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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Solstice 2017: Visions Bright and Dark, and a Solstice Prayer

Here in the northeast US, Solstice 2017 has arrived with dark, gloomy, damp weather that matches the moods of many people I know.

It’s been a tough year.

When Trump & Co. stole the 2016 election, we knew we’d be in for a difficult stretch.

But who could have predicted the assault on civil liberties, the shredding of the already-meager American social safety net, the rigging of the economy for the super-elite, the blatant racism, sexism and callous indifference to the more vulnerable among us?

On a planetary scale, who could have imagined this year’s battering hurricane season, the raging wildfires, the inexorable melting of the polar ice caps, the steady loss of forests and species, even as the rape of the natural world by the fossil fuel and chemical industries continues unabated?

Here on Transition Times, I’ve been writing about politics and climate change since 2011, but never has the situation seemed more dire. We are all perpetrators, accomplices and frozen bystanders to the rapidly accelerating intertwined disasters of politics and climate change, gathering strength day by day.

25591989_625386244954_8388774816549944067_nAnd yet we continue to go through the motions of our normal routines. We buy gifts; we decorate our homes; we put out seeds for the birds and dream of flying south for warm-weather vacations. Like all animals, we are creatures of habit and it’s healthy for us to live blessedly in the present moment.

I don’t know if I will live to see another Solstice. I don’t know what “normal” will look or feel like a year from now. What I do know is that despite the harshness of 2017, I have so much to be thankful for right now, today.

This Solstice, I give thanks for the abundance I continue to enjoy: loving friends and family, good food and good cheer, health and the freedom to savor the sweetness of each day to the fullest.

I am grateful for the opportunity to write and share these reflections widely (via the World Wide Web, another institution under attack in 2017). I am grateful to everyone who has taken a moment to write back to me with a line of encouragement, a pingback that reassures me that I am not alone, that others are ruminating over similar issues, and what I’ve expressed has struck a chord that continues to resonate out through others into the world.

In 2011, those of us who were awake to the slow-motion disaster of climate change seemed like far-flung outliers, and it was partly to find kindred spirits that I was moved to start Transition Times. In these last days of 2017, I feel the presence of you kindred spirits keenly. It’s important for us to reach out to each other now, shining our lights brightly in the gathering darkness.

The wise ones remind us how important it is to not succumb to fear. As we wake up to the sobering reality of the vast planetary and political changes now in motion, we have to steady our spirits. Amidst all the turbulence it’s our task to stay centered and hold our own little lights aloft so others can see us, and see the way ahead too.

I used to write about keeping hope alive. Now that idea rings hollow; it’s no more than a child’s wish for comfort. What would I be hoping for? A return to the world I was born into, with its familiar abundance and stability? The realist in me knows that world is already gone.

Meg Wheatley counsels that we leave hope behind, not in Dante’s sense of “abandon all hope” as you enter Hell, but in the sense of entering into a more realistic and mature relationship with the reality of our time and place. Instead of hope, we must have faith, she says, that we will be up to whatever is asked of us.

We who are alive for these transition times find ourselves at the threshold of a historical moment unlike any humans have faced before. We must walk clear-eyed into an uncertain tomorrow, giving ourselves permission to feel deeply both the sorrow and the joy of each passing day.

My Solstice prayer:

May I have strength to keep the light of my spirit shining brightly, no matter how daunting the siege of the forces of darkness stalking our planet each day.

May I kindle your light with mine, and together may we illuminate a shared vision of a better world that we can help dream into being, not for ourselves but for our children and future generations.

May we work together for a loving, abundant, beneficent future for all life on our always-generous Mother Earth.

In gratitude, forever….to life!

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This Thanksgiving, Let’s Do More Than Just Give Thanks

Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful word, and a noble intention:

Let us sit down together with family and friends at the culmination of the harvest season, enjoy a bounteous meal and give thanks for our good fortune.

But with each passing year I have more trouble composing myself to write about Thanksgiving.

My early Transition Times Thanksgiving posts focused on the Native American dimension to the holiday—reminding myself that the original Massachusetts celebration was actually the beginning of the end for the pilgrims’ generous Native American hosts, whose suffering at the hands of the rapacious Christian-capitalist overlords of this continent still continues, along with their fiery and stubborn resistance.

Last year at this time, we were sending supplies to Standing Rock and I was giving thanks for the brave water defenders who were standing up for all of us as they built their camp on the banks of the river.

