What’s God Have to Do With It?

I recently gave a talk at the Ryerson United Church, a place renouned for it’s progressive congregation. Although I am not a Christian, I dig Jesus Christ – He was most definitely a Fierce Love revolutionary. However, I am deeply saddened by the atrocities that have been committed in His name. Even yesterday, a doctor was murdered by a fundamentalist Christian. Can you imagine JC killing someone who disagreed with him? I don’t think so.

But a tremendous amount of good has also been done in the name of the Prince of Peace, and I’ll take goodness wherever I can find it. We need people of all walks of life, of all faiths, and non-faiths, to come together now, and work towards a future of harmony and sustainability. The time for division, for us and them – ing, has come to an end. It’s time for unity. Which does not mean sameness! Unity is strengthened by diversity.

I actually quite enjoyed talking to a congregation of spiritually focused, socially conscious people, even if most of the rituals didn’t have a resonance for me. Because I felt an authentic celebration of community, an authentic celebration of Love, and an authentic love of God.

I don’t use the G word that often, because it has been so abused and confused and misused in todays society. Some would prefer to just skip it altogether. When I do use it, I tend to write “G~d,” because that leaves some of the mystery intact.

G~d is not an old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud. G~d is not mean, judgmental or short tempered. G~d is not a human being, with all our limitations and emotions.

But G~d is something I sense, I feel, I Know, and I value. G~d offers me a sense of higher meaning – G~d for me is the totalility of all that is, was and ever will be, the “I Am” that shines behind the small me, the vast Field that connects everything, and the sum total of those connections. The source of it all.

I communicate with G~d all the time, and in fact, when I’m running a little ragged, when I’m pushing myself a little too hard, all I need to do to recharge deeply is to pause for a breath or two, center myself, and invite the divine in. Reconnect with my highest calling, my highest motivation, the source.

My understanding is rooted in a direct connection, a direct Knowing, or “gnosis.” It is not something I have read about or heard about, or speculate about. It is intrinsic to who I am, a constant wellspring of Love that brings meaning, celebration, and endless reservoirs of positive energy to my life. For me, G~d is the life force herself, G~d is Love herself.

At the end of our discussion, the minister at the United Church asked me if there was anything I wanted to add, and I thought for a moment, and said, “I’d just like to say the word God out loud, because so often, in my public life, I don’t use that word, because I don’t want to be misunderstood. So let me just say it now, three times: God, God, God. Yay!!!”

It felt good to say God. It’s a word that has to be reclaimed from all who misuse it, from the George Bush’s and the Jimmy Swaggerts, from the Jihadists and the fundamentalists of every creed.

But a relationship with G~d is not for everyone, and is not a necessary part of spirituality. You can get by fine without it – there are other ways to find meaning. The debate over the “existence of G~d” can become a smokescreen and an energy sucking diversion, and for that reason, I don’t engage in the debate. It’s enough just to Love- yourself, each other, and this planet. If we could just start from there, everything else will fall into place.

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
Share

A Beautiful Stew

“The Chefs of G~d

are cooking up a special stew

Just for you.”

~ Rumi

fire-drummers

Who are you? I mean really.

Sounds like a simple question, but have you ever actually asked? I’ve posted on the subject before, and maybe once I know the answer, I’ll be done with the exploration. But that might not happen till the day I die! Or maybe it’s just at that precise moment, after my life has flashed before my eyes, that I’ll finally know just who I really am. Ha.

Amazing how we much we take it for granted, how many of us go through life without even pausing to ask that basic question. In my Fierce Light workshops, I often use a simple Zen excercise I learned from one of my inspirators, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara of the Village Zendo. In this partner practice, one person asks the other, “Who are you?” and after listening to the answer, says, with a little bow, “Thank you.” For five minutes. Which is actually a very very long time.

When I first tried it, I felt as if this practice expanded me, from my smaller self, to my larger, larger and still larger Self. At first, the obvious answers emerged- I’m a man, a filmmaker, a son, an artist, a sufi buddhist baha’i punk rocker – all the usual descriptors….but eventually I ran out, and things began to go further afield. I discovered that I am You, I am a blade of grass, a speck of dust, a dentist in millwaukee (that one surprised me!), a murderer, a lover of Love, an ant, a whale, everything that is was and could be…all of the above, and none of the above.

