For a friend fearing that time is up for humanity

by Ernest Lowe

Recorded by author

 

“The journey might take you a few hours, day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.” –Joy Harjo*

You say that we’re not immune from the Great Extinction . . .
our ship is going down . . . civilization is collapsing . . .
all happening in accelerating slow-mo right before our eyes.
You say, What the fuck can I do about it?

You can start by crying a flooded river,
ravens on your shaking shoulders.
You can feel in your belly a mother elephant
murdered for her ivory tusks.
You can taste in your mouth
a child dying of 120 degree heat
. . . heat without water.
When your sobbing quiets, just wait . . .
. . . somewhere . . . it’s all happening . . . right now.
The wells of grief are deep.

Then, friend, wait some more.
Wait and listen
for the raven’s call to her mate
circling her in swooping play.
Listen to the grass growing
in a dead tree’s hollow.
Listen to the worms returning
a car-crushed deer to the soil.
Listen to the toes of your feet
caressing moss and lichens on a fallen log.

Perhaps, after these initiations,
your heart will reveal to you
the world ’round compassion
guiding you to your rocky path of action.
The ravens on your shoulders
will whisper in your ear.

June 27, 2019

*Joy Harjo, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet,” Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2015).


Audio recording of biography

Photo of Ernest Lowe with a raven.

Ernest Lowe is a poet in parallel with being a documentary photographer, an innovator in sustainable development and industrial ecology, a gardener, a husband and father. He has had no training in any of those fields, especially not in poetry. Some of his poems are available at ernestlowe.com and indigodev.com. His only book, In the Midst of All This Light (1981), is available on Amazon for an absurd $86.10 and most likely is falling apart after 40 years. In fact, he’s starting to fall apart after 86 years.

READ ME

by Day Whitlow

Audio read by Alexis Schultz

I live in Suamico, Wisconsin, which is on the outskirts of Green Bay in the countryside, by farms and cookie-cutter houses, and have lived there since middle school. I want you to know that although the present may seem gloomy, not all hope is lost. As a person of color, the systematic racism and inequality with our justice system is all out of sorts. Being an “essential” worker for a grocery is a thankless and tiring job to make sure everyone gets what they need during this global pandemic. The coronavirus (COVID-19) is considered a deathly airborne virus and CDC states everyone should wear masks to help reduce spread. The government and media have everyone divided between “maskers” versus “anti-maskers.” Not wearing a mask became a political statement for individual rights, as opposed as to opposed to wearing one to protect yourself and others. Our president has been lax with the response to combating this virus.

My mental health was in the gutters for a long time in the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd from police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement came alive again. To clarify, this movement started back in 2013 after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchperson. My mental health was in the gutters for a long time in the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. During this movement, I saw a lot of “friends” and people I know show their true colors in regard to supporting or going against it. On one side of the coin, I have seen comments on social media and in personal conversation supporting the movement and understanding the harsh reality. On the other side of it, I have heard and seen a lot of problematic mentality that people have. Meanwhile, I see the movement as a long time coming and very overdue.

we (the people, environmentalists etc.) have been working on more sustainable and energy efficient alternatives

I noticed we started to repeat history when the government starting to use us against each other by promoting hate speech towards minorities and not taking public safety and health seriously. In the beginning of the lockdown after the pandemic started, it looked like some hope for some recovery for our climate with less than traffic due to all the businesses being closed down. Our government doesn’t believe in climate change, even with extensive research from scientists who dedicated their lives to this subject. Climate change is considered as a controversial topic with the public despite the visual and noticeable changes in the weather. With the noticeable changes including more natural disasters, warmer summers and shorter winters, our worst fears of the climate getting worse has come true. In current times, our government doesn’t take it seriously, we (the people, environmentalists etc.) have been working on more sustainable and energy efficient alternatives and made some success with little to none with government funding.