This year, having witnessed the brutal repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock, we are preparing for more fights over the zombie Keystone XL pipeline and watching in disbelieving fury as the Trump administration undoes regulatory protections for wilderness and national parks and actively promotes logging, mining, fracking and drilling as well as hunting endangered species at home and abroad (oh, my beloved elephants!).

It’s been quite a year, and it’s not over yet. How should I give thanks, and for what?

It feels self-centered and callous to give thanks for not being in the line of fire—this time. Should I give thanks that I wasn’t born as an elephant or lion? That at least this year my home isn’t in the path of a pipeline or a hurricane, that the water coming out of my tap is still clean?

Of course, in my typical egocentric human way, I am grateful to have a warm, safe home, good food and loving family and friends to share it with.

Of course.

But it’s hard to relax and enjoy that good fortune when so many others are suffering.

We know now that our world is profoundly interconnected: when we hurt and despoil one species in an ecosystem, the reverberations spread out to all. Because humans are the most empathetic of species, it’s hard for those of us who are aware of the deep suffering and sickness of so many on our planet to simply ignore it and continue with business as usual.

On a spiritual level, we suffer too—and I believe that even those who profess to be entirely uncaring of others’ pain—Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Ryan Zinke, I’m looking at you—are harmed by it on a subtle level, growing more zombified day by day.

We who are aware have an essential role to play in awakening others. It’s sort of an anti-zombie effect, our touch having the potential to draw the psychically dead back into the realm of the living.

To live is to suffer. But to live is also to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” in the cause of Life. To live is to offer our lives to the future, to work on behalf of future generations to leave our world better than we found it at our birth.

Those of us lucky enough to be counting our blessings this Thanksgiving must use our good fortune to step up our activism for a better world for all. And I don’t mean merely all humans.

Here’s something you can do to support a very important giver of life this Thanksgiving season. Please contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to underwrite Mary Lyons’ book of ancestral Wisdom Lessons.

Mary Lyons is an Ojibwe elder who, despite a long life filled with all kinds of challenges, continues to travel, teach and inspire others with the wisdom of her ancestors—wisdom we all need today.

Please contribute, in the spirit of giving thanks at Thanksgiving-time. Only two weeks left in the campaign and a long way to go to the goal.

Today I give thanks for the many shining lights who are out in the forefront leading the way to the more beautiful world we know is possible. I have written about many of them in Transition Times over the years, and I continue to honor them as my inspirations, every day.

Here’s a partial list of my guiding lights (among those still alive today). What names would you add?

Charles M. Blow

Stella Bowes

Clare Dubois

Charles Eisenstein

Eve Ensler

Dallas Goldtooth

Amy Goodman

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Naomi Klein

Elizabeth Kolbert

Nicholas Kristof

Winona LaDuke

Mary Lyons

Joanna Macy

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Bill McKibben

Kandi Mossett

Kumi Naidoo

Nancy Roof

Nina Simons

Starhawk

Sandra Steingraber

Terry Tempest Williams

Andreas Weber

Radical Hope in Tragic Times

I am trying to absorb the horrible news of the worst American mass shooting in recent history; and at the same time not lose the elated feeling I had after the successful October 1 launch of the Berkshire Grove of the organization Treesisters, dedicated to reforesting the tropics and rebalancing the planet’s climate, while also encouraging women to step into leadership roles in environmental issues.

22154421_620982604884_4669767767180484296_nIt was so beautiful to see people streaming on to the lawn next to Edith Wharton’s mansion The Mount in Lenox MA, where a small group of dedicated dancers and singers led by choreographer and creative designer Anni Crofut Maliki had prepared a beautiful, heartfelt introduction to the Treesisters philosophy, weaving powerful words from founder Clare Dubois together with original song and dance, in a soulful old grove of pines and maples, on a radiant fall afternoon.

22089816_10213164101109781_8490839444826224249_nIt was truly uplifting to stand together in circle, invoking the five points of the Treesisters star of change, envisioning the better world that could be if feminine energy—productive, creative, fertile, nourishing—were to come into balance with healthy masculine energy channeled into positive action and stewardship of the planet.

Yes, we can do it, we all felt, standing together. We CAN make this shift and save our planet from destruction. Oh happy day!

And then in the middle of the night I was woken from a dream by the flashing white light of my cell phone, notifying me of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I didn’t look at it then, but was greeted by the news first thing in the morning.

