War, Failure, and the Dance

Drumming for Standing Rock

We were already talking about how war had failed when I was in college and struggling to make good decisions while making ends meet. Looking back at the 21-year-old who graduated into a world at war, even though it’s four decades ago, I can still feel the discomfort of that young woman, maybe even more acutely than I did then.

Trying to strike an uneasy balance between the ambition my family had for me and the creativity I needed to thrive, I lived in two worlds. Those closest to me believed that my overactive imagination could never support me, but my heart knew I couldn’t live without my essence, which always came alive in the dance.

I loved to dance so much I thought my children would write on my gravestone: THE ONLY PROOF SHE NEEDED OF GOD’S EXISTENCE WAS THE DANCE. For a long time, dance led me to live two lives rather than one — one for the outer world and another for my inner world. Luckily, the dance could also weave inner and outer back together, especially after I discovered there were many worlds in only one dance. The dance led me to Yoga and here we are.

I’m trusting the dance to unify me once more, for I feel somewhat fragmented after learning that the U. S. has been at war for 222 out of its 239 years of its existence. Living in a war-torn country that’s been at war 93% of the time since its birth, and not realizing until one day, you open the news and boom! We live in a war machine. Most of us cringe at the thought, which is one reason we don’t discuss it and don’t do anything about it.

But think of the consequences! What is this vicious cycle doing to us?

The U. S. has had less than 20 years of peace, total, since becoming a nation, the nation my parents went to war for 70 years ago — to keep the peace!
Talk about mixed messages! We want to save lives by killing people. Right.

And who suffers? Our ancestors, grandparents, husbands, wives, and family have been taken. At least 108 million people were killed in wars during the 20th century alone.

That doesn’t count the animals, air, mountains, lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans damaged. Insatiable militarism is the largest institutional contributor to global climate change.

“The US military consumes huge amounts of oil so that it may preserve strategic access to oil in order to get the oil it needs to preserve strategic access to oil and so on in a never-ending loop,” writes John Lawrence in the San Diego Free Press.

That’s quite a legacy: destroying the planet’s ecosystem while killing, maiming and wasting taxpayer money! And while playing the grim reaper, the war machine is reaping huge profits for kazillionares.

But, hey, almost everyone in Washington, D. C., knows that loaded pistols and automatic weapons are good for all, except inmates in prisons or lunatic asylums. They assure us that the more hydrogen bomb warheads we have, all set to go off at a moment’s notice, the safer humanity is, and the better off the world will be when our grandchildren inherit it!

You may laugh, but this is not a joke. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all better, but the only way we can make it all better is to look at the scope of the problems of aggression and war and find a way back to our compassionate humanity.

Granted, imperialistic tendencies by neighbors may justify some boundary-setting defense, but the great protector the U. S. claimed to be has morphed into an imperial power that rapes the Earth. War makes so much money for the rich that, to keep their cash registers ka-chinging, they commit genocide, flirt with planetary collapse, and are leaving huge catastrophes for our grandchildren to handle.

Like addicts in denial, war-makers are just living for the next fix, without questioning their fossil fuel drug-of-choice or admitting to the staggering number of lies they tell to deflect from their crimes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said after leaving the Oval Office, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

*“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
― Albert Einstein*


On the other hand, life has given us incredible resources to succeed. While it’s not always a joyride, we work through most problems, and when you think about it, we seem to fail more often than not as part of the learning process Nature provides for our personal wisdom-making. Knowing we have failed is one of the steps in success.

But failure gets a bad rap today, and it’s too bad. To fail is not the same as being a failure. To fail is not the disgrace everyone thinks it is. It is a temporary setback. Join the human race, where to err — and learn from it — is to grow. Truly, nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without running the risk of failure.

“Every pencil has an eraser,” says a friend of mine. “Don’t worry about making first-draft mistakes. We can fix it later.” Few of us want to go back, though, and sort through the blunders to fix our mistakes. Some even run from failure, being as Annie Lamott said, unwilling to write “shitty first drafts.”

