Top 5 Tools for Cultivating Gratitude

“The man who simply became ready to have God remove his judgmental attitudes was surprised to find God’s answer was to make him more trusting of others and less judgemental of himself.” – Anonymous

Gratitude-Pot-Luck

I recently attended a covenant group at a local Unitarian Universalist church. It was a group for parents and as is the case with groups of this kind, was accepting new members for a limited time. Most covenant groups close the “tent flap” seasonally in order to nurture trust within the circle and deep conversation and relationship among its members.

As the sounds of our playing (read: screaming) children rose up through the floor, a group of us young couples opened up our hearts and shared about the difficulties of turning the other cheek, setting a good example, frustration with family members and in-laws, fear of failure in front of our kids, and more.

One recurring theme emerged. Across the board and within all three dimensions of self, culture and nature — cultivating gratitude is hard work.

SELF

When it was suggested that part of the solution was to simply be more patient, gentle and forgiving with yourself, one of the fathers said, “I don’t know how to do that.”

At that moment, one (or more) of the kids started banging on a downstairs piano. The sound was jarring and discordant and came up through the floor in angular vibrations that momentarily put all of the parents on edge.

It occurred to me that the children didn’t know how to play the piano, but they were doing the best they could to make music with it. They, too, were ignorant to the workings of the instrument and so they simply wailed away at it, hamfisted and dispassionate. They were being too rough and too forceful, not patient or gentle.

This piano is a metaphor for our self-care. How often do we expect others to be maestros of communication, trust and compassion? How often do we expect others to be delicate, patient and gentle — to take their time, choose their words carefully, think before they speak or act, and to hold themselves with the utmost self-respect? And yet, how often, when it is our turn to do the same, do we bang out a rhythm or a half-baked melody and tell ourselves that it’s good enough. How often do we settle for less when it comes to finding pleasure or acceptance in ourselves?

Self-love and self care is not just about mindfulness. It’s not just about carving the time out of your day to pray, meditate or be present with your friends, co-workers and kids. It’s about moving beyond mindfulness to the difficult work of being in the world and witness to all its suffering. It’s about having the courage to put yourself out there when someone needs emotional or spiritual support, but also having the courage and intelligence to receive that support yourself.

CULTURE

Gratitude is also present in our attitude toward others.

Stephen Prothero has consistently proposed that the world’s faith traditions are an attempt to solve a specific human problem with a specific spiritual solution (sin/salvation, attachment/awakening, pride/submission, exile/return, etc.). Since pride is usually near the top of any list of cardinal sins, it is usually one of the first items to attract the attention of rigorous spiritual practice.  

Gratitude can be seen as the opposite of pride. The process of becoming more grateful, more thankful and more humble is the process of letting go of our pridefulness, ego and will.

Continue reading


Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015: A Look Back [Photos and Video]

The Salt Palace Convention Center

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was held on October 15-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT. Roughly 10,000 people attended this year’s event, representing hundreds of nations and over 50 faith traditions. Attendees included academics engaged in roundtable talks of peace, disarmament, conflict resolution and climate change; leaders of various faith communities (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, indigenous, interspiritual and more) committed to spreading peace and compassion in the world; as well as spiritual seekers and activists dedicated to healing their own communities from within and using interfaith dialogue to bridge some of those divides.

Guest speakers and panelists included biologist Jane Goodall, author Karen Armstrong, activist Eboo Patel, New Thought minister Michael Bernard Beckwith, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, and many more, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who fell ill at the last minute and had to return home.

Several impromptu groups and coalitions were formed during and after many of the lively discussions and plenaries in order to leverage the momentum created at this historic event. The halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center stayed active and alive all weekend long with talks of peace, interfaith harmony and global awakening.

HIGHLIGHTS

The theme of this year’s Parliament was “recovering the heart of humanity.” With the overwhelming (and refreshing) presence of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly, the focus on indigenous peoples, and the continued conversation around climate change, much of the event was spent turning social issues and recently-identified problems into concrete actions or takeaways.

