Taking Simple Steps

Sharing the process of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle

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Community Currency

It’s Monday, April 18, Tax Day. Last night, simmering under sheets, I couldn’t sleep. At 3:30 am, I paced terrazzo floors and resigned to the prospect of not buying the house.


The closing had been set for this Friday, Earth Day. But last week, my loan officer called, “The processor says you need to close Monday, or, since you’re self-employed, you’ll need to file proof of income for the new tax year.” Sarah pressed,” Then, we’re at the mercy of the IRS and who knows when they’ll clear things and if the seller will wait!”


I gasped. This house-buying had been a roller coaster since my application figures were mistyped and closing date set too late and I switched lenders. Bracing myself, I breathed deep and called my realtor. “Somebody didn’t know this sooner?” Judy shuddered. “I’m in Philadelphia. My sister bought me tickets for my birthday. I won’t be back ‘til Monday evening! But, you can close without me.”


“I can? “My eyebrows rose. Settling myself, I called my lawyer to reschedule the closing. Her assistant, Laura, answered. “There’s a possible defect in the deed,” she said. “We’ve been going back and forth with the title company. We didn’t say anything cause things weren’t clear. We’ll be in touch.” Staring at the wall, I swallowed hard, clutched my keys and stumbled to the car.


As my eyes scanned Fruitville Road intersections on the trip to tutor Algebra, my mind scrambled, “What’s a deed defect?”


That night, I phoned my sister in law, Shirley, a housing lawyer in California, to find out. When she said, “I’m leaving for Canada tomorrow at 6 am and I’ll be in flight all day,” my attention shot in anxious arcs. But as she closed, “I’ll call your lawyer before I leave to see what can be done,” my nerves settled and I slept.


While the new day arrived, the lawyer was not to be found. So, I drove to her office. There Stella, her kindly receptionist, told me my lawyer and assistant were in conference all day, unavailable. My shoulders tensed. As Stella’s warm manner softened my senses, sobering words seeped through my aching heart and I pleaded. Staring at my desperation, she dialed the assistant to see what she could do and Laura came out to the waiting room to talk with me.


“There’s no way we can close Monday,” Laura insisted. “The title company needs to properly document and record the deed. It’s their responsibility!”


“But they’re not doing it.” I said, my eyes prodding. “Please, I’m paying you. Write up the document and send it to them to sign. I may lose the house!” “I can’t promise anything!” she replied. “We’re in conference all day. You were supposed to close next week! ”


Wrung out, I descended by elevator to the vacuous lobby. I pressed through the revolving door to the stifling street scorching in the sun. Pacing, blinking out glare, tilting my phone to view numerals, I dialed my brother Rich, a California lawyer, to see if he could draw up a document though it wasn’t his field. “It’s a tight day, Donna. I have a meeting with a congressman in 5 minutes, but I’ll do what I can.


And he did, as did my attorney’s assistant who sent out a document 4:30 pm, Friday afternoon.


The weekend was barren. With no word from the lawyer, my thoughts simmered. In the abyss of Sunday’s dark, I crawled from bed, strode shadowy hallways and conceded, “I might not get the house.”


But Monday morning, eyes glazed, I squinted at my lawyer‘s email. I think we can make this happen. Come by the office. She had received a scanned copy of the signed document; the original would be overnighted.


Could this be true?” My stomach stirred, as I slid my dress on, half believing the house would be mine.


At 10 a.m., perched in my attorney’s conference room overlooking Sarasota roof tops, I stretched my spent mind around explanations of piled pages I signed and dated. Then, gobbling an almond butter and starfruit jam sandwich, I sprang to tutor a high school student Geometry for her End of Course Exam. On the drive home, under a starry sky, my realtor’s voice rang from the phone. She’d meet me at the house in the morning with the key. My skeptical eyes closed at her words to grasp them then opened suddenly as my foot pounded the brake to avoid hitting a Honda stopped at the light. Starring in the space between cars, I gathered, “The house is mine.”


Returned to my rented home, I’m sprawled on the couch, temples pounding. My listless eyes scan books on shelves, curtains on rods and compost in the yard. A vague memory of my plan to pack a room a week flits by. This was my intent before days ran full of texting what the seller must for the house to pass inspection, proving bank deposits weren’t laundered so the processor would finalize my loan  and tutoring frantic students to pass statewide exams. “At least I dug up and bagged the garden soil to bring with me and sowed grass in its place,” I think. But the mount of empty boxes bears on me. “How can I pack, move and clean this place in a week and a half?” my drained mind mulls. I consider hiring a mover, no longer able to depend on my former boyfriend’s truck and strong arms, yet can’t see spending the money while saving for a new a/c. But it’s an option I sleep on.


Tuesday morning arises with a thought. A moving party! I beam. Yes, but will folks come? I send an email to find out: Earth Day, New Digs, Moving Party and Potluck. Bring your car and dish to share to my old place. Take over a load and eat with friends at my new one.


Hatchback brimming with canning jars, rakes and shovels, I drive to my new home to meet my realtor, Judy. Down Bahia Vista Avenue, dodging Amish couples on bikes, eying clusters of bearded men and aproned women licking ice cream cones, I ponder, “I can bring my things from one house to another, but how can I move from living alone to in community?”


