A Thanksgiving Invitation

I’m not gonna lie, this Thanksgiving Day post has been really hard to write. 

I don’t want to write platitudes about how we should remember how much we have to be thankful for. 

I don’t want to remind my readers, as I have in the past, about how Thanksgiving is a corrupt and dysfunctional holiday anyway. 

I don’t want to indulge in self-pity as I contemplate my first EVER solo Thanksgiving Day. 

I want to say something that will be of comfort to others who, like me, are wrestling with the reality of the “cancellation” of the whole winter holiday season. 

Let’s see, I could say something like: “Thanksgiving was such a hassle anyway! Did you really enjoy the pressure of producing a memorable meal and festive occasion for all those friends and family?”

Or: “Just think of how the planet is thanking us for staying home and not polluting the air with our cars and airplanes. Now we can all just visit by Zoom!”

These bright Zoloft thought bubbles waft away dismally, bursting as soon as I write them down. 

The bottom line is that despite the problems baked into this holiday, there is some ancient and fundamental impulse at the root of it: the desire to gather together with loved ones as the season turns cold and dark, meeting in circle around a warm hearth and a good meal to share the love that will sustain us through the winter days to come. 

But this year, for so many of us, that impulse will die on the vine, because gathering together is precisely what we should NOT do this pandemic holiday season.

As the gloom of this Thanksgiving Day has come into focus, I’ve caught myself trying to push away nostalgia for all the wonderful holidays in my pre-pandemic life. I chide myself: What use does nostalgia serve, for myself or for anyone else?

But mulling it over, I’ve realized that there is an important distinction to be made between self-indulgent nostalgia and purposeful remembering.

Self-indulgent nostalgia runs an endless loop of fixed, Technicolor memories, through which you remind yourself in a self-flagellating way of those good old happy days—now lamentably over and gone. At its most basic, it’s an unprocessed form of grief.

Purposeful remembering is a loving reanimation of the special people, places and circumstances of your life, which composts nostalgia into a loving tribute to the past. 

While nostalgia invites commiseration, the purposeful sharing of happy memories is an offering of nourishing nuggets of inspiration, an invitation to warm your spirit with the glow of past happiness. 

This strange pandemic Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in creating a virtual pot luck smorgasbord, a warm and welcoming circle at which we can offer each other little tidbits of remembered joy.

I’ll go first—here’s my “covered dish”:

I remember how after Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, as the last dishes were being washed and the delicious food packed away for the next day’s leftovers, one of us would open up a guitar case, sit down by the fireplace, and strike up a song. The music would bring the rest of us gravitating to the fire, humming along, grabbing more instruments, breaking out the old folk songs that my brother and I learned from my parents as babies, and have been singing together over all these decades. One song would lead to another, from the blues to the union songs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Odetta…at some point the Cognac would appear to whet our whistles and we’d keep singing, our faces flushed and happy in the warmth of the fire, until finally the music we’d been carrying around unexpressed since our last family jam had all been released, leaving us sated and soothed, in the companionable, open-hearted quiet before bedtime. 

Browdy family jam, a scene oft-repeated through the years.

Your turn next. I’d love for you to share a happy, nourishing memory from a Thanksgiving past.

Share it in the spirit of a gift to the circle, knowing that even from afar, even when we’re sitting alone, we can touch each other lovingly by sharing the warmth of the happy stories we carry in our memories and in our hearts. 

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. 

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.

Just remember to breathe

We knew what to expect, didn’t we? Donald Trump is a street brawler from Queens, turned Manhattan mobster, and he certainly acted the part in the first so-called presidential debate. It was, as everyone bemoaned on the morning after, a disgrace, a national embarrassment, a total sh*t-show.

Well, I have a bright idea. 

The media should stop enabling Trump’s bullying. If he can’t participate in a civilized exchange, fine! Let him and Biden each have their own 90-minute slot to discuss their vision for the country with a moderator (or a panel). 

Let Trump stand in the spotlight all by himself, and put his incoherent, racist, misogynist, arrogant, moronic self on full display. 

And then let Biden do the same. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he looks like an angel next to the orange demon. We’ll take him!

I am straining to reach for a thread of positivity to catch hold of today. I’ve been awake for almost 12 hours, and I’m still straining. 

One thing I know is that for us human herd animals, emotions are contagious and self-reinforcing. One smile leads to another; but the same is true for frowns too. 

