Earth House Rules

What we can do to affect positive change for Earth and humanity

In Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a paradox was cited where Congress debated over whether or not the Grand Canyon should become a “national park” or remain a “national monument.” The former restricts a park against any human use other than tourism. I cite it here because it very well represents the distinction we made between “surface ecology” and “deep ecology” in a prior posting. At base, it points to aspects of human nature that often come in conflict—the urge to “use” the material world in order to build, create wealth and expand, and the urge to “appreciate” it toward lifting the spirit and enriching the soul. In essence, when it comes to the environment, we have and continue to oppose the physical and the spiritual (in the reverence sense, not the religious).

Historically, there are at least two primary reasons for this divide: the perception of God, other people and the world as other and separate, and the biblical injunction to subdue the Earth. In New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, theologian Sallie McFague refers to the former as the deistic model. “It sees the world as totally secular, divorced from God—and from human beings, except as a ‘machine’ for our use. The relationship between God and the world as well as between human beings and the world is utilitarian: we and God are ‘subjects,’ whereas the world and all its other creatures are “objects. This utilitarianism (italics mine) is in large measure why we are presently in our global warming crisis.”

And it’s roots, says Charles Eisenstein in Climate: A New Story, “are in fundamentalism of all kinds, a disengagement from the complexity of the real world… that offers certainty, a lockdown of thought into a few prescribed pathways.” His reference is Genesis 1:28 of the Christian Bible that says: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’” We’ve done that, and as a result, we’re racing toward global catastrophe.  

If the cause of our crisis is the illusion of separation from God, the earth and each other, which allows for the use of the planet to fulfill human needs, wants and aspirations, then the cure requires a shift in perception—from the idea that we are separate, independent operators, to seeing ourselves as members of one species and one interdependent and interconnected living system. Systemically speaking, the health and well-being of each member depends on the health and well-being of the whole. And vice versa.

Perceptions are choices we make. We can shift out of necessity (the hard way), or the gentle way by acting with wisdom and foresight. With climate change and the sixth extinction already underway, leaders globally are choosing the hard way, preferring short-term gains, passing off consequences to the environment to future generations. In such a climate, what can we, everyday people, do to affect positive change?

 

What could change the direction of today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet.

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic 1993-2003

 

When it comes time to vote, we can vote our conscience. Personally, I appreciate candidates who evidence the perception of the world as one, integrated and interdependent whole; individuals committed to sustaining, ideally enhancing, the health and well-being of all people, environments and animals; people with light in their eyes, not just dollar signs, people who put the needs of others above their own preferences and gratifications. Especially, we need leaders who demonstrate empathy, the capacity to vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experience of others—all others.

This is a tall order, so it’s no wonder that the modern era is experiencing a crisis in leadership. Nonetheless, the whole—family, community, nation, species, planet—can flourish when all its parts are secure and cared for. That’s the challenge of leadership.  It’s why the business world trains executives in “servant leadership,” and why students of ecology are encouraged to think of themselves as “stewards” of the planet.

Closer to home, there are everyday things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment:

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups in restaurants—and always tell the server why.
  • Use paper straws—or none at all.
  • Take reuseable bags to the grocery store.
  • Reduce meat intake.
  • Buy organic where possible.
  • Wear a sweater rather than turn the heat up.
  • Fly less. Use the phone or video conferencing for work meetings.
  • Turn the lights off, except when necessary.
  • Shop closer to home.
  • Walk or ride a bike rather than drive short distances.
  • Choose a low mileage vehicle.
  • Ride the bus or carpool.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of our houses.
  • Recycle as much as possible.
  • Turn electronic devices off overnight.
  • As much as possible, wash only full loads of clothing.
  • Avoid aerosols, pesticides and lawn chemicals (that kill worms and insects,  etc.)
  • Have tools repaired or sharpened rather than replacing them.

 

Making small changes to my personal consumption habits means my dollar will start putting pressure on companies that are wasteful, environmentally damaging or polluting. With more people shopping local, clean and ethical you can bet the lure of profits in greener consumer products, will inspire change on a large scale.

Amie Engerbretson, Professional Skier

 

Earth House Rules

If we care about the planet and all its creatures, we’ll think about the consequences of our actions and do the right thing—even if others are not and when no one is watching. In the source cited above, Sallie McFague, writes that “Earth is a home, not a hotel.”  As such, she provides three simple guidelines that she calls “Earth’s House Rules.” Whenever I see people observing these practices, I am uplifted.

Take only your share. Since all creatures must have food in order to survive, distributive justice becomes a necessary and central human behavior. The whole, the planet, cannot flourish unless the parts are healthy. Hence, “Take only your share” is not a plea for charity to the disadvantaged; rather, it is a law of planetary well-being. 

Clean up after yourself. This home is the only one we will ever have. We must reuse, not use up, everything on the planet. In a healthy ecosystem, everything is recycled: we need to structure our societies on that model. This will not be easy, for our consumer culture thrives on its exact opposite—throwing away. 

Keep the house in good repair for others. The house is not ours; we do not own it. Rather, it is on loan to us for our lifetime, and we must sustain it for others. 

Indigenous people around the world lived these rules naturally because they believed the world and everything it contains is alive. They understood interconnection and interdependence at every level. There was no division between the physical and the spiritual—in human beings or the world. Balance had to be maintained, otherwise, the life force would die and the world would end. Fortunately for all humankind, Congress saw fit to establish the Grand Canyon as a national park. Had they not, it might have been strip-mined with hotels and electronic billboards dotting the rim.

 

There is no “safe place” on earth where pollution, global warming, acid rain, and so on can’t find us—and the places we think are safe can turn out to be the most dangerous… One of the most important forces behind behavior change is the belief that things can be different, that what we do makes a difference. A common motto of many NGOs—“A different world is possible”—rests on this belief in the human ability to imagine alternative worlds and to work for their realization. We must begin to see ourselves as interrelated and interdependent with the animate and inanimate elements of our planet and begin to follow earth’s house rules of limited use, recycling, and long-term sustainability.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers

 


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Irritable? Got A Case Of The Blahs?

Gratitude can turn it around in short order

Gratitude: From the Latin gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness depending on the context. 

What It Does

Gratitude works in at least two ways. It shifts negative thoughts to positive thoughts by recognizing that something in life is good. And because the specific good we think about is external to us, it takes us out of ourselves. The trick to transforming the thought or feeling that “Things are really screwed up” into “All is well; it’ll get better” is to let your song gratitude for a specific good expand into a chorus of things you’re grateful for. And sustain it.

The Science

In Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness, psychologist Rick Hanson advises to “Grow the good that lasts in your brain and your life.” In one study, he found that focusing on an experience for 20 seconds is long enough to create “positive structural changes in the brain.” And that gratitude in particular, “gives space for positive thoughts and experiences to expand as if we’re re-experiencing them.” The structural changes he sites include the stimulation of the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

A white paper entitled  The Science of Gratitude, prepared for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, reported in 2018 that gratitude has deep roots in our evolutionary history. One study reported that the desire to repay generosity suggests that gratitude “may have evolved as a mechanism to drive reciprocal altruism, thereby turning strangers into friends and allies who are more likely to help one another.” Other studies report that gratitude arose as a mechanism for social adaptation, that specific genes could underlie the experience of gratitude, and that parenting, prayer and a host of other social and cultural factors are linked to gratitude.

