Last week, I received yet another emergency call. Since November 8th, it feels like “911” is a new state of normalcy we are being forced to navigate. From “shots fired, shelter in place” texts from my daughter’s college campus to news of someone being shot in Chicago every other hour (http://interactive.wbez.org/everyotherhour/), I find myself amping up my meditation practice as an antidote to all these crises.
As I sit and breathe and try to slow my racing heart, I ponder what’s emerging through us throughout these emergencies. I sense increasing capacities including a massive heart expansion — especially among the collective. This is what I see every time an emergency occurs: people come together to cry, comfort, chant, call, collaborate, and create solutions. Coming together in community is the very best response to all this chaos: it’s the upside of the downside.
In 1960, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi predicted that 1% of a population practicing Transcendental Meditation would produce measurable improvements in the quality of life for the whole population. This phenomenon was first noticed in 1974 when 1% of a community practiced Transcendental Meditation and the crime rate fell by 16% on average. The phenomenon named “the Maharishi Effect” describes the influence of positivity in an environment generated by a coherence of consciousness. Last week, I experienced firsthand what I am now calling “the Madeleine Effect.”
Madeline Connelly, 23, was lost with her rescue dog Mogi in Glacier Park for 6 nights and 7 days — and rescued by an amazing team of people on the ground and in the collective consciousness. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/ct-missing-hiker-found-montana-20170510-story.html) Over the course of that frightening week for her family, dozens and then hundreds and eventually thousands of people all over the planet prayed for her safe return. In addition to incredible rescue teams in Montana, many meditated and focused positive energy to uplift Madeline so she could be found. Without food, water or shelter, she miraculously survived a week in the wild.
Her story remains to be told. But I was part of a massive mission unknown to her as we gathered hundreds of psychics, healers, intuitives, meditators, remote locators and mothers around the globe. Everyone I contacted willingly focused hours and hours of attention on reviving her, illuminating her presence so she could be found. Famous finders, unknown mystics, friends of friends of friends, created a chain weaved text to text, state to state and eventually continent to continent, creating an energetic web of support uplifting Madeline and Mogi. Magically, on May 10, the spotlight revealed our dynamic duo, still alive, without a scratch of harm. This is what community looks like. People were eager to support one wondering in the woods — LOST — so she could be found. What could have been the worst Mother’s Day became the best.
Madeline will certainly feel “lost” again in the future — in the wilderness or most likely in “civilization” — but she, and WE, have found an amazing power in each other that cannot soon be forgotten. Even though she didn’t know that our focus of attention was on her, she and her family felt the light of the loving community that surrounded her at their darkest hour. No matter how lost, I hope they all remember forever how loved they are. No matter how stressed, I hope we all remember how powerful our capacity to love can be.
All eyes were on Glacier’s Bear Country as we held our breath and connected our hearts to hold one of our children so she would come home after her long walk in the woods. We all know that there’s nothing like the ferocity of a mother bear, especially one whose cub is in trouble. The media tried to freak us out. But this time, faith-filled Mama Bears responded in the face of unfathomable fear by holding hearts and hope in our virtual home, our collective consciousness. Our massively courageous and compassionate response to this 911 brought one of our cubs home and awakened us all to the power of community coming together. What a wonderful realization that WE possess such positive power in the WE space between us. One girl was lost and a whole web of US found her, together.
This is my story, that of the spiritual search team, but I’d also like to recognize the boots on the ground, the prayers in the pews, her fantabulous family who never lost the faith, and Two Bear Air, all who played a part in the miraculous result brought about by the Madeline Effect. I wonder what miracle the next 911 will make possible.
P.S. If you were one of the many Mama Bears I called upon, thank you from the bottom of my grateful heart. Happiest of Mothers Days to you!
There is a ONEderful (Earth) Film Fest in town — catch her before she’s gone! (http://www.oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date/)
Six years ago, there were six people at my very first screening. This year, film after film is sold out! Yesterday, 266 people packed in — it was “standing room only” to see A Small Good Thing at St. Giles; the night before, 150 packed into the Good Earth Greenhouse to see Minimalism. The juicy discussions and rich resource fairs that followed were actually large, wonderful things.
