Living a Life in Dedication: Voting every day for what matters

What are you living in dedication to?

 I am in dedication to you, ladybug and mare’s tail.

I am in dedication to you, ladybug and mare’s tail.

This past summer, the film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, documenting the life of Mister Fred Rogers, was a huge success, becoming one of the top grossing non-fiction films of all time. It was a wonderful film, but its success was due to the nerve it seemed to touch. It stirred a hunger in people’s hearts - that now, more than ever, we need to hear a voice like Fred Rogers’ - a voice of kindness, compassion and acceptance.

Rogers was devoutly Christian, and saw his purpose on TV to be to reach the masses as an evangelical. Yet he never mentioned his beliefs per-say. Instead he demonstrated his values. He advocated for vulnerability, for the rightness of emotional experience, for meeting our world with openness and wonder, and for the joy and connection possible when we love our neighbors as ourselves. In essence, Fred Rogers was dedicated to Love, and he lived his life in accordance.

 I am in dedication to handsome roosters.

I am in dedication to handsome roosters.

We are drawn to figures like this…whether it’s someone glorified like the Dalai Lama or simply appreciated, like Bob Ross, people who are heart centered and extend kindness to others remind us of our own capacity to do the same…and we like that. We are reminded of our own basic goodness, and are suddenly able to see it in others. The world becomes a little softer, a little friendlier, our own failings or troubles less burdensome. We also find that our internal compass is navigated by something greater than our sense of the small, separate self. Call it god/goddess, love or higher-self, a sense of dedication to a bigger purpose becomes the writing on the wall for how we live our life.

 I am in dedication to you, great blue heron.

I am in dedication to you, great blue heron.

With the disillusionment that seems to currently pervade our world, especially in regards to politics, we also seem to have moved in the opposite direction from this greater purpose. With perceived threat from others who don’t agree with us, we contract and become protective of “me” and “mine”. As we all know, this plays out the worst on social media, where seeming anonymity and lack of real time contact encourages freedom to be callous and spiteful. A divisive leader and social upheaval have rocked reality for many since the 2016 election. Anger, intolerance of bigotry, racism, misogyny, and homo/trans-phobia and demanding that one’s voice is heard are appropriate and necessary reactions to the times. AND…we are losing sight of what can carry us through to a better world. Dedication to what is important to us, and for that dedication to be based in love. Even if our actions are intended to create a different world, they change drastically when they emerge from a place of love, as compared to when they emerge from a place of hatred.

 I am in dedication to you, hover fly and Queen Anne’s lace. (That’s right, it’s a fly, not a bee!)

I am in dedication to you, hover fly and Queen Anne’s lace. (That’s right, it’s a fly, not a bee!)

This can be as specific and secular as you want (dedication to civil rights in your community) to the general and spiritual (seeing God in everyone). The key is to also offer love and empathy to yourself in conjunction with your dedication - this becomes your guiding light for navigating potentially unhealthy situations. Want to act from a place of love with a toxic person but realize that they are being abusive towards you? The loving thing to do is to walk away.

 I am in dedication to my children.

I am in dedication to my children.

Today there is a lot of hype about the 2018 mid-term elections. What is usually a sleepy affair, these midterms are garnering hope that some of the damage of the last two years can be mitigated. Yet when these elections are over, your vote is still necessary. Every day that you are in dedication to that greater good, you are voting for what matters.

As Morgan Neville (the filmmaker of “Won’t you be my neighbor”) says, “We the people need to stand up and say, ‘That’s not OK. We need to look out for each other. United we stand, divided we fall.’ These are very basic ideals that I feel like nobody is advocating for anymore,” he said. “That’s why we need Fred Rogers.”

And my friend, my neighbor, that’s why we also need YOU.

 I am in dedication to YOU.

I am in dedication to YOU.






Love and Light: Spiritual bypassing, gaslighting and abuse of power


Lately the herbalism community (which I am a part of in my double life) has been reeling from the exposure of prominent teacher Susun Weed for abusing (physically, verbally and emotionally) her students. Colleagues who have been close to her have been aware of the issue for many years, and the problem has been allowed to perpetuate. In great part, this happened because of spiritual bypassing. The essay Why Is Susun so Angry on her blog, reads like a transcript from the Kavanaugh hearings. Susun isn’t angry or abusive, she’s simply fierce, and in order to benefit from her wisdom, you better learn to suck it up. This is gaslighting - a way of denying and belittling the experience of another that thrusts them into self-doubt - and it’s a favorite tactic of people who abuse power.

