Transitioning from Transition Times to The Spirit of Education: A Last/First Post

This is a transition post from Transition Times, my blog spanning the years 2011 – 2022, to my new Substack blog, The Spirit of Education. I hope my longtime readers of Transition Times will join me as I embark on this new exploratory journey: you can find and follow The Spirit of Education here.

In 2011, when I started Transition Times, it was out of a desperate need to find and communicate with what felt like the precious few others who were awake to the climate catastrophe and Sixth Great Extinction. Back then these topics were rarely reported in the mainstream media and no one I knew seemed to be aware of what I felt so keenly, happening all around me. Walking through forests that were growing more and more silent as the songbirds disappeared, I felt so alone in my terrible grief. I reached out the only way I knew how: through writing. 

And I was amazed and delighted to find, almost instantly, a circle of people who shared my fear and sorrow, and were eager, like me, to try to avert the worst disasters—although we were clear-eyed about the reality that these huge Gaian changes were gaining steam year by year, and there was no going back to the placid pre-Industrial Age. Adapt and mitigate were the watchwords, even as we protested the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry at every opportunity and tried to encourage the nascent renewable energy infrastructure.

As I wrote my way through the decade, I wrote about the good things that happened: the joy of Obama winning a second term, the wonderful surprise of the Supreme Court affirmation of gay marriage, the gathering force of environmental organizations like Extinction Rebellion, and the emergence of passionate advocates like Greta Thunberg. 

I wrote about my own ongoing explorations of spiritual ecology, sharing my encounters with favorite authors like Joanna Macy and Andreas Weber, and my growing affiliation with organizations like the Bioneers. I started Transition Times with the promise that no topic would be “too far out” in my quest to understand and find a way through the morass of our time; I explored everything from indigenous spirituality to quantum theory to solar engineering and the psychology of persuasion. 

I also responded, often hotly, to current events—the endless parade of political nightmares and environmental tragedies. And as my form was the personal essay, I shared quite a bit about the ups and downs of my personal life too. 

At times, I talked about how distressed and disillusioned I was becoming with the educational system, the machine in which I functioned as a low-level cog—that is to say, a college professor at a small liberal arts college. My college was founded as an experiment—the first residential early college in the US, for bright 16-year-olds—and it was not only my employer for many years, but also my alma mater. It had sparked the flourishing national Bard Early College Network and was part of the global Bard Open Society University Network, in which I was happy to teach students from all over the world. As colleges go, my college was among the best. And still…I could not shake the growing feeling that we were not serving our students well, and that it wasn’t the fault of our college, but a problem with the entire educational system, from kindergarten on up. 

Everything I read in the conventional educational theory and praxis literature just seemed like tinkering around the edges of the machine, adding a little more oil here or a new contraption there, so that the existing machine could continue to pump out well-prepared workers to join the capitalist conveyer belt—the very conveyer belt that I knew was leading us all over the cliff of climate disaster environmental collapse.

Part of the problem in education is how siloed the different fields of study have become. Environmental issues are discussed in environmental studies classes, but totally ignored in other classes. As a humanities professor, I set out to do what I could to break down this unspoken wall. I had been teaching literature and human rights / social justice classes for a long time, but post-2011, I began to shift towards literature, both fiction and non-fiction, that foregrounded the environmental crisis and climate justice. My Women Write the World class began to focus on books and other media by women leaders in the environmental movement, and my journalism classes abandoned the pretense of objectivity, morphing into communications classes on how to advocate for social and environmental justice in ways that encouraged people to become more active, rather than to despair and tune out. 

In these years, I wrote and published a memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, which set my personal life story against the larger backdrop of my time and place, and talked about how my early love for nature had been socialized out of me by my culture and education. The Ur story of that memoir turned out to be about how, at age 8 or so, I wrote a story about a wood nymph named Estrella who gathered a group of animals to try to save their forest, which was being logged. But my child self could not figure out how to stand up to the loggers, so I never finished the story. In writing my memoir, I realized that Estrella is still there, waiting for me to find a way to save her beloved forest. And I am still groping my way towards solutions…but my child’s eye instinct to gather a group together to tackle the problem still holds true. The problems we face now are far too great for any one person to solve alone. 

I have long had an instinctive pull towards creating communities. During the Transition Times years, I founded and led the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, dedicated to creating more spaces for women writers to strengthen their voices as they connected with each other and with audiences. I co-founded and led a small press, Green Fire Press, dedicated to publishing “books that make the world better.” More recently I co-founded an online community for writers, Birth Your Truest Story, also dedicated to encouraging writers of all ages and many walks of life to tap deeply into their creativity and express what is in their hearts. 

