All Hands on Deck: Finding our way through to a thriving future

Now that I am a grandmother, the future is no longer theoretical to me—it’s here, it’s arrived in the form of a curious, loving little girl who has come into this world with the same expectation I did—to live a good long life. Born in 2021, she is likely to see the turn of the 22nd century. What kind of world will she be living in by then?

For the past few months, I have been following a splendid online course led by author and podcast host Manda Scott, called “Thrutopia”—the term coined by philosopher Rupert Read to describe a visionary narrative that threads the needle through the poles of dystopia and utopia, offering us instead a practical way through the current conflicts and troubles to a better future world. 

The class has been so inspiring that I am planning to teach a version of it myself, for my college students next spring, and I wanted to share a bit about it here on Transition Times, since that has been my own vision from the beginning of this blog, to chart the transition we’re living through, and find pathways to a brighter future.

You can’t be what you can’t see, and you can’t create what you can’t imagine. 

There is a difference between utopian pie-in-the-sky thinking, and a thrutopian, solutionary approach. The first step of crafting a thrutopia is to take stock of all the problems we face. It is a moment for blunt honesty about the challenges and the very real possibility that we will not find a good way through. This honesty is necessary to galvanize us to the kind of intense, sustained innovation and industry that will be necessary to overcome the obstacles. 

Once having sufficiently alarmed ourselves at the urgency of the present moment, we can train our minds on solutions. Again, this is no time for rose-colored glasses. But it is necessary to give our creativity free rein to imagine what the bright future that could be, and the steps that would be required to get there from here. 

In a thrutopian narrative, we give ourselves permission to imagine a positive future. 

We start with the big vision: humans living in harmony with each other and with the rest of the Earth community, let’s say. 

Then we break that down and start to imagine all the components of such harmony. In my Thrutopia class, we’ll be using the current United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for the categories we need to address.

In my experience, people are quick to raise obstacles to creative new ideas that involve change. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, watching the power company crews straining to remove trees, untangle wires, replace snapped wooden poles, and restore electricity, I suggested to my local Facebook community board that it would make sense to find alternatives to stringing power lines on poles, which is such an archaic, 19th century method of transmitting electricity.

A lively discussion ensued, with many people agreeing that it would make sense to bury the lines, and others quick to raise objections: How would we handle the rocky terrain? Buried lines can be hard to repair if flooded. And above all, how would we pay for such an expensive construction project?

I responded to these objections with solutions: On rocky ground or places likely to flood, use close-to-the-ground pipes or concrete bunkers. The federal government could impose a financial transactions tax dedicated to climate change adaptation projects like the all-important task of hardening our electricity, telecommunications and internet connectivity to withstand the ever-stronger storms we’ll face in the 21st century.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

I have great confidence in our young engineers, architects and urban planners to develop innovative ways to cope with current climate challenges. The question is whether we will find the will to come together and make the necessary investment in our shared future.

The COVID-19 crisis and the great storms of this century are showing us that unless you want to spend your days isolated in a concrete bunker (or flying away to Mars) you cannot escape the impact of the crises now upon us. You can’t build a wall high enough to keep out pestilence or block a wild storm. 

In these early years of the 21st century, there is a prevalent dystopian vision of a return to medieval feudalism—hence the popularity of fantasies like Game of Thrones, which romanticize that period. For ordinary men and women, those were hard, terrible times, steeped in the brutal mindset of might makes right

I don’t want to see a social reset that undoes the progress of the slow development of the concepts of human rights (and now, rights of nature and animal rights) and participatory democracy, which are based on ancient religious creeds like love your neighbor, do unto others, we are all One. 

To find our way through the great transition time now upon us, we have to call upon the better angels of our nature: our moral intelligence and empathy as well as our sheer problem-solving human ingenuity.

While not turning a blind eye to the problems and challenges, we can take a can-do collaborative approach, knowing that we are all in the same great lifeboat, our planet Earth, and we cannot thrive individually if some of us are ailing. 

