Embraced by Earth

Sunset at the Earthship House

Embraced by earth,

dug into the gentle hillside,

flooded with sunlight from south-facing windows,

indoor gardens lined with fuschia geraniums,

rosemary blooming sky blue

                                         against dark green aromatic leaves,

                                         lettuces cheerfully emerging in empty spaces

                                          while a sage brush mesa stretches wide all around.

The pulse of earthly rhythms echoes in my soul.  I have never lived in such harmony before.

There is no lock on our door.    The desert clomps in on our boots, mingles with sage brush kindling debris, and is swept back out in our ‘cleaning spells’, but mostly reminds us we are in the earth, of the earth, made of earth itself.   The line between our selves and earth is thin and ever vanishing.  Sage swells with our gray water in the old arroyo, and offers kindling for our winter fires in return.   We rise and set with the sun, follow its call out into its mid-day winter heat to pace across the wide swells of the mesa in its glory.  Inside, the earth tucks us in her bosom.   Her slow and quiet heartbeat murmurs next to ours.  Our minds grow still and peaceful like layers of rock and soil slowly shifting over time, burrowed in contemplation.

An earthship is a style of dwellings designed by Mike Reynolds which feature earthen walls, huge south-facing windows, passive solar heat, and a plethora of ‘green’ construction and energy techniques.   Built thirty years ago by our spritely landlady, Jenny Bird, on the Taos Plateau, our chocolate and sienna colored home is lined with blue, teal, and clear glass bottle walls that sparkle continuously through the day as the sun arcs in its low winter path overhead.   In the summer, when the earth tilts, the sun brushes the angled roofline, dropping the entire house into indirect light that keeps the brunt of the desert heat off the dwelling.   Gray stone floors and thick adobe walls built into the hill absorb warmth and re-radiate warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.

This Earthship Home is our Teacher.

When we travel, touring our theater shows across the country, we puzzle over other constructions buffeted by winds, hammered on three sides by snow and sleet, leaking heat in all directions, windows shunning sun for ‘views’, oriented against their natural hillsides.   Conventional houses now seem strange, disjointed, disoriented.  We wonder what our world would look like if all houses were tucked into the earth and opened to the sun.    And what would people be like if we lived between earth and sun, part of nature, not above it, embracing life’s forces, not resisting?

Learn more about these Earthship Houses.  Visit them.  Build them.  Live in them.  You will not regret NOR FORGET the adventure.  (It may change your entire lives.)




Dance, Lala!

Rivera Sun Cook dancing, photo by Steve DiBartolomeo

“Dance, Lalla with nothing on

but air.  Sing, Lalla,

wearing the sky.

Look at this glowing day!  What clothes

Could be so beautiful, or

more sacred?”

excerpt from Naked Song  by Lalla, translated by Coleman Barks

Many have asked, at this point, if there is a connection between our African-American Lala and the Kashmiri saint, Lalleshwari, born approx. 1320 AD.   I did not know of Lalleshwari until after poetry-filled dancing Lala came to me with her lyrical stories, but Lalleshwari quickly wound her way into my heart as much as her 1890 contemporary, Lala, did.  Lalleshwari was well known for her divinely inspired songs and dancing in the Kashmir region of India.  Also well-known for upsetting social conventions, and passionately following a profound spiritual path.  There is a saying that only two words mean anything in Kashmiri; Lalla and Allah, all the rest being just language.  Allah is one name for God.  Lalla means darling.   And, as our Lala says “God’s Word is Love.”

There are two books of Lalleshwari’s poetry I recommend.  One is Naked Song translated by Coleman Barks.  The other is Lalleshwari : spiritual poems by a great Siddha yogini, by Swami Muktananda and Swami Laldyada.

Drawing Hope

Sketches for "Hope at the End of the World" -a new illustrated book coming Fall 2012


My ‘desk’ is a futon couch covered (like all desks) with mountains of utterly intriguing and invaluable scraps of paper, sketches, and tools of the trade.  Tea ware, incense, scrap paper, rulers, writing boards, laptop, an old fashioned suitcase full of art supplies, old poster designs, new sketches, ‘reference books’ of Alphonse Mucha & Trina Schart Hyman illustrations, music and video files from the plays, the to-do list (hidden somewhere under it all), and my wide-brimmed green hat to shade my eyes when the sun angles through the window around two o’clock.

