Today You Are a River in My Hands | Once Trees Grew Inside Me

Poem

Today You Are a River in My Hands | Once Trees Grew Inside Me


Today You Are a River in My Hands

Every morning I wonder if the anhinga will appear
on the bow of our boat. A piano in flight, this bird.
White and black feather keys pressed against
a February sky. She resonates a harpsichord tune.
Scales her flight to the post on the Banana River.
At dusk she plays a divertimento. At sunset, a sonata.
She serenades the fisherwoman on the dock
as she hooks shrimp onto her line. Today
I sing your body into oceans. Into rivers.
Into streams that would cross boundaries.
I fashion you into a tributary. An estuary.
Sworl the brine of your waters with the fresh of mine.
Flow into my chanting streams. Let us be lovers
and live on these waters. Houseboat brimming with books.


Once Trees Grew Inside Me

I became obsessed with acorns, their miniature beret caps,
the smooth softness of their surface.

Fodder for long-snouted weevils, bobwhite quail,
flying squirrels, wild hogs, and grey foxes.

Native tribes soak them in water, leaching out the bitter tannins.
Then grind them into flour, readying them for fry bread.

Symbol of strength and potential, the Druids believed
the devouring of acorns would enable them to scry the future.

Yearning to be crone clairvoyant, I tried biting down, breaking
both incisors. So I swallowed them whole

opening my throat, a wide cavern –a chamber
of echoes.  I became the soprano in the back row

of the choir loft, singing an obligato with almost no breath.
I sang of oaks living for a thousand years. Homage songs

of leaf and stem. Sacred tree of Lithuanian god Perkunas,
the hands of my ancestors, my hands, stewards of the soil.

I weave a laurel of oak leaves. Defy the lightning to strike me. I seek
the desires of the Divine by interpreting the oak’s rustling leaves.

Tomorrow I will don my ballet slippers. Tie ribbons of satin and lace
to my wrists. Braid wild hyssop and butterfly weed into a garland.

Rattle my tambourine amidst bee balm and blazing star. Jangle
amongst wild bergamot, blue aster, and joe pye weed.

Tomorrow I will graze on sunflower seeds. Sunshine
petals sprouting in the pit of my belly.

And I will sing yellow songs without lyrics. Chimes in the wind
on an abandoned prairie. I will conjure fields of sunflowers.

About Marianne Peel

After having taught middle/high school English for 32 years, Marianne Peel is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal and Turkey. Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Review, Naugatuck River Review, Jelly Bucket Journal, among others. She has a collection of poetry coming out in Fall 2021 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.

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Practicing the Art of Wonder through Radical Presence

Essay Awe

Practicing the Art of Wonder through Radical Presence


“Is not beauty something that takes place when you are not?” — J. Krishnamurti, Ojai, California, 19851

A Broad-billed Hummingbird hangs for a few seconds, not three feet away. The brilliant sapphire gorget flashes for an instant, and then the tiny bird is gone in a shot, his raspy cry fading like a lost thought into the oaks. I close my eyes and try to feel the impact that the hundreds of hummingbirds I’ve seen over the past few days have had on my psyche. The swirl of their presence, their diminutive size, their radiant color, their adroit quickness, their bickering flurries, all seep into me, and finally well up into awed appreciation, just for their being in the world. Past, future, and self fall away. In that moment, I’ve become the planet-as-human, in wonder at hummingbirds, feeling them as part of the splendor of life.

I am having this moment in one of the most diverse landlocked plant and animal communities in the world and I’m thinking about flight, how it might have come to be that life learned to transcend the bounds of gravity. I’m also thinking about energy, its sources, our need for it, and how access to it is integral to the flourishing of all of Earth’s community. These two preoccupations—flight and energy—didn’t rise up in me arbitrarily. The canyon I’m in, part of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, boasts the highest concentration of bird species in North America. My love for birds is why I came here. And the relationship between flight and energy takes on particular meaning because of my third preoccupation: the bond between hummingbirds and flowers; there are fourteen species of hummers that frequent the canyon, the highest count anywhere in North America.

Few, if any, activities in the animal world are as energy intensive as flight. And no species of bird has used it so extravagantly as the hummingbird. No other bird has mastered backward flight. And hovering, something hummingbirds do with unparalleled grace, requires extremely rapid and energy-intensive wing movement. Other birds are more economical in their use of energy in flight, like swifts, for example, who have long slender wings that keep them aloft with minimal wing movement for weeks, even months at a time. And yet, hummingbirds hover, even when it exacts a high energy cost. Their reward is access to nectar, and lots of it.2

The hummingbird’s draw to nectar ignited a unique kind of co-evolution that has heightened the diversity of bird-loving (ornithophilous) flowers on Earth. The next time you stop to admire penstemon, or fuchsia, or similarly shaped flowers, thank the hummingbird for its love affair with nectar. That fascination drew out the forms and hues of a vast array of flower petals. The hummingbird’s singular obsession with nectar also gave rise to a dazzling array of color in the hummingbird’s plumage. The resemblance of a hummingbird’s feathers to the color in flowers’ leaves and blossoms is thought to help protect it from predators. This “coat of many colors” has incited a linguistic cascade in the human imagination in our attempt to capture its allure; a sample in English, out of more than 300: Long-billed Star-throat, Mountain Gem, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Wood-nymph, Blossom-crown, Little Wood-star, Empress Brilliant, White-chinned Sapphire, Horned Sun-gem, Purple-crowned Fairy, the Magnificent, Black-hooded Sunbeam, and the Sparkling Violet-ear.

***

A Magnificent hummingbird veers out of the shadows. The chartreuse of his gorget shimmers. His crown and breast flare up in deep purple as the feathers refract under a flood of sunlight. He hangs, almost motionless for a few seconds, over a trumpet flower bush. In an age-old dance of enamorment, he visits flower after flower. I’m back from my preoccupations of mind and self, surrendering myself to wonder again.

Our own radical presence to what fascinates us elicits similar creativity to that of the hummingbird’s. To allow ourselves to be drawn toward what most deeply moves us is an embrace of Eros, a desire for union with the ground of our being. This communion of one being with another gives rise to further complexification, and thus to expressions of beauty never before seen on Earth. Our human capacity to be transfixed by beauty is the same evolutionary dynamic as the draw of hummingbird to flower. Expressed through human conscious self-awareness, communion reaches an order of complexity that in a word, becomes wonder.

Photo | Christian Spencer

To “become” wonder is to come into a state of radical presence. Embodying wonder means that we are feeling that which is most vital in our being. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that to live the spiritual life means to live in a state of “radical amazement.” The origin of word radical, radicalis, means to “get at the root of things.” To be in wonder is to engage in amazement at the root of our being, the primary reality that we are Earth aware of herself, perceiving her own splendor. To truly take this in is to lose ourselves in a larger reality and gain a freedom beyond the small self.

Radical presence quiets the mind and opens us to what is; in so doing, it dissolves the illusion of separateness to which our minds adhere. As a practice of compassion (to “feel with”), radical presence opens us to the universal experience of pain and loss. Our hearts are not simply broken, but opened. When our hearts open, our feeling of reverence is not a mere concept. It is an experience of profound acceptance of the unique genius that has emerged within each being that shares our living planet.

What brings us most quickly into radical presence is a suspension of ego. To expand Krishnamurti’s quote at the beginning: “beauty is extinction of self, absorption by another subject. We forget ourselves in the face of fullness, grandeur, richness, dignity.” I like to refer to this as the “great enamorment,” the draw of being for being in the universe that gives rise to new life and novel forms, to creativity, in a word. Complete absorption by another subject shapes us, amplifying our identity beyond the small self to a greater, more inclusive Selfhood. We remember and feel our sense of belonging. And when our identity expands to a belonging to the Earth community, our dreams and our actions can become planetary in scope and scale.

So much of the destruction in our economic, political, environmental, and social systems has been driven by an ethos of self-interest, individualism, and isolation. Radical presence pulls us out of these narrow silos of understanding. To be in radical presence to another person—whether it is a human person, a hummingbird person, a salmon person, or the personhood of a forest—is to step into an ethos of mutuality. The human species has evolved to cooperate, in spite of what the ideologies of self interest have perpetrated on human consciousness. Radical presence opens the gateway to cooperation, synergy, and reciprocity.

To respond creatively to the challenges of planetary change today, we need both a functional story and a practice. The functional story, a cosmology, is one that narrates who we are as a species. The practice is one that repeatedly and continually renews our sense of that story on the physical, spiritual, and psychic levels of our being. For the first time, we have a story of our common origins in the Universe. That’s a gift of science, primarily physics, geology, biology, and astronomy. This scientific cosmology is still being interpreted by mythologists, cosmologists, educators, and philosophers into a meaningful cultural cosmology. Combine story (cosmology) with practice, and all areas of human interaction can better cleave to an Earth ethic. For instance, if our notion of democracy expands to a biocracy wherein all species have right to flourish, false dichotomies, such as that between social and environmental justice, begin to fall away.

How do we “become wonder” and come into radical presence? By opening ourselves to the mystery and numinous depths of the natural world through a practice of spiritual ecology. By reflecting every day on the fact that an emergent universe has resulted in something quite amazing: the appearance of a being through which the universe reflects on its own splendor. The human is the way through which the universe feels the glory in a storm, a pine forest, or the light bathing the face of a mountain range. For the first time, we have a story that can give us, as a species, a deep sense that we have a role in the universe. Perhaps that role is simply that we are here to celebrate splendor. We’re not just dropped down here, but have emerged from the planet herself. As we let ourselves be drawn to what we love, we both personalize and further evolution’s creative emergence.

The more deeply we sense the glory and absorb the multi-faceted story, the richer will be our experience, the more vivid will be our imagination, and the deeper will be our connection to the divine. It’s why species diversity and extinction are so important. Why should we care about the African elephant, the polar bear, or the Delta smelt? Because each being is a manifestation of the divine; and each is a one-time endowment of the evolutionary process. Once gone, they can never come again. When our breath is taken away by a 3,000 year old redwood or a seashore vista, the delicacy of a wildflower’s petal, or the burnt sienna of a salamander’s flesh in sunlight, we are the way in which universe revels in its splendor.

Often our sense of wonder, our joy, goes to sleep, or gets buried under the frantic searching of a mind that craves certainty and answers. But we can bring it back again through our breath, our attention, our heart beating. We quiet our minds, come back to ourselves, and let ourselves be sensitized to the shimmering intelligence all around us. In that place of surrender, we find the source of our wonder not only intact, but transformed.

References

[1] J. Krishnamurti, Beauty, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love, Ojai Talks, audio, Harper & Row, 1989.

[2] Robert Burton, The World of the Hummingbird, Firefly Books, Ltd., 2001.

About K. Lauren de Boer

K. Lauren de Boer is a poet, essayist, and composer. He was executive editor of EarthLight, a magazine of ecology, cosmology, and spirituality for many years. He is currently visiting professor for the Integrative Learning Program in Eco-Cosmology for the Institute for Educational Studies at Endicott College.

