Deschooling Dialogues | Alnoor Ladha with Sophie Strand


Episode 3 – Alnoor Ladha with Sophie Strand

In this episode of Deschooling Dialogues, host Alnoor Ladha talks with Sophie Strand. She is a writer based in the Hudson Valley who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. But it would probably be more authentic to call her “a neo-troubadour animist with a propensity to spin yarns that inevitably turn into love stories.”

Her first book of essays, The Flowering Wand: Lunar Kings, Lichenized Lovers, Transpecies Magicians, and Rhizomatic Harpists Heal the Masculine is out now from Inner Traditions. Her eco-feminist historical fiction reimagining of the gospels The Madonna Secret will also be published soon. Her books of poetry include Love Song to a Blue God (Oread Press) and Those Other Flowers to Come (Dancing Girl Press) and The Approach (The Swan). Follow her on Facebook or on Instagram @cosmogyny.

AL | Welcome to the Deschooling Dialogues. This podcast is a co-creation between Culture Hack Labs and Kosmos Journal. Culture Hack Labs is a not-for-profit advisory that supports organizations, social movements and activists to create cultural interventions for systems change. You can find out more at

Post-production is made possible by the dedicated supporters of Kosmos Journal, focused on transformation in harmony with all Life. You can find out more at And thank you to Radio Kingston for the use of this space today. I’m your host, Alnoor Ladha.

I’m here with Sophie Strand, who’s a dear friend, sibling, an inspiration when it comes to weaving words and worlds. She is a writer, a compost heap, a troubadour, an animist, and she’s the author of the Flowering Wand, which is out now, and Madonna’s Secret, which is coming out this summer. Welcome to Deschooling Dialogues. Thank you for being with us and taking the time.

SS| Thank you so much for having me and for having my little dog who may vocalize during this.

AL | So let’s start with a little bit about the inquiries you’re holding now and a little bit about the journey.

SS | A little bit about the journey. I was raised in a swamp of Theravada Buddhist monks, rabbis, theologians, rescued possums, raccoons, mountains. My parents write about the history of religion and they also write about ecology. So, I definitely have a root system in these things and was produced by dinner table conversations that range from eco-anarchism to the history of Christianity.

These days, I’m thinking a lot about healing paradigms and how they’re helpful and how they also constrict us and foreclose certain possibilities for wellness. And I am looking at my own story with chronic illness and with trauma under a different lens, under a more interspecies lens, trying to problematize the ways in which I have focused on the human when it comes to healing instead of my wider connectivity. What are you thinking about right now? I know you just finished a book on philanthropy, composting philanthropy.

AL | Kind of against my will. Yes. I think a lot about post capitalism, not in a temporal sense of what comes after this existing system, but more about what are the enabling conditions to create embodied cultures worth living. And I see a lot of parallel between our work in the sense that you often go to ecology for your inspiration. We were talking about pigweed the other day, and you gave me the metaphor of pigweed, and I thought, wow, that’s a post-capitalist being, the pigweed. Maybe you can say a little bit about it.

SS | So a little context, my grandmother was an English rose gardener, and she didn’t know better, and she used glyphosate in her rose garden, and she died of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is now shown to be directly caused by glyphosate, and posthumously she was included in the class action suit against them, and I think a lot about it. She was the person who I felt closest to. She lived with us as she died. I loved her quite a bit. She was a gardener and a lover of plants, completely pagan without knowing that that’s what she was. And I think about how we are all threaded through with microplastics. We’re all drinking water with blood pressure stabilizers and pesticide in it and experiencing auto-immunity and cascading physical glitches that of course, the environment is also experiencing at a much higher degree.

And for me, I was thinking, I can’t purify myself. I can’t put myself into some machine that purifies my blood and fixes me. I need a good metaphor. And so, in medieval England, there were cults of saints and it seemed Christian, but really, they were syncretic with much earlier tutelary land deities. So certain plants, certain springs, certain valleys would have healing attributes, and they became conflated with Christian saints so that they could still exist within the oppressive paradigm of colonial Christianity. But they pointed to plants and animals and places that could heal you. So, you would pray to a certain saint for a toothache, for a fever, for heartache. And so, I’ve created my own cult of saints, but they’re all plants and animals and microbes, and they’re the plants and animals and microbes that are, as you said, post capitalist; ones that are not the master’s tools.

“The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house” [Audre Lorde]. They’re always the dirtiest, most hated beings. And one of those is pigweed. And pigweed is a weed – it’s actually indigenous to America, but we treat it like an invasive species because it destroys our monocropping. It’ll get into a field. They have these deep tap roots that are impossible to get rid of without something called flame weeding where you burn down the entire field. And the best thing is they genetically outpace pesticides that they can outpace glyphosate in one generation.

AL | As their adaptive mechanism.

SS | And so they can metabolize the pesticide and learn how to get rid of it immediately. And so I started praying to pigweed just to teach me how to alchemize these poisons in my own body. So that’s one. But I like calling them post capitalism, like co-conspirators.

AL | They’re sort of apocalyptic, but also post capitalistic deities.

SS | Yeah. Do you have one right now? Can you think of one?

AL | The one that comes to mind, and you’ll probably know the Latin names better than me, is the particular fungi that infects the ant.

SS | Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

AL | There you go. I knew you would. And why I think the metaphor is so interesting is that it doesn’t have a body in that sense. It can’t get to the top of the tree, but it can infuse the ant’s body and become a symbiont with the ant. And the research on it is really interesting because they don’t know if it’s affecting the neurology of the ant; if it’s happening at a strictly neurochemical level, like the ant is high. They haven’t figured out what the mechanism is; in which way is it doing this. And I think in some ways that the kind of post capitalist resistance is like what we have to ride the bodies of – in some ways, more mobile, more superior creatures and take root in logic like that.

SS | Yeah. I love that metaphor too. I often think of that ant when I think of art, which is ‘good art is never you’. It’s always using your body and hijacking you to do something that’s bigger than you. And that experience is usually terrifying. We do not know what that ant is experiencing, but I think Merlin Sheldrake says by the time the ant’s at the top of the plant, it’s a fungus in an ant costume, which I love. How can we become fungus in human costumes and trees in human costumes? How can we let ourselves be colonized by these beings?

AL | For me, this kind of line of thinking comes with the idea of purpose. I think a lot about how, in the living world, no species requires purpose or is contemplating their purpose or is navel gazing about its purpose. And the West is obsessed with it. From career counselors to the kind of Fordist procession that moves us towards some kind of vocational job. When you’ve come out of high school and you get these seven bad options of architect, lawyer or doctor or whatever, before we even know what we are orienting towards. A plant understands photosynthesis. It has its teleology if you will, intact. And we’re so rudderless, especially in a culture that tells us a kind of materialist reductionist fallacy of acquisition is going to somehow save us. And the only thing we need to do is whatever’s required to get us into a relatively hierarchical position to acquire more, consume more, validate more, et cetera.

SS | I was thinking about accumulation. We want to accumulate as much as possible, put as much into our bodies. And by extension, we’re making as much land into places to grow our food, our monocrops, or our cows and our chickens, which are an extension of our own bodies. But I often think of these spiders that always die when they reproduce, or they will jump into the mouths of these giant female spiders and die.

There were these rare spiders in this zoo, and they were trying to get them to reproduce, and they were waiting and trying to make sure that the lady spider didn’t eat him before they mated. And she ate him and everyone despaired because they were the last of their kind. And then two weeks later, she was pregnant. He managed to, as he was dying, do the act. And for me, I was always thinking, we think that that’s a life wasted. We think we have to save life, but life doesn’t have a savings account. It spends everything at once always.

AL | And maybe there’s a transition between these two. I think I told you about my uncle before. I remember being about 17 years old, and the career counselor or whatever they called them back then, gave me all this propaganda for Canadian universities. I’m looking at this and my uncle walks in the room and he’s like, ‘what are you doing?’ And I said, well, I have to pick what university I want to go to. And then he just sort of laughed and he was like, ‘you’ve become so colonized.’ And then his line was, ‘your life is a consequence of your prayer.’

SS | Beautiful.

AL | ‘Your life is the consequence of your prayer.’ You don’t like your optionalities, you don’t like your choice set. Go to your altar, go do your Dhikr, which is Arabic mantra, refine your prayer, and then you can negotiate with Life again. And it just recalibrated the way I was approaching this limited choice set of what I could do and what my purpose was. There is no purpose. There’s only prayer, and you’re in dialogue with this animate world. There’s a pathway in death also because I think death-phobia is driving most of our motivations at a civilizational level. It’s obvious, when we look at healthcare for example, or end of life care, palliative care, and Elon Musk wanting to go to Mars and uploading our consciousness to the AI and all of that, but also at a daily kind of quotidian way, our purpose and death are so entwined.

SS | Well, I think it’s interesting. I was just thinking of this great line from my favorite Linda Hogan poem, which is “to enter life, be food”. I think maybe the most terrifying thing is to really realize what our purpose is, which is to be food, to ‘become food’, to make ourselves edible. How do we make ourselves edible? It’s not about being a doctor or doing anything of the sort. It’s about making sure that at the end of our lives we could be eaten. And that’s very terrifying. That’s so closely wedded to death.

I often think that our fear of death is also closely linked to our weird relationships to food webs. That food webs are created by waste, by delicately plugging your waste into another being’s appetite. That’s how the nitrogen and the salmon make it all the way into the rivers, then into the bear’s bodies from out in the ocean, that the ocean is tied in deep, deep miles into the land by these salmon and by their waste decaying and being eaten by bears. And then the bears are pooping on the shore of these rivers. We don’t know how to make our waste edible anymore. We don’t know how to make our death edible. So I sometimes think that my purpose in life is just really simple. It’s very material. How do I make sure that at the end of my life I can be eaten?

AL | There might also be an esoteric layer to this. I was thinking of Zhenevere Sophia Dao, who said, on multiple occasions, ‘I try to cultivate my diet so I’m erotically attractive to Gods and deities.’ It’s a very Dao conception of death – you cultivate your qi in a certain way that the more-than-human and these multidimensional beings are attracted to you.

SS | I often say to people, we have to realize that we are not just speaking with our mouths, we’re speaking with our whole bodies to other beings. So, the first way we usually speak to other beings is with our smell. And we have forgotten. We are very loud with our smell and unintentional. And the truth is that we’re eating processed food, we’re covering ourselves in synthetic chemicals, and then we’re quietly going into the forest. It’s a very loud, unintentional entrance. If you’re smelling like that, I often think that the first way we can key into how we’re communicating with these other animate forces is through smell. Can we learn to smell better? Can we learn to speak better with our whole bodies?

AL | Which happens through diet. And in the Daoist sense it happens through spiritual practice, vis-à-vis this idea of death. I was also thinking of something you said in our conversation with V [formerly Eve Ensler – see bonus episode with Sophie Strand and V] which is “we’re not children of the garden, we’re children of the crater”. And what comes to me, and I’ve had discussions around this in other contexts, is 99.9% of every species that’s ever existed on the planet is no longer with us. So, the scientific analysis of 10 to 60 million species that are alive on the planet are only less than 0.01% of all life that’s ever lived. And so maybe the point is not perpetual existence, but to die well. It’s actually extinction. That’s what life moves towards.

SS | Or combining bodies. I mean, I oftentimes think that the most biological novelty are the moments when two species are like, ha, we’re done. Let’s just combine. Let’s burn the bridge to our old body behind us. Two simple prokaryotes used to create eukaryotic life; botched cannibalism created our bodies. So yeah, we’re also, maybe right now we’re being asked to jump into other bodies, and that does seem like death and probably feels like death. It’s like the fungus in the ant.

AL | We also don’t know what we’re becoming. We think evolution is a finite force that has a destination. But we have no idea. We’re still navigating our own verticality.

SS |I know. And we don’t do it well. I mean, Thomas Halliday, this great paleontologist says something that is like my prayer – it’s ‘nature is not nostalgic. It’s creative.’ It will put new things together every day to keep life moving. It’s not devoted to one species. I always say, ‘matter is not species monogamous. It’s promiscuous.’

