Song Story: Sing a Summer Song

May 3, 2016

Today’s Song Story is for “Sing a Summer Song“, track #7 on our album, “EARTH“.

We frequently bring our music and dance program to the Mountain View Public Library. Their summer concert series for families — called “Sing a Summer Song” — is a really beautiful event. The shows happen outside on the back lawn, underneath an oak tree who must be over 100 years old. The tree alone is worth the visit! Don’t forget to hug the tree! I wrote this song originally as a theme for their concert series, and it expanded into a singalong about summer, about Earth, about love!

In its simplest interpretation, it’s an ode to the summers of my childhood, and the way our magical Earth spoke to me through her smells, sounds, textures, tastes, and beauty. I reference things like june bugs, fireflies, wiggly worms and other hallmarks of a Midwestern (south-central Wisconsin, to be specific) Summer. And the long days, the “tiny nights”, the warming air, the summer smells, the fresh sounds, bare feet running (my favorite!) and, most of all, my Mom’s garden and all the hot, sweaty, dirty memories of digging, picking, looking, wondering, eating.

The chorus is a sing-along — belt it out!

Sing a summer song
Sing a summer song
Sing a summer song for you and me
Sing a summer song
Sing a summer song
The way we love the world is everything

The line “the way we love the world is everything” expresses one of the themes on the EARTH album — that our job is to work on accessing our innate love, compassion, kindness and generosity so we can bring it out into the world and be THAT person, as often as possible.

It is also the reminder that when we connect with Mother Earth deeply, when we immerse ourselves “in” nature, we have no choice but to remember our interbeing, to love her, and to care for her. The more time we spend outside in nature, appreciating the offerings and the ways in which we are symbiotic with Earth and the ways in which we depend on each other, the more we will come from a place of gratitude and appreciation, and also humility. This is a solid, grounded, authentic place that gives us the capacity and strength and focus to act on her behalf with compassion, wisdom and the fierce love a mother has for her child. Yes…it’s time for us to Mother the Mother!

There are also some secret lyrics hiding in the last go-around of the chorus. Listen closely and see if you can hear them:

Sing…for Earth
Sing…for Love
Sing…for Peace
Sing…for All

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

  • Sing along! Consider the song a call and response, and mimic the lines in the verse with your response. Join in for the chorus!
  • Discuss ways in which the Earth changes during the transition from Spring to Summer.
  • Make a “seasons” poster. Divide a piece of paper into four sections, label them “Summer”, “Spring”, “Winter” and “Fall”, and paint or draw things in each section that go along with each season.
  • Help your kids make a list of things they love and appreciate. Then use this list to sing your own version of the song. For example, “Sing it for the polar bears, Sing it for the horses, Sing it for the skateboards, Sing it for the ocean, Sing it for my sister, Sing it for my best friend, Sing it for mangos, Sing it for my bicycle…” No need to worry about rhyming!

I hope you enjoy “Sing a Summer Song“, this summer and all year ’round. Because the way we love the world is everything!

To listen to the whole EARTH album, scroll down or visit it here.

Love,
Charity


Song Story: Shine

May 2, 2016

Welcome to today’s Song Story, “Shine“, track #6 on our album, “EARTH“.

As with many of the songs on the album, this one is a reminder of our place, as Earthlings, in this interdependent world, and the opportunity (responsibility?) we’ve been given to cultivate peace, joy, and love in ways that then afford us the possibility of contributing something positive to the world and other beings.

The song started out in my mind as a rhythmic, almost primal chant centering on the words:

Dance your love into the Earth
Dance your love into the Earth
Sing your love into the sky
Sing your love into the sky
Spread your love around the world
Spread your love around the world
Put your love into your life
Put your love into your life

The suggestion to “dance your love into the Eearth” is a somewhat mystical concept. But, in my experience, a child will have absolutely no problem believing it is possible or enacting it with her/his body. The direction to “dance your love into the Earth” speaks to long-forgotten rituals, Earth-based spirituality, and the practice of lovingkindness.

And the echo-response repeated after each line of the verse, “together, with each other”, is the reminder to do all of this together, with each other, in community — the time is now for us to break through isolation, separateness, and otherness and participate in healing work and practices, not only in our individual lives but also within our communities. It’s time to cultivate and strengthen our bonds of interbeing — together, with each other.

The verses go on to encourage the same actions (“dance, sing, spread, put”), first with our joy and then with our sense of peace, balance and equanimity. I practice lots of mindfulness with the kids and parents in my programs, and one of the most requested and favorite exercises is “sending love”. That’s really all we’re doing with this song!

And when it comes to children embodying these ideas, there’s a ready-made movement experience inherent here. All of our music has accompanying choreography, and this particular song appeared in my mind as a complete dance. I pictured the kids at our concerts and in my classes stomping, jumping, swaying and shining as they translated the words of the song into the visual dimension, literally dancing their love into the Earth.

