By Dennis Rivers and friends
Page in development. Work in progress. Here’s what I have so far:
This page explores the “principles to live by,” element #4 of the “8 Strands” model of community mobilization on behalf of the Web of Life and People. Confronted with the monumental tasks of our time, such as preventing catastrophic climate change and addressing the problems of nuclear power/waste/weapons, we have evolved an eight part recipe for citizen activism that we invite all to explore, share, evolve and contribute to. (Click on image for PDF copy.)
1. The interwovenness of all people, and of all people with all creatures, points toward deep kindness: May I find new strength in accepting ecological and social interwovenness as an invitation to practice deeper kindness, empathy and compassion. (Ecological and social interwovenness are physical and psychological truths in which one can find life-changing spiritual implications.)
As long as we imagine that we are separate from other people and the Web of Life and Earth, acting compassionately will seem like a special burden or a special virtue. The central message of ecology is the interwovenness of all natural systems. Our human lives are also deeply interwoven with, and inseparable from, the lives of other people and the Web of Life. In order to nurture my life, I must nurture yours. This insight invites us to rethink all our ideas about self-interest and altruism, because our well-being overlaps greatly with the well-being of all other people, creatures, lands and seas. In Native American culture the entire world is named as “All My Relations.” In African culture our inter-being with others, and our imperative of kindness toward others, is named as Ubuntu, “A person is a person through other people.”
2. Nurturing life: May I find new strength in embracing my deepest assignment from the Universe: To nurture the unfolding of life. One creative way of going deeper with this topic is to look at life as unfolding in five ways:
- Nurturing the life that unfolds within me and through me
- Nurturing the life that unfolds within you and through you
- Nurturing the life that unfolds between us and through us in our living and working together
- Nurturing the life that unfolds in the Web-of-Life-and-People surrounding us, sustaining us, and needing our love and care
- Nurturing the life unfolding in the evolution of the Universe toward consciousness, love, wisdom and creativity, by participating in that evolution
3. Starting with myself and the people around me. May I find new strength by taking the initiative to be the changes I want to see, and to embody the virtues and behaviors I want to encourage and evoke in the world around me. (The Gandhian Golden Rule)
I am deeply convinced that we are already all teachers of reverence for life and eco-spirituality, whether consciously or not. By virtue of being alive, a person is not automatically a teacher of guitar or calculus. But by virtue of the way we live, and how much or how little we love life, we automatically teach all those around us our particular approach to loving life (or being indifferent to life), and to loving others (or being indifferent to them). Most other fields require long preparation before a person becomes a teacher, but one of the great paradoxes of life is that in relation to the most important topics of human life (love, gratitude, creativity, forgiveness, truthfulness) we begin teaching the moment we are born, and teach every moment of our lives. So we may as well rise to the occasion and become more wise, conscious and inspiring teachers.
Image courtesy of artist, Meganne Forbes
4. Following where love leads: In choosing what causes to work for, may I find new strength in following my greatest love.
The multiple crises of a self-destructing culture can leave us paralyzed by the question of where to put our efforts. Spiritual advisers from Saint Augustine to Teresa of Avila to Howard Thurman recommend that we take up the work that stirs us to the greatest love. As Thurman put it, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Frederick Buechner expresses this as “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
5. Beauty and gratitude: May I find new strength in opening my life every day to new experiences of beauty and gratitude. ( In the course of my life, I have become convinced that the deeper the ugliness I intend to confront and mend in the world around us, the more deeply I need to open my life to the experience of beauty and the practice of gratitude.)
6. Accepting joy and sorrow: May I find new strength each day by making an accepting place in my heart for both joy and sorrow.
Early gaps in our emotional development can leave us with the feeling that when we are successful, God and/or the whole world loves us, and when we fail, God and/or the whole world hates us. This is deeply unrealistic and counterproductive, given that trial and error are normal parts of the human learning process. And as we face the giant mistakes of industrialization run amok, we are bound to suffer many disappointments that we will need to learn from. Honoring our sorrows and frustrations as expressions of our love for the world, as taught by Joanna Macy, leaves us more able to stay engaged in work that will stretch beyond our own lifetimes. This means growing beyond the simple binary “it’s all bad” or “it’s all good” attitudes we learned in early childhood, whether applied to ourselves or to the world. As Judith Viorst observed in her book, Necessary Losses, all the significant steps forward in our development as persons are accompanied by the experience of loss. Tribal peoples use the cycle of the seasons as a way of understanding and accepting the inevitability of life including both joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments.
