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!

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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.

No Visible Trace: Vanishing of the Past

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
I seem to be living through a time in which everything previously experienced in my life is falling away. In the midst of these changes, I find myself standing face to face with a truth that has always existed but is now front and center in my consciousness: There is no past. When we have lived an experience, it disappears from this dimension. It may continue in another dimension, but here, now, in the present, it quite literally no longer exists. In our memories, it shape-shifts and eventually fades as well. We are left with this moment, nothing else.

What has brought me to this seemingly stark conclusion, which is actually quite liberating? Well, in the past month (and after I wrote my last blog, “Resignation or Surrender?”), I experienced the definitive “loss” of two homes that I felt great emotional attachment to: one in Illinois, the other in Massachusetts. The first was my childhood home (on five acres in the country), the second, the house I lived in before recently moving (where I had an extensive flower garden). No actual visits took place; this was a long-distance visual vanishing, via photographs and Google maps. But no less shocking.

The people who bought the house where we rented an apartment in Massachusetts quickly began to renovate the interior last fall. Then, this past spring, our neighbor told us of exterior changes: the new owners had ripped out all my carefully planted and lovingly cared for flowers and replaced them with a rather bare, professionally landscaped lawn and a few meager plantings. The photographs she sent were heartbreaking.

Since our move to Florida last year, I have missed my garden most of all. I had spent eleven years partnering with Mother Earth in creating a diverse mixture of flowers and bushes that bloomed at different times of the year. I knew every plant as if they were my own “children,” and I felt that they knew me. I celebrated each leaf and blossom, each visit by a bee, butterfly, or hummingbird. Sometimes I just stood in silent appreciation and love for the beauty all around me. To see all that destroyed was painful to assimilate. Yet, on another level, I knew it to be another sign that that time in Massachusetts was done. I could not go back to the home I once knew.

Over the next few weeks, I realized that I was being given a deeper understanding of life’s greatest wisdom: impermanence. It allowed me to see the impermanent in all parts of life—and to accept it. My spiritual journey had become about learning to let go in an ongoing way so that I could be fully present in the moment. Then God raised the bar even higher.

For some reason, I decided to Google-search for my Illinois hometown and the country road I had lived on. It has been decades since I have been back there, so it took me a while to find the area where my parents had built their home in the shade of a group of old oak trees. I switched to satellite mode and began to slowly trace the route from the turnoff onto our road, now widened.

Then, unexpectedly, I noticed that there was a very large highway where there had only been farmhouses and cornfields. I zoomed in and saw it was an Illinois tollway with on and off ramps and barren landscapes surrounding it. My heart beating, I backtracked to where I could see some houses and land still intact. I located the houses on either side of our home, but there in the middle was nothing but wild abandoned land. No driveway, nothing visible but underbrush and trees. I zoomed closer, and then I saw a bare space where our house should have been. Closer still, and I was able to make out what appeared to be remnants of a basement. That’s all that remained of my childhood home.

I felt a knot in my stomach and sat staring in stunned silence. It didn’t seem real. My memories of that house and of the trees, flowers, orchards, and vegetable gardens my father and mother had planted were vivid and alive. I lived my entire childhood and adolescence there—with a deep connection to nature and to them. Yet this was the current “reality.” Anything else no longer existed. Of course I knew this, but seeing a visual representation was different.

After my parents’ deaths, I had stopped visiting Illinois but always held it in my heart. Christmas carols evoked visual memories of the holidays I shared with them over the years. And the land itself was in my blood; I had run across the fields and climbed every tree. Years later, when I planted a garden in Massachusetts, I felt most at home there because that connection was born in my childhood. Now, every visible trace of any of those gardens had disappeared. My childhood and my recent past had both vanished.

I sensed my physical body slowly processing this and my soul’s presence rising to the fore. I felt a clearing within to match the clearing without. For the first time, I was fully embodying the present moment with a crystal clear understanding that there really is nothing else. Oddly enough, it felt freeing. It was like decluttering my consciousness: dropping Google and opting for Soul. In truth, I hadn’t lost anything. I had gained greater awareness of the simplicity and power of my lifetime upon this Earth. At the deepest level, my soul (and yours) lives within the Great Mystery of impermanence and eternity, each precious moment experienced and then released with love.

“When the house is gone, the space in the house was not different than the space outside the house. When those walls are gone, there’s only one space everywhere. There always was only one space.”—Krishna Das

Resignation or Surrender?

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
What’s the difference between resignation and surrender? To me, resignation seems to have a hopeless aspect to it, giving up on possibility. Surrender doesn’t have that flavor. It’s more a letting go of control, so that life can bring possibility to you instead of your clutching at it. Yet, perhaps there is more to resignation than first meets the eye. What if you have to go through resignation to get to surrender? What if in resigning yourself to life not turning out the way you thought it would, you let go at such a deep level that complete surrender is at last possible? In expecting nothing, you open the door to everything.

