Monday, March 15, 2010

Playful Subversives Needed to Plant the Seeds of Change.

Change Comes Like the Perfume of Wildflowers in the Grass -
John Steinbeck

Currently, I’m residing in a town that has an enduring sweetness despite its full share of neglected buildings, vacant lots, and youth who leave in hopes of a better future.
Today, the air is damp and the chill wind brings the stench from the three paper mills outside of town up over the top of the deck where it waits at the door. It smells like raw sewage.
But as I walk the streets, there are signs that spring is on its way. It’s visible in the glimpse of buds, the pointed leaves of the Iris and hyacinth. In the faint greenish fuzz seen when one squints at the branches of trees from a distance.
Like a subversive it rebels against winter’s authority in the hope of producing better conditions. Its invitation is seductive.
It’s said many people become more conservative as they grow older. This woman is feeling more provocative. I itch to cut loose. My mind, body and soul are teased by thoughts and ideas. Like spring, they tell me I need to find a way to incite beauty and hope.
Studies have shown that one’s environment affects one’s mood. If you’re living in a place that is falling apart, cluttered; if your rooms have dim lighting, it becomes increasingly hard not to feel tired and even hopeless. But sometimes even the smallest thing can bring a smile; a moment of beauty can lift a mood, even if only for a while. And it’s in that tiny first step in your home, in your neighborhood that change begins to happen with one person, then two and three.
What to do and how became the questions. It seemed like a good idea to work with two of the most valuable tools available - nature and playfulness. The first because it has it’s own magical healing power. It reminds us of nature’s life force. The second because if you’re going to be a rebel why not have fun?
And if a rebel for beauty and hope, then why not be a flower bandit?
No one can claim I have a green thumb; quite the opposite in almost every situation, but one. My thumb turns green under difficult conditions. In part, it may be due to the happiness I feel when thumbing my nose at the idea that something can’t be done. Or it might be because I’ve always been inspired by the sheer power and intent of nature as it pushes grass through cracks in sidewalks and tired asphalt roads.
Many years ago in London, a group of environmental guerrillas set out to change the faces of ugly neighborhoods and buildings. Concocting a solution of nutrients, natural adhesive and seeds, they loaded their green weapons – a larger version of a water gun. After dark they moved through the city spraying concrete walls. Within a few months, these unsightly edifices came alive with green vines.
This flower bandit will be planting wildflowers all over town under the cover of night and just before it rains, so the birds don’t fly off with all the seeds. This also allows me to operate without bureaucratic permission. I am a subversive after all! I’ll be planting in front of abandoned buildings, in vacant lots, alongside empty roads and alleys. With a map marking the plantings, the plan is to return when the flowers have begun to bloom. In those patches of beauty and hope will stand small signs with inspirational messages and quotes, all penned with the alias ‘The Flower Bandit.’ It’s a temporary moment in the scheme of things, planting flowers; a small one. But that’s how change often starts.

Here five tips subversives, or rebels for beauty and positive change (flower bandits), need to know:

1) When the world tells you to give up, listen to the voice that tells
you to try one more time.
2) Decorate your own community by creating pockets of beauty and hope.
Don’t wait for someone else to plant flowers.
3) Obstacles are what you see when you’re not looking toward your goal.
4) It’s easy to miss opportunity when it looks like work; flower bandits keep it
playful.
5) Put the future of beauty and hope in good hands – yours.

It’s spring, there’s no telling what will happen next once you plant the seeds of change.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Two Symptoms of the Global Mind Shift: the Happiness Plague & Anger

