The Cave

by Paul Tran

Someone standing at the mouth had
 the idea to enter. To go further
  
 than light or language could
 go. As they followed
 the idea, light and language followed
  
 like two wolves—panting, hearing themselves
 panting. A shapeless scent
 in the damp air ...
 Keep going, the idea said.
  
 Someone kept going. Deeper and deeper, they saw
 others had been there. Others had left
  
 objects that couldn’t have found their way
 there alone. Ocher-stained shells. Bird bones. Grounded
 hematite. On the walls,
  
 as if stepping into history, someone saw
 their purpose: cows. Bulls. Bison. Deer. Horses—
 some pregnant, some slaughtered.
  
 The wild-
 life seemed wild and alive, moving
  
 when someone moved, casting their shadows
 on the shadows stretching
 in every direction. Keep going,
  
 the idea said again. Go ...
  
 Someone continued. They followed the idea so far inside that
 outside was another idea.
Paul Tran They/Them

Paul Tran is a Vietnamese-American poet, activist, and historian. Since 2013, Paul has coached the poetry slam teams at Brown University, Barnard College & Columbia University, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Paul was the first Asian American since 1993—and first transgender poet ever—to win the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam, placing top 10 at the Individual World Poetry Slam and top 2 at the National Poetry Slam. A two-time winner of the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, Paul has served as Poet-in-Residence at Urban Word NYC and head poetry slam coach at Urban Arts Alliance in St. Louis, which won the Brave New Voices Grand Slam Championship in 2019.

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Victory Speech

by Kamala Harris

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” –  John Robert Lewis.*

My mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, when she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. And so, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black women, Asian, White, Latina, Native American women who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty and justice for all, including the Black women, who are often, too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.

All the women who worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century: 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act and now, in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard.

Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision — to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders. And what a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his vice president.

But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before, but know that we will applaud you every step of the way.

now is when the real work begins. The hard work. The necessary work. The good work. The essential work to save lives and beat this pandemic. To rebuild our economy so it works for working people. To root out systemic racism in our justice system and society. To combat the climate crisis. To unite our country and heal the soul of our nation.

Excerpt from USA Vice President Elect Senator Kamala Harris Victory Speech on November 7, 2020. She is making history as  the first female and multiracial woman Vice President

*John Lewis served as US House of Representatives Member (1987- July 2020) and was a Civil Rights Leader (May he rest in Peace July 2020)

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The Oppressor and the Oppressed Must Both be Liberated

by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

I  always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that – that is not the case… We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning

from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom. Passage taken from Awakin Santa Clara’s Readings

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (/mænˈdɛlə/;[1] Xhosa: [xolíɬaɬa mandɛ̂ːla]; 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election

Mandela served 27 years in prison as a political prisoner. Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid*, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president

*Apartheid (“apartness” in the language of Afrikaans) was a system of legislation that upheld segregationist policies against non-white citizens of South Africa

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I Hope

by Resistance Revival Chorus, Meah Pace

Song Credits: Composed by Meah Pace and Randy Ingram
How could we ever 
come to this to say
Our lives do not matter 
and justice has no face 

To steady war and anger
burns the fabric of our state
sends a message to our neighbor
that we've fallen from the fray
 
It's a long road to walk on
and I don't know where it is
but I hope
And when I'm too tired
to carry on
I don't know if you'll be there
but I hope
 
Dream-on Dreamers
when the promises fade
it can only leave room
for the great
And when you long for a hero
no need to look around
you will be one and same
 
I say 
fight on brother
to me, you're all the same
is the power that's placed in your hands
And march on sisters
you're never alone
lift us all up
and carry us home
 
Because it's a long road
to walk on
and I don't know where it is
but I hope
 
And when I'm too tired
to carry on
I don't know if you'll be there
but I hope
 
If you should stray
or give up somedays
I fight for you
And if I should fall
and not take it, at all
will you go on
to seek and destroy
 
Is a long road to walk on
and I don't know if it is 
but I hope
And when I'm too tired 
to carry on
I don't know if you'll be there
but I hope
 
We've come too far 
to turn around
and we won't back down
I hope
 
And you might say 
we'll never, never, see the end
nah nah
Well I don't know my friend
I hope
for you 
for me
I hope 

By Resistance Revival Chorus which is a collective of more than 60 women, and non-binary singers,  who join together to breath joy and song into the resistance, and to uplift and center women’s voices. Chorus members are touring musicians, film and tv actors, educators, filmmakers, artists and more, representing a multitude of identities, professions, creative backgrounds and activist causes.

