Joanna Macy

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??


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 


“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 )


<Jan. 1/12>

On my way home from visiting some old friends at New Year’s, I'm spending some time in a pretty little nuclear town on Lake Ontario where it seems an awful lot of the townspeople don’t want to know about (or talk about) the radioactive wastes that are here & there in & around & outside their town. (I’m sitting in a restaurant in this town as I draft this little essay.)

It kind of feels to me as though people not wanting to know a lot of really serious shit (otherwise known as truth) has reached pretty much epidemic proportions these days.

(Of course I know perfectly well this is true, & have known it for quite some time.)

But I’m trying hard today to understand. Is it possible for me – a person who’s more or less addicted to finding out, & then talking about, the truth – to understand why so many people I encounter don’t really want anything to do with it?

I dunno.

Let’s do a little brainstorming here, shall we?

Why would the people in this town not want to know the truth about the major industry that provides employment here?

(I just took a sip of the water; was that foolish?)

Well, duh. I guess I just answered my own (dumb) question, didn’t I, & pretty darn fast, too.

Don’t, don’t ever, bite the hand that feeds you. Even if it proffers the food with poison attached, & might one day down the road cause brain cancer (or some other disease or condition or very unpleasant outcome) to your children or grandchildren or your neighbour or, Heaven forbid, even yourself.

(I’m not going to drink any more water. Hey, I’m really not all that thirsty right now anyway.)

So, why do the friends that I was visiting down the highway not want to know? They don’t seem to mind knowing that the pretty town only half an hour up the highway (hmmmm….so they are downwind & down-lake, as it were, actually, although I didn’t bother to point that out), has rather a lot of radioactive waste strewn about, but they don’t seem to want to ponder what Frank Zappa famously said, which is that “Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.”

Most people don’t seem to want to know this. (Hell, I don’t really want to know it myself, to be quite honest, but the problem is, once I know something like that, I’m not very good at un-knowing it, if you know what I mean.)

************** pause…..

Okay, so now I’m asking myself to be brutally honest about not knowing, & what I myself have on occasion resisted knowing.

I do remember that OUAT (once upon a time) I found out something about my father that kinda threw me off & pointed pretty strongly in the direction of his having been not just obnoxious and well, pretty horrid & mean ... but actually probably crazy.

Gotta admit, I think it took me a couple years to really absorb (& articulate) that uncomfortable little truth. When I did spit it out, finally, a couple of years later, it was as I repeated the story out loud that the insight finally landed in my guts with a thud. (I’ve written before about the power of speaking words out loud.) That moment – that repeating of the story about our father to my sister – was definitely an “Ah-ha” moment for me, in a) acknowledging that our father’s unpleasantness was, um, maybe more than just strictly unpleasant-ness,(1)& b) the unique power of saying words out loud to others in order to bring them home to myself – & to feel a powerful insight sparking as the words were flying out of my mouth.

Well. Clearly it is easier for people to just refuse to know things, isn’t it? Denial means much less work, much less effort. It’s the “no change” option, hmmmm? It does miss the critical truth, though, that just about the only constant any of us can count on in our lives, & on this planet, is, in fact, change. Stuff is just plain changing all the time, whether we like it or not. (Clearly we mostly don’t like it, so it seems, but there it is, hmmm? We pretty much just have to suck it up.)

As Joanna Macy once said “We do not need to protect ourselves from change, for our very nature is change.”(2)

Another time she’d said “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.”(3) (I’ve always found this to be true, btw.)

&, just in case anyone is worried that learning the truth is going to make us all start falling apart all over the place (I kinda get that we can fear that; I sort of sometimes fear that myself), she has also said “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.”(4)

Here’s my sort of prayer for 2012: May we all become more & more & more open to truth…more & more conscious…& less & less afraid of change…growth…& transformation.



P.S. Despair is nasty. Joanna Macy is not unaware of this, & has in fact done extensive work on what she & colleagues call “despair and empowerment.” I attended a very memorable despair & empowerment workshop run by her colleague John Seed & blogged about it here.

P.P.S. Writing this has helped me understand that yes, indeed, sometimes there are things we do really need to know, but we really don’t want to know them. I get it, I get it, I get it…

P.P.P.S. The post 'Atomic Towns' may be of interest.

‘Quote of the day' with this post: “There is an almost gravitational pull toward putting out of mind unpleasant facts. And our collective ability to face painful facts is no greater than our personal one. We tune out, we turn away, we avoid. Finally we forget, and forget we have forgotten.” ~ Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.

Runner-up quote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the one most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin



(1) Hmmm. I’m noticing here that I still don’t really like knowing this…

(2) World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Parallax Press, 2007, page 96.

(3) Joanna Macy & Molly Young Brown in Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, New Society Publishers, 1998.

(4) World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Parallax Press, 2007, page 95.

Darlington Hearings: Waste discussion SURREAL

I've lost track of what day # it is at the Darlington hearings. (the Darlington New Build hearings from March-April 2011, that is.) ** Note: if you go here, you can find hearing info such as the public hearing schedule, transcripts, Webcasts, etc.

I'm not down there today. I'm having a bit of a meltdown day. Seem to be having slightly more frequent personal meltdowns of late. Lots of reasons, I guess. The nuclear disaster (Fukushima). The Darlington hearings. My own presentation there last night (preparing for it, giving it, etc.) On the strictly "personal" side, I'm back in the area I lived in for 24 years & left 8 years ago. Lots of memories, many of them rather bittersweet.

Tuesday at the Darlington hearing was ... almost scary. The presentation about nuclear waste by 3 presenters for Northwatch was fantastic. I'm always proud to be associated with these brilliant activists. Their grasp of the technical side of nuclear operations is astonishing. (Tues. March 29th hearing transcript here Audio recording here )

The OPG (Ontario Power Generation) staff responses about OPG capability to safeguard nuclear wastes for a million years were pretty sobering. One staff member said they were "looking into containers."

Hmmm. I see.

And then commented "We are learning as we are going along."


I bet even some of the nuclear advocates in the room were sobered by OPG's clearly rather shallow understanding of the (no doubt insurmountable) challenges of properly "managing" nuclear wastes for a million years.

Well. I'm sitting in a cafe as I write up this posting.

I've been having a ... somewhat unsettled day. Needed a bit of a break after a number of challenging days.

Now I am overhearing some women talk on at great length about their hairstyles & the challenges of maintaining them.

And I think, OMG!

I guess this is what "ordinary people" concern themselves with (all the while they are also talking on cell phones &/or reading to one another from messages on aforesaid cell phones).

I guess I never will understand this world....

Well. I'll try to do another posting soon. It might be time to hand out some more awards. A little levity is always a good thing, hmmm?


p.s. As regards the personal challenges to maintain my equilibrium, I recall that Joanna Macy said in her brilliant book World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.” Another favourite Joanna Macy quote: “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.”

p.p.s. Lots of great quotations about nukes here


The B Word

If I have to listen to one more major destroyer of the planet use what I’ve come to think of as “the B word,” I think I’ll scream!

The word I keep hearing these people use over & over again is … balance. They always say they have to … balance… their concerns for the environment with economic concerns. (Guess what invariably loses??)

