC.” ~ Enlightennext Magazine

“INCREDIBLY MOVING! A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE IN ITSELF!” ~Vancouver International Film Festival

“A TOUCHING PORTRAIT OF THE POWER OF
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE…” -New Orleans Times-Picayune
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The Scared Sacred Journey Part 2

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1999 – France

It isn’t long before I enter the city of Marseilles. A second wave of sadness hits me, the memory of another loss, just two weeks earlier. It was here that my girlfriend, Angela, had made the decision to leave the project, to return home. I remember the train station, the pictures in the photo booth, kissing away our final moments together. “Am I making a mistake?” she asked. I had said no, because the decision was already made. The plane ticket was bought.

For the last two weeks I’ve been asking myself, again and again: why didn’t I say yes. You are. Don’t go. But I didn’t. Instead, I walked out of the station into the noisy city of Marseilles, searched out a café and ordered a Croque Monsieur. It was horrible. White bread with cheese on top and an ugly slice of ham inside, done in a microwave. Sounded better in French. I forced myself to eat it, then trudged down a long stone staircase, into the little red car and out onto the highway. Alone. A primal moan emerged, wracking my body. My Inner Voice offered it’s usual level minded take on the matter, which irritated me immensely at the time, but eventually I’ve come to realize it’s true: she did have to go. This is my mad journey. We’d failed to make it ours.

Now I’m alone, racing towards the Italian border, the project at risk. I plunge into the darkness of a long tunnel cutting through the French Alps, self-torturing loops of regret orbiting through my brain. My gear’s been stolen. I’m alone. I don’t have enough money. I’m alone. I can’t replace the gear. And did I mention? I’m alone. As I approach the Italian border, a new tension strikes: I’m afraid of customs. I couldn’t afford insurance for the Polo, and I’ve heard that to be caught uninsured in Italy means a large fine, or even imprisonment. I anxiously peer through the wavering headlights, expecting to have to face a customs officer at any moment: “Your papers please?” But I burst out of yet another tunnel, pass by a small sign surrounded by EU stars that reads, ‘Italy,’ and that’s it. I’m in a new country. I pull over at a money changer’s to get some Italian cash. I say, “Bonjour.” The teller replies, “Bonjiorno.”

Tunnel after tunnel through the Italian night. The toll is steep, ten dollars to go about twenty kilometers. But the road is hugging the coast and there are no alternative routes. Eventually I find an exit, readying myself to pay close to one hundred dollars in tolls, only to discover that there’s an open gate. My pulse stutters as I think of my uninsured state of being, but poverty forces me to be daring. I braze on by. Just past the gates, a number of motorcycle policemen in black with baggy pants are at the side of the road, writing up tickets for cars they have pulled over, perhaps for doing what I have just done. I keep glancing at the rear view mirror, anticipating wailing sirens and flashing lights. But no. I’m through and have just saved a hundred bucks that I don’t have. Excellent.

I find myself in Imperia, a groddy town on the Italian Riviera. It’s a bit whorish, a little seedy, not all cleaned up like the French Riveria. I like it already. I pull over to take a break. As I step out of the car I notice a pair of Italian loafers sitting on the curb. They have holes in the bottom, but fit perfectly. I walk down to the seaside, feeling all Italian in my new shoes, the beginnings of a replacement wardrobe. I wish they hadn’t of taken my razor though: my beard is getting itchy.

A meditative statue of Mary faces the ocean, arms outstretched, blessing the sailors. I pause in front of her, breathing deeply, allowing this icon of Mother Love to calm my mind. Out on the pier, men cast fishing lines into the sea with a soothing whizzz.

A young couple are pushing their child along in a wheel chair. His mouth is frozen open, his body paralyzed. Their son. I study his still features as they wheel him along the boardwalk. He probably likes it down here, by the ocean, even if he can’t show it. It puts my problems into perspective. What do I know about suffering? Nothing.

When I come back to the car, there’s a cop writing up a parking ticket. It must be a ‘No Parking Zone.’ I didn’t understand the Italian signage. I watch him from a distance, waiting for him to finish writing up the ticket and leave. He begins meticulously writing notes while talking on a mobile phone. Oh God: he’s probably calling a tow truck. And I can’t stop him, because of my insurance problem. He moves down the street, but remains within sight of the car. I contemplate leaping in and making a getaway, if he would just turn his back for a few minutes. But that would be crazy.

A few minutes later a tow truck arrives. I stand watching as the men get out, lower the jaws from the back of the truck, open them wide, and clamp down viciously onto my innocent vehicle.

