Category Archives: Global Sustainability

We are apart of – not a part from Mother Nature

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 Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says a spiritual revolution is needed if we are going to confront the environmental challenges that face us. Photograph: Plum Village

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has been practising meditation and mindfulness for 70 years and radiates an extraordinary sense of calm and peace. This is a man who on a fundamental level walks his talk, and whom Buddhists revere as a Bodhisattva; seeking the highest level of being in order to help others.

Ever since being caught up in the horrors of the Vietnam war, the 86-year-old monk has committed his life to reconciling conflict and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying “his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” Continue reading We are apart of – not a part from Mother Nature

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Who are we and what are we doing here?

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The Tree of Life and the Cosmos are One

This morning I prayed….. in fact, I pray every morning.  I pray for the knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry it out.  I pray to a God that is beyond my understanding. I pray because doing so has resulted in long periods of serenity, moments of clarity, and the chance to practice using spiritual tools that allow me to get through the difficult times and dark periods.  I pray for peace – and I work for a more sustainable world that will be free from want and fear – for all.

I was born into a religious tradition that taught me to fear that I would be punished (for Continue reading Who are we and what are we doing here?

Clocks and Trees

In ancient eras, there was no mechanical time since there were no human-made clocks. The ringing of a bell, the setting of the sun, or the changing of the seasons marked time. When the clock was created, it was a marvelous invention but soon became more than a tool, it became a model for the entire universe. This mechanical model of the world supported the belief that living systems were easy to take apart, adjust, and fix. Humans, as part of the world could also be “fixed” when something was wrong. Humans were perceived as “nothing but” machines.

The mechanistic model of the world was useful since it allowed thinkers to break away from the tyranny of the church in the 17th century. A world that could be measured might not be subject to the authority of the church. However a new authority emerged, a science of reductionism, which allowed humans to control their environment. This new authority produced modern medicine, modern technology, and modern destruction of natural systems. Today we need a new model, a new way to frame our understanding of the universe – new way to “see” the earth.

Systems thinking is a new way of looking at things that will help us overcome the crisis of perception left us by Descartes. The systems framework for thinking can encourage personal empowerment and a better understanding of the world. Systems thinkers begin with understanding processes and structures. Instead of starting to look at complex systems such as organisms, ecosystems and organizations by focusing on the components of the system, systems thinkers look at the whole and then examine key relationships within the whole.

A biologist who breaks a tree into its component pieces, such as roots, leaves, and bark will never understand the tree entirely. A systems thinker might see the seasonal exchange between the tree and the earth, between the earth and the sky, and between people as observers of the tree and the universe. A systems thinker might see the life of the tree in relation to the life of the whole forest; the habitat for insects and birds and ask, “why does a tree produce millions of seeds and only produce few offspring.” While a biologist might assume the world is a difficult place to survive and hence millions of seeds are needed, a systems thinker might speculate that because the tree is part of the web of life, the millions of seeds might be important for the entire ecosystem not just an individual tree or even tree species. The tree might have co-evolved with the system of which it is a component part, thus making the ecosystem as much as the ecosystem makes the tree.

 

 

 

Thought is not enough….

The problems of humans are many. Children are dying from hunger, war, poverty, disease, and pollution of the air and water. Humanity is in trouble. Dissolution of the social units that once supported community caring, such as the family, neighborhood, tribe and village, leave nothing but the schools to teach humans how to think, how to act, how to feel. The outcome is crime, loss of hope, vulgar desires for superficial symbols of success, a corrupt political response, more hurt, drugs, unwanted pregnancies yielding unwanted children, and on, and on, and on.

And environmental degradation continues. Billions of living things that are not “us” are victimized each year as we invade the habitats upon which they depend to live. This we know. The protective ozone womb of the mother of us all has been violated by compounds that we create for our own convenience. This we know. Millions of our own species are starving and dying on our televisions, while we watch. This we know too. Thoughtful people know but don’t feel. When we are fully attentive, that is both thoughtful and feeling, the sense of confusion and despair is so great that we stop paying attention. Feeling hurts too much, so we either think without passion or just stop thinking altogether about that which we don’t want to see. We know and don’t feel, or we distract our minds with television shows we don’t really see, food we don’t taste, music we don’t hear, or shopping for things we don’t need. Our minds grow dull and our hearts grow hard from lack of exercise, and spirit wanes.

The human mind, faced with the facts of the human condition digs itself a hole and covers itself with a layer of self-deceit. While some might decry this lack of thoughtfulness, this may be the only rational thing to do with these thoughts. After all, thinking has gotten us where we are today. The act of thinking has built weapons capable of destroying everything we love. Thought has degraded ecosystems, created cycles of poverty, and allowed us to introduce poisons into our bodies that dull the pain. Thinking “alone” cannot solve the problems that thinking has created. To solve the problems of humanity, we must go beyond thinking, beyond reason, beyond rational thought. Thought is necessary but not enough. Thought only produces knowledge. Today we need both knowledge AND wisdom, where wisdom is defined as the awareness of what has value in life. Learning for wisdom will require the integration of thinking and feeling, mind and body, science and spirit, knowledge and values, head and heart, yin and yang. Learning for wisdom will require more coherence (literally, a hanging together) than learning for knowledge. Learning for wisdom will require more education and less schooling.