I have several ideas for building a better future, including education with awareness of the environment and health; keeping politics out of public health; and having more funding for climate change. With this being said, after seeing our worst fears come to life, I decided to find ways to have sustainable habits by carpooling and switching to energy efficient appliances and doing more research to do more for the environment. I decided to start participating in our elections in office by voting and doing research on the candidates that want to help climate change and better funding for education.

Things that bring me joy to get me through this uncertain time include protesting with people I care about against police brutality to get me a sense of hope and control.

Things that bring me joy to get me through this uncertain time include protesting with people I care about against police brutality to get me a sense of hope and control and having deep conversations with close friends.

Growing up as a little girl, I have always been taught from my mom to “in order to change the world, I have to be a part of the change to make a world a better place,” and that quote resonates me with me more than ever. The act of peaceful protesting is an active effort of wanting to make change for everyone to be treated equally. During these protests, this issue hits home for me, because it makes you question your safety and self-worth. Being black woman in America, knowing my own people are being targeted and misjudged based on racial bias and lives are being lost, and having people saying “so what, people do black on black crime” in response is heart-wrenching to say the least. For example, Breonna Taylor’s story resonated and scared me the most because she was good person in the medical field who helped during the pandemic and she looks like me. Her death demonstrated to me that I am not safe even if I am being a “law abiding” citizen who helps the community. I intend on winning the future by having those “uncomfortable” conversations and educating those people who want to learn. Using this method would have a domino effect if you can plant that seed of that thought of making better choices, there’s a hope for choice. I will leave you with this quote from Tom Peters–“leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”

Stay Unified,

Day


Audio version of biography

photo of Day Whitlow

Day Whitlow

I am a junior at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay studying Human Biology and Psychology with a emphasis on mental health. I am an advocate for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, human rights, and preserving wildlife. In my free time, I like to hang out with my friends and family, listen to good music, and be in nature.

 

Time-Traveled Meditation on (Multiracial) Identity and Belonging: Ren

By Ren Koa

 

Audio read by author

2160

Ren~

Your body exists in grounded wholeness; you rest in multiplicity, both in space and time. Turn towards the permeability and dynamism of the group boundaries you speak of. Where your categories of community are troubled, we stretch and shift, reimagining and queering racial-ethnic identity. The social landscape you speak of is not fully mapped.

These social constructs of identity are not as clearly defined and concrete as you believe them to be; they were never static. We create a world that nourishes the both/and: words that happen to be, in and of themselves, of connection. This expansive and embodied sense of belonging and community holds, with care, those of “multiple” experience.

There is something transformative, mystical, and beautiful about that which is regarded as indeterminate; it triggers expansion. Rather than your body being stretched between entities, your body fills cultural spaces in 2020 that are yet to be mapped. And, they will be(!) Recognize and cultivate trust in this unfolding process.

What does this cultural space feel like? Your body evades and obscures social dissections not due to brokenness. Your body is connected to and located in identity constructions that embrace multiplicity, duality, and manifold boundaries of the self. Your body knows its location and is simply now creating the language that would make its location recognizable to others.

There are other ways for you to commune with your self, to feel into these intimately known and yet unmapped spaces. 

We are with you in this space and we hear you. 

In Belonging,

Descendants

 

Audio read by author

2020

Dear Descendants,

I’m writing from a time when racial, ethnic, and cultural identities serve as blueprints for finding an immediate sense of community in this world: how to exist within a group “we.” These blueprints are drawn from largely monoracial understandings, a colonial lens of assumed mutual exclusivity and separateness. As someone whose ethnic identity stretches across groups in East Asia, Polynesia, and beyond, I find myself perpetually placed in borderlands. My existence is relegated to the liminal spaces where these discrete group identities meet. The multiplicity of my body troubles conceptual community boundaries. 

My being feels noisy, 
my identity: unintegrated,
an amalgam I am only allowed to understand through discrete parts. 

My physicality feels split between designated entities,
Not existing as a distinct entity in and of itself.

Seeing my(?) body and my(?) being unsettle + destabilize 
cultural categorizations, assignments, and structures 
             births a self-image of paradox and ambiguity.

