Following Today’s Star of Bethlehem in a Time of Global Weirdness

It seems like there has been a lot of weirdness going on this fall.

In the celestial sphere, we’ve had the spectacular lunar eclipse, which I was so fortunate to watch out on a hillside under a huge old elm tree winking with stars. In Europe there have been unprecedentedly beautiful Northern light shows going on, which are the visible record of strong solar winds hitting our atmosphere.

Full moon before eclipse, September 2015

Full moon before eclipse, September 2015

There have been reports, which I have not been able to confirm, that the electromagnetic pulse of the planet, the Schumann Resonance, has spiked precipitously in the past few months. If this were true, it could be a sign that the feeling of acceleration so many of us have been feeling could be related to the speeding up of the background beat to which every living cell on Earth is attuned. Or it could be going the other way: perhaps the pell-mell acceleration of human activity is actually affecting the steady state of the planet itself.

On the human side, we had a marvelous visit from Pope Francis, aptly self-named after the patron saint of animals, who begged world leaders at the United Nations to become responsible stewards of the environment. I wrote about the blind spot in his analysis here: it’s population control, of course. If he’s serious about stepping up to the challenges of climate stabilization and human poverty, he MUST come forward in favor of women’s reproductive rights. There are signs that he may actually be the one to finally move the Catholic church in this direction—a weirdness that would be most welcome!

On the less positive side, we have had unrelenting violence this fall. More atrocities against innocent people by the American police; the “mistaken” targeting of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan; the entry of both Russia and the U.S. into the war theater of Syria, from which millions of civilians are now fleeing; more massacres of innocents by armed maniacs.

In a recent column, I called for the formation of a new movement to be led by mothers, along the lines of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), which has had remarkable success in getting state legislatures to crack down on young people driving under the influence. I thought we could call the organization MAGI, for Mothers Against Gun Impunity, and also harkening back to those wise men of another age, who recognized the baby in the manger as the future preacher of love and mutual respect. We need more of that Magi spirit today!


The Star of Bethlehem, watercolor painting by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1890

In addition to all the violence, we have the on-going weirdness of the American political scene, which is more and more coming to resemble a comic reality TV show. I have little patience for any of the major players, though I continue to respect Barack and Michelle Obama, and to cheer underdog Bernie Sanders on in his Presidential campaign, which is picking up more and more steam despite all the skeptics and hecklers in the pundit bleachers.


For the past few years, I have learned to trust my sixth sense when it comes to spikes of global weirdness. For several days before the Oregon massacre, I found myself checking the national news frequently, certain something unpleasant was about to happen soon. The fires out West and the floods in the Carolinas, though of unprecedented intensity, have become almost routine these days. It takes something really unusually weird and bad to break through our habitual numbness and make us pay attention.

OK, world, you’ve got my attention. Now what do you want me to do? It seems that I can only continue to chug along in my own sphere, focusing on tuning in to the natural world around me, trying to stay calm and centered, taking care of my family, and going about the work I’ve taken on, nourishing and strengthening the voices and visions of women.

Monet meets Escher in the Berkshires 2015I continue to believe that women’s creative leadership is going to be essential to the transition times we are living through. Everything points to the exhaustion of the masculinist paradigm that took us through the so-called Enlightenment, savage colonialism and the rise of industrial science and extraction capitalism. Now is the time of the feminist qualities of collaboration, community-building and compassion—accessible to all human beings, no matter our physical characteristics.

We adult women and men must take on the roles of the Magi, following the star that points to the potential of millions of girl-children now sleeping in their mangers. It is our duty, and our privilege, to bring to the next generation whatever gifts we most value, whatever wisdom we feel is worthy of being passed on.

Together we can survive this time of global weirdness, and bring humanity into a more positive resonance with our beautiful planet. I know it is possible. I want to believe we can make it happen.

Transitions at Transition Times

I am aware that I have not been posting very frequently on Transition Times, and there is a simple explanation for that: I have shifted my writing energy into my weekly column, Edge Wise, published on Thursdays at The Berkshire Edge.

I started Edge Wise thinking of it as a way of holding the publishing door open for other women who might like to get their voices and visions into virtual print. But more often than not, it’s me who’s holding the fort there, turning out weekly commentary on issues of social and environmental justice, of local, national, and international import.

If you are interested, you can take a look at the archives, going back about a year now to when I started Edge Wise. The inaugural column explained the name, including a personal anecdote about how, as a soft-spoken woman in various social contexts, I have often found it hard to get a word in edgewise.

Recent columns I think my Transition Times readers may especially appreciate include:

 I will continue to post on Transition Times, as I know we’re still very much in the thick of the transitions that started me off here back in 2011. The first four years of Transition Times charted the journey of my awakening to the seriousness of the political and planetary challenges that face us today; you, my readers, helped me understand how important it is to align the personal, political and planetary as we seek to become creative leaders in our rapidly transforming social and environmental landscape.

