Look Up!

Essay Awe

Look Up!

Slowly, making my way along the rutted dirt path, I reached the top of the mesa, set down my backpack, leaned against a nearby log, and looked up at the sky and clouds. In that moment, everything changed.

Arriving at that moment took a very long time, and here’s why.

I grew up in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, far away from the grandeur of the natural world. At that time, Brooklyn wasn’t the swanky place it is today. There were no yoga studios or latte shops. Growing up low-income and locked in the inner city, I wanted to escape Brooklyn, and everything I thought it represented. So, I did a lot of running from Brooklyn to undergraduate school, graduate school, law school, and to ‘The Big & Important Job’ as a lawyer-lobbyist. The only problem with the ‘Job’ was that it was killing my spirit and my soul.

Like many people in a high-pressure, high-stress, burnout job, I decided to take a vacation to the desert and mountains, far away from the daily grind. That day, when I reached the mesa top and looked up, I was awestruck. I noticed the sky and the clouds, perhaps for the very first time. I stayed looking up long enough to watch the clouds drift slowly through the sky. Clouds move! Exhaling, the moment felt timeless. The tension I carried in my body up the mesa evaporated as I felt myself becoming ‘cloud-like’—light and free.

I had spent so much time running from Brooklyn, trying to ‘be successful’ that I had forgotten to look up, to look at the natural world that surrounded me, to be grateful for my eyes and sight. I was alienated not only from the natural world; I was alienated from myself. That was a wake-up call.

Today, as a retreat leader, executive coach, writer, and Dharma teacher, I work with people who are seeking to create their most genuine and authentic self and service in the world, to live in greater harmony with the living Earth, and to cultivate compassionate relationships.

My mesa top experience was one of awe. Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. Dacher Keltner and other researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley have linked feelings of awe not only to grand moments like my mesa top experience, but also to the mundane. Keltner and colleagues say that awe as an emotional response is an evolutionary adaptation. “Awe binds us to social collectives and enables us to act in more collaborative ways that enable strong groups, thus improving our odds for survival. Other studies have found awe-altruism link: being in the presence of vast things calls forth a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others.” Even brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others. These momentary experiences of awe stimulate wonder and curiosity, and studies show that this is good for our immune systems.

These findings come at a time when our society is awe-deprived. Too many of us have a near addictive relationship with our devices, which means looking down at screens, significantly deteriorating relationships. We spend way too much time working and too little time in the beauty of the natural world. And, even children have little unstructured leisure time to cultivate curiosity and wonder.

Looking up is good for our bodies, our relationships, and our experience of the world around us. Looking up is the power to change perspective, to appreciate our lives, whether that is the streets of Brooklyn or mesa topped deserts. Looking up at clouds is now one of my daily spiritual practices, and my mantra is “Clouds move,” reminding me, that life is brief, always changing, and that beauty is as close as re-orienting my vision. Looking up takes very little time and yet feels timeless. Looking up restores kindness for ourselves, each other, and our relationship with this living Earth.

About Valerie Brown

Valerie Brown is a leadership coach and an international retreat leader. Her commitment and passion is rooted in her belief that mindful awareness is the foundation for happiness and understanding, supporting more resilient leaders, peaceful schools, and healthier workplaces. A Quaker, Valerie also has been ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Resilience, the Global Challenge, and the Human Predicament

Article Preparedness

Resilience, the Global Challenge, and the Human Predicament

Cover Art | Resilience by Malo Bianca

We face a perfect storm of environmental, social, technological, economic, geopolitical and other global stressors. These global stressors interact in unpredictable ways. The pace of future shocks is increasing. The prospect for civilizational collapse is real. We need to build meaningful resilience.

There are four questions about how to build resilience:     

1.  How do we prepare ourselves and those we love?
2. How do we prepare our communities, networks, tribes, and organizations?
3. How do we prepare our states, countries, and international communities?
4. How do we prepare at a global level?

This human predicament goes by many names. The global challenge. The global problematique. Limits to growth. The end of the world as we know it. The prospect for civilizational collapse. All refer to the perfect storm of global biosphere and societal stressors interacting in complex and unpredictable ways.

Environmental stressors include:

– Climate change, sea-level rise, and changing weather
– Biodiversity loss at 10,000 times the normal level
– Toxification of all life, insect armageddon
– Ocean acidification, dead zones, plastics, and fish and plankton depletion
– Declining and polluted fresh water sources
– Depleted top soils
– Vanishing forests and many more

Social stressors include:
– Poverty, racism, and injustice
– Unsustainable economic growth and global debt
– Vulnerable financial systems, supply chains, and power grids
– Population overshoot, refugee migrations, and resource competition
– Uncontrolled technologies, including AI, biotech, nanotech, robotics, cyber threats
– Dysfunctional geopolitics, failing states, and outdated institutions
– War, terrorism, and nuclear threats—defense resources needed elsewhere, and more

Climate change is the greatest global stressor. But a single focus on climate change means other global stressors are underestimated. These stressors interact as force multipliers, increasing unpredictable future shocks and even potential civilizational collapse.

Most people don’t want to think about this. Yet the culture is filled with vivid imaginings of dystopias in books, films, television series, and games. Civilizational collapse lurks at the imaginal edge of collective consciousness. Yet mainstream media and “official” government institutions are largely silent.

People give four excellent reasons for not thinking about the human predicament.

1. It’s overwhelming.
2. I don’t see how to make a difference.
3. I want to focus on things I can change.
4. I have more immediate things to think about.

We won’t argue. We understand. Worry about this can be a poor use of psychic energy for people who barely get by day-to-day—or simply have other priorities.

Likewise, most institutions—governments, corporations, international institutions, and civil society organizations—avoid thinking about our predicament.

They don’t see how they can respond.
They focus on critical sectoral questions.
They ignore future shocks in their planning
They don’t prepare for the high probability of devastating future shocks.

We understand. But we do need a small critical mass of people and organizations who recognize the need to think about our dilemma. The reason is simple. If we prepare, we stand a better chance of surviving than if we don’t. We need to survive these future shocks—up to and including civilizational collapse—if we are to build a greener and more just world on the other side.


We can prepare at all four levels—personal, community and organizational, state and national, and global. But the sweet spot for most of us is personal, community, and organizational resilience. We can’t often control what happens at the state, national, and global levels. We have a lot to say about what we do for ourselves and those we love and for our affinity circles.

What does resilience mean? The great resilience philosopher David Fleming offers this definition:

“The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing changes so as to still retain the same function, structure, identity, and feedback.”

Fleming further says there are two kinds of resilience systems: preventive and recovery elastic. No word is perfect for what we are talking about. The word resilience has many critics. For one thing, bad things can be resilient as well as good things. Second, resilience implies keeping things more or less the same—and there is a great deal that needs changing. Third, resilience does not say much about using these perfect storms as an opportunity to create a just and green world after collapse.

‘Resilience’, by VV (Saatchi Art)

For our purposes, let’s imagine that resilience means arrangements that are both preventive and useful for recovery. Let’s imagine these arrangements preserve as much of what is good as possible, let go of as much of what is bad as possible, and enable us to create a better system on the other side of collapse.

But let’s also acknowledge, realistically, that ideas of what is good, what is bad, and what would be better on the other side of collapse will differ greatly from one community to another, one person to another, and one state or nation to another. In other words, the meaning of resilience will be forever contested. We can’t solve that problem.

At a practical level, when things fall apart, most people and communities have a sense of what works best for them where they are. As global, national, and even state systems begin to fall apart—as they have in many parts of the world, including the developed world—it’s usually pretty clear what needs fixing now.

In a true emergency, what do people need? Here is a list of 14 basic needs:

Air you can breathe.
Water you can drink.
Food you can eat.
Clothing you can wear.
Shelter you can count on.
Energy for warmth and cooking.
Safety from internal and external harm.
Transportation of some kind.
Communications of some kind.
Ways to learn what you need to know.
Tools to do what you need to do.
Healthcare of some kind.
Justice of some kind.
Community that holds you and those you love.

It’s easy to imagine that in a collapse, the wealthy will always do better than the poor, and those with better educations will do better than those who are less educated. But in a true collapse—where, for example, the energy grid goes down, money no longer means anything, the social order and policing have disappeared, and communities are left very much to their own devices—the question of who is better equipped to survive can look very different.

