WANT TO SAVE THE PLANET & FEEL ALIVE?

  The world we think we live in is the world we live in. 

         That is how important worldviews are.

                                             Matthew Fox

                                                                       The Reinvention of Work

 

                       Patterns of thinking hold us in their grip. . . . If then, 

                       we want to change society, we must begin by changing 

                       the way that we think.

                                                                       Danah Zohar

                                                                      The Quantum Society

Before about 10,000 years ago, most people lived by herding, hunting, foraging, and gathering. Life centered on the community, and they lived in relationship with the earth and its inhabitants.

Ted Perry captured their worldview:

The earth does not belong to the white man, the white man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

I love the worldview of the ancient people, but I do not want to romanticize their lives. When I visited the Maasai of East Africa, I became aware of the dark side of their existence: disease, deprivation, and early death are a part of their lives as is a balanced life lived in concert with nature and relationship with one another.

The worldview of indigenous people worked for them for thousands of years. Most of those cultures were destroyed by people who spread disease and had powerful weapons–not more creative or intelligent people. We can learn much about life from the cultures our ancestors conquered.

Life on earth changed with the agricultural revolution that began around 8000 B.C. and rolled over the planet unencumbered until approximately 1650-1750 A.D. Farming became a way of life with land at its center. For the first time in human history, large populations could be fed indefinitely. While life changed, people continued to see the world as a living whole, with all of its elements dependent on one another.

The holistic worldview changed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the philosophical and scientific revolution that changed the way people looked at themselves and their relationship with nature. The world as a machine became the dominant metaphor of the modern era.

Who led this radical transformation in worldview? Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, quantified the tangible world. He believed only the quantifiable was real; the non-quantifiable was outside the scope of science. Scientists ignored, denied, or discounted nonlinearity. Galileo’s empirical approach and his use of mathematics to describe nature became paramount aspects of science.

Francis Bacon established the scientific method: carefully controlled and documented experiments from which scientists could make general conclusions. For Bacon, the goal of science was to accumulate knowledge that could be used to control and dominate nature, which he referred to as a “common harlot.”

The founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, believed the world was a vast machine that obeyed mathematical laws and extended that belief to human beings, “I consider the human body as a machine.”

Isaac Newton took Descartes’ philosophy and developed the mathematical formulation of the mechanistic worldview. The Newtonian universe was a mechanical system put in motion by God and operated by exact mathematical laws. This universe was deterministic. If scientists knew the rules and first conditions of the system, they could predict accurately what the system would do and where it would go.

The universe of the scientific revolution was a vast, cold, clockwork machine. Its mathematical and mechanical laws governed every movement and aspect of matter, including people, plants, and animals. God created the material particles, the forces between them, and the laws of motion. After that, the machine ran on its own–purposeless, meaningless, and soulless.

The five senses no longer mattered, and ethics, spirit, values, quality, and consciousness were marginalized because they were unquantifiable. The only things real in this universe were measurable, and the knowledge of science was specific and absolute. People used scientific expertise to seek truth and to dominate and control nature. This worldview offered an emotionless world of rule books and impermeable boundaries–a black and white world–an either/or world with human beings–the pinnacle of evolution–dominating the natural world.

This science fit with the beginning of industrialization, which Gregory Bateson wrote in Steps to an ecology  of Mind had the following underlying beliefs:

-It’s us against the environment.

-It’s us against other men.

-It’s the individual (or the individual community, or the individual nation) that matters.

-We can have unilateral control over the environment and must strive for that control.

-We live within an infinitely expanding “frontier.”

-Economic determinism is common sense.

-Technology will do it for us.

Metaphors of the mechanistic worldview justified the exploitation of nature that materialism, industrialization, and unchecked appetite and greed demanded.

The benefits derived from the scientific and industrial revolutions are clear: longer lives, technological advances, and previously unknown comfort and prosperity for tens of millions of people. Organizations became more efficient and provided undreamed of goods and services to people. With so much surface success, we can be blind to the devastating unintended consequences of the mechanistic worldview on people, nature, and our interconnected planet.

The industrial revolution changed life to fit the machine worldview: Managers designed jobs, machines, factories, and management systems as machines. Machines became the principal agent of change, and factories and workers adapted themselves to the efficient working of mechanical things. Creativity and “aliveness” were exchanged for routine and control. People who saw their traditional lives destroyed by the creation of dehumanizing jobs in factories were traumatized.

