Winter Solstice Reflections: Returning to Light, Swimming Against the Tide

Lately I have been feeling that I am constantly struggling against a strong current pulling me away from the work I want to be doing.

The current is composed of all the day-to-day chores of life, along with all the busyness of the holiday season, and the relentless tide of bad news about the state of our beloved planet and her living communities, from trees to fish to birds and bees.

The more I become aware of the dire ecological state of our planet, the more I want to devote myself to swimming against that current of devastation, trying to bring our planetary systems back into balance.

I want to do that work on the personal level, starting with my own life, and moving out into my community and the broader Earth communities in which we all live.

The climate issue, like no other in human history, has made our planetary connectedness clear. We must work together, from pole to pole, to solve the problem of climate instability that industrial civilization has wrought.

If we don’t get on in immediately, we may very well spiral into another Great Extinction, possibly soon enough for current generations of humans—me and my children and their children—to live and die through.

Faced with a negative reality of this magnitude, many of us tend to just turn away in numbed grief and try to ignore it because, sadly, “there’s nothing we can do about it.”

My own sense of being caught in a tidal current pulling me back from whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing may have a lot to do with the despairing feeling that whatever I try to do will not be enough.

But I have to do it anyway, and so do you.

Winter Solstice is the time of year when I try to retreat from the furious churning of life and recalibrate, retune, reflect.

How can I use the gifts I have been given to make a positive difference, moving outward from myself, my family and local community, to the larger circles of life I love?

My greatest gift and abiding passion has always been writing. As soon as I learned to write, I began writing stories and poems that celebrated the natural world and honored the spirits of the Earth.

As a 21st century writer, I have the ability to project my words and perspectives far beyond the confines of the old spiral-bound notebooks I used to keep as a child. I have the potential to engage in dialogue with people all across the globe, and if you’re reading this, so do you.

As a teacher, I have the ability to begin conversations with students about the difficult ecological crises that are already beginning to unfold, and the social and environmental injustices that they are spawning. I can offer students the tools and strategies for continuing these conversations across the globe through our amazing new digital technologies.

In the past year, without a great deal of focus on my part, my blog has been viewed more than 20,000 times by visitors from more than 130 countries around the world.

My little blog is just a very small drop in the great ocean of digital conversations, but even so, it is possible that some of those 20,000 readers came away with a new idea or an affirmation of their own thinking, or a challenge to their habitual perspectives, that could start a chain reaction among their friends and digital connections that could, seriously, change the world.

Rupert Sheldrake argues that “The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.”

Sheldrake’s theory is exciting and controversial because if it’s true, it means that none of us has to be bound by the heavy burden of habit and cultural inertia, the industrial tide that seems to sweep us along so inexorably.

We have a choice. We can pick up our heads, think for ourselves, seek out others who also want to preserve the ecological health of the planet, and together use our great digitally connected human brain trust to steward and safeguard this planet, not destroy her.

Working together, we could, within a couple of generations, be swimming together joyously in an entirely different sea.

As the Earth wheels slowly back towards the Sun today, this is my steady vow: to keep my head above water, to reach out a hand to others who share my reverence for our beautiful planet and its magnificent life, and to give myself without reserve to the mission of building a strong interconnected movement dedicated to the shift into a sustainable, ecologically sound, joyful future.

Browdy de Hernandez 2013

c. Browdy de Hernandez 2013

Morning pages for humanity…and the Earth

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron

This week, in preparation for Julia Cameron’s presentation at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about creativity.

Cameron’s great insight, back in the late 1980s when she was doing the teaching that led to her blockbuster creativity self-help guide The Artist’s Way, was that human beings are all naturally creative.  We just tend to get “blocked” by our upbringing, and need to work on ourselves in a systematic way to unlearn bad habits of self-doubt and defeatism, so that our creative juices can flow freely out into the world.

One question I wish I’d asked Julia at her lecture last night at Kripalu is this: I wonder whether women have any particular creative challenges, different from those faced by men?

The Artist’s Way does not seem to draw any distinction. Cameron uses the gender-neutral term “creatives” and her examples are drawn from the experiences of both men and women.

And yet it seems to me that women are particularly susceptible to the kind of distraction, hyperactive multi-tasking and withering self-doubt that Cameron says are anathema to artists.

One woman in the audience at Cameron’s lecture described herself as “frantic,” or maybe she said “panicked,” facing such a huge to-do list of projects she’d like to accomplish that she was paralyzed by the enormity of it all.

Julia’s response was characteristically calm and pragmatic: slow down, write your morning pages faithfully, ask for guidance from your higher self, and be patient—it will come.

This is certainly good advice for anyone who wants to accomplish creative goals, but it seems especially relevant for me, and all the busy women like me who so often do not take the time out for ourselves, to recharge our own creative batteries.

