Gaia House Interfaith Center

Gaia House Interfaith Center: This is a photo of Gaia House Interfaith Center in Carbondale, IL.

Gaia House Interfaith Center is a community center located at the heart of Carbondale, Illinois. Ever since my freshman year of undergraduate studies at SIUC, I’ve been involved in this unique center in a variety of ways. This place is one of the main reasons why I ended up staying in Southern Illinois after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. Therefore, I’m pleased to announce that this Fall, I’m serving as the interim Program Director of Gaia House Interfaith Center.

So what is Gaia House? Honestly, that’s a question we explore just about every day. One answer is provided by our mission statement:

“With a mission to SIUC students and an outreach to the wider area, we are a welcoming community committed to spiritual awareness that integrates peace, justice, and ecological sustainability.”

This sentence goes a long way to describe why we do what we do. But you can only understand Gaia House fully by learning more about the people who come here and coming on by sometime to experience it for yourself.

Gaia House is a place where people of many faiths, beliefs, and cultures meet. We are an eclectic mix of independent thinkers, spiritual seekers, ecological activists, and a wide variety of other everyday folks who enjoy meeting new people in a friendly environment and taking the time to get to know them. At Gaia House meetings, dinners, and other events, we eat good food, cook and clean, meditate, do yoga and tai chi, watch movies, celebrate holidays, and talk about questions of faith and reality. This is one of the few places in Southern Illinois where you can meet and spend time with new people regardless of your different beliefs and backgrounds.

Gaia House means something a little different to everyone who comes here. This also means that Gaia House has something for everyone, allowing us to expand our horizons by learning what we have in common with other people in our community.

The Gaia House website explains more details about some of the different groups, events, and individuals that call Gaia House home. The front page includes a Like Box that shows the latest news from Gaia House on Facebook. The Gaia House newsletter, Happenings in Faith, Peace, and Justice, offers a weekly overview of what’s going on at the center and in the community, including a description of this week’s dinner themes and any special events and news.

As the new Program Director, I’ve already had the good fortune of working with other people in our community to restart old Gaia House programming from last Spring and develop new programming at Gaia House for the Fall. There’s already plenty going on over here, and always room for new and exciting ways to meet new people and learn new things at Gaia House!

If you live here in Carbondale, are going to school in Southern Illinois, or are just passing through the Carbondale area, here are just a few of our regularly scheduled programs that you can check out while you’re in town:

  • InterVeg is a vegetarian potluck that happens every Thursday at 6 pm. It’s an opportunity for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to eat healthy vegetarian and vegan food and share a delicious meal in a community environment. When local veggies are in season, we get fresh veggies once a week from Hollow Pumpkin CSA to use in the meals.
  • Rice and Spice is an international slow foods dinner that happens every Friday at 6 pm. People get together to prepare and eat a meal together with a different theme each week. Our themes often feature the cuisine of a particular country, allowing everyone to learn more about the delicious food of the world each week. When local veggies are in season, we get fresh veggies once a week from Hollow Pumpkin CSA to use in the meals.
  • Questions of Faith and Reality, a popular new series that started in the Spring, offers you a place to search for wisdom with other students and community members. Pradnya Dharmadhikari and Maurine Pyle will be facilitating this ongoing conversation about love, faith, uncertainty, and other questions raised by the participants. The group will meet on Monday nights at 6:00 PM in the library beginning August 29th.
  • Free Wifi and Comfy Couches. The building is open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 4 pm and Friday from 11 am to 4 pm. Feel free to come on in, have a seat, drink some water or coffee/tea, and make use of our free public wifi. Feel free to stop by the office to say hi to me or our Operations Director, Jon-Paul Diefenbach, or just take some time to yourself to relax, do homework, meditate, or walk in the Carbondale Labyrinth and Peace Garden out back.

If I sound excited about everything going on at Gaia House, it’s because I am! I’ve been going to Gaia House for a long time now, and I feel very excited and blessed to be playing a new role in developing our programming and keeping our doors open. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for new programming. Thanks for listening, and if you’re here in Southern Illinois, I look forward to seeing you sometime at Gaia House Interfaith Center!

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Superheroes Review

Superheroes Documentary: This is a promotional image for Superheroes, a documentary about the Real Life Superhero (RLSH) movement.Superheroes is a documentary about the Real Life Superhero movement. Since it covers a topic dear to my heart and features a variety of individuals who I’ve met online or in person, I decided to track this film down and write a review.