We know the impact the mechanistic worldview has on human beings in organizations. We feel the alienation of being treated like a machine, although we don’t talk about it–machines don’t feel. When we think of corporations as machines, management is equated with control; employees are treated like children; managers motivate by fear; change is synonymous with pain; and many people feel bored, afraid, confused, alienated, and angry. Many experience those emotions as “numbness.”

The mechanistic worldview changed nature dramatically. Former Vice President, Al Gore wrote in 1993:

The mechanistic worldview generated the arms race, the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. This philosophy of life pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats waste-filled barges in the ocean seeking a home. The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent are approaching threatened status. This worldview produced spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. These beliefs have alienated human beings from themselves, from each other, and nature and have fostered addiction to substances and processes. These beliefs have destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures. This thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet.

Mr. Gore had it right.

A metaphor helps us understand something compared to something else. During the industrial revolution, people took the metaphor of the universe as a machine and applied this comparison to factories and then to people. How absurd! People began to think mechanically and tried to make the thinking real by acting like machines and by treating one another as machines. Then they taught this metaphor to new generations who had no awareness of this lunacy.

People forgot the organic worldview of the ancients that was sustainable for thousands of years. Most of us never knew that another worldview existed before the mechanical worldview, which has had devastating impacts on our lives and planet in only 300 years.

Science has discovered new sciences that invite us to change how we live, work, and lead if we want a sustainable planet and more conscious and fulfilled lives. The five senses again matter and ethics, spirit, values, purpose, and quality return to our lives. A new worldview brings back the feeling of aliveness to those who see new ways to live.

We change our mechanistic worldview by becoming aware of our mechanical, black and white, either/or beliefs, and our disconnections from others, nature, and ourselves. We learn that the above underlying tenets of the mechanistic worldview are wrong.

Daniel Quinn wrote about our growing awareness in Ishmael: 

Once you learn to discern the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background, telling her story over and over again to the people of your culture, you’ll never stop being conscious of it. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’ll be tempted to say to the people around you, “How can you listen to this stuff and not recognize it for what it is?

William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways wrote,  “Ghost dances, desperate resurrection rituals, were the dying rattles of people whose last defense was delusion—about all that remained to them in their futility.” A significant percentage of our citizens do not think straight when guided by their own false beliefs. To live by their delusions will destroy our democracy, the natural world, and life as we’ve known it.

The mechanistic worldview still works for machines, space travel, and accounting systems. But this worldview has been eclipsed by a more encompassing worldview. We must change our dominant and exhausted mechanistic worldview to a more real living system worldview that sees the cosmos as alive and interconnected if we want to evolve our humanity and create a sustainable planet.

My next blog will be about living systems.

MORAL JOY: CLIMATE CHANGE & DEMOCRACY

On the surface of our lives, most of us build the hard shell to hide our fear and insecurity and win approval and success. When we get to the core of ourselves, we find a deep yearning to care and connect. David Brooks in The Second Mountain

Brooks wrote of transcendent joy: the brief moments when we feel at one with nature, the universe, or God. Such experiences may only last a few minutes but can alter our lives. “People have a sense that they see into the hidden reality of things, and afterward, they can never go back to their false selves.”

Brooks wrote of the highest layer of joy, which he called moral joy. Our daily actions align with our deepest commitments. People who experience moral joy are grateful for finding their core passion in life and for saying “NO” to soul-destroying pressures that surround them. Transcendent moments transform our lives: they are moments of metanoia, spiritual awakenings, and an expansion of our consciousness.

I wrote about this process of awakening on the way to higher consciousness in “The Allegory of Plato’s Cave.” In my 1996 essay, I quoted Gareth Morgan from Images of Organizations:

The allegory pictures an underground cave with its mouth open toward the light of a blazing fire. Within the cave are people chained so that they cannot move. They can see only the cave wall directly in front of them. This is illuminated by the light of the fire, which throws shadows of people and objects onto the wall. The cave dwellers equate the shadows with reality, naming them, talking about them, and even linking sounds from outside the cave with the movements on the wall. Truth and reality for the prisoners rest in this shadowy world, because they have no knowledge of any other.

However, as Socrates relates, if one of the inhabitants were allowed to leave the cave, he would realize that the shadows are but dark reflections of a more complex reality, and that the knowledge and perceptions of his fellow cave dwellers are distorted and flawed. If he were then to return to the cave, he would never be able to live in the old way, since for him the world would be a very different place. No doubt he would find difficulty in accepting his confinement, and would pity the plight of his fellows. However, if he were to try and share his new knowledge with them, he would probably be ridiculed for his views.

