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I am sometimes told that my optimism is powerful because I am also no stranger to despair. My deep conviction that a more beautiful world is possible stands alongside a lot of grief and pain for what is happening on this planet, and sometimes that pain wears the story of "It's all terribly wrong and hopeless, the world is spiraling down, every precious thing is being eroded..." Lately there have certainly been a lot of events on the world stage that contribute to that story. Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq... the mass slaughter of elephants, the tar sands... but sometimes it is a small thing, seemingly a trivial thing, that stabs right through me. The other day I was walking with four or five of children in the condominium development where my in-laws reside. My son, my niece, a couple of friends. The development has an expansive lawn with small trees lining a long driveway. One of the girls grabbed a low branch and swung her legs above her head, hanging upside-down. A car driving towards us honked the horn and the lady inside angrily motioned for her to get down. She pulled up, rolled down her window, and said, "I am on the management board here, and we don't allow that kind of behavior," or something like that. I don't know why that petty incident should hurt more than the carnage around the world, but somehow it got under my skin. Maybe because it is not unrelated to the carnage. The mentality of control, the subduing of the wild, the emphasis on "security" at the expense of life, play, and freedom, the conquest of childhood, the "civilizing" of the Other... all of these threads wrap together into the big ball of earth's dominant culture. Maybe it is because the mentality that is disturbed by a child swinging from a tree branch is so far removed from the kind of world I want to live in that I felt that intense pang of hopelessness. What kind of miracle will it take for the kind of people exemplified by this woman (and there are many) to change? Probably it would take a severe shaking of the foundations of their world. I do not wish that on anyone, but I do not believe that the social transformation that we seek writes off some people and leaves them behind. That kind of elitism is a recipe for disaster. Everyone has a gift to offer this collective emergence. But for many people, I think it will take an enormous dislocation to access it. I have more to say but I'll leave it at that for now. By the way, soon all of these are going to be put on my website and opened for comments, so that people can respond to each other. I've been getting way more emails than I can even look at.
I am writing this post with my heart singing with amazement and gratitude. After our first session at this retreat I'm leading at Esalen, some of the participants were talking about how the Pachamama alliance flew some indigenous people to a movie theater in the city and showed them the movie Avatar in 3D. Apparently they thought it was beautiful and all, but that the ending didn't conform to their beliefs because it was resolved through overcoming the enemy by force and killing the evil person. I said, “Hey, that's exactly what I said in my book. Do you remember the part I'm talking about?” (Here, I'll quote it for you:) "….So for example, in the movie Avatar, which closely parallels the situation of the Shuar, the fictional Na’vi overcome the spaceships and artillery of the human invaders with spears, bows and arrows, and large animals. When the chief human general is killed, then the victory is complete. There is no other way, since he is depicted as irredeemable. Fortunately, the Shuar seem not to be infected with the virus of the ideology of “evil.” They are not fighting the mining companies. They are fighting the mining. I would have liked to see a different ending to Avatar. I would have liked to see the planet infiltrate the nervous systems of the humans so that, when they destroyed its world-tree, they themselves felt the pain of it, erasing the us/them divide that enabled them to see the planet as a mere source of resources. That is precisely the change of perception that our civilization needs to undergo. Because I don’t think that the Shuar are going to overcome us with their spears." Then I told them that when I wrote it, my secret hope was that James Cameron would read it and integrate that idea into the sequel. “Let's put that intention out there,” I said. I noticed that some of the participants had huge grins on their faces. One of them told me, “Actually, when we were in New Zealand we met James Cameron. We gave him your book with a bookmark on that page. He said it was going to be the next book he read.” I was nearly overcome with gratitude and wonder. I can hardly imagine how powerful that movie could be if it added this extra element of the worldview of interbeing to its message of the sacredness and intelligence and interconnectedness of all life. I am in awe of the mysterious paths by which intentions bear fruit. I suppose it isn't so unlikely that this has happened, but I have the feeling of being in the presence of a miracle. p.s. The thought just occurred to me that someone might think I'm trying to take credit for this idea, should it appear in the next film. So, let me be clear: (1) I am sure James Cameron would have come to it one way or another, because it wants to be born in the world and will find its vehicle. (2) In any event, I hereby relinquish any claim to it, financial or otherwise. Everyone on the planet is free to use “my” ideas (they are not mine, they just use me to enter the world or be amplified), to adapt them, to evolve them, and to make them their own, without credit or acknowledgement. The water table of the Story of Interbeing is rising, bubbling forth now from many springs.