From a technical and artistic standpoint, Superheroes is a delight to watch. The quality of the footage is excellent, both in terms of its visual appeal and in terms of its content. The film explores the personal narratives of several RLSHs, including their origin story, their mission, and the challenges they face along the way. The footage is very smoothly edited and includes a good balance of interviews with RLSHs, footage of RLSHs as they go about their work, and perspectives from “experts” and people helped by the RLSH community. The comic book themed transitions and graphics add to the atmosphere of the film and help tie the different narrative threads together. Ultimately, the creators of the film paint a very poignant and human picture of Real Life Superheroes, showing both the nobility of their causes and the personal challenges that often define their entrance into the movement.

As a Real Life Superhero myself, I noticed several shortcomings in the film.

First of all, there was an overemphasis on crime fighting. This is somewhat understandable given the fact that this is what the comic books often focus on and what the viewing audience may find most exciting and alluring. However, there is more to the RLSH movement than crime fighting patrols. The footage of Life and the homeless outreach at Comic Con were excellent examples of more service-oriented RLSH work, and the film covered these RLSH missions quite masterfully in the relatively brief moments when it chose to do so. But I worry that the emphasis on crime fighting patrols will skew the newcomer’s perspective on what it means to be an RLSH.

Second, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the personal challenges of certain RLSH were portrayed in a humorous or mocking manner. The focus on Master Legend’s drinking and flirtation with women, along with Mr. Extreme’s cluttered apartment, family relations, and time spent living in his van, seemed to perpetuate the notion that RLSHs are inherently imbalanced and dysfunctional. On the one hand, I valued this footage as accurate and humanizing portrayals of prominent members of the RLSH community. On the other hand, I feel it could have [and perhaps should have] been balanced by more footage of the many RLSH who have more stable living situations and more complex intellectual perspectives on the work that they do.

If I had been involved in the production of this film, I would have handled the above points differently. However, as I watched Superheroes, I made sure to keep in mind the fact that this is the first documentary on the subject to make it into the mainstream. That being the case, I would argue that it is an excellent first offering in the Real Life Superhero genre. We could really use a few follow-up films that explore special topics such as the charity and activism oriented RLSH, the RLSH with a stable work/family life, and the historical roots that RLSH are [knowingly or unknowningly] drawing on. But in the meantime, Superheroes offers us a compelling glimpse into a growing movement of people who adopt superhero identities in order to serve their communities. I don’t usually like to give “stars” to a movie in my reviews, but I’ll give this one 4 out of 5 stars to indicate the fact that while I have my reservations, I am happy to see that this movie exists and eager to recommend it to everyone interested in Real Life Superheroes.

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Campaign for Change is a Success!

Change Logo for Kickstarter: This is my logo for the Kickstarter campaign for "Change," an urban fantasy novel about climate change.I am pleased to report that the Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming novel, Change, has successfully met its goal! Thirty-nine backers pledged a total of $3,619 for the completion of this project. We received the last of these pledges just in time to reach the goal before the deadline.

Now that the Kickstarter campaign has drawn to a close, work on the novel can proceed at full speed. This blog entry is one of the next steps in that process. I’ll start by thanking everyone who participated in the Kickstarter campaign, then move on to describe what the next steps will be as I move forward with my plans to make Change a reality.

First of all, a great big thank you to everyone who made a pledge, spread the word, and otherwise supported me along the way. Your support is making this novel possible, both by funding the project’s expenses and by inspiring me in my work.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to my brother, Errol O’Neill, and my friend, Aur Beck, for their extraordinary levels of support for my first full-length novel.

I’ve known Errol for all of my life. He’s always been one of the most kind, considerate, and supportive people I’ve known. I’m very fortunate to have such a good brother. I’m also fortunate that he was able to support me in the process of turning my first full-length novel into a reality!

I’ve known Aur for over a decade now, and in that time he’s become like a brother to me too. We share a heartfelt dedication to ecological and social justice causes. We’ve also been doing a community radio show together for over ten years. From his renewable energy business, Advanced Energy Solutions, to his many courses and lectures on renewable energy and other green issues, Aur has shown a tireless commitment to making his practical vision of sustainable living a reality.

