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

Calling on the power of fire…not firepower!

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

In a word, transformation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn. Photo by J. Browdy

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

Be the prayer

This week has felt hard. It’s reminded me of being in a plane going through stiff turbulence, being bumped around, in possible danger, and without any way to control the outcome of the flight. You just have to hold on tight and pray that the plane is sturdy, the pilots know what they’re doing and all will be well. 

But in this case, we are in the midst of political and planetary upheavals that promise no smooth landing. 

I don’t have confidence in our pilots, a.k.a. world leaders, to carry us safely through the turbulence of climate disruption, pandemic, economic crisis and all the rest of it. 

I know that the rivets are loosening on our “plane,” a.k.a. our planet.

We are in for a rough ride.

All we can do is continue to hold on tight…and pray.

For me, prayer is not about appealing to some all-powerful higher being that can step in to save us. Rather, I think of prayer in the way Mary Oliver described it in her wonderful poem from happier times, “The Summer Day,” when she describes prayer as the act of paying attention to the beauty of the world around her. In this case, it’s a grasshopper she’s watching:

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

The grasshopper invites Oliver’s meditation on prayer:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, 

how to fall downinto the grass, 

how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed

how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

This is indeed the powerful pulsing question of our turbulent time, isn’t it? What are we going to do with the precious time we have left, before we are swept away into the maelstrom of suffering and death?

Glimmers. Photo by J. Browdy

Like Oliver, I believe that the other radiant Gaian beings with whom we share this planet have so much to teach us, if only we take the time to pay attention. 

The biggest difference between humans and other animals is in our vivid imaginations. We humans tell ourselves and each other stories all the time, and sometimes we get so caught up in the stories that they become our reality. 

For example, there I am up in the plane, imagining that any minute the turbulence is going to knock us out of the sky. We’re going to fall, flaming, to the ground! We’re all going to die! I start hyperventilating with terror, even though this is not what is actually happening…in point of fact, we are flying steadily on through the turbulence toward our destination, where, as the pilot has just informed us calmly, we’ll soon be landing.

There is no other animal that expends so much energy on worrying about imaginary future scenarios. Our Gaian relations model for us the equanimity that comes with living tranquilly in the present moment. 

We humans have the capacity to make ourselves sick, physically and mentally, with our neurotic imaginary anxieties.

To counter this tendency, we need to pray, in Mary Oliver’s sense: to ground ourselves in the calm of the natural world around us, and remember to breathe. 

This is probably not possible in the fire lands of the Pacific Coast of the USA right now. It’s not possible when one’s body has been invaded by the coronavirus. In such dire moments, any animal would be rightly terrified and suffering, as so many are at this very moment.

But you who are sitting in some quiet place reading these words…if you are still healthy and well-fed, able to breathe deep and listen to the birds chirping and the wind in the trees…your job is to ground yourself in that beauty and let yourself become not only a receiver but a transmitter for it. 

Send the beauty you inhale out into this turbulent suffering world. Let your attention to the beauty of what surrounds you be your prayer, for yourself and for others.

May our focused gratitude for this precious moment be a balm and a beacon of active hope in a world so desperately in need of the solace of prayer. 

Glory. Photo by J. Browdy

Labor Day 2020: Honoring the labor of birthing in a time of transition

This Labor Day, when I turn the word “labor” over in my mind, the image that comes to me insistently is that of a pregnant woman, laboring to give birth.  

Having been through it twice myself, I can attest that birth is the most miraculous form of labor. There is some kind of intense non-rational knowing that occurs in those final days of pregnancy, an impulsion to go with the mysterious, hormone-driven instinct that comes over a woman as she goes into labor and surrenders herself to the body’s wisdom. 

In my first pregnancy, this inner knowing was marred by the hospital system to which I surrendered my laboring self. I was summarily strapped onto a gurney, hooked up to a fetal monitor, given an epidural and then an episiotomy—all things I had said I did not want when I made up my birth plan with my woman obstetrician, who did not show that day, leaving me in the hands of a male colleague I’d never met. 

Although becoming a mother was the greatest joy of my life, that first experience of labor and delivery was terrible. The anesthesia given in advance of the episiotomy put my legs to sleep, which meant I was sent to the recovery ward  without my baby after the birth. I will never recover from the frantic misery of being separated from my baby in his first hour of life. Of course, he was frantic as well, and it took him weeks, if not months, to fully settle down from the violence of his entrance into the world. 

