Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Wild and crazy thoughts to save the world

Trees embracing in my woods

Wild and crazy thoughts to save the world

Today, we navigate through our lives, autonomous contestants in a national gameshow called free-market capitalism, where winners live in mansions and losers on the street. Community, ethics, and our non-human neighbors don’t matter much. How do we break out of this amusement park before it is too late? Let’s try by thinking outside the box. What if our thoughts and imagination don’t arise in us as individuals. 

What if thoughts are socially constructed. Rather than our thoughts arising out of our brain, what if we are receiving them from outside: From the web of all our acquaintances, books we have read, and websites we click on. Wise gurus have always said this is true:  Jung called our common connection the collective unconsciousness; Emile Durkheim called it social consciousness; neurologists call it mirror cells; Buddhists call it Indra’s Net. Now ecologists are telling us that our thoughts come not just from other humans but the Earth itself!

We need to wake up. At this perilous time, our thoughts, foolishly misunderstood to be our own, are being manipulated by an insidious enemy, the demon of fear. This demon is being used to great advantage by demagogues to pit us one against another. They are successful because we have no overarching cause to rally around. We have nothing bigger than ourselves to believe in. 

David Abram, ecologist and philosopher, tells us that imagination isn’t a separate mental faculty within us but an ability our senses have to cast themselves out to bind with “other lives that surround it, the way the earth couples itself to our thoughts and our dreams.”⁠1 We have this magical ability because we coevolved with the Earth: “The human eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with the oceans and the air, formed and informed by the shifting patterns of the visible world. Our ears are now tuned, by their very structure, to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese.”⁠2 Becca Tarnas, scholar and artist, writes about how our imagination extends beyond our daily concerns…allowing us to see our human role in an enchanted cosmos by connecting us to our past and future.⁠3  

We do this through myth.

Imagination operates through myth to connect us to something bigger than us: the more-than-human world and the Earth itself. Myths are not tall tales and make-believe. As Charlotte Du Cann, author and Director of the Dark Mountain Project tells us,They exist as a reminder of our place and meaning on the Earth; a reminder of what we have to undergo to become truly human, with a culture where art is the same as knowledge. Old mythologies contain not only stories about our place on the Earth, but have the Earth speaking through them. In other words, as we turn ideas around in our head, we’re not just thinking, but we are getting thought.⁠4

 “Whatever we are facing now we need to have a root system embedded in weather patterns, the presences of animals, our dreams, and the ones who came before us. Myth is insistent that when there is a crisis, genius lives on the margins not the centre. If we are constantly using the language of politics to combat the language of politics at some point the soul grows weary… We’re not listening to the thoughts of the world. We’re only listening to our own neurosis and our own anxiety.⁠5

J.R.R. Tolkien, the English writer and poet, understood all of this. He is best known for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Far from believing that the imagination dealt with make-believe, he considered it a direct connection to the divine. What we call myth, he named “Faërie,” a world he believed humans never left: “Faërie contains many things besides… dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.⁠6

Inspired by what I had learned about this strange, new world, I re-watched Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, keeping in mind what the visionaries, I have quoted, reveal about myth representing a higher truth. Part way through the movie I shivered in recognition about the magnitude of the task we face today as the wizard Gandalf spoke about confronting a similar existential crisis: 

“Middle-earth stands upon the brink of destruction. None can escape it; you will unite or you will fall. Each race is bound to this fate, this one doom. No one wishes for times like these. All we can do is decide what to do with the time that’s given to us.”⁠7



1 The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, page 262




5 Ibid



Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Hope Lies in Our Entanglements


Hope Lies in Our Entanglements

For most of human evolution, the cosmic forces of the universe were magical, beyond our feeble understanding. We were humble and kept our heads down, acutely aware that we were the lowest denominator in a vast galactic mystery. Unfortunately, over the last few hundred years, we humans have become smug and arrogant, thinking we are lords and masters of Planet Earth, which will be our downfall because of the climate crisis we are causing. Today I want to write about four entanglements that give me hope about how we might regain that sense of awe while avoiding environmental doom.

Entanglement #1: Last June The Journal Nature announced that quantum entanglement had been proven: That's the theory that once two objects or particles have interacted with one another, they will be forever joined. From that point forth, whatever happens to one will instantly happen to the other, even if one has traveled to the other side of the universe.⁠1

To me, this a paradigm-shifting event in the history of science, as influential as discovering gravity or that the earth is round – but, most important, because it reintroduces enchantment back into our small-minded and algorithm-driven world. Perhaps someday soon, we can see the world as it really is – as through the eyes of a child, a mystic, an indigenous person, or an artist. 