I’d also like to give a heartfelt thanks to a few other personal friends who have shown me extra support along the way. My friends Courtney Hahn, Steve Hahn, Rhiannon O’Neal, Christopher “Eel” Williams, Dan Raino, Zach Seibert, Jon-Paul Diefenbach, and Josh Guess (author of “Living With the Dead“) have all gone the extra mile to support my writing and my teaching. They’ve also helped me stay sane (and well-fed!) throughout the process of starting this novel and running this Kickstarter campaign. I am blessed to have many friends, but you have each in your own ways played a pivotal role in this process.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone else who made a pledge for Change: Kimberly Ellis, Tabitha Tripp, Dinah Seibert, “vilkacis”, Bemjamin Seibert, Melissa Hubbard, Joshua K. Vaughn, Lauren Kitover, Jessie Sims, David Hutchings, Julia Murphy, Don Ellis, Niki Henderson, Sarah Palm, Kristie Purdy, Jennifer Bull, Martha Ellert, Katie, Andi Darnell, Tim Kirkpatrick, Joel Landry, Marisa Winegar, Hugh Muldoon, Summer Marshall, Susan Kaman, Heather Jacob, Jessica Bradshaw, Jeremy Keith, Alex van Vucht, Retha Daugherty, Wes Foskey, Gregg Sperling, and Cheyenne Adams.

Thanks again for all of your support! Your pledges will pay for the cover art, proofreading, publication costs, and other expenses as I write, revise, and publish this novel.

So what’s the next step?

The biggest next step is writing! I’ve cut back on other projects so that I can focus as much time as possible on finishing this novel. My work on Change includes a combination of writing the text itself plus ongoing work on my notes, plot outline, and research relevant to the plot.

I’m also pleased to report that I’ve found a local artist to work on the novel’s cover art! I’ve already had my first meeting with her, and I’m very excited about the progress we’ve made so far. She’s going to do one or two preliminary mock-ups based on what we discussed at that meeting. Once she’s done that, we’ll meet again and decide where to go from there.

If you’re one of the lucky people who pledged for Change using Kickstarter, you’ll receive regular updates from me through your Kickstarter account. For those of you who didn’t pledge, I’ll also be sure to post about any major updates here on my Song of the Trees blog.

The projected release date of Change is Winter 2011. This gives me several months to finish the text, receive feedback from a few good friends, make my final edits, have the final draft proofread, receive the cover art, and have the finished product available in print and digital form by the end of November. It’s going to be a busy four or five months, but it’ll be worth it!

Thank you once again to everyone who has supported this project. I’ll be sure to keep you posted as work progresses. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Summer! [And I hope everyone in the Southern Hemisphere has a wonderful Winter!]

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Dimensions of Health and My Healing Journey

I’ve had several experiences recently that have lead me to reflect on the different dimensions of health. At first, I thought this was purely personal musing on my part, not necessarily something worth mentioning in my blog. Then, I realized that it was a “teachable moment,” so I decided to share.

I’m in the middle of a year-and-a-day cycle of profound change. The first outwardly visible sign of this cycle was my spontaneous decision to start jogging every day for the next year and a day. Since I was inspired to start this jogging on Samhain, the Celtic New Year, I knew that it was probably part of a deeper cycle of change in my life. And so far, the changes in my life have born out that perspective. In fact, I am convinced that this cycle is the final stage of my transformation from Justin Patrick O’Neill into Treesong.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog shares my spiritual beliefs. If any of what I’m about to say doesn’t make sense to you, or doesn’t seem believable to you, I encourage you to take it with a grain of salt and see it as a colorful metaphor for a process of psychological development. But this is my blog, so I’m going to describe my experiences in the way that I experience them, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like.

I changed my name to Treesong because my move to Southern Illinois and my involvement in various environmental groups triggered a profound personal transformation. To be honest, I’m tempted to say that I was “born again” as a Pagan since it feels like I’ve reincarnated without dying. Whatever you want to call it, I became a new person — possessing many of the same core qualities as my former self, but experiencing and manifesting them in new and different ways.

Becoming Treesong has been an intense, amazing, and ultimately rewarding process. I really feel that as Treesong, I’ve come closer to embodying and embracing the best of the core qualities that have defined both Justin and Treesong. I’ve come to realize, though, that I never fully completed this process.

My journey to Idaho for a summer of forest defense work was the first step in this process. My studies at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing were an important turning point in this process. And at first, I thought that my initiation as a Wiccan Priest was the completion of this process. And on some level, it was. But somehow, this new identity — this new way of experiencing my core essence and manifesting it in the world — didn’t fully take root.

