Kick-starting a New Career

It was the end of August. Sand and I house-sitting a gorgeous home in Novato, California. Sitting in the garden with my friend Martin, just arrived from Peru to offer his sounds and ceremonies here in the North.

He picked up a flute, I produced a poem. And for the next few hours we played, just played. We felt how sound provides a space for words to expand, and how the vibration of poetry can be interpreted in music. The whole offer we created that afternoon was certainly greater than the sum of the parts. We had a blast and birthed a new idea too - we would record an album!

I'm telling you the backstory to the production of my first ever album of poetry because this venture has surprised me as much as it might be surprising you. My wife, Sand, and I are recently arrived back in the USA, having spent a year or more in Ecuador. It was a tough year, and we left before our good intentions to help rural and indigenous communities there could be realized. Chastened, we headed back to the Bay Area to find what would be next. Needing to get back into earning but unwilling to simply "get a job" I've been looking at how best I can bring my skills as a speaker, writer and facilitator to serve the people and organizations aiming to shape a sustainable future. That afternoon in the garden gifted me a new start in that direction that I simply hadn't seen.

Throughout September the muse was with me, inspiration to finish poems I'd started or completely new ideas came flooding in.

In October we were in a recording studio in Peru. Martin introduced me to Pepe, another musician with the ability to find and elevate the vibration of my poetry. In Pepe's recording studio we created the album, eight poems set in a gorgeous soundscape of Andean and ancestral instruments, flutes, charango, and percussion from Pep's collection from around the world.

Two days later I had a set of files on a thumb drive, a lift in my step and a new project - to turn those files into an album and get this album out in the world. Here's a sample poem from the album (and you can find the rest here).

The project is gathering momentum - with a crowdfunding campaign. As I write we are about two-thirds of the way toward raising the $3 000 of the costs of producing CDs and hopefully heading toward recouping the full $6 500 it has cost me so far.

  • I've taken the plunge and ordered the CDs, they arrive any day now
  • I have my first reading booked for a week's time
  • I'm getting wonderful feedback

and best of all, I'm alive with this new venture and new way of sharing my voice.

For anyone willing to support the kickstarter you can find all of the details here. There are two ways you can really make a difference;

  1. by pledging $'s, in return for which you get rewards that include the album (of course) but also a personal poem crafted by me, or a reading especially for yo and your friends
  2. by sharing this campaign with others.

As I think you can see, the hand of grace has been guiding this project from the outset, I want to acknowledge and give thanks for that. And so I feel it only appropriate to share my prayer for the album: may it bring hope and inspiration to people who hold the dream I do, that we find a way to live together in peace and justice, sustainably. And my personal wish is that it open doors for me to bring my voice and contribution more fully to the movement for change. These are dark days, following the recent US elections, perhaps the perfect backdrop for my new offer - check it out and see if you agree. 

As ever, your thoughts and feedback in the comments below are much appreciated.

 

Re-choosing Commitments: to re-charge your life

I was inspired by my own blog. To re-choose what I'm committed to. I'm sharing this in the hope that it inspires you . . . and you, dear readers, also provide me with an accountability that will harden my resolve in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks for that.

What am I committed to? In the early hours, not sleeping, this was the question that reverberated through my mind. I could sense that a renewal of my commitment was calling me. To provide that impetus, that motivation, that clarity so needed for any meaningful endeavor in life.

The question took me to a couple of surprising, and rewarding places.

Commitment #1: me. I struggle with this all the time, so let's dive into it . . .my first pledge is to look after myself, better and more consistently than ever before. I know from experience that when I neglect this it undermines all else. My creativity, my productivity, my centeredness, my service to other people, all these stem from taking care of my own wellbeing. And that's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. So what will I do? I have a morning routine that involves meditation, stretching, journalling, planning the day and coffee. I'll share about that in another post, but believe me, starting the day right is an indispensable condition of success. The bonus: when we serve ourselves fully, it serves others too.