After Judy leaves my new home, I walk the land barefoot. Caressing citrus leaves, lying on pine needles, peeking under oaks branches, I think, “This is mine to take care of… and it will take care of me!” I picture tomatoes and okras budding by the patio, an outdoor shower perched by the pines, rockers swaying on the porch, and dance in delight.


Before driving to work, I see my friend Jessica’s text, “I’ll be in Tallahassee at FSA helping with a conference on sex-trafficking, but can come by Thursday morning to help you move!”


“Great!” I write back, sighing in relief. “Can you bring your boyfriend’s SUV?”


“Yep, and he’ll come too if he can,” she replies.


Maya phones, “Friday’s Passover and my landlady’s having a Seder. I want to join her and her family, but can help in the morning.”


“Wonderful!” my shoulders relax, “We’ll have lunch.”


That evening at my Anthroposophical study group Joe says, “There’s a truck in the driveway. Take it any time!” Thrilled to be doubling my carrying capacity, I drive it home, thinking I’ll make him a chocolate tofu pie when I find my pie plate.


Come Thursday morning, Jessica backs up to my front door in her boyfriend’s SUV. She zips into the living room and we survey dining room chairs and table, deciding what to load first and where. After shimmying then carrying furniture, we dart inside and out, sliding a tall lamp in this slot, a small box of pencils in that. “Good puzzling skills,” Jessica confirms, as our vehicles brim with a collage of my belongings. After unloading at my new abode, we gleefully look around then hug good bye so she can get back to her graduate school reading and packing for her trip.


Friday morning, Maya moseys up the front walk, straw hat tilted towards sky, “Whaat a beeeauutiful day! I prefer this heat to New England blizzards. How ‘bout you? “


“The heat,” I say, staring at piled boxes.


Maya meanders in, eying the disarrayed lamps and bookcase. “Quiiite a sceeene here,” she muses. “Moving is an event.”


Maya’s on siesta recently relocated from Massachusetts. She’s a gem for driving 30 minutes from Venice to help me, but I wrestle with the impulse to drag her into my frenzied pace. Instead, I try to brake, slowing down a few gears, and in time, we load boxes. But when I see the single layer of file drawers neatly lain on her back seat, I turn to the house to compose myself. Then, in weighed words explain the efficiency of full carloads and improbability of my moving on time, without them. We come to temper each other, I stretching her stride, she slowing me down to a reasoned rhythm, softening my heart.


That evening, doors fly open and seats and trunks are packed full. Cars turn left then right in array as a flock of geese in route to my home. Amid boxes of books and leaning mops and brooms, Maura, Ann, Neil and I sip red pepper soup and talk around the table.


“Back in the day,” Ann says, “A group of friends and I planned to live in community. Instead of sitting around gabbing, we did projects: shingled roofs, painted sheds, dug gardens. We saw who needs to take their time, who can’t take the heat — we got to know each other.”


“Yes,” I nod, grateful my solitary creek’s current is mingled with my friends’ streams.


With my having much more to move, Glenn arrives the following Wednesday at 7 am, lifting a dolly from his car. “What’s to do?” he asks. As we make our way around the house, dissembling the compost bin, stacking tomato cages, bagging mulch, he tells of his enlistment in Vietnam, teaching English in Germany, transporting 13 huskies to Maine.


And after tilting the last shovel of mulch into the lawn bag, he wipes his sweated brow and admits, “Boy, I didn’t think we’d get through that!” My indebted eyes concur.


At 8:30, Tessy comes for the second time. “This is more than a person can do alone” she says, and starts packing cups and plates. JFK and Chris drive up at 9 to heave my couch and bags of compost into their truck.


In a daze and wonder I look around, feeling that I’m carried on a current of friendship.


Tessy pokes her head from behind the cabinet and says, “This feels like a modern day barn-raising.”


And it is.






















Call To Action

After hanging damp sheets on the line

Writing a check due the IRS

And baking russet potatoes


After calling elder friends to say “hi”

Texting my West Coast niece Ella

Watering broccoli rabe and tomatoes


After dodging traffic downtown

To teach Amanda how

To plan and outline an essay


Pumping cheap unleaded gas

Buying bulk black beans and jarred molasses

Hearing Chris Hedges on Alternative Radio


Through unloading my stuffed car

Unpacking my cloth bags

Washing bowls now grown crusty


Skimming high piles of mail

Recycling unwanted ads

Jotting my to dos for tomorrow


I stretch by beeswax candlelight

On a warm cotton blanket

By the cool terrazzo floor


And sit on the futon’s edge

Reviewing my day passed

I pray for students and family and friends

Then turn on the lamp

To read Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom


When words begin to jumble


In circles

My mind drifting

Toward night’s sky


I close the cover

Switch off the light

Turn down the sheets

And lie to sleep


After myriad in and out breaths

Way past midnight

Beyond din of traffic

And glow of lamp light


Deep in stillness

Stars shining

Moon beaming

Planets whirling

My body lying

In slumber


I soar through night’s sky

Amongst others





With heavenly bodies

I review my purpose

Rekindle aspiration

Realign my intent


Then with the sun’s first glimmer

My body revived

Through rest

From my spirit-soul’s absence


Now returned to bed

I awake

To hear, Call to action!