Crowds are pouring into church halls, greenhouses and libraries all over Chicago this week, eager to become part of this vibrant community conversation learning to minimize, downsize and transform our bad habits and mindless attitudes into something more sustainable — to discover that small, good thing we can each do to enjoy more meaning and create closer communities. We occupy this One Earth after all, so why not do it better together?
Thousands of hours donated by dozens of volunteers make this week-long event possible. Thanks to the good people of Green Community Connections there are 47 screenings in 39 venues all over Chicagoland this week. I look forward to this event all yearlong — and this year feels very different. This time, the message feels more urgent. This time, attendees are ready to lean in. This time, listeners seem more eager to respond with action steps the film fest hopes to inspire. “We are lucky,” we say, “To live in a community of activism” — glad to find our peeps amidst the chaos, noise and despair that November’s election wrought.
There’s nothing new at OEFF 2017; the same messages are being delivered with the same urgency as in past years. And yet, the venues are packed with standing-room only crowds at a time we absolutely need to take a stand for our One Earth, the home we inhabit together. That is good news!
Go see some films. Join us as we conspire to use less, love more, live more simply, and walk lighter on our home planet. This is our time. It is up to us!
In the last three months, I have survived three of the most stressful weeks of my 51 years, thanks to small everyday moments. Collectively, we have weathered scary and scarier 911 calls, managed mountains of heart-breaking stories, and sat in dozens of circles, bearing witness to trauma and triumph. I cherish:
Extra seconds added to heartfelt hugs
Moments spent savoring breath-taking sunsets
Surprisingly sweet cards/texts from loved ones
They take my breath away and enable me to take the next breath. Moments of caring kindness have been my saving grace amidst this tsunami of tragedy:
A barista’s artistic care making my latte
The comfort of returning to daily chores
A hospital social worker taking time to tell me “all will be well”
Life is terrible and terrific, all in the same situation. As a result, I am convinced that we are here to care for each other in small ways, every day. Without the wake-up call of crisis, we risk staying asleep, missing out on opportunities to reflect our care.
Because crisis occurs, I can cherish:
A letter from my sister to my son, protesting unconditional love and support
An acquaintance taking time to listen and grant courage to my next step
A heartfelt apology, thoughtfully delivered, healing an implosion of emotion
These are the moments I will most remember from these momentous times. While the hurricane of this political, economic and cultural shitstorm swirls its devastating winds, I find myself nourished in the eye of the storm by sips of calm, quiet care, the compassionate company of others, and a community waking up to act on what they care about most. What other way is there to ride these seas of change we’ve never before experienced and are neither trained nor equipped to sail?
In my darkest moments, I pray for my heart, for our collective heart of humanity, to expand its capacity for even more compassion, courage and caring and — I experience the magic of grace to loosen and lighten dark, stuck places. I am rewarded with:
Second chances New beginnings Alternate possibilities
If we survive this unprecedented tsunami of change, I am convinced it will be because of our weaving together small sips of kindness, circling together to joyfully wake up to paradise amidst this hellishness, and connecting mighty moments as humanity comes together realizing its potential.
I am counting on it.
Like many of you, I have struggled through many days since November 8, wondering “What the hell is going on?” and “Where the hell is my spark?” I have passed many an afternoon curled up under blankets, sipping tea, and listening to Carrie Newcomer sing “You Can do this Hard Thing” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRGnftH_g4I) or “Sanctuary” (https://www.google.com/search?q=sanctuary+carrie+newcomer&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8).
Life dimmed, depressed and nearly doused my flame.