Commitment #2: to Sand and me. I'm lucky enough to share my life with an extraordinary woman, my wife Sand. With her support and encouragement anything is possible, with my support and encouragement her light shines bright in the world. And, like any married couple, it can be easy to take this partnership for granted. We can both lapse into this and neglect nourishing our love and our relationship. So my commitment is to find a still deeper level of love from which to partner with this woman. A love profound enough to dissolve those conditions and restrictions we often place on our love for other people. I've just had a huge insight in this area, another upcoming post, but suffice to say I am renewed in my commitment to nourish us. The bonus: when we nourish our relationship with those we love, the benefit rebounds on us too.

Commitment #3: to you as readers. OK, I know this might sound cheesy, or manipulative, but its neither. This is my principal service in the world right now, delivered here through this web-site, to you. And, to be confessional, I know I have not always been fully committed to maintaining a service to you as readers at this web-site. So today I renew my commitment to you all, and to developing this web-site as a source of inspiration and tools for you to live the fullest lives possible, for yourselves and all that you can touch. The bonus: when we serve others, we get to find what our gifts truly are.

When I re-chose these commitments this morning I had no thought to share them here, but it seems so obvious now to write this post, to encourage you to re-visit what you are committed to. What will you prioritize? What will you uphold above all else? What's important enough to be assured of your energy and care? If you are moved to do so, please add your thoughts into the comments below.

And thank you for being readers here.

The Power of Re-choosing

I was stuck, really stuck. Unfulfilled, too busy doing what was unfulfilling to see my way out of the situation and no space to see or crete new alternatives. I’d arrived at this place by following a series of entirely sensible choices, each at the time seeming to be the best possible option, and I’d ended up in a dead-end.

For me those circumstances were a small business, successful and profitable, but trapping me in a cycle of busyness that robbed me of time with my kids, numbed my creativity, and and certainly didn’t help me address the underpinning concern I had, to make a wider contribution in the world. My team and I were providing high quality training and coaching to leaders in some of Europe’s largest organizations, well-regarded and well-paid for our expertise. It was work I’d loved doing, for a while, but eventually I got to see the trap I had created. I’d tried a bunch of options to get out of this role and get into “making a difference in the world.”

I was now super busy winning sales to cover other people’s salaries, doing less of the transformational work myself and having to “runbusiness” And my conscience was reminding me in an ever louder voice that the companies I was supporting were not forces for transformation in the world.

It was time to re-choose. I still remember walking through a beautiful park in Chester, with a view over the meadows and the River Dee, autumn was in the air, seasons changing. I realized I had a choice I’d never considered before, just stopping doing what was paining me, closing the doors on the business.

That simple choice, which I took, ushered me into a period of reflection lasting a couple of years in which I set about re-choosing my entire life. Everything. And in that re-choosing many things changed, my work, my marriage ended, I ended up moving continents and roles. And the process of re-choosing also allowed me to examine and willingly re-commit to some of the same aspects of my life, values, habits that serve me, relationships that nourished both parties. 

The magic of re-choosing lies in the opportunity to re-examine everything without the pressure of having to change. We get to look at all of the dimensions of our lives, and to re-new our commitments to what works, while looking to adapt our choices in the areas that aren't working. Its a process we can willingly undertake at any time, not a response to difficult times or problems. So we can approach it unburdened and free to change something, everything or nothing at all - that freedom is liberating. I don't know if I agree with Socrates in dismissing the unexamined life as not worth living, but I do know that the examined life is richer and more current, more vital than continuing to play out the habits, circumstances and choices that have lead us to this point. 

I’ve come to see re-choosing as 4 simple steps to optimize any aspect of our life. i'm using it on the biggest questions and the smallest details. Right now we are re-choosing where in the world to live, as well, each morning, as re-choosing to be grateful for this day and the simple gift of being alive. In this way re-choosing isn't a one-off activity, its more like a philospophy for living.

The steps are simple enough, the key often is to recognize what we need to re-choose and when. The symptoms to look out for are boredom, lack of fulfillment, making no headway toward important goals or feeling becalmed and stagnant.

