21 Questions for 2020: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calling for a March of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is our time. What are we waiting for?

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Keeping Our Spirits High

It can be really hard, as we go about our daily lives, to keep our spirits up.

And yet this is precisely the good medicine we need these days.

We need to keep our vibrations high.

Wisdom keepers from many traditions, from physicists to reiki masters, tell us that what we think of as “matter” is actually “energy.” The physical world, including our own body, is composed of countless particles in constant motion.

When we are healthy and well, our cells vibrate in harmony with the larger rhythms of our planet. When our spirits are high, we can tune into the “music of the spheres,” and experience the joy of the life unfolding ahead of us each day.

In our time, such harmonious vibrations are becoming a rarity.

Modern life is full of loud, discordant noise, from lawnmowers and chainsaws to the jangling noise of the day’s bad news, broadcast at us constantly over a thousand different channels.

Climate disruption, with its consequent ecosystem collapse and cascading extinctions, is the planetary version of a discordant vibration.

With so much negative noise, or bad vibrations, coming at us all the time, we are forced to tune out in order to remain functional. In order to go about our daily lives without being overwhelmed by fear and stress, we end up numb and lost, wandering in a nightmarish funhouse that is not fun at all.

The runaway negative biofeedback loops that our occurring in our time, on the personal, political and planetary levels, are at least in part the result of the “hive mind” that we humans have developed through our Internet technology.

We have always been connected in the dream world, through what Jung called the collective unconscious and others might call the Anima Mundi.

But our new networked waking mind gives us the potential for unprecedented impact on the planet—for good or for ill.

In the past decade or so, we have seen the negative results of our collective impact on the planet. With earphones in our ears, we have become the world’s most successful invasive species, but at a tremendous cost.

In our networked times, what we do as individuals is broadcast out to our larger communities. If we are stressed, fearful and depressed, that’s the signal we put out into the world, where it is amplified and multiplied. If we are able to keep our spirits high and maintain our sense of emotional and physical balance, the positive vibrations we send out help attune others as well.

Keeping our spirits high is not at all the same as putting on rose-colored glasses, or sticking our heads in the sand in denial.

It is about training ourselves to tune in to the steady pulse of the planet, which beats on calmly even now, despite all the stresses on systems and individuals.

How do we do this?

For me, it’s about appreciating silence, and the quiet sounds of nature: the drip of rain, the rush of a river over rocks; birdsong and the cricket chorus; the swish of the wind through the treetops.

It’s about rediscovering the pleasure of vibration moving through my body; making my own music with instruments or with my own voice.

It’s about seeking out others with whom to make joyful noise together—as Greta Thunberg has done in rallying people all over the planet to stand with her for the Earth.

I have also become much more conscious of what I send out into the world via my writing and teaching. In my new memoir workshop series, “The Alchemy of Purposeful Memoir,” each session starts by looking for positive in our life stories. When we look at less positive aspects of our lives, it’s with the explicit aim of transmuting these negative moments, through the alchemical power of writing.

Likewise, in my “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future” workshop, which I’ll be presenting several venues in the coming year, including Bascom Lodge, Mt Greylock; the Bioneers Conference; and Findhorn, our aim is to look backward over our life stories in order to understand our present moment more fully, and to be able to envision the thriving future we all want to move into.

Here’s the thing. If we are all running around jangling with fear and shouting at each other about how the sky is falling…our negative vibrations will be amplified and their effects—on ourselves as individuals and on our political and planetary systems—will be compounded.

If, on the other hand, we are able to maintain a modicum of serenity, we can set the tone for others and draw them into harmony with our steady vibration.

There’s often talk in spiritual circles about “holding the light” as a way of invoking and maintaining the positive. I have come to realize that “maintaining a positive vibration” is at least as important.

Here’s a poem from Rumi that I often like to share in my workshops. He says it all.

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us, a passion, a longing, a pain.
Remember the lips where the wind-breath originated, and let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.
I’ll show you how it’s enough.

