despair and empowerment


<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.

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…

Joanna Macy Invites Us to SHOW UP!

<June 27/09>

On Thursday, June 18th, I heard Joanna Macy speak in Toronto.

What a blessing!!

Luckily, I took notes (writers always do), so I can share some of her insights here.

(Joanna Macy has written some great books, & there are other JM-related items on this blog; I’ll refer to these in a P.S. at the end.)

Joanna opened by thanking us for our attention and pointing out that the phenomenon of self-reflective consciousness (a concept also frequently referenced in the work of Thomas Berry & Sister Miriam MacGillis and perhaps others I ought to name) – i.e., where we now are in the evolution of the Universe/Earth/humanity, has been a 4-billion year process. Here we now find ourselves, at this so-amazing time in history – what an amazing miracle and blessing! (She also referred briefly to the fact of the stunning biodiversity that supports our self-reflective consciousness.)

She noted that we are “waking up together” – and that it’s hard for us to wake up. Our world/culture works very, very hard to keep us asleep – and the “power holders” are very happy to see us stay that way. Not just asleep, but caught up inside our own personal pathologies. For the power-holders/moneymakers, it is good that we feel ashamed of our personal problems, and keep quiet. This serves their agenda very well indeed. (That way, we don’t question, we just keep buying. We don’t rock the boat.)

She spoke of the deep need for gratitude. “Gratitude is essential for our showing up,” she said, and pointed out that all indigenous cultures have always had a spiritual tradition of gratitude. When we are caught up in self-pity, that keeps the power-holders very happy – because it keeps us buying and buying and buying, trying to fill up those holes we have inside. When we focus on gratitude, we see how rich and blessed we are – how beautiful our Earth is – and self-pity (and addictive consumption) fall away.

So – it’s hard to wake up – and gratitude is key.

As is truth-telling. Telling the truth, Joanna Macy said, is “like making oxygen.”

When we do acknowledge the truth about our world, it is definitely painful. That’s why we hold it off – whether as individuals with our personal pathologies (Janet talking now: this is all very, very familiar territory for me just now), or as human beings recognizing the state of the world and the abyss our species is perched on the edge of.

Joanna Macy has long been a scholar of Buddhism, and Buddhist thought and practice have very much shaped her life. Compassion is a key linchpin in Buddhist thought.

Macy points out that when we suffer with others (there is much, much pain and suffering in this world, after all), that is compassion – suffering with is what compassion means. We are sometimes made to feel as though we are crazy when we “suffer with” – but as Macy says, No, we are not crazy – we are allowed to “suffer with.”(1) Our fear and our tears and our outrage are also not personal – we are suffering for our world, not just for ourselves. (This insight alone is so powerful I could probably muse on it for days.)

She also commented that we need and should and are allowed to honour our pain. (I needed to hear that too.)

As other writers/teachers are also pointing out, if in slightly different ways (e.g., Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie), the problems of the human race are mind-made – they are problems that originate inside our minds and our ways of thinking; thus, they can be un-made! (As I’ve said so many times in other blog items here, for goodness sake, read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose!!!! A must, must, must-read.)

We need one another terribly – we need communion and community. Our loneliness/aloneness/isolation keep us “small,” when in fact, as Joanna Macy says, “We are so much bigger than we thought.” We spent thousands of years projecting all the greatness on a “Big Daddy God” who was somewhere up in the sky – not on the Earth – and now we have brought the sacred “back down to Earth.”

Macy says “Our roots, our true nature – is vast.”

We are vast – I have felt this, many times. I’ve also – and very, very recently, as in, a few hours ago – felt entirely trapped inside my own aloneness and personal sadness – and just had the insight this morning that most of us don’t understand our very own nature. We are strangers, even to ourselves! Only in talking with others, in communion and in conversation, do we shed our isolation and our lack of self-understanding. And gain compassion for ourselves, as well as for others.

Well – this notion that we are actually vast creatures should surely empower us!!

Macy says that we now find ourselves, as a species, in a time of transformation as huge as the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago. Some are calling this time “The Great Turning(2),” and as we know, its outcome is not certain. Perhaps we will make the turning; perhaps we will not… No one can yet say.

As Macy explains, “the not-knowing is the prerequisite of our presence.” In other words, if we knew the outcome, either way, would we “show up” in the same way?

What happens will be the result of “how we show up.”

