clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world


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Humans and their ghosts

Hello again Dear Readers! It has been a long stretch since I have written a blog post. Incredibly, a couple of new bloggers have recently found their way to my blog, which has given me a little push to write again.

This summer I am working in a place full of ghosts. Although no one can see them, I am completely sure that they hang around and delight in wreaking havoc at every opportunity. You see, the restaurant where I am a cook is located within the Denver Botanic Gardens, and that is built upon the remains of an old and very large graveyard right in the heart of Capitol Hill. Once upon a time in the middle of the 18th century, it was the spot for Denver’s poor and unfortunates to be buried, many with no marker to honor their memories. Then around the turn of the 20th century, one of Denver’s elite city planners had the brilliant plan to use the land to build a lovely park for the upscale residents. In order to do this however, hundreds of graves would have to be dug up and removed. The plan was approved, the graves dug up and the remains removed, and Cheesman Park was created on top of the old burial site. (which really riled up the dead who were perfectly and peacefully resting in their graves.) Then after WWII, during a period of growth and prosperity in the city of Denver, the planners made the botanic gardens adjacent to the park. Hence, more grave digging and removal– and stirring up the ire of those spirits who could no longer sleep in their graves.

Fast forward to summer of 2014. The Botanic Gardens elite has an outdoor bistro built in a strategic location, at the south end of the Monet Reflecting Pool, to coincide with the opening of the Chihuly glass sculpture exhibit that thousands upon thousands of visitors will be experiencing all summer long.

Chihuly-“Green-Hornets-and-Gold-Waterdrops”

And so The Hive is born. From day One, it is one catastrophe after the next. On a daily basis, things go wrong, stop working mysteriously, accidents happen, things come crashing down frequently from shelves (including the shelves themselves) : we do our best to keep up with the daily multitudes of hungry guests while working under very stressful conditions. The place is an utter paradox– the utter beauty of the flowers and plants all around us, the sometimes claustrophobic presence of a continuous stream of humanity, and then the mischievous and often malevolent ghosts as they gleefully create an obstacle course for the restaurant employees each and every day. Whew!

Of course, nearly everyone to whom I tell my ghosty explanation for all the weirdness and frustrations, don’t say much in return, and probably write me off as the crazy old lady cook in the back of the house.

But I swear I can feel their presence. Ghosts love to be where the living are, and this new restaurant is too good an opportunity for them to pass up a bit of fun at our expense. Damned annoying is what they are, and sometimes dangerous. Several people have gotten hurt in one way or another this summer while working. I even went so far as to suggest to my chef Jesse that we come in one morning with sage to smudge and do a ritual cleansing of the space, nicely but firmly asking all the ghosts to leave us in peace. She smiled and then went on with her day.

By the way, if you have not heard of nor seen the amazing glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly’s studio, I hope you will look him up online. The sculptures are brilliantly colored and gracefully formed, and perfectly compliment the graceful and flowing plant forms and colors of the gardens.

Dear Readers, I apologize for not being much of a blog reader or follower this summer. Since I have been working so much, I am spending the majority of my days living life rather than writing about it. Perhaps when summer is over and the cooler weather comes, I will again take up the blogging. In the meantime, I wish you all well in your various endeavors and locations around the globe. Namaste to all my friends near and far! Leigh


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Inquiry into the nature of pain

Hello again dear Readers. It has been some time since I have written a post here. Following is a partial reason why. Among all of the things Life has handed me lately, I have a fractured fifth metacarpal on my right hand. Translated, this means I am wearing a splint and bandage that covers my right hand and forearm. I still have use of three fingers, while my left, non-dominant hand has had to take over the reigns of doing the work of living. Shortly said, this situation sucks. It leaves me frequently tired and needing a lot of rest.

Being a curious sort of person, I have spent quite a bit of time inquiring into this situation from various perspectives. My mind has asked, “why me? Why now? What is the reason for this happening to me now, effectively stopping me in my tracks from the path I was on?” and on a bad day, the questions take on a more whiny tone, more like, “what the fuck?” Well, you can imagine.