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How Not to Lose the Elephant for All its Parts

Article Unity

How Not to Lose the Elephant for All its Parts


The elephant lives through trunk and skin at its body’s boundary in intensive tactile contact with its surroundings. Watching a herd of elephants you see continual interaction—caressing, pushing, slapping, probing. And through its keen senses of smell and hearing, and its trumpeting calls and infrasound rumbles, the elephant enters a truly expansive world.

The trunk unites power and agility in singular fashion. We find this unity of largeness and delicateness, of enormity and sensitivity, in modified ways in nearly all elephant characteristics. With its finely modulating feet, a soft-treading elephant has little trouble moving silently through a forest, but can, in another moment, crash through the forest, bowling over trees or crushing a lion under its foot. The thick, leathery skin that appears so tough is also extremely sensitive, warranting continual care. The large, constantly moving ears are ideal for taking in and locating tones coming from afar, but can also hear the quietest tones and distinguish between subtle modulations. The elephant’s unified being speaks through contrasts.

Elephant in graphite by Spectrum-VII

There is no more physically flexible organ in the animal kingdom than the elephant’s trunk. While the trunk is clearly the elephant’s focal instrument for living out its flexible nature, this paramount elephantine feature in fact expresses itself in the whole animal—physically, physiologically, and behaviorally. The elephant does not have to eat food of one type, it can shift from one food source to another; when given the opportunity it goes for variety. The elephant can live in different types of habitats—from the climatically uniform and food-rich rainforest to the extremes and dearth of the desert. But most elephants live in the more rhythmically changing savannah and monsoon climates, where they move with the changing seasons and the changing sources of food the seasons bring.

An elephant changes throughout its long life. Its primary growth phase lasts around two decades, but it continues to grow slowly until death. The tusks grow throughout its life, and, like no other mammal, the elephant’s change of teeth in the molars never stops. There is an ongoing development of the new and discarding of the old, continuous physiological renewal. At the behavioral level we find this characteristic mirrored in the elephant’s pronounced and lifelong learning ability. At any moment the elephant can adjust to new situations with its own unique form of intelligence.

In their family groups, elephants have intense contact and learn from one another. They go through a long phase of maturation and then develop different relations within the group as they grow older. The life of a young mother is very different from that of an older female or of the group matriarch. Or think of the orphaned aggressive young bulls that altered their behavior soon after older bulls entered their home range. In the elephant, the ability to change never ceases.

You have now participated in my attempt to portray the elephant as a unique and unified being. I’d like to highlight here some of the features of my method. “Method” is a horribly dry term to express what I do to try to gain deeper glimpses into the way of being of an animal. What do I attend to and what do I try to avoid? (I’ll say more about my approach throughout the book and summarize it in the concluding chapter.)

Apprehending wholeness demands a particular kind of attention and inner activity. First, when I have come to a certain understanding of some detail, instead of just progressing further in analysis I make myself—which is not easy—step back and ask, “How does this relate to the whole?” I may not yet have an answer, but by trying to place every detail into the larger context, I make sure I am not losing sight of the animal in all its parts.

Thailand Elephant

Second, I try to withstand “explaining,” by which I mean, in this context, finding a surmised single cause of the phenomenon I’m looking at. For example, when I look at the fact that elephants have very long straight legs I may be tempted to “explain” this fact by saying it is an efficient construction that enables such a large animal to bear its weight with minimal muscular exertion. In Darwinian terms, this characteristic gives the elephant greater survival chances. But since I also know that the weighty hippopotamus has short angular legs, and survives in its way just fine, the “explanation” loses its compelling force. And this happens with virtually all single-cause explanations I have encountered. They just don’t work. As far as I can tell, every biological fact has multiple relations that illuminate its function or form. Since single-cause explanations are usually false and tend to fix the mind in narrow pathways, I don’t look for such explanations. When I find authors using them, I discard the explanation and let the phenomena stand on their own.

So with the iron will to always return to the whole and the discipline to hold back from shortcut explanations, I keep the path to the unity of the organism open. But to grasp this unity a third kind of activity is necessary. When I am studying a given phenomenon or reading what others have discovered, I make as vivid a mental picture as possible. I picture the exact form of the limb bones and how they articulate; I picture how the elephant feeds; I picture the formation of the teeth. Or when I have experienced a young bull making a mock attack and am later writing down my observations, I make sure I build up anew a vivid picture of what I have seen. By utilizing imagination and staying as close to the phenomena as possible, I try to create an exact picture. The goal is to achieve saturated inner images of the elephant’s characteristics.

The remarkable thing is that when one builds these exact pictures over and over, moving from one characteristic to the next, patterns emerge. You begin to recognize how the characteristics form a whole—the unity begins to reveal itself. When you go back to characteristics you have studied before, they may suddenly express the unity you have discovered through another part. For example, over time I began to see that the elephant not only has a flexible trunk, but that flexibility is part of its whole being—flexibility in feeding behavior, flexibility in social interactions, flexibility in learning overall, and even flexibility rooted in the anatomy of its immense feet. Characteristics such as the long phase of growth, the long period of social maturation, the virtually lifelong change of teeth, and the lifelong learning capacity no longer appear as separate traits, but as expressions of a unitary being. When I have begun to grasp the elephant in this way as an interconnected whole, I can then set about describing and characterizing it. My goal is, in Goethe’s words, to “portray, rather than explain.”65

For this reason this account is not like typical biological descriptions of animals that depict the different anatomical and physiological systems of the body (skeleton, muscles, digestion, circulation, reproduction, etc.), followed, say, by a consideration of ecology and behavior. Instead, it is arranged according to themes, sometimes taking a particular part of the body or function as the starting point, through which I try, from a somewhat different perspective in each section, to express something of the elephant’s unique character. It’s a bit like hiking through a landscape and getting to know it from different vantage points. Every perspective takes in the whole, but does so by highlighting different aspects of it. In this way our own understanding is deepened. Through this activity— if it is successful—we can build up a picture of the elephant that expresses the unity of its different features.

Recognizing how every part of an animal manifests an underlying unity is an exhilarating experience. What seemed separate comes together, and we sense that we are seeing the elephant truly for the first time. We have a nascent answer to the question, Who are you, elephant? Making even the smallest steps in this direction opens up a wholly new appreciation and understanding of the animal.

On this path of discovery, the wisdom of nature becomes more tangible. In getting to know this wisdom, we find that our feeling of responsibility toward our fellow creatures on earth grows. We come to know ourselves as part of a world that is much greater than us. And when we learn from this world—when we glean something of its inner workings—we can also learn to care for it.

 

From Seeing the Animal Whole, and Why It Matters by Craig Holdrege / Lindisfarne Books / 2021.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

About Craig Holdrege

Craig Holdrege, PhD,  is co-founder and director of The Nature Institute in Ghent, New York (natureinstitute.org), an organization dedicated to research and educational activities applying phenomenological, contextual methods. He is the author of numerous articles, monographs, and books, including Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life, and gives talks, leads workshops, and teaches courses nationally and internationally. 

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Between Prayer Mat and Smoke Hole

Essay

Between Prayer Mat and Smoke Hole


Let’s start by kneeling down.
Because the thing I’d love to talk about is beneath us.

It’s a little worn, possibly with hurt feelings, but it’s there.

It’s a prayer mat. We’re all praying to something.

I know there’s a lot to hold our attention right now – everywhere I glance, there’s a screen pummeling us with statistics – but I’m going to ask us to lower our gaze for a moment, you and I.

Examine the weave of the mat; scrunch up your nose and rub up to the dizzy, strange scent of its perfume. There is no one-size-fits-all mat. There are countless millions of prayer mats, and every last one is different. They’re just enough room for you to kneel on, and that’s about it.

It may not look like much, not with all these other distractions, but we make things holy by the kind of attention we give them. So let’s really look at the weave. It’s moving. There’s a Norwegian tugboat pulling into Alexandria at midnight, there are pale stars over a Provençal castle, there’s a desert woman weaving an emu feather into her hair. If we keep paying attention to this little stretch of rug, strange things happen.

We start to witness a secret history of the earth.
Not the only history, but one tributary of a bigger river that eventually leads us to the vast ocean of Time and Consequence.
We behold this with our old mind, not our new mind.
Sometimes I call this Bone Memory. Not skin or flesh, but bone knowing. It’s what makes storytellers.

This prayer mat is the stuff of our life. The idiosyncratic, usually shadowed, often neglected root system dwelling patiently underneath us. Not just things we’ve lived through, but even further back, things our people lived through. Events that, if they were extraordinary enough, got woven into stories, and by a conscious act of memory decided to be remembered.

Let’s keep looking.

Behind even your people are swooping cranes, misty Welsh hills, lush Ecuadorian valleys, and miles and miles of flowers. These are your ancestors too.

I say it again: we make things holy by the kind of attention we give them.

In a time when we are begging for a new story, it may be the stories we need are supporting us right now, if only we would lower our gaze.

Many of us don’t know it, or more likely have been seduced into forgetting. When you forget what you kneel upon, you are far more easily influenced by energies that may not wish you well.

Well, enough of that.
It’s time to kick the robbers out of the house.
I want my imagination back.
And, now we’re kneeling, I ask you to do something else. Look up.
Towards the smoke hole.

The smoke hole reveals to us the timeless, the prayer mat the timebound.

The stories we remember, sink our teeth into – that we never discard, disown, grow too old for – are ones that live in the tension of both timeless and timebound.

The stories that got us and our people here in the shape we are. Those are the timebound. But it’s the smoke hole that brings in the timeless, the essential, the vital, and I’m petitioning that we could live between both.

 

When did a tool become a God?

It’s stories, hewn between prayer mat and smoke hole, that used to get us made. Get us useful, productive, curious, proud when we needed, humble when we needed. We knew we were in one. To feel outside a story would have been a tribal punishment, sometimes even a death sentence.

Stories apprehend our deepest feelings and give them expression, even artistry, before they have to become an external crisis. Intricate old-world rituals performed the same task. They regulated the beneath. They made both performative and magnificent the workings of our psyche.

To keep at it: if affairs of the soul are not recognized as such, they inevitably grow to become crisis and circumstance. A desire to lie still and brood could become a teenage suicide when the youth has not been offered the kind of literacy required to approach the dark storm whirling their heart. This is not a trite observation. I’ve earnt the statement. Sadly, in my rites of passage work, I have seen the agonies of such societal flatness again and again, and what it does to young people, what it does to their character, their sense of vocation. If all I were exposed to is what currently manifests as leadership, I’m not sure I’d want to make it to adulthood either. As the debates about transgender, climate emergency, BLM are mercifully given more attention than ever before, I still feel that something is missing in the dialogue, something essential: the old stories.

I want to change the pitch, alter the register, offer a different kind of perspective on the times we’re in…[edit]

…I’ve always written for those at a crossroads, and I now find we’re all at one.

No more business as usual.

It’s a time of great paradox: we want to live forever but seem intent on executing the earth. We are technicians of unimaginable advances but are growingly less literate to interpret a way the earth always spoke to us: through myth. I’m wondering if it’s time for us to dig up a little chutzpah and send a voice.

