The Real Thing

Oh my.

People so often act from a place of lack. They think about all they don’t have, and they wonder why they’re not getting the good things. They say they want and prefer “the real thing,” but they have no frickin’ idea what the real thing even looks like, and they haven’t done all the internal work it takes to figure out whether they’re ready for it, whether they can nurture it and treat it with respect and care and commitment.

Do you have reserves and resources built inside you? I want to know. Are you like a sturdy, thriving tree, able to weather storms, able to grow, able to attract all kinds of life around you? Able to radiate light and stand tall?

Or are you hollow, my dear?

‘Cause many people are, I’m sorry to say, hollow. And those dead, hollow trees are no good to anybody. We just pass by them in the forest, waiting for them to decompose.

The real thing in this life, whether it be in business, in social circles, in romantic partnerships, in family, is the tall tree whose roots are firm and planted, whose tentacles spread deep in that gorgeous earth, and whose stalk continues to grow, whose branches reach high toward the sun. The sun loves dancing with this tree, melting into her folds, flickering through her leaves, casting shadows and shapes and playing around. The real thing is the tree who makes you step back and take notice. There are lots of trees, you see. Take a walk through the forest, and you’ll pass many of them. Which is the tree that stands out? That’s the first question to consider. And second, why does that tree stand out?

Because if we’re going for metaphors here, when we’re on the move and wandering and searching, we’re not always sure what we want to find. (People say “the real thing,” so let’s call it that. Me, I’m about embodying pure truth. Let’s assume real and true is the same.) There’s a lot of beauty on our path, a lot of things to see. There are also a lot of distractions. There’s a lot of sitting and resting, or deciding where to turn, of not knowing the way. Oh, man. Can I tell you how many times I’ve been in that predicament? Not knowing what direction to head in? That sucks. Now I just pick one and trust, because I trust myself in all things, because I am aligned with my wisdom.

But getting back, say we’re on the hunt for the real thing, for Pure Truth. But we haven’t really seen it before, and we’ve only glimpsed it, so we’re not quite sure how it’s going to manifest in this physical reality. We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We don’t know how to see, because we’re in a forest with a lot of things to look at, and we’re trying to either explore or go home, or both.

What I’m telling you is that the real thing, the Pure Truth, is the thing that makes you stop in your tracks. It’s the tree that’s so brilliant and beautiful, and reaching up to the sun, that your feet feel different when you’re looking at her. You pause. You’re not rushing anymore. You’re not running away. You’re just paused. And then, slowly, you proceed toward her, because you want to sit in her boughs, because you want to feel her sturdiness against your back as you take out your apple and eat, or read, and think for a while. The sturdy tree encourages you to rest, to sit back, to finally breathe.

If you’re not in a place where you can notice that tree, and acknowledge her goodness, her power, in that radiant simplicity? If you’re so blind that you just pass her by? You’re not ready. Or if you see her, and you’re terrified, because she’s what you’ve been looking for all along, but you don’t know how to sit and eat your apple and breathe and reflect? You’re not ready. And I feel bad for you, if you’re the scared one. Because the only way to overcome fear is to go into it, to pull it up at the root by taking action, by diving in. Jeez, what are you going to do, run away? How long are you going to run? What are you after? You just don’t know yourself, sweetie, and that is so, so sad. Do better. You can.

What am I talking about?

What am I trying to say?

I meet a lot of men who say they want what’s real. But they haven’t done the work, you see. They want what’s real, and they’re only thinking about what everyone can give to them, how they can be filled through the works of other people. And they don’t know the resources they have within them. They don’t know their own treasures. All their treasures are buried, and waiting to surface. So they are grasping, or scared, or hesitant, or kind of empty, or ego-filled. They’re running on fumes of ego. That’s the hollow tree, and dude, no one wants to be around a hollow tree. People only look at it as they pass by, and sometimes they sit on it for a while, but then they pass on, ’cause hollow trees are usually ugly, and they attract a lot of moss and fungus.

We are all meant to be THE TREE. The one who attracts others with its beauty, with its steadfastness. The one reaching up toward the sun, flowering in spring, filled with leaves. The one with substance and beauty and strength. The one you want to sit next to and rest for a while before going on your way. The one you keep coming back to, because it calls you. That tree has an energy that continually calls you. And when you are confused, or spinning around, you know you can go to that tree and everything will feel better for a time.