But to frankly face, explore, and learn from failure is to clear the space, harvest the riches, and act on the lessons. How many failures did we have to go through before we learned to tie our shoelaces? Ride a bike? Pronounce tough new words? Meet deadlines? Learn a musical instrument or new song? Run new computer software? We learn through the struggle of trial-and-error. Mistake by mistake, we develop the new skill. We know this in our bones. Failures are opportunities to study how to do things better the next time, to learn where the pitfalls are and how to avoid them. Through failure we learn how not to fail, so we can succeed. Separating wheat from the inedible chaff has always been a life-affirming, life-giving process.

Until someone got the bad idea that making money was more important than life itself. Which brings me back to the dance.

If we danced ourselves into this mess, we can dance ourselves out of it! Nature shaped us to succeed. Even with the odds stacked against us, Nature shows us how to renew. We ARE Nature, on a great pilgrimage to remake the world. How could we fail? Only by not admitting that war has failed. How many people need to suffer before we admit the deadly mistakes that war has reinforced?

To care for the pristine world we envision, we need to understand the mistakes of the past, do our best in the present, and create a healthy future. The next spiral unwinding is based on the quality of our attention, our inner peace, the inner dance. We meditate. We do yoga. We practice mindfulness in meetings and at the market. We get more lucid, more peaceful, and more compassionate.

With that state of being, our actions become meaningful to the world. Then action and being are not different. It starts within and radiates like the sun. That’s the dance I’m talking about – being awake as we move so we’re moving in the right direction.

*Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.*


If you look back over your shoulder at the 20th century, you’ll see that after the war against Hitler, the U. S. became mired in bloody battles from Korea and Cuba to Cambodia, Lebanon, and the Dominican Republic.

Peering into that bloodstained past to the 1970s, you’ll see that, added to conflicts with other nations, this was a particularly tumultuous time as many Americans were moved to protest against the Vietnam War in the streets. At home and work, women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays, lesbians, trans and other marginalized people were – and still are – fighting for equality.

Before that, in the name of “civilization,” millions of Native Americans and Hawaiians were slaughtered in a racial genocide that decimated the indigenous tribes living both on the continent and in faraway islands. Their skin was dark, their languages foreign, and their world views different. The native cultures’ deep love and respect for Nature reinforced their tenacity in fighting the U.S. government, which authorized over 1,500 wars, attacks, and raids on Indians and Hawaiians, the most of any country in the world against indigenous people.

The reasons for the genocide were rooted in vastly different world views. To the invading Europeans, the fields, forests, and mountains where indigenous people lived were an untamed natural world they should exploit. To the native dwellers, the land, water, and air were their family, their grandparents who offered nourishment, protection, and spiritual guidance.

Why not, in the next 239 years, instead of having 222 years of war and only 20 years of peace, we have 222 years of peace and only 20 years of war?

Clearly, war is failing to provide what its proponents claim as its purpose — peace. I’ve always thought that dance could solve the problems of humankind far better than war. Imagining two country’s representatives break-dancing through an issue on the U. N. Floor always brings a smile to my face. But for dance to be the medicine for healing our war-torn world, we need to accept and admit the failures of war, domination, and exploiting of Nature.

Those of us who admit there is a climate emergency know there are problems and that we can solve them. Those who are in denial are afraid to admit that there have been failures and thus cannot learn from them. The imagination of a human being is one of the most potent forces on the planet, but it cannot be unleashed to create solutions without an honest assessment of what’s gone wrong in the past.

Just listen to J. K Rowling, a beloved author who heralded the benefits of failure: “Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential,” the writer of the Harry Potter series explained. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” Some of the most imaginative wizard stories ever written emerged, along with a kazillion dollar enterprise that is definitely a positive alternative to war.

How can we accept the horrors of war so blithely, ignoring that war has failed? In an act of willful denial, many express patriotic fervor toward failing efforts. What will motivate a reexamination of the values which animate a suspended morality that reinforces violent acts?

Almost a hundred years ago, Black Elk, the indigenous leader whose culture was almost annihilated by war-mongers, said, “It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds!”