My location spills into an undefined void in cultural space, neither here nor there; I am too similar to “the other” for each community’s comfort. I am received at once as “not enough” and also “too much.”

The paradox I carry 
disrupts, cannot-be-contained, mathematically troublesome
Can a sum somehow render its parts invalid?
Sum < parts
             Sum = none of its parts?
My mixed-ness seems to trouble, disrupt, disconcert
            Clear, knowable categories drawn by social consensus 
To some, perhaps my body is a reminder of rapid globalization
Or of historic, current,
Tragedy evoking real sensations of loss–past, present, impending

I experience rejection/alienation from the same communities my parents and grandparents were born into; I name this simply to note it as a confusing or strange disorientation, and not as a claim that this should not be the case. While racial, ethnic, and cultural identity are such vital points of connection and found community for so many, I wonder how this sense of belonging transforms to hold those of us who exist “in between,” currently unclaimed and without a tangible cohort.

Yours,

Ren


Ren Koa (23 years old) is a multiracial lesbian who grew up in Hawai’i. She is a community organizer, researcher, and psychology student interested in the psychophysiology of trauma and resilience. Some of her favorite adventures include the summer she backpacked the Arctic Circle, the winter she studied theology in India, and the summer she served in the Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps. She is also a member of the fifth Earth Leadership Cohort.

Resurrection

by Nico Arcilla

I stand where forests have fallen
to chainsaws and great machines
turning giants of trees into cargo
for ships traveling day and night
to faraway cities, away from their kin.

To the ruins of the forests, people rush in
to grow plantations of seeds that will be crushed
into chocolate and eaten by those who don’t know
this story: what came before, treasure
beyond imagining, here where they have never been.

Night has fallen too, and crickets sing.
Hyrax and galago call out to their kin
in the darkness, and shots ring out from hunters
who have come for those who survived,
to trade their lives for money.

Still I see the lit lamps of fireflies
traveling with me, bearing witness,
beaming as my heart swells, for no jewel
could be so beautiful as they, and no night
could be more beautiful than this.

The risen moon, the wonder of the world
does not mourn the fallen. It brings them home
with unfathomable grace, which leaves no room
for mourning. Learn how to see in the dark,
and you will see the resurrection, the triumph over death.

On a great tree felled by men, left to waste
in a row of spindly crops, in a field that once
was forest, a tiny bird alights in the upper branches.
The fallen giant stopped me in my tracks with grief,
but the bird throws back his head and sings.

Western Bluebill

Photos by Nico Arcilla: (Upper) Black Kite flying over burned rain forest on the Ghana coast; (Lower) Western Bluebill; (Lower) Rain forest tree in Ghana.


Nico Arcilla photo by Joel Holzman

Photo by Joel Holzman

Nico Arcilla, PhD, is a conservation biologist who studies wildlife responses to human impacts, such as habitat destruction and climate change, to contribute to conservation action and public awareness. President and Research Director of the International Bird Conservation Partnership (www.birdpartners.org), she is also a student at the Zen Center of Philadelphia and affiliate fellow at the University of Nebraska. For 25 years, she has been collaborating with people in Africa and Madagascar, Europe and the Middle East, Asia and the tropical Pacific, and the Americas and Caribbean to protect, understand, and celebrate the astounding biodiversity that surrounds us and forms the basis of human life and diversity.

 

Letter of Apology to Mother Earth

by Eve Ensler

White-throated sparrow

A white-throated sparrow, whose population has declined by an estimated 93 million. (Photo by tcd123usa; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After I finished writing The Apology, a book in which I wrote a letter from my father to myself apologizing and exploring, explaining in detail all the ways he had abused and harmed me, I realized there was an apology I needed to make — an apology that would force me to confront my deepest sorrow, guilt and shame, an apology that I had been avoiding since I moved out of the city to the woods where I now live with the oaks, locust and weeping willows, Lydia the snapping turtle, running spring water, foxes, deer, coyotes, bears and cardinals and my precious dog, Pablo. It is my offering to you. It is my apology to the Earth, herself.

