Anne Lamott

Changing the World

Or, thoughts while shovelling the driveway this morning… So, I’m shovelling the driveway at my house-sitting spot at 7 am, little country-mouse-recently-moved-to-the-Big City me, & it’s a shared driveway (my own car sits in the garage 99.9% of the time, as I love to walk & make use of public transportation), & I’ve been told there is no real need to shovel it (Torontonians are not really into winter, you see, & truthfully, winters here are a bit of a joke…)

But snow had fallen overnight

& freezing rain was predicted

& I’d rather have the freezing rain fall on bare pavement than make a great big snowy icy mixed-up mess

So I’m out there rather enjoying myself (to be honest) – it’s fresh air & exercise & also thinking time

& I remember how I used to have a shared driveway in my Deep River daze, & being frugally-living me, fully expected to be shovelling the driveway myself, but the couple with whom I shared the driveway (who didn’t actually live there; they were living down in Toronto at that point, & only visiting their Deep River house once in a blue moon), paid some guy to plow the driveway, & were very generous-minded & told him to just plow the whole durn thing

& so their generosity & their shall we say “paying it forward” gesture is popping up in my brain today

& I’m thinking about how we change the world (admittedly I have given up trying to “save” it), & I’ve got a conversation in my head about the deep, deep very long-standing systemic problems Canada’s First Nations people have had visited upon them for oh, the past 500 years or so (the conversation was on Michael Enright’s Sunday morning show; podcast of ‘First Nations Governance’ here), & a truth (or what sounded like one to me) was spoken, & it was this:

Nobody can wave a magic wand over really seriously, deeply entrenched problems from the outside only – people must take leadership themselves to find solutions (with, presumably, plenty of practical help from appropriate agencies, of course!)

& as I shovel the driveway I think we need (always) the right tools for the job (even shovelling snow requires the right tools – a plow-y kind of shovel & a lift-&-heave kind of shovel, or so it is in my world, anyway) & strategy too of course (in a big city it takes strategy even to find a place to put the snow one is shovelling!?)

& some of the right tools for world-changing are

  • appreciation of diversity in people & methods & solutions
  • cooperation
  • courage
  • energy
  • heart; lots & lots of heart. More heart, less mind
  • leadership
  • neighbourliness
  • paying it forward
  • resilience, resourcefulness

 

& some of what we need to lose, in world-changing activities, are

  • a need for hero worship
  • an “oh poor me” mindset
  • ego
  • hierarchy
  • thinking one’s way to do things is the only way to do things (that "It's my way or the highway" kind of thinking)

 

‘cos even my snow-shovelling gig is an example of how there is always more than one way to do things

I’m a very sort of anarchic snow-shoveller – I’m kind of here, there & everywhere, unpredictable & sort of sloppy as opposed to working in a neat orderly predictable fashion, & I can just hear all the men I know saying patronizingly “Oh no, Janet, that is NOT the way to do it, you see, you have to do it THIS way” (all the women I know would just say “Oh Janet THANK YOU for doing this," & wouldn't give a darn how I went about it)

& you see I think there are as many ways to shovel a driveway as there are people prepared to shovel it, & as many ways to change the world as there are people prepared to work on changing it

& finally, a big thing I think way too many people don’t GET about work (or what you might call service) is that doing it FEELS SO GOOD, & it feels even better when it’s shared with others in a spirit of cooperation, & better still when one feels appreciated for one’s efforts, & I think overall it just can’t be said any better than this:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” (Rabindranath Tagore, philosopher, author, songwriter, painter, educator, composer, Nobel laureate, 1861-1941)

Janet

p.s. & I thank the delightful writer Anne Lamott for reminding me of this amazing, inspiring quotation, which she includes in her lovely book Help Thanks Wow – The Three Essential Prayers, on page 23.

p.p.s. & thinking all these thoughts reminded me of the wonderful Mary O’Brien, & her 15 always-useful & really quite awesome campaign tips, which are posted here

p.p.p.s. & if you want to be totally totally totally blown away by a passionate & articulate plea for help, for Heaven’s sake go & read this amazing letter by the incomparable Dr. Sandra Steingraber.     What a woman!!!!!!!

Quote of the day with this post: “For every nine people who denounce innovation, only one will encourage it… For every nine people who do things the way they have always been done, only one will ever wonder if there is a better way. For every nine people who stand in line in front of a locked building, only one will ever come around and check the back door. Our progress as a species rests squarely on the shoulders of that tenth person. The nine are satisfied with things they are told are valuable. Person 10 determines for himself what has value.” – Za Rinpoche & Ashley Nebelsieck in The Backdoor to Enlightenment (Three Leaves) – quoted in Oprah Magazine Jan. 2008

Sick Puppies, Morons & Moral Slackards

** March 31/19: just ran across this old posting. The quotes at the end are fantastic! Bummed that some of the links don’t work. 🙁 🙁

<Oct. 12/12.>

So, I was out on my walk this morning (a daily walk & a community of like-minded people are two of the things that help keep me out of the psychiatric ward…so far anyway!!) – & I was thinking about the upcoming Darlington Refurbishment hearings, & what I will be saying, & so I am musing on this, as I am walking along, okay?

When all of a sudden I spot dog poop on the path, & I think “Geez, why do some human beans (HBs) DO stuff like letting their dog poop right in the middle of the path & then LEAVING it there for other HBs to come along & step in. I mean…”

& then the phrase “sick puppies, morons & moral slackards” for some reason jumped into my head (yes I know, I know, I am a weirdo, but then tell me something I DIDN’T know, hmmmm?) – & btw just before my walk I’d been reading the NOW Magazine issue with the big “Is Rob Ford Really THAT Stupid?” on the front of the paper (Rob Ford being Toronto’s current mayor, heaven help us all)

& between the people who run the nuclear industry here in Canada & certain politicians I could name (but won’t; use your imagination!! Dunderhead politicians positively abound, & everywhere I move in Ontario I seem to land with a Member of Parliament even worse & more outrageous than the one before, & trust me, I have had to put up with some real DOOZIES).

It does seem as though I’ve had more experience than I might strictly care to have had with sick puppies & morons. For sure I’ve encountered some seriously sick puppies in my time, some of these not just sick but dangerous – sociopaths & psychopaths among them (not that I am 100% clear on the difference between these 2 categories, but whatever) – I do know not all the dangerous ones are incarcerated behind bars or the walls of psychiatric facilities, the way I wish they were – too many of them are out here wreaking havoc with their deficient moral capacity & non-existent concern for other HBs or even the human race as a whole, apparently…

& now I am wondering, as I scrawl all this down, how much do I prefer just slightly moronic types, as in, you know, people who are sort of “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” types, to the sick puppies who are deeply-deeply dangerous…

but when these not-very-sharp-knife types work for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (oxymoron alert!!) – I can think of one or two of this type, there, they are certainly not greatly to be admired (slight understatement), for as Dr. Rosalie Bertell once said, “We know we face extinction if nuclear war ever begins. But we face the same extinction even if the bombs never fall. The production alone of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is initiating the death crisis of our species.”

And…that I guess brings us along smartly to the moral slackards, hmmm? – a category of HBs far too numerous for my liking, if I may say so, & for sure I am myself among them, given my own contributions to the burden of climate change, for example – I do own a car, & while it is a small & very fuel-efficient one, & I do also use public transportation quite a bit – I’m a big-big fan of Ontario’s GO train system – but there it is, I DO own a car…

So this moral slackness category is a little bit uncomfortably close to home, isn’t it???

