Ho’onoponopono for restoration

Ho’onoponopono- the Hawaiian practice of correction and restoration

Ho’onoponopono is a traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian practice of restoration when members of the community or a family have fallen into separation and to set relationships right.  There are stories of the practice having huge restorative and healing benefits, even when practiced by only one of the persons in a relationship.

Ho’onoponopono literally means ‘to put to rights, rectify, or correct.  The practice is simple and consists of repeating the four phrases ‘I love you’, I’m sorry’, ‘Forgive me’ and ‘Thank you’.  When I started using these phrases it came to me that it was a very strong way to approach healing our species’ relationship with the Earth as well.  Here is a text I wrote as I began to understand this:

I love you.  I’m sorry.   Please forgive me. Thank you.  Ho’onoponopono.

What I have been understanding from this these past few days is the power of this manifestation.  When we say these words mindfully, we might direct it toward a person or situation, but we can also direct this toward the world itself, because in many ways it is our separation from the world itself that is the root of all our other separations and all our other disturbances in our species and many of the causes of violence in our species. In manifesting

‘I love you, I’m sorry, forgive me, thank you’,

we can choose to manifest this toward our Earth, and in doing this, we become an aspect of Earth’ creation communicating restoration to the rest of Earth creation.

I love you:  this offers the attribute of loving-kindness and reminds us just how much we love the Earth that nurtures us.

I’m sorry:  this offers apology and contrition but also the attribute of compassion– we are manifesting this both personally, but also as a species.

Please forgive me: The request for forgiveness acknowledges the hurt we as a species have done to the world, but also contains the attribute of empathy, since only from empathy can we truly understand the hurt of the other.

Thank you:  This is such a powerful statement since it acknowledges the Earth’s constant care and acceptance- to say ‘thank you’ is to manifest the attribute of gratitude for the Earth that offers life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient… only the universe rearranging itself.”  The truth of this statement is that there is only one manifestation or another manifestation of universe itself. When we clearly perceive this connectedness then we see we have a conscious choice to manifest these attributes rather than other attributes in the world, because part of our uniqueness as a species is our level of consciousness. Indeed, once we have understood it, there is a responsibility to step up to this level of consciousness and manifest these attributes.  It is not that other entities do not have their own level of consciousness, but that our species has a level of consciousness that involves a great deal of choice, in terms of what we manifest.

This is a choice in my own evolution, and because I have this choice I am privileged participate in the evolution of the entire universe. In manifesting these attributes over and over I choose to participate in the conscious evolution of the universe toward loving kindness, compassion, empathy and gratitude.

I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.

How amazing is that.

 

Ho’onoponopono for restoration

Ho’onoponopono- the Hawaiian practice of correction and restoration

Ho’onoponopono is a traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian practice of restoration when members of the community or a family have fallen into separation and to set relationships right.  There are stories of the practice having huge restorative and healing benefits, even when practiced by only one of the persons in a relationship.

Ho’onoponopono literally means ‘to put to rights, rectify, or correct.  The practice is simple and consists of repeating the four phrases ‘I love you’, I’m sorry’, ‘Forgive me’ and ‘Thank you’.  When I started using these phrases it came to me that it was a very strong way to approach healing our species’ relationship with the Earth as well.  Here is a text I wrote as I began to understand this:

I love you.  I’m sorry.   Please forgive me. Thank you.  Ho’onoponopono.

What I have been understanding from this these past few days is the power of this manifestation.  When we say these words mindfully, we might direct it toward a person or situation, but we can also direct this toward the world itself, because in many ways it is our separation from the world itself that is the root of all our other separations and all our other disturbances in our species and many of the causes of violence in our species. In manifesting

‘I love you, I’m sorry, forgive me, thank you’,

we can choose to manifest this toward our Earth, and in doing this, we become an aspect of Earth’ creation communicating restoration to the rest of Earth creation.

I love you:  this offers the attribute of loving-kindness and reminds us just how much we love the Earth that nurtures us.

I’m sorry:  this offers apology and contrition but also the attribute of compassion– we are manifesting this both personally, but also as a species.

Please forgive me: The request for forgiveness acknowledges the hurt we as a species have done to the world, but also contains the attribute of empathy, since only from empathy can we truly understand the hurt of the other.

Thank you:  This is such a powerful statement since it acknowledges the Earth’s constant care and acceptance- to say ‘thank you’ is to manifest the attribute of gratitude for the Earth that offers life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient… only the universe rearranging itself.”  The truth of this statement is that there is only one manifestation or another manifestation of universe itself. When we clearly perceive this connectedness then we see we have a conscious choice to manifest these attributes rather than other attributes in the world, because part of our uniqueness as a species is our level of consciousness. Indeed, once we have understood it, there is a responsibility to step up to this level of consciousness and manifest these attributes.  It is not that other entities do not have their own level of consciousness, but that our species has a level of consciousness that involves a great deal of choice, in terms of what we manifest.

This is a choice in my own evolution, and because I have this choice I am privileged participate in the evolution of the entire universe. In manifesting these attributes over and over I choose to participate in the conscious evolution of the universe toward loving kindness, compassion, empathy and gratitude.

I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.

How amazing is that.

 

The intersections of systems of human oppression and broader ecological devastation. 

