"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Religious Pluralism versus Tolerance

Continuing my recent theme of religious tolerance, and why it is not good, and what are the alternatives:

“Eboo Patel is an American Muslim of Indian heritage. Brought up in Chicago, he struggled in his youth with his cultural background and came to understand how different faiths could be the source not only of mutual enrichment but as readily could become mutually exclusive. At school he witnessed religious discrimination at first hand as to his shame he turned away when his Jewish friend was subjected to anti Semitic taunts. Patel was no stranger to bullying himself on account of his faith origins. Most importantly, his own upbringing made him consider the forces that determine whether a youngster follows a route of hatred against the world or takes the alternative and happier route of love and compassion for all. He realized that much depends upon whom you meet when you are at your most impressionable. He saw firsthand that the twenty first century is being dominated not by the color line but by a different line, which he calls the faith line. This, he points out, is no less divisive and no less violent than the color line. The faith line does not divide different faiths, or separate the religious from the secular. This line is divisive between the values of religious totalitarians and the values of the religious pluralists. The former believe that their way is the only way and are prepared to convert, condemn or indeed kill, those who are different, in the name of God. It is this side of the faith line that gives religions a bad press in the eyes of the secular public. The pluralists on the other hand hold that ‘people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty.’ Pluralism is the belief, Patel explains, ‘that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its own unique contribution.’ What Patel soon realized was that the dangerous religious fundamentalism we see around us is nurtured in the young, in the disaffected youth of our day who are taken advantage of and exploited for fundamental political aims. It is those youth of today who fuel the religious conflicts we witness, who martyr themselves while they kill or maim thousands. He also knew that the main faith leaders over the decades who have campaigned for justice and peace, leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela all started young; they became active while still in their youth.
Inspired by this knowledge Patel saw that there could be no better place to make a start in trying to achieve a harmony and a common good among all America’s variants of religion than with this youth of today, those who will shape and see tomorrow’s world. It was against this background that in 2003 he founded the Chicago based Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).
The idea of the IFYC was simple. Its mission is to build ‘a global movement of interfaith youth cooperation by generating mass public support for interfaith youth work, equipping youth-focused institutions to positively engage their religious diversity, and nurturing the emerging leaders of this movement.’
This has become an extremely successful organization with a multimillion-dollar budget. It actively involves tens of thousands of religiously diverse young people in projects that are taking the message of religious pluralism to millions across six continents.”


Interfaith Youth Core at www.ifyc.org
Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: the Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Boston: Beacon Press, generally and at p. 61

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011 quoted from Healing this Wounded Earth: with Compassion, Spirit and the Power of Hope, O Books 2011

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Tolerant Oppression and the Olympic Prayer

I wrote recently of tolerance, in particular religious tolerance, and how I now see that this is not the right way to further interfaith relations; that tolerance is “putting up with,” not celebrating, accepting, respecting, appreciating, our religious differences. And tolerance in fact is a breeding ground for simmering resentment, that can erupt in violence if the right conditions present, in the same way that a smouldering bonfire can suddenly burst again into flames if the breeze comes in the right direction at the right time.

The Church of England has released an Olympic Prayer for those preparing for the 2012 Games, asking God to be with the athletes, their supporters and families, and the thousands of churches preparing events in their communities in the run-up to and during the Olympics. It has been written by The Rev Duncan Green, the Church of England's Executive Olympics Coordinator, and includes the sentence; “we pray for a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of humility and respect.”
Now acceptance, humility and respect I can endorse wholeheartedly. But why link acceptance with tolerance?

In his superb and very thought provoking book Tolerant Oppression: why promoting tolerance undermines our quest for equality and what we should do instead, Dr Scott Hampton at page 24 claims that by linking tolerance with acceptance, understanding, appreciation, respect, etc, we protect the word from scrutiny, and automatically assume it to be “good.” Why otherwise would we link it with such positive other words? But his whole book works around the premise that tolerance is in fact part of the language of hate. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he reminds us, never called for tolerance. They called for respect, understanding, and most importantly equality, but never tolerance. In fact Hampton quotes Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, who warns us that “Tolerance is not only inadequate, it is a negative concept which only alienates society further.” (from Legacy of Love: My education in the path of non-violence)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

the Baptism of Christ

Then Jesus went from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John.
However, John stopped him and said, "I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?"
  Jesus however replied and told him, "Let it be, for this is decreed for us, for all righteousness to be fulfilled." And he allowed it.