&, as most people who know me know, I’m also a little crazy (but not dangerously so…)

& I do speak up & raise my voice & even raise a bit of a ruckus on occasion

& if “The purpose of life is a life of purpose” as I have heard it said recently,

What is our purpose?   What is your purpose??

I sincerely hope you are not a sick puppy – or a moron, dear Reader

& I do wish more of us would try a little harder not to be moral slackards, too

& I wish we would begin to extract ourselves from jobs that require us to avert our eyes from the in some cases immoral & toxic & dangerous consequences thereof

& also, tell the truth a little more (even a lot more)

&, in the words of Anne Lamott, in one of her wonderful stories (‘Bastille Day’ in the book Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith), “Turn off the lie machine” a little more often

& … well.

Well, enough said, I guess.

Time to prepare those remarks for the Canadian Nuclear Danger (oops, I mean Safety) Commission, hmmm? Much as on this stunning, stunning Fall day I can think of at least 10 or 20 things I would rather do… but after all, the remarks will not write themselves, will they??

Janet

p.s. & as I came to the end of that truly glorious walk (on which, btw, I was mostly NOT thinking about dog poop or sick puppies, moral slackards or the nuclear monster that consumes so much of my time, but rather, gratefully drinking & breathing in the beautiful hills & trees & sky & earth with which I was surrounded), the phrase “Bozo Brigade” came to me. Do do do watch out for the Bozo Brigade, dear Reader. … & be ever so careful not to be part of it, hmmmm???

p.p.s. more on morons... as it were... here! [link now dead]

p.p.p.s. & more on psychopaths in a later post, here. [this link also now dead]

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Telling the truth is like making oxygen.” – Joanna Macy in a talk she gave in Toronto in June 2009 

Runners-up:

“I do not believe that we are only borrowing this planet from our children. Instead, I believe that we have actually stolen this planet from them, and that we must inspire our children to fight and take it back.” – Jane Goodall

“It is possible to be a great scoundrel without ever doing anything that is forbidden.” – Herman Hesse, German-Swiss author (1877-1962)

“The accepted, official version of anything is most likely false. All authority is based on fraud.” – Kenneth Rexroth

“You must locate your deepest private feelings – philosophical, religious, spiritual – and then decide to live out these beliefs in a commensurate way, in public, as much as possible without compromise.” – Marv Davidov, peace activist (quoted in Nukewatch Quarterly, Spring 2012 issue)

“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” – Benjamin Franklin, American statesman (1706-90) (more quotes about happiness here

“You possess only whatever will not be lost in a shipwreck.” – Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, Persian philosopher (1058-1111)

“Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” – Joanna Macy & Molly Young Brown in Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (New Society Publishers, 1998).

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel 

“Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton (more quotations about truth here )

Gratitude, Remembered

<April 7/12> So, I’ve been down in a pretty boggy swamp of despond, lately (my last few blog postings attest to that), but today I’m feeling human again.

Thankfully!

The world is STILL going to hell in a handbasket – that hasn’t changed, & I’ve had several alerts this past week or so regarding the situation in Fukushima being so impossibly precarious that the entire world has every reason to feel very, very sobered indeed… (Eek - this just in also).

But you know? Life is just lots more enjoyable when I don’t focus all the time all the time all the time on all the awful stuff.

  • The sun is shining today
  • A good friend sent me a cheery e-mail message (she knows all about the Fukushima stuff, better than I do, even, she is paying attention & more than paying attention) but we both take our joy from small blessings, hmmm?
  • Someone left an affirming comment on my blog (thank you thank you thank you!!  ) & funnily enough it was about all the gratitude postings. How timely, when I needed to be reminded of my own slightly messianic role in promoting gratitude! (which I had admittedly actually kind of forgotten about & needed to be reminded of )
  • When I was dumping out my paper recycling a teeny piece of paper with this quotation spilled out of the pile: “Abundance is not something we acquire. It’s something we tune into.” Wayne Dyer & this is true, it’s true, it’s true…
  • I’m going to be seeing a # of people I care about a whole bunch in the next couple of days
  • I had a good walk in the sunshine this morning early, & I made myself laugh inside when I came up with the idea of a new club called A*sholes Anonymous when I saw (more like smelled) a truck idling on the way back that I had seen 10 minutes before on my way up, & it’s not even winter anymore, Dude, so what is your deal?? AA. Yup. 
  • People on this GO train are smiling & being friendly (& just by pointedly turning & looking out the window when we were going by beautiful Lake Ontario, which everyone else was just ignoring, I caused one person to look out & notice its beauty too; so yay!!)

& of course the big trick about gratitude is that you focus on the good stuff, not the awful stuff. You focus on what you have, not what you don’t have (or have lost, & trust me, I’ve been down both those rabbit holes plenty enough myself) & when you work at this day after day, week after week, month after month, your list becomes very long indeed. Practice makes perfect!

(I’ve written about gratitude about a zillion times – all the postings are listed/linked here, & there are some pretty fine quotations about gratitude here)

Anne Lamott is one of my very favourite writers, & even though she & I are not really on the same page when it comes to religion, we are on the same page about something I am pretty sure I recall her saying once about prayer.

I think what she said (now I’m going to have to go & look it up, & I will, I will!) is that prayer is fine & good & worthwhile even if all you ever “pray” is “please please please” & “thank you thank you thank you.”(1)(2)

& I say “Thank you thank you thank you” a lot.

& the more I “do my thing” in the world (my “thing” happens to be environmental activism & writing), the more I am appreciated. & somebody has apparently said something to the effect that what we appreciate, appreciates (as in, grows in value, I guess?) Gotta check out this book & will report back soon….

So hey, world.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you

Me  

p.s. I think one of the biggest “poisons” many of us have ingested – as individuals & as a species, even – is the “taking for granted” disease. I’ve seen relationships wither up & die as a result of this simple but fatal disease – & I see things on our planet doing much the same thing. Check out the quotations on gratitude here & you’ll get an idea of what I mean, I think. We have failed abysmally to appreciate our incredibly beautiful, incredibly generous, incredibly abundant Earth & oh, dear me, we are certainly now reaping what we have sown …

p.p.s. gratitude, like virtue, is truly its own reward. (I want to say “no shit,” but that might sound rude & I don’t want to be too rude. So let’s just say “It really really is.”)


 

(1) A lot of years ago I discovered that you don’t even have to be a “believer” to pray. My own beliefs have changed a lot over the years & I needn't go into all that here. But it’s true that prayer does not have to be the sole preserve of believers…

(2) Sure enough I was wrong about Anne Lamott's prayer thoughts from Traveling Mercies - Some Thoughts on Faith (awesome awesome book, as are all of her others!!). It was "Help me, help me, help me" & "Thank you, thank you, thank you." But I was pretty close....

 

Hope

I should probably have called this post 'Hope: a definition I can live with. Or by.' But I have an obsession currently with 1-word titles...so I'm leaving it at 'Hope.' If I were feeling more energetic, I would include a variety of quotations or definitions on hope. And/or some links to my own postings on the subject of hope vs. action. (easy enough to find them here, under H, in the Index.)

But I'm a bit pooped today, so I'll just mention this definition that is new to me.

G.K. Chesterton said “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.”

Well, hooey! I like it!!

I feel as though the circumstances of Life on Planet Earth (especially with respect to various nuclear situations which again, I don't even have the energy to list off, & they are numerous...) seem a little on the desperate side. 

Fortunately (perhaps even inexplicably), I am able to retain my mostly cheerful nature.

There - that gives me a big thing to be grateful for on this less-than-energetic day!!