 

The intersections of systems of human oppression and broader ecological devastation.

 

What happens to the woman who cannot even remember her mother?  What kind of mother will she herself be?  What happens to the unnurtured fatherless child?  What kind of man will he be?

What happens in a culture of unnurtured persons, bereft of the care, the abundance of sustenance, the gratitude that comes from growing up with both love and correction, close to abundance, connected to Earth and to community?

It is my premise that we are a society with a culture of unnurtured children who become unnurtured adults.  I surmise that our lack of nurture is deeply connected to our lack of connection to the Earth herself, and that unnurtured adults are in turn aggressively un-nurturing themselves, possessed of a greed and ache, narcissism, collapse, and unfathomable cruelty toward each other and the more than human world.  This unnurtured and un-nurturing culture is unable to respond to the suffering of Earth or of others, and instead exhibits a rapaciousness that is devastating the Earth and threatens our own existence.

What man brings himself to forcibly separate a child from his immigrant parents without any word on where that child is going?  What woman kills her children, or allows her boyfriend to defile them? How does a young man shoot his classmates while chanting ‘another one hits the dust’?  How do corporation leaders lay waste to Earth and to communities abroad in the name of progress and possession? How can congressional leaders pass laws that they know will disenfranchise the poor or deplete our natural resources or poison our water?  The news is full of these stories and more.  I do not have to tell you them, you already know.

Up until agrarian times, children were still largely among adults, often several adults, aunts, mothers, uncles, fathers and siblings.  In Indigenous and hunter gatherer societies children are incorporated, usually among the women but also among men.   Land, human, animal, children and adults are interrelated.  Abundance in nature was taken for granted. So too is death, when it comes, recognized as part of the cycle of sustenance.   In many of these societies life is slow, little work is needed to create food.  There was a sense of territory, but it is the commons of the tribe, and folks lived close to Earth.

Nurture in these societies was not mollycoddling- children had expectations, but these were expectations of the group, delivered in relationship. Care and correction go hand in hand. Many of these expectations had to do with how one should interact with the Earth itself.   It is also not to say children had easy lives- the concept of easy lives for children may be unique to modern culture. In early societies we know there was both child sacrifice and infanticide. In looking backward at what worked in indigenous or agrarian societies we are encouraged not to see everything with rose colored glasses, but to understand the role of deep connections to the Earth herself in the way that both livelihood and childhood were practiced.

Feudal times in Europe created a new paradigm that disenfranchised people from Earth and children from family.  Adults pressed into service, even on the land, created a difference in the way that people saw both the land and their children.   Land was hard and must be broken; so too must children.  There are stories here of children swaddled and hung up on nails on the wall all day long while their parents worked on feudal land.  Care of children became minimal, they were often beaten and sometimes subjected to worse cruelty; their bodily needs seen as shameful, their untamed natures likened to the devil.

Even as peasants were working on the land, nature was increasingly removed in the culture. Abundance was nonexistent, there was not enough to feed everyone- children were seen as unwanted mouths to feed.  Feudal lords and kings had laid claim to the commons- land became simply a tool for serving the lord.  If you were lucky and loyal, he would give you something.  This separated people from a sense of abundance in the Earth-  it was no longer the Earth giving to you, but a capricious lord you must serve.   The loss of commons created a serfdom that profoundly affected views of nature, as well as the nurture of children.

The rise of capitalism brought with it even more pressure. As more of the commons was lost, and as industrialization grew, workers flooded to cities.  The enclosure of the commons was seen by capitalists as necessary to create work, while private appropriation of Earth created vast wealth for those who exploited the resources, and poverty for those who worked for them. Treatises were written actually encouraging poverty so that people would be required to work for money.  Indigenous peoples were chastised as too comfortable and happy in their abundant lifestyles, which made them ‘lazy and unwilling to work’.  Property was seen as necessary to economic progress- the commons, Earth herself, and eventually all the indigenous peoples and lands exploited by this system in lands far from the capitalists’ homes, became commodified as well.

With workers flooding into cities the question became again, what to do with the children?   Children were first seen as a cheap form of labor, and then school was introduced as an instrument to both train children for future work and to keep them separate and managed while their parents were working.  Now, the separation from family and from Earth became complete-  children were to be ‘socialized’, indoors, grouped in cohorts by age and date, organized and controlled, commodified themselves.  In schools, children were removed both from family and from relationship to Earth. Large numbers of children were placed with a single adult. Interaction with nature was increasingly removed from childhood. Instead, manufactured toys, then the television, and now an electronic world serves as distraction.

The relationship between economy, closeness to and appreciation for Earth, and adult relationship to children is very strong.  Each of the eras described above represents a movement away from the view of Earth as a primary nurturer, and toward a perspective of nature as inanimate source of raw material.  Alongside this is a movement away from community, and for children, away from the nurture of family as well as away from connection to Earth herself. There is a direct correlation between perception of ourselves as nature, the loss of commons, the exploitation of Earth and devastation of ecosystems, and our relationship to children.

