Life in the 21st Century: We Need to Build Resiliency or Be Swept Away

First a giant airplane loaded with people and fuel simply vanishes over the ocean. Then a wall of mud a mile wide slides down a mountainside and buries a small community of houses and people.  What’s next?

It disturbs me that so far I’ve heard not a whisper of the question of whether this week’s Washington state mud slide was caused by logging and/or development.

Before and after image

Before and after image

Was there clear-cutting going on in the ridge above the little town that got buried?  Was the town itself part of the problem, the clearing for houses taking away the trees that had been doing the good work of holding the landscape in place?

The obvious culprit being blamed is simply too much rain, yet another example of our climate going haywire in response to the destabilization of too many humans burning too much fossil fuel.

I’m glad to see glimmerings of recognition inside the insular Washington DC Beltway that the effects of climate change are here and are only going to increase in the coming years.

Earlier this month a group of Democratic Senators staged an all-night climate change rally, Senate-style—meaning, they talked about climate change all night long to raise awareness and bring attention to the urgency of the issue.

Talk is cheap; action is what counts.

So far we have not seen nearly enough action aimed at shifting our economy towards renewable energy and “sustainable growth”—scare quotes because “sustainable growth” may, in fact, mean “limited growth,” anathema in American political/economic circles.

We know now that if human population and resource consumption continue to rise at current rates, we will simply decimate our planet, like the locusts we are coming to resemble.  That way lies death, terror and madness.

We have already altered the climate enough to keep the disasters rolling in—floods and droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, spring blizzards and summer heat waves…we’ve seen it all and this is the new normal for the rest of our lifetimes.

We need to acknowledge that building resiliency is of paramount importance in these critical years while there is still enough political and social stability to make the adaptive changes that are needed.

images-1Building resiliency means shifting to renewable energy—solar, wind, tidal, geothermal—that is locally based all over the planet.  Forget about pipelines and oil tankers.  Forget about huge power lines criss-crossing the countryside.  We need to move towards a distributed energy model where each town and county becomes responsible for its own energy needs, and has back-up plans in place for the times when those floods and storms hit.

The same thing goes for food production.  Forget about shipping tropical fruits north to please the fancy of the WholeFoods crowd.  Forget about ripping up African rainforests to create palm oil plantations. We need locally based agricultural production that can sustain populations where they are.

We need to return to the resiliency of pre-20th century human populations, but now connected as never before by our awareness of the role we can play, for good or for ill, in the global biosphere.

We also need, unpopular as it may be, to curb human population growth.  Sharply. Now.

Those who live to tell the tale of the 21st century will look back on the 20th century as the unfolding of the greatest nightmares the human species has ever faced.

In the 21st century, all those disastrous chickens hatched by the petro/agri/chemical industries of globalized capital are coming home to roost, and none of us will be able to build a wall high enough to keep them at bay.

If we want to survive—if we want to bequeath a livable planet to our descendants– we need radical new thinking, backed by urgent and committed action.  Now, before the next mudslide, the next flood, the next wildfire sweeps more of us away.

Dark Universe, Brightening

Socrates had it right long ago when he acknowledged that to the extent that he was wise, it was because he knew how much he did not know.

During my lifetime, the trend has been for homage to be paid to all the cocky, smart human beings who think they know everything.

The slicker and more self-confident the guy (and this is mostly about guys), the more rewards and adulation he gets.

Collectively, especially in the United States, arrogance has been the name of the game.  I think this collective hubris may have reached its apex with the splitting of the atom and the knowledge that he who controls atomic energy controls the world.

Or so we thought.

Climate change is ushering in a whole new, and much more humble era.

imageIt turns out that just because we can bulldoze forests and mountaintops, change the course of rivers, drill beneath the sea and through solid rock, and completely saturate the earth with satellite, drone and in-home surveillance devices, we are still just as vulnerable as we ever were to the simple, earthbound necessities of food and shelter.

As the big, climate-change-induced storms continue to roll in from the ocean, so frequently that they all begin to blur into an anguished nonstop disaster montage, a slow but steady sea-change in collective human consciousness is beginning to occur.

Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines, 2013

Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines, 2013

We are beginning to recognize how much we still don’t know, and how dangerous our ignorance, combined with arrogance, is becoming.

There is no doubt now that we who are alive today, along with our children and grandchildren, are going to be living through a remarkable transition time as the planet we have destabilized and plundered during the past few hundred years of industrialization seeks to return to equilibrium.

We must acknowledge that human over-population has played a major role in this process of destabilization.  Our very success as a species is what is driving the current unfolding disaster.  By reducing our numbers through disease, drought, flooding and the competition for shrinking natural resources that leads to war, the planet is doing what it must to return to a steady state where the ecosystem as a whole can flourish.

It is sobering to live with this knowledge.

Perhaps it is my sadness at knowing that I am going to be living through (and dying in) a veritable Holocaust of earthly creatures, that has me searching outside the box of science and common knowledge for signs of hope.

IMG_4150 copyI was not raised with religion, but I have always been an instinctive spiritual animist, seeing the divine in the beauty of the natural world, and in my unbounded love for all the elements of our Earth—rock, water, air and all the myriad living beings that inhabit every strata of our planet.

I have also been open, since I was a child, to the possibility that there is more to our experience than meets the eye.  I have always been fascinated by the occult, shamanism, and science fiction involving time travel to other dimensions of space/time.

I don’t know if it is just because I am paying more attention, but lately I have been perceiving a definite uptick in collective awareness that the key to fixing what ails us in the physical world may lie not in better “hard science,” but in a deeper connection to knowledge that can only be accessed through a different kind of perception.

The doors to this under-tapped realm of wisdom are accessible to us through what has poetically been called “our mind’s eye.”

There have always been humans who have been explorers in this realm—Socrates was one, the Biblical sages and prophets were others, and modern esoteric explorers like Rudolf Steiner, Terrence McKenna, Mary Daly, Martin Prechtel, Starhawk and many more.

Terrence McKenna

Terrence McKenna

In the 1960s psychedelic drugs opened the doors for many people who were not at all prepared for the “trips” they encountered.

Now we seem to be coming around again to a period where, as conditions in the physical world deteriorate, more of us are seeking understanding and reassurance in the non-physical.

The more we know of how bad things are here in the physical realm, the more we want to know that “another world is possible.”  And the more we look, the more we find that indeed, there is much more to the universe than meets the eye.

Even scientists are beginning to align with the spiritists they previously disdained. In our age of quantum physics, the whole idea of a “spiritual dimension,” accessible through human consciousness, is becoming much less far-fetched to rational hard science types.

The new Hayden Planetarium show, “Dark Universe,” ends with a graphic that could be right out of “Twilight Zone,” showing that roughly three-quarters of the universe is composed of “dark energy,” a term invented to represent in language something we know enough to know we do not understand at all.

It could be that waking, embodied life is to human consciousness what the physical, hard-matter universe is to the cosmos as a whole.  Just a tiny fragment of a much larger, and potentially much more interesting, whole.

What if the reason every living thing on this planet sleeps (whether in the daytime or the nighttime) is in order to reconnect with the non-physical realm that spiritually sustains us?  We know that if we are deprived of sleep for any length of time, we go crazy and die.

What if “the dreams that come,” whether in sleep or in death, are just as valid a form of experience as the waking hours of our day, and our lives?

What would it mean to be able to think beyond the brief timelines of our individual lives, or even the eons of evolutionary cycles on the planet, and know that we are all part of a much grander cosmic dream?

dark-universe-red-shift-interior

Photo source: American Museum of Natural History, Rose Space Center, Hayden Planetarium, “Dark Universe”

Thinking this way does not give me license to let go of my focus on making a difference here on earth, now in my lifetime.

In some ways this imperative becomes even stronger, as it was for Socrates, Steiner and so many other visionaries who were also powerful initiators and guides during their lifetimes.

