Eating With Compassion…

Welcome to another installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog, Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon, and t r i s k a i d e k a p o d as my companions we set out this week to discuss Eating With Compassion.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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Eating with compassion.  I’m really happy that we decided to discuss this topic this week.  The phrase describes very well what’s been a very long path for me that started while I was in college.  That’s when I first tried on the label of “vegetarian.”  Of course, I really had no idea what I was talking about at the time, and I certainly wouldn’t call what I was doing then compassionate.  For instance, when I found out I could order a “Veggie Whopper” at Burger King, I felt like I had the whole thing in the bag.  Of course, what passed for that Image“Veggie Whopper” was just a whopper without the meat…  That’s right… Bread, cheese, veggies, and whatever that sauce is…  That was it.  And come to think of it, I think they charged the same price with or without the meat.  At that time, it was merely a “label” for me.  I went to an art school.  There were lots of vegetarians around me at the time.  Especially among my dancer friends, so I was in good company.  Hangin with the “In Crowd.”  It didn’t hold much meaning for me beyond something to declare myself.  At the time, I regularly skipped out on the label for a late night trip through the drive through for some processed chicken.  Which, as many of my “vegetarian” friends and I at the time mused, couldn’t be actual chicken anyways, so we were in the clear.

So…  That isn’t compassionate eating.  In fact, as I will explore here, it’s simply impossible to eat anything from a fast food restaurant, regardless of whether it contains meat or dairy or fruit or lettuce or whatever, and call it compassionate.  But let’s continue with how I brought myself to the compassionate path with regards to my eating habits.  To be clear, I wouldn’t call where I am now anything close to enlightened.  Like everything else in my life, it’s a path.  I can describe where I became aware of it, when I decided to try to stay on it, and where it’s led me thus far.  That’s what you get with a path… more path.  And that’s exactly as it should be if we are to consider ourselves life-long-learners.

So for me it began with the label.  It was trivial.  It got me invited to a couple of parties perhaps, or talked about more than I would have been without the label.  That was all very important to me as a young artist with a shaky confidence.  Things began to change for me though after college.  I read Eric Schlosser’s book “Fast Food Nation” Imagein the summer of 2001.  It changed how I looked at food production in this country forever, and brought to light many of the reasons I still give for having become vegan.  I was no longer in the dark after reading this book, a fact I sometimes lament.  My life was a lot easier before I knew what this book illuminated for me.  I was a lot less healthy too, but mostly I was just blissfully ignorant of what brought food to my mouth.  Reading that book made me think twice every time I got hungry about where I got my food.  It’s the first time in my memory that I can remember thinking – “I have got to change my habits.”  And I did.  Need to change them that is.  We all do in my opinion, but you can’t force this type of change on people, they have to come to it on their own.  Militant vegetarians or localvores or vegans only turn your friends and loved ones in to angry a belligerent foes convinced you are trying to take something from them or beat them at a game.  They will, for years and years thereafter, make a point of pointing out all of your bad habits in as public a forum as they are able in order to put you in your right place for having suggested that they may want to take a look at the food they are putting in to their bodies and the bodies of the ones they love.  As you may be able to tell here, I have some experience…  The fact is, that railing against others to change their habits, even if it is in their best interest, the community’s best interest, and indeed the world’s best interest is not compassionate either.  It is PASSIONATE, but passion has never stood in for compassion, nor never will.  So after reading Mr. Schlosser’s book, I was determined to change, but I still didn’t understand it as needing to come from that place of deep and true change, a place of compassion.

The first notes of compassion in my path came from a sudden awareness of my cat’s dependence on me as a provider.  If he were left to his own devices in the world, he would likely make very different choices than I made for him.  This was first apparent to me in a realization of the chemicals I used around the house.  I’ve written about this before, but it was  big eye-opener for me.  I was spraying windex and bleach and tile scrubber and all kinds of nasty things around the house to sterilize my environment, to rid it of any potential dirt or grime, a practice I have since abandoned almost completely, opting instead to allow my body to build immunity naturally through coming in contact with all of those bacteria.  But the compassion I speak of came for me in the fact that, I often sprayed down the kitchen right before leaving the house and left those chemicals fuming while my cat had to use that room to access his food and water.  I was poisoning my cat.  CharlieSealRockStateBeachSo in an attempt to NOT poison my cat, I switched the products I used and got rid of all the chemicals in my home.  The next logical step then, was to stop feeding him meow mix and give him some real food.  I should mention that during that time of my cat’s life he had two very serious surgeries that saved his life.  Since changing his food and the chemicals he came in contact with he has not had a single serious health problem.  That was almost 10 years ago.  This is not really supposed to be about my cat, but without him, I’m not sure I would have set myself on the path of compassionate eating.  He was a gateway for me.  One I am truly grateful for.  It was shortly after this period that I realized… My cat is eating better than I am…  So I should probably think more seriously about that whole “What I Eat” thing…

My choice at this point in my life was to become a Lacto-Ovo Pescatarian.  Not familiar with the term?  It means I ate fish, dairy, and eggs, but was otherwise a vegetarian.  I also started eating organic foods as much as possible.  Next I started eating locally.  Then I cut out the fish.  Then I cut out the dairy and eggs.  Now, I’m vegan. Vegan I consider myself to be on the compassionate path with regards to my diet.  But we haven’t really discussed what that means.  I should be clear here that I don’t necessarily feel that the only way to eat compassionately is to be vegetarian or vegan, but there are a number of things that I think need to be taken in to consideration if one is to start along that path.  Being vegan is how I have chosen to address each of those concerns.  Others have other solutions and if they are done with those concerns addressed and acknowledged, I’m totally on board.  I haven’t ruled out the possibility that I will one day eat meat or dairy again, but for me, it was important to take all of those foods which I perceived to have un-compassionate components to them out of my diet until I understood my relationship to them well enough to make a more informed decision.

So what are these concerns?  What comprises compassion when making choices around our food?  Let’s take them one at a time…

Animals

Our current food production system does not consider meat in terms of life.  They are units of profit.  Everything in the industrial food system is treated in this way.  Put as little effort and value in as you can without lowering the amount of profit you get out.  That’s economics.  Efficiency here means less effort with maximum profit.  Therefore a cow is not a cow, it is a certain amount of steak, ground beef, scrap for processed products, etc.  If you can put less money in, and still get the same amount of money out, you’re going to do that.  The same is true of farmed fish, pigs, poultry, etc.  27bittman.xlarge1Less money going in manifests itself in the form of byproducts and growth horomones instead of natural grazing.  It manifest in massive feed lots, instead of open pastures with a healthy ecology.  It manifests in Anti-biotics fed to animals to keep them from getting sick under those conditions, which in turn reduces the anti-biotic affect, leaving viruses to mutate and adapt creating a vicious cycle that we still don’t really understand.  Animals under these conditions live a life of fear and instability.  They are assumed to have no souls.  It is impossible to act with compassion without acknowledging the millions of souls that live under these conditions.  Some may say animals don’t have a soul.  My cat has a soul.  My dog has a soul.  I once saw a Cow standing in the middle of Highway 1 in northern California looking out at the ocean.  That cow had a soul, and it was feeding it at that moment.

What I’ve described above is not the only way to raise meat animals.  We did it, relatively compassionately for centuries, and it is done in many places around the country now, but the vast majority of the meat one has the chance to eat on a daily basis comes from this system in some way or another.  Keep in mind that even cows that are marketed as grass-fed or free-range, spend the last month or two of their lives in those massive feed lots waiting for slaughter.  There are virtually no small local slaughter houses left in the country and nearly all of the meat that one has contact with has to go through these processing plants to make it to the dinner table.  factory-farm-3I for one, cannot justify eating an animal that must live in that way, if only for a small amount of its life.  If the animal has a soul, and I believe it does, then it doesn’t matter how joyful that animal’s life has been, if its last moment are spent in unfamiliar surroundings with the haunting sounds and smells of the slaughter ever-present, that animal dies in fear.  A terrifying fear that we can’t begin to imagine.  When we eat those animals.  We ingest that fear.  It is our burden to hold.

Like I said, this is not the only way.  I have friends who have chickens.  They kill those chickens when they are no longer producing eggs and they process

animal_vegetable_miracle1

them at their home.  They take great pains to make their death as quick and painless and free of fear as they can.  They have grown attached to those chickens.  They have souls.  They honor and accept the worth of their lives.  I can’t kill anything.  Literally.  I cannot kill.  It’s not in me.  So… I don’t eat meat.  For another view, I suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle.

Amy has a friend from Naropa that has been a vegetarian for years for much the same reason.  She recently found out that she was severally deficient in iron and needed some red meat in her diet.  She wrestled with how to go about it compassionately.  Ultimately, she studied long and hard and what it would take to hunt an Elk in the mountains of Colorado.  Dress it on site, and haul in out of the woods by herself.  She searched her soul.  She made peace.  She had an agreement with the Elk.  She went hunting.  She saw no Elk, only Deer.  She came home empty-handed.  That is compassionate eating.

