Middle Earth

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
In Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien used the term Middle-earth to describe the land where his stories took place. Situated somewhere between angelic and demonic realms, the inhabitants struggled to hold to the light. Sometimes I feel that is where we live now. Opposing forces are mobilized on all sides. All around are compelling reasons to believe that “evil” is on the rise and that “good” people are increasingly victimized by those in power. Yet holding to the light within darkness means we cannot succumb to what the prevailing belief systems would have us accept as truth. We may live in Middle Earth now, but it is just a way-station on the way to the New Earth. The challenge and balancing act is to accept and live in the present moment while also embodying a new vision for the future.

When I was in my 20s, I began to catch glimpses of this “New Earth.” Like many others of my generation, I envisioned where we were meant to evolve and how we were meant to get there. The where and the how were both Love. It sounds like a Beatles song (and it was), but it was/is so much more. “All You Need Is Love” is the oldest wisdom on Earth, handed down in every spiritual tradition for thousands of years. Compassion, loving-kindness, generosity of spirit, oneness—all names for love, for living as if there were no separation between any of us (and there isn’t, at the soul level). If “otherness” falls away, fear and suspicion also fall away. War and violence fall away. Hatred and abuse fall away. If you see every being as just like you on the inside, then how could you hurt them or turn away in aversion and rejection? If you look in another person’s (or animal’s) eyes without preconceptions or guardedness, there is only God looking back at you.

That is the vision we had so many years ago, and I still hold it in my heart. It is a dream that becomes real as we live it. Equality; respect for all ages, abilities, races, and religions; gender fluidity; shared resources and abundance; love for and protection of nature and the environment. Kindness, compassion, and gratitude as the basis of all interactions. No privileged classes served by others or elite groupings that exclude the “undeserving.” No higher and lower. No kings or presidents or top dogs. No hierarchy. All remnants of the patriarchy will fall away, to be replaced by ever-evolving circular structures that support both individual and collective creative growth and flowering. A living social agreement that changes with the always changing awareness and potential of those who are part of it. Our lives will be defined by infinite possibility and vision, not dead-ended rules and laws that only benefit those who make them.

Some may consider all this utopian fluff, not grounded in the real world. But every dream is considered unrealistic and impossible before it manifests into reality. We begin with the dream and we dance it into existence. Right now, we are in Middle Earth, seemingly stuck somewhere between the old and new paradigms. We haven’t yet crossed the line of “critical mass,” at which point, momentum picks up and impossibility gradually becomes possibility, becomes “reality.” The key, the secret, the incentive, is to live now as though it has already happened. Because it has—in our hearts. Every single one of us was born with love at our core. When the layers get peeled back and the masks fall away, that’s all there is. At some point, we will stand soul-naked before one another and realize at the deepest level that what the Beatles and the greatest spiritual masters said is true:

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…
it’s easy. All you need is love. Love is all you need.”

Birdsong: Don’t Let the Music Die…

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
In 1962, Rachel Carson called it the “silent spring,” the time when pesticides would destroy birds and other wildlife and leave humanity existing in a half-life of stunned silence. Her work was the impetus for the environmental movement and has influenced millions of people worldwide. Yet today, more than 50 years later, pesticides are still very much in use, and we are facing the slow, agonizing fulfillment of her prophecy. In September, the journal Science published the results of a comprehensive study of North American bird populations. The results: Since 1970, there are nearly 3 billion fewer birds singing their spring songs, a staggering 29% gone from the Earth. Bird experts and conservationists are calling it “a full-blown crisis” and “the loss of nature.”*

The day I read these figures, I wept. I could feel my heart breaking. The losses are so huge. Beloved warblers in all their colorful variety: 617 million gone. Two of my all-time favorite birds: Baltimore orioles, 2 in 5 gone; wood thrushes, 6 in 10 gone. It is hard to fathom. Almost unbelievable. The birds that I eagerly anticipated seeing and hearing each spring are vanishing and may one day be gone forever. What would spring be without birds? Without the robin’s cheery song and the redwing blackbird’s flashing colors and ringing call? Dead air, everywhere.

Everyone who knows me knows I am an ardent lover of birds. I grew up in rural Illinois surrounded by countless birds nesting in our yard and visiting our feeders. Birdsong was an integral part of life, like the rising and setting of the sun. As an adult, I became a more focused birdwatcher. For more than 35 years, I was blessed to live near Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the spring bird migrations are well-known, even beyond New England. Birders there are often blessed with more than 100 species passing through. I visited Mt. Auburn at all times of the year and knew it as intimately as I knew the 5 acres where I grew up. Almost every tree and bush held a memory of a bird sighting or song. The brilliant red of scarlet tanagers and the startling orange and black of orioles. The husky song of the rose-breasted grosbeak and the ethereal trill of the wood thrush.

