My spiritual awakening coincided exactly with my political one, as I decided to commit fully to my individual spiritual path while I was a radical organizer at Occupy New Orleans. I’ve tried to thread the needle between my devotion to my soul’s journey and my radical convictions ever since. It’s not always easy. A recent spate of articles in mainstream media reviewing the modern wellness industry poured gasoline on the debate that goes on regularly inside my head.
On one hand, the fierce anti-capitalist in me reads Lindy West’s journey at GOOP and nods repeatedly. She beautifully articulates the excessive materialism fueled by celebrity worship that has become a hallmark of certain alternative wellness circles. As hurricanes and sea-level rise continue to threaten my homeland, the idea of being a part of a movement that celebrates consumption at the expense of the earth is heartbreaking.
On the other hand, I seethe with when the NYT and NY Mag mock my industry. The articles make no mention of the ongoing American health care crisis that forces so many to look for alternatives, simply assuming that our mainstream health care systems have solutions when they often don’t. Chalking up the entire movement as the playground for the over-resourced is far too simplistic and downright patronizing.
Can these sides of myself learn to get along? I hope so, for my own sake. If there’s one thing all the voices in my head agree on, it’s that we need to change our way of relating to each other, the earth, and ourselves if we are going to have a positive future on this planet in the years to come. So what will it take for us to bridge the gap and build a collective movement that can truly change our world, as so many of us pray for everyday?
For one, we have to be willing to face questions like the ones posed in these articles. Too often, I observe troubling socio-political behaviors in spiritual circles without any clear path for dialogue or understanding. More than once, I’ve been shunned or silenced when I tried to speak up. Sometimes, these concerns can be labeled as “low-vibe”, “too rational”, or I am gas lighted, told that my issues are simply an emotional problem I have to solve within myself. But by shutting down dialogue or communication, we risk keeping these beautiful circles in a bubble and prevent them from reaching as many people as possible. Feedback is never easy to grapple with, but I feel strongly that if you are putting yourself in the position of leadership and/or mentoring others, keeping lines of communication open is vital.
A great way to prepare for dialogue is to wrestle with the difficult questions on your own first. How do I prevent my facilitation and healing work from being controlling and oppressive, reiterating harmful patterns found in our schools and workplaces? How do I cultivate spaces that nurture and make room for the full diversity of human bodies and experience? How do I respect tradition and indigenous ways without perpetuating colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy—traditions that may very well be steeped both in jaw-dropping beauty and deep-seated prejudices? How can I spark fruitful and supportive discussions of religion, race, power, money, sex, trauma, and death before they cause conflicts and fracture communities? When is it best to be tender and supportive versus confronting and firm? And finally, and perhaps most important, what more can I do to ensure that I am in righteous relationship with the earth’s resources I utilize to sustain my life and do my work?
These questions are constantly on my mind, and if I am in spaces where it feels like lots of these issues have never even crossed the minds of the facilitators, I bristle. Without them, too many alternative wellness practitioners fall into the traps the articles highlight—being overly image-conscious, opportunistic, ego-driven, and just plain harmful.
In a lot of ways, I can trace all of these questions back to a single source: a demand in my heart for all that feels real—no bullshit, no sugarcoat, no glossing over. This is probably the main thing my spiritual and political self share. If anything feels even the slightest bit saccharine or inauthentic it makes it nearly impossible for me to be present in a situation. When we deny our own hurts or inner conflicts to any extent, we end up living in a somewhat illusory state, keeping ourselves from the full picture. These illusions simply grow when we sustain them in community.
But when we open up our throats and let it all out—well it’s amazing how quickly the illusions can fall away. Let’s nurture those precious and gorgeous moments of release—by keeping it vulnerable, flexible, and responsive to the moment. The external world has become increasingly uncomfortable, unsafe, and decidedly un-nice. If we honestly believe our spiritual paths can do something about it, we have to make being real primary to our spiritual life—above feeling comfortable or even good.
