The Work That Reconnects

On Saturday I went down to Rhode Island to participate in a 4-hour workshop on “The Work that Reconnects,” inspired by the work of Joanna Macy. It was described as “a perspective-changing, life-affirming workshop designed to help us face and feel our deepest, most healing responses to the world’s crises within a supportive group context.” Ultimately, the goal was to help us take part in what Joanna Macy  calls, The Great Turning – away from an industrial growth society into a life-affirming society. The workshop was led by Karina Lutz and Jim Tull, and was attended by about one hundred participants, which shows how hungry people are for this kind of work.

In a series of meditations and activities, we explored the spiral of the work: gratitude, honoring our pain, seeing with new eyes and going forth, described in the book, “Coming Back to Life,” by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown. The work begins with gratitude to calm us and stimulate our empathy; we all have much to be thankful for and sharing that helps us connect to one another. In honoring our pain, we explore our own compassion for ourselves and others as we acknowledge feelings that accumulate with the drumbeat of bad environmental news; here we begin to see the immensity of our hearts and minds. Seeing with new eyes stems from understanding our relationship to the past and future and helps us shift our perspective from individual events and actions to understanding how systems work – we taste our power to change and to effect change. Finally, we go forth with passion, clarity and compassion, and the spiral begins again.

It’s hard to convey the power of the workshop and I just have a brief summary of a few of the activities that resonated with me.

One of the first meditations was simply to breathe deeply, something that I’ve been practicing to ground myself in the past two months or so. But here, we were reminded that the air we breathe is the same air that the trees breathe and all living things near and far breathe. Of course we’re aware of that in theory, but in practice, honestly, I think of the air I breathe as very much right in front of my nose, so this was a useful reminder!

One exercise that was useful for such a large group followed soon after and that was to mill about the room first of all, as if in a hurry, caught up in our own self-importance, and then to slow down and become aware of others around us. Even in that shift, you could feel the mood in the room immediately warm up. People smiled and acknowledged one another. Then, upon signals for a sequence of encounters, we were to stop and find a partner, take their hand, and recognize the many things they could have done that day but chose instead to be there. In another encounter, we were to recognize what the other person knew about what was happening in the world, and yet they kept their eyes open to it. In other encounters, we were to recognize the chance that the other person might die from toxins in the environment or the important role they might play in bringing about a life-sustaining civilization.

One of the most powerful encounters was when we closed our eyes and explored our partner’s hand as if we were an alien. Such an interesting evolutionary product is a hand! And capable of so much: gathering and preparing food, playing with a ball, comforting and giving pleasure to another person. Here was an intimate way to connect with a stranger.

The whole activity had lots of hand-holding and staring into strangers’ eyes, which pushed me out of my comfort zone, but when I thought about how to recognize them, the strangeness evaporated and they became familiar. We would then chat about what brought us there or simply smile at one another in gratitude.

One of the last exercises was to share in a small group a time when we made a difference. One person in my group related how he gave a poor acquaintance a guitar, and then watched him flourish as a musician. I shared my reasons for writing my book about extinct animals and that many people thanked me for the book. We were then asked to share the qualities that we had heard in the stories. Suddenly, the room was full of “love,” “excitement,” “generosity,” “tenderness,” “selflessness,” “courage,” “independence of thought,” “honesty,” “openness,” “humor,” and much more. So the power within us is what resonated as we made pledges to one another, wrapped up and made to go forth.

Though there are none listed at the moment, I hope there will be more such events in New England soon.

Links: The Work That Reconnects, Work That Reconnects Greater Boston

The Pianist Plays for the Melting Glacier

I loved the video that Greenpeace produced a couple of years ago to bring attention to climate change in the arctic. Pianist Ludovico Einaudi plays his own composition, Elegy for the Arctic, on a barge while around him the glacier ice melts. I wrote a poem about the video and published it in the Amsterdam Quarterly. Now, with the permission of Greenpeace, I have put the poem together with the video and some minor video editing — you can see the result here.

The Future is Now: Donald Trump and Climate Change

“Maybe it won’t be so bad?”

I caught myself saying this yesterday and today, regarding the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, over the much more qualified Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Apart from my objections to the extreme and divisive statements Mr. Trump made in his campaign, I’m particularly concerned about his policies on climate change and the environment.

Really, the question is “How could we let this happen?” We actually let three debates pass by without a single question on climate change, the biggest issue of our time. We on the coasts need to  be concerned about climate change for the inevitable sea level rise. Both on the coasts and inland we need to be concerned about drought conditions (see the latest map here that shows parts of California, the Northeast and the Southeast suffering from severe drought), which, if prolonged, will start affecting food supplies. Internationally, we need to be concerned because, in the case of Syria, the droughts caused by climate change had a direct role in fomenting the conflict that created a humanitarian crisis with the exodus of more refugees than neighboring and Western countries wanted to take in. Have a look at how Bangladesh is faring in our warmed world, or the island nation of Kiribati and one can only conclude that the era of the “climate change refugee” has already begun.  In fact, the USA already has its own climate refugees.

Yet despite describing climate change as “A hoax perpetrated by the Chinese,” Mr. Trump was still able to get himself elected.

I took some solace in finding out that there are provisions in last year’s Paris Climate Treaty, which prevent easy withdrawal. (It takes three years, and there’s still a twelve-month waiting period after that.) But it would be easy for Mr. Trump to undo President Obama’s modest gains on reigning in emissions and investment in renewables and thus for the US to fall short of the Paris targets. (See the big piece in today’s New York Times.)

So, I no longer think, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.”

I just read through a lengthy discussion about Mr. Trump’s environmental plans on Reddit, kicked off by an informative summary by u/arksien (a long-time Redditor). The thread has more than 3500 comments both by Americans and from people around the world. Together with the piece in the Times mentioned above, it’s truly a cold slap in the face about what awaits us under President Trump.

The US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because China and India didn’t have to commit to any emission reductions. In the Paris Treaty, China and India are now both onboard so the US has no excuse for inaction. The USA also has no excuse for inaction because the rest of the world depends on us here to lead by example.

The People’s Climate March for action against climate change

The USA has always been a country of leaders.

And now is the time for the USA to lead us out of climate danger. If we let Mr. Trump and his cohort make good on his promises to expand fossil fuel usage, we’re dooming ourselves and our children to increased climate misery and uncertainty. The last five years have been the hottest ever.  Given Mr. Trump’s character, it is going to be incredibly difficult to convert him to a climate hero — therein lies the challenge. Now is not the time for complacency. We all must engage the crisis. If the leaders won’t lead on this most fundamental of issues, we must lead ourselves.

Now, when’s the next meeting and where do I send my dues? Hope to see you there.