SHEDDING A SKIN
THAT NO LONGER FITS
commonplace thing, it would be surprising if we did notice. Menus in restaurants.
Ads in newspapers. Price tags in grocery stores - even at Goodwill. Yet
it is still amazing that we do not rebel, or at least harbor an inner anger,
at the oddness those prices truly convey.
I was in a small greengrocer's in Kyoto a couple of years ago when it suddenly struck me how unusual it was that all the prices in that store were in simple round numbers: '500¥ for 200 grams', instead of the '11-3/4 oz. cans for only $3.99' pricing which I'd become accustomed to in grocery stores at home. Simple prices - a gift to make shoppers' decisions easy, in contrast to a trick to cause unwise choices.
It dawned on me then how utterly ubiquitous the value of deceit has become in our society, how frightening our unnoticing acceptance of it is, and how EVERY detail of our lives will need to change to have a society in which we honor each other and work for the good of all.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
It's time to shed this skin that no longer fits. It's time to shed the deceit, the greed, the violence, the self-centeredness, the separateness that has made us and our world an unhappy place. It's time to let it fall away. It's time to let the caring, sharing, giving, loving, honoring which really supports and brings happiness, connectedness, and meaning to our lives be restored their rightful place in the full light of day.
Everything we do embodies and reflects our basic values like a mirror. Yet like the deceit inherent in our culture's typical pricing practices, those deepest beliefs and values of our culture are so pervasive and so deeply ingrained that they are normally invisible. They are so surrounded by deep fears and dependence that it is extremely hard to make them visible and evaluate them.
Yet it seems vital today to find a way to bring those basic beliefs into consciousness and examine them carefully. They have brought us unnecessarily to a situation where the odds are quickly mounting against our very survival. I pray we can do better than that.
* We believed we were exempt from the laws
Separating ourselves from the rest of creation and deluding ourselves that we are exempt from the laws of nature is harmful to both ourselves and the rest of life. The distinction of separateness we draw at the boundary of our skins is as harmful as the skin of cultural beliefs and values that focus our perceptions, lives, and society in ways bad for our well-being and survival.
Life feeds life. Creation goes on forever. Life evolves. Diversity is wealth, stability, and survival. A part of life cannot become the whole of it. The universe is not boundless. This we cannot, and should not even wish to, escape.
* We believed in the possibility and value of unlimited expansion in our numbers, desires, and consumption.
Unbounded desires, exponential growth in numbers and consumption, and seeking success only in those increases can not be met in a world of shrinking resources. Limitlessness can't be achieved or even sought in a finite material world. Such concepts violate the basic laws of nature, mathematics, and human character. Strong evidence exists that we may have already exceeded the limits of sustainability. Why do we need more of us?
If anything other than a root belief of our own culture, we would judge such a belief totally insane. Or is it a conscious attempt to deceive those we are taking from into believing the possibility that 'more' will trickle down to everyone?
Even our economics has no way of saying "enough".
* We believed in the right to take without
constraint from other life and people to achieve our personal ambitions
and our thoughtless increase in numbers.
Limitless taking from the rest of nature and other people for our own boundless wants and funneling the entire capabilities of the planet into a purposeless expansion of our numbers is not possible. It already is resulting in the annihilation of entire species, and destabilizing of complex ecosystems and global processes. Such taking creates ever more unstable and less resilient economic, social, and ecological systems. It is consuming our future, eating our seed corn, spending our capital. It is waging war with life itself, and destroying creation.
Our job is not to consume the world.
* * *
We relate to the world outside our skin as something separate from us - 'others', the 'environment'. Yet there is no way we can be separate from the health of what surrounds us; from the air, food, life, and energy that we draw back and forth across that boundary of "our skin".
The world was not created for us - we are part of it. As much as we are 'humans', we are also an incredibly complex group culture that mitochondria have developed. We are the technological innovation of rock to transport itself and give it a particular perception and voice. We are a creation of plants to transform the toxic oxygen wastes they release into the air back into the carbon dioxide they need for photosynthesis.
We are as well a beautiful element in the conscious
body of a planet, and a local "standing wave" vortex in the energy
song that generates nodes of complexity in local regions of the universe.
We can see ourselves in many ways as part of nature, life, and creation.
What we cannot do is to continue to
see ourselves as something APART from nature and outside of its rules.
Together, our root values of greed and growth underlie most of the damage and ills of our world. Coming out of a long period where the limits to our numbers and appetites were distant enough as to appear "unlimited", it is understandable in part how they have developed. Their continuance in a period where both the directionality and the magnitude of our material demands clearly violates the laws of nature is totally a different situation.
Some still dream that we will discover ways to evade the laws of nature. Yet more than fifty years of concerted effort has failed to provide any significant reason to believe, for example, that a "universal, free, energy source" is on the horizon. Rather, the purported solutions, such as nuclear power or oil shale, have turned out to be unmitigated fiscal, scientific, and ecological disasters.
With that record, the burden of proof must clearly be on anyone who asserts we have any right or reason to exceed our sustainable limits. Sanity lies in living within our proven means until or unless such a point is reached where it can be conclusively show that those boundaries have expanded.
In reality, almost noone believes in the dogma of unlimited growth, greed, and self-centeredness anymore. Even the voices of its wildest proponents now sound hollow and have had to shift from arguing limits to just pretending that limits don't exist. The evidence of ecological limits, social and psychological damage, institutional costs, and even financial costs has become too incontrovertible to resist. What remains is that we can see the means and value of the changes necessary clearly enough that we can acknowledge their need and commit to their achievement.
