21 Questions for 2020: #3

3. What can we learn from the past about how political systems can change for the better?

At least in recent history, we see new political systems emerging when the pressure of living under the old system gets people so upset that they boil over in a spasm of violence that leads to change. 

In the past 500 years or so we have not seen much in the way of peaceful evolution of political systems. It has always taken armed revolutions to force those in power to give it up. In some places this has not really improved life for the masses. Sometimes one power system is just replaced with another, as when a monarchy gives way to a dictatorship or a repressive oligarchy. 

Capitalism and communism, the most widely followed political systems of the 20th century, claim to offer citizens political participation. But in practice, both systems are deeply rigged to support the power and wellbeing of the wealthy. 

In the 21st century, the wealth gap in many countries, including the United States, is growing as extreme as it was back in the days of feudalism. We have modern-day peasants, who are bound by the circumstances of their birth to work for the overlords, accumulating nothing but debt and bad health that kills them off early. The politicians, who are bought by the big businesses that are owned by the wealthy, appoint the judges who bend the laws to favor the rich. 

In the US we go through the motions of participatory democracy, but in the end the Electoral College can, and routinely does, overturn the popular vote. No wonder there is such cynicism about the process that half the people don’t even bother to cast their ballot.

I could go on sketching this dismal picture of political systems today, but I want to get to my question, which is whether we can learn anything from history about how change happens. 

It takes a widespread popular uprising. We’ve had some popular uprisings already in the 21st century—think Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Standing Rock, Hong Kong, One Billion Rising, Women’s Marches, Climate Strikes, Extinction Rebellion. Each of these started in one locale and sparked sympathy uprisings around the world, harnessing the power of social media to spread the message and incite others to rise up in protest too. 

Social media is key, but does not replace physical, visible marches on power centers. All the hashtags, likes and tweets in the world do not replace the power of masses of determined, focused people hitting the streets with a common purpose. 

If we Americans wanted to, we could storm the Congress and White House and throw out our corrupt leaders. But as a society, we have a reverence for the “rule of law” and a horror of violence. We want a peaceful, just transition to a society more in line with our ideals. So we wait patiently for a chance to vote, even while those in power continue to consolidate their chokehold on our throats.

I’m sorry to be so graphic, but that’s how it feels these days. I haven’t even mentioned how our current political systems are using the ancient tactic of xenophobia to manipulate people, setting poor folks—who should be united in the quest for justice—to mean-spirited infighting instead.

Once again we see people falling for those classic divide-and-conquer techniques of power, allowing the disbursement of billions of taxpayer funds to pay for weapons and border walls—money that should be spent on the education and innovation that will allow us all to survive the coming onslaught of climate disruption.

There is so much in our current reality that conspires to keep us docile. From many years of repressive education to a pharmacopeia of drugs right out of 1984; from ever-more-mesmerizing media distraction to debt bondage; from social isolation to ill health and depression—it’s no wonder so many people are just zoning out and giving up on the possibility of political change. 

I see our social, political and environmental challenges as intimately connected: at their source is the unbridled, corrupt greed (both capitalist and communist) that has been the ruling ideology of our species for the past 500 years or so, since the rise of European colonialism, with its accompanying economic expansion.

In the 21st century we have raped and pillaged the Earth to such an extent that she can no longer support our expansion. We are over-consuming what she has to give, literally eating away our own flesh, since we are no more than a conscious emanation of the Earth. We’re on a suicidal path as a species, and the worst thing is that we know it. We can see the train coming at us and predict the wreck, but we seem to be transfixed, powerless to do what needs to be done to avert the disaster.

We must overcome our ingrained inertia. That means overcoming our indoctrination in following instructions, obeying the law, and bowing before authority. It also means taking risks; giving up our attachment to our creature comforts; and being willing to put our small, soft bodies on the line.

I know that for myself, this is no small order. My ancestors fled the pogroms in eastern Europe and were so thankful to settle in the United States, where religious persecution was outlawed, and peace prevailed. My family prospered, possessed of intelligence and a fierce work ethic, as well as the unearned benefit of fair skin; and I have had a more comfortable, easy life than most Americans. It’s hard to voluntarily give up privilege. 

Like many in my position, I find myself in a holding pattern of waiting and worrying, deeply unhappy with each day’s news, but not willing to take the risk of giving up what I have for an uncertain future. 

But here’s the truth: the future is always uncertain. Do I really value my own small life, with its little creature comforts, more than I value the health and welfare of Mother Gaia and all her children, for generations to come? Am I really not willing to take the risk of disrupting my own life to make things better for everyone?

The cynic in me responds with a sneer: what do you think YOU can do, one small puny aging woman standing up to an entrenched corrupt capitalist oligarchy? 

And the idealist answers: that is how change has always happened, with one little person launching themselves at power, creating the spark that ignites a movement. 

In our time we see it happening with Greta Thunberg, who set off youth-driven environmental protests that are gaining at least lip service of the politicians. Octogenarian Jane Fonda has been leading a charge among older folks, getting herself arrested every week in Washington DC to shine her celebrity light on the need for change. 

If the elders join hands with the children, the most fragile in our society going up against the oligarchs and their goons…we can make change happen. All we need is the will to manifest our vision of a thriving future for all life on Earth. Where there is a will there is a way. 

21 Questions for 2020: #2

  1. How can we draw on the positive aspects of the human propensity to tribalism?

In these early years of the 21st century, we are talking a lot about how our sense of community has become fractured, or even “polarized,” meaning that people have retreated into opposing ideological camps that are pitted against each other for dominance, influence and power. 

