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.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Divine Comedy: No Joke

What is the Divine Comedy?
Is it God’s joke on us humans?
We are born, become conscious of all space and all time,
and then we die.
What is it all about – this life and death?
In this vast Cosmos do we matter at all?
I like to think we do.
We are the Cosmos come conscious.
And that's a lot.
That is amazing.
That is worth being.
No joke.
And in our time and place, can we not love it all,
every creature great and small?
Yes, love is the way, the truth, the light.
Nothing else makes any sense to me whatsoever.
And that means everything.
Let’s be our consciousness of this sublime mystery
in humility, gratitude and compassion.
Spiraling, flinging out our star stuff for one and all.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Dance of Life

I wrote this on 10 August 2006 following the Dance of Life celebration marking my retirement from the UN. It seemed appropriate today to share this on this blog. I am so grateful for my life. May I use it to serve others.

It finally happened. My 16 years as a UN international civil servant and policy advisor came to a close due to mandatory age-related retirement at 62. I have loved being the UN for these years just as I loved being the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) for the previous 21 years. Now a new chapter opens, a new dance begins. What is that dance?

Over the past three years I have written many times in my journal about this new dance. It includes a life of meditation, making music, dancing, writing, study, consulting, teaching, leading retreats and spending more time with family and friends. Now that the new dance is in motion it seems chaotic, overwhelming, too much. I have requests to work in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, five African countries, Trinidad, Canada, Garrison, New York City. How to focus? How to prioritize? How to relax and enjoy each day, each breath? These are the same questions of the previous two chapters. It is all one life, one gesture, one word, one deed, and then  . . .

To mark this transition, a great celebration was held - The Dance of Life. Sixty family members and friends from the UN, ICA, Mystery School, Hermitage Heart and the Garrison community joined the dance representing 15 countries. Another sixty friends and family sent best wishes. We gathered at my home “Hillside Cottage” in the Hudson Valley on a bright summer day. We celebrated many great turnings of life’s dance: birth (my mother’s 86th and my 62nd), adoption (my son Benjamin’s), marriage (my son Christopher and Jennifer’s 1st wedding anniversary), retirement (mine) and death (the 3rd anniversary of my wife Mary’s passing). All these events had July dates. In addition, we celebrated my new relationship with Bonnie Myotai Treace.

What a great celebration it was! We danced “Enos Mythos” an ancient Greek circle dance of deep recognition. A UN colleague played the violin beautifully. My sister-in-law performed an interpretive dance accompanied by my brother and nephew. A neighbor played the harp. I danced while a special guest singer sang “I hope you dance!” A friend from California read a poem. An ICA colleague of 30 years sang a love song. Another long time colleague facilitated much of the event. My younger brother thanked me for teaching him the letter “e”. My dance teacher evoked generous gestures from the group. My niece prepared a three-layer butter cream cake. People spoke many kind words. Guests brought ethnic dishes to diversify the buffet. We ate delicious food and drank sparkling cider. It was truly a magical moment for everyone. What a blessing to live life fully and to celebrate it with family and friends!

And now what? The future beckons, blowing wildly in my face. My soul longs for rest, reflection, expression and integration. The suffering world waits expectantly. I pray for strength and courage. I vow to dance on in passionate compassion.

There is only the Dance!
Image above: Picasso's "Dance of Youth"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Transform a Culture of Violence?

Violence is on my mind a lot these days. What do I have to say about violence? We are drowning in a national and global Culture of Violence. Where do I see that? I experience impulses toward violence within myself when I am hurt or angry. My national government launches billion dollar acts of violence around the world at any provocation or before any provocation. Many men practice violence within their homes with their wives and children. Our police use massive violence against our own citizens. My country has more people in prison than any other nation on Earth.

We are a leader in exporting military weapons around the world.  We provide huge grants to other countries to support their military operations. We bomb other nations when we find something that we do not like. We invade sovereign nations at will. Our people carry more guns than any nation on Earth and kill more fellow and sister citizens than any other country. Our children are massacred in their classrooms. Our country has the largest military with the largest budget in the world.