Self

I think one must also consider themselves deeply in the decision to eat compassionately.  What I’ve described above is a deep connection to the self.  Knowing what you need.  What you must do to get it.  What it means to take a life.  What it means to need nourishment.  RockstackThus, we must consider not just meat and dairy and what they mean to us as substance, but what else is in our food.  For me this means knowing as much as I can about those foods that I eat.  Where did it come from?  What’s in it?  What did it take to get it to me.  All of those things affect our soul.  As I said above, I believe that we ingest the soul along with the sustenance.  An animal that dies in fear passes that fear on to us, just as a plant that is poisoned throughout it’s life to keep bugs away or diseases away passes on that poison.  We must be aware of the unnatural additives added to processed foods, the excess sugar or corn syrup added to our beverages, the quality of the ingredients.  It’s not enough to just have some calories.  How those calories make it to us carries Karma.  I would much rather eat a vegetable that was grown in my garden with a healthy ecological presence among other plants that are all helping each other to grow than one grown in a massive field of other plants just like it sprayed repeatedly with pesticides and herbicides and then shipped and refrigerated over thousands of miles.  Each mile, each unit of energy it takes to produce the food, transport it, store it, keep it safe from bugs, from disease.  Each of those units carries with it a karmic footprint, and they all must be taken into consideration if we hope to eat with real compassion.

Others

This brings me to the consideration of others.  We’re talking Fair-Trade here.  Those tomatoes in the Taco-Bell burrito, they were harvested, most likely, by undocumented migrant workers living in terrible work camps or in canyons in the hills of southern california in a makeshift lean-to.  Those people are paid well below what they’re worth, and they’re exposed to insane amounts of chemicals while on the job with no course of action for the health problems they may encounter.

The people working in those processing plants for the industrial meat system, they too are likely undocumented and unorganized by labor unions.  They work very long shifts, in unsafe environments with no health care and very little pay.  SolidarityNewsprint

The coffee in that cup of Folgers was grown on clear-cut land that was stolen from indigenous people in the name of profit.  The workers that harvest it are living in camps much worse than anything we can imagine here.  They have no right to organize, no right to health care, no child care, etc.

People interact with our food at nearly every level of its production.  Thus, that food carries the karmic footprint of its travels and each person it’s touched along the way.

Environment

Lastly, the industrial food system historically has paid little heed to environmental costs, which further stresses our ability to eat compassionately.  If every person in the United States cut meat out of their diet for just one day a week it would be the equivalent of saving the CO2 emissions put into the atmosphere by 90 million passengers on transcontinental flights from New York to Los Angeles.  This is just taking meat out of our diet for one day a week for a full year.  Americans eat more meat than any other culture in the world. FlareEarthNewsprint Not a single meat production cow dies in a given year from starvation.  The amount of grain fed to those meat animals in a year would solve the world hunger problems we face several times over.  One Hectare of Potatoes will feed 22 people.  One Hectare of land designated for Meat production will feed one person.  90% of the clear-cut rain forests in the world since the 1970s has been used for meat production.  Meat animals produce 40% of the Co2 emissions the world produces each year, and that’s without considering the fuel required to transport, slaughter, store and refrigerate, transport again to your local market, store and refrigerate there, then finally make it to your home where you will store it some more perhaps.  We must admit that an awful lot of emissions could be cut by reducing this trend.

Herbicides and Pesticides are poisoning our ground water and our rivers such that there are massive dead zones where the Mississippi spills in to the Gulf Of Mexico.  Transporting fruits and vegetables all over the country and indeed the world adds significantly to emissions of Co2 all so we can have Strawberries in January.  The list of environmental effects connected to what we eat goes on and on and on.

I find that by adopting the idea that I will eat compassionately, and thus take all of this in to consideration before I sit down to a meal, is better for my conscience, my environment and my fellow beings on this earth.  For me, that means eating a vegan diet, eating as few processed products as possible (we make our own bread, tortillas, seitan, cashew cheese, etc) and trying to source as much as possible from as close to home as I can.  I’m constantly looking for ways to improve upon that.  It’s a path.  The best part is…  It feels good.  It’s not as much work as it sounds.  It brings soul in to our kitchen.  It brings laughter.  It brings smiles.  It even brings enormous California Style burritos and French Fries.

It all began with that damn cat…

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Or   t r i s k a d e k a p o d   Here

t r i k a d e k a p o d

Thanks for reading…

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The Sacrament of Nature…

Welcome to another installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog, Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon, and t r i s k a i d e k a p o d as my companions we set out this week to discuss The Sacrament of Nature.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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Admittedly, I have not had quite the opportunity that I had hoped over the last year to deeply consider nature in my life.  I have become a hermit, even more so than normal.  I am about as disconnected from the earth now as I have been in at least ten years.  I can’t speak to why that is, all I can say is that it’s disappointing to me.  I’ve traditionally been one that feels very spiritually connected to the earth, and for whatever reason, it seems very heavy to me these days.  Perhaps I am overwhelmed and paralyzed by the accosting nature of my awareness of the very real ecological problems we face.  Perhaps I am disheartened by the sprawl I see around me.  Perhaps the introduction of “weather” to my daily experiences keeps me from completely engaging.  Perhaps I’m just looking for another way to entrench myself in it.  I don’t know.  But I will say that I notice a marked difference in my spirit when I am not living as closely with nature as my soul desires.   Therefore, I must come to the conclusion that nature and deep spirituality must share much.

When I am most connected to the earth I am excited about the new ways in which people are reconnecting with their surroundings.  Thankfully, there are ever more examples of that as communities strive to reclaim a lost understanding, and perhaps a lost soul.   If I were in my right sorts on this topic, I would spend hours upon hours researching and pointing out the connections between our desensitizing to the natural world and consumerism, or the disconnect that is inherent between humanity and their environment when our natural resources are commodified and sold to the highest bidder.  Instead, I will focus today on hope and the people that I look to when I need to snap my connection to the earth back into focus.  I need that focus.  It is the source of my spirituality.  When it is missing from my life, I am a lost sheep.

For me, connection to nature and the spirituality it brings with it, is largely about how we live.  It is more than just taking a walk in the woods, which is not to be set aside.  It is from those walks in the woods that we are inspired to re-think how we might walk softly and with reverence in our surroundings.  But for me, walking in the woods is just the beginning.  The real practice of the spirituality of nature, for me, is in the details.  It’s in the way we live our lives moment to moment.  It’s in the minutiae.  Just as a Christian in their spiritual practice might start with the reading of scripture, or a Buddhist may sit for the first time in meditation, or a Muslim might kneel and bow toward Mecca for the first time, I started my spirituality with the act of recycling.  That was a long time ago.  There have been many steps in that path, some of them backwards, but each tiny step, thought, revelation brings me closer to my own personal feelings of enlightenment.  For me these steps consist of reducing my impact, understanding and having reverence for where my food comes from, and using energy as wisely as I can muster.  Like I said, I often step backwards, and lately, it feels I am running in the opposite direction, but it’s a process, and divergent paths often bring new wisdom.

So… here’s some inspiration I draw from.  Here are some of the people and organizations that make up my church.  Here are the Rabbis and Pastors and members of my temple.

This is Aprovecho

Aprovecho is a non-profit organization located on a beautiful forty-acre land trust outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon.  Aprovecho, which means “I make best use of” in Spanish, gained its name from the spirit of a sustainable approach to resource use in the creation and sustenance of human culture that the early founders observed in their international development work. In 1981, this group founded an organization dedicated to the investigation of sustainable human settlement in North America, and found their place in the foothills of the Coast Range of Oregon. Today, Aprovecho’s land and its community of educators is a regional resource for researching, demonstrating, and educating the techniques and strategies of sustainable living.

This is Permies

Permies is a group of homesteaders, farmers, gardeners, and others interested in discussing Permaculture issues through a variety of different forums.

This is Bill McKibben

An Author, Journalist, and Professor who has dedicated much of his life to sustainability.  He, along with a group of his students founded 350.org an Global Grassroots Movement to solve the climate crisis.

This is Will Allen with Growing Power

Growing Power transforms communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of Community Food Systems.  These systems provide high-quality, safe, healthy, affordable food for all residents in the community. Growing Power develops Community Food Centers, as a key component of Community Food Systems, through training, active demonstration, outreach, and technical assistance.

This is the Rocky Mountain Institute

Rocky Mountain Institute is an independent, entrepreneurial, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) think-and-do tank. Co-founded in 1982 byAmory Lovins, who remains an active thought leader as Chairman and Chief Scientist, the Colorado-based organization now has approximately 75 full-time staff, an annual budget of nearly $12 million, and a global reputation. RMI excels in radical resource efficiency, especially via integrative design. We drive progress chiefly by transforming design, identifying and busting barriers, and spreading innovation.

These are just a few of the incredible groups around the country and the world who are taking the connection to nature in our communities to the next level.

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Or   t r i s k a d e k a p o d   Here

t r i k a d e k a p o d

Thanks for reading…

New Beginnings…

Welcome to another installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog, Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon, and t r i s k a i d e k a p o d as my companions we set out this week to discuss New Beginnings.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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The New Year has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  I am enamored with the concept of New Beginnings and this change in the calendar, the largest event of New Beginnings that we experience, reminds me that we are constantly presented with them.  Every time we wake up, we have the chance for a new beginning.  Every time we pass into the afternoon, or evening, or the sun goes down, or comes up – or if we need it – every hour, minute, or even second can be a new beginning, if we so choose.

I’ve spent the last couple of years attempting to wildly reinvent myself.  I’ve needed new beginnings often during that time, and the thing that has ultimately come out of all that upheaval, may well be a return to what I knew, or perhaps a reinvention of myself within the old constructs and not such a wild remaking, but to have had the opportunity to recognize those new beginnings and try to use them to the fullest along the way is the only thing that could have led me back around the circle.  I am excited about what this year will bring.  I am excited about remaking myself within my old world.  I am excited that this year will take me back to some friends that were never quite as honored as the incredible friends they are.  I am excited that new beginnings will be there every step of the way should I feel I’ve strayed from the intended path too far.

