The Earthrise Project

The Earthrise Project

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The Hopi Elders

The Earthrise Project

The Project

The creation of a collective narrative to promote and accelerate the deep transformation we must bring about to heal the pressing environmental and social crises and create a future of hope and possibility for all.

The mission is to create a myth for our times: a weaving together of the many generative stories that are being spun by thinkers, mystics, artists and activists the world over into a single, rich tapestry to help portray, fortify and usher forth the emerging era.

Key Concepts

The Earthrise Project

Joseph Campbell once described myths as “energy evoking and directing images” whose task (one of four main functions) is to bring forth in individuals “a sense of grateful, affirmative awe before the mons trous Mystery that is existence”.

These images have guided humankind through many a dark night. But the hegemony of linear thinking and banishment of mythopoetic language and imagination has driven myth from its rightful place as nourishment for the soul, and left it languishing as a historical artifact, or even as another name for “untruth”.

This information already exists, but the story is being told in fragments. How much more powerful would it be to create a unified fabric with social, biological, artistic, spiritual and environmental strands, that could reach the mainstream population and promote the tidal wave of changes we so urgently need?

The Name

The Earthrise Project

“Earthrise” is the name given to a photograph of planet Earth and some of the Moon’s surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24th, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. Nature photographer Galen Rowell described it as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”.

Joseph Campbell predicted that this striking image of the blue-green dot floating in infinite space, without a single border in sight, would be the inspiration for a new, global myth for mankind. Although this has not come to be in the way he envisioned, the symbol remains as potent today as the day the photograph was taken.

“Earthrise” could speak of the need to transcend individual stories and cultural and ideological narratives, to prioritize the story of a unified Earth (with its human and non-human inhabitants), rising from the ashes of environmental destruction and social and economic polarization, to an era of collaboration, integration and collective intelligence.

The Challenge

To bring together a group of writers, poets, scientists, activists, environmentalists, artists– who are already expressing important fragments of the new story, for a series of working sessions, to help put together the outline of a guiding story.

The story would offer a vision of the world we are ushering into being, in its many different dimensions, such as:

  • Restored intimacy with Nature, in a planet recognized as wholly alive and conscious.
  • Compassionate, just and inclusive social relations and dynamics.
  • Purpose-centered economies, where experiences and right livelihood are valued over consumption.
  • Access to a dignified living for all.
  • Shift to renewable resources and wise use of them.
  • Invigorated democracies, local decision-making, decentralized governance.
  • Verdant cities that promote and facilitate healthful living.
  • Community hubs connected through interlocking networks of exchange and support.
  • So much more!

With the help of seasoned writers, the story would then be edited for clarity, precision and evocative power. The text version of the story would be seeded with hyperlinks to invite people to dig deeper in areas of personal interest (providing further education and opportunities to join existing initiatives and contribute).

The next step would be to create an audiovisual telling of the story, and a set of practices, rituals and activities to help embed the myth into daily life.

Jane Benyus, creator of Biomimicry (one of these vital strands) states that Life creates conditions conducive to life. This is an invitation to join forces in order to create the Story to feed all stories, the Life to feed all lives.

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Gary Snyder

happy new year

Questions for Christmas Eve!

Once again it’s time for mistletoe and carols and the many splendored gifts of Christmas. And, once again, the holiday will find us each exactly where we are. 

For some, it will be the occasion for a happy reunion (something we value today as never before!). For others, there will be absences to grieve, a loneliness that somehow feels vaster, or some thorny family dynamic they’ll have the opportunity to revist. The holidays are a great bundle of emotions, the most difficult of which are liable to get lost in the gift-giving frenzy. Can we make room to bring our full humanity to our festive table?

 I believe we can. I believe the beautiful story of the child born in a manger, on a bed of straw, speaks to all of us, whether or not we are Christians, or even religious. It invites us to embrace what is most vulnerable in each of us, to make a soft bed for our emotions, even the most challenging ones, especially the challenging ones, and to invite them to the feast. 

It’s with this intent that I’ve prepared these questions. They are meant to help us connect with our own deepest truths, and thus with those around us. You can answer them privately, in writing, or choose one to share at the table, with openness and curiosity.

I wish you beautiful encounters with others, with yourselves.

And a beautiful birthing of the heart.

 Merry Christmas!
Terry Patten

Flying Lessons: Living and dying through the eyes of wonder

I knew Terry Patten, beloved author, mentor and teacher for so many, and I didn’t know him.

Inspired by the clarity of his teachings, his honesty and his almost translucent heart, I reached out to him several times over the years. First an interview, then a query about this or that, proposals for spiritual initiatives of one kind or another. Finally, with much trepidation, inquiring into the possibility of his writing some words of support for my book. Each and every time, he responded with such love and fraternity that he left me speechless.

I have loved his workshops, our conversations, and I felt exhilarated at the scope and inspiration in his treasure trove of a book, “A New Republic of the Heart. An Ethos for Revolutionaries”. I have followed his social experiment with curiosity and admiration, as I embarked on my own, a continent away. So why do I say I didn’t know him?

Because a person’s deepest character truly emerges when life puts them up against a wall, an all-or-nothing situation like the terminal cancer diagnosis he faced on the day of his 70th birthday, in April of this year. 

I was not surprised that he communicated this news right away, and told all of us (the ones he shared his life with, and those of us who followed him from afar), that he was surprised and moved by this turn of events, of course, that he would do what he could to heal himself, but that he did not in any way plan to renounce his love and wonder at the immeasurable beauty of existence.

As the months wore on and the illness advanced, beyond all medical attempts to stop it, it became clear that he would remain true to his word. His reports (that were then lovingly continued by his dear friend, and former wife, Deborah) shared his reflections, the harshness of some of the treatments, and the ways in which he found his way back to love and wonder, each and every time. 

Over the last weeks, he and some of his close friends offered a series of workshops, aptly named “Brightening every darkness”, which focused on a spiritual approach to dealing with our personal and collective mortality.  