For the cave prisoners, the familiar images of the cave would be much more meaningful than any story about a world they had never seen. Moreover, since the person espousing this new knowledge would now no longer be able to function in the old way, since he would no longer be able to act with conviction in relation to the shadows, his fellow inmates would no doubt view his knowledge as being extremely dangerous. They would probably regard the world outside the cave as a potential source of danger, to be avoided rather than embraced as a source of wisdom and insight. The experience of the person who left the cave could thus actually lead the cave dwellers to tighten their grip on their familiar way of seeing.

The cave stands for the world of appearances and the journey outside stands for the ascent to knowledge. People in everyday life are trapped by illusions, hence the way they understand reality is limited and flawed. By appreciating this, and by making a determined effort to see beyond the superficial, people have an ability to free themselves from imperfect ways of seeing. However, as the allegory suggests, many of us often resist or ridicule efforts at enlightenment, preferring to remain in the dark rather than to risk exposure to a new world and its threat to the old ways.

Each of us has Plato’s Caves in our lives — places where fear, habits, wounds, denial, conformity, ignorance, delusions, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, a more encompassing reality. We can choose to leave our caves. Many in America who deny climate change and believe Trump is making “America Great Again” live in Plato’s Cave. Their denial contributes to the destruction of our environment and the degradation of America’s Democracy.

Fakes and charlatans with venal and regressive visions that return us to a more primitive condition clamor for our trust. We look around and see people under high stress — from our national leaders to everyday people in organizations, to the fringes of our political parties—become small, petty, and greedy and try to return to their caves for safety. Some deny the facts and truth. Others can feel strongly about every side of an issue depending on the audience. Some reject science for self-serving opinion. Many substitute intellectual honesty with black, white, and senseless beliefs grounded in fear and their inability to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life. Their fear consumes them, and they live in darkness. In dangerous times, we need to be our best selves, not our worst.

As I write this post, two transcendent events call those who live in delusions to open their eyes, awaken, and experience their transcendent moments.

A wise and courageous Greta Thunberg (16 years old) started the school-strike movement in Sweden, which has now spread to other countries. She and other activists give form to a political revolution to fight climate change. They became spokespersons for younger generations who suffer high anxiety and depression about what their futures may or may not be. Ms. Thunberg now offers them a purpose and a movement they can join. They will find that they are not alone in their suffering. Ms. Thunberg’s “How Dare You” speech at the United Nations is a must-watch for all. Her disdainful look at Trump spoke for the tens of millions around the world who feel as she does. What a courageous young woman!

Then a Whistle Blower filed a complaint against Trump. The Whistle Blower alleged that Trump had attempted to pressure (by withholding foreign aid) the President of Ukraine to dig up bogus dirt against presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Biden is leading in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump’s goal was to damage Biden’s campaign to help himself win the 2020 election.

Fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy. Can you believe it? After the Russia involvement in 2016, encouraged by Trump, he tries to get another nation to help sway our 2020 election? What Trump did was immoral, unethical, and unconscionable. He would turn America into a banana republic, where the abuse of power, at all levels of authority, is normal.

The Whistle Blower also alleged that White House officials attempted to cover up the phone conversation and other earlier conversations with foreign leaders, including Putin. They knew Trump had gone too far. The House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry. Finally, Democrats found their courage and stand true to their values regardless of the outcome.

Listen to Trump roar: what he says about others is true of him. His rants are his confessions and self-exposures.

I am stunned but not surprised by the darkness that has come to light in only two days. The complaint of the Whistle Blower is just the first of the secret dark side of Trump’s dystopian world to come into the light of day. After all, Trump is not a good man who made a big mistake; he is a monster being who he is. He cannot be someone else. Trump has been being himself since he took the office of the president. How much more is covered up and hidden away?

We have only one healthy choice: to leave the caves of our lives, to see reality clearly, and become more connected, conscious, courageous, discerning, intelligent, and compassionate. And more mature. We cannot go backward — unless we want the threats to our world to become realities. My life experiences taught me that it’s best to walk into the future with a clear vision, guided by my deepest values, and my purpose for my life. I find this approach better than following liars, blamers, crooks, con artists, and people only out for themselves–no vision, values, or purpose with them — just greed and selfishness. I know if I follow them, I’ll become like them.