AL | I love that.

SS | It moves between bodies and it changes bodies to keep moving. Yeah. I hope that whatever happens, I contribute to ‘the commons of the general enlivenment’, to paraphrase Andreas Weber. I hope that’s how you say our friend’s name. But yeah, I hope I can pay forward my matter to the general aliveness.

AL | In terms of death, dying, extinction, eukaryotic life, this sort of symbiont, holobiont and cyborg beings that were becoming in some ways, what is your sense of the directionality?

SS | What is my sense of the directionality? My sense of the directionality is I’m an ant on a very big earth, and I have no sense of the direction. I just hope that I will make myself a doorway through which matter can flow without being blocked. And we were talking with V earlier about the ones who walk away from Omelas, which is this utopia that is justified and kept in place by the abuse of one child.

AL | This is the Ursula Le Guin short story.

SS | And the direction is not what matters. The important thing is to walk away, I think, ‘what’s the direction we’re moving in?’ Is it towards complete extinction? Is it towards some weird kind of digital Symbiocene? Is it towards the grid going down? I don’t know. All I know is that I want to walk away from Omelas, and I hope that I can join hands with other beings, be they dogs or plants or trees or friends like you, as we choose to walk away. So what direction are we moving in? I hope we are moving away from Omelas.

AL | In some ways, we are walking towards the event horizon, whatever’s coming. Terence McKenna always used to say that ‘we are in parking orbit of this event horizon’. We sense it, it’s around the corner. And it feels like, on one level, there’s this digitization that’s happening from crypto wallets to vaccine passports to AI that’s happening in one direction and then in the other, you have to choose between becoming cyborg or free people.

SS | I know. Yeah. I mean, the one thing I think about, and I’m interested to hear where you’re learning right now. I do think that we treat this technology like it is a God, and we forget that it’s made of very fragile materials and materials that depend on our supply chains and our infrastructure holding. Most of our technology depends on one factory in Taiwan making these computer chips and our relationship with Taiwan being okay. I sometimes think that we’re in a kind of weird medieval theological relationship to technology that doesn’t actually admit that it’s fragile and it needs a lot of parts still working. I think it’s too fragile to be our future, personally. How do you feel?

AL | Yeah. All this talk about AI singularity, I find on some levels quite ridiculous. This requires the perpetual mining of lithium from Bolivia. And coltan and cobalt from West Africa, that’s not going to happen. And it also requires huge amounts of satellites in the air and a global energy grid. And we’re mitigating for a three degree rise in temperature by mid-century, which is correlated with 40% biodiversity loss. That’s like 40% of all life not being here. We have no idea what’s going to happen to the ecosystem and the biome and the web of life. And it’s also correlated with the 10-to-20-meter sea level rise.

SS | There’s no way these things are going to keep in place.

AL | And then the other aspect of this is also the belief that you can get consciousness from non-consciousness makes no sense to me. Neuroscience has spent 30 years trying to figure out the hard problem of consciousness. And the reason it’s a hard problem of consciousness is that their logic is circular.

SS | It’s a black box with this homunculus inside of it that’s operating this other homunculus…

AL | And the analysis that it’s an “emergent phenomenon”, that mind, that consciousness itself, just emerged from this machine called the brain. And this is also related to nostalgia, right? Because we are told that the human neocortex is the most evolved thing, and what will happen if the universe doesn’t have it?

Consciousness is distributed. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything. And if that was your starting place, if we had a more idealistic, pan-psychic starting place, you wouldn’t have the hard problem of consciousness. And you also wouldn’t have the fallacy that somehow AI consciousness is going to be created from nothing. When we don’t even know how consciousness in the human brain works, how are we now going to bestow that God-like ability on ones and zeros and digital machinery?

SS | I’m deeply of a kind of new materialist, pantheist, animist sensibility. My sense is that, yeah, these machines and bots are sentient, but they’re sentient because they’re made from material that’s sentient and they’re not sentient because we’ve created some neural network. They’re sentient because matter is bumptious and agential in ways that we cannot control and conceive of. And one thing I am not worried about, but very aware of, is I think that technology is haunted. I think a lot about how a lot of medicine depends on Nazi experiments that have just dropped out of the footnotes.

Can you separate the means from the ends? What does it mean that most of our medical science is done from experimenting on animals? We think about quantum entanglement, we think about the observer always affecting the outcome. I always think that when you kill one being, that affects the outcome. What does it mean that our medicine is based on this erasure, this illusion? And so I think a lot about how the AI we’re creating is haunted with materiality, with minerals and stuff that’s been extracted from the earth. What does that material want? That’s the consciousness we’re talking about and not acknowledging,

AL | Right. There’s the Donna Haraway line where she says, “it matters what matter we matter with.”

SS | Yes. It matters what stories we use to tell other stories.

AL | What ties we tie knots with.

As this focus of this conversation is on deschooling, and I love that we have our non-linear weaving and we’ve talked everything from purpose to the body to AI. What do we need to unlearn as a culture in order to be good compost, in order to be useful to the aliveness of matter?

SS | Well, I want to hear your answer. I think the thing that I’m pretty focused on is we need to unlearn the atomized self. We need to unlearn the sense that there is an individual. We only come into being through interface and through relationships. Healing doesn’t happen in one body. It happens in a meshwork of bodies. Trauma doesn’t come into being through perpetrator and victim. It comes into being through complicated systems of complicity. So I think for me, the thing I would like to unlearn is this sense that I am a self with boundaries that should be defended. I need to get used to an idea that I’m leaky and that avails me to pollution and harm, but also of more nourishment and feral ways of surviving than I could ever have expected. What do you think we need to unlearn right now?

AL | I’m totally with you. I think at the highest level, when we try to get to the root, in through root, with the root, we could say the root is neoliberalism or the Neolithic revolution or the invention of the city state. We can try to historically and anthropologically go back to the materialist driver. But what it comes to for me is the illusion of separation.

I love this definition from chief Niniwa [of the Huni Kuin people from Acra, Brazil], colonialism and whiteness are the illusions of separation as neurological cultural impairments. That we’ve internalized this belief of separation so deeply that it affects our very ontology, and ontology is the applied philosophy of being. And sometimes it’s interpreted as vision, literally the way we see the world. And so if my gaze is structured in a way that everything is separate and materialist and reductionist, I’m therefore entitled to manipulate the world as I want. I think that becomes the root of so many of our societal illnesses.

The belief that we’re separate from other beings also requires a deep numbing and anesthesia of the body and the soul and the mind and the heart complex. Because how could you treat another being in these ways or accept the living conditions of other human beings or the widespread destruction of the ecology unless these aspects of you, that know are not separate, are put to sleep.

SS | Exactly. I mean, when you realize that all of these arrows you’re shooting are going into your own breast, you’re going to feel a lot of pain. I mean, the thing I think about a lot is there’s a rather precious take on ecological embodiment right now that it’s about covering yourself in olive oil and sluicing yourself with the dirt.

SS | No, it’s just that we need to go out and participate in nature. But the truth is that the threshold you have to cross is that it’s like when your foot has been asleep and it comes back awake, that hurts. It prickles when you realize that you’ve been hurting yourself, your extended body for such a long time. And I think a lot of us right now are navigating that pain of waking up from the numbness.

AL | Completely. And that part of me that is empathic and connected and in the non-separate state, those are the best aspects of me. And for them to be amputated and to be colonized in that way means that I’m not fully available to life itself. And so, I’m in this active practice of how do I integrate these various ignored, amputated aspects of myself to be in the state of non-separation? And again, I don’t think it’s an arrival place. But I am committed to that journey of whatever it takes. The feelings and the emotional experiences that come with experiences of non-duality and non-separation are much more interesting to me than any material comfort that stems from the illusion of my separate beingness.

SS | I mean, I loved the distinction you made earlier between the destination and the process. We’re so focused on the destination, we forgot how to keep moving. I always think that certainty is a bad flotation device, and it keeps you from learning how to swim. And the truth is you just need to learn to swim to move your muscles rather than depending on some kind of faulty false dualism or set of controls. How can we learn to just be in the process without trying to get anywhere?

AL | It’s practice and there’s a constant orientation that’s required to be like, oh, ‘I’m attempting to get somewhere’.

SS | Yes, no, you never get sober from it. I think that’s the thing that I’m realizing right now is like, any moment I think I’m sober from the culture, I’m the drunkest. In fact, saying you’re sober is a good sign that you’re pretty drunk. I think I’m just constantly realizing I’m an alcoholic. You’re never not an alcoholic in a 12-step program. You’re always an addict. And I think that’s the thing: I’m an addict of this culture, and I need to be actively aware of that and investigate how it infects every single one of my decisions as an addict. You can think, I’m just going to visit a friend on this street. I just love seeing that friend. I mean, it is next to my old drug dealer. You’re really good at hiding things from yourself. And so I think 12-step work is actually sometimes a really good way of thinking about how we’re addicted to the culture. And it keeps you humble.

AL | There was a line given to me by a plant much smarter than me, and she said, ‘ignorance is the seed of all ontology.’ And I asked her to repeat herself, and she said, ‘ignorance is the seed of all ontology’.  That if you could even try to grasp the consequences of your ignorance, that becomes the seed of the way you see the world because it’s completely shaped by your ignorance. And then the next logical step would be that humility is the midwife to wisdom. There’s something very humble about walking around the world, acknowledging that you’re never sober, that I’m an addict to this culture.

SS | I think that’s my big work these days is just seeing the moments when I begin to slide. And I think that’s always a big moment in an addict’s life is realizing the moments when your behavior begins to slant downhill. And we can all help each other. I mean, I do think that’s why group work is really important in confronting this. We can’t do it alone. We have to do it in conversation.

AL | That’s a beautiful way to end or begin and always be in the middle. And yes, we stay in the middle. Thank you so much, Sophie. Thanks for spending the time and it’s good to do it in your hometown.

SS | It feels really special. Thank you so much.

AL | We’ll see each other soon. Thank you.

Deschooling Dialogues | Alnoor Ladha with V


Episode 2 – Alnoor Ladha with V

Alnoor Ladha | Welcome to the Deschooling Dialogues. This podcast is a co-creation of Culture Hack Labs and Kosmos Journal. Culture Hack Labs is a not-for-profit consultancy that supports organizations, social movements and activists to create cultural interventions for systems change. Learn more at

Post-production is made possible by dedicated supporters of the Kosmos Journal mission – transformation in harmony with all Life. Visit to join.

I am your host, Alnoor Ladha.

Today we’ll meet with V, formerly Eve Ensler, the founder of V-Day, One Billion Rising, and so many important organizations and non-organizations and movements in the space of social justice and beyond. She’s also the co-founder of City of Joy, which is a physical healing center and space in the Congo. She is the author of Vagina Monologues, The Apology, and her latest book Reckoning just came out. We’re going to talk about that today and so much more. You can Google her and you’ll find out all the things she’s up to in the world and all the relationships she’s been weaving for 30 plus years. Thank you for being with us, V.

V | I’m thrilled to be with you, Alnoor.

Alnoor | Let’s start with what’s animating you and what’s moving you in this chaotic moment we’re in, this bifurcation of late-stage capitalism, what feels like peak capitalism in some ways. And peak patriarchy, peak inequality, peak white supremacy, peak stupidity, and maybe even peak possibility.

V | Yes, I think all of the above. I’ve just come off a three day amazing meeting with One Billion Rising coordinators from all over the world where we meet every year to imagine and create the vision for the risings that will follow in the upcoming year. It’s been an amazing few days. Women from Afghanistan, from Democratic Republic of Congo, from India, from all over.

One of the things that really struck me is this disparity between what happens when we are in community and working together and imagining  and dreaming together and the explosiveness of our solidarity and love versus what people are up against when they are struggling in their own countries. This morning, Lucinda was leaving, going back to South Africa, and she said, “I’m full of this love and I’m full of this solidarity and I feel like I’m going back to war.”