If I were a cartoonist instead of a word person, I’d draw a clever picture showing what their cockeyed view of balance really looks like inside the mind of one of these bigshots from the nuclear industry. (Or the chemical industry. Or the forestry industry. Or the oil industry – those Alberta tar sands defenders give me the willies!).(1)

Because, let’s face it, it’s quite abundantly clear to even the average 10-year old, surely, that the health of this planet is the LAST thing any of these supposedly “concerned” corporate types care about. When they pay it lip service, even, it’s only because they’ve been browbeaten into it.

Balance, my foot.

More like bullshit, frankly.

(& they say it with such straight faces! Great actors, aren’t they?)

There’s a slogan that’s been inside my head for a very long time now. I think I once saw it on a placard, or the front of a Greenpeace magazine. Years & years & years ago now.

No jobs on a dead planet.”


Of course, the only thing all the corporate raider types really care about is the “p word.”


And the problem with all the rapacious greed we human beings have been so consumed by, for so long now, is that we all inhabit the same planet. Fouled air, poisoned water & toxic…well, everything else, pretty much; even the rich can’t get away from it anymore, can they??

Now that we’ve polluted seemingly every square inch of this wondrous planet of ours (our only home!) are we finally “getting” that what we really need to work on is something else that starts with the letter “b”?

A big tent.

It’s what we’ve needed all along, of course. An ethic (& behaviour to go along with it) that recognizes that everything really is all connected. Peace within…peace without. Care for every piece of this earth – and all of us who inhabit it.

Well. We’re liable to keep hearing that “b” word from the planet-wreckers. Maybe we all need to get a wee bit … braver…& be a little quicker to spot & confront “Bullshit” when it’s clear that’s what we’re really being subjected to.

And too, of course, always continuing to do our “big tent” work, one way & another. As Joanna Macy has said, “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true! She has also said “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.” And… “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.”

Stirring words!


P.S. Henry David Thoreau said “If [oppression] is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.”

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Each day we are born again to start our life anew. What we do today is what matters most.” ~ Buddha

(1) Of course there are lots of wildly dishonest people in other industries, too. Like the financial world (see “Inside Job”)… & no doubt many others…

Flaming Out

Every once in a while I have to take a complete break from “reality.” Just had me one of those times! I think of it as “going down a rabbit hole,” or being in a Very Deep Pit(!) for a day or two. I’m very very lucky on 2 counts here: first of all, that I can get away with doing this. Secondly, that my Very Deep Pit days are usually just one day long. I’m very fortunate on that score!

I’m never really quite sure what sets this off in me. All of a sudden my energy for shit-disturbing – for anything, really! – just drains right out of me. About all I am able to make myself do is lie in bed & read a junky novel (or two).

It may not have helped my spirits too much that the other night I watched CBC’s ‘The Nature of Things’ 2-hour special “Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands” (due to be repeated, btw, on Saturday, Feb. 5th).

I’d say it’s utterly essential viewing. Powerful…sobering…illuminating…shocking. I think ALL Canadians have a duty to watch this documentary! To learn what is now driving the Canadian economy. And the price that is being paid – in terms of the truly appalling environmental damage & the horrendous social & health impacts on those who live “downstream” in Alberta. And our governments’ shocking complicity in this scandal (both Alberta’s provincial government, & our federal one).

Don’t we all have a duty to learn about this???

Maybe if we did all watch it, & allow it to really hit home, we’d finally get off our butts & get really serious about conserving energy & consuming less & driving less & not hopping on planes every 25 seconds just because we feel like it.

Shoot – Americans really need to watch it!! Apparently, it is the U.S. that is consuming most of what comes out of the Alberta tar/oil sands.

Well, anyway, as I say, I went into a bit of a pit afterward. I ignored the phone & my email & my work for a day.

Today I seem to be back to “normal.” Had a long walk, did some errands. Will play catch-up today for what didn’t get done while I was down the rabbit hole.

In World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal Joanna Macy says, “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.” Spiritual leader J. Krishnamurti said “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

So I’m not ashamed of my occasional “down the rabbit hole” days, & I’m not going to apologize for them.

This is such a stunning & beautiful world, this Planet Earth we have been given, & our lifestyles & our endless wants & rapacious technologies are trashing it. I reckon an occasional bout of despair is really only to be expected.


P.S. Joanna Macy is quite brilliant on the subject of despair, actually – despair and empowerment. Another wonderful thing she once said is that “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true…

(1) The “Very Deep Pit” is a phrase borrowed from Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie-the-Pooh & Piglet…well – read the book! It’s in Chapter V, ‘In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump.’ It was during the immediately-post-marriage-break-up phase of my life that I began borrowing the Very Deep Pit phrase. I used to joke that I was living in a Very Deep Pit – VDP for short. I still get a big kick out of the phrase…

If I Had a Million Dollars…

This tune from the Barenaked Ladies song started going through my head a few minutes ago as I was finishing reading the introduction to the book Healing the Planet – One Patient at a Time, by Dr. Jozef J. Krop (published in 2002, in Canada, & with a Foreword by Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health).

I have a bunch of books I need to read in the next while.

Disconnect, by Devra Davis (“the truth about cell phone radiation, what the industry has done to hide it, and how to protect your family”), published in 2010 (this book was a National Book Award Finalist).

Dodging the Toxic Bullet – How to Protect Yourself from Everyday Environmental Health Hazards, by David R. Boyd, published in 2010….

Eaarth – Making A Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben, published in 2010(how the earth has already changed drastically due to human-induced climate change, & what we must do about it).

Healing the Planet – One Patient at a Time, by Dr. Jozef J. Krop (as mentioned).

There’s Lead in Your Lipstick – Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them, by Gillian Deacon, newly published (2011).

And other titles.

So far, Healing the Planet by Dr. Krop has me mesmerized & wishing I had a million dollars – so I could buy enough copies of his book for my two children, at least 5 or maybe 10 or 15 friends I can think of – my ex-husband, even! (He’s a former educator, & Dr. Krop has soooooo much to say about our children & how they are reeling not just from individual family problems & social conditions but also the utterly ubiquitous environmental contaminants.) Plus at least one sibling, maybe 2 or heck, all 3.

And then, of course, enough copies of the other books on the list for various friends, acquaintances, family members & libraries.

There are other books I’d like to buy & distribute around by the caseload too, of course.

Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser.

A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle.

& others too numerous to name…

I guess what all these books have in common is that they make clear, brilliant, heartfelt diagnoses of what is “wrong” with our culture – along with kick-ass, practical suggestions for all of us to get off our butts & fix our lives (& health) & that of the entire planet.

No excuses, no lollygagging, no victim nonsense, no “why is this happening to ME” – just clear communications about the nature of our illusions, & our excuses & our apathy & our reliance on broken systems of all kinds – whether these are political, medical, educational, corporate, monetary, or even mostly our own personal mind system! (And, in the case of Broken Open, greatly compassionate & so poignant about how we are all of us in the same darn leaky boat – all of us, every one of us, just another “bozo on the bus.”)

So much of what is wrong is mind-made, as Joanna Macy reminds us.

And we CAN choose to change our minds!

It takes energy, it takes courage – it takes a village, readers!! A great big global village – that’s us; all of us!!

We might have to turn off the TV (& the cell phone, & the computer, & the I-pod, & the I-phone).

We might need to go for a walk every day to clear our heads of all the invasive noise & nonsense & distraction our culture fills them up with.

We might need to read some challenging & provocative articles & books.

And we might need to get off our butts & commit to changing this crazy old hurting world.

Don’t we owe this to our children & grandchildren???