It may mean more to know how to farm, raise livestock, hunt, fish, repair things yourself, build shelter, make clothes, and have other skills that rural communities have always traditionally known how to do. You may be better off if you have lived on almost nothing in peasant villages and made dangerous treks across forbidding landscapes than if you have spent your life jetting from one conference to another. Hardiness, knowing how to work with your hands, and the ability to live on next to nothing may be a distinct survival advantage. Many millennials exploring alternative ways of living are moving in this direction.

Some countries and communities may have survival advantages. Sweden and Switzerland take war and other emergencies seriously. They advise their citizens to stock necessities and be prepared to defend themselves. The Church of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) advise all members to have at least a three-month supply of food and other necessities. The head of the American Red Cross has called the Mormons an example of preparedness for other communities. Some farsighted resilient communities and corporations are also likely to have survival advantages.

On the darker side, crime syndicates are likely to be very resilient. Any kind of organized armed force may have survival advantages. These extreme scenarios cannot be precluded given the reality of increasingly severe future shocks and the real possibility of complete breakdowns. Such complete breakdowns already exist in the growing number of failing cities and states around the world.

One thing is very likely. In wars, the comparative advantage that urbanites have over rural communities reverses. People flow out of cities into the countryside seeking food and safety. To the extent that rural communities can accommodate these urban refugees, more people can survive, especially those who can adjust to the hardships of rural self-reliance.

As climate change accelerates, there will be massive migrant movements both within countries and from regions around the equator that are simply inhabitable to cooler climes, both north and south. Vast, lightly populated realms like the northern United States, Canada, Chile, and Siberia may be the places that self-organizing, new rural communities can survive. The global question is whether these desperate migrants will be met with walls and armaments, or whether we have merciful plans to welcome migrants to places where new communities can thrive in this new world.

Collapse will take different forms in different places. More likely than collapse is an increasing crescendo of future shocks. People respond to emergencies in two different ways: they come together, or they come apart. Often, they come together in the acute emergency but then come apart as the burdens become more than they can bear, or they become too frightened.

When people do come apart, it is often along sectarian, tribal, or ethnic lines. Different communities can live together in peace for long periods. But when scarcity or emergencies come upon them, resource competition engenders conflict. This conflict is often exacerbated by populist regimes that promise a better future by scapegoating the Other.

‘Resilience’, by Henrieta Angel

It may be that a new consciousness of the strengths of diversity that is growing stronger among young people will change this ancient observation. The United States and Canada have absorbed diverse populations and created a sense of shared nationhood better than most. But more important than a sense of nationhood may be a sense of shared local community. I am more hopeful. The communities I know are unlikely to break down along ethnic or sectarian lines. I believe there will be resilient communities that defy the ancient assumption that we always break along ethnic and sectarian lines in hard times.

What of the hope that if we all get more spiritual we will solve the problems of the world? I would love this to be true. Religious and spiritual communities can call forth the better angels of our nature. But we know the reverse is equally the case. Every religion and spiritual tradition exists on a continuum from a fundamentalist version to an evolved version. The evolved traditions tend to see that all people are created equal and that nature is a sacred trust. Most often, in times of stress, the more fundamentalist versions of the religion or spiritual tradition are mobilized against the Other.

‘Resilience’, by Rafael De Sousa

We should, indeed, do everything we can to use religious and spiritual resources to meet the human predicament. The Quakers have been at the forefront of many human advances since the (incomplete) abolition of slavery. In every religious and spiritual tradition, large numbers of people live lives devoted to the good of their families, communities, co-religionists, and even other people. But we should be realistic. Our salvation in the face of the human predicament is unlikely to be enlightenment. That is the tragedy we face. With several dozen interacting global stressors, each of which is profoundly difficult to alter, it is very difficult to decide what to do that will make the greatest difference. Enlightenment doesn’t solve the problems. It may help us bring more wisdom and compassion to the efforts to resolve them.

We can see that coordinated interventions on many global stressors could, in principle, make a difference. We would need to solve climate change, reliance on toxic chemicals, an unsustainable economic system, population overshoot, gross inequality, uncontrolled technologies, and the tragic diversion of resources from human and environmental needs to the war system. The key is that when we forge silo strategies, we need to be sure that our silo strategies will not worsen other global stressors.

Global strategies are beyond the ken of most of us living ordinary lives. What is firmly within our ken is to make our lives and our communities and organizations more resilient. What that means will differ depending on circumstance. But the shared intention to make future shocks survivable is something we can all share.

The lingua franca of resilience is emergency planning. Emergency planning is something everyone understands. As future shocks deepen around the world, people naturally expand the list of contingencies they want to be prepared for. In Northern California, for example, we’ve had enough devastating fires so that most people who live in fire territory have given real thought to what they carry in their vehicles at all times, what they are prepared to grab at home and run, and where they will find shelter in the fire next time.

Emergency planning appeals to conservatives and progressives alike. It mobilizes firemen, police, and other first responders, who are accustomed to thinking about emergencies. Emergency planning brings people together across political, cultural, sectarian, and ethnic lines. It works to blend concepts like resilient communities, transition towns, or other metaphors for organizing together. We are unlikely to resolve the human predicament, but we can work to make future shocks more survivable. That work starts with us and those we love and extends into our communities, affinity circles, and organizations.

There is one spiritual awakening that could truly help us. I’ve worked with people with cancer for over 30 years. In the face of a life-threatening illness, some people truly “wake up” to what matters in their lives. For them, a wound is not only a wound but an opening. Great wars and tragedies can transform whole cultures and civilizations—for better or for worse. European and American cultures shifted after both World Wars. It’s possible that future shocks could create collective shifts of consciousness that help us adapt in more fruitful ways to the brave new world we face.

As a practical matter, we need to face this global challenge. We need to build resilient communities and organizations. We need an expanded agenda for emergency planning and coordinated work in critical silos to lessen future shocks so they are survivable. That makes sense across partisan lines and cultures around the world. That’s common sense. We need each other to have the courage and wisdom to do this great work. Join us.

Three books:

1. Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
2. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
3. David Fleming, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It

Selected websites:

Resilience.org (Post-Carbon Institute)
Faninitiative.net (The Fan Initiative)
mahb.stanford.edu/ (Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere)
https://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/tag/nate-hagens/ (Nate Hagens)
Transitionnetwork.org (Transition Network/Transition Towns/Circular Economy)
Dark-mountain.net (Dark Mountain Project)
Stockhomresilience.org (Stockholm Resilience Center)
cser.ac.uk (Centre for the Study of Existential Risk)
http://thrivingresilience.org/ (Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory)
Resilience.ngo/ (The Resilience Project)

About Michael Lerner
Michael Lerner is president and co-founder of Commonweal, a 43-year-old nonprofit center in Bolinas, California, with programs in health and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice.  He is the co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles,
Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, The New School at Commonweal, and the Resilience Project.  He taught at Yale and received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship for contributions to public health.

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The Community Awaiting Us

Article Great Turning

The Community Awaiting Us

To help us meet the challenge of climate chaos—the biggest challenge humans have ever faced—we have the science now, the telecommunications, and vast amounts of information. What we need more than anything is our natural strength and legacy of being in community. We are meant for community, we’re enlivened by community, we are nurtured by community.

I doubt that we have a clear idea of how we have all been misshapen, stunted, even imprisoned by the hyper-individualism of the last five centuries and what it has done to our experience of our self. It has shrunken that self. It has weakened it. It has made us feel separated and isolated.

As we discover in the Work That Reconnects, our grief is natural and wholesome, and so is our outrage. In community, our collective common sense can defy the notion that our distress for the world is a sign of weakness. In our culture, there is a fixation on being the captain of our fate and the master of our soul—a delusion which psychologist James Hillman called the “lonely cowboy ego.” We have been taught to compete and made prey to fear.

It is time to remember that we belong to each other. We’re made for each other. We cannot do it alone. We come out of our world, just like a tree comes out of the soil and the rays of the sun. Gratitude is a swift way to come back to our sanity and rediscover our inter-being. It’s an antidote to the wounded and fearful self. That is why in the Work That Reconnects the first step on the path together is gratitude. It’s so easy; once we are given the chance, the countless things that we love about being alive in Earth come pouring out—and it’s hard not to fall in love with each other while that is happening. For the native people in America, on Turtle Island, giving thanks is their first step: “the words that come before all else.” What we discover again and again is that gratitude grounds us.

