A Call to Community

Wisdom tells us that the present is the only reality.  The past is gone, the future not yet here.  Thus, a snapshot of the present is the clearest truth.  The rest is memory or guesswork.   Currently, my state of Virginia has just gone into stage 3 of opening its economy, which had been closed by the Coronavirus.   Other states are in various stages of re-opening.  Yes, the virus is still being transmitted, but the consensus seems to be that if the states do not open their economies, we can choose between death from Coronavirus or death from deceased economies.  Most states have added precautionary regulations to their re-opening plans.  Some states are more consistent about enforcement than others.  Many people are rejoicing, seeing a return to “normal”, or the way things used to be before the virus.  Others are reserving their joy, maintaining a ‘wait and see” attitude. There is no consensus.

In true Alice in Wonderland fashion, events keep happening and creating chaos.  Given, needed changes can emerge out of chaos.  Ending racism, economic justice, and climate change are three of them currently in the news; others, such as restorative agriculture and abolishing war seem to garner less attention now.  No one really knows what will happen.  The only development with some certainty is that the “normal” of before the coronavirus is gone and will not return.   The new normal is yet unformed but will be different than before.

There are predictions by pundits of oncoming catastrophes of one kind or another that will inform the new normal.  One such prediction is economic collapse; the dollar will lose its value, there will be massive inflation and disruption to supply lines, creating shortages of foods, medicines, supplements (and maybe more toilet paper).  Another is a physical calamity, such as an EMP, or the sabotage of the power grid, or perhaps earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.   Yet another is the advent of massive Big Brother type tyranny, and the digitization of everything, even our bodies, so that we and everything else can be tracked.  A fourth is the effects of climate change, such as droughts, storms, floods, and dwindling water tables.  Each prediction has its reasons, and they can be investigated online. Some may happen, in full or part, and some may not.  Or, the other extreme, none of these things will happen and we will somehow attain a utopian society without much effort at change-making.  Whatever happens, it will not be the same as pre-Coronavirus.

Many of those who see catastrophes happening are busy preparing silently for the difficulties they foresee.   Most of this prepping is done individually by families who prepare for themselves, in as much detail as they can.  A few groups prepare together.  An underlying theme is that there will be chaos, and everyone will have to fend for himself/his family amidst looting and violence.  Cooperation is not the largest goal.  The thrust is to have as much of everything necessary or desired for oneself and one’s family and protect that from the envisioned chaos.

There is wisdom in being prepared, and perhaps the anticipated chaos will occur, although that cannot be known for certain.   What is missing, so far as I can see, is the element of community, cooperation and sharing.  This used to be a part of the lives of our ancestors, whether those in tribes or neighborhoods or frontier homesteads.  One cooperated and shared with one’s neighbors and hosting a stranger with generosity was a virtue.  We seem to have lost this in modern times.  It is not that there was no struggle; tribes and homesteaders fought, and neighborhoods tended to be of people who had known each other for a while.  However, the concepts of the virtues of cooperation and sharing were there.

We need to recapture these virtues if we are to create a new normal that is nurturing for people.  We need to expand these virtues, extending them to others who are different.  We need to combine our skills, wisdom, and energy to create a new normal in which all of us can live with dignity, exercise our creativity, be assured that our world will not poison us and that there will be enough food, shelter, water, clothes, medicine, education and the like for all who are open to receiving it.  That cannot be legislated from above.  It must come from people changing their own hearts and attitudes and working together cooperatively to create these conditions.  We need to recapture the attitude of community.

Communities, of whatever flavor, such as tribe, neighborhood, extended family, intentional community, are self-governing groups of people, from, say, 10 or 15 to as many as say, 50 (there is no set number, other than that which is workable for the group in its entirety) who commit to helping and supporting each other, working together, and who have the intent of staying together over time.  They occupy land of various acreages (some are rural, some urban) and are often self-sustaining.  They tend to be cognizant of the needs of the earth and the non-human life which inhabits it, and work in cooperation with those needs.   Generally, they govern themselves by consensus.  This contrasts with what now exists (and is in chaos) such as nations, states, counties, and other large units using forms of governance which are top heavy and authoritarian.  Voting still exists, but direct participation of the governed is rare.  People usually tend to look out for themselves and their families, embracing an ethos of competition and a race to the top or a sinking to the bottom.  Resources are indisputably unevenly distributed; those at the bottom often do not have enough.  The needs of the earth and other creatures go unseen or are neglected, following the apparent belief that the entire Earth and its resources are there simply to serve the needs and convenience of humanity.  (Some human beings were once held in slavery on plantations under a similar assumption.)