Therefore I was much more careful in my second pregnancy, making sure I had both a midwife and a birth doula in attendance, with a doctor to be called only if needed. 

I was on my feet or on my knees during the labor, the midwife loosening my birth canal with warm oils, the doula rubbing my back, both of them talking me through the contractions reassuringly. Within a remarkably short time, six hours from start to finish, my second baby came slithering peacefully into the air. He nestled in my arms and latched right on to my breast, looking up at me contentedly.

My two sons, c. 1998

So here I am on Labor Day 2020, more than 25 years after my first pregnancy and labor, thinking about the parallels between the everyday wonder of a woman giving birth, and the great shuddering contractions of this Gaian transition time, as we strain to give birth to a better world.

This Labor Day, as I celebrate all the women who have or will be giving birth, I also want to recognize the hard work all of us are doing as we strive, each in our own sphere, to bring to birth the new, better society that is gestating actively now in our dreams and visions. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are all in labor now. My two very different experiences of birth have taught me that we cannot do this work alone. We need to plan for it with care and make sure we have allies who understand how the hard work can be made easier in community, even if in the end we must fly solo. 

This Labor Day, let’s honor the work of birthing, literal and metaphorical, and offer each other what nourishment and support we can. 

If you are interested in exploring writing as a means of inquiry and discovery, check out my upcoming workshops, including the 9-month Birth Your Truest Story By Nourishing Your Most Tender Voice series, as well as the monthly drop-in Purposeful Memoir for a Thriving Future series.

I’ve got workshops in both series coming up Sept. 13 and 20, and you are most welcome to join! Find out more in my latest WRITING LIFE newsletter, here.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. 

Whatever your work is now, may your efforts bear good fruit.

21 Questions for 2020: #18

18.  What is the message of Gaia’s call? Mother’s Day reflections, 2020.

The other day I read a lament on Facebook by a woman who was in despair over the horrendous state of life in 2020 America. If she didn’t have loving family and friends, she said, including her children and grandchildren, she would be seriously contemplating suicide.

As she worked through her complicated grief and horror, cathartically retelling the tragedy we are all living through, I heard the persistent pulse of Life beating through it all….Life, that impels us to endure and persist, to rise and do it all again under tomorrow’s Sun, no matter how difficult or impossible the way forward seems.

We humans thrive on Love; we wither and fade away in despair. We are fundamentally loving, social animals, though far too many humans have become pathologically twisted these days, seemingly incapable of the empathy and altruism that is our birthright.

Our loving nature is not just a matter of psychology; it is also biochemically wired into us, evident in the hormones that flood our body when we feel love, whether romantic love or the love of a mother for her baby. Every living being on the planet, whether or not it has an emotional nature, is similarly wired to thrive. 

This is especially easy to see in the plant kingdom: seeds crack and send tendrils up towards the Sun, while tiny roots are impelled to anchor themselves in the Earth. Figuratively, each of us begins life as just such a seed, reaching for love and light as instinctively as any other new growth.

Many cultures anthropomorphize Mother Earth and Father Sun as the lifegivers, to whom great gratitude is due. I don’t think we need to humanize our planet and our star to understand that they are our everything; each of us is just a small cell in the vast planetary body of the Earth, which itself exists as a speck in the unimaginably huge galaxy and cosmos. 

Each of us may be small, but we are far from insignificant. Just as every blob of algae and blade of grass has a role to play in creating the life-giving oxygen of our planet, every precious Gaian manifestation, from rock to raindrop, from earthworm to human, contributes to the overall vitality of the system as a whole.

Human beings, over the past 500 years or so, have been flourishing so well that we have been edging out the conditions of life for other species. We are, as I’ve noted before, Earth’s most successful invasive species. From the perspective of other life forms, we humans have been a deadly viral pandemic, relentlessly invading and destroying.

Humans have been on a suicidal path as a species, poisoning our own nest, and in the process rendering vast swaths of land and sea uninhabitable for other species as well. This cannot go on. Humans have over-populated ourselves by using up more than our share of Earth’s resources. This is unsustainable. 