  Then as Jesus was baptized, at once he rose out of the water, and the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and settled upon him.
  And, behold, the voice from heaven that said, "This is my beloved Son, by whom I am fulfilled!" 
St. Matthew 3 vv. 13-17 

From our local church flower festival

Monday, 27 June 2011

Even Solomon in all his glory...

 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 
 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 
and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

St. Matthew Chapter 6 vv. 25-29 - Part of  Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

flowers arranged for the Flower Festival at our local church

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The End of Faith?

In his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris calls in the epilogue for the abolition of religion. This is not a hopeless dream, he believes, and says that an “utter revolution in our thinking” could be achieved in a generation if parents and teachers simply gave honest answers to the questions of children. Really?!
I think Harris may be conveniently forgetting that the rules and customs of ancestral religions still give meaning, purpose and spiritual nourishment to most of the seven billion people on the Earth today. 84% of the world’s population have a faith or religion, often with deeply held convictions, and of the remaining 16% one half claim to be theistic even if not religious. And only a tiny minority are involved in illegal acts in the name of religion. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has reminded us that in spite of what Harris and other angry atheists say, humankind does not need religion to perpetrate ghastly crimes against its own kith and kin. And it is also widely accepted that spiritual nourishment is necessary for human flourishing, within or without a religious faith.
So with these facts and statistics how could religion possibly be abolished?
Today Christian men, women and children throughout the world will be going to church. The UK media love to say that churchgoers are declining in numbers but overall this is simply not true. Since the turn of the millennium across 42 Church of England cathedrals in the UK, numbers attending services have steadily grown by a total of 37%, around 4% on average each year, and 7% just in the last year. Perhaps it is just unfortunate that the secular materialism of the West has the cultural initiative.

Nevertheless it is true that total congregations today, even though on the increase, are still a shadow of the numbers flocking to church even 100 years ago. And this causes a problem with moral values. Religion and ethics were once closely intertwined, but since the influence of religion has declined in so many lives, there is, warns the Dalai Lama, ‘mounting confusion with respect to the problem of how best we are to conduct ourselves in life…morality becomes a matter of individual preference.’(1) Nietzsche called this an impending ‘total eclipse of all values.’

(2) Atheist as he himself was, his observation, he claimed, was entirely objective: we need a God and the moral codes inherent in that belief to curb our otherwise unpleasant behavioral traits.
Is that right?

And there is another issue – that of so-called “progress.” ‘As at the beginning of the Christian era, so again today,’ wrote Carl Jung (3) in 1957, ‘we are faced with the problem of the general moral backwardness which has failed to keep pace with our scientific, technical and social progress.’ Martin Luther King called this our moral and spiritual ‘lag’. He observed that ‘the richer we have become materially the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.’ We live, he said, in two realms:

“The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.”

He warned that we would put ourselves in peril if the former, the internal, does not grow apace of the external material realm. ‘When the ‘without’ of man’s nature subjugates the ‘within’, dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.’ The result, he cautioned, is racial injustice, poverty and war, that will only be alleviated if we balance our moral progress with our scientific progress and learn the practical art of living in harmony in a ‘worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation.’ (4)
And how do we achieve that?
A question I will continue to explore in the weeks and months ahead. All (constructive and polite) comments welcome.

1. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, 2000, Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000), p. 11.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, used a few times through his literature, for example spoken by the madman in The Gay Science (Philosophical Classics) Friedrich Nietzsche with Thomas Common (Translator)(New York: Dover Publications, 2006).
3. From The Collected Works of C G Jung, 1970 pp304-305 as quoted in Claire Dunn: Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul An Illustrated Biography, London: Continuum, 2000, pp. 149, 199.
4. Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture December 11 1964

Saturday, 25 June 2011

City Life changes Brain for the Worse?