Janet

p.s. here are 2 more things I am grateful for: having run across some Eckhart Tolle wisdom on the weekend, thanks to the book Oneness With All Life - Inspirational Selections from A New Earth, & Tolle's wise words therein about acceptance, enjoyment & enthusiasm. Thanks, ET!!   The 2nd thing is another book, this one Anne Lamott's funny, wise, wonderful Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life - a treasure I have dipped into again & again over the past 10 years or so, & find inspiring & helpful & cheering (& fun!!) every time. It was there I found the reference to the Chesterton quotation about hope. So, thanks to these wise writers who have helped cheer me up today!!

Turning off the Lie Machine

<try # 2>

“Turn off the lie machine” is a brilliant slogan I came across in the wonderful Anne Lamott book Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith, in the essay “Bastille Day.” She explains that her Dad had published a book in 1967 called The Bastille Day Parade, in which he’d had “protesters carry signs that say ‘Turn Off the Lie Machine.’” (This essay is awesome! I just re-read it, & it made my day!! It’s brilliant, compassionate, wise & so funny. It makes me want to grab Anne Lamott & give her a great big hug. Thank goodness there are people like this woman on the planet!!! Perhaps there is hope for us????)

“Turn off the lie machine.” Isn’t it brilliant???

I can think of lots & lots of corporate & political & government types I’d love to see “turn off the lie machine.” Of course, I’d most especially like to see the nuclear industry turn off the lie machine (especially right now, in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan…).

But it sure isn’t just “bigshots” who need to stop telling whoppers.

We all do.

At least, that’s what I think.

I know I personally have led a very privileged life. (I was born & raised & have always lived in Canada, btw.)

Unlike many millions of people around the world, there is so much I personally have always been able to “take for granted.”

Privilege, I’ve noticed, seems to lead to feelings of entitlement. We begin to feel entitled to the “goodies” & the privileges. As though we are owed these things.

And goodness me, on that note, could I ever go off on a very long tangent! But I won’t. I’m going to keep myself very reined in here…

I would dearly love for all of us – especially those of us who’ve led & lead lives of privilege – to muse deeply & honestly on “the lie machine.”

Because I think we are all (certainly pretty much everyone I can think of) implicated in it.

I am, for sure!

I own a car, & every time I turn it on, I’m taking part in a lie that says I am entitled to use a lot of the earth’s resources & contribute to climate change in this way (far as I can figure, dear Reader, there is no such thing as “ethical oil.”)

When I consume too much electricity, or fossil fuels in any of their myriad modern forms, I am helping keep the nuclear plants (that I hate) open.

You see what I’m saying?

That darn lie machine is all over the place… isn’t it??

I think it would be very very useful for all of us to stop bullshitting ourselves. & each other.

I heard someone say recently that he wants to move into a more sustainable kind of living arrangement, but doesn’t want to give up any of his customary “comforts.” As though he is entitled to those comforts – some of which no doubt contribute to the climate change that causes flooding & storms & destruction in other parts of the world (the blog post ‘What is a person to DO??’ references the film ‘Climate change: does anybody care if Bangladesh drowns?’). I know my own “comforts” do…

I think we do all face, in the days to come, the loss of material “comforts” we have taken for granted.

I suspect it may even be true that our species has a terminal cancer. And I sometimes ask myself, does it really matter when one has a terminal diagnosis, if one casts off the lies one has always believed in, & has some sort of spiritual epiphany – even at the very last minute?

& for me, the answer to that question is, “Yes. It does.” (I don’t know why I believe this. But for some reason, I do.)

So. I’ll go on trying to tell the truth. & encouraging corporate pillagers of ALL stripes to “turn off the lie machine.”

And also encouraging myself to turn off the one I’m hitched up to – as in, recognizing my own lies & hypocrisies.

And I think until we all work at turning off the lie machine, the lies will just keep on & on & on & on & on & on.

Janet

p.s. truth & freedom go together, btw. Very cool song about that...

Quote of the day with this post: “Lies are infinite in number, and the truth so small and singular.” – from The Lacuna, a fascinating novel by Barbara Kingsolver (pg. 247)

 

Recycling: the good, the bad & the ugly

Recycling: such a nice “warm & fuzzy” word, isn’t it? A word with such positive associations.

And I'm a diehard recycler, believe me!! Been recycling for more than 30 years – newspapers, cans, glass; whatever I can possibly recycle (or compost!), I recycle (or compost).

In fact, I spent quite a few years as an activist focusing largely on waste reduction – at first because the idea of wasting good land for dump sites really gave me the willies – & because waste in general is just such a … waste! (& I hate waste – of all kinds.)

Eventually, I twigged to the fact that reusing resources also conserves energy – so critical when it comes to the climate issue. How many times have I repeated the phrase “You can run a TV set for 3 hours with the energy saved by recycling one aluminum can”? Tons. (Hmmm. Mind you, if we kept the darn TV turned OFF, we’d save even more energy, wouldn’t we??)

So, I faithfully recycle & compost, but I’ve noticed another positive form of “recycling” along the way.

Gratitude is a wonderful way to keep positive thoughts … recycling … around inside one’s head. I always say if one fills up one’s head with positive thoughts, the negative ones mostly just get squeezed out! (Lots about gratitude on this blog.)

I’ve also come to think of anger as something we do not want to recycle – although I see lots of evidence all around me that there is plenty of this happening. Heck, I’m guilty of it myself at times! When I catch myself recycling anger & resentments, I do my best to put a quick stop to it. Since what we focus on expands, I find I’m much happier (more filled with positive energy) when I keep that stuff from filling up my head.

So, recycling anger is what I think of as an example of “bad” recycling. (As wonderful writer Anne Lamott has a character say in her novel Crooked Little Heart, “Holding onto a resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Brilliant, isn’t it?)

Which brings us around, finally, to the “ugly."

Bruce Power – one of Ontario (Canada)’s major producers of nuclear energy – is determined to ship radioactive steam generators from its plant near the shores of beautiful Lake Huron – & claims that the company they are shipping them to (Studsvik) in Sweden will … you guessed it! recycle them.

This is ugly. Not just ugly...it's dangerous.

The outer shell of the internally very radioactively-contaminated steam generators (SGs) will be “recycled” – & guess where that contaminated scrap metal will go? It will be “free released” into the global scrap metal supply. It will then likely make its insidious way into cutlery, furniture (think cribs, eh?), toasters, bedposts, dental hardware…etc. etc. etc. (The blog posting ‘Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?’ discusses this in greater depth).

Bruce Power (BP for short, hmmm?) wants us to “just trust them” about this preposterous project. There must be at least 50 reasons why I personally have zero trust for the nuclear industry in general & this project in particular (although as far as that goes, one need not be “anti-nuke” to be anti-steam generator shipment!).

For sure there are “15 Facts” about this proposal I’d suggest any & everyone, everywhere, read & digest. Then I’d suggest we ALL raise a big ruckus before a ship is permitted to set sail from Owen Sound, Ontario, sail through Georgian Bay & then 3 of the Great Lakes & the St. Lawrence River & then the Atlantic Ocean – with 16 school-bus-sized steam generators filled with radioactive contaminants. (Look here to see what the tube bundles look like & here & here for lists of the contents of these innocuous-sounding steam generators. Since plutonium has a starring role, you really ought to check it out!)

Bruce Power – & the nuclear industry – ain’t stupid! They’re deliberately highjacking the word “recycling” – a word with which most of us have positive associations – & claiming they are “doing the right thing” by “recycling” nuclear waste & gradually, insidiously, adding it to the world’s metal supply.

The United Nations has a report on this issue that you can see here. The NIRS group has many fact sheets on their Web site. The one here explains why reprocessing is not the answer with nuclear waste (unless the question is “How can we dupe the public into accepting radioactively-contaminated consumer products? How’s about a little plutonium with that new toaster…eh?”)