If everyone reading this shifts their energy right now from the memories of tanks and death to a life-giving sacred tree, still growing and thriving in beuaty all around us, we, like Black Elk, can water the tree of life with our vision. That’s a start. The tanks have not annihilated the sacred tree, and we can still actualize Black Elk’s prayer, “that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds”?

“Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.” – Unknown


I bow down to the ongoing creativity of nature. Remembering that an action or idea may fail, but we are not failures, humans have succeeded — so far so fast, in fact, that our humanity, humility, and compassion haven’t kept up. There’s been so much soul loss along the way that even people who claim to honor Christian tradition have lost the first ethic: Thou shalt not kill.

It’s been hard to face the failure of war because morally, socially, politically, and environmentally, most of us cringe at how bad war is for all living things. Recognizing the troublesome pattern of averting our gaze from a hard truth is the first step in recovering our essence and changing any false pattern. Facing war’s failure with an open heart and clear head, we can feel some healthy remorse and savor the wisdom that honest mistakes can yield.

“I have not failed,” wrote the inventor Thomas Edison. “I‘ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!”

Well, war is one of the 10,000 ways we know that won’t work. War doesn’t work as a tool, a way of life, and certainly not as a violent addiction. Hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, multinational corporations and government pirates fear that very soon now there won’t be any left. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, they are now committing violent crimes against Nature to get what little is left of what they’re hooked on.

Since the U. S. Military contributes more than 30% of the carbon dioxide poisoning our planet, why aren’t we addressing the failure of war to sustain and protect us? Because we don’t believe in the benefits of failure. It’s a gung-ho heaving forward for capitalistic, militarized, industrialized, corporatized, patriarchal systems that view maximum material gain as the purpose of life, despite the fact they are running like Wile E. Coyote beyond the rational road and over the precipice.

To build their fortunes, failures are hidden and never discussed. “I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut in the last years of his life. “Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely.”

When multinational systems send soldiers to fight and die in Middle Eastern sandstorms for more oil to feed the never-ending war machine’s fossil fuel addiction, that is a failure. Bringing soldiers home from the war zone to a new war zone of urban gun violence, school shootings, and suicide — which is the leading killer of U. S. troops deployed to the Middle East — that is a failure.

This is on a mass scale, and why are we funding these failures?

The competitive agenda of engineering social and economic chaos to take power over others to the detriment of the many flies in the face of a deeper, more essential wish most people, I believe, have: to be good caretakers of the Earth. We are all branches, leaves, and blossoms on the one sacred tree of life.

Too many have died for somebody else’s bad dream. Admitting that war is a failure is to drop the inessential and return to the essence, which was the state of peace that war-makers said they wanted and went to war for in the first place, and as in most fairy tales, the magic essence was inside them all along. It’s as one soldier noted, “We don’t go to war for war, we go to war for what we’re leaving behind.”

*“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”
~Thomas Paine*


Do you remember the sacred tree? On a planet engulfed in flames and floods, with corporate war engineers and trigger-happy billionaires at the wheel, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment searching for the road to peace and abundance.

How do we leverage our creative power to shift the war paradigm, which is killing us and killing our planet? How do we shift the focus from the machinery of war to the sacred tree of peace?

Peace is the whole point. So how do soldiers killing each other solve any of the world’s problems? How do we stop war? Can we use the power of our consciousness to shift the paradigm from the image of a war machine, to the beautiful lustrous flowering of the most magnificent sacred tree?

I recall the words of Black Elk, the Oglala Lakota holy man who survived the late 19th century Indian Wars, Wounded Knee, the rodeo, and reservation life, continually honoring the sacred tree, the full circle of life.

“At the center of the sacred hoop,
you have said that I should make the tree to bloom.
With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather,
With running eyes, I must say, the tree has never bloomed.
Here I stand, and the tree is withered.
Again, I recall the great vision you gave me.
It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives.
Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds!
Hear me, that the people may once again find the good road and the shielding tree.”

And if we can collectively find the “good road and the shielding tree,” our family tree, how will that affect the quality of our love, work, and our leadership at all levels?

“If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?” — Buckminster Fuller.