In my individual and community work, I realized how important it is to “align the personal, political and planetary,” by which I mean to understand more deeply how one’s own life story is conditioned and shaped by one’s time and place. I coined the term “purposeful memoir” to refer to memoirs that share life stories in the hope of benefiting others, as I had done in my own memoir.

In my latest book, Purposeful Memoir as a Quest for a Thriving Future, I share the stories of purposeful memoirists who have changed the world for the better—I call them “worldwrights,” taking off on the word “playwrights”: playwrights write plays, worldwrights write to right the world. Among the worldwrights I discuss are Joy Harjo, Audre Lorde, Virginia Woolf, John Perkins, Terry Tempest Williams and many more. In this book, I share my “alchemical” approach to purposeful memoir, “saluting the positive and transmuting the negative” in one’s life story. Through a series of writing prompts (I call them “catalysts”), I send the reader on eight “Quests” for positive qualities that we need to cultivate in order to co-create the thriving future I still believe is possible for humans on Earth.

All through these years, I have been dedicated to exploring spiritual, esoteric and mystical traditions, and how traditional and contemporary metaphysical wisdom intersects with cutting edge quantum theory. An instinctive “nature mystic” myself, I was raised without religious training, and that granted me freedom to follow my own curiosity wherever it led me. Knowing that the Abrahamic religions had cut humans off from nature, paving the way for the exploitation and destruction that spawned the current climate and biodiversity crisis, I focused my explorations on other spiritual traditions: Buddhism, shamanism from many cultures, channeling and direct transmission, transpersonal psychology and psychedelic means of opening portals into higher consciousness. 

In a way it feels like I have taken myself through a whole new PhD curriculum in spiritual ecology over the past decade. In The Spirit of Education, I will be trying to synthesize and share what I’ve learned—a dissertation in blog posts, you might say. The Teachers who have impacted me most have been nonphysical, channeled or met on spiritual journeys by individual humans who had the honor of serving as the receivers and transmitters of their teachings. A key tenet, repeated over and over throughout the spiritual literature, is that all humans have this built-in capacity to receive wisdom from Source—we do it every night in our dreams, which function as a kind of Soul-level World Wide Web. But this capacity has not been cultivated in recent generations; these days we are losing the capacity to daydream, and even our nighttime sleep is being disrupted.

The modern educational system plays a major role in shutting down children’s innate creative abilities, turning us firmly away from the spiritual potential of “make-believe” as we are initiated into the secular materialism of “the real world.” We are educated to become producers and consumers of images and goods that feed the profit-driven growth machine of the capitalist system. Even though we know that human consumption has exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth, the machine roars on, and the educational system continues to initiate young people based on the driving visions of the 18th, 19th and 20thcentury Euro-American corporate capitalist masters, who imagined and then manifested a reality built on extraction, exploitation and the conversion of “raw materials” into money in the bank. 

The dreams of corporate capitalist hegemony now rule our world. But they are not inevitable. 

In The Spirit of Education, I will be exploring the constant interplay between spirit and matter that animates all life on Earth, drawing on the insights of quantum physics as well as spiritual inquiry in my search for guidance that will help us transition rapidly to a life-enhancing society. The focus of education must shift from “sustaining” the current civilization, which has been so harmful for so many, to reimagining and regenerating a new epoch on Earth. I call this new era the Gaiacene—the era in which we humans embrace our role as conscious stewards of life on Earth and channels of the creative power of the spiritual matrix that underlies everything.

Ultimately, my aim is quite practical: I seek knowledge and educational techniques that will give people of all ages, but especially our young people, the wisdom and skills they will need to cope with the challenges of the coming decades.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions as I set out on this journey, and at every step along the way. The thriving future we yearn for is ours to co-create. What are we waiting for? Let’s go! 

Photo by J. Browdy

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!

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

Stop letting the days go by

An invitation, from my heart to yours

It’s been several years since I woke up to the fact that we live our lives at the nexus of the personal, political and planetary. By this I mean that our individual lives are enmeshed in and shaped by the collective experience around us, and the wider backdrop of the physical environment in which we live. 

This may seem obvious, but when it comes to thinking about our lives, very often we tend to place all our emphasis on the personal story, giving only the barest of nods to the role of the political and planetary systems that are, whether or not we acknowledge it, the scaffolding that enables (and sometimes constrains) our individual possibilities. 

