Saturday, April 25, 2015

A brief guide to Spontaneous Remission

Let us assume, (and I believe this is a valid assumption), that Permaculture, both as a philosophy and a comprehensive approach to design, from urban backyards to entire landscapes, constitutes a coherent, systematic, and viable approach to the Spontaneous Remission of the Cancer of the Earth. If so, how do we get there from here?

Once again, this will involve the integration of Vertical (Body-Mind-Spirit) and Horizontal (Self-Community-Planet) healing modalities.  For unless we are vertically healed, our horizontal healing of our communities and planet--whether through political activism, technological innovation, marketing strategies for renewable and sustainable alternatives, or public education efforts--will backfire into rage, despair, and frustration.  We therefore need practices that will sustain us regardless of the outcomes of our efforts. This is the basic discipline that Gandhi describes, drawing on the Baghavad Gita, as "renunciation of the fruits of action." As Elizabeth Roberts concludes in her superb article, "Gaian Buddhism," (from the anthology  Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology , ed. Allen Hunt Badiner, Parallax Press 1990):

"Gaian Buddhism is radical and decisive.  Through it we invert our instinctive Western hierarchy of value wherein contemplation and silence are seen as of lesser value. While our environmental actions may be turned aside from their purpose or taken over by the milieu in which they occur, our practice cannot be taken over. It attains its goal because it is its goal. It brings an end to living in front of things and a beginning to truly living with them."

(This fine article, unfortunately, cannot yet be found on the Web.)

That said, I wish to share with you my own brief guide to Spontaneous Remission of the Cancer of the Earth, with my Dharma Gaia Mantra as its foundation and plumline:

PRINCIPLE:  Begin by contemplating the Universal Dharma, as expressed in every wisdom tradition on Earth. My own favorite formulation of the Universal Dharma is from Martin Luther King:

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Never forget this; it is your key to understanding everyone and everything.

PRECEPT: This understanding translates inevitably into a basic ethical precept, again common to all the wisdom traditions on the planet. My favorite formulation is that of Lao Tzu:

"Take care of everyone, and abandon no one; Take care of everything, and abandon nothing."

Revisit this precept often as well, thinking of it as an asymptotic goal for which you continually strive, in your relations to all others ("everyone") and to the Earth ("everything")

PRACTICE: The following ten verb phrases, which I have come to call the "Dharma Gaia Mantra," are simply reminders, intended through mindful repetition to keep us on track from moment to moment and day to day as healing agents for our planet:

I.VERTICAL HEALING: This is our starting point, which we may revisit as often as necessary. If we are to become effective agents of Gaian healing, we must start with ourselves.
  1. Breathe, Observe, Let Go: This basic formula for meditation and mindfulness is always our starting point--something we can do at any time, in any circumstances, to restore the equanimity necessary to make any wise decisions.
  2. Be Well--Renew your vow, each day and moment as necessary, to take care of your own body, mind, and spirit--for your body is a microcosm of Gaia, your mind, Her mind, and your spirit, Her spirit. So eat healthy food, get exercise, relax when stressed, and observe and let go of afflictive emotions such as anger, greed, or lust as they arise. Make Wellness an ongoing practice, as a foundation for everything you do.
II. VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL HEALING: These injunctions are for the points where our personal practice connects with, and manifests in, those around us. They involve, above all, assuming full responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of our personal behavior and decisions.

  1. Do Good Work: This discipline refers first to what Buddhists call "Right Livelihood"--to seek a way of making a living that does not contradict, but enhances, our Gaian healing mission. A simple guide is that Good Work normally consists of learning, teaching, healing, and/or creating. It is doing what you are best at, to promote the health, competence, and resilience of yourself, your community, and our planet simultaneously.
  2. Keep in Touch: This is simply another way of saying "Take care of everyone, and abandon no one"--starting with yourself, and radiating outward to those you love, those you know well, complete strangers, and finally those you are inclined to resent or despise. Tibetans have a powerful discipline to practice keeping in touch, called "Tonglen"
III. HORIZONTAL HEALING: This is how we can manifest our personal healing in actions that directly and beneficially affect our communities and planet.