In todays society, we are all, to one degree or another, motherless children.  We carry with us the wounds of our ancestors. Even as children are perceived as more and more free from responsibility, they are also more removed from community and almost entirely removed from the rest of the more than human world.   Generations of unnurtured children have become the adults raising the next generation. Since the 50s we were taught to separate babies from parents, to let them scream until they quieted themselves- those babies became parents, often still children themselves, parking their own children in front of televisions, and then electronic devices, passing on the criticism and the abandonment that they received as children.  Those children too became adults, often adults woefully unable to be parents; more and more we hear stories not just of lack of care but of real harm done to children.

School intervenes early and removes children from mothers.  For some, those who are in truly un-nurturing circumstances, school is a lifesaver, and offers connection that is nonexistent at home. Teachers are often well-meaning but overworked; the economy dictates the adult to child ratio and the curriculum dictates days filled with preparation for a world of work.  Children are massed and grouped, rarely seen as separate beings with intrinsic worth.  It is not that teachers are uncaring, or that there are not many educators trying to make a difference, but that the system is institutional, it is mass child care in the service of capitalism.  In a society with a commodified commons where adults are valued only for their economic contribution to the system, and children separated from the rest of community and held mostly indoors for 6 or more hours a day, often sitting still, over 12 or more years, the separation from Earth and family and community and even self potential is complete.  What is left is a society of unnurtured children as adults.

The unnurtured child as adult may exhibit one, or many, characteristics.  He or she may have a weakness toward collapse, an inability to withstand criticism. She may find it difficult to feel compassion, an inability to face her own or the world’s or others’ pain.  Vulnerability is then viewed as weakness, ridiculed, mocked, or ignored.  How else can we simply walk past the homeless on the streets?

The unnurtured child often carries a substantial sense of needs unfulfilled, that is manifest as an aching desire that cannot be filled.  It is as if the indigenous American myth of the Wendigo, that spirit of insatiable cannibalism that destroys both communities and the natural world, has been manifest in our culture. Consumerism is the constant attempt to feed that need and is of course encouraged by the system itself.  People with hungry souls attempt to nurture themselves with ever more product or mindless entertainment.  It is a culture of greed founded in need and devastating its very source of fulfillment with its rapacious destruction of the environment.

A severely unnurtured child can develop narcissism in the attempt to give himself the love he never had.  This man can only think of himself, as his need for love and nurture is so unfulfilled there is no space for anyone else.  Every other person, every thing, and every event must be pressed into service to fill the needs unfulfilled in himself.  He cannot accept being wrong because it will bring the collapse he so fears.  Any lie, even the most outrageous of lies, covers over his faults.  Is it any wonder that this culture of un-nurtured children has spawned a grasp for absolute power and crude capitalism in the United States?  It is the predictable and observable trajectory of the culture of the unnurtured child.

The unnurtured child may also carry a rage, a sense of injustice and a desire for revenge, a profound distrust of the world that has not cared sufficiently. Fear seems to be everywhere. Or, she may simply dissolve in depression, in opioid addiction, in despair.

Sometimes the unnurtured child becomes aware of the more than human world as a source of solace.  She may gaze at the stars, or gravitate to trees, or surround herself with other animals.  Sometimes he may also become a hyper-carer, somehow feeling the need to make up for lack of care by caring for everyone else, but often not for himself.

Unnurtured children often become un-nurturing themselves.  Their woundedness results in unnurtured offspring.  We have created a cycle of erosion- erosion of care, and erosion of gratitude that comes from being cared for and connected to others and to Earth.  How do we reverse the erosion process, and recreate a culture of abundance, appreciation, and nurture in our culture?  Could relearning to love, include, care for and correct our children change the very nature of our society? Is the cure not, indeed, to find and be nurtured by our true mother?  Our lack of nurture is rooted in our separation from Earth, the ultimate mother; the essential nurturer.  As we have become more and more separated from nature, we have become less and less nurtured and nurturing- creating a cycle of destructiveness, cruelty, scarcity, and woundedness.

I believe the solution is to allow ourselves to be re-nurtured by Earth herself- she who has never changed and who sustains all of us.  It is in understanding our interbeing in and with Earth and each other that we come into true connection, understand abundance, and reverse the culture of scarcity.   Simply being in nature, I believe, allows us to develop a connection in interbeing with the more than human world that reminds us how full life is.  Learning of deep time instills an understanding and perspective that is healing.    Learning to listen to Earth with all our senses can re-develop our intuition and allow Earth to mentor us back to a sense of belonging.

To do this we must first re-wild ourselves, spend ample time enveloping ourselves and our children in the natural world.  We must find and develop access to commons, to land, to community gardens, especially in places far removed from wilderness and for those without access to transport.

We must encourage and develop schools that prioritize this and allow children time outside and in the more than human world. We can take our children out of schools entirely, but we must remember that this is not an option for many working people or those who do not have the resources to care for their own children, and thus we must all work to change schools as well.  It is a difficult job- schools are implicit in the system that removed the commons in the first place and that instilled the model we must dismantle, but there are many in schools who are aware of the change that needs to take place, and there are good examples of schools becoming Earth aware.

We must develop an understanding of interbeing and eco-literacy in schools that imbues the very nature of how school is done.  Adult to child ratio, size of groups, non-dualistic nature and integration of all subjects, interactive and intergenerational and integrated learning and the love of Earth needs to be a part of school at every level. Reconnecting to the wisdom of our ancestors and of indigenous peoples is essential.  Small tweaks are no longer enough, what is needed is a revolution in the way we allow children to flourish in their potential on Earth.