To honor new beginnings, I’d like to share a piece I created over the last several weeks as I’m reinventing myself anew.  This piece deals very much with new beginnings as it turns out.

Starving, Hysterical, Naked…

An examination of the roots, realities, and religion of The Beats


Using collected works of Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, this piece seeks to examine what made The Beats who they were, where they were going, and where they ultimately landed. With the restriction that all content (written, audio, video) be acquired through the creative commons and fair use licensing that is ever more popular and prevalent on the web, I sought to create and tell a story of a generation misunderstood.  The poems have been re-arranged into 5 acts.  With the help of free audio and video editing software, the audio clips, sound effects, and original recordings were mixed down to a single audio track.  Then with the contents of over a hundred hours of video, images were chosen and laid over the audio to change the context in which the words are experienced.

CONTENT CREDITS:

⠀⠀⠀Poems…

Howl by Allen Ginsberg (as read by Allen Ginsberg 1975).
Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons
License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial

America by Allen Ginsberg (original recording).
Text used under fair use guidelines.

Fast Speaking Woman by Anne Waldman (as read by Anne Waldman 1975).
Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial

Uh-Oh Plutonium! (as read by Anne Waldman 1975).
Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial

Light and Shadow (as read by Anne Waldman 1975).
Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial

⠀⠀⠀Video…

Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial
& Public Domain

America 1955 (Public Domain), Boys Beware (Public Domain), Dragnet-Episode #18 The Big Seventeen w/Commercials (Public Domain), Assorted Public Service Announcements (Public Domain), Drug Addiction 1951 (Public Domain), Atomic Bomb Blast Effects (Public Domain), House Int 1954 (Public Domain), In Our Hands (Public Domain), Duck And Cover 1951 (Public Domain), Narcotic 1967 (Public Domain), Perversion 1965 (Public Domain), In The Suburbs 1957 (Public Domain), The Big City (Public Domain), Man Of Action 1955 (Public Domain), Buddhist Monastery (Fourth Dimension), Tomorrow 1954 (Public Domain), Tuesday In November (Public Domain), Your Town 1940 (Public Domain), Shopping 1957 (Public Domain), Dynamic Action 1956 (Public Domain), Disneyland Dream (Robbins Barstow, uploaded by Brian Barstow, National Film Registry), The Beatniks (Public Domain), Sex Madness (Public Domain), Reefer Madness (Public Domain), Manica 1934 (Public Domain), Wetbacks (Public Domain), Salvation Army Mission San Francisco (Public Domain), Date With Your Family 1950 (Public Domain), Opportunities Unlimited (Public Domain), Skyline New York (Public Domain), The Agony Of Ecstasy (George Maynard, Concordia University, Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema), Chevrolet 1939  (Public Domain), Douglass Truth Closing Chant (Public Domain), Greenwhich 1960 (Public Domain), Coffee House 1969 (Public Domain), 1967 Peace March (Public Domain), Great Bell Chant (quicksilverscreen.com)

Vimeo.com.  Vimeo, 2012 Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

Capitalism Communism. Is This Love? (fislproduction)

⠀⠀⠀Audio…

FreeSound.org.  Free Sound, 2012 Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution

rbhThunderstorm.wav (RHumphries), pigeonwings.aif (Tigersound), Fire_Forest_Inferno.aif (Dynamicell), HighwayUrban.wav (Cognito Perceptu), lonemonk__bar-crowd-logans-pub-feb-2007.wav (Lonemonk), Heartbeatenhanced-1.wav (Herbert Boland), citystreet.wav (sagetyrtle), meadow-ambience.wav (Eric5335), a-flag-flapping-in-the-wind-in-the-small-town-of-twentynine-palms-mojave-desert-california.wav (Felix Blume), Kargyraa.mp3 (Huun-Hur-Tu),  Carterattack.wav (GuitarGuy1985), BombEplosion.wav (Lord Razu).

Archive.org.  The Internet Archive, 2012. Web. Date of access.
Creative Commons License:  Attribution-NoDerivs-Non-Commercial

Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg Reading @ Naropa 1975 (Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics).

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Or   t r i s k a d e k a p o d   Here

t r i k a d e k a p o d

Thanks for reading…

Not a way forward…

Aside

Welcome to another installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog, Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon, and t r i s k a i d e k a p o d as my companions we set out this week to discuss Cynicism.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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If you’ve ever spent any time around a truly deep and committed cynic, you’ll know that there isn’t much point in arguing.  Indeed you may not even have to argue to meet the cynic’s denigration.  There are few things that will escape the scornful eye.  KnowYourEnemyThere are myriad examples in my life that have led me to consider the cynical attitude more deeply, one being that I tend to BE a bit of a cynic.  It’s this part of myself that I have been in constant conflict with for many years.  The cynic remembers all the bad stuff that has happened to them in the past and uses those memories as the predominant bank of knowledge when considering new questions or challenges with which they are faced.  This is primarily a protectionist attitude and one that likes to trim the fat from any expenditure of energy.  It can come in very handy when looking for the most efficient solution to a problem, and is a very useful tool when used to point out where we may not be meeting our ideals, but as I’ve considered this attitude within myself and in the world I’ve come to believe that as a default reality, it only stands in the way of expression and innovation and creative solutions to our problems.

To take an extent example that affects us all, we have seen an ideological gridlock in American politics that can only be attributed to cynicism at it’s most debilitating.  Among politicians on both sides of the aisle, we see a belief that things won’t change because things don’t change, a deeply cynical view of our world, especially because if one is diligent in their study of history, they will recognize that things DO change, although often quite incrementally.  We have a tendency to give up when things do not turn on a dime and thus become more and more cynical.  You’ve likely experienced wordcloudsnippet.jpgthis yourself in a work environment when you or a colleague makes a suggestion that is shot down immediately by someone who’s been there longer and claims that it’s all been tried before.  This person rarely offers any suggestions, you may notice, to try and solve the problem.  What I believe that person is failing to recognize is that incremental change is happening all the time, so if we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work, it is possible that the forces that stood in the way of success have changed and thus paved the way for success this time around.  In American politics today, we see each side of the aisle stubbornly sticking to old ideas and insisting their way is the only way based solely on the past and a cynical view of the “others”, while refusing to listen to their constituencies that are crying out for compromise, recognizing that things have changed, if only incrementally, allowing for a new and inclusive solution.

Let’s look at an example outside of politics that highlights the inverse of the cynical trap.  In the past week, two glowing examples of lives largely without cynicism have moved on to another realm.  Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shankar are no longer with us in the physical sense, but their contributions will be with us forever.  Their work in moving music forward highlights what is possible when cynicism is not allowed to overcome the creative spirit.

BrubeckPiano (1)Dave Brubeck was fascinated with time signatures, and although jazz music takes its liberties with 4/4 time by syncopating the rhythm, it was Dave Brubeck who moved jazz forward by employing a new time signature in a catchy and hip tune that would become one of the most important pieces of music written in the 20th century.  
“Take 5” changed the game and proved that experimental and ambitious music could still be accessible to the general public.  Cynicism doesn’t allow for that type of risk.  Cynicism plays it safe and sticks with the Big Band style that dominated the jazz scene in the previous decades, or even Bop in the standard 4/4.  Even the cynicism within Brubeck was challenged and overcome when a dreaded meeting between he and the Avant-Garde jazz man Charlie Mingus produced one of the easiest sounding pairings of the era between two men who were very far apart in their ideas about the genre, in their chance collaboration on Mingus’ tune “Non-Sectarian Blues”.

121212054903-ravi-shankar-horizontal-galleryRavi Shankar actually admits that when he was first approached by George Harrison of The Beatles, he was skeptical of his intentions.  Why would this Pop star be interested in the traditional ragas of India?  
Imagine if that skepticism or cynicism had overtaken him at that point in his life?  Instead he went on to change the way we see music outside of the mainstream, and the world and music are better for it.

There are infinite examples of this kind, and my point in bringing these up in particular is partly an homage to their legacies as I celebrate their lives, but it is also about recognizing that creative ventures are not possible if the default position we take in life is contradictory.  If our first response to a suggestion or a thought from others or within ourselves discredits the thought outright, no change will take place.  No innovation will come.  No beautiful music will be made.  Instead, if we can stop those contradictions and engage with new ideas, or even old ones for that matter if we consider how incremental changes affect new attempts at those ideas, we are more likely to succeed in our endeavors.

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Or   t r i s k a d e k a p o d   Here

t r i k a d e k a p o d

Thanks for reading…

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That which sustains us…

Welcome to another installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog, Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon, and t r i s k a i d e k a p o d as my companions we set out this week to discuss Sustenance.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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In the grand debate in this country, and indeed throughout Europe since the financial collapse of 2008, there is a lot of talk about what we need to get by.  In Europe they have instituted deep cutting austerity measures, cutting back all but the most essential government services, while a larger and larger percentage of their population slips into poverty, or least out of the once flourishing middle classes.