When we are constantly bombarded with negative emotions, via the media and each other, the negativity quickly builds into a vortex of toxic energy that whips over the entire psychic landscape like a tornado, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

We have to resist this! This is what Meg Wheatley means when she calls on us to become “warriors for the human spirit,” creating “islands of sanity and calm” in the midst of all the chaos of our time.

This morning I was distressed as I settled on to my yoga mat, in need of the able physical/mental/emotional massage of Jurian Hughes’ gentle yoga class. 

Come back to your breath, Jurian reminded the 80+ people who joined the virtual class. No matter how out of control things seem, one thing you can control is your breath.

And by the end of the hour of deep breathing and slow deliberate movement, I was calm again. Not happy; not buoyant; but calm and ready to face my day.

We can’t control what others do. We can make suggestions, and here’s mine: next time give each man his own stage, or at least turn off the damn microphone so they can only be heard one at a time! 

But on a day-to-day basis all we can do is to try to remain anchored in the present moment of our ordinary, physical lives, which for most of us continue on their own rhythms no matter what the clowns on stage are doing. 

Try not to let your active imagination trigger your fight-or-flight fear reflex over something that is happening far away, or that might happen in the uncertain future. 

When you resist the tornado of fear that threatens to send you spinning into panic or depression over something you can’t control, you are doing your part as a “warrior of the human spirit,” holding your positive vibration steady for everyone.

This matters. It matters for you, and it matters for everyone around you. It matters for the psychic energy of our whole human tribe, and by extension for the health and wellbeing of our entire Gaian web of life. 

For all of our sakes, please—remember to breathe.

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.

 

 

We are the World: A Rededication of Transition Times

It’s been a long time since I’ve written regularly in Transition Times. There’s a reason for it: the calamity of Trump stealing the 2016 election. After that, the bad news began to come so fast and furious that a) it was impossible to keep returning the volley, so to speak, with sufficient intensity; and b) life became exhausting, demoralizing and depressing. It was hard enough to live through each day, let alone write about it with the depth and clear thought that I have come to expect from myself in Transition Times.

So I shifted my outrage to social media, where I could share a multitude of other people’s thoughtful writing about resistance on many fronts. I shifted my writing practice to work on a novel that allowed me to lighten up a little and play with satire, even as I also made environmental resistance the engine of the plot. I’ve continued to teach leadership for social and environmental justice at the college, focusing especially on strategic communication: learning from those I call Worldwrights on how writing can right the world. And I’ve deepened my commitment to offering purposeful memoir as a technique not just for exploring the past, but also for understanding our difficult present, and envisioning a better future.

And now I find myself here, in the early days of another spring. There are still peepers trilling in the wet woods of my home in western Massachusetts. The birds are busy with mating and nesting. These deep terrestrial cycles soothe me, even as I know how endangered these bright creatures are in the face of climate disruption and environmental destruction. Of course, they don’t know or care about the future. Their blessing is to be entirely focused on the present.

Is it our curse then, as humans, that we alone of all the other animals possess the magic of prophecy? I have written of myself, here at Transition Times,as a kind of Cassandra. Back when I started this blog, in 2011, very few people were paying attention to the threat of climate change. Bill McKibben and Al Gore were outliers, preaching to a fringe that was perceived, even in smart precincts like The New York Times, to be standing in the way of progress.

Now things have changed. Suddenly The Times has a Climate beat. It’s not only Elizabeth Kolbert sounding the alarm on species extinction over at The New Yorker. And New York Magazine, previously mostly a style rag, broke a blunt and influential story by David Wallace-Wells about the social chaos that climate disruption will bring, if not addressed immediately.

Although the news is still depressing as hell, I’m reassured that the major news media are now paying attention. I don’t feel like such a mad, lonely voice crying in the wilderness over here at Transition Times. Somehow, because there are more reporters on the beat, it feels like a good time to rededicate myself in this blog, and think about how I can best be of service in my mission of “writing to right the world.”

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I am co-hosting a local “hub” of the Findhorn Climate Change & Consciousness Conference happening this month in Findhorn, Scotland; we’ll be presenting some of the keynotes from the conference, along with related pre-recorded interviews, and leading discussions afterwards. My co-host, Rosa Zubizarreta, led an initial circle recently, gathering some friends to simply speak what is in their hearts and minds as they have become aware of climate disruption. It was a moving, disturbing session, as people voiced their fears and their stubborn hope that a path to a viable future can still be found.

