How do we know whether what we are doing is solving problems, or creating more?
I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Pachamama Alliance Global Gathering a few months ago. For Ian Nenke’s interview of me about my experience, click here:
Todd Visits The Pachamama Alliance Global Gathering
Lynne Twist, Bill Twist and John Perkins, the co-founders of the Pachamama Alliance, were there for all four days and, along with the Pachamama Alliance staff, evoked a stirring challenge for the soul and medicine for the heart. Each of the 135 attendees, including myself, left on Monday with an invigorated sense of purpose, for bringing about an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling human presence on planet Earth.
Video of Lynne speaking about the beginnings of the Pachamama Alliance
When Lynne, Bill and John spoke to welcome us to the gathering, I felt the purpose, power and wisdom contained in each of them. They are the real deal.
Also ever-present was Mother Earth, who rewarded us with beautiful weather and the bucolic vistas at the IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) Center nestled in the rolling hills of Petaluma, California.
After the founders spoke, Maisa Arias, the Global Engagement Manager for the Pachamama Alliance, and Tracy Apple, Director of Educational Program Content, took the floor to let us know that there was a problem.
They had sent invitations to all of the speakers that they wanted to feature over the weekend—thought leaders, activists, philosophers and poets from around the world. They invited everyone they could think of that might be able to make a powerful impact.
The problem? Almost all of them said yes! According to Tracy, there was no way they were going to fit everyone in. It was a gathering, an opportunity for connection, perhaps healing and, most definitely creating a new story and further unfolding of Pachamama Alliance, not a Cheesecake Factory menu, in which the goal is to cram as many things for as many people as possible so everyone can get at least one thing they like.
But how could they say no to such luminaries as Brian Swimme, Paul Hawken, Charles Eisenstein, Drew Dellinger, Rev. Deborah Johnson and Will Grant? In this embarrassment of consciousness riches, the staff asked themselves if they should let some of them know that, thank you very much we know we invited you but there is just no room left on the agenda!
But they couldn’t. And they didn’t. And, in the mind-bending, shamanistic time-traveling, graceful allowing and sometimes miraculous unfolding that seems to occur with regularity at Pachamama Alliance events, it came together perfectly. (Of course, the prior year of planning didn’t hurt.)
As we reviewed the purpose of the weekend, I felt the flutter of imaginal butterfly cells begin to stir in my gut.
- To have discovered a new possibility for ourselves as leaders in this work, and to be invigorated and empowered to return to our communities to share it widely and powerfully.
- To have known and experienced ourselves as a vital, connected community of aligned, committed and powerful wholes.
- To have experienced a renewed sense of hope and possibility, and to return home equipped with new tools to support us and our communities in making a difference in the world.
- To have opened ourselves up to the miraculous and the unexpected, and all that comes along with doing so.
Did all of this happen? Yes. It feels like magic now, if I simply remember the “before me” and the “after me” in relation to the gathering. But although transformation often does seem, and maybe even is—in a way—magical, it takes work. sometimes feeling like tearing apart preciously held bits of ourselves, or self-identifications that have limited us in the past. It can also be the kind of fun, collaborative, joyful work that comes from realizing that you were enough all along and all you really needed was a willingness to let go of your smallness and the courage to leave “the comfort zone” and enter “the stretch zone”, with the wisdom to steer clear of “the panic zone”.
Other times these soulful changes are a deepening into something that was always there behind the business of everyday survival mode, distractions and protection.
Sometimes transformation occurs to me as a joyful, sad love–like yesterday when Rachelle and I, currently thousands of miles apart both realized simultaneously (we found out later as we were sharing our day over a WhatsApp call, her in Beirut and me in Malaysia) that we both had the experience of giving up on saving the world while being filled with a deep love and trust for the universe and Mother Earth. We both saw that we might not be alive to see the world change the way our hearts know is possible.
But we will strive to be that change that we know is alive inside of us.
Allow me to continue this digression for a bit. I promise this will tie back in.
A large part of my personal transformation has been in giving up my idea of who I thought I was, what I called myself, and letting go of my “identity”. While most of my stretches into becoming “better” were personal journeys towards authenticity, I have looked to Buckminster Fuller for inspiration as someone who could make a difference in the world, ever since I saw him in person at UC Santa Cruz in 1979.
in 1927, at 32 years old, with a newborn daughter and dependent wife, and some recent failures in business, he went broke. He couldn’t find a job or even borrow money. He decided to commit suicide so his family could live off his life insurance money. As he tells the story, he was standing on a cliff above Lake Michigan when he had a realization.
“In committing suicide, I seemingly would never again have to feel the pain and mortification of my failures and errors, but the only-by-experience-winnable inventory of knowledge that I had accrued would also be forever lost — an inventory of information that, if I did not commit suicide, might prove to be of critical advantage to others, possibly to all others, possibly to Universe.”
He began to live life as if it belonged to others.
“If I take oath never again to work for my own advantaging and to work only for all others for whom my experience-gained knowledge may be of benefit, I may be justified in not throwing myself away. This will, of course, mean that I will not be able to escape the pain and mortification of being an absolute failure in playing the game of life as it has been taught to me.”
“Bucky” began by questioning everything he had ever learned previously and committed himself to think for himself. He created an assumption: the organizing principles operative in our Universe would provide for his material sustenance aboard Spaceship Earth if he were properly contributing to the continuance of those principles.
And set about experimenting with that hypothesis.