On the heels of the Weed fiasco comes new reports about another prominent teacher in the herbal world. With the #MeToo movement, we are seeing the unmasking of predators and abusers everywhere in the public sphere, from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. All of these perpetrators used gaslighting to hush their accusers. Spiritual bypassing also includes gaslighting, yet is often harder to recognize because of slick public relations in the guise of personal growth and healing. So just what is Spiritual bypassing?

 Leaping over those unresolved issues.   (source)

Leaping over those unresolved issues. (source)

There is one story from many years ago that I consider a definitive example of spiritual bypassing. Before this story, I had experienced it mostly in its annoying form - the holier-than-thou individual who looks down on others for being unequal in their knowledge of dharma, dedication to coconut oil, extreme yoga, or copious use of psychedelics as medicine…if you live in Northern California/ the Bay Area, you know what I mean. But this story was next level. (Details are kept vague to protect the identity of people involved).

There was a car accident, a head on collision between a young woman and an old man. The accident was the young woman’s fault, and the old man died. The young woman naturally felt awful and was struggling with grief and guilt. Then she announced that after talking to some friends who, like her, were dedicated to the Law of Attraction, she realized the truth of the matter. The old man had attracted the situation to himself, he had called his own death. The situation wasn’t tragic, and she was blameless. She wiped her hands of it, and went on her merry way.

You probably see the issue here, but let’s spell it out. In one sense, she was blameless. Horrible, tragic things happen, sometimes because of things we accidentally do. It’s a bitter pill to swallow…self-forgiveness. grief work and potentially reparations are part of the healing. Rather than go through this healing process however, she bypassed her experience (and true healing) with a “spiritual” philosophy that allowed her to repress and deny reality.

 Spiritual bypassing is often encouraged by those in power.   (source)

Spiritual bypassing is often encouraged by those in power. (source)

Spiritual Bypassing can be used with any religious or philosophical structure. The buddhist community I was once part of (Shambhala International) talked about “crazy wisdom” - which was shorthand for extreme, unconventional or unpredictable behavior on the part of the teacher. Unfortunately, this was also used as an excuse for drunken womanizing from founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, as well as sexual misconduct by his foremost student, Osel Tendzin. Tendzin took leadership of Shambhala after Trungpa died, and seduced students with full knowledge that he was HIV positive. The scandal was never fully resolved and the wound reopened this summer when sexual abuse by current leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was exposed.

It’s an all too familiar story for those with a long term track record in communities of any kind. The psychotherapy world is not immune, especially in transpersonal circles where personal growth is married to spiritual growth. It’s a big enough problem that psychotherapists are encouraged to have copies of the brochure Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex.

 Squirrels are born bypassers.   (source)

Squirrels are born bypassers. (source)

Spiritual bypassing is used to abuse power when someone in a leadership / guru / teacher position uses spiritual or philosophical platitudes to dismiss the authentic experience (often resistance or negative reaction) of the student. Part of the reason spiritual bypassing is so tricky, is because it’s not only something done by perpetrators to victims. Often, the perpetrator is the self, and the victim is also the self - the stomach in knots, the broken heart, the mind spinning in confusion are not taken for being the red flags that they are, and instead are dismissed away, deemed unacceptable, not enlightened, etc. It’s difficult to see through what feels like one’s own complicity, and there are often feelings of confusion and guilt.

Here are some ways to determine if you, or someone you know, is spiritually bypassing:

  • Your philosophy/spirituality encourages you to denigrate what you consider to be “negative emotions” (anger, grief, fear, sorrow, anxiety) and strive to feel only “love and light”. Detachment, dissociation, intellectualization and repression are some of the ways this is achieved.

  • The word ego is used a lot, and “it” is seen as something to avoid. Anything associated with your personhood - your desires or bodily messages are seen as “lower”.

  • “Compassion” for, and defense of, someone who is abusing you or abuses others is seen as “taking the higher path”. Making excuses for them, codependent behavior, and putting their needs above your own well being are examples. (This is not compassion, but rather self-abuse masquerading as philosophy.)

  • Real life is considered “mundane” and ideals of how relationships, personalities or cultures “should be” are exalted. There’s an avoidance of reality and meeting situations and people right where they’re at.

  • At the first sign of discomfort, the impulse to immediately turn to consumption of techniques, ceremonies, philosophies, herbal medicines or essences, crystals, exercises etc. are encouraged. These things may be helpful as part of self-care, but if you are immediately leaping over your experience in pursuit something better, this is probably avoidance.

  • False humility - denying your real (and normal) need to be seen as special or important.