From the ecstatic healing dance of the !Kung Bushmen to the raising of healing spirits in trances, dance has always been a way to connect with the rhythms of the larger spheres of intelligence. Dance has been used for fitness, courtship, fun, entertainment, self-knowledge, group therapy, and even defiance of dominators for thousands of years. From Hawaiian Hula to Strauss waltzes to Dancing with the Stars, the best of dancers communicate with powerful invisible realms through the language of the body in the syntax of the soul.

What is it about dance that makes it so universally beloved? Dance is an act of imagination, a bargain we strike between the visible and invisible worlds.

Do dancers fail? Yes, that’s how we learn. The hand goes here, like this. The eye gaze points there. Yes! There’s no time for crying into our ballet shoes. The dancer becomes pliable clay to the dictates of the choreographer. If we let failure stop us, that is the ultimate failure. Course-corrections can save us when we see where we’ve failed, and they also encourage us to inquire: by whose perception or standard do we measure the apparent opposite of failure, success?

At last, all of us have to choose for ourselves what constitutes success and failure. Others are quite eager to give us a set of criteria – if you let them.

By most conventional measures, I had failed in so many imaginative ways by the age of 28, seven years out of college, that I was beginning to agree with my parents’ fears for me. Maybe I should have stayed in accounting. Since turning 16, my jobs had ranged from accounting office filing clerk to radio environmental reporter, dance reviewer, performing in off-off-off Broadway shows, improv theater, teaching Yoga at a YMCA, location scouting for low-budget L. A. films, and training moms and babies how to swim. I also volunteered as a counselor at a family counseling center and edited a student newspaper. It’s fair to say I was seeking something, though possibly not lost. It wasn’t that I was failing on an epic scale, but when an extremely short-lived marriage imploded, and I was jobless and poor – not quite homeless, but close – the fears my parents had for me seemed to be a portent of things to come. I was beginning to agree with them that my version of success wasn’t working. By everyone else’s standard, I was a failure.

Now, that was certainly not a pleasurable time in my life. I had recycled so many hopes that my dreams seemed shattered. There was no light at the end of the tunnel when I left L. A. to move in with my brother in Colorado. I was still dancing, my Yoga study and practice was deepening, and in perfect synchronicity, I met Tom Crum in an Aikido class. He and John Denver were just then conceiving of their 1980s effort to save the planet through the Windstar Foundation. And by an extraordinary stroke of good luck, I was hired as their Media Director. Here was a place, finally, where dreams were manifesting. Hydroponic gardens, solar panels, a wind farm, and workshops on how we could be better parents, people, and an equitable organization.

Amory Lovins lived down the road in the Roaring Fork Valley. Ram Das visited. Peter Caddy of Findhorn came for a few days. Werner Erhardt dropped by. Windstar was a magnet for Earth-centric community, with Yoga in the morning, singing, eating, gardening, working to prepare meals and host workshops exploring dance, psychology, meditation, and shamanism. What I remember most from that time is happy people working joyfully because we were going to solve the problem of how to wean off old fossil fuel habits. This was the only way to ward off — what was then still only beginning — global warming trends.

It was here that I met Buckminster Fuller who taught me one of the most valuable lessons on failure I have ever learned. A self-described trickster, twice ejected from Harvard, a failure in business and commerce, Bucky, as he was called, nearly committed suicide at the age of 45 before he came to the realization that Nature is the key to success. “The opposite of Nature,” he said, “is impossible. Don’t oppose forces, use them.”

One day when we were filming inside a tipi constructed by interns at Windstar, 84-year-old Bucky was extemporaneously blowing our collective minds with his brilliant discussion of the star tetrahedron, when suddenly his narrative was cut short. The sound of wood splitting startled us. A spliced section of lodgepole pine had split apart above us, and with canvas ripping and people screaming, the structure collapsed on the 30 people assembled. No one was hurt. A descending log barely missed Bucky’s bald head, but was caught by one of our tripods, luckily not in use at the time. He was rushed outside and everyone followed.

