Standing Rock On Every Street Corner

Being in a living prayer. The art of collective resistance; carrying forward the sacred flame of Great Spirit; honouring Mother Nature and Grandmother Earth. Taking to heart Seven Lakota Values and Guidelines.

Standing Rock was a training ground to resist the march of eco-destruction that is now triggering mass extinction and the collapse of human civilisation. Seasoned activists taught new comers, like me, how to withstand militarised police and private militia, clean out tear gas from tender eyes, treat rubber bullets; how to huddle together, to move as one, arms locked, to circle and protect the vulnerable and those targeted first, Indigenous and People of Colour. While a real stretch from my regular safe world, it made perfect sense within the context of our dystopian future that is fast arriving. Interlocking my arms awkwardly while in a clumsy shuffle, a moment of prescience flashed, we will all likely find ourselves at a “Standing Rock” before too long. Perhaps downtown on Main Street, at the shopping mall, outside a slaughter house, protecting a forest, at a fracking site, outside a bank, in any country, at any time, on any and at every street corner.

Two years after Standing Rock, at a climate protest in London, I was handed the bold green black Extinction Rebellion leaflet. For a split second I was back on those frozen lands of North Dakota. Of course, it made perfect sense. The spirit of Standing Rock was on the streets of London, was spreading around the globe through various forms of civil disobedience, protests, acts of challenge, and clear, brave words ringing out loud. The lines are drawn, internally and externally, and the fight for nature, for existence in all its astonishing diversity, is on. The question is what will be our response and contribution?

Standing Rock brought everything to utter simplicity. There was no money to exchange or things to buy, none of our usual café’s and eating houses, no central heating or sheltered houses. It ran on sharing, on appreciation for a shaft of sunlight, a cup of hot tea, a shared meal, the warmth of human connection, and the passionate struggle for life, for justice, for a different world that we know is possible.

Mni Wiconi –Water is Life. It is an immense thing to try and understand that we are about to pull over the great planetary cauldron of life, bubbling for billions of years, and spill it into the dust. “How has it come to this?” as King Théoden said at Helm’s Deep, just before riding out, straight into the grotesque and overwhelming army of terrifying Orcs. The odds of success are low, the power of those who destroy is enormous; the seduction of money and the desire to control everything is wired so profoundly into the brain, we hardly see its insidious mechanisms. However, there is another power that shone through with great brilliance at Standing Rock. The power of the spirit, of heart, of the collective, and of a learnt Indigenous history of what it means to survive centuries of extreme oppression while keeping the sacred fire alive.

Standing Rock is an Indigenous led resistance through the power of collective prayer and ceremony. Its context is the 500-year long impact of Colonialism on First Nation People, which inflicted one of the largest genocides in human history, alongside mass invasion of Native lands, a litany of broken treaties, legislated cultural oppression including removal of children through forced Christianised education at boarding “schools”, and on-going marginalisation of Indigenous rights. This generational domination remains firmly in place illustrated by the State of North Dakota attempting to force, through intimidation and violence, the Sioux Tribe to accept what white society, a few dozen miles upriver at Bismarck city, rejected; the Dakota Pipeline through the heart of their community.

The assurance of Energy Transfers Partnership, who laid the pipeline, that there will not be an oil spill into the Missouri River, which the pipeline traverses, are empty given that that there have been hundreds, if not thousands of pipeline spills, including those from ETP pipelines. In the fierce confrontation that unfolded, Standing Rock also became a learning ground for Energy Companies who are now ramping up their strategies with more violent and insidious tactics.

Standing Rock, one of the most unique gatherings ever, also was a front line against the most powerful corporation ever, the Oil Industry. It was the first time, since the Battle of Little Bighorn in the 1800’s that Seven Lakota and Dakota Nations came together, alongside over 30 other Indigenous Nations. This gathering of Indigenous Nations from all over Turtle Island (the Native name for America) has not been known in historical memory. The tribes represented were joined by First Nation peoples from South America, New Zealand, and beyond, and allies from around America and further afield. Over two thousand military veterans who vowed to protect this courageous and determined community also joined up.

At the heart of this resistance is a commitment to break the cycles of violence born of a colonial mind-set, which feels entitled to extract for self-benefit regardless of the impact. This mind-set is now the front line everywhere, within and around us all. Increasingly, our choices are influenced by a colonising, psychopathic corporate agenda servicing extortionate amounts of wealth for a tiny percentage of the global population (26 people now own as much as 50% of the world’s poorest). But we can also make different choices. Mindful choices that aid a necessary resistance upon which our survival now depends. At its core, Standing Rock rooted itself in an indigenous template for wise choice informed by seven Lakota values around which the community orientated itself. These values speak to collective resistance as both an inner training as well as guidelines for family, community, society, and business. This is how I heard them.

1. Prayer: Honour and respect the sacred within all life, which includes nature, the earth, the elements of fire, water, air, and those living beings that are not two legged. (The reductive term animals is not in indigenous language, instead the term ‘our relatives’ is used.) Purify the heart, connect with ancestors, and the overall indwelling spirit of creation while aligning within community through ceremony. This involves resistance as ceremony.

2. Respect: Respect begins with deferential listening, and from that, a willingness to shift into new ways internally and behaviour externally. It means not pushing ego agendas and strategies. Instead be willing to listen to wise elders, to feedback, to what is needed for the overall good of the community.

3. Compassion: Take care of one another. Be compassionate towards ones self, and to self and others when making mistakes. The stronger let the physically weaker go first, for example, at meals, the elders, women and children go first. As a practice, step aside from assuming entitlement due to race, gender, class, wealth, and instead tune into the needs of the marginalised and vulnerable.

4. Honesty: Be true and authentic with each other, while being self honest about our conditioning and how that plays out in ways that generate harm, even subtly, to others and the environment.

5. Generosity: Put in more than you take out. Generosity is not just sharing physical goods, but is essential to generating sustainable life for all. It is the direct opposite of colonisation, which is based in domination and ownership at the expense of others.

6. Humility: Be grounded in your own being, while checking your expectations of others and what is around you. Hold off from pushing your agenda, particularly if it is dominating the space with “I have a better way” or “My idea is best.” Be sensitive to internalised colonised conditioning, and be willing to own it.

7. Wisdom: We all carry wisdom within us, but within the context of Indigenous or Elder wisdom spaces, listen and be guided by the understandings offered. Resist an “extractive” mind-set, or cultural appropriation of what is not offered. Be respectful of elders and learn to listen to all voices, even those you don’t agree with.

Bring it Home! Not everyone can get to Standing Rock, and not everyone at Standing Rock can go on the front lines. But every one of us must now pay heed to what unfolded there, because we all need to play our part to ensure a liveable planet for future generations. We are on a precipice and the lights are going out. We are losing the Arctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the great forests, most wild life, and we are being threatened by a craven political and corporate agenda that cares for no one, except it’s own profit. Those who crave money will find out soon that they cannot eat their money. But, as said the Elders, those at Standing Rock stand for them too, and for their children and their grandchildren.

At the heart of this sacred, prayerful and ceremonial resistance at Standing Rock is a commitment to complete non-violence. My understanding of this, from what I witnessed, heard, and experienced, is that there is an invitation to align with a deeper power. This power, articulated as guidance of ancestors, forces of nature, and the overall guiding intelligence of the Great Spirit, pulses within us. At Standing Rock, the heart was stripped down to its essential rawness. In place of socialisation strategies, what arose was strength of authenticity, of sharing, of camaraderie, and a wonder at the resilience of human beings rising up.

Here’s what I heard from an Indigenous man who is a Water Protector and leader of the heart and spirit.

