You gotta put one foot in front of the other And lead with love Put one foot in front of the other And lead with love
(repeat all 4 lines)
Verses (call and response) Don’t give up hope You’re not alone Don’t you give up Keep movin on
Lift up your eyes Don’t you despair Look up ahead The path is there
I know you’re scared And I’m scared too But here I am Right next to you
Last chorus: repeat last line two more times
Melanie DeMore is a vocal activist born in the Bronx with a present home in Oakland. She is a solo performer herself, facilitates vocal workshops for professional and community-based choral groups and has taught her “Sound Awareness” program in schools, prisons, and youth organizations in the US, Canada, Cuba and New Zealand. DeMore was a director of the Oakland Youth Chorus for 10 years and is a founding member of the critically-acclaimed vocal ensemble “Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir” and is also a long-standing member of “The Threshold Choir.” She is on the faculty at California Institute of Integral Studies and at UC Berkeley.
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world. Then we took it for granted. Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind. Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head. And once Doubt ruptured the web, All manner of demon thoughts Jumped through— We destroyed the world we had been given For inspiration, for life— Each stone of jealousy, each stone Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light. No one was without a stone in his or her hand. There we were, Right back where we had started. We were bumping into each other In the dark. And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know How to live with each other. Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another And shared a blanket. A spark of kindness made a light. The light made an opening in the darkness. Everyone worked together to make a ladder. A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world, And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children, And their children, all the way through time— To now, into this morning light to you.
Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Ms. Harjo is the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States.
The author of nine books of poetry, including the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise, several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs, Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior. As a musician and performer, Harjo has produced seven award-winning music albums including her newest, I Pray for My Enemies. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Witnessing a growing wasteland, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee seeks the threshold that could bring us back to the place where the land sings—to a deep ecology of consciousness that returns our awareness to a fully animate world.
I LIKE TO WALK early and am often alone on the beach, the ocean and the birds my only companions, the tiny sanderlings running back and forth chasing the waves. Some days the sun rising over the headlands makes a pathway of golden light to the shore. Today, the fog was dense and I could just see two figures walking in the distance, until they vanished into the mist, leaving a pair of footprints in the sand until the incoming tide washed them away. It made me wonder what will remain in a hundred years, when my grandchildren’s grandchildren are alive? Will the rising sea have covered the dunes? Climate crisis will by then be a constant partner, and so many of today’s dramas will be lost in a vaster landscape of primal change.
Sensing this reshaping of the seashore, where the waves roll in from across the Pacific, makes my mind stretch across horizons. How this land and our own lives have evolved. One story of science says it was only seventy thousand years ago that humans left Africa on their long migrations across continents, arriving here on the Pacific coast just thirteen thousand years ago, when the Bering Strait was dry land and not ocean; or possibly they came earlier in boats down the coast.1 But how was life then, long before the written word, when we traveled as small groups, communities of hunters and gatherers? What was the consciousness of our ancestors, before agriculture, long before cities or our industrial way of life, and what did we lose as we settled the land, and then forgot it was sacred?
They may have carried few possessions, but their consciousness contained a close relationship to the land, to its plants and animals, to the patterns of the weather and the seasons, which they needed for their survival. Fully awake with all of their senses, they had a knowing, passed down through generations of living close to the ground, even as they migrated across the continent. Today we are mostly far from the land and its diverse inhabitants. Cut off from these roots, we have become more stranded than we realize, and while our oncoming climate crisis may present us with many problems, we hardly know how to reconnect, to return our consciousness to the living Earth. It is as if, having traveled to the far corners of our planet, we now find ourselves in an increasing wasteland without knowing how to return to where the rivers flow, to where the plants grow wild. And unlike our ancestors, we cannot just pack up and move on, because this wasteland surrounds us wherever we look, like the increasing mounds of plastic and other toxic material we leave in our wake.
And sadly, tragically, our consciousness has become divorced not just from the land under our feet but also from the unseen worlds that surround us. Anyone who looks at the animals in the Paleolithic cave paintings in southern France with a receptive awareness can see that the physical and spirit world are infused together. Those early artists were imaging not just physical animals but spirit beings, shamanic, magical. This is part of their mystery and intensity. And this knowing continued for thousands of years, whether experienced in relation with the powerful beings that for the Native Americans are present in all natural things, invisible but everywhere, or expressed through veneration of the kami, the sacred spirits that exist in nature, mountains, rivers, earthquakes, thunder, animals, and people, which until recently belonged to an elemental Japanese consciousness.2 For most of our history the inner and outer worlds were woven together, as shown in the myths and stories that defined our existence.
Have we wandered so far from the source that we cannot return?
Walking the shoreline, watching the little birds searching for insects, my awareness drawn to the sky, the sea, and the shifting sands, I wonder at this gulf between the simple, magical awareness of our ancestors, and our present-day mind, as cluttered as our consumer world. What has happened to our consciousness, now divorced from the multidimensional existence that used to sustain us? Did we need to exile ourselves from this primal place of belonging? And now, as we tear apart the web of life with our machines and images of progress, is there a calling to return, to open the door that has been closed by our rational selves?