Cameron’s “morning pages” are deliberately unfocused.  They are not meant to be a to-do list, or an outline for a project, or a mission statement.  They are simply meant to provide a regular, rhythmic opening for the creative spirit, which Cameron clearly conceptualizes as coming from a higher source.

“I learned to turn my creativity over to the only god I could believe in, the god of creativity,” she says in The Artist’s Way, “the life force Dylan Thomas called “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

By allowing ourselves the time and space to be open to the creative life force that gave birth to us, we are allowing ourselves to become channels through which those creative juices can flow out into the world, manifesting all in kinds of ways, depending on our particular gifts.

As Cameron said last night, this can sound a bit “woo-woo.”

But the life force is in a way the final frontier for human understanding, the one mystery we still have not been able to penetrate via science.

We argue about when life begins—at conception?  in utero?  at birth?—and we recognize that there seems to be much more to the universe than we can measure with our physical senses or scientific instruments.

We know in an intuitive way that when we are “in the flow,” allowing ourselves to be creative channels, things can start happening that seem entirely beyond our control, and not at all coincidental.

Julia Cameron calls this synchronicity: “we change, and the universe furthers and expands that change….It is my experience both as an artist and as a teacher that when we move out on faith into the act of creation,” she says, “the universe is able to advance.”

The thing is that not all creations are equal.

Human creativity is not always a good thing.

It’s fair to say that over the past 500 years, since the Catholic Inquisition began its war on the older, nature-based religions and the European powers began their colonial assault on the rest of the world, the dominant paradigm of human creativity on the planet has been materialistic, channeled by our rulers into paths shaped by greed and lust.

Domination and aggression have driven the leading edges of human invention: we have proven very adept at creating guns, machinery and synthetic chemicals, haven’t we?

We have also created a might-makes-right philosophy that has literally bulldozed away any impediments to the harnessing of the natural resources of our planet, including the vast majority of humankind, in the service of short-term gain for the elite.

But at the same time, human creativity has always flowered anew, with each new generation having the potential to choose a different way of channeling that divine universal flow.

We stand at a juncture in history when it seems that the planet is poised to hit the evolutionary reset button, sweeping human beings away to make room for the emergence of new physical vessels for its irrepressible life force.

I believe there is still time for human beings to come to our collective senses and begin to shape our creative output into inventions and ethical paradigms that support and enhance life, rather than torture and destroy it.

I worry about the role the media plays today in limiting and predefining children’s creative imagination.  Little children who used to spend hours playing pretend games, making up elaborate stories complete with visualizations and acting, now spend those same hours playing violent video games or passively watching commercial television, with its monotonous message that consumption equals happiness.

But I take heart from the teenagers I teach, who continually show themselves able to see through the mesmerizing power of the media and think creatively for themselves.

We human beings all need to be doing our “morning pages” in these crucial final years of the modern era, seeking to tap into the “pure positive energy of the universe” and open ourselves to the possibility of different, more harmonious and balanced creative forms.

Because I believe that women have an important role to play in this shift, I am totally dedicated to the work I’m undertaking in this month’s Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, opening up lots of opportunities for women to share their creative visions.

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

This is not just about women writers patting each other on the back and trying to advance our individual careers.

This is about women forming what Julia Cameron unabashedly calls “Sacred Circles” to propel humanity beyond the destructive domination-and-extraction model of the human relationship to our Mother Earth.

Next year’s Festival will have a special focus on women, creativity and environmental sustainability, to help us train our focus on the most urgent matter at hand: the destruction and contamination of the planet, with the resulting drastic climate change shifts that are coming in this century no matter what we do now.

Women and men worldwide need to rise to this challenge with every ounce of our creative energies.  On this International Women’s Day, 2013, I call on women, especially, to make a commitment to using our creative power for the good of the planet and all her denizens.

The Audacity of Hope, c. 2012

For those of us who supported President Obama, the last 24 hours or so have been positively giddy.

There were the nail-biting first few hours of the election results…followed by the glad tidings of more and more of the big electoral states turning a glorious blue…capped by the wonderful thrill of seeing the President stride out onto the stage in Chicago to give the most rousing acceptance speech most of us have ever heard.

What a big heart this man has, to include in his acceptance speech itself the invitation to his opponents to meet him in the aisle and try to seek common ground!

In the very first words of his speech, before he even thanked his running mate, he reached out to Mitt Romney, offering to work with him to move the country forward onto a better, firmer footing:

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. 

We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.

In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

And then, towards the end of the speech, he said so memorably:

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

This audacity of optimism is why we elected Barack Obama back in 2008, and why we continue to love him.

Whatever his personal or political failings, Barack Obama stands for the best hope of the USA: the raw immigrant passion and drive that founded this country and still makes it great.

He also represents, in his very skin, the polyglot future of the USA, the inexorable movement away from the European aristocracy of our founders to the broad multicultural diversity of our descendants.