What should be remembered about Standing Rock is that it began with children calling us to pray with them. Elders too. We must mean and do what we say. Fighting from violence disrespects the ancestors. The ancestors are fighting the battle also, and they need us to be here without violence. You must pray for yourself, to take out your pain and have love put in your heart instead. As we unify with nature, she will heal us. Respect Mother Earth.

He also said,

One day, at the height of the Iraq War, an Elder Grandmother prayed to the ancestors at the sacred fire to ask that the war stop. They responded by saying to her that her prayer was a good prayer, but it was not enough. That everyone must pray to stop war. We are at a precipice. Everyone must now pray.

Water is Life. This meme is the underlying stream of consciousness at Standing Rock. The pipeline threatens the clear and beautiful waters of the Missouri River. Every morning, as day broke with its icy chill, the pre-dawn circle around the sacred fire, buoyed by shared wisdom from Elders and water protectors, enacted a ceremonial and collective walk to the frozen bank of the river. There, offerings are made. Sometimes we saw formations of geese fly across the limpid snow grey sky over the still glass waters and sometimes we felt spirit of the Missouri respond. It was felt as a subtle jubilant uplift within the heart. This earth is alive and she feels our intentions, our actions, and our hearts. The evocative experience of this living prayer was an invitation for us all to reclaim a sacred relationship to water, air, earth, fire, and to be attentive to our indwelling consciousness.

Everyday we use water. We depend on it for life, and yet we entirely take it for granted. One late afternoon, a woman spoke at the sacred circle fire. She had come from Flint, Michigan to join forces. She spoke of poisoned water in her city, of people drinking and having their teeth dissolve, of people getting sick, dying, and of her own infertility and pain at not being able to mother children due to the poisoned water.

Standing Rock is not just about Standing Rock. It is about everywhere and our struggle to reclaim the sacredness of water, of the elements, and of Grandmother Earth. It speaks to our need to reconnect with each other in more direct, generous, authentic and respectful ways, and it speaks to our true spirit, which seeks to release from the mechanistic, disassociated, drudgery of a desacralised life by undertaking acts of loving service and sacrifice. We do this for all of us. Chief Arvol Looking Horse asked us to jointogether at Standing Rock in prayer and ceremony. To do so can help to help avert our catastrophe. We must continue to honour his request.

Standing Rock and its blazing heart lives on, through the voluminous, potent seeds that were planted long ago, as I was told, by the ancestors of that very land who knew these times would come. The seeds are now fast growing as collective resistance. The Indigenous People are showing the way, as have many oppressed people throughout history, and for this, words of gratitude seem paltry. The gift of Standing Rock bequeathed a clarified, strong, heart burning with a light of commitment and passion in the face of such wanton destruction, hate, and ignorance. This then, is our offering of gratitude. To pick up that flame of hope, and to carry it long into the shadowy night that is fast circling us all.

cheif arvol looking horse - lakota sioux
Chief Arvol Looking Horse – Lakota Sioux… Photo credit Ryan Vizzions
Advertisements

Love, The Ultimate Touchstone

It is the hearts task to cross the chasm the mind builds.

— Sri Nisagardatta

It sounds rather cliche, but to state the obvious, the world is changing fast. Day-to-day everything we understand about ourselves and each other is being reconfigured, entrenching the feeling of groundlessness. Everything that was “out there” is now “in here” revealing that in the sphere of the mind, there are no boundaries.

While psychological boundaries are a basic mental health requirement, in reality, it seems that we are not just “selves’ but an inter-being experience through which awakening consciousness is seeing and knowing itself. A glimpse of this understanding shifts everything because eventually it inducts into the only real ground we can find, which is the heart itself with its listening, present, aware, receptive knowing.

As we go through a kind of shamanic dismemberment of the global ego-self, which has been in control over millennia, we are grappling with the loss of control as runaway climate change and environmental destruction threatens our collective survival. While all this is enormously impactful, turning us through an excruciating kaleidoscope of reactions and emotions, it feels there is a deeper evolutionary impulse operating here.

What is Truth? Truth is a dynamic unfolding, not a static thing that someone has written down. While there are undying truths, “hate is never overcome by hate, only by love. This is the eternal law,” as said the Buddha beautifully taught, can we also be agile and tune into the ever-new and present truth of this moment? Because so often we miss it when we filter what is before us through our preconceptions.

Where is freedom? This heart of knowing, as it taps the deeper flow of the living Dharma, the intuitive intelligence of Prajna-paramita, is quantum-like. Freed up and aligned with truth, its impulse is to dissolve the constructs the mind builds while at the same time unveiling the power of the hearts capacity for love.

How is it to Love? The small things, a bee powdering itself in the nectar of the flower, shows us something about love. That it is not a ‘me’ loving a ‘you’ so much (though that is definitely special), but more that love is the currency of life itself. All things ultimately depend on it.

It is our alignment with the deeper listening heart-spirit, with love, with a freed up view, that enables quantum shifts of understanding distilled from truths unfolding. This will guide us through and gift the courage we need to be in service of truth, of freedom, of love, as protectors of the Earth and her myriad beings.

heart cakra.jpg

Heart Chakra by Gloria Gypsy

A Brutal Year Ends as Extinction Rebellion Rises.

This year has been brutal. Specifically because it heralded a drastic state-shift, a tipping point and planetary crossing over thresholds that should not be passed. We have stumbled from the hope of sustainability to a deeply painful reality of rapid environmental dismemberment.

We’ve seen the shredding of democratic principles and processes, we’ve been horrified by a rise in fascism, dragging its ghosts from the 1930’s/40’s, and have been appalled and enraged as billionaires flaunt and force their lethal agendas, regardless of the cost. But most devastating is the eco destruction we can no longer escape or delegate to future times. In a blink of an eye, we suddenly crossed from the assumption of human civilisation’s unbridled bright future to the dawning realisation of our probable demise.

This psychological shock and unremitting assault is shattering. Our overly stressed deregulated nervous systems struggle to cope. On the one hand we experience a plethora of hot reactivity and outrage, on the other a frozen stupefied, bargaining disassociation. As the ground beneath dissolves with such velocity, it feels impossible to grapple with the enormity of the threat we face.

Part of me is doing every day tasks, shop, cook, get through emails, scheduling, turning up for teaching engagements, meetings, zoom calls, planning, trying not to use plastic, buying recycled Christmas cards, while the other half is screaming as I run down the high street, through supermarket aisles (in my imagination), shouting “Wake the F#!K up people.” In my everyday (real) transactions, I lean in to figure if others are also screaming inside.

This leapfrog into our encroaching dystopia, as it stalks our night dreams, rampages through the our day world, and tears apart our fragile cohesion, has made it hard to hold normal life together. I’ve found myself dragging, sometimes strangely lost, taking hours to do a simple task as my mind swirls searching for a some kind of secure landing, some kind of sense.

Everyday, I get stuck to the latest twists and turns while resolving to unstick myself. But it’s hard to avert ones gaze as rapid ice-cap-melt cascades into rising oceans, as catastrophic floods turn cities into black mould, and as an inferno raced 15 miles in 10 minutes levelling a small town, ironically called Paradise, just a few hours north of us.

With 60% of wild life gone, insects vanishing apace, daily despotic legislation poisoning yet another river, ocean, waterway, or killing some other kind of wildlife, or stealing more indigenous land, the true magnitude of our human ignorance is desolating. When the blue macaw parrot that inspired “Rio” was declared extinct this week, and when the crowning apocalyptic IPCC Report stated “we have 12 years” or go the way of that parrot, our hearts broke all over again.

Such bad news filled with sorrow, anguish and extraordinary trepidation at the colossal challenges ahead. Yet, underneath is also a calm, steady determination building apace each day. A clarity forged as pieces of the puzzle that form the systems we live within are unflinchingly dissected in our daily reads and viewing. We understand that the Wizard of Oz, pulling all those crazy-making levers, has been outed. Our fast learning curve is into the roots of our calamity. We have to get the vastness, depth, and fullness of the truth that our economic, social, religious, and political systems, built on imperialism, unregulated capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy have to be rapidly deconstructed for anything or anyone to survive.