To those who continue to fret about how we will pay for necessary changes, I ask you to think about this: If we shifted even a small percentage of the funds currently used for weapons and military build-up to designing climate-safe infrastructure, including renewable energy, that would be a huge investment in our shared future. 

All the money for the military and infrastructure comes from taxes. Like Thoreau in the 19th century, we can begin to assert some agency over how our taxes are used. 

I know it’s hard to imagine reducing the military in a time when a dangerous maniac with nuclear weapons is threatening the world. But in the long run, in my thrutopia, the fruits of our collective labor will be used to enhance life, not to compete over who has the more powerful means to destroy life.

Thrutopias are practical, so: Given the necessity of continuing to defend against Putin and other dangerous armed heads of state, how about that financial transactions tax that’s been talked about for years? Why should ordinary folks pay taxes on the blood, sweat and tears of their labor, while the rich who make money through financial transactions pay nothing on the millions they reap at the push of a finger on the keyboard?

To those who say it’s just too expensive to undertake big infrastructure projects (like burying the power lines), I say:

What if your ancestors had said that about building the highways and bridges you now take for granted? What if they had said it wasn’t worth the money or effort to string electric wires out into the country? What if they had refused to invest in the design and implementation of tunnels or airports? 

Our ancestors had a bright and shining vision of the future that could be—the future that we have been enjoying our whole lives. 

Now it’s time to soberly admit the shadow side of our ancestors’ vision: the reality that the Earth can’t support unlimited human consumption of resources, nor can she process unlimited chemical wastes, be they in the form of fossil fuel emissions, plastics or soluble toxins. 

We have had ample time to study the situation. We know what needs fixing. We have a good sense of the solutions. It’s time to stop wringing our hands and fretting about the cost or the effort. 

Instead of obsessing about the obstacles, it’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and focus on the urgent, energizing task at hand: working together to lay the groundwork for a thriving future for our grandchildren. 

It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. Ready or not, here we go!

On Interdependence Day, Be the Peace You Want to See in the World

Today is Independence Day in the US, a holiday that seems quite grim this year, as the American democratic experiment has never seemed weaker or more fragile. 

For many years, I have preferred to celebrate this day as “Interdependence Day,” a day to recognize that the boundaries that might seem to divide us are artificial—in fact, each of us is interwoven with all life on Earth. 

Just as air, water, earth and fire know no boundaries, there is no real separation among any of the components of our beautiful Gaian home.

That may be true at the level of physics and metaphysics, but in between these fundamental realities there is a zone of choice: we choose to group ourselves into communities of like-minded spirits, to dwell amongst people and in places that nourish our growth and flourishing. 

The challenge comes when the ideologies of these groups clash. I support people’s right to self-organize as they see fit, but not to impose their ideas and worldviews on others—not to do harm to other people or any member the Earth community.

These days, we can’t seem to agree on the definition of “harm.” And so we argue and clash, and the cacophonous discord of our public life grows louder and more harmful, while the goal of peace and harmony seems ever further out of reach.

Many wise teachers say we cannot change a pattern we don’t like by dwelling on it. We can only change it by strengthening our vision of the reality we would prefer. 

So instead of rehashing all that is wrong with America and the world, on this Day of Interdependence I am going to celebrate our growing awareness of how our individual thoughts and actions reverberate out and impact the larger social field.

Though it seems like we are being sucked back into the darkness of violence and separation these days, in fact more and more of us are waking up to our profound interconnection, our awareness of each one of us as a point of light in the vast matrix of our planetary home.

On this Interdependence Day, let the light that you are shine out bright and steady. Our task is not to DO so much as to BE—to be a harmonious note in the collective Gaian symphony, focusing on creating a groundswell of peace on this beleaguered planet. 

Namaste.

Calling on the power of fire…not firepower!

Between the pandemic, the climate crisis, and now a frightening war, it seems that we are witnessing a world on fire. It has me thinking: what is the message of Fire? 

In a word, transformation. 

Fire is a catalyst that can purify, cauterize and heal, as well as utterly destroy.