After a point, "more" becomes a heavy load.
* * *
Admit it. The ads, the glitter and glory - they'll never give us what they promise. A beautiful woman or a handsome man. The promise of a passionate evening. The feel of success and confidence. Power. Freedom.
Someone will always have more. All we get is the overpriced lingerie we never will wear, the cigarettes and throat cancer, the temperamental car - and the bills.
Sensuality and passion do have wonderful power - enough to distract us, send our other senses adrift, and draw our attention from almost anything else. But does a culture of 'sensual' advertising give to us or take away from us?
We aren't just being conned into buying spark
plugs while that beautiful woman is on our mind. We're having the whole
wonder and beauty of sex, love, passion, and beauty perverted, corrupted,
debased into a tool to deceive us yet again. They're stealing our soul as
well as our money, our work, and our dreams, and tainting all the real power
of life. It's too high a price. If they could give us the universe, they
would still be at least 36¢ short of a fair deal.
Let fantasies be fantasies. That is their beauty!
THE INNER REWARDS OF MADNESS
The external costs of greed and growth are crippling, and growing daily. But these costs are overshadowed by the towering and ignored inner costs to our hearts and spirits of living those values. Excess material wealth and numbers, inequity, and unconcern for the rest of life poison our souls. Taking from rather than caring for others destroys our hearts. Closing ourselves off from the pain we cause loses us the connectedness that gives life meaning. It sentences us to a life of psychological and emotional barrenness and meaningless existence.
Our most daunting and seemingly unconnected social problems stem directly from following the beacons of greed and growth. Unemployment, drug addiction, abuse; crime, obesity, mental and psychological problems - are all common symptoms of a cultural disease of the spirit. They are all temptations present in every society. We fall prey to them today because of the lack of self-esteem, mutual respect, and being of value to each other and our community inherent in our material, greed, and power-centered culture.
The numbers of non-functional people in our schools and cities is rapidly increasing - people destroyed by lack of love, not being valued, absence of opportunity; by resultant abuse, drug and alcohol addiction. They in turn create non-functional families, compounding the damage. We may face a social meltdown in our society sooner than exhaustion of resources or impact of environmental degradation. To our great danger, we leave the human, psychological, emotional, spiritual and communal dimensions of life out of our goals, our institutions, and our lives.
The escalating violence in our society arises similarly from our core values. Violence in all forms is inevitable in a culture whose basic value is violence and whose goal is inequity. Vietnam and the Gulf War have opened our eyes to the emotional and psychological costs of the overt violence underpinning our society. Now we must examine the covert violence underpinning everyday life.
Our use of pesticides, insecticides and antibiotics to "destroy" competing forms of life is violent agriculture and medicine. Our destruction of ecosystems and habitat to capture more and more of the earth's food for ourselves creates a violence of ecological instability. The taking of power and wealth from the many for the benefit of the few creates the violence of desperation. Nothing short of discovering the essential benefit of different values will reverse this self-inflicted inner destruction of our society.
Slavery enslaves the slave holders as well as the slaves, making them dependent upon someone else's work and capabilities rather than developing their own and the self-confidence that results. Wealth does not inevitably, or even frequently, lead to health, happiness, and meaning in our lives. A society that lives as consumers rather than creators, and works at jobs where skill and its application is eliminated wherever possible, develops no sense of self-worth or joy in either work or leisure.
A world where everyone wears masks, hides their feelings, and closes off connection with what lies outside their skin leads quickly to collective insanity. We grow up thinking we're weird because we're not happy - when all we're seeing are the masks that hide the feelings of inadequacy, unhappiness, anger and confusion of others. We close ourselves off from the flow of energy that generates, pervades and nurtures all life, with resulting illness and atrophy of our own lives.
Inequity of power and wealth lead to anger, rage, and violence - particularly when the society itself is based on principles of violence. Our technological society is inherently fragile and vulnerable to the inevitable violence and terrorism resulting from its inequity. The New York Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings are only a foretaste of things to come if the basic issues of inequality, opportunity, and meaningful lives are not addressed.
* * *
I woke up one morning this spring with tears streaming down my face. I had realized, in the night, why I can't sing.
For the last 41 years, I have been unable to sing. ....Yes, I've "sung along" with others when asked, but it has always been a charade. I never know whether to sing high, or low, or in the middle. Nothing feels right, everything feels forced, no note ever feels right or solid, or comes truly out of me. I slip-slide from one note to another to another in the middle of a song with no reason and no purpose. It always feels like I'm wearing someone else's clothes, and they don't fit. There is no power in the song or in me, the singer.
What swam up out of the locked cells of my memory during the night was what had happened as a teenager when I had stopped singing. I had stopped simply because my emotions had become too strong. I valued things deeply that no one else seemed to value, and I couldn't hide it. I couldn't sing, because singing comes from and exposes the heart and I had needed to hide my heart away. Neither it nor I fit the spiritually and emotionally barren world of the 1950's in which I was growing up. Real emotions and songs from the heart were not part of that world, and as unacceptable in singing as in real life. The songs being sung were not from the soul, and the heart had no room in them. So I became silent.
But song is the voice of the soul, and my soul wants its voice. It wants to speak, and I want the wholeness from which its silence keeps me. Song is a mingling of our hearts, a sharing, giving - an affirmation. It is giving release and place to our emotions. It is as essential to community life as to our personal ones. We too often leave meetings, discussions, and arguments with the power of our differences paramount in our emotions and our hearts. Ending with song reestablishes our commonness and our wholeness which can encompass and give meaning and perspective to difference.