Of COURSE we do! We definitely, definitely do!!


P.S. Thanks to Dorothy & Mary for lending me the Boyd, Deacon & Krop books!!

P.P.S.The Barenaked Ladies song ends, “If I had a million dollars, I’d be rich!” Well, I’m already wealthy (if not rich) – but I sure could use some cash to buy a whole whack of great books for people!!!!

P.P.S. Can’t resist adding a link to the very fun & clever YouTube from last summer – “If I had a billion dollars” – celebrating our wonderful (not) Canadian Prime Minister & his cronies’ decision to build a fake lake in Toronto for the G20 summit attendees. Apparently having lost sight of the fact that our own lovely (if very polluted) Lake Ontario is within easy seeing & walking distance of the summit activities. Ah, politicians, eh? I guess no one expects them to actually make any sense….

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

Runner-up quotes: “A book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us.” – Franz Kafka & “A politician is required to listen to humbug, talk humbug, condone humbug. The most we can hope for is that we don’t actually believe it.” – Character in P.D. James’ A Taste for Death

Antidepressants: Help or …??

I know a number of people who are taking antidepressants currently, &/or have done so in the past. Some of these folks are very near & dear to me indeed!

I didn’t set out to do a blog posting about these drugs, not at all. I’m kind of a strange character, & blog postings often come to me as words or phrases. That last posting, ‘Half Throttle’ just kind of jumped out at me. Once I got ready to post it, I thought maybe I’d better add a posting with some information on antidepressants, since I’m quite skeptical about these drugs, & know there is quite a bit of material available on the topic.

This first link will take you to an essay written by Angela Bischoff, whose beloved husband of 17 years committed suicide in 2004 while on an antidepressant. This motivated Angela to become very knowledgeable, & her essay is definitely one well worth checking out. At the end of the essay are a number of links so you can pursue the topic further.

Another useful link is this one, which will take you to a site where you can download Angela’s “Depression Expression” tabloid (scroll down; it’s on the right-hand side).

I can testify to the usefulness of this “20-page tabloid published in 2006 [that] explores critical issues around antidepressant use: why it is so common, what the dangers are, and what are the alternatives.”

When I learned of it, I had multiple copies sent to me & distributed them around to some people I thought might like to see it. One very good friend has since told me she went off her antidepressant after learning more about the drugs’ risks.

As always, all I can do here is provide information, folks. What readers do with it is entirely up to them!


p.s. No question about it, readers. Life here on Planet Earth at this time is a very, very challenging assignment. Perhaps some of us can indeed only cope with the help of an antidepressant; I can’t say for sure! I just feel we all have a right to know that their use can be a double-edged sword… (& it seems our doctors & the pharmaceutical industry cannot be counted on to tell us the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth when it comes to the possible side effects of their products).

p.p.s. The work of Joanna Macy can be very helpful to us as individuals as we grapple with despair. The blog post here tells you quite a bit about her ideas, & I recommend it because it can help you understand why so many of us get so caught up & so lost inside our own personal pathologies. We are not weird in this, or unusual; we are very much not alone

'Quote of the day' with this post: “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.” - Joanna Macy in World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal


Courses I’d Like to See in 2011 / M - W

Please refer to the posting 'Courses I’d Like to See in 2011 / Part I: A - K' for a proper introduction to this … utter silliness on my part – & also, of course, for the first half of the list of courses!!

Now, continuing right along…

** Motherhood 101: Tips for understanding down to your very bones the wildly important fact that motherhood (once embarked upon) will be the most important (& most long-standing) role you will ever take on. Filled with joy, love, challenges, frustrations & potential near-heartbreak (at times). A role not always well understood in the modern age – but one that, if performed with some skill, has vast potential for world-healing. Closely related to Fatherhood 101 – but since the instructor of Motherhood 101 is, by necessity, a woman/mother, F. 101 will be taught by a man/father. Ambivalence aplenty to be covered in both courses – along with unbounded potential for meaning, satisfaction…& unforeseen (& unforeseeable) pitfalls. A learn-as-you-go, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants, over-the-top experience! *** Important Disclaimer: Instructor is NOT recommending that anyone embark upon new parenthood, a very precarious business in this ever-more-precarious world. Parenthood is an awesome experience & massive, life-long responsibility. Given the state of Planet Earth at this unprecedented time, serious consideration given to NOT embarking upon it could be considered a very wise move indeed... Additionally relevant, this quotation: “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.” – Amma Chi, also known as Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

** Owning Our Own Power: For fearless – or perhaps just courageous – people who are determined not to “let the world get them down,” who know “You CAN fight City Hall” (not to mention corrupt politicians & blood-sucking corporations & bored, boring & bloodless bureaucrats). All other courses offered will be very useful in moving ahead on this one. All topics mentioned in this overall Life course outline will have to be, at the very least, wrestled with. Strong self-esteem, bloody-minded determination & sheer stubborn-ness will also be essential for those who wish to “pass” the course.

** Planning: Overrated?? Prerequisite for those individuals who still don’t get that “life seldom proceeds in accordance with our careful plans” (another hopefully useful saying from yours truly). Not to be confused with Egregious & Over-the-Top Failure to Consider The Long-Term Consequences of Our Actions – a course currently taught in all engineering schools. Most professional courses of any kind, actually. Especially taught by those who advocate the use of nuclear technologies!?!?!?! See depleted uranium &/or nuclear waste of any kind. Adaptation/flexibility undergraduate course must be taken concurrently. Students will be reminded of the Winston Churchill gem “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of Destiny can be handled at a time.”

** Poignancy 101: Prerequisites are compassion, non-judgment, & simple love of one’s fellow humans – along with great patience for human foibles, neuroses & idiosyncrasies. The ability to see how all members of the human race are at base rather simple creatures, all of whom share simple (but profound) needs for love & approval – the need to be needed & affirmed – the need to belong, & to feel part of something much larger than oneself. A very satisfying, if challenging, curriculum. Prerequisite for Stopping Beating Up on Ourselves & Judging Not.

** Pooh-Poohing with Politeness: This course essential for those individuals whose stock, default position when confronted with disturbing (& very likely personally & professionallyinconvenient) facts is to simply pooh-pooh them. Presenters with Ph.D’s in Pooh-Poohing will lecture on how to excel in this field. (Pooh-poohing in the corporate world is a growth industry, of course. Graduates will be encouraged to move on to topics such as Climate Change Denial in order to be able to graduate with the ultimate “Pooh-Poohing the Human Race Right out of Existence” diploma.)

** Potential 101: A real barn-burner, this one!! Sensing the true vastness of human potential is an inspiring, exciting & empowering experience. Empirical evidence to be provided in abundance!! Frequent reminders of the Ralph Waldo Emerson statement: “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” From Dr. Martin Luther King: “Everyone has the power of greatness; not for fame, but greatness. Because greatness is determined by service.” A more recent quotation: “Fossil fuels may be infinite, but human psychic potential is infinite!” (this one from yours truly…) And of course the great & inspiring Marianne Williamson insight. Menopausal women will be encouraged to read Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause, where they will learn that women’s brains actually catch fire at menopause!! Finally, students will be encouraged to contemplate the Joanna Macy contention that Our roots, our true nature – is vast.Just think what humans could achieve if we each mined even a small amount of our own, personal potential??? Yikes! We could really blow the roof off!!