Good-bye car. Just let it go. Goodbye the last of my belongings. My small library: ‘God in all Worlds,’ ‘Call of the Dervish,’ ‘Fire Under the Snow’ and ‘Kundalini Yoga for Beginners.’ Gone. A box of special objects collected in each of the Scared and Sacred places that I’ve been to so far. Let it go. Too much collecting, too much attachment. My shoes. Oh. These Italian things are falling apart and no good for hiking. Need shoes. Tent. No more camping. Stove. No more cooking. Oh no: my journal, stored inside my palmtop. I search frantically through my handbag. I have it! And my passport, and my bank card. I even have a pocket-sized I Ching. So it could be much worse.

The drivers climb into the cab of the tow truck, raise my car up into the air, and drag it away. My brain numbs as I watch my little red VW evaporating into the depths of the Italian legal system.

Gone.

I feel light headed, surreal. Estranged in a strange country with little more than the shirt on my back and a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. Which aren’t even mine. Now what?

Involuntary Simplicity

“Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life.”
– Richard Gregg, Vhishva Bharati Quarterly, 1936

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Southern France, 1999 ~ The Scared Sacred Journey

Five a.m. My body pulls me out of my dreams, anticipating the wake up bell of Plum Village monastery. I rise up in the trembling half light, gradually remembering where I am: on a train tracing the gentle contours of the Cote d’Azur. I yawn, stretch, and pull out a Yoga book I was recently given. Following the illustrated instructions, I fall into a deep Kundalini meditation, concentrating on sending life energy up my body, from lower node to higher node, building force as it climbs the energetic pathway, from node to node, base to center, heart to throat, until the current reaches the epicenter of my forehead, where I let it pool and stay for awhile, before moving it higher still, to the crown. It feels as if the coursing force wants to continue rising, straining to burst out and up. Although it’s a new technique to me, the practice feels intrinsic. Something new, something powerful, is building inside me.

Sudden jolt. Hiss of air brakes. My eyes flash open: the train is at my stop. I grab my pack and lunge for the closing doors. Too late. I get off at the next stop, smiling despite my goof-up, enjoying the opportunity to stand on the platform in the still morning, under a bright moon casting blue shadows. Soon enough another train appears, and I roll back to the little village of Carri-la-Rouet.

My red Volkswagen Polo is still there, waiting near the station, intact, though reeking of rot from a two week old bag of groceries I’d forgotten to bring with me to the meditation retreat. I stop off at a patisserie and pick up a round of fresh Camembert and a baguette, then drive to a quiet spot on the coast. I settle under an ancient grove of wind stunted pine trees that cling to a crag over-looking the ocean, and boil water for tea on a folding alcohol burning stove. I savour the bread and cheese mouth by mindful mouthful, in the slow chewing manner I’ve just learned from Thich Nhat Hahn, at Plum Village. The sun slowly emerges from a flat expanse of steel blue ocean, drenching the Azure Coast blood red. I breathe in the crisp air, content, and stroll down to a shore of time softened white pebbles tinged with morning light. Strewn with plastic bottles, straws, hypodermic needles, styrofoam bits, and unrecognizable modern industrial poly-carbonic detritus.

I mutter to myself, “How pathetic. This could be a perfect spot. Why doesn’t someone just clean it up. Gawd, it wouldn’t take long that, just a little effort and…”
My Self interrupts. “Good idea. Why don’t you?”
“What?”
“Why don’t you?”
“Well, because…” I search for an excuse, “Because it would take too long.”
“A single little beach?”
“But I don’t have a bag!”
“Go get one from the trash can.”
“You really want me too?”
“I’m telling you too.”
My Inner Voice rarely gives orders, so when it does I try to obey. There just so happens to be a bag of garbage bags tucked under the garbage can. I begin the slow process of extracting endless bits of plastic from the smooth stones. I start with the most infuriating – hundreds of tiny stir sticks, intricately interlaced with the pebbles. I transform the tedious into an exercise in plastic archaeology, teasing stories from deep within the garbage. There are tales of seductions from the sea voyaging condoms, mysterious medicine vials stained with the sad residue of drug addicted lives, the inexplicable comedy of a strange sphere of hair. Echoes of the violence inspired by an array of plastic war toys: soldiers, swords, and miniature hand grenades.