As the poet Christian Wiman has written: "If quantum entanglement is true, if related particles react in similar or opposite ways even when separated by tremendous distances, then it is obvious that the whole world is alive and communicating in ways we do not fully understand. And we are part of that life, part of that communication."⁠⁠2

Entanglement #2: Suzanne Simard, in her ground-breaking new book Finding the Mother Tree, introduces us to another example of entanglement: how trees communicate through a tangled underground fungal network. She explains how old mother trees connect all the forest trees together through a 'jungle of threads and synapses and nodes,' 'communicating and responding to one another by emitting chemical signals. Chemicals identical to our own neurotransmitters.’⁠3 Simard sees entanglement everywhere: in a colony of ants, a grove of trees, and even ourselves: "Our own roots and systems interlace and tangle, grow into and away from one another and back again in a million subtle moments."⁠4

Entanglement #3: In Robert Mac Farlance's fabulous new book, A Deep Time Journey, we learn that we can no longer view ourselves as a separate apex species, "but rather as an assemblage of entanglements of which we are messily apart. Our bodies are habitats for hundreds of species of which Homo sapiens is only one…we are collaborative compound organisms, ecological units' consisting of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that coordinate the task of living together and sharing a common life."⁠5

And in terms of diversity and a declaration of how little we know: Macfarlane relates a new scientific discovery of a "deep life ecosystem that extends down seven miles into the Earth's crust that is twice the volume of the world's oceans." It "dramatically exceeds the biomass of the entire human population."⁠6

Entanglement #4: Donna Harraway, a philosopher and feminist scholar, sees our world as a tangled ball of yarn, made up of the innumerable threads of our "deep and entangled relationships with technology, beyond-human kin, and each other.⁠7 While our future in terms of climate crisis is dire, she rejects the two most popular pundit refrains of either "a comic faith…that technology will somehow come to the rescue of its naughty but very clever children"; or that "the game is over, it's too late, there's no sense trying to make anything better."⁠8 

Her approach is to pluck out one thread at a time and "make kin' with it by whole-heartedly listening and relating. She believes, "learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth" is a road map to more livable futures.”⁠9  Joanna Macy, a Buddhist writer and activist, embraces a similar approach, calling for a global wakening to band together to create a life-sustaining society. Macy invokes Active Hope as the secret sauce to stiffen our spines  to face this crisis with resistance and creativity.

"Active Hope is not wishful thinking. 

Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by some savior. 

Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. 

We belong to this world. The web of life is calling us forth at this time."⁠10 

Understanding that we are – each of us – a vital thread in our utterly entangled but achingly gorgeous world, makes me tingle: it gives me hope that we can commit to come together for the common good of all the inhabitants of our precious, blue planet.


 Postscript: As I step out of my office after writing this, I reflect on how none of what I said would be surprising to indigenous people, who already reside in this more-than-human world. As if in validation of that, I found a beautiful black feather by my door, a present from my neighbor, the trickster Raven.  




2 3 My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman p.33

3 Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree (p. 5). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

4 Ibid.      page 179

5 Macfarlane, Robert. Underland: A Deep Time Journey (pp. 103-104). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.




9 sympoiesis haraway summary

10 Active Hope by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Beyond Politics


CC Jean Stimmell: 2017

As Christianity’s hold on America has weakened, many pundits believed our politics would become more ecumenical and rational, less tempestuous and back-biting. But the opposite has happened: We are now more polarized: in danger of being torn apart by two diametrically opposed ideologies about what America represents. One  party I will call ‘Woke;’ the other, ‘Trumpy.’

But this column is not about politics. It’s about an elementary force underlying our political food fight: Religion. And by that, I mean religion in the broadest sense: a belief in something bigger than the individual. As social animals, it is hardwired in us: we have a built-in need to feel a sense of belonging and attachment.

This connection has long been known. Over one hundred  years ago, Abraham Kuyper, a theologian and prime minister of the Netherlands, argued that all strongly held ideologies were really about religion. As our country has become more secular, our political parties have replaced the church because humans can not exist without some ultimate loyalty.⁠1

Much has been written recently documenting how our basic human needs are not just physical. As Mary Worthen tells us in the NYT, we have “spiritual cravings; a hunger for a sense of control over our destinies and reassurance that we’re on the side of good againt evil.”

And, without doubt, Americans exhibit more religious  zeal than most countries. “It’s rare to hear someone accused of being un-Swedish or un-British—but un-American is a common slur, slung by both left and right against the other.”⁠2   It’s religiously charged like being accused of  heresy.

Our salvation –whether we are ‘Woke’ or ‘Trumpy,’– is to explore beneath the gridlock of our political food fights to find what we really need: an authentic sense of belonging.

And where do we find it? With our families who love and nurture us,  providing us with a true sense of belonging. And beyond that, we yearn to be embraced by our nation, our extended family, to give our life existential meaning. As with our families, we need to do whatever it takes to preserve our country and make it better. 

But it’s never easy. We have to compromise and negotiate in order to move on together toward the common good: No country, like any family, can long survive if individual members insist on complete freedom, to do whatever they want. 

That’s who we really want to worship and love: our family and our country – not our political parties who tend to be mean-spirited, often in it only for themselves and the corporate lobbyists who now infest our capital.