Some believe Trump’s darkness will crush the investigation and lead to Trump’s re-election. Maybe, but no one knows what will happen over the next year. Predictions today mean little. I say: “Expect the unexpected.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore wrote about climate change this week in the New York Times. I think his words apply equally to the Whistle Blower’s complaint:

Are we really helpless and unwilling to respond to the gravest threat faced by civilization? Is it time, as some have begun to counsel, to despair, surrender, and focus on “adapting” to the progressive loss of the conditions that have supported the flourishing of humanity? Are we really moral cowards, easily manipulated into lethargic complacency by the huge continuing effort to deceive us into ignoring what we see with our own eyes?

Our Constitution, our uncorrupted legal system, and the hearts and minds of caring and courageous people will guide us. The purpose is clear: expand our awareness by coming out of our caves. The vision is simple: create a sustainable planet and a thriving democracy.

Al Gore again:

The political reconfiguration we have desperately needed has been excruciating slow in coming, but we now seem to be at an inflection point, when political change begins to unroll more rapidly than we thought was possible [Gore wrote this piece before the Whistle-Blower complaint becoming public].

The people, in their true function as the sovereign power, are quickly understanding the truth of the crisis, and they are the ones who must act, especially because the president is not on speaking terms with the truth and seems well beyond the reach of reason.

To address the climate crisis, we must address the democracy crisis so that the people themselves can reclaim control of their destiny.

Do not despair: get engaged. We must remove from office, at all levels of government, those who deny climate change and those who follow Trump.

We can then save the planet and renew our Democracy.

We do live in exciting times.

Climate Change Will Affect the Most Vulnerable First; Then It Will Come to All Of Us.

From the book: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben

 

The very same beasts

That now decide

Who should live

and who should die…

We demand that the

world see beyond

SUVs, ACs, their pre-

packaged convenience

Their oil-slicked dreams,

beyond the belief

That tomorrow will

never happen

Let me bring my home to

yours

Let’s watch as Miami,

New York,

Shanghai, Amsterdam,

London

Rio de Janeiro and Osaka

Try to breathe under-

water…

None of us is immune.

Life in all forms demands

The same respect we all

give to money…

So each and every one of

us

Has to decide

If we

Will

Rise

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands & Aka Niviana from Greenland

Each poet faces the end of their way of life as the ice melts.

MASS SHOOTINGS, INHUMANITY AT THE BORDER, & A BURNING PLANET CALL AMERICANS TO STAND UP FOR LIFE

Think higher, feel deeper. Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. Eli Wiesel

 

From Goalcast:

Elie Wiesel was born in Romania, September 30, 1928 – died in New York July 2, 2016- is widely known as an American-Jewish writer, author of 57 books, professor and political activist, and one of the most famous Auschwitz survivors. When he was 15, as the German army occupied Hungary, Elie and his family were placed in one of the confinement ghettos set up in his hometown. Two months later, all Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and most of them were killed soon after arrival. Wiesel and his father were the only ones in the family to be spared, as they were fit for labor. The only thing that kept him going in the concentration camp was knowing that his father was still alive. Sadly, his father was beaten to death shortly before the camp was liberated, and Elie was unable to help him.

The book that made him famous – Night – describes everything he went through, both during his imprisonment in the Nazi camp and after. Recurring topics in Elie Wiesel’s books revolve around how every human value was destroyed in the harsh conditions of the camp, the shame he felt for resenting his father when he was in a helpless state, the disgust for humanity and the “death of God”.

In 1986, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for overcoming the horrible experience at Auschwitz and for sending a message of peace and human dignity. He is also a founding member of the New York Human Rights Foundation.

Wiesel’s thoughts and words came from his experience as a Holocaust survivor and fit the times in which we live in today’s America: a time of a racist president with a White Nationalist’s dark soul whose totality consists of a destructive ego and nefarious impulses.

Wiesel:

And now the boy is turning to me, “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep the memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of our universe.

We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

Trump demonizes decent and courageous people who only seek safety and new lives for themselves and their families but who look different than white men. We know the abuse, terror, cruelty, squalor, and humiliation at our Southern border. People die; the children get traumatized for life. America’s lack of a 21st-century humane border policy is a stain on our nation’s conscience.

Our gun-violence is a national shame. Recent mass murders make us sick. Anyone who believes that Trump’s words do not incite violence is unconscious. Trump’s and Republican reactions to Climate Change threatens the earth. Trump defiles America’s Dream, and Republicans enable him.

I believe the people of the world have been called for a long time to change how we live on our planet and with one another. When we ignore a calling, it comes back again with greater fear, pain, and suffering.

