At twenty-one I moved to Portland, and ended up living in a collective household of anti-nuclear activists. It was instant community for me- I met and befriended scores of people who worked, organized, and played together.  We went to rallies and marches against nuclear power, visited friends in jail for civil disobedience, leafleted and wrote and partied. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident happened  in 1979, and I leafleted the nuclear disaster movie The China Syndrome, which ironically was out at the time.

In the picture above I am at a rally at Portland’s Waterfront Park. I am 22 or 23. I am wearing a black t-shirt with a skull and atomic graphic, instead of crossbones, and the large letters say “Plutonium=Slow Death”. I’m smiling and pointing at my head, which has a bright yellow beanie cap on it with a solar-powered propeller. It’s an odd juxtaposition of somber messaging and hopeful goofiness.

As my life filled with school, parenting, work, and life, my activism subsided, or moved to other areas, including feminism and gay rights. Still my concerns about nuclear energy and weapons were a waxing and waning part of my consciousness.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened in 1986. This April 26th will be the 25th anniversary of that event. I learned, with the rest of the world, about the horrors of nuclear meltdown, and information from previous activism only served to deepen my fear and hasten my denial.

It wasn’t until the last decade that I decided to reconnect to my activist self. After 9/11 I resolved to return to work on environmental issues. I had heard of and long admired the writing of deep ecologist Joanna Macy, and had read her book “Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age” years before. Along with my organizing around issues of climate change and environmental justice, I took the opportunity to read, to go to workshops, and ultimately to offer workshops on spirituality and activism, particularly addressing the issue of how to stay present to pain and injustice in the world without going into denial, immobilizing depression, or cynicism.

It was from Joanna that I heard more details about Chernobyl. She had visited villages in some of the worst hit areas in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, offering her work. What isn’t commonly known is that when the radioactive clouds from the plant were rising and winds started blowing them toward Moscow, the government decided to take action. They seeded the clouds, causing poison rain to fall on forests and villages throughout the area. Essentially, these communities were sacrificed for the good of the larger populace of Moscow.

People got sick, many died. Now, twenty-five years later, in the village of Nobozybkov in the Ukraine, they must use Geiger counters regularly to choose where the safest places are for children to play, or to make gardens. The radiation moves with dust, and wind, and rain, and they never have a permanent safe zone. People continue to sicken and die. The generation born after the accident has heartbreaking levels of infertility and stillbirths. The forest areas around their homes are off limits, because the wood in the trees holds the radiation. They called themselves “people of the forest”, and a vital part of their connection to the land and culture has been destroyed.

And now, we are in the midst of the ongoing disaster in Fukushima, Japan. There are ongoing heroic efforts of workers risking their lives, short and long-term, to contain and mitigate a nuclear event that experts admit may take months to get under control, with unknown long-term effects. The radiation levels inside the affected plant are so high, it is no longer measurable by their instruments.

I have a rich, joyful, and rewarding life, but there is not one day that goes by right now when I don’t weep for all affected, and for all who will be affected…untold generations. I know that if I shut down around the grief of this, I will end up feeling my joy as a blunted, diminished experience as well.  So, I try to remain faithful to my connections with spirit and the world, despite the desire, sometimes, for escape and numbing.

But then, I heard this last week- there is a nonprofit group, Viola, from the affected areas of Chernobyl that connects local school kids wanting to reach out to kids in Japan, launching a “Children of Chernobyl” program to connect with Japanese schoolchildren. The group is also sharing their hard-won best practices on food safety, public health, mental health and PTSD, and voluminous data gleaned from their decades of living and working in one of the world’s most toxic irradiated zones. They are translating their grassroots education materials into Japanese, and connecting with Japanese activists via Skype and online communications.

The beauty and poignancy of the children and adults of Chernobyl reaching out to Japan to offer solace and information is both humbling and inspiring.  It reminds me that hearts that have been broken are often the strongest in the long run. And, it makes me think that any healing in store will only come in and through community- reaching out, offering hearts and hard-won grace. In this unsettling spring of grief, fear, and global unraveling, knowing this offers an odd sort of hope in the midst of the tears, like that solar propeller spinning crazily on my head, trying to balance the words of doom written below.

 

For more information and to donate to Viola and their Children of Chernobyl project, go to http://livingearthgatherings.org/japan-chernobyl-children/.

 

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As news of the devastation in Japan from earthquake, tsunami, and now nuclear radiation is revealed, it’s hard to know how to really absorb the reality of this event. Yes, there are ceaseless, bloody wars. Yes, there are oil spills and fish die-offs and mountains being scraped off the map, and people around the planet with no homes, no jobs, no water. Yes, we hear these things on the daily news, read them on facebook or blogs. We sign petitions, we send relief money, we rail at the powers- that-be who “don’t get it”.

