JOSEPH TIEGER
Hello, I'm glad you could join us again as we reach the mid-point in this seven-part Reaching Out presentation. I'm your host, Joseph Tieger.

If you've been with us before, you know that these programs grow out of a course of ten town meetings hosted by Ram Dass in Oakland California--and you've seen and experienced a community healing process beginning to take place.

This process, at its heart, seems to require that we get past our own personal resistance to dealing with suffering, so that we can hear each other's pain at the way things are. It also requires that we get comfortable enough together, across all the racial, cultural and economic barriers that divide us, that we can develop a shared vision of a future as we would like it to be, and generate the trust to act together to achieve it.

Now, tonight's program reminds us that this human drama of ours is being played out within the larger arena of an imperiled eco-system.

We all, by now, are more or less aware that, as a species, we are fouling our planetary nest. No one really knows precisely how soon this degradation might become irreversible, but we do know that if it continues, it will jeopardize the earth's capacity to sustain us.

In this program, we see people like ourselves grapple with the difficult feelings that this awareness brings, and carry the community healing process forward into this larger dimension.

 

 

RAM DASS There is suffering in life--and we don't seem to be very well trained in how to deal with suffering. And the way we do deal with suffering ends up either hardening our hearts, alienating us, burning us out, or just giving up.

In this culture there's such a tendency to push away suffering. Put the old folks here, and the sick folks there, and this suffering there, and that suffering there. But when you push suffering away, you push a part of yourself away. You armor yourself against what is.

 

 

THOMAS BERRY We are changing the chemistry of the planet. We are changing the biosystems, we're changing the geosystems of the planet on a scale of hundreds of millions of years. But more specifically, we're terminating the last 65 million years of life development.

In the future, whereas humans cannot make a blade of grass, there's liable not to be a blade of grass, unless humans accept it, protect, and foster it.

And here's the basic thing. I can't endure that future generations, that the children of future generations, should live in an earth any more desolate than I can help.

 

 

RAM DASS We may be standing at a moment in time when the effects of our collective acts are about to destroy life on earth. I am very uncomfortable in hearing the ecological reality because it demands something of me and I don't know what.

 

 

RAM DASS As the time clocks about the environment run on, how do we get a sense of the catastrophic implications? How does humanity begin to sense what's going on?

 

JOHN SEED Yeah, well that's the fundamental question, isn't it? Because if we were able to fully acknowledge what was happening, then surely we would have the necessary will to prevent it from happening. The technology certainly exists, and even with existing technology, there'd be nothing standing in our way of living sustainably on the planet. We know how to grow food properly, we know how to control population, we know all of these things. But the will doesn't exist because the penny hasn't dropped, and we don't really believe that this is happening to us yet.

 

RAM DASS How do we come to really believe it? Will it take incredible trauma--crisis--to awaken that consciousness?

 

JOHN SEED I think the problem with trauma is that at the moment things seem so precarious for the earth that if the traumas that we've already had aren't sufficient, then I'm afraid that any trauma that would be sufficient would also be lethal. For instance, the Director General of the United Nations Environment Program, Dr. Mostafa Talba, says that at the current rate of destruction, we face, by the turn of this century, an environmental catastrophe as complete and as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust. And this is echoed by many scientists. So if this is true, that in the next ten years or so this will take place, it's hard to imagine any trauma sufficient to turn the huge inertia of this whole way of being around that wouldn't also just be a death blow to the planet.

In the end nothing but a miracle would be of any use at this time. I mean, when you look at the rate of destruction, whether it's of the rainforests, or the ozone layer, the climate--all of these things that are happening--and if you were to multiply all of the efforts of conservationists by a factor of ten or even a hundred, it wouldn't be enough. So that there's nothing on the horizon that can help us, you know. And so then you think, well, what kind of a miracle would that be? Well, it would be a very simple one, really. All that it would need would be for human beings to wake up one day different than they were the day before, and realizing that this is the end unless we make these changes, and then deciding to make the change.

So that doesn't seem like a very likely thing to happen but, on the other hand, the whole road that we've traveled is so littered with miracles that it's only our strange kind of modern psyche that refuses to see it. I mean the miracle of being descended from a fish that chose to leave the water and walk on the land! Well, you know, anyone with a pedigree like that, you know, you can't lose hope, that's all!

 

 

RAM DASS What do I say to people that grew up in urban life? They've never had any connection to the earth at all.

 

WINONA LADUKE People are accustomed, as you say, to basically being poisoned. But I think that the reality that, you know, what is it, one out of three people will get cancer, one out of four people will die from cancer now, is a pretty stark reality. And that does not have to do with the magic of getting cancer. That has to do with pollution in the environment that causes cancers.

I think that self-interest is what motivates people to begin to look towards change. I mean, you know as well as I do that when we only have about ten years to turn around what is going on in the environment, before we are going to basically destroy our ability to live here--that's self-interest if I ever heard it, you know? We've got to figure out how to survive.

 

 

LEAH MOWERY When is it that we change our behavior towards the environment? I mean, when do we go in deep here?

