The Myth of Today: The Call Is Not to Enter the Dark Forest by Ourselves, But, by Ourselves, to Call Others

I’m sitting here, feeling my hands on the keyboard, noticing my breath is a little short and jumpy.  Anxious. Worried. A dark curtain is hanging out behind my right ear. And I notice a desire to do something to part that curtain; to change the situation of our world today, or at least bring some calm to myself, so the anxiety will explode into bits of nothing, or into the past to be studied like ancient history. So, I can feel the joy that deeply wants to be felt.

 

A friend calls on the phone. I take a deep breath and we talk, which lifts me out of the anxiety. A little mindfulness and the voice of friendship can do that. We all need that voice.

 

So much is changing. So much is threatened. And it’s difficult to see how we can influence a change for the better. But just as the voice of a friend helped lift me out of the grip of anxiety, joining with others, and feeling the yearning and the need to act, together, does the same. There might be fear there, that is true. But also light, hope. A sense of the future emerges, that there can be a future. That there can be joy and love in the future.

 

This is one way we dissolve anxiety. We see that it’s there, name it, and then do something to alleviate it. Worrying can deprive us of ourselves. Learning, planning, acting can give us the strength we need, so we feel we have strength and power. It is a kindness that we give ourselves, and kindness is so needed to change the world. Kindness to ourselves and others helps us part that curtain so we can see ourselves more clearly, with more perspective.

 

And getting a larger perspective is a second thing we can do. We can do that partly by taking walks in nature, studying mind-body disciplines like martial arts, yoga, and meditation, reading history, politics, science, literature, humor, etc.

 

I remember reading Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with A Thousand Faces. This is a powerful book to read and share with students and friends. It can open doors to widely divergent works of literature and religion that otherwise might be closed, such as the story of the Buddha to Bilbo Baggins. From Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo to Gilgamesh, the hero of the first story ever written. From Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars and Close Encounters.

 

Campbell’s book explicates the hero cycle, a pattern that heroic characters have possibly followed in their path to enlightenment, redemption, or saving lives. One part of that path is The Call to Adventure. The movie Star Wars begins with Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle. He is enveloped in his normal world, knowing nothing of who he is and feeling distant from the battle taking place in the universe around him. He is asked by Obi Wan Kenobi to join in the quest to rescue Princess Leia. He refuses. At first.

 

Then he goes home to find it, and his aunt and uncle, burned. The struggle has become personal, and he is ready to heed the call. George Lucas used the hero cycle quite very deliberately in creating the movie….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

***Photo is the Lion Gate of Mycenae, Greece.

Text A Friend Today to Save Voting Rights

So many of us feel it. We feel fear. We feel doubt. Division. We don’t know what will come next. But what we do know is that a minority of hate is trying to destroy democracy, deprive us of our rights, even our lives. So, it is especially important that we do whatever we can to support the passage of voting rights legislation. Without voting rights, all our other rights and privileges can be taken from us.

 

But to think we alone can do much can be both isolating and oppressive. What we can do is join with others. Text, call, share with friends and family. Talk about our fears, the need to feel we can do something. Discuss what we can say. Arrange a time to do it. And then call, text, email Senators to suspend the filibuster or change Senate rules so the Voting Rights Protection Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can be passed.

 

The discussion in the Senate will continue today. Especially, call Senators Manchin (202-224-3954) and Sinema (202-224-4521, or—602-598-7327, 520-639-7080). Also, call Republican Lisa Murkowski (202-224-6665). She’s a longshot but she has, in the past, spoken about protecting voting. Just tell the Senators about your fears and how crucial it is to support voting rights legislation. Or something like: “Our nation is on fire with hate and division. Our democracy is threatened by violence from inside this nation, from a minority of hate. Please protect our rights by suspending the filibuster and supporting the 2 voting rights bills in the Senate.” Call twice just for fun.

 

What better use for texting is there than saving our rights, and possibly our future?