Song Credits: Composed by Meah Pace and Randy Ingram Produced by Tiffany Gouché, Meah Pace, Jaclyn Sanchez Additional production by Abbey Lewis Vocal arrangements, Geminelle Rollins Lead vocals, Meah Pace Piano, Tiffany Gouché Drums, Allison Miller Bass, Eva Lawitts Cello, Marika Hughes Violin, Christina Courtin Violin, Ina Paris String arrangement, Dana Lyn Piano, Etsuko Tajima Organ, Akiko Tsuruga Vocals, Resistance Revival Chorus Special thank you to film location Rock Steady Farm, a womxn-owned farm, and The Watershed Center retreat space, in Millerton, NY

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Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud

by Dr. Maya Angelou

There is an African American song 19th Century, which,  is so great.

 It says:

“when it looked like the sun wasn’t shining anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds”

Imagine!  I’ve had so many rainbows in my clouds. I had a lot of clouds. But I have had so many rainbows.

And one of the things I do when I step up on the stage, when I stand up to translate,  when I go to teach my classes, when I go to direct a movie: I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me with me — Black, White, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American, Gay, Straight, everybody — I say “Come with me. I’m going on the stage. Come with me; I need you now” Long dead – you see, so I don’t ever feel I have no help. I’ve had rainbows in my clouds.

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you; may not call God the same name you call God if they call God at all. You see; and may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do; may not dance your dances or speak your language. But, be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.

Maya Angelou, on Oprah’s Master Class.

Maya Angelou was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman.  She was also a prolific poet. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama. More than thirty health care and medical facilities have been named after Dr. Maya Angelou.

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Beggarly, Friendly, and Kingly Giving

by Stephen Levine

The greatest gift is the act of giving itself.  Traditionally, three kinds of giving are spoken of.  There is beggarly giving, which is when we give with only one hand, still holding onto what we give.  In this kind of giving we give the least of what we have and afterward wonder whether we should have given at all.
 
Another kind of giving is called “friendly” giving, in which we give openhandedly.  We take what we have and share it, because it seems appropriate.  It’s a clear giving.
 
Then there’s the type of giving that’s called “kingly” giving.  That’s when we give the best of what we have, even if none remains for ourself.  We give the best we have instinctively with graciousness.  We think of ourselves only as temporary caretakers of whatever has been provided, as owning nothing.  There is no giving; there is just the spaciousness which allows objects to remain in the flow.
 
We’ve all experienced these kinds of giving in our lives; giving from us and giving to us.  We all know what it feels like when we hold on to what we give, when we’re giving, attached to a particular response to the gift: “Will I be loved because I gave this gift?”  We’re attached to ourselves being the giver.  It’s not such wholesome giving.  We’ve also given when we felt it right to let something go into another’s hands, just let it flow right through.  That’s the kind of giving that comes through people who are healers.  They don’t hold onto it — the life energy moves right through them.  There’s no one healing; there’s just healing coming out.  That’s the kingly kind of giving. 
 
More generally, as we grow into ourselves, we find ourselves giving, sharing openhandedly, and honestly.  That feels good.  That brings us to the kind of friendship, the kind of love that nurtures growth.
 
Indeed, giving can become a whole practice in itself.  Many times in our meditation, we become beggarly and we don’t give ourselves away.  We hold back, we resist certain states of mind, giving ourselves practice with the one hand, pulling it back with the other.  We’re constantly checking how we’re doing, measuring who we are now, evaluating.  But as we awaken, more and more we come to give ourselves away.  
 
And as we gradually give more of ourselves to ourselves, we naturally give more of ourselves to others.  There is a way we are with people which makes it easy for them to be themselves.  We’re not being someone who encourages to act in any other way.  We’re an open space, holding to nothing, giving it all away.
 