We all know that beautiful, powerful image when the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Without the struggle, the caterpillar — having turned to mush — has no hope of ever becoming a butterfly. But under the right conditions, when the butterfly is ready to emerge, she chews a tiny hole in one end of her chrysalis and forces her stunning new form through the small orifice. Within this struggle, liquids from deep inside the butterfly’s body are passed into the capillaries of her wings, harden, ensuring the strength required for a butterfly to fly. Magnificent metamorphosis! (Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocWgSgMGxOc)
These are our times. As they sing in Hamilton, “Look around! Look around! How lucky we are to be alive right now!” This is what we have been waiting for, to step into our larger potential. Becoming part of the mysterial murmuration of women marching all over the world last Saturday gave me the impetus to burst out of my chrysalis and spread my wings. If you are feeling the calling, too, you are not alone. Join a circle of women activating: marching, calling, knitting, writing, running for office…WE are needed more than ever before.
Thankfully, there is a revolution afoot! I am heartened by women gathering in circles all over the world: Rising Strong, Progressive Take Action Circles, Power Circles, Mindfulness Circles, Emerging Women Circles, and Peace Circles! Since 2008, I have facilitated 500 Circles. Here's my latest creation:
Transform Angst into Action: Join a brand new Circle: ACTIVATE YOUR PURPOSE: Given the crises in our culture, each of us is needed to more fully activate our potential, to live our purpose more intentionally. BE on the cutting edge of creating positive change and building community, from the inside out. It is quite clear: WE are needed. Do you ever wonder “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?” Do you feel like you need a break from your routine in order to focus on “What matters most?” We live in incredible times full of amazing possibilities and, given our hurried pace, we must be intentional about setting aside time to reflect and connect in order to become more of who we came to be. Activate your passion, purpose, and potential! Join like-minded women willing to search inside themselves to live more authentically! Be inspired to become your best self! Widen your circle by reserving a seat today!
“I read the news today, Oh Boy!” — John Lennon
More of us were murdered this week. Hatred spoke louder than love on many of our streets this month. Too many mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers fear for their lives this year. Addressing thousands of us who gathered at an interfaith prayer service in Dallas today, Mayor Mike Rawlings wondered, “Does it always have to be hatred that makes us love?” Apparently so, as Rebecca Solnit describes beautifully in A Paradise Built in Hell and Hope in the Dark: Our species rises to our better angels most notably at the darkest of times. Quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rawlings continued passionately, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” And so…How can we love and protect the boys in blue and the black boys, so they stop shooting each other? How can we protect our rights and also our children? How we can hold hope and despair in these dark, dark times?
If we don’t, the Mayor warned, “Cancer of separation will kill this body.” Enough bodies have been killed already. On that we can all agree. And yet, the epidemic-level statistics evidencing our discord do not seem to be making us love each other any better. A Dallas rabbi who spoke said, “There is no peace in the city unless we make peace.” In other words, it is up to us. To love. To live in harmony. To hope for a better future. To find a way to function, better, together. After all, there is no one else but us.
In addition to experiencing deep sadness over this week’s violence and loss, I savored moments of deep connection with my family, my friends, and in Nature. Life was terrible and terrific, all at once. We tell stories of nirvana and nightmares, success and sabotage, in which we reveal our divinity and our demons. Awake, alive humans who are fully engaged embrace it all. I learn that this new capacity — the ability to hold paradox — is now coming online as our species evolves past a dualistic worldview. How can I see that I am living, and at the same time, also dying? How can I experience myself as an individual, who is also part of a unified whole? How can I be realistic about what is, and also imagine what can be?
Our future is uncertain, some say moreso than ever. At present, when we aren’t pointing fingers blaming each other, we recede or escape into a widespread malaise, feeling stuck, trapped in our own inability to envision a way out. That’s where hope enters the scene, and not in the way you might traditionally imagine (i.e. optimism). “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.” (Rebecca Solnit)
In other words, it is up to us. It is time to step up our game, individually and collectively — both/and. It is possible for us to meet our own needs, to have our own rights protected, and also to meet each others' needs and to protect each others' children. Everything is uncertain. And in the space in between, there is room to act, to influence the outcome, to truly see each other, to be with each other in our misery and ecstasy, to listen to each other even as we disagree, and to be heard speaking our truths.