Looking into history we can see that this is a common pattern for humans; we seem to gravitate towards social relationships based on in-groups that depend on out-groups for their social cohesion. This was as true among the pre-colonial indigenous tribes of the Americas and Africa as it was for the warlords of early modern Europe. 

Within the in-groups, in the past we seemed to have naturally formed clans based on family ties, with careful rules governing marriages that prevented too much inbreeding. In patriarchal societies, girls and women became property to be bartered and sold in marriage. Boys were trained as the heirs. 

Today, in the United States at least, we live with an uncomfortable mixture of these ancient social practices and the new nuclear family anomie. We still have in-groups and out-groups, but in our widely diverse society they are based on differences like race, ethnicity and religion, as well as class and social customs. 

Women may no longer be bartered and sold in marriage, but we still wield less social power and command less respect than men. There is a lot of physical and sexual abuse of women and children going on today, the isolation of the nuclear family leaving women and children without ancient sources of clan and tribal support. 

In an every-person- (or at least every-small-family) for-themselves world, we face a crisis of isolation that manifests in: 

  • the turn to intoxication (the opioid crisis); 
  • the rise of online groups demanding ideological allegiance (the far-right white supremacists); 
  • the acting out of blind rage at a hostile world (the mass shooting epidemic); 
  • the self-destructive turning inward of rage and frustration (the anxiety/depression/eating disorder/cutting/suicide crisis); 
  • and people constantly crashing through the frayed social safety net, leading to the ever-growing legions of homeless encampments and prisons.

In short, we live in a grim world. 

Is it worse than in the past? All of the elements I’ve mentioned above have always been present, at least in the recent history of the dominant western culture that has given rise to the present-day USA. Scrooge’s famous 19thcentury line when confronted with poverty, “Are there no workhouses?” could be said irascibly by any number of wealthy social conservatives today, starting with the tycoon currently in the White House. 

What those tycoons would prefer that we don’t realize a rather simple truth: that today in America, there is enough wealth to feed, clothe and house every citizen. There is enough money to create new eco-friendly housing, agricultural and transportation systems. There is plenty of wealth to rethink and renew our educational systems, adapting to the current reality of the 21st century. 

The wealth is there. The problem is that it’s being hoarded by a few individuals and their families; and what’s left in the public treasury is being disproportionately funneled into the military industrial complex, which increases the wealth of these few individuals and families, who control the industries. 

That’s capitalism at work in a society governed by fear, greed and corruption.

I am well aware that there was never a rosy golden age of humanity, when we all sang songs together around the campfire and made love, not war. I know that there are bonafide evil types out there against whom defenses must be erected. 

However, in this day and age, the evil is erupting within our own borders. We have a president who calls white supremacist thugs “very fine people” and thinks nothing of tearing babies from their parents’ arms and putting them in cages. This is happening now, in our America. 

And there is much more cruelty going on, less visibly: the dismantling of the food security system for the poor; the debt bondage of college and graduate students; the radical, perpetual insecurity of the gig economy; the outrageous over-pricing of the health care system, sending sick people into bankruptcy. Not to mention the rampant destruction of the natural world. 

Those who want to succeed in this society—‘success’ measured as earning enough money to keep your own family secure—must turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. A hardening of the heart is necessary, simply in order to function in this cold, cut-throat society. 

It is very possible that everything I’ve described above is only going to get worse as the 21st century progresses. The squeeze on individuals will produce more outward- and inward-facing anger and despair, leading to more violence and suicides; there will be more repression in the form of “workhouses”: prisons and detention camps, and schools that resemble these more and more. It’s possible that the natural world will continue to be trashed, leading to the massive destabilization of the climate that will bring us all down.

But I want to give myself permission to dream of a different future, building on the positive aspects of our propensity to tribalism. 

Let us imagine a world where the wealth that is provided for us by our Mother Earth is fairly divided among all her children, including the more-than-human world who have just as much right as humans to live a good life. 

Let us imagine a world where the weak are cared for by the strong. Where laws fairly protect everyone, including Gaia herself. Where nurturing is valued as highly as warring, and children are raised to be responsible stewards of the world around them, instead of takers and destroyers. 

I imagine that people will continue to gravitate together based on family clans, geographic and cultural bonds, and/or ideological affinity, just as we have in the past. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as we can overcome repressive customs, such as the subordination of women, along with the tendency to enrich ourselves at the expense of others. 

The Earth and the Sun freely offer enough energy and material resources to support all of us. What’s needed is a new social system for equitable distribution and protection of those who are currently being left out in the cold and abused, including our four-legged, winged and finned relations. 

Can we imagine a new tribalism for the 21st century, with a tent and a net big enough to support us all? 

And can we move swiftly from imagining it to making it happen, at least in our own corners of the world? 

21 Questions for 2020: #1

1. What do we do with our negative emotions, which can so often be either paralyzing or panic-inducing as we live through such turbulent, upsetting times?

When I think about how human beings have treated other animals and all life on Earth, I am quickly moved to shame, guilt, anger and despair. If this is what it means to be human, then I don’t want to be human! Let me come back as a butterfly or a blade of grass! 

But the wise ones say that negative emotions like shame, guilt, anger and despair don’t help anyone or anything. We live in a vibrational universe, and whatever emotional vibration or signal we send out, we amplify that tone in the world. 

This is not to say that I should be merry as I wake up on New Year’s morning to horrific scenes of destruction in Australia, fires destroying the habitat and outright killing millions of innocent creatures.

But my being upset won’t help them, and it ends up being paralyzing for me. Sadness and despair simply breed more of the same, when what is needed now is strong, positive, energetic action. 