Sounding through my dormant mind


Turn off the radio

Turn down the lights

Close that book

Silence your smart phone


Put down your pen

And pad

And date book


Let go the million scattered pieces

Of things to do

Oh you, great organizer




Look within

And watch the thoughts

That run your day


Before digging one more hole

Planting another seed

Pulling out that weed

Tend to your mind’s garden


Take stock of its residents

Pests, parasites and predators

Half-truths, malicious lies and empty facts

You picked up off the streets

Absorbed from the paper

Ingested through the internet


Stop giving Despair a seat on your sofa

Feeding Anxiety your attention

Entertaining Contention with your mind



They devour your dreams’ buds

Suck your life’s forces

Consume your vision’s clarity

Clear them out!


Free ground for

Insight’s Stream

Inspiration’s Light

Intuition’s Soil

To settle


Let truth take root

Bringing meaning to matter

Order to your occupation

Purpose to your path


Then your soul can

Tend to its task

To bring to life

Your Spirit’s dream


And guided from within

Return to the outer world

To do

What needs doing


Each of Us Bring Light

I back out of my driveway, turn down Courtland and slide onto Tuttle in 3:45 a.m. solitude. Sky is dark, roads barren on this first cross country trip since parting with my boyfriend, Andrew.


A solid presence slips in beside my vehicle — a deputy sheriff surveying Sarasota’s silent streets. His windows tinted, I only see his shadowed silhouette, yet am warmed by his caring charge. He’s watching out for me, I sense, like a lantern probing shadows. I nod in gratitude as we travel through night then part.


I merge onto I-75 and insert the cd my friend, Jessica, made me for Christmas — a collection of her favorite songs. A sensuous guitar intro of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujiah laced with Jeff Buckley‘s breathless inflections threads through my car’s chilly cabin. Andrew sang this, I recall, as tears of grief dormant in daylight spill from my chest.


Eddie Vedder laments that society wants to have more than we need. Ray LaMontagne suggests the answers are within us. Singer after singer delves his or her soul’s depths, bearing light for me to enter mine. Fellow travelers brave the night, helping me release a portion of sadness. Miles later, purged, I sit in silence and watch shadow and street light alternate on the road ahead.


At 4:30 am, the Skyway Bridge toll lay before me in an orange ball of light piercing gray. As I stop, a middle-aged, blonde woman reaches for my dollar twenty five, beaming, cheering my heart. “Is this early or late for you?” I ask.


“Late”, she bounces back.


“Thanks,” I smile, knowing she sleeps days so folks like me can pay our passage and cross the bridge. She’s a candle in the night. I think, driving on. With Andrew’s absence, I notice the many folks helping me on my way.


As I gaze down on Tampa Bay, silken and lulling, I push the radio knob on my dashboard. British accents drum out BBC’s report, chopping through the calm. Across the Atlantic, day’s activities are in motion. Refugees are still fleeing Syria. A 19 year old’s body is found under rubble of an earthquake. Climatologists report increased sea level rises. Bloody scenes, cries for help, flooded coastlines fill my mind. As I inhale damage and despair, my grief is replaced by others’. And when filled to brim with images of destruction, I utter a prayer, press off the news and turn my thoughts to deeds of good people working in shadows, bringing in light.


I remember a war reporter telling there’s always another side to tragedy. An elderly woman harboring orphans in her home, a mother handing her baby to a stranger on a bus leaving battle, formerly distant neighbors sharing remnants of food and shelter. Virtuous acts of courage and caring emerge amidst unimaginable suffering. There is much brilliance in ordinary folks, she says.


I think of the sheriff deputy who escorted me. So much bad news about cops, I forget there are good police doing good work. News of drought, wildfire and tornadoes flood the air waves. Yet searching the internet, I’ve found communities cropping up all over of folks living simply, cooperatively and sustainably. It’s so easy to forget if I don’t keep it in view, I think. Much light is hidden.


At 4:45 a.m., I pull into A-1 Express’s glowing parking lot where I’ll leave my car during my trip to Berkeley. Once checked in, I stand in line then step into the dimly lit mini bus that will drive me to the airport. A gritty driver greets me and each entering passenger through stillness, “Good morning. Happy Holidays.”


“Happy Holidays to you,” I reply.


He asks us for flight information then darts dutifully through Tampa’s cloaked, pre-dawn traffic to deliver us to our planes on time. A load lifted, I sit in the lull of his carriage. On the seat across the aisle, a young couple, neatly groomed with fur lined boots and tautly packed bags huddle, whispering. I sense their softness in the night, reminding me we are vulnerable, can be broken.


At the airport, I thank the driver and step from his lit carriage into black. As I walk through the brightly lit terminal to gate A20, I glance into faces of folks coming toward me, thinking, you and you and you, such brave souls on this planet, facing such turmoil.


At the gate, I line up with others to board. Once called to enter the plane, folks surge forward. I leave space for those standing in line before me but to the side. They shuffle in ahead along with a brisk woman jutting from behind. Stunned, I wince, then realize, she’s unusual. Most folks are taking their turn. I join their ranks.


In my window seat, shade down to cold dark, I flip through American Airlines Magazine to the flight destination maps. There’s Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay. My eyes scan up to the right, Norway, Sweden, Denmark. Despite ISIS attacks a week earlier, folks the world round came to the Paris Climate Conference to face our common destiny, sort interests, find agreement and go home to do their part. This thought lightens me.