–by Stephen Levine, in Gradual Awakening. Passage taken from Awakin Santa Clara’s Readings

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The Grace of Silence

by Michele Norris

Even in the most terrifying moments at a sterile hospital, there is some comfort in knowing that a world you recognize is just outside and beyond the parking garage. You can fixate on a familiar image as a doctor shaves years off your life with each sentence. He can talk all he wants about therapies and opera­tions, but you’re thinking of the parking lot where you taught your daughter to drive, or the gas station that uses red reflective press-on letters to spell out a different Bible verse each week, like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” While the doctor yammers on, you’re thinking of the grizzled gas sta­tion attendant who climbs the ladder to change the sign, and wondering what pearl of wisdom he might offer in light of the news you just got.

In Fort Wayne, in a large hospital in an unfamiliar city, we were confronting an unknown illness that had swiftly robbed my father of his ability to carry out the most basic functions. We were looking at complicated surgery and, at best, a long and complex recovery, so the doctors suggested that we quickly move Dad back to Minnesota, where he could be treated closer to home.

We wanted to get Dad on the first flight to the Twin Cities, but his gait was unsteady and he seemed increasingly disori­ented. He clutched my arm as we walked through the airport; he kept shooting me tight little smiles: reassurance. By now his speech was so slurred that only I could understand him, and so labored that he wasn’t able even to whisper.

At the airport we sat across from two stout middle-aged blond women with wet-set curls and matching pink satin jack­ets. 

I remember them so well because they were sitting next to a large Amish or Mennonite family constantly rifling through their pocketbooks for mirrored compacts, then checking their makeup or blotting their lipstick.

When my dad tried to lean toward me to ask a question, his words sputtered forth like bricks tumbling from a shelf. The satin dolls found it hard to mind their own business. They stared and pointed every time Dad attempted to speak. They didn’t try to hide their disparagement, one of them harrumph­ing loud enough for anyone to hear, “Goodness sakes, it’s not even noon yet!”

After spending a lifetime trying to be a model minority — one of the few black men in his neighborhood, at his workplace, or on his daughters’ school committees — my father now sat facing the condemnation of the two blond scolds. They had apparently concluded that he was an early morning lush instead of a gray-haired man fighting a losing battle with a devastating disease.

Here is the conundrum of racism. You know it’s there, but you can’t prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, how it colors a par­ticular situation. 

I do know this: the fact that they were white women added mightily to my father’s humiliation. I knew my father felt the sting of their judgment.

The jut of his chin showed indignation, but the sag of his shoulders and the crease in his brow conveyed something dif­ferent. Something hovering between anger and shame. There was also, however, a hint of grace. I see that now that I have come to understand my father better, as a man who was always in tight control of his emotions. I believe now that he was trying not just to salvage his dignity but also to absolve the two women from dishonor.

The aphorism “Kill them with kindness” might have been penned with a man like Belvin Norris Jr. in mind. By fiddling with his wrist he was saying, “If only they knew,” rather than “Shame on you.”

Excerpt from The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris Copyright 2010 by Michele Norris. Michele is one of the most trusted voices in American Journalism. Her voice informs, engages and enlightens listeners with thoughtful interviews and in depth reporting as one of the hosts of National Public Radio’s (NPR) “All Things Considered

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The Compassionate Species

by Dacher Keltner

Charles Darwin was the beloved and engaged dad of a really rambunctious group of children. When one of his daughters died at age 10, Darwin started to have these deep insights about the place of suffering and compassion in human experience.

That led him to argue, in The Descent of Man, that…“the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

This point was totally forgotten by evolutionary science for quite some time. Well, given all the awful things humans do to each other, how could you make the case that sympathy is our strongest instinct?

The answer lies in the dependence and vulnerability of our children. Baby chimpanzees sit up on their own; you sit up a human baby, and they go, “Watch out, man, my head’s really big!” Boom!

Their heads are so big because their brains are so big. To fit their big heads through the human birth canal—which narrowed as we started to walk upright on the African savanna—our babies were born profoundly premature and dependent upon people to take care of them.

In fact, our babies are the most vulnerable offspring on the face of the Earth. And that simple fact rearranged our social structures, building cooperative networks of caretaking, and it rearranged our nervous systems. We became the super caregiving species, to the point where acts of care improve our physical health and lengthen our lives. We are born to be good to each other.

Photo by Garrett Jackson @jacksonsartstudio.com

Are you a vagal superstar?