Dear Mother,

It began with the article about the birds, the 2.9 billion missing North America birds, the 2.9 billion birds that disappeared and no one noticed. The sparrows, black birds, and swallows who didn’t make it, who weren’t ever born, who stopped flying or singing or making their most ingenious nests, who didn’t perch or peck their gentle beaks into moist black earth. It began with the birds. Hadn’t we even commented in June, James and I that they were hardly here? A kind of eerie quiet had descended. But later they came back. The swarms of barn swallows and the huge ravens landing on the gravel one by one. I know it was after hearing about the birds, that afternoon I crashed my bike. I didn’t want to live without the birds or bees and sparkling flies that light the summer nights. Suddenly falling, falling, unable to prevent the catastrophe ahead, unable to find the brakes or make them work, unable to stop the falling. I fell and spun and realized I had already been falling, that we have been falling, all of us, and crows and conifers and ice caps and expectations — falling and falling and I wanted to keep falling. I didn’t want to be here to witness everything falling, missing, bleaching, burning, drying, disappearing, choking, never blooming.

I didn’t want to live without the birds or bees and sparkling flies that light the summer nights.

I didn’t want to live without the birds or bees and sparkling flies that light the summer nights. I didn’t want to live with hunger that turned us feral or desperation that gave us claws. I wanted to fall and fall into the deepest, darkest ground and be finally still and buried there.

But Mother, you had other plans. The bike landed in grass and dirt and bang, I was ten-years-old, fallen in the road, my knees scraped and bloody. And I realized that even then nature was something foreign and cruel, something that could and would hurt me because everything I had ever known or loved that was grand and powerful and beautiful became foreign and cruel and eventually hurt me. Even then I had already been exiled, or so I felt, forever cast out of the forest. I belonged with the broken, the contaminated, the dead.

Maybe it was the sharp pain in my knee and elbow, or the dirt embedded in my new jacket, maybe it was the shock or the realization that death was preferable to the thick tar of grief coagulated in my chest, or maybe it was just the lonely rattling of the spokes of the bicycle wheel still spinning without me. Whatever it was. It broke. It broke. I heard the howling.

Mother, I am the reason the birds are missing. I am the cause of salmon who cannot spawn and the butterflies unable to take their journey home.


Mother, I am the reason the birds are missing. I am the cause of salmon who cannot spawn and the butterflies unable to take their journey home. I am the coral reef bleached death white and the sea boiling with methane. I am the millions running from lands that have dried, forests that are burning or islands drowned in water.

I didn’t see you, Mother. You were nothing to me. My trauma-made arrogance and ambition drove me to that cracking pulsing city. Chasing a dream, chasing the prize, the achievement that would finally prove I wasn’t bad or stupid or nothing or wrong. Oh my Mother, what contempt I had for you. What did you have to offer that would give me status in the market place of ideas and achieving? What could your bare trees offer but the staggering aloneness of winter or greenness I could not receive or bear. I reduced you to weather, an inconvenience, something that got in my way, dirty slush that ruined my overpriced city boots with salt. I refused your invitation, scorned your generosity, held suspicion for your love. I ignored all the ways we used and abused you. I pretended to believe the stories of the fathers who said you had to be tamed and controlled — that you were out to get us.

I press my bruised body down on your grassy belly, breathing me in and out. I have missed you, Mother. I have been away so long. I am sorry. I am so sorry.

I am made of dirt and grit and stars and river, skin, bone, leaf, whiskers and claws. I am a part of you, of this, nothing more or less. I am mycelium, petal pistil and stamen. I am branch and hive and trunk and stone. I am what has been here and what is coming. I am energy and I am dust. I am wave and I am wonder. I am an impulse and an order. I am perfumed peonies and the single parasol tree in the African savannah. I am lavender, dandelion, daisy, dahlia, cosmos, chrysanthemum, pansy, bleeding heart and rose. I am all that has been named and unnamed, all that has been gathered and all that has been left alone. I am all your missing creatures, all the sweet birds never born. I am daughter. I am caretaker. I am fierce defender. I am griever. I am bandit. I am baby. I am supplicant. I am here now, Mother. I am yours. I am yours. I am yours.

