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Welcome to H.O.P.E.

…where you find out who you really are… where we know that at the core of our being all humans strive to be healthy and whole—a process called healing; all of us are persons; and because no two of us are alike, we are all exceptions to each other…. Moreover, an intense, indomitable curiosity about life, health, and our spirituality has brought us to see that we are alive because the whole marvelous Universe is alive, and It’s not in the business of repeating Itself… we are, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin told Jean Houston just before he died in 1955, “spiritual beings immersed in the human condition!”

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Kindness

Kindness has been with me for most of my life, growing in my appreciation of its healthy power all that time, and especially of late. Kindness came forward with a bang when I learned that Anne Herbert, writer and peace activist from Marin County, California, had scribbled this on a paper napkin in 1982: “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” I first met this wise piece of advice very soon after it first appeared, five years before the first H.O.P.E. Group meeting. It caused a tingle then, and the tingle reappears still, given the occasion. This is one such occasion, comprised of four parts: human stories of very different situations that all came to me within 24 hours, giving me cause to get a shiver up my spine and see how powerful kindness becomes today.

The first was learning of the assassination of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, 26 year-old US aid worker murdered by an Islamic State militant. He was known for his kindness and devotion to helping humans in Syria. The following day, the evening news contained a segment about the Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who had gone to Sierra Leone to help treat people caught by the Ebola epidemic there, became infected with Ebola, and died shorty after coming to the US for treatment. His words in an earlier TV interview came from a human whose facial expressions were those of a kind and caring Human. The third was the TV interview of Daniel Menz, a Cape Elizabeth (Maine) High School senior student, president of his class, and known for his kindness. He is kind to everyone without exception and never appears to be above any of his fellow students.
http://www.wcsh6.com/story/news/local/morning-report/2014/11/18/kind-kids-week-daniel-menz/19207265/
The fourth was an interview of the man who was Menz’ idol, Michael J. Chase: “The Kindness Guy”, author of “am I being kind: how asking one simple question can change your life… and your world”. He grew up experiencing abuse from his father, who had been abused, in turn, by his father. Early on, Michael saw that he needed to find a different way of living—a way of kindness. His searches and researches carried on through thick and thin, and finding kindness and its relationship to love rewarded him for his persistence. www.michaeljchase.com

In addition, for the past year, I have been privileged to be a member of The Star Teachings Society, a Native American community founded by a Mi’qmak Elder, David Lonebear Sanipass, who is the last Sagen (spiritual seer) of the Mi’qmak nation. He is a humble and kind man who teaches, “When we practice kindness and compassion we become resonant as a community. When we become resonant as a community our full potential as humans becomes available.” http://www.starteachings.org/about/

I have been asked if “tough love” is a form of kindness. It can be seen as a form of authoritarian behavior, which, to me carries a strong implication of exercising “power over” another human being. I cannot consider that ”kind”. However, I see all human beings “standing in the ground they cover…” you and I have each been promised these coordinates in space–time since the beginning of time 13.72 billion years ago. That perception gives me the power to respect you for being exactly who you are, knowing, too, that the same thing holds for me. If you are behaving in a harmful way, because of our equality in this manner, I can call you out for your behavior. If I do that gently and kindly, the environment is tough… and kind.

As all attacking behavior comes from early environmental abuse of any kind, then the survival “fight–or–flight” regions of the brainstem get programmed to defend—but not to be kind. The subconscious result is to attack the other in some way or another… the important thing to recognize here is that this makes a fellow human being “the other”. This separates us. In our growing appreciation of the way of the universe, there is no such thing as “separates us”. We humans, and everything else that comprise the entire universe, are “One.” All of the World’s spiritual traditions make that point and emphasize it. Whenever we make another person place or thing “the Other” we demonize it, and build barriers that we believe protect us. Simply put, they do not.

In fact, these “barriers” are the epitome and perfect expression of “evil”. When I read the Winter, 1999, issue of the quarterly journal, PARABOLA (http://www.parabola.org/), entirely devoted to Evil, my undeveloped concept of this fearful entity developed very quickly into something more meaningful. All of a sudden, I realized how the Berlin Wall could be called “Evil”. It was clear to me that the numbers on the forearm of a human taken into a Nazi death camp were exactly the same thing: the identity of the human being with those numbers was worthless and worthy only of euthanasia. This gave me the power to be able to look into the phenomenon of this political entity now called the Islamic State and see how it has earned that title, “Evil”. Their murderous brutality is only possible because they have put up a wall between themselves and their perceived enemies. The question is, “What is the role of kindness, here?”