To really make this difference in the ways we interact with children, I believe we must revolutionize our entire perception of work for money and of the commodified commons.  Tomas Paine, who argued for American independence, also proposed an interesting solution to the loss of commons.  Acknowledging that every person has a ‘birthright’ of what he termed ‘natural property’, and that these birthrights were diminished by the enclosure of the commons, he proposed that every person be given compensation for their loss of commons in the form of monetary repayment.  Laying aside for a moment the obvious fault in assuming Earth as property or the possibility of repayment for its loss in money, this could nevertheless form an interesting premise for how to move from capitalism toward a universal income that also acknowledges the intrinsic value of Earth herself and of our interbeing with the more than human world.  The compensation for loss of commons could form the basis for a basic income that allows people to move out of the world of work, and with the time to do so, into closer connection to Earth for themselves and their children.  Schools, no longer obliged to create curriculums that prepare children for work, will be free to emerge as regenerative centers of a new culture.  A new generation of children can begin to heal the devastation and help us and future generations to re-remember our interbeing.

 

Deep Evaluation

winter-tree-branches-from-below

As I mark papers for Sociology, I assign marks, giving numerical value to the work of the students in my class. Doing so, I am reminded of the first precept of Deep Ecology:

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

This means, of course, to refer to the equal inherent value of every form of life, but for just a minute I want to focus on young people in our society, youngsters in school.   The school system that I work for assigns grades.   I am happy that I work in a high school, with sixteen-year-olds.  According to the law they are no longer obligated to be in school, so I can make the argument that they are choosing this system, and therefore giving their tacit approval of the grading system.

This, however, belies the fact that they are each a product of their society, their socialization, which places a stigma on not finishing school and in many circles not finishing university.  Assuming their free choice also ignores the peer pressure and pressure from familial norms, and sanctions in the form of exclusion or derision if they do not go to school.  It does not address the fact that if they were to leave school, in this society, there is nothing for them to do- even basic jobs require a high school degree.  Going out on your own, especially without support from family or other social groups, is a difficult venture, and there are few young people who can manage it.  So as much as we say they have a choice to be in school or not, they do not; the culture and society around them will devalue them if they do not finish school.

And so, these students stress and struggle and sometimes excel, as measured by the grading system.  And I participate in this valuing.  What I long to say to them, what I am desperate to say to them, is that this mark on a paper is not a value of their worth, that every human and non-human life on earth has value in itself.  That they have intrinsic value in themselves, inherent value in simply being alive.

How often do we tell our young people that?  How often do we even think it?  And what error, or even violence may there be in saying it, when the culture at large does not honor it and indeed will punish it?  My recourse is to say it, all the while reminding them that society doesn’t particularly see it that way.  They do have a choice, to remain within the system or to buck it, but bucking it would be difficult, financially hazardous and sometimes painful, though if done consciously and creatively it just might lead to growth experiences as well.  If they do choose to be in the system, as they mostly do, they have a choice to accept the valuing of the system, or as I hope they do, to do their best within the system while knowing, understanding, and acknowledging that their worth is not defined by the system, but by the act of living itself.

These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.

The value of each young person, and indeed of each person, must also be independent of their usefulness in society, and especially independent of their usefulness to the economic models we have established.  When we as a society come to understand this, we will be ready to embrace the myriad of possibilities that can be made available to young people. We can begin to look at a slew of other options beyond, besides, and alongside traditional schooling. When we uncouple school from fiscal usefulness, from financial worth and from preparation for economic contribution, we will find its intrinsic usefulness in nurturing young beings toward their natural full potential.  We can begin to embrace Deep Ecology’s second principle, that

Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. 

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

So too, do the diversity of choices in a society contribute to the realization of the regeneration of society.  Diversity is a result of embracing the multiplicity of life, in nature and in our youth as well.   Embracing diversity will rightly mean that we can no longer do ‘school as usual’.  Much will have to open up if we will genuinely facilitate the right of children to grow and develop both at their own pace and in their own directions.  This will entail that students are not in rows or desks, or perhaps even in rooms. It will entail that learning is completely redesigned, as are teachers’ roles, availability of materials, access to spaces and to nature, choice of activity, blending of ages and more.  Diversity ultimately opens up an ecosystem to development and evolution; so it will be with our schools and our children.  Opening up to diversity and the richness in our children’s potential will also call for us to re-evaluate evaluation.

What does deep evaluation look like, in a diverse and rich ecology of school?

Suffice it to say it will not be impersonal.  This is not to say it will not be rigorous, or demanding, or perhaps even strict.  All societies have methods and means of correcting and shaping the development of the children and young people in their care.  Indigenous societies paid a great deal of attention to the socialization of their children, and the response, or evaluation if you will, could be swift and even strict.  The biggest difference overall, I think, is that evaluation before the advent of institutionalized schooling happened in relationship, in network, in community, and often face to face.