We are watching the destructive might of firepower as the war in Ukraine is livestreamed into our homes in a horrifyingly intimate way, making the urgency of this moment almost impossible to ignore. 

Throwing billions of dollars’ worth of weapons onto the pyre of war is just staying stuck in the same old cycle that has fueled the military industrial complex for so many years.

The war, like the raging fever of the planet, can only be stopped through a deep inner transformation of the human psyche, a firing up of our collective imagination in service to a better vision of the world that could be. 

First, it’s necessary to recognize our own complicity in the social dream that led to the current state of the world. We have to see how we have allowed ourselves to contribute to, and benefit from, the Empire that fossil fuels built. 

Having come to this reckoning, we can spark our own passionate desire to bring a better world into being through the revolutionary fervor that reminds us that the word LOVE is hidden at the heart of the word REVOLUTION. 

It is time to stop wasting our resources on blowing things up. Time to stand down from armed confrontation, and turn our prodigious human technological abilities to inventions that serve life, rather than destroy it. 

Young men should be working together to solve the problems that confront us in the 21st century, not trying to destroy each other’s homes and families with ever more powerful and precise firepower. 

I am sick at heart over the tremendous waste of life and destruction of human endeavor that plays out in war. What can I do, as I sit grief-stricken and horrified on the sidelines?

One thing I can do is to focus my inner attention on the dream of a better world. I can murmur my heartfelt desires in an unceasing mantra of peace, a flowing river of loving intentions. I can hold my inner light strong against the darkness of greed and hatred, insisting that in my own psychic landscape, at least, generosity and open-heartedness will reign. 

This, what some might call the power of prayer, is a strong force that becomes even more powerful when practiced collectively. 

Great walls come tumbling down, ocean waters part, angels descend, when human beings open themselves to become channels for the pure positive energy of the Life Force that pulses in every energetic and material nuance of this planet. 

I call on Fire to burn away my fear, inertia and resistance to change.

I call on Fire to ignite the Revolution of Love so deeply needed now on our planet.

I call on Fire to kindle the beacons lying dormant in every human heart.

From one heart to another, let the fires spring to light! Let our passion for preserving and nurturing Life guide us in making the right choices in these tumultuous times. 

Namaste, I say: the light in me greets the light in you. And may the light that we generate together illuminate a brighter dawn!

Dawn. Photo by J. Browdy

Becoming a channel for peace

The events in Ukraine have been triggering for me, as a person of Jewish heritage whose ancestors fled that region around the turn of the 20th century because of violence, discrimination and enforced subservience to repressive overlords. 

Ukraine, now improbably led by a Jewish man, is repeating the pattern of David vs Goliath, with ordinary civilians making improvised explosive devices to try to defend their homeland from invasion by soldiers equipped with missiles and tanks, while children huddle with their families in basements, or join the throngs trying to flee across the borders to uncertain, relative safety.

Squint a little and you can see so many other conflicts that have played out in just this way, since the dawn of human history. Are we doomed to endlessly repeat the cycle of military build-up (keeping the weapons factories humming and the stock market soaring) followed by conflict and the violent imposition of new social structures—rinse and repeat?

Can there be another way?

In the case of Russia vs. Ukraine, it’s been heartening to see big crowds risking their lives to protest the action of their government (just as US citizens did in 1968 (Vietnam) and 2004 (Iraq). Unlike World War II, when there was a clear enemy who deserved to be vanquished, most recent conflicts are wars of choice, fought to preserve or enhance elite strategic interests.  

We may not like Putin and his cronies, but they are just another example of the general paradigm of might makes right, which has been the US stance as well: here at home we tolerate the on-going impoverishment of people and social services in order to support the most powerful military in the world.

It’s the paradigm that needs our attention.

Those who are facing down the guns do not have the luxury of holding space for peace, unless they are willing to be martyrs. 

It falls to those of us on the sidelines to do the hard work of changing the paradigm and fostering a culture of peace.

In 1848, Thoreau famously withheld taxes and went to jail to protest the US involvement in what he considered to be an unjust war. 

