by Stephen Jenkinson
[Reproduced with permission from http://orphanwisdom.com/making-elders.
On this you might rely: there are times when magic, mayhem and the mandate of your days gather themselves together and will make a claim upon your attention. If good fortune and good timing prevail, those times won’t be lost on us. Generally the visitation is a subtle one, and so it can happen that the habits of the eye and tongue require a more dramatic event. The hubris of our times can cause any of us to mistake this visitation for something we thought of. But the truth is that these moments are as clear an evidence as we’re likely to get that all our best realizations come from Elsewhere, that we have the great good fortune to have been thought, by whomever, wherever our best stuff comes from. These are moments both adamant and easily missed.
Some twenty five years ago a man who’d come to me for some guidance asked that I work through some ideas with him from a book I’d not heard of called Iron John. The next day I was invited by a set designer to be in a film with an author I’d not heard of called Robert Bly, and another called Marion Woodman. I asked what part I would be playing and was told: “Yourself” – often a challenging assignment. And so that autumn I had the blessing of sitting for days with two achieved people in the depth of their powers and purpose, two elders alight with the incandescence of noble speech and tethered to their time.
It was during that filming that I heard the phrase ‘father hunger’ for the first time. Robert Bly went on to a considerable writing and teaching career during which he was a sane and poetic beacon to many, but it also drew towards him implacable expectations of surrogate fatherhood by legions of men, an inevitable, impossible assignment given the desperate times we are in. I had a few visits with Marion Woodman in the subsequent years, and on one such visit she spoke of her encounter with cancer. She was fairly sure then that the illness had come upon her partly as a result of the blistering, adamant demands from legions of women reading her books and attending her courses that she re-mother them.
Since then I’ve wondered upon their examples as well as their learning, and upon the costs that seem to have accrued to them for having been turned into stand-ins or famous replacements for the remote, damaging or bewildered parents many people in our time were born to. Somewhere in there is a great misapprehension about what has gone missing, and what is needed and deserved. I am fairly sure now that it was not mother hunger or father hunger that was feeding upon their work and their persons.
I am often asked about the reasons that this modest endeavour of mine is called Orphan Wisdom. In answering I find I spend most of my time speaking about orphans. When I ask what it is that results in orphanhood, the automatic answer is: no parents. Which is never true, not culturally and not personally. We are guaranteed to have parents. That is the genetic assurance of our birth. Parents are both required and inevitable for this event, and our appearance on the scene is proof, and in some fashion, at least for a time, they are there and from them we proceed. Of course there are qualities of being parented that can be lamentable or worse, but the truth is that most of us come out of our childhood and adolescence with clear and direct experience with parents, and that has gone a long way in influencing how – and if – we parent, should our turn come. There are people who wish they had different parents, but few left wishing they had parents.
There is no hunger for what was. There is nostalgia, and lament. The kind of hunger Bly and Woodman and others detonated was a hunger for what hasn’t been, and it remains so. This is a hunger for elders. People in their teens have it. People in their thirties have it. People in their fifties and sixties have it, too. Imagine people in their fifties and sixties attending spiritual workshops and self help seminars, waiting for some kind of elder to guide them into the depths of their lives and turning someone who is willing to try into the mother or father they really deserved or should never have had. This happens, frequently. Their hunger is ample sign that, while parents are an inevitability, genetic and exemplary, elders are not.
Elderhood is not a consequence of what a birth certificate says, otherwise we’d be awash in them, with more on the way. It is not a consequence of not having died yet, nor of enduring a life. It is not what will happen if you or I stick around long enough. That condition I would call ‘senior citizen’. Seniors are a consequence of death not happening. Elders are a consequence of a lifetime lived in the presence of elders, with all the subtle training laying out a template for service instead of retirement. Elders are a consequence of a whole sequence – a fragile sequence- of things happening. This sequence has a soul, and this it seems is it: elders do not achieve their elderhood. For all their labours of learning they must still await elderhood being conferred upon them by those who seek them out. Elders are finally made by the willingness and the ability of everyone else to have elders in their midst, to have recourse to them.
Consider then how unlikely elderhood is in a time which medicates, resists and barely tolerates age instead of venerating it, in a time when being self made is king and queen of all aspirations, in a time when senior citizens are competing for jobs and life partners and the attention of the marketplace with people half their age. Elders aren’t self made. They can’t be. They don’t confer elderhood upon each other, for it isn’t theirs to confer. They serve the culture which has given them their lives, their elders, and their achievement as elders only flowers when they have some place to serve. That place is younger people.
Earlier this year I began to teach a little about this elder hunger, and at one of the first sessions something important happened. A good sized group of people gathered to hear a few of my ideas about elder making, and more than half of them were well into the second half of their lives. I asked the young organizer of the event to help me present some of these ideas by beginning with a kind of question/answer dialogue with me. Though nervous he took to it well, and brought us to the heart of the thing directly, with his first question. He told us that many of his generation lived with a grinding, undiagnosed and low grade depression that hovered at the edge of their days. He asked me why that was, where that came from. My answer: this depression is not a consequence of the impotence simmering in the presence of global warming or of the nefarious mayhem of free trade or the caravan of miseries that parade across the micro screens of their lives and masquerade as information, though depression is probably a legitimate response to those things. In fact, it isn’t depression at all. It is a longing for something not quite seen, a longing that has no container, no shape and no language these days. It is a longing for the vault of heaven to stitched back together. It is a longing for something enduring and honourable to precede them into the hall of ancestors and worthies, something worth being. It is elder hunger.
