Posted by: MC | December 31, 2012

Thirteen Ways We’re Not Helpless – Notes from the Edge of the Cliff

Raven 12-29-2012 mmc

There are a lot of things that could be said about right now, today, December 31, 2012.

For starters, we in the Northern Hemisphere are in the darkest time of year.  In Portland, Oregon the days are short, and most often gray and wet.  Nonetheless, we, like all of us, are in a great series of collectively signified moments that invite suspension of despair and the joyful tending of possibility.

On December 21, we had the Solstice.  This year, that turn to winter and the slow return of light occurred alongside the variously popularized turn of the Mayan Calendar from the age of Macha to the age of Pacha.  Then around this winter shift have come the cultural and spiritual traditions like Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanza.  And today we’re toeing the threshold of 2013 — the globally recognized Gregorian New Year that begins at midnight.

A few days ago, I was with my daughter and her partner on a hike in the Columbia Gorge.  We went as far as we could above the magnificence of Multnomah Falls.  Our limitations were snow, ice, and foot wear (Chuck Taylors, to be precise).  No matter, the adventure was perfect.  How could it not be surrounded as we were with the generosity of water, forest amidst the monumental volcanic rock that has served as their stage for roughly 17 million years?

As we began our hiking adventure, we happened on the surprising presence of a generally reclusive Raven.  A really big one.  It even let me get close enough to take photos.  Later in the evening, I learned from a friend about some of the wisdom associated traditionally with Raven by the first people of the Columbia region.  The Raven signifies mystery and transformation.  It makes accessible the rich learning and wisdom available in our darkest experiences by inviting us in to learn and to change, and then by showing the way for bringing that wisdom back into the light.

This contrasts significantly with what I and many of us tend to do.  We’d rather not go into the darkness.

But life always has its way.  Here we are only days after the terror of the murder of the children and women at the Sandy Hook School.  In the meantime, horrors have continued – a woman dying in India following brutal gang rape, innocents dead daily in the name of war.  I don’t need to go through the list and I don’t wish to suggest that there is some answer in becoming mired in fear and its darkness, but I do take a reminder from the Raven.

So, here is a list of 13 ways we are not helpless in the darkest, most troubling circumstances of our time. That number, 13, seemed the best for this list – in honor of our New Year first of all, but also because of the unique dark/light feelings associated with the number itself.

  1. We are not helpless because we can get quiet.  Turn off computers and televisions.  Take a walk where there are no billboards.
  2. From the quiet we can check to see what is always present, no matter the hype.
  3. We can feel our grief and let it take its time.
  4. We can notice how family, friends and community are there for acknowledging and being in grief with us.  This is something it’s often easy to miss.  Check it out from the quiet.  See what you may be overlooking.
  5. Then standing in community and listening to the wisdom inside grief, we can go beyond hoping or believing that democracy is real to feeling it, knowing it from direct experience.
  6. We can act on that knowing, which is far more substantial than acting only on an idea.
  7. We can also pay attention to evidence of democracy in action.  Earlier this week RJ Eskow wrote, “Yes, it’s a rigged game. Yes, our democracy’s been tainted and compromised.  But mobilized citizens prevented the President from proposing Social Security cuts in his 2010 State of the Union speech. The Occupy movement changed … political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers and arguably changed the election results.”
  8. With direct experience of community and evidence of the strength of real democracy we can take the opportunity presented in the currently troubling “fiscal cliff” hoo-hah.
  9. Much like the turn of the Mayan Calendar, we can consider the dreaded fiscal cliff as another opportunity for choosing between the panic of old ways to the vast possibilities for healthier ways of being in economy and community.
  10. In the contagion of similar dark and confusing moments that will certainly characterize the coming year, we can consciously set aside time to get quiet again for checking out what endures – like community, like water and the beating hearts of every person we encounter in a day.
  11. Then, as ever, we can listen to one another.  In our grief, in our resolve, in our confusion and in our inspiration we can take the risk to stop – to look and see the actual person in the actual life who is asking to be heard.  We can take the chance to quiet our own urgencies of belief and fear to listen for what the words being said mean to the person who is speaking them – what those words carry about the speaker’s life, experience, pain, hope and wisdom.
  12. And we can speak back with the sincere wish to be clear about what we mean – what we value.
  13. Finally, in that exchange, we can move together through dark and light into the changes that we often name “New.”

We are already capable of all of this – this radical act of listening, the kindness and innovation that arise from that.


  1. Such wonderful comforting words in a world bereft of dialogue. I feel it. Strangled cries to be heard and understood, surprised to discover its my voice.

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