The chorus gets to the heart of things — let’s shine our love, joy and peace EVERYWHERE, even (especially!) on the suffering in the world. For when we bring our suffering, or the suffering of another, into the light of our compassion, into the gentle yet fierce glow of our love, and begin to nurture, cradle, listen to and be present for it, true healing can begin:

Shine it on the mountains
Shine it on the sea
Shine it on the cities
And the trees and the green country, come on
Shine it on all beings
Those who walk and crawl and swim and fly
Shine it on the suffering
Bring it right into the light

And no one is left out or excluded from this shining love, this shining presence: Earth, cities, plants, people, animals, fish, birds, and any suffering that these beings might be experiencing — we send, share, and offer our love and presence to ALL, without exception. (Extra credit for catching the “Free to Be, You and Me” reference in the chorus ;-))

In the middle of the song there’s a mysterious, quiet bridge where we send the love in all directions (“to the East, West, North, South, Above, Below, Within, Without”), reminiscent of ancient rituals that honor and invite in the full dimensionality of the world. Shine it EVERYWHERE, in ALL directions, on ALL beings! The bridge builds into the “dance your peace into the Earth” verse, and finally arrives at the final chorus. We have undertaken a journey, through our love, joy and peace, through the earth, sky, world and very own hearts, arriving home to shine our best selves, our ever-present, enduring love and light, all around.

“Shine” is ultimately about what we have to offer to our world. Part of our job in this life is to cultivate positive qualities in ourselves — like peace, joy, and love — and then to reflect these outward, sharing our best selves with others and our planet. And, perhaps most importantly, to remember that suffering is also part of life, and that all beings suffer. When we remember this truth — that we all suffer, and we all wish to be free from suffering — we are then capable of true compassion.

For this truth blurs the lines between us, reminds us we’re connected, jolts us awake out of delusion and into awareness, shows us our sense of separation and “otherness” is false, snaps us out of judging, criticizing, comparative mind. And when we shine our love, our presence, on our own suffering or that of others, and hold and honor and witness this suffering, we are providing a healing service. Simply being present for another’s suffering (think “active listening”) is perhaps the greatest gift we can give another being. And the more we do this for each other, and for ourselves, the lighter we will all be.

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

    • Make up a family dance to the song!
    • Teach your dance to a friend or family member.
    • Practice listening meditation with the song. Lie down in a comfortable place and just listen to the words, to the music. Visualize yourself full of love, full of joy, full of peace. Pay attention to any feelings that come up. Sense yourself as part of the Earth. Believe in your ability to send love all around.
    • Can you remember a time when you felt sad or mad? Imagine sending some love and care to the sad or mad feelings or parts inside of you.
    • Do you know someone else who is sad or mad about something? Imagine sending some love and care to the person who is suffering
  • When someone in your life is having trouble, make them a Compassion Card. Simply draw a picture that shows you love them and are there for them, and/or write (or get help writing) a few words like, “I hear you. I see you. I love you.” And offer this to the person who is having trouble.
  • Enjoy our “Peace Breath” meditation to practice cultivating the energy of peace in your mind, body and heart.

I hope you enjoy the song, “Shine“. And scroll down if you’d like to listen to our entire EARTH album!

Namaste (the light in me bows to the light in you, for it is the same light!)

Love,
Charity


A New Album…for the Earth!

April 22, 2016

In honor of the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, we released our sixth album for families today, entitled, simply, “EARTH”.

This music is dedicated to our beautiful, precious Earth and all her beings and ecosystems, the air and light and water and soil that nourish us, and our deepest most tender hearts, which know wisdom and compassion, and will, I have chosen to believe, find a way to wake up and transform human society into one guided by healing, peace and love.

You can find the album here:
Bandcamp (physical OR digital)
iTunes (digital)
CD Baby (digital)
Spotify (streaming)

I created this collection of songs as a response to my own exploration of climate change in particular and environmental tragedy in general. It is my response to our current planetary crisis, and also an attempt to give parents and teachers a tool for communicating to children the reminder that we are not separate from the Earth, but rather that our very survival depends upon our taking care of and protecting her. She is not a “product” put here for us to consume and extract from and run rough shod over. She is our home, our lifeline, our very existence.

Given the amazing threats our species currently faces due to human-caused climate change, ongoing war, nuclear arsenal expansion, and the continuing rape and abuse of our “environment” (literally, our BODY) and other human and animal and plant beings, it is an often terrifying time to be alive. We have absolutely no idea what kind of world future generations will inhabit, especially if we remain with our heads in the sand, going on with business as usual, in our comfortable and addicted lives.

But I believe it is also a wonderful time to be a human being, a precious time! We have been given the opportunity to completely shift our consciousness…TOWARD Earth, community, generosity, presence, each other, all the animals and plants…and AWAY from self-centered, ego-driven, growth-mindset behaviors that ultimately destroy rather than create, separate rather than connect, encourage greed, hatred and delusion over generosity, love, and truth. It is time for the ultimate reframe!