Individual Benefits

The paper cited above associated gratitude with better physical and psychological health, increased happiness, life satisfaction, decreased materialism and less suffering from burnout. “More grateful cardiac patients reported better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of cellular inflammation.” “Heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks were more grateful and had reduced signs of inflammation afterward.” Other studies found that “more grateful people experience less depression and are more resilient following traumatic events.”

Children can benefit as well. “Gratitude journaling in the classroom improved students’ mood and a curriculum designed to help students appreciate the benefits they have gained from others successfully taught children to think more gratefully and to exhibit more grateful behavior.” And  adolescents who demonstrated gratitude “are more interested and satisfied with their school lives, are more kind and helpful, and are more socially integrated.”

Social Benefits

The report also indicated that “Gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful or prosocial. “It strengthens relationships, including romantic relationships, and may improve the climate in workplaces. More grateful people are more helpful and generous. It’s important in forming and maintaining social relationships.”

Researchers referred to the “find, remind and bind” function of gratitude. “By attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them ‘find’ or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships; it also helps ‘remind’ people of the goodness of their existing relationships; and it ‘binds’ them to their partners and friends by making them feel appreciated, encouraging them to engage in behaviors that will help prolong their relationships.”

The Practice 

Several studies observed that keeping a gratitude journal or writing a letter of gratitude can increase one’s happiness and overall positive mood. Especially important in writing is the language we use. In The Science Of Gratitude: How It Affects Your Brain And How You Can Use It To Create A Better Life, Anna Powers reported a double-blind study where 300 participants wrote letters of gratitude for three weeks straight. “What really made a difference in mental health improvement was not the abundance of positive words, but rather a lack of negative ones! Thus, indicating that gratitude shifts our frame of mind to a positive state of being and allows us to have a better psychological experience despite what we may be going through externally.”

Psychology professor and gratitude researcher at UC Davis, Dr. Robert Emmons, recommends two key components in practicing gratitude—“Affirm the good things we’ve received, and acknowledge the role people played in providing goodness in our lives.” 

Mindful: Healthy Mind, Healthy Life is a website that describes ten ways to practice gratitude.  Among them, are making a vow to do so. “Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.” Use visual reminders. “Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. And think outside the box. Look for little things, situations and circumstances, that elicit joy or appreciation.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

 

Frequently, I find that thoughts of gratitude are triggered by encountering someone in real life or on television who can’t do some of the things I take for granted—like hearing and walking. Also, people who don’t have what I consider a necessary part of everyday living—like showering in water that’s as pure as what we drink, having a warm bed to sleep in, refrigeration, a washer and dryer, telephone and computer… Oh my!   

My favorite comment on gratitude comes from a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. A comment in his book, The Mystical Sense of the Gospels: A Handbook for Contemplatives, speaks to gratitude’s highest vibration.  

 

There is a gratitude that is generic, nonspecific, not tied down to any single benefit or  blessing. It is just a generalized welling up of love, a thanks-for-everything, unspecified gratitude. It gives wings to the soul, and it begins to partake of the boundlessness of God. It elevates the spirit above all that is finite and all but fuses with or dissolves into God. 

James M. Somerville

 

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Planetary Stewardship

For us to survive the planet must thrive

To sustain is to maintain. With regard to ecosystems, sustainability isn’t enough. While protecting and invigorating certain ecosystems may be all that can be done to preserve what would otherwise be lost, the word “sustainability” allows us to continue to see the world as composed of “resources” to be used—ideally in ways that don’t contribute to greenhouse gasses. Further, the word relegates human beings to the role of manager, as if the planet is a machine that we can control. Nature cannot be controlled; we can only respond to it. We cannot sustain life as we know it, or as it has been. Attempts, though good and necessary, will always be partial and temporary.

 

Sustainability invites a linear response to a nonlinear problem. But Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate: A New Story

 

What is our proper response to change? How can we best relate to nature and life processes in ways that both sustain and enhance? Leave it alone? We can’t. As the population increases at an estimated 82 million people per year, racing toward 8 billion, the demand for resources will only grow. 

Paleontologists have identified five mass extinctions during the past 500 million years. “Estimates of current extinction rates due to deforestation and the destruction of other habitats, indicate that the Earth is now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, 2015). This one, according to the 2010 report of the Royal Society of London “is caused, for the first time, by the activities of a single species: Homo sapiens.”

 

Concern with the environment is no longer one of many ‘single issues.’ It is the context of everything else—our lives, our businesses, our politics. The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities and societies.

G. Tyler Miller, Author, Living in the Environment

 

The Old Paradigm

The fundamental dilemma underlying the major problems of our time seems to be the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet… Our current economic system is fueled by materialism and greed that do not seem to recognize any limits… It’s maintained by economists who refuse to include the social and environmental costs of economic activities in their theories. Consequently, there are huge differences between market prices and the true costs, as, for example, for fossil fuels… These movements are facilitated by ‘free-trade’ rules, designed to support continuing corporate growth. Economic and corporate growth are pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and a throw-away economy that is energy and resource-intensive, generating waste and pollution, and depleting the Earth’s natural resources.

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision 

 

The Good News

We created a relationship to Earth that is no longer viable. Knowing this, we can create a more appropriate relationship, one of stewardship.

We do not need to invent sustainable human communities from scratch but can model them after nature’s ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the ‘Earth Household’ is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable community is designed in such a manner that its ways of life, business, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life… This wisdom of nature is the essence of ecoliteracy.”

Does sustainability mean lowering our standard of living? Not at all. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Paul Hawken argues, “Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set (of sustainability), the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.”

Fritjof Capra, Author, The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living

 

Writing in Scientific American, Capra and others maintain that the innovation at the heart of sustainable living will be a powerful economic engine. “Addressing climate change,” he says, “is the biggest job creation program there is.”

In last weeks post, “Nature’s Wisdom…,” I identified the basic principles of ecology, perceptions of nature that can affect a shift toward sustaining and enriching the Earth. They include interdependence, life processes are cyclical, complex living systems require sunlight and nature thrives on cooperation. Embracing these and acting accordingly is the way of planetary stewardship. For me, In a nutshell, it’s love—right relationship enhances the lives of who and what we love.

 

In a strange paradox, we who have unprecedented power over the planet are at the same time at its mercy: if it does not thrive, neither can we.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers

 


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Life Matters

All forms of life have value in themselves; equal right to grow and flourish

Cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry distinguished between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He said the former is based on the belief that big ecological problems can be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society by fighting pollution and resource depletion in order to preserve human health and affluence—basically the aim of the “environmental movement.” Deep ecology, however, “operates out of respect for all forms of life and accords them equal right to live and blossom.” (My italics).

In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra elaborates this distinction: “Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, and as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” He goes on to say that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence, a “mode of consciousness” where the individual feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.