Now, at the tipping point, we are faced with a truly momentous question: 

Will we use our tremendous intelligence to find ways to work with Mother Earth, to restabilize her life-support systems in a regenerative and sustainable way, understanding that we can only thrive in a thriving system? 

Mother Earth has her own ways of restoring balance to her life systems—for example, viruses and climate changes. Earth seeks to maintain the conditions most conducive for the thriving life of every Gaian. She does not play favorites, she loves all her creations equally. We humans are only just waking up to what such impartial mother-love truly means.

Mother Earth, on this Mother’s Day I give you honor and praise as the Life-giver of us all. You create the myriad beautiful forms into which Spirit pours. Each new baby that opens her eyes to meet the loving gaze of her mother repeats the miracle of life that you reanimate again and again. And at the end of life you receive each of us back again, in a ceaseless spiral dance of matter and energy. 

Mother Gaia, I know you are calling each of us to bring our strength, courage and intelligence to the task now at hand: restoring the balance of your systems so as to maximize the potential for Life to flourish. Not just human life; all life.

As we reach and grow towards conscious evolution, we humans are beginning to become aware of the harmonic dance of all beings, the great positive vibration of Life begetting Life, of Life flourishing. If we can tune in and calibrate our own beings to the great Hum of Mother Earth, we will find it impossible to do anything but join in that great swelling chorus—the choir of Angels (Spirit) singing in harmony with Gaia (Matter). 

Mother Gaia, my voice may be soft, I may be very small: but such as I am and such as I have, I offer to you. May I make the best use of the life you have gifted me. May my flourishing contribute to the vitality of all Life, in an endless reciprocal dance. 

Namaste, Mother Earth, and thank you. 

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?

World on Fire: Rebuilding Notre Dame is Only the Beginning

We don’t know, today, how and why Notre Dame’s roof caught fire on April 15. What we do know is that it happened on the very same day that the Extinction Rebellion protests also caught fire, especially in London but also sending sparks all over the world.

These direct action protests are reminiscent of the old Occupy movement, but with added urgency, as now we are concerned not just about income inequality, but about the much broader, more looming collapse of our planetary ecosystems and the very survival of life on Earth as we know it.

Various voices on social media have been pointing out that the roof of Notre Dame was made of some 1,500 giant, ancient oak trees, harvested from more than 50 acres of old-growth forest near Paris. Some accounts put the age of these trees at 400 years, meaning that they were seedlings in the 800s AD. They gave their lives to build that majestic cathedral, and now they have returned to the carbon cycle as ashes and dust.

The cathedral will be rebuilt. But what about the trees?

It is now rare to find a 50-acre stand of old-growth trees anywhere on the planet. The Amazon, under Brazil’s Trump-like new president, is being cut down at alarming, ever-accelerating rates. The boreal forest in the Arctic Circle is also being razed for oil extraction, timber and mining, as well as under siege from climate change. The great tropical forests of Indonesia and Africa are being harvested for lumber to build houses and furniture.

It’s one thing to harvest ancient trees reverently and use them to construct a sacred place of worship, as the medieval builders of Notre Dame did.

It’s another thing to clear-cut forests with giant machines and use them to build deck chairs.

Today we know how dependent we are on our planet’s forests and other plant life. The great Amazon rainforest is the primary generator of the weather patterns that enable us to grow food in the northern hemisphere. Tree roots support the mycorrhizal networks that nourish healthy soil. With every breath, we sustain ourselves on the oxygen they produce.

For me, trees have a value that goes beyond the essential “ecosystem services” they provide.

I am not a person who worships the divine in a church. When I want to connect with the sacred, I go to the forest.

Jen Grandmother Tree Small

There is something in the way trees send their roots deep into the Earth and their branches way up to the sky that symbolizes for me the role of all life on Earth—rooted here, and yet connected and energized by our Sun and the entire Cosmos, which we still barely comprehend. I go to the forest to try to understand more deeply who I am and what I am here to do.

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds me of the task before me; before us as a human species. Yes, we have to rebuild Notre Dame. But even more importantly, we have to rebuild the health of our planet.

We have to mobilize to push world leaders—political, business, financial, industrial—to take immediate, effective action to reverse the existential threat of climate disruption and environmental destruction in order to avoid planetary and civilizational collapse.

