Ashes to Ashes

It is January 2018 and I am cozied up by the fire during a deep freeze that has parts of my country ‘colder than Mars’, or so they gleefully tell us on the news.

It occurs to me again that being in a physical body is a lot of work. Keeping warm, fed and sheltered, and being entertained while we attend to those daily tasks occupy much of our lives.

I am acutely aware of how I spend my time.

Those of us privileged with moments of rest can read or meditate, we can notice the stars and the frosted trees in the morning light. We can pay attention to the world around us.

If we are afforded beautiful words and ideas bequest by those rare wise souls who have walked among us, we can delight in their poetry, songs and stories, and appreciate that they had the time and support to leave us these offerings.It is a shame how rare time to do nothing is these days.

All of our ancestors, when not held in slavery or trapped in the upheaval of earthquake, fire or war, had the winter months or the rainy seasons to share stories and ideas; time to think and dream, create cuisine, objects of art, song and dance.

This is a luxury so many on the planet no longer seem to have available to them.

I have always felt that the art and music of a society or time period tells us that the basic needs were met for all, and there was ‘time’ to think, learn and create.

Every culture made it’s own art, stories, songs and foods with a diversity of colour and pattern as varied as the landscapes they each thrived within, and I hope history will know of us by the beauty we create and not our destruction.

I was reflecting, by that warm fire, on a quote by a great master teacher and poet that I share a birthday with, a man I would have loved to meet and perhaps will, now that he has gone back through the crack that is in everything.

Master Leonard Cohen once said: 

”Poetry is just the evidence of life.If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

For days that quote tumbled around my brain polishing the raw edges of ideas and concepts. Leonard Cohen had written some of the most brilliantly beautiful lines of social commentary of all time in my opinion, and his words often send me off into deep contemplation.

I realize I had spent far too much of my life trying to shape meaning from the little piles of ashes around me, trying to make them say something of value, perhaps some legacy or remembering to leave behind when I too, flow back through the crack.

I too often hurry through the fire looking for it to ‘produce’ something worthwhile. 

I notice how easily the ashes blow away, profound thoughts and ‘aha’ moments that are soon forgotten and are meaningless to others. The ash bears little resemblance to the fire that made them.

What is important is that sacred fire of burning consciousness.

“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling? ”  Leonard Cohen. Who By Fire

We have choice, it is us who do the calling.
Finding the passion, noticing what burns, what parts of life have embers glowing, this is what is important. What causes change, nourishes, what makes an end to suffering, what warms and comforts the soul?

I thought of all the things a fire can bring, curled up in front of it’s winter’s blaze this cold grey morning, and I also thought of it’s destructive nature. When things go wrong and fire is not contained or looked after carefully enough, it can burn you right up. I have seen this happen to many people when they have flown too close to the flame without care.

Fire is the primal alchemist with it’s ability to transform and create. It forges metal and makes glass from sand, sturdy objects from clay, melts gold, transforms food and yet it can with the same power, reduce almost anything to ash.

There are whole species of plants and trees that require hot fire to propagate, forests which rely on fire as part of their life cycles.

Lightning and Lava, the fires of earth and sky, the spark of creativity and passion, the sacred fires of life light our way and shape our world, if we are paying proper attention.

I see all this, and yet, here I am playing in the ashes, putting form to what remains of this morning’s flames.

Whether words or actions, art or music, everything that we do once incarnate is a reflection of what we’re paying attention to. It is all we really have, our attention and time. Where there is fire, there is creation. I want to pay my attention to the fire, but am often distracted by the ashes.

How do I change a lifetime of habit, generations of imprint embedded in my psyche?

”Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.

I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see where you’re pinned                       When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned”                                          Leonard Cohen, Sisters of Mercy

The places that we’re pinned; our systemic believe systems, dysfunctional societal patterns, our fear of not fitting in, all the spells we are under that dictate destructive patterns throughout humans being in every culture on this Earth, are holding us in past mistakes.

The layers are deep and a very few humans can find their way to the surface to draw breath. If those who have broken through leave their mark in the ashes, we may find our way. It takes excruciating personal work to emerge consciousness and awareness. One must be willing to heal to break free. One must also be willing to separate to break free.

You were not born bad. You are not, at base, a wicked sinner, and neither am I. 
This is one of the sticky lines of the web, the separation and isolation of ‘self’ from spirit. How can you feel holy if you believe you are judged a sinner by some patriarchal god in the sky? How can you know you are divine if you judge yourself by these bogus standards?

Most of us are descendants of a colonized society; even the settlers who came over to North America to steal and colonized these lands did exactly the same thing to the Peoples here that was done to their ancestors when Rome conquered and laid it’s patriarchal legacy upon the survivors across the sea.