The Assembly kicked off the Parliament on Thursday with a rousing closing speech from author and recent congressional candidate, Marianne Williamson. Williamson addressed the majority of female leaders in the crowd (a notable shift from the last Parliament, held in 2009) by saying, “We are the mothers of the world. Those who are inspired by the religions of the world should not ignore the problems of the world. We know how to hold the suffering in the world. We know how to give birth to the radical joy in the world.” And referring to increased violence and corruption across the globe, she got the crowd on their feet when she implored, “We who are the mothers of the world — it’s up to us to say, ‘this will not be happening in my house.'”

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson

The Red Tent Movement (based on the popular book by Anita Diamant), was the sponsor of the Women’s Sacred Space. Men were welcome to enter the gauzy, red room (a meeting room modified to resemble the inside of a darkened, Persian tent and lovingly referred to as the “womb of the Parliament”), but when the doors would occasionally burst open releasing huge crowds back into the flow of the bustling hallways, most everyone I saw was female — and they were beaming. It was like a charging station for the female soul.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

Stories circulated about The Indigenous Grandmothers — a group of female elders from the various tribes present at the Parliament. If you were lucky enough to fall in with this group, you were treated to prayers, songs and dances from various faith traditions; entrusted into a circle of maternal power forged by language and culture; and part of a historic, once-in-a-lifetime gathering. As these languages and cultural practices shrink from the earth (some are simply gone forever), the Grandmothers seemed to plant what remaining seeds they had.

A traditional Langar (community meal that is shared regardless of faith or caste) was served every day to conference attendees by the Sikh community who donated all the food and volunteered their time each day to prepare, serve and clean up. The menu was a rotating blur of rice, lentils, curry, naan, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, coffee and chai tea. People lined up each day at noon (hair covered and shoes removed) to be seated on the floor in long rows and share a meal with strangers and newfound friends. Each day the line was longer, as word spread of the fragrant Basmati rice and spicy lentils. Truly one of the best meals I’ve had. After the event, nearly 1,000 lbs. of leftover food was donated to a local Catholic charity that served the homeless.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Alas, not everything at the Parliament came up roses and rainbows. On Friday, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a luncheon at the Marriott which featured Farah Pandith and Graeme Wood (the journalist who wrote the recently-gone-viral article for The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants”). The session was moderated by Lee Cullum. By the time the Q&A began, the attendees (who had already been fed) were restless. Some in the crowd weren’t satisfied with the positions taken by Pandith and Wood and became combative. Cullum pulled the plug on the session, ending it early.  

FRIDAY

Former Catholic priest and iconoclastic author, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, was on hand Friday to lead 300 or so lucky people in a Cosmic Mass. And those who had managed to squeeze into Ballroom H were treated to a transformative experience.

The Cosmic Mass is typically held in Oakland, CA and resembles a Catholic mass but with a 21st century twist. It includes electronic music, video projection, and ecstatic dance as well as prayer, communion, and a grieving ritual which asks attendees to get on all fours and moan until they are emptied of their suffering.

I had run into Fox’s assistant and director of The Cosmic Mass, Skylar Wilson, on Friday morning. I had offered my services, and was promptly given the job of puppeteering the Green Man during the Cosmic Mass event. The Green Man was a huge disembodied papier-mâché head on a pole, draped in green gauze and flanked by two large hands, also on poles. The figure required three people to operate. The Green Man was accompanied by a second puppet — the female figure, Gaia (Mother Earth). These two gigantic puppets (created by Mary Plaster) in their full splendor on the dance floor, represented the union of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine.

Fox began the ceremony by providing a brief introduction to his Creation Spirituality movement. This teaching includes a belief in a spiritual connection to the earth, a replacement of the concept of “original sin” with “original blessing” and the four paths of the via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa, which align with the cardinal directions of north, south, west and east.

There was an invocation, a calling-in of the directions, music and drumming (including a standout vocal performance by Michelle Jordan), the grieving ritual, a reading of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Prayer of the Cosmos, and the “passing of the peace” (in which attendees wandered the room, touched hands, and greeted each other with “namaste”).