During this winter solstice season of introspection and questioning, I have been reading and re-reading the writings of one such contemporary guide, the Sufi mystic and spiritual ecologist Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.  I leave you with a passage to ponder:

In the book of life we can see the energy patterns of creation, the rivers of light that flow between the worlds.  We can see how the individual relates to the whole and learn the secret ways to bring light into the world; we can understand the deeper purpose of the darkness and suffering in the world, of its seeming chaos.  And the attentive reader can glimpse another reality behind all of the moving images of life, a reality that is alive with another meaning in which our individual planet has a part to play in the magic of the galaxy.  Just as there are inner worlds, each deeper and more enduring, there are also different outer dimensions whose purposes are interrelated and yet different.  The inner and outer mirror each other in complex and beautiful ways, and in this mirroring there are also levels of meaning.  As we awaken from our sleep of separation, we can come alive in a multifaceted, multidimensional universe that expresses the infinite nature of the Beloved.

–Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Power: How It Works

Let it be so.

Sunset on Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia.  Photo by Eric  B. Hernandez

Sunset on Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia. Photo by Eric B. Hernandez

Confronting taboos: death and the afterlife, American-style

It is one of those unspoken social contracts that Americans won’t say anything to each other that might indicate any doubt that life as we know it will continue.

If you dare to bring up the subject of climate change, with its attendant erratic weather, major storms, sea-level rises, wildfires and crop losses, people roll their eyes and change the subject.

If you voice any doubt that the economy—local, national and global—will recover, you are dismissed as a negative Pollyanna, and again, the subject is changed.

If you were, just hypothetically, to express the opinion that our increasing reliance on digital technology might have the quality of an unhealthy addiction, and to worry aloud at the effect that all that unrelenting screen time is having on the current generation of tiny tots, you are dismissed as a raving Luddite.

Nobody talks about the fact that both of our political parties are thoroughly corrupt, and our Supreme Court even more so.

No one mentions the disappointment so many of us feel with President Obama, who has proven himself incapable of effectively standing up to Beltway politics—if indeed that was ever his goal.

We are living through a massive period of collective denial of social and physical reality, with no exit in sight from the crazy funhouse we inhabit, with its motto, “Everything is going to be OK” blazoned on every door.

It’s about time we accepted the fact that everything is not going to be OK.

Not by a long shot.

I have been a little bit quieter than usual this past month, with my attention turned to the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, but I have been paying attention nonetheless to what’s going on in the world.

The elephants of Africa are under siege and conservationists are now using the E-word to describe their future.

American bees are dying off at record rates due to pesticide poisoning, which is now not only killing the adults, but also the larva of the bee colonies.

The ice at the poles continues to melt at an accelerated rate, while down in Australia it was by far the hottest summer on record.

Just this week, record rainfall brought flooding to Argentina that killed scores of people.

There will be no escape from the severe weather that our degenerating climate system will wreak upon all of us.

As retiring climate scientist James Hansen has testified over and over, we are already at the tipping point from which there will be no return to what was “normal” for the past 10,000 years.

I totally understand the impetus to denial, because really, what can any of us do about all this?

What should we be doing?

Marching on Washington DC?  Setting up survivalist camps in the wilderness?  Sabotaging pipelines and coal-fired power plants?  Buying hybrid vehicles and solar panels?

Damned if I know.

I am on a list-serve that broadcasts a newsletter written by Alex Kochkin, who focuses more on the spiritual side of our current crisis on Earth.  Kochkin insists that we should not be wasting time worrying about the physical issues here on the planet, but instead should be focusing our attention on getting ready for our transition into the spiritual realm—in other words, for death.

Kochkin predicts that there will be a massive die-off of humanity in the coming years, but he casts this in positive terms, as a necessary cleansing that will enable the Earth to reboot and start on yet another spiritual and evolutionary journey.

Believing firmly in a nonphysical afterlife, he is unafraid of death.

This is so counter-cultural that it gives me pause.

Unafraid of death?  Really?

Our culture is so fixated on avoiding death at all costs that it is hard to wrench my mind around to another way of seeing things.