“I sought to use myself as my scientific “guinea pig” in a lifelong experiment designed to discover what — if anything — a healthy young male human of average size, experience, and capability, with an economically dependent wife and child, starting without capital or any kind of wealth, cash savings, credit, or university degree, could effectively do that could not be done be great nations or great private enterprise to lastingly improve the physical protection and support of all human lives.”
He not only survived, he thrived, eventually publishing 24 books and raising $20 million into designing artifacts and inventions to better humankind. He never profited, always re-investing any gain back into more inventions and research, yet always maintaining just enough money to live and take care of his family.
An amazing conversation with Bucky Fuller and Werner Erhard
Much as with Lynne Twist’s principle of “sufficiency”, which is foundational with the Pachamama Alliance. Lynne knew Bucky Fuller and he was a mentor in her developing her own, similar philosophy. It is something I consider fundamental with all Pachamama Alliance members, the desire to be bigger than their own petty ego and complaints and have the purpose of leaving a lasting legacy on planet Earth–while standing in the certainty of sufficiency and the practice of gratitude.
With all of this bubbling in my personal and collective background, Lynne Twist introduced Paul Hawken, whose book, “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”, could be seen to ask the Bucky-esque question, “If we all dedicated our lives to reverse global warming, how could it actually be done?”
Paul said he is grateful for global warming.
Grateful for global warming?
He emphasized that global warming data was not a belief system, that it didn’t matter if someone believes in global warming or not. It has nothing to do with our political, or psychological, mindset. It is feedback from the Earth, letting us know how we are doing.
“In gods we trust,” he said, “all others bring data.” His gratitude for global warming came from a true appreciation that the Earth is giving us the information, directly and clearly in the form of measurable data, and that we are being called upon to act.
How exactly to act was a question we would return to again and again as the weekend progressed.
When Charles Eisenstein spoke later that day, he called some of our ideas for how to act into question.
His message seemed different, almost in opposition to improving and understanding the metrics of “Drawdown”. In one moment, I felt one hemisphere of my brain hang tightly, maybe even righteously, onto what I was seeing and hearing from Paul Hawken up until just moments before as the bright, shining, yet built solidly in the grounded optimism of the scientifically undeniable claims in Hawken’s book that reversing global warming is possible.
Just on the other side of my corpus callosum, the poetic language of Charles Eisenstein was asking me, is it global warming we must obsess upon? What about how the Earth feels? Plastic waste, polluted rivers, poison drinking water—what makes these lesser issues? What if we were suddenly to enter a period of global cooling, as Mother Earth continued to struggle for homeostasis in the face of 8 billion humans wreaking havoc upon it?
Fellow participant, Brian, offered a beautiful clarification.
“Charles Eisenstein reminded us that doing anything is inherently problematic, and so whatever we do must be done with great care and monitoring. Paul Hawken reminds us that doing nothing is not an option.”
And so, we were caught for some time in the uncomfortable “stretch zone” (bordering on panic!) of not knowing any sure place to stand. We reflected, as a community, on all the times in the past when progress looked as though it were marching toward a better life for all of us. Think flying cars, robot servants and hydroponic food—the Star Trek world where the Earth finally solved all of its differences and not only were Russians, Japanese, blacks and women (well, ok, only one black woman on the bridge of the Enterprise but that was 1964!)…even Klingons and Vulcans working together on the bridge, as humanity warped around the universe. But sitting there, listening to Charles Eisenstein, I felt in my heart that there was something empty in this vision. From discussions with other participants later, I discovered that feeling was present in many of us.
As Merilee Baker, of the Pachamama Alliance Writers Group asked, “Reversing global Warming is extremely important but, as Charles Eisenstein says, even if we accomplished it with technology would the world be a better place?”
(That place, as Charles puts it, of “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”)
Gene Roddenberry may have had an amazing vision but was the current acceleration towards artificial intelligence, virtual reality and instantaneous digital relationship panning out the way that our visionaries imagined it?
We seem to be moving into a world of all the connectivity but no relationships, all the information but no wisdom. All the Harlan Ellison with none of the Gene Roddenberry.
These thoughts remain, to this moment, bouncing around in my head. I am learning to answer them by listening to my heart, and to Mother Earth, where the real answers lie. If you’d like to stir up some more of your own cognitive dissonance, read Eisenstein’s recent article, “Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling”, and/or watch the video below.
I will leave you, my dear brothers and sisters, with this, for now. In Part 2, we will meet Reverend Deborah Johnson, poet Drew Dellinger and Will Grant, who inspired us all with causes for hope: “be the change, listen to your heart and how to integrate “the structural with the personal, the emotional with the intellectual, the spiritual with the strategic.” (Will Grant quote)
As an exercise, I challenge you to join me in a practice given by Charles Eisenstein: Choose love. Choose connection. Pay attention to how you treat people. Choose to ask, “What’s it like to be you?”
For further inspiration, watch the amazing Joanna Macy, speaking about the Shambhala Warrior Prophecy. Are you a Shambhala Warrior?
Next blog post
Pachamama Alliance Global Gathering – Part 2
All photos courtesy of Daniela Beltrán
Great piece of writing Todd. I like the video inserts, especially the Joanna Macy one tying it all together. Somehow our Workshops and teachings need to contain this aspect. Thank you.
Thank you, Merrilee! I love the ground that Joanna Macy puts under my feet so I can keep walking when I am unsure, sometimes, where I stand.
I appreciate your comment!