In 2005, Francis and I were asked by Bill Gregory if we would be willing to be interviewed on Portland Community Television for a program he had helped produce called “The Second Act.” Sponsored by the Maine Senior Guide to celebrate “the gifts and vitality of people in the second half of their lives,” Bill told us they were curious about what active elders are doing in their later years. We agreed, because having let go directorship of Portland Yoga Studio which we had founded sixteen years earlier, we had been pondering that very thing. Susan Hirsch was the interviewer at that time.
This photo of Francis and me is taken from that television interview.
In 2012, shortly after the publication of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems, Bill himself interviewed Elaine.
Dances of Universal Peace
The Dances played a central role in our lives, and in particular, as Francis approached his death. The “song” referred to in my book titles, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You . . . is the song Francis asked me to sing for him as he died – Song of Songs 8:6: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is as strong as death.” Its melody was created by Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, the prolific Aramaic scholar who also created “dances” with the Lord’s Prayer, and the words of Jesus, including his Beatitudes. “Saadi,” as we call him (by his Sufi name), said that these meditative body prayers are “spiritual practices” more than “dances” as such. I have learned the Aramaic, and the melodies and movements from him, by participating in his retreats since 1996. And Francis, who also took several of those retreats with Saadi, also practiced them with me in preparation for our bringing them to CORPUS Conferences. For more information about the Dances of Universal Peace in general, click here. For an overview of my work as a certified leader of the Dances of Universal Peace, click here.
The youtube video here shows “Saadi” leading the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic at a weekend retreat in Ohio. That retreat was held in the spring of 2009, only five months before Francis was hospitalized. Francis is wearing a blue jacket, here, and I, a maroon top. We are clearly visible at the other end of the circle. Listeners can appreciate a bit of Saadi’s humor, as well as of his teaching here:
In similar fashion, with Saadi’s permission, I also led the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes of Jesus. Here are photos of Francis and me teaching a workshop on how to pronounce and chant the Beatitudes. The words in Aramaic posted on the wall behind us were printed in calligraphy for me by another leader of the Dances, Mike Muraq’abba Monahan. During that annual, national CORPUS Conference in 2005, after teaching this workshop on Saturday – on Sunday, Francis and I chanted the Beatitudes with their simple movements while facing those gathered for our closing Eucharistic liturgy. Because it was during the Mass, we did it within eight minutes, even though, normally, it takes an hour or more to pray them, as Dr. Douglas-Klotz did on this occasion (above) in Ohio.
From September, 2006 until the fall of 2009, as members of the Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup community, Francis and I transformed our 8,000 sq. ft. lot into a demonstration site for Permaculture, (edible landscape). Viewed as a generative enterprise, the permaculture ecosystem Francis and I put in place is perhaps one of our most enduring legacies. Because our planet is under siege, and the good news of permaculture needs to be spread far and wide, I am including here all the links that allow the reader to view some of that process. To see the photos uploaded on our Permaculture website, just click the date:
Our first meeting with the Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup community,
(2 photos): July 18, 2006
First visit to our home, (4 photos): September 19 2006
Our first work party; “Help Building An Ecosystem in Suburbia”
(25 photos): July 14, 2007
Our first Open House (22 photos): September 5, 2007
“Intro to Creating an Edible Suburban Ecosystem” (7 photos): June 14, 2008
“Elaine’s Ecosystem in Suburbia” (14 photos): July 8, 2008
“Intro to Creating an Edible Suburban Ecosystem (14 photos): July 12, 2008
“August House Meetup” (15 photos): August 18, 2009
Our permaculture Eden came to life when the 86 perennials plus 103 daffodil bulbs planted in the fall of 2007 bloomed by spring/summer of 2008. Many people came to the three formal and one informal open houses we offered from June through September.
The first one was filmed and made into a 5 minute video by Eben Metivier a student at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service and a member of “The Bioneers,” the group mentioned in the film “The 11th Hour.” Eben posted his video of our first open house on youtube. To view it – Click Here
Permaculture Permablitz 10 Years Later!
Elaine’s Announcement on her FB page, November 1, 2016:
Dear Friends, including former students: Come to my home this Saturday, November 5, for a unique kind of “Permablitz”! The 8,000 sq ft lot that Francis and I created between 2006 and 2009, turning it into an edible landscape with fruit trees etc, is a veritable permaculture “eden.” But since it’s one of the oldest permaculture demonstration sites, because, e.g. the pond liner is beginning to sink into the pond by now – my friends in the Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup will be here from 9 to 2:30, to help me restore it.