 Today, Hope lies on the top of the pile.

Hope at the End of the World, an illustrated novel, (which I hope is as philosophic, beautiful, and heart-warming as The Little Prince), tells the metaphoric story of our times.  Beginning with a prayer for our world and ending with an answer, the heroine, Hope, embarks on a quest to find a way to keep our world from ending.

The Art Nouveau inspired illustrations keep my eyes and hands busy crafting beauty, looking for flow and grace in every nuance of my own life.  A walk on the mesa I live on becomes a study of form, foreground and background.  Incense taunts me, dares me to try to capture its curves and shapes.  All around me the majesty of our world smiles as I attempt to bring you a little of its wonderment in this book.

Much love,


The Creative Power of Solitude

Rivera walking on the mesa.

The desert mesa stretches east and west and all around.

Taos-town lies five miles off.

Only our next-door neighbors know our names.

Here, in solitude, the stories sing themselves.

Two months of quiet and the creative juices bubble over.  Since moving to the Taos Plateau from Santa Cruz, CA, two new plays, the text of a new book, a few essays, poems, and artistic projects have sprung forth from total focus and sheer love of this work.

Everyday, I rise and dance.  Then I drink tea, meditate, and begin work, even before breakfast.  The rice congee cooking on the stove, the incense furling, and my mind listening for the stories, new material has flowed like the spring that Long Shoe dowsed in “The Imagine-a-nation”.

After hours of writing, with a break for food, I’ll stumble out into the afternoon sunshine to pace the mesa foot trails that stretch for miles through the sage brush.  In the evenings, by the fire, drawing and sketching soothes my mind and brings it with the pencil point to a precision of quiet that prepares my mind for sleeping.

The wind on the chimney and the coyotes yipping are the sounds of our surroundings.  The quiet brings me to the source, the listening, and the dedication to write stories on behalf of all beings.  I read the Mahayana Buddhist Sutras, the Shaivite poems of Lalleshwari, the Taoist verses of Sun Pu-erh.  I let the dross of all I’ve known and learned settle to the bottom of the pond, so I can see, with clarity, how tell stories that end all suffering.

With Love, Rivera Sun

Happy Holidays and An Exciting New Year!

Christmas finds our company adventuring into new territory.  While company manager Dariel Garner lines up East Coast work for spring, and Alana Duvernay begins her next quarter of UCSC classes still floating from her debut in “Imagine-a-nation”, Rivera has hunkered down on the next set of writing projects.  Dariel and Rivera moved to Taos, NM, welcoming quiet and solitude and a change of pace to bring about the next phase of Rising Sun Dance & Theater’s work.  Preparing for the real touring work involves strategizing health and well-being on the road, marketing strategies for new areas of exposure, and, of course, mental and spiritual centering.  It is an exciting time for the company, as contacts are made throughout the U.S. and Lala’s messages begin to reach farther afield.  Finally settled after unpacking from the big move, Rivera and Dariel just set up this sage-brush Christmas tree on Dec 27th. . . They weren’t going to let mere dates get in their way of holiday fun! Image Wishing you all a joyous holiday season!

Scenes, images, and flavors of the Aptos Shows

A rooster crowing from a nearby farm, yellow leaves slipping from the trees into verdant, rain-soaked grasses, the cozy intimacy of the Fellowship Hall, white silk festival banners with red brush-stroke faces looking down like angels or bodhisattvas to guide newcomers to the fellowship, and the real live expressions of so many new faces that began as strangers and are now becoming friends.

. . .these are the images from our last weekend of shows at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Aptos.

Gung-fu Chinese tea pouring steam and deep umber cups of pu-erh tea offering a gathering place for friendship to form.  The crystalline presence and precise attention of performing each line and slipping seamlessly through each character.   Homemade raw food snacks and vegan treasures from our local markets . . . these are the flavors of our experiences on the road.