I recently experienced something like this as I continue to integrate living in a new state after more than 30 years in another part of the country. Massachusetts and Florida could not be more different. In order to make the transition, I had to embrace those differences, which has been very challenging at times. I have surrendered again and again. Yet I still felt stuck in some indefinable way. Basically, I don’t feel at home here, at least in the way I had previously defined it. When I accepted that I may never feel that way, something started to change.

It was a book that brought about this perceptual shift: Braiding Sweetgrass by Potawatomi naturalist Robin Wall Kimmerer. In early chapters, she writes of her people losing their traditional home and being forced to walk the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma. With that background, she also writes of her family’s ties to New York State and how “home” has been defined in her life, usually through a deep connection to Mother Earth. Her stories and descriptions are so vivid that at one point I just sat and cried, feeling all the past homes in my own life and how nature was an integral part of each of them.

I have lived many places, north, south, east, and west, but my childhood home in Illinois and my recent home in Massachusetts tug at my heart most. As I allowed myself the thought that I may never see either of those places again in this lifetime, something in me let go, into grief, into resignation—and then, gradually, a release into a deeper surrender. I had no expectations anymore about anything. I was just present in my life as it was, with no attachments to past or future. The sadness and loss broke my heart, but in the breaking, spirit poured in, as it always does, and left me washed clean.

Life brings us so much, realities arising from possibilities, again and again. Each reality, beginning and ending, is the doorway to another possibility, another reality. Our lives are forever shifting from one dimension into another wider dimension. Right now at this moment, we, as individuals and as a planet, are being asked to let go of everything that came before and move forward in our lives, through resignation to surrender and ultimately to infinite possibility. Our feelings are passing signposts. Where we are going, there are no parameters really.

As I look out my window today, there is only the living presence of Mother Earth in all directions, filling my heart and soul with a greater sense of home than any one particular place. Each of us has a soul window that opens out to that same view. Each of us is finding our way home.

“Whether we jump or are pushed, or the edge of the known world just crumbles at our feet, we fall, spinning into someplace new and unexpected. Despite our fears of falling, the gifts of the world stand by to catch us.”—Robin Wall Kimmerer

Returning Home

Photgraph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
What does “home” mean to you? A place? A group of people? A memory? Or is it a feeling deep inside that touches your heart and soul? All of these perhaps. Our own life experiences define what home means to each of us. I grew up in Illinois, later lived in California, and then settled in Massachusetts for more than 30 years. Massachusetts is where I met my life partner, Anne, and where we were married. I’ve always loved both coasts, but I didn’t realize how much the Northeast had become home for me until I moved away and then returned for a visit.

A year ago, in June, Anne and I moved to Florida, leaving behind many years of memories and starting anew in a different part of the country. This June, one year later, I traveled north for a five-day retreat at Omega in Rhinebeck, New York. I was totally unprepared for the emotions that welled up in me as I flew into JFK and then took a series of trains to Rhinebeck in rural New York.

The Amtrak train route follows the Hudson River. On one side is the wide expanse of the river, and on the other, rolling hills and open fields. It was the latter than grabbed my heart: the GREEN! Avalanches of vibrant early summer green everywhere I looked—green trees, bushes, grasses. Mother Earth bursting with renewed life. Green filled my eyes and my heart. Tears streamed down my face. It was all so profoundly beautiful and so familiar. It was “home” to me at a very deep level. Florida has its own stunning tropical beauty, but here was a beauty that had been part of my life since childhood: the change of seasons and the return of green after a long winter. And for me it was the return of summer green after being away from it for a year.

I was in absolute awe at how stunning and vibrant the colors were, both on the train route and then at Omega itself. The sun highlighted all the varying shades of green, and the play of color and light was breathtaking. I wrote to Anne: “How did we live here and not fall on our knees in gratitude every day at the miracle of these incredible greens each spring and summer?!” It’s not that we didn’t appreciate the beauty of the landscape then, but something about returning after months of absence made it all explode with radiance within my perception.

And the birds! I love birds, and the spring migration in Massachusetts was a highlight of the year for me. This past May I missed it tremendously. My bird friends were passing through on their northern route without me! The warblers and thrushes, the orioles and tanagers. Of all the birds, though, I think I missed the robins most. Their cheerful lilting songs fill the spring and summer air in the Northeast and Midwest. Although there are amazing and unique birds in Florida, particularly water birds, I missed the robins that I saw every day at my backyard birdbath in Massachusetts. So, when I arrived at Omega and heard robins singing everywhere, I was brought to tears once more.

These are the irreplaceable details that make up a feeling of home—at least for me. My heart opened wide in joy and gratitude. I felt like “myself” again in some indescribable way: cells of memory that live in the heart and never disappear. You can have many homes in a lifetime, but one or two may hold particular emotional meaning. For me, the green Earth is always home because it touches the deepest part of my being.

I had no idea I would react so strongly when I returned to the Northeast. It was a gift of unbroken connection with all of life. As I stood looking out at the hilly green Omega landscape, I was reminded of the e.e. cummings lines I used to repeat to myself each morning when I walked out the door to my garden:
“I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”