Really, it’s hard to say why. To be honest, I’m sure it had a lot to do with the fact that Southern Illinois really doesn’t have a lot of people like me, and I didn’t have the material and social support at the time to foster me through the final stages of this transformation. In any case, I encountered heavy resistance (both inner and outer) to my efforts to create a new life as Treesong. I was feeling the intensely active and creative energy of my new life, but caught in the patterns and circumstances of my old life, leading to a downward spiral that almost made me lose sight of who I am.

When I encountered the Real Life Superhero movement, it snapped me out of this downward spiral. Suddenly, I had a new way of understanding and explaining my life’s calling. Activism had become depressing to me because it focused on all of the tragic and often soul-crushing problems in the world that needed to be solved. But this concept of becoming a superhero was inspiring to me because it focused instead on my own personal power to act in the world.

And so, I became a Real Life Superhero. This breathed new life into me, improving my personal attitude and giving me the energy I needed to return to a life of community involvement. In my first year as an RLSH, I had some wonderful experiences, including helping out with dozens of local projects and traveling to Superheroes Anonymous 4 in Portland for an intense weekend of both personal training and public service.

When I came home from Portland, though, it was clear to me that there were still some serious barriers in my life left over from my time of low energy and low activity. My physical health and fitness was still in a sorry state; my income was virtually non-existent; and I was still caught up in a few patterns in my personal life that I simply couldn’t seem to shake because they were coping mechanisms for the fact that my tremendous inner fire was being actively dampened down by my life’s circumstances.

And so, as I fumbled around trying in vain to figure out what to do, the answer came to me spontaneously, without effort or warning, through the wisdom of my body and my heart rather than some keen mental insight or brilliant strategy.

I started jogging.

I felt stuck, I felt frustrated, and I didn’t know what else to do. But I felt an intense desire to do SOMETHING. So I put on my boots, stepped outside, and started jogging.

The first few laps were extremely rough going. I could barely even jog a lap around the block at that point. But somehow, jogging made me feel better. The inner fire that used to burn me up inside was suddenly transformed into a healthy physical activity that would heal me rather than hurt me. I jogged another day, and another, and soon I realized that I had made an unspoken commitment to jog for the next year and a day.

The jogging, though, was only the beginning. I also realized that this was a time to break all of the remaining unhealthy patterns in my life.

When I felt like a community activity was draining my energy without actually providing a meaningful service to the community, I would do my best to change the pattern. If I couldn’t change the pattern, I would step back and look for a new perspective on the situation, or find some new way to be involved in the community.

When I felt like I couldn’t be open and expressive with someone, I would do my best to change the pattern. If they were mere acquaintances, I simply spent less time with them, or stopped caring whether or not they wanted me to be genuine around them. If they were someone closer, I sought to find some way, any way, to break the pattern and express myself more fully in their presence. If they understood, and liked what I had to share, our friendship deepened. If they didn’t, then at least our differences became clear, offering us both the opportunity to reflect on them and work through them rather than failing to understand or acknowledge each other’s differences.

These past few weeks have been tough work — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. But when the going got tough, I got tougher. When I felt tired, instead of just dragging my feet and not getting much done, I rested deeply for a while, then found the energy to do something productive and inspiring with my life. When I felt depressed or discouraged, I reminded myself that it was okay to feel that way sometimes, and embracing it with a healing response rather than denying it allowed me to move through it that much more quickly.

And so, while my outward circumstances really don’t seem that much different, I find myself in an entirely new place today. I’m still jogging every day, and now I jog a mile almost every day. I’m filled with all sorts of creative energy, including new ideas for stories, inspiration for my novel, and academic inspiration for my work with the Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education. And I know that if I can sustain this uplifting pattern for even just a little while longer, my major remaining physical and financial and personal hurdles will start to shift dramatically, and the whole process will take on a life of its own.

In my heart, I’ve been Treesong for years. But now, over the course of my current year and a day cycle, I’m changing all of the outward physical, emotional, relational, and financial aspects of my life to better reflect who I am and what I’m doing with my life.

This has been a bumpy process. My mood and energy levels have been somewhat irregular as my physical, emotional, and mental patterns change, releasing much of the pain and confusion of my previous life. A few of you have ended up not hearing from me as often simply because I’ve been busy, and a few others have chosen to step back because they didn’t understand what I was going through, or don’t have as much interest in the person I’m becoming. But for the most part, the people in my life seem encouraged and inspired by these changes. I’m certainly becoming healthier, and for the most part I’ve been much happier, too. I’ve had a few friends comment on how I’m starting to look more healthy and vibrant, and a few others congratulate me on my renewed interest in my personal training and my creative writing.