I think there’s many people in that room who would’ve said the same thing. And the wars are on many different levels. There’s climate wars, the war against the planet. There’s war against people in terms of racism, the war against LGBTQ, migrants, war against workers. We can just go down the list, but I think what’s really hitting me, and something I was really talking a lot about is so much of my life, I’ve been in the struggle. I’ve been fighting against, I’ve been up against patriarchy, up against White supremacy, up against capitalism, up against imperialism. And I feel like those terms and that way of operating are not working for me anymore because I feel like as we move against the machine and against the patriarchy, they’re still defining the narrative because they’re defining what we’re doing.

Alnoor | The terms.

V | The terms. When I wrote The Apology, which was a book I wrote because I waited for so many years for my own father to apologize to me, for the sexual abuse, for the violence, for the degradation of my spirit, for the decimation of my character, I wrote his apology to me because he was dead, and for 31 years he had never written it to me, but I needed to hear it. I needed the word.

So I kind of climbed into my father andI wrote it in his voice. And he was present for the nine months that I wrote it. And when I was over, the last line of the book is “old man be gone” and my father literally disappeared into the Cosmos and I know he’s in a better place. I know he did a lot of reckoning in his own soul and moved himself out of a very, very, very, very dark zone that he was in.

One of the things I realized is that so much of my life had been guided by my rage at my father, proving to my father I wasn’t the person he thought I was. I would show him and I’d be this or I’d be that, but he was controlling the story. And since the end of that book, that motor that was driving my life to prove to my father, it’s just gone. It’s gone. So what’s happened is I’ve got to create a new motor that isn’t about him, that isn’t about patriarchy, that isn’t about any of these things. It’s about imagination. It’s about the dream. What is the dream? What is our dream? What’s the world we want and how are we going to create it?

And maybe what happens is that there’s this crazy patriarchal post-capitalist falling, broken down world; but alongside it, there’s this other world that we’re creating and it gets to be so beautiful, so connected, so caring, so lush, so fertile, so sexy. So everything is such that everyone’s like, wait, wait, wait, I want to be in this world. I want to be here.

And I think we spent a lot of time over the last few days in our meeting dreaming and asking what are the principles of this new world? What does the new world feel like? What’s happening in that world? And I think it gave everybody so much energy to get out of the fight. The fight, we’re always in the fight. So that’s what I’m dreaming about.

Alnoor | So how did you get to that state? I also grew up as an activist and organizer out of the anti-globalization movement. And when you’re in the face of the oppression machine, when the World Bank is displacing your land or WTO is liquidating your assets and making deals at a nation-state level and all of that, and the corporate state nexus is moving, there’s such a deep sense of helplessness. And what you’re saying is you’re also accessing some kind of non-dual state to hold it in its full shadow, but also hold possibility in its full light. And it requires work in some ways, internally, and maybe we think of it as work-play. Qhat was the process to get there?

V | A lifetime. But also Carl Jung said, “In order to survive in this century, you have to hold two opposite ideas at the same time.” I didn’t used to be so comfortable in the middle.I was an either-or person. And I think one of the things age has done or just evolving as a person, is that this place of… it’s not even ambiguity so much as it’s ambidextrousness, it’s this ability to fly through these different seasons of beginnings and ends and these possibilities of some world collapsing as another world is beginning.

Look, there is plenty, plenty to resist. There’s a lot to resist. But what I feel so much having been on the streets for so much of my life, I’ve camped out, I’ve endlessly protested. We need that. It’s never either/or. But there’s also something else we need. I’ve learned so much from the women of Congo where I’ve spent so much time and particularly at City of Joy, which is this revolutionary center and a sanctuary for young women who have been through the worst sexual abuses. They are shattered when they arrive at City of Joy. But in the process of being there for six months, they begin to get healed and whole.

And one of the things they’ve taught me is that it’s about energy. It’s about energy. Here they are in the midst of the worst circumstances in the world, but they are singing all the time. They are dancing all the time. They’re moving energy in a certain way that keeps them rising and imagining keeping them deeply connected to each other. And I don’t know, I think sometimes the world can make us feel so despaired, so despaired, like if you just sitting in the room, hearing what’s going on in South Africa, hearing what’s going on in the Congo, hearing what’s going on in Afghanistan right now to women, it’s just mind blowing.

There’s no way to even process what’s happened to women there. The loss of right after right after right, it’s like those beautiful Matryoshka dolls where there’s a doll inside a doll. A right inside a right, disappearing inside a right, disappearing inside a right till you’re down to literally being inside a room where you aren’t allowed to move or exist. You’re not allowed to learn. You’re not allowed to sing, you’re not allowed to dance, you’re not allowed to become.

I mean, that state of existence is so mind blowing. And we really spent time really thinking about how we got here where their rights have been eviscerated , all the things that created this moment – the imperialism, the interventions, the promises, the broken promises, the betrayals and abandonment. So I feel like there’s some place between this rage, grief and imagination. And I think I live constantly swimming in that sea of rage, grief and imagination.

Alnoor | And how do you access it?

V | I access it through writing and art and creation. I access it through my deepening and ongoing love for the mother and her creation and the trees and the birds and the water and the turtles and everything that is here that she’s created. I access it through my connection to my beloved friends and family and my glorious sisters in this movement, who are really working from the core of their souls for a new world.

Alnoor | That’s what I notice about you, the most, in some ways, that you’re creating embodied cultures. You’re doing it with other people. You’re in the dialogue of: this us-versus-them binary, traditional activism can only get us so far. And yes, let’s hold all the truth and all the pain and let’s put it on the table, and let’s also live into the values of post capitalism of what comes next. And you’re doing them simultaneously. There’s no amputation. It’s like you’re metabolizing the darkness and you’re creating the (I don’t want to call it “new”), let’s say new-ancient-emerging cultures.

V | I look at City of Joy, it’s such a metaphor for me, this place, this lotus. And lotuses are the only flower that seed and blossom simultaneously, that grow from the mud.

And I look at where City of Joy is located in Bukavu, Eastern Congo, where the war is still raging after all these years, after millions dying and hundreds of thousands of women being systematically raped and their bodies destroyed, so much poverty and such profound poverty where Congoleses are living in the richest, most resourceful country in the world, and they literally can’t eat their own food, can’t access their own minerals because all these multinationals [corporations] have come from everywhere in the world to extract and take and move them off their lands. And here is this place, City of Joy, in the middle of all that – a jewel in the midst of so much suffering – and its spinning a new energy and creating a new world.

And around it, there’s this camp of widows of soldiers, and it’s a very impoverished camp, but we’ve now brought them into our fold. They’re part of our web. And a lot of the women in the camp are starting to work at City of Joy. They come and dance with us and eat with us. They celebrate Christmas with us, and now they’re beginning to change. They’re beginning to get this energy that’s coming out from City of Joy.

So it’s really taught me, you forge the diamond with love and care, in the midst of anywhere that’s impoverished, in the midst of anywhere where people are hurting and suffering, and that diamond, it begins to radiate out. It begins to glimmer out. It’s contagious. I mean, the way complaints are contagious or suffering is contagious, joy is contagious. Possibility is contagious. Love is contagious. And so how do we do the outrageous, absurd act of loving more, of caring more, of believing more at a moment that tells us to do the exact opposite. And to me, it’s very Beckett. It’s very Beckett. I’ve always loved Beckett. He’s my favorite writer. ”You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. “

Alnoor | Do you think that it’s possible, even in the midst of bereft and impoverished culture like the US? We’re sitting here in Kingston, in upstate New York, the former capital of the state, the landing place for the British monarchy, and then IBM 200 years later. A shared friend of yours and mine, said to me, IBM: the internalized British monarchy. It’s the same thing. And it’s destitute here in many ways, culturally, spiritually, and the women of the Congo, and cultures worthy of the word culture, they have dance at their core and they have music at their core, and they have community at their core. Can it happen here?

V | Of course it can happen here. Look, I’ve had such great fortune to be able to have toured this country so many times because I’ve done a bunch of plays. When I did the Vagina Monologues, I probably went to every city in this country. When I did The Good Body, I toured this country. When I did Emotional Creature, I toured. I know this country really well, and I know the people of this country really well. And there is a hunger in the people of this country for a new culture, for principles, for things to believe in. One of the things we were creating this week is the philosophy of rising and really mapping out what are the principles that we believe in as a movement.

What if we have a new philosophy? What if we create a new vision of the world and we have tenets of it that we all agree to?

Alnoor | Do you want to share some of them?

V | One is, do no harm. Do no harm and honor each other’s becoming, honor each other’s becoming. And that means that we don’t interrupt each other’s processes, whether it’s gender evolution, whether it’s artistic evolution, repairing and healing from trauma, whatever it is. I think listening, listening, deep listening, it’s a principle. Radical empathy. Radical empathy. Becoming willing and teaching yourself how to really feel  what another person is going through. I think making art and the creation of art are part of everything we do. So it’s not seen as this separate thing the way America has divided it out and made it so insignificant.

I remember when we started OBR, a radical dance movement to end violence against all women, girls and trans and non-binary people in the world. And I was interviewed on this show called Hard Talk in Britain, and the guy looked at me and he said, “Tell me Miss Ensler, what does dancing do?” And I just started laughing and I thought , what doesn’t it do? What doesn’t it do? But it’s this idea of perceiving art and dancing and music and poetry and theater as if it’s some lowly thing that you get to as an afterthought, as opposed to being the center of whatever we are and whoever we are. Because the one thing art can do is break through binaries. It  can surprise you and  open up your heart and take you out of your mind.

Alnoor | And it’s inherently disruptive because the entire West is based on axiomatic, Cartesian linear logic, which is why art is seen, in one sense, as frivolous. It’s not “productive”. It goes against the Protestant work ethic. But then on the other side, it’s the secular religion of the West. We lionize artists and create these museums and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on static pieces of paper, which is very telling of the Western psyche, to both demonize and lionize the thing it doesn’t understand.

V | I think what America is most afraid of: disruption. I write about it, actually in Reckoning, there’s an essay called Disruption. Because I remember hearing about this town where the people knew they were living next to a poisonous factory that was literally making everyone in the town sick, but nobody wanted to give up their houses. No one wanted to give up their comfort. No one wanted to move, no one wanted to be disrupted. No one wanted to move out of whatever comfort zone, so they were actually willing to just get sicker and sicker and sicker. That is somehow the story.

Alnoor | That’s the metaphor.

V | It’s the metaphor. It’s like we drug people in this country. We overeat. We’re addicted to everything. The opposite of disruption is to keep everyone anesthetized and numb and sleepy and not believing they have any rights or ability to advocate for themselves or another way of being here. And it’s not accidental that the pharmaceutical companies  have made so many drugs and gotten so many people hooked on these drugs. So people aren’t feeling their rage, they’re not feeling upset, they’re not feeling the level of intensity they need to feel in order to question or rebel. So I’m really big on disruption.

Alnoor | Let’s talk about the body. We have not explored the body as a site of revolution, but there’s a lot of parallels between the demonization and lionization of the arts and demonization and lionization of the body. We’ll do anything from the most insane untested pharmaceutical drugs to life-extension machines, to uploading our consciousness to the AI to keep this thing going. And yet we have almost no relationship with it as a dominant culture. And maybe you can say a little bit about the body and your relationship in understanding the role of the somatic experience in liberatory expression.

V | Well, it’s so interesting what you’re saying because I think it’s kind of parallel to what we were saying about demonizing and lionizing. It’s like we do a lot to the body, but somehow the body doesn’t exist. It’s only  conceptual. The body is where the real change happens. At a very young age, because my father sexually abused me and beat me,I  left my body. It was the the landscape of so much horror and so much pain and so much brutality that I couldn’t live in my body. Anytime I tried to come back into it, there were memories, there were scars, there were beatings there.

So I left and I lived in my head. I remember I wore a hat all the time. It was just to keep my head on because the whole world was there. I was just a head. I had a therapist who once said to me, I’ve never thought of you as a person with a body. And then one night when I was performing the Vagina Monologues, I actually came back into my vagina right there on the stage and I went, whoa.I am in my vagina.