Somedays, Everything Feels Synchronous: The Quiet Underbelly of Everything is Everything

I was walking down our rural road yesterday afternoon, just approaching a pine forest, and I heard the trees shake, then a gentle boom in the air, and looked up to see the white-tan underside of a huge bird, a snowy owl maybe, fly about 40 feet over my head.

 

And today, while walking I remembered and looked around for that bird. And I thought of asking my neighbor, who knows a great deal more than I do about the local animal population, what kind of bird it might be. Just a minute later, off to the side of the road, was the neighbor. He lived nearby and was removing old tires and other garbage people had thrown there. I greeted him, told him about the bird and asked if he thought it had been an owl.

 

He wasn’t sure. Owls, he said, are usually silent. Eagles change colors for the first four years of their lives, and there are increasing numbers in the area, so maybe it was a young eagle. And after I thanked him and left, I felt grateful for my neighbor, and realized how wonderful and weird it was that I had thought of him, and suddenly there he stood.

 

When I returned home, I started thinking about coincidences.

 

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh used the term inter-being to explain the Buddhist teaching on interdependence. We all inter-are, in the sense that without the air, what could I breathe? Without the solidity of the earth, what could I walk on? Without the fertile soil, what food could grow? Without other people, would I know who I was? Thich Nhat Hanh said if we look at a sheet of paper, we can see a cloud in it, sunshine, rain, the tree that supplied the pulp for the paper, the loggers who cut the tree, the bread they ate that day, the wheat that went into the bread, the logger’s partner, their children, and finally ourselves.

 

But I don’t always feel this. I don’t always feel the soul of the world or that the world is alive or I’m part of it or it is me. I don’t always feel a connection. I don’t usually look at a stream flowing alongside the road and feel its waters as the blood of my veins.

 

And then, from the bookshelf next to where I was sitting, I picked up Devotions, a collection of poems by Mary Oliver. I randomly opened the book to a poem titled, “Some Questions You Might Ask.” The poem starts with the line, “Is the soul solid, like iron?” And later, “Who has it, and who doesn’t?” Does an anteater have a soul, she asked, a camel, or maple tree? A blue iris? A rose, lemon, or the grass?

 

Or the world itself? And I thought of my cats—and I felt such closeness to them. But do they have a soul, whatever that is? Do they feel they’re connected to the quiet underbelly of everything? And is that quiet underbelly soul?…

 

To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project. Enjoy.

A Happy Surprise

Last week, by chance, I noticed my name in a tweet. An article on Medium, titled “A Salute to Veracity,” written by Anthony Eichberger, included a list of the most exceptional pieces they’ve read on the platform. The list includes nine categories⎼ politics, race, gender & sexuality, disability, religion, intersectionality, wokeness, human behavior, and environmentalism. The author said, “these writers are all gifted when placing controversial issues into proper context with nuance and thoughtfulness.”

 

One of my political pieces, first published by The Good Men Project called “Countering the GOP Strategy of Undermining People’s Faith in Democracy,” was chosen as exceptional.

 

It is always wonderful to get positive feedback and to share good news with you, the readers and subscribers to my blog. I deeply appreciate that you take time to read my work. And hopefully, the posts have meaning for you. I write to say what I can, to help others when I can, in my own ways. Writing also helps me stay engaged and in touch with creativity. In this crazy, disturbing time, staying engaged and doing what we can politically and socially has never been more important. So, thank you.

The GOP Attack on Medicare and All Health Care Remains in Place Even Now

Most of us unfortunately remember how, when DJT was in office, he and most of his GOP did all they could to undermine Medicare, and health coverage in general for most Americans. This effort to undermine healthcare continues.

 

One largely unknown aspect of this was proposed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Medicare is administered either by the traditional government Medicare fee-for-service program or by a private Medicare Advantage plan. Under DJT, a new process for managing fee-for-service program benefits was started, called the Direct Contracting pilot program. Helaine Olen, writing in the Washington Post, said advocates of this program claimed it would lower the price the government paid for Medicare coverage while improving care.