Another man gone berserk. More handwringing and horror on the news, the president mouthing simpering teleprompted sympathy messages, all those media personalities milking tragedy for ratings, and watching the stock market spike—perhaps in anticipation of yet more gun sales?

I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of the shock, the numbness, the carrying on. Sick of how violence has become normalized in this country. No matter how high the numbers climb, we seem to absorb the news and move on like automatons. 49 dead? 59 dead? As some commentators are reminding us today, more people than that die every day in America from gun violence.

And then there are the opioid deaths, the car accidents, the homicides, the suicides, the police brutality, domestic violence, the rapes, the self-destructiveness of eating disorders and self-harm.

Yes, we are proud to be Americans, aren’t we? We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the best country on Earth.

I used to believe that. I have not believed it in a long time, and each day brings new sadness and outrage to further puncture whatever remnants of the American dream might remain to me.

Since there seems to be no hope of legislative solutions to the multifarious problem of gun violence in America, I choose to shift my focus elsewhere, on change I can control.

I can support the work of Treesisters and other organizations working for environmental sanity and the empowerment of women’s leadership. I can support and cultivate creative people whose vision points us towards a better world.

Through writing, my own creative outlet, I can try to alchemize my shock and sickness into something more productive, something—if only words—that I can offer the planet in these desperately difficult times.

We have to beware of being sucked into the negative whirlpools that inevitably swirl up like black-water vortexes in the wake of mass tragedies like this one.

Yes, we must pay homage to the victims and berate the negligent legislators and courts that have turned our country into an armed camp of vigilantes.

But don’t let all that negative energy pull you down. Keep your spirit burning bright and focus your energy not on what has been, but on what could be. Gather with others and share your dreams and visions for a better world.

This is what I call “doing hope together.” Nothing and no one will stop me from stoking the fires of my radical hope, with other like-minded people and with the planet herself.

And you? Will you come with me?

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“Houston, we have a problem.” Heeding Harvey’s Message for Humanity

Water is Life.

Unless it’s coming at you by the trillions of gallons, blown on hurricane-force winds. Then water can be death. And death also lurks in the water that lingers after the storm, contaminated with chemicals, fossil fuels, sewage and decomposing bodies.

Although evangelical preachers may be tempted to blame the storm on the sins of individual Texans, the blame must be spread much more widely, and it has nothing to do with conventional Christian understandings of sin.

We have brought this destruction down on ourselves by our actions and inactions—that much is true. And we have the power to right the wrongs and avoid or at least lessen the catastrophes still to come.

I don’t know if anyone has done a “budget analysis” of which country, on a per capita basis, bears the most responsibility for climate change, but I bet America is right up there at the top.

On a deeper level, Americans have been the great influencers of the 20th century, especially the post-World War II era when the fossil and chemical industries really took off. In trying to keep up with the Americans, the rest of the world followed suit, and everything seemed almost too good to be true, for a while.

What gave us the arrogant notion that Mother Earth would endlessly tolerate the warming of the oceans, logging of the forests, chemical dousing of the prairies, wholesale destruction of millions of species and industrial-scale torture of domesticated animals? Did we really expect to be able to mine and drill and burn and drain and pave without any consequences?

I don’t believe in “Mother Earth” as a Kali-like goddess bent on vengeance; but as Gaia, a living system striving to stay balanced and flourish through every living particle of her being, our planet will naturally seek to return to the steady state that humans have destroyed in the past fifty or so years.

Gaia has her own ways of curbing an invasive species. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics…these are not acts of a vengeful God but the natural biofeedback methods of our planet, seeking stasis and harmony.

This is no comfort to Texans going back to destroyed homes and neighborhoods this weekend. It’s no comfort to the rest of us on the East Coast, keeping a wary eye on the next hurricane churning in our direction across the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Irma.

 

In the old days, a preacher could look out at a grieving, distressed congregation and offer the solace that death and disaster were part of God’s plan. The message was to bow our heads and humbly accept the suffering as part of the human experience.

But these early 21st century “natural” disasters are neither divine retribution nor a cross we must bear as the price of being human.

The mind-blowing tragedy of Houston and the surrounding area is the simple result of human arrogance, shortsightedness, greed and stupidity.

  • Build petro-chemical plants on salt-water marshes along the ocean and see what happens.
  • Build housing developments on low-lying land along rivers and bayous and watch them flood.
  • Burn fossil fuels as fast and hard as you can, even when you know the consequences of over-heating the atmosphere—can you really feign surprise when storms come up out of the hot oceans?

