Connection and Community… We Are the Universe
If you really knew me, you would know that I've started spending more time pondering my blogs than writing them… musing, staying open, gathering bits and pieces of stories or information that are so readily available on the internet, and mapping them all out in what would look like the inside of a baseball to most folks (you know, a mass of rubber bands all wrapped around each other…). This process actually takes up most of my "blog time" (that, and worrying about not getting them done in time because I haven't started writing yet). But lately, I keep trusting the process, continuing to gather and muse and map… and - lo and behold! - something catalyzes and everything clicks into place. This month, my catalyst was re-reading one of the pieces I had saved to use for this blog - a commencement speech given by Paul Hawken at the University of Portland in May, 2009. As I sat here reading it, I felt such awe at how succinctly, poetically and brilliantly he expresses the core of what I am feeling. So, I'm "borrowing" quite a few of his words. However, I really urge you to read his entire speech for yourself. It's profoundly beautiful and utterly inspiring.
My ego has been putting up a pretty darned good fight lately as I've been struggling with what I've been pondering for this month's feature blog. It feels so big, so unwieldy - how to explain what I feel, what I am coming to know on the deepest level and so urgently want to share with everyone… that we are all connected. That there isn't anything we're not connected to… nothing. If you think of anything - anything at all - from a baseball to a butterfly, a nuclear power plant to the Nubian Desert, we are all utterly, wholly, inextricably connected to it.
In other words, we are this creation we call the universe, and our only job is to wake up to that fact and do our part in helping others to do the same.
This is the good news and the bad news… good news for our hearts, bad news for our egos which have the tendency toward separation, isolation and wanting to be right (about pretty much everything…). Ultimately, though, the heart wins out and remembers that it is the voice to be heeded, even if we feel like we may be labeled as "crazy." As the Mary Oliver poem says:
One day you finally knew what you had to do,
though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice…
there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save. 1
The thing is… whether you know it or not, you are striding on a path of awakening, "moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world."2 It's not necessarily easy, but there is absolutely no turning away from this path. Yes, there are plenty of detours - working at jobs we hate and complaining about them rather than letting go, numbing out with any number of addictions (alcohol, tv, shopping, drugs, self-abuse, abusing others), buying products we know are made in factories that pollute and exploit, putting food in our bodies that really doesn't qualify to be called "food," - and they can seem pretty satisfying in the moment. But they're not. They offer empty promises that will only leave you wondering who you are and why you're here. No matter how long it takes (in this lifetime or in many, if you believe in that sort of thing), even if only a millisecond - even if it's with your last breath, you will see that everything points you toward remembering this very simple truth that you are awakening and you are connected to everything.
And, as you stride deeper and deeper into the world, you find that your connection to everything means you are part of at least a couple handfuls of communities… visible and invisible. You are part of the community of your family (whether you have regular contact with them or not, that's where you started). You are part of the community of your friends, co-workers, neighborhood, the people at the grocery story, and your town or city. You are part of the community of the plants, animals, insects and fungi above and below the earth around you. You are the community of cells and micro-organisms which cause your body to function without you having to do anything but care for it. You are part of the community of the billions of stars which make up the galaxy in which we are spinning through space.
And consider that everything you think, say and do has an indelible impact on those communities and your level of connectedness to them. Consider that every product you buy has a ripple effect environmentally and socially in how it was made and how it is disposed of… like choosing to buy local, organic produce in cloth bags which supports the reclamation of the soil, local jobs and reduction of plastic waste over buying non-organic (even GMO), agribusiness produce which perpetuates the degradation of the soil, social inequity, and plastic gyres in our oceans. Consider that every choice you make is like your vote for awakening or not… like choosing to walk, ride a bike or carpool to work which reduces greenhouse gases (we just hit over 400ppm last month), exercises your body or strengthens your community over driving to and from work alone which increases greenhouse gases, stress and isolation. The list goes on and on.
In choosing acts of kindness, restoration, peace, reconciliation, justice, love and more, we have infinite opportunities to "join a multitude of caring people…. [in] the largest movement the world has ever seen… [which] rather than control, seeks connection… [and] provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world."3
In April, I was taking a walk with Sarah Haywood and she said, "It seems to me that, by the look of the trash I pick up, the people who are trashing the planet are also the ones who are trashing their bodies." There it is again… the connection. Consider that what we put in and on our bodies, where we live and work, what we buy, the thoughts we think, beliefs we hold, what we say and do, and the attitudes we have towards ourselves, each other and the planet are all undeniably connected as Sarah so astutely pointed out.
There is not one of these choices that does not affect the others. Every choice, starting with the seeds of our thoughts, matters. And it matters not only on the personal level, it matters on the community, national and global levels as well. As Paul said, "The living world is not 'out there' somewhere, but in your heart…. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it…. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich."4
Do you hear the voices of the women dancing in the streets of the world in protest against violence and genocide inextricably intertwined with the voices of trees crying out for their brothers and sisters being slaughtered for cheap lumber when we have "tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes?"5 Do you see the connection between the oil pouring out of tar sands in Alberta, Canada turning everything in sight to a black ooze and the damming of rivers which continues to displace indigenous peoples in Africa? There are no winners in this game; there are only losers. And, there is nothing that isn't touched by something else… that's actually the good news.
The good news is in farms that raise truly free chickens, in Clare Dankin's Tree Sisters project, in the creativity and commitment of 400 people who gathered for the Awaken Leadership Retreat and the passion of Vandana Shiva and millions of others Marching Against Monsanto in May. It's in lemonade stands, Arcosanti and Philadelphia with Lily Yeh. It's in our capacity to empathize with others and, from there, allow ourselves to make deeper connections. It's in the people gathering to protest the Keystone Pipeline this summer, in the letters written to President Obama to hold him to the promises he made in his State of the Union address, Amazon Watch and in the glass jars my friend Cheyenne creates so I don't have to use disposal cups when I buy my tea at the airport. It's all around us….
As Paul opened his speech to the graduates at the University of Portland:
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.6
And in his final words to them:
We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing and stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.7
Because it does….
What will you choose?
Let the trees be consulted
before you take any action
every time you breathe in
thank a tree
let treeroots crack parking lots
at the world bank headquarters
let loggers be druids
specially trained and rewarded
to sacrifice trees at auspicious times
let carpenters be master artisans
let lumber be treasured like gold
let chainsaws be played like saxophones
let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees
give police and criminals
a shovel and a thousand seedlings
let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns
let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods
walk don't drive
stop reading newspapers
stop writing poetry
squat under a tree
and tell stories
-John Wright 8
1. Mary Oliver, "The Journey"
8. John Wright, "Let the trees be consulted"