Btw, you can go here to see what the U.S.-based Steel Manufacturers Association has to say about the growing problem of radioactive metal contamination.

So. Recycling, eh?

For sure, it can be grand!

We can help our world in lots of ways by practicing waste reduction. By all means, please do recycle whatever things you can in your community’s local recycling program!

You may not want to recycle your anger, though. (It doesn’t just make you & the people around you miserable, it’s also bad for your health!)

And always, always, always, it’s critical to bear in mind that preventing waste from happening in the first place – waste of any kind – whether it’s resources, poisoning of any kind, problems of any kind, & especially wars – is ALWAYS the best strategy. (The “waste reduction hierarchy” is 1. Reduce 2. Reuse 3. Recycle. First choice = don’t make it/buy/create it in the first place, if you can help it!)

When it comes to nuclear waste that will remain hazardous for 1000’s & 1000’s, & 10’s of 1000’s, & 100’s of 1000’s of years – could we please just get smart & stop making it???? And for sure, not send it sailing through the drinking water of 40 million people!!

Janet

p.s. BP keeps kinda quiet about the fact that the Swedish company Studsvik they are dealing with will return the most highly radioactive & dangerous “leftovers” back to Canada, where they will land by ship in Halifax, on Canada’s East Coast, then make their way by truck, & public roads, to the Bruce Power site near Kincardine, Ontario. Trucking dangerous, radioactive materials all over the place – risking accidents at literally every turn – can anyone say “Gosh. This sure looks like a dumb & dangerous plan to me!! Aren’t we humans smarter than that????”

p.p.s. Albert Einstein said “Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water!” Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) said “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ‘til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” These dudes were smart, eh???? [tons more nuke-related quotations]

p.p.p.s. Lots more steam generator-related posts listed here

TONS of good info here also

Great Lakes United here

NIRS here

Beyond Nuclear here

 

What is a Person to DO??

Just returned from a conference on climate change in Toronto. Excellent workshops & speakers & later also some time spent chatting & strategizing with fellow activists (some of whom I’d known before the conference, plus a couple new acquaintances).

Bought a copy of Eaarth – Making Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben – long-time environmental activist/writer & founder of 350.org & now major push behind 10/10/10 - "Global Work Party."

If there is one book you really ought to read right about now, it’s this one. It’s chockfull of wildly sobering facts about climate change & what needs to be done about it. McKibben has me thoroughly on-side with his view that from here on in, we must learn to deal with a changed Earth. It simply isn’t the place it used to be – between one thing & another, with climate change in a starring role – & so there isn’t much point in making plans the way we used to, for a place that has changed – & is changing utterly, as we speak.

Also watched a short film called “Climate Change: Does anybody care if Bangladesh drowns?” – & I’ll write more about that another day (you can watch the film free at that link I just gave you, btw...).

The main thing I want to say right now is this:

The question “What is a person to do??” is one that rings inside my own head often. Well, daily. Or even moment-ly, you might say.

Those of us who are activists feel as though we really need to clone ourselves. There is just so very, very much that needs doing. (And still so many folks caught in that deer-in-the-headlights stunned immobility stance.)

As previously referenced, I’m an addictive reader. Another book I gobbled up on the weekend (for relief, I suppose, from the so-sobering facts about climate change), was Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith, by American writer Anne Lamott, another of my very favourite writers. I’d read this one before, but it was a perfect time to re-read it, & I did, with great enjoyment, amusement, & appreciation.

In the essay ‘Bastille Day,’ Lamott tells about her cool idea (in 2006) for a Bastille Day event.(1) She’d floated the idea on Salon (an entity about which I am ignorant; one can only keep up with so many things, hmm?) & had talked about it some during a book tour. As she put it in the essay, “In the Spring of 2006, I believed that good people who had watched their country’s leaders skid so far to the triumphal right would want to do something. I mean, wouldn’t they? Otherwise, those people’s children would ask them someday, when we would all be living in caves, “What did you do to try to save us?” And the children would be angry, and …”

But when July 14th arrived, as it turned out, Lamott herself really didn’t feel up to the revolution. She’d kind of run out of steam, & besides, hadn’t actually coordinated with any local friends, & so decided to take a pass but after watching CNN for a while, she became “agitated.”

And as she tells it, “And then I did the single most important thing one can do to save the world: I got up off my butt.”

And went downtown & stood on the sidewalk for a few hours with a placard that read “One People. One Planet. One Future.”

God I love reading this woman!! Her writing is brilliant. She is laugh-out-loud funny, wondrously compassionate and searingly honest – about herself, which turns out to mean she exposes the nasty underbelly we all have. And then you don’t feel so bad about your own all-too-numerous faults & failings.

But back, finally, to the question raised by this post.

What is a person to DO?

Why, get up off your butt, of course!

Janet

P.S. You could definitely become involved in the 10/10/10 initiative. The idea behind this is to DO some practical things on October 10, 2010, that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions & demonstrate to our “leaders” that we the people (all over the world) are taking action, so we can then ask them “What are YOU doing??” & put their feet to the fire so they start to do what needs to be done!

P.P.S. The 10/10/10 site will give you plenty of ideas. Here are a few that flew right off my pen onto the page as I was drafting this post:

  • Plant a tree (or a whole bunch of them. Maybe 350??)
  • Put up a wind turbine or solar panels
  • Plan & construct a bike path
  • Sell your gas guzzler
  • Buy a transit pass
  • Buy a bike
  • Cut your electricity consumption – at home, at work, at church…wherever!
  • Write to a politician or better yet, politicians at every level of government
  • Become politically active!!!!! Ensure that candidates of integrity are elected
  • Distribute brochures about something to family members if, like me, you’re Canadian & will be seeing family for Thanksgiving dinner on October 10th – I’ll be distributing ones about OntariosGreenFuture.ca, from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (I’ll do other stuff too – but this one is so simple I can’t say no to it!!)
  • Donate money toward groups working to shut down the Alberta tar sands [this post lists & links to numerous short films about the tar sands]
  • Organize a public event…boycott…whatever…

(As you can see, the possibilities here are truly infinite!!)

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “If the people lead, eventually, the leaders will follow.” – Source unknown


(1) Inspired by a novel her father had written, The Bastille Day Parade, in which he’d had protesters use the slogan, “Turn off the Lie Machine.” Wow. Gotta love that line!!

Plan B - Mobilizing to Save Civilization

The phrase “Plan B” already resonated for me, being a big fan of the writer Anne Lamott & her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (& any & all of her other books, btw). Lamott is a delight! Smart, self-deprecating, compassionate…& funny!

However, in this context I’m speaking of Lester Brown (President of the Earth Policy Institute) & his book Plan B 4.0 – Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

I had the great privilege of hearing Lester Brown speak at the recent Network of Spiritual Progressives conference in Washington, D.C. (Actually I drafted this blog post while riding the bus back to Toronto from Washington, post-conference. Handy thing, I suppose, not being able to sleep well on buses…)

Some of us have already given up on the human race. Written our obituary, as it were.

Not Lester Brown.

His book Plan B summarizes first of all the serious & dauntingly challenging problems our civilization faces with respect to climate change & then lays out a book’s worth of solutions.

One of the testimonials for the book calls it “The best single volume on saving the earth, period.”

Brown paraphrases Paul Hawken in his preface. Hawken is a former businessman Lester Brown describes as an environmentalist (truth: Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest is an absolute treasure!!).

Hawken, paraphrased by Lester Brown: “First we need to decide what needs to be done. Then we do it. And then we ask if it is possible.”

