To My Friends Who Are Being Eaten By Fear and Anger

You may well not like this, but listen to me.

Don’t be fooled. So far, things are going pretty much the way they have been since at least 1970.

We have been committing inexcusable aggressions around the world on a fairly regular basis. Our international actions have been creating the opposite result from that which we purportedly desire. Policies of at least the last nine presidents have reinforced the hold of mega corporations on the real political power. They have all catered to the military. They have undermined education again and again. They have screwed up every chance to have a humane healthcare system. And certainly, they have given in repeatedly to the naysayers rather than do anything significant about climate change. I don’t care that you think they have political excuses. Why is it were you not horribly afraid a year ago?

It was predictable that Trump would run into the same quagmire that previous administrations have both had a hand in creating and have been forced to wade. And now there he is.

Unlike other presidents with political experience, connections and savvy, he and his staff are creating chaos and confusion. In confusion is an opportunity for re-direction. Think of any natural catastrophe. Those acting with calm, rationality and conviction in its midst are those who can most effectively shift the force of response. 

The terrible things that are happening to environmental policy, educational policy, immigration policy, criminal justice, overall tolerance and international affairs are finally knocking people awake. Hillary would have been at least as hawkish and would, with her determination, be spurring on the military with more confidence and ardor.

The confusion Trump is creating around the world may even have some positive outcomes. Who knows? The dangers we feel surrounding us now already existed. They were set in motion and steadily worsened by the actions of previous administrations. Those administrations worked to make their decisions seem well-reasoned and principled even when they were disastrously misguided. If Trump actually followed his campaign rhetoric and pulled the US out of many areas of international intervention, the situation for millions of people around the world would likely gradually improve. The US, in policing the world, tends to create many more problems than it solves.

Unfortunately, in this respect, Trump is being pulled into line with the policies Obama began and Hillary would have elaborated more vigorously. He has not, at least to date, been pulled into creating a No-Fly Zone in Syria. That may be next. It has been on the agenda for the last few Obama years. Since he has no discernible cohesive approach, he, for the moment, leaves the world guessing. Perhaps not a strategy, but, as a strategy, it could be better than most. It might produce better results than the “policies” the US has been promulgating in the name of democratization around the world.

For me, the world’s lack of a cohesive approach to global warming is the most frightening nightmare. I have been living with that fear since 1969. In attempting to have our cake and eat it too we have allowed even the more “liberal” administrations to water down any meaningful approach to solution.

Sure, it’s disturbing to see the only efforts our government has made being torn down, but where are we even now? On the expressway to dire climate change. We have probably passed the last exit ramp.

Where was your present terror when the last presidents did so little to reverse climate change that it was, in its result, practically worse than doing nothing. Yes, the air we breathe is a bit cleaner than it could have been with no regulation of polluters, but policies initiated in California, where they could barely breathe the air, can take the bulk of the credit for that. Rivers and waterways are cleaner, but those efforts were only initiated after massive work on the ground by distressed citizens. They were not the brainchild of any Democratic administration.

Alternative energy solutions like wind and solar take massive capital inputs of petroleum energy. We should have been in full production mode for the last forty years. Organic farming was co-opted by governmental certification making it nearly impossible for sustainable farming to get on its feet. Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama have supported Agriculture bills that favor the inflation of Agribusiness with the resultant near destruction of a sustainable food supply. Were you terrified as this was happening?

It is good you are afraid now. Fear is justified. But it has been justified since the day you became a conscious member of our Great Society.

If you direct it all at Trump and his cronies, will you go back to sleep if they disappear? If things were in the kindly hands of an Obama, a Hillary Clinton or even a Bernie Sanders would you continue marching to make sure the US starts drastically cutting back its consumption, doesn’t send drones to foreign lands where “collateral damage” is hardly noteworthy, supports sustainable agriculture, supports true education, creates free health care for all, etc. etc. Would you give up anything? Would it still be a looming priority that you attend to every day, every minute? You could have been using justifiable fear to do that ever since you started thinking for yourself.

Just take the fear burying you now and imagine it is rich compost that is piled not just at the end of this particular row, stifling all life underneath but has been spread out evenly over the whole broad field of your life. The compost of fear will then be just the right thickness, the right density. The growth of your own creative response will now unfold, breathe and push up into the light.


