Active or applied hope, reflections from Joanna Macy and others

The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.  The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on extraction and ever-increasing profits for the few. This destructive economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits–in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.  A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.  And it is gaining momentum, through the actions of countless individuals and groups around the world. To see this as the larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage.  Further down, see notes from Joanna Macy’s book on Active Hope.

From the Rocky Mountain Institute, 9 Feb 2017 by Jules Kortenhorst 

Applying Hope in Today’s Tumultuous Times

In May of 2011, Rocky Mountain Institute cofounder Amory Lovins started his commencement address at the College of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley, talking about applied hope. “Many of us here stir and strive in the spirit of applied hope,” Amory said. “We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about… Applied hope requires fearlessness.

Fear of specific and avoidable dangers has evolutionary value… But pervasive dread, lately promoted by some who want to keep us pickled in fear, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world, all the suffering in the universe, and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can, ‘I can see why you feel that way. Does it make you more effective?’”

Today more than ever, Amory’s words ring with wisdom and insight. Could he possibly have foreseen, more than 5 years ago, the current state of affairs, where many of us in the environmental movement are struck by fear and worry? How do we find comfort in applying hope to our current situation? How do we apply hope to the urgent agenda of the energy transition, when the new administration is creating so much uncertainty about the path to a sustainable energy future, which we have been plotting for the 35 years RMI has been in existence?

The first hopeful point is that so much of the transition is now global, broadly supported, cost-effective, and therefore more and more irreversible. In recent years, the progress of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other sustainable energy technologies has made a sustainable energy future both technically feasible and commercially viable. The transition toward low-carbon energy now has the support of business leaders from around the world, and solar and wind power enjoy broad public support from across the U.S. political spectrum. Countries across the globe are starting to accelerate the decarbonization of their energy systems, with some of the boldest ambition coming from vulnerable and developing nations. As a result, it is hard to see how the U.S. would return to burning coal or wasting energy as the economic energy solution of the future.

Similarly, the agreement reached in Paris in late 2015 and ratified last fall is not buckling under the uncertainty raised by the new U.S. administration. In fact, countries around the world have underlined their commitment to the Paris agreement. At the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated in his opening plenary address: “The Paris Agreement is a hard-won achievement which is in keeping with the underlying trend of global development. All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.” And the consensus among nation states is undergirded by similar commitments and actions from cities and provinces, where so much of the regulations and implementation of the energy revolution actually take shape.  At a recent conference for members of RMI’s Business Renewables Center, 67 percent stated that the election has no impact on their renewable engagements in the U.S., while 25 percent said that it will actually increase their engagement.

So all is well? We can be optimistic? No! Clarity of direction in the energy transition is a powerful enabler for the investments that are needed. This government is not yet providing that clarity. Similarly, we are concerned that science, facts, and logical arguments are no longer valued. And above all, we are deeply worried that our planet cannot afford slowing down progress toward a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.

But we go back to Amory’s wisdom and we apply hope.

  • First, we will continue to speak truth to power, to let our arguments do the convincing, and to stick with our mantra: In God we trust, everyone else bring facts. And for the avoidance of doubt, our government leaders fall into the second category.
  • We will cherish diversity, we will continue to build our international presence, and we will treat all people with respect, no matter their gender, race, religion, sexuality, political convictions, or nationality.
  • We will look after each other, we will back each other in the battles to come, we will stand together and prove that we are in fact that unrivaled team we seek to be. And we have made the commitment to our colleagues that as an organization, they can all count on us having their backs.
  • And above all, we will not back down; in fact we will double down. We will carry on with our work with conviction that we have the truth on our side, and justice in our corner. That what we do matters now more than ever. We sincerely hope that in this experiment of applied hope we find you on our side.

 

Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone

Thich Nhat Hanh: “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper.” So it is with this book. Without all those who’ve played supporting roles, it would simply not be here. 209

Consumption is increasing at the same time as essential resources, such as freshwater, fish stocks, topsoil, and oil reserves, are in decline. While reversals in the economy have left many feeling desperate about how they’re going to manage, trillions of dollars are spent on the making of war.2 Given these adversities, it is no surprise if we experience a profound loss of confidence in the future. We can no longer take it for granted that the resources we’re dependent on — food, fuel, and drinkable water — will be available. 238 that conditions on our planet will remain hospitable for complex forms of life. 243 It tends to remain an unspoken presence at the backs of our minds. 246

Our approach is to see this as the starting point of an amazing journey that strengthens us and deepens our aliveness. 255

Whatever situation we face, we can choose our response. When facing overwhelming challenges, we might feel that our actions don’t count for much. Yet the kind of responses we make, and the degree to which we believe they count, are shaped by the way we think and feel about hope. 260

Knowing what we hope for and what we’d like, or love, to take place.

It is what we do with this hope that really makes the difference. Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire. Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. It is a process we can apply to any situation, and it involves three key steps.

  1. First, we take a clear view of reality;
  2. Second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and
  3. Third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction.

Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention; we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide. 272

Since we each look out onto a different corner of the planet and bring with us our own particular portfolio of interests, skills, and experience, we are touched by different concerns and called to respond in different ways. The contribution each of us makes to the healing of our world is our gift of Active Hope. The purpose of this book is to strengthen our ability to give the best gift we can: our finest response to the multifaceted crisis of sustainability.

When we become aware of an emergency and rise to the occasion, something powerful gets switched on inside us. We activate our sense of purpose and discover strengths we didn’t even know we had. Being able to make a difference is powerfully enlivening; it makes our lives feel more worthwhile. So when we practice Active Hope, we not only give but we receive in so many ways as well. 289 Stepping into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying. 296    

Three stories

In Business as Usual, the defining assumption is that there is little need to change the way we live. Economic growth is regarded as essential for prosperity, and the central plot is about getting ahead. The second story, the Great Unraveling, draws attention to the disasters that Business as Usual is taking us toward, as well as those it has already brought 306

The third story is held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word. Involving the emergence of new and creative human responses, it is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. We call this story the Great Turning. The central plot is finding and offering our gift of Active Hope. 310

The question is which story we want to put our energy behind. The first chapter is about looking at where we are and choosing the story we want our lives to express. 315

Through helping us to develop our inner resources and our outer community, it strengthens our capacity to face disturbing information and respond with unexpected resilience. 327

The four stages of the spiral it moves through: Coming from Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. The journey through these stages has a strengthening effect that deepens with each repetition. 332

At the heart of this book is a collaborative model of power based on appreciating how much more we can achieve working together than as separate individuals. 347

Rebecca Solnit writes:  An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion.4  When we face the mess we’re in, we realize that Business as Usual can’t go on. What helps us rise to the occasion is experiencing our rootedness in something much larger than ourselves. The poet Rabindranath Tagore expressed this idea in these words:  The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world.5 This is the stream we are following. It points us toward a way of life that enriches rather than depletes our world. It takes us to our gift of Active Hope. When we face the mess we’re in by offering this gift, our lives become enriched too. PART ONE The Great Turning CHAPTER ONE Three Stories of Our Time When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation. DAVID KORTEN, The Great Turning 367   

When you’re living in the middle of this story, it’s easy to think of it as just the way things are. Young people may be told there is no alternative but to find their place in this scheme of things. Getting ahead is presented as the main plot, supported by the subplots of finding a partner, fending for your family, looking good, and buying stuff. In this view of life, the problems of the world are seen as far away and irrelevant to the dramas of our personal lives. 437   

Some Core Assumptions of Business as Usual • Economic growth is essential for prosperity. • Nature is a commodity to be used for human purposes. • Promoting consumption is good for the economy. • The central plot is about getting ahead. • The problems of other peoples, nations, and species are not our concern. 454   

The Great Unraveling of the Early Twenty-First Century • Economic decline • Resource depletion • Climate change • Social division and war • Mass extinction of species 481   

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change warns of the catastrophe this could lead to:        For humanity, it’s a matter of life or death…it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4°C. If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving.26 568   

Global food prices more than doubled between February 2001 and February 2011, pushing more and more people below the poverty line.27 In 2010 more than 900 million people suffered chronic hunger. Meanwhile, the richest 20 percent of our world’s population (that’s anyone able to spend more than $10 a day) receive three-quarters of the total income.28 578   

Studies show the more economically divided a society becomes, the more trust levels fall, crime increases, and communities fall apart. 588   

The UN Millennium Project estimates that extreme poverty and world hunger could be eliminated by 2025 for a cost of approximately $160 billion a year.32 The world’s military spending in 2010 was ten times that amount, with the US government spending almost as much as all the other countries in the world put together.33 The unraveling of our world comes, in part, from seeking security through battling enemies rather than addressing the threats presented by deepening inequalities, resource depletion, and climate change. 590   

It’s possible to spend part of a day in our own business-as-usual mode, making plans for a future we assume will be much like today. Then something triggers an awareness of the mess we’re in, and we recognize in our hearts and minds the crash that lies ahead. For increasing numbers of people, the crash has come already: homes flooded after extreme rainfall, farms abandoned because of long-term drought, water supplies contaminated and undrinkable, jobs or savings lost. The mainstream reality of Business as Usual is increasingly becoming interrupted by the bad news of the Great Unraveling. 614   

In their detailed study of the global overshoot in our material economy, environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows write:        Overshoot can lead to two different outcomes. One is a crash of some kind. Another is a deliberate turnaround, a correction, a careful easing down…. We believe that a correction is possible and that it could lead to a desirable, sustainable, sufficient future for all the world’s peoples. We also believe that if a profound correction is not made soon, a crash of some sort is certain. And it will occur within the lifetimes of many who are alive today.38 633   

one — and maybe even two — million organizations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.”39 662   

Holding actions are essential; they save lives, they save species and ecosystems, they save some of the gene pool for future generations. But by themselves, they are not enough for the Great Turning to occur. For every acre of forest protected, many others are lost to logging or clearance. For every species brought back from the 692   

Along with stopping the damage, we need to replace or transform the systems that cause the harm. 695   

the Apollo 8 spaceflight of December 1968. Because of this mission to the moon, and the photos it produced, humanity had its first sighting of Earth as a whole. Twenty years earlier, the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle had said, “Once a photograph of the Earth taken from the outside is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”41 Bill Anders, the astronaut who took those first photos, commented, “We came all this way to explore the moon and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”42 We are among the first in human history to have had this remarkable view. It came at the same time as the development in science of a radical new understanding of how our world works. Looking at our planet as a whole, Gaia theory proposes that the Earth functions as a self-regulating living system. 730   

ACTIVE HOPE AND THE STORY OF OUR LIVES Future generations will look back at the time we are living in now. The kind of future they look from, and the story they tell about our period, will be shaped by choices we make in our lifetimes. The most telling choice of all may well be the story we live from and see ourselves participating in. It sets the context of our lives in a way that influences all our other decisions. In choosing our story, we not only cast our vote of influence over the kind of world future generations inherit, but we also affect our own lives in the here and now. When we find a good story and fully give ourselves to it, that story can act through us, breathing new life into everything we do. When we move in a direction that touches our heart, we add to the momentum of deeper purpose that makes us feel more alive. A great story and a satisfying life share a vital element: a compelling plot that moves toward meaningful goals, where what is at stake is far larger than our personal gains and losses. The Great Turning is such a story. 758   

Trusting the Spiral Active Hope is not wishful thinking. Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or by some savior. Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world. The web of life is calling us forth at this time. We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part. With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store, strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with. Active Hope is a readiness to engage. Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others; a readiness to discover the reasons for hope and the occasions for love. A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, our own authority, our love for life, the liveliness of our curiosity, the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence, the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead. None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk. 773   

T he Great Turning is a story of Active Hope. To play our best part, we need to counter the voices that say we’re not up to the task, that we’re not good enough, strong enough, or wise enough to make any difference. If we fear that the mess we’re in is too awful to look at or that we won’t be able to cope with the distress it brings up, we need to find a way through that fear. This chapter describes three threads we can follow that help us stand tall and not shrink away when facing the immensity of what’s happening to our world. These threads can be woven into any situation as a way of supporting and strengthening our capacity to respond. We shall therefore return to them often in the pages ahead. The first thread is the narrative structure of adventure stories. 782   

If you ever feel the odds are stacked against you and doubt whether you’re up to the challenge, then you join a time-honored tradition of protagonists in this genre. Heroes almost always start out seeming distinctly underpowered. What makes the story is the way the central characters are not put off. Instead, their tale sets them on a quest in search of the allies, tools, and wisdom needed to improve their chances. We can think of ourselves as on a similar journey; part of the adventure of the Great Turning involves seeking the company, sources of support, tools, and insights that help us. 792   

What starts us off is seeing what’s at stake and feeling called to play our part. Then we just follow the thread of the adventure, developing capacities along the way and discovering hidden strengths that only reveal themselves when needed. When things are bumpy or bleak, we can remind ourselves that this is how these stories often go. There may be times when all feels lost. That too can be part of the story. Our choices at such moments can make a crucial difference. 798   

THE THREAD OF ACTIVE HOPE Any situation we face can resolve in a range of different ways — some much better, others much worse. Active Hope involves identifying the outcomes we hope for and then playing an active role in bringing them about. We don’t wait until we are sure of success. We don’t limit our choices to the outcomes that seem likely. Instead, we focus on what we truly, deeply long for, and then we proceed to take determined steps in that direction. This is the second thread we follow. 802   

we are larger, stronger, deeper, and more creative than we have been brought up to believe. 819   

When we come from gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing living world, to the many gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate. 822   

life. Seeing with new eyes reveals the wider web of resources available to us through our rootedness within a deeper, ecological self. 835   

It opens us to a new view of what is possible and a new understanding of our power to make a difference. 837   

We call it a spiral rather than a cycle because every time we move through the four stations we experience them differently. Each element reconnects us with our world, and each encounter can surprise us with hidden gems. 846   

As we allow ourselves to be guided by this spiral form, it isn’t just us acting; we are letting the world act on us and through us. 848   

The spiral provides a structure we can fall back on, and into, whenever we need to tap into the resilience and resourcefulness arising from the larger web of life. If you’re feeling sickened by a disturbing news report, you can step into gratitude simply by focusing on your breath and taking a moment to give thanks for whatever may be sustaining you in that moment. As you feel the air entering your nostrils, give thanks for oxygen, for your lungs, for all that brings you to life. The question, “To whom am I grateful?” moves your attention beyond yourself to those you receive from, those who support you. A moment of gratitude strengthens your capacity to look at, rather than turn away from, disturbing information. As you allow yourself to take in whatever you see, allow yourself also to feel whatever you feel. When you experience pain for something beyond your immediate self-interest, this reveals your caring, compassion, and connection — such precious things. By honoring your pain for the world, in whatever form it takes, you take it seriously and allow the signal it brings to rouse you. When seeing with new eyes, you know that it isn’t just you facing this. You are just one part of a much larger story, a continuing stream of life on Earth that has flowed for more than three and a half billion years and that has survived five mass extinctions. When you sink into this deeper, stronger flow and experience yourself as part of it, a different set of possibilities emerges. Widening your vision increases the resources available to you, since through the same channels of connectedness that pain for the world flows, so also do strength, courage, renewed determination, and the help of allies. With the shift of perception that seeing with new eyes brings, you can let go of feeling you need to sort everything out. Instead you focus on finding and playing your part, offering your gift 855   

“A felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life” is how the renowned psychologist Robert Emmons defines gratitude. 882   

Recent research has shown that people experiencing high levels of gratitude tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. 891   

If each evening, before you go to bed, you ask yourself, “What happened today that I’m pleased about or thankful for?” that question will direct your gaze. You start searching your memory for moments that bring a smile to your face or that trigger a glow of appreciation. 898   

Keeping a gratitude diary builds them into a pool of memories we can keep dipping back into. 901   

Experiencing gratitude is a learnable skill that improves with practice. It isn’t dependent on things going well or on receiving favors from others. It’s about getting better at spotting what’s already there. 904   

Gratitude is a social emotion. It points our warmth and goodwill out toward others. GRATITUDE BUILDS TRUST AND GENEROSITY Think of the people you trust. Do you also feel grateful toward them or suspect they feel gratitude toward you? Gratitude feeds trust, because it helps us acknowledge the times we’ve been able to count on one another. Not surprisingly, research shows we’re more likely to help those we feel grateful to, leading to a positive spiral of helping, gratitude, trust, and cooperation.4 Because of this, gratitude plays a key role in the evolution of cooperative behavior and societies. When gratitude levels are high, not only are we more inclined to return favors, but we’re also more likely to assist complete strangers. In 919   

Our readiness to help others is influenced by the level of gratitude we experience. 935   

placing a higher value on material possessions than on meaningful relationships — has the opposite effect. 940   

psychologists Emily Polak and Michael McCullough conclude: “The pursuit of wealth and possessions as an end unto itself is associated with lower levels of well-being, lower life satisfaction and happiness, more symptoms of depression and anxiety, more physical problems such as headaches, and a variety of mental disorders.” 941   

comments, “Since programmes are saturated with exceptionally attractive people living abnormally opulent lives, expectations of what is ‘normal’ are raised.” 949   

If we were to design a cultural therapy that protected us from depression and, at the same time, helped reduce consumerism, it would surely include cultivating our ability to experience gratitude. Training ourselves in the skill of gratitude is part of the Great Turning. 989   

Some things I love about being alive on Earth are… A place that was magical to me as a child was… My favorite activities include… Someone who helped me believe in myself is or was… Some things I appreciate about myself are… 1000   

When violations and injustice occur, trust is often a casualty. Loss of trust makes it harder to experience gratitude; even when help is given, the distrustful part of us may wonder what the hidden agendas are. Trust levels are falling; surveys show that people are about half as likely to trust others as they were fifty years ago.16 Will it be possible to turn the tide? Trust and gratitude feed each other: to deepen our capacity for thankfulness in difficult times, we need to learn from those who have mastered this quality. 1018   

LEARNING FROM THE HAUDENOSAUNEE In autumn 1977, delegates from the Haudenosaunee, Native Americans also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, traveled to a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland. They had a warning and a prophecy to share, presenting it alongside a description of their core values and view of the world. Their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” as it is known, contained the following paragraph:        The original instructions direct that we who walk about on the Earth are to express a great respect, an affection, and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives — the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end. The Haudenosaunee regard gratitude as essential to survival. 1023   

The Haudenosaunee see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life, where each being is uniquely valuable. 1037   

Instead, as their “Basic Call to Consciousness” describes, you accept other life-forms as part of your extended family. “We are shown that our life exists with the tree life, that our well-being depends on the wellbeing of the Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the fourlegged beings.”17 The Haudenosaunee’s expressions of thanksgiving are “the words that come before all else” and precede every council meeting. Instead of being reserved for a special day each year, thanksgiving becomes a way of life. 1039   

The People        Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one. The Earth Mother        We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.18 The other verses in turn give thanks to the waters of the world; the fish life in the water; the varied vastness of plant life; the food plants from the garden; the medicine herbs of the world; the animal life; the trees; the birds, “who each day remind us to enjoy and appreciate life”; the four winds; the thunder beings of thunder and lightning, “who bring with them the water that renews life”; our eldest brother, the Sun; our oldest Grandmother, the moon, “who governs the movement of the ocean tides”; the stars “spread across the sky like jewelry”; Enlightened Teachers; the Creator or Great Spirit; and finally to anything forgotten or not yet named. Thanksgivings like this deepen our instinctual knowledge that we belong to a larger web and have an essential role to play in its well-being. As Haudenosaunee Chief Leon Shenandoah said in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1985, “Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our mother earth from whom all life comes.”19 Different stories give us different purposes. In the Business as Usual model, nearly everything is privatized. The parts of our world remaining outside individual or corporate ownership, such as the air or the oceans, are not seen as our responsibility. Gratitude is viewed as politeness, not necessity. In their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” the Haudenosaunee tell a very different story, one in which our well-being depends on our natural world and gratitude keeps us to our purpose of taking care of life. When we forget this, the larger ecology we depend on gets lost from our sight — and the world unravels. 1054   

Just as we depend on plants for food, we also rely on them to make air breathable. Our two neighboring planets, Mars and Venus, have atmospheres that would kill us in a few minutes, and we’ve only recently discovered that Earth’s atmosphere used to be similar. Three billion years ago, our planet’s air, like that of Mars and Venus, had much more carbon dioxide and hardly any oxygen.20 Over the next 2 billion years or so, early plant life did us the remarkable service of making our atmosphere breathable by adding an abundance of oxygen and removing much of the carbon dioxide. Oxygen is a highly reactive gas, which wouldn’t normally be expected to exist at levels as high as the 20 percent we have now. It was the chemically unlikely fact that oxygen has remained at this level for hundreds of millions of years that led British scientist James Lovelock to develop the early ideas of Gaia theory. Here is how he described his moment of insight:        An awesome thought came to me. The Earth’s atmosphere was an extraordinary and unstable mixture of gases, yet I knew that it was constant in composition over quite long periods of time. Could it be that life on Earth not only made the atmosphere, but also regulated it — keeping it at a constant composition, and at a level favourable for organisms?21 The core tenet of Gaia theory is that our planet is a self-regulating system. There’s a parallel here to the way our bodies keep arterial oxygen and temperature levels stable or the way termite colonies maintain their internal temperature and humidity. Living systems have the capacity to keep themselves in balance. Gaia theory shows how life looks after itself, different species acting together to maintain the balance of nature. In addition to maintaining oxygen levels, life plays a role in regulating the salinity of the sea and the dynamics of our climate. As stars grow older, they tend to burn brighter. Because of this, it is estimated that our sun now puts out at least 25 percent more heat than it did when life began on Earth three and a half billion years ago.22 Yet has our planet also gotten 25 percent hotter? Human life wouldn’t exist if it had. And we have plant life to thank for this. By absorbing carbon dioxide, plants reduce the greenhouse effect of this gas, keeping the planetary temperature within a range suitable for complex life such as ours. 1084   

Compare this with the Haudenosaunee view that trees should be treated with gratitude and respect. If we saw trees as allies that helped us, we would want to become allies to them. This dynamic pulls us into a cycle of regeneration, in which we take what we need to live and also give back. Because our modern industrialized culture has forgotten this principle of reciprocity, forests continue to shrink and deserts to grow. To counter this unraveling, let’s develop an ecological intelligence that recognizes how our personal well-being depends on the well-being of the natural world. Gratitude plays an important role in this. 1110   

rising. Present-day forests make their contribution to planetary cooling not just through absorbing carbon dioxide but also through helping clouds to form. When tropical forests are chopped down, the local climate becomes hotter and drier, making it more difficult for trees to grow again. Tropical forests like the Amazon are under threat not only from deforestation but also from drought related to climate change. They need our help, just as we need theirs. 1128   

Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from plants that died long ago. We can give thanks to these ancestors of our present-day foliage, but we can’t give back to them. We can, however, give forward. When we are unable to return a favor, we can pay it forward to someone or something else.23 Using this approach, we can see ourselves as part of a larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time. Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation. 1132   

Joanna saw that the meaning we give to our emotional responses is of central importance. The perception of radical interconnectedness found in both Buddhism and systems thinking supports a reframing of our distress about world conditions. It helps us recognize how healthy a reaction this distress is and how necessary it is for our survival. 1315   

In Buddhism, as in other major world religions, open alertness that allows our heart to be stirred by the suffering of others is appreciated as a strength. Indeed, in every spiritual tradition, compassion, which literally means “to suffer with,” is prized as an essential and noble capacity. This ability is evidence of our interconnectedness with all life. The concept of “negative feedback loops” from systems theory helps us recognize how this ability to suffer with our world is essential for our survival. We navigate through life by paying attention to information, or feedback, that tells us when we are off course and by responding with a course correction. This dynamic process loops continually: stray off course, notice this, make a response that brings us back on course, stray off course again, notice this, come back on course (see Fig. 4). Since this process functions to diminish the degree to which one is off course, it is called a negative feedback loop. 1320   

It is through loops like this that living systems keep themselves in balance. 1332   

These feelings are normal, healthy responses. They help us notice what’s going on; they are also what rouses our response. 1338   

The notion that we should steer clear of anything too negative sets up avoidance as a default strategy. Yet the more we shy away from something we find difficult, the less confident we become that we can deal with it. Avoidance easily becomes a habit. And when avoidance of emotional distress becomes the habit of a culture, this low level of confidence in our ability to cope creates a barrier to publicly acknowledging upsetting information. This in turn leads to a selective screening out of aspects of reality that seem too painful to bear, too distressing to contemplate. 1347   

A key issue here is our capacity to deal with distress. Emotional distress can be motivating, but if it goes beyond what we imagine we can cope with, we may just shut down. While on the outside we may appear to be holding it together, when we close off emotionally we feel less alive, our energy sagging and our sensitivity dulled. We may feel we’re just going through the motions. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, and antidepressants are among the devices we use to keep distress under wraps. In the short term, these salves can seem effective. But as we become dependent on them, our society continues to stray off course and our world becomes a wasteland. 1355   

“Let all sorrows ripen in me,” said Shantideva, the Buddhist saint. We help them ripen by passing them through our hearts…making good, rich compost out of all that grief…so we can learn from it, enhancing our larger, collective knowing… If no images or feelings arise and there is only blankness, gray and numb, breathe that through. The numbness itself is a very real part of our world. And if what surfaces for you is not pain for other beings so much as losses and hurts in your own life, breathe those through too. Your own difficulties are an integral part of the grief of our world, and arise with it…. Should you fear that with this pain your heart might break, remember that the heart that breaks open can hold the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. A DIFFERENT VIEW OF SELF The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked what we need to do to save our world. “What we most need to do,” he replied, “is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”11 The idea of the Earth crying within us, or through us, doesn’t make sense if we view ourselves only as separate individuals. Yet if we think of ourselves as deeply embedded in a larger web of life, as Gaia theory, Buddhism, and many other, especially indigenous, spiritual traditions suggest, then the idea of the world feeling through us seems entirely natural. This view of the self is very different from that found in the Business as Usual model. Its extreme individualism takes each of us as a separate bundle of self-interest, with motivations and emotions that only make sense within the confines of our own stories. Pain for the world tells a different story, one about our interconnectedness. We feel distress when other beings suffer because, at a deep level, we are not separate from them. 1454   

If we felt the pain of loss each time an ecosystem was destroyed, a species wiped out, or a child killed by war or starvation, we wouldn’t be able to continue living the way we do. It would tear us apart inside. The losses continue because they aren’t registered, they aren’t marked, they aren’t seen as important. By choosing to honor the pain of loss rather than discounting it, we break the spell that numbs us to the dismantling of our world. 1552   

These cherished moments, which some would describe as spiritual experiences, nourish us. They pull us out of preoccupation with our personal details and into a larger, more mysterious, and magical experience of being alive. 1620   

Take turns, with each of you taking five minutes in each role, one asking, “Tell me, who are you?” and the other replying, repeating this process again and again, allowing whatever words come up. Rest assured that the answers will be different every time. When doing this process, people are often surprised by how many different ways they see themselves. Even when we describe ourselves us as distinct individuals, our sense of identity also involves a connected self that emerges from our relationships, contexts, and communities. As different aspects of who we are grow more or less pronounced, our sense of self changes over time. Here is how a workshop participant experienced this process. 1659   

our connected self is based on recognizing that we are part of many larger circles. 1690   

“When the definition of self changes, the meaning of self-interest and self-serving motivations changes accordingly.” 1700   

The distinction often made between selfishness and altruism is therefore misleading. It is based on a split between self and other, presenting us with a choice between helping ourselves (selfishness) and helping others (altruism). When we consider the connected self, we recognize this choice as nonsense. It is from our connected selves that much of what people most value in life emerges, including love, friendship, loyalty, trust, relationship, belonging, purpose, gratitude, spirituality, mutual aid, and meaning. The philosopher Immanuel Kant made a distinction between “moral acts” and “beautiful acts.”7 We tend to perform moral acts out of a sense of duty or obligation. In contrast, we perform beautiful acts when we do what is morally right because it is attractive to us, the action motivated more by desire than duty. When our connected sense of self is well developed, we are more often drawn to beautiful acts. When we lose our sense of felt connectedness, we miss out on this sort of beauty, with tragic consequences. 1703   

THE PLAGUE OF AFFLUENZA When people lose their sense of belonging to larger circles, they lose not only the motivation to act for their communities and environment but also valuable sources of support and resilience. Alongside the erosion of extended family and community networks, the rate of depression in industrialized countries has been steadily rising for more than fifty years. It has now reached such epidemic proportions that one in two of us is likely to suffer a significant depressive episode at some point in our lives. While the hyperindividualism of industrialized countries has deep roots and a long history, it has become more extreme over the past five decades. As discussed, falling trust levels are an indicator of this, with surveys in the United States showing the proportion of people replying yes to the question, “Can most people be trusted?” fell from 56 percent in the mid-1960s to 33 percent in 1995.8 While recognizing common purposes and shared identities helps build trust, the trend toward increased individualism sets us against each other. Instead of encouraging us to pull together at a time of planetary emergency, the dominant cultural ethic has become one of chasing after personal advantage. Seeing ourselves as separate entities, rather than as connected parts of a larger whole, reduces the search for purpose to a preoccupation with how well our self is doing compared with others. As a result, the unhealthy obsession with appearance and status known as affluenza, discussed in chapter 3, has become a major contributor to emotional distress. As status has become associated with having more, bigger, and supposedly better things, the desire to keep up appearances propels the consumerism that is wrecking our world. What we see here is how personal well-being, community wellbeing, and planetary well-being are linked to the way we view our self. The extreme individualism of our culture is harmful at all three levels. To promote the recovery of our world and the healing of our communities, while also leading lives that are rich and satisfying, we need to embody a larger story of who and what we are. 1712   

We participate in many flows of becoming, from our own life to the lives of our family, community, and world. Each flow can be thought of as a story that moves through the players in it. With our individual self, the plot revolves around our personal adventures, gains, and losses. With our family self, the narrative can be traced back through our ancestors and extends into future generations. If we identify with a particular cultural or religious community, we are part of its story as well. Arne Naess introduced the term ecological self to describe the wider sense of identity that arises when our self-interest includes the natural world.9 When we include the natural world, we are brought into a much larger story of who and what we are. Recognizing ourselves as part of the living body of Earth opens us to a great source of strength. 1758   

continue. When we align ourselves with the well-being of our world, we allow that desire and creative energy to act through us. When asked how he handles despair, rainforest activist John Seed replied:        I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.10 The understanding that we are an intrinsic part of the living Earth lies at the heart of indigenous belief systems around the world. Describing the traditional view of the world he grew up with in Malawi, Africa, theologian Harvey Sindima writes, “We live in the web of life in reciprocity with people, other creatures, and the earth, recognizing that they are part of us and we are part of them.”11 1768   

Our decisions are like rudders that steer the flow not only of our lives but also of the unfolding stories we participate in. When 1812   

using the question, “What happens through you?” OUR LARGER SELVES FEEL THROUGH US 1823   

THE EMERGENCE OF CONNECTED CONSCIOUSNESS Something very interesting occurs when a group of jazz musicians improvise together. A number of separate individuals, all making their own decisions, act together as a whole. As the music flows, any of the musicians can take the solo spot, that leading role gliding seamlessly between the players. Who decides when the piano or trumpet player should come forward? It isn’t just the person playing that instrument, for the others have already stepped back just a little to create an opening. There are two levels of thinking happening at the same time here; choices are made from moment to moment both by the group as a whole and by the individuals within it. When people coordinate their actions through a collective thinking process, we can think of this as “distributed intelligence.” No one person is in charge; the players act freely while being guided by their intention to serve the purpose of the group. For musicians to improvise together, they need to listen very attentively, expressing their individuality in a way that contributes to the overall sound. When they tune in to the group and become connected with it, it is as though the music itself plays through them. A key feature of distributed intelligence is that no one part has to have the whole answer. Rather, the intelligence of the whole emerges through the actions and interactions of its parts. In a creative team, an idea may arise in conversation, then be added to and refined by other team members, its development shaped by everyone present. What allows a team to gel is a shift in identification, so that people identify with, and act for, the team rather than just themselves. Could the next leap in evolution arise out of a shift in identification, in which we shed the story of battling for supremacy and move instead to playing our role as part of the larger team of life on Earth? Could the creativity and survival instinct of humanity as a whole, or even of life as a whole, act through us? Here connected consciousness stems from a widening of our self-interest, where we are guided by the intention to act for the well-being of all life. Within Buddhism, that intention is known as bodhichitta. Bodhichitta moves our focus from personal well-being to collective well-being. We stand at an evolutionary crossroads, and we, collectively, could turn either way. Our own choices are part of that turning. We can choose, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek, the “prime directive” of our lives. When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world. THE 1864   

interdependence of all things. When taken seriously, this leads to the recognition that if one person has the capacity to be a bodhisattva, then all others do too. Here is a particular version of the prophecy as it was given to Joanna by her dear friend and teacher Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche of the community of Tashi Jong in northwest India. Read it as if it were about you.        There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. At that time great powers have arisen, barbarian powers. And although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common. Among the things they have in common are weapons of unfathomable destructive power and technologies that lay waste to the world. It is just at this point in our history, when the future of all beings seems to hang by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges. You can’t go there, because it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. You can’t tell whether someone is a Shambhala warrior just by looking at her or him, because these warriors wear no uniforms or insignia. They have no banners to identify whose side they’re on, no barricades on which to climb to threaten the enemy or behind which to rest and regroup. They don’t even have any home turf. The Shambhala warriors have only the terrain of the barbarian powers to move across and act on. Now the time is coming when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors — moral and physical courage. That is because they are going right into the heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons. They are going into the pits and citadels where the weapons are made and deployed, they are going into the corridors of power where the decisions are made. In this way they work to dismantle the weapons in every sense of the word. The Shambhala warriors know these weapons can be dismantled because they are manomaya, which means “mind-made.” They are made by the human mind and thus can be unmade by the human mind. The dangers facing us are not brought on us by some satanic deity or some evil extraterrestrial force, or by some unchangeable preordained fate. Rather, these dangers arise out of our relationships and habits, out of our priorities. “So,” said Choegyal, “now is the time for the Shambhala warriors to go into training.” “How do they train?” Joanna asked. “They train in the use of two implements,” he said. Actually, he used the term weapons. “What are they?” Joanna asked, and he held up his hands the way the dancers hold up the ritual objects in the great lama dances of his people. “One,” he said, “is compassion. The other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena.” You need both. You need compassion because it provides the fuel to move you out to where you need to be and to do what you need to do. It means not being afraid of the suffering of your world, and when you’re not afraid of the world’s pain, then nothing can stop you. But by itself that implement is very hot; it can burn you out. So you need the other tool, the insight into the radical interconnectivity of all that is. When you have that, then you know that this is not a battle between the good guys and the bad guys. You know that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even our smallest acts have repercussions that ripple through the whole web, beyond our capacity to see. But that is kind of cool, even a little abstract. So you also need the heat of the compassion. That is the gist of the prophecy. If you’ve seen Tibetan monks chanting and making hand gestures, or mudras, most likely their hands are dancing the interplay between compassion and wisdom, which is there for each one of us to embody in our own way. 1895   

In a recent large-scale survey, the Mental Health Foundation found that a feeling of powerlessness was, by far, the most common response to global issues. 1938   

When power is a possession to be held, defended, and accumulated, it becomes increasingly removed from the hands of ordinary people. 1969   

Power Generates Conflict Power-over is essentially oppositional because gaining it involves taking it away from others. 1970   

To rise up, either as an individual or as a group, you need to push others down; to get in power, you need to push others out. As those pushed down and out are left with resentment, those in power then need to keep tabs on the opposition and stop them from becoming powerful enough to present a threat. Fear is intrinsic to this model of power. Even if and when you are on top, you have to be vigilant, lest you lose the upper hand. In the struggle to stay on top, ruthlessness and dishonesty have become so common that the link between power and corruption is often seen as inevitable. Dominance gives privileged access to resources, and to maintain dominance, huge amounts are spent on being “strong,” that is, able to win a fight. In 2010 the global arms expenditure was $1.6 trillion.3 For perspective, spending 10 percent of this annually could eliminate extreme poverty and starvation throughout the world.4 Power Fosters Mental Rigidity When displays of strength are seen as important, changing one’s mind is viewed as “giving in,” as a sign of weakness. In political discussions winning is valued more highly than deepening understanding. This standpoint blocks openness to new information and stifles the flexibility needed to deal with changing circumstances. 1972   

While they view powerful people as passionate, clear, determined, and brave, they also view them as more likely to be lonely, stabbed in the back, dishonest, and disliked. This mixed picture presents a dilemma for those wanting to find the power to make a difference in the world but not wanting to enter a battleground where they are likely to become distrusted, lonely, or corrupted. Suspicion of power leads people 1989   

A NEW STORY OF POWER The word power comes from the Latin possere, meaning “to be able.” The kind of power we will now focus on is not about dominating others but about being able to address the mess we’re in. Rather than being based on how much stuff or status we have, this view of power is rooted in insights and practices, in strengths and relationships, in compassion and connection with the web of life. 1995   

Power-with is based on synergy, where two or more parties working together bring results that would not have occurred if they had worked alone. 2025   

Emergence and synergy lie right at the heart of power-with. They generate new possibilities and capacities, adding a mystery element that means we can never be certain how a situation will go just from looking at the elements within 2029   

last, there is the energizing power of an inspiring vision that moves through and strengthens us when we act for a purpose bigger than ourselves. All these are products of synergy and emergence; they come about when different elements interact to become a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. 2070   

Countless seemingly innocent activities and choices are acting together to bring about the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history. Seeing with new eyes, we recognize that we’re not separate individuals in our own little bubbles but connected parts in a much larger story. A question that helps us develop this wider view is “What is happening through me?” Is the sixth mass extinction happening through us as a result of our habits, choices, and actions? 2078   

The question “How could the Great Turning happen through me?” invites a different story to flow through us. This type of power happens through our choices, through what we say and do and are. 2083   

the process of healing and recovery at a planetary level can happen through us and through what we do. For this to happen, we need to play our part. That’s where power-with comes in. 2096   

When people experience themselves as part of a group with a shared purpose, team spirit flows through them, and their central organizing principle changes. The guiding question moves from “What can I gain?” to “What can I give?” We can develop a similar team spirit with life. When we are guided by our willingness to find and play our part, we can feel as if we are acting not just alone but as part of a larger team of life that acts with us and through us. Since this team involves many other players, unsuspected allies can emerge at crucial moments; unseen helpers can remove obstacles we didn’t even know were there. When we’re guided by questions such as “What can I offer?” and “What can I give?” we might sometimes play the role of stepping out in front and at other times that of being the ally giving support. Either way, we think of the additional support behind our actions as a form of grace. 2103   

We just need to practice knowing that and remembering that we are sustained by each other in the web of life. Our true power comes as a gift, like grace, because in truth it is sustained by others.        If we practice drawing on the wisdom and beauty and strengths of our fellow human beings and our fellow species we can go into any situation and trust that the courage and intelligence required will be supplied.8 POWER-WITH IN ACTION Here are three ways we can open to the kind of power we’ve been describing. We can:        • hear our call to action and choose to answer it.        • understand power as a verb.        • draw on the strengths of others. 2119   

Choosing to respond to that call empowers us. Once we take that first step, we start on a journey presenting us with situations that increase our capacity to respond. Strengths such as courage, determination, and creativity are drawn forth from us most when we rise to the challenges that evoke them. When we share our cause with others, allies appear; synergy occurs. And when we act for causes larger than ourselves, the larger community for whom we do this will be acting through us. 2134   

If we think of ourselves only as separate individuals, then we understand these intuitive calls purely in personal terms. Recognizing ourselves as part of the larger web of life leads to a different view. Just as we experience the Earth crying within us as pain for the world, we can experience the Earth thinking within us as a guiding impulse pulling us in a particular direction. 2142   

Developing a sense of partnership with Earth involves listening for guiding signals and taking them seriously when we hear them. 2146   

exploration of power as a verb.   TRY THIS: OPEN SENTENCES THAT EMPOWER These open sentences can be used in self-reflection or journaling or as a partnered listening exercise with someone else. 1. I empower myself by… 2. What empowers me is… When we have explored this exercise in workshops, people have described empowering themselves by remembering what’s important, doing what really matters, experiencing emotions, exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, seeking out good company, meditating, paying attention to needs (their own and those of others), laughing, dancing, and singing. When looking at what empowers them, participants have often mentioned inspiring purposes, friends who encourage and support, and a sense of rootedness in life. Power as verb points us in a very different direction from where the noun form takes us. 2165   

Arthur, who was just a teenager then, lingered behind, went up to the stone to try his own luck. Grasping the sword’s handle he pulled with all his strength, until he was exhausted and drenched. The sword remained immobile. Glancing around, he saw in the shrubbery surrounding the churchyard the forms of those with whom he had lived and learned. There they were: badger, falcon, ant and the others. As he greeted them with his eyes, he opened again to the powers he had known in each of them — the industry, the cunning, the quick boldness, the perseverance…knowing they were with him, he turned back to the stone and, breathing easy, drew forth from it the sword, as smooth as a knife from butter. 2189   

When we draw on a sense of fellowship, belonging, and connection, it is as if we are remembering our root system. This is power-with, which comes from the larger circle that we can draw on, that acts through us. In his workshops, Chris sometimes asks people to remember a time when they did something that made a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just something positive that might not have occurred otherwise. Then in groups of three or four, he asks people to take turns telling their stories and also identifying what strengths helped them play this role. After doing this, he often hears people say, “Hearing you describe using this strength helps me recognize it in myself too.” When other people open to their strengths, it can help us open to ours too. We can “catch” this type of power from each other. 2195   

Whenever you are struggling, remember the sword in the stone. Think of trying to pull it out. Then pause. Remember those who inspire you. Think of them around you, and draw on their strengths. Think of those who support and believe in you. Draw strength from them as well. Think of who and what you are acting for, and feel their power acting through you too. 2203   

The danger of being too comfortable, too self-sufficient, is that we lose any sense of needing one another. If each family has its own washing machine, electronic entertainment, and adequate supplies of food, what reason do we have to knock on our neighbors’ doors? Experiencing need prompts people to reach out and make contact. That is why self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have become such fertile expressions of community and fellowship. Through painful experience, their members have learned the truth of the maxim “I can’t, we can.” Crisis becomes a turning point when it provokes us to reach out to others. 2227   

Where do we look to meet our needs for security and a satisfying life? 2232   

we meet our needs through getting more and better stuff. This story leads people to invest time, resources, and attention in their own little bubbles rather than in their relationships and communities. In the United States, for example, the proportion of people with no one to confide in has nearly tripled in recent decades. 2234   

Americans are less likely to visit friends or be visited by them. 2238   

Networks of mutual support bring many benefits, including reduced crime rates, higher levels of trust, lower suicide rates, a reduced risk of heart attacks, fewer strokes, and less depression.4 Referred to as “social capital,” the web of supportive relationships within a neighborhood is a form of wealth that improves the quality of our lives. Unfortunately, with the trend toward increased individualism and consumerism, this great treasure is in decline. The breakdown of communities is self-reinforcing: the more people retreat into their own private worlds, the more neighborhoods decline and the more people turn away from community involvement (see Fig. 7 2240   

Referring to her own experience of an earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and the gratifying engagement she noticed in herself and others afterward, she writes:        That sense of immersion in the moment and solidarity with others caused by the rupture in everyday life, an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive. We don’t even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy in sorrow, courage in fear. We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological…. Disasters provide an extraordinary window into social desire and possibility.6 When food appears reliably on our tables, we don’t need to exercise our creativity or social intelligence to survive. It is different in a disaster. The closeness of danger activates our wits and our cooperative tendencies in ways that bring out new levels of aliveness and community. 2263   

As we reach out to help one another, our lives become more meaningful and satisfying. We discover that we don’t thrive, or survive, alone. 2273   

We treat people with a different kind of respect when we consider that they might someday be pulling us out of the rubble. We treat the rest of life with a different kind of respect when we consider that without it, we wouldn’t be here at all. 2279   

When the danger is only vaguely sensed and not understood, this can lead to distrust, hostility, and scapegoating. In adversity, people can pull together or push apart, step outside their bubbles or retreat further into them. The way we understand power greatly influences which way we go. The more people and nations apply a power-over model, the more they rely on force to maintain positions of advantage. This perspective fills the world with enemies against whom we must defend ourselves. 2303   

We can think of community as having different levels. Each progressively widens our sense of what we belong to, what we receive from, and what we act for. These levels are:        • groups we feel at home in        • the wider community around us        • the global community of humanity        • the Earth community of life At each level, we can apply the implements of insight and compassion to dismantle the thinking that fragments our world and sets us against one another. The process of building community is self-reinforcing since not only does it contribute to the healing of our world, but it also enhances the quality of our lives. 2317   

When conditions are difficult, having a trusted gang around us both to draw from and give to can make all the difference. Doris Haddock, the activist fondly known as Granny D, was ninety-eight years old when she gave a talk in Philadelphia describing how this sort of mutual support transformed her experience of the Great Depression:        Maybe we were hungry sometimes, but did we starve? No, because we had our friends and family and the earth to sustain us…. We were fountains of creativity. We were fountains of friendship to our neighbors. As a nation, we were a mighty river of mutual support.7 The immediate circle in which we feel most at home is just the first rung of community. 2356   

Working collaboratively toward a common benefit can also be deeply satisfying because it transforms “work” into a social occasion. 2382   

The Transition movement focuses on developing strong and resilient communities that will be able to function when the oil age is over. For many communities around the world, the transition from oil dependence has already begun, and with it comes a renaissance of mutual aid. 2388   

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in 1963 for taking part in a nonviolent civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama. From his prison cell, he wrote a famous letter responding to criticism of the demonstration and the role of “outsiders” in it:        I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.10 “Outsider” involvement was criticized because of a belief that we should be concerned only with issues happening on our own doorsteps. Dr. King dismantled this assumption. We don’t need to live geographically close to people in order to care about them or to take action on their behalf. What extends community is solidarity 2401   

Distance does dull us, though. If children were starving outside our front door, it would be unnatural to ignore them. Yet throughout our world, ten children under the age of five die every minute because they don’t have enough food to eat.11 2411   

Donella Meadows calculated what a village of a thousand people would look like if it reflected the composition of the world’s population.12 The wealthiest two hundred people would receive three quarters of the village’s income, while the poorest two hundred would receive just 2 percent between them. A third of the village would lack access to safe drinking water; of the 670 who were adults, half would be illiterate. Each year, there would be twenty-eight births and ten deaths, one of these from cancer, and three from lack of food or safe drinking water. Only half the married couples would have access to modern contraceptives. In 2005 the statistics from this “state of the village report” were updated, though they showed no improvement in the striking inequalities described fifteen years earlier in the first edition.13 2414   

Because freshwater is being extracted at a rate faster than it is replenished, wells around the village are drying up. Because the land is overfarmed and topsoil is being lost to erosion, the area of productive agricultural land is shrinking. Because of overfishing, stocks of many once-common species have either collapsed or are in sharp decline. Even without taking climate change into account, it is easy to see that we are heading for a crash. If we lived in this village, would we see where we were headed? Would we pull together to address the challenges we face? Unfortunately, as reflected by our current global situation, the village would be divided into groups that see themselves as separate from, and in competition with, one another. A large share of the village wealth would be spent on military operations to keep resources in the hands of the richer groups within the village, some of whom would be in conflict with each other. As these resources became depleted, wars would be waged over remaining reserves. 2423   