In his letter penned from prison, “On Civil Disobedience,” which inspired Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. decades later, Thoreau wrote: 

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Listening to Thoreau in 2022, I have to ask: How can I lend my life to the cause of world peace, the creation of social structures that nourish all people and the more-than-human world?  How can I put my gifts—for writing, teaching and encouraging others to give creative expression to their truths—in service to the cause of a brighter future for all of us on Earth?

Thoreau also wrote: “Most [people] live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

One act of liberation that any of us can do, with the basic creativity that is our birthright, is to sing our song! Sing it loud! 

Let the beauty inside us shine through and counter the darkness of that heavy, old paradigm under which so many of our ancestors were forced to live and die. 

We are each being called upon now to become sturdy planks on the bridge to the future, over which our descendants can cross to the better world that is possible. 

Each of us is a vessel for the creative spark that dances with life on this planet. Open your hearts and let that Lifeforce pour through you! 

Let your words and your images become instruments of peace. Reach out and harmonize with kindred spirits around you. Let your chorus ring out, sending ripples of peaceful intentions across the world.

Darkness can only be defeated with light. Every whisper, every murmured prayer, every unspoken positive intention, is an important contribution.  

As Rumi said, “Be your note.” 

Be it now, for the ancestors who are cheering us on, and for the future beings who, we hope, will be blessing our memory in a better time. 

Photo by J. Browdy

Homage to Amanda Gorman: Shine on!


American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

On a day that still tingles with the electric pulse of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, I remain moved and thrilled by the ringing cadences of Amanda Gorman’s finale poem—not only her brave and lyrical words, but also the grace with which she delivered them. 

Afterwards, I wondered: how did the Biden team find this gem? I discovered that it was Professor Jill Biden who recommended Ms. Gorman to the Inauguration planners after encountering her at a 2017 reading

Does it make a difference that Amanda Gorman is a Harvard University graduate? Certainly she seemed at home in the rarified circle of the Capitol, as she did in a 2019 poetry performance for a ForbesWomen conference

She has a poetic passion that is at once gritty and polished. She speaks of herself as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves,” but also as someone who is part of a redemptive “we,” Americans who will “rise” to “rebuild, reconcile and recover” our country.  

“Being American,” Gorman says, “is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

There is no point in lingering in the past, Gorman insists: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”

She imagines what America might be if we were able to “merge mercy with might, and might with right,” so that “love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.” 

Today I am wondering, can America live up to the challenge and the promise of Amanda Gorman’s “bold, fierce and free” vision? 

Can we merge mercy, might and justice to pave the way for love, rather than hatred and division, to become the legacy our generation will leave to the next? 


I have been a professor of comparative literature and media arts at a college for gifted students for more than a quarter-century. I teach courses like “Writing to Right the World,” “Women Write the World,” and “Leadership, Writing & Public Speaking for Social and Environmental Justice.”

I have met many young people who have the passion and even the talent of Amanda Gorman—but few who are able to offer their inspired visions to the world with such grace and aplomb. 

In these latter years of my time in the professoriate, I find myself no longer interested in teaching young people how to write proper academic essays. Yes, I want them to know how to do serious research, and to cite their sources responsibly. But what interests me most is developing three key capacities in young people: 

  • the ability to articulate interesting questions and follow these questions through to interesting, often unexpected outcomes; 
  • the confidence to write in their own personal voice, allowing their idiosyncracies of expression to shine through; 
  • and the poise and polish to present their ideas orally, whether live or on camera, in the strongest way possible. 

I encourage students to explore the intertwining dimensions of the personal, political and planetary in their writing; to write with both a hyper-local and a broadly global awareness; and to see how their personal experiences are conditioned by politics and place—as is every piece of writing, though for too long we have been taught to take the white European male perspective as the invisible, “neutral” default. 

Like Greta Thunberg and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Amanda Gorman speaks for many other young people, no less passionate but perhaps less able to articulate and convey their passions on a prominent public stage. 

The more those few exceptional ones step forward and lead the way, the more inspired, invigorated and enlivened their contemporaries will become, and the brighter their collective lights will shine out in the world.