Even heroes get the blues sometimes

Even heroes get the blues sometimes

Being mostly an existentialist nowadays, I realize that the significance of this unfortunate turn of events has the significance I assign it. Various things come to mind: I needed time for contemplating my new life path; there is something fabulous right around the bend, which I may have missed entirely had I kept going the direction I was headed; or perhaps it is yet another big life lesson in empathy and walking in another’s’ moccasins. Had I not broken my pinky finger, how would I know how difficult people have it when they cannot perform simple functions like opening a jar, a door, or tying their shoes? We able-bodied humans absolutely take for granted our manual dexterity and the ease with which we can do all those tasks we learned in early childhood. Now I realize just how tough it is when those capacities are suddenly taken away: Poof. Gone.

could be worse, I guess...

could be worse, I guess…

The pain body is a tough one. Chronic (or acute, for that matter) pain is such a crippling thing, shutting down one’s pleasure, will and desire for most things. Life becomes much smaller, closer, and time seems to drag to nearly a halt. These past weeks have been some of the longest I can recall. It seems there is so much I wish I could do and can barely manage, or not even. Cooking, one of my greatest loves, has shriveled in importance, along with my appetite. Keeping my personal space tidy has gone way down on the priority list, even showering has become less frequent. The amount of aches and pains around and in this body has grown exponentially. I feel suddenly quite old, and it is reflected in the mirror.

Dear Readers, I have no doubt that many of you can relate to what I am writing, and have been through similar situations. I have yet to find out how much longer I will have to keep the splint on my hand, how many more weeks I will be handicapped and unable to function normally. After the splint is off, there will be some period of strengthening and readjustment. Perhaps even some therapy. I feel like the sports player who is benched for the season, and frankly, just as unhappy about it. Now is the season for gardening, which I was looking forward to since wintertime. How unfair life is sometimes!

I realize I sound like a small child, complaining. I admit I have never been good at just ‘bucking up and taking it,” and suffering in silence. So this is also a lesson in maturity-through-adversity. On the positive side, I am learning to be ambidextrous, even cutting vegetables with my left hand. That hand, through perpetual disuse, is inelegant, clumsy, reminiscent of a three-year-old’s attempts with knife and fork. This time is also a biggie in learning Patience. I have to be patient with myself, and kind. I have no choice.

And finally, I am learning that sometimes one just has no control over what happens to them. What we always have, though, is the choice as to how we handle it. I have the opportunity, many times a day, to choose how to react to my hand being incapacitated. When I find myself really down in the mouth about it all, I recall my friend Mokasiya’s words: I can have all my feelings about it, and then I can make another choice. Slowly I am learning that he is absolutely right.


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Staying in the Good Fight

This article feels important and very timely, so I share it with you all in the spirit of hope. Leigh

To My Friend the Climate Defeatist: Here’s Why I’m Still In the Fight

(Photo: Trekking Rinjani / Flickr)

My English friend Paul Kingsnorth was the subject of a long article two weeks ago in The New York Times magazine, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It … and He Feels Fine.”

A former editor of The Ecologist, Paul has gained new attention of late for his passionate and public despair over “an age of ecocide” and his proclamations that we are now powerless to do anything about it. That expression of despair coincides with an equally public withdrawal from the battlefield of big-scale climate and environmental activism. He warns, “What all these movements are doing is selling a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t and you know that you are lying to people.”

We find ourselves at each step battling against powerful corporate forces pushing hard from the other side.

The article and his previous writings in the same vein have struck a resonant chord as the hard reality of what we face reveals itself, not in theories about the future but in the current realities of fierce storms, unprecedented droughts, mutating weather patterns, and a lack of political will to take strong action. More than 500 people left comments on the Times web site. A young activist who works with me at the Democracy Center, also from the U.K., emailed the article to her parents with a note saying, “This is exactly how I feel!”

The hard question that Paul Kingsnorth provokes is neither a new one nor is it only about the climate and environmental crisis. It has been a question inherent in political activism as long as there has been political activism: What action do we take when we have no guarantee at all that what we do will make any difference?

To be an activist is to plunge into the unknown and into a world where guarantees of results do not exist. On climate and the environmental crisis we don’t know how far we’ve already pushed the planet toward ecological Armageddon or what impact we actually have when we block coal trains, hold impassioned news events, or get arrested at the White House.

So we guess, and there are two different ways we can guess wrong. The first is to overestimate our power to change what’s coming and to give people the “false hope” Kingsnorth warns about. The second is to underestimate what is possible, to believe that we are less powerful than we actually are and to do less than we can. That’s the wrong guess that worries me more. Faced with a choice between disappointment or failing to do all that is possible, I don’t find the decision a hard one to make.

The dictionary defines hope as “to want something to be true and to believe that it can be.” Despite so much evidence and sentiment to the contrary, on the climate crisis I remain radically hopeful. I am hopeful because the fundamentals of what we need to do—abandon fossil fuels, protect the planet’s forests, and organize our communities for resilience—are not mysteries nor are they impossible. I am hopeful because I see among the young a powerful, rising culture of environmental consciousness, creativity and action that far surpasses any generation before it.