Several women (the gathering was mostly women) spoke of their terrible grief, as they understood the realities of ecological systems collapse. I remember feeling that way and I realized that while I still grieve every day for the losses we are facing, I am now more focused on what Jem Bendell calls “deep adaptation”: preparing myself–emotionally, spiritually and in practical terms–to live on into this very uncertain transition time.

I have always hoped that Transition Times would be a place where people could come for inspiration, and I see that we need inspiration now more than ever. My plan going forward is not to respond to the day’s outrages; not to keen and wail in grief at all the destruction (of forests, of reefs, of all the beautiful creatures who have been our companions throughout the Holocene, but are now fading away as we advance into the Anthropocene). Or at least, to tell these tales of woe only insofar as they help to ignite the passion of resistance, so that we can, like modern-day Noahs, conserve what we can as the flood waters rise.

It is not that I’m going to be Prozac-cheery and pretend everything is just fine. Far from it. I am going to engage in dialogue with the Worldwrights I respect and admire—activists of social and environmental justice, Gaian warriors as I call them, after Joanna Macy’s more Buddhist idea of Shambhala warriors. I am going to look for hope where it is to be found, while at the same time being honest—sometimes bluntly so—about where we are headed as a civilization.

CoverIn Margaret Wheatley’s latest book, which I shared with my leadership students this spring, she uses John Glubb’s model of cyclical civilizational collapse to show how western society is in the classic end stages, headed for a big fall. And yet, she says, we have to do the work that is ours to do, moving beyond fear and beyond the false promises of savior-style hope.

At the end of my memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, I said that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in circles of kindred spirits, “doing hope together.” I still feel that way, even though my understanding of “hope” has changed. I no longer hope that we can sustain this present civilization. I see now that what western society has created is totally unsustainable and so destructive, not only for the natural world but also for the vast majority of human beings.

Along with other transition thinkers, I have shifted away from the idea of “sustainability,” towards the promise of “regeneration.”

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From the ashes of western civilization something new will rise. There will be some humans left to greet the new day and start the task of creating the next version of life on Earth. Those who make it through what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning will probably be the people who have remained indigenous through all the upheavals and torments of the past 500 years of European colonization; those who live in places not swept away by climate havoc, and who still remember how to subsist in harmony on the land.

Here in Transition Times, I will share what I am learning about deep adaptation, regeneration and how to prepare oneself, spiritually, emotionally and practically, to live through the times that are coming. I will share my own journey honestly, and hope that others will be inspired to share their thoughts too.

This is what “doing hope together” looks like to me now, here on the edge of what some are calling planetary systems collapse. To look out into the world with love and with courage; to say resolutely that we stand for the best values humanity has developed over these past few millennia of recorded history; and that we stand against the greed, shortsightedness, aggression and hatred that has been ascendant too long in western civilization.

As Arundhati Roy put it, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Stop. Listen. Can you hear the better world that is laboring to be born now? Send her strength with every breath you take, knowing that the world breathes you as you breathe her. There is no separation. It’s become a cliché but it’s true: We are the world. And in the cycles of deep time, we will rise again.

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Thanksgiving 2018: Giving Thanks for Kindred Spirits, Here at the Edge of the Climate Disruption Cliff

This year Thanksgiving has fallen on the coldest day of the season here in New England. Sunny but frigid, the streets are quiet as everyone huddles at home around fires and heaters. It’s a reminder of how human beings living in the north have always needed fire to warm us, whether that fire comes from trees recently alive or those ancient fossilized carbons known as coal, gas and oil.

Today I am giving thanks for being warm. I am giving thanks for having a loving family with whom to spend this holiday, laughing and talking over a delicious feast.

I am giving thanks and even as I do so, I am feeling guilty for the abundance I enjoy, and thinking about the suffering of others that I contribute to just in the simple fact of heating my house or driving my car to my parents’ home.

I’m feeling so uncomfortable about Thanksgiving this year that it’s been very hard to begin writing my annual Thanksgiving post for Transition Times.

I’m feeling guilty about my own enjoyment in the face of others’ suffering (and not just human others, but animals and all life on Earth are in my compassionate thoughts today).

I’m feeling guilty as I realize that the obliviousness of myself and others to our collective impact on the Earth—so clearly on display in the American tradition of Thanksgiving—has brought us to the cliff of climate disruption, upon which we perch today.