It was a brilliant move for Joe Biden, the oldest incoming President of the United States, to invite powerful young women to grace his Inauguration. From Amanda Gorman to Lady Gaga and J-Lo, youthful energy blazed forth on the steps of the Capitol on 1/20/21, insisting that America must live up to its promise. 

While Joe himself looked back to Lincoln in calling for unity, young Amanda Gorman looked forward, proclaiming that “our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful” from all the challenges that have beset us of late. 

She closed with a challenge: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I agree with Amanda: we must be the light that we want to see in the world. We must shine for our friends and neighbors, for our families and loved ones, for all the future generations yet to come.

In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

It’s our time, now, to be the light. 

Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for illuminating the path forward with such brilliance, poise and clarity. Shine on! 

American Carnage

January 7, 2021

I feel today like I did on November 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump stole the US presidential election. 

Dumbfounded that such a criminal act could be allowed to proceed in the USA. 

Shocked and disgusted by the coarse hatred and stupidity on display in the crowds that supported him—the ones who chanted “Lock’er up” about Hillary Clinton, and put journalists in cages in the center of packed arenas, to be jeered at as though they were in some kind of stocks. 

Those same folks turned out in droves for Donald’s last stand in DC yesterday. And they must have had accomplices among the Capitol Police and other law enforcement units, who spectacularly not only failed to prevent the mob from overrunning the Capitol, but were caught on camera practically bowing as they let the criminals in. 

It was chilling to hear one of those self-styled “American patriots” speaking to an NPR reporter on the grounds of the Capitol building, declaring that lawmakers opposed to Donald Trump ought to be strung up and hung on gallows then and there. He went on to sketch out his vision of gallows in groups of four, ready to break the necks of anyone opposed to Trump.

American carnage, indeed. 

Shock and alarm beamed around the world, as people in other countries saw the unthinkable violence taking place in the heart of America, the so-called “leader of the free world.”

Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “freedom,” doesn’t it. 

For Trump and his brainwashed followers, it means the freedom to bear arms anywhere and everywhere, including schools, malls and halls of government. 

It means the freedom to insist that up is down, that wrong is right, that losing is winning, and that anyone who disagrees with you should be hung. 

The blind compliance of the Trump/Fox/Newsmax/QAnon followers is terrifying. 

We’ve seen it before, in the legions who followed Hitler and sent their neighbors to the gas chambers.

We saw it in the Cultural Revolution in China, where brainwashed followers committed violence and murder, often against their own family members, in the name of their fearless leader Mao. 

We saw it with the Hutus in Rwanda, who murdered their neighbors the Tutsis by the millions when the call came over the radio to do so. 

This is human nature, it seems. A savage mob mentality, lurking beneath the veneer of civilization, can be easily manipulated, at viral speed, by the dark lords of social media.

It is the job of those of us who have the capacity to discern truth from lies to continue to hold that line. No, the 2020 election was not stolen. Yes, Joe Biden legitimately won. 

But how can we heal a society so broken, a social fabric so frayed?

The US is on the brink of chaos. 

We saw it in microcosm yesterday. Imagine if whoever is masterminding this (and I don’t believe it’s Trump, he’s not intelligent enough. Steve Bannon, perhaps?) was able to bring the Trump mob out in multiple cities across the nation simultaneously. Imagine if sympathizers in the police forces, and perhaps even the military, stood by as violence erupted. Spin out that scenario and you see the clear outlines of a civil war that could only be quelled by serious military intervention of the kind that we are used to seeing in other countries. Think Baghdad, 2004. 

There are many today who are calling for Trump to be ousted from the White House immediately, using the 25thAmendment. My fear is that the toady Pence would then turn around and issue him a blanket pardon, which would prevent his future prosecution. Because make no mistake, Trump will be a menace until he is safely behind bars, without access to the Internet. Even then, he’ll become a folk hero, a rallying cry for his mob forevermore. 

It’s hard to know the best course of action for sane heads in America to take today. 

