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July 2007

Dear People,

Every once in a while a book comes along that excites me so much no friend escapes hearing about it. I passed it immediately to Fran who took it on our mini-vacation in the Sierras last week. As passages were read aloud beside the Yuba River and talked about on mountain trails, I found myself digesting the book more thoroughly, like a cow taking her food through all four stomachs.

It's Paul Hawken's new book, Blessed Unrest--and it's about the Great Turning, though he doesn't use that term. He calls it "the movement with no name." Though this movement is global in its sweep and unprecedented in its scope, it's as invisible to politicians and mainstream media as the ground under our feet. Without any leader, guru, unifying platform or ideology, it arises locally in small discrete endeavors and astronomical numbers, "like blades of grass after a rain." It manifests through people, groups and networks acting "to save the entire sacred, cellular basis of existence--the entire planet and all its inconceivable diversity." Sound familiar?

As we discover in the Work That Reconnects, it takes a shift in perspective to bring new phenomena into view. For Hawken it was the dawning realization of the sheer quantity and variety of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations arising in our time for the protection of life. Following a hunch, he started compiling lists, indices and databases, and soon estimated their number as well in excess of a million. Sprouting from the ground up without any apparent coordination, and interweaving to collaborate without any central authority, their concerns embrace the full range of environmental causes and social justice issues. "Social justice and attending to the planet proceed in parallel; the abuse of one entails the exploitation of the other… Our fate will depend on how we understand and treat what is left of the planet's lands, oceans, species diversity, and people."

And in learning to do that, our greatest present resource lies in the practical wisdom of those native cultures still managing to survive the assault of corporate globalization. "The quiet hub of the new movement--its heart and soul--is indigenous culture. Just as a wheel cannot turn without a stationary hub, the movement reaches back to the deep and still roots of our collective history for its axle. For indigenous people, the relationship one has to the earth is the constant and true gauge that determines the integrity of one's culture, the meaning of one's existence, and the peacefulness of one's heart." Some five thousand of their distinct cultures are still seeking to protect their homelands, which constitute one fifth of our planet's land surfaces. Their contribution to humanity's survival is not their lifestyle so much as their experiential knowledge diligently gleaned from generations of interaction with the natural world.

We are fully capable of learning from these primal traditions thanks to teachers that have graced our own, more recent history. Hawken gives me fresh appreciation for the brilliance and relevance of Emerson, for example, in helping us re-find our place in nature; and his chapters on contemporary science do the same with engaging clarity. Here, as he interweaves recent discoveries in biology and immunology with global activism in defense of life, I find the book's greatest and most startling gift.

After describing the extraordinary intricacy and effectiveness of our body's capacity to protect itself, he says this: "The immune system is the most complex system in the body… The movement, for its part, is the most complex coalition of human organizations the world has ever seen."

"The hundreds of thousands of organizations that make up the movement are social antibodies attaching themselves to pathologies of power. Many will fail, for at present it is often a highly imperfect, and sometimes clumsy movement. It can flail, overreach, and founder; it has much to learn about how to work together, but it is what the earth is producing to protect itself." (my underlining)

"Five hundred years of ecological mayhem and social tyranny is a relatively short time for humanity to have learned to understand its self-created patterns of systematic pillage. What has changed recently is the use of connectivity. Individuals are associating, hooking up, and identifying with one another… They are forming units, inventing again and again pieces of a larger organism, enjoining associations and volunteers and committees and groups, and assembling these into a mosaic of activity as if they were solving a jigsaw puzzle without ever having seen the picture on the box."

"But immune systems do fail; this movement most certainly could fail as well. What can help preserve it is the gift of self-perception, the gift of seeing who we truly are… What it takes to arrest our descent into chaos is one person after another remembering who and where we really are."

Cheers and blessings to you all in the Great Turning,