Go up on the roof at night in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

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Saving the World: It Starts with You

Every week seems to come with news of more trouble in the natural world. This week it was the report of dozens of emaciated gray whale mothers washing up dead on the U.S. Pacific coast, starved to death. Scientists say that only 10% of dead whales generally end up on the beaches, so this could be the remnants of a much larger die-off of yet another species succumbing to the drastic changes roiling our oceans.

If the oceans are in trouble, our entire planet is in trouble, as the oceans are our great climate stabilizer. It’s hard to imagine a warm, acidified ocean empty of most life besides, perhaps, jellyfish and creatures of the deep dark canyons. Yet this is where we’re going, and fast. It’s not clear whether anything we do now can reverse the huge planetary climate changes that have been set in motion by human population growth and industry.

So where does that leave us, as people who are aware of the unfolding catastrophe of climate disruption? Do we curl up and hide under the covers until the waters rise and sweep us away? Do we hedonistically make hay while the sun shines, telling ourselves that we all have to die anyway? Or do we roll up our sleeves and do what we can to adapt to our rapidly changing world, and mitigate the impact on ourselves, our children and all the other innocent species now in the crosshairs?

I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t believe that what we do now, as individuals and as societies, matters. In fact, a large part of our so-called environmental problems are really social and psychological problems.

In the last century, as the fossil-fuel and chemical industries have exploded, we humans have lost touch with our ancient connection to the natural world of which we are a part. Our leaders, in their climate-controlled towers, have forgotten that we are entirely dependent on plants and bacteria for our air and food—the forests and grasses of the land, as well as the plankton and plants of the sea. Perhaps they imagine an artificial world, like the Dome experiments, where the entire biosphere is created by humans. But what kind of existence would that be?

The great task of our time is to reconnect humanity with our planet, rekindling our awareness of our role as stewards of the great oceans and landscapes of our beautiful home. C.G. Jung, writing in the wake of the horrors of World War II, was prescient in his diagnosis of the problem of humanity as being a disconnect from our ancient reverence for the Earth. To heal our relationship with the planet, he said, we must first heal ourselves:

“The tempo of the development of consciousness through science and technology was too rapid and left the unconscious, which could no longer keep up with it, far behind, thereby forcing it into a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction….This problem cannot be solved collectively, because the masses are not changed unless the individual changes. At the same time, even the best-looking solution cannot be forced upon him, since it is a good solution only when it is combined with a natural process of development. It is therefore a hopeless undertaking to stake everything on collective recipes and procedures.

The bettering of a general ill begins with the individual, and then only when he makes himself and not others responsible. This is naturally only possible in freedom, but not under a rule of force, whether this be exercised by a self-elected tyrant or by one thrown up by the mob” (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 349; emphasis mine).

It appears that the best thing each of us can do for the health of our planet is to stay awake to what is happening, as painful as it may be to witness; to grieve the irrevocable losses of this great transition time; and to share our new awareness honestly and openly with those around us.

This is the work Joanna Macy pioneered with her Work That Reconnects, which invites us to deep empathy with the more-than-human world: grieving over the dying whale mothers and their doomed calves as we stare wide-eyed into a starkly changed future, remembering that such changes have happened before in geological time. Inevitably, the planet will restore herself and begin creating anew, in the fierce will to life that  philosopher Andreas Weber calls “enlivenment.”

Margaret Mead said long ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

More recently, political analysts like Erica Chenoweth have demonstrated that big societal changes can come from the concerted efforts of a relatively small percentage of the population: if just 3.5% of the population work hard for change, it can happen, and often does.

So if you care about the well-being of oceans, fresh water, forests and prairies and mountains…if you care about the well-being of every denizen of our beautiful planet… know that the best thing you can do is to stand up and be counted.

Share your feelings with friends and neighbors. Show up for meetings and rallies to protect the lands and waters in your backyard. Take the children in your life out into nature and open their eyes to the beauty and grace of our common home, Earth.

These times are filled with grief and upheaval, yes. But there are also so many opportunities, every day, to work for the thriving future we wish for our descendants and all the bright creatures of the planet. Now is our time. Let’s make good use of it.

