Jun 14, 2014
Sri: Mark Dubois is a legend of the environmental movement. Born in 1949, he was raised in Sacramento and spent much of his youth exploring the Canyons and the Stanislaus River. His life has been one of starting visionary organizations and movements. At the age of only 23, he started Environmental Traveling Companions, a nonprofit specializing in taking inner-city and disabled adults down the Stanislaus River. He’s also the co-founder of Friends of the River and International Rivers Network, that have both been leaders in river conservation. The two organizations are still very much active today. Friends of the River assists in the mission to protect and restore California rivers. And the International Rivers Network now spans 4 continents and continues a global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them. In 1979, he captured national headlines when he chained himself to the bedrock of Stanislaus River Canyon for 7 days as a new reservoir filled.
It goes on.
He was an international coordinator for Earth Day in 1990 and 2000. Recognizing devastating effects of dams around the world, and the promotion of dams as “development”, his work has expanded to include lobbying the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In 1991, Mark Dubois founded Worldwide, a grassroots campaign for international reform, challenging the World Bank to redirect their investments to fund projects with more positive and sustainable social, environmental, and economic benefits.
As a visionary activist who has birthed several highly effective organizations and has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for decades, it is not just the work he does that astounds but the way in which he does the work.
On chaining himself to the canyon, he says, “At some point, I knew I was going to have to speak out with a louder voice. It was the only voice I had left. When I was in that canyon, it didn’t matter what the outcome was. It was the most liberating sensation I’ve ever had. I felt very powerful. I found my voice completely, and I was speaking out for my deep truth. I was laying my life on the line for something I believed in with all my heart. It is this spirit for the work, and the work itself, that is deeply inspiring. It’s a great honor to speak with Mark Dubois. Welcome, Mark.
I wanted to start out with a question about the upbringing, your child. Where your love of nature started. Did your parents have a love of nature, or a spiritual or religious background that incited your passion?
Mark: First, it is such a privilege to be with all of you and the stunning work that ServiceSpace is doing, inviting us to live more deeply and live with more generosity. So I appreciate the pioneering of the remarkable community that you’ve grown.
So, I grew up in Sacramento, CA, and I think my dad had bounced all over California in his growing up. So we would often go car camping, to Tahoe, to relatives in Napa, to relatives in the Foothills. And, ultimately, my parents got a little one-room cabin we had to hike in a mile in Trinity county. So all of those weekends connected me to—and I felt much more comfortable wandering in the beauty of the wild than my awkwardness. IT was much easier to be in nature. It was a time for me, and I sense, for all my family.
Sri: And then, when you were at the young age of 22 or 23, you started this effort to combine that love of nature to bring poor and underserved kids rafting down the Stanislaus, I believe for free. Can you tell us about that—the inception of combining your love of nature to almost a beginning…?
Mark: Well, in high school, I had discovered caves, and my brother a few weekends later said, “Oh I went to a river down below those caves.” Cause the Stanislaus is the only limestone canyon on the West Coast. It was honeycomb with caves. So as I went with high school friends down the river, eventually I worked a couple years as a commercial river guide. And a friend had this idea of taking inner city kids down for free. So we got some old boats donated, and we had seen the difference the river had made in people’s lives. I still remember at the end of one wonderful commercial trip—we just had this extraordinary time—this young doctor in his late twenties, I watched him hesitate before jumping into his Porsche to go back to his large San Francisco house. He knew he couldn’t buy what we had just shared—the richness we had just shared. The less we had the more we had. It was a fascinating experience.
So when a friend had the idea of taking down inner city kids for free, and it just landed. And before long, we weren’t just doing river trips, we were doing earth trips. Instead of 2-day trips, we were doing 5-day trips. We were teaching about the plants and animals and caves. The archaeology, the history. The stars. There was not enough time to learn the beauty and the magic that was in this enchanting canyon that just broke open everyone’s hearts and smiles.
Sri: That’s beautiful. Was all your education informal? Were there any mentors that connected you to nature? Or did it just come naturally?