After an hour I move onto the big stuff, breaking into a power run, second bag soon bulging. In one corner of the beach I encounter a pile of stinking organic matter, flies buzzing. The sun beats down and sweat streams off my forehead. It all gets to be too much, and I stop to take a few deep breathes. My gaze lands on a rocky alcove at the edge of the beach. Nestled inside is a plastic Mary with her hands clasped together in prayer. Etched on her base are the faded words, “Genuine Lourdes Water.” I smile and try to refill her with ocean water, but she leaks, no doubt the reason for her burial at sea. Despite this imperfection, or because of it, this ‘Garbage Mary’ will go on to circle the globe with me.

After five hours of hard going I’ve filled three garbage bags and the cove is again pristine. I strip off my clothes and dive into the cool water, floating on my back, refreshed. I stretch out naked under the cloudless sky on the hot white rocks. Clean rocks. I pull my clothes back on and wander back up to the car, parked at the edge of the beach.

The door is wide open. My pack. Is gone. Gone! Inside it was the video camera. The microphone. The tape stock. All my gear. A shock of unreality courses through my body. It’s happened. It’s finally happened. Everything. Everything! I jump into the car and start to drive, mindlessly. I slam on the brakes and sit under a leafless tree, trying to calm my mind, but finding it more useful to wail out loud. My frustration propels me up and back into the car. I floor it, heading for the Italian border as fast as a Volkswagen Polo can go, getting the hell out of France.

A Respectful Rebel in an Orthodox Land

Meteora Monastery

Sitting in a cave in Meteora Greece, a few days after Fierce Light has screened at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.  A soft rain has driven me off the purple, yellow white flower speckled mountain trail.   Like Mount Athos, Meteora is a land of towering ancient greek orthodox monasteries. Unlike Athos, women are allowed here, and there is even a convent,  named St. Stefanos.  

Although I am not a Christian (I was raised a Baha’i, used to call myself a sufi buddhist baha’i punk rocker, but now I simply say I’m a divine human, being),  I have a deep sense of respect for all things holy, and the impetus behind the religious calling.  I make a point of trying to cut through the dogma, to the deep devotion that often resonates profoundly in places of worship. I seek the true mystics, the ones who’s hearts are on fire, who have transcended the rigidity of structures to that place beyond concepts where the source of all that is sizzles. 

Mary

 But always, irony abounds-for example, the orthodox religion were the ones who invented the word dogma (not to mention the word Orthodox).  And of course, for them,  the word  has a positive connotation: it means to be faithful, and to follow the precise pathway to God -just so.  Dogma is seen as a divine security blanket that keeps us from falling astray.

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It is ten years since my previous visit to Athos.  At that time I was wide eyed and innocent, in many ways, a naïve pilgrim embarking on a new journey of discovery.  It was far from the beginning of my spiritual search, but the beginning of my  first hand investigation of the worlds holy places, seeking a path, a system, a doorway into divinity, as I circled the planet, visiting everywhere from the Avebury Stone Circle, Lourdes, Athos, Konya, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya, holy native sites in North America-a wide journey into the heartland of many of the worlds beliefs systems.   In each of these places, I took time to really steep myself in their wisdom, spending time in spiritual retreats inspired by each of the faiths I encountered.

I left that journey with a clear understanding, articulated in Fierce Light:  it is the essence of the worlds religions that matters to me, not the particular form.  Spirituality is beyond form. Way beyond.

A few days later, I find myself wandering through Meteora, where the monasteries perch high atop pinnacles of rock, safe from invaders.  In the past, the only way to enter the monastery was to be hoisted up by rope.   Perhaps too, the devotees feel closer to God, up in the clouds.  

After hours of winding through the awe inspiring moss covered pinnacles, alongside sparkling glades, I climbed the spiralling staircase to one of the monasteries that clings to the rock steeple, impossible stone acrobatics.

Velcrow Meteora

I entered the church, it’s byzantine dome painted with ornate frescos, glittering gold halos and angel wings.  I was greeted by an Orthodox monk dressed from head to toe in black.  I told him I had been to mount athos, an excellent icebreaker in these parts, and asked him to remind me of the greeting: evlogites, which means “bless me!” To which one replies, akirosos (no doubt spelt wrong): I cannot bless but God does, through me.

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He showed me around the church, explaining the significance of the many ikons.   I asked why so many figures are dressed in red, and he explained that red is the god colour, and blue is the colour of the earth, except in the case of Mary – then red is the colour for earth and blue is the colour of God.  Interesting for me, as I am shooting a film called Redvolution: Dare to Disturb the Universe.  It is about the path of  what co-director  Sera Beak calls “red” spirituality – becoming your own spiritual authority, being a spiritual outlaw, truly knowing yourself, your authentic Self.  It is about  embodied spirituality-a passionate, sexy, spirituality that isn’t afraid of ecstasty, that celebrates life, being human, that sees God in all things. 

