Monthly Archives: March 2011
MEMO TO: Canadian Grandparents
FROM: The Association of Suzuki Elders
TOPIC: Let’s elect a future for our grandkids
Two benchmarks of a sustainable future for our grandchildren are careful management of Canada’s natural environment and its resources, and promotion of a low carbon economy.
Let’s use the forthcoming federal election campaign to engage our candidates in meaningful discussion about the environment. Our grandchildren can’t elect their future, but we elders can.
Question to the candidates: “Please describe how you and your party’s policies will promote a sustainable future for my grandchildren. For example, what are your specific commitments to the following important issues?
- A sustainable low carbon economy which includes a national clean energy plan, financial support for renewable energy production and energy use efficiency, implementation of a revenue-neutral federal carbon tax, removal of all subsidies to coal, oil, gas and coal bed methane industries, and support for rapid transit and new public transportation systems.
- Sustained national action on climate change, including international agreements on technology transfer, financing and co-operation on emissions reductions and adaptation in developing countries in exchange for their agreement to limit emissions.
- Ensuring Canada’s future as a food production and exporting country by establishing a national food and farmlands policy, restructuring of our agricultural markets to sustain farming, encouragement of family farms and ensuring that farm families receive a fair share of consumer income, and support for organic agriculture instead of subsidizing costly agro-chemicals and genetically modified crops.
- Protection of our irreplaceable marine fish habitats by placing a permanent legislated moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in ecologically sensitive areas such as the west coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and by eliminating open-ocean net-pen aquaculture practices.
Please share these questions widely.
Prepared and distributed by the Association of Suzuki Elders, 2211 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6K 4S (email@example.com)
Years ago it became apparent to me that dealing with the grim uncertainty of environmental issues such as climate change needed the balance of creativity and the support of a spiritual community. Eighteen years later I can report that balancing science with the arts and with the mutual support of others has indeed worked. I will probably continue environmental work till 2030 when I will be able to say “I did my best.” But this work is no martyr’s sacrifice. It is “The Work That Reconnects” to use Joanna Macy‘s term. It is play, like playing a fiddle – the more you do it, the more fun it is.
“The Work That Reconnects” is the title of Joanna Macy’s DVD. In her late 70′s she, and her husband Fran, gave a final grand teaching on how to take negative emotions, which are a frequent part of work and which tend to isolate us, and re-work that energy into something positive and beneficial. To achieve that, we need connection with each other and with the beauty of nature, and we need to hold fast to our truth as it changes and matures.
This reconnection happens when we take a step back to see the world in a different way. Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” When we see that our opening up allow us to benefit from unlimited support, we gain the courage to see the vibrancy and the sanctity of all existence. We humbly see that we are a small part of all existence, and that this doesn’t diminish our individual importance.
In about 500 B.C. Lao Tzu Tao wrote the Tao Te Ching. The English translation by Stephen Mitchell goes as follows.
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.”
This is about the radical connectedness of all things, and how human minds tend to forget about that connectedness as we learn to discriminate this from that, and then add labels to create a world of categories which we take to be the only reality. The problem with this reductionist approach is that we end up with a heap of lifeless separate things and forget the relationships, the profound inter-dependence of all existence, which is an equally valid way of perceiving the world. This perspective has much in common with the systems view of things. Joanna Macy refers to the Buddhist concept of inter-dependent co-arising. James Lovelock calls it Gaia and refers to nested ecosystems in a self-regulating bio-sphere. “Co-evolution” is Stewart Brand’s term.
“Tao” is sometimes translated as “the Way”, referring to its dynamism, but Lao Tzu reiterates that words are inherently misleading. Words require a categorizing mind, which emphasizes differences rather than fundamental continuity. Therefore the mystic’s direct experience of the divine is a more reliable indicator. By holding fast to the search for truth, unpleasant and difficult as that may be sometimes, and by putting our truth into action in this world, we approach our own experience of the divine. But our fundamental motivation is our love for the world’s children and grandchildren. We simply wish to give them a healthy earth, and a good and just human world.
The term “desire” in the Tao Te Ching quote above refers to the attachment we feel towards those things we love or want. Desiring not to desire sounds tricky, and it can be if it becomes…trying not to try. But having natural desires without attachment is not so hard once one sees through the pointlessness of attachment, especially since it is only the illusory ego which is doing the attaching. Also, for this “I” to have “it” reinforces the belief in the reality of “I” . Realizing our radical connectedness and interdependence allows that small “self” to fade a bit, as we realize our existence in a much greater Self. St. Francis of Assisi got it: “Brother Sun, Sister Moon…”
Some humility, some humour, some gratitude, and some discipline are all useful…as is reading sources like the Tao Te Ching.
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.”