Many people I know are not fully awake to the danger of our moment. They’re still going about their lives as though the next few decades will unfold as they always have in our lifetimes: with some personal change and political turbulence playing out against the predictable stability of our ever-giving environment.

This is the premise that continues to fuel our debt- and growth-based capitalist economy. We borrow against the future, expecting growth and appreciation to continue to carry us along.

How_many_earths_2018_large-768x1261Intellectually many of us know that humans have now outstripped the carrying capacity of the Earth—Thanksgiving occurs nearly four months into overshoot territory, where we humans have officially consumed more than the planet has to give. We are eating our principal now.

We know this…and yet we continue to eat, burn fossil fuels and buy goods that take more resources to make than the Earth has to give. And every one of these actions takes human civilization inexorably closer to the edge of that cliff….

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the luxury of being able to sit in a warm house on a cold day, contemplating the end of the world as I have always known it. If the IPCC scientists are right, this is a luxury I may not have much longer.

Worldwrights copyThis Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all those who are awake and working to back-peddle us away from the edge of the climate disruption cliff—brilliant thinkers and social influencers like Stephen Harrod Buhner, Charles Eisenstein, Mary Lyons, Joanna Macy, Bill McKibben, George Monbiot, Daniel Pinchbeck, Nina Simons, Rebecca Solnit, Starhawk, Daniel Christian Wahl, Andreas Weber, Terry Tempest Williams and many more, whose ideas enliven and inspire me as I work on my Worldwrights book about leaders for social and environmental justice who have used writing to right the world, and written purposeful memoirs about their own journeys.

Sometimes, as I go about my work of publishing, editing, author coaching and teaching, not to mention my own writing, I wonder if this is the best use I could be making of the precious time we have left. Is there something more important I should be doing to help wake people up to the danger, and turn this gigantic ship of corporate capitalist doom around?

I keep coming back to how critical it is that we communicate with each other, building resilient communities through sharing our hopes, dreams and visions.

That is what my work of purposeful memoir is about: looking back in order to better understand how we’ve arrived at the present moment (as individuals, as societies and as the world civilization known as the Anthropocene), with the ultimate visionary goal of aligning our personal values with our political and planetary presence in order to create the thriving future we all want to live into.

And doing all this together with others. Purposeful memoir is not only a path to individual awareness, it’s also a profoundly valuable community-building technique.

I give thanks for this work that is mine to do, and for the community of kindred spirits who offer strength, courage and wisdom for our collective journey into the future.

I give thanks for you, reader—welcome to the table! Together we can, and we must, change the world.

Facing the Zombies of the Trump Apocalypse

What can justify the tearing of toddlers from their parents? For Trump and his toadies, it is the parents’ unlawful entry into the United States—crossing the border without proper documentation.

Please think about this for a moment from the parents’ point of view. What could persuade a parent to take the terrible risk of crossing into the US at this moment in history, with small children in arms, without proper documentation?

Obviously these parents are fleeing something really terrible in their own countries. So far I have seen no current reporting about what’s going on in Central America that is pushing parents to grab their kids and make the perilous trek north. In the past we have had mostly young men coming north to try to make money to send back home to their families. What’s with the surge of entire families this year?

I hope we’ll start to see some journalists looking further upstream as this summer’s tragedy unfolds, and asking that all-important question: WHY?

Meanwhile, Trump is playing the hard guy for all it’s worth. He wants his wall, and he’s using traumatized children as the victims and pawns of his latest bullying. He wasn’t able to push the G7 world leaders around, but children in cages are easy targets.

This from a man who is only a generation or two removed from being an immigrant himself, married to an immigrant.

The alt-right who are supporting him are the slavering descendants of the racists of yore…the ones who had no qualms about tearing infants from their enslaved mothers (even when they themselves had fathered those infants). The ones who perpetrated systematic ethnic cleansing by kidnapping Native American children from their parents and detaining them for years in “boarding schools” that were much more brutal than today’s “tender age detention centers.”

What we’re watching today is not new, and its antecedents are not just Nazi concentration camps, which infamously separated families—though in the end most of them ended up in the same place, the gas chambers.

Trump has brought these dark episodes of human history back to life and reanimated them with a flourish of his executive order pen. In this horror flick, the evil zombies of history are back in action, and they care nothing for ethics and morality; they seem to be able to sweep aside any obstacle with a leering, bloody snarl.