I don’t know if “ready” actually exists. The concept may be a figment of our minds. What ready is, is a kind of emptiness. Sometimes, it is a kind of being beaten down. It is being tired and sick and hungry, and just saying Fuck it already, I’ll do what I have to do. And you give in to your life, and then you experience great pleasure and beauty because your ego is not running the show, and you’re fed up with strategy. You just flow.

But if you’re already spending your life in those moments of emptiness, of surrender, of letting go of your ego and living in your heart?

Baby, you’re ready every single day.

Every day, you are that radiant, wonderful tree, whose arms reach up toward the sun, who calls people to come gather, who says yes to life, whose brilliance just is. 

 

Photo by Dave on Unsplash

FirstDaySermon: Your Mother Is Talking to You

There is so much we don’t know or understand about God, or faith, or the Truth of Everything. All we can know is a little part, a piece at a time, before we start to put together the whole story. But thinking that we can even get to the whole story is an act of grasping, so we must be content to sit back and surrender and see what comes.

SexyJesus was a badass, you know. I bonafide badass. He had the confidence to know who he was, and to say it out loud, regardless of what anyone thought or who doubted him. People doubting him didn’t stand in his way to do his work in the world. But being a badass doesn’t mean you’re an asshole, and this is an important distinction. When someone steps surely and with great confidence, when they have great internal power, our automatic assumption is that a person like that must be wrong in some way, must want to do terrible things. We’ve seen a lot of movies where men with confidence carry guns and step into a place to shoot everyone out. They seem to have no doubts, either. And they cause great slaughter and destruction.

What is it going to take for people who want to spread love and goodness to have this kind of confidence, moving past doubt and fear, adopting the belief that love and light outweigh the evil in the world? So much in life is a matter of belief. And evil and destruction is loud and angry, and it has taken root everywhere, so some of us are prone to listen to it, to think that is the way of the land. It has largely been the way, in the U.S. We live in a country that killed off indigenous people. We live in a country that operated from and grew rich out of slavery, ramifications we are still struggling with today. We live in a country that is so terrified of a woman in charge we’d choose a monster instead. A monster, truly. A whole crew of them.

What we need to do, instead, is start listening to The Mothers.

Their stories have been burned and destroyed. There is not a scripture we can turn to to uncover their teachings. So we have to go deep inside, we have to access imaginal realms, we have to create anew, intuit traditions of old and practice them, and be healed. The Mothers are speaking to us, every day. I am one of their messengers. But there are many—coming through poetry, coming through popular music, coming through visual art. The Mothers were shut out of temples and religious places, but they surface in small groups and through artists’ souls. And they have so many stories to tell, so much to teach us. They’re hungry for our attention. Will you listen? Or will you keep browsing cute quotes on Instagram, thumbing little hearts, saying “like, like, like”?

Stop being blind to the love and the wholeness and the shameless audacity that surrounds you, and is within you. Listen. Open up. Uncover. Grow. Become your own sturdy tree.

In the Gospel of Joquanda, SexyJesus says “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

The Lord, Your Woman, speaks in paradox. SexyJesus, the greatest prophet, shows this. His role was and is to set people free from their assumptions, not to commit to old and tired paradigms, which is what a lot of Christians do. So be it. You can’t save Christians. They know everything, remember? And so SexyJesus says, he’s going to help show you what’s what in this life. But those who think they see, who think they know everything? Those are the blind ones. Don’t listen to them.

Listen to yourself. Listen to the Mother inside you.

But do you even know how? Have you ever tried? Have you developed a practice of inner discernment, of deep listening, so that when action is required, you know what to do?

Likely not. Likely you turn to others, to “trusted” leaders, to friends, to wounded and unhealed people, and you hand your life and your soul and your yoni and your core into someone’s hands to do with as they wish. They mold you, they finagle you, you are their product and their thing.

I’m here to tell you there is another way.