What now exists does not seem to be working very well.

Examples of how a modern community can function exist.  These extant communities show that people are truly able to come together and create successful community not only now, but also more prevalently into the future.  Like-minded people tend to gather into communities with others who hold similar values.  They are also willing to allow other groups their own values and beliefs.   Other than not attacking and harming one another, they recognize structures which are different from their own.  They also recognize the value and the right to continue living of the Earth and the plants and other animals who inhabit the Earth along with us.   Their ability to use communal wisdom enhances their ability to live in general harmony with the Earth and with each other. This is a summary; details can be found online at www.fic.org , for one, and also from many books written on the topic, including a directory of communities worldwide, available through www.fic.org .

We need now to examine how such a lifestyle might be possible for us.  Yes, there are difficulties to overcome; they are difficulties inherent in ourselves as people of a dominant and prosperous culture.  For example, we need to be less dependent on being right, on being one up on another, of being dependent on having many things, of tending to argue rather than try to reach agreement.  We can choose to overcome these difficulties and learn to truly cooperate, or we can carry our current stances into our demise.  The Earth will not choose to die so we can continue to be “right” until the end.  Even if the Earth did so choose, the death of the world which sustains us is also our own death.   Community is our hope; it is people working together, as cooperative units, to learn to heal the Earth and to give value and sustenance to every living being on the Earth.   People, is it harder to learn these things, or to continue to struggle with the chaos around us as we refuse to change?  Neither will be easy, but I do believe that the former will be exponentially more satisfying.

Let us now, before it is too late, to ponder the changes that need to be made, and the ineffectiveness of top-heavy government to make those changes.  We cannot avoid individual responsibility.  The struggle and chaos of the virus have given us our second chance.  Let us examine the format of cooperative community as a supportive medium in which to make these changes.  Let us research websites, read books and talk to those who have already made community, and then talk with each other about how we might do the same.    It is time.   We need community if we ourselves are to survive.  The whole supports the many, and the many support the whole.

Peace, Diane

We Really Do Matter

” I have marched, petitioned, written letters to the editor, made phone calls and donated, but despite all I can do, nothing seems to have changed.   I feel I cannot make a difference.”  The words refer to the current crisis of climate change, uttered during a conversation about that topic.  The words are poignant, but the speaker is not the only one who feels that way.  At some time or another, each of us experiences frustration at not being able to inspire the changes we want to see, and many also experience a strong desire to give up and stop working.  Paradoxically, while we experience that desire, we also know that actually doing that will not bring lasting happiness.

I, too, experience such discouragement.  At times, it seems that no matter what words I use, they will simply echo back from the void of inertia, slip into the antithesis of what I am trying to challenge, and perish unread and unconsidered.  At such times, it is hard to continue.  Yet, giving up would simply create more hopelessness, and negate the essence of who I am, re-incorporating it into a standard status-quo.  No wealth or luxury (or the “righteousness” of its opposite) can soothe the injection of pain resulting from giving up.

I would that it were easier for us to continue.  I would that we were not surrounded by the integrated tangle we have made for ourselves by assuming that we can create better than the wisdom of nature, or the tenets of Wisdom.  However, wishing does not make it so.  We are indeed all linked, whether in chaos or creation, or both at the same time.  This connection, while it may seem at times to present an insurmountable obstacle, is in fact an innate strength upon which we all may draw as we continue living and doing our parts to nurture each other and our planet.  Understanding this can lift us up; acting on the understanding can help us perceive often imperceptibly slow forward movement.

We need community; we need others with whom to work, strive and share.  We need those whose efforts commingle with ours to heal ourselves and our planet.  We need to act on the knowledge that we are all linked, and that each of us does make a difference to the nature and quality of the whole.  Our connection is creative – even if we are joined in creating destruction – and allowing ourselves to be separated each from the other, perceiving the separation rather than the link, inhibits our creative manifestation.   Many ways exist to connect.  Some are those of technology (not the same as physical proximity, but yes, a kind of connection), discussion groups, action/service groups, economic cooperatives, extended family, neighborhoods and co-housing, monastic groups, intentional communities, to name a few.  These groups, each in its own way, support their members (and sometimes others, too) and devote their pooled energy into influencing the creation of the as-yet-unformed that is to come.