EARTH_CD_back

It is no easy task to figure out how to talk to children about these matters. We can barely handle it all ourselves, as “mature”, “responsible” “grown-ups”. So when thinking about how to bring some of this to light with my music, I settled on the messages of interbeing (interconnectedness and interdependence), compassion, kindness, respect, mindfulness and LOVE, as a way to sing about the Earth and our relationship with her. Perhaps enjoying songs that teach and underscore these ethics and messages is one way to have “the conversation” with our kids, and one way to plant seeds in their hearts, bodies and minds for a healthier relationship with Earth and all beings going forward. For instance…

What if this generation of children grew up believing (knowing) that there really could be enough if we all share? That nature is not something to have power over but rather to commune with and be endlessly respectful of and grateful for? That every single aspect of who they are and what they eat, wear, and “own” comes, circuitously or not, from the Earth and the efforts of other beings? What if these truths informed the decision-making and habits and behaviors of a generation? Would not things be different?

And as we sing these truths to our children, we are reminding ourselves of the same. I believe that our kids actually know this stuff in their bones before society and culture (and, yes, our modeling and our parenting, for we have all bought deeply into this system and story) has its way with their beautiful brains. And we can’t get rid of this programming, unless we’re really ready to go completely off grid, off capitalism in every aspect, in 100% relationship with the land (and I commend any souls brave and resourceful enough who are returning to Earth in this way, creating as light a footprint as possible…I love and support and admire and hope to emulate you!)

So it’s our job, as parents and teachers and grown-ups, to SUPPLEMENT (and replace, where possible) the messages of our culture and our media and our institutions with the perhaps subversive but now absolutely necessary message of the truth of interbeing.

EARTH_CD_insideleft

One of the first steps in retraining our brains toward a relationship “with” rather than “over” Earth is to spend more time in conscious communion with her. As an experiment, sit quietly for a few minutes and go back in time, remembering the experiences during childhood when you were the happiest and most grounded, or a time when you felt a sense of magic, or spirit, or felt yourself truly alive and connected to something greater. Chances are, you were outside somewhere in communion with Mother Earth.

THESE are the experiences that teach us what we need to know now, for the sake of our planet, our children, and all the future generations. And the more of these experiences we can cultivate in our lives and in our families and classrooms, the more we will AUTOMATICALLY care for, protect, defend and cherish Mother Earth. Acting from this wisdom and deep understanding will become obvious, inherent, ingrained…a fundamental, inseparable part of who we are.

My own happiest, most cherished memories of childhood all involve magical moments of communion with aspects of her body: creating universes with sticks and rocks and leaves underneath the protective branches of my favorite willow tree; watching chubby black ants wend their way purposefully among the mountainous world of a peony bush; walking down the hill to the local lake, sprawling out with my best friend on a rock to watch and listen to the gentle water lap the shore; riding my bike alone out onto the country roads, the wind and corn rustling in the breeze, golden light on golden Earth and in my golden, open childhood heart. Birds flew and clouds meandered and suns set. Magic happened. Love was there.

And thanks to some intrepid friends, boyfriends and a husband along the way (Annie, Elicia, Amy B, Chandra, Stevo, Charlie…so much gratitude), I became braver with my outdoor yearnings and adventures over time. It started with camping, then backpacking, and finally a year-long journey rock-climbing all around the U.S., exploring back-country granite, sandstone, basalt, streams, rivers, trees, flowers, wild animals, all forms of weather, the cleanest air imaginable, and a deepening presence with and appreciation for all Mother Earth is and offers. I lived and breathed for and on and with the ROCK that year, and my understanding of the lack of separation between this planet we call home and my very own body and heart and mind was solidified.

EARTH_disc_1500

I now live in a city (San Francisco), and it is more difficult (actually, impossible) to stay immersed in Earth the way I would like. So I go out into my wild and weedy back yard and meditate with the bees and the sour grass. Or I walk or run on the windswept expanse of our blessed Ocean Beach. Or I hug trees. It’s harder in this cement jungle, to stay present with Earth, with all the airplanes above and cell phone rays bouncing around everywhere, but it’s still possible.

So if there’s one thing we can do for Mother Earth, and for ourselves, and for our children, today, right now, it’s to spend more time with her. Sit at the base of a tree, lean on the rough bark and unimaginably strong trunk, absorb the energy of this quiet, wise being, so content to stay in one place for its whole life. Amazing. Or find a body of water or a stream or river and sit alongside watching the sun dance in the ripples, listening to the lapping or the babbling or the rushing, immersing part or all of your beautiful body in the cleansing life-blood of Mother Earth. Or dig into the dirt, the mud, the sand, surrounding your cells with her cells, merging, embodying the possibility of that truth. Or observe the bugs and worms and butterflies and squirrels and birds and other earthlings in their daily doings. Or lie on a grassy hill and watch the clouds and wind and blue or gray or pink or black sky and breathe. Just breathe.