In World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Macy says “Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” And “Do-er and deed co-arise. Hence our continuity of character, bearing the stamp of repeated choice and habit. Hence also our freedom, for new options arise with each present act of will.” (my italics)

We cannot know what will happen… What will happen will be the result of our choices and actions. So our choices/actions are very, very important.

Macy also says “You also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” As I said in another essay in which I quoted this, I do believe this is true.

I am so very grateful to have been introduced to the work and wisdom of Joanna Macy (thank you Skye!!)

I can see no way ahead for my own peace and sanity but to continue truth-telling. This may take some unpredictable turns.

But if I am somehow helping to create a little oxygen with it, I’ll be one very gratified person.

And you, now. How will you show up?


p.s. Books of Joanna Macy’s that I have read & much enjoyed are Widening Circles – A Memoir (New Society Publishers, 2000) & World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal (Parallax Press, 2007).

p.p.s. Other items on this blog with Joanna Macy-related material are the 2 ‘Despair & Empowerment’ posts – & one called ‘Joanna Macy: Wise Woman.

p.p.p.s. Joanna Macy spoke about the pivotal importance of gratitude in our lives & in the Great Turning. I talk about gratitude a lot too. If you go to the post 'Gratitude Posts: A list & an insight' you’ll see both a list of the posts here that touch on gratitude, & some insight on gratitude from Joanna Macy. Here is the quote:

“Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more – more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.” [World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 2007.]

(1) The next day, on the street in Toronto, I saw people begging, & as I’ve written in a couple of other blog entries, I like to give money to people because a) I suffer with/have compassion for people in this situation and b) it makes me feel good and now c) I have permission to “suffer with” – it’s nice to have this tendency of mine affirmed. I am not crazy for these feelings of compassion.

(2) There is an excellent book by this name, The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community, by David C. Korten, 2006. Well worth reading. Also a film by the same name, & it’s great too!

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…


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'.


Joanna Macy: Wise Woman

Joanna Macy says in the Introduction to her book World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal that the personal life question that has been central in her life is “how to be fully present to my world – present enough to rejoice and be useful – while we as a species are progressively destroying it.”

Phew. That statement certainly resonates big-time for me…

Joanna Macy, Ph. D., is now 80 years old. She is, according to the book’s jacket, “one of the best-known eco-philosophers and spiritual activists in the country. She is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology, she weaves her scholarship with four decades of activism.”

She is also an incredibly caring and compassionate woman, a mother and grandmother, and a fantastic writer.

In the 1970s Macy and several colleagues pioneered a phenomenon known as ‘despair and empowerment’ workshops (they’ve also been known as ‘Deep Ecology Work’ and ‘The Work That Reconnects’). Macy maintains “The problem lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it.” (pg. 94 of World as Lover, World as Self).

The chapter of the book called “Despair Work” is very moving and useful. Macy explains that the apathy widely decried by activists is not due to our lack of caring. She says, “The cause of our apathy, however, is not indifference. It stems from a fear of the despair that lurks beneath the tenor of life-as-usual” and goes on to say “The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies. Fear of despair erects an invisible screen, filtering out anxiety-producing data. In a world where organisms require feedback in order to adapt and survive, this is suicidal.” (pages 92-3).

Her book is replete with wisdom and infused with her deep compassion and caring. I could fill pages with her amazing, articulate, wise comments about the state of the world, the need for us to open ourselves up to the true nature of the situation we as a species now find ourselves in, and the ways in which we might properly respond.

A few of the chapter titles, to intrigue you: “Faith, Power & Ecology,” “Three Lessons in Compassion,” “Taking Heart: Spiritual Practices for Activists,” “The Great Turning,” “The Greening of the Self” and “Perseverance for the Long Haul.”

Joanna Macy has led an amazing life, and her experiences are fascinating. Her insights are numerous and profound.

In the chapter “Taking Heart” she says “So we are caught now in a narrow place where we realize that Lao-tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and our own hearts were right all along; and we are as scared and frantic as a cornered rat, and as dangerous. But if we let it, that narrow cul-de-sac can turn into a birth canal, pressing and pushing us through the darkness of pain, until we are delivered into…what? Love seems too weak a word. It is, as Saint Paul said, ‘the glory to be revealed in us.’ It stirs in us now.” And a few lines later, “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.” (page 135)

Is it not so??