Another obstacle many of us experience is the perceived lack of time.  Often our experience is that when all the work done to support ourselves is finished, there remains the maintenance work at home to sustain us, and some time spent to connect with family and friends.  That done, perhaps we can eke out a little time to read, exercise or learn and grow in one way or another.   When all that is accomplished, there remains little time to sleep, even if we have been operating with the stress of full speed ahead.  Community is helpful in this way as well.  Work shared (remunerative or for maintenance) means less time each individual needs to spend on tasks.  Shared effort means support for each other.  Shared knowledge means learning and growing in the course of being.  Time saved means less time spent rushing and more time available for sleep and healing, and more time in which to pursue those efforts about which one is passionate.

“It is all so complex,” one might protest.  “We are becoming more fully aware of the consequences of climate change, yet it seems that averting the full effects of climate change cannot be addressed without also engaging the issues with which it is linked.”  It is as if the totality of mistakes made in human society are the drivers of the changes on the planet as a whole.  Yes, fossil fuels are certainly a large part.  But what about people trapped residing in marginalized areas or substandard housing, an agricultural system seemingly bent on destroying the life of the soil as it goes about chemically killing everything it cannot sell, factory farms selling meat from abused animals while polluting ecosystems, a political and economic system structured to exclude or minimize minorities, escalating wars, and technology fever, which separates us from the earth and gives us the illusion that it will protect us from change?  These are a few of today’s issues; they are related to climate change.  Cause for hopelessness?   Not when we realize that each little bit helps; when enough drops have fallen into the bucket, the bucket will overflow.

Let us hold on to hope, learn to feel the interconnectedness of all things, gather into community, and be aware that we do, indeed, matter.  Anything, small or large, that we do counts.  Let us “hold the vision and keep the faith” and continue to contribute from the time we manage to devote and the talents we have been given.  In this way, we continue to grow, helping the earth and others in the process.

Peace, Diane

Little Drops of Water; Little Bits of Sound

As we approach the end of 2019 and the cumulation of the holiday season, I find myself at times falling into a pensive state amidst the bustle of to-dos.  I have been recalling a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, in which the singing of the lion Aslan results in the formation of the country of Narnia.  Another, different memory flows from that passage.  The sixties and early seventies were times of rapid and needed changes, among them civil rights, anti-war and the environment.  What kept those changes moving was the nonstop messaging of the music of that era.  Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary were among the creative musical souls who with their music, often generated from our heritage of folk songs, kept the constant musical drumbeat that propelled the sixties forward.  Sound has power, be it the sound of music or the sound of prosaic voice.

Our own age has as many – perhaps more – issues as the sixties.  Some are similar, such as continued civil rights.  We have peace movements and the exemplary seeds of communities, some of which survived the sixties and matured.  We have political turmoil and economic inequality, healthcare and education among our issues.  What is new about our era is the rapidity with which public attention fluctuates from one issue to another in kaleidoscopic fashion, resulting in continued stress and few solutions.  The political system seems to be teetering, hampered by infighting, talking heads, and inactivity.  We go, for example, from focus on Greta Thunberg and climate change to political debate between electoral candidates to the impeachment of the president, as if an invisible hand were turning a giant kaleidoscope.

Also new in our area is an overarching issue, to which all others are related.  We are faced with the imminent and ominous advent of climate change.  Without our planet, the rest does not matter.  Without viable solutions to the subsidiary issues, healing the planet and adapting to what is currently inevitable is a herculean task.  Sadly, we are focused on the tributary tasks feeding the current of climate change and comparatively neglectful of the overarching issue.

The obstacle is that the issue of climate change and the needed changes (no, technology will not solve everything for us while we continue the present path) is a highly uncomfortable issue for most people; the changes needed are massive.  We cannot persist in an extraction-based economy, an assumption that it is permissible to kill for our advancement or convenience, in economic and social inequity, in a lifestyle of throwaway consumption and a detachment from the earth and the plants and animals that live upon it.  This is the crossroads. 

Change is usually not comfortable.  It is easier to focus on the other issues contingent to this central one, and to hide our heads in the sand, so to speak, as we mostly ignore the imminent and ominous approach of the results of our actions upon the earth.   Because we cease to speak of it, it is easier to not think of it and not make any of those uncomfortable changes.   We like to assume that someone else will fix the problem, or that it will fix itself.  Then we can feel that we are not responsible.  The truth is that no one else will fix the problem for us.   We are responsible for the results we want.  

