Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Miracle of Happiness

Tragedy has to do with coming to ruin, extreme sorrow, the disastrous, the calamitous. Does this not describe human existence exactly? As a human being we are fraught with anxiety about our survival, our identity, our status, our possessions and our relationships; we suffer horrible diseases of body and mind; we lose those we dearly love; and then we die, each one of us. Is that not coming to ruin? Is such an existence not filled with sorrow? Is this not the story of disaster and calamity?

So what can you and I do when we become aware that human life, our life is tragic? What are our options?

We can despair and curse our existence. Or we can delude ourselves by turning our back on the glaring evidence and fight for as much pleasure, comfort, status and power as possible. Or we can have compassion for ourselves and everyone we encounter, acknowledging their and our own suffering and vowing to relieve as much of it as possible, bringing into being the miracles of peace and happiness.

I choose the latter. By acknowledging and accepting the universal nature of impermanence, suffering and inter-being, we can literally transform our relationship to our lives and to our relationships. We can turn tragedy into treasure, sorrow into sustenance, disaster into determination and calamity into calmness.

Nothing life brings can separate us from the ecstatic gift of being alive for this precious moment. Let's celebrate truth, beauty and love. Let's champion justice for all. Let’s practice kindness and generosity rather than living out of fear, anger, hatred and greed.

This is our chance. Let’s live our lives with abandon and passion. What do we have to lose?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"I Ain't Gonna Study War No More"


Our spiritual teachers say “do not kill”, “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemy” ,“relieve others’ suffering” and “nonviolence is the only way”, yet we ignore their wisdom and continue killing, hating and reacting to violence with violence.
There are alternatives to war including dialogue, negotiation, diplomacy, economic sanctions, UN resolutions and peace keeping, nonviolent resistance, forgiveness, global shaming, economic assistance, pacifism, protecting the innocent, indirection, distraction, removal from danger, and self-sacrifice.
War is nationally sanctioned mass murder, is immoral and is an abomination that brutalizes and traumatizes everyone.
War has been tragically romanticized to appeal to a young man’s self-image as warrior and hero.
The technologies of war make it appear to be a life size video game. It is not. It is real blood, real suffering and real death.
Nations call their young into harm’s way yet if they return home they are not supported with adequate health and employment opportunities and often end up poor, sick and suicidal.
Only one nation has ever dropped atomic bombs on innocent civilians. On behalf of my beloved country, I express limitless sorrow and regret and vow “never again.”
War is mass insanity. No other species engages in war. It is a uniquely human disease.
There is no such thing as a “just war.” All war is unjust and criminal. Wars are a collective expression of delusion, greed, fear, anger and hatred.   
Wars will stop when people refuse to kill other people.
Every human being desires happiness, love, peace, health, respect, long life and friendship.
Note: Title of this post is from the gospel song “Down by the Riverside”

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Empire: Bow Down or Rise Up?

How do we wake up and change our ways? That is the question. How do we wake up to the fact that we are destroying billions of years of life on Earth and turning a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow and sister human beings because of our ignorance, fear and greed?

And when we wake up, what should we do? How can we facilitate or lead in acts of repentance, which means turning around and going in a new direction? What will turn the tide? Teaching meditation? Publishing books? Having a TV show? Doing seminars? Teaching grad students? Caring for the homeless? Marching? Voting? Solar panels on the roof? Raising the grandchildren? All of these? Any of this? Something else?

And who are the deluded forces we face? Fossil fuel companies, banks,  armaments companies, toxic food companies, stock markets, billionaires, millionaires and religious fundamentalists are a few of them.

There is so much suffering in the world. It is overwhelming. How can we go on moment by moment? Where is hope? Where is joy? The good news is that whatever we do there will still be suffering and everyone will still die. That is the way life is at least in this part of the galaxy. We shouldn’t feel like failures for not being able to get rid of all suffering and death. But we can do a lot. How can we best relieve suffering and embrace death by living with open eyes and a joyous heart?

We are waking up, waking up to the reality that we live in a global empire controlled by and for the wealthy and their corporations. That is real. That is true. It is our empire. People before us lived in other empires such as the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the various dynasties of China and so on. Ours is the Global Corporate Empire of the 1%. Welcome to our times. Welcome home child of the empire.

We each have a choice: to bow our head and be a loyal subject of the empire; or to raise our head and challenge the empire with our thoughts, words and deeds. Whichever you choose don’t forget to enjoy your one wild, ecstatic life.