Without song as an integral part of our lives, there is no shared celebration of harmony, no balance to the small separating things of life that in sum can tear us and our society asunder. Song is part of work - of celebrating, joy and pleasure. It is part of healing - the raising of our spirits, the expression and purging of grief, the vibrations healing our inner spirits. We are one when we sing.
Those things on the periphery of life in a society of greed become the center of life in a society of giving.
FOR OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN
In another way, the problem of our basic values is even more urgent. In less than a century, we have built a culture almost entirely dependent upon massive consumption of petroleum. In doing so, we have already consumed more than 80% of all the petroleum in the lower 48 states, 76% of all US reserves, and now more than 60% of all the petroleum in the entire world. US reserves will be totally exhausted within 25 years and world-wide resources within 40 years with our present patterns. Adding in current projected growth in population and consumption, worldwide exhaustion of oil will take only 20-24 years.
We have let our population and consumption explode without limit, and are rapidly exceeding the point where they can be sustained with or without the help of our petroleum dependency.
Global interdependency, population density, and the lack of renewable-energy based infrastructure would make a massive cultural crash virtually inevitable as our petroleum resources dwindle. The planet will surely survive our actions. From a cosmic viewpoint the survival and success of humanity may not be important. But we have a choice to more than survive. If we change our act, we can prosper (not grow like cancer) along with the rest of creation (not at its cost) and be an integral part of the wonderful evolutionary dance of creation.
How can we learn to listen to what we don't want to hear - that we're committing suicide? How can we gain the confidence to change our ways, head off into new waters now - before these results are inevitable - and undertake the major transformation necessary for us to succeed?
This is not an issue for the next generation. It is an issue for today. The real crunch on petroleum use will not be forty years from now, but will probably begin in the next five years as costs of extracting petroleum increase, demand exceeds supply rates, and we realize that the value of remaining petroleum is far, far greater as lubricants and industrial feed stocks than as fuels and fertilizers.
Investments are being made now - with no "lifeboats" or contingency plans - in the transportation, land use, building, agricultural, and industrial infrastructure to be used over the next fifty years. Building the wrong structure will be more than a financial disaster. We're also allowing today the population overload to develop which will compound our problems in years to come.
* * *
What are our real resources? We ignore today what is given freely of life, and focus only on that which must be taken with great effort and greater loss. The warmth of the sun and the living bounty of the earth has powered for millennia the giving of food, shelter and warmth for comfortable and meaningful lives. It, like all else, is not without limit. But it is given, and continues to be given.
We look also only our outer and not our inner resources - even to having a sense of what they are. Will, courage, giving, endurance, anger, fear, love, curiosity, passion, intuition, resolution, resistance, wisdom, cunning, compulsion, restraint, joy, wit, hopefulness, rashness, caution, wonder, pride, humility, gratitude, forgiveness. What wonders they do and can create!
TAPPING NEW DREAMS
It is time to acknowledge that the goals we have pursued in a period of apparent limitless resources are counterproductive as we reach and pass the limits of those resources. This involves a search for right measure and right place for our numbers, material needs, and sources of reward and happiness. Not surprisingly, these rewards and benefits lie in far different dimensions than those valued and focused on by a world mind-locked into a frenzied pursuit of quantity.
Fortunately, there is an immense reservoir of resources within the inefficiency of our present institutions which could enable a comfortable transition to a sustainable society, if accomplished today. If used instead solely to support more consumption and more people, it will only postpone our problems a few years, leave us with far more people to deal with, and no resources to make a transition.
As vital for our well-being as it is to change our basic values and the fundamental thrust of our society within the next five years, we need to recognize that to do so would be a virtually unprecedented act of foresight. Our species has almost universally waited, until forced, to make any major shifts in its direction. Yet to even see that possibility means we have to capability to achieve it. And what we can see from here suggests that the increase in our well-being inherent in the unexpected new dimensions of that change will make it an easy and exciting one once we get the courage to look into the chaos of uncertainty and really examine what we're doing and its alternatives.
* * *
A few years ago, I learned viscerally how different the rewards are that grow from different values. Traditional western music has a 'right' sequence of notes and a right way of playing. A note or timing not prescribed in the music sounds, and is, in its context, 'wrong'. Unless we do everything right, we 'fail' to perform the piece correctly.
Drumming is different. Once inside it, entrained by the beat, we can do nothing inappropriate. It leads us without conscious effort to be part of the shared rhythm, and blesses us with the inability to do wrong. There is no such thing as a wrong note. With drumming, and with improvisational music in general, any variations we make within it only enrich the music and make it respond to the immediacy of time and place within which it is occurring. The music breaks only when we fail to incorporate whatever happens into it.
One 'wrong note' is an error. It stands out that we didn't mean it. But if we repeat it again - however odd it may have been - embrace it and draw it in, acknowledge it and incorporate it, it becomes part of the path of the music. It merely alters the direction and flavor the music takes, sets the participants a new challenge, and sets the music off in a new direction. A good way to approach life, too, perhaps!
Drumming, like all participatory music, makes clear that paying to hear the best performer in the world cannot match the joy of being part of the making of the music, or the dance, or the song. Taking part gives pleasure - to us and to others at the same time. It gives us full-body experience, learning, and catharsis. It leaves us self-esteem rather than a feeling of inferiority and of never being able to equal the professional. It gives us the value of enjoyment, beauty, and pleasure inherent in the rhythms of life, without money, skill, or fancy equipment. What a wonderful thing, and model for life - a form of music designed for success, not failure!
JOURNEY TO A SACRED LAND
All this has led me to the either obvious or surprising conclusion that we can't succeed until we abandon the secular basis of our world and allow the sacred nature of relationships in life to reassert themselves.