Many years ago, the Earth/Nature went through another period of global warming – possibly fueled by volcanic eruption. Over the eons, the Earth in her wisdom healed herself by capturing those elements that contributed to the warming and sequestering them underground in the form of oil, coal and natural gas.  Frozen methane was also sequestered in the permafrost of the polar regions as the earth cooled.  There was extinction during those times, too.  Eventually, people evolved – supposedly the most intelligent of all creatures.  We, the intelligent creatures, learned how to put back into the atmosphere all that Nature had hidden underground, and we proceeded to do that as fast as we could.  We thus began to bring back the times of warming and extinction.  Are we intelligent enough now to correct our actions and stop the release of the pollution which spoils the Earth and warms it, and causes extinction of species, including ourselves?  Are we intelligent enough to change, and restore at least some of what we have taken?  It is past time to start that process.

We need again the power of sound to reorient ourselves to the need of the present moment.  We need it to energize our awareness that no matter what else we may be working on, that project is subsidiary (important as a contribution) to the elephant in the room, climate change.  To mitigate or tack across the effects of the climate change we have wittingly or unwittingly created will take the efforts and contributions of each of us.  No one of us can do the job alone.  Technology will not excuse or save us from our responsibility.

Admittedly, we cannot all march in the streets, pay to fund activists, research and educate people, form communities, garden on our rooftops, install solar panels or paint our roofs white.  Some of us (and our neighborhoods) even have difficulty in recycling, despite expanding landfills and the omnipresent plastic waste on land, in the air, and at sea.   There is, however, one thing that everyone can do. Everyone can keep the reality of climate change from being forgotten, deleted from the conversation by the short attention span of public interest.

We need sound.  Musicians, if you are up to the challenge, focus your creativity here.   It is not necessary, though, to be a musician to contribute.  Whoever you are, whatever else you do, you can help to create a tsunami of lasting attention to what needs addressing.  Each of us can each day mention climate change to just one different person and ask that person to do the same.  We can connect in person, by email or social media, by letter to the editor, on the bus, at work, via chance encounter – the ways to choose are many.  There is no need to argue – just mention, each day, consistently.  The rest will follow, in ourselves and in our world.

I commit to doing this.  I invite all to join me.  Together we may be strong enough to heal our planetary home.

Peace, Diane

The Elephant in the Room

“People are suffering.  People are dying.  Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.  How dare you…You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

The words are passionate, emotional, the words of an adolescent in pain.   They are also an incisive, concise and accurate statement of the ominous crisis in which we find ourselves, like it or not.    Sixteen-year-old climate champion Greta Thunberg spoke them to the United Nations and the world at the Climate Action Summit in September.

A quick search of the Internet will confirm, from various sources, the accuracy of her claims.  Many of us, especially those in power, prefer to not look at these facts.  We may peek at them occasionally; some offer excuses or soothing hopes that technology will take care of everything while our lives continue unchanged.  Then public attention shifts, and discussion continues on issues of economy, politics or gossip about celebrities.  We have yet to create a tipping point which can place the focus on money, convenience and comfort second in importance to the preservation of our planet.  Dangerously, we are not yet willing to look directly at and believe in what is uncomfortable, inconvenient and scary.  Meanwhile, the threat to our ways of life, if not our lives themselves, continues to grow as we hide our heads in the sand.

Climate change has begun.  Doomsayers predict the extinction of mankind and the end of life on Earth.  Sadly, that could happen if we continue to hide from what is happening and do essentially nothing but talk.  It doesn’t, however, have to be that way.  People have choices, and it is time for us to wake up.

Greta’s indictment of adults at the UN focuses on the power structures that bind us to the status quo.  She includes both those in the politics and leadership of the world, and those who make enormous amounts of money from consuming our common home.  Both are motivated by the common addiction to money.    I do not refer to money as a tool for exchange fairly used to reward labor and creativity.  It is the use of money to evaluate a person, and the addiction to amassing fortunes at the expense of others’ unpaid or inadequately paid labor or creativity that leads to blindness to the subsequent devastation.  We as ordinary people must, all of us, unceasingly shine the light of awareness upon that devastation if we are to counter the effects of destructive corporate action and the refusal of governing powers to effectively challenge those actions.  It is said that a lie told often enough becomes truth in the minds of those who hear it.  Truth spoken unerringly and unceasingly has greater power.   If we value our planetary home, we must not be silent.

The very rich and powerful must change the basic premises of their existence or be removed from power.  Certainly, they may not be allowed to continue those actions which increase the warming of our atmosphere, the changes in our climate and the extinction of many of our species.  We do not need more oil and gas, more factory farmed grains to burn and feed large herds of cattle (which emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas), more mines, more bombs and weapons of war, more anything which destroys or fatally alters the systems with which nature balances, protects and nurtures our world.  The excuse that these things maintain the economy and GNP is irrelevant.  That which is inimical to life must cease if we are to survive.  However, it is not only the wealthy and influential that bear the burden of change.

The example of drops of water together creating the powerful ocean or waterfall is not new.  It is, however, an excellent example of how great the power of individuals, united and consistent, can be.   We need such power to mitigate what has begun and adapt to what we cannot stop.  What, then, can each of us do?  After all, each of us is only one person.  Here are a few ideas, in addition to being persistently vocal in whatever ways we can. 

Most of us are familiar with the idea of recycling.  Public emphasis on recycling has been diluted in an attempt to make it convenient to recycle.  We now have single stream recycling in most urban areas, so that people no longer must sort their trash; they have only to separate compostable and non-recyclable garbage from recyclables.  Convenient, yes?  Someone else is doing the sorting.  Sadly, that means that many follow the path of least resistance and throw into the recycling bin things which are not recyclable.  In addition, in some communities, the recycling truck will collect the trash, but will simply dump it in a landfill along with other garbage; people are often unaware of that occurrence.  Here are some things people can do:  people can be aware of what happens to collected recyclables.   People can reduce the use of things that are purportedly recyclable, such as excess packaging, plastics, single use bags, straws and other items.  People can become aware and advocate for markets for recycled items, so that those items can be turned into new items without the use of precious natural resources.  People, especially in rural areas, can compost garbage, turning it into useful enrichment for the soil – as opposed to toxic sewage sludge.

We can learn how to grow urban gardens, from converting empty lots to garden use to doing container gardening to doing rooftop gardening.  This is a step towards eliminating the factory farms which pollute our Earth, destroy the soil for our farms, and create toxic runoff which desecrates our waters.  Small, organic farms can feed us all, and growing some of our own food and eating locally grown food can go a long way towards reducing the carbon we put in the air and also towards pulling some of the carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it in the plants and soil.    We do not need to truck in food from factory farms; this brings us foods which are less fresh and increases the carbon emissions through trucking.

We can learn to create our own electricity from the sun, or, in some cases, from wind.  We can learn passive solar building (using nature for heat) and install solar panels on our roofs.  Energy we create in excess can be sold back to the grid; eventually, there might not be complete reliance on a grid.  It would be wonderful to have energy after a storm, when the grid is down; solar energy can give us this.  Generators emit pollution into the air from burning fossil fuels.  We can also buy sustainable energy when it is available and lobby our utility companies to stop using fossil fuel.

We can push for the creation of reliable public transportation, powered by electricity.  Hopefully, the electricity will come from sustainable sources.  We can be vocal about the need for battery recharging stations for vehicles, as available as pumping stations for fossil fuel, and eventually replacing those pumping stations.  We can by increasing use make it fashionable to use bicycles as often as possible.    We can learn to slow down and walk to nearby places.

We can pay attention to our parks and advocate for their creation and preservation.  We can volunteer to help maintain them.   We can plant trees; trees pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen into it.  They are called the lungs of the world for that.  We can raise our voices against deforestation, decry the removal of any healthy tree, and refuse to buy products which have been made available through deforestation (cattle production and palm oil production are two of these).  In our cities, we can learn to build vertically; we can decrease sprawl into the suburbs and build parks with trees in areas which are freed.   We can stop building proliferating shopping areas; many of these are built when there is not a population to support them.  Many of those businesses fail, but the structures are left, using space which could be forested.

We can paint white every roof which is not taken by solar panels or gardens.  When glaciers and snowpacks melt, their function of reflecting heat away from the earth also disappears, increasing the rate of global warming.  White roofs en masse would shoulder some of that function.  We can also learn to cooperate in community, working with our neighbors.  There are many kinds of community – extended family, neighborhoods, co-housing, ecovillages, intentional communities; there are so many kinds that it is highly unlikely that a given individual would not be able to find one that suits.  However, we need to learn to cooperate with others in order to do this.  We need to act cooperatively in order to create the changes we need to preserve the planet.

These are only a few ways in which we can act.   Each of us has his or her own talents and gifts to offer, and there are many ways to contribute.  The bottom line is that each of us must act.   Relying on the next person to do it will not work.  The confluence of our voices and our actions will create the changes that we need.  In times of crisis, voices are raised to awaken us.  Sometimes those voices are children.  In the case of climate change, Greta Thunberg is one.  It is the function of youth to speak up when they see need or discrepancy.   It is the function of adults to listen and guide.   Greta has found the courage to speak.  Let us each respond by thinking about and acting with the contributions we can make to avert the worst of the impending events which threaten our lives.

Peace, Diane