My father suffered chronic ill health throughout his working life in a big city, as a research scientist, and this was almost certainly induced as much by stress and where we lived as by physical disorder. In mid life he was fortunate to inherit some capital from his parents. This enabled him to take up dairy farming. As a city man until then, he knew little if anything about animal husbandry. He was also a proclaimed agnostic. But with much practical advice and help from others, plenty of hard physical labor and long relentless hours with never a day off, he succeeded in creating a compassionate farming business around a dairy herd that he adored! There was little financial reward for his efforts, but alongside a return to excellent physical fitness, without doubt he found some kind of spiritual healing and fulfillment that had been missing in his previous city life.

So now the news that City Life could Change your Brain for the Worse comes as no surprise to me. A brief article at Spirituality Practice – Resource for Spiritual Journeys  led me to this research, and linked to a website called “Wired Science – news for your neurons” where there was more detail:

“As a rule, city life seems to generate mental illness.”

“Between the crowds and the noise and the pressure, city life often seems to set one’s brain on edge. Turns out that could literally be true.
A study of German college students suggests that urbanite brains are more susceptible to stress, particularly social stress, than those of country dwellers. The findings don’t indicate which aspects of city life had changed the students’ brains, but provide a framework for future investigations.
“Whether people are exposed to noise, live near a park, have a big group of friends or not — you can do those experiments, and tease apart which parts of urban living are associated with these changes,” said Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, a psychiatrist at German’s Central Institute of Mental Health.”
“Meyer-Lindenberg’s findings, published June 23 in Nature, are a neurological investigation into the underpinnings of a disturbing social trend: As a rule, city life seems to generate mental illness.”

With increasing urbanization most of us have sadly lost contact with the land and the soil. As a result I believe that a part of our soul has died. But we do not have to own a farm to renew that connection! Many find less expensive and more readily available succor working the land within their own gardens, with healthy homegrown fruit and vegetables a valuable by-product of their endeavors. And for those without a garden, there are community gardens, such as the thriving Clinton Community Garden in New York City. This is an inspiring story of successful urban regeneration. Taking in hand an ugly lot in the heart of that city, that had been abandoned for many years and strewn with all kinds of debris including dumped cars, keen volunteer citizens have created a green garden sanctuary, a place of tranquility for all to enjoy. With more than 100 plots now actively cultivated, it has a waiting list for those who would like a share of the action.

There does seem to be a real resurgence of interest in getting back onto the land, getting back to our roots, seeking a reconnection of soil and soul, and perhaps this latest research tells us why that should be.

Comments please. Do you have any stories to tell to support the idea?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Wisdom of Tolerance?

There is an element in the meaning of tolerance that says: OK, I’ll put up with you even though my way is the right way. We talk much about tolerance: tolerance of age, sexual orientation, race or culture or skin colour, and of course religious tolerance.

But is this the right way of looking at things? Not if the underlying agenda is “putting up with”, on the basis that my way is of course the better, healthier, superior, way, the only right way, and you are therefore inferior and wrong in some way.

If we look at tolerance this way, we start off on the wrong foot. I believe all men and women are born equal, with their own unique value and gifts, with inherent worth and dignity. I believe that there is much in all the great religions and faiths to celebrate, to respect, to enjoy. No one religion can claim any kind of high ground.

The Unitarian Universalism movement celebrates the diversity of religious belief, and is guided by seven principles:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

I doubt whether anyone can seriously disagree with any of those principles.
Do look at their website.
From it I quote: “Our congregations are places where we gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action through social justice work, in our communities and the wider world...There is no formal conversion process, so becoming a Unitarian Universalist is simply a matter of self-identification…and does not require renouncing other religious affiliations or practices.”
There is no creed, as individual members are free to explore their own paths to truth.
Now this looks like something worth exploring further.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The World is not "Out There"

"If we are interested in the evolution of consciousness and culture, one habit that we need to break is the tendency to speak about the world as if it exists "out there." ...We are not separate from the world process. In our own small way, we're all contributing to where we're going..."