So, is there any good news? Well, there’s no happy Hollywood ending here. Instead, this is a clarion call to the depth of our souls. It’s the moment to listen carefully into our spirit, to what is actually important here, and what stirs at the most profound level of our being. What is felt it in our bones. For that we have to adopt a fearlessness, a great courage that breaks through our timidity, the “should’s” and “should not” in order to re-prioritise and align with the sweeping changes needed.

Centuries of systemic conditioning and false narratives have to be abandoned. We have to strip down the layers to stand present, open, and real in the face of this great evolutionary initiation. We should not follow authorities just because they have positions of power, but tune instead into the voices that emerge from truth, from the unexpected. Such a voice, sounding clear over the waffling response of Cop24, is Sweden’s 15 year old Greta Thunberg

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. That people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.
— Greta Thunberg.

Voices from People of Colour, Indigenous, and women newly elected in Congress. From youth crashing into the halls of power asking for a Green New Deal . Voices at the heart of the chaos in France protesting the vast inequities spawned by decades of neoliberalism and predator capitalism that turned humans into fodder and consumers for profit. The voices of  the long enduring unsung heroes of Indigenous peoples who by-rights and by the depth of ingrained wisdom must be vaulted and respected as guides at this time. And from the land of my birth, the galvanising force of Extinction Rebellion moving like wildfire across the globe, sparking inspiration and the allegiance of hundreds of groups, and counting.

So where do you and I land in all this? Here we are, in the midst of a colossal global and civilisational transition from the era of oil, which is not only burning up the planet but is a deeply false and failing economy. With France imploding and yellow jackets showing up beyond its borders, with Egypt banning the sale of yellow jackets, and with Britain wobbling in the vortex of an arrogant elite cannibalising its own. As Russia, the USA, and Saudi Arabia go rogue on climate action and Australia remains silent, it is clear this is not going to be a nicely negotiated, peaceful transition. It’s going to be a slogging match, a devastation for parts of the globe, one already forewarned by Syria, Yemen, Puerto Rico, displaced migrants and the Pacific Islands disappearing under the ocean. So how do we find our way in all this?

For myself, self care and resilience has to be primary. This is going to be a long haul. Let’s try and stay well, balanced, loving. The tending to close relationships, family, is also primary, we need beloved partners and true friends. The reaching out to build community, alliances, networking, sharing. All that is implied.

The daily restoration of a clear, clean heart that can mount a challenge free of hate and division. The daily surrendering of pettiness and grudges. A forgiving heart that cleaves to love over and over. Practices that reclaim the sacred, that establish mindfulness, that free and nurture the body. Choices made, food eaten, products used, and actions taken that understand consequences and renounce harm.

As all this swirls in my being as we race toward the end of this calamitous year and as everything is devolving into tangles of complexity and impossibility. However, the heart itself speaks in simple terms. It has its own true voice if we care to listen. When you hear its prompting, trust it. Follow the guidance. Relish its undaunted, diamond-like clarity. Know that it knows all is resident within its conscious awareness. In the swirl of shadows and the ranting cries of our dismembering times, there is a mystic thread, a trail to follow through the jungle of confusion.

When you follow that thread, you will not tie yourself to the waning light of unreal hopes that come crashing down. Instead, you will claim your full empowered truth that rises to shine its undying light on your pathway forward. You may stumble, but you will know, in the passionate, disciplined, focused, flamenco-like dance that the heart is, you will know how to be. You will know where to go. And you will know when to leap.

Thanissara, Dec 12th 2018

HOPE Beyond HOPE
Between this thought and the next
hope awaits its constant song
that angels murmur within our longing.
They breathe a shinning into our uncertain pathway
their voices lilting high over fields of desolation
saying,
“We are the holders of your dreams,
the whispering seed
planted in all cells.
The remainder of your journey
through the darkest of all times.”

But when hope vanishes
and things that can’t be hoped for
disturb our waking night.
Then
in that ripe hour
distant bells summon
our hallowed ascension
with jaws soft and hands open,
prayer turns to a new dimension.

The movement beyond city voices
a gentle wind that blows so quietly
a silent singing from this turning earth
a calm knowing of your life’s worth.
Our timeless core unfolding
the easy swing of an opening gate
as the terror of separation
fades with an early bird song.
It is a dream only, of the fevered night.

This deep sleep of remembering
reveals a knowing
within each breath
that keeps a holy world gathered
within spheres of our communion.

Here we always are
moving in the ancient stillness
with fluid steps
tracking a silent song
through the halls of our creation.
This timeless breath with you my love.
It’s been a long, cold, lonely night.

Garden of the Midnight Rosary – Poems by Thanissara, 2002.

XR logo

Patriarchy Must Fall. Notes#1

It’s been hard to get to my writing. It’s just the sheer overwhelm of our planetary crisis underwritten by a crazed patriarchal, misogynistic, oligarchic, war mongering fiefdom who plot to have and control it all.

It’s the staggering daily venomous assault from the White House’s diseased diatribe. The mind boggling, inane English Tory cul-de-sac circling my homeland down the drain. The heart breaking callous death march of an unrepentant fossil fuel industry. The billions of animals suffering torture and sadistic killings in agro-factories. “Cry the Beloved Country” South Africa not having enough tears to heal the trauma, overturn corruption, or staunch the violence. The vile pedophilia of the Catholic Church. And, closer to home, the crumbling refuge in the Dharma for many who experienced betrayal at the outing of predatory male Buddhist teachers these last months. The litany goes on. The culmination being Kavanagh’s raging misogynistic elitism; his snarling, uncooperative belligerence in full contrast to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s dignified, impeccable, truth telling. That, finally, got me to this page.

The urgency of dethroning patriarchy, including Buddhist patriarchy, is clear. Both its external systems and, regardless of gender, our own internalisation of its de-sacralising, wounding impact. It’s time for those who keep the wheels turning, including our own allegiances, to step down and give over. If we had any illusions that patriarchy is beneficent, that is over. It’s unfettered display is clear. The curtains are pulled back on its misogynistic, patronising, predatory, raging, bankrupt and bankrupting underbelly in all its delinquent, exploitative, criminal, deadly, violent, greed and fear ridden paucity.  You doubt that? Then read “Trump Administration to Polluters: Earth is Doomed, So Go Hog Wild” here:

What is clear is that our worst human narcissistic impulse, now emboldened and given free reign over colossal political, legal, economic and broadcasting powers, is crushing all in its path, grabbing what it can while it can. Screw the children and grandchildren. The only focus is domination, receiving accolades, accumulating untold wealth, and for some, (you know who), to sadistically exact revenge and enact cruel abuse. For others, to establish Gilead’s theocratic rule. This has to be stopped, because either patriarchy falls or our ability to survive falls.

To decolonise ourselves from the imprint of patriarchy, it may be helpful to visit our long allegiance to the warrior archetype, or more exactly, the devolved warrior who is intent on conquering and domination. In its purity, the warrior impulse has clarity of intent, the hallmarks of which are compelling. The warrior has purpose, works to harness intention, energy, and force, has courage, determination, detachment and discipline. The warrior is also loyal to a cause, an ideal, a tribe. However, if not informed by wise consideration, empathetic resonance, and self reflection, the warrior can devolve into a blunt drive for power and use of violence compelled by a deep seated need to prove fealty to patriarchal tribes that serve shadow kings.