And that was the beginning of a journey of return because patriarchy and that violence had pushed me out of this body. And what’s happening to women country after country  is the occupation, raping, decimation, battery of our sexuality and our core energy force.  Patriarchy and violence have separated us from our vitality and life force.

I got very bad cancer 14 years ago and ironically it was the thing that moved me back into my body. I know now when I’m in my body, I have the energy I need, I have the vision I need, I have the clarity I need because I’m connected to the Mother. It is body to body. I am her body. She is my body. When they pushed us out of our bodies through violence and occupation, they pushed us out of our own wisdom, intuition, our sense of continuity and community. And that’s what has to be restored.

Alnoor | And in many ways, like the dualism that came out of first, the Renaissance and then, the Enlightenment, essentially said: the mind and body are separate. Mind is superior. Cartesian dualism then translated into all other dualisms. There was us and then there was the other. Then of course the White male Christian was on top of that. So the othering happened to women, to Indigenous people, to Black people, to bodies-of-culture of all types. And it’s not a us versus them thing because it’s physically manifested in our disconnection from our body at a societal level, at a cultural level.

There’s a heretical Sufi line that says: “the body is the prophet.” The reason it’s heretical is in traditional institutional Islam, one would say Mohammed is the last prophet. It comes from actually a triptych, which is: “the body is the prophet, the ummah is the prophet, the desert is the prophet.”

So the body, as you say, is our direct relationship to the Mother, to Earth itself. Pachamama, Gaia, however you want to see it. The Ummah means community. It’s the community of people around you that keep you accountable to those practices. And the desert is the prophet, that is the ecology is the prophet. There is no consciousness outside the living landscape. And that these are three cascading nested ontologies or types of beingness, which is body, community, place.

We don’t have a relationship at a cultural level, at least with either of those three central pillars of a mystical tradition, let’s say, or an Indigenous tradition. So the last question and part of the inquiry of this podcast is: what do we need to unlearn societally, individually, at a community level? However you want to answer it.

V | That we’re separate. The idea that we’re separate from the earth, separate from each other. I think we have to unlearn and refuse hierarchy and dominance. We have to first and foremost dismantle patriachy.

Alnoor | It’s an invented construct.

V | Invented concept. Insane, insane idea. We have to unlearn masculinity and this absurd notion of masculinity. We have to unlearn patriarchy, but it’s even bigger with patriarchy. We have to lift this bell jar of patriarchy that we’re under. We have to literally lift it so we can be free to take our minds back again, to think in a way that allows us to imagine a future. We have to unlearn the fact that there’s not enough for each of us. That there’s only limited scarcity. The fact of the matter is if we were all living in the life of a… I read this somewhere, it was so beautiful, the life of a middle class person in Italy, we could all be living the life of a middle class person in Italy.

For all the resources of the world were divided up, where all the billionaires put all their money into this pot. We could all be living beautiful lives where we had food and water and we went to school and we had healthcare. And imagine this, so we have to unlearn the fact that that’s not possible. We have to unlearn capitalism for God’s sakes, and the system that is crushing us, crushing us. We’re at the apex of it, and it’s just firing on all cylinders right now, of just merciless death and destruction.

Alnoor | We were speaking with Vanessa Andreotti, who wrote Hospicing Modernity, a couple of days ago, and she was saying one of her elders, chief Ninawa from the Huni Kuin people of Acre in Brazil said, “Colonialism is an impairment, an imposed sense of separation.”

This was his definition of colonialism. That it’s a cognitive relational neurobiological impairment based on the illusion of separation. That was his definition for whiteness and colonialism. It’s not racial. If you have been socialized into the illusion of separation, that is the colonization of your mind and body and heart and soul.

V | And it’s actually the breakdown of them because we can’t live in separation. It’s too lonely, it’s too fragmented. It’s really just PTSD. That’s all it is. It’s just trauma, and when you really begin to know that you are every person you meet and everything you touch, then you realize that you don’t really have to exist at all.

Alnoor | It’s enchantment.

V | It’s enchantment. You just surrender to this gorgeous sea of ultimate becoming. I think what we really have to get rid of is the fundamental belief that we as people do not have the wisdom, power, energy to actually reinvent the world or return to the world that we came from. We have that power. It’s just a question of being so close to each other that we are constantly in this ongoing state of collective remembering, Remembering, caring, connecting, becoming,  evolving.

Alnoor | Beautiful. I think that’s a great way…I won’t say end because we’re always in the middle, but it’s a good way to stay in the middle with you for now.

V | Okay, beautiful.

Alnoor | Love you my dear. Thank you so much for being with us.

Deschooling Dialogues | Alnoor Ladha with Gustavo Esteva


Episode 1 – Alnoor Ladha with Gustavo Esteva

Alnoor Ladha (AL) | Welcome to the Deschooling Dialagues. This podcast is a co-creation of Culture Hack Labs and Kosmos Journal. Culture Hack Labs is a not-for-profit consultancy that supports organizations, social movements and activists to create cultural interventions for systems change. Learn more at

Post-production is made possible by dedicated supporters of the Kosmos Journal mission – transformation in harmony with all Life. Visit to join.

I am your host, Alnoor Ladha.

In this episode, I meet with the late, great Gustavo Esteva. This conversation took place in February 2021, at UniTierra, the radical deschooling university set up by Gustavo in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

This podcast series is about both unlearning and remembering, as our species is being prepared for even deeper complexity, breakdown, tragedy, renewal, and rebirth. This transition calls upon all of us to be vigilant students of our cultures, to contemplate our entangled destinies, to abandon our entitlement, to transcend the apparent duality of inner and outer work, and to reaffirm our responsibility to each other and the interwoven fabric of our sentient planet and the living cosmos. This is just some of what we’ll explore together.

In this first season, we’re going to learn some of the basics of deschooling from decolonization practices, alternatives to traditional education, what’s being learned on the edges of social justice movements, and the deep time lessons of Indigenous wisdom and knowledge systems.

AL | So first, we’re very happy to have Gustavo Esteva for one of the first episodes of the Deschooling Dialogues. It’s very fitting that we’re with you first because the name Deschooling Dialogues was inspired by Ivan Illich’s book, Deschooling Society, and I know you knew Ivan and were influenced by his work. And you’ve also continued that culture of deschooling. So maybe we start with you telling us about your background and your story and your journey.

Gustavo Esteva (GE) | Well, it’s a very long story. I would say I am basically professionalized as a public intellectual activated by the people around me. For a long time, I was calling myself an activist, but now I have really discovered that they activate me. I am not activating anyone. And then for the last 40 years or more, I have been working independently with people, mostly Indigenous people in Oaxaca. I moved to Oaxaca 30 years ago. I have made a small piece of land where I cultivate my own food and I live in a small Zapotec village in interaction, in permanent interaction, with Indigenous peoples in Oaxaca, but also in networks around the world.

Courtesy, Radical Ecological Democracy

I have been very close to the Zapatistas since 1994. What I really love to do is to interact with people.

AL | How did you get into this work? At one point you were a journalist, is that right?

GE | Not really. I started my life in the private sector with a successful and incredible career. I was personal manager in Porta Gumbo when I was 19 years old, and then personal manager IBM in Mexico. But then I discovered that it was impossible to live a decent life in that kind of world. And those were the years in Mexico where we were listening to Fidel Castro in Havana, and here people were in for more.

Then I got my lessons from the real world and then I abandoned my profession. After trying a clandestine group and to organize, I became first a leftist and then a Marxist. Then the idea of becoming, follow the Che Guevara, that was the time of Che Guevara, and then that was the model for all of us. And then we tried in a clandestine group to have something that will become a reality, and then it collapsed before starting. That was a very important lesson for me about violence.

And then we stopped the idea of violence and we tried non-violence. And first I tried in the government and then I got, because we had a populist president, a very high position in the government and I was in 1976 in the immediate danger of becoming a minister in the new government. And then I quit the government forever because by that time I knew that the government, the state, is posed to for control and domination and not for social change.

Then I abandoned it with this, the idea, the leftist idea of seizing power and capturing the state to organize the revolution. And then I started to work at the service in collaboration with people at the grassroots. We created an independent organization. It grew very fast and very much.

AL | What was it called?

GE | Autonomy, decentralize and [Spanish] – is very difficult to translate and it’s the connection between the different people. And we were working at one point in 25 states of Mexico. We were all over the place and doing almost everything, following what the people wanted us to do. We invented create, [Spanish] create without any support. Then one community could come to our office and ask for a crate for the community and then came back with a check without any kind of only basic interest.

And that was very successful and that was one of the activities that we were doing associated with the technical aspects, political aspects, agrarian aspects, almost the whole everything that the communities wanted. And after some time, we started also to work in the cities because the camp casinos were coming to the cities and we started to work also with the so-called informal sectors in the cities. And then the network, this organization was covering all the aspects of the society, other grassroots with the so-called popular sectors.

AL | And how did you end up in Oaxaca in setting up UniTierra? 

GE | Well, I am living at eight kilometers from the place where my Zapotec grandmother was born. Then in a very real sense, I was coming back to the land of my ancestors. I had been working a lot with things in Oaxaca, but finally it was meaningless to keep a flat in Mexico City with the kind of work I was doing. And then we abandoned with my companera. I abandoned Mexico City and came to live here 32 years ago. After looking different places, this was the place where I should come.

And that was first a very lucky decision because Oaxaca is the only state in Mexico where the majority of the populations are Indigenous peoples, of 16 different Indigenous peoples. And then the Indigenous culture here is a reality, it’s a presence. You cannot ignore the Indigenous reality, and for me to learn the whole thing, I think I came here like 1988, ’89. In the ’90s, it was first, 1992 was the moment of affirmation of the Indigenous people in the whole American continent because of the 500 anniversary of the ambition. It was a moment of affirmation. It was spectacular.

And it was our discovery that how much we ignored how different we are. We were in a very western tradition. We were all the time assuming that we were the same human beings and that’s it. And then because of the Indigenous people we have, because of ’92, we started to discover, no, no, they are different. They are different kind of beings and then we need to discover how to talk, how to interact with them in a different way. And in was the discovery for us of what we call the intercultural dialogue, how to acknowledge the radical otherness of the other and then how we can connect with them in a different way.

After many attempts, and then we created a center that was called a center for intercultural encounters and dialogue, and that now has more than 25 years of work. It was talking, interacting with the people in Oaxaca, but also with people coming from other countries, with the students and researchers, et cetera coming here. And from Japan or the United States or Canada or Austria or Finland or many, many different places.

Then trying to talk with them to understand the connection, we discovered two things. One is the real dialogue happens only doing things together, not just talking changing ideas, not just conversation, doing things together, then you can have a real dialogue. Second, perhaps this sounds very romantic, but it is to say perhaps we cannot understand each other mind-to-mind, but we can connect heart-to-heart. It’s a different level of introduction. And then we were involved in that kind of things.

And then in that context to have the Zapatistas was an incredible blessing. It was an opening to a whole different way of doing the things of opening the interaction with others. I think for me it’s a very good example what happened when they organized in 1996, what they call it, the intergalactic encounter, when people from all over the world were coming with a lot of trust kits, and Marxist-Leninists and all kind of groups saying, “This is the moment to create again another international in the tradition of the international organizations of the socialist.”

At the end, the [foreign language 00:13:48] and the Marxists announced the creation of the international of hope. That was completely different. It was not an organization; it was not an apparatus dispositive. It was united by a common hope in changing everything. And then I have been with the, of course, with the Zapatistas in them since then in very different ways. I was an advisor in the negotiations with the government. They invited 100 advisors and I was one of them.

Ivan Illich

And I was lucky enough in this process to finally meet with Ivan Illich. When Ivan was at the peak of his fame in the early ’70s, I was living at 60 kilometers from his place. But for us in the Marxist left, he was just a reactionary priest and then we did not care, even in reading his stuff. We were saying, “Yes, he’s criticizing education and health in the capitalist society.” Of course, it’s shit, but in the socialist world we will have good education and good health like Cuba is showing to the world. That was the conviction in the ’70s.