 

But in fact, she showed it does the opposite. It increases what insurers get paid yet results in more limits of coverage for those enrolled. It increases bureaucracy and the financial burden on the Medicare trust fund. It protects the insurance companies over the insured. It increases the leverage that private equity firms have over Medicare. It can lead to more people being shifted from traditional Medicare to Advantage plans, to the privatization of Medicare and an enormous worsening of health care for seniors and eventually, everyone not a millionaire.

 

The Biden administration stopped the most egregious version of this, but only for a year. In certain areas of the country, it would have automatically enrolled seniors in a Direct Contracting fee-for-service program. But why haven’t they ended this for a longer period? The original Build Back Better bill would have improved prescription drug coverage and other aspects of Medicare. Is President Biden waiting to see what happens with this bill?

 

Recently, on 12/15, a New York state judge ordered New York City Mayor DeBlasio to hold up on switching the health insurance plan for retired city workers to an Advantage plan until April, 2022. Why? Aside from confusion about the plan, many retirees argued that the switch to private insurers would lead to inferior care. Also, that retirees should not be automatically switched but given the opportunity to opt out of the plan.

 

Medicare Advantage plans, first introduced in 1997, might sound good, at first. They combine Medicare Part A (hospitalization), Medicare Part B (medical insurance), and often Part D (prescription drug coverage) into one plan, and often add coverage not provided by traditional Medicare, such as vision, hearing, and dental.

 

However, as Investopedia argued, the problem is in the details. Sick people might find their costs skyrocketing due to copays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses. The plans limit choice of providers and how they pay hospitals.

 

The local retired teachers plan is Medicare Advantage and is decidedly mixed. Fellow retirees have reported a variety of troubling problems: for example, prominent hospitals were unwilling to accept the insurance, coverage for physical therapy was not fully recognized as a treatment for Parkinson’s, it was difficult for some of us to get a prescribed medication covered, etc. A member of our group of retired teachers shared a government report stating “Medicare Advantage Plans have an incentive to deny preauthorization of services for beneficiaries, payments to providers, in order to increase profits.”

 

A universal healthcare plan or expanded Medicare would be the most comprehensive solution. But the opposition to it by the DJT GOP and others is so entrenched and malignant we can barely hold onto what we have….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

January 6th. Light a Candle, Carry a Sign, Call Congress.

January 6th. Another day of infamy. Another day that must never be forgotten or allowed to be repeated. A day that, if we act, today and tomorrow⎼ If we find within ourselves the way to make political and social action a normal part of our day, then we can stop the theft of our rights and destruction of our world. We can end the pandemic. Even small things, signs on our cars, phone calls to Congress, letters, giving aid or support to others, talking honestly with neighbors and friends, wearing masks. Doing something helps us feel we can do something. Join with thousands of others who today will light a candle and carry it in a demonstration or put it in their window.

 

Then call Congress to end the filibuster and pass the Voting Rights Protection Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Then Build Back Better. Help put out the flames of hate and global warming. Today.

Putting Out the Flames: A Frightening Letter to Awaken the Conscience of Senators

 

A reader of my blogs shared with me a frightening letter. He felt something must be done, or that he must do something. He wrote by hand, to two Senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and sent the correspondence to the Senator’s offices. He also sent copies to a few media outlets hoping to motivate thousands of similar letters. Making a phone call, he thought, was ok. But a handwritten one is so old school and personal.

 

Here is the letter:

Dear Senators Sinema and Manchin,

Please vote for the voting rights bills now in Congress. Donald Trump is supported by people who call themselves Nazis. They praise Adolf Hitler and glorify war. If Trump wins again he will declare himself dictator, ending democracy forever. We must assume this because they will kill people we love.  

Senators Manchin and Sinema, when they start killing Democrats and minorities, the Republicans will let you join their party. You and your loved ones will be safe. For the love of my family and millions of families worldwide, please pass the voting rights bills.