Massive extraction of fossil fuels and carbon emissions of industrialized nations of the world, led by China and the USA, are destroying forests and species, poisoning drinking water, putting toxins into the air we breathe, acidifying the oceans, warming the planet, melting the polar ice, causing catastrophic mega storms, damaging food production and causing massive droughts as well as floods.

Unarmed black men are shot and killed because they are black. Video games, TV shows and movies flood our eyes and minds with scenes of violence. CEOs are paid millions of dollars to put thousands of employees out of work in order to generate more profits for shareholders. Many people work a 40 hour work week with such low wages that they cannot care for themselves and their families. A few nations including my own have huge arsenals of nuclear weapons. Many nations have nuclear power plants that can leak deadly radioactivity.

And on and on and on. I will not go on.

What are we to think about this predicament? What can we do about this madness?

How can we on the other hand create a culture of peace and justice?

First of all I am sickened and weep over the suffering brought about by violence. I myself must become a person of peace and justice in my own heart, in my relationships, in my livelihood, in my work, in my voting, in my shopping, in my investing, and so on. I must create a peaceful and just family and a peaceful and just community. I must call my nation to the way of peace and justice. I must call humankind around this fair planet to a life of justice and peace. I must hold government and corporations accountable for acts of violence and demand that they promote peace and justice instead.

Instead of responding violently when we are fearful or angry or hateful, let us as individuals and as a nation first practice stopping, listening, dialogue, understanding, diplomacy, negotiation, compromise, respect, empathy, even compassion and deep understanding. Yes, let us even attempt to relieve the suffering of our enemies. For if they are wedded to violence are they not trapped in suffering and confusion? Yes, let’s reach out beyond our armor and put aside our weaponry and dare to be vulnerable not in a stupid way but in a strategic and smart way.

But first for me I must calm my own negative emotions, my anger, my hatred, my pride, my fear, my greed. I must practice peace in my thinking, doing and being.

May it be so. May it be so. May it be so even now, even here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Can We Change Before It's Too Late?

Who are we humans? What are we? Who am I? What am I?

Today these questions appeared once again. Always pregnant. Always empty. What is life about? What is my life about? The questions never stop and are only answered by living. My answer. Your answer. Our answer.

We are mammals. We are star stuff. We are consciousness. We are awake. We are love.

Why then are we so violent? No other life form is as violent or with as much premeditation and justification of violence. No other life form is as greedy or with such justification for greed.

Maybe we are a failed experiment. Maybe it is good that we are killing ourselves off by destroying the life support systems of our planet. Maybe something will come after us that is more loving, more understanding, more tolerant, kinder or wiser.

Or can we wake up in time, our time, now, here, and change our minds, our hearts, our actions our cultures or our institutions? Can I? Can you?

It’s worth a try. No, it is worth everything to accomplish this, here, now. Then we might have another century or millennium or even 100,000 years, or even 1 million years or even another billion years. It is worth changing myself and everything for that isn’t it?

And how do I do that, here and now?

Practice meditation. Practice kindness. Practice forgiveness. Practice generosity. Practice compassion. Practice tolerance. Practice understanding. Practice openness. Practice patience. Practice peace. Practice equanimity. Practice justice. Practice equality. Practice sustainability. Practice trust. Practice transformation. Practice selflessness.

Practice, practice, practice as though your life, our life, all life depends on it, because it does. And when you falter, which you will, then return to the practice and practice some more.   

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11: Violence or Compassion?

That morning I took the train as usual to Manhattan. In Grand Central Station I noticed people gathered around a TV monitor in a book store. I stopped and saw pictures of smoke coming from one of the World Trade Center towers. The announcer said that it might have been a plane off course.

I walked to the UN and took an elevator to my office floor. A group of colleagues was gathered around a computer screen. They said that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and that the UN was being evacuated in case we were another target. I went into my office and cried thinking of the people dying in the buildings and planes.