Plan B points out how previous civilizations have collapsed (in a word, a food shortage crisis is always the precipitating factor), shows the parallels with the situation of today, & recommends several excellent books that spell out how previous civilizations have crashed (& how similar our situation now is to those times.)

He lays out the elements for moving to a carbon-free economy (tax-shifting, carbon taxes) & points out that “the Plan B energy economy is much more labor-intensive than the fossil-fuel-based economy it is replacing” (i.e., it involves the creation of plenty of jobs).

World War II showed us that the U.S. economy can be very quickly restructured in a time of crisis.

Perhaps most importantly, Plan B tells us what we ALL need to do.

Personal lifestyle changes; sure.

But more: we MUST become politically active.

“We now need to restructure the global economy, and quickly. It means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes.

Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.”

I can’t put it any better than that.

Janet

P.S. You can download the book, as well as additional data & graphs, at no charge at the Earth Policy Institute Web site.

P.P.S. Guy Dauncey is another person to check out when it comes to global warming solutions. His book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming comes with the highest recommendation. Check out the blog post about this, OK?

Helping

<Dec. 31/09>

I’ve been spending the day in the Emergency ward of a major downtown Toronto hospital.

I’ve often reflected in hospitals, or when my children were really sick, that the world seems to shrink to the size of a room when a loved one is really ill.

And so it is today.

But I’ve been musing a bit too on how good it makes us feel – as human beings – when we can be of help to our fellow human beings.

I’ve felt helpful a few times today – & that sure makes me feel cheerier than when I feel as though I am not being useful, or when my efforts seem to go unnoticed.

I’m not able to help the person I’m here with too much right now, but I assume my presence is a bit of a comfort, at least (it’s not much fun being alone when we’re feeling really lousy, is it?).

When I went to the lobby to take a coffee break & make a phone call, I wound up feeling kind of cruddy. The Toronto newspaper that likes to specialize in lots of lurid bad news stories (no need to name it; everyone in this city knows the one I mean) is cheerfully dispensing its usual allotment of murder & mayhem.

The book I’m reading at the moment (also to remain unnamed) isn’t helping much either. Ozone depletion, global warming…lots of bad news there, too.

But on my way back to the Emerg, I saw & smiled at an utterly adorable little girl, then held a door open (with a cheerful smile) for a bunch of people who seemed to appreciate my small but obviously well-meant gesture – & began to feel “human” again.

As though I am of use – even if in ever-so-small ways.

I’ve long suspected we human beings are at our very best – & our happiest – when we are helping others.

And for sure, there have got to be about 6 zillion ways on this planet in which any & all of us can be of help!

Janet

P.S. Anne Lamott said in her delightful book Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith (quoting her minister), “…the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people,” she said, “You bring them juice and graham crackers.” Therein lies just about a whole life philosophy, hmmm?

Life Philosophy (as of Dec. 10/09)

<Dec. 10/09>

Interesting times, hmmm? On the planet (economic crises, hunger crises, refugee crises, water crises, climate CRISIS; Copenhagen COP15 U.N. meetings taking place as I draft this), & also in my personal life (my family & friends would agree I seem to have a perennially anything-other-than-boring life…).

As many of us know, there is a Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Our blessing, and our curse, hmm?

Well. I promised my up-to-date life philosophy, so here goes:

I think we’re mostly here to learn & to grow & to love each other – and to keep on getting better & better at all three.

(Dr.) Rachel Naomi Remen said in her awesome book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories that Heal, “Life is the ultimate teacher, but it is usually through experience and not scientific research that we discover its deepest lessons. A certain percentage of those who have survived near-death experiences speak of a common insight which afforded a glimpse of life’s basic lesson plan. We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as through winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class. So fulfilling life’s purpose may depend more on how we play than what we are dealt.” (1)

I think she got that very right.

Writer Anne Lamott said in her lovely book Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith (quoting her minister, I believe), “…the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people,” she said, “you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

I think she’s right too.

In Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing & Life, Lamott said “E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.” (Ms. Lamott is just plain chockfull of words of wisdom, as you can see…)

I do not think we human beings are here to

  • work ourselves to death
  • amass great fortunes or piles of “stuff”
  • kill one another or destroy the planet
  • break our backs trying to “look good”
  • break our backs trying to be “bigshots”
  • make others like us (in both senses of that expression: make people fond of us, or make them act & believe the way we do).

I do believe we’re here to love one another, grow spiritually (don’t worry, you non-believers; you can do this without faith in any kind of deity), contribute in positive, life-affirming ways to our fellow human creatures/the Earth, heal ourselves & the planet.

Evolve as a species away from violence, greed, & terminal self-absorption and toward generosity of spirit, love, compassion & all that other fine stuff.

Call me ‘Pollyanna’ & naïve as heck; it doesn’t bother me in the slightest!!

I personally have spent many years as a mother & environmental advocate/activist/writer, and will very likely continue in this vein. This is clearly not only my “calling” in life, this stuff totally turns my crank!!!

In the face of all kinds of crises, both the current & looming variety, I will also continue to advocate:

  • building community
  • finding (& sharing) our personal “gift”
  • being ourselves, being authentic
  • having authentic relationships
  • knowing our “wealth” lies primarily in our relationships (Plato said “Your wealth is where your friends are” & we don’t seem to be able to top him there.)
  • investigating helpful spiritual teachers/writings/practices/words of wisdom
  • living in the moment; in the present, in the very, very Here & Now
  • living life to the fullest!!

Music, love, Nature, laughter…fun!! Life is a joyous, precious gift, Dear Reader – not some serious & fun-less funeral dirge!

There is a Buddhist saying, “Life is a joyful participation in a world of sorrows.”

How to live our lives, so we can promote our own (& everyone’s) health, healing, well-being; the health & growth & evolution of our species?

In the face of deaths – both “personal” & perhaps even that of our own as a species – how are we to act?

I think, with courage…conviction…energy…compassion…love…generosity…determination…kindness…feistiness… unselfishness…dignity…& most especially, gratitude.

I believe we are each capable of moving mountains when we act with courage & conviction(2) – always allowing our conscience to be an ever-present force within us – & then, as they say, “detaching from the outcome.”

The results of our actions are out of our control.

Act, then let go

And whatever else we may do, celebrate this great wondrous spectacle of Life & Earth!

(And say, as often as humanly possible – in memory of that brilliant, thoughtful, irascible & wildly articulate old Pall smoker, the writer Kurt Vonnegut – “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”)

Janet

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“I know what the greatest cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.” Henry Miller

“Truth comes only to those who must have it, who want it badly enough. And gifts of healing come only to those willing to change.” – Doris Janzen Longacre in the Foreword to her book “Living More with Less”

“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

“Change is never inevitable, change is always carried in on the shoulders of those who bring change with them.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life.” ~ Norman Cousins

“The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.” Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN

“The saving of the world from impending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of the non-conforming minority.” – Martin Luther King

“Almost anything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“…you also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” – Joanna Macy & Molly Young Brown in ‘Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World’ (New Society Publishers, 1998).

“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear. People who can open up to the web of life that called us into being.” – Joanna Macy

“We do not need to protect ourselves from change, for our very nature is change.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“But now comes the daunting revelation, that we are all called to be saints – not good necessarily, or pious or devout – but saints in the sense of just caring for each other.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal’

“Energy always flows either toward hope, community, love, generosity, mutual recognition, and spiritual aliveness or it flows toward despair, cynicism, fear that there is not enough, paranoia about the intentions of others, and a desire to control.” ~ Michael Lerner, quoted in ‘The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community,’ by David Korten


(1) More on this book in the posting ‘Book & Bed Day.'

