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The this-and-that-ness of the world

by Jana Hexter

Like a lot of people, I’ve been feeling a mixture of rage and despair when I read the news. And have to pull myself back from reactivity and remember my commitment to do my best to presence goodness in the world. On some days it just feels exhausting and that the violent men of the world have just run amok for millennia and are now bringing our culture, and the natural world that I love, to an inevitable end.

This Sunday morning, I woke up around 7am. On the mornings that I don’t hike or ride my bike, I usually sit on my little deck with a cup of tea and listen to the birds and say good morning to the forest and the trees. But on Sunday, I was still a little groggy and the light felt blinding so I grabbed my sleeping bag and a pillow and snuggled on my hammock figuring that I would just let the sounds of nature and rising sun wake me up.

I was snoozing in and out of consciousness when I felt someone come to stand next to me. I thought it was my tenant who likes to garden and so I woke with a bit of a start and was surprised that no one was standing there even though I felt a distinct presence. So, I closed my eyes and lolled off again. And then I heard a clear voice that said, ‘what if the future is better than the past?’

The news of climate change and the reversal of decades of hard-won rights looks to me like we’re on a downward spiral to authoritarianism and environmental destruction. And after a career working in non-profits, like a lot of us, I’m not at all clear that I’ll have enough income in my retirement years to afford a basic (American) standard of living. And it had been feeling that it is inevitable that things will get a lot worse.

So, this thought of the possibility that the future could be better than the past is heart-warming. I share this with you not with a Polly Anna naivete or ungrounded optimism. But just because that feeling that planted deep in my being on a lovely summer’s morning has revived me. What if?

Later in the day once the heat let up just a little, I went to the Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance in my hometown. I was watching a band called Driftwood play. They are from Binghamton, NY and one of the band members is truly magical with a fiddle.

For the last song, they were all tuned in and I watched in delight as she ‘caught a song.’ I stood in the stands and watched her overtaken by the Spirits. Up above, I saw her ancestors and the spirits of the song gather above her and pluck and move her like a puppet. But not fully like a puppet and puppeteer but more like the symbiosis of unembodied and the embodied ones. It was beautiful to watch.

And I wondered, what if my anger at the outrages is just as much an expression of the Spirits coming through into the embodied world? And just as they enjoy the interaction in the creation of music, they welcome the interaction in the creation of compassion and justice? One of the things that has come through in my work is the notion that the Spiritual world doesn’t distinguish between good and bad feelings like we do. Feelings are aliveness.

I’ve never been able to swallow the idea of enlightenment. First of all, the idea that our spirits are pure if only we could master this pesky body and emotions just seems off to me. And, second, I’ve been in close quarters with people who have dedicated their lives to God and prayed for hours a day for over six decades and they still bicker over who sits with whom in the dining room. Yes, they are kind and loving people but they don’t smile constantly like a Buddha and they still get petty. Their hundreds of thousands of hours of prayer has still left them with the usual conundrums of life.

What does resonate with me is getting into the muck of life – or as Stephen Jenkinson terms it so beautifully, the dark church of what’s so. Life is created in the darkness of the womb and the depths of the composted forest floor and the oceans. Our natural world has evolved to offer an abundance of beauty and nutrition while spending half the time in light and half in the dark. And yet, it’s almost universally accepted that light is good and dark is bad. How can that be when the dark is so essential to the circle of life?

These days, I find myself disinterested in those who say that they have it all figured out and have the answers for happiness and contentment. And while my mystical bent has me appreciate the illusory nature of time, space and the physical world, I am an embodied being.

I find myself interested in conversations about how human beings in 2019 navigate the ‘this and that’ ness of our daily lives.

  • The deep yearning for creating beauty and peace through my daily life AND the need to pay my mortgage.
  • My desire for honoring the sacredness of nature AND my need to drive a car because the public transportation infrastructure is so weak.
  • The desire to aid the disenfranchised of the world AND the need to fulfill the dictates of funders.
  • My love of cheese AND the limited availability of ethically produced dairy products.
  • My urge to just go hiking and live in the woods AND my sense of obligation to future generations to be a voice to protect the woods and the waters.
  • The preciousness of life AND the hundreds of ants building a nest in my basement.

It seems like there are dozens of times a day when I feel the little tug of this-and-that-ness between what my heart and body yearns for and what’s necessary to be effective or just get along in this world.

But what if the future is more beautiful than the past and the torrent of feelings that rise up in me are as heaven-sent as the beauty that came through that fiddle and bow? And for the symphony of life to emerge, I can play and dance with the dark emotions and allow them to fuel my movements as we weave world? And I can honor the reality of the daily conundrums and know that some days we inch forward and some days we inch back. Some days I weave with the dark thread, some days with the light – and the full tapestry is yet to be seen. What if.

And now, life’s current big question. What to do about the darned mosquito that’s pecking at me while I write?