** Saying Thank You/Singing: Essential activities to be practiced faithfully & often. Success in this course may ensure success in all of the others offered & is a prerequisite for understanding the overall ‘Joyful Life’ course curriculum.

** Staying Out of the Way 101: Very, very difficult course to pass. Sometimes one “stays out of the way” out of sincere consideration for others...& then is merely perceived to be uncaring or inconsiderate. Sometimes one barges right in when one really ought to have seriously considered going off to China for a week (or a month. Or…maybe forever??)  Tough call on the curriculum for this course. Instructor is still really rassling with course content, prerequisites & minimum course requirements. Stay tuned!! Curriculum under continuous revision.

** Swamp-Avoiding: A course in which success is virtually unattainable, given that wading through swamps of an astonishing number & variety is a clear prerequisite for Life 101 right through graduate-level Life courses. People are invited to go ahead & sign up, however, since many humans apparently remain convinced that swamp avoidance is … desirable, achievable, possible… & that attempting to micro-manage one’s life/thoughts/other people’s lives/thoughts/plans will somehow miraculously bring joy/satisfaction/whatever else it is these folks believe it will bring.

** Talking Quietly on the Phone: Another course that is un-passable. Even those who squawk the loudest & most often about other people’s propensity to talk too loudly on the phone appear to be equally guilty of this (usually rather minor) human habit/transgression. Ah well. Perhaps the course on ‘Poignancy’ will be of use here. The all-too-human tendency to “point a finger” at others, in order to accuse them of faults/imperfections/wrong-doing, is so frequently a terribly …poignant reminder that we too are each highly fallible…& also very likely talk too loudly on the phone!

** That’s SCANDALOUS! Curriculum still under development. Issues relating to lead (which, according to historians, caused the downfall of the Roman Empire) & nuclear energy certain to achieve top billing. Many other industry-related topics will also be covered. Insurance industry a top contender. Auto industry, banking industry, chemical industry, pharmaceutical industry; you know, the usual suspects… Radioactive consumer products are one clearcut example of scandalousness (scandality??) - & over-the-top corporate rape, pillage &....dare we say, even, perhaps, evil??

** The personal is political: Essential curriculum for life – whether one “passes” or “fails.” Whether or not one is even vaguely tuned in on this topic, one is entirely caught up in its essential, unavoidable truth/wisdom.

** Using Your Voice! Essayto read in preparation for first class. Refer also to this one.

** Walking: Highly recommended for people of all ages, nationalities, sexes, cultures, political beliefs, backgrounds…for any human being who has legs, pretty much. Walking often leads to serious outbreaks of the sensation of simple wellbeing, & thus is actually quite subversive. Instructor will refer to these quotations about the benefits of walking.

** What is a Person to DO?? Relevant curriculum for any & all individuals hoping to check into “Heaven” (or heck – even Hell!) at the time one “passes on.” All must wrestle with this essential question. No firm answers to be provided, however. Assuming one has paid attention to all previous elements of essential Life curriculum, & even if one has failed numerous listed courses, provided one wrestles sincerely & meaningfully (& more-than-sporadically) with the question What is a person to DO??” one may yet – & even spectacularly! – graduate joyfully & triumphantly from Life 101.

** Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?? The eternal conundrum will be explored. Instructor has no definitive answers to this age-old question, & will thus introduce the intriguing concept of Mystery. Also to be suggested, given the endless (almost daily!) existence of chicken & egg scenarios in one’s life & in the world, some strategies for cutting through the paralysis one often confronts when unable to locate the riddle’s answer. Simple strategies such as: Pick up the phone! Apologize! Sign up for some therapy! Consider attending a Landmark Forum weekend! Join a political action group or community group or environmental organization involved in an issue one gives a damn about! (Remember the very first course offering? Activism/Action: Its Own Reward? Cuts right through that age-old chicken/egg scenario, doesn’t it??)

Courses NOT on the 2011 curriculum:

** Beating Up on Ourselves: This course not offered in 2011, since, dammit, people – haven’t we all spent too way much time on this already??

** Micro-managing (or at least trying to micro-manage) your spouse/partner/kids’/friends’ lives/plans/ thoughts/activities…etc. etc. etc: Since this only drives everyone nuts anyway!?!!? (And no one ever, ever, ever, ever thanks you for it!)

** Walking on Eggs: Simply because the instructors who have always taught this course are fatally tired to death of yet another curriculum that never ends, and are on sabbatical from relationships in which almost constant egg-walking is required. When they return, they will teach courses in Lightening Up on Ourselves (& On Each Other). Watch for it!!

Additional Courses Under Consideration for 2011:

** Flying by the Seat of Our Pants…& Loving It!!

** Fun: How to Have More of It!! Involves following your bliss, laughing (at oneself, in particular), honesty, lightening up, letting go, singing, music &, most definitely…friends!!

** It’s Definitely Not About the Money, Honey!!

** Looking Good: Course instructor will challenge students with the question: “Good Lord, is this really what it’s all about, people??” Brainstorming sessions to find strategies for overcoming the obsession with looking good & the fear of looking stupid.

** NOT Jumping to Conclusions: Jumping to conclusions takes too damn much energy!! See essay here. It also leads frequently to endless mistakes, misery… even war!?!!?

** Pettiness: Not a Winning Strategy! Curriculum to be determined… Course highly recommended to humans of the female persuasion, many of whom seem inordinately inclined toward this unfortunate tendency.

** Sin: That Which Separates? So  Nietzsche believed. Search underway for course instructor. Relevant essay here

** Social Skills 101: Compulsory course for those who do not understand the importance of simple conversation, & who have seemingly not yet grasped the truth that “words are indeed important.” (see below)

** Weirdness: Universal human trait, apparently. Instructor will work to convince students that weirdness is utterly necessary & normal - even essential for a happy life!

** Words Are Important: Instructor is obsessively word & book & quotation-oriented & will dispense quotations & book recommendationswith gay abandon, offer provocative evidence that conversation is the single most important thing there is, & challenge students with wildly inspiring quotations.

** Work: What IS Work?? Instructor promises to provide convincing evidence that work need have nothing whatsoever to do with a paycheque. That one can & often does perform one’s most meaningful (not to mention challenging…& rewarding) …work… without entertaining a single solitary thought involving money. Somewhat related to the radical contention that ‘Wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with money.’


First off, there are 2 long lists of recommended reading on this blog. Check 'em out!

Secondly, here is what I recommend this morning. By this afternoon my list would probably be different. I am an absolute KOOK when it comes to books!?!?!

Books I am currently reading & wish everyone else would too:

1. Eaarth - Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben. Top pick of the year!

2. Disconnect - The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, by Devra Davis. Review here If you do a Google search, you can also locate a 2-minute YouTube of the author discussing her book Better yet, Google 'Disconnect + Devra Davis' & locate a series of YouTubes of her longer lecture. Since almost everyone we know uses cell phones with gay abandon, reading of their risks seems like a pretty good bet!

2 others I've read & can't recommend highly enough:

1. In the Absence of the Sacred - The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations, by Jerry Mander. I just did a blog posting about this one.

2. World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, by Joanna Macy. She helps readers rassle with despair, for one thing - & for another, she makes you realize that our culture, instead of encouraging us to deal with the "big picture" problem that human beings are destroying the planet, encourages us to get so lost in our own personal pathology that we can't act with courage & conviction. Awesome book, awesome woman! Blog posting here about her 2009 talk in Toronto includes links to more Joanna Macy good stuff...