I’m here to teach you to get into the firm thick root of you, the golden essence of who you are, and let those feet and root-bodies merge deep, deep into the earth. And then you’re planted, you’re fixed. You know who you are, where you come from, what you’re capable of. So you have a nice steady pace to grow. And you grow, and you grow, and the branches start to spill out, and the fruits come in spring, and the flowers on your hands bloom, and you operate in accordance with the seasons, because this is God’s time, the time that really matters beyond Roman numerals and iPhone calendars. And you bend and flow and move with it and change, but you are always steady, always strong, because you got those roots, see? And you are capable of so much, and so many birds come to kiss you and build nests in your arms, and children smell your fragrant flowers, and everyone just wants to be near you, and you don’t have to seek anything out.

You are not, and were never, a half a person. You are all you ever were or will be. You just don’t know this yet, because you’re operating in this heady, foggy space, without your root, looking for your root in other people. In people who don’t always deserve that kind of authority, people who often took it without asking.

So I’m here to help you do a little digging.

Just call me your gardening assistant.

 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The Circle and the Line

Within each of us is a masculine and feminine energy. The masculine is the assertive, do do do nature. The feminine is our openness, our ability to receive, to surrender, to let flow.

We need both of these energies in balance inside us if we are able to move effectively through this world. When I say “effective,” I am not talking about worldly visions of success. Too many of us have been ingrained with the do do do mentality, that we don’t simply know how to be. So we may have financial success and prestige, we may have numbers of followers in man-made platforms, but we don’t know how to receive love or listen deeply in the presence of another person, which is way more important on an energetic and eternal level. And if can’t be in presence, we are not “effectively” living. Maybe “effective” isn’t the right word either. Maybe the word I’m looking for is “impression.” I’m talking about taking part in the dance of life, in an exchange of energy that happens within each interaction, something that exists below the surface and which we’re not always aware of. I’m talking about how we, as humans, are a network of energy exchange similar to that of trees, our roots underground constantly talking to each other, constantly available to connect and blend and become whole.

Becoming whole is not about the assumption that someone out there is going to complete you. Anthropos is the term Yeshua used. We’re talking about being fully human. We’re talking about being inordinately, inwardly strong.

In ancient traditions, women were known for their receptivity, their openness to download messages from Spirit and transmute them into the physical plane. This is how oral histories developed and continued. This is why we see hieroglyphics on cave walls that exist until this day. Women, and people like shamans or medicine men who had a natural receptivity, an embodied feminine energy, were able to receive and let flow through them messages, tales, healing remedies from the ancestors. This is how SexyJesus healed so many with the touch of his hands. He opened up, he received, he let flow.

In Navajo tradition, those called “two-spirit” were especially revered in the village. The ones who manifested beautifully and fully the masculine and feminine energy, who were born with one set of genitalia and yet embodied the other were deeply wise. Their specialness knew no bounds, in the way they could relate to both aspects of human existence, the way they could be open, take in, and also plant, root down, and exude out.

In Hindu scripture, we have the yoni and the lingam, the two parts that make up the whole, the shakti feminine energy and the lingam masculine energy.

We are called to move forward in this broken world by embodying both aspects of the divine within ourselves, and our healing and wholeness gets derailed when we repress either one. Currently, with the violence and harshness and disdain for nature that we see all around us in the US, we are experiencing (and have experienced) a repression of the feminine. Disdain is the right word. We think all must be outward, outward, outward, and reject the need to go in, go deep, receive, embrace, envelop. And this disdain is why we have no regard for nature. It is why women are raped and abused (and men, too, by the way). It is the reason so many women struggle with mental illness, or loathe their bodies, or are so overcome with anxiety they shut down. We have no idea, after thousands of years of patriarchy, how to reclaim our ability to open, surrender, and receive. We are out of balance and out of whack. And we are desperate for a change, but we have no idea how to get there, because much of the Mothers’ Wisdom has been lost. The Mothers’ Wisdom, passed orally through story and art and dance, through tincture and oil, has been shut off, suppressed, the words and practices buried and burned. Instead we have a society that kills and shoots to get what it wants. We have the lesson that violence and domination and yelling the loudest and making the most noise and buying the most objects and having the biggest structure on the block is what’s valuable, and that’s what we’re supposed to reach for. And even when we intellectually know these practices are wrong, we operate from our heads, from strategy, from planning, and not through the receptivity of the body that helps us be present and whole, a presence in the body whose strength is faith and openness to the power of Love that can come through and knock down walls and uproot fig trees and move mountains. That’s true power. Human power is pretty weak in comparison. But we don’t know that, because we’ve made the human mind the center of the world.