I reach for my water. Ordinarily, I carry a glass jar from home, not to use plastic, but unable to carry fluids on flight, I bought a liter at the terminal. Its label claims, “Earth’s finest water”. I grimace, take a sip, then pull on my head phones to hear one of the Fleet Foxes singing he was brought up to believe he was unique, like a snowflake distinct among others. But, has decided he’d rather be a cog in a machine serving the greater good. My heart glows, joining his parade.


Above the clouds and hustle of day, my vision’s enlightened. What if we have no Grammy Awards, no vying to be on top of the chart, to get the record deal? What if each singer and songwriter is seen as an offering in a banquet of muses nourishing our souls?


I think about Zach, a third grade boy I tutor. We begin each lesson with his drawing side-ways eights with beeswax crayons, building pathways between left and right hemispheres. Each time he asks, “Is this the best?”


“It’s beautiful. It’s lovely.” I reply week after week.


“No, is this the best?” he insists.
Last Saturday, wanting to save him from a lifetime of useless striving, I say, “There is no best, Zach. There are many beautiful ways to draw. You could never know or count or love them all.”


I realize he’s impressed with this notion of “THE BEST” at school, on TV. I need to explain. “Sometimes, if you want to pick a crayon to color the sun or a shirt to wear with pants, you can find what fits best in that case, but other colors and shirts might do better another time. So, there’s no one, all-time best.”


His shoulders settle. He stops striving like a salmon upstream and relaxes as a member of a family.


I think of the woman pushing ahead at the gate. We’re so compelled to ‘be first’, but what’s the point? We had assigned seats. Perhaps in life we do too, each of us preparing and being prepared a place ahead.


I recall hearing on the radio that ants have no hierarchy. Each sees a need and fits it. And of a small town devastated by a hurricane where folks flocked to a church. And two teenage sisters just started organizing, setting up an online list of needs and resources like food, clothing, and shelter. The community worked together and pulled themselves out of the wreckage. We each play our part, lightening the load.


I notice Chuck Brodsky singing we’re each other’s angels, meeting when it is time. Yes, I muse, glancing at the family beside me – a mom passing around sliced apples and walnuts, a teenage daughter brushing her little sister’s lustery brown hair, a young boy leaning on dad’s shoulder, thumb in mouth, watching pages flip as a story is spun in a familiar Long Island accent. Gentle breaths, easy smiles, and warm touches brighten my lonesome heart.


A stewardess approaches with her cart. I flip through the airline magazine to choose a drink. Tomato juice, I decide. It comes in a recyclable can, but she’ll pour it into a plastic cup. I crook my neck to see whether coffee is served in paper cups. Yes. I’ll ask for tomato juice, no ice, paper cup, please. She smiles and nods pleasantly at my request and hands me a paper napkin. Shoot, I think. I don’t need this, but it’s too complicated to give it back. I’ll use it as a tissue. I shake my head at my mental shenanigans, but realize, this is me, doing my part.


When our plane lands in Oakland’s late morning haze, I grab my overhead luggage and find my way through the bustling terminal to the sidewalk. There, my nephew, Ari, jumps from his dusty red truck. Smiling brightly, he embraces me, warming my heart. He lifts my luggage to the space behind our seats, jumps in the cabin, clicks on the ignition and turns to the road.


“What you been up to?” I ask.


He tells of his volunteering with a nonprofit which helps renters in disadvantaged communities. “Social equity builds better cities!” he states. His passion radiates through Oakland’s morning traffic’s din in telling of folks teaching each other to organize, speak up and work to meet needs. Enveloped in his glow, I bow in gratitude, knowing my nephew is bringing in light, as the voices of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stream through the speakers that we’re stardust and we’re golden and we have to find our way back to the garden.


A Winter’s Reflection

Mountain Climbing


I’ve tended to plot straight lines of perpetual ascent

Through sky, toward sun, to pinnacles.


But find myself plodding

Through unforeseen terrain,

Of vertical cliffs, sudden turns

Daunting drops,

Hoping I’d find my way.


From time to time

I’d reach a height

And stand aglow


In bright of day.


But my stance would be shaken.

Life’s curves come unexpectedly.

I’d twist and twirl to depths

To dark crevices

To sit in shame.


In time

I’d settle my soul

Glance up through floating clouds

And reconsider a climb.


But like Sisyphus’s trial

My course had no end

The golden summit is not to be possessed.



Receiving the Present


Each morning, I awake.


Ideas flit through the curves of my brain:

“Can I build my body to bike to the beach?

Could folk dancing in my living room cultivate community?

Where would a solar shower sit in my yard?”


A train of thought rambles.

Temptation sweetly whistles

Ready to take me on a ride

To a perfect world.


But first

I step from the box of my house

And plant my curved feet on arching earth.


Oak leaves crackle

Bahia grass bows

Damp soil soothes

As I pace supple, solid ground,

left, right

left, right

to my growing garden.


On the edge

Between plant and sky

Conical okras twirl

Spiraling lima bean tendrils dance

In an ever-changing array.


I inhale sun’s rays and sky’s waves

Visitor that I am from the framed world

Of rectangular phones

Flat screens and

Linear text.


I stretch stiff straits from my back

And bend to touch musky earth.


I try to grasp Nature’s ways

On these brief, enlivening sojourns

But her welcoming smile spreads miles past my gaze

In expanses of mysterious, quiet passages

Of majestic pines, parading palms,

Fanciful ferns and nesting needles

From eons of her embroidered dance.