An Urgent Letter to Us

As the 1970s were drawing to a close, many of us had spent our early youth protesting against an unjust war being fought by our companions, going back to the land to live a simpler, less consumptive life, attempting to educate and protest against profligate use of fossil fuels and trying to find new ways to live together. In the midst of all the distress of the present, we may have forgotten the glue of inclusive love and community that bound us all together. It has been so mocked and belittled over the years that its reality has been all but obliterated in a haze of marijuana smoke. It was a reality.

In those waning years of the 70s, after Nixon had systematically smothered our efforts, Ford had solidified that oppression and a more liberal Jimmy Carter had been elected, many of us began to feel our biological clocks moving ahead and decided to use this moment of increased hope to complete our education or go into the workforce so we could begin careers, get resources, have families, and continue fighting for these global emergencies from the home front.

Unfortunately, a by-product of those choices was acceptance of the belief that we could work within the system to change it. Many came to believe the government could be turned in a direction that would save us. Many of my closest women friends became lawyers, academicians, and some, eventually, the bureaucrats responsible for enacting governmental policies, devout believers in the efficacy of American Democracy. Carter’s years wasted away and the pendulum swung again to the right, where it has stuck ever since, through both Republican and Democratic presidents. When, during the early Obama years, Naomi Klein said we had to take the opportunity to “Move the Center”, few heeded her call.

Sometimes those friends of mine felt they were making some progress, but most of the time they were at the mercy of policies which, at best, allowed for minuscule steps in a positive direction, and at worst, set things back years. There were a few people like my present partner, who knew the system would not save us, no matter how we tried to shift it from within. He and others like him continued to live life closer to the ground. When, out of frustration and necessity, some decided to make the attempt to push the system by joining it, the window of opportunity had closed. It was too late. They have struggled to survive while continuing to do whatever they can in the community they find.

I became a social worker just as Carter was completing his term and after life diverted me from a career in academic research and teaching. I spent thirty-five years going to work every day to do whatever I could to save children, allow families to function, and protect and care for the homeless and vulnerable. Occasionally there were times when this was possible, at least in some small way. I would be doing these things still if I had not come to feel that each day I was stepping into what felt like a building burning ferociously around us. I, too, was at the mercy of a system that fed itself rather than feeding those whom it was meant to serve. Then, I dreamt one night I was trapped in that building and people were calling from the outside, arms outstretched, imploring me to get out before the burning beams fell on me. I knew it was time to leave before the building crashed down on my head. You can’t do much when you’re dead.

Here we are forty years down the road from that shift at the end of the 70s. The same emergencies are with us. They have grown exponentially. The things we were doing every day before we surrendered to the heels of the government grinding down on our heads are still the things we need to do now, every day. From the evidence I see in all the various forms of media, the overwhelming majority of us in the opposition have inculcated the belief that it is the government that will doom us or save us. Many have taught their children that the greatest value is to change things through the use of the democratic system—which they regard as the best modality for living together the world has ever known. Perhaps with a truly functional democracy, we would get somewhere, but this is not one. I have seen this staunch belief to be the road to ruin. What was critical in the 60s and early 70s was the willingness to make personal sacrifice in order to address the over-weaning emergencies confronting us every day. It was one of the few times in our history as a species when it did not take the actual presence of war in our midst to make it viscerally apparent that our lives were at stake.

When confronted with the presence of the dangers we now face, it is clear this same sense of imminence has been lacking, even as our situation since that time has only become increasingly dire minute by minute. Protests are fine as a tool to pressure power to make slight adjustments in course. Phone calls and letters to government officials are fine for the same reasons. But these activities serve to take the edge off our anxieties. We do them and then do our best to return to our work, to living our lives pretty much as usual, diverting ourselves if we can with all the media options available.

The government will go on. We need the energy of our anxiety to do the real work. Even if one ruler is impeached, another possibly more destructive will take his place. Those in power will make decisions that are horrendously damaging to our short term health and certainly to the sustainability of life on this planet. It comes down to the same choice it came to 40-odd years ago—making revolution or, together, taking things in our own hands. As in the 70s, it is clear the first option is ridiculously out of the question. The power of the US government and its partner corporations is such that we would be immediately and thoroughly destroyed. The only alternative is to get busy and do the work ourselves. This means, for most, sacrificing what they have come to feel are the essentials of life: giving up the new cars, working in ways that give us sustenance but not much more, growing our own food, finding ways to live simply together and supporting those who are not able to make it–giving up the rat race we have been hypnotized into experiencing as essential to our very physical and cultural survival.

