First, Heal Yourself

It’s a commonplace that activists often neglect their own health and well-being in the pursuit of larger goals. The fact is, we all know that the place to start is with oneself. From the perspective of the Buddhist and Yogic teachings to which I subscribe, human beings are already whole. Healing is remembering who we are, and that we are more than our thoughts, our preferences, our opinions, the work we do, and the roles we play. If this were easy for anyone, the great teachers wouldn’t have addressed it so frequently. It wouldn’t require Practice, that is, the discipline to show up, work with what we have — mind, body, breath, the present moment — and to do it again and again. We practice not to get it right, but because it is worth doing. Path and goal are the same. I bring these teachings into my yoga classes whenever I can as much to share them as to hear myself repeat them.

When one begins to look more closely at what we have collectively allowed to happen to Planet Earth, our only home, the heart turns over in despair. And then, if you are willing, it awakens into action. There is no way back from this moment, even if those closest to you think you’ve lost all reason. And sometimes you question your own sanity, so pervasive is the dominant view of reality: we can grow (shop, entertain, gadget-ize ourselves) out of this crisis. Even seasoned environmentalists can’t always see the forest for the trees. Because I have been supporting environmental causes for many years, I get urgent messages nearly every day about what will happen if I don’t ‘chip in’ another $3 to save polar bears or stop the Koch Brothers in their assault on progressive policies. Focusing on what is wrong gives a fragmented view of reality. Demonizing the other must also be healed.

This is where personal practice to stay present, moment to moment, can support a sense of wholeness. With regular attention to one’s inner environment, discernment and care can blossom. Then, like Krishna admonished Arjuna, you do your best and let others judge the results of your actions.

Healing Our World and Ourselves: Notes from a Conference

I write this — a documentary about The Eagles in the background — from Courtyard by Marriott down the road from The First Unitarian Church of Orlando where the Healing Our World and Ourselves conference is being held. This afternoon, keynote speakers, attorney David Cobb of Move to Amend, Sister Pat Siemen (Catholic nun and attorney) of the Center for Environmental Jurisprudence at Barry University on ‘the rights of nature’, and Canadian psychologist/addiction expert, Bruce Alexander, made for an electrifying panel on how their areas overlap and intensify each other. Some highlights from my notes.

Pat Siemen: “The planet has a right to exist.” She is part of a group working to introduce ‘the rights of nature’ into a new Florida constitution in 2018. “[We must] let the Earth teach us how to be.” Faith-driven initiatives have sparked movements for justice and human rights because ‘spiritual practice helps people sustain their efforts for the long haul.’ There is no ‘away.’ “We can’t sustain our lives without sustaining the Earth.” “We have to rediscover our ecological identity; unless this is our core, we can’t make the right decisions for the future.”

David Cobb: Move to Amend is much more than campaign finance reform, it is a movement to restore democracy. [Transitioneers, take note] Law follows culture [therefore] organizing at the community level, educating ourselves out of the existing paradigm, starting a new chorus, are the way to go. [We must reject] the ‘creation myth of the USA.” Cultural blindness has to be unlearned. Real change happens when people raise hell. The law is not about justice; it’s about consistency. I take you seriously [because you are here]. I take responsibility for doing the best I can. I release the results. [My comment: Right out of the Bhagavad Gita].

Psychologist/addiction expert, author of The Globalization of Addiction, Bruce Alexander: This is the first conference on addiction and the environment. It is not a coincidence that addiction and the destruction of the planet are happening at the same time. “We can’t win until we are brave enough to look at the machine itself.” The field of psychology has not contributed to solutions to environmental issues. Self recovery and social recovery are [or should be] the same. “We all want to live in a way that is good.”

There was also some lovely music including Samantha Moffatt on the dulcimer, and Dock Street performing an original song: Rights of Nature.

Tomorrow I’m on a panel (representing Transition Palm Beaches) to interact — “how can we help” — with the keynoters. An exercise in improv and courage which is definitely out of my comfort zone. I won’t let the sound of my own wheels drive me crazy.

Campus Divestment Campaign for the Rest of Us

Inspired by the Do the Math tour — and the math itself — I thought we might follow the lead of colleges and universities all over the country who are going fossil free. Naively perhaps, I dropped an email on the subject to our portfolio consultant at a well-known brokerage firm. Here’s what I wrote:

Thanks for your recent email and message addressing our concerns about the fiscal cliff and other political issues. Actually, we are far more concerned about climate change as the issue that trumps them all, and we want to make our investments support our values. Please purge our portfolio of fossil fuel and related companies. Here is a list provided by the campaign that has been used for the divestment campaign at universities and colleges across the country:

Easier said than done for the individual investor. After a couple of weeks of research, we got a phone call advising us that there were few mutual funds that met our SRI (socially-responsible investment) criteria. We were given the names and ticker symbols of two, with the caveat that neither fund could be recommended as meeting our overall investment targets. In short, they were more volatile for the conservative investment profile we had helped to create. In other words, we were on our own on this one.

What to do? What would Warren Buffet do? Apparently, he likes solar, healthcare and banks for Berkshire Hathaway, and he has convinced eleven more billionaires to give away half their wealth to charity.

Hmmm, could I take a page out of the Big Dog investment playbook? I was reminded of the conversation we had with a financial advisor a couple of months ago to whom we had come with the same concerns. She thought creating and/or preserving wealth (even in distasteful industries), enables one to fund causes in which one believes. It’s another way.