(2) One hopes that everyone’s courage & convictions do not involve murder & mayhem – or even selfishness, intolerance & inflexibility; for my part, I fail to see how such things can help us move forward as individuals, or as a species…

Now, now, now…

<April 2007>

It’s funny. When we hear the words “Now, now, now,” we generally take them to be the comforting, calming words used to speak to someone who is in distress.

“Now, now, now,” we say in a soothing tone.

That isn’t what I’m referring to here. I’ve just come back from a very special yoga/breath course (the introductory “Art of Living” course), & one of the key things we talked about was the importance of living/being in the present moment.

In the Now.

A lot of us spend most of our now – most of our present – lamenting & obsessing over the past. “He said, she said” stuff, endlessly. Reviewing & recycling regrets…resentments…& anger…

There’s not much point in it, is there? However mired we choose to keep ourselves in it, we cannot change the past.

When not caught up in the past, we tend to obsess over some imagined future, when we’ll be…rich, married, retired, beautiful, thin, happy…you get my drift. Equally pointless, as our ability to control the future is as entirely beyond our grasp as our ability to change the past.

We really do have only now, haven’t we?

It’s very challenging, of course, to give up on our cherished past & future surfing. We get so much psychic enjoyment (apparently) out of beating up on people who hurt us in the past, don’t we?

(Hmmm. Or do we? I’m not so sure. I think it’s more like wearing chains that keep us in perpetual misery.)

It’s kind of like trying to drive a car forward while looking in the rear-view mirror. Pretty much impossible to move ahead with any kind of clear vision.

I know a clever writer who had one of her characters say something very useful about resentment, & how much good it is for us.

“Holding onto a resentment is like taking rat poison & waiting for the rat to die.” (Author Anne Lamott, in her novel Crooked Little Heart.)

This is so true.

All this “Oh poor me” stuff we do is so absurd & pointless!

As for that hoped-for future, I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to keep my life “under control” for more than about two minutes. The phone rings. The cat barfs! The roof leaks. The doorbell rings. The computer crashes. A loved one gets sick. And all my careful plans go “off the rails.”

Time after time after time, this hard lesson is brought home to me.

I know I’m determined to try harder to do my best to stay planted firmly in the present. In this moment.

One of my friends at the yoga course asked what sounded like a very philosophical question. “How long is now?” he asked. “It seems short, but also long.”

I thought about this for a moment & replied that “now” is actually infinitely small – & infinitely large, also.

Because, whether we grasp this or not, it’s now…now…now from here on in!

Janet

p.s. The paradox of staying “in the moment” (I’m noticing now, 2 years after I wrote this little essay, & after working at being in the moment more & more), is that it’s actually rather vast. It’s sort of infinite, almost – & also very charged with possibility.

p.p.s. It sure helps to read Pema Chödrön – an awesome coach on the wisdom of “staying present.” I highly recommend her books The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness and When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times. She is utterly brilliant!! One of those highly indispensable writers. Eckhart Tolle, too, unquestionably. Tolle tutorial here.

p.p.p.s. The Art of Living course was very good, btw. Some yoga & a powerful breathing technique – but plenty more besides. I came away feeling as though my emotional innards had been scrubbed clean. Go here to learn more. (There is also an item on this blog called ‘4 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth’ that you might find helpful.)

p.s. # 4: 'Quote of the day' used with this post: “There is only one courage, and that is the courage to go on dying to the past. Not to collect it, not to accumulate it, not to cling to it. We all cling to the past, and because we cling to it we become unavailable to the present.” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Indispensable Writers for Today (July 16/09)

<July 16/09>

Now, I’m an obsessive reader, so I’m almost certain to miss someone who’s utterly indispensable. I have TONS of favourite writers (after all, I’ve been an obsessive reader for lo, these 50 years, i.e., ever since I was taught to read. Whatever I may think about the broken educational system, & it is broken, & it has been for a very long time now, I am very, very grateful to it for having taught me to read).

My spirits are a tad low-ish lately, so writers who are funny – who make me laugh – are going to rise like cream to the top of this list.

And today, at least, my environmental activist side is utterly dormant, so although there are tons of writers I can recommend if you want to better understand the environmental crisis, they are probably not going to make the cut today.

(Hmm. This makes me feel a little bit guilty; maybe I’ll add some of them in as a P.S. at the end. We’ll see…)

  1. Cake or Death – The Excruciating Choices of Everyday Life, by Heather Mallick, is full of laugh-out-loud moments. She is terribly witty & understands the world very well indeed, & she claims to be a person who is often depressed – & reading her can be quite disturbing; she sure doesn’t candy-coat the nature of the world – but she is also very, very FUNNY! Sooooo glad old friend Barb sent this book my way.
  2. Anything by Anne Lamott – particularly her non-fiction books – is wonderful. Lamott is wise, funny, compassionate, self-deprecating – &  invariably makes me feel as though I am not the only humanoid on the planet who gets lonely, feels like an alien, had a really WEIRD childhood, wishes I could be more perfect than I seem to be (at least in this incarnation) both as a human being & as a parent. I swear by Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith, & am also crazy about Bird by BirdSome Instructions on Writing and Life. (I did a blog post called ‘Do Yourself a Favour,’ about her novel Joe Jones. The book is a great read!)
  3. I’ve said so much lately about Elizabeth Lesser that I’m probably in danger of becoming a bore, but her book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow is a masterpiece – a workshop-between-covers in honesty, understanding (& having compassion for) human foibles (especially our own), living an authentic life, how we all beat up on ourselves & why (& how) we might want to consider just admitting to our paid-in-full membership in this very troublesome club called the human race, with its foibles & faults & problems & neuroses – along with some pretty darn useful tips on healing.
  4. Pema Chödrön – Buddhist nun & brilliant writer who is brutally honest about her own shortcomings (shared by all of us, btw) & challenging moments, & the enormously useful & wise & compassionate teachings of Buddhist thought. I’ve only read The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving KindnessWhen Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times – both are absolute treasures & I feel quite certain it is time to re-read both…I also feel certain I could sit down & have a forthright chat with Ms. Chödrön about my own all-too-numerous faults & failings & my current forms of ridiculousness & seemingly impossible behaviour, & come away feeling blessed – & affirmed – & embraced with compassion & understanding (of course too, she doesn’t have to live with me. Tee hee. That’s another ballgame entirely, hmm??)
  5. Yikes! All women so far; isn’t that fun?? Leading inexorably to that utter master of the moment, Eckhart Tolle – of whom I have also spoken muchly & often – & whose staggering wisdom & utter timeliness are blow-you-out-of-the-water brilliant. I am a person terribly reluctant to embrace “guru-ness,” but ET is an indispensable “guru,” surely, for all human beings at this…words are failing me…unprecedented time in human/planetary history – as we poise ourselves precariously on the cusp of our very own destruction as a species. How anyone could read The Power of Now & most especially A New Earth & NOT be … (words are failing me again) shaken to the core by his wisdom – & insights – & compassion – well, words fail me yet again. Best & most important book I’ve read in a very, very, very long time…  I’d advise anyone to read A New Earth (& also listen to any & all of his audio CD’s you can lay your hands on) & see your philosophies – your worldview – your ideas about yourself & your life…take quite a few steps forward.

Big deep breath….

I believe that’s IT for me just now. Never mind the environmental writers – a task for another day, perhaps. I think it’s time for me to chill…& maybe read some more Heather Mallick.

As a parting note, I will point out that of the 5 writers named herein, 4 are women – & also mothers – & since for me, motherhood has been & will always remain the single most noteworthy, challenging & rewarding experience of my life (by a very long shot), this may be relevant.(1)

Eckart Tolle, of course, is not a mother. Perhaps he is the wise...loving...patient...compassionate...understanding father figure so many of us (all of us??) have always longed for.