We must ramp up rescue efforts for those immediately in harm’s way—how is it possible, for example, that Australia is still depending on volunteer firefighters with fires burning out of control on millions of acres and closing in on its largest cities? 

And we need to work with determination and clarity on mitigating the harm of climate disruption, and adapting to the rapidly changing conditions of the 21st century. Politicians, media influencers, the global judiciary and governing agencies, and all the ordinary people on the frontlines must not be allowed to look away from the looming existential threat of the climate emergency of our time.

The burned koala bear accepting a sip of water from a straw won’t know or care what richly clad senators or board members decide in an elegant paneled conference room half a world away. But those decisions will determine the fate not just of that little bear, but of all her relations, and whether her kind will still exist in the 22nd century. 

As far as we know, humans are the only animals on the planet with the magical ability to see into the future. Thanks to our highly developed communication skills, we can keep records of the past and present, allowing us to predict the future with remarkable accuracy. 

Thus we understand that the massive climatic changes taking place on Earth now have not happened on this scale in at least 10,000 years, and it’s been even longer since die-offs and transformations of habitat like we’re seeing now happened so quickly. 

Our foreknowledge is both a blessing and a curse. 

Unlike, say, the koalas and the coral reefs, we have the time and the ability to adapt to the changes underway. 

But we also go wide-eyed into this transition time, understanding that in the 21st century all that has been familiar may be swept away, from institutions to cities to the forms of social organization that have served us, for better or worse, these past 500 years or so.

So yes, as I sit with my crystal ball (or illuminated touch screen) and contemplate the future not just of humans but of all the innocent animals, birds, insects, fish, sea creatures and plants—as I take stock of the destruction of the beautiful lands, waters and atmosphere of our Mother Earth—I can’t help but feel sorrow and anguish. 

I know that I have contributed to this desecration. I am complicit, and therefore I also feel shame and guilt. 

These emotions are a mark of my humanity—we call those who perpetrate violence without remorse “inhuman,” and there seem to be far too many inhuman humans running around the planet these days.

As we enter into a new decade, the 2020s, I bow to my sorrow, rage and guilt, knowing that they are powerful emotional signals that all is not well. 

Our emotions are like built-in gauges, designed to help us navigate our world. Right now, my emotional alarms are on high alert, warning me to wake up and take action.

But I am also aware that my “fight-or-flight” fear mechanism is not going to serve me well right now. Fear is understandable, given the circumstances we face. But we can’t run from this climate emergency, and our best approach to fighting it is calm, focused determination.

We may decide strategically to unleash the always-effective human power of mass protest, as Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Climate Strikes did in 2019. 

The key word here is strategically. We must be clear about the what, when, why, how and where of our protests, to give this effort maximum visibility and effectiveness. And of course, we must harness the power of social media to amplify and extend live actions. 

2020 is sure to be a turbulent year on the political and planetary fronts. This year, even our negative emotions must be focused and directed like fire hoses on the wildfires of change overtaking us. As we act, we’ll find that our fear and depression turn to clarity and determination. 

To be human on this planet now means to hold the power of life or death over all life on Earth. We humans have created quite a mess on Earth, and we are the only ones who can clean it up. 

If you value life, you must accept the responsibility that comes with being human. And then raise your vibration, strap on your jumpsuit, and get to work.

21 Questions for 2020: Introduction

I begin this New Year with gratitude for a solid enough perch on life to be able to sit in warmth on a cold winter morning, tapping away at my computer, a mug of steaming dark coffee at my side and a candle bringing light to the great blue dawn around me.

I no longer take any of this for granted, aware as I am of the fragility of everything that makes life predictably comfortable from one day to the next. Each day brings its tidings of suffering: so many beings, human and more-than-human, are wounded, traumatized and suffering their way to death each day. Knowing this, I cannot relax into the ease of my life. I am aware of my complicity as a citizen of a country that has cushioned some of its citizens at the expense of many others, both internally and around the world. I know the moral price I pay for my comfort here and now.

I have so many questions about life in this period I call our Transition Time: these early years of the 21st century when our Mother Gaia is laboring to birth a new, healthier world order. Being of a scholarly bent, I have been reading and researching, looking for answers. And being trained to read as a Comparatist, my quest has been broadly interdisciplinary, ranging widely from the sciences to the humanities, as well as out on the fringes of conventionally accepted thought, where I’ve found some of the most interesting characters and ideas hang out.

Most of my questions lead to more questions, as is to be expected in a time when our learning curve—as individuals and as the collective “hive mind” we are externalizing through our Worldwide Web—is growing in leaps and bounds. This is not a time to settle on new dogmas. It’s a time for experimentation and innovation—but in my view, the adolescent eagerness of western science must be tempered with and informed by ancient indigenous forms of wisdom. Earth-centered spiritual traditions are now re-emerging all over the world, after centuries of repression, offering what Joanna Macy calls “new and ancient ways of seeing”: pathways into a more balanced, harmonious human relationship with the Earth and all her beings.

Across the disciplines, we are in a period of increased awareness of the great mysteries of life—of all we don’t know. In science this is represented most clearly in physics, which has discovered that some 98% of the universe is composed of “dark matter” and “dark energy”—so named because we have no idea what they are. Thus, what we can see, touch and at least superficially understand is only 2% of All That Is, according to physicists. Perhaps the parallel worlds of the multiverse posited by quantum theorists have their place in that “dark matter” sector, beyond linear time? And could it be that every night we humans, along with all life on Earth, access that quantum realm—also known as the domain of Spirit—when we range far beyond the confines of time and space in our dreams?