We know that the last American murdered by them went to work for the people of that region out of pure kindness. We see that human beings everywhere are volunteering to go to the center of the Ebola epidemic out of kindness. We see in our own country that laws are being written to prevent people from showing kindness to the homeless! For me, the political struggle in our nation’s capital exists because politicians of all stripes and colors are making barriers between themselves and people who, for whatever reason they choose, can be classified as “Other”. A powerful cadre has, from the start, called our president with his brown skin, “Other”. This is more evil, and the only thing that can pull the power out of evil is kindness in the form of compassion.

My experience with compassion began with Christian traditions in my own family. It then developed further as I became aware of the Buddhist traditions that actually pointed the way to convert suffering into peace… that is all… Peace. This then implies the presence of suffering. Consider now the role of suffering in the lives of all of the perpetrators mentioned in the preceding paragraph. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles made the entire German nation suffer by effectively shunning the Germans for having been the primary cause of that devastation. The effect was to raise the walls of evil around a powerful nation in central Europe. The consequence was the arrival of the “savior” named Adolph Hitler… and you do know the rest.

The building of the Berlin Wall was another part of creating the “Other”. Only this time, it was a matter of political ideology driven by the motivations of the two superpowers, capitalists on one hand and communists on the other. It, too, was evil. Many people died trying to go from unkind restrictions on the east to kindness in the West. It did not come apart out of warfare. It crumbled because of the power of peace and the desire to come back together… an act of kindness. This phenomenon was evident in the surrenders of German troops at the end of World War II. They wanted to go to the West, because they knew how vengeful the Russians would be for the terrible suffering caused by the war in their nation. In the West, on the other hand, they knew they would be treated with kindness… as human beings!

Now let us look at the Islamic Nation and ask if the evil behavior is a consequence of suffering. For me, it is… the suffering imposed by the European nations on the different—and very remarkable—world of a remarkable panoply of relationships that had existed in what we call the Near East for hundreds of years. Such destruction of civilization causes national soul loss. If you have read my earlier blog on PTSD and soul loss, you may well ask, “Can a nation or a society suffer soul loss?” Of course it can. Does dispirited, barrier behavior—evil—result from that? Of course it does. Can compassion and kindness help a people recover their collective soul?

Compassion, together with kindness, makes it possible to draw the other’s attention to this programming behavior, and offer the opportunity for us all—the One—to explore and heal those early wounds. Compassion and kindness together make forgiveness possible. Forgiveness leads to inner peace, and the 14th Dalai Lama tells us: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. The way to happiness lies through inner peace.” And the great teacher of Tibetan Buddhist practices of compassion, Pema Chödrön, shares with “… those experiencing emotional crisis, When Pain Is the Doorway: Awakening in the Most Difficult Circumstances
http://www.soundstrue.com/store/when-pain-is-the-doorway-3166.html
provides expert guidance to help us stop, stay present, and enter into a more welcoming, spacious place of being that is our true home.”

In closing, I share with you this thought—my “Prime Directive”—“First, do no harm; second, do some good; third, benefit someone; and fourth, be kind to them.” Indeed, remember Anne Herbert’s “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” and work it at every conceivable opportunity… it is infectious.

PTSD is Soul Loss

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extremely challenging mental disorder that has reached high levels of human interest because of its frequency in combat veterans. It truly is Soul Loss… marked by nightmares, hallucinations, and behaviors destructive of self and others. In short, though, it has been with us for centuries, triggered by participating in or observing horrifying events. It is associated with changes in the brain that can be found with today’s sophisticated technologies. Its effective treatment has seriously challenged the mental health community. However, it has not been recognized as a psychospiritual condition, even though it has been recognized for centuries in indigenous nations that see its expressions as “soul wounds,” especially, “soul loss”.