When Helena Norberg-Hodge first visited Ladakh in 1975, she was told by one of the villagers, “We don’t have any poor people here.”14 She saw he was speaking the truth: everyone’s basic needs certainly appeared well met. There were no very rich people either — not in a material way, at least. In terms of social capital, though, the Ladhakhi were among the wealthiest people she had ever known, and the happiest. They would sing together while bringing in the harvest. Their peacefulness was infectious. A phrase she kept hearing the villagers say was “we have to live together.”15 When a conflict arose, they would repeat this like a mantra and find a way of getting on. What would it be like if this were our mantra too? We can choose between different types of wealth. The path of seeking material wealth beyond our basic needs sets us against one another. The greater a nation’s appetite for resources, the more likely it is that it will go to war, and the more likely it is to tear up forests for open strip mines or to drill for oil deep below the ocean floor, wrecking marine habitats. The second type of wealth is what we see with new eyes. It is the community we find in mutual belonging. 2435   

draw attention to the devastation these gas wells would bring, Ali swam the full length of the Skeena. Along her route, those living by the river came out to greet her, joining together in a newfound watershed identity. Communities don’t just involve humans; they include all that we belong to, feel part of, identify with, and act for. For Ali Howard, her community included the River Skeena itself and the rich ecology of plants, animals, and people within its watershed. When we stand up for a community, it is as though the community acts and speaks through us, making us its mouthpiece. Ali gave the Skeena someone to speak through. This role, of speaking for our natural world, is crucial. If we don’t, who will? Unless someone speaks for the salmon, the rivers, the wild spaces, and the rest of life, how will we stop the relentless drive of short-term profiteering that is turning our world into a wasteland? Our survival is at stake; we are only beginning to realize how ecosystems act together to maintain conditions favorable to humans. As James Lovelock, the leading scientist behind Gaia theory explains, “The natural world outside our farms and cities is not there as decoration but serves to regulate the chemistry and climate of the Earth, and the ecosystems are the organs of Gaia that enable her to maintain our habitable planet.”17 An understanding of our interdependence with all life is found in the wisdom of many indigenous cultures. As the Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer states, “we have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”18 This duty is based on the recognition that without the interconnected web of ecosystems, we have no life. Yet we humans are living as if we were at war with the rest of nature, eliminating whole ecosystems and driving entire species to extinction. Of the species assessed in 2009 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 17,921 were deemed to be at serious risk of extinction.19 We just don’t know what impact the loss of these species would have, but activist and writer Duane Elgin offers a metaphor:        Our extermination of other species has been compared to popping rivets out of the wings of an airplane in flight. How many rivets can the plane lose before it begins to fall apart catastrophically? How many species can our planet lose before we cross a critical threshold where the integrity of the web of life is so compromised that it begins to come apart, like an airplane that loses too many rivets and disintegrates?20 “We need to live together,” the Ladhakhi villagers say. “Or we will not live at all” is the message modern biologists would add. To stop the extinctions, we need to declare peace with our world. For that peace to take root and grow, we need active reconciliation and community building. In the mid-1980s, Joanna and John Seed developed a group process that strengthens our felt relationship with other life-forms. Called the Council of All Beings, it invites us to step aside from our human identity and speak on behalf of another form of life.21 It can be an animal, a plant, or a feature of the environment — an otter, an ant, a redwood, or a mountain. We represent these life-forms at a gathering of beings who meet in council to report on the condition of our world. On one level we can see this as an improvised group drama, where we build empathy by looking through the eyes of another party. We could also approach this as a spiritual process, as a ritual inviting a shift in consciousness that allows another part of our world to speak through us. Either way, we are dropping our normal lenses and taking a perspective that sensitizes us to the needs and rights of other beings. 2451   

When we speak on behalf of another life-form, a shift happens in our relationship with it. If we have spoken for ants or glaciers, bringing our imagination to bear in reporting their experience, they are no longer strangers to us. What emerges is a deepened appreciation of how they are affected by human activity, and with this, a sense of solidarity with them and a desire that they be well. 2490   

My experiences of these councils have had a profound impact on my relationship with the life-forms I have represented. They have become significant as allies in my life. I wish to be an ally to them too. This is the fourth dimension of community, in which we feel welcomed by our world and supported by it. Feeling part of a much larger team can anchor and steady us through times of difficulty. When we have this “team spirit,” we feel a heightened sense of spiritual connection with life. 2498   

If current trends continue, scientists predict that by the middle of this century commercial sea fishing could come to an end. 2520   

When the Haudenosaunee meet in council to consider major decisions, their practice is to ask, “How will this affect the seventh generation?” This chapter describes how we too can live within a larger view of time. We will explore the concept of “deep time” and look at how it not only promotes greater ecological intelligence but also opens up new sources of strength, inspiration, and support. A FAMILY VIEW OF TIME 2530   

When New College at Oxford University was founded in 1379, huge oak timbers were used to hold up the roof of its great dining hall. To provide replacement timbers for the roof’s eventual repair, the college foresters planted a grove of oaks on college land. Since the beams were two feet wide and forty-five feet long, it would take several hundred years for the trees to grow to the size required. The foresters were thinking ahead in a time frame of centuries. York Minster Cathedral in England took more than two hundred and fifty years to build, while the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was constructed over more than four centuries. The Neolithic structure at Stonehenge, with stones weighing four tons each that were transported from 240 miles away, is thought to have taken fifteen hundred years to complete. The craftspeople, architects, and planners in these projects must have accepted the fact that the work to which they were giving themselves would not be completed within their lifetimes, or even within the lifetimes of their children. 2536   

there is a big difference between choosing to go faster when doing so genuinely brings benefit and being caught in a pattern of hurry through habit or demand. Because the valuing of speed is so embedded within our society, most people end up feeling so rushed and so short of time that their life becomes one long race. 2590   

While short bursts of pressure can be good for us, chronic stress wears us down, increasing our risk of heart disease, infections, depression, and many other conditions. Our relationships suffer too. A common factor in marital and family breakdown is a shortage of time to connect. In the long term, a sprint cannot be sustained, and burnout reduces performance. Crashing into a problem is often the wake-up call that alerts people to the hazards of high-speed living. If learned from, crisis can become a turning point. The key to recovery, as we shall see, is a larger view of time. When we are overwhelmed by numerous short-term goals and targets, we lack enough time and space to consider what lies over the horizon. Rushing narrows our field of vision to the immediate moment. The past becomes irrelevant and the future abstract. Such narrow timescapes lead to the following five problems:        • Short-term benefits outweigh long-term costs.        • We don’t see disasters coming our way.        • Narrow timescapes are self-reinforcing.        • We export problems to the future.        • Narrow timescapes diminish the meaning and purpose of our lives. 2594   

The downside of a behavior fails to deter us if it falls outside the bubble of time to which we give our attention. The same dynamic applies to dishonesty, which might seem a quick way out of a fix but has delayed effects that are toxic to relationships and decision making. 2612   

between 1996 and 2009, there were seventy-nine major spills from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, with the presidential commission finding an industry culture of complacency.8 Fossil fuels and the things we use them for are artificially cheap because we don’t count the costs we’re passing on to future generations. Climate change is another example: with the world warming up, the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica are already melting. The water these store can raise sea levels by forty feet, which would cause flooding in two-thirds of the world’s major cities.9 While this might happen over an extended period of time, the images of New Orleans under water after Hurricane Katrina give a glimpse of what we are setting in motion. Among our greatest crimes against future generations is the production of radioactive waste; through its mutagenic impact on the gene pool, its harmful effects are permanent. Because radioactivity is invisible, it will be difficult for future generations to know where the danger lies, so they won’t be able to protect themselves. The shore of Lake Karachay in the Chelyabinsk province of Russia doesn’t look hazardous, but it is so contaminated that a lethal dose of radiation can be received just by standing there for an hour.10 In the 2651   

Narrow Timescapes Diminish the Meaning and Purpose of Our Lives Within the story of Business as Usual, a million years in the future, or even a thousand, is completely off the screen. When we are under time pressure, even ten years ahead might seem too distant to pay attention to. Dashing from one thing to another, we lose sight of where we’re going. When life is dominated by urgent demands, we don’t get the time needed to find our direction or determine what really matters. We can spend our days being busy without having our heart in what we do. This kind of busyness takes us further away from what’s most important to us. Thinking only in short stretches of time also severely limits our sense of what can be achieved through us. To grow a project fruitful enough to be inspiring takes time. It is easy to ask, “What’s the point?” if we’re not seeing results after six months or a year. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same thinking after planting a tender young date palm or olive tree. These trees can take decades to become fully productive, but once they do they remain so for more than a century. When we move beyond thoughts of individual achievement and consider what our actions, when combined with the actions of others, can bring about, we open to a more gripping story. 2676   

By opening the group’s imagination to the possibility that future beings can help us face the mess we are in, she helped the group discover a welcome source of additional inspiration. The use of imaginary time travel, often sparked or accompanied by music, has since become a regular feature of the Work That Reconnects. It offers rich and rewarding opportunities to widen the timescape we inhabit and to draw on the support of past and future beings. ANCESTORS AS ALLIES For much of the world’s population, it is not so strange to think that those living elsewhere in time might be able to help us. Shrines to ancestors are common in Japan and Korea, and the practice of seeking guidance from those who have lived before us is an accepted part of many indigenous traditions. As West African shaman and author Malidoma Somé writes:        In many non-Western cultures, the ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach and to nurture.11 The interest ancestors take in us is a natural extension of the care parents have for their children, or grandparents for their grandchildren. When we’re struggling or feeling alone, we can find moral strength in opening to a sense of ancestral support. Just as an athlete may perform better when cheered by a crowd, we can imagine a crowd of ancestors cheering us on in all that we do to ensure the flow of life continues. If the role of the ancestors is to look out for those following them in time, then it follows that we too play this role. Those living in the future will look back on us as their ancestors. Recognizing future beings as our kin brings them closer to us. Within the narrow timescape of Business as Usual, they are a forgotten people whose interests have disappeared from view. When we recognize that we are their ancestors, a sense of care and responsibility arises naturally. Connectedness with ancestors and with future generations lifts us out of the microplots of Business as Usual and places us in a truer and more expansive story. In life’s epic journey, every one of our ancestors lived long enough to pass on the spark of life. This ancestry extends back in time far beyond the reaches of our human past. With the shift in identity to our ecological self, we discover that the entire span of recorded history is just a fraction of a page in a more extensive volume. OUR JOURNEY AS LIFE ON EARTH We belong to a planet four and a half billion years old. To make relative time periods easier to grasp, let us look at the entire history of our Earth as a single twenty-four-hour day starting at midnight.12 In this day of planet-time, each minute would mark the passing of more than three million years (see Fig. 8.2). At first, the planet was as hot as an erupting volcano. Being formed by the gravitational pulling together of materials orbiting the sun, it was continually showered by meteorites. Shortly after midnight, a chunk of matter the size of a small planet had collided with Earth, the impact causing materials to be thrown outward into space to form the moon. It took till nearly two in the morning for the planet surface to cool down enough for steam in the atmosphere to condense into rainfall. As rain fell and kept falling, the oceans were born. Between three and four in the morning, the first forms of life appeared in warm, shallow water. There were only traces of oxygen in the atmosphere and no ozone layer to provide protection from incoming ultraviolet radiation, which was too strong to allow life to develop on land. It took till ten-thirty in the morning for photosynthesis to evolve, and from then on, those early green life-forms started producing oxygen as a waste product. All life-forms were single celled and remained so for the rest of the day, the first more complex multicelled organisms not evolving till half past six in the evening. By eight, worms had appeared at the bottom of shallow seas, followed an hour and twenty minutes later by the first fish. By a quarter to ten, plant life… 2714   

CHAPTER NINE Catching an Inspiring Vision On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the best-known speeches in history. Half a century later, the words I have a dream are still linked to the vision he shared that day.1 King described a future in which black and white children would join hands as brothers and sisters and in which his own children would be judged by the “content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. He was identifying a destination that could be reached, a reality that could be created. In the 1960s the idea that an African American might one day become president of the United States would have been dismissed as “just dreaming.” But just look at the impact that kind of dreaming can have. Our dreams and visions for the future are essential for navigating through life because they give us a direction to move in. As the Roman philosopher Seneca once remarked, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Moreover, moving toward a destination that excites and inspires us energizes our journey, puts wind in our sails, and strengthens our determination to overcome obstacles. The ability to “catch” an inspiring vision is therefore key to staying motivated. When we’re moved by a vision that we share with others, we become part of a community with a common purpose. Inspiration is often thought of as a fleeting experience striking us in lucky moments or as a rare strength found in the small number of people thought of as “visionaries.” In this chapter we look at how we can foster vision and inspiration using learnable skills. The insights and practices discussed here can help all of us become more inspired and visionary. They strengthen our capacity for going forth in the adventure of the Great Turning. HOW OUR IMAGINATION GETS SWITCHED OFF From an early age, we are schooled in a worldview that values facts over fantasies. The term dreamer is used as a dismissive put-down when someone’s ideas are considered unrealistic; daydreaming in the classroom can even be a punishable offense. To develop our visioning ability, let’s start by recognizing how it has become so undervalued. As Quaker futurist Elise Boulding comments: “Several generations of children have had daydreaming bred out of them. Our literacy is confined to numbers and words. There is no image literacy.” 2862   

To change something, we need to first hold in our mind and heart the possibility that it could be different. Stephen Covey, in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, writes:        “Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and physical or second creation to all things.4 Imagining possible futures is a surefire way to develop foresight. If we’re only interested in “facts,” we limit ourselves to looking at what has already happened, which is a bit like trying to drive a car by looking only in the rearview mirror. To avoid crashing, we need to look where we’re going. Since we can’t know for sure what will happen, we are limited to considering possibilities, based on applying a combination of experience, awareness of trends, and imagination. While experience equips us well for dealing with familiar situations, our imagination is essential in formulating creative responses to new challenges. 2897   

With process thinking, we view reality more as a flow in which everything is continually moving from one state to another. Each moment, like a frame in a movie, is slightly different from the one before. These tiny changes from frame to frame generate the larger changes seen over time (see Fig. 9.2). If something is not in the picture at the moment, that doesn’t mean it won’t be later on. This way of conceiving reality sees existence as an evolving story rather than as predefined. Because we can never know for sure how the future will turn out, it makes more sense to focus on what we’d like to have happen, and then to do our bit to make it more likely. That’s what Active Hope is all about. 2927   

the best way of anchoring a vision is to act on it and make it part of our lives, we need a way of linking our larger hopes with specific steps we can take. Visioning therefore involves three closely related levels: 1. What? When looking at a specific situation, what would you like to see happen? 2. How? How do you see this coming about? This stage involves describing the steps needed for the larger vision to occur and possible pathways by which these steps can take place. 3. My Role? The first level identifies the desired destination, the second level maps out the story of getting there, and the third identifies your role in this story: What can you do to help the vision come about? IMAGING THE FUTURE WE HOPE FOR 2962   

After spending time working together on developing a vision of our preferred future, we need to remember how we got there. Standing in the world thirty years from now, we look back at how the changes we have just envisioned were brought about. Moving back year by year, what happened? As we trace back to the present moment, we reconstruct a history of the preceding thirty years from the perspective of this possible future. Finally, we need to see the role we play in this process. Looking at the different areas of our lives, what are we doing that helps build the future we hope for? There will be many things, and some might stand out — what are they? 3008   

Rumi once wrote: “Close both eyes to see with the other eye.” 3019   

a trail is traced back in time from that possible future, marking key developments along the way. The pathway sketched out offers the beginnings of an energy descent plan by which the community can wean itself off oil dependence. Finally, as in Boulding’s model, we end in the present, with our lives here and now, looking forward and identifying how we can play our part in the transition process. 3030   

When we carry our desired future inside us, it guides and acts through us, helping us bring it into being. 3046   

abundance. In the indigenous culture of North America, the term medicine dream is used to describe the guiding visions that come in our dreams. In The Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry writes, “Such dream experiences are so universal and so important in the psychic life of the individual and of the community that techniques of dreaming are taught in some societies.” 3078   

While this concept of guiding visionary signals fits comfortably in both spiritual and systems perspectives, it clashes with the ultra-individualistic worldview of the industrialized world. In this model, thinking and intelligence are located within individuals; if someone comes up with a good idea, that idea is regarded as their property. When the ownership of ideas is privatized, innovations that could help our world are often kept secret until they can be exploited for personal or corporate benefit. What would happen to a brain if separate groups of neurons took this approach? Thinking happens through brain cells rather than within them, and intelligence is an emergent property of cells working together as a larger whole. Viewing ourselves as similar to brain cells opens us up an entirely new way of thinking about intelligence. Co-intelligence, which we touched on in chapter 6, is defined by the Co-Intelligence Institute as “accessing the wisdom of the whole on behalf of the whole.”10 If we think of ourselves as part of the team of life on Earth, could we access the wisdom of our world for the benefit of all? Co-intelligence arises when we share ideas and visions we find inspiring, making room to hear what moves other people too. This is how visions catch on and spread through a culture with amazing speed.   TRY THIS: SHARING INSPIRATION The following open sentence can be used as a round in groups, as a prompt to conversation with a small group of friends, as a starting point for personal journaling, or as something to include in letters to friends: “Something that inspires me at the moment is…” CO-INTELLIGENCE IN PROGRESSIVE BRAINSTORMING A progressive brainstorm process that Joanna has used in workshops provides a good example of co-intelligence arising. This process is a great way of harnessing group creativity in moving from a larger, general goal to specific steps that participants can take. It can be fun and energizing to recruit a few interested friends to try this process together. The first stage is to identify a goal to work toward. Each person daydreams for a few minutes about what he or she would like to see in a life-sustaining society. These features are then listed on a big sheet of paper (see Box 9.1).   Box 9.1. Stage 1: Our Vision for a Life-Sustaining Society • clean air • renewable energy • constructive processes to deal with conflict • lifestyles of voluntary simplicity • widespread ecological awareness For the next stage, the group selects one of these and has a brainstorm process generating responses to the question “What would be needed for this?” As the goal of brainstorming is to spark creative thinking, it is guided by three rules: first, we don’t censor, explain, or justify our ideas; second, we don’t evaluate or criticize the ideas of others; and third, we save discussion for later. We’re creating options, not editing them (see Box 9.2, which takes “clean air” as an example). Once a list has been generated, one of the options is chosen, and the process is repeated, with a brainstorm exploring the question, “What would be needed for this to happen?” Each time this is repeated, the steps identified become closer to us and easier to take. The goal is to end up with a list of practical steps that anyone in the room can take (see Box 9.3, which takes “fewer cars and trucks” as an example). When this process is in full swing, you can feel the group thinking and strategizing through each of its members. 3091   

Box 9.2. Stage 2: What Would Be Needed for Clean Air? • fewer cars and trucks • no incinerators • scrubbers on smokestacks • more renewable energy investment • more concern about health impacts of air pollution   Box 9.3. Stage 3: What Would Be Needed for Fewer Cars and Trucks? • pedestrian malls • bicycle lanes • higher fuel prices • more public transportation • greater use of carpooling CHOOSING AND BEING CHOSEN With every theme we take up, there will be a range of possible pathways for actions in which we could play a role. With so many options, how do we choose where to invest our energy? The challenge is to listen for the vision that calls us most strongly and to recognize that to follow this well, we will need to refine our focus so as not to dissipate our energy. Like seedlings that need thinning out, we need to choose which visions we support, and then clear space around them so that they have room to develop and thrive. There may be a few special times in our lifetime when we experience such a strong intuitive pull toward a course of action that we know it to be the right thing for us to do. Even when the odds seem against us, we feel these powerful summonings deep in our hearts and we are drawn to respond. In the model of co-intelligence, we’re never alone in these endeavors. A larger story is taking place, and we’ve just chosen, or been chosen, to play a particular role in it. If we trust in a larger intelligence, we can open to the support of many allies and helpers who will play their roles too. Joseph Campbell wrote, “Follow your bliss…and doors will open where there were no doors before.” 3137   

We don’t make these visions happen — we just play our part in them. To do that, we need to keep our vision, and our commitment to it, strong inside us; then we can follow wherever it takes us. 3165   

Daring to Believe It Is Possible In 1785 Thomas Clarkson, a student at Cambridge University, entered an essay competition; the topic was slavery. As he researched the subject, he was horrified by what he discovered about the transatlantic slave trade. His essay won first prize, but its content so disturbed him he found it difficult to sleep. In his diary he wrote: “In the daytime I was uneasy. In the night I had little rest. I sometimes never closed my eye-lids for grief.”1 Abandoning his plans to become an Anglican minister, he decided instead to join a small group of Quakers campaigning on the issue. Two years later, Clarkson was one of the dozen people whose meeting in a London print shop kicked off the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Along with William Wilberforce and a few other committed campaigners, Clarkson had caught an inspiring vision. At the time, the odds seemed completely stacked against them. Slavery was accepted as a normal part of life. The slave trade was well established, and there were powerful vested interests opposing any change. In the British House of Commons, the idea of abolishing the slave trade was described as “unnecessary, visionary and impracticable”; repeated attempts by Wilberforce to bring in a new law were blocked. Such was the opposition that Clarkson was nearly killed when he was attacked by a mob on the docks of Liverpool. When following the path of an inspiring vision, we are likely to encounter the voice dismissing what we hope for as unnecessary or impractical. The greater the gap between present reality and what we would like to have happen, the louder this voice will be. Yet stories like those of Clarkson and Wilberforce remind us that when we dare to believe our vision is possible, and dare also to act on this belief, extraordinary changes can take place. In 1807 the British Parliament passed a law making the slave trade illegal within the British Empire. As other countries followed, slavery became outlawed almost everywhere within little more than a lifetime. As Nelson Mandela once said of changes like this: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” This chapter explores how to protect ourselves from disillusionment if we are struggling to believe that what we hope for is possible. We’ll look at what helps us move from just thinking about a vision to taking steps to bring it about, and also at what strengthens our resolve to do this even when the odds seem stacked against us. 3254   

The facts of climate change, habitat loss, mass extinction of species, and mass starvation of people are hugely discouraging. When we’re working for causes that seem to be getting nowhere, that suffer setbacks and reversals, that face well-funded obstruction and deeply entrenched resistance, it is hard to sustain the belief that what we hope for is possible. Yet without this, without the spark of conviction that our actions can really make a difference, it is difficult to keep going. We need to name this challenge, because the risk with recurring frustration, failure, and disappointment is that they will wear down our resolve. It is painful to keep hold of a vision if we don’t believe we can make meaningful progress toward it. The reference points that support our sense of possibility are therefore crucial. Let’s look at five of these:        • inspiring examples from history        • the phenomenon of discontinuous change        • facing your threshold guardians        • our own experiences of perseverance        • witnessing the Great Turning happening through us Inspiring Examples from History It took Clarkson and Wilberforce more than twenty years of campaigning before they saw a law against the slave trade passed.2 They were challenging the Business as Usual mode of their day, and while they had periods of hard-earned popular support, there were also times when their cause looked completely hopeless. In the early 1790s, the French Revolution and subsequent war with France led to a clampdown on political opposition in Britain. Harsh new laws forbade gatherings of more than fifty people unless they had permission from a local magistrate. If a magistrate declared a meeting illegal, and more than twelve people were still gathered an hour later, they could be sentenced to death. The abolition committee gave up its London office and went for seven years without meeting. Clarkson had a nervous breakdown, and the campaign went into decline. There is a saying that important changes often go through three phases. First they are regarded as a joke. Then they are treated as a threat. Finally, they become accepted as normal. Historical examples of changes moving through this sequence provide an important reference point for us. If it is a struggle for you to believe that what you hope for is possible, know that others have felt this way too. Thanks to the people who kept alive the spark of their convictions through periods of ridicule and persecution, changes that were laughed at, actively suppressed, or dismissed as hopeless dreams have now become accepted as normal parts of our reality. Here are some examples.   Box 10.1. Aspects of Current Reality Once Dismissed as Hopeless Dreams • Women have the vote in nearly every country in the world. • An African American can become US president. • Apartheid came to an end in South Africa. • Most people now accept that the earth orbits around the sun. Lucy Stone organized the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850. She never lived to see women finally get the vote in the United States in 1920, but that didn’t stop her from working her whole life to make that happen. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than twenty-five years before eventually becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Galileo was branded a heretic for believing Earth revolved around the sun, had his writings banned, and spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest. When we experience frustration, failure, or obstruction, we need to remember that we are part of a very fine historical tradition. 3282   

