Monday, March 17, 2014

Notes from and Elder

One thing about getting old, your perspective broadens. You don’t get so waylaid by all the small daily intrusions as you used to be. You are offered a larger view.

It’s an interesting mix. A lot of the time you are confused, don’t remember what you did or intended a moment ago. Then memories from the distant past burst into your consciousness, which is mostly pleasant but disorienting.

That’s why the conversation of us old geezers can be so exasperating to everyone else. We complain about our aches and new pains, we are always asking, “Where is my…?” “Has anybody seen my…?” or we are nattering on about old times pointlessly.

I see all that in myself, but also I experience periods of great clarity and deeper, broader understanding of the human predicament that includes us all at this moment of history.

I am writing to you and the world from that clarity and understanding as much as I can these days for as long as my energy lasts. It seems a shame how that energy wanes more and more, but I must accept that.

The wisdom mined by others can make great contributions to our understanding and our actions. We would do well to refresh the wisdom handed down from Lao Tse, from the Buddha, or from Jesus to inform our steps at all times. But not all of what is retain from former times is germane and helpful to our present conditions. New thinking is always necessary.

Recent and contemporary figures have given us great examples to guide us – Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to oppression, Tutu’s truth and reconciliation events, the ongoing movements for peace, environmental healing, restorative justice, to eradicate poverty and provide basic needs of health and freedom to all human beings – all these are alive and growing, and we all benefit from our attendance on them.

Compassion, a basic human attribute, languishes in us because of our isolation and anxiety. Children raised with closeness and affection are naturally caring. We need a society where the highest goals offered are not material wealth, notoriety, or power over others, but the rich pleasures of the human heart and mind. An economy based not on getting but on giving, the gifts of Earth’s resources not appropriated for possession but for the pleasures of mutual benefit, of sharing, of helping, of healing.

Emphasizing the traditional wisdom of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama advises our intentions always towards compassion and tells us, “Never give up!” Also from the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness, the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh tell us to listen, listen deeply, listen to each other, listen to ourselves, listen to life.

And in developing the techniques for non -violent communication Marshal Rosenberg offers a marvelous question I urge myself and everyone to ask each other: How can I help you make your life more wonderful?”

Now if everyone who reads these words would only say “Yes!” and put them all to work every moment, the human situation would get better the more people are able to read them, and our job is only to spread the words further.

But reading is not enough. The activities around us that produce anxiety and fear, increase isolation and loneliness, and reduce compassion and closeness must be prevented. These activities, you have perhaps noticed, are enforced by our economic and political systems and the anxiety and fear generated by them.

We have enough history now to affirm clearly that the overthrow of these systems does not create the human society we seek. The fears and greed and lust for power over others continue and corrupt whatever we may try to replace that system with. We need protected breeding grounds for a truly human society. That can happen without threatening or confronting others with hostility.

It is in fact happening, peaceably, more and more. People are gathering to live together in a better relationship to the Earth, to all life, to each other and to themselves. I have been working with such communities, now generally calling themselves ecovillages, for over 40 years. Are they perfect? Of course not. But life there is certainly far better, far happier, freer, more creative and satisfying than any place, any place outside them. More satisfying also than that of the poor, the struggling, the isolated, and also than that of the rich, the one percent in their gated communities.

These ecoovillages are laboratories, experiments in creating a new world, where they are trying to work out all the kinks and make life more wonderful for everyone. I invite you all to look into them more – check out Tamera, ZEGG, Damanhur, Findhorn, The Farm, to name only a few – there are thousands of others.

We have been experimenting on our own, working out techniques for getting the kinks out, the stuff we keep dragging with us from the old systems, stuff that is getting in our way, in the way of our compassion and our joy.

The original basis for our social thinking is that of the successful communities of all our past human history. We have named it The Circle Way and have been exploring it in workshops and camps for 30 years, learning more every time we come together. The major tool we are honing we call Supportive Listening, adapted from co-counseling for use in our circles and in the wider world.

The Circle Way is centered on all of us, not on any teacher or writing, or even on any policy. Centered on us, it can change as we change – and no one knows for sure how we will change and what the effects of that change will be. Writing like this will go into the archives and be noted as part of our history an growth, as we check out the thoughts and times of the Buddha and Jesus, of Gandhi and thousands of others like me experiencing and writing about these changes today, people like Joanna Macy and Starhawk and Jean Houston, like Steven Gaskin and Thich Nhat Hanh and…really thousands, it’s true. But all that writing is just smoke unless people are actively living it, as they are trying to do in the ecovillages.

The Circle Way understands that – as my late friend Pete Seeger put it, “None of us will get there unless we all get there.” And that means we have to be listening to each one. We can’t listen to each one in groups of thousands or even hundreds. We have to be in circles where EACH ONE can be heard by all.

If a circle is too big for everyone to listen to each other in a reasonable period that they can all sit still for, the circle must be broken down into smaller circles. Those are our basic communities, but those circles can connect to cooperate with larger circles to work on mutual interests together. Always we must keep in mind human scale. We can make our circles more efficient by continually taking time out for smaller circles of two people or three, where we can get clear our best communications to the larger circle.

Two signs we can print or just remember:


That last one comes from our certainty we were, like every baby, born good and innocent, eager, curious - loving closeness, play, laughter, creativity, and liking to help, enjoying cooperation and to be welcome, to be accepted, understood and appreciated. Together we can help each other to be who we were born to be.

So you see, I really do know how to change the world. I know how to help you, everyone, make life more wonderful for yourself and for all life. But it’s not something I can do by myself. Not even by writing it all down. Because it can only happen when we actually do it.  That means do it together. None of us can do it alone. We need each other.

That is why I am urging you to get together, make circles, listen to each other. And then bring it to the Earth. Settle, as people always have, together on a piece of land, listen to one another and support one another, trust in your goodness and intelligence and thoughtfulness and use Supportive Listening to help each other clear out all that gets in the way of your love and compassion, your clarity and creativity and joy.

I am urging this for NOW. Because really, you may think you can wait, but I don’t have as much time as you. I want to live with you now and be close and play with our children and grandchildren, and work and sing and dance together, and show the world how it is done.

My late friend Mort Goulder liked the model in my book Changing the World, but asked, “How do we get there from here?”  Fate has placed an immediate possibility in our hands, to buy our neighbor’s property and right away start a seminar/healing/retreat center where a supporting ecovillage can grow.  But we have to act quickly.  We could do it if we got some large loans that would earn a good income for the donors, and/or it could work if we got tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand small donations.  I assume you, like me, do not have a large amount to invest, but you do have friends who, like you, could pass on this information to others and ask them to pass it on through the Internet and all the social networks. 

We need a mass movement – It can start here.  Never give up.

TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO. To all who make a donation we can send a certificate that they are founding members of our Circle Way Retreat Center and will be welcome to visit any time.

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