Charles Eisenstein summarizes our situation succinctly in Climate: A New Story. “Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such… “so far we have been destroying its tissues and organs.” Why? Because worldwide, economies were designed to promote the acquisition of wealth with little to no regard for ethics or environmental degradation. The perception of the earth as a perpetual growth machine encourages a posture of maintenance and repair when something bad happens. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”

And really serious problems? With enough money, human ingenuity and technology will fix them. Build a dam, raise the height of flood walls, purchase more equipment, enlist more volunteers and provide better training for first responders, declare states of emergency, enact legislation to bolster emergency response budgets, call out the National Guard, invest in more sophisticated technology in order to detect future crises. These are good and necessary fixes after a crisis, but these are band-aids. They don’t address the whole system. Attributing causes to “nature” just renders us helpless. But we’re not. Economies were structured by people, and they can be restructured. We’ll look at some of the possibilities in future postings. For now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

The band-aid fixes cited above amount to enforced caring. We act because we have to. Lives are at stake. In business, we refer to this as “crisis management.” Once the breakdown is healed, the system returns to normal functioning—except for those who lived through a tragedy, as we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.

The goal of virtually all national economies is to achieve unlimited growth, even though the absurdity of such an enterprise on a finite planet should be obvious to all… Undifferentiated economic growth is the root cause of our mountains of solid waste, our polluted cities, the depletion of natural resources, and the energy crisis; and because the continuing expansion of production is driven mainly by fossil fuels, it is also the root cause of the multiple disasters arising from peak oil and climate change. 

Fritzof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, Authors of The Systems View of Life   

“Why should I care? Nobody else does.” Our national discourse seems to indicate that is true. What is being talked about in the nightly news? Murder, active shooters, polarization, race relations, domestic abuse, corruption, drugs, celebrity gossip, natural and man-made disasters. A while back, a friend of mine politely asked his neighbor why he threw a half-eaten sandwich and french fries on the front lawn of their apartment. To paraphrase, the man replied, “Nobody cares about me, why should I care about anybody else?” If we all felt that way, the earth would already be a gigantic garbage dump with toxic air and water.

Why should I care about my home, property, the streets in my community, the food we eat, the parks we visit, security, health, education, the earth and life itself? There’s only one answer capable of sustaining us, and that’s love—caring enough about the quality of life for all living beings, love of the whole system, sufficient to redesign what isn’t working for humanity and the planet. With that, we can amend our lifestyles, economies and politics in ways that sustain and enhance the earth and her life-giving processes. 

Hollywood, the mass media, mass marketing, and the advertising industry, in the interest of generating ever-higher profits, have inadvertently convinced us that “the good life” and the “American Dream” are had through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. In the race to win an ever-increasing share of prosperity, greed, competition and corruption have become business as usual. And if you’re rich enough, you won’t get caught doing something illegal—or you can buy yourself out of it if you do. With some exceptions, corporations and governments are continuing to treat the earth like a money-making machine, a resource to be exploited. Trouble is, the earth is a finite living being and we’re sucking the life out of it.

Climate change and global warming deniers, backed by corporations and governments—especially ours—act as if this machine can continue to churn out wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I believe a day will come when the corporate powers and fossil fuel lobbyists will wake up and find that, worldwide, a groundswell of people who care deeply about their health and well-being and the flourishing of the planet, will be enacting a new, sustainable, whole systems design. From what I read, those people are connecting and the design is on the drawing board. Stay tuned.

Here’s just a sample:

  • CERES: CERES promotes sustainable business practices and solutions by working with more than 80 companies. Their Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), includes 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $11 trillion in assets.

 

  • Conservation International (CI): CI works with scientists, local communities and practitioners in the field to protect nature, global biodiversity and human communities. It has supported the creation, expansion and improved management of nearly 50 million acres of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and its data collection has led to the discovery of more than 1,400 species new to science.

 

  • Doctors Without Borders: Provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. Since 1971, the organization has treated tens of millions of people in over 80 countries. In 1999, it received the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

  • Food and Water Watch: Works to make food, fish and water safe, accessible and sustainable. They’ve raised consumer awareness of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water, and have helped dozens of communities — from Stockton, California to Trenton, New Jersey — fight the privatization of public water supplies.

 

  • Greenpeace: The largest nonviolent, direct-action environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million members. Greenpeace’s work focuses on climate change, oceans, forests, toxins, nuclear energy and sustainable agriculture.

 

  • Heifer International: Has provided over 20.7 million families—that’s 105.1 million men, women and children—with animals and training in sustainable agriculture so that they can feed and care for themselves. Founded over 70 years ago by a U.S. farmer, the organization focuses on ending hunger and poverty.

Source: The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations). When you’re thinking about charitable contributions, this is a great place to see who’s doing good in and for the world.

 

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves… These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Arne Naess, Author of The Ecology of Wisdom; Writings by Arne Naess

 


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Eco-Consciousness

Perceptions that make a planetary house a home

This begins an 11-part appreciation of Earth as a living system.

The word “ecology,” comes from the Greek oikos “household.” Ecology then is the study of the “Earth Household.” In The System’s View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luise define an eco-system as “an integrated and interactive system of biological and physical components.” It can be as small as a termite mound, a rotting log, or as big as an ocean. Forests, tundra, scrubland, swamps, mangrove rivers, and deserts are all ecosystems. So also are our neighborhoods and back yards.

As living systems, irrespective of size, ecosystems interact with the environment in a continuous flow of energy and matter, are subject to entropy or disintegration, are self-making (autopoietic), open to randomness, facilitate the emergence of new order, operate within a network where each component helps to transform and replace other components, and their interactions are conscious, determined by their own internal organization. (The italics indicate topics of previous posts in this series). 

According to the above-mentioned authors, ecosystems “do not possess self-awareness, language, or culture, so there’s no justice or democracy within them.” Also, they note that there’s no greed or dishonesty. Because living systems have survived five mass extinctions over the past 500 million years, ecosystems provide a perfect model for how to live sustainably. They offer five principles of ecology and recommend we use them as guidelines for building sustainable human communities. In summary, here are Nature’s fundamental characteristics from a whole-systems perspective: 

1. Interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationships, the web of life. What happens to one, happens to all. The success of the whole community depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends on the success of the whole community.

2. Cyclical. Sustainable patterns of production and consumption need to be cyclical, imitating the cyclical processes in nature. The First Nations understood this—take only what is needed, use everything possible and recycle what’s left. 

3. Renewable Resources. The only truly renewable sources of energy are solar, wind, thermal, hydropower, biomass, etc. “By disregarding this ecological fact, political and corporate leaders, again and again, endanger the health and well-being of millions around the world.”

4. Cooperation. Partnership is an essential characteristic of sustainable communities. The cyclical exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.”

5.  Flexibility. The flexibility of an ecosystem is a consequence of its multiple feedback loops, which tend to bring the system back into balance whenever there’s a deviation from the norm due to changes in the environment. In nature, everything changes constantly.

6. Diversity. An ecosystem is resilient when it contains many species with overlapping functions that can partially replace one another. In the human community, diversity means many different relationships, which provide many different approaches to solving a problem. A diverse community is resilient because it can adapt to changing circumstances—but only if there’s a truly interconnected community, sustained by a web of relationships. The greater the quality of diverse relationships, the greater will be the community’s power to adjust to change. 