Eve Ensler

© 2019 Eve Ensler. This article was originally published at brainpickings. Deep Times thanks Ms. Ensler for granting permission to reprint this piece.


Eve Ensler portrait

Photo by Paula Allen

Eve Ensler is the Tony Award-winning playwright, activist, and author of the Obie Award-winning theatrical phenomenon, The Vagina Monologues, published in over 48 languages, performed in over 140 countries. Her plays include LemonadeExtraordinary MeasuresNecessary TargetsOPCThe Good Body,  Emotional Creature and Fruit Trilogy. She recently starred in her one woman play, In the Body of the World adapted from her memoir, at  the Manhattan Theatre Club. Her newly released and  best-selling book, The Apology, has been called “transfixing,” “revelatory,” and “cathartic.” Her writings appear regularly in The Guardian and TIME Magazine. Ensler is founder of V-Day, the 21-year-old global activist movement which has raised over 100 million dollars to end violence against all women and girls—cisgender, transgender and gender non-conforming—and founder of One Billion Rising, the largest global mass action to end gender-based violence in over 200 countries. She is a co-founder of the City of Joy, a revolutionary center for women survivors of violence in the DRC, along with Christine Schuler Deschyrver and  2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Denis Mukwege, all of whom appeared in the award-winning documentary film City of Joy, now on Netflix. Ensler has been named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Changed the World” and The Guardian’s “100 Most Influential Women. A survivor of violence, Eve has dedicated her life to ending violence against all women and girls and mother earth. http://eveensler.org.

Reciprocal Rhythm

By Toni Spencer

There is a reciprocal rhythm. A flow between things.
A velocity of reciprocity that builds a village, builds
a dream, builds the world.

For we are kin and kin means I need
you, and you need me. And the sun.
And the water. And the soil
born of things long dead.

Most of us grew up in little boxes. Little boxes
made of ticky-tacky. My house.
Your house. My plate. Your plate.
In the desert, there is one plate at dinner. One plate
where we all tuck in, fingers first, food for all.
I want that.

I want you to ask me for stuff.
I want you to ask because asking is
the kind of boldness we need.
Tell me what you want and I come
a little closer to you, and we dance.

It’s not the yes or the no, but the asking
that rocks the world to this rhythm.
And the ticky-tacky begins to crumble, walls fall
and we need each other all the more.

There is a reciprocal rhythm. Let me
give you things. Don’t hold back
your receiving, because it leaves us both
bereft of the kinship that ties us, reminds
us of our entwined-ness as ecological beings.

I cannot. No. I will not survive without you.
OK yes, some kind of half living but
not the kind I’m worthy of.
Not the kind you’re worthy of. And not
the kind they are worthy of.
Help me, not to fix but to fill the heart. Not to trade but to
till the soil of inter-being that is all there has ever been.

There is a reciprocal rhythm and it’s not in 4-4 for it
doesn’t follow straight lines. It’s a wild rhythm where
I help you and you help her and she gets to stop and he
gives all he has for love.

There is a reciprocal rhythm and it’s not in 4-4.


Toni Spencer works with questions of deep ecology, resilience and “a politics of wonder.” As a lecturer and course leader Toni has taught on the faculty of Schumacher College (Educational Practice, Ecological Facilitation as Leadership, Embodied Eco-literacy) and at Goldsmiths, University of London (Eco Design). As a participatory artist she has worked with Encounters Arts and The Feral Kitchen, also taking “The Work That Reconnects” to activist communities at Occupy London and elsewhere.  She is a Trustee at Processwork UK and was on the Embercombe Council for 8 years. With a BA in Fine Art and an MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice, Toni has trained in a diverse range of awakening practices and facilitation modalities, alongside many years of dancing, foraging and “living life as inquiry.” She is a mentor and teacher for Call of The Wild with Wildwise and Schumacher. She has enjoyed spending time at Findhorn, on Dartmoor and in the deserts of Jordan where she fell more deeply in love with humanity, silence and writing.