It’s sickening to watch the craven Republicans going along with this madness, as they went along with the tax cuts for the wealthy despite huge deficit increases. Now they’re whetting their lips for the real prize, cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs. Meanwhile Trump is planning his military parade and an expensive new military reality show—oops, I mean military program—called Space Force.

But we’ve been here before, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote has never been proven wrong: “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

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Berkshire MA residents Jana Laiz and Barbara Dean standing up for human rights and social justice in America

Good people are on the rise now. Protests are happening all across the US. Lawsuits are being brought daily against Trump and his mad minions. The Mueller probe continues. Journalists are upping their game, calling out the lies and asking the hard questions.

So much rides on the coming elections in November. Until then, Americans, we must hold on to our values, remembering who we are and what we stand for. We must not allow our thinking to be distorted by the mind-fucks of this misbegotten so-called president and his sycophants.

To be honest, I am worried about fraud and hacking in the 2018 elections. I am worried about a manufactured crisis that will throw Americans into disarray, a la 9/11. I am worried that Americans are just too unhealthy, in so many ways, to create a healthy society.

But these fears and anxieties go nowhere and help no one.  Every American of principle has a civic duty to stand firm against the onslaught of the Trump nightmare, vanquish it, and work towards creating the dream of MLK, Abraham Lincoln and so many other good leaders. If we stand together, we shall overcome.

Stop the world, I want to get off! Reflections from the runaway train of 2017

The train wreck in Washington state this week gave visual reality to the feeling I’ve had lately of being a passenger on a runaway train, bound for disaster. I’m in that eerie slo-mo stage where everyone is screaming, we know we’re screwed, but there is nothing anyone can do to change the inevitable horrific outcome.

I’m talking about the Great Tax Scam of 2017, in which ultra-wealthy individuals and mega-corporations played a nasty shell game with everyone else–now you see it, now you don’t!—throwing some crumbs to the masses, while slashing funding for public education, health care, infrastructure and the social safety net for the most vulnerable, including the elderly and children.

I’m also talking about the environment: even as the pace of mining, logging, fracking and drilling continues to increase, the Arctic is melting, the forests and coral reefs are dying, and every day brings new tidings of floods, fires, droughts, famines.

To use another disaster metaphor, the US government and the corporations continue to party while the great Titantic of human civilization maintains a collision course for those now-melting ice bergs.

I can foresee the wreck, but I seem to be frozen and helpless to act to avert it.

Part of my inertia comes from the fact that I, like all of us living in the heart of the Empire, benefit from what the corporations offer. I’m complicit: I drive with gas, I heat with oil, I use banks and computers, I eat industrially produced food and expect drugs to be there when I need them. I pay my taxes.

While I don’t want to make excuses or let myself off the hook for my complicity, I also recognize the way my choices have been warped and limited by the same forces that are now ramming “tax reform” through Congress.

Because my funds are limited, it is difficult for me to buck the pressures of industrial capitalism—the policies that make gas cars cheaper than hybrids, oil burners cheaper than solar panels, and industrial food cheaper than organic.

For the most part, I have allowed myself to be shaped (maybe contorted would be a better word) into another of the obedient, ever-desiring consumers required by the corporate finance titans—a capitalist automaton who will shop till they drop on plastic fumes and go into debt bondage to keep up with the American dream.

But even as I reach for my plastic and do my holiday shopping, I am aware that I am not as helpless as the corporations and government want me to believe. I do have choices, even on this crazy runaway train that’s taking us all for a terrifying ride in these early years of the 21st century.

In a long-ago dispute over taxes, Henry Thoreau went to debtors’ jail to protest how taxpayer money was being spent on war. He wrote his famous letter on civil disobedience from prison, with the line that always echoes in my ears: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction 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 see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

If I were to stop “lending myself to the wrong which I condemn,” I would have to stop contributing my tax dollars to the maw of U.S. corporate capitalism. I would have to get rid of my credit card and start working individually and in my community to become more independent and resilient: investing in local agriculture, decentralized energy, local credit unions and currencies, building up community networks to ensure a social safety net on the local level.

One way federal/corporate interests keep us in line is by mesmerizing us with global news. We know more about the latest disaster on the other side of the country or the world than we know about how our neighbors are living down the street.

We can’t stop climate change, but we can begin to work in our own communities to prepare for it. We may not be able to overcome the stranglehold of corporate capitalism on our economy and our government, but we can do things differently on the local level.

It’s time to walk the talk of living as awake, aware, socially and environmentally responsible human beings. I can’t do it alone, but I can reach out to you, and together we can begin to bring our personal, political and planetary values into alignment. It’s never too late to start, and it’s certainly not too soon.

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What Lies Beneath: Of Mushrooms, Mycelia and Interconnection

On these warm, humid days of late summer, I have been walking the woods looking for mushrooms. There are so many to be found, and of such a marvelous variety!

Mushrooms mean more to me since I began to understand them as the visible fruits of the vast underground network known as the mycelium.

From Animate Earth by Stephan Harding: “Mycelia can grow at prodigious speed and explore space with phenomenal density. They can extend several centimeters a day and can infuse a mere gram of soil with over a kilometer of their intensely networked pipe-like cells….Some mycelia can be massive in both age and size. Perhaps the largest organism on Earth is a 2,200-year-old Armillaria root-rot fungus that grows in 2,400 acres of forest soil in eastern Oregon.”

FullSizeRender 3Especially fascinating to me is the symbiotic relationship that has developed between trees (and other plants) and the members of the fungi kingdom. The photo-synthesizers turn sunlight into sugar, which they share with the fungi in return for a functional extension of their roots further and wider than the plant could achieve on its own. The fungi exchange valuable minerals and water for the precious sunlight-sugar, and in a healthy environment all prosper and do well on our rich Mother Earth.

I walk the forest moodily these days, spying mushrooms and thinking about what lies beneath. It seems like an apt metaphor to be exploring in our social landscape as well.

What lies beneath the visible expressions of life that seize our attention day by day?

What lies beneath the constant eruptions of violence in the world, from Orlando to Charlottesville, from Aleppo to Barcelona, from Nice to Mosul?

What lies beneath the visible evidence of climate dysfunction—wildfires, floods—and the inexorable biological die-off known as the Sixth Great Extinction?

What lies beneath the naked greed and egotism polluting the American political system? Where is this ugly cancer of racism and hate coming from?

Humans now have the neurological equivalent of mycelia, the vast extension of our nervous system through the World Wide Web. Information is our sugar, and it seems we are quite dependent on it—even addicted, you might say.

The thing is that our Web has grown up in a spiritually impoverished time, in intellectual, technical soils that are superficial and incapable of providing us with the nourishment we need to turn the sugar of information into harmonious, beautiful, ethically strong philosophies and ways of living.

When soils are constantly bombarded with chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and anti-fungals, they produce plants that are weakly rooted and susceptible to diseases and infections.

So too, when we humans inhabit social landscapes that are constantly saturated with negativity, devoid of hope and inspiration, we are susceptible to being taken over by campaigns of hate and sloganeering. We fall prey to violence, whether self-destructive (the opioid crisis, eating disorders, depression and anxiety, physical illness) or against others (domestic violence, sexual violence, hate crimes, gangs, economic bludgeoning and the brainwashed othering that results in racial profiling).

Our World Wide Web could be, and sometimes is, a nourishing network. The places I go on the Internet are places of reflection, ethical courage, and humility. I strive to dig my roots deep into this rich soil and at times make my own thoughts visible, mushroom-style, as I do in Transition Times.

But we learned in the 2016 American election that the hateful, spiritually empty areas of the Web are growing quickly. It’s like a Roundup Ready crop, fast-growing and seemingly robust, yet devoid of true nourishment for the spirit.

What are those boys who brought hate to Charlottesville doing this week, in the aftermath of their eruption into plain view? What nastiness are they readying for the weeks and months ahead?

Harding: “When ready to reproduce, previously invisible mycelia gather their hyphae together to form fruiting bodies such as mushrooms and moulds that sprout into the air….They can emerge quickly because the underlying mycelium is immensely effective at supplying concentrated hydraulic power to a specific point in the network on very short notice. Fungal fruiting bodies release spores tiny enough to ride on swirling currents of air, and thus they find new places fit for colonization. Vast numbers of spores are released—some bracket fungi growing out of trees can release some 30 thousand million spores each day.”

These days, we who believe in equality and justice for all must work harder to make ourselves visible. We must be outspoken and forceful like never before. We must send the spores of our clear understanding of love and inclusivity far and wide, becoming beacons of hope and monuments to “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” to quote Charles Eisenstein.

