Monday, Jun. 17, 2019

Sages Through the Ages - CA DoP 2019 Retreat: Peacebuilding in Our DNA

By Nancy Merritt · March 29, 2019

The CA Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) Council of Sages (In-Training) gathered for our 12th annual (at least) retreat on February 9-10, 2019 in Petaluma, CA as a supportive community, with a common heartbeat, to explore and reflect on “The Real Story: Peacebuilding Is in Our DNA.”   

At a CA DoP retreat a few years ago, we came across a quote from Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk:  “America is suffering greatly.  The destiny of a nation is too great to leave to politicians alone.  We need people who can listen with their whole heart, who can listen as a human being and not just as a politician … I propose that the people of the United States form a Council of Sages who can listen deeply to people who feel they are victims of discrimination, exploitation, and social injustice.”

He also said, “The Council of Sages could be made up of non-political people who have lived closely with suffering and understand suffering.  They should also have experience in the practice of reconciliation and peacemaking.”

Since then, we have thought of ourselves as a Council of Sages (In Training).

Peacebuilding is in our DNA:

  • From the Iroquois Confederacy Great Law of Peace, the call for an Office of Peace in the US during the 1790s, proposals for an Academy of Peace, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 outlawing war, legislation for peace departments, the UN Decade of a Culture of Peace, the Department of Peacebuilding legislation statement that peacebuilding is working together with all nations to protect both life and land and hold the earth in balance, a Hopi adage
  • To developments in the science of peacebuilding and successes in nonviolence movements and practices
  • To personal peace, social emotional learning, restorative practices, humanizing the justice system, teaching peacebuilding in our schools and communities, diplomacy and international violence prevention and recognizing our interconnectedness and our interdependence.

“Coming to the retreat was like having a warm welcoming committee with friends and new faces in the circle, with many perspectives and yet, as we went around the circle for the many rounds of sharing,  we had a common heart beat and it seemed that we were like family - familiar with each other.” - Stephanie Thomas 

“For me, the retreat was about creating and nurturing a beloved community.  Recognizing we are one.  Knowing and showing that peacebuilding is in our DNA.” - Nancy Merritt

Creating the Circle

The retreat was a circle of sharing.  We built an altar in the center, starting with the earth and sky center pieces, the four direction ribbons of red/ yellow/ black/ white, milkweed plants, and butterflies.  Radiating from that were our DNA strands designating groups with whom we each have an affinity, individual altar items, a blue circle of names calling in those who could not be there physically, then ourselves. We called in family, friends, fellow peace sojourners. We especially remembered Brian Gibbs and Mary Alice O’Connor, CA DoP advocates who passed in 2018 and 2019.

Calling in Our Ancestors

We began with sage smudging, appreciating that we were meeting on Pomo and Miwok lands, acknowledging the gifts we brought from Ohlone territory, surrounding ourselves with God’s Eyes and seeking circle wisdom from our ancestors.   

We called in Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize.  As a young girl in Kenya, she was taught to respect nature.  She excelled at science and went on to promote the rights of her countrywomen and helped save the land, one tree at a time.  She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, teaching people to care for the environment by planting trees, recycling, and seeking alternative energy sources.  We read a children’s book about Wangari entitled Seeds of Change:  Planting a Path to Peace.

"We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own - indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come."  - Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai, 4/1/1940 - 9/25/2011

We called in the butterflies-- and especially the Monarchs -- whose population has decreased by up to 80-90% in recent years.  We called in the milkweed plant, which nurtures the Monarchs.

We created DNA strands, placed like sun rays on the altar, calling in groups and communities with whom we have an affinity and/or ancestral ties:

  • African American community
  • Animal kingdom
  • Autistic community
  • Black humanity
  • Caregivers
  • Central American peoples
  • Children
  • Cubans
  • Early American and CA settlers
  • Elders/ Dementia / Transferors
  • European peoples:  Celtics, the Dutch, English, French, Germans, Hungarians, Irish, Scandinavians, Scotish people 
  • First Nations peoples of North America/ Native Americans/ Native American elders & youth/ Native Americans on homesteads
  • Foster youth
  • Hispanic peoples
  • Humanity
  • Latino elders & youth
  • LGBTQI+ community/ LGBTQ+ elders & youth
  • Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review & Outreach (IOLERO)/ Sonoma
  • Metta Center for Nonviolence
  • Mexican peoples
  • Military
  • Older & wise people
  • Peacebuilders
  • PEACE NOW advocates
  • Plant kingdom
  • Restorative practices, justice, resources practitioners
  • Russian Jewish peoples
  • Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE)
  • Special Education Community/ people with emotional, mental & corporal challenges
  • Sudanese people
  • Sufis
  • Tibetan peoples
  • World Beyond War advocates
  • Young people

Calling in Ourselves

We expressed our individual rainbow selves through responses to questions about:

  1. Favorite color: black, blue, golden yellow, blue, black, blue/purple, yellow, amber, blue/ green/ purple, red, rainbow, purple
  2. Favorite direction: north, light, north, south, north, west, all directions, west, south, north, west, east
  3. Favorite plant or animal being: pineapple, eggplant & otter, madrone trees, all trees, deer & elephant, egret, seal, olive trees, oak trees, rose, all trees, raven
  4. Things that give us peace and joy: children close to us (Dani; grandson; grandchildren; Jubilee, Levin, Zion), breathing, calm water surface of a lake, the planet, synchronicity, trees, playing the sitar, reading/ photography/ walking/ a warm beach, the Golden State Warriors, grandchildren, love, deep breathing

Sharing/ Creating a Space of Care Respect, Healing

We told our individual and collective stories through music, art, narrative, laughter, reflection, connection, good food, watching the “Singing Revolution” movie, sometimes pulling from our “basket of wisdom” guiding inspirational quotes. Willard Davis shared the gift of his music and we remembered Mary Alice O’Connor through a song she wrote.  Dusty Wroten shared songs and piano music. Laurie Marshall gave us the gift of a Singing Tree art project.  

“Many hands, hearts and minds went into planning the program ... What also comes to mind is the process of the art project. The  singing tree with the many leaves with images and messages coming from the heart. The tree as the wise and beautiful living frame for us.  Along the way we were drawn to go deeper into our inner experience.” - Stephanie Thomas.

“Each person shared and held the space with deep care and respect.  I felt able to be open about a deep struggle with my own racism that was important, vulnerable and healing.  Seeing the powerful imagery everyone created for the Singing Tree brought beauty and joy to me.  I came away stronger and renewed. “ - Laurie Marshall

Here is slide show Laurie made from our collaborative Singing Tree:

“Then the music lead by Willard added the other singing part. His songs especially with remembrances of Mary Alice O’Connor (a dear peace and Department of Peacebuilding activist who passed recently) and gratitude for our friends from Attitudinal Healing  Center (Oakland) and  elsewhere brought us to further connection with our experiences with them.  The informational parts of the Department of Peacebuilding bill and the Restorative Justice work kept us up to date and inspired.” - Stephanie Thomas

We talked about peacebuilding, the national and CA Department of Peacebuilding campaigns and our accomplishments, the Peace Alliance, social media, restorative practices, 2019 goals.  

“We discussed Heart Math and the Global Coherence Initiative. On our monthly DoP Campaign calls and in our lobbying efforts, some of us have been using heart-focused meditation  to help us connect to our heart wisdom.  This meditation comes from Heart Math. They conduct research on the mechanisms of how the earth's fields affect human mental and emotional processes, health outcomes, and collective human behavior and at the same time explore how collective human emotional states and intentions are reflected in the earth's electromagnetic and energetic fields.” - Kendra Mon 

This video explains more about the initiative: 
Link to a guided global care international meditation: Or read the guided instruction:

Royelyn Wooten provided healing information about: 1) Essiac Tea, which she said helped with quick and effective healing of cancer and other conditions; 2)  the Magic Trigger to take away pain (; and 3) daily world peace meditations with Jared Rand. 