I have been putting theory into practice in a number of ways:

  • BFWW-sq-logo-WEBthrough the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, an annual conference and a series of year-round events nourishing and showcasing the voices and visions of women of all ages;
  • through Green Fire Press, which offers high-quality publishing services for writers seeking an alternative to both traditional publishing and self-publishing, including the new anthology Writing Fire: Celebrating the Power of Women’s Words;
  • through the new Butterfly Effect Leadership Program for teen girls and young women, which encourages young women to step into their potential as creative leaders in ways that can change themselves and their communities—and ultimately, the world—for the better;
  • through the new Women’s Collaborative for Creativity and Leadership, which is the umbrella non-profit organization for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and The Butterfly Effect, with a mission of offering multiple entry points into an inspiring vision of a stronger role for women in leading the way towards a sustainable and harmonious future for us all;
  • and through my teaching and the many workshops and talks I have been giving connected to all these endeavors, including two coming up this month, Gaia Calling and the Rookwood Writing Retreat on Memoir.


I am also working on several book projects that I will be bringing to fruition in the coming year:

  • what-i-forgot-cover-WEBWhat I Forgot and Why I Remembered: A Purposeful Memoir of Personal and Planetary Transformation, my own story of how I lost and regained my deep and essential connection with the Earth, and why that matters for me and for every caring human on the planet today;
  • a companion book, The Elemental Journey: An Inspirational Guide to Purposeful Memoir, which will offer signposts along the road for those interested in embarking on a similar journey through their own life histories;
  • The Butterfly Effect: A Guide to Stepping into the Creative Leadership Our World Needs Now;
  • and several editing projects, including an anthology, Strong Shoulders: The Loves and Labors of Women, for which the Call for Proposals is still open.

Yes, I am busy trying to walk the walk as well as talk the talk of social transformation, seeking out and finding collaborators as I go, because building community is such a strong part of what I know we need to be doing in these transition times, as we move together along this part of the journey, where life—personal, political and planetary—seems to be constantly speeding up.

10153293_552008379784_8650399992315417237_nThis is a time when we need to come together, not only in the amazing virtual spaces of the Internet, but also physically, in our home communities. We need to create opportunities and spaces for deep reflection and sharing, so that we can build strong networks of kindred spirits and webs of support to carry us through what may very well be some turbulent times ahead.

As always, I invite you to come along with me on the journey through these transition times. As the old prophecy said, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and the time of the lone wolf is over. We must put hope into action collaboratively, with the goal of emerging stronger, clearer and more confident in our shared desire to create bridges to the future we want for ourselves and for those who will come after us.

Are you with me? Let’s go!

Manifesto for a Sustainable Future

Sometimes you just need a good manifesto. Here’s mine:

Preamble: In the midst of the hottest year on record, 2015, I reaffirm my commitment to dedicate my talents and energies towards shifting our destructive global human society in a direction that values the ecological health of the entire web of life on Earth over the short-term gains of a minority of human beings.

Manifesto for a Sustainable Future

Whereas human beings have acted in a dominating fashion towards each other and towards other living species on this planet, using the excuse of difference to justify aggressive and destructive behavior;

Whereas competition has been used as a rationale for economic systems based on hierarchical systems of power;

Whereas social exclusion and systematic discrimination has been seen as the normative right of dominant groups;

Whereas privileged groups have felt entitled to take more than their fair share from the environmental commons, and to deprive less powerful groups, whether human or of other species, of the resources necessary for well-being;

Whereas it is quickly becoming apparent, in the age of climate change, that the dominant paradigm of capitalist patriarchal social relations is resulting in the dangerous destabilization of the entire natural ecosystem;

The time has come to take action to change this paradigm in the following ways:

1. Move from a top-down hierarchical system to a horizontal, egalitarian model of social relations based on inclusivity across all of the traditional boundaries used to keep different groups apart, and also opening up the possibility for cross-species collaboration based on respect and stewardship;

2. Shift the worldwide economic system to a model of global cooperation and collaboration, with the focus of human industry and government on providing a baseline of well-being for all life forms on this planet, regardless of geographic origin or antiquated ideas of relative importance (ie, who is to say that a human being is more important than a songbird, or a sardine?);

3. Tailor the education system to teaching the history of the destructive cultural practices of homo sapiens up to the 21stcentury, and opening up constructive conversations across disciplines, where alternatives to these traditions can be envisioned and developed;

4. Model egalitarian, collaborative, respectful social relations in the private sphere of the family as well as the public spheres of education, the profession, government and law;

5. Shift from a violent conflict and punishment model of resolving disagreements to a peaceful persuasive model, with the goal always being the well-being of the community as a whole first, and secondly each member of it.