Gregg Levoy wrote in his stellar book, Callings, “Generally people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so, but it’s appalling how high a threshold people have for this quality of pain. Too many of us, it seems, have cultivated the ability to live with the unacceptable.”

Living with the unacceptable can no longer be acceptable.

I’ve written for more than 20 years about indifference being the enemy of renewal and change. If we are indifferent in our local and national elections next year, we might well lose the America we grew up in and sentence our children and grandchildren to lives of despair. People like Trump will always be in our midst; regressive and afraid people like Republicans at all levels of government are not unique.

We the people need to change. The suffering on the horizon if we fail to act far exceeds the angst we will feel when we embark on a new journey. I’ve had many journeys in my life. I understand the fear of beginnings. I would do all those journeys again. I’ve wished for a long time that conscious people would imagine a better future and go forward instead of letting fear stop them. Life could be so much easier.

Do what you can to take power from Trump and Republicans, to create a sustainable planet, to protect our citizens from unnecessary guns, and to again become the country that welcomes immigrants. Then we will make America Great Again.

SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Earth is Not a Platform for Human Life

It Is a Living Being

We’re Not on it But Part of It

Its Health is Our Health.

Thomas Moore

 

In 2001, I was asked to write a letter to my grandkids to be posted on The Grandfather Chronicles website.

An excerpt:

Previous generations leave you the greatest responsibility any generation has inherited from those who came before them. The unintended consequences of the successes of previous generations are devastating to all of nature—including the people of our world. Your job is to save the planet for future generations.

We leave you with the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. We live a philosophy of life that pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats homeless waste filled barges in the ocean.

The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent approach threatened status. Our way of life produces spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. Our beliefs alienate people from themselves, from each other, and from nature. Our mechanistic worldview destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures that lived in sustainable ways. Our thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet that you will try to save.

Fast forward to 2019:

Well, dear grandchildren: Over the past 18 years, we failed to face and confront our many existential threats. America (and many other countries) has regressed: lies, threats, corruption, incompetence, demonization, and blaming the powerless for our many problems dominate the news every day. Our democracy is threatened by an autocrat.

Climate change is here and has taken center stage among all of the threats to the environment. Climate change is settled science: 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that we caused it (and here and here).

Our president denies climate change, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care either. We should not vote for any candidate of either party that does not publically state that climate change is real, that we caused it, and offer a plan for actions to take.  We can argue about when the worst of climate change will be or how bad the loss of life and destruction will be. But anyone who wants to still argue about whether climate change is real or that humans cause it just isn’t thinking straight (See Twilight of American Sanity by Allan Frances, MD.) The attacks on nature accelerate. Everything on the planet is affected because everything is connected and interdependent (See Our Planet on Netflix).

We need new, diverse, and younger leaders at all levels of government in America. Leaders who can articulate an inspiring vision, have the courage to lead, get things done, and never go against America’s or their own deepest values. People outside of government do great work on climate change and other environmental issues that threaten us. But we need a functioning government to provide money and right legislation.

Each year we fail to answer the call to transform how we live on our planet, the more difficult change will be. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention.

We feel sad, scared, and anxious as we see more clearly the realities of climate change. I recall reading a speech by a trusted author in 2001: I felt so shaken by his predictions for the environment that I had to jump in my car and go for a long ride to process my emotions of grief, fear, and anxiety. Not many people talked about how they felt about what was happening to our natural world back then. They are now.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. In 2017 the American Psychological Association found “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” (See David Brooks, An Era Defined by Fear.)

Many who mourn our planet and dread the future have lost hope for a secure life. They are not crazy (See Yuval Harari’s, Homo Deus.)

Misery precedes a new transformative vision that gives people new hope and aliveness.

We’re sealed into climate change that we cannot stop, but we may have time to turn things around before the worst happens. Denying our emotions is the wrong thing to do. Trying to ignore what is happening or hoping for a hero or heroine to rescue us is the wrong thing to do. And, God won’t rescue us.

We need to see reality clearly, deepen and broaden our awareness, reconnect with science, and find our way to the truth in a world of lies. Once we “get it,” we can get engaged, connect to others, connect with nature, and connect with the vision that offers the best chance for a hopeful and secure life ( See Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solution).

The inhabitants of Earth must join together and cooperate to confront our collective future. The United States cannot go it alone: it would be immoral and unsustainable.