There is a Taoist term “wu wei“, which is hard to translate, because it means “not doing”. But it is neither laziness, nor passivity. It is doing one’s work without being attached to results. It’s hard for us to think in terms of not being goal oriented. But it’s not exactly that either. It’s seeing whatever results occur as a useful lesson, so being grateful for failures as well as successes.
It takes humility to see the world by working through one’s mind and body and without taking credit.
Together we can do the “work that reconnects“. As elders, we’ve been waiting for so long to enjoy the fruits of our labour and our good luck to live in such abundance. We love the beauty, the promise, and the hopeful energy of youth, and we want to tell our stories, honestly and playfully. We like to play, too. Doing this work is the best play I know.
Raining today in Hilo. Rained yesterday too. “Rainiest city in the U.S. of A.” says mine host at the shore side B&B. Rains a lot here. But its soft, warm rain and it fades away as quickly as it appears. The lagoons along the shore sparkle in the sudden moonlight, and the frogs start up their nightly din.
Kona is where the tourists go. That’s the dry west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Beaches, sunshine, glitzy hotels, Escalades parked in the driveways, beautiful people. But Hilo is a blue collar working town. Homely, unpretentious, even a bit gritty here and there. People of all hues and ethnicities. Downtown Hilo looks like a throwback to the sixties. Haven’t seen so many peace signs since Nixon. New age bookstores and organic food stores abound. Kitsilano of the south Pacific. A handsome, beaming young Hare Krishna approaches me. Tough luck, mate, I’ve already got a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I’ve even read it.
If the clouds lift in the morning, I may be able to see the summit of Mauna Loa. From here you can’t see the Mauna Loa Observatory, 80 kilometres away and 4000 metres above Hilo. Around the breakfast table at the B&B I wax enthusiastic over the fact that NOAA has been monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at the Observatory since 1956. Blank stares. They don’t know about the Observatory or the monitoring. They probably don’t know what carbon dioxide is either. I retreat into my coffee mug.
Last week this time I was on Kauai. The Garden Isle. Spent a day as a fare-paying passenger on board Cap’n Greg’s catamaran, which daily plies the waters up the western side of the island. Captain Cook sailed the same waters in 1778 and probably gawked, as I did, at the humpback whales breaching, the dolphins spinning, the green turtles bobbing and the fish flying all around. But old James must have been one hell of a sailor to get Resolution through those heavy point swells without Cap’n Greg’s five hundred horsepower diesel.
The steep, stark cliffs of Na Pali lay to starboard, massive white-crested waves hammering incessantly at their base. Four million-year old lava flows. Ten million years ago there was a huge volcano here. It blew its top, literally, and left Na Pali as a gaunt reminder of the awesome power of earthly creation and destruction. A pretty teenager sat in the stern and tapped away at her I-phone. She never looked up, nor left nor right. Must have been some damned important text messages coming in. Amidships was an open cabin with a square bar offering free Mai Tais. A guy with a powder blue T-shirt and yellow Bermudas bellied up to that bar for an hour and a half while the cliffs slid by on the starboard side. Na Pali? Say what?
I joined a group of arrogant Californians on a bike ride down Waimea Canyon. On signing the registration sheet I discovered I was three times their average age. Years schmears. It was all downhill, so I was right up there with them at the end.
Our guide up and down the canyon road was Harald, who was half Japanese and half Polynesian. I soon discovered that cycling the wild Waimea was only half the benefit. The rest was being entertained and educated by Harald rambling on about the geology, the botany, the history and the island culture. He hardly shut up for three hours of riding. “Been doing this for six years,” he said. “So what did you do before?” I asked. “Worked tables in the local restaurants” he said.
Harald told us that mixed ancestry is not always easy nor simple. He telephoned his Japanese grandma in Honolulu on her birthday. “Where are you?” she wanted to know. “Working in Kauai,” he responded. “Do a good job,” she said, “and come and see me when you have vacation”. He telephoned his Polynesian aunt in Maui to wish her well. “Where are you?” she demanded. “Working in Kauai,” he responded. “You should be here,” she reprimanded him. “Family is much more important than work”.
Maybe that’s why Hawaiians are so laid back. It’s not just the climate. In a society made up of a blend of Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, Anglo-Saxon, Portuguese, Filipino and heaven knows what else, they’ve probably just given up in trying to reconcile the conflicting cultural mores.
We stopped at one of the spectacular Waimea Canyon viewpoints. Behind us the red, gold and black canyon stretched for more than a kilometre across. In front of us lay the cobalt blue Pacific. Harald indicated the distant hazy grey blob. “That’s Niihau, the only Hawaiian island which is privately owned.” Niihau was purchased from Kamehameha V in 1864 by Elizabeth McHutchison Sinclair for $10,000 in gold. Today it belongs to her descendants Keith and Bruce Robinson. There are 130 native Hawaiians on Niihau, and they still live a traditional life-style, choosing to speak Hawaiian first and haole only occasionally. They fish, farm and ranch sheep and cattle. They also get social security from Uncle Sam.