 

CHRIS JOHNSON It isn't so much that there is that crisis; it's what you do with it. On the one hand, you know, you feel a responsibility to be as aware as you can be of just how much danger we're in, but at the same time, not let that depress you so that you collapse, you fall in on yourself, and don't become strong enough to be positive, or be a warrior, and help.

 

LEAH MOWERY Yeah, it's like how to take that emotion and that pain, and turn it into power, and action.

 

CHRIS JOHNSON Which seems illogical--except that what else can you do?

 

BHARAT LINDEMOOD I'd kind of like to stay with the experience of the pain, or whatever it is, instead of conceptualizing strategies about what we can do.

 

KEJA VALENS You know, I really feel like, I mean I keep on having all these excuses why I shouldn't have to deal with it now. And I get both angry at the fact that I have to deal with it anyway, and angry at myself for making all these excuses, you know. And it's like, "I'm not even grown up yet. I want to be able to deal with growing up first. You now, at least let me stop, finish, being a teenager before I have to deal with this stuff." And, you know, and then...you know, "But right, OK, but it's here. All right." You know, and then it's like, "Well, I'm not ready to give up everything in my life, and do that yet."

And...but what I feel like what I do do--everyone there is saying, and I've felt it myself--it's not sufficient, and it's not going to do it. And I'm not really very satisfied with it. And it's just kind of like, yeah, right, I do this stuff; I get burned out; I see that it's not going anywhere, or that it's not really solving all the problems; and yet, when I don't do it, I feel really guilty because I feel like I ought to be doing something, and I have the possibility to be doing something, just, you know...because I'm not homeless, and, you know, I have the time and the space in my life to do something, but I really am not about to go out and give up everything and commit my life to it.

You know, it's like, well, if I don't do that, then do I do nothing? Or is there anything I could do that would feel like I was doing something? And I haven't found anything...I mean, yes, on the one level, yeah, I'm working with one-on-one, and that helps, because I can see the one-on-one, but what's the point of helping one kid to learn how to read if, you know, in thirty or forty or fifty years there's not going to be anything left, or she's not going to be able to see any more, or whatever. And I just, like...I don't know, I mean, then I get so, like, tangled up and angry inside, that I just can't even deal with it. And then I just have to go and like, you know, bury it again. And I kind of feel like it's this volcano. It, like, starts to come up. And then it's like, "No! Agggh!" and I push it back down. And I can't find any balance in terms of what to do, or how to do it, or when, or where, or why, or all that stuff.

 

BOB KINCHELOE I really like that idea of hooking up with a community of people that you can work with, because, you know, I feel like I've been aware of these things for a long time, and the times that I've really felt good about trying to do something is when I was working with other people, you know. It becomes a way of both finding your own...finding a way to correct, when you get off the track--because you get feedback; but also, really kind of sharing what you're doing. And that's the great thing. In fact, that's one of the things I'm looking for right now, is 'What's the right place to hook up?'

 

CHRIS JOHNSON I keep coming back to how difficult it is just to perceive the crisis, you know. Our sensibilities really aren't designed...we have so many natural defense mechanisms. So that's part of the problem. If you stay absorbed in the despair, you feel at least you're being responsible because at least you're not denying it, blocking from it; but if you stay absorbed in the despair, then you're paralyzed.

 

ROB FERARU But I found John Seed's point of view that it's already too late to be both depressing and liberating simultaneously. I mean, the depressing part is obvious. The liberating part is: to know that it's already too late, and that it will take what we think of as a miracle, makes me less willing to compromise. I mean, at all kinds of levels. And, you know, part of being a mainstream environmentalist is that, you know, 'compromise' or 'being realistic', 'practical', you know, all those kinds of things. And, you know, I'm sick of it. I'm just, I'm...it has it's place, but I feel liberated by the realization that, you know, the car's already left the cliff, and we're already...it's already too late. You know, the glass is already broken. My son is already dead. You know, it's already over. And that energy to transform, that comes from that, from living into that feeling, which we, I, kind of know, up here [points to head] brings me back to, you know, how do we live our lives?

 

 

RAM DASS What does the term 'deep ecology' refer to, John?

 

JOHN SEED It means using ecology, which is an intellectual science, as almost a spiritual truth--to allow those truths to become personal. The contrast is with a resource-based environmentalism which sees the world as being composed of human beings, on the one hand, and resources for human beings on the other hand. Now some people might just lay those resources to waste, while other more responsible and dutiful people might say, "Well, we shouldn't destroy these resources, we should preserve them for future generations of human beings." But I don't see the world as being composed that way. I don't think that that's the right way to describe the world: that the world contains 10 to 30 million species of plants and animals and we are one of those.

 

RAM DASS So when you talk about the idea of being responsible, to save resources--as a motivational factor, you're saying, that isn't really the motivation.