Ready to spread the wings of your higher angels? Stay tuned for new opportunities this fall to up your game with me, either 1:1 or with others in Circle, or… both. Until then, Hold Hope!
“I have to tell you, I wish my mother were here to see this.” I wish all of our mothers and grandmothers, great grandmothers and great, great grandmothers were here to see this.
As Hillary shared tonight, her mother - Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham - was born the same day that Congress passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. How cool is that? A woman born in 1919, the day the 19th Amendment finally passes, births a daughter who is within spitting distance of becoming the 45th president - the first elected female president - of the United States of America. Pause. Breathe.
Within minutes, Wikipedia updated her entry to include this:
Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham (June 4, 1919 – November 1, 2011) was an American homemaker and mother of First Lady, U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of State, and (as the 2016 Democratic nominee for President), the First woman in American history to claim the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I have never written back-to-back Sparks. Tonight deserves another. This is historic. This is a moment I hope I will remember for the rest of my life. Just as I will never forget being in Grant Park the night Obama won. First Black President. And now, the First Woman President is within reach. Life moves fast. And we are its witnesses.
As Mary Oliver says in her Instructions for living a Life, “Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.” What are you telling your sisters, daughters, girlfriends, and granddaughters about this moment?
The ceiling is about to be shattered. The possibilities are endless. Ladies, we are needed. We are turning the page on a new chapter. Pens poised, tell the story, please.
My saintly grandmother often regaled me with stories evidencing her belief that any positive energy you put out into the world comes back to you, twofold. This was not the impetus for her giving; it was merely an observation she made. She was a woman who came from nothing, never had much, and died with very little (tangible, at least). And yet, she would proudly tell you she lived abundantly, was well-loved and reaped queenly rewards. A personal practice of mine provides further evidence of her theory. For 51 years, I know for sure that giving, sharing, serving, doing for others always does two things: it shifts me out of a bad mood or self-centered state of mind and it returns to me a multiple of the energy rendered.
Case in point. I was doing the dinner dishes the other night, when I noticed a teen girl and her dad playing basketball outside my window. The only thing missing was a basketball hoop. In my town, there are literally no public basketball courts. Not one. The reason for this intentional omission is fodder for another Spark, but for now, just know that one year a friend moved back to town with her basketball-loving teen and they literally drove up and down every street in my town. When they called to ask me where the courts were, I regretfully reported, “We don’t have any.” So….. noticing the need for a net and having one, unused, I pranced out the door (in my pjs nonetheless) to meet their obvious need. Case solved.
Flash forward 24 hours. I am sitting at my desk answering emails, when what to my wondering ears should I hear but the bounce of a basketball. Glancing outside, I recognize the girl, dribbling her ball on the sidewalk, headed toward my front door. Here she comes, with a great big smile, card and fresh flowers in hand. Her mother relays how insistent her daughter was to deliver something with gratitude to “The Lady of the House.” And so her letter began, “I appreciate the offer… I would like to take you up on it and come by occasionally to practice. However, I would never want to impose upon you….Thank you.” At this point in the exchange, I am nearly in tears, overwhelmed by the return of energy my simple offer yielded.
When my kids were much smaller, we read together, hours every day. The words of one of their favorite books comes back to me just now….“Whatever you chant, whatever you brew, sooner or later comes back to you.” Think twice about what you do, knowing it will boomerang right back to you. My grandmother says so.
When I was a little girl, my mom had a few sayings that drew lines in the sand and conversations to a close, one of them being, “Nobody ever said life would be fair!” Initially, it was Mom’s way of settling sibling rivalry disputes. She worked hard to treat the four of us equally, though never as her equals. Her parenting was effective, I think reflecting now as a parent, because she had so very little grey area. Things were black and white to her.