Thank you,

 

His letter certainly expresses the fear he is feeling, not only for himself and his family, but for all of us. He sent it to awaken the conscience of these Senators, so they’d finally help put out the flames that are burning this nation and our world ⎼ or so they’d at least stop fueling the fires with their opposition to crucial legislation.

 

There is no doubt our nation and world are on fire. We know this, or many of us do. I think secretly we all know this. It’s hard to miss the fires that burned forests and homes in much of the western part of our nation this year and the recent past. It’s hard to miss sidewalks and roads that melted this past summer, record droughts, record windstorms and tornadoes that struck just a few weeks ago. Unless maybe we think they will only happen to someone else. They happen to all of us, one way or another, one disaster or another.

 

It is hard to miss the hate that too often walks our streets, or even our schools and workplaces. People shot or attacked. For being Black, Brown, Asian, HGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Native American ⎼ or a woman. They attack women who just want a choice as to what happens with their own body, or who want healthcare and rights equal to men. In Texas, the GOP passed a bill that could lead to mob violence against women and those who support them….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

A New Year’s Wish: We All Share the Community of Breath

I want to celebrate. It is the solstice, and so many holidays are here, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years. But the days have been getting so dark lately, not just in terms of being the darkest time of the year, but emotionally. It’s also cold today. And the numbers of those sick from COVID is frightening. Two friends of mine are suffering now from the illness and must quarantine. No holidays with friends and family this year.

 

It can seem like we are all in quarantine, at least emotionally. When some of us are in quarantine, a part of all of us is in hiding, from the news and crazy weather if not from the pandemic.

 

In the four years that DJT was unfortunately in office, he fostered fear and oppression, hate and violence. He did this it seems in an effort to shock us so frequently or create enough chaos we would surrender and allow him to crown himself King or anoint himself absolute ruler just to turn off the fear. This is why the GOP have been working feverishly to strip away  our voting rights and protections. But to allow him to seize power would only make the threat inconceivably worse.

 

And even though, thankfully, we now have a caring and rational President in Joe Biden, this might seem to many like just a pause, a calm before the storm. It might seem like the efforts of those who would rip our rights and lives from us are succeeding.

 

And the state of the earth itself is adding to this darkness, not only with normal seasonal changes but with abnormal roars of dismay and anger over our abuse of the planet. Historic windstorms and tornadoes last week followed record droughts and fires in the summer and fall, shaking us to realize what happens when the earth warms too precipitously.

 

What is there to celebrate?

 

My wife and 2 of our 3 cats are sitting near to me. We create a place of safety, a haven or home for each other. Outside, the green grass is lightly coated with white. The tufted titmice, blue jays, and chickadees are energetically diving down to get the food we left for them and carry it off to eat.

 

The winter solstice clearly signals both an end, and a beginning, but of what, besides a date on a calendar? Our ancestors, the earliest humans, might have met the dark unsure if the light would ever come again. They might have felt they were returning to the birth of the universe or of life itself, when the world was born from the womb of matter or chaos. They might have wondered what they had done to create the dark. But if creation could triumph over destruction, then maybe light would return; maybe they would not only survive but thrive.

 

The universe itself can thus remind us of what is possible. The movement and tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun brings seasons, night, and day. Likewise, we can help bring a new season of light to the human world….Protecting Voting Rights

 

**To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Noticing the Weather Patterns in Ourselves: And the Ruins and Beauties of the Past Remaining in the Present

I feel⎼ my feelings are so complex right now. I feel myself sitting in this chair, warm in my midsection, with a hint of coldness in my hands. Outside, the sun shines brightly on the white snow that covers the ground. There is such beauty in the first snows of the season, in the contrast between the utter white of the snow and the brown gray of tree trunks, the tan wood supports of the carport, the blue jays and cardinals on the ground, people walking on the wet street.

 

The world seems so clear, fresh, and alive. Yet, behind my eyes, a tension threatens to impose itself on or obliterate what I see.