When the fog is dense and you can only see a few yards in front of your feet, the world around becomes more elemental. Watching each wave come to the shore is like watching the breath. Sometimes my feet become wet from the rising water, or I move further up the beach. I try to keep my mind empty, part of the sky and the waves, simple, essential. Here nothing is separate, and the inner and outer worlds are closer.
I cannot return completely to a world in which spirit and matter are always united—I carry too many images from a culture that has denied that the inner world even exists. But I can live closer to this threshold, this place where the waves and the sand meet. I can recognize how easily our defined world can be washed away—how soon the waters will rise. And when many of our toys of triviality, the “things” that clutter our houses and awareness, are lost in the tsunami of climate change, I can be like the Moken, the nomadic boat people of East Asia, who knew to go to deeper water when the waters rose. They remembered the old stories, the old ways, the wisdom of their ancestors, and so their boats rode out the storm—unlike the fishermen who remained close to the shore and perished in the tsunami.
Always there is this primary place of belonging in the land and in our souls. It used to be a part of the way we lived, how we walked and breathed. Crossing oceans and continents, we carried it with us, a lodestone for our existence. For thousands and thousands of years, it was an essential part of us, never forgotten, because how could you forget the feel of the rain on your skin, or the sound of water flowing over stones? How could you forget the stories and songs passed down through the generations? It is only very recently in our human history—only a few hundred years amidst thousands—that we forgot, that we lost this thread, that our mind ceased to be a part of both the land and the unseen worlds. That we forgot that everything we can see and touch is sacred, and in our forgetting no longer inhabited a world in which everything was alive with spirit, the wind and the rain, the plants and animals.
Have we wandered so far from the source that we cannot return? Will climate crisis isolate us even more in our cities as nature becomes more unpredictable? As we try to use our science, our computers to save us? Or is the doorway to return nearer than we know, just as in that moment when we awake and our dreams are still present, before they are lost with the daylight? What would it mean to return to this numinous land, alive in ways we no longer understand, where the Earth can speak to us in its many voices? Or more vital, can we transition through this present self-created crisis without this inner and outer knowing, without this awareness that was central to so much of our human journey?
IT IS EASY to dismiss the magical world as just a fairy tale belonging to childhood or old tales. To maintain that what we need at this moment more than ever is hard science, that carbon reduction and loss of biodiversity are our most pressing concerns. And yes, there is important work to be done reducing our industrial imprint, restoring wetlands and wild places. But if we do not remove the rational blinkers from our consciousness, how can we respond to the deeper need of the moment, and recognize that we are part of a fully animate world? If we are to become partners with the Earth, living our shared journey, we have to once again speak the same language, listen with our senses attuned not just to the physical world but also to its inner dimension. We cannot afford to continue to dismiss so much of our heritage—the thousands of years we were awake to an environment both seen and unseen.
And yet this knowing has been censored so effectively from our present mind that we do not even know how to read the signs, how to look and listen, how to be in the space where dreams are woven into consciousness. We may speak about the need for a new story, one that is not based upon exploitation and greed but recognizes the interdependent oneness of the living world. But real stories arise from the inner worlds, only then do they carry the numinous power that can change a civilization. Myths are not rational, but belong to a deeper dimension of our psyche. We can see the emotive power of the false stories that surround us—whether the recent myth of endless economic growth that is the foundation of our consumer world, or the more recent distortions of social media that grip our collective consciousness. We are living these pathological stories without fully recognizing how much we respond to their emotive and psychic power. The cold facts about climate change and loss of species have not changed our behavior, while conspiracy theories and stories of stolen elections have seized our beliefs. Is our collective consciousness only open to dark myths, such as the Kraken, a tentacled creature of Norse mythology that arises from the deep, swallowing ships?3
Now as we stand at this crossroads, do we have to wait for our present society to fall apart? Are we caught in too many patterns of social and economic divisiveness? Where do we find the hidden gateway into the garden—a place where we are no longer exiles in our own land, living by the “sweat of our brow,” but can hear and then live the songlines of the land; where dreaming nourishes our daily life? Our ancestors are still all around us, in our DNA, in the land, in the spirits still present behind the veils of our rational self. In the millennia of our human history, it is only a few years since most of us divorced ourselves from these companions, and decided to walk alone, unaccompanied, no longer understanding our primal relationship to the Earth and Her ways, no longer speaking the same language, singing Her songs. And those few who carried that remembrance experienced the suffering and pain of that separation, as they struggled to stay true to the songs, dreams, and ceremonies in a world increasingly covered with enforced forgetfulness.
Is it enough just to acknowledge that our ancestors lived in an animate world that is still around us, even if invisible to our eyes, intangible to our other senses? They lived in a world of kinship on many levels; not masters, not the dominant species, but part of a living tapestry—just one species among many—in which the hunter asked the spirit of the animal for permission to hunt, and the gatherer for the plant’s blessing to harvest. Here there was no hierarchy but an interdependent world both physical and spirit, all part of one community that could communicate through dance and dream, song and prayer.
If we are to become partners with the Earth, living our shared journey, we have to once again speak the same language, listen with our senses attuned not just to the physical world but also to its inner dimension.