  • Healthy boundaries are not encouraged/ breaking boundaries is encouraged. “You’re too closed off, closed hearted, your defensiveness is a problem” are some of the weapons used.

  • Intellectualizing your emotions rather than feeling your emotions (thinking about what you’re feeling, rather than meeting your feelings at a sensory level). Embodiment is discouraged and emotions are considered something to “rise above”.

  • Law of Attraction is used to avoid personal and social responsibility. Complex issues of race, oppression, inequality, political matters and environmental degradation are “too ego driven” or “too earthly, dark, heavy…” etc. Like in my story about the car crash, suffering is reduced to being the fault of the victim. Let’s be clear here — blaming molestation, slavery, bullying, genocide or oppression on the one who suffers is - pardon my language - privileged bullshit.

Is this ringing some bells? I bet. So what do you do?

While it deserves an article of its own, here are some places to start:

  • If you are a perpetrator, you first need to acknowledge what you’ve done, take responsibility and apologize. Next, engage in Restorative Justice. From restorativejustice.org: Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational. It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons.

  • What if you’ve been doing it to yourself? Engage in restorative justice with yourself. Your “broken-ness”, pain, trauma, grief, rage and addiction are all just You. I find it helpful to think of the undesirable parts of ourselves as if they are young children. Children need acceptance, presence and love - and so does our suffering. Every time we bypass, we are self-rejecting. Therapy, mindfulness meditation, EMDR and techniques that encourage gentle embodiment (somatic awareness, some types of yoga and massage and being outside) are my go-tos.

Finally, practice self-forgiveness. Having a human heart isn’t for the faint of heart! Suffering is hard, and you, like all beings, are wired to seek relief and pleasure. The good news is you can find your wellbeing without hurting yourself or others.

 Instead, you can be this monkey. (  source   )

Instead, you can be this monkey. (source)


The New IPCC Climate Change Report Was Giving Me Crippling Eco-Anxiety. Until I Actually Read It.

Last week, the International Panel on Climate Change (a group of expert scientists from around the world, assembled by the UN) put out their most recent Climate Change report. The negative news cycle got to work right away with headlines like:

We Have 12 years to Limit Climate Change Catastrophe, Warns UN — The Guardian

UN Says Climate Genocide is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That. - NY Mag

Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040 - NY Times

True to their titles, the adjectives and phrases used in the first paragraphs of these articles were also inflammatory.

A landmark report…paints a far more dire picture. Disastrous. Impossible. Collapse. Devastating.

I saw the posts on social media. I glanced at the articles. I read summaries (not written by the IPCC). With each fear mongering author, my eco-anxiety increased exponentially.

Charlies-Brown-Rumination.jpg

Ecological Anxiety is an experience that spurred the Ecopsychology movement, when clients began coming into therapists’ offices expressing fear and extreme worry about environmental degradation. Although the term was initially rare, chances are you’ve heard of it by now, and if not, I bet you’ve experienced it. It’s that absolute freak out you’ve been going through since the IPCC report came out. Anxiety and insomnia, characterized by worried, down-the-rabbit-hole thinking, where there is only one imagined future and it’s too bleak to bear.

I found myself in a major eco-anxiety spiral this last week, including 3am fantasies of maybe buying property (that we can’t afford) in Washington for when our family, and everyone else in California, is forced to migrate due to wildfires and The New Dust Bowl. Given recent events, it didn’t feel that far fetched, but I still recognized that I was spinning out.

Then i remembered my number one rule for clients when it comes to eco-anxiety: If your anxiety is fueled by the news, vet your information.

ecoanxiety news.jpeg

In this case, since my anxiety was caused by a report, I needed to actually read the report.

I decided to start with the Summary for Policy Makers. It nutshells the facts and reads like a blueprint for the UN to guide the world in mitigating climage change. So here’s the tough bit: If you haven’t been paying attention to Climate Change, the facts may seem dire. They can be summed up with “It’s serious, and if we want our children and grandchildren to have a fighting chance, we must act quickly.”

However, this is not new news. One of the reasons the report has created such a stir is because many people have not been paying attention to climate science. The other reason is because the journalists who write the alarmist articles are focusing on the timeline of needed action, but leaving out the rest of the report. The worst bit of this, is by using words like “impossible” or “too late” they are exhibiting a serious lack of imagination and innovation, while giving voice to their own eco-anxiety. We may as just throw in the towel and watch the world burn.

Guess what? It’s easy to feel cowed and give up. Rising to the challenge may be intimidating, but it also holds promise and reward. The report is an opportunity that giving up would waste.