And I am hopeful because I’ve seen things happen that weren’t supposed to. A decade ago in the U.S. gay marriage was an issue Republicans put on ballots to bring out homophobic voters to the polls. Today it’s riding a juggernaut of support and inevitability.

What is truly possible never reveals itself until we take the risk to seek it.

That said, as an activist I am also radically realistic and action on climate is an especially hard case. Issues like gay marriage require changes of hearts and minds and public policy. Action on climate requires all that as well, and then on top of it we still face the great unknown of how nature will respond to the changes we are able to make. And as we press for action, we find ourselves at each step battling against powerful corporate forces pushing hard from the other side. There is no doubt that the challenge we face is enormous and that major ecological damage is now an inevitability. As Kingsnorth says, “Things that we value highly are going to be lost.”

It is easy to see how all this adds up to a crisis of hope at the heart of climate activism. To those activists, young and not so young, who feel this way, my message is just the opposite of Paul’s. Don’t retreat—step it up, and as we do keep these three things in mind.

First, we must be strategic. Citizen action and energy is too valuable a resource to waste. We must be realistic about where we are starting from, especially in terms of political support. We must be clear and smart about our goals and where we are trying to go. Then we need to develop plausible (not guaranteed) paths that have a real shot at taking us there, along with a commitment to making mid-course corrections in our strategies as we learn along the way.

Second, just as the world we seek to protect relies on natural biodiversity, we must respect that effective action requires “activism biodiversity.” Some of us will act locally, as Kingsnorth does now, teaching his neighbors how to wield a scythe and campaigning against construction of a local supermarket. Others will unmask the actions of fossil fuel companies, or chain themselves to trees, or campaign for more public transit, or take action in international forums. We need to do not one thing but all these things and more.

Finally, we must not let despair and resignation become the greatest gift we could ever hand to those who would love nothing more than for the climate movement to lose heart. Our truest strength does not come from any guarantee of outcome. It comes from the power of acting on our deepest convictions, of forming real community and acting together, and from knowing that what is truly possible never reveals itself until we take the risk to seek it.

Like Paul and others, I also mourn for what is being lost. I mourn most deeply on those days here in rural Tiquipaya when I awake to the roar of a chain saw and the wrenching thunder of a falling giant. What we can’t do is let that mourning stop us from doing all we can. As the labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill said on the eve of his execution a century ago, “Don’t mourn, organize!”

Jim Shultz

Jim Shultz, founder and executive director of The Democracy Center, has led citizen advocacy projects in more than two dozen countries across five continents. He lives with his family in Cochabamba, Bolivia and tweets at @jimshultz.


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the Greatest Happiness

“The reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.” –The Dalai Lama

For the Tibetan Buddhist, peace of mind is a fundamental lifetime goal. They are taught to value contentment, fulfillment, and mental peace above all else, since one’s state of mind is believed to be the only possession that survives from one lifetime to the next.

Ignorance leads us to see everything– ourselves, others, all phenomena—as solid and separate. It keeps us from realizing that everything is actually very interdependent and connected– that our well-being depends upon the well-being of everything and everyone around us.

Compassion is at the core of the Tibetan Buddhist culture. They believe there is no greater vehicle than compassion and forgiveness to counteract the suffering caused by the self-grasping attitude.

They believe that using compassion in the face of conflict or aggression is to decide to act without the motivation to harm or retaliate– to act in a way that will best serve all individuals involved.

From Tibetan Portrait, by Phil Borges

Tibetan-girl-Phil-Borges

As the wheel of the years continue to turn, I see more and more clearly the wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhists, summarized in the passage above. Anger and hatred, both stemming from fear and the illusion of separation, are the real enemies of humanity. The evidence of this kind of thinking is everywhere present in our world. The challenges humanity now face are enormous. Self-grasping and self-concern are destroying our earth at an unprecedented pace.

Until the majority of humans living upon Earth realize the simple truth of “what I do to my brother I do to myself,” we will be unable to reverse the huge disaster we have created. The native American tribes have a saying, All living things are our relatives. It does not get any clearer than this.

Please take the time to teach compassion and forgiveness to whomever you can in the course of a day, in whatever ways are most appropriate. There is not a moment to waste.