Suddenly, in the post-COVID world, many more people are coming to understand the essential role played by the political and planetary in our personal lives. The importance of health, in the personal, political and planetary sense, is now foremost in the minds of almost all of us, it seems. We see clearly how impossible it is to be healthy as individuals if our political systems are corrupt and our environment is diseased. 

The invitation of this dire year, 2020, is to dig deep into the question made famous by David ByrneHow did I get here? 

His answer: Letting the days go by….

To some extent, all of us have drifted heedlessly to this watershed moment, letting the days go by, letting the political system rot, letting the generals, finance wizards and corporate masters rule, letting the racism and bigotry go on, letting our planet be poisoned and our fellow Earth beings go extinct, letting ourselves be carried in the fierce undertow of the 20th century to finally hit up against the stark realization that this cannot go on. 

The despair that allows us to tap into and express this deep, heartfelt insight is also the potent seedbed of the vision that comes next, of the world that could be, if we begin to align the personal, political and planetary in ways that are healthy for all. 

If you are fortunate enough to have the time and space for reflection now—as the wildfires and floods rage, as the political and economic systems crack, as the winds of collective and planetary change sweep over us all—then I invite you to inquire into how you, as an individual, got to this particularly fraught moment in time. 

This inquiry is not about guilt or regret; it’s not about blame or anger, although aspects of these strong emotions may show up as your excavation deepens. 

It’s about seeing how the threads of your personal experience are woven tightly into the tapestry of the larger collective social and environmental reality in which you have lived. It’s about taking stock of how your experience has been shaped by the circumstances into which you were born and in which your individual life played out. And about how you, in turn, contributed to the warp and woof of that larger tapestry of collective experience.

Once we are able to see the past clearly, we can begin to understand the present more fully. And from this place of understanding, we can move into the future more intentionally, more responsibly, with greater awareness of the power each of us has, as an individual, to make choices that affect the collective experience not only of other humans, but of the entire world system in which we live. 

There is much we cannot control about our world. But we can choose where to put our focus each day. We can choose to focus on the positive that continues to resound in our experience: the beautiful colors of the sunrise and sunset, the stubborn persistence of the weeds that flower in the sidewalk cracks, the cool touch of wind and rain after a long hot day. 

This is not a matter of denying the horrors and injustices of our time. It is a matter of tuning our own awareness to a positive, harmonious, resonant pitch that gives us the strength to stand up and fight, each in our own way, for a better world.

This is what I call “aligning the personal, political and planetary for a thriving future.” Once we understand how we got here, on all levels, we can take the next step of envisioning the brighter future we want to live into, and roll up our sleeves to work actively towards bringing that bright vision into reality. 

I invite you to join me on this journey of introspection, embarking on the inner, personal work that leads to action in the outer, political and planetary world.  

You don’t have to be interested in writing a memoir to enjoy and benefit from this contemplative practice. 

This inquiry is for anyone who wants to understand how we got here. It’s for anyone who wants to stop drifting, letting the days go by. It’s for everyone who is ready to start working actively to align the personal, political and planetary in service to the thriving future we all so deeply desire. 

This invitation is for you; from my heart to yours. 

Namaste.

The sun always rises. Photo by J. Browdy, October 2020.

Next online purposeful memoir workshop:

October 18, 2 – 4 pm EST.

Join me on the journey…more information here.

21 Questions for 2020: #19

#19. How does a bigger-picture understanding of the COVID-19 crisis change the questions we ask and the solutions we are able to perceive? 

Since the “novel coronavirus” burst onto the global scene in the early months of 2020, we’ve been barraged by “experts” telling us how to process the events unfolding before our eyes. Much of what they are saying boils down to common sense: wash your hands. Don’t sneeze in people’s faces. Stay home if you’re sick. 

COVID-19 is a nasty little bug. But it’s a strange bugger, too, because it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people host this virus with no symptoms at all, while others get horribly sick and die from it. 

What is the solution to the mystery of why northern Italy was hit so hard, along with Wuhan and New York City, while in other places it is rolling through more or less like the common flu? 

The dominant voices—the experts who are testifying before Congress and sharing their views through major media outlets—don’t really have an answer for this, or at least, I have not heard one. 

But there are a few voices suggesting that the answer may lie not with the virus per se, but with the relative health of individuals’ immune systems. 

To me this perspective makes sense. We live on a planet that is naturally teeming with countless viruses and bacteria. Our immune system enables us to keep all the various viruses and bacteria that enter our system under some kind of balanced control, which we experience as feeling well

The problem we’re facing in 2020, according to researchers and activists like Winona Laduke,  Sandra SteingraberZach Bush and many others, is that for the past 70 years or so we have been systematically attacking and exterminating the natural microbiome of the soil, as well as contaminating our waters and polluting our air. Is it any wonder that so many of us have weakened immune systems, since we’ve been breathing, drinking and eating these toxic chemicals for our entire lives?