I surely do recommend that you read the book yourself! (Her memoir Widening Circles is also a wonderful and inspiring read.)


P.S. The chapter “Taking Heart: Spiritual Practices for Activists” has wonderful, practical tips you can put to use immediately – no need to meditate for 10 years or become some sort of spiritual “master” to be able to apply them in your life right away. Ms. Macy certainly knows how to help us become more compassionate, among other things…

P.P.S. One of the qualities Joanna Macy shares with other big, big thinkers Eckhart Tolle, Thomas and Wendell Berry, and Matthew Fox is that her perspective is not narrow, but very wide indeed. While Macy practices Buddhism, and both Berrys & Fox come from a Christian background, they all see the very, very big picture. Their insights and wisdom are for all of us, whatever our state or habits of belief … or our utter lack thereof. These thinkers are for everyone

P.P.P.S. I attended a ‘Despair & Empowerment’ workshop led by Macy colleague John Seed, the Australian rainforest activist. This was a profoundly moving, worthwhile and memorable experience. There is also a film by that name.

Ducks, Unlimited; Humans?? Also Unlimited…

<October ‘08>

I’ve written an (as yet unpublished) book of letters about motherhood, & remember while working on it having been struck by the image of a mother duck, swimming along in the water with her brood.

I envied her – and I think she can be an inspiration to us, as mothers – and parents – and…well… people in general.

Mother Duck knows her job. It’s really quite straightforward.

Raise the ducklings.

Feed them – teach them how to find food and protect themselves from predators.

Swim. Sleep.

That’s Mother Duck’s job. Raise the brood. Set a good example.

No worrying about corporations and governance, profits and losses, stock market gyrations, competition, shopping, clothes, weight gain or loss, in-laws, keeping up with the Joneses, Things ‘R Us.

Raise the brood.

Does she conceive of this is an “important” job? Or does she just do it – as best she can? Following her instincts – passing on the lessons she learned from her own mother, and from ducks immemorial, down through the millennia?

Are ducks neurotic?





I don’t think so.

Eckhart Tolle has pointed out (in his book The Power of Now – A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment) that when ducks get into a “flap,” they recover very quickly.

They do a lot of wing-flapping, swim off, and then simply get on about their business.

They do not appear to carry around “stories” – “Oh poor me” victim stories – or resentments. They are not weighed down by the past, or consumed with unrealistic expectations of the future; at least, it certainly does not appear to be so.

They live in the moment – in the Now.

I think we’d all do well to muse occasionally on ducks – on Mother Duck and her calm certainty about her role with her offspring – and on her fellow ducks who recover so quickly from their little “flaps.”

Many challenges lie ahead for us, fellow humans.

Can we be “unlimited” – like the ducks?

I think we can…if we try…


P.S. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe we humans have vast, uncharted potential. We’re capable of far more than most of us realize. One of my favourite quotations is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” I keep thinking this would be a mighty fine time for us to learn how much we’re really capable of…hmm?

P.P.S. If the state of the world scares the heck out of you, please consider reading the essay “Despair and Empowerment.

P.P.P.S. Other blog items about Eckhart Tolle, ducks & pain bodies are ‘Flap Your Wings’ & ‘Pain Bodies on Parade or Oh, To Be A Duck.’

P.S. # 4: btw,  the phrase "Ducks Unlimited" is one perhaps not familiar to readers everywhere. In Canada the name refers to an organization that works to preserve duck habitat. I don't know a lot about the Ducks Unlimited group - but realize belatedly now that non-Canadian readers may not have "twigged" to that reference.

Despair & Empowerment – The Movie

<March 2009>

These are strange times, are they not?

The world financial system is collapsing, the effects of climate change are now so widespread and obvious that climate change deniers resemble nothing more than dazed members of some bizarre Flat Earth Society. And many people seem to have resigned themselves to the extinction of our species.

I can’t say I’m at all sure we’re going make it; who, at this point, can say for sure?

One thing does seem certain, though, and that’s that apathy and denial aren’t going to get us anywhere we really need or want to go.

Last night I watched “Climate Change – Despair and Empowerment,” a 50-minute film made in 2006 that features Ross Gelbspan and John Seed, and this was a darn good idea, if I do say so myself. I’ve been doing environmental work for 20 years now, and I do a lot of the things these two men recommend, but I still need a shot in the arm from time to time in order to help keep my spirits up.