 

How do I face this tension? This looming sense of threat? Do I focus on thoughts that arise, question them, or follow them back like an archaeologist exposing the ruins of the past that remain in the present?

 

Or do I focus on the specific details of a perception? The call of the blue jay? The snow resting on the bare branch of an apple tree? Or do I let my eyes rest on the entire scene?

 

Or do I feel the air entering, refreshing my body? Passing over my upper lip and moving inside, down to my chest, belly, and even feet. Each in-breath with a beginning, middle, and end. And then a pause. Everything quiets. And then my belly and diaphragm push up. An exhalation begins.

 

Or as I inhale, the area expands and the tension in my forehead, temples, or jaw is diffused. And as I exhale, I let go.

 

The scene outside might seem so permanent, almost. Sometimes. It is so easy to think that nothing will ever change. That the threats of today will continue. And it is true there will always be threats. But there will also always be beauty and love.

 

This scene only exists because it is constantly changing. The earth itself, which can seem immobile, frozen in place, is moving through space while spinning on its axis, so we have day and night, and seasons. It moves in relation to other planetary bodies, like the moon, so we have tides. It moves internally, which is why we have earthquakes, the migration of continents, volcanoes, weather patterns⎼ and wind, rain, and snow. And we know how dangerous as well as beautiful many of these changes can be.

 

Outside the window, two crows glide into the scene crying raucously.

 

We, our body, and our emotions, can also seem so set, permanent. Yet, we are alive because of the constant movement of breathing. We see because of the constant movement of and in our eyes. We hear because of the changes taking place every second in our ears and brain. We are sad, then happy. We are 6 years old, then 60. We know this⎼ yet we don’t. It’s obvious everything changes. What’s not so obvious, borrowing from Buddhist teacher Albert Low, is that everything is change….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

If People Only Knew or Felt It in Their Heart

Imagine this. It’s 9:10 pm. You’ve been getting calls. Disturbing, threatening ones. Calling you “dirty… disgusting.” Accusing you of crimes against your nation, against the leader, or ex-President or whatever. Or of being a paid agent. They call the authorities to arrest you. They threaten you and everyone you love. You are Black. Latinx. Jewish. Muslim. Indigenous or Asian American. An immigrant of color. LGBTQIA. A Democrat or democrat. A Republican who has spoken out against DJT. A woman. A scientist or Doctor who speaks about global warming, the efficacy of masks, the threat of COVID, the need for public safety measures. A teacher.

 

Then they show up at your home. Bang on your doors. Try to break in. Crowds of people. At first you don’t know what to do. You might be unsure⎼ if you called the police, who would they support? You or those attacking you? At 10:00 pm, you are too scared to hesitate any longer. You call the police. Your call is recorded. The police are on the way. They help you this time.

 

And later, you must leave your home. You are forced to hide. Your business is shut down. You can’t tell anyone where you are. Your previous life is shattered. No job. No seeing friends or family. Every morning you wake up not knowing if you will have a future or what it will be. Or if someone with a gun or club, hate in their heart or disinformation in their mind, will come after you.

 

Imagine another woman who lived in a city with her husband and two daughters. Soon after her nation was taken over by a dictator, she began to fear for her family. Those in power kept spreading lies about different groups of people, blaming the innocent few for the suffering of many. Calling them hateful names. Taking away their businesses. Forbidding them from using public transportation, sports facilities, watching entertainment, etc. and their children from attending the regular public schools. Where they could go and what they could do was heavily restricted.

 

Then she heard rumors of people being arrested, never to be seen again. No trial. Just vicious accusations. Her sister got a call to report to what was labeled a labor camp. She and her husband were suspicious and feared for their lives. So they went into hiding, in a space behind the business they had owned. Friends secretly supplied them with food. They could never go out, never go near a window. Never see the light of day except through a curtain.

 

The latter story is about Edith Frank, the mother of Anne Frank, whose well-known diary documented the Holocaust in Holland during World War II. Edith and her daughters died in a Nazis concentration camp.

 

The first story took place just recently in the USA….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.