Do read the full quote  from Andrew Cohen, one of his weekly Enlightenment quotes.

We all affect the way the world, and mankind, is going - by our individual behaviours, actions, even thoughts and words. And we all have individual and collective responsibilities to steer ourselves towards a positive, better future rather than steering mankind towards one that will be very uncertain and dangerous for all.

As the Dalai Lama has said:

“Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on.”

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Illusion of Progress

“We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

Said by a stressed nurse or doctor on a busy hospital ward? Or by a Member of Parliament after a Cabinet reshuffle?

Neither. Although often and apparently mistakenly attributed to Titus Petronius, Roman Legionnaire, around from 40- 97AD, or even Gaius Petronius Arbiter, 27-66AD, in fact it would seem that it comes from a magazine article written by Charlton Ogburn Jnr.,published by Harper's Magazine in 1957 about his time with Merrill's Marauders, his Brigade in the World War II Burma Campaign.
This was later made into a film, The Marauders (1959), his first person account of that campaign.

Anyway, 27-66AD or 1939-45, some things apparently never change!!
And perhaps we should learn from our experiences instead of blindly copying them again and again.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Information wanted - Bob Newhart , Walter Raleigh and Tobacco

Walter Raleigh was widely credited with bringing tobacco to civilization, and those of us of a certain age remember Bob Newhart’s comic routine on an old vinyl recording ("Introducing Tobacco To Civilization") (1) as he speaks to Walter Raleigh over the phone about this crazy notion...!
Walter Raleigh apparently believed that smoking tobacco was good for relieving a troublesome cough!!!
(Incidentally Bob Newhart still performs - he is 81).
If only we had known then what we know now.

But this got me to thinking. Sure there are lots of inventions and discoveries we could wish never happened – weapons, bombs, tobacco, recreational drugs…

But how many things have been invented, discoveries made, in the past that were way before their time and not taken at all seriously, only to become of huge importance later?
Mobile phones perhaps?
Basic medical hygiene?

“Ignaz Semmelweis was a young Hungarian doctor who worked in the obstetrical ward of Vienna General Hospital in the late 1840s. He was dismayed at the mortality rate for the women in his ward during childbirth, compared with those in an adjoining ward looked after by midwifery students. When one of his colleagues cut himself in the autopsy room and suffered symptoms of the childbed fever similar to that seen in the ward, Semmelweis thought he knew the answer. He introduced to his staff the idea of careful hand washing between patients. To his delight the mortality rate plummeted. But his ideas were treated with hostility, even derision, by the medical profession. As a result, he suffered a mental breakdown and in 1865 he died in a mental hospital.” (2)

Then again we have the latest ideas on consciousness, the paranormal, Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance”… for examples, sometimes unacceptable to "mainstream" scientists.

“Knowledge that does not fall within already accepted parameters can often be ignored as if it does not exist in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary. ‘Scientists, including physicians, can have blind spots in their vision,’ Larry Dossey writes in his book Healing Words – the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. They can also have what Dossey calls ‘immense intellectual indigestion’ so that they dismiss results with disparagement.” (2)

I think that years from now we will look back on what are in some circles today thought of as wacky ideas and wonder why it took us so long to accept them and appreciate their importance. But that is for the future.

I have been challenged to bring together as many things I can think of that we take for granted today but that have a past history of incredulity, non-acceptance, dismissal, ridicule – tobacco and basic medical hygiene can start the list going. Please let me have your thoughts and stories. I’m sure there are many to tell.

(1) Now we can enjoy pretty much the same Bob Newhart sketch on you tube!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7YBaiJMnik
(2) From Healing This Wounded Earth: with Compassion, Spirit and the Power of Hope.

The photos are of tobacco growing in Poland in 2006 - whilst I was cycling from Vilnius in Lithuania to Warsaw raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Worldshift 20 calls for spirit, compassion and personal responsibility

Can we possibly create the world of which (most of us) dream?
Yes but only if we act quickly. It is up to us now, at this most critical of times in the world’s history, to determine whether we grow or die – “whether the 13.8 billion year experiment that resulted in our lives will end within the next century or two.”

