Love, Beauty, and Soul are Dirty Words

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.


My dog ponders why he gets dried treats while humans get chocolate truffles, not to mention lobster chowder and mushroom pastries. Still he loves us, especially the grandchildren, and is mature enough not to make sneak attacks for nibbles off the counter.

My 7-year-old granddaughter ponders if she has remembered everyone she wants to give gifts, not allowing herself any excuses for her age. Her body twitches in anticipation of giving her gifts, each with a note saying she loves you.

My 9-year-old grandson ponders the structure of the US Congress and the electoral college and asks if there is an exact correlation between the number of representatives a state has and the number of its electoral representatives, or if it is only approximate. He loves his nation and feels we and it are in danger.

I ponder why I have more anxiety cooking for guests than I had facing angry men with guns in foreign nations.

I ponder free will, the nature of the conscience, the nature of consciousness, if forgiveness has any real meaning, if there is a separate entity we conveniently call “soul” or if that is a blend of our psychology, memory, ethics, longings – like custom paint mixtures with a drop of cerulean blue, some spring green, a tad of gingko leaf green, and a dollop of blood red until you get what feels like the essence of what you are looking for.

I ponder why I love more as I age, how to prevent wrinkles, how much exercise is really necessary, the nutrient value of mushroom powders, what happens to your cells when you have no sexual partner, the size of the universe, and will I have a self-awareness that can self-identify as “me” after I die?

My therapist ponders if she should be pragmatic with me or abstract, usually choosing pragmatic since I handle abstractions better than daily life – usually, not always.

Like my grandson, and every adult I know, I ponder if the T-word (I cannot say his name, which is pragmatic for the state of my psyche) is ushering in – with his band of humorless martinets – the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, or not so many changes after all.

I do not need to ponder if he is sane.

Love, beauty, and soul:

What I ponder most is love. I read that writers are told not to use the words “soul” or “beauty.” But I know beauty when I see it and I know soul when I feel it. If not using those words has any value other than to get us to further differentiate into details and nuances, I don’t know what it is. We should speak of beauty and soul all the time, delve into their mysteries and their healing powers.

Beauty and soul, like love, cover a lot of territory and are true, and are not afraid to get dirty.

The White Helmets rescuing Syrians from under tens of tons of concrete rubble are beautiful and dirty and work out of love.

Polar bears on melting snow and ice are beautiful and heartbreaking and trying to save their cubs.

Parents carrying children a day’s journey to hospitals across barren earth are weary with grieving for their beloved and desperately ill babies.

Love and beauty and soul mingle with the blood, shit, and gurgling of those who die by guns, drones, bombs, and diseases. They loved and they were loved.

Hearts and minds off course:

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Lincoln Financial is one sponsor of The PBS News Hour. Their ad begins with “feel good” photos and a reassuring male voice telling us “You can care for many, but you can only love a precious few.” It then shows photos of loving moments limited to two or three family members.

When a widely broadcast ad tells us we can only love a precious few, when a script like that gets through the advertising department and the corporate higher ups, we have crossed into dangerous territory, a land where the T-word and his racism, bigotry, hatred, threats, and walls are elected – if not by the majority, still legally – to lead our country. Children like my grandson know and feel the poison for what it is, poison.

Feeling the love:

As I age, I witness my love expanding, seemingly on its own. Do I love the T-word’s cabinet appointees? No, but I don’t exactly hate them either. “Abhor” is a more accurate word.

I’ve become one of those women who has become gaga with love. This is not an abstraction, it is my reality. I touch it and feel it, even if I cannot explain it.

Do not tell me I can love only a precious few! That is bunk, a lie. It is wrong, it is the opposite of what I do and most people do. We love widely and deeply, and would love even more if we understood it as the natural and healthy way of living – if we had more courage, more encouragement, more faith in ourselves.

Love, beauty, and living aligned with your soul is as pragmatic as it can get. It is the only way we will survive.


The Dalai Lama and My Soul are Running Buddies

My soul insists that the 14th Dalai Lama is a personal friend, is kin. The Dalai Lama turned 80 a week ago, but my soul says the two of them are the same age, timeless. They are running buddies. They have stories they could tell each other but neither bothers because they already know each other’s stories, infinite.

If an age were demanded of them, if they were forced, they would probably say they were 11 years old because of the mischievousness. Or something over 2000 because of the knowledge they have that I cannot normally access.

The Dalai Lama and I had our moment. It was a few miles north of Santa Fe in 1995, maybe 1996, and started over a breakfast of huevos rancheros at a five-star resort in the desert.

Out the dining room window I saw Tibetan flags leading towards the mountains. Moments later, monks in orange robes walked by the window.

I grabbed a waiter, “Is the Dalai Lama here?”

“He’ll be here soon.”

“What’s happening?”

“There’s a press conference.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“It’s private, it’s closed.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“Talk to those people over there.”

