For months I’d been looking forward to a special meeting in New Mexico at the Village of the Shining Stones near Abiquiu called the First Peace Gathering. It promised to be a very unique and inspiring event, initiated by an organization called Ehama, the teaching vehicle of two traditional elders named Rainbow Hawk and his partner Wind Eagle. They anticipated elders from the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and Native traditions plus youth from Europe to explore how their traditions have been evolving toward a common interest in peace. There would be lots of meditation, storytelling, ceremony, and of course eating and social time. This photo, called Skypainting by Sabrina Whitelynx, reflects the beauty of New Mexico that was calling me.
My good friends Pele Rouge and Firehawk studied with Rainbow Hawk and Wind Eagle for ten years in the 1980s and have gone on to be facilitators of some of the most powerful circles in which I am a member—the Bay Area Thought Leader Gatherings, the Summer Solstice event in Ben Lomond, our Second Life Medicine Circle, and the Pathwalker group. They would, for the first time with their teachers, be co-leaders of the event. I wanted to go and support them. In fact five of our nine Medicine Circle group were going. I also hungered for the desert, the big sky, the monsoon weather, and connecting deeply back into my own indigenous roots as a mountain man from Bishop, California in the Eastern Sierra.
As I have written about in Touching and Technology, my wife Susan was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a full hysterectomy three weeks before I was to leave. Our psyches resisted interpreting this development as truly life changing, and figured she’d be well enough to have me go to New Mexico. “I’ll go to Arizona and see Jerda and Jamie’s little Reilly while you are at First Peace,” she was planning.
But at week two and half it as clear that the new journey we were on was going to be one with surprises. While laparoscopy is cosmetically less invasive, a hysterectomy is major surgery, and the removal of the lymph, ovaries, and uterus left Susan in pain and not able to move around very well. She wasn’t supposed to lift things either.
I realized that I faced a choice between supporting my community and my own practice and supporting Susan, my beloved. In retrospect I can’t believe I thought it was a choice, but you have to understand a little bit about how I’m “wired.” Community service came before family in my household growing up. My father, a pastor, was “on call” all hours of the day, and our thriving Presbyterian church in Bishop had 600-plus people who had real lives and all kinds of things happening to them. When it came to the big events—birth, death, sickness, calamity—my dad was involved. He was a volunteer fireman and the sirens meant dropping everything. The youth groups and choir met in our living room as well as the church. We were a public service family.
That continues to be my orientation. My company, The Grove, isn’t a church, but I live out my relationships in the same spirit. I see people as a full collection of everything they are involved with, and of all the people who are part of their lives. It’s a rich, complex way to perceive things, but this is my way.
I’d given my word to FireHawk and Pele Rouge that I would come and support them, and I’m a man of my word. Creating a container for 65 people over the course of a week is a BIG challenge, and it helps to have a team – some in front speaking and guiding, and others around the sides and in the middle, holding the intention and space for everyone to come forward and participate.
One of our Pathwalker Circle, Vivian Wright, a very senior and skilled organization consultant at HP, said to me once that she thought that masterful facilitation was 10% leading the process and 90% praying. “What on earth do you mean?” I asked at the time. “Well, once I’ve directed the group in an activity, I sit and hold everyone in my imagination in the light of positive intent, and hold that space with all my attention until they complete. I think it’s an important part of the process.”
Accepting this statement means accepting that humans are not just biological mechanisms, but also tuned into more subtle energies, and that these have a direct interaction with the physical plane. I’m finding myself steady moving toward a deep acceptance of this partnership in my work and personal life. So my commitment to be at First Peace was more than just a desire to have a week of renewal in the desert. It was a commitment to my colleagues in this work we are doing of awakening people to themselves and to their relationship with each other and the Earth. We call it Earth Wisdom in our circle. I think of it as truly identifying ourselves with the whole, with the great spirit energy, with God. It’s really my work now. The projects are just contexts.