Our society has been based on a legalistic structure - of limited commitments easy to break. We've seen that those embracing greed have the incentives and rewards to win in that kind of system. As a result, regulations are unavoidable to even partly control the damage. They will multiply endlessly as long as we exercise our endless ingenuity in finding new ways to take from others, to harm and destroy the rest of creation. The only true alternative is to find a basis for our lives and actions which makes harmful action inconceivable and rare, rather than the rule. Simple regulations then are needed only to embody and convey consensus on right action.
But why a sacred basis of society?
Nothing less than our holding sacred the health of our surroundings and the well-being of others will ensure that we act strongly enough or soon enough to ensure that health and well-being.
It doesn't take long being with someone we love, to realize that there is no way we can be happy if the person we love is dissatisfied or unhappy. Their happiness is our delight, and their lack of happiness quickly shadows our own. It's not only amazing to find that there are as many ways to make two happy as one, but even more amazing that we rarely even consider looking for ways to make more than just ourselves happy.
Anything or anyone we spend time with and come to understand, we come to love - warts, wrinkles and all. When we love something, we cannot be happy ourselves unless the health and well-being of what we love is ensured. Loving thus results in making the well-being of what is loved inviolate. That is the essence of holding something sacred, and the glue of life - not laws and government regulations. All follows from that.
Honor ourselves. Honor others. Honor all life.
* * *
The mountain we live on is a sacred one. Its name, Neahkahnie, means 'place of the gods", and it has been honored and held sacred from the depths of time. Even today, it holds a place of deep reverence in the lives of us who have given birth on it, who have lived upon it, who have scattered the ashes of our loved ones from its peak and its cliffs, and whose lives are daily intertwined with it. When a whale breeches clear out of the water as we scatter the ashes of a friend off a cliff into the sea, or a hawk blesses us with the brush of its wing feathers on our head as we set the last rafter of our building; when we watch the shadow of the sun racing towards us across the water bringing the totality of a solar eclipse; when we have lived through the years with the mountain in wind and rain, storm and sun - our lives cannot be parted.
The life of our mountain, and the lives of those whose world it shares, are being closed in upon. Housing inches higher and higher up its sides - not housing for need, but for the greed of vacation homes for the wealthy in a world where a billion people are starving yet where we refuse to limit our numbers. A highway gnaws deeper and deeper into the mountain's very flanks where it rises out of the sea, and its traffic brings the ceaseless grasping energy of urban culture to destroy the mountain's serenity. The top of the mountain has been entrusted to the government to preserve as a state park for its intrinsic value and for the needs of future generations. That has not proved enough.
The government plans now to allow the protected mountain top to be used for a commercial cellular telephone communications installation, even though better sites were available. As we opposed that action, the wrongness of it seemed somehow out of proportion to the size of the installation itself, and we could understand why even many of our neighbors were puzzled about our opposition. With the depth of our unconscious cultural conditioning, it was hard to find either the words or the strength to raise the issues of its deeper wrongness. Yet it was there.
The issue, as it became clear, was far deeper than that of using a state park for commercial profit. It had to do with our failing to hold anything sacred. If there is any place in our area which is and should be held sacred, it is this mountain. If we fail to hold even it inviolate, it means we hold nothing sacred; that we love nothing; that we know not how to love. If that prevails, I fear for our souls, and hold no hope for our society. It is totally in character for us to take, to destroy, the mountain and turn it into a 'for-profit' use. There must be something offensive and threatening in a mountain standing free with its head in the stars, garlanded by the upturned branches of live trees among the stump-topped, logged-over mountains and fishless streams that surround it and stand witness to our overreaching greed and destructiveness.
Because I fear for our souls, I will fight for the mountain and with it for the sacredness within the lives of each of us, and for the survival and health of our society. Taking without need and without limit breeds a callousness in our hearts and closes us off from others and from the life around us. Walling off our hearts cuts us off from the nurture as well as from the pain from outside. Walled off, we wither and die. Empty, we strike out for something, anything, that will allay that emptiness. Yet nothing we grab and take from others can reach that walled-off emptiness, and its failure leaves us only more and more desperate. The only thing that can alleviate its pain is love, and opening ourselves to the vulnerability and pain of allowing love even in the face of our unloving behavior.
life in a sacred society can reveal some vital differences from a secular
one. But it has always been clear that living in a sacred way or
in a sacred society is a totally different thing, with profoundly different
experience and value that can't be described in the experience framework
of a secular society. How do we individually make the jump from one to the
other, and how do we create the "other" to jump to? What is that
world like, and how is it different from our present one? The changes are
of texture and meaning, of the changes of nurture and experience and the
personal qualities of our lives.
* * *
Last winter I was standing on the edge of that unseen chasm to an invisible world that might or might not exist or be reachable. I was clear that I no longer was in any real way part of our secular world - I existed as some sort of cyst within its body, but no longer had much in common with its goals, dreams, rewards, or day-to day life. And I didn't know what to do. I got more desperate and more depressed at my inability to find my way out of my impasse.
Then I went to a retreat held by the alternative elementary school whad helped found 12 years ago. Our family had been quite active in it - my wife a founder, director, and teacher; our kids spending their elementary years there; myself designing and helping build the building and active in the endless fund-raising and operational work. My wife was retiring, or taking a sabbatical, and the focus of the retreat was to acknowledge and affirm the past and see what similar or different touchstone existed for the new families to take leadership in its continuance.