The mess out there is because of a mess in here. Inner and outer talk to each other.
That’s the truth of things.
Let’s get to work.

 

The following excerpt is from Martin Shaw’s new book Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass (Chelsea Green Publishing, May 2021) and has been adapted with permission from the publisher.

About Martin Shaw

Dr Martin Shaw is an acclaimed teacher of myth. Author of the award-winning Mythteller trilogy (A Branch from the Lightning Tree, Snowy Tower, Scatterlings), he founded the Oral Tradition and Mythic Life courses at Stanford University, and is director of the Westcountry School of Myth in the UK.

Shaw’s most recent books include The Night Wages, Cinderbiter, Wolf Milk, Courting the Wild Twin, All Those Barbarians, Wolferland and his Lorca translations, Courting the Dawn (with Stephan Harding).

His essay and conversation with Ai Weiwei on myth and migration was released by the Marciano Art Foundation.

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To Reason with a Madman

Article Beliefs

To Reason with a Madman


Someone sent me a video back on January 19th in which the host, claiming a secret source among the White Hat power faction, said that final plans are in motion to overthrow the criminal Deep State once and for all. The inauguration of Joe Biden will not take place. The lies and crimes of the human trafficking Satanic elite will be revealed. Justice will prevail. The Republic will be restored. Perhaps, he said, the Deep State will make a last desperate attempt to hold onto power by staging a phony inauguration, with deep-fake video effects to make it look like Chief Justice John Roberts has really sworn in Joe Biden. Don’t be fooled, he said. Trust the plan. Donald Trump will continue as the real President, even if the entire mainstream media says otherwise.

This video has a million views.

It is hardly worth the time to critique the video on its own terms, as it is an unremarkable example of its genre. I do not suggest you watch it. What needs to be taken seriously and with alarm is this: the fracturing of the knowledge commons into disjoint realities is now so far advanced that large numbers of people continue believing Donald Trump is secretly President to this day, while Joe Biden occupies a Hollywood studio faked out as the White House. This is a dilute version of the far more widespread belief (tens of millions of people) that the election was stolen.

In a functioning democracy, the two sides could argue the question of whether the election was stolen by drawing evidence from mutually acceptable sources of fact. Today no such source exists. Most of the media has constellated into separate and mutually exclusive ecosystems, each the domain of a political faction, making it impossible to have a debate. All that’s left, as you may have experienced, is a shouting match. Without debate, one must resort to other means to achieve victory in politics: force rather than persuasion.

This is one reason why I think democracy is over. (Whether we ever had it, or how much of it, is another question.)

Suppose I wanted to persuade a far right Trump-supporting reader that claims of election fraud are baseless. I could cite reports and fact-checks on CNN or the New York Times or Wikipedia, but none of those are credible to that person, who assumes, with quite some justification, that these publications are biased against Trump. The same is true if you are a Biden supporter and I try to persuade you of massive election fraud. Evidence for that is only to be found in right-wing publications that you will dismiss out of hand as unreliable.

Let me save the indignant reader some time and write your scathing critique of the above for you. “Charles, you are establishing a false equivalency here that is shockingly ignorant of certain indisputable facts. Fact one! Fact two! Fact three! Here are the links. You are doing a disservice to the public by even broaching the possibility that the other side is worth listening to.”

When even one side believes that, we are no longer in a democracy. My point here isn’t to hold both sides equal. My point is that no conversation is happening, or can happen. We are past democracy now. Democracy depends on a certain level of civic trust, a willingness to decide the disposition of power through peaceful, fair elections informed by an objective press. It requires a willingness to engage in conversation or at least debate. It requires that a substantial majority hold something – democracy itself – to be more important than victory. Otherwise we are in a state either of civil war or, if one side is dominant, a state of authoritarianism and rebellion.

At this point it is clear which side has the upper hand. There is a kind of poetic justice in that the right wing – who perfected the information technology of hate-mongering and narrative warfare in the first place – is now its victim. Conservative pundits and platforms are rapidly being purged from social media, from app stores, even from the Internet entirely. In today’s environment, for me to even say this arouses suspicions that I myself am a conservative. I am quite the opposite. But like a minority of Left journalists like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, I am appalled at the canceling, deplatforming, censoring, and demonizing of the right (including 75 million Trump voters) in what can only be called Total Information Warfare. In Total Information Warfare (as in military conflict) a key tactic is to make your opponents look as bad as possible. How can we have a democracy if we are being incited to hate each other by the very media we depend on to tell us what is real, what is “news,” and what the world is?

It looks today like the Left is beating the Right at its own game: the game of censorship, authoritarianism, and the suppression of dissent. But before you celebrate the expulsion of the Right from social media and public discourse, please understand the inevitable result: the Left will become the Right. This is already long underway, as the overwhelming presence of neocons, Wall Street insiders, and corporate champions in the Biden administration demonstrates. The partisan information warfare that began as a left-right conflict, with Fox on one side and CNN and MSNBC on the other, is rapidly reforming into a struggle between the Establishment and its challengers.

When Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Wall Street are on the same side as the military brass, the intelligence services, and the majority of government officials, it will not be long before those censored are those who disturb their agenda.

Glenn Greenwald makes the point well:

There are times when powers of repression and censorship are aimed more at the left and times when they are aimed more at the right, but it is neither inherently a left-wing nor a right-wing tactic. It is a ruling class tactic, and it will be deployed against anyone perceived to be a dissident to ruling class interests and orthodoxies no matter where on the ideological spectrum they reside.

For the record, I don’t think Donald Trump is still President, nor do I think there was massive election fraud. However, I also think that if there were, we’d have no guarantee of finding out about it, because the very mechanisms of suppressing election fraud misinformation could also be used to suppress that information were it true. When corporate-government powers have captured the press and our means of communication (the internet), what is to stop them from quashing dissent?

* * *
As a writer who has for the last twenty years upheld countercultural views on many issues, I face a dilemma. The evidence I can cite to buttress my views is fading from the knowledge commons. The sources I might use to undermine dominant narratives are illegitimate precisely because they undermine dominant narratives. The guardians of the internet enforce this illegitimacy through a million means: algorithmic suppression, tendentious search term autofill, demonetizing dissident channels, flagging dissenting views as “false,” canceling accounts, censoring citizen journalists, and so on.

The resulting epistemic bubble leaves the average citizen just as much in unreality as someone who believes Trump is still President. The cult-like character of QAnon and the far right is plain to see. What is less obvious (especially to those within it) is the increasingly cult-like character of the mainstream. What else can we call it but a cult, when it controls information, punishes dissent, spies on its members and controls their physical movements, lacks transparency and accountability in leadership, prescribes what its members should say, think, and feel, encourages them to denounce and spy on each other, and upholds a polarized us-versus-them mentality? I am certainly not saying that everything the mainstream media, science, and academia say is wrong. However, when powerful interests control information they can lock reality out of the picture and bring the public to believe absurdities.

Perhaps that is what culture does generally. “Culture” comes from the same linguistic root as “cult.” It generates a shared reality, by conditioning perception, patterning belief, and directing creation. What is different today is that entrenched forces are desperately trying to maintain a reality that no longer fits the consciousness of the public, which is rapidly moving out of the Age of Separation. The proliferation of cults and conspiracy theories mirrors the increasingly unhinged absurdity of official reality and the lies and propaganda that maintain it.

Put another way, the lunacy that was the Trump Presidency was not a deviation from a trajectory toward greater and greater sanity. It was not a stumble on the road from Medieval superstition and barbarism toward a rational, scientific society. It drew its power from a gathering cultural turbulence, just as a river generates increasingly violent counter eddies as it approaches its plunge over the waterfall.

Recently as a writer I have had the feeling of trying to reason a madman out of his madness. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a QAnon, you know what I’m talking about as I try to reason with the public mind. I don’t mean to uphold myself as the one sane individual in a world gone mad (thereby demonstrating my own insanity), but rather to speak to a sense I’m sure many readers share: that the world has gone crazy. That our society has spun off into unreality, lost itself in an illusion. Hope as we might to assign the madness to a small and deplorable subset of society, it is in fact a general condition.

As a society, we are asked to accept the unacceptable: the wars, the prisons, the deliberate famine in Yemen, the evictions, the land grabs, the domestic abuse, the racial violence, the child abuse, the ripoffs, the confinement meat factories, the soil destruction, the ecocide, the beheadings, the torture, the rape, the extreme inequality, the persecution of whistleblowers…. On some level, we are all aware that it is crazy to proceed with life as if all this were not happening. To live as if reality were not real – that is the essence of insanity.

Also pushed to the margins of official reality is much of the wonderful healing and creative power of human beings and other-than-human beings. Ironically, if I bring up some examples of these extraordinary technologies, for example in the areas of medicine, agriculture, or energy, I invite accusations of being “unrealistic.” I wonder if the reader, like I do, has direct experience of phenomena that are not officially real?

I am much tempted to try to make the case the modern society is confined to a narrow unreality, but this is precisely the problem. Any examples I invoke from beyond acceptable political, medical, scientific, or psychological (un)reality automatically discredit my argument and make me a suspect character to anyone who does not already agree with me.

Here, let’s do a little experiment. Hey everyone, free energy devices are real, I’ve seen one! There, do you trust me more now or less? Anyone questioning official reality has this problem. Look what happens to journalists who point out that America does all the things it accuses Russia and China of doing (meddling in elections, sabotaging power grids, building back doors into electronics). You won’t often find them on MSNBC or the New York Times. The manufacture of consent described by Herman and Chomsky goes far beyond consent for war. By controlling information, dominant institutions engineer passive public consent to the perception-reality matrix that sustains their dominance. The more successful they are in controlling reality, the more unreal it becomes, until we reach the extreme where everyone pretends to believe but no one really does. We are not there yet, but we are fast approaching it. We are not yet at the state of late Soviet Russia, when virtually no one took Pravda and Izvestia at face value. The unreality of official reality is not yet so complete, nor is the censorship of unofficial realities. We are still at the stage of repressed alienation, where many harbor a vague sense of living in a VR matrix, a show, a pantomime. What is repressed tends to come out in extreme and distorted form; for example, conspiracy theories that the earth is flat, that the earth is hollow, that Chinese troops are massing on the US border, that the world is run by baby-eating Satanists, and so on. Such beliefs are symptoms of locking people in a matrix of lies and telling them it is real. The more tightly the authorities control information in an attempt to preserve official reality, the more virulent and widespread the conspiracy theories will become. Already, the canon of “authoritative sources” is shrinking to the point where US foreign policy critics, Israeli/Palestinian peace activists, vaccine skeptics, holistic health researchers, and ordinary dissidents like myself risk exile to the same internet ghettos as full-bore conspiracy theorists. Indeed, to a large extent we dine at the same table. What choice is there, when mainstream journalism is derelict in its duty to vigorously challenge power, than to draw from citizen journalists, independent researchers, and anecdotal sources to make sense of the world?