Crying. “Honouring Our Pain.”

<written March 19/10>

When I was a child, my older siblings used to call me a “crybaby.” They were right; I was! Of course, they teased me unmercifully & delighted in making me cry. Ah well, eh? They had their reasons for resenting me, hmm? Families are complicated critters…

Eventually, & it took me a humiliating-to-admit number of years, I finally learned to not cry in the face of the teasing. I became “tough.” Being tough – & resilient – is good, on the whole, I think, & my toughness & resilience have served me well, & will very likely continue to do so.

But we are human beings, are we not? Along with our toughness, our thick skins, we need to be able to feel deeply in order to be truly human. (Perhaps if we all felt more – allowed more deep & disturbing feelings in, there would be fewer wars & less violence in general, hmm? Oh there I go again – always aiming for the stars; don’t mind me…)

I do know I’ve been learning again to cry, & how good it makes me feel afterward. The old (or more recent) scars & wounds are still there, but magically, the pain of them is vastly diminished. I feel lighter. Free-er.

Joanna Macy says we need to “honour our pain.”(1) When we simply “stuff” it – push it down, pretend it isn’t there, it sickens us from the in-side out. Dulls us. Saps our energy.

Lots of us harbour plenty of old pain. Childhood wounds. Relationship heartbreaks. Ancient resentments. It’s good to let loose all this old…shit. Let the pus out of the wound(s), as it were. A good cry – even a wrenching howling session – would probably do wonders for most of us!

As Macy & John Seed learned in their despair & empowerment work, we actually free up energy when we speak out loud about our fears & our despair.

In Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(2) a book I’m reading at the moment, author Antjie Krog talks about the tears of a woman testifying in front of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose crying has a huge impact on those who hear her testimony. Krog says “The academics say pain destroys language and this brings about an immediate reversion to a prelinguistic state – and to witness that cry was to witness the destruction of language…was to realize that to remember the past of this country is to be thrown back into a time before language. And to get that memory, to fix it in words, to capture it with the precise image, is to be present at the birth of language itself. But more practically, this particular memory at last captured in words can no longer haunt you, push you around, bewilder you, because you have taken control of it – you can move it wherever you want to. So maybe this is what the commission is all about – finding words for that cry of Nomonde Calata.”(3)

When I re-read those words, I came/come close to tears myself (confession: I still don’t cry very easily). So many people I know had (I pause as I write this, looking for the definitive adjective)…awful…horrid…painful…nasty…soul-destroying things happen to them in their childhoods. Some of us can recall & articulate some of these so-painful things. Many have spent a lifetime repressing the memories (which chews up a fair chunk of our energy & vitality, as it happens).

Women often seem more able to articulate & thus wrestle with these ancient wounds, whereas men are often unable to do so. (For a variety of good reasons! I recommend that everyone on the planet read the book Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey(4) in order to understand why so many men have so much trouble getting in touch with their feelings & their pain. It’s a wonderful, wonderful practical & compassionate book.)

We don’t & really cannot let the pain & baggage go until we articulate it.

It is such a catharsis to say out loud something like (in my own case, to make this very personal indeed & no, I had no intention of saying this when I sat down to write this; the words are simply flying right off the end of my pen!) “My father didn’t give a rat’s ass about me.”

I can say that now with so much less emotional freight attached to it (& no, as it happens, that isn’t the only childhood wound, there was other stuff too. But for me, that was the most crushing thing, the one I pushed down the hardest, for sooooooooo many decades…).

Phew. Didn’t know that’s where this little essay was heading!?

Well. Your friendly local anarchist (that’s me!) says, have a good old wrenching cry from time to time. It will make you feel ever so much better.

As Joanna Macy advises, we need to honour our pain.(5) This does not make us weaker, it actually makes us stronger. More resilient. Maybe even a little more fierce…but in a good way, I think….

Flonda Scott Maxwell said, “You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

Reality is a little fierce these days. I reckon we need to be a little fierce to wrestle with it! (Fierce, but kind. Compassionate. Caring. Active…)


p.s. There are two authors who write wonderfully well & whose wise & compassionate words help unleash the tears for me when I know I need to cry but the tears aren’t coming. Rachel Naomi Remen’s awesome book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal is … awesome!! The essay called “In Flight” will do it for me every time… Elizabeth Lesser is another emotion-unlocker for me (you must read Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow). I swear by both these books & their respective writers. I wrote about my introduction to Ms. Lesser in the essay “Lonely & Terrified: Just Another Bozo on the Bus.”

p.p.s. I’ve been “sitting on” this essay, but figured it was time to post it. Weeks after writing it, I’ve now come in contact with two books by Alice Miller – hooey!! Did these books ever jump into my arms! & right at the right time. From Rage to Courage and The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting. Haven’t read the 2nd one yet, but am sure looking forward to it!

'Quote of the Day' with this post: “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” – Joseph Campbell


(1) There are several posts on this blog about Joanna Macy, a Buddhist scholar/writer & activist I greatly admire.

(2) Times Books/ Random House, 1998. Such a great book!!

(3) Pages 53 – 57.

(4) Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, Calvin Sandborn, New Society Publishers, 2007.

(5) Embracing Pain - 4-minute Tim Wilson film featuring Joanna Macy. You can find it here

Elephants. Showing up. Staying out of the way.

<drafted Feb. 4/10>

Ever since the phrase “an elephant in the room”  was introduced to me, I’ve been crazy about the concept. It’s so … useful!!

When Marissa mentioned the expression to me, she was referring to the phenomenon of being at a wedding involving a family of divorce. Everyone skirts around the underlying hostilities, baggage & inevitable tensions – as though there were an invisible elephant in the room. (Sure must use up a lot of energy, ya think?)

Gotta tell you, I’ve had way more experience with elephants than I care to enumerate.

Then too, & oddly enough, I am both a bit of an elephant myself, & sometimes (usually in different locales), an elephant caller. It is not only not particularly easy being in either role, it sometimes seems to make people around me a little uncomfortable too (my poor kids, eh??). Yet very often, people do tell me they enjoy my honesty & openness (I guess I sometimes say the things other people think, but are too afraid to say…).

It is also true, as I am only just now beginning to realize, that in a certain few relationships, when there have been rather large elephants lurking & I did not call them, things later blew up in very messy, unpleasant ways.

So, sheesh! I’m not sure what the lesson here is.

The other odd balancing act I seem to be ever navigating is the showing up/staying out of the way dynamic.

I believe quite passionately in “showing up” – which in my case takes the form of involvement in environmental activism, excessively honest blogging & trying to “be there” for friends & loved ones going through hard times.

Three writers I greatly admire talk about “showing up.” Joanna Macy spoke of the importance of our showing up with respect to the environmental crisis at a talk she gave in Toronto last June.

Elizabeth Lesser speaks of it in her awesome book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (the essay entitled 'For Hugo'). Joan Halifax says in her book Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion & Fearlessness in the Presence of Death that there ought to be a sign saying “Show Up” at her monastery in Santa Fe.

Come to think of it, I’m certain Rachel Naomi Remen says plenty about it in her wonderful book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal – if not perhaps in that exact phrase. Dr. Remen is, after all, all about showing up…

I greatly admire these women’s thoughts & writings & the awesome work each is engaged in – & totally embrace the concept of “showing up.”