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Pushing through phantom walls of rock

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you. –
Rainer Maria Rilke

Talk about pushing through what feels like solid rock. On this blustery Saint Patrick’s day, the winds of change are blowing through my soul and I feel like roaring. To all the demons whirling round my head, laughing, jeering, pointing out all the faults, imperfections, and reasons why things are supposedly impossible and cannot be done: I roar, as loudly as I can, FUCK YOU!! (apologies for offending some of my more sensitive readers.) There are simply no other words that seem quite as appropriate at this moment, dear Readers. It takes the strongest energy embodied in those oh-so-american words to send those mocking brutes back from whence they came. Anger, today. It takes anger.

What weapons do you use to fight these guys?

What weapons do you use to fight these guys?

My demons have been more than just brutal, they have been full of guile and subtle trickery. All this winter I have been fighting in the shadowlands of the psyche, sometimes in full armour, sometimes with tatters and bare feet, but I have been fighting. I don’t even know how many days I have wanted to raise the white flag and beg them to stop this cruel and unfair attack. I try to understand why they so wish to destroy me, why won’t they just let me be. It does not matter why, what matters most is simply that I prevail, not them. This is an existential battle of the soul, dear Readers, of epic proportions. The humans embody all their various roles, but the play is one of cosmic proportions.

On the street today, I passed a man whom I have spoken with before. He sells a newspaper, The Voice, that deals with homelessness and its manifestations in Denver. When I asked him how it was going, he shook his head. ‘Don’t ask me that today, man,” he replied. “Today is a terrible day.” Then he went on with his rant for awhile, how it was just one bad news after another. Then he threw down his phone, then his jacket and his papers, and just said, “I am just tired of it. All of it. I can’t do it anymore.” I looked at him, then told him, “I know just how you feel. But the sun is still shining on us. Tomorrow will be a better day, we have to keep believing that.” But he just shook his head. It was an existential moment and I knew exactly how he felt.

When life squeezes you so hard that you feel you don’t have any juice left, that you are as dried up and sour as an old used up lemon that someone forgot to throw in the garbage, what then? How do we make any sense out of any of this senselessness? How can I infuse my life with meaning when I am on my knees from the struggle of existence? Over the weekend I went to a catholic mass on Saturday evening. It was in a beautiful old church where the Holy Mother reigns supreme. There was not a sculpture of Jesus suffering on the cross at the pinnacle of the altar, but a large, beautiful statue of Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven. I am not a catholic, yet I adore the Divine Feminine, which Mary embodies. The priest gave a powerful sermon in his royal purple robe, reminding us that as long as we are living for ‘me and me alone, or me and mine” we are not living in the spirit of Christ. To live in and for Christ means to give of ourselves in the most loving ways we know how, not in words only, but every day from our deepest hearts. He basically called us on our bullshit in a really direct way.

It takes the right weapon to wield inner power.

It takes the right weapon to wield inner power.

Salvation and redemption are not one-time deals. They are not just Christian concepts. The work of saving one’s soul, of redeeming one’s faults and failures and being made new in the sight of God or Creator of the Continuum or the Void or whatever terms you want to put on it, is the work of humanity now. IT is our collective work. If I fall and no one comes to pick me up off the ground, we all stay down. If I see someone hurt and fallen, and I do nothing to help save that person, we all lose. Your salvation is my salvation. We are all in this ride together, aren’t we?

A very real part of this ride is to call people out on their crap, just as the priest did at Saturday’s mass. Someone who meant a lot to me gave me some crap today, and I called them on it. I did become angry because their words hurt me. I let them know it. Just as those who love me will tell me when I have hurt them, so I can know it. We have to know when we are falling short, or else we cannot change and do better. Anger is sometimes the medicine we need, the fire that lights up the psyche so we can pick up the sword and battle anew. I know I am not done fighting my demons, as much as I would like to be. But as long as I stay passively stuck in fear, incapacitated and unable to push through it, they keep winning. Rilke demands of his god, Break in! Come into my stuck place between rock and rock and feel what it is like. Then your transforming will happen to me. Then my grief cry will happen to you. Then we will become one, human and God, united being. And that, I believe, is the whole point.


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The balance of paradox/ paradox of balance

 “To have come through it: to have joyfully survived even the happiness– quietly, completely. First the testings were mute, then verbal. Who could look back unamazed?

No one has been able, since life lasts because no one could. But the infiniteness of the attempts! The new greenness of birch trees is not so new as that which befalls us.