* * *

I realize I am overstating my difficulty, exaggerating the case in order to tease out the reason for my recent feelings of futility. The reality offered for our consumption is by no means self-consistent nor complete; its gaps and contradictions may be exploited to invite people to question its sanity. My point is not to bewail my helplessness, but to explore whether there is a more powerful way for me to use my words in the face of the derangement I have described.

I have been writing for nearly 20 years about the defining mythology of civilization that I call the Story of Separation and its consequences: the Program of Control, the mindset of reductionism, the war on the Other, the polarization of society. Obviously, my essays and books have not redeemed my naive ambition to prevent the very circumstances we face today. I must confess to weariness. I am tired of explaining phenomena like Brexit, the Trump election, QAnon, and the Capitol riot as symptoms of a much deeper malady than mere racism or cultism or stupidity or insanity. I know how to write that essay. I would expose hidden assumptions various sides share and the questions few are asking. I would propose how the tools of peace and compassion might reveal the underlying causes of the affair. I would preempt accusations of false equivalency, both-sidesism, and spiritual bypassing by describing how compassion enables us to transcend the endless war on the symptom to address root causes. I would describe how the War on Evil has led to the current situation, how the Program of Control creates more and more virulent forms of that which it tries to stamp out, because it cannot see the full set of conditions that produce its enemies. These conditions, I would explain, include at their core a profound dispossession stemming from the breakdown of defining myths and systems. Finally I would describe how a different mythology of wholeness, ecology, and interbeing would motivate a new politics.

Over five years I’ve made my case for peace and compassion – not as moral imperatives but as practical necessities. I have little new to say about the current internecine strife in my country. I could take the basic conceptual tools of my previous work and apply it to the present situation, but instead I am taking a pause, listening to what might be underneath the exhaustion and feeling of futility. Readers who want from me a more detailed take on current politics can extrapolate from recent essays on peace, war mentality, polarization, compassion, and dehumanization. It’s all there in Building a Peace NarrativeThe Election: Hate, Grief, and a New StoryQAnon: A Dark MirrorMaking the Universe Great AgainThe Polarization Trap, and others.

So, I am taking a break from writing expository prose, or at least slowing down. This doesn’t mean that I am giving up and going into retirement. To the contrary. Listening to my body and its feelings, after deep meditation, counsel, and medicine work, I am preparing to do something I’ve not tried before.

In The Conspiracy Myth I explored the idea that the Controllers of the “New World Order” are not a conscious group of human evildoers, but are ideologies, myths, and systems that have taken on a life of their own. It is these beings who pull the puppet strings of those we normally believe to hold power. Behind the hatred and divisiveness, behind the corporate totalitarianism and information warfare, the censorship, and the permanent bio-security state, powerful mythic and archetypal beings are at play. They cannot be confronted literally, but in their own realm.

I intend to do that through a story, probably to take the form of a screenplay but possibly another medium of fiction. Some of the scenes that have come to me are breathtaking. My aspiration is a work so beautiful that people cry when it is over because they don’t want it to end. Not an escape from reality, but a turn more deeply into it. Because what is real and possible is far bigger than the cult of normal would have us believe.

I cheerfully admit I have little reason to believe I am capable of writing such a thing. I have never displayed much talent for fiction. (Neither, however, do the screenwriters for a certain popular show which I’ve been watching with my son. It wouldn’t be kind to say which one.) I will do my best, and trust that I would not have been shown such a piercingly beautiful vision if there were no way to get there.

For years I’ve written of the power of story. It is time for me to deploy this technology fully, in service of a new mythology. Expository prose generates resistance, but stories touch a deeper place in the soul. They flow like water around intellectual defenses, and soften the soil so that dormant visions and ideals can take root. I was about to say that my goal is to encode the ideas I’ve worked with into fictional form, but that’s not quite it. It is that what I want to express is bigger than expository prose can accommodate. Fiction is larger and truer than nonfiction, and any explanation of a story is less than the story itself.

The mode of story that may release me from my personal impasse may also bear relevance for the larger cultural impasse. At a time when lack of agreement on a valid source of facts makes debate impossible, what can bridge the divide? Maybe here too it is stories: both fictional stories that carry truths that are otherwise inaccessible through barriers of fact control, and personal stories that rehumanize each other to each other.

The former includes the kind of counter-dystopian fiction I intend to create (not necessarily painting a picture of Utopia, but striking a note of healing that the heart recognizes as authentic). If dystopian fiction serves as “predictive programming” preparing the public for an ugly, brutal, or ruined world, we can also program the opposite, invoking and normalizing healing, redemption, change of heart, and forgiveness. We desperately need stories in which the resolution is not that the good guys beat the bad guys at their own game (violence). History tells us what inevitably comes thereafter: the good guys become the new bad guys, just as in the information warfare I discussed earlier.

With the latter type of story, that of personal experience, we can reach each other on a core human level that cannot be rebutted or denied. You can argue with the interpretation of a story, but you can’t argue with the story itself. With the willingness to seek stories of those outside one’s familiar corner of reality, we may fulfill the potential of the internet to restore the knowledge commons. Then we will have the ingredients of a democratic renaissance. Democracy depends on a shared sense of We the People. There is no We if we see each other through partisan caricatures and don’t engage directly. When we hear each others’ stories, we know that in real life, good versus evil is rarely the truth, and domination is rarely the answer.

My intention for 2021 is to produce a story of the first kind, an emanation from a future I like to call “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” You may see fewer essays from me in 2021. I will continue to give the occasional interview for podcasts and online events, but not at the frenetic schedule of last year. Those who support me through my website or Patreon should know this, in case you would like to modify your support in either direction.

This is the most excited I’ve felt about a creative endeavor since I wrote The Ascent of Humanity in 2003-2006. I feel life stirring, life and hope. I think dark times are upon us in America and probably many other places. In the past year I’ve gone through periods of profound despair, as things came to pass that I’d spent twenty years trying to prevent. All my efforts seemed in vain. Yet now, as I take up a new direction, hope blossoms in me that others will do the same, and the human collective as well. For haven’t our furious efforts to make a better world proved futile too, judging by the current state of ecology, economy, and politics? Aren’t we as a collective also becoming exhausted by the fight?

A key theme of my work has been to invoke causal principles other than force: morphogenesis, synchronicity, the ceremony, the prayer, the story, the seed. Ironically, many of my essays are themselves of a forceful type: they marshal evidence, exert logic, and make a case. It is not that technologies of force are inherently bad; they are just limited, and insufficient to the challenges we face. Domination and control have gotten civilization to where it is today, for good and for ill. Cling to them as we might, they will not resolve autoimmune disease, poverty, ecological collapse, racial hatred, or the trend toward extremism. These will not be stamped out. In the same vein, the restoration of democracy will not come because someone wins an argument. And so, I am happy to declare my readiness to turn toward engaging the world non-forcefully. May that choice be part of a morphic field by which humanity collectively does the same

About Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, including Sacred EconomicsThe More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and Climate: A New Story. His background includes a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Yale, a decade in Taiwan as a translator, and stints as a college instructor, a yoga teacher, and a construction worker. He currently writes, speaks, and teaches courses online, in addition to being a husband and father to four sons.

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The Wisdom of Our Ancestors

Article Ecological Civilization

The Wisdom of Our Ancestors


From the surviving early cultures of Africa, the human birthplace, comes a foundational insight into life and our distinctive human nature and responsibility. It goes by different names in different places. It is perhaps best known by non-Africans as ubuntu, which translates: “I am because you are.”

In its fullest meaning, ubuntu acknowledges the individual’s dependence on the whole of life: “I am because we are.” The Ubuntu Principle takes it the next step to its simple, yet profound, implication: “I do best when we all do well.” It leads us from asking, “How can I make a difference?” to “How can we make a difference?” We all lose when it’s about my money. We all win when it’s about our wellbeing.

The Quechua peoples of the South American Andes refer to this principle as sumac kausay, which translates into Spanish as bien vivir and into English as good living. Bolivia and Ecuador have written this principle into their respective constitutions.

The recognition of life’s interdependence is foundational to family/community-centric cultures throughout Asia. China has inserted a commitment to Ecological Civilization into its constitution.

The Earth Charter, which has been endorsed by over 7,000 organizations and 50,000 individuals, affirms:

“The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.”

Most religions call us to love and care for our neighbors and all that the eternal spirit has created. In 2015, the Parliament of the World’s Religions issued a Declaration on Climate Change that closed with these words:

“The future we embrace will be a new ecological civilization and a world of peace, justice, and sustainability, with the flourishing of the diversity of life. We will build this future as one human family within the greater Earth community.”

The frontiers of science now give us an ever-deepening understanding of the interdependence of life. Quantum physics tells us that relationships, not particles, are the foundation of what we experience as material reality. Biology is finding that intelligent life exists only in diverse communities of choice-making organisms that together maintain the conditions essential to their individual and collective existence. The social sciences find that humans get their greatest satisfaction from mutually caring relationships with other living beings. These ideas are foundational to the insight that evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson calls prosocial, a recognition that we all do better together than alone.

Far from calling us to sacrifice for the wellbeing of Earth, the Ubuntu Principle calls us to embrace our current challenges as a win-win opportunity to actualize our human desire to love and to care for one another and Earth. For example, much of the need to reduce total human consumption can be met by relieving ourselves of the dehumanization imposed by war, oppression of the masses, obsessive materialism, planned obsolescence, predatory employment conditions, and cities designed to accommodate cars and office space rather than people relating to one another and nature to secure human wellbeing with minimal environmental burden.

Corollaries relating to purpose, power, and procreation follow directly from the Ubuntu Principle to provide a three-part framework for action.

1. PURPOSE

The purpose of a functional economy is to provide all people with material sufficiency and spiritual abundance while supporting the wellbeing, beauty, and creative unfolding of Earth’s community of life.

Ego-nomics makes GDP growth the economy’s defining purpose. It assumes that advances in the wellbeing of people and Earth will follow. Occasionally such advances occur. Usually, they do not.

GDP measures the market value of that which is exchanged in the market. It ignores our most valuable  exchanges, those based solely on our caring for one another, such as caring for our children and our elderly relatives for love rather than for money. GDP takes no account of what the market exchange involves, who benefits, or what may be its impact on the community’s social and environmental health. In our current context the most certain beneficiaries of most market exchanges are those who claim the profits of the corporations that control the exchange.

A major portion of GDP growth comes from growing human numbers, monetizing relationships once based on mutual caring, frivolous extravagance, dysfunctional infrastructure such as automobile-dependent cities and suburbs, and preparations for and conduct of war. GDP growth serves us as a defining indicator of economic performance only if our purpose is to grow short-term corporate profits and the fortunes of our wealthiest billionaires in disregard of the long-term social and environmental consequences.

Living beings grow physically, but only within life’s continuing cycles of birth and death. If our human body continues to grow past adolescence, it generally means we need to change our diet and get more exercise.

GDP may grow in the process of society’s modernization, but that does not make growing GDP a legitimate purpose. Once improvements in health care and secure housing and diets are achieved, sustained GDP growth is likely an indicator of economic dysfunction that needs correction.