11857232-life-after-death-religious-concept-illustrationWhat if death were just a transition to another (non-physical) stage of existence?

What if it were in fact the best thing that could happen to our planet if the majority of human beings transitioned out of physical existence?

What if the tenacity with which we Americans hold on to our lives was entirely misplaced?

What if instead of focusing all of our technical and intellectual know-how on physical survival, we began to focus on learning more about the non-physical realms that we have so far relegated to the backward precincts of religion, New Age quackery, and woo-woo tales of near-death experiences?

There is a noticeable trend in popular culture reflecting an uptick in interest in explorations of the spiritual/non-physical dimensions.  From Harry Potter to Twilight and beyond, we have a fascination with stories that can take us beyond the bounds of ordinary physical reality.

So strong is the cultural taboo on discussing this seriously that it is hard for me to push the “publish” button and let this blog post out in the world.

But another part of me rebels and is just done with listening to the soothing murmur of the mainstream: don’t worry, dear, everything is going to be OK….

No, everything is not going to be OK.  Just like the elephants and the bees and the polar bears, human beings are going to face a massive die-off due to the changes in our climate system, and soon.

It is that, above all else, that we should be preparing ourselves for.  How? I am not sure.  But one thing is certain: insisting that all will be well, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is just silly and delusional.

It’s time to wake up.

What should we do with our one wild and precious lifetime?

It is the last Full Moon of 2012, but the sky is overcast here, with snow on the way for tomorrow.

Having the moon obscured feels appropriate, as I am searching for a clarity that continually eludes me.

One thing for sure: this is the new normal, me alone with my dog by my side, sipping a quiet glass of wine by the fire, while my sons are out with their girlfriends.

Get used to it, honey!

After 20 years of hardly ever being alone, now it is coming around again, the long quiet hours I remember from my twenties, when I had seemingly endless time to think and read and write.

It saddens me to think of how I spent those hours, poring over the dry tomes of literary critics and deconstructionists, writing my own oh-so-alienated prose in a weak attempt at mimicry.

I wish I had instead been traveling the world in those years, voyaging and adventuring, meeting interesting people and learning new things.

I went as far as Paris and came home attached to a Mexican.

Married to him, I found myself locked into an endless loop of returning to his home in Mexico City year after year.  There I learned first hand about the power of internal colonization; the subtle and not-so-subtle debasement of women in Mexican society; and how to dance, drink and have a superficially good time.

I spent the past 20 years in what seems in retrospect like hard labor, being the primary caretaker in my home as well as—for nine of those years—working two demanding academic jobs.

Now my second job is gone, eliminated by state budget cuts, and one of my sons is almost launched, having gotten his B.A. last spring and moved to Florida for a job.

I am at the threshold of a new period in my life, and this time, knowing how short and precious a lifetime really is, I want to be more intentional–to make the best use of my time.

That is where I am seeking clarity.  What do I want to be doing with my one wild and precious life?

Where should I be putting my energies? What do I have to give? What do I want to be doing with my time?

In the current issue of Orion Magazine, the environmental writer Paul Kingsnorth asks this question too, and provides some answers that I find useful as pointers for myself.

After discussing how likely it is that we are on the cusp of civilizational and ecological collapse, he asks, “what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?”

His answers are fivefold: 1) Withdraw; 2) Preserve nonhuman life; 3) Insist that nature has a value beyond human utility, and proclaim this loudly to all and sundry; 4) Build refuges; 5) Get your hands into the earth.

This sounds like tremendously good advice to me.  I am especially glad to be reassured that my current retreat into solitary, meditative reflection is not a cop-out, but a necessary stage in the life-cycle of the bodhisattva for the planet that I want to become.

“Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind.  Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you….Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction.  Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel.  All real change starts with withdrawal,” Kingsnorth says.

Preserving non-human life, and proclaiming its inherent value…well, I can try, within my sphere, but let’s face it, the very fact that I type these words on an Apple laptop with my refrigerator whirring quietly in the background means that I am part of the problem.