Dealing with the massive issues before us requires a deep transformation in how we live on Earth. Our economics have to change dramatically. Our use of fossil fuels has to diminish significantly. We can no longer have unlimited growth, and we must simplify. Our values need to shift: we can no longer give status and respect to those who deny the need for action. They will be the pariahs of the near future. Political conflict is inevitable and will continue to threaten our democracy.

At the same time, the world of work will continue to change dramatically adding more grief, fear, and anxiety to your lives, You will need to see the future of work and learn to adapt to even faster change than before. You will need to learn 21st-century technologies: AI, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. You will have to redefine yourselves routinely to be relevant and have a place in the world of work.

John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal:

If we indoctrinate the young person in an elaborate set of fixed beliefs, we are ensuring his early obsolescence. The alternative is to develop skills, attitudes, habits of mind, and the kinds of knowledge and understanding that will be the instruments of continuous change and growth on the part of the young person…this means more attention to basic principles…. In all subjects, it means teaching habits of mind that will be useful in new situations—curiosity, open-mindedness, objectivity, respect for evidence and the capacity to think critically.”

Chaos offers opportunities and danger. Prepare yourselves to be aware of the dangers but find the opportunities. I believe you can and will rise to the occasion. Other generations have throughout history. It is possible, however improbable, to create a new and better world from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution.

To guide you in life, identify your values, articulate your purpose in life, and create your vision for your lives and for the kind of world you want to live in. This spiritual journey is hard work; most don’t do it. Life will pass them by.

Do what you love in life. Let your values and purpose guide you when chaos surrounds you, when you feel lost, confused, bewildered, and disillusioned. Transform your grief and anxiety into a powerful motivation. Fight for the planet.

You will feel alive if you do.

THE JOURNEY ITSELF WILL CHANGE YOU

Man was born to turn the world into paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness.
Daniel Quinn

Alone on Thanksgiving 2001, I was a solitary figure as I walked north along County Road 23, two miles south of Ridgway, Colorado — the northern entrance to the San Juan Mountains.

The snow-topped San Juan’s rim the Uncompahgre Valley, home of farms, cattle ranches, and magical rainbows each April. Cows and horses dot the fields below. I felt peaceful.

The day awakened brisk and flowed toward me from the mountains to the east. My boots crunched the gravel. The cool air burned my cheeks. The morning sun warmed my skin. Magpies, bluebirds, and blue jays sat on the fence posts and in the trees along the road and dashed and darted about. I could feel the interconnected energy of the life around me—including myself as I too am part of nature.

How long can we live well on this planet when we extinguish 200 species a day to expand economic growth so we can feed, house, and enable the material and emotional addictions of our global over-population? Each day the threats of climate change grow more ominous. Will we change?

Nature has a deep purpose: to sustain the conditions for life—not necessarily human life but the existence of creativity and aliveness. Nature will survive humans; will we endure our own destructive flaws and learn to care for our home on earth instead of constantly diminishing her for more and more stuff and people? If we provoke her too much, she will turn her wrath on us more than she already has. Nature expresses her passions without mercy or sentiment, and she always wins. The longer we wait, the more we and all of nature will suffer.

I paused on my walk and said hello to two favorite young cows–“Brown” and “Tan,” I called them. They ignored me, and I moved on. A dozen deer, ears perked, stood frozen 30 feet away and watched me pass by. The local marmots rested in their homes. I saw no one and, other than the sounds of nature, my boots on gravel, and my breathing, my walk was quiet. I was in a reflective mood.

How can anyone believe they can control nature? I thought about a recent experience: I drove my jeep 12,000 feet above sea level on a narrow path of an old mining road. I was a few miles east of Silverton, 30 miles south of where I lived. A sudden rainstorm began washing the clay beneath my jeep away, and my vehicle began to slide back down the mountain close to a steep ledge. I went with her pull until I saw an opportunity to maneuver out of the slide. Nature reminded me of my powerlessness and humbled me.

I walked to the white house on the curve of the road into Ridgway, drank some water, waved to the barking yellow lab, and turned around for the walk home. In the spring, a couple of hundred skittish elk will graze in the meadows below me. Variety surrounded me on my walk. Diversity promotes adaptation and sustainability. A monoculture foreshadows death.

The return trip climbed uphill from about 7,200 feet. My breath got faster and deeper and my legs felt the strain. I finished my water.