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Panagea

Meanwhile back in the church…

Transfiguration…metamorphisis….extasis…theosopis…greek words were flying about.  My new monk friend explained that to him extasis -ecstasy-was the stuff of other religions, like the eastern religions, and it was an escape.  Much like our induglence in the “sweets” of life, like women.  Yikes. Clearly the orthodoxy was created by men.  

The orthodox path is about transfiguration, he explained, and metamorphosis-through the correct rituals, prayers, divine love and grace, one clears away ones heart and allows God in.  It is about theosopis, not extasis.  Joining with God not escaping into ecstasy.  

I didn’t argue-I never argue with the faithful – but between you and me, I have to beg to differ.  For me, God is also human, God is also creation, God made all of this amazingness, and I have a hunch She wants nothing more than that we celebrate this magnificence. Her magnificence.  With depth, and divinity, for sure, but celebration nonetheless.  And that  celebration can be joyful, it can be ecstatic, and it can be quiet, it can be sober.  It can be both/and.  God doesn’t fit well into boxes of this not that.  God has a bigger palette than that.  God wants us to go for it, to burn bright, to be fully embodied and fully ecstatic, all at the same time, in waves and particles, particles and waves – both/and.   That’s my two cents, just the tip of my tongues worth.  But I kept it there, on the tip.  It’s not for me to argue with a monk, but to listen respectfully, and take what he has to offer, and leave what doesn’t fit behind, in that holy place.  With respect for his calling, his commitment and his sincere love.

As we were leaving, I told him perhaps one day I would return to Mount Athos-it is a beautiful, holy place.
“Yes”, he said, “but the real holy place is right here”. He tapped my heart, “wherever we are.”

I couldn’t agree more.

“Pray for me” he said, as I stepped outside the monastery gate, into the sunshine. 

Now, as I walk through the stone trails, lined with purple flowers, sun glistening, flocks of birds swooping and gliding, I can feel the presence of divinity everywhere.  It is in the very air. As I walk in the midst of the sublime beauty of creation, it is clear that this is my communion.  And that for me, as a spiritual rebel, I will always be a little, and sometimes a lot, unorthodox.

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A Pilgrims Progress

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Thessaloniki, Greece

Today I introduced Fierce Light at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, here in Greece. I recounted my last visit to this lovely sea side city, back in 1999, when I was shooting Scared Sacred, the film about my journey to the ground zero’s of the world, searching for stories of transformation in the face of crisis. At the time I was facing my own crisis. First my girlfriend at the time decided to leave the project, and return home. Then my video camera was stolen from my car in France. Then the car itself was taken from me. I was left on the street in Italy, with nothing but the shirt on my back – even my coat was gone. I decided to do what any destitute pilgrim in that part of the world would do: I headed for the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos.

I traveled here, to Thessaloniki, where I was blessed enough to be granted a pilgrims pass on short notice – normally it takes six months, but there had been a cancellation, so I was admitted immediately. Then I went to an internet café, sent an email to a millionare I knew, explaining my situation and asking if she would consider supporting Scared Sacred, and then took the bus and boat to Mount Athos, where I went on one of the most powerful 10 day personal retreats of my life, walking from monastery to monastery along the craggy cliffs, following the directives of my inner voice, meditating constantly, and meeting some truly remarkable mystics, as well as confronting the staunch dogma and structures of Orthodoxy, and the patriarchs. Talk about patriarchy, and power over – this was the birthplace of it! But the journey was truly profound and moving.

When I returned, I received an email from the millionare – yes, she would fund the film. And so the journey continued – with an added passenger. A little black kitten named Hara, who I rescued from being abandoned on the street, rejected from Mount Athos because – she was a girl. I ended up traveling through Greece, Turkey, Israel and India with Hara, finally finding her a home with friends in Bhopal.
In honour of my return to this land, over the next few weeks I am going to share excerpts from my journal from both that journey to mount Athos, and the journey I will undertaking in the coming week, to Meteora and Delphi – home of the ancient oracles, where the entranceway reads, “Know Thyself.”

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When we see each other, when we trust each other,
there is no need for ego, no reason for ego,
no possibility for ego.