A wood dove coos. And again what you suffered seems, ah, as if yet unlived-through. The bird keeps calling. You are in the middle of the call. Awake and weakened.” –RM Rilke

In the middle of the call– awake and weakened. Rilke wrote those words nearly a century ago, during another age of huge upheaval and tumultuous changes. Here we are in the early 21st century, facing changes so extreme and unprecedented, it is very difficult to find balance or even remember to breathe at moments. Yet so absolutely necessary.

Nearing the vernal equinox here in the northern hemisphere, in the middle of a whirling, spinning soup of change we are. What to do, how to maintain balance in this storm? Virtually crocus_snoweveryone I speak with is experiencing some kind of change, whether minor or major, in their current life. These are tricky waters to negotiate, are they not, dear Readers? I read a phrase that is helping me recently, the idea of a “gyroscopic balance.” Many years ago I had a friend who was at university, studying physics. She showed me a gyroscope, and explained to me the basics of how it works. While it is in motion, it will spin continuously, thus never falling down or losing momentum. An apt metaphor for us humans these days: in constant motion, yet remaining in perfect balance. It doesn’t take much to throw one off balance, though. I am guessing that you are, like I am, getting plenty of practice in learning to recalibrate quickly so that you can become rebalanced again. This game is all about getting back into spinning balance as everything is in constant motion all around you. Every day is a new opportunity to practice.

The paradox of our times is to maintain calm and balance in the midst of every increasing upheaval and whirling change. Some days it seems as if the very ground under our feet is in motion, that literally nothing is stable or can be counted on to remain. Even the earth itself, with its billion-years old rocks and mountains that seem immoveable, is not as permanent as we’d like to believe. Unnerving at times, and downright frightening at others, all this massive impermanence is our current learning curve. After eons of living under the illusion of permanence and stability, humanity stands at a huge, Grand Canyonesque crossroads. What is next? What will we choose? Will we make it though this time intact? Or will our species crash and burn, taking many other species with us, leaving destruction, rubble and desolation behind? Will we miraculously choose to take the high road, the path of salvation for our human race and so many other precious, precarious living creatures? What will our world be like a hundred, five hundred years from now? A postapocalyptic world that no one wants to live in, or a world where humans finally got it together, came together and put an end to war, greed and destruction, to create a world where humans and nature live in harmony; the most amazing renaissance ever created in human history?

Who could look back at these times unamazed– only those who are truly asleep and refuse to be awakened to how our world is burning, crashing and slowly rising from the ashes of the old into something green and new and beautiful. Hope is a verb, after all. Hope is what we keep alive by our actions, words, and intentions. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant they might be: a smile goes a long way in this world, a handshake, an encouraging word. We are all in this mess together, dear Readers. You and I are not separate except in our thoughts. We are doing this, a little more each day. Keep up the good work, keep your chins up, keep looking up! The birds know the score; they fly all around, calling and singing, dancing up there in the sky, to remind us all that flight is possible, levity is imperative, and our eternal connection with our spirit selves is unbreakable. Rest when you need to, breathe deeply, go for walks in nature. Take heart, and courage! The lions of our souls are alive, as well as our angels.


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Reject and Protect

Dear Readers, if you have perhaps been living on a desert island, and are not keeping up with the battle against the insidious and hideous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal, please read the following letter from our heroes at 350.org.  They have, along with their fearless and tireless leader Bill McKibben, been fighting this plan for the past couple of years, and NOW is the final push to protest.

If you can make it, join the protest in Washington DC on April 27th. Please tell everyone you know about it;  the more exposure this gets, the better the chances of killing it, and in turn going a long way towards saving our planet.– Leigh

RejectProtect_LogoSeal

Last Friday, over 2 million comments against Keystone XL were delivered to the State Department, sending a very clear message that opposition to the pipeline remains strong. Now it’s time to prepare our closing argument.

Below is an invitation to an action in Washington DC from the Cowboy Indian Alliance of ranchers, farmers and tribal communities along the pipeline route. The event is called Reject and Protect, and the key day will be April 27th, when we will march with the Alliance from their camp to the White House. It will likely be one of our last chances to send a message to President Obama about Keystone XL.

I can’t imagine a better way to make our closing argument against Keystone XL than standing alongside the pipeline fighters who will be on the front lines should it move forward. Once you’ve read the letter, click here to RSVP to be there on April 27th for Reject and Protect: act.350.org/signup/rejectandprotect/?source=350

On April 22nd, our alliance of pipeline fighters — ranchers, farmers, tribal communities, and their friends — called the Cowboy Indian Alliance will ride into Washington DC for the next, and perhaps final, chapter in the fight against Keystone XL.