At last, it is becoming clear we are at war with our government. Perhaps we have some common ground with our brothers and sisters who voted for Donald Trump as an “anti-government” choice. But now that he is the government, those who still idolize him may come to recognize their hero has just shifted one set of policies that support the rich for another. His supporters have the intelligence gained from experience. If we can stop allowing Mr. Trump and his cronies to manipulate us into wasting our anger on each another, perhaps we’ll find ways to support the lives of all those who have not shared in the power for all these years instead of using our energies to maintain the unsustainable lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed.

Let’s make use of what we’ve learned over the last 45 years—the government will always disappoint us and will never do what is essential to save this planet. As do the international “terrorists”, government often benefits from a divided populace. The supporters of Trump who saw him as an antidote to the forces working against their interests may soon resume their disillusionment with government. This I can understand. The emergency is ours to face. Sinking back into sleep has allowed all the urgent situations to become only greater and more dangerous. Don’t go back to sleep! It is at your door. Act as you do in an emergency. It becomes your priority. All else is secondary. In an emergency, what is of true value suddenly becomes crystal clear.

Cutting Away

With the onslaught of Executive Orders and reports of upcoming edicts about immigration, the day was a difficult one. This heaviness in the heart is hard to navigate. The refugees who will now be unable to find refuge here. The suffering of so many penetrates to the core of things.

My mind, restless for answers, turns to thoughts of growing food.  Late in the afternoon, with the gray cover of clouds giving the world a taste of cottony metal, the air milder than the last few days, we went out to prune trees in the orchard. We started with the Asian Pears, scraggly, branching this way and that, turning towards the warmth of the sun, now pushed by the wind from the Fraser Valley, pushed in the spring by the pervasive southwest winds.

We are bundled up and peel as we go. I am still learning. Walter has the experience of forty-five-odd years and the deep intuitive sense that comes from planting these trees and working with them for all the time of their growing here on the farm, watching them, feeding them, protecting them. The question is, over and over, what will ask the tree to produce its fruit, what will give it space and light, maybe not this spring but in some spring to come.

I start by cutting away the obvious water spouts—the straight stalks that spring up from a horizontal branch, growing up and up quickly during some abundant time of water, sun and nutrients, not pausing to allow a spur to grow, no patience for the time it takes for a bud to form. The blades cut through as I squeeze the handles of the big loppers together with all my force. These branches, growing vertically as they do, drop straight to the ground as I clip them. Seeing the weight of the wood as it falls fills me for a moment with plaguing doubts whose painful swirling make me conscious of my separation from everything else, drawing in my attention to the confines of my body as a swarm of bees around my head might do. My heart is suddenly heavy again. Having the sense to stop and breathe, I look up into the branches against the gray sky. The presence of the soft flow of energy beneath my feet reestablishes itself, moving through the structure of a tree, moving gently even in the midst of winter when the growth pauses.

I begin to cut away all the little twigs that pull energy from the main flow. Then I cut the branches curving down and the branches curving in towards the center of the tree. Absorbed, I work to make the tree feel open in its center, spreading out its limbs to welcome warmth and bees and breezes, shortening a branch here and there to keep it out of the way of its neighbor and give the remaining wood more strength. Walter comes over from the apple tree he’s topping to show me how to look at the energy of the tree and to be decisive as the tree guides you, boldly and confidently sawing off a big branch here and there to provide the shape and balance. There’s a certain brutality to it, but the result for the tree feels harmonious, balanced.

“What’s the first thing to remember when you’re pruning?” Walter asks.
I respond “Make clean cuts,” thinking of my roses and of his past instruction.
“Yes,” he says, “that, but also that nature will fix all our mistakes.”
When a tendency is thwarted, it will come back in another way. The art of it is to sense where this life wants to go and not get caught in your worries.

We quietly work together on one tree for a time, he using the pole pruner to cut away high branches. Standing back to see the whole, he says,
“Okay. It’s good. Enough.”
I walk over to stand next to him and see what he is seeing.
“Yes. It feels right.”
Standing there, I actually get the sense the potential energy still sequestered deep in the earth and in the tree’s core will now spread itself with more economy. Satisfying.