-Father Archdimandrite Dionysius

Mount Athos, Greece, 1999

The bus winds down a final hillside, arriving at the port town of Ouranopolous. At the far end of a concrete dock an iron freighter awaits. I join the bustling crowd of pilgrims and monks boarding the ship. The monks come in a variety of flavours. Most wear baggy black pants covered in long black cotton dresses, topped out with a decent black coat, or perhaps a well-worn black vest. Headgear is a black hat, tall and rounded, velvet for those well up in the hierarchy, simpler cotton for those in between and sometimes just a black toque for the more independent of the monks. The occasional shaggy character in rough-hewn clothes is most likely one of the hermits, forced from his lair, perhaps for medical reasons.
A sign posted on the dock warns that:

1. Only Those Authorized May Visit Mount Athos.
2. No Women Are Allowed.
3. No Video Cameras Are Allowed.
4. No Religious Items Are To Be Taken Off The Peninsula.
If any of the above laws are not respected, severe penal action will be taken by the legal body of the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos.

Don’t mess with the monks. Legend claims that Mother Mary declared Athos her land, off limits to all other females. There is even an edict barring female animals from the Republic, but that has proven difficult to enforce, wild animals being notoriously disrespectful of laws. There are whispers of ancient scandals in the land, stories of women sneaking in, some disguised as monks, living secretly inside the republic for years.

The captain stands on the wide metal gang plank and inspects our pilgrims’ certificates, full-page parchment, suitable for framing, necessary for travel. Glorious shafts of light cut through the clouds in the direction of Holy Mountain. We pull into Daphne, the one place of free enterprise on the peninsula, a small port town that serves as the nexus point for boats and paths to the monasteries, Sketes and hermitages.

The living arrangements in Athos vary from the large monasteries, in which everyone lives, eats and worships communally, to Sketes, small communities in which each house has their own church. In the houses there are generally several monks and one elder, or sometimes a larger group of monks. Scattered about the peninsula, but particularly at the very tip, are isolated hermits, who live in caves or simple rock huts. The most ascetic of these subsist on a tiny amount of bread and water, sleeping on rough mats on the cold ground, dedicating their lives to prayer, chanting for hours every day.

The gangplank crashes onto the dock and we step into the Byzantine era. It is a crowded soup of monks, all with long beards, hermits with their grizzled faces and walking sticks, dozens of dirty cats meowing sadly, searching for tidbits of food. A group of young monks stand at end of the dock throwing bits of bread to a school of fish. A monk sits on a wall in front of the one restaurant selling hand crocheted black prayer bracelets. The tiny shops are crowded with icons, images of Jesus and Mary, laundry soap, rosaries, and cakes of black incense.

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I lean against an ancient stone wall that lines the ocean, watching the bustle on the one dirt main street of town. A portly older man sits down near me. He seems a little lost.
“Is this where one finds the boats that go to the south?” he asks, in a thick English accent.
“I don’t really know-I’m trying to figure out that myself.”

His name is Martin, and he’s searching for a boat to Dionysius Monastery.

“I’ve come to have a look in on my nephew. He just up and became a monk two years ago. Strangest thing! Didn’t speak a word of Greek either. His mother can’t come to look in on him, of course, and there’s no father, so I’m elected. To tell you the truth, our Claude was always one of life’s misfits. Ended up bumming around Europe, playing music on the streets to get by. Just barely getting by. One by one all the strings on his guitar broke, until there he was, playing with only one string. His earnings got too thin, so he wound up at some kind of a center where they would give him food and he would help around their farm. All he had to do was go to church services. And there he found God. Ended up in England, living with a Nun, and then met this Greek Orthodox chap. I think they recruited him. Numbers are down here in the monasteries and they need fresh blood. Hard to keep the place up and funded if there’s no one staying. And of course, the developers are just waiting to hop right in the second the place is vacated-this would be a prime tourist attraction.”

A boat pulls up to the dock and we are able to determine that it goes to Dionysius. I decide to follow Martin – I can begin my walk South from there. Although I don’t have a reservation, I’m hoping that showing up with a monk’s relative will help. We line up, pay our three hundred drachmas on board, and take a seat inside.