I am increasingly convinced that the greatest mystery of all has to do with the relation of Matter to Spirit. In our Transition Times, it seems urgent to understand this relationship better, including in its basic earthly guise as the cycle of life, death and rebirth. As the human population has exploded into the multi-billions, the familiar species we grew up with have been going steadily into the night of extinction. Our scientists tell us that we humans have thrown the entire global ecosystem out of balance, pushing us into the Gaian reset mode we call “climate disruption.” Is our current predicament entirely about matter—a situation for the earth scientists to study, diagnose and solve? Or is there also a component of spirit involved in the vast global changes we are living through now?

To ask such questions is to open oneself up for the possibility of radically new answers. Too often our best and brightest minds are being trained to look for answers within disciplines, and thus they miss the potential for leaping beyond the frameworks that have led us inexorably to this extremely pressured moment of transition. What is needed now is a new synthesis of knowledge that opens its arms wide and is not afraid to admit how much it does not know. We need a new human humility that is not a servile crouching to a “higher authority,” but an acknowledgment that our hubris has not served us well, nor the many bright beings, our fellow Gaians, whom we have tortured and sent to their deaths unnecessarily in these past 5,000 years of what we call, euphemistically, “civilization.”

It’s a time that calls for an alchemical union of opposites: the heretofore dominant masculine-intellectual-competitive-hierarchical-separation modes of knowledge joining with the feminine-emotional-collaborative-horizontal-inclusive approaches. Not either/or, but both/and; with the heart-mind perhaps the most important union of all. Westernized humans have to reconnect with our heart’s knowing, and use our emotional intelligence to guide the blazing smarts of our intellect. Imagine if the men who unlocked the energetic potential of atoms had been tapped into their hearts as they made their startling discoveries. Would they have weaponized that fiery power? Or instead worked on it quietly until they understood how to use it for good, including solving the intractable problem of waste disposal?

So many human inventions have proceeded in the same way as nuclear power, guided by short-term thinking and greed, without sufficient attention to consequences. We need to become better longterm thinkers, hyperaware of how every choice we make impacts the entire web of life, of which we, as physical, earth-based creatures, are an inextricable part.

It is important now to keep a positive, life-affirming outlook on all the changes coming rapidly upon us. This is not a time to succumb to fear, or to panic over the unpredictable future. The fear-mongers are out there, but I’m not buying their wares. There is no point in spending my precious days on Earth freaking out over the future. There is huge value, on the other hand, in using this time to search for understanding that can help humanity navigate the tumult of our era with a heart-centered balance that can guide us through to better times.

This approach is neither easy nor common in a time when so many of us wander around with heavy hearts, plodding through our days, looking forward to the release of intoxication and distraction. But I’ve become aware that keeping our vibration high is essential to accessing what I can only call higher knowledge. We are moving from a heavy, dark, low-vibration time—what historians call “the industrial age”—to a light, airy, high-vibration time, a time of transition to a new, lighter way of being on Earth. In this moment, the calm before the storm, we are poised on a tipping point. The wave of change is gathering strength. Will we ride it with exuberance and grace, or will we roll and tumble painfully in the pounding surf?

To the extent that I can choose, I choose Grace. And with these initial reflections in my backpack, I’m setting forth on this journey of 21 Questions. My promise to myself is to keep a “fool’s mind”—free of dogma, open to new ideas, with a certain spring in my step, looking for pleasant surprises.

I’ll be posting a new question, and my own mini-essay response, every week for the next 21 weeks. Come along with me, and bring your own questions and ideas! Your company will be most welcome as we set off into this new year of a new decade, 2020.

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Calling for a March of Love

Grief is in the air in this dark Winter Solstice time. Almost as if to combat it, we had an extraordinarily large, bright Full Moon this month, reflecting off the snow and lighting up the landscape, almost as bright as day. But still, it is a dark time.

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The COP25 talks on the climate were upstaged in the US by the impeachment hearings, dramatic evidence of how low America, once the leader of the free world, has sunk. Our better politicians are so consumed with the fight to get rid of the liars and cheats who are ruling our country now that there is no energy or time left for taking on bigger battles like—oh, saving the world?

I know as well as the next person that getting rid of Donald Trump is part of saving the world. I am sure I’m not alone in wishing he would just disappear. Why can’t someone throw a bucket of water at him and have him fizzle away, like the Wicked Witch in Frank Baum’s fantasy?

We are not living in Oz. We have to deal with this grinding reality, the ordinary grayness of our dark time. Michelle Goldberg wrote recently in the New York Times about “democracy grief,” akin to the “climate grief” that’s been affecting many of us in recent years. It’s more than just grief, though; it’s fear.

“Lately I’ve noticed, and not just in myself, a demoralizing degree of fear, even depression,” she writes. “To those who recognize the Trump administration’s official lies as such, the scale of dishonesty can be destabilizing. It’s a psychic tax on the population, who must parse an avalanche of untruths to understand current events.”

Goldberg quotes several therapists who are seeing how this public disarray is provoking private distress. “People are afraid that the institutions that we rely on to protect us from a dangerous individual might fail,” says one psychologist.

If you’re not afraid then you’re not paying attention.

And yet all the reading I’ve been doing lately, mostly in a spiritual vein, is about how damaging it is to come at life from a position of fear.

Psychologist Paul Levy diagnoses human society today, especially in the US and other “western” societies, as having fallen into a collective psychosis, which is driving us to radically self-destructive behaviors.

For example: we know right from wrong, yet we continue to elect politicians who have no scruples about doing wrong, on a huge scale. And we continue to passively wait for someone else to do something about it.