I don’t know if anyone heard that, or if anyone recognized what I was saying, or wanted to, or agreed in some fashion that this could be so, or was overly concerned about any of it. But I know this: a young man at the front of a room of older people confessed a sadness and a longing for elders on behalf of his generation, and he did so clearly and articulately, and no older person in that room came to him. No one took a chair and sat beside him and said, “Well, this is all true and not as it should be. But tonight you are not going to lament about this alone. I’m going to sit here with you and we will wonder our way towards a little sanity and companionship on this matter. And thank you for asking.” I do recall that some of the older people defended themselves against this hunger and the indictment that is clearly also in it. One older man said that he considered himself a good grandfather, that skyped his grandchild regularly.
So, there is a lot of work to be done. Would that the hunger for elders among young people not be extinguished by despair or hostile disowning of the current regime. Would that people of middle age give their peak income generating years to learning the etiquette of service to a culture that no longer seems to need them, readying themselves for elderhood. And would that old people keep a chair by the door of their ebbing years, and stay alert for a faint voice outside that finds a way against the odds to ask for real guidance and a reason to continue. Would that it were so.
Originally presented at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, March 23, 2014
”I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy” – Thích Nhat Hanh
”We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind. That’s where real tranquility is to be found” – The Dalai Lama.
This apple is a bit of a modern miracle. Partly because it’s March. A fresh apple in March! And shelves full of them in every grocery store.
How many of us have grown apples? How many of us have stored apples over the winter? Like in a cellar or basement? This perfect apple didn’t come from a cellar, but from a storage facility where humidity, temperature and oxygen levels are mechanically controlled and monitored by computers. This apple is an example of modern abundance. Apples aren’t in season. Apple season is six months away. But we can buy almost anything in many places, almost anytime. Anyone who has experienced seasonal shortage might realize modern abundance is pretty remarkable. But to those of us who have lived in relative comfort in modern times, this abundant availability of food and other goods is just normal.
Before modern refrigeration and storage were widely available, only the best apples were selected and stacked in baskets and crates, then kept cool in cellars, underground pits and caves. Although I grew up in modern times, when I was a kid we had a cellar dug into the bank near the stream that ran through our property. It was like a small basement. In October, we would look at the big box of apples and the dozens of jars of fruit, vegetables and salmon, and feel a deeply pleasing sense of abundance. In mid-winter, getting home from school, we would run down to the cellar where it was warmer than the freezing outside air and reach into the box and pull out a perfect crisp, cool, sweet apple. In late January, they were getting a little soft, and by March, they were gone. No apples left in the cellar. The garden was still muddy and bare from winter, except for a few stems of kale and chard and a few buried carrots. The thimbleberry and blackberry bushes by the creek were still months from bearing fruit, and fishing for steelhead and winter chinook was an expensive and chancy sport rather than a realistic source of food. We stacked empty jars on the cellar shelves after each meal.
Today, there are plenty of apples on grocery store shelves. In fact we all know we can get just about any fruit, vegetable or food product just about any time, a short drive or walk from home. We can buy an unbelievable range of toys, gifts, housewares, clothing, appliances, tools, electronics, and entertainment. Compared to older times, when the beginning of spring was when we humans deliberately, and out of necessity, consumed less, now every new season marks a new shopping cycle.
Long before I or anyone I know was around, the Equinox marked a time of hope for life to re-emerge after the dark, cold winter. A time to hope for renewal and a fresh new growing season to start. A time to reassure ourselves that food would again be abundant, and that we would again celebrate and feast together. We use the symbols of eggs, bunnies and flowers to remind ourselves of the fertile abundance the renewed season will bring. And we remind ourselves that the forces of good and of life are strong, and that goodness and light return even after a dark winter. In the old days, things were rough in the early spring. People had been hungry for awhile, some got sick. At this time of year, we really needed flashes of hope and light: little shoots of green, a bit of solemn confidence and some sweet surprises and big smiles from the grown-ups. And a nice party for everyone, young and old. These are all about raising spirits.
Today we have abundance beyond measure. More than we need, more than we can readily comprehend. But it seems that we are still hungry. With all this abundance of things, what do we do? I can see that a lot of us spend time with each other and do quite a lot of good work. Many of us have grown up working a lot, doing the things we needed to do to bring abundance to our families and to this church as well. But today, a lot of us are experiencing a different kind of abundance: this incredible avalanche of material goods, and of information and technology and entertainment that have become part of normal life for so many of us.
And many of us are still hungry for Something. There’s this feeling of need. That desire for Something in the old days was what motivated us to go outside, or to put on a show, or to explore the world. How many of us remember that feeling of wanting to have something to do and someone saying “Go play outside.” And you did. You’d read all the books, played with all your toys, there was nothing on TV or you didn’t have a TV, or you were over your quota and anyway not allowed to waste a day sitting around inside. So you connected with friends and did something. When I was twelve years old, during the March break, my brother and I found some wood and built a tree house, more of a tree platform, ten feet off the ground and eight feet square. It had beams and floor joists. We didn’t officially know how to build a floor, but we did it. Our parents had no idea what we were doing out there in the forest. When it was built, we called them outside to see what we had done. We ran ahead, climbed up and hid there, so that when they walked down the path through the forest they didn’t know to look up until we popped our heads over the edge and yelled with unforgettable pride, so they could see what we had done. We loved our tree fort, but the look on their faces, their amazement. That was gold! Those were the old days.
Today, we—grown-ups—have built an abundant universe of technologies to reach for when we feel the need to do something: the internet, smart phones, video games, World of Warcraft, Facebook, Pinterest, texting. Now I know that you and I haven’t designed and built these personally. But from the perspective of a young person, we adults approve these technologies implicitly. In fact, while many of us grew up without networked digital communications and entertainment, we now accept them as normal. But they are not. They are new, and they may not be as great as the technology zealots, marketing specialists and the human-computer designers would like us to believe.