For them dreaming and waking were not separate but part of a multilayered texture of existence, where dreams could guide the hunt and the spirits of animals and plants were welcomed. And sometimes they ventured deeper into the spirit world through visions, and had access to a wisdom that could help their whole community. For example, the Lakota medicine man, Black Elk, who walked this land less than a century ago, had a seminal vision when he was nine years old that took him to where the horses were singing, and the Thunder Beings spoke to him of the destiny of his people, how his “nation’s hoop was broken.” The spirits called upon him to help restore his people through an awareness of all of life’s sacred nature and its inherent unity:
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must all live together like one being.4
Our present world is divisive, our consciousness fractured. Our collective values produce greed and endless desires. Science and its foster child, materialism, have become a broken mythology, evident in the ecocide it has created. Where are the visions to guide us, the spirits to sustain us, the singing horses to accompany us? Are we still hoping to find an answer in technology, in its soulless succession of ones and zeros? Or can we begin to remember the lands we have left, the spirit-filled world we have abandoned?
MY OWN GARDEN, on a hillside beside the bay, is a place where the worlds come together: colors and fragrances; lavender; buddleia bushes, whose honey-scented flowers are so often full of bees; chamomile, yellow and white; jasmine, a cascade of evening sweetness; and the soft magic of the spirits that are welcomed, at home like the quail with her babies in the early summer, hiding between the plants. This is how the land was always alive, seen and unseen, movement and stillness. And we were a part of it all, our senses attuned in ways long lost. And now, as the Earth is calling out to us to remember Her sacred ways, there is the possibility to return, to walk as our ancestors walked, to be a part of the world coming alive after a long winter, after storms and snow, after a landscape so barren it pains the eyes.
Here, where the land sings, where the worlds meet, is a way to be that resonates with both the soil and the soul. Making a garden sing, for the unseen to be present, is a simple act of welcoming the worlds our ancestors knew, the spirits of the land as well as the beings of light. I have found it is simplest through an openness of heart and a deep knowing that we are surrounded, nourished, and met in ways beyond our rational minds: a multidimensional kinship. The colors of the flowers then reveal a vibrancy beyond the physical, and even the stones in the garden feel awake.5
This is a simple celebration of the wonder that was always around us, and a nourishment we need for our shared journey together into an uncertain future. It is hard to see how the coming decades will unfold. If the year of the pandemic has taught us anything it is how unpredictable the present moment is, how fragile our present systems. We do not know how much of our present way of life will be lost as the wildfires rage and the seas rise. Will we retreat into the bunkers of materialism, or step into a different way to live with the land? But this moment is also an opportunity to return to an essential awareness that belonged to our ancestors, which, although we have dismissed and forgotten it, is not so far away.
On any journey it is necessary to decide what to take—both for traveling and the new life that awaits. This deep ecology of consciousness that embraces a fully animate world can sustain us, giving us access to the wisdom of the Earth, a knowing we need for the turbulence of this transition. Without this quality of consciousness there is the danger we will just remain in the barren wasteland created by our rational mind, will not fully wake up from the nightmare that is poisoning the planet. Maybe the land and its spirits can welcome us awake, help us to fully see, hear, and inwardly sense the garden we never really left.
While the creation stories of North America’s Indigenous peoples teach that they have always been here, that they were created here, science-based theories tell different stories of how the First Peoples arrived to North America. For more than half a century the prevailing theory was that thirteen thousand years ago the Clovis culture arrived, when small bands of Stone Age hunters walked across a land bridge between eastern Siberia and western Alaska, eventually making their way down an ice-free inland corridor into the heart of North America. A subsequent theory is that fifteen thousand years ago the earliest inhabitants arrived by boat, traveling down the Pacific shoreline. While a recently emerging theory is that humans may have arrived earlier, at least twenty thousand years ago, when the Bering Strait was high and dry.
Kami are the spirits, phenomena, or “holy powers” that belong to nature and are manifestations of musubi, the interconnecting energy of the universe. They are revered in Shinto, the earliest religion of Japan. There are, of course, many other inhabitants of the unseen worlds—from angelic beings to darker, elemental forces. For example, the Celtic tradition refers to the three realms: Annwn, the world below; Abred, the middle world of nature and human affairs; and Gwynfed, “the white life,” the upper world or heavens. Nature spirits or devas—which inhabited much of our pre-industrial world—belong to the middle world, while angels, beings of light, belong to the upper world.
Conspiracy theorists supporting Trump have spoken about “unleashing the Kraken.”
This is part of a much longer and very powerful vision in which the Thunder Beings spoke to him, spirits revered like human grandfathers. His vision continues: “And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.” The whole vision is recorded by John G. Neihardt in Black Elk Speaks.
Sacred landscapes have this quality: for example, the mountains that are the “heart of the world” of the Kogis in Colombia, or mountains and lakes in Tibet imbued with sacred meaning, where protector deities are often painted on the rocks. Some of the land around Glastonbury in England has a similar, ancient, earth magic.
This week we are featuring the inspirational hip hop artist, Nimo Patel who has spent many years at the Mahatma Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Patel has done humanitarian work for underprivileged children in India and created Empty Hands Music to spread goodness in the world through selfless service, music, and love.