Then finally because of a friend I met with Ivan in 1983, I was immediately fascinated and then I started to read frantically all his books and we started to collaborate and then we became friends. And then of course I discovered that perhaps what Ivan has is the people’s discourse. And the basic words of Ivan, I have heard them among the people at the grassroots, not in any book. Words like vernacular are words used by the people here at the grassroots, not by the mid classes.

AL | So most people in the West don’t know Ivan Illich, and maybe you could just tell us a little bit about his role in the discourse of decolonizing education and his capitalist critique.

GE | Yes, I think and in fact we are convinced that even anticipated what is happening today better than any other person I know. That he was clear what will happen in 1970. He said at one point the prophet is not a person with a crystal pole, but the person that can grow deep in the examination of the current reality and discovered the basic trends. And then he discovered the basic trends. His contributions are first, he’s I think the most solid critic of the industrial model production. And because of the industrial model production, capitalist or socialist, he can discover the basic counter productivity of modern institutions.

And he discovers how these institutions will collapse the way they are collapsing today. He anticipated this kind of collapse and discovered something else, how in this process, when the modern society is falling apart, the people will be destroyed for what they are and they will transform it into subsystems of systems. What we are in a sense, seeing today, that they are creating the synetic man, the young man clogged into a cell or something. He’s no longer a person. He’s a subsystem of a system.

I think that we need to discuss the current situation with the word sub event, with the eyes sub event, that he really opens our minds and hearts to a completely different thing. And it is, he helps not only to understand what is happening, why it is happening, why the collapse of everything that we knew, how the world when that we knew is no longer there, but also what to do. He anticipated what we are doing today. For example, he’s not announcing at the end of tools for conviviality. He’s not talking about creating parties or creating organizations or revolutionary organizations. He has a different definition of revolution.

But he’s talking about coalitions of the discontented people, and this is exactly what we are doing all the time today, these people that are discontent with what is happening, that are creating coalitions, and this kind of things. This is what I find fascinated in Ivan. In fact, I am trying to launch with some friends and a project to document everything from Ivan to collect all his work and to disseminate it electronically and in a very possible way.

AL | How did Ivan Illich end up in Mexico in the ’70s?

GE | It was a very clear, it was a very conscious decision. He was already a critic of the system when the Pope and President Kennedy had an agreement to send to Latin America 10% of all the priests and nuns of North America. And then the church asks Theban, the Cardinal Spellman and others ask Theban to organize the process of sending this priests and nuns and train them to go to Latin America.

AL | What was his background? What would put him in that position? He was-

GE | Because he was so brilliant, he was really amazing. He became a priest in Rome. He was invited for a brilliant diplomatic career. He was to become the private secretary of the Pope. And then he escaped and took a flight to New York to a study in Princeton. But then being in Princeton crossing, and this is very important for our conversation, being in New York with Cardinal Spellman that became person protecting him, he crossed to the Puerto Rican neighborhoods and saw the horror of how the priests, the Irish priests there, were treating the [Spanish], the people from Puerto Rico.

And then he went immediately with Cardinal Spellman and asked for the parish. And for the first time he became a real priest, a real Catholic priest giving him the mass, et cetera. And then he changed everything in conceived. We are talking about the ’50s and the early ’60s. Then in that context, he was in the church, he was singing, bringing music, using Spanish instead of Latin, changing everything. And then he became famous of the kind of things he was doing, and he started to publish the critique of the church and the alternative for Latin America.

And then after some point he was sent to Puerto Rico where he was vice director of the University of Puerto Rico. He started to do fantastic thing. That is where he started to find a critique, a critique of the school, seeing what the school was doing to the people. He elaborated something about that kind of thing. And then he was in that position prominent first about Latin America. He was one person of the church that knew well Latin America. The stories go on and on. He went to visit in Brazil, Bishop Helder Camara, a very famous man in the whole Latin America, and Helder Camara adopted Ivan immediately and he was given to Ivan one book every day. And then the next day introducing the author of the book to Ivan.

And then that is how he met Freire and they became friends and then Helder Camara told Ivan, if you really want to know Latin America, you need to walk Latin America. And then – this is very impressive – he walked from Santiago de Chile to Venezuela. Walking a lot-

AL | In the 1960s?

GE | Yes, yes. That is the kind of thing a person that he was. Even then he was known because of this kind of thing. And then he was invited to organize and then he was horrified about the idea of bringing all the priests and nuns of America. It would be the worst kind of colonization ever conceived. And then he found a place in Latin America where he will create a center to train them. He discovered Guadalaca, very close to a big airport, et cetera, but isolated. He invented a fantastic language school for them to learn very quickly, very, very good Spanish, the best method created by Ivan that still exists. It’s a fantastic language school. But at the same time, he was telling them what they were going to do. And then most of them never went. They came back to the US and decided not to go. And those that went were no longer [inaudible 00:24:08]. They were transformed with Ivan.

AL | So we’re sitting in UniTierra in Oaxaca. And maybe to ask you about the pedagogy here, you mentioned Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Illich of course with Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality. Maybe tell us about your understanding of pedagogy and what you’re doing here and your point of view on education.

UniTierra, courtesy Radical Ecological Democracy

GE | Yes. We don’t have any pedagogy. When someone asks us, we said that we can use baby’s pedagogy, that the babies learn things as difficult as to think, to walk and to speak without any pedagogy, without any educator, without any education. And then we are trying to reclaim that condition of learning. We are explicitly trying to go beyond education. I will briefly say that when my first daughter became of school age, that is long time ago, then I could not find the school to which I can trust. I put my daughter a public or private school. And then I created a school with some friends in which we mix it, a lot of things Montessori and Waldorf and all kind of alternative ways of teaching.

To make that long story short, when my daughter ended high school, we closed the school. That was very successful at that time because by that time my daughter and her parents were convinced that the problem was not a quality of the school, the quality of education, but the school itself, that the problem was the school. This we are talking about the ’60s. And then for the last 50 years I have been exploring alternatives. For some time, alternative education and finally alternatives to education. Then what we are saying is that the very idea that someone know what you must learn is criminal, it’s absurd, it’s impossible. We cannot accept anymore that kind of things. That what we need to create is condition for learning and freedom and that is what we have been doing.

Alnoor Ladha

AL | And what does that look like in practice? I can imagine talking to a mother in her 30s who has a five-year-old who’s just about to enter the school system and they’re looking for what the alternatives are, Waldorf and et cetera, and how would you explain to this person what uneducation education looks like?

GE | We have that experience every week here in UniTierra because there are groups of parents coming to discuss how to abandon the school. That is not easy. It’s one of the most challenging things. It is not easy because the question of the school is not only the question of education in general, but what to do with the kids that if you really deschool, your child, your children and you don’t have, are you no longer with an institution to which you can deposit your children, you need to change your life.

You cannot continue living the usual way, doing your work and going to your work and doing your things, what to do with your children. And then that is very challenge. That is what we are discussing here. I think that Illich started his critique of the industrial model production with the school because it’s the most radical thing. You really need to change your way of life. You cannot live without the school. It’s really the pillar of the modern society. The whole society is organized around the school and then if you eliminate the school, the whole thing is because to collapse.

AL | The parents can’t go to school now and leave their children and write some incubator and then they’re not being trained in vocational job skills for the industrial market economy.

GE | Yeah. That is, and the question is, I am telling you that for 60 years now I have been involved with this critique of the school, et cetera. I have never seen what is happening today in the world. I have never seen the interest of millions of people in alternatives way of learning. The parents are seeing the poor children in the house plugged into the computer, plug it into the stupid things that they are getting in the screen. And then the many, many parents are saying, “No, no, this is not possible. I don’t want to do my poor children to this kind of life.”

And then they begin to look for alternative ways of learning. And this is what we are doing, talking with them and showing the many different ways in which you can learn. And I must tell you that perhaps one piece of story should be introduced at about UniTierra, because this happens with everything that we do. We started because of the Indigenous people in Oaxaca in 1997. They created something that they call the Indigenous Forum and then they present periodically the position of the Indigenous people to their society.

And then 1997, after one year of meditation and discussion in assemblies, they came to the people and told them the educational system is considered to de-indianize us, to destroy us, to destroy the condition of being Indigenous. And they said, and it has succeeded for 200 years, millions of Indigenous people enter the educational system and came out. They are no longer Indigenous. They are something else that we don’t know exactly what it is, but they are no longer Indigenous. The school is considered in Mexico and everywhere in the world to destroy, it is a culturalcide instead of genocide. Yes, we will not kill them but we will transform them in something else.

Then the Indigenous people of Oaxaca, they said in 1997, “Enough, basta, we cannot accept that any longer.” And then they started to close the schools. You can imagine the scandal. The front page is everywhere – these barbarians, they are condemning their children to ignorance. They should not be autonomy. We need to do something against these guys and they put an incredible pressure, political and economic pressure on them. But many of them persisted and then a good anthropologist, we know him and decided to teach a lesson to these parents and then he decided some tests to apply it to children going to the school and to children not going to the school to show the parents this is what you are doing to your poor children. They are being left behind.

For his surprise, these children not going to the school were better not only knowing how to believe in the community, how to attend the fiestas, et cetera, but also how to read and write and geography or history better that children going to the school with one exception. They did not know how to sing the national anthem. That was the only advantage of the children going to the school. And of course, these communities were very happy and then continue with the experience with these children.

But then they came with us two or three years later saying, “Well what will happen with our young men and women after they learn a lot of things they can learn in the community and they are curious and they want to learn something that no one knows in the community because they don’t have any diploma, they cannot continue their stories.” And then we invented UniTierra with them and for them. If you see the founders of UniTierra, it is Indigenous and non-Indigenous people coming together to create something, to host this curiosity of young men and women that want to learn something.

At the very beginning it was fun, real fun because we created this for every person come here. We don’t have any curriculum; we don’t have any program of studies. We try to support the people that want to learn something and to support their learning by doing what the person wants to learn. For example, a person comes and say, “I want to become an agrarian lawyer.” The next day he’s working with an agrarian lawyer. Of course, an agrarian lawyer is he’s our friend and he’s very interested in that this guy learns very soon how to be an agrarian lawyer, because he will very useful in the firm.

And then in more or less 18 months he’s a good lawyer. He knows nothing about the labor law or constitutional law, all the other branches of law, but he knows everything. And then he presents cases in the courts and wins and then he’s ready to become a lawyer. But that was only one sum of the cases. The students even destroyed that way. The most popular area was popular communication. The young men and women wanted something in communication. And then we had something that was kind of curriculum. We were saying, “Well, in a year they need to learn how to produce a radio program, how to use the mic, how to produce videos, how to print a pamphlet,” et cetera.

All of them, 100% of the student destroyed that curriculum at one point saying, “No, no, I am not interested in only the thing. The thing that I want to do is video. The thing that I want to do is radio. This is my thing then.” And they started doing it and then we had some of the best guy producing video in Oaxaca Este Leonard here, how to produce video. And he stopped it. This is my thing; this is what I want to do.

AL | So, in this model of self-directed, apprentice-based, practical skills that you are drawn to rather than rote memorization, et cetera, but what do you say to the parent then who’s like, “How does my child learn to read and write and do math and do the basics?” How does that process happen if you’re your deschooling your child?

GE | The basic argument is when the child wants, when the child is interested with someone that he or she loves, that is for us very important. First, all the children are, they are a real pest because they are all the time asking questions and they want to know everything. From the very beginning when the child is one year old, he’s already asking questions and trying to imitate the others. Then you don’t need to teach them to wash their teeth because when they see you washing your teeth, they are curious, and they want to know and they want to have the books. They want to learn. And then it is reacting to this, not telling them, “This is the time to learn how to write, how to read.” It’s when they see their brothers, someone else, a friend et cetera, reading and enjoying reading and then he can say, “I want to do the same.”