Here are some highlights from his inspired talk with Craig Hamilton: 

“Early on, reading on other people’s cancer journeys, I came across many references to “the battle against cancer”. Right away I knew that that would not be my truth, that ‘Terry ego’ battling it out. Turning it into an effort turns it into something I can succeed or fail at, it enlists egoic motivations and fears, and it creates a wrong relationship to the wonder of the whole process.”

“I have found that every moment presents a different challenge. Some moments are all about making space for the discomfort of the treatments and trying to hold that bigger, wider context, and at other times I have felt so buoyant, so graced, it almost feels like the happiest time of my life.”

“In many moments, being closer to tears has been the measure of my groundedness. They’re tears of grief and of gratitude, and they’re not even distinguishable. It’s broken hearted, but also… heartened! There’s a power there, oddly. I don’t feel collapsed in those tears, I feel more available.”

“I’ve been discovering that I am invoking, and not just casually, during many moments, the sense of dwelling in the sense that I am coinciding more completely with the totality of reality, what David Bohm called “the whole movement”. Whatever somebody seems to do, it’s not really separable from the total world process, and affirming life. (…) I want to be a source of sanity and love for other people, so that they can be too; this pulse of blessing that can replicate itself. I felt that way before my cancer diagnosis, but it’s like a sensory experience that is new now.” 

“It’s also been a voyage in my relationship to myself. I’ve gotten to meet myself, know myself and love myself in new ways. I treasure my contact with other people, for sure, but I’m treasuring myself too. And I think there’s a growing ability to be present in little things. Noticing and being present for subtleties. I walk up a hill next to my home as part of my morning routine, but during this time I have not had the strength to scamper up the hill, I’ve had to walk very slowly and stop and rest and catch my breath. And yet the practice is to really be in that foot that is taking that small step slowly, and that next foot, and this capacity to get really appreciative of the smallest things, and not craving extraordinary ‘thises’ or ‘thats’. And I don’t even have to think about it. There’s something about being with these lessons in a wordless way. I can notice the opportunities, and participate in a more creative way.”

“There are moments in which the heaviness of my symptoms or the things that are hard are more prominent, and then at times it is like accepting this amazing gift of this robust and pretty stable intuition of my real identity, non separate, full of love and happiness, and very free.”

His eyes light up as he speaks these last words, and the real Terry, the one he’s been all along, shines through with piercing force.

So perhaps none of us -Terry included- really knew what his tender soul and giant heart were capable of, until he was faced with the task of letting every mask fall away.

I feel blessed to have been a witness to this deepening, and honored beyond words to have been able to call him a friend.

“You did good, sister!”, was his generous response to my book, in one of the last emails we exchanged.

No words could suffice to speak my praise, my awe, my gratitude.

But these will have to do: “You did amazing, brother!”


Let The River of Your Imagination Flow: Playing to Create

Narrated by Marie T. Russell, from Inner Self (
R F Studio

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” The Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Many people regard the imagination with suspicion, as something that has no place in adult life. In contrast, the wisdom traditions teach that the imagination is one of the most important, most direct channels to the divine, and probably one of the oldest.

In The Evolution of Imagination, Stephen T. Asma, a specialist in the philosophy of the natural sciences, describes the imagination as “the eye of ancestral man” and considers it a human skill acquired before language. Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul, speaking from a spiritual perspective, proposes: “The key to seeing the world’s soul, and in the process wakening our own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination is illusion.”

Another scientist, the never mediocre Albert Einstein, defies convention when he asserts: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Let’s look at some of the many ways we can explore this fantastic river and see what surprises it can offer us.

Play, Dreams, Mysteries: Playing to Create

No child ever receives a box of colored crayons and says, “What’s the point? I can’t draw.” Nor does she reject a jar of modeling dough because sculpture is too complicated. If you give him a guitar, he gets sounds out of it without fuss. If you ask her to sing, she doesn’t refuse to because she doesn’t know the words or because she hasn’t got a perfect voice: she simply takes a breath, opens her mouth and belts it out!

Creativity is not just our birthright: it’s the most important expression of our nature. But something happens when we begin formal education. Suddenly, to draw a tree you are only allowed to use green and brown; the sun has to be round and smiling and to be placed in a certain corner of the sky; and if you don’t get it right you are told: “Look how your friend did it.”

New teaching methods question such judgmental approaches, but for the vast majority of adults the artists that we once were have retired to winter quarters. We live in a strange paradox: as children we are dissuaded from freely expressing our creativity in pursuit of social and educational rules, and as adults we pay fortunes to free ourselves from our blockages and learn . . . to play like children!

Rehabilitating Our Repressed Artist

Several artists have come to our aid. One such is Julia Cameron, who has created a rehabilitation program for blocked artists that is set out in her book, The Artist’s Way. Cameron does not address herself only to painters and dancers, but to every living person, because there is no one born without creativity and the desire and need to use it. Cameron’s main premise is that modern society has convinced us that creativity is the privilege of a few but that things were not always this way.

The Native American Tewa people, for example, do not have a word for “art” because they do not consider it an activity separate from others. Their closest approximation is po-wa-ha (literally, water-wind-breath), which means “the creative force that moves through all things.”

Even if we accept that the creative force exists in all of us, there are some almost universal fears that prevent us from expressing it.

If we are to recover what we have lost we must learn to detect and (gently) silence the internal critic and encourage ourselves to let go of control, trusting that a higher force (however you conceive it, perhaps as our own subconscious) will support our efforts and show us the way. If the universe is inherently and profoundly creative, how could we—who are an intrinsic part of it—not be so as well?

Julia Cameron’s Exercises To Recover Your Own Voice

Writing your morning pages

Actually, you can write them at any time of day, but the morning is best because it allows you to channel the energy of your dreams, and also because the effect continues for the rest of the day. The aim is to write three pages by hand, without stopping to correct or edit yourself, and without reading what you have written (until you finish working through the book).

Actually, you can write them at any time of day, but the morning is best because it allows you to channel the energy of your dreams, and also because the effect continues for the rest of the day. The aim is to write three pages by hand, without stopping to correct or edit yourself, and without reading what you have written (until you finish working through the book).