You can watch the movie at - and I highly recommend that you do!

Ross Gelbspan is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist – and author of Boiling Point – who makes it clear he is not an environmentalist (his motivations have more to do with a passion for democracy and honesty and truth). He is incredibly knowledgeable, however, about the climate change issue – its causes, horrific current and predicted future impacts, and the measures we can take to steer the human race off the suicidal path we’re on. He spells out how the coal and oil industry spent millions of dollars (or was it billions?? I’m not that great with numbers) on a carefully-crafted PR campaign to deny climate change. “Manufactured denial,” he calls it.

John Seed is an internationally known rainforest activist who has worked with Buddhist scholar, writer and workshop leader Joanna Macy, who pioneered “despair and empowerment” workshops. Macy came to understand how in our culture we learn from childhood to hold down feelings that are seen as inappropriate – to suppress and deny our true emotions.

As John Seed explains in the film, it takes a tremendous amount of psychic energy to suppress our feelings – basically, it saps our life force to do so. Our emotions become “dumbed down” and our ability to make good decisions in this state is very much hobbled. We become “emotionally illiterate.”

And everywhere we go, we’re surrounded by people who are in the same state. As Seed says, “We all know what’s going on, but who’s doing anything about it?”

When we’re given the opportunity to express and articulate the anger, despair and depression we all spend so much energy holding in, it’s incredibly liberating. Far from being terrifying or destructive, it leads to a powerful release of energy. It frees us from our emotional paralysis.

If all this seems farfetched, I suggest you take 50 minutes and watch the film yourself. Gelbspan and John Seed are far more articulate about all of this than I am.

Something I can add to this is my own increasing awareness over the couple of years preceding my attendance at a John Seed workshop in 2007 that things I was experiencing as an individual were/are mirrored in the “outside” world (of course, this inside-outside business is merely an illusion, the illusion that contributes to the huge and overwhelming feelings of alienation that plague so many of us…) – and that the things I was seeing “outside” (e.g., denial, anger, dysfunction) were/are also present “inside.”

Where do we go from here?

Gelbspan and Seed lay out suggestions for how to proceed – on both the personal and the societal levels.

As individuals, it’s important that we ally ourselves with like-minded people, so we can put an end to the alienation that is so epidemic (and so soul-destroying) among us. As a person who’s been doing this for the past 20 years, I can attest to its value. If I hadn’t begun to create “circles of strength”(1) for myself, I’d have gone off the deep end years ago.

We have to find allies – and then do our important work together.

No one has any guarantees for us. Meanwhile, can we change??

Of course!

John Seed says, for example, that if we all begin to use clotheslines to dry our clothes, (2) instead of energy-sucking dryers, we’d be able to close down nuclear plants.

If, in the U.S. the speed limit was lowered from 75 mph to 55 mph (so John Seed said), the amount of oil saved would be equivalent to the amount that currently needs to be imported.

Are we capable of such measures?

Can we fly people to the moon and send spaceships off to explore Mars and other far-flung planets, yet not be able to dry our clothes and make other lifestyle changes and choices in ways such that the human race can survive?

Well. It is up to each of us as individuals to help decide these matters. To “vote,” as it were, with our hearts and minds, our hands and feet. And then too, of course, to require action from our so-called “leaders.”

I’ve come to believe we human beings are capable of feats most of us can barely imagine. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

I say, “Fossil fuels may be a finite resource, but our human potential – human psychic energy itself – is infinite!” You can quote me on that!


Recommended Viewing

Despair and Empowerment

Embracing Pain – 4-minute Tim Wilson film featuring Joanna Macy. You can find it at this link

From the site: “Joanna Macy, Ph.D., is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and 
deep ecology. In her workshops she counsels the embracing of pain about the
world as a way of deepening our connection to it.  For more information 
about Joanna Macy's books and workshops, please visit

Joanna Macy – visit

Earth Spirit Action – 16-minute film that features John Seed, Vandana Shiva, Ruth Rosenhek, Starhawk and Matthew Fox. Inspiring, informative. Explains how inner changes – spiritual changes – must accompany outer ones. “Global activists, Vandana Shiva, Starhawk, Matthew Fox, Ruth Rosenhek and John Seed speak on Deep Ecology, Living Democracy and Revolution in Consciousness in a fast moving discussion of the type of change that needs to take place for a Sustainable Future. An inspirational and stimulating film including beautiful nature footage and a colourful array of global action shots.”