A colleague and I walked to a friend’s apartment. From there I could see smoke billowing from the Twin Towers far in the south. Because the apartment was across the street from the UN, we left and walked back to Grand Central Station. The streets were streaming with people walking north. There were crowds around the doors of Grand Central with police monitoring the flow of people. Inside I found a train going to Fleetwood just north of the city where my youngest son lived.

He picked me up and took me to his apartment. His girlfriend was there along with my wife and older son. They had just arrived after trying to get to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for my wife’s chemotherapy session and then learning of the crashes. Everyone was sober and quiet. I cried again and said that life would never be the same. I thought of who might have forced the planes to crash and wept for their confusion, anger and hatred.

A few days later I wrote several essays on the tragedy recommending that the US not respond in violence and hatred but with dialogue, compassion and understanding. I proposed that a multi-billion dollar poverty eradication global fund be established to help those in need whose despair might drive them to acts of violence. I was so deeply sad when my country attacked Afghanistan.

After 13 years of my country’s violent actions in Iraq and elsewhere, the world is in more confusion and chaos with more fear, anger and hatred. When will we learn? Responding to violence with violence only creates more violence. Responding to hatred with hatred only creates more hatred. We must cut the flow of cause and effect. We must be still and silent. We must listen. We must understand. We must forgive. We must offer acts of kindness and compassion to relieve others' suffering. We must stop people from harming other people.

Now with climate chaos in full swing, civilization itself may be in danger of collapse over the next few decades. How do we reinvent a world that works for everyone and honors the life support systems of planet Earth? We must practice cultural and religious tolerance and understanding. We must foster social and economic justice. We must create a compassionate civilization or suffer the consequences.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Climate Chaos, People Power


The UN Climate Summit happens here in New York 23 September. Right before on 21 September the Climate March arrives in New York and swells to massive numbers demanding that world leaders take decisive action now to avert civilizational catastrophe. I will be one of those numbers.

I realize again and again that this is my movement. It is about climate chaos mitigation and adaptation, yes, which is enough given its severity, but it is also about much, much more. It is about creating gender equality, socio-economic justice, participatory governance and cultural tolerance. It is about the future of life on Earth. It is about the future of humanity. It is about the future of my grandchildren and their grandchildren. It is about whether we will create a sustainable planetary civilization based on compassion and understanding or a civilization of environmental destruction and human misery.

Here is a free copy of "Disruption" a movie about this movement that I hope you will watch, share with others and then take personal action.

We must manifest our commitment to a viable, ethical future through our voting, our shopping, our values, our speaking, our writing, our activism, our spending, our investments, our reading, our homemaking, our house insulation, our donations, our relationships, our child rearing, our driving, our recycling, our energy sources, our grand-parenting, our volunteering, our serving and our marching.

Here is a link to possibilities of engagement.

Yes, we can, Yes, we must.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting Old Is Awesome!


31 July 1944 – World War II was ending. Another baby arrived under the sign of Leo in the year of the Monkey – a boy child with white skin, brown eyes, brown hair - born into a Protestant, middleclass, mid-western American family - the beginning of the first decade.

Hey, I don’t want to be 70! It is far too old. I am not that old. I feel much younger. I am engaged, working, traveling. I am healthy, happy, connected. How can I be so old? Or is 70 old? Or is it 80 that is old? Or 90? Or 100? Or 110? Or 50? Or 60? What is old? And what difference does it make any how? To me? To anyone?

In my 70th year I conducted an organizational development consultancy with a UN Habitat global program on access to land for the poor involving two trips to Nairobi, Kenya; taught two New York University graduate courses, i.e., Innovative Leadership and International Capstone; made a keynote presentation at a symposium on creative peacemaking held at Oklahoma City University; taught a University of Aruba seminar for educational administrators on collaborative leadership; facilitated a workshop and made a presentation in the UN Public Service Global Forum on Sustainable Development held in Seoul, Korea; published 87 blog posts on "A Compassionate Civilization"; and participated in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Is that a lot? Is that a little? Is that enough?