Finally, head down, I trudged up the curved and rutted incline of the long driveway to the A-frame home nestled against the side of the mountain. I lived in the loft. I sat on the picnic table near the back door and under the deck; I was hot and wet with sweat. I breathed heavily. I notice Skeeter and Tate — two cats larger than Noga, my Westie — hunting in the brush. I felt alive.

I muttered an expletive under my breath in acknowledgment of the hard effort. I loved this three-mile walk in nature, which provided a milieu for creative contemplation. I was old enough to find it harder to believe in a loving God as I did as a child. I tried to figure out how I can believe and still see humanity as it is: so often cruel and unjust.

As I caught my breath, I thought back to when my brother Allan and I took a trip to East Africa for 18 days of wildlife photography in Kenya and Tanzania. The animals were excited, spirited, and expressive — they ran, jumped, and played. A Pride of lions slept, sunned themselves, and lounged while mischievous cubs played and irritated their elders who cuffed them gently.

A large group of giraffes loped across the plain. Two cheetahs stalked Thompson gazelles. A soundless leopard carried a young wildebeest into a tree to feast on for the next two or three days. Animals kill for food; not for ego or trophies. Elephants lumbered in front of the gigantic and snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro as filled with excitement, I fumbled with my camera.

I watched the chaos of the annual wildebeest migration as two million grazers followed the rain. I began to sense the deeper order, programmed genetically over thousands of years, of their seemingly insane behavior. Order exists beneath chaos.

As I caught my breath, I decided to go and soak in the hot springs in Ouray — eight miles south at the front door of the San Juan’s. Many years prior, I drove around the mountain curve on highway 550 into Ouray. I saw the steam from the hot springs rising to the mountains. I was drawn to this beautiful place, and I returned several times to drive the old mining roads.

One day my divorce, my mom’s death, and the surprise death of my best friend provided the deep awareness of fragile and temporary life, and I loaded my jeep and drove West to grieve and live out my dream of living a year in the mountains.

The large hot springs pool sits surrounded by mountains and the town of Ouray — a tiny piece of Western history nestled in a bowl at the foot of the San Juan’s. I relaxed in the pool, drank water, and watched rock climbers, mountain goats, small avalanches, and the deer feeding in the adjacent park. Often I sat for hours and thought, other times I read, and I talked with locals and tourists. In the winter, the steam rises from the hot water, and often I can only see a foot or two in front of me. The pool fills with people when it snows, and snow-covered heads appear to float on top of the warm water.

I reflected on my connection with nature while I soaked. I thought about my eight days of whale-watching on a fishing boat out of San Diego:

I sat in a small skiff in the San Ignacio lagoon in the Mexican province of Baja California Sur. The boat bobbed in light waves. I watched as a 40-foot-long, 40-ton great gray whale surfaced beneath the boat and introduced her new child to the boat’s elated observers.

I peered into a large serene eye of the mother and wondered: What is her world like? Her gentle and knowing return of my excited stare linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us — a profound choice: destroy or relate — the essence of competing worldviews in my world.

Mother and child floated with the skiff for a few minutes. The whales allowed the exhilarated humans to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle-covered parent before mother and child submerged and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing skiff, and the whale and her child were one. Nature is a form of love available to each of us. Maybe that moment of intimacy was God

Henry Beston wrote:

For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move furnished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

People, the whales, and the lions are animals. It’s our job to use our gifts to nurture the planet not consume it for things we don’t need.

I feel sorrow for our planet. Nature and America have declined since 2016: under assault by those who feel entitled to destroy our natural world for ego and money; they never get enough.

A few years ago, I stood alone in Canyonlands National Park near Mesa Arch. The sky was dark at 4:30 am. I looked up at the cloudless sky and saw the star-filled cosmos. I felt overwhelmed with awe and humility. Fear too. I felt the pain of my insignificance. The questions and mysteries of life swirled in my mind. I’m not the center of the universe: I am minuscule in my brief moment as a participant in the interconnected natural world. Two hours later, I stood in front of Mesa Arch and watched as the sun rose in the distance.

Daniel Quinn was the author of the quote that is the title of this essay. I hope future generations will be able to have their own journeys into nature. It will change them as it will continue to change me.

Monarch Butterfly: an endangered species.

 

A CARING FRIEND

 To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself. Milton Mayeroff

Eleanor Powers, my friend of 43 years, died on November 25, 2018.

Eleanor wasn’t a wealthy woman, she lived alone in a small home in South Minneapolis. She hadn’t had a career—I don’t know how much she had worked in her life. She suffered from chronic depression, agoraphobia, and horrific pain from arthritis. She didn’t drive and was anxious about leaving her home—but she did when she needed to.