What evaluation in our schools today has lost, besides a relevance to life as it is lived, which is a discussion on its own, is the ability to spend time face to face with a child or young person. We are missing the opportunity to explain, to discuss and cooperatively determine an evaluation, and then to creatively explore and collaboratively apply the means for growth.  Of course, if a child is failing or conversely, is motivated to seek the teacher out, this face to face conversation may take place, but these are often not collaborative and on the whole, because of the press of so many classes, so many students, a good deal of evaluation for ‘regular’ students is done on paper, and increasingly, online on educational platforms.

If we reflect on the past while forging a route to the future, and take the good with the good, our new, deep evaluation can combine individual potential and individual agency with personalized, deeply effective mentor, peer, and self- evaluation, and with feedback and direction in face to face settings, as well as in smaller groups and community. The cost of these smaller groups and one on one time can only be criticized if we continue to tie ourselves to a monetized worth, if we do not understand values beyond economic spreadsheets, and the value of the children themselves to our society as a whole.  This too must change as we move toward deep evaluation.

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

Humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of a child’s nature and growth, except to satisfy vital needs.  ‘Vital’ here is not economic gain or social uniformity or conformity to tradition or norms. Vital here refers to survival, and the ironic truth is that at this juncture in our society what we are coming to understand is that what is most vital, most imperative for our survival as a society and perhaps as a species as well, is that we do not reduce, but instead promote the richness and diversity of our world, of multitude species, as well as of our children and young people.  In doing that, I believe that it is also vital, as in essential to survival, that we nurture deep ecological awareness and understanding in our children and in society as.  I believe it is vital that we all adopt inter-being as a way of seeing the world.

Finally, it is vital that we create the types of synergisms that can lead to the emergence of the new societal structures which will help us to continue to survive and thrive as a species.  These synergisms are forged through diversity, in relationship, and in affirming the unique potential and agency of each element in a synergistic expression.  Synergism, the essence of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, is the process that will bring forth the emergence of new social structures, the more elegantly ordered complexity that is evolution.  It is an evolution of social structure, a new phase shift in identity, relationship, cooperation, and mutual benefit, that is vital for our species to survive.   Clearly our vital needs are to promote the richness and diversity of life rather than to hinder it.  I believe this can be most efficiently and quickly through a reform of schools that promotes biophilia, eco-literacy, and the internal structures, networks, relationships, and values that are in themselves reflections of natural growth, synergism and emergence.   I call these ‘emergent schools’.

But right now, locked in a pile of paper that is designed to evaluate success or failure, I would settle for the simple understanding: every living thing on Earth has value in itself.  These children and young people have value in themselves.  Tell them that.

 

 

The Celebration Isn’t Over Yet-  Happy Perihelium, and May Emergence Begin.

The New Year Celebration Isn’t Over Yet- Happy Perihelium, and May Emergence Begin.

I spent New Year’s in my goat shed. I have long been ambivalent about New Year’s celebrations. As a child, I hated firecrackers, cowered when fireworks went off, and have been known to drop to the ground when a particularly loud one went off near me. I understand my goats, whose inclination is to run to the farthest, darkest corner of the shed and huddle together. This year, when a small group of friends gathered for dinner, and then after dinner headed out to watch the fireworks, I headed to the goat shed. I made up an impromptu song and sang it to them. The crackling explosions clapped around us. At one point the small window lit up with an eerie blue and red light. The goats ran, turned, and ran again back to their corner. I petted them and cooed comfort words and noises. I too, reacted to the largest bangs. I reflected on this ultimate display of purposeless self-gratifying consumption, the waste of resources, material and money, literally going up in smoke.

I often wonder how that money might be spent. London this year created 10,000 explosions and spent 1.8 million pounds; Sydney outdid them, at least money-wise, with a tally of 7 million dollars. It doesn’t just happen on New Year’s Eve of course- Americans spend some 800 million dollars a year for the Fourth of July, and China spends more than 200 million on its New Year’s displays. I reflect on the way we in our increasingly global culture spend this much so lightly; create fire and release carbon to the atmosphere so easily. It is a testament to our lack of connection to the Earth, I think, and to those, too, of our own species who could use those resources. I might be called a party pooper for calling this madness, but how is it not madness to celebrate by engaging in the very activities that are leading to the possible extinction of our species? Why do we celebrate the New Year in the least sustainable way imaginable?

There is no natural reason either, for celebrating the New Year on January 1st. The celebration, as well as the name of the month, goes back to the Roman times and the worship of the god Janus, he of two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. Janus was the deity of doorways, and thus of entrances, beginnings, and transitions. He is associated with times of peace, as well as trade, and with springs and streams. He is also given credit for having ushered in the golden age of Rome, with its civilization, monetary systems, and agricultural development.

If there is a natural time to celebrate at this time of year, it is linked to the heavens, the solar system and the sun. Early January brings us to perihelium; the time when the Earth comes its closest to the sun in its entire yearly orbit. This year perihelium will take place on the 3rd of January in the morning in Europe. Perhaps it is worth reflecting, at this special time, on the unique and serendipitous placement of Earth in relationship to the sun- often called the ‘goldilocks’ position, since it is neither too hot or too cold; just right for life. It is our sun, and our relationship to it, that is the basis of all life on Earth, including our own. It is this unique placement of Earth that allows for water to exist on our planet, neither evaporated or permanently frozen. It is in fact the Earth’s inter-relationship with its entire solar system, formed out of the collapse of a supernova more than 4.6 billion years ago, that created its unique formation as a rocky inner planet with an iron core, that gave rise to the collision that created our moon and stabilized our rotation, and that also formed the outer planets that slung meteorites bringing life giving water and perhaps even the seeds of life itself, to our Earth.