In the consumer society, gratitude is subversive. To be thankful for something is a revolutionary act. The simple and liberating message of gratitude is, “I am not that needy.” That’s empowering; it gives us the strength to face what is hard. When we are alone, unsupported by community, it is easy to let our acute distress for the world be pathologized. After all, we have Big Pharma to take care of our pain for the world, and, for that matter, our grief and outrage and dread, whereas the suffering we are carrying for our planet today is natural, wholesome, and probably necessary. Through the exercises and rituals of the Work that Reconnects, we have learned to honor these feelings as being a natural and powerful expression of our love.

I doubt we can even imagine what can pour through us when we feel our true kinship with each other. We’ve been lonely, scared, and isolated at a deep level, as well as set on competing and outdoing each other. I wonder if we are able to envision how beautiful it will be, and what will come through our hearts, our hands, our voices when we hold each other’s backs.

The time for the loneliness, fear, and cowering so that nobody will see how inadequate we are, is over now. It is over because we’re going to move forward in the kind of community that we know is possible. That will not be done by the protests and marches. It’s done by living and working together. It’s done in late-night meetings, song circles, and teams we can count on.  Perhaps, most urgently right now, community means growing food. As we do this, we will be learning from each other and getting our hands dirty together, and we’ll be kissing each other’s lips while there’s still dirt from the soil on them. With each other, we will come home.

Let us celebrate that whatever happens, we have choice. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, that’s what you begin with: you give thanks for having a human life, not because humans are better than any other beings, but because this big brain is too complex and highly differentiated to rely on instinct or trial and error. That is to say, we have self-reflexive consciousness and can choose. Often we choose stupidly, forgetting, as the native people say, “our original instructions.” The other animals stay splendid in their true nature. We can forget, but we can choose. We can choose where we put our mind.

We can choose the story we want to get behind for our world, and it seems that there are three basic ones. There’s Business as Usual, which is the version of reality we hear the most. From the politicians, the corporations, the military, and the media, we hear that everything will be fine as soon as we get back to growing our economy.

The next version of reality that more and more people are pointing to is that we are wrecking our world. There is a Great Unraveling going on, and people are even talking more and more about “collapse.”

But the third story is evident when you choose to see all the ways that our new culture is beginning to grow and sprout, like green shoots coming up through the rubble of a dysfunctional civilization. We see new ways of growing food, new ways of holding the land, new ways of resolving conflict, new ways of generating energy. We see that we are in transition to a life-sustaining culture and society. Many of us call this the Great Turning. Most people who are involved in it don’t even know the phrase. It doesn’t matter. But it matters to pay attention because the corporate-controlled media don’t report it. So, community becomes the way that we can put our ear to the ground, and become ever-more aware of what’s really happening.

It’s not about which story is going to win, the Business as Usual or the Great Unraveling or the Great Turning. The question is, what do you want to give your one wild and beautiful life to? That’s been a great help to many of us as we face the fact that we do not know how the story will end, as we live with uncertainty about the very future of complex life forms on our planet.

As we envisage the Great Turning, it would be nice to be bathed in confidence and assurance that all will work out. But I don’t think it’s all that helpful, because there is something more precious than confidence or even hope. And that is an unconditional readiness and freedom to be here, simply glad to be on hand.

We are given this incredible razor’s edge of possibility, where we’re totally in the moment together, not distracted by wondering whether we’ll fail or transform the world. I’m not going to ask for that kind of assurance. The strength of uncertainty is to be fully present. When you are distracted by how much to hope, you are only conditionally here.

In this present moment, facing this unrepeatable challenge of climate chaos, we can feel we are being joined by both those who have gone before and those who will come after. Our ancestors have brought us to the Great Turning, and future generations are here as well by virtue of their utter dependence upon our response. Their presence expands the community that opens to us now and invites us into deep time. It’s the sweetest thing that we don’t even have to know how all the gifts—seeded by our ancestors and evoked by the future ones—can pour through us. These gifts are not our personal property, nor meant for the separate self. They come through now for the sake of Life itself.

This article is possible through a collaboration with CCC19: Climate Change and Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth, at the Findhorn Foundation, North Scotland, April 20-26, 2019The event will feature some of the clearest and most passionate voices for the Earth ever gathered together in one place. Kosmos is an official hub for CCC19

About Joanna Macy

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.

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Quiet Places Initiative

Quiet Forest, from One Square Inch of Silence

Article Nature

Quiet Places Initiative


Gordon Hempton is a natural born listener. Known as the Sound Tracker®, he is an acoustic ecologist dedicated to capturing and preserving one of Earth’s most precious experiences on the verge of extinction: silence. With unprecedented levels of noise pollution, the world and its inhabitants suffer from more than just the annoyance of highway traffic and urban activity; the impacts of overexposure to unnatural noise are reflected in poor mental and cardiovascular health, and even anti-social behavior.

For Gordon, silence is about reconnecting—to nature, and to each other. He has committed his life’s work to seeking and protecting the quietude we all crave. He has circled the globe three times, recording quiet spaces with equipment that replicates the three-dimensional quality of human hearing. His book, Earth Is a Solar-Powered Jukebox, offers a guide to listening, recording, and sound designing with nature, and his book, One Square Inch of Silence (excerpt below) details one of the United States’ quietest places, the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park.

Preserving rare spaces of silence has become a worldwide endeavor for Gordon. He and co-founders Tim Gallati, Karl Kramer, and Vikram Chauhun have established Quiet Parks International to identify and protect places around the globe that are truly free from noise pollution.

This sound gallery is a collection of audio samples that Gordon has recorded around the world. We invite you to experience these rare moments of ‘silence.’ — Victoria Price, for Kosmos

Quiet Parks International

Quiet Parks International, formerly known as the One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, is committed to the preservation of Quiet for the benefit of all life.  Launching on Earth Day 2019, QPI aims to identify and protect rare, quiet places that are free from the noise pollution that overwhelms our planet. With the ever increasing sonic burden of highways, air and shipping traffic, silence is nearing extinction and this initiative is needed now more than ever. To join the efforts in creating a worldwide network of pristine silence and solitude, visit Quiet Parks International.

Sound Gallery



Amazon, Ecuador

We are listening to dawn arrive in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This is the heart of biodiversity and the lungs of the planet. One by one, each animal species takes its turn to announce themselves, re-establish territory, and perhaps even attract a mate. Some animal species are blind, however, no animal species are deaf.

Wood Frogs and Thunder


Sri Lanka

I set up my recording gear cautiously high on a mountain in Sri Lanka. The sun was setting. Soon I would be all alone. A prevailing wind pushed clouds against the trees causing drips that attracted my attention. Soon there were wood frogs hiding under the leaves, so small that I never saw any. Each gave long, punctuated accents to the space. The final touch to this unforgettable moment was added by an approaching thunderstorm. (Note: I use a microphone system that replicates human hearing, and because I do not edit my recordings, you are not experiencing my studio artistry but rather the sonic beauty of this planet worth saving.)

Riparian Zone



We are near Mayan ruins in Central Belize that have been reclaimed by the jungle—a haunting reminder that even great civilizations can vanish unexplained. Life’s necessity is water which instantly draws our attention to the foreground while a distant howler monkey expands our auditory horizon to the far background. For years, I believed I recorded sound, but now I know I record space made audible by sound—that is what keeps me on the hunt around the world for my next nature sound portrait.

Haleakala Wind


Hawaii, U.S.

Haleakala Volcano, Hawaii, rises more than 3,000 meters above sea level, then its crater sinks 1,000 meters back towards the Earth’s center, forming a natural acoustic isolation chamber complete with sound adsorbing volcanic sand. Haleakala Crater is the Quietest Place on Earth; calculated sound pressure levels are in the negative decibels on windless days. Today, silence is made audible by trade winds that skirt the volcano’s rocky rim.

Gecko Lizards


Kalahari Desert, South Africa

I arrived on the scorching sands of the Kalahari to record birdsong, but because it was the seventh year of a draught, there were no birds to record. Frustrated and temporarily disheartened, the sun set, and as it did these gecko lizards began their mocking evening chorus that documents their triumph. Just one example of nature’s important lesson: disappointment is often an epiphany in disguise.

Book Excerpt | One Square Inch of Silence


Washington, U.S.

Everything that you have heard here is unprotected and rapidly vanishing. While we have Dark Sky Parks that protect our view of the Celestial Sea, there is not one Quiet Park where we can listen to nature’s concerts undisturbed to take on an equally awe-inspiring view of life. On Earth Day 2005, I decided to change this when I hiked up the Hoh River trail in Olympic National Park near my home and placed a small stone on a moss-covered rock. I promised to defend it from all noise pollution. Nearly 12 years later, three airlines have altered flight paths to avoid the park. Because of the way sound travels differently than light, protecting one square inch of silence manages more than 1,000 square miles. You can find out more about the effort to create the world’s first Quiet Park at www.quietparks.org.