Mark: Again, it probably came because nature was a refuge for my dad, so it became a refuge for all of us. On one level, it’s embarrassing, thinking about how my brother and I would play “Cowboys and Indians”. You know, we’d pull off all the moss off the big rocks and use it for “bombs” and whatever, so... I served millions despite myself. Mother Nature spoke beyond the disconnection that I’d been raised with in a city. So it sort of slowly kept opening and growing me.
I just loved all the earlier comments—about how people connect to nature. Beauty and magic seem to help transcend whatever organized training that I had in a city that was so smart. Something happened out there that was well beyond and more profound and deeper than some of that brilliant education that I got. But there was more going on.
Sri: And when you started to connect the nature that you were experiencing and fell in love with, with this larger environmental consciousness of trying to preserve that nature—when did that evolve?
Mark: Well that first caving trip I did probably in ’66 or ’67, the leader pointed down to the canyon and said, “Oh, by the way, they’re going to build a dam on that.” And I looked down and thought, “Oh, that’s too bad. It looks like a beautiful canyon.” I had been raised going to dam sites and learning about how important they are for our evolution. So it was a slow falling in love.
There was one turning point when we were taking these inner city kids out, and there had been growing amounts of campaigns. And slowly I tried to get involved. Even if I couldn’t write my grandmother, it was really hard to try to write to someone important. But I slowly engaged in some of those efforts. But it was pretty clear we kept losing. So when we started, I thought, “Where else do we take children?”
It turns out the Tuolumne was way too exciting. The South Fork American had mostly private property, so you couldn’t do the kind of exploring we had been doing. The North Coast rivers were too long of a drive, so you couldn’t really get people there. So that query of where to go next, deepened my knowing of how unique this place was.
Sri: For those of us who don’t know as much background on the Stanislaus River, when you were 28 or 29, you chained yourself to the canyon as they were trying to flood it. Why was the Stanislaus River worth fight for—worth dying for—that you were ready to essentially die if they were to flood that river?
Mark: I’m still trying to put into words why that was a choice-less choice. After taking inner city kids down, one brilliant friend who had been leading a lot of the efforts to save the river and other rivers, Jerry Merrell, said, “Hey we’re going to do this thing called an initiative. It worked for 1970, so in ‘74 we’re gonna try for it.. How would you like to coordinate Sacramento?”
And I go, “Oh, uh, sure, a couple hours a day.”
Anyone who knows rivers well knows there’s a place called a “tongue”. It’s this big, beautiful, glossy, green—depending on the color of the water—reed[?]. It’s this place of no return. Once you get there, the current takes you down the stream. Well, by saying yes to Jerry, I got swept into river politics. I kept learning and learning how to translate the magic of the river into development. Cause we all need progress and development.
So early, it was a deep love affair. And then more and more learning water politics, and what was needed and what wasn’t needed and where we were.
At some point, we had lost one campaign. And we were going up the river to both mourn our loss and to plan our next campaign. Well, after the late night campfire, it was pretty easy to be mourning our loss. We didn’t have any idea for what to do next. Early the next morning, we’re camped at this place called Razor Back. It’s a thousand foot cliff that rises vertically over the emerald water. I walked upstream to this little tiny grapevine gulch that came in. As I had my feet in this just crystal clear water—there was water falling out of the limestone rock, the grapevines were reaching out, the butterflies were dancing across.
In that moment, I just felt life. And in this just extraordinary feeling, I also had this awareness that if I left—if I just moved on, because we were going to lose—if I left, I would be very similar to those people in Nazi Germany who had a hint of what they were doing. Cause by this time, I had learned that we didn’t need the power. We didn’t need the water. This was the twenty-fourth dam on the river. And this was built on old momentum—it was a good idea before I was born, but it wasn’t a good idea anymore. It didn’t make economic sense. And I knew it didn’t make sense to life.
So, at that time, I was going to start trying to move one rock at a time. And often, they were dumping dump trucks as big as houses every hour. And I knew it looked feudal, but that’s all that I could think of doing.