This is the message from the newly created Worldshift 20 Council, composed of “twenty prominent global citizens from diverse cultures and religions worldwide.” They include for example Paul Ray (best known for his research and book on the “Cultural Creatives”, and who incidentally endorsed my own book), Deepak Chopra, Ervin Laszlo, Hazel Henderson, Marylyn Schlitz, etc., and all well known for their work and concern for the sustainability of our present life on earth.

They urgently call for a new philosophy, a new Consciousness and the leadership to go with it, reminding us of Einstein’s perceptive observation all that time ago that the same consciousness that produced the problem cannot get us out of it. The call is for a re-orientation within the public sector, replacing obsolete notions of governance that clearly have not worked (witness the G20 debacle in Copenhagan). They want to foster an understanding that our present crisis is a “whole-system crisis of the human spirit” and that leaders must embrace this notion, alongside the development of overriding compassion for all other beings.

But the leaders of the G20, the Worldshift Declaration points out, did not create the world’s problems – they perpetuate them:

“A lack of gratitude toward the environment, exploitive treatment of animal life, plant life and the world of nature, discrimination against people, cultures, and nations – these kinds of destructive behaviors do not originate solely from the minds of a small group of leaders. They also arise from the consciousness of billions of individual human beings. We must support the efforts of each global citizen, whether in a leadership role or not, to take responsibility for uplifting their consciousness thereby safeguarding the future of our human society and the Earth.”

I cannot do justice to the Worldshift Declaration in such a short post and I would urge all readers who care for the future of this planet – and you must be if you are reading my blogs (!) – to go to their website and study the Declaration, from which I have quoted and drawn the notes above. Also take time to read the individual statements of the council members. And then think: how can I change my own behaviour to help the cause of Worldshift 20? How can I influence those around me in our daily lives of work and play?

I will be returning again and again to the work of Wordshift 20, as I think the ideas it embraces are so fundamentally important to our future survival, the future of the World and Mother Earth herself. The notions they have come up with, of the need for spirit and compassion to infuse our lives, and their recognition of the need for personal responsibility from all the billions of individuals now alive, to make this happen, are central to the theme of my own book. We are entering upon very exciting times. The rewards are enormous if we win – and we cannot afford to lose!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Rainbow and God's Covenant

"I set My rainbow in the cloud,and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the Earth.....and I will remember My covenant....the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh."

Genesis Ch. 9 vv. 13, 15.

If you look closely the second rainbow is just visible above the first one in the last picture - I didn't get to my camera quite quickly enough.
The valley is Nun's Valley in Madeira.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The cult of celebrity

“We think more highly of people such as Simon Cowell than we should do – we’re talking about someone who is essentially trivial. There’s no harm in pop music, but think of the status of classical musicians who earn £70 a gig.”
This is what Lord Robert Winston – Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, popular TV Science programme host and author of more than a dozen books – said in an interview for The Times Magazine for the 4th June 2011.
This celebrity cult, he said, he found depressing.

And I think it is depressing because it has become a huge problem, particularly in the upbringing of our kids, who see celebrities as role models and look up to them in awe, yearning themselves for the same fame and fortune when they grow up.

Sadly this emphasis is also seen too often in the self- help and self-development genre of book that is so popular today. I suspect that quite a few of us have reached in our time to those sections of a library or bookshop tempted by books that promise to ‘change our lives’, or help us ‘succeed’. Many of these are excellent. I have quite a few on my own bookshelves!
But too often they feed the petty ego of self, the selfish desire for individual improvement, the seemingly endless drive for power and wealth. And this style of self-development is often measured by the values of material gain, promotion, or celebrity status. And incidentally the authors are often extremely wealthy and part of the celebrity cult themselves!

Should we not be wary of a self- help industry if it becomes so self-centered on the individual at the expense of others? Doesn’t this approach fuel greed and envy, eschew vulnerability and threaten genuine altruism? I think so.