I decided to stay home with Susan. The choice itself was a click, a “turn”—nothing physical or tangible. It was my intention that shifted. I knew it was the right choice because my whole being tingled and jumped when I made it, and Susan lit up like the sun when I told her. “I’m so glad,” she said, visibly relaxed. That night in our Medicine Circle in Second Life I shared my decision. “Susan needs me this week, and she has the priority,” I said. To a person everyone was immediately supportive and understood. What a bounty to have friends like this, who know me, and know my deep sense of commitment to my family. They would have done the same I appreciated.
Little did I know that that this choice was also a choice to nurture myself as well as Susan.
The details of the week and those that have followed, which have included complications with fluid buildups and resolution and further healing, are not what I want to write about. (If you want to read about First Peace check Amy Lenzo’s blogging on the First Peace site). What I want to reflect on today is what it means to yield completely to love and service, without reservation, without hesitation.
I have a very busy and complex life. It was a coincidence that Susan’s cancer came in August when my schedule is the most open. But the week I would have been at First Peace, and those following had been the beginning of a return of The Grove’s work. If our situation is a reflection of the larger work world, organizations are no longer paralyzed by the shock of the economic meltdown. Things have changed, especially in the trust, risk, and resources areas, but life goes on. There are challenges and projects that need our help, and that need my particular kind of skilled facilitation. The calls are coming in again.
It would be easy to think that having to care for Susan in all of this would be impossible, that I would move to resentment and stress, but that has not been the case. I have experienced how amazingly rewarding it is to do things for someone you love. I’ve also been able to participate in the amazing response of our friends to this situation. They have come and stayed, cooked, talked, written, and showered us with their love. How ironic that in this cauldron of uncertainty, dealing with the dreaded scourge of CANCER, we have been experiencing some of the sweetest and most moving kinds of love.
Because I couldn’t over prepare for work situations, I went into them with my heart wide open. I’ve had the chance to directly experiencing the power of intention – of actually holding people in the spirit of love. Now this isn’t the way business people talk, and I don’t need to use those words to practice this, but it is the word that is appropriate, for by love I mean total acceptance and compassion. I mean listening to people with the care that I have been listening to Susan as she asks for things, describes her pain, struggles with denial and clarity.
This listening has spilled over into my other work. I’m appreciating that everyone I meet during the day has struggles. Everyone is dealing with some sort of healing.
During the week of First Peace I opened to my own ceremonies of renewal. I began each day out in my garden, walking my little Medicine Wheel and inviting in the energy and spirit of each of the eight directions. I’d end in the middle holding those on the desert in light, and imagining the energy that they were building in their community there spreading back into all their lives around the world. I held Susan, my mother and my father (now in their 90s), The Grove, and my networks and circles and clients. I imagined that we are all at some intangible level touching each other with our lives.
It turned out that several clients really needed my help the week I stayed home. They were local so I could still be home to cook and do the washing and clean-up in time for Susan and me to have evenings together.
We had time to watch a remarkable documentary on healing called The Living Matrix that one of Susan’s poet friends gave her. It featured Lynn McTaggart, who wrote The Field, a book pulling together the latest research on human beings’ relationship to electromagnetic fields. It had a segment on energy work where one uses ones hands without touching. It described the role of intention and prayer in healing and our lives. I began to work that way with Susan.
As I reflected back on my choice to stay home, I began to understand from this experience more richly what Arthur Young meant in his Theory of Process when he described the “turn” in process as that point where our consciousness interacts with matter and mechanism, and chooses to orient and move in a new direction. The circumstances don’t change, the molecular level isn’t transformed at that point, but the direction of movement shifts and that makes all the difference. In choosing to move fully toward serving the person who is my life mate, all resistance and strain fell away well. The “chores” felt more like tai chi moves or dance steps, moving toward another communication of my love. My choice was choice to show up in my day-to-day life the way I imagined I would at First Peace.
I think Susan and I will look back at this period as a transformative one for us personally, and perhaps for our immediate communities. We woke up fully to what 42 years of commitment means to each other. I woke up to the power of service and commitment propelled by love. I deepened my understanding of the role of intention in shaping our everyday lives.
My challenge now is to keep this open heart for all beings. That is my practice. I think that this will be my joy.