The wood thrush—a bird that touches my heart in the deepest possible way. Each spring I waited to hear it, not just see it. Standing quietly in the early morning silence in the Dell at Mt. Auburn, listening—and suddenly I would hear it, a piping flute-like call that gently echoed among the trees. Tears always fill my eyes at the sound of the wood thrush, a miracle of sweet music offered to the world, for free. Virtuoso performances daily by all the spring migrants. Each bird’s song unique and irreplaceable. Each one a miracle upon the Earth. A friend of mine refers to the “unreasoning cheerfulness” she feels when she sees or hears birds.

And this beauty is what humans are destroying so carelessly. Correction: big business and agribusiness are destroying it, with ruthless intentionality. Mega-corporations like Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) have spent decades laying to waste wildlife and human life throughout the world, making their products ever more lethal, from Agent Orange to Roundup. Not only birds, but butterflies, bees, and other insects essential to our ecosystems are dying in huge numbers because of herbicides and pesticides sold by these companies. Thousands of lawsuits have been brought against Monsanto by individuals who have gotten cancer from using Roundup, and at last the courts are beginning to decide in their favor.

The question is: Will it stop Monsanto and the other businesses? And if it does, will it be in time? The birds cannot bring lawsuits. They can only continue to do what they have done so beautifully since the beginning of life on Earth: sing. The planetary songlines they have created vibrate the world into being. We are the blessed recipients of their musical gifts. The very least we can do is reciprocate with gratitude and love by speaking out and taking action to save their lives: by not using poisons on our lawns and gardens, by always buying organic, and by donating to and joining advocacy groups for birds and other wildlife: https://abcbirds.org/; https://www.audubon.org/. My greatest hope is that the number of birds rebounds and that we are able to hear their songs for years and years to come.
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*Other factors, such as habitat loss, air and water pollution, collisions with power lines and glass skyscrapers, also contribute to the overall losses. On a more hopeful note, a growing number of cities have passed ordinances to use bird-safe glass and lighting practices and designs. And activist groups like CELDF (https://celdf.org/) are working at community and state levels across the U.S. to protect the “rights of nature.”

Smackdown

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
Sometimes you’re the windshield;
sometimes you’re the bug….
Sometimes you’re the Louisville slugger;
sometimes you’re the ball.”
—Mary Chapin Carpenter

Life has a way of smacking us down, hard, sometimes repeatedly, when we least expect it. Things can be going along smoothly, and then out of the blue: wham! You are knocked off your feet by a sudden turn of events or twist of fate. It can be a minor passing upset or a major trauma. Life doesn’t tell you ahead of time what’s coming up around the next corner. Each day can be really wonder-full or really challenging. This is how I would describe my life over the past year.

In July 2018, I moved from one part of the country to another, diving excitedly into a new adventure. Massachusetts to Florida—what could be a greater jump into exploring differences and new horizons? So, all went beautifully the first six months or so. New home, new surroundings, new friendships, new possibilities. Then gradually everything started to dissolve around me, and I began to experience emptying out, loss, closed doors, lack of possibilities. It all seemed strange and unexpected. I had been so open and optimistic, centered in a positive outlook and certain I was living my best life, stepping into even more expansion. When it all started to fall apart, I began to seriously question whether I should be in Florida at all (even though divine guidance for the move had been unmistakable).

Over the months, I tried to view each change with acceptance, continuing to trust that it was all part of my soul’s evolutionary path. Yet the challenges seemed to get bigger and the losses deeper. I felt as if I had signed up for a master class in spiritual surrender. Every time I brought myself back into balance after some unforeseen occurrence, something else would arise. Finally, one night last month, I had the wind completely knocked out of me, literally, by an actual physical smackdown.

In the middle of the night, in the dark, I tripped over a new living-room hassock and fell flat on my face, teeth first. Teeth cracking, bloody gums, pain radiating out to my jaw and head. The shock shook me to my core, and the trauma of that facedown impact stayed with me for days. I relived that split-second in tears and disbelief again and again, each time longing to rewind and erase what had happened. The next day, I could hardly move because of pain in my arms, legs, neck, and head. My brain felt dazed, my teeth ached and throbbed, and in the mirror I saw the reflection of a distraught woman with swollen, black-and-blue cheeks and haunted eyes. Inconsolable, I wanted to cancel every external-world plan I had made for the future and just curl up in a ball under the covers. Used to moving unhesitatingly through the world, I found myself instead extremely cautious when I walked down stairs or got out of the shower.