No Time to Lose

by Joanna Macy

The following article was adapted from Joanna Macy’s talk at the “No Time To Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change” event hosted by Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California on September 15, 2019.   It was previously published in Tricycle, Nov. 2019, and is republished here with permission.


Perhaps the truest form of touching the reality of this moment is this: to experience our capacity to praise and love our world, as it is. Even when it’s on fire. 

The Arctic is on fire. The rainforest of the Amazon is on fire. The Bolivian rainforest is on fire. Great swaths of Indonesia and Central Africa are on fire. 

Can we praise our world still? Yes. 

Last November, I was at a retreat at Spirit Rock. Doing walking meditation outside on the road, just concentrating, placing the foot, lifting the heel. But this mindfulness was broken by a stupid memory—it stuck like a bur. I didn’t need it. It was about some minor embarrassment to me, years back. 

And I thought to myself, “I should know better how to handle this.” Just noting, noting, noting. And then I despaired, asking, “Oh, what do I do?” Then—right up my left side—rose a thunderous voice that said: “Just fall in love with what is.” 

As soon as I heard that voice, I saw, right ahead of me, two curtains closing. On the left was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. “Twelve years left to cut our emissions in half”—and even though we knew this—emission levels have been steadily growing. This had been the most searing, most alarming, frankest report yet. On the other side of the curtain: Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election, and his electoral promise to cash in on the Amazonian rain forest and turn it over to big business and “let it make money.” 

I was rooted there. My whole body seemed to turn to stone, as I stood facing an impossible future.

My life hasn’t been the same since this “fall in love with what is” rang like a command in me.

My life hasn’t been the same since this “fall in love with what is” rang like a command in me. It was a message of acceptance: “Stop your self-preoccupation for a minute, Joanna, and accept what is happening to the world.”

What we’re up against is so mammoth, I realized, a change so total, that it is like we’re entering a bardo [the liminal state between death and life in Tibetan Buddhism].  

The bardo occurs not just when you die; it also can be a huge change in the conditions of your existence. [Tibetan Buddhist teacher] Mingyur Rinpoche talks about something like this in his book Falling in Love with the World, describing so powerfully how totally disoriented he was after leaving his monastery and going out into the world completely alone. 

But we’re entering this bardo together. 

Buddha Akshobhya, whose skin is blue like water, which reflects things as they are. (Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, 2003, cat. 134; licensed by ancientartpodcast.org under CC BY 2.0.)

In the east is Akshobhya Buddha, the buddha of mirror wisdom, who holds a mirror to us and our world. For us to survive, for us to pass through, we must not turn away from the mirror. Look into it, and you see a lot of beautiful things: students marching, wise teachers, and some of the great wisdom traditions stepping forward. In the center, however, we see a political economy doomed by its own rapacity. We see global corporate capitalism, or what you can call an “industrial growth society.” It’s devouring the world, and it’s on automatic––it’s gotten to a point where it can’t stop.

The Earth is being assaulted, extracted, poisoned, contaminated. This is us coming home to our true nature and our true identity. We can’t stop climate change to go back to what we were. We’re in collapse now, but it doesn’t have to be a total collapse. That’s where my heart-mind-body is poised now. 

There is inspiration out there to help us craft a life-sustaining society through this. Five centuries of hyper individualism has messed with us, but we ache to shake off our competitive suits of armor. We want to fall into the Earth’s arms and into each other’s arms. We need to find our way back to each other, and learn once again how to take care of each other. 

It will be messy, but this is our work right now: to see the Great Turning [from an ever-growing industrial society to a life-sustaining civilization], even as things are falling apart. 

Copyright 2019, Spirit Rock Meditation Center


Joanna Macy, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a groundbreaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and contemporary science, explored through her books, audio-visual resources, and teachings on the Great Turning.