The heart of the issue:

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from human causes is currently between .8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. This average 1 degree rise is what is causing the super storms and drought that we are currently experiencing, and these events will increase, as will sea level rise. This is a done deal. This rise in average temperature is expected to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052. However, if we can keep the rise in average temp from getting to 2 degrees Celsius, humans, animals, plants and whole ecosystems may be able to adapt. If we don’t stop this temperature rise, our ability to adapt and survive will be severely curtailed. If we continue at the same current rate of CO2 consumption, the temp will go up to 3 degrees Celsius. At 3 degrees we are probably looking at extinction.

WHEW! Ok, that bit was hard to swallow. But here’s the surprising bit - the rest of the report is hopeful and inspiring. Read on.

anxiety meme.jpeg

Where does the 12 year limit come from?

In order to keep the temperature at 1.5 degrees, we need to globally begin carbon drawdown by 2020, reaching net-zero ideally by 2045 at the earliest and 2055 at the latest. (For our purposes, I’m choosing 2050). By 2030, our carbon emissions need to be 45% less than they are now - that’s where 12 years comes from. Net-zero means that whatever CO2 we emit, we also have to capture, so the emissions stay at zero.

But isn’t that impossible?

It’s not impossible. It’s unprecedented…but only in scope. We are not lacking the technology, the resources, or the knowledge - but only the intention and the will. When America entered WWII in December of 1941, our country was crippled by the Great Depression, and still recovering from WWI. Through intent and will, by 1944 we were leading in arms production, and the whole nation had pulled together to make it happen. “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” was a common refrain. Well folks…Don’t you know about Climate Change? Even before WWII, we had already seen the industrial revolution. In 50 years, mechanization and electrification had spanned the country - and we are far more technologically advanced now. Change does not have to be laborious and slow -we just have to want it, and not all of us have to want it all at once. We can start taking the necessary steps now, and as the 1.5 degree increase does the damage it already promises, more people (and nations) will jump on the bandwagon.

So what do we do?

I’m so glad you asked! Here are 4 solutions I deduced, based on the IPCC recommendations.

galadriel anxiety.jpeg

SOLUTION 1

Tell your congressional representatives that you demand policy for Net Zero by 2050. Bring Climate Change to the forefront - they will care if they know you do. Insist on candidates who prioritize it.

SOLUTION 2

Along with the goal of net zero by 2050, it is imperative that we focus on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) from the atmosphere. There are many options for this, but these options are in different stages of development and research. Right now, the most developed and studied (proven to work) are Afforestation (turning barren land into forest), Reforestation (replanting timber lots and burned areas), land restoration and Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Other promising solutions include Biochar, Enhanced Weathering and soil carbon sequestraiton. A focus on CDR can be achieved by either doing it ourselves (like through planting trees), supporting organizations that are doing it (working with a local or national organization that needs volunteers for reforestation efforts), investing in companies developing CDR and again - supporting candidates who put CDR on their agenda.

SOLUTION 3

While I’m not an economist, I do understand how our addiction to a growth economy is at the root of the problem (especially with overconsumption). Since our capitalist culture is addicted to a growth economy, this addiction can be used to fuel the new green economy and growth of net zero technologies. A green economy is not necessarily a green growth economy - the latter focuses more on things like creating an EV boom - consumption, just more green. While our consumption does need to become primarily green, I’m thinking about green incentives, like the Forest App that helps you cut down on screen time and then rewards you by planting a tree. Or organizations like Americorps who offer university scholarships for individuals who complete a term of service. And there’s always the good ol’ carbon tax (go Washington, go!)

SOLUTION 4

Support social justice and equality by investing in sustainable solutions for developing countries and at-risk communities. Food and water security through sustainable agriculture and permaculture, restoring ecosystems (like Bayview / Hunters Point in SF) to create healthy habitat for people and animals, and supporting the education of girls and women worldwide so they can live vibrant, healthy lives, which includes being able to make informed choices about reproduction.

BONUS SOLUTION

All those things (or that one thing) that you are doing to live a greener lifestyle? Keep doing them. They really do count. However, I caution against putting the onus of saving the world from climate change on your own shoulders. It will only increase your eco-anxiety, make you exhausted and drive you to distraction. It’s also impossible. So the very best, the most important thing you can do? Talk to each other. In person. Especially your neighbors. Especially your neighbors that you don’t agree with. Find a way to connect with that relative with different political views - and do it by not talking about politics. What makes your neighbor happy? What’s something you and your relative both have in common? Find out. Because we’re all in this together.

And there’s no time to lose.