Quakers and the New Story

Profound changes in our understanding of matter and of the earth offer an opportunity to heal the largely unconscious, dangerous Western estrangement from the earth. Within the “New Story” our deepest spiritual aspirations and many central Christian insights can find a vast, full expression enabling us to embrace a deep belonging within the Earth community, and a caring, loving relationship with our home.

—Mary Coelho

Finding truth in paradox... The poem "IF" by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you

  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

  But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,        5

  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated don’t give way to hating,

  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,        10

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

  And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,        15

  And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

  And never breathe a word about your loss;        20

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

  To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

  Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,        25

  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

  If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,        30

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

  And—which is more—you’ll be a (wo)Man, my son!

"[Current] economics is a form of brain damage"

It's funny how economics puts 'value' on things.

If a non-Earth human came to our world and saw humanity, perhaps they would estimate the 'price' of one of us to be around £3. This is the approximate value of the carbon, water, air, chalk - and trace minerals like zinc, phosphorus and iron that make up our bodies.

This is essentially what economists do to rainforests when they make estimates of the value of the wood- and decide whether or not to clearcut the forest.

One day we will look back on this in disbelief that we could be so narrow sighted and ignorant.

How do you put value on relationships? How do you estimate the net 'worth' of climate regulating networks of living beings? Or roots that protect the soil, and converse with underground fungi? How can you put a price on the life of an ancient being, itself home to many, and its worth far beyond the weight of its wood? 

Radical relationships: from symbioses to community

"If we wanted to survive the ecological and social crisis which we have caused, we would have to engage in radically new and dramatic community enterprises."

-- Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis is one of my all-time scientific role models and has greatly influenced my way of thinking - both scientific and outside of science. Her major work was in cell evolution and the events that led to the appearance of eukaryotic cell (a cell with a nucleus - as opposed to cells without a nucleus, such as bacteria) 4 billion years ago. Fifty years ago, she argued that it was thanks to a special kind of very intimate biological relationship, and was at first was ignored or ridiculed by the scientific community. She imagined that these internal organelles - such as chloroplasts, mitochondria - arose from a symbiotic origin: i.e. by associations of different kinds of bacteria, being engulfed by the then existent proto-cells. Symbiosis in cell evolution is now considered one of the great scientific breakthroughs.

It is profound to me, that Margulis commented on the radically new kinds of relationships that will be necessary to survive our current crises. It was thanks to the new way of co-existing of two previously 'separate' organisms, fusing to become one, that gave rise to the stepping stone towards the next level of evolution. Mitochondria paved the way for aerobic life, and later, multi-cellular organisms. Chloroplasts... Well, without photosynthetic organisms to convert the sun's energy into chemical bonds, none of us would be around, and Popeye wouldn't have his spinach.

Perhaps it is the same kind of revolutionary thinking behind that discovery and radical co-existing that led to that jump in development that we need in order to reimagine how we live on this planet together... And ultimately, survive on to the next evolutionary 'jump'. But what could these new ways of relating, co-existing and co-habiting look like? And what is the synergy that may come out of that new, currently unfathomable way of living?

 

Living

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”

-- Eckhart Tolle

This has been something on my mind these last couple of days. What limits us from following our 'bliss' as Joseph Campbell called it? It feels as though many of us are dulled to being receptive to our own intuitions, which tell us what is wrong or right for us - and only us. At the same time, the culture of fear and scarcity abounds, and keeps us from joyously taking courageous risks.

The full quote from Joseph Campbell, which speaks so loudly for me right now is as follows:

“Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.” 

Epigenetic robotics

I've been reading about something called epigenetic robotics - I couldn't resist seeing as the term combines two of my scientific fascinations. 

But epigenetic robotics is not (really) anything to do with DNA (slight disappointment). Instead, it focusses on studying the mechanisms by which robots could be made to learn like children - i.e. lifelong and open-ended learning. 

Imagining engineering a robot so that on leaving the factory, it is programmed ready to learn, adapt, and evolve, is mind-blowing. Just like a human, you would never get the same robot twice.

Perhaps more exciting still is the possibility to offer the robot learning of ethical codes and morals before anything else - just like the development of super-ego in children is built upon their grasping of what is 'right' and 'wrong'...

Could it help solve our fears around the existential risk of developing powerful A.I. which may in turn destroy us all?

Whatever an education is

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your roadmap through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die."

-- John Taylor Gatto

I don't usually warm to teachings that house the word 'should'.  But in a world where education has strayed so far from what it could serve for a person - to prepare them to fully enjoy and live their life, to make decisions that fit them, to be learning and able to self-teach throughout all of life - it seems acceptable to judge education as it stands now.

All of your weeks, on a page

 

Sometimes a picture or an exercise can completely change your outlook, or understanding, simply by the process of re-jiggling the concepts and outlooks you've got in your mind. Think of it like a metaphorical 'shake' of your marble jar.

Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. This chart, showing the average life week by week, all on a page for you, helped me grasp the concept that they are most definitely finite.

Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got. 

At the edge of great continuity

"Transformationally motivated people are the growing edge of a great continuity of souls reaching back to the very earliest of times. We must never think of ourselves as alternative, far out, or disconnected. We are in fact the growing tip of the greatest tradition of both nature and history. Remember, the nature of nature is to transform. Those who tend toward transformation are nature personified. And in human history there has been a continuous and growing impulse toward the regeneration and transformation of humanity."

-- Barbara Marx Hubbard in her book Conscious Evolution (1998), p. 175

Compassion as a currency

Fureai Kippu, in Japanese ふれあい切符, meaning literally "Caring Relationship Tickets" is a complementary social currency, based upon hours of volunteering service.

The basic unit is an hour of service to an elderly person. Sometimes seniors help each other and earn the credits, other times family members in other communities earn credits and transfer them to their parents who live elsewhere. These credits accumulate- users may keep them for when they become sick or elderly themselves, then use the credits in exchange for services. Alternatively, the users may transfer credits to someone else.

A surprising part of the project has been that the elderly tend to prefer the services provided by people paid in Fureai Kippu over those paid in yen. This was found to be due to the nature of the relationship and personal connection. To convert this community service to yen would seem to dilute the community ethic.

-- Wikipedia page "Fureai Kippu"

Ode to positive constructive daydreaming

"We mind wander, by choice or by accident, because it produces tangible reward when measured against goals and aspirations that are personally meaningful.

Having to reread a line of text three times because our attention has drifted away matters very little if that attention shift has allowed us to access a key insight, a precious memory or make sense of a troubling event.

Pausing to reflect in the middle of telling a story is inconsequential if that pause allows us to retrieve a distant memory that makes the story more evocative and compelling.

Losing a couple of minutes because we drove past our off ramp is a minor inconvenience if the attention lapse allowed us to finally understand why the boss was so upset by something we said in last week’s meeting.

Arriving home from the store without the eggs that necessitated the trip is a mere annoyance when weighed against coming to a decision to ask for a raise, leave a job, or go back to school."

-- Excerpt from a scientific article on psychology (Frontiers of Psychology, 2013).

 

Non-violent Violence

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralises his work for peace. It destroys their own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of their own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."

-- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander"