Archive for the ‘Evolving Consciousness’ Category.

Burning Woman: Art and Initiation in Hot, Dry Places

Following is a profile essay written in June 2011 for my English 1A class.


The elfin, middle-aged woman is curled into a fetal ball on the ground, her T-shirt pulled over her head to protect her eyes and face while a ferocious sandstorm painfully scours her slender limbs.  It’s the first hour of Sharon Armstrong’s first time attending Burning Man, the social and artistic experiment held each August in an immense desert valley in Nevada.  The scorching, utterly flat plain of the valley is known as “the playa.” Today, apparently, the playa wants to play rough.

Sharon Armstrong small portrait“I’d just arrived,” Sharon Armstrong, local artist, clinical psychologist and community activist remembers.  “I walked out on the playa just to kinda see what in the world is this?  What am I here for?  A terrible sandstorm blew up and it was hotter than hell.  I think I had on some cutoffs and a T-shirt.  I felt like my skin was being sandblasted.”  Her eyes widen behind her silver-rimmed glasses, marveling at the memory,  “I could see nothing.  I could remember reading something in their survival manual that, if you can’t get to a safe place, close your eyes and get down.  So I just hit the ground, put my shirt up over my head and waited.”

The few people passing by in the storm were far more sensibly outfitted than she for life in Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis built by Burning Man attendees.  Wearing protective clothing and eye goggles, a few of them checked on Sharon’s condition before fading into the hammering, sand-saturated gale.  Radical self-reliance is a key principle at Burning Man, but so is interdependence and community.  “One guy stopped, and I knew it was a guy from his voice, and he said, ‘Are you okay?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’  He took off his shirt, put it over me and rode off.  I will never know who it was.”

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Pangea Day

David Pogue, tech writer for the New York Times, posted an article about Pangea Day, the TED wish project of Jehane Noujaim, a documentary filmmaker. Her wish was to create a one-day, global film project promoting understanding between cultures. The attention from TED really did the trick, and her project looks like a wonderful success. I love this idea! Now I just have to figure out a where I can watch the films.

“Einstein’s Business:” Chock Full of Visionaries

I’ve been dipping into the book “Einstein’s Business” for over a year. Made up of 47 essays by a host of authors, from Lynne Twist to John Gray to Riane Eisler to Steven Covey to Thomas Moore to… Donald Trump? (yes, indeedy) this book has been fun and inspiring and educational to have around. It’s easy to pick it up and flip to a particular essay, let that simmer for a bit, and then put the thing down and come back to another essay as the urge strikes.

In addition to famous folks such as Tom Peters, Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey, the book offers the writings of some not-so-famous names (Faith Popcorn, Wally “Famous” Amos) and also some I’d never heard of at all (Julie Gerland, Paul Hawken, Bari Tessler… anyone? anyone?). That’s part of what I like about this book. I get to read the work of thinkers and explorers that I’d have been unlikely to have heard of otherwise.

For example, one of my favorite essays is by Bernard Lietaer, an expert and author in “green” currencies and money systems. Mr. Lietaer inspired me very much with his case stories of money systems that discourage hoarding (the inevitable result of positive interest rates), and thus nurture community by encouraging (negative interest rates and expiration dates) money to flow in interactions and transactions between neighbors and wider community members, thus supporting more broadly shared assets between all people and a higher quality of life overall. I was fascinated by his stories of how effectively alternative systems have worked in the real world, and how fast the powerful central banks quashed them. I was struck by the reminder that money is our own creation (duh), as poignantly illustrated in the following quote:

“Money is like an iron ring we’ve put through our noses. We’ve forgotten that we designed it, and it’s now leading us around. It’s time to figure out where we want to go–and then design a money system that moves us toward sustainability and community.”

Wow. And that’s just *one* essay.

As an added bonus, each essay begins with a full page, black and white photo of the author. I really enjoyed seeing what these folks look like, especially when I had not heard of them before. I had fun initially flipping through the essays and picking out ones by authors whose faces appealed to me, a not very orderly but fun way of taking in the material.

Quoted on the inside back flap is Einstein’s quote:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Not every essay grabbed me so hard as Mr. Lietaer’s, but overall this book has been a deeply inspiring and mind-opening read, expanding my horizons and suggesting interesting new topics to explore, as well as individual authors to seek out and read more extensively.

Connecting with NVC Consciousness: It’s Not in the Words

I appreciate Emma’s comment and question to my post, “Sounds like NVC, Must be NVC …?” Emma expresses frustration at how easy it can be to find oneself simply masking old, habitual thinking in new NVC language, with very unsatisfactory results. She asks for recommendations on how to stay in the consciousness of NVC rather than just focusing on the mechanics and speaking tools. Yay!

Sometimes I feel pretty lonely with my story that there aren’t many people who want to explore at this level, Emma, even people who train NVC. I’m noticing pleasure and hopefulness as I read what you wrote. It nurtures my confidence that others do resonate with these ideas, which inspires me to keep exploring. Thanks for reaching out. I’ve got some ideas that I hope you’ll enjoy playing with.

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The Warrior and the Monk

The following story was quoted to Conal in email recently. He shared it with me and I enjoyed it very much. The person who shared it with him had gotten it from the web page of John Greenfelder Sullivan, Powell Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Elon University in Maryland.