After all, it is the love that remains after the acknowledgment of pain, grief, loss, violence, trauma, destruction, and abandonment—the love that remains in the face of every single aspect of our humanity that is the most powerful love at all. This is the kind of radical, no-holds-barred, totally jarring and wholly unreasonable love that makes my heart sing. As the realities of climate change lap at my doorstep down here in my home of New Orleans, I feel ever more certain that it is precisely this love that humanity needs if we are to thrive in the years to come. There is no willing away the contradictions of being human on earth, right here and right now. Choosing love and light without acknowledging these contradictions always leads to an energy of fakeness that everyone can feel, even if most people keep their mouths shut.
So how do we keep it real in the Now Age? By asking questions, staying open, and allowing room for the full spectrum of experience, even when there are conflicts. Let’s not walk away at even the slightest hint of tension, disagreement, or hurt feelings. Find the strength to stay and speak your truth with clarity. Seek with devotion and determination what feels most potent, visceral, and embodied to you, and don’t be afraid to disregard anything that doesn’t resonate. And when you find that truth, live it out with all the conviction you can muster, and don’t settle for anything less. The more we make room for the wholeness of our humanity, the more space we create for any and all human beings who wishes to usher in this age of transformation on this earth with grace, dignity, and courage.
With all my talk about the connection between dreams and love and how we can use our dreams to connect back to our hearts, I realize that some people may be feeling a bit puzzled, since a lot of dreams have content that is not so warm and fuzzy.
Difficult feelings and dreams truly go hand in hand, in fact. So I made the video below to begin to introduce this rather large topic—first, why dreams bring us face to face with difficult dreams, and second, some approaches you can take when you are faced with difficult feelings in your dreams—ESPECIALLY if you are having dreams that reference difficult situations or obstacles you are dealing with in your waking life.
How did that land for you? Let me know if there are any questions you may have or if you have an experience from your own dreams that you can relate this to. I love to hear your ideas and feedback.
AND if you have a particular dream on your mind that you are struggling with or you can’t seem to shake, check out my new offering, Delta Dream Sessions. I’ve created a special container for you to transform the energy of your dreams and I can’t wait to share it with you—and if you make an appointment by October 5th, you’ll receive a 30% discount 🙂
To start, check out my first post in this series, Awakening from the Dream, part 1.
And where does this mulling over of these deafening alarm bells the most recent cycles of natural disasters and destruction lead me to? What am I motivated to do when I am so painfully reminded that the earth has its own plans for the lands I call “my” home, and there’s very little I can do to predict or control them? I can’t pretend to have many answers, except the same one I’ve been coming back to over and over: nurturing some sense of community and coming into right relationship with the lands and resources that sustain my life.
There was a time when communities and the land they lived on would sustain generation after generation, when you could spend a whole lifetime living off the same lands with your grandparents and your children and even your grandchildren too. There are stronger remnants of this way of life in Louisiana than most places in America. I mean if you have ever been to New Orleans or Southern Louisiana in general (and many other places throughout the south) and fallen in love with the people and way of life here, understand that these old ways are a huge part of this, and the disasters that people have always wrestled with to live here are too. Disasters create family, disasters remind us of why we need community in the first place. But this way of being is not supported by the current form of capitalism in America, that teaches us that personal achievement, land ownership, wealth accumulation, even being of service to society-at-large, through activism/politics/art/spirituality/wellness, etc., are more valuable than investment in your local community and coming into to righteous relationship with the resources that sustain your life.
The society and social media makes it very hard to feel like you are achieving something worthwhile when “all” you are doing is trying to take good care of the land you live off and the people that you consider part of your community. It’s a sickness that lives deep within myself for sure. I have been conditioned since going to ‘grade’ school to believe in a particular level of achievement and/or wider contribution will make me feel like I am okay, successful, acceptable, etc. And of course, there’s the conditioned sense that if I do not match a certain level of productivity as prescribed by capitalism, I will always be financially insecure. At the same time, I feel so desperate to reclaim the old, interconnected, interdependent way of being human that it seems the collective misses terribly. We all crave being a part of, a tribe, a village, a community, a group of people that we can rely on when we need support—and a group that we can contribute to, where we feel our gifts are seen and are useful to the greater whole. And perhaps most potent, we miss being connected and in right relationship with the lands that sustain us and give us life. We long for it, we feel it even when we are doing just the smallest things, like buying something “organic” or sitting in a circle for an hour around a fire.