U.S. GDP Growth

U.S. GDP Growth

In the United States, we’ve largely avoided that type of austerity, opting instead for a Keynesian style approach to recession, employing stimulus and expanded unemployment and social services.  This is part of why the U.S. is actually climbing out of that recession, if slowly and languidly.  It’s important to mention that we have, indeed turned to some Keynesian models, and did so right from the start.  It’s important because largely, the U.S. had turned to another economic model, touting the principles of Milton Friedman at the top levels of government, that is until the banks, the insurance industry, and the housing market, one of the largest segments of our gross domestic product found themselves in trouble.  It was at that point, when those companies had sucked much of the marrow from the bones of the average American’s financial means, that we turned on a dime and socialized the costs of that reckless behavior.  It was at that point, when many Americans had little to nothing left and had watched their retirement security dry up as the stock market lost huge portions of it’s worth in days that we offered financial stimulus,

WordCloudSnippetI mention all of this because it’s an important framing of the debate about what we need as citizens to sustain us.  It was only when many corporations with political clout and armies of lobbyists with the ear of those appropriating our tax dollars that we suddenly got some financial relief, because it threatened their livelihood.  Up until that point, and indeed in most of the debate since, the argument has not been about what we can provide our citizens as a benefit of participating in a free and civilized construct that we call America.  No, instead the conversation has been about what we can cut.  Education, Head Start, Medicare, Social Security, Family Planning, Rehabilitation, Unemployment Insurance, Food Stamps, Tax Credits, Student Loans, Pell Grants, NASA, The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, NPR, Health Education, Art, Music, Theatre, Dance, you name it.  If it benefitted the citizen, it was on the chopping block.  If it benefitted industry and business, it had to stay.  WordCloudSnippet2Take the military for example.  Consistently, Congress appropriates more money than the defense department asks for, because large corporations get the contracts to build, with tax payer money, military weapons, vehicles, planes, drones, surveillance systems, and much much more, that our military isn’t even asking for.  So we must ask ourselves.  Are we a country, a social construct, that exists only to produce?  To raise GDP?  To create wealth for a shrinking minority of our citizens?  Do we exist to feed the belly of industry or are we here to create prosperity for all?  And does prosperity mean monetary wealth?  I posit that we are more the latter, and that prosperity means more than how much cash is in our wallets.

Wealth, in the monetary sense, is only as good as it’s ability to keep us sheltered, healthy, and fed.  And I will even go as far as to say WELL sheltered, in a home that suits our needs as a family and is not in disrepair, one that provides shelter and pride of place.  I will go so far as to say PRISTINELY healthy, such that we are concentrating on preventative SolidarityNewsprintmeasures only and not on stop gap solutions and profit driven medications to keep us alive.  I will go so far as to say DIVINELY fed, such that our taste buds and nourishment are satiated and we are not concerned with children who go to bed hungry and then get up in the morning and head out to school still hungry.  I will even go so far as to say that some disposable income is a good thing to brighten our world in the ways that touch us individually and make our world more full, but all of the excess wealth that we protect to the point of absurdity is superfluous.  Yes, there are some amazing philanthropists out there. FlareEarthNewsprint I have a great deal of reverence for the work of many of our countries great philanthropic ventures, but this philanthropy comes from those that never needed the protections that we guard with the austere treatment of our poor.  Capitalism is not inherently insensitive or void of empathy, and those that use their wealth to solve big problems in the world are perfect proof of that fact.

Prosperity, as I see it, should be more about the success and flourishing condition of our people as a whole.  I don’t see that in financial terms, though it is possible that success FlatWorldcan include finances it is not the only measure.  Rather, I think, prosperity has to do with the notion of the happiness of our people, and this brings me to a larger point.  What makes us happy?  What constitutes a whole and complete person?  Is someone who has met the basic necessities of life whole?  Are they sustained? Or is there more?  I would argue that we have not reached our goal of a prosperous society until we have met those basic necessities AND given everyone the opportunity to be successful and happy – Until we have sustained that which makes all whole, which begs the question…  What makes you whole?

This is not an easy question and many of us spend our entire lives trying to figure it out, but the notion that a prosperous society is one in which all our people are whole demands that our questions about how to appropriate our resources be bent not towards protecting monetary wealth and GDP, but rather towards providing opportunities for every person to realize that grand vision of themselves.  WordCloudSnippet3Thus the question should be… What can we GIVE our people from our collective resources, not what can we take away?  We should be focused on how to give more education opportunities to our citizens – more art and music and theatre – more access to unbiased news and information through PBS and NPR and other similar institutions.  We should be discussing how to give better health care to more people and more loans and grants for students to reach for their piece of wholeness.  We should be reaching for the next big explorations of our Universe and inspiring our culture with new and creative visions of our world and our society.  When people have the opportunity to do what they love, to find their own sustenance, to realize what keeps them going, the whole of society benefits.

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Or   t r i s k a d e k a p o d   Here

t r i k a d e k a p o d

Thanks for reading…

The Power of Words

Welcome to the third installment of Solidarity Thursdays. With the wise words of Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden blog and Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon as my companions we set out this week to discuss The Power of Words.  Thanks for reading and please join the conversation by leaving a comment, submitting a topic, or linking to your own blog.

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“One lie has the power to tarnish a thousand truths.” – Al Davis

With the Presidential election less than a week away, it seems fitting to explore how the words we choose to speak and those that we opt to listen to affect our ability to maintain an open mind and create an atmosphere of inclusiveness and solidarity.

Political Ads

This political season has seen an incredibly abusive use of language.  It is not so much that the ads have been negative.  We’re used to that, we’re American.  Negative campaigning has been with us since some of our first elections.  Our first negative campaign came in 1800, long before the era of television or radio and only 14 years into our history as a sovereign nation.  Then President John Adams and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson slung mud at each other like school-boys with Adams’ surrogates suggesting that should Jefferson become President “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.” – and that he would create a nation where “murder, robbery,rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.”  James Callender, a controversial journalist of the time acting as a Jefferson surrogate wrote prominently that Adams was a warmongering liar who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”  Still more examples of negative campaigns are available throughout our history, and Rick Ungar did an excellent job reminding us that the campaigns we see today are nothing new in his August 20th, 2012 article in  Forbes Magazine, The Dirtiest Presidential Campaign Ever? Not Even Close!  The issue remains however, that the spurious claims we have seen in this political cycle have reached new heights.

It’s not that the claims made by either candidate are any more negative or any less hurtful or untrue, but more importantly, that they are so immensely pervasive in our daily lives.  What’s more, we live in a world of nearly limitless access to information and fact-checking, so false claims can be weeded out and held to account within hours of an original claim.

What, to me, has been so frustrating in this election is not that the campaigns have been nasty about each other and their personal character, but that even when a false claim that has been proven thus by fact checkers and investigative journalism is widely understood by the majority of people following politics closely (admittedly not a majority of the population), the candidates have often stuck by their original claims, knowing them to be false.  In one instance, Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster, even responded to the press’ questions about a false attack by saying, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”  President Obama has repeatedly claimed that Romney’s tax cut would add $5 Trillion dollars to the debt, and while the Romney campaign has not offered any specifics about how they would make the plan “revenue neutral” as they claim, the figure that the Obama administration is using is still inaccurate.  Most recently, the Romney campaign has made several false claims about the auto industry, and when called out on it, doubled down with a TV ad, then when called out on that, tripled down with a new radio ad making the same claims.  Similarly, the campaign’s first false ad of the season which first aired in the middle of the primaries is still being aired in some swing states and is available on the Governor’s website.  Both candidates and their campaign’s are culpable, and they do it all knowingly. Why?  Because it works.  Because words are powerful.  They stick in people’s minds and they deeply affect our actions.

Thoughtful Dialogue

The unfortunate by-product of an election that knowingly twists the truth and bends the facts to political advantage is that it hinders thoughtful dialogue.  It renders attempts to engage in discussions with people that hold different views than our own impotent.  It is nearly impossible to get to the heart of an issue and discuss it thoughtfully because we have learned, in this highly polarized and insular culture, to view each other as the enemy, rather than seeing each other as neighbors with common interests.  I am party to this myself.  I recognize my political leanings are worn proudly on my sleeve, my bumper, my yard, and my windows, which are littered with signs, stickers, and buttons shouting my endorsements to the world.  I would likely be better served to ask more questions and do more listening than to simply spout my point of view to all those within earshot.  I would be better served by stepping back from the ring of fire and recognizing that rather than both sides trying to most effectively and elegantly jump through it, we should be pooling our resources toward the goal of extinguishing the fire.  As a very good friend of mine said recently in a post imploring people to set aside their differences, “Democrats and Republicans need to know each other. They need to know one another’s families. It is much more difficult to attack someone on a personal level if you respect them as a person. This is the most effective way to get things done.”

24 Hour News Cycle

So why can’t I step back from that ring?  Why can’t we step back together.  Much of the reason falls on the shoulders of our 24 hour news cycle.  At any time of day or night, I can tune in to an endless stream of “news”.  The thing is, most of this is not news.  I often say that I want to watch the news, and so I head to my favorite website and click on the streaming video.  It is literally and endless loop of pundits using their own unique experiences to comment on whatever that block of “news” is trying to address.  If you want real news, most of it can be summed up in the ten minutes of hourly updates provided by CBS or NPR or any other network’s radio division.  The other 50 minutes of the hour is really just fill that is designed to keep you listening such that you might stick around for the ad buy, or reach a little deeper into your pockets when the next funding drive rolls around.  This is not to say that there is nothing of worth in these minutes, but it is most likely not “news”.  There is a reason that news, prior to CNN, happened each evening at 5 and 10pm and hourly throughout the day in small snippets…  There wasn’t enough to fill the time, and there still isn’t, but where there’s a profit, there’s a way.