As Paul Kingsnorth knows and has expressed eloquently, there is nothing any one of us can do that will change the fate of the 200 species that go extinct every day on our planet.

Even if we come together collectively, it will be very hard, maybe impossible, to stop the juggernaut of climate change now.

That’s why the idea of building refuges and relearning off-the-grid skills makes a lot of sense to me.

UnknownI have a persistent vision of building a kind of hobbit-house in the side of a hill, off the grid and sheltered from the coming storms, in the company of others who share my dream of resilience.

It is not for nothing that JRR Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are more popular than ever in these opening years of the 21st century.

We are engaged in an epic struggle once again, faced with the spread of a Mordor-esque wasteland over the entire planet.

Will those of us who share the ethos of hobbits, elves and dwarfs be able to save the day?

Will enough of our contemporary wizards—scientists, they call themselves now—weigh in on the side of life and health rather than the oppressive bondage of the capitalist technocracy?

In Tolkien’s novel, Evil comes even to the sheltered little Shire, but is vanquished in the end by the forces of Good.

That is how the stories we like to tell each other go.  It remains to be seen whether reality, this time, will follow this “happily-ever-after” fairytale motif.

I don’t know how it will all end. But I do know that in these dark months of winter, when even the bright full moon is obscured, it feels right to be retreating within to reflect on how best to pursue the struggle in the coming years.

Unknown-2

Will the Eagle and the Condor Land Together in the New Millennium?

At the Peace and Justice Studies Association annual conference, held this week at Tufts University with the theme “Anticipating Climate Disruption: Sustaining Justice, Greening Peace,” I presented a paper entitled “Changing the narrative and crafting alliances between Western and indigenous worldviews to create a sustainable global future.”

In it, I sketched out the standard Western triumphalist narrative of technological domination of Nature and the New World, starting with the voyages of Columbus and Darwin, continuing with the Manifest Destiny doctrine of the takeover of North America, and on into the present, where we continue to tell ourselves the story of living happily ever after in the brave new world established by the subduing and harnessing of the natural world, the routing of resistance, and the triumph of a technologically advanced global civilization.

Given that the premise of the conference theme anticipates serious climate disruption that will take the story to a very different, and much less rosy kind of conclusion, it’s clear that we need to start telling ourselves stories that reflect a different kind of understanding of our relation as humans to the natural world.

The kinds of stories we need to embrace are not new; in fact, they are ancient. I believe that the indigenous peoples left on the planet, who have survived the intense onslaught of Western culture over the past 500 years, are in the best position to survive the coming cataclysms, and to teach us how we can survive too. We just need to start listening to the stories they tell, rather than remaining spellbound by our own Western narratives.

I shared with the audience the voices and visions of two indigenous elders, Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala and Malidoma Some of Burkina Faso, who have both spent much of their adult lives reaching out to Westerners, trying to get us to see our relation to the natural world in a more holistic, less destructive way.

Rigoberta Menchu

Menchu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007, was a leader in the pan-indigenous drive to get the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which it finally was in 2007.  She has worked tirelessly to promote the rights and improve the living conditions of the indigenous peoples in Guatemala, who are a majority in that country, but have little national political representation or power.

Central to Menchu’s political activism is her Mayan understanding of the importance of ecological balance.  “An indigenous people’s cosmovision is centered on their relationship with Mother Earth and Mother Nature,” Menchu says.  “In contrast, the majority of the world doesn’t give it a thought, doesn’t know what the source of life is.  They pollute the earth and do more and more damage.  One day the earth will exact a price for this disdain and destruction. When this happens, we will see that the earth is not just good and bountiful, it can also be vengeful.

“Indigenous people see Nature as a living mother, not as an inert organism that would allow itself to be destroyed,” she continues.  “All those who violate its laws must accept the consequences, because it is alive and will react. My grandfather always used to say that the day human beings violate our universe, they will receive signs and messages.  These messages will be very forceful, and will bring severe punishment.”