Life on Earth, our goldilocks planet, is indeed a gift to celebrate and protect. It is good to remember that we are just a small speck in a huge universe, a small planet in a tiny solar system. This year, we should heed the caution not to squander this gift we have. In his New Year’s address, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres issued a declaration for a Red Alert on Earth. Calling for peace, equality, human rights, and unity, he said, ‘this is not just an appeal’. It is in fact an imperative for the health of our species, and the regeneration of our culture, as well as the health of the Earth itself. This is not a drill- the accumulation of scientific, ecological and environmental evidence has made it clear that the inequalities in our societies, the over-consumption of Earth’s resources, and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. We are now, in our self-named Anthropocene, at risk of destroying not only the intricate and delicate interaction of life on this special planet, but our own species as well.

Maybe this is where we can re-invoke Janus and give some meaning to the January celebration, for Janus was also the god of civil and social order, said to aid the transition of societies from one order to another. If there ever was a time to lift human life and society out of one state and into another, now is it. If there was ever a time to invoke the principles of regenerative design to move our global culture to a higher level, it is now. The property of emergence, in evolutionary terms, refers to the ways in which new, previously non-existent properties at a higher order emerge out of the interaction of diverse elements in a complex system. I think Janus, the deity of doorways, might be seen as a tribute to the emergence of culture. Perhaps we can celebrate January as beginning of a transition to the evolution of a higher order for our species- one where, as Secretary General Guterres said, there are peace, equality, and unity, three properties that are essential if we are to survive as a species.

And we will not survive if we act alone, or see ourselves as separate from our environment and the Earth itself. It is time to fully understand the interbeing of humankind with every other form of life on Earth. Life itself is an intricate web, a complex system that itself is in a continual state of emergence. There is nothing that we do that does not impact our planet itself, and we humans are indeed dependent on every other life form and the very environment for our own survival.

In my goat shed last night, there was a knock on the door, and my friends came in to join me with the goats. I was so pleased that they included me, and the goats, in the celebrations: we rang in the New Year with goat petting, laughter and libations. This too, is an essential element for the regeneration of culture; it is only with the support of communities that join and work together that we can hope to develop or create change. We must keep our communities close, interact often, and support each other towards emergence.

Happy 2018, and Happy Perihelium! Here is to emergence of a regenerative culture for our species and the entire Earth as we travel on our small planet around our sun this New Year. May it begin!

The Yearning of the Tree, and Acceptance of Rest.

winter-tree-branches-from-belowI am home sick with an infection.   Looking out the window, I can see the huge wild cherry tree lifting its branches toward the sky on this cold early December day.  I allow myself to dissolve into my encounter state.   I’m not sure how to explain this except that it is a state of empathy with the other.

I am sensing, to the best of my ability from here on the couch, the feel and smell of damp bark, the sharp persistence of a bird’s beak against the outer shell of the trunk, and the wide expanse of bare branches into branchlets into outer growth.  I imagine the flow of sap and water up the tree trunk- slow now, maybe almost dormant, since all the leaves have already fallen.  I wonder at what it feels like to be a tree in early winter.  like falling into sleep, dozing now, with just a lingering sense of being.

I have read that trees can tell the time, from the light at different seasons, and I wonder if this translates into any sense of winter coming, and hope for spring after that.  Does it know, somehow, as its rings tell, that there have been season after season, and will be seasons still?  Does it slumber with a sense of hope that there will be Spring?

From my perspective here on the couch I interpret the outspread branches as a yearning for life, an urgency of upward growth, curtailed by the cold and sentenced to wait, for now, til warmer weather returns.  I imagine that the tree accepts this state, an acceptance of the need to rest, and as I watch my husband bustle around me I recognize that I must also simply rest for now, doze perhaps, while I wait to be well.

I reflect that I am also often beset with an almost overbearing sense of urgency at all that must be done, a frantic fervor to make the most of my days.  But perhaps there is wisdom in accepting that there are times and seasons for rest, and that strength is regenerated in slowing down.

There is wisdom too in practicing patience with hope in the face of hardship- I am thinking now of the task at hand in the world today,  to promote the great turning that is necessary in order to prevent a final winter, for ourselves as well as even, perhaps for so many forms of life and for the trees. As Joanna Macy says, we can’t know what the future holds any more, actually, than the tree does.  We live on the knife edge of uncertainty, she says, and it is this that moves us from complacency to action.

But first, for the cherry tree outside my window and for me on the couch there is rest, with hope.

Our Schools are Doing Too Much to Save the Planet

Our schools are doing way too much to save the planet.

At first glance this seems a ridiculous thing to say-  how could one possibly do too much?  The UN has set massive sustainability goals for 2030.  Recent articles have outlined the amount of work that will need to be done in order to meet the 2 degree goal for global emissions agreed to by most countries on Earth.  It is a staggering goal that no nation is yet set to meet.  The immediate reaction to this knowledge is cognitive dissonance- meeting these goals is currently impossible, yet facing the prospects of not getting it done is equally impossible.  We react by doing what we can while exclaiming in a panic, ‘There is so much to do! We must do something!’  For a moment, I would like to focus on the verb, ‘doing’.