Prologue | Sounds of Silence

“The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague.”

So said the Nobel Prize–winning bacteriologist Robert Koch in 1905. A century later, that day has drawn much nearer. Today silence has become an endangered species. Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions. Nor is there relief even at the North Pole; continent-hopping jets see to that. Moreover, fighting noise is not the same as preserving silence. Our typical anti-noise strategies—earplugs, noise cancellation headphones, even noise abatement laws—offer no real solution because they do nothing to help us reconnect and listen to the land. And the land is speaking.

We’ve reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life style changes. More than ever before, we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place.

It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may. Long before the noises of mankind, there were only the sounds of the natural world. Our ears evolved perfectly tuned to hear these sounds—sounds that far exceed the range of human speech or even our most ambitious musical performances: a passing breeze that indicates a weather change, the first birdsongs of spring heralding a regreening of the land and a return to growth and prosperity, an approaching storm promising relief from a drought, and the shifting tide reminding us of the celestial ballet. All of these experiences connect us back to the land and to our evolutionary past.


One Square Inch of Silence is more than a book; it is a place in the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Olympic National Park—arguably the quietest place in the United States. But it, too, is endangered, protected only by a policy that is neither practiced by the National Park Service itself nor supported by adequate laws. My hope is that this book will trigger a quiet awakening in all those willing to become true listeners.

Preserving natural silence is as necessary and essential as species preservation, habitat restoration, toxic waste cleanup, and carbon dioxide reduction, to name but a few of the immediate challenges that confront us in this still young century. The good news is that rescuing silence can come much more easily than tackling these other problems. A single law would signal a huge and immediate improvement. That law would prohibit all aircraft from flying over our most pristine national parks.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It lives here, profoundly, at One Square Inch in the Hoh Rain Forest. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.

Silence is a sound, many, many sounds. I’ve heard more than I can count. Silence is the moonlit song of the coyote signing the air, and the answer of its mate. It is the falling whisper of snow that will later melt with an astonishing reggae rhythm so crisp that you will want to dance to it. It is the sound of pollinating winged insects vibrating soft tunes as they defensively dart in and out of the pine boughs to temporarily escape the breeze, a mix of insect hum and pine sigh that will stick with you all day. Silence is the passing flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches, chirping and fluttering, reminding you of your own curiosity.

Have you heard the rain lately? America’s great northwest rain forest, no surprise, is an excellent place to listen. Here’s what I’ve heard at One Square Inch of Silence. The first of the rainy season is not wet at all. Initially, countless seeds fall from the towering trees. This is soon followed by the soft applause of fluttering maple leaves, which settle oh so quietly as a winter blanket for the seeds. But this quiet concert is merely a prelude. When the first of many great rainstorms arrives, unleashing its mighty anthem, each species of tree makes its own sound in the wind and rain. Even the largest of the raindrops may never strike the ground. Nearly 300 feet overhead, high in the forest canopy, the leaves and bark absorb much of the moisture, until this aerial sponge becomes saturated and drops re-form and descend farther, striking lower branches and cascading onto sound-absorbing moss drapes, tapping on epiphytic ferns, faintly plopping on huckleberry bushes, and whacking the hard, firm salal leaves, before, finally, the drops inaudibly bend the delicate clover-like leaves of the wood sorrel and drip to leak into the ground. Heard day or night, this liquid ballet will continue for more than an hour after the actual rain ceases.

Recalling the warning of Robert Koch, developer of the scientific method that identifies the causes of disease, I believe the unchecked loss of silence is a canary in a coal mine—a global one. If we cannot make a stand here, if we turn a deaf ear to the issue of vanishing natural quiet, how can we expect to fare better with more complex environmental crises?

Gordon Hempton
Snowed in at Joyce, Washington

About Gordon Hempton

Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who cares deeply about quiet. As The Sound Tracker®, he has circled the globe three times over the last 35 years in pursuit of Earth’s rarest nature sounds—sounds which can only be fully appreciated in the absence of manmade noise. He has documented his work through professional audio recordings and two books, Earth is a Solar Powered Jukebox and One Square Inch of Silence. He is founding partner of Quiet Parks International, an initiative to identify and protect the few remaining quiet places on Earth.

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Rejoining the Great Conversation

Essay Anima Mundi

Rejoining the Great Conversation

We are present at a moment in our shared destiny when the Earth is crying out to us to help Her in this time of crisis that is destroying Her ecosystem, the fragile web of life that supports Her multihued unity. All around us are what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the “bells of mindfulness.” We can hear them ringing in the unprecedented species depletion (such as the recent awareness of what is called an “insect Armageddon,” with a 45-75% loss of insect biomass), the oceans filling with plastic at a rate unfathomable a few decades ago, and accelerating climate change—all with unforeseen consequences. And, on a different level, though just as painful, is the loss of wildness and wonder, a diminishing sense of the sacred that nourishes our souls. Many of us are responding with action and ideas, even as our governments and corporations—with their values focused only on economic growth and materialism—are unable or unwilling to make this a real priority. This was forcefully articulated at the recent UN Climate Change COP24 Conference by the 15-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke truth to power when she said, “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.”

“You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.” -Greta Thunberg”

This last sentence brought tears to my eyes, as my soul heard her speak about real care for the Earth—for this living, beautiful being who has given us life, who has nourished us with Her endless generosity, even as we have abused and desecrated Her, raped and pillaged Her body, which our culture regards greedily as just a “resource” for our endless use and abuse.

But behind Greta’s phrase, “the living planet,” is a deeper truth that calls out to our forgetfulness. As was known to the ancients and to Indigenous peoples, our Earth is a being with a soul as well as a body, what in the West we called the anima mundi, the soul of the world, or what the Kogi in the Sierra Nevada in Colombia call Aluna, the spiritual intelligence within nature. Until we recognize, remember, and reconnect with the spiritual nature of the Earth, the primal intelligence within all of life, we will be walking in the darkness of our forgetfulness, unable to find the way to work together with Her, to start to heal and transform the living oneness to which we all belong.

Every butterfly, every bee, every waterfall, every dream we have, is a part of this living, spiritual being. She is ancient beyond our understanding, even as She is crying out at this moment. The greatest unspoken tragedy of this time is that we have forgotten Her living sacred presence, and this is the silent censorship that has clear-cut our consciousness. When the early Christians violently banished paganism, they burned the books that understood Her magical nature. And now, as the web of life is being torn apart, we do not even know how to respond. We do not know how to access Her wisdom, how to return to being a part of the great conversation that belongs to all of life. We remain stranded on the desolate shores of materialism, as in a supermarket where the shelves are increasingly empty.

Spiritual Activism is an emerging field that calls for a spiritual response to our present global crisis—to our present social divisiveness and ecological devastation, to our self-destructive identification with an old story of separation rather than embracing the living story of life’s interdependent oneness. Yes, we desperately need to reduce carbon emissions and pesticides, to stop turning rainforests into ranchland or palm oil plantations. But there is also a call to reconnect with the sacred within creation, with the spiritual lifeblood of the planet. Otherwise, we will just be continuing the same one-sided conversation that has caused this devastation. We need to work together with the Earth, to include Her wonder and wisdom. We need to reconnect with Her soul.

And this is a work that we each can do—it does not need governments or big organizations, but individuals whose hearts are open and who have heard the cry of the Earth. Within our own being, we can make this connection and help bring the sacred alive again in our own daily life and the life of the Earth. There are many different ways to reconnect. In a recent book, Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life, I outline a number of simple spiritual practices, from walking in a sacred manner to cooking with love and cleaning with awareness. Whatever our practice, this foundational work is not complicated, but rather simply requires our attention—real mindfulness. It can empower us to make a real contribution to enable humanity to rejoin the great conversation, the sacred relationship with the Earth that was part of the Original Instructions given to our ancestors.

The Earth will continue. We are now living through the sixth mass extinction of species in Her history. It is our shared future that is uncertain: whether we will keep to our ancient promise to witness Her wonder and beauty, honor Her sacred ways; or whether we will continue our present path, stumbling through an increasingly soulless wasteland, caught in consumerism, until the sea levels rise, the air becomes too toxic, the oceans too acidic, our souls too desolate. Again, in the words of the young activist Greta Thunberg, “We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.” But she also said, “Change is coming.” The real question is whether we are open to be a part of real change—for our hearts and hands to help the Earth, for our souls to reconnect with the magic and mystery of Her living being.

About Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi teacher and author. In recent years the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and the emerging global consciousness of oneness (see www.workingwithoneness.org). He has also specialized in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of modern psychology. Llewellyn is the founder of The Golden Sufi Center (www.goldensufi.org). He has written several books, including Working With Oneness and Light of Oneness.

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Cultivating Right Livelihood

Article Vocation

Cultivating Right Livelihood

“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.” —Frederick Buechner

What is ‘right livelihood’?

Traditional economists assume work is a disutility that people try to do as little of as possible. Right livelihood reframes work as something that is beautiful and valuable and comes from a shared desire to contribute meaningfully to the world.

Right Livelihood has its origin in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It is the 5th mindfulness training that the Buddha shared in the eightfold noble path alongside right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness. Right livelihood reframes work as part of a spiritual path and discipline.

The pursuit of Right Livelihood refers to the type of work we do, as well as our attitude towards work itself. In contrast to conventional professional development narratives around ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ or progress as making more money, right livelihood offers a view of work as a vehicle for self-actualization, systems change, and planetary healing. It invites the personal practice of approaching work with joy and intention and committing ourselves to efforts that support justice, equity, and ecological sustainability. Right Livelihood is our unique contribution to a more life-sustaining and enlivening world.

Right Livelihood: A Journey with No Destination

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way,” recognizing that there is no moment in time when we will have arrived at happiness. Rather, it is something we must cultivate in each moment. Similarly, we could say, “There is no way to right livelihood. Right livelihood is the way.” Right livelihood is not something we will eventually arrive at if we work hard enough or know the right people. It is not a fixed state, but instead, an ever-evolving journey of contribution where the pursuit of meaningful work itself is the primary focus of our attention. It is a lifetime practice of making meaning through our work on a moment to moment basis, while also opening ourselves to a healthy relationship with personal goals and professional growth.

Right vs. Wrong: Finding Our Way

The pursuit of right livelihood also implies that it is possible to have a wrong livelihood. Traditionally, Buddhist teaching has identified this with the very worst of examples: weapons and chemical poison manufacturing, human trafficking, et cetera. The environmental activist and Right Livelihood Award winner Vandana Shiva says, more simply, “Right Livelihood is living in ways that actually contribute to harmony in nature and society. And the opposite, wrong livelihood, is to rupture nature and society.In the modern context of corporate capitalism, wrong livelihood could be further expanded to include all work that contributes to systemic economic inequality and large scale ecosystem destruction through the exclusive pursuit of profit.

When framed as an individual journey, however, right livelihood is less about what is right or wrong at the moment and more about our own approach to work—on a daily basis and over the course of a lifetime. As such, it is possible to produce work from a place of joy and affection and contribute to the well-being of others in the workplace, all within an industry that systemically contributes to suffering and harm. Conversely, one can do work that meaningfully contributes to society while bringing stress, anger, and negativity into the workplace and creating a culture of toxicity for colleagues and patrons.

In walking the path of right livelihood, we are called to explore both the form and the content of our work: how we show up as compassionate humans in the workplace, as well as the actual output that we create through our labor. When we sense we are being unskillful or harmful in our attitude or actions, we can receive this as an opportunity for spiritual growth and the alleviation of suffering in ourselves and others. The most important practice on our right livelihood journey is how we respond in each moment and season of life.

What is the difference between right livelihood and a job?

Right livelihood challenges assumptions about “work” and invites us to decouple productivity and income. It encompasses all efforts that contribute to a more life-sustaining and enlivening world, including that which is paid and that which is unpaid. This means that work that is seen as “unproductive” or outside of the mainstream view of the economy such as caretaking, housekeeping, child rearing, art making, volunteering, and activism may actually be part of a right livelihood.

The idea of right livelihood is similar to the perception of work within feminist economics, which posits that “reproductive labor” (caretaking, child rearing, and housekeeping) is a valuable part of the economy and deserves to be recognized as work even if it is often unmonetized, uncompensated, or under-compensated. This also implies that our right livelihood path does not begin with our first job and end with retirement, but instead, a child or teenager is cultivating her or his right livelihood through learning and participating in society, and a retired person can also contribute meaningfully to society through her or his efforts.

Reframing work according to right livelihood also invites us to perceive self-care as foundational. Capitalism enables a culture in which work is prioritized over personal health and community relationship. Alternatively, the idea of right livelihood invites us to see efforts to pursue physical and spiritual well-being as ‘productive’ because they enable our contribution and service to the world. Valuing exercise, spiritual practice, and self-care regimes helps to liberate our sense of self-worth from the dollar amount we are paid for.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”—Audre Lorde, 1988 

Connecting our work to larger movements for change

courtesy Cleveland Cooperative Model

Perceiving right livelihood as our contribution to a more enlivening world invites us to explore how our vocations intersect with larger movements for social and ecological transformation. The transition to a renewable energy economy, for example, requires the productive effort of millions of people designing, constructing, and maintaining infrastructure that does not yet exist. Such a project unites literally all livelihoods related to the energy sector—from engineering and construction to marketing and finance—in the common cause of addressing an issue critical to Earth’s future.

Similarly, our livelihoods can also be vehicles for transforming the economic system itself, both in the way profit is shared and work is organized. The democratic ownership model behind worker cooperatives is increasingly recognized by activists and policymakers alike as a systemic solution to the economic inequality created by capitalism. Cooperative businesses, which exist in multiple forms throughout all sectors of the economy, distribute ownership and profits throughout a larger membership base (rather than concentrating it in the hands of a few owners) while also facilitating a culture of organizational democracy.

The cooperative model is not limited to business alone: worker self-directed non-profits, developed in part by the Sustainable Economies Law Center of Oakland, California, are emerging as important vehicles for workplace democracy in the non-profit sector. As a part of a larger movement to transform the way we work together, cooperative enterprises and worker self-directed non-profits are two models that can reposition democracy as a daily practice of inclusive and compassionate decision making.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are larger policy initiatives that would enable people to participate in more productive work not currently monetized, such as art making, care work, activism, and volunteering. This includes movements for universal healthcare, universal education, and a universal basic income. If we had a universal basic income, for example, we could even more so divorce our need to work for money to meet our needs and instead invite ourselves to find a right livelihood that isn’t required to pay bills.

Ultimately, aligning right livelihood with larger movements for change is an individuated process that will look different for everyone depending on the uniqueness of our own calling. Thinking systemically and strategically about how our work contributes to building a more beautiful world can provide it with depth of meaning and energy to sustain our spirit for the long haul.

Where do I start?

Recognizing that the pursuit of right livelihood is a lifetime journey with no final destination, we can begin by taking the time to look deeply into our own life, asking: where does my greatest hunger meet the world’s deepest need? How does this work contribute to larger efforts for social and ecological transformation? What is my greater potential for supporting a more life-sustaining and thriving world?

Maybe the connection is less obvious, or maybe your ‘work’ includes effort that the economic system does not value. If this is the case, open to the idea of an ‘economic base’ in a more mainstream context which allows you to build a longer-term livelihood aligned with your deepest passion. Do your own personal work, find creative ways to meet your needs, and cultivate peace with where you are in your life right now.

At the same time, the work to find right livelihood in our lives is not mutually exclusive with hustle, strategy, and the pursuit of lifetime personal and professional goals. The tools recommended by conventional career development approaches are all available for navigating decisions about how to make our living in a meaningful way. Conferences, networking events, and social capital are valuable assets in this journey. The practice is to find a healthy relationship with our growth and non-attachment to our goals, recognizing that these will not lead to happiness or fulfillment in and of themselves.

Right Livelihood and Global Transformation

Right livelihood is an opportunity to perceive work as a spiritual path of self-realization. By cultivating mindfulness, gratitude, and intention towards our effort in the world, we can continually align and improve our contributions to what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” Finding meaning in our work is about listening deeply to what our hearts know is possible and bringing to life the beautiful truth inside all of us. By consciously aligning this authentic effort with unfolding currents of global transformation, we can find common cause in the intergenerational project of building a sustainable and equitable future on Earth.

Della’s talk on Right Livelihood for UC Santa Cruz

About Della Duncan

Della Duncan is a renegade economist who hosts opportunities for personal and systemic transition to a more equitable, sustainable, and enlivened world. She is a Right Livelihood coach, the host of the Upstream Podcast about alternative economics, a Social and Economic Equity Atlantic Fellow at the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute, a lecturer on the MA Economics for Transition Program at Schumacher College, a partner of the Eurasia Learning Institute, a Work that Reconnects facilitator, and an alternative economics consultant.

