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?

Extinction Rebellion 2019: Power Concedes Nothing Without A Demand

Last night I added the Extinction Rebellion frame to my Facebook profile photo, a gesture of support and admiration for the brave protesters around the world who are putting their bodies on the line to stop business as usual and focus attention on the most important matter at hand: restabilizing the life systems of our planet.

Greta Thunberg, our charismatic climate change Joan of Arc, told EU leaders bluntly this week, “Forget Brexit! Focus on the climate!” Here in the US, our political system is in an uproar over the Mueller report, which has had the effect of poking an already-angry nest of politician-ants, sending them all into a scurrying frenzy. And over in France, the mourning continues for Notre Dame, though people are questioning how it was easy to produce the millions needed to restore the cathedral, while money for restoring social stability and human services cannot be found.

Along with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, I say:

It is past time to stop feeding the greedy maw of the global corporate capitalist extractivist “limitless growth” economy.

It is past time to rally around the banner of Life and recognize the Divine in every expression of Life on this planet, from the tiniest plankton in the sea to the great pulsing soul of a mountain.

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Maybe one of the reasons I found the crash of the two Boeing 737 Max airplanes so unsettling was because the analogy to our current situation, as passengers aboard the capitalist machine, seems so apt.

The system has been programmed in such a way that even thinking, caring, competent humans are unable to avoid disaster.

I have the panicked feeling that we…are…all…going…DOWN.

But we are not there yet. And the protesters on London Bridge, like the youth climate strikers last month and the Green New Dealers in the US, are proof positive that the passengers are awake, aware and unwilling to go down without doing everything possible to overcome our suicidal societal auto-pilot.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Power and greed together, in the hands of the men (mostly white men) who rule this world, are a dangerous combination. Power and greed sent hundreds of those 737 planes out into the skies with a fatal flaw that caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

Power and greed are ripping up the Amazon rainforest and razing the Canadian boreal forest; trawling the seas, fracking the land, and sending deadly poisons into our waters.

The sickening of Life on the planet, in all its forms including homo sapiens, is well underway. The extinctions are proceeding in an ever-accelerating cascade as the Holocene gives way to the grim, grimy Anthropocene.

Today I stand with Extinction Rebellion in spirit if not in body, to shout at that deaf, blind, deadly machine of global capitalism: NO MORE!!!

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The image reminds me of brave Rachel Corrie, who stood before an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 to protest the razing of Palestinian homes, and was crushed under its treads.

Protesting against powerful greedy men and their machines is dangerous. But we’re at the point where NOT protesting is equally dangerous.

Are we going to sit numbly in our seats as Life as we know it on the planet goes down?

Or are we going to get ourselves mobilized on the side of all the sweet innocents of this planet and do the best we can to steer the ship to safety?

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It’s not a matter of whether or not it’s possible to change course and avert disaster. We know what needs to be done, and we know how to do it.

We still have time to shift to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture, renounce ecocidal chemicals, build resilient cities and towns, repair and renew the frayed social fabric of our peoples and reconnect on a soul level with the other life forms who share our planetary home.

These shifts start with the personal, with our conscious decision to stand for Life; and move out into the political, as we link arms with others sharing our planetary goals and become a force that the greedy politicians and CEOs can no longer ignore.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

It was Frederick Douglass who said those words back in 1857, when the idea of abolition must have seemed quixotic to many. He went on, “Find out just what a people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted…. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

People, let us endure no more. So much depends on what we choose to do now.

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**For more inspiration, tune in to the Climate Change & Consciousness Conference (CCC19) starting today at Findhorn, Scotland; many of the keynotes, including Bill McKibben and Charles Eisenstein, will be streamed around the world to “hubs,” including here in western Massachusetts. And if you’re in the Berkshires, consider coming to my workshop on Saturday April 27, which will provide an opportunity to write and share about “climate change and consciousness” in good company. Namaste.

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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.

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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.

 

We are the World: A Rededication of Transition Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilgamesh vs. Noah: The Epic Battle for the Future

We are living in epic times. Mighty planetary changes are underway, and perhaps our pop culture is so obsessed with superheroes because only legendary heroes could successfully battle the dragons we face today.