We were asked individually to look back, see what had been left unsaid and unresolved about the past - affirm it, express any regrets or resentments we held about it, acknowledge and celebrate it all, and free ourselves for the new individual and collective futures that were now opening.
As we went around the room, people kept opening more and more wonderful feelings from the depths of their hearts...and some dirty laundry, of course. What was most amazing was that the room became a wonderful circle of love that made it safe and possible to open our hearts and acknowledge whatever was in there. And seeing one person after another acknowledge and deal with regrets and resentments they held let us all see that holding those things didn't change the past - they only burrowed into us and hurt us and poisoned our own future! A lot of weights were shed, along with a lot of tears, and the depth of trust and support everyone gave everyone else was truly amazing.
Experiencing this, something let loose inside me - partly there, partly inseries of other experiences over the next couple of months, and I suddenly became aware that I was living in that "other" world. I hadn't jumped a chasm, I didn't make any leap of faith or go through some grand transformation. But the world I had been standing in somehow crumbled away beneath me. With the support of those around me, I let it go, and found I was standing on something far more solid and nurturing which lay beneath it all along. There was no jump to make - only letting go of the crumbling walls of beliefs we build up around us.
Somehow, the kernel of that new world has stayed with me. The other world still exists, but my belief in it is gone and no longer gives it power. I still work, go to the grocery, meet people, deal with the everyday world. But HOW I deal with it and relate to people comes from a different and deeper place. Almost every encounter or experience now has new dimensions to it, unexpected meaning or value, and is slowly solidifying the foundation for a new life and new world to inhabit. I'm certainly still me, but more and differently so. And the world I now inhabit - though with warts and wrinkles like any world - is truly a sacred one. Our love and caring for each other is the secret bridge that lets us cross that vulnerable space into a new kind of openness and relation to our world.
SIX PILLARS OF SUCCESS
A year or so ago I tried to summarize the principles
needed for a sustainable society. There were only a few:
Together, they ensure the well-being of all life,
and the marshaling of our actions and dreams effectively to achieve the
best for all. They encompass the restoration of health to our lives:
* To ensure that all people have equitable access to and share of wealth, health, income, security, education, opportunity, respect, political power, and fulfilling work.
* To ensure that all life has the scope to ensure well-being and development of innate capabilities.
* To remove the imbalances of power, self-esteem, opportunity, resource access, and emotional health which form the base of fear and insecurity.
* To realize that biosystem health, a lasting supply of world resources, and the capabilities of human and global systems - not material consumption rates - constitute our real wealth. To act to ensure and improve the health and capabilities of these resources.
* To stabilize and restore population to long term supportable levels commensurate with the well-being of all life.
* To draw materials and energy only from renewable sources and at sustainable rates.
* To work within those energy and material use levels to both improve our non-material quality of life and more effectively provide for our material needs.
*To enact full ecological analysis to ensure public knowledge of the true costs of our actions.
* To live within our sustainable incomes, not take from future generations and other life, and to ensure them undiminished opportunity for fulfillment.
*To ensure that all industrial producers assume eternal responsibility for the products and byproducts they create.
* To protect and preserve farm, forest, aquatic, and other natural resources.
* To protect natural, cultural and spiritual resources until all jurisdictions restore and enhance their own to levels which meet the needs of their populations.
* To acknowledge the primacy of non-material rewards in personal and community health and develop giving-based principles of interaction which honor the contribution of all life to what we hold of value.
* To replace our violent forms of obtaining food and resources with ones which are based on consensus and fulfilling the needs of all parties.
* To ensure all have roles in the community which offer meaningful self-esteem, mutual respect, and being of value to the community of all life.
* To acknowledge that our greatest cultural problems are at root diseases of the spirit. To act to improve the spiritual, mental, psychological and communal dimensions of our real wealth and their expression in our communities.
* To seek the wisdom and connectedness to restore well-being to all of creation and purpose and meaning to our lives.
* * *
One day I was going through the familiar process of an architect with a client, working out the program for a project. I was taking notes as the client described what they wanted in the project. Suddenly I found I wasn't paying any attention at all to the specifics - all I was hearing was the insistent repetition of 'I want...', 'I want...', 'I want...', 'I want...'. Without thinking, and surprising us both, I blurted out, "Let's go though this again, and start with "I want to GIVE....", "I want to GIVE....", "I want to GIVE....". Let's set if we come up with something different."
We did. Once we got past the shock, we began to discover possibilities that totally changed the value of the project. We found we could locate meeting rooms to make them available for community use in the evenings. We found we could cool the surrounding area as well as the building site, and restore a bit of nature to the city, by planting street trees around the project. We found that changing the height of a retaining wall could give a comfortable place for people to sit. We found that replacing another wall with a few steps and a path made a wonderful pedestrian short-cut from the community on one side of the project to the other. We found that by altering a small garden area, we could make room for birds and other life to share the place. We found that through the slight extra cost of more durable materials we could give a free building to the next generation.
It "IS a gift to be giving." Giving is an integral part of loving, and loving is the root of holding things sacred. It is a unique form of ACTION. It enriches the giver and the receiver both, and creates multiple value out of each and every exchange. If 'What can I give in this situation?' is in our hearts every time we talk with or do something with someone, we not only leave a legacy of gifts in addition to our intended interaction, but we generate an enduring climate of trust, mutual caring, thankfulness and happiness which moves outward like the waves in the sea.
ACKNOWLEDGING FEARS AND HOPES
Objective "facts" have little bearing on our willingness to be open to examining alternatives to the values upon which we base our lives. More crucial are the deep fears and hopes in our hearts that need to be acknowledged and addressed before we can let loose of old dreams for new.