Or this: we know we are extracting and consuming more from the Earth than she can sustainably support, yet we continue to buy-buy-buy, even as this behavior shackles us to never-ending debt bondage to the banks.

Most of us know what we’re doing; we know what’s going on. And yet we are frozen in fear, like a rabbit in the headlights, too scared to flee the oncoming car.

Greta Thunberg, bless her, showed what is possible when we get past our own fear and depression and find ways to act. Each one of us should be searching our own souls this Solstice season, for entry points into our own paths of action.

All the wise ones say that when our action is motivated by love and fueled by the positive, life-enhancing energies of the universe, we humans can become an unstoppable force for good.

We are seeing clearly the avalanche effects of the opposite impulses. Humans are herd animals, it turns out, and we can be easily manipulated by stories. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have a powerful fear-based story and they are master manipulators.

So where are the storytellers on the other side? We have to stand up and tell a better story!

The story I want to tell is about the potential for human beings to be a positive force on this planet.

We are so smart. We can solve our current personal, political and planetary problems.

We can reconnect with the more-than-human beings of this planet in a loving way, stewarding and cherishing rather than torturing and destroying.

We can find creative new ways to relate with each other, recognizing the beauty and worth of each individual, and building new bonds of love and trust.

We can do this. We totally have the capacity—the intelligence and the compassion—to bring the light back to our darkening world.

But we have to stop waiting for someone else to lead the way. The way forward runs through the human heart—your heart, my heart, and the throbbing yearning for love that each and every one of us is born with.

This Solstice season, take some quiet time to recalibrate yourself to the steady beat of your own loving heart. And then feel how your heart connects to so many others who are standing up for what’s right in a world that seems to be slipping into madness.

Let the beat of our individual and collective resolve to be a force for good become a radiant vibration that will give us the courage to go forward into the dark, carrying the torches of our love.

Part of the reason we feel fear now is because we have been through this kind of insanity before. History is packed with evidence of the cruelty and savagery of humans. With each step towards moral progress, a generation will swear “never again”…and yet here we find ourselves on the brink of the same old descent into fascism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, you-name-it, that the Trump and Johnson people represent.

Well, now is our time. If we look to history as a guide, we can see clearly that it is already past time for us to be out in the streets demonstrating. The Internet is a wonderful organizing tool but it cannot substitute for the power of showing up in the real live public square, taking to the streets with our soft, vulnerable bodies, our loud voices, and our indomitable courage.

I am calling for a March on Washington, in the New Year, while the Senate trial is going on. Who will join me? Hearts and minds blazing, let’s take back this country and chart a new course for this planet!

Now is our time. What are we waiting for?

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The Truth of American Thanksgiving

I have been thinking and writing about Thanksgiving for many years on Transition Times. Waking up to the deep hypocrisy of this American holiday was part of my own process of mental decolonization, unlearning the indoctrination of my conventional American education. With each passing year, it’s good to see more public acknowledgment of the truth of how the early settlers of this country treated the native people they found here.

The myth of sharing a bounteous table may have been true on the Indian side: early accounts of Native-European interactions often show the Europeans reacting with amazement at the generosity of their Native hosts. Without a doubt, the Indians helped the Pilgrims and other early colonists survive by sharing food, seeds and knowledge.

 

History tells us how this generosity was repaid. It’s true that some of the cultural and physical genocide was inadvertent, as alcohol and smallpox were let loose on a defenseless population. But as time went on and more settlers arrived, all greedy for land, the violence and cruelty increased. When you read about the massacres of entire villages of Native people in Massachusetts, New York, and throughout New England; or the Cherokee Trail of Tears; or the heartrending massacres that occurred throughout the West…it’s easy to understand why Native Americans today consider Thanksgiving a day of mourning rather than celebration.

 

My complicated feelings about this holiday have only deepened over the years, as I’ve become more aware of the huge sacrifices that undergird the comforts and pleasures that I might want to give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day.

Let’s take food as an example. I am thankful for the markets that are bursting with food at this time of year. I am thankful for the delicious meals I will be enjoying at the tables of family and friends.

And yet I am aware of the holocaust of turkeys that occurs to satisfy American appetites on Thanksgiving. For most Americans, the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes of sweet potatoes, cornbread and stuffing will be cooked with conventionally farmed vegetables and grains—meaning that billions of beneficial microbes and insects were destroyed to bring them to our table, with the costs reverberating up the food chain as the toxic wastes of industrial agriculture flow into the ground waters and rivers, and the loss of insects devastates the birds, bats and other creatures who depend on them.

This is just one example of many I could give of the way the contemporary American lifestyle is based on a violent, unsustainable foundation. If you peel back the glamorized façade of American Thanksgiving, what you see behind it is a bleak industrial landscape, a place of poverty, ill health and unhappiness. It is no accident people are turning to drugs—whether alcohol, cannabis or opioids—to escape from it all. It’s no accident that the suicide rate keeps rising in our “home of the brave, land of the free.”

 

The Thanksgiving holiday is an extreme version of the whitewashing of American history, and the willful ignorance and denial of all the damage that our vaunted American lifestyle has wreaked on the world. Each of us who sees beyond the façade has a choice to make: we can continue to maintain a complicit silence and go along with the destructive flow; or we can speak up and share our perspectives with others.

Obviously I am choosing the latter path, in my own small way here on Transition Times. No, I won’t be making speeches at my family’s Thanksgiving table. I truly believe, with the great Audre Lorde, that guilt helps no one. Go ahead and enjoy your turkey and stuffing.

But as you tuck into your Thanksgiving meal this year, be aware of the true costs of our American lifestyle. Don’t take the ease and comforts of the industrial agriculture system for granted. Know how fragile our life support systems are, in this time of ever-increasing climate disruption.