  1. Learn Gaia. To teach anything, we need to learn it first. Therefore, our first efforts should be to learn to think and act like a Gaian. I know of no better approach to this than the discipline of Permaculture--which combines both ethical and practical principles for design, with a firm foundation in ecological and systemic awareness, for healing first our households and backyards, then our neighborhoods, then our communities and farms, and finally our landscapes and bioregions, expanding out to include the entire planet.  The outcome is the restoration of human intelligence to its proper role as an agent of Gaia--of sustaining the conditions that in turn sustain life, both our own and all other species. 
  2. Teach Gaia.  The next step, of course, is to incorporate Gaian understanding--that is, promoting the health, competence, and resilience of ourselves, our communities, and Gaia--into everything we teach. But more specifically, it involves modeling, disseminating, and teaching the principles of Permaculture wherever and however we can to those with whom we have any influence.
  3. Heal Gaia. While all our efforts at practicing and disseminating Permaculture will heal Gaia at the local level, the larger, urgent political problem still remains: Glomart rules, and has already hijacked our democracy, and is doing its best to colonize our minds with corporate-sponsored distractions such as "news" and advertising, and to suppress information about anything (like Permaculture) that would threaten their hegemony. We cannot simply ignore Glomart--we must confront it in every way we can, by practicing the principles of Satyagraha established by Gandhi and practiced by such Gaian Bodhisattvas as King, Mandela, Wangari Maathai, and Vandana Shiva. Those principles, in brief, consist of Ahimsa (doing no harm--total resolute nonviolence, or resistance without hatred), Satya (Speaking truth to power), and Swaraj (Self-reliance, self-rule--and Permaculture is an excellent path to Swaraj). The other important feature of Satyagraha is that, while it may encounter setbacks, it can never actually be defeated, for it is rooted in the Dharma. Satyagraha actions should therefore always be mindful, strategic, and relentless.
  4. Create Gaia.  This refers to any and all of our efforts to model and disseminate a Gaian way of life, through the arts, through educational efforts, through sustainable commerce, and of course, through Permaculture.
So to the exact extent we each, in our own way, and in accord with our own talents and disposition, practice and inhabit these Dharma Gaia injunctions, we can still bring about Spontaneous Remission of the Cancer of the Earth.  So you can start right now, by focusing on each of these injunctions on ten long breaths. If you are more ambitious,  try thirty breaths: on the first ten, contemplate the importance of each injunction; next simply practice them mindfully in the present moment, and finally for each, vow to continue doing so.

Reclaim the Moment: Breathe, Observe, Let Go.
Reclaim the Day: Be Well, Do Good Work, Keep in Touch.
Reclaim our lives, and our unique and irreplaceable planet: Learn Gaia, Teach Gaia, Heal Gaia, and Create Gaia.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Answer (?)

Long ago, when I was in college around 1970, I discovered a poet named Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), with whom, even then, I closely resonated.  He was not by any stretch a great poet, but he was what I would call a "proto-Gaian" poet--that is, he had an intuitive understanding, even in the heyday of global industrial expansion and rising middle-class affluence after World War II, that the major premise of that expansion--that "nature" was nothing more than an infinite resource for the uses of "man"--was fatally flawed, and that an economy based on infinite growth of extraction, production, and consumption on a finite planet was doomed to collapse and extinction. In other words, he knew then what has become only too apparent today--that we are a part of nature, bound by its inexorable rules, and not apart from it, nor "master" over it.  He expressed his profoundly lucid, yet pessimistic philosophy in a poem called, simply, "The Answer:"

Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.

This poem rings far truer today, of course, than when I was written--and is still good advice. But is there a practical way to transform this dark Gaian wisdom into action--into a viral movement that would actually lead to social and cultural transformation, to a Gaian future, even through the encroaching chaos of global overshoot and collapse, and the ensuing violence this will entail?