Rather than seeing frustration and failure as evidence that we’re pursuing a hopeless cause, we can reframe them as natural, even necessary, features in the journey of social change. Why might failure and frustration be necessary parts of the journey? Because if we stick only with what we know how to do, what we’re comfortable with and confident about, we limit ourselves to the old, familiar ways rather than developing new capacities. When we learn a new skill, we tend at first to get it wrong, gaining experience through our mishaps. Learning is a process that begins with not knowing. The good news about frustration and failure is they show that we have dared to step outside our comfort zones and to rise to a challenge that stretches us. What we’re doing here is reframing frustration and failure in a way that encourages us to persist rather than to give up. By persisting we are more likely to experience the positive surprise of the next reference point. The Phenomenon of Discontinuous Change With issues such as climate change and peak oil, we don’t have seventy years, or even twenty years, to bring about the changes needed. Our problems are urgent and demand much more rapid action. Given our current slow pace of progress, it can be hard to see how we will do it. If we look at change as something that happens incrementally at a steady, predictable rate, in which the progress — or lack thereof — in one decade gives a measure of what is likely to take place in the next, we can get very discouraged. But along with continuous change, there is also discontinuous change. Sudden shifts can happen in ways that surprise 3324   

Discontinuous changes can be triggered by quite small events. When you’re close to a threshold, one tiny step can take you over it. An example of this is when a tipping point is reached and a critical mass of people starts to believe a change can happen. If those who are undecided have been hovering on the edge beforehand, waiting to see what happens, something small can tip the balance and nudge them into giving their support. Before this threshold is crossed, the change may seem unlikely. Yet only a short while later, everyone wants to join in. 3351   

We can’t know how things will unfold. What we can do is make a choice about what we’d like to have happen, and then put ourselves fully behind that possibility. An inspiring wave of change is spreading through our world. The Great Turning is happening in our time, and we may already be participating in many ways. If we want this change to catch on more thoroughly, deeply, and rapidly, how can we let it do so in our own lives? What thresholds do we need to cross? When we step over the line from one state to another, we take part in this shift. Facing Your Threshold Guardians When we catch our inspiring vision, we experience a call to adventure that pulls us into its service. 3363   

we will just about always bump into some kind of resistance or opposition. Mythologist Joseph Campbell coined the term threshold guardian to describe whatever is guarding or blocking the way.3 Studying myths, legends, and adventure tales from all over the world, he mapped out a common plot structure that revolved around the tension between the impetus to follow the call to adventure and the threshold guardians in the way. In fantasy adventures such as The Lord of the Rings, whenever there is a clear path to follow, there is always some kind of monster or other enemy about to appear on it. The hero or heroine then rises to the challenge by confronting, tricking, befriending, or bypassing the blocking entity in a way that allows the journey to continue. We can view our own lives similarly. When we’re following our calls to adventure, thinking of obstacles as threshold guardians can draw out our creative response. 3370   

Whenever Sarah was struggling, she’d say to herself, “This is my adventure; these are my threshold guardians.” Rather than feeling defeated, she knew she needed to seek out allies, learn new skills, and not be put off when things weren’t working out. Adventure tales have been told for thousands of years, not just for their entertainment value but also because they pass on teachings that help us rise to challenges. Almost always, the protagonists find their way through by drawing on the fellowship of allies, by serving a purpose much bigger than themselves, by discovering strengths previously hidden from view, and by having enough humility to learn from others. Usually some mysterious force lends a hand. It could be a spiritual presence, the moral force of a value like justice, or, as in the film Avatar, the emergent power of an interconnected web of life. Sometimes the threshold guardians have a tangible physical presence outside of us; 3383   

This is the threshold guardian of disbelief. It can help to imagine these blocking voices as characters standing in our way. Chris recently worked with some puppeteers to give visible expression to the common blocks of fear, cynicism, and disbelief. Fear took the form of an overprotective parent constantly warning of the dangers of stepping into anything new. The voice of cynicism was a dismissive distant relative who tore apart the value of any project considered. Finally, disbelief was personified by Professor Noway, the very clever character who has studied everything and knows precisely why there is no way we can succeed. These characters sometimes have useful things to say. 3394   

When a change wants to happen, it looks for people to act through. How do we know when a change wants to happen? We feel the want inside us. There is a desire, a tugging at us to be involved. But that doesn’t make the change inevitable, because standing in our way are all those who say we’re wasting our time, that it isn’t possible, that it will be too hazardous. For the change to happen through us, we need to counter those voices. A shift can happen within us when we break through a resistance that has been holding us back. 3476   

If you were freed from fear and doubt, what would you choose to do for the Great Turning? Here is an action planning process we use in our workshops. It will help you to identify some practical steps you can commit to taking in the next seven days. Seeing is believing. When you see yourself take these steps, it is easier to believe that the Great Turning is happening.   TRY THIS: IDENTIFYING YOUR GOALS AND RESOURCES This process works well when you team up with someone else, taking turns to interview and support each other. 1. If you knew you could not fail, what would you most want to do for the healing of our world? 2. What specific goal or project could you realistically aim to achieve in the next twelve months that would contribute to this? 3. What resources, inner and outer, do you have that will help you do this?          Inner resources include specific strengths, qualities, and experience, as well as the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired.          External resources include relationships, contacts, and networks you can draw on, as well as material resources such as money, equipment, and places to work or recharge. 4. What resources, inner and external, will you need to acquire? What might you need to learn, develop, or obtain? 5. How might you stop yourself? What obstacles might you throw in the way? 6. How will you overcome these obstacles? 7. What step can you take in the next week, no matter how small — making a phone call, sending an email, or scheduling in some reflection time — that will move you toward this goal? 3486   

You can repeat and review this process regularly. When we dare to believe that what we hope for is possible, we can dare to act. As a declaration often attributed to Goethe proclaims:        Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.4 CHAPTER ELEVEN Building Support around You A crucial factor in any process of change is the level of support it receives. By seeking out encouragement, aid, and good counsel, we create a more favorable context both for our projects and for ourselves. Doing so is especially important when we are facing difficult or hostile conditions. In this chapter we will look at how we can cultivate support at the following levels:        • the personal context of our habits and practices        • the face-to-face context of the people around us        • the cultural context of the society we are part of        • the ecospiritual context of our connectedness with all life 3511   

We can choose to give significance to our gift of Active Hope. There are practices that help us do this. On the last afternoon of a two-week intensive workshop, Joanna was out walking and met a young monk from the retreat center hosting the event. “Well,” he said, “I expect now on your last day you’ll be giving people vows.” Joanna told him that wasn’t something she did. “Pity,” he said. “I find, in my own life, vows so very helpful, because they channel my energy to do what I really want to do.” 3546   

Almost immediately, the following five vows came to her:        I vow to myself and to each of you:        To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.        To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.        To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future generations, and my brothers and sisters of all species.        To support others in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it.        To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows. When the workshop participants were asked what they thought, “Oh, yes!” was their enthusiastic reply. With the workshop ending, they would soon be scattered far and wide; making these vows to one another and to themselves deepened their sense of being linked as a community. The words “I vow to myself and to each of you” calls to mind those we feel are with us as allies. We need to choose terms that ring true for us. Rather than using the word vows, we can, if we prefer, call them “commitments” or “statements of intention.” They offer an anchor point reminding us, again and again, of the purposes we hold dear and the behaviors that support us in serving them. A group’s declaration of intent gives tangible form to the shared desires of its members, providing a powerful rallying call. The five vows are an example of this. Now used by many people, they bring a heartening sense of belonging to a growing global fellowship of intention. A practice is a habit we have chosen. It is something we have agreed to make a regular feature of our life. Habits develop momentum because the more we repeat them, the more ingrained they become. There are many practices that can support our intention to act for our world. Whether it be meditating, spending time in nature, taking daily vows, expressing ourselves creatively, or doing anything else we feel strengthened by, each nourishing activity becomes an ally adding to our context of support. The fourth vow is to support each other in our work for the world, and to ask for help when we need it. This takes us into the second level of context — that involving the people around us. 3552   

TRY THIS: CREATING A SUPPORT MAP 1. Start by placing your name in the center of a piece of paper. Around it, write the names of the people who are significant in your life. 2. Draw arrows to represent flows of support, with the arrows going toward your name for the support you receive and away from you for the support you offer. The thickness of the arrow reflects the strength of the support (see Fig. 11). 3. Once you’ve drawn your map, ask yourself how satisfied you are with the flows of support you receive and offer. Do you feel well sustained? If not, how could you invite in more of what you need? 3595   

Each project has a life of its own, so it can be interesting to ask, “Through whom does this project want to act?” This question opens us to a more collaborative view. Rather than thinking in terms of “my project” or “their project,” we can think of ourselves as part of a team recruited by a vision that wants to happen. When a deeper purpose acts through people, a special kind of bond can arise between them. A wonderful way to experience this is in a study-action group. 3615   

The group met monthly, and its work had three main strands, which they called “the three S’s”: study, strategy, and mutual support. For the study strand, members took turns researching and teaching the others about particular areas, such as the physics of radiation, its biological effects, or the amounts of waste created by nuclear power and weapons production. The strategy side involved taking practical steps based on what they were finding out together. They gave talks in schools, organized petitions, and produced written materials. 3627   

During the six years the group met, they created a training for themselves that equipped them to offer testimony at public hearings, conduct public education events, produce publications, and create a code of ethics on the care of radioactive materials. The three strands of study, strategy, and mutual support worked together to make the group’s work a treasured experience. Inspired by Joanna’s experience, Chris and friends set up a study-action group about the Great Turning. The first step was to invite interested people to hear more about the idea and find out what they were able to commit to. Everyone who came was keen to take part, and the group agreed to meet monthly for six sessions, then to review. Keeping the size to just a dozen people, so that the group retained a sense of intimacy, they embarked on a journey guided by the questions “What is the Great Turning?” and “How can we take part in it?” A deeply nourishing sense of fellowship evolved. The group lasted eighteen months before it came to a natural ending point. Study-action groups are attractive because they can happen in our homes, they don’t require a high level of expertise to set up, and they are enjoyable. The key ingredients needed are a few people sharing a desire to learn more about an issue and to respond to it plus plenty of curiosity, willingness, tasty snacks, and a place to meet. 3635   

Research shows that people are more likely to reduce their energy consumption when they know their neighbors are doing so too.2 Each of us has a reference group of those we compare ourselves to in determining what is normal or appropriate behavior. We also feature in other people’s reference groups, so when they see us taking steps to live more sustainably, they are more likely to take these steps too. The recognition of the power of example at a local level has led to a kind of community organizing that now involves hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Developed through decades of action research, the “cool communities” campaign on carbon reduction brings together people from the same street or block in small “eco-teams” to bring about measurable reductions in their carbon footprint.3 One finding of the cool communities program is that in spite of initial skepticism about people’s willingness to work with their neighbors on developing sustainable lifestyles, once the process got started, it developed a momentum of its own. 3663   

It is not so much that people don’t want to know their neighbors, it is that they don’t know how to connect with the people living next door and build community. As a result, we struggle as isolated and alienated individuals. The resistance of “I don’t know my neighbors, we’ve never done anything like this, I’m afraid I’ll be rejected” is something we’ve experienced everywhere we’ve worked. But once we get people through this using the organizing tools we provide, they come out the other side feeling incredibly excited to have that connection. Again and again, people say that what they like most about the program is getting to know their neighbors.4 3677   

The level of concern, as well as the willingness to become involved, was much higher than was anticipated from initial appearances. The desire to take part in the healing of our world seems to be just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity and outlet for expression. Whenever we bring the desire for the world’s healing out into the open, whether through our individual actions or through the groups we are part of, we help others do this too. The power of example is contagious. This is how cultures change. 3686   

ECOSPIRITUAL CONTEXT: OUR CONNECTEDNESS WITH ALL LIFE Recent research gives strong support to something we know from our own experience: contact with the natural environment can be powerfully restorative to our well-being.5 Prisoners who can look out of their cells get sick less often, and patients in hospitals recover more quickly when their view is of greenery rather than concrete. In developing a context that supports us in working for our world, we need to include contact with nature. 3691   

We wouldn’t have the oxygen we breathe if it weren’t for plant life and plankton. We wouldn’t have the food we eat if it weren’t for the rich living matrix of soil, plants, pollinating insects, and other forms of life. When we carry within us a deep appreciation of how our life is sustained by other living beings, we strengthen our desire to give back. With the first three levels of context — the practices, the people, and the culture we’re part of — we’re referring to tangible behaviors and entities we can point to and that other people can observe. With this fourth level of context, we’re describing an experience of connection that leaves us feeling held and supported even when there’s nobody else around and nothing particular we’re doing. We call this fourth context “ecospiritual” because it is about our felt relationship to wider dimensions of reality. 3704   

TRY THIS: FINDING A LISTENING POST IN NATURE Is there a place where you feel more connected to the web of life? It can be either somewhere you go physically or somewhere in your imagination. Each time you go there, make yourself comfortable. Think of yourself plugging in to a root system that can draw up insights and inspiration as well as other nutrients. To receive guidance, all you need to do is ask for it, and then listen. CHAPTER TWELVE Maintaining Energy and Enthusiasm 3729   

Although many millions of people are already involved in the Great Turning, the movement needs to grow, and the attractiveness of participation grows when it is recognized as a path to deepened aliveness and a more satisfying way of life. Here are five strategies that help.        • Recognize enthusiasm as a valuable renewable resource.        • Broaden our definition of activism.        • Follow the inner compass of our deep gladness.        • Redefine what it means to have a good life.        • See success with new eyes and savor it. RECOGNIZE ENTHUSIASM AS A VALUABLE RENEWABLE RESOURCE 3745   

when we push ourselves too hard or are worn down by chronic exposure to harsh conditions, our enthusiasm, like topsoil, can begin to erode. 3759   

Sustainable agriculture reveals how valuable a resource healthy soil is. Finding ways to nourish, renew, and restore soil is a key to long-term productivity. It is similar with our enthusiasm: if we see it as valuable, then we become more interested in how we can nourish, renew, and restore this precious resource. An image of a boat floating on water provides a starting point for mapping out the factors influencing our ability and willingness to keep going (see Fig. 12). The water level represents our inner reserves of energy and enthusiasm, while hitting a problem like burnout is like crashing into a rock. Draining factors are shown as downward arrows that lower the water level and increase our likelihood of hitting rocks. Nourishing factors that replenish and strengthen us are mapped as arrows pushing the water level up. For example, when we feel we’re making progress with our projects, our morale is boosted, raising the water level. Each time we feel discouraged, whether by setbacks, arguments, or the experience of powerlessness, the water level drops. So to strengthen our resilience, we need to pay attention to all the factors that sustain us. Figure 12. Mapping factors influencing our energy and enthusiasm If we experience too much discouragement and too few “upward arrows,” then we are in danger of reaching such a low ebb that we may wonder what the point is and think about giving up. When we lose the will, energy, and enthusiasm to continue, we’re hitting the rock of burnout. With the worsening condition of our world, the slow pace of progress, and the enormous resistance to tackling issues, protecting our enthusiasm has become especially important. Building support around us, as discussed in the previous chapter, plays a central role here, but it is only one of many potential “upward arrows.” Once we recognize the value of enthusiasm, we start searching for ways to make what we do more satisfying. The following open sentences invite this exploration.   TRY THIS: OPEN SENTENCES ON MAINTAINING ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM These open sentences can be used when journaling, in conversation with friends, or within a group. They work well in conjunction with the water level mapping process. • Things that drain, demoralize, or exhaust me include… • What nourishes and energizes me is… • The times I’m most enthusiastic are when… 3774   

A sustainability group in Frome, England, had a meeting every month, often with a speaker or a film followed by a discussion. Their meetings became much more popular when they started the evening by sitting down together and eating food they’d brought to share. By having time and opportunity to talk with each other, they fed the friendships and sense of community that made them look forward to coming. Conversations while eating have led to a sprouting of collaborative projects and activities that have transformed the local 3810   

FOLLOW THE INNER COMPASS OF OUR DEEP GLADNESS While there may be periods when we feel ground down or discouraged, there are also times when activism is hugely satisfying, stimulating, and enjoyable. By becoming interested in what makes this so, we can identify what we want to focus on. The flip side of this is that when we feel ourselves going sour inside, experiencing resentment and a loss of our spark, it is worth pausing and reflecting on the choices we can make to restore our enthusiasm. Our degree of enthusiasm can act as a guide, like an inner compass, that helps us steer toward the sort of activity we’ll want to stick with in the long term. We are more effective when acting from our strengths and enthusiasm. That is where the Great Turning can happen through us most powerfully. This is a big shift away from the idea that there is one right way forward that we should all follow. Rather, it suggests that each of us needs to find our place of greatest fit. Author and minister Frederick Buechner describes this as where “our deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.”1 When we find this convergence, the Great Turning works through us in a way uniquely ours. 3834   

REDEFINE WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE A GOOD LIFE The view of a satisfying life presented by glossy magazines and advertisements involves luxury and leisure, illustrated by images of people sunbathing by swimming pools and being served martinis. The scientific research on happiness shows this to be a long way from what really makes life satisfying. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his classic book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, writes:        The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.2 Luxury doesn’t challenge and stretch us in a way that leads to satisfaction. But activism does in a number of ways. First, when we act in alignment with our deepest values, we experience an inner sense of rightness behind what we do. Second, when we apply ourselves to facing a challenge in a way that absorbs our attention, we are more likely to go into the flow states that psychologists like Csikszentmihalyi have linked so strongly to life satisfaction. To go into this kind of flow state, we want to face a challenge difficult enough to absorb us but not so difficult that we feel defeated. When we use our strengths and enthusiasms, we’re more likely to enter the nourishing state of absorption where we lose all track of time. This creates a self-reinforcing spiral, where the more we act from our strengths the more we go into flow, and the more we become absorbed by an activity, the better we get at it. We gain even more satisfaction when “virtuous cycles” like this contribute to our world. If we believe the research findings rather than the advertising industry, activism offers a more reliable path to a satisfying life than consumerism. Unfortunately, for both our world and our collective mood, this is not yet the dominant view. However, an international movement committed to redefining what it means to have a good life is growing. 3849   

When we rise to a challenge, our strengths are activated and our sense of purpose switched on. There is no guarantee we will succeed in bringing about the changes we hope for, but the process of giving our full attention and effort draws out our aliveness. This is what Active Hope is all about; when we live this way, the boredom and emptiness so prevalent in modern society simply disappear. 3888   

SEE SUCCESS WITH NEW EYES While having our heart in what we do is an essential part of what makes life satisfying, it isn’t enough. Repeated failure, frustration, and lack of progress can leave us wondering whether we’re wasting our time. It is difficult to stick to a path if we don’t see it going anywhere. So the way we understand and experience success affects our willingness to keep going. 3930   

With the consciousness shift of the Great Turning, we recognize ourselves as intimately connected with all life, like a cell within a larger body. To call an individual cell “successful” while the larger body sickens or dies is complete nonsense. If we are to survive as a civilization, we need the intelligence to define success as that which contributes to the well-being of our larger body, the web of life. Commercial success is easy to count, but how do we count the success of contributing to planetary well-being? Do we experience this success often? And if not, what is getting in the way? 3942   

For any goal we choose to pursue, we track back in time to identify intermediate steps. Each time we take a step like this, we are succeeding. Instead of rushing on immediately to the next task, we can take a moment to savor these mini-victories. The following open sentence is a useful prompt for this process. TRY THIS: SAVORING SUCCESS EVERY DAY A recent step I’ve taken that I feel good about is… There are steps we take that often don’t get counted, like the choice of where to place our attention. Just noticing that things are seriously amiss is a step on the journey. If we care enough to want to do something, that is also a significant mini-victory. Just to show up with bodhichitta is a success. 3964   

We can reinforce our appreciation of the steps we take by imagining the support of the ancestors, the future beings, and the more-than-human world. When we develop our receptivity, we will sense them cheering us on. If we form a study-action group or build support in other ways, we can take time to do this for each other, noticing and appreciating what we’re doing well. When we reflect on past successes, we can ask, “What strengths in me helped me do that?” Naming our strengths makes them more available to us. However, the challenges we face demand of us more commitment, endurance, and courage than we could ever dredge up out of our individual supply. That is why we need to make the essential shift of seeing with new eyes — it takes the process of strength recognition to a new level, that of the larger web of life. Just as we can identify with the suffering of other beings in this web, so too can we identify with their successes and draw on their strengths. There is an ancient Buddhist meditation that helps us do this. It is called “the Great Ball of Merit” and it is excellent training for the moral imagination: 3977   

open to the knowledge that in each of these innumerable lives some act of merit was performed. No matter how stunted or deprived the life, there was at the very least one gesture of kindness, one gift of love, or one act of valor or self-sacrifice…on the battlefield or in the workplace, hospital or home…From each of these beings in their endless multitudes arose actions of courage, kindness, of teaching and healing…Let yourself see these manifold, immeasurable acts of merit. Now imagine that you can sweep together these acts of merit. Sweep them into a pile in front of you. Use your hands…pile them up…pile them into a heap, viewing it with gladness and gratitude. Now pat them into a ball. It is the Great Ball of Merit. Hold it now and weigh it in your hands…Rejoice in it, knowing that no act of goodness is ever lost. It remains ever and always a present resource…a means for the transformation of life…So now, with jubilation and thanksgiving, you turn that great ball, turn it over…over…into the healing of our world. The more we practice this meditation, the more familiar we become with the process of drawing strengths from outside our narrow self. Knowing about the Great Ball of Merit can also change the way we think about our own actions. Each time we do something, no matter how small, that is guided by bodhichitta and contributes to our world, we know we are adding to this abundance. 3997   

In Chris’s addiction work, every year some clients he knew well died from their alcohol and drug use, while others grew stronger in their recovery. When he saw new clients, he never knew which way they would go. It was a good sign when they felt this same uncertainty too. 4037   

UNCERTAINTY ADDS MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE What is it that keeps people’s eyes glued to the ball when watching a sport? What impels us to turn the page when reading a novel? It is our not knowing what’s going to happen yet our wanting to. If we already knew what was going to happen next, what would keep us from falling asleep? Our lives get boring when they are too predictable. We can feel like we are just going through the motions. 4047   

If we have spent decades building a life in Business as Usual and our sense of security is linked to this, then moving into the uncharted territory of a different story is likely to bring up fear. 4064   

Times of crisis have a similar effect: they wake us up and engage our full attention. Bringing ourselves into the present moment doesn’t mean we lose connection with the past or future. We are shaped by our history; it is part of who we are. What we add is intentionality. This choice-making is our bridge to the future, as each intention represents a preference for the kind of world we want. Our intentionality endows the present moment with direction. 4075   

If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will be built. You persist. In the long run, it is persistence that shapes the future. BODHICHITTA With the uncertainties we face, we need a strength of intention similar to that of those Tibetan monks. If we take bodhichitta — the desire for the welfare of all beings — as our foundation stone, then that is what we can count on, whatever else is happening. Bodhichitta is grounded in our conscious connectedness with all life. So this is our starting point. It is what we build on. Moving around the spiral of the Work That Reconnects helps us strengthen this connectedness, helps us open to and trust it more. Each time we go around the spiral, we reinforce our bodhichitta. In a time of uncertainty, it can be the one thing we are sure of. In the Buddhist tradition, bodhichitta is seen as something very precious, something to treasure and protect. We can think of it as a flame in our hearts and minds that guides us and shines through our actions. The bodhisattvas, the hero figures of the Buddhist tradition, have such strong bodhichitta that even when they reach the gates of nirvana, having earned the right to disappear into eternal bliss, they turn around every time and choose to come back. They choose to return to samsara, this realm of suffering, because their bodhichitta calls them to serve life on Earth and act for the welfare of all beings. We can play with this image of the bodhisattva choosing to return to our world and use it as the starting point for a thought experiment. Trying out a different way of thinking about our situation is a powerful way of strengthening our resilience and creativity. The bodhisattva archetype is present in all religions and even all social movements. Whenever you act for the sake of life on Earth, you express the courageous compassion within you that we can think of as your bodhisattva self. This is part of who you are. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or believe in reincarnation to benefit from the exercise described below. We invite you to try it and see where it takes you. 4085   