Try it. Pick something that isn’t even broken, a friendship, maybe even a good friendship.

Step 1 - review. How is this is serving you, serving the other people in involved? Are you each nourished, enjoying this relationship, does it support you moving forward as you wish?

Step 2 - develop options. Look at each of the options available to you right now. In this example it might include continuing as you are now, or how it would be to be without this person. Consider making the friendship even more important to you, spending more time together.. 

Step 3 - identify.  Reflect deeply on each option, what would that be like, how would you feel in each case? Select whichever feels the most appropriate option, knowing that continuing as you are now can be a valid choice. Clues to the right option can often be found in how you feel when you consider how the option might play out.

Step 4 - commit. Make a commitment to yourself in a specific way, and throw yourself into the choice you have made. You are committed to this being the best option right now. Of course now is the time to begin to design how to make this new choice really work for you, and for the other people involved. 

Try it, have fun, and drop a comment below about its impact.

Will you say Yes to Life? New Year Questions from the Jungle

Will you say Yes to Life? New Year Questions from the Jungle

To survive in the jungle requires a tremendous amount of knowledge, built up over centuries and passed mother to daughter, father to son. You need to know which plants are edible, or can be used as dyes or poisons, where particular birds gather and at what time of day, which parts of the river are safe. The more you know the easier it is to survive and even thrive in this place.

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How do you know your life matters? 7 clues and a request

How do you know your life matters? 7 clues and a request

. . . you and I already took a choice, albeit without knowing it, about this key question. It happened years ago, as children, when we were forming our beliefs about how we see ourselves, the world and our place in the world. In combination these beliefs act as an auto-pilot, directing our choices and actions every day, without our conscious knowing. If we never revisit those conclusions we are forever run by the auto-pilot, whatever direction it points us in, whatever it says about the meaning of our lives.

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Finding our own Star

Finding our own Star

Its easy to cope with life when everything is going right. When the bills are paid, our health is good, relationships are nourishing and the sun is shining, its easy to call that “good,” even “magic,” and celebrate that we are on the right track. But how do we cope when circumstances aren’t so rosy and life looks “bad?” How do we deal with challenging times? And for us, Sand and Jon, those times came recently.

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Saying Yes to Life

Saying Yes to Life

Just as every step of this journey has seemed to be guided, frequently surprising us with what it reveals (Peru? kapok?), we are finding connections and opportunities revealing themselves time after time. Over coffee Pablo mentions a woman he met at a symposium down at the coast - we might try talking to her. Enter Rocio and husband Mario, already well-established organizers for community-based agriculture in Manabi province and experienced farmers of, you guessed it, kapok. Mario even taught me how he hauls himself up a tree . . . .

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A Welcome from the Apus

A Welcome from the Apus

I'd followed the narrow path up the mountain, meandering at first between the small, angled plots on which the local people were growing corn, passing through grassy slopes admiring the lush greens and bright flowers that surrounded me. Then the path steepened and began to zig-zag, picking out an invisible route between the towering buttresses protecting the mountain's top. My pace slowed, until I finally reached the top after 4 hours of hard work and sat to lunch on boiled eggs and potatoes.

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The Next Chapter begins

The Next Chapter begins

We’ve enjoyed eight years of the Bay Area and made life-long friends here, yet the call of spirit has us, once again, pack up our lives on one continent and move to another. Our destination is the tiny town of Pisac, nestled in the Sacred Valley of the Peruvian Andes. We’ll be living with our friend and teacher, Luzma, and hoping to find opportunities to serve some of the exciting work she is pioneering there. But in truth, we travel there without jobs, without income and without speaking Spanish, trusting the guidance that says Go! 

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Serving Spaceship Earth

Buckle your seat belts and hold tight, consider for a moment that we’re living on Spaceship Earth, hurtling through the Milky Way in an enclosed capsule at 70 000 mph.