Lately, though, Edward Tick, PhD, a psychologist working with veterans of all of our current wars, starting with the war in Vietnam, has written a groundbreaking book about this called, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (Quest, 2005). He is Founding Director of Soldier’s Heart, “(whose) goal is to prepare families and communities in supporting and healing veterans—both those returning from current wars and those who fought in past wars.” . I have read the book and find myself in deep sympathy with, and appreciation of, his thesis that PTSD is a misnomer for what is really soul loss. Meet Dr. Tick at http://www.soldiersheart.net/index.shtml.

I use that word, “soul” deliberately, knowing that it is commonly confused with “spirit”. We, in the West, have the confusion because the philosophers of the 17th century Age of Reason decided that the soul’s existence could not be scientifically proven, and, for that reason, the soul does not exist. Prior to that time, we tended to believe that we were made a four–part being comprised of body, mind, soul, and spirit. It is easy to to see an ascending order to this rising from the body to the spirit. In this order, the soul can be seen as the bridge between the material body–mind and the immaterial spirit.

If we look at our languages around the world, the word for spirit is usually the same word for “air” or “breath”. In these languages, the soul, on the other hand, carries with it an image of individuality and personality. Yes, it is difficult to get your hands on it, but we do have a common picture that the soul comes here to occupy a human form and then when that form dies, the soul passes on to inhabit another form. Indeed, that image is common to the definition of soul in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Of note, before the Age of Reason took our soul away, all of the Abrahamic religions believed in reincarnation. Then reason destroyed it. It appears that this belief is reestablishing itself and our collective soul is coming home.

The Quaker educator and philosopher, Parker J Palmer, appreciates the existence of the soul. He gives it the qualities of fragility and shyness. These are consistent with the beliefs of indigenous people that say that it is easy to wound the soul—fragmenting it with an injury as simple as a sprained ankle. In almost all indigenous societies, there are human beings who have talents for being able to retrieve wounded soul fragments that humans leave scattered on their path of life as they move through it. Such a specialist is called a shaman. We shall look at shamanism and the shaman in the next blog.

As a key feature of PTSD is terror, I now share with you a terrifying experience that took place when I was not quite four years old and that held me in its grip for 50 years. My parents had rented a cabin on the western shore of Great Peconic Bay out on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. A simple wooden staircase led down to the beach where there was a small dock, to the right of which was a clam flat where I used to go barefoot at low tide and talk with the clammers and watch them dig the big clams with their three–pronged rakes, fully enjoying the feel of the mud squishing up between my toes. One day I saw a garden rake with its many short tines leaning up against the cabin and decided I could go dig clams with it. I remember well the argument between a voice on my right shoulder that knew the rake was the wrong kind and a voice on my left shoulder that encouraged me to use it to dig clams. Listening to the one on my left, I picked up the rake, went down the stairs and out into the bay… to the left of the dock, and not the least aware that it was high tide!

Raking busily, all I could get were round rocks… not round clams. When the water got over my head I could see what I was raking, and knew that the clams just had to be a little farther out. I was only four years out of my mother’s womb, so I was not afraid of water. Something got my attention. I looked up and saw ripples in the water over my head and that was the last I remembered for 50 years! My mother filled me in with the details about her sister seeing me disappearing under the water and running into the bay in her “best summer dress,” (thus compounding the trauma of what happened next, namely, my “rescue from drowning,” in my mother’s words). I remembered nothing of that, but my mother reminded me of it quite often, telling me that that was the reason I would never go into the water above my knees. Yes, I had an abject fear of going into deep water for at least the next five years. My failure here caused me to feel shame every time my fear of the water was brought to my attention. I also used to tense up in the presence of my mother’s sister, she who “rescued me from drowning.”

50 years after the clam–digging episode I received a brochure announcing a weekend workshop called “The Use of Metaphors in Healing the Wounded Child Within.” It was put on by a PhD psychotherapist from New Zealand named David Groves. I signed up for this, and went down to Massachusetts to be a part of it, singing, as I drove, the Grateful Dead song, Ripple, for which I had a passion (strangely enough)! In the workshop, David explained his use of the word “metaphor” for use in healing childhood wounds… it was a sign or symbol of the last thing remembered before,during, and after the trauma. He asked if anyone had such a situation, and my hand went straight up. He asked me to tell the story, and when I finished, he asked me, “What to the ripples know about what happens next?” I experienced the trauma completely! Getting grabbed from behind by an unknown force (my aunt) evoked total terror. My answer to him was, “Splash!” His response was to ask, “And what does “Splash” know about what happened next?” Virtually overwhelmed by the terror, I saw and felt my aunt spinning me around in midair, giving me a good shake, and screaming at me, “You stupid little boy!” Then she took me under her arm and carried me, terrified, up those stairs to confront my angry, deeply frightened mother…