The monastic school I trained in for twelve years, the Thai Forest School of Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Chah, lionised the warrior path to enlightenment. It was a lifestyle based on renunciation and a demanding discipline, a rigorous daily schedule, weekly all night meditations, the observance of an intricate set of rules, and a life honed life to complete simplicity. The intention of the life style is to focus the mind inward to create the optimum context for awakening. While effective, bearing enduring fruits, it also, like all patriarchal religious systems, generated a number of complex shadows. In particular, the split between the “world” and “enlightenment.” This split goes back into the mists of time.

The Buddha, from the Kshatriya warrior caste, became the founder of one of the primary Axial Age religions that emerged in about 800–200 BCE in India, China, the Middle East, and Greece— all of which have seeded present-day religions. Axial age philosophy focused on individual salvation that merged with divinity and aimed for otherworldly transcendence. The idea that an individuated person could be divine or be saved by a divinity was probably radical in its time. It lifted consciousness from an earth bound tribal identity that was at the mercy of the caprices of nature whose threatening forces needed constant appeasement and sacrifice. Instead the Axial age of personal enlightenment enticed men to heights of the divine far from the confines of being a mere mortal.

However much a glorious promise, axial age religions seeded a profound split within the psyche due to the tendency to posit “salvation” and “nirvana” as apart from this world. While Buddhism dissolves this fundamental divide in texts like the Heart Sutra, this duality is still deeply embedded in a philosophical template that sees the world as samsara and therefore seductive and corrupting, rather than understanding samsara is generated from ignorance within the mind. This fundamental split, and the rise of a patriarchal —earth and female-averse— religious doctrine, set the template for our perilous situation where we now stand poised on the collapse of human civilisation and the destruction of our eco-systems.

Imprinted deep in the psyche is the view that the “world” is lesser, tempting, vulgar, or even as one of my male monastic teachers put it, a cesspit. Picking up the challenge, the warrior is one who reaches for the ethereal, while undertaking the heroic battle of bringing the body under control and very often, bringing women, the receptacle of men’s desire, under censure. The vaulted task of purging spirit from the temptations of the flesh and the world eventually led to a horrific and far reaching persecution and subjugation of women, who in medieval Europe came under the published Bull in 1485 of Pope “Innocent” VII Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of the Witches. The torture, burnings, hangings, disinheritance, inquisition, systematic degradation of women’s knowledge and healing capacities over hundreds of years has left a devastating legacy.

Carrying the cellular memory of such deeply negative projections onto her as well as the terror arising from this persecution, it has been immensely difficult for women to find their voice and their true role in society and for men to overcome their fear and distrust of, and even their contempt for women.

Anne Baring — Misogyny: The Origin & Effects of the Oppression of Women, from The Dream of the Cosmos, A Quest for Soul.

The war on women never stopped. On this day of writing, September 27th 2018, the witches hammer of venal, decrepit Republican patriarchs is being brought to bear against a lone, courageous, vulnerable woman, Dr Ford, who gives testimony to the ancient story all women know, that of being held hostage to the humiliation, violence and sexual abuse of men. While the man in question assumes his entitlement to rage with arrogant belligerence, displaying an inability to control his temper while arrogantly resisting cooperation, especially when questioned by women. He paints himself as the victim even as he uses his power to abuse. He is angry to be held accountable, and splutters with the injustice he feels that anyone should question his right to sit on the highest court in the land. It is a torturous, sickening spectacle, worthy of the inquisition, directly harking back to the the Papal Bull of the 1400’s.

Nature too, has not escaped the wrath, rape, extraction, and vindictive ire of man in his free reign to extract and dominate the Earth. The complete lack of respect for the rights of Mother nature is something we’ve all been party too. Every day, it goes without question that nature and her myriad species are at our service. This view harkens back to the 16th Century, with philosopher Francis Bacon and the ascendence of the rational and scientific mind.

Nature, bound in service, hounded in her wanderings, put on a rack, must be tortured for her secrets.
— Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626

The warrior that enables the hounding of nature, has an extraordinary dynamism, without it we would not have survived, brought about the comforts of our modern life, excelled in the fields of medicine, technology, exploration, or had the will to strive to fulfil our human potential. However, it has also thwarts us, where more often than not there is pressure to conform  and contribute to patriarchy. For men, the price of belonging is the evisceration of sensitivity, the shaming of emotion and feeling, and loyalty over and above everything else. For women, acquiescence, silence, a suppression of creativity, power, and intelligence are mandatory. For all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, the patriarchal duty saps our life force and exacts a never payable debt. For the planet and her species, they are under sentence of death.

The shadow-warrior, divorced from nature, fearful of women, distorted in their relationship to Eros, competitive and desiring to dominate, not only plays out in religious metaphors of old but has shaped our family, social, educational, political, and economic systems over millennia through the establishment of power pyramids: God (the god of our projections) over man, man (father) over women (mother), whiteness over colour, humans over nature and animals. At the top of the pyramid sits the lonely, stunted patriarch, the abusing priest, lama, teacher, the conniving shadow king or corporate oligarch guarding his obscene wealth, who humiliates others, who envies those who have joy and happiness, and who becomes dependent on sycophants.

The loyal warrior, who once desired to serve truth from a great sense of devotion and purity, is so easily hijacked by patriarchal “kings” who do not love, and do not care, and so use people as pawns in their games of acquisition. Powerful people, who initiate illegal wars, like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and are responsible for the deaths, injury and displacement of millions. They profit from obscene wealth and influence, while veterans from those same wars commit suicide because they can’t live with the internal desolation they experience on return home, when, in their agony, they are abandoned by the very state that was a predator of their youthful energy. In a devastating suicide note, Iraq veteran Daniel Somers said:

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day, a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body, it is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again.

The compelling need for belonging, and the need to be seen, accepted and blessed within the patriarchal dynamic, is an impossible loyalty. It mostly leads to abandonment. Instead of dutifully following these old well-worn pathways of loneliness and disconnection, it’s time to engage a loving imperative that doesn’t seek to conquer but to connect, empathise and nurture.

These days, as the air is sucked out by the march of death-dealing merchants of power who seem unstoppable, there is a radically different drum beat sounding persistently, clearly and beautifully in our hearts and souls. We hear the urgency in the air, the deep need to forgo a transcendent, abstracted metaphor that, while compelling, holds us to a desolate road where we throw away the world like an old rag. We want so badly to let go of our inner desolation compensated by a cannibalistic predatory capitalism that has brought Mother Nature to her knees.

The shift is happening. In the midst of our planetary calamity, a new world is being birthed. A world grounded in the sacred feminine, which respects and cooperates with nature, that understands interdependence, that is fast moving into a green economy and seeks creative, collaborative partnership rather than endless wars. A society that works for humans and is humanising, that puts empathy and social justice as central. A spirituality focused on the immanence of divinity, that works for collective awakening, that is engaged and responsive rather than overly focalised on the heroic individual and his personal transcendent enlightenment.

An awakening that radiates into all spheres of life with a blessed healing touch, that experiences the sacred within all beings, all mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, cities, peoples, each breath, all materiality. That works to uplift the whole. For this vision to be fully realised in all spheres, the shadow kings need to be toppled and the dedicated and loyal warrior needs to forgo the temptation of power and instead enter the path of love.

From Shadow-Warrior to Lover-Nurturer
Archetypes are shared collective energies that are transpersonal, but which focalise around powerful ideals that interact with the personal. These energies are held in the unconscious as well as in our individual and collective psyches. When we move into archetypal roles, for example parenting, leadership, teacher, we engage an energetic dynamic that taps a force beyond ourselves. It’s like we put on a mantle, for good or bad, which intensifies the personal through a collective charge. We can’t avoid archetypal energies, as they are continually interacting with our personal self. Once we touch into an archetype, the resonances of that transpersonal energy are available to us.