On that day, we will set up camp nearby the White House, lighting our fire and burning our sage, and for 5 days, we will bear proud witness to President Obama’s final decision on Keystone XL, reminding him of the threat this tar sands pipeline poses to our climate, land, water and tribal rights. Throughout those 5 days, we will show the power of our communities with events ranging from prayers at Sec. Kerry’s home and an opening ceremony of tribes and ranchers on horseback in front of the White House.

On April 27th, we invite our friends and allies against the pipeline to join us as we conclude our camp and march once more to the White House for our final, unmistakable message to President Obama. Our community of pipeline fighters just sent 2 million comments against the pipeline in just 30 days. We must follow this up with action in the streets on April 27th as we march with tribal leaders and individuals currently living with the risk tar sands to show all the beauty and power we represent. Everyone is needed and everyone is welcome.

With his decision closer than ever, President Obama must know what is truly at stake, and see once more the power of the alliances that have turned Keystone XL into a turning point for our movements, and for our future.

The Cowboy and Indian Alliance brings together tribal communities with ranchers and farmers living along the Keystone XL pipeline proposed route. Farmers and ranchers know the risk first-hand. They work the land every day. Tribes know the risk first-hand. They protect the sacred water, and defend sacred sites of their ancestors every day. They have united out of love and respect for the land and water on which we all depend.

This is not the first time Cowboys and Indians have come together to stop projects that risk our land and water. In the 80s, they came together to protect water and the Black Hills from uranium mining and risky munitions testing. In the American imagination, “cowboys and Indians” are still at odds. However, in reality, opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has brought communities together like few causes in our history. Tribes, farmers and ranchers are all people of the land, who consider it their duty as stewards to conserve the land and protect the water for future generations.

The Alliance asks President Obama a simple question: Is an export pipeline for dirty tar sands worth risking our sacred land and water for the next seven generations?

On June 25, 2013, President Obama said, “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Anyone with common sense knows the Keystone XL pipeline would exacerbate the climate crisis: an 830,000 barrel per day pipeline filled with tar sands and chemicals like benzene will make it easier for tar sands companies to dig up and burn more of the world’s dirtiest oil than they could with any other feasible alternative.

Our actions next month will show President Obama that we are living up to his call to “be the change we wish to see,” and that we stand with him to say no to Big Oil. Together we will make a clear promise that if President Obama goes back on his word and approves the Keystone XL pipeline, he will be met with the fiercest resistance from our Alliance and our allies from all walks of life. Bryan Brewer, President of the Oglala Sioux, speaks for us when he says, “We are ready to fight the pipeline, and our horses are ready.”

Please join us this April to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and protect our land, water, and climate.

-The Cowboy Indian Alliance


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Relics, artifacts and books

A new phenomenon has arrived on street corners here and there in the United States and England. You may have seen small, sometimes cleverly decorated boxes, much like an old-fashioned postbox, with a sign offering “Free Books, take one or leave one.” When I first discovered these in England last summer, I was sincerely charmed. What a gracious, lovely idea, to freely share books among the populace. By now, however, I have realized a darker (more sinister?) side to this free book giveaway.

Are book giveaways as innocent as they seem?

Are book giveaways as innocent as they seem?

Perhaps it is obvious to some of you already, dear Readers, that one probable reason for all these free book giveaways is, there are simply millions of books floating around in the hemisphere, and not enough people reading them. Books are starting to enter the classification of relics, artifacts from a time fast disappearing, when people loved and enjoyed them, carried them around, re-read them, passed them on to family and friends.

The age of technology has its merits and its drawbacks. In an extraordinarily short span of human time, computers have entrenched themselves in our collective psyche like a virus infecting a body, deeply and somehow irreversibly. The powers-that-make-technology in our world are working hard to make sure that everyone alive is signed up on the plan. That means every man, woman and child, no matter how young or old, is to be inextricably hooked into the beast of technology forever more. They are pushing to make sure babies are weaned from the breast to the computer screen, that no hand goes without a computerized phone-internet-camera-toaster-oven-what-have-you device, and the list just goes on ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

The death of bound books is nearly inevitable in our lifetimes, I lament. Not only is it a sad commentary on the state of our society, but just a sad thought altogether. When all the written words are available only on virtual screens or in your eyeglasses or whatever, how will that affect us as a people; our thinking, our motor skills, our ideas about life? The implications are truly enormous if one ponders them. What will become of libraries, our esteemed repository of the worlds’ wisdom, literature and knowledge? What will become of us?