Harald told us the story of the Niihau shells. A tiny marine snail Leptothyra verruca is abundant in the waters off Niihau. Large numbers of shells are washed up on the island’s beaches every day, but they are so delicate that they are bleached white by the sun within a day or two, and lose their renowned red, green and pink colouration. So the women of Niihau comb the beaches daily, armed with tweezers, soft cotton bags and really sharp eyesight. The collected shells are carried back to the village where they are sorted and separated by colour. One shell in three has to be discarded because of cracks or defects. Tiny holes are drilled lengthwise through each shell so that they can be threaded together. The threads are plaited together to make leis of the most exquisite colour and texture. “The longer leis are sold for hundreds of dollars each ,” said Harald. “They’re a great investment, and never lose their value. Nobody else will ever be able to make Niihau shell leis.”
The tsunami siren on Pu’ipu Beach blasted a warning at 10 p.m. We ran for the ubiquitous TV and were confronted by a disgruntled-looking haole in a pinstripe suit telling us that a massive earthquake had hit Japan and the tsunami was on its way. The subsequent scenes of Toyotas floating amongst houses and fishing boats dispelled any thoughts of rebellion against this intrusion on our peace and quiet. We headed inland and spend the night in the parking lot of Big Save.
I watched the flickering maps on the TV monitors in the store windows and wondered how something happening 6300 km away could affect our lives so drastically and so rapidly here on the Garden Island. The downside of globalization. Nature had it sorted a long time ago.
Raining in Hilo. Rains a lot here. Nothing happened here after the tsunami. But Kona, home of the beautiful people, was clobbered. The harbour is out of action. Big hotels closed by structural damage. The famous Place of Refuge at Punalu’u on the south-western coast was destroyed.
The pinstriped haole is back on the TV. He says that Reactor No. 3 at Fukushima is leaking radiation. Almost as an aside he ends his newscast with an item that the U.S. Federal Government has installed radiation monitors in Honolulu, and they’re detecting small amounts of radiation.
My small Earth is about to get a whole lot smaller.
by Bob Worcester
Eldership requires a balance of action and reflection – each informed by the other. There are many good causes that call for concerted action but what action is effective in the pursuit of our good intentions? I recently attended a workshop sponsored by the Metro Vancouver Alliance that addresses this question. The fundamentals of this approach can be summarized in 3 Ps: people, power and perspective.
In brief, informed action begins with authentic relationships between people. Each of us has a view on where we are and where we would like to go. We each have a story of how we came to our current situation. Listening to each other is the key. Most of us are content with some aspects of our current situation and discontented with others and we each imagine different ways in which positive change could happen. Relationships are based on shared understanding and the appreciation of differences. Networks form on the basis of authentic relationships and shared vision.
People in relationships have power, and power is useful when used wisely. Power can facilitate change or it can be an obstacle. A realistic understanding of power relationships is necessary for effective action. Power involves information, resources and influence involving strategic alliances and leadership. Politics has been described as the art of the possible where incremental steps often precede dramatic change.
Power for its own sake lacks legitimacy; it is perspective that shapes the goals and aspirations of a movement for change. Perspective derives from wisdom and experience and incorporates shared human values. It is the big picture that guides action and becomes the measure of achievement. Perspective emerges out of the authentic relationships among people who listen to, and understand, each other. Personal relationships provide the power which is in turn guided by appropriate perspectives that ultimately achieve significant change which often occurs in incremental steps.
Successful popular movements, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, involve the collaboration among people with 3 distinct skill sets: champions, mavens and networkers.
§ Champions devote their time and energy to a cause with persistence and passion. They often become the “face” of a movement. In the environmental movement Al Gore is a good example.
§ Mavens are people with accurate, up-to-date information that keeps a movement grounded in the realities of a situation. Spokespeople like Al Gore need people like Phil Jones, the director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, to help negotiate mazes of conflicting information.
§ Networkers know people who know people. Recent ‘tipping points” in middle-east democracy movements relied on social networking to create crowds. If 100 people email 100 people, a crowd of 10,000 potentially shows up. A small number of people can trigger such a tipping point when conditions are right.
A simple moving message “sticks” in the communications process. “Freedom Now!” works while more complicated and nuanced messages often get lost in the process. “Limiting atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 ppm will likely limit future global mean temperature rise to 5 degrees centigrade by end of century” has not had the same effect.
Knowledge of these social dynamics can help make elder advocacy more effective.