Abandoning huevos rancheros and my husband, I rushed to the very official looking people “over there.” They had clip boards and check off lists.

“I’m supposed to be at the press conference.”

“It’s closed.”

“But I’m a reporter and a photographer,” I sort of, vaguely, exaggerated, even as I knew I was supposed to be there. I was.

“Show me some i.d.”

I don’t remember what I showed them. I think I rattled off places where I worked years earlier.

“Okay, but you better get in there. It’s starting in five minutes.”

I sprinted out the door to my room among the cacti, grabbed my Nikon, and sprinted back past the monks, and slipped through the double doors as they were being closed.

Not a single chair was available. Everyone was silent, waiting His Holiness.

I stood alone against the wall inside the double doors. They opened and six monks entered. Together we stood in a line against the wall.

When the Dalai Lama entered, he came in with his head down and palms together in front of his chest. He bowed to each monk in turn without raising his head.

Orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe . . . to levis. The Dalai Lama was bowing to me.

He looked up, surprised and curious, his head 12 inches from mine. Then he smiled.

He smiled just for me, his eyes sparkling. The Dalai Lama and I shared a joke, a visual joke, a quiet joke, a timing joke. A joke of the misplaced and unexpected. Fifteen minutes before I had been eating huevos rancheros.

His eyes have been called “laser eyes.” It is true. Their amusement and curiosity etched into my mind. It was only a moment, but it was timeless.

And the memory, the reality of the memory, returns now with good timing for I have been weighed down by the suffering in the world. Old questions such as “How can any of us be happy when so many of us are in misery?” are unanswered and seem to me to be unanswerable.

Yet, the Dalai Lama tells us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. He shows us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. But he’s the Dalai Lama, it’s his job description. How does it become ours?

In the last week of my father’s dying, he laughed in that time of the dark night of the soul around 4 am. It was a muffled laugh. He had only one-half of one functioning lung.

But it was enough to wake me on the cot next to his hospital bed. Well, I was in a listening sleep and heard his every breath.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“It’s a joke. It’s all been a joke!” He was in bliss, radiant, and highly amused by his 82 years of life.

The next morning a nurse asked in that loud voice nurses sometimes use, “Howard, are you in pain?”

“Why be in pain?” he answered.

Only a week before he had been remembering every injury ever done to him. He started with my mother and worked his way backwards through time until he was in his twenties. He spoke of people and things I had never heard of. He was angry, resentful, and fed up. He was not going to leave this earth without letting someone – me – know every time he had been cheated, betrayed, humiliated.

After three days, I asked, “Dad, is this how you want to do it?” He stopped talking to me for the next two days. Then in the dark, he muttered something incoherent, a guttural sound.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“I’m trying to get my head on straight.”

Two nights later, he saw life was a joke and he abandoned pain. Three days after that he abandoned this physical life.

The Dalai Lama and a farmer from Iowa have the same message. The difference is one has had decades to tell it to millions while the other had only a couple days and told it only to me.

But the message is the same. Everyone has a right to be happy, joy is possible, the suffering do not wish us also to suffer, it is ego to think our sadness helps their suffering. It is also ego to turn away from those who suffer.

My soul is quietly saying, “Go girl, you’re getting there.”

Joy is not a luxury item. It is as basic as corn and potatoes were to my father, and as the twinkle in his eye is to the Dalai Lama.

I think, yes, that the point where we do not belittle those who suffer by thinking they are different from us – that we are greater and, therefore, somehow guilty –  but that we realize we are all equally deserving of joy, it is native to each of us, that is the point where we have gained a little bit of new understanding.

To take on suffering gratuitously that has no benefit to others is its own hubris. It is saying I think my suffering will make a difference when, in fact, it is our joy that makes the difference.

None of us is god, and each of us is god. My soul and the Dalai Lama have this conversation all the time. Perhaps I am just starting to hear a little bit of it.

When we feel joy, we are not ignoring those who suffer, we are keeping the light bright. We are accepting our natural state, and it is from this natural state that we have something more to give than our grief. It is light that clears darkness, our own and other’s.


Finding Yourself in a World of Need

A few years ago I began an experiment that I thought would take me only a year to complete. The goal was to regain a sense of myself aside from more than a decade of peace work as founder and first Director of Peace X Peace. I had entered the field of peace work one week after September 11, 2001. I entered it from many years in the arts as a photographer, poet, and playwright. I was midway in writing a book tentatively titled “Diamond Woman: achieving clarity and brilliance in a world still dominated by men.”

Peace X Peace usurped all that. For the first four years I worked every day except Christmas. Long hours every day. Long hours with teams of women that I brought together. We made an impact. Ultimately we had members in more than 120 nations and 20,000 plus members in our Global Network of women talking privately to their “sisters” around the world through the Internet. We were the first global social network for women before the term “social network” was used.