Post-traumatic fear affected my thinking as well: I suspected that the energy of Florida was kicking me out, that clearly I didn’t belong here. I also envisioned losing all my front teeth, roots included. When I did have x-rays done, it looked like the roots had not broken in spite of the strength of the impact. The dentist said I would need veneers replaced on a couple teeth and perhaps a root canal, but she wanted to see if the one loose tooth would stabilize on its own. So we are waiting to see how my mouth heals before any decision about restorative work is made. The kindness of the dentist (who took my emergency call early on a Sunday morning), as well as my partner’s, were huge factors in my gradually feeling more like myself in a few days.

Still, I kept wondering why I had to experience this particular trauma on my soul journey. What is its meaning in my life as it is now unfolding in all its complicated contradictions and direction switches? Unanswerable questions. There is a thread of ultimate meaning and connection in every event in life, but we often don’t know them at the moment of occurrence (or in this case, impact). Once again, I am being asked to trust…and continue with a faith and an inner peace that “passes all understanding.” This is the master class we all are a part of at this time on planet Earth.

The external world can look like a senseless madhouse with no possibility for hope or renewal. Yet, in the midst of that, someone reaches out a hand with kindness, and your heart opens in gratitude. Trust and love again seem possible. This is our journey now; this is our assignment. To stand back up when we have fallen and to use our pain as a way to shorten the distance between ourselves and others. Together, we humans are experiencing the birth trauma of a new consciousness, a new planet. It sometimes hurts terribly, but just look at what is on the horizon.

Step Out of Line!

Photograph ©2018 Peggy Kornegger
In her recent Emmy acceptance speech for acting, Alex Borstein told the story of her grandmother, who courageously stepped out of a death line in a Nazi concentration camp and thus survived. So, she advises, “Step out of line, ladies, step out of line.” All around the world, women, often young women, are doing just that. Their strong voices and brave actions are inspiring others as they stand up, speak out, and “step out of line.”

Greta Thunberg started alone, sitting in front of the Swedish parliament every week, striking to call attention to the dire emergency of climate change. One year later, in September 2019, millions of people around the world joined this passionate and articulate 16-year-old woman in a global climate strike, protesting destruction of the environment. She is the latest in a long line of dedicated environmental activists.

More than 20 years ago, Julia Butterfly Hill also started alone. In 1997, at the age of 23, she began living in an old-growth redwood tree to protest the logging of these forests in California. She endured two years of attempts to break her resolve, including helicopter harassment. In the end, the tree was saved, and Julia has continued her activism, co-founding groups to work for social change. Greta appears to be carrying her legacy forward.

In the halls of Congress, where the wheels of change traditionally move very slowly, a new generation of vocal and nontraditional political women is being heard. As the youngest woman to be elected to Congress at age 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has challenged the status quo with her Green New Deal aimed at phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy. She is a consistently strong voice for both environmental protection and social change, “speaking truth to power.”

Greta, Julia, and Alexandria are forces of nature. They can’t be stopped. Like Pele, goddess of fire in Hawaii, they are both creator and destroyer. Creator of possibilities and destroyer of lies and illusions. It is the age of the return of the Goddess. Fiery women are rising up everywhere, speaking fearlessly and courageously to the patriarchal power structure.

Born the year Julia Hill began her tree action, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan (and was shot for it) when she spoke out against banning education for girls. She recovered from the attack and soon became an international activist for all children’s education. In 2014, she was the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.

In 2018, Parkland shooting survivor, high school senior Emma Gonzalez confronted politicians in the U.S. Congress for making deals with the NRA and allowing gun violence to escalate. Insisting that “it’s time for victims to be the change,” she continues her activism to push for stricter gun laws. Also in 2018, Olympic gymnastics medalist Aly Raisman testified about being sexually abused by the team’s doctor (more than 150 other young women also testified), thus expanding the “Me too” movement to women’s sports: “The tables have turned. We have our voices and we are not going anywhere.”