Echo Chambers

Because the 24 Hour News Cycle needs to fill additional minutes and provide enough interesting content for people to watch, they need to create identities.  They need personalities.  It must be entertaining if a viewer is going to stick around long enough to see the commercials.  Those identities have increasingly become dangerous echo chambers, in which what is said one hour, is repeated in the next hour and reported as news. I say this is dangerous, because it becomes increasingly more difficult to break through that collective consciousness and to speak with any dissent to the prevailing winds of that media outlet.  Ever-more bombastic personalities rise to the top shouting down the “enemy” and creating controversy, not because it helps move the discussion, but because it draws ratings and thus advertising dollars.  This further drives a rift between two sides of a growing civil war of ideas, and leaves us incapable of reaching out to one another for advice and discourse that can move us toward our natural capacity for cooperation.

Science

There is a lot of debate in the scientific community about the affects of positive and negative speech, but researchers are increasingly more able, as they work across specialties, to demonstrate that speech does at least add to the conversation when we consider our cognitive abilities and our capacity for compassion and empathy.  In an interview with Andrew Newberg, M.D., a leading neuroscientist and director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, Salon.com‘s Jamie Cone discussed how new discoveries in science suggest that our brains form better connections when positive language and communication is employed than when negative speech is primary.  He has also found that the impulses for cooperation in the brain have developed in the higher or more sophisticated parts of the brain suggesting, since the selfish impulses occur in the less developed or more instinctual portion of the brain, that cooperation is part of our evolution and therefore in our common nature as a species.  In their recent book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Newberg collaborated with Mark Robert Waldman, a professor of communications at Loyola Marymount to offer a view of what they call “Compassionate Communication”, which they hope will provide a new framework for people to express themselves more effectively to others.  While Newberg and Waldman have published scientific papers and done repeatable studies in the field, Dr. Masaru Emoto, of fame for his water crystals experiments featured in the 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!?, has left the question up to blind faith, much of which is taken out of context and applied quite liberally to justify various religious themes, but it is nonetheless interesting as a concept and further thought-provoking when you begin to explore energetic resonance.  It has opened a field of study that has scientists thinking about the way in which we communicate and how that success or failure in communication affects our environment and the health of our communities.  While any advances in science on these issues are unlikely to change the political discourse in the immediate or even long-term future, it is important I think for us to continue to evolve on this front and to consider the science of words and thoughts and how deeply they may affect our actions and intentions in the world.  We are a species that continues to add information to our collective consciousness and evolve together, which if Newberg and Waldman are to be believed has happened with our increasing natural propensity for cooperation and will continue to evolve as we look toward a new cooperative future.

New Consciousness

So as we find ourselves mired in a heated political race, and we recognize that both sides will use words, true or otherwise to paint the other side as an enemy that must be defeated lest our world come tumbling down.  As we begin to understand that the words used by an  aristocratic few to divide us into corners that protect deep power structures cause us harm, both physically and emotionally, and additionally cut us off from our communities…  What are we going to do about it?  What can we do it about it?  We can begin by choosing our words carefully.  We can practice compassion in our speech and try to envision the world, nay the universe, as one.  If we can see ourselves in our “enemy” as well as in our reflection, the world around us, and in all that we create, we can begin to heal our self-inflicted wounds.  We do not purposefully hurt ourselves, though we often cause ourselves much suffering by wishing ill on others or by judging others actions through lenses tinted only with our vision of the world.  As I mentioned above, I often spout my opinions loudly and without space for response or discussion.  Often times, the language I use is polarizing and amounts to nothing but regurgitated rhetoric that I willingly consume from sources that do not seek cooperation in community, but sensational turmoil whose purpose is really about profit.   I recognize that this causes me harm.  This robs me of the ability to learn from others and to understand better their unique view of the world.  In essence, I close myself off to a part of me that is yet undiscovered.  This does not mean that I agree with an elected official that broadcasts unpleasant views of terrible acts of violence against women, but when that person speaks with conviction and true faith, I do myself a diservice to count him as an enemy, rather than see him as part of the whole and seek to find a common cooperative spirit.  I do not pretend to think that because I hope for this cooperation myself that I will be met with that which I seek, but if I use words that sever that potential connection, I have done nothing but cut away part of myself.

Solidarity

The concept of Solidarity in the broadest sense is one that I am increasingly trying to employ in the way I think and speak about any issue.  For years I was a single issue person, at least at any given time.  Generally that amounted to my concern for the environment, and the words I used to rant on the subject, were often offered without consideration for how they affected other issues or people.  As my concern for the environment gave room to a recognition of the connection to nutrition and food, and that connection made space for connections to water use and quality, and water gave way to racial and social injustice which in turn introduced economics and power structures as a concern I began to see where I had been insensitive or where I’d simply not thought deeply enough about what I was saying.  All of these issues and more are connected, and none of them, acted on alone, or without concern for the others will do much good for the whole of which I am only a part.  I must, therefore, choose my words carefully.  If we seek the common ground, our incremental strides forward will expose those places where we still have work to do.

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If you would like to read more, please check out Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Here

Or Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon Here

Thanks for reading…

 

 

A Bag of Mindful Tricks…

Welcome to our second installation of what we are calling Solidarity Thursdays.  Each week we will pick a topic and post from our own perspectives on Thursday.  Check out the links to Esther Emery and Jaysen Waller’s blogs at the bottom of this post to follow the conversation into other realms.  Please feel free to join the conversation yourself by posting a comment or linking to your own blog.  Thanks for reading.

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“Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?” – Thich Nhat Hanh

We are living in uncertain times.  The very fabric of our world is unraveling transforming around us.  We face, as I see it, two major conundrums in these times, and the only thing that can be considered “clear” is the fact that the way we’ve addressed them to date will not be the solution.  These conundrums are the global shift in our economies and the threat of global climate change.  It is time that we begin to address these issues with regard to their effects globally (with solidarity) rather than from a nationalistic (or self-serving) perspective.

If you listen to or watch the news, or especially pay attention to the cable news programs, you will hear a nearly constant barrage of concern for economic growth and the increase or potential decrease in gross domestic product.  It is not unreasonable, from the perspective of the last couple of centuries, to focus on economic growth.  It was, throughout that entire period of history, and indeed even before, a measure of civility and progress.  Economic growth lifted huge portions of our population out of poverty (though we are still struggling to eradicate it), but the widening gap between our country’s rich and poor is a signal that the paradigm of perpetual growth has reached it’s zenith and is declining in it’s ability to produce meaningful change for the world as a whole.  As the global economic power shifts from our unipolar experience of the past century to a multipolar economic map, we are seeing the developing world increasingly concerned with their own economic growth, as they should to a certain extent.  Here in the United States we define absolute poverty as a household (of 3) which makes less than $19,090 per year, while in much of the developing world, many households make much less than $1,000 per year.  Clearly, raising those levels of income are important to produce a global economy of abundance, but the model that the developing world is emulating strives to bring incomes and consumption levels to par with the West.  Bill McKibben argues in his 2007 book Deep Economy that our model of growth in the United States is simply not making us any happier and is indeed leading to the opposite in many cases.  In other words “more” is no longer necessarily “better.”  Of course, in the developing world, there is still room to grow in order to provide basic necessities like nutritious food, shelter, and access to health and education, but what Mr. McKibben presents to us in this book shows us a way forward that can continue to provide sustenance that keeps us out of poverty and additionally provides us with the happiness and community that we so sorely lack.  While it is important to address the very serious threat of poverty as it is seen in much of the world today, shouldn’t we also strive to make those lives actually better – not just stand by as those developing nations and our own poverty stricken citizens strive for a model of personal economic growth that does not, in the end, make anyone happier and indeed contributes greatly to an unbalanced economic reality that widens the gap between rich and poor and commodifies our natural resources without regard for environmental degradation and the further marginalization of poor people that inherently comes with those effects?

One way I believe we can consciously reach for a world of abundance is through practicing mindfulness in our daily lives.  I came to the concept of mindfulness several years ago when I was fortunate enough to see the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh speak while he was visiting the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA.  He made a side trip to the University of San Diego where I was teaching at the time and led all who were interested in a walking meditation from one end of campus to the other where he was to speak in the University’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.  I had read some buddhist thought before, but the simplicity of the concept of mindfulness was new to me, at least in the words in which he described it.  I began to see the world around me very differently.  I should pause here to say that I am not Buddhist, though I have great reverence for those who practice.  I do however, try to incorporate mindfulness in much of what I do since attending that life-changing speech. I was already on a path of greater sustainability at that time.  I had become a vegetarian several years before.  I was adamant about organic food when I purchased from the grocery store.  I had joined the local food co-op.  I had dispensed all chemical cleaners and personal hygiene products from my home.  I was still, nonetheless, an average American consumer.   I still bought more than I needed at prices meant only to produce huge amounts of profit for a small group of multinational corporations.  It was only after hearing that speech that I began to slowly apply the concept of mindfulness to my purchasing and to my daily needs.

I am, by no stretch of the mind, achieving complete mindfulness in my life today, and I think it is important to stop here to recognize a key ingredient to the application of mindfulness in your purchasing and daily activities.  It’s a process.  A long one.  And it should be.  We learn incrementally what mindfulness is, and in my experience, what it isn’t.  For example, as I began to apply this logic to my consumption, I was often deeply frustrated with myself after having made a purchase that I didn’t need to, or after purchasing a product that I later found out was causing more harm than I intended.  In some instances I would even throw that product away, which would in turn become a source of personal frustration having wasted something that had already caused harm to me or the world in some way.  Each of these experiences for me, as I face new revelations, should be a source of inspiration and opportunity rather than disgrace or self-loathing.  Each time I learn something new about how I can affect the world with my purchasing, it is an opportunity to bank that knowledge and apply it the next time I am forced with that decision, therefore expanding my capacity for mindfulness.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book The World We Have, “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?”