After participating in this process, a colleague wrote:        I have been thinking a lot about the Bodhisattva’s Choices. I found it very empowering. I consider myself an accountable person. Yet I’d never before systematically reviewed all the major circumstances in my life and celebrated them for bringing me to this time and place. 4154   

Our purpose, however, is to recognize that all life’s experiences, even the harsh and limiting ones, can be seen as ennobling and enriching to our understanding and motivations to serve. Spiritual traditions affirm that true liberation arises when we can embrace the particulars of our lives and see that they are as right for us as if we had indeed chosen them. FINDING THE PEARL OF ACTIVE HOPE 4159   

In his book Resilience, he writes:        The pearl inside the oyster might be the emblem of resilience. When a grain of sand gets into an oyster and is so irritating that, in order to defend itself, the oyster has to secrete a nacreous substance, the defensive reaction produces a material that is hard, shiny and precious.2 4170   

An oyster, in response to trauma, grows a pearl. We grow, and offer, our gift of Active Hope. 4178   

Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone

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Last annotated on February 11, 2017

Thich Nhat Hanh: “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper.” So it is with this book. Without all those who’ve played supporting roles, it would simply not be here. 209

 

consumption are increasing at the same time as essential resources, such as freshwater, fish stocks, topsoil, and oil reserves, are in decline. While reversals in the economy have left many feeling desperate about how they’re going to manage, trillions of dollars are spent on the making of war.2 Given these adversities, it is no surprise if we experience a profound loss of confidence in the future. We can no longer take it for granted that the resources we’re dependent on — food, fuel, and drinkable water — will be available. 238

 

that conditions on our planet will remain hospitable for complex forms of life. 243

 

it tends to remain an unspoken presence at the backs of our minds. 246

 

Our approach is to see this as the starting point of an amazing journey that strengthens us and deepens our aliveness. 255

 

Whatever situation we face, we can choose our response. When facing overwhelming challenges, we might feel that our actions don’t count for much. Yet the kind of responses we make, and the degree to which we believe they count, are shaped by the way we think and feel about hope. 260

 

knowing what we hope for and what we’d like, or love, to take place. It is what we do with this hope that really makes the difference. Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire. Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. It is a process we can apply to any situation, and it involves three key steps. First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction. Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention; we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide. 272

 

Since we each look out onto a different corner of the planet and bring with us our own particular portfolio of interests, skills, and experience, we are touched by different concerns and called to respond in different ways. The contribution each of us makes to the healing of our world is our gift of Active Hope. The purpose of this book is to strengthen our ability to give the best gift we can: our finest response to the multifaceted crisis of sustainability. When we become aware of an emergency and rise to the occasion, something powerful gets switched on inside us. We activate our sense of purpose and discover strengths we didn’t even know we had. Being able to make a difference is powerfully enlivening; it makes our lives feel more worthwhile. So when we practice Active Hope, we not only give but we receive in so many ways as well. 289

 

stepping into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying. 296

 

In the first of these, Business as Usual, the defining assumption is that there is little need to change the way we live. Economic growth is regarded as essential for prosperity, and the central plot is about getting ahead. The second story, the Great Unraveling, draws attention to the disasters that Business as Usual is taking us toward, as well as those it has already brought 306

 

The third story is held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word. Involving the emergence of new and creative human responses, it is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. We call this story the Great Turning. The central plot is finding and offering our gift of Active Hope. 310

 

The question is which one we want to put our energy behind. The first chapter is about looking at where we are and choosing the story we want our lives to express. 315

 

Through helping us to develop our inner resources and our outer community, it strengthens our capacity to face disturbing information and respond with unexpected resilience. 327

 

the four stages of the spiral it moves through: Coming from Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. The journey through these stages has a strengthening effect that deepens with each repetition. 332

 

At the heart of this book is a collaborative model of power based on appreciating how much more we can achieve working together than as separate individuals. 347

 

a mythic journey to be transformed by. Rebecca Solnit writes:        An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion.4 When we face the mess we’re in, we realize that Business as Usual can’t go on. What helps us rise to the occasion is experiencing our rootedness in something much larger than ourselves. The poet Rabindranath Tagore expressed this idea in these words:        The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world.5 This is the stream we are following. It points us toward a way of life that enriches rather than depletes our world. It takes us to our gift of Active Hope. When we face the mess we’re in by offering this gift, our lives become enriched too. PART ONE The Great Turning CHAPTER ONE Three Stories of Our Time When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation. DAVID KORTEN, The Great Turning 367

 

When you’re living in the middle of this story, it’s easy to think of it as just the way things are. Young people may be told there is no alternative but to find their place in this scheme of things. Getting ahead is presented as the main plot, supported by the subplots of finding a partner, fending for your family, looking good, and buying stuff. In this view of life, the problems of the world are seen as far away and irrelevant to the dramas of our personal lives. 437

 

Some Core Assumptions of Business as Usual • Economic growth is essential for prosperity. • Nature is a commodity to be used for human purposes. • Promoting consumption is good for the economy. • The central plot is about getting ahead. • The problems of other peoples, nations, and species are not our concern. 454

 

The Great Unraveling of the Early Twenty-First Century • Economic decline • Resource depletion • Climate change • Social division and war • Mass extinction of species 481

 

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change warns of the catastrophe this could lead to:        For humanity, it’s a matter of life or death…it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4°C. If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving.26 568

 

Global food prices more than doubled between February 2001 and February 2011, pushing more and more people below the poverty line.27 In 2010 more than 900 million people suffered chronic hunger. Meanwhile, the richest 20 percent of our world’s population (that’s anyone able to spend more than $10 a day) receive three-quarters of the total income.28 578

 

Studies show the more economically divided a society becomes, the more trust levels fall, crime increases, and communities fall apart. 588

 

The UN Millennium Project estimates that extreme poverty and world hunger could be eliminated by 2025 for a cost of approximately $160 billion a year.32 The world’s military spending in 2010 was ten times that amount, with the US government spending almost as much as all the other countries in the world put together.33 The unraveling of our world comes, in part, from seeking security through battling enemies rather than addressing the threats presented by deepening inequalities, resource depletion, and climate change. 590

 

It’s possible to spend part of a day in our own business-as-usual mode, making plans for a future we assume will be much like today. Then something triggers an awareness of the mess we’re in, and we recognize in our hearts and minds the crash that lies ahead. For increasing numbers of people, the crash has come already: homes flooded after extreme rainfall, farms abandoned because of long-term drought, water supplies contaminated and undrinkable, jobs or savings lost. The mainstream reality of Business as Usual is increasingly becoming interrupted by the bad news of the Great Unraveling. 614

 

In their detailed study of the global overshoot in our material economy, environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows write:        Overshoot can lead to two different outcomes. One is a crash of some kind. Another is a deliberate turnaround, a correction, a careful easing down…. We believe that a correction is possible and that it could lead to a desirable, sustainable, sufficient future for all the world’s peoples. We also believe that if a profound correction is not made soon, a crash of some sort is certain. And it will occur within the lifetimes of many who are alive today.38 633

 

one — and maybe even two — million organizations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.”39 662

 

Holding actions are essential; they save lives, they save species and ecosystems, they save some of the gene pool for future generations. But by themselves, they are not enough for the Great Turning to occur. For every acre of forest protected, many others are lost to logging or clearance. For every species brought back from the 692

 

Along with stopping the damage, we need to replace or transform the systems that cause the harm. 695

 

the Apollo 8 spaceflight of December 1968. Because of this mission to the moon, and the photos it produced, humanity had its first sighting of Earth as a whole. Twenty years earlier, the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle had said, “Once a photograph of the Earth taken from the outside is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”41 Bill Anders, the astronaut who took those first photos, commented, “We came all this way to explore the moon and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”42 We are among the first in human history to have had this remarkable view. It came at the same time as the development in science of a radical new understanding of how our world works. Looking at our planet as a whole, Gaia theory proposes that the Earth functions as a self-regulating living system. 730

 

ACTIVE HOPE AND THE STORY OF OUR LIVES Future generations will look back at the time we are living in now. The kind of future they look from, and the story they tell about our period, will be shaped by choices we make in our lifetimes. The most telling choice of all may well be the story we live from and see ourselves participating in. It sets the context of our lives in a way that influences all our other decisions. In choosing our story, we not only cast our vote of influence over the kind of world future generations inherit, but we also affect our own lives in the here and now. When we find a good story and fully give ourselves to it, that story can act through us, breathing new life into everything we do. When we move in a direction that touches our heart, we add to the momentum of deeper purpose that makes us feel more alive. A great story and a satisfying life share a vital element: a compelling plot that moves toward meaningful goals, where what is at stake is far larger than our personal gains and losses. The Great Turning is such a story. 758

 

Trusting the Spiral Active Hope is not wishful thinking. Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or by some savior. Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world. The web of life is calling us forth at this time. We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part. With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store, strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with. Active Hope is a readiness to engage. Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others; a readiness to discover the reasons for hope and the occasions for love. A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, our own authority, our love for life, the liveliness of our curiosity, the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence, the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead. None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk. 773

 

T he Great Turning is a story of Active Hope. To play our best part, we need to counter the voices that say we’re not up to the task, that we’re not good enough, strong enough, or wise enough to make any difference. If we fear that the mess we’re in is too awful to look at or that we won’t be able to cope with the distress it brings up, we need to find a way through that fear. This chapter describes three threads we can follow that help us stand tall and not shrink away when facing the immensity of what’s happening to our world. These threads can be woven into any situation as a way of supporting and strengthening our capacity to respond. We shall therefore return to them often in the pages ahead. The first thread is the narrative structure of adventure stories. 782

 

If you ever feel the odds are stacked against you and doubt whether you’re up to the challenge, then you join a time-honored tradition of protagonists in this genre. Heroes almost always start out seeming distinctly underpowered. What makes the story is the way the central characters are not put off. Instead, their tale sets them on a quest in search of the allies, tools, and wisdom needed to improve their chances. We can think of ourselves as on a similar journey; part of the adventure of the Great Turning involves seeking the company, sources of support, tools, and insights that help us. 792

 

What starts us off is seeing what’s at stake and feeling called to play our part. Then we just follow the thread of the adventure, developing capacities along the way and discovering hidden strengths that only reveal themselves when needed. When things are bumpy or bleak, we can remind ourselves that this is how these stories often go. There may be times when all feels lost. That too can be part of the story. Our choices at such moments can make a crucial difference. 798

 

THE THREAD OF ACTIVE HOPE Any situation we face can resolve in a range of different ways — some much better, others much worse. Active Hope involves identifying the outcomes we hope for and then playing an active role in bringing them about. We don’t wait until we are sure of success. We don’t limit our choices to the outcomes that seem likely. Instead, we focus on what we truly, deeply long for, and then we proceed to take determined steps in that direction. This is the second thread we follow. 802

 

we are larger, stronger, deeper, and more creative than we have been brought up to believe. 819

 

When we come from gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing living world, to the many gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate. 822

 

life. Seeing with new eyes reveals the wider web of resources available to us through our rootedness within a deeper, ecological self. 835

 

It opens us to a new view of what is possible and a new understanding of our power to make a difference. 837

 

We call it a spiral rather than a cycle because every time we move through the four stations we experience them differently. Each element reconnects us with our world, and each encounter can surprise us with hidden gems. 846

 

As we allow ourselves to be guided by this spiral form, it isn’t just us acting; we are letting the world act on us and through us. 848

 

The spiral provides a structure we can fall back on, and into, whenever we need to tap into the resilience and resourcefulness arising from the larger web of life. If you’re feeling sickened by a disturbing news report, you can step into gratitude simply by focusing on your breath and taking a moment to give thanks for whatever may be sustaining you in that moment. As you feel the air entering your nostrils, give thanks for oxygen, for your lungs, for all that brings you to life. The question, “To whom am I grateful?” moves your attention beyond yourself to those you receive from, those who support you. A moment of gratitude strengthens your capacity to look at, rather than turn away from, disturbing information. As you allow yourself to take in whatever you see, allow yourself also to feel whatever you feel. When you experience pain for something beyond your immediate self-interest, this reveals your caring, compassion, and connection — such precious things. By honoring your pain for the world, in whatever form it takes, you take it seriously and allow the signal it brings to rouse you. When seeing with new eyes, you know that it isn’t just you facing this. You are just one part of a much larger story, a continuing stream of life on Earth that has flowed for more than three and a half billion years and that has survived five mass extinctions. When you sink into this deeper, stronger flow and experience yourself as part of it, a different set of possibilities emerges. Widening your vision increases the resources available to you, since through the same channels of connectedness that pain for the world flows, so also do strength, courage, renewed determination, and the help of allies. With the shift of perception that seeing with new eyes brings, you can let go of feeling you need to sort everything out. Instead you focus on finding and playing your part, offering your gift 855

 

“A felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life” is how the renowned psychologist Robert Emmons defines gratitude. 882

 

Recent research has shown that people experiencing high levels of gratitude tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. 891

 

If each evening, before you go to bed, you ask yourself, “What happened today that I’m pleased about or thankful for?” that question will direct your gaze. You start searching your memory for moments that bring a smile to your face or that trigger a glow of appreciation. 898

 

Keeping a gratitude diary builds them into a pool of memories we can keep dipping back into. 901

 

Experiencing gratitude is a learnable skill that improves with practice. It isn’t dependent on things going well or on receiving favors from others. It’s about getting better at spotting what’s already there. 904

 

Gratitude is a social emotion. It points our warmth and goodwill out toward others. GRATITUDE BUILDS TRUST AND GENEROSITY Think of the people you trust. Do you also feel grateful toward them or suspect they feel gratitude toward you? Gratitude feeds trust, because it helps us acknowledge the times we’ve been able to count on one another. Not surprisingly, research shows we’re more likely to help those we feel grateful to, leading to a positive spiral of helping, gratitude, trust, and cooperation.4 Because of this, gratitude plays a key role in the evolution of cooperative behavior and societies. When gratitude levels are high, not only are we more inclined to return favors, but we’re also more likely to assist complete strangers. In 919

 

Our readiness to help others is influenced by the level of gratitude we experience. 935

 

placing a higher value on material possessions than on meaningful relationships — has the opposite effect. 940

 

psychologists Emily Polak and Michael McCullough conclude: “The pursuit of wealth and possessions as an end unto itself is associated with lower levels of well-being, lower life satisfaction and happiness, more symptoms of depression and anxiety, more physical problems such as headaches, and a variety of mental disorders.” 941

 

comments, “Since programmes are saturated with exceptionally attractive people living abnormally opulent lives, expectations of what is ‘normal’ are raised.” 949

 

If we were to design a cultural therapy that protected us from depression and, at the same time, helped reduce consumerism, it would surely include cultivating our ability to experience gratitude. Training ourselves in the skill of gratitude is part of the Great Turning. 989

 

Some things I love about being alive on Earth are… A place that was magical to me as a child was… My favorite activities include… Someone who helped me believe in myself is or was… Some things I appreciate about myself are… 1000

 

When violations and injustice occur, trust is often a casualty. Loss of trust makes it harder to experience gratitude; even when help is given, the distrustful part of us may wonder what the hidden agendas are. Trust levels are falling; surveys show that people are about half as likely to trust others as they were fifty years ago.16 Will it be possible to turn the tide? Trust and gratitude feed each other: to deepen our capacity for thankfulness in difficult times, we need to learn from those who have mastered this quality. 1018

 

LEARNING FROM THE HAUDENOSAUNEE In autumn 1977, delegates from the Haudenosaunee, Native Americans also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, traveled to a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland. They had a warning and a prophecy to share, presenting it alongside a description of their core values and view of the world. Their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” as it is known, contained the following paragraph:        The original instructions direct that we who walk about on the Earth are to express a great respect, an affection, and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives — the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end. The Haudenosaunee regard gratitude as essential to survival. 1023

 

The Haudenosaunee see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life, where each being is uniquely valuable. 1037

 

Instead, as their “Basic Call to Consciousness” describes, you accept other life-forms as part of your extended family. “We are shown that our life exists with the tree life, that our well-being depends on the wellbeing of the Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the fourlegged beings.”17 The Haudenosaunee’s expressions of thanksgiving are “the words that come before all else” and precede every council meeting. Instead of being reserved for a special day each year, thanksgiving becomes a way of life. 1039

 

The People        Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one. The Earth Mother        We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.18 The other verses in turn give thanks to the waters of the world; the fish life in the water; the varied vastness of plant life; the food plants from the garden; the medicine herbs of the world; the animal life; the trees; the birds, “who each day remind us to enjoy and appreciate life”; the four winds; the thunder beings of thunder and lightning, “who bring with them the water that renews life”; our eldest brother, the Sun; our oldest Grandmother, the moon, “who governs the movement of the ocean tides”; the stars “spread across the sky like jewelry”; Enlightened Teachers; the Creator or Great Spirit; and finally to anything forgotten or not yet named. Thanksgivings like this deepen our instinctual knowledge that we belong to a larger web and have an essential role to play in its well-being. As Haudenosaunee Chief Leon Shenandoah said in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1985, “Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our mother earth from whom all life comes.”19 Different stories give us different purposes. In the Business as Usual model, nearly everything is privatized. The parts of our world remaining outside individual or corporate ownership, such as the air or the oceans, are not seen as our responsibility. Gratitude is viewed as politeness, not necessity. In their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” the Haudenosaunee tell a very different story, one in which our well-being depends on our natural world and gratitude keeps us to our purpose of taking care of life. When we forget this, the larger ecology we depend on gets lost from our sight — and the world unravels. 1054

 

Just as we depend on plants for food, we also rely on them to make air breathable. Our two neighboring planets, Mars and Venus, have atmospheres that would kill us in a few minutes, and we’ve only recently discovered that Earth’s atmosphere used to be similar. Three billion years ago, our planet’s air, like that of Mars and Venus, had much more carbon dioxide and hardly any oxygen.20 Over the next 2 billion years or so, early plant life did us the remarkable service of making our atmosphere breathable by adding an abundance of oxygen and removing much of the carbon dioxide. Oxygen is a highly reactive gas, which wouldn’t normally be expected to exist at levels as high as the 20 percent we have now. It was the chemically unlikely fact that oxygen has remained at this level for hundreds of millions of years that led British scientist James Lovelock to develop the early ideas of Gaia theory. Here is how he described his moment of insight:        An awesome thought came to me. The Earth’s atmosphere was an extraordinary and unstable mixture of gases, yet I knew that it was constant in composition over quite long periods of time. Could it be that life on Earth not only made the atmosphere, but also regulated it — keeping it at a constant composition, and at a level favourable for organisms?21 The core tenet of Gaia theory is that our planet is a self-regulating system. There’s a parallel here to the way our bodies keep arterial oxygen and temperature levels stable or the way termite colonies maintain their internal temperature and humidity. Living systems have the capacity to keep themselves in balance. Gaia theory shows how life looks after itself, different species acting together to maintain the balance of nature. In addition to maintaining oxygen levels, life plays a role in regulating the salinity of the sea and the dynamics of our climate. As stars grow older, they tend to burn brighter. Because of this, it is estimated that our sun now puts out at least 25 percent more heat than it did when life began on Earth three and a half billion years ago.22 Yet has our planet also gotten 25 percent hotter? Human life wouldn’t exist if it had. And we have plant life to thank for this. By absorbing carbon dioxide, plants reduce the greenhouse effect of this gas, keeping the planetary temperature within a range suitable for complex life such as ours. 1084

 

Compare this with the Haudenosaunee view that trees should be treated with gratitude and respect. If we saw trees as allies that helped us, we would want to become allies to them. This dynamic pulls us into a cycle of regeneration, in which we take what we need to live and also give back. Because our modern industrialized culture has forgotten this principle of reciprocity, forests continue to shrink and deserts to grow. To counter this unraveling, let’s develop an ecological intelligence that recognizes how our personal well-being depends on the well-being of the natural world. Gratitude plays an important role in this. 1110

 

rising. Present-day forests make their contribution to planetary cooling not just through absorbing carbon dioxide but also through helping clouds to form. When tropical forests are chopped down, the local climate becomes hotter and drier, making it more difficult for trees to grow again. Tropical forests like the Amazon are under threat not only from deforestation but also from drought related to climate change. They need our help, just as we need theirs. 1128

 

Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from plants that died long ago. We can give thanks to these ancestors of our present-day foliage, but we can’t give back to them. We can, however, give forward. When we are unable to return a favor, we can pay it forward to someone or something else.23 Using this approach, we can see ourselves as part of a larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time. Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation. 1132

 

Joanna saw that the meaning we give to our emotional responses is of central importance. The perception of radical interconnectedness found in both Buddhism and systems thinking supports a reframing of our distress about world conditions. It helps us recognize how healthy a reaction this distress is and how necessary it is for our survival. 1315

 

In Buddhism, as in other major world religions, open alertness that allows our heart to be stirred by the suffering of others is appreciated as a strength. Indeed, in every spiritual tradition, compassion, which literally means “to suffer with,” is prized as an essential and noble capacity. This ability is evidence of our interconnectedness with all life. The concept of “negative feedback loops” from systems theory helps us recognize how this ability to suffer with our world is essential for our survival. We navigate through life by paying attention to information, or feedback, that tells us when we are off course and by responding with a course correction. This dynamic process loops continually: stray off course, notice this, make a response that brings us back on course, stray off course again, notice this, come back on course (see Fig. 4). Since this process functions to diminish the degree to which one is off course, it is called a negative feedback loop. 1320

 

It is through loops like this that living systems keep themselves in balance. 1332

 

These feelings are normal, healthy responses. They help us notice what’s going on; they are also what rouses our response. 1338

 

The notion that we should steer clear of anything too negative sets up avoidance as a default strategy. Yet the more we shy away from something we find difficult, the less confident we become that we can deal with it. Avoidance easily becomes a habit. And when avoidance of emotional distress becomes the habit of a culture, this low level of confidence in our ability to cope creates a barrier to publicly acknowledging upsetting information. This in turn leads to a selective screening out of aspects of reality that seem too painful to bear, too distressing to contemplate. 1347

 

A key issue here is our capacity to deal with distress. Emotional distress can be motivating, but if it goes beyond what we imagine we can cope with, we may just shut down. While on the outside we may appear to be holding it together, when we close off emotionally we feel less alive, our energy sagging and our sensitivity dulled. We may feel we’re just going through the motions. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, and antidepressants are among the devices we use to keep distress under wraps. In the short term, these salves can seem effective. But as we become dependent on them, our society continues to stray off course and our world becomes a wasteland. 1355

 

“Let all sorrows ripen in me,” said Shantideva, the Buddhist saint. We help them ripen by passing them through our hearts…making good, rich compost out of all that grief…so we can learn from it, enhancing our larger, collective knowing… If no images or feelings arise and there is only blankness, gray and numb, breathe that through. The numbness itself is a very real part of our world. And if what surfaces for you is not pain for other beings so much as losses and hurts in your own life, breathe those through too. Your own difficulties are an integral part of the grief of our world, and arise with it…. Should you fear that with this pain your heart might break, remember that the heart that breaks open can hold the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. A DIFFERENT VIEW OF SELF The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked what we need to do to save our world. “What we most need to do,” he replied, “is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”11 The idea of the Earth crying within us, or through us, doesn’t make sense if we view ourselves only as separate individuals. Yet if we think of ourselves as deeply embedded in a larger web of life, as Gaia theory, Buddhism, and many other, especially indigenous, spiritual traditions suggest, then the idea of the world feeling through us seems entirely natural. This view of the self is very different from that found in the Business as Usual model. Its extreme individualism takes each of us as a separate bundle of self-interest, with motivations and emotions that only make sense within the confines of our own stories. Pain for the world tells a different story, one about our interconnectedness. We feel distress when other beings suffer because, at a deep level, we are not separate from them. 1454