So let’s remember, honor, and listen to Mother Earth with every move we make. And if this music can be a signpost for you along the way, I will be forever grateful. I am deliriously happy to be on this journey with you. Let’s wake up, rise up, join hands. The time is now.

And before I go, I must thank the players who make the music come alive. My partner in life and music, Daryn Roven, played electric guitar and many other instruments, helped edit my song lyrics, contributed invaluably to figuring out arrangements and instrumentation, and engineered and co-produced the whole thing with me. David Rokeach (drums) provided the driving grooves and heartbeats and backbone. Paul Lamb (bass) offered groove, so much melody, and an undeniable anchor. Laurie Pomeranz brings the most amazing light and energy to our live shows with her dancing and singing. They are all incredible parents and human beings, and I couldn’t make this music without their talent, support and commitment to this project. And to all the fans who sing and dance along…thank you for being HERE with me, for showing up, for understanding what I’m trying to do and say and discover…we are in each other’s hearts!

Finally, I will be publishing Song Stories over the next couple weeks, one for each song on the album. I’ll talk about the why and how and what of the music and how each song intertwines with and co-creates the themes of the album. Subscribe to my blog to receive notifications when these are up.

I’ll leave you with a lyric from track #3 on the album, “Earth Day”:

Now is the moment to open our eyes
And our minds and our hearts and realize
The Earth is our friend, the Earth is our home
The Earth is our Mother, we are never alone
We must protect our only Earth
Every action and intention affirming her worth
Let’s do no harm and take good care
Of every life, everyone, everything, everywhere
‘Cause every day should be Earth Day!

Love,
Charity


Sit Breath Love: Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

January 3, 2015

SBL_9_600Dear friends,

In conjunction with the birth of the new year, we are very excited to announce the birth of a new JAM project:

Sit Breathe Love:
Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

Listen + Download Here

Our intention is to share every month or so a new guided meditation you can listen to and practice with the children in your family or classroom. Click the “Follow” button on the download page to be notified when we add new ones.

These meditations will be in the mindfulness vein, and will touch on such areas as awareness of breath, cultivation of lovingkindness and non-harming, mindful listening, body scans, gratitude, joy, difficult feelings, and beyond.

Our January offering is called “Ball of Light Meditation”. You can use this guided meditation with your children when you’d like to cultivate a little peace and love. Try it at bedtime, or perhaps in the morning before leaving the house, to plant seeds of presence, calm and kindness. Listen, relax, and enjoy!

I use these meditations in my JAMcamps with children aged 4-10, but you can try with younger and older children, too, and see what happens.

Perhaps the most important thing is to model for your children your commitment to cultivating your own mindfulness. So do the practices with them as often as you can! You will show them, via embodiment, that it is important to you, too, and that you have faith in its value.

We would love to hear about how, where and when you use these practices, and how your children respond to them. So stay in touch!

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace in the new year and always 😉

Take care,
Charity


Lovingkindness Practice: Concrete Action for the Chaos of Our Times

October 18, 2014

elephant-metta-borderI am constantly struck by how many opportunities we have as humans to be more present and more compassionate. We have truly been given a precious opportunity to continue growing up into more wise and loving creatures. This is one fact that helps me remain in love with and committed to life despite its outrageous challenges and seemingly never-ending pitfalls.

I hosted one of my JAMcamps this past Monday for 14 children ages five through eight. Our theme for the day was “non-harming”. In addition to singing songs and making art and books related to this theme, we practiced a little meditation I call Finger Meditation. Basically, we “promise” or set an intention that “we will NOT HARM people, animals, plants, the earth, or ourselves.” We also “promise” or set an intention that “we will HELP people, animals, plants, the earth, and ourselves.” And we simply commit to doing our best in these areas, and to staying present for opportunities where we can choose non-harming over harming, and choose helping over doing nothing.

These little children understand immediately the power and relevance of these promises and intentions. They comprehend deeply the necessity of making them. They unabashedly want to follow through on them. They literally shine with light and love as we discuss things like why it’s important not to intentionally squash a spider, why it’s a worthwhile endeavor to respect the incredible complexity and intelligence of an ocean and its creatures, why it’s crucial that we treat each other and everything with respect, why it might be a healthy choice to shake off our hands after washing them rather than use yet another tree-born paper towel. The brilliance, intelligence and heart I continually witness in the children I share time with gives me more hope for the future of our planet than most things. They GET it.

It is important for us to find and nourish these sources of inspiration, lest we fall into the traps of apathy, depression, overwhelmth, and fear. For apparently we have been born into a time of great upheaval, change, chaos, even darkness. Most of our political, economic, social and environmental systems are desperately off balance and increasingly sick. If you are awake to what is actually occurring, you certainly feel at times overwhelmed, paralyzed, confused, angry and/or apathetic. Yet we are tasked with the seemingly crazy and impossible job of making sense of all of this, while somehow continuing on with our lives with a modicum of equanimity, compassion, joy and ideally also a dash of optimism and a dose of helpful action.