If you are going to flood nine million years of evolution that this canyon has been evolving in, you can take one other critter instead. My life is nothing compared to the miracle and magic that is vibrantly flowing through this place and has been for eons.
Anne: I just wanted to add to Mark’s beautiful sharing that one thing I’ve learned from you, Mark, too, is that you deeply engage in the relationship with nature. The Stanislaus, the river that you’ve shared, has allowed you to fall in love with the rest of the world. And when you have a deep relationship and a love, there’s no way you can turn your back. That’s how—knowing you, meeting you, and being the recipient of one of your legendary hugs, you feel life move through you. And it’s really a touching experience. Great gratitude for that. So thank you.
Mark: [laughs] Well, thank you. There’s that line that goes, “Be careful what you fall in love with.”
At one point, I had the privilege of going down the Grand Canyon with Dave Brower. He was doing talks every other day, and as we looked at the bore hole in the Grand Canyon for the dam site that he had stopped, he didn’t talk about his success there. He talked about his loss— his lament for not stopping Glenn Canyon. He talked about all these important things. And the last night, in the seventh talk—the last talk he gave, he said, “You know, every resource I’ve talked about is non-renewable. The earth pays for it. But there’s one resource where the more you give out of it, the more it comes back to you. And that’s love.
A friend in Moscow said it a little better. I was there during the Soviet Union times and I said, “Well Lienne, how do we get more people involved with protecting the earth and peace between our countries?!”
And Lienne said, “Mark, Mark. First it is important to fall in love.” And then I realized that every major change I’ve ever seen done by Margarat Mead’s “small handful of people” happened because of people falling in love and, indeed, gaining in deep connection. And knowing that love is not out there but we’re intertwined, we’re interconnected to each other, and with the sacred.
Sri: So those of us who consider ourselves activists—the Stanislaus for you, eventually, they ended up flooding. Right? And you ended up losing that particular struggle. Is it that deep love and connection that allows you to recover? You’ve been doing this work for several decades, and for example, I think, just a couple days ago, Nirvendra Moudi in Gujarat said they said they’re going to raise the Narmada Dam by 17 meters and there’s going to be 200 thousand people displaced, and they’re moving forward with that. So in the face of continuous struggles, how do you maintain that optimism? How do you come back to the table again and again and again?
Mark: Well, my optimism may wane like the waves as well. A week ago, I did go up to the Stanislaus and I spent five days—you know, it’s um…. When I floated through the death ring of this reservoir, I found myself thinking of the Toltecs, who would cut out of the living being and hold up this pulsing heart. And I found myself again just feeling this deep cut in the sacred earth to give us a little more money and power. We just have no connection to where these things come from, as one of our earlier speakers talked about. I will say that I started falling in love with that river 48 years ago, and I’m still learning what that love affair has done for me. But I did get renewed while I was there.
I do not want this to happen to any other sacred place on the planet.
I had the privilege of being with Meta Pakar before Narmada Dam was built. And I remember we were back at the World Bank Annual Meeting and we were lobbying at just things incredible opulent party, where thousands of bankers come. And I remember sitting with Meta, who I knew had been from village to village to village. The bankers and local states had no idea how many villages—how many people—lived there. They were planning this big sign of progress for modern development. It was so powerful to be in tears as there was more food and drink and ice capsules of art and flowers ceilings high. I remember Meta saying, “I don’t know what to tell my people, who have nothing, what these bankers are doing with their money.”
I say that because my heart has been broken over and over again. And what I’ve also learned through all of this is that we are such a young, and on some level immature, species. And we’re doing these things out of the hamster wheel of our mind. Out of great intention. And we have given more people more things. There are more of us. Our creative genius has taken us this incredible distance.
What I know is that we are now at a time where we are much, much, much more powerful than we know. A few people have tapped into the strength of—Anne talked about meditating and anchoring us. When we’re in nature—one of the earlier speakers talked about—we get grounded to something much more profound. In our youthfulness as a species, we don’t often take the time. We get caught in our hamster wheel of all the important, busy things we’re doing, and we forget to tap into the depth of our hearts and our gut and the half of our brain that knows we are much, much more. And we’re intertwined with all the sacred of this miracle.