There are many different archetypal forms; understanding some of the primary ones can help us chart our journey. The template of Queen/King, Teacher, Warrior, Nurturer-Lover is useful for understanding the path of integration. As our awakening matures, we need to enter the realm of the lover-nurturer in order to move beyond the power fixation of the warrior. We will need to resolve our trauma and aversion with regard to the world and our embodiment, heal early relational wounding, and overcome distaste for the so-called mundane—and instead embrace the relational field in order to learn the difficult road of love.

But first, we have to be honest enough to recognise that our current path is not working. Something has to change. When we pause at that place of uncertainty, in a meditative and prayerful way, there’s a prompting from our inner intuitive intelligence. When we authentically align with this guidance, there is a response. This is a living and responsive universe. Signs will come, books or people, or an event we feel drawn to attend. The important thing, especially with the lover energy, is to stay open, inwardly soft and receptive.

The lover is not necessarily romantic or sexual love—though that is often a powerful doorway, nor love for one’s own, which is a good place to start—but the love that feels life deeply and cares for it, weeps for our callous disregard, and knows ultimately that life and our selves are one and the same. Often we open into deep love when the strategies of the mind soften, or even collapse, and we find ourselves vulnerable, as in illness or death or when we are in real need of help.

Once, when on pilgrimage around Mount Kailash in Tibet, I found myself suffering from a bout of serious altitude sickness as I neared the Dolma Pass, which is 19,000 feet. It was a dangerous situation where another another step was impossible with no way out. Unexpectedly, a young man showed up bringing a yak. My friends unceremoniously hauled me onto her back. As the yak and I ascended the pass together, I tuned in to her every breath. I felt myself merging with her body, her spirit and life force. Each breath was a miracle. As we neared the top, a flood of gratitude toward this patient brown shaggy haired yak completely flooded me. I vowed that I would be there, in any lifetime, if she needed me. Gratitude, real gratitude, is a sign that the lover energy is present.

In South Africa, warrior-turned-lover energy transported a whole country, through the presence of Mr. Nelson Mandela. He is someone who, embodying the wholesome male, moved through the warrior to embrace the lover, and in so doing become a benevolent and powerful teacher-king. Such was his regal power that he moved a whole nation through the excruciations of apartheid and its dismantling, into a level of consciousness rarely seen on the international stage.

In smaller ways, the lover energy appears to us in everyday experiences, not as something we buy, command, control, or manipulate, but often through the spontaneous and unexpected. It is not about who we are, what we’ve done, or whether we deserve to be loved. It is freely offered. The lover is the abundance, beauty, and nourishment of nature; the first daffodils in spring, the scent of a rose, the majesty of an ancient tree, the music that moves our bodies and gives wings to our souls. Whenever we are touched and find ourselves softening and connecting with a sense of faith in life, the lover is there. It appears in the  cherished companionship of friends, our smiles and laughter, the innocence of animals, the need to write a poem.

If the process of awakening is not informed by the energy of the lover, then those stunted at the warrior level are still caught conquering life. They will never really confer blessings on others and the world around them. The ability to truly bless comes to its fruition when we understand the pathway of release is through the sacred feminine. Here, we allow our self to feel our vulnerability and broken-hearted tenderness. We feel with others, the poignancy of their pain, and so cease to compete with them; instead we seek to befriend and help them, unlike the immature warrior who is attached to the power of control and aloofness of independence.

While control gives the warrior the illusion of being immune from the pain of the world, ultimately they are thwarted when stuck in an immature dependency on inauthentic affirmation, or as enablers of shadow kings. They become King Théoden of Rohan, in The Lord of the Rings, under the influence of Wormtongue. Alas, too many of our leaders are like this, outwardly grandiose and inwardly too feeble to really take the risks that the lover and nurturer takes in order to protect life. In the spiritual realm, they can be cardinals, lamas, priests, guru’s who brush aside pedophilia, sexual scandals, and the abuse of power, while ensuring the system they depend on is immune from valid criticism.

Decentralising our internal controller initiates us into the lover energy. Here, we open to life and allow ourselves to be deeply undone so we know the mind is not in charge. The heart is. This happens when we fall in love, which can be like liquid lightning that cracks open the heart. While we still have to mature that love, an important journey has begun. There are many ways into the heart. Whatever way, when we open to the Eros energy of life, its initial intoxication has to then be matured into a global and less personally focused compassion. If the integration of the lover energy as it matures into compassion is not undertaken consciously or successfully, then there’s the tendency to seek constant affirmation from those around, or be caught in compulsive behaviour, whether the drive to acquisition or more shadowy and harmful addictions and obsessions, or through invasive acts of sexual violation and abuse of power.

In Buddhist structures, when the relational field lacks psychological health, maturity, and safety, it can be rife with projective dynamics between monks, laywomen and nuns. The same in lay sanghas between teachers and their community. The feminine in her lack of authentic integrated power will seek attention and direction from the immature masculine, onto whom she’ll project un-lived needs. He, in turn, won’t be able to let those women be empowered, as this would eclipse his subtle control of their projections, off which he feeds. Including his feeding from their emotions, and in some cases, their bodies. There can also be a dynamic around elevated monks, lamas, or priests, who have no real, lived relationship with women. They nurture female disciples but would never allow them to take an equal, public seat of spiritual power. At the same time, women who court such relationships sometimes diminish their own potential and ability so as to preserve the fragile ego of immature men, who they manipulate, keeping them as boy-men.

Why does it take so long to ‘out’ these dynamics and especially abusive spiritual teachers? Clearly it’s not so simple to see. It’s also scary to speak out when there is collusion and co-dependency. There’s often fear, confusion, delusion, complex needs, idealisations, and secrets at work. Those who stand up first to speak out are often shammed or marginalised. It’s a thankless task. But speak out we must if we are to enable the Dharma to transition to the next generations free from these immature and abusive dynamics.

What we have witnessed in religious tradition, including contemporary spiritual transmission, and in the distorted and immature relational dynamic between the masculine and feminine in the Buddhist tradition –(this can also be applied to secular political, work and home life, where men and women interact)– is an inability to access the wholesome energy of the lover who has overcome their fear of the world, of women, the feminine, the body and its sexuality, feelings, emotions, and the complexity we meet within the personal field of relationship. This is not about blame, or “them,” but about us. About our painful journey into healing and maturity. About owning our fear of the Eros energy and the distorting ways we try to access it. It’s about learning to move beyond unhealthy dynamics and deconstruct systems that diminish and thwart us personally and collectively.

Re-enter the compassionate warrior.
Offering safe passage through the lover’s journey of maturation, is the seasoned warrior who informs the need for discipline, boundaries, respect, and is able to sustain the long haul of awakening built on the precept to doing no harm. The true warrior has humility. Where there has been harm, there is the ability to authentically acknowledge and apologise while seeking amends. Why is he willing to do that? Because he feels deep empathy, recognises when harm is done, and is willing to sacrifice the benefits of patriarchal belonging, a belonging which demands silence and complicity. The principle of truth and the active support of the feminine and women, who have been abused, can and must overcome allegiances to an ancient system of entitlement, which works to cover the tracks of abusers and sanctify them as heroic, misunderstood victims.

If we fail to mature the lover and warrior into nurturer-protector, we will be susceptible to ambivalence, passive aggression, deflection, and cynicism. We will be unable to transmute the narcissism of personal love into the energy of fierce compassion needed to protect a sustainable Earth. Without the strength of the warrior, we will be unable to sustain the tremendous undertaking of waking up in these immensely challenging times. Without the lover, we will be unable to feel and respond to the urgency of our times. Together, the warrior’s strength of focus, discipline, purpose, clarity, courage and determination combined with the lovers compassion, intuitive intelligence, deep resilience, passion, undying commitment and willingness to leap beyond conventions will provide wings to traverse the enormous territory ahead, eagle eyes to see precisely, and the enduring, stubborn persistence of an ox.

