One of the most important books of the past century (according to Ashley Montague and me) is “The Chalice and the Blade” by Riane Eisler.  It’s a historical, anthropological study of our history which proves that humans once lived without weapons and without war.  I think that’s a really important fact to know.

If we lived without war in the past, we CAN do it again.  It seems many people believe that violence is inherent in humanity — but it’s not.  It’s learned.  Don’t they say that if you know history, you’re less likely to repeat it?  Well, I don’t know about that, but I think knowing that patriarchy, and our culture of domination and violence, is only about 5,000 years old comforts me.  It’s a brief speck of time in the continuum….and we can feel the tides turning to a time of growing cooperation and sharing.

Until 1973, it wasn’t illegal for men to rape their wives. Until 1920, women didn’t have the right to vote. Not long before that, women didn’t have rights to own property or go to school.  While women are gaining certain rights, the worldwide scale of violence against women doesn’t seem to be receding, like you’d think it would if women were truly empowered.

Then again, women and children aren’t the only victims. Violence affects all of us humans, and the rest of the planet as well. In fact, many believe that if we don’t stop the violence against the planet, all these other issues will just be academic, cause we won’t be here to see anything evolve to a higher consciousness.

What can we do?  Some well known person once said “when 10% of the world’s population meditates, we’ll have world peace” (not IF, but WHEN).  OK, this translates in my mind to mean that if we calm our busy minds, if we bring peace between our ears, our planet will be more peaceful as a result.   Believing this helps me make the time to meditate.

Hearts Aligned for Peace

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As a result of doing a grief ritual about my daughter, i began a daily gratitude practice 21 years ago. Two years earlier she was born not breathing, and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. With all the specialists involved in her life, the focus was always on what she wasn’t doing. I did the grief ritual to let go of who I’d expected or wanted her to be, and to accept her exactly for who she is. In the midst of creating this ritual (well, first, I threw away all the developmental charts), I realized I had much to be grateful about her, such as how healthy she is, and that she wakes up smiling each and every day.

I went from focusing on what she wasn’t doing to being grateful for what she WAS doing, and for her inherent beauty, strength, and perserverance. (I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather people focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses.)

Gratitude morphed from a theory to a life-saving daily practice. Before that, I thought gratitude was some lofty concept – I didn’t realize it was something I could practice as a way to focus on the positive. I know people who write gratitude lists every day, either in the morning or at the end of the day. Me, I’m a verbal gratitude lister:  I begin the day speaking my gratitudes aloud (often in my car on the way to work), giving thanks for a variety of blessings.

After years of focusing on all that I am grateful for, it occurred to me how much our culture, and thus us, focus mostly on what’s wrong: what’s wrong with my body, what’s wrong with other people, what’s wrong in the world. Gratitude, then, is an act of love that has the potential to heal many of our ills.

I’m reminded of what I heard the Dalai Lama say when he came to Portland: that he was astounded at how much people in the U.S. hate themselves. He told us that people in Tibet (and other countries) do not hate themselves as a general practice. That was amazing to hear: self-hatred is not natural for humans. It’s learned, and thus, it can be unlearned. I believe gratitude helps us love ourselves.

What if you grew up hearing about all your strengths, wonders, beauty, and gifts? What if no one criticized your mistakes, because we know we all make mistakes. Gratitude is truly vital to our future, because it has the enormous potential to transform our lives from ones of negativity, into focusing on what’s working…and we know that what we focus on grows.  I hope you will grow a gratitude practice.  If you’re not feeling particular grateful, start with the ability to see and to read.

Today I’m particularly grateful that 20 of my labia sculptures are in Los Angeles at a Portlandia event.  They fly home on Monday.

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I knew I never wanted to see the movie “Prisoners” when I first saw the trailer.  A couple years passed, and someone recommended it highly, so one Saturday night we watched it.  I feel violated and abused mostly by the content, but also by the ending, and how badly the movie was put together.

It leaves me wondering:  what is the percentage of movies and TV crime drama shows whose subject is the rape, abduction, kidnapping, torture, etc, etc. of women and children?  We learned as long ago as “Clockwork Orange” that movies not only reflect society, they CREATE society.  Gangs of boys recreated the rape scene in Clockwork Orange.  Aren’t young men the target for Hollywood movies?  Are these movies, then, a kind of training ground for perpetuating the woman-hating and life-hating violence that permeates our society?