John Seed

Ross Gelbspan –

(1) This phrase comes to me no doubt from the book Circles of Strength – Community Alternatives to Alienation, a New Society Publishers book edited by Helen Forsey & published in 1993.

(2)  Here in Canada, of course, in addition to outdoor clotheslines, we also need indoor clotheshorses for winter drying; I have two sturdy wooden ones, one of them close to 30 years old by now. Still chugging!

Despair & Empowerment

<January 2009>

One of the essays I wrote recently is about wounds – & as I finished writing it, I realized I may be overdue to say a few words about despair and empowerment.

“Despair and empowerment” is a phrase & concept (& also a kind of workshop) made known by Joanna Macy & John Seed – two big, big thinkers & activists light-years ahead of me in their understanding of the spiritual & environmental crises we’re so deeply up to our eyeballs in.

They've articulated a key concept that I think is equally applicable in the world of wounds – whether individual or species-wide: that when we contemplate going down into the pain of our (individual or collective) wounds, we fear we’ll become incapacitated by despair.

We can’t see a way out – all is darkness & hopelessness &… despair. It’s too terrifying to go down into that place.

But…when we take the time (in the right sort of company, I would suggest) to face the pain – & really articulate (out loud) what it is we’re in despair about, a sort of miracle takes place.

We discover that holding down – holding in – the grief & pain & fear uses up a lot of (most of?) our energy. And that, paradoxically, when we open up & let the despair & fear out into the light of day – in a safe environment, mind you – in the company of people who are compassionate & trustworthy & willing to listen & share their pain, we feel a surge of positive energy – relief & transformative energy.

I experienced this first-hand at a ‘Despair & Empowerment’ weekend workshop led by Australian rainforest activist John Seed at the Marguerite Centre in Pembroke, Ontario, in April 2007. He & Joanna Macy pioneered these workshops & have led them in locations all over the world (including some places where gut-wrenching pain & despair are all too real & glaring; for example, the Ukraine, post-Chernobyl accident).

It will no doubt strike some as a paradox (particularly those who’ve become such experts at holding in their grief & pain, loss & loneliness) that, rather than being incapacitated by the truth of the horror, we actually liberate ourselves from it by speaking about it out loud.

A lot of us, I think, live our lives like actors trapped in a play – endlessly performing, spouting our lines, & doing our very, very utmost to "keep the lid on."

What we focus on, expands, of course – so if we keep our pain, secrets & despair all cooped up inside ourselves, where they recycle themselves endlessly, we poison our inner environment.

Is there a connection between our inner, individual pain/despair/wounds, & the outer, external world of pain, pollution, war & despair?

Well, duh!

As the smart folks are always reminding us, everything is connected.


If we would all learn to tell the truth about our pain/wounds/despair, we’d experience the liberation of energy that comes with truth-telling (not to mention a heightened sense of community, which sure never hurts, eh??)

And wouldn’t that be a force to be reckoned with?

You betcha….


P.S. In her book World as Lover, World as Self - Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy quotes her colleague, rainforest activist John Seed: "You discover that others aren't afraid of your pain for the world, and you witness theirs. Then you can dare to hope something for humanity and for what we can do together. When we unblock our despair, everything else follows - the respect and awe, the love."

Recommended Viewing

Despair and Empowerment

Embracing Pain - 4-minute Tim Wilson film featuring Joanna Macy.

From the site: “Joanna Macy, Ph.D., is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and 
deep ecology. In her workshops she counsels the embracing of pain about the
world as a way of deepening our connection to it.  For more information 
about Joanna Macy's books and workshops, please visit her site

Joanna Macy

Earth Spirit Action – 16-minute film that features John Seed, Vandana Shiva, Ruth Rosenhek, Starhawk and Matthew Fox. Inspiring, informative. Explains how inner changes – spiritual changes – must accompany outer ones. “Global activists, Vandana Shiva, Starhawk, Matthew Fox, Ruth Rosenhek and John Seed speak on Deep Ecology, Living Democracy and Revolution in Consciousness in a fast moving discussion of the type of change that needs to take place for a Sustainable Future. An inspirational and stimulating film including beautiful nature footage and a colourful array of global action shots.”

John Seed