Trembling, I asked Bucky how he felt. “As you are considered one of the foremost architects of a generation, how do you feel about a tipi, a construction based on an ancient design, falling on our heads?”

“Oh, generally, 99 out of 100 designs fail. I’m used to it,” he said, cool as can be. “I’ve been an inventor my entire life. If I was afraid of failure, I couldn’t have survived. The important thing is to learn from every failure.”

I saw that it was the fear of failure that keeps us from succeeding. Most people are so afraid to fail, they fall into dark places to avoid learning anything.

“Fear is the path to the dark side,” said Yoda, the Star Wars Jedi Master. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” It was then I made plans to find a course of study that could help me find peaceful cultures where people were unafraid and happy, and so I embarked on a journey that led me to Bali, more Yoga, more dance, and the Union Institute, a graduate school that fostered multi-disciplinary learners.

Fearful people can’t harvest the learning that leads to success, and that’s too bad. We ought to take joy in our failures for every failing brings with it the possibility for something greater. Analyze any failure under whatever circumstances and you will discover the seeds for turning failures into success. It’s a law of nature.

Look at this way: when I went to grade school in Centralia, Illinois, we used to draw pictures of trees, families, and houses of tomorrow, boats of tomorrow, airplanes of tomorrow, towns of tomorrow, and there were all these dreams for the future. Of course, our parents and teachers had grown up in the Great Depression and the magic word for them was prosperity. Sometime soon, they thought, prosperity would come. We prepared for it by dreaming it up, painting the dog dwellings and flying carpets, the ideal food, parks, bicycles and rainbows on hovercraft.

As our heirs, our children have inherited technologies and problems that are changing the way they see the world. Do they wonder if we’re destroying the whole planet as a breathable system with healthy water, soil, and air?

Our children and grandchildren learn about the dangers and they are shocked. Then they learn about the appalling history of human and animal slavery, about the more than 200 manmade chemicals pumping through the body of a newborn child, the AIDS epidemic, nuclear submarines skulking along sea floors, and war squadrons trained and ready, on a moment’s notice, to shoot.

Who can explain to a curious 10-or 12-year old how shooting rockets and dropping H-bomb warheads on men, women, and children, turning them into radioactive soot and bone meal, can be a good idea? How can you explain that super-rich people seem to think it’s acceptable to wipe out the blue-green world, and more than a million species with it, while they’re watching Fox News and gobbling a couple of Double Mac Cheeseburgers?

And the hardest question, why aren’t we doing more to stop this insanity?


Students, young adults, and everyone who realizes what’s at stake, really, we are conjuring visions about turning the environmental failures of yesterday into successes for tomorrow. I hear their dreams about building edible landscapes and solar-wind-water power adventures to clean up the mess we are threatening to leave them with. They are so in tune, and I believe that together we can restore the rhythm and soul of the world. They need our help, thought, every single one of us.

Unfortunately, fewer adults are dreaming of a better world for their grandchildren. The world-wide greed is unconscionable for one thing. But there’s this: The books {Be Here Now} and {The Power of Now} are perfectly apt directives for a pre-climate collapse world. But it’s made many people into stereotypes of the old-time 12-steppers, whose courage I praise, but living one day at a time doesn’t mean just living day by day like there’s no tomorrow.

Gradually, there may in fact be no tomorrow. If we want real security for our children, that’s a world at peace. Standing in the here-now, look back at our actions, and at the results of our actions, and connect the dots. Affirming to advance the dreaming into a better future point is another dot to connect. In a wholesome way, we dream the future into being. Which brings me back to the dance.

Dance makes practically everyone more loving of life. From dancing under the stars in campfire light, drumming and chanting, swaying in rhythm with the waves, to jazz, modern, hip-hop, tap, ballet, hula, and sacred circle dancing, dance blossoms in all cultures. Embodied movement brings fragments of the soul back together after fears and failures have torn us apart. It recovers our true nature, our essence. Dance reminds us we’re all in this together.

No one can be left behind. Dreaming for the shared purpose of peace, health, and prosperity changes everything! I think it may even be able to stop war!


“We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion.” ~ Mother Theresa

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