“There’s one of the head boys, I’d say.”
Martin points to an older monk with a neatly trimmed gray beard. Trailing along like ducklings is a retinue of ardent young monks, carrying his bags. They sit down at a bench near us, immediately launching into a basket of bread, apples and cheese, chewing with gusto.
“Are you Catholic?”
“Oh no, I’m just a good old prottey. Protestant. Bit of a heretic really. Still, I respect it all well enough. I like to go to churches and cathedrals when I’m traveling. Like in Spain, at the church of Santiago. Although, I have to say, I had my wallet swiped while we were in there.”
“In the church? Is nothing sacred?’
“Yeah, right in the bloody church. The nerve of that bloke. Makes you wonder about human nature really, that someone would stoop so low. So what brings you here?”
“I’m making a documentary called ScaredSacred. I’m traveling to the Scared and Sacred places of the world.”
“What do you mean by Scared?”
“Places like Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Bhopal, Afghanistan and so on.”
“You know, it’s strange, but I’ve been thinking of going to Auschwitz. Not sure why really.”
“It certainly brings it all home. It makes it real. I went before dawn. As the sun came up an old man appeared, with a single rose, which he placed on the gas oven. The whole concentration camp is maintained as a museum. They encourage people to come, because humans are too good at forgetting. And we need to remember.”
“I think I will go. God, what a project. Tell me, what are you searching for in these places?”
“I want to try to understand how it is that some people are able to go through the darkest days of human history, and find a way through to the other side; perhaps even transform the crisis into a breakthrough. I don’t know if you are feeling this, but I have a sense that there are dark days ahead. Maybe all this millennium anxiety is part of it, but I think even without it, there’s pretty good evidence that this little planet is in for a shake up. Going to these places in a way is like time traveling into a possible future we might all be facing. I want to bring back stories of hope, and strategies for creating hope, for transforming the scared into the sacred.”
“And the Sacred places?”
“I want to experience the faiths of the world first hand and try to understand their core, their essence. Perhaps at their holiest places, this will come through with greater clarity. I believe there is a current which runs through them all, and I want to touch that. I want to know, really know, what the sacred is, and see if I can find it, in both the places of light, and the places of darkness.”
“I’ll say it again, God, what a project. Hey, look at that!”

Looming over us is the spectacular monastery of Simone Petra, a stone fortress clinging to the top of a craggy cliff, a thousand feet above. Construction cranes tower even higher above the monastery. The entire peninsula has received a large influx of cash, and many of the monasteries are undergoing re-constructive surgery. We pull in briefly, just long enough for a handful of monks and pilgrims to scurry off. Further along we pass the low-lying monastery of Gregorious, spread out near the coast. It too is surrounded in scaffolding, workers moving here and there with wheelbarrows. Ten minutes later we arrive at Dionysius. The boat bashes into the concrete dock, the gangplank is lowered, and we disembark behind the important looking monk and his retinue.

“Looks like we’re being blessed with a visit from the top dog,” Martin whispers.

The endless sweep of stone steps proves tiring for Martin, who has a bad foot. I convince him to let me take one handle of his extremely heavy bag.
“I don’t know why it’s so heavy, it’s really only clothes.”
The Elder sings a mournful hymn as he leads the procession. Behind him a monk chants a sonorous prayer in Greek, echoed by the group. Another runs ahead to videotape. It’s a major visit, to be sure. We pass under a high stone archway into the monastery complex. Above the entranceway, a painting of Mother Mary welcomes us in, gold leaf halo glittering.

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True Life Confession

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I have a true life confession to make: I woke up this morning with Daryl Hannah’s pig in my bed. Snuggled right up. I have no recollection of the night before. Let me say one thing in my defense- Molly, the pot bellied pig, is a discerning, clean, pig, even if she is well….a bit of a pig. And even if she does have a pot belly.

(Editors note: just learned that technically Molly is not a pot bellied pig – she is a micro pig. Daryl rescued her from an unhappy life of being tossed from foster home to foster home).

I’ve been staying at Daryl’s place for the last couple of days, in the wake of my new feature documentary, Fierce Light’s U.S. premiere, at the Palm Springs international film festival. Daryl is featured in the film as an eco-activist, during the struggle to save South Central Farms, North America’s largest urban communty garden, from the developers bulldozers.

Her  home is the stellar opposite of the usual movie stars pad – it’s in a treed valley, that she helped restore to its natural state, with a stone house, and surrounding smaller buildings, including a yurt, and a teepee. Her living room is outside, with a carpet of living moss. I stayed in the yurt last time, but this time around I’m in the main house, where the pet pig roams.

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According to Daryl, the nomadic way of living is in fact the most sustainable. You leave a light foot print. Your structures do not destroy the earth – you step lightly, camp lightly, and move on, with a minimum of stuff, a minimum impact on the ground. I’ve always had a thing for nomadic structures. Maybe it’s because I’m such a nomad myself. I’ve lived in houseboats, and wall tents, cabins and campers, caves and squats, rooftops and hammocks, and the modern nomads half way houses of artists residencies and film festival hotel rooms.