 

Contemplating The Personal And Social Aspects Of Ecosystems 

The current era of human evolution is marked by a revolution in perception. At every level, there’s a battle being waged between the paradigm of independence and interdependence. In Blessed Are The Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint, theologian Sallie McFague makes it explicit. “Are we singular, independent, separate entities that end with our own skins, or are we both formed and sustained by our radical interdependence with all other living creatures as well as the systems that maintain life?” 

The philosophy of separation inherited from the 18th century Enlightenment, fueled by the American Dream, and amplified by movies and the mass media, has resulted in an image of human fulfillment that is selfish, materialistic, and individualistic. Instead of loving and respecting nature, the earth, and people for what and who they are, unregulated market capitalism has quantified them according to their utility. The consequence of objectifying—putting a value on—natural resources and people (who are quantified by degrees of experience, education, and usefulness relative to generating income) has been the normalization of competition, fighting, corruption, insatiable consumption, and winning. Even war. I’m reminded of the greedy seagulls in Finding Nemo who scramble after Nemo and then a crab shouting, “Mine, mine, mine!” It’s the mantra of individualism.

The caterpillar’s immune system is still trying to protect itself as a caterpillar—and to me, that’s what our insistence on clinging to the oil age is all about. From a biological perspective, it’s the job of the old system to protect itself as long as possible. But it’s equally the job of the new system to rally its forces until it can overcome the old immune system and build the new.

Elisabet Sahtouris (Evolutionary Biologist)

We know the old system doesn’t work and we know why: it’s in opposition to natural processes. And it’s killing the planet. Fortunately, increasingly—and in part by witnessing the damage individualism has done to the earth, including the fracturing of civilization in many countries—an awakening is occurring: the realization that it’s not too late to align with natural processes. 

While it can be painful in many ways to witness the death throes of “It’s all about me,” especially when it seems pervasive, we can immediately affect the shift in our own lives to “It’s about all of us together, equal members of the Earth Community,” where we love all living beings, pay attention to, care for, respect and consider other people, animals and the environment. Changing perception and lifestyle is a major challenge. But we take our cue from systems science: emergence, the realization of a higher-level reality occurs as the parts change. It may seem small and insignificant, but every scrap of material I recycle, plastic cup or straw I don’t use, light I turn off, fuel I don’t use, gas, electric, and water I conserve, vote I cast, appliance I repair rather than replace and so on is an act of loving and respecting the planet. At least, given my circumstances and where I am, it’s what I can do.

The idea that our planet is alive, and further, that every mountain, river, lake, and forest is a living being, even a sentient, purposive, sacred being, is not a soppy emotional distraction from the environmental problem at hand; to the contrary, it disposes us to feel more, to care more, and to do more. No longer can we hide from our grief and love behind the ideology that the world is just a pile of stuff to be used instrumentally for own ends.

Charles Eisenstein, Author of Climate: A New Story

 


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Purpose And Mission Statements

A gateway to peace of mind

Twenty-twenty will be remembered as a year filled with crises. The Coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, political stalemate, police brutality and social polarization top the list. And scientists say the coming decade will be the tipping point in climate change. All can be seen as a catalyst, moments when humanity has an opportunity to learn the lessons of “right relationship”—to each other and the planet. Individually and collectively, can we regard all other people as brothers? And can we become responsible stewards of the living Earth? In the midst of these challenges, is it possible to maintain balance and peace of mind?  

A crisis calls for a shift in individual perspective and behavior. A metacrisis, a compounding of crises, calls for a system-wide transformation of consciousness and values. Ignored, a metacrisis increasingly degrades the quality of life and eventually presents a threat to human survival. The Coronavirus caught humanity off guard. Every nation, community and individual is reeling from the shock of what it requires. Off balance, frustrated and in some cases resistant, we seek a comfortable response and are eager for a return to normalcy, which if ever, could be a long way off. Now that everyone is realizing how interconnected and interdependent we are globally, the way forward more quickly is to consider the metacrisis—Covid-19, species extinction, environmental degradation, climate change, polarization and weak leadership—as motivation and an opportunity to repair the present and create a future that will be healthy, sustainable and prosperous seven generations out. 

Because the cause of our personal, social and political disability is global, the prescription must also be global, a coming together to do what life—Mother Nature and the process of evolution—requires. To know what life requires, it’s especially important for individuals to access their inner guidance to choose, create and act authentically. Scientists, wisdom teachers and social change agents know what that is and what it takes—in part, education, innovation, self-discipline, collaboration, doing the right thing, following the science and honoring the truth. These are difficult challenges for many people to face, but the onset of potentially mortal symptoms for individuals and society can be very persuasive. Beyond the instinct to survive, I believe that many souls are incarnating at this time to affect the necessary transformation and guide us through. For those who see this happening and choose to help facilitate the shift in consciousness and values, I offer some spiritual perspectives and my process for becoming centered in the midst of polarization, chaos and breakdown. 

Perspective

Without an appropriate response to life as it becomes more complex and demanding, it’s easy to become frustrated, frazzled and fragmented. The demands on our attention in the home and workplace, exacerbated by professional and social media and doomsday movies, creates an environment of consternation, mistrust, impatience, anger, and chaos where stress, overload and fear have become normalized. For a variety of reasons—feeling alone, unloved, powerless, or that life is meaningless—many attempt to fill the hole in their heart through drugs and alcohol. Others build a protective wall around themselves to keep negativity and chaos at bay. Still others keep so busy with family, work and self-created distractions there’s no time for self-examination. 

Years ago, in psychology class, we learned that it’s not so much the big, life-changing events that diminish our sense of self and precipitate negative emotions, it’s the little things that pile up. They grow like a virus, eating away at the valued pieces of ourselves. We can try to ignore them or brush them aside, but they continue to occupy a place in our subconscious, contributing to a sense of futility. And we become  overwhelmed. Eventually, a threshold is reached and “the last straw” precipitates an emotional breakdown. The self we once admired and aspired to be has morphed into something less deserving of our own respect. But the more the outside collapses, the more the inside calls for attention, a return to center, to meaning and purpose, to Self or soul. 

It’s important to note that there is no separation between the soul and the body-mind. The analogy often used to express this unity is containers of water drawn from the ocean. Although the size, shape and color of each individual container is unique, the water they contain is the same in essence. The analogy bears some clarification, however. The body is not a container, it’s an individuated expression of the soul. And unlike the ocean, its realm is infinite. In our experience, it’s the eternal now—the reason why spiritual teachers advise us to be “mindful of the present” and “stay in the moment.” 

Once it’s realized that the soul drives the incarnation, a shift occurs. Wanting to control gives way to allowing life to unfold according to its agenda. In religious terms, it’s “surrendering” to the will of God. I prefer to think of it as “alignment” with Source, the Ground Of All Being, which connotes a co-creative partnership. In a previous posting, ”Life on Autopilot…,” I noted the research finding that Americans are valuing, making decisions and planning their lives largely based on what those around them are thinking and doing. It’s understandable. We want to fit in, to be acknowledged and respected as a member of a particular group, community, party or tribe. The grace-filled alternative is to live authentically by accepting what is as much as possible and allowing life to happen according to the soul’s agenda without resistance.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian and ethicist

Professionals have ways to guide the fragmented self toward the creation of or return to wholeness and its accompanying peace of mind. My approach is spiritual, based on the conviction that the soul is the driver, the doer, the animating spark of divinity within that establishes life circumstances relative to an agenda prior to incarnation. Afterward, it guides us toward the realization of that agenda. By accessing its elements, particularly the reason why we’re here and what we’ve come to accomplish, it becomes easier to maintain balance and peace of mind, even in the midst of turmoil.