This stream-of-consciousness writing frees you from the mental noise that gets between you and your intuition and creativity. In the pages you will see yourself thinking, dreaming and holding a dialogue with yourself. Many pearls may turn up in the course of your writing (interesting images, insights you were not aware of, possible projects), but the point is not for these pages to be somewhere to fish for items to be used elsewhere but to give your mind permission to express itself freely. The idea is not to seek to channel the river but to learn to let it flow.

A date with the artist

Spend two hours a week on a “date” with your inner artist. This can mean visiting a museum, seeing a play, walking around in the park, going to an antique shop or just sitting down in a favorite coffee shop to read or write. The only two conditions are: go alone in order to focus on the guest of honor—the inner artist who languishes for lack of attention—and don’t use this time to do anything you are obliged to do. At the end of the date, note down how the experience went.

Write three parallel lives (that you would have liked to live)

The idea here is to think without limits. Write about yourself as a pilot, Arabian dancer, monk, carpenter or soap opera actress. Once you have done that, notice which “autobiography” brings a smile to your lips, or a glint to your eye, by merely reading it. Think of a gesture or action that you can incorporate into your day, to take you in the direction of fulfilling your longing. It can be purely symbolic.

Strive for balance

Draw a circle and divide it into six “portions,” as if it were a pie. Put the following labels on each area: work, exercise, fun, friends, romance/adventure and spirituality. Draw a point on each portion to indicate how satisfied you feel in that sector: closer to the outer edge means greater satisfaction.

Connect the dots. This drawing will show you where you feel there is something lacking.

Are there any simple ways that you can nourish neglected areas? Do this exercise every now and then and observe whether the drawing becomes more harmonious and balanced.

©2018, 2021 by Fabiana Fondevila. All Rights Reserved.
Publisher: Findhorn Press, imprint of Inner Traditions Intl. and

Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life

Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life

How can we cultivate the sacred in our daily lives – and what does that really even mean? Fabiana Fondevila gives us the low-down

by Fabiana Fondevila
Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life

Many of us have grown up to identify ‘the sacred’ with moments of prayer, religious songs or ceremonies, acts that take place on specific holy days of the week or the year. Indeed, in its origins, ‘sacred’ was what happened inside a church, and profane was everything that took place outside its portal.

But ‘sacred’ really means ‘to consecrate, to immortalise, to dedicate, to make holy, to set apart’. So the question is: What is truly holy in your life?

If you are like me, perhaps you find in Nature an infinite supply of solace, peace, enchantment and wonder. Or maybe you light up with certain kinds of music, art, architecture or landscapes. Perhaps you are moved to your core by the conversations you have with your loved ones, or stilled into silence by reading a perfect poem. Or it may be that witnessing or performing a great act of kindness is what truly brings you home.

Whatever it is that strikes a deep chord in your heart, whatever you hold in highest regard, that is your doorway into the sacred. And the way we humans have found to honour the sacred is to bless it with our love, time and attention.

How shall we go about doing this? Let us count the ways!

The ancient art of ritual

One time-honoured way is to create simple rituals to celebrate those moments that feel especially meaningful and transcendent.

What are rituals? One way to describe them is as symbolic acts that help embody transcendent truths and the emotions they evoke, such as awe, wonder, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, joy.

Rituals do not have to be pre-planned, elaborate affairs. Sometimes, a simple candle and a few words of gratitude is all it takes to turn a regular weekday dinner with family into a time of communion.

Or, perhaps, it may happen that every time you pass a certain tree, which holds for you an important memory, you might bow to it slightly, or softly touch its bark. Such a subtle act would go unnoticed to an outside observer, but for you, the act would contain a world of meaning.

So, what does a ritual practice entail? These are some of the elements:

  • An intention. It could be to celebrate, honour or mourn a milestone or transition in someone’s life or, in its everyday version, to underscore the importance of a bond, an activity, a memory, a place.
  • A symbolic gesture or act to be performed, whether alone or with others. The gesture can be accompanied by a poem to read, a song to sing, movement or dance.
  • In more formal rites, it is important to mark a clear beginning and a clear end. Everyday rituals can evolve spontaneously and begin and end on their own.
  • But ritual is certainly not the only way to honour the sacred. A more straightforward (although not necessarily easier) approach is, simply, to pay attention.

The path of attention

‘Attention is the beginning of devotion,’ said the beloved American poet, Mary Oliver, and also: ‘This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness’.

What did she mean by this? As a lifelong lover of nature, she trained herself in the art of paying attention. Her poems describe the minute movements of a bird’s wing, the subtle changes of colour as dawn breaks over the forest canopy, the startled look on a doe’s eyes as it stumbles upon the author behind some brush.

However, in her book of essays Long Life, she describes how she only really learned to pay attention with an open heart, letting what she was seeing affect her, after watching photographer Molly Malone, her partner of many years, go about her work.

This is what she said: ‘Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter… Molly instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles’.

Here is the practice:

Whenever you find yourself undertaking an action that seems essential to your life –looking after your children, tending your garden, cooking a meal for your family, attempting to write or play a song, walking under an open sky: can you strive to see it all with fresh eyes?

This is not the same as pretending one is seeing it all for the first time, but, rather, looking beyond the ordinary into the extraordinariness of those people, places and moments, reaching for those ‘heavenly invisibles’.

Can you take a moment to let it all in, savour the grace that is expressed in and through the mundane, reminding yourself that no moment is eternal, nor comes back in its exact form?

This leads us straight into our final, and perhaps most important practice for honouring the holy.

Gratitude, the art of receiving

‘It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy’, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, who graced me with the gift of a preface for my book, Where Wonder Lives.

What is gratitude? It is the perception of receiving something value that does not come entirely from us. We might consider that the good things in our lives come from God, the universe, a certain degree of good fortune. Whatever the cause, as long as we are enjoying something we did not (or could not) pay for, work for, strive to obtain, then we are in the presence of grace, and the heart’s natural response to grace is gratitude.