Daryl’s green oasis is home to a marvelous menagerie – two Alpacas, llama like beasts from South America, an assortment of rescued fowl with names like Andy Warhol and White Cloud, a cat named Flaco and a dog named Toto, and the aforementioned pig, Molly. Recently she snuck half the crowd into a motel room en route to Colorado – well just two dogs, the cat and the pig. But still.

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All the animals have been rescued from scenarios in which they were abandoned or in danger of getting killed. Flaco, worlds most friendly cat, was once a feral cat, and the alpacas were going to be killed, cause they weren’t up to snuff as show animals – one had the right bangs, but the wrong coat, and the other had the right coat but the wrong bangs. Somehow or other, these animals find a second chance at life in Daryls place.

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Daryls love of animals, and her intense love of nature has inspired her long and deep commitment to environmental activism. She has come to the stark realization that the planet is in a state of emergency, and the sanest response to that is to put everything you can, into trying to saving it. Parallel to her acting career, in which she became famous for her roles in such classics as Splash, Bladerunner and  Kill Bill, Daryl has become an outspoken voice in defense of planet earth, as well as a committed activist. Daryl is always appearing at conferences and events, speaking out for sustainability and environmental concerns. She runs a regular on-line Vlog, dhlovelife.com in which you can follow her journey to the far corner of the worlds, searching out stories of sustainability in action.


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Daryl Hannah and John Quigely, arrested at South Central Farms

Daryl has also been involved in direct action, most famously at the encampment in defense of South Central Farms, the largest urban garden in North America. When the call went out to help save the beautiful urban oasis from the developers bulldozer, Daryl found herself tree sitting (despite her fear of heights!) alongside veteran activists John Quigely and Julia Butterfly Hill, well known for her two year tree sit high atop the ancient red wood tree Luna, which she suceeded in saving.

I first met Daryl after she saw Scared Sacred during it’s theatrical release. It’s part of the Fierce Light Trilogy, the story of my five year journey to ground zero’s of the world, in search of stories of transformation. She called me up out of the blue to say how much she loved the film, and offered to help in any way she could.

A year later, she phoned me from South Central Farms, where she had gone to film for dhlovelife.com She ended up not only filming the story, but becoming part of it. She convinced me that this was an important story, one that would fit perfectly into my new project, Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action. Cher Hawrysh, my producer, and I had to make a quick decision – we had yet to raise a dime for the film, but it was clearly a breaking, powerful story. We decided to cover it, and I flew down from Toronto to join in the action to try and save the farm. This story became the back bone for Fierce Light. John Quigely called the struggle to save the farm the most important story of the last decade.

Watch out for Daryl over the next few years – she’s on a mission to throw a wrench into the machinery that’s destroying mother earth, and we need all the life loving warriors for the earth we can muster right now.  Her central message is:  Love Life.   If we start from that place, everything else makes sense.  From a place of love, of what Matthew Fox calls “biophilia”  from  a place of life centeredness, we will find the resources to stand up and be part of the solution.   A force of positivity in contrast to the forces of necrophilia – the death forces of the Industrial Growth Society.    This is the time to stand up for this beautiful world that we are a part of, that is part of us.  We have the tremendous honour to have been born at a time of utter crisis, and have the opportunity to rise to the occasion, and reap all the incredible boons stepping into  your true self offers – finding your purpose, your own calling in this time of crisis.   

Step up, step out, and let your fierce light shine, for the love of life. 

 

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~      ~      ~

Watch Daryls Vlogs about the action to save South Central Farms

Learn more about Daryl and South Central Farms  on the Fierce Light website. 

Truth is a Pathless Land

“Because I am free, unconditioned, whole, not the part, not the relative, but the whole Truth that is eternal, I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free, not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect. Rather should they be free from all fears – from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself.” – Krishnamurti

 

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I just spent the weekend in a Zen retreat, with Roshi Enkyo O’hara, of the Village Zendo in New York. My friends Michael Stone and Michelle McAdorey run a meditation center here in Toronto called The Centre of Gravity  and lucky for us, have been inviting her up once a year to lead a retreat.

I first came upon Roshi Enkyo through a remarkable series of synchronicities.  In 2000 I was in Hiroshima, shooting  Scared Sacred, my feature documentary based on my journey to the ground zero’s of the world.  Scared Sacred is inspired by the meditation practice  of Tonglen, the practice of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion.  