I find, though, I follow patterned paths

Fumbling on familiar steps

As when I started sowing seeds years back

Cherishing each broccoli rabe and tomato seedling sprouted

Running circles in search of spots to plant each life.


No matter I was running out of space

No thought of how I’d consume the fruit

No care for what I could tend to.


I felt the need to grasp each possibility

And bring it to fruition

In my foolish

Frenzied fight

Against loss

And letting go

Though I carried too much.


But Nature tarried on

As warm-hearted parent smiling at a child

Trying to mimic cherished ways.


Through seasons, I have watched.

Not all lettuce seeds sprout.

A portion of pumpkin seedlings thrive.

Zucchini arrives from nowhere and extends.

Thoughtful neighbors bring sweet potato starts.


Something’s always going.

Something’s always growing

Beyond my doing.


No need to grasp.

More’s on its way.



Consenting to Circles


Having inhaled natural day

I stroll back to my house.



Through open windows

Sun lightens walls

Breeze billows curtains

And brushes my cheek


Life is here

Life is here.


Reflecting on the present

I collect strands of thought

Still in my mind

And jot them down

To consider later


Then settle into the day’s doing.


It’s Monday

So I’ll wash cotton bedding

Sweep terrazzo floors

Shake and lay out woven carpets.


I’m trying to mimic life’s cycle

Tomorrow I’ll pay the water bill and record receipts

Wednesday, I’ll can split pea soup and make oat crackers

Everything in its time

By my design.


I used to do the fun stuff

Scribble down a song in my head

Call Jess to chat

Crochet cotton towels

Or what called in the moment

Read a text that came through

Or the book by my bed

Or walk in the rain.


I’d cram in dusting end tables

Pruning a bush overreaching the walkway

And mending torn spaghetti straps

When the need could no longer be ignored

Then rush back to the real stuff.


I’m learning

To tend to each task

In its time

As part of a circle –

Creation and dissolution.


I’m leaning into the picking up

And putting away

Reflecting on what’s past

Readying for what’s to come

Partaking in the process

Relaxed in the ordering.


Though I struggle still not to take on

More than fits

As waves of endeavors arise

I’m becoming aware of

Distinct strands of motion

And separating out what needs attending

What’s mine to do

And leaving the rest.


No longer seeking heights

But following as the path weaves

Its magnificent fabric

In mysterious folds.


Not focusing on gaining

Status nor goods

But garnering lessons

Of the Way.



And good will

Are pinnacles

I walk toward

Through every hill and valley

Of my earthly path.


As the wheel of life turns

Compressing me as it churns

Breaking walls

Making my soul part

Of its masterpiece

Of which I choose to be a part

The work done

In my being

Unseen by outer world

Shines through all

I say and do.


As we enter quiet of winter

I’ll not turn to electric bulbs

Once dusk falls with fading sun

But settle into darkness

Putting aside fright

And the need to act.


I’ll fan the flame of inner light

Take stock with inner sight

Look upon barren landscapes

Ponder what’s beneath


Reflect on what’s passed

Consider what’s coming

And pause

Before moving on.


Sometimes, the way forward is back and around.







































































































Mending Our Fabric

Things are falling apart, perhaps, because we’ve taken them apart.

Dissecting life has left us fragmented.

We now fend for ourselves.

We build stores and make products, for private gain, not communal benefit.

Driving down SR 70 last week, I spotted a bright, new, bustling gas station across the street from the one I frequent, now vacant. Saddened, I turned the corner to see bulldozers unearthing clusters of pine for new house construction. Roots exposed, soil upturned, lush and lovely landscape lay desecrated. I averted my eyes, to see for sale signs sitting a front deserted homes.

We’ve no coherency”, I whispered.

As kindergartners, we are introduced to our friendly neighborhood helpers, the storekeeper, farmer and nurse. We playact in partnership, benefiting all; then we grow up to drop our cooperation, enter a race, struggle to be on top, have the most and look the best. We grapple with the illusion of having and doing it all.

Jesus said we’re members of one body, not all hands nor eyes, but many parts. How is it we’ve lost sight of our membership?

Writer Helena Norberg-Hodge tells of living with an ancient community, the Ladakhis of Little Tibet. As a westerner, she’s amazed at their intactness, built on the Buddhist concept of sunyata, or emptiness.

A native explains, “Take anything, like a tree…you tend to think of it as a distinct, clearly defined object, and on a certain level it is. But on a more important level, the tree has no independent existence; rather, it dissolves into a web of relationships. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that causes it to sway, the soil that supports it – all form a part of the tree. Ultimately, everything helps make the tree. It cannot be isolated. This is what we mean,” He says, “when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.”

As a teacher, I see children brimming with expectation, eager to cooperate in learning grown up skills, longing to fit in and take their place. Their desire to take part in the dance of life is innate.

Yet, as young adults their soft, warm aspirations are often uprooted as cold, hardened systems bulldoze and displace them with the real world of competition and control. This is our modern initiation rite.

Our economic, healthcare and education systems fall apart, precisely, because they’re not built on the wholesome ideals youth bring to bear.

Like an adolescent rejecting the guidance of ancient and natural ways, western civilization has tried to remake the world. Yet, our crusade of industrial growth has created “wasteland rather than wonderland, Thomas Berry says. We now search through rubble for reasons and restoration.