What do we know about the spacecraft? Well, know its beauty is astonishing; pause for a moment and think of some of the places and landscapes you love, maybe a favorite spot from your childhood, a view that awakens in you a deep sense of awe, a place you feel safe or where treasured memories were created.  And consider for a moment some of the other wonderful plants and animals that we share this spacecraft with: which are your favorites? Would it be playful dolphins, delicate butterflies, majestic redwoods, the wren, the robin or the rook or a pet dog?

We also know that this ship will provide everything that we need to survive and thrive; our food, the air we breathe, water for all of us and materials we can make into shelter, clothes, tools, comforts. Everything is provided by the Earth.

The spaceship is intricately designed, in fact so intricate is the design that no one person knows how it works, and there is no blue-print we can find.  This fact is also one of the downsides, we are traveling through space aboard a vessel we don’t fully understand and can’t control. There are a couple of other factors we want to beware of too. There are no refueling stations where we can take on more provisions, our only external source of energy is the unending stream of sunlight coming our way from its source 93 million miles away. And let’s be clear, there are no life-rafts, and even if there were, no other habitable place to which we could escape. So we need to make sure Spaceship Earth remains a viable support for us, our children and their children too, on this epic voyage through space. 

Some news just in;

  • there are now 7 billion people on the spaceship, a number that has doubled in just the last 46 years and is still rising
  • on August 19th of this year we had used up the entire year’s provision for 2014 (food, water, other resources) and from this date until the end of the year we are, in effect, eating into the craft herself, thus reducing its capacity to provide for us next year
  • the other 8.7 million species that share our space ship and play some unknown role in balancing the ship are dying off at an alarming rate, we may well have lost half of them in the next 50 years, a catastrophe with little or no public knowledge
  • its getting warmer everywhere! And here in California we are in extreme drought
  • lastly, the controls of the ship have been assumed by a small group of very wealthy passengers with a radical agenda that protects their own interests but risks the well-being of 99% of us and the safety of the craft itself

This is sobering news, if we were able to peek inside the control room we’d see a multitude of warning lights flashing red. As we consider this there seems to be one important question for each of us to ask: am I a passenger on the spaceship, or am I crew? The implications of the answer we choose are fairly clear: as passengers we are just along for the ride and willingly surrender any influence over how the space ship is run, and our fate, to those who are in control. If we are crew we have work to do, managing affairs aboard ship.

If we are willing to be crew, to be in service, we need to decide what needs our attention right now. Perhaps there are two key places to focus, the first of which is solving the many urgent problems we face with our deteriorating and poisoned habitat, the huge tears in the social fabric caused by inequality: there are plenty of problems calling for solutions.

Our second major task must be to return us to what I’ll call the original operating instructions, a way of being here on Spaceship Earth that is sustainable, essential if we are to avoid simply relating our mistakes in new forms.  We can think of these as the instructions for safe space travel, the fundamental principles that can guide us and keep us safe. There are many  but here are three to consider right now:

  • Protect the craft at all costs - this means that whatever we do we need to make sure the integrity of the space craft is maintained, we shouldn’t allow anything that threatens this.
  • Honor its complexity - if we don’t understand how the space ship works or what affects it we should consider extreme caution before introducing any risks to the delicate balance that maintains livable conditions here.
  • Keep everyone on board happy - in an enclosed space we need to get along with each other. Outbreaks of violence amongst the passengers and crew are going to threaten our safety too.

This instructive metaphor came to prominence in 1965 when Adlai Stevenson spoke to the UN;

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.”

In our work as the Pachamama Alliance we’ve learned something about the original operating principles from our partnership with the Achuar, a forest dwelling people in the jungles of Ecuador. They know exactly how to protect the Amazon rainforest, their part of the spaceship, an area we sometimes refer to as the lungs of the planet. In their culture and way of life there is profound respect for the balance of life in the jungle, honoring the complexity of it and, crucially, seeing themselves as part of that balance, not apart from it nor user of its bounty.