So what are we to do about it all?

Obviously, there’s no “top ten” list to answer that question. Yes, we should change our light bulbs, but that can’t be where we stop. Unfortunately there’s no single big “fix” we can make in our own personal lives (like moving to the land), or in the workings of the systems of which we are an inseparable part (like gaining control of the Senate), that will turn this ship around. But there is very important work to be done in the world, so we do continue to make choices that are healthy for ourselves and our communities and our environment — some of them big and radical and transformative — and we certainly must continue to vote. And there is VERY important work to be done on ourselves — to awaken to and shatter the forces of greed, hatred and delusion within our own hearts and minds. This has always been true, and it is perhaps even more true and urgent now.

There’s a wonderful Pali word that speaks to this moment we inhabit and how we feel about it: samvega. It basically means, “a sense of shock, anxiety and spiritual urgency leading to wise action.” Certainly one of the best and most effective forms of wise action for us as human beings in the face of today’s immense challenges and the associated difficult emotions that come up for us is to continue and deepen our meditation practice. For this practice has as one of its fruits the strengthening and fortification of our ability to bring more presence and awareness to everything — every moment, person, situation, emotion, thought, experience. And the better able we are to be present, non-reactive, non-judgmental and clear, the better chance we have of behaving in a way that helps rather than harms.

We need to practice (ideally, daily!) in order to strengthen these tendencies and habits — in order to water the seeds of kindness, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and love inside of us, rather than the seeds of greed, hatred, fear, doubt and delusion which we all also carry within. Training our minds and hearts and changing ourselves in this way WILL ultimately change the “outside” world, for we are inextricably woven through with that entire world — all of its molecules, all of its energy, all of its beings and non-beings. There is no true separation we can actually measure. Inter-being is a fact. So the transformative effect of this work we do with and inside of ourselves in meditation practice is not something to underestimate.

Merriam-Webster defines crisis as follows: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention” and “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”. I just love this! For certainly, we are, here and now, alive during a time that “needs serious attention”. And certainly things are both “difficult” and “dangerous”. But notice the “better or worse” clause. It is as if the earth and humanity were infected with an acute disease, and we are right now at or approaching the height of the infection. In which direction will the illness go? Toward death, or toward life? Toward annihilation, or toward a great turning? I firmly believe we can do our part to turn this crisis in the direction of love and healing, starting from our very own meditation cushions.

One beautiful and effective way to fortify the mind and heart and create stability in your practice, especially during difficult times or when emotions are running high, is to practice Metta, or Lovingkindness, meditation, on a regular basis. There are some wonderful guided meditations available on the internet here and here and here, and you can read more about the practice here and here and here. The basic idea is to generate feelings of goodwill in ever-widening circles, beginning with yourself. The technique employed in the meditation is to repeat certain phrases over and over again, dropping them into your heart, cultivating this sense of wishing others well as you go along:

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace.”

In addition to a very beautiful way of loving and caring for ourselves, this practice nourishes the heart, stabilizes the mind, and is generally a comforting place to land. Certainly, we can all use all the comfort we can get these days. And the odds of us being able to find and cultivate this comfort within, taking charge of our own suffering and our own karma, are a lot higher than finding it in any leader or system or anything external for that matter. Yes, we have to mother ourselves. And, in doing so, we mother the world.

So, we must find ways to act, and we must find ways to sit and do nothing. Start off be getting inspired by some human beings practicing courageous and dramatic action in support of the healing of our earth — the Pacific Climate Warriors’ recent efforts in the seas off Australia. And then spend some time on your cushion, loving the earth by loving yourself, being kind to the earth by being kind to yourself, cultivating the wish for ALL BEINGS to be happy, healthy, safe and at peace. This is certainly something we can do.

October Mindfulness Tip: Practice Lovingkindness Often!
Experiment with adding a short (5-minute) or longer (25-minute) lovingkindness practice to your meditation schedule. Perhaps 2-3 times per week for the next month, replace your daily meditation with a period of lovingkindness. Alternately, you can end each of your regular sits with a short period of lovingkindness practice. Or even expand your practice to add a lovingkindness meditation on a day you’ll also do your regular mindfulness practice (For example, when I can make the time, I like to practice Lovingkindness in the morning, and do a regular sit later on. It starts my day off in such a gentle way and sets the stage for kindness and a more open heart all day long). This is also a wonderful practice to do as a “last thing” before you go to sleep. Get cozy, release your the worries and anxieties and stress of your day into the bed/floor/earth, and give yourself a little extra love! Finally, if it feels overwhelming to do the whole practice (starting with yourself, moving to a benefactor or friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, then all beings), just stay with yourself and practice there. You’re worth it!