I think on our spiritual path, what’s very interesting is we start off as children and then we get conditioned and rewired from a sense of purity and a sense of awareness and a sense of awe and a sense of just being to then conditioned to judge, to plan, to strategize, to hoard, to protect…to do all these things. And then what’s interesting is when we start hearing all these spiritual teachings of the world, it’s about going back to being children…oh no simplify, oh stop judging, oh just do what your heart says. Oh wait, that’s what we used to do when we were kids.
— Nimo Patel
Nimesh “Nimo” Patel’s AwakinCall conversation titled: Rap Star to Service Rockstar highlights his journey letting go of fame and money to service underprivileged children in India (and wherever he goes). We encouraged you to also listen to it.
As we grapple with the first global pandemic lockdown of our lifetime, our daily routines have been upended, and it’s difficult to keep up with new changes. Many of us are overwhelmed by the precarious nature of our health, our loved ones’ well-being, and our financial security. But in the midst of uncertainty and fear, inspiring videos are emerging from the countries most affected by coronavirus—Iranian doctors and nurses dancing in hospitals and Italian residents singing from their balconies. This footage not only uplifts the spirit of those in close proximity, it also brightens the mood of people watching from around the world.
One thing I’ve learned from spending much of my own childhood in times of war and political upheaval is the importance of cultivating joy during crises. While it is critical to be informed about the trajectory of the new coronavirus via reliable sources, to practice physical distancing, and to care for our most vulnerable populations, it’s also time to infect each other with love and fortifying stories. This is actually really hard to do, because we humans are naturally inclined to focus on bad news.
During the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, which killed over a million people, life was far from joyful. We Iranians had become accustomed to daily funerals, food rations, political oppression, and an ongoing threat of bombs and missiles. On top of that, consuming alcohol, dancing, and playing non-sanctioned music had suddenly become illegal under the post-revolution laws.
But even with these external challenges, I observed a few adults’ ability to become scrappy and use all available resources for the essential task of nurturing joy, stability, and a sense of humor. Faced with food rationing, they experimented with new recipes. Faced with wartime blackouts, they told stories and recited poems. As the threat of bombing loomed, they told jokes and made everyone laugh until our eyes watered. Sure, this made us all feel better in the moment, but what research is discovering is that joy and laughter are essential for building the superpower of resilience, and even boosting our immunity and overall health.
Psychologist and trauma expert Peter Levine says joy is an experience of expansion, whereas fear is one of deep contraction. Cultivating joy is an important component of resilience as it increases our capacity to face difficulties. “Imagine if every time you stretched a rubber band, it would become more resilient, so rather than wearing out, it would increase its capacity, able to take more stretches without breaking,” he says.
So even when there are obstacles which cause contraction, that expansion afforded to us by joy comes to our rescue. “The more we increase this capacity, the less overwhelming emotions will be,” Levine says. For instance, trauma stretches us beyond our capacity to deal with a certain challenging situation, and we become overwhelmed with sensations and emotions. The problem isn’t that the sensations and emotions are too strong but that our capacity to hold and process them is maxed out. When we continue to cultivate joy, we gain the ability to feel the overwhelm without becoming overwhelmed ourselves.
Contemplative life flows in a circular pattern: awe provokes introspection, which invokes awe.
Maybe you’re making dinner and you step outside to snip chives from the kitchen garden just as the harvest moon is rising over the easter slopes. She is full and golden, like one of those pregnant women who radiate from within. Suddenly you cannot bear the beauty. Scissors suspended in your hand, tears pooling at the corners of your eyes, you nearly quit breathing. Your gaze softens, and the edges of your individual identity fade. You are absorbed into the heart of the moon. It feels natural, and there is no other place you’d rather be. But the onions are burning, and so you turn away and cut your herbs and go back inside. You resume stirring the sauce and setting the table.
This is not the first time you have disappeared into something beautiful. You have experienced the unfettering of the subject-object distinction while holding your daughter’s hand as she labored to give birth to your grandson; when you curled up in bed with your dying friend and sang her Haskiveinu, the Hebrew prayer for a peaceful sleep; while yielding to your [loved ones]. You have lost yourself in heartbreak, then lost the desire to ever regain yourself, then lost your fear of death. You long ago relinquished your need for cosmic order and personal control. You welcome unknowingness.
Which is why seemingly ordinary moments like moonrises undo you. The veil has been pulled back. Everything feels inexhaustibly holy. […] Your soul had been formed in the forge of life’s losses, galvanized in the crucible of community, fertilized by the rain of relationship, blessed by your intimacy with Mother Earth. You have glimpsed the face of the Divine where you least expected it.
And this is why you cultivate contemplative practice. The more you intentionally turn inward, the more available the sacred becomes. When you sit in silence and turn your gaze toward the Holy Mystery you once called God, the Mystery follows you back out into the world. When you walk with a purposeful focus on breath and bird song, your breathing and the twitter of the chickadee reveal themselves as a miracle. When you eat your burrito mindfully, gratitude for every step that led to the perfect combination of beans and cheese and tortilla — from grain and sunlight to rain and migrant labor — fills your heart and renders you even more inclined to be grateful.