Then it was time for the dance. The Green Man and Gaia, powered by their six volunteers, took to the dance floor and swayed and pumped to the pulsating electronic rhythm until the event was over.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

As a leader of spiritual community, The Cosmic Mass was a revelation. It was a religious experience like none other — connecting everyone in attendance directly to each other and to the Source of all. It held the elements of masculine and feminine power in exquisite balance and oriented us to the cycles of the season (not only in the world, but in our own hearts). It was joyous, heart-breaking, contemplative and awe-inspiring. It also is ceremony and ritual that proudly wears the clothing of 2015 (video, technology, social media). For those who are seeking a post-modern worship experience, one that as Fox likes to say is rooted not is “text” but in “context,” then the Cosmic Mass is that experience. It will keep me fed for the upcoming year (or until I can experience it again).

That evening, I had the honor of being invited to dinner with the association of Creation Spirituality Communities and learned more about how Fox’s teachings were being implemented in churches and religious communities in Pittsburgh, Asheville, Austin, Toronto and beyond. Continue reading


Science and Religion: Can We Have Both, Please?

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Have you ever wondered: What is the current role of religion in our society? Does religion do more harm than good? What does the future of religion look like?

Are churches, temples, mosques and religiously-affiliated nonprofits serving the greatest good of the community (or even the greatest number of common values of community members) with their programs and outreach?

We depend on religious institutions to grapple with life’s big questions and to provide peace and counsel in times of pain and suffering. We rely on them to connect individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities not only physically through face-to-face experiences and in service to others, but also virtually online.

Can we not also depend on them to evolve — to address the needs, values and beliefs of the world — to transcend and include?

Religious communities convene people physically in rooms together, but let us foster connections between the interior dimensions of those same individuals, families, and neighborhoods. These connections are formed around common values and teachings and this shared, intersubjective space called “we” is where the seed of the greater good can be planted.

Sometimes we are told that the teachings of science and religion contradict each other. But there are plenty of ways that science and religion might exist together, as two dimensions of our very complex reality. These subjects should be taught early and often as our ability to understand and our perception of the world changes over time. Certain amounts of doubt and skepticism to balance out our faith and wisdom can be healthy. Believing something (until we don’t anymore) is good for us — it keeps us flexible, responsive, engaged and alive.

THE SPIRIT OF THE COSMOS

In Sanskrit, the word namaste means that there is a light (Spirit, consciousness) inside of me that is identical to the light inside of you. There have been empirical scientific discoveries that explain this connection (from mirror neurons to quantum entanglement). And we also know from watching episodes of Cosmos that the matter that comprises the universe is at the same time connected by — and cradled in — vast regions of invisible or “dark” matter. Dark matter is involved in both the attractive and gravitational force between celestial bodies (that which keeps our worlds in place) as well as the repulsive force between solar systems (that which keeps our universe expanding). It is that same ubiquitous, unifying, dynamic and regenerative force that some call “God.” (May that force be with us, always).

We are still in the transition from modern to post-modern (hierarchy to holarchy, “text to context”), and we may have a tendency to rely too heavily on the advances and authority of science. We may feel we have outgrown the tribal and magical traditions of our ancestors through thousands of years of transcending and including. New stages always include those that have come before. Matthew Fox, the iconoclastic founder of the Creation Spirituality movement, once said, “we are not born onto this earth, but from it.” If we give ourselves permission to access and honor (even exalt) our tribal/magical roots, it may be through this process that we extend the much-needed consideration (not just behavioral change) to the ground from which we have come — showing our planet the same love and respect that we would show an elder.

Our planet, our people and our future are badly in need of a spirituality that is not rooted in erecting boundaries and “either/or” thinking. Our spirituality should be one of “both/and” — a spirituality that radically includes the forms of masculine and feminine, inner and outer, individual and collective, faith and practice.

There are many forces at work in the Cosmos, many opportunities for us to be over-stimulated or distracted, many different ways to express love. Our spirituality shouldn’t force us to choose sides against men, women or even love itself.

Let us not assume “safe” ways of thinking. And let us never affirm that thought itself is dangerous. Exercising our intellect might even be part of our spiritual practice. We might even embody a spirituality that is both creative and self-critical — a spirituality that holds more than one belief at a time.

But what does this have to do with religion? Can’t a person be “spiritual” but not “religious?” Continue reading


Interfaith Week 2015 Recap [Video + Photos]

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1 week
1 city
2 films, 2 keynote presentations
4 shared meals
7 panel discussions/workshops
Over 15 faith leaders engaged in dialogue
43 events listed on this year’s calendar
hundreds of attendees and participants

and thousands of people made aware of this important event happening right here in our city.