The digital age we find ourselves in today has vast implications for our world. One of the most maddening is the inevitable loss of sensory perception and basic motor skills. Young children who most need to develop these skills as their bodies are growing and changing the most are at risk of not learning them, and that affects their brain development and basically their whole physiognomy. Using a keyboard or touch screen does not do the same job for developing bodies and minds as making sure a child can pick up a pencil or scissors and use them effectively. I shudder to think of how tomorrow’s children will manage in the physical world of which they are still a part. What will humans do when they have lost the ability to use their hands, their fingers, their bodies?

Will children in the future still know how to read bound books?

Will children in the future still know how to read bound books?

The world is changing so fast right now, society itself is spinning ever faster on its axis. I am watching it happen, even as I am turning into a relic of the past, along with bound books and dead philosophers. I admit that I do not wish to live in a world without books, sensory stimulus, physicality. I was born into physicality and I will remain within it for the rest of this lifetime. Probably I sound hideously old-fashioned, like those parents who frowned disapprovingly upon early rock and roll music and its proponents. And yet. This new technology age is profoundly disturbing. It seems we have been sold a bill of goods, yet what have we really purchased– if not the death of our souls?


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A sense of entitlement in an age of need

(Note: Dear Readers, as I looked for an image or quote for this post, I found out that the word ‘entitlement” is fraught with conservative political opinions that I admittedly do NOT share.  Therefore, this post has been a mini education in itself!  please feel free to share your opinions with me, and apologies if this word gave you a different impression than what I meant to say.–Leigh)

When I was young, in the 1960’s and 70’s, my family, and those of my friends and schoolmates, were solidly middle-class Americans. This meant that nobody in my little world ever experienced poverty, homelessness, or lack of necessities. Ever. As a child and adolescent, I was sheltered from knowledge of such things by my loving parents, who thought they were doing the right thing by protecting me from the sad truths of this world. They themselves, along with most of their generation, had grown up during the Depression and experienced Life Without. Being the good, kind and loving people they were, they (being my dad) worked hard every day of his life to provide plenty of the Good Life for his family, and he succeeded. We had Plenty of Everything.

It was therefore mysterious, and disturbing, to my family that as soon as I could possibly manage it, I left home and plunged myself into poverty. I won’t bore you with the long details of my life, dear Readers, but suffice to say, I have never been as well off as an adult as I was as a child. It was as though I somehow, unconsciously, understood that I had been entitled to good education and a clean, orderly and financially stable life without ever knowing why or having a clue as to how lucky I was.

After plunging myself willingly into poverty at the age of seventeen, I began to learn about the other side of life on planet earth. The hard way. Over the course of the next thirty years, I received a fairly comprehensive education about the school of hard knocks, and what life is like when one is not living under the illusion of entitlement.

Now it is 2014, and I find myself living again in Denver, Colorado, ironically enough. Fortunately I am not in the suburbs where I grew up, but in the heart of the city. I have written about what it is like to be here and the people whom I meet and see each day. Obviously, there are many classes of people living in this metropolis of nearly three million, from the richest to the very poorest. My current part-time work is as a reading tutor for some kids at an inner city school. Today I attended a meeting at this school, where the principal and his colleagues spoke about what it is like to teach there. 60% of the students are “English language learners,” meaning that English is their second language and more likely than not, not spoken much at home. This school contains mostly working class families, and many are at or below the poverty line. Through the meeting, I found out that the single biggest challenge the teachers face is concerning parental involvement in their children’s education. As the principal said, many of the parents themselves had a hard time in school, didn’t like it, didn’t do well, perhaps did not finish their education, and they pass those values (or lack thereof) onto their children.

What is a sense of entitlement, and where does it come from? Many of you might have quick, short answers to these questions, and to some degree, you would be correct. And yet. What are we humans really entitled to in this world? Is it having a basic human right to something, like clean air to breathe, clean water to drink? Or does it go deeper, into our constitutional rights to free speech, to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness? Or does it have more to do with fundamental rights to a good education, a clean and warm home, loving family and friends, healthy and plentiful food to eat, etc?

Or does entitlement have more to do with the idea of not having to work or struggle for what you receive in life, in having things handed to you simply because you are alive and born into a particular family or societal strata, and think that you deserve and have the right to all of it and way more? Perhaps in the way of landed families of old, that the younger generations inherited the wealth and land from their forefathers from antiquity, giving hardly a thought to the poor who had no inheritance, who simply had the privilege of being able to work on the lord’s land, and had nothing in the end to show or pass onto their own children.