 

If we felt the pain of loss each time an ecosystem was destroyed, a species wiped out, or a child killed by war or starvation, we wouldn’t be able to continue living the way we do. It would tear us apart inside. The losses continue because they aren’t registered, they aren’t marked, they aren’t seen as important. By choosing to honor the pain of loss rather than discounting it, we break the spell that numbs us to the dismantling of our world. 1552

 

These cherished moments, which some would describe as spiritual experiences, nourish us. They pull us out of preoccupation with our personal details and into a larger, more mysterious, and magical experience of being alive. 1620

 

Take turns, with each of you taking five minutes in each role, one asking, “Tell me, who are you?” and the other replying, repeating this process again and again, allowing whatever words come up. Rest assured that the answers will be different every time. When doing this process, people are often surprised by how many different ways they see themselves. Even when we describe ourselves us as distinct individuals, our sense of identity also involves a connected self that emerges from our relationships, contexts, and communities. As different aspects of who we are grow more or less pronounced, our sense of self changes over time. Here is how a workshop participant experienced this process. 1659

 

our connected self is based on recognizing that we are part of many larger circles. 1690

 

“When the definition of self changes, the meaning of self-interest and self-serving motivations changes accordingly.” 1700

 

The distinction often made between selfishness and altruism is therefore misleading. It is based on a split between self and other, presenting us with a choice between helping ourselves (selfishness) and helping others (altruism). When we consider the connected self, we recognize this choice as nonsense. It is from our connected selves that much of what people most value in life emerges, including love, friendship, loyalty, trust, relationship, belonging, purpose, gratitude, spirituality, mutual aid, and meaning. The philosopher Immanuel Kant made a distinction between “moral acts” and “beautiful acts.”7 We tend to perform moral acts out of a sense of duty or obligation. In contrast, we perform beautiful acts when we do what is morally right because it is attractive to us, the action motivated more by desire than duty. When our connected sense of self is well developed, we are more often drawn to beautiful acts. When we lose our sense of felt connectedness, we miss out on this sort of beauty, with tragic consequences. 1703

 

THE PLAGUE OF AFFLUENZA When people lose their sense of belonging to larger circles, they lose not only the motivation to act for their communities and environment but also valuable sources of support and resilience. Alongside the erosion of extended family and community networks, the rate of depression in industrialized countries has been steadily rising for more than fifty years. It has now reached such epidemic proportions that one in two of us is likely to suffer a significant depressive episode at some point in our lives. While the hyperindividualism of industrialized countries has deep roots and a long history, it has become more extreme over the past five decades. As discussed, falling trust levels are an indicator of this, with surveys in the United States showing the proportion of people replying yes to the question, “Can most people be trusted?” fell from 56 percent in the mid-1960s to 33 percent in 1995.8 While recognizing common purposes and shared identities helps build trust, the trend toward increased individualism sets us against each other. Instead of encouraging us to pull together at a time of planetary emergency, the dominant cultural ethic has become one of chasing after personal advantage. Seeing ourselves as separate entities, rather than as connected parts of a larger whole, reduces the search for purpose to a preoccupation with how well our self is doing compared with others. As a result, the unhealthy obsession with appearance and status known as affluenza, discussed in chapter 3, has become a major contributor to emotional distress. As status has become associated with having more, bigger, and supposedly better things, the desire to keep up appearances propels the consumerism that is wrecking our world. What we see here is how personal well-being, community wellbeing, and planetary well-being are linked to the way we view our self. The extreme individualism of our culture is harmful at all three levels. To promote the recovery of our world and the healing of our communities, while also leading lives that are rich and satisfying, we need to embody a larger story of who and what we are. 1712

 

We participate in many flows of becoming, from our own life to the lives of our family, community, and world. Each flow can be thought of as a story that moves through the players in it. With our individual self, the plot revolves around our personal adventures, gains, and losses. With our family self, the narrative can be traced back through our ancestors and extends into future generations. If we identify with a particular cultural or religious community, we are part of its story as well. Arne Naess introduced the term ecological self to describe the wider sense of identity that arises when our self-interest includes the natural world.9 When we include the natural world, we are brought into a much larger story of who and what we are. Recognizing ourselves as part of the living body of Earth opens us to a great source of strength. 1758

 

continue. When we align ourselves with the well-being of our world, we allow that desire and creative energy to act through us. When asked how he handles despair, rainforest activist John Seed replied:        I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.10 The understanding that we are an intrinsic part of the living Earth lies at the heart of indigenous belief systems around the world. Describing the traditional view of the world he grew up with in Malawi, Africa, theologian Harvey Sindima writes, “We live in the web of life in reciprocity with people, other creatures, and the earth, recognizing that they are part of us and we are part of them.”11 1768

 

Our decisions are like rudders that steer the flow not only of our lives but also of the unfolding stories we participate in. When 1812

 

using the question, “What happens through you?” OUR LARGER SELVES FEEL THROUGH US 1823

 

THE EMERGENCE OF CONNECTED CONSCIOUSNESS Something very interesting occurs when a group of jazz musicians improvise together. A number of separate individuals, all making their own decisions, act together as a whole. As the music flows, any of the musicians can take the solo spot, that leading role gliding seamlessly between the players. Who decides when the piano or trumpet player should come forward? It isn’t just the person playing that instrument, for the others have already stepped back just a little to create an opening. There are two levels of thinking happening at the same time here; choices are made from moment to moment both by the group as a whole and by the individuals within it. When people coordinate their actions through a collective thinking process, we can think of this as “distributed intelligence.” No one person is in charge; the players act freely while being guided by their intention to serve the purpose of the group. For musicians to improvise together, they need to listen very attentively, expressing their individuality in a way that contributes to the overall sound. When they tune in to the group and become connected with it, it is as though the music itself plays through them. A key feature of distributed intelligence is that no one part has to have the whole answer. Rather, the intelligence of the whole emerges through the actions and interactions of its parts. In a creative team, an idea may arise in conversation, then be added to and refined by other team members, its development shaped by everyone present. What allows a team to gel is a shift in identification, so that people identify with, and act for, the team rather than just themselves. Could the next leap in evolution arise out of a shift in identification, in which we shed the story of battling for supremacy and move instead to playing our role as part of the larger team of life on Earth? Could the creativity and survival instinct of humanity as a whole, or even of life as a whole, act through us? Here connected consciousness stems from a widening of our self-interest, where we are guided by the intention to act for the well-being of all life. Within Buddhism, that intention is known as bodhichitta. Bodhichitta moves our focus from personal well-being to collective well-being. We stand at an evolutionary crossroads, and we, collectively, could turn either way. Our own choices are part of that turning. We can choose, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek, the “prime directive” of our lives. When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world. THE 1864

 

interdependence of all things. When taken seriously, this leads to the recognition that if one person has the capacity to be a bodhisattva, then all others do too. Here is a particular version of the prophecy as it was given to Joanna by her dear friend and teacher Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche of the community of Tashi Jong in northwest India. Read it as if it were about you.        There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. At that time great powers have arisen, barbarian powers. And although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common. Among the things they have in common are weapons of unfathomable destructive power and technologies that lay waste to the world. It is just at this point in our history, when the future of all beings seems to hang by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges. You can’t go there, because it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. You can’t tell whether someone is a Shambhala warrior just by looking at her or him, because these warriors wear no uniforms or insignia. They have no banners to identify whose side they’re on, no barricades on which to climb to threaten the enemy or behind which to rest and regroup. They don’t even have any home turf. The Shambhala warriors have only the terrain of the barbarian powers to move across and act on. Now the time is coming when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors — moral and physical courage. That is because they are going right into the heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons. They are going into the pits and citadels where the weapons are made and deployed, they are going into the corridors of power where the decisions are made. In this way they work to dismantle the weapons in every sense of the word. The Shambhala warriors know these weapons can be dismantled because they are manomaya, which means “mind-made.” They are made by the human mind and thus can be unmade by the human mind. The dangers facing us are not brought on us by some satanic deity or some evil extraterrestrial force, or by some unchangeable preordained fate. Rather, these dangers arise out of our relationships and habits, out of our priorities. “So,” said Choegyal, “now is the time for the Shambhala warriors to go into training.” “How do they train?” Joanna asked. “They train in the use of two implements,” he said. Actually, he used the term weapons. “What are they?” Joanna asked, and he held up his hands the way the dancers hold up the ritual objects in the great lama dances of his people. “One,” he said, “is compassion. The other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena.” You need both. You need compassion because it provides the fuel to move you out to where you need to be and to do what you need to do. It means not being afraid of the suffering of your world, and when you’re not afraid of the world’s pain, then nothing can stop you. But by itself that implement is very hot; it can burn you out. So you need the other tool, the insight into the radical interconnectivity of all that is. When you have that, then you know that this is not a battle between the good guys and the bad guys. You know that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even our smallest acts have repercussions that ripple through the whole web, beyond our capacity to see. But that is kind of cool, even a little abstract. So you also need the heat of the compassion. That is the gist of the prophecy. If you’ve seen Tibetan monks chanting and making hand gestures, or mudras, most likely their hands are dancing the interplay between compassion and wisdom, which is there for each one of us to embody in our own way. 1895

 

In a recent large-scale survey, the Mental Health Foundation found that a feeling of powerlessness was, by far, the most common response to global issues. 1938

 

When power is a possession to be held, defended, and accumulated, it becomes increasingly removed from the hands of ordinary people. 1969

 

Power Generates Conflict Power-over is essentially oppositional because gaining it involves taking it away from others. 1970

 

To rise up, either as an individual or as a group, you need to push others down; to get in power, you need to push others out. As those pushed down and out are left with resentment, those in power then need to keep tabs on the opposition and stop them from becoming powerful enough to present a threat. Fear is intrinsic to this model of power. Even if and when you are on top, you have to be vigilant, lest you lose the upper hand. In the struggle to stay on top, ruthlessness and dishonesty have become so common that the link between power and corruption is often seen as inevitable. Dominance gives privileged access to resources, and to maintain dominance, huge amounts are spent on being “strong,” that is, able to win a fight. In 2010 the global arms expenditure was $1.6 trillion.3 For perspective, spending 10 percent of this annually could eliminate extreme poverty and starvation throughout the world.4 Power Fosters Mental Rigidity When displays of strength are seen as important, changing one’s mind is viewed as “giving in,” as a sign of weakness. In political discussions winning is valued more highly than deepening understanding. This standpoint blocks openness to new information and stifles the flexibility needed to deal with changing circumstances. 1972

 

While they view powerful people as passionate, clear, determined, and brave, they also view them as more likely to be lonely, stabbed in the back, dishonest, and disliked. This mixed picture presents a dilemma for those wanting to find the power to make a difference in the world but not wanting to enter a battleground where they are likely to become distrusted, lonely, or corrupted. Suspicion of power leads people 1989

 

A NEW STORY OF POWER The word power comes from the Latin possere, meaning “to be able.” The kind of power we will now focus on is not about dominating others but about being able to address the mess we’re in. Rather than being based on how much stuff or status we have, this view of power is rooted in insights and practices, in strengths and relationships, in compassion and connection with the web of life. 1995

 

Power-with is based on synergy, where two or more parties working together bring results that would not have occurred if they had worked alone. 2025

 

Emergence and synergy lie right at the heart of power-with. They generate new possibilities and capacities, adding a mystery element that means we can never be certain how a situation will go just from looking at the elements within 2029

 

last, there is the energizing power of an inspiring vision that moves through and strengthens us when we act for a purpose bigger than ourselves. All these are products of synergy and emergence; they come about when different elements interact to become a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. 2070

 

Countless seemingly innocent activities and choices are acting together to bring about the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history. Seeing with new eyes, we recognize that we’re not separate individuals in our own little bubbles but connected parts in a much larger story. A question that helps us develop this wider view is “What is happening through me?” Is the sixth mass extinction happening through us as a result of our habits, choices, and actions? 2078

 

The question “How could the Great Turning happen through me?” invites a different story to flow through us. This type of power happens through our choices, through what we say and do and are. 2083

 

the process of healing and recovery at a planetary level can happen through us and through what we do. For this to happen, we need to play our part. That’s where power-with comes in. 2096

 

When people experience themselves as part of a group with a shared purpose, team spirit flows through them, and their central organizing principle changes. The guiding question moves from “What can I gain?” to “What can I give?” We can develop a similar team spirit with life. When we are guided by our willingness to find and play our part, we can feel as if we are acting not just alone but as part of a larger team of life that acts with us and through us. Since this team involves many other players, unsuspected allies can emerge at crucial moments; unseen helpers can remove obstacles we didn’t even know were there. When we’re guided by questions such as “What can I offer?” and “What can I give?” we might sometimes play the role of stepping out in front and at other times that of being the ally giving support. Either way, we think of the additional support behind our actions as a form of grace. 2103

 

We just need to practice knowing that and remembering that we are sustained by each other in the web of life. Our true power comes as a gift, like grace, because in truth it is sustained by others.        If we practice drawing on the wisdom and beauty and strengths of our fellow human beings and our fellow species we can go into any situation and trust that the courage and intelligence required will be supplied.8 POWER-WITH IN ACTION Here are three ways we can open to the kind of power we’ve been describing. We can:        • hear our call to action and choose to answer it.        • understand power as a verb.        • draw on the strengths of others. 2119

 

Choosing to respond to that call empowers us. Once we take that first step, we start on a journey presenting us with situations that increase our capacity to respond. Strengths such as courage, determination, and creativity are drawn forth from us most when we rise to the challenges that evoke them. When we share our cause with others, allies appear; synergy occurs. And when we act for causes larger than ourselves, the larger community for whom we do this will be acting through us. 2134

 

If we think of ourselves only as separate individuals, then we understand these intuitive calls purely in personal terms. Recognizing ourselves as part of the larger web of life leads to a different view. Just as we experience the Earth crying within us as pain for the world, we can experience the Earth thinking within us as a guiding impulse pulling us in a particular direction. 2142

 

Developing a sense of partnership with Earth involves listening for guiding signals and taking them seriously when we hear them. 2146

 

exploration of power as a verb.   TRY THIS: OPEN SENTENCES THAT EMPOWER These open sentences can be used in self-reflection or journaling or as a partnered listening exercise with someone else. 1. I empower myself by… 2. What empowers me is… When we have explored this exercise in workshops, people have described empowering themselves by remembering what’s important, doing what really matters, experiencing emotions, exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, seeking out good company, meditating, paying attention to needs (their own and those of others), laughing, dancing, and singing. When looking at what empowers them, participants have often mentioned inspiring purposes, friends who encourage and support, and a sense of rootedness in life. Power as verb points us in a very different direction from where the noun form takes us. 2165

 

Arthur, who was just a teenager then, lingered behind, went up to the stone to try his own luck. Grasping the sword’s handle he pulled with all his strength, until he was exhausted and drenched. The sword remained immobile. Glancing around, he saw in the shrubbery surrounding the churchyard the forms of those with whom he had lived and learned. There they were: badger, falcon, ant and the others. As he greeted them with his eyes, he opened again to the powers he had known in each of them — the industry, the cunning, the quick boldness, the perseverance…knowing they were with him, he turned back to the stone and, breathing easy, drew forth from it the sword, as smooth as a knife from butter. 2189

 

When we draw on a sense of fellowship, belonging, and connection, it is as if we are remembering our root system. This is power-with, which comes from the larger circle that we can draw on, that acts through us. In his workshops, Chris sometimes asks people to remember a time when they did something that made a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just something positive that might not have occurred otherwise. Then in groups of three or four, he asks people to take turns telling their stories and also identifying what strengths helped them play this role. After doing this, he often hears people say, “Hearing you describe using this strength helps me recognize it in myself too.” When other people open to their strengths, it can help us open to ours too. We can “catch” this type of power from each other. 2195

 

Whenever you are struggling, remember the sword in the stone. Think of trying to pull it out. Then pause. Remember those who inspire you. Think of them around you, and draw on their strengths. Think of those who support and believe in you. Draw strength from them as well. Think of who and what you are acting for, and feel their power acting through you too. 2203

 

The danger of being too comfortable, too self-sufficient, is that we lose any sense of needing one another. If each family has its own washing machine, electronic entertainment, and adequate supplies of food, what reason do we have to knock on our neighbors’ doors? Experiencing need prompts people to reach out and make contact. That is why self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have become such fertile expressions of community and fellowship. Through painful experience, their members have learned the truth of the maxim “I can’t, we can.” Crisis becomes a turning point when it provokes us to reach out to others. 2227

 

Where do we look to meet our needs for security and a satisfying life? 2232

 

we meet our needs through getting more and better stuff. This story leads people to invest time, resources, and attention in their own little bubbles rather than in their relationships and communities. In the United States, for example, the proportion of people with no one to confide in has nearly tripled in recent decades. 2234

 

Americans are less likely to visit friends or be visited by them. 2238

 

Networks of mutual support bring many benefits, including reduced crime rates, higher levels of trust, lower suicide rates, a reduced risk of heart attacks, fewer strokes, and less depression.4 Referred to as “social capital,” the web of supportive relationships within a neighborhood is a form of wealth that improves the quality of our lives. Unfortunately, with the trend toward increased individualism and consumerism, this great treasure is in decline. The breakdown of communities is self-reinforcing: the more people retreat into their own private worlds, the more neighborhoods decline and the more people turn away from community involvement (see Fig. 7 2240

 

Referring to her own experience of an earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and the gratifying engagement she noticed in herself and others afterward, she writes:        That sense of immersion in the moment and solidarity with others caused by the rupture in everyday life, an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive. We don’t even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy in sorrow, courage in fear. We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological…. Disasters provide an extraordinary window into social desire and possibility.6 When food appears reliably on our tables, we don’t need to exercise our creativity or social intelligence to survive. It is different in a disaster. The closeness of danger activates our wits and our cooperative tendencies in ways that bring out new levels of aliveness and community. 2263

 

As we reach out to help one another, our lives become more meaningful and satisfying. We discover that we don’t thrive, or survive, alone. 2273

 

We treat people with a different kind of respect when we consider that they might someday be pulling us out of the rubble. We treat the rest of life with a different kind of respect when we consider that without it, we wouldn’t be here at all. 2279

 

When the danger is only vaguely sensed and not understood, this can lead to distrust, hostility, and scapegoating. In adversity, people can pull together or push apart, step outside their bubbles or retreat further into them. The way we understand power greatly influences which way we go. The more people and nations apply a power-over model, the more they rely on force to maintain positions of advantage. This perspective fills the world with enemies against whom we must defend ourselves. 2303

 

We can think of community as having different levels. Each progressively widens our sense of what we belong to, what we receive from, and what we act for. These levels are:        • groups we feel at home in        • the wider community around us        • the global community of humanity        • the Earth community of life At each level, we can apply the implements of insight and compassion to dismantle the thinking that fragments our world and sets us against one another. The process of building community is self-reinforcing since not only does it contribute to the healing of our world, but it also enhances the quality of our lives. 2317

 

When conditions are difficult, having a trusted gang around us both to draw from and give to can make all the difference. Doris Haddock, the activist fondly known as Granny D, was ninety-eight years old when she gave a talk in Philadelphia describing how this sort of mutual support transformed her experience of the Great Depression:        Maybe we were hungry sometimes, but did we starve? No, because we had our friends and family and the earth to sustain us…. We were fountains of creativity. We were fountains of friendship to our neighbors. As a nation, we were a mighty river of mutual support.7 The immediate circle in which we feel most at home is just the first rung of community. 2356

 

Working collaboratively toward a common benefit can also be deeply satisfying because it transforms “work” into a social occasion. 2382

 

The Transition movement focuses on developing strong and resilient communities that will be able to function when the oil age is over. For many communities around the world, the transition from oil dependence has already begun, and with it comes a renaissance of mutual aid. 2388

 

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in 1963 for taking part in a nonviolent civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama. From his prison cell, he wrote a famous letter responding to criticism of the demonstration and the role of “outsiders” in it:        I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.10 “Outsider” involvement was criticized because of a belief that we should be concerned only with issues happening on our own doorsteps. Dr. King dismantled this assumption. We don’t need to live geographically close to people in order to care about them or to take action on their behalf. What extends community is solidarity 2401

 

Distance does dull us, though. If children were starving outside our front door, it would be unnatural to ignore them. Yet throughout our world, ten children under the age of five die every minute because they don’t have enough food to eat.11 2411

 

Donella Meadows calculated what a village of a thousand people would look like if it reflected the composition of the world’s population.12 The wealthiest two hundred people would receive three quarters of the village’s income, while the poorest two hundred would receive just 2 percent between them. A third of the village would lack access to safe drinking water; of the 670 who were adults, half would be illiterate. Each year, there would be twenty-eight births and ten deaths, one of these from cancer, and three from lack of food or safe drinking water. Only half the married couples would have access to modern contraceptives. In 2005 the statistics from this “state of the village report” were updated, though they showed no improvement in the striking inequalities described fifteen years earlier in the first edition.13 2414

 

Because freshwater is being extracted at a rate faster than it is replenished, wells around the village are drying up. Because the land is overfarmed and topsoil is being lost to erosion, the area of productive agricultural land is shrinking. Because of overfishing, stocks of many once-common species have either collapsed or are in sharp decline. Even without taking climate change into account, it is easy to see that we are heading for a crash. If we lived in this village, would we see where we were headed? Would we pull together to address the challenges we face? Unfortunately, as reflected by our current global situation, the village would be divided into groups that see themselves as separate from, and in competition with, one another. A large share of the village wealth would be spent on military operations to keep resources in the hands of the richer groups within the village, some of whom would be in conflict with each other. As these resources became depleted, wars would be waged over remaining reserves. 2423

 

When Helena Norberg-Hodge first visited Ladakh in 1975, she was told by one of the villagers, “We don’t have any poor people here.”14 She saw he was speaking the truth: everyone’s basic needs certainly appeared well met. There were no very rich people either — not in a material way, at least. In terms of social capital, though, the Ladhakhi were among the wealthiest people she had ever known, and the happiest. They would sing together while bringing in the harvest. Their peacefulness was infectious. A phrase she kept hearing the villagers say was “we have to live together.”15 When a conflict arose, they would repeat this like a mantra and find a way of getting on. What would it be like if this were our mantra too? We can choose between different types of wealth. The path of seeking material wealth beyond our basic needs sets us against one another. The greater a nation’s appetite for resources, the more likely it is that it will go to war, and the more likely it is to tear up forests for open strip mines or to drill for oil deep below the ocean floor, wrecking marine habitats. The second type of wealth is what we see with new eyes. It is the community we find in mutual belonging. 2435

