Well, it’s September 11 again. That means, this year, the 40th anniversary of the US-backed coup in Chile that ended the life of democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and put General Pinochet in power for the next 17 years. Forty years, but not too late for the family of tortured singer Victor Jara to file suit against the former military officer they believe to have killed him.
And we approach another infamous anniversary on November 22 - the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I want you to know about Project Unspeakable: projectunspeakable.com. “Inspired by James Douglass’ remarkable book: JFK and the Unspeakable, Project Unspeakable envisions simultaneous dramatic readings or full performances of a theatrical work about the role of Thomas Merton’s “Unspeakable” in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.” Anyone who has read Douglass’ book cannot help but question the official version of not only JFK’s assassination, but of most official presentations of national policy in the last 50 years.
Speaking of which, it’s the 12th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks that brought us the War on Terror, including the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, the war on Afghanistan, the war on Iraq, Guantanamo, the legitimization of torture, abridgement of civil liberties, indefinite detention without charges or trial, military expansion, domestic surveillance, spying on Muslims and environmental activists...
Twelve years. That equals the duration of the entire Nazi period from Hitler’s election in 1933 to Germany’s defeat in 1945. When it ended it ended (except for the novels, dramas, movies about Nazis still being generated over here). With no way to pretend it hadn’t happened, Germany was forced to contend with it publicly, and German citizens, by and large, to face the extent to which they were duped or chose to comply. Facing what they had succumbed to, they have become suspicious of authority—indeed they are the most anti-authoritarian people I know. See how they responded to Fukushima: while most Americans still want to trust government and industry experts (“it’s not so bad, we’re not in danger, no need to monitor the fall-out…etc. etc.”), a hundred thousand Germans immediately took to the streets in Berlin and forced their Chancellor to stop, on the spot, all reliance on nuclear energy.
As I said to my colleagues in Germany in June, “It is easier for me to trust a people who know they have produced a Hitler, than to trust a people who believe they never could.” I fear the dangerous innocence of my country-people , and wish for them what many Germans have learned: how to face the dark. I’m concerned that, until we dare to at least question the official story on 9/11, we’ll become more and more obedient and passive, like the child of an alcoholic, fearful of parental rage, acquiescent to infantilizing procedures at airports and the like.
So let me tell you about my times in Germany this June and the adventures that followed in Scotland and England, all of them focused on the Work That Reconnects (WTR).
A team of colleagues I’ve worked with over the years, some for a quarter century, had organized a series of events ranging in duration from three to six days, and in size from fifty to a hundred participants. The first took place in Bavaria for veterans of the WTR. The second, for all comers, was in north central Germany – by high meadows under the towering rocks of the Helfensteine. The third and last was in East Germany at the ecovillage of Sieben Linden.
Already a magnet in the global ecovillage movement, Sieben Linden is the home of our team member Gabi Bott, a teacher and trainer of Deep Ecology work, another name for the Work That Reconnects. It was a delight as always to be supported by this marvelous team including Gunter Hamburger, who along with Gabi and Gabriele Kaupp leads the year-long “Holon Training” in the work, and Norbert Gahbler, my favorite interpreter of all time and my co-author of Pass It On: Five Stories to Change the World.
I love the aesthetics my German colleagues bring to our events, transforming spaces with banners, greenery, fabrics in rich colors, and interweaving our work with singing, movement, drama.
On our last morning at Klosterwald we rose early to walk out over the fields to the queen of the old monastery grounds: a mighty 500-year old linden tree. Then the fifty of us, barely able to encircle her with arms outstretched, danced our final Elm Dance together.
After that full-packed month it might seem like too much, at my ripe age, to fly on to Scotland and England for three more weeks of the WTR. But to be welcomed again to Findhorn Foundation felt like coming home—home to memories spanning 27 years, to gardens with more beauty than the memories could hold, and to treasured friends all set to go for the events at hand: A six-day intensive for a hundred people from many countries, and a two-day for fifty from local communities.
Among the treasured friends was Chris Johnstone, co-author with me of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Chris and I first met in Findhorn 24 years ago and he’s been immersed in the work ever since—first in his home town of Bristol and recently from his and his Scottish wife Kirstie’s new base in the village of Dyke eight miles from Findhorn. After our four years of intense, long-distance collaboration on the book, it felt good to be working side by side facilitating not only the Findhorn events, but those that followed in London and Oxfordshire. My assistant Anne brought her own gifts to the mix, a blessing that was especially appreciated because I lost my voice to a chest cold for a good half of the first week. During my days in bed Anne and Chris ran the show so deftly and creatively that (a) I rested with utter ease , and (b) participants benefited from experiencing different forms and styles of leadership.
A day on the train brought us to London, where I stayed at the Gaia Foundation founded and presided over by my dear, brilliant friends Liz Hoskin and Ed Posey. They drew a large crowd to hear Chris and me, and served as a base when I sallied forth the next day to give a workshop at the Guardian newspaper.
Here I am on the last day of all. The final chapter of my journey took place at Hardwick House, an estate on the Thames an hour west of London, where a lively crew of activists, mostly in their twenties and thirties, pitched their tents for five days of the Work That Reconnects (WTR). This event was the genius of Irene Nolte and Kim Bizzarri, and made possible by the generosity of Sir Julian Rose and his adult children, Miriam and Lawrence. The family is committed to the estate being used for progressive political projects of a grassroots nature, and preferably with a strong ecological focus. Participants came from across England and from as far as Rumania, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, they are a pretty seasoned lot, engaged in all three dimensions of the Great Turning.
For example: Involved in the first dimension (Holding Actions), here are quite a few veterans of Climate Camps to block extraction and use of fossil fuels, as well as of Occupy London and human rights campaigns. As to the second dimension (Alternative Structures), a good number are organizers of Transition Towns as well as sustainable food production through permaculture, seed banks, ecovillages, gardens on supermarket rooftops, and squatted farms. Representing the third dimension (Shift in Consciousness) are teachers of body-mind wellness practices and deep ecology, as well as those use art, theatre, and ritual to awaken people to the Great Turning.
Among us at Hardwick are a number of facilitators and trainers in the WTR, including key organizers for their respective countries: Claire Carre (founder of Roseaux Dansants) for France, Helena ter Ellen and Gauthier Chapelle of Belgium (founders of Terr’Eveille), and Gabi Bott (a major networker for Germany and a leader in its Holon-Trainings).
The whole scene was rather magical: mornings together in the grandeur of a huge and ancient manor, and after lazy hours to enjoy the river, afternoons on the soft, shady grass of an old apple orchard. The rare and unbroken sunny weather was part of the magic, too—as was my discovery that this very place was Toad Hall, its river bank the scene of Ratty’s and Mole’s adventures, and that Kenneth Graham, author of our beloved Wind in the Willows, had lived nearby.
As I flew out from Heathrow I stopped at the ecovillage that a couple of my Hardwick friends had originally organized as a protest camp to stop a proposed new runway. It’s verdant now, flourishing with gardens and greenhouses, and the small town it sought to protect is still standing and vital.
So too may our countless nonviolent actions to avert bombing Syria be heard in the halls of power, and may our prayers move us one step closer to a world that is verdant with peace. Fr. John Dear reminds us, “If we are to survive, all our institutions, structures, and nations will have to become nonviolent, and each one of us is needed to help bring about this global transformation.” Let's make it happen.
Photos courtesy of Gunter Hamburger, Werner Ratlinger, Kim Bizzarri, Jean-Charles David and Findhorn Foundation