It is common sense to correlate those who are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 with what the doctors call “underlying conditions”: 

  • People who are already sick with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma are more at risk. 
  • People whose immune systems have been weakened by mental health issues like stress, depression and isolation are more at risk.
  • People who live in unhealthy environments are more at risk: cities with major air pollution and crowding; industrial areas, including Big Ag areas where toxic chemicals lace the environment; and possibly, though this is unproven, areas that are being suddenly flooded with 5G electromagnetic frequencies. 
  • Elderly people living in nursing homes are more at risk—no surprise as they are often living in poor conditions, with unhealthy food and lots of medications that disrupt their immune systems. 

Yes, it is true that we are hearing about the occasional young, healthy person who gets sick and even dies of COVID-19. But we are also hearing that doctors are being pressured to write COVID-19 as the cause of death even when they are not sure this is so—something to do with insurance payments. Many of the health care workers who have succumbed were probably stressed, exhausted and frightened—a potentially lethal “underlying condition” that a virus can exploit. 

I certainly don’t have the answers here, but at least, like Socrates, I’m willing to admit how much I don’t know. I want to stay open to a wide range of voices, knowing that in our age of viral fake news, all information has to be parsed very cautiously and with active intelligence. 

As usual, one question leads to another. Why, in the 21st century, have we seen such an explosion of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, auto-immune disorders, autism and mental health issues like depression, anxiety and addiction? Why, in the country that likes to think of itself as the richest and best in all ways (the United States, of course), is the population the sickest and most stressed and unhappy? How does the GNH (gross national happiness) correlate to a population’s ability to fight off “novel” viruses like COVID-19? 

Although I am in no way an anti-vaxxer (I have been getting my flu shot annually for decades, and made sure my children were fully vaccinated), I have to wonder whether a COVID-19 vaccine is going to be the magic savior that people are hoping for. A vaccine is not going to cure the underlying conditions that created the perfect storm from which the COVID-19 crisis emerged.

Curing what ails us means addressing underlying conditions such as: 

  • social inequality, poverty and crowded, unhealthy living conditions, along with the stress and unhealthy behaviors that emerge from despair and anger;
  • debt bondage that keeps people in harness to the system, preventing us from exploring creative forms of living;
  •  massively unhealthy agricultural practices that result in toxic soil, water, air and food; 
  • widespread chemical contamination from fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction and consumption; 
  • the relentless destruction of the forests and oceans that give our planet its oxygen and keep the climate system balanced.

None of this can be medicated or vaccinated away. There is no quick, clean, easy fix for any of it. But we do have many good ideas about how to start—visit the websites of Project Drawdown, the Bioneers or Yes! Magazine for lots of excellent ideas and inspiration.

It’s going to take slow, careful, loving regeneration to remember how to farm in healthy, sustainable ways, weaning ourselves away from the cheap industrial food that has been so damaging to both our internal and our external biomes. 

The way we educate our children has to change—no more sitting for hours at desks under fluorescent lights, learning how to take tests. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, we need creative, active, lively young people, who understand the importance of respect for the natural world, and who are not afraid to challenge orthodoxies and lead the way towards deep systemic changes in every aspect of life. 

A healthy Earth = a healthy human. I know people are imagining future scenarios where the health of the Earth becomes irrelevant, as human beings take off for Mars, or live on space stations, or transition into virtual reality—but is that really the kind of future we want to create and leave for descendants? 

I am a living cell in the great body of Mother Gaia. There is no boundary between us: every particle of my body is part of the woof and weave of her grand living tapestry, and every moment of my life she and I share breath. In death, I will return my body to her flanks to be regenerated in new forms. 

How could I not wish with every fiber of my being for the health of this grand system of which I am a tiny part? How could I not do whatever I can, with the intelligence and creativity I’ve been given, to ensure that the vitality of this system is regenerated, for the benefit of all life on Earth?

Solving the COVID-19 crisis is not about attacking a novel virus. There will always be more where those came from. It’s about restoring the well-being of the Gaian environmental and social systems—starting with lovingly tending our own individual immune systems, realizing that as we do so, we will also be tending the wider world that is our larger Being. 

21 Questions for 2020: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calling for a March of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is our time. What are we waiting for?

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The Truth of American Thanksgiving

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste.

 

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

 

 

Gaia is calling. How will you respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaia is calling. How will you respond?

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