These young women are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Across the nation and the world, women of all ages are stepping into the spotlight and onto podiums to demand radical changes that include the end of gun violence, environmental destruction, and sexual abuse. “Time’s up!” has become a rallying cry of a generation now coming into adulthood. Greta Thunberg calls for politicians, businesspeople, and all citizens to “wake up” and face the “biggest crisis humanity has ever faced”—global warming and climate change. And to take action. No more pretend “solutions” and words that sound good but do nothing. This is the message of all of these women: Stop pretending to believe in change while protecting your own privileges. Help to create a world that supports all people as well as Mother Earth. Step out of line!

Dancing Butterflies, Ghost Orchids, Wild Skies: The Florida Dimension

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
“To live here is to know God, to live here is to understand the power of Nature, to live here is to celebrate life.”—Panache Desai

Like a quartz crystal sparkling in the sun, Florida has many facets. Last year, in late June 2018, my partner Anne and I moved here from Boston. As we drove south along the eastern seaboard, we felt ourselves dropping past identities and memories along the way. By the time we reached Florida, we were living lighter, not anticipating or looking back, but just being, living fully in the present moment. It was a heightened state of awareness, and it carried us seamlessly to the edge of new beginnings and unexpected experiences in an entirely different place.

Driving across the state line, we had the strong feeling we were crossing into another dimension. A sense of elevated energy that manifested visually: a radiant translucence lit up the sky and the huge white cumulus clouds. The trees, bushes, and flowers were especially vivid in color. The very air vibrated with life force energy. These perceptions continued and actually expanded as Anne and I explored our new home, where everything seemed so unfamiliar.

Corkscrew Swamp, an Audubon sanctuary, is a natural entry point to an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Surrounded by slash pines, lettuce lakes (named for the plants on the water’s surface), and towering bald cypress trees hundreds of years old, I often feel as if I’m walking in a mystical timeless dimension. Alligators, whose ancestors survived the dinosaur era, rest like logs not far from the boardwalk, their eyes barely visible above the water. Ethereal, extremely rare ghost orchids hang suspended from a cypress trunk 60 feet above my head. A white ibis with its long curved bill lands nearby, and I am reminded of ancient Egypt and the god Thoth. When a large yellow-crowned night heron flies past me, I stand motionless, silent, transported. They are like living prayers, these unusual water birds, who by their very presence evoke spiritual connection.

Then there are the butterflies! Like flying rainbows, they never seem to land or rest here in Florida. They are always dancing with the light, dancing with the flowers, dancing with each other. The zebra longwing is a flying perceptual illusion. Its black-and-white stripes flash so quickly that the eye can’t keep up with the flickering patterns, and the mind begins to shift interdimensionally. The orange-and-black wings of the gulf fritillary and queen butterflies flutter continuously, and they seem to magically appear and then disappear into thin air. Bright yellow sulfur butterflies twirl and spin around each other like free-spirited improv artists. Florida’s beautiful butterflies make us believe that we too can dance and express our unique selves just as joyfully and spontaneously in our lives.

If I look up at the sky at any given moment during the day, I audibly gasp at the magnificence of the cloud formations and the play of light. It is a continuously changing, thoroughly engaging drama, based on daily weather patterns. During the summer months, the clouds build in size in the morning, and gradually, darker clouds move in from the Everglades. Eventually, torrential rain, thunder, and lightning take center stage in the afternoon. It is often impossible to do anything but stand and watch the show (in a safe dry place) because of the power of the storms. The lightning is incredible—it fills the sky with constant flashing and jagged electric bolts, both vertical and horizontal. In hurricane season, the weather and skies can become even more wild and unpredictable. Powerful energy vortexes swirl and swell, beyond all human control. This too can seem other-dimensional, like life on another planet.

There is untamed potential in the air here in Florida, something indescribable and other-worldly, in spite of aspects that seem old paradigm. Maybe it’s some residue of ancient Atlantean energy, just beneath the surface, which has been waiting for this time of collective awakening in order to reemerge. Atlantis, with its crystal pyramids and Law of One, is believed by some (including Edgar Cayce) to have existed in this part of the world, and there are times when I can feel its presence and see the pyramids sparkling in my mind’s eye. Is the “other dimension” I am experiencing here really the rise of Atlantis once more? It remains a mystery.

Whether or not it is connected to a specific name out of prehistory, a powerful energy of light and oneness does exist now on the planet. I feel it strongly in Florida but have felt it elsewhere too. It transcends place and time. In remembering it, in opening our psyches and our hearts to loving possibilities, we can embody that presence more profoundly than ever before, wherever we live. If we look closely, a true dimensional shift at the deepest level is taking place. We are becoming dancing spirit rainbows, each and every one of us, freely expressing and celebrating life on this Earth.