Unfortunately a huge and profitable industry has built up around this ‘success’ culture. What is more, many such books actively discourage contact with those who are wounded in our society, the vulnerable, the loners, the unhappy, the unsuccessful, the disadvantaged, those who are damaged emotionally. Such weaknesses are too often seen as inhibiting to our own ‘development’.
By not helping such people don’t we dig ourselves deeper into a less attractive future? Don’t we risk divorcing ourselves from experiencing and displaying that empathy and compassion so essential for a better world?

Anglican Bishop Peter Selby observed that ‘the obsessive search for personal growth and inner wholeness without concern for the health of society is distorting.’**
Nowhere is this distortion more obvious, and more potentially harmful than among these books that fuel what has been dubbed the new egocentric ‘Me-Millennium’.

**(Selby, Peter, Liberating God, Private Care and Public Struggle

, London: SPCK, 1983, publisher’s note, back cover.)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Wisdom Seekers at a crossroads in spiritual history

I have just read a rather good book. I have always been interested in the history of the New Age movement and wanted to understand that history, the good and the bad aspects, and where the movement sits in today’s search for an understanding of human consciousness. Wisdom Seekers, by Nevill Drury, is a detailed story of the evolution of that movement. Devotees, we are told, are wisdom seekers in quest of a new spiritual paradigm, hence the title of the book.
I have written a more detailed review to be found at Amazon, but what interested me most was the final and brief but no less important consideration of the implications of the New Age Movement for the future of human life on the planet.

In a final chapter the author expands on this.We are at a crossroads in spiritual history – we have a new spirituality that is open to all, that is not exclusive, and that is a vital aspect of a global tolerance that is so desperately needed. As individuals we should all take responsibility for our own lives and spiritual beliefs, and should be open to scientific developments and to many “truths,” all with their own values. We need a new paradigm shift; scientific reductionism still has the upper hand but the scientific study of human consciousness is challenged by the quantum/transpersonal/holistic model. That will be the solution to our global problems, if we allow it to be and if we can overcome the power of the self- interested corporations, economies, etc. We have become “dis-spirited” in shamanic terms and need to re- sacralize the world. Our personal spiritual transformations must be allowed to transform communities, then whole societies, and be allowed to spread to the international stage. I agree! These of course are issues I expand on in some detail in my own recent book, in the context of searching for healing and spirituality in all aspects of our lives.
Overall a fascinating read, for any one wanting a fuller understanding of the New Age movement, how it arrived at where it stands today, and its potential as a transpersonal solution to our current global crisis.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sacred Geography

How do we value our natural environment? - I asked in my last post.
However we do, one thing of which I am certain is that we must recognise the sacredness of nature, of our environment of which we are an inextricably linked part. Only then, as we view the living Gaia around us with awe and wonder, and with a sense of that sacredness, will be find ourselves forced to respect it, to nurture and protect those fragile interconnections.
The sacred geographies of ancient cultures, Paul Devereux tells us in his latest book, Sacred Geography contain a fundamental wisdom, a lesson we would be wise to heed.

How a culture maps its world says much about its way of thinking about its environment, "how its soul and the soul of the world...interact." Make our environment sacred once again, he tells us, and the right environmental behaviour will come naturally; the mapping of the physical world will be integrated with the geography of the soul.
We have little time to waste in making this essential connection again.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

How do we value the Natural Environment?

I have been following a blog for a while called Sustainability in Crisis. One particular post caught my eye this week: Should we put a Financial Value on the Natural Environment.
This discussion came about because the UK Government have tried to do just that.And opinions are very divided on how and whether it can be done.
But this is not confined to the UK - the principles are just as relevant in the USA, and Robert Kennedy and others have had something to say about the issue on the other side of The Pond.
This is what I said by way of comment on that blog but it is either awaiting moderation or has disappeared into the ether. So for what it is worth I am saying the same thing here:

"I think we could turn this question on its head. Perhaps we should look at the economic system itself, which is flawed in many ways. One important flaw is that humans are not valued within the system.