Take the analogy of flying an airplane. Suppose it is a dark cloudy night. The airplane has only an airspeed indicator and you chose to maximize your speed in the hope this will hasten your arrival. The plane will achieve its maximum speed by heading toward Earth. You will quickly crash and die. A safe flight requires multiple indicators, including airspeed, altitude, and direction. And a map with airport locations. Managing a modern economy well is a much more difficult balancing act, requiring even more complex indicators.

Kate Raworth, the acclaimed author of Doughnut Economics, suggests that managing a modern economy requires setting performance boundaries defined by two indicator panels. One panel keeps us focused on assuring that all people can fulfill the essential needs of a full and satisfying life. The other tracks the health of Earth’s regenerative systems. Our wellbeing and the fulfillment of our human responsibility to the larger community of life depend on our learning to maintain the human economy within the limits of the inner and outer boundaries of the doughnut. The doughnut thus provides a foundational frame for the metrics by which an eco-nomics will guide us in assessing the economy’s performance.

 

 

2. POWER

The economy best fulfills its purpose when we organize as communities of place in which people are empowered to fulfill their responsibility to and for themselves, one another, and Earth.

There is no universal design for local living community economies. The people of each place must adapt to their distinctive and often dramatically different circumstances presented by meadow, mountain, jungle, desert, arctic and other features of their territories. The relevant differences extend to water sources, soil quality, and sunlight availability that vary even down to micro differences on small garden plots. Life best thrives through micro-adaptation to these variations that can be achieved only by adaptive local choice-making.

To deal with its distinctive needs and opportunities while caring for its place on Earth, each community must be able to control human access to the resources in its territory, while caring for and living within their regenerative limits. So long as each local community meets its needs through its own labor in self-reliant balance with its local ecosystems, Earth’s community of life remains in healthy balance with itself and Earth. In an Ecological Civilization, securing local communities against colonization by predatory neighbors and corporations that fail to embrace their responsibility to and for the whole will be a defining responsibility of governing bodies at higher system levels.

We must accept the limitations of our human ability to control nature. We have ample evidence of the consequences of our arrogance in such efforts. Rather than controlling nature, our current priority must be to control ourselves as we facilitate the healing of the living Earth’s community of life. This in turn raises profound questions about ownership rights and responsibilities in relation to Earth.

Earth is life, the literal ground of our being. None of us created it. We all depend on it.

For thousands of years, humans have organized their dominant societies around the ownership of land and the rights that ownership conveys. In common practice, there have been few limits on what an individual can own, or the right of the owner to deny others access and to contaminate and otherwise disrupt the land’s natural processes.

As ownership becomes ever more concentrated and ever more people are denied access to a means of living, rethinking rights of access to and responsibilities for its proper care become among the most foundational issues facing humanity. We have barely begun to frame the essential questions, let alone adequate answers.

In our emerging vision of an Ecological Civilization, power is best localized and equitably distributed. And the benefits of productive labor should go primarily to those who provide it. That all points to a preference for local, cooperative ownership.

Unless it receives a public subsidy, a business must have profits sufficient to remain viable and provide a fair and modest return to investors commensurate with risk. When ownership is local, part of the return to the owners comes from the business’s contributions to the wellbeing of the community in which the owners live. When the business is owned by its workers, workers get the full return on the value of their labor. As owners, they also benefit from the contribution of the business to the wellbeing of the community in which it does business. They also enjoy the well-earned respect of neighbors who appreciate the services their business provides. Local owners usually plan to operate for the long-term, thus aligning their interests with the long-term wellbeing of the community. It is a win-win act of cooperation.

A market economy can best be counted on to serve the community interest when decision makers live in and are known to that community. When decision makers are distant, faceless, and seek only to maximize quick profits, the essential link between business and community is broken. If the delinked business also possesses monopoly power, it can become a mortal threat.

The charter of the limited-liability, for-profit corporation is a legal instrument that, in its current form, supports the unlimited concentration of economic power delinked from accountability to the communities in which the corporation does business. Such an institution has no legitimate place in a 21st century Ecological Civilization. Far preferable are local family businesses and worker/community owned cooperatives. The Mondragon worker coops in the Basque region of Spain are among the most successful currently existing examples of large-scale cooperative businesses.

Equally obsolete is the current system of monopolistic, private, for-profit banks that create money by issuing interest-bearing debt. In aggregate, that debt can only be repaid if new loans are putting sufficient new money into the system to pay the interest and repay the principle on outstanding debt. It is a system designed to crash if the money in the system does not continuously grow.

Yet the new money accrues to people in proportion to their existing financial assets, thus widening the gap between rich and poor. The drive for ever-greater monetary growth generates investments in activities harmful to people and the living Earth. It is a process that dehumanizes rich and poor alike and ultimately produces only losers. The truth is hidden by misleading language. Speculators seeking instant unearned financial gains are called investors, and money created from nothing is called capital.

Because money is just a number and the financial system is a purely human creation, if the system is not working for us, we have both the right and the means to change it. That does not mean the changes will be easy. Not only have we organized our lives around and become dependent on the predatory system. We have also put in place laws designed to protect that system. Of course, the laws are also human creations and are also ours to change, but only by difficult-to-achieve collective choice.

Money creation in a viable human future must be transparent, accountable, and supportive of productive investments that put underutilized labor and other regenerative resources to work meeting unmet needs of people and Earth.

We must organize around what makes communities most healthy rather than what makes corporations most profitable. And we must use money as a tool to serve the community. Money must never again be allowed to become an instrument of speculation and control by the few to exploit the many. These are issues for which a fully developed eco-nomics will provide maps to guide us.

3. PROCREATION

To fulfill our responsibilities to one another and Earth, it is essential that we manage our human numbers and distribution while continually learning and evolving as individuals, families, and communities.

Life replenishes and renews itself through continuing cycles of conception, birth, maturation, adulthood, death, and rebirth. These cycles are essential to life’s resilience, regeneration, and continuing evolution toward ever-greater diversity, beauty, awareness, and creative potential.

Life’s resilience and creativity depend on maintaining its species diversity. The greater its diversity, the greater its ability to recover from disruptions like meteors, volcanoes, and rogue species. And the greater its potential to evolve.

Diversity depends in turn on keeping individual species numbers in balance. Normally life depends on predators to maintain that balance, as for example, wolves culling deer populations.

In earlier times, human population growth was checked by famine, disease, and large mammals. As we learned to protect ourselves against such threats, including through improved food security, diet, sanitation, and immunization, growth in our numbers and consumption exploded. We have now become an increasing threat to Earth and thereby to ourselves.

We will prosper as a species only as we get our numbers and relations right with one another and Earth. As Earth’s now dominant species, we must assume responsibility for ourselves—our reproduction, distribution, consumption, and care for Earth’s community of life.

A key to balancing our numbers resides in evidence that population growth slows when women are provided with education, attractive employment opportunities, and the means of fertility control.

The more daunting challenge is dealing with population redistribution as we render ever more of Earth’s places socially and environmentally unlivable. Here the key is knowing that most people prefer to live in the place they know as home if that is a viable option. We will all benefit from cooperative efforts to restore livability wherever that is possible. When such restoration is not possible, such as disappearing islands, we must achieve an orderly redistribution and resettlement of the people displaced through no fault of their own.

Our future depends on a dramatic transformation in our understanding of ourselves and our relationships with one another and Earth. It begins with getting our reproduction right and taking seriously the truth that “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The human family has more than enough abused and neglected children. What we lack is adequate attention to the care and development of all our children to assure that they achieve their full potential as intelligent, responsible contributors to the wellbeing of the whole. Imagine a world in which every child is a wanted child, and all children are loved and supported by a caring family and a caring community.

It isn’t just about childhood. We never outgrow our need for learning, nor our need for a caring community. Our need from birth is to learn to live and learn together. Conventional textbook education is distinguished by its isolation from the experience of living, its fragmentation of knowledge, and its preparation of our young for a future that mostly never was and never will be.

The children of early humans learned by participating in the daily life of their tribe or village. Modern education confines our children to regimented classrooms, separated from the life of community and from members of generations other than their own. Classroom activity centers on memorizing information printed in specialized textbooks, each devoted to an isolated and distinctive discipline mostly irrelevant to the student’s real world non-school experience.

It is no wonder that we become so susceptible to media manipulation. Much of our childhood is devoted to conditioning us to accept without question what we are told by experts and authority figures. It is a setup for our misdirection by books and experts promoting the fictional maps of ego-nomics, as well as by unprincipled political extremists. Social advances depend on challenging established ideas and frameworks. We must continuously and accurately assess our maps both old and new. An adequate modern education will include development of critical thinking skills.

This excerpt is the current version of a continuing work in progress from which others are free to draw with or without attribution. It may be freely shared, reproduced, and reposted in whole or in part for so long as there is no restriction on further free distribution

About David Korten

David C. Korten is an American writer, lecturer, engaged citizen, student of psychology and behavioral systems, a prominent critic of corporate globalization, and an advocate of Ecological Civilization. He is founder and president of the Living Economies Forum and an active member of the Club of Rome, a member of the International Advisory Council of the International Academy for Multicultural Cooperation, and an Ambassador of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. Co-founder and former board chair of YES! Magazine (now YES! Media), he is the author of numerous influential books, including the international bestselling When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His other books include: Change the Story; Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth; Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth; and The Post-Corporate World: Life after Capitalism.

He holds earned MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, served on the facilities of the Harvard Business School and Harvard School of Public Health, and worked for thirty years in international development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Find David on Facebook, Twitter and his website, davidkorten.org.

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Indigenous to Life

Introduction Keynote

Indigenous to Life


Writing these lines at this point in our human journey has to be an exercise in humility. The theme of this issue is ‘Realigning with Earth Wisdom’. How would a white, middle-aged, academically over-educated male have something to say about that? Given the centuries of violation this particular demographic has enacted upon the community of life, is it even appropriate to accept this invitation?

I write these lines from relative comfort at a time when many are suffering the degenerative effects of the Western narrative of separation that has objectified life, disrespected fellow humans on the basis of gender or ethnicity, and othered nature for centuries. For too long have we disregarded Earth Wisdom as it has been held in custody by our elder brothers and sisters – the indigenous people of Africa, Australia, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

In response to the now strikingly evident destruction and inequality the narrative of separation has wrought, we have seen the interest in regenerative development and regenerative cultures grow rapidly in recent years. It is imperative to highlight that regeneration is an inherent pattern of life itself and that all our distant common ancestors understood life as a regenerative community of which we are members, not masters.

People of the Amazon steward their ancestral home.

Our species evolved primarily through collaboration and in co-evolving mutuality within the ecosystems we inhabited. For 98% of our common journey as hominids we have lived in reciprocal custodianship within the places and bioregions we called home. From the forests of Colombia and Peru to the Pacific NorthWest and Australia, evidence is mounting that human inhabitants co-created and nurtured these peak ecosystems to higher diversity, abundance and bio-productivity over many millennia.