These words of Menchu’s come from her second book, Crossing Borders, in which she tried to reach out to the non-indigenous world with a challenge to the dominant narrative of “development,” which has been so terribly damaging not only to indigenous peoples, but to the ecological web of life itself. As she remarks bitterly in the book, “I often wonder why people criticize the Aztecs for offering human sacrifices to their gods while they never mention how many sons of this America…have been sacrificed over the past 500 years to the god Capital.”

These biting words would no doubt resonate with Dagara shaman Malidoma Somé, who was taken as a child by Catholic missionaries to be educated at their school some hundred miles from his village, and was not allowed to go home to visit his family or village for 20 years.

Malidoma Some

On the point of being sent to France to finish his Catholic education, he rebelled and ran away from the missionary school, somehow finding his way back to his village on foot, unaided.  Once there, he insisted that he be given the initiation he had missed out on, and he started on the path to becoming a traditional shaman, or healer.

His healing practice has taken the form of trying to reconnect Westerners with the indigenous knowledge that our culture long ago left behind and rejected as “primitive.”  Malidoma, whose name means  “he who makes friends with the stranger/enemy,” spends much of his time in the U.S. and traveling around the world, guiding groups of Westerners into a different kind of understanding of self, community, and natural world.

Both Menchu and Malidoma stress that they do not reject all of Western technology —just the way it has been used, and the narrative vision that guides and undergirds it.  “What indigenous and Western peoples have in common is the desire to understand the intricacies and complexities of the world we live in, and to harness the power of nature for certain practical purposes,” Malidoma says in his book The Healing Wisdom of Africa.

“Where we have taken different routes, however, is the context within which we have developed our technologies and the purposes for which we have used them.  In the West, technology is oriented toward industrial, commercial and military uses; among indigenous people, it serves to heal and help people remember and fulfill their purpose in life.”

Malidoma continues, “Individuals, as extensions of Spirit, come into the world with a purpose. At its core, the purpose of an individual is to bring beauty, harmony and communion to Earth.  Individuals live out their purpose through their work.  Thus the human work of maintaining the world, to indigenous people, is an extension of the work that Spirit does to maintain the pulse of nature.  The villager’s quest for wholeness is an extension of nature’s wholeness.”

Both Malidoma and Menchu describe a human relationship to the earth rooted not in dominion and conquest, but in a cyclical give and take that takes ecological balance as a core value.

I believe that theirs is the vision that must animate the narrative arc of our future as a species on the planet, if we are to survive the environmental challenges that are speeding towards us now.

The good news is that though you won’t find much about this in the mainstream media, there is a quiet but forceful movement building on several fronts that is heeding the call to craft a different kind of human life story.

There is the Transition Town movement, which is imagining communities that are less dependent on multinational corporations, and more interdependent as individuals and cooperatives working together to meet needs on the local level.  And there is the Pachamama Alliance, which I talked about in my Tufts presentation, which has been partnering with indigenous peoples to, as they put it, “change the dream” of Western-style domination, development and destruction.

The Pachamama Alliance is quite remarkable in that it sees itself as a solidarity movement guided by its indigenous partners, the Achuar and Shuar peoples of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.  It grew out of the connection with indigenous shamans established by John Perkins, who began in the 1990s to bring small groups of Americans and Europeans into the Andes and the rainforest to meet with indigenous shamans to learn a different way of understanding our relationship to the natural world.

Ecuador is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but is also one of the places that has been most devastated by the plundering of oil companies, specifically Texaco and Chevron.  Millions of acres of rainforest have been polluted by oil spills and the byproducts of unregulated drilling—and a landmark case has just been won against Chevron, ordering the company to pay $18 billion in damages to Ecuador for a clean-up.  The case is still in litigation, and meanwhile the people there are coming down with cancers and birth defects in astronomical numbers.  It is truly a place where you can see the worst conclusion of the Western narrative of development in action.

But it is also a place where another story is being told, and broadcast out into the world with increasing urgency.  It is a story that has been told by indigenous peoples of South America and beyond for hundreds of years.