So people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa and Mandela all tapped into this deep knowing of who we truly are, and what we are truly capable of. So, for me, my optimism does come from knowing that when we awaken beyond blaming “them”, when we step into really tapping the wealth within us—that’s not just within us, cause it’s just intertwined with all life. As we learn to live into this beauty, power, and magic, we get to inspire others. We don’t have to fight to stop the old—because this is truly the only game in town: the beauty and magic that we all know at our core. We get to learn how to live beyond fear and scarcity, and live in beauty and joy and love. And invite the world to play with us.
Sri: That’s really a beautiful story. And I think a lot of us stand on the shoulders of so many of you that have done that work and tapped into and shown us the way of how to tap into that beauty again and again. For you, is it a practice? Is there a way that you go about doing it? Is it being in nature? Is it meditating? Is it a practice that allows you to connect back to that space within you that allows you to see the beauty in the face of so much destruction that mankind is persisting in doing?
Mark: I wish I had a clear answer for that. A year and a half ago, I met this remarkable neighbor I hadn’t met when I lived in the Northwest for awhile. She asked if I meditated. I said, “Well, I don’t think so,” because I had this image of what meditation is. And then she outlined four different kinds of meditation, and I said, “Oh, well I do all of those!”
What I sense is that each one of us are such a unique antenna, a pulsating antenna in the world. So for me, I live my life as sort of an apology, wishing I could be as smart as my friends… Or wishing I could be as calm and radiant as a few people in my life. And ultimately, I’ve slowly, slowly been relaxing into the realization that, “Oh! I don’t have their skills. I don’t have their talents.” And learning how to slowly honor what my path is. Paying attention to those things—those people, those voices, those quotes that resonate with me—and paying attention to what’s mine to bring, what’s mine to give forward.
In the last three years of my walk-about, a meditation has been paying attention to how much fear rules my micro-decisions in life. I’m just amazed at these old patterns and habits. I can intellectually know that they don’t serve me anymore. And I want to drop them and live more present and more loving and without fear. Yet they come back, and they come back. It’s been interesting to honor, Oh, I don’t know if I’ll ever transcend these things. But I’m honoring who I’ve been and what these patterns are. And breathing into [the fact] that I am all these little things, and I’m also much more than all of that…
Again, earlier in the Q&A, several people talked about what going into nature does. Even if my life is focused on wanting to figure out how we can make a difference now, at this sacred time on our planet, I am drawn to taking a walk or taking a river trip and watching that it definitely roots me, grounds me into remembering the magnitude of how I am a part of this.
Sri: I’m a medical doctor and I spend 6 months in East Africa. The first time I was in Burundi, we had this hospital on the top of the hill, and it’s this really beautiful, beautiful location. There’s just lush mountains as far as the eye can see. But everyday in the hospital, there’s such destitute poverty and malnutrition. In the course of four months, I must have seen 12 or 14 kids die of malnutrition. And I just had lots of anger and frustration at how there—just trying to connect the dots between poverty and health and what my role is in it.
I remember being up at 4 or 5 am and in that silence of the morning, and the sun rising on a mountaintop, a lot of my anger and questions started to drop away in that silence. You do feel this kind of awe connection to so much of nature and a lot of the things you grapple with and struggle with and questions that arise. I think in that stillness, somehow, it makes a little bit more sense. So, I can totally resonate with what you’re sharing.
Mark: Well, Sri, that’s really beautiful. It’s tapping into that stillness which is accessible to us at anytime, and it does seem to come at 4am or in the quiet of nature, and yet it’s accessible anywhere. How to tap into that. And as you described your anger, I will say I am more and more clear that when I do anything out of fear and scarcity and separateness and anger, then I am more and more profoundly convinced that I am just reinforcing the old paradigm. And as I ever so slowly learn to take actions out of love, whatever that looks like, feels like, then I am beginning to help co-create the world that we’re meant to live into.