But the ancestors are trying to reach us.

The ancestors, part of the Great Spirit, are always speaking to us, always dancing around, celebrating our beings with joy, trying to teach, to deliver, to share. We are just too shut down, too stuck in our own egos, too caught up in spreadsheets or grocery lists and worries and our big plans to notice and hear.

They are teaching us how to heal.

They are teaching us a better way to move forward.

They are encouraging us to dance and sing and create art, to move Great Spirit’s energy through and out, to honor the living and the dead, to break bread before trees, to bow down under the stars, to sink our feet and hands into the earth and be healed, to listen to the birds call.

And oh my god, we are so closed up, thinking about fantasy football.

It is a terrible shame.

So.

Will you open?

Will you listen?

Will you let the divine feminine energy inside you flow through and help you receive?

Will you step away from thinking you are the center of the world, and recognize you are merely—and amazingly—a unique vessel flowing in the eternal river?

Can you handle that kind of powerful recognition?

Are you going to be brave?

Or are you already looking for the next thing to read?

 

“Antelope slot canyon” by RichardJackson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hawk Mountain

Let me tell you a story of a woman who was looking for answers.

Let’s call her Navajo Woman with the Long Blonde Hair.

Navajo Woman with the Long Blonde Hair went to a lot of places for many years. She spoke to a lot of people, for many years. She read a lot of books, with passages she carefully underlined. She kept asking questions, to anyone who would listen, to herself, to the Above. No question, in fact, was off the table. Whatever came into her life, she confronted it, and she looked to Great Sky, and she prayed to learn.

Teach me about love, she said. Teach me about faith. Teach me about forgiveness. Teach me about harmony, about balance, about completion. Teach me what it looks like to make yourself entirely new.

And Great Sky said, Here. Here. Here.

A dash of glitter. Kind words from a passersby. A few gold coins for her medicine bag. A new heavy coat for the cold.

Navajo Woman felt the heavens had been speaking to her for a long time, and the earth, too, but this is not anything she could say out loud, because the people around her were busy on their smartphones. They were busy on their Facebook pages. They were busy doing the things everyone thought they were supposed to do. Take out the dogs. Buy the groceries. Drop off the kids. Pay the utility bills.

Navajo Woman was trying to straddle two worlds. She was winning at neither. Maybe the point was never to win.

And yet she knew she was coming to the end of a long journey. She knew she was at the precipice of a new foundation, a new way forward. And so she drove one day, in her car, to a place called Hawk Mountain. She had heard two smart people reference it. And she had been visited by hawks, these messengers, for years. Now was the time to go where they go.

Her nails were red on the steering wheel. The coffee beside her was warm, filled with six packets of sugar and a a tablespoon or two of half-n-half. Croissant flakes dropped to her lap as she ate and played Taylor Swift and drove through tunnels and exits and open roads.

And then she arrived, and there were so many people, she thought she ought to go home.

Why hadn’t she just sipped tea and watched television all afternoon? Why did she have to yet again do this other thing? It was very cold. Very windy and cold. She hadn’t dressed appropriately.

The gift shop next to Hawk Mountain had fleece zip-ups, so she bought one. She almost bought a pair of earrings, too. She did buy a map. And she asked the woman behind the counter, since she was so good at asking questions, what path she should take once she crossed the road.

I’ve never been here before. Can you tell me which way to go? 

The woman suggested the rocky trail. It was lit up on the map in red. It was a medium-level hike, the woman explained. Not too easy, not too hard. Would that work for Navajo Woman (with the Long Blonde Hair?)

Yes. Thank you.

Navajo Woman was not feeling good about this. Now that she was at Hawk Mountain, she discovered how tired she was, how ridiculous was this search for meaning of many years. But she was here. She had driven all this way. She wanted to get back in her car, but her feet just wouldn’t turn. The footsteps of one’s destiny are marked. They pull you down.