Let’s take a few seconds to remember what normal was like fifteen years ago. It’s not easy to remember, because we humans are adaptable. We get used to the new normal pretty quickly. The new normal is that 30 percent of North American households have no limits on screen time for children and teens. The new normal is that the average North American teen has a screen in her face for seven and a half hours a day every day. The new normal is that we don’t seem to have the time to help our kids with their problems. And the new normal is that we adults need to go and “work” on the computer some more. Children and youth are following our lead: looking at their phones, computers, televisions, and game consoles, following us into the habit. Into digital default; and when it gets cut off, into digital distress.
There is a growing, recent body of research into this new normal, asking to what extent the new normal might be harming children’s chances in life. We know that brain development during childhood and youth is rapid and complex. We are learning that too much time on screen harms learning, thinking, and moral development. The biggest concern is that we don’t know to what extent we are risking children’s capacity for future learning and development. Overuse of technology may cause changes in the structure of the brain that limit later learning and development in areas like empathy and motivation. As a result of this research. the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children “aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to [screen time], 3-5 year-olds should be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 year-olds restricted to 2 hours per day.” The Kaiser Foundation (2010) and Active Healthy Kids Canada (2012) found that the new normal is that kids are on screen for four to five times the time limits in these guidelines for children and youth. It’s kind of an experiment, really. We are responsible for a massive experiment in which our young people are the underage research subjects. Are we giving informed consent? What are we risking in this experiment?
A friend reminded me that we have done massive social experiments with our young people before—widespread literacy is relatively new—and these experiments had both benefits and costs. I don’t think this is the same experiment. We need to consider “What costs are we incurring with this present experiment?” And “What exactly is the experiment?” Just to make this a little more real, imagine you are handed a consent form asking you to sign your permission for your nine-year-old to see seven hours of TV, video, video games, smart phone apps political messaging and advertising every day for an indefinite period of time. There’d be a warning on the form: Risks may include learning and social difficulties; or Combined with an average North American diet, sedentary behaviour may cause health problems; and There may be increased chances of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, depression and the controversial diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder. Would you sign the permission form and send a child into this experiment?
I will note that some studies have been able to measure increased abilities in video gamers on certain skill tests, but it turns out these tests are measuring what children learned in the video games, rather than their skills in real life. There is plenty of research that identifies problems, and there are quite a number of health care providers in several fields who are fully occupied with treating children with problems associated with excessive screen time. Something to keep in mind if this turns into a debate: it’s easy to point to kids who have done OK, despite overuse if technology: family involvement, stable homes, enriched environments, good diet, friends, good schools. These can all counter the progress of digital addiction. But does anyone really claim that seven and a half hours a day of screen time is good for children? No, not really.
Children and youth are much more likely to be healthy and smart, good and happy if they spend less time online and more time in the real world. But that is not the trend right now. The trend is that those of you who vaguely oppose all this digital culture might sheepishly deprecate yourselves as Luddites, those famous opponents of automation technology from the early industrial revolution. And you expect to get brushed aside. But maybe you’re just right. Maybe your instincts are right. Maybe you’re countering a massive cultural trend that is going in an unhealthy direction and you’re not sure how to approach your son or daughter or friend when she or he doesn’t want to turn off the video or put the phone down for a few minutes.
And what about sleeping? Sleep is important to learning, development, and mental and physical health. When it comes to taking a break, getting rest and unwinding and recharging and processing our experiences through sleep, we are in a dark time indeed. “Night time. It’s a good time to sleep,” I tell my son. But many children are awake into the night. A Boston College study found that 75% of nine and ten year-old children are sleep-deprived, and most of them are allowed screens in their bedrooms, unsupervised. When all these patterns combine, are we reducing children’s chances for a healthy, happy life? We see children being fed a digital diet that leaves them hungry. And chances are they will be fed medication rather than a nourishing diet of real life, and time with family, friends, and nature.
It is a dark time. But the desire to stay online, to keep watching the next episode, to play up to another level, is real and strong and learned. And it can be unlearned, in time. It’s time to re-emerge from this digital darkness, and to reclaim our time, and to help our children reclaim their young lives. Equinox and the Ostara rituals have been around for a long time, to recall the energy of life in the time of rebirth of plants and animals and good spirits. In our wish, this year, for abundance, what do we really need? We’re short of life’s most precious gift: Time. But because of the abundance of connections we have around us—the friends, families, the people sitting next to you in this community of like-minded seekers—we have the wealth we need to create more time.
When I made the above presentation in March 2014, I offered each member of the audience a coupon. For time. Sometime. I suggested that, while the daffodils were still up, they find someone to give that coupon to. It’s good for an hour of their time – an hour of undivided, unplugged presence. Doing something or doing very little, it’s up to them. But in the giving of that time (which is really just a seed), we create an hour of the kind of time we all need more of. And in those hours our friendships grow, and in the unplugged time, in the several hundred hours among us, away from tweets and texts, in the real world, together, our children may blossom and thrive again.
by Erlene Woollard
As Suzuki Elders for the Environment, we often think and debate about how our roles and actions can be most useful in helping to provide positive social change. We ask ourselves how we might make our stories useful and even essential to providing encouraging pathways for younger people and help them to manoeuvre the natural and political environments they will inherit from us. We, in turn, rely on each other and the many “others” we are engaged with for encouragement and guidance. Scholars and “doers” happily share their wisdom and observations and offer to communicate to us by “quotable” quotes that we can choose to enhance our journeys through this complex business of living well but lightly on the earth.
I want to share some of those quotes that I have sought or stumbled upon recently, starting with one by Nancy Lubin:
“In the long run, numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you really want to connect with our audience, give them what they’re waiting for, what we are always waiting for. Tell them stories.”