Sri: That’s beautiful. Is that the advice you would give to, say, a young activist who may be in Narmada Dam right now, trying to move against the displacement of 200 thousand people? And just the magnitude of the struggle for a lot of the people who do not have much at their disposal and are up against a tremendous amount of power. Is that a lesson that you think young activists need to take?
Mark: Yes. I’m more and more convinced that it’s an inside job. For me, I have been drawn to [the question]: How do we grow, deepen, and mature activism?
Again, I’ve known it for a long time, but I am more powerfully insightfully knowing it again. When I’m fighting “against”, then I’m actually just reinforcing. So there’s something that Gandhi pioneered. “Oh, greatest civilization?, I’ve read all about it! I love the concept! But this, this is it?”
And if you’re gonna practice this, then you show go home and practice it. Cause it’s a beautiful idea, but not here, and not the way you’ve been practicing.
So how to honor the moguls of development of, again, we’re not here to fight you. This is not development. This is not working. This is not progress.
You may be benefiting tremendously from all these projects, but we know you’re doing this because you think it’s right. To waste more energy, to waste more fuel, this is the way you want to go? And I would say, as activists grow and deepen, the fighting “against”, we almost always lose.
To on some level, to hold, “Gee, you want to practice 19th century technology for the future? Why waste your ….products of development without plundering the earth, which is now costing a fortune…”
So, how to be able to do an aikido—how to be able to do a Gandhi, an “Oh, we’re not here to fight you”? And we are not going away. We’re seeking here all of our lives. Our love affair with the sacred, even if we’re still trying to find the words to put parody—on one level, we’re talking two different languages to me. The “modern world” is taking everything and converting it into dollars and cents and products. And that which our hearts know is our true wealth comes from being connected—connected to all of our neighbors. Those people you saw in Burundi. And to this sacred earth. That’s where our true wealth comes from. We’ve all been seduced by more and more stuff thinking the stuff will get us happy. It’s so clear—Americans have so much stuff. This is happiness?
Anne: Sri and Mark, I’d love to invite our callers to join in on this conversation, too. It’s such a beautiful conversation. Mark, you remind me also of our own ability to tap into the goodness inside ourselves, inside our being. And to not come with judgment, but to come with a full heart. That language of heart breaks down all barriers. So I’d love to invite callers to press *6 and ask Mark a question or join in this beautiful conversation that Sri and Mark are unfolding.
Sri: Is there anything else I haven’t touched upon…
Prakash: Sri and Mark, I’m feeling eternally grateful for this wonderful gift of conversation. Thank you so much. Your conversation really brought up one really vivid experience early on in my life, my childhood. This speaks so much to what Bela was sharing earlier. For me, the sight, the sound, and the visualization of elemental water—really one of the ways that makes me come alive. It really lifts my spirit up. An experience along those lines was when I was little—I don’t know how this happened—one day, after school, I found myself up on a tree, a beautiful guava tree with so much ripe fruit, and then somehow the branch I was on gave way. And I found myself with no one around, in a really deep pond. And right in the middle, I did not know how to swim. And water really gifted me a second chance at this life. I don’t know what happened next, I was completely blank. After a few minutes, looking back, perhaps some blades of grass that I could grab onto—I knew that I was drowning and that there was no one around. But somehow, I found myself on the bank of that pond, feeling really transformed. From that day on, my connection with the water shifted. I never learned swimming, but from that day on, I was one with the water. I could swim. That experience really taught me how to be. And since then, I’ve enjoyed being in the ocean and with water. So from that experience, I want to shift to my question:
As a responsible citizen of this earth, what is one of the most important things that comes to you that we can take responsibility for to hold these sacred rivers the most important place?
Mark: Well, as you can well imagine, I have full resonance with water having transformed my spirit as well. That love affair with the river—I couldn’t dance on a floor, but I learned to dance on water. It’s a powerful flow. I learned not to fight anymore, but it’s a powerful magic. I’m stilly learning how to apply those lessons to our urban world. I think to answer your question, I’m going to share an exercise from a friend, Michael Dowd:
You take a piece of paper and draw a line down it. On the top of one side, you write, “My Greatest Joys” and you start listing everything you just love doing. When does time disappear? When does your heart sing? What are the things that bring your greatest joy? Don’t think about, just write, write, write. After awhile, you’ll slow down. And be ready to keep adding to it.