6. Destroy all weapons of mass destruction, as well as all bio and chemical weapons, and their blueprints.

7. Disallow any one person’s or minority group’s interests (with rich people and businesses or industries rightly being considered minorities)  to take precedence over the interests of the majority, including the non-human majority on this planet.

8. Develop an appropriate representative global governing council to administer these principles.

In the name of Mother Earth and ALL of her children, I call on the peoples of the world to act without delay to become the stewards of the planet and the collaborative, respectful individuals we were always meant to be.


Dare to dream of a better world. That’s the only way change has ever been accomplished. 


And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Pope Francis Shows Us the Way

The Encyclical on climate change and the environment released by Pope Francis this week has all the magic of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. Back then, the antagonism between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. seemed implacable and unresolvable, a fight to the death. And then suddenly the wall came down and the world walked through, marveling, into a new era.

Now we have another abrupt shift, this time of a religious order. The leaders of the Catholic Church can hardly be accused of being “radical tree-huggers.” And yet here is Pope Francis, solemnly exhorting his flock of a billion Catholics worldwide to be respectful to Mother Earth and all the living beings she supports. In the blink of an eye, the language of Native American spirituality has been taken up by the same Catholic Church that once tortured and executed indigenous peoples precisely because of their different religious beliefs.

I urge you to read the entire Encyclical for yourself. It is a truly remarkable document, worth serious study. Of many passages I’d like to underline, here are two:

  1. Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion. Jesus reminded us that we have God as our common Father and that this makes us brothers and sisters. Fraternal love can only be gratuitous; it can never be a means of repaying others for what they have done or will do for us. That is why it is possible to love our enemies. This same gratuitousness inspires us to love and accept the wind, the sun and the clouds, even though we cannot control them. In this sense, we can speak of a “universal fraternity”.
  1. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.

Here we find spiritual ecology enshrined as Catholic doctrine. And one thing about the Catholic Church—it is big on obedience. For believers, to ignore the Pope is to risk hellfire and damnation. In this case, though, the hellfire and damnation will be earthly, if we do not listen to the wise advice of Pope Francis and curb the insanity of industrial growth that goes beyond the limits of the planet to support.

Scientists appeal to our sense of reason, presenting compelling evidence that if we continue on our present path of wasteful consumption of the Earth’s resources, we will destroy our own future as a flourishing species. Religious leaders appeal to human beings’ moral conscience in invoking the responsibility of current parents and grandparents to leave a livable world to our descendants. It is up to the politicians, though, to translate vision into practice.

For too long, Christian conservatives in the U.S. have played the role of the ideological wing of Big Business, using money, manipulation and scare tactics to buy politicians and votes. In the face of the new Papal Encyclical, can American Christians really continue in good conscience to support the worst of the planet’s polluters and plunderers? Can they continue to elect mercenary politicians who hold our country hostage to the highest bidder?

If all good people who love our Earth and its creatures were to translate our love into action, as Pope Francis has just done so forcefully, I have no doubt the seemingly invincible wall of the industrial growth society we’ve been living with these past 200 years would melt away, revealing the path into a green, prosperous future.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” the saying goes. Pope Francis has just shown us the will, and the way. It is now the task of us ordinary citizens to break the stranglehold of Big Business on politics and insist that our politicians follow his lead.

I close with an excerpt from the Pope’s “Christian Prayer in Union with Creation,” a vision of ecological interdependence if ever there was one:

“Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,

teach us to contemplate you

in the beauty of the universe,

for all things speak of you.

“Awaken our praise and thankfulness

for every being that you have made.

Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world

as channels of your love

for all the creatures of this earth,

for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.

Enlighten those who possess power and money

that they may avoid the sin of indifference,

that they may love the common good, advance the weak,

and care for this world in which we live.”


And the meek shall inherit the Earth....

And the meek shall inherit the Earth…. Photo by J. Browdy, 2015

Imagining Peace on Memorial Day 2015: Thinking Beyond Our Gated Communities

We American civilians live peacefully and comfortably in a gated community the size of our country, guarded by our military and law enforcement officials. But would we have to maintain this guarded posture, at huge taxpayer expense, if we did more to wage peace in the world, instead of waging war?

It’s been well-documented that it costs much less to educate a young person than to imprison him or her. And yet we still continue to pour resources into prisons, and starve our educational system.

Wars are fought for the rich and powerful, but those who die, whether as combatants or as bystanders, are usually drawn from the ranks of the poor. In war zones across the globe, we find young men (and sometimes women) drawn into combat because they lack educational and economic opportunities at home, and thus are easily lured into becoming pawns in the ideological war games of the elite. A recent Rand survey of enlisted U.S. Army personnel found that more than half joined the Army because there were no jobs to be found at home.