Inspired by our partnership we are at work in a few key ways. Firstly we are supporting the Achuar in protecting their part of our vessel, partnering with them to stand up to the threats of extractive industries that would begin the irreversible process of destroying that habitat.

At the direct invitation of these same crew members we are at work in other parts of the spaceship enlisting passengers as crew, and, aiming to raise consciousness such that the original operating instructions are reinstated. This is articulated in one of our best known goals, to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on Spaceship Earth.

If you are not already crew, applying your unique talents and caring heart to creating this future, please come join us.

Excerpted from a talk to the Lions Club of Burlingame by Jon Symes in October 2014.

Vegetable Soup for the Non-dual Soul

It looked like any other bowl of soup; chock-full of vegetables, colorful and tasty for sure, but just soup. But as I looked into the bowl, tasted the first spoonful, the ordinary became extra-ordinary. I could see corn on the stalk waving in the breeze, and taste the soil in which the carrots had grown; I was taken to a whole never-before-seen world, an astonishing and surreal experience. The feeling however lasted no more than a few seconds, and the chatter at the table pulled my attention away, but as the conversation waned I gazed again at the corn and the carrots and could recreate that profound feeling of connection and awe and peace. That fleeting moment some months ago came back to me this week when I was interviewed by my friend Megumi for her dissertation; her subject, the meeting place of non-dual consciousness and the work for global justice. Now that sounds like quite a dry topic (what is non-dual consciousness anyway?) but it turns out to have lots to do with vegetable soup.

Firstly justice, a concept that needs no introduction. We are all wired to detect justice, or its absence, and sensitized daily by the images brought to us from around the world of injustice and suffering. It may be the global scale of injustice which moves us most: few of us can be unmoved by the plight of the parents of the 20 000 children around the world who die every day from preventable diseases, desperate to get their hands on the cures that exist and yet watching their children die unnecessary deaths. Maybe it’s a more local expression of injustice that penetrates our heart, seeing those unable to “make it on their own” left falling through the safety net of care in this, the most affluent country on the planet seems particularly painful to me.

There are many forms of work for global justice and millions at work, both those who directly bear the yoke of oppression in their own lives and those who are insulated from but nonetheless feel this pain. The work includes the very necessary efforts to lessen the hurt and impact of injustice on human lives; feeding the poor, providing shelter for those without, assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. Yet we also need to enquire into the causes of poverty and homelessness and all forms of inequity. Without answers here we will be unable to do the equally necessary work to overhaul the global governance and trade systems that generate and perpetuate this inequity and suffering.

Non-dual consciousness is a more difficult concept to understand.  A simple definition might be the state of awareness in which we experience everything as interconnected. As Megumi said, “The experience (of non-dual consciousness) can be temporary or permanent, it may feel like a sense of communion with all natural and other beings, and for some people our identification with an egoic self, ideology or opinion also fall away.” To me, that sounds like my vegetable soup experience and like the transcendent feeling when we have witnessed a miracle. It sounds like the state I pull myself towards in mediation or prayer, where I try to remain as long as possible, at peace with myself and the world around me.

In those moments we see everything as connected, you and me are not separate, merely two aspects of a unified whole. In this awareness we get to see that there is no good or bad, no villain or victim, no grounds for judgment or separation; in this realm there is merely “how it is.” When we are able to suspend our desire to evaluate and label every occurrence as “right”, “wrong” or some other category that makes it knowable, we get to rest in the less comfortable territory of how it is. In this space there is no blame.

With Megumi’s gentle probing I begin to unfold my understanding of these two topics and how they relate to each other. I began to see what a powerful place lies where they intersect.

Her questions had me juxtapose these two domains, looking at global justice through the lens of interconnection. Try it for yourself – look out at an issue of injustice, of suffering, see the faces of those involved, those you might previously labeled the victim or the oppressor. Can we look into their eyes and not collapse into an interpretation of right and wrong? Can steer clear of blaming those who seem to have power or privilege on their side? And can we now see how each of them is the natural, predictable expression of the world of separation we live in? What a powerful way to build the muscles we need to do the work for global justice, compassion, non-judgment and empathy.