I have been writing Transition Times for seven years now. When I started this blog, I was following the lead of environmental activist writers like Bill McKibben, Mark Hertsgaard, Elizabeth Kolbert and Derrick Jensen, who were sounding the alarm about climate change and biodiversity loss, translating the sober measurements of science into terms a lay audience could understand.

In the climate change movement then, the watchwords were “mitigate” and “adapt.” We could mitigate the damage that climate change would cause by reducing carbon emissions, trying to keep things more or less under control while we busied ourselves with adapting, by, for example, shifting to renewable energy sources and hybridizing flood- and drought-resistant grains.

Meanwhile, wildlife biologists were keeping track of the grim march of the Sixth Great Extinction, already well underway—not only for animals but also for marine life and plants on land and sea.

Seven years on, the scenarios I was absorbing with shock, outrage and fear at the beginning of Transition Times have come true, and then some. Monster storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, melting glaciers and tundra at the poles, staggering biodiversity loss, climate refugees (both human and non-human)—all of this has moved out of the realm of science fiction into the daily headlines.

Hence our desperate casting about for superhero help.

In the United States, the Gilgamesh crowd is in power—you remember Gilgamesh: the brawny young king who murdered the guardian of the cedar forest and cut it all down to build his grand city. Later in his epic he wanders around the world searching unsuccessfully for a route to immortality, strangely symbolizing the downfall of all humans who think only of short-term gain: you can’t take it with you.

Those at the helm of the U.S. economy today are willing to cut it all down. Who cares about helping endangered species? Who cares about national parks or ocean sanctuaries—drill, baby, drill! Who cares about the national debt? Print some more paper, acquire some more debt, let the suckers who come after us figure out how to pay.

And pay we will. The entire Earth community will pay for the savage destruction of climate and environment underway now. It’s not just the Sixth Great Extinction, it’s also a planetary reset we’re witnessing in these early years of the 21stcentury, on the scale of the shift from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras, when the dinosaurs went extinct.

But this time, it’s not a meteor shaking things up on Earth. It’s the planet’s most successful species, homo sapiens—the smart apes—ruining things for everyone.

I am not proud to be a human being these days. I am not proud to be an American.

But I do cling to a tattered shred of hope in remembering the much-vaunted ethical, moral compass of humans, and the legendary innovative ingenuity of Americans.

If climate change, habitat and species loss continue unabated, we will be the first species on the planet to knowingly bring about our own destruction. For make no mistake, humans will go down with everything else on the planet. A few may survive—but civilization as we have created it, a la Gilgamesh, will go down.

Is this something we are really willing to have on our collective conscience?

Especially when we could have prevented it?

I take hope from the fierce rhetoric of Pope Francis, and other activists who are firing up environmental protection with religious fervor: Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is a great example of a scientist who is appealing to the faithful, and also using pop cultureto reach the masses.

What’s needed now is a dramatic shift in cultural worldview: from Gilgamesh to Noah, from swash-buckling drill-slash-burn to the moral and technological leadership that gets an Ark built before the floods come.

Because the floods, they are a’comin’. They’re already here, along with the wildfires and droughts and heat domes and all the rest of it. The wild animals are feeling the stresses as much or more than humans…there’s no AC or helicopters coming for them.

Meanwhile our politicians are still busying themselves with archaic ideas like national borders and tariff tit-for-tats. Climate change knows no borders. Noah didn’t ask to see passports as he loaded the climate refugees, human and non-human, into his ship.

We are all Earthlings now. If there’s any upside to climate change, it may be that the fact of our global, interspecies interdependence is now blazingly clear and undeniable.

In the epic of the 21stcentury, we’re at a crossroads. Who will we follow, Gilgamesh or Noah? If we want to save ourselves and as many other beloved Earthlings as possible (plants, insects, birds, animals, marine life), there is no time to waste.

Noah is in all of us, and we’re all in this together. If we have the will, we can find ways to mitigate and adapt and survive what’s coming.

Can we find the will?

Every day is a cliffhanger lately…tune in next time for the next chapter of “Gilgamesh vs. Noah: The Epic Battle for the Future, No. 2018.”

Purposeful Memoir as a Tool for Earth Activists

Recently I presented a slide lecture called “Navigating Climate Change in Uncertain Times: Cultivating Personal and Political Resilience for a Thriving Future.” But as often happens, I had to come up with the title months before I actually sat down to write the lecture, and in the interim my understanding of what I wanted to say shifted.