However, though we may feel grateful spontaneously at different times of our lives, it is likely that go we for days without feeling it or thinking about our many reasons to be grateful.

When we take the people in our lives, our good health, or the colour of the sky for granted, we miss out on the opportunity to experience the kind of joy that comes from a grateful heart.

Here is the practice:

  • Start a gratitude journal. Every night write three things you are grateful for that day. Make them different every day, and specific.
  • Write a gratitude letter. Think of a benefactor (someone who influenced your life for the good or went out of their way to help you or teach you) and spell out your gratitude in a letter. If possible, read it to them looking at their eyes.
  • Practice ‘gratitude by omission’. Think of the many painful or bothersome things that could be happening right now and are not. For example: I could have a headache, I could be angry at someone, I could have just lost my job.
  • Give thanks for the little things, with as much feeling as you can muster. Don’t take for granted that server that remembered to bring you the ice your ordered, thank them with your eyes, your smile, your heart.

Paying attention, creating rituals, and practising gratitude are just a few practices that can help us keep the sacred up front and centre in our lives, where it belongs. May they be a source of sustenance in your life, and an expression of your deepest, wildest, and most abiding nature.

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Awe as road to ecstasy

Are otherworldly sunsets a prerequisite to experiencing wonder and awe? Do we need to see the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal for our jaw to drop open and the hairs on the back of our arms to stand up? I think not.

What is awe? This important but long forgotten emotion has come into focus recently, mainly thanks to the research undertaken by Dacher Keltner (and others) at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California. They have defined awe as “the perception of something so vast (in size, number, dimension, quality) that it challenges our understanding of the world” and forces us to reframe our thinking. In other words, what we are witnessing, when in a state of awe, does not fit into our pre-existing lens, and so we need to reach for a larger frame of reference.

That is what our body seems to be doing when it responds to awe by taking in a deep breath, holding it for a moment, expanding our chests and our irises, and—for as long as the feeling lasts—inhabiting some kind of timeless present.

Awe and wonder are identical in all but one respect. Wonder arises in the face of something mysterious and overpowering but with a positive tint: a magnificent nature scene (the night sky, a waterfall, a mountain), a rapturous symphony, an uncanny sports feat, an act of sublime kindness. Awe, on the other hand, can arise when something is frightening as well as grand: a lightning storm, an earthquake, a tsunami, a Nazi parade. Awe doesn’t have to be scary, but it can be; wonder is always a delight!

Of course, words are just words, and we can describe this feeling with a host of other terms, such as amazement, astonishment, surprise, transcendence, or even “goose bumps”! And we are always talking basically about the same experience: coming into contact with that which is larger than us, something that is, in some way, unfathomable.

Why do we feel awe?

Studies have found that awe and wonder lead people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others (all of which are necessary for living in community). And some studies have found a specific link between awe and altruism: apparently, being in the presence of something vast calls forth a more humble, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others.

This is how Keltner explains it: “In the course of our evolution, we became a most social species. We defended ourselves, hunted, reproduced, raised vulnerable offspring, slept, fought, and played in social collectives. This shift to more collective living required a new balancing act between the gratification of self-interest and an orientation toward supporting the welfare of others. Experiencing awe might have helped us make this shift. Brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others”.

But the effects of awe go even beyond altruism: it has also been associated with greater discernment (being able to tell faulty arguments from sound ones), improved health (by enhancing our immune system), and greater creativity (by helping us think “outside the box”).


Aside from all of these very worthy and important repercussions, I believe awe and wonder can provide one more (and perhaps less studied) effect: it can serve as a doorway into ecstasy!

What is ecstasy? Merriam Webster defines it thus: “a state of being beyond reason and self-control”; “a state of overwhelming emotion, especially rapturous delight”; “a mystic or prophetic trance.” What is the common thread between all these different “tastes” or varieties of ecstasy? The answer lies in the etimology of the word. “Ecstasy” literally means “to stand outside oneself.”

Our ordinary state of consciousness is one of separate, autonomous individuality. This mindset is what allowed us to create the world we live in, to focus on tasks and achieve them, to respect boundaries (others and our own), and to deal with life’s myriad everyday tasks and affairs. But it has also left us feeling lonely, isolated, and even threatened by others (since the egoic mind tends to focus mainly on fulfilling its own interests and securing its own safety). And this has made for a very stressful and disconnected way of life.

Our ancestors who lived in tribal cultures tended to think of themselves as families, or even as single, multi-faceted organisms, and they had many practices (dancing, singing, drumming, ingesting visionary plants) that enhanced this perception and regularly helped bring them to a sense of oneness, not only with others in the tribe but also with the “more than human world”: other animals, the forces of Nature, life itself.

Modern civilization affords us few opportunities to catch a break from our small selves and to joyfully melt back, even for a moment, into the wholeness from which we came and into which we shall return.

Awe and wonder may well be our ticket back into that elated and embodied experience of oneness and transcendence. And we don’t even have to find or create a tribe to get there. In fact, from today’s integral perspective, the idea of a “tribe” only makes sense if we think of it encompassing all of humanity, and even all sentient beings. The evolution of consciousness has allowed us to expand our sense of kinship and to forge a sense of belonging that is truly boundless.

Unlike many religious or spiritual practices, wonder and awe do not require any particular beliefs, mantras, prayers, or special attire. We can choose to enter wonder wherever we are, whatever we are doing, by simply changing our mode of perception.

For example, one could be walking down the street, looking down at the ground, as we often do when lost in our own thoughts (and, by looking down, becoming more and more self-absorbed), and suddenly decide to shift perspective, and look up. Look up at what? At the sky, at the clouds, at the tops of buildings, at the tree canopy and the sun shining through it, at whatever happens to be displaying itself above our heads.