For those of us on the sidelines, watching and listening as the actors strut and fret their time upon the stage, these terrifying, sickening times must just be endured. I wish I could pull a Rip Van Winkle and go to sleep until it’s all over. 

But no. We are here for a reason. To hold firm to our belief in truth—yes, real, actual truth; to insist on justice for all—not just white supremacist fascists; to proclaim that might is not and never will be right. 

If there are angels watching over this sad, sick planet, I pray that they will strengthen the better nature in each one of us.

We surely need all the help we can get today.

New Year’s 2021: Be the Light

Greetings, 2021. 

My prayer is that you will be the year in which we come to appreciate our interconnections with each other and all things on Earth and in the heavens. 

May you be the year in which we came to understand and value the importance of health, and to see that as we are all interconnected, one cannot be healthy while others are sick. 

May we embrace the entire Earth community as our tribe, recognizing that peace and plenty in one part of the globe cannot be lasting if others are starving and in strife. 

May we remember the sensitive arts of diplomacy, negotiation and mutual respect. 

May we remember how to listen deeply, how to open our hearts to strive for understanding, even when we are confronted with radical difference. 

2020 taught us the hard way that climate disruption is well underway, accompanied by fires, storms, melting ice and parched or flooded farmlands. We learned the hard way that the globalization of human civilization has opened pathways for pandemics as well as for profits. It has become clear that our favorite toy, the Internet, has the power to connect us as never before, but also to shred our trust in one another, undermining the stability of our social and political systems. 

As we step gingerly into this new year, 2021, and this new decade begins to unfurl, may each of us find the center of calm in our own hearts, and radiate that out into the world. I know this is not easy when it seems like everything we have known is under assault; when we are separated from our loved ones; when we are faced with disrespect, violence, hunger and fear. 

But for those of us who have our immediate needs met, who have the luxury of sitting on a safe, if crumbling, shore—for us, there is a simple, but not inconsequential practice we can undertake for ourselves and for others.

We have simply to center ourselves, open our hearts, and radiate our love and compassion out into the world. 

Buddhism calls this tonglen. Other religions call it prayer. It needs no name, nor the seal of any established religion. Each of us has a direct connection to the steady light of the sacred, which grows brighter as we focus on it and call it forth into the world. 

Each of us can be the love we want to see in the world. We can embody and radiate the divine love we seek, and become a channel for the beauty all around us. 

May the glow of our collective light form a healing matrix around our beleaguered planet, harmonizing with the divine light that connects us to the cosmos and all the other stars, suns and planets out there. 

May 2021 be the year we realize our profound interconnection with all that is. 

May the light that animates each of us strengthen and protect all of us. 

Namaste. 

New Year’s morning 2021. Venus aloft. Photo by J. Browdy.

Inspiration from the Oyster and the Caterpillar

Winter Solstice Reflections

I have been thinking of the oyster lately.

How she spends her life alone, down in the deep dark of the sea; how the craggy peaks on her roughened shell express her toughness and resilience; how inside that calcified fortress she is tender, soft, vulnerable and sweet. 

I have been thinking about how it’s the irritation of a bit of sand inside her shell that gets the oyster creating. 

No sand, no pearl. 

She takes a sharp-edged bit of silica and works on it patiently, secreting the layers of creative juices that transform ordinary sand into lustrous pearl. 

Alone in the dark, the roaring of the great sea around her, she is like the caterpillar in her cocoon, working her magic with methodical, rhythmic attention. 

I have never seen an oyster creating a pearl, but I have had the great joy of watching a caterpillar transform into a cocoon.

First she fixes herself head down on a sturdy stalk, curling her body up into a J. Her soft body jerks and vibrates, magically changing into a hard shell. Once the shell is complete, the vibrations stop and the deep transformation begins. You know she is almost finished with her work when the walls of the cocoon become translucent, and you can start to see the veins of the butterfly wings outlined inside. 

Moving into the ultimate darkness of Year 2020, this Solstice weekend, I am embracing the inspiration of these two exemplary creators: the oyster and the caterpillar. 

One takes the irritants that beset her and transforms them into beauty. 