So How does one apply mindfulness to their consumption?  We are doing it more and more as a society, and there are a number of stores that have capitalized on this trend.  The most notable being Whole Foods, which we are all aware of, but we should be cautious and truly mindful as we employ any filter to our purchasing.  It is easy to stop short of true mindfulness in these endeavors.  Companies like Whole Foods have made this easier still.  Yes, you can find some wonderful products that are indeed conscious of many of the world’s problems in a store of this sort.  These stores came about as vehicles for delivering alternative products.  Many of the products you will find in a store like this carry labels that promise that they are organic and fair trade.  Those labels are important, but often they don’t tell the whole story.  Additionally, it is easy to make the gigantic leap while in a store of this kind and assume that everything they offer follows a similar set of principles.  It is important that we take mindfulness in our purchasing personally and shield ourselves from the co-opting of those ideals by marketing and false promises.  We must continually educate ourselves and apply that new knowledge each time we find it necessary to make a purchase.  I have certainly come a long way from my first mindful purchase.  The first purchases I made like this, though it was well before the speech by Thich Nhat Hanh, and well before I called it mindfulness, was a natural cleaning product to spray my kitchen floors and counters with.  I didn’t make the purchase for my own safety, I made it for my cat.  It became clear to me that since my cat ate on the floor in the kitchen, and liked to hang out in the kitchen window to watch the beach traffic go by, that I was imposing poisonous chemicals on him every day.  I knew I had sprayed the floors and the counters with bleach.  I could choose to avoid being in the kitchen after having done so, but my cat didn’t know there was poison on the counter and floor.  He was dependent on me and I couldn’t bare the thought of slowly poisoning him over the course of his life.  Having made that decision prompted me to go a step further and change the quality of the food I gave him, which prompted me to feed myself better, because if I’m gonna feed the cat well, I should probably care for myself in the same way right?  This was my strange experience, but it started a process that has been continuous since that day.  13 years later, I call it mindfulness and my bank of knowledge is much bigger, but it does not stop.

My personal process of mindful consumption now goes much further than the label I read. I now think beyond the information that is available as I stand in an aisle ready to make a purchase.  My process begins much earlier now.  It begins at home.  We have been employing some practices that I didn’t have a name for until my partner Amy and I were discussing this post last night.  She pointed me toward a phrase she read in Lorilee Cracker’s book Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving. She uses an acronym to describe her use of goods and decision to buy more.  UWMW or Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, Or Do Without.  We have been slowly moving toward this ideal and I think it’s a great place to start.  Think first… This thing I think I need…  Do I need it?  Do I have something that does that already?  Can I repair what I have?  Can I make something out of materials I have on hand that will serve the purpose?  This is the first step in mindful consumption.  Discerning the real need.

I recognize that this does not fulfill the desire to purchase something new.  We live in a culture that tempts us with consumerism all the time.  We don’t even have a TV in our house to be exposed to the continuous onslaught of commercials, but we are nonetheless tempted by radio, internet, magazines or simply walking down the street and seeing what our neighbors have the we don’t.   There are several times in my life I can point to where I had the feeling that I just wanted to go get something new.  I couldn’t explain it really, but I just wanted to go buy something.  I came across an article this morning that helped put some of that into perspective.  Rick Heller, a journalist and author, wrote, in a November 2011 article at steadystate.org called A Mindful Path to a Steady State Economy that, “Our appetites go through a cycle of wanting and liking — which reinforces further wanting. When we desire something, the brain transmits a chemical called dopamine. When we get what we want and like it, the brain releases internal opioids. The latter are chemically similar to morphine and heroin, which helps explain how desires can become addictive.”  If you see this through the Buddhist lens of mindfulness, you can see that you are inviting joys that are ultimately not helpful.  To again quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “There are types of joy that can be nourishing and healing, bringing us calm, comfort, making us peaceful and fresh, and helping us to remain clear and lucid.  That is the kind of joy that we need.  There are other kinds of joy that may bring us a lot of suffering later on…  We have to distinguish between the two kinds of joy.  One is healing and nourishing and the other is destructive.”  As Rick Heller continues in his article, “Mindfulness addresses this challenge by showing how to find novelty in the smallest details of daily life… Mindfulness generates novelty and excites the dopamine neurons not by covering a lot of ground fast, but by delving deeper into familiar turf.”  When we mindfully consume and ask the increasingly deep questions as we are aware of them, we begin to reap the benefits of this sustained joy, as well as leaving more for others in the developing world and thus inviting increased abundance for all.

There are a number of other issues to be considered beyond that first question of whether or not we need anything at all.  Once we have decided that it is indeed time to make a purchase, what should we be considering beyond what we can read on the label while standing in the aisle?  I like to look at it through several different lenses at that point.  I consider the environment, workers rights, safety & health, and personal well-being.  To address several of these, we must look intently at the supply chain.  We live in a world that gathers and assembles goods from a variety of sources.  To consider your shoes, you must take in to account that the rubber may have come from South America, the leather from Europe, the fibers and metal eyelets from Asia.  These pieces may be assembled in Europe or Asia and then shipped to the United States to distribution warehouses, then to the store.  What about the packaging?  What about how you get to the store to purchase the shoes?  All of this uses energy in the form of oil.  All of this affects workers rights at some point in the chain.  All of this concerns my safety and health, if not immediately (though it could be if you consider any off-gassing from components in those shoes), certainly globally with regards to the stability of international relations.  When looking at all of the different ways the shoes I purchase may affect the world as a whole and my place and peace in it, I may be tempted to simply go barefoot, or as I often choose, to purchase my shoes at a thrift store.  In fact, this is my favorite solution if I can find a pair that fits and the soles are still in decent shape.  All of the destruction that these shoes have created in the world has already taken place.  I am not, if I purchase shoes here, contributing to any increased demand, and am additionally extending the life of those resources already used.

Another way I personally choose to address mindfulness in my consumption is by adopting a vegan lifestyle.  It should be noted that I do not consider myself a militant vegan and do not expect the world to become vegan in order to save itself or any other such rhetoric, but I do think that if the world looked seriously at the amount of meat and animal products that they consume, we could certainly make a dent in the cost of our consumption.  Raising meat is incredibly energy and resource dependent, and if everyone removed meat from their diet for just 5 or 10 days out of each month it would do much to reduce the threats we face from global climate change and world hunger.  In a study dating back to 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that according to the National Corn Growers Association, 80 percent of corn grown in the United States is consumed by foreign and domestic livestock, poultry, and farmed fish.  Additionally, the transport of the grain, transport of livestock to commercial feed lots, energy used to process, store and ship the meat produced and the increased methane from those concentrated feed lots contributes greatly to concerns about the environment.

I also mentioned personal well-being as a consideration when employing mindfulness in consumption and by that I mean well-being in the home.  How does what we purchase affect our daily routines in the home.  This is an element of mindfulness that I need a lot of help with.  It does not come naturally to me, nor does it come naturally I think to many people these days.  What I’m getting at here is consideration for how what we consume and purchase affects how we interact with our families.  I said earlier that we don’t have a TV in our house.  This, I think, was a step in the right direction for me when I made the decision to get rid of my TV about 5 years ago.  But I’m not even close to honoring the time I have with my family at the level I think would truly transform us into a house of real abundance.  We still have a computer that is, more often than not, open and dialed in to some sort of media outlet, be it a social networking site, streaming videos and news, the radio, or just a simple web-search.  We still get DVDs at the library and my son watches more Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, and Nemo than I would care to admit.  We don’t spend as much time playing games or simply sitting and talking as I would like, and a lot of it is due to poorly-formed habits that date back decades for me personally.  This is a new horizon for me that I am continuously feeding the knowledge bank with in order to inform my choices going forward, and the impetus came from having a child and wanting the best for him and his development.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not perfect here, but there is something to strive for, and most certainly, my purchasing will affect it, thus, I add it to my bag of tricks.

So what can mindfulness bring us with regards to our consumption?  Personally, I believe, we can bring more of the nourishing joy that we need in our lives.  I think if we have more of this joy, we will greatly affect the lives of those whom we come in contact with.  That’s what we can do for ourselves.  That’s the self-serving effect.  Much further beyond that, though, is the good we can do for the world.  By employing mindfulness in this way, we see ourselves as part of a larger community.  We take what we need and leave more for others.  We concentrate our purchasing power on manifesting positive change in the world, and we help create a shining example of abundance for the world.  There is enough, if we simply choose that it be so.

For more thoughts and viewpoints, please continue reading with Esther Emery at Church in The Canyon Blog and Jaysen Waller at The Metta Garden Blog.  Both have coordinated posts with me today on the topic of “Mindful Living” as a part of our Solidarity Thursdays.  If you like what you see there or here, please consider following their posts and mine to see where this whole thing goes.  It’s very exciting to be writing with others and exploring all these topics have to offer through a variety of lenses.  Thanks so much for reading.

Finding Abundance in a World of Scarcity

As a result of years of conversation, Esther Emery and I have decided to coordinate at least one post per week on the topics that have come to dominate those conversations.  As Esther and her beautiful family embark on a new family adventure and seek to engage these ideas head-on as modern homesteaders, my family has found ourselves drawn back to the city.  With these two divergent paths, we will blog from our own experiences and environments on a given topic.  You will find a link to Esther’s blog at the bottom of this post.  Please continue reading and join the conversation.