Tonight I am simply pondering these questions, dear Readers. My idealistic self would like to change the structure of society towards a more equitable direction, so that it is not only the rich white kids in the suburbs (or the private and charter schools) who receive the best education, but somehow create a society that everyone can thrive in, become truly educated and contribute their gifts to the whole. Where the concept of entitlement becomes something for all people, involving health on all levels, both personally and socially. Dear intelligent friends and readers, your thoughts please!

Related articles
http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/11/25/the-secret-pain-of-the-entitled-child/


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Attempting to keep calm and carry on

Dear Readers, as the sun shines so extremely brightly today in Denver, reflecting upon the white, frozen snow and ice everywhere, I feel I can hardly stand all the energies that are pounding us puny humans right now. Weird happenings are popping up all over, including school alarms and closings due to strange chemical leaks and possible bursting pipes the past two days at both schools I was to work at in the afternoons. Accidents, the possibility for accidents, and just all around INTENSITY is the order of the day and night. Plus, the temperatures here have broken records for cold on this date: Not so hideously frigid as the midwest has been this winter, granted, but still miserable enough for this body to try to grapple with. I despise extremes, and with extremes becoming the norm, there is not much one can do except to work on the ‘Accepting What Is’ theory of life. Sigh.

It feels like the rubber band of polarity is becoming stretched to the point of soon breaking completely. What will happen when it does, is anyone’s guess. One thing it clear to me, there is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ anymore. The past couple of days have been rough. Yesterday I spent two hours traveling by buses to the farthest outpost of civilization (well, sort of), at a big school for my after-school art class, only to be greeted by a police officer who was reluctant to allow me to enter, as a chemical leak of some kind or other had closed down school and all activities for the day. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, in freezing cold temps, with no choice but to turn around and wait for another bus to bring me back to central Denver. No phone, (because I have no funds to sign up for the plan yet) no car of course, and I really felt helpless. What the hell (that has frozen over) is going on here, I asked God. What am I doing here and why? The futility of the situation was ready to overwhelm me. Then, mercifully, the site coordinator for the after-school program drove up in her warm car, and offered to take me home, miles out of her way. The moment of Grace arrived once again.

Knowing that I am not the only one having a hard time is cold comfort, however. I am trying to find the humor in all of this, or the irony, or basically ANYTHING redeeming in it, but am not having much luck. My mind wanders, as bits of all sorts of strange thoughts, memories, song snippets, lines of poetry, overheard conversations and all manner of detritus float through it. At moments I feel as if I am in a waking dream, unable to fully focus or grasp what is really happening here, on Earth. It becomes surreal, unreal, with only the biting cold or empty purse to remind me that oh, yes, I am still embodied, I am a human in a physical body, and it is not pleasant right about now!!

I read positive words galore: rejoice Humans!! You are doing great, you are magnificent beings, doing great work on behalf of us, your spiritual counterparts. I read lots of stuff by other humans, who sound so wise and positive and upbeat, like nothing unusual is going on, like everything is hunky-dory.

But it sounds hollow to me, not quite real. If ever there was an unusual time to be alive, this has got to be it, wouldn’t you agree? England is drowning in floods, California is dry as the driest of bones, snow in Cairo a few months ago– and weather extremes are only the most obvious signs of significant changes for us humans.

Keep-Calm-and-Carry-OnThe collective energies are imploring us to “keep calm and carry on,” as evidenced by this slogan, from WWII England era, now revived and popping up everywhere. It is an apt reminder for us all. In moments of near despair, I find myself torn between wanting to stay under the covers all day, and being down on my knees in prayer. The prayers often do not even have words, though. Because what is going on is so huge, so beyond anything we have experience with in recent memory, that it is more like a state of profound awe. These words from Aisha North’s blog seem to sum it up for me right about now:

“By and by, you will find yourself becoming very new indeed, but still, it may not even feel like that to you. At least, not superficially, for as all of those brand new parts of you start to kick in, your focus will automatically shift, and you will switch seamlessly into your very new way of BEing. Those deepest and most profound transformations that you go through may not be perceived as such, for they are so profound, you will lose any contact with that old version of you, and looking back, it will be like looking back on someone else’s life altogether. Or it will be like looking at a piece of fiction if you will, a play acted out by actors, each one performing their designated part in what has been titled “your life.” And this is in fact exactly what has taken place up until now, for what you have lived through, has all been designed to give you the opportunity to be exactly where you are at this exact point in time and so, as you are reading these lines, we can only congratulate you all on a job very well done indeed.” – Aisha North, Manuscript of survival part 394

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