In a famous Zen story, a samurai warrior comes up to a little monk and says: Teach me about heaven and hell. “Teach you?” the little monk replies, “why you are a dirty, smelly, poor excuse for a samurai. Even your sword is rusty!” Insulted, the samurai, flush with anger, draws his sword and is about to cleave this insolent monk in two. A split second before he strikes, the monk says: “That’s Hell.” The samurai has a moment of insight. He realizes that this monk has gone to the very door of death to teach him. He fills with gratitude, his body relaxes and he sheaths his sword. At that precise moment, the monk says: “That’s Heaven.”

I was curious to see what this person was about, and I was even more inspired as I read over Dr. Sullivan’s writings. Wow. In a culture that places so much emphasis on “leadership” centered around making corporations bigger and more powerful, I’m grateful to know that there are beings such as Dr. Sullivan leading inspiring young people toward compassion, wholeness, and service.

Sounds like NVC, must be NVC …?

I’m on a number of mailing lists of NVC providers, publishers, and organizations. Lately, I’ve been noticing that my idea of the consciousness of NVC isn’t always matched by what I’m reading. The following is an excerpt from an newsletter that I read, which shall remain unnamed:

Focus on Needs
Stay focused on needs/values. (Have a needs list available for people to reference.) People can more readily accept and value what’s being said when needs are clearly stated.

It’s easier to warm up to the statement “The way this case was handled didn’t meet my needs for fairness and equality and I’m wondering if you’re willing to explore with me how it might be handled differently in future” than the statement “I was treated unfairly and that’s unacceptable.”

The author is giving a suggestion for how to speak in a more connecting way. I had an “ick” reaction to it instantly, feeling at first annoyance. Obviously my own judge and jury were on duty, there. Then I felt sadness and discouragement as I realized I have a longing for a deeper, more meaningful shift in consciousness so we all might live in more harmony and peace.

What I read above is our same old habitual thinking cloaked a new formula for talking. This is an example of my least favorite form of expressing needs: “That doesn’t meet my need for…” which sounds to me like a vague demand, and is a form that also usually has some criticism wrapped up in it. In the above I hear a statement that, while less obviously ouchy than the original statement, is outwardly directed and still rooted in judgment.

Figuring out what to say instead of “that’s unacceptable,” or whatever, without addressing the thinking that underlies the urge to say such a thing won’t get us far in nurturing a connection. It’s an inside job, as the saying goes. If I’m having a story that I was treated unfairly, just finding a new way to say, “Hey, you’re treating me unfairly” won’t help me release my moralistic judgment (they did something that was unfair) and make a heart connection with another human being. I might take some of the sting out of my statement so they freak out a little less, but I will not get to the yummy place of joyful collaboration.

I’m wondering if people experience some small relief from that little shift in their language. If they find a new way to speak that stings less, perhaps they will be willing to accept the results of mild de-escalation as success. “Hey, they didn’t freak out on me nearly so much! Cool!”

I don’t want us to stop there. I don’t even want us to start there. The yummiest, most connecting, transformative shifts I’ve experienced are shifts in consciousness and thinking. When I’m free of judgment, moralism, blame, attachment, etc., I don’t have to practice how to talk. My words will flow naturally in a way that illustrates my intention and focus on serving life.

The Elusive Evil Ones

Conal, his mom Ann, and I had a stimulating discussion last evening about spirituality, war, the impact of affluence, violence, carpeting, what to call our work, and about a hundred other topics. While we were talking about the new dimensions of political folly with regard to Iran, Conal remembered one of his favorite quotes:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? ~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Having enemies makes things simple. You find them. You kill them. You live happily ever after. Problem is, war, assassination, and violence have never, ever worked to nurture lasting peace. We keep acting as if we can just find all the enemies and eliminate them, then all will be well. Sh’yeah. As if.

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The Toe-stomping Dance of Right and Wrong

A thought came to me lying abed last week, early early early in the morning when I really ought to have been sleeping. I do some of my most creative thinking in the wee hours (why is that, anyway?). I’ve been wanting to write about it ever since, and hey, that’s what a blog is for, yes?

The thought I had was this: As long as we see another person’s or group’s actions as “wrong,” we can never truly be collaborators with them. The best we can hope for is cooperation based on fear of punishment.

So what the heck am I talking about? I’m passionate about the evolution of consciousness, and I think our culture’s fixation on the idea of right and wrong is one of the core causes of suffering in our world. When things go awry, we habitually seek outside ourselves for who or what is to blame, and when we find the “guilty” party, we energetically pursue what we call justice. By which we mean punishment.

The roots of this habit are deep and complex. One of the main roots is the very structure of our relationships. Ours is a societal system defined by hierarchy, an all-pervasive power-over structure wherein those in authority define the rules and everyone else follows the rules and are rewarded accordingly, or break the rules and suffer punishment. I say all-pervasive, because hierarchical structures are a part of virtually every aspect of our lives. Our families, workplaces, churches, clubs and associations, our governments, and even relations between nations are infused with hierarchical structures. Someone is the boss, at every level.

Punishment can be carried out by our official justice system, in cases where the rule being broken is one of those our society leaders have written down. Or punishment can be a result of societal pressure around one of our culture’s myriad unwritten rules, resulting in anything from mild embarrassment to ostracism.

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