Then go to the other side and write, “The World’s Greatest Needs”. Don’t think about the zillions of problems there are. But what are the issues that most impact your heart? What are those issues that make you want to be in denial? Or throw the newspaper away? Want to punch somebody or cry. What are those issues that your heart’s antenna are most set for? And just write. For you, what are the world’s greatest crises and challenges?
He says keep adding to that everyday, but eventually you’ll look at the list and find out: Is there a place where my world’s greatest joys match with the world’s greatest needs? He says maybe in a year or two you’ll find your life’s mission. And so, to answer your question to me, each one of us get to look into and learn our heart’s fine-tuning. We are all so unique. We can learn—there are so many things we can do to lesson our impact to be more conscious. Every penny we spend, we are voting for the world. I vote for the oil company almost everyday. I’m embarrassed to say that. I can hate what the oil companies are doing, but I vote for them. So how do I be a more conscious consumer? And I’m also aware that every breath I take, I add more fear and scarcity into the world. Or I add more love. So how do I become more conscious of every breath, with everything I spend, with everything I use? When I turn on the faucet, am I aware that it’s connected to some miraculous stream that has dragonflies and wildflowers? And that doesn’t mean to not use water. It just means to be more conscious of where things come from. So how do I become more conscious of what I am putting out and what I am taking in?
But ultimately to me, the most important thing that we can do is to pay attention to what our hearts know. So little of our culture reinforces paying attention to our own gifts. Again, as I said, I’ve spent my life being trained to think, “Oh, I wish I was as good as others.” Finally knowing that I don’t have others’ skills, but most importantly, when I bring my greatest joys with the world’s greatest needs—and as more and more of us do that—the problems we face will start to vaporize. Because we will be living with more integrity, and the power of our hearts’ knowing will start creating more solutions. We’ll be connected to more people and will be having more fun taking on that which we get to take on now.
Anne: Please hit *6 if there are more questions.
Alissa: Thank you so much, this has been so beautiful and so helpful. Listening to your words has made me think about a few things I was wondering, have you heard of this book, I think it’s called Sacred Plants Medicine by Steven, I’m not sure of his last name?
Mark: I’ve heard the name, and I’m slow at reading, so I have not had the privilege of running into that book.
Alissa: The reason I ask is because what you’re talking about is not so much the whole but, but in the first paragraph it talks about us as a culture. And I wanted to share this with you because what you are sharing makes so much sense. In our culture, when people talk about where they are at, they point to their head. And with indigenous cultures, they point to their heart. With Sacred Plant Medicine, the natives said that they talked with the plants. And they got the wisdom from talking to the plants. And what this man [author] realized was that the heart has an electromagnetic field 500 times greater than the mind. And when you put different heart cells with others, they start beating together. So that leads into what you were saying. When you do something really from the heart—and what he learned was that the language of these plants was not with words, it was with the heart. And that’s how they got the information. And that was what you were when you were with the river—is with the heart. What I’ve noticed is that even when you were talking about talking with love—is that when it’s felt, you could say almost whatever words you wanted, but it’s how it’s felt. It’s not just the words. Does that make sense?
Mark: Alissa, that beautifully makes sense. I realized you answered Sri’s earlier question of what gives me optimism. Because once you know that power, then everything changes.
Alissa: What I have found is that you change the world everyday and you don’t know. And if you are operating from your heart, I think people are starving, and the world is starving, for this change. What you’re doing. But they don’t know it. And they have to feel it from that, otherwise they’ll be defensive. I know I get defensive if someone comes at me from that pushing point, I’ll put up my wall or hand. Do you know what I mean?
Mark: Well indeed, indeed, indeed.
Alissa: These calls, I feel like, “Oh these people are making sense.” And I’m drawn to that. And I feel that adults are talking. Especially, young adult writers. But how do you find more people who are like-minded?