The instant this incident replayed itself, I felt the greatest compassion for my aunt and for myself. Immediately I experienced a deep understanding of why it was that I was frequently given to judge myself for being stupid over the next 50 years. It was such a powerful conditioning then, that I still struggle with my tendency to judge myself and others for being “stupid”. There was the trauma, and there is the disorder. The trauma had caused a significant fragment of my soul to get out and stay under the waters of Great Peconic Bay for every one of those 50 years. The fact that I went through the trauma to fetch that soul fragment is, to me, a soul recovery. If there was a shaman involved, it was David Grove, the skilled psychotherapist. I have been given great insight into the nature of soul loss, and the two ways of recovering that loss: reliving the trauma in the presence of a compassionate mental health professional—recovering—the “lost” soul fragment; or eliciting the help of a shaman—retrieving—the soul fragment. Either way, bringing the fragment home again is what it means to heal—to become whole.

Are H.O.P.E. Groups “therapy” groups?

Are H.O.P.E. Groups “therapy” groups? This is a question that has come up in various ways over time, and my answer has always been, “Not in the conventional ways of looking at ‘therapy’ which implies the treatment of a disease condition by a professional, especially when one considers that the ancient Greco-Roman meaning of the word is ‘healing’ or ‘curing'”. [click to continue…]

When is a H.O.P.E. Group not a H.O.P.E. Group?

When is a HOPE Group not a HOPE Group?

Simply put: when it is not a safe place in which to share your story and your concerns… to be who you really are. Has this ever happened? Sadly, yes, but rarely… to the best of my knowledge, less than ten times in a total of over 6000 H.O.P.E. Group meetings. And because it has happened, I publish this blog post to help you recognize danger and how to respond to it. I am very healthy because of H.O.P.E. and H.O.P.E. Groups, as are hundreds of other human beings, and it is my desire to share this rich experience with you. [click to continue…]

Our 17th Century Soul Loss: Metamorphosis 1

Metamorphosis-blog

Here, in the first of two blogs on metamorphosis, I explore the nature of our collective soul loss resulting from the thoughts and actions of the philosophers of the 17th century Age of Reason. It resulted in a spiritual disconnect that delayed our spiritual evolution—a metamorphosis—by four hundred years… and we are today recovering from our soul loss. [click to continue…]

Recovering Our Soul: Metamorphosis 2

Metamorphosis-blog

In Metamorphosis 1, I introduced you to parallels between the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly and the metamorphosis of the human ego into the soul… a great change going on as we speak. We are, indeed, in the process of recovering our soul. We are encasing ourselves in a chrysalis of fear while we disassemble old ego-based thought forms and reassemble them in new, soul–based, thought forms… recovering our soul(s) individually and collectively. I would like to further compare caterpillar and human, introducing you to other human beings with similar insight. I am not about to claim this insight as something uniquely mine, and I am of a mind to be aware that this metamorphosis is something that is fundamental to our conscious evolution. [click to continue…]

Sombrero Galaxy

Sombrero Galaxy


and aren’t you going to be surprised when you find out what that “something” is that I know about you that you never knew I knew!

Here it is: You and I have been promised our lives since the beginning of time! [click to continue…]

The beacon that lights our way home…

I love the Portland Head Light. Back in ’87 as I was getting going on this, I had met Bernie Siegel and had worked with him in his Psychology of Illness and Art of Healing workshops. I told him that we’d figured out a working phrase for the acronym, H.O.P.E. (He’d tried, but couldn’t figure it out.) He threw me a backhanded compliment, and in response to my request for a slogan, he replied, “Hope is a beacon that lights the way from your probabilities to your possibilities.” I wasn’t fully comfortable with that one, and I brought it up at a planning meeting that September, where it got modified to, “Hope is a beacon that lights the way through your problems to your possibilities.” Is there a place for that slogan somewhere on the Home page? [click to continue…]