“About the retreat in general, I felt surrounded by and lifted up by love and connection.  While we participants are all wonderful people, I am so awed by Nancy's ability to bring us all together, give each of us an opportunity to share what is important to us and to the group, providing an agenda that gives us focus with freedom to flow, inspiring us all to be our best selves.” - Kendra Mon

Beloved Community

“I thought I was too sad to drag myself out among others.  Thank you, for lining with carrots and milk-weeds a den of healing; forging a sauna of sharing; caressing an opening of the reluctant pores;  Is this what friends do?  Moist wings unfolding? I savor the piercing brightness of your smiles; the lilt of your laughter; the waves you set moving from center; the good that does not stop. Each story flashes through the flutter of words, will not stay on crinkling paper.  What instrument, other than you, could ever wring-jingle clearer, these glimpses we give into each other’s lives? Whatever this wonder of you doing, is hot rocks to me. I breathe your fire. Is this what grief yields? Apparently.” - Willard Davis

“My interpretations and take away of the Sages in training retreat began with creating a space of deep gratitude for the invitation to an expansion of universal love.  The journey was filled with a miraculous love for connection to the Living Spirit and all first nation people. I felt a sense of community and respect for the land and people of the area.  The altar of ancestor remembrance and sacred embrace of the path of a Sage evoked a spirit of unity and compassion. Walk softly we did as we shared and exchanged divine and creative energy the purpose agenda allowed for the flow and movement of the empowerment of peace individually and collectively. I felt an energy that invited me to a deeper love of self, humanity and community. The narratives shared were impactful and heart moving.”  - Ngozi Akosia

“As usual, I took away lots of love and joy.  You guys are my people so it’s always fun.” - Lyndsey Burcina 

On a national call, Judy Kimmel, Peace Alliance Board Chair and CA  peacebuilder, talked about the retreat and bragged about the CA DoP team and its work with the CA Democratic Party Platform, especially considering the nature and size of CA. She was inspired to see the people who came out for the CA DoP Sages retreat and the work they are doing.  “A large group works in the school system and bringing peacebuilding into the schools, local governments, passing bills for social emotional learning …”

“I was only able to let my guard down on Sunday because on a subconscious level I knew I was in a safe place. Thank you all for your empathy and friendship. Our circle is truly a sacred space amid the turmoil of our times.” - Maggi Koren

Dusty Wroten wrote, in part, “I am a SEER seeking Rainbow Spirit Warriors to take the STAGE with lots of LOVE and a smidgeon of RAGE for only by a United Action as an Almighty FACTION will we NOW turn the PAGE …”

Exploring a Path Forward

We talked about continuing and expanding our efforts in peacebuilding, civil discourse, restorative practices.  We will continue building support for a cabinet-level Department of Peacebuilding.  We will work for a CA Entity of Peacebuilding and Violence Prevention and continue our general work with the CA Democratic Party.  We plan to connect with other peace and justice groups and the spiritual community.  We prioritized seeking connections with such groups as the prison population and community colleges.  Annie Kelley talked about outreach to various Quaker groups.  We discussed supporting Trauma Informed Care and ACES, Adverse Childhood Experiences. And more …


Thank you to all who were able to attend:  Ngozi Akosia (So. CA), Lyndsey (Sonoma County), Willard Davis (Oakland), Annie Kelley (Santa Cruz), Judy Kimmel (Mill Valley), Erik Klouse (Sonoma County), Maggi Koren (Sonoma County), Marty Lewis (Carmel), Laurie Marshall (Sonoma County), Doug Merritt (El Cerrito), Nancy Merritt (El Cerrito), Kendra Mon (Sonoma County), Rosa Reynoza (Sonoma County), Jeanna Ruppel (Sonoma County), Stephanie Thomas (Berkeley), Royelyn Wooten (Sonoma County), Dusty Wroten (Sonoma County).  And to those who were with us in spirit.

And Then

Wangari Maathai said, "Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking." 

At the 2019 Sages retreat, we sowed many seeds.  “When I returned home, I planted some milkweed. I hope it will call to the Monarch butterflies who in turn will spark the beauty in all and make the earth sing in her rainbow colors.” - Nancy Merritt

"I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can ... begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." - Elisabeth Scharbaum (Oakland) sent this from  W.N, Murray, Himalayan Expedition 1951

Peace on. 

Nancy Merritt 
On behalf of the CA Department of Peacebuilding Council of Sages (In Training)

 "In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.  A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now. " - Wangari Maathai


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