The same patterns of genocide and control of women, food and land came into play wherever these sticky threads of colonialism wormed their way in to once balanced societies. 

 Wave after wave, imperialism with it’s misogyny and ideas of racial superiority imprinted it’s mark with intentional starvation, war and rape. The witches, mystics and shamans, really anyone who connected with spirit and earth, were brutally tortured, exterminated or outcast, a practice that continues everywhere today.

We know DNA is imprinted through trauma, damaged you could say, and that this is passed on through Mother and Father. Generations of descendants from every part of the planet carry guilt, shame and horror deeply imprinted from the hell inflicted on every person enslaved, tortured, disenfranchised or oppressed.
We know now the kinds of illnesses this causes, including addiction and deteriorating mental health, and how this is hereditary.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died.”  Leonard Cohen. Everybody Knows

Perhaps it is time to start taking apart the webs that have been holding us in destructive patterns and recognize where we are each pinned, according to our ancestral and societal patterning and personal belief systems that so often reinforce these old destructive patterns. We can see evidence of this shift throughout the world as people once silenced begin to cry out.

The Council of Elders, my teachers, once said we would soon enough see ‘the skeletons come out of the closets and dance’ and it sure looks like we are there. Just as cancer and deadly viruses and bacteria thrive because the immune system does not recognize it as a problem, without seeing ‘where we are pinned’ as a society, how can we free ourselves?

We need to recognize that we as humans have entered a perilous state on this planet with imminent destruction on every horizon no matter where we cast our gaze. We did this, ourselves. We need to look at how we got here.

Our kids are suffering anxiety and have the highest suicide rates ever heard of, and many do not believe in a future anymore. Our society is corrupt and there is little faith in good governance or even in education or science. This is what we have created and this is what we must heal.

It is hard to look at ourselves as humans right now. Many I listen to feel that humans do not deserve a chance for life on earth, and all we need to do is watch the news to witness how many groups of people seem to be welcoming a complete Armageddon.

Our culture has built weapons that can blow up the entire planet rendering all species extinct within a day, and there are demented fingers on some powerful buttons right now.

We continue to pollute and pump more oil out of the ground and into the air despite the overwhelming evidence of the earth’s entire scientific community that we have already caused irreparable damages to our delicate weather system with all that carbon, and although we are living in the aftermath already, that has not abated our greed for oil and gas.

We poison our land and water as well as our air. As we breathe, eat and drink the poisons we are dying by the millions of horrid diseases that have never been seen in human populations at this scale, ever.

If this is not a reflection of self-hatred and self-destruction I don’t know what is. We need to change our ways.

“It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat.” Leonard Cohen. Democracy

Even to eat, to keep our bellies full, we wreck such havoc here. Factory farms, methane producers for fast food burger joints, clear cutting, slash and burn and the horrific slavery of animals and humans yoked together to grow the grocery stores of food required by an ever gluttinous population of food hoarders.

As we gorge ourselves obese here in the west, other continents host starving populations of displaced misery, waiting for aid that never comes as they produce their ‘luxury foods’ for exotic tastes. We all know it is out of balance as we watch mountains of food thrown away in every city where people go hungry. We are out of balance.

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame.”  Leonard Cohen. You Want It Darker

I began thinking about the trees and my relationship to them.
There has been plenty of research in the past few decades substantiating the wisdom the Druids and all Earth centred peoples have always known; the forests are alive. They have wisdom and knowledge and vast networks of communication systems. They are a community of beings, amidst communities of beings.

Just google ‘tree communication’ and you will find pages of references to studies and documentaries that have reached the same conclusions; there are greater forces at work here in the forest than main stream society understands.

There is an intelligence, a compassion and caring that is far-seeing and far-reaching. Long term decision-making and rebalancing whenever anything gets out of harmony is evidenced. There is sentience in nature, a profound and aware web of life of which we humans are meant to be part.

”Sleep baby sleep
The day’s on the run
The wind in the trees
Is talking in tongues”  Leonard Cohen. Lullaby’s

I was thinking about fruit and nut trees and how they once lived as part of a diverse society of forest and how they adapted to help humans. Planted along roadways and around villages, they fed generations of people, as well as birds, insects and other animals.

I imagine them honoured, cared for and respected; celebrated at blossom time and revered at harvest time. I imagine how some people had, and some orchard keepers still do, beautiful relationships with these tree beings and how much that has changed in the last couple of generations.

The trees that lived as communities and ecosystems forever on this planet, long, long before humans ever existed, these forests of diverse community with their intricate communications and resolution systems, they are as The Council have told us, the most spiritually evolved of all earth species. They look after the whole planet.