The other unhesitatingly embarks on total transformation, trusting the inner guidance that assures her that even in the face of complete dissolution, all will be well. 

I know that as a human, I am sand in the tender flesh of the oyster of the world. 

As a human, I am an earthbound crawling caterpillar, focused on munching, unaware of the great cosmic and Gaian rhythms that so generously provide my sustenance. 

On this Winter Solstice, I offer myself up for transformation. 

May the rough being that I am, slouching through these times of crisis and sorrow, be taken up by the world and made beautiful. 

May I emerge from these lonely struggles with new energy, insight and sense of purpose, ready to fly into a world so in need of loving attention.


Join me Sunday 12/20 for a free online writing workshop exploring the transformative potential of the Winter Solstice. More info here: https://www.jenniferbrowdy.com/event/winter-solstice-2020/

Be the Light…Photo by J. Browdy

Seeking clarity…on a new, better “normal”

In the northern hemisphere, each day is getting a little shorter now—the  darkness of dawn lasting longer, and the darkness of dusk coming on more quickly. The candles and festive lights of the season help to counter all that gloom, but the usual rounds of holiday parties and concerts have been shifted online this year, and no amount of Zoom can replace the warm animal pleasure of being physically close to the people we love. 

Still, thank heaven for Zoom, as it has allowed us to continue to gather face to face in ways that were, until very recently, the stuff of science fiction. And thank heaven for the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, upon which is pinned our hopes of resuming “normal” life. 

This is a good moment to reflect on that “normal” existence we were living at this time last year. What were the good things about my 2019 life, which I miss and want to resume as soon as possible? What am I grateful to have let go of in this pandemic season? Are there things I used to do that maybe I don’t want to resume, or that I will want to take up again differently once the virus recedes?

One thing I know is that the emergence of COVID-19 is just another sign of a stressed planet and the unhealthy human relationship with the rest of the Earth community. 

Therefore, getting healthy is not just about getting a vaccine. To be truly healthy, we have to learn to live more lightly and lovingly on our planet; to regain the ecological balance that has sheered so dangerously off course in our lifetimes. 

This is a matter of policy, yes, to be negotiated at the highest levels of government through international agreements; but it is also a matter of individual actions, small choices that you and I have the power to make each day. 

The darkness of winter Solstice, coinciding this year with some of the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, is a time to seek clarity on what matters most. 

Seeking clarity. Photo by J. Browdy

It’s a time to ask, with focus and intention, for inner guidance on how to live in right relation with each other and the Earth. 

If I’m honest, I know that the old “normal” was pretty awful for all but the top echelons of elite humans, all over the world. And if you were to ask a butterfly or a bee, an elephant or a whale how things went for them in 2019—well, you know what the answer would be. 

In these dark days, I am trying not to be overwhelmed by all the fear and negativity swirling around our collective psychic landscape. I am trying to remember times in my life when I have felt clear and spacious, in right relation with myself and those around me, moving with grace through the time and space that we inhabited together. 

I want to regain the clarity I felt as a young girl walking the woods by myself, catching the liquid eye of a grazing deer, raising my head to the sharp scream of a hawk circling overhead, nodding happily at the cheery greeting of the chickadees in the hemlocks or the whistled alarm of the chipmunks in the mossy stone walls. 

In those moments, I was totally present, totally calm, every sense stroked alert and zinging with joy at the beauty around me. 

In my new normal, post-pandemic life, I want more of such moments of clarity and exuberance. I want to seek out more occasions to deepen my relationships with the more-than-human environment around me. 

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I believe that if more of us could get into right relations with our animal neighbors, our relations with our human neighbors would improve too. It is no coincidence that so many pets have been adopted in 2020. Animals, trees, and the entire ecological web of life on Earth have so much to teach us about health and well-being. 

Could it be that finally, in 2021, we’ll be ready to listen?

Mama Fox, hunting. Photo by J. Browdy

Don’t let their blood red tarnish your vision

In the wake of the 2020 US election, I’m sitting with the sinking feeling, lodged like a stone in my gut, that there is not going to be any easy exit from the social quagmire that now exists in the United States. The ideological lines between red and blue have deepened into chasms between people who apparently disagree about pretty much everything. 