Where are the positive movies, about love and cooperation?  That when a natural disaster occurs, neighbors work together, to share food and resources, and support each other?  How about movies that show a positive future where nuclear war is averted forever; the war machine is dismantled; and there is no more war?  Where people learn how to communicate about their differences with love, or at the very least respect?  (I do know there are peaceful movies, but they’re generally not the blockbusters that everyone knows about; we need to share the titles with each other, or they get missed. I’ll share two now:  “Larry Crowne” and “Interstate 60”.)

Just today a close friend told me she thought war was in our DNA — to which I adamantly refuted her by quoting “The Chalice and the Blade” by Riane Eisler (one of the most important books of the last century per Ashley Montague, and me).  In this book, she proves that before the current wave of patriarchy (which is only 5,000 years old), humans lived cooperatively, with plenty of cultures experiencing no war, no weapons, and no domination.

We can do this!  We can live without war.  We can live peacefully, cooperatively, kindly, in service to each other.  The founder of Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg, talks about our innate drive to be of service to each other.  THAT’s what’s in our DNA.  Our culture devalues that quality, but it’s there in each of us.

Most of us have heard:  it starts within.  Or lately: that’s the only place change occurs.  OK, I believe it starts within, but I do not believe it ends there.  I do believe every moment I am peaceful within, free of anger, resentment, and worry, I contribute to peace on the planet.  That doesn’t mean I shut down my feelings.  What works to help me be in a truly peaceful place (rather than in denial) is to practice gratitude and acceptance.  When I get angry, I now know it’s because I’m not getting my way, and when/if I can remember that, I can move into acceptance.  I’ll write about my journey with gratitude in my next blog.

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Anniversary trip to Cape Cod & Somerville 151As a little girl, I learned my mom grew up in upstate New York in a farmhouse without running water or electricity.  It was years later that I realized this meant a cold outhouse in the middle of snowy winter; kerosenes or candles for light; no quick meals; having to rely on a wood stove, etc.  But no matter how poor they were, she was proud to announce that they always had dessert.  It might’ve been meager, but dessert there was.

I grew up with dessert every night after dinner.  Everything made from scratch:  cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, etc.  I learned to bake cookies before I was a teenager.  On most days since I’ve been alive, I have eaten sugar.  Since I seem unable to quit, I guess that means I am a sugar addict.  There, I’ve admitted it.  I can hardly go an afternoon or evening without craving something sweet.  It’s my “treat” for the day…whether I had a good day or a difficult day, whether I played or worked, or both…I feel I deserve a “treat”.  It’s a “reward”.  Over 20 years ago, a body worker told me that sugar removes fluid from our joints.  I read “Sugar Blues” close to 40 years ago.  I know all the facts.  Now that I’m older, however, I’m FEELING the facts:  my neck hurts every time I eat sugar; my shoulder joints don’t like it much either.  So I’ll go a week or more without sugar, and the pain is gone, and I’ll forget….just like any addict.

I’m not alone in my struggle with the white powder.  That’s heartening.  This morning as I finished meditating, I lit a candle with a prayer that “the craving for sugar is removed…..well, no, how about that when I have a craving, I remember that sugar is not my friend and that it’s NOT a treat….OK, so help me recognize the craving, and have the strength to say, no thanks, I prefer my health.”

Now I need help finding replacements.  Here’s what I’ve heard and tried so far:  avocado, pecans, cashews, any kind of protein.  If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  This does feel a little bit like not polluting the earth, on a smaller level of course. Maybe that thought will help too: I don’t want to pollute the earth or my body.

But, gosh, those brownies sure look good…….”I’m only human after all”….. the real message I want to convey here is:  Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself, no matter how many times you do what you don’t want to do.  We fall, and then we get back up again, over and over.  We learn through our falling.  Rather than berate myself for falling, I’d rather give myself a hand back up again.  I hope you will too.