Even the “best” knowledge-focused schooling today only provides learning for the head. Information is handed over to pupils in safe, officially approved packages to be handed back to teachers for them to judge and reward. The interchange of information between teachers and pupils is little more than a mental handshake in which a thought is passed from an old head to a young one and back again. Like a handshake, the connection between the teacher and student is safe and brief, resulting in the transfer of information without meaning, disconnected from life. We need more than mental handshakes to learn how to solve the problems we have created. We need a connection that is deep and lasting to produce learning for the heart. To understand how more meaningful learning might occur, we should look at the early years of human growth.

The early years of learning are ones in which feeling and thinking are coupled and intelligence grows through intuitive leaps. The child learning to examine and manipulate her fingers at will is an act of raw, unguided learning. This learning experience is full of wonder and awe, a miracle of personal achievement, so different from the teachings offered in school and university. The environment of the early learning experience is one of support, challenge, caring and love. This process is coherent, in that feeling and thinking are fully intertwined. The process of coherent learning that begins with the infant is lost early in life as socialization rewards thinking and discourages feeling. Passions are buried, sometimes to explode in destructive behavior but never to be employed in a coherent learning process in which intelligent feeling is encouraged.

Thinking is necessary but insufficient to coherent learning since it suppresses the role of feeling. To understand the difference between the coherent learning of the infant and the incoherent learning of the adult, imagine an adult who has never seen the sunrise over the eastern ocean. The first time this “uneducated” adult sees the ocean sunrise might be thought of as a moment of wonder and unfiltered learning. This childlike learner might see the ever-changing depth of color in the water, the brilliant reflection of the morning sun as it dances on the crests of distant waves. She might see the majesty of the ocean swells, and hear the roar of those same swells relinquishing their power as they crash one after the other onto the beach. She might feel the spray on her face, leaving a drying crust of salt, which is the same salt of her blood. At that moment, the childlike learner might ask what or who made this monument to the wonder of the earth. At that moment she might believe in God.

Now letýs send this person to the university to study oceanography and learn about the physics, chemistry and biology of ocean systems in a classroom far from shore. When this student visits the ocean over a lifetime of study, the wonder of that first look is lost, as knowledge replaces awe. The first experience of the ocean was one of pure, coherent learning. Later perceptions of the ocean are filtered by memories, thoughts and facts acquired in the classroom. While this knowledge is useful, it is not coherent if it displaces the wonder of the first look. The learning which results from thinking alone yields a human mind capable of creating technologies or practices which pollute the ocean environment. Learning resulting from both thinking and feeling might contribute to a more balanced mind.

Our big brains seem to be particularly well adapted to retain thought (both of thinkings and feelings) through memory. This memory allows the body to repeat certain physical acts as well as to bring forward stored images into the active, living present. These images are both cognitive and emotive, with emotive being the more powerful. For example, memory of previous experiences can bring forward feelings of fear, anxiety, or happiness to affect current experience. Thought (being that which has been experienced in the past, stored in memory, and carried forward into the present) includes previous feelings and thinkings which interpenetrate each other and become hard wired into a common structure within our memories. The process of thinking and feeling not only create thought, but are themselves influenced by thought, since observations of objective reality are received through a filter of previous thinkings and feelings. Thought influences, even controls our current feelings and thinkings. While infants (or our “uneducatedý adult learner with her first look at the ocean) may be more open to new, unfiltered and coherent learning, adults are programmed to think, feel and act by “reflexive thought.”

Thought, which is the result of previous thinking and feeling, influences current thinking and feeling through an instantaneous reflexive act. Of course it is not possible to control the reflexive nature of thought, since the control will also be based on thought. But we have to wonder if it is possible to solve the problems of humanity that were created by thought, using a thinking and feeling process that itself is influenced by thought. Is it possible for “authentic” learning to happen as long as reflexive thought interferes with learning? Is the human species just a snake trying to swallow its own tail?

To break out of the circular pattern of thought controlling thinking and feeling, physicist David Bohm, approached the reflexive nature of thought by trying to understand something he called proprioception (or self-perception). This is the awareness of the internal system which controls routine activities such as eating, brushing teeth and walking. While these activities are usually “automatic”, it is a simple matter of will to shift from reflexive treatment of these acts to a more attentive awareness. If we choose to, and practice, we can become more aware of the act of brushing our teeth. The proprioception or self-awareness of the body is easily developed, if generally underutilized by most adults. Proprioception of thought on the other hand is not well- developed. If however, mind and body are one it should be possible to develop such self- perception or awareness of thought. Trying to control thought is not likely to be possible since the reflexive response is too fast, however it may be possible to suspend and observe reflexive thought (including thinking and feeling) producing what Bohm called insight. Intuitive discovery or insight is a spontaneous coherence at a level not possible through thinking alone.