Taking this to heart, more than thirty Elders have recently written stories and this project is described in other documents. Ten of these Suzuki Elders are now working with a group of high school students who have shown more than a passing interest in our stories. We are seeking to capture the essence of the stories through conversations, planning meetings, interviews and an upcoming video to further capture this work.
This has led me to look back to the work of Marshall Ganz whose tools of telling stories (of me, we, now) has been a guide for communication staff at the David Suzuki Foundation who have thus guided our SE process. I note that Ganz’s work was inspired by Alexis de Toqueville’s quote:
“In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”
On seeing this, things fell into place for me as I realized this important act of combining is often missed. When we look upon our stories as being an important part of a community seeking to connect as a system devoted to social justice and positive change it becomes more obvious how our stories can help.
The current system has its own storyline perhaps best captured by poet and philosopher Wendell Berry:
“The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.”
This quote can help us define a way to change current public discourse from consumption, violence, death and jobs at all costs to a more balanced discourse of respect and love of a more natural life where we can combine leadership, inclusive discourse, thoughtful change and humanity while building community.
In order to offer encouragement in these times, when calls for civil disobedience seem our only resource, our stories may offer positive actions to complement them. This leads me to reflect on the life of Henry David Thoreau, the American guru on civil disobedience and his essays about his life, actions and observations.
His quotes that resonated (among others) were the following:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Our stories and any other actions we choose to take as elders have the potential to encourage a better public discourse to inspire ourselves and others to make sure our song for a healthy world is sung loudly and clearly, long before we die.
This reflection linked back to Ganz’s concept of “combining” and led me to seek a better understanding of Ubuntu, a South African philosophy translated broadly as a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity. Molefe offers two maxims that have become popular definitions for ubuntu. The first is the Mbitian maxim:
“I am because you are and since we are, therefore, I am”.
The second is the Nguni aphorism (in English)
“a person is a person through other persons”
…..and suggests that one’s relationships with others are the foundations of one’s personhood or humanity.
In this completion of a circle I am led back to de Toqueville, then Ganz, then to the Suzuki Foundation and ourselves and our work with the community and those younger than ourselves. My passionate hope is that if we can keep this circle vibrant, the world will benefit from our work in a way yet to be determined…….
I got a call from Ruth at about 7:45 pm. I was heading into a Mozart concert at the Chan Centre. Ruth said, “Come on down to the Chevron Refinery. Three people are chained to the gate, protesting Chevron’s part in dismantling the First Nations protest camps blocking the construction of the Pacific Trail gas pipeline.”
I sat through the Mozart Horn Concerto and the Ravel Mother Goose Suite. Then I had to leave. I got to the Chevron Refinery on the Burnaby Waterfront (near the Kinder Morgan tanker loading dock) for the final act. Ruth told me that the police were going to cut through the chains and bicycle U-lock and arrest the three protesters.
There were about 30 protesters and around 20 RCMP. As I approached the gate a guard said “You’re trespassing on private property.” I could see that 30 protesters were already well onto private property, so I just kept walking and joined them: in my suit and tie.
Long story short – the three got cut loose and arrested for breaking the injunction. As Betty Krawczyk points out, injunctions pit the prisoners against the court system, which was not the target of the protest. But that’s why Betty got a 10-month sentence for sitting down in front of a bull dozer at Eagle Ridge Bluffs. Harriet Nahannee also went to jail, got pneumonia, and died soon after her release.
So what is this about?
The Pacific Trail is a pipeline route for fracked natural gas from B.C.’s northeast to Kitimat. Once this pipeline route, crossing the Rockies, is complete, it will be much easier for the Enbridge pipeline to follow the same, or nearby, pipeline right of way.
But isn’t natural gas the least carbon intensive fuel for the amount of energy created? And when it spills, it just evaporates into the air. All this is true, so natural gas has met with little opposition. But should it get a pass? I don’t think so because of the unresolved problem of “fugitive emissions” of methane in the process of recovering the natural gas.
What’s wrong with methane (CH4)? If you use the UN method of deriving CO2e, i.e. converting the Greenhouse Gas methane into CO2 equivalent terms, methane has about 23 times more powerful greenhouse effect than CO2 over 100 years. The problem is that during the first 20 years it has over 70 times more impact than CO2. I’m more worried about the next 20 years than the next 100, so I prefer the “70” over the “23” when comparing methane to CO2.
What is methane?
Methane is the primary flammable portion of natural gas. Methane and natural gas are almost the same thing. Pure methane is odourless, and is abundant in coal. It’s the gas that causes the canary in the coal mine to croak. Fugitive emissions of methane in coal mining are also extremely high. There has been an academic tussle over fugitive emissions of methane in fracking since 2011. The latest report indicates that fugitive emissions of methane are still so high that the carbon footprint of fracked gas is about the same as coal. In other words, when you apply a full analysis of carbon intensity from production to consumption of fossil fuels, fracked gas and thermal coal are tied for worst.
Should the Pacific Trail gas pipeline get a free pass?
Thus the three people chaining themselves to the Chevron refinery gate. Chevron is a major partner of the Pacific Trail pipeline, and wants it built ASAP.
So the May 30 action deserves our support. The protesters were peaceful, and careful not to provoke the RCMP, when I was there. I believe there will be more blockades at the Chevron Refinery at the north foot of Rosser St., one block west of Willingdon.
I heard one of the three chained to the gate say “I am aboriginal, and this is aboriginal land. I am exercising my right as a First Nations person to sit on our land.” Nearby his wife nursed their baby
by Jill Schroder
Vancouver has a deserved reputation as a green city but, with a population approaching 2½ million, has to work hard at dealing effectively with the disposal of solid waste (currently estimated at 1.5 million tonnes annually. Recycling currently accounts for about 55% of garbage reduction. Metro Vancouver’s targets for the future are 70% recycling by 2015 and 80% by 2020. Community recycling programmes are now, and will continue to be, essential components in solid waste management.