My Process

Guided by the knowledge of our purpose and mission in life, we can operate in the world more authentically—from Self rather than ego, making decisions and marching to a drum of our own making in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling. This life-defining knowledge cannot be figured out. Mind—ego—can’t access deep truths about our lives because its agenda is to create a reality that increases pleasure and avoids pain. Instead, access to this knowledge is gained through a process of inner dialogue with the soul.

Discovering Purpose

I took a personal retreat near a state park so I could walk and contemplate after some soul-searching. Settled in with writing materials, in a meditative state, I recognized that “I am the soul” and spoke to Self from that perspective. “My purpose is to be…” I wrote what came, read it over and over, eliminated redundant words and adjusted the order until a had a single sentence that felt absolutely true. I knew it didn’t come from the ego-mind because it was a surprise. It made perfect sense and gave me an exhilarated feeling of rightness. “Of course!” Notice, this was a being statement, what I came here to be. Doing came next.

Discovering Mission

On that same occasion, I created a “Gifts Inventory,” a list of my God-given talents, the skills and activities that consistently gave me joy. Today, I recognize “joy” as the feeling of satisfaction that comes from rapt attention where I’m in the flow, losing track of time. These are skills we’d exercise whether or not we would be compensated or appreciated. I remember limiting my skills to those that came easily, naturally. After a break, I read my purpose and mission statements and then the gifts inventory. As with identifying my purpose, in a meditative state, I reiterated that “I am the soul” and addressed to my Self. “My mission in life is to…” This time the response described an overarching role that transcended job descriptions, career paths or other occupational roles. What I wrote was a one-sentence statement that would apply to everything I would do for the rest of my life. An important learning for me, was that soul responses are general, mostly relating to essences, principles and value, not form.

 

Something To Ponder

Personal transformation through inner dialogue is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight or all at once. Patience and persistence are not only requirements, they’re an important part of the learning. A life guided by purpose and mission naturally reduces anxiety and stress and builds confidence. Of course, we’re all different emotionally, so our approach to learning and applying them will be different. No question is off-limits. The Self knows the question before we even ask it, and it reads the heart. In my experience, when an answer isn’t forthcoming, it’s likely to arrive later on when it’s least expected—in a conversation, gathering, book, radio or television program. Frequently, it came for me in the form of an ad or slogan on a billboard or the back of a truck. Whenever and wherever it comes I say, “Thank you!”

Life is not pre-determined, but it is pre-planned. I believe that before we’re born, souls create a plan for the incarnation that has specific karma-balancing experiences and learning requirements. It also identifies the ideal time and place context where there are opportunities for the plan to be fulfilled. Evidence of this is provided by the experience of countless others, and us, that so much in life happens without our choosing, including our inherited talents, abilities and disabilities and being in the right place at the right time. Again, we have free will. We can learn the ultimate truth of who we are within the context and circumstances given, or diverge from the plan. The advantage of alignment, allowing the soul to be the driver, is satisfaction and confidence in knowing that we’re headed in the right direction. Remembering this can bring peace of mind.

What I yearned for truly was to slow down, to really hear people, to take in the blessings of life more fully, to enable my intuition to blossom more fully, to have more leisure time, to sometimes be able to just sit with my family and do no particular thing, and ultimately to find a kind of stillness that can only come from forcing oneself into a discipline of long hours of simple tasks, like crafting something to be beautiful.

Glenn Geffcken, Author of Shift, Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change

 

About The Photograph

Many years ago, a photography student and his girlfriend invited me to photograph in and around her grandfather’s apartment in a depressed area downtown. Up in the attic, because diffuse light was coming through a window, the student had his friend sit beside it. The girl took a meditative position in the midst of a pile of junk, so we photographed her that way. 

Later in the darkroom, examining one of my proof sheets, I saw an opportunity to enhance the mystical sensibility of the image by creating symmetry. To accomplish this, I exposed only the right side of the photo paper, then flipped the negative in the enlarger, aligned it according to a centerline drawn on a sheet of regular paper and then exposed the left side with the right (already exposed) side covered.  


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Adaptation

Evolution’s main principle for survival

One of Darwin’s principles of evolution became popularized in the phrase “survival of the fittest.” The problem with memorable slogans like this is that they simplify complex phenomena. In this instance, Darwin’s observations were correct, but his interpretation missed the mark. Scientists now understand that “fitness” does not necessarily mean physical or mental robustness as the slogan suggests. Species survive because they have successfully adapted to changes in their physical and social environment. 

Anne Gibson of the Max Planck Institute recently wrote that “Our species’ ability to occupy diverse and ‘extreme’ settings around the world stands in stark contrast to the ecological adaptations of other hominin taxa, and may explain how our species became the last surviving hominin on the planet.” (1) Her statement is echoed by many evolutionary scientists, suggesting that Darwin’s “fitness” is principally the ability to adapt to extreme and changing conditions.

A perfect example of this was the wearing of masks and following the recommendations of the Center For Disease Control to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. The evolutionary trajectory predicts that, over time, those who follow healthy guidelines are more likely to survive and produce healthy—well-balanced and capable—offspring. Against this, the white supremacist movement is an example of individuals swimming against the evolutionary current, which favors species variety. Rather than adapt to the changing racial “climate”—biologically and socially—around the world, they are responding with violence, which excludes them from viability in society and participation in the leading edge of evolution. To align with evolution, a better strategy for them would be to encourage white people to have more children. 

A principle in the field of evolutionary psychology posits that ancestors who had psychological advantages, passed down their “adaptive behaviors” to future generations. Among these abilities, characteristic of “complex, deeply rooted neural circuits in the brain” (2), are gaining trust, building relationships and reading others’ intentions, behaviors that are known to help a person throughout life. In the following, I identify other key factors that contribute to adaptation—qualities that contribute to health and well-being, those that can be passed down. 

Outlook / Worldview 

The perception of self, others and the world top the list of adaptive thinking because, if one’s gestalt or worldview is skewed in the direction of self-gratification, all the lessons in life will be a struggle to learn that, in the end, it’s dysfunctional, limits personal growth, promotes dissatisfaction and a life bereft of meaning. On the other hand, a positive outlook can be the engine that drives us to create health and well-being. “In one study of 30,000 Americans, those who had the highest levels of stress were 43 percent more likely to die only if they also believed that stress was bad for their health. In contrast, those who experienced high stress but didn’t view it as harmful were the least likely to die compared to any other group in the study—including people who experienced very little stress.” (3)

We know this. The perception that we’re all connected promotes empathy and caring. Separation less so, or not at all. For example, there are those who minimize their use of plastics, pesticides and fossil fuels and those who don’t, those who take electricity, hot and cold clean water coming from a tap and stocked grocery shelves for granted, and those who see them as a privilege for which they are grateful. How we see everyone and everything, including ideas, is a primary adaptive complex because it determines the reality we create for ourselves and the world.