As the sun begins to set, we walk around the orchard to look at the other trees, using the attunement we’ve gained in the last hour to see what remains to be done. The presence of the fruit is already there. I can smell it in the soil and the damp air. Food will be there in its cycle. My heart is clear now, warm like my hands, ready for what comes next.

The Day After


I spent close to two hours this morning without thinking about Trump, first deep in meditation and then absorbed, deliberately, in finishing a novel I’ve been reading.

For the few days since the end of the kind of the time-keeping we reserve for the good weather, I’d been enjoying waking up with the sun, just before it rises.  It’s urging me up early. I will keep pushing my waking earlier, moving against the direction of the sun’s path for a bit so I can regain my old habit. I stayed in bed this morning, though, to absorb the jolt of the night, but I vowed it would be the exception. It is better for me to be up for a while before the light returns. I love the quiet, the stillness of the energy before the energy of the light begins moving molecules faster and faster.

Election day dawned with a full blue sky, warm and still. The breeze began mid-morning and kept freshening, bringing more clouds, some with gray centers. The wind was warm and the sun shone on and off, heating things up to a record for around here this late in November.  There was a pause in the settling of the season into rain and wind and chill. The moon, visible just around our early dusk, was almost exactly half, just like the balance of our country. I watched it float over the barn as I finished preparing a meal for our guests and drank wine and thought about how nature sometimes seems to reflect the state of the human condition.

The repairs on the barn were completed two days ago. It is solid and sturdy and filled with the presence of the huge mow and the old stalls. It feels good sitting there in our consciousness of the space of our land, whole, healthy, a weight, a capacity, a real place. It could become whatever could be imagined—a place for refugees, perhaps, from all this. On the morning of the election, I took a walk to see what was happening in the world.

Somewhere along the way, practicing seeing with eyes that took in all the green, blue, brown, orange light into an infinite mind, a thought experiment occurred to me. What if someone were to be born without the mechanism to invert the image created by the light coming in through the curving cornea? They would then, presumably, see a world upside down from those with “normal” occipital brains. From my point of view, then, as this gifted person, would it be that the sky would be below my head and my feet above my eyes, walking along a road above my feet? But, I would then never know that my “up” was not the other person’s, and my “down” their “up”. Would it change anything about how I went about doing things? Not, I think. I began to smile to myself. How do we know how anyone perceives the light, the sound let alone the complexities of all the interactions of humans around them in circles spiraling outwards? We assume we take in all this sensory information and experience it pretty much in the same way. After all, the way we’re set up has many more similarities than differences. But hold on, there are so many subtle differences as well!  Happy in the brightness of everything around me, I wove out methods in my mind to test whether someone had this reversal of ordinary visual perception, hitting on an experiment I thought could clinch it.

These thoughts gradually hooked themselves up to another chain—how do we know what anyone is perceiving? That it is anything like what I, in this particular ego, perceive? We hear speech, we are designed to feel the same emotions we see in another’s expression, movement, tone. We can touch each others’ skin and seem to feel the same sensations they feel as we touch. We can smell—fear, exertion, the earthy smell of illness. We can occasionally sense something more directly with an organ not necessarily physical. But we cannot perceive directly what another ego perceives, not even with our most intensive creative imagining, not even if we have lived intimately for years and years. We try to devise verbal experiments to catch them out, but more often than not, I am sure we mistake one thing for another.

My neighbors, I am sure, in some part see promise in Donald Trump. They see hope where theirs was almost dead.  Where I see a deadened consciousness, they may see light, inspiration. What does their perception do to how things will unfold, minute to minute.  There is no experiment I can think of that will allow me to understand whether each one somehow perceives an inversion of the objects, the events that I perceive.  I can only use my organ of imagination. I can only create other possibility so other imaginations, hiding somehow within the packages of human individuality, might see a way to jump in and ride along together for awhile. Those possibilities, built bit by bit, day after day, I imagine will help me and those I love to survive. I imagine they may even percolate outwards. Even someone seeing an inversion of the objects I am seeing might benefit. Hard to tell.  But what else can I do but act from my own perceptions and settle my mind so I can see more clearly? There’s certainly a lot to be done so we can continue taking care of each other, here, in this world where we have somehow ended up, somehow together.