I will readily admit that my own favorite trope of "spontaneous remission of the Cancer of the Earth" has largely been wishful thinking, a "dream" with which I have likely been "deluded"--rather than facing the stark horrors of the future--overshoot, systemic collapse, social chaos, ubiquitous violence, and extinction--that we currently face.  But then I discovered Geoff Lawton, a folksy Australian practitioner, teacher, and enthusiastic global advocate of Permaculture, the whole-systems philosophy of ecological design originally developed in 1978 by Bill Mollison, a Tasmanian biologist and systems thinker (b. 1928) and his protege and colleague David Holmgren (b. 1955). Who would have thought that "the Answer" would come from Down Under? But I sincerely believe it has. If the Gaian future we all envision is to happen, I am now convinced that the proliferation of Permaculture will be its agent.

Rather than trying to explain Permaculture myself, I refer you to an excellent, well-organized introductory website entitled Permaculture Design Principles that will walk you through the basic principles very systematically. It also provides access to a free, downloadable precis of Holmgren's Permaculture manual. But then, go to Geoff Lawton's website, send him your email, and you will gain free access to a host of instructional videoclips he has prepared introducing Permaculture principles in a variety of different contexts, from urban to rural, and in every conceivable bioregion. These are not just things he theorizes--they are things he has actually done. Begin with his visionary half-hour introductory video, entitled "How to Survive the Coming Crises." Then share it with everyone you know!

So if there is an "answer" to our imminent global collapse, this is it! A systematic, well-thought-out approach to redesigning and transforming our civilization from the ground up, so that human intelligence ceases to parasitize its biological support system, and instead becomes a Gaian agent of life itself, creating and sustaining the conditions that in turn sustain life!  May it only be so...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Apocalypse Now?

I just read yet another gloomy article on Truthout called "Welcome to the Tipping Point," by Quincy Saul, about the multiple, converging tipping points on our planet that make catastrophic global collapse all but inevitable.  As is often the case with Marxists, his diagnosis was sound, but his treatment, a wearisome rehashing of Marxist cliches about the absolute necessity of (somehow) organizing the impoverished masses to storm the Castle on the Hill--"Capitalism" and replace it with "Ecosocialism."  As the hulking, lovable idiot Lennie keeps saying to his protector George in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, "Tell me about the Rabbits, George." In other words, Fat Chance.

Here is the response I posted:

Most of what Quincy Saul says here about our current tipping points is only too true, but his "revolutionary" language is that of the 19th-early 20th Century: "capitalism" as the enemy, mobilizing the masses for revolution etc. etc. Musty, outworn Marxist rhetoric of impoverished "good guys" somehow organizing worldwide to overthrow a handful of super-rich "bad guys." Been there, done that. Failed utterly.
To confront our current, apocalyptic circumstances, we need to dig much deeper than that. We need not only new ideas, but a new language to express them. Let's drop the "isms and schisms" altogether and begin with the simple, luminous recognition that we ARE Gaia's body, and vice versa: Gaia is us. If she has terminal cancer, so do we. By "we" I mean ALL of us, from the poorest, destitute refugee fleeing Syria or Yemen to the corrupt and self-deluded zombies in Congress and their smug, willfully ignorant, but impeccably well-organized billionaire buddies at Monsanto and Exxon and Goldman Sachs.
Cancer has only two possible outcomes: Death, or Spontaneous Remission. The first is, by long odds, the most likely. Deal with it. We are all going to die soon, in all likelihood--sooner than we think. And it is not going to be pretty.
But there is another, less likely, but still medically attested alternative to extinction: Spontaneous Remission, whereby, for reasons unknown, the cancerous, poison-spewing cells that are feeding on our body all wake up at once, and realize that they are actually part of the body they are consuming--and act accordingly, shrinking back into their matrix and assuming adaptive roles yet again in the body they now acknowledge as their own.
Is spontaneous remission on a planetary scale even possible? We don't know. But whether or not it happens, it can happen within each of us--by breathing, observing, and letting go--and then, in expanding circles, reclaiming our bodies and neighborhoods from corporate agriculture by growing gardens; our communities from corporate domination by forming local cooperatives; and as such awareness becomes viral, healing our planet--or at least adapting to the new, dangerous world that will be left after we have passed these irrevocable "tipping points."
May it be so.