Summer Solstice 2014 Photo by Eric Hernandez

Summer Solstice 2014
Photo by Eric Hernandez

Imagine what would happen if instead of bringing guns and chemicals to poor regions around the world, we brought libraries and laptops and laboratories. Imagine what would happen if instead of throwing our young people into the maw of poverty and violence, we cultivated them lovingly and raised them to be productive contributors to their hometowns and homelands.

Imagine if this loving mindset could be extended not just to human beings but to every living being on our planet.

This Memorial Day, I am grieving not just for humans, but for all the birds, fish, mammals and plants that have been sacrificed to human aggression and greed.

The “collateral damage” of war is vast and too often unseen, at least by those of us fortunate enough to live far from the battlefields. Once in a while we catch a glimpse of what those on the frontlines are living through—for example, this week the beaches in one of the wealthiest enclaves on Earth, Santa Barbara, California, are being fouled by an oil pipe rupture. Maybe when the privileged denizens of Santa Barbara see wildlife washing up on shore in pitiful oily carcasses, they will begin to understand the havoc caused by our heedless American addiction to oil.

Photo c. Kenneth Song / The News-Press Mike Harris, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prepares to rescue a pelican covered in oil on the beach about a mile west of Refugio State Beach, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

Photo c. Kenneth Song / The News-Press
Mike Harris, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prepares to rescue a pelican covered in oil on the beach about a mile west of Refugio State Beach, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

The truth is that the rich and powerful get behind movements for change only when they are directly negatively affected.

Witness what happened back in the Vietnam era, when America began drafting the sons of the wealthy elites, and those boys started coming home in coffins or maimed for life. Suddenly there was an anti-war movement with real teeth, and that war was soon ended, along with the draft.

To end the fossil fuel era it is going to take a similar punch to the power centers of the fossil fuel industry, and the Oil Kings won’t give up without a fight.

What’s called for here is not a fist-fight, but a moral battle, an appeal to the powerful to do what’s right for all of us, before we all topple over the edge of environmental destruction.

This Memorial Day, I honor the fallen—soldiers and civilians, birds and trees, mammals and bees and butterflies—and call on the living to step up to the immense challenge of our time: taking a giant leap forward in human evolution, beyond tribalism, beyond shortsighted greed and aggression, towards the loving, compassionate and wise species we are meant to become.

old tree

Elder tree. Photo by J. Browdy 2014

Opening Our Hearts, Overcoming Fear: Channeling the Wisdom of the Noosphere on Earth Day 2015

Earth Day 2015 is as messy and confusing as any ordinary day in the modern world. Despite the efforts of many concerned, caring people, the violence against people, animals, forests, oceans and the fertile soils of our planet continues unabated, perhaps even picking up steam as population growth, climate destabilization and worsening resource scarcity bear down on pressure points all over the world.

I don’t have to tell you this. You know. So many of us are aware of what’s going on, yet our awareness alone does not seem enough to make any difference. Yes, we sign those petitions online; we give to environmental organizations like Greenpeace and, we try to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” etc. etc., but we know that individual efforts like this are not big enough to create the fast-moving transformational change our Earth needs now, if she is to remain a hospitable place for us and all the other flora and fauna of our geological period to live.

J. Browdy, listening.

J. Browdy, listening.

During the past year, I have been paying less attention to the mainstream media, with all its constant doom-and-gloom messaging, and more attention to a strong, wise, loving voice that I can “hear” when I am alone out in the middle of an old forest, or on an empty stretch of beach.

Over time I have come to understand this voice as Gaia calling—not to me personally, but Gaia in communication and communion with all life on Earth, me included. It has taken me a while to recognize the depth of this communication, and to realize that it is a two-way avenue…kind of like a wordless exchange that happens not so much in the mind as in the heart, not so much in the realm of thought as in pulses of energy that I am slowly becoming able to receive with more awareness and clarity.

Over time I have become much more aware of, and curious about, the human potential to connect with Gaia on a spiritual, non-material level, following the philosophical lead of a whole host of explorers, including Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jose Arguellas, Mary Daly, Terrance McKenna, Thich Nhat Hanh, Arkan Lushwala, Joanna Macy, Starhawk and so many more.

Many of these wise people have used meditation, trance and/or various kinds of psychoactive agents to help them access what Teilhard de Chardin called “the Noosphere,” a kind of planetary energetic field that all life on Earth participates in, and that humans have the potential to access consciously.

Lately I have been reading books by two women who have tapped into the Noosphere enough to be able to “channel” Teachers from the spiritual realm. I know many of my readers, if I have not lost them already, will stop right there and shake their heads—channeling? Really?