I visited the Thompson Center this week, to stand up in the white system for the character of a black man I met in peace circles training three years ago. The seat next to me was empty, until he filled it. Stephen was the last to enter the circle, bringing along a stack of journals as his contribution to our sacred space. Immediately, I knew I had to know his story. And so it has been my privilege these past three years to learn the story of Stephen Jackson. On Thursday, I proudly accompanied him, along with dozens of fellow community members, to his Executive Clemency Board Hearing. Four times a year in Chicago, a panel of mostly white people interrogate mostly black people, who are requesting relief from their social status as an ex-con. Admittedly, we entered the classroom (not a courtroom) knowing that Governor Rauner hasn’t finalized a budget yet, much less cleared an overflowing pile of clemency petitions on his desk. Still, with limited hope, we went to tell Stephen’s story. We listened to the white powers that be interrogate, intimidate and insist that Stephen endlessly serve his sentence. In other words, it was definitely “not fair,” in the words of my inner child.
According to the National Employment Law Project, approximately 70 million people in the United States — that‘s one in four adults — have a criminal record. Unemployment is one of the driving forces behind recidivism. Millions are trying to navigate a world with endless roadblocks including limited employment with a criminal record, trying to increase the chances they’ll succeed in society and lessen the chances they’ll return to prison. We don’t make it easy for them. According to the ABA, we have more than 45,000 laws restricting people with criminal records: they can’t get public housing, they can’t vote, and they can’t apply for certain jobs. As one ex-con said, “It’s so easy to get into trouble, but so hard to get out of it.”
Despite the odds, my friend Stephen (39) is a proud father, husband, circle leader, community member who has found work, created his own business and community; he is a transformed man. As his high school teacher shared, the person he was at 18 is long gone. He served his time, he repented, he contributes to society daily by keeping other teens in school, out of prison. One of my favorite experiences is to walk with a person in their shoes, to see how they see the world and witnessing how they show up in it. When I walk down Lake Street in Oak Park with Stephen, I watch him make his magic with every teen we meet. He is respected, regarded and making a powerful impact on the streets of our town. (Read more about his work here: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-10-2015/A-call-to-action-for-Stephen-Jackson/). Not only should we rip the Scarlet A from his chest, but actually, we need him to be unfettered so he can freely give his gifts.
I remember my dream as a young girl to become a criminal justice lawyer. I recall that moment in Boston when I was a young law student who saw the injustice in the system and took a detour in my career as a result. I know injustice and see how we all suffer as a result. You are right, Mom, life is not fair. And I will continue to dedicate my life to creating a more just world, for all of us.
I often have wondered about the word “community” - what creates community, what is community, how can we better our communities? Wikipedia tells us that: “a community is a social unit of any size that shares common values, or that is situated in a given geographical area. The word "community" derives from the Old French comuneté which comes from the Latin communitas (from Latin communis, things held in common). If we trust the media for our truth, we could easily fear our communities are crumbling or being transformed into virtual communities.
But if you were one of the lucky ones at The Wire in Berwyn last night, you witnessed community at its very, very best! (http://www.oprfcf.org/entrepreneur-leaders) Forty local entrepreneurs gathered to invest in a competition elevating us to tap together our most important human super power - imagining new possibilities. In a kinder gentler “shark tank” style event, the six finalists presented big bold ideas intent to transform our community. Pausing in between presentations, I savored the ecstatic energy present in the room. Everyone was abuzz. Abuzz about ideas, about making connections, about improving our being together. We heard BIG bold ideas about making pickles, sharing skills in time banks, meeting hungry people with surplus meals, enabling seniors to age in place, creating livable landscapes and offering recycling opportunities every day! Each one was better than the next. I found myself wishing I had a giant checkbook so I could support every one of them! We were present together creating a new common square — supporting what we have in common: a deep love for each other, rich resources for improving our world, and a trusting belief that we can do better, together.
Here’s a big idea… we need more common spaces where we can come together to create solutions and share our common values. We desperately need sacred spaces to dream bigger and do all the BIG things we are capable of. Thank you John Houseal, John Harris, Laura Maychruk, Kristin Carlson Vogen, and Michelle Vanderlaan, and all of those who invested in answering the prompt: “Have you ever said to a friend, neighbor, co-worker or classmate, What this community really needs is … “? Big ideas. Big change. Starting now. Get in the game. We need you.