Ultimately, this entry has been about my health journey rather than my original point. But I’d like to draw this to a close by getting back to my original point.

Health and personal empowerment work is very complex. We all carry our wounds in unique ways, and the journey from illness to wellness is complex, difficult to understand, and different for everyone. I’ve known this for a while now, but it really sunk in for me yesterday as I was making a video for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

The video itself is fairly simple and to the point. I introduce myself, talk a bit about my project, and encourage you to support the campaign. What really served as food for thought, though, was watching myself in the monitor for an extended period of time.

It was an eye-opening experience. Reading other people’s body language, quality of eye contact, etc., is second nature to me. With little or no effort on my part, I receive a wealth of information about people that supplements the more intuitive and esoteric experiences that I have of their personal energy and character. However, I had never really taken a good hard look at myself in this way to consider how other people who are sensitive to such cues would “read” me.

What a strange experience! In just a few minutes of watching myself on a computer monitor, I learned more about myself and other people’s opinions of me (both good and bad) than I had in years. I was reminded of how dull and lackluster my eyes can be when I’ve been pushing my body to its limits, and how talking excitedly about something or someone is often the only thing that can bring back that brilliant shine. I saw how stilted some of my movements look to an outsider. I noticed what it looks and feels like when I don’t hold eye contact and don’t have a warm expression on my face. Basically, I saw myself as someone would see me if they were only paying attention to my body language and quality of eye contact rather than hearing and seeing the deeper cues about who I am and what I’m like on the inside.

And in those few minutes, so many things became clear to me. It became clear to me that the way I hold myself physically (and often emotionally) is still closer to Justin’s clashing anxiety and depression than it is to Treesong’s balance of exuberance and steadiness. It made me understand why someone who does body-oriented work for a living still sees me as a wounded soul in need of healing rather than an incredibly strong and beautiful person to love and cherish. It made me understand why a manager would doubt my ability to do customer service work effectively, especially on my most exhausted days. It made me understand why friends and acquaintances sometimes think I’m tired or in pain even when I’m feeling wonderful.

Ultimately, it made me realize that unless someone knows me well, or is actively looking to discover my spiritual side, or both, my outward appearance and mannerisms really do make it hard for them to see the incredible passion and inspiration that I bring to my life. Yes, even my inner fire sometimes wavers — but it’s burning far more brightly and steadily than anyone would imagine if they’re simply looking at coarse physical cues.

This really made me think about the different levels on which hurting and healing take place. Yes, there is a general tendency for inner health to invigorate the outer body. There’s also a tendency for inner hurting to lead to physical sickness. I’ve experienced both. But psychological and spiritual patterns can change much more quickly and deeply than physical processes and structures. So you can’t get a full picture of someone’s current emotional and mental state simply by examining their physical fitness and energy levels. That may give you clues into how they’ve held their energy earlier in life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on inside of them today.

Someone who looks very healthy on the outside may be in the midst of a profound downward spiral of emotional and mental distress that may ultimately erode their physical health. And someone who is plagued with the outward signs of exhaustion and emotional holding may in fact be experiencing a profound emotional liberation that will ultimately improve their physical health. Even for highly empathic people, it can take a bit of conversation and exploration to figure out what differences there may be between outer appearances and inner realities.

A part of me wants to go back and explain all of this to about two or three dozen people in my life who I feel have had a hard time understanding what’s going on with me because of the differences between my outer body and my inner experience. But then, I came to a liberating realization.

I don’t have to tell them. I’m going to show them.

My jogging, yoga, and personal process work is already starting to shift how I hold my body, and how my muscles and the coloring of my face look, and whether or not there’s a glimmer in my eye. One or two people close to me have already mentioned the difference, and I suspect others are noticing it without even mentioning it. It’s a bit more subtle now, but it’s only going to get more noticeable as time goes on. By the end of the year and a day cycle, I fully expect the change to be so dramatic that even people who pay no attention to my energy or body language will recognize it.

This is a dramatic realization — and an inspiring note to end on. It’s been a long road, and the drain that this journey had on me in the past is still visible in my body. But my heart and spirit are full of passion and vigor, and my body is starting to catch up. I’ve reached the point where physical exercise and activity are actually invigorating, and exciting, and something that I feel naturally drawn to. This being the case, I have great confidence that by the end of this year, I’ll be a much more integrated and empowered individual, with the energy of my body rising to meet the energy of my heart and spirit, making me ready to take my healing journey to a whole new level and change my community and my world for the better.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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