There may come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when we Eur-Americans will turn again, in desperate need, to the wisdom of the indigenous people of this land. We will give thanks, then, that they held on to the ancient knowledge of how to survive in the old ways: how to hunt and gather and farm sustainably, in harmony with the other creatures who inhabit this Earth.

This Thanksgiving, I honor and give thanks to the indigenous people of Turtle Island, who are so often on the frontlines of resistance; who are too often victims of violence and abuse; but who still—indomitably, stubbornly, powerfully—stand tall and proud as crucial wisdom keepers, holding the spiritual, philosophical and practical keys to a thriving future for humans on Earth.

May Americans come to honor and respect the precious legacy embodied in the resilient, wise Native peoples of this land. May we give thanks for their great generosity of spirit, symbolized in the American Thanksgiving story. May we Eur-Americans learn, with humility and compassion, to live in harmony with all others in our Earth community.

Namaste.

 

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If you are looking for contemporary Native American wisdom, I recommend this book, which I was privileged to midwife into the world through Green Fire Press. Available wherever fine books are sold.

 

 

Gaia is calling. How will you respond?

I know I am not alone in feeling the keening cry of Gaia, our Mother Earth, at this time of war and wildfires, political tumult and typhoons.

The evidence of our entrance into a full-blown climate emergency swells by the day. The billions of dead birds; the “very poor” prognosis of the Great Barrier Reef; the methane boiling up out of the melting northern seas…there are so many unmistakable signs of the rapid decline in our planetary life systems.

Let’s be frank: we are hurtling rapidly into one of Earth’s great extinction events. It’s happened many times before. What’s different this time is that we are here to witness it. The dinosaurs didn’t know what hit them. We are busy measuring our downfall as it happens, in real time, in agonizing slow-motion.

We are very good at charting the physical indicators of change, but we are only beginning to understand and acknowledge how our inner landscapes are being affected.

Those who are more self-aware are starting to talk about “climate grief”; about the need for “death doulas,” not just for individuals but for communities, societies, a way of life. Guides like Malidoma Some and Martin Prechtel offer bridges to rare intact indigenous societies that still remember how to live and die secure in the embrace of Gaia.

As civilizations die, as individuals die, they create compost and space for new growth. This natural Gaian cycle is being highlighted for us now.

If we can get beyond the fear of change, we will begin to sense the wild delight of creation that is opened up for us as the old structures and necessities fall away.

For example, as the nation-state becomes irrelevant as an organizing structure, new forms of community will be imagined and manifested, more appropriate for our times. We will start organizing ourselves in locally self-sufficient communities and bioregions, redrawing the maps in alignment with the contours of the lands and the waters.

The opportunity exists now for a deep and thorough reimagining of every aspect of human society and our relation to the other life forms of the planet. Education, psychology, spirituality, economics, politics, social relations, scientific inquiry—every field of human knowledge and endeavor has the potential for a radical shift, powered by the urgency of our moment of profound change.

This is not to minimize or ignore the fact that climate disruption and cascading extinctions are already bringing widespread suffering, on a planetary scale that will only increase in the coming years.

How we respond to this, as witnesses and participants, matters.

Each of us, at every moment, stands at the crossroads of a future that is always under construction. Our choices, small and humble as they may feel to us, have a resonance beyond what we can realize.

According to political scientist Erica Chenoweth’s influential research, if just 3.5% of a human group focus their attention and intention on a desired change, that change will be set in motion, and will have a good chance of success.

Change starts in the heart and the mind and moves out into the world. Each of us has more power to affect the future than we may realize.

If each of us accepts and internalizes the fearful, violent, dystopic visions of the future that are constantly presented to us in the media, that is the vision that will take root in our psyches and grow.

If, on the other hand, we nurture in ourselves and communicate with others a more positive vision, we can shift the reality that unfolds before us.

All the other Gaian life forms give themselves in an unselfconscious way to the pursuit of life and happiness. You won’t find an eagle or a newt troubling itself about the future; and yet in their dedication to life they contribute to the intricate weave that sustains our planet.

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Humans’ dedication to growing our own civilizations and technological powers has made us such a successful invasive species that we have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet, and a correction is inevitable. Our future life on the planet depends on whether we can learn very quickly to readjust our relationship with Gaia, reconnecting ourselves in a harmonious way with her life systems.

The changes needed are vast and daunting. But this is also an exciting moment to be alive, full of potential for positive change.

Let us admit to ourselves all the ways that human existence on the planet has become dull, constrained, anxious and ignoble. Let us admit all the harm we have inflicted on each other, on other living beings, and on Gaia as a whole. Let us perceive the potential in our moment of climate emergency, the opportunity to make real change.

So much depends on how we align our hearts and minds in the project of creating a visionary road map to a better world.

No matter what, Gaia’s steady, majestic cycles of life and death will continue. What’s at stake is our own future on the planet, and that of the other bright beings who co-evolved with us.

This is no time for paralysis or depression. It’s a time to pull out all the stops, to give all we have to the quest for a sustainable future on Earth, as Greta Thunberg is modeling for us so gallantly now.

Gaia is calling. How will you respond?

Keeping Our Spirits High

It can be really hard, as we go about our daily lives, to keep our spirits up.

And yet this is precisely the good medicine we need these days.

We need to keep our vibrations high.

Wisdom keepers from many traditions, from physicists to reiki masters, tell us that what we think of as “matter” is actually “energy.” The physical world, including our own body, is composed of countless particles in constant motion.