We could use a little help. I’ve ordered a big pot of soup from the Portland Food Coop, and the “permies” and I are providing potluck food, desserts too. So if you don’t have time to do likewise, you could simply just come and join in. Permablitzes, are great fun, offering conversation and camaraderie as well as experiential learning for all! And besides all that – I’d love to see you again.
Elaine’s Report on November 5, 2016:
At the final check-in of three, during today’s permablitz, several people used the expression “fun.” And we sure accomplished a lot working in teams. The plum and cherry trees were pruned, wet paths were filled in with sheet mulched and topped-with-wood chips, new strawberry patches were created, the central garden was rejuvenated with fresh compost I ordered from Jordan’s Farms and topped with straw, two new compost bins were created, and – la piece de resistance – the pond was drained. A surprise decision (upon discovery that the pond liner underneath the top pond liner) had a leak in it is this: In May a special kind of educational workshop will be held when this hole of a pond will be recreated. People raved about the soup I had ordered from Portland Food Coop, and the variety of healthy snacks provided. And – it was my joy to be able to give away some permaculture items stored in a corner of my cellar (like a Sun Oven) in exchange for this generous free labor I was given today. I sing the praise of bartering, collaborating and community!
20 photos of Permablitz posted on Portland Maine’s Permaculture Meetup http://www.meetup.com/maine-permaculture/photos/27404154/455809951/?a=socialmedia
Directly Relevant to Permaculture:
An article Elaine wrote for CORPUS Reports, a bi-monthly national periodical, (corpusreports.org) was published in their Jan/Feb 2006 issue:
“Catching Fire from a Bodhisattva Ablaze”
Matthew Fox calls her a prophet. Brian Swimme knows well this “woman of ferocious compassion” whom another called “a bodhisattva ablaze!” *
But Francis and I didn’t know that when we signed up for a retreat with Joanna Macy, — “Taking Heart in Rough Times.” Her specialties listed on the brochure next to her smiling wise woman face read: “eco-philosopher, living systems theorist and Buddhist scholar.” She’s 76.
We almost didn’t go. Sleeping in unheated cabins? In October, in Maine? But my unforgettable memory of Joanna’s signature ritual or exercise — “The Council of All Beings” — convinced me. If her work alone, led by another, left such a deep impression, imagine a weekend led by Joanna herself!! Francis joined me, unheated cabins or not. The meeting rooms at least were heated. So we packed our sleeping bags and drove north to Hidden Valley Camp near Camden Maine.
We were in the forest, a healing setting for a weekend billed to address the rough times disheartening us. The spacious meeting room was suffused with light. Windows encircling high ceilings kept us close to scampering squirrels and swaying branches of the forest in which we were cradled. I breathed easily. The hardwood floors of our gathering space were covered with large rugs, quilt-like. Generous volunteers brought them from home for our comfort. Participants’ colorful cushions, blankets and floor chairs were surrounded by benches, an altogether relaxing environment for challenging work.
Joanna’s riveting message was not only enlightening, it set me on fire: Just as the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions changed everything for our ancestors, so will the “epochal” revolution we’re entering, the “Ecological” or “Sustainability Revolution.” Joanna calls it “The Great Turning” because this revolution is of greater magnitude and scope, vaster and more far-reaching than any. “It changes more institutions, not only our political economy, but the habits and values that foster it, not only our technology, but our mind set — who and what we are.” *
It gave me a sense of urgency. “While the agricultural revolution took centuries, and the industrial revolution took generations, this ecological revolution has to happen within a matter of a few years.” * What triggers and abets it is our current “industrial growth society’s” (IGS) fixation on unending exponential growth, money at all costs. David Korten, a founder of “YES! a Journal of Positive Futures”, calls it a cancer.
Significantly, YES!‘s editor interviewed Joanna Macy (Spring 2000 issue) on “The Great Turning” where she explains: “This economic system is doomed because it measures its success by how fast it uses up the living body of Earth – extracting resources beyond Earth’s capacity to renew, and spewing out wastes faster than Earth’s capacity to absorb. It is now in runaway mode, devouring itself at an accelerating rate.” *
No wonder we feel the world is falling apart! The “rough weather ahead” she predicted then in 2000, we’re experiencing now! Fear of wholesale change is driving the uglier aspects of human behavior, leading some to scapegoating. Misdirecting their dread of the future, some vent their fear and rage on others, especially “deviant minorities.”
So why would such a message inflame my imagination? Because, according to systems theory, although “positive disintegration” can feel like dying, it spurs “exploratory self-reorganization.” Structural “green” alternatives to the IGS’s exploitation are emerging worldwide. For example, in designing projects, sustainability principles like the “three bottom lines” take into consideration not only economic, but societal and environmental factors as well. Alternatives to unsustainable ways are sprouting everywhere, “like a faint green haze over everything.” Lifestyles that look marginal now can save us from panic or paralysis when the trauma hits hardest. Like Joanna, we can welcome the Great Turning as “high adventure.” The chaos is seedbed for the future.