Hey! – I dunno, it’s just a thought.

I’m no “spiritual master” myself. I’m just doing my best (a not-so-very excellent best, at present) to put one foot in front of the other, a day at a time, a moment at a time, hopeful that my words may help shine even a teeny-tiny bit of light – & give me a chuckle & some fun (writing saves my ass).

Salut!

Janet

p.s. My early school years were very much enlivened by a small workbook called ‘Words Are Important.’ It seems I took the phrase very much to heart…


(1) Although as Amma Chi, also known as Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi has said, “The essence of motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love – and that love is the very breath of life. No one would say, ‘I will breathe only when I am with my family and friends; I won’t breathe in front of my enemies.’ Similarly, for those in whom motherhood has awakened, love and compassion for everyone are as much a part of their being as breathing.”

Telling the Truth: Too Many ‘Elephants in the Room?’

<June 17/09>

I suppose anyone who’s been reading this blog has already clued in to the fact that I’m a truth-teller. I can’t tell you why I’m a truth-teller, ‘cause I really haven’t any idea – except that I don’t know any other way to be. It’s the way I’m wired.

There seem to be a whole lot of truths we don’t want to tell in our culture. It starts in our families, when we’re very young & the great roller coaster of life is just getting underway.

Truths we don’t want to tell take in things like “Oops! My family appears to be a great big MESS” to sexual abuse by people we ought to be able to trust, to realizing our parents (gods & goddesses to us when we’re little, by the way) don’t love or affirm us or treat us fairly, to “Daddy/Mommy doesn’t love me” to “Mommy tells a lot of lies” to “Mommy/Daddy seems to love So-&-So better/more than s/he loves me” to “Mommy/Daddy sure isn’t around much!” etc., etc., etc.

But it’s crystal clear to us from a pretty early age that these truths we’ve figured out (& let’s face it, we’re darn smart even when we’re only four years old) are not supposed to be coughed up at the dinner table.

We start on our careers of truth-stuffing pretty darn young, hmm?

It keeps building as we get older, of course. More & more truth gets stuffed & more & more lies get told. It’s probably a miracle any of us can tell the truth at all – & of course, largely we don’t.

Our culture is founded on lies & half-truths.

There are a lot of “elephants in the room” – in our families of origin, with our partners/spouses, in our families, & in our world at large.

The fact that our species is headed for a gigantic “Kerpluie” experience (to put it rather politely) is a pretty closely-guarded secret, for example, & it’s an elephant no one really wants to acknowledge. It is not considered, shall we say, a fit topic for cocktail party conversation.

I think the roots of our loss of truth-telling probably go back to when we moved away from tribal life & into so-called “nuclear” family units (for most of human history, we lived in small social groupings in which we were highly interdependent & had a very strong sense of community).

I don’t mean to suggest life was perfect or smooth or “easy” when we lived communally as gatherers/hunters – but I’m also willing to bet the B.Q. (bullshit quotient)(1) was a whole lot lower back in those days…

Me, I think it’s very, very likely we would not be poised on the edge of “Kerpluie” if we had not made that choice 10,000 years ago to move away from interdependence & community & onto a path involving the worship of technology & patriarchy & a passionate embrace of so-called “progress” – leading us inevitably, it seems, to the mess we now find ourselves in.

But hey! Here we now are, hmm? For good or ill.

What are we to do??

Do we keep tiptoeing around all these damn elephants – or do we start acknowledging their presence?

As a dyed-in-the-wool truth-teller (& a great admirer of truth-telling writers of all description & especially of Anne Lamott & Elizabeth Lesser & Joanna Macy)(2), I’d like to suggest we try out some serious truth-telling…for a change.

At this point, I’m not at all sure that all the truth-telling in the world can save our butts – but I'm pretty sure it will make us all feel a whole lot lighter – & I suspect it will help us feel a whole lot more authentic, too. Authenticity has a very nice ring to it, I always think…(3)

If we’re going to go down as a species – & this seems increasingly possible/probable (I’m not trying to be depressing here, okay? Just honest) – let’s at least do so with our eyes (& minds) open, & keep the BQ to a minimum.

This is still, I hasten to point out, a very, very stunningly beautiful world here, this Earth of ours. And friendship & love & lovemaking & singing & service & the countless beauties of Nature and …oh, lots & lots of things…are still utterly grand & wondrous & wonderful.

This life – all the way along – should always have been more like a party, & less like the joyless dirge too many of us have made of it.

It isn’t too late. Let’s start telling the truth!

And let’s enjoy the party!! And each other…

Janet

P.S. I recently attended a Joanna Macy speaking engagement in Toronto. She was awesome… One of the things she said was that telling the truth is like making oxygen. Ah……I needed to hear that! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joanna Macy…for that, & for so much else…

P.P.S. The truth can be a little scary, of course. That’s one of the reasons we avoid it so strenuously. There are two items on this blog that speak to the topic of our fear & despair – our despair & our fear that we cannot handle telling & living with the truth. They’re called “Despair and Empowerment,” & "Despair & Empowerment: The Movie."


(1) A fun term I came up with in my one corporate work environment, where often the BQ was already off the charts by 10 am…

(2) There are tons of other truth-telling writers; far too many to try & list here. Feel free to check out 2 lists of recommended reading under the ‘Recommended’ tab on this blog.

(3) It seems only fair that I acknowledge the Landmark Forum here for the many lessons I took from my own LMF weekend. Authenticity is a key concept in the LMF experience. You can see more about my LMF experience in 2 places on this blog: under the ‘Recommended’ tab, in the item '3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth' & also one entitled 'Landmark Experience'.

 

Parents from Hell & 1 Almost Effortless Weight Loss Tip

<Dec. ‘07>

[My original catchy title for this essay: "Mothers from Hell, Fathers from Hell, & One Almost Effortless Weight Loss Tip." - too long, so I've had to shorten it!]

Like so many of us on the planet, I had a “father from Hell.” I’ve spent more than a little time in my life thinking about how rotten he was and how much damage he did to me, my mother, my brothers and sister and then also, Heaven help us all, to his second and third wives, step-children, and my half-sister.

Fortunately, a few years ago, I managed to put together in written form an item in which I enumerated the gifts my father had (inadvertently) given me. It was surprisingly long, and I have to say that thinking it up and writing about it was an exercise that helped give me a slightly different take on the nature of parents and parenthood. Hmm. And personhood, I suppose you might say…

I suppose to be fully truthful here, I must also add that the gutwrenching experience of going through a divorce has helped me to … soften up … and be readier for some of these amazing and powerful “letting go” abilities I seem to have picked up in middle age. Then too, while getting counselling around the time of the marriage break-up, I learned some things about my father that helped me grasp that there were reasons why he was the way he was. He had not come out of nowhere… None of us do, hmmm?

For the past year or so, one of the recurring themes in my life has been mothers from Hell. There appear to be quite a few of them.

Now, I do a lot of reading (really a lot!), and plenty of writing too (these are among the “gifts” from my father, who loved to read and always had plenty of good books around).

I also take full advantage of self-help, personal growth experiences such as the Landmark Forum and the Art of Living courses – both of which I highly endorse and am convinced pretty much everyone I know could derive considerable benefit from (the former with one or two qualifications; I’ve written about the Landmark Forum, so you can read about my experiences with it).

One of the gems from the Art of Living courses was this:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.” (1)

Chew on that one for a moment, Gentle Reader…

Our parents (and/or our spouses and/or our employers, in some cases) have the potential to mess us up quite a bit.