 Answering questions and listening to thoughts.  Sitting compassionately with the audiences after the shows.  Deepening and deepening the meanings of the plays –both for myself and the viewers.  Hearing concerns about race.  Responding with time and thoughtfulness.  Helping us all open the conversations that pound within our hearts.  This is the work of Rising Sun Dance & Theater.

Laughter rolling through a workshop, reverberating and repeating over and over during the three hours.   Letting experience itself be the teacher.  Allowing every participant to share their wisdom equally.  Expanding our sense of our own potential.  Opening ourselves to the possibilities of life.  This is the play of our ‘work’shops.

Gratitude welling in my heart, this day before Thanksgiving, for the now countless human beings who have given their hearts and spirits to help Lala reach us all.  Joy in my heart for Alana Duvernay for her incredible performance work about to debut on Dec 2nd at Pacific Cultural Center.  Thrills inside me over our new “Freedom Stories” book with poetic verses and commentaries, available now!

A deep bow to Lala, who spun the stories with me to begin with, and brought this magic into this world.   And love to all of you, in every moment of your lives.  May this holiday be blessed with the spirit of thanks for the marvels we are blessed with daily.

Rivera Sun Cook

A Rising Sun Year In Review


Over a cup of early morning tea, watching the sunlight stretch across the rain moistened garden, Dariel & I took a mind-bending moment to reflect on this day, one year ago.

One year ago:

I was writing the third Lala play.

Rising Sun Dance & Theater did not exist.

The director and designers for the “Star Called Love” series were unknown to us.

The Pacific Cultural Center was a yoga studio to us, not a magic theater.

We had not met Alana Duvernay, our next Lala.

Composers David Rhodes and Tammi Brown were hiding in the Santa Cruz woodworks.

LED lights and the traveling set were just technical rumors to me.

We hadn’t a clue we’d be touring these productions.

I would have laughed at the notion of publishing a book of poetry.

Three major theatres in Maine had no idea their home girl was an actress.

I had no idea I was an actress. Most of Santa Cruz thought of me as a dancer.

A small band of friends had heard the first and second play in my living room, and knew their redheaded potluck host’s life was about to change.

Two thousand people had no idea, Lala was about to change their lives.

In a year, with the help of hundred, a theatrical experience that is moving every new friend to tears, laughter, and standing ovations has been born. I cannot count the faces who have made this all possible. In my deepest self, I know it has taken all of existence.

One year, dear ones. Look at all the magic and giving that has transpired! And it has only just begun. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I hope this reflection helps us all realize that the impossible is just a blink of an eye away. The things we never dreamed today, tomorrow become reality!

Come, celebrate this remarkable journey with us on Dec 2nd , 8pm at Pacific Cultural Center, as a new leg of the journey begins. Alana Duvernay will debut in “The Imagine-a-nation of Lala Child”. Our new book of “Star Called Love” Poems called “Freedom Stories: volume one” will be released, and I will be signing it. Food, drink and festivities for all. For six months the tech crew and designers have been bugging me to have a cast party. What cast? I asked them, laughing. But now that Alana and I are a two person cast, the crew- and you!- can have their party. Come celebrate with us!

Much love, and many happy cups of tea, Rivera

Unitarian/Universalists Enthuse Over Lala & Lala Thoroughly Enjoys Them!

The past two weekends Lala traipsed around the natural setting of the UU Sanctuary out on Freedom Blvd in Aptos. Dariel and I enjoyed tea and home cooked meals in the outdoor gardens, watching fall drop the acorns off the oaks, and marveling at the blue sky and warm sunshine. A rooster from the nearby horse stables merrily announced his presence from time to time, and as twilight fell, we would sip the last of our tea, and move indoors to focus lights, set sound levels, and prepare for the evenings shows.

With a similar simplicity and appreciation of life the members of the UU Fellowship gathered to let Lala open their hearts and minds. Warm and responsive, their laughter caressed me as I flowed through Long Shoe, Ms. Crenshaw, Lijah James, and that rascal Riley. Ms. Crenshaw’s passing scene seemed particularly moving, and many folks thanked us for presenting death in such a profound and beautiful way.