This simple act helps us to connect to the larger world and to gladly relinquish our “small minded” thoughts, our obsession with our own specific set of problems and circumstances. We can couple this renewed perspective with a conscious change in our breathing; for instance, taking a few slow, deep breaths, intending to take in our surroundings with every inhale and to let go of what is not immediately important with the exhale. And some may find that adding the right kind of music will directly turn this conscious, open, and expanded walk into a full-on ecstatic experience.

Another practice that can help catapult us out of our everyday identities is this: stand outside (barefoot, if weather and situation permits) and stretch your arms wide open, while raising your face to the sky. Let your mouth relax into a smile, and make sure your forehead is uncreased. Every bit of you should be in a state of delightful expansion. You can also think of a question or something you need help with, and inhale slowly as you bring your arms up to the sky, stay there for a few moments, sensing for a tingling in your upturned palms, or arms, that signals circulating energy. Then very gently bring your arms back to yourself with a sweeping motion, as if your arms were moving through sludge (if you are sensitive you may, in fact, feel the resistance of the energy you are moving), and let them come to rest on your heart. Repeat as many times as you feel the need to.

Here are a few other practices that could help you spark moments of awe and wonder into your life without too much effort:

  • Seek out novel ways to do things. If your walk always tends to take you along a regular path, challenge yourself to choose alternate paths every day. Try out new recipes, new colors to wear, new fragrances, new music; wander away from the ordinary in any way you can!
  • See the ordinary with fresh eyes. When you go out into the night, imagine you are seeing the stars for the very first time. What would you say, what would you do, if this were the case? Would you go about your evening as if nothing were happening? Would you go back inside to watch TV? Or would you linger there, marveling at the crazy, spectacular show of lights?
  • Wonder about the people around you: the passersby on the street (as you perhaps did as a child or youngster), but also those closest to you. What don’t you know about your son, your daughter, your friend, your workmate, your partner? What might you ask them to help reveal a layer of themselves that is completely new? Or, perhaps, revel in the fact that there is so much in them you will never, ever know.
  • Put on earphones, crank up that song that makes you tingle with joy and abandon, and go all out. If you can dance outside, with the grass under your feet and the stars above you, imagine you are joining others as they honor the night and each other by moving as one single, pulsating, jubilant organism.
  • Let your mind wander into unexpected places: read about the limits (or lack thereof) of outer space, of life on the ocean floor, of matter in the center of the earth, of how your continent looked when dinosaurs roamed on it, of space travel and the first ocean voyages, of the unimaginable courage and thirst for adventure that is the hallmark of human kind.
  • Remember awe-inspiring moments in your life; write about them, tell about them, relive them in your imagination.
  • Watch movies or read biographies of great feats. Let the inspiration move you to conjure up bold, boundary-pushing dreams.
  • Read or write science fiction. Let your imagination bring you a glimpse of alternate universes that may very well come true (in some form) in your own lifetime.
  • Read some of the more far-out science out there, such as epigenetics, quantum physics, astronomy, and even psychology, which are always pushing the frontier of the possible.
  • Think in terms of deep time: not your lifetime but that of the earth, the solar system, the universe. Consider the time frame of mahakalpas (Sanskrit for “eons”) employed in Buddhist cosmology. One kalpa lasts approximately 16 million years, one “mahakalpa,” 1.28 billion years.
  • Challenge your view of yourself. We are not born with a set number of talents, assets, or characteristics, nor are we the net result of our experiences. Rather, we are what we make of what we have lived and received (both by upbringing or genetic inheritance). In other words, just as the universe appears to be unbounded, so are we. Not because we can literally do or be anything we want to be, but because we are free to define ourselves by our limitless imagination, and by the immeasurable vastness of our heart.

Photos by Miriam Posz. Find her work at @miriamposz

The Brotherhood of Birds


I have been, perhaps, a branch of a tree,
a bird’s shadow,
the reflection of a river…

J. L. Ortiz

Birds live in our gardens, on our balconies, in our neighborhood trees. They offer city dwellers the only opportunity to live with wild animals (even gentle creatures such as birds are technically wild, ie “not domesticated”). How many of us pass up this gift without opening it? We praise their inspired song; we envy their ability to fly; but mostly we lead our lives as if they didn’t exist, or at least as if they were ornaments – beautiful but fortuitous – part of the scenery.

Other cultures are connected to the winged world in a different way. The San people, who live in the Kalahari Desert, explain it like this:

“If one day I see a bird and I recognize it, a fine thread forms between us. If I go out tomorrow and I recognize the same bird, the thread thickens a little. Every time I see and I recognize the same bird the thread grows until it becomes a rope. We have ropes connecting us with all the aspects of creation, with the whole universe.”

It may seem utopian to believe we could regain that level of connection with nature when we so removed far from the green nation and move at such a frenzied pace. Today, not only do we not bond with the birds that surround us but we suppose that the birds we come across are always different individuals that randomly cross our path. The opposite is true: because they are territorial animals, birds make their life in a home area within a radius of about ten to twenty meters. Once they identify a place and recognize its hiding places, its sources of supply and shelter, they don’t abandon it easily. Therefore, the birds we see every day are no more and no less than our neighbors. With a bit of patience and dedication we can learn to know them and even to distinguish one from another by some individual trait.

Why would we want to bond with birds? For our ancestors these animals were allies in their most important task: to defend themselves against predators and to detect prey. Birds alerted them to the presence of both with their movements and sounds, and thus rendered humans an indispensable service. Today, we no longer need them to survive, but if you can learn what professional tracker Jon Young called  “the deep language of the birds” (in What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World), your world will acquire unsuspected wonders. What does he mean by “deep language”? He is talking about a species-to-species communication, full of information encoded in vocalizations and bodily gestures, that is practiced by the creatures that surround us.

Young is an enthusiastic promoter of the idea of diving into nature in order to rediscover the native who lives in the heart of even the most entrenched city dweller. He has initiated a great many people in this art and in so doing has  helped to give confidence and a sense of belonging to at-risk adolescents and members of other vulnerable groups, through transformative experiences in nature.