I began to see the place where they join is the stance I aim to embody with my life, a place of wisdom and power. And this isn’t a vantage point for spectators, this is the ground for action, discerned and direct, aimed at ending unnecessary suffering. This is the place from which our heroes have stood, and stood again for justice, Gandhi and Martin Luther King preeminent amongst them. And this is the place from which ordinary people are standing up for what will protect the quality of their lives, the health of our Mother Earth and the choices of their grandchildren’s generation. Join them, develop the muscles we need to be a force for justice in a world without separation, a just and interconnected future.

Thank you to Megumi and to the vegetable soup.

Of Butterflies and Bees

In earlier times we sat, all together under the same stars we see today, around a fire. The world worked. There’s a moment in the life of a caterpillar when it begins to eat more and more. It becomes a voracious consumer and eats many times its own weight in food. It eventually becomes bloated and immobile

The container ships groan under the Golden Gate Bridge every day, many times a day: I see them from the bus. The huge red calipers of the bridge measure their loads. 6 containers high, 16 long stacked 12 abreast, Oakland-bound and regular as clockwork. Global trade on the high seas. Box after box after box, loaded with iPhone, iPod, iPad, iStuff, motor cars, empty jars, jars of pickle, Christmas tinsel, plastic beads, plastic toys, sweat-shop jeans, rice and beans, my next pen, or pencil, my next purchase, my lifestyle, my comfort . . , , all heading for Main Street, from China . . . or Vietnam . . . or Thailand . . . or China.

 Imaginal cells

You and me

With our desire to be

Whole and free

In harmony

With the whole family

Of humanity

The plants and trees

The rivers and seas

The clouds and the breeze

The birds and bees

[Please bless the bees

We need them bees]

  At that very moment inside the caterpillar there are these tiny cells waking up. The biologists call them imaginal cells.

A winter’s evening in San Francisco, rushing through unfamiliar hallways in the community center searching for the meeting that would open doors to new understandings. Redirected at Exploring Norse Mythology, straight on past AA, left at Cantonese for Beginners, eventually we find Room 23: Transforming Oppression. Here in a room of more than 40 this white male is in an unfamiliar minority, now seeing the world through the eyes of the Latino, the African-American, the Asian-American, the Native American, the queer, the transgender, the trans-sexual. Every “oops” and “ouch” shows us where we haven’t really seen each other. Every time we cross the lines of difference to overcome the experiences that have shaped our lives and to hear our sameness and our beauty. Each new understanding helps us see the differences as mere constructs, the separation unnecessary and ultimately unreal. Each new connection opens up new conversations and new worlds; it is hope for our future.

These cells keep popping up and joining together despite the best efforts of the caterpillar host to destroy them. The cells join as clusters, the clusters as strings.

 The host will control

Break up the whole

Divide and conquer

Extend still longer

The tired old dream

The dominant theme

The rule of nation

Hate-creation

Man’s domination

Our separation

Unless we’re together

Come what may, together

 Author Rivera Sun writes about the USA, “Revolution is on the table, once again. It is being discussed with increasing seriousness as our representative republic fails to adequately meet the populace’s needs”.

Can we imagine a revolution here, amidst our imported comfort, manufactured consent and hijacked dreams?

As the imaginal cells gather the rest of the cells collapse into a kind of nutritive soup

At the bus stop heading home, another container ship beneath the bridge, heading home too. Stacked high again. What are we exporting these days? Root beer, coca cola, baseball hats and yoga mats, cheerios and candy canes, planes, missiles, bullets and bombs, tanks, Harleys and Hummers (or do the tanks come in from China?), modified seeds and cures for diseases we didn’t used to get. Or promises of peace, freedom, democracy, and the American dream. Perhaps the boxes are empty after all.