According to the ancient prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, which animates the work of the Pachamama Alliance, we are at a moment in history when the Eagle – representing intellect and the mind – and the Condor – representing wisdom and the heart – must come together to ensure the continued existence of humankind.

The human intellect and heart must realize that without the natural world we are nothing.  All the computers and synthetic chemicals and megawatts of electricity in the world will not enable us to survive in a world without plants and insects and animals.

It is that simple, and we know it scientifically, but we have not yet absorbed it in our hearts, and put our knowledge into practice in a different way of relating to the natural world.

So the question going forward, as Menchu so pointedly asked, is:

Will we sacrifice ourselves and most of the life forms currently on the planet to the great god Capital?

Or will we begin to understand wealth in a more balanced, ecologically sound way?

Will we have the strength to build a groundswell of resistance to the top-down hierarchies that hold such sway over our lives and the narratives we live by?

I believe we can do it.  I want to believe that we will.

Honoring Native Americans instead of Columbus

I’d like to suggest that instead of honoring Christopher Columbus on this day in October, we make this a national holiday in honor of the indigenous peoples of North America.

It is shameful that we have no national day of recognition for the native tribes who were here to welcome the first European explorers.  Perhaps this is no innocent oversight; if there was a day of recognition, we’d have to confront the ugly truth of what those Europeans did to the Native Americans–from smallpox to displacement, massacres and enslavement.

Still, that bloodstained history lurks beneath the surface of national holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.  It would be better to look squarely at the truth and do something to atone for it–at minimum, honoring the native ancestors of this land, and their contemporary descendants, who continue to struggle and resist the tsunami of Euramerican industrial civilization.  

For an idea of what that struggle looks like today, check out the Honor the Earth website.  Honor the Earth works “to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.”  It was founded in 1993 by native rights and environmental activist Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls.

In honoring the Native peoples of the United States instead of the European explorer who accelerated the invasion of their territories and the assault upon their cultures, we would be honoring the amazing resilience and wisdom of these ancient tribes, who have withstood the onslaught of European culture with incredible strength, courage and dignity.

We contemporary Americans are standing at a turning point in history where we may be able to get away from the destructive mode of domination represented by Columbus and a host of European explorers after him.

Changing Columbus Day to Native American Day (or perhaps selecting one significant representative Native person from history–I would not presume to suggest a single figure, but there are many to choose from) would be a good start at not only atoning for the bloody history of European-Native encounters, but also moving more harmoniously into the future.


Building resilience: the time to start is now

What we need to weather these tough times is resilience, and that seems to be a buzzword for this decade; many people I know are talking about strategies for building resilience these days–my friends Maria Sirois  and Amber Chand are both working on workshops to help people build resilience in troubled times.

Resilience is about taking what comes in life, good and bad, with equanimity.  Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot–the importance of acceptance.  That is all very well for me to think about while sitting in a beautiful place on a beautiful sunny day with my family around me.  Much harder for someone in pain to be asked to simply accept what is.

Tolle and Buddhist teachers like Pema Chodron and so many others teach us that we need to practice acceptance in the good times, so that when hardship occurs, we’ll have the mental discipline and habit of being accepting–by which I think they mean not freaking out and panicking when things go wrong, focusing on the present moment through the breath, and finding the light that lives within us, no matter how dark our external circumstances may be.

When you think of someone like Nelson Mandela, who managed to survive almost three decades in prison with his spirit, courage, and wisdom intact, you have to realize that this is more than just spiritual mumbo-jumbo.  How else could he have made it through unless he was able to access some deep inner well of equanimity and peace, an inner resilience that helped him get through each day of those terrible times, and emerge not only mentally sound, but ready to lead his country sanely and sagely.

Few of us will face the challenges that people like Nelson Mandela, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, or Mumia Abu Jamal have faced.  But every life has its dark periods, and right now humanity seems to be entering collectively into times that will test each one of us, and all of us as a society.

We shouldn’t wait until things turn rough to start building our own inner reserves of resilience and strength, and to reach out to others who are doing the same.  The time to start is now.

 

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