Dreaming In Circles

Red Moon

Photo by Margy Dowzer

It is said that if a group of people sleep arranged in a circle—heads at the center and feet out like spokes—they create a dream circle. Two or more people in the group may have the same dream at the same time. I tried this once with a group of friends, but I must confess, it didn’t really work for me. Mostly I just had a rather poor night’s sleep.

But I like the metaphor. The word dream is used to describe both our strange nighttime adventures and also our waking hopes and visions for our lives. For me, dreaming in circles is about sharing those waking dreams, entering into the magic that can happen when we join our visions together. We talk and we listen. We plan and we act. We are energized by each other, and we grow strong and bold. When we dream in circles, anything is possible. Margaret Mead has said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And here’s the important thing. When we dream in circles, the circle itself becomes the greatest magic of all. We wake up to the reality of our profound interconnection with all people and all beings. The circle is a symbol of this interconnection between people. In a circle, every person is linked to every other. Every person is equally valued and appreciated. Human beings cannot thrive as random individual strangers in a crowd; we are connected to one another at the deepest level, and we can only find wholeness through loving and mutual relationships. By sharing our dreams, we can come home to a community of love.

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The Apple Tree

Apple Tree summer DSC05635There is an old apple tree that I love to visit. It lives on a small bluff by the bay in South Freeport, in Winslow Park. I first met this tree when we went camping there a few summers ago, and now we always try to get that campsite near the apple tree. The tree is old and it is hollow. Or, as I like to say, it has an open heart. If I contort my body just a little, I can squeeze into the inside of it.

Horseshoe in Tree DSC03192The tree has a history with human beings. There is a horseshoe embedded in the trunk, from some bygone caretaker. A horseshoe for luck.We go back in the autumn to gather the apples that fall around her. I have never seen anyone else collect them, and they make really wonderful applesauce. I have taken pictures of the tree in all seasons.

Henry David Thoreau wrote about becoming acquainted with particular trees in the woods where he built his hut at Walden Pond. There is something wonderful and profound about going deeper with a tree. I feel nurtured by my connection with the old apple tree.

Apples DSC06174Such connections can be created with any living being. The earth is so big and so full of life, that it would be impossible to know every species of flower or fruit or animal or bird. But something comes alive in us when we open our awareness to one other species, or to one special place, a place that becomes important because we are paying attention there. Because we are finite human beings, it is helpful to pay attention to the small things, in order to come to know the ultimate things.

If we seek to restore our relationship with the earth and all of nature, one practice to begin it is to restore our relationship with one species or one place. Thoreau became well acquainted with the few acres around his tiny hut at Walden Pond. We might become acquainted with the yard around our house, if we have a yard. Or if we live in an apartment, we might choose a spot in a city park, or a trail in a nearby woods, a beautiful tree, or a big rock.

What it takes is some time and attention. Sitting underneath the branches of my apple tree, gazing out at the water, sometimes I imagine what the apple tree has seen in its life. Sometimes I imagine being a tree, with roots in the ground, and branches swaying with the breeze. One year, the leaves on the seaward side were all blackened from the salt spray of a big nor’easter. What must it be like to bend into all kinds of weather? And of course, with trees, it is always good to lean up against them, and just be quiet.

Apple Tree Photos by Margy Dowzer. Horseshoe Photo by me.

Will the Real God Please Stand Up

If I say the word God, people run away.
They’ve been frightened–sat on ’till the spirit cried ‘uncle.’
Tom Barrett

Steeple DSC01264Spirituality is our experience of the larger reality of which we are a part, the Mystery that connects and upholds all life. Many people call that Mystery God. But the word God is a challenging one. Some people have a hard time with it. A few may stop listening immediately. Others may call to mind particular beliefs and images from their own religious community that are difficult for them. Some may be very clear what it means to them, and very assured that everyone else is wrong about it. Some may be moved with emotion, wounded by the betrayals of those who used that word in hurtful ways. Others may feel a sense of confusion, perhaps tinged with longing. The word is powerful and charged with conflict. I want to wrestle with that word.

When I was growing up, there was a TV game show called, “To Tell the Truth.” Three contestants each claimed to be the same person. The first would say, “My name is Jane Doe.” The second would say, “My name is Jane Doe.” The third would also claim to be Jane Doe. A celebrity panel tried to guess which one was telling the truth. At the end, we all learned the truth when the game show host commanded: “Will the real Jane Doe please stand up!”

