The amazing women of Sweet Honey in the Rock know a thing or two about struggle. Since the 70’s these women have been using their music, which is rooted in the traditions of African American vocal music, to “to inspire a multidimensional-intergenerational audience to find and use their individual and collective voice to address the critical issues of our time, and to celebrate our common humanity.” Phew, that is a pretty tall order.
And so needed in these times.
Their song Ella’s Song feels like both a soothing balm, and a powerful reminder to us all.
“Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize. Teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives. I’m a woman who speaks in a voice, and I must be heard.”
How do you stay inspired? We’d love to know, leave us a comment below! And, if you like this post, please like it and share it!
Could re-imagining our public spaces help to weave a more connected and caring culture? Mark Lakeman, co-founder of The City Repair Project, thinks so. Lakeman has helped engaged and inspire the people of Portland, Oregon to reclaim and transform their public spaces. They are most famous for their “intersection repairs”, where neighbors redesign street intersections as public meeting places. They started with small projects, like a mobile tea house or little free libraries, but has now grown to over 18,000 intersection repairs, and has helped spur civic engagement, change city leadership and create big cultural shifts in Portland, such as an initative that successfully housed all houseless veterans and women in the city.
I got the fantastic opportunity to talk with Mark about everything from place-making, colonialism and the documentary he is a part of. Mark is one of my personal favorites in terms of people transforming our world, so it is definitely worth a read!
And, one last thing before we get to the interview. The City Repair project is embarking on a documentary as a way to share their stories and inspire more transformation. They have launched a funding campaign, now in its final days. Here is the link to donate. Let’s support this good work people! I did it and hope you will too!
Sally: What do you guys do at the City Repair Project?
Mark: City repair is a lot of things. By definition it is a multiplicity of views coming together and finding common cause. The effects of City Repair through all of our placemaking in different communities is expressed so uniquely and diversely, always integrating ecological initatives being expressed artistically and being the fusion of local culture.
The short answer is: We repair cities. We think that cities are broken, because people are disengaged and polarized. They are regimented and organized in ways that are not participatory. From an ecological standpoint, you just flat out cannot do anything that way, because you have minimized the potential for feedback. People cannot take their local experiences and focus them into local solutions and have the power to make up their own minds.
Sally: How did our cities get the way they are? Where did that brokenness come from?
Mark: I think it is important for Americans to understand that we are in a framework, a colonial framework, that has a certain cultural impact. It is hard to call it “culture” when you are living in a colonial grid like we do in North America, because our understanding of it comes from such an inherently isolated place. Our understanding of culture is really limited by our experience of living in the geography of a grid and the systems that maintain it, beginning with the idea that the land is a commodity, not an ecology or a place.
To us, when we’re talking about city repair, we are talking about colonialism. Colonialism inverts people’s relationship to time and relationship and place and it creates a commodified reality. So we are not going to act like that. So if we are disengaged, we are going to reengage. Everything (our world) is doing right now is adding up to so much waste and isolation and evidently, increasing distress. So we’re just like, OK, what is the opposite? Because the opposite would be localization and place-based behavior and village like scales.
Sally: I have heard you talk before about making allies out of adversaries, changing leadership within the city to support more connection. Right now, it seems like our world is rife with adversarial attitudes and like people are getting pushed further and further into our camp. What I love about what you do is the bridge building work. Why do you take that approach?
Mark: If you asked me, right now, Mark, what do you think we should do? Our diagnosis of our cultural condition as a whole is that people are isolated and polarized. That is what we are trying to do, literally re-interpret the common ground between us. In the American reality, (our common space ) is relegated to being a transportation corridor instead of a multi-functional social commons that facilitates transportation.
That is such a huge challenge for everyone that is trying to building this kind of urban permaculture. They are working on building the kind of advocacy that supports this. Fortunately, we are able to tell people how we got started. But we also have lots of stories for people who are in many stages of turning their local community movement and turning into a civic solution. This is a peaceful take over we’ve got going on here and it’s so inspiring.
Sally: How did you guys get started?
Mark: What happened was I was in a really upsetting circumstance in my profession, at a huge corporate job. There was a bunch of corruption that was exposed and I was really upset. I walked away from our society for a while and went on a seven year wander around the world, basically asking native people, “Do you have insights on the USA? What is wrong with us? What do we not see?”
And people would be like, “That’s an amazing thing! Let’s have dinner and really get into this.” So, that happened and I came back from asking people’s advice and I just decided to try out some ideas based on other culture’s recommendations. One of the things that happened when I was out travelling is realizing I lived in a grid. When I went around the world, various native people explained colonialism to me and said, “When you get home, look in various directions and see that everything is long and straight and flat. Go to another intersection and go to another town and see that everything is basically the same.” And then you start learning that that’s the National Land Ordinance of 1785, which basically laid out the essential structure of empire and regimentation and stratification and inequity. I think it’s the foundation of all our problems to live in a landscape that is fundamentally a commodity and not seen as an ecology or environment.