Join me for a deeper dive into the inner work necessary for effective earth activism: “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future,” September 22 at the summit of Mount Greylock, MA; September 26 at the Transformational Language Arts conference in Scottsdale AZ; and October 20 at the Bioneers conference, San Rafael CA. More information here. 

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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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In a violent time, we need a revolution of love

Here’s the thing. Violence exists on a continuum. You can’t live in a militarized society where the sale of weapons is a major source of social wealth and expect that violence won’t come back to haunt you. You can’t live in a society that tolerates the killing of wild animals for sport, the torture of animals for food, and chemical assaults on insects, birds and marine life, and expect that you can somehow remain safe yourself.

What we put into the world comes back to us. We humans are not separate from the rest of life on this planet. We have to give up the delusion of our own exceptionalism and power. No living being on this Earth is immune to the violence humans are wreaking—not even us.

Violence begets more violence. When we look at a grown man filled with such hatred that he’s willing to send pipe bombs or murder people in their houses of worship, we have to peer more deeply into him and ask: what created this monster? What traumas did he survive, that warped him from the instinctively loving infants we all are (with the possible exception of those traumatized already in the womb or through epigenetics)? How was he damaged by the brutality of American culture?

I am not by any means implying that the crimes of these men should be excused. I am suggesting that their hatred must be seen in light of the broader cultural environment of violence and abuse that we are all swimming in, and that we all co-create if only by our tacit acceptance, our allowing it to go on.

Americans, our country was founded on revolution: on people saying ENOUGH: we will not be intimated and forced into compliance by a distant colonial master.

It is time, as Charles Eisenstein says in his brave new book Climate: A New Story, for another revolution, this time against our own homegrown masters: against the self-interested greed of the men who run the military-industrial-weapons-petrochemical-pharmaceutical-insurance-finance-agricultural-engineering-electronic sectors of our society.

It is time to understand that there is no such thing as “trickle-down wealth” in a society that creates wealth by killing life, because in such a society the violence eventually comes back around to attack its creators.

The climate crisis and ecological collapse are the signs of the limit of this ecocidal/suicidal worldview. The billionaires who have laughed all the way to the bank as they have devoured the planet cannot survive on a dead planet. And the dream of a rocket to a distant planetary colony is just science fiction.

If these masters of the planet will not understand that humans are here to serve Life, not death, and if we the people truly value Life (not just our own little lives, but all Life on the planet) then it is time for a revolution.

I do not say this lightly. Revolutions are going to be met with violence, and hence will increase violence for a time. I fear and detest violence. But I don’t see another way, other than going quietly into the night of death along with the greater part of the current inhabitants on Earth, human and non-human alike.

We can’t just reel from one disaster and tragedy to the next indefinitely, without fighting back.

If our warrior energy comes from love, it will unleash a different kind of battle. Acting out of love for Life, we can begin to reorient the way we live. Because money and wealth are so important to humans, a big aspect of the revolution can come through a shift in how we direct our wealth. Are we supporting the weapons industry with our investments? The fossil fuel industry? Big pharma, big agriculture, and the financial sector that supports them?

Ultimately, we have to not only put our finances, but also our bodies on the line. We have to turn out in protest, and not just on sunny Saturday afternoons.

We have to resist the cultural conditioning that says nothing an individual does matters. We have to get back in touch with our childlike instinct for love—and not just love of other humans, but love of the whole beautiful world that gives us life.

I am sick to death of living with so much mind-numbing violence and destruction. We are all sick of it—as in, it is making us all sick.

To heal, to feel well again, we have to heal our society and our world, because we are all interconnected. Nothing happens in isolation on this planet. We can’t ignore starving children in one part of the world and expect that the violence being visited on them won’t come boomeranging back to us in our supposedly secure gated communities. We can’t watch passively as the insect kingdom collapses worldwide and imagine that this won’t affect humans, perched smugly at the top of the food chain.

The climate crisis and Sixth Great Extinction drive home this message of interconnection globally. Gun violence is a symptom of the much bigger violence going down in myriad ways every day.

If you want peace and harmony, you have to live it and support it everywhere, in every human interaction, and not just with other humans, but with all living beings.

That is the meaning of a revolution of love. Step into it now. We have work to do.

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

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