I will leave you with a song. It’s about lovingkindness and sharing our love, all around. Sing it in the shower. Sing it with your kids. Sing it to your partner. Sing it to the trees and the oceans and the rivers and the skies and the breeze. And sing it to your very own heart.

I love you.

charity_signature


Earth Day 2014: The Morning After

April 23, 2014

It is an uncommonly peaceful morning. I’m sitting in my sunny living room which is clean for once, walls joyfully papered with the marker-and-crayon musings of my own children and those from JAMcamp. My glowy-green matcha is the perfect temperature and especially yummy. I hear seagulls singing while they fly and little birds chirping on the wire. A mellow incense fills the air — a gift from a long-lost college friendship recently restored. This is a rare calm and happy moment, and I am appreciating it.

But despite appearances, all is not right with the world.

motherearthtree_cropEarth Day received a lot of press yesterday. Many scary and earnest emails and articles made their way around the internet, pairing the ways in which we are in climate-change-related dire straits with recommendations for doing our part to clean up the mess. It feels good to see the most important topic of our time finally discussed in a wider way and with the urgency required. It is heart-breaking to open up to the reality it describes. It is terrifying not to really understand how we as individuals can help turn this ship, the ice berg now so close we can taste it. We are humans, parents and citizens of the most resource-intensive country in the world. We care, but we also contribute. We don’t want our children to suffer. We don’t want anyone’s children to suffer. We don’t know what to do.

The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“concluding four years of intense scientific collaboration by hundreds of authors from around the world”) finds that “the world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming.” Yet, as the New York Times states, “However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

We are being silent. We are being small. We are not really talking about it. Biking more and replacing our lightbulbs and signing petitions against Keystone XL are all important, and we should all absolutely be doing all of that. But something more drastic and immediate and powerful is additionally required, certainly from our governments and corporations, but also from us, individually.

Of all the analyses I’ve read, the Buddhist view and approach is the only one that gives me any real satisfaction; the only one that truly gets at the ROOT of what’s going on, how we got here, and how we can move through it; the only one that describes a path that feels possible, holistic and sensible; the only one that tells the whole truth. If you have a few minutes, read this article by One Earth Sangha in its entirety, and see if you agree: “The Earth as Witness: International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change”. Here is an excerpt:

“The Dharma (body of teachings from the Buddha) informs us…that craving, aversion, and delusion within the human mind are the root causes of vast human suffering. Just as these mental factors have throughout history led to the oppression, abuse, and exploitation of indigenous peoples and others outside the halls of wealth and power, craving, aversion, and delusion are also the root causes of climate change. Climate change is perhaps humanity’s greatest teacher yet about how these mental forces, when unchecked in ourselves and our institutions, cause harm to other people and the living environment. Led by industrialized nations, the desire for evermore material wealth and power has resulted in the reckless destruction of land and water, excessive use of fossil fuels, massive amounts of solid and toxic waste, and other practices that are disrupting the Earth’s climate. However, by acknowledging and addressing these internal mental drivers, we can begin to resolve the external causes of climate change.”

The statement goes on to discuss the importance of engaging in ethical conduct which honors all life and helps to restore the Earth’s ecosystems. This includes making healthy and loving choices when it comes to our own consumption and behaviors, and also speaking truth to power and standing up to those interests that block the path to putting the same forces of love and peace in motion on a more global level. It requires ENGAGING, both in our own process, and in the processes at work in the world that threaten to destroy our planet and its inhabitants.

The statement also reminds us of the path and practice of mindfulness, which will make all else possible, and without which, I increasingly believe, we are lost. When we regularly employ some form of mindfulness practice, we are strengthening our ability to pay attention, to rest in kind awareness, and to gain understanding and insight. We begin to SEE the greed, hatred and delusion in our own being. We begin to notice when our thoughts, words and actions may cause harm to another, while simultaneously growing our capacity to choose a more ethical approach. And we get deeply in touch with the lack of separation between ourselves and each other, and between humans and the earth. When we are in connection with the truth of interdependence, it becomes much more difficult to stay asleep, wear the veil, and just say, “Whatever.” Apathy and denial become more painful than the alternative. And we awaken.

So my recommendation for “Earth Day 2014”, for whatever it’s worth, is to meditate. Every day. For even 1 minute. Sit in your body. Relax your shoulders and your belly. Find your breath. Come into this moment. Drop the worries and stress and fixing and planning and remembering and regretting and blaming and judging. Stay with the breath. Listen to the breath as if your life depended on it, because it just might. Do this for a few moments every day. This practice plants seeds. They begin to sprout. More practice waters them. They grow stronger and taller and sweeter. They are made of love and kindness and joy and healing. This is the garden our earth needs.

Do this alone, and do it with your children. As the Dalai Lama famously said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But it certainly cannot hurt to introduce our children to a practice that at its core nurtures compassion, kindness, mindfulness, awareness, and the reminder that we are all one. And it is certainly beneficial to teach our children how to tune in to themselves, so they have the opportunity to learn first-hand that true and lasting happiness comes from within, rather from something or someone external.