A people’s outlook on the world is the expression of its profoundest spiritual essence. 

Toshimitsu Hasumi

Competence

How well people do what they do reflects their outlook, making competence an adaptive behavior capable of being passed on through parenting, modeling and teaching. Does the package delivery person read and follow the instructions on each package? Does the restaurant carryout attendant get the order wrong or include a sandwich or piece of pie that has been smashed? Is the salesperson knowledgable about his or her products, beyond operating a cash register to complete a sale? Does the store manager do something about a customer’s feedback, or will it be ignored? Does the teacher teach his or her interests and philosophy, or what the curriculum requires? What skill and attitude do workers bring to the situation? Competence is—or should be—a continuing conversation between parents and their children, one that’s reinforced at every level of schooling. And employers should consider competence high on the list of hiring criteria. Competent employees, and by extension their companies, are able to adapt to change far better than those who are not. 

Awareness

To be aware is to be present, mentally engaged at the moment rather than elsewhere, whether daydreaming, planning, multi-tasking or otherwise distracted. Lack of awareness promotes mistakes, missteps and accidents. When attention shifts from what’s going on to end results, alternatives or an attitude, competence diminishes. On the other hand, quality is enhanced by focusing the mind on the situation or task at hand. We can do one thing exceedingly well, two things less so. Each time we add something, mentally or physically, the quality of each is diminished. The elimination of distracting thoughts and actions reduces anxiety, thereby promoting relaxation and peace. And because these promote clarity of vision and quality of work, they greatly enhance the ability to respond to change appropriately.     

Kindness

Expressions of kindness are adaptive because they encourage the creation, maintenance and deepening of relationships—and more. Dartmouth College posted a site entitled Kindness Health Facts, that summarized the findings of several studies—Kindness builds compassion, the desire to care and respond to others by helping. Witnessing “acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re in anxious or shy in a social situation.” And kind acts promote increased energy. Subjects in a study reported “feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.” 

Acts of kindness also increase one’s lifespan. “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.” What’s more, acts of kindness produces serotonin, “the feel-good chemical that heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy! According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.” More generally, “performing kind behaviors decrease pain, stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure.”

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

Trust

In his recent book (4), Trust: America’s Best Chance, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg writes that in a “Century warped by terrorism, financial collapse, Trumpist populism, systemic racism, and now a global pandemic, trust has been squandered, sacrificed, abused, stolen, or never properly built in the first place.” His book calls for Americans to adapt, to work together to respond appropriately to the challenges of the present moment. “Our success, or failure, at confronting the greatest challenges of the decade―racial and economic justice, pandemic resilience, and climate action―will rest on whether we can effectively cultivate, deepen, and, where necessary, repair the networks of trust that are now endangered, or for so many, have never even existed.” Because trust can only occur in an atmosphere of truth, it facilitates adaptation to actual rather than imagined or perceived circumstances. New York’s Governor Cuomo was effective as a leader in reducing his state’s virus infectious rate because he told his constituents the truth about what was happening.   

Attitude

Attitudes toward situations, each other and work are infectious. The energy we put out spreads.  Compounded with the expressed energies of others, attitudes come back to us in the form of positive or negative social perceptions. In every situation, whatever the context, the attitude we present shapes relationships, how people see us, life and the world. We’ve all experienced how a stranger’s attitude can put a smile on our face.  Many young people don’t realize the power they have to affect others by the attitude they express. However lowly a job may seem, it can be seen as an opportunity to please someone—and help to heal the world.

Coping

Over a decade of research by Kari Leibowitz, an American psychologist, demonstrated that we have the power to change how we view stress, even use it to improve our health and well-being. Her article in the New York Times (5) tells how.

Step 1. Acknowledge Your Stress. “Labeling your stress consciously and deliberately moves neural activity from the amygdala—the center of emotion and fear—to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive control and planning… it moves us from operating from a fearful, reactive place to a position where we can be thoughtful and deliberate.”

Step 2. Own Your Stress. We only stress about things that we care about. By owning our stress, we connect to the positive motivation or personal value behind our stress. If we deny or avoid our stress, we may actually be denying or disconnecting ourselves from the things we value and treasure most… Complete this sentence about whatever was specifically stressing you out in step one: “I’m stressed about [whatever] because I deeply care about …”

Step 3. Use Your Stress. 

“Ask yourself: Are your typical responses in alignment with the values behind your stress? If you’re worried about your family getting sick because you care about their health, is snapping at them for not washing their hands for long enough the best way to protect your family? If you’re worried about the impact of coronavirus on society, is seeking out constant news coverage the best way to help support your community during this time? Think about how you might change your response to this stress to better facilitate your goals and your purpose… Some psychologists argue that truly transformative change can occur only during stress or crises. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Later, we’ll ask ourselves how we adapted to this crisis. “Did we live in accordance with our values? Did we make the most of this opportunity to learn and grow personally, to connect with loved ones, and to prepare for the next time we face a crisis?”

Flexibility

Under circumstances of dramatic change, individuals and institutions are forced to respond. In the long run, evolution favors those who have become well-adapted to the new reality. The Coronavirus has and continues to challenge governments and businesses at every level to find safe and effective ways to survive and operate. School systems, teachers, parents and students are experimenting with new ways to communicate, educate and learn. Entertainers, sport teams and religious leaders are all being forced to change. For individuals, governments and all social systems worldwide, in a matter of months, the imperative to “grow or die” has morfed into “adapt or die.” Flexibility favors adaptation. Resistance only generates further anxiety, stress and breakdown. Adaptation may be painful, but it promotes hope and in the long run, brings peace. 

Evolution actually works by a process of lifting, through adaptation to selective challenges, and then gifting the resulting innovations to the next generation. Individuals’ efforts (and sacrifices) enable the community to progress. 

Bruce Damer

Every new situation—changes in families, work, recreation, education, government and the environment—requires adaptation. Coronavirus is a global disaster. But it’s also an opportunity for humanity to learn that we are one, interdependent and interconnected family, living and sustained by “Spaceship Earth.” And in this we’re better prepared to adapt as we confront the rapidly changing climate. The question is—Will we adapt? And how?

If you can’t do what you do, do what you can. 

John Bon Jovi (Album: Bon Jovi 2020)

REFERENCES

1. Gibson, Anne (2020). Scientists Reveal Homo Sapien’s Secret of Success. SciTechDaily ,(August 3, 2020).

2. Fritscher, Lisa (2020). How Evolutionary Psychology Explains Human Behavior. Very Well Mind, Medically Reviewed. May 13, 2020. 

3. Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677–684.

4. Buttigieg, P. (2020). Trust: America’s Best Chance. New York, NY: Liveright/ W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

5. Leibowitz, Kari and Crum, A. (2020). In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work For you. The New York Times, April 1, 2020.

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Life On Autopilot Or Manual

Who’s in control?