Eleanor stayed up most of every night and watched the cable television shows. She surfed the channels and could not stand Fox News or Donald Trump. I often said to her, “You should quit watching politics on television. Not hearing all the anger would help your depression.”

“No, watching politics is good for me. I can yell at the television,” she replied.

Eleanor was a mother of six children. Bill, her husband, had died 20 some years ago. Eleanor had suffered darkness in her life. I’ll keep the details to myself but suffice to say: Eleanor had more than her share of loss, pain, and suffering. When I talked to her, she would express any angst that she was feeling and then moved on to happier topics.

I met Eleanor at an “Emotions Anonymous” 12-step meeting. I had been in treatment in 1974 and had been sober for a year. I had been going to AA meetings but didn’t feel they were what I wanted. Treatment had awakened me to my inner emotional world and I was fascinated by exploring that terrain. I wanted to go to a group that talked about emotions. EA was perfect for me. I loved the diversity of the group: men, women, all ages, some were alcoholics, others were wives, husbands, or children of alcoholics. Some were depressed, others were grieving the loss of someone or something. What they had in common was pain and suffering they sought relief from.

Eleanor and I talked at that first meeting. She gave me her phone number and said: “call me if you want to talk.”

Well, I wanted to talk. I called Eleanor night after night for weeks, and we talked for a couple of hours each time. I struggled to put my life together in my first year of sobriety, and I was sad, angry, afraid, and anxious about how my life might turn out.

I picked Eleanor up for meetings and took her home afterward. Sometimes we and other group members stopped for coffee. Our telephone calls continued but less frantically. I met Bill and he was supportive and a big help to me. Many times we sat around their table and talked and talked. Eleanor and Bill were twenty-some years older than me and had much life experience, hard-earned wisdom, and knowledge of the Twelve Step philosophy.

I moved in 2000 and spent a year in SW Colorado where I wrote, consulted, and sat in the natural hot springs, and drove the mining roads of the San Juan Mountains. I then moved to Fargo/Moorhead where I met Melanie, my wife. We lived along the Red River of the North. Eleanor and I stayed in touch. In 2009, Melanie and I were flooded out of our home. We moved to Minneapolis, MN: back home for me and a new adventure for Melanie.

I owed Eleanor so much: she had supported me through one of the most challenging times of my life. She was a lifeline to me and gave me so much of herself and helped me establish a strong foundation for my sobriety—now 44 years.

Eleanor didn’t drive, could not afford taxis, and needed help. I began taking her to appointments as did other friends. Each time I picked her up she began a stream-of-consciousness anger dump about the day’s politics. The Trump talk depressed me, but I listened so she could get the emotions out.

She wanted me to come into the examination rooms with her and take notes. More than once, I saw her cry in anguish because of the arthritic pain she suffered. She did everything asked of her by the doctors but nothing seemed to help much. She tried swimming, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Still, she suffered. She never gave up trying to get rid of the pain she felt.

As seven years went by, she had more appointments and needed more help. She went from using a cane to a walker, and finally to a wheelchair. Some of her friends who drove her couldn’t handle the wheelchair so finding rides became more and more difficult.

I worried that Eleanor would fall in her home. I felt she could no longer care for herself. I believed Eleanor should move to an assisted living facility. Assisted living was not in her plans. She was proud of her independence and feared she would be forced to change her lifestyle. Finally, in July of 2018, her children “kidnapped her,” (in her words) and put her in a nursing home (her children did the right thing). She cried as she told me about it.

About six months later she got an infection and died quickly. She was 94 years old.

What drew me to Eleanor and made me feel so responsible to repay her in whatever ways I could?

Eleanor cared and she cared for me at a time I needed someone to support me. Eleanor spent time with me. She listened to me and came to know me: my values, strengths, weaknesses, and my most difficult emotions. She didn’t judge, lecture, or try to fix or control me. She could be blunt. She could be difficult. But she always cared for me, and I could feel her caring.

Eleanor was patient in our relationship. She didn’t push, she allowed me to experience suffering, confusion, uncertainty, and let me flounder until I found my way. She was honest with me and helped me see myself as I was not as I imagined myself to be. I trusted her, and my life came together.

Eleanor Powers lived a caring way of life. I’ll never forget Eleanor and the love she gave me. My life might have turned out much differently without her.

Whenever we said goodbye Eleanor would say, “I love you, Thomas.” “I love you too,” I replied.