By all counts, the second annual Interfaith Week St. Petersburg was a huge success.

Interfaith Week Graphic Recording copy

On September 13-20, 2015, the community of St. Petersburg, FL celebrated many things — religious tolerance and respect, peaceful activism, deep listening, open communication, leading by example, the building of bridges between people and communities, the healing of deep-seated wounds and historical divides, the planting of new seeds for the future.

In short, the week was an inspiring whirlwind of collaboration and connection that usually happens at conferences and symposiums in towns other than our own. This time, it happened in our own backyard.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Interfaith Week on any and every level. It was truly an honor to be a part of such thought-provoking and mind- and heart-opening activity and dialogue. New friends were made, and we look forward to seeing what grows from the many seeds that were planted.

Here are just a few of the people involved with the planning and production of the various workshops, panel and book discussions, performances, films and keynote presentations that made up this year’s second annual Interfaith Week event.

Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Imam Abdul Q. Aziz, Aiyana Baida, Lisa Brekke, Beverly Banov Brown, Rev. Dr. Lori Cardona, Vandana Dillon, Rev. Jack Donovan, David Enfield, Sepideh Eskandari, Lauren Haddad Friedman, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Erica Leggatt, Bishop Preston Leonard, Cynthia Lukas, Jan Magray, Dr. Kerry McCord, Rev. Doug McMahon, Rev. Russell Meyer, Susan Meyers, Janell Miller-Evans, Eric Rainbeau, Denise Rispoli, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Rev. Libby Shannon, Katherine Taylor Robinson, Ruth Broyde Sharone, Ashley Sweet, Dr. Frank Tedesco, Rev. Dr. Grace Telesco, Sarah Trinler, Rev. Shinkyo Will Warner, Denise Whitfield, Robin Whitlock, Martha Williams

Thanks also to this years sponsors and promotional partners: St. Petersburg Interfaith Association, Suncoast Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Bridge and The Connection Partners.

If you’re interested in helping out next year, or getting more involved with interfaith activities in your area, please contact me. We’re always searching for warriors willing to wage peace and build a brighter future.

Looking forward,
Joran Slane Oppelt
Founder and Committee Chair, Interfaith Week St. Pete

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Watch the mayoral proclamation of St. Pete Interfaith Week.


A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

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“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada


Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.

Teachings

We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading


Summer Solstice: The Sacred Union of Father Sun and Mother Earth

Rising or setting sun and clouds, over water

This talk was delivered on Friday, June 19, 2015 as part of the Summer Solstice Service at Unity Campus St. Petersburg. It was followed by a chant of the mantra: “The Kingdom of God is within me; The Queendom of God is among us.”

Astronomically speaking, Litha (Midsummer, Gathering Day, Summer Solstice) is the longest day of the year, representing the Sun God at his full power and utmost potential. In the sky overhead, ruling from on high — in his chariot, shining down upon us, giving light, heat and life to our Goddess, Mother Earth.

The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun seems to be literally frozen at its zenith overhead.

Father Sun and Mother Earth seem locked in this warm, life-giving embrace. And time has seemed to slow down so that we may honor that embrace and that consummation — the intimate relationship between God and Goddess, masculine and feminine.

Although the hottest days of the summer still lie ahead, from this point onward we enter the waning parts of the year. Each solstice (and equinox) marks a “turning” of the comic clock. To many cultures, the solstice can mean a limitation or a culmination. A climax or demarcation on the calendar. And even in summer’s beginning, we find the seeds of summer’s end. Each day the Sun recedes from the skies a little earlier, until the Winter Solstice (Yule) arrives and the days begin to become longer again.

Tonight, we honor the arrival of the Summer season, and celebrate the sacred union of God and Goddess, in which both of their energies are poured into the service and the substance of life.

We’ve done a lot in recent times to revive and give footing to the idea of the Divine Feminine. and rightly so. Spiritually and socially we have shifted to a place where female-ness is allowed it’s own voice, it’s own place at the table with integrity and without having to compromise any of its qualities or values.

Matthew Fox said, “If we liberate the Divine Feminine, she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

This union is of course reflected and manifested in our relationships. How we treat one another. Our partners, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, even strangers. It is a constant dance, sometimes tug-of-war, with one party exerting power or will in one moment, and the other party bending and allowing. But a healthy relationship is not one-sided. A healthy relationship is dynamic, is constantly growing and flowing, and allows for rhythmic exchanges in this power struggle.

We’re not talking about gendered men and women, we’re talking about the masculine and feminine energies that show up in us all.

Keeping those energies in a constant flow, a constant balance. Allowing them to feed, sustain, nurture each other as well as to challenge and push against each other when the time is right. Continue reading


A Brilliant Matrix: The World of Religious States and Stages

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The “Faith of the Seven” in the capital of Westeros (Game of Thrones).

Game of Thrones is a sprawling violent, bloody snapshot of a medieval fantasy world where different kingdoms and bloodlines struggle for control of the much-coveted “Iron Throne” — a seat in the capitol that rules all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

It’s also a detailed glimpse into a fictional world in spiritual transition — from ancestral nature religions to a mythical/numerological polytheism to an emerging (and much-contested) monotheism. If you watch Game of Thrones, you’ll notice that there is a lot of time spent explaining the religious motivations of the characters. It’s as if religion itself is a character in the story. The characters may offer “seven blessings” to their loved ones or curse their enemies to the “seven hells” — the number seven representing a set of archetypes based on social and spiritual virtues (Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone, Stranger). At the same time, some characters are bent on appeasing the “one, true God” — the nascent and wrathful “Lord of Light” — through the blood and fire of human sacrifice.

Throughout the story, what the characters believe and how they interact with and interpret the actions of others begins to change based on what they begin to see with their own eyes. And to hear this kind of religion described, you might think that these forms of worship, these outdated modes of spiritual expression, so rooted in mythology and superstition, have long passed from our society. I can assure you, that in some corners of our planet, these types of nature-based and/or polytheistic religion (or variations of them) are still very much alive.

“Integral” Spirituality is part of a lineage that is woven through many teachers (Sri Aurobindo, Haridas Chaudhuri, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber, et. al.). And very recently, religion (or the interpretation of religious experience) that is rooted in post-modern and pluralistic structures has done much to synthesize some of our more sacred and socially held values that have long been viewed as opposites — ideas like east and west, science and spirituality, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, the individual and the collective, grasping and sitting — it is an emerging spirituality, not of either/or, but of both/and.

However, it’s not all rose-colored radical inclusivity. Implementing pluralism as its own practice, while avoiding the accusations and actual pitfalls of syncretism has proven to be difficult. Integral spirituality needs to honor the differences we find in the various religions and it does so not by comparing the human experience of gods and goddesses to the experience of blind men with an elephant, or minimizing the paths of tradition by winding them up the same mountain of “spiritual Oneness.” It succeeds by making a clear distinction between things like cultural history, creativity and mythology, human rights and freedoms, communities of practice, states of awareness, stages of consciousness, lines of development or intelligence, personality and gender types, and so on.

We will look at two of those here — stages and states — and hopefully gain a better understanding of how Integral spirituality allows us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the relationship with our Self, with those around us and with the Divine, or Spirit-in-Action.

Stages of Consciousness

First we’ll look at stages of consciousness. These stages have been imagined as a vertical line (or nested hierarchy of circles).

This is how cultures have mapped the development or unfolding of our own worldview as we move from birth to death. These stages, according to Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, move us from egocentric (care and concern for the self) to ethnocentric (care and concern for the family or the community) to worldcentric (care and concern for all beings).

It’s best illustrated with something called Spiral Dynamics. Developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, this model proposes the idea that the consciousness of all beings (as well as all societies or groups) unfolds in a spiral that oscillates between self-interest and concern for the group, and is continually expanding while incrementally including more and more perspectives.

A Brilliant Matrix-Spiral Dynamics

VALUES SYSTEM COLOR DESCRIPTION
Archaic Beige Primal, instinctive, survivalistic. Food, warmth, sex and safety.

Origin: 100,000 years ago.

Tribal Purple Loyalty to the tribe, magical/animistic beliefs, family rituals and blood oaths. Observe customs and cycles. Sacrifice is made for the tribe.

Origin: 50,000 years ago.