The red side is ready and willing to take up guns to settle such disagreements. In 2020 America, violence is always only a hair’s breath away, with millions of guns in civilian circulation, combined with militarized police forces everywhere. 

On the red side are autocrats who liked the original Constitution just fine—the one that gave rights only to landowning white men. It’s been especially disturbing to see how many white women support their own oppression, voting for the Handmaid’s Tale-esque party of “grab’em by the pussy.” 

I’ve seen some social media posts blaming the robust red turn-out on a poor public education system. It’s true that the red autocrats have been battling for years for ideological control of the common curriculum, with considerable success. I’m always struck by the starkly different narratives offered by American students from various parts of the country, when I ask them what they were taught about key topics like Native American history, the Civil War, slavery and women’s rights. 

But the most potent ideological education seems to be happening via the media these days. The red/blue divide is also a Fox/NPR divide. The Fox side lies with impunity and calls anyone who disagrees with their point of view a liar. How can you argue logically with people like that? 

Both sides speak to their own choirs, in a cacophony that boils over in every election cycle, when we are forced to hold our noses and listen briefly to each other. 

I have found myself pondering how a red/blue secession might work, logistically: is a bicoastal country possible? Or would the Pacific Coast and New England/Atlantic Coast each form their own federations? 

The fact that I am thinking about this is profoundly disturbing.

But given the Democrats’ failure to secure a majority in the Senate or mobilize a presidential landslide, in a year where at least apparently this was not because of “Russian interference” or any nasty “October surprise”—in a year when the red leadership seemed to be bending over backward to show its heinous true colors—blood red, we might call it—well, there is just no way to sweet-talk myself into believing that sane heads will prevail in American government going forward, even if, as I hope, Biden takes the White House.

The meanness and gridlock will continue, with the most vulnerable people being continually sacrificed on the altar of greed and xenophobia. Racism and sexism will continue to worsen, with a Fox-driven hysteria around “socialism” and “elitism” that whips poor white people up to do the bidding of the masters. 

As a woman of Jewish heritage, I am aware of my family’s privilege, these past few decades, of “passing for white” in the racist USA. But any Jew in this country has to be triggered by the Nazi rhetoric and symbolism coming out of the White House lately. What are Jews like Mnuchin, Miller, Kushner and Adelson but the kapos greasing the wheels of bigotry, hoping to profit off the downfall of others? Attorney Cohen saw how well that went. 

And yet—and yet, all the sages of the world tell us to respond to such evil with love, not fear. Meet hatred with forgiveness. Melt oppression by turning the other cheek. 

I don’t like the feeling of my heart hardening. I know it’s the work of fear, throwing up walls, finding enemies, closing down compassion. 

I have compassion for the millions of people who have been duped by the Fox oligarchy into voting against their own interests.; those who have been persuaded to harden their own hearts, not only against their perceived enemies, but also to the vulnerable within their own ranks. 

I do not have compassion or love for the ones who are doing the manipulating, in such a cynical, open way. They may be thinking that it worked for Hitler, but we know how many paid the price. 

Is the US heading for a civil war? Is there anyone on the horizon with the uniting vision of Lincoln who can pull us back from the brink and remind us what “these United States” are supposed to stand for?

I know it’s a mistake to rely on charismatic leaders. We should be looking within ourselves for that leadership, those answers. 

Vision is all. Vibration is powerful. We cannot allow their dark visions to prevail. 

Perhaps this is what is meant by “coming from love, not fear”:

Continuing to hold a bright vision of “equality and justice for all”; to animate that vision with personal integrity, making it so at least within our own limited spheres; trusting that the positive vibrations we put out into the world can and will make a difference, growing into a mighty chorus affirming the human potential for kindness, respect, beauty and right relations among all beings on this Earth. 

Join me in this, the least we can each do: don’t let the blood red of their vision tarnish yours. Keep your vibration high. 

Photo by J. Browdy, October 2020.
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