Sharon McErlane

Sharon McErlane

Well, yes, really. What impresses me about these two women, Sharon McErlane and Penny Gill, is their total ordinariness. Both were older women who had been successful in their lives—one a psychologist, the other a professor of political science and dean at Mount Holyoke College for forty years. Like me, they were caring, concerned individuals who were increasingly grief-stricken over the horrors being perpetrated on Gaia by humanity. Like me, they took solace in solitary communion with the natural world, and in writing. And then suddenly, out of the blue, they began to “hear voices,” and these voices turned out to be Teachers from the non-physical realm, from the Noospheric level of the Earthly community.

Penny Gill

Penny Gill

As I read the books that McErlane, Gill and their Teachers produced together, I am struck by the similarity of the messages coming through. McErlane’s Council of Grandmothers and Gill’s Manjushri acknowledge that Earth is in crisis; that we are living in an accelerated time of change and transition; and that the outcome for human beings and all other current life forms on the planet is uncertain. We may be swept away as a new cycle of geological time begins.

But there is also the potential for human beings to learn, through the pressures of the environmental crisis, to steward the Earth rather than destroy her. Sharon McErlane’s Grandmothers urge human beings to try to tap into “net of light” that they say encircles and protects the planet. Gill’s Manjushri also talks in terms of light, describing human consciousness, when it is tapped into the positive, life-enhancing energies of the Noosphere, as points of light challenging the darkness that currently engulfs much of our planet.

In What in the World is Going On? Wisdom Teachings for Our Time, Manjushri and Gill have provided a detailed description of what ails our planet and ourselves, and how to work with our own psychology and our spiritual potential to do the best we can to avert the crisis that looms ever closer. Manjushri sees our time as one of unprecedented possibility, when human beings may be able to make a quantum leap in the evolution of our conscious relationship to the Earth.

Heart Wisdom for our time.

Heart Wisdom for our time.

The key to this is our capacity for love and compassion, as so many sages from the Buddha to Jesus Christ have recognized; and Manjushri says that in order for us to access love, we must overcome our habitual posture of fear. I will quote at length here, but this is a book that cannot be summarized; I strongly urge you to buy a copy and read it slowly once…then start reading it even more slowly again.

Meanwhile, listen to a little of Manjushri now, as channeled by Penny Gill:

“Fear triggers a contraction of mind, heart and body. This is exactly the opposite of what is needed to respond appropriately to the new surges of energy entering the earthly realms. This is a moment when all beings, but especially humans, can open to higher frequencies of energy, which will allow for more complex forms of communication, a richer understanding of personal and species interdependence, and ultimately a great expansion of human consciousness and understanding. New levels of meaningfulness will be accessible.

“All the energetic bodies of a human being must be able to open more, and fear inhibits that. Responding more skillfully to fear is essential for opening the heart-center, and only the heart-center can guide humans to live in ways that will not result in humanity’s self-destruction. Identifying and dissolving fear is the essential work to save human life on the planet, to protect the precious life of the planet, and to continue the cosmos’s great quest for self-conscious Mind. That seems compelling to us. Our task is to guide, support and teach all who are able to take a responsible role in this essential work. It will inaugurate a new level of partnership between the largely invisible Teachers and the embodied students. We will also help you find each other, so you can create networks of people engaged in and committed to this work. It is revolutionary work, which you don’t recognize yet. It will change the fundamental structure of human relationships and alter the need for and functioning of many human institutions” (Gill, 2015, 87-88).

Remember that the Earth and the Cosmos are one and the same, and we humans are just another manifestation of that endlessly circulating energy.  Photo J. Browdy 2014

Remember that the Earth and the Cosmos are one and the same, and we humans are just another manifestation of that endlessly circulating energy. Photo J. Browdy 2014

On Earth Day 2015, I call on us Earthlings to recognize that there is more to our planet than meets the eye—a fact now confirmed by quantum science as well as by our spiritual adepts—and to commit to developing our innate human capacity to function as conscious embodied channels for the cosmic energy/spirit that animates us all. If we can live up to our potential, we may be able to truly, as Arguellas envisioned, make of our planet and ourselves an incredible work of art.

Here is some more encouragement from Manjushri/Gill:

“You see your world crashing in waves of biological, environmental, economic, political and cultural self-destruction. We see that what is emerging is a much more conscious, less dense, and less intense world community. There will be better balance between doing and being. Systems will be able to harmonize with each other. The profound interdependence of all beings and all systems will become the major realization of human consciousness, and this in turn will shape human activities, economic and social organization, and cultural and intellectual life. Whereas modernity is marked by a stunning and thorough exploration of the possibilities of the individual self, the next phase of this eons-long development will be a similarly stunning and thorough exploration of the interdependence of all beings and all systems” (Gill, 53).