If our dreams continue to be boundless, some of us hope that "more" will make us happier. They hope it will give us better health care, better housing, and better jobs. At the same time, others of us fear that continued growth in our numbers and appetites will result in destruction of the resource base that sustains us. They fear overpopulation that can't be sustained, and the resultant uncertainties of abrupt, forced, and uncontrolled change. They fear violent action of increasing number of "have-nots" and other results of not dealing with political, social and economic equity.
If, on the other hand we acknowledge that exponential growth can't continue, and find right measure and right place for our dreams, some of us hope this will permit us to develop healthier work and relationships. They hope to gain the security of stable and sustainable support systems. And they hope to gain the security of equity and justness; to learn and live non-violent values, and to reconnect with the rest of nature and life.
Others of us fear that such a change might result
in loss of jobs and economic disruption. They fear not being able to fulfill
dreams of possessions, education or success; not having enough wealth or
power to ensure our survival and well-being, or not being wise or skilled
enough to succeed in a more equitable world. They are concerned about possible
retaliation from rest of the world for our past abuse of power and resources;
or possible revolt of those seeking equity. They fear that "new rules"
can't give a good life, and fear the basic uncertainties of change.
Getting our hopes and fears such as these concerning the base values of our society out into the open makes it possible to generate real dialog, empathy, and discussion. Many hopes or fears dissolve in the light of day. Others can be dealt with in the real nuts and bolts process of crafting such a change in a win-win way. Without their being in the open, we certainly will be grabbing onto those inner dreams and fears so tightly that we will be unable to even hear what others are saying.
* * *
Last March, I was speaking at an international environmental law conference. Wanting an update, I sat in on one of the sessions on 'population'. I felt I had walked into an alien world. Piles of literature were thrust into our hands as we entered the meeting room. Every seat was covered with competing tracts and fact sheets. Speakers were stridently objecting that opposing speakers were given a minute more time than them. Speakers intent on stuffing our ears with information talked so fast as to be unintelligible. People were speaking in some kind of code that made it extremely difficult to find their real concerns. The human energy in the room was so twisted that it was all I could do to keep from bolting for the door - but I was fascinated at what was going on.
The differences were obviously long-standing and basic among the speakers - old enough that handouts could be used to convey each one's message. I had their 'facts' in hand. What else did I most want from each speaker? What I really wanted was to know what lay beneath those 'facts' - what were the unexpressed fears and hopes and longings that must be festering inarticulate beneath such powerfully held differences. I wanted to know what THEIR truth was - what was most vital to them - in that very moment and place, and what they hoped we could give them.
As it finally unraveled, the issues were not of population or numbers or even measures to manage those numbers. In one group of speakers, it slowly revealed itself to be a strong and justified fear that immigration and population issues were being used to resurrect old patterns of racial harassment and intimidation. The other group of speakers' fears didn't reveal themselves until someone asked why we shouldn't open all national borders and allow free movement of PEOPLE as well as money and resources.
Then a whole cluster of fears spilled out, centered around the issue of equity. There was fear of not being able to compete and survive without the imbalance of resources and power we've had; fear of retribution against those who have had more than their equitable share of wealth, power and resources; and fear of losing the apparent security enjoyed by our inequitable concentration of wealth.
This is the true value of meetings. A meeting is not necessary for reading papers or for communicating information about what is known. Why, in the world of fax, xerox, and electronic publishing, did we even try to use meetings to convey information? What came across most dominantly from the interchanges was the worship of clock-time chopping everything into incoherence rather than asking how the time together could best resolve issues.
The coming together of people gives us a place to share and discuss what is new, uncertain and unknown - a place where our eyes and hearts can touch, where we can explore together. It makes a place where, given a safe and supportive atmosphere, we can share, learn from each other, and with empathy, forge the hard alloy of consensus out of differences.
When we come together, and when we speak from the heart, we speak the truth - our truth. It may not be a universal truth, but it is a real truth grown out of the unique life and experience of each of us. I can take your truth and add it to mine, and find a greater truth. You can take mine and add it to yours, and also find a greater truth. Together, we can make of them an even greater and shared truth. We can touch real issues, fight real demons, and make real progress. With that, we lose all patience with the invisible walls created by our conventional patterns and rituals of conferences and meetings which prevent real progress.
Listen - to our hearts.
SHEDDING A SKIN THAT NO LONGER FITS
To let go of beliefs and a world that no longer serve us, we need to know another reality exists, that it is good, and that it is achievable. We need to deal with our own hopes and fears and those of others. We need courage, and to know that time and time again in the past we have been able to overcome daunting obstacles and achieve unprecedented goals. We need to keep clear in our hearts and minds:
* There ARE deep and inherent problems with the core beliefs of our society.
We need to have the strength to acknowledge this - even if we don't have total solutions at hand. We won't find answers without admitting to the problems, and are far more likely to find solutions once we can shift focus to resolving them. Many more pieces of the solution than we might expect are already at hand - once we begin to look.
* A fundamental difference exists between a death- and a life-centered society.
We cannot have both. What does it do to our hearts to be willing to take everything from everyone and everyplace else for ourselves? To attempt to implement specific measures such as recycling without dealing with basic cultural values only results in their being twisted into enabling bad underlying patterns to continue a bit longer.
* The source of our true wealth is not depletion of our resources, increase in our numbers, or taking from others.
A truly wealthy individual is one who has the love and respect of others and the ability to give; equitable opportunity for the physical, emotional and spiritual health which the natural world can sustain; and opportunity to develop and employ their abilities and to be of real value to the community.