When we are healthy and well, our cells vibrate in harmony with the larger rhythms of our planet. When our spirits are high, we can tune into the “music of the spheres,” and experience the joy of the life unfolding ahead of us each day.

In our time, such harmonious vibrations are becoming a rarity.

Modern life is full of loud, discordant noise, from lawnmowers and chainsaws to the jangling noise of the day’s bad news, broadcast at us constantly over a thousand different channels.

Climate disruption, with its consequent ecosystem collapse and cascading extinctions, is the planetary version of a discordant vibration.

With so much negative noise, or bad vibrations, coming at us all the time, we are forced to tune out in order to remain functional. In order to go about our daily lives without being overwhelmed by fear and stress, we end up numb and lost, wandering in a nightmarish funhouse that is not fun at all.

The runaway negative biofeedback loops that our occurring in our time, on the personal, political and planetary levels, are at least in part the result of the “hive mind” that we humans have developed through our Internet technology.

We have always been connected in the dream world, through what Jung called the collective unconscious and others might call the Anima Mundi.

But our new networked waking mind gives us the potential for unprecedented impact on the planet—for good or for ill.

In the past decade or so, we have seen the negative results of our collective impact on the planet. With earphones in our ears, we have become the world’s most successful invasive species, but at a tremendous cost.

In our networked times, what we do as individuals is broadcast out to our larger communities. If we are stressed, fearful and depressed, that’s the signal we put out into the world, where it is amplified and multiplied. If we are able to keep our spirits high and maintain our sense of emotional and physical balance, the positive vibrations we send out help attune others as well.

Keeping our spirits high is not at all the same as putting on rose-colored glasses, or sticking our heads in the sand in denial.

It is about training ourselves to tune in to the steady pulse of the planet, which beats on calmly even now, despite all the stresses on systems and individuals.

How do we do this?

For me, it’s about appreciating silence, and the quiet sounds of nature: the drip of rain, the rush of a river over rocks; birdsong and the cricket chorus; the swish of the wind through the treetops.

It’s about rediscovering the pleasure of vibration moving through my body; making my own music with instruments or with my own voice.

It’s about seeking out others with whom to make joyful noise together—as Greta Thunberg has done in rallying people all over the planet to stand with her for the Earth.

I have also become much more conscious of what I send out into the world via my writing and teaching. In my new memoir workshop series, “The Alchemy of Purposeful Memoir,” each session starts by looking for positive in our life stories. When we look at less positive aspects of our lives, it’s with the explicit aim of transmuting these negative moments, through the alchemical power of writing.

Likewise, in my “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future” workshop, which I’ll be presenting several venues in the coming year, including Bascom Lodge, Mt Greylock; the Bioneers Conference; and Findhorn, our aim is to look backward over our life stories in order to understand our present moment more fully, and to be able to envision the thriving future we all want to move into.

Here’s the thing. If we are all running around jangling with fear and shouting at each other about how the sky is falling…our negative vibrations will be amplified and their effects—on ourselves as individuals and on our political and planetary systems—will be compounded.

If, on the other hand, we are able to maintain a modicum of serenity, we can set the tone for others and draw them into harmony with our steady vibration.

There’s often talk in spiritual circles about “holding the light” as a way of invoking and maintaining the positive. I have come to realize that “maintaining a positive vibration” is at least as important.

Here’s a poem from Rumi that I often like to share in my workshops. He says it all.

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us, a passion, a longing, a pain.
Remember the lips where the wind-breath originated, and let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.
I’ll show you how it’s enough.

Go up on the roof at night in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

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Breaking the Trance: Children Lead the Way in the 21st Century

This week’s U.S. Democratic debates provided striking evidence of how fast the zeitgeist can change when it’s amplified by the viral influence of social media.

In the last U.S. presidential election, I was so frustrated that the debate moderators never asked a question about climate change, nor was it a topic the candidates ever broached on their own.

This year, as Europe is scorched by record-breaking heat, the Midwest digs out of record-breaking floods, the Arctic ice is the lowest its been in millennia, and all indicators point to this being just the beginning of the severe climate disruption to come…this year, things are very different.

When the debate moderators asked the candidates to name, in a word, what they considered to be the most important issue facing the world today, many of them answered “climate change.”

If they’re saying it, you can bet that they’ve had their analysts working busily to determine that yes, this is an issue that “will resonate” with voters.

Democrats, at least, have begun to come out of the trance of the late 20thcentury. We are beginning to realize the costs of the kind of unfettered global capitalism we’ve inflicted on our finite, yet endlessly generous planet.

Shel Silverstein’s bizarre parable The Giving Tree is truly emblematic of our situation in the early 21stcentury. In Silverstein’s vision, a little boy who loves playing beneath a benevolent apple tree ends up greedily using and abusing her, in the end sitting moodily beside her dead stump.

Will that be the story of human beings in the 21stcentury?

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These are exciting but frightening times to live through. The narrative rushes on, with important new developments—both positive and tragic—every day. The stakes are so high. Will we be able to transition into a harmonious relationship with our planet, recognizing our profound interdependency with All That Is, and dedicating ourselves to honoring and stewarding the sacred in life?

Although there is much to be anxious about on the road ahead, there are also many signs that we humans are now beginning to turn our immense intelligence to the task of saving ourselves and all the other beautiful life forms on this planet.

We are acting from fear, yes; but also from love. Realizing the immensity of what we stand to lose if we continue down the path of “business as usual,” we are awakening to the unfolding environmental crisis and insisting that our leaders address it as the emergency it is.

The pressure being exerted by the children and youth has been critical in awakening the sleep-walking adults.