When folks were farmers and crafts persons, work sprung from basic needs. Beans had to be picked, wood chopped and cotton spun. A full belly, warm hearth, and fresh linens were work’s goal and reward. Work flowed from and into life.

New-fangled factory-modeled jobs raised efficiency and productivity, giving us material wealth kings have not known, yet shredding our social fabric. Folks were lured, or wrenched, from self-sufficient, interpersonal homesteads and communities to dependence on the impersonal marketplace, where the number of e-mails and phone calls answered per day, not the eyestrain nor mental clarity of the receptionist, matters. Earning money has become our only reward and is never enough.

People need to feel they make a contribution to their community,” Psychologist Barry Schwartz says. He tells of Yale researchers’ surprise when interviewing hospital janitors whose job description includes dusting lamps, washing windows and other mundane acts. Yet, custodian Mike stopped mopping the floor because Mr. Jones was out of bed walking up and down the hall to build his strength. And Charlene ignored her supervisor’s order and didn’t vacuum the visitor’s lounge while family members were taking a nap. These custodians wove their work to the well being of patients.

Yet, in some jobs it takes heroic efforts to do the right thing amidst expected requirements.

An anonymous teacher confessed in The Sun magazine’s Reader’s Corner she’s forced to follow curriculum she knows is inaccessible to some students. Yet, she’s paid based on her students’ test scores. So, she calls parents of those who can’t keep focused, tells them of their child’s issue and strongly suggests their children get tested and medicated. Once done, she manages her class and meets state standards.

Desperate to meet the bottom line, we drop hold of each other.

Evolutionary biologist William Muir studied the productivity of chickens. He watched two flocks, one of average and one of prolific chickens, super chickens. The super flock was re-chosen each generation for the top breeders. After six generations, the average chickens were plump and fully feathered; egg production had greatly increased. Yet, all but three of the super chickens had pecked each other to death, contending to be the best.

But for the past 50 years, we’ve run most organizations and some societies are run along the super chicken model,” says sociologist Barbara Heffernan. Yet, studies show the most productive groups are those whose members are sensitive to each other’s needs and allow everyone a voice and let none loaf.

Our relationships matter.

Mathematician Michael Schneider says we look around and see discrete objects, while the ancient mathematical philosophers saw processes. To us cosmos means outer space, “a huge room filled with disconnected things”. To the Greeks, kosmos meant embroidery, “an orderliness and harmony of woven patterns” with which the universe unfolds.

We think and act as if we’re separate, while we’re infinitely connected.

It’s time we grow into this awareness and weave our frayed threads back into the fabric of life. As we sit at our desks, alone, unraveled, we can think of the person whose life our work affects and keep them in sight. When we shop for clothes, we can consider, “Under what conditions did someone sew these seams?” and only buy what’s manufactured humanely. When we choose a store to frequent, we can ask, “How well are the cashier and stock people treated and paid”,and put our money into organizations that build well-being among staff.

We can calculate real costs, when we look for the best buy.

Economists must factor social, and environmental, well-being into gross national product to accurately reflect the state of our nation.

For, what we do to and for each other matters. After all, we’re woven into each other’s world.



Conserving Our Humanity

As a child, I was scolded by my mother for not walking the most direct route from living room to kitchen to refill a glass of seltzer. To her, a product of the 50’s, efficiency was the rule. Mom had to be conferred during dinner clean up to approve Tupperware choices for leftover ravioli or linguini; she’d screen for precise dimensions of best fits. Her dishwasher lessons were laden; cereal bowls and juice glasses my siblings and I had loaded that morning were extracted from trays and realigned in taut rows clearing space for dirty dinner plates and glasses.


Echoes of my mother’s voice still chide me from crevices of my mind, “Move faster!”, “Don’t waste time!”, “Be exact!”


So, when leaving for a party or a hike with my former boyfriend, if I was ready and he still searching for songbooks or a water bottle, I made good with time. I’d empty the dish rack or pull clothes off the line. This invariably left him waiting, which infuriated him. My practiced productivity proved disrespectful. And, after months of heated discussion and inner wrestling, I managed to forgo doing one more thing and just sit and wait for him.


I benefit in many ways from fruits of good labor, thanks to my mom, yet it‘s dawning on me that good living is made from more than efficiency. Being regimented, walking lock step in form erodes human sensibilities.


So yesterday, I cringed, when sitting in the library I overheard a tutor report to a mom that her son is up to 100 words per minute, but must be reading 120 to be on grade level.


My heart shivered. Are we aspiring to be machines inputting data? What about the boy’s picturing the pine-covered paths and towering canopies? His savoring the stillness, reminiscent of a walk with his grandpa last summer? Being transported to the wooded wonderland?


Such soul succulence is forsaken with speed.


Many life-giving connections are severed in the pursuit of productivity. Time-saving gadgets of the 50’s have evolved into devices that interface with reality, substitute for companionship and do our rightful work. Families forego conversing across dinner tables to text absent coworkers and friends, adults rely on smart phone notifications to prompt them to send a birthday card or call a parent, students type unintelligible words on keyboards leaving computer chips to adjust letters and create meaning. Machines have become our atmosphere, allies and appendages.


So, do we now feel compelled to perform as precisely and rapidly as they?