And then if that child is ready, he wants to learn how to read, how to write, then that is the time and you find his brother, his mother, anyone. Let me tell you a story. A very close friend of Ivan and a friend of us, Richard Westheimer in Cincinnati in the United States decided to deschool his five children and adopt this principle. And then the third of his children, a girl, was not interested in reading and this guy was very concerned and she was six years old, seven years old, eight years old and she was not reading, and she was not interested in reading even if her brothers, all of them were reading pretty well, she was not interested.

And when the father started to tell her, Eva is the name of this girl, “Eva, perhaps you need to…” She answered, “You told me that I am free to do whatever I want. I’m not interested in reading.” And then when she was more than nine years old, she became interested in reading. She’s now 20 years later, the reader of the family. She’s the one reading like mad, reading everything that she can collect. She decided to read when she was ready, she was really interested and then she was really passionate to read and then he’s reading a lot.

I think this lesson is for me, it’s a very important principle to give the children the opportunity to decide in what moment they want to read what. Of course, they are questions of survival. They need to learn how to cross the street with you as soon as possible because if not, they will die. There are some things that they need to see that they need to learn immediately for survival. But again, interacting with them in freedom, trying to create the opportunity for that the children decide when to learn.

AL | And this is inspired by Indigenous knowledge systems. This is the way most Indigenous cultures are teaching children. There’s no formal education, it’s mimicry, it’s integration in the community life, integration and family life.

GE | In fact, I think in Indigenous peoples in Oaxaca, we can see an experience that areas and elites are right. The idea of childhood is a modern creation. It does not exist in the Indigenous community. They are not children. There is not a category of people call it children. They are members of the community. They live the children, the first one, two, even three years with the mother and the mother takes care of them, living with the mother, protecting by the mother.

But after that, they are members of the community and they attend all the fiestas, et etcetera. They learn by seeing and experiencing the different aspects. And after they are three years old, of course this is considered children’s work, et cetera, problem solve of human rights or whatever, the children are participating in their real life of the community in every possible aspect. And accompanying the father, the child can accompany the father to the path, cultivate the corn and the girl accompanying the mother in the activities to produce tortillas, et cetera.

This is happening today. You have today here in Oaxaca, you have the school through the screen and you have the children program to the screen and then the teacher will come to help him in the screen. But at that moment the father is going to the Milpa and then the child escapes and go with the father to the Milpa. And of course, the father protects him against the teacher and against the school system because now the children are again living with the community, living with the parents and learning in the traditional way, learning by doing with parents, with the family, with the community, learning real life and things to leave.

AL | And this is why you said you would have to change your life radically if you wanted to deschool your children because for parents embedded in modernity, living in an urban environment, what is the child going to learn from that parent, right, who’s not practicing food sovereignty, is not practicing community life.

GE | That is what they are learning. This is what is happening here. We have many, many different groups of people coming here for this process. We have an area for children in UniTierra where the parents come and we have discussions here and the children are enjoying themselves in another room, not really learning, not any curriculum, not any teacher taking care of them, enjoying themselves. But basically, discussing what to do, how we need to reorganize our lives. COVID is helping because many people, millions of people have been losing their jobs and the jobs will not come back and then they are forced to reinvent themselves.

To give example, they of the city of Oaxaca, Oaxaca was the city living on the tourists and then thousand, thousands of people were working in the restaurants, working in their hotels or producing food goods and services for the tourists. And suddenly there are no tourists. You are now here very welcome exception in Oaxaca because there are no reading, there are no not many tourists. And then you have thousands of people that cannot find jobs. I will never find a job of the kind of job they have, a job or a source of income and then they need to reinvent themselves. And then reinventing themselves one way, this is where are working with them just is reproducing food.

For example, food is a astronomic paradise and people need to eat and then instead of going to Walmart or to a Starbucks and to buying food, and you can see in the street here in Oaxaca, overeats bringing food to you at home. But instead of having that kind of things, you can produce your own food or have the arrangements between people in the city and people in the countryside producing food for the change. That in place changing the lives and then the children may accompany this process.

But in fact, what we are doing, and it is very difficult, I must tell you. First, creating opportunities for the children to meet with other children in the current conditions with the lockdown and these kinds of things. Finding ways for the children. But the most important point for us, not only for the children to be with other children, but the children to experience directly a whole world of different activities. It is not easy. We are saying the child should select, I want this guy is a philosopher and I love what he’s doing, and I want to learn how to philosophize with him. And you are a carpenter and then he suddenly loves what you are doing as a carpenter. But he needs to find, to see, to experience firsthand the philosopher and the carpenter and to coexist with them and see this is what I want to do.

This we are trying to create the opening also for people in the communities, because perhaps in the communities, in many Indigenous communities, very traditional communities, they don’t have many opportunities except for their traditional cultivation, et cetera. And then we need to create opportunities where for them to see other kind of things to come back to the communities. For a while in immense satisfaction at North, most perhaps 99% of all the Indigenous men and women that learn something in UniTierra are back in their communities. It was not an opportunity to escape from their communities, but they are bringing back to the communities whatever they learn here.

AL | So, if we were to apply this model at a bigger scale and this was embedded in our vision for the post-capitalist world, what do you think the dominant culture would need to unlearn to deschool? To deprogram? What aspects of our culture?

GE | I think that the most aspect of, the most important aspect, is it’s combined in one point is first that “I know what the next generation should know.” That is a principle that should be abandoned. And associated with this is the very foolish idea that we are all the same. The industrial idea that all the humans are the same and then we are talking about homogeneous capacity. And the very idea that we have the same curriculum for children in New York, Mexico City or a small village in Oaxaca. It’s a stupid, it’s absolutely abhorrent. It is the most stupid thing.

It is not to prepare label for us, same label, it’s just a disease, a pathology of the modern society. Then we need to abandon this idea. We need to schedule and format whatever the next generation will do. And we know increasingly that this is stupid because we know nothing about what will happen tomorrow. how we will train the children in something that we basically ignore, that there are no experts in tomorrow! No one knows what will happen and then how I will teach the students, all the curriculum around the world is obsolete. It’s useless.

AL | Jung used to say that every generation has a spirit project, a sort of generational task in which they’re incarnated for, right? And so one generation cannot know the other generations, what they’re being prepared for, essentially. So, in order to achieve this vision, enact this vision, what does the progressive movement, radicals, vanguard, social movements, what do we need to unlearn in ourselves in order to make this more widespread? What’s blocking us? Bayo, who’s a friend of both of ours says, “part of the crisis is the way we are approaching the crisis,” as progressives, as radicals, et cetera.

GE | I think it is the… I would say the obsession with ‘leading the masses’.

AL | Leading the masses.

GE | Leading the masses. “I know what to do that I will lead the others in the change.” The creation of the vanguard, the vanguard can be a political organization or can be a small NGO that we lead the people in a certain direction. It is something that it is not easy, but it is really beautiful, really exciting, following the others, learning with the others instead of leading the others. We say all the time that UniTierra is in submersive in the social movement in Oaxaca and we are totally fascinated with the many directions in which they are leading us. It is the people leading us, not us leading the people.

This is really exciting, and this is beautiful. This is… And people, I think that with COVID, when science is lost and they don’t know what to do with this and the politicians are giving the most stupid instructions to everyone, people know how to react. People discovered people really know how to do. The authorities, the health authorities in Mexico acknowledged it a few months ago that half the Mexicans cannot be locked down because they cannot survive lock down. They cannot. They need to go out to survive.

The people are going out to survive. And the question is not if they’re using masks or not. The question is what they are doing. I would say the most important point, and this is a lesson learned with the people not taught by us, is the most important point is sitting, the whole point with the virus is eating better, is eating well to produce, to improve your capacity to resist the virus or to use to resist all these kinds of things.

They don’t know the official the figure of recent studies saying that 90% of the people that died for the virus died because of previous conditions of obesity and diabetes and this kind of chronic conditions. The problem is the obesity and diabetes and this chronic condition.

AL | Industrial food model.

GE | The industrial food model, and this is exactly what the people have been doing. The figure in Oaxaca is impressive. One reaction of communities. We have 12,000 communities in Oaxaca. These 12,000 communities, at least half of them closer themselves because of virus, after the fear of the virus, et cetera. Not locked down, closer the village, then no one can come into the village. Even if someone of the village can needs to go out, it’s with control, with a very appropriate filter for that person, with quarantine if needed, if someone was coming back from the US or from Mexico City, quarantine.

But then inside the village, many villages closer the village to junk food. No more, no more all these stupid things. And so the lady community discovered how much they were dependent of that stupid food, was the community they were eating a lot. It was not only a few Coca-Cola addicts; it was the whole village were eating this kind of things. And then after they closed the possibility of having junk food, they were forced to formulate the whole idea of fitting. And then they started to put again more attention to the Milpa, more attention, some arrangements with the next village to compliment what you were producing, to have a good diet with all the proper things.

And exactly the same about healing. They started to rediscover the traditional healers, how much the traditional healers know how much they need to discover when a person has the virus, to discover as soon as possible and to do something immediately, not to wait until he or she is having problems. Then and mixing the traditional remedies, the traditional practices, the kind of sauna abouts with eucalyptus, these kinds of things that have been very, very effective.

We have the figures. In the whole American continent, the proportion of people dying in Indigenous communities is higher than the average. Why? Because they were suffering a lot of mystery, malnutrition, health problems of every kind. They were in very bad conditions. That was the usual condition of the Indigenous people sector, very oppressed by the modern society. But in Oaxaca with these communities, you see the fears. You have 110 municipalities, that means several hundred communities with not a single case of the virus, not one case. And second, those with cases, very few deaths.

And those deaths are basically people who were in very fragile conditions before, meaning people are not seeing the virus as the enemy. They are rediscovering that the enemy was how they abandoned the people in delicate conditions, how they abandon some of their old people, some of the people with obesity or diabetes, et cetera. And they’re taking care of them, they’re doing the right thing.

AL | So this is a good transition to the last question I’ll ask. And we talked a bit about this idea earlier before we were recording the idea of centropic frames. So centropy is the counter to entropy, right? Entropy is degradation and centropy is almost like a positive feedback loop. And so, at Culture Hack Labs, we talk about this idea of centropic frames, which are memes, ideas, phrases, concepts, pieces of language that create positive feedback loops, healing, restoration through the very use of the language itself. And maybe we can touch quickly on two concepts that I’ve heard you talk about. One is [Spanish] and the other is [Spanish]. And just so we can also insert some of these antigen memes, these centropic frames into the discourse. So maybe you could just talk a bit about those two.

GE | As I said [Spanish] was the creation of to two Indigenous guys, independent creation [Spanish] in Zapotec independently invented the same word, [Spanish], basically to share with others what kind of beings they were, that it was very difficult for them to explain this to others and say, “[Spanish] basically is to accept that you are not an individual, that you are a we, not an I, or that every I is a we, that we are not in nets of relations and that these nets are brought into a community.” And then we are that community. That we is the way we are. And even many, many people perceive themselves first of all as an expression of the community, as a personalized expression of the communal spirit. Well, that is basically [Spanish].

AL | There are four pillars to [Spanish], right? You contribute to shared work, et cetera. Maybe you could say a bit about that.

GE | Yes, it is. First [Spanish] means that it’s the communal work that is you are not paid for doing some work for the community. The community decide, “Oh, we will fix that straw that is in bad conditions,” and then the whole people need to go and put some work without any payment. This is [Spanish]. Then you have the assembly. That is the supreme authority of the community, meaning the basic decisions in the community are taken by the assembly in which everybody participate.

One very important point that I think we must include in this conversation, for us the most important point today is what the women are doing on the March 8th. And I think that last year, at least in Oaxaca, on March 8th, in 2020, they broke the patriarch normality in the spectacular way. And that we are living in that moment, which pack normality is no longer there. This is, it’s very, very important for us that in these 12,000 communities in Oaxaca in the last 10 years, the assemblies took the decision that the women that were not allowed into the assemblies for hundreds of years, for centuries, now they have been allowed to come.