Up the hill that led to the trail, she stood on the edge of a cliff and gazed angrily at the yellows and oranges of changing trees, the sharp blue of the sky, the clouds moving and leaving awkward-shaped shadows. She could go left. She could go right. She could go anywhere she wanted to go. This was the problem. Too much freedom is a burden. And yet recognizing and embracing one’s freedom is the only way to live a life. It is the only way to know you are making your life your own.

Navajo Woman took the red path, even though she didn’t want to. Red like her nails. She stepped gingerly down, down, down into the Valley of Rocky Trail, wondering what she was getting into. Was this crazy? This seemed crazy. It was hard to walk. There was no smooth ground, and no sign of smooth ground to come. She had only just started and she needed a rest. She needed a good place to sit and breathe for a while. But all the rocks were jagged, and none of them offered itself up. None that was off to the side in a quiet space, at least. So she found a rock in the open and she sat, and she breathed, and she realized that this place the gift-shop-woman had brought her was hell. It was stupid. It was ugly. She was now so tired of life, tired of the struggles life caused. Maybe she would just give up. Maybe she would let it all end here on the rocks. And yet there was no way to make it end. There was no way to make it stop. Life required a constant reworking of things, a constant reframing and refiguring. She didn’t want to be here, and yet she was, so she had to do what she had come to do, and there was no way out.

So she stood up and walked. Hobbled. Hopped. One rock to the next. When she met a person, she asked for directions. They kept pointing at a far-off place. She had to just keep going down, they said, and then she would be able to turn and go up.

Down. Down. Down.

But soon all people disappeared, and she was left alone, stepping from one rock to the next, following blue tape on trees that led to more blue tape on trees and more rocks and no sign of any way up. She was so angry. This was so ridiculous. Why did she listen to a strange woman? Why didn’t she figure out at the outset what she wanted to do? Why did she follow the color red just because it was the color red? Who was she hoping to find in this godforsaken place?

(It was herself. She was always looking for herself. Shh. Don’t tell.)

So Navajo Woman felt a fire begin to glow in her loins. It was not a fire of pleasure, necessarily. It was the fire of life. It was the fire of “tired-of bullshit.” Tired of struggle. Tired of searching. Tired of wandering and meandering. Tired of being buried by crisis after crisis. It was the fire of what really matters. 

It was the fire of figuring things out.

And once that fire was lit, and she saw that there was simply no sign of these rocks ending and turning into a mountain, no matter how many she stepped on and how far she looked, she did the only thing she could do.

She turned around and went back home.

 

 

FirstDay Sermon: You Do Not Have to Be Useful

Mary Oliver starts her famous poem “Wild Geese” by saying You do not have to be good, which is such a relief. And saying You do not have to be useful is kind of saying the same thing.

American culture, unfortunately, as vibrant and interesting and scary as it is, suggests that we only matter if we are productive. We only matter if we are making money. We only matter if we have accolades and a certain number of “likes” or “followers.”

It teaches, Grasp, grasp, grasp. Reach hard, reach far, reach wide. Attain. Acquire. Grasp again.

These things are helpful, at times. But a nation built on claiming and pioneering and acquiring is going to fizzle out eventually. We’re seeing that culmination now. And so the next phase, the obvious resort, is to sit back. It is to practice surrender. It is to go deep within ourselves in the quiet, perhaps surrounded by trees, which are a dying breed.

Political people will tell me this is way off. And I respect political people. Someone has to do the work of pulling us out of this mess, politically. I just don’t think the way out is the way we got in. I don’t know that the same practices that put us here will work to create a new world. Peace and simplicity, which is what we’re all craving, does not occur from applying more and more force.

Truth may be unsettling at first, because it is so gentle, because it is so solid, because it is so natural.

But we are in such a mess, with so many layers of muck, with so many years and generations of people we respected doing it the other way, we don’t know how on earth we would make a positive change. I feel you.

So we start small.

Instead of world domination, as is the inclination, or the automatic assumption when it comes to a good, new idea, we can think about the nature of bees. We can think of how different creatures have different roles, and how those roles change depending on the season. We can think of how pollination does not come from a swarm dominating a certain area, but a hive spreading out, applying a gentle touch here and there.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, after all. It starts small, but it grows and grows. The way an acorn develops from a small kernel under your foot into an entire oak tree. 