 

As I’m reading more about sex trafficking, and that it’s estimated there are over a million enslaved women and children worldwide (UN estimate 2001: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/slaves/etc/stats.html), I begin to wonder why every time one of them breaks free, we don’t see it in the news. Wasn’t it last year that the man in Ohio was found to have enslaved three of his daughter’s high school friends for over 10 years? That was HUGE news. We were all aghast to think of the kind of life these young women had to endure, living as they did with no freedom. Here in Portland, Oregon, the #2 sex trafficking hub in the country, I now know there are lots of women, girls and boys unable to leave, who have no freedom. These are women, girls and boys who are forced to prostitute their bodies to scores of men every day (up to 40 times a day – eeks.) No freedom to feel the sun on their face, to eat what they want when they’re hungry, no walks around the block or to the park, no telephone calls with family and friends.  No freedom, enslaved.

Used to be, everyone thought that sex slaves were imported to the U.S. from other countries, usually under false pretenses (jobs, marriage, etc.). Now we know that vulnerable girls and boys are courted in malls and other places where young people congregate. Poor and neglected children are especially vulnerable. It’s almost too hard to comprehend — don’t you think?

Portland State University is hosting a Take Back the Night action on April 24th starting at 5:30pm in the Park Blocks (http://www.pdx.edu/wrc/take-back-the-night-2011)((yea, it says 2011, but it’s really about 2014)) — it would be nice to hand out leaflets with steps everyone can take to address this issue. If I can keep my attention on this topic long enough to figure out what steps we can take to shine light on it. Maybe I’ll see you there? Bring your flashlight.

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All you need is love. All we need is love. It seems too simple, right? However, what I’ve found in the past year, as I consciously let go of guilt I feel over living in a country of abundance (though not for all), and that I’ve always had enough: enough food, shelter, friends, family — as I let go of the guilt, and instead express gratitude for the blessings in my life — I have more to give. I am more effective when I come from love instead of guilt. I’ve learned I’m not the only one who feels responsible for saving the entire planet. I’m not effective unless I start with loving myself first. Like they say, it all begins within.
I wrote a “turning everything over to the universe” (or tuning into the universe) prayer several years ago. I say a prayer for each chakra. The heart chakra prayer is “I am willing to love everyone right where they are, starting with myself.”
All we need is love, right? Imagine my surprise when I purchased the book “End Sex Trafficking: Let’s Be Impossible to Ignore” (edited by Erin Giles; published by EMG Studios in 2012) and find that it’s more about love than it is about sex trafficking.  After I bought the book, I was a bit afraid to open it (because this topic is truly frightening), so it sat around, being moved from place to place for several weeks. Finally, I bring the book to bed with me one evening, and open it to read the table of contents. Then I turn the very next page and this is what I see:
DSC_1143Wow. So far I’ve read 13 of the 61 essays (each 1-4 pages by various authors). Only two have mentioned sex trafficking. All of them are ponderings, essays about, and/or celebrating LOVE. Everyone is talking about what I’ve been learning over the past year: We love everything. We love everyone. From that love we know what to do.  With love, we can do anything.  Breathing in love, I am grateful.  Breathing out love, I give thanks (adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh).   If you want to be inspired to love more fully, and read lovely essays that fill your heart, I highly recommend this book.

After an amazing forgiveness experience last week, I read this article by Desmond Tutu about the importance of forgiveness, including the Science of Forgiveness (what science is learning about how forgiveness affects our health):  http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/why-we-forgive

Without a plan, or any expectations of any kind, I found myself on the phone last week with the relative who sexually abused me when I was 4.  I’d actually forgiven him in 2001, but hadn’t an opportunity to let him know that until last week.  What I’d never received, but had always hoped for, was an acknowledgement and an apology from him….so here we were on the phone and I thought to ask for an apology…and he gave it to me wholeheartedly.  When the call ended, I cried with relief, with the surprise of receiving something I thought I’d never get.

It seems most people think it strange that I forgave him, but they don’t yet know that forgiveness is for ourselves, not the other person.  It doesn’t mean I condone what happened. I forgive to free myself.  Even though I forgave him in my heart over a decade ago, I felt even freer after both hearing his apology, and being able to let him know I forgave him.

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In the article on forgiveness, I learned that forgiveness is scientifically linked to greater health.  Not forgiving can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and other diseases.  Holding resentments causes dis-ease, both mentally and physically.

I recognize a great gift that resulted from my childhood sexual abuse:  My art.  I began sculpting labia in clay to heal, and now it’s transformed into something that brings me joy and happiness. When it’s said that in pain lie gifts, they aren’t kidding!  I feel better the more I’m able to forgive, which, I’m sure, leads to more peace on the planet.