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.


Gathering the Tribe

The world we have known for the last several hundred years and in which each of us has grown up makes no sense anymore. We are not merely moving from one calendar year to another in these days, but from one age to another. In our more impatient moments it may seem as if we are in fact caught, becalmed betwixt the ages. But if becalmed we are, I detect a breeze, a shift in the air.

The old story, dominant for the last 500 years, is the story of the all-conquering human, man’s dominion over nature. It told that we could analyze, understand and control everything in our world, that we could master nature through our technology and brilliance and thus assure the future of the whole human family. There was always a new frontier beyond which we would find more of everything, new sources of whatever we needed, there were no limits to human growth on this huge planet. The triumph of human ingenuity defined that age. Today we can see two major flaws in our use of this story, a missing player and the great hijacking.

Firstly that old story omits any mention of an intelligence larger than us humans. No space for a god of any name, nor the concept of an intelligent universe; no chance for us to see a larger pattern to inform our choices, no way to sense the true inter-dependence of all life. In our hubris we have cast aside any phenomenon we can not yet decipher or tame, declared ourselves both creator and destroyer of life, and hang the consequences.

Our story hijacked; this second trap was never foreseen. Once we learned to harvest the natural cycles of the earth and organize people’s efforts on a feudal scale it became possible for some of us to gain great power over others. Capital co-opted the human project to serve the needs of those caught in the allure of wealth and power. The story of our eventual triumph through progress has pacified and seduced the masses for years, kept us enthralled and mute right up to the shuddering, sobering realization that this story can never work.

The good news; we are moving into a new age, one not yet defined or even named. The new age will allow us to remember and reconnect and rediscover the medicine we humans carry for all life, but there is, as yet, no clear and central narrative to take the place of that old discredited story. The new story is a work-in-progress, being written by you and me and thousands like us. This is our new tribe, awakened by the unstoppable impulse of the human heart to move toward love, and wholeness and beauty. What a joy, what succor, how vital then that this tribe is now gathering, ready to stand, for dignity and justice today and for a habitable home tomorrow. I’ve met you on every continent, wherever in the world my work has taken me, in every case I find the same; a feeling of familiarity, a ready intimacy, shared values and common connections woven together with synchronicities. I was inspired to catch this phenomenon in a poem;

A light is glimmering in the dark, flickering and growing firmer, constant now and stronger by our stories shared and retold they keep the shadows at bay. The light is emboldened as we share our hopes and dreams rolling back the gloom to expose the possibilities once obscured by ignorance and folly.

Pay attention to the eyes of every new acquaintance. Linger awhile, perchance the ancient pact reveals itself there.

Hold each embrace a moment longer lest that breath, that softening tell of the promise we made elsewhere.

And listen please for clues that we share an ever-present longing for wholeness and an end to suffering.

In these ways and more a scattered tribe is refinding itself and what it means to be human, agents both of death and destruction and the birth and recreation of our common future.

Sweet the miracles available in our midst, tender the space for our communing, for your hero’s journey and mine.

Our shared vision and the inner knowing arising makes available enough light for us to see and be seen by another such gathering, another glimmering in the emerging web of light of you and me, of hope.

Solstice Reflections

I'm planning to join a very special gathering tomorrow to celebrate the Winter Solstice (for the northern hemisphere). The shortest day of the year has been celebrated for thousands of years as the point of deepest darkness from which the days begin to lengthen again and we are blessed by more light. As the Earth rotates around the sun the next stage of this cycle culminates in the longest day, the Summer Solstice, after which the retreat of light begins again.And so the cycle continues. Its an annual event often unmarked in our busy modern lives but this year is very different! Many believe that this is the date that marks the end of the Mayan calendar and so the end of the world - you've probably seen some of the hype generated by this possibility.

An apocalyptic ending seems unlikely to me but I do invest a real significance in this date. For not only the Mayans, but many other indigenous peoples of the Americas, north and south, have foreseen an ending in this period. Fortunately, as the cycle of the seasons and the solstices tells us, each ending is followed by a new beginning, so my excitement about the solstice, the 2012 moment and the end of the world is really about the new era which is being brought in in these days.

A new era is due, and very much needed, as we can see from our current predicament. At this point of deep darkness the human family is growing fast and deeply divided. We are divided by national border, religious intolerance, an obscene disparity in wealth and opportunity, and  increasingly, by the fight for scarce natural resources. We have poisoned, exploited and denuded our planet home to such and extent that her ability to provide us with food and shelter and to absorb our waste is reduced even as the needs of now 7 billion people test her generosity and giving capacity. And amidst this we have replaced the fundamental truths that have supported us for thousands of years with new beliefs dressed up in the beguiling appearance of modern consumerism; the end result is a narrow focus of self-interest, reduced responsibility for the wellbeing of the whole and an accompanying inner sense of resignation and apathy. It seems we are all now caught in this trap, locked inside a crazy and destructive dream but unable to extract ourselves from it to create anew. That's why I say, "Bring on a new era".

So here we are, driving a huge distance across California, Arizona into New Mexico to join a ceremony to mark the solstice because at this juncture in history, this day marks not merely a point in the annual cycle, but maybe, just maybe, a significant moment of cosmological shift in which the light can begin to increase again in the experiment in life that is underway on Planet Earth. The ceremony will be particularly potent, lead by a man deeply rooted in the ways of indigenous people in both north and south America, the wisdom he carries tells us we can reciprocate the energy provided by pachamama, mother Earth/father Sky. In this wisdom our role includes giving thanks, prayers, offerings back to the mother, because we humans have a role to play in regenerating life on a planetry and cosmic scale; we  have a role to play bringing in a shift.

In this wisdom those of us who can hear the call of a new era, or the cry of pain from the old era, are the very people who have a responsibility to act. Others are asleep inside that alluring dream of modernity, and can be awakened in time, just as the seeds underground can be activated by the light and warmth of spring, but right now, if you can hear the call its time to play a role, or to extend the role you are already playing.

Its time to summon our courage, to muster our will-power and break out of the patterns of the old era, patterns that keep us separate from each other and separate from our mother, the Earth. The entire intelligence of the cosmos is at work right here and now, asking us to play a part in bringing more light to the planet, for the benefit of all life. It's time to consider re-dedicating ourselves to the practices we have learned that allow us to fulfill our destiny as co-creators of a loving and nurturing universe, to find new ways or strengthen existing ways in which we bring love, peace and new possibilities into the lives of the other people whose lives we touch. It's time to connect more deeply and more often with Mother Earth, to appreciate and thank her for her life-giving role. It's time to bring on a new era.