And yet, & yet…

My experiences as an elephant in the room – & a frequent elephant caller – but a sometimes not-courageous enough elephant caller keep landing me in sticky, messy, damn-near-tragic situations, relationship-wise.

What is a person to do??


Well. The clouds have blown away & the sun is shining brilliantly & my horrific cough has seemingly calmed itself down, at least for the moment. The act of writing down my thoughts has simultaneously lifted my spirits in the rather miraculous way it so often does. And I am recalling the words of two people whose wisdom often offers me so much comfort.

Elizabeth Lesser reminds us in Broken Open that we are all, after all, just fellow “bozos on the bus." No one has got it all together all the time. (Pema Chödron is also brilliant & sooooo compassionate on this score in her books The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving KindnessWhen Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times).

We are all works in progress, hmm?

I’ll have to keep right on wrestling with the odd dynamics of being an elephant in the room, an elephant caller, & when to “show up” & when to "stay out of the way.” (I have a horror of being “in the way” that I can only assume stems from my … challenging… childhood years. It’s an ever-present dynamic in my life. Still rassling with that one, for sure!)

Eckhart Tolle’s reminder that “This too will pass” will continue to offer its eternal wisdom, strength & wider sense of perspective.

(& then too, my own phrase “Cut your losses. Go where the energy is” will continue to serve me well – especially when I remember to follow my own good advice!!)


P.S. I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle & have mentioned him in several blog posts. If you know nothing at all about him, why not read the postings Pain Bodies on Parade (or Oh, To Be a Duck), Ducks, Unlimited; Humans?? Also Unlimited & Flap Your Wings.

'Quote of the day' with this post: "A dead end is just a good place to turn around." ~ Naomi Judd


Humility, Female: A Musing…

<March 12/10>

My daughter reminded me this morning (and, well, last night too, not to put too fine a point on it) of a theory I’ve had in mind for quite a while now about women & humility.

There are many differences between the sexes, of course, & the quality of humility is just one of them.

I’ve long theorized that women are (usually) more humble than men (broadly speaking, of course; there are also wildly arrogant women & vastly humble men) because motherhood keeps us humble. Actually, our children keep us humble. Any time we might be feeling not too badly about ourselves & our worldly achievements & spiritual growth (such as it is), our children will be sure to remind us of our shortcomings & one of the vast array of grievous mistakes visited upon them in their childhoods. Or maybe only my children do this, who knows?? It’s true on the one hand that I’m not particularly crazy about being reminded so frequently of my yawning imperfectabilities as a person & mother; however, on the other, I am in general pleased that my relationships with my daughters are close enough that they feel comfortable telling me I’m definitely not ready for any halos just yet.

On the whole, I think, humility is to be celebrated. As Elizabeth Lesser points out so brilliantly (with credit to clown Wavy Gravy) in the not-to-be-missed Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, we are all, after all, just “bozos on the bus.” However grand may be our worldly achievements, we all have faults & problems & neuroses, & can all be royal pains in the neck at times. Is it not so?? (My blog posting “We are ALL Impossible” speaks to this.)

Back to the incident this morning: I’d stayed overnight at my daughter’s apartment & this morning walked with her over to her office so we could have a few minutes’ chatting time together. Apropos of something she’d just said, I told her about Joanna Macy’s suggestion in World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal that a useful tactic for helping one to feel compassion for others is to look at each person we meet & imagine her (or him) to have been our mother in a previous lifetime. Bear in mind here, I had annoyed my daughter the night before & she had let me know this in no uncertain terms.

When I told her the Joanna Macy suggestion, she replied without skipping a beat, “That would make me even grumpier!” at which, of course, I burst out laughing.

I’m pretty sure she loves me as much as any daughter loves any mother – but it sure is a case of tough love sometimes!!

Ah well. I do love that my daughters & I laugh a lot when we hang out together. And I’m grateful (I think) that they’re so darn good at keeping my feet on the ground…


p.s. Posts on this blog about Lesser’s book are

‘Quote for the day’ with this post: “So-called global warming is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy-independent, clean our air and water, improve fuel-efficiency of our vehicles, kickstart 21st century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!” – Chip Giller, founder of

Circles (& Boxes): Magic! (& Magic Lost)

<March 1/10>

I’ve been thinking about circles (& boxes) lately.

I keep noticing how important circles are – & how so many of the things that make us feel good – make us human, really – are kind of circular.

Things like, for one notable example, gratitude. When we make it a point to be grateful/appreciative of the blessings in our lives (yes! Here I go yet again about gratitude!?)(1) – it soon begins to seem as though there are more & more things to be grateful for. The circle gets bigger & bigger. And also, when we show appreciation for the people in our lives, they seem to appreciate us more too, & we all rather shine, I think, when we really feel appreciated, & that is all a kind of wondrous, magical circular process.

I know Buddhist scholar/long-time activist Joanna Macy has said, along with her co-author Molly Young Brown in their book Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (New Society Publishers, 1998), “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world,” & I can say from lots of experience that this is, most happily, very true! Along with the grace comes more energy to do more work, & then more grace, & …well, you get the picture, hmm? On & on it goes, a lovely & very un-vicious circle.

When you muse on all this for a while, you notice that, actually, we are utterly surrounded by & immersed in circular, cyclical processes.

The seasons go around in circles & our own lives are cyclical in nature, & families & human communities are circles of caring & compassion (when they work well) & we live on a round, orbiting ball of a planet, don’t we? It shouldn’t perhaps surprise us too much to notice all the magical circular processes when really, our own lives & Life itself is all about circles.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that thousands of years ago, human beings understood intuitively that our lives are guided by these circular processes, but that somewhere along the way (perhaps when we moved away from the tribal lifestyle of gatherers & hunters in favour of settled agriculture?), it seems we mislaid our understanding of the power of circles (& began boxing ourselves in).

I recently re-read the fabulously interesting & well-written book The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of the wildly best-selling Eat, Pray, Love) in which she delves deeply into the life of Eustace Conway – an utterly fascinating man & “a true American original.” Eustace Conway is an outdoorsman of truly mind-blowing capabilities & knowledge. The story of who he is & how he came to be who & where he is, is riveting.

Conway understands very well the phenomenon of circles & expounds on it in the book.(2) He also points out very convincingly that most of us these days live not in circles, but in boxes.

Gilbert quotes him saying to an audience of young people, “Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anybody you know?”(3)

Phew! He’s nailed us, hasn’t he??

He sure makes our box-like existences sound more than a tad unappealing, doesn’t he?

Well, I muse on this kind of thing quite a bit, & I notice that our world seems to be in a wee bit of a mess (don’t you think?), & I wonder whether more of us might begin looking outside the boxes a little more.

It also happens I’m an obsessive collector of thoughtful & inspiring quotations, & I recall that Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates.” I can’t help noticing that boxes (& the nuclear family, & consumer society & our proclivity to skirt around some pretty big “elephants” in the room/our lives/the world) definitely have the effect of keeping us inside our own little minds/world/boxes, feeling separate & too often, lonely, inadequate & downright alienated (which leads to all kinds of problems, but let’s not go there right now…).

And I think about the activists I know, & the truth-tellers, & the fact that a lot of us are people who are nudging us back in the direction of those circular processes. In my own life, I’ve seen how the magic of following my bliss (as an environmental activist & writer) has succeeded in making me feel very alive – very appreciated – & very much a member of a large & quite wonderful tribe…not just a small & rather inadequate (& aptly named) nuclear family.