As we grow into balance and wholeness, healing the ancient wound of being ripped from the Sacred Feminine, which is long denied in patriarchal religions, we will find our authentic energy needed to serve life. We will be able to fully embody beloved community in order to meet the storms of our times. Like Mr. Mandela, we will be able to say with confidence, “it always seems impossible, until it is done.”

42677852_10156915786298900_6572926441225191424_o

This piece is the first of future ‘Patriarchy Must Fall’ pieces to follow. It has drawn from my book Time to Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for the Planet – A feminine view of the life and teachings of the Buddha. While using basic constructs from the book, this piece is updated.

Notes From the Botswana Road

We traveled for nearly a week through the Greater Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Moremi parklands onto Savuti, the Place of Lions, over interminable dust, scree, and sand roads as if the vehicle was riding waves, up and down, rather than the earth. ThenC the landscape suddenly changed. The Botswana landscape is mostly flat, but this was different. The geology and contours weren’t dramatically different, but the feeling was. Small rocky hills and Baobab Trees encircled us heralding the arrival into a deeply sacred space. It felt ancient. When we explored, there was a painting on the rock from 4000 years ago. It was the simplest art. An Eland, Elephant, Oryx Antelope (or Gemsbok), and Snakes. Essential meat and medicine for survival.

Tsonxhwaa Hill, Savuti Marsh, Chobe National Park.

All through we had been traveling the lands of the San/ Bushman/  Khoisan “First Sitting There People” where we peeked through a timeless portal into a peoples who for 30,000+ years roamed this dry and brittle ground, rejoicing when the rains came. One day, bees invaded the camp looking for water. As we drove out, we saw the Oryx antelope dance. Rock, our Botswana guide, told us they felt the rains coming. And then the black water laden clouds swept in and dumped the rains. We weren’t prepared; our tents were washed out.

Once, a long time ago, when we were new to Southern Africa, an Elder Bushwoman told a friend that they, the San, were the peoples “on track.” That we, in contrast, in our modern world, were so off track, we didn’t know there was a track. She said that as they, the first peoples, crossed over from this world first, we would follow not so long after.

We all know we live under the terrifying shadow of a rapidly warming biosphere that is radically changing weather patterns and threatening sustainable life. Alongside this, the immensely destructive power in the hands of a few wracked by greed, hatred and delusion is endangering our collective well being. We have read and heard so many words and perspectives in response. We have anguished and put ourselves to task to try and step down the looming disasters. And while we must maintain hope and work for a sustainable, just, and equitable world, we too must remember, as the KhoiSan knew so well, that we are only dust on this ancient Earth. One day, the winds will blow our foot prints away too.
Kittisaro & Thanissara, notes from the Botswana road, 
Dharmagiri Ubuntu Tour July 2018

The Wind Intends to Take Away Our Footprints
Its name is ≠Koaxa, while the Europeans call it Haarfontein; and it was at Haarfontein that Smoke’s Man saw the wind. He saw the wind but thought it was a !kuerre-!kuerre bird, and therefore, he threw a stone at it, and it burst into wind, it burst out blowing, it blew hard, it blew fiercely. It raised the dust, and it flew away and went into a mountain hole: and he, Smoke’s Man, being afraid, went home. The wind was once a man, but he became a bird and wore feathers on his skin and went to live on a mountain. He became a bird and no longer walked, but he flew. He wakes up early and he leaves his mountain and he flies about, he flies about, about, about, about, as he flies to eat, and then he returns, he returns there to sleep; and because he feels that his feathers used to blow, he, too, blows. They were the wind and therefore they blew, and he, the son of the wind, is now a bird.
So said /Han≠kasso.

Leaving.
We are leaving.
Shredded and raw heart seeks calm shore.

We dream another shore waiting
and we need to know how to go.
Not flights of fancy
of awakenings’ glitz
floating eloquences
of enlightenment.
Tongue bright with witty rational
flowing from throat to head
shaping realities of transcendence
while in the core of burning samsara
swirling emotions
float free
on upward circling perceptions
divorcing themselves from our heart connection.

Ascenders into the light,
we descend before you.
An exhausted pile of bones
smouldering in cold ash
from words sliding sideways
in mega churches
preaching crazed dissonance non-union.

But here is the truth.
There is no heaven in the sky.
No nirvana apart from samsara.
No paradise virgin to your violence reward.
And no Planet B.

So sit the night patiently through
and gather your wayward mind.
Take up your own power
as in your heart
is the earth’s body
and all bodies,
the stars, mountains, oceans,
flowers, trees, cities and moon.

Sit until dawn, without flying to the light,
instead, plunge your life
into your unfathomable yearning
so you can be pulled to the intimacy
that this direct path heralds
within each beating heart
where every precious breath
redeems your lost soul.

And when preachers promise a far off place
challenge them
with your honest voice.

Can you dissolve walls of the mind
and into the undivided heart arrive
to stand up fierce
for our Earth
and her all living beings
?

Because from common ground
we move from birth into destiny
while death dream reality
and bone ash wait.

Because all is possibility
with no substance found.
Particles of no-thing-ness
transform into each other
in universal systems
of potentiality
where space, time, matter and light
forever melt like waking dreams.

The wind does thus when we die, our own wind blows; for we, who are human beings, make clouds when we die. Therefore, the wind does thus when we die, the wind makes dust, because it intends to blow, taking away our footprints, with which we had walked about while we still had nothing the matter with us; and our footprints, which the wind intends to blow away, would otherwise still lie plainly visible. For it would seem as if we still lived. Therefore, the wind intends to blow, taking away our footprints.
So said Dia!kwain.

Time with relentless harvesting
your precious human life
is short.
As all life
gathers proof of our faith
through the pilgrimage of the night
that tests the grounds of our being
so we may know
the measure of courage
and the wellspring of our heart,
from which we sip nectar.

Just as the brown, striped bug
drinks from the white elderflower,
and the orange, thin-winged butterfly
skips through ochre grasses,
and the grey, knowing wolves
move through cold, white snow,
and the rhinos through dry, bush veldt go
as lions stalk impala
along the river slow.

Slow is the Earth’s rhythm,
deep and unfathomable in our collective soul.
The rhythm of the days tick-tock,
winding through the web of our connection
of Internet consumption
where we search what we hope to know.

But to truly know is to not know.
And to not know
is so much evidence of where faith can go.

And even when the realms of empty space are exhausted, the realms of living beings are exhausted, the karmas of living beings are exhausted, and the afflictions of living beings are exhausted, we will still accord with this, our deepest heart, endlessly, continuously, without cease. Our body, speech and mind never weary of service to living beings and to this great Earth. So whispers our true heart.
                               Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha

 


AA

B
Extract from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara, written at Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat KwaZulu Natal, 2013, which includes extracts from The First Bushman’s Path, stories, songs and testimonies of the /Xam by Alan James, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg 2001 SA.
Photos by Thanissara
KoiSan Community Painting – Garden Castle Drakensberg Park, Underberg.

From Jerusalem to Gaza

What psycho fest hunger game (the Capital voyeurs’ extraordinaire Ivanka & Jared called by.)
Bye bye those still hoping.

Dissonant (white dress floating, stars and stripes tin soldiers in step
to rogue captured state U.S.A.)
Grotesquery rendering so much endless…
so much,
so very much
Heart Breaking

(mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, babies for god’s sake.)

Shattered bodies, (designer bullets exploding in flesh, deliberately severing limbs, faces, disintegrating bone.)
Despair (in the world’s largest ghetto-prison.)
Rage (it will never end.)

Death. (Against this ‘fence’, oh impenetrable wall, there’s only death.)