Residents at Panorama Place apartments in the West End have, through the efforts of half a dozen volunteers, run an effective recycling programme for the building which has reduced the building’s garbage by more than 25% and, over the years, has diverted tonnes of garbage from landfills. We would like to see other residents in Vancouver do the same thing for their buildings.
Our Panorama Place Green Team got its start some 15 years ago when a group of residents campaigned to convert the roof of the apartment’s parking garage into landscaped green space. Our efforts in that direction were ultimately unsuccessful but they started a conversation about how we could make our building ‘greener’. The start was simple enough – providing a bin for residents to recycle beverage containers, which were then not included in the City of Vancouver’s recycling program.
Over time the diversity of recycled materials has grown significantly. In the past 6 months our group has collected 30 98-litre bins of styrofoam, 30 bins of waxed cartons and beverage containers, 30 bins of soft plastics (including shopping bags and wrapping), four bins of hard plastics, hundreds of batteries and light bulbs, and dozens of electrical appliances. In May of this year Metro Vancouver expanded its blue box recycling program to include things like waxed cartons, Tetra Paks, and ice cream tubs.
We all take turns driving the bins to the depot when they are full. Of the 146 units in the building, about three-quarters are currently taking part in the recycling program. Municipal garbage pickup from the building has been reduced from four times a week to three.
November 2013 saw a step forward when our Green Team embarked on a food scraps recycling program. We started with a 25-unit 6-week trial run before opening up the program to the entire building. Metro Vancouver has proposed banning all food scraps from landfills and transfer stations by 2015, so we saw the need to get a head start. The program has been a huge success, collecting more than 2 tonnes of organic waste in the past 6 months (enough to fill four large dumpsters). Since the inception of the food waste program we have noticed that recycling of other materials has increased. An unexpected side benefit has been the transformation of the buildings recycling room into something approaching a social hub.
We are now making our progress and achievements wider known so as to spread the word and encourage others to start similar programs in their buildings. Start small with a committed group of people and just do it!
by Archana Datta
Earlier this year the Youth and Literary Activities Sub-Committee of the Lower Mainland Bengali Cultural Society in Vancouver held its monthly gathering at which we hosted a young guest speaker from the Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).
He addressed a full house of 21 parents and children, and spoke eloquently to us on the environmental issues surrounding GAIA’s vision of a just, toxic-free world without incineration. GAIA mobilizes grassroots action against the spread of incinerators and other end-of-pipe waste technologies, helps build a movement for environmental justice, local green economies and for creative zero waste solutions. Our young speaker touched on the practical alternatives to incineration and what can be achieved through workshops at community and municipal levels, as well as individual and group efforts. He stated that being aware about the environment is the first thing one can do for one’s self, and then taking it further one step at a time. Whatever one does, it is important to always remember things in a bigger context as they affect life
I watched the reactions of the children and the parents alike. They asked questions on the challenges, what they could personally do, and how they could take the first steps. Our speaker made an obvious impression on the mixed audience. That was important for our small committee, so I let go a few items of our agenda and let the question-and-answer session proceed up to the end. All the while I watched the speaker fondly and intently, because he was the son of my dear, late friend Shyamali, and I have known Ananda since he was about 9 years old.
Shyamali was the daughter of an eminent Bengali artist, sculptor and educator from Dehradoon, India. Motherless at a very early age, Shyamali grew up with her grandmother in Shantiniketan, 160 km north of Kolkata. Shantiniketan (“home of peace”) was originally an ashram built by Debendranath Tagore, the father of India’s renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore. Today Shantiniketan is popularly known as a university town where anyone, irrespective of caste and creed, can come and spend time meditating on the one Supreme God. Shyamali grew up in nature, which had a profound influence on her.
She was an artist, activist and a mother. In the early 70’s she went to central America with her architect husband and their very young son. In the mid 70’s they came to Vancouver. She was a very social person and introduced herself to me when I was a new arrival in the city. From the first day I knew she was different to anyone else to whom I was introduced in the Bengali community.
Shyamali was a keen observer of what was going on in the world beyond her four walls, and a lot was indeed going on. She participated in public meetings, forums, artists guilds and rallies against nuclear armaments, war and the irradiation of food crops. She joined the artists’ guild and lived in a tent on Jericho Beach for a period. She was jailed in the U.S for protesting nuclear armament proliferation.
Her young son Ananda was always with her, but there was friction. On one side there was the tumultuous period in the USA with its effects on Shyamali, and on the other side there was an affluent life style. It was considered not to be healthy for the child’s soul, so Ananda was sent to an elite residential school in Ooty, situated in the mountainous Nilgiri Hills in southern India. Shyamali was not happy with this arrangement. By attending public lectures, rallies, forums and workshops with speakers the likes of Margaret Mead, Helen Caldicott, James Douglass and David Suzuki, she realized she needed to go back to her home base if she really cared for Shantiniketan and her son. She went back to India and brought her son to Shantiniketan where he finished high school.
As long as she lived, she did whatever she could do to protest against whatever she thought was wrong and she sided with whatever was right for people, for the soil, for the air, and for the water. Once in Shantiniketan she protested against a vintage car rally, arguing that the already polluted air of Shantiniketan should not be subjected to a few rich elitists’ pleasure. The organizers did not pay her any attention. She had much conviction and was a believer in non-violence as a great tool, so on the day of rally she just quietly laid herself down on the dusty road in front of the starting line and stayed there in a matter-of-fact way without any publicity and media attention. The rally could not take place. In all her artistic works, be it in a painting, in her story-telling with her home-made puppets or in her origami, she was one with nature.