Mitt Romney’s concession speech 2012

The Republicans are still stuck back in the good old days of the good old guys’ party.  As one commentator aptly noted, Republican political rallies look suspiciously like Ku Klux Klan rallies of the early 20th century.

For those who might rather not recall, let us remember that the Klan not only hated and lynched African Americans; they also hated and lynched Jews.  And they didn’t liked the Irish or the Italians much either!

Let’s not even talk about gay folk.  And women?  For the Klan and many contemporary conservatives, they belong in the kitchen or in the bed.

This is not the country we want to be as we move into the 21st century.

Although I thought the Obama campaign’s slogan “Forward, not back” was a little hokey when I heard it trotted out at various rallies, it does have the ring of truth to it.

We do not want to go back to the intolerance and violent hatred of our past.

We need to move forward, and we will need all hands on deck to confront the deeply unstable, uncertain future that awaits us in the age of climate change.

I want to see Barack Obama rise to the challenges of our time with all the power of his big heart.

I want to see him not just think about jobs, but think about green jobs, about jobs that will move our country forward into a longterm, sustainable future.

Enough kow-towing to Big Oil, Big Agriculture and Big Chemical.  It’s time to force these industries to bend to the winds of change, to adapt to the new paradigm of sustainability sweeping our country and our planet.

I applaud Bill McKibben for waiting until the election was over to come out swinging—and I applaud his continuing efforts to get the climate change issue into the center of political discourse.

Those who are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, along with their insurers, should be his best allies.

We need to face the truth that all the matters of social justice that concern us will be moot if we don’t face the pressing need to get our planetary civilization onto a sustainable footing.

We need to convince our President of this, post-haste.

But let’s take a moment to breathe a big sigh of relief that it is Barack Obama we’re dealing with, and not Mitt Romney!

This election proves that Big Money is not infallible.

Democracy still matters; individual votes still matter; as a country, we are not as corrupt as many of us feared.

Now is the time for all of us to embrace the President’s big heart and let it reach out even further to encompass our entire beautiful planet and all of her creatures.

This is the task we humans were born to undertake: to become the thoughtful, compassionate stewards of our planet, and the collaborative leaders of our own multifarious tribes.

It is so good to see more and more women stepping up to the plate now.  We are sorely needed, but we can’t do it alone.

Men and women of all heritages must work together as never before to reestablish the equilibrium needed to move our civilization forward sustainably into the 21st century.

These are not just words.  This is our urgent reality.

Barack Obama has answered the call.

Will you?

Calling all Occupiers: Join the Deep Green Resistance of the Earth, before it’s too late

Occupy the Machine – Stop the 1%, Literally | Deep Green Resistance.

I had a feeling that the Deep Green Resistance movement would have something interesting to say about the Occupy movement, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As might be expected from a radical environmental group, they are envisioning a massive escalation of the movement, swelling the numbers and multiplying the targets so as to overwhelm the police who will be called in to maintain order.

DGR is imagining an occupation at the sites of worst destruction of the environment, like the boreal forest of Alberta, known to the energy mafia as the tar sands; the coal-burning power plants; the pipelines and the shipping routes.

I might add factory farms to the list, like the beef and hog farms out West that generate the toxic runoff that is poisoning the ocean for miles around the outlet of the Mississippi River.

Naming targets is one thing, but what’s really important is being clear on what the occupations are for. I don’t think the Occupy movement is especially focused on the environment.  It seems to be focused on social inequality–excessive wealth that has destabilized our economy, and the lack of jobs for the middle class.

These are all worthy issues.  But as I’ve said before, it won’t matter a rat’s ass if you have a job–or if you’re dripping in gold or starving and naked–if the climate changes decisively due to global warming.

To turn global warming around will require a movement like the Occupy movement, filled with idealistic, dedicated, thoughtful people who are willing to give it their all.  This struggle has to be linked with a critical rethinking of the industrial capitalist economic model of ruthless extraction and production in the name of profit.

That is the model that has driven our planet to the brink of systemic correction.

Not collapse.  The planet will be fine, she will regenerate.  She has time.  But to do it she will need to effect a serious correction of a species gone haywire, the human species, which in a very short time has altered the planetary environment to such an extent that millions of other species have gone extinct, and supplies of the basic life support systems like oxygen and water are threatened.

The Earth has survived such challenges before, and she will survive this time again.  But human beings, and most of the countless other beautiful life forms that share the planet with us at this time, will be doomed if industrial civilization is not rebooted and recreated as an ecologically sustainable system.

That is where the pressure of the Occupy movement needs to be applied.

Will the Occupiers step up to such an enormous challenge, much bigger than the one they initially envisioned?  Hard to say.  But at the moment they seem to be the best hope of deep change of our society and our terribly destructive economic system.

It’s in the Liberty Parks all across the world that the conversations are beginning that might have the potential to lead to real change.

All the money in the world is not going to buy safety or plenty once the Earth herself begins her own form of Deep Green Resistance.

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