An episode in the PBS series, Hacking Your Mind, addresses the question: How Do Governments Hack Your Mind. In it, host Jacob Ward cited studies that show “We are not who we think we are… We think our conscious minds make most decisions, but in reality, we go through much of our lives on “autopilot”—unconscious, engaged in fast thinking and gut feelings. And as a consequence, because we’re fallible, we often make mistakes and go off on tangents. To illustrate, the program gives examples of how marketers, social media companies, dictators and other government leaders take advantage of our being on autopilot, which is most of the time. 

One of the cited studies in the documentary found that everyday Americans are motivated less by money, prestige and status, far more by the values, preferences and habits of their neighbors. One of the interviewees said, “The multitude is the message. What the people around me are doing tells me what’s appropriate for me.” As social creatures, we want to be included whether our “tribe” consists of saints, sinners or somewhere in between. Marketers hack into minds operating on auto to favor their products and services by convincing us that everyone, particularly beautiful, talented, cool, wealthy, caring, healthy, successful people are using them. And politicians of all stripes promise to deliver what “the people” want, providing paid testimonials by citizens who look and sound like the targeted audience and citing poll numbers that subconsciously invite us to join their tribe. 

It was especially troubling to see how dictators are hacking the minds of their people. The documentary focused on China’s “Sesame Credit” game, an engaging process that promotes obedient citizenship by assigning and taking away points for obedience to government policies and practices. Although the game is voluntary, millions have opted-in using the full range of social media to show everyone else how good a citizen they are. And the government incentivizes the high scorers through an array of rewards such as ease in getting a loan and obtaining paperwork to travel. Without any overt action on the part of the government, people with high scores are choosing to disassociate with relatives and former friends who have low scores, because it brings their score down. So effectively, the Chinese leaders have created a system where conformity to the whole—Communist Party and values of the dictator—has become a competition for wealth, prestige and privilege. The net result—of unity by behavior conformity—appears to have achieved a largely stabilized social order. Of course, there are individual exceptions and these low-scoring people are ostracized as social deviants. 

At the beginning of the documentary, the question was posed: What is the best form of government? The host responded with the often-cited notion that American democracy may not be perfect, but it’s far better than anything else. One of the reasons for this is the Western world’s abiding belief in free will. It encourages competition, individual initiative and innovation. And it gives rise to the philosophy that social well-being will naturally follow from individual well-being. In the current era, we’re learning that in practice it doesn’t work. Because individuals are free to disadvantage others, a rising tide doesn’t float all boats; it mostly raises those who belong to the yacht club. 

In the East, it’s the other way around. And the lessons being learned there have to do with diminished individual initiative which can lead to suppression, depression and limited variety— which is an essential quality for evolution as it promotes resiliency in the face of change. What the PBS program revealed is how easily both systems can and are being manipulated by those at the top. This is important to know so we can be aware of when and how we’re being manipulated. But there’s more to the story that wasn’t mentioned. 

There are countless numbers of people around the world who are preferring to live their lives on “manual” rather than “autopilot.” Their choices are being made, not by what others are thinking or doing, but by the guidance of their soul, the “still small voice” that knows what’s true and best for them in all circumstances. Typically, through difficult life experiences, they learn that the soul is the doer, the true pilot, and that it has a plan, a set of learning requirements that must be met, and every experience provides a context for the growth in consciousness—increased awareness of one’s true identity. Living on auto is reactive, stressful and counterproductive in terms of growth because the trajectory fluctuates depending on what other people are thinking and doing. What’s more, on auto the destination is undetermined, ignored or unclear, often the result of distractions.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value – the rapture that is associated with being alive – is what it is all about.

Joseph Campbell

To live on “manual,” to take hold of the controls and live purposefully, requires an understanding of the soul’s purpose. On page one of the Operating Manual For Human Beings, there’s just one question that’s asked to discover what it is. “Why am I here?” The instructions on the second page advise the “pilot” to go into a meditative state and ask the question framed as a state of being rather than doing. “What am I here to be?” Then to write what comes and edit the words to construct a sharpened statement of the soul’s knowing. If the statement is true at that level, it will hold until death. And every day will provide an opportunity to realize it, however minuscule or impossible it may seem.

It can take years to discover the soul’s intended reason for an incarnation. Some never even attempt it. I believe it comes naturally for those seek it, but ultimately the timing is up to the soul. As for strategy, I like what Winnie The Pooh said: “Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” Jacob Israel Liberman put it more succinctly. “Your life is looking for you, continually guiding you through the process of presence so that you may fulfill your reason for being. This fundamental fact is not only true for humans but also for everything that exists. We are being guided – not occasionally – always! The key to our awakening, freedom, contentment, and highest potential is all the same. Do what you love, love what you do, and the world will come to you. This is because doing what you love is the same as following your guidance, creating a foundation of authentic trust, unconditional love, absolute integrity, and unquestionable respect for the wisdom of life and your own sense of knowing.”   

Because the knowing comes from the soul and is therefore fundamental, it calls for integrity to it in every thought, decision and act that follows. Staying on course, not be distracted by anyone or anything and preferring to seek guidance from within may seem impossibly difficult. But if the soul is the doer, the true pilot who knows the flight plan and destination, the task become less about doing and more about allowing. Ironically, “free will” turns out to be the capacity to either heed or ignore the true pilot’s guidance. And for that, there’s no need of an operating manual.  

The universe is operational. We need to align with what life is doing in the whole.

Alan Hammond, Philosopher

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Parent As Teacher

Job one in a civil society

The best kind of parent you can be is to lead by example.

Drew Barrymore

Every parent is a teacher. When a parent is loving and affectionate in both word and deed, the child learns. When they provide guidance and nurture the child’s health, education, socialization and interests, he or she learns. When a parent contributes toward building a child’s confidence and a positive self-image, he learns. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledgement and praise, children learn. When parents engage their children in conversations about their feelings and experiences with other people to help them manage their self-image and stress, they learn. And when parents help their children develop a moral-ethical compass and qualities of character such as kindness, honesty, compassion, patience and respect—by demonstrating them—they learn. (1)    

We all begin life learning by inheritance—the time, place and family context into which we’re born.  For many children, life-lessons are learned through hardship and pain. When a parent walks away, the child learns. When parents separate, their children learn. When a child is ignored, raised by a single parent or not raised at all he or she learns. When the father or mother is often gone or absent entirely, the child learns. When parents don’t get along, when they’re often fighting, blaming or cursing, when they abdicate their responsibility to promote the child’s well-being, he or she learns. When a parent has a negative view of life, people and the world, the child carries it with him or her into adulthood, sometimes working hard to counter that perspective. Lessons learned in these contexts often play out in adult behaviors commonly reported in the news—domestic abuse, mental illness, suicide, murder, crime, corruption, depression, uncontrollable anger, drug and alcohol abuse.

Due to the Coronavirus, many parents home-schooled their children or participated in other ways that required more frequent interaction. Whatever the context, I appreciate those parents and teachers, some of whom were profiled in the media, people who understood that a child’s education doesn’t begin and end at the school door or the opening and closing of online lessons. The critically important source for early learning is neither the school nor the curriculum, but the modeling of speech, experiences and behaviors that go on at home and in the neighborhood.