It’s up to us (as adults) – to stop the abuse – which in so many cases is really mental self-abuse…

We re-play and re-play endlessly our nasty childhood tapes/memories and/or more current negative “scripts” – wallowing in self-pity and self-flagellation, and revelling in our own victim-hood.

Ugh. Whatever turns us on, hmmm??

Wonderfully wise, witty and inspiring writer Anne Lamott had a character in one of her novels say, “Holding onto a resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” (2)

This is so brilliant. It is so true!!

Well…

There are large and unprecedented developments taking place on Planet Earth these days (only a slight understatement, hmm?).

Our helping (and healing) energies and efforts are sorely needed.

Get thee to a bookstore (or library) and start reading Eckhart Tolle, would you? The Power of NowA Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment and A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – will blow you right away.(3) In the best possible ways…

I mean it.

Change begins where YOU are.(4)I mean that too.

Enough for now…

********

Yikes! I almost forgot the almost-effortless weight loss tip!! Here it is:

Start being honest and forthright with someone (or even better, everyone!). Start talking. Start telling the truth. Women have long known that conversation with a woman friend can mean the difference between craziness and sanity – between drowning and being brought safely back onto shore.

Men need to learn this too.

Talk – talk – talk. Tell some truths.(5)

And come away feeling 10 pounds lighter.

I mean it…

Janet

P.S. I do highly recommend the book Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn (New Society Publishers, 2007) for all men, women, mature children interested in understanding patriarchy and its long and nasty legacy, and any other creatures capable of reading books (have I left anyone out??). I think it is a very, very important book for all of us to read….


(1) There is an essay with that title on this blog, too.

(2) Crooked Little Heart, Anne Lamott, Anchor, 1998.

(3) Whatever your religious faith – or utter lack thereof… A New Earth is the more recent book of the two, and perhaps the better to start with…

(4) Also emphasized in one of the Art of Living courses…

(5) Do be a wee bit discriminating about those to whom you spill your guts; not every single person on the planet is equally well-intentioned. Tons of us can be trusted! Just not every single darn one… Your own guts will give you good guidance…

Ditching the 2 x 4’s…

<August 2007>

A lot of us seem to understand these days that a new era is coming. We know that our personal lives seem less and less “under control” – that big forces are at work in the Universe, on the Earth, and in our personal lives. (Plenty of people don’t seem to realize any of this stuff, too, of course, but these folks are not liable to be reading any of the things I write about anyway, hmmm?)

As we get older (I’m 54 as I write this), we seem to have to “get” the lesson that we are able to “control” very little in our lives – much less than we once supposed – although a lot or perhaps most of us sure do try very hard to control all kinds of things!

“Letting go” is a concept, then, that most of us seem to have to learn to grasp – only if we want to lead reasonably contented lives, of course! If we’re prepared to live with endless, daily, constant frustration and anxiety because everyone around us drives us crazy with everything they say and do and their utter unwillingness to do, say and think precisely what we want them to do, think and say, more power to us!

Me, I like to be happy on a more or less continual basis, so I’ve worked a fair bit at learning to “let go.” I’m no expert at it or anything; like everyone, I sometimes get irritated with a variety of people’s attitudes & behaviour & with lots of the stupid stuff (and worse!) that goes on on the planet. I just do my best not to let it get the better of me (after all, what we focus on, expands. What do we want to have expanding inside us?).

It may be helpful too if I admit to the fact that I’ve spent my fair share of time in this life trying to run things – control things – more than was healthy for me (or, no doubt, for the people around me!)(1) As a long-time environmental activist, I will always find plenty of what takes place here on Planet Earth not merely irritating, but sometimes crazy-making to the point of occasional near-despair! (2)

But life events have conspired to make me realize I am not the Great Big Boss of the Whole Darn Show – or even often, seemingly, of my own!?

I’ve become grateful for the lessons I’ve learned in this regard, although some of them were mighty painful ones (did I say painful? Gutwrenching would be a little more like it…).

Lately, the way I see it is that most of us seem to be born with a bunch of 2 x 4’s rammed up our rear ends. I think our life lessons are really mostly about the work of getting the durn things out.

Some of us have more than others, of course. Some of us seem to have a whole fleet of them!

And I have compassion for such people. Plenty of compassion, because I think it’s very hard (impossible?) for these people to be happy very much of the time.(3)

I want to come up with some words of wisdom on the 2 x 4 extraction process – and I know I can’t very well recommend that everyone get thrown against a wall or have her life blow up in her face (these are the very kinds of things that often break the 2 x 4’s down, so they begin to dissolve and fall out, of course).

I can leave you with a couple of great sayings that might help, and a book recommendation.

Anne Lamott had a character in her novel Crooked Little Heart say, “Holding onto a resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”(4) Holding onto resentments is one of the ways we keep our 2 x 4’s firmly embedded (not to mention making us at least a little crazy, and maybe even sick!).

Julia Butterfly Hill has a lovely prayer: “When I pray, I ask for guidance in my life to be the best person I can be, to learn what I need to learn, and to grow from what I learn. Always when I pray, I ask to let go. Letting go is the hardest part.” (5)

And there is a quite lovely book called the Little book of Letting go – a revolutionary 30-day program to Cleanse your Mind, Lift your Spirit and Replenish your Soul, by Hugh Prather, that I also recommend…(6)

I’ve also taken part in two personal growth experiences that gave me some great personal insights:

The Art of Living – Powerful exercises (involving yoga and a breathing technique, but not limited to these) that give us insights and lessons about how to live our lives more joyfully. Level 1 left me feeling as though my emotional innards had been scrubbed clean. A very good friend of mine told me that when she took Level 1, many years ago now, she felt some serious old childhood crud fall right off her, and that the experience definitely changed her life. Gotta love that! www.artofliving.ca

Landmark Forum – I attended a LMF weekend several years ago & feel it helped me gain quite a few insights about myself & about the world. http://www.landmarkeducation.com/section.jsp?top=21 Landmark is rather controversial. It’s not everyone’s "cup of tea," for sure. You can read about my LMF experience here

I can’t think of a single person I know, by the way, who would not benefit from either or both of these powerful personal growth opportunities. In the Landmark Forum there is an anti-spiritual bias that I find puzzling, offensive and wholly unnecessary; however, I believe in mining every experience I have for its value, and given how much I’ve gained from both Art of Living and Landmark Forum workshops, am happy to give them both thumbs up!

2 x 4 extraction is, I suspect, a lifelong process. I like to think I’ve shed a few of my own big ones along the way – and I’m here to tell you, life is a good deal more comfortable and fun, the fewer of the darn things there are stuffed up back there. Lighter, more open, free-er, more joyful… What’s not to like about that, I ask you, hmmm?

Janet

P.S. The essay ‘Ditching the Poverty Mentality’ covers some ground that may also be of interest.


(1) Just ask my ex-husband and children!

(2) I will also confess that I occasionally get so “low” that I take a day off; I have what I call a “bed day” (not a bad day, a bed day). Generally, after a bed day, I cheer up and get my “can do” energy back…

(3) I’m also very well aware that the 2 x 4’s wind up there for a reason. So many of us had such difficult childhoods, and difficult childhoods are fertile 2 x 4 creators, hmm?

(4) Crooked Little Heart, Anne Lamott, Anchor, 1998.

(5) The Legacy of Luna The Story of a Tree, A Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods, July Butterfly Hill, HarperSanFranciso, 2000.

(6) The Little Book of Letting Go – a revolutionary 30-day program to cleanse your mind, lift your spirit and replenish your soul, Hugh Prather, Conari Press, 2000.