We don’t have to stretch very far to imagine our world on fire.

IT IS ON FIRE.

It’s not hard to imagine the collapsing spire of Notre Dame representing the extinction of yet another species on Earth.

For now, the stone structure still survives. The rose windows are still intact. It’s still possible to rebuild.

But we will not be able to rebuild the Amazon rainforest or the boreal forest in Alaska, Canada, China and Russia. If the forests go, the climate will be disrupted beyond the point of repair. The Holocene will be over, and the Anthropocene, the brief period of human ascendancy, will also come crashing down.

Life will persist on Earth. Gaia will regenerate. But it will be the end of civilization as we have known it.

There is still time to put out those fires. This is, as I wrote last week, an all-hands-on-deck moment. Whatever your gifts and abilities, now is the time to put them at the service of Life, of Beauty, of the Sacred understood as inextricably in relationship with the Earth and the Cosmos.

Rebuild Notre Dame, yes. But that is only the beginning.

 

An All-Hands-On-Deck Moment

In reading the recent back and forth between Jeremy Lent and Jem Bendell, I have the feeling I’m watching two great intellectual stags locking horns, jockeying with each other for dominance. These two climate philosophers are quite polite as they tear into each other’s work, and I think they both mean well. But do we have time, really, for this kind of academic jousting?

Does it really matter whether we counsel “transformative hope” (Lent) or “positive deep adaptation” (Bendell)? Does it matter whether we say social/environmental collapse is “likely” (Lent) or “inevitable” (Bendell)?

Both thinkers are really going for the same outcome, which is a cultural shift into confronting the seriousness of our current predicament (as a species, but also in terms of the stability of our planetary ecosystems). Both acknowledge that we may have to take some time to work through our despair and grief over the inevitability of change; and that ultimately we will need to turn to our neighbors and do our best to salvage what we can as we power down the old western civilization and power up, hopefully, the “ecological civilization” Lent has been calling for.

I am grateful to both of these guys, along with George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg, for getting climate breakdown and social collapse out of the realm of dystopian cli-fi and into the mainstream media.

Yes, what they are saying is scary. We are living through scary times—not just because of the current occupants of the White House, but because of the increasing chaos in our planetary life support systems. The Holocene is coming to an end, the Anthropocene is beginning, and it’s going to be a hard time for most species on Earth—human beings very much included.

We have to talk about this, and we can’t sugar-coat it. We humans need a wake-up call in the strongest terms, and sometimes a little fearmongering is necessary. It’s all very well for Charles Eistenstein to say that we need to come at the climate issue from a place of love rather than fear, but let’s be real. How many of the 7.6 billion people on the planet are in a strong enough relationship with Gaia to be motivated, purely out of love, to work hard to resuscitate and stabilize her?

But if you show people pictures of wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and droughts; if you tell them that agricultural systems are threatened, that climate refugees are already on the move, and that the entire natural food chain is collapsing both on land and sea…well, you might just be able to get their attention.

Right now we’re in a kind of agonizing slo-mo catastrophe. Sometimes it’s so slow that you can fool yourself into thinking everything’s fine. That’s why the work that Lent, Bendell, Monbiot, Thunberg and other activists are doing is essential—saying loud and clear, in no-nonsense terms, that THINGS ARE NOT FINE.

Although the Gaian indicators have never been worse, I find myself more hopeful now that I was a few years ago, when even a “good guy” like President Obama was posing with fossil fuel pipes behind him and refusing to kill the Keystone XL. At least we don’t have that kind of liberal hypocrisy running the show anymore.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal make me hopeful.

The Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion make me hopeful.

Student climate strikes make me hopeful.

The worldwide interest in the Findhorn Climate Change & Consciousness conference makes me hopeful.

I find hope in my own small contributions towards waking people up and helping them find their way to what Joanna Macy calls “active hope.” For example, in the workshop I’ll be giving here in the Berkshires on April 27, “Aligning the Personal, Political and Planetary for a Thriving Future.”

I would like to see Jem Bendell and Jeremy Lent go out for a beer and work out their ego-driven differences with some good old-fashioned humor and humility. We need all hands on deck now, pulling together into the thriving future we yearn for.

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