 

draw attention to the devastation these gas wells would bring, Ali swam the full length of the Skeena. Along her route, those living by the river came out to greet her, joining together in a newfound watershed identity. Communities don’t just involve humans; they include all that we belong to, feel part of, identify with, and act for. For Ali Howard, her community included the River Skeena itself and the rich ecology of plants, animals, and people within its watershed. When we stand up for a community, it is as though the community acts and speaks through us, making us its mouthpiece. Ali gave the Skeena someone to speak through. This role, of speaking for our natural world, is crucial. If we don’t, who will? Unless someone speaks for the salmon, the rivers, the wild spaces, and the rest of life, how will we stop the relentless drive of short-term profiteering that is turning our world into a wasteland? Our survival is at stake; we are only beginning to realize how ecosystems act together to maintain conditions favorable to humans. As James Lovelock, the leading scientist behind Gaia theory explains, “The natural world outside our farms and cities is not there as decoration but serves to regulate the chemistry and climate of the Earth, and the ecosystems are the organs of Gaia that enable her to maintain our habitable planet.”17 An understanding of our interdependence with all life is found in the wisdom of many indigenous cultures. As the Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer states, “we have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”18 This duty is based on the recognition that without the interconnected web of ecosystems, we have no life. Yet we humans are living as if we were at war with the rest of nature, eliminating whole ecosystems and driving entire species to extinction. Of the species assessed in 2009 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 17,921 were deemed to be at serious risk of extinction.19 We just don’t know what impact the loss of these species would have, but activist and writer Duane Elgin offers a metaphor:        Our extermination of other species has been compared to popping rivets out of the wings of an airplane in flight. How many rivets can the plane lose before it begins to fall apart catastrophically? How many species can our planet lose before we cross a critical threshold where the integrity of the web of life is so compromised that it begins to come apart, like an airplane that loses too many rivets and disintegrates?20 “We need to live together,” the Ladhakhi villagers say. “Or we will not live at all” is the message modern biologists would add. To stop the extinctions, we need to declare peace with our world. For that peace to take root and grow, we need active reconciliation and community building. In the mid-1980s, Joanna and John Seed developed a group process that strengthens our felt relationship with other life-forms. Called the Council of All Beings, it invites us to step aside from our human identity and speak on behalf of another form of life.21 It can be an animal, a plant, or a feature of the environment — an otter, an ant, a redwood, or a mountain. We represent these life-forms at a gathering of beings who meet in council to report on the condition of our world. On one level we can see this as an improvised group drama, where we build empathy by looking through the eyes of another party. We could also approach this as a spiritual process, as a ritual inviting a shift in consciousness that allows another part of our world to speak through us. Either way, we are dropping our normal lenses and taking a perspective that sensitizes us to the needs and rights of other beings. 2451

 

When we speak on behalf of another life-form, a shift happens in our relationship with it. If we have spoken for ants or glaciers, bringing our imagination to bear in reporting their experience, they are no longer strangers to us. What emerges is a deepened appreciation of how they are affected by human activity, and with this, a sense of solidarity with them and a desire that they be well. 2490

 

My experiences of these councils have had a profound impact on my relationship with the life-forms I have represented. They have become significant as allies in my life. I wish to be an ally to them too. This is the fourth dimension of community, in which we feel welcomed by our world and supported by it. Feeling part of a much larger team can anchor and steady us through times of difficulty. When we have this “team spirit,” we feel a heightened sense of spiritual connection with life. 2498

 

If current trends continue, scientists predict that by the middle of this century commercial sea fishing could come to an end. 2520

 

When the Haudenosaunee meet in council to consider major decisions, their practice is to ask, “How will this affect the seventh generation?” This chapter describes how we too can live within a larger view of time. We will explore the concept of “deep time” and look at how it not only promotes greater ecological intelligence but also opens up new sources of strength, inspiration, and support. A FAMILY VIEW OF TIME 2530

 

When New College at Oxford University was founded in 1379, huge oak timbers were used to hold up the roof of its great dining hall. To provide replacement timbers for the roof’s eventual repair, the college foresters planted a grove of oaks on college land. Since the beams were two feet wide and forty-five feet long, it would take several hundred years for the trees to grow to the size required. The foresters were thinking ahead in a time frame of centuries. York Minster Cathedral in England took more than two hundred and fifty years to build, while the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was constructed over more than four centuries. The Neolithic structure at Stonehenge, with stones weighing four tons each that were transported from 240 miles away, is thought to have taken fifteen hundred years to complete. The craftspeople, architects, and planners in these projects must have accepted the fact that the work to which they were giving themselves would not be completed within their lifetimes, or even within the lifetimes of their children. 2536

 

there is a big difference between choosing to go faster when doing so genuinely brings benefit and being caught in a pattern of hurry through habit or demand. Because the valuing of speed is so embedded within our society, most people end up feeling so rushed and so short of time that their life becomes one long race. 2590

 

While short bursts of pressure can be good for us, chronic stress wears us down, increasing our risk of heart disease, infections, depression, and many other conditions. Our relationships suffer too. A common factor in marital and family breakdown is a shortage of time to connect. In the long term, a sprint cannot be sustained, and burnout reduces performance. Crashing into a problem is often the wake-up call that alerts people to the hazards of high-speed living. If learned from, crisis can become a turning point. The key to recovery, as we shall see, is a larger view of time. When we are overwhelmed by numerous short-term goals and targets, we lack enough time and space to consider what lies over the horizon. Rushing narrows our field of vision to the immediate moment. The past becomes irrelevant and the future abstract. Such narrow timescapes lead to the following five problems:        • Short-term benefits outweigh long-term costs.        • We don’t see disasters coming our way.        • Narrow timescapes are self-reinforcing.        • We export problems to the future.        • Narrow timescapes diminish the meaning and purpose of our lives. 2594

 

The downside of a behavior fails to deter us if it falls outside the bubble of time to which we give our attention. The same dynamic applies to dishonesty, which might seem a quick way out of a fix but has delayed effects that are toxic to relationships and decision making. 2612

 

between 1996 and 2009, there were seventy-nine major spills from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, with the presidential commission finding an industry culture of complacency.8 Fossil fuels and the things we use them for are artificially cheap because we don’t count the costs we’re passing on to future generations. Climate change is another example: with the world warming up, the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica are already melting. The water these store can raise sea levels by forty feet, which would cause flooding in two-thirds of the world’s major cities.9 While this might happen over an extended period of time, the images of New Orleans under water after Hurricane Katrina give a glimpse of what we are setting in motion. Among our greatest crimes against future generations is the production of radioactive waste; through its mutagenic impact on the gene pool, its harmful effects are permanent. Because radioactivity is invisible, it will be difficult for future generations to know where the danger lies, so they won’t be able to protect themselves. The shore of Lake Karachay in the Chelyabinsk province of Russia doesn’t look hazardous, but it is so contaminated that a lethal dose of radiation can be received just by standing there for an hour.10 In the 2651

 

Narrow Timescapes Diminish the Meaning and Purpose of Our Lives Within the story of Business as Usual, a million years in the future, or even a thousand, is completely off the screen. When we are under time pressure, even ten years ahead might seem too distant to pay attention to. Dashing from one thing to another, we lose sight of where we’re going. When life is dominated by urgent demands, we don’t get the time needed to find our direction or determine what really matters. We can spend our days being busy without having our heart in what we do. This kind of busyness takes us further away from what’s most important to us. Thinking only in short stretches of time also severely limits our sense of what can be achieved through us. To grow a project fruitful enough to be inspiring takes time. It is easy to ask, “What’s the point?” if we’re not seeing results after six months or a year. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same thinking after planting a tender young date palm or olive tree. These trees can take decades to become fully productive, but once they do they remain so for more than a century. When we move beyond thoughts of individual achievement and consider what our actions, when combined with the actions of others, can bring about, we open to a more gripping story. 2676

 

By opening the group’s imagination to the possibility that future beings can help us face the mess we are in, she helped the group discover a welcome source of additional inspiration. The use of imaginary time travel, often sparked or accompanied by music, has since become a regular feature of the Work That Reconnects. It offers rich and rewarding opportunities to widen the timescape we inhabit and to draw on the support of past and future beings. ANCESTORS AS ALLIES For much of the world’s population, it is not so strange to think that those living elsewhere in time might be able to help us. Shrines to ancestors are common in Japan and Korea, and the practice of seeking guidance from those who have lived before us is an accepted part of many indigenous traditions. As West African shaman and author Malidoma Somé writes:        In many non-Western cultures, the ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach and to nurture.11 The interest ancestors take in us is a natural extension of the care parents have for their children, or grandparents for their grandchildren. When we’re struggling or feeling alone, we can find moral strength in opening to a sense of ancestral support. Just as an athlete may perform better when cheered by a crowd, we can imagine a crowd of ancestors cheering us on in all that we do to ensure the flow of life continues. If the role of the ancestors is to look out for those following them in time, then it follows that we too play this role. Those living in the future will look back on us as their ancestors. Recognizing future beings as our kin brings them closer to us. Within the narrow timescape of Business as Usual, they are a forgotten people whose interests have disappeared from view. When we recognize that we are their ancestors, a sense of care and responsibility arises naturally. Connectedness with ancestors and with future generations lifts us out of the microplots of Business as Usual and places us in a truer and more expansive story. In life’s epic journey, every one of our ancestors lived long enough to pass on the spark of life. This ancestry extends back in time far beyond the reaches of our human past. With the shift in identity to our ecological self, we discover that the entire span of recorded history is just a fraction of a page in a more extensive volume. OUR JOURNEY AS LIFE ON EARTH We belong to a planet four and a half billion years old. To make relative time periods easier to grasp, let us look at the entire history of our Earth as a single twenty-four-hour day starting at midnight.12 In this day of planet-time, each minute would mark the passing of more than three million years (see Fig. 8.2). At first, the planet was as hot as an erupting volcano. Being formed by the gravitational pulling together of materials orbiting the sun, it was continually showered by meteorites. Shortly after midnight, a chunk of matter the size of a small planet had collided with Earth, the impact causing materials to be thrown outward into space to form the moon. It took till nearly two in the morning for the planet surface to cool down enough for steam in the atmosphere to condense into rainfall. As rain fell and kept falling, the oceans were born. Between three and four in the morning, the first forms of life appeared in warm, shallow water. There were only traces of oxygen in the atmosphere and no ozone layer to provide protection from incoming ultraviolet radiation, which was too strong to allow life to develop on land. It took till ten-thirty in the morning for photosynthesis to evolve, and from then on, those early green life-forms started producing oxygen as a waste product. All life-forms were single celled and remained so for the rest of the day, the first more complex multicelled organisms not evolving till half past six in the evening. By eight, worms had appeared at the bottom of shallow seas, followed an hour and twenty minutes later by the first fish. By a quarter to ten, plant life… 2714

 

CHAPTER NINE Catching an Inspiring Vision On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the best-known speeches in history. Half a century later, the words I have a dream are still linked to the vision he shared that day.1 King described a future in which black and white children would join hands as brothers and sisters and in which his own children would be judged by the “content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. He was identifying a destination that could be reached, a reality that could be created. In the 1960s the idea that an African American might one day become president of the United States would have been dismissed as “just dreaming.” But just look at the impact that kind of dreaming can have. Our dreams and visions for the future are essential for navigating through life because they give us a direction to move in. As the Roman philosopher Seneca once remarked, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Moreover, moving toward a destination that excites and inspires us energizes our journey, puts wind in our sails, and strengthens our determination to overcome obstacles. The ability to “catch” an inspiring vision is therefore key to staying motivated. When we’re moved by a vision that we share with others, we become part of a community with a common purpose. Inspiration is often thought of as a fleeting experience striking us in lucky moments or as a rare strength found in the small number of people thought of as “visionaries.” In this chapter we look at how we can foster vision and inspiration using learnable skills. The insights and practices discussed here can help all of us become more inspired and visionary. They strengthen our capacity for going forth in the adventure of the Great Turning. HOW OUR IMAGINATION GETS SWITCHED OFF From an early age, we are schooled in a worldview that values facts over fantasies. The term dreamer is used as a dismissive put-down when someone’s ideas are considered unrealistic; daydreaming in the classroom can even be a punishable offense. To develop our visioning ability, let’s start by recognizing how it has become so undervalued. As Quaker futurist Elise Boulding comments: “Several generations of children have had daydreaming bred out of them. Our literacy is confined to numbers and words. There is no image literacy.” 2862

 

To change something, we need to first hold in our mind and heart the possibility that it could be different. Stephen Covey, in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, writes:        “Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and physical or second creation to all things.4 Imagining possible futures is a surefire way to develop foresight. If we’re only interested in “facts,” we limit ourselves to looking at what has already happened, which is a bit like trying to drive a car by looking only in the rearview mirror. To avoid crashing, we need to look where we’re going. Since we can’t know for sure what will happen, we are limited to considering possibilities, based on applying a combination of experience, awareness of trends, and imagination. While experience equips us well for dealing with familiar situations, our imagination is essential in formulating creative responses to new challenges. 2897

 

With process thinking, we view reality more as a flow in which everything is continually moving from one state to another. Each moment, like a frame in a movie, is slightly different from the one before. These tiny changes from frame to frame generate the larger changes seen over time (see Fig. 9.2). If something is not in the picture at the moment, that doesn’t mean it won’t be later on. This way of conceiving reality sees existence as an evolving story rather than as predefined. Because we can never know for sure how the future will turn out, it makes more sense to focus on what we’d like to have happen, and then to do our bit to make it more likely. That’s what Active Hope is all about. 2927

 

the best way of anchoring a vision is to act on it and make it part of our lives, we need a way of linking our larger hopes with specific steps we can take. Visioning therefore involves three closely related levels: 1. What? When looking at a specific situation, what would you like to see happen? 2. How? How do you see this coming about? This stage involves describing the steps needed for the larger vision to occur and possible pathways by which these steps can take place. 3. My Role? The first level identifies the desired destination, the second level maps out the story of getting there, and the third identifies your role in this story: What can you do to help the vision come about? IMAGING THE FUTURE WE HOPE FOR 2962

 

After spending time working together on developing a vision of our preferred future, we need to remember how we got there. Standing in the world thirty years from now, we look back at how the changes we have just envisioned were brought about. Moving back year by year, what happened? As we trace back to the present moment, we reconstruct a history of the preceding thirty years from the perspective of this possible future. Finally, we need to see the role we play in this process. Looking at the different areas of our lives, what are we doing that helps build the future we hope for? There will be many things, and some might stand out — what are they? 3008

 

Rumi once wrote: “Close both eyes to see with the other eye.” 3019

 

a trail is traced back in time from that possible future, marking key developments along the way. The pathway sketched out offers the beginnings of an energy descent plan by which the community can wean itself off oil dependence. Finally, as in Boulding’s model, we end in the present, with our lives here and now, looking forward and identifying how we can play our part in the transition process. 3030

 

When we carry our desired future inside us, it guides and acts through us, helping us bring it into being. 3046

 

abundance. In the indigenous culture of North America, the term medicine dream is used to describe the guiding visions that come in our dreams. In The Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry writes, “Such dream experiences are so universal and so important in the psychic life of the individual and of the community that techniques of dreaming are taught in some societies.” 3078

 

While this concept of guiding visionary signals fits comfortably in both spiritual and systems perspectives, it clashes with the ultra-individualistic worldview of the industrialized world. In this model, thinking and intelligence are located within individuals; if someone comes up with a good idea, that idea is regarded as their property. When the ownership of ideas is privatized, innovations that could help our world are often kept secret until they can be exploited for personal or corporate benefit. What would happen to a brain if separate groups of neurons took this approach? Thinking happens through brain cells rather than within them, and intelligence is an emergent property of cells working together as a larger whole. Viewing ourselves as similar to brain cells opens us up an entirely new way of thinking about intelligence. Co-intelligence, which we touched on in chapter 6, is defined by the Co-Intelligence Institute as “accessing the wisdom of the whole on behalf of the whole.”10 If we think of ourselves as part of the team of life on Earth, could we access the wisdom of our world for the benefit of all? Co-intelligence arises when we share ideas and visions we find inspiring, making room to hear what moves other people too. This is how visions catch on and spread through a culture with amazing speed.   TRY THIS: SHARING INSPIRATION The following open sentence can be used as a round in groups, as a prompt to conversation with a small group of friends, as a starting point for personal journaling, or as something to include in letters to friends: “Something that inspires me at the moment is…” CO-INTELLIGENCE IN PROGRESSIVE BRAINSTORMING A progressive brainstorm process that Joanna has used in workshops provides a good example of co-intelligence arising. This process is a great way of harnessing group creativity in moving from a larger, general goal to specific steps that participants can take. It can be fun and energizing to recruit a few interested friends to try this process together. The first stage is to identify a goal to work toward. Each person daydreams for a few minutes about what he or she would like to see in a life-sustaining society. These features are then listed on a big sheet of paper (see Box 9.1).   Box 9.1. Stage 1: Our Vision for a Life-Sustaining Society • clean air • renewable energy • constructive processes to deal with conflict • lifestyles of voluntary simplicity • widespread ecological awareness For the next stage, the group selects one of these and has a brainstorm process generating responses to the question “What would be needed for this?” As the goal of brainstorming is to spark creative thinking, it is guided by three rules: first, we don’t censor, explain, or justify our ideas; second, we don’t evaluate or criticize the ideas of others; and third, we save discussion for later. We’re creating options, not editing them (see Box 9.2, which takes “clean air” as an example). Once a list has been generated, one of the options is chosen, and the process is repeated, with a brainstorm exploring the question, “What would be needed for this to happen?” Each time this is repeated, the steps identified become closer to us and easier to take. The goal is to end up with a list of practical steps that anyone in the room can take (see Box 9.3, which takes “fewer cars and trucks” as an example). When this process is in full swing, you can feel the group thinking and strategizing through each of its members. 3091

 

Box 9.2. Stage 2: What Would Be Needed for Clean Air? • fewer cars and trucks • no incinerators • scrubbers on smokestacks • more renewable energy investment • more concern about health impacts of air pollution   Box 9.3. Stage 3: What Would Be Needed for Fewer Cars and Trucks? • pedestrian malls • bicycle lanes • higher fuel prices • more public transportation • greater use of carpooling CHOOSING AND BEING CHOSEN With every theme we take up, there will be a range of possible pathways for actions in which we could play a role. With so many options, how do we choose where to invest our energy? The challenge is to listen for the vision that calls us most strongly and to recognize that to follow this well, we will need to refine our focus so as not to dissipate our energy. Like seedlings that need thinning out, we need to choose which visions we support, and then clear space around them so that they have room to develop and thrive. There may be a few special times in our lifetime when we experience such a strong intuitive pull toward a course of action that we know it to be the right thing for us to do. Even when the odds seem against us, we feel these powerful summonings deep in our hearts and we are drawn to respond. In the model of co-intelligence, we’re never alone in these endeavors. A larger story is taking place, and we’ve just chosen, or been chosen, to play a particular role in it. If we trust in a larger intelligence, we can open to the support of many allies and helpers who will play their roles too. Joseph Campbell wrote, “Follow your bliss…and doors will open where there were no doors before.” 3137

 

We don’t make these visions happen — we just play our part in them. To do that, we need to keep our vision, and our commitment to it, strong inside us; then we can follow wherever it takes us. 3165

 

Daring to Believe It Is Possible In 1785 Thomas Clarkson, a student at Cambridge University, entered an essay competition; the topic was slavery. As he researched the subject, he was horrified by what he discovered about the transatlantic slave trade. His essay won first prize, but its content so disturbed him he found it difficult to sleep. In his diary he wrote: “In the daytime I was uneasy. In the night I had little rest. I sometimes never closed my eye-lids for grief.”1 Abandoning his plans to become an Anglican minister, he decided instead to join a small group of Quakers campaigning on the issue. Two years later, Clarkson was one of the dozen people whose meeting in a London print shop kicked off the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Along with William Wilberforce and a few other committed campaigners, Clarkson had caught an inspiring vision. At the time, the odds seemed completely stacked against them. Slavery was accepted as a normal part of life. The slave trade was well established, and there were powerful vested interests opposing any change. In the British House of Commons, the idea of abolishing the slave trade was described as “unnecessary, visionary and impracticable”; repeated attempts by Wilberforce to bring in a new law were blocked. Such was the opposition that Clarkson was nearly killed when he was attacked by a mob on the docks of Liverpool. When following the path of an inspiring vision, we are likely to encounter the voice dismissing what we hope for as unnecessary or impractical. The greater the gap between present reality and what we would like to have happen, the louder this voice will be. Yet stories like those of Clarkson and Wilberforce remind us that when we dare to believe our vision is possible, and dare also to act on this belief, extraordinary changes can take place. In 1807 the British Parliament passed a law making the slave trade illegal within the British Empire. As other countries followed, slavery became outlawed almost everywhere within little more than a lifetime. As Nelson Mandela once said of changes like this: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” This chapter explores how to protect ourselves from disillusionment if we are struggling to believe that what we hope for is possible. We’ll look at what helps us move from just thinking about a vision to taking steps to bring it about, and also at what strengthens our resolve to do this even when the odds seem stacked against us. 3254

 

The facts of climate change, habitat loss, mass extinction of species, and mass starvation of people are hugely discouraging. When we’re working for causes that seem to be getting nowhere, that suffer setbacks and reversals, that face well-funded obstruction and deeply entrenched resistance, it is hard to sustain the belief that what we hope for is possible. Yet without this, without the spark of conviction that our actions can really make a difference, it is difficult to keep going. We need to name this challenge, because the risk with recurring frustration, failure, and disappointment is that they will wear down our resolve. It is painful to keep hold of a vision if we don’t believe we can make meaningful progress toward it. The reference points that support our sense of possibility are therefore crucial. Let’s look at five of these:        • inspiring examples from history        • the phenomenon of discontinuous change        • facing your threshold guardians        • our own experiences of perseverance        • witnessing the Great Turning happening through us Inspiring Examples from History It took Clarkson and Wilberforce more than twenty years of campaigning before they saw a law against the slave trade passed.2 They were challenging the Business as Usual mode of their day, and while they had periods of hard-earned popular support, there were also times when their cause looked completely hopeless. In the early 1790s, the French Revolution and subsequent war with France led to a clampdown on political opposition in Britain. Harsh new laws forbade gatherings of more than fifty people unless they had permission from a local magistrate. If a magistrate declared a meeting illegal, and more than twelve people were still gathered an hour later, they could be sentenced to death. The abolition committee gave up its London office and went for seven years without meeting. Clarkson had a nervous breakdown, and the campaign went into decline. There is a saying that important changes often go through three phases. First they are regarded as a joke. Then they are treated as a threat. Finally, they become accepted as normal. Historical examples of changes moving through this sequence provide an important reference point for us. If it is a struggle for you to believe that what you hope for is possible, know that others have felt this way too. Thanks to the people who kept alive the spark of their convictions through periods of ridicule and persecution, changes that were laughed at, actively suppressed, or dismissed as hopeless dreams have now become accepted as normal parts of our reality. Here are some examples.   Box 10.1. Aspects of Current Reality Once Dismissed as Hopeless Dreams • Women have the vote in nearly every country in the world. • An African American can become US president. • Apartheid came to an end in South Africa. • Most people now accept that the earth orbits around the sun. Lucy Stone organized the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850. She never lived to see women finally get the vote in the United States in 1920, but that didn’t stop her from working her whole life to make that happen. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than twenty-five years before eventually becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Galileo was branded a heretic for believing Earth revolved around the sun, had his writings banned, and spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest. When we experience frustration, failure, or obstruction, we need to remember that we are part of a very fine historical tradition. 3282

 

Rather than seeing frustration and failure as evidence that we’re pursuing a hopeless cause, we can reframe them as natural, even necessary, features in the journey of social change. Why might failure and frustration be necessary parts of the journey? Because if we stick only with what we know how to do, what we’re comfortable with and confident about, we limit ourselves to the old, familiar ways rather than developing new capacities. When we learn a new skill, we tend at first to get it wrong, gaining experience through our mishaps. Learning is a process that begins with not knowing. The good news about frustration and failure is they show that we have dared to step outside our comfort zones and to rise to a challenge that stretches us. What we’re doing here is reframing frustration and failure in a way that encourages us to persist rather than to give up. By persisting we are more likely to experience the positive surprise of the next reference point. The Phenomenon of Discontinuous Change With issues such as climate change and peak oil, we don’t have seventy years, or even twenty years, to bring about the changes needed. Our problems are urgent and demand much more rapid action. Given our current slow pace of progress, it can be hard to see how we will do it. If we look at change as something that happens incrementally at a steady, predictable rate, in which the progress — or lack thereof — in one decade gives a measure of what is likely to take place in the next, we can get very discouraged. But along with continuous change, there is also discontinuous change. Sudden shifts can happen in ways that surprise 3324

 