So, city repair basically inverts all of that. What were the pieces of the villages that used to exist right here? And how did they bring people together in a way that enabled them to be sustainable over thousands of years? They had a meeting house where they could share their ideas. And I’m like, Oh! We live in a fucking grid. So, there is nowhere to gather where you don’t have to believe something. Churches are around us, but you have to believe something and that is not going to encourage the building of democracy. So, let’s just reintroduce the pieces of the village that we are missing, and see if people would gather there and use them, and then meet and know other people them.
Colonialism is like a trick. We are designed into a landscape that isolates us by design, and don’t even know it. So, you just put in a little tea station at a corner. It is out there in public space, and causes people to re-interpret or re-understand their relationship with each other. The space is not just impersonal and oriented towards being just a traffic corridor and a place for pedestrians and maybe some trees, but more than that. It changes how people understand their relationship to each other and the world, especially when they can interact with it. It revolutionizes their sense of what is possible in public space. Even if they hate it, they feel something. And it causes them to say things. And then their friends say things to them about what they think. It causes a conversation, because everyone is connected to public space, and the design of it can affect their disconnection.
Sally: A lot of times, communities only come together and mobilize when something is really wrong, like when they want to bulldoze a community garden and or put in a factory. But you guys are getting together just to hand out and have fun and connect. What has that done to the city?
Mark: It is really affecting people’s sense of common ground. People talk to each other, in incidental ways, and assume a sense of community with each other. People are just standing there in these mundane situations, like waiting for an elevator, or walking on the sidewalk, and people will strike up a conversation with each other, with less fear. That is a little surface expression that tells you so much more about what has happened within a culture. That transformation means that things are happening in all other levels of decision making throughout the culture.
Sally: What about the documentary that you all are making?
Mark: In the past few years, we have had such a strong increase in the number of inquiries about what we do that we know that we have to create a really spectacular tool for people to be able to see and know what they can do. We have been capturing a lot of footage and there is much more that we plan to create. We have an ambition to show all these different contexts, we’ve been travelling to Japan lately, we’ve been all over, and we’re capturing footage of these interactions to see how people are working in their contexts. Doing it is part of a network of people transforming their cities and transforming their leadership at the same time. It is an inherent, geomorphic, village making model, and City Repair is not trying to claim it at all, but it is a really effective Indigenous behavior kind of way.
I sure hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! If you did, please let people know by liking it, commenting below and sharing it on Facebook.
Do not lose heart, we were made for these times
by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. It is true, one has to have strong cojones and ovarios to withstand much of what passes for “good” in our culture today. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week.
It is hard to say which one of the current egregious matters has rocked people’s worlds and beliefs more. Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.
Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement. I cannot tell you often enough that we are definitely the leaders we have been waiting for, and that we have been raised, since childhood, for this time precisely.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times. Despite your stints of doubt, your frustrations in righting all that needs change right now, or even feeling you have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource, you are not alone. Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. In your deepest bones, you have always known this is so.
Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
We have been in training for a dark time such as this, since the day we assented to come to Earth. For many decades, worldwide, souls just like us have been felled and left for dead in so many ways over and over — brought down by naiveté, by lack of love, by suddenly realizing one deadly thing or another, by not realizing something else soon enough, by being ambushed and assaulted by various cultural and personal shocks in the extreme.
We all have a heritage and history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially: we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection.
Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered — can be restored to life again. This is as true and sturdy a prognosis for the destroyed worlds around us as it was for our own once mortally wounded selves.
Though we are not invulnerable, our risibility supports us to laugh in the face of cynics who say “fat chance,” and “management before mercy,” and other evidences of complete absence of soul sense. This, and our having been “to hell and back” on at least one momentous occasion, makes us seasoned vessels for certain. Even if you do not feel that you are, you are.
Even if your puny little ego wants to contest the enormity of your soul, that smaller self can never for long subordinate the larger Self. In matters of death and rebirth, you have surpassed the benchmarks many times. Believe the evidence of any one of your past testings and trials. Here it is: Are you still standing? The answer is, Yes! (And no adverbs like “barely” are allowed here). If you are still standing, ragged flags or no, you are able. Thus, you have passed the bar. And even raised it. You are seaworthy.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the Voice greater? You have all the resources you need to ride any wave, to surface from any trough.
In the language of aviators and sailors, ours is to sail forward now, all balls out. Understand the paradox: If you study the physics of a waterspout, you will see that the outer vortex whirls far more quickly than the inner one. To calm the storm means to quiet the outer layer, to cause it, by whatever countervailing means, to swirl much less, to more evenly match the velocity of the inner, far less volatile core — till whatever has been lifted into such a vicious funnel falls back to Earth, lays down, is peaceable again.