To save not only our planet but ourselves we must be converted from our species arrogance which makes us exploiters “using the earth as supply house and sewer.” * If instead we celebrate our interconnection with all beings, we heal not only our separation from nature, but our sense of alienation.
Joanna’s message burns within me because it’s a call to transformation, a call to grow into a wider, deeper experience of who we are. It’s a homecoming, finding our place and role in the universe. “Our true nature is far more ancient, more encompassing than the separate self defined by habit and society. We are as intrinsic to our living world as rivers and trees, woven of the same intricate flows of matter/energy/ and mind.” * Our bodies are terrestrial and oceanic, we are the stuff of stars. Because we have been evolved into self-reflexive consciousness, we are the earth itself, knowing itself through us.
Matthew Fox rightly claims Joanna’s “process experiences are as valuable as her theory.” I resonated most with two: “Harvesting Gifts of the Ancestors” and the exercise, “Invoking Beings 200 years in the Future.”
One prayer repeated often during the retreat was the silent circle “Elm Dance.” Participants walk to four beats of movement alternating with four beats of stillness to a haunting Latvian melody. The Elm Dance originates in Joanna’s “Despair and Empowerment” work with the people of Novozybko, the town most devastated by the Chernobyl catastrophe. Lovers of the forest since ancient times, these people are now shut out from it, perhaps forever. With the Elm Dance, uplifted arms swaying in unison powerfully represent the forests our prayers would heal.
This retreat turned on lights in my psyche to find my way in the dark for the rest of my journey. Is the fire ignited in me by this “bodhisattva ablaze” the same fire Jesus spoke about? “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!” (Luke 12:49) I think so.
* Macy, Joanna R. and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back to Life, Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World. BC Canada. New Society Publishers, 1998.
A must read website: http://www.joannamacy.net
Ten days before Francis died, he and Elaine chanted together
Toward the end of the 100 days since Francis and I learned he had cancer, he found strength in the chants he had learned with me from Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz.
In my book, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – A Love Story, I recount what happened on December 23, 2009. (Ken Hamilton is the doctor who founded H.O.P.E. and Lynn and Lee, mentioned here, my goddaughter Rowan’s parents, are like daughter and son-in-law to me):
“I told Lynn and Lee about Ken Hamilton’s visit which had inspired Francis to reclaim and sing again the two chants we loved, not only his favorite Beatitude, but Saadi’s other chant from Song of Songs – “Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is strong as death.” This book of the Bible is also known as Song of Solomon, orCanticle of Canticles. Francis and I had not only sung this chant at the bedside of a friend in a Hospice House, but I had led it as a chant-dance of universal peace at the yoga studio the day after my mother’s funeral, and in the Hebrew version that time – “Shime-ny . . .”
I also related to them a suggestion our good friend Nicki had made the day before. During our telephone conversation, I had sung one of the chants for her. That’s when Nicki got the idea we should record Francis and me singing them. I had thought of inquiring through lotsahelpinghands if anyone had the skills to do that for us. But when Lee and Lynn heard about this, and correctly sensing we might not want to wait, Lee offered to do the recording himself. He went right out to buy a microphone and promptly returned to set it up through the computer.
Then and there, Lee recorded Francis and me singing the entire Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. To see the earnest, proud look on Francis’ face, to hear his voice increasing in strength and articulation as we went along – and then to see Lee and Lynn’s expressions of pleasure in response to the beautiful Middle Eastern melodies, our joy overflowed. As our last note echoed in the room, we spontaneously cheered. The recording caught Lynn and Lee’s ebullient “Yeah!”
Since the recording of our singing Francis’ favorite Beatitude chant had gotten truncated the day before, singer-songwriter Mike Nobel rerecorded our singing it the following day. Here is the transliteration of this Beatitude by Saadi which we especially liked: “Blessed are the pure in heart, (those whose heart has a deep sense of passionate purpose and the audacity to feel abundant inside), they shall see God (in a flash of insight, — everywhere).
You can listen to Francis and me singing here, and in this order: The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic (“Abwoon…”) which Lee recorded; the Beatitude of Jesus in Aramaic (“Tubwayun….”); and the passage from Song of Songs 8:16, “Set me as a seal upon your heart… for love is as strong as death.” (By the way, when I sing it, I change the words “as strong as” to “more strong than death.”)
One should realize this is a man, now getting hospice care, who is singing — only ten days before he died.