There was a fabulous story in the Times last month praising the triumph of BIG talk over small talk (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/fashion/dating-the-end-of-small-talk.html?_r=0). Tim Boomer declares an end to small talk and ponders this: “Why can’t we replace small talk with big talk and ask each other profound questions right from the start? Replace mindless chatter about commuting times with a conversation about our weightiest beliefs and most potent fears? Questions that reveal who we are and where we want to go?” Big talk is diving into the deep end.
A decade ago, I grew tired of swimming in the shallow end. The big questions of life were stirring in me, screaming for safe places to swim. I searched, couldn't find, and so created spaces for deep dialogue. In the seven years since, I’ve convened 500 conversations; that’s 1,000 hours of BIG talk! I now can confidently claim: BIG TALK is life-changing! BIG TALK cements relationships. BIG TALK brings out the best in us. BIG TALK is scary to be sure, and oh so satisfying! BIG TALK is soulful and wholehearted. BIG TALK is the healthier, more fulfilling alternative to all the other ways we attempt to satisfy our cravings (food/drink/technology/TV). BIG talk transforms. BIG TALK leads to LOL with a spillover effect lasting for hours, and sometimes even days. BIG TALK is the contagious, cure-all we all need, now.
One of my Circles has met 38 times over the past few years. They are involved moms with full calendars, committed to risking undone errands and overflowing piles of laundry to engage in BIG talk. They unanimously voted to continue the conversation because they enjoy it so much, it has changed their lives, and they also report that there are just not enough venues for juicy engagement. For two hours, we turn off tech, tune into each other, enter a space for respectful listening, to talk about the BIG stuff, like who we are, who we want to become, why we are here, and what we are doing about it. We stretch and grow ourselves, reaching beyond our comfort zones, to help each other become our best selves…all through the life-changing magic of BIG TALK! My community is all the richer as a result of all the women energized by juicy conversations.
I am still unpacking gems from dozens of deep dives last month on retreat in Philo CA. Fourteen of us connected in a BIG way from sunup to sundown. I found being completely engaged in BIG TALK all day long so satisfying, so nourishing, so tasty that I needed very little else. Luckily, I can continue to connect to my purpose-guiding cohort through the magic of online wizardry called ZOOM.
“There is a huge and rising hunger on the part of just about everybody for authentic experience and reconnecting with what’s deepest and best in ourselves in an ever accelerating and complex world.”
This form of soulful, transformative engagement requires no fancy setting, scenery, or sophisticated training. You don’t have to travel beyond your own living room and it doesn’t cost a lot of money or demand hours of preparation. That said, know that the risk, the leap, the stretch is BIG. You must get real, speak your truth, and open your heart and mind wider than you think possible. At first, you may feel like you did as a child atop the high dive. You will worry about failing to use the “right words” and risk saying the “wrong” things. BIG TALK is not the norm because it requires sitting down, turning off, tuning in, to engage in thoughtful, heartfelt reflection. It demands a kind of authentic presence nearly extinct in 2016. (Consider BIG TALK 180 degree from the circus of the endless Republican debates.)
“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise.
We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
—Margaret J. Wheatley
You can create, discover and engage in BIG TALK yourself starting right now. Here’s my question: What kinds of conversations do you want to be in this week? Invite someone else into your inquiry. Roll up your sleeves, turn off your phone and talk about what matters most to you. I hope you join me in hanging up the small talk and making space for BIG TALK. If Tony Robbins is correct and the quality of our life is determined by the quality of our questions, then BIG TALK just might save the world.
“Dialogue could bring about a radical transformation of group consciousness.
Under the right circumstances ‘group mind’ can develop
and then access knowledge otherwise unavailable.”
Although most of the work I am privileged to do in the world is literally TOO BIG FOR WORDS, occasionally I am inspired to put some words to my experience, and this is the landing place. Chime in the conversation. Your voice is needed.