The mycelium of our movement must dig down and go far and wide, creating a rich substratum of thought and practice that counters the shallow, hostile soils of hate that have been spreading on the Web.

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It will be important, in the days and years ahead, to consciously work on building our connections in the real world, as well as in our virtual landscapes.

We have to remember, and teach our children, how to enjoy creative collaboration in real life. It can be as simple as sitting in thoughtful conversation or working together to make a good meal.

We all have the potential to create beauty in our lives, and to share what we have created with others.

As we tend to our social landscapes, we must also remember to value the often unheeded planetary systems without which none of us could survive for an instant: the plants that make our air, the clean waters we all depend on, the rich microbial soils and the vast fungal networks that provide the silent steady pulse of harmonious interconnection.

A task for these August eclipse days: pay attention to what lies beneath the surface of your life. Dig your roots down deep, and work with your neighbors, real and virtual, to build a healthy, vibrant community—for all life on Earth. Stand up tall and send out those positive spores.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!

We live in a time when depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels—the so-called “opioid crisis” is really just a symptom of a deeper sickness eating away at the heart of our society. It’s especially disturbing—but understandable—to find high levels of anxiety and despair among the young.

This has been going on for a long time in certain communities—among the urban poor or on Native reservations, using drugs and alcohol to fight the despair is nothing new.

Now it’s spilling into the mainstream—white suburban kids are dying from overdoses, along with their fathers and mothers. This recent report from my home state of Massachusetts presents a chilling portrait of the scale of the problem.

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While better treatment for addicts is certainly necessary, it’s crucial to address the the deeper roots of the problem: the physical and emotional pain that drives kids, men and women to seek out opioids, legal or illegal.

This is a much more complicated knot to try to untangle, but the basic outlines of the problem are clear.

  • We need a more vibrant, creative, exciting educational system, where kids look forward to going to school each day because it’s a chance to interact collaboratively with interesting people—teachers, other students, and community members of all ages—and learn life skills that can be immediately put into practice. Humans learn best by doing, not by rote memorization and regurgitation of abstract knowledge.
  • We need better nutrition: getting chemicals and excessive sugar out of our diet and returning to the whole, unprocessed foods that contribute naturally to our physical and mental health. We need to get connected with how our food is produced, and return to gardening and animal husbandry ourselves when possible. We need more time for eating and socializing around the table.
  • We need a basic social safety net for all, so that no one has to worry about becoming homeless if they get sick, or when they get old. Everyone has something to contribute to society, and people should always be able to find rewarding work in their communities that will allow them to live decently and with respect.
  • We need to create more time and space for fun, especially in outdoor activities, or in creative, collaborative culture-making. Despite all the social media, people are feeling isolated and alienated and even the comfort of talk therapy has been taken away by the insurance companies, which would much rather push those pills on us.

To those who would tell me we can’t afford it, I reply: what would happen if we stopped spending more than $600 billion a year (15% of 2016 GDP) on the military, while giving only 3% of GDP to education? What if those proportions were reversed, as they are in many other Western countries?

And yet even as I type these words, I know the politicians won’t be listening. They are too focused on treating the symptoms to pay attention to the causes.

This is as true for dealing with climate change as it is for dealing with the opioid crisis. Everyone is looking for quick fixes that will allow us to continue with business as usual, no matter how many casualties that business generates.

When confronted with an intractable problem, my mom used to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

Lately the feeling of just being along for the ride—and a hurtling, scary, out-of-control ride at that—grows stronger day by day.

And of course, we can’t get off, not alive, anyway.

So how do we deal with having to sit in the back seat while the drivers take us down bumpy roads in the wrong direction at dangerous speeds?

My own response is to focus on what I do have control over.

  • I can weed my garden, spend more time outside.
  • I can eat healthy foods and cultivate mental clarity by cutting back on the distractions of social media and television.
  • I can try to contribute positively to my community—family, friends, the larger circles of positive creative people I care about.
  • I can review my life goals, and set some intentions for the coming years that, with focus and effort, I may be able to achieve.

Most of all, I can set my internal compass to LOVE and try to hold it steady there, no matter the jerks and lurches along the road.

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My new online course, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir, will be launching this fall. Through catalyzing writing prompts, I invite you to consider how you got where you are today, and to envision the future you want to create and live into. Join me!

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