I think too that people who are brave enough to tell the truth give us all a leg up & help boost us up out of that lonely box that confines & limits us, giving us an opportunity to find & join in more of the magical circles.

And for some reason, this reminds me of a sign I saw recently in a store window. You know how you often see signs that say “Help Wanted: Experience Required?” This one said “Customers Wanted. No Experience Necessary.”

This gave me a chuckle on a slightly lonesome & dreary day.

And now I offer it to you, dear Reader, as an invitation to climb up out of a life of boxes & into a world of circles.

No experience necessary; just learn as you go. As poet Antonio Machado said, “We make the road by walking.”(4) Let’s get walking!!


p.s. A few circular things I can think of: smiling, being friendly, being cooperative & open to collaboration, truth-telling, honesty. When we smile, are friendly, cooperative & open to collaboration, are honest & tell the truth, it seems to encourage the people around us to do the same. (There are vicious circles too, of course, & negative feedback loops – so since “what we focus on expands,” I direct my energy toward the un-vicious type as much as humanly possible!) Loving acts seem to lead to loving feelings – leading to more loving acts & … ‘round & round it goes.

p.p.s. Sometimes I notice that some folks seem to almost hoard their friendliness & their smiles. I don’t know if they think there is only so much of that kind of good feeling to go around – but in my experience, it’s quite the opposite! The more I smile & am friendly to people, the more they are friendly & smile back – & that makes me feel good, so I keep doing it, &…. you get my drift, hmm? Actress Sarah Bernhardt said, “Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

p.p.p.s. I wrote a blog post several months ago called “Hope – or Action?” At the time, I felt I was losing or had lost all my hope. I mused on it some, read some things, talked to some folks, & decided to start taking action. In taking some of the actions I took, I seemed to grow some hope (must say too, it’s young people’s energy that seems a critical ingredient – for me, anyway). That seems to me another lovely kind of circle. Turns out hope is a renewable resource, which is pretty cool!! Action > hope > action > hope, etc. etc. For sure too, the more we do, the more we give, the more we receive back. So yes, all of it circular, & also rather magical…

‘Quote of the Day’ with this post: “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” – Tuli Kupferberg

(1) If you go to ‘Gratitude Postings: A list & an insight’ you’ll see a distressing # of links to blog postings about gratitude. I’m an absolute broken record about it – but only because it’s so darn important!! Dear friend Penny says, “Gratitude is the first order of the Universe.” Not sure where she picked up that line, but she is absolutely right!!! I hope you’ll consider checking out some of my postings about it…

(2) The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert, Penguin Books, 2002. Page 18.

(3) Page 19.

(4) The blog post “We make the road by walking” contains the Machado poem that this line is from.


Telling the Truth: American Soldier & Iraq

The topic of truth-telling seems to keep coming up. And I’m not the only person who’s talking about it. Lots of the writers I read (all of the writers I read??) are truth-tellers, one way & another.

In a culture that seems rife with, dare I say, bullshit & even outright lies (e.g., more is always better, “he who dies with the most toys wins,” buying things brings us happiness, etc.), it gets so that very few of us seem to be able to be really honest. Deception sets in early in our culture.

I was heartened to hear the other day of Shannon P. Meehan, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who fought in Iraq & who has now published a book called Beyond Duty: Life on the Front Line in Iraq.

I caught part of an interview with Lt. Meehan on the CBC. (I’ve said it before & I’m saying it again now; CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – Radio is one of Canada’s greatest national treasures!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the entire broadcast, but what I heard was plenty compelling.

Lt. Meehan was seriously emotionally damaged by his part in the Iraq war – particularly by (I understand) a particular offensive on a particular day. He remains deeply haunted by its personal emotional aftermath.

Meehan is now retired from the U.S. Army (for medical reasons, I believe he said) and has written a book that tells the truth about some of the emotional/moral challenges/dilemmas faced by soldiers. Needless to say, these are the very sorts of truths the military bigshots almost certainly do not want us hearing about.

Interestingly, Meehan has no ideological axe to grind. He doesn’t say we must stop fighting wars. He does say let’s be a little more honest & truthful about what war really consists of & what its real impacts are.

I haven’t read his book, but it sounds as though it would be a mighty interesting read.

If you want to listen to the CBC interview, go here Scroll down to near the bottom, to Part 3 of that day’s broadcast (paragraph 3).

I can’t help but think that hearing a man who is a retired U.S. Army Captain articulate his thoughts & conflicting emotions (pain, confusion, guilt, etc.) is bound to be a potentially life-changing experience for many of us. Not all of us soldiers, either. Lots of us have problems understanding our emotions. Most of us can use a little help.

Telling the truth, says Joanna Macy, is like “making oxygen.”

Hear, hear, say I. Bring on the oxygen!


P.S. Related blog post: 'Making Waves: Even soldiers are doing it.'

P.P.S. Another blog post that may interest you is Telling the Truth or, Too Many Elephants in the Room? Oh, & Bullshit!

P.P.P.S. Thinking of all this is reminding me of the Stephen Fearing song “Man O’ War.” It’s on his excellent ‘Industrial Lullaby’ CD. Very interesting lyrics about war &…here they are!

Man O’ War 
Stephen Fearing – 1996 ©

The war was nearly over when the general came

To tour the wounded soldiers in their beds

And he walked among the suffering and the amputees

Like he was an angel

Most of us were innocent until we heard his name

Too young for pints and Whisky in The Jar

But we were soaked in the tradition of the open flame

We were just sparks in the darkness of the man o’ war


The man o’ war painting ancient battles

See the farmers in the trenches where the cowherds are the cattle

Every generation wipes the blood off of the saddle

For the man o’war.

How many thousand years since the start of time

Has the general led his people by the nose?

Corporate inspiration and a bloody mind

That’s how this game goes

And he took me from the playground showing me photographs

Corpses stacked like cordwood on a floor

He said “Your father and his father and on down the line

You’re all indispensable to the man o’ war”


Oh the cheap broken china of civilians

And the anguish of a father breaking down

The long line of people and possessions

Searching for a child amongst the crowd

And the eyes just dry out if you don’t close them

And the heart becomes immune to the sounds

I lost my religion to a rifle

But I’ll talk to any deity now

The war was nearly over when the general came

To tour the wounded soldiers in their beds

And he walked among the suffering and the amputees

Like he was an angel

Some kind of angel.

Great song. Fearing is a wonderful singer (& song-writer).

‘Quote for the Day’ with this post: “It’s one of the secrets of the world. We all have the key to one another’s locks. But until we start to talk, we don’t know it.” – Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s ‘Bookworm’ radio show

Dear Judge: Comfort Zones & Climate Change

Readers: This post consists mostly of a letter I wrote to a provincial court judge after having been sentenced in her court – along with 6 other Toronto-area activists calling ourselves 'People for Climate Justice' – on February 23rd. We had occupied Canadian federal finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby, Ontario constituency office on November 30th, last year. We wanted to convey to federal politicians, just prior to the Copenhagen meetings, our deep concern & frustration about our federal government’s inaction (& even willful obstruction) vis-à-vis international efforts aimed at appropriate action on the most urgent issue facing humanity today: global climate change.