Young’s first piece of advice for learning to re-establish the bond is simple: choose a “sit spot” close to home. It can be a bench in a square or a chair on your balcony or terrace, or in your garden. You should sit there every day for at least ten minutes, notebook in hand, to observe what happens. Young calls this “going out to listen to the news of the day.”

At first you may not notice anything at all. But once you learn to silence your mind, you’ll slowly start to read your environment like a musical score. But first, in order to be able to observe birds in action, instead of always catching them mid-flight, you will have to learn to develop four simple skills:

Owl vision. This consists of broadening your field of vision: widening your gaze to include the periphery; trying to capture as much visual information as you can, without moving your head or your eyes. This reassures birds and invites them to carry on with their lives as if you were not there. If you are walking, a variation is to face the other way and look over your shoulder at the bird, so it won’t notice you observing it.

Deer hearing. To sharpen your hearing, try to distinguish between sounds near and far. This will allow you to gather information about what’s going on with other birds that aren’t in your environment. You’ll also be able to make connections between events happening in different parts of the neighborhood.

Fox walk. Put your heel down first and then, gradually, the ball of your foot. This step produces a silent and unobtrusive walk, and at the same time shelters you from stepping on something potentially harmful, as your foot will “feel” the ground before it descends completely.

These three techniques will provide you with a sort of cloak of invisibility so that you can watch nature in peace. More importantly, they will generate a state of relaxation similar to that of any other contemplative practice (extra points if you discover this state before the last chapter, “The Lighthouse”). Young says that a common mistake made by people when they start bird watching is trying to be “stealthy”. Stealth alerts a bird to your presence because it is the attitude of a predator; what you seek is not stealth, but a state of inner peace and silence.

In any expedition to observe nature it helps to visualize two circles: one representing the circle of your perception, and the other the disruption caused by our presence. The idea is to enlarge the first circle as much as possible, and shrink the second in order to achieve the perfect sweet spot which enables you to watch wildlife unobtrusively.

In his book Young talks about the experience of a young man from a slum of New York who took his course as part of a social program. At the end of the first ten-minute observation period, the boy had not written down a single event. “Nothing happened,” he said, laconic and bored. On the second day, he wrote in his notebook that “a bird flew past me to my right.” After a week, he was already able to distinguish the thrush from the great kiskadee and to record that the one had stolen food from the other a few meters from his bench, while the parrots cackled excitedly in the branches of a eucalyptus. This small transformation bears witness to the fact that when we pay attention, the world expands; it becomes populated with beings, teeming with life. By applying these practices, Young says, “Birds become barometers for our awareness of the inner and outer landscape”.

They also produce another unexpected result: the child within you is suddenly revived, as if invited to play after years of confinement. Who doesn’t dream of being an explorer and going out to discover the secrets of the universe; more so when those secrets fly past us in front of our noses?

Let us see what we can learn from the winged kingdom, without the need for books or binoculars, through the sheer force of listening and curiosity.

Why they sing

There are five types of sounds that we can learn to recognize:

Song. This is by far the most studied – and enjoyed – of all bird sound. It differs from the call by its duration and complexity. Each bird has a basic “repertoire” of songs and calls, but this includes many variations according to the time of day, as we shall see.

Companion call. This is the sound birds use to communicate with each other and to announce to their peers their location or where to find tasty snacks. It is very recognizable in the great kiskadee: a high-pitched whistle that alerts the whole neighborhood (as well as its addressee). Subtlety is not one of the attributes of this species.

Juvenile begging. This is the hunger cry of the chicks. It is emitted with an open beak in the nest or when running behind a parent as the chick takes its first steps. You hear it mainly in spring, in the breeding season, and it is not necessary to train your ear much to recognize it. It is so clear that it awakens maternal instincts even in non-feathered animals.

Aggression. This is emitted especially by the males, in reaction to territorial threats. Often it accompanies a ritual display that seeks to dissuade an intruder or to mark territory rather than develop into a physical conflict. Birds, both male and female, are renowned for the displays they make to protect their nests, sometimes to warn off predators several times bigger than themselves.

Cry of alarm. There are different cries for different occasions. Some species have a specific alarm for terrestrial dangers and another for aerial threats. The click that thrushes make when a human intruder gets too close to a nest also belongs in this category.

In order to be able to recognize these different sounds it is necessary to first learn to discern the “baseline” of each species: its habitual behavior when all is calm and life is normal. Once you have learnt to distinguish this, it is easier to detect when something is happening that deserves your attention.

A good opportunity to observe that baseline is when birds are eating. You can take advantage of that moment to study their body language and sounds, so that you can contrast them with other behaviors when they appear.

The mystery of birdsong

Birdsong is a fascinating and mysterious form of behavior. We may ask: why do they sing? After all, singing is an activity that requires a lot of energy and can attract the attention of predators. In principle, there are two main reasons on which ornithologists agree: to defend territory and to attract potential mates. For the male, singing with vigor and dexterity is a way of showing off his attributes and getting females to listen to him.

But there is another way of looking at this, proposed by professor of Music and Philosophy David Rothenberg. In his book Why Birds Sing, Rothenberg accepts the reasons given by science, but allows himself to speculate about a third option. He says:

“Why do birds sing? For the same reasons we sing – because we can. Because we love to inhabit the pure realm of sound. Because we must sing – it’s the way we have been designed to tap into the pure shapes of sound. We celebrate this ability in our greatest tasks, defining ourselves, defending our places, calling out to the ones we love. But form remains far more than function”.

When he speaks of “form”, Rothenberg refers to the almost implausible elaboration and ornamentation of some songs. It is difficult to imagine why the lyrebird of Australia needs to perfectly imitate dozens of sounds (of other birds, of nature and also of elements of civilization such as flutes, cameras, car alarms and chainsaws) in order to be considered a fit mate by some exquisite female.

It is not only songs that seem to overcome utilitarian arguments: there is also the sense of aesthetics of the bowerbird of Australia and New Guinea, which color their nests with objects they find on the forest floor; and the choreographic talent of birds of paradise, found in the same corner of the world, which perform dance steps that could have inspired Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.