She was a very gentle soul, yet uncompromising for the causes she thought were right – a tough but extremely loving role model for any child. According to Indian custom, once the body is done with living, it is incinerated. Shyamali wanted to be alive and remain part of living nature. Today her mortal body is buried under the soil in a village close to her beloved Shantiniketan. She chose that particular village because it did not discriminate against people of different religions, castes, creeds or social positions.
After he completed high school, Ananda came to live in Vancouver with his father. Since arriving here, he has never worked for any corporation, company or organization other than environmentally dedicated ones. Growing up during his formative years in Shantiniketan, with its particular social and physical environments, he realized what his mother had tried to instill in him throughout her life, namely that life is precious, not only for a privileged few, and that a healthy life is a right for every living being.
Just a year ago some of the Suzuki Elders exchanged views in this blog on what it means to be an Elder.
Our Elder Emeritus, Phillip Hewett, reminded us of the cardinal underpinning of eldership, i.e. a spiritual world-view to motivate efforts towards achieving a sustainable future for our planet. He cited David Suzuki in further reminding us that the label ‘Elder’ was traditionally a title to honour individuals who have experienced a profound and compassionate reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge, and have revealed a sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life, rather than a sense of separateness. Such Elders view an appropriate relationship with nature as a continuous two-way dialogue rather than as a one-way vertical monologue.
The Suzuki Elders have sought a common platform to bring their members together in common cause. This has been labelled the Elder Perspective and focuses on the ways in which the Association attempts to fulfil its mandate, including using realistic and positive frameworks for tasks related to conservation and achieving sustainability and social justice.
But how would one identify Elders going about their chosen tasks? Judgement by age or appearance? Hopefully not. Is just application and acceptance of the label Elder enough, or should there be some obligation to meet and maintain standards of behaviour or attitude?
Alternatively put, how does being an Elder translate in terms of qualities and behaviour as we go about the day-to-day, often tiresome, usually frustrating and always challenging business of engaging and attempting to secure a sustainable future for Earth? The Suzuki Elders have never considered these aspects in any depth, but it seems our Australian counterparts have.
In 2009 a group of 25 elders gathered in Perth, Western Australia, to participate in a public forum sponsored by the Eldership Project. They were charged with sharing their thoughts, feelings and ideas around the theme What are the qualities of an Elder? Their key thoughts and conclusions were captured, and have been reproduced here, courtesy of the Eldership Project.
The Perth forum concluded that eldership is about two things: qualities and roles. A person may have the qualities of an Elder but may not necessarily fill any meaningful Eldership role. Alternatively, a person may attempt to fulfil the role of Eldership without possessing the essential qualities. The forum noted that true Eldership only happens when a person with the qualities fulfils the role.
Some of the possible qualities of an Elder which were identified and recorded are as follows.
LIFE – their life experiences have led to deep learning.
GENEROSITY – they are willing and able to give of themselves.
ACCEPTANCE – they have come to accept life as it is, including their current condition, mistakes or injuries of the past and the insecurity of the future.
ACTIVITY – they are still active in life.
CONNECTION – they are connected to nature/spirit and to community.
FREEDOM – they have the freedom to speak their mind because they are no longer seeking to ascend in life and do not need to be concerned with the politics of success. They are also not attached to much.
COURAGE – they are willing to stand up and speak out. They have the courage to face their own lives.
SELF-VALIDATION – they have a deep appreciation of their own self and, while they may enjoy the validation of others, they do not seek it in the way younger men and women do. Their validation comes from the Spirit or from within.
JOI DE VIVRE – they have an easy joy for life.
PRIORITIES – they have developed a sense of what is – and is not – important.
CURIOSITY – they are still curious, still interested, still fascinated by life, still learning.
HOPE – despite the darkness in the world or of their own life experience, they have hope.
CALMNESS – they are not afraid, not hassled, not rushed.
AWARENESS – they have developed a keen awareness of their own self (psyche, personality, mind, shadow, etc). They may not have a perfect or complete understanding, but they have dedicated themselves to self-awareness – to “know thyself”.
EMPATHY – they can sense and feel and understand the feelings of others.
COMPASSION – they are sensitive, forgiving and compassionate.
MORTALITY – they are aware of and actively developing a final relationship with dying. They can face death, eyes open. They can think and talk about it. It is safe to explore death in their presence – and develop a deeper appreciation of life.
LISTENING – they listen actively, carefully, lovingly. They know when to speak, when to ask questions and when to be silent.
SAFETY – they bring a spiritually grounded safety to relationships and interactions.
CONTEMPLATION – they relish and require silence and contemplation, as distinct from passivity, boredom or listless inaction.
ACTION – they know when to act or speak and their actions are grounded in that depth of contemplation.
RESOLUTION – they have mostly resolved the grievances, hurts, mistakes and lost opportunities of their lives. They are not still kicking themselves or mentally imprisoning others for the past. As well as they are able, they have learnt from those things, healed and left those things behind.
RESPECT – they respect others and are respected by others.
HEALING – they may be able to bring healing arts to new or old wounds.
ALCHEMY – they have the capacity to affect, influence or lead transformation in conflicts, situations or individuals.
GRACE – is difficult to define, but true Elders have got it.
In Nature’s infinite book of secrecy a little I can read
- William Shakespeare
Thursday June 12th, 2014
High climbing and tall timber: The logging of the old-growth forests of the North Shore.
A talk for the Parkgate Library, District of North Vancouver.
Speaker: David Cook.
Meeting time & location: 7:30 pm at the Parkgate Library 3675 Banff Court, North Vancouver. (The Parkgate library is opposite the Parkgate Community Centre and adjacent to the Parkgate Village Shopping Centre at the corner of Mt Seymour Parkway and Seymour Road which is the access road to Mount Seymour Provincial Park).