The richness of the road astonishes us, and we meet other people and ways of thinking and approaching life. Even right here at home, we have now gained a new group of friends. After attending service, and watching the members move about the church, clean dishes, empty compost, offer solace and support to each other, and encourage joyful companionship as they move in the world from prayer group to protest and artistic pursuit. They are a beautiful and welcoming Fellowship, a spiritual center that has embodied so many of Lala’s messages. My heart is warmed to see them in the world. . .and to know how long they have been around!

The Universalists began around 300 A.D. and were a persecuted minority of Christianity. The Unitarians have a long and strong history in the United States, many of our founding fathers were Unitarians. The two Fellowships combined much later, but each brings a belief in acceptance, non-dogmatism, and activism in the social and political spectrum. After meeting this group, I feel honored to have been able to present our work to them!

There is much anticipation on all sides for the November 18th and 19th showings of “The Emancipation of Lala”! Please don’t be shy, and join us! Much love, and many blessings to you all on your journeys. May we meet in peace again! Rivera

Imagine-A-Nation. . .excerpts of a visioning session for our country

In a two hour workshop, hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Santa Cruz County participants used their imaginations to imagine – a – nation like ten year old Lala in our first play.  In the play, Lala claims that “this Lovely-town, the garden, the railroad, or even the flying machine. . .somebody had to have imagined them first, or not a one of them coulda come to be!”  So, by golly, we sat down to do it. . .imagine a nation that we want to live in.  And I don’t think any of us expected the outpouring of beauty and creativity that emerged.

But most beautifully to me, in addition to imagining, the participants also shared a stunning array of people and places who are already living the reality of these imaginings, or who are working to make them possible, or ways that we ourselves can manifest our wildest visions.  If you have resources you would like us to share, let us know, and in our next post we’ll mention it!

Ranging from political to spiritual, practical to poetic, idealistic to visionary, here is the mind-blowing range of responses:

Imagine a nation….

where we treasure our elders, children, and in fact all people

where human knowledge is viewed as a collective treasure to be shared by all

where all the prizes of civilization are available to all; health care, art, education. . .and all are welcomed to contribute the treasure troves of the civilization

where the ‘culture of stupidity’ is transformed into the ‘culture of compassion and wisdom’

where education is life long, available, diverse, and not forced

where people share multiple stories that ground them in the eons of life’s evolution, reminding us of the lessons learned from being trees or fish and of our connection to other beings that still exists within us

where people can discern wisdom and apply their attention accordingly

where people treasure diversity and agreement equally

Imagine a nation. . .

where troubles are quickly identified and addressed

where in troubled times even our children know how to lend support to the resolution of the issues

where conflict or violence is resolved by sending folks to a ‘love chamber’ to get ‘tuned up’

where every citizen has excellent communication skills and speaks compassionately about other people.

where people practice non-judgmental acceptance and wise evaluation

Imagine a nation. . .

that has a national food grid that rebuilds ecosystems

where everyone knows where their food and water comes from and honors those places

where landscapes are subfused with conscious marriage to the land

where there are vast stretches of un-scarred land

where it is understood that the earth is our commons

where the Earth has rights and the consciousness of the planet is acknowledged and nurtured collectively

where we heal all toxic waste on the planet

where ownership is viewed as stewardship that comes with more responsibility than privilege

where ownership concepts might shrink to toothbrushes and underwear

Imagine a nation. . .

where every person has space to enjoy privacy and nature

where architecture reflects community and collaboration

where small homes are prized

where our shelters are created organically and require minimal destruction

where animals are not killed for food by people and we honor the natural killing or giving of life deeply

where villages celebrate their local flavors and provinciality

where travel is rare, precious, and still possible


Imagine a nation. . .

of intentional communities

and localized community banks, credit unions, coops

that has fair distribution of resources

in which industry values compassion over profits

where corporations exist for the benefit of the people they serve and are reviewed annually for continued existence  (much like we have to register and smog check our cars)

where Gross National Happiness is our most important index (like in the country of Bhutan)


Imagine a nation. . .