One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair — thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.
Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. A soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.
The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of the soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times in the midst of “success right around the corner, but as yet still unseen” when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my bones I know, as do you, that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.
In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.
This comes with much love and prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.
“Dear Brave Souls … Do Not Lose Heart” ©2008, C.P. Estés, All Rights Reserved. For permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is so much I have to say about the violence of last week. So many thoughts, so many questions, so many feelings.
Like so many of you reading this now, I am filled with grief and outrage that again police inflicted brutality on the citizenry they are employed to protect, again resulting in the death of two innocent black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. And then there was more tragedy, more death, when a frustrated and disturbed man replicated those acts, shooting 5 Dallas police officers at the end of what had been a peaceful protest.
There is so much I have to say about all of this, but I will leave most of it to the Black community, who are most affected by the shootings. I have included links at the bottom with Black perspectives on the topic, plus information about the shootings.
But I do have something to say, specifically to all the white folks reading this right now: We cannot look away. It is horrible, it is graphic and we cannot look away.
Violence against black people is unfortunately nothing new. My grief and rage is for what happened last week, but also for what has been happening since the founding of our nation. Our country was literally built on violence and unimaginable brutality against black folks, as their bodies were hauled in like livestock, sacrificed as needed, used to grow food and bare and raise children, and literally build the infastructure of the United States.
And for most of the existence of the United States, the white community has not been able to acknowledge and face that violence. It is a small percentage of white Americans that commit acts of violence against black and brown people but they are able to get away with it because, when they do, a majority remain silent.
As blogger Adrienne Maree Brown said in an Instagram post, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight, and continue to pull back the veil.”
The perspective I choose to take in the world is that change is possible and that it is happening now. As we peel back the painful layers of decades of racism, as more violence surfaces, we are moving towards ending these things.
But, I think it bears starting, peeling back those layers is a vital step we cannot skip. We have to reckon with our past and our present. We have to take a good, hard, honest look at what is happening, and what has happened, to our fellow brothers and sisters.
In these two cases, there are actual videos of the police shooting the men. If you have not already, watch the videos. If you can, watch them with someone else. Hold their hand if you need to. They are both absolutely horrific.
And we have to watch and we have to feel the pain of watching. We have to be with it. We cannot deny that pain or minimize it or try to move on when it hurts too bad. We have to stay right there with that it, letting it overtake us, letting it destroy us and break our hearts.
Because, when our hearts break, they broke open.
And I pray that, with open hearts, we are able to reweave the threads that connect us to our Black brothers and sisters, threads that have been severed by a made-up racial hierarchy that serves no one. And then, with those threads, may we cast a net that will bring to us us a new dream for our country.
I really appreciate this video because it really honestly shows the status of racial conversations in the the US. Instead of talking about policies or possible solutions, former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Angela Rye has to explain to the representative what the issue even is.
Alicia Garza on MSNBC: An interview with one of the original #BlackLivesMatter folks.
For Police and Black Citizens, the Real Problem is Fear: an article with lots of statistics about the issues.
And I will end with this stunning photo:
Yesterday was July 4th. It it as day that I have always enjoyed with some degree of discomfort. While I love fireworks and a good summer time barbeque, I feel pretty uncomfortable with it’s premise. It is a holiday that seems to take only what we want and glaze over the rest. While it celebrates the beginning of our liberation from tyranny, it forgets the subtext, that those decrying tyranny benefited from slavery, perhaps the most hideous example of tyranny, and were living on land stolen from a people they genocided. We forget all of that and instead herald The Star Spangled Banner and rugged individualism and freedom, then wrap it all up into this hot dog eating, illegal fireworks loving (which, just to clarify, I do love!), beer-chugging, stars-and-stripes donning holiday.
But then again, I like to take a page from the astrologist Caroline Casey, who reminds us of the archetype of the coyote. In many cultures, the coyote is a symbol of the playful trickster who redeems all through his guile and games. To me, the archetype of coyote is a reminder to let go of being grumpy about the things I do not like in the world and take another look. Use some spiritual ji-jitsu and see if there is a way I can twist them around to something that serves all of life.
And from that lens of, it is pretty darn easy to get behind the 4th of July. This day is about declaring Independence from the monarchy of England. Our American ancestors wanted to start a great experiment in Democracy, to see if we could hand the power back to the people and create a society with equality and freedom at it’s center. This day is all about self-rule, letting communities reclaim their power and their right to self-determination and local empowerment. It is a large and proud stake in the ground for democracy, a stubborn belief that the people should have the power.