Registration required: call the library at 604-929-3727.
Description of talk: The biology and characteristics of an old-growth forest will be explained followed by an account of the history, methods and economics of the logging of the old-growth forests on the North Shore that took place between 1850 and 1995.
Sunday June 15th, 2014
The Champion Trees of Stanley Park
A Discovery Walk for the Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES)
Trip leader: David Cook
Meeting time and location: 1:30 pm at the Nature House of SPES which is located on the north shore of Lost Lagoon.
Duration of field trip: Approximately 2 hours.
Registration would be appreciated: Call Stanley Park Ecology Society at 604-718-6522.
Cost: $5 for members of Stanley Park Ecology Society, children, students & seniors; $10 for non-members.
Description: Stanley Park retains some specimens of Douglas-fir and western red cedar that are between 500 and 800 years old. Also during our walk you will see two of the largest big-leaf maples in BC, and a large red alder, all designated as Champion Trees. Champion trees are record sized trees for their species. Our route will also take us past two of the most publicized cedars in BC; the Hollow Tree and the National Geographic Red Cedar. Share my fascination with these veteran giants and discover why some trees in the Pacific Northwest have reached such a great age and size.
Saturday June 21st, 2014
Hidden gems: The overlooked and underappreciated smaller plants of Stanley Park
A Discovery Walk for the Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES)
Trip leader: David Cook
Meeting time and location: 1:30 pm at the Nature House of SPES which is located on the north shore of Lost Lagoon.
Duration of field trip: Approximately 2 hours.
Registration would be appreciated: Call Stanley Park Ecology Society at 604-718-6522.
Cost: $5 for members of Stanley Park Ecology Society, children, students & seniors; $10 for non-members.
Description: We will walk the forest trails of Stanley Park looking at examples of the Bryophyta (liverworts and mosses). The biology and ecology of these non-vascular plants will be explained. To assist you in appreciating their beauty and structure you will be supplied with hand lenses but bring your own if you have one.
Sunday June 22nd, 2014
The Champion Trees of Stanley Park
An interpretive natural history field trip for the Suzuki Elders: Bringing Youth and Elders Together.
Trip leader: David Cook
Meeting time and location: 10:00 am in the parking lot at Third Beach concession stand in Stanley Park. Turn right at Tea House after the Hollow Tree then right again.
Duration of field trip: Approximately 2 hours.
Registration: Not required
Description: Stanley Park retains some specimens of Douglas-fir and western red cedar that are between 500 and 800 years old. Also during our walk you will see two of the largest bigleaf maples in BC, and a large red alder, all designated as Champion trees. Champion trees are record sized trees for their species. Our route will also take us past two of the most publicized cedars in BC; the Hollow Tree and the National Geographic Red Cedar. Share my fascination with these veteran giants and discover why some trees in the Pacific Northwest have reached such a great age and size.
A free public event sponsored by Suzuki Elders. All ages welcome. Membership in Suzuki Elders not required.
Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has shaped the Earth’s environment since the Earth was formed. The Earth and its creatures, including humans, have adapted to these changes over time, living through ice ages and periods of heat. However, the pace of change has increased dramatically since the dawn of the Industrial Age in the early 1900’s due to humanity’s introduction and use of petrochemical-based industrial processes and wholesale extraction and destruction of Earth’s natural resources.
A major result of these activities is an ongoing and accelerating elevation in global temperatures due to an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases, particularly CO2 and methane. The impacts of these changes will affect all life forms on the planet for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to come.
Climate change affects us personally and on local, provincial, national and global scales. The safety, security and health of future generations depend on the actions we take now. It is time to reassess our priorities and values. We need to transition from competition and confrontation to cooperation and compassion. To create a world of social justice and sustainable living for all the world’s peoples and for all the life that depends on a healthy environment, each of us should start making positive change at home, in our communities, and throughout the world.
This brief overview describes the changes that may be experienced in British Columbia, and the adaptation and mitigation actions that each of us can take to prepare for these significant changes. Please use this document to help prepare for the climatic changes to come and to make BC a truly super, natural place to live today and for generations to come.
The impact of climate change on you, your family and your community
- Increase in the frequency and duration of extreme weather events – heavier precipitation, stronger winds, larger storm surges.
- Hotter and drier summers; warmer and more variable winters; fewer frost days; higher warming effect in the northeast section of the province.
- More snow in winter, but faster melt. Spring melt could result in more flooding. Less snow remaining in mountains during summer and fall, resulting in lower river flows throughout the province. An increased probability of drought.
- Sea level rise up to 1 metre by 2100 CE.
- Increase in ocean acidity; disruption of salmon migratory patterns; decrease in the ability of sea creatures to produce shells.
- Shift in the distributional range of insects and other life-forms northwards from warmer climates.
What you can do to help
- Reduce, reuse, recycle waste.
- Drive less – walk, cycle or use public transit.
- Plant trees.
- Buy locally.
- Use water sparingly.
- Lower the thermostat; wear warmer clothing if necessary.
- Live sustainably.
What you can do to adapt
- Store food and water for emergencies.
- Relocate away from sea shores and river deltas. Raise your home to alleviate flooding.
- Grow your own food, and share it with neighbours.
- Compost food wastes.
- Develop a neighbourhood emergency response plan.
- Use nature-based fertilizers and pesticides.
- Learn about local medicinal plants and practice preventative health care.
The following reports have been referenced in the preparation of this document:
- Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2012, City of Vancouver (available at http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Vancouver-Climate-Change-Adaptation-Strategy-2012-11-07.pdf
- Fifth Assessment Report 2013, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (available at http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf)
Please read both reports for additional information about climate change in BC, particularly in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and in the world at large.