Like life itself, the topic of sorrow is complex. Some sorrows we bring upon ourselves through foolishness and/or inattention. Other sorrows, such as our pain for world, can be expressions of our deepest virtues and caring. May we be steadfast companions to one another in helping each other to outgrow the former and embrace the latter…
7. Supporting one another: When I appeal to you to work on behalf of all people and all life, may I offer you a support as deep as the challenges I invite you to face. (see Teams of Two article)
8. Expanding the circle of sharing: As I work to mend the world, may I be lifted up, and may I lift up others, by expanding the circle of the gift/sharing/cooperative economy. May we invent many creative “Sabbaths” from money, sheltering spaces that allow us to explore qualities of heart and possibilities for community that are beyond the reach of money.
Fund-raising and money making accomplish many good ends in the world (along with all the problematic ones), but fund-raising and money making have a way of taking over nonprofit organizations, community service endeavors, religious congregations, and people’s lives. There is considerable pressure in capitalist societies to monetize all human interactions. Because tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations around the world are already exploring the many good things that might be accomplished with money, what cries out for more attention is the now-neglected area of non-monetary relationships such as spiritual friendships and mutual support for the cause of Life and Earth. Just as the goal of resting on the Sabbath day is not to abolish human work, but to explore forms of experience beyond the mindset of work, it is not our intention to abolish money, but to explore relationships and forms of eco-spirituality that lie beyond the reach of money, to keep from being emotionally suffocated by it. We want to create refuges (such as our Interfaith Cathedral, and our Team-of-Two partnerships) where people can be as free as possible, for at least a while, from the continual pressures of needing money and needing to think about money.
9. Wrestling with Forgiveness: May I find new strength by deepening my exploration and practice of forgiveness. Among other things, forgiveness allows us to start over on a path that will include many failures. Also, the life of ecological compassion will challenge us to live gracefully with the catastrophic failures of others, failures which have already caused injuries and extinctions that cannot be undone, and yet not be emotionally destroyed by such knowledge, for the sake of the life of the future.
10. Finding answers hidden in plain sight: May I find new strength by looking for and learning from creative anomalies. When trying to remedy giant failures, may we look for and learn from small and unexpected successes that contradict our usual assumptions about what is possible. For example, the few people who grow up in chaotic environments yet somehow manage to create stable and fulfilling adult lives. (In addition to the information presented here, please Google the phrases: “appreciative inquiry” and “positive deviance.”)
11. Learning from the Web of Life: May I find new strength to nurture life by embracing variety, complexity and polarity, in myself, in others, and in the world around me. This involves a shift from “either-or” thinking to “both-and-more”. I observe that evolution works through variety, exploration and experiment, not through conformity to rigid plans.
12. EVERYONE IS A TEACHER
We are already all teachers of reverence for life and eco-spirituality, whether consciously or not. By virtue of being alive, you are not automatically a teacher of guitar or calculus. But by virtue of the way you live, and how much or how little you love life, you automatically teach all those around you your particular approach to loving life. Most other fields require long preparation before a person becomes a teacher, but one of the great paradoxes of life is that in relation to the most important topics of human life (love, gratitude, creativity, forgiveness, truthfulness) we begin teaching the moment we are born, and teach every moment of our lives. So we may as well rise to the occasion and become more conscious and inspiring teachers.
13.Opening more deeply to receive the blessings of my empowering ancestors: In working toward social transformation, may I find new strength in exploring and understanding the ways that great principles/virtues and great personalities mutually illumine and create one another. One way we assimilate the influence of our empowering exemplars is to try to understand what virtues they were trying to practice and what principles they were living by and for. One way we go deeper in understanding the principles and virtues we are trying to live is to study the lives of people who lived those principles and virtues deeply.