Last week, a high school student of mine was asked in a reasoning exercise to state the similarities and differences between “brain” and “computer”. He replied, “They’re both used to think, but computers are smarter.”


Aghast, I retorted, “Brains are living! Computers are lifeless!”


He was unmoved.


Machines are generally reliable. They do a specific task a fixed way. Set the coffee maker for 4 cups of dark coffee, go read the paper and await the green light signaling our drink is ready.


Have we come to expect such regularity and automaticity from ourselves and others?


Last week, I was pained to hear my friend, Jan, berate herself for not answering floods of business e-mails in a timely manner. She works 60 hour weeks, hasn’t taken a vacation in years and can’t find a way to slow down the tidal wave of her work much less take a break.


We forget we take as long as folks ever have to respond to each other’s requests, get to know someone, grieve a loved one. Machines give us the illusion we can live quicker. In many ways we strain ourselves, while the sun still takes a day and the moon, a month.

I told Jan about a poet who spoke to folks in corporations about the phases of the moon. Counter to corporate culture of continual growth, he evoked images of this waxing and waning orb, rising and falling in the rhythm of life.


We hold the illusory ideal of constant productivity, I told her. Before machines, folks stopped work when the sun set, rain fell or river froze. This inherent break gave pause to step back, refresh and reimagine. We’ve side-stepped such boundaries and now need to establish our own ebbs and flows to function.


Yeah, tell that to my boss who wants to see money coming in! she replied.


Someday I’ll just crack, she added.


I was disturbed, too, a few weeks back, to hear radio interviewer Terry Gross talk with Anil Ananthaswamy about deeply depressed folks who claim they are not alivedo not exist. July 28, 2015 http://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444908/fresh-air

Caring and befuddled doctors reason, ‘Clearly you’re breathing and moving, I can touch you, you’re here.’


But the poor people protest. Perhaps they know they’re a shell, void of spirit and soul, just some body going through motions.


Don’t we all feel this way at times?


My garden reminds me we are more like plants than machines. We’re birthed from seeds, deep in the womb of life. Not manmade inventions programmed to produce but heavenly creations with purpose. Through ‘in struct ion’ (the state of building structure within) we gain worldly skills and understandings. But these are simply tools for our work of unfolding divine dreams to uplift humanity. (For this, we need ‘e duc ation’, the state of leading out.)


We do not live on bread alone, but by every breath of inspiration and aspiration.


But, we’re too busy to sip nectar from the essence of life, too hurried to dine on deeper truths and chew for meaning. Instead, we swallow whole what comes our way. A pretty face on TV bemoaning white hair, a pressured teacher directing us to use an unexplained formula, an esteemed athlete chanting Crush the opponent! are commands we input and follow.


Yet, unexamined, automatic thinking is deadening. And a message imprinted in childhood can run repeatedly, never questioned in the light of day.


A gentleman suffered with terrible headaches for years. After seeking many cures, he spoke to an Indian medicine man. The healer alerted him, You listen to news, read a magazine article, watch a movie. You have millions of strands of unrelated thoughts you’re straining to try to tie together. You are giving yourself a headache.


My Quaker friend, Joe, told me he stopped his cable subscription, monitors radio and TV input and watches only DVDs he finds enriching. So often we are careful to screen food intake, but ingest any message or image streaming from speakers and computer screens. And we don’t stop when we’re full.


What we uncritically and uncontrollably devour congests our souls.


I believe the root crisis of our time is our disconnection from our Spirits. When we disregard our insight and inspiration and thoughtlessly follow outside orders and inner programs, we become cogs in a machine which disenfranchises ourselves and others and destroys our planet.


The system is daunting, but it runs on our energy.


If we do not cooperate, it cannot function.


When I feel pressured and overstimulated, simply stopping – running errands, writing e-mails, listening to messages – settles me. Thoughts become clear. My spirit breathes, like a flower emerging through a cracked sidewalk.


Learning to sit and wait for my past boyfriend is one victory in many battles of my revolution to repossess my mind.


I am screening for thoughts that are hospitable to the Spirit.

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The Right Use of Plastic

I’ve come to accept plastic, sort of reconciling myself to its place in the world. Where ever I ramble, I run into it – vacuum packed tofu at the farm stand, fluorescent-colored bottle lids on the forest floor, broken lawn chairs at the curbside. I have to face it — plastic is here to stay.

I always cringe, though, when a waitress asks if she can bring a ‘to go’ box for my leftovers. This usually means Styrofoam, a form of plastic I don’t consider a friend — nor does the planet. Once Styrofoam is set free to roam the earth, it’s anti-social — doesn’t break down, mix or mingle like wood and paper do, giving themselves to the making of soil, contributing to the life cycle.

In fact, Styrofoam may never decompose.

That it keeps to itself may be a good thing though, because when it circulates, it wreaks havoc, causing cancer. I won’t put Styrofoam out with my garbage. And when I invariably acquire a piece from a generous neighbor bringing Christmas cookies, I gracefully accept my plate then sequester it to the closet to use as a paint palette. But I won’t take home Styrofoam intentionally.

So I ask, Can I have a piece of tin foil to wrap my veggie curry in? My preference, though, is to bring home leftovers in a plastic bowl and lid I keep in a potluck kit in my trunk and am trying to get in the habit of bringing with me into restaurants.