So here’s a tip of the hat to those who are aware of and accepting the challenge of providing a learning environment that’s rich with caring, kindness, respect, compassion, patience, etc., parents and children who worked together to discover the best ways to manage life in the pandemic—and afterward. 

Whatever the circumstances, a good place to find guidance and inspiration is with my daughter’s book: Confident Parents, Confident Kids. (2) In it, she addresses the key question: What do you want for your kids? Given the insight above and her analysis of responses to her question, I would ask a corollary question. What kind of person do I want my child to be? Whatever the qualities, because a parent is the child’s first and most significant teacher, the solution is to strive to be that person. 

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

Jackie Kennedy

1. Blau, L. (2017) What Are the Essential Characteristics of a Good Parent? Hello Motherhood, June, 13, 2017.

2. Miller, J. (2019) Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids—from Toddlers to Teenagers. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

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Indigenous Principles

The ways of harmony with nature and other human beings

Until they were overpowered by warfare, ancient cultures developed worldviews, philosophies and lifestyles that were largely Earth-oriented and sustainable. While language, rituals and lifestyles differed across cultures, there was consistency in many of their beliefs. That these principles survive in places today is a testament to their success in binding people to the earth and each other.

I believe that the modern world will eventually reinvigorate these principles because they serve as an antidote to the principles of separation, self-centeredness, short-term thinking, greed and materialism which are accelerating the forces of entropy. When a critical mass of people understand this and experience diminishment in the quality of their lives, or when life itself is threatened, they will act. 

In graduate school I minored in anthropology. All my coursework focused on Native American and Mesoamerican cultures. Since then, as an armchair anthropologist, I’ve  stayed current in these areas and recently came upon a web site that does an excellent job of describing the fundamental principles that indigenous peoples have held and continue to hold to this day. Glenn Geffcken, author of Shift: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change, has codified them into “a system for living and working that will bring about lasting positive change.” Because, in my view, the principles are important, inspiring and extensive, I offer a taste of them here—in the author’s words. If the subject peaks your interest, I highly recommend a deeper dive into the web site—Balanced Is—to better appreciate the anciently derived mentality of those who understand how to live in harmony with each other and the earth. 

Everything Is Alive  

Everything is alive including the rocks, mountains, rivers, thunderclouds, and even the Sun and Moon. They make no distinction between biological forms of life and those we see as inanimate. To the Indigenous, everything is life.

Respect For Elders

To be an elder in the Indigenous sense is not so much about age, rather how a person has lived their life, the compassion of their heart, their humility, and their willingness to share their knowledge, teachings and stories. In Indigenous culture they are the link from the past to the present, the connecting cultural link, and the example we strive for.

The Four Directions

The principle of the Four Directions is about seeing oneself as a part of a system, that from each of the directions comes different elements, colors, animals, ways of being, and spirits. The four directions is illustrated with the medicine wheel showing us in the center, but not the kind of center that says that everything revolves around us, rather that we are surrounded by a dynamic system that works together to create and sustain life. We are no higher or lower, no better or worse, and we have neither dominion over nor are we in subservience under. We are a part of. 

Patience

Building great things requires time, consistent effort, passion, purpose, dedication, and so much more. Most importantly, it requires the patience to enjoy the process today, the building and creating, the designing and cultivating, and the eye to catch the nuanced signals telling us that we’re on the right track.

Intentionality

All the small rituals and formalities, each with their own meanings, collectively represent a process of engagement in physical and mystical acts with clear and highly focused intention… Indigenous elders, those that reach the state of “walking in beauty” have arrived at a place of wisdom, compassion, and dignity through many years of intentional acts and intentional living… Acting with carefully thought-out intention means we are thinking more broadly, with a long-term perspective. Even if our decisions are entirely self-centered, we can still make significant improvements in our lives and our work by extending our thought process beyond immediate gratification. Even more powerfully, we can dramatically change outcomes by looking for the connections between serving others and our own success.

Roles Of Men And Women

In Indigenous Society, women are held up as sacred life givers, the more spiritual gender, and the ones responsible for maintaining compassion and balance in the community. Therein lies a great misunderstanding of Indigenous culture by the Western mindset, that viewing women as nurturing compassionate life givers is diminutive to the men who hunt, go to war, and do the hard physical labor. It is considered of greater strength and courage to maintain compassion in the face of adversity than to go to battle, and of much higher importance to show one’s emotions than to pretend detachment.

Seventh Generation Unborn

Living for the seventh generation unborn means that we live each day of our lives with full cognizance that everything we do, every food we eat, every speck of dust we disturb, every piece of trash we leave behind, every natural resource we utilize, as well as every thought we have, the words we use, the kindness or compassion we express, or the selfishness we indulge in all have an effect that can carry through the generations to our great, great, great, great grand children.

The Oral Tradition

In Indigenous society wisdom and culture are handed down through stories, painstakingly memorized through years of repetition. A person who tells a story does not own the story, but rather the storyteller “carries” a story, as if the story has a life of its own independent of the storyteller. Therefore the storyteller holds a great responsibility to tell his or her stories accurately, not just in terms of the accuracy of words and details, but more so in terms of the wisdom and meaning conveyed. Each story has more to it than mere entertainment—it’s a piece of the heart of the people. It is through the listening and experiencing of the stories that the listeners learn a style of communication that empowers a person to communicate with intention, thoughtfulness, and purpose. 

I have found that a great many Native Americans will just not argue, and if one attempts to argue with them, they’ll just sit and ponder your words and say nothing, or in some situations they will listen to your point of view and only after a long pause will say something so concise, resolute and contrary, that at least in my case, I’m left without anything further to say.

Glenn Geffcken, Author, Shift: Indigenous principles for corporate change

The Way Of Love

The way of love is not so much a direct teaching of Indigenous culture as it is a byproduct of their way of life. Each of their principles for living represent a way of being that loves each part of their lives. They see themselves as a part of a living system, not separate from, but integral with. And in so being, they naturally love the system, which provides for all life… Even some of their greatest warriors, those demonized by our American history as slayers of the blue-coated soldiers, were known among their people as incredibly loving beings. 

Integrity

Many, if not all, of the indigenous principles relate in some way or another to the need for living our lives with very high ethical standards. It is not important to be honest so that people will think of us as good people, or that our company is good, or so that we can think of ourselves as being good people or running or working for a good company; the need for integrity is so highly important because it is necessary in order to be right with all that we are connected with … which is everything.

The Spirit World

The principle of the spirit world is truly vast and precisely consistent from one end of the globe to the other in the Indigenous mindset. It relates to all levels of their society. It is the starting point and the ending point for their understandings. Direct connection with this universe of knowledge and guidance is what anoints the medicine person with the right to perform ceremonies and healings. It is the guiding voice in their ceremonies, their interrelationships, planting cycles, direction for hunts, how to resolve conflict, and so much more.

The Warrior Spirit

The “warrior spirit” in the Indigenous sense, is largely regarded as a person, man or woman, who has vowed their life to the betterment of their family, community, nation, collectively “their people,” and that they will act and make decisions for that greater good regardless of how hard it may be or the consequences as they pertain to the warrior him or herself… We are required to behave like warriors, willing to do what it takes for the greater good regardless of what it requires of ourselves personally.

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