Warrior Red Impulsive/egocentric beliefs, self-interest, self-expression, only the strong survive, domination and rebellion, kingdoms and heroes (negatives: gangs, the “terrible twos”). Creates change through the use of power.

Origin: 10,000 years ago.

Traditional Blue Authoritarian beliefs, law and order, good and evil polarized, mythic/literal interpretations, ethnocentric, “my country right or wrong.” (positives: ordered meaningful existence, absolute truth, rightful living). Sacrifice is made for truth.

Origin: 5,000 years ago.

Modern Orange Self-reliance, rational/scientific worldview, achieveist/strategic beliefs, “life is a game,” risk-taking. (positive: the Enlightenment, industrial revolution, negative: capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, mechanistic view of life/the universe). Creates change through manipulation.

Origin: 300 years ago.

Post-modern Green Communitarian/egalitarian, worldcentric, social justice, world peace, deep ecology, human rights, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, communes. (positive: birth of the internet, negative: hatred of hierarchies, disdain for competition). Sacrifice is made for consensus.

Origin: 150 years ago.

Integral Yellow Integrative, enlightened self-interest; flexibility, functionality and responsibility; all value systems are valid, holarchies, value-based hierarchies (good, beautiful, true), systems thinking, “Third Way” politics. Creates change using knowledge.

Origin: 50 years ago.

Mystical Turquoise Holistic worldview, a balanced system of interlocking forces, body/mind/spirit approaches to experience, global networks/global solutions. Identifies with collective mind or unified, evolving whole. Sacrifice is made for the planet/all beings.

Origin: 30 years ago.

States of Awareness

States of awareness are simply the layers of what we call the “self” or the “body.” They have been taught by the world’s faith traditions to be viewed as concentric circles or sheaths (i.e. the koshas) that begin with the physical body and expand (or deepen) to include more energy (i.e. prana), more matter, more Spirit.

  1. Gross Body – Sensory awareness, waking state
  2. Subtle Body – Extra-sensory awareness, energetic body (Qi, shen, prana), dreaming or altered states
  3. Causal Body – Formless awareness, the Soul, the Overmind
  4. “State that is all states” – Non-dual awareness, Turiya, Divine Milieu, Spirit, Atman

A Brilliant Matrix-States-Alex Grey

The thing to be aware of here is that someone can be at the highest peak state experience — blissed-out, in a state of rapture — yet themselves be at a Traditional (ethnocentric) stage, a blue value system or lower. And the opposite is also true (higher value systems, and a lower or more narrow energetic body). An example might be the “enlightened” Zen master (inhabiting higher states of awareness) with a highly-developed line of morality and ethics, who is generous and humble, yet who holds strong cultural biases — racist or homophobic beliefs. Continue reading


Alchemy Fest 2015 [Photos and Video]

photo by Tanya Sharkey

photo by Tanya Sharkey

Thank you so much for making our 10th Annual Alchemy Fest event an amazing celebration of transformation and community. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Thank you to our leadership team and to the rest of the planning committee and all the volunteers. This event would literally NOT be possible without you. Thank you to all of our vendors and sponsors. This event could not happen year after year without your contributions and financial support, and we appreciate you so much.

We saw over 400 attendees over the course of the day, over 90 pre-sold tickets (the most we’ve ever had), 36 completed Green Cards, 3 big raffle winners and 38 satisfied vendors (again, a new record).

I can’t say how happy it makes me to see that this community and family-friendly event continues to grow and stay true to its mission of connecting and showcasing amazing and talented LOCAL people while honoring Earth Day, the arrival of Spring, the spirit of transformation, and so much more.

Thank you, again. I know that next year will be even bigger and better and I know that we will cross paths in the meantime to create more meaningful and transformative events and experiences (though not quite as labor-intensive as this one) for the members of our community.

You have my sincere gratitude.

Looking forward,
Joran

photo by Cassidy Brooks

photo by Cassidy Brooks

Obscure Belly Dance by Caroline Hekate.

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Words of Thomas Merton

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“If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.” – Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander


Spring Equinox: A Time of Creation and Resurrection

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Let’s get the death talk out of the way, shall we?

In Buddhism, we are constantly taught to die to our attachments (things, desires, thoughts) and also to the ego.