Photo above: Gandhi and colleagues on the Salt March

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dysfunctional Politics to Participatory Governance: Krugman, Wilber and Me


Paul Krugman writes today in the New York Times that “politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth.” Many would say that politics is the art of the possible. I believe that politics itself is dysfunctional, is leading us to disaster and must be completely reinvented. This is as true in the USA as it is anywhere.

The politics of personality and persuasion, of command and control, makes it impossible for the collective intelligence of 7.3 billion people to be applied to our most pressing problems. To paraphrase Ken Wilber, as I did in 1997 in the UN’s first policy paper on governance: humanity’s greatest challenges are not climate change and poverty but our inability to achieve “mutual understanding and mutual agreement concerning means for dealing quickly and effectively with the profound threats to the well-being of people everywhere and to the environment.” This is a crisis of governance. Politics has become a dangerous game blocking us from mutual understanding, agreement and action.

We must shift to a political process of authenticity and substance based on principles of truth and wellbeing for all. We must shift to a modus operandi of “participatory governance for sustainable human development.” Governance includes government but goes beyond it to include civil society and the private sector. It is through the healthy interaction of these three actors that societies can best protect the environment, promote socio-economic development, ensure gender equality and achieve cultural and religious tolerance and understanding.

It is by enabling the voices and concerns of every citizen to be heard and felt in policy making and implementation that we can best achieve sustainable human development. The perceptions and priorities of scientists, woman, students, elders, workers, parents, business leaders, academics, journalists, minorities, religious leaders, artists, the homeless, civil servants and others, must all flow into and guide the governing processes.

Of course there are many obstacles that can block this shift to participatory governance for sustainable human development. Vested interests of all sorts must be dealt with. When we the people identify corruption based on greed or harmful behavior based on fear, anger and hatred we must shine a light on the people involved and call them to account and to change their ways. Truth and reconciliation are powerful transformative processes as we saw in South Africa after the end of apartheid.

There is a pathway. But what other strategies will carry us forward? How do we get from dysfunctional politics to participatory governance?

We must first tell the truth, that things are not working, that there is a systems failure. Then we must outline a future vision as we have begun above. We must ask everyone to participate in fleshing out that vision with their best insights. We must ask people to identify the biggest obstacles that we face. We must ask people to create strategies, tactics and action plans for reinventing our societal decision making and action taking.

We can do this. We must do this, or continue careening toward the abyss.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grieving, Self-Care, Learning & Gratitude

When we experience loss whether it is the death of a loved one or the loss of an election, grieving includes disbelief and anger in addition to sadness and a sense of abandonment. In order to move on, we must let grief take its natural course. Then we must let go and get on with living in a new reality.    

We must also take care of our wounded heart. We should get sufficient rest and nourishment, take time for ourselves in reading and reflection and should stay in touch with family and friends. Furthermore, we should engage in soul-searching and analysis so that we learn as much as possible from the situation for the sake of future engagement. We then should apply our lessons by modifying our behavior and actions in future situations and relationships.

Finally, we should take comfort by experiencing deep gratitude for the gift of life itself and for our unique life as it unfolds in mystery and perfection.    

In the case of yesterday’s midterm US elections, some of us, myself included, are grieving. I can’t believe that the rout was so bad. I am angry that certain personalities now have even more power. I am sad that millions of people could be harmed by new policies, especially women, the elderly, students, the poor, the middle class, gays and immigrants. I feel a strange sense of forlornness. What are your emotions?

How am I to take care of my wounded heart in this situation? I will make sure that I get enough rest and eat healthy food. I will do some reading related to my work and spiritual life. I will have conversations with my spouse about what is going on. She has already sent me an article from the New Yorker that cheered me up. How will you care for yourself? 

In terms of soul-searching and analysis, I am reading about the election and what we may face over the next two years. I am deciding how I will be more engaged as a citizen from the local to national levels. I will submit Op Ed pieces, blog posts and articles, contact my representatives regarding issues, sign petitions, donate to candidates and NGOs, speak with my students and colleagues and engage in dialogue with people of other points of view. I will focus especially on supporting climate chaos mitigation and women’s empowerment but also on promoting socio-economic justice, cultural and religious tolerance and participatory governance. How will you go about your soul-searching?  

Finally, I am comforted by deep gratitude for life itself, for my life, for family, friends and colleagues, opportunities for engagement and service, for health and for my spiritual practice. Please consider making a list of what you are grateful for.