Luckily, President Biden is hip to this, using religious themes to talk about national unity. Worthen cites examples like, “on Memorial Day, he described the ongoing battle for the ‘soul of America,’ a conflict between ‘our worst instincts — which we’ve seen of late — and our better angels. Between ‘Me first’ and ‘We the people.’ In January, in his Inaugural Address, he quoted St. Augustine: “A people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.”⁠3

Worthen, a historian, emphasizes the importance of taking wise counsel from those who came before us, like St. Augustine, who wrote ‘The City of God’ in the early 5th century. In it, he “laments the fate of a people who drift from heeding their better angels to obeying their inner demons — like citizens of the Roman Empire, who “declined into… seditions and then to social and civil wars, and so burst asunder or rotted off the bond of concord in which the health of a people consists.”⁠4

George Santayana’s famous quote takes on a new urgency today: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."




2 Ibid.


4 Ibid.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


 An etching made in the sand by the incoming tide
CC Jean Stimmell

Today nothing happens by chance: It’s always someone’s fault. Even illness is now seen as personal failure: We blame the victim, saying it is their fault because of what they ate or didn’t eat, the amount they drank, or whether or not they exercised. Absurdly, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the architects of the World Trade Buildings were threatened with  lawsuits, alleging the design of their buildings was faulty because the occupants couldn’t get out safely.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen noted in the aftermath of that attack, “contemporary Americans, in particular, are not well equipped to deal with arbitrary threats because, in so many realms of life, we refuse to accept the role of chance.”⁠1 This quote comes from Jackson Lear’s book, “Something for Nothing,” documenting how the concept of chance has fallen out of favor in modern society. 

And it’s not just modern society: it’s been that way for Americans since the beginning. The mantra has always been: if you work hard and follow the rules, you will succeed. Chance isn’t part of the equation. Conversely, if you fail, it is because you are lazy with sketchy morals. 

But, as several new books have shown, this mantra no longer works, if it ever did.  Today the scales are tilted. Well-to-do, well-educated folks are still on a glide path to success; the rest of us not so much. Adding insult to injury, as noted by Michael Sandel in The Tyranny of Merit, “lack of success now implies not only a failure of mental power, but a failure of moral character. There’s still that sting of moral judgment about it.⁠2” 

Working folks have had enough, feeling humiliated and angry, at being belittled by the cultural elite for circumstances beyond their control. As a result, many have jumped ship, helping fuel the rise of Donald Trump, who then exploited their plight for his own ends.

Whatever remaining role that chance, luck, fate –whatever you want to call it –  plays in our lives is threatened by the growing control that big government, big business, and Silicon Valley has over us. The question becomes, how can we exist under these conditions? And does chance still have a role to play?

Over the years, I have always encouraged my clients to be active, involved citizens while making clear how unfair society can be. Often the root of their problems is not a personal failing but the result of a public issue.

Rather than becoming a crushed bug on the windshield of our careening culture of control, I invite them to look at the world through a new lens. I acquaint them with sages of ancient cultures who have reveled at how unpredictable, yet generous, the world can be – or, translated into Lear's academic lingo –  "more at ease with randomness and irrationality, more doubtful that diligence is the only path to success, than our dominant culture of  control.”⁠3

I have always been a fan of chance, which I prefer to call fate. Believing in fate helps to keep me humble and open to the wonders of the universe beyond the scope of my feeble understanding. As I wrote in a previous column, “Even with all we’ve learned, we are still in the stone age of human development: still, small bits of protoplasm totally enmeshed within a glorious universe that defies human understanding.”

If we can let go of our ego and its need to control, something magical happens: We get to glimpse of a new world, fresh and unmediated, teeming with possibilities. My favorite quote is by Zen scholar Suzuki: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."   

Great thinkers have long devised schemes to regain “beginner’s mind” by invoking chance. Carl Jung looked to his dreams for guidance, in which, he believed, were encoded the collective wisdom of all human evolution. Frank Gehry, the famous architect, found inspiration for his best work from making mindless doodles.

According to Lear, the way Gehry uses chance to create art, suggests that chance is connected to beauty – as well as grace. “Flashes of beauty appear and disappear  quickly – especially in nature.  Caprice is of their essence.” Finding beauty, therefore, becomes the “pursuit of grace in what often seems to be a graceless world.”⁠4 

The environmental movement is a good example of that:“Saving natural beauty required a willingness to leave things to chance, an openness to the experiences of grace that nature gives. This in turn ironically demanded a conscious effort to resist the managerial agenda of control. The preservation of a place of grace could be a profoundly political act.”⁠5

John Lennon made a powerful  political statement with his song, “Give Peace a Chance.” My song, if I could write one, would be, “Give Chance a Chance.”



1 Lears, Jackson. Something for Nothing . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


3 Ibid,  Location 215

4 Idid. Location 6255

5 Ibid: Location 6223