So who am I? I am a gorgeous stew, of the Great Big Enormous Beyond Enormity All Everything Totality, spiced up with the particulars of my souls journey ~ all I have been, known, seen, everything I do, think, feel and love. Especially all that I Love.

My unique ingredients are not who I am though. Rather, I am the dance of my elements, of mind body spirit and shadow, impermanent, ever changing, but rooted somehow in an essential Beingness, that is Me.

Sometimes we think we know someone, or we think we love someone, but what we really know or love, is just one small aspect of their stew. Perhaps the part we lack, or the part we celebrate in ourselves. Sometimes what we love is not even in their stew at all – it’s part of us that we’re projecting onto another. Yikes, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Love is about truly Seeing. Whether we are talking about another person, or ourselves, we cannot love unless we see, honestly, clearly, with an open, forgiving heart. Because we are all stews, it’s okay that part of our unique concoction includes our broken bits. We all have broken bits! In fact, those crunchy, gristly shadowy parts of us, with the proper mixing and spicing – add a dash of compassion, half a cup of letting go, three tablespoons of forgiveness – can be some of the most nutritious parts of our stew. The minerals and vitamins.

But we need to see those bits, bring them into the light, embrace them, release them, and allow them to be part of us. Both/and. Sometimes we need to release the shadows, sometimes we just need to shine the light into the basements of our consciousness, and see what’s there. If we try to repress the shadow bits of us, or deny them, they lurk around in our unconscious, sediment at the bottom of the pot, not properly integrated, and they can throw the mixture off.

We are continually seasoning our stews, and as we become more conscious, we can decide just what the flavour is we’re going for. With consciousness, we can align ourselves with the great Chef some call G~d, and start bringing forth those seasonings that we intuit we are here, on this plane, this planet, right now, to discover.

What spice, what ingredient, what pinch of this, or dash of that, would bring you into harmony? Or put you into the perfect off-kilter place you need to be right now- in case you are a little too balanced? Perhaps, in fact, there is nothing you need, other than what you have in this moment. Phew, that would be quite a feat – to accept who we are, and work with what we have.

More than anything, the key to being a tasty stew is truly integrating your ingredients, letting them flow together, play off each other, bring out the best in you, the whole You. It might seem unlikely – how can that broken heart ever be part of my flavouring, surely it’s going to turn me sour – but really, the choice is yours. As Viktor Frankl said, in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, we can lose everything except for one thing – our freedom to choose how we respond, to whatever comes our way.

The Chefs of G~d are cooking up a special stew – named You. Our small, individual stews are each a part of the Great Stew that constitutes all of creation, in fact all that is manifest and unmanifest, seen and unseen. Each one of us is an essential ingredient. This world, this universe, would not be the same without you. Thank-you for the vitamins, the minerals, the spices, the salty sour sweetness you bring to the mix.

Maybe it’s time to turn up the burner, and bring those juices of creation and destruction, tragedy and comedy, eros and pathos, compassion and ecstasy, love and limitless possibility, to a boil! What do you have to lose?

fire

Spirit In Action

“The whole human species is on trial now. These next few decades will determine whether or not our species is a locust species or a bumblebee species. We’ll either scour this planet to the bones and destroy our own civilization and most other species, or we will find a way to bring ourselves back into harmony with our mother, with the earth.” – Van Jones

postcard_front

We live in a time when things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster. There are two graphs, building steam and momentum – the upward graph of the forces of life, and the downward graph, representing the forces of death and extinction. These are the two dominant trends that humanity, and our innocent blue planet, are facing: what visionary Matthew Fox calls the forces of biophilia, and the forces of necrophilia. This time of raging wars, financial collapse, environmental devastation and fear mongering is also a time of tremendous possibility, when we all have the opportunity to step into our true selves and become part of the tidal wave of change that is sweeping the globe.