We measure a ‘healthy’ economy in terms of the material wealth or prosperity that is created by and for its working citizens, expressed in terms such as the gross domestic product (GDP), gross domestic income (GDI) or gross national product (GNP). Whichever measure is used, they all put a zero valuation on the environment, on healthy citizens, social cohesion and cultural values!(1) As Robert Kennedy said:

…the (Gross National Product) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages… It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. (2)

A very large number of people in our society are presently undervalued or not valued at all in monetary terms. These include the old and young, the infirm and disabled, the housewives and the many community and charity volunteers without whom many organizations would simply not survive. All of these people outside the conventional workforce often work very much harder and longer hours than many in full time employment. But they gain no financial independence or recognition within the economic framework from their toil. I know of a wife who for two decades has selflessly cared full time for an increasingly and profoundly disabled husband. Or I think of the mother who takes a career break to raise her own children. These women both lead enormously valuable lives, but feel undervalued.

But it is the economic system that is wrong.

So to return to the question – and the concern expressed that the natural world should be seen as having some value in and of itself, not just in its benefit for human welfare and well-being. This could happen, but we would need this to be within a financial system that is cyclical and sustainable and environmentally sound, and that is far from the reality of our present economy.

The fact is that we cannot sustain our present financial systems
There is massive wastage in our consumer society, both from personal consumption and in our industrial processes. Alarming statistics can be found of physical waste:

Americans waste or cause to be wasted nearly 1 million pounds of materials per person per year…[and] this does not account for wastes generated overseas on [their] behalf…the amount of waste generated to make a laptop computer is close to 4000 times its weight (3).

There is a beautifully sustainable cycle within nature. Dead bodies provide food for living creatures, plants photosynthesize and produce oxygen from carbon dioxide and animals use that oxygen in their respiration of which the by-product is carbon dioxide. At school we learnt all about this and called it the Carbon Cycle, little suspecting that 50 years later this would have such a fundamental significance for the future of the world!
If we can see the Earth as a single living entity involving complex interrelationships and a finely tuned balance of all life, as envisioned for example by James Lovelock, should it not be logical for a sustainable economy to mimic that natural world, indeed be a part of that world, where everything is recycled, everything has a further use elsewhere. We would then be able to build a system that is totally cyclical and sustainable and environmentally sound, and such a system would be able to place values on those important intangibles.

Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris (4) once posed the question: doesn’t it seem crazy and so obviously illogical that our household finances and the study of how we make a living (or economy) should be so totally divorced from the study of how other species make a living (or ecology)?
This seems so simple and obvious but we cannot see it and we stumble onwards within an economic system that is deeply flawed!
So let’s first look at how we can change our economy – to embrace all these other essential qualities."

1. Hazel Henderson, 2001, cited in The Path to Living Economies – a collaborative Working Document of the Social Ventures Network at http://livingeconomiesforum.org/living-economies-path

2. Robert F. Kennedy, from transcription of audio version of Address made 18 March 1968 at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, sourced at http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/RFK/RFKSpeech68Mar18UKansas.htm

3. Paul Hawken and Amory and T. Hunter Lovins,1999, p. 52 cited in The Path to Living Economies – a collaborative Working Document of the Social Ventures Network at http://livingeconomiesforum.org/living-economies-path

4. Attributed to Janine Benyus at a Bioneers conference – from a Note from the Author Elisabet Sahtouris, 2000 at http://www.ratical.org/LifeWeb/Erthdnce/erthdnce.html

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Reflections and Shadows - Nature's Healing Power - Deep Ecology

I wrote yesterday of Stephanie Sorrell's new book Psychosynthesis Made Easy, and in particular her thoughts on the healing power of nature. Here are some beautiful scenes photographed this last weekend. We must ensure that our children are brought up to see, appreciate and love the natural world, to understand their fragile interconnections with it, to appreciate the Deep Ecology of the late Norwegian Arne Naess - all life forms are integral, part of a living web, all supporting each other, a spiritual philosophy, Stephanie reminds us, that engages all life, much like Buddhism.

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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