So sit down to meditate not only because it helps you to find rest in the arms of the formless Beloved but also because it increases your chance of being stunned by beauty when you get back up. Encounters with the sacred that radiate from the core of the ordinary embolden you to cultivate stillness and simple awareness. In the midst of a world that is begging you to distract yourself, this is no easy practice. Yet you keep showing up. You are indomitable. You are thirsty for wonder.
Has anyone ever told you that you take yourself too seriously? Or maybe you remember a past conversation when you confided to a friend, “Oh, he takes himself so seriously that it’s hard to be around him.” Serious people believe everything that they think and feel, even without examining what underlies their thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. Not questioning one’s answers about life can seem like a safe and secure way to live, but such an approach will not place you in touch with Reality.
Think of a time when you felt very serious. Wasn’t it accompanied by a sense of being constricted, tight, shut down? Then compare it to a time when you were feeling joyous. Didn’t you feel free and expansive? Individuals who take themselves very seriously bring up, for me, a visual of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, the monumental sculpture he created for a group work titled The Gates of Hell. There he sits all bent over, tensed up, chin in hand, heavily thinking with an expression that looks like Excedrin headache number forty-seven is pounding in his head. The work is so convincing you can almost hear him saying, “I’m a thinker, and I’m thinking my way into solving the mystery of existence.”
In contrast, it always brings a smile to my mind when I substitute that image with that of Siddhartha Gautama, who became a Buddha, meaning “awakened one.” There he sits, buoyantly floating on a lotus flower, a blissful smile on his face because he woke up to the Real—no quandaries, no seriousness. He reduced his awareness to the utter simplicity of Being. The weight of judgments, opinions, beliefs, and concepts were replaced by pure awareness of the Real. (Just writing this practically transports me into a joyous state of consciousness!)
The Nectar of Laughter
Speaking of the Buddha, I’m reminded of a story I heard about a Zen teacher who studied the dharma and meditated for many, many years. His students said that when he became enlightened he laughed for two solid days, developing such a spasm he nearly died from laughter. Laughter takes us out of time. For a microsecond, we become extemporal, transported into the gap, a timeless dimension of the Real where we aren’t caught, snagged, or snared by our narrow little perceptions, points of view, cherished beliefs, thinking our way into rationalizing, and justifying our existence.
Laughter is nectar that flows directly from the soul. It has nothing to do with our circumstances. When we laugh, we touch our inner luminosity. Laughter liberates us from the thinking mind and presents us with precious moments of spontaneous meditation where there arises a super-
aliveness. Laughter transports us back to an inherent memory of oneness with all life, before all of our conditioning into “normalcy” began. When our laughter is absolutely genuine, we can hear the whisper of our inner spirit assuring us that we may recapture our joy, that we may reclaim our original nature made in the image and likeness of Spirit and be a conscious co-creator, an artist of our own life.
Meanwhile, it is very healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves. If you have difficulty doing this, then ask a few of your friends what they laugh at about you behind your back. They aren’t being two-faced, because more often than not, these qualities endear you to them. If they’re really honest, they’ll tell you and give you a great opportunity to laugh at yourself.
Recently, Rickie, my wife, was playfully making fun of how I speak, claiming that I’m a media person’s nightmare. Then she began imitating my antics, like how I move around on the dais when speaking. “You run over here, you jump in the air, you dance. They’re even threatening to draw a circle on the dais floor to keep you within its parameters!” Someone who really loves you will help you to good-naturedly laugh at yourself and shake off, loosen up your all-caught-upness about your self-image. They also shine a light on those aspects of ourselves that we haven’t quite refined, where our potential has not yet fully actualized. Humor is the beginning of wisdom, and wisdom introduces us to Reality. Excerpt from Spiritual Liberation: Fulfilling Your Soul’s Potential. Michael Beckwith is an ordained minister of Religious Science, and a New Thought leader. He is the founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Beverly Hills, California.
María Lorena Ramirez Hernández lives a pastoral life in Copper Canyon (land of Tarahumaras) except from when she participates in long-distance running competitions. Lorena has own dozens of marathons and ultramarathons world-wide despite running in sandals; however, her favorite place to be is with her family, in the prairies, running in the Canyon in silence.
Lorena, Light-Footed Woman is a 2019 documentary film directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo and starring Lorena Ramirez, Mario Ramírez (brother) and Santiago Ramírez (father).
1619 Podcast, emerged on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American Slavery. A NYTimes collaboration that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” – We invite you to listen to Episode 3- exposing how “Black music, forged in captivity, became the sound of complete artistic freedom. It also became the sound of America.” (released Sept 6, 2019)
In July of 2020, beloved ServiceSpace friends Kozo Hattori, and Sue Cochrane, came together for a virtual conversation in the presence of community. Both were navigating stark realities with cancer. Their luminous exchange was threaded with laughter, insight, tender truths, poignant moments and profound life-wisdom. Kozo peacefully “changed address,” on March 1st, 2021. His transition came just weeks after Sue’s own passing. What follows is an edited selection of excerpts from the conversation between these two extraordinary beings. Though they never met in person, they were kindred spirits. Each left behind an incandescent legacy of courage and love.