After spending about 6 ½ quite peaceful hours chained together in Mr. Flaherty’s office, we were arrested, handcuffed & taken to police holding cells & charged with 3 related offences. These were Loiter and Obstruct Persons in Public Place, Mischief – Obstruct/Interrupt/Interfere with Lawful Use/Enjoyment or Operation of Property (both Criminal Code offences) & Fail to Leave Premises (Trespass to Property Act).

We had a court date on January 14th and then again a few days ago, on February 23rd.

The judge gave us an opportunity to say a few words before she handed down our sentence(1), but I found myself feeling pretty intimidated by the whole situation, and refrained from saying anything. I’ve now written her a letter & have mailed it to her office. Here it is…

February 25, 2010.

Dear Judge:

I was in your courtroom in Oshawa the other morning, Tuesday, February 23rd. I was there with my 6 co-accused on charges relating to our November 30th peaceful sit-in at the office of Jim Flaherty, Whitby’s Conservative MP and Canada’s federal finance minister.

Ours was one of 6 such protests that took place across Canada just prior to the United Nations meetings in Copenhagen to discuss and find urgent solutions to the climate crisis. (Occupations also took part in the offices of federal cabinet ministers Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose, Gary Lunn, John Baird and Andrew Saxton.)

I believe you suggested to us that we might find more law-abiding ways in future to express our frustration with the Canadian government’s (in our view criminal) lack of action on this utterly crucial issue – in fact, the single most serious issue and challenge ever faced by humanity! We did not really have the opportunity to explain to you that we have indeed each tried more “conventional” and “polite” methods.

I’m writing this letter to you now because, although you did give us the opportunity to speak up just before you handed down our sentence, I personally found the whole setting and situation more than a little intimidating, and so remained silent.

What I would have liked to say to you on Tuesday, in court, is this:

Your Honour, I am very proud of having taken part in the peaceful occupation of Canada’s finance minister’s office this past November 30th. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the things in my life I am most proud of. I wish I had done more of this kind of thing in my life, because taking this action made me feel great! Apathy and inaction in the face of such a momentous issue and challenge drain our energy, while action is a powerful energy booster.

You commented that you suspected our action probably took us all a little beyond our usual comfort zone, and you are certainly correct in my case. Chaining myself to fellow human beings and being hauled off to a jail cell with my hands cuffed behind my back in a cold, hard paddy wagon is indeed not the sort of thing I do routinely.

But here’s the thing: I felt I had to do this. That it was the very least I could do in the face of our government’s appalling inaction on climate change and its (in my view) criminal behaviour in the Alberta tar sands.

Letters, phonecalls, petitions, peaceful gatherings on Parliament Hill – none of these have made even a tiny dent in our so-called leaders’ intransigence. When these conventional methods of expressing dissent in a democracy fail, one feels obliged to “up the ante.”

Another thing I want you to be aware of is how overwhelmingly positive the reactions to my part in this protest have been. People have offered effusive praise, and I’ve been told over and over that friends and family members are proud of me.

Canadians are disgusted with the antics of the Harper government. We all know we need to see serious action on climate change: targets, policies, legislation and global cooperation.

Yet our government sits on its hands, stifles dissent by proroguing Parliament, and embarrasses our country on the world stage (we’ve been labelled a “corrupt petro state” by world-respected writer/activist George Monbiot) with its appalling performance on this most urgent issue in the entire history of humanity.

I recognize that you are playing your own (perhaps quite principled) part in our legal system in the best way you can, and I do appreciate your intelligence and considerate handling of our case. The disposition you handed down was not an unreasonable one, given the original charges and the limitations with which you no doubt must work. I must say too, though, I do not feel the slightest bit guilty or ashamed for having done what I did. I’m proud of it, and I wish many more citizens would take similar coordinated action.

Yours sincerely,

Janet McNeill

P.S. Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown have said in Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true!

Note to blog readers: Other blog posts about the sit-in: Busted for Climate Justice!; Civil Disobedience Rocks!! 10 Observations;Civil Disobedience: Why did we occupy Fin. Min’s Office?

Also note: If you go to Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice you can read up on the various sit-ins held in MPs’ offices across Canada last Fall, just before the Copenhagen meetings.

‘Quote of the Day’ w. this post: “When the Earth has been ravaged and the animals are dying, a tribe of people from all races, creeds and colours will put their faith in deeds, not words, to make the land green again. They will be called ‘Warriors of the Rainbow,’ protectors of the environment.” – Native saying

(1) The first 2 charges were dropped. We pled guilty to the third. We were each fined $100. & will be on probation for a year. The conditions that had been imposed on us at the time of our arrest (involving police notifications & non-association with our co-accused) were also dropped.


Prison Break!

<written Jan. 24/10>

Woke up feeling pretty much like the proverbial “bag of s-it” this morning. There’s kind of a lot of heavy emotional stuff going on in my life just now. Details not important.

I hauled myself out of bed more or less by the scruff of the neck & forced myself to get out for a walk.

I was pretty deep into negative thoughts as I set out. “Oh poor me,” “How could s/he?” Not to mention a large dollop of self-loathing. “Why am I such a LOSER?” That kind of thing…

I didn’t get more than a block before I saw a man walking his dog along Queen St. (I swear there are more dogs than people in this neighbourhood). I very deliberately avoided looking at either man or dog (normally I’d have smiled at the dog, at the very least), & the thought immediately sprang into my mind that I was choosing to remain miserable. Self-absorbed. Wallowing in misery.

It was immediately crystal-clear to me that this was a choice I was making.

“Hmmph,” I thought. “Fine. I choose to be miserable & wallow in self-pity & self-flagellation & self-loathing. Righty then!”

But on I walked, beside Lake Ontario, enjoying, in spite of myself, the waves, the trees, & all the darn dogs (& their people). Especially the little kids (what is not to like about youthful innocence & exuberance?? I mean…)

Pretty soon a few good thoughts came to me as regards how I might wrestle with the personal emotional storms I’m currently caught up in.

And then I thought, is it not so totally true that we are all prisoners of our own minds? And further, that this is a choice we make?

So, therefore, we can choose to “break out.” Figure out ways to navigate a little more fearlessly out of the messy emotional storms we all get caught up in, in this oh-so-human life we each lead.

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

And also that all of humankind’s problems (& our individual ones) are mind-made. They are not real & immutable & rock-solid. They are really just ideas – thoughts & concepts inside our heads.

So, we simply have to make the choice to change what goes on inside our heads.

(Well, of course we can't make pollution go away just by changing our thoughts about it. But we can change our state of mind about things...)


I don't feel like a bag of s-it anymore. I feel “human” again (although of course being human does admittedly encompass a wide variety of moods).

I feel as though there are some possibilities open to me as regards these all-important relationships in my life – & that's a great relief, since, in my world, anyway, it’s really the relationships that are the whole darn deal.

So, I made a “prison break,” you might say, & stopped myself from feeling miserable. It didn’t take very long at all! 🙂


p.s. Eckhart Tolle & Byron Katie are quite brilliant (& down-to-earth practical) on the subject of how we each choose our thoughts & thus, can change them. I highly recommend Tolle’s book A New Earth & Katie’s Loving What Is Four questions that can change your life. Both these writers have been down inside the pits of deep depression themselves. They are writing about what they know, not some high-falutin’ intellectual exercise or airy-fairy spiritual mumbo-jumbo. They have been there

p.p.s. Paul Dudley White, a physician who lived from 1886-1973, said “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” I’m utterly convinced he was absolutely right. Walking is downright magical


‘Quote of the Day’ with this post: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose