I guess you can't spend a year guiding the Work That Reconnects without it bringing some changes in your psyche. For me, as I look back over the twenty or so workshops I gave in 2010, I am awed and stretched by the truth-telling that occurred in every one, This happens reliably, whether we're only a dozen for half a day or a hundred and eighty for a week, as in Germany last June. And it happens as well when the work is given a particular focus or modality, like the Deep Time focus of the workshop in Ghost Ranch in New Mexico or the one using poetry throughout, as in Oakland at the Sophia Center.
Each time I am shaken open by the depths and ferocity of the caring that's expressed for what is happening to our world. Since, from the outset, we ground the work in gratitude, the truth-speaking comes from the heart, undistorted by resentment and complaint. The raw honesty kindles so strong a sense of solidarity that I fall in love again with life, and with each one of us trying to keep heart and eyes open in this dark time.
It seems of late to be getting a lot darker. The horrors inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico, still unacknowledged. The refusal to act on climate change, even as islands sink and species die. The betrayal of all but the very rich in Obama's collusion with right-wing and corporate interests. And our war-making; the brutality, illegality, and astronomic costs of it--to say nothing of what's equally baffling and ominous: the public silence.
What helps me face all this without going crazy, and what I emphasize now in my workshops, is to look at our world today in terms of the stories being enacted.
I'm working on a book with my friend Chris Johnstone, a British physician living in Bristol, England, who is also a musician, author, and editor of the newsletter The Great Turning Times. The book is called The Gift of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy. One of the many things I've gained from it is an appreciation of the power of the story we tell ourselves about what's happening to our world.
Our book identifies three stories, each of which acts as a lens through which to see and understand what's going on. The first suggests things are fine in the industrial growth society, and that we can carry on with business as usual. The second is about collapse of the globe's ecological and social systems. The third story involves the emergence of new and creative human responses in service to life on Earth.
In a sense, they are all true. The Business As Usual story is the one that enlists the most people, especially those in political and corporate power. It tells us that all we have to do is get back on the path of economic growth and consolidate access to the world's resources. The second story, which we call the Great Unraveling, is held by scientists, activists, and social thinkers who see the irremediable damage the industrial growth society is inflicting on our world. They don't talk about it in public much, because no one likes to be seen as a prophet of doom.
The third story, of course, is the Great Turning. It is held and embodied by those who can't believe in the first story, and who are committed to not letting the second story have the last word. It's about the epochal transition from the industrial growth regime to a life sustaining civilization, propelled by capacities that emerge in a time of crisis, like seeds breaking open in a fire.
There is no point in arguing which of these stories is "right." The question is which one do you want to get behind. I've become fascinated by how these three stories encompass each other progressively, each including more of the larger context. The Great Unraveling does not cancel or exclude the Business As Usual story, but simply widens the lens to let us see the devastation it's causing. Similarly, the Great Turning does not deny the Great Unraveling, but rather confirms it, while also bringing into view the creative and unprecedented responses engendered by this crisis.
That is why, as I present the Great Turning in talks and workshops, I take pains to convey the power of Business As Usual and the extent of the Great Unraveling. You may well be doing this, too.
In the process, I focus on our war-making more than I used to. Though barely if ever mentioned in the halls of Congress or election campaigns, it's at the root, I believe, of all that's gone wrong. So now in the workshops I find ways. at every stage of the spiral of the Work That Reconnects, to remind ourselves of what we're doing with the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen; to become aware of its effect on our planet's the air, waters, and climate, as well as its peoples and ancient cultures; to look at the weapons we're using, including those like white phosphorus and the flechettes of clusterbombs, specially designed to inflict suffering and dismemberment on living bodies.
For a brilliant and stirring speak-out on the war, get a load of Mike Prysner of Veterans for Peace
Tell me if you know a graphic way to grasp what a trillion is. I can barely begin to comprehend a billion--though I should be able to since our California budget gap is in billions, and costing us teachers and schools and social services. A thousand billions, though, that seems impossible to take into my head. But I really want to take it in, because that's the amount of money we are known to have spent on war this year of 2010.
With all the talk on Capitol Hill about the need to balance the federal budget, even to dismantling Social Security and Medicare, there continues to be virtually no mention of what we pay for war. According to Noam Chomsky, that's due to a political consensus between the two parties since World War Two that the U.S. economy would continue to be primed by military spending rather than social spending. He points out that, from the point of view of those who rule this country, social spending has the disadvantage of distributing wealth downward rather than upward.