In the schools around the area I live I see many things that schools are doing to save the planet; cleaning up beaches, designing solar lights, reducing food and paper waste, planting gardens and  creating art installations from garbage.   How can that be bad?  It is certainly positive and well-meaning. It is involved with the environment and building competencies creating solutions.   It is absolutely not bad to be doing these things, yet I would like to emphasize that by putting ‘doing’ as the focal point of our efforts to work toward environmental wholeness, we are in fact continuing with ‘business as usual’ in terms of how we humans have interacted with the planet in the last many hundred years.

Doing is what we are good at in modern society, but doing, and even knowing, that is disconnected from being puts us in jeopardy.  There is, in western societies, a disconnect from nature and an emphasis on anthropocentrisim- the idea that humans are apart from the rest of creation, above it, and ultimately, in command of it.   This world view is intrinsic in the ways in which we have developed our mastery of the natural world, our use of its resources, our dominion over its animals, and our overpopulation of its spaces.  Even the sciences, those disciplines that should build our understanding of interconnected chemistry and biology, the patterns and processes intrinsic both on the Earth and in us, are still taught in most schools as disconnected sets of facts about the Earth, and separately, about us, reinforcing the idea of independence and separateness from the rest of nature.   This results in the mindset that nature is somewhere ‘out there’, to be acted upon, enjoyed in forays out ‘into’ it, but ultimately manipulated to our own ends.

The truth is, this is the mindset that got us into trouble in the first place.   It is the mindset that separates, and allows us to believe that we are independent, that we can act in small ways and then go home to be our separate selves, that we can ‘do something’ today and feel better, that we are not really intrinsically connected to every bee that dies or every fish that swallows micro-plastic or even to the soil that grows our food. Of course we cannot really become aware of that- it would cause too much pain and grief, and this would cripple us from acting altogether.

And so, I see students out for day trips with their schools, children with clipboards noting the colors of leaves, or with plastic bin bags weighing the garbage they have collected on the beaches.  Young people go for field trips and enjoy the chance to get out of class, breathe fresh air, interact with their friends while dutifully following the instructions of their teachers to observe the marine life or collect samples of water or note the striations in the rock.  Some are more curious than others, ask questions or seek answers, sense the beauty in front of them, are thoughtful and reflective.  And yet, they are still surrounded by a society, a system, and a school system as well, that reminds them they are ‘us’ observing ‘them’, or ‘it’, nature is ‘there’ and we are ‘here’, we can go home now, and come back to visit another day.

We may be meeting our schools’ curriculum targets, but  in many cases we are still missing the larger aims of environmental awareness, our essential inter-connectedness and inter-being with the planet we live on, and thus many teachers, and their students,  are not acting out of deep ecological understanding or deep ecological commitment.  The result is a flurry of doing, that while excellent on many levels, remains superficial, ‘light green’ instead of ‘deep green’, and may in fact be causing harm because of that.

There are a set of fallacies that come out of this kind of doing:   It becomes easy to think, ‘been there done that’, to develop a type of ‘I gave at the office’ mentality.   It makes us feel better to think that we have done our part; what else can we do?  It is also easier to think that someone, somewhere, with more skill and scientific knowledge, and access to resources, perhaps, will do something more significant.  Especially, it is easier to imagine that we, the smart and cognitively developed, separate beings that we are, will create a smart and scientifically developed solution that will once again act on nature , manipulate carbon sequestration or rainfall or ocean acidity and make everything OK.

This type of doing sets in a certain type of numbness that dulls the fear and ache that really ‘real’izing the predicament we are in would cause.  It will inevitably fall short of making the big changes because at its core it lacks the deep commitment to deep connection.  In schools, it can result in a type of fatigue and a loss of empathy altogether.  At its worst, it can result in the same type of separated technological solutions that have been, in part, responsible for bringing us where we are now and can have more unintended and un-imagined harmful consequences in the future.  When I talk with teachers, and even with many students, I find that they are actually aware that this is what we are doing.  They are aware, but unable to fully process the awareness, because there seems to be no other solution.

What is desperately needed now is a complete change in mindset and a turn in how we view ourselves in relation to nature.   What is needed is a return to the ancient understanding that we are fully connected to, and dependent on, and in fact inseparable from, nature.  We are nature.  This is the only understanding that will allow us the clarity, the deep understanding and commitment to act willfully and persistently, making the radical choices needed to save the planet, since within this comprehension is the deep understanding that by acting to save the planet we are saving ourselves.

Stephan Harding, Coordinator and Senior Lecturer in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, wrote in describing the work of Arne Næss and the essence of deep ecology,that what is needed is a deep ecological experience, which leads to deep questioning and understanding, and then to deep commitment which results in deep action. experience action

It is this type of deep action, nested in the understanding of our inter-relatedness and inter-dependence on nature, and sourced in our deep ecological experiences, that will result in the changes needed now.