Kozo Hattori: Rise up from the deep, deep ocean to the highest heavens. I learned this Hawaiian prayer the morning that my friend’s mother died. I was one of her caregivers and she passed about three hours after I left. I was sad and then I realized that this prayer was telling her soul to rise up from the deepest ocean. It was a very appropriate prayer. I did it at her memorial service and now in this moment I feel like the prayer is telling me to Rise Up —to the occasion, rise up and let your soul confront what it’s meant to. I thought it was an appropriate prayer for today.
We’ve been on quite a journey since our last conversation.
Sue Cochrane: A lot has happened since I last saw you and I think this topic is perfect. My scans showed cancer progression in the brain. Last time there was 14 tumors and the radiation department zapped all of them. This time there were 11, and 7 of them were very tiny, like little pinpoints and then 4 were larger. We radiated the 4. They recommended whole brain radiation and that’s when my attachment to my brain came up.
I love my brain. I’ve used it to live and I’ve used it in service. I felt this resistance. Everyone was worried. And there were also two new liver tumors– the immunosuppressive therapy was no longer working. I’m learning to use this experience as compost. My therapist once told me, “You’ve called me, and you’ve told me all these things — and something stinks — could you move that pile into the garden instead of holding it in front of your face?” (laughs) And I am thinking of that now. How can I compost these feelings in the garden?
I am in a better place now than I have been in this whole time. I wrote a post on Caringbridge, titled ‘No Mud No Lotus.’ I mucked around. I had sadness, I had fear. But that evolved into, “I feel ready to be living my fullest life right now.” Thank you Kozo for asking.
How are you?
Kozo: I had a test and one of the things in my gut was the same size it hadn’t grown. And the other grew .9 cm and it grew by 20%. It was kind of a mixed result because one grew and the other didn’t. They suggested chemo – not curative chemo it’s called palliative chemo, and it’s chemo to make the end of my life easier and once you start it you continue to the end. So that was kind of a mysterious test result. But I have the blessing of having some amazing healers in my corner — one of them is on the call today, this amazing intuitive functional medicine MD named Cynthia Li, and they all asked similar questions: “How are you feeling? How is your energy?” I was good! I was sleeping well, I was eating. I was playing with my kids. The oncologist asked me, “Have you been able to get outside?” And I said, “Yeah, I walk the dogs every day.”
Sue: That’s wonderful! I feel almost guilty that I feel so good. It’s a lot of spiritual and mental medicine. My qi gong teacher says there is no bad energy– there is only good, better, and best. And it sometimes is stuck in the wrong place so we need to move it.
Kozo: I’m reading this book that Anne Veh gifted me, it’s called ‘Angels in Her Hair’ by Lorna Byrne — when she was young everyone thought she was slow but she was actually talking to angels the whole time. She never told anybody. We have all these angels around us. In physical form — friends, family – but also spiritual angels– I have my Hawaiian ancestors, and also the archangels — I was telling Pavi, “I’m living life with all these angels around me helping me learn the lessons that are here and if I do pass, I am going to pass in the arms of angels.” It’s a win-win situation. I live with angels now and if I pass I am in the arms of angels.
I was reading that book this morning and in it the angels came to Lorna and said, “Your dad’s going to pass” and she asks, “Why are you telling me this?” And they say, ” Because you need to help him.” He passed at 56 on St Patrick’s Day. I had this intuitive sense —(could be wrong) — that that was me…I am 55 now. I feel like I’ve given them [my sons] what they need to continue. I just had that come up, and I am at ease with all the possibilities and the mystery.
Sue: I have focused on the question — have my boys learned from me what I wanted to pass on? Also there’s a quote that has freed me from worrying about them as much as I used to. Before I share it I want to share something that some of you may have heard before, I heard it from my meditation teacher who said, “Imagine the world is covered by water and there is one hoop on it being blown around on from north to south and east to west, and once every hundred years a turtle shows up — what are the odds of the turtle popping up exactly through the hoop? Those are the same odds of being born as a human.” The message of the story was: Don’t waste this precious opportunity.
Here is the quote that really helped me: “Neither mother nor father nor any relative can do as much good as your own well directed mind.” One of my sons says I’ve taught this to him, and one of my other sons says whenever he’s in a challenging situation he asks, “What would Mom do?”
Kozo: I think of Kahlil Gibran: Your children are not your children. They are the arrows that spring forth from our bows. As parents we need to stay firm so that the arrow will fly straight. I feel like all the work — actually sadhana is the right word — all the practices that we’re doing, our chanting, qi gong, our diets, our meditation and prayers, are causing us to be a stronger bow for our boys to launch. My boys are ready to launch.
Sue: I’ve seen you and your boys in that skate park video!