You can see our natural connectivity and compassionate instincts in how our brains react to pain. Let’s say I pinch or burn your skin—the anterior cingulate region of your brain will light up. But it’s not just your own pain. If you see somebody else suffering, that very same part of the cortex activates. We are wired to empathize, if you will.

That’s not the only part of the brain that lights up when we see images of suffering and distress. The amygdala—the brain’s threat detector—activates, which is no surprise since we might worry the suffering will come our way.

But there’s another area that lights up, a very old part of the mammalian nervous system called the periaqueductal gray, way down in the center of the brain. In mammals, this region is associated with nurturing behavior. We don’t just see suffering as a threat. We also instinctively want to alleviate that suffering through nurturance.

We can find an example of how our bodies are wired for compassion in a fascinating part of your autonomic nervous system called the vagus nerve. Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” and the vagus nerve starts at the top of the spinal cord and wanders through your body, through muscles in your neck that help you nod your head and orient your gaze toward other people and vocalize. It then drops down and helps coordinate the interaction between your breathing and your heart rate, then goes into the spleen and liver, where it controls a lot of digestive processes. Recent studies suggest the vagus nerve is related to a stronger immune system response and regulates your inflammation response to disease.

The Vagus nerve is marked in Yellow (@ wikipedia)

In our lab, we show participants photos of suffering and distress and find that these images activate the vagus nerve. We’ve also found that if somebody tells you about a sad experience your vagus nerve fires. If they tell you an inspiring story, their vagus nerve fires. The more you feel compassion, the stronger the vagus nerve response.

We also show our undergraduates images intended to inspire pride—like Berkeley’s Sather Gate or the school mascot—and we find that the more pride they feel, the weaker the vagus nerve response.

This result tells us that when you feel a strong vagus nerve response, you are feeling common humanity with many different groups.

We’ve also found people who have really strong vagus nerves—“vagal superstars,” as I like to call them. We find that these folks have more positive emotion on a daily basis, stronger relationships with peers, better social support networks.

There are a lot of data that suggest we are wired to care, down to the neurochemical level. I’m sure many of you have heard about oxytocin, a neuropeptide that goes up to your brain and is then distributed through your body by your bloodstream.

If I give 10 dollars to study participants and squirt some oxytocin up their nose, they will share more of that money with a stranger than they would without the squirt. That’s why oxytocin has been dubbed “the moral molecule” by neuroeconomist Paul Zak.

How contagious is compassion?

Researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have been studying a community in Massachusetts, and they find that among adults, everything is contagious. If your neighbor goes on a diet, you go on a diet. If a person a couple of blocks away start smoking, other people start smoking, and you end up smoking. If you become angry, it spreads to your family and through social networks.

But are negative emotions and behaviors more contagious than the positive and ones, as some think? Research says the answer is no. In fact, positive emotions and prosocial emotions are more contagious than any others. They spread much more rapidly and collectively than the negative.

This might be because giving and sharing feel good. There are studies showing, for example, that if I share resources with you, I get a little activation in the reward circuit in my brain.

What’s more, there’s evidence that these good feelings promote bonding through social networks, even bridging social divisions. My lab has found that if you can get people to feel compassion, they start to feel deeply connected to very different groups.

There’s one final, crucial social effect of compassion, and it goes back to Darwin and evolution. To pass your genes to the next generation, you’ve got to have qualities that make you attractive as a partner or, in evolutionary language, as a mate.

Well, researcher David Buss generated a lot of controversy when he surveyed 10,000 people from 37 different countries—heterosexuals at the age of forming romantic partnerships—and asked them: What is most important to you in a mate?

Gender differences generated all the attention around this remarkable study. Women were a bit more interested in men’s financial prospects than men were in women’s, so according to this study, women value resources a little more. And men—primitive apes that they are—were a bit more interested in women’s beauty than women were in men’s looks.

But there was another result that no one talked about, and it was this: Kindness was found to be the most important criterion for a mate, and the single universal requirement across these 37 countries. People are looking for kindness as a mating strategy.

So forget what you’ve been told about compassion—that it’s unnatural, that it’s for suckers. Compassion is essential to our evolutionary history, it defines who we are as a species, and it serves our greatest needs as individuals—to survive, to connect, and to find our mates in life.