 

JOHN SEED Well, it may work for a few people but, on the whole, we're not capable of making the necessary sacrifices. When we look at how difficult it is to make the tiniest change in our behavior--people see therapists for years for the smallest change--how are we going to make the huge changes that are going to be required of us in order to live sustainably on the earth again, you know? And I feel that, as Arne Naess, the Professor of Philosophy from Oslo University, who coined the term 'deep ecology' about fifteen years ago said, "Responsibility or duty is a treacherous basis for conservation." Because we're not capable of this high moral elevation, most of us, not in a sustained way. How many of us are Gandhis, you know?

Because when you consider 5,000 million human beings all aspiring to this so-called high standard of living, the earth obviously can't support it. We have to dig up the earth and turn it into hair dryers and automobiles and all of these things. And then we stuff our lives with these things thinking that somehow we can find satisfaction this way, that somehow we can fill that gaping hole. But it never works. You never see anyone who finally comes to the end of that process. And in a way it seems to be a kind of displacement--that the real desire is not for these material things, the real desire is for a psychological or spiritual state, and we hope to find that. And we're led to believe, by advertising and other things, that we can find that in a material way. But this isn't true and it's very destructive. Whereas if we can experience great joy, and ecstasy even, just from being alive on the earth and just from being related to all of this other life, and from experiencing the interconnectedness and the flow, then this is a very harmless way of finding that satisfaction.

 

RAM DASS Can you experience that feeling even in the face of the hopelessness of the situation?

 

JOHN SEED Well, it's funny, because in a way it's mainly the hopelessness of the situation that makes this feeling accessible to me. As I say, I was working at IBM as a systems engineer, you know. If it hadn't been that there was something wrong, you know, I'd probably still be there. And somehow the hopelessness is an incredible opportunity because it's like who wants wealth or who wants fame or whatever it is, once one has seen this, you know?

So in a way it makes it very, very simple: that the kind of huge obstacles to spiritual development of the past--really, the intense glare of what's coming down towards us really burns those things away. And then it leaves us very open, I think, to being able to experience this joy.

And then, to do everything that one can for the earth, you know, I think that it's a very joyful position to be. And to invite the despair and to invite the rage and the sorrow, and to partake of that--to feel the pain of the earth. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, that the most important thing we can do is to hear within ourselves the sounds of the earth crying. Because when we do that, then our compassion is out there; we're out there with all of the rest it; we feel that interconnection. But also we then begin to be in a position to be able to do something about it. That without that pain, there's not enough motivation. Our ideas aren't enough motivation to do anything.

 

 

CAROLYN CHAN If we only have ten more years, this moment is so precious! Now! How I feel with you now! It's so special. And maybe the despair allows me to open my heart more.

 

ANNE MATTINGLY It feels to me like everything that you've just said...you're talking about the miracle that he was talking about. That the presence...if we can be really, really present, right now, and just experience it--whooosh--bursting! That--aaah!--that's life. Then there's hope. There's hope.

So, actually, what he said tonight....Other than the fact that I recycle my paper and my magazines and my bottles, and I watch how much water I use, you know, I don't do much very consciously for the ecology. But yet tonight, what I felt like he was saying was, that I'm on the right path. I felt like it was supporting that my life and the way that it's moving...because it's moving in that direction, where I'm beginning to find real joy in things--so I don't have to have things--not in things, but in all kinds of moments. In moments. And that's the miracle, I think. I think that's the miracle. It's about just living in a more full way. Because it's that not living in a full way that's made us take from the earth. It's like we're trying to get it from there, instead of from ourselves and each other.

 

 

JOHN SEED We're so afraid that we're going to be crushed by this, by these feelings, you know, and we've been led to believe that we'll be crushed by these feelings, but certainly in this context of a supportive group of people who are encouraging each other to do things, the opposite is always the case. What we discover is that all of those huge amounts of our psychological energy that were necessary to hold that denial in place are released, and we find ourselves joyful and empowered.

And what seems to be the case is that if we allow that sorrow to carve out a space inside us, that that is the very space that can then be filled with bliss and with other emotions that we were seeking before. We were seeking those things, we were trying to run away from their opposite, but all that we did was make ourselves numb and make ourselves shallow.

 

 

RAM DASS When I start to experience the fullness of the situation, I hear that there is a mystery right there at the edge. I hear there is some dark wisdom that is coming forth out of all this. I hear that there is a forcing of human consciousness upward. To me this is the stuff that miracles are made of. Not miracles that happen "out there"--but miracles that happen in here.

 

 

CRIS WILLIAMSON

Don't let the midnight oil burn low

No, don't let it burn out

Let's see how things turn out

In the end, don't let the midnight oil burn low

No, don't let it burn out

Let's see how things turn out

In the end, you know you need a friend

A friend until the end

I know you've heard it said before

In the end, you know it all comes down to love

Down like water from above

That's what it's all about

Don't you think it's so?

What else are we here for?

Oh, I know why you're here for war

But the war is here

And so are you and I

It makes me want to fly away

But something makes me stay

And try it anyway

Hey, you and I

Keep the fire burning high

Don't let the midnight oil burn low

No, don't let it burn out

Let's see how things turn out

In the end, don't let the midnight oil burn low

No, don't let it burn out

Let's see how things turn out

In the end.

©1998 Choice Point