Could it be that some birds just enjoy singing, dancing, flying and displaying their beauty and their gifts? Let’s make room for that possibility in the infinite mystery of the world.

Nevertheless, it must be said, courtship songs are the most striking. In almost all species it is the males that sing (except in the tropics, where both members of the pair sing in duet, and among Argentine ovenbirds). The most spectacular displays occur in spring: first for sexual conquest and then to mark territory.

Songbirds are blessed with a syrinx (avian version of the larynx), an organ located where the trachea divides into the bronchial tubes. Each side of the syrinx produces independent sounds, allowing a bird to emit two different tones at the same time. Some birds can even sing ascending and descending notes simultaneously. One species, the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) can sing more notes than there are on a piano in a tenth of a second.

Although each species has a “base song”, when a colony is isolated from the rest by some geographical accident its members may end up developing their own “dialect” which they then pass on to their off-spring. That is why birds of the same species can intone different melodies. Can we sensitize our hearing enough to hear these variations?

On YouTube there are many recordings of songs and sounds of each species. Listening to them is a way of training your ear to recognize those which live in your vicinity. You have probably heard them thousands of times, but without relating the bird to the song.

Here are some birds with well-defined songs, which you might listen out for depending where you are in the world: rufous-collared sparrow, sparrow, thrush, great kiskadee, song thrush, blackbird, skylark.

Excerpt from Where Wonder Lives. Practices for Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life.

The Renewing Power of Ritual

The Renewing Power of Ritual

The Renewing Power of Ritual

2020 is finally coming to an end. If this were any other year, it might find us booking flights to spend the holidays with our loved ones, exploring recipes, choosing presents, decorating our homes and pondering worthy New Year’s resolutions. But this isn’t any other year. This is the year that has shaken us to our core as individuals, as families, as communities, as a species.

Most of us will not be able to gather with our loved ones. Many of us are grieving fresh and devastating losses. It has been a time of great uncertainty, which will not magically end with the passing of the year. In this context, it may be tempting to ask if celebrating even makes sense at all.

As a first response, we might recall a story told by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The Jewish writer once shared how, while living as a prisoner in Auschwitz, he watched a fellow prisoner trade his daily ration of bread for some simple materials with which to piece together a makeshift menorah. Astonished at the sacrifice this man was making to observe the holidays, Wiesel asked the man, “Hanukkah in Auschwitz?” The man replied, “Especially in Auschwitz.”

What did Wiesel mean? Why was honoring a religious holiday so important in a place where everything that was familiar and sacred had been taken away? Precisely for that reason. When the usual scaffolding of our lives has been dismantled, when the comforting routines that sustain us have all but disappeared, then ritual and ceremony become vital nourishment, perhaps as never before.

What are rituals? There are as many definitions as scholars who study them and people who perform them. I can humbly offer my own: A ritual is an embodied symbolic act through which we render visible the invisible values, emotions, and insights that are most essential to us. For example, transcendent emotions such as love, awe, grief, gratitude, compassion, longing, forgiveness; values such as courage, kindness, humility, justice; the memory of those no longer with us; the lessons of our forefathers that we want to keep alive; our personal and collective milestones.

By embodying those inner realities and bringing them out into the world, in symbolic form, we give them a proper place in our lives, we allow ourselves to experience the emotions they evoke in us, and we share them with our communities

More specifically, here are some of the functions of ritual and ceremony in our lives:

  • To create or strengthen bonds between people.
  • To serve as reassurance and stability during a crisis.
  • To forge a bridge between the past and the present and recall the elements of the founding myth.
  • To distinguish kairos (soul time) from chronos (calendar time).
  • To help heal body and soul.
  • To recognize and usher in changes (rites of passage) in age, stage, and life cycles, while at the same time keeping participants connected to what is deep and unchanging.
  • To consecrate new statuses, roles, and skills.
  • To help us say goodbye.
  • To engage in a form of adult play, with a serious purpose and meaning.
  • To honor the sacred at the heart of everyday life.

We often associate ritual with time-honored traditions that are passed down across the generations. While it’s true that repeated gestures, symbols, and songs can be powerful and reassuring, we are beginning to understand that created or improvised rituals can be just as effective, and perhaps even more genuine, as they are adapted to the needs and sensibilities of those who perform them.

In fact, as scholars like Ronald Grimes and Sabina Magliocco point out, in the face of the growing secularization of Western societies (which has left us with a reduced repertoire of rituals), and the commercialization and appropriation of ritual occasions (which has impoverished those that remain), new rituals are emerging all around us to fill the gap. These newly minted rituals respond to the needs of current generations: They celebrate women’s autonomy and empowerment, protest racial discrimination, redefine families, redesign our ways of facing death. Most importantly, they help to usher forth social transformation.

The Renewing Power of Ritual

Author Esther Perel tells of her experiences attending Burning Man, one such current day collective ritual. “[It] provided me with an immersive, secular ritual of remembrance I’d never known was possible. By day seven, the once empty temple formed a living memorial. In pictures, poems, objects, artwork, and other shreds of lives gone, thousands of people responded to their individual loss and our collective impermanence. I saw the entire drama of human experience laid bare and then burned away.”

All along in our private lives we have been enacting ceremonies, even though we might not have thought to call them by that name: Friday night dinners, book clubs, gratitude circles, contemplative walks, Crossfit, Soul Cycle and other fitness trends that have communal aspects. All of these spontaneous ritual gatherings have served somewhat the same purpose as ancient traditions (minus the religious underpinnings): they forge bonds, make friends out of strangers, help us quiet down and come back to ourselves, and instill a sense of connection and meaning — without preordained roles, scripts, or authority figures.

In his book The Power of Ritual, Casper Ter Kuile emphasizes the way such spontaneous rituals can help satisfy our deep and abiding need for community and belonging. But in order to get the full benefit from these activities, we must be intentional about them. And this brings us to one of the most important aspects of any ritual: intention. Whatever activity we are undertaking, we must stop and ask ourselves: What does this mean for me? What do I want it to mean? What do I wish to honor, celebrate, grieve, remember? Intention plus our full attention turns any activity that we deem worthy into a life-enhancing, sacred act.