& war crimes – future horror karma – stacking up on those doing live target practice,
(so very precisely, methodically)
and those who set the war dogs loose.
(They were once children too, they have mother’s. So very sad.)

While Tel Aviv’s bubble hurrah’s to a song contest
and sips cafe au lait as blood flows unnoticed
through these ancient streets that crave a return
of the ghosts from before.
Each stone remembers.

Where to from here Netanyahu, Sheldon, Donald?
And you power playing shadows behind the thrones, and you too,
ya’ll freakery’s longing for rapture.

Where are you taking us, all you shadow kings
with your twisted toxic war games.
Your $$$ billions can do nothing for your cold dead body.
You.will.die.too, and stand naked before her.

There is a deeper intelligence.
She flows and moves through our dreams.

She is with us always, breathing our breath, beating our heart…
Our lady of the night, who roams the Negev.
Who wanders her sacred lands, every inch of earth, oceans,
mountains, forests, valley’s, cities, jungles, stars, moon,
and that insect crawling she knows.

You are magnificent, so powerful, you know it all.
You were here before time began and will be here when it ends.

You, sweetest of hearts, most terrifying remover of poisons.

You listen so intimately into each being.
You know every living cell as your body.

I beg of you, have mercy on this terrible day, and for the times ahead.

heart

 

Syria: The March of Hate

Like many, I am aghast and struck by disbelief at the torturous and heinous destruction of Syria as the unconscionable slaughter and displacement of its people continues unabated. What was initially an internal revolutionary conflict against a despotic leader is now an insane slugging match between powerful nations and militia groups in their bitter struggle for dominance. It seems that “victory” will only be when all Syria’s citizens are dead, disappeared or rendered stateless; when its cities, homes, and infrastructure are completely flattened with nothing but dust remaining. That we, and the powerful global institutions meant to preserve civilization are paralyzed by this display of ceaseless barbarity is a terrible indictment of us as humans.

It’s not easy to know how to respond, particularly as an individual, but I appreciate that some on facebook still call us to bear witness. This deeply moving piece from the UK Sunday Times, published today (March 18th, 2018), appeared on my news feed. I wanted to share it on so we can get the measure of a country destroyed by greed, hatred, and ignorance as told by a regular young man who lived through its impact and is here to tell his story. We should take note that his story could be ours. That Syria could happen to any country at any time, especially in our era of extreme division, hate, and environmental destruction.

We increasingly stand only a hairs breadth away from political insanity, inhumane brutality, and wanton destruction. These days, despotic, unstable, psychopathic leaders could lead us into a nuclear holocaust, an interminable war, and for sure, can use their unfettered power to delay and reverse vital means to halt global warming which now threatens to collapse the very foundations of our human civilization. As we hurtle toward a profoundly uncertain future, we should take Syria as a warning.

The uprising on the streets of Damascus was initially exacerbated by an extreme drought due to the impact of our warming biosphere. By 2010, the drought had killed 80 percent of the country’s cattle due to 60 precent of its fertile land being lost. In Syria, we see how quickly societies can collapse when a population is undercut through dwindling resources, then is pushed up against each other by a dictatorial regime through the deliberate manipulation of false divisions for political ends. What is happening in Syria is a window into what can happen anywhere if the conditions are such that normal checks and balances and sane democratic governance is dismantled.

We may be able to donate towards those within Syria and we may be able to help refugees who are fleeing; we may choose to lobby politicians and humanitarian organizations, but we won’t be able to rescue Syria from the deadly grip of a war industry in collusion with autocrats who protect themselves at the expense of everyone else. However, what we can do is to deeply understand and enact our evolutionary task, which is succinctly summed up here by the Buddha, Hate is never overcome by hate, only through love is hate overcome. This is the eternal law.

Let us not harbour hatred. Instead, let us do what we can to challenge and overcome division, autocracy, brutish violence, and immoral acts, while engendering and building a relational field imbibed with intention, speech and action informed by authenticity, care for one another, kindness, generosity, and wise contemplation.
Thanissara

How the war in Syria destroyed my childhood idyll
in Eastern Ghouta


As the bombs rain down on the rebel-held area on the edge of Damascus, Steve Ali remembers the idyllic summers he and his friends spent there as children — and how their young lives were torn apart by Syria’s civil war.

In Syria, we don’t say, “Once upon a time …” We say, “There was and there wasn’t a long time ago …” So that is how I shall start my story here.

There was and there wasn’t a long time ago a boy called Mustafa who had a friend called Mahmoud. The most exciting challenge in Mustafa’s life was to climb the tallest oak tree in a field owned by Mahmoud’s family in Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta. The field was by the Barada river that ran all the way from Western Ghouta and across Damascus to Eastern Ghouta. From the top of this oak Mustafa felt like he could see the whole world. He loved to ride the bendy branches as the howling wind rocked them back and forth.

Mahmoud’s father would scold Mustafa. “Get down, you monkey! You’ll hurt yourself if you fall, son,” he’d shout, but Mustafa did not fall.

Mustafa and Mahmoud and their friends Samer, Ahmad, Amer, Rami and little Ziad were a tight summer crew. They played football in the long, wide field, through the emerald plants and the dark red soil. They chased each other through the trees. They planted vegetables, fed the farm animals, swam in the river and found adventures in the woods until the sun went down. Then they pulled aubergines and potatoes from the field and cooked them over an open fire under the moonlight. Then they rode back to the house on their bicycles.

Mahmoud’s older brother Karim was a teacher and sometimes he would manage to gather the scattered children into the house to teach them maths. He had kind, twinkly eyes and a warm heart and stealthy means to make the children laugh as they learnt that “numbers are important”. After lessons the whole family would sit in their large living room full of treasures, on a beautiful Persian rug that Mustafa thought looked like Aladdin’s flying carpet. They would share a picnic of traditional Syrian dishes made by Mahmoud’s adoring mother.

When the children were tired of running outside on the long summer days, they’d visit Samer, whose father was a master craftsman. Sometimes he would take the boys to his workshop in Hazeh where he taught them how to make wooden clocks. Each child had a role in the production line and at breaktime Samer’s mother would reward the little workers with sandwiches and a huge kettle of tea.

Ahmad wouldn’t come to the workshop. He was too shy. He preferred to work in his father’s florist’s, more excited by flowers than people. He would lecture Mustafa about orchids with a spark in his eye and a passion in his quiet little voice. Mustafa loved watching his friend leave his awkwardness to one side whenever he was able to be an authority on orchids.

Amer and Rami were brothers. The children were sometimes invited to their father’s factory in Hamoryah where he produced generators and electrical products. The boys fiddled with the machines and tools and broke them as often as they learnt how to get them going.

Little Ziad, the last of the gang, was from Douma. His dad had a convenience shop on the corner in the main square where he chatted and chain-smoked. Mustafa always warned him the smoking was very bad for his health and he always promised to quit but never did.

Many blissful summers in Eastern Ghouta and peaceful school years in Damascus passed. Mustafa and his friends laughed and argued, played and studied, and grew tall — even little Ziad. Eventually the crew split up to travel to different universities. The idyllic years of their childhood grew into their first days of adulthood. Then the war began. It was and it wasn’t a long time ago … the kind of slaughter that belonged in a savage ancient myth. Except this time it definitely was — and it was happening now. It was happening to me and everyone I’d ever loved.

None of us living in Damascus knew what was happening in the country at first. We lived under the relentless brainwashing machine of national television, where we were told that the rumours of torture and killing were lies to turn people against the government. We couldn’t imagine life being any other way than it had been when we were riding bicycles in the woods.

But soon everyone could smell the blood. The sickeningly dry and suffocating smell of burning flesh made it hard to breathe. As the conflict intensified, we all had to be identified as either a loyal supporter of the regime or the enemy. For them or against them. Damascus was turned into one massive fortress, crawling with army officers, with checkpoints on every street. Walls were painted with the regime’s flag and propaganda. Veiled figures walked the streets at night writing revolutionary phrases on walls. The regime responded by threatening to knock the walls of people’s houses down if they couldn’t keep them clean.