This is also the vision that pervades the Fuji Declaration, which has just been released in a beautiful audio narration performed by my friends Amber Chand and Mark Kelso. It resonates with courage, compassion and clarity that we need now above all, on Earth Day and every day. Listen, enjoy and take heart.

Resisting Our Suicidal Culture: Are We All Aboard Germanwings?

We’ve passed the Spring Equinox and it continues to snow here in the Northeast. I feel like I’m stuck in Narnia under the Witch, and no sign of Aslan coming to the rescue.


In the Narnia series, the Witch is a symbol of the dark side of humanity. Greedy, selfish, vain and cruel, she makes others suffer because it pleases her to do so.

C.S. Lewis, like J.R.R. Tolkien, took the struggle between Good and Evil right out of the Christian playbook. Both of these epic stories end with Good triumphing, but also with beloved characters simply moving on to a better world. In Christian traditions, that better world is called Heaven. You can only get there by dying.

For some of us, death does seem like a release, a chance to lay down one’s sorrows and find peace and comfort at last. We get a taste of it nightly when we dream—if we are able to sleep deeply and well.

Was it that pull toward peace that caused the Germanwings co-pilot to slam his plane into a mountain, killing himself and all 149 people aboard? Suicide that takes other innocent people along is reprehensible and incomprehensible. Yet it happens, more often than we might like to admit.

It’s easy to call the behavior of that suicidal co-pilot evil. But there are many other instances of human behavior resulting in cruelty and death that are harder to see and categorize. Often these actions are miniscule in their individual iterations, but together add up to horrifying, devastating impacts.

Most of what is going on with our relationship to our environment falls into this pattern of negligent evil.

For instance, when we buy a beautiful mahogany table and chair set for our porch, we don’t think about the rainforests that were bulldozed to create it. We don’t think about all the myriad life—the bright butterflies, exotic lizards and intelligent orangutans—that had to die so we could enjoy that table.

When we turn on the gas range to heat water for tea, we don’t think about the billions of gallons of water that are irrevocably contaminated through the fracking process to provide us with that gas. Likewise, when we fill up our car tank and rejoice to see the price of gas falling, we don’t think about the despoliation of the landscape and oceans that is going on in order to continue to provide us with cheap gas.

When we continue to support industries that destroy our environment, from industrial agriculture to the petrochemical industry to Big Oil and all the banks and subsidiaries that love them, we are each contributing to the crazy destabilization of our planet’s climate.

We are feeding the Witch that preys on every human being—the side of human nature that lacks empathy for other living beings and values short-term comfort and gratification over long-term well-being.

sustainable-happiness-lAs we round the corner into April, traditionally a month when human cultures of the northern hemisphere celebrate Spring and the return of warmth and green to the Earth, we must focus our attention on what Sarah van Gelder of YES! Magazine calls “sustainable happiness.”

In the introduction to her new edited collection, Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference, Van Gelder points to research showing that what truly makes human beings happy is “loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude.”

Van Gelder insists that “sustainable happiness is possible,” but “you can’t achieve it with a quick fix and it can’t be achieved at the expense of others.” It all “depends on the choices we make individually and as a society.”  In the book, she gives us a list of five principles to help move us in the right direction:

  1. “Stop the causes of trauma and support healing;
  2. Build economic and social equity;
  3. Value the gifts we each bring;
  4. Protect the integrity of the natural world;
  5. Develop practices that support our own well-being.”

That about sums up a plan for right living, doesn’t it? Easy to say, harder to put in practice in a social landscape that is seems to be so eternally under the spell of the Witch of destructive extractivism.

There are signs that the spell is weakening, though. Rivulets of indignation are spouting up. Individuals are awakening to their own power to imagine a different way of life, a different relation to each other and our planet.

We are beginning to talk with one another about making change, and acting on our deepest intuitions of what happiness would mean for ourselves, our loved ones and our beloved world. Through the networked power of the World Wide Web, these conversations and new paradigms can spread faster than ever before, giving us hope that there is still time to right the wrongs and stabilize the imbalances that threaten to turn our planet into a mass grave on a scale never seen before in human history.

The captains of industry and their hired politicians are threatening to slam our entire civilization into the side of a mountain, metaphorically speaking. Are we going to sit quietly in our seats and let it happen? Or are we going to pound on the door, like the heroic pilot of the Germanwings airplane, who did everything he could to get through to the insane man at the controls and bring his plane home safely?

Looking out at the relentless snowfall of April, I know it’s time to awaken the Aslan in each one of us. It’s time to fight for the survival of the world we love.


Stepping Out With Confidence on International Women’s Day 2015

Although far less widely known and celebrated in the U.S. than Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day is a much more interesting holiday.