Some authors also underscore the importance of repetition. Although repetition does help inscribe an act into our daily or weekly routine, proclaiming its importance, rituals can also be powerful as a one-time only event.

Lastly, the form and exact design of a ritual is, perhaps, the least important. In the chapter entitled “The Fire,” in my book Where Wonder Lives, I tell a short Hasidic tale about a village where a rabbi lived. Every time there was a hardship, the village people followed the rabbi to a certain tree in the forest and performed a certain ceremony. Many hard times ensued, and generation after generation disappeared. Finally, there came a time when the young people went out into the forest to perform the rite. But they couldn’t find the tree nor remember the songs or prayers. So they picked a tree, and they said the few words they remembered, the bits of song they could still sing, and that was enough.

So here we are, rounding the bend of this year, facing our own collective rite of passage. How are we to say goodbye to a year that has challenged our very ways of understanding the world, our role in it, and the future we want to build?

We can resort to ritual creativity, and find our own way to honor what each of us has learned as well as what we would like to carry forward into 2021. Here are some ideas:

  • If this year drove home the importance of holding close those dearest to us, could we, perhaps, ritualize our intention to never again take each other for granted?
  • If we are awed and moved by how Nature flourished during our absence these past months, could we commit ourselves to being better stewards by planting a tree, feeding the birds in our yard, cleaning up a nearby park, deciding on a weekly day off from driving?
  • If we learned that distance is no barrier when there is genuine connection, can we organize a virtual festivity for the ages, remembering that, as Mary Oliver writes in her poem “The Messenger,” “all the ingredients are here”?

At first, we might feel awkward creating a ritual from scratch. But we can trust the ritual intelligence that inspired our ancestors (and that we have inherited, whether we know it or not), decide what it is we want to consecrate (make sacred) with our time and attention, and find the words and the gestures that feel natural for us. Some will work, some will need some fine tuning, but if they ring true to our hearts, we will be stepping on hallowed ground.

To nudge us along, here again is Mary Oliver, with her timeless advice: “Let me / keep my mind on what matters, / which is my work, // which is mostly standing still and learning to be / astonished.”

How will you give voice to your astonishment as you bid farewell to this year and welcome the next?

What images or symbols will you choose to honor it?

What will you make sacred today, and how?


Humility; the Virtue of Growing Downwards

Miriam Pösz

It isn’t the illness I want to write about but rather what it has made me realize about myself (and being human to boot).

For a while now I have been struggling with a health issue. It is not a major one, or a life-threatening one, but it spins my metabolism into a kind of out-of-control washing machine that seems intent on hurling itself into space. It is not comfortable, to say the least.

It isn’t the illness I want to write about but rather what it has made me realize about myself (and being human to boot). I am a firm believer in alternative medicine and have hardly taken more than an aspirin in my life so, naturally, my first response was to turn to homeopathy. The doctors I consulted were honest enough: mine is not a disorder that responds quickly or easily to homeopathic treatment. It was worth a try, though, and try I did. For months, one remedy followed another. With each one I convinced myself that I had found my very own fountain of healing, until the next episode of heart fluttering and racing breath told me otherwise. I am aware of my part in this, and I did try to slow down (as much as my temperament allowed). I also resumed meditating.

My body stubbornly refused to take note of my efforts. Frustration is too light a word for the way this made me feel.

It is a small and unassuming word, “a mistaken and underestimated virtue,” I remembered myself saying; Humility.

Finally, needing to put my life back on track, I resorted to the conventional medication that had been waiting for me all along. I did not want to take it on principle, because I know that it doesn’t so much cure the disease as suppress the symptoms, and also because I believe in providing the means for the body to heal itself. But there it was; I needed help.

It felt like failure. Like giving up. Like an unforgivable frailty. Then, seemingly out of nowhere I remembered a word, one about which I had been teaching a while back in one of my workshops. It is a small and unassuming word, “a mistaken and underestimated virtue,” I remembered myself saying; Humility. Often confused with weakness and even with humiliation, humility is a noble word that shares its root with the name of our species, with humor, and most importantly, with humus, or soil. In other words, it asks that we not raise ourselves too mightily off the ground, lest we tumble and fall; that we think not less of ourselves but less about ourselves. It is the exact opposite of hubris, extreme pride or self-confidence, and I needed a great big dose of it.

Of course, I understand this in theory, and I greatly admire the few truly humble individuals I know. But when it came to my body’s betrayal, all I could do was roar.

True healing, if and when it comes, will involve an open embrace of our strengths and limitations. It will also involve a good deal of surrender – to other people’s help, to whatever good medicine we can find, to what life itself is really asking of us.

As the insanity of this way of thinking dawned on me, I began to think of all the people I know who are undergoing diseases far worse than mine. Perhaps they too halted at this station of heady omnipotence before reaching the other inevitable destination: vulnerability, fright, helplessness. Because, as much as life affords us chances to feel strong and powerful, at some point it also stops us in our tracks. Perhaps there is a bigger lesson here, I thought. Am I not always trying to separate genuine spirituality from wishful thinking? Haven’t I always thought that maturity hinges on the seasoned acceptance of “what is?” What was this crazy battle I was fighting?

To be clear, I am not saying anyone should keep from trying everything in his or her power to get well. I am saying that anger, frustration and, yes, hurt pride are not the best path to healing. True healing, if and when it comes, will involve an open embrace of our strengths and limitations. It will also involve a good deal of surrender – to other people’s help, to whatever good medicine we can find, to what life itself is really asking of us. Are we meant to be invincible and relentless? Or are we meant to be tender, compassionate with ourselves and others, just another fragile link in this beautiful chain of earthlings?

I may or may not succeed in fully restoring my health but I think I am beginning to restore my soul. If I can keep close to the ground, remembering my intimate kinship with worms, beetles and daffodils, I think I’ll be okay.

Originally published in