We also made a documentary in Afghanistan, Burundi, Argentina, Bosnia, and the US that debuted at the UN and aired on PBS. We did a book, “60 Years, 60 Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women,” (available on Amazon) that was gifted by the president of the United Nations General Assembly to each member state ambassador.

As a team, we made a significant impact on the rising women’s movement, but after a decade I was so burnt out that when I was asked to speak somewhere a wave of nausea went through me. Not every time, but usually. Peace workers get burnt out, and peace activists often submerge parts of their being in order to tend to a larger whole.

Peace work is the most necessary and honorable work in the world, and there are people who every single day give of themselves to help others, whose compassion drives them to dedicate themselves to others. The result can be a strange mix of both being fed and being depleted by the work. It expands your soul even as it nibbles at it.

I was ultimately depleted and needed to “re-find” the essential “me” that prefers – and naturally tends – to describe everything somewhat poetically, that needs silence, that mixes my sight with sound with words with wordlessness. I trusted the essential “me” was hunkered down inside, waiting, even though it had hardly been nurtured in years.

It felt – and feels – selfish to tend one’s self when others are suffering so much; but it is necessary. We have one life and we have the right – something close to an obligation – to make it beautiful and to grow in gentle impassioned ways. If we were given the ability to sing, we should sing. If we were given the ability of paint, we should paint. If we were given the ability to dance, we should dance. Disaster in the world is not helped by our ignoring our creative impulses and the sweet light at our center.

(It is also not helped by perennial sadness. The world is glorious and we are animals that can be stunned by awe and convulsed by humor. These are our right, but that is a different blog.)

It took me much longer than I expected to come back to feeling viscerally, daily and always, the “who” of who I am. I thought it might take a year, then two years. But it has taken more like three years – three years of stripping down and stripping down and stripping down and shedding of self-definitions. It required doing less and less peace work, of not doing anything that made me nauseous, of spending time with my family, grandchildren, and friends, and of writing again where I didn’t need to be politically correct but could be factually correct instead.

I made it here. I’m not particularly productive artistically or socially. I haven’t launched into a book, little or large. I haven’t resumed photography. Arbitrary actions and projects seem suspect to me, as diversions from facing up to continuing to go to the heart of the “who” of who I am.

This is not a self-indulgent journey. It takes courage to give up self-identification, to not distract myself with work or pleasure, to simply be – albeit with some sputtering on my blog or on Facebook.

I say all this for two reasons. 1) I encourage everyone, particularly as we age, to have the courage to give up self-identification. You are not a businessperson, an athlete, an artist, a meditator, a teacher, even a parent or grandparent. You are you. You are larger than what you do or have done. Getting to that visceral knowledge of “me” is to have removed all the adornments that cover who you really are. It is to sit within the terrifying you without the identifiers of what you have achieved, what you have lost, and what you believe. It is to give up history, knowing, strength, and weakness. It is being.

I say “terrifying” because when you get rid of self-definitions you get rid of what binds you in, what containerizes you. Your boundaries disappear, and you can feel like a large amoeba. At first, that’s a vulnerable state. Then it becomes a place of all potential – of ease, relief, and laughter. Joyous, poignant, encompassing surprise.

I am not saying this is easy. It’s a marathon that is not only frightening, but means giving up the angers, fears, and wounds that also identify you. Doing that means acknowledging them to begin with, which can hurt. Plus, there’s your righteous indignation: “Let them go! But . . . but . . . but . . .” Un-huh, let ’em go. They’re boring, actually.

The key to this aspect of achieving freedom is to feel the pings of pain with the intent to let them go. Then give yourself time. It’s an organic process that takes time and you don’t control it beyond holding the intent to find yourself, naked and beautiful beyond definitions.

2) On the personal level, I made it back to the “who” I knew, but with more than a decade of peace work, expanded knowledge, and some personal traumas thrown in the mix. It is an amazing place to be, and not easy to explain, and speaking of it brings some tears  of gratefulness.

But something unexpected has happened. The need to be more active for justice, to tend the earth and its people, has risen again and it is being a real nudge. If I rest in that place where I am – blessed as it is – it will become hollow.

I am aware that undoubtedly every person who reads this is already a person who works hard for the good of others. Some of you are my heroes and heroines. So perhaps I am talking to myself, but please indulge me:

Having one life to live, we must each find our essential “me” in order to live fully and come to wordlessly understand why we are here and who we are.

Having found that, we must then find what is uniquely ours to do to help others. It’s not a free ride. Our souls – that word works for me, change it if you need – are meant to be felt by ourselves and joined with others.

I don’t know why it’s like that, I only know it is.

So over the next few months, I am searching with a few others as to what is uniquely for me to do. I invite those of you who are peace workers to talk to me privately or through comments about where you are, how you see what I wrote, and to tell me what you think is important for our world right now. Thank you, my sisters and my brothers.