In Islam, there is not much written about what happens after Yawm ad-Din (The Day of Judgement), but one is expected to die to oneself at least figuratively, to put aside pride and ego and fully submit to the loving and redeeming power and glory of Allah.

And in Christianity, we are taught that through Jesus’ death on the cross, all of our sins and transgressions and pain died with him, and that on that day we were forgiven for good.

I recently came across something in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, called the Shevirah, or “the shattering.” It teaches that there were seven original energetic centers or “seeds of light” hewn into the universe, and just as the seed casing of a plant must die and decompose before the plant springs forth, the seeds of the Shevirah must also shatter. This gave way to new and more complex forms, an unfolding that continues to occur throughout the universe, an unfolding whose center is now everywhere. And this sustained state of shattering, when applied to our lives, is a form of dying to oneself.

Supernovae leave elements behind in great explosions that seed other solar systems, planets and even our own bodies. Every being leaves something behind as food for others. Einstein said “no energy is lost in the universe” and Hildegard of Bingen said “no warmth is lost in the universe.”

Ostara/Easter is not about celebrating death. Yes, death is an inseparable part of the cycle of life and needs to happen for new growth to occur. But, death is celebrated plenty in our culture. We celebrated death in December during the Winter Solstice when we entered the Void, the darkness, the silence. When we were witness to the death of the Sun God at the hands of the Earth Goddess.

And now we celebrate his return.

Easter is about what comes after death. This time we celebrate resurrection — what fills that darkness, silence and emptiness after our denial, elimination and renunciation has occurred. We celebrate our own resurrection from the forms that no longer serve life, and the resurrection of the Christ within us. That’s what we celebrate now. This time allows us to focus on what we choose to carry forward, and to meditate on the new abundantly healing light and energy, the new and invigorating ideas, the new faith in ourselves and the self-love that fills us up and make us whole and that will sustain us for another year.

Make no mistake, spring is a time for celebration. It’s a time when day and night are at equal length, a time when things are in balance. But they are also at a tipping point — tipping towards the light as days are becoming longer and the Earth (at least in our hemisphere) begins to warm up and bring forth new life.

The spring equinox (or Vernal equinox) is a sacred time, when we turn our attention to the dawning of a new year, to new birth and growth, the coming harvest, abundance and fruition, to the long-awaited rising Sun God in the east.

And we celebrate the goddess, Eostre, by decorating and dyeing bright and colorful eggs. By breaking our fast with sweets and chocolate. By surrounding ourselves with the 4-footed creatures of the Earth (the rabbit, the deer) and the winged creatures of the Air (the duck, the eagle).

And we recognize Spring as a time of new life — within and without.

So, today, we celebrate three things — the new year, the coming of spring and resurrection.

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The New Year

In many traditions, this is the start of the new year. The Roman year began on the ides of March (15th). In England and Ireland, between the 12th and 18th century, March 25th was the day the calendar reset. And, the astrological year begins on the equinox when the moon moves into Aries — Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, The Greek Ares is the equivalent to the Roman Mars, March is the month of Mars.

The Coming of Spring

This equinox also marks the beginning of the Spring season. In Greek mythology, it is the time when Zeus and Demeter are reunited with their daughter, Persephone (who had been abducted and trapped in the Underworld for six months) and a time when the earth is once again crawling with life. The month of March also contains holidays dedicated to the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aprhrodite, Cybele as well as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on March 25th. The goddess and the divine feminine get to show off a little bit in spring — manifesting herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating songs of the birds, giving birth to new life in all its forms.

Resurrection

We also re-tell and celebrate the myths of the resurrected Gods — Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who like Christ die and are reborn each year. They are sons of a God and a mortal woman. They are saviors who are sacrificed. They are the fruit and vegetation, that die each year (at harvest) and are eventually reborn.

In metaphysics, we are taught that the crucifix represents the “crystallization of two currents of thought — the inner (vertical) current of Divine Life and the cross current of human limitation and the mind of the flesh.” The intersection of these two currents is the center of action that is our being. It is in that crux, or that cross, that we encounter the final overcoming. The birth of the I AM that occurs in “the place of the skull.” Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) was called the “cranial place” or the “place of the skull.”

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