But why don’t I want to be 70? I made it! I lived seven decades on planet Earth! I did it! I am alive and kicking! I still have work to do, being to be, knowing to know. I am not finished. I am still here. They can’t shut me up, or put me on the shelf, yet. I can sound off. I can tell the truth. I can be my being. I can be all that I can be, here and now. I can love. I can say I love you. Hip, hip hooray!

I am proud of being 70. Wow, 70 years of living on planet Earth! What a glory, what a gift, what an adventure, what a journey, what a learning. I am impressed with myself – to be turning 70. Both my grandfathers died in their mid-fifties. My two lovely grandchildren have a 70 year old grandfather. Okay! They call me Grandpa Rob. I love it when they say that and look at me and ask me to play with them and ask me to put them to bed. I love being a grandpa. What a treat. I feel like I get to be a kid again, to grow up again with my grandkids; and I get to be a parent again (sort of).

Someday this body will cease to function altogether. I am learning to accept that. For now it is quite miraculous that I am alive, conscious, thinking, moving, feeling, relating. For this I am grateful. I am happy. I am amazed. I am fascinated. In fact, I have only always experienced being alive. Yet I know that the universe was going on for 13.7 billion years before I was born and will go on for another several billion years after I die. What a mystery to wake up for this flickering moment and be conscious of all of it!

I am proud of my white hair and my wrinkles. Hey, this is what a human being looks like who has lived 70 years, okay? Pretty cool, huh? I watch what I eat. I need to exercise regularly. Get enough rest. Keep moving. Use it or lose it.  Stay active. Stay involved. Stay connected.  Keep learning, every day. Keep growing. Keep asking why. Keep being surprised. Keep smiling, laughing, especially at yourself, especially at myself. Keep being grateful. Keep risking and loving and feeling.

I love yellow, orange and red. I love the sound of French horns. I love the shape of spiral galaxies. I love the photo of planet Earth from space. I love all kinds of flowers, and buildings, and peoples’ faces – all colors and shapes, and people’s bodies – all sizes and shapes, and the sun, oh yes, the sun, and clouds, and on and on and on.

I love to eat and sleep and wake up and have my Bengal Spice tea and yogurt and granola and say good morning to my wife and check my email and take a hot shower and sit at my desk and think and write. I love to dream about an emerging civilization of compassion. I love the happiness that is not a goal to be sought but a path to be walked moment by moment.

In my 70th year I am profoundly grateful for my life, my wife, my two sons, my two grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, my brother, my two sisters-in-law, my brother-in-law, my nephews and nieces, my cousins, my aunt and all my wonderful, loving family. I am forever grateful for my colleagues at UNDP, UNDESA and UN Habitat, my colleagues and grad students at NYU, my ICA colleagues, my social artistry colleagues and my friends. I am grateful for health, home, happiness and my spiritual practice. I am grateful for loved ones who have passed on including my late wife, my parents, grandparents and all my ancestors. I am grateful for my teachers, exemplars and archetypes who have taught me, inspired me, encouraged me and challenged me. I am grateful for planet Earth, the Sun, the Milky Way and this vast mysterious universe.

I rededicate my life to relieve the suffering of all beings everywhere through concrete words and deeds. I will promote innovative leadership for sustainable human development especially through teaching, training, facilitating, writing and speaking. I vow to help catalyze the emergence of a civilization of compassion embodying environmental protection, gender equality, participatory governance, socio-economic justice and cultural tolerance and understanding. I commit the rest of my life to creating a world that works for everyone in which each person can realize her/his full potential.

So, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, I say, “Thank God I’m me and I’m 70!” And as my grandchildren love to say (from The Lego Movie), “Everything is awesome!”
(Photo above taken at a UN global conference in Seoul, June 2014)