Plastic has become a basic element of our mobile lifestyle. Light and unbreakable, it’s convenient to carry. Cheap to buy, plastic cups, forks and bottles are seen as disposables and discarded after one use.

But throwing out plastic is costly.

While a paper bag takes a month to become soil and a cardboard box around two, a plastic bag can take a good hundred years to break down. And when it does, it doesn’t blend, but stays intact as tiny particles that creep into ground water and litter oceans.

Plastic pills are taken up by plants, fish, animals and us, or just hang around. Pacific Ocean currents have collected some of our throw-aways in a swirling plastic soup the size of Texas. Fish dine on bottle caps; birds don six-pack ring necklaces. Come high tide, the sea may deliver our debris to our shore.

For now, plastic seems content to seep from containers into hot soup, leftovers and lattes. Tricksters, called BPA, sneak into bodies and mimic female hormones, messing with reproductive and nervous systems. Scientists have seen BPA handed down for three generations in fish.

Let’s face it. Plastic lingers — perhaps in protest of our disregard.

So, I limit my holdings, making friends with the few pieces I have, trying to reuse them for their duration. Once I’ve got plastic in my sight, I consider it an orphan, with nowhere to go, at least for a long time. Or, I eye it as a terrorist, holding it captive, protecting the world from its antics. And sometimes, I simply recognize its value and reuse it.

Walking my neighborhood on collection day, I rescue chairs, tables and shelves from languishing at the dump. Or, I postpone their recycling.

When possible, I recycle. But not all plastic can be recycled. And only about 5% of what can, does.

Perhaps plastic has made us lazy. Intended to make lives easier, disposables mean less washing of dishes. But our loathing of labor may have led to our scanty recycling. We’ve given our selves more work, though. Because plastic won’t play nice with nature, we’ve got to babysit and find things for it to do, lest we suffer its shenanigans.

I remember the invasion of plastics. As a child, I recoiled at inert orange, purple and pink impersonators upstaging painted clay bowls, horse hair and wooden brushes, rag dolls and cloth diapers. ‘Real’ items breathed with life forces, holding imprints of human touch. They were books to be read offering insights to life, engaging and peaceful to be around. But plastic was a soulless worker who came, got the job done and left without giving you the time of day. Cold and lifeless, it felt deadening. At home, I clung to dwindling natural objects for comfort and inspiration, rubbing my fingers along irregular surfaces, tracing circles of grain, following stitches in rows.

As a young adult, I combed stores for genuine items, to find few. Used goods shops became my treasure-trove of long forgotten wooden pails, tin watering cans and glass pitchers. I brought them home and sheltered them as a naturalist protects a preserve.

I am a purist. This is hard work. Plastic is ubiquitous.

Nowadays, plastic still stops me in my tracks. Yesterday, I shopped for cane sugar, which I use for its mildly sweet flavor and even handedness with my blood sugar level. I scoped out the bulk section of a local natural food store, hoping to scoop some cane sugar into a bag I brought and transfer it to a jar at home. There was none –only palm sugar, a new item. I placed a few crystals on my tongue. ”Not too sweet,” I thought, “but not as rich a flavor.” I moseyed around the aisle to find cane sugar sitting on a shelf encased in a hard plastic container. “Too bad!” I thought, then returned to the bulk section to take a few cups of palm sugar.

That night, I made ice cream with the new sugar but didn’t care as much for the taste. So, do I buy plastic wrapped cane sugar? Or search further hoping to find it in bulk and if not adjust to an alternative? I believe so.

Taking inventory of my trash a few years back, I gasped at the glut of plastic hummus containers, pasta wrappers, forks, spoons and water bottles. Shamed, I vowed to purchase as little as possible packaged in plastic and started making my own yogurt, crackers and tooth powder. This summer, I hope to start making shampoo and pasta and muslin sacks for bulk items and produce.

I now carry a glass water bottle and keep hard plastic plates, cloth napkins and metal cutlery in my car for use at potlucks and take out. I bring in a metal spoon when I frequent a frozen yogurt shop and have ventured into a take-out pizza parlor with my own plate. Perhaps one day this will be common.

What’s plastic good for and what’s best made with natural materials?

I have never been a disposable razor fan and have bought replaceable cartridges. While they consist of little plastic, their cost has skyrocketed. Flabbergasted, I thought back on my dad’s metal double-edged razor using a simple steel blade. To me, this is the pinnacle of razor technology.

I searched family run pharmacies then chain stores but found no such models. Finally, on line, I bought an ‘old fashioned’ razor with paper wrapped blades and no plastic! All for a fraction of the cost of a plastic one! Eureka! The process took nearly as much time as buying a car, but I’ve redirected myself to one more plastic-free path on which I more happily roam!

If I need to have plastic, I try to glean used items from the curbside or buy them in thrift shops. The fields are aplenty. Eco-architect, Richard Sowa, harvested disposed items to make a floating island– a lasagna of plastic and soil.

Shower curtains, sneakers and toothbrushes of recycled material abound. When a new plastic item is called for, recycled is my choice.

But there are things plastic should not get its fingers on. A clear bag holding thrown out food scraps is a sad sight. This imprisonment of banana peels and peach pits from organisms eager to turn them to dirt is a death sentence. I delight in delivering food remains to the ground where they can join the dance of life.
As for us, as I’ve heard said, Let’s care as much about the containers we use as the food we put in them.