It is one of the few truly global holidays, observed in most countries around the world (hence the prominence it gets at the United Nations, that international enclave in the heart of New York City).


Unlike Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, IWD is not a romantic or family-oriented holiday. On International Women’s Day, women accept recognition for their hard work and achievements in both the public and private spheres, and gather to advocate for further advancement down the road to full gender equality.

Gender equality looks different depending on where in the world you are located. But at its core is one of the fundamental principles of human rights: that no human being should be discriminated against on the basis of their physical attributes.

Even in the U.S., supposedly a bastion of liberal values, we have a long way to go before we arrive at the goal of gender equality. This is partly a vision problem: there is still a fair amount of confusion over what a society in which men and women were treated equally would look like.

In every society in transition, there is anxiety about change from those who have been benefiting from unearned privilege (in the U.S., that would be white males, especially of the Christian variety). Giving up privilege is hard.

It was good to see Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant make the case in The New York Times this week about why gender equality, “in the boardroom and the bedroom,” will make both men and women happier, healthier, more successful and less stressed out.

It was also good to see a group of Afghan men taking the unprecedented step of standing up for women’s human rights in their country by donning burkas themselves—in much the same vein as the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” campaign that has men marching together in women’s high heels to protest sexual assault.


Burkas and high heels are very different in intention—the one aimed at completely covering up a woman’s body and face, the other aimed at accentuating and drawing attention to women’s legs—but similar in effect: these are dress codes that hamper women’s ability to stand strong and step out comfortably and confidently into the world.

I know Western women who will argue that they feel more confident wearing their heels, and I’m sure there are Afghan women who prefer to step out in public shielded by their burkas. But this has everything to do with the world in which they operate, dominated by an often hostile, or at least aggressively attentive male gaze. It’s not about their own comfort in their own bodies.

No, we’re not going to get back to the Garden in which Adam and Eve romped about gaily without so much as a fig leaf coming between them and their lovely natural surroundings.

But this International Women’s Day, let’s reaffirm the basic principle that all human beings are created equal and deserve equal human rights, no matter what they look like and no matter where they live—beginning with the right to step out confidently into a affirming, welcoming world.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon puts it, “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

Amen to that! And as the International Women’s Day 2015 theme says, it’s time to “Make It Happen!”

The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers: A Big Tent for Honoring and Encouraging Women’s Creative Voices

Stockbridge, MA.  Photo J. Browdy 2015

Stockbridge, MA. Photo J. Browdy 2015

We’re still in the deep-freeze here in the Berkshires weather-wise, but the bright sunshine is telling us that underneath the ice and snow the buds and shoots of spring are stirring.

And we creative women of the Berkshires are stirring too, as we launch ourselves today into the big beautiful Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, the biggest celebration of Women’s History Month happening under one banner anywhere in the U.S.A.

Do you know of any other grassroots Festival that spreads itself out across the whole month of March, with an event celebrating women’s creative expression and unique perspectives every single day from March 1 – 31?

We can do it here in the Berkshires because of the generous talent of our creative women, who are willing to step up and out into the spotlight to share who they are and what they know with our appreciative audiences; and because of the generosity of our sponsors and donors, who know that when more women and girls share their ideas and talents in the public sphere, the whole community benefits.

Mary Pipher used the figure of Shakespeare’s Ophelia to describe the loss of confidence and self-esteem that can often undermine teenage girls, just as teen boys are becoming louder and more self-confident. More recently, research has shown that while many boys have a socially reinforced tendency to take risks, many girls tend to keep their hands down, literally and figuratively, unless they’re absolutely sure they have the right answer.

This means that teen girls and young adults often have less practice in taking the risk of speaking out in public settings, and over time, they tend to fall into the habit of observing rather than participating, following rather than taking the lead.

I know, because I was that girl. As a child, my mother describes me as being a chatterbox who loved to show off my knowledge—for example, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of the names of local birds and flowers, which were taught to me by my grandmother, a biologist and nature lover. I could rattle off the names and characteristics of a hundred birds, and I knew where to find dozens of different native plants that grew in the woods and fields around our home.

JB at 15But that generous volubility did not accompany me out of childhood. As a teenager I was the girl who got an A on every paper, but almost never spoke in class. When I did take the risk to speak, I was overcome with a fear that set my voice trembling and a flush rising uncomfortably to my face. It was much easier to just stay silent.

It took me many years of forcing myself, as an adult, to step into the spotlight to teach, give presentations and lead community groups, before that unwarranted stage fright dissipated. For many other women, who don’t have opportunities in their professional life to speak up, the habit of silence and hanging back persists.