Harvey was preceded by Sandy and Irene and Katrina…it will be followed by more and more staggering storms, until we finally get the message: we cannot continue to live as though the world were our sewer.

We cannot continue to focus our intelligence on developing ever-more-destructive weapons and toxic chemicals, on engineering feats that ride roughshod over natural habitats and drive other members of the Earth community over the cliff of extinction.

Our intelligence is desperately needed now, but in the service of Life, not Death.

Water is Life. Air is Life. Earth is Life. The good Fire of our Sun is Life.

But only when these elements are balanced and respected. Out of balance, rendered toxic, they spell our doom.

It is late, but not too late, to pull our planet back from the brink of the major reset she’s tracking towards.

If the preachers want to send a useful message, how about reminding people of our responsibility to steward the Earth? When the floods came in Biblical times, Noah built an Ark, not just for himself and his family, but for all the creatures on Earth.

We must recognize our entire planet, our Gaia, as a precious, sacred Ark of Life, for which we are the pilots and tenders.

She is sending us wake-up call after wake-up call. Are we awake yet?

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Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, 8/25/17. Credit: NASA European Pressphoto Agency

What Lies Beneath: Of Mushrooms, Mycelia and Interconnection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Paean for Interdependence

It’s so clear, by the sea, how interdependent every living thing on our planet is. It’s clear in the mountains and forests too, but somehow everything is stripped down to its essentials by the ocean and you can see the remarkably calibrated food chain in all its exquisitely complicated simplicity.

AIR, WATER, EARTH, FIRE. Take oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, drench with sunlight, and watch life pour forth.

Death too is a necessary part of the cycle. But not the death of innocent babies caught in the crossfire; not the death of majestic animals shot for greed or sick pleasure; not the cataclysmic death of the Sixth Great Extinction, with billions of life forms, some not even known to humans yet, all being choked out at once.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that, because these great extinction events are also part of the natural cycles of this planet. We are moving rapidly into the sixth such event, after all. If you take a longer view, as the Mayans did in predicting that 2012 would be a historic end of one cycle, beginning of another, you can see once again the elegance of the great pulses of life and death on Earth.

Although I have written before about how I believe that “Independence Day” should be converted to “Interdependence Day,” in 2017 this shift seems particularly urgent.

Not just because we need to become more aware of our ecological interdependence with all other life on the planet, from the bacteria and worms to the fish, vultures and wolves, but also because the whole idea of celebrating a colony’s independence from a colonizer seems quaint and outdated today, when the colonization process actually runs so much deeper and is so much more intense.

Nation-states as markers of identity are fading, which may be why we’re seeing a paroxysm of violence from those who want to preserve this failing political form at all costs.

Now people are being organized into two main groups—those who are connected to the World Wide Web, and those who are not. The connected ones belong to a kind of virtual nation, and we are controlled not by physical borders, but by information (aka propaganda).

The current American president got where he is because he understood the power of media to manipulate people. He is doing his best to confuse and discredit the whole idea of a news media dedicated to reporting “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because he knows that if people can’t tell truth from falsehood, they are all the easier to manipulate. Colonization goes internal, we police ourselves and each other, and the warlords make out like bandits.

This is the sad state of affairs on the Fourth of July, 2017. Ordinary American politics is so diseased that celebration is impossible.

So perhaps it’s time to embrace a bigger vision, going beyond the fiercely contested territories of the nation-state and the Internet to think creatively and positively about our presence on the planet.

This Fourth of July, I celebrate Gaian life in all its diversity and glory. I resist separatism and meaningless violence incited by arbitrary boundaries and manipulative colonizers, whether of the corporate or nation-state variety.

Human beings are just another animal in the vast ecological web of life on the planet—a very successful and destructive invasive species, to be precise.

Because of our ability to remember the past, forecast the future, and use technology to chart and change our environment, our natural role as a species is to tend, steward and manage our planet, for the benefit of all. Not just all humans, but all life, because we cannot thrive unless the entire ecological web is healthy.

This is how it works:

Take a deep breath. You are breathing in the trees, the flowers, the cool seaweed in the ocean and the pale lichens on the rock. Exhale and know that you are sending sweet nourishment to all life on the planet, in a perfectly balanced symbiosis.

Interdependence. So simple, so complex, so profound. There’s nothing better to celebrate today, is there?

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