And what to do about the fear? The bottomless, overwhelming, vibrating anxiety and terror that can come up when we really dive into the truth of what we are doing to the planet, and what this might mean for ourselves, for our children, for all children, for all beings. Meditate with that, too. Sit with the fear. Feel it in your body. Name it. Acknowledge it. See it. Hear it. Embrace it. It is beautiful. It is an echo of your true self speaking out, screaming that something is out of balance. Stay with it. Love it. Heed its message. Certainly, this way, you will have a better chance of moving through this difficult emotion to whatever’s on the other side (ethical action? acceptance? equanimity? love? insight?) than if you avoid, resist, push down, shut out, numb, medicate, or otherwise block it. It is better to face the truth, no matter how painful. For in the space created by the willingness to see things for what they truly are, we receive the healing.

And the final teaching in this moment — perhaps always — is the reminder of impermanence. We can meditate every day, we can drive less, we can be kind, we can buy organic, we can buy less, we can engage in political action, we can remember the breath. And this will all help — certainly it will help us be happier people, and maybe it will even help the world turn into love. But it is also just a FACT that everything changes. We will age. We will get sick. We will die. We will lose the people and things we love. And our unwillingness to accept these fundamental truths of existence is often the greatest source of our suffering. So put energy and time and intention into planting seeds of love and kindness within and without. And then let go of any attachment to outcome. This, too, is mindfulness. Purposefully being present for what is actually happening, in the present moment, without judgement, without the need to manipulate or control, without expectation. Sitting with discomfort and not running away. If there ever was a time to get good at this, that time is now.

We are literally, in this moment, on the brink, at the edge, under the gun, hanging in the balance. What will we choose to do about it? All may not be right with the world, but neither is all lost. We have our bodies, we have our breath, we have this moment, we have our love. Let’s put them to good use.

In the interest of providing support so this work doesn’t feel so isolated and lonely, I have created a FaceBook page called We Are The Ones where we can find each other and relate around these intentions. If you would like to join me in a commitment to start or continue a regular daily meditation practice, for the sake of our own sanity, and for the future of the planet, please visit me there. I will be posting daily, sharing quotes, resources, tips, observations, and opportunities to meditate in community, both virtually and in person. We can celebrate and support each others’ practices with our virtual Sangha (community), and embody our intention to meditate daily for the benefit of ourselves, all beings, and the planet.

SOTM_TheReminderAnd I will leave you with a song. It’s from the lullaby half of our double album Party Like a Twinkle Star, and is called The Reminder. You can download it for free, or just listen. It is a love song to our children, the earth, the universe, each other, ourselves. No separation, no beginning, no end. I bow to the light within you, for it is the same light that is within me.

I love you. See you on the cushion.

charity_signature

 

The Reminder (lyrics)

you are the sky
you are the mountain
you are the water
you are the fountain
you are the moonlit meadow moss
under my toes

you are the bloom
you are the butterfly
you are the sundown
you are the morning light
you are the proof
that something inside of us knows

you are the moon
you are tides turning
you are the galaxies
you are stars twirling
you are the road
everything comes, then it goes

you are the nugget
right at the heart of things
you are this moment
empty of everything
you are the song
that rises up
and forever grows
on and on and on and on and on…

you are the wind
you are falling leaves
you are the soul that shines
you are the heart that grieves
you are the raindrop
you are the ocean
you are the magic words
you are the potion
you are the message
speaking through everything
you are the sage who smiles
you are the child who sings
on and on and on and on and on…


Consumption Meets Compassion on Halloween

October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013 is here. Hello creativity, greed, magic, consumption, playfulness, unconsciousness, celebration, exploitation. Has there ever been a more complex tradition in the history of humankind? For parents, especially, the contrasts and the conflicts inherent in this holiday affect our families directly, and are begging for our attention.

So if Halloween is your favorite holiday and you don’t want to spend any time thinking about the associated problems, you might not want to read any further.

But if you, like me, have some anxiety about what we’re teaching and allowing for our kids and our communities on this day every year, maybe some of these thoughts will resonate, or be helpful, or inspire ideas YOU can share to shift things in a different direction on down the road. I’m all ears. This is not an easy one to figure out.

boysinwheelbarrowardenwoodfarmsLets’ start with some happy, grateful thoughts! Here are the things I appreciate about Halloween:

  • I love the magic and joy and excitement and creativity leading up to and surrounding the day itself.
  • I love seeing my kids and all kids get inspired about dressing up and taking on a persona for the day, and ideally making or recycling at least part of their costume.
  • I love carving pumpkins (or letting the squirrels carve them!)
  • I love discussing with my kids the history of Halloween, and its roots in and associations with Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and onset of winter) and Day of the Dead (the ancestor-honoring festival celebrated in Mexican and South American cultures).
  • I love walking around outside with my family and friends in the brisk chill of late autumn, while the sunlight fades from the sky and the candlelight shines from so many one-of-a-kind jack-o-lanterns, celebrating together a magical moment and memory-in-the-making in our children’s and our lives. Beautiful!