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About Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips is an independent writer and researcher focused on ecological sustainability and economic democracy in local and regional food systems. He has written for the Capital Institute, Kosmos Journal, and currently with Hudson River Flows, a collaborative research and story-telling project exploring the emergence of a regenerative food economy in New York’s Hudson Valley.

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Rights of Nature

Mountain peak near Golden, British Columbia

Essay Law

Rights of Nature

When you look at a mountain, your reaction is likely to be colored by what is most important to you. Skiers may think of the thrill of the trip down, climbers of the trek up. A mining executive of the coal or metals to be found there. A road engineer of the challenge of finding a way through. A photographer of the play of light and dark, mist and mystery. A conservationist ponders the preservation of majesty, ecosystems, and access for everyone. Indigenous people see brothers, grandmothers, cousins in the interplay of beings.

The last two ways of seeing have coalesced into a movement called Rights of Nature. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to enshrine such rights into its constitution. “Nature, or Pachamama,” it says, “where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, and maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes.”

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

The importance of well-being, defined with both the Spanish buen vivir and the Quechua sumak kawsay, is the basis. It calls for the human community to “enjoy their rights, and exercise responsibilities within the framework of interculturality, respect for their diversity, and harmonious cohabitation with nature.”

In our corporation-dominant, consumption-obsessed economy, this is virtually a laughable concept, even for some who care deeply about the earth. The idea that the mountain is a being, that the rocks that form it, the plants that flank it, the rivers that fall in cascades off its edges are entities who deserve life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is inconceivable for many and a steep climb for most. Even with their constitutional provisions, the indigenous peoples of Ecuador are still fighting an uphill battle. Mining industries, supported by the government, continually push to move into their territories.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

We have largely thought of rights as belonging to humans, either as individuals or groups, like states and corporations. We see the earth not as something we are part of, but something we own, a vessel for human activities, a source of products and income. Mountains are routinely destroyed for the sake of their coal. This is seen as the cost of doing business, not just for the coal company, but for all the people relying on coal to fuel their own industries and salaries. Most of the world economy depends on the exploitation of a planet that only produces so much clean water, fresh air, rich soil, and biological gain in any given cycle. Our persistent overconsumption of these blessings destroys the ecological systems that produce them. We are robbing the rest of the beings we share the planet with, as well as our own future as a species. 

Wetland, Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Our current economic model prompts us to think of the earth in terms of its perceived value. A field growing ‘nothing’ but grasses and flowers is a ‘wasteland.’ Restrictions a town places on land ‘reduce the value of the property.’ Wetlands are one of the most important of our ecological biomes, but they are pointless from a development point of view. Developers would be mystified, if not incensed, were they expected to respect the rights of the wetlands to “live out their vital cycles” instead of filling them in for construction.

There are enormous questions and hurdles to contemplate. Does the mountain have the right to exist without being blasted with dynamite for coal or roads? Does the air have the right to be free of the mercury and sulfur in coal smoke?

Or the carbon dioxide-laden exhaust from burning oil? Does the ground under our feet have the right to a life without unnamed chemicals forced into it to frack gas? Do rivers have the right to be free-flowing, free of toxic chemicals? A home to fish and plants that in themselves carry the right to exist in peace and plenty? Do animals, including humans, have an inherent right to clean water and air?

We live in a world where we struggle to grant people who don’t look or think like us the same rights that we want. What hope is there that we will grant a field of wildflowers a right to live its vital cycles without becoming a parking lot? Yet the rights of nature are intimately tied to the rights of human beings. A series of dams in Brazil is displacing tens of thousands of indigenous people in the Amazon basin. The climate changes from our carbon dioxide-saturated atmosphere are forcing Pacific island communities to leave their flooding homelands. Development of lands sacred to indigenous peoples rob those communities not just of their place, but their history and culture, the way they define themselves. Dumping of toxic waste in poor communities because richer ones refuse it causes sickness to skyrocket in those areas. The list is endless.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

There are environmental laws worldwide. In some places they are very strict in protecting endangered ecosystems, plants and animals, and in preventing further damage. But, as we are seeing every day, these laws can be dismissed by the next administration, something that happens from the local to federal levels.

If, instead, we recognize that nature has rights of her own, their defense changes dramatically. A river, a forest, a panther, an owl, the atmosphere would then have ‘standing’ in court. A guardian or group could sue on behalf of the entity itself. Without inherent rights, the only people who have standing to sue on behalf of nature are those who are potentially or actively damaged by a policy or an infraction of a law. In practice, this often means that the case is stronger the more damage that has already been done.

This is an enormous challenge. It’s a different way of thinking for the many of us caught up in our current economic and human-centric mode of being. Changing perceptions about life on our planet and our place in it may well be the most formidable of the obstacles we face. Can we move toward seeing ourselves as part of the vast and beautiful web of life? One member among millions of beings and entities, forming a whole that we are completely dependent on. Then we can focus our extraordinary ingenuity on what Thomas Berry called The Great Work: creating a world where the human presence fosters and enhances the earth that forms and sustains us.

About Betsey Crawford

After 60 years in southern New York, Betsey Crawford took off in an RV to have adventures. A landscape designer and environmental activist, she now roams the west, from the Mexican border to Alaska, hiking and taking photographs, especially of wildflowers. She posts photos and celebrates nature, beauty, wildness, and spirit on her website, The Soul of the Earth.

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Gallery 3 | Guardians of the Sacred in Tibet

Young nomad siblings bringing the family herd of Dri (female Yak) home for evening milking, Mamo Thang, Sershul nomadic area, Kham. The red prayer flags on the left will have been placed there on the inspiration of a high Lama to indicate that this is a holy place. Opposite, below the road level, is a cave used for meditation by the great Tibetan master and teacher Patrul Rinpoche.

Gallery Deep Ecology

Gallery 3 | Guardians of the Sacred in Tibet


This center of heaven,
This core of earth,
This heart of the world,
Fenced round with snow,
The headland of all rivers,
Where the mountains are high and
The Land is pure.
A country so good
Where men are born as sages and heroes
And act according to good laws.
A land of horses ever more speedy.

Anonymous Tibetan poet, 8th to 9th century


 Women with traditional hair decorations

of coral and turquoise at a Lama Dance Festival.

Manigango, Kham.

The Sacred Land

Tibet is a sacred land. Its people are an expression of that sacredness. For 17,000 years, before the arrival of Buddhism, the nomads and farmers of Tibet practised Bon Shamanism which revered the land and related to it as a spiritual being. The sky, mountains, rivers, and lakes were seen to be animated by gods, demons or nature spirits, all of whom demanded careful ritual propitiation in order to create a balance between the natural and supernatural.

The establishment of Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century transformed the country. Buddhism absorbed many Bon practices and created a culture of tremendous depth and richness – such as a devotion to the sanctity and power of natural places, studious monasticism, compassion for all living beings, and a belief in the interdependence of all beings – that the animate and inanimate are all parts of a whole. This rich culture sees the outer world as a reflection of the inner world and knows how to connect the two so that the two worlds can nourish each other.

Sacred sites throughout Tibet are revered as places where these worlds meet, where the separation between inner and outer, spiritual and material, is especially thin. Mountains such as Kawa Karpo in Kham and Amnye Machen in Amdo, springs, lakes, relics, forbidden areas, places associated with spiritual figures (such as Guru Rinpoche,) and pilgrimage routes are respected as sacred. Hanging prayer flags, burning incense (usually Juniper branches), and saying prayers are just some of the traditional ways of honouring sacred sites. These practices protect the areas and their special deities; benefit the nomads, their grazing land, and their livestock.

Prayer flags surround a sacred spring near Rongpatsa, Kham.

Wisdom rediscovered

How is the worldview of Tibetan nomads (and other indigenous peoples) so relevant for the world today?

“Nomads believe that a person’s life force is connected with a locality and the spirits that dwell there and that a deterioration of this bond can have negative repercussions.”
(From Drokpa: Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau and Himalaya by Daniel J Miller)

The Tibetan nomad’s understanding of the sacred landscape brings reverence, care, and respect to the land, which is the basis of the conservation and environmental protection that the earth so badly needs today.