Walk Ahead

Walk ahead. It was 1969. There was a huge rally on the mall of the nation’s capital–some say seven-hundred and fifty thousand, some say a million. Many of us had been at the first Moratorium Against the War in 1967. We were among the thousands arriving in cars, in buses and on bicycles that morning or the night before. We spent the day as part of this gathering of humanity, young and old, veterans, students, workers, Civil Rights activists, all together–listening to Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, African-American leaders. Later, a crowd of us formed to march on the Justice Department. Tens of thousands marched together, loosely led by the Yippees who had been the inspiration.

Suddenly in the distance towards the head of the march, I caught sight of a dear friend I hadn’t seen for some time.  Chollie, towering above the crowd, was stretched to his full seven lanky feet, draped in an over-sized, flapping American flag.  As I tried to push forward through the crowd to catch up, a huge phalanx of helmeted police, like some swarm of enormous carapaced insects, converged at the back of the crowd. As the awareness of their presence moved forward through the crowd, the message that they were ordering us to disperse traveled as if by electric impulse.  Waves of shouted questions rippled through the crowd. Soon roars of protest rose and fell.  In the spirit of the times, some turned to approach the police with flowers and were met by the blank, black helmets and riot gear. Others may have thrown rocks. It’s not clear. Within moments, tear gas grenades were launched directly into the crowd. Those protesters at the back, nearest the grenades, began to panic and push ahead into the crowd, the force of this thrust met by screams of protest and cries of fear from the crowd in front of them.

I looked ahead and saw Chollie, his flag now extended high over his head, bare chested, projecting in his strong voice back to the crowd as he continued to walk towards the Justice Department,

“Walk friends! WALK! Pretend you’re going to a Sunday picnic! Walk!”

The crowd behind him slowed, the ripple of warm calm traveling as if languidly all the way to those at the back. The crowd slowed, like a soothed animal. Many of us began walking backwards to monitor those behind us, smiling, wetting rags with water from bottles and handing them to each other, easing the terrible stinging in our eyes. Tear gas canisters continued to hit the pavement here and there around us, sporadically, until the air became saturated with tear gas. As it became unbearable, many of us split off from the crowd, moving towards the park at Dupont Circle in hopes of getting away from the burning air. There, as people began to gather together in small groups to discuss the next steps, there was a commotion on one side of the park. Word filtered through the crowd that some of the protesters had thrown a rock at the National Guard and overturned a police car. The gathered police and National Guard had already begun to push towards the crowd again. A new cloud of choking tear gas quickly filled the air. People began dispersing, running away from the park down the streets that radiate from the circle.

It was a helter-skelter moment, groups losing track of each other in the chaos. As dusk was falling, my friend and I held hands and ran together, looking rather blindly for some refuge from the gas. We ducked into the basement stairwell of a residential building and, finding a door open, went through into an entrance hall and closed the door. As we sank down to the cool floor, my friend seemed to be sobbing. I turned to her. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. As I poured water into her palms and she, trembling, tried to wash her eyes, tried to catch her breath, she told me in short bursts that the tears were only in part a reaction to the gas. She had been in Mexico during the previous summer when, it was said by observers, some three-hundred protesters in the central square of Mexico City had been shot by police snipers.

They had largely been students. They were protesting government policies sanctioning the spending of the equivalent of a billion dollars on the Summer Olympics about to open in their capital city. They were protesting the institution of martial law that attempted to suppress the opposition of a people impoverished and oppressed. My friend’s tears were tears of panic, tears of remembrance, tears of recognition. As I put my arm around her shoulder, she shivered. We, too, were students protesting policies of a government that perpetrated an insane war, sending our friends to their deaths, sending our friends to kill civilians in a country across the world, calling those who saw these realities crazy.  Outside were the sounds of large groups of people shouting to each other, running, trying to get away from the gas still spreading through the streets. No shots had been fired except those of tear gas canisters. The Kent State shooting was still a little more than six months away.

Eventually the street outside began to quiet into the calm of the late night. We opened the door and cautiously climbed the stairs to the now almost empty street. After wandering for a while in a kind of shock, we found the friends we’d come with in the park at Dupont Circle. Someone passed out squashed hoagie sandwiches she’d bought earlier in the day. We found we were ravenous.

From there, memory fades. What it most vivid in my mind is that image of Chollie, booming out,

“Walk! Just walk ahead. Just like you’re going to a Sunday picnic!”

In the face of chaos, in the face of those who would block us from doing what is essential, even though it seems too late, we still must breathe, slow down, take care of each other and walk ahead.  We knew this then. We cannot forget.