A truly wealthy community is one with a meaningful sense of its place in the universe; a healthy and growing diversity of capabilities, individuals and life forms; and a satisfying spiritual, emotional and material heritage, life, and prospect.
A truly wealthy world is one with a healthy and growing diversity of life forms, communities and capabilities. With this awareness, we can find far more direct and effective ways of maintaining and nurturing our wealth.
* We have immense and unperceived resources right now which can enable a shift to a sustainable world - and do it for everyone.
Like all wealthy systems, ours have become slack and inefficient over time. More effective institutional patterns based on new values can release an order of magnitude of resources, allowing issues of equity, security, sustainability and environmental impact to be simultaneously resolved.
* The framework of our society draws its power and credibility from our acceptance of the values it is built upon.
Withdrawing our energy from supporting the present framework and thrust of our society removes its only source of credibility and power Affirming new principles and demonstrating their viability establishes their ascendancy. Community, justice, wiser material patterns cannot be established without replacing the values that have usurped them.
* The fundamental tenets of a sustainable and nurturing society are simple and achievable.
Equity, security, sustainability, responsibility, giving, and sacredness. These provide direct personal gain and transformation of our lives and society. They represent a tectonic shift in our entire structure of values and our whole way of being. And, they give us back a future!
* Moving our own lives into a new world brings that world into being for everyone.
Altering the basic beliefs we live by generates health and vitality, demonstrates the viability and value of those beliefs, and makes visibly apparent what other specific changes need to be made both in our own lives and in our social institutions.
* The actions necessary to move from a world of greed and violence to one of generosity and giving are simple and can be initiated by any of us.
Speak from the heart. Let down our masks. Be willing to be vulnerable, and open our hearts to others. Honor and hold sacred all life. Deal with the roots of our fears. Learn to give. Seek wisdom and joy, not power.
These changes involve humility, trust, and vulnerability;
facing and dealing with pain and its causes; dealing directly with hard
questions of equity and fairness; and a 180 degree shift in the goals and
operation of every aspect of our society. This sounds daunting, until we
begin to understand and personally experience the deep personal and social
rewards of those changes and the vast improvement in effectiveness inherent
* * *
I was sitting one night, grieving on the direction our world seems to be moving, and trying to figure out what, if anything, I could do to change it. I began to dwell on the difference between word and action, and wondered what I would be willing to do if it would help move the world to a better place. Would I, I wondered, be willing to face abuse? Would I really be willing, if necessary, to go to jail? Would I, even, be willing to die?
At another time, perhaps, my answer would be different, but I've lived a good many years of a pretty good life. My children will soon be off on their own. A few more years of my life really isn't absolutely essential for anything I can see.
And suddenly it burst out of me, "Yes! Without question! If giving something now which I would be giving up sometime anyhow could make possible restoring a center of sacredness to our culture and reconnection with the rest of life? If that could mean an enduring, evolving and enriching web of life on this planet, then my life would be a paltry gift to give to attain such a wonderful end!"
And with that, my boundaries seemed to burst open. I felt constraints give way within me and new vistas of possibility open before me. The old rules which governed my actions no longer held power or limited me. I began to feel like a 'deux ex machina' - something new interjected into a game following a totally new and unknown set of rules. I felt blocked energies begin to flow, and new energies beginning to gather. I understood now the stories of old where warriors would give themselves over to the gods before a battle, and the power that would be released to flow through them.
I've no intention of looking for a bridge to jump off, and there remain the million hair-splitting decisions on the lesser opportunities of real life as to what I can give and what can be gained. But I live in a new freedom, and a new joy in the wonder of everyday life.
It was curious how we felt when our house burned down the night we finished building it. The most difficult thing was to convince ourselves of the reality of it - that such a real, concrete thing which we had sweated on in the rain fox six months had vanished overnight - was GONE. We grieved the loss of special things. For months we would look for something only to remember - "Oh, yeah, gone in the fire."
Perhaps most surprising was the sense of actual relief and freedom we felt at not having 'things'. Our real needs are few and simple, it turns out. It is amazing how the gift of a pair of shoes or socks seemed to almost take care of it all, and how cherished are the special things given from someone's heart. And there is a real burden to 'possessions' which we clearly felt on having that load inadvertently removed.
What we missed most was not the 'things'. It was missing the opportunity to relish the reward of our six months of hard work. It was a sense of not being able to move on with our lives, but instead having to back up and do it all again. And there was a sense of loss and of negligence in having allowed the wood, metal, glass, and other materials to have gone to waste, the trees to have been cut down. Scariest was the ripping asunder of our sense of the predictability of the universe. All sorts of unbelievable things could happen. We dreamed wild things.
Our neighbor empathized with our loss. Her husband had died unexpectedly a month earlier. In the balance, our loss WAS trivial. It was only 'things'.
And then there was the incredible mystery of the diary. To this day we carry an undeniable knowledge that there are hidden aspects to our universe which we deny in everyday life, because of it. A friend from all the way across the country told us about the diary a month after the fire. In it she had written, several months before the fire, her dream that our house would burn down; and wrote down the day on which it would, and did, happen.
We find unexpected bonuses when we try on the unthinkable - a world which seeks betterment rather than biggerment, a world where growth in quality replaces growth in numbers and material goods.
An amazing amount of our work and resources now goes to the duplication of our entire infrastructure of homes, roads, water and sewer systems, cities, agriculture, etc. every generation as our population doubles. Instead of just maintaining what we have which meets the needs of our present population, we have had to build from scratch entirely new facilities to house and feed twice as many people. Without that population growth, we avoid the need for all that work and resource use!