From my room at night I could hear the peal of cannons. My house would tremble as I watched the bombs like shooting stars in the distance. A walk to see friends would turn into a battlefield, running through bullets from armed soldiers and rebels, like something out of Mad Max. Bombings, explosions, assassinations and arbitrary arrests became the norm.

I was a student, so immune to being called up to shoot and gas Syrians my own age and younger. But soon young men my age were randomly pulled off university campuses and forced into uniform with a gun in their back and a threat to kill or be killed. So on March 13, 2013, I packed as lightly as possible, dressed as discreetly as I could and left my home for the last time.

I set off with the intention of passing through about 20 military checkpoints, including one known as the checkpoint of death. My ID card was torn, which would have signalled disloyalty and meant certain death. I slipped it into a clear plastic folder, masking the tear, and showed my passport instead wherever I could. At each checkpoint I was waved through, my heart beating in my mouth — until the final one.

An enormous, bald, armed man with huge bushy beard and a face from hell approached me and asked for my ID. He stared at the torn document for a long time and I knew my time was up. I was going to be taken away. I knew not where, except that I would not return. After what seemed like a short lifetime, he handed it back to me wordlessly and walked away. I have no idea why, to this day. I didn’t look back. Not long afterwards, I was in Turkey. I felt born again, but I had no idea how far away peace would be for me.

I walked across countries where Syrians were not welcome and there were no rights for refugees. I crossed seas in dinghies and I slept rough. I avoided arrest from ruthless police, dealt with unscrupulous, terrifying smugglers and nearly died of exposure. After three years, I finally arrived in the Calais Jungle refugee camp, where I lived for a year. By night I worked as a firefighter. It was a very flammable place, in every way. The French police tear-gassed and intimidated the traumatised population and threatened to bulldoze our shelters to the ground. Eventually they did.

I tried every possible death-defying way to get to London until one of them worked. I was sofa surfing while waiting for asylum. Then a friend asked me to do a panel show podcast called Global Pillage with some stand-up comedians who were doing a refugee season for TimePeace, an app that connects refugees with local people. Deborah, the host of the show, said she and her husband, Tom, were going away and needed a cat-sitter. I agreed immediately.

When they returned, we all stayed up for hours chatting, drinking tea and stroking Toast, their cat, in front of the fire. It was the loveliest night I’d had in a long time. Like something I would have done in Syria before the war. It felt … normal.

Afterwards, Deborah said that if I left it was clear that Toast would leave with me, so I should stay on in their spare room. I feel very lucky and grateful in every way to have met them. The sense of family we’ve developed and the calm stability that I have being there has meant I’ve found some of my old self. I’ve unpacked in more ways than one and made my bedroom my own space, like it was in Damascus. I haven’t had any room except a shelter in a refugee camp from the age of 20 to 25, so I love this one.

I make silver jewellery, so I got a desk from Freecycle and began collecting tools. As soon as I got my papers, I started selling my jewellery and called my company Road from Damascus, because I had my epiphany coming the other way.

Being granted asylum is like becoming a person again. Life is getting better and normality is returning. Recently, I was offered a job as an interpreter for a news agency. I speak Arabic, Turkish and English, and this is quite well-paid work for someone who loves languages. For the first time in years, I have an appetite for the future.

I wake up. My phone reminds me it is 1,808 days exactly since I left Damascus. Numbers matter. Karim taught me that, but now I understand what that means in a way perhaps he didn’t. I go to work at the news agency and I am distracted because it is my best friend’s 26th birthday, but he only lived 21 of them. Our university was bombed just after I escaped. We spoke the night before he was killed. He was making plans to join me.

I sit behind a desk, going through videos and reports. They come through thick and fast from Eastern Ghouta. The region is being bombed and devastated. I need to prepare for a report for the 6pm news on national American television. I interpret a speech from a man they call “The Tiger” — Brigadier Suheil Salman al-Hassan, commander of the government’s Tiger Forces. He is leading the attacks on Eastern Ghouta. I translate his words into English but they stick to the roof of my mouth. He says: “I promise, I will teach them a lesson, in combat and in fire. You won’t find a rescuer. And if you do, you will be rescued with water like boiling oil. You’ll be rescued with blood.”

I feel sick. Furious, devastated, sad, battered and broken. How much longer will this last? How much longer do my people have to suffer?

I can’t see the screens any more. My mind blocks the carnage with all the summers with Mahmoud, Samer, Ahmad, Amer, Rami and little Ziad. I can hear their laughter, feel the softness of the magic carpet, taste the roasted aubergines and smell the orchids. Every colour is vivid. A hundred images in a second, as if their lives are flashing before my eyes.

I realise my tea is cold. And I am numb. I have forgotten where I am. And remembered where I’ll never be again.

Mahmoud died in an airstrike when a bomb fell on the house with the big Persian rug that we had picnicked on so many times. His father was killed beside him.

Mahmoud’s older brother Karim, who taught us to love maths, came home to find his loved ones dead and his kind eyes stopped twinkling when he buried them and four more of his siblings. Not long afterwards, Karim’s warm heart stopped beating. He was shot in the head by a sniper.

Samer left his house full of wooden clocks one day and went to a protest to call time on Assad’s regime. He was arrested and so badly beaten by the police he was unrecognisable. When his father went to the police station to try to get his son back, he was arrested too. Neither of them has been seen again.

About a year after that, Samer’s mother who had made us so many sandwiches and big pots of tea was killed in an explosion alongside her seven-year-old daughter.

Shy Ahmad got on a bus to go to university one day. It was stopped at a checkpoint. They ripped his student card out of his hand and forced him into the military. Ahmad was killed in a battle and thrown into a large ditch with many other young, violently conscripted men. A young soldier who knew Ahmad recognised him while trying to cover his body with some soil. He contacted his family to let them know. There were no orchids on his grave.

Amer and Rami’s father’s generator factory was stormed by the regime. Everyone working there was arrested and the place was looted. Their father was accused of having connections with terrorists and put on trial. All his possessions and property were taken and he was sent to the notorious military prison of Sednaya, where later he was executed.

In response Amer and Rami joined the rebel forces. Amer got shot in one of the vicious battles during the siege. Rami saw his brother go down, ran directly into the line of fire to try to save him and was instantly shot dead.

Little Ziad, barely grown up at 20, tried to flee Syria with his family, who left their convenience store and everything they knew behind, but he was detained at a border. His father went back for him and paid someone he knew to get his son out. They took his money and sent him Ziad’s dead body. Soon after, Ziad’s father had his last cigarette and died of a heart attack.

And then there is me, Mustafa, nicknamed Steve by my Syrian friends, which is easier for my English ones. The only one left who can remember the tallest oak tree in the field in Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta.

I walk back to the desk and see a post from Hassan Akkad, a friend from Damascus who is now in London. “A few years from now, there will be a huge Hollywood film about Syria. It will tell the true story of the systematic torture and rape Assad’s troops used against millions of peaceful protestors to shut down the revolution. A film we will watch, weep and then say, ‘Never again’.”

It was and it is and it’s happening now — and every day nobody stops it. I feel as if I have climbed to the top of the oak tree again and I can see the whole of Ghouta from here. I can hear Mahmoud’s father’s voice in my head, warning me to be careful, but I am the lucky one. I did not fall.
Mustafa “Steve” Ali 

With appreciation to Nicholas Sebley for posting this article from The Times on facebook.

Donate: Preemptive Love Coalition:
Syria Crisis, Help Ghouta Families Survive

syria

Dharma & Climate Action