We are all indigenous to life as a planetary process. The central lesson of many Earth wisdom traditions is about alignment with life as a process, living in right relationship and letting life’s regenerative patterns flow through us. In this way of being we understand ourselves not as owners but rather as expressions of place. The land does not belong to us, we belong to the land. The land and the sea will be there long after we return to the soil as compost for new life.

Aligning with Earth wisdom is about living in right relationship. We are relational beings. Each one of us is unique and a nexus of intimate reciprocity within life’s regenerative community. To align with Earth wisdom we have to not just learn from but as nature. Janine Benyus elegantly distilled the central lesson of biomimicry to one sentence: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.”

As life, how do we let Earth wisdom flow through us as we set out to create conditions conducive not just for all of humanity but for all of life?

Clearly our more recent record as a species seems to suggest we have forgotten the vital significance of this question.  The effects of our actions – more truthfully the actions of a relatively small proportion of humanity – have pushed all of humanity into a species level ‘rite of passage’. We are facing the real and present danger of an immature end of our species as part of the current mass extinction event. Will we step into mature membership in the community of life and become a regenerative rather than degenerative presence on Earth in time to manifest a different future?

To co-create a regenerative future based on diverse regenerative cultures as elegant expressions of the bio-cultural uniqueness of the places they inhabit we require changes in doing, being and thinking. We need a new and very ancient worldview. Our organising ideas and culturally dominant narratives have cut the process of life into individuals and species. This way of seeing has predisposed us to focus on competition, scarcity, and mortality.

Today, we can draw on both ancient indigenous wisdom and cutting edge science to understand life as a syntropic force in the universe – creating conditions conducive to life through collaborative abundance. Life is a planetary process! As Gregory Bateson put it in his 1970 essay ‘On form, substance and difference’: “the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself. The unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment.”

Shared ritual | Sinchi Tribe, by Wayne Quilliam

Conscious participation in the evolutionary process of life invites us to hold the seeming paradox of existence as simultaneously part and whole. From a relational participatory perspective all being takes place in the polarity between ‘being for oneself’ and ‘being as reciprocal expression of the whole’. We are both at once. As Thích Nhất Hạnh invited us to understand by introducing the word interbeing to the West: “To be is to interbe. You cannot be by yourself alone.”

The Earth Wisdom of the Navajo is Hózhóogo Naasháa Doo or ‘walk in beauty’. Their advice: ‘if you walk into the future walk in beauty’. The way to walk in beauty is to ‘witness the One-in-All and the All-in-One’.

Living regeneratively is living as a conscious expression of and participant in the wider nested complexity in which the local, regional and global are dynamically co-present. These nested scales are united through fast and slow cycles of collapse of structures and patterns that no longer serve, transformative innovation, and temporary consolidation of new patterns into a dynamically and constantly transforming whole. As such, regeneration as a process is intimately linked with the evolutionary and developmental impulse of life itself.

Once we learn to understand health and resilience not as static states to ‘bounce back’ to, but as dynamic capacities to transform and express vitality in the face of shifting context, we can also see how working regeneratively is about systemic healing and building resilient communities capable of anticipating and transforming environmental or social change.

Regeneration is about more than just ‘net positive impact’ or ‘doing good’. It is about evolving the capacity to manifest the unique and irreplaceable gift of every person, community and place in service to the life-regenerating context in which we are all embedded.

Life is a regenerative community at nested scales: from the community of organelles that form all nucleated cells, to the ecosystems of human, bacterial and fungal cells that make up the regenerative community you and I are referring to as ‘our body’, to the communities of species that create the functional diversity of abundant and highly bio-productive ecosystems, all the way to the physiology of a living planet with marine and terrestrial ecosystems contributing to a continuously evolving life support system that regulates planetary climate patterns and atmospheric composition to make them conducive to life.

Realigning with Earth’s wisdom is about re-inhabiting this regenerative community more consciously again and humbly returning to our role as healers within that nested regenerative community of life. Our future will change depending on the degree to which each and every one of us manages to re-inhabit this community.

As the poet Gary Snyder suggested in 1976: “Those who envision a possible future planet on which we continue […], and where we live by the green and the sun, have no choice but to bring whatever science, imagination, strength, and political finesse they have to the support of the inhabitory people — natives and peasants of the world. In making common cause with them, we become ‘reinhabitory’.”

Re-inhabitation in the context of the bio-geo-physical reality of the places and bioregions we inhabit is a change in doing and how we relate to the bioregions as we try to meet human needs in ways that regenerate healthy ecosystems functions, thriving communities and vibrant economies – place by place.

Re-inhabitation is also active in the terrain of consciousness, as we learn to re-perceive ourselves as processes of becoming – processes that are in themselves dynamic expressions of the places, communities and ecosystems that bring us forth. As such, to re-inhabit is a change of being. The future potential of the present moment is to come home to our bodies, our communities, our places and bioregions now – not sometime after a long ‘transition’ or a ‘great turning’.

It seems our current theory of change has us stuck in discussing strategies within a problem-solving mindset that predisposes us towards abstraction and the habit of “solving” problems in isolation from each other and from the places where we propose to implement “solutions”.

What if we focused on being differently now? What if we re-perceived who we are and identified more with life as a planetary process of interbeing? What if we aimed for being in right relationship to self, community and life? What if we focused on our individual and collective potential of being and becoming healing and nurturing expressions of place? What if we dropped the dysfunctional habit of trying to solve abstract global problems and scaling-up solutions? What if we focused instead on our potential to create conditions conducive to life in co-evolving mutuality with the places and communities that are the ground of our being?

 

About Daniel Christian Wahl

Between 2007 and 2010, Daniel was the director of Findhorn College based at the UN-Habitat Award-winning ecovillage in the north of Scotland. He now works independently as a consultant and educator with organizations like Gaia Education, Bioneers, the Clear Village Foundation, and the UNITAR training centre CIFAL Scotland. He is a member of the International Futures Forum and a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

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Trauma and Regeneration

Conversation Cultural Memory

Trauma and Regeneration


Soul Shivers launched at the Stoa in February and March of 2021. We held a series of four dialogues framed around earth regeneration, breaking the conversations down into four critical themes which were ancestry, trauma, connection to place, and peace.  You can view the series here. And the first dialogue in Kosmos, here.

Soul Shivers captures seldom heard stories from women around the world working on earth regeneration in different ways. Our dialogues are intimate, translocally interconnected, and impactful. In a special collaboration with Kosmos, we are offering edited transcripts of these conversations.

Luea Ritter:

Welcome everyone. Today we dive into the field of personal, intergenerational, and collective trauma. Before we begin our dialogue, we’d like to read a short poem.

Freya Yost:

The poem is called Every Morning by Mary Oliver.

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death is history, death is habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

Luea Ritter:

Thank you, Freya. I mentioned intergenerational trauma, meaning from within our family lineages and handed down, informing future generations, and then there is also the collective trauma of tribes, communities, whole cultures, and societies. We strongly believe that no matter where we are on this planet, and no matter what tribe or culture we belong to, we are all informed by trauma dynamics.

Even if we have not experienced big traumas in our lifetime, such as war or famine, we all are descendants of people who have. Not to compare them with each other, of course, but just to acknowledge this. We live in cultures and societies that are built on trauma-informed structures.

Peter Levine defines trauma as something that happens to us faster than we can process it. So in a way we become traumatized when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some ways overwhelmed. Everyone reacts differently to trauma, even in shared traumatic events. One person may be fine while the other one gets trapped in a cycle of anxiety. It’s very important to know when we approach healing that it’s actually something to work through in our bodies.

Knowing that trauma is a physiological reaction, we can approach regeneration as something that is the collaboration between the energetic, social, and ecological layers of life. We could say that regeneration is needed as a response to how we have lived with century-old trauma-informed dynamics and systems. Humanity itself has to create the preconditions for working through the trauma layers and unfreeze the stuck energy that is in our systems and societies.

Now I would love to open with a question. How have you as an individual, and you with your community or your peers, danced with these trauma-informed dynamics and what is the first story that comes up when you hear that word?

Alexandra Gavilano:

The first image that comes to mind is soil. How intensely managed soil is traumatized and it needs to recuperate. A lot of people say we’re destroying our planet. We’re not destroying the planet because the planet will be here long after us. We are really destroying the environment that is good for our species and many others. I feel we need to expand the trauma dimensions to the more than human.

Amber Tamm:

Growing up I didn’t understand that some of the things I was enduring were traumatic and that they were informed by a collective trauma. I really had no clue. But I easily realized that trauma is a superpower once I went through something very massive, as in my father murdering my mom, and then I was able to see how years of this can lead to more of it.

Going through my own personal trauma brought me back to soil and honoring, like Alexandra just said, the trauma of the soil, but through people first. I think I had to really recognize what land I was on, how my ancestors were brought here, what the land is holding people-wise, bones-wise, fertilizer-wise, trauma-wise, and then getting to a Mama Earth perspective. I have always felt like trauma is some weird sort of sight. It helps you understand others. It helps you understand interconnectedness as a whole.

Jane Ruka:

Because I’m older than you, I always hesitate to speak first. From my vantage, intergenerational trauma is very close, and it can come in the form of anything that disturbs your community, and that intergenerational trauma could come from another nation, superimposing themselves onto you or taking you from your community and replanting you somewhere else as a totally different self-image that you had or your ancestors had for you.

I think it’s the destruction that the original trauma intergenerationally is condoned in some manner by the communities who can’t retaliate to it, and if they do, huge consequences are exerted on ancestral people, and Amber represents that end line. Alexandra to some extent as well. Naomi is walking through it at this present time in Kenya. Luea and Freya, just because I don’t mention you, you are included in this for your ancestral traumas because we all know the history of Europe, and it has consequences from the original trauma down to personally my generation of grandchildren.

You do not ever revert back to where you were and your ancestors were originally. You must regenerate yourself in the place where you are. If that involves changing your country or community, then you are honor-bound to do that for your next generations. Your next generation of children, whoever is in your lineage of blood, will see that you’ve done it. Being an example is very important. People need to see that you can achieve, and intergenerational trauma includes trauma to the surroundings land.

Every being and sentient creature has a right to be there and then suddenly you’re all devastated and nobody has a right except the people coming to utilize all the areas that they can in order to increase financial gain. You need to first regain your own balance, and then you must look at your surroundings.

The whole picture of regeneration is so important, but it begins with you and your understanding. I’m not saying that we can dismiss our intergenerational traumas. I’m saying that we need to view them in all honesty as to how you can improve them existing where you are.

I am a very loud activist. I oppose everything that I know from my long travel through life as not appropriate to the people growing up that belong to my ewe, my people. We all have personal traumas and some of them are more devastating. You cannot get more trauma than being the child of a mother whose father has caused her life to end, and I do send out my heartfelt grief of your situation that you have so bravely come out of, Amber.

I send to you my best wishes, dear, for your ceasing the generational trauma so that your children don’t receive what you’re living through. God bless you in the form of blessing of my culture. I send that to you, Amber, so that your children do not get traumatized. Give them the life of hope, my dear.