Discontinuous changes can be triggered by quite small events. When you’re close to a threshold, one tiny step can take you over it. An example of this is when a tipping point is reached and a critical mass of people starts to believe a change can happen. If those who are undecided have been hovering on the edge beforehand, waiting to see what happens, something small can tip the balance and nudge them into giving their support. Before this threshold is crossed, the change may seem unlikely. Yet only a short while later, everyone wants to join in. 3351

 

We can’t know how things will unfold. What we can do is make a choice about what we’d like to have happen, and then put ourselves fully behind that possibility. An inspiring wave of change is spreading through our world. The Great Turning is happening in our time, and we may already be participating in many ways. If we want this change to catch on more thoroughly, deeply, and rapidly, how can we let it do so in our own lives? What thresholds do we need to cross? When we step over the line from one state to another, we take part in this shift. Facing Your Threshold Guardians When we catch our inspiring vision, we experience a call to adventure that pulls us into its service. 3363

 

we will just about always bump into some kind of resistance or opposition. Mythologist Joseph Campbell coined the term threshold guardian to describe whatever is guarding or blocking the way.3 Studying myths, legends, and adventure tales from all over the world, he mapped out a common plot structure that revolved around the tension between the impetus to follow the call to adventure and the threshold guardians in the way. In fantasy adventures such as The Lord of the Rings, whenever there is a clear path to follow, there is always some kind of monster or other enemy about to appear on it. The hero or heroine then rises to the challenge by confronting, tricking, befriending, or bypassing the blocking entity in a way that allows the journey to continue. We can view our own lives similarly. When we’re following our calls to adventure, thinking of obstacles as threshold guardians can draw out our creative response. 3370

 

Whenever Sarah was struggling, she’d say to herself, “This is my adventure; these are my threshold guardians.” Rather than feeling defeated, she knew she needed to seek out allies, learn new skills, and not be put off when things weren’t working out. Adventure tales have been told for thousands of years, not just for their entertainment value but also because they pass on teachings that help us rise to challenges. Almost always, the protagonists find their way through by drawing on the fellowship of allies, by serving a purpose much bigger than themselves, by discovering strengths previously hidden from view, and by having enough humility to learn from others. Usually some mysterious force lends a hand. It could be a spiritual presence, the moral force of a value like justice, or, as in the film Avatar, the emergent power of an interconnected web of life. Sometimes the threshold guardians have a tangible physical presence outside of us; 3383

 

This is the threshold guardian of disbelief. It can help to imagine these blocking voices as characters standing in our way. Chris recently worked with some puppeteers to give visible expression to the common blocks of fear, cynicism, and disbelief. Fear took the form of an overprotective parent constantly warning of the dangers of stepping into anything new. The voice of cynicism was a dismissive distant relative who tore apart the value of any project considered. Finally, disbelief was personified by Professor Noway, the very clever character who has studied everything and knows precisely why there is no way we can succeed. These characters sometimes have useful things to say. 3394

 

When a change wants to happen, it looks for people to act through. How do we know when a change wants to happen? We feel the want inside us. There is a desire, a tugging at us to be involved. But that doesn’t make the change inevitable, because standing in our way are all those who say we’re wasting our time, that it isn’t possible, that it will be too hazardous. For the change to happen through us, we need to counter those voices. A shift can happen within us when we break through a resistance that has been holding us back. 3476

 

If you were freed from fear and doubt, what would you choose to do for the Great Turning? Here is an action planning process we use in our workshops. It will help you to identify some practical steps you can commit to taking in the next seven days. Seeing is believing. When you see yourself take these steps, it is easier to believe that the Great Turning is happening.   TRY THIS: IDENTIFYING YOUR GOALS AND RESOURCES This process works well when you team up with someone else, taking turns to interview and support each other. 1. If you knew you could not fail, what would you most want to do for the healing of our world? 2. What specific goal or project could you realistically aim to achieve in the next twelve months that would contribute to this? 3. What resources, inner and outer, do you have that will help you do this?          Inner resources include specific strengths, qualities, and experience, as well as the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired.          External resources include relationships, contacts, and networks you can draw on, as well as material resources such as money, equipment, and places to work or recharge. 4. What resources, inner and external, will you need to acquire? What might you need to learn, develop, or obtain? 5. How might you stop yourself? What obstacles might you throw in the way? 6. How will you overcome these obstacles? 7. What step can you take in the next week, no matter how small — making a phone call, sending an email, or scheduling in some reflection time — that will move you toward this goal? 3486

 

You can repeat and review this process regularly. When we dare to believe that what we hope for is possible, we can dare to act. As a declaration often attributed to Goethe proclaims:        Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.4 CHAPTER ELEVEN Building Support around You A crucial factor in any process of change is the level of support it receives. By seeking out encouragement, aid, and good counsel, we create a more favorable context both for our projects and for ourselves. Doing so is especially important when we are facing difficult or hostile conditions. In this chapter we will look at how we can cultivate support at the following levels:        • the personal context of our habits and practices        • the face-to-face context of the people around us        • the cultural context of the society we are part of        • the ecospiritual context of our connectedness with all life 3511

 

We can choose to give significance to our gift of Active Hope. There are practices that help us do this. On the last afternoon of a two-week intensive workshop, Joanna was out walking and met a young monk from the retreat center hosting the event. “Well,” he said, “I expect now on your last day you’ll be giving people vows.” Joanna told him that wasn’t something she did. “Pity,” he said. “I find, in my own life, vows so very helpful, because they channel my energy to do what I really want to do.” 3546

 

Almost immediately, the following five vows came to her:        I vow to myself and to each of you:        To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.        To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.        To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future generations, and my brothers and sisters of all species.        To support others in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it.        To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows. When the workshop participants were asked what they thought, “Oh, yes!” was their enthusiastic reply. With the workshop ending, they would soon be scattered far and wide; making these vows to one another and to themselves deepened their sense of being linked as a community. The words “I vow to myself and to each of you” calls to mind those we feel are with us as allies. We need to choose terms that ring true for us. Rather than using the word vows, we can, if we prefer, call them “commitments” or “statements of intention.” They offer an anchor point reminding us, again and again, of the purposes we hold dear and the behaviors that support us in serving them. A group’s declaration of intent gives tangible form to the shared desires of its members, providing a powerful rallying call. The five vows are an example of this. Now used by many people, they bring a heartening sense of belonging to a growing global fellowship of intention. A practice is a habit we have chosen. It is something we have agreed to make a regular feature of our life. Habits develop momentum because the more we repeat them, the more ingrained they become. There are many practices that can support our intention to act for our world. Whether it be meditating, spending time in nature, taking daily vows, expressing ourselves creatively, or doing anything else we feel strengthened by, each nourishing activity becomes an ally adding to our context of support. The fourth vow is to support each other in our work for the world, and to ask for help when we need it. This takes us into the second level of context — that involving the people around us. 3552

 

TRY THIS: CREATING A SUPPORT MAP 1. Start by placing your name in the center of a piece of paper. Around it, write the names of the people who are significant in your life. 2. Draw arrows to represent flows of support, with the arrows going toward your name for the support you receive and away from you for the support you offer. The thickness of the arrow reflects the strength of the support (see Fig. 11). 3. Once you’ve drawn your map, ask yourself how satisfied you are with the flows of support you receive and offer. Do you feel well sustained? If not, how could you invite in more of what you need? 3595

 

Each project has a life of its own, so it can be interesting to ask, “Through whom does this project want to act?” This question opens us to a more collaborative view. Rather than thinking in terms of “my project” or “their project,” we can think of ourselves as part of a team recruited by a vision that wants to happen. When a deeper purpose acts through people, a special kind of bond can arise between them. A wonderful way to experience this is in a study-action group. 3615

 

The group met monthly, and its work had three main strands, which they called “the three S’s”: study, strategy, and mutual support. For the study strand, members took turns researching and teaching the others about particular areas, such as the physics of radiation, its biological effects, or the amounts of waste created by nuclear power and weapons production. The strategy side involved taking practical steps based on what they were finding out together. They gave talks in schools, organized petitions, and produced written materials. 3627

 

During the six years the group met, they created a training for themselves that equipped them to offer testimony at public hearings, conduct public education events, produce publications, and create a code of ethics on the care of radioactive materials. The three strands of study, strategy, and mutual support worked together to make the group’s work a treasured experience. Inspired by Joanna’s experience, Chris and friends set up a study-action group about the Great Turning. The first step was to invite interested people to hear more about the idea and find out what they were able to commit to. Everyone who came was keen to take part, and the group agreed to meet monthly for six sessions, then to review. Keeping the size to just a dozen people, so that the group retained a sense of intimacy, they embarked on a journey guided by the questions “What is the Great Turning?” and “How can we take part in it?” A deeply nourishing sense of fellowship evolved. The group lasted eighteen months before it came to a natural ending point. Study-action groups are attractive because they can happen in our homes, they don’t require a high level of expertise to set up, and they are enjoyable. The key ingredients needed are a few people sharing a desire to learn more about an issue and to respond to it plus plenty of curiosity, willingness, tasty snacks, and a place to meet. 3635

 

Research shows that people are more likely to reduce their energy consumption when they know their neighbors are doing so too.2 Each of us has a reference group of those we compare ourselves to in determining what is normal or appropriate behavior. We also feature in other people’s reference groups, so when they see us taking steps to live more sustainably, they are more likely to take these steps too. The recognition of the power of example at a local level has led to a kind of community organizing that now involves hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Developed through decades of action research, the “cool communities” campaign on carbon reduction brings together people from the same street or block in small “eco-teams” to bring about measurable reductions in their carbon footprint.3 One finding of the cool communities program is that in spite of initial skepticism about people’s willingness to work with their neighbors on developing sustainable lifestyles, once the process got started, it developed a momentum of its own. 3663

 

It is not so much that people don’t want to know their neighbors, it is that they don’t know how to connect with the people living next door and build community. As a result, we struggle as isolated and alienated individuals. The resistance of “I don’t know my neighbors, we’ve never done anything like this, I’m afraid I’ll be rejected” is something we’ve experienced everywhere we’ve worked. But once we get people through this using the organizing tools we provide, they come out the other side feeling incredibly excited to have that connection. Again and again, people say that what they like most about the program is getting to know their neighbors.4 3677

 

The level of concern, as well as the willingness to become involved, was much higher than was anticipated from initial appearances. The desire to take part in the healing of our world seems to be just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity and outlet for expression. Whenever we bring the desire for the world’s healing out into the open, whether through our individual actions or through the groups we are part of, we help others do this too. The power of example is contagious. This is how cultures change. 3686

 

ECOSPIRITUAL CONTEXT: OUR CONNECTEDNESS WITH ALL LIFE Recent research gives strong support to something we know from our own experience: contact with the natural environment can be powerfully restorative to our well-being.5 Prisoners who can look out of their cells get sick less often, and patients in hospitals recover more quickly when their view is of greenery rather than concrete. In developing a context that supports us in working for our world, we need to include contact with nature. 3691

 

We wouldn’t have the oxygen we breathe if it weren’t for plant life and plankton. We wouldn’t have the food we eat if it weren’t for the rich living matrix of soil, plants, pollinating insects, and other forms of life. When we carry within us a deep appreciation of how our life is sustained by other living beings, we strengthen our desire to give back. With the first three levels of context — the practices, the people, and the culture we’re part of — we’re referring to tangible behaviors and entities we can point to and that other people can observe. With this fourth level of context, we’re describing an experience of connection that leaves us feeling held and supported even when there’s nobody else around and nothing particular we’re doing. We call this fourth context “ecospiritual” because it is about our felt relationship to wider dimensions of reality. 3704

 

TRY THIS: FINDING A LISTENING POST IN NATURE Is there a place where you feel more connected to the web of life? It can be either somewhere you go physically or somewhere in your imagination. Each time you go there, make yourself comfortable. Think of yourself plugging in to a root system that can draw up insights and inspiration as well as other nutrients. To receive guidance, all you need to do is ask for it, and then listen. CHAPTER TWELVE Maintaining Energy and Enthusiasm 3729

 

Although many millions of people are already involved in the Great Turning, the movement needs to grow, and the attractiveness of participation grows when it is recognized as a path to deepened aliveness and a more satisfying way of life. Here are five strategies that help.        • Recognize enthusiasm as a valuable renewable resource.        • Broaden our definition of activism.        • Follow the inner compass of our deep gladness.        • Redefine what it means to have a good life.        • See success with new eyes and savor it. RECOGNIZE ENTHUSIASM AS A VALUABLE RENEWABLE RESOURCE 3745

 

when we push ourselves too hard or are worn down by chronic exposure to harsh conditions, our enthusiasm, like topsoil, can begin to erode. 3759

 

Sustainable agriculture reveals how valuable a resource healthy soil is. Finding ways to nourish, renew, and restore soil is a key to long-term productivity. It is similar with our enthusiasm: if we see it as valuable, then we become more interested in how we can nourish, renew, and restore this precious resource. An image of a boat floating on water provides a starting point for mapping out the factors influencing our ability and willingness to keep going (see Fig. 12). The water level represents our inner reserves of energy and enthusiasm, while hitting a problem like burnout is like crashing into a rock. Draining factors are shown as downward arrows that lower the water level and increase our likelihood of hitting rocks. Nourishing factors that replenish and strengthen us are mapped as arrows pushing the water level up. For example, when we feel we’re making progress with our projects, our morale is boosted, raising the water level. Each time we feel discouraged, whether by setbacks, arguments, or the experience of powerlessness, the water level drops. So to strengthen our resilience, we need to pay attention to all the factors that sustain us. Figure 12. Mapping factors influencing our energy and enthusiasm If we experience too much discouragement and too few “upward arrows,” then we are in danger of reaching such a low ebb that we may wonder what the point is and think about giving up. When we lose the will, energy, and enthusiasm to continue, we’re hitting the rock of burnout. With the worsening condition of our world, the slow pace of progress, and the enormous resistance to tackling issues, protecting our enthusiasm has become especially important. Building support around us, as discussed in the previous chapter, plays a central role here, but it is only one of many potential “upward arrows.” Once we recognize the value of enthusiasm, we start searching for ways to make what we do more satisfying. The following open sentences invite this exploration.   TRY THIS: OPEN SENTENCES ON MAINTAINING ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM These open sentences can be used when journaling, in conversation with friends, or within a group. They work well in conjunction with the water level mapping process. • Things that drain, demoralize, or exhaust me include… • What nourishes and energizes me is… • The times I’m most enthusiastic are when… 3774

 

A sustainability group in Frome, England, had a meeting every month, often with a speaker or a film followed by a discussion. Their meetings became much more popular when they started the evening by sitting down together and eating food they’d brought to share. By having time and opportunity to talk with each other, they fed the friendships and sense of community that made them look forward to coming. Conversations while eating have led to a sprouting of collaborative projects and activities that have transformed the local 3810

 

FOLLOW THE INNER COMPASS OF OUR DEEP GLADNESS While there may be periods when we feel ground down or discouraged, there are also times when activism is hugely satisfying, stimulating, and enjoyable. By becoming interested in what makes this so, we can identify what we want to focus on. The flip side of this is that when we feel ourselves going sour inside, experiencing resentment and a loss of our spark, it is worth pausing and reflecting on the choices we can make to restore our enthusiasm. Our degree of enthusiasm can act as a guide, like an inner compass, that helps us steer toward the sort of activity we’ll want to stick with in the long term. We are more effective when acting from our strengths and enthusiasm. That is where the Great Turning can happen through us most powerfully. This is a big shift away from the idea that there is one right way forward that we should all follow. Rather, it suggests that each of us needs to find our place of greatest fit. Author and minister Frederick Buechner describes this as where “our deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.”1 When we find this convergence, the Great Turning works through us in a way uniquely ours. 3834

 

REDEFINE WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE A GOOD LIFE The view of a satisfying life presented by glossy magazines and advertisements involves luxury and leisure, illustrated by images of people sunbathing by swimming pools and being served martinis. The scientific research on happiness shows this to be a long way from what really makes life satisfying. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his classic book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, writes:        The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.2 Luxury doesn’t challenge and stretch us in a way that leads to satisfaction. But activism does in a number of ways. First, when we act in alignment with our deepest values, we experience an inner sense of rightness behind what we do. Second, when we apply ourselves to facing a challenge in a way that absorbs our attention, we are more likely to go into the flow states that psychologists like Csikszentmihalyi have linked so strongly to life satisfaction. To go into this kind of flow state, we want to face a challenge difficult enough to absorb us but not so difficult that we feel defeated. When we use our strengths and enthusiasms, we’re more likely to enter the nourishing state of absorption where we lose all track of time. This creates a self-reinforcing spiral, where the more we act from our strengths the more we go into flow, and the more we become absorbed by an activity, the better we get at it. We gain even more satisfaction when “virtuous cycles” like this contribute to our world. If we believe the research findings rather than the advertising industry, activism offers a more reliable path to a satisfying life than consumerism. Unfortunately, for both our world and our collective mood, this is not yet the dominant view. However, an international movement committed to redefining what it means to have a good life is growing. 3849

 

When we rise to a challenge, our strengths are activated and our sense of purpose switched on. There is no guarantee we will succeed in bringing about the changes we hope for, but the process of giving our full attention and effort draws out our aliveness. This is what Active Hope is all about; when we live this way, the boredom and emptiness so prevalent in modern society simply disappear. 3888

 

SEE SUCCESS WITH NEW EYES While having our heart in what we do is an essential part of what makes life satisfying, it isn’t enough. Repeated failure, frustration, and lack of progress can leave us wondering whether we’re wasting our time. It is difficult to stick to a path if we don’t see it going anywhere. So the way we understand and experience success affects our willingness to keep going. 3930

 

With the consciousness shift of the Great Turning, we recognize ourselves as intimately connected with all life, like a cell within a larger body. To call an individual cell “successful” while the larger body sickens or dies is complete nonsense. If we are to survive as a civilization, we need the intelligence to define success as that which contributes to the well-being of our larger body, the web of life. Commercial success is easy to count, but how do we count the success of contributing to planetary well-being? Do we experience this success often? And if not, what is getting in the way? 3942

 

For any goal we choose to pursue, we track back in time to identify intermediate steps. Each time we take a step like this, we are succeeding. Instead of rushing on immediately to the next task, we can take a moment to savor these mini-victories. The following open sentence is a useful prompt for this process. TRY THIS: SAVORING SUCCESS EVERY DAY A recent step I’ve taken that I feel good about is… There are steps we take that often don’t get counted, like the choice of where to place our attention. Just noticing that things are seriously amiss is a step on the journey. If we care enough to want to do something, that is also a significant mini-victory. Just to show up with bodhichitta is a success. 3964

 

We can reinforce our appreciation of the steps we take by imagining the support of the ancestors, the future beings, and the more-than-human world. When we develop our receptivity, we will sense them cheering us on. If we form a study-action group or build support in other ways, we can take time to do this for each other, noticing and appreciating what we’re doing well. When we reflect on past successes, we can ask, “What strengths in me helped me do that?” Naming our strengths makes them more available to us. However, the challenges we face demand of us more commitment, endurance, and courage than we could ever dredge up out of our individual supply. That is why we need to make the essential shift of seeing with new eyes — it takes the process of strength recognition to a new level, that of the larger web of life. Just as we can identify with the suffering of other beings in this web, so too can we identify with their successes and draw on their strengths. There is an ancient Buddhist meditation that helps us do this. It is called “the Great Ball of Merit” and it is excellent training for the moral imagination: 3977

 

open to the knowledge that in each of these innumerable lives some act of merit was performed. No matter how stunted or deprived the life, there was at the very least one gesture of kindness, one gift of love, or one act of valor or self-sacrifice…on the battlefield or in the workplace, hospital or home…From each of these beings in their endless multitudes arose actions of courage, kindness, of teaching and healing…Let yourself see these manifold, immeasurable acts of merit. Now imagine that you can sweep together these acts of merit. Sweep them into a pile in front of you. Use your hands…pile them up…pile them into a heap, viewing it with gladness and gratitude. Now pat them into a ball. It is the Great Ball of Merit. Hold it now and weigh it in your hands…Rejoice in it, knowing that no act of goodness is ever lost. It remains ever and always a present resource…a means for the transformation of life…So now, with jubilation and thanksgiving, you turn that great ball, turn it over…over…into the healing of our world. The more we practice this meditation, the more familiar we become with the process of drawing strengths from outside our narrow self. Knowing about the Great Ball of Merit can also change the way we think about our own actions. Each time we do something, no matter how small, that is guided by bodhichitta and contributes to our world, we know we are adding to this abundance. 3997

 

In Chris’s addiction work, every year some clients he knew well died from their alcohol and drug use, while others grew stronger in their recovery. When he saw new clients, he never knew which way they would go. It was a good sign when they felt this same uncertainty too. 4037

 

UNCERTAINTY ADDS MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE What is it that keeps people’s eyes glued to the ball when watching a sport? What impels us to turn the page when reading a novel? It is our not knowing what’s going to happen yet our wanting to. If we already knew what was going to happen next, what would keep us from falling asleep? Our lives get boring when they are too predictable. We can feel like we are just going through the motions. 4047

 

If we have spent decades building a life in Business as Usual and our sense of security is linked to this, then moving into the uncharted territory of a different story is likely to bring up fear. 4064

 

Times of crisis have a similar effect: they wake us up and engage our full attention. Bringing ourselves into the present moment doesn’t mean we lose connection with the past or future. We are shaped by our history; it is part of who we are. What we add is intentionality. This choice-making is our bridge to the future, as each intention represents a preference for the kind of world we want. Our intentionality endows the present moment with direction. 4075

 

If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will be built. You persist. In the long run, it is persistence that shapes the future. BODHICHITTA With the uncertainties we face, we need a strength of intention similar to that of those Tibetan monks. If we take bodhichitta — the desire for the welfare of all beings — as our foundation stone, then that is what we can count on, whatever else is happening. Bodhichitta is grounded in our conscious connectedness with all life. So this is our starting point. It is what we build on. Moving around the spiral of the Work That Reconnects helps us strengthen this connectedness, helps us open to and trust it more. Each time we go around the spiral, we reinforce our bodhichitta. In a time of uncertainty, it can be the one thing we are sure of. In the Buddhist tradition, bodhichitta is seen as something very precious, something to treasure and protect. We can think of it as a flame in our hearts and minds that guides us and shines through our actions. The bodhisattvas, the hero figures of the Buddhist tradition, have such strong bodhichitta that even when they reach the gates of nirvana, having earned the right to disappear into eternal bliss, they turn around every time and choose to come back. They choose to return to samsara, this realm of suffering, because their bodhichitta calls them to serve life on Earth and act for the welfare of all beings. We can play with this image of the bodhisattva choosing to return to our world and use it as the starting point for a thought experiment. Trying out a different way of thinking about our situation is a powerful way of strengthening our resilience and creativity. The bodhisattva archetype is present in all religions and even all social movements. Whenever you act for the sake of life on Earth, you express the courageous compassion within you that we can think of as your bodhisattva self. This is part of who you are. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or believe in reincarnation to benefit from the exercise described below. We invite you to try it and see where it takes you. 4085

 

After participating in this process, a colleague wrote:        I have been thinking a lot about the Bodhisattva’s Choices. I found it very empowering. I consider myself an accountable person. Yet I’d never before systematically reviewed all the major circumstances in my life and celebrated them for bringing me to this time and place. 4154

 

Our purpose, however, is to recognize that all life’s experiences, even the harsh and limiting ones, can be seen as ennobling and enriching to our understanding and motivations to serve. Spiritual traditions affirm that true liberation arises when we can embrace the particulars of our lives and see that they are as right for us as if we had indeed chosen them. FINDING THE PEARL OF ACTIVE HOPE 4159

 

In his book Resilience, he writes:        The pearl inside the oyster might be the emblem of resilience. When a grain of sand gets into an oyster and is so irritating that, in order to defend itself, the oyster has to secrete a nacreous substance, the defensive reaction produces a material that is hard, shiny and precious.2 4170

 

An oyster, in response to trauma, grows a pearl. We grow, and offer, our gift of Active Hope. 4178

 



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