It is no accident that Greta Thunberg’s example has sparked a wildfire of protest among young people on the planet. Greta, like so many children today, was suffering from depression, anxiety and ADHD, as well as being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. These are all symptoms that are practically epidemic today among children in the developed world. The causes are undoubtedly complex, but to some degree I believe that these are natural psycho-physiological responses to the extremely negative, harmful social climate we have collectively created.

Greta showed that children do not have to accept the world they have inherited. Standing up for a healthier world, they find health themselves, in the shared sense of meaning and purpose they discover in rolling up their sleeves together to create a better reality.

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The time of the lone wolf is over, the Hopi prophecy said. The time of the selfish individualist is over. We will survive together or we will not survive our current self-inflicted environmental crisis.

The Internet has enabled global communication that makes humanity a vast hive mind, capable of incredible leaps in understanding. We humans can now almost instantaneously create responsive, synchronized global movements; we can murmurate like starlings or schools of fish, swerving elegantly out of the path of danger.

The key, as Penny Gill wrote in What in the World is Going On? is to tap into the wisdom that lives in our hearts; what some might call our emotional intelligence. Coming from love, we see what must be done, and once we understand, we can respond with intelligently designed solutions.

When the leaders of nations and the leaders of corporations synchronize their hearts and minds with the deepest desires of the people…we will move together, and the waters will part for us.

So it must be.

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Saving the World: It Starts with You

Every week seems to come with news of more trouble in the natural world. This week it was the report of dozens of emaciated gray whale mothers washing up dead on the U.S. Pacific coast, starved to death. Scientists say that only 10% of dead whales generally end up on the beaches, so this could be the remnants of a much larger die-off of yet another species succumbing to the drastic changes roiling our oceans.

If the oceans are in trouble, our entire planet is in trouble, as the oceans are our great climate stabilizer. It’s hard to imagine a warm, acidified ocean empty of most life besides, perhaps, jellyfish and creatures of the deep dark canyons. Yet this is where we’re going, and fast. It’s not clear whether anything we do now can reverse the huge planetary climate changes that have been set in motion by human population growth and industry.

So where does that leave us, as people who are aware of the unfolding catastrophe of climate disruption? Do we curl up and hide under the covers until the waters rise and sweep us away? Do we hedonistically make hay while the sun shines, telling ourselves that we all have to die anyway? Or do we roll up our sleeves and do what we can to adapt to our rapidly changing world, and mitigate the impact on ourselves, our children and all the other innocent species now in the crosshairs?

I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t believe that what we do now, as individuals and as societies, matters. In fact, a large part of our so-called environmental problems are really social and psychological problems.

In the last century, as the fossil-fuel and chemical industries have exploded, we humans have lost touch with our ancient connection to the natural world of which we are a part. Our leaders, in their climate-controlled towers, have forgotten that we are entirely dependent on plants and bacteria for our air and food—the forests and grasses of the land, as well as the plankton and plants of the sea. Perhaps they imagine an artificial world, like the Dome experiments, where the entire biosphere is created by humans. But what kind of existence would that be?

The great task of our time is to reconnect humanity with our planet, rekindling our awareness of our role as stewards of the great oceans and landscapes of our beautiful home. C.G. Jung, writing in the wake of the horrors of World War II, was prescient in his diagnosis of the problem of humanity as being a disconnect from our ancient reverence for the Earth. To heal our relationship with the planet, he said, we must first heal ourselves:

“The tempo of the development of consciousness through science and technology was too rapid and left the unconscious, which could no longer keep up with it, far behind, thereby forcing it into a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction….This problem cannot be solved collectively, because the masses are not changed unless the individual changes. At the same time, even the best-looking solution cannot be forced upon him, since it is a good solution only when it is combined with a natural process of development. It is therefore a hopeless undertaking to stake everything on collective recipes and procedures.

The bettering of a general ill begins with the individual, and then only when he makes himself and not others responsible. This is naturally only possible in freedom, but not under a rule of force, whether this be exercised by a self-elected tyrant or by one thrown up by the mob” (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 349; emphasis mine).

It appears that the best thing each of us can do for the health of our planet is to stay awake to what is happening, as painful as it may be to witness; to grieve the irrevocable losses of this great transition time; and to share our new awareness honestly and openly with those around us.

This is the work Joanna Macy pioneered with her Work That Reconnects, which invites us to deep empathy with the more-than-human world: grieving over the dying whale mothers and their doomed calves as we stare wide-eyed into a starkly changed future, remembering that such changes have happened before in geological time. Inevitably, the planet will restore herself and begin creating anew, in the fierce will to life that  philosopher Andreas Weber calls “enlivenment.”

Margaret Mead said long ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

More recently, political analysts like Erica Chenoweth have demonstrated that big societal changes can come from the concerted efforts of a relatively small percentage of the population: if just 3.5% of the population work hard for change, it can happen, and often does.

So if you care about the well-being of oceans, fresh water, forests and prairies and mountains…if you care about the well-being of every denizen of our beautiful planet… know that the best thing you can do is to stand up and be counted.

Share your feelings with friends and neighbors. Show up for meetings and rallies to protect the lands and waters in your backyard. Take the children in your life out into nature and open their eyes to the beauty and grace of our common home, Earth.

These times are filled with grief and upheaval, yes. But there are also so many opportunities, every day, to work for the thriving future we wish for our descendants and all the bright creatures of the planet. Now is our time. Let’s make good use of it.

Join me for a deeper dive into the inner work necessary for effective earth activism: “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future,” September 22 at the summit of Mount Greylock, MA; September 26 at the Transformational Language Arts conference in Scottsdale AZ; and October 20 at the Bioneers conference, San Rafael CA. More information here. 

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