If I had to write the title now, it would be more like this: “Aligning the Personal, Political and Planetary Through Purposeful Memoir: Exploring the Past to Understand the Present and Envision the Thriving Future We Yearn For.”

It’s too wordy, but so far I have been unable to simplify these big ideas into a more succinct wording.

Truly, what I’m after is something big here, something potentially transformative on a grand scale.

And yet it starts very simply, very close to home: sitting down, preferably with others, to explore one’s own life experience and how it has been shaped and impacted, whether we’ve realized it along the way or not, by the political and planetary landscape of our time and place.

In the lecture, I used my own life experience as an example, exploring the years between 1962, my birth year, and 2011, the year I woke up to climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction—which, not coincidentally, was also the year that I started writing Transition Times.

The political events of those 50 years in America include several wars, from Vietnam to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; the Civil Rights and feminist movements; the stealing of the election by Bush Jr. in 2000; and the complicated ups and downs of Congressional politics in relation to the environment.

The planetary events are perhaps less familiar, especially to those who, like me before 2011, were not paying much attention to the planetary backdrop against which we foregrounded our lives.

But put together, decade by decade, that “backdrop” loomed large. Each decade since the 1960s, the population of the Earth’s most successful invasive species, Homo sapiens, has increased by one billion people. We went from 3 billion or so when I was born, to 7 billion in the early 21stcentury, and we’re on track to reach 8 billion by 2020.

Data from the EPA and NASA show the steady rise in global atmospheric carbon over these decades, accompanied by rising air and sea temperatures and melting polar ice.

And in these decades since the first American endangered species list was created in 1967, hundreds of species have been added to the list of those threatened by extinction. It turns out that 1994, the year I earned my Ph.D., was the worst single year on the list, with 129 species added. Of course, I wasn’t paying attention at the time.

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Source: World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/endangered-species-wait-an-average-of-12-years-to-get-on-the-list

The power of aligning the personal, political and planetary through purposeful memoir is precisely that it focuses our attention in a new way.

It’s not just for those who want to write a full-fledged memoir. It’s also a valuable tool for anyone who is ready to understand their lives as part of the broader story of the relationship between human society and our planet.

It’s a way of understanding more deeply how we got to our present crisis moment on the planet, individually and as a society; a way of taking stock of the past and present in order to gird ourselves for the challenging work ahead.

Too often, people take up activism only in the political realm. They go out to fight politically for the planet without having done the deep inner work of understanding who they are, where they come from and how they were socialized and educated by their family and culture.

This inner work of purposeful memoir can be difficult because almost everyone alive today will have to confront their own complicity in the steady destruction of the global ecosystem—the swift and inexorable erosion, over the past 50-plus years, of the health and wellbeing of all life on the planet, including of course ourselves, human beings.

What-I-Forgot-Cover-draft-NEW-smAs I worked on my own memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I went through all the classic stages of grief as I realized the full extent of the loss that has unfolded during my lifetime.

Allowing ourselves to feel the grief is important, as Joanna Macy has been telling us for a long time; and we can channel the anger that arises from the tragic, relentless loss of life into a powerful force for Earth activism.

When we gather together to write and share how our personal stories have intertwined with the political and planetary happenings of our time and place, we are strengthening ourselves as a collective force for positive transformation of self, society and world.

We are, as I put it in my memoir, “doing hope together.”

Emily Dickinson famously described hope as:

“the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

As we navigate through our perilous moment of climate change, political disruption and environmental destruction, we can use purposeful memoir as a way of tuning into to our own inner resilience while listening for the never-ending song of hope that pulses through all life on Earth.

It’s easy to hear it on these beautiful days of spring renewal. It’s what sets the leaves unfurling and the flowers turning their faces to the sun. It’s what animates the birds to build their nests and the bees to gather pollen to make their honey season after season.

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Photo J. Browdy 2018

As we work through purposeful memoir to align the personal, political and planetary, we can clearly see the preciousness and the fragility of life on Earth, and we come to understand our own potential to be stewards for the planet, and active guardians of other species.