Once, when travelling with my Tibetan friend we arrived at her village. Local nomads came to see us as they were worried that the five springs at the foot of a local mountain, used by local people for their water supply, were drying up. These springs were considered the gift of the protector deity of the mountain, but the local authorities had turned one spring into a bathing area and another healing hot spring was full of rubbish.

The nomads were concerned that the village people no longer circumambulated the mountain that provided their water or made smoke offerings to the local goddess. It was clear from the rubbish-filled hot spring that they had forgotten the sacredness of the landscape around them. With the help of the nomads we cleaned out the spring and arranged that the nomads would make offerings to the mountain goddess.

The drying up of the springs was symbolic of a dwindling lack of respect for the environment. As the inner springs of spiritual awareness become dry, the outer springs do as well.

Environmental scientists have recently acknowledged that this traditional approach can make significant contributions to protecting endangered species and conserving biodiversity. Recognizing the value of sacred sites in contemporary conservation systems is now advocated by numerous scholars in the west and in China, and is beginning to receive increasing attention in recent times. What is needed now is not just a return to respecting the land but respect for the knowledge, skills and wisdom of those who have done so for millennia.

One of Sonam Wangbo’s sons in the spring pastures, the sacred Dahu Valley, Kham.

Spiritual Ecology

The nomads and other Tibetans hold a reverence for the natural world, which ensures that they remain stewards of the land they have lived with for thousands of years. Small pockets of awareness of the land’s magic, its sacredness, its deep inner value, still remain.

A few years ago I was travelling in Dzongsar/Meshu area, in Kham, with a friend. We stopped in Horlung Nor, a beautiful and remote nomad valley, to conduct a small prayer ceremony for Hogan, the local male protector deity who lives on the mountaintop above. This deity was also considered to be the protector of my friend’s family, and she felt it was important to make an offering to it.

Some old local nomad men came to help us, gathering Juniper for the smoke purification ritual, hanging prayer flags, and joining the simple ceremony. Afterwards, one of the nomads told us that this mountain god had appeared to him when, as a teenager, he was hunting in the forest on the mountainside. He was so surprised and terrified that he threw down his gun and fled home—never to hunt again.

One of the other nomads added: “He is lucky to be alive. My cousin saw the god when he was young and afterwards, he sickened and died.” Another one agreed: “Yes, I have heard of people who have seen the god and they generally don’t survive!”

I was amazed by the conversation, moved that a people and a place still exist where the magical and the numinous are treated as topics to chat about and where people still had such reverence for their local landscape. In the West, my experience is that people either treat this kind of topic with incredible (and depressing) cynicism or see it as a myth, an ancient story that happened somewhere else.

The land is threatened as modern culture, with its materialistic values, encroaches and as more and more nomads are settled into villages. It is not just the threat to the land one sees—the trees and lakes, the mist and grasses—but also to the inner land, enlivened with spiritual essence. As the World wakes up to the effects of environmental degradation and begins to turn back to traditional spiritual values, I hope there is a revival of appreciation for ancient Tibet’s Spiritual Ecology. As Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche says:

The nomad who had seen the local protector deity Hogan when out hunting as a boy. He told us that he had thrown down his gun and fled, never to hunt again. His friends said he was lucky to be alive. Horlung Nor, Kham.

“If we have a good relationship with the earth and a good relationship with the feminine, there will be peace and balance in the world. Diseases, famine, epidemics, fighting… there isn’t peace in the world now because the earth elements are disrupted and the earth goddesses displeased. They mainly come about due to this imbalance, don’t they?

In Tibet we believe in female spirits like dakinis, earth goddesses and so forth. We believe  that if we’ve disturbed or aggravated them, we must confess and do purification ceremonies to appease them. We perform confession and feast offerings, and when the dakinis are pleased the environment is peaceful. Prayers that we make to the dakinis have a special power to come true. The dakinis have also made prophecies about these things in their symbolic language.”

Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche

More by Diane Barker

About Diane Barker

Diane Barker is a photographer and artist based in Worcestershire, England. Born in what was historically a pub, Diane’s “nomadic” roots trace back to the 70s as a hippie living in a camper van in America. It was also during that time her first encounter with the Tibetan lamas transpired in Wales. During the 1990s, a Buddhist boyfriend lured her into a voyage to India, which eventually led to her encounter with the Tibetan nomads in Changthang in Ladakh. Ever since, the nomads became her obsession and the subject of her heart. During one of her journeys, a compelling incident within the communities instigated the Heart of Asia project, an NGO founded by Diane and her friends. Its objective is to bring healthcare, health education, and essential aid to remote communities in rural Eastern Tibet. For those wishing to donate to the organization, please visit: www.heartofasia.org/donate.php

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Dancing with Gaia

Keynote Convening CCC19

Dancing with Gaia

Editors’s Note | CLIMATE CHANGE & CONSCIOUSNESS: OUR LEGACY FOR THE EARTH, at the Findhorn Foundation, in North Scotland, April 20-26, 2019, will be a unique conference about surviving and thriving in a climate changing world and post-carbon economy. The event will feature some of the clearest and most passionate voices for the Earth ever gathered together in one place. Kosmos is an official hub for CCC19.


It may be difficult for organizers and strategists, planners, activists, and environmentalists to comprehend how an event as broad in scale and as detailed as the upcoming gathering, Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth, was delivered completely through spiritual guidance. But it was.

I am a neuroscientist, a clinician, a researcher, an author, and an educator. I am a mother and a grandmother, and I am married to an environmental attorney who tests my ideas through the lens of his critical thinking about how things work. While I have cultivated spiritual awareness my entire life, I have also trained extensively in somatics and make every effort to be grounded and anchored as I must be to meet all my responsibilities.

Yet on the night of November 8th, 2016, as I was heading in the direction of enormous despair by what was happening in my country, I was lifted up by the delivery into my physical body—starting at the crown of my head and descending in increments to my toes—of a clear plan. This was a structure for gathering together a diverse assembly of humans at a place known for its profound relationship to nature so that they could awaken to, celebrate, and act on the power of human resilience and evolution to meet the climate crisis and alchemize it through action.

The skeletal design, the central players (indigenous leaders, youth, environmental scientists, activists, artists, permaculturists, diversity farmers, neuroscientists, community organizers, physicians, social entrepreneurs, architects, transportation and urban planners, businessmen and women of all ages and from all over the globe) would come together and, in collaboration with the unseen realms and the creatures of the earth, pool their innate brilliance to rally humanity practically and effectively in the name of the children of the future.

Many of the speakers were named to me along with the location for the gathering. The instructions were logical and direct, but the manner of their transmission was completely revolutionary. It was an outline for action, and it was given with such clarity and insistence that there was no resistance possible. And it all downloaded in less than fifteen minutes. I have never turned back from this assignment, though it transformed my life completely in virtually every regard from that moment forward.

What has impressed me the most since that stunning moment two years ago is the neuroresilience that has accompanied it. I have moved into thought realms and collaborative relationships that are unlike anything I would have chosen for myself. The joys I experience from living brazenly on these new creative frontiers bring with them a unique neurochemistry that I did not even know was possible. This speaks to my conversation with environmentalist Bob Yuhnke elsewhere in this journal about ending habituation as the path of consciousness in a climate-changing world. It is letting go of the very ways in which we identify and value ourselves that we enter the neuroplasticity required of this new era.

I am sharing all this with you right now in order to encourage you to step into activism and leadership not as a duty but as a love affair. Nothing promotes radical transformation as much as love. And who is the affair with? It is with life itself: with Gaia, with the natural world, with the promise of a future. It is also a love affair with your own highest potential. The art of love is the art of surrender. As someone who always thought she would be an artist (meaning a poet or a dancer) I never would have considered social leadership as an art form, but that is exactly what it is. We are dancing with the forces of fate and the subtle realms—listening to the music of an evolutionary symphony that oscillates between discordant and rhapsodic. This is what Climate Change & Consciousness means to me: the dance of life, the art of love.

Images by Zach Street

Zach Street is an Artist/Activist/Educator living in Hilo, Hawai’i, and shares his island home with the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua featured here. Endemic to the island, these iconic trees are symbolic of love, dance, and the spirit of Nature. Currently under threat from human introduced diseases, the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua are inspiring the local community to act for the future of the forests of Hawai’i. MORE

Yes, we are living on the brink of utter disaster. Yes, species are being lost and the grief is unbearable. We do not know if there will be a future worth inhabiting for our children or our children’s children. Yet, at the same time, the symphony of miraculous, impossible change is being composed for us. Please listen. As someone who has survived and thrived despite overwhelming trauma, I know the paradox of hopelessness conjoined with limitless possibility. This juxtaposition is what I am looking at now as I survey a world in crisis. I do not deny the despair that comes over me, but it is always alchemized into faith by astounding neural connections that are built as I evolve through and with this crisis.