And this is not a suddenly the men were enlightened, and they’ll change it because of this alignment, it is the struggle of the women. And many women assume that all the full responsibility of the villages when the men went to the US or any other place. It is, the assembly, it’s now with men and women have the full authority in the village. And then you have cargos. It means that the community ask you to perform a cargo position of authority for them. It is for free, it is without honorarium, without payment. And then you are at the service of the community. This starts very early in life when you are just a child and then you grow, depending of how you do, you are improving in the level of the cargo they ask from you until you are the municipal president or whatever.

And then the fourth is perhaps for me the most important, the fiesta. The fiesta in which everybody participates, it is a moment to fix conflicts. People that have been fighting during the year arrange everything during the fiesta. They are together. They are enjoying themselves. The children are part of the fiesta participate; everybody participates. It is a very important moment and there are many fiestas in the communities. In one place there was they were going to put factory. They realize that a lot of tests and they discovered they can be magnificent workers and say to us, “This is a place for the factory.” But then the people told them that they will be very happy to work in the factory, but in that community, there are 112 days which they cannot work because they have a kind of fiesta. And then for the factory it was impossible to accept 112 days of fiesta, not work, and they moved the factory to another place.

AL | And then maybe just a little bit about [Spanish].

GE | Yes, a few years ago, because with the tourist [Spanish] in Colombia, we discovered that there were collective groups that were doing fascinating things beyond the market and the state, that they were trying to create a different kind of life. That in a sense, without any theoretical formulation, they were assuming that the modern era ended, that capitalist is dead, that everything is dead, that they need to create something different. And they started doing perhaps in one marginal area of activity or very important area of activity, like eating, but just one area they started with something like producing their own food. And then a step-by-step, the step they started to cover other different areas.

And then we discovered that they were collectives emerging everywhere. And then we say, “Well, let’s try to identify them and put them in connection with each other from them to learn from each other.” Then after some time they will offer mutual solidarity and after some time we will give them visibility for all the people that are discontented with the current conditions of the world but don’t know how to do, can be inspired by them. And then we have now [Spanish] in Mexico, in Colombia, and we also created a global tapestry of alternatives trying to find this all over the planet.

I must tell you something more about [Spanish] that is connected with this. We assume it from the very beginning that we should be small, that we need to grow. We must not grow very much. Then we call this [Spanish] Oaxaca meaning only for this, only for the city of Oaxaca. Then but we share that experience and other people started to what we were doing, and they have been doing. And then we have many community UniTierras, one community UniTierra 30 minutes from here because the community decided to create something like UniTierra in their own way in that community.

And then we have many communities. Another in Chiapas, there is [Spanish] in Chiapas. Next to the Zapatistas we have UniTierra in Puerta, other UniTierras in Mexico. But you also have UniTierras now in Japan, in California, in Catalonia, in Toronto, in many different places where someone starts something of this kind for the people to learn by themselves in freedom learning by doing in different ways for different conditions.

AL | Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you so much for your time, Gustavo. And yeah, it’s an honor to be here in Oaxaca with you in UniTierra.

GE | Thank you for the invitation to participate in this. It’s as usual a very good adventure what you are doing.

Kosmos Community News | May 2017

Dear Community, Here's what's up for May! (Not a member yet - SIGN UP HERE!)

The 2017 Spring | Summer edition of Kosmos Journal has arrived!

We hope you have have received your print copy of the new Kosmos Journal in the mail, or are enjoying your digital subscription. Some readers have said it is the best edition of Kosmos ever!

We have shared a couple articles with the general public, including An Interview with Deepak Chopra: You Are the Universe, by Claudia Welss. You can help Kosmos thrive by commenting on the articles you enjoy in the comment fields at the end of the article, and sharing widely in your social networks. 

Is there a writer you would like to engage directly? Start a forum and we will invite the author to reply!

Plans for a new Kosmos Podcast Series!

We are in production on a 10-part podcast series: How to Prepare for Profound Change. We have noticed a shift in thinking as our community of activists, authors and change agents begin to move past the phase of understanding the challenges we face as a planet to preparing for disruptions that are already occurring and will continue to unfold. The series will be freely available to all Kosmos Community Members and offered by subscription to others.

The one-on-one, 30-minute conversations will be introduced every two weeks, with background and links for deeper engagement.  How can we prepare mentally, physically and spiritually in our own lives, communities and groups to meet the coming challenges of political and economic upheaval, changing climate, water and food pressures, and the culture of fear? Is there a special topic you would like to see in this series? Would you like to potentially participate in a conversation? Let us know:

Visit to The Inn at the Shaker Mill Farm

Kosmos editor Nancy Roof and digital editor Rhonda Fabian visited the Inn at the Shaker Mill Farm Sunday May 7 to learn about plans to revitalize the local food economy and develop permaculture resources in the region.

Situated on the New York side of the lovely Berkshire hills in the town of Canaan, NY, the gristmill was built in 1824 by members of the Shaker religion. Purchased in 1966, the mill was lovingly rebuilt by the founding Innkeeper.

The current innkeeper and chef, Michael Pergola expressed an animated and positive vision of regeneration, also explored at their website:

Despite the many challenges we face today, the time is ripe for us to become more conscious and to re-create society and culture, so that they move beyond sustainability to actually regenerate the earth and that our collective evolution accelerates. The only way for this to happen is if we simultaneously recreate the economic, legal, governmental, health, food and related systems that structure our lives and provide for our needs; at the same time that our family and cultural models are revitalized.  And all of this must happen as large numbers of us become wiser, more skillful, and more highly developed in many of the ways we make sense of the world and each other. What is called for is no less than a third "Great Awakening," a spiritual and practical renewal that permeates to the very depths of who we are, individually, and as a people.

Nancy Roof and Mike Pergola

On this visit, we explored the possibilities for Kosmos to utilize the Farm as a location for retreats, workshops and roundtable discussions. We want to hear from our Community! Would you be interested in attending an event at the Inn at the Shaker Mill Farm? Please reply to

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Kosmos Community Forum Response

What Panels or Presentations would you like to see in the near future at Kosmos? Which writers would you most like to meet and interact with online?

I am interested in a conversation about “systems of influence.” It’s a concept that the Berkana Institute developed a while back, as part of their Two Loops theory of change. Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze wrote about it here.

I don’t want to listen to a panel, except perhaps as a very brief TED-talk style “conversation starter.” As it is, I can find more content online 24/7 than I have time to absorb (including all of Kosmos’ great stuff!). What I want is to engage with other whole systems change agents to explore a powerful question together. Something like this: "where do you see systems of influence that support the manifestation of global transformation operating or emerging, and how can we dance with and strengthen them?" - Ben (READ MORE)

Forum Question for May: How are you preparing for the profound changes that are coming?

Kosmos Community News | April 2017

Dear Community.

We added 43 new members last month - 8343. Here's what's up for April!

Kosmos Seed Grants Have Been Awarded!

Special thanks to Kosmos Community Members: Allie Middleton, Kathryn H Greene, and Susan Weiss who volunteered to be Grant Reviewers. 

This year's Recipients of a Seed Grant are:

Great Lakes Commons for an experimental 'art and currency' project that explores our collective values about water.

Southeast by Southeasta refugee center in Philadelphia where displaced children will have an opportunity to express their hopes and dreams through animations they help to create.

Our Five Projects of Promise: Kosmos has selected five Applicants as 2017 Projects of Promise. Although these projects do not receive cash grants, Kosmos looks forward to offering our editorial support and allyship in the year ahead. We can’t wait to see these projects blossom! We hope you will get involved too!

  • The Kid’s Table – Rising Youth Theatre
  • A Movement of Movements – Metta Center for Nonviolence
  • Local Ecology & Agriculture Fremont (LEAF) Environmental Film Series
  • Walking Water: Los Angeles Phase
  • Healing From Racism – LeFlore Communications

A First Glance at the new 2017 Spring | Summer edition of Kosmos Journal

It's at the printer! As always, we are very excited to unveil the new issue of Kosmos Journal. We can't wait to share features by William Ury and Thomas Hübl, Eleanor O’Hanlon, Deepak Chopra and Claudia Welss, and many others. Stay tuned for our Special Preview of the new edition in Kosmos Online on April 18.

Here is an excerpt from Nancy Roof's editorial "Silence Is Not an Option'.

“Silence is not an option,” said Martin LutherKing while war raged in Vietnam. Now as wars proliferate on every front—political, economic, social, environmental, and in our own psyches, our hearts are breaking. We see the values we cherish and fought for being tossed aside for material gain. We long to create the enlightened society we envision. And we know that action is the way forward. Silence is not an option.

Kosmos has once again gathered together a group of leaders who are defining the new conscious activism and answering the call to engage. From reactive and raging protests and resistance, activism has now evolved to deep self-inquiry into how we, ourselves, might be complicit in perpetuating the conditioned values of a materialistically dysfunctional society. We are asked to look at our motivations, to use our hearts as well as our heads, to become courageous defenders of our values, and to become creators of a world that is in harmony with all Life." - Nancy Roof, Kosmos Editor and Co-Founder

Our new Kosmos Collectible | The Blue Pocket Diary

Our pocket diary is already a hit with Kosmos Staff and writers! It's a free gift to new Kosmos Digital Subscribers in April and May. Since most of you are already subscribers, I'd like to figure out how to get one to you if you would like one! Here's a special link for Kosmos Community Members only: cost is $10 to cover our manufacturing and mailing costs.

More details about the diary can be found here.

Have you Formed Your Power of Three (Po3) Group Yet?

Power of 3 (Po3) is a new powerful method for igniting local civic engagement through deeply transformative personal connection.

Learn more about the Power of Three:

The Power of Three | Awakening New Energy in Group Work, in Kosmos Journal

How to get involved:  Spring Into Action with the Power of Three

The Handbook

Our Power of 3 Handbook is a guide for building trust and connection, choosing actions, and staying on track on the transformative Power of 3 journey. Sign-up to be added to the Power of Three mailing list for updates and receive the Handbook via email.

Or, ready to register your group? It’s free.

Enter a Name for your group and the names and email addresses of each member. We never share your information. Each member will receive a welcome email, the Po3 Handbook, updates, plus Kosmos Online delivered to their inbox every two weeks.

“Shared purpose is one antidote to the lack of connection inherent in modern life, and Po3 is conceived as a learning lab for exploring purposeful encounter as a means for addressing some of the most pressing needs of our communities and our planet.” – Fabian

Donate | Your support helps us develop and sustain Kosmos Community initiatives.
The portable and inspiring Power of Three Start-up Kit is our gift to your team when you support Kosmos at the Power of Three StartUp level. Our pocket-sized Kosmos Notebook is perfect for recording your group’s aspirations. The 2-inch tall bell is hand-embellished with a velvet ribbon and Po3 charm. Three rakhi-style solidarity wrist-ties are hand-beaded at Kosmos and signify loyalty. A votive candle and triangular holding tray are also included. It all arrives in a blue organza gift pouch. Each person in your group also receives the full privileges of Kosmos Community membership and the Po3 Handbook via email. $50.00


FORUM TOPIC FOR APRIL: What Panels or Presentations would you like to see in the near future at Kosmos? Which writers would you most like to meet and interact with online?

The Kosmos Blue Pocket Diary, Our Gift to You

Our newest Kosmos collectible, this blue pocket diary is perfect for keeping record of your thoughts, dreams and aspirations. Some of us at Kosmos use it as a gratitude journal, and writers love it for jotting down ideas and phrases that occur throughout the day.

Made from 100% recycled materials, the diary slips easily into your pocket. It measures 3x5 inches in size and has a durable cover. The diary contains 100 unlined pages and to keep it closed while not in use, there is a blue elastic band attached to the back cover on either end that wraps around the front cover. Keeping track of your place among the pages is simple, with a strand of blue, glossy ribbon attached to the inside top of the notebook's spine that functions as an elegant bookmark.

For a limited time, the Kosmos Blue Pocket Diary is our special gift to you when you subscribe to Kosmos Journal at the Verdant Level. 