Don’t we wish sometimes that there were a game show host to shout—“Will the real God please stand up?” If only it wasn’t so confounding and mysterious! We know that this is not merely a debate about ideas. People fight wars and hurt each other over the issue of whose God is the real God. And, if God is real, others ask, why is there so much trouble in the world? Why aren’t our prayers answered when we are suffering? Why doesn’t the real God just show up, make it all clear?

Wendell Berry asked that question, too, through his character Jayber Crow, who was the town barber in a fictional village called Port William, Kentucky. Jayber was very troubled by the war going on—it was the time of the Second World War—troubled by all the pain it caused. He says: “In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal Himself in power… to lay His hands on the hurt children. Why didn’t He cow our arrogance? …Why hasn’t he done it at any one of a thousand good times…?” He goes on to say:

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn’t, He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. …From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

 Berry asks how could we be human beings if God appeared in the sky and took away our ability to search, to struggle, to think for ourselves, to love? As soon as God stood up, the game would be over—the adventure of human life would lose its meaning. There would be nothing left to do.

Do You Believe in Rocks?

Beach RockThe word spirituality comes from the Latin root spirare, which means to breathe. When we breathe, we are alive. We are in relationship, physically, to the world around us, to all other breathers of air: all the human beings, all the animals and the birds, all the trees and the plants. It is first of all a very material, chemical exchange. Breathing is life shared among many beings. When we stop breathing, we die. Breathing might be called the first prayer. Spirituality is first of all about what breathes us into life, what inspires us.

But this word spirituality also comes with a lot of baggage. It has been associated with dogma and religious doctrine. It has been understood as separate from the earth and the body and our physical reality, and also declared more important than our physical reality. Some people have been repelled by the idea of spirituality because they associate it with the irrational and the supernatural, something that requires accepting beliefs that don’t make sense, that don’t fit the facts.

However, spirituality doesn’t have to carry all that baggage. In fact, it may be critical to our lives that we unpack that baggage and find a definition of spirituality that can breathe again. And here is one place to start: spirituality is not about our beliefs, but about our experience. Spirituality is our experience of the larger reality of which we are a part. Spirituality is our experience of connection—our connection to this living earth and all its creatures, our connection to other people, our connection to all that is mysterious and beautiful at the heart of life.

Spirituality is like breathing. Just as the invisible air enters our lungs and brings oxygen to each cell, so spirituality—as experience—brings the outer reality that is so much bigger than we are into the inner feeling of it. Each person’s inner experience may be different from that of their neighbor. When we emphasize experience rather than require certain beliefs, our religious communities can include spiritualities as different from each other as Pagan and Atheist, Christian and Jew. Each person can follow a path that fits their own experience of reality. We are not asked to believe in a particular spirituality, but to be open to the possibility that people’s spiritual experiences have validity, even if they are different from our own.

Now, some might ask, “How can atheists have spirituality?” If we understand spirituality as our experience of the larger reality, then atheists have spirituality when they experience, in their own meaningful way, that larger reality of which we all are a part. Perhaps that experience is mediated by science or skepticism or meditation. That’s fine. Spirituality does not require a belief in God or Goddess or heaven or hell or any of the ideas that have become associated with spirituality. It is not about belief, but about experience.

Pagan writer, Starhawk, describes this distinction between beliefs and experience in regard to her experience of the Goddess. She says:

People often ask me if I believe in the Goddess. I reply, ‘Do you believe in rocks?’ …The phrase ‘believe in’ itself implies that we cannot know the Goddess, that she is somehow intangible, incomprehensible. But we do not believe in rocks—we may see them, touch them, dig them out of our gardens, or stop small children from throwing them at each other. We know them, we connect with them. In the Craft, we do not believe in the Goddess—we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance

Starting a Blog

Autumn LeavesThis blog, Finding Our Way Home, is a journey into a more expansive understanding of spirituality—spirituality as waking up our awareness of connection—to the earth, to each other, and to the Mystery within and between all.  Please read the “about” page to learn more about why and how it is being born, and my vision for the site.

I have been pondering and preaching and working on these ideas for a long time.  I have been working with a book in mind.  But in the meantime, here is one way to share them with my wider world. Please comment, follow, discuss!