While I was filming the ceremonies on the anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, I met Daniel, a Zen monk from New York City.  In fact, turns out he was the first married ordained gay Zen monk in North America.  Daniel and I were both at Hiroshima for a similar reason. He was doing a series of poems and photographs about searching for light in places of darkness.

A year later, I found myself in New York City, in the wake of 9.11, at a reading of poets for peace.  That night I filmed  Ann Deaver Smith quoting Professor Cornell West on the difference between hope and optimism: “optimism is based on the notion that there’s enough evidence that allows us to think that things are going to be better. But hope – hope is saying,  it doesn’t look good at all – so we’re going to make a leap of faith to create new possibilities based on new visions that allow us to engage in heroic actions against the odds.  That’s hope!”  

That quote was in  the film for a while, but I finally it cut out.  I still miss it.  I compensate by reading the quote aloud at every Scared Sacred q & a.

The walls of the Cooper Union Building were decorated with poems by children about 9.11.  The little ones were there, buzzing with excitement about their poems being displayed.  I asked one of the parents if I could interview some of them, and she said I would have to talk to their teacher.  She pointed him out across the room.  It was Daniel.  

Later I talked to him about why I was in New York City – continuing my journey to the Ground Zero’s of the world in search of stories of hope.  He told me of his Zen teacher – Roshi Enkyo.  He described her as a remarkable invidual, someone who is both deeply spiritual, but also deeply engaged in the world, committed to activism, to creating positive change in a world of suffering.  She is  a member of  the Zen Peacemakers Order, and does a lot of work with AIDs activism.   But right now, in the midst of 9.11, her Zendo had become a place of refuge and peace activism.  It was only two blocks from the twin towers.   A few days later I was in front of Roshi Enkyo, interviewing her for Scared Sacred. Her words became the heart of that 9.11 scene in the film.

Over the years Roshi Enkyo has appeared in my life again and again, as a wonderful, brilliant, challenging and heart expanding spiritual teacher.  I did a life changing ten day retreat with her in New Mexico, at Upaya,  with Roshi Joan Halifax, I visit the Village Zendo whenever I can in NYC, and have sat two retreats with her here in Toronto at the centre of gravity.  This weekend I realized she is the most consistent teacher in my life.  

I am not a joiner.  This is something I have realized, and made peace with.  For the longest time, on my spiritual journey, I assumed that eventually I would settle into a single path and make that my home.  I can see the benefits – focus, discipline, the ability to really go the distance with support.  A solid container within which to work. Community. The vastness of a lineage.  

When I was in my twenties I was a student of Pir Vilayat,the wonderful Sufi saint of the Sufi Order International.  At one gathering Pir was doing initiations into the order, and I decided to join and receive my Sufi name.  When I came before Pir, he asked me what religion I was raised in.  I said the  Baha’i Faith.   He said, “oh, same thing as Sufism.  There’s no need for you to join.”  And that was that.  Although I was no longer a Baha’i, I was also not a Sufi. It was the last time I tried to join anything.

Today I am unapologetic – joining just is not for me- perhaps I’m  just too much of a spiritual rebel, too much of a trouble maker to rest in any one container.  I have this urge (ever growing) to continually blow up boxes.

But I’m not so arrogant to think I can do it all myself – I welcome guidance, I seek guidance, in all it’s forms. So it was a great moment of recognition for me this weekend, that I do have a teacher I can count on with the Roshi.  Even if I will never join her order, there is a source of wisdom in her, and the core teachings of Zen, that will always serve as a touchstone for me.

Not that those core teachings offer easy solace or any form of escape.  Zen asks us to stay right in the thick of things.  In the midst, the middle, right between form and emptiness.  Between the material world and the boundless ground of being.  Right where the friction is.  In a state of freshness, openess, a comfort with “Not-Knowing.”   Moment by moment, not knowing what’s next.  Spontaneous becoming, this is what faith is to me.   

Roshi focussed on the heart sutra this weekend, a deep deep well of wisdom – which demands us to let go of wisdom itself, to let go of the path, to let it all go.   No attachment. No grasping. Let go.

And in that letting go, a vast spaciousness occurs.  And in that space, life itself is renewed.  Fearlessly. The path forming below your feet with every step.

 

~                          ~                       ~

doorani

The original Scared Sacred was a interactive web site, done in 1995 at the Banff Centre for the Arts.  As part of the site, I did a peace called “Cyber Limbo”, about the pope’s elimination of limbo.   The piece culminated  in an excerpt from the Heart Sutra.   You read it by scrolling down…