This week’s topic:  Abundance Vs. Scarcity

We live in a world of scarcity.  At least that’s what has been sold to us.  Scarcity is what makes our current economic model work.  Scarcity is what persuades you to “stock up”.  It is what encourages rising prices.  Scarcity is cemented into the entire framework of a free-market capitalist paradigm.  Supply and demand… That’s scarcity.  That’s less supply equals more demand equals higher prices and bigger profits.  The notion of scarcity is used across the board by each side of a capitalist argument.  It is used by the oil companies to justify higher prices when supply is down or when they need to invest in new drilling infrastructure, yet it is also used by environmentalists to justify the need to move away from oil and toward renewables due to peak oil and rising carbon emissions – an idea I happen to agree with and often spout myself.  Scarcity is used by the market when the price of corn is driven up after a bad crop like the one we saw this year due to nearly unprecedented drought.  It is used by large agri-business companies to justify genetic alteration to our food supply with the explanation that that genetic modification will help to feed the world because hunger is due to a lack or scarcity of food.  We use scarcity in our home and family life when we wall off our home from our neighbors to keep what’s ours inside the bounds of our property.

There are myriad examples in our daily life of the permeating effect that scarcity has on our psyche.  Scarcity employs fear.  Because this notion that we live in a world of scarce resources, money, happiness, food and sustenance is so deeply rooted in our collective view of the world, and because we humans are still endowed with some natural instincts, we are virtually incapable of seeing anything other than the dangers that life presents.  It’s true.  Our fight or flight instincts take control and we find it physically difficult to concentrate on anything other than the dangers to our well-being.  That’s biology.  Sure, we are no longer concerned day in and day out that a large feline will pounce from a tree and make a meal out of us, but we are no less susceptible to fear.  We all have a big cat hiding in a tree.  Perhaps it’s a looming rent payment.  Maybe it’s a doctor’s appointment.  It’s possible that you fear getting into a car accident, or climate change, or global war?  These instincts are strong in us, and for millennia, we needed them to make it through the day.  We are, however, at the dawning of a new consciousness or understanding of the world and I believe that if we act deliberately and collectively, we can put that instinct in our pocket and save it for the truly big cats.

As we strive to understand the world in which we live and how it is changing, I think it is imperative that we take a long hard look at how we live – in our communities, our neighborhoods, and in harmony with our environment.  When you begin to look at the systems we have in place with a severely critical eye, you will, I think, recognize redundancies, waste, inefficiencies, and… well…  abundance.

Take, for example, the way in which we deal with storm water.  Water is a contentious issue.  In some regions of this country we are worried about perennial floods, in others, droughts, yet we deal with storm water pretty much the same way, across the country – at least at the point of contact with an individual home.  The rain falls on the roof, collects in the gutters (if we’ve cleaned them out), travels to the downspout and is directed away from the house towards the city’s storm drainage system, which in most cases, is directed toward local tributaries, which in turn flow to rivers and then the sea, all the while siphoned off where rights permit to irrigate commodity crops.  Then, when we need to water our garden, we pay the city to pump fresh water back on to our property.  As I said before, water is contentious, for a variety of reasons including pest control, the spread of disease, structural integrity of neighboring properties, and often hidden behind these and other reasons, water rights, or profit.  For instance, in the last two places I have lived (San Diego, CA and Boulder County, CO) it is illegal to collect rain water with cited reasons being control of mosquito populations and water rights.  In Boulder County, all the water that falls on my roof belongs to Denver and steep fines are levied if you are found to be collecting that water, yet I must pay to have water pumped back to my house if I want to water the food I grow on site.  A quick calculation shows that over 25,000 gallons of water fall on the roofs of the house we live in and the garage, yet that water is pushed toward the street.  This is ill-used abundance.

As another example, local apples recently came into season, and I can buy them at any grocery store in town for around $3.00/lb.  As I have walked about our neighborhood over the previous couple of months I have counted 10 or more apple trees within a five block radius of my house. All of them weighed down with fruit that has eventually fallen to the ground creating a mess of applesauce on the sidewalks and in the yards of my neighbors. Literally hundreds of bushels of apples within walking distance and nearly all of them wasted and rotting on the ground. We collected about 40 or 50 of these apples from trees that were on public lands.  We made baked apples, apple juice, and apple pie, but could have started a production line had we the means to harvest them all, and that’s not including the wasted fruit from the trees we saw on private property.  This is ill-used abundance.

To look at an example beyond my own neighborhood, we can return to the agri-business companies that currently tout genetically modified seed as the solution to hunger around the globe.  This, in my opinion, is an insidious example of scarcity used to produce profit.  Large companies like these assume when they make their arguments about world hunger that the only way to feed the world is with the industrialized food system.  The arguments assume that we must grow massive crops of corn, rice, wheat and soybeans in order to provide baseline nutrition for starving communities.  They assume that the only way to feed starving nations is through delivered food aid in the form of charity.  If you take a closer look at aid of this sort, you will see just how much of the money spent to deliver that aid is eaten up in profit by the companies that deliver it.  You will see that much of it goes to the companies that provide the seed (they’re not giving it away).  Then the farmers, many of whom amount to sharecroppers for large conglomerates rather than family owned farms due to the exorbitant cost of running a farm of the scale that can produce single crops in the quantity “needed.”  Then it’s the companies that process and package the food for delivery.  And finally, the global shipping companies that deliver the food to the actual people that need it.

This is a dependent system.  There is money to be made by this scarcity, and this type of aid does nothing to remove the need of the people, thereby shackling them to a scarcity paradigm.  When the food aid runs out, they will need more because food is still scarce in that region.   The food is commodified, and without the money to purchase it, those communities will remain in need of that aid which further feeds the profits of the companies involved in delivering the aid.  Another common misconception about this type of aid is that these are regions where food just won’t grow so the food must come from outside.  That can’t be possible or people would never have settled in those regions to begin with.  There was a time when these communities produced all they needed, but through a scarcity model that says they are in need and an overwhelming lack of education, they have become dependent on outside help to sustain their communities.  This comes about differently for each of these communities.  For some it is a free-market coming to an area that had no experience or need for capitalism or commodification of their resources.  For others it’s depletion of fresh water due to contamination by industry.  For others still it is desertification due to clear-cutting and soil erosion.  Each dependent community has it’s own unique story.  So where’s the abundance here?  It comes about when those communities are empowered to take their fate into their own hands.

Aid is terribly important here, but not the kind described above. By using the massive amount of aid (in the form of dollars) the world is capable of delivering for farming education and community building, we can bring these communities back and produce abundance for everyone.  Heifer International, whose mission can be viewed here, is a prime example of how aid can empower communities to bring about change and abundance.  Permaculture India is working with rural communities to develop permaculture farms that find all they need within those farms rather than depending on external inputs.  And here in the United States, Will Allen, through his organization, Growing Power, is “Inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.”  All of these organizations are committed to bringing abundance to poverty stricken communities through education and empowerment by way of self-actualized food security.

These have all been concrete examples of how the world in which we live produces scarcity, when in fact, abundance is present, but let’s consider the abstract.  Let’s go back to that instinct and the perpetual barrage of scarcity the surrounds us in our communities.  If we are pre-conditioned to accept that there is something to be fearful of around every corner, how do we change our thinking?  How do we put that fear aside and focus on inviting abundance in to our own lives and families and communities?

As it turns out, this shift in thinking is already beginning.  It is happening incrementally at the ultra-local level.  All around the world, small groups of people are working hard to protect their communities from destruction.  That destruction comes about in a number of ways as mentioned above, though climate change, or resource exploitation, or by the overlaying of social structures on top of cultures that are not interested in shifting their way of life.  Paul Hawken, in his book Blessed Unrest, estimates that there could be as many as one million of these small civic and cultural groups around the world that focus their efforts on self-healing and community preservation.  People are beginning to take matters in to their own hands and ignore the common wisdom of patriarchal systems that have passed judgement on the worth of their communities based mostly on their ability to contribute to economic growth.  As Grace Lee Boggs points out in her recent book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism For the Twenty-First Century, “Many of these groups are inspired by a philosophy that replaces the scientific and reductive rationalism of seventeenth-century Western male philosophers (such as Descartes and Bacon) with the ways of knowing of Indigenous Peoples (which include the perceptions of trees and animals) and women, based on intimate connections with Nature and ideas of healing and caring that were part of European village culture prior to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century witch hunts.”

We are coming to the end of an age.  This age brought us much prosperity and brought much of the world out of poverty, but we have reached the limits of it’s ability to create real abundance.  It is an age that will collapse on itself if we do not turn the page and move forward.  More than 10,000 years ago, we roamed the earth with no society outside of those with whom we hunted and gathered with.  The age of agriculture brought us closer together and allowed us to put down roots and explore our capacity for compassion and shared sacrifice.  The Axial age laid the foundation for our spirituality as we settled down in those communities that the agricultural age allowed.  The industrial age further centralized us and grew our communities as we built the great cities of the world.  The information age has filled us to the brim with knowledge of our ancestors, our brothers and sisters across the world, our faults, our triumphs, and our possibilities.  Boggs points us to Karen Armstrong, the 2008 TED prize winner, author, and spiritual scholar noting that “Armstrong is convinced that as a result of urbanization, globalization, and rapidly changing technology the whole world is now in the midst of a social crisis as profound as that of the Axial Age.  We are therefore called on to make a similar leap in faith, to practice a similar compassion.  Native People’s view of the Earth as a sacred entity rather than only as a resource, she believes, provides us with a model.”