Bohm proposed that it was more likely to achieve direct insight into the working of thought in group settings of twenty to forty people in a process of inquiry he called dialogue. While it is difficult to imagine a lone individual learning to become aware of their own reflexive thought process, it might be possible in a group. With practice, perhaps a group could develop a more mature and communal version of the unfiltered coherent learning experience of the infant in the dialogue process. If this was possible, we might begin to understand the complex issues of the day in a more coherent way. Then maybe, just maybe, we might be better able to create solutions together from a foundation of wisdom and build a better future.

While education is indeed the path to discovery of solutions for humanity’s problems, the incoherent teachings of the schools and universities divert us from the learning we need. We need an education of rigorous intellectual activity motivated by awe and wonder. This kind of learning should be nurtured by an environment of community caring where thinkings and feelings are both honored, and the values of happiness, health, friendship, love, justice, freedom, responsibility, democracy, and productive work are explicit, desired outcomes of coherent learning. Thought is necessary to this kind of learning, but thought “alone” (either separate from feeling) or “alone” (outside of a community) is simply not enough. Thinking and feeling must be done in the company of other humans, working and learning to heal ourselves, our communities, our planet – together.

                                                                                                                             John M. Gerber
March, 1997

 

Local Impact of Climate Change?

Every once in a while someone asks me about the potential local impact of global climate change.  So I compiled some reports relevant to my little area of the world, western Massachusetts.

Here goes….

pvplanAccording to a report by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the long-term observed climate warming trends in our region include:

  • Increase in average temperature of 3-5 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • More frequent summer days with temperatures above 90 degrees;
  • Smaller snow packs with earlier spring snow-melts; and more violent weather events, such as those we experienced in 2011.  Do you remember:
  • On June 1, a series of category EF-3 tornadoes struck Springfield and nine other communities, the region’s worst outbreak of tornadoes in a century, causing $90 million in damages in Hampden County alone; and
  • On August 28-29, Tropical Storm Irene dumped as much as 10 inches of rain on the region, causing extensive flood damages totaling over $1billion across the Northeast; and then;
  • On October 30, a record early snowstorm of 8-24 inches snapped branches and downed power lines, leaving 3 million people without power for up to 2 weeks, and causing $3 billion in damages across the Northeast.

Continue reading Local Impact of Climate Change?

Climate Change News from New York

The big news coming out of the United Nations Climate Summit in N.Y. City –  following the largest climate change march in history is…

….what WILL NOT happen.

 

This is from a news story from the Associated Press – flash!

  • The United States WILL NOT join 73 other countries to support a price on carbon.
  • Brazil WILL NOT sign a pledge to halt deforestation by 2030.
  • China WILL NOT agree to President Obama’s declaration that “nobody gets a pass” and insists that developing nations be treated differently

The rhetoric coming out of the historic meeting of nations following massive rallies by climate supporters in NY and around the world was indeed inspiring.

“Today we must set the world on a new course” according to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

President Obama proclaimed “Today I call on all countries to join us, not next year or the year after that, but right now.  Because no nation can meet this global threat alone.Continue reading Climate Change News from New York

Walmart’s policies are the cause not the solution to poverty

Walmart, the largest grocery store in the world, is often presented as a solution to poverty because of its low prices.  There is a reason for those low prices however and it is because they put ever-increasing pressure on suppliers (including those that supply food) to drive down their costs.  This drives down wages, both for the Associates who work in the stores as well as all across the manufacturing and food production chain.

Walmart is the major player in the “race to the bottom” which keeps full-time employees in poverty.  Other retailers are forced to follow in their footsteps.  When we shop locally and pay a few cents more for our food, we invest in a better quality of life for all.  However, since less than 1% of the food sold in the U.S. is produced and sold locally, this won’t be enough.  We need to require fair working conditions for all workers.  Walmart’s death grip on groceries is making life worse for millions of people!

You can help!

The following is a call for action from the Food Chain Workers Alliance.  We need to recognize that food is cheap in the U.S. because we allow people to be exploited.  When we shop at Walmart (and other “big box” stores for food) we participate and benefit from this exploitative system.

Food workers are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of political voice.  When workers protest to unfair conditions, they are punished.

PLEASE SIGN THE STATEMENT LINKED BELOW!

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Stand with Wal-Mart Strikers
on June 4th! 

Walmart employees will be striking in key locations across the country to protest Walmart’s illegal retaliation against Associates who have spoken up about inequality and have struck. Associates have been calling for Walmart wages to be raised to $25,000. Faith communities, union members, community groups, allied groups and students will be taking action in solidarity with Associates who are standing up against inequality. These actions will be happening at stores across the country and online.

You can support by signing onto FCWA’s Solidarity Statement here. Please sign onto the statement by Tuesday June 3!  You can also participate in a local action in your city or state. To find a local action click here.

To find out more about the campaign and actions on June 4 click here.

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