Much is dying in our world, or collapsing; fish stocks, pristine forest, water tables, glaciers . . . . . but also economic systems, financial models, trust in government, and jobs, good honest jobs. We are in the end times, the dying days of an era, all of us together caught in the death throes of an outmoded way of being. All of us together trying to do what we think is right, and protect the children; in the sweat shop and the boardroom, on the commuter bus or the ship’s bridge, doing what we think is right and protect the children. As our world collapses around us, something new is born too, deep in our hearts; care, responsibility, compassion and camaraderie. Will enough of these precious goods arrive in time, before Sun’s revolution?

So let’s cluster

We’ll muster

Will and creativity

Greatness has waited patiently

For the day when

We’ll rise again

Speak truth to power

Now’s the hour

To fan the ember

And remember

We are who we’ve been waiting for

 The imaginal cells become the genetic director of the caterpillar. The cells and strings reorganize in new unrehearsed ways.

Around the fire, faces lit by the dancing flames, a quiet settles, a calm with depth, a calm that resonates with responsibility freely chosen, that vibrates like a sworn vow. It’s a moment that dissolves the last vestiges of difference.  The fire is a comfort even though the air around is warm, a pipe is passed and the tobacco smoke carries our prayers into the star-bright New Mexico night. These sisters, these brothers have gathered here to pour their love into Mother Earth, to take on what’s theirs to do in the creation of a new way of being. Not one of us can see this future clearly, nor how we must be, but unstoppably, alchemically, forged in those flames and countless other fires around the world; a new consciousness is emerging.

One day soon that container traffic will end, we’ll export only compassion and import beauty. We’ll worry less about our differences and dance with all that connects us. The collapse will complete and the new-birth will deliver. We’ll laugh about those old, dark, caterpillar days and celebrate our triumph, the will and creativity that brought us through.

 

Happy ever after

Joy and laughter

Our spirits rising

Hearts re-sizing

With who we really are

On this bright star

All of us free

To live in harmony

With the whole big WE

Plus those birds and bees

[How we need those bees!!]

 Soon the chrysalis becomes transparent. And in a final leap we discover the unpredictable miracle that is a butterfly.

 

Listen with Mother

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.” When I was growing up in England, these were the opening lines of my favorite radio program, Listen with Mother.  Sat comfortably with my mum, it seemed as if every broadcast ended, as the best stories do, with “they all lived happily ever after.” That likely ending sat as the probable conclusion of each story, a comforting companion for us no matter where the tale took us. These were formative experiences for me and the concept of this happy ending was clearly deeply engrained, my 2006 book, Your Planet Needs You, identifies Ever After Thinking as one of the keys to our collective future.

Well, I hope you are sitting really comfortably now, because the story we are living out on planet Earth has taken a dark turn. The they-all-lived-happily-ever-after future is now on hold, it can no longer be seen as the inevitable conclusion emboldening us on the journey, no longer even probable, it has been relegated to a mere possibility, of diminishing likelihood. Maybe we’re in for the not-so-happy ending . . .

If we truly do listen with mother, Mother Earth in this instance, we will hear some worrying tales; cataclysmic weather patterns, polluted seas, choking skies, depleted forests, all are clear signs of environmental distress. If we listen to our fellow citizens the news is no better; huge disparities in wealth, violence pursued throughout the world by terrorists and by governments, a breakdown in the rule of law and corruption embedded in the countries that purport to champion democracy, worrying indicators of social distress. And thirdly, if we listen to our hearts, and I mean listen deeply, we know something is wrong, we can feel the disconnection between what we know is true and the world we experience every day, a spiritual distress.

None of this is “news”, we have been aware of these factors for years, but what is new is that the time for action has not only arrived, but nearly passed us by. If we are going to transit as 7 billion people into a happy ending future we need to start moving away from our probable fate (environmental collapse, social mayhem) toward the still possible future (environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling) and we need to begin that journey in earnest, immediately.