Mark: Well, boy! The more I learn to live from my heart, the more I let go of all the fears and the scarcity, then it feels like doors open. And again, I feel like it gives me optimism. Because, like you said, what I do know is that we, humanity, are craving something. And our modern language cannot capture this. That’s why ServiceSpace has grown so beautifully, because it’s offering a place to begin expressing a language that our hearts yearn for. Two quotes I’m drawn to share.
One of them is from when my son was heading off to India at the age of 17. And he said, “Well, dad, that reminds me of Robert Bloke.”
What I got from Robert Bly, he says that “Every culture’s stories seek to connect the vast, vast distance between the head and the heart.”
So my sense is our evolutionary journey is we are all trying to make that connection. The other quote is something like this, “Someday, after mastering the wind, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And then, for a second time, in the history of the world, man will have a discovered fire.”
Sri: That’s a great quote.
Mark: That’s from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. One of my dearest friends keeps saying, “Mark, that’s magical thinking! What are you talking about?”
But it answers Sri’s earlier question of why do I have optimism. It’s because I have had the privilege of experience of when our hearts align. I’ve had the privilege of experience of aligning with the miracle of nature. And dancing with water. And all of sudden, I am not me. I am dancing with this incredible flow through time and space and the universe. As someone described, falling into the night sky. And I’ve also had that privilege of doing that with others.
We’re all drawn to romantic partnerships. And yet there’s this other partnership that when we’re all gifting our collective creativity towards really gifting the future. And yet, we’re not living in the future. We’re following our heart’s instincts for what we know now. What is needed at this sacred time of our collective evolution. And so, part of my optimism is I can feel which you just said—that craving of the human the heart to know that we are much more than when we’re on television all the time, in the hamster wheel of our minds. And slowly we are paying attention to the depths of who we are and what we all know. And what’s ours to do. And as we get our egos out of the way and pay attention to that—look out world, here we come.
Sri: Paradoxically, or maybe not so paradoxically, the people who are engaged in this work of service and connecting to nature are the most optimistic. A lot of the people that I work with are staring suffering in the face—they’re looking at extremely challenging things, but the amount of vibrancy in their step and the buoyancy in their spirit is infectious.
So I think the anecdote is definitely engagement in the present moment, whether that be service or meditation. I think ServiceSpace is definitely a testimony to that. Mark Dubois’ life is a testimony to that. I think as you start aligning yourself in those ways and connecting with more and more people who are actually engaged in a more meaningful way and have a lot of love and hope and light in their life, no matter that they’re working on difficult issues.
Mark: Sri, beautifully said. Do you know the Gandhi line, “Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”
Anne: I think we have time for one more question.
Deepa: This has been such an amazing conversation with everything—Mark’s voice. Just the vibrations coming from your voice are feeding so much. Is there any way to continue tapping into this extremely rare space of connecting with the deeper processes with the external activism work? I haven’t found this channel anywhere and would like to keep growing from it.
Mark: Well, I will say that for me, it is the only conversation I care about. I’ve had a passion for years of how to deepen and grow and mature activism. For me, every single person—we’re an activist. Because we are activating the world that exists—by everything we purchase, by every action we take. Wherever we put our attention, we are activating the world. So in this deepening and growing and maturing of activism, I’m sadden to hear how few activists understand that Gandhi may have come from a much more powerful place. Because on one level, like myself, I’ve done everything out of earnestness, and “I care so much,” but I’ve been doing it out of fear and scarcity. And it takes so long. It’s not to take away from the successes and the losses that I’ve had. Because I care. I do sense that—I mean, again, it’s back to the attraction of ServiceSpace. We are all drawn to—when I was a kid, I noticed that none of the plants were being drawn into the darkness of the cave—they were all craning their vines to reach towards the sun. And I sense that that is true for all of us. We’re all craning towards the light. We all know it. We all feel it. And in our immaturity, our minds have seduced us to how powerful we are. And all our language has trapped us there.