This is why we hear the word community being tossed around so often in healing, spiritual, and activist groups, there’s an acknowledgement that there’s a need. A need to be part of, to have a tribe, to be held. At the same time, we have to be wary when we hear this word, because it is often said in a way that obscures the difficulty of community. Community isn’t something that gets created in a weekend, or even over the period of months. It’s something that takes years. And when community is divorced from shared land and/or resources, or it is predicated on the leadership of just a few, it has no real teeth and is as flimsy as the wind or a passing fad.
How do you know when you are actually building a community? When it bites you in the ass and hurts like hell. The work of community is NOT glamorous and certainly does not lead to riches. There is a reason why our ancestors rejected the village. It’s confining and limiting. It means sacrificing aspects of your freedom, material comfort, and personal agency for the sake of others needs. It means sticking around when people treat you shitty (which they will, they are people remember.). It means sticking around when you have treated people shitty (which you will, you are a person remember). It means awkward conversations and conflicts and difficulty seeing eye to eye. It means people knowing your business, being all up in it, putting their nose and mouth all over it. It means fewer boundaries and less privacy. It means having to learn to live with things that aren’t perfect or beautiful all of the time. It means having to listen, it means having to talk it out even when you don’t want to. It means embracing the contradictions our fellow humans demonstrate to us and choosing to love them anyway.
There is a sliver of hope during this tense time of devastation, shock, grief, and nerve wracking anticipation–the stories Rebecca Solnit tells in “A Paradise Built in Hell”– and the reality I felt so potently after Katrina: humanity does not degrade into Lord of the Flies when we are faced with disaster. We awaken to our abundance, our generosity, and our instinctive empathy for our fellow humans. We’re reminded of what we have, and what we have to give. I am not by any means trying to gloss over the devastating grief that disasters cause, but they also always bring change. And to me, change is love, because change, or transformation, is the act of imagining and then trusting that things could be a different way, and taking actions like you believe in it. Believing that the dream is real causes change.
With all of my love
The Floods last August in Louisiana.
The Floods three weeks ago in New Orleans.
NOLA, are you awake yet?
We are 12 years out. Have we learned our lessons? More importantly, have I? What was my truth 5 years after the BIG K? Am I living it now?
And oh yeah America, this is also your problem. If you aren’t asking yourself questions following this disaster, no matter where you live, I am sorry, but you are living in an illusion. Maybe this won’t happen where you live in your lifetime. But have you considered the lives of your children?
I know Charlottesville just happened and we are reeling as we are reminded once again how fundamental racism, white supremacy, and violence are to the fabric of our nation. And don’t get me wrong—racism and white supremacy and violence are the problem. One of the central reasons New Orleans has not recovered smarter and is still so horribly threatened by mother nature is because of racism and white supremacy and the violence that follows from it.
To me climate change and global warming are better named and understood as the ravaging of mother earth, the persistent imperialist, colonialist, racist, patriarchal, misogynistic, heteronormative, ableist, global capitalist materialist worldview….that is the threat to the earth, all of it, all together. And as intersectionality teaches us, it makes no sense to try to separate one aspect of this threat from another, for it is through our separation that we become weak.
Instead, take a moment to own up to it, this worldview is a part of me, and a part of you, and a part of all of us. There aren’t actually good guys and bad guys the way you like to think. And I know it’s comforting, to be able to fight against Nazis, I know that feels good, to be able to see your enemy in the flesh, and destroy it, but unfortunately this beast we are all a part of creating is a lot more complicated than that. We are all in this way too deep, every single one of us. If you’re in America, you are a part of this beast. Doesn’t matter where you live or what you do or how much “good” you are doing in the world or even how bad of a shake you got in life….we are all a part of this, and we will only get out of it together. The question is, are you courageous enough to face it in yourself, and act on it? Do you have the balls to love yourself even after you see the way your life is violent, oppressive and destructive to the lands that give you life?