The second year since Fran's death is nearing its end, and I expect you're wanting to hear how I'm doing without my beloved, without his warm, wise, marvelous presence. I think of him all the time. I miss him beyond what words can say. But the missing is less awful now; it is more filled with
gratitude for his being and my good fortune for 56 years. You'll be glad, as he would be, for how our children and their families surround and support me. Peggy, Gregoire and Julien (13) still live downstairs here on Cherry Street, and the others are all within walking distance. Jack, Charlotte, Eliza (13) and Lydia (10) are twelve minutes by foot toward the Bay, and Christopher, who came back from Holland for Fran's memorial, has settled in a group home almost equidistant toward campus, and he's around a lot going to and from home repair jobs. Beholding our grandchildren growing tall and beautiful, I often imagine Fran seeing them through my eyes. If he's around and aware, as I sometimes sense, he must be delighted at how much everyone in the family is enjoying each other--and caring for me.
I ache to tell Fran about the manifestations of the Great Turning I see happening. Here are three recent ones I rejoice in. Fran would enjoy how they fit right into the three dimensions of the Great Turning: Holding Actions, Gaian Ways of Doing Things, and Shift in Consciousness.
In Germany last month thousands of people, including nuclear activist friends of Fran's and mine, put their bodies on the line to stop transport of radioactive waste. They were determined to block the tracks on which the casks were being taken to final disposal in the leaking salt caverns of Gorleben. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds chose to suffer rain, cold, police beatings and arrests in order to call attention to the long-term dangers of their government's nuclear policies. The people persisted in such strength they succeeded not only in blocking the train, but also in forcing the government to reconsider its plans.
On October 10 of this year--10/10/10--the 350.org, started by Bill McKibben to lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid the wholesale disaster (i.e. 350 parts per million), called for work parties to show people's capacity to take the climate crisis seriously. The response exceeded all expectations. In over seven thousand actions in almost two hundred countries, people joined together to dig community gardens, install solar panels, plant trees and demonstrate to push their governments to address the urgency of global warming. Whether or not world leaders get the message, those who got involved, especially the young people, will not be the same; for they have experienced the solidarity and satisfaction of making a change in their home community.
Ritual, with music, art, movement, and the spoken word can engage people on the soul level, from depths of grief to heights of hope, and bring them together for their onward journey. I discovered this afresh at St Mark's Cathedral in Seattle on November 6th at the Celebration of the Tree of Life in the Time of the Great Turning. A living aspen was our altar, and over us in a majestic banner and in silhouettes cast by colored lights on the cathedral pillars, were images of tree, archetypal tree, naked tree, tree as symbol of our life, our world, and our indissoluble interconnectedness. With drummers, dancers, singers and choir, the liturgy followed the spiral of the Work That Reconnects--from gratitude that brings us alive, to the grief that breaks our hearts, and the new and larger vision we break open to, culminating in the exuberant commitment of going forth. I am grateful to Randy Morris and Molly Brown for generating this event, and for giving spoken parts in it to me and to storyteller Michael Meade. May it inspire many more such liturgies.
A new adventure is in store for me now: on Winter Solstice I will begin a retreat that will run until Spring Equinox. I plan to put all work aside for three months, no email, no phone, for the enormous privilege of quieting down and letting my mind see where it wants to go. My intention is to stay here at home available to my family (only), to walk in the Berkeley hills, to contemplate the sunset (and even sunrise), and to think about Deep Time. I want to open to the presence of past and future generations. My wonderful assistant Anne will be guardian at the gate, accessible by my email. Let me tell you that I'll be opening my post, and reading all letters arriving snail-mail.
Since I will be sinking into poetry a lot, you can join me there. Here is a program that NPR did on
my life with Rilke.
Let me also mention a little book that came out this year that I wrote with my German colleague Norbert Gahbler. Pass It On: Five Stories That Can Change the World. The tales therein, often used in workshops, "change the world" by reflecting the shift in consciousness that comes with the Great Turning.
Here we are in the holiday season, and I want to mention a delicious book that I have enjoyed this year and that would make a lovely gift. It is Held in Love, edited by my co-author Molly Young Brown and my long-time colleague Carolyn Treadway. Order it through 100Fires (www.100fires.com).
With love ever,