May everyone everywhere realize the Great Happiness that embraces both the ups and the downs of living with Yes!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote Today for 20 Opportunities for All

Today is election day in the USA. What time will you go to the polls? How will you get there? What could interrupt your voting? How would you still vote? Who can you take with you? Who can you urge to vote?

It is crucial to vote for opportunity for all not opposition to all. Twenty opportunities for all include:

1.    A woman’s right to the sanctity and autonomy of her body
      2.    A woman’s right for equal pay for equal work
      3.    A citizen’s right to vote
4.    A citizen’s right to participate in policy making
5.    A citizen’s right to their religious beliefs and practices
6.    A worker’s right to a living wage
7.    A person’s right to marry the person they love
8.    A community’s right to safety and security through gun regulations
9.    An elder’s right to Social Security and Medicare
10.    A low income person’s right to Medicaid
11.    A student’s right to a low interest student loan
12.    A young black man’s right to be in public with safety and respect
13.    A nation’s right to peace not perpetual war
14.    A nation’s right to progressive taxation
15.    A nation’s right to a sustainable environment and climate
16.    A nation’s right to safe food and medicine
17.    A nation’s right to health care and quality education for all
18.    A nation’s right to a strong social contract
19.    A nation’s right to sustainable infrastructure
20.    A nation’s right to decentralized, green energy

We humans have been voting since the 6th Century BC in Athens. Let's keep it up!

Happy voting!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

How to Resuscitate Dead Democracy

American democracy is badly broken and may already be dead. What went wrong? How did it come to this sad state of affairs? Polarization and money are two of the mass murderers.

How can the vast array of views of 317 million people be reduced to only two – Democrat or Republican? This is indeed radical reductionism. The world then becomes bifurcated into black and white with good and bad being applied appropriately. But what are these two views/parties anyway? How do they so amazingly allow the country to be set into two warring camps? Republican views are based on fear, fear of the other, fear of losing privilege, an amalgam of the wealthy and religious fundamentalists. Democratic views are based on inclusion, a belief that everyone should have a fair chance. But is this the whole story?

The wizard behind the curtain is the oligarchy, the superrich. The political process becomes a charade of attack ads and big data while bankers, fossil fuel magnates and other billionaires pull the levers. To get elected candidates must have money to buy advertising. The money comes from the wealthy and goes to advertising firms owned by the wealthy, a win-win proposition. The wealthy then own the politicians. The wealthy then send their lobbyist to Washington to write the laws. And so we have a happy ending. The two opposing camps are really serving one master. All is well. Corporate bailouts will continue. Social programs will be cut. Infrastructure will collapse. Global warming will accelerate. Perpetual war will be waged. The global elite will remain happy and in control because capital is global and can always find places to make a profit. So the two parties are really two faces of the one party of the superrich. So is there any hope?

Yes, we the people must speak and write and organize and vote and purchase and donate and invest and act in a million ways each day. The key to a healthy democracy is citizen participation. How you and I participate in society is crucial. We can repair the social contract with our every word and deed. We can manifest our care for those in need. We can help give voice to the voiceless. We can acknowledge our current state of affairs and foster dialogue and action among people from the grassroots to the national and global levels.

We must call the superrich to give up greed for generosity. We must invite religious fundamentalists to return to their traditions’ teachings of compassion and care for the vulnerable. We must show the gun lobby that arming a society promotes ever more danger and death. We must awaken the fossil fuel industry to pivot to green energy. We must entreat the military-industrial complex to use its vast power to create peace and development.  

Vote like your life depends on it because it does. But don’t stop at voting. We must heal the body politic in a million ways. The future of life on Earth is at stake and we each can make a critical difference.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Action Will Remove The Doubt

“Action will remove the doubt that theory cannot solve.”

My grad students at NYU Wagner really liked this Chinese proverb which I introduced in our last strategic management class. After four weeks of creating mission statements and 5 year visions, analyzing inhibiting and enhancing factors in the internal and external environment, creating strategic directions and tactics, finally we came to action planning, implementation and leadership. Suddenly it all came clear. Ah ha, this is where we have been heading, where the rubber hits the road, when we decide what we each do Monday morning.

Participatory strategic management works. People feel ownership because they have helped create the plan. They are motivated to implement the action plan as the way to move toward their agreed on 5 year vision.

