Chuck and I live in Red Hook, New York, a rural community in Northern Dutchess County. We are surrounded by fields and rolling hills, with nature at our door. There is another Red Hook, New York, in Brooklyn, quite a different environment. Sometimes people think we live there. Although Chuck and I have both had our city experiences, at this point in our lives we are quite contented with our rural existence. But that does not mean we are free of the issues that Red Hook, Brooklyn faces in its urban chaos of growth and change, as rustic an environment as our own in many senses. We too have our gangs, coyotes that roam the neighborhood at night, owls that swoop down and grab the unsuspecting ones. We have the unseen hovering always over us, destructive forces of nature and environmental catastrophes abound. At any moment something can happen, just as it can happen in a city of millions, in a rural Red Hook just as in an urban Red Hook. These two places with the same name represent contrast and sameness, two worlds equally offering darkness and light.
Today as I sat and meditated, gazing out into the backyard from my favorite spot, I allowed my eyes to note what was outside, when normally I would have turned my gaze inward. It felt important to take note of what which was happening in the outer world rather than refuse its insistent, distracting call.
I heard the blue jays, like warning sirens, loud and clear. I saw the squirrels leaping from tree to tree, their mouths full of large green hickory nuts that seem to have grown in abundance this year, perhaps portending a harsh winter. I breathed in the colors of the changing leaves and accepted that autumn is now in full swing. I noticed the large black crows, calling to each other as they swooped low over the house.
I noticed another bird, lighter in color yet the same size as the crows, flying across the sky, going in the opposite direction from the crows. I was struck by its struggling, flapping wings, looking more like the fluttering wings of a butterfly than a bird. I couldn’t remember when I had ever seen a bird fly like that. It did not soar as the crows had done, but seemed singularly intent, flying in great, breathless haste.
I was struck by the light and dark of the world we live in, the urban and the rural, the soaring black crows equally as intent as the flapping white bird, though their practiced, narcissistic moves appear so calculated, their stature as rulers of the sky taken for granted. I was struck by the synchronicity of this scene before my eyes and that which is happening in our own world, in our earthbound world, the grassroots Occupy Wall Street movement taking up residence in the narcissistic world of money, fledgling white birds daring to own the sky too.
I’m struck by President Obama’s fight against the dark crows of republicanism, his every effort to enact the change we all want shot down again and again, the struggling white bird constantly knocked from its perch. In our electing him as our president we set the intent to fight this fight that now is being waged, the light against the dark, the fledgling prince of the skies against the dark kings who so easily swoop over us, dismissing the kind of change that is so right for all humanity. We did indeed set the intent for this clash of worlds.
I see it as no different from setting the intent to change our personal world: to recapitulate or not, to divorce or not, to move or not, to change jobs or not, to become a spiritual being or not. The time has come to realize that we must change because even if we are not personally choosing it, change is happening.
We have to change. It’s not a choice anymore. Everything about the world, as we know it, is changing. It’s not fair, in my opinion, to argue that President Obama is not bringing the change he promised, because, as I see it, he is bringing us the greatest change we’ve probably ever seen. Simply by us, the American people, electing him as our president, we also elected to engage the universal energy of change. We set our intent to change along with him and his slogan: Change we can believe in.
So where do we go from here? The first thing to do is to embrace this change, to indeed believe in it and to accept its inevitability on a national and a personal level. We must all allow ourselves to be engaged by it, both innerly and outerly. We must find out why we live during this time of change and what it might mean to us personally.
I think we are all being asked to let go of the old world and flow into the new, but we can only do that by acknowledging that the old one no longer works for any of us. When we get so fed up with our own lives, when the way we function no longer gratifies or fulfills us, when we finally accept that we have reached a point of total despair, boredom, frustration, sadness, anger, or whatever else comes as a catalyst, we must be ready to open to new ideas and new ways of living. These are the moments of enlightenment that we all need, but the trick is to handle them properly, in balance and with pragmatism, so that we don’t just create a new wall, so we don’t just construct new structures impossible to penetrate or scale.
We must not turn from one darkness into another. We must find the light in all of us and use that to change the world. But we must all face our own darkness first, even as we ask the government to do the same. We must reveal our own deepest truths to ourselves, even as we ask others to be transparent. We must all become honest, with ourselves above all. For if we, the people who are protesting the dishonesty and the backhandedness of those we consider the culprits, the evil ones, do not face our own darkness we will not have a leg to stand on when it comes to the final battle.
I exposed my deepest self in my book, The Man in the Woods, and yet each day I am confronted with still more work to do on that deepest self, for that self offers endless opportunities to explore and discover who I really am, why I do what I do, why I conclude the things I conclude. It’s a little daunting to be so exposed, but I know it’s right in alignment with the times we live in. It’s time for all of us to face the truths of what we hide inside us, to free ourselves of that which keeps us stuck, so that we can be the change we so desire in our world. We can only be a world of truly changing beings if we each individually change ourselves too.
So the white bird fluttered away, butterfly-like in its insistence on getting where it needed to go. I didn’t see where it went, somewhere beyond the trees, but like the butterfly spirit it embraced it had set its intent and nothing was going to stop it.
As I watched it fearlessly make its way across the sky I sent my own intent to ride along with it. It was only then that I turned inward and asked myself to take up that intent, to never stop challenging myself, even though, on some days, I must force myself to confront the uncomfortable questions that arise within. I know that I must respond by facing my fears and questioning myself once again with the universal question that never seems to be fully answered: what am I so afraid of?
I’ve already learned that change is good, that each time I face down a fear I face down something that has been standing in my way. I’m as fascinated by the rural Red Hook that I live in now as I was fascinated by the urban Brooklyn I once lived in, not far from the other Red Hook. Life flows in both places and right now we’re all living in the same place. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we live, the place we’re in is the place of change.
Let’s go for it, in whatever way we can, personally first and then universally, because we are going anyway. I prefer to go openly and honestly, challenging myself to face what I do not like in others, learning from them what I must also face inside myself.