This month, once again, our annual intensive in the Work That Reconnects took place at Land of Medicine Buddha. That Tibetan retreat center among California's coastal redwoods is both unassuming and magical: simple quarters, clean as a pin, and huge intricately-painted prayer wheels, long wooden porches and gilded Buddhas smiling into the oak trees. It held forty of us in its serene and generous arms as we looked at ourselves and our world, and what this planet-time is asking of us.
Fran Macy loved these intensives and this was the first without him. My family wondered how I would fare without him at my side. But he was not absent--I felt him in the forms and structures we'd created together, and in the parts of the land he loved, not to mention a special place by the creek he claimed on his last Medicine Walk. It was sort of like encountering him. "Oh there you are, hello again."
I was able to feel that ease and openness because Doug Mosel stepped in so impeccably as my main co-teacher. In addition to his ever-popular sessions on the dynamics of corporate rule and the relocalization of food production, Doug delivered the news each morning as a radio reporter for WWTR, convened the Council of All Beings, and in afternoons could be seen on the back deck of the shrine room holding one-on-one consultations. He was freed up to do all that because my assistant Anne Symens-Bucher took his job as coordinator of the intensive. To that essential role she brought her own inimitable touch, such as singing the announcements every morning to show tunes and ever-wilder applause.
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Among the highlights of this year's intensive was the Dance to Dismember the Ego . I like it in the early stages of a training, because, freeing us from attachments to our self-image, it lets the work move faster. Although I've always loved it, and described it in both Coming Back to Life and Widening Circles , I hadn't actually done one for six years. This occasion seemed the best ever.
First I described the Tibetan ritual that inspired it, and noted that ego in this context means the self-centeredness which impedes our full participation in life. Then all forty of us, to the sound of Tibetan chanting, went to work on our own separate lump of clay. We were reminded that nothing can be released if it is not first accepted and appreciated.
After twenty minutes or so of concentrated, silent work, the "show and tell" unfolded. As guide I went first, displayed the huge, Earth-Mother breasts and, in lieu of a heart, a cavernous hole for disasters. With drum rolls each ego doll was presented: its unique features pointed out, its enviable qualities extolled and paraded around for us all to admire. Egos love to be admired and praised--and praise we did. We laughed till we ached. Our high spirits conveyed a sense of relief--for when pretensions are dropped, there's little to hide. They also reflected a kind of tenderness, a sweet recognition of the acuity and courage that each person displayed.
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Two new practices emerged at the intensive, which I intend to use again. One, Reports to the Galactic Council , is appropriate for the Honoring Our Pain stage of the Spiral, and the other, nameless as yet, is a new spin on the Corbett exercise in Going Forth.
After a very talky morning session on the Industrial Growth Society, I wanted other ways to explore what is befalling our civilization. So when the full group met again in mid-afternoon, I announced that I'd just received a message from the Galactic Council. Concerned about the fate of complex life forms on planet Earth, this supreme body wishes to assess our viability as a planet.
"You, who represent the currently dominant species in Planet Earth, are summoned to a special session of the Galactic Council. As heirs to a healthy, intricately woven web of life, please convey to us its present condition in these five regards:
- What is befalling the waters of Earth?
- What is the condition of the air?
- What is happening to the soil?
- How are you caring for other species?
- And how are you caring for each other?"
Since written reports can easily mislead, your responses should come in the form of bodily communication and enactments. The Council will provide transportation."
We then counted off by five, and each questions was assigned to a different group. The groups, made up of seven or eight folks, dispersed for an hour's preparation. A limit of ten minutes was suggested for each team's report.
At the next day's afternoon session, their performances were presented to the Galactic Council. All those who were not "on stage" at the moment sat with the otherwise invisible Galactic Council. I wish I had the words to convey the depth, beauty and originality of what I saw enacted. The perspectives chosen were stunning, the props minimal, the gestures and movements eloquent. Spareness, married to imagination, conveyed what arguments and lectures cannot, often moving us to tears. We all felt pierced by what we witnessed, and stretched to take in--to really integrate--what we already knew to be true.
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On the last full day, wanting a process to help clarify and firm up our individual intentions for the Great Turning, Doug led this new version of the popular "Corbett" exercise. In groups of four, each person in turn described a project or direction he or she wished to pursue for the healing of our world. After doing that, this person then spoke to this intention from three other perspectives (taking 2 or 3 minutes for each perspective): the first to follow was the voice of doubt or a skeptical adversary. The next was that of an an ancestor; and lastly the perspective of a future human, fifty or a hundred or two hundred years from now.
Those among you who are facilitators will see the resemblance to the Corbett process, the difference being that here the person whose turn it is (the intender) speaks all the voices instead of having them spoken by the others in the foursome. An advantage here is that the voice of doubt is a lot freer. Having inside information and no inhibitions about offending the speaker, it pulls no punches, even indulging in taunts and ridicule. It can be quite intense, and pretty funny too, and I felt it shook speaker free to really listen to what the ancestor and future being have to say.
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Our intensive included a memorial service for five heroes who helped us see with new eyes, and who passed from us this year. Lined up across the front of our altar, a lit candle before each one, stood their photographs: Thomas Berry , the Passionist Father and cultural historian who brought us the Universe Story, the Ecozoic Age, the Great Work. Arne Naess, the Norwegian Gandhian philosopher who brought us "deep ecology" and the "ecological self." Bill Devall, sociologist author of Deep Ecology , fighter for the forests and "deep long-range ecology movement." Brian Goodwin , holistic biology professor at Schumacher College. And Fran Macy. We had music and silence and song, along with words by and about each of them. To do that in the room at Medicine Buddha where Fran and I had taught together over the last eleven years felt strong and good.
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Ta-Daa!!! I am thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of A Year with Rilke. Harper One expects to have it in the bookstores on November 17, so your holiday shopping problems are now resolved. Anita Barrows and I, as editors and translators, had a wonderfully rewarding, if arduous, time selecting and preparing poems and passages for each of the 366 days (Leap Day included, of course). That massive effort has been a great blessing for me in these weeks and months since Fran's death. It refreshes my soul to bathe in the beauty of Rilke's language and spirit, and now his relation to death struck me afresh. The way he uses death as a kind of lens to amplify and round out our life helps to steady me in my own loss. Get a load of this, for example:
"The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this:
that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves."
"I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life
so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life's other half) in our love... It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and, ultimately, our enemy. It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself... What do we know of it?"
"Even your absence is filled
with your warmth and is more real
than your not-existing.
Why should I throw myself away
when something in you may be
touching me, very lightly, like moonlight
on a window seat."
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To those of you who contributed to my excellent birthday present of new floors , know that the job was accomplished in June by a wizard team involving Kathleen, Kaye, Adam, Linda, and my son Chris (to name a few). Here is a shot of a corner of my living room. Please know that the floors are a rare and continual joy to me, AND that much else got upgraded in the process, including the painting of three rooms, hall and stairway, not to mention a pumpkin-colored ceiling, new curtains, and velvety new fabric on the couches.
The wall over our stairway is just the right size for the banner which colleagues in Russia made in memory of Fran. For Earth Day and Chernobyl Day 2009, Ludmila Zhirina and her coworkers displayed it in a Novozybkov school that Fran had visited. It features Fran with the animals he most often spoke for in the Soviet of All Beings. Then the banner was wrapped up and sent it to me for my birthday.
Blessings on us all.