Published in the fall and spring, our bound, full-color journal is delivered to your door to keep, enjoy and share. As a Print Edition Member, you automatically receive access to the digital versions of the Journal and membership in Kosmos Community. Awarded for excellence by Images and Voices of Hope (with Frontline and TED, and selected as a ‘Quality Alternative Media Source’ by Films for Action (alongside Bill Moyers, Grist, and Truthout), the wisdom and beauty of Kosmos Journal is yours to enjoy, delivered right to your door, or to a loved one. And this is perfect timing - our new edition comes out May 1!

In addition to all the benefits of subscribing to Kosmos Journal, we have partnered with OneTreePlanted to plant five trees in the Colorado Rockies in your honor, or in honor of a loved one, to offset the carbon cost of printing and mailing. Join us in our effort to help restore our beautiful planet! You also receive full membership in Kosmos Community. It's all yours as a Verdant Subscriber.

Not ready to subscribe?

The diary is also our gift to you when you contribute to Kosmos at the $30 Scribe Level. Your donation also includes the many benefits of membership in Kosmos Community, including our Community News delivered to your inbox each month, private forums, invitations to live and online events, and special opportunities to engage more deeply with Kosmos.

At the $50 Seeker Level, you ALSO receive our signature Kosmos blue meditation bracelet! Each agate, a mineral of the Quartz family, is a blue world unto itself. Forming close to the Earth’s surface, usually in volcanic rock, agates have been used as amulets and ornamentation since Babylonian times. Agate’s slower vibration, compared to other stones was regarded as a stabilizing and strengthening influence. Its uses in healing spread through the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, Africa and the Middle East and into Russia.

img_9973Our Kosmos-blue bracelet contains one ‘gratitude’ crystal of pyrite. To the Incas and Aztecs, Pyrite’s magical properties included divination and defense against negative energies – ‘seeing behind facades to what is real’.

Sustainably sourced.

Visit the Kosmos Community page for more information on all the levels of membership, subscriptions and ways to support the mission of Kosmos!

You can also purchase the Pocket Diary on it's own for $10, including domestic shipping:

$10.00Read more

Kosmos Community News | March 2017

Dear Community.

Wow - 8,300 Members! We are really growing, thanks to all of you. Here's what you need to know about your community for the month of March:

Your Forum Needs You!

It's your Forum. Let's get the conversations started! Please introduce yourself and tell us your aspirations for connection and engaged action. We are eager to know all about you!

Can you host a Forum topic? We are actively seeking Members who want to keep the conversation going in the Kosmos Community Forum. We are a small staff and we can't always keep up with the many demands on our time. Have a burning issue you want to lead a discussion about? Log-in to the Forum and start a thread! We will promote your topic and connect you with thought leaders in the greater Kosmos Community!

This Month's Forum Topic: Do you believe the current political climate will spark massive social transformation? What will this look like in 2017/18?

Power of Three (Po3)

Small, informed groups of citizens are a key to positive action at the local level. Knowing this, Kosmos is introducing an experimental initiative to leverage the self-organizing power of people, through groups of three, to come together around a shared concern and simple practical goals in order to take action in their communities.

Power of 3 (Po3) is a new powerful method for igniting local civic engagement through deeply transformative personal connection:

"In Nature, nothing and no one stands alone. We are each deeply interconnected. The Po3 model proposes that we explore our true kinship in deeper ways than our conditioning has taught us. It asks that we place ‘lovingness’ and service to others at the forefront of our thinking, doing, and being." - Fabian

Learn more about the Power of Three

The Power of Three | Awakening New Energy in Group Work, in Kosmos Journal

How to get involved:  Spring Into Action with the Power of Three

EcoSattva Training Underway!

Our first group of EcoSattva Warriors are in training! We are learning from luminaries like Joanna Macy, Tara Brach and Bhikkhu Boddhi, powerful advocates for Mother Earth.

And Kosmos Editor Nancy Roof is joining us!

Dear Friends,

I look forward to forming our community as lovers of the earth and all life. It is especially meaningful for me to be a part of such a sacred subject as the first effort of Kosmos Community to come together in a learning project. We are now experimenting with different ways to come together in community – such as seed grants, readers essays, retreats, webinars and more. I have longed to interact with the Kosmos Community for many years as I have felt the energy of our invisible community growing through the years. Greetings to all you dear friends. - Nancy

You can follow our progress in the Forum.  The setting is informal and so far, illuminating! If you jump right in by March 4, you can easily catch up! Register here at the 50% group rate and enter 'Kosmos' in the group-name field. Be sure to drop an email to so we can loop you in.

Sneak Peek:

We have a new Kosmos collectible coming in March, for Community Members. Our bespoke pocket notebook is perfect for recording observations, dreams, affirmations or simple gratitude. Keep an eye out for it!

Our Signature Meditation Bracelet sold out in February! It's back now - each one handmade by Kosmos friend, Kari Auerbach.
Your purchase supports the work of Kosmos, so we can continue beautifully into the future.


EcoSattva Training – Kosmos Learning Group Forming

For all Kosmos Community Members

We have made a special arrangement with OneEarth Sangha to take their asynchronous online course together as a special group. Founders of the course will join us for key sessions. Any Kosmos Community Member is welcome to join at a greatly reduced rate. If you are not already a Member of Kosmos Community, you can join here for as little as $12/year. 

lotusearth“What does it mean to express a Buddhist response to climate change? What does our wisdom tradition and our love for this life call us to do? How can we respond with wisdom, compassion and courage?”

We are forming a group to begin taking a self-paced online course together. The total cost is $27, a 50% savings over the standard course fee. Familiarity with Buddhism is not required. There are six 90-minutes sessions, plus readings and discussion.  All sessions are pre-recorded. We hope to meet occasionally via video-call and complete the course together in eight weeks or so and to begin the course around March 1, 2017.

We invite you to experience a powerful collection of teachers, activists and other leaders in our annual EcoSattva Training series. Built on the foundation of last year’s inaugural online course, you’ll hear from luminaries like Joanna Macy, global Buddhist activists like Thanissara, revered translators of Dharma like Bhikkhu Boddhi, powerful new voices in Dharma like Reverend Kyodo Williams, and many others. Most importantly, this year’s training offers another opportunity to come together in community to explore how the practices of wisdom and compassion can meet a challenge even as immense as global climate change.”

If you are interested in taking this course together as a group with other Kosmos readers and staffers, contact Group size limited.

More Information about the course can be found here. Do not worry that is says the course has passed. We are taking the course by special arrangement. Do not register yet if you wish to take the course with Kosmos. We will let you know by email how and when to sign up.

Kosmos Community News | February 2017

Dear Community.

Thank you for the many ways you encouraged us last month! Here's what you need to know about your community for the month of February:

Call for Essays

wethewomenTwice a year Kosmos invites our community members to submit an essay up to 830 words. We choose two or three essays to publish in our hard copy Kosmos Journal and several others in Kosmos Online and on our website. We are preparing the next issue of Kosmos Journal right now, and hope you will participate. Our theme this Spring is 'Activism in the New Climate'. What does 'activism' mean to you, and how are you actively engaging the world in the current political, physical and emotional climate? Submit your essay here. Deadline March 1, 2017.

EcoSattva Training - Kosmos Group Forming

lotusearth"What does it mean to express a Buddhist response to climate change? What does our wisdom tradition and our love for this life call us to do? How can we respond with wisdom, compassion and courage?"

We are forming a group in February to begin taking a self-paced online course together. The total cost is $27, a 50% savings over the standard course fee. Familiarity with Buddhism is not required. There are six 90-minutes sessions, plus readings and discussion.  All sessions are pre-recorded. We hope to meet occasionally via video-call and complete the course together in eight weeks.

We invite you to experience a powerful collection of teachers, activists and other leaders in our annual EcoSattva Training series. Built on the foundation of last year’s inaugural online course, you’ll hear from luminaries like Joanna Macy, global Buddhist activists like Thanissara, revered translators of Dharma like Bhikkhu Boddhi, powerful new voices in Dharma like Reverend Kyodo Williams, and many others. Most importantly, this year’s training offers another opportunity to come together in community to explore how the practices of wisdom and compassion can meet a challenge even as immense as global climate change."

Interested? Contact Group size limited to 6-10. More Information 

Two more weeks to apply for a 2017 Kosmos Seed Grant!

comgKickstart your activism! Seed Grants of $2,500 will be awarded in Spring 2017 to individuals or organizations working to advance direct action for social justice using new and experimental approaches to break through cultural barriers.

All Members of Kosmos Community are eligible to apply.

TO APPLY, please go here. Be sure to log in.

TO SUPPORT, please go here. 100% of your donation goes to  Seed Grant Recipients.

Be a Seed Grant Reviewer, Attend the Awards Dinner in NYC, or have a Seed Grant awarded in your name or the name of a loved one. Last year, this lovely family from Tulsa did just that. Their gift of $2500 enabled us to offer an additional Seed Grant.

siegfried-family'On December 29th, the call for proposals email for “Seed Grants" arrived in our inbox from Kosmos and it just clicked for us. We can’t talk about leadership and make a difference in society without promoting collaboration and civic engagement! There are lots of great ideas and efforts to make a difference in the world but without collaboration and civic engagement, it is hard for them to take off. We thought, “two grants isn’t enough and maybe we can help!" '

img_9596Our gift to you at the $30 level or higher: a handmade set of five notecards embedded with wildflower seeds! Each card comes with instructions for sprouting and planting.mala-community-home

At the $50 level and above: Our signature blue Kosmos Meditation Bracelet, designed and hand-crafted by Kari Auerbach. You also receive the Seed Notecards.

Panelist Jodie Evans, Co-founder CODEPINK

PANEL: Activism in the New Climate

Last month's panel was a great success. Thank you! History-making activists from three countries and wide experience shared their  outlook for activism in 2017.

Watch the program here:

From Our Forum

KUDOS! This panel presentation was EXCELLENT – an international, multi-generational, multidisciplinary demonstration of BEING the change we want to see. The panel moderator did a masterful job. As I viewed the forum, tears of relief and hope occasionally welled up for me. I’ve described it to friends as “Activism 10.0”, and I’m enthusiastically referring people to the KOSMOS Community. I hope you’ll make this video freely available on the KOSMOS website – our world needs it.

I only regret I couldn’t figure how to live post on the YouTube format during the event. Any suggestions?

Again, thank you Nancy! Thank you Lina! Thank you panelists! Thank you Kosmos! for an inspired and inspiring panel presentation."  - Karen

2017 Kosmos Seed Grant Guidelines

Kosmos is pleased to announce the third year of the Kosmos Seed Grant initiative. Seed Grants of $2,500 will be awarded in Spring 2017 to individuals or organizations working to advance social change using nonviolent activism and experimental approaches that break through cultural barriers.

Guidelines for applicants are as follows:

  • All Members of Kosmos Community are eligible to apply. Not sure if you are a member? .
  • Individuals must apply through an accredited US non-profit. Any (501-C-3) non-profit organization, registered in the US, working anywhere in the world toward social change may apply.
  • Projects should have a stated duration, with clear objectives and expected outcomes.
  • Applicants should describe a clear and direct use of the funds and the impact it will have (i.e., not in funding general operations or overhead costs)

In the spirit of Kosmos Journal’s first printing, funded by a $2,500 grant from the Lifebridge Foundation, we offer these grants to catalyze the efforts of people working at the edge of transformation, aligned with our stated mission: “to inform, inspire and engage individual and collective participation in local and global transformation in harmony with all Life.”

Our 2017 theme, ‘Activism for a New Era’ is intended to encourage innovative and experimental approaches to engaged action . We define activism as ‘the policy or action of using vigorous methods to bring about political or social change.‘ New forms of activism may include art activism, subtle activism, youth activism, e-activism, alternative communities and collectives, and much more.

Specifically we are interested in how your approach will help break down cultural divides and dispel stereotypes. How will diverse voices and perspectives be represented in your initiative? How will you bring people together to ignite positive change?

Proposals will be in the form of brief essays. The most compelling proposals will be those that set forth a sound plan with a strong potential for success. The deadline for submission is February 15th, 2017 and awards will be announced in early April.

TO APPLY, please go here. 


Maximum essay length: 750 words