In my personal experience, I have noticed over the last couple of years how important the notion of abundance is for me.  I have ebbed and flowed with the tides of my thoughts for how to remake myself.  I’ve struggled with how to be more true to my belief that abundance is the reality of our world rather than the model of scarcity that penetrates our social fabric and can so quickly discourage us from our path.  I have seen great abundance in support from my friends and family.  I have also seen how scarcity and my fear of it can absolutely paralyze me and close me off from opportunities that are staring me in the face.  I want to live from a place of abundance.  My world is more full, my heart is happy, and my mind at ease when I do.  When I succumb to scarcity as my reality, I feel empty, heavy, hopeless and afraid.

Abundance is a state of mind. It is not food or water or resources of any kind.  It is not sunlight and wind or gas and coal providing all the energy we need.  It is not money.  It is not capitalism or socialism or communism.  Abundance is the heart with which we strive compassionately to end poverty and hunger.  It is the wealth of community and friendship and family we need to feel safe and loved in the world.  It is the collective will of the people to provide for one another.  It is the reverence and awe of our environment that we must have in order to preserve life.  It is the nourishment of our bodies and minds with the fruit of our hope for peace.  It is our recognition of all peoples as one humanity.  We are each other’s keepers.

For another take on the issues of Abundance Vs. Scarcity please visit Esther Emery’s Blog here.  We have made a point to coordinate these posts so that the conversation can grow among our community and any who choose to engage in the discussion.  Together we grow.  

Defining “Local” in the Twenty-First Century

lo·cal   adjective   \ˈlō-kəl\

1   : characterized by or relating to position in space : having a definite spatial form or location
2a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place : not general or widespread
2b : of, relating to, or applicable to part of a whole
3a : primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district
3b : of a public conveyance : making all the stops on a route
4   : involving or affecting only a restricted part of the organism: topical <a local anesthetic>
5   : of or relating to telephone communication within a specified area

This is how Merriam-Webster defines the word “Local.”  But I think it is time that we expand this definition as we tackle “local” issues.  Yes, most of the time, a local issue will be very specifically anchored to place, but when we consider the term with regards to community, things get a little hairy.  If I am to focus my efforts on incremental change within my local community, what does that mean for my broader community.  I am very fortunate to have friends and loved ones spread out across the world.

 If I am to address issues at home – read “locally” – does that mean specifically that I should not concern myself with others whom I share a common interest with in regards to engaging in these large paradigm-shift questions?  I think not.  I recognize that the definition of “Community” does not absolutely prescribe place, and would seemingly solve the quandary by simply ignoring the word “local.”

com·mu·ni·ty    nounoften attributive    \kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\

1   : a unified body of individuals: as
1a : statecommonwealth
1b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself        <the problems of a large community>
1c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
1d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a communityof retired persons>
1e : a group linked by a common policy
1f  : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community>
1g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academiccommunity>
2   : society at large
3a : joint ownership or participation <community of goods>
3b : common character : likeness <community of interests>
3c : social activity : fellowship
3d : a social state or condition

As you can see, many of these definitions clarify that your community need not be “local.”  But my question here is one of the scale in which we exist today.  Yes, if I want to talk about water and irrigation, the problems are going to be extremely different here in Colorado than they will be for my friends in the Pacific Northwest, but as we begin to examine the issue closely, can we not both bring serious points to the table and do we not both learn and think critically about the issue and how exactly it applies to our physical locality?
Perhaps more aptly, if we are discussing institutional racism, surely my experiences in San Diego are relevant to my friends in Chicago.  True, they are not “the same,” but they do inform and help steer a conversation.  This quandary about the term local came to me after considering a group that I belong to called Open Hearts & Minds.  We are a very small, as of now, and ragtag group of similarly minded people around the country brought together by a friend of mine. The purpose of the group is to engage in critical discourse about the very serious and challenging issues of our times without succumbing to the polarizing rhetoric that is hurled about through social networking.  We endeavor to discuss these myriad issues with a focus on listening to one another and steering clear of inflammatory language and untruths.  As we discuss those issues, our hope is to take those discussions back to our “local communities” to further the discussions as they pertain to our experiences at the local level.  As I sat down to consider my “local community”, it occurred to me, that I am displaced from that which I consider to be that community.  We are living in Colorado for a couple of years, and have admittedly not engaged as fully in our present community as we might have wished.  After further thought, though, it became clear that my community knows no physical place.  Sure, we call San Diego County our “home”, and Louisville, CO our “residence”, but our “community” knows no locality.  So how do I bring the conversation “home” to a community and disregard friends who I feel are instrumental to my experience of the world, simply because they do not live within a prescribed distance of my residence?
The distance between us has narrowed.  We are not so far apart.  Physical distance is transcended by our utilization of modern technology.  As a result, what I say here is read in New York and Portland simultaneously and is therefore, just as timely, if not relevant to those who choose to read it.  Does that not then redefine “Local?”  If my definition of local is expanded to include everyone with whom I am in regular contact with, then “thinking globally” and “thinking locally” can equate.  I said in my previous post that we must forget the cliched bumper sticker and instead “Think Locally, Act Locally.”  I think that is true, but we must redefine “Locally” on both sides of that phrase.  Yes, what I am capable of doing physically is only relevant to my physical space, but that project, in abstract, is of real relevance to my expanded sense of “local community.”  Similarly, as I consider new ideas to implement in my physical space, I must consider the ideas produced by that same expanded sense of “local community.”  Thus, in considering what ideas to employ, I must be thinking about problems presented to me by my physical place and solutions offered by those in close proximity as well as those in my expanded sense of “local community.”  In addition, as I happen upon solutions to problems posed by my physical place, I must share those solutions with my neighbors near and far.

 

Our world is more closely linked than ever before.  We are witnessing what Thomas Friedman calls the flattening of the world.  As communications and rural off-grid power supplies bring us nearer to our global communities, we have an obligation to engage with them as neighbors.  We must treat the entire earth as our backyard.  It is all “local.”

Talking the talk…

I don’t protest.  I don’t demonstrate.  I rarely “participate.”  I observe.  Only now, entering my late 30s, am I able to see how being one that observes IS a form of participation.  As i read, watch, investigate, research and experiment I am, in essence, engaging in the changing world.  I am trying new ideas on for size.  I am scrutinizing my daily routines and making subtle shifts in habit.  I am becoming more aware of myself and my place in a new paradigm.  This, I think, must count as walking the walk.  One need not have given several years of service to community organizations, or work full-time for a non-profit, or have been awarded a grant for innovative new thinking to be a part of the world as we discover what comes next.  One must only possess a recognition of the change that is beginning, and a determination to learn more, however incrementally, about what they can bring to the table.

We are living at the cusp of something new.  It it undefined.  It exists only as vision and a few experiments throughout the world.  It is not widespread in action, though clearly in need.  It does not have limits.  It is, however, most certainly, new.  Even as our new world paradigm seeks to incorporate past truths and models of life, it does so with a new understanding.  This new understanding comes on the heels of great turmoil that is decades old.  This turmoil, in conjunction with our unprecedented connection to the global community, lays a marker for us to strive from.  We must gather our strength, knowledge, and resources and work with unrivaled cooperation to bring about the change we hope to see.  We are, as Grace Lee Boggs says, the change we’ve been looking for.

As we embark on a quest for collaborative community, we must recognize where we are.  We must recognize that we live in a world with seemingly insurmountable challenges. We live in a polarized world of conflicting ideologies.  Extremists at all peripheries  command the spotlight, giving no room for negotiation and tolerance.  Our populations are exploding worldwide, and as they explode, the gap between those that are rich and those that are poor is widening exponentially.  We have commodified our natural resources and our worth as human beings.  We have privatized profits and socialized the costs.  Our environment is suffering from man-made climate change.  Children are neglected by outdated and incompetent education systems.  Racism and Sexism run rampant.  And our food and water supplies are poisoned.  Most, if not all of this, is due to the pursuit of profit and economic growth, which fails to recognize the basic physics of a perpetual growth model with finite resources.

Similarly, as this quest begins, we must also recognize that there are people adjusting.  There are new models to explore.  Detroit offers cogent examples of people taking change in to their own hands and ignoring the status quo.  Brasil has implemented new transportation systems to deal with the environment and social inequality.  Co-ops and farmers markets are springing up all around us.  European style worker-owned factories are taking root in the United States.  Energy Think-Tanks are breaking the mold as we try to adapt to Peak Oil.  And alternative education models are becoming increasingly popular.

We can no longer look to government, though it plays a role.  We can no longer simply give money to our particular causes, as the organizations and non-profits lack the breadth of understanding to tackle something so large as a paradigm shift.  We must do this in our neighborhoods and communities.  We must listen to each other; inquire as to each other’s needs; seek opportunities to mend the fabric of our society.  As we search, armed with the knowledge and resources of those that are already conducting experiments around the world, we must forget the cliched bumper sticker and instead, “Think Locally, Act Locally.”

As I endeavor to answer these questions in my own community, I aim to share my findings, thereby expanding the wealth of knowledge.  As the walls of our current paradigm begin to decay, we all have a seed to plant in the rubble.  I believe that a garden of abundance is taking root and will blossom in the Spring.