We can’t live like this anymore…we have to make a change…we have to transform…we have to heal…we have to grow…we have to shift…so many incredible souls have awakened to this fact. But the question is will you put your feet and your resources where your heart is? Or will you continue to hold back because you’ve been hurt in the past? And perhaps most importantly, are you ready to sacrifice all of the ways this worldview is benefitting you?
>If you drink water, do you know where it comes from? Do you know which pollutants contaminate it and why? Do you know who suffers or profits when you buy your water?
>Do you ride in cars or travel by planes, do you use fossil fuels? Are you accountable to the harm the extraction of this resource causes?
>And where does your food come from and who is suffering, and what is suffering, and which lands are being desecrated, and which species are being wiped out, so that you can sustain yourself everyday?
…and it goes on and on….
Not knowing the answers to these questions is itself a form of violence and oppression against the land and waters that give you life. If we mean a robust intersectionality, then this form of violence and oppression must be acknowledged. And don’t get me wrong–I am very far from a purist in this. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions fully for myself. All I know is my ignorance is violence. This is not meant to shame you or blame you or guilt you. I’m not asking you these questions or suggesting you consider them so that you can become a “good” person or a “better” person. I’m asking you because if we don’t all start thinking about this, deeply, we are no longer going to be able to live on this earth.
Because this is what I know, from Katrina—the number one reason we have not recovered better than before is because we have remained in a state of denial. Denial about our racism and our deeply sick and violent criminal justice system, denial about our environmental vulnerability, denial about our misogyny, denial about our frail and selfish humanity. Until we wake up to the truth, nothing is possible. Yes the truth hurts—but trust me, it is better than this nightmare of denial. When we resist or deny our pain, we exacerbate our wounds, we act and speak from them, and we create more pain. And we don’t even know we are doing it, because we are numb to how it hurts. Until one day, the storm hits, and for a while, you just can’t deny things any more.
To humans on this earth–we are a part of this earth and it is hurting. That bond between life and earth and earth and life is getting stretched thin, the rope that binds us is fraying and so many things are dying, never to live on the earth again. The coral reef is dead, the whales are washing up on the shores, the forests are burning, the bees are not buzzing, and we are in a period of mass extinction on this earth. The balance between life and death has been tilted, and there is currently more death than life. Let yourself feel the way it makes you hurt, please, that’s truly all I ask. Please do not look at Hurricane Harvey and pity or have sympathy for anyone. Take a look at yourself and understand how you are a part of this. That is what I am trying to do right now, because to be honest this whole last cycle of storms and floods has reminded me that I’ve let myself fall asleep again.
And yes, it weighs me down and destabilizes me, distracts me from my creative projects, from my ambitions, from my passions, all of it. Facing the threat climate change poses to my home, it can be a real mother fucker. But all I know is if I don’t do it, I feel like a fraud. I have every penny to my name invested in New Orleans and I love this city with my whole heart, but I don’t actually have much hope at all that my children will be able to see a future here. The myriad of threats New Orleans faces from rising sea levels to the destruction of the wetlands to subsidence to hurricanes to epic flash flooding is just too great. I feel like to live a life with integrity, I have to take this reality to heart, and my actions need to align with the truth my heart sees. And at the same time I have no idea how to understand this truth without exploding from the contradictions it poses.
The Floods two weeks ago in New Orleans.,
Now Iris churning in the Atlantic Ocean.
NOLA, are you awake yet?
America, are you?
Things are changing. These floods are just one part of our alarm. The very fabric of our environment that makes it possible for us sustain life in our communities is transforming before our eyes. Are we going to transform with it…i.e…adapt? Or are we going to keep our heads in the sand?
When you come to terms with the realities of climate change, what do you feel ready to change? How can you alter the way you interact with the land you live off of and the people you share your resources with? What gives you hope? What gives you solace? And most importantly…what is your dream?
I’d love to hear your thoughts…and I’ll try my best to answer that question in the part 2! Stay tuned, with all of my love,