There is also one often factor that may occur as “news” to some of us. Our current social, political and economic systems stand in the way of the happy ending. Based on exploitation, which is the antithesis of sustainability and justice, they guarantee that, for as long as these systems stay in place, the happy ending is not possible. That’s right, while we continue to dig up, or chop down, the natural capital of our planet to convert it into consumer stuff, and while we continue to abuse our poorest and least educated brothers and sisters as cheap labor to reduce the price of that stuff, we will be unable to find the future we desire. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must; our happy ending requires a radical shift, the replacement of some or all of these systems of power with new systems that are based on inter-dependence, collaboration, non-violence and renewable practices.

A radical shift; this may seem improbable given the current attempts by both government and capital to restart the global progress project, that unlikely tale that we can infinitely grow our economies on a finite planet.  Around the globe, with only few exceptions, it seems as if those in power are more firmly wedded than ever to the flawed policies in which 99% suffer for the enrichment of the 1%.

But perhaps we can also see the signs of chaos and breakdown, ferment and rebellion, in active politics and intellectually. Visible in the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the worldwide climate action movement, and in the emerging fields of earth jurisprudence and alternative economics, here is fertile ground for the birth of new ideas and, in time, new systems.

What options will it take to produce radical change? How can we affect that change? Will our collective future cost us our personal well-being? These are all unanswered questions we will be exploring in future writings. But maybe, just maybe, the happy ending can still be reached when enough of the human family take the radical options to love in the face of adversity, to collaborate in a world that requires completion, to affirm and protect life in a culture that prefers to conquer it, to walk in peace amidst the violence. And maybe, just maybe, we will find the humility required to admit our mistakes and change course, and in that, find the wisdom we need to all live happily ever after.

 

Overcoming Disadvantage

I was recently invited to address students at the Sri S. Ramasamy Naidu Memorial College in Sattur, Tamil Nadu. It’s a college with an inspiring and very necessary purpose: to make higher education available to youth hailing from socially, economically and educationally backward families and to enhance their chances of employment. The mission explicitly mentions empowering women and states the goal of molding all as self-confident and socially responsible citizens. What a privilege to be able to address these young people - my question was how best to use this opportunity? After all this was a meeting of peoples from very different countries, cultures and ages (I’ve been past college age for a couple of decades now).  The school’s purpose holds the answer; these 3000 young Indians and I are united in overcoming disadvantage.

For most of the students I suspect that is a daily struggle, dealing with the real difficulties of attending class, combining studying and earning, making space to study and more. I honor these young women and men, their every achievement counts double, once for the achievement itself, the second for overcoming the initial handicap of disadvantage.

Overcoming disadvantage is also a major focus in the work we are doing as the Pachamama Alliance, focusing on awakening in people everywhere an awareness of the need for transformation and the opportunity to play a part in remaking our world. Because there is disadvantage to be found not only in India, but everywhere, and it is the inevitable result of the way human life is organized today.

As I told the students, the world is set up to give advantage to some people at the expense of many others. That means that access to resources, like clean water to drink, and access to opportunity, like a college education, is more readily available to some and denied to others.

I’m conscious that for me and people like me (white, educated, male, from the more-industrialized countries) we are always the advantaged ones. This is privilege, or advantage, certainly nice to have, and, until we meet the people who are paying the price for our own comfort and access to resources, we sometimes don’t even see it exists.

So our work, and the work so necessary in the world today, includes the work of overcoming disadvantage, both in ameliorating the conditions it creates, through great initiatives like the college in Sattur, but in remaking the very systems that currently guarantee disadvantage, be they political, educational or economic. Dealing with the problem at its root causes is the essential if we are to ensure that there is no need for colleges for the disadvantaged in future.

So to these students, and to anyone else concerned about the future of our human species, I say its time to join what Catholic scholar Thomas Berry described as “the great work of our times, moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence”.

That requires of us precisely what the college is aiming to produce, socially-responsible students to join the ranks of the millions of other people world-wide who are bringing their hearts, hands and voices to this work; demanding change, making change, becoming agents of change. This is an opportunity for us all to find service in this great work.

So thank you to the students of Sri S. Ramasamy Naidu Memorial College for providing incentive and inspiration to us all to work for the day when disadvantage is no more.