I can't really tell you my plans for the future; it all depends on what is revealed to me in the next phase of my personal exploration. Besides, the world is approaching a state of flux that could easily render most plans irrelevant. I will continue writing and speaking for at least another year or two. My main interest now is in exploring the boundaries of what is “possible” according to our received beliefs, received habits, received technologies, and received ways of knowing. For humanity to take that Next Step, we are going to have to violate what is politically practical, socially practical, and even technologically practical. The same holds on the personal and relational level. I have caught glimpses of the impossible in all these realms and I am excited about what lies ahead.
I will give you some of my background, although the intense transitions of the last few years have left me feeling like a new person. Hmm, I wrote that sentence two years ago, and it is still true today. I was born in 1967 and was a very sensitive, intellectual and dreamy child. I was always consumed by questions like, “Where did I come from?""Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” so of course, embedded as I was in a culture that sees science and reason as the source of truth, I tried to “figure out” the answers. I graduated from Yale University with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, but my development of reason and intellect brought me no closer to any truth I really cared about. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but I knew that none of the usual options life presents a Yale graduate attracted me. I went to Taiwan, learned Chinese, and soon found myself working as a translator. I spent most of my 20s there, educating myself broadly (though not at all rigorously – it was more through osmosis) in Eastern spiritual traditions. I also read voraciously: books on health, nutrition, globalization, physics, and biology. Translation led to other business opportunities, and I became familiar with this dimension of the human experience. In Taiwan, I met my dear friend and ex-wife Patsy, with whom I have three children, all boys.
In my late 20s I entered what was to be a long period of intensifying crisis. It started when all my professional work became intolerable. It became excruciating to do work I didn’t care about. Even though a million reasons told me why it was irresponsible, impractical, and foolish to quit, I eventually could not make myself do it anymore. An irrepressible feeling, “I am not here to be doing this!” took control of my life. So I entered a long period of searching. I spent time teaching yoga, learning about herbs, and teaching at Penn State’s department of Science, Technology, and Society. All of these endeavors have contributed to my present and future, but none were really me. The next five years were much like a birthing process. The old world dissolved, and the contractions birthing me into the new took the form of a collapse of all that I once held onto. Crises in health, marriage, and money forced me to let go of a “life under control." In my helplessness, I accepted help, discovering a generous universe that has always met my needs, somehow, in unexpected ways. I have never made much money, but I have become rich in connections to other people. Friends and strangers from all over the world write to tell me how my books have affected them; they sustain my faith and nourish my passion for my work.
In addition to writing books and essays, I have been doing a tremendous amount of public speaking. Sometimes, especially when I am tired from traveling, I wonder if the world needs yet another man performing “speaker up in front of an audience.” Why not stay at home and use technology? But I find that something happens in person that is irreplaceable. For one thing, at live events I can see the expressions on people's faces, and I respond to that in real-time, engaging in a sort of dialog. Secondly, my speaking is not just about conveying ideas. Something else rides the vehicle of the words, even if the topic is something mundane like steady-state economics. I sometimes describe my experience as a speaker as being plugged into a field that is not my creation, but is generated by the audience and by something beyond the audience. Besides, I find that my thinking stagnates and my heart atrophies when I am in front of my computer too much. I need to interact with real people, face to face. That's why I travel and speak. On the other hand, I am increasingly drawn to developing the non-verbal, embodied gifts that I've neglected. Like many people, I have a feeling that there is a Next Step about to happen, in my work and beyond. I don't know what it is, but I do know its revelation will come through transforming experiences that reveal and heal things I was blind to. My work, my play, my family, my deep soul connections, my wholeness, my wounds... all of these are bound up together, evolving as one.
I am now remarried as of 2011 and have a baby, my fourth son, Cary, with my wife Stella. Besides mothering, Stella practices Chinese Medicine and other healing modalities. The two teenagers, Jimi and Matthew live with us too; the 9-year-old Philip only sometimes. My favorite moments are watching Jimi and Matthew play “pass the baby” with Cary, who thinks it is the funnest game in the world. Of course we have our challenges and I have occasional moments of seeing my whole life as a father as a collision-course of errors, but overall I feel extremely lucky to have such amazing, sensitive, talented, kind children.