The sun was out yesterday morning and I wanted to celebrate, but my plan for expressing happiness in a blog post crashed after I dropped into a conversation on Facebook.
The catalyst was a remark about the recent ‘plague’ of happiness devotees; those people who are seem to be ignoring the problems we face. People who are doing nothing while jobs, homes and a viable future are lost.
I heard the bar drop. Who the hell are these people anyway? Why aren’t they angry enough to get off their duffs and do something? And who was I to be touting my own happiness in some silly superficial blog post?
Personally, I think misconceptions abound on both sides. And in a strange way, the crooked search for ecstasy whether it emerges as Pollyanna or as Dr. Doom not only takes us away from now, it’s a symptom of something greater that’s occurring – a global mind shift. And that shift is a catalyst for anger and discontent. It can be positive by energizing us to get off the sofa and take positive action. But when we act in anger we’re reacting. We’re using our lizard brain, something that’s highly visible among many members of Congress.
At the same time, the whacky happy do nothing crew isn’t too surprising, nor is it that unattractive. But true happiness doesn’t necessarily manifest as big sloppy grins. And admonishing others to ‘just be happy’ does have a fascistic element to it, especially when you’re in pain. There are times when I’m feeling joyous enough to dance around the room, or belt out a favorite song. That’s different. When I’m happy, I am content. I’m able to express compassion and forgiveness to others and to myself because I’m comfortable in body, mind and soul. As a writer, when I’m happy my thoughts are fluid and clear. My intuition as sharp as a hound dog’s nose.
I’m a veteran of anger, the emotion, the holding on; the lashing out. Anger scarred my family. It was rife in the brilliant, charming men I loved, the people I sometimes chose to work with. In my 20s, it exploded in my body as an auto-immune disease. You’ll never walk again, at least not without crutches or a cane, the doctors told me. That made me angry. I wanted to walk! I had to walk! When I’d calmed down, I was able to get creative, to explore ideas and solutions. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine gave me an answer that resonated – the source of rheumatoid arthritis is caused by resentment rooted in anger. I realized that to turn toward another or toward oneself with anger is to fan the fire. I’m pleased to say that after years of work, the knots of anger were loosened and my arthritis is in remission.
On a broader plane, it sometimes seems as if the planet is giving birth and we’re all traveling down the birth canal. A painful journey! And, like a newborn, we’re not sure what to expect when we come out. Will there be enough air to breathe? Will we find the touchstones of what once was – a home where we can feel safe, meaningful work that allows us to feed ourselves? Will there be music and dancing? Will there be art and beautiful things to see? Will our loved ones to embrace us and be embraced?
During Obama’s campaign we saw a renaissance of activism. The results haven’t always been satisfactory, to say the least. And yes, it’s exhausting to watch and read about so much that’s going south. The changes we’re hoping for and seeking haven’t yet appeared in D.C. or on Wall Street, but it’s important to remember that the Impossible can take a little while. Personally I can’t recall a time, except for the 60s, when I’ve been able to see so many people gathering together in groups small and large for positive change. These stories don’t often show up in mainstream media nor are they shared by the powers glorifying violence. They are the stories we share with one another, wherever we are, e-mail by e-mail, conversation by conversation, heart to heart.
Here are some of the stories I’ve heard. As you read them remember that according to physics, once an action is taken it doesn’t die. It may morph, flow over barriers, dive deep or move sideways, but NOTHING is ever the same.
The first story is about a young African American woman who was dying. She launched a campaign in her hometown. She jumped in a car and headed to DC followed by a caravan of cars that kept growing every time she stopped to speak in another town or city about health care. She’s since passed on but reform is only dead if we let it be. A surgeon wrote a story of healthcare reform about two towns in the Midwest. One chose to see healthcare as an investment in their future. They’re thriving while the town is suffering economically from keeping the old system of healthcare=$.
There’s the mother who’d never been an activist. After listening to a show on NPR, she acquired a microphone and stood in front of City Hall where she talked about the injustice of the Supreme Court ruling on campaign funds and the affect it would have on her little girl. Thousands rallied around her in the course of a mere two days. They’ve opened an office, solicited funds, and used the Internet to launch a movement to change that ruling.
There are wonderful stories about community gardens. Some in poor neighborhoods, others in schoolyards children plant and tend them. The harvest goes right to the cafeterias and any extra money goes into scholarship funds. There are the gardens tilled by ex-cons who are learning a skill and gaining an income. There are the veterans in Texas with PTSD who gathered together on a farm where they’re growing organic food and selling the excess for profit and to pay for therapy.
State alliances have been formed in the South, the Northeast and the West. Collectively they’re installing alternative energy and enacting legislation that supports a green future.
There’s the attractive, energetic young woman who noticed the homeless men on her morning run. Believing in their potential, she gathered food and running gear and now runs daily at the head of the pack of homeless men. These men now believe they can change their lives.
There are young billionaires who are giving away their fortunes, the business owners turning over their companies to their employees. Employees taking less pay and hours so their co-workers can stay on.
You may have heard about the children who use the Internet to raise thousands of dollars to build wells for clean water and plant trees across the planet. I see them as little Buddha’s, reincarnations of John Muir who founded our national parks system.
In a way, I’m amused that many in Congress seems blind to this take-charge grass roots movement. Maybe that’s to our advantage!
I’m not na├»ve enough to think that the discontent out there won’t erupt into violence and fiery confrontations. But if I focus on that I’ll stumble. I’ll be so full of pain and fear and anger that I’ll end up frozen or using my reptilian brain. So, I choose to work on loosening the knots of anger, to seek out those who believe like I do - that if we walk the walk in unity, others will notice. Some will even join us.
How we cross this transition is a choice. Choosing to be non violent, a peacemaker takes enormous courage, nurturing and patience. You have to stay focused and do the work.
Hunter’s have a phrase I’ve become very fond of – ‘see which hound will hunt.’ I’ve co-opted it to signify my intuition as it hunts for a sweet spot to root around in. A place where I can cut loose, explore the possibilities of what is and what might be. The Internet, Facebook and the people I’ve met through social media, have proven to be sweet spots. There I drop into conversations that show me which hound is hunting for others. Those conversations loosen the knots and heal what’s inside. They inspire me to be creative. Sometimes they leave me feeling happy. So loosen your knots, roll up your sleeves and master these tools. Maybe you’ll even give me a heads up about what you hear and learn!

p.s. thanks to Deb, Kath, Winifred and Waleska on Facebook who had no idea at all how much they inspired me.