According to Harding,

 ‘A key aspect of these experiences is the perception of gestalts, or networks of relationships. We see that there are no isolated objects, but that objects are nodes in a vast web of relationships. When such deep experience occurs, we feel a strong sense of wide identification with what we are sensing. This identification involves a heightened sense of empathy and an expansion of our concern with non-human life. We realise how dependent we are on the well-being of nature for our own physical and psychological well-being. As a consequence there arises a natural inclination to protect non-human life. Obligation and coercion to do so become unnecessary. We understand that other beings, ranging from microbes to multi-cellular life-forms to ecosystems and watersheds, to Gaia as a whole, are engaged in the process of unfolding their innate potentials.’   (https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/learning-resources/what-is-deep-ecology)

This is a doing sourced in being and knowing, anchored in what Næss called the ‘ecological self’ and thus capable of the type of sustained will and commitment and awareness of connectedness that will be necessary to make the types of choices that are ahead of us.   This is awareness ‘real’ized: made real in actions that honor all creatures in nature and nature itself, rather than just mankind. This is the essence of deep ecology.  I believe that bringing this awareness into schools, helping students to connect to nature at a deep level through deep ecological experiences, will result in deeper, committed, action that is rooted in being, in the awareness of an ecological self.

Arne Næss, and Stephen Harding too, have said that this type of deep ecological experience cannot be created, that it must come naturally and spontaneously.  And yet, I believe that we as teachers can facilitate deep ecological experiences, can create environments where deep ecological experiences are possible, and can provoke ourselves, as well as our students, to experience nature in ways that will nurture the development of the ecological self.   If we can do this, then we have a chance to help foster a generation of young people who have the ‘being’ foundation to support their ‘doing’ for deep, sustainable, and ultimately successful cooperation and integration with Earth’s own self-regulation and regenerative design.

To that end, I have been asking myself how we might nurture those deep ecological experiences that reconnect us to nature.  It seems to me that do so we need to create a synthesis of knowing, being, and sensing in natural environments.    It is not enough to just go into nature- this often results in just walking through it, or playing on it, or interacting with each other in it, but not with it.   Careful observation in nature, together with enough knowledge to create the understanding of what we are observing, raises the level of observation to that of understanding, and of wonder.  Stephan Harding has also called this the ‘encounter’.    The process of simply but purposefully being in nature without insisting on doing anything can also improve that observation.  Finally, invoking all the senses is necessary to really observe and interact, and thus fully understand, our connectedness to nature.  In essence these three interactive elements are elements of self- the knowing self, the being self, and the sensing self, which integrate our own mind-body-senses connections to help develop an ecological self re-integrated in nature.

Teachers are most known for disseminating knowledge, but in this context, we are also called upon to connect that head-centered knowledge to body (being) and senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and touching observations).  From this starting point, we can follow Harding’s  original model toward wonder- questioning-understanding and then to deep commitment and deep action.

deep ecology action cycle with attributes

An excellent example of this fostering of knowledge, being, and sensing is embodied in the ‘deep time walks’ that Stephan Harding conducts at Schumacher Ccollege, where participants literally walk 4.6 kilometers while listening to the narrated science and history of Earth, including its ability to self regulate itself over time.  The walk is an experience of being in physical time while walking, gaining knowledge of Earth’s development, and sensing all of the nature around.  The result is a profound nurturing of wonder and understanding- a body-mind-senses experience.

I am reminded too, of Dave Abram’s admonition that in western society today we are desensitized, that we have lost our senses, as we have developed our language and then our cognitive abilities that have separated mind from senses.  The simple act of not speaking and not engaging in language while deeply sensing nature, as in Japanese forest bathing, can also help to re-connect us to nature, especially when we have also received the knowledge of the amazing properties of trees and their inter-connectedness to the forest around them.

Sometimes, a simple introduction of knowledge can stimulate understanding and connectedness: In the book The Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery  tells the story of a group of school girls who visit an octopus exhibition and are put off by the octopus.  ‘Eww,  look how slimy it is’, they exclaim,  but when the researcher gently tells them that the octopus is pregnant, and points out the way she is protecting her eggs, the faces of the girls visibly soften and they begin to coo at it.

In my own work with teachers and others I have seen profound changes as the result of participation in a deep time walk, forest bathing, or other interactive and connective experiences.  Teachers have told me that they feel a newfound appreciation for life in general, that they found themselves weeping while forest bathing, or that they don’t feel as much desperation about saving the world because they have come to understand a vastness of purpose in which they are a small and integral part.    Teachers who are deep ecologists themselves are capable of designing, presenting and advocating for these types of deep experiences in schools.

I advocate a new approach in schools that fully embraces deep ecology as an approach that will stimulate inter-connectedness within our own selves and in inter-being with nature.   This approach, developing a deep ecological action cycle of knowing-being-sensing followed by understanding-commitment- action, will provide the type of foundation to doing that is sustainable and regenerative.  It will foster a fully connected human commitment to working together with the self regulating and regenerative Earth we are intrinsically a part of and inseparable from.  It will allow us to both tackle and reach the goals that we have set for 2030, and the goal of carbon emission, from an earth-centric perspective that will honor all of Earth’s elements, processes and creatures. It will allow us to use technology with understanding and sensitivity to nature.   It will return us, eventually, to our inter-being and connectedness to nature where we truly belong.

It is a huge undertaking for schools, a ‘doing’ of extreme proportion, but ultimately it is the only one possible.