Shifting gears now! Here are the things I fret about:

  • Americans are estimated to have spent $2.4 billion on Halloween candy this year, with 75% of that being chocolate candy of some sort. That is an insane amount of candy! Some estimates say it’s about 600 billion pounds — of nutrition-free, unhealthy, non-food that rots teeth and guts and harms humans and the planet. What else could we be spending that money on? And I always wonder how much of it ends up in the landfill, after all that? The amount of waste and mis-used resources is overwhelming to think about.
  • Most popular chocolate manufacturers are not fair trade compliant and, despite ongoing pressure from communities and human rights organizations, have not evolved their policies to protect children and people in general. And the waste and environmental issues involved in candy creation are not insignificant. These are huge corporations not necessarily following good environment practices or holistic and sustainable business models. When we purchase and eat this candy, we are supporting their violent choices with our money and actions.
  • There are lots of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and dyes and otherwise unseemly ingredients in most of this candy. In addition, of course to the requisite sugar. What does this do to our kids and to all kids, both in the moment (can you say “bouncing off the walls”?) and longer-term?
  • Even if you participate in some sort of buy-back program (like Operation Gratitude) via your dentist or directly, you’re still sending the candy somewhere. Someone is going to eat it, and Operation Gratitude’s web site says that much of the candy sent to the troops is handed out to local children to “build relationships”. So it can rot their teeth and guts while we buy friendship with candy? I think we’re missing the point here. How about we bring the troops home instead, and offer humanitarian aid to impoverished communities world-wide in the form of healthy, nutritious food? We certainly can afford that, if we can afford to buy $2.4 billion in candy every year.

So what are we supposed to do about this dilemma?

If we let our kids eat all of their candy, it’s unhealthy for them, for other beings, and for the planet. If we don’t let them eat all of it, what do we do with the candy that’s left over, since its very existence is unhealthy for people and the planet, and just trashing it is so wasteful? And if we go to the extreme and refrain from allowing our kids to participate at all, we are potentially marginalizing them in a way that is hard on them socially and doesn’t solve the deeper problem anyway.

FThallMy response this year will be to let my kids have at their candy for a few days (within reason…no uber-binging, as my personal philosophy is just to not allow that, in any context), and then collect the remainder in return for a couple of delicious fair trade organic chocolate bars of their choice, to be eaten and enjoyed leisurely over time.

And accompanying that action will be perhaps the most important piece of all: a lot of discussion about all the topics mentioned above in the “fretting” paragraph…everything from why buy fair trade, to why eat organic non-GMO food, to why make choices not to consume more than we need, to what happens when corporate and human greed is allowed to go unchecked, to the biggest one of all: how do we, as individuals, families and communities, make ethical and loving choices in the context of a consumption-based culture that is constantly messaging, modeling, pushing and embodying the opposite?

Finally, after I trade in my kids’ candy for those organic fair trade bars and I’m left with a big pillowcase full of nastiness, what are we gonna do with it?

The best idea I’ve heard so far is to let the kids do science/cooking experiments and really get messy with it. Cutting, melting, freezing, soaking, mixing, blending, chopping, stirring…whatever! Another good possibility is to make art with the left-over pieces, maybe even inviting a bunch of families to pool their left-overs and make a huge collaborative piece — a community-based awareness-raising “collage of compassion” or “sculpture of sustainability”!

Or maybe we’ll just compost the insides and recycle/trash the outsides, making note of how much of the earth’s rare and beautiful resources went pretty much directly into the landfill as a direct result of this tradition. Quite often, the truth hurts. And feeling that pain is not a bad thing. For touching suffering with a tender, open heart is the beginning of being able to experience true compassion.

I am not interested in penalizing or punishing my children for being born into this culture or getting swept up in its hallowed traditions. And I don’t want them to feel bad or guilty about their participation and the joy they experience while celebrating it all.

But I do want to raise them in a way that allows them to open (and keep open) their eyes, wake up, and always be at least be aware of the consequences of their actions. I want them to understand that no matter what the cultural norm is, they always have a choice to act independently and from their hearts. I want them to remember that their bodies and the body of our precious earth and its plants, animals and minerals are deeply worthy of their love, protection and stewardship. And to know that it is well within their power to choose compassion over consumption, in small or big ways, again and again.

The word “hallow” means “to respect or honor greatly; to revere.” Let’s reclaim that definition, and insert as much respect and honoring and reverence for all beings and the earth as possible into our observance of this day. I hope you all have a magical night under the stars with your beautiful children. I’ll be out there walking around with you, knowing that we are together shifting and transforming and moving always closer to love, one tiny thought, word, action, or little piece of candy at a time.

Love,

Charity