"Non-growth" means in itself dramatically lessened impact on resources, farm land, and each other. It means less work and more leisure for everyone. It means resources can be available to deal with real needs.
It means time for sports, music, community, art, games and leisure - both inside and out of work. Without the belief that we have to be continuous and excessive consumers to keep our economy afloat, it means we can find personal freedom from debt, from stress of work and consumption, and the burden of unneeded "things".
Without "growth" as an excuse ("there will be more for everyone"), to keep from dealing with issues of equity, we will face and be able to deal with those issues which underlie so many of our social problems. With that, the fears which have increasingly filled our lives can be resolved.
Living values that we can be proud of allows us to speak from the heart. It lets us live life with an open heart; reconnect and share energy with others; and permits the life and wisdom of others to add measure to our own. Our everyday actions begin to reveal new senses of the universe we inhabit.
* * *
Nothing could have prepared me for speaking to an audience of 1000 people in Japan. I was comfortable with talking from my old college professoring days, and knew that an audience can draw more out of you than you knew was there. I had spent time in Japan before, and knew the intensity of Zen monks. These, however, were ordinary people, not Zen monks.
During a talk in the States, people come and go, drink coffee, fidget, blow their noses, look around the room. I'm as bad as anyone. But here there was absolute silence and stillness the whole time. The total attention of every eye in the room was sustained even through the hiatus of translation - not just for me, but for every speaker. It was the same respect they showed everything. And it was like sticking my finger into a 220 volt outlet.
Who says that an energy dimension to our lives and relationships doesn't exist? Even with interruption every sentence or two for translation, that energy made me feel more comfortable and feel more responsibility to do my best than I'd ever felt giving a talk. It made me risk raising questions I never before had the courage to consider, and then even gave me answers. With that energy, I spoke more from the heart, and communicated far more than I ever had to an American audience speaking the same language. We were all immensely richer for it.
Thousands of people have personally experienced the 'chi' of yoga, tai chi, or acupuncture. We talk of people 'sapping our energy' or speak of someone 'having good energy'. We are consistently happy or uncomfortable with the energy of certain places. Yet a shift to truly acknowledging that energy dimension of life means realizing we are intrinsically and inseparably one with the rest of creation. And we can no longer support our old values and actions once we do that.
We are bathed in and permeated by energy from the sun - far, far greater amounts and broader spectra of energy than the visible light that fuels photosynthesis and supports the metabolism of life. The earth's magnetic fields and rotating iron core induce much of that energy into the earth itself and its atmosphere.
You might expect the multitude of life forms that have emerged on this planet to have seized upon this, like any energy source, to fuel and inform their life. And so they have.
Matter is congealed energy, and our bodies and the physical world around us the congealed patterns of matter that have formed around a matrix of energy. In a sense, our energy bodies are more primary than our physical ones, and the processes and relationships there more basic than in our physical bodies. And they are profoundly interconnected.
Our sciences in the 20th century have been no less prone to denying dimensions of existence they didn't have the tools to apprehend than any previous period - only more arrogant about their blindness. This, in spite of almost a hundred different cultures having described phenomena such as energy healing or auric fields, many with detailed healing practices for both people and place! Some sciences continue this denial even now, in spite of the accepted success of acupuncture, kinesiology, and other healing practices based on the energy dimensions of our lives.
Experience of this aspect of existence profoundly changes our view of our lives and our world. Nurturing energy flows that course through our bodies except when we block them off; existence as nodes in a continuous interconnecting field of energy rather than discrete, separate objects; spiritual healing; being so coherently interlinked with others that our thoughts and memories are one; walking in the fields of incipient form where things and events take shape - strange and unexpected new worlds open before us.
To touch on the edges of these worlds totally changes our perceptions, our values, and the lives and actions which can sustain health and achieve our potentials. It restores and opens vast new dimensions to our lives and our concepts of the possible. Nowhere in all this do the petty and blind flailings of our past such as greed, material possessions, self-centeredness, and dominion over nature hold sway or even place.
WHEN OUR HEARTS DO TOUCH
It can and will be done. A time does come when we let loose of old ways and walk forth in a transformed world. It is easier when our friends are there. It is easier when at least the outline of the way is visible. It is easier to no longer have discord between our experience and the myths that underlie our culture and the actions of others. It is a heavy burden removed, and a new rightness buoying, connecting and directing our lives.
* * *
Our friends are there. Our community awaits us. A familiar feeling wells up reading a passage in a book about South African Archbishop Desmund TuTu:
"We Africans speak about a concept difficult to render in English. We speak of UBUNTU or BOTHO. You know when it is there, and it is obvious when it is absent. It has to do with what it means to be truly human. It refers to gentleness, to compassion, to hospitality, to openness to others, to vulnerability, to be available for others and to know that you are bound up with them in the bundle of life, for a person is only a person through other persons."
I see these same characteristics as distinguishing what it is like to live as part of a sacred world in absolute contrast to the characteristics of life in a world of greed and self-centeredness. They are also the identical things I feel in others and myself when we are relating in ways which seem to empower all concerned.
When we look in awe at the achievements in South
Africa in recent years, we know that miracles do exist, that we can achieve
the impossible and create for ourselves a future worth living for!
We belong to the world. We belong to life. It is a glorious thing to behold and be part of the ongoing creation of life. We are finding that the creation of which we are part is even more awesome than ever imagined. Casting our lives into the balance on the side of life - of becoming and being a part of the on-going evolution of new, more unexpected, and ever more wonderful combinations of life - is a future to brighten all of our dreams.
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© March 1996