And now, there is this- the prospect that the water, air, and land of our planet will be poisoned for generations. Not for decades, not for centuries, but for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no way to conceive this, really. Our hearts and minds have no way to truly understand. We don’t know what to do with all this knowing.

When we talk to friends or family about our grief, or anger, or fear, so many of them can’t hear, it seems. Conversations are diverted, we are told that there is nothing to do, so why talk?

The spiritual challenge of this time of is not about what we are to do right now, though of course there are actions, decisions, missions that we need to take as humankind to respond to this reality.

The spiritual question is not “what shall we do?” but “who shall we be?”.

How shall we exercise our hearts to hold the enormity of this destruction, AND the enormity of the miraculous beauty of our world? To bear witness to pain, to fear, to grief, AND to the heroism, strength, and compassion of those acting to ease suffering. And to our own pain, our own strength?

Deep ecologist Joanna Macy has been, for decades, an activist on nuclear issues. She talks about nuclear weapons, power, and waste as the “Poison Fire” of our time, and suggests that it offers an opportunity for a deepening of our spiritual practice, and even a blessing for humankind.

We are presented with the opportunity to grow our faithfulness and love for our world in our willingness to bear witness.  We can learn to breathe through our fear in order to perceive the profound interconnectedness we have with all of life. We can learn to see ourselves as vessels of compassion, of the holy, rather than as needy consumers, or powerless victims.  The ultimate blessing of this time, she says, is that “it can be a means of living into the promise of the consciousness with which we have been endowed”.

This does not mean that we become fearless, or without anger or grief. Indeed, she warns against what she calls the “premature equanimity” of some spiritual and philosophical ideals. It does mean, however, that through our willingness to be with the suffering (the root meaning of the word “compassion”) and the beauty of our world, we come to know on a deep level the lie of separation we have been taught, and the miracle of the web of connection we are a part of.

Some say we were born into this time, in this place, to be a part of this time of the Great Unraveling, and the Great Turning. We need each other fiercely right now. When we falter, our community can step in when we need rest, can hold us when we need comfort, can work together to create a synergy of good works. Our main task is to reach out beyond our sense of aloneness to a life of connection. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, there is no being, there is only inter-being. Through that depth of understanding, we are then impassioned and empowered to do our heart’s work for the healing of our world.

 

 

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This is a brief list I prepared in preparation for my “Artistry as Training for the Revolution” workshop being presented at the Pacific NW Unitarian Universalist District gathering. It’s a conference on art and activism. I look forward to learning more from the workshop participants!

Creative energy makes us lousy consumers. Being connected to our own artistry generates a deep well of gratitude, which is counter to western culture’s message of consumerism as an antidote to feelings of emptiness and powerlessness. We feel less of an need to fill ourselves up with things, because we are connected to our own wellspring of meaning.

Creative energy not only makes us aware of our own power and beauty, but also the power and beauty of those around us. This generates love, respect, and solidarity with all beings. It effectively nullifies the cultural story of separateness and “power over” as the way the world works, and offers another, deeper story of  power and beauty from within, in partnership with others. This is a mirror of the power and beauty of the natural world.

Creative energy helps us know, deeply, our interconnectedness, and thus our sense of authority to speak and act for justice. When we are in creative flow, we sense ourselves as being moved “through”- we know on a visceral level that we are a part of a larger whole, and thus are empowered to act on its behalf. Deep ecologist John Seed speaks of his emerging understanding of this idea- “I am protecting the rainforest” develops to “I am part of the rainforest protecting myself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking.”

Creative energy helps us find “ a way out of no way”. Even in times of oppression and injustice, our individual and collective artistry finds ways to change our world for the better. Just as life has evolved in the evolutionary story of this planet, so do we. We are, as a species, the opposable thumbs of the body of Earth. Disconnected from larger body of Gaia, we are merely clever machines. Connected, we have the power to combine our love and intention to heal the world.

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What better time than the New Year to consider new perspectives, new connections, new dreams. We traditionally in our culture think about resolutions, but resolutions come more often from the mind, rather than the heart. Intention comes from a confluence of mind, heart, and soul, and carries with it the clarity of purpose and deep care that can sometimes be missing in a resolution.

Awakening the Dreamer Symposium Trailer from Pachamama Alliance on Vimeo.

Those who wish to be a part of a larger movement for social and environmental justice, or “Blessed Unrest” as writer Paul Hawken calls it, can find support in connecting to community, and in getting a clearer idea of the challenges we are facing now. That’s where the Pachamama Alliance and their Awakening the Dreamer symposium experience can be helpful. It gives a clear and comprehensive understanding of where we as a culture are now, how we got here, and what we can do to foster interdependence and a deeper sense of purpose for our work in the world. At the right is a video trailer for the symposium.

If this is intriguing, check out the Awakening the Dreamer events on my calendar page, or go to www.awakeningthedreamer.org to find out about other events in your area. It’s a powerful and inspiring multimedia presentation with opportunities to share and reflect.

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