My Dad loved Nature and believed in nature spirits – intelligent, creative entities who tended the diverse plant kingdom. Each species of plant, every type of flower and tree has its own unique entity to look after it, and each entity is part of a global cooperative energy focus dedicated to helping the natural world thrive.
Twenty-five years later this psychic connection between ourselves and all other life forms on Mother Earth continued to intrigue me. I needed to experience it for myself, so I decided to set off on a quest to a remote village in northeastern Scotland called Findhorn. It was founded in 1962 as a spiritual community whose focus was communication and cooperation with the entities of the natural world, called devas by Dorothy Maclean, one of the first Findhorn channelers.
The Findhorn Foundation became famous for a short time by growing exaggerated versions of plants: incredibly large vegetables and tropical fruits that were juicy and delicious, and brilliantly coloured flowers with otherworldly perfumes. It was said that this was possible through cooperation with the energies of the plant kingdom, and was an example of what could be accomplished by humanity working together with them. After a few years of scientific study, most of the plant species returned to their normal sizes, and much of the world’s interest faded. Findhorn Ecovillage continues to be an incredible place of encouragement, inspiration, love, companionship, acceptance and creativity, as well as a fountain of spiritual truth. Whether these truths come from intelligent energies in a different sphere of existence or from the inspired minds of the people who live in this enlightened community is a question for the visitor to decide.
As soon as I entered the village I was immediately surrounded by an atmosphere of love and acceptance. I could feel creative energies swirling through the air. Four other visitors and myself were given a tour of the place by a totally together five-year-old. He was smart, knew the history of the community, and introduced us to various people before leading us to the communal dining area for lunch. Everyone seemed happy and full of life. For a sensitive soul like me, it was like being wrapped up in a warm blanket by your mother; I felt safe and secure.
The individuals I met were intelligent, philosophical, practical, and compassionate. They made us feel welcome; they fed us and answered our questions. They were humorous and laughed easily. I enjoyed their company.
I don’t remember seeing anything that was exaggerated in size, but I do remember that all the plant life was thriving. The vegetarian meal was all homegrown, wonderfully seasoned, and delicious. Grace was said, thanking the plants for providing of themselves for our nourishment. Everyone, it seemed, was focused on living in harmony with the natural environment around them. Many of the devas’ messages provided guidance and observations to the community.
An example of such a message was received by Dorothy Maclean from the Lilium Auratum deva on October 4, 1968: “We feel it is high time for humans to branch out and include in your horizon the different forms of life which are part of your world. You have been forcing your own creations and vibrations on the whole world without considering that all things are part of the whole, as you are – placed there by divine plan and purpose. Each plant, each mineral, has its own contribution to make to the whole, as has each soul. Humans should no longer consider us as unintelligent forms of life to be ignored.
The theory of evolution that puts humans at the apex of life on Earth is only correct when viewed from certain angles. It leaves out the fact that God, universal consciousness, is working out the forms of life. For example, according to generally accepted dogma, I am a lowly lily unable to be aware of most things and certainly not able to talk with you. But somehow, somewhere is the intelligence that made us fair and continues to do so, just as somehow, somewhere, is the intelligence that produced your intricate physical body.
You are not aware of much of your own inner intelligence, and some of your own body is beyond your control. You are conscious of only a certain part of yourself, and likewise you are conscious of only a certain part of the life around you. But you can attune to the greater, within and around you. There are vast ranges of consciousness all stemming from the One, the One who is this consciousness in all of us and whose plan it is that all parts of life become more aware of each other and more united in the great forward movement which is life, all life, becoming greater consciousness.
So consider the lily, consider all that it involves, and let us blend in consciousness, unity and love under the One.”
David Spangler is an American spiritual philosopher who helped transform the Findhorn Foundation into a centre of residential spiritual education. This is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book Faces of Findhorn: Images of a Planetary Family written cooperatively by David and the Findhorn Community itself in 1980; he talks about a new planetary culture:
“The vision of an emergent planetary culture involves the broadening and deepening of our individual and collective perspectives and assumptions so that we embrace ourselves as a species, as humankind, rather than as separate factions. It involves, moreover, seeing ourselves as sensitive, interdependent members of a community of life that transcends the human and embraces the whole of planetary ecology, including the Earth itself as a living being. It is not seeing ourselves only as Eastern or Western, American, British, Russian, Chinese, African, or Asian. It is the rediscovery of our shared species identity that unites us beyond our national, racial, religious, economic, and political boundaries.
Within this broadened context, our current different cultures can still exist. They are simply deepened to touch our human roots, not just our ethnic ones; they are expanded to embrace our planetary existence and our ecological interdependence rather than being confined to parochial interests. Monoculture ultimately spells stagnation and death. What we are evolving is a context strong enough and deep enough to encourage the creative richness of diversity in the same way that life itself expresses its infinite variety of potential.
We are all story tellers, mythmakers: our lives, our thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires and self-images are tales that we project to the world. Like the stories that ancient men and women told around campfires and in sacred places, our myths give definition, meaning, order and significance to our personal realities. Cultures are like stories, too. They are tales told by some part of humanity about what it means to be human, to live on this Earth, to strive, to rejoice, to feel pain, to sorrow, to be born, to die, to triumph and to transcend.”
The function of a planetary culture and the role within it of places like Findhorn is the creation of a spiritual, psychic and psychological condition, a ‘meta-linguistic’ condition of connectedness, which allows people to tell their stories to each other without conflict so that in the telling we may all begin to hear and see the greater stories that our species and our planet have been trying to share for thousands of years. The story of human destiny must now open a new chapter and become a story of planetary destiny and unfoldment as well.”
I encourage all to explore this alternate realm of consciousness, to attune to the ways of Nature, and to believe in the unbelievable.