I am profoundly convinced that we are at the cusp of the greatest transformation humanity has ever been in. That yearning that Alissa talked about—the yearning of the human heart—we are at a time very similar to before the Berlin Wall fell. We’re at a time just before the Apartheid ended. We are at a time just before the Vietnam War ended. We’re at a time just before the first Environmental Movement, when 20 million people showed up to speak for the earth. The week or the month beforehand, the powers that be looked as locked in as ever before. And it looked like they were unstoppable! But then, a week or two or three, the consensus for the old paradigm crumbled. Because it just didn’t make any sense anymore. And we dropped it. And so, the craving that each of us pay attention to the power of our hearts—we’re at that same cusp. And we get to engage those conversations of: Are we doing this out of fear? Or are we doing it out of love?
I’ll share one last quick story:
Glenn Rivers—there’s a Class 1 to a Class 6. Class 1 is flat water, canoe-able. Class 6 is un-runable. If you run a Class 6, you’re dead. So a Class 5 is right on the edge. If you run a Class 5, you could drown very easily. So to run a Class 5 you have to be very good at paying attention to where everything is. You have to learn to see all the horrific big things that could eat your boat, shred your boat, and everyone in it. You have to look at all the small things that, if you’re not paying attention, could push you into those big things. And what makes it a Class 5 is that there’s a through-line, and you have to put all of your attention into the true line. Because if you focus on the obstacles, they become magnets and you could bond to them. So, I am convinced that humanity is at a time where most of us want to be in denial that we’re in a Class 5. Those who are looking are putting all their attention into focusing on the obstacles. And we need to be paying attention to all the obstacles, and we’re not getting mature to ask: Where’s the true line? And when we get to the through-line, we can put all that collective in that together. But we need everybody’s insight, because others can see things that we can’t see. So there are no “them”. We are all in the same boat together. And we get to use each others’ seeing and put all our attention to a through-line. And co-create a future where seventy generations from now, they’ll be saying, “Oh, they did good. They got us on the right path.”
Anne: How can we support you on your journey?
Mark: You’re already doing it. By being on your journey, you’re already doing it. And maybe by asking—the last speaker’s question. To me, continuing to engage in this question of what supports all of us in this deepening—paying attention to our hearts—and learning to play together. The corollary is facing the challenges that threaten the future. One of the challenges for me at ServiceSpace is that people are so drawn to this. And can ServiceSpace also apply all this incredible wisdom that’s coming out of this community and help individuals turn into groups focusing on the resonance that each of us know is ours to do. And create communities around what are our challenges now, and how do we get to play together to resolve them?
Anne: Thank you, Mark. …Your sharing, to me, I think of our paths as a path of remembering. When we’re in nature or in a quiet space of silence, we remember. We carry the wisdom within us. We all have the wisdom, and it’s allowing it to unfold, and as you said, pay attention to that pulsating antenna. So thank you.
Sri: This has been an amazing conversation. I think at the last ServiceSpace retreat, there was this discussion of the wisdom of elders. And you know, Mark is not that elder, but he’s that spirit of combining activism and this giftivism, this Gandhian spiritual wisdom. For all of us in the generation below, and even children, it gives a permission to follow in those footsteps of people who are really walking the walk and living a life of commitment, engaged activism, and wisdom. I think it’s just incredibly special to hear from people like you. I’m definitely grateful to have had a chance to talk to you. Even just looking up all the work you’ve done to ask some questions this morning, the more I read about the work and the organizations that you’ve spawned just made me much more inspired and exuberant about being a participant in the same journey that you’re on in a different way. So thank you.
Mark: Well, I definitely don’t feel an elder at all. I feel that we are all on the same boat together. I’m also reminded of that Bucky Fuller line, “Your children are born somewhat your elder, because they’re born into a more mature world.”
So be aware that we’re all elders together, and especially as we pay attention to our hearts. Inter-generationally we get to co-create something much more beautiful. We’re at this incredible, opportune time in our collective evolution, and we all get to—we don’t have to—we get to step into what our hearts tell us at this time. ...
Anne: And I wanted to also thank all the callers who called in and asked those deeper questions who had their beautiful questions.