Freya Yost:

I’ve come to feel that one of the most powerful forms of ‘activism’ happens at a family scale. I’ve also had certain experiences in nature that are hard to name but that over time I have come to understand as bringing me closer to my wholeness or higher self. These experiences imply to me that one of the great traumas is our separation from the land. It feels right, therefore, that regeneration involves entering back into a relationship with each other, with the land. As I began to think along those lines, I noticed myself becoming more sensitive to the world. As I opened up to the possibility of more relationships around me, I became increasingly receptive to the immeasurable beauty that was accessible to me at any moment. On the other hand, I couldn’t read the newspaper anymore without falling into depression. How do you experience this tension, that increased connection with life leads to more beauty but also more pain?

Amber Tamm:

This is something I am still figuring out. For so long I just was going every day. And now I’m recognizing that I should have slowed down a long time ago. I should have been looking into these crevices within myself, but instead I was like, “I need to save money for my siblings, and I need to focus on my career,” and it’s only now that I realize that I chose a career over myself. I chose regenerative agriculture over regenerative Amber. If you don’t choose yourself you can’t be helpful. One thing me and my partner say to each other is we can’t fight a food apartheid and be malnourished people.

Luea Ritter:

I’m curious to hear what are the community resources we draw upon when these dynamics show up?

Jane Ruka:

I hear you all saying you go to nature, you go to the trees, you go to the soil when these tensions and pressures are upon you. Our belief system is that we are related to everything that has life. They are elder brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some of them are centuries old, our trees. Now, in those centuries, there are methods of surviving, but because we’ve lived 60, 70, 52 years, we totally are unaware, most of us, that we have seniority growing in our own gardens.

In order to access those beautiful brothers and sisters, ancient as they are, all we have to do is let them know we are traumatized. Go to them. Tell them your anxieties. If you have a bird flying through into your property and you are heart-bound with trauma, it’s a life force that’s learned through its generational genealogy how to survive. It’s your best friend at the time.

Everything belongs to me that belongs to nature. It’s my given right as the youngest child on this planet to ask for help from them. I don’t just sit and do silent help. I tell them my traumas. I cry to them, and the moment I’ve cried for my heartfelt trauma, I know that I’m relieved because they’ve picked it up. All those root systems are going to hear my cry to my elders.

It’s not going to be very long before your relief is felt because your elder brothers and sisters are taking it, and remember, when it’s their turn to have trauma, you stand up and be the biggest and loudest activists for their protection, not because they require it, but because your heartfelt knowledge tells you they save humans and what are some parts of the humanity destroying them for?

Go out and tell nature, “This is my saddest trauma. I need you to help me,” and they respond because they have senses just as we do. I give you that coded law from my culture is speaking and gifting of words, and I hope it helps you because you already all touch it. Multiply us by the thousands of people who get relief. We’ve got a force that can defend our brothers and sisters because they defend us if we talk to them. Speaking in your mind is all right, but verbalizing it means the ones in the distance catch it on the wind, and they can hear it.

So, it’s not just the few that you’re talking to as you’re walking. It’s to the brothers and sisters that have been caught by the god of the winds. Tāwhirimātea is the god of winds and takes your sorrow and gives it to the brothers and sisters who are older than us. So, thank you.

Amber Tamm, USA  

Every farmer has an origin story of how their journey to the land began. For some it builds over time and others it happens in a day. For Amber, it was a single moment when her father murdered her mother. At the age of 18, she lost both parents and along with them she lost her housing, income, food and healing. Little did she know farming would provide her with all of these things. For months Amber mourned, devastated in silence. And then there came a day when she felt called to get outside, into nature. “As I laid my mother’s body into the earth, the earth literally became my mother.”

Jane Ruka, New Zealand 

Jane Mihingarangi Ruka is the Chairwoman of the Waitaha Executive Grandmothers Council. The Grandmothers represent the Nation of Waitaha in Aotearoa New Zealand. Jane is the Kaiwhakahaere of the Waitaha Claim Wai 1940 lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand. Jane and the Grandmothers practice care for the environment, peace, and promote the wisdom of women.

Alexandra Gavilano, Switzerland  

Alexandra Gavilano is a Swiss-Peruvian environmental scientist and activist for social transformation and planet protection. Her passion is to reflect, observe and learn from inner/individual and inner/collective processes and manifestations of those in the outside world to envision a way towards the new era of humanity and all beings on our planet earth.

Luea Ritter, Switzerland/Greece 

Luea is a process steward, action researcher, coach and systemic constellation facilitator. Her work internationally and across diverse sectors, weaves transformative change processes, trauma and healing work, leadership, and earth-based wisdom traditions. 

Through a diverse medley of fields she has developed a high sensitivity for context-based cultural and social dynamics. She is co-founder and creative steward of Collective Transitions, an action-learning and research organization dedicated to building shared capacity for fostering and maintaining transformational shifts, as well as co-founder and steering team member of the Nile Journeys, a platform for transboundary dialogue and regenerative collaboration in the Nile Basin. 

She is part of collaboration helvetica, an initiative that catalyses systemic change towards the societal transformation of Switzerland by cultivating a cross-sectoral innovation ecosystem, running different capacity-building programs and open knowledge sharing. In her cutting-edge research-to-innovation PhD Process for Holistic Development with the Geneva-based TRANS4M Center for Integral Development, she focuses on social fields and the building and maintaining of coherence.

Freya Yost, Italy  

Freya is an artist and sustainability strategist based in Italy. She studied Art History at the American University of Rome (B.A., 2010) and Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute (M.S., 2015). She is also trained as a botanical artist. 

Freya helped create and served as COO of Common Earth, the regenerative development partner of the Commonwealth of Nations for four years through her work with Cloudburst Foundation. She was influential in organizing and facilitating several high-level convenings at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London between 2017 and 2019. 

In addition, she has at institutions around the world including the United Nations, New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and A Growing Culture. Freya’s work has been featured in Vogue and she has authored articles in peer-review journals such as Weave, IK: Other Ways of Knowing, and IFLA.

Amber Tamm:

This is incredibly important because with Black History Month in America right now, the media is filled with depictions of the civil rights era or these dark horror genre movies about black Americans today, but they’re back in slavery. America will applaud a seer like Harriet Tubman for her ability to utilize nature to get to freedom, and when I hear that, it makes me almost sob because I’m envisioning a bunch of my ancestors venturing through nature but doing their best to be quiet, to blend in, climbing a tree for the sake of safety, doing bird sounds for the sake of communicating.

The reality is for me and my community that we’ve never went into nature for joy and we never went into nature comfortable. We never went into nature with conversation. Nature was a portal to freedom, and that’s all it ever was. So by time you got from the American South to the American North, yes, you had experienced nature, but it was for safety. It was to literally wade in the water, but the water wasn’t your friend because you enjoyed it. It was your friend because it got you to freedom.

So, I do think a big part for those of us who are black American is to revitalize the relationship with nature through conversation beyond it being a safe haven, but through conversation solely.

Ola (from the audience):

Thank you to you guys for everything you shared. I’m making connections between experiences in my life and the experiences that I’ve seen in other people’s lives around me. I live in Nigeria, and the trauma is so bad that we can’t have effective communication without shouting at each other. That is how we tend to communicate, and looking back at my own experience with my own mom and how she passed trauma onto me. I had to do a lot of work on myself without understanding the concept of trauma. Forgiving her for not knowing and still seeing how she is still reeling in that trauma and not being able to help.

It bothers me seeing how it’s also transferring to my own sisters, and I’m looking at it from a perspective of how long Nigeria is going to be Nigeria if we continue to operate this way. When Jane said that you should be willing to change your environment so that the next generation can have a better experience, I have noticed that my friends who live abroad still have traces of this trauma in them even though they changed their environment. So, I’m trying to make connections to where the regeneration would come from. Is it going to be from within, like from self or a shared understanding of what trauma is? This conversation really hits home for me, and I was really close to tears. So, thank you guys.

Jane Ruka:

I really am heartfelt for all these sins of colonization. We are still in our colonization in my country. By moving out of your environment, you first must, as you have done, recognize your trauma, personal or community trauma, by changing environments. I’m talking about your mental environment, your physical environment, and your running-away environment.

For those who can stand still, trauma is persistent, and the possibility that you are standing still means that you think you are strong enough to change your personal, mental environment and stand upright, still protesting about what has traumatized you. If you are still standing in that trauma, then you must be prepared to give your life for it in circumstances that everybody else would run away from, and I wish you well on finding your balance.

If whatever activity you choose to take needs your action, the trauma has presented itself to you. You have taken it into your heart and body and your mind, your surroundings. It belongs to you. Then your mind responds. Your waitaha responds. Your waitaha is your mana. Your mana is your spirit and your essential being and traumatized people respond only how their essential being or mana is able to cope with it. If running away keeps you alive and you’re able to develop into a stronger person, then that’s what you need to do. Nobody can tell you how you can respond. Your essential being knows what’s good for it and what isn’t good for it, and if it requires you to run away, then you must do that because you’re no good standing up in front of the trauma if you already know that you need to move from it.

If you’re one of these people who can stand there and decide, no, I’m not going to go anywhere, then that’s your decision to deal with your life trauma in that place and neither has any consequence to anybody else but to you, and your mana needs to accept that. Your essential being is a mana, and if you accept that, then that’s your learning from that particular trauma. We’re switching from community trauma down to personal trauma, and you’re the only person who knows how to deal with that. I wish you well, Ola.

Amber Tamm:

When I think of my journey, I was the perfect student and the perfect black girl from the hood. I was a great example of an African American doing what’s right, and that was really because whatever an adult was telling me to do I was doing.

I was on the right track, and I think once my trauma came and knocked me onto a different track, I had autonomy. I didn’t have grandparents or parents. That autonomy is abundance, but it can feel like such a burden. I feel like I need someone to tell me what to do, but the reality is that people will tell you, but it won’t fit. So, for me, I did run away. I went to Hawaii.

I think that leaving enabled me to just focus on me, but coming back, I had focused on me enough to then focus on the community. That process of self observation is super healthy, and I want to “normalize” that, but I think the other side, and this is something I’ve said to black community several times is, I love my people enough to leave them sometimes.

About Soul Shivers

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The Big Ocean Cantata

Article In Memoriam

The Big Ocean Cantata


The Big Ocean Cantata is a musical piece specially composed for and dedicated to the 14th Dalai Lama on the occasion of his visit to the Goa University in December 2019. The Cantata is the result of an interdisciplinary research and creative process that combines elements of the musical and philosophical traditions of India and Tibet with Western contemporary composition techniques. This work uses traditional Tibetan melodies, Indian ragas, philosophical thinking structures and texts from India and Tibet, as well as sound textures and harmonies of the musical tradition s of the West.

Through the use of these elements, the Big Ocean Cantata creates a soundscape that represents both the rich Tibetan tradition -its aspirations and hopes- and the crucial need of dialogue and sincere seek for peace, as fervently preached by the Dalai Lama.