where people are safe from physical violence and threat of violence

where a great healing takes place

where it is understood that healing is a gift, not a commodity

where healthcare is free for all

where everyone is healthy and no longer getting sick

Imagine a nation. . .

of whole people with respect for themselves and each other

that wants to feel good

where we trust the goodness of each other

where the pursuit of happiness and enlightenment is a way of life

where we remember our soul’s journey


Imagine a nation. . .

where our media prides itself on presenting multiple viewpoints rather than one biased or even attempted unbiased viewpoint

where government is run by the people for the people

where people look forward to participating in politics

where ‘heretics’ are welcomed and differences of opinion abound and enliven our lives

where all systems are transparent, with no secrets, all information is shared

where the innate gentleness of Obama is appreciated

where women make political appointments and serve on governing councils


Imagine a nation. . .

where all people are awake, present, understanding of responsibility, relaxed, flexible with no stress or tension

that is employed in serving the basic needs of all humanity

where art and creativity are valued and natural

where artists are employed presenting human possibility

where Madison Avenue sells compassion and insight

where all people are engaged in meaningful work, contributing to society through the job they want to do

where everyone has recreation, rest, creativity, joy, play and PARTY!


Imagine a nation. . .

where people freely give their money to support the well being of community as a whole

where we have a gift economy and no money

where people give freely without attachment or expectation of return

where people form small trading collectives with each other


Imagine a nation. . .

that encourages human exploration of the cosmos

that explores worlds of alternative realities

where teenagers might live with 2nd families, or all of us are a family, one human family with no separation

where we see ourselves in multiple timelines of history and future

that considers a fully telepathically connected community

that might communicate with extraterrestrial families and a greater galactic community

that discovers how to live off light or no longer has to eat food or breathe air

that legalizes drugs or even asks ‘what is a drug’? or thanks the plant spirits that brought so many ‘drugs’ to us

that honors the nomadic, the transient, and the ‘vagabonds’ of consciousness

Imagine a nation. . .

with non-polluting transportation

a commitment to no excess CO2’s

solar panels on every home

vehicles covered with solar energy generation paint

all homes and buildings are energy neutral

all energy production is self-perpetuating and non-polluting


Imagine a nation. . .

that needs no prisons

that wages no war

that has no military power

that’s holidays are all peace days

that has no hunger

in which no one claims wealth until all are fed, clothed, and sheltered

that cares more that all have a place to sleep than about who is sleeping with whom

that meets all the needs of people and has clean air, water, and respect and dignity for animals

and where all the children are happy!

This is our imagine a nation, that has now been planted like a seed in your imagination.  Help us garden it and “with a little wind, water, sun, and time. . .maybe it’ll grow to be!”  Next post:  fertilizer, soil conditions, new gardening techniques, and the phenomenal team of people nurturing the growth of this imagine-a-nation!

Email all tips and contacts to rivera@risingsundancetheater.com

Lala Transforms First Congregational Church of San Jose

Rivera FCC San Jose

Rivera About To Transform The First Congregational Church of San Jose Into A Theater

Setting up lights, sound, and black curtains with the presence and contentment of Zen monks raking stones, Rising Sun Dance & Theater hit the road.  Our first stop on our Fall Tour filled The First Congregational Church of San Jose with beauty as Long Shoe blew in on his dust storm right into their sanctuary.   Lala’s ten year old “Imagine-a-nation” tickled the young children and elders alike.

For me, as a performer and playwright, the night was truly magical.  Lala’s vision and message have embarked on a journey away from our home town, and our first listeners opened their hearts wide for her.

Rivera w/curtains FCC San Jose

Setting Up Curtains at The First Congregational Church of San Jose

Attentive, appreciative, and very receptive, this congregation and community members tucked the story into themselves to mull and contemplate for two weeks before we return with “The Education of Lala Girl.”

I look forward to the unfolding depth of relationship between our company and our new friends in San Jose as each play delves deeper and deeper into our shared human experiences.

Many thanks to Reverend Jack Michael, who was instrumental in bringing us over the hill.  His support and stewardship of this endeavor made it all possible.