I would like to believe that with more and more women entering the workforce and doing well in their careers, this gender imbalance is fading, but I know that’s not yet true. Even the fabulously successful Sheryl Sandberg is aware of how important it is that women and girls are encouraged to take the risk of speaking their minds, and to do so with poise and confidence.

That is my underlying goal with organizing the big Berkshire Festival of Women Writers: to open up multiple opportunities for women and girls in my home community to inspire each other and their audiences with their creative voices, in order to build a momentum that will continue to grow and develop year-round, flowing out into our communities in ways that we can’t entirely predict.

Amber Chand performing her one-woman show, "Searching for the Moon: A Heroine's Journey" in a BFWW event

Amber Chand performing her one-woman show, “Searching for the Moon: A Heroine’s Journey” in a BFWW event

Men and women may be equal, in theory at least, but we are not the same. We have different sensibilities, born of our different biological composition and our different experiences—differences that should be celebrated and honored.

I am looking forward to a joyful month of celebrating women’s creativity in the Berkshires with many friends, neighbors and visitors. The momentum we build, event by event, will send us soaring into our much-anticipated springtime.

21st Century Leadership: Learning to Love in the Digisphere

Life in the digital age is accelerated up to speeds that previous generations (say, anyone born before 1900) would have found incomprehensible. The demands on our time are more intense than ever before, and decisions made in the blink of an eye or the tap of a finger can continue to reverberate for months or years, spinning out of control if caught up in the wild eddies of cyberspace.

We all know about cyber-bullying by this time—how it can drive some people, especially vulnerable young people, to despair and suicide.

We’ve also learned how dangerous random tweets and photo messages can be in a digital world where nothing on the Internet is really private.

This environment calls for leaders of tremendous personal strength and integrity—but it is not an environment that creates such people. Digital life–with its endless distractions, easy avatars and a million ways to cheat–seems to breed a kind of aimless cynicism. Even people who are motivated enough to attend retreats on “finding your purpose” are likely to be surfing through their lives, perpetually seeking the next answer or thrill or coveted consumer item.

In such an environment, how can we mentor people of all ages to become the leaders the world so desperately needs now?

We might begin by discussing the qualities we’d like to see in our leaders, and thus in ourselves. Although we still cling to a heroic ideal of leadership, enjoying the feeling of following a charismatic, forceful and self-confident leader, the truth is that leadership in our time is becoming much more decentralized.

The saying “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” attributed to the Hopi, has never seemed more apt than now, when each of us has the potential to assume a leadership role in our digital and real-world lives.

For example, are we going to join a digital mob assault of someone who is vulnerable? Or will we refuse to join in the feeding frenzy, or even take a stand in defense of the person who’s down?

How can we use the power of the World Wide Web to enhance thoughtful, in-depth communication, rather than allowing it to serve as a platform for name-calling and threats?


There is a world of difference between movement-building through the media, as in the #BlackLivesMatter movement or One Billion Rising, and vicious personal attacks on individuals that can quickly escalate into the digital equivalent of terrorist attacks.

The technology that enables this behavior is so new that we have not yet had time to establish codes of conduct or to fully weigh the ethical considerations of a Twitterized world.

Giving children access to the Web without the guidance of their parents or teachers is the equivalent of letting a teenager get behind the wheel of a car without having any learner’s permit or driver’s ed.

We have a whole structure for training young people about the dangers of alcohol, drugs & sex…but next to nothing in place that mentors and supports them–or us older folk either–in becoming responsible citizens of the digisphere.

And since this is where all of us spend a vast proportion of our waking lives, and where, increasingly, the collective human consciousness is being developed, it certainly seems like an essential place to begin a discussion of ethical, responsible, and purposeful leadership.

Ironically, to understand the digisphere and our place in it, we need to take the time to disconnect. Like a mental cleanse or fast, time spent untethered to the Web is time that allows us to reconnect with our own internal voice, our own inner guidance that has always been there for us, since we were the tiniest of infants.

IMG_9158Human babies know instinctively that they like warmth, gentle touch, smiling faces, eye contact and gentle, friendly voices. These human preferences do not go away as we age. Humans, like other mammals, are hard-wired to love and to enjoy being loved.

This is the kind of experience that it’s very hard for the digisphere to conjure up. For all the online dating services, the Skypes and Google hang-outs, the endless news feeds, there is still nothing that beats personal, real-world human connection.

Of course, any leader today is going to have to be an adept user of the media. But the primary values behind the use of media by a leader worthy of that title must be true to the ancient and ageless human value of love.

Leadership, in essence, is putting oneself forward in loving service to others and the broader community. There is no formula for it, and it will look different in every specific context. But at the base, at the bedrock, a good leader acts out of love.

Can loving leadership be taught and practiced in the digisphere? In the 21st century, this is seeming like an increasingly urgent question.

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