What I mean to say is, don’t despair if you need to take a season of rest. Recognize there are always things happening inside, turning, simmering, marinating. We are souls, after all, not just body parts. Not just brains. Instead of forcing ourselves to act, act, act all the time, it is beneficial to actually retreat, to sit back, to process. And then when we do act, it is from a deeper place, it carries more weight, it is way more effective.

But we have adopted a neurosis about resting. We need it, sure. And we do it. But we feel guilty the whole time. We feel like we are failing. So instead of conscious, careful, relaxing rest, we end up scrolling like zombies several times a day on social media feeds. Or we end up sleeping too much or watching too much football. We drink a lot of wine to get into a relaxed state. Or we end up with depression. Or we suffer from post-traumatic stress and break down.

I don’t know how to make it all better. I’m not God. I am just astute enough to see that what we’re doing isn’t working, and so the way we operate needs to change. We all know it doesn’t make sense to do the same things over and over again if you are getting poor results. There is a balance, a discernment, between persevering in a task and toiling mindlessly. And a lot of us are mindless. We are encouraged to be. We are taught that money makes you happy, or that good grades are the be-all-end-all, or a fancy title is where happiness lies, or objects satisfy. And if we end up getting those particulars, we still feel empty in some way. So something is going wrong.

We all have great capacity within us, layers and layers of potential we can open up. And now is the time to tap into that. Now is the time to do the work of less. Process more. Meditate more. And recognize the change in the way you operate in the world, and the ways flowers get pollinated anyway, with the sweetest, juiciest of juices.

You were not created to be a robot, never thinking for yourself, never accessing the resources you have within, never knowing who you truly are.

And sitting, closing your eyes, and breathing for a time is completely free.

Perhaps that’s why people don’t know how valuable it is. So much is a matter of what we believe in.

 

“Bee” by bobosh_t is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

FirstDay Sermon: Love Is Not a Numbers Game. Life Is Not a Matter of Numbers.

“For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

This past week, I was preparing to teach one of my college classes in which students read academic articles about culture and then respond by writing analytical essays. (Wow, that sounds boring.) Our particular focus is technology and social media, so we read an article about a rapper who made a music video expressing social commentary on the way black people are treated in America. The video, which is now a couple of years old, made a big splash and caused a lot of discussion on Twitter and other media outlets when it went viral. According to my students, the video shocked people awake to the kind of violence that exists in America. No one had made a video like that before, they said. And when I say “a video like that,” I’m referring to the fact that in the video, the musician shoots people with a gun and keeps dancing to his song, and then he shoots people again.

I told them that I didn’t understand why this was radical social commentary. A black man shooting people in a music video. In a culture that already has an implicit bias that black people are violent. How is this helping? I asked.

They argued with me. They said, You don’t get the video because your generation is not the audience. You don’t get the video because you didn’t watch the companion video with the breakdown of all the symbolism happening in the background. And most importantly, What you have to understand, Jana, is that this video got 6 million hits on YouTube, so it must be making a really valuable point. It must be working.

Six million views. Wow.

Then I showed them this video, which speaks to my soul, and which I can watch over and over again and be mesmerized. This video also has a black person dancing. There’s no violence. And it’s beautiful and healing.

 

They scoffed, because this video is “boring,” and it has less than 2,000 views.

To each her own, I guess.

But wait, let me tell you more.

A day after my class, I went on a nature retreat hosted by a friend of mine. There were four of us attending. We sat in a circle and we talked and performed a series of rituals in the night, and the next day, wandered through nature. We wrote down our fears and worries and the challenges we were facing and we held individual ceremonies about them. And no one watched this on YouTube. There was no video with 6 million views. No one discussed our exercises on Twitter.

And yet we four women are going to go forth now and heal the world.

What I want to say to the students I love, and what I’m going to invite them to do, is shut the screens of their laptops, and put their phones away, and go into the forest and dance.

I’m going to ask them, have you ever written a love letter to a tree, and nestled it in her boughs, and felt her speak back to you through the palms of your hands?

Have you ever picked a seed and let it leak orange on your fingertips?

Have you ever told a story around a fire, and listened to the birds caw, and sat with the silence that surrounds the crackling timbers?

You won’t be able to watch it on YouTube. It won’t make you any money.

But you will feel warm, and whole. And safe.

Are you brave enough to try something like that?