Anyone who has been a community organizer can tell you that self-governance depends on a well informed, mobilized, engaged group of people. Such a group starts with community and connection and love of the place we are in. It starts with pot lucks and meeting your neighbors and being in public spaces. It is about knowing who you can ask when you need a jump for your car or a cup of sugar. July 4th, as the stake in the ground for democracy and community that it is, is really Interdependance day.
This day is also about Patriotism, love of our country. Again, this is an idea I can really get on board with. Dr. King said that justice is love made public, so if I am going to love this country, I am going to fight for justice for all of those who live here. This is vital when we consider that almost half of the people in our country our non white, and that a growing portion of the country openly identify as Queer or transgender and that, this year, half of public school children in the US live in poverty. Yea, I can love this country. I can love my black and brown and queer and poor sisters and brothers. I make that love visible.
So last night, as I listened to the glorious sound of illegal fireworks, going off in quick torrents before they are squealshed by the police, I though to myself: Happy 4th of July everyone! Happy day of democracy and community empowerment and love for each other and love for this beautiful place we get to live in. Let us make every day, not just July 4th, a celebration of those vital and reverent qualities.
If, you need a little more inspiration, watch this fantastic video, complete with burly guy who makes you think he is in the Marines. Patriotism at it’s finest.
If you enjoyed this, please like it and share on Facebook.
Note: In the original publication, I wrote that over half of US school children live in poverty. I forgot a very important word, which is that over half (51%) of public school children in the US live in poverty. I apologize for the inconsistency, and have corrected it above (and thanks to my friend Joey Smith for bringing it to my attention!). That statistic is from a recent Atlantic Magazine article about education in America. You can read it here: How Kids Learn Resilience It is a fabulous article that is definitely worth checking out.
Hello glorious day! Today is a day to be celebrated by all! It is a day of celestial magic and wonder, a collision of two planetary cycles, two ancient rhythms of the cosmos.
In the Northern hemisphere, it is the summer solstice, a day of fullness, the longest day of the year for half the planet. It is a time of heat and warmth and juicy sensuality, a time to sleep naked and enjoy the sunshine and cover yourself in flowers.
It is the day where the plants rejoice, because they have not gotten this much sunlight in a year and will not for another year. It is a time when creatures also rejoice, because they knew the inevitably of summer, the inevitability of sunlight and heat, the promise of abundance and harvest and survival. We have made it through winter, through the cold and the hunger, the darkness within and with out. We have made it through the birth canal of spring, the transition and surprise, the newness and innocence, the uncertainty of fickle weather and tempestuous swings of hot and cold, late snow, early heat, high winds and the hard work of raking out the garden beds and beginning again.
And now, those of us in the northern hemisphere can slip into the warm, relaxing glove of summer, days of sunshine, flower, ripe fruit and cool water.
On top of that, it is also the full moon. The full moon is the zenith of the lunar cycle, that constant monthly reminder of our changing and evolution. It is a circle of constant death and renewal. This is an event that comes every 70 years and for most of us, will not happen again in our life time.
There are times in my life when I was acutely aware of the seasonal and lunar cycles. I used to farm and would know the solstice because, with the added day light, we would spend hours moving hoses to water plants, and worked hard to keep up with the fast growing weeds. And I always knew what phase the moon was in because, each night, I would walk from the main house through the glove of night to my little cabin tucked under a redwood.
Now I live in a city, small though it is, but the stars are still dimmer at night and, were it not for Facebook or Mystic Mamma, I might not know how special today is. That is something I grieve; for most of human existence, our ancestors slept outside, with no concept of inside, and lived with a deep, visceral connection to the Earth and her cycles. Without calendars, telescopes or iPhones, we knew the rhythms of the planet like we knew our own heart beat.
I am not my ancestors; today I write this to you today from inside my house, on a laptop made out of who knows what kind of minerals and electricity shooting across a giant, continental grid. But I can do small things to cultivate that connection. I am going to a women’s gathering tonight, where we will sit by the beach and honor the moon and the sun and create intentions together (assuming I feel better, I have actually been down with a cold all week, not fun!). I will pick strawberries and turn each bite into a prayer of thanksgiving. I will decorate my room with flowers. And, this week, I will spend extra time lying in the sun, feeling that deep connection my ancestors knew so well and giving gratitude to this beautiful place I will always call home.
What are you going to do to honor the solstice? Share your brilliant ideas by leaving a comment below! And, as always, if you enjoyed this post, please like it and share it on Facebook!
It seems like there is a lot of vitriol out in the world today. Here is something to remind us of our preciousness and connection.
“All this Donald Trump business… I just can’t handle it, it’s too much. If he is elected President, I am just moving to Canada”, said my friend. I replied with a nervous chuckle and shifted uncomfortably in my chair.