White Space: A Letter

I joined a Deep Adaptation series led by Dean Walker in the Spring of 2019.  The content of the six session online course was extremely well planned and was powerfully directed toward supporting people as they come to a deep acceptance of the immanence of global collapse. I was immediately aware, however, that the group of approximately thirty people was, with the exception of one African American man, entirely white. After some conversation with Dean, and with several participants who were as concerned as I was about the “White Space” that was created in the group, I decided to send an email to Dean detailing my concerns and suggestions.  What follows is that letter, slightly edited for publication here (with permission from Dean). –Kurt Kuhwald 

June 2, 2019

Dear Dean,

I offer this missive with deep respect for you and your work.  I offer it, too, in the spirit of collaboration with the hope that an authentic way, or ways, forward can be created that will build not only resilient communities but fully inclusive ones. 

I have three concerns that have to do with the exclusion of People of Color, both from the Deep Adaptation group and from the writings associated with the group’s focus.  While I understand that you would welcome more diversity in the Deep Adaptation group, my experience is that when groups (including activist and/or justice oriented groups) are not diverse, it is because BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are, in fact, actually excluded.   

My experience is that when groups (including activist and/or justice oriented groups) are not diverse, it is because BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are, in fact, actually excluded.

This will take some unpacking to explain fully, and in the points that follow I hope to bring some clarity and understanding about how that exclusion takes place—even (or especially) when unintended. Three preliminary points:

  1. The content of the writings offered (yours and those of others you chose for us), seem to be essentially written from a “white space.”  That is, (a) they make little reference to the concerns and the orientation of frontline BIPOC about climate disruption and how they specifically are affected by it, (b) they do not take note of the apocalypse that has been and continues to be visited upon BIPOC peoples and their communities for centuries. I believe that Philip Shepherd’s work, which you referenced, is a good example of these points, despite the fact that it is helpful in many ways, and certainly insightful into the disastrous separation from embodiment engendered by the larger, capitalist-driven, white supremacist society. For those of us affected by or concerned about that apocalyptic history (whether BIPOC or Allies to BIPOC), the  absence of specific information regarding and/or specific reference to it is experienced as erasureThis kind of erasure is part of what creates “white space,” which means that BIPOC/Allies feel not only excluded, but fundamentally feel unsafe as well.
  1. Racism is embedded in and endemic to the cultures of the United States. In this historical time, it is hidden within liberal groups by the dynamics of “white fragility” (a term developed by Dr. Robin DiAngelo), implicit bias, and unconscious (or conscious) grounding in privilege. Therefore, the creation of a community that is meant to be deeply inclusive must, at its inception, specifically seek inclusion and participation of BIPOC. To go on without a genuine and wholehearted effort to do so has wide-ranging implications that directly affect the humanity of all involved—and the ultimate success of the original mission.  This point is critical. To form a community without this step of inclusion and collaboration creates immediate and often insurmountable problems in seeking to balance the racial mix of the group going forward.  In my own experience it is close to impossible—and can only be partially transformed by a subgroup of dedicated folks whose work influences but can not, in the end, fully transform the whole.
  1. Within the community of facilitators of The Work That Reconnects (WTR) that was founded by Joanna Macy, a stream of work has been evolving for a number of years within a subset of its facilitators (of which I am a part). Here is how that work is described on the WTR website in the section, Evolving Edge: “At this time of great social and environmental crises, a group of facilitators has been exploring ways that the facilitation of the Work That Reconnects (WTR) has reflected the industrial growth society’s patterns of harm. The intention of this exploration is to more fully recognize, address, and reframe the ways that power, privilege, and oppression appear within WTR spaces in order to develop the WTR and its facilitators.” Lessons learned by that small community of facilitators can be helpful for anyone concerned about authentic racial equity, diversity, and collaboration.  It is also relevant to those working within the models and narratives that are aligned with Deep Adaptation and Extinction Response communities, including your course, “Deep Adaptation in Times of Collapse.”