How could this methodology become the default setting in governance processes around the world? What if participatory strategic planning were used in legislative bodies at all societal levels – village, town, city, county, state, national, regional and global – to design and implement policies, programs and projects?

When I was a staff member at UNDP I facilitated strategic planning workshops in global, regional and national conferences, seminars, workshops and retreats to formulate policies, design programs, create project plans, and reform institutions. It worked every time. Participants from government, civil society and the private sector were amazed how they could come together and in two days create a common vision, innovative strategies and effective action plans that made sense.

Even before joining UNDP I facilitated strategic planning events with national government agencies, private companies, not-for-profits, remote rural villages and urban slums in the US, Malaysia, South Korea, Jamaica and Venezuela. And each time, action removed the doubt that theory could not solve.    

Now is a time for action. We cannot continue theoretical debate concerning climate chaos, gender inequality, socio-economic injustice, elitist governance and cultural intolerance. We must act. We must stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. We must empower women and girls. We must ensure health and education for all people.  We must provide jobs, a living wage, job training and credit to everyone. We must strengthen the institutions of democracy that allow everyone to vote and participate in policy formulation. And we must protect the human rights of everyone regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Act now - vote, speak out, write, mobilize, organize, boycott, donate, volunteer, facilitate a multi-stakeholder strategic plan - and doubt will fade away.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We Are A Human Being First

We are human beings first,
and then we are a sex, a gender, an age, a race,
an ethnicity, a religious conviction, a nationality,
a political persuasion, a sexual orientation,
an economic class, an educational level.

No, actually we aren't a human being first.

First we are part of this mysterious Cosmos,
then we are part of the Milky Way,
then the solar system,
then the living Earth,
then we are an animal,
a mammal,
then we are hominids,
and THEN we are human beings.

We do have a lot in common with all of our
sisters and brothers, yes?

And what is this family resemblance?

Each of us emerged from what had come before
We each change continually
We are interdependent in co-origination
We are empty of a separate self
We each grow old and pass away
And thus we shout out:


Photo: Lucy, our ancestor of 3.2 million years ago

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Original People Can Lead Us Home

What is our scientific-story of human emergence? Around 200,000 years ago homo sapiens emerged, with homo sapiens sapiens appearing around 50,000 years ago. We like to say that recorded human history is around 5,000 years in duration. What was going on those previous 45,000, 195,000 years? What were our ancestors thinking? What were they feeling? What were their struggles, fears, hopes? What did they love?

As human migrations took place from Eastern Africa to other parts of our planet, people began to settle in to ecological niches. We adapted to dry deserts, to lush vegetation, to little islands, to mountain ranges. We became the people of that place, what we now call aboriginal people, the original people. As empires rose out of Mongolia, Greece, India, and elsewhere, their armies swept over the lands of the original people conquering and inculcating them into the empire.

Fast forward to the modern European global conquest. For a number of reasons the Europeans felt that the world was theirs to be had. They sent out explorers, followed by armies and merchants conquering the original peoples of the Earth. The Europeans brought their religions and cultures and ways of life, annihilating and subjugating the original peoples in the name of Crown, Church and Commerce. They established ownership of the land, enslaved or murdered the original people and shipped precious minerals and other natural resources back to the fatherland making Europe very, very wealthy.

And so it went with other nations taking their turns to invade, rape and impoverish the original peoples of the Earth spreading toxic industrialization around the planet. Until today we are experiencing a massive dieback of species, fossil fuel induced global warming, melting of ice, rise of seas, flooding of coastlines and islands, water shortages, collapse of food production, creation of mega storms and destabilization of our economies, societies and institutions.

Who can save us? How did the original people live in harmony with their environment? What was their understanding that sustained their existence in every clime and ecological zone on this planet for tens of thousands of years? How has the “modern” worldview been able to degrade and destroy the living environment in just 300 years? Amazing!

The original people know that they are one with the land. They do not and cannot own it. They are part of nature. They cannot conquer it. They are part of the great fabric of life with their sisters and brothers - plants, animals, water, air and soil. They know that it is the responsibility of the people to be stewards of the commons not its conquerors.

Today we celebrate the original people who thankfully are still present. Even though they have been abused for hundreds of years they have survived and their wisdom is still intact. Their presence and voices now awaken everyone to our present moment of crisis and our possibility to be stewards of the Earth. Deep thanks to all original peoples around this planet. Please lead us back home.