The agogics of the Big Ocean Cantata describes different sound perspectives via the varied events and experiences related to the life of the 14th Dalai Lama: his escape from Lhasa and the walk through the Himalayas in 1959, his teachings and the struggle for peace from exile in Dharmasala.

Written entirely in Tibetan and Sanskrit languages, the Big Ocean Cantata comprises of texts used by the 14th Dalai Lama and the Om mani padme hum (ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ) mantra, a six-syllable mantra of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. This mantra, which is recited by Tibetan Buddhists, leads to the purification of the six realms of existence.

The Big Ocean Cantata is a work that celebrates Tibetan wisdom and coexistence and embodies in itself the struggle for freedom through the respectful dialogue of all traditions and the symbiosis of the aesthetics of the East and West. The name of the composition “Big Ocean” refers to the term ‘Dalai’ which in Mongolian language means ‘ocean’- ‘big’. It is composed for an ensemble of soprano soloist, mixed choir voices, violin, pianos as well as classical and Tibetan percussion sets (singing bowls and Tibetan gongs).

It also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1989.

– Dr. Santiago Lusardi Girelli

My Life is My Message Virtual Choir Premier

Words by Mahatma Gandhi
Music by Santiago Lusardi Girelli

Western Music Chair, Visiting Research Professors Programme
Goa University

About Dr. Santiago Lusardi Girelli

1979 – 2021

Born in Buenos Aires in 1979, Santiago was an Argentinian-Italian Music Conductor, Composer and Scholar of the philosophical traditions of the East and West. Dr. Lusardi Girelli worked as lecturer and choir and orchestra conductor and in more than 20 countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia for the last 20 years. He studied Orchestra, Choir conduction, Philosophy, Theology, and a PhD in Music and Philosophy. He published researches on Buddhist Phenomenology and Hindu Ritualism and its links with Western Music & Art Tradition. Santiago conducted choirs and orchestras, professional and amateurs, around the world throughout more than 400 concerts, and leaded music tours in several countries, from the Amazonas Rain Forest to Leipzig-Germany (J.S. Bach´s city); and from Peruvian Machu Pichu to the Indian Himalayas.

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A Tribute, by Vivek Menezes

From the moment Santiago Lusardi Girelli made his first appearance in Goa in 2013, it was clear the Spanish-Argentinean dynamo was someone extraordinary.

I vividly recall that debut, conducting the disparate assemblage he had knitted together as the Goa University Choir. It was an unusual setting: the 16th century Igreja de Santa Cruz. More novel still was the repertoire: songs in Latin, Spanish and English, as well as indigenous Native American languages. All those present immediately realised they were witnessing a culture-shifting landmark event.

Much of the promise inherent in that sparkling commencement was realised. The Goa University Choir established itself as an exceptional body of musicians, and kept on thrilling audiences with sublime performances in increasingly wonderful heritage locations.

It was Santiago’s individual efforts that opened up concert venues in the stunning St Augustine ruins in Old Goa, and the magnificent St Cajetan church nearby. Thanks to him, the spectacular Ketevan Sacred Music Festival was born. Indian audiences got to listen to brilliant compositions – spanning the gamut from ancient to ultra-modern – that no one else would have thought to try.

The honorific maestro isn’t tossed around lightly. Many conductors come and go without ever earning the right. That was not the case with Santiago, who carried the weight of leadership with effortless, consummate grace. People followed him implicitly, and wherever he went in India he was recognised as a genuine ustaad. This is why his tragic, unfair death from COVID-19 this week is being mourned so widely.

Here in India’s smallest state, amidst anxiety about demographic dissolution, it is widely suspected that newcomers and migrants do not care about Goa. Very often, they are held to be responsible for the rapid degradation of everything valuable that Goans hold dear.

But the exact opposite was true of Santiago, who actually embodied and exemplified much of what is wonderful about our singularly inclusive, many-layered culture. The Goa University Choir is an especially wonderful example. There were insiders, outsiders, Indians, foreigners, men and women, in ages ranging from teenagers right to grandparents, with everyone making exquisite music that was carefully derived from every corner of the world.

COVID-19 sometimes seems to single out the best amongst us, and Santiago was certainly that. On May 1, he posted on Facebook – it was his last message to the world – that “Here I am, once more, like so many times in my life, fighting in chaos. As you can imagine it has not been easy, the loneliness, the uncertainties, the pains and the daily struggle to breathe, and all this being a witness to how this country that I love so much is suffering.”

He gave thanks “for the immense tenderness I have received in my life,” saying “although it hurts, and although a gale is blowing in my lungs, I am here on the warpath.” Then this admirable 41-year-old, who wanted to come and live in India with his beautiful young family, wound up dying here instead. May he rest in peace.

Vivek Menezes is a widely published writer and photographer. He was born in Bombay, went to high school in New York, and holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the London School of Economics. He lives in Goa with his wife and three sons.


Inhale Exhale

Mixed Media Song

Inhale Exhale


Editor’s note: This is dedicated to our friends in India, suffering from the effects of Covid.

Inhale Exhale - Jahnavi Pandya

Song Credits
Lyrics by Pallav Pandya
Composed by Jahnavi and Pallav Pandya
Music arranged by Candida Maria Lobo
Sung by Jahnavi Pandya
Backing vocals by Candida Maria Lobo, Varenyam Pandya, Pallav Pandya
Translated by Candice D’souza

Translation excerpt:

Beautiful is the peace that is within,
It is bereft of the illusions of the world (casteism, racism, inequalities)
It is beyond happiness and sadness
Oh can you imagine where would you find such a beautiful experience?
ONLY WITHIN
Inhale.. Exhale..

The inner world of your consciousness is so peaceful and calm
Peace is the nature of the soul
Expectations are the root of all disappointment
Over-analysis destroys peace and happiness
Inhale.. Exhale..

Feel the joy of your breathing
Conscious coordinating of the rhythm of your breathing, is indeed an invaluable luxury
Inhale.. Exhale..

Sam Guarnaccia | Jahnavi, how does music inform your work as a psychologist? Or, how does the realm of psychology inform your music?

Jahnavi Pandya | Music activates certain parts of your brain which are also related to decision-making. Music helps you to be more creative, especially when you improvise. In India we have ragas. A raga is a discipline where you stick to certain notes, okay? But you also improvise with unique combinations of these notes. That kind of an improvisation helps you become more creative – to be within a limit but go beyond it. And I can use the same thing in psychology.

Music can be really powerful in influencing the way you think, in influencing your behavior and your actions – just like media. And in the same way as media, music can also be kind of dangerous if you’re not using it in the correct ways. Say if you’re already in depression, for example, and you’re listening to certain kinds of songs… But generally, music makes me creative and psychology makes me more wise on how to use my music.

Sam Guarnaccia | Your father was a big influence?

Jahnavi Pandya | Yes, I got exposure to a wide variety of music because of my father. Because he is global. He learned Arabic music from an Arab teacher. He went to an American teacher and learned jazz. So that kind of an influence also helped me.

Sam Guarnaccia | You embrace social issues in your music.

Jahnavi Pandya | We came up with a song for suicide prevention awareness, and this was made with team of doctors and psychologists. When I was in the ninth grade my brother was four years old and we sang the song. One version was also sung by my father and a renowned singer in India.

I would also post things on stress management, because I started reading books on psychology at a very young age. So whatever I would learn I would just make a video and put it up on YouTube, and 5, 10 people, 30 people would watch it. And then suddenly one day, I remember because I was in the first year in college, I woke up to see that one of my videos had 100,000 views overnight. And people stared commenting, “Can you tell us how to do this? Can you tell us how to do that?

And I learned that in India, rural kids don’t even know that there’s a subject called psychology. They don’t know that they can study something like this. So I just started putting videos on about my experiences, how I studied, how I got into college. It started as an effort for suicide prevention awareness because more than 250 children commit suicide every day in India. So it started off as that, but then it went beyond.

As soon as I learned something, I started putting it up on YouTube. I did not want them to go through the same struggles that I had to go through. How to apply for studying abroad and those kinds of things. So, such small things, I just started uploading videos and now I make videos on psychology and mental health awareness using music. I explain each concept of mental health – like fear – through a song, guilt through a song. I explain guilt and then I present a song to make it more easy and understandable .

Sam Guarnaccia | And it’s mostly youth of different ages?

Jahnavi Pandya | Largely the following is from 18 to 24.

Paula Guarnaccia | We know from our time with you in India that you have extraordinary compassion for the people of your country and I’m thinking about the night you went out to help the people who couldn’t get into the hospital. There were people who were very ill on the street in Mumbai outside the hospital, and you were using music to elevate their spirits – in the middle of the night basically.

Jahnavi Pandya | Yes, I want to use music as a tool to reach to the masses.

Because if you say something through music it just goes into the head, it just becomes a culture. As a psychologist I can’t just ‘make’ a culture – but I know that music influences the culture and obviously the culture influences music, And in that sense I want to continue making songs to explain difficult concepts in mental health, and take it to the people. I don’t want to be limited to one-on-one practice. I want to reach more people through social media or through other resources. And I know that the best way for me, from what I’ve found, is to do it through music.

Jahnavi on non-verbal communication

About Jahnavi Pandya

Jahnavi Pandya is a Psychologist with a specialization in counseling and holds the National Eligibility Test Qualification for Assistant Professorship by University Grants Commission, Ministry of Education, India.

She has been a national award-winning archer, singer, musician, composer, YouTuber, and social worker. She was awarded the ‘Nari Ratna’ (Jewel among Women) by Gujarat Chief Minister’s wife A. V. Rupani. She received her MA in Counseling Psychology from SNDT University, and BA in Psychology from St Xavier’s College Mumbai, with the title of ‘Student of the Year’ (across all disciplines).

For the last 12 years she has been working on suicide awareness with her father Pallav Pandya. She voluntarily helps 31 orphan girls, and in two years has collected over six lakh rupees (nine thousand dollars) through crowdfunding done through Facebook and other social media sources. She has also reached to over 1,000,000 students helping them deal with board exam stress through her YouTube channel – Jahnavi Pandya.

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About Sam Guarnaccia

Sam Guarnaccia—composer, classical guitarist; Master of Fine Arts—California Institute of the Arts; created and directed the guitar program of U-Denver’s renowned Lamont School of Music; instituted programs at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont, as Spanish scholar, performer, and composer.

Works include: a cycle of 9-peace songs for children; A Celtic Mass for Peace, Songs for the Earth with Celtic Spirituality author John Philip Newell; The Emergent Universe Oratorio (EUO), deeply influenced by Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry—world premiere with new libretto and full orchestra, Cleveland, June 2017. With creative partner/producer Paula Guarnaccia—Major performance in planning with the Albany Pro Musica chorus/orchestra, at the RPI Experimental Media Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), Troy, New York, March, 2022.

New work in progress: Threshold Trilogy, for orchestra with chorus/soloists without words: voices of the Other-Than-Human world. (SGM) www.sam guarnaccia.com.

Photo | Maria Theresa Stadtmueller

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