Here are some of the learnings from the “Decolonization” of the WTR (it is important to note that these learnings generally apply to any work for justice):

  1. Revealing where harms have been done in the facilitation of the WTR, in its teachings and practices, is essential in order to shift into work that is supportive and fully inclusive rather than harmful—and to repair harm wherever possible. It is important to understand that “harms” involve and are generated from a number of dynamics: the culture of the community (i.e. “White Space” that excludes BIPOC); a world view that is exclusive and that does not tell nor function from the full story (i.e. that includes a recognition of how  BIPOC were involved historically); individual practices that exclude or target BIPOC (e.g. through “micro-aggressions”); and, the lack of openly recognizing and valuing the full experience of BIPOC in all domains of the community’s work.
  2. Accepting and honoring the experiences of BIPOC persons must be relocated at the center of the community, and particularly in the transformation of the work of the community from harm to support and inclusion.
  3. Courage, dedication, openness, and the willingness to expand and deepen the prevailing story are required by all involved, but particularly by those in the dominant culture in order to facilitate healing, shifts and transformation of the work.
  4. Assessment of the community and its work must include the “big picture” of its vision, mission and objectives, as well as a granular focus on specific practices. Both of these domains need to undergo significant transformation so that the lens and the praxis reflect the full story.
  5. The lack of full inclusion of the perspectives, lived experience and personhood of BIPOC in any work for justice and transformation results in half-measures and in the end undermines that work.  It will, in fact, ultimately support the very powers it wishes to change and replace and/or replicate the systems it aims to change or replace in the long term. 

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What can be done to create a diverse and racially balanced and/or racially sensitive, welcoming and supportive atmosphere/community of praxis once the group has formed without it?

  1. The first thing to do is to identify those within the community who also see the problem and believe it must be addressed—and to work with them to explore the problem and its dynamics, including harms it has caused.  With those people, a strategy for going forward can be created, which will include:
  2. Openly acknowledging, within the community at large, that the imbalance in membership is a problem, and while admittedly difficult and complex in nature—demands immediate attention. This requires courage, sincerity and humility, as well as a passion for justice and equity. For most white people, this also requires serious internal examination of their unconscious biases, and privilege, as well as the dynamics of white fragility that continually influence their understanding and behavior.
  3. Once the problem has been brought to the attention of the whole community, there are a number of ways to move forward.  Two possibilities are:
    1. A working group can be created whose job would be to explore the issue in full. It would bring its learnings to the whole community—which requires committed time to hear, discuss and work with the findings (group discussion, small group discussions, guided meditations, exercises for opening and experiencing the stories at work, embodiment practices and presentations of information needed to create a full story).
    2. Halting the work of the group and refocusing it on the issue of exclusion until an adequate grasp of the issues has been achieved and a plan for action of the group’s mission has been reset.

Given that there are only three sessions left in the Deep Adaptation program, and that the sessions are only one and a half hours long, taking on a full-scale focus that addresses the issue of group’s lack of BIPOC participation, with the intention of seeking a significant increase in BIPOC inclusion, would not work, in my opinion.  However, giving some time to the issue of that lack in the work of Deep Adaptation seems critical to me.

I deeply believe that if we do not find ways to create a unified way forward, a path of addressing Climate Disruption that is fully inclusive of the human family, the resulting society and culture will have been built, essentially, on genocide.  That may seem to be a harsh assessment, but try as I might, I cannot come up with any other conclusion.

Blessings & I look forward to talking with you soon,

Kurt


Kurt Kuhwald photoAfter a 23-year stint as a High School Special Education teacher, Kurt A. Kuhwald completed his training and ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 1994; he primarily focused his ministry on anti-racism/multiculturalism, Just Transition/Climate disruption, and Low-wage Workers’ rights. Trained as a psychotherapist by Dr. Carl Rogers in 1985, Kurt worked in community, hospital, and private settings.  He was introduced to WTR in 2006 and in the last five or so years has worked with the “Evolving Edge” team to bring oppression, power and privilege issues (particularly about racism) into the community of WTR and its facilitators.