Kozo: [laughing] I’m just an old man out there. But to be outdoors for four hours with your children is such a blessing. It’s funny, I don’t know if you get this feeling but it’s almost like I am returning to my 12-year-old self. “The more childish you become, the more powerful you become,” is what one of my healers told me. I’ve been returning to that 12-year-old self in so many ways through skateboarding. For Father’s Day my sons and ex-wife gave me this t-shirt that said “Yoda Best Dad Ever!” I was a Star Wars nut — I’d go to the theater for matinees in Hawaii and I’d watch all the way till 5 o’clock. It was $1 for each show, I still remember. I saw the first one 45-46 times! It’s been beautiful– my whole life I’ve been looking for an Obi Wan Kanobi or a Yoda– a master to guide me in the ways of the force, and now at 55 years old I’ve found them but it’s not one person.”
And I think of that scene from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker says, “I can’t believe you just did that!” And Yoda responds, “That is why you fail.” So now I am starting to believe and I am really living into my Star Wars dream. Qi Gong is about learning to use the force. I used to dream of having a pencil come to me — like a light saber. Now rather than having objects fly to me I am learning to move energies in my body and dissipate energies in my stomach. These things are blossoming in my life right when I need them. It’s like you are walking towards a locked door and you don’t have a key, you don’t have a key, you don’t have a key — and then right when you come to the door latch there’s a key in your hand — appearing out of nowhere.
Sue: And there’s more than one door– it seems like it’s door after door. I wrote a memoir that’s out a little bit and it brought back all my music and art and puppetry — creative expression is what saved my life. What would I have been without that? I didn’t just start healing yesterday — at 27 I found out I was a full-blown alcoholic. It was the last place I wanted to be. My father was an alcoholic and destroyed our family. I had just gotten sworn in [as a family court judge] a month ago.
You know Gandhi was really shy as well – his first case he walked in and couldn’t say a word. He ran out the door, and I held that story as my sign of hope. You can do it. The 12-step program taught me surrender. I didn’t want to surrender to God — so they said, “Okay use a tree, a mentor, use a higher power.” Then I went into public service, and then I found Commonweal, and Common Ground meditation center. So I kept looking, but not desperately — things would just organically appear. Like I was listening to a Dharma Talk the other day, and fell asleep and I woke up to Joseph Goldstein saying. “Do you know the cause of all death — it’s birth.” Anybody could get hit by a bus is the cliché, and I have a friend who says, “Yes but the driver is gunning for me!” It’s true, we are on the edge of this experience.
I feel like I have found an opening to face the hardest things in my life and that makes me feel happy. We all need this. Never did I think I could be in such a good place right now. But if I could share one thing — I finally met Rachel Remen at the New School and after her talk I asked her if I could tell her something. And I told her my story — and she told me, “I prefer the word mystery to miracle, because miracle feels exclusive.” So since then I’ve looked into mystery more. And as a doctor she said they were trained to favor Mastery over Mystery and it was only after being a cancer healer she began to enter mystery.
It takes me back to when I got published in second grade in Highlights magazine. Years later, the minute I got diagnosed, I wanted to write, and I just started to write little stories. And then I put them together and thanks to my brother it’s now been professionally edited and is with an agent. You wrote a book too didn’t you Kozo? I loved it – what was the title?
Kozo: The Healing Grace of Cancer — that was before the return. I learned a lot obviously, but I’ve learned way more with the recurrence. I used to read Highlights magazine when I was a kid. So maybe I read your piece!
Sue: Someone saw that I had a little potential. I didn’t talk when I was younger. I was a mute in school, but somebody saw something and elevated that. Look at that — we’re really bringing our whole self here!
Kozo: I remember one day I showed up to school and all my friends are handing in poems for a poetry competition. And I was like, “Give me a piece of paper and I just put this haiku down and turned it in and the next thing you know I was announced as one of the winners and got published in a magazine.
Sue: Do you remember it?
Running through the fields
I see a green grasshopper, dead
Underneath my feet.
It’s funny –it had all the themes in it. It has the joy of running through the fields, the beauty of the green grasshopper, and then death is in there too– that I was responsible for.
To me it comes down to taking responsibility —whether it’s cancer or anything — everybody needs to take responsibility for their own life. Am thinking of Steven Jenkinsons who wrote this book called “Die Well.” And in so many other cultures, death is a part of life. For example they have the Day of the Dead in Mexico but in the West we don’t speak about death or show it and even when people are dying we don’t talk about it, and people try and fight it and they fight and fight until boom they die.
I’ve been offered an on-ramp to death, to accept and embrace it in a slow way. Even if the intuition about March is right — I’m on-ramping, and I don’t know how long it might be, but to be aware of it, and to walk it, and to not turn away from it is important.