And we, in our arrogance and imprinted belief that we hold dominion over earth, we captured the trees that we liked, the trees that we wanted to grow our food for us, make paper and lumber for us, and we hold them captive, away from their ecosystems, in monotonous rows upon rows. We spray them with toxic chemicals, prune their branches and never let them grow old.

We truck bees that we’ve taken from their wildness, from their magical places up in hollow trees and we truck them place to place to place in prison boxes where we clip the wings of their queens after forcing their creation.

We have interrupted the vast network of life on this planet, because we have forgotten our fire. We have been playing in the ashes, so caught up in our work’a’day world, our illusionary, destructive reality that we have forgotten what is vital and important to life’s very survival. Our deceptive worlds of stock markets and factories and the shopping malls where we spend all that hard-earned money on useless junk for our ever-growing landfill sites, that is what holds our attention.

“Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting. It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder.” Leonard Cohen

We have to change this. We’ve created an unhealthy way of farming that is just adding to the destruction of so many species of beings, all for our massively wasteful feeding frenzy. We mine and drill and pillage the earth, holding whole civilizations in slavery to produce more stuff to put on our shelves. We cannot keep up with it on this fragile planet. 

There are just too many of us alive to be able to live in harmony as part of such an intricate and delicate ecosystem.

I worry about that, as I have four children and grandchildren too and I, like all grandparents, want nothing but the best for their futures. Yet at the same time, I am painfully aware that our very existence in such numbers is destroying a healthy future for them.

It’s such a hard reality to look at and I try to come up with solutions, like the one child policy in China, volunteer sterilization, each country making a goal of population reduction for coming generations until we are back in balance. 
I imagine how each culture and country could begin planning for a smaller future, to scale down this explosive and unsustainable growth.

I imagine if all the societal pressures for procreation are nullified and we are educated to look at our impulses, we would find that not everyone even wants to be a parent. I am betting if only those that really, really want to do this, not for economic or social gain, but because that is their calling, our population would stabilize within a few generations.

I am loving the minimalist and de-cluttering movement I see in the younger generations, the tiny house communities and cooperative living arrangements. I am heartened by the many, many young people who are choosing to be aunts, uncles and foster parents rather than procreate. They give me glimmers of hope.

”Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame”  Leonard Cohen. You Want it Darker

Then I think about the cultures that forbid women to have the right to decide procreation and wonder what kind of idiotic ideals we are holding to and in USA returning back to? Fundamentalist religions encouraging their followers to have as many children as possible, as young as possible in an effort to control the resources with their ‘chosen’ lineage seems like insanity in the context of our planet’s ecosystem.

I think about how cynics call for war and disease to take out the ‘excess lives’ and am grossly aware that it is the poor and displaced they are thinking of ‘taking out’. I also know this has gone on throughout human history, the killing off of the excess population. If the unwanted could not be shipped somewhere to colonize or be used as soldiers or workers, they were starved or killed with disease, the few survivors left to addiction and poverty with nowhere to go. 

It feels hopeless, like trying to stop war, trying to change our ways. 
Any solution seems too little, too late, as far as human society goes.

“O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above.” Leonard Cohen. Come Healing

Then I think about the earth and the forests of the earth.

When there’s too many squirrels, forests do what they need to do to slow down the population by collectively stopping the production of cones for however long it takes to bring populations down. Then en mass they produce a bumper crop, dropping seeds unmolested on the waiting forest floor. When there are too many grazing animals the grasslands turn bitter and biting flies drive the herds along. The earth knows when things are unbalanced.

Each season prepares for the season to follow, each creature, plant, mineral finds it’s place in balance with everything else. It is a divine dance, beautifully choreographed that has maintained the checks and balances of life on earth forever. There is an intelligent system of life on this planet and I am sure it is very aware of we humans and how ignorant and clumsy we are.

“Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror”. Leonard Cohen. Suzanne.

I realize I don’t have to make these decisions, anything I can think of has already been implemented. I don’t have to know the answers, the earth knows what it’s doing and I can trust the ecosystem of this planet to do whatever it needs to do in the bringing of balance. All I have to do is be here and aware and live the best I can as part of an elegant and intricate system of life called Earth.

I can bear witness. I can feed the good fires.
I can do my best to live my life as well as I can.
It’s all I can do.
It is all any one of us can do.

“The kind of work I like is the evidence of life lived, rather than some kind of abstracted conclusion of how things might be. I see a song as the ashes of existence, and if there is a light there, and you can warm yourself by it. It isn’t an intellectual construction — it’s more like a footprint that you can stick your own foot in. Or a spike on which you can impale yourself.”  Leonard Cohen

I hope you can make some sense, find some warmth, a spark, or an alchemy of thought in this little pile of ashes from my morning fire.