We tap into the strong current of hope and life that constantly encircles this planet and begin to cultivate the deep awareness and resilience to become a beacon for others, each of us a little light in the vast global shift towards, as Charles Eisenstein puts it, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”

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Terry Tempest Williams

At a recent climate change panel discussion in Albany NY, purposeful memoirist Terry Tempest Williams talked poetically about our responsibility to the generations still to come.

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying we will see beyond our own time and act accordingly,” she said.

Purposeful memoir can help us locate ourselves as a strong link in the chain between past and future, understanding our individual lives as part of the broader political and planetary landscape of our time and place.

Doing hope together, we can engage in the joyful, sacred task of building bridges, plank by plank, into the thriving future we yearn for—not just for ourselves and other human beings, but for all life on Earth.

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Photo J. Browdy 2017

After a Bloody Valentine’s Day, A Meditation on the Human Heart

Many times before in human history violence and mayhem have prevailed, people have wailed and groaned with fear and pain as anger and hatred have roiled society. We’re in such a time now, of personal and political suffering, compounded by the planetary environmental imbalance that threatens, tsunami-like, to blow us all away.

Literally and figuratively, this is a bleak, frightening time to be alive, and everyone I know is feeling the weight of everything that is going wrong. The daily news of mass shootings, civil wars, refugee crises, xenophobia and hatred writ large and small—not to mention the extinctions, polluted landscapes and waterways, and continued unbridled greed of the captains of the industries that are destroying our individual and ecological health—well, it’s overwhelming.

It’s been a while since I posted on Transition Times, and overwhelm is part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately. Another reason is because I try to resist being purely reactionary in my TT writing. Lately the outrages and calamities have come so fast and furious that if I tried to keep up, I’d spend all my time denouncing the bad guys and bewailing the latest tragedy. That’s not how I want to spend my precious time, or yours.

Sages like Margaret Wheatley are counseling now that we try to move beyond hope and despair, to the realm of what she calls “faith.” I think she means that when we take the longer view, and give up our fear of change, we can rest assured that no matter how things unfold in the short term, in the long run everything will be OK.

Well, in the long run you and I will be dead, and there is a release in that, no matter what you believe about the afterlife or rebirth. In the long run, our Mother Earth will regenerate and new, marvelous life will flourish here on the planet, the DNA spiraling on as it did when some of the dinosaurs became our present-day birds.

So in that sense, yes, eventually all will be well. But that still doesn’t absolve us of responsibility now, in our own time, to do what we can to alleviate suffering and cultivate individual and ecological health, harmony and balance.

One thing I can do is try not to be a mirror for the violence I abhor. It doesn’t mean I’m putting my head in the sand, it just means that, as with the ancient Buddhist practice of tong-len­, I can try to breathe it in and transmute it, in my own being, to compassion that I breathe out.

For example, with the most recent horrific school shooting, in Parkland, Florida, I feel the suffering like a rain of fire. The suffering of the victims, and also the suffering of the shooter, alone in the world, evidently left to his own violent, mentally disturbed devices. Now he will spend the rest of his life in prison, and that will be no real atonement for the innocent lives he snuffed out.

I breathe in the horror of that scenario, and although my first thought is of gun control, and rage that the politicians who could make things better continue to sit on their hands and mouth sanctimonious prayers—I try to breathe through that too, and think about how all of us are caught in webs of fear, greed and power-lust not of our own making, unhealthy systems that hold most of us fast, no matter how we try to struggle free.

It’s the systems that need changing, but change always starts with the personal and radiates outward. The question is always, how can I touch the heart of another human being and melt its hardness with compassion and love?

We live in a time of hard-heartedness. Callousness and indifference reign, nowhere more evident than in the U.S. government.

listening for Gaia copyBut I won’t let them harden me. I will continue to cup my hands around the fragile flame of loving-kindness that burns indomitably at my core.

We human beings are born loving. Every infant turns its head blindly towards its mother, searching for love and comfort. Our entire ecosystem runs on the pure positive energy of the Sun, which shines its love down on all equally, warming the seeds and nourishing the plants without which we humans could not live a moment.

Yes, the circle of life includes pain and suffering. Predators have to eat, but when the system is in harmony, death feeds life.

tree heart copyRight now Western civilization is in a death-frenzy that is not life-giving. Let us admit that to ourselves, and imagine the many ways that we could seize the opportunity now in front of us to transition to a healthier system.