While I study the science of climate change, I also study the human nervous system. I have become more focused and clearer about their interaction. From a physiological standpoint, we have every capacity to innovate ourselves and to shift behavior, speech, and thinking in unforeseen directions. Foremost among the health consequences of climate change is the loss, panic, and stress that is virtually everywhere and that will accelerate. There is nothing more important for us to do than to step courageously into the role of leadership in this regard—whether we think we are qualified or not—by modeling a pioneering response to challenge. I invite you to embrace the crucible of our climate-changing world as you would welcome a lover or unique friend—someone so unpredictable and provocative that they wake you up to the present. This reality we are moving into has many hidden twists and turns. It is full of surprises. Dare to enjoy the growth it ignites and embody how that translates into activism. We are all newcomers to what Thomas Berry called the Ecozoic Era when humans would recover their creative orientation to the world.

In the process of healing from early trauma, I have reclaimed some of the childhood that I lost because of it. This imparts a capacity to be incredibly curious, like a child coming into a room for the first time and noticing all the energies that are there: the colors, the shapes, the nuances, the sensations. This sensory experience of discovery is a key aspect of moving into the unprecedented qualities of this historical moment. Paradoxically, I see the world as if for both the last and the first time. I am made anew by the guidance that is available to flow through me and direct my words, my gestures, even my very steps. Every action we take is programmed in the somatosensory cortex, the behavioral hard drive of the brain. Addictions are sustained by addictive gestures, down to the simplest ones like lighting a smoke, ordering a burger, or turning on the ignition of a car and expecting to hear the engine turn over. When we break an addiction, these behaviors no longer engage. Instead, new neuronal connections are sparked. That is what I experience as I step into leadership. It is a cellular regenerative high that no drug can replicate. It is sustainable and sustaining. It is available for you, free of charge, if you are willing to dance with your beloved Gaia. She is waiting expectantly for you, her hands outstretched.

Learn more about CCC19.

Attend the parallel Kosmos Event | Climate, Consciousness, and Community Summit | April 20-23

About Stephanie Mines

Dr. Stephanie Mines is a neuropsychologist whose unique understanding comes from extensive research as well as decades of fieldwork. Her stories of personal transformation have led many listeners to become deeply committed to the healing journey. Dr. Mines understands shock from every conceivable perspective. She has investigated it as a survivor, a professional, a healthcare provider, and as a trainer of staffs of institutions and agencies. She is devoted to the living experience of healing trauma in community that she believes is essential for us to thrive in a climate changing world.

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Council of the Wild Gods

Essay Ecosystem

Council of the Wild Gods

images | courtesy Yellowstone National Park

Bison grunted and rolled amidst sagebrush, stirring clouds of dust. I made a wide arc around the herd. A coyote sprung straight up and landed, like a cartoon, snout buried. Sandhill cranes gargled, wings outstretched for landing. I had been walking for hours, offering wild prayers to the land, creatures, snowy peaks sharp against the western sky. If I had another life, I’d forgotten it.

The bison began to cluster until individuals disappeared into a mass of brown fur wearing half-moon horns. Flowing over the undulating land, the herd seemed a single being. Cowbirds flew in concert with bison. Sandhill wings fanned in a synchronized dance. Grassy green fur emerged on the flanks of hills.

Hoofprints of bison impressed the ground. Boots protected my winter-soft, human feet and reminded me that I would walk home, sit at a desk, go to the market, cook on a stove, see a film, sleep in a bed—so unlike the Others whose lives pressed into my awareness that afternoon, whose wilder psyches entwined with, and tugged at, my own.

I had an amateur ecologist’s understanding of the moods and rhythms of rivers and peaks, creature migrations, sagebrush plains, raptors and voles. But on that day, the land presented itself as a body. The features and creatures revealed themselves as cells. The cells morphed into species; species and landforms shapeshifted into organs of Earth’s body—organs with unique perceptions, original expressions. Together, forming a larger body, an immense intelligence, an enormous, breathing, wild organism.

In that entanglement of bison and coyotes, Sandhill cranes and emerging grass, questions bellowed forth. It seemed the wild Earth asked, “What is necessary about human beings? What do humans offer to the community of life?”  

Especially now—amidst massive floods, fires, glacier melt, the diminishment of Earth’s life support systems, and the spectacularly corrupt race to amass billions at the expense of everything dear—what do human people offer?

I lived, for a long spell, amidst a complex organism called the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The land beckoned and seduced me; I was helpless to resist the allure of elk and grizzlies, big rivers and granite peaks, hot springs and mycelium. It did not occur to me until years later that the land may have had its own intentions in the seduction. It did not occur to me until later that the land’s own longings might be transmitted to a human being through the water, shared air, flesh of morels and berries.

When the wolves were returned to Greater Yellowstone, the wild gods sat in council once again. I’ve been privileged to press my ear against Earth, hoping to eavesdrop on that council of furred, finned, feathered, and rooted ones.

It may not be possible to erase a long encounter with the wild gods from the body; even a determined human being might not successfully return to the agreed-upon scramble for money and recognition of modern life without self-harm. An immersion in Earth’s wild psyche is not quite the same as an amazing vacation at Old Faithful. Once one wanders for a distance off-trail, into the habitat of predators and horned mammals, everything is in question. Imagination can run unchecked in all directions. Big questions might paw out unexpectedly from the shadows.

Many years ago, in a wide-ranging conversation with environmental education students, I asked if the human species might have a particular purpose in the planetary ecosystem. The students puzzled for a few moments before one advised me that human beings have no purpose in the community of life. No purpose. Take a moment here. Could we feel the enormity of such pointless existence without debilitating anguish? If we offer no meaningful contribution, how do we bear the existential angst of our species?

But I also wonder: is it possible that the intelligent Earth and cosmos from which we emerged made such a mistake in that our own kind, unlike any of the Others, has no contribution, no role, no niche in the ecosystem called Earth? If the Others inhabit niches that express their unique abilities, what about us? What is our unique capacity in relationship with the Others? What do they long for from us? Are these their voices I hear, troubling me with questions?

If the ecological niches occupied by the Others are specific to their unique abilities and communities, would it not be so for human beings? Thomas Berry writes, “The humans articulate [the universe] story in a particular human way, the whales do it in their way, the birds do it in their way, the worms in the Earth do it in their way, the insects do it in their way.” [1]

As far as we know, no other creature has the human capacity of visionary, forward-seeing imagination. We know that our companion animals dream and have memory, but we do not witness them making radical changes to their circumstances. Beavers, for example, exercise their always-growing teeth by cutting trees for dams, but as far as we can tell, beavers are not trying to fashion a Hoover dam, not trying to light Las Vegas.

All of the stunning and troubling creations brought forth by human beings—Shakespeare, nuclear weapons, internal combustion, fracking, strip mines, Zen Buddhism, Large Hadron Collider, Hubble telescope, skin kayaks, iPhone, pipe organs, poison arrows—have a common origin: imagination.

Consciously or not, the human imagination has brought us to the threshold of peril and possibility.

With vanishing glaciers, insect extinctions, mass human migrations, and so many other disturbances, we’ve arrived in a terrain we’ve hardly mapped and don’t know how to read. Our accustomed tools are failing us. Our common future likely won’t be salvaged by our institutions, by another app or conventional “progress.” Perhaps what is being asked of us now is a different way of being human, an exploration of our capacity to envision and bring forth alternate futures, including impossible worlds that may be (impossibly) self-generating already in the fertile terrain of the imaginal. In a radical act of wild imagination, we might encounter the terrestrial intelligence of Earth; we might eavesdrop on the Council of the Wild Gods—as listeners, not dominators, receptive to the invitation extended to our own species to occupy a vital, imaginative, enriching niche in the community of life.

[1] Berry and Tucker, Evening Thoughts, 31.

About Geneen Marie Haugen

Geneen Marie Haugen, PhD, grew up as a free-range wildish kid with a run amok imagination. She is a guide to the experiential, intertwined mysteries of nature and psyche with the Animas Valley Institute, and is on the faculty of the Esalen Institute, Schumacher College, and the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality. Her writing has appeared in many journals and books, including Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth; Thomas Berry: Dreamer of the Earth; Parabola Journal; Ecopsychology Journal; DailyGood.org; High Country News; and others.

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