Excerpt from Greater Good Magazine. Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. He is also the founder and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center. and host of the podcast The Science of Happiness.

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Compassion for Earth is Vaccine Against Epidemic of Indifference

by Junno Arocho Esteves

Contemplation and compassion are the necessary components of an integral ecology that ensures both the care of the environment and the common good, Pope Francis said.

“Compassion is the opposite of indifference,” Francis said Sept. 12 (2020), during an audience with members of the Laudato Si’ Communities. “Our compassion is the best vaccine against the epidemic of indifference.”

The Laudato Si’ Communities in Italy were founded by Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, Italy, and Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, a grassroots organization that promotes the preservation of local food culture and traditional cooking to counteract the rise of fast food chains and food waste.

The current pandemic, the pope said, has shown that the health of men and women “cannot be separated from that of the environment in which they live.”

“It is also clear that climate change not only upsets the balance of nature, but also causes poverty and hunger; it affects the most vulnerable and sometimes forces them to leave their land,” he said.

The pope said that nature today is no longer admired or contemplated, but rather “devoured,” and that humanity has become voracious in its consumption of natural resources.

Humankind is “sick from consumption. This is our disease. [We are] sick from consumption,” he said. “We are scrambling for the latest ‘app,’ but we no longer know the names of our neighbors, much less know how to distinguish one tree from another.”

“Contemplation is the antidote to hasty, superficial and inconclusive choices,” he said. “Those who contemplate learn to feel the ground that sustains them, understand that they are not alone and without meaning.”

Francis said. “The world needs this creative and active charity, people who do not stand in front of a screen to comment, but instead, people who get their hands dirty to remove degradation and restore dignity…. we are all creatures, and everything in creation is related.”

Excerpt from online publication Earth Beat: Stories of Climate Crisis, Faith and Action

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Our Teachers In Nature

by Elisabet Sahtouris

Looking at living systems over time, I came to understand that they all go through a cycle that’s very like our psychological maturation cycles. We start with a unity, we’re undifferentiated, we come into the world new. And then individuation happens. We have many experiences. We branch out in many directions. And humanity, as it diversified and had more and more people, created more and more conflict. Exactly as the early Earth differentiated into bacteria and then they developed different lifestyles and they became competitive. They invented technologies in order to carry out their hostilities. They created enormous problems including global hunger and global pollution. And they had to solve those eventually by negotiating differences, moving on around the cycle, and working out cooperative schemes that ultimately led the ancient bacteria that ruled for the first half of Earth’s life to form a new kind of cell as a community of different lifestyle bacteria working together. That’s the nucleated cell that we’re made of, that all these trees are made of, that all the beings in the waters are made of. Everything we see around us is made of this wonderful big cooperative cell.

Photo gifted by Liz Pimentel-Gopal: Black Sands Beach Marin County (SF Bay Area)

Now humanity is going through the biggest event since the time that bacteria formed the nucleated cell because we’re now trying to form the body of humanity around the globe. Seeing that other species matured out of a youthful competitive phase into a mature cooperative phase means everything to us now. The Darwinian story only goes to the adolescent part where there’s hostile competition. You take all you can get. You fight your enemy. You try to out-do him or try to bump him off and that’s what makes you survive.

But that’s not what sustainability is all about. Sustainability happens when species learn to feed each other instead of fight each other. You get mature ecosystems such as rainforests and prairies where you have far more cooperation than you have hostile competition. You can still have friendly competition, but that’s very different. So I see humanity doing exactly this right now. We of the western culture who divorced ourselves from nature saying “We’re separate. That’s nature out there. Let’s see how we can exploit it to our purposes.” Interestingly, we’re the species who invented the concept of entropy and we’re the one who creates it, who deteriorates eco-systems while the other species are building them up. So we have a great deal to learn from nature and by recognizing that our conscious experience is of other beings, is of teachers in nature that we can learn from and gain hope from. If bacteria could do it without benefit of brain, can’t we [do it] as humans with big brains?

Excerpt is taken from Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris‘ online article titled After Darwin (2003) and read at Awakin Santa Clara on June 21, 2010.  Elisabet is an evolution biologist, futurist, speaker, author, and sustainability consultant to businesses, government agencies and other organizations

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