It all starts with the human heart. In the wake of this bloody Valentine’s Day, I want to use my heart to send love out into the world, and meditate deeply on what I have to give that is positive and life-affirming.

That is the only way we can be the change we want to see in the world.

Imagine 2018: Dreaming a Better Future

Although there have been countless other dark periods in human history, the particular darkness of our moment is unique in its alignment of the political and planetary.

Politically, human societies around the world are under pressure—religious, economic, social—and are more easily manipulated by dark forces than ever before, thanks to our networked global Hive Mind.

On a planetary level, all life forms, including humans, are under unprecedented pressure due to the human destruction of healthy ecosystems by over-population, climate change, chemical assault and the deadly practices of mining, fracking, logging, agriculture, fishing, etc.

Even while on a personal level many of us here in the heart of Empire are still relatively comfortable, we feel these political and planetary pressures deeply. Each day’s bad news can feel like an assault, and after a year like 2017, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty bruised and aching.

These dark solstice days, as the earth begins to swing back towards the sun, are a good time to go deep and try to fortify ourselves, intellectually and spiritually, for the new year ahead. Given a personal awareness of the frighteningly out-of-control political and planetary dimensions of our time, how can we keep ourselves centered and steady, awake and aware yet not depressed, despairing or panicked?

In terms of negotiating the Hive Mind, I try to share as much good news as I can find, and bad news only sparingly. I’ve noticed that whatever we share on social media comes back to us amplified, so if I share bad news—the Arctic is melting! the polar bears are going extinct!—the negative emotions of fear, anger and grief that come back to me simply get me more upset, without offering any constructive approach to solving the original problem.

If I share good news, even if it only offers a ray of hope, that ray is brightened by all the “likes” that others add, and our collective mood may be lightened just a little bit.

And brightness this is what the world needs from us now. Those of us who are aware and awake to the slow-motion disaster we’re living through are being called to be the beacons and the anchors for others—and not just for humans, but for all the beautiful life on earth that is under constant assault these days.

It won’t help the polar bears on their melting ice floes or the hordes of animals fleeing the wildfires to have us humans staring at screens expressing our outrage with finger taps. It may make us feel a little better in the moment to virtually scream our anguish, but it’s a howl in the wind that will do no one any good.

Instead of getting lost in the dystopian present, with which the media keeps battering our psyches day after day, the trick to staying centered and spirited in these dark times is to keep burnishing our dreams of a better future.

This requires resisting the prevailing tendency today for dreaming to be dismissed as an unproductive waste of time; for visionaries to be mocked as escapist fantasizers.

I fear that what may doom us in the end is the loss of our capacity for creative daydreaming.

We are all so accustomed to constant media stimulation that it takes real effort to simply quiet our minds and become open to whatever creative thoughts may come. I’m not talking about meditation, which aims to “think nothing.” I’m talking about creative imagination, flashes of insight, lucid dreaming, the kind of thinking that has propelled human ingenuity all through the ages.

We can’t allow our imaginations to be dominated by the “masters of the universe” who control our media. This is a particular challenge with children and young people, the smartphone generations who have grown up as consumers of other people’s fantasies and representations, rather than practicing our human birthright of creative imagination.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” sang John Lennon.

We who are aware of what’s happening around us have to allow ourselves the creative pleasure of dreaming our own utopian dreams, and sharing these visions of a better future with others, so that together we add detail and strength to the positive dream of what could be.

Instead of reacting negatively to the day’s news, amplifying the outrage and discord, we can share our proactive dreams of what could and should be.

My mantra word for 2018 is: Imagine.

Imagine what could be if your dream of how you want to live, personally, were extended into a collective dream of well-being for all life on Earth, and for the planet herself?

Imagine if the “world could be as one”—and imagine yourself doing one small thing each day to extend your dream of personal well-being out further to touch others in the world. Even small acts like filling a bird feeder, donating to a food pantry or smiling at a neighbor will ripple goodness out into a world starving for kindness.

The media hurls countless “micro-aggressions” at us every day. In your own personal sphere, imagine 2018 as a year of micro-kindnesses, and try to consciously make kindness, warmth and goodness a habit.

The more of us practice this kind of radical kindness, the more it will come back to warm and encourage us, in a positive feedback loop that really can change the world.

Imagine.

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