For the last few years I have been traveling the planet, shooting a feature documentary called “Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action.” The film is now complete, and is starting to come out into the world right now! It’s about the rising power of “spiritual activism”, contemporary stories of what Gandhi called “Soul Force,” what Martin Luther King called “Love In Action,” what we’re calling “Fierce light.” It is the power of action, combined with the depth of Love. I have been seeking out those visionaries and every day heroes who are working to transform themselves and this world of crisis, and I have discovered enormous cause for hope.

Spiritual Activism is not about religion, it is not about any form of dogma, it is activism that comes from the heart, not just the head, activism that is compassionate, positive, kind, fierce and transformative. And fun! Being spiritual, and being an activist, can be a lot of fun – in fact, it should be a lot of fun. Being a spiritual activist means taking our part in creating change, with a spirit of positivity, and a balance of interdependence and self determination. Nothing could be more inspiring and more rewarding than being the change we want to see in the world, within and without.

For me, true spirituality is a fresh, living truth. Ideology is frozen spirituality, whereas I see spirituality as the evolutionary impulse itself– it is evolving and adapting along with the ever changing context of our lives. It is still rooted in timeless truths, but truth as inner knowing, not external imposition. Spirituality also involves that which is beyond the immediate senses – the unseen. This includes emotions, feelings, energy, and the openness to possibilities beyond the material.

Spirituality involves taking a ‘depth’ perspective, being willing to look under the surface, and beyond the narrow confines of the strictly rational mind, to a consideration of as many dimensions as possible. An integrated approach, which includes your own perspective, the perspective of the other person, the community, the planet, and the universal, divine perspective – weave all that together, and you have a spiritual perspective, a perspective that recognizes the interconnectedness of all that is. This is a naturally heart expanding perspective, which is why we can say that G~d is love – when we see ourselves as part of everything, the natural response is one of love.

Leela Kumar, the Dalit human rights activist featured in Fierce Light, defines spirituality as community – recognizing that we are all part of a greater whole, a vast and interconnected system of interconnecting systems. There is a sense of awe that settles into your being when you consider this truth deeply. And out of this, emerges a sense of divine play – a joyous celebration of the miracle of creation.

I believe we are seeing a true Zeitgeist emerging, a new form of change making that begins in the human heart, and radiates outwards. I’ve seen it from New Zealand to Vietnam, from Africa to Washington, from Mexico to Sri Lanka to South Central Los Angeles. I saw it in the tremendous surge of grass roots support that brought Barack Obama into the Whitehouse, a “yes we can” spirit that captured that imagination of a nation tired of inauthenticity and spin. Tired of a politics of hate and division. The whole world celebrated Obama’s victory. The whole world is hungry for change.

Everywhere I travel, I have found people rising up with a series of shared values. Paul Hawkens, author of Blessed Unrest, calls it the largest undocumented mass movement in history – humanity’s immune response to a planet in crisis. He has set out to do the research, and has discovered that millions of individuals and organizations are answering the call to compassionate action, a call that is needed to transform planetary suicide into a time of rebirth and regeneration. It is what Alice Walker calls “The Human Sunrise,” the incredible power of human beings stepping into their authentic selves and stepping up to take responsibility for the change they want to see in the world.

What’s so wonderful about this movement is that it doesn’t have to require anything dramatic. Small changes are just as important. When billions of people make small changes, this results in enormous change. We don’t have to join anything to be part of this wave of transformation, we don’t have to sign up, pay dues, or get a funny name. We can if we so desire – there are many organizations that reflect these shared values – but if you’re not the joining type, if you’re someone like me, you still have an important part to play. This exciting transformation begins in our own hearts, when we dare to care. Each and every person has a role to play in this profound shift in consciousness, a shift from the small ‘me’ to the great ‘we.’ This is the evolution of activism, and the evolution of spirituality – a revolution of the heart.

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.

img00077-20090324-1509

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.

monk21

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. 

img00098-20090325-12521
Molotov
dsc00108

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.

dsc00103

A Pilgrims Progress

redcamerman

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.”

_____

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.

church-and-sun

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.

redmary

Grateful Mornings

awake

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.