Sue: Pema Chodron says when things fall apart we are just practicing with these things— we are practicing for our own death. This is a great opportunity to learn how to live. I shared a poster with you Kozo about all the things that cancer cannot do — it said things like, “What cancer cannot do — it cannot crush your soul, It cannot take your mind,” things like that, and then Kozo you wrote back and said, what you’d add is some of the things cancer CAN do: “Cancer can guide you towards your highest purpose; Cancer can double your friends; Cancer can lead you to a healing beyond the body. Cancer can strengthen your faith”
Kozo: Reminds me of talking to Jolanda van den Berg, she had an awakening some years ago. I was in a lot of pain when I interviewed her and after the interview, she stayed on with us for another hour, just talking to us. I asked her about pain. She said, “If pain is arising then, you can see the pain as life arising in you. And when you realize that, you are grateful for it. And if you can dig down through pain you can find it is actually love.” And in her world everything is love. Whatever arises in her life, that’s what she loves the most. It really shifted things for me. I could see pain as an honor, almost as a testament that I am alive. It’s deeper than the half glass full metaphor. It’s like the glass is always overflowing, but you just don’t see it. We see the emptiness as a negative — the pain as a negative that we have to get rid of it. But it’s part of the overflowing of life that is arising in us, and that brought me great peace. Jolanda was another angel who just popped up! She’s turned out to be this amazing Yoda in my life. So I totally feel that this is who we are, and this what we are meant to manifest, and everything that arises in our lives is meant to awaken us.
Sue: It takes a lot of courage to sit with what comes up. And I am not perfect — there are times I will say, “Oh pain — I welcome in the pain.” But there is also the thought that I don’t want this pain, I am sick of this pain — and then they taught me that I can notice anger or aversion. Pema has a thing called, “Stay There.” That’s the invitation — to raise our awareness and to not become the emotion or the experience. “She who is aware of the anger is not the anger.” One of the hardest things for me — anytime the phone rings and it’s one of my kids, I have this visceral response. [They’ve had a lot of intensity and challenge in their lives.] I get a little PTSD with those calls, but now I am practicing with opening my mind, and putting my feet on the floor. “Anything can happen anytime,” so to be prepared for that.
I tried to do the same sort of thing when I was a judge — I tried to do it outside the courtroom in a personal way. I’d walk in to meet clients and I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I’d try to open, open, open, and I didn’t know what I was going to say or do. I didn’t have the key to the door until the last moment, and what they needed was a witness not a judge. Nobody needs a judge. I was their witness. They ran the show. They told me what they needed. It was very holistic. That was my message.
Kozo: It’s a testament to who you are that when your kids go through tough times you’re the phone call they make. That’s a dream for me. That when my boys go off in the world– if they are going through tough times that they will call me.
Sue: You have a special bond with them from what I’ve heard.
Kozo: That feeling of, “I don’t want this” that shifts to, “let it in,” — it reminds me of Gethsemane where Jesus says, “Father pass this cup from me,” Jesus said, “All the things I will do you too will do and more.” And I’m like, “No way! How am I going to rise from the Cross?” But if you think about preparing your whole life through all these different things for the Cross — “Father why hast thou forsaken me?” And cancer patients can really go through that— but that shifts to, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Out of that shift from victim to empowered actor of forgiveness you rise to a new life in a different form.
Father Richard Rohr calls it the Second Half of Life. The first half is building your healthy ego and the second half is shifting into service and healing. I’m not talking about time — you can have your second half at 98, right before passing.
Sue: I am glad you went to that story because for me it made Jesus more human. There’s that line…They who give up their lives receive eternal life, they who don’t– die. The message was basically, that it all worked out extremely well. He was both divine and human. I love that- it gives hope that as humans we can get somewhere.
Kozo: Beautiful. Yes, and I want to get to the point where rather than pain or bliss or cancer all I say [in the final diagnosis] is– Love — Chronic Love!
Last night I had a dream and I was back at UC Santa Barbara and going to take my girlfriend surfing – in the dream, this woman was an amalgamation of all the women I’ve loved in my life. The surf was big so we were going to go to Campus Point, my favorite surf spot. There were all these obstacles and when we got there I was like, “Oh my God! I don’t have a surfboard and I don’t have a wet suit!” And oh the person that I was with in the dream, we weren’t a couple. When I reached over, the person was like, “No, we’re just friends.” And what I realized was, that this dream was showing me the truth of my life. I had desires– to go surfing, to be intimate with someone, and the universe was saying, “No.” Then I came a point where I was like, “I’m really okay with that. It’s nice just to be standing on this cliff looking at the surf, I don’t need to go in the water. And it’s nice just to be standing next to someone I love. I don’t need more. I’m happy.” And it struck me this was kind of like the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. There is suffering in life, suffering is caused by desire, get rid of desire you get rid of suffering. It was a beautiful dream on a beautiful night.
It’s funny, thinking about this call in the morning, I thought, “I am going on this call to talk about a test result that’s not positive, but even with that and whatever the prognosis is, I’m okay. I’m happy, and excited just to be here with everyone.
Sue: That’s beautiful. I’ve read this little story— you know how we say the sun rises in the morning and sets at night—but that’s not really true is it? it doesn’t go anywhere. It sits there, and we spin. Right? We see our lives–like we are born (that’s the sunrise) and then we die (sunset). But what if we are really this huge eternal light, and we can’t see it because it’s just blocked right now by our mind, what if we are that light just sitting there? So I am thinking our life is much more than we see — it’s through the glass darkly, we can’t see it now, but someday…And on some days we get a glimpse. Like, you’re in the light right now Kozo— you’